The decline of Detroit – an emblem of the failure of American capitalism

There is an old saying of ‘a picture tells a thousand words’.

The veracity of this proverb is underlined by the following series of photographs, taken by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre, and published in the Guardian newspaper regarding the catastrophic economic and demographic decline of the city of Detroit, Michigan. Once a major urban industrial centre and home of large auto-manufacturers, Detroit is now littered with abandoned hotels, ruined schools and hospitals, vacant lots and decrepit buildings.

The photographic collection is stark testimony to the destructive consequences of the demise of American capitalism. A once-teeming metropolis, with many suburbs and co-mingling communities, has now become a virtual ghost town, with decaying infrastructure and abandoned housing. Detroit was home to 2 million people in the 1950s; currently it is an emblem of the decline of American empire. The town now has a crumbling transport infrastructure, a shortage of law enforcement personnel, a rising crime rate and an unemployment rate that is twice the national average.

Towards the end of last year (2012), policy planners and Michigan officials were considering declaring the entire city of Detroit bankrupt. On March 1 2013, the city of Detroit was taken over by the state of Michigan authorities, and an emergency manager was appointed to head the city. There was no consultation with ordinary Detroiters, and the people of Detroit have no say in the decisions that the emergency manager makes.

Michigan governor Rick Snyder appointed an emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, to oversee the implementation of a financial plan that will assault the basic working conditions, wages, and pensions to pay for an economic recovery where the already-wealthy will see their wealth protected. The cost of restoring social services will be shifted onto the shoulders of the working class and poorest people in the city. The economic restructuring undertaken by Orr will preserve the wealth of the financial elite, and facilitate greater hardships for the working people. For instance, Orr has indicated that the wages of the Detroit fire-fighters would be cut, as part of the overall cost-cutting program that will witness further privatisation of social services. Orr’s program will only exacerbate the worsening economic and social situation.

Detroit has undergone a process of deindustrialisation, and has lost 25 percent of its population over the last decade. As Aric Miller wrote in the Socialist Worker article covering the Detroit crisis;

Fundamentally, the job of emergency manager is to shift responsibility for capitalism’s crisis away from bankers, CEOs and hedge-fund managers and onto the backs of the most vulnerable. In the case of Detroit, that means poor and working-class African Americans who make up the vast majority of the city’s population.

One report has stated that nearly half of adult Detroiters are ‘functionally illiterate’. A population that is functionally illiterate provides prime cannon-fodder for the military and police services, occupations that have boomed over the past decade with the ongoing ‘war on terror’ and the accompanying militarisation of American society.

The crisis and collapse of Detroit is emblematic of the ongoing decay of American capitalism. The descent into ruinous degradation is the result not just of a demographic exodus from the city, but the conscious political and economic decisions to preserve the wealth of the financial oligarchy while transferring the social costs onto the majority of the population. These decisions are made by the industrial and financial elite, the 1 percent that is keen on maintaining a system of economic and social inequality.

The news is not all bad; workers at fast-food outlets in Detroit and other American cities are organising on a collective basis for better wages and conditions, and understand that the program of institutionalising social inequality has to be reversed. Jobs in the fast-food sector are among the most common in the United States, and among the lowest paid jobs. Detroit’s austerity and emergency management has to be seen in the wider context of the ongoing implementation of neoliberal austerity in many parts of the world, including Europe. What is taking place in Greece, Portugal, Cyprus, Spain and other crisis-wracked European countries is nothing short of a social counter-revolution, rolling back the social gains made by workers over the last fifty or sixty years since the end of World War Two. However, there is one village in Spain that is defying the trend, and demonstrating that there is an alternative to neoliberal capitalism.

Marinaleda, like the rest of Spain, has been hit hard by the capitalist economic crisis. Unemployment and the associated social ills of poverty, household debt and family breakdowns have hit the Spanish working class, just like in the rest of economically devastated Europe. But in Marinaleda, the political leadership has taken a different direction:

Marinaleda is run along the lines of a communist Utopia and boasts collectivised lands (1,200 previously unused hectares, seized by a mass land-grab in 1990 from an aristocrat’s estate) which offer every villager the opportunity to work the fields, tending to root crops and olive groves. In Andalusia, where jobs are currently being lost at the rate of about 500 a day, any work is good work.

Marinaleda’s mayor, Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo, has gained national notoriety and has even been dubbed the “Robin Hood of Spain” after he and a group of labourers refused to pay a supermarket for 10 shopping trolleys filled with food, which they distributed to the area’s food banks, sparking headlines in countries as far away as Iran.

The mayor of Marinaleda, Sanchez Gordillo explained that:

Mr Sánchez  Gordillo believes Spain’s deep recession is the fault of its government. “Unfortunately, this [national] government’s policies have not been directed towards the people’s problems; they were directed towards the banks’ problems,” he says. “People are more important than banks, particularly when the profits are received by a handful of bankers who have speculated with basic human rights. The money they’ve provided doesn’t reach the base of the social pyramid, which is why the economy is paralysed. It’s the small property holders and businesses who have been hurt the most. [We have] six million unemployed and twice that number living in poverty.”

Marinaleda is being rebuilt for the benefit of its people; meanwhile Detroit is being restructured to benefit the wealthy while its infrastructure falls to pieces.

Go read the story of Marinaleda here in The Independent newspaper.

Ernest Hemingway, lost generations and economic experiments

The Sun Also Rises is the first novel written by American novelist and short-story writer, Ernest Hemingway (1899-1962). He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954. A writer of fiction, Hemingway based his writings on his experiences, the social conditions of his time, and the political turbulence which he witnessed in Europe and the United States. The Sun Also Rises was published in 1926, and deals with a group of American expatriates residing mainly in Paris, most of whom are veterans of World War One. Hemingway himself served as an ambulance driver on the Italian war front in 1918 and was seriously wounded.

The searing experience of World War One, the death, mutilation and trauma had a shattering impact on the generation that came of age during its ferocious battles. The psychological impact, the war propaganda and the sheer magnitude of the social and emotional wounds inflicted by the war had a profound influence on many fields of human endeavour, and literature was no exception. The decision by the various imperialist states to go to all-out war, mobilising the vast resources each had at its disposal for the purpose of mutual slaughter, involved millions of people and had a decisive impact on their lives. The war propaganda used by all sides, the orgy of national chauvinism, engulfed the European continent and spread to other countries. The generation that was most affected was Hemingway’s. While the survivors continued with their lives after 1918, they struggled with the clash between the vaunted values of patriotism, honour and sacrifice which were the stated motivations of the imperialist powers, and the horrors of death, mutilation, mass slaughter and trauma that they experienced in the trenches.

Hemingway gathered with a group of American and British expatriates in Paris after the war ended. Most of his friends were literary figures, one of whom was Gertrude Stein. She coined the phrase ‘the lost generation’ to refer to those that had experienced World War One. Hemingway popularised the phrase, and dealt with this precise subject in his novel, The Sun Also Rises. Hemingway conveyed the sense of purposeless and aimlessness that characterised the expatriate generation, and examined how their lives had been subverted by the hypocrisy of fighting for alleged noble aims in a conflict involving mass slaughter and immense suffering. The horrific suffering inflicted by World War One upon members of the Lost Generation is the main theme of Hemingway’s novel, and while he explores many other themes and motifs in the book, the aimlessness and casual drifting of the expatriate generation is the subject to which Hemingway closely hews throughout his first novel. They experienced a significant cultural and social rupture; the pre-war values (or at least what had been promoted as the values of the imperialist powers) of honour, sacrifice and nationalism were used in the service of a horrendous conflict that consumed an entire generation.

There are many themes that Hemingway elaborates in The Sun Also Rises, and a detailed examination of all of them is not the purpose here. Suffice it to say that the main subject of a Lost Generation has contemporary relevance. There is another emerging lost generation in Europe, but not as a result of an intra-European war. There are no bombs exploding, or bullets flying, the suffering and social dislocation experienced by the today’s generation in Europe is no less real. The cause of another lost generation is a different kind of warfare; an economic experiment that condemns millions to impoverishment and daily suffering while enriching a tiny, exploitative minority. Humanitarian crises are certainly evident after a natural disaster, or prolonged warfare. But never before has human suffering been inflicted in slow-motion, economically piecemeal fashion as in capitalist Europe today. The economic crisis of capitalism, having created a vast social pyramid of economic inequality, is now engulfing millions of Europeans as the main imperialist institutions, such as the IMF, the World Bank and the European Central Bank, implement so-called ‘bailout’ packages, enforcing regimes of austerity on the general population. The millions will now pay for the ‘bailout’ in the form of cutbacks to social welfare, wages, working conditions, pensions, and in the latest case of Cyprus, their bank savings. Plundering the savings of what were supposed to be government-backed deposits from workers and pensioners in order to pay for the ‘bailout’ would be called bank robbery in any other country – and it is. When the European Central Bank and IMF impose policies that result in massive losses for long-term depositors and savers results in the spectre of a run on the banks – depositors hurriedly withdrawing their money, then the question has to be asked, in whose interest do the big banks and politicians govern?

Greece was the first country to undergo this social and economic experiment – and is now facing a serious humanitarian crisis. What does that mean? While there is no universally agreed definition of a humanitarian crisis, the lack of social services, the cutbacks to social safety nets, the increasing immiseration of larger segments of the working population, and the growing inequality of provision of education and health services results in greater suffering for an increasing number of people. Previously economically productive people are becoming ever more vulnerable to financial shocks. Living in conditions of preventable material deprivation, more and more ordinary people are driven into psychological problems.

Giorgios Chatzis, a 60-year old construction, left a message on his wife’s telephone back in August 2012:

 “I will not be coming home. I have no more to offer. I am nothing anymore. I love you all. Take care of the children.”

Chatzis committed suicide. Why?

This 60-year-old construction worker had just learned that he was losing his disability benefit of 350 euros per month. He had been drawing on it for four years, in addition to a pre-retirement payment of 50 euros per month. These 400 euros made up the only income for the whole family. When he learned he was losing his disability benefits, after having made several attempts to keep them, he took his own life. His body was found later.

Giorgios Chatzis would have had to wait five more years without income just to receive a reduced retirement of 300 euros per month. The latest austerity package effectively calls for pushing back the retirement age to 67 years, which would have added two years to the total during which he would not have paid in to the private-sector retirement fund, which would have reduced even more the monthly amount of what they called “retirement.”

His case is only one out of millions of examples. The quotes above are from the article “Greece’s social crisis” by Charles-André Udry examining the magnitude of the humanitarian crisis in Greece as a direct result of the vaunted ‘bailout’  package. The author also looks at the gangrenous crisis consuming the lives of young workers, whose jobs have been cut back and the social stress that is taking lives. It is not just the ‘periphery’ that is experiencing humanitarian suffering and social dislocation; the frontal class warfare attack on the welfare state in Spain, Portugal and Ireland has resulted in reductions in wages, pensions, the privatisation of social services, the loss of public education and the consequent increase of social and psychological problems. According to the London School of Economics, the suicide rate in Spain has increased threefold because of the unbearable stress caused by losing one’s home. These kinds of socially destructive policies are being implemented because the financial and industrial elites of the European powers have decided that the social welfare state is no longer affordable. The chiefs of the European Central Bank, along with politicians in various European countries, all agree that the social welfare state has to be dismantled in order to keep the capitalist economic model going.

The countries of the Mediterranean are not the only European states undergoing significant economic contraction and social immiseration. The much-vaunted Baltic republics, (Lithuania, Lativa, Estonia) hailed as economic powerhouses after they broke away from the Soviet Union in 1991, have been economically shrinking since the 2008 global financial crisis.  The Baltic states, along with the rest of the former Eastern bloc, adopted neoliberal economic prescriptions imported from the IMF and World Bank, where local elites made a fortune as their countries were integrated into the capitalist market. The Baltic states implemented the individualistic, IMF-driven economic model from the inception of their independence; there own version of Thatcherism, where social spending was slashed, government assets (built up under the Soviet period) were privatised, and education was cut back. In 2009, soon after the global economic crisis, riots broke out in the Baltic states, puncturing the myth of the ‘Baltic tigers’. The Baltic states are currently under a great degree of social stress, but there is one way that the Baltic populations have avoided the economic crisis in their own countries – by leaving them. The working age and able-bodied population of the Baltics is simply choosing to leave the shrinking economies of their homelands in order to find employment and financial security in other countries. The authors of a Counterpunch article explain that:

As the economic crisis intensified, unemployment grew from a relatively low level of 4.1 per cent in 2007 to 18.3 per cent in the second quarter of 2010 with a concomitant increase in emigration from 26,600 in 2007 to 83,200 in 2010. This was the highest level of emigration since 1945 and comparable only with the depopulation of the country during World War II. Since the restoration of independence in 1990, out of a population of some 3.7 million 615,000 had left the country; three fourths were young persons (up to 35 years old), many of them educated and with jobs in Lithuania. By 2008, the emigration rate from Lithuania became the highest among the EU countries (2.3 per 1,000), and double that of the next highest country, Latvia (1.1 per 1,000).

The high emigration rate, the demographic and social costs of such neoliberal austerity policies make us question the capitalist economic model and its claims to provide prosperity for all. Removing the people from an economic system is hardly an indicator of that model’s success. Back in 2010, economists Michael Hudson and Jeffrey Summers were documenting the staggering decline of Latvia’s economy:

Latvia has experienced one of the world’s worst economic crises. It is not only economic, but demographic. Its 25.5 per cent plunge in GDP over just the past two years (almost 20 per cent in this past year alone) is already the worst two-year drop on record.  The IMF’s own rosy forecasts anticipate a further drop of 4 per cent, which would place the Latvian economic collapse ahead of the United States’ Great Depression.

The highly financialised, capitalist system imported into the Baltics from the ‘free market’ fundamentalists of the IMF, the European Central Bank and the financial elites of Europe are causing a social breakdown in the Baltic republics, just as serious but less publicised than the humanitarian emergencies in Greece and Cyprus.

There is one other theme that Hemingway elaborates in his novel that is relevant for our purposes here. The first character that Hemingway introduces in his book is not the main protagonist, Jake Barnes, the American World War One veteran. The book opens by introducing the character Robert Cohn, who managed to avoid serving in the Great War. Cohn is Jewish, and Hemingway repeatedly and frequently reminds the reader than Cohn is Jewish. He is also the most disagreeable character in the novel; the other members of the expatriate group frequently mock and ridicule Cohn. The latter is the whipping-boy of the group, the target of their taunts and the butt of their jokes. The Cohn character is the outsider, unable to fit in with the rest of the group, separated by an unbridgeable gulf. Certainly Cohn is an outsider because he is not a war veteran, unlike the rest of the cast of Hemingway’s characters. But Cohn is also the only Jewish person, and he is repeatedly ostracised by the others in the group. At several points, Hemingway has one character refer to Cohn as a ‘kike’, a derogatory word for a Jewish person.

Was Hemingway anti-semitic, or was he accurately portraying the attitudes of his contemporaries towards Jewish people? The answer is a bit of both. Hemingway, like all writers, is a product of his times. Casual anti-Semitism was quite common in the 1920s and 1930s Europe and America. Other writers’ of Hemingway’s generation, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, also used anti-Semitic characterisations in their works. In Hemingway’s novel, the one character that is singled out for ridicule and constant mockery is Robert Cohn. There are many instances of interaction between Cohn and the other characters where Cohn is clearly the eternal outsider, and he is an outsider precisely because of his Jewishness. Hemingway possessed a superficial anti-Semitism, and in this he imbibed the prevailing racial perspectives that were ubiquitous in 1920s America and Europe. This does not excuse his anti-Semitism, but only seeks to place it in a wider social and cultural context. Epithets about Jews (and other ethnic groups) were used casually in books and media. It was not uncommon to find cartoons in newspapers using anti-Semitic stereotypes of the ‘evil Jews’, constantly scheming behind the backs of the liberal Westerners.

This point is important to understand, because there is contemporary relevance. While anti-Semitic images and politics are still sadly with us (particularly in Eastern Europe), this particular prejudice has been replaced by Islamophobia, the core of which is anti-Arab racism, applied to the wider Islamic countries and communities. The stereotype of the hook-nosed, duplicitous, scheming alien Jew has been largely replaced by the stereotype of the hook-nosed, duplicitous, scheming Muslim, taking advantage of the liberal-democratic West to spread their secret agenda of jihadism and Shariah law once our backs are turned. The Muslim person is now the eternal outsider, unable to assimilate or participate in ‘our’ democratic system. A great deal of Islamophobia is of course politically-driven. As the United States, since the end of World War One, strove to control greater portions of the Arabic-speaking world for its oil and geostrategic resources, any political group or movement that stood in its way has been demonised. That has meant the Arab ‘other’ has always been regarded as the outsider, the eternal enemy to be confronted. During the Cold War, the Palestinians, secular Arab nationalists were the main victims of this cultural assault. Beginning in the 1980s, but especially since the ‘war on terror’ began in 2001, the ‘other’ has encompassed the Islamic peoples of the world. Islamophobia is not just a cultural exercise, but also serves a useful function as an ideological prop for US imperialism. While the rabid, raving Islamophobia of populistic clowns like the execrable Geert Wilders attract condemnation, it is the creeping, but no-less-subtle form of Islamophobia in the corporate-driven media culture that is gaining ‘respectability’.

Hemingway’s novel, while exploring the major theme of the Lost Generation, never descends into pessimism. On the contrary, Hemingway recounts the resilience and fortitude of the lost generation, and while they have been damaged, they are never the forgotten or hopeless generation. In fact, the title of the book was chosen precisely to illustrate the capacity of the human spirit to defy the odds and revive. Hemingway actually took the title from a verse in the Book of Ecclesiastes (1:3–5):

What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun? One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever. The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.

The current generation of Europeans is not wasting any time; they are already fighting back for an alternative future.

Broken genius – the case of William Shockley

William Shockley (1910-1989) was a remarkably talented physicist, professor emeritus of electrical engineering at Stanford University and a pioneer of research into semiconductors, the materials which comprise the building blocks of semiconductor electronic components. He was the co-inventor of the transistor, the invention that amplifies and switches electronic signals. The implications and applications of the transistor were immense, washing over the fields of electronic communications, computing and general electronics. It is safe to say that without the transistor, the modern electronically-based age would be impossible. Shockley, along with his co-inventors and fellow physicists, John Bardeen and Walter Brattain, shared the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1956. While Bardeen and Brattain were the ones that directly worked on the research that led to the first point-contact transistor, Shockley was their supervisor at Bell Laboratories, the leader of the solid state physics group, and his semiconductor theories and research work paved the way for Bardeen and Brattain. The transistor replaced the outmoded and inefficient vacuum tube, and boosted the field of electronics tremendously. It is no exaggeration to say that today, nearly every home in the industrialised countries has countless transistors, applied in various forms of electronic machinery. The transistor led to integrated circuits, and then the ubiquitous microprocessor. The latter, combined with the computer, made possible the exponential growth and application of computers to nearly every branch of industry, from finance to telecommunications.

Shockley’s achievements were not limited to the field of electronics; he did important work for the United States military during World War Two, applying his immense mathematical knowledge to the war effort. He worked on a team that calculated the statistical improvement of air power, and advised the US Air Force on how to increase the efficiency and accuracy of its bombing campaign. His work also influenced the US Navy to better target the menacing German U-Boat, the latter engaged in harassing North Atlantic trade between Britain and the United States.

Shockley’s post-World War Two start-up company, Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory, provided the basis for a group of scientists and researchers that seeded what  is known until today as ‘Silicon Valley’, the home of the largest computing and technology corporations. Two of the scientists that Shockley employed went on to found Intel Corporation, today the largest manufacturer of microprocessors based on semiconductor technology. Shockley recruited the electrical engineers and physicists that form the core of the companies that began in the Santa Clara Valley, Northern California.

But if Shockley is remembered today, it is not for his work on the transistor. From the 1960s onwards, Shockley became an outspoken advocate for racial eugenics. Shockley was hardly alone in proposing a genetically-based definition of human intelligence. He was certainly not the first to attempt classifying people into distinct, biologically-determined categories called ‘races’ and endow them with social and behavioural attributes. But Shockley was not just anybody – he was an outstanding scientist and inventor, winner of the Nobel Prize. Venturing out of his field, he proposed that intelligence was largely determined by heredity, and that heredity was reflected in racial categories. The US has a long history of applying the pseudo-science of eugenics, and applying policies on that dubious basis, such as implementing immigration restrictions. In the 1960s, racial theories, and the associated biological determinism that regards the variety of human behaviour as having a genetically-determined foundation, was under attack from the rising civil rights movements, the growing anti-Vietnam war campaigns and the increasing student radicalisation on campuses. Equality between the so-called ‘races’, an assertion of African-American, (and native American) identity and dignity found their reflection on universities through the opening of research departments and courses teaching the history and philosophy of racism, African-American history and literature, colonialism and anti-colonial struggles.

In this charged environment, Shockley, whose stated concern was the quality of human life, steps up and expresses the viewpoint that the reason African Americans consistently score lower on IQ tests is because they are not as genetically-endowed with intelligence as their white American counterparts. He stated that the ‘less intelligent’ were multiplying, and this condition threatened the quality of the human race. Proceeding from his insistence that intelligence is genetically determined, and that races are immutable categories, he was concerned about the ‘retrograde’ effect of allowing the lesser-intelligent stock out-breeding the mainly white, cognitive elite.

Shockley was never an out-and-out Ku Klux Klan-style white supremacist, but his views about the racially determined categorisation of intelligence in humans crashed against the intellectual currents of the 1960s and 1970s. He was absolutely convinced that the future of the human species could be improved by stopping the ‘imbeciles’ from breeding. Shockley was proposed what he called ‘raceology’, the study of races and their inherited intelligence.

Shockley was met with vociferous protests, his colleagues shunned him, he was ostracised by the scientific community, and attacked by student groups whenever he spoke on university campuses. In the early 1970s, a group of students at Stanford University burned Shockley in effigy. The anthropologists and cultural theorists wrote articles attacking his pseudo-scientific theories, and even biologists and geneticists were criticising his racialist views on intelligence.

How did such a prominent scientist, a pioneer in his field and respected, winner of the Nobel Prize, have such a dramatic fall? That is the subject of a fascinating biography of William Shockley by Joel Shurkin. The book is called ‘Broken Genius: The rise and fall of William Shockley, creator of the electronic age’. Shurkin does not engage in a straightforward demonisation of his subject, but rather attempts to understand why such a successful and prominent scientist could fall from grace so publicly and remain unaware of the impact of his views. Shurkin is an articulate writer, and he offers a vivid portrait of the man and his milieu. When the book was published back in 2006, Shurkin was interviewed by the ABC’s Radio National. Shurkin had access to Shockley’s personal archives and diaries, and speaking during the interview, described Shockley as follows:

He was a nasty old man. One of his friends actually described him as having reverse charisma; he would walk into a room and you instantly took a disliking to him. He was, at one time, a young man, a nice young man, not a particularly lovable young man. He was, among other things, extraordinarily bright, brighter than anybody he’d ever run into and he knew it, he was a bit arrogant about it. He lacked socialisation, his parents were, let’s say eccentric, kept him out of school until the 8th grade, so he grew up not knowing how to handle and deal with other people.

Shurkin, taking advantage of the Shockley diaries, portrays a man who was remarkably intelligent in scientific and technical matters, but sorely lacking in social and people skills. Shurkin details the struggles of Shockley’s subordinates who frequently bore the brunt of his criticism and stinging attacks. Shockley was a brilliant man, but lacked what we would today call emotional intelligence. In fact, the core team of scientists that Shockley recruited for his company eventually got so exasperated and frustrated by Shockley’s authoritarian and overbearing managerial style, that they all basically left his company and founded their own ventures which led to the formation of Silicon Valley. Shockley referred to this group of scientists as the ‘traitorous eight’. Shurkin details the attempts by Shockley’s employees to find a compromise solution, to work out their differences – all to no avail. Even Shockley’s Nobel Prize co-winners, John Bardeen and Walter Brattain, sensed that Shockley harboured a certain jealousy or animosity that they had directly worked on the research for the first transistor, even though Shockley’s contribution as the overall project leader is obvious and cannot be denied. Brattain and Bardeen had increasing difficulties dealing with Shockley when they were at Bell Labs, even though, as Shurkin documents, the two of them stated that ‘there’s enough glory in this for everybody’.

Shurkin, an outstanding science writer, admirably details the scientific technicalities of semiconductor and transistor research, while also conveying the complexities of the nature-nurture debate with regard to human intelligence. He examines the responses of other psychologists and anthropologists on the ‘gene-versus-environment’ controversy, a debate that still resounds to this day. Sadly, Shockley’s views invited attacks as a racist and ignoramus in the field of biology. Psychologists and biologists currently regard the controversy as outdated, and speak of the interaction between genes and environment. We realise our nature through our nurturing environmental influences. Shockley, by advocating such genetic-determinist views on race and intelligence, seemed like an atavistic throwback, to a time in America’s history when immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe (particularly Jewish immigrants) were screened out because of their alleged intellectual inferiority to the superior Nordic races. Shockley’s technical brilliance in opening up the field of semiconductor research was overshadowed by his pronouncements on race. Shockley’s scientific reputation was corrupted, and his considerable achievements were largely forgotten in the maelstrom of controversy about his racial views. Shurkin avoids the temptation to dismiss his subject as a lunatic, but rather attempts to identify the trajectory that Shockley followed from public admiration to condemnation.

Shakespeare comes to Baghdad – the Iraq war continues

William Shakespeare (1564-1616), the great English playwright and dramatist, wrote a number of historical plays concerning various periods in English history. These plays are not as well known and less-frequently performed than his comedies, tragedies and romantic works. One of his main historical plays is Henry VI (Parts one, two and three). The play examines the course of English political and social life after the death of King Henry V, and the effects of English losses in the Hundred Years’ War. England had lost the bulk of its territories in France, and the political repercussions in England manifested themselves in a series of intrigues and machinations by various factions of the English ruling class. These conflicts reached a head with the Wars of the Roses, when two competing branches of the one royal family (the Plantagenets) fought an inter-dynastic civil war for political and economic supremacy.

Parts Two and Three of the Henry VI trilogy examine the role of the King, his inability to stabilise the political situation, the arming of the various rival houses (Lancaster and York), and the eventual explosion of armed conflict. It is a gripping, tumultuous series of plays, at once enthralling and disturbing. The infighting among the English landed nobility in the wake of English losses of land and resources in France is portrayed sharply by Shakespeare, and evokes powerful emotions. What happens to the ordinary people of a country when its ruling class fragments into warring factions? After inciting English nationalism for a war of conquest in France, once the territories are lost, all nationalist feeling evaporates. The welfare of England as a nation is no longer the paramount objective, but the advancement of the narrow, sectional interests of various factions of the dynastic clans that made up the ruling elite of England.

What is the relevance of this historical play for contemporary times? Patrick Cockburn, the expert foreign correspondent for The Independent states it plainly:

Want to know what Iraq is like now? Check out ‘Henry VI’, parts I, II and III

That is the title of his article in The Independent online newspaper, where he examines the eerie similarities between the conflict for supremacy in Baghdad with the historical account of the fight for victory within the English ruling dynasty during the Wars of the Roses. The corporate media has largely ignored the human tragedies of the Iraq war since 2008, mainly because of a well-crafted myth; the surge. The addition of an extra 30 000 American troops in Iraq back in 2007, so the story goes, successfully reduced insurgent attacks on US troops, providing extra muscle to deal with the Iraqi insurgent groups. Actually, as Mike Whitney explains in his article in Counterpunch, the ‘surge’ was a publicity exercise aimed at disguising the shift in tactics of the American military. What actually occurred was the ethnic and sectarian cleansing of Baghdad. Whitney goes on to detail how the US political and military leadership, faced with a stubborn insurgency that could not be defeated, changed tactics to one of ethnic divide-and-rule. The US created sectarian-based death squads from the local population, mainly from the Shia community, and sent them to fight and torture insurgents.

The change in tactics was not accidental, because the US has vast experience in training and arming para-military death squads that operate outside the law – they have been using this tactic for years in many Latin American countries. In fact, the main American military commander in Iraq at the time, General David Petraeus, employed Colonel James Steele, a retired US Special Forces veteran. Steele has had vast experience in death squad tactics, because he actually studied and implemented counterinsurgency warfare in El Salvador back in the 1980s. Now the Pentagon is (ostensibly) investigating the links between the torture chambers in Iraq and the political and military leadership of the United States. There cannot be any cross-sectarian reconciliation in Iraq until all the details about the torture chambers and death squads of the US dirty war in Iraq are fully exposed and culprits punished.

The irony of the situation is that prior to the 2003 American invasion of Iraq, there was no sectarian animosity. Various ethnic communities mingled, intermarried and did business together. Under the rule of Saddam Hussein, a Sunni privileged-elite did emerge, but that was based more on the political loyalty to the Ba’athist party. To advance in Ba’athist-dominated Iraq, joining the military or the police was the surest way to gain steady employment and benefits.

With the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the US military and political command fueled sectarian hatred in order to divert the energies of the largely Sunni-led insurgency. What has all this got to do with the surge and the apparent reduction in US casualties? As Mike Whitney explains in his Counterpunch article, the main Shia insurgent force, the Madhi Army led by nationalist and populist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr declared a ceasefire for a year. The US military authorities bought off a section of the Sunni insurgency by enlisting them in so-called ‘Awakening Councils’ to attack and defeat al-Qaeda linked groups. The systematic ethnic cleansing of Iraqi Sunnis from Baghdad, carried out by the Shia-dominated regime of current Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, was well underway in 2007 and 2008. These factors combined succeeded in reducing the number and intensity of attacks on US troops. The vaunted ‘surge’ did have a purpose;

the surge was used to cover an equally-heinous war crime, the massive ethnic cleansing of Baghdad’s Sunni population, millions of who were either killed, tortured or forced to flee to Jordan or Syria.

The entire article by Mike Whitney can be read here in Counterpunch online.

Failure to address the crimes of ethnic cleansing, torture and rendition makes a mockery of US claims to have brought democracy to Iraq. The recent protests, mainly by Iraqi Sunnis, have attempted to combat the sectarianism of the Maliki administration and has gained the support of the Shia cleric and politician Muqtada al-Sadr. Into this political powder-keg, Sunni extremist groups (linked to the petro-monarchies in Saudi Arabia and Qatar) are trying to stoke the fires of a Sunni-based sectarian backlash. Reconciliation will be impossible unless the criminal role of the United States is fully revealed and the perpetrators brought to justice.

Let us make one last observation; David Frum, the Bush-Cheney administration speechwriter and author of the now-famous phrase ‘Axis of Evil’, has just written an article confirming what the anti-war movement stated was the main motivation of the American drive to war. The anti-war activists were routinely vilified, ridiculed and slandered for even daring to suggest one overriding motivation for the US to occupy Iraq. While all wars have multiple motivations and agendas, reflecting the priorities of the various factions of the ruling class, the one claim for this Iraq war (the claim most stigmatised and attacked) has now been confirmed by Frum; Iraq would be an additional reservoir of oil as an alternative to exclusive dependency on Saudi Arabia.

Read the whole article by Glenn Greenwald here.

Let’s not forget that Iraq is still the issue

Patrick Cockburn, veteran foreign correspondent for the Independent newspaper and analyst of Middle Eastern politics, has written a stinging article about the current deplorable state of political and economic affairs in Iraq. Ten years after the 2003 American invasion, Iraq remains a deeply fractured state, with the Shias in power but not in control of a country wracked by poverty, the breakdown of social services and mired in corruption. Cockburn rightly emphasizes that the international community, preoccupied with the Syrian civil war, has forgotten that Iraq is still facing a humanitarian tragedy. Cockburn’s article was reprinted in the political online magazine, Counterpunch.

Cockburn begins his article with a stark assessment:

Iraq is disintegrating as a  country under the pressure of a mounting political, social and economic crisis, say Iraqi leaders.

They add that 10 years after the US invasion and occupation the conflict between the three main communities – Shia, Sunni and Kurd – is deepening to a point just short of civil war. “There is zero trust between Iraqi leaders,” says an Iraqi politician in daily contact with them. But like many of those interviewed by The Independent for this article, he did not want to be identified by name.

While the new ‘liberated’ Iraq technically acquires 100 billion dollars in oil revenue, most of that money disappears into the pockets of a corrupt political-military bureaucracy, financial contractors and speculators. There is construction going on in Baghdad – of military outposts and police stations. However, in the working class district of Sadr City, Cockburn found frequent flooding and untreated sewage, with all the health consequences that this state of affairs entails.

This kind of corruption – Cockburn calls it ‘institutionalized kleptocracy’ in another of his articles –  means that all Iraqi ‘governments’ installed by American military forces have failed to provide electricity, clean water or sanitation to its residents, something that was unthinkable under the Saddam Hussein regime. The autonomous Kurdistan region in the north, while presented as an economic model, is also riven with corruption and theft of public funds. The privatisation of the oil sector, legislated by the American-backed Kurdish political parties, has provided wealth to a minority, while the facade of progress is maintained by the rise of skyscrapers and visits by foreign delegations from the UAE, Turkey, Germany and France. As one Kurdish critic of the regime put it to Cockburn:

“We are making the same mistake with the Turks today as we did with the Americans and the Shah in 1975. We are once again becoming over-reliant on foreign powers.”

For all their professions of independence, let us not forget that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) still depends heavily on obtaining a share of Iraqi oil revenues proportionate to its population. While Kurdish influence in Baghdad has fallen, the KRG has built economic and political links with the old enemy, Turkey – a counterweight to Baghdad, but successive Turkish governments have had no hesitation in using their armed might to kill and suppress the autonomous Kurds in the north of Iraq. The Kurds have pursued deals with foreign oil corporations, but Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has stated that if the KRG follows through with their plans, they will face the Iraqi army.

Prime Minister Maliki rules the country as an autocrat, relying on the Shia-dominated, heavily sectarian police and army to brutally crack down on protests and dissent. The use of secret prisons, torture chambers and widespread police presence is well documented in Maliki’s Iraq. It should come as no surprise that ‘democracy’ is just a catchphrase in Iraq today, because the Maliki regime has had training and support from the experts in police repression and torture – the United States. The Guardian reported earlier this month that high-level Pentagon officials were responsible for arming and training the Iraqi units responsible for the torture and repression of dissidents throughout the 2006-07 stages of the Iraq war. General David Petraeus in particular is a veteran of counterinsurgency wars, having learned his craft in Latin America, and implementing the same death-squad techniques in Iraq in the 2000s. As Cockburn goes on to explain, Prime Minister Maliki:

He (Maliki) has sought to monopolise control over the army, intelligence service, government apparatus and budget, making sure that his supporters get the lion’s share of jobs and contracts. His State of Law Coalition won only 24 per cent of the votes in the 2010 election – 2.8 million  votes out of 19 million registered voters – but he has ruled as if he had received an overwhelming mandate.

The current Iraqi regime, boxed inside the Green Zone, makes no secret of its sectarian allegiances. Shia slogans and pictures dominate the landscape, and the Sadrist movement, headed by cleric and nationalist Muqtada al-Sadr, maintains a fractious alliance with Maliki. While the Sadrists are driven by nationalistic and populist considerations, they are wary of instigating an intra-Shia civil war. The Sadrists combine social activism with an intense religious piety, and are seeking to transform themselves from an insurgent army (they did the heavy fighting back in the 2004-08, inflicting serious defeats on the Americans) into a respectable political and social force in the country. The Sadrists and their social base strongly oppose the Maliki regime’s monopolisation of power in the army and police, but against attempts to bring down the current power arrangement. The Shias are in power, but they are divided and not necessarily in control in today’s Iraq.

The blame for the current parlous nature of the Iraqi nation must be placed firmly on the shoulders of the United States ruling class. The 1990s witnessed an eruption of American militarism, part of which was the 1991 attack on Iraq. Through the use of its weaponry and subsequent economic sanctions, the US wanted to reduce a reasonably industrialised and educated Arab society to a pre-industrial level. The invasion of 2003 brought untold misery and suffering for the Iraqi people, with the reduction of health care, education, and interestingly a sharp reversal of the position of women in Iraqi society. The Iraqi people have paid a terrible price for the depredations and attacks of US imperialism. Since December 2012 however, there have been ongoing protests by Iraqis against the precarious situation, demanding their rights in a non-sectarian, democratic way.

Go read Patrick Cockburn’s entire article in Counterpunch here.

Unresolved issues, Fallujah and Iraqi protests

The Washington Post, the ‘liberal’ mouthpiece of the US ruling class, published an interesting article earlier this month examining the latest round of protests to erupt in Fallujah, Iraq, against the current Iraqi regime of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. In similar tactics used by other Arab protesters in this Arab Awakening, the mainly Sunni demonstrators in Fallujah have risen up because of unresolved grievances since the armed truce of 2008-09 and the purported withdrawal of American forces in 2011. Although the US withdrawal was accompanied with great fanfare, the US has mandated a more discreet, clandestine presence in Iraq through its intelligence services, special force operatives and armed mercenaries. The withdrawal was more about removing the immediate, direct presence of the US and rebranding the occupation in more disguised form. But make no mistake, the withdrawal of US forces from the major cities of Iraq represents a serious defeat for US policy in that country.

The current peaceful protests in Iraq, triggered by the sacking and suppression of Iraqi Sunni politicians in Maliki’s coalition government, actually reflect wider political and social grievances that stem from the destructive US invasion of that country and the failure of the current Iraqi government. The Sunni Iraqis feel disenfranchised and ignored by the current Maliki administration, and have campaigned to remove the sectarian influence of the Shia-dominated Baghdad government. Maliki has accused the protests of being orchestrated by external powers, namely the Sunni regimes of Qatar and Saudi Arabia. His accusations are unfounded and reflect a desperate attempt to deflect attention from the real, unresolved grievances of the Iraqi population. The protesters denounce the sectarian hostility of the Maliki government, the widespread corruption and use of torture, the lack of employment and education, the breakdown of basic social services, and the general economic downturn that has afflicted Iraq since the US invasion.

The Iraqis on the streets of Fallujah are motivated by the historic and unbroken line of Iraqi Arab nationalism. The Iraqi people have carried out several nationalist uprisings throughout the twentieth century. The Iraqis first rose in 1920 against the British colonial regime and its puppets, the royalist dictatorship of King Faisal I. In 1958, the British-supported monarchy was overthrown in a nationalist revolution, and ushered in the period of Republican Iraq and Ba’athist Party political domination. It is no secret that the rise and rule of Saddam Hussein, a Ba’athist official, was supported and nurtured by US intelligence agencies, namely the CIA. Hussein was a key asset for the United States throughout the 1980s in Iraq’s long and savage war against Iran. The Ba’athist party controlled the police state apparatus of the regime, and committed its worst crimes against the Iraqi Kurds and Shias while receiving military arms and largesse from the imperialist powers. The Ba’athist regime promoted Iraqi nationalism, through its educational policies, identifying the Babylonian and Islamic heritage of the country with the Hussein regime.

The first American attack on Iraq in 1991, and the subsequent sanctions regime, reduced the economic and social health of the country. But the 2003 US invasion brought death and destruction to a relatively developed society, destroying the electricity, health and education infrastructure of the country. The American-installed regime, having swept out the Ba’athist Party from power, resorted to extreme violence, torture and sectarian killing to suppress the population. After the mass insurgency by the Iraqi people throughout the mid-2000s, the Maliki regime came to an arrangement of sorts to end the immediate violence and include various Shia militias in a new political setup. However, Maliki is entirely dependent on the United States and Iran, the latter having gained an increased presence in the country with the removal of the Hussein regime. Iraqi government forces, trained and armed by the United States, have attacked the recent protests.

It is important to view these protests not just as a ‘Sunni’ concern, but rather a resurgence of Iraqi Arab nationalist political motivation. The demands of the protesters are not confined to a purely sectarian viewpoint – they are articulating basic demands for an improved economic and political system. Among their list of demands is the release of political prisoners, and end to torture and the death penalty, the provision of health and electricity services to impoverished communities, to stop corruption and to fight against sectarianism.

Patrick Cockburn, writing in Counterpunch, has explained that this revolt is motivated by domestic concerns, grievances that have remained unaddressed since the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. He writes that Maliki does not have the force to suppress this revolt;

It is unlikely the Maliki government would succeed where Saddam and the US failed. It has military superiority but not dominance in Iraq, fully controlling only about half the country. It has no authority in the Kurdistan Regional Government’s three provinces or in the Kurdish-held disputed territories further south. Its authority is contested in the Sunni majority provinces and cities in western and central Iraq.

Go read Cockburn’s complete article here.

The Iraqi revolt has demolished the myth peddled by the corporate media that the Iraqi war is ‘all over’. The protesters are responding to the unhealed wounds and divisions caused by the US occupation and its compliant tool, the Maliki regime. They give hope that the Iraqis are rising up to assert their legitimate demands to repair the damage done by the US war and sectarian division.

The prime minister, the weapons salesman and the hypocrite

The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, traveled to the Persian Gulf countries back in November 2012, the royalist dictatorships that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council. He spoke to the rulers of the various petro-monarchies, including the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Speaking to the media, he defined the purpose of his trip – to encourage British weapons sales to those regimes, to smooth over any difficulties that British armaments manufacturers might have in their dealings with the Gulf states, and to increase lucrative contracts for the British Aerospace systems company (BAE). The Guardian newspaper elaborated on the trip, stating that:

“Speaking to students in the UAE’s capital, Abu Dhabi, Cameron said: “I’m a supporter of the Arab spring, the opportunity of moving towards more open societies, more open democracies, I think is good for the Middle East, for North Africa.”

The same story in the Guardian explained that the British government, while paying lip service to the Arab awakening, values its most important strategic allies in the Gulf region, namely regimes such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries have been generous recipients of British military hardware, and Cameron did his best as a traveling weapons salesman and prime minister.  In fact, Cameron was quite unapologetic about British arms sales, stating that the UAE should replace its declining fleet of French-supplied Mirage jets with the latest hardware from Britain. In 2009, Saudi Arabia assisted the Yemeni government to violently suppress anti-government demonstrations in that country by lending Yemen UK-built fighter planes and military equipment. Saudi Arabia also assisted the violent crackdown of the Bahraini uprising in 2011, and all the while the corporate media minimised the brutality of the Bahraini government’s suppression. The British government sold millions of pounds worth of military hardware directly to the Bahraini state during the 2011 political unrest. Cameron met with the Bahraini King in London during the 2011 London Olympics, where King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa was an honoured guest.

The British foreign secretary, William Hague, opined that while his government had raised concerns about the appalling human rights record of the Bahraini and Saudi Arabian regimes, he assured the House of Commons that Saudi forces were only sent in to Bahrain to guard military installations and not to participate in the suppression of demonstrations. Apparently Saudi forces were just helpless bystanders, caught up in defending the fragile Bahraini dictatorship from the maelstrom of violence unleashed by the anti-government demonstrations. Hague continued:

On Saudi Arabia, Hague said the government had raised concerns about its treatment of women and foreign workers. But 99% of Britain’s exports to the kingdom consisted of Typhoon jets. “They are not relevant to our concerns about these rights,” the foreign secretary said.

Early in January 2013, PM Cameron made a quick trip to his friend and ally, the petro-monarchy of Saudi Arabia, to discuss further economic and political cooperation. The question of weapons sales was top on the agenda, but their discussions also encompassed the growing spheres of energy and security cooperation. The BBC article explained the importance of the visit:

Saudi Arabia is the UK’s largest trading partner in the Middle East with annual trade worth £15bn a year. It has £62bn invested in the UK economy.

Without a hint of irony, Cameron went on to deplore the ‘appalling bloodshed’ on the streets of Syria, and called for renewed efforts by the Arab League to deal with the tyrannical regime of Bashar al-Assad.

When George Galloway, Respect Party MP and sitting member for Bradford West, asked the Prime Minister why the government fully supported the ongoing French intervention in Mali against supposedly ‘Islamist extremist’ groups, but was quite happy to continue its support of Islamist extremist groups that are waging a war against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, Cameron sneeringly dismissed Galloway’s question, and attacked the latter as a supporter of Arab dictators. Apart from being a perverse accusation by Cameron, the British PM is studiously ignoring (or outright denying) that support for dictatorships in the Arab world is precisely long-standing British government policy.

Glenn Greenwald stated it plainly – the smear tactic used by Cameron, tarnishing opponents of war and militarism as apologists of dictators – shuts down debate and avoids the crucial issue. Opponents of the 2003 American invasion of Iraq were branded ‘Saddam supporters; those who opposed the NATO intervention in Libya were derided as ‘Gaddafi supporters;’ and fifty years ago, those who campaigned against the American war on Vietnam were maligned as ‘communist dupes’. By suppressing debate on the imperialist powers and their policies in the Arab and Islamic world, we are engaging in an act of self-delusion and hypocrisy, seeing US and its associated allies (such as Britain) as a force for ‘good’ in the world. When it comes to supporting dictatorships in the Arab countries, surely there is no better advocate for those regimes than David Cameron. Interestingly, over the two-year period 2010-2011, Britain exported $142 million worth of military hardware to the former Gaddafi regime in Libya. The secret police in Libya under Gaddafi were receiving training from British military personnel. And let us not forget that the widely despised Mubarak-regime in Egypt was fully supported by the United States. Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went on to proclaim in 2009 that Mubarak was a ‘personal friend’ – a touching reminder of just whom is considered a worthy ally by the imperialist states.

Go read Glenn Greenwald’s excellent article in full here.

The British prime minister is to be given credit for his multitasking skills – he combines the roles of politician, weapons salesman and hypocrite very elegantly.

Is the war on terror going to end? Obama says no…

The National Defence Authorisation Act, updated by the Obama administration for 2013, has been signed into law. It provides for the indefinite detention of any person suspected of ‘terrorism’ offences, prohibits the transfer of the remaining Guantanamo Bay detainees from that facility, and allows the US military to detain any person, even US citizens without any recourse to civilian courts and legal access. Obama, the ‘antiwar’ candidate of 2008, has not only continued the Bush-Cheney era ‘war on terror’, he is ensuring that its continuation, its corrosive effect on civil liberties, and the undermining of the already fragile democratic rights, will go on spreading its toxic effect.

The signing of this legislation represents a generalised attack on all civil liberties and basic constitutional practices. While the ‘war on terror’ was begun under the stewardship of Bush and Cheney, the Obama administration has ceaselessly expanded its provisions, and the assault on democratic rights has metamorphosed into an endless array of overseas unmanned drone strikes and targeted assassinations. The wondrous nature of the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) has been the subject of lyrical praise in the corporate media, a media that celebrates the explosion of US military adventures abroad while hailing the creeping police-state measures at home. America’s robot wars, raining missiles and drone strikes in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and other countries, is the logical outcome of a shadowy war that has no definition and with no end in sight. The only guiding principle of the ‘war on terror’ – renamed by Obama ‘overseas contingency operations‘ – is to extend the rule of the financial-corporate elite at the expense of the working people and undermine democratic rights.

The $633 billion dollar budget provided by passing of the National Defence Authorisation Act 2013 will go towards the continuing US occupation of Afghanistan, a country severely mauled by the US-sponsored ‘war on terror’, and its civilians will continue to bear the brunt of the Karzai occupation regime. The Karzai clique, installed and backed by foreign guns and bombs, is rightly regarded as a puppet of its imperialist sponsors. After eleven years, Afghanistan’s population still lives in dire poverty, the rebellion shows no signs of abating, and the US military machine has left its deleterious impact on the country. Afghanistan was the immediate target of the war on terror, and is still suffering under the heavy blows of the US occupation regime.

One prominent feature of the ongoing Afghan war in 2012 has been the increasing number of so-called ‘Green on Blue’ attacks – Afghan army soldiers who turn their guns on their alleged benefactors, the NATO occupation troops. The drone strikes, the daily humiliations of Afghans by US soldiers has understandably fueled resentment of the foreign occupying forces. Even the New York Times, the loyal lapdog of US empire, had to admit a simple truth that is obvious to everyone but the empire’s fervent supporters – people under foreign occupation will inevitably end up despising their occupiers, no matter the best intentions of the foreign troops. Sending US troops crashing and killing into other countries only escalates the anti-American resentment at the policies and murderous result of US foreign policy, a lesson that seems to be lost on the Obama administration. How long will it be before we see similar hatreds and resentments arise in Yemen, where that other democratic ally of the United States – the royalist dictatorship of Saudi Arabia – has joined the US drone war on Yemen by providing its own air force jets in cooperation with US forces.

Outsourcing torture was a policy begun by Bush-Cheney, but refined and extended under Obama. The ‘black sites’ – secret prisons where terrorism suspects were imprisoned and tortured, were established in countries that had friendly relations with the United States, such as Poland, Mubarak-era Egypt and interestingly, Qadhafi’s Libya. Torture became normalised, and it has become an acceptable method of dealing with incarcerated individuals. No less a figure than prominent Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, a vociferous supporter of America’s wars overseas (and Israel), made the case that there are times when torture is regrettably necessary in dealing with terrorism suspects. It was Obama’s own targeted assassination of Osama Bin Laden that opened the way for further impunity for torturers at home and abroad. One quiet achievement of the Obama administration in the last days of 2012 was the five-year extension of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), an act that continues the ability of the US government to monitor and record the emails and phone calls of any American citizen deemed to be in contact with an officially designated ‘terrorist’ organisation, or having a conversation with a ‘terror’ suspect. This practice has come to be known as ‘warrantless eavesdropping’ because under FISA, a court order from a civilian court to authorise the surveillance is unnecessary.

Obama’s administration has demonstrated its sheer contempt for democratic rights and civil liberties. Anyone deemed an ‘enemy of the state’ can be arrested and detained without due process. These legislative attacks have been accompanied by a cultural change, with the demonisation of Islamic communities, the targeting of the Arab and Muslim ‘other’ which only serves to encourage racist attacks and the vilification of the Islamic world. Having a distinctive, stereotypical cultural enemy is a necessary component to win public support, and undermine the ability of dissenting viewpoints to be heard. Any criticism of the ‘war on terror’ is met with howls of ‘traitor’, and the increasingly Islamophobic political climate stifles opposition to the police-state measures of the US ruling class. However, there are very courageous individuals, such as the Egyptian American pharmacist Tarek Mehanna. Sentenced to 17.5 years jail for a spurious and baseless ‘terrorism’ offence, he has written a very thoughtful and intelligent critique of the US ‘war on terror’ and its militarist adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. While we may disagree with a religious viewpoint, it is Mehanna’s articulate defence, his understanding of the political thought of our times, and his willingness to stand up against injustice are to be commended. His writing demonstrates a deep understanding of the US political and military system, something to which can all aspire.

Read Tarek Mehanna’s full statement here.