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



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.”


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.

Reenacting the Past : Film review of “The Act of Killing.”

act of killing

Every once in a while a film comes along that is so powerful and unforgettable that you cannot purge it from your mind for days or weeks after, or ever.  Joshua Oppenheimer’s new documentary, “The Act of Killing,” is one such film. It is a  masterpiece, a tour de force that proves one film has the power to force not just a few people, but an entire nation to face the dark truths of its past. And it exists above all, to dispel the notion of good and evil and instead focus on the dialectic between the two;that we are both good and evil, we are human.

The directors, Mr. Oppenheimer and an anonymous Indonesian counterpart, along with a crew of mostly anonymous Indonesians–stick around for the credits to see just how many– went around the country interviewing former members of  paramilitary death squads that are responsible for one of the largest, most forgotten genocides of the 20th century. They then asked them to make a film about their experiences in any way they desire. What ensued is one of the most surreal, heart-wrenching poignant tragicomedies ever produced for a movie screen.

Beginning in 1965 right-wing paramilitary death squads began rounding up members of the recently overthrown, democratically elected government and murdering them. The military, led by general Suharto, with the approval of the U.S. government, murdered between 500,000 and 1.5 million “communists,” union organizers, intellectuals and anyone they felt was a sympathizer of the old left-leaning regime. In an interview on Democracy Now! Mr. Oppenheimer asked viewers to imagine today if the Democratic party was rounded up and exterminated with complete impunity.Today the perpetrators remain unpunished, even celebrated in the country at political gatherings and their local communities. Anwar Congo, one of the main protagonists of the film and considered one of the founders of the right-wing paramilitary group, Pamuda Pancasila, boasts about his crimes and experiences and recreates his own surreal nightmares with the help of other perpetrators.

There is a quote at the beginning of the movie by Voltaire, “It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.”Adi, one of the explicitly remorseless perpetrators in the film, bluntly states that he is part of the winning side of history and because of that he gets to write his own history of what happened. He makes the point that what he took part in Indonesia was no different than what happened to the Native Americans in the United States. These issues of historical supremacy are juxtaposed with shots of Adi and his family wandering around a modern shopping complex in Indonesia doing the things that all families do. They laugh, look at electronic gadgets and sit in the food court. Knowing what we know about Adi and his role in the genocide; his indifference and conviction, we cannot help but identify with his humanity. The first presumption that comes to mind is that all monsters and sociopaths can pretend to show emotion, but this film illustrates that the truth is much more complex because good and evil are not mutually exclusive. They are symbiotically wrapped in the flesh of human experiences and the collective imagination of an entire people.

When watching this film one cannot help–especially if they are American– to contextualize what happened in Indonesia relative to what is occurring in various parts of the world at the behest of the United States. Military forces and private mercenaries are operating all over the world with impunity killing thousands in the name of security from “terrorists,” and this year’s terrorists are last year’s “communists.” Heros in uniform are unabashedly celebrated for the killing they do in their respective country’s name. We make films to lionize them, games to inculcate our youth with their values, plaster stickers on our cars, and in all of this one cannot help but draw a connection with the sentiments of alienation, denial and trivialization that Anwar Congo displays. The ghosts of Anwar’s past are inextricably tied to the ghosts of our past and thinking about the film and what it says about remembrance and reconciliation help one to make sense of atrocity and where it fits in the individual and collective psyche.

The film is an exploration into the nature of killing and impunity and the effects such things have on the consciousness of those who commit crimes of the most heinous nature. Do perpetrators feel remorse or guilt when they have committed state sanctioned atrocities in the name of security, flag and country? If the perpetrators are celebrated as national heros, at least for the dominate ruling class and by extension historical account, does feeling guilt or shame for their cruelty begin to chip away at the preponderant historical narrative? The film suggests that it does. Anwar Congo killed 1,000 people with his own two hands and throughout the film his specters rear their heads and he covers them back up with his self-indulgence and trivialities. The end of the film suggests that all of his demons are finally coming back to haunt him in full force and the viewer will undoubtedly be left with more questions than answers. Is he acting for the camera to show the version of him that the film is supposed to portray for the resolution that we all demand? Were his emotions sincere? As he leaves the killing chamber that is now a handbag store the notion that he was not truly remorseful for what he had done is the most terrifying aspect of the film and the viewer, just like Anwar, will be forced to purge that notion from their head because it is too dark to ponder.

Edward Snowden: Chris Hedges Debates with Geoffrey Stone

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:

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!

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