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Wednesday 16 December 2015

France: The Politics of the Occult 2

The second round of France's regional elections is over, and once again a "democratic groundswell" has happened, as it did in the second round of the 2002 presidential election. What this means is that a certain number of voters who had not bothered to vote in the first round, aware of what the Front National really is behind its façade of being just another "legitimate" party, and despite their dissatisfaction with the "legitimate" parties, mobilized against the danger of a Fascist party acceding to real political power. The Front, which according to polls could have won control of six of France's administrative Regions, won none, and the two major parties now hold power in the 12 mainland Regions, with Les Républicains (LR) holding the presidencies of seven Regions, including the Ile-de-France. The Socialists withdrew their tickets from the election in two Regions where they were in third place to keep the Front from winning.

Front leader Marine Le Pen has reacted by pointing to a "campaign of calumny" organized "in the gilded palaces of the Republic." This is a reference to the fact that after the Revolution, the Republic took over the most sumptuous palaces in Paris to serve as - for example - the president's (the Palais de l'Elysée) and Prime Minister's (the Hôtel de Matignon) official residences, the way a hermit crab takes up residence in the abandoned shell of a dead gastropod and the way Napoléon, according to official legend, declared himself emperor to occupy that function in the name of the people, transforming it rather than destroying it. 

Le Pen's comment has been more or less universally scoffed at and her disdainful reference to the Republic seen as proof that the Front's true nature is anti-democratic. But it deserves reflection, because it may reveal the true nature of the Republic that has supposedly risen up and defended itself against the Fascist onslaught.

The standard narrative is that the French Republic has brought constant progress, both economically and socially. As such, despite ideological differences, the French people are viscerally attached to it, and Sunday's groundswell is proof of that. The fact that wealth has continued to concentrate and that the standard of living of the great majority of people has stagnated for some years now, according to that narrative, is the result of "economic conditions" - outside forces, like the natural forces that can result in disastrously poor harvests (which, indeed, set off the Revolution).

But might it not be true that the Republic itself is in fact an instrument of the elite, and that behind its carefully cultivated façade, supported by a culture that has given the world great art and that is indeed deeply ingrained in the people of France and in the very language they speak and write, is a predatory entity which at best will only tolerate relative prosperity for the people it governs? And that is prepared to continue to apply policies that place the burden of austerity on the majority even while wealth continues to concentrate?

In that sense, the Front National truly can lay claim to being no less legitimate than the two parties that have handed power back and forth in France for the past sixty years or so.

Tuesday 8 December 2015

France: The Politics of the Occult

After Sunday’s first round of the regional elections, the extreme-Right Front National is being called “France’s leading party.” Its candidates led in six Regions. Its spokespersons are now invited to take part in election-night specials by the different TV networks, private and public. This legitimization of the party seems to be progressing inexorably as the media and the establishment political parties they support look on, powerless to stop the process.  But in fact, the media have played a part in legitimizing the Front all along. And it should not be forgotten that as far back as 1986, Socialist president François Mitterrand had encouraged the FN, using his executive power to allow proportional legislative elections in order to undercut the establishment Right. And that Right has moved closer and closer to the Front’s positions, especially during the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy. The Front National may be a threat to France, but to some degree at least, it is France.

The question now is not whether the FN will win the presidency of one of France’s Regions, but how many presidencies and legislative majorities it will win. And the establishment Left and Right and the media are in panic over what they can do to stop the Front.
 
  The Front’s spokesmen and -women tend to be young, smart, and modern-looking. They tell us, during the minute or so they are given at the start of the program to outline their major themes, that they are the only party that represents real change. They refer to the two leading official parties, PS (Socialist) and LR (Les Républicains), as the “LRPS”, implying that there is no real difference between them. The Front’s leader and presumed presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen, has now eased comfortably into her party’s growing legitimacy. It is almost as if the party’s real face – the sneering bulldog face of her father, founder Jean-Marie Le Pen – were no longer visible. If one looks closely at Marine, however, the old chieftain’s features and mannerisms clearly emerge, despite Marine’s younger, female (if not feminine) repackaging. And the candidate for the Regional presidency in the South, Marine’s niece Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, is young and, on the surface, attractive.

But no one who looks below the surface has illusions about what the Front really represents. Just as Jean-Marie’s face is visible in the hatchet-carved contours of Marine’s, the party’s real program – or at least that is what the Front is surely counting on – is legible like a watermark. There is no need – they hope, and their future victory depends on it – to trumpet racist, supremacist rhetoric anymore. They can discuss economic issues and pretend to have truly new solutions, and they can spotlight Front members and even candidates who are of North African or Black African descent, much as the Republican Party in the USA now does. Voters can vote for a party whose stock in trade has always been racism and xenophobia out of simple, ingrained racism or out of a genuine fear of “immigrant hordes” – to borrow a phrase from another politician who plays on the same fears – just as the party itself denies its real face in presenting these token members and candidates. But in the party’s pronouncements, phrases like “respect for our culture and our identity” send a barely-coded message.
And the Front’s candidate in the Ile-de-France region, the aristocratically-named Wallerand de Saint-Just, is more indicative of the party’s real values and traditions – those of the reactionary, anti-Socialist, anti-labor, and even anti-republican, bourgeois and even aristocratic, traditionally Catholic “Old France.” For, hidden just below the surface of France’s i-Phone-toting society, a discreet segment of the population defends “traditional values,” with some even calling for the restoration of the monarchy. Not so discreet, in fact, as time goes on and the Front National consolidates its influence. In 2010, for example, young “traditionalist” Catholics, male and female, staged an attack on gay demonstrators at a “kiss-in” on the square in front of Notre-Dame cathedral, shouting “habemus papam!” – a reference to the election of conservative Pope Benedict XVI and to their preference for the Tridentine Mass. Behind such “traditions,” one can perceive the outline of the Vichy regime, whose façade of tradition and family values in fact concealed a willingness to surrender to Nazism in exchange for ridding France of a government that genuinely represented the working class.
Saint-Just is among the reactionary Catholics, aligned with the Society of St. Pius X, who have illegally occupied the church of Saint Nicolas du Chardonnet in Paris since 1977. A ceremony in honor of Holocaust-denying historian and declared Fascist Maurice Bardèche was held in the church in 1998. St-Just is now being sued by his environmentalist opponent in the current elections for saying in a tweet that the Left bears responsibility for the Friday the 13th terror attacks.

The official Left and Right are now united in pointing to the Front as a threat to “our values,” to democracy, to the Republic. Their spokespersons attempt to call out the Front on its real values, history, and alignment. But they can’t debate positions that are unspoken. They attempt to discredit the party by pointing to the loans it has received from supposed “Russian Mafiosi aligned with the dictator Putin.” This is a reference to Konstantin Malofeev, founder of the international investment fund Marshall Capital Partners. It would be more accurate to call Malofeev a successful young entrepreneur, whose interests include telecoms, real estate, and agriculture. Somehow these loans are supposed to raise a red flag in the minds of readers/viewers of the official media, which have participated in the campaign to portray Vladimir Putin as a brutal dictator for years now, following the standard NATO party line. The problem is that Putin is now an ally of France and to some extent of the US in the “struggle against terrorism.” And if you think about it for a minute, all the Front is doing is seeking funding from corporate interests – exactly what all the “legitimate” political parties do. The problem is that French corporations are not yet ready to openly support the Front. But it’s a fairly safe bet that they will if the Front’s legitimization and rise to power continues to advance. And after all, is there really a fundamental difference between the “Russian mafia” and large French corporations, other than the fact that the latter publish Sustainable Development reports and sponsor the COP 21 environment conference?

France’s official Right and Left, along with the media, have themselves to blame for this situation. The Socialists are in danger of losing most of the Regions where they now hold power, and worse, of being on the wrong side of a momentum that is likely to carry either the Front or the official Right to power. François Hollande has used the recent tragedy to bolster his status with potential Front voters, calling the terror attacks “attacks on the values of the Republic” and at the same time using them as an excuse to curtail civil liberties and freedom of speech and of the press – those very same values –, increase surveillance of citizens, and increase the powers of the police. He used the emergency powers he put in place just after November 13th, and which the legislature has now voted to extend, to arrest peaceful organizers of protests at the COP 21. Aren’t such measures more or less exactly what the media and the “respectable” politicians are warning us we can expect from the Front if it takes power?

As for the official Right, or the “Republican Right” as the media call it to distinguish it from the extreme Right, it has never been very far removed from the Front, and current leader and former president Nicolas Sarkozy captured the presidency in 2007 by co-opting the Front’s themes of law and order and fear of an immigrant invasion. Sarkozy has feigned courting the Front National, even saying once that “Marine Le Pen is compatible with the Republic” – no doubt as a way of giving voters a signal that if they vote for him they can count on getting what the Front promises and still maintain respectability by voting for a party they can admit they voted for. Indeed, the Front’s popularity was long underestimated partly because many voters who vote for them will not admit it in a poll or to family and friends. Now, of course, more and more of such voters will come out of the closet. The “Republican Right” has tripped itself up: If Le Pen is “compatible with the Republic,” then who needs the Republican Right, who have been in power many times and never ushered in the “real change” politicians are always promising? The result of all the overtures to the Front’s voters is that the voters no longer see any difference between the two.

The same is true of the Socialists. Their own pandering to the Front National vote is nothing new. It shifted into a higher gear when Manuel Valls became Prime Minister and, taking a page from Sarkozy’s playbook, staged arrests of undocumented working parents who had come to fetch their children at school and hounded the Rom population. Valls physically resembles Sarkozy – short and cocky – and his intention of duplicating Sarkozy’s strategy is transparent. The Socialists have made it clear from the start ¬– indeed, from the time of the Mitterrand government – that they are Socialists in name only and at best are a kind of Social-Democrat party. Hollande had declared during his presidential campaign that “my real adversary is finance.” But since he took office, he and his Prime Minister have announced several times that they “love business.” Their real constituency, in fact, is enterprise and finance, and their mantra is “growth.” They have shown themselves to be facilitators of the Washington Consensus, privatizing publicly-owned companies to the point where one would need a very strong light to see the outlines of the fundamental Socialist values – that housing, health care, education, and transportation should be protected from the forces of finance and the market. The environmentalists, considered a constituent element of the French Left, have now distanced themselves from the Socialists. In fact, there is now a socialist wing of the Socialist party. These factions have now struck compromises and merged their tickets with the Socialists to face the “threat” of the Front National. Such maneuvers can only cause voters to wonder how much substance there actually is behind the political rhetoric. The PS seems to hope that citizens will continue to vote for them out of a belief that they still do embody those values, but no longer talk about them out of a need to attract voters away from the Right. But again, if the Left has become indistinguishable from the Right, and since both have had their chances before, who can blame voters for giving the sanitized Front National a chance?

Thursday 19 November 2015

Generalissimo Hollande

French president François Hollande’s speech to the Congress at Versailles rode a wave of political solidarity, most politicians refraining from trying to make political profit off the terror attacks and “standing united against a common enemy”... with the notable exception of Hollande himself. He shamelessly used the situation to undermine the political threat from the Right and advance the implementation of an all-out police state. The satirical _Canard Enchainé_ called him “the General of [the] Division.”

 Hollande announced that France’s borders were being closed and that he would ask for an extension of the emergency powers he has put in place, which can be maintained for a maximum 12 days without a legislative vote to extend them. (Today, as I write, all but a handful of deputies voted to grant an extension of three months.) Hollande further said that he would seek an amendment to the law governing the application of emergency powers allowing the executive to keep them in place longer without consulting the legislature. He said that “administrative” (meaning executive) searches and seizures will be able to be made with no court order. He promised to hire 5,000 new police and gendarmes in the next two years. Long-planned budget cuts designed to lower the costs of France’s armed forces have been frozen through 2019. He promised that he would seek an amendment to the constitution extending the conditions under which he can declare a state of siege – equivalent to full martial law. Constitutionalization would put the measure out of the reach of challenges from European human-rights legislation and France’s own Conseil Constitutionnel, which could challenge a law.

 All of these legal and constitutional extensions of powers, Hollande suggested, are needed to cope with a “new context” which “the Republic will evolve” to face – presumably meaning a context in which young French men and women are recruited and trained as assassins and suicide bombers... by jihadist militias whom France itself and its allies have armed and trained for use as proxy armies against Assad.

 Hollande clearly relishes the opportunity to play the strongman, to talk tough while undercutting his political adversaries. At one point he even made a brief head-wagging gesture that was astonishingly reminiscent of Mussolini. Or possibly Nicolas Sarkozy. Was it calculated, or spontaneous? Is he being coached by a consultant, the way the old George Bush was after his handlers noticed that a few of his gestures were just a touch too graceful? Is he simply aping his likely future adversary Sarkozy, who parlayed his stint as Interior (police) minister into a presidential term by baiting immigrants and ghetto youth, even stooping so low as to arrest suspected undocumented parents in a pre-dawn raid as they prepared their children for the first day of elementary school? Or, inside the chubby little bookkeeper, is there a swaggering Duce bent on taking the stage? And is a full-scale police state part of a long-standing plan to further tighten the grip of the neoliberal matrix?

 

In any case, Hollande is now “hunting on Sarkozy’s lands” as the French say. Beyond his militaristic posturing, he deliberately drew a connection between terrorism and the young people in France’s pressure-cooker suburban housing projects: “They move from delinquency to terrorism”. He promised that he would see to it that young offenders, born in France and sometimes third-generation immigrants, have their French nationality stripped from them. Playing on the fears of working-class citizens by singling out ghetto youths as being part of a foreign population the Republic is harboring in its bosom is one of the techniques Sarkozy had used to co-opt the extreme-Right Front National on his way to the presidency. Now Hollande – whose party is a direct inheritor of the Second International – is using the horror of November 13th as cover for doing exactly the same.

 

And the media are falling in line, while praising Hollande’s stern posturing and hypocritical calls for unity. The term “Islamofascism” is again being bandied about. A female journalist on the France-24 news network, commenting on the reports that a woman terrorist had blown herself up during the police attack in St-Denis Wednesday morning, said that “a page has been turned” and that “no woman wearing the Islamic veil can ever be trusted again”. Are women who wear blouson-style jackets and coats now suspect too? Or only if they are of Middle-Eastern complexion? Are all pregnant women now potential suicide bombers? Or only those who don’t have blond hair and/or smoke cigarettes?

 

The relatively short-term gains Hollande will take to the bank may or may not keep their value on the volatile market of politics. But the harm he is doing to the liberty that is supposedly one of France’s pillar values won’t easily be undone. And he chooses to do it rather than face the hypocrisy and the contradictions of France’s – and its allies’ – policies in the world in general and the Middle East in particular.

Sunday 15 November 2015

France: Victim and Perpetrator

Here in France the official take on the Friday the Thirteenth attacks, from the politicians and the media, is that "our values", "the values of the Republic", have been attacked again. The narrative is the same one we heard after the Charlie Hebdo masssacre: We are a beacon of civilization and They are barbarians. Fundamentally, in this country where turning an elegant phrase and finding le mot juste is so highly valued, it's no more sophisticated than Junior Bush's "They hate us because we're so free."

No one can deny that this was a terrorist attack. But nobody mentions the fact that terrorism is simply a weapon of war used by peoples/states who face an overwhelmingly strong enemy. The nascent Israel used terrorism against the British and no one would dare criticize it today. But no - "terror" is an entity, like... "Islam" or, well, "freedom". These are not people using terror as a weapon (never mind the fact that our "Western" states systematically use terror against domestic and foreign populations), they're just "terrorists" by nature, by birth, just as we are "free and democratic" by birth. And yet we're told that this was an act of war, that France is at war, and that a state of emergency has been declared. A state of emergency is essentially martial law, though the term is studiously avoided. The executive can declare it for a period of twelve days, after which the legislature can prolong it by vote... a vote the "elected representatives of the people" would unhesitatingly take, just as the US Congress voted overwhelmingly to adopt the USAPATRIOT Act.

Indeed, France's citizens, even though they may well be familiar with Franklin's words, are probably willing to surrender a measure of freedom in order to have security. The discourse about "our values", "the values of the Republic", may be hard to swallow; but not only do we swallow it, we get on the bandwagon and organize huge demonstrations to show that we are free and unafraid. When it's a question of us against Them, who will deny that we are we, and that he or she is not one of Them? We buy into the meme and help put flesh on its bones. And it becomes part of our culture, and as such that much easier to swallow the next time around... until we end up thinking that it really is in our nature to be free and fair and enlightened, and that They really are slaves to their beliefs, submissive, and benighted. And the result is that no one ever asks a simple question like:

"Since the 'Socialist' President of France learned to admire the role of Commander in Chief and realized that since the Charlie attacks he has a line of credit for extending the military, since France decided to make its modest contribution to the West's civilizing program and help oust Assad and keep the money flowing to its own arms makers, and perhaps get back part of its former empire, how many people have been killed in Syria and Iraq due to France's bombing? How many civilians?

In any event I haven't heard it asked yet in the French media. Everyone is blinded by the light of our beloved Republic, that beacon of democracy and solidarity with the oppressed peoples. And, as a matter of fact, will the media really entertain the question of who it is we're really at war with? Of who the killers actually were? Of who We really are?

Tuesday 22 July 2014

What Did US Spy Satellites See in Ukraine?

Exclusive: The U.S. media’s Ukraine bias has been obvious, siding with the Kiev regime and bashing ethnic Russian rebels and Russia’s President Putin. But now – with the scramble to blame Putin for the Malaysia Airlines shoot-down – the shoddy journalism has grown truly dangerous, says Robert Parry.

Continue reading...

Thursday 20 March 2014

EU Parliament statement of concern over Ukraine’s Svoboda Party

The EU Parliament had issued a statement of concern over the Svoboda Party - now in power in Ukraine and considered the "legitimate" government by the US - in December 2013, including the following point:
_____________________________________________________________
European Parliament resolution of 13 December 2012 on the situation in Ukraine 2012/2889(RSP))

The European Parliament,
[...]
8.  Is concerned about the rising nationalistic sentiment in Ukraine, expressed in support for the Svoboda Party, which, as a result, is one of the two new parties to enter the Verkhovna Rada; recalls that racist, anti-Semitic and xenophobic views go against the EU's fundamental values and principles and therefore appeals to pro-democratic parties in the Verkhovna Rada not to associate with, endorse or form coalitions with this party;

[...]
____________________________________________________________

Monday 3 March 2014

Twilight of the Gods?

I've been thinking back on my youth recently, on the 60s, and on how convinced we were back then that there was such a thing as progress; on how sure we were that by the time we were old, the world would have changed. I was an American, and I had been raised on perpetual progress in all areas - technology, human rights, quality of life - and was sure that the world would be a more peaceful and prosperous place by now.

But now as I watch the news on television I see that sabers are again rattling, that the Russians are being warned by the US State department that the consequences will be severe if they attempt to keep Crimea in their sphere of influence. The TV news doesn't mention the fact that the crisis in Crimea - that is, in Ukraine - was directly caused by the US and its NATO allies through their fomenting the overthrow of the Yanukovich government.

Why? The supposed reason is that Yanukovich in Ukraine and Putin in Russia are despotic leaders and that the real majority of the people - not the "elites" whom these near-dictators serve - aspire to true democracy. The kind of democracy that exists in the US and France and the UK, for example. The real reason is that Washington and NATO have a master plan for continually extending their influence throughout the globe and that that master plan involves breaking up what was once the USSR into a number of smaller states that can be brought into the NATO fold and their resources channeled into the coffers of the elites in the NATO countries. This is of course in direct contradiction with the promises made at the time of the breakup of the former USSR and the de facto dissolution of the Warsaw pact - that NATO would not expand into the territory formerly covered by the Pact.

Back in the 60s, and for decades before then, the US and its allies were engaged in the same kind of interference in the affairs of other parts of the world - always on the pretext of "protecting democracy" or "midwifing freedom," or some similar formulation. Iran in 1953 and Guatemala in 1954 are examples that immediately come to mind. Never was it admitted that the machinations, and when the machinations failed, the direct military interventions, were in fact intended to protect the vital interests - meaning the financial interests - of the USA - meaning the elite that was in power, and is still in power. And, of course, there is another reason for the machinations and the ever-present threat of military action that is always in the background: justifying the existence of the US/NATO military machine and the $1.67 trillion* spent on it annually. Spent... or should we say extracted from the populations of the US and the NATO countries?

As I grow old and face the world of today, where the progress of technology seems to have been accompanied by regression in human rights and quality of life, I can only wonder, watching the news, how my attempts to make sense of my own life and make peace with my own past, natural as old age approaches, can make any sense in such a context. It's as if the leaders of the world were eternally young and eternally stupid - like the gods of the mythology our culture is founded on. It's as if we - when I say "we," I mean we as Americans, as French, as German, or as British, as represented by the leaders we have duly elected through our admittedly imperfect but at least functioning democratic processes - were trying to play at being Immortals by interfering in the lives of ordinary people to satisfy our own infantile need to have our way, our childish greed, never being satisfied with the wealth we have, or our pusillanimous desire to know everything everyone everywhere is thinking and saying. Is our democratic system really such a model for the rest of the world when those we put in power behave in this way? How much longer can we remain human if we continue to allow our leaders to play at being gods?
___________________
*source: SIPRI

Wednesday 18 September 2013

UN Report on Ghouta Gas Incident Points to Evidence Tampering, not Syrian Culpability

The United Nations report on the alleged use of chemical weapons in the Ghouta area of Damascus on August 21 does not, as newspaper headlines have indicated, “point to Assad’s use of gas” [1]; confirm that rockets were loaded with sarin [2]; or “come closer to linking Assad to sarin attack” [3]. Nor, as US officials and some journalists have declared, does it “reinforce the case that Mr. Assad’s forces were responsible” [4]; “confirm Damascus’s responsibility” [5]; or “undercut arguments by President Bashar al-Assad of Syria that rebel forces … had been responsible.” [6]

This isn’t to say that Syrian forces didn’t use chemical weapons, only that the evidence adduced in the UN report doesn’t show, or even suggest, that they did. On the contrary, the report offers stronger evidence that attempts were made to manipulate evidence to attribute blame to the Syrian government.

Continue reading...

Thursday 12 September 2013

Uncovering Britain's secret role in protecting Chile's 1973 coup

by Grace Livingstone
theguardian.com, Wednesday 11 September 2013 08.01 BST

Forty years on, declassified documents reveal an outpouring of
concern from the British public over Pinochet's coup – and the
Foreign Office's attempt to undermine the solidarity campaign

Chile coup 1973

Forty years ago today, when General Augusto Pinochet overthrew Salvador Allende, the elected president of Chile, democrats across the world were horrified. But not the British Foreign Office. Declassified government documents show British diplomats reserved their harshest criticism for human rights campaigners and journalists trying to alert the world to the "disappearance" and torture of thousands of Chileans. The head of the Foreign Office's Latin America department complained:
"Chileans must be wondering why on earth so much unfair attention is being paid to their change of government. The answer is that Chile is now being subjected to the full treatment by an international front organisation, the Chile Solidarity Movement. Chile has been chosen by the organised left as a new crusade."
Intelligence officers were sent to infiltrate the Chile Solidarity Campaign, a movement backed by Labour MPs, trade unions, students and church groups. The secret service reports, declassified earlier this year, can now be seen at the National Archives in Kew.
Journalists were another Foreign Office target. Complaining of "black propaganda against the Chilean armed services", British officials tried to manipulate the news.
When a team from the BBC Panorama programme visited Chile in November 1973, staff at the British embassy secured them "maximum co-operation from the junta".
The embassy was optimistic about the slant of the documentary, which included interviews with members of the Anglo-Chilean business community speaking approvingly about the coup. A British embassy official wrote: "The balance of the programme should be 60 to 75% favourable to the new regime." The embassy was not so pleased with a World in Action Granada TV team that arrived at the same time. The same official wrote: "I gathered that the WIA producer … came to cover torture and shootings … Granada's activities were certainly known to the junta whose press secretary told me that they had been seeing 'things they should not see'." An FCO official back in London scrawled on the letter: "Ominous news about the World in Action film".
But the archives also tell a more heartening story: an outpouring of concern and solidarity from the British public. In battered brown folders, sheaves of letters urge Edward Heath's government to take action against Pinochet – letters from an elderly couple in Leicester, "an appalled family" from London, from academics, students, Labour party branches and the "Bath Women's Liberation Front". There is even a telegram from a young Gordon Brown.
But most numerous are the letters from trade unionists. The shipbuilders' union urged the government not to sell warships to Pinochet, even though losing these contracts could threaten their own jobs. The government's response? To send spies to shipyards across Britain to check workers were not sabotaging vessels destined for Chile.
When Labour came to power in 1974, it cut off arms sales, aid and credit to Pinochet and, in 1977, withdrew the British ambassador. But existing arms contracts were to be honoured, so trade unionists took matters into their own hands. Employees at East Kilbride engineering yard in Scotland refused to fix bomber-plane engines destined for Chile, forcing Rolls Royce to break its contract with the Chilean air force. This forgotten history of solidarity will be celebrated across Britain today, the 40th anniversary of the coup.
Unsurprisingly, when Pinochet's most prominent defender, Margaret Thatcher came to office in 1979, diplomatic relations were soon restored and arms sales resumed.
Declassified papers reveal that, by June 1982, her government had sold the dictatorship: two warships, 60 blowpipe missiles, 10 Hunter Hawker bomber planes, naval pyrotechnics, communications equipment, gun sights, machine guns and ammunition. A unique attempt at a British "ethical foreign policy" had ended.

Wednesday 4 September 2013

Understanding the Syrian Civil War

With President Obama asking Congress to back a military strike to punish Syria for alleged chemical weapons use, the U.S. is lurching toward a new war. Beyond doubts about what happened and whether a U.S. missile attack will help, there is scant public understanding of the Syrian conflict, notes Mideast expert William R. Polk.

Continue reading...

Friday 26 April 2013

Syria: Things Move Fast

Isn't it funny that just a week after the Boston bombings and the announcement that a terrorist plot driven by Iran was foiled in Canada, the word has gone out that what we have feared for so long (or to put it another way, what we have been prepared to accept for so long) has come about: Dr. Assad has stepped over the red line - or is at least standing on it, with one foot ready to come down on the other side (the former is the Republican take, the latter the Democrat)?

In contrast, take a look at this (note the date - March 19th): http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article34344.htm
And look quick, because it might not be there much longer.

Also note how Chuck Hagel said yesterday that the reports were not to be taken seriously, while stopping short of criticizing Israeli intelligence:

"(Reuters) - Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Wednesday the U.S. effort to determine whether Syria has used chemical weapons is a "serious business" that cannot be decided in a rush just because several countries believe evidence supports that conclusion.

"Suspicions are one thing, evidence is another," Hagel told reporters as he wrapped up a visit to Egypt that included talks about Syria and other regional issues.

"I think we have to be very careful here before we make any conclusions (and) draw any conclusions based on real intelligence. That's not at all questioning other nations' intelligence. But the United States relies on its own intelligence." "

But today, 24 hours later, Mr. Hagel... stepped over the line:

"ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — U.S. intelligence has concluded "with some degree of varying confidence," that the Syrian government has used sarin gas as a weapon in its 2-year-old civil war, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Thursday.

Hagel, speaking to reporters in Abu Dhabi, said the White House has informed two senators by letter that, within the past day, "our intelligence community does assess, with varying degrees of confidence, that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically, the chemical agent sarin."

"It violates every convention of warfare," Hagel said. "

When you're a new defense secretary, you learn fast...


Tuesday 5 March 2013

Control of Perception by the Military-Financial Complex: A Textbook Case

Current events have caught up with this post. It started when I bought my son, who was studying for his brevet exams – here in France the brevet is your ticket out of middle school and into high school – a review workbook for his Civics exam. The educational system being highly centralized in France, the curricula are nationwide and schoolbook publishing is a lucrative industry. Which may explain why French capitalists and their friends in politics tend to take an interest in it… But I’m getting ahead of myself.

 

My son began studying the book and at one point came and showed me the caption on a picture in a section entitled Les menaces pour la paix et la sécurité (“Threats to Peace and Security”). The picture is of a missile being fired, and the caption reads “Un missile à capacité nucléaire iranien” (“A nuclear-capable Iranian missile”). The picture was one of several “documents” that are supposed to serve as a basis for “reflection and discussion by students.” The strong implication is that Iran has a military nuclear program, and even nuclear warheads. This is being presented to my son and his generation of French middle-school kids as a simple fact.

 

Yet a little reading in the mainstream information media will demonstrate that it is anything but a fact. Iran is a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is in charge of surveillance of compliance with that treaty, has rejected “allegations” (mostly coming from the US and its allies) that Iran is pursuing development of nuclear weapons1.

 

The fact is that the United States and its allies, including France, have been exerting pressure on Iran to cease its program of uranium enrichment – to which it is entitled under the terms of the aforementioned treaty –, supposedly as a guarantee of Iran’s intention not to pursue development of a nuclear weapon. In the meantime, the NATO/US military machine has been stepping up its presence in the region, as if it were doing everything in its power to push Iran towards developing a weapon for purposes of deterrence.

 

So I looked to see who the publisher of the workbook is. The publisher turns out to be Hachette Éducation, the largest publisher of textbooks in France, with 1.052 billion euros in sales in 2007. Hachette Éducation is a division of Hachette Livre, which is part of the Lagardère group. The Lagardère group originates in the takeover of the French press-publishing giant Hachette by arms manufacturer Matra in 1980. The group today has a co-controlling share in EADS, which in 2010 ranked seventh in the list of the top ten weapons merchants, with 12.3 billion euros in sales. “Among EADS’s divisions is Matra BAe Dynamics, formed in 1996 via a merger of the missile business of BAe (BAe Dynamics) and half of the missile business of Matra Défense. (The other half remained as Aerospatiale Matra Missiles).”2

 

So a textbook writer working for Hachette would probably have little trouble finding stock photos of missiles to fill in a page in a Civics workbook…

 

According to the Reference for Business Company History Index3, in the controversial 1980 takeover of Hachette by Matra “[then French president] Giscard d’Estaing’s government supported Matra, its principal arms supplier” amid fears that “The publishing industry [was] gradually losing its financial and intellectual independence…” Were those fears justified? Well, today, 70% of the French press is controlled by arms manufacturers Lagardère and Dassault4.A 2004 article in The Economist5 expressed concern over the increasing influence of armaments makers on the French press and publishing industry. Isn’t it disturbing to see that the largest textbook publisher in France is part of an arms manufacturing group? And, given the incestuous relationship between business and government in France, that taxpayers’ money is being used to produce these textbooks?

 

 

As I said, current events have caught up with this post. The workbook dates from a couple of years ago, and so was published under the Sarkozy regime. Sarkozy, of course, is alleged to have long-standing ties to the US in general and to the CIA in particular. “Sarkozy the American” was the man who ended France’s tradition of keeping the US and NATO at arm’s length by returning France to NATO’s integrated military structure after a 43-year absence6,7. Sarkozy also demonstrated a taste for military adventurism when he spearheaded the 2011 attack on Ghaddafi’s Libya.

 

When a Socialist president was elected last year, the issue of France’s participation in NATO and her military adventurism was very much a part of the campaign, and current president François Hollande, playing on his pacifist political inheritance, had promised “to re-examine the NATO question.” He has been accused by his political opponents of wanting to slash France’s military budget. But today he has shown himself to be as eager as Sarkozy was to “prove his mettle as a leader” and engage his country in war – for purely “humanitarian” motives, of course. And the mainstream press, unsurprisingly, has furthered that narrative.

 

Taking the train into Paris yesterday, I noticed that the billboard frames that line the tracks – usually devoted to yogurt or cheese or the latest vampire movie – were mostly displaying advertisements for France’s modern army. The billboards depict fit young men and women in camouflage, training in combat techniques or young men in Robocop-like crowd-control gear standing on a railway platform holding assault rifles, “protecting the population.” The French Army is recruiting 10,000 young men and women. Meanwhile, the French auto industry plans to fire 11,000 workers between now and 2015 – with the consent of the unions and the government.

 

It made me realize that in fact nothing has changed. France is one of the world’s leading armaments producers. And countries whose economies depend heavily on the production of weapons of war need to remain in a constant state of war. That state of war needs to be justified to the population, and the population needs to be provided with an enemy from whom it needs to be protected. Or else the war-waging needs to be sanitized, as is now being done with Syria and Mali, and as was done with Libya and earlier with Serbia/Kosovo, by convincing the population that what is being done with its tax money is “humanitarian intervention.” And that is where the press comes in.

 

Examples of how the press promotes the enterprise of war can be seen every day. During the preparation for the invasion of Iraq in 2003 they were ubiquitous and egregious. The lesson of the Vietnam war was learned well. No reporter is allowed direct access to a combat area, and the information they have access to is kept under strict control.  The mainstream press now supports the official narrative of what is happening wherever the US/NATO intervenes – currently in Syria and Mali. Is that surprising, given the degree of control the warplane makers have over the press?

 

But it goes farther than that. The culture of war is etched in myriad ways into the official and popular culture of countries where armaments are the lifeblood of the economy. Nick Turse, in The Complex, reveals how the Pentagon provides support for the development of computer shooter games and war movies. The recent film Zero Dark Thirty is reportedly the result of direct collaboration with the Obama administration8. What passes for entertainment – some would even call it art – is in fact metaprogramming, designed to ensure that the message Obama sent to the world in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech – that it’s going to be business as usual – is not forgotten: “We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations -- acting individually or in concert -- will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.”  

 

Presumably – in France, at least – violent conflict will be on the menu into our children’s lifetimes, too, and our textbooks need to condition them to accept that. Why? Is it because Obama’s words are, sadly, true? Or is it for another reason? Is it because the publisher of the textbooks is also a merchant of death?

______________________________________________________________

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iran_and_weapons_of_mass_destruction#Alleged_weaponization_studies

2http://www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Matra.html

3 http://www.referenceforbusiness.com/history2/50/Matra-Hachette-S-A.html

4 http://www.ifj.org/fr/articles/journalists-challenge-european-commission-over-media-concentration-in-france

5 http://www.economist.com/node/2560576

6 http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/sarkozy-s-three-way-nato-bet

7 http://www.sott.net/article/161965-Sarkozy-Hello-NATO-Goodbye-France

8 http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/kathryn-bigelow-bin-laden-movie-mark-boal-white-house-328830

Monday 7 January 2013

Eduardo Galeano on consumer society

“Consumer society is a booby trap.  Those at the controls feign ignorance, but anybody with eyes in his head can see that the great majority of people necessarily must consume not much, very little, or nothing at all in order to save the bit of nature we have left.  Social injustice is not an error to be corrected, nor is it a defect to be overcome; it is an essential requirement of the system.  No natural world is capable of supporting a mall the size of the planet... [If] we all consumed like those who are squeezing the earth dry, we’d have no world left.”

-Eduardo Galeano, in Upside Down: A Primer for the Looking-Glass World

Wednesday 21 November 2012

Obama's early-game foreign-policy score...

Vijay Prashad, ending his article The New Obama Doctrine: From Gaza to Goma on Counterpunch:

Obama’s second term opens with the worst kind of display of US power – backing two clients who are hell-bent on creating mayhem against their neighbors. Coming to the defense of Israel in Bangkok,  Obama made himself the laughing stock of the world. He said, “There is no country on earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders,” forgetting, of course, that US drones rain hellfire on Droneland – from Yemen to Pakistan, in violation of the UN’s own position on such extra-judicial assassinations, and it was Israel that began this particular episode with its own extra-judicial killing of Ahmad Jabari. There is no “reset,” no new liberalism. Drone strikes and other exaggerations of US aerial power, fanatical defense of its allies, and refusal to come to terms with the emergent multipolarity – this is the Obama Doctrine, now at work in Gaza and Goma.

Friday 17 August 2012

An animated cartoon about US foreign policy

An animated cartoon about US foreign policy written by William Blum.

Wednesday 8 August 2012

Honduran journalist requests US asylum

Honduran journalist requests US asylum
BBC, 4 August 2012 Last updated at 20:35 ET
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-19130922

A Honduran journalist has requested asylum in the US embassy in Tegucigalpa after he said he and his family were repeatedly threatened and attacked.

Jose Chinchilla, who works for a radio station in El Progreso in northern Honduras, said his son was injured when unidentified gunmen opened fire outside the family home.

More than 20 journalists have been murdered over the past three years in Honduras. None of the crimes has been solved.
[...]
Two gunmen on motorcycles drove past Mr Chinchilla's home on Friday night opening fire and injuring his 24-year-old son, he was quoted by local media as saying.

Mr Chinchilla is the correspondent for radio station Radio Cadena Voces in the city of El Progreso. Journalists working for Radio Cadena Voces have been targeted before.

In October 2007, journalist and humorist Carlos Salgado was shot dead as he was leaving the Radio Cadena Voces' offices in the capital, Tegucigalpa. A month later, the station's director, Dagoberto Rodriguez, left Honduras after receiving death threats.

In May of this year, thousands of people marched in cities across Honduras in protest at the wave of violence against journalists

Honduran journalist requests US asylum

Honduran journalist requests US asylum
BBC, 4 August 2012 Last updated at 20:35 ET
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-19130922

A Honduran journalist has requested asylum in the US embassy in Tegucigalpa after he said he and his family were repeatedly threatened and attacked.

Jose Chinchilla, who works for a radio station in El Progreso in northern Honduras, said his son was injured when unidentified gunmen opened fire outside the family home.

More than 20 journalists have been murdered over the past three years in Honduras. None of the crimes has been solved.
[...]
Two gunmen on motorcycles drove past Mr Chinchilla's home on Friday night opening fire and injuring his 24-year-old son, he was quoted by local media as saying.

Mr Chinchilla is the correspondent for radio station Radio Cadena Voces in the city of El Progreso. Journalists working for Radio Cadena Voces have been targeted before.

In October 2007, journalist and humorist Carlos Salgado was shot dead as he was leaving the Radio Cadena Voces' offices in the capital, Tegucigalpa. A month later, the station's director, Dagoberto Rodriguez, left Honduras after receiving death threats.

In May of this year, thousands of people marched in cities across Honduras in protest at the wave of violence against journalists

Monday 23 July 2012

Obama: "Death shall be no more"

In his response to the killings in Aurora, President Obama quoted scripture: "Death shall be no more."

He didn't mention whether that means that the US's murder of innocent civilians in Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, Syria, etc. will cease.

But he did say "We may never understand what leads anybody to terrorize fellow human beings like this. Such violence, such evil is senseless. It’s beyond reason." Many around the world, and not only in the countries just mentioned, would agree with that.

Tuesday 17 July 2012

DemocracyNow? Or ImperialismNow?

Going by the latest coverage on Syria, Democracy Now is acting once again under a "progressive" cloak as a propaganda tool for US-led imperialist intervention. Given the misplaced respect among many of the public seeking independent, alternative, accurate news and analysis, this insidious role of Democracy Now is reprehensible. May it be suggested, in the name of media transparency, that the programme be aptly renamed "Imperialism Now".

Continue reading...

Wednesday 11 July 2012

"A furnace of war and chaos": A Russian speaks to Russians

by Veronika Krasheninnikova,

Director General of the Institute for Foreign Policy Research and Initiatives in Moscow

via StopNATO

====

The latest round of the war against an independent Syria unfolded in Paris last week at the gathering of the “Friends of Syria”.

Russia and China very rightly did not attend this “amoral” – in the diplomatic language of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs – meeting. At the meeting western champions of the war insisted on their interpretation of the one-week old Geneva agreements: “transition government based on mutual consent” means “Bashar al-Assad must go”, affirmed French President Hollande.

This recent round of pressure highlights two new tactics employed by Washington: word games and an end-run around the United Nations itself.

First, the new formula “transition government”. The authoritative Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “regime” as “government” and “change” as “transition.” Thus, for those who reject “regime change,” a euphemism was created that has much better chances to go through.

Interestingly enough, this term was promoted by an expert of Russian origin, Dmitri Trenin, Director of the Carnegie Moscow Center. On June 28, 2012 Trenin published a suggestion in his piece “Syria: A Russian Perspective”: “Russia might be willing to cooperate with the U.S. and other countries if the goal moves towards 'transition' rather than “regime change” – what has been dubbed the “Yemen model.”

So who is Mr. Trenin? This retired Soviet colonel was a Senior Research Fellow at the NATO Defense College in Rome just before he was recruited in 1993 to join the Carnegie Moscow Center, created the same year by none other than Michael McFaul, the current US Ambassador in Moscow. After nearly 20 years in the pay of the Americans Trenin was rewarded with his current post as director by his former boss, Rose Gottemoeller, who left Moscow in 2008 to join the State Department where she is now Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security. Big shoes to fill for Mr. Trenin, but in Washington they know how to pick their cadre.

The board of the Carnegie Endowment in Washington features – this world is truly small – Kofi Annan himself. Among the Endowment's “Funders and Supporters” are George Soros’s Open Society Institute, the US National Intelligence Council, the US Defense Intelligence Agency, the US Defense Department, and a collection of other private and public enthusiasts.

Of course the “transition government” and “Yemen model” are nothing other than “regime change.” Honestly: we, Russians, brought up on Tolstoy and Chekhov, should be able to miss Washington’s elementary-school semantic traps.

Secondly, unable to push anti-Syrian resolutions through the UN Security Council due to Russia and China’s staunch resistance, Washington is building up a group of more than hundred nations more pliable to US pressure. Such “coalitions of the willing” have been put together before, but this time the number of countries makes it look like a parallel anti-UN construct acting as if it is replacing the UN General Assembly itself.

Such a gathering, despite the total absence of legitimacy, is not just a talking platform. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told “Le Parisien” that the Paris meeting would push for a Chapter VII United Nations resolution to enforce the transition plan. A Chapter VII resolution can authorize the use of military force "to maintain or restore international peace and security."

In the short term, the United States may attempt to institutionalize this ad hoc grouping into a mechanism to implement a “final solution” to President Al-Assad. In the long term, Washington may try to solidify such structure into an anti-U.N. body of sycophants, ready and willing to approve any U.S. initiative.

Now, from tactics to strategy. Looking at the type of leaders that are seizing power in the Arab world with American assistance, a normal person is perplexed: why does the United States, with the assistance of their local satellites, keep on removing moderate secular governments and bringing to power, in one country after another, increasingly radical extremists – that same type of people who committed 9/11, the greatest tragedy in U.S. post-WWII history?

Indeed, this question is not solvable by listening to Washington’s official line of arguments. But take a look at the policies of the US and its European partners during the in the 1930s. Then, America and its ever so reasonable and civilized European allies provided the financial, industrial and political support encouraging the highly energized, violent extremist Nazi and fascist movements in Europe. With a purpose: to direct its violence against Russia. According to the plan, Germany and Russia were to exhaust themselves so that the US would emerge dominant.

Similarly, the earlier use of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and again today the encouragement of various Muslim extremists including elements of the Muslim Brotherhood are part of the plan to create a regional movement which could be thrown against Iran, Russia and China. Such a furnace of war and chaos in the Middle East, the Caucuses and Central Asia will permanently disable all three of America’s strategic rivals and allow Washington to rise to uncontested world domination.

We should be able to decipher not only US language, but also US strategy. In the 1930s, the Soviet Union was at the front line of the fight against fascism in Europe. Today, Russia owes it to its history and to the fallen in the anti-fascist struggle to recognize and before it is too late avert American designs.

We must prevent Russian and other people from being drawn into a bloodbath of mutual extermination in the voracious interest of Washington’s drive for global hegemony.

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