Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas: End Our Cultural Narcissism, Renounce Empire, and Make Room for the Poor and the Weak

Christmas is No Time to Talk About War and Peace
By Jim Rigby / December 19, 2011

When I heard the President speak to returning troops last week, my mind flashed back to an article I once wrote for our local newspaper. Each week a different member of the local clergy would write a column, and I had been asked to write the piece for Christmas. That year all I could hear was the drumbeat leading toward a war with Iraq. I racked my brain trying to think of a way to put faces on the people we were about to bomb. Looking at a nativity scene I thought, “the people we are about to kill look like that.” Maybe a reframed Christmas story could help Americans stop hating Saddam long enough to care about the people who will pay the real cost of this invasion. I submitted the following article, covering the Christmas story the way the U.S. press was covering the build-up to the Iraq war. Looking back, I should have known what was about to happen.

Christmas Cancelled as a Security Measure

ELLIS ISLAND -- The three wise men were arrested today attempting to enter the country. The Iraqi nationals were carrying massive amounts of flammable substances known as “frankincense” and “myrrh.” While not explosives themselves, experts revealed that these two substances could be used as a fuse to detonate a larger bomb. The three alleged terrorists were also carrying gold, presumably to finance the rest of their mission.

Also implicated in the plot were two Palestinians named Joseph and Mary. An anonymous source close to the family overheard Mary bragging that her son would “bring down the mighty from their thrones and lift up the lowly.” In what appears to be a call to anarchy, the couple claims their son will someday “help prisoners escape captivity.” “These people match our terrorist profile perfectly,” an official source reported.

All of the suspects claimed they heard angels singing of a new era of hope for the afflicted and poor. As one Wall Street official put it, “These one world wackos are talking about overturning the entire economic and political hierarchy that holds the civilized world together. I don’t care what some angel sang; God wants the status quo -by definition.”

A somber White House press secretary announced that it might be prudent to cancel Christmas until others in the plot are rounded up. “I assure you that this measure is temporary. The President loves Christmas as much as anyone. People can still shop and give expensive gifts, but we’re asking them not to think about world peace until after we have rid the world of evil people. For Americans to sing, ‘peace on earth, good will to all’, is just the wrong message to send to our enemies at this time.”

The strongest opponents of the Christmas ban were the representatives of retail stores, movie chains and makers of porcelain Christmas figurines. “This is a tempest in a teapot,” fumed one unnamed business owner. “No one thinks of the political meaning of Christmas any more. Christmas isn’t about a savior who will bring hope to the outcasts of the world; it’s about nativity scenes and beautiful lights. History has shown that mature people are perfectly capable of singing hymns about world peace while still supporting whatever war our leaders deem necessary. People long ago stopped tying religion to the real events in the world.”

There has been no word on where the suspects are being kept, or when their trial might be held. Authorities are asking citizens who see other foreigners resembling nativity scene figures to contact the Office of Homeland Security.

A few days after submitting that piece, I received a nervous call from an editor. “We love your story. It’s very funny.”

“Thank you,” I said waiting for the other shoe to fall.

“The thing is, we want to take out the part about Iraq and Palestine.”

After a horrified pause, I explained that had been the whole point of writing the story -- to humanize the people who were about to be killed. When I refused to gut the story, he told me they would have to drop it all together.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. Clergy who want to talk about real events in the world are seen as too political for the religious section, and too religious for the political section. Of course, if a minister gets in the pulpit and waves the flag and prays for the troops, that’s not called “political”, but if a minister questions any war, then it is considered mixing religion and politics. The resulting pablum in most clergy columns validates their strategic placement somewhere between the obituaries and the comics.

President Obama welcomes home troops at Fort Bragg, NC, on Dec. 14, 2011.

What have we learned as a result of the war? That was answered by Obama’s words to the returning troops:

“Because of you -- because you sacrificed so much for a people that you had never met -- Iraqis have a chance to forge their own destiny. That’s part of what makes us special as Americans. Unlike the old empires, we don’t make these sacrifices for territory or for resources. We do it because it’s right. There can be no fuller expression of America’s support for self-determination than our leaving Iraq to its people. That says something about who we are.”

Looking back at my earlier Christmas article, I feel pain not pride at what the President said. His speech to returning troops could have been taken from any leader, of any nation, from any period of history, simply by changing the names and places. It is the kind of speech every leader has given since the emperors: brave and noble words, written in someone else’s blood. This President who ran, in part, against this war, has come to repeat the party line. This President, who once spoke of respect for all people of the world, has now deported more immigrants than Bush.

Hearing another speech expressing our nation’s narcissistic delusion made me physically ill. I could not help but think of the bloody wake such rhetoric leaves behind when put into action. The fact that we are leaving Iraq at this point says nothing about the purity of our initial motives. Even bank robbers don’t stay around after the crime has been committed. I appreciate trying to make our young soldiers not feel like they were pawns in someone else’s parlor game, but for the sake of future generations we must painfully remember and affirm, that is exactly what happened.

We, from the United States, are not like the people in our nativity scenes. We are like the Romans looming ominously in the background of the story. Christmas is about the little people of the world who find joy and meaning while living under someone else’s boot. We from the United States can only celebrate Christmas by ending our cultural narcissism, renouncing empire, and making room for the poor and the weak of the world like Joseph and Mary.

Christmas is not a fact of history, but Christianity’s particular symbol of every human being’s hope for world peace and universal happiness. When the angels sang, “peace on earth good will to all,” they were expressing the song written in every heart. But, that song calls us out of empire and into our entire human family. Maybe stopping the frenzy of Christmas long enough to really hear the song the angels sang to the wretched of the earth, would give us the humanity to stop hanging our Christmas lights until we no longer kill our brothers and sisters for the fuel to illumine them.

“O ye beneath life's crushing load, whose forms are bending low,

Who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow;

Look now, for glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing;

Oh rest beside the weary road and hear the angels sing.”

[Jim Rigby is pastor of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Austin, TX. He can be reached at, and videos of his sermons are available online at]

Source / Common Dreams

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And We Shall Keep You Where We Want You

Source / YouTube

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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Who Should Be On Trial? Who Should Be In Jail?

A Man in Tunisia, a Movement on Wall Street, and the Soldier Who Ignited the Fuse
By Michael Moore / December 17, 2011

It's Saturday night and I didn't want the day to end before I sent out this note to you.

One year ago today (December 17th), Mohamed Bouazizi, a man who had a simple produce stand in Tunisia, set himself on fire to protest his government's repression. His singular sacrifice ignited a revolution that toppled Tunisia's dictator and launched revolts in regimes across the Middle East.

Three months ago today, Occupy Wall Street began with a takeover of New York's Zuccotti Park. This movement against the greed of corporate America and its banks -- and the money that now controls most of our democratic institutions -- has quickly spread to hundreds of towns and cities across America. The majority of Americans now agree that a nation where 400 billionaires have more wealth than 160 million Americans combined is not the country they want America to be. The 99% are rising up against the 1% -- and now there is no turning back.

Twenty-four years ago today, U.S. Army Spc. Bradley Manning was born. He has now spent 570 days in a military prison without a trial -- simply because he allegedly blew the whistle on the illegal and immoral war in Iraq. He exposed what the Pentagon and the Bush administration did in creating this evil and he did so by allegedly leaking documents and footage to Wikileaks. Many of these documents dealt not only with Iraq but with how we prop up dictators around the world and how our corporations exploit the poor on this planet. (There were even cables with crazy stuff on them, like one detailing Bush's State Department trying to stop a government minister in another country from holding a screening of 'Fahrenheit 9/11.')

The Wikileaks trove was a fascinating look into how the United States conducts its business -- and clearly those who don't want the world to know how we do things in places like, say, Tunisia, were not happy with Bradley Manning.

Mohamed Bouazizi was being treated poorly by government officials because all he wanted to do was set up a cart and sell fruit and vegetables on the street. But local police kept harassing him and trying to stop him. He, like most Tunisians, knew how corrupt their government was. But when Wikileaks published cables from the U.S. ambassador in Tunis confirming the corruption -- cables that were published just a week or so before Mohamed set himself on fire -- well, that was it for the Tunisian people, and all hell broke loose.

People across the world devoured the information Bradley Manning revealed, and it was used by movements in Egypt, Spain, and eventually Occupy Wall Street to bolster what we already thought was true. Except here were the goods -- the evidence that was needed to prove it all true. And then a democracy movement spread around the globe so fast and so deep -- and in just a year's time! When anyone asks me, "Who started Occupy Wall Street?" sometimes I say "Goldman Sachs" or "Chase" but mostly I just say, "Bradley Manning." It was his courageous action that was the tipping point -- and it was not surprising when the dictator of Tunisia censored all news of the Wikileaks documents Manning had allegedly supplied. But the internet took Manning's gift and spread it throughout Tunisia, a young man set himself on fire and the Arab Spring that led eventually to Zuccotti Park has a young, gay soldier in the United States Army to thank.

And that is why I want to honor Bradley Manning on this, his 24th birthday, and ask the millions of you reading this to join with me in demanding his immediate release. He does not deserve the un-American treatment, including cruel solitary confinement, he's received in over eighteen months of imprisonment. If anything, this young man deserves a friggin' medal. He did what great Americans have always done -- he took a bold stand against injustice and he did it without stopping for a minute to consider the consequences for himself.

The Pentagon and the national security apparatus are hell-bent on setting an example with Bradley Manning. But we as Americans have a right to know what is being done in our name and with our tax dollars. If the government tries to cover up its malfeasance, then it is the duty of each and every one of us, should the situation arise, to drag the truth, kicking and screaming if necessary, into the light of day.

The American flag was lowered in Iraq this past Thursday as our war on them officially came to an end. If anyone should be on trial or in the brig right now, it should be those men who lied to the nation in order to start this war -- and in doing so sent nearly 4,500 Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis to their deaths.

But it is not Bush or Rumsfeld or Cheney or Wolfowitz who sit in prison tonight. It is the hero who exposed them. It is Bradley Manning who has lost his freedom and that, in turn, becomes just one more crime being committed in our name.

I know, I know, c'mon Mike -- it's the holiday season, there's presents to buy and parties to go to! And yes, this really is one of my favorite weeks of the year. But in the spirit of the man whose birth will be celebrated next Sunday, please do something, anything, to help this young man who spends his birthday tonight behind bars. I say, enough. Let him go home and spend Christmas with his family. We've done enough violence to the world this decade while claiming to be a country that admires the Prince of Peace. The war is over. And a whole new movement has a lot to thank Bradley Manning for.

© 2011 Michael Moore

[Michael Moore is an activist, author, and filmmaker. See more of his work at his website]

Source / Common Dreams

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In Pursuit of Life, Liberty and A Less F***ed-Up Government

Source /

THanks to Fishmael / Fluxed Up World

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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Who Increased the Size of the US Deficit?

Source / US Treasury

Thanks to Dan Shapiro / Fluxed Up World

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Friday, December 9, 2011

And Another Continent Gets a Divorce from American Colonialism and Globalism

Leaders of Latin American and Caribbean states pose for a photo during the 33-member CELAC summit in Caracas.

A Union is Born: Latin America in Revolution
By Eva Golinger / December 8, 2011

While much of the world is in crisis and protests are erupting throughout Europe and the United States, Latin American and Caribbean nations are building consensus, advancing social justice and increasing positive cooperation in the region. Social, political and economic transformations have been taking place through democratic processes in countries such as Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil throughout the past decade, leading to a massive reduction in poverty and income disparity in the region, and a substantial increase in social services, quality of life and direct participation in political process.

One of the major initiatives of progressive Latin American governments this century has been the creation of new regional organizations that promote integration, cooperation and solidarity amongst neighboring nations. Cuba and Venezuela began this process in 2004 with the founding of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), that now includes Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Dominica, St. Vincent’s and the Grenadines and Antigua and Barbuda. ALBA was initially launched in response to the US government’s failed attempt to impose its Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA) throughout the region. Today ALBA is a thriving multilateral organization with member nations that share similar political visions for their countries and for the region, and includes numerous cooperation agreements in economic, social and cultural areas. The fundamental basis of trade amongst ALBA nations is solidarity and mutual benefit. There is no competition, exploitation or attempt to dominate amongst ALBA states. ALBA even counts on its own currency, the SUCRE, which allows for trade between member nations without dependence on the US dollar.

In 2008, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) was formally established as a regional body representing South American states. While ALBA is much more consolidated as a unified political voice, UNASUR represents a diversity of political positions, economic models and visions for the region. But UNASUR members share the common goal of working towards regional unity and guaranteeing the resolution of conflicts through peaceful and diplomatic means. UNASUR has already played a key role in peacefully resolving disputes in Bolivia, particularly during an attempted coup against the government of Evo Morales in 2008, and has also successfully moderated a severe conflict between Colombia and Venezuela, leading to the reestablishment of relations in 2010.

Two hundred years ago, South American Independence hero Simon Bolivar, a native of Venezuela, dreamed of building regional unity and creating a “Patria Grande” (Grand Homeland) in Latin America. After achieving independence for Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia, and fighting colonialists in several Caribbean nations, Bolivar attempted to turn this dream of Latin American unity into reality. His efforts were sabotaged by powerful interests opposing the creation of a solid regional bloc, and eventually, with the aid of the United States, Bolivar was ousted from his rule in Venezuela and died isolated in Colombia several years later. Meanwhile, the US government had proceeded to implement its Monroe Doctrine, a decree first declared by President James Monroe in 1823 to ensure US domination and control over the newly-freed nations in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Nearly two hundred years of invasions, interventions, aggressions, coup d’etats and hostilities led by the US government against Latin American nations shadowed the 19th and 20th centuries. By the end of the 20th century, Washington had successfully imposed governments in every Latin American and Caribbean nation that were subordinate to its agenda, with the exception of Cuba. The Monroe Doctrine had been achieved, and the US felt confident in its control over its “backyard”.

The unexpected turn at the beginning of the 21st century in Venezuela, formerly one of Washington’s most stable and subservient partners, came as a shock to the US. Hugo Chavez had been elected President and a Revolution had begun. A coup d’etat attempt in 2002 failed to subvert the advancement of the Bolivarian Revolution and the spread of revolutionary fever throughout the region. Soon Bolivia followed, then Nicaragua and Ecuador. Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay elected socialist presidents, two of them former guerrilla fighters. Major changes began to occur throughout the region as the peoples of this vast, diverse and rich continent assumed power and made their voices heard.

Social transformations in Venezuela that gave voice to people’s power became exemplary for others in the region, as did President Chavez’s defiance of US imperialism. A powerful sentiment of Latin American sovereignty and independence grew stronger, even reaching those with governments aligned with US interests and multinational control.

On December 2-3, 2011, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) was born and the overwhelming force of a continent nearly 600 million strong, achieved a 200-year dream of unity. The 33 member nations of CELAC all agree on the unquestionable necessity to build a regional organization that represents their interests, and that excludes the overbearing presence of the US and Canada. While CELAC will take time to consolidate, the exceptional commitment evidenced by the 33 states present at its launching in Caracas, Venezuela, cannot be underestimated.

CELAC will have to overcome attempts to sabotage and neutralize its expansion and endurance, and the threats against it and intents to divide member nations will be numerous and frequent. But the resistance of the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean who have resumed this path of unity and independence after nearly two hundred years of imperialist aggression, demonstrates the powerful force that has led this region to become an inspiration for those seeking social justice and true freedom around the world.

Source / Postcards from the Revolution

Thanks to "Cuba Inside Out" / Fluxed Up World

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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Signs of a Sick Society: Prisons Housing a Huge Proportion of the Population

Source / YouTube

Thanks to Alan Brodrick / Fluxed Up World

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Sunday, December 4, 2011

When Your Health Is Less Important Than Your Bank Balance

An Occupy Wall Street protestor holds his sign against a police barricade as pedestrians pass Zuccotti Park in New York. Photograph: John Minchillo/AP.

A New York spider gave me an insight into US private healthcare
By Laurie Penny / December 4, 2011
Occupy Wall Street is right – a rash of bites showed me how private healthcare keeps Americans cowed and compliant

It started with a spider. Someone with a taste for narrative justice might call it retribution, but there's really no moral correlation between the wisdom of absconding with a relative stranger after a party and waking up the next morning in Brooklyn with a rash of poisonous bites on your arm. When the angels of sexual continence want to punish you, they send crabs not spiders.

I assumed, at first, that the maddeningly itchy marks were the work of common-or-flophouse New York bedbugs, but 12 hours later, with my right arm swollen to the width and purplish colour of a prize turnip, my friend identified the hallmarks of the brown recluse spider, and uttered words I had hoped never to hear on this side of the Atlantic: "You should really get that checked out by a doctor."

I first came to New York to write about the emerging social justice movements associated with Occupy Wall Street. Through my conversations with the protesters in Zucotti Park, I began to understand how profoundly the stranglehold of American private healthcare keeps ordinary people cowed and compliant in the land of the notionally free.

It's not just the 59 million Americans living without health insurance and unable to access treatment for everyday maladies without crippling expense. It's the millions more who dare not risk a dispute with their boss for fear of losing their medical cover, who expect to remortgage their homes in old age to meet the costs of failing health, or who live in fear of bankruptcy should they develop a chronic condition or have an accident.

The notion of a society that sanctions companies to profit from sickness feels barbaric enough, without then forcing ordinary people to choose between medical treatment and the financial future of their families. President Obama's attempt to reform the system in 2009 roundly failed to remove healthcare as a source of perennial anxiety for most American citizens, or to lighten the dead hand of the market on medical provision in the US.

Socialised healthcare is in my blood but, unfortunately last Wednesday, so was a hefty dose of spider venom and several billion extra bacteria – the unfriendly sort that make an infected limb sweat and swell like a rotten root vegetable. I had travel insurance, but no idea if it stretched to the snacking habits of urban arachnids. So I uttered the words familiar to any uninsured or precariously insured American: "I'll just wait for a little bit and see if it gets better."

Had I waited another 24 hours, I might have lost my arm. By the time I was persuaded to go to the emergency response unit at Beth Israel hospital I could no longer move the limb, which was developing worrying purple track-marks. The triage nurse sent me straight through to ER, where I was given a bunk next to a groaning man in his mid-30s who, like me, had been so worried about the cost of treatment that he had allowed an infection to spread, in this case from a rotten tooth. He was already missing several teeth. He told me he was a postal worker with no health insurance, and that he wouldn't have come for treatment had his girlfriend not driven him to hospital when he collapsed with a fever.

Compared to the accident and emergency unit at my local London hospital, the waiting period was civilised; it was a mere hour before a stern-looking registrar arrived to take my money. He explained the covering clauses of my travel insurance and showed me where to sign on several complicated forms. When I explained I was unable to do so because my arm wasn't working, he gave me a look that suggested I'd have had to find a way to sign even if I'd come in with all four limbs off. I signed with my left hand.

After that, the service was exceptional. I was whisked off to intensive care for intravenous antibiotics. I was put in a quiet bed near a window, with no cracks or mildew in the walls, and brought cool water and a clean towel. And when, in the middle of the night, I went into near-fatal anaphylactic shock, the staff's reaction was swift and efficient. I felt, in other words like a valued customer. But it also meant that, at 2am and thousands of miles from home, I was already wondering how I would afford the prescription for all the antibiotics I needed.

This is the difference that social medicine makes to the fabric and quality of life in a civilised country. When I finally wobbled out of the shiny lobby of the Beth Israel, clutching a bag of drugs, follow-up advice and complimentary hospital toiletries, I understood what it really means to be without means in America. Those who are wealthy enough to afford decent healthcare have their needs met in relative luxury, while those who are poor live in fear of getting ill, worrying that one misadventure might leave you with yet more debts to pay off.

No amount of fresh towels and edible breakfasts can make up for the feeling that your health is less important than the capacity of your chequebook. Which is why children and pensioners are still standing in Manhattan's financial district with placards telling the world they cannot afford healthcare, as police patrol the perimeter. And why, when I got out of hospital, I went straight back down to Liberty Plaza to stand with them.

Source / The Guardian

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Sunday, November 27, 2011

US Military: Still Killing Civilians in Fallujah

Punching through Fallujah with maximum carnage. Photo: Source.

The Under-Examined Story of Fallujah
By Hannah Gurman, November 23, 2011

Seven years after the U.S. invasion of Fallujah, there are reports of an alarming rise in the rates of birth defects and cancer. But the crisis, and its possible connection to weapons deployed by the United States during the war, remains woefully under-examined.

On November 8, 2004, U.S. military forces launched Operation Phantom Fury 50 miles west of Baghdad in Fallujah, a city of 350,000 people known for its opposition to the Saddam regime.

The United States did not expect to encounter resistance in Fallujah, nor did it initially face any in the early days of the war. The first sign of serious hostility appeared in April 2003, after U.S. soldiers from the 82nd Airborne division fired into a crowd of protesters demonstrating against the occupation and the closure of their local school building, killing 17 civilians and injuring 70. The following February, amid mounting tensions, a local militia beheaded four Blackwater employees and strung their bodies from a bridge across the Euphrates River. U.S. forces temporarily withdrew from Fallujah and planned for a full onslaught.

Following the evacuation of civilians, Marines cordoned off the city, even as some residents scrambled to escape. Thirty to fifty thousand people were still inside the city when the U.S. military launched a series of airstrikes, dropping incendiary bombs on suspected insurgent hideouts. Ground forces then combed through targeted neighborhoods house by house. Ross Caputi, who served as a first private Marine during the siege, has said that his squad and others employed “reconnaissance by fire,” firing into dwellings before entering to make sure nobody inside was still alive. Caputi later co-founded the group Justice for Fallujah, which dedicated the week of November 14 to a public awareness campaign about the impact of the war on the city’s people

By the end of the campaign, Fallujah was a ghost town. Though the military did not tally civilian casualties, independent reports put the number somewhere between 800 and 6,000. As The Washington Post reported in April 2005, more than half of Fallujah’s 39,000 homes were damaged, of which 10,000 were no longer habitable. Five months after the campaign, only 90,000 of the city’s evacuated residents had returned. The majority still lacked electricity, and the city’s sewage and water systems, badly damaged in the campaign, were not functional. A mounting unemployment crisis — exacerbated by security checkpoints, which blocked the flow of people and goods into and out of the city — left young residents of Fallujah especially vulnerable to recruitment by the resistance.

The Official Success Story

Although the initial picture of the devastated city looked grim, by 2007 Fallujah had become a key part of the emerging narrative of successful counterinsurgency in Iraq. At a press conference in April of that year, Marine Colonel Richard Simcock declared that progress was “phenomenal” and that Fallujah was an “economically strong and flourishing city.” According to the official narrative that has since crystallized, the second siege of Fallujah turned out to be a major turning point in the war. “By taking down Fallujah, the Marines denied a sanctuary for the insurgents,” said Richard Natonski, commander of the 1st Marine Division during Phantom Fury, in an oral history published by the Marines in 2009. In contrast to the insurgents who relied on “brutal tactics,” he explained, the Marines were able to win over the good will of the people. This contributed to the larger “Awakening” in Anbar province, the linchpin of counterinsurgency’s “success” in Iraq.

Official “progress” narratives of war rarely tell the whole story, especially when it comes to the war’s long-term effects on the civilian population. Seven years after the second siege of Fallujah, despite lucrative U.S.-funded contracts to rebuild infrastructure, much of the city is still in ruins, and unemployment remains high. As terrorist attacks in Anbar and across the country have risen in the past year, security is increasingly tenuous. In August, a car bomb exploded at a police station near Fallujah, killing five officers and wounding six more.

Of the current problems in Fallujah, the most alarming is a mounting public health crisis. In the years since the invasion, doctors in Fallujah have reported drastic increases in the number of premature births, infant mortality, and birth defects—babies born without skulls, missing organs, or with stumps for arms and legs. Fallujah General Hospital reported that, out of 170 babies born in September 2009, 24 percent died within the first seven days, of which 75 percent were deformed — as compared to August 2002, when there were 530 babies born, only six deaths, and one deformity. As the years go by, the problem seems to be getting worse, and doctors are increasingly warning women not to have children.

Many residents have suspected a link between the drastic rise in birth defects and the weapons deployed by U.S. military during the war. The United States has admitted to using white phosphorus in Fallujah, a toxin in incendiary bombs that causes severe burns. But it denies targeting civilians or employing a class of armor-piercing weapons that contain depleted uranium, a byproduct of nuclear weapons used in the production of munitions and armory and known to cause mutagenic illnesses.

The Science and Its Critics

Two recent studies led by Dr. Christopher Busby, a chemistry professor at the University of Ulster who specializes in environmental toxicology, have attempted to document and explain Fallujah’s health crisis. The first was an epidemiological study conducted by a team of 11 researchers who visited 711 households in Fallujah. Published in the December 2010 issue of the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, it found that congenital birth defects, including neural tube, cardiac, and skeletal malformations, were 11 times higher than normal rates, and rose to their highest levels in 2010. The study also found a seven-to-38-fold increase in several site-specific cancers, as well as a drastic shift in the ratio of female-to-male births, with 15 percent fewer boys born in the study period.

In a follow-up study, Busby and his team tested hair samples from 25 mothers and fathers of children with genetic abnormalities in Fallujah. In addition to normally occurring elements, they found uranium. The study, published in the October 2011 issue of the Journal of Conflict and Health, concluded that this was a “primary” or “related cause” of the increase in birth defects and cancer in Fallujah. In a recent interview on Russia Today, Busby explained that, although the research team expected to find depleted uranium, they actually found a slightly enriched form of the element. This has led him to speculate that a “whole new set of anti-personnel weapons” was secretly deployed in Fallujah and possibly elsewhere.

Busby, who wears a black beret and speaks with a burning intensity in his voice, is not your typical laboratory scientist prone to avoid superlatives or qualify claims. “This is like nothing we’ve ever found in any epidemiological study ever,” he said. Yet the journal Lancet rejected his studies without explanation. Busby believes it is part of an intentional sabotage: “There are some serious operators out there,” he says, “and they don’t want the story to get out.” These stark conclusions and provocative conspiracy theories deliberately blur the line between science and politics. In a world in which these two realms are generally sharply divided, there is something refreshing about a scientist who is not afraid to get political.

Yet, as experts at NYU Medical Center confirmed in their response to my queries about the quality of these studies, Busby’s findings are not without their problems.

In their assessment of the epidemiology study, NYU Professors Paolo Toniolo, Judith Zelikoff, and George Friedman-Jimenez were critical of the study’s methodology and cast doubt on the accuracy of its conclusions. They acknowledged the challenge of conducting epidemiological research in wartime and postwar conditions, but argued that the study did not adequately address the inevitable biases involved. Toniolo questioned the report’s claim that the researchers conducted a random sampling of houses in the study area and observed that, among other biases, the study did not address socioeconomics as a factor in the health of the population still living in Fallujah. Zelikoff explained that the findings omitted important information concerning the background of the individuals in the study, including smoking, contagious disease, and the quality of maternal health care.

Friedman-Jimenez noted that, especially in a climate of fear and mistrust, the method of gathering information through questionnaires to households would likely result in an overestimate of risk. “The magnitude of these biases, however, is not likely to be big enough to completely explain the extraordinarily large observed relative risks,” he said. “What fraction of the increased risk is due to these and other biases is very unclear. The role of ‘quick and dirty’ studies like this one, conducted under difficult conditions, is not to inform policy, but rather to generate hypotheses about important questions when resources are not yet available and other research methods are not possible.”

Terry Gordon, a professor in NYU’s Department of Environmental Medicine, referred to the toxicology study as both “strange” and “interesting.” He too cited methodological issues, including the lack of a baseline for local levels of uranium. (The study compared levels in Fallujah to those in southern Israel, Japan, Brazil, Sweden, and Slovenia.) Several of the experts challenged the study’s conclusion that the discovery of mutagens can be indisputably linked to a rise in cancers. Zelikoff explained that the study does not address the lack of information about duration or amounts of exposure. Gordon also noted that, “While congenital effects can be seen after such short term exposures, it is unlikely that cancers would be elevated 6 or 7 years after the war.” Toniolo was critical of the statement that the goal of this second study was to determine “the cause of the increased risk” and its specific connection to U.S. weaponry deployed during the war. “This is a statement that most scientists would not have the guts to make. One cannot determine the cause of anything.”

Despite the serious problems with Busby’s findings, the respondents generally agreed that the studies should not be dismissed but instead should be regarded as prompts for more investigation and attention to the issue

Further Investigation

Unfortunately, the situation in Fallujah today makes further investigation difficult. The Fallujah Hospital is understaffed and lacking in research capacity. The Shia-dominated Iraqi government has not made studies of health risks in Fallujah, a center of the Sunni-based insurgency, a priority.

According to Busby, his own team had barely completed gathering their data when the government declared them terrorists and threatened to jail anyone who responded to further questionnaires. For obvious reasons, the U.S. Defense Department isn’t lining up to support any further study of the issue and routinely rejects or ignores any claim that there is a serious health crisis in Fallujah or that the U.S. military is responsible for it.

In November 2009, British and Iraqi doctors petitioned the UN to investigate the cause of Fallujah’s health crisis. In response, the World Health Organization (WHO) agreed to conduct its own investigation, although it too has been delayed. A WHO representative in Iraq said the delay was due to changes in methodological design and informed me that the Iraqi Ministry of Health will gather data from households in 18 districts from January-February 2012. Meanwhile, the United States has simply dismissed the petitions as “anecdotal” and “inconclusive.”

Media Response

Scientists are not the only ones with a role to play here. It is also the job of the media and other public commentators to report on the situation. In addition to giving us a better picture of what is happening from the perspective of the population living in Fallujah, they should draw attention to the Iraqi and U.S. governments’ obfuscations as well as convey the strengths and weaknesses of the studies done thus far. The issue demands principled, critical journalism.

So far, the media’s coverage of the birth defects and cancer epidemic in Fallujah has been disappointing, to say the least. In 2010, major British newspapers—including the Guardian, the Telegraph, and the Independent—ran brief, suggestive stories on Busby’s first study. These simply reported the study’s conclusions without addressing the methodological problems or framing the political challenges. In the short run, these kinds of reports are valuable for drawing attention to the issue. In the long run, however, such superficial reportage fails both to inform readers and to advance the possibility of formal justice for the population of Fallujah. None of these newspapers has covered the second study at all.

Feurat Alani’s 2011 documentary, Fallujah: A Lost Generation?, shown on French television earlier this year and screened in New York, Boston, and Los Angeles as part of Justice for Fallujah’s awareness campaign, offers one of the few in-depth reports on the evolving issue. Alani is French, with parents from Fallujah. In the film, he interviews doctors and parents of deformed children in Fallujah and Iraqi and American participants in the 2004 battle, as well as researchers and activists. Although the film also glosses over the problems concerning the current science, it is nonetheless extremely informative and an invaluable tool for raising public consciousness.

So far, the mainstream press in the United States has been completely silent. As far as I can tell, no major U.S. news outlet has devoted even a single article or segment to the issue.

A generous explanation of this U.S. media blackout might grant that, in light of questions about the quality of the scientific evidence backing the anecdotal claims, American journalists are just being cautious. But considering the huge stakes, there is no reason they could not report on the studies with a tentative critical eye, just as the researchers who responded to my query did. And given the kind of rampant speculation that regularly peppers mainstream news in the United States, caution is probably not the main factor here. It is more likely that this is yet another example of the U.S. media’s complicity when it comes to America’s wars.

As long as the U.S. press continues to ignore the issue, the U.S. government will feel free to do the same, and the chances of making much progress on the interrelated fronts of scientific investigation, international law, and policy will remain slim.

Illusory Visions of a Post-American Iraq

The current silence of the U.S. press on the health crisis in Fallujah reflects an understandable, though problematic, desire to leave behind a shameful chapter in the history of U.S. foreign policy. If we give in to that desire, we risk losing sight of what is actually happening in Iraq right now. This has implications not only for how we understand the ongoing health crisis in Fallujah but also for how we understand the current and future role of the United States in Iraq more broadly.

Since Obama’s election, coverage of Iraq has followed the administration’s public emphasis on the drawing down of the war. Following the announcement in October of a full withdrawal of U.S. troops by the end of the year, reports in major U.S. newspapers have focused on issues of security in Iraq after the U.S. military’s departure from the country. On November 6, for example, The New York Times ran a front-page story with the title, “Leaving Iraq, U.S. Fears New Surge of Qaeda Terror.” This echoed a news analysis piece published two weeks earlier, which focused on the scaling back of plans to build huge U.S. consulates in politically and economically important cities in Iraq.

This picture of an Iraq emptied of U.S. influence is illusory. In the end, the neocon dream of Iraq as a U.S. client state didn’t come true. But long after December 31, 2011, the United States will continue to have a significant diplomatic and military presence there. Although the Iraqi parliament rejected the U.S. proposal to allow 5-10,000 U.S. troops to remain in Iraq, Obama and Prime Minister Maliki are scheduled to meet in December to continue discussing the issue. Meanwhile, the United States has already established an agreement to keep at least that many troops in neighboring Kuwait. Within Iraq, there will be private security contractors, and Baghdad will be host to the largest embassy in the world – the main base for an army of diplomatic personnel that will carry out security and covert intelligence operations throughout the country.

For Americans who opposed the war, visions of a post-American Iraq are especially tempting. But they are also deceptive. In addition to sparking our consciousness about the health and environmental impact of the war, the ongoing crisis in Fallujah should wake us up to the fact that in multiple ways — most of which are currently ignored or suppressed by the U.S. spin machine — the legacy of the U.S. war in Iraq is far from over.

Source / Foreign Policy in Focus

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Saturday, November 26, 2011

Our National Leaders Are Now Making War On Us

Occupy Wall Street protester Brandon Watts lies injured on the ground after clashes with police over the eviction of OWS from Zuccotti Park. Photograph: Allison Joyce/Getty Images.

The shocking truth about the crackdown on Occupy
By Naomi Wolf / November 25, 2011

The violent police assaults across the US are no coincidence. Occupy has touched the third rail of our political class's venality

US citizens of all political persuasions are still reeling from images of unparallelled police brutality in a coordinated crackdown against peaceful OWS protesters in cities across the nation this past week. An elderly woman was pepper-sprayed in the face; the scene of unresisting, supine students at UC Davis being pepper-sprayed by phalanxes of riot police went viral online; images proliferated of young women – targeted seemingly for their gender – screaming, dragged by the hair by police in riot gear; and the pictures of a young man, stunned and bleeding profusely from the head, emerged in the record of the middle-of-the-night clearing of Zuccotti Park.

But just when Americans thought we had the picture – was this crazy police and mayoral overkill, on a municipal level, in many different cities? – the picture darkened. The National Union of Journalists and the Committee to Protect Journalists issued a Freedom of Information Act request to investigate possible federal involvement with law enforcement practices that appeared to target journalists. The New York Times reported that "New York cops have arrested, punched, whacked, shoved to the ground and tossed a barrier at reporters and photographers" covering protests. Reporters were asked by NYPD to raise their hands to prove they had credentials: when many dutifully did so, they were taken, upon threat of arrest, away from the story they were covering, and penned far from the site in which the news was unfolding. Other reporters wearing press passes were arrested and roughed up by cops, after being – falsely – informed by police that "It is illegal to take pictures on the sidewalk."

In New York, a state supreme court justice and a New York City council member were beaten up; in Berkeley, California, one of our greatest national poets, Robert Hass, was beaten with batons. The picture darkened still further when Wonkette and reported that the Mayor of Oakland acknowledged that the Department of Homeland Security had participated in an 18-city mayor conference call advising mayors on "how to suppress" Occupy protests.

To Europeans, the enormity of this breach may not be obvious at first. Our system of government prohibits the creation of a federalised police force, and forbids federal or militarised involvement in municipal peacekeeping.

I noticed that rightwing pundits and politicians on the TV shows on which I was appearing were all on-message against OWS. Journalist Chris Hayes reported on a leaked memo that revealed lobbyists vying for an $850,000 contract to smear Occupy. Message coordination of this kind is impossible without a full-court press at the top. This was clearly not simply a case of a freaked-out mayors', city-by-city municipal overreaction against mess in the parks and cranky campers. As the puzzle pieces fit together, they began to show coordination against OWS at the highest national levels.

Why this massive mobilisation against these not-yet-fully-articulated, unarmed, inchoate people? After all, protesters against the war in Iraq, Tea Party rallies and others have all proceeded without this coordinated crackdown. Is it really the camping? As I write, two hundred young people, with sleeping bags, suitcases and even folding chairs, are still camping out all night and day outside of NBC on public sidewalks – under the benevolent eye of an NYPD cop – awaiting Saturday Night Live tickets, so surely the camping is not the issue. I was still deeply puzzled as to why OWS, this hapless, hopeful band, would call out a violent federal response.

That is, until I found out what it was that OWS actually wanted.

The mainstream media was declaring continually "OWS has no message". Frustrated, I simply asked them. I began soliciting online "What is it you want?" answers from Occupy. In the first 15 minutes, I received 100 answers. These were truly eye-opening.

The No 1 agenda item: get the money out of politics. Most often cited was legislation to blunt the effect of the Citizens United ruling, which lets boundless sums enter the campaign process. No 2: reform the banking system to prevent fraud and manipulation, with the most frequent item being to restore the Glass-Steagall Act – the Depression-era law, done away with by President Clinton, that separates investment banks from commercial banks. This law would correct the conditions for the recent crisis, as investment banks could not take risks for profit that create kale derivatives out of thin air, and wipe out the commercial and savings banks.

No 3 was the most clarifying: draft laws against the little-known loophole that currently allows members of Congress to pass legislation affecting Delaware-based corporations in which they themselves are investors.

When I saw this list – and especially the last agenda item – the scales fell from my eyes. Of course, these unarmed people would be having the shit kicked out of them.

For the terrible insight to take away from news that the Department of Homeland Security coordinated a violent crackdown is that the DHS does not freelance. The DHS cannot say, on its own initiative, "we are going after these scruffy hippies". Rather, DHS is answerable up a chain of command: first, to New York Representative Peter King, head of the House homeland security subcommittee, who naturally is influenced by his fellow congressmen and women's wishes and interests. And the DHS answers directly, above King, to the president (who was conveniently in Australia at the time).

In other words, for the DHS to be on a call with mayors, the logic of its chain of command and accountability implies that congressional overseers, with the blessing of the White House, told the DHS to authorise mayors to order their police forces – pumped up with millions of dollars of hardware and training from the DHS – to make war on peaceful citizens.

But wait: why on earth would Congress advise violent militarised reactions against its own peaceful constituents? The answer is straightforward: in recent years, members of Congress have started entering the system as members of the middle class (or upper middle class) – but they are leaving DC privy to vast personal wealth, as we see from the "scandal" of presidential contender Newt Gingrich's having been paid $1.8m for a few hours' "consulting" to special interests. The inflated fees to lawmakers who turn lobbyists are common knowledge, but the notion that congressmen and women are legislating their own companies' profits is less widely known – and if the books were to be opened, they would surely reveal corruption on a Wall Street spectrum. Indeed, we do already know that congresspeople are massively profiting from trading on non-public information they have on companies about which they are legislating – a form of insider trading that sent Martha Stewart to jail.

Since Occupy is heavily surveilled and infiltrated, it is likely that the DHS and police informers are aware, before Occupy itself is, what its emerging agenda is going to look like. If legislating away lobbyists' privileges to earn boundless fees once they are close to the legislative process, reforming the banks so they can't suck money out of fake derivatives products, and, most critically, opening the books on a system that allowed members of Congress to profit personally – and immensely – from their own legislation, are two beats away from the grasp of an electorally organised Occupy movement … well, you will call out the troops on stopping that advance.

So, when you connect the dots, properly understood, what happened this week is the first battle in a civil war; a civil war in which, for now, only one side is choosing violence. It is a battle in which members of Congress, with the collusion of the American president, sent violent, organised suppression against the people they are supposed to represent. Occupy has touched the third rail: personal congressional profits streams. Even though they are, as yet, unaware of what the implications of their movement are, those threatened by the stirrings of their dreams of reform are not.

Sadly, Americans this week have come one step closer to being true brothers and sisters of the protesters in Tahrir Square. Like them, our own national leaders, who likely see their own personal wealth under threat from transparency and reform, are now making war upon us.

Source / Guardian

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Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Lesson in Stopping the Police State

Video Spreads of UC Davis Cops Pepper Spraying Occupy Students
Demonstrators were protesting dismantling of encampment

A video of police in riot gear pepper spraying demonstrators is spreading after 10 Occupy protesters were arrested on the University of California, Davis campus Friday, Sacramento NBC station KCRA reported.

The demonstrators were protesting the dismantling of the "Occupy UC Davis" encampment that was set up in the school's quad area.

"Police came and brutalized them and tore their tents down and all that stuff. It was really scary. It felt like there was anarchy everywhere," said student Hisham Alihbob.

Police told Sacramento's KTXL TV station that the students were given until 3 p.m. Friday to remove their tents from the campus. When students refused, police arrived at the given time. Students sat down cross-legged and locked arms when cops showed up and the pepper spraying began.

UC Davis Police Chief Annette Spicuzza said it would not be safe or sustainable for demonstrators to camp in the quad.

"It's not safe for multiple reasons," Spicuzza said.

At least one woman left by ambulance for treatment of chemical burns.

"We just successfully booted the police off campus in a non-violent way," Chris Wong, a student protester who said he was speaking for himself, not the Occupy group, told the Sacramento Bee.

Wong said he was one of the students sprayed, but he looked down and didn't get a full dose. He said students then circled the police and tried to hold their ground. The police eventually left.

Source / MSNBC

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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Signs of a Sick Society: Schools That Look and Act Like Prisons

Metal detector at a school in Boston. Photo: Seth Tisue.

The 'School to Prison Pipeline': Education Under Arrest
By Kanya D'Almeida / November 16, 2011

Metal detectors. Teams of drug-sniffing dogs. Armed guards and riot police. Forbiddingly high walls topped with barbed wire.

Such descriptions befit a prison or perhaps a high-security checkpoint in a war zone. But in the U.S., these scenes of surveillance and control are most visible in public schools, where in some areas, education is becoming increasingly synonymous with incarceration.

The United Nations, along with various human rights bodies and international courts, have recognised that "free education is the cornerstone of success and social development for young people".

The landmark Brown v. Board of Education court ruling, which officially desegregated U.S. schools in 1954, stated, "It is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if (he/she is) denied the opportunity of an education."

Yet hundreds of thousands of children in the U.S. are being systematically stripped of their right to education and transferred from the schoolhouse to the jailhouse.

Knowledge v. test scores

A 2011 report by the New York Civil Liberties Union found that 3.3 million students were suspended between 2005-2006.

Analysing data from the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), the report also found that half a million students in New York City alone have served suspensions in the last decade, resulting in the loss of 2.2 million days of education. These numbers reflect the combined impacts of zero tolerance policies and ‘high-stakes’ testing, which have created an education system that is based less on endowing students with knowledge and life skills and more on achieving the test scores required to secure state and federal funding. "High stakes testing has led to high stress classrooms, where teachers are under immense pressure to raise test scores and thus take a harder line on misbehaving students," Jim Freeman, director of ‘ending the schoolhouse to jailhouse track’ at the Advancement Project, told IPS. "Schools use harsh disciplinary measure s to exclude so called "low- scoring" students (through suspensions, expulsions or arrests), to make overall test scores look better – every school arresting young people is falling prey to that impulse," he added. "This overemphasis on testing has changed the classroom environment and school culture: it has made it difficult to engage youth, and watered down the curriculum so much that students are more likely to be disruptive, which loops back to harsh disciplinary measures." "This is a downward spiral that has turned schools into hostile, alienating environments and justified to an extent the increased use of police in educational institutions." As a result of these policies, the number of out of school suspensions in Chicago quadrupled in just six years; 16,000 young people in Florida and 10,000 students in Colorado were arrested or referred to the department of juvenile justice in 2010; and school-based arrests in Pennsylvania have tripled since 2003.

Along with tough disciplinary measures such as "zero tolerance policies", the last two decades have seen a huge influx of law enforcement officers into playgrounds and classrooms.

Statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) indicate that the number of school resource officers (SROs) increased by 38 percent over the last ten years, even while reported incidents of theft and violence in schools are at their lowest since the National Center for Education Statistics first gathered comprehensive data in 1992.

A report released Tuesday by the Justice Policy Institute (JPI) detailing the extent and impact of policing in public schools confirmed what education and justice experts have argued for years: increased law enforcement does not make schools safer for students or foster better learning.

In fact, the report found that police presence in schools devastates the learning environment, increases the number of arrests and referrals of youth into the juvenile "justice" system, and disrupts a child’s educational process by favouring suspension and expulsion over communal learning.

"Police in schools undermine the education of thousands of students each year," Amanda Petteruti, lead author of JPI’s report, told IPS.

"The impact of arresting and incarcerating students is significant: research has shown that within a year of reenrolling after spending time confined, two-thirds to three- fourths of formerly incarcerated youth withdraw or drop out of school. After four years, less than 15 percent of these youth had completed secondary education," she stressed.

"Even contact with courts increases the chances that a high school student will drop out," she added.

Children under siege

According to ‘Derailed! The Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track’, a detailed study undertaken by the Advancement Project, a six year-old student in Palm Beach County, Florida was arrested back in 2003 for ‘trespassing on school property’, while walking through the schoolyard on his way home.

In Indianola, Mississippi, elementary school students have been hauled off to jail for talking during an assembly.

Two elementary school kids from Irvington, New Jersey were charged with ‘terroristic threatening’ for playing cops and robbers – with a paper plane.

In 2007, school security cameras captured footage of two guards in Palmdale, California assaulting a 16-year-old girl and breaking her arm for dropping a piece of cake on the floor. Both armed guards pushed the high-school student down on a table, throwing racial slurs like "nappy-head" at her while twisting her arm.

These stories, unfortunately, are not exceptional, but have become the norm in hundreds of public schools across the country. Most of the thousands of arrests and referrals that happen each year are for minor infractions, misdemeanors or perceived 'threats' such as those outlined above, based on the subjective opinions of teachers or security guards.

Students of color often bear the brunt of these punitive policies.

"Data from (think tanks) suggest that students of color are disproportionately affected by the presence of SROs," Petteruti told IPS, particularly "in districts like Pinellas County, Florida, South Carolina, Colorado and, according to the ACLU in Connecticut, East Hartford".

The Advancement Project also found that it was 58 percent more likely for police to be called into schools whose student body was majority black, Latino, Native American or Asian American.

"Data from the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) indicates that students of color are more likely to be suspended than white students, and are more likely to go to schools where there are more law enforcement responses. Students of color are more also more likely to come into contact with police and surveillance in schools," Petteruti said.

The severe policing of urban schools in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color is an extension of a nationwide racially biased strategy that hounds minorities and swallows them up in burgeoning prisons. The strategy has roots in the ‘get tough on crime’ movements of the 1980s and early 1990s.

According to the Advancement Project, "the media and political world focused on a growing crime problem and a few brutal crimes to create a new type of criminal, the 'superpredator'.

"Superpredators were brutal, conscienceless, incorrigible and, most frighteningly, they were young. They were presented as the products of permissive single-parent families, poverty and a lenient judicial system," it continued.

"The public and political system responded with outrage and with draconian changes to juvenile law - boot camps, and a zero tolerance attitude that made even the slightest offence a crime.

Source / IPS (Inter Press Service)

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Our Elites Can Destroy, But They Cannot Build

Members of the Occupy Wall Street movement clash with New York Police Department officers after being removed from Zuccotti Park in New York, November 15, 2011. Lucas Jackson/Reuters.

This Is What Revolution Looks Like
By Chris Hedges / November 15, 2011

Welcome to the revolution. Our elites have exposed their hand. They have nothing to offer. They can destroy but they cannot build. They can repress but they cannot lead. They can steal but they cannot share. They can talk but they cannot speak. They are as dead and useless to us as the water-soaked books, tents, sleeping bags, suitcases, food boxes and clothes that were tossed by sanitation workers Tuesday morning into garbage trucks in New York City. They have no ideas, no plans and no vision for the future.

Our decaying corporate regime has strutted in Portland, Oakland and New York with their baton-wielding cops into a fool’s paradise. They think they can clean up “the mess”—always employing the language of personal hygiene and public security—by making us disappear. They think we will all go home and accept their corporate nation, a nation where crime and government policy have become indistinguishable, where nothing in America, including the ordinary citizen, is deemed by those in power worth protecting or preserving, where corporate oligarchs awash in hundreds of millions of dollars are permitted to loot and pillage the last shreds of collective wealth, human capital and natural resources, a nation where the poor do not eat and workers do not work, a nation where the sick die and children go hungry, a nation where the consent of the governed and the voice of the people is a cruel joke.

Get back into your cages, they are telling us. Return to watching the lies, absurdities, trivia and celebrity gossip we feed you in 24-hour cycles on television. Invest your emotional energy in the vast system of popular entertainment. Run up your credit card debt. Pay your loans. Be thankful for the scraps we toss. Chant back to us our phrases about democracy, greatness and freedom. Vote in our rigged political theater. Send your young men and women to fight and die in useless, unwinnable wars that provide corporations with huge profits. Stand by mutely as our bipartisan congressional supercommittee, either through consensus or cynical dysfunction, plunges you into a society without basic social services including unemployment benefits. Pay for the crimes of Wall Street.

The rogues’ gallery of Wall Street crooks, such as Lloyd Blankfein at Goldman Sachs, Howard Milstein at New York Private Bank & Trust, the media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, the Koch brothers and Jamie Dimon at JPMorgan Chase & Co., no doubt think it’s over. They think it is back to the business of harvesting what is left of America to swell their personal and corporate fortunes. But they no longer have any concept of what is happening around them. They are as mystified and clueless about these uprisings as the courtiers at Versailles or in the Forbidden City who never understood until the very end that their world was collapsing. The billionaire mayor of New York, enriched by a deregulated Wall Street, is unable to grasp why people would spend two months sleeping in an open park and marching on banks. He says he understands that the Occupy protests are “cathartic” and “entertaining,” as if demonstrating against the pain of being homeless and unemployed is a form of therapy or diversion, but that it is time to let the adults handle the affairs of state. Democratic and Republican mayors, along with their parties, have sold us out. But for them this is the beginning of the end.

Oakland cops in action.

The historian Crane Brinton in his book “Anatomy of a Revolution” laid out the common route to revolution. The preconditions for successful revolution, Brinton argued, are discontent that affects nearly all social classes, widespread feelings of entrapment and despair, unfulfilled expectations, a unified solidarity in opposition to a tiny power elite, a refusal by scholars and thinkers to continue to defend the actions of the ruling class, an inability of government to respond to the basic needs of citizens, a steady loss of will within the power elite itself and defections from the inner circle, a crippling isolation that leaves the power elite without any allies or outside support and, finally, a financial crisis. Our corporate elite, as far as Brinton was concerned, has amply fulfilled these preconditions. But it is Brinton’s next observation that is most worth remembering. Revolutions always begin, he wrote, by making impossible demands that if the government met would mean the end of the old configurations of power. The second stage, the one we have entered now, is the unsuccessful attempt by the power elite to quell the unrest and discontent through physical acts of repression.

I have seen my share of revolts, insurgencies and revolutions, from the guerrilla conflicts in the 1980s in Central America to the civil wars in Algeria, the Sudan and Yemen, to the Palestinian uprising to the revolutions in East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Romania as well as the wars in the former Yugoslavia. George Orwell wrote that all tyrannies rule through fraud and force, but that once the fraud is exposed they must rely exclusively on force. We have now entered the era of naked force. The vast million-person bureaucracy of the internal security and surveillance state will not be used to stop terrorism but to try and stop us.

Despotic regimes in the end collapse internally. Once the foot soldiers who are ordered to carry out acts of repression, such as the clearing of parks or arresting or even shooting demonstrators, no longer obey orders, the old regime swiftly crumbles. When the aging East German dictator Erich Honecker was unable to get paratroopers to fire on protesting crowds in Leipzig, the regime was finished. The same refusal to employ violence doomed the communist governments in Prague and Bucharest. I watched in December 1989 as the army general that the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu had depended on to crush protests condemned him to death on Christmas Day. Tunisia’s Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak lost power once they could no longer count on the security forces to fire into crowds.

The process of defection among the ruling class and security forces is slow and often imperceptible. These defections are advanced through a rigid adherence to nonviolence, a refusal to respond to police provocation and a verbal respect for the blue-uniformed police, no matter how awful they can be while wading into a crowd and using batons as battering rams against human bodies. The resignations of Oakland Mayor Jean Quan’s deputy, Sharon Cornu, and the mayor’s legal adviser and longtime friend, Dan Siegel, in protest over the clearing of the Oakland encampment are some of the first cracks in the edifice. “Support Occupy Oakland, not the 1% and its government facilitators,” Siegel tweeted after his resignation.

There were times when I entered the ring as a boxer and knew, as did the spectators, that I was woefully mismatched. Ringers, experienced boxers in need of a tuneup or a little practice, would go to the clubs where semi-pros fought, lie about their long professional fight records, and toy with us. Those fights became about something other than winning. They became about dignity and self-respect. You fought to say something about who you were as a human being. These bouts were punishing, physically brutal and demoralizing. You would get knocked down and stagger back up. You would reel backward from a blow that felt like a cement block. You would taste the saltiness of your blood on your lips. Your vision would blur. Your ribs, the back of your neck and your abdomen would ache. Your legs would feel like lead. But the longer you held on, the more the crowd in the club turned in your favor. No one, even you, thought you could win. But then, every once in a while, the ringer would get overconfident. He would get careless. He would become a victim of his own hubris. And you would find deep within yourself some new burst of energy, some untapped strength and, with the fury of the dispossessed, bring him down. I have not put on a pair of boxing gloves for 30 years. But I felt this twinge of euphoria again in my stomach this morning, this utter certainty that the impossible is possible, this realization that the mighty will fall.

[Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of many books, including: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, What Every Person Should Know About War, and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. His most recent book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.]

Source / Truthdig

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Monday, November 14, 2011

Makana Speaks Truth to Power, for 45 Minutes

Source / YesLab

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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Don't Kid Yourself - This Is How Capitalism Works

If you have any misconception that this is not exactly how every aspect of your life works, it is time to shed that misconception now. Your job, no matter what you do, is to demonstrate your productivity for the system, be it with production numbers, improvements in efficiency, or increasing arrests. Richard Jehn

Source / YouTube

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Saturday, November 12, 2011

There Have Been Fearful Governments Forever

Kayford mountain in West Virginia is demolished by 'mountaintop removal': the historic site of Blair Mountain is under similar threat. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images.

Blair Mountain, West Virginia and Labor's Living History
By Clancy Sigal / November 11, 2011
Ninety years on, the coal seams of West Virginia are a battlefield once more: for working people, the struggle goes on

My first time in Westminister Abbey, London, I was taken inside by a coal miner friend who was down from South Wales for a brief London holiday. Suitably awed, we gawked at Poets' Corner, the Coronation Throne, the tombs and effigies of prelates, admirals, generals and prime ministers – England in all its majesty and pageantry. Gazing at the Gothic Revival columns, transepts and amazing fan-vaulted ceiling, my friend said, "Impressive, isn't it? Of course, it's their culture not ours."

Our culture – class conscious, bolshie, renegade – rarely lay in plaques and statues, hardly ever in school texts, but mainly in orally transmitted memories passed down generation to generation, in songs and stories. "Labor history" has become a province of passionately committed specialists and working-class autodidacts, keepers of the flame of a human drama at least as fascinating and blood-stirring as the dead royal souls in the Abbey. It belongs to all of us who claim it.

I'm lucky because my family's secular religion is union. They include cousin Charlie (shipbuilders), cousin Davie (electrical workers), cousin Bernie (printers), my mother (ladies' garment) and father (butchers and barbers), and cousin Fred (San Quentin prisoners). Establishment history may have its Battle of Trafalgar and Gallipoli; we have Haymarket Square, Ludlow, Centralia and Cripple Creek: labor's battle sites, more often slaughtering defeats than victories.

Until recently, a lot of this history casually disappeared down Orwell's "memory hole", forgotten, censored or ignored. But with the spectacular emergence of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and fight-backs in states like Wisconsin and Ohio, young people especially seem to be regaining and reinvigorating a living history. Memory stirs.

This contest for memory is a class struggle by other means.

Half our story – the half where unions created the modern middle class – is written in the pedestrian language of contracts, negotiations, wages and hours laws … the nuts and bolts of deals. After all, unions exist to make a deal.

But the other half is inscribed in the whizzing bullets, shootouts and pistol duels of out-and-out combat. Labor has its own Lexington and Gettysburg. And none more bloodily inscribed than in the hills and hollows of the West Virginia coal fields.

Members of Chafin's army rest during a lull in the fighting at Blair Mountain September 10, 1921.

The 1921 five-day Battle of Blair Mountain was the largest domestic insurrection in the nation's post-Civil War history, pitting 15,000 armed "redneck" miners, with their fierce and family passions, against an army of imported gun-thugs, strikebreakers, federal troops and even a US army bomber, hired by the coal companies who owned the state and federal governments and believed they owned the human beings who dug the raw coal.

The Blair Mountain shootout had been preceded and provoked by the "Matewan massacre" when a local sheriff and his deputies, sympathetic to the young miners' union, took on the coal company's hired gorillas who were evicting pro-union miners and their families from their shanties. (See John Sayles's film, Matewan.) Enraged miners marched on to Blair Mountain in the next county.

When the smoke cleared over Blair mountain, along an eight-mile front reminiscent of Flanders trenches, a hundred on both sides had been killed with many more wounded. Outgunned and under a presidential order, the miners, led by the fabulously named Bill Blizzard, took their squirrel-hunting rifles and went home – to face indictments for treason and murder, drawn up by the coal owners and their bought judges. Sympathetic juries freed most of them. (For further interest: Bill Blizzard's son, the late William C, has a book, When Miners March.)

The beautiful, heartbreaking thing is that today the Battle of Blair Mountain goes on. With protest hikes, films and pamphlets, the campaign to save the mountain – again – sets local miners and their families and friends, including archaeologists and historians, against West Virginia coal owners like notorious Massey Energy, still being investigated by the FBI for possible criminal negligence in the deaths of 29 miners in the Upper Big Branch disaster of 2010.

A billion dollars of undug coal inside the mountain is at stake. The world is in the middle of a coal rush. Dynamite is cheaper than people. Incorrigible companies like Massey aim to blow up Blair, via "mountaintop removal" (aka "strip mining on steroids"), to get at the coal and, while they're at it, destroy the people's battleground, the ecology and any inheritance of resistance.

It is a fight over memory and honor, with very practical consequences for the coal valleys, its displaced families, poisoned rivers, contaminated communities. For a while, it looked as if the miners and their union had won a great victory by getting Blair Mountain on the National Register of Historic Places. But with a Democratic state governor and a Democratic president refusing to take sides, the coal owners – who still control West Virginia – at the last minute suddenly found some landowners to object. With the connivance of Obama's departments of interior and environment and the Park Service, Blair Mountain was de-registered and thrown open to the pillagers.

Coal mining is where open class warfare is often at its sharpest, most visible and violent. Something about the job underground, and the shrewd tactical skills it takes not to get yourself killed by roof falls and methane gas explosions, binds miner to miner in what the military likes to call "unit cohesion". Historically, miners worldwide have been in the advance guard of social progress. It's one reason why coal companies in America, and Mrs Thatcher in Britain, always despised the miners and became obsessed with breaking their union.

Labor does not have its Westminister Abbey and probably shouldn't. Museums are no substitute for "talking union".
© 2011 Clancy Sigal
Clancy Sigal

Clancy Sigal, is a screenwriter and novelist in Los Angeles. Chicago-born, he has worked precincts for Democratic candidates since his teens. He emigrated to the UK during what David Caute calls the 'Great Fear' and returned to America after the 1984 miners' strike. He is a reformed Fleet Street journalist

Source / Guardian

Fluxed Up World

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