Egypt’s military rulers help to imprison the Palestinians of Gaza

The online magazine Common Dreams carried the following incisive article about the situation on Egypt’s contribution to the ongoing siege of the Gaza Strip:

Egypt joins Israel as Gaza’s jailer

The article, co-authored by Medea Benjamin and Pam Bailey, focuses on how in the past, Israel was the specific target of condemnation by human rights and activist groups for its ongoing blockade of Gaza. While the Israeli state still receives its fair share of criticism for its role in economically strangling Gaza and inflicting suffering on the Palestinians, the Egyptian militarist dictatorship should also by the target of stinging criticism. The Egyptian generals have not only continued to block off Gaza, the critical lifeline for the Palestinians through Rafah, previously open to humanitarian aid for the Palestinians, will also be restricted by the Egyptian military.

The article quotes from the Washington Post;

“As The Washington Post reported, “with Egypt’s military-backed interim government shutting down the tunnels and largely closing its own pedestrian crossing at Rafah, Gaza is increasingly shut off from the world”.

Egypt’s new military rulers are closely aligning themselves with Israel’s strategic objectives in the region. Shutting off access to the Gaza strip and isolating the Palestinians is one such objective with which the Egyptian military is fully cooperating with Israel. Activist groups such as Gaza Ark are deliberately including Egypt in their activities to lift the ongoing siege of the Palestinians in Gaza.

The Egyptian military is militarizing the border with Gaza, blowing up houses, and bulldozing properties on its territory. This is aimed at creating a no-man’s land buffer zone on its side of the border. Egyptian naval forces have also opened fire on fishermen from the Gaza strip, off the coastal waters of Rafah.

The situation inside Gaza is dire, with the following report that;

“On September 5, the Palestinian Energy Authority warned that the Gaza Power Plant is in danger of shutting down completely due to lack of fuel. If the plant shuts down, the result would be power outages of 12 to 16 hours-a-day, up from the current 8 to 12 hours, disabling water and waste-disposal systems as well as crippling many businesses.”

With the current focus on Syria, Iran and North Korea, the Egyptian military has been quietly and consistently building its alliance with the Israeli state to suppress the Palestinian population of Gaza. It is time to refocus the priorities.

Since the Egyptian military seized power in a coup back in July this year, Egypt’s President General Abdul Fatah al-Sisi has acted as a jailer of the Palestinians in Gaza. At least former Egyptian President, Mohammed Morsi, attempted to play the role of a mediator, allowing humanitarian aid to get through Rafah, and negotiating with various Palestinian political groups in order to reach a common solution. This did not necessarily mean that Morsi broke completely from the US-Israeli orbit – far from it. He maintained his relations with all the major imperialist powers and institutions. However, with his ousting in July 3 this year, the positive role that that Egyptian political leadership played with regard to the Palestinians has ended. General al-Sisi is marching in lock-step with Israeli strategic interests.

It is vital to highlight the increasing complicity of the Egyptian militarist rulers in the continuing blockade of the Gaza strip, because this month marks twenty years since the signing of the Oslo Accords and the beginning of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Richard Falk, a professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University and currently the UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights, gave a talk in Sydney this month, the contents of which are summarised in an article in Green Left Weekly. Falk’s presentation consisted of examining the current Israel-Palestine talks, but also providing some necessary historical background to the Oslo Accords peace process. The author of the Green Left Weekly article, Jim McIlroy, recapitulates the main points of Falk’s overview. The Oslo Accords come in for a stinging rebuke from Professor Falk. To quote Falk himself:

“The continuous expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank clearly abrogates international law. The Israeli separation wall should be immediately dismantled and reparations paid to the Palestinian people.

The most serious deficiency in the Oslo framework was the lack of acceptance of the Palestinian right to self-determination. Since then, we have seen the increasing influence of right-wing settlers in Israeli politics.

Israel has effectively succeeded in excluding international law from the current peace process. Moreover, the US, Israel’s strongest backer, is being presented as an ‘intermediary’ in the process.”

So the Oslo Accords, rather than being a platform for the construction of a Palestinian state and fulfilling Palestinian self-determination, is actually a mechanism for the ongoing imprisonment of the Palestinians in Bantustan-style cantonments, cut off by increasing numbers of semi-militarised Israeli settlements. As Kim Bullimore from the Red Flag newspaper notes in her article ‘The farce of Oslo 20 years on’;

“The Oslo Accords were in part an attempt by the Israeli and US ruling classes to defuse and undermine the Palestinian popular uprising (Intifada) that erupted in 1987.”

As Bullimore explains, the Oslo Accords institutionalised the abandonment of historic objectives of the Palestinian self-determination movement; the Palestinian political leadership at the time renounced claims to historical Palestine, postponed negotiations on the final status of Jerusalem, no mention of ceasing Israeli settlement activity, and the Palestinians were to remain in economically-isolated regions which are afflicted by poverty and unemployment. To quote from Bullimore’s article:

“While Israel’s signing of the Oslo Accords has often been depicted as the Zionist state being committed to peace, the Accords in fact simply provided a more efficient way for Israel to achieve its long-held strategic goal of controlling the occupied West Bank and other Palestinian territories.”

This views accords with the evaluation of the Oslo Accords offered by Ali Abunimah, co-founder and editor of and author of numerous articles on the Palestine question. In an interview entitled How Occupation was dressed up as peace, Abunimah elaborates that the Oslo Accords were never intended as a stepping stone to a viable Palestinian state. While then Israeli Prime Minister recognised the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) as the sole authentic representative of the Palestinian people, the Israeli side never gave an inch on anything else. As Abunimah explains, Rabin did not concede anything substantive:

He didn’t renounce violence. He didn’t renounce settlements. He didn’t recognize any Palestinian rights. He didn’t recognize the right of Palestinians to exist in peace and security. So from the very beginning, the dynamic where Israel gives up nothing, and in fact continues to take, while Palestinians act as the enforcers of the occupation, the glove on the Israeli hand, was built in from the start.

From the beginning, the Oslo Accords were meant as an instrument for continuing the Israeli domination of Palestinian lands, albeit in a different form to direct military occupation. Instead of Israeli soldiers directly patrolling the streets of the West Bank and Gaza, Israel economically and political dominates these regions, forcing the Palestinians into a situation of exclusion and destitution, much like the tactics of the former Apartheid regime in South Africa. To quote Ali Abunimah again;

I think it’s important to understand that the Oslo process was never intended to end in self-determination and liberation for the Palestinians. What it became was a structure of permanent Israeli control and domination under the fig leaf of the so-called “peace process.” But it’s very important to understand that was built into it from the start.

The direct siege of the Gaza Strip was begun by Israeli authorities back in February 2006, with the surprise election of the Islamist party Hamas to the leadership of the Palestinian government. Ousting the long-term nationalist Fatah party that dominated Palestinian politics for much of the last fifty years, the democratic election of Hamas was greeted by Israel with a form of collective punishment. The entire territory of Gaza has been sealed off, and economic life in the state has all but ground to a halt. Hamas, also known as the Islamic Resistance Movement, combines religious piety with Arab nationalist demands to articulate the aspirations of the Palestinian people. And yes, Hamas did actually drop its demand for the ‘destruction of Israel’, an anti-Zionist position that demands the repeal of the Apartheid-like laws that underlie the Israeli state. This demand is usually conflated and slandered by Hamas’ opponents as advocating the physical liquidation of the Israeli population.

During World War Two, when the Nazi German forces occupied Poland, they corralled the Polish Jewish population of Warsaw into a ghetto, a zone of economic privation and exclusion which left the Jewish population underfunded, starving and vulnerable. This was a form of collective punishment. When the Israeli state imposed a blockade of Gaza in 2006, it imposed collective punishment, economically strangulating the Palestinian population inside the largest open-air prison in the world. The German military officers that ordered and carried out the siege of and eventual destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto were put on trial after the war ended and found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity. It is time to consider similar proceedings against the Israeli leaders that have ordered and implemented the criminal siege of Gaza.

The online magazine Media With Conscience (MWC) published a critique of the two-state solution borne of the Oslo Accords. The author, Lawrence Davidson, elaborates that this two-state solution, rather than resulting in an equal partnership, has actually institutionalised the subordination of the Palestinian side to Israeli occupation. Davidson summarises the viewpoints of Professor Ian Lustick, a political science expert from the University of Pennsylvania, who published an article entitled ‘The Two-State Illusion’. Lustick describes the two-state solution as a political fraud that has left the Palestinians excluded and denied any chance of building a viable, independent state. The Israeli state, the leaders of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the United States government all have a vested interest in maintaining the charade of the Oslo Accords. To quote Davidson;

‘For instance, the Palestinian Authority (PA) keeps this hope alive so that it can “get the economic aid and diplomatic support that subsidizes the lifestyle of its leaders, the jobs of tens of thousands of soldiers, spies, police officers and civil servants.” The Israeli government keeps this hope alive because “it seems to reflect the sentiments of the Jewish Israeli majority and it shields the country from international opprobrium, even as it camouflages relentless efforts to expand Israel’s territory into the West Bank.” Finally, the U.S. government maintains the hope of a two-state solution to “show that it is working toward a diplomatic solution, to keep the pro-Israel lobby from turning against them and to disguise their humiliating inability to allow any daylight between Washington and the Israeli government.”

The long-term solution resides in a world-wide, boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign (BDS), launched by Palestinian human rights organisations, trade unions and activist groups in 2005, to sustain a campaign of civil resistance against the Apartheid Israeli state, much like the boycott campaigns against the previous Apartheid regime in South Africa. Divesting from the Israeli state economically undermines the ability of that state to carry out its illegal occupation of Palestinian territories. An economic and cultural boycott will send a strong signal to the Israeli authorities that they cannot continue to operate as a regional gendarme for the United States.

Let us end at the point where we began; at the Egypt-Gaza border. Officials in the Egyptian military and political hierarchy have admitted that they are receiving weapons to destroy the Gaza tunnels – from the United States. The Egyptian military spokesperson conceded that the US, Egypt and Israel are working closely together to close down the tunnels that provide humanitarian access to the Palestinians locked in the Gaza strip. By blocking the Gaza tunnels, the Egyptian militarist regime is actively assisting the Israeli state in isolating the Palestinians, aiding and abetting the expansionist designs of the Zionist rulers. It is impossible for the United States to present itself as an honest broker in the stalled ‘peace process’ when they are actively arming the regimes that imprison and economically impoverish the Palestinian population. The Egyptian military rulers are demonstrating to the world which side they are on; let us unite the Palestine solidarity activist movement to show the world that we stand on the side of the oppressed.

European Union, drones and economic crises – capitalism is melting away

There has been justifiable outrage over the recent revelations that the American National Security Agency (NSA) has been conducting massive surveillance and spying of online data, emails, social networks, and collecting information from various private companies to spy on the activities of millions of people. The perceptive American commentator Glenn Greenwald has been extensively documenting the ‘bulk spying’ activities of the NSA. Greenwald, like other writers, draws the conclusion that all this surveillance of online communication is contributing to the construction of a police state. We must redouble our efforts to prevent such a martial-law state from occurring, as our civil liberties are undermined in the midst of the worst economic crisis of capitalism since the 1930s Great Depression.

However, it appears that the European Union is drawing different conclusions from the deteriorating economic circumstances. Russia Today reports that the level of government debt in the EU zone has reached an all-time high of $11.4 trillion. This has occurred in spite of the stated purpose of the austerity measures to lift struggling European economies out of the capitalist crisis. As the Russia Today article explains:

Greece has 160.5 percent debt, and Italy, the block’s fourth largest economy, is burdened by 130.3 percent in debt. Portugal has 127.2 percent and Belgium’s debt climbed to 104.5 percent of GDP.

‘Bail-out’ states, those which have, or are currently receiving financial aid from the European Commission and International Monetary Fund to rebuild their economies, have some of the highest debt.

Europe has remained mired in recession, and Germany and Austria were the only two countries to not shrink economically in the first quarter of 2013. While the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are contemplating further cutbacks to social spending and slashing workers’ wages, there is one area where the European states and banks are willing to spend, in order to boost profitability; drone warfare and spy satellites.

The European Commission is currently considering a proposal to buy up a fleet of spy drones, satellites and the full panoply of spying machinery to boost its capacity to surveil and respond to what the European powers regard as threats to their power. As Russia Today reported, the European Union wants to acquire the full range of spying and defence capabilities provided by drones, a course of action documented in the proposal called “A New Deal for European Defence.” In the foreword written by European Commission Vice President Antonio Tajani states, Europe is undergoing a serious economic crisis, and thus needs to adopt new strategies to meet the new challenges of the future.

The President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, stated back in September 2012 that:

The world needs a Europe that is capable of deploying military missions to help stabilise the situation in crisis areas…

Barroso went on to frame this mission to deploy as part of an overall ‘humanitarian’ project, to bring human rights, and fair play into regions of the world that need it according to the European imperialist states.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso

The European Commission presents its proposals to the European Council meeting which then deliberates on matters of European security. This is not the first time that the European Union has been considering buying drones and spy satellites; the European Commission has put together a number of proposals to produce as well as acquire drones and satellites. Russia Today quotes from a report that the European Commission drafted back in 2012 that evaluated the options for deploying spy drones, or what they call remotely-piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) across Europe:

“The European Commission has long identified the potential of this emerging technology and supported the market by investing in research and innovation relevant for RPAS through the Framework Programme for Research. A broad stakeholders’ consultation has demonstrated the necessity for action at EU level, setting as priorities the further development of RPAS civil applications and the integration of the systems into the European air space as soon as possible…”

The discussion in the European Commission centres on whether Europe should manufacture its own drones, or buy them from other countries, or perhaps adopt both measures.

These proposals are all being justified as a response to the revelations by former NSA employee Edward Snowden that the United States has engaged in massive internet surveillance and collection of data. European officials surmise that the Edward Snowden revelations demonstrate that what is needed is not greater transparency and accountability, but that Europe needs its own autonomous security and spy networks. What is not explained is how the existence of extensive spying by one power, the United States, can be countered by escalating the scope and range of spying and surveillance by other imperialist powers. Surely the scaffolding of a police state is being erected by the European Union to provide greater propensity for the ruling classes to attack the living standards and conditions of workers across Europe.

The European powers are no strangers to mass surveillance. Germany was operating closely with the NSA, providing data and access to the NSA to gather information on its citizens. However, the German authorities realised that they, along with other European nations, were themselves the targets of NSA spying, and scaled back their cooperation. Now, Europe is intent on building and acquiring its own mechanisms for state spying. The acquisition of drones indicates that the European imperialist states are not only intending to spy on their own citizens, but are also contemplating expanding their global ambitions to intervene in their former colonies in Africa and the Middle East. The Europeans have long bristled with anger as the United States has invaded other countries and imposed its economic priorities in areas once considered a haven of European influence.

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, a French version of a neoconservative – sent French troops to quietly and decisively intervene in the former French colony of the Ivory Coast to topple the government of that country. France has never really let go of the Cote d’Ivoire since formal independence in 1960. Current French President Francois Hollande adopted his neoconservative political direction by sending French troops into the former French colony of Mali in January 2013. Using the tired old canard of ‘humanitarian intervention’, Hollande sought to portray the French invasion not as an assertion of French colonialism, but as a rescue mission to save a failing state from takeover by enemy militias. As Roger Annis explained the background to the Mali intervention:

The public relations version of the French et al invasion is a familiar refrain. “Islamic terrorists” and “jihadists” have taken control of northern Mali and are a threat to international security and to the wellbeing of the local population. Terrible atrocities against the local populace are alleged and given wide publicity by corporate media. Similar myths were peddled by the war makers when they invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003.

It is true that Islamic fundamentalists have ruled northern Mali with an iron hand since taking over in 2012. But the reasons for this latest intervention lie in the determination of the world’s imperial powers to keep the human and natural resources of poor regions of the world as preserves for capitalist profits. West Africa is a region of great resource wealth, including gold, oil and uranium.

France has never forgotten its “Francafrique” ambitions, maintaining a systematic and complex network of relations with its former colonies. This political and economic conglomerate is becoming ever more indispensable as the French economy crumbles under the impact of the ongoing capitalist economic crisis. Acquiring drones and spy satellites is part of the escalating overseas ambitions of European colonialism to re-establish itself as a military power in its own right and assert its control over the resources and markets of Africa and the Middle East.

Make no mistake – in the wake of the 2008 financial crash, the European powers were prepared to inject billions of euros into the failing financial system, the banks and the bank accounts of the financial speculators, in order to keep the decrepit capitalist system going. Shifting the cost of the crisis onto the working people, exerting downward pressure on wages and removing the social gains of the past decades – this is the strategy of the European bourgeoisie. Restructuring the whole of society for the benefit of a financial aristocracy in Europe is on the cards. The destruction of social services and benefits for workers is accompanied by ramped-up militarism overseas and ever-intrusive surveillance and spying domestically. We must ask ourselves if this is the path that we wish to take.

The current American empire is resembling the decaying Roman imperium

The Roman Republic, and subsequent Roman Empire, were based on a strong class structure which divided the population into distinct economic categories. The lowest class were of course the slaves, who were regarded as chattel to be exploited, bought and sold at a whim. At the top end of the vast social pyramid was the Roman aristocracy. The nobility, the patrician class, were the wealthiest families and clans in the Roman polity, and dominated the political process. Hereditary wealth was a key factor if a person wished to occupy high political office. Gradually, a new social force, the equites, the non-patrician wealthy elite, were included (sometimes reluctantly) into the highest political positions of the Roman republic and empire.

Note how that to be in the Roman Senate, from which candidates for the most powerful political positions were drawn, wealth was the single most important criterion. While the official slogan of the Roman Empire was Senātus Populusque Rōmānus (the Senate and the People of Rome), there was no doubt that the highest and most powerful class in the land was the financial oligarchy. In fact, the largest faction of the noble class called themselves the Optimates, literally meaning ‘the best’. These were the hereditary nobles, who fought tooth-and-nail against their opposing counterparts, the Populares, those senators who were (allegedly) on the side of the Roman people.

Under the Roman Republic, there were political avenues for the people to address their grievances to the Senate. The plebeian tribune, a powerful political office, did serve as a conduit for the expression and resolution of political and economic complaints. However, the plebeian tribune office did not have any military or executive function, so its decisions were circumvented or undermined by the all-powerful senatorial oligarchy. If the plebeian tribune was to become stubborn, and persist in measures to alleviate the economic inequalities inflicted on the people, then the senators would not hesitate to use their financial power to attack – and sometimes violently assassinate – the plebeian tribunes they regarded as a thorn in their side. The most famous tribunes, Tiberius and Gaius Gracchi, were both killed in politically motivated violence, victims of lynch-mob murder incited by the financial oligarchs because they wanted to reform the social and political structures of Rome to assist the poorer classes. The Senate made sure that the laws of the land favoured the preservation and extension of their wealth, and used that legal structure to suppress any threat to their economic privileges. An extensive network of patronage ensured that the republic, and ensuing Roman Empire, remained economically viable for the wealthy senatorial elite.

This excursion into ancient Roman history is not just an academic exercise. It has serious implications and lessons for contemporary times. The unifying of political and economic power is the salient feature of the Roman republic and empire. What has this got to do with today’s events?

In a revealing and powerful article, Robert Scheer, a veteran political commentator and editor-in-chief of Truthdig online magazine, writes about the incestuous relationship between powerful financial oligarchs, politicians and the Wall Street crowd in the United States today. In an article called ‘Congress Still Puts Out for Wall Street’, Scheer examines the close relations between the bankers and financial speculators that caused the ongoing capitalist economic crisis, and the political clout they exercise in the US Congress. As Scheer explains:

What does it take to make a Wall Street banker squirm with shame? Not content with having swindled tens of millions of Americans out of their homes and life savings, the very bankers who caused the biggest economic catastrophe since the Great Depression are now subverting government regulations designed to prevent comparable disasters in the future.

Scheer cites the example of Citigroup, a mega-bank and financial institution, itself the result of a merger between two enormous financial institutions, that swindled millions in the years leading up to the 2008. They were able to do because their partisans, the army of lobbyists that they hired and unleashed on the US Congress, convinced the law-makers to abolish regulations that restricted Citigroup’s ability to generate millions in profits by speculation. For instance, the Glass-Steagall Act, passed back in the 1930s, prevented commercial banks from engaging in financial speculation with the bank deposits of ordinary investors. Pensions and bank deposits were protected from risky investment banking activities. Citigroup was one financial behemoth that led the charge to abolish this act, thus opening up billions of dollars for further speculative activities – the Glass-Steagall Act was abolished by compliant politicians in 1999.

The US Congress since 2008, rather than challenging the ability of the Wall Street hucksters to write and shape laws that enrich elite interests, has actually continued to enmesh itself in the tentacles of the financial mega-corporations. Key legislation passed by the US Congress governing financial activity has been drafted by bank lobbyists, many of them in the pay of the big banks like Citigroup. A financial oligarchy that occupies legislative positions, and enacts laws to enrich itself and transfer the social costs of the economic burden onto the poor – that looks eerily similar and highly reminiscent of an ancient empire.

It is true that the Obama administration passed the Dodd-Frank Act, subtitled the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, in July 2010. But even this lukewarm, halfhearted measure to crack down on the billion-dollar derivatives market has faced strenuous opposition from industry groups and financial institutions that portray this act with bipartisan fury as an attack on private enterprise that threatens to demolish the entire financial complex. As Scheer elaborates, the drafting of this legislation was supervised by the large financial conglomerates;

As an example of the profound corruption of our legislative process, congressional staffers turned to top corporate lawyers to draft the wording pretending to rein in their activity.

For example, as the emails reviewed by the Times revealed, House committee staffers consulted Michael Bopp, a partner at the elite law firm Gibson, Dunn who represents corporations involved in derivative trading, as to the verbiage he would prefer in the legislation. His language was well received, as the Times reported: “Ultimately, the committee inserted every word of Mr. Bopp’s suggestion into a 2012 version of the bill that passed the House, save for a slight change in phrasing.”

So the very financial institutions that caused the current economic malaise have enormous input into the legislation that is supposed to facilitate the economic recovery. The corruption of the political and legislative process by big money is all too evident. Legislation that is skewed towards preserving and extending the wealth of the financial oligarchy is having its intended effect.

The Pew Research Centre, a non-partisan think tank dedicated to gathering and collating data on social and economic issues, released a report in April this year entitled ‘A Rise in Wealth for the Wealthy; Declines for the Lower 93%’ documents that during the years 2009 to 2011, the upper seven percent of the richest households saw their average net worth increase by an estimated 28 percent, while the rest of us, the 93 percent, witnessed a decline of four percent in the average household net worth. This differential wealth recovery was explained by the Pew Research Centre as a result of stock and bond market activity, and the already-affluent have their assets concentrated in stocks and financial holdings. The lower income households have most of their wealth represented by their homes, and the housing market remained flat over the 2009-11 period.

Since the 2008 capitalist economic crisis, the ruling financial elite has intensified its efforts to transfer the cost of economic recession onto the working people, while insulating its own wealth through corrupting the legislative process. The US government, under Bush and now Obama, has utilised every measure to preserve, and even increase, the ability of the financial oligarchy to accumulate staggering amounts of wealth, while social services and public utilities are cut back. Financial speculation, asset bubbles and predatory economic practices are back on the agenda and remain typical of financial activity since 2008. Obama responded to the economic crisis with ‘bailouts’, that is, handing over vast amounts of public money to the private banks, sowing the seeds of an even larger economic crash to come. Maintaining US imperial power while imposing austerity at home has been the main priority of the Obama administration.

The Roman Empire, while occupying a place in ancient history, is not so remote from our contemporary political and economic experience.

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.

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.

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.

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.