Occupy Comics Review: love letter to an ongoing struggle

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The Occupy Comics anthology was finally released a few days ago via Black Mask Comics and it is nothing short of breathtaking. It is an example of the the great things than can happen when the spirit of the DIY punk attitude converges with some of the greatest talents in the comic industry. What they have produced is a love letter to one of the most inspiring social movements in recent history. The comic is alive. It is a living, breathing collection of stories and art that will live on and, just like the movement itself, continue to inspire for generations to come.

The project was organized by Mat Pizzolo and funded by a simple Kickstarter page.  A few of the of the contributors include Charlie Adlard (The Walking Dead), David Lloyd (V for Vendetta), Ben Templesmith (30 Days of Night), Joshua Dysart (Swamp Thing, Unknown Soldier), and the legendary Alan Moore (Watchmen, V for Vendetta, From Hell).

There are vignettes and short stories about everything Occupy: historical snippets of the Homestead Massacre, the Occupy Sandy efforts to assist people out in Far Rockaway, and the touching story of a family getting evicted from their home. All these works serve as powerful stories that encompass the struggle for social justice. Occupy Comics explores many different aspects of the movement, including a vignette from an “evil” banker that engenders sympathy from even the most anti-capitalist of Occupy supporters. The work is poignant while being non-partisan when it comes to the ideological vistas represented in OWS and that is one of its greatest strengths.

Anyone who participated in Occupy Wall Street before its main hub in Zuccottii Park was was brutally razed by Michael Bloomberg and his repressive army will immediately be transported back to the park where all of the great discussions, activism, interaction and protest took place on a daily basis. Reading through the comic is like opening a time capsule to the days when thousands of people were coming down to the park or marching against all of the impunity and criminality that precipitated the largest global economic crisis since the Great Depression.

One of the highlights of Occupy Comics is the brilliant essay by Alan Moore. His piece alone is well worth picking up the anthology. He wrote a 23 page article entitled, “Buster Brown at the Barricades: Foment in the Funnies and Comics as Counter-Culture.” Many people have been writing off Mr. Moore lately because of his acridity and criticism of the mainstream comics writers and the industry as a whole. Perhaps he hasn’t read a lot of their work. Perhaps he is a little jaded, but he is correct in his lamentations and opinions and his article proves that he continues to be passionate about comics and the power that they have wielded throughout history, both politically and as a story telling device. By reading his piece one gets the sense that his criticism comes from his sadness and frustration over the potential of what comics could be if they were not hijacked by the philistines in the entertainment industry.

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His article also reads like the perfect condensed history of the comic book: From its beginnings on the back of stones that nameless toilers stacked on ancient Egyptian pyramids to the Prohibition bootleggers that smuggled their booze from Canada, comics have always been a medium where the dispossessed, illiterate and unloved found solace, where the origins of the political cartoon scribed on an unused carton in 17th century Italy spoke truth to power. Occupy Comics is the perfect manifestation of that power and potential. It is a throwback to the origins of comics and a contemporary protest piece that will stand the test of time and serve not as a monument to a movement defeated, but a rallying cry to a struggle that continues every hour of every day.

To purchase this comic go here

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NASA funded study warns of societal collapse-or, godspeed you bleak civilization!

NASA study

A trending article in The Guardian, along with a recent study funded by NASA written by Safa Motesharrei, Jorge Rivas and Eugina Kalnay, warns of the imminent collapse of global civilization. In their paper they maintain that two major themes reoccur throughout history that contribute to the collapse of societies: “(1) Ecological Strain and (2) Economic Stratification.” They also say that technology will only solve so many issues before it becomes obsolete at preventing the collapse. It sounds alarmist, but in 2014 the precariousness of planet Earth and the fragile fabric holding it all together becomes more strained every day.

They point out that societal “collapse” often appears as trivial but is indeed backed up by historical data. “The rise-and-collapse” process has occurred many times over the centuries and for largely the same reasons. From ancient Babylon, Mesopotamia, Sumeria and Maya, civilizations rose to great heights only to precipitate eventual collapse and downfall. They observe that the rise-and-collapse of civilization is the norm rather than the exception to large agrarian based civilizations.

One would not be mistaken for feeling compelled to believe that modern society is prone to the same fate. In fact, not only does their study, along with the thousands of years of the historical record say so, but so does any observation of the current state of the global capitalist economy. Capitalism, from its very inception, is a system based on compound, exponential growth. This, of course, is a great problem on a planet with finite resources. The ecological strain that the planet is currently undergoing due to this phenomenon is one of hitherto unprecedented heights. From global warming to resource extraction and unimaginable pollution the Earth is under extreme duress at the same time the expanding middle class in China is being told that with market discipline they will be able to behave like consumers in the U.S. This obviously is not sustainable but the system is not built to effectively and critically think about this. With every country under the the spell of global capitalism the rapacious onslaught on the world’s natural resources will continue unabated for the foreseeable future in the name of GDP, “progress” and “modernity.” Something has to give, the question is when.

The second major theme, economic stratification, is also rampant throughout the world and growing more acute in the U.S. each day. The Wall Street Journal reported that the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at its highest point ever on March 5th, 2013. There are indicators all over that illustrate how the richest of the rich are doing better than ever while the poor and working class are suffering at near immeasurable levels. In 2012, the top 10 percent of  earners took home more than half of the country’s income– the highest recorded level ever.  Porsche reported its best year ever in 2012 and anyone living in NYC can simply walk down the street in Manhattan and see just how many high rise luxury rentals are being built, in fact, 2013 was the largest luxury real estate boom in NYC history. This explosion of wealth for the 1% is contrasted by the continued immiseration of the proletariat. Poverty has risen in the U.S. since the Great Recession despite the ostensible “recovery.” And perhaps the most condemning  report from Oxfam recently found that “Almost half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just one percent of the population, and seven out of ten people live in countries where economic inequality has increased in the last 30 years.” This stratification is extremely dangerous to political systems, particularly in the democratic tradition, as the disparities pose serious threats to political inclusion, government stability and the general welfare of people.

The specters of the past are not haunting us, they are already here, waiting to usher in the end of civilization as we know it and from the way things are going we welcome it.

At least we will have a soundtrack for it. . .

Obama, Putin on the “wrong side of history”– A short list on the irony of intervention.

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NEW YORK-The headlines are rife with irony laid bare before the world. On March 3rd, Obama said that the U.S. is doing all it can to work towards isolating Russia over its incursion into Crimea. Russia, according to Obama, has violated Ukraine’s sovereignty, its territorial borders and shown disdain for international law. He stated that Russia’s actions in Crimea are illustrating that Putin is on the “wrong side of history.”

Secretary of State John Kerry was on “Face the Nation” on Monday where his statements could be seen as nothing more than ludicrous to anyone that has knowledge of U.S. foreign policy and aggression. He stated,”You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pre-text.” Kerry said that Russia’s actions are “an incredible act of aggression.”

The Russians must find these allegations amusing and many in the world are surely confused: How can the largest purveyor of violence in the world today say such things without looking uninformed, belligerent and downright ridiculous?

The United States has a habit of condemning other nations when they intervene in the affairs of others yet reserves the right to insert itself anywhere in the world at any given time for any reason, often times intervening on “humanitarian” grounds. Many people wonder how the U.S. can lambaste Russia while it is raining down bombs from drones in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and has over 700 military bases abroad . There are more than 50 examples of the U.S. intervening militarily or clandestinely since WWII alone. This short list only serves to provide serves to provide some context on the ironies of U.S. imperialism abroad with a few of the lesser known recent interventions.

2003, Iraq – The Bush Administration fabricates intelligence that Saddam Hussein developed weapons of mass destruction and supported Al Qaeda terrorists. Who remembers Colin Powell’s fabricated presentation at the UN to make his case for war?

2001, Afghanistan – After the September 11th terrorist attacks the U.S. gets even with the Taliban for aiding and abetting known Al-Qaeda terrorists. Consequently, the U.S. involves itself in one of the longest and most costly wars ever. The toll on the Afghan people is immeasurable, with nearly 20,000 civilians killed, and many arguing that the U.S. is not safer and that the Taliban is no weaker than before.

1994, Haiti – The U.S. first occupied Haiti in 1915 with 330 Marines to safeguard the interests of U.S. business interests. One of the most famous Marines and two time Medal of Honor recipient, Gen. Smedley Butler, wrote a book entitle “War is a Racket” describing how he was a “gangster for capitalism” and U.S. corporate interests. In 1994, the U.S. carried out Operation Uphold Democracy, which overthrew the elected president, John-Bertrand Aristide.

1989, Panama – One of the main reasons for the invasion of Panama, among several others, given by President George H.W. Bush on the morning 20 December, 1989, was to protect the 35,000 U.S. civilians living there. The relationship between President Manuel Noriega, who was a paid up to $200,000 a year for his contractual services for the CIA and DEA, had fallen out of grace with U.S. officials after his double dealing shenanigans were revealed by Seymor Hersh. He refused to surrender himself and shortly after the de facto leader of Panama was ousted in Operation Just Cause to international condemnation.

1960, Republic of the Congo – Patrice Lumumba, the first democratically elected leader of the Congo, was ousted in a coup supported by the Belgian and U.S. authorities. President Dwight Eisenhower along with Allen Dulles, director of the CIA, advised “eliminating” President Lumumba. The U.S. was not directly involved in his murder but there are documents that now prove the CIA conspired to kill him.

1971-1973, Chile – Salvador Allende, the democratically elected president of Chile, was ousted in a coup led by General Agusto Pinochet, with the active support of the CIA. Documents from the National Security Archive show the extent to which President Nixon and his cohorts assisted in destabilizing and overthrowing Allende’s regime.

For a more complete list from Wounded Knee to Libya click here.

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.”

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.”

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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