Syria, Obama set to pour gasoline on the flames of war.

Photo: theaustrailian.com.au

Photo: theaustrailian.com.au

by Louis Michele

NEW YORK – As the drums of war continue to beat lounder, the U.S. government continues to ratchet up its rhetoric against the Bashar al Assad regime in Syria. On Saturday, August 31st, Obama announced that he would seek congressional approval before he took military action against  Assad  for the alleged use of banned chemical weapons in the country’s civil war. And on Tuesday the odds seem to be increasing that the U.S. will unleash the hounds of hell into yet another conflict in the Middle East that will have grave consequences not only for Syria and the millions affected in the surrounding region, but for the U.S. as well.

After the gross fabrication of evidence in the lead up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq one would think that the burden of proof would be extremely high on the Obama administration to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Assad regime is responsible for using chemical weapons on its own citizens, or any citizen for that matter. However, this seems to be far from what is happening. Either the bar that congressmen and the public writ large has set for the proof that the Assad regime is responsible is very low or we have a president and Congress that is anxious on intervening, or both. There is a compelling case that chemical weapons were used by the Assad regime but there is still no conclusive case that government forces are responsible.  And even if Assad was responsible beyond any doubt what would the consequences be  not only for Syria and the United States, but for the various regional players in the conflict.

Despite the talk in many news outlets about the legality of military action or the legitimacy of such action by the United States and its allies, there seems to be little talk of what the consequences and implications would be in a region where the sectarian tensions are already high. The invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, along with the colonial legacy of the Western powers still resonates in the collective consciousness of many people in the Middle East and once the Western bombs start dropping on Damascus the political and sectarian lines will sharpen even more. This has the potential to vastly destabilize the region and lead to more countries becoming embattled in the war. After all, Iran, Hezbollah and Russia have a definite stake in the conflict and if their interests feel threatened then there may be an escalation that could have catastrophic consequences for the everyone involved. Furthermore, a military strike by the U.S. will potentially embolden Assad even more because he will be seen as someone who stood up to foreign intervention and prevailed.  Assad himself said that foreign military intervention in Syria could set off a “powder keg” that could very likely spark a terrifying regional war.

So just like Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. is anxious to involve itself in a conflict it has no long term plan, resolution or exit strategy from, not to mention any moral claim to.  And just like the conflicts of the past the United States will continue to use the rhetoric  and hubris of humanitarianism and human rights while at the same time, as Martin Luther King said, retaining is position as the largest “purveyor of violence in the world.”

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Navigating the Recent Egyptian Military Coup

by Cliff Burton

On July 30, the then Defense Minister, Abdel Fatah El-Sissi announced that the Egyptian military had deposed and detained the elected President, Muhammad Morsi. El-Sissi described this move as a response to mass protests against Morsi that had been taking place for several weeks prior.

He suggested that the Egyptian military was simply responding to the will of the people, and that it was protecting the revolution that deposed the then dictator Hosni Mubarak in January 2011.

Despite efforts by the US government to paint the situation otherwise (Secretary of State John Kerry suggested that deposing the democratically elected leader of the country was necessary to save democracy), it is clear that this was a coup, and not another revolution. The elected President is under detention, while unelected leaders rule the country (El-Sissy and the prime minister he appointed, who is former judge from the Mubarak era).

Secondly, despite the large protests that preceded the coup, the military did not take action in order to respond to the mass protests. Instead, the military had been planning the coup for roughly a full year (from the time Morsi was first elected president in the summer of 2012). The Tamarrud (Rebellion) Movement that organized the mass protests was bankrolled by the military and by business elites tied to the old regime. Once the protests were big enough, the military felt they had the popular cover to carry out the coup.

The strategy for preparing the ground for the coup also included deliberately causing shortages in gasoline and electricity through out Egypt. Pro-Mubarak bureaucrats made sure that shortages would arise to discredit Morsi, then “magically” restored these services to remedy the shortages the day after Morsi was deposed.

The private Egyptian press, army, and judiciary (all loyal to the former regime) also engaged in a smear campaign against Hamas (immediately accusing Hamas of killing 16 Egyptian soldiers in a base near the Gaza border in the summer of 2012) just as Morsi was attempting to soften the embargo on Gaza and open the borders for additional trade and allow Gazans to freely travel to and from Egypt. If Hamas could be discredited, this would discredit Morsi as well due to their close relationship.

Despite the fact that Morsi and the Brotherhood did not attempt any type of heavy handed crack down once the Tamarrud movement protests reached very large levels (including when protesters attacked and burned down several Brotherhood offices), the Egyptian military is now planning to try Brotherhood leader Badia for inciting Brotherhood members to kill protesters (for example, when attempting to protect themselves from protesters attempting to burn down Brotherhood offices, with these Brotherhood members still inside).

At the same time, the Egyptian military has now committed three separate clear cut massacres against peaceful Brotherhood supporters, who had established camp cities in Adu Rabia and Nahda squares to press for the reinstatement of Morsi as president. In the first massacre on July 8th, the Army killed 51 people, and on July 27th the second massacre killed at least 65 people. The third massacre occurred yesterday, August 14, early in the morning. Using Israeli style tactics, including the use of bulldozers, live ammunition and snipers, the Egyptian Army violently cleared Raba’a al Adawiya and al Nahda squares. Early reports from 278 dead and many thousands more wounded.

All the while, US President Barak Obama has refused to call the ouster of President Morsi a coup, in order to keep $1.3 billion in US aid flowing to our friends in the Egyptian Army. Despite the fact that US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has been in frequent telephone contact, and despite warnings from the Egyptian military that a crack down on Brotherhood supporters in the two squares was coming soon, both he and President Obama happened to be on vacation today.

This brings back memories of when Algerian Islamists won elections in the 1990’s. The secular Algerian military, with the backing of France and the US, promptly canceled the elections, leading to a brutal civil war that led to the loss of between 44,000 and 200,000 lives.

Edward Snowden: Chris Hedges Debates with Geoffrey Stone

Capitalism Can’t Grow Forever!

One of the inherit features of any healthy capitalist economy is growth. The gross domestic product (GDP) has to consistently be expanding in order for the economy to create jobs. If there is an economic downturn and productivity becomes stagnant or slows down then workers get laid off, businesses close and no one is happy. Businesses must remain profitable and reinvest some of their realized profits in expansion in order to grow and remain competitive in the world of aggressive, cannibalistic competitors. Most economists agree that the compound rate of growth required for a healthy economy is around 3% per annum. “Growth! Growth! Growth!”That’s what is barked at us every time we hear Mitt Romney or President Obama speak about the economy.

Theoretically and historically it makes sense. Ever since merchants and traders began to sow the seeds of free trade that would help usher in the fall of feudal overlords, oppressive monarchies and slavery in the New World, there was what seemed like infinite growth for capitalism to expand and for trade to flourish. Over the last several hundred years the spread of capitalism helped fuel colonization, imperialism and wars for cherished resources. Not to delve too deep into the historical evolution and growth of capitalism, let us simply say that when capitalism was confined to several small regions, such as Western Europe, it was easy and justifiable to view economic growth as something infinite. When capitalism was confined to the textile factories of Manchester, or the shipyards and port of Liverpool, one did not think or pay any mind to the limits to capitalism’s potential for growth.

Fast-forward to 2012. Capitalism is everywhere. Virtually every country on Earth has an economy that is either capitalist in some way or is operating in a global economy that is dominated by it. It becomes plain to see that the growth that was so easy to attain during the last few centuries, or even since the end of WWII up until the 1970s, has become increasingly more difficult to maintain. It is ludicrous for proponents of capitalism to continue to think that a compound rate of growth for the economy can continue on a planet with finite resources. The “ecological footprint” test has shown that if every person on Earth consumed as much as the average person in the U.S., then we would need at least five more Earths in order to accommodate the levels of consumption. Everyone knows that that is an impossible task to realize but the dogmas and belief in capitalism  has billions in the developing world chasing the illustrious model of North American prosperity. And who can blame them? The U.S. was able to achieve its wealth and status with complete disregard for the natural world or the limited amounts of finite resources that exist on this planet so why should China or India act differently? There are only so many trees, cobalt mines and oil reserves to exploit and the leaders in the U.S. are more than proud that they snatched them up first. As stated above, for a system that depends on exponential growth, about 3% per annum, in order to survive, it is a lofty pipe dream to think that we can continue to use the same metrics for economic growth without completely depleting the Earth of all its resources while drastically sharpening the geographical conflicts that will arise as resources become more scarce.

The metrics used to determine the health of an economy must soon transcend the current model of infinite growth with limited resources. A system or a business that becomes more profitable the more that it consumes must be inverted somehow. Harmony with nature and a system that is serious about sustainability must be advocated for. What we currently have cannot last much longer given the rates of resource depletion, climate damage, and human suffering.

Kony 2012: Or, the White Man’s Continued Burden and Willful Ignorance

The “Kony 2012” video is viral. It has received around 70 million views on youtube. From the beginning of the video until its awe inspiring, empowering end, one cannot help but feel moved by some of the imagery and repulsed by much of its content and what it symbolizes.

The campaign by “Invisible Children” has a dialectical effect that champions a noble cause on the one hand whilst perpetuating all that is wrong with the West’s idea of international law and who and what should be subjected to it. These two ideas of the heartfelt and repulsive are synthesized well enough for anyone that has the courage to view what is happening in Uganda from a perspective that is, dare I say, African? Or by someone that believes that Africans are not helpless children that depend on US paternalism in order to bring someone to justice. I am certain there are many Ugandans that are both in favor of the US intervening as well as opposed to it. The problem is that the “Kony 2012” doesn’t seem to take their views very seriously, or at all. And that’s a problem that has been around ever since before the Berlin Conference of 1884 and the “Scramble for Africa.”

One cannot watch this video and wonder where the African perspective is. Do they all see themselves as so defenseless and reliant on the Great White Savior to come to their rescue? Do they all want the US to militarily intervene in their country? Does the average Ugandan feel as though the conflict in Uganda is that flat and simplistic?

One also can’t help but wonder why the court is not named the African Criminal Court and not the International Criminal Court. No one disagrees that Joseph Kony is  vile and wretched man that should be arrested and brought to justice for his crimes, that is indisputable. However, how can it be that someone like Kony could be the focus of so much international attention for war crimes while other war criminals, such as George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld, to name a few, continue to walk freely?

The International Criminal Court has hitherto pursued cases almost exclusively in AFRICA of men that are AFRICAN. It is true that poorer states with fewer resources tend to defer to the ICC for various reasons. But that does not explain the disproportionality  between those indicted in Africa versus those indicted here in the West. After all, it is here in the US that the war crimes in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos,  Nicaragua, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc, have been engineered and carried out, yet not one person has faced charges for their “crimes against humanity.”

It does not matter if  crimes against humanity are carried out with depleted uranium, napalm, agent orange,a machetes, an AK-47, or a laser guided missile. Nor does the geography of where such a crime matter. A crime carried out by a US warplane in Baghdad against innocent men, women, and children is no different than a member of Joseph Kony’s army indiscriminately raping and murdering a young girl or forcing a boy to kill his parents. It just makes us in the West feel better if we condemn these African monsters while ignoring the monsters on our own soil.

Noam Chomsky once observed that if the standards employed during the Nuremberg Trials against the Nazis afther WWII were employed today every US President since WWII would have been hung for war crimes. Perhaps that helps to explain the need and desire for the West to continue to validate its legitimacy by continuing to accuse “the Other” while maintaining the myth of dignity and policy of humanitarian imperialism abroad. While the “Kony 2012” video should be recognized as a very well intentioned and effective campaign to make Kony “famous,” it should also be recognized for what it does not address and the broader significance that such willful ignorance perpetuates.

Link to ICC’s most wanted list:

http://usaforicc.org/mostwanted/flash

Occupy Wall Street and the Imperative to Question Capitalism

The “Occupy Wall Street” movement is gaining traction and support throughout the broader segments of civil society each day. And with each day that passes its legitimacy grows as exponentially as the fear of the 1% that is responsible for creating the global crisis of capitalism. The movement is only a few weeks old and already the illegitimate forces of the powers that be are acting irresponsibly by pepper spraying peaceful protesters, willfully misguiding marchers one minute only to “kettle” them and arrest hundreds of them the next. Do the authorities not understand that actions such as these only help to garner more support for the movement? Most of the mainstream media tries to marginalize the activists by characterizing them as unorganized and frivolous, or as hippies and anarchists. The past 40 years of disenfranchisement of the working class and concentration of monopoly capitalism on a global scale is beginning to be directly challenged by the nexus of global activists from the streets of New York City to the picket lines of Athens, and it’s making some people in power nervous…

At the heart of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement and the general resistance to capitalist structural adjustment and austerity measures globally is the desire among activists to bring into question many aspects of not just corporate greed, fraudulently foreclosed homes, inequality, imperialism, political corruption, and unemployment, but a genuine desire to create more serious discourse about the very social and economic system that, up until now, so many people have taken for granted and accepted as something as natural as the air we breathe.

In 2011 many people are beginning to see for themselves that capitalism is indeed not as natural and eternal as the champions of the status quo like to make them think. And as their pensions dwindle, their debts accumulate, their jobs vaporize, and their wages are further repressed in order to restore profits for big business and “liquidity” in the global markets, they are beginning to see that capitalism is not as beneficial for them or for society as a whole, especially when recklessness is rewarded and avarice is celebrated. People are also beginning to understand more that the traditional political parties, both Democrats and Republicans alike, provide no real alternatives to the problems that the majority of working people are faced with. In fact, the feeble solutions offered do nothing that will qualitatively alter the conditions that created the crisis in the first place. Just to quickly illustrate how perverse the situation is, it should be known that not one architect of the global meltdown has been charged or jailed for any of their criminal behavior in defrauding homeowners, destroying retirements, waging war and then making billions of of it, etc., but somehow 700 peaceful protesters were arrested for walking on a bridge!

The anti-Wall Street atmosphere is brimming with inquisitive and passionate people that are asking many questions about the fundamental operation of the capitalist mode of production as a whole. A lot of young people are beginning to question if the system we have is indeed sustainable or even worth keeping around much longer. For example, we are told incessantly by cheerleaders of the capitalist system that in order to bring the US, and naturally, Western Europe, out of recession and for profits to be restored to business that the economy must expand at 3% per annum. This means that GDP has to be on the continual rise day after day, year after year,which also means that in order for that to happen more markets have to be exploited, more resources have to be extracted, and America’s twisted consumer culture has to keep growing. This seems paradoxical for a society that is vowing to implement meaningful reforms or to be more “sustainable.” Can you see the ridiculousness of it all? Capitalism cannot expand at a compound rate forever! There is only one Earth and that one Earth only has so many resources to exploit and extract.

Another issue that many activists are beginning to discuss deals with the fact that in order for society to truly be a democracy and for resources to be distributed more equitably there has to first and foremost be democracy in the work place. We hear political figures speak about having a free and open democratic society all the time, but how democratic can any society be when most people that work 40-50 hrs a week enter into definite relations of production in the workplace that are anything but democratic! The workplace is the perfect example of a tyranny. The boss is the tyrant while the worker is forced to accept any and every decision that is made from the top tier down. How is that democracy? Democracy in society can only express itself as a democratic principle when it correlates to democracy in the places of employment. If the 99% of people that are represented as those that are not corporate CEOs, bankers, and entrenched politicians had more say in the decisions and the distribution of the surplus that is created in the workplace then we would begin to see a more equitable society and social order emerge. Democracy in its evolved form will manifest itself in a workplace that is run by those that actually work there!

These are just a few of the many questions that the 99% should be addressing about capitalism in its current, extremely unequal and exploitative form. The crisis evolved not out of thin air, but out of specific historical conditions that have hitherto coalesced into a crisis of epidemic proportions, and it is our responsibility to ask questions and search for answers that are truly historic. Capitalism is only the “end of history” for those that feel there is no more history to create; no more justice to be brought about, and no progression and dignity for the human condition to fulfill.

Hasta la victoria!

>What They Don’t Tell You About the Economic Crisis.

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Banksy

We are in the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression. What has become known as “The Great Recession” is affecting millions of working people, not just in the United States, but all over the world. In a dramatic twist of irony it seems that those responsible for the economic crisis received the most assistance from the federal government, were the least affected by the negative ramifications of the crisis, and recovered the quickest from their losses. Many of the major banks that were on the brink of collapse such as Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, and J.P. Morgan Chase, are once again bringing in enormous profits. Where the free market failed for the capitalist class, the welfare state of, for, and by the rich stepped in.

Due to the fact that political system in the United States is made up of two parties -the Democrats and the Republicans- that are in many ways “two wings from the same bird of prey,” that bird of prey being the capitalist system, there are many issues that are not discussed in the discourse between Democrats and Republicans.  One would not expect cheerleaders of the system to continually critique or advocate for radical change to a system that they not only control, but profit from immensely, at least in the short run.

Some issues that are not explicitly acknowledged but are extremely important to keep in mind when thinking about the crisis of the American and global economy include the observations that:

The Great Recession is not over! Just because many of the companies and industries that the government bailed out have returned to profitability does not mean that the average college graduate (yay, that’s me!) is going to find the job search any easier. In fact, over eight million jobs were lost during the deepest trough of the recession and only one and a half million have been added. This is enough to keep pace with the rising amounts of available workers but not enough to make as much of a dent in the unemployment rate.

The real unemployment rate is actually much higher than official reports. For May 2011 the unemployment rate was listed at around 9.1%. This is an extremely high number, but to be officially unemployed one has to have looked for work within the last four weeks. Those that have searched for work but have not searched for over four weeks, also known as “discouraged workers,” are not included. Other “marginally attached workers,” workers that may not be discouraged but have not searched for work because of certain constraints, such as not being able to pay for daycare, are also not included. And neither are workers that are working part-time but want full-time work. If these people are included the actual unemployment rate is much higher. Some estimate the real rate at closer to double the government numbers.

 The Internationalization of American capital. Many staunch advocates of the status quo placate the frustrations of workers by assuring them that the economy is on the road to recovery and that growth will soon return, thus employing the millions or unemployed people again. This is lofty reassurance and pure naivety in today’s global capitalist economy. U.S. businesses have relocated labor abroad where the cost of production for goods and services is cheaper, labor standards are not enforced, and wages are a fraction of what they are in the U.S. This has made the plight of workers all over the world that much more difficult because multinational corporations relocate their operations in a race to the bottom, and since capital is mobile and labor is not, it ends up creating competition between different elements of the working class that should otherwise be more unified in their struggles.

The massive offshoring of U.S. manufacturing jobs over the last several decades is compounded by the technological innovations that render certain human labor unnecessary and less costly, which adds even more workers to the massive pool of unemployed. The manufacturing problem can be somewhat countered by weaker dollar because that would make goods cheaper to produce in the U.S., which would entice global businesses to invest and make goods in America, but it is too little too late and labor is still cheaper in other places abroad. All of this makes the recovery for the American economy that much more difficult, especially when the populace does not have the income to purchase their way out of the recession. This leads us to the next point, albeit in a roundabout way.

-Capitalism’s rapacious assault on the natural world is becoming undeniable and actually threatening the vital ecosystems that make life possible on Earth, which makes the idea of growing the economy out of recession an even more life threatening issue for countless people, animals, plants, that are already threatened by capitalism’s insatiable consumption. Capitalism is not synonymous with sustainability and the Earth can not support a vision of a global economy whereby the entire developing world aspires to become the massive consumer pigs of the United States. The neoclassical party program of unabated, vicious growth is finally reaching a point where capitalism’s natural lust for accumulation is building to such a crescendo that not even the precious finite resources of planet Earth can sustain it anymore. The idea of economies have sustainable, zero growth is a heterodox idea in today’s world but it is becoming increasingly more vital that we search for ways to create harmony with the natural world, rather than waxing poetic about green reform of environmental sustainability while embracing capitalism.

-The rising standard of living via the largest credit card bonanza in U.S. history came crashing down. Many economists and activists on the left have pointed out that since the 1970s the rising standard of living in America was fueled by the largest influx of consumer credit in history. the 1970s was a time when the American worker became more productive by using cost effective technology like computers. Worker productivity increased but the increased productivity did not translate to increased worker benefits or increased wages. Workers were actually making more in the 1970s per hour, adjusted for inflation, than they are today. The increased profits were extracted by business and bankers and injected in the the stock market or other highly capital intensive endeavors. The profits accumulated by businesses were also loaned back to the workers, with interest of course, so they could continue to fund their standard of living.  It was an extremely profitable time for American business and a time when American’s not only had more debt than what they actually made, but were also living outside their means in every way, shape, and form. This problem has not come to a disastrous climax and no one in the government or political apparatus has any real solutions on the table. The American Dream is even more of a myth than it previously was.

The solutions offered by the ruling class are to continue protecting their vested interests in the status quo and to claim that the only way out of the crisis and to balance the budgets that they so irresponsibly managed through war, tax loopholes for the hyper-wealthy, etc., is to cut funding for our schools, libraries, medicaid, pensions, etc. In other words, their aim is to continue to place the burden on the people that had little, if anything, to do with creating the crisis in the first place.