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Monday 11 February 2013

Quote from George Kennan during the Cold War

“Were the Soviet Union to sink tomorrow under the waters of the ocean, the American military-industrial establishment would have to go on, substantially unchanged, until some other adversary could be invented. Anything else would be an unacceptable shock to the American economy.” 

See more of what Kennan had to say here.

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

Thursday 6 December 2012

Greece: Surgeon/Activist and Family Face Eviction

It may be difficult for many people, and in particular Americans, to imagine a doctor being evicted from his home for non-payment of rent. But it can happen to a doctor in Greece. And Giorgos Kosmopoulos of Athens is a physician.

 And not just any physician. He is a thoracic surgeon who studied under Dr. Christiaan Barnard in South Africa at the Heart Transplant Center, Groote Schuur University Hospital, Cape Town. He has been Senior Lecturer at the Department of Cardio-thoracic Surgery at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg and head of the Department of Thoracic Surgery at Agios Savas Anticancer Hospital in Athens. He has performed 3,535 operations as a cardiothoracic surgeon.

 Giorgos Kosmopoulos is also a founder of StopCartel TV, a most beloved pioneer of the Livestream and one of the only bilingual livestreamers in Greece. Tomorrow morning, Giorgos and his family of six are facing eviction from their home of 14 years.

 And where is Giorgos tonight? He is livestreaming, on location in the center of Athens. He said that despite his personal problems, he felt it was his duty to livestream and archive the clashes between the rioting Greek police and protesters who have gathered to commemorate the murder of 16-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos, who was shot dead on December 6, 2008.

 A lifelong activist, Dr. Kosmopoulos grew up in Greece during the junta and joined the resistance at age 17, when he entered university. During the decade he spent in South Africa, he was an anti-apartheid activist and survived two hunger strikes, one for 26 days and one for 30 days.

 A personal family tragedy brought him and his family back to Greece, where they currently reside. At the age of six, his son Christopher, was shot in the head, leaving him blind in one eye and with half of his vision in the other eye. Doctors said that Christopher had lost half of his brain function, as well, and would have a more successful education in his mother tongue. 

 The family moved back to Greece and enrolled Christopher in a special school. After one month, the school called and said that Christopher did not belong there. So they enrolled him in a normal grammar school and he did well. He went on to High School and then to university. Christopher is now an economist and ran for Parliament in the last election on the SYRIZA ticket.

 When Giorgos was head of Thoracic Surgery at Agios Savas in Athens, hospital workers’ wages began to be slashed. He went to Human Resources and asked if he was eligible to retire with a smaller pension. They told him he was and he resigned. He collected a pension for six months and then the payments simply stopped. The government said he was NOT eligible. Meanwhile, he only had two months to be reinstated in his old job. Since that window of opportunity closed, he started a private practice. But with the Troika’s two austerity Memoranda passing, people in Greece had no money for a private physician, and he had to close his practice. He applied to the government for a post as a doctor and after months of waiting, they assigned him a post far from Athens, in the remote Western Peloponnese. The pay was low and it would have been a hardship to move his entire family there. He asked to be reassigned to a post in the greater Athens area. He is still waiting for a post, but the wheels of the public sector have come to a grinding halt. It could take forever for him to get an assignment. Another 40% of public-sector jobs are on the chopping block.

 Meanwhile, under the new “fast-track” eviction procedures that are only one of a multitude of measures – some small, some egregious – that are slowly bleeding Greece’s people through a thousand cuts, this distinguished physician and dedicated citizen journalist has been informed that he is to be evicted from his home. In many European countries, eviction is illegal under any circumstances during the winter months. But not in the Greece of today. Not in the Greece that has become a laboratory of neoliberal doctrine. That is why Dr. Giorgos Kosmopoulos is doing everything he can to inform the world, despite the silence and complacency of the mainstream corporate media, of the plight of his country.

 He spoke about the pending eviction tonight on his livestream:

 “We will prepare for peaceful civil disobedience tomorrow. We will not tolerate being violently removed from our home of 14 years. If the eviction is imposed, we will resist and express our disobedience. We will not allow them to get inside our house. They may resort to using violence and throwing our belongings on the street. We hope some comrades will come to our house to support us. Online, it’s not wise to say what we will do. This will all be online and live. So keep in mind you who are talking from the US, it will be difficult for you to view because of the time difference. 

 The world must know of the humanitarian catastrophe in Greece. Thousands of Greek families are homeless and nobody cares about us. Please do your best to spread the word and help raise awareness.” 

 The Kosmopoulos family is requesting a January 13 postponement for the eviction which will give them time to find a new flat and move their belongings.

 

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.

Monday 19 November 2012

US-Israel Alliance: Obama’s “Green Light” to Israel Attack on Gaza

Four Guilty Parties behind Attack


A short interview broadcast by CNN late last week featuring two participants – a Palestinian in Gaza and an Israeli within range of the rocket attacks – did not follow the usual script.

For once, a media outlet dropped its role as gatekeeper, there to mediate and therefore impair our understanding of what is taking place between Israel and the Palestinians, and inadvertently became a simple window on real events.

The usual aim of such “balance” interviews relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is twofold: to reassure the audience that both sides of the story are being presented fairly; and to dissipate potential outrage at the deaths of Palestinian civilians by giving equal time to the suffering of Israelis.

But the deeper function of such coverage in relation to Gaza, given the media’s assumption that Israeli bombs are simply a reaction to Hamas terror, is to redirect the audience’s anger exclusively towards Hamas. In this way, Hamas is made implicitly responsible for the suffering of both Israelis and Palestinians.

The dramatic conclusion to CNN’s interview appears, however, to have otherwise trumped normal journalistic considerations.

The pre-recorded interview via Skype opened with Mohammed Sulaiman in Gaza. From what looked like a cramped room, presumably serving as a bomb shelter, he spoke of how he was too afraid to step outside his home. Throughout the interview, we could hear the muffled sound of bombs exploding in the near-distance. Mohammed occasionally glanced nervously to his side.

The other interviewee, Nissim Nahoom, an Israeli official in Ashkelon, also spoke of his family’s terror, arguing that it was no different from that of Gazans. Except in one respect, he hastened to add: things were worse for Israelis because they had to live with the knowledge that Hamas rockets were intended to harm civilians, unlike the precision missiles and bombs Israel dropped on Gaza.

The interview returned to Mohammed. As he started to speak, the bombing grew much louder. He pressed on, saying he would not be silenced by what was taking place outside. The interviewer, Isha Sesay, interrupted – seemingly unsure of what she was hearing – to inquire about the noise.

Then, with an irony that Mohammed could not have appreciated as he spoke, he began to say he refused to be drawn into a comparison about whose suffering was worse when an enormous explosion threw him from his chair and severed the internet connection. Switching back to the studio, Sesay reassured viewers that Mohammed had not been hurt.

The bombs, however, spoke more eloquently than either Mohammed or Nissim.

If Mohammed had had more time, he might have been able to challenge Nissim’s point about Israelis’ greater fears as well as pointing to another important difference between his and his Israeli interlocutor’s respective plights.

The far greater accuracy of Israel’s weaponry in no way confers peace of mind. The fact is that a Palestinian civilian in Gaza is in far more danger of being killed or injured by one of Israel’s precision armaments than an Israeli is by one of the more primitive rockets being launched out of Gaza.

In Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s attack on Gaza in winter 2008-09, three Israelis were killed by rocket attacks, and six soldiers died in fighting. In Gaza, meanwhile, nearly 1,400 Palestinians were killed, of whom at least 1,000 were not involved in hostilities, according to the Israeli group B’Tselem. Many, if not most, of those civilians were killed by so-called precision bombs and missiles.

If Israelis like Nissim really believe they have to endure greater suffering because the Palestinians lack accurate weapons, then maybe they should start lobbying Washington to distribute its military hardware more equitably, so that the Palestinians can receive the same allocations of military aid and armaments as Israel.

Or alternatively, they could lobby their own government to allow Iran and Hizbullah to bring into Gaza more sophisticated technology than can currently be smuggled in via the tunnels.

The other difference is that, unlike Nissim and his family, most people in Gaza have nowhere else to flee. And the reason that they must live under the rain of bombs in one of the most densely populated areas on earth is because Israel – and to a lesser extent Egypt – has sealed the borders to create a prison for them.

Israel has denied Gaza a port, control of its airspace and the right of its inhabitants to move to the other Palestinian territory recognised by the Oslo accords, the West Bank. It is not, as Israel’s supporters allege, that Hamas is hiding among Palestinian civilians; rather, Israel has forced Palestinian civilians to live in a tiny strip of land that Israel turned into a war zone.

So who is chiefly to blame for the escalation that currently threatens the nearly two million inhabitants of Gaza? Though Hamas’ hands are not entirely clean, there are culprits far more responsible than the Palestinian militants.

First culprit: The state of Israel

The inciting cause of the latest confrontation between Israel and Hamas has little to do with the firing of rockets, whether by Hamas or the other Palestinian factions.

The conflict predates the rockets – and even the creation of Hamas – by decades. It is the legacy of Israel’s dispossession of Palestinians in 1948, forcing many of them from their homes in what is now Israel into the tiny Gaza Strip. That original injustice has been compounded by the occupation Israel has not only failed to end but has actually intensified in recent years with its relentless siege of the small strip of territory.

Israel has been progressively choking the life out of Gaza, destroying its economy, periodically wrecking its infrastructure, denying its inhabitants freedom of movement and leaving its population immiserated.

One only needs to look at the restrictions on Gazans’ access to their own sea. Here we are not considering their right to use their own coast to leave and enter their territory, simply their right to use their own waters to feed themselves. According to one provision of the Oslo accords, Gaza was given fishing rights up to 20 miles off its shore. Israel has slowly whittled that down to just three miles, with Israeli navy vessels firing on fishing boats even inside that paltry limit.

Palestinians in Gaza are entitled to struggle for their right to live and prosper. That struggle is a form of self-defence – not aggression – against occupation, oppression, colonialism and imperialism.

Second culprit: Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak

The Israeli prime minister and defence minister have taken a direct and personal hand, above and beyond Israel’s wider role in enforcing the occupation, in escalating the violence.

Israel and its supporters always make it their first priority when Israel launches a new war of aggression to obscure the timeline of events as a way to cloud responsibility. The media willingly regurgitates such efforts at misdirection.

In reality, Israel engineered a confrontation to provide the pretext for a “retaliatory” attack, just as it did four years earlier in Operation Cast Lead. Then Israel broke a six-month ceasefire agreed with Hamas by staging a raid into Gaza that killed six Hamas members.

This time, on 8 November, Israel achieved the same end by invading Gaza again, on this occasion following a two-week lull in tensions. A 13-year-old boy out playing football was killed by an Israeli bullet.

Tit-for-tat violence over the following days resulted in the injury of eight Israelis, including four soldiers, and the deaths of five Palestinian civilians, and the wounding of dozens more in Gaza.

On November 12, as part of efforts to calm things down, the Palestinian militant factions agreed a truce that held two days – until Israel broke it by assassinating Hamas military leader Ahmed Jabari. The rockets out of Gaza that followed these various Israeli provocations have been misrepresented as the casus belli.

But if Netanyahu and Barak are responsible for creating the immediate pretext for an attack on Gaza, they are also criminally negligent for failing to pursue an opportunity to secure a much longer truce with Hamas.

We now know, thanks to Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin, that in the period leading up to Jabari’s execution Egypt had been working to secure a long-term truce between Israel and Hamas. Jabari was apparently eager to agree to it.

Baskin, who was intimately involved in the talks, was a credible conduit between Israel and Hamas because he had played a key role last year in getting Jabari to sign off on a prisoner exchange that led to the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Baskin noted in the Haaretz newspaper that Jabari’s assassination “killed the possibility of achieving a truce and also the Egyptian mediators’ ability to function.”

The peace activist had already met Barak to alert him to the truce, but it seems the defence minister and Netanyahu had more pressing concerns than ending the tensions between Israel and Hamas.

What could have been more important than finding a mechanism for saving lives, on both the Palestinian and Israeli sides. Baskin offers a clue: “Those who made the decision must be judged by the voters, but to my regret they will get more votes because of this.”

It seems Israel’s general election, due in January, was uppermost in the minds of Netanyahu and Barak.

A lesson learnt by Israeli leaders over recent years, as Baskin notes, is that wars are vote-winners solely for the right wing. That should be clear to no one more than Netanyahu. He has twice before become prime minister on the back of wars waged by his more “moderate” political opponents as they faced elections.

Shimon Peres, a dove by no standard except a peculiar Israeli one, launched an attack on Lebanon, Operation Grapes of Wrath, that cost him the election in 1996. And centrists Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni again helped Netanyahu to victory by attacking Gaza in late 2008.

Israelis, it seems, prefer a leader who does not bother to wrap a velvet glove around his iron fist.

Netanyahu was already forging ahead in the polls before he minted Operation Pillar of Defence. But the electoral fortunes of Ehud Barak, sometimes described as Netanyahu’s political Siamese twin and a military mentor to Netanyahu from their commando days together, have been looking grim indeed.

Barak desperately needed a military rather than a political campaign to boost his standing and get his renegade Independence party across the electoral threshold and into the Israeli parliament. It seems Netanyahu, thinking he had little to lose himself from an operation in Gaza, may have been willing to oblige.

Third culprit: The Israeli army

Israel’s army has become addicted to two doctrines it calls the “deterrence principle” and its “qualitative military edge”. Both are fancy ways of saying that, like some mafia heavy, the Israeli army wants to be sure it alone can “whack” its enemies. Deterrence, in Israeli parlance, does not refer to a balance of fear but Israel’s exclusive right to use terror.

The amassing of rockets by Hamas, therefore, violates the Israeli army’s own sense of propriety, just as Hizbullah’s stockpiling does further north. Israel wants its neighbouring enemies to have no ability to resist its dictates.

Doubtless the army was only too ready to back Netanyahu and Barak’s electioneering if it also provided an opportunity to clean out some of Hamas’ rocket arsenal.

But there is another strategic reason why the Israeli army has been chomping at the bit to crack down on Hamas again.

Haaretz’s two chief military correspondents explained the logic of the army’s position last week, shortly after Israel killed Jabari. They reported: “For a long time now Israel has been pursuing a policy of containment in the Gaza Strip, limiting its response to the prolonged effort on the part of Hamas to dictate new rules of the game surrounding the fence, mainly in its attempt to prevent the entry of the IDF into the ‘perimeter,’ the strip of a few hundred meters wide to the west of the fence.”

In short, Hamas has angered Israeli commanders by refusing to sit quietly while the army treats large areas of Gaza as its playground and enters at will.

Israel has created what it terms a “buffer zone” inside the fence around Gaza, often up to a kilometre wide, that Palestinians cannot enter but the Israeli army can use as a gateway for launching its “incursions”. Remote-controlled guns mounted on Israeli watch-towers around Gaza can open fire on any Palestinian who is considered to have approached too close.

Three incidents shortly before Jabari’s extra-judicial execution illustrate the struggle for control over Gaza’s interior.

On November 4, the Israeli army shot dead a young Palestinian man inside Gaza as he was reported to have approached the fence. Palestinians say he was mentally unfit and that he could have been saved by medics had ambulances not been prevented from reaching him for several hours.

On November 8, as already noted, the Israeli army made an incursion into Gaza to attack Palestinian militants and in the process shot dead a boy playing football.

And on November 10, two days later, Palestinian fighters fired an anti-tank missile that destroyed a Jeep patrolling the perimeter fence around Gaza, wounding four soldiers.

As the Haaretz reporters note, Hamas appears to be trying to demonstrate that it has as much right to defend its side of the “border fence” as Israel does on the other side.

The army’s response to this display of native impertinence has been to inflict a savage form of collective punishment on Gaza to remind Hamas who is boss.

Fourth culprit: the White House

It is near-impossible to believe that Netanyahu decided to revive Israel’s policy of extra-judicial executions of Hamas leaders – and bystanders – without at least consulting the White House. Israel clearly also held off from beginning its escalation until after the US elections, restricting itself, as it did in Cast Lead, to the “downtime” in US politics between the elections and the presidential inauguration.

That was designed to avoid overly embarrassing the US president. A fair assumption must be that Barack Obama approved Israel’s operation in advance. Certainly he has provided unstinting backing since, despite the wildly optimistic scenarios painted by some analysts that he was likely to seek revenge on Netanyahu in his second term.

Also, it should be remembered that Israel’s belligerence towards Gaza, and the easing of domestic pressure on Israel to negotiate with Hamas or reach a ceasefire, has largely been made possible because Obama forced US taxpayers to massively subsidise Israel’s rocket interception system, Iron Dome, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Iron Dome is being used to shoot down rockets out of Gaza that might otherwise have landed in built-up areas of Israel. Israel and the White House have therefore been able to sell US munificence on the interception of rockets as a humanitarian gesture.

But the reality is that Iron Dome has swung Israel’s cost-benefit calculus sharply in favour of greater aggression because it is has increased Israel’s sense of impunity. Whatever Hamas’ ability to smuggle into Gaza more sophisticated weaponry, Israel believes it can neutralise that threat using interception systems.

Far from being a humanitarian measure, Iron Dome has simply served to ensure that Gaza will continue to suffer a far larger burden of deaths and injuries in confrontations with Israel and that such confrontations will continue to occur regularly.

Here are the four main culprits. They should be held responsible for the deaths of Palestinians and Israelis in the days and, if Israel expands its operation, weeks ahead.

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books).  His new website is www.jonathan-cook.net.

Friday 12 October 2012

October 13 against debt. International communication

10 October

2012-10-10_debt_03To the financial institutions of the world, we have only one thing to say: we owe you NOTHING!

To our friends, families, our communities, to humanity and to the natural world that makes our lives possible, we owe you everything.

To the people of the world, we say: join the resistance, you have nothing to lose but your debts.


On O13, in the context of the worlwide "globalnoise" mobilisation, and within the Global Week of Action against Debt, we will mobilise against debt in several cities of the world: Barcelona, Madrid, Mexico, Paris, New York…

The state response to the financial and economic crisis is the same everywhere: cuts in expenditure and austerity measures under the pretext of reducing deficits and the repayment of a public debt which is the direct outcome of decades of neoliberal policies. The same neoliberal policies that have plungered economic and natural resources and exploited human lifes in Latin America, Asia and Africa for decades, are now also being imposed on the people of Europe and North America.

Governments in the service of finance are using this pretext to further reduce social spending, lower wages and pensions, privatize public utility and goods, dismantle social benefits and deregulate labour laws, and increase taxes on the majority, while social and tax giveaways are generalized for the big companies and the highest income households, the rich, the 1%.

The campaign to subdue the world to public and private debt is a calculated attack on the very possibility of democracy. It is an assault on our homes, our families, our social services and benefits, our communities and on the planet’s fragile eco-systems—all of which are being destroyed by endless production to pay back creditors, who have done nothing to hog the wealth they demand we make for them.

Faced with such coordinated attacks on our social gains, resistance is getting organized around the world, there are national general strikes and the ‘indignados’ movements are increasingly active. In Iceland, the people refused to pay the Icesave debt to the UK and the Netherlands. In Ecuador the people pushed the government into a Debt Audit that saved the country millions of dollars in debt payments. In Argentina, Brasil, Bolivia, Zimbabwe, Mali, Burkina Faso, Indonesia or the Philipines, among many other countries, people have been resisting and opposing debt for decades. In Spain, and in Portugal, from the 15th of September, enormous demonstrations against debt have gathered more than 1 million people, and a movement of major scale is growing around the surrounding of the Parliament in Madrid to demand a Constituent process.

We from the Occupy / Real Democracy Now / 15M / AntiDebt movement call for public and private debt resistance and refusal/repudiation. Debt resistance includes: fighting for free public education, free healthcare, defending foreclosed homes, demanding higher wages and providing mutual aid. But also a first step toward building a new economy, based on the principles of equality, solidarity and cooperation, and not greed, accumulation and competition.

In Europe as in Egypt and Tunisia, learning from our colleagues in Latin America, South Saharan Africa and Asia, initiatives for a citizens’ audit of public debt analyze how much of the public debt is illegitimate, odious or unsustainable, and must therefore be cancelled. Paying such creditors means stealing what rightfully belongs to the population and payments will continue to be the cause of college and hospital closures, wage cuts, pension cuts, and so on and on. And the debt feeds the debt.

We Don’t Owe, So We Won’t Pay! Were Are Not a Loan. Bad laws allowed all this debt. Let’s rewrite them together.

Wednesday 26 September 2012

If You Only Read Two Sentences This Year...

Read these, by Rob Urie in Counterpunch

...Democrats and their supporters seem to want to continue their role of recent decades as constructive functionaries in a system designed to facilitate and perpetuate the fortunes of an economic elite, a ruling class, which has found ever more effective ways of siphoning off the wealth created by working people and nature while increasing their domination and control over our lives. The results are the largest and most oppressive prison system in the world, the greatest concentration of wealth in the fewest hands in human history, the largest and most deadly military in human history, used to promote the fortunes of the ruling class, and environmental catastrophe.

Wednesday 5 September 2012

Bloc Party: Pantomime and Power in the Imperial System by Chris Floyd

...yes, of course, the faction of the Imperial Bloc that just nominated Mitt Romney is a pack of militarist nutballs and enemies of the truth. But so is the other faction, which protects torturers, murderers people whose names they don't even know based on arbitrarily chosen "life-pattern" details gleaned by robots in the sky, launches secret wars, foments coups, runs "black ops" in dozens of countries all over the world, killing hundreds of innocent people each year, plunging whole countries into chaos and ruin with its 'terror war' and 'drug war' and 'economic war' agendas -- and ferociously prosecutes anyone who tries to smuggle out a few crumbs of truth about the abominable atrocities and self-destructive follies being carried out daily by a berserk militarist system which has no goal other than its own self-perpetuation and the forced domination of others. And this will go on and on regardless of which faction of the Imperial Bloc wins in November.

Continue reading...

Tuesday 21 August 2012

How Romney Could Win the Presidency And Save the Republic (And Why He Won’t)

by Thomas Magstadt

Nation Of Change

At this perilous moment in the nation’s history, nobody is better positioned to restore public trust  - or take the White House back for the Republicans – than Mitt Romney. My prediction is that he won’t do either because he believes he can do one (win the presidency) without the other (restoring public trust).

Oddly enough, while poll after poll shows that most Americans no longer trust our basic institutions, they continue to believe the people who run them got where they are on basis of superior merit and talent.  This belief flies in the face of mounting evidence of corruption and incompetence at the top.

Despite a steady stream of news about scandals in business (WorldCom, Enron), banking and finance (Countrywide, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers, JP Morgan Chase), journalism (Iraq War, WMD, and Judith Miller), sports (Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and doping), and, of course, politics (Watergate, Iran-Contra, the Keating Five, NSA warrantless surveillance), the public is still being gulled into believing what corporate media shills say about everything from global warming to health care.

Few public policy issues are more confusing and convoluted that our bizarre federal income tax code. The system, like the political and business elites who created it and now shamelessly perpetuate it, is designed to deceive most of the people most of the time.

Most middle-class taxpayers know the system is rigged in favor of corporate interests and wealthy individuals, but few understand when or how it happened – or the real reasons why. Indeed, the winners like it that way and reward politicians and journalists who play along.

Here are six facts that provide a glimpse into the origins and scale of the problem:

  1.  In the past 10 years the income of the top 1% has risen by 18%, while that of blue-collar male workers has fallen by 12%; meanwhile,
  2. In the early 1950s, the federal-state-local revenue structure changed from one in which high income tax returns on average paid over 4 times the percentage of the average for the bottom fifty percent; today, the lowest fifty percent pays one-fourth more as a percentage of adjusted gross income (AGI) than the top one percent.
  3. Based on estimated gross income the lowest fifty percent of tax returns, on average, now pay nearly two thirds more as a percent of total income than the top one percent of tax returns.
  4. The top federal tax rate of 35% is a farce: most wealthy individuals pay nowhere near that level thanks to countless loopholes, the 15% tax on long-term capital gains, and the maximum taxable income for Social Security and Medicare capped at just $106,800 – a nice tax break for the 7.8 million households (a 2009 estimate) with over a million dollars in annual income.
  5. Half the nation’s wealth is excluded from the tax rolls; meanwhile the net worth of the 400 Americans at the top of the wealth pyramid is now greater than that of 150 million on the bottom.
  6. According to the OECD, the US ranks with Mexico and Chile as having the highest level of inequality among the world’s advanced economies, an imbalance that has grown steadily worse since 1985.

Ironically, the rest of the world sees the hypocrisy at the core of our public life even as we continue to tolerat

e (and thus enable) it. Some months back, the British Guardian ran an article on the debt-ceiling debacle in the US Congress that highlighted the unfair US federal income tax.  The result of “such regressive policies” it noted (correctly) “is a level of inequality unknown in other developed nations.”

On the spending side of our budget woes, few lawmakers (whether Democrat or Republican) want to talk seriously about deep defense cuts. Pentagon spending is a sacred cow in Congress, and in the 50 states where military bases and defense industries dot the landscape it’s the goose that perennially lays the golden egg.

In 2000-2001, the last year of President Bill Clinton’s two-term presidency, the federal government ran a small surplus (not counting money “borrowed” from Social Security); between 2001 and 2007, the costly war on terror and the notorious across-the-board tax cuts gave rise to huge annual budget deficits totaling some $3.686 trillion in just six years (2001-2007).

The “tax and spend” chief executive with the compliant Congress during those years was George W. Bush.  The other "conservative" president who ran up the biggest deficits in the nation’s history was, of course,Ronald Reagan.

Romney could acknowledge that his party has not been honest with the voters and taxpayers about its commitment to fiscal responsibility and a balanced budget.  He could promise to the party to its lost principles.  He could – and it might get him elected – but he won’t.

According to G. Ross Stephens, a recognized expert in the field of intergovernmental relations and public finance: “Massive increases in [defense-related] procurement contracts have altered the effects of federal expenditures…. Over three decades, step by step, tax loophole by tax loophole, like a parasitic worm, fiscal policy on the three levels of government has redistributed wealth upward to large corporations and the very wealthy.”

Not accidentally, the historic downward shift in the tax burden is associated with a steady erosion of middle class savings, a steep rise in middle class indebtedness, and loss of consumer confidence.  All the talk of “class warfare” emanating from the talking heads on Fox News, among others, is a thinly disguised cover for what has really been happening in this country over the past few decades. It is a form of class warfare but it is certain members of the super-rich elite and big corporations with massive lobbies in nation’s capital that are waging war on the middle class.

In sum, the tax burden has fallen increasingly on the middle class at the same time that government on all levels has sunken deeper and deeper into debt.  We have a tax system riddled with loopholes and based on a shell game.  Mitt Romney is "Exhibit A".  Deceiving voters and taxpayers is something our dysfunctional Congress has elevated to an art from.

No republic has ever prospered or endured without a stable currency, sound public finances, a vibrant labor force, fair taxes, and a thriving middle class. The US for all its supposed “exceptionalism” is no exception.

The trend toward ever-greater inequality in this country is past the tipping point.  The “winners” are now so few and so powerful that they alone can save the system from the dire consequences of popular distrust and the prospect of a continuing slide into indentured servitude for millions of debt-burdened Americans.

As the new face and voice of the super rich, Mitt Romney could lead the way.  He could begin by disclosing his tax returns. If the real number is 13%, that’s a bit too low for a guy whose annual income over the past two decades reportedly averages a cool $20 million.

Romney could turn this roaring negative into a positive.  He could point out that he has broken no laws but has benefited from a tax code that unfairly favors the wealthy and taxes “earned income” at a much higher rate than “capital gains”.  He could promise if elected to use the full powers of the presidency to push real tax reform through Congress, to fight for fairness and progressive policies across the board, and to balance the federal budget not by cutting Medicare or privatizing Social Security but rather by slashing bloated and wasteful defense outlays.

Of course, many of his super rich backers would cry “foul”.  Many would feel betrayed and threaten to...to do what?  Cut off the money flow?  Back Obama? Hardly. Billionaires like the Koch Brothers and the casino baron Sheldon Adelson have nowhere else to go.  Not to mention the fact that  there are fair-minded members of the über rich class – Warren Buffet comes to mind – who would probably support a well-designed plan to move toward tax fairness and fiscal sanity.

While he’s at it, Romney could truthfully say Obama had his chance and blew it.  And he could pledge, “No more federal bailouts for banks and corporations too big to fail and zero tolerance for financial fraud, insider trading, and all manner of crime in the suites.”

He could say these things, but he won’t.  Even if he did, who would believe him now?  Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan as his running mate is a harbinger.  What it foretells is the outcome of this election and the fate of the country.  

 

Friday 17 August 2012

An animated cartoon about US foreign policy

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

Thursday 9 August 2012

Greece: Forced march to privatization; former Olympic site targeted

Greece plans to adopt a law aimed at removing the obstacles which now stand in the way of privatization of public companies, the Minister of Finance, Yannis Stournaras, announced Monday.

Continue reading...

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

Wednesday 25 July 2012

Right-wing Web site accuses Obama of Aurora shootings

Let's not politicize the Aurora tragedy. Well, okay, but only if you Astroturf it...

Continue reading...

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.

Thursday 19 July 2012

A Small Contributor's Message to Michelle Bachmann

I was happy to receive your solicitation for a campaign contribution, Michelle, and was glad to see that like President Obama, you are taking care to show the world that your campaign is supported by the grass roots - that we ordinary folks support not only liberals but constitutional conservatives like you.

    "My Democrat opponent has raised over $500,000 -- but what is worse -- he has loaned his campaign $250,000. Unfortunately, I'm afraid this is just the beginning. Because as you know, my opponent is worth up to $111 million.
    There is no doubt that liberals are going to continue to pour millions into their campaign to defeat me and I need your immediate help. Can I count on you to contribute $25, $50, $100 or more today?"


When I look at the amounts of money that are being spent by liberals to consolidate their control over the process of government, and the fact that a liberal is willing to lend that much money to his own campaign, it suggests one thing - that they see the business of politics as... well, a business. And one that can bring in big returns on investments. That's why I'm so glad to see that politicians like you and the President are looking to us little folks, folks who have to work for a living, for support (not that I think handling such large amounts of cash, especially with people looking over your shoulder, isn't work!). It reassures us that we, too can have a little piece of government, no matter how small.

    "Since becoming a Member of Congress in 2007, I have worked overtime to take our fiscally conservative message of limited government and individual responsibility to the American public. Time and again, I've gone head-to-head against some of the most dedicated deficit-spending liberals on the campaign trail, on national television, and on the House floor.
    I've made it a top priority to create jobs, fight for individual liberty and to keep our country safe. But in order to do this we must ensure Barack Obama is a one-term President and we must completely repeal the big-government monstrosity known as 'Obamacare.'"


I'm very glad to see that you're a believer in limited government. We all know that seeing to it that people have decent health care - much better than in countries like France or Canada or Cuba - is much too important to be entrusted to government. It simply stands to reason that if we allow the private sector to control access to health care and make sure that health can generate big profits just like telecommunications or luxury goods or military hardware, the profits will be invested back into the system and make health care cheaper and better for everyone. Well, at least for everyone who can afford access to it.

And speaking of military hardware, the first thing that comes to mind, of course, when someone mentions "limited government" is the Defense budget - now approaching $800 billion a year, not counting funding for actual ongoing military operations, including covert actions in sovereign nations. The defense of our nation is another thing that's far too important to trust to government bureaucrats - whether or not they have "eagle shit" on their hats (I hope you'll pardon that expression - one that just comes naturally to a veteran like myself). I know I can count on you to see to it that our national security is taken out of the hands of government and entrusted to the private sector, where it belongs. Then we'll be able to read the balance sheets for ourselves and make sure that the hundreds of thousands of people we've killed around the world since 9/11 are worth it in terms of what really counts - the bottom line.

So I'm all for limiting government, and seeing to it that it has no control whatever over the things that really matter to us working folks - the right to life (meaning not having to die from an illness while trying to cut through endless red tape), the right to a decent home and decent schools for your kids, and the right to live our American lifestyle and all it represents free of the fear that some disgruntled non-Christian will push the button and start a nuclear holocaust just because his kid was taken out by a drone while serving as flower girl at an outdoor wedding.

But what really convinced me is your mention of individual responsibility. My brother's house went underwater a while back and he didn't have the money to pay the property tax on it. He knows I have a little salted away from my generous government pension, and he made the mistake of mentioning that - as if I owed him a share of the taxpayers' hard-earned money. I realized that he has a lesson to learn. "Be thankful for your individual liberty," I told him, patting him on the back. "But realize that along with that liberty comes the freedom to fail. Individual liberty means individual responsibility." And I'm so happy to see a politician who shares my views on that. Here's my contribution.

Gene R. Poole, USN (ret.)

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.

Thursday 28 June 2012

NATO: Paul Craig Roberts on Hubris

Dr. Paul Craig Roberts, an economist, former government official (Assistant Treasury Secretary under Reagan), journalist, member of France's Legion of Honor, and currently one of the most distinguished online voices of sanity, also sees the irony in NATO's name:

Those old enough to remember know that NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, was an alliance between Western Europe and the US against the threat of the Red Army overrunning Western Europe. The North Atlantic is a long, long ways from the Black and Caspian Seas. What is the purpose of Georgia being a NATO member except to give Washington a military base on the Russian underbelly?


Rick Rozoff of StopNATO has of course been making that point for some time, most recently by detailing NATO's machinations in the Caucasus.

In "Can The World Survive Washington’s Hubris?," Dr. Roberts gives a quick summary of Washington's/NATO's "idiocy" since the end of the Cold War, ending by pointing out that The evidence is simply overwhelming that Washington–both parties–have Russia and China targeted. Washington seems to want to prevent the rise of any power - be it Russia or China - that could rival the US's "full-spectrum domination", as articulated in the PNAC's Statement of Principles in 1997:
We need to accept responsibility for America's unique role in preserving and extending an international order friendly to our security, our prosperity, and our principles.
Never mind that that prosperity seems to depend heavily on the existence of a military/security/petroleum complex that wreaks destruction around the world, and that despite - or because of - its efforts to maintain that "friendly international order", the US economy is headed for disaster:  

In the thrall and under the control of Wall Street and other special interest business groups, Washington is unable to rescue the US economy from its decline. The short-run gambling profits of Wall Street, the war profits of the military/security complex, and the profits from offshoring the production of goods and services for US markets have far more representation in Washington than the wellbeing of US citizens. As the US economy sinks, the Chinese economy rises.

Needless to say, the only focus of the PNAC was on continued militarization - "Rebuilding America's defenses" - as if that were all that was needed to secure that prosperity and that friendly international order. In a way that's understandable, since as we've pointed out before, the US has basically been on a war economy since 1942. But is creating another Cold War and ensuring that emerging world powers drag themselves down with us in a never-ending, spiraling arms race the way to do it?

Dr. Roberts goes on to trace the US's efforts to "corral" China as well as Russia (the Cold War term was "contain"), and draws the obvious conclusions as to where such a "strategy" can lead:

For a country incapable of occupying Iraq after 8 years and incapable of occupying Afghanistan after 11 years, to simultaneously take on two nuclear powers is an act of insanity. The hubris in Washington, fed daily by the crazed neocons, despite extraordinary failure in Iraq and Afghanistan, has now targeted formidable powers–Russia and China. The world has never in its entire history witnessed such idiocy.

In the name of "preserving our prosperity," the US, Dr. Roberts feels, is preparing to drag the world into apocalypse. The former Reagan cabinet member ends with a characterization that takes on chilling weight coming from him:

The psychopaths, sociopaths, and morons who prevail in Washington are leading the world to destruction.

We've bookmarked Paul Craig Roberts's site. He promises a follow-up to a recent article on the US economy in which the former Assistant Treasury Secretary for Economic Policy and former associate editor of the Wall Street Journal and columnist for Business Week will examine whether the US economy will complete its collapse before the war criminals in Washington can destroy the world.

Tuesday 26 June 2012

NATO: What's in a name? II

We've had a few comments from people who agree that there is a certain irony in NATO's name but pointing out that we're actually confusing NATO with the various Partners for which it is a kind of umbrella organization. People have also observed that it's unfair to criticize NATO for existing under a name which no longer seems to correspond to its true function - corporations, for example, often evolve far beyond their original business specialty. True. But corporations also  sometimes evolve their names - if not to reflect what they do, at least not to contradict it. Others point out that ultimately, an organization should not be judged by its name, or by what it says it does, but by what it does.

Fair enough. In fact we urge you all to learn as much as you can about what NATO, or whatever you want to call it (a name containing, say, "Peace", Dialogue," or Cooperation") has done and is doing. Read Rick Rozoff's blog.  Start with the post about the meeting being held in Brussels today, June 26, 2012. Read William Blum's work - start with "We came, we saw, we destroyed, we forgot." Read this post that appeared on AntiWar.com yesterday.

The business of America is business. Fine. But we all need to learn about, and think about, what that business really is.

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