Another war criminal bites the dust

In the news today, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported that retired US General Norman Schwarzkopf has died. The report goes on to describe his background, and includes lavish praise of the deceased general by his former political masters:

“A distinguished member of that Long Gray Line hailing from West Point, General Norm Schwarzkopf, to me, epitomised the ‘duty, service, country’ creed that has defended our freedom and seen this great nation through our most trying international crises.”

They were the words of former US president George Bush Senior. The media coverage focused extensively on the personal qualities of Schwarzopf, his alleged devotion to freedom, and his crowning achievement, the expulsion of Iraqi troops from Kuwait in 1991. He commanded 540,000 troops in addition to another 200,000 allied forces, so the battle against the Iraqis was particularly one-sided. The long-term Emir of Kuwait was restored to his throne, and his dictatorial regime has continued to accumulate massive wealth while the majority of the labour force are imported from Asian and other countries. Never matter the fact that the al-Sabah ruling clan of Kuwait is among the richest families in the world. All that foreign labour ensures that the wealth remains in the hands of a tiny minority. The al-Sabah family is in good company – its wealth rivals that of the other US allies in the region, the despotic monarchies of Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Schwarzkopf was credited with ‘restoring pride’ in the American military, having taken a beating after their defeat in Vietnam. He was awarded with a ticker tape parade, promotion, and went on to give lectures about leadership around the world.

The esteemed general was commanding US troops as they pushed Iraqi forces out of Kuwait, along a stretch of road connecting Kuwait with Basra that quickly became known as the ‘highway of death’ in the corporate-controlled media. This is Schwarzkopf’s handiwork for which he should be remembered:


American forces attacked and murdered retreating Iraqi forces in February 1991. And this attack was only the latest in the continuous aerial bombardment of the entire country of Iraq, an aerial terror bombing that destroyed the electricity grid, hospitals, communication centres and schools. The aerial bombardment of the country, beginning on January 17 1991, was intended to subdue the entire population of the country. The brutal assault on Iraq, conducted from a safe distance, resulted in 88,000 tonnes of bombs dropped on the country. The intention of such bombing is calculated terror; overwhelm the target country, much like the World War Two-era German blitzkrieg tactic of lightning war. This aerial assault exposed the lie of ‘surgical strikes’, a much-ballyhooed concept promoted by the corporate media to sanitise war for public consumption.

This particular highway was the scene of a ‘turkeyshoot’ in the words of one US soldier, obviously enjoying the mass slaughter of Iraqis as they scrambled out of Kuwait. The corporate media in Australia, oblivious to the casualties, invited the audience to marvel at the power and awesome spectacle of American missiles and guns raining death on their victims. In later years, a number of investigators examined that particular killing was deliberately instigated by US forces, with the long Iraqi columns trapped by US war planes, having taken out the vehicles at the beginning and end of the convoy. A Commission of Inquiry for the International War Crimes Tribunal, found that the victims were not resisting, and that the slaughter was militarily pointless but was done to score political points on the world stage.

Schwarzkopf joins the ranks of other war criminal murderers like Graziani, Franco and Kesselring for the horror and brutality of the mass slaughter they inflicted.

And now for my own sincere thoughts and condolences for this man, I can only recycle the words of the great Italian novelist, Dante Alighieri: Schwarzkopf – burn in hell.

Too big to fail becomes too big to indict

The UK-based British multinational bank HSBC, was investigated by a number of federal authorities over a number of years in the United States. HSBC executives were found guilty of money laundering for Mexican and Colombian drug cartels, and breaking a range of banking laws in the US and elsewhere. HSBC has been ordered to pay a fine of $1.9 billion dollars, and agreed to a deferred prosecution arrangement, whereby the bank agrees to an internal audit and clean up its internal practices over the next twelve months, and the Department of Justice agrees to withhold pressing charges. The fine sounds like a gigantic pile of money, but it does represent five weeks income for the HSBC bank. These kinds of deferred prosecution arrangements are not uncommon, and let the principal culprits of financial fraud off the hook.

HSBC was the place to launder money for the financial elite, and clearly its own anti-money laundering provisions failed to identify and stop fraudulent practices. Relying on the internal auditing procedures of the HSBC to detect and remove corruption is like putting the fox in charge of the hen-house. But what is even more galling about this deal is that the Department of Justice announced it will not prosecuting any of the HSBC executives involved in such widespread embezzlement and corruption. The reason given by Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer is that HSBC is too big to indict. Back in 2008, at the beginning of the capitalist economic crisis, we were informed that the large financial institutions like Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and others were ‘too big to fail’ and thus required the measures collectively known as quantitative easing – meaning pumping billions of taxpayer dollars to prop up the failing banks and financial companies. Now, four years later, when evidence of brazen criminality by the financial elite is uncovered, no-one is to be prosecuted because the bank in question is ‘too big to indict’.

The New York Times article that explored the HSBC scandal explained it this way:

“State and federal authorities decided against indicting HSBC in a money-laundering case over concerns that criminal charges could jeopardize one of the world’s largest banks and ultimately destabilize the global financial system.”

You can find the quote here. So the message is quite clear; there is one set of laws for the poor and downtrodden who are to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and there is another law for the financial mafia at the apex of the social pyramid, whose crimes are too large to prosecute. The Obama administration has consistently shielded top executives and bankers guilty of criminal practices from prosecution. HSBC made money by laundering the profits from the narcotics industry, while the very cartels whose money was laundered are targeted by a ‘war on drugs’. In the United States, a person in possession of illegal drugs can be arrested and prosecuted, and their assets confiscated. However, the largest banks are involved in laundering money from the drug syndicates that are profiting from this illegal and socially destructive trade.

Matt Taibbi explains in his article how the poorest segments of US society are bearing the brunt of the ‘war on drugs’, and they are routinely prosecuted to the fullest extent provided by the American legal system. One such person, Cameron Douglas, arrested for possession, received a sentence of five years gaol. Taibbi goes on to elaborate:

“His jailers kept him in solitary for 23 hours a day for 11 months and denied him visits with family and friends. Although your typical non-violent drug inmate isn’t the white child of a celebrity, he’s usually a minority user who gets far stiffer sentences than rich white kids would for committing the same crimes….”

The message from this sordid episode is quite clear; prosecuting the rich and powerful is too disruptive to the entire financial system, so it is better to let them get away with their crimes. However, those too poor to protect themselves will be subject to the full force of the law. In a capitalist system, we are witnessing a two-tiered system of justice, where in the pursuit of profits, the financial mafia that dominates the capitalist system can reap enormous rewards, even from an industry as lethal and destructive as the narcotics trade. The democratic principle – equality before the law – is  only applicable when the culprits are too weak or powerless to subvert the course of justice. The financial robber barons, whose brazen criminality is laid bare, can afford to escape prosecution. HSBC is not the only bank to engage in such fraudulent practices – Citigroup, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase and others all participate in widespread money-laundering. Politicians that pose as ‘law and order’ candidates would do well to learn from this episode – the capitalist barons are a law unto themselves.

This criminal behaviour by the financial barons also raises another disturbing question – why did the financial regulators fail to perform their jobs? Why did not the Federal Reserve, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency investigate these cases of malfeasance and prosecute the individuals responsible? After all, the definition of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency is “a US federal agency that serves to charter, regulate and supervise the national banks and the federal branches and agencies of foreign banks.” Is it because there exists a nepotistic and incestuous relationship between the big financial institutions and banking regulatory authorities? Back in August this year, the US Justice Department announced that it would stop investigating and not prosecute any employee of Goldman Sachs despite its financially criminal practices during the height of the 2008 global financial crisis. Just to make sure that everyone knew where it stood, the Obama administration backed up the announcement by stating it had cleared Goldman Sachs of any wrongdoing.

Obama’s consistent protection of banker barons that plunder, deceive and evade responsibility has earned him the title the ‘black Rockefeller’, in the words of Professor Cornel West, a long-term African-American activist and philosopher. Professor West was alluding to the Rockefeller clan, an industrial and banking family that made its fortune in the oil industry, and is currently associated with the banking group of JP Morgan Chase.

In the ancient Roman Empire, an elite class, the aristocracy, composed not only the wealthiest segment of society, but also occupied the most important political positions of the Roman body politic. The patricians, as they came to be known, dominated the electoral process with their considerable financial power, influenced the political decision-making process to pass laws enabling them to make and perpetuate their wealth, removing any obstacles to their ability to plunder and reap privilege. This cesspit of corruption and crime was obvious to the tribunes of the people, and many attempts were made to reform this system, notably by the Gracchi. Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus were brothers and tribunes who confronted the financial aristocracy in their attempts to reform the Roman system, and alleviate the burdens on the lower classes.

The current Augean stable of American finance capitalism is a cesspit of corruption and criminality reminiscent of the Roman empire’s plundering aristocracy. It is time for the vice-like grip of the financial elite on the economic and political system to be broken, by the mass uprising and mobilisation by working class, a continuing indignado movement that holds the minority elite accountable.

Economic crises, failing occupations and ending world orders – brief comment

In 2008, the worldwide capitalist economy experienced a significant downturn, a major collapse, highlighted by the spectacular fall of large multinational corporations like Lehman Brothers. The capitalist world became engulfed by the most serious economic catastrophe since the great depression of the 1930s. Four years after the collapse of major financial institutions in the United States, the European Union is experiencing a similar economic contraction. Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Romania, the Baltic states – all are going through severe economic problems and depression.

Four years on, the capitalist institutions and their political parties have thrown everything they can think of to shore up the tottering financial architecture. Has anything been resolved? Well, someone who knows is Sir Mervyn King, the governor of the Bank of England. He delivered a speech recently where he stated that Europe, and the capitalist world in general, is still going through a worsening economic crisis, and we are still on the edge of a precipice. King stated that there is ‘a large black cloud of uncertainty hanging over not only the euro area but our economy too.’ He stated that the big banks right around Europe are in need of ‘major recapitalisation’ – which is economist-speak for major inflows of public money into the private banks to prop them up.

King explained that over the last few years, the financial and political authorities have ‘thrown everything bar the kitchen sink’ at the economic problems of capitalism. He spoke of a large black cloud of uncertainty hanging over the Euro area, and also over the British economy. In today’s circumstances, King opined, we need a ‘temporary bank funding scheme’ to tide us over the bad times. In other words, we need to re-nationalise the failing banks, without actually calling it nationalisation, and then return the financial institutions to the private control of that class responsible for the creating the economic crisis.

But there is another explanation that King seems to be missing, and one that helps us understand the economic and political quagmire that we are in today.

Veteran political commentator for The Guardian Seumas Milne states it plainly; the era of the ‘new world order’ is over. The end of this ‘new world order’ means that the era of unregulated, financialised capitalism is over. The consequences of unfettered capital movement, the removal of all restrictions on private investment and financial speculation, is now quite clear. The position of the United States as an unchallenged hegemon is finished, with the emergence of a multipolar world, and the rise of Russia, China, India, Brazil (BRIC countries) as an alternative economic pole. Milne highlights a number of factors that have led to the current capitalist crisis, one of them being the disastrous war in Afghanistan. The United States and its allies are still there, eleven years on, with no end in sight, and it is getting worse. Barack Obama, posing as the antiwar candidate in the elections of 2008, is responsible for a major escalation of that conflict, and the US-backed Afghan authorities are tottering, with their control barely extending beyond the capital city, Kabul. Lesley Smith, writing in the Socialist Worker online newspaper, details the ongoing problems of the US occupation of that country:

The U.S. government has spent nearly $600 billion on the war, yet the Taliban insurgency is unbowed. Afghan National Security Forces, which the U.S. is training, hold their overlords in contempt. In a wave of “green-on-blue attacks,” Afghan soldiers have killed 51 American GIs so far this year. And the Afghan people continue to suffer extreme poverty, disproving claims about the successful reconstruction of the country.

The main objective of the US war on Afghanistan was to establish bases in that country, and extend America’s imperial reach into the oil-rich regions of Central Asia, pushing back against Russia and China.  With a stronger US presence, US policy-planners intended on influencing the development of the oil reserves in the Caspian Sea and monopolise the energy resources of that region for the benefit of the US economy. But the stubborn resistance in Afghanistan has meant that US troops and money have been tied down in an unwinnable war, draining vital resources from the United States and demonstrating the limits of US power.

Milne also highlights another important event that signaled the decline of US military power – the 2008 Russia-South Ossetia war. In that year, the US-sponsored regime of Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili launched a military attack on Russian forces in the breakaway region of South Ossetia. The latter had separated from Georgia back in the early 1990s, refusing to live under a Georgian regime that denied its autonomy and preferring to be ruled by Moscow. Saakashvili, having come to power in a US-orchestrated regime change ‘Rose Revolution’ in 2003, quickly oriented to the West, loudly proclaimed Georgia’s intention to join NATO, and made repeatedly belligerent pronouncements about confronting ‘Russian aggression’ and reconquering the South Ossetian region. Saakashvili quickly became the favourite former-Soviet republic political leader, feted in London, Paris, Brussels, and other European capitals. Well, there was one other Georgian political leader who was once hailed by Western politicians, but let’s not get into that subject right now….

Saakashvili’s government wasted no time on building up its military forces, with one-third of the regime’s budget dedicated to the military. In flowed weapons, training and technical assistance from the United States, Israel and NATO countries, all with the goal of pushing their proxy-darling regime into a war with Russia.  Fanatical right wing US Republican Senator John McCain early on declared his support for Saakashvili, and egged on the latter to attack Russian forces in South Ossetia. McCain still professed his support for Saakashvili well after the Georgian defeat, and the US neoconservatives vociferously defended the Georgian regime as its loyal proxy. But something unexpected happened – the proxy dutifully went to war, and lost.

Now a number of political commentators have noticed that the ‘rose’ has lost its petals. Last month, the dutiful US puppet Saakashvili conceded electoral defeat and pledged to cooperate with the new government. The 2008 episode reveals that not only do the US empire’s flunkies eventually fail, but that there services are no longer required if the empire fails to meet its objectives. The failure of the Georgian offensive indicated that the days of uncontested US military power were over. The aura of US invincibility had been punctured, most clearly in the case of Iraq and Afghanistan, but tellingly in the South Ossetia-Georgia conflict. No longer would ex-Soviet states be easily absorbed by the principal imperialist military bloc, NATO.

In an interesting revelation, Wikileaks that the US embassy in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, not only fully supported initiating Georgia’s war with Russian forces in South Ossetia, but also willingly lied on behalf of its Tbilisi  client in international forums to protect Saakashvili from any repercussions that such a war might incur. The Georgian government had exceptionally close ties with Washington and received billions of dollars in military support and financial aid. The US embassy was the hub of a conspiratorial enterprise to initiate a war with Russia to expand the criminal predatory ambitions of US imperialism.

In this ongoing crisis of the neoliberal capitalist economic model, Milne advises that we need to build a new economy from the ashes of the old one along more democratic, egalitarian lines. The economic catastrophe and growing ecological crisis are warnings that the capitalist system is not only destroying itself, but is also threatening life on the planet. The insoluble contradictions of capitalism are making social ownership ever more urgent and possible.

Go read Seumas Milne’s full article here.

Iranian protests, sanctions and nuclear hypocrisy – a brief comment

The Guardian newspaper, in its online edition, carried a news report of clashes between demonstrators and riot police on the streets of Tehran. The protesters in Tehran were complaining of the worsening economic conditions aggravated by the Western-imposed sanctions that have begun to bite into the Iranian economy. The riot police used tear gas and batons to disperse the rebellious crowds, and the Grand Bazaar, in response to the heavy-handed tactics of the police, went on strike and businesses closed their doors. Discontent with the deteriorating economy has caused social turbulence in Iran’s past, and there is no doubt that the Iranian regime has no answers to the problems besetting the lives of ordinary Iranians. Workers have been fired from various manufacturing industries, particularly the car industry. The once-thriving oil sector of the economy has also suffered, and the rial, the Iranian currency, is gradually losing its value.

The point of this is to emphasise that the Iranian government is a dictatorship, ruling in the interests of a narrow, capitalist class. This financial elite, made up of businesspeople and mullahs, is only concerned with preserving and extending its privileges while the workers suffer imprisonment and torture for the supposed crime of speaking out against the regime’s atrocities and organising into trade unions to improve the lives and conditions of ordinary people. The US-led sanctions have increased the prices of basic staples, thus making it harder for working people to make ends meet. The terrible decline in the value of the rial, occurring dramatically over the last few days, is evidence that the sanctions are hurting the economy. The workers and oppressed people of Iran need and deserve our support. But this leads to the next point – the main reason cited by the imperialist powers for the imposition of sanctions is Tehran’s alleged progress towards a nuclear bomb. The corporate-media never tire of repeating the accusation that were it not for these sanctions, the Iranian regime would have acquired nuclear weapons and thus presented a major escalation of a military threat to the region.

So why this urgent concern on the part of Washington for an alleged nuclear weapons programme in Tehran? I think Glenn Greenwald gets it right: the United States intends on preserving a monopoly on nuclear weapons, to facilitate its bullying of smaller powers and thus expand its geostrategic objectives in the Middle East. As Greenwald point out in his perceptive comment piece, the true reason the US wants to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons is because the Iranian regime will not be so vulnerable to US pressure. Greenwald examines the history of Washington’s purported ‘concern’ for the profusion of nuclear weaponry, and explains that nations that wish to defy the imperial ambitions of the US, such as Iran, China, and so on – respond to US pressure by bringing nuclear weapons into the equation. Greenwald highlights the thinking of American policy planners in the following quote from the American Enterprise Institute:

“When their missiles are tipped with warheads carrying nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons, even weak regional powers have a credible deterrent regardless of the balance of conventional forces … In the post cold war era, America and its allies, rather than the Soviet Union, have become the primary objects of deterrence and it is states like Iraq, Iran and North Korea who most wish to develop deterrent capabilities.”

Iranian President Ahmadinejad, in addressing the United Nations General Assembly, made the point that even if Tehran acquired a nuclear weapon, it could not redress the military balance of forces weighted heavily in Washington’s favour. No calculating, cynical politician, (and Ahmadinejad surely is one) would start a war which effectively meant committing national suicide. Economic sanctions certainly undermine the economy, make life harder for the ordinary people, but do not actually reduce the nuclear ambitions of Tehran. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a belligerent, comical appearance at the United Nations, threatening to launch unilateral military action against Iran should the latter acquire a nuclear weapon. The hypocrisy of a belligerent, war-mongering politician speaking about the menace of Tehran’s nuclear weapons can be summed up as follows:

Netanyahu speaks at the United Nations about the Iranian nuclear bomb threat

Greenwald cites the hawkish sentiments of US politicians who elaborated their thinking in a Washington Post article:

“[A]n Islamic Republic of Iran with nuclear weapons capability would be strategically untenable. It would threaten U.S. national security … While a nuclear attack is the worst-case scenario, Iran would not need to employ a nuclear arsenal to threaten US interests. Simply obtaining the ability to quickly assemble a nuclear weapon would effectively give Iran a nuclear deterrent.”

So the main concern of the US policy makers is not to rid the world of nuclear weapons, or support the legitimate aspirations of the Iranian working people, or to alleviate their economic suffering. Their main concern is that if Tehran acquires a nuclear weapon, they cannot be bullied into making concessions to US imperial interests.

Go read the whole article by Glenn Greenwald here.

Heroes, villains, the Washington Post and historical amnesia

The Washington Post carried a long story on September 15 eulogising the former American ambassador to Libya, J Christopher Stevens. The article praised the personal qualities of Stevens, his intelligence and fortitude in helping the Libyan rebels to overthrow the dictatorship of Muammar Qadhafi. Stevens was killed by unidentified gunmen who attacked the American embassy in Benghazi, as part of a generalised wave of attacks and demonstrations against  US embassies and consulates throughout the Arab and Islamic worlds. The immediate cause of the demonstrations was the release of the vile, repulsive film ‘Innocence of Muslims” produced by Christian rightist elements intent on provoking anti-Islam sentiment, and further worsening tensions between the Islamic communities and the western world. The film was the immediate trigger, but underlying the protests are deep-seated grievances about the criminal and predatory role of US imperialism in the Middle East. Be that as it may, let us get back to the case of Stevens. An endless chorus of effusive praise has been heaped on the murdered ambassador, who was described as a man of honour, upholding and promoting the best American values and a champion of Libya. Stevens is touted as a hero, cut down by fanatical murderous villains.

Let us be clear that no happiness or joy is derived from the death of ambassadors and consular officials. But we must ask difficult questions about why such an attack on the US consulate took place, and why the former US ambassador’s death is being given such promotional coverage and praises heaped on upon the slain man. When the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was presented with the news that the former Libyan dictator Qadhafi had been killed by a lynch-mob, after being captured and sodomised, she responded with the Caesar-like turn of phrase, “we came, we saw, he died.” After gloating over Qadhafi’s death, is it appropriate for the gunmen who killed the US ambassador to stand over the corpse of the slain official and gloat “we came, we saw, he died?”

Barry Lando over at the Truthdig publication, asks another relevant question – have the Chinese or Russian embassies been the targets of mobs of unruly demonstrators, attacked by armed militants, its consular officials and embassy staff killed, and its flag burned? The United States ruling elite certainly has financial and military interests in the Middle East, so perhaps its defenders argue that the US troops and bases need to be there to protect those interests. China and Russia also have heavy investments in the Arab world, in Islamic countries, investing in construction contracts, buying up mineral resources, transferring techincal know-how to the Arab and African countries. So where are all the Chinese and Russian military bases, intelligence personnel and soldiers throughout Africa and the Middle East? There is however, a vast and growing empire of bases and military fortifications throughout the Middle East and Central Asia, operated and maintained by the United States:

US bases in the Middle East and Central Asia

J Christopher Stevens worked to extend American imperial overreach throughout the Middle East, not for the sake of any humanitarian values or altruistic purposes. He was a political operative for US imperialism, ready to make deals with whomever served the US interests. He worked closely with the former Libyan government of Muammar Qadhafi, readily providing his services to enhance Qadhafi’s political trajectory from Third World Arab nationalist to opportunistic proxy of the imperialist agenda. From the early 2000s, Qadhafi joined the ‘war on terror’ and cooperated with the secret rendition of  those suspected of ‘terrorism’ offences. Clinton did actually welcome Qadhafi as a useful ally for the United States back in 2009. The Qadhafi government and their US partners discussed various areas of cooperation,  including which detainees should be handed back to the Libyan authorities after they had been tortured and brutalised by American forces.

Stevens had no trouble in promoting the American values of investment and profiteering, which involved propping up the Mubarak-torture regime in Egypt, and uncritically supporting the state of Israel in carrying out its creeping colonisation of Palestinian land. Not a word of complaint did Stevens ever utter about the ongoing Israeli blockade and siege of the Palestinians in the Gaza strip. That crippling blockade has resulted in mass unemployment, the deprivation of foodstuffs and medicines for the inhabitants of Gaza, and the immiseration of an entire generation of Palestinians. Stevens upheld the values of plunderous investment as the US was carrying out its near-genocidal war and occupation of Iraq, with all the attendant worsening of sectarian tensions and fratricidal killings in that conflict.

Once the popular uprisings in the Arab world took hold, Stevens, ever the cunning political operative, changed sides and began liaising with the pro-western rebel groups organised under the political umbrella of the National Transitional Council (NTC). He organised the disparate militias into a fighting force, and took up his new mission in Benghazi with zeal. The war to liberate Libya from the tyrant Qadhafi quickly became a proxy war of the imperialist powers to plunder the oil wealth of the country, oust the main competitors of the US, Russia and China, and return Libya to its neo-colonial status under the former King Idris. In one of the ironies of history, while China was one of the last countries to withdraw their support for the Qadhafi regime, they have made a return to Libya though the security situation remains unclear. Stevens led the charge to resurrect the American presence in Libya – because that presence in the form of a US military base had been expelled back in 1970 shortly after Qadhafi took power. Under the tutelage of Stevens, the entire US military-intelligence apparatus began to insinuate its way back into the country, thus fulfilling the anthem of the US Marine Corps, ‘from the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli’.

US Senator John McCain declared that the Libyan patriots fighting the Qadhafi regime are definitely not al Qaeda, and that they should be supported. Stevens served to coordinate military supplies, intelligence gathering and training for the pro-American rebel groups organised by the NTC. Stevens helped to assemble the Libyan defectors, CIA assets, al-Qaeda fundamentalist fighters and associated anti-Qadhafi exiles into a cohesive force.  The same forces hailed by McCain as ‘patriots’ were the ones responsible for the murder of Ambassador Stevens. The constant litany of tributes to Stevens’ idealism and courage cannot disguise the cynical and cold political calculation of the imperialist powers in advancing their interests in the Arab and Islamic worlds. The hypocrisies and deceptions of the US in its constant drive for imperial interest cannot be hidden, even by the eloquent writers of the Washington Post. Historical amnesia is one of the devices used by the mouthpieces of corporate imperialism to airbrush the ugly, sordid machinations of US imperialist intrigues. The particular apologist for US imperialist crimes, Roger Cohen, wrote a glowing tribute to Stevens, noting that he met Stevens in 2011, and wished the latter a great July 4 celebration of American independence day, replete with hamburgers, beer and fireworks. The odious lapdog Cohen omitted to mention that for ordinary Libyans, their diet on July 4 2011 consisted of bombs, missiles, blood, guts and pain.  The corporate-controlled media have built a falsified history of the career of this calculating political agent of imperialism based on historical amnesia. The militants who killed Stevens may be villains, but they did not kill a hero. They were actually implementing the methods and values that Stevens spent his life promoting.

Memorials, the butcher of Ethiopia and simmering hatred

In October 1935, Italian troops launched a massive onslaught against the forces of Abyssinia, today known as Ethiopia. The Italian fascist regime of Benito Mussolini wanted to establish an ‘African empire’, and acquire ‘great power’ status for Italy in competition with the other imperialist powers. Britain, France, Germany and other countries had already brutally conquered vasts portions of the African continent, and Mussolini was eager to ‘catch up’ with the other imperialist states in this macabre contest. Italy already occupied Italian Somaliland, and launched its invasion of Abyssinia from that territory.

The conquest of Abyssinia was noted for its savagery, with thousands of Ethiopians killed, herded into concentration camps where they died of disease and starvation. Chemical weapons were used in that conflict, drawing heavy criticism from the international community. While the Italian government tried to keep its use of poison gas a secret, groups such as the Red Cross exposed its deployment, which the Mussolini government and his generals authorised.

One of the commanders in this Second Italo-Abyssinian war was General Rudolfo Graziani. He had made a name for himself back in the 1920s, when Italian forces used brutal force to attack and suppress the resistance put up by Libyans in that north African country. The Italians were still unable to completely defeat the Libyan resistance to foreign rule since they attempted to capture that country from the Ottoman Turkish empire in 1911. Graziani was the commander of Italian forces in Libya, and he suppressed popular revolts against Italian rule with indiscriminate bombing and pacification campaigns – what today would be euphemistically called ‘counterinsurgency warfare.’ Graziani was responsible for establishing concentration and labour camps, and he eventually had the leader of the Libyan insurgency, Omar al-Mukhtar, publicly hanged. For his efforts, the Libyans came to call him the Butcher of Fezzan, after the region of Libya devastated by Graziani’s murderous campaign. Having gained experience in subjugating the rebellious populations of Cyrenaica and Tripolitana (today part of Libya), he applied his considerable skills in mass murder to the population of Ethiopia. Ordering the use of poison gas, he claimed that Mussolini would have Ethiopia, with or without the Ethiopians.

The Italian generals laid waste to entire villages, resettling Italian immigrants in the conquered territories, and dispossessing the indigenous population. In Libya and Ethiopia, Graziani used weapons of mass destruction, including the authorisation of an aerial campaign of terror. He deliberately poisoned crucial oases and water supplies, and executed thousands of civilians in a campaign of mass reprisals against the civilian populations.

After having a free hand to commit genocidal crimes in Africa, Italian forces were eventually pushed out of North Africa. Graziani returned to Italy to become the defence minister of the short-lived Republic of Salo, the rump state commanded by Mussolini in northern Italy after the Allies occupied the south of the country in 1943. The Republic of Salo’s main achievement was to act as a puppet force for the Germans, and Graziani, along with the overall German commander Albert Kesselring, used the same terror tactics against the Italian anti-fascist partisans. Forced to surrender in 1945 with the defeat of the Axis powers, Graziani was convicted of war crimes and given a 19-year sentence. He was released after only serving two years, thanks to high-level sympathisers in the post-war Italian government, and he died in 1955.

How does this history tie in with contemporary events? In August this year, a mausoleum and memorial park were opened to honour the memory of Rudolfo Graziani in a village east of Rome. As the BBC reported, the mayor of the town of Affile, Ercole Viri, declared to the gathering of 100 people that the memorial was of national importance. Viri even donated a bust of Graziani for the memorial, which is strongly reminiscent of the fascist style of architecture that dominated Italy during Mussolini’s rule. A representative of the Vatican consecrated the mausoleum, and members of the rightwing People of Freedom (PDL) party, were in attendance with appropriately somber declarations and Italian flags. The PDL is the party of the former premier of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi.

The memorial and accompanying ceremony did indeed attract heavy criticism from various political quarters and historians. A councillor in Affile criticised the memorial, underlining that Graziani was indeed a convicted war criminal and the Butcher of Ethiopia. But this ceremony raises disturbing questions about the rehabilitation of fascist war criminals, at first quite underhanded and confined to the Baltic states, but now occurring more openly in Europe. The political row over the monument, while heartening to see, underscores the need to confront the clandestine restoration of fascist war criminals, and the underlying prejudices this brings to the surface. Under Berlusconi’s premiership, right-wing forces escalated the whitewashing of fascist crimes, and promoted the cult of honouring the war criminals who committed them.

As Europe is going through the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s, the financial aristocracy is utilising the social prejudices and national chauvinism to divert the anger of the working class onto the more vulnerable sections of the population, namely immigrants and refugees. Hate crimes and Islamophobic attacks are rising in America and Europe, dividing working class people and encouraging a political climate of surveillance and mutual suspicion. The Italian ruling class is lining up its own austerity programme, corresponding to the package of socially reactionary attacks on the working class and its living standards currently being applied to Greece, Spain, Portugal and other economically struggling capitalist economies. Deep cuts to wages, living standards, health care and education are already in place in Europe, and will be continued in Italy, all aimed at eliminating the social gains made by working people since the end of World War Two. But there is one industry that is doing well in these economically stressful times – armaments sales. The United States registered world-record armaments sales of 66.3 billion dollars in 2011, according to the Congress Research Service. The main customer of US arms was its dependable client, the royalist dictatorship of Saudi Arabia.

Not only must we remember that the Italian bourgeoisie has consistently camouflaged the crimes of the Italian fascist state, we must also remember that they have had strong enablers. After the end of World War Two, the Italian Communist Party had a massive electoral following, and was poised to win the 1948 elections through the ballot box. Powerful financial forces, namely the US ruling class and its proxies in Europe, mobilised their considerable financial resources to undermine the 1948 Italian elections, running a massive scare campaign that thwarted the democratic aspirations of the Italian people. Politicians were bought off, and the leader of the Christian Democrat Party, Alcide de Gasperi, made several trips to Washington to make sure he knew on which side his bread was buttered. After all, the Cold War was on, and Europe had to made secure for imperialist imperatives.

Those who had been second-tier officials in the fascist government were quietly coopted by the US and its servants, the CIA, into subverting a democratic election with scare-mongering, stereotypes and propagandistic images of the ‘good-old American way of life’ – that is, capitalism. The Italian ruling elite has certainly had powerful benefactors, and the 1948 elections went the way that the Americans wanted. The demands of the Italian population were irrelevant. Hollywood ‘razzmatazz’, in the words of William Blum, was activated in the service of capitalist interests.

Financial scandals, rigging the game and Godzilla

Godzilla is a Japanese-originated monster character, whose main features are its incredible bulk, its melange of gorilla-like and reptilian aspects, its gargantuan appetite, and its monumentally destructive capacity. Capable of feats of enormous strength, it can defeat other mega-monsters, emitting radiation similar to that of nuclear fission thus poisoning its environs, and terrorises its enemies while leaving a path of death and destruction in its wake. It is normally represented as a towering, dinosaur-like creature, exhibiting the features of terrestrial vertebrates, and also undulating its gigantic tail similar to a crocodile. Godzilla occupies a similar place in Japanese film culture as King Kong does in Western societies; an oversized monster driven by rapacious appetites, hostility to human society and capable of causing catastrophic destruction.

Godzilla (and King Kong) occupy a niche place in the cultural world, however, there is an equivalent in the modern world. Bankzilla, the enormous, rapacious, socially destructive corporation embodied by the large banks and financial institutions, are raking in super profits while the rest of humanity, the 99 percent, are struggling with declining incomes, reduced job prospects, foreclosures and financial strain. The US Socialist Worker reported that “To this day, Bankzilla continues to terrorize whole communities of homeowners while feasting on massive profits.” As Eric Ruder documented in this article, while the economic crisis hit the global community back in 2008-09, the large financial corporations insulated themselves from the worst of the financial disaster they had created. The cost of the ‘recovery’ would be shifted onto the working people. The rate of foreclosures increased, with tent cities arising in major US cities due to the unprecedented hike in mortgage defaults. But the owners of the Wall Street corporations were not complaining; they still managed to obtain super-profits while enjoying essentials such as a personal, nine-hole golf course. This was on top of the 700 billion dollar Troubled Asset Relief Programme (TARP) passed by the Democrats and Republicans in the US Congress.

What is under-reported is that the massive, taxpayer funded bailout for the ‘too-big-to-fail’ banks has not actually resulted in an economic recovery. If anything, lending by the big banks has actually decreased for the first three months of 2012. The CNN Finance Fortune article cited above elaborates that

“When banks cut their lending, it makes it harder for small businesses to get money to expand. But a drop in lending could also signal a drop in demand for loans, meaning businesses and individual don’t want to borrow because they are worried about the economy.”

A combined amount of 24 billion dollars was cut from lending by J P Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Citigroup in the first quarter of 2012. These are not exactly small corner stores, but enormous pillars of the finance-banking sector. The largest drops in lending were recorded in credit card loans (consumer credit) and home equity lines of credit.

The Obama administration, since coming to power in the wake of the November 2008 elections, has acted as a protector and abetter of the financial aristocracy. Not only has the previous criminality of the financial institutions not abated, but more scandals are coming to light. The Libor scandal, which involves rigging the London Interbank Exchange Rate to a level advantageous for the large banking institutions, was exposed only recently even though its antecedents date back four years. A massive case of insider trading, the Libor scandal has exposed the rotting criminality of the capitalist financial architecture.

A bank lends and borrows money – that is understood by everyone. The acts of borrowing and lending are accompanied by interest payments. Borrowing money means that you pay interest on the loan repayment, placing savings in a bank means the saver is paid interest on those savings. How are the interest rates determined? The banking experts, given their expertise and knowledge of the world of finance, set the interest rates based on the confidence that their loans will be repaid. The cumulative knowledge of thousands of banker lenders and borrowers are analysed, supply and demand for money is assessed, and the requisite interest rate is established. Libor, the London Interbank Exchange Rate, is the average rate of interest established by the major banks in England when borrowing from other banks. The Libor serves as a benchmark for mortgages, business loans, personal loans, derivatives, credit default swaps, the interest rate on student loans – in short, it provides a benchmark for trillions of dollars worth of loans and finance.

It turns out that the Libor was being rigged, manipulated by the major financial institutions. Starting with Barclays bank, whose top executives resigned and paid out a fine to American and British regulators, the depth of financial criminality has been steadily coming to light. Barclays chief executives defended themselves by stating that they had done nothing wrong – because everybody was doing the same thing. The Euribor, the Brussels-based counterpart of Libor, is also being investigated for manipulation. As Petrino DiLeo explains in the Socialist Worker:

More than a dozen other banks are also being investigated for similar manipulation, including Bank of America, Citigroup, Royal Bank of Scotland Group and UBS. More fines, lawsuits and resignations may be in the offing. And there’s mounting evidence that government officials and central bankers were in on the scam, too. As the facts continue to come out, “Liborgate” may end up being the mother of all banking scandals.

The magazine Dollars and Sense noted, when the US economy was stumbling towards the largest crisis since the great depression of the 1930s, the US administration rushed to provide bailout money through the TARP mechanism. The large privately-owned banks and financial institutions were deemed ‘too-big-to-fail’. Currently, numerous state municipalities and local government authorities are facing a financial crisis because they invested in interest rate swaps. While normally borrowing on the basis of the floating exchange rate, the municipalities were offered a seemingly advantageous deal by the Wall Street giants – interest rate swaps. State authorities – responsible for public services and public salaries, pegged their floating-rate debt to a fixed interest rate debt agreed to by the banks. The participant with the higher interest rate had to pay the difference to their partner. While a fixed interest rate seemed like a positive development, the interest rate was set by the major banks, which was established by manipulated mechanisms, like Libor.

The municipalities have been saddled with a fixed interest rate repayment, while the floating interest rates declined in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. The public institutions were now required to pay billions in interest repayments to the large banks, while cutting back public services and employment. These interest rate swaps are a widely used derivative device; mechanisms that were at the heart of the original financial meltdown.

The Libor scandal, growing out of the financial catastrophe of 2008, has its historic origins in an earlier measure implemented by the major imperialist powers – bank deregulation. This was the theory that opening up banks and financial institutions to ‘competition’ would lead to greater choice for the individual consumer, loans with cheaper interest rates, and a healthier economic ‘trickle down’ of wealth. Since the mid-1980s, bank deregulation has lead to the monopolisation of the banking and finance sector by a tiny, financial aristocracy, and a transfer of wealth from the working class, the 99 percent, to the richest one percent. The chaos and financial ruin exemplified by Libor arises from an unregulated system, where actually the largest privately-owned corporations end up setting the rules by themselves. The British Bankers’ Association (BBA), the main privately-controlled banking trade and lobby group, was headed by Marcus Agius. Agius was also one of the chief executives of Barclays, and heavily implicated in the Libor manipulation scandal. Agius has resigned his position, but the incestuous, nepotistic relationship between the BBA and the banking-finance sector continues.

The Guardian newspaper noted that in the 1960s and 1970s, a range of strict regulations, capital and liquidity ratios, and limits on excessive mortgage lending, were applied to the banking sector. Since the mid-1980s, as the capitalist classes around the world went on an offensive, attacking the living standards, the job provisions, health and safety regulations that provided a measure of security for workers, bank regulations were also sacrificed on the altar of the ‘free-market’ dogma. The Libor scandal, while correctly called the ‘crime of the century’, represents more than that.

The financial scandals engulfing the financial elite of Europe and America are an indication that we are living in the era of the ‘anti-1989’. In the wake of the collapse of the former socialist countries of Eastern Europe, the capitalist elites went on a triumphalist frenzy of gloating – the socialist project seemed to have been swept away, and not just the bureaucratically deformed version of it that had obtained prior to 1989 in Eastern Europe. Francis Fukuyama, a professor of political science, enunciated the feeble ‘end-of-history’ thesis, arguing that ‘free-market’ capitalism had proven its superiority over all challenges, and ruling over societies that consented to adopt the capitalist system. Fukuyama took a Hegelian turn and conceived of the capitalist system as the final end-point, the omnipotent state to which we all aspire, much like Hegel in the nineteenth century regarded the monarchist Prussian state.

However, we are now living in the Anti-1989 era. Another nineteenth century thinker, examining the laws of motion of the capitalist system, found that the insoluble contradictions of that system would lead to its inevitable breakdown. Appropriating the same philosophical tools that Hegel used (and Fukuyama alleged borrowed), this thinker elaborated how the capitalist system works, and how it will eventually rot from within. While working class revolution is not on the immediate agenda, the current period is witnessing the re-awakening of the working class as a serious political force. The 1989 consensus that liberal capitalism is the end point of civilisation, has been reduced to ashes.

With the capitalist financial architecture crumbling, the working class, consigned to the role of passive observers in 1989, has re-emerged as a serious political force again. The 99 percent, as expressed by the Occupy Wall Street, the emergence of the Syriza socialist formation in Greece, and the eruption of popular protest throughout the Arab world, indicates that working people can no longer be sidelined by the political and economic system. Across Europe, with the mass protests in Spain, Greece and other countries, the capitalist system is declining starting with its economic periphery in Eastern Europe. Make no mistake, the current economic catastrophe began in the United States and Britain, the countries where neoliberal ‘free-market’ orthodoxy was applied with the strictest attention. Warnings about the dire situation ahead are emanating not just from sources routinely dismissed by the corporate-controlled media as the ‘lunatic fringe’ Left. Heavyweight economic analysts are also weighing in, warning that 2013 will witness further storms and stresses.

Endgame: the spectacular rise and fall of Bobby Fischer

A book review

Frank Brady, Endgame: The spectacular rise and fall of Bobby Fischer

The year is 1972, and a young, precociously talented chess prodigy, Bobby Fischer, is playing against Boris Spassky, the World Chess Champion from the Soviet Union. The Russians had dominated the world chess competition, churning out brilliant players from their state-subsidized education and sporting systems. They had dominated chess for decades, and looked set to continue that domination. But now, here was an American wunderkind taking up the challenge and competing with the best chess players in the world. Fischer, of Jewish ancestry from the United States, plainly stated that patriotism, not just the love of the game, motivated him to defeat Spassky, the ranking Soviet champion. Both men were at the height of their chess-playing powers, and no other chess match had garnered as much attention as this one. They played in Reykjavik, Iceland, for the world championship.

Fischer started the match disastrously, which was uncharacteristic of him. Spassky appeared to be on his way to another victory, and keeping the World Chess Championship title in the Soviet Union once again. Their overwhelming domination of the sport seemed to be on track. However, Fischer’s determination, a fierce competitive drive that had seen him progress from child prodigy to American chess champion to world contender, came through. He turned the match around.

Bobby Fischer won. He was the World Chess Champion.

Interest in chess in the United States skyrocketed, with pictures of Bobby Fischer in popular magazines and newspapers, new chess clubs sprouting up across the country, and even then-President Nixon sent a congratulatory telegram to Fischer. The Americans, having witnessed the chess champion frustratingly remain in Soviet hands for so long, now took up the game with enthusiasm. Fischer was regarded as a sporting hero, in the same way as Mickey Mantle for baseball.

After that match, Fischer disappeared from chess competition. He refused to defend his title in 1975 against the next contender, Soviet player Anatoly Karpov, Fischer withdrew from public life, and remained invisible to the public eye for the next twenty years.

In 1992, Fischer re-emerged for a rematch with his old foe, Boris Spassky, which took place in Belgrade, the former Yugoslavia. At the time, Yugoslavia was embroiled in a civil war, and the regime of President Milosevic was subject to sanctions. This meant that no US citizens or businesses could conduct any kind of trade or commerce with entities that originated from Yugoslavia. Fischer, a US national, was in violation of those sanctions by travelling to Belgrade and receiving remuneration for his participation in a business and sporting venture. The US department of Treasury warned Fischer that his participation was in violation of the trade embargo on Yugoslavia at the time. This conflict with the US government escalated when Fischer was presented with an order by the US government forbidding him to play. In response, Fischer called a press conference, removed the letter from his briefcase and proceeded to literally spit on the document. Fischer’s animus for the US government, while always simmering beneath the surface since the mid-1970s, now erupted into the open.

And there was worse to come.

Fischer had been living outside the US since his 1992 rematch with Spassky. His violation of the trade embargo, and his avoidance of paying income taxes to the US government, did nothing to endear him to US authorities. He had been living in Japan since the 1990s, and he gave regular radio interviews to various broadcasting stations, expounding his increasingly conspiratorial and anti-Semitic viewpoints about “the Jews”, powerful financial interests, the Russian chess establishment, the American government, the media and just about anyone else that he believed was opposed to his rightful place as chess champion. On September 11, 2001, in the wake of the terrible terrorist attacks, Fischer was interviewed by a Filipino station Radio Baguio, and he was asked for his opinion about the attacks. In part, Fischer responded with the following:

Fischer: Yes, well, this is all wonderful news. It’s time for the fucking U.S. to get their heads kicked in. It’s time to finish off the U.S. once and for all.

The interviewer continued with his questions, and Fischer responded with more invective:

Fischer: Yes, I applaud the act….Fuck the U.S. I want to see the U.S. wiped out.

After expressing his desire that military officers launch a coup d’etat and take over the United States, he continued:

Fischer: I say death to President Bush! I say death to the United States. Fuck the United States! Fuck the Jews! The Jews are a criminal people. They mutilate (circumcise) their children. They’re murderous, criminal, thieving, lying bastards. They made up the Holocaust. There’s not a word of truth to it….This is a wonderful day. Fuck the United States. Cry, you crybabies! Whine, you bastards! Now your time is coming.

Fischer meteoric rise to world chess champion and spectacular fall from public view into a hateful vitriol-spewing recluse has been wonderfully told by Frank Brady in his book Endgame: The spectacular rise and fall of Bobby Fischer. Brady is an international grand chessmaster and successful author in his own right, and has written an engaging and accessible biography of Fischer. He avoids going into junk psychoanalysis, and instead offers an honest portrait of a brilliant chess champion and hypersensitive man who succumbed to conspiracy theories.

Brady admirably recounts the life of the chess prodigy, a young Bobby Fischer who dropped out of high school to concentrate exclusively on chess. Fischer frequented the chess clubs of New York to develop and refine his talent. Jack Collins was an early teacher of Fischer, and he nurtured the skills of the precocious and aggressively determined Fischer. One can only wonder why, years later, Fischer, in a fit of pique, dismissed his former teacher, plainly stating that he (Fischer) had learned nothing from Collins.

Brady examines the rising Fischer, pitted against no-less talented and determined opponents in the Brooklyn and Manhattan Chess Club. The child prodigy would lose a few at first. But he learned from his defeats, and was soon overwhelming the older players and displaying a searing persistence to win. Fischer would analyse the games that he had lost, or was close to losing, hours after the matches had ended. His ability was extraordinary, and he outshone his competitors, many of whom went on to become chess masters in their own right. William Lombardy and the late Larry Evans were Fischer’s contemporaries, and they played against him in their many hours of chess competition. Both had been Fischer’s second (an assistant to help prepare and analyse chess matches) for some of the major chess competitions. But Fischer soared above the rest, and brought his own innovations to the game.

Brady avoids using chess tables and chess notation in the book, and yet conveys the tension, drama and excitement surrounding chess competitions. Fischer railed against the Russians, whom he accused of conspiring to stop him from winning matches and taking his rightful place as world champion. While the Soviet side certainly encouraged cooperation among their chess players, analysing moves, creating new manoeuvres to stump the opposition, Brady finds that there was no organised conspiracy to deliberately exclude Fischer from competition.

Brady includes engaging, pithy portraits of all Fischer’s major American chess competitors, the people that Fischer fought and defeated in his ascent to the American chess championship. His style was one of relentless aggression and solid persistence. He wore down his competitors, and he took that attacking style with him into international competitions.

Fischer had a life-long interest in conspiracy theories, and he collected and read a vast amount of rightwing hate literature, ranging from Holocaust denial books, anti-Semitic tracts such as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, denunciations of powerful financial interest groups, and right-wing populist literature. All these theories began to meld into a worldview where ‘they’ are ‘against’ him from succeeding. Fischer found a ready explanation for any perceived lack of progress in his chess career. Any frustration or impediment he experienced could be attributed to this vast, conspiratorial network ranged against him.

Brady had written a biography of Fischer back in 1965, and his thorough research and meticulous knowledge shines through in his Endgame book. Brady knew of Fischer’s petulance and hypersensitivity, but nowhere does Brady portray Fischer as a man to be reviled or hated. Rather, Fischer comes across as a tortured soul, a brilliant champion whose unstable temperament marred his otherwise incredible achievements.

Fischer’s outbursts were initially directed against the Russian and their alleged ‘machinations’. But his attentions eventually turned against the United States. His failure to defend his title in 1975 against Karpov was the beginning of a long decline for Fischer. Brady commendably does his best to document this twenty year period of oblivion, with Fischer living in squalor. His vagrant condition at this time only helped to turn Fischer’s mind against the government of his country. Fischer rebuffed million-dollar offers to return to chess, only agreeing to a rematch with Spassky in 1992.

Brady examines the last periods of Fischer’s life with humanity and compassion. Fischer eventually found refuge in Iceland, where he had maintained his popularity because of his brilliance at the chess board. Passing away in 2008, Fischer should be remembered as an extraordinary chess champion and, while not excused his hateful rhetoric, his vitriolic outbursts can now be forgotten. Brady never loses sight of the fact that his subject, while achieving remarkable heights of success, was also a flawed, eccentric, human being. The revulsion that his spiteful comments elicited recede into insignificance compared to the admiration that his chess prowess engendered. Brady’s book is riveting and compelling reading.

Drones, warfare and the erosion of democracy

Imagine living in a police state, where all citizens are subject to constant surveillance. Information is gathered about the people of that state by an enormous intelligence apparatus, part of a police-state infrastructure. Informers routinely collect information about the political activities and working lives of the citizens, and this information is stored in enormous databases where government officials can access that information with impunity. The citizens have no legal recourse, and they can be surveilled, arrested and held without charge or trial indefinitely. That scenario sounds like something out of Adolph Hitler’s Nazi Germany.

In my previous article, I examined the increasing reliance on the use of drones, unmanned aerial vehicles, for the purpose of intelligence-gathering and warfare.

The US military and aviation authorities recently revealed plans to deploy 30 000 drones, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), in the United States itself. Working out of US military bases, the drones will be able to gather information on citizens by using facial recognition software, thermal imaging and other sensor technology. This domestic surveillance, authorised by the National Defence Authorisation Act (2012), will integrate with the capabilities of law enforcement agencies with regards to intelligence-gathering, but also will become weaponised. Some of the UAVs, no larger than an insect, will be able to enter homes and collect information undetected. Military and domestic surveillance is becoming combined into one huge police-state apparatus the likes of which dictators like Hitler could only dream.

Northrop Grumman is one of the major companies involved in UAV research and development. Investing billions of dollars, is the fourth largest weapons manufacturer in the world. The company has excellent relations with the US Congress, and Northrop made $2.12 billion in profits last year. This company typifies the merging of political and corporate power – actually the privatisation of political power, where the political and economic elites seamlessly integrate into one overarching class.

This creeping and massive expansion of UAV technology, and its deployment against US citizens, is being carried out by the Obama administration. Deploying drones in the United States is consistent with the increasing militarisation of American society, and follows on from the use of UAV technology in US wars overseas. Drones have been used to kill civilians in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and other countries where the US ruling class has a strategic interest. Indeed, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, recently made a report attacking the use of drone warfare as a violation of 50 years of international law. Christof Heyns, the special rapporteur, suggested that the United States’ drone warfare would only encourage other regimes to pursue lawless behaviour, violating long-established human rights standards. The Chinese and Russian governments issued a statement to the UN Human Rights Council denouncing the criminality of drone strikes.

The increasing deployment of drones has been carried out with hardly any debate in the US Congress, the supposed citadel of democratic republican government. Democratic protections that go back centuries, such as habeas corpus, are being steadily eroded. In purely legal terms, the US president can now order the assassination of any US citizen he deems to be a security threat. Such power was used by Obama in the targeted killing of US-born Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was never charged with any crime, and never given the opportunity to defend himself, whatever repugnant views he may have held.

The US ruling elite and its media outlets, like the New York Times, made much of the fact that Awlaki preached an extremist, hateful brand of Islam. If preaching hateful religious rhetoric is an offense punishable by death, one wonders why Obama has not dealt with other vitriolic religious demagogues in the United States, whose homophobic and hate-filled rants reach millions of listeners –  like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell Junior, Jim Bakker, John Haggee and Jimmy Swaggart in similarly stern fashion.

In the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis, the ruling elites in the United States made a tactical shift in their war plans. The Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld method of warfare, involving direct military intervention, was no longer practical given the strength of domestic and international opposition. The US oligarchy was shaken by the serious economic crisis, and its political authority was undermined worldwide. It sought ways to compensate for its decline on the international stage.

Increasingly militarising the society, eroding basic living standards and civil liberties is the option taken by the financial aristocracy and its political organs, the main US political parties. The US has launched predatory wars of expansion in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries to try and compensate for its perilous economic position. Obama has continued, even intensified, the attacks on democratic rights begun under his predecessor.

The US ruling class is eroding democratic rights amid the widening growth of social inequality. In 2010, the incomes of the top one percent of US households increased, corporate profits have soared, while the growth of the poor and the immiseration of increasing numbers of Americans has accelerated.

For the top one percent of American households, the year from 2009 to 2010 saw their average income increase by 12 percent, and this has occurred in the wake of the deepest and most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. For the ninety-nine percent, the current period has meant job layoffs, cutbacks to services and attacks on living standards. The US Census Bureau released figures back in 2010 showing that social inequality has reached a record high, and the vast accumulation of wealth by a tiny minority while millions of Americans experience worsening economic conditions. The ‘American Dream’ is contracting, with the average net worth of American families dropping by 40 percent between 2007 and 2010. But there is one segment of the population doing well, as the article from Yahoo Finance news reports;

As average families become poorer, rich Americans are growing richer. The Fed survey showed the wealthiest 10% of families actually saw their net worth rise from 2007 to 2010. Over that time period, their net worth increased from $1.17 million to $1.19 million.

The quote can be found here.

In the film Johnny English Reborn, Rowan Atkinson plays a woefully inept British secret service agent. The film is a parody of the James Bond, British espionage genre of films. The sequel to Johnny English, Atkinson’s character is recalled to MI7, an obvious satire on the English secret service. Atkinson enters the London Headquarters of the intelligence agency to be confronted by a highly modernised, computerised reception area. The MI7 has been taken over by a private company, and is now named “Toshiba British Intelligence”. The large reception area is replete with computerised directions, and the receptionists are speaking in the bland, telephone-speak of modern corporations – “for our electronic products, press one; to speak to a secret agent, press two.” The film is a satire, but like all comedies, contains an element of truth. Can intelligence services and the coercive apparatuses of the state be taken over by private companies?

There is the old saying, “life imitates art”. With that in mind, the Guardian newspaper reported earlier in June that the head of G4S, a large multinational security solutions firm, predicted that in five years time, large portions of the English police will be completely privatised. The head of the company’s operations in the United Kingdom stated that his organisation, G4S, will take over the functions of the state-run police force. There are already such arrangements in place in parts of England, with outsourcing deals being considered by various police stations across the UK. G4S is already providing the bulk of security for the London Olympics. Lincolnshire police station has already outsourced its operation to G4S. While the English Home Office denied that the police force was being privatised, the G4S corporation was pushing in that direction.

Confronted with this situation, the working class, the 99 percent, has no alternative but to fight back. Groups such as Occupy Wall Street, and its offshoots around the world, offer an alternative to the corporate control of our lives. The poor, the unemployed and underemployed, have to help themselves. The main political parties have become morally and political bankrupt, offering nothing except even more decrepitude. An alternative is not only possible, it is practical.

The Arab uprisings, democratic demands and the Saudi payroll

In April 2012, a number of high-level political officials attended conferences in Paris and Istanbul organised by the Friends of Syria group. US secretary of state Hillary Clinton attended these meetings, and joined the foreign ministers from the NATO powers and Arab Gulf monarchies in denouncing the killings committed by the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.

The Friends of Syria meeting brought about greater collaboration between the various imperialist countries and the Syrian rebel forces. One of the main attendees at these meetings, and now major sponsor of the Syrian rebel groups, is Saudi Arabia. Clinton and the Saudi counterpart, Prince Saud al-Faisal. Clinton, former French President Sarkozy, and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan all expressed their commitment to democracy and vowed to do all they could to topple the Ba’athist dictatorship in Damascus. Saudi Arabia, and its Gulf ally Qatar, have led the charge to arm and finance Syrian rebel forces.

It is worthwhile to take a closer look at the history of cooperation between the imperialist powers and Saudi Arabia. Claims by Clinton, Sarkozy and Erdogan that democracy is uppermost in their minds are absolutely ludicrous. Last year, Amnesty International issued a report on the Saudi Arabian government called “Saudi Arabia: Repression in the name of security”. The report details the many crimes of the Saudi Arabian government, specifically its total repression of political dissent, the imprisonment and torture of dissidents, the repeated crackdowns on freedom of expression, and the broad and sweeping definition of terrorism as a way to suppress a wide variety of political groups.

Saudi Arabia, ruled by a dictatorial royal family, has been at the forefront of opposition to democratic and revolutionary movements throughout the Arab world. While the Syrian uprising has received extensive media coverage, the conduct of the Saudi ruling elite, its repressive policies and its close ties to the United States receive scant attention. Saudi Arabia has been, continues to be, a key pivot of US foreign policy, coordinating efforts to destabilise and undermine any Arab regime or group that espouses Arab nationalist, secular or revolutionary demands.

The Saudi regime is currently the base of US-sponsored manoeuvres to oppose the growing tide of uprisings and demands for democratisation in the region. The ruling clique in Riyadh espouse a particularly fanatical, puritanical version of Sunni Islam called Wahhabism. The Riyadh regime spends billions of dollars each year on campaigns to promote fundamentalist doctrines, broadcasting and propagating its version of Islamic creationism and reactionary royalism to counter the surge of Arab nationalist, secular and democratic protests.

Saudi forces have actively intervened in neighbouring Bahrain and Yemen to assist those authoritarian regimes suppress pro-democracy protests in their respective countries, with the full compliance and permission of Washington and other imperialist powers. Its enormous oil wealth is used to enrich a tiny minority elite, and the Shia minority suffers from harassment and discrimination. Nearly six million workers are migrant labourers, mainly from South-East Asia, who work the most dangerous and menial jobs with little regard for their rights.

Since its founding in 1932 as a united country, Saudi Arabia has countered the spread of secular, socialist and democratic ideas throughout the Arab world. As Charles Allen documents in his book God’s Terrorists, countering non-religious forces, such as the Arab nationalist and semi-socialist Egyptian regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser, was a top priority. The ruling Ibn Saud family pushed to establish organisations such as the Founding Committee of the Muslim World League, the Supreme Committee for Islamic Propagation, and other similar bodies specifically to promote the Wahhabist denomination of Islam and counter socialist and secular tendencies. These initiatives were welcomed and promoted by the ruling class of the United States, as a counter to any moves by Arab countries to move away from the American sphere of influence and set up an alternative, non-aligned political and economic orientation. Egypt’s Nasser, after having been rebuffed by the US and Britain, opened up to the socialist bloc for economic development and political support.

Saudi Arabian state is formed

In 1932 the emirates of Nejd and Hijaz, created by Ibn Saud were united into one political federation. The founding doctrines of the Saudi emirate go back to the mid-eighteenth century and the campaigns by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab to purify Islam; rescue it from what he saw as its atrophy and deterioration. Wahhab advocated a particularly strict and literalist interpretation of Islam, and sought to combat what he determined were corrupting outside influences. Forming an alliance with a tribal chieftain in eastern Arabia, Muhammad ibn Saud, he launched a series of military and religious campaigns to stamp out any practices and influences deemed to be heretical. Wahhab made a political alliance with one of the main clans in the Arabian peninsula, al-Saud. This alliance formed the basis for continued cooperation, merging religion and the state into an emirate.

The House of Saud captured the city of Riyadh in the early 1900s, and this city became the eventual capital of a unified Saudi state.

In the early part of the twentieth century, the al-Saud and various clans in the Arabian peninsula were courted by the British, through the emissary of Harry St. John Philby. The British wanted to foment an Arab uprising that would drive out the Ottoman Turkish rulers of the Arabian lands and install a friendly pro-British regime. The Wahhabist ideology, and its Saudi backers, formed useful allies for the cause of the British empire. The Arab revolt against the Turkish empire succeeded in installing a new Saudi emirate, with Ibn Saud as the first recognised king.

The new kingdom of Saudi Arabia was one of the poorest countries in the Middle East, but in the mid-1930s, vast commercially viable quantities of oil were discovered in the Arabian peninsula. While the British wished to exploit these oil reserves, and extend their business interests which were already significant in Iraq and Iran, it was the Americans who moved into Saudi Arabia expeditiously. In 1933, the Saudi government granted an oil concession to the American company Standard Oil of California. The latter company has since been absorbed into Chevron corporation. The Saudi Arabian National Oil Company, Aramco, is owned by the Saudi regime and was an estimated net worth of $781 billion dollars back in 2005. The Saudi regime ensures the flow of oil to the imperialist countries is uninterrupted. In 2010, the revenue of the Saudi Aramco company was $210 billion. All this wealth has enriched a tiny minority of princely families, while the majority of workers in the country, mostly foreign nationals, labour in appalling conditions for pitiful wages. In 2011, Saudi Arabia was poised to overtake Russia as the world’s leading exporter of oil.

US President Franklin D Roosevelt met with King Saud aboard the warship USS Quincy in 1945, signs military and commercial agreements to exploit Saudi Arabia’s massive oil reserves. The US ruling class had begun on a course of active collaboration with an Islamist fundamentalist rightist regime. This meeting was pivotal in developing ties between the two states. The United States began its long and active flirtation with rightist Islamism, and continues until the present day.

In the late 1940s, US military personnel turn in the Kingdom to provide training and technical military assistance. Riyadh and Washington start to cooperate in the Cold War. In 1951, the US and Saudi Arabia signed and implemented a mutual defence agreement, and the US established a permanent military presence in the country. It was President Eisenhower, in the 1950s, who expanded and consolidated the support of US imperialism for Saudi-style Islamist fundamentalism. Eisenhower and the US government reasoned that with the Cold War, it was imperative to combat the spread of pan-Arab nationalism and socialism in the Arab world. Saudi Arabia formed the perfect candidate to provide the antidote, radical rightist Islamism.

The US ruling elite welcomed the Saudi kingdom as a necessary and valuable partner in the Cold War. Eisenhower noted that the Saudi regime’s militant religiosity and strident anti-Communism made it an indispensable partner in countering the spread of secular, socialist ideas and movements in the Arab world.

In 1952, when the pro-British monarchy of Egypt was toppled in a revolution by the Arab nationalist Free Officers Movement led by Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser, Saudi Arabia became the focal point of intrigues against that country, to combat the rise of socialistic, Arab nationalist ideas. Nasser gravitated towards the Eastern bloc, and the Arab monarchies, led by Saudi Arabia, launch concerted efforts to stifle the Egyptian, pan-Arab revolutionary movement.

In the 1960s, a number of pan-Islamic institutions are formed to combat the rising ideology of secularism in the Arab countries, all with the backing of the United States. The Islamic University of Medina and the King Abdel Aziz University are formed in the 1960s to become intellectual centres for rightist political Islamism, and inculcate the ideas of the puritanical Wahhabist creed in its students. One of the leaders of the Islamic institutions, Sheikh Abdel Aziz bin Baz, was a fanatical Wahhabist who insisted on the literal interpretation of the Quran. He announced in 1966 that the Copernican world-view – that the earth and planets revolve around the Sun – was heretical and contrary to the teachings of the Quran. From Saudi Arabian universities, thousands of mullahs were turned out to spread political Islamist doctrines. The US has helped to train and arm fundamentalist Islamism in the Arab world.

Saudi role in Syria’s rebellion

Saudi Arabia is currently leading efforts to arm and train factions of the Syrian rebels to impose a strict fundamentalist political agenda on that country’s rebellion. Saudi Arabia and Qatar, members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have supported American plans for military confrontation with the Iranian regime. The royalist dictatorship in Riyadh has played a pivotal role in gathering support among the Arab world for the US designs on the region, including escalating tensions with Iran.

There was a time when Saudi Arabia funded and trained groups of rebels to fight against a progressive, socialist government. Back in the 1980s, Saudi Arabia, along with other reactionary Islamic states, funded and trained Afghan rebel groups to fight against the secular, socialist government of Afghanistan. The Islamist groups spent most of their time fighting and destroying other Afghan rebel groups, thus promoting a political agenda of the former reactionary mullahs and landlord class dispossessed by the Afghan socialist government.

When the masses of Bahrain rose up in 2011 in protest against the royalist dictatorship in that country, the Saudi regime sent thousands of troops to violently suppress the rebellion. Bahrainis were killed and wounded, but the military contracts, and supply of military equipment, that Riyadh depends upon from the various imperialist powers continued unhindered.

The US and imperialist countries have continuously relied on the Saudi state to crush any pro-democracy uprisings, support reactionary Islamist groups and steer any political movements in the Arab world in a direction friendly to the US and its interests. The political leaders of the US, Britain, France and other powers shed crocodile tears for the casualties of the Arab Spring, but completely ignore the total lack of democratic freedoms in their own key ally in the region. Maintaining close relations with Riyadh involves guaranteeing the steady flow of oil and profits from the Saudi state, and the latter performs its role as the ‘policeman’ in the Persian Gulf region.

While using its oil wealth to cultivate Wahhabist groups and finance religious education in the Arab world, Saudi has played a key role in supporting plans to promote US economic and political interests in the region. While the imperialist countries disguise their interventions in the Middle East in a ‘humanitarian’ garb, they actively cooperate and support repressive, anti-democratic regimes such as the Saudi state.