Archive | December 5th, 2013

Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first black president, dies aged 95

NOVANEWS

Nelson Mandela led South Africa from apartheid to multi-racial democracy and will be mourned around the world

• , Africa correspondent, in Johannesburg
Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first black president, has died. Photograph: Mike Hutchings/Reuters

Nelson Mandela, the towering figure of Africa’s struggle for freedom and a hero to millions around the world, has died at the age of 95.

South Africa‘s first black president died after years of declining health that had caused him to withdraw from public life.

The death of Mandela will send South Africa deep into mourning and self-reflection 18 years after he led the country from racial apartheid to inclusive democracy.

But his passing will also be keenly felt by people around the world who revered Mandela as one of history’s last great statesmen, and a moral paragon comparable with Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

It was a transcendent act of forgiveness after spending 27 years in prison, 18 of them on Robben Island, that will assure his place in history. With South Africa facing possible civil war, Mandela sought reconciliation with the white minority to build a new democracy.

He led the African National Congress (ANC) to victory in the country’s first multiracial election in 1994. Unlike other African liberation leaders who cling to power, such as Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, he then voluntarily stepped down after one term.

Mandela – often affectionately known by his clan name, Madiba – was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 1993.

At his inauguration a year later, the new president said: “Never, never, and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another … the sun shall never set on so glorious a human achievement. Let freedom reign. God bless Africa!”

Born Rolihlahla Dalibhunga in a small village in the Eastern Cape on 18 July 1918, Mandela was given his English name, Nelson, by a teacher at his school.

Mandela joined the ANC in 1943 and became a co-founder of its youth league. In 1952, he started South Africa’s first black law firm with his partner, Oliver Tambo. Mandela was a charming, charismatic figure with a passion for boxing – and an eye for women. He once said: “I can’t help it if the ladies take note of me. I am not going to protest.”

He married his first wife, Evelyn Mase, in 1944. They were divorced in 1957 after having three children. In 1958, he married Winnie Madikizela, who later campaigned to free her husband from jail and became a key figure in the struggle.

When the ANC was banned in 1960, Mandela went underground. After the Sharpeville massacre, in which 69 black protesters were shot dead by police, he took the difficult decision to launch an armed struggle.

He was arrested and eventually charged with sabotage and attempting to violently overthrow the government.

Conducting his own defence in the Rivonia Trial in 1964, he said: “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.

“It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

He escaped the death penalty but was sentenced to life in prison, a huge blow to the ANC that had to regroup to continue the struggle. But unrest grew in townships and international pressure on the apartheid regime slowly tightened.

Finally, in 1990, then president FW de Klerk lifted the ban on the ANC and Mandela was released from prison amid scenes of jubilation witnessed around the world.

In 1992, Mandela divorced Winnie after she was convicted on charges of kidnapping and accessory to assault.

His presidency rode a wave of tremendous global goodwill but was not without its difficulties. After leaving frontline politics in 1999, he admitted he should have moved sooner against the spread of HIV/Aids.

His son died from an Aids-related illness. On his 80th birthday, Mandela married Graça Machel, the widow of the former president of Mozambique. It was his third marriage. In total, he had six children, of whom three daughters survive: Pumla Makaziwe (Maki), Zenani and Zindziswa (Zindzi). He has 17 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.

Mandela was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2001 and retired from public life, aged 85, to be with his family and enjoy some “quiet reflection”. But he remained a beloved and venerated figure with countless buildings, streets and squares named after him. His every move was scrutinised and his health was a constant source of media speculation.

Mandela continued to make occasional appearances at ANC events and attended the inauguration of the current president, Jacob Zuma. His 91st birthday was marked by the first annual “Mandela Day” in his honour.

He was last seen in public at the final of the 2010 World Cup in Johannesburg, a tournament he had helped bring to South Africa for the first time. Early in 2011, he was taken to hospital in a health scare but he recovered and was visited by Michelle Obama and her daughters a few months later.

In January 2012, he was notably missing from the ANC’s centenary celebrations due to his frail condition. With other giants of the movement such as Tambo and Walter Sisulu having gone before Mandela, the defining chapter of Africa’s oldest liberation movement is now closed.

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Nelson Mandela dead at 95

NOVANEWS

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View images of civil rights leader Nelson Mandela, who went from anti-apartheid activist to prisoner to South Africa’s first black president.

By Tracy Connor, Staff Writer, NBC News

Nelson Mandela, the revered South African anti-apartheid icon who spent 27 years in prison, led his country to democracy and became its first black president, died Thursday at home. He was 95.

“He is now resting,” said South African President Jacob Zuma. “He is now at peace.”

“Our nation as lost his greatest son,” he continued. “Our people have lost their father.”

A state funeral will be held.

Though he was in power for only five years, Mandela was a figure of enormous moral influence the world over – a symbol of revolution, resistance and triumph over racial segregation.

He inspired a generation of activists, left celebrities and world leaders star-struck, won the Nobel Peace Prize and raised millions for humanitarian causes.

South Africa is still bedeviled by challenges, from class inequality to political corruption to AIDS. And with Mandela’s death, it has lost a beacon of optimism.

Feb. 1990: NBC’s Robin Lloyd reports on Nelson Mandela on the eve of his release from prison in 1990. Mandela’s name has become a rallying cry for the overthrow of apartheid, but no one but prison guards and visitors have actually seen him since he was jailed 27 years ago.

In his jailhouse memoirs, Mandela wrote that even after spending so many years in a Spartan cell on Robben Island – with one visitor a year and one letter every six months – he still had faith in human nature.

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion,” he wrote in “Long Walk to Freedom.”

“People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

Mandela retired from public life in 2004 with the half-joking directive, “Don’t call me, I’ll call you,” and had largely stepped out of the spotlight, spending much of his time with family in his childhood village.

His health had been fragile in recent years. He had spent almost three months in a hospital in Pretoria after being admitted in June for a recurring lung infection. He was released on Sept. 1.

In his later years, Mandela was known to his countrymen simply as Madiba, the name of his tribe and a mark of great honor. But when he was born on July 18, 1918, he was named Rolihlahla, which translated roughly – and prophetically – to “troublemaker.”

South Africa’s anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela turned 93 today, as 12 million school children celebrated his life in song. Brian Williams reports.

Mandela was nine when his father died, and he was sent from his rural village to the provincial capital to be raised by a fellow chief. The first member of his family to get a formal education, he went to boarding school and then enrolled in South Africa’s elite Fort Hare University, where his activism unfurled with a student boycott.

As a young law scholar, he joined the resurgent African National Congress just a few years before the National Party – controlled by the Afrikaners, the descendants of Dutch and French settlers – came to power on a platform of apartheid, in which the government enforced racial segregation and stripped non-whites of economic and political power.

As an ANC leader, Mandela advocated peaceful resistance against government discrimination and oppression – until 1961, when he launched a military wing called Spear of the Nation and a campaign of sabotage.

The next year, he was arrested and soon hit with treason charges. At the opening of his trial in 1964, he said his adoption of armed struggle was a last resort born of bloody crackdowns by the government.

“Fifty years of non-violence had brought the African people nothing but more and more repressive legislation and fewer and few rights,” he said from the dock.

“I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

April, 1994: Former political prisoner Nelson Mandela is on the verge of being elected South Africa’s first black president.

He was sentenced to life in prison and sent to Robben Island. As inmate No. 466/64, he slept on the floor of a six-foot-wide cell, did hard labor in a quarry, organized fellow prisoners – and earned a law degree by correspondence.

As the years passed, his incarceration drew ever more attention, with intensifying cries for his release as a global anti-apartheid movement gained traction. Songs were dedicated to him and 600 million people watched the Free Mandela concert at London’s Wembley Stadium in 1988.

In 1985, he turned down the government’s offer to free him if he renounced armed struggle against apartheid. It wasn’t until South African President P.W. Botha had a stroke and was replaced by F.W. de Klerk in 1989 that the stage was set for his release.

After a ban on the ANC was repealed, a whiter-haired Mandela walked out prison before a jubilant crowd and told a rally in Cape Town that the fight was far from over.

“Our struggle has reached a decisive moment,” he said. “We have waited too long for our freedom. We can no longer wait.”

Over the next two years, Mandela proved himself a formidable negotiator as he pushed South Africa toward its first multiracial elections amid tension and violence. He and de Klerk were honored with the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts.

When the elections were held in April 1994, the ex-prisoner became the next president and embarked on a mission of racial reconciliation, government rebuilding and economic rehabilitation.

Philip Littleton / AFP – Getty Images, file

Springbok captain Francois Pienaar receives the Rugby World Cup from South African President Nelson Mandela at Ellis Park in Johannesburg on June 24, 1995.

A year into his tenure, with racial tensions threatening to explode into civil war, Mandela orchestrated an iconic, unifying moment: He donned the green jersey of the Springboks rugby team – beloved by whites, despised by blacks – to present the World Cup trophy to the team captain while the stunned crowd erupted in cheers of “Nelson! Nelson!”

He chose to serve only one five-year term – during which he divorced his second wife, Winnie, a controversial activist, and married his third, Graca, the widow of the late president of Mozambique.

After leaving politics, he concentrated on his philanthropic foundation. He began speaking out on AIDS, which had ravaged his country and which some critics said he had not made a priority as president.

When he officially announced he was leaving public life in 2004, it signaled he was slowing down, but he still made his presence known. For his 89th birthday, he launched a “council of elders,” statesmen and women from around the world who would promote peace. For his 90th, he celebrated at a star-studded concert in London’s Hyde Park.

As he noted in 2003, “If there is anything that would kill me it is to wake up in the morning not knowing what to do.”

In April, de Klerk was asked on the BBC if he feared that Mandela’s eventual death would expose fissures in South Africa that his grandfatherly presence had kept knitted together.

De Klerk said that Madiba would be just as unifying a force in death.

“When Mandela goes, it will be a moment when all South Africans put away their political differences, take hands, and will together honor maybe the biggest South African that has ever lived,” he said.

From prisoner to liberator, Nelson Mandela’s fight for equality in South Africa serves as a shining example of justice and peace. Here’s a look at the pivotal moments in the life of South Africa’s first black president.

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Max Blumenthal: I knew Alterman would freak out

NOVANEWS

“Goliath” author tells Salon about life in Israel lobby’s cross hairs and the logic of the Jewish state (Updated)

Max Blumenthal: I knew Alterman would freak outMax Blumenthal

Thousands of protesters worldwide joined in a “Day of Rage” late last week to decry Israel’s despicable Prawer Plan, a government policy (wildly underreported in this country) to destroy 35 Arab villages in the Negev desert, which will lead to the forced displacement of up to 70,000 Bedouin Israeli citizens.

The plan is further vindication of Max Blumenthal’s central thesis in his new book, “Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel,” namely that Israel’s raison d’etat is the maintenance and expansion of a colonial ethnocracy — the expansion of the Jewish Israeli demographic, the containment of all others.

While Israeli government policies like aggressive West Bank expansion, the Gaza occupation, the warehousing of non-Jewish Israeli Africans and the Prawer Plan fiercely bear out Blumenthal’s point, the author has, since Goliath’s publication, run the gamut of predictably fervid criticism from Israel’s attack dogs within the U.S. commentariat.

But Max Blumenthal is not surprised. The 35-year-old author and journalist knew what he was getting into with “Goliath.” It’s a bold, personal and unapologetic book. Its central thesis — that the very logic of the Israeli state is essentially that of a settler colonial ethnocracy — was, as Blumenthal well knew, bound to draw some flustered censure. On cue, following “Goliath’s” publication, Eric Alterman has written a whopping nine critical pieces (many of them ad hominem in nature) against Blumenthal; BuzzFeed’s Rosie Gray compiled a decrial of Blumenthal; Alan Dershowitz wants Blumenthal’s father, Sidney Blumenthal, former aide to President Clinton (and Salon alum), to be personally denounced by the Clintons for his son’s book.

The younger Blumenthal was ready for the onslaught, which, he says, has played out with absolute predictability. While en route to his parents’ D.C. home (sorry, Mr. Dershowitz, Sid has yet to disavow his progeny), Blumenthal spoke on the phone to Salon about life in the Israel lobby’s cross hairs, and the unique challenges and importance of critiquing the Israeli government’s sugar-coated state narratives, buoyed by its unquestioning supporters in the U.S. The conversation has been lightly condensed for brevity.

“Goliath” does not just tell a story, or a series of stories, it offers a very specific critique of the very logic and ideology undergirding the Israeli state. Was this a hypothesis that you held before immersing yourself in Israeli life and politics to research for “Goliath,” or did your conclusions about Israel emerge while reporting?

My understanding of Israeli society was not upended or altered in any significant way by my immersion in it. I understood what I was getting into when I embarked on my first extended reporting trip to Israel and Palestine in May 2009. This was right after Israel elected the most right-wing government in its history. I decided to do this book because I had been following the situation for years and watching the religious nationalist and extremist trends in Israel and understanding its roots — the foundational structure of the state as a settler colonial ethnocracy. What spurred me to do this book was not some sort of epiphany or sudden understanding of what Israel had become but just a moment in history that, to me, marked the culmination of a transitional period into a permanent right-wing majority in Israel and a permanent right-wing future.

That moment was the national elections carried out during Operation Cast Lead — the three-week massacre of the Gaza civilian population. The assault and the elections propelled one another. You had a defense minister from the Labor Party competing against extreme right-wingers like Avigdor Lieberman, who was openly campaigning to strip Palestinian citizens of Israel of their citizenship rights. There is pretty clear evidence that defense minister at the time, Ehud Barak was running up the body count in Gaza in order to win over the Russian vote and outflank Lieberman as the tough guy. Tzipi Livni, who was running as a centrist, declared “our troops in the Gaza strip behaved like hooligans, which I demanded of them.”

“Goliath” highlights a number of highly specific examples of explicitly racist rhetoric employed by key Israeli politicians. These comments rarely get air in the U.S. media, despite being part of very public Israeli politicking.

That was another reason I decided to do this book. The rhetoric of mainstream Israeli politicians, which is bellicose, paranoid and racist, is so rarely conveyed to the American public. Meanwhile the issue of Palestinian incitement is a constant feature of mainstream American reporting on Palestinian society. There was a comment that formed the title of a chapter in my book, “This belongs to the white man.” And that chapter has been criticized or assailed by liberals like Eric Alterman and J.J. Goldberg. Of course, they don’t address the content of the chapter, and if they did it would probably throw them into some sort of personal existential crisis since their identity as Jews revolves around the ethnocratic state of Israel. And that chapter title is inspired by a quote by Eli Yishai, who served as interior minister from 2009 to 2013, and what he said was that, “these black Africans” — refering to the 60,000 non-Jewish African asylum-seekers living in Israel — “are Muslims who do not recognize that this country belongs to us, the white man.”

It’s an interesting comment given that he is of Tunisian descent and would not be considered white in the U.S. but, as a Jew, it marks him as part of the ethnic overclass and in his own mind he’s therefore “white.” That comment was printed but buried in the bottom of a New York Times article by Isabel Kershner on page A15 or A23 about a massive race riot in Tel Aviv on May 23, 2012, against the African population in which literally hundreds of vandals and thugs smashed the storefronts of African-owned businesses, attacked any African they found in the street and smashed African cars. That story was completely whitewashed in the U.S. — this was a riot encouraged from the highest level of Israeli government after a rally in South Tel Aviv attended by thousands where major Israeli government figures called Africans “a cancer in Israel’s body” and the crowd chanted, “nigger, nigger you’re a son of a bitch.” So there is a clear effort, a concerted effort by American correspondents in Jerusalem, to conceal from the public the horror — and the real horrific state of Israel society — the Moloch that Israel has become. What I sought to do with my book was merely fill the void and show Americans the Israel that Israelis know.

You’ve mentioned that the backlash you’ve received from writers like Alterman and Goldberg did not surprise you. Can you expand a little bit on the shape of the attacks you’ve received and in what ways they have and have not been predictable?

I fully expected the playbook of the pro-Israel propagandists to unfold as follows. First, they would attempt to ignore me and hope the book wouldn’t generate any attention, so that it would just go away, then there would be a freakout. I predicted two months before the book came out that if the Nation gave it any attention (I predicted this in a Real News Interview with Paul Jay two months before the book came out) that Eric Alterman would freak out. That’s exactly what happened. So I expected that.

Alterman broke the Jewish boycott on my book and what he attempted to do was to portray me as an unreliable narrator who didn’t understand Israel and got the facts and the history wrong. But he was dealt a really harsh blow when people like [Charles] Manekin, who is a professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Maryland, or Corey Robin at Brooklyn College, who is Alterman’s colleague, tore his argument apart and showed that it was he who got all the facts wrong. So Alterman was flailing; he had been pretty much knocked through the ropes. He started calling on his few allies like J.J. Goldberg at the Jewish Daily Forward and they got everything wrong and had to issue a correction. So from the second phase — trying to portray me as an unreliable narrator who got his facts wrong — it moved to a third phase, which was to smear me and smear my family and anyone associated with me. This culminated with BuzzFeed’s completely false smear piece, which should be retracted on the basis of its factual errors, by Rosie Gray.

Then Free Beacon attacked my father for hosting a party for me. I attempted to alert them to the fact that my mother ordered pizza for the book party, which means that she provided material support for delegitimization!

Alan Dershowitz called on the Clintons to denounce my father, since he worked in the White House with Bill Clinton, and he called on my father to denounce me. Of course, none of that happened. The final stage of this terminal phase was to point to a review on [white supremacist] David Duke’s website that was positive about my book, which is just the most pathetic and desperate tactic ever. So there are the three phases: ignore, undermine and smear. And then when all three of those failed, anything goes. So now we are in the anything goes phase. And I don’t know what that means but there are people who are less privileged than me who have experienced the devastating consequences for their work to counter Israeli human rights abuses.

A number of writers and theorists — philosopher Judith Butler comes to mind — have written about the dangers of conflating critiques of Israel or Zionism with anti-Semitism. As Butler wrote last year, “[T]he Jewish people extend beyond the state of Israel and the ideology of political Zionism. The two cannot be equated. Honestly, what can really be said about ‘the Jewish people’ as a whole? Is it not a lamentable stereotype to make large generalizations about all Jews, and to presume they all share the same political commitments?”

You have been smeared as anti-Semitic and extremist for your critiques of Israel. What do you think is the effect (social, cultural, political, ideological) of charging Israel’s critics with anti-Semitism?

I wrote this book at a time when these charges had been weakened to the point where it’s difficult to actually single out real anti-Semites and marginalize them because the pro-Israel has cheapened anti-Semitism to such a degree that it no longer contains the discursive power it used to.

The only way to avoid this kind of backlash is to not report accurately on Israeli society or to use the tried and true and trite hackneyed frames to frame this critique in terms of your concern for the soul of Israel, which means that you are a lover of the Jewish state and its soul. I don’t believe that any state with its own interests and policies has a soul. Israel is not a person and I sought to address it without sentimentality or nostalgia or ideological blindness. This is why the book is being attacked because it is just an unvarnished view of Israel at its most extreme. I address the roots of the crisis in the foundational structure of the state as an exclusively Jewish entity that strives for ethnic purity through violent demographic engineering, most of which was carried out by the Labor wing, by the left wing of the Zionist movement. It’s because of that that I have deprived myself of any allies with the American Zionist movement, which is very influential in our politics and our media, and they are seeking to castigate me and I think they’re shocked at how much support I have received in online media and social media and on the road. My talks are heavily attended and I’m getting strong support from fellow Jews. The audience at my talks are heavily Jewish. Many people describe themselves to me as recovering Zionists. So it’s just a red line that is set for you and when you cross it and start to really address the reality as I experienced it without this mock sensitivity to a state that is engaged in apartheid and settler colonialism, you can expect a certain level of castigation. I guess what has surprised me the most: how weak the attacks have been and how strong the support has been. I think we are witnessing a sea change of opinion in this country, even if we may not have reached a tipping point.

I think that people a lot of people who have been engaged with this issue for a long period have been waiting for a book like this to be written by someone who is a foreign correspondent but who has the Jewish privilege to be able to access all areas controlled by Israel. A Palestinian-American journalist could not have written this book.

If you had to have one aspect of your book — be it about the treatment of African immigrants, standard segregation, positions of lawmakers — which aspect would you say is most important for you to see resonate through the American public?

The aspect is demographic engineering. David Sheen, who is an Israeli independent journalist, has covered the issue of non-Jewish Africans in Israel more than any other journalist alive. He and I produced a video, called “Israel’s New Racism,” about the plight of non-Jewish Africans in Israel and their racist treatment. The video was originally solicited by the New York Times, but they actually wound up rejecting it without explanation. It initially received half a million views, with a massive response from African-Americans and Africans on social media, who never knew that such a situation existed in Israel, or that racism had reached such an extreme degree in the Israeli mainstream. They have, of course, been intimidated into silence by the pro-Israel lobby in this country. When Davey D, who is a hip-hop journalist from Oakland, published our video on his website, he actually received angry phone calls from local legislators demanding that he take it down.

What really struck a chord with people was the idea that non-Jewish Africans couldn’t be absorbed in Israel, not because they were black, but because they were not Jewish, and that Israel actually has an open policy establishing a demographic threshold of non-Jewish citizens it can tolerate within the perimeters of control. It set the threshold at a Jewish majority that it needs to maintain at 70 or 72 percent. This governs Jewish-Israeli society’s relationship with the Palestinians as well. So, what we explained in this video, and I explain very clearly in this book, is how the concept of the Jewish state requires an endless ethnic cleansing and expulsion of non-Jews. The Jewish state requires their concentration in detention centers like the Saronim, where thousands of non-Jewish Africans are staying right now in shipping containers in the Negev desert through; or the Prawer Plan, which mandates the removal of 30- to 40,000 veteran citizens of Israel to Indian reservation-style communities from their ancestral lands; or the fact that Palestinians face constant home demolitions — we’re talking about 26,000 home demolitions since 1967. The Jewish state mandates the creation of the separation wall, which is said to prevent “demographic spillover”; and it requires the Gaza Strip to be under siege perpetually, because 80 percent of its population is refugees who have legitimate claims to the land and property inside what is now the state of Israel.

When you apply that fact to the American situation — and I always ask audiences, “What is the limit that the United States should set, or which your city should set, on the white Christian population, and what is the threshold of the white Christian majority that must be maintained according to official U.S. policy?” — the room always goes silent. People don’t respond for one or two minutes, they’re scratching their heads, when finally someone will pipe up and say “We don’t have such a policy; our country isn’t structured that way.” Of course there’s de facto racism in the U.S., institutional racism, but it’s not governed by demographic imperatives — and that shocks people. This is why we’re seeing in Israel horrors that we haven’t seen in the U.S. since the Jim Crow era. The Saharonim detention facility for non-Jewish Africans may have to come to an end because the Supreme Court overturned a law allowing authorities to detain non-Jewish Africans for three years without trial. But there’s a new law that will allow them to detain them for one year without trial, and Netanyahu is building an alternate facility near Saharonim at Sadot, and it will allow non-Jewish Africans to go out during the day, but they’re not allowed to work, and they have to sleep there at night, so they can be separated from the Jewish-Israeli public, which is eerily reminiscent of the sundown towns that dotted the landscape of the U.S. during the Jim Crow era, and which were enforced by ordinances that forbid African-Americans from entering the town after dark. With this new, alternative solution to the non-Jewish African problem in Israel, Netanyahu has proposed to make Israel the largest sundown town in the world, and that is something that should resonate with Americans and shock them, because it goes to the very heart of what the Jewish state is all about.

 

Update, 12/4/13: In response to Blumenthal’s comments about him in this post, Eric Alterman submitted the following response to Salon:

“I have always respected Salon’s standards, both ethical and journalistic, in the past and hence I must admit to surprise that these appear to have been so casually discarded in the interview with Max Blumenthal published under the (ridiculous) headline, “Max Blumenthal: I knew Alterman would freak out.” I’ve been trying to avoid getting sucked any further into this controversy than was necessitated by my initially agreeing—at the behest of my editors at The Nation—to devote my regular column to Blumenthal’s book which was published by Nation Books and was to be excerpted in the magazine. Following the column, I explained myself in a blog post, added a few details for which I had no room, and would have been happy to end the matter there. Since then, I have been forced to address falsehood after falsehood put forth by Blumenthal and his defenders and now, because this is Salon and not some other publication known for its dishonesty and/or anti-Zionist fanaticism, I am forced to do so once again. So let’s get it over with….

1)   The piece’s author, Natasha Lennard writes, “Eric Alterman has written a whopping nine critical pieces (many of them ad hominem in nature) against Blumenthal.” This is false. As I said above: I wrote one column at the explicit request of my editors and added one clarifying blog post. Literally everything else I have felt forced to write about Blumenthal and his book has been an attempt to address the lies and misrepresentations written in response. I doubt very much they all add up to “a whopping nine,” as Lennard puts it, but most of these alleged “pieces” are just a a few sentences on my weekly blog, “Altercation” and do not even address Blumenthal or his book. The most recent one—which I hoped would be the last—was merely a response to the letters to the editor printed in The Nation, and again, was done at my editors’ request.

2)   Blumenthal says: “And that chapter [“This belongs to the white man”] has been criticized or assailed by liberals like Eric Alterman and J.J. Goldberg. Of course, they don’t address the content of the chapter, and if they did it would probably throw them into some sort of personal existential crisis since their identity as Jews revolves around the ethnocratic state of Israel.” This is false in every respect. First, I never addressed that chapter title. (My criticism focused primarily on those equating Jews with Nazis.) Second, whatever the content of my “identity as a Jew” may “revolve around,” Blumenthal certainly has no particular insight into it since we’ve never met or spoken. Ms. Lennard might have inquired about his evidence for this before printing it unchallenged.

3)   Blumenthal says “But he was dealt a really harsh blow when people like [Charles] Manekin, who is a professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Maryland, or Corey Robin at Brooklyn College, who is Alterman’s colleague, tore his argument apart and showed that it was he who got all the facts wrong. So Alterman was flailing; he had been pretty much knocked through the ropes. He started calling on his few allies like J.J. Goldberg at the Jewish Daily Forward and they got everything wrong and had to issue a correction.” Again, Blumenthal is wrong in every respect. First, Manekin and Robin notwithstanding, there were no factual errors at all in the Nation column on the book and hence, no corrections have been issued . (There were a few minor technical mistakes in the blog post that did not bear on its substance and a correction was appended to the blog.) The second part of his claim, however, is an outright lie. I never “called on” a single ally regarding Blumenthal and indeed, had no conversations with Goldberg or anyone else at the Forward about him or his book.  I had no such conversation with anyone at all. Once again, a responsible journalistic ethos might have dictated that he be asked to provide evidence for this contention, but luckily for Blumenthal and sadly, both for Salon and myself, he was not.

I am confining myself to those aspects of the article that addressed me personally and attempting, once again, to avoid being further sucked into this distasteful debate any further than absolutely necessary. I don’t expect that what I have written will make much difference to Blumenthal’s partisans, but I would hope that Salon’s more open-minded readers understand that these accusations are, without exception, false and should never have printed in Salon in the first place.”

Posted in Palestine Affairs, ZIO-NAZI, CampaignsComments Off on Max Blumenthal: I knew Alterman would freak out

UK prime minister covers up crimes against humanity, and lectures Sri Lanka on crimes against humanity

NOVANEWS

by hasta_la_victoria

Fallujah in Iraq, destroyed by Nato's stormtroopers in 2004

Fallujah in Iraq, destroyed by Nato’s stormtroopers in 2004

Sirte in Libya, destroyed by Nato's luftwaffe in 2011

Sirte in Libya, destroyed by Nato’s luftwaffe in 2011

By Felicity Arbuthnot, via Global Research

“Hypocrisy, the most protected of vices.” Moliere (Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, 1622-1673)

Last week, a little more was learned as to the circumventions in Whitehall and Washington delaying the publication of the findings of Sir John Chilcot’s marathon inquiry in to the background of the Iraq invasion.

The UK’s Chilcot Inquiry, was convened under then Prime Minister Gordon Brown, to establish the decisions taken by the UK government and military, pre and post invasion. It ran from 24 November 2009 until 2 February 2011 and cost an estimated £7.5m. The as yet unpublished report is believed to run to 1,000,000 words.

The stumbling block – more of an Israeli-style ‘separation barrier’ in reality – has been the correspondence between Tony Blair and George W Bush, prior to an invasion and occupation that former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan finally told the BBC was “illegal”, and that “painful lessons” had been learned. ‘Lessons’ clearly not learned by the current British government. (16 September 2004)

The communications, in Sir John Chilcot’s words to former Cabinet Secretary Lord O’Donnell, related to “The question of when and how the prime minister (Tony Blair) made commitments to the US about the UK’s involvement in military action in Iraq, and subsequent decisions on the UK’s continuing involvement, is central to its considerations.” (Guardian, 17 July 2013)

Further: “Chilcot said the release of notes of the conversations between Blair and Bush would serve to ‘illuminate Mr Blair’s position at critical points’ in the run up to war.

The inquiry had also been seeking clarification from O’Donnell’s successor, Sir Jeremy Heywood, regarding inclusion of references to “the content of Mr Blair’s notes to President Bush, and to the records of discussions between Mr Blair and Presidents Bush and Obama”. The wall remains in place.

Sir Jeremy Heywood, now the country’s most senior civil servant, was Tony Blair’s private secretary during the period of the trans-Atlantic lies that led to the Iraq war and during the creation of the Blair regime’s ‘dodgy dossiers’.

Interestingly too: “O’Donnell had consulted Blair before saying the notes must remain secret.” Effectively, one of the accused – in an action that has destroyed a country, lynched the president, murdered his sons and teenage nephew and caused the deaths of perhaps one and a half million people – is deciding what evidence can be presented before the court. Chilcot has seen the documents, but seemingly needs the accused’s permission to publish them.

A stitch-up of which any ‘rogue’ or ‘totalitarian’ regime would surely be proud.

Centre to the dispute between the inquiry, Cameron and his ennobled gate keepers is material requested for inclusion in the final report: “to reflect its analysis of discussions in Cabinet and Cabinet Committees and their significance”.

The documents being denied to the inquiry include 25 pieces of correspondence sent by Tony Blair to George W Bush and 130 documents relating to conversations between these lead plotters of Iraq’s destruction. Additionally: “dozens of records of Cabinet meetings”.

Ironically, on 31 October 2006, David Cameron voted in favour of a motion brought by the Scottish National Party and Wales’ Plaid Cymru (‘The Party of Wales’) calling for an inquiry into the Blair government’s conduct of the Gulf war.

On 15 June 2009, in a parliamentary debate, the terms of the Chilcot Inquiry were presented in detail, duly recorded in Hansard, the parliamentary records.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Blair’s successor stated: “In order that the committee is as objective and non-partisan as possible, the membership of the committee will consist entirely of non-partisan public figures acknowledged to be experts and leaders in their fields. There will be no representatives of political parties from either side of this House.”

David Cameron, then Leader of the Opposition stated piously:

“The whole point of having an Inquiry is that it has to be able to make clear recommendations, to go wherever the evidence leads, to establish the full truth and to ensure that the right lessons are learned … in a way that builds public confidence.”

Cameron was particularly concerned about: ‘openness’. How times change.

Further, said Cameron:

“The inquiry needs to be, and needs to be seen to be, truly independent and not an establishment stitch-up … The prime minister was very clear that the inquiry would have access to all British documents and all British witnesses. Does that mean that the inquiry may not have access to documents from the USA … On the scope of the inquiry, will the prime minister confirm that it will cover relations with the United States …”

Cameron concluded with again a demand for “openness and transparency”.

In response, Gordon Brown stated:

“I cannot think of an inquiry with a more comprehensive, wider or broader remit than the one that I have just announced. Far from being restricted, it will cover eight years, from 2001 to 2009. Far from being restricted, it will have access to any documents that are available, and that will include foreign documents that are available in British archives. [Emphasis mine.]

However, four years is a long time in politics, and last week, as David Cameron traveled to Sri Lanka for the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, it transpired that the documents Sir John Chilcot had been pursuing and been denied for six months have been also blocked by: “officials in the White House and the US department of state, who have refused to sanction any declassification of critical pre-and post-war communications between George W Bush and Tony Blair”.

David Cameron is apparently also blocking evidence “on Washington’s orders, from being included in the report of an expensive and lengthy British Inquiry.”

However, ‘shame’ clearly not being a word in Cameron’s lexicon, he landed in Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon, a British Colony 1815-1948) as the above shoddy details broke, in full colonial mode.

Spectacular welcoming ceremonies barely over, he launched in to an entirely undiplomatic, public tirade, at this gathering of the ‘Commonwealth family of nations’ alleging that his host, President Mahinda Rajapaksa, was guilty of war crimes during the civil war with the Tamil Tigers.

It is not disputed that, as in any conflict, terrible crimes were committed on both sides. But these are accusations from the man both covering up the genesis of massacres of genocidal magnitude – and who enjoined in the near destruction of Libya, the resultant lynching of the country’s leader, the murder of his sons and small grandchildren and uncounted others in another decimation of a country that had threatened no other.

Cameron’s Libya is Blair’s Iraq. As in Iraq, the dying continues daily.

The pontification also from a prime minister backing funding for the cannibalistic-orientated insurgents in Syria – the beheading, dismembering, looting, displacing, kidnapping, chemical weapons lobbying, child killing, infanticide-bent crazies – including those from his own country.

In Sri Lanka, he demanded the country ensure “credible, transparent and independent investigations into alleged war crimes” and said if this did not happen by the March deadline he arbitrarily imposed, he would press the UN Human Rights Council to hold an international inquiry.

Further: “truth telling”, he said, was essential. To cite hypocrisy of breathtaking proportions has become a redundant accusation, but words are failing.

In the event Cameron “left Colombo having failed to secure any concessions from President Rajapaksa or persuade fellow leaders to criticise Sri Lanka’s record in a communique”. (Guardian, 16 November)

As the prime minster slunk out, President Mahinda Rajapaksa delivered an apt, withering reaction: “People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones,” he responded.

Ironically, in spite a tragic recent past, Sri Lanka is the only country in South Asia rated high on the Human Development Index. The UK and ‘allies’ recent victims Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan barely make it to the bottom.

David Cameron returned to Britain still having to grapple with how to evade delivering truth to the Chilcot Inquiry.

Hopefully, he will read a letter from writer Lesley Docksey:

It was British taxpayers’ money that funded the Chilcot Inquiry, and this taxpayer wants her money’s worth. All the British government papers concerning the sorry affair of an invasion of another country belong to this nation – not to the United States, not to Tony Blair and not to the current government. Taxpayers aren’t here to save the faces of politicians.

Nor is it, in the words of the Cabinet Office, ‘in the public’s interest’ that exchanges between the UK prime minister and the US president are kept secret’ – sorry, ‘privileged’ – from those who are paying their wages. The phrase ‘in the public interest’ only ever means the interests of the government of the day.

“Unless Sir John Chilcot and his team can publish a full and honest report, no lessons will be learnt by future governments. But then, if those lessons were learnt, and we the public knew (as in fact we do) what they were, this country would find it difficult to ever invade anywhere ever again.

So, Sir John, in the words of a former PM, the Duke of Wellington, ‘Publish and be damned!’” (Independent, 18th November 2013)

Oh, and as David Cameron was lecturing Sri Lanka on ‘transparency’, the Conservatives were removing “a decade of speeches from their website and from the main internet library – including one in which David Cameron claimed that being able to search the web would democratise politics by making ‘more information available to more people’”.

The party removed records of speeches and press releases from 2000 until May 2010. The effect will be to remove any speeches and articles during the Tories’ modernisation 

Posted in Sri Lanka, UKComments Off on UK prime minister covers up crimes against humanity, and lectures Sri Lanka on crimes against humanity

PALESTINE: GOOD MORNING NAZI’S AT YOUR DOOR

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Room No. 4: what would I do if anybody even touched my son?

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A photo exhibition titled “Room number 4″ was open on Thursday, December 5th, as part of an International campaign against arresting Palestinian children.

The exhibition is part of a campaign launched by Madaa Silwan Creative Centre, on Monday 02.12.2013 in the town of Silwan. The title “Room Number 4”, refers to the rooms where all Jerusalemites, including children are investigated. It is one of the sections of “Al-Maskobyeh” detention centre in Jerusalem.

The photo exhibition will feature pictures displayed in an artistic style to reveal the violations against children, such as investigating them without the presence of their parents and the use of physical and verbal abuse. Each picture is based on children’s testimonies collected by Madaa Centre in 2012.

The photo exhibition is produced and directed by Tamer Nafar from DAM hip-hop group, photographed by Ashraf Dowani and in participation with “War Child” organization. It features Palestinian artists from Jerusalem, West Bank and 1948 lands including: Saleh Bakri, Reem Talhami, Amal Murcus, Mustafa Alkurd, Amer Hlehel, satirists from the program Watan A’ Watar and others.

Tamer Nafar says: “It was very hard to witness a child getting arrested without thinking “what would I do if anybody even touched my son?”. In one of the pictures (when the investigators prevent the parents from being inside the investigation room) I imagined myself outside “Room number 4” and an investigator telling me “you can’t come in”. At this point, I would turn the world upside down. I wish the people would feel the same way in order to stop the criminal acts of the occupation towards our children.”

The exhibition will be open to visitors from Thursday the 5th of December, 2013 at 06:30 p.m at the French Cultural Institute (21. Salah Eddin Street, Jerusalem), and will stay  for a month.

 

Palestinian singer Amal Murcus

Palestinian singer Amal Murcus

“Around 4:30 in the morning we woke up to the sound of knocking and kicking on the door of our house. When we opened the door a special forces unit came in and askedfor my son. (…) They grabbed him and tried to take him outside. As they left the house I saw them handcuffing his hands and feet.” Mother of a 14 years old child.

 

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Illinois’ Assault On Public Pensions

NOVANEWS
by CHRIS GEOVANIS

Illinois workers and pensioners got an object lesson on the stupidity of supporting state Democratic Party leaders on Tuesday, when Sauron-like House Speaker Mike Madigan succeeded in jamming through legislation that eviscerates core guarantees for public workers’ pensions. The ruling elites’ newspaper of choice, the Chicago Tribune, summed up the outcome in an editorial cartoon that painted AFSCME — one of the public sector unions whose workers are spectacularly screwed by this betrayal — as a castrated dog. Illinois’ fake populist governor Pat Quinn has vowed to sign the bill post haste, while opponents like State Senator Willie Delgado have condemned the bill as “morally wrong, morally corrupt” legislation that will “punish retired teachers, the janitor, the woman who serves lunch to your child in school.”

Too bad for those working stiffs, according to Madigan. The “reason we’re here today … is because the Illinois pension systems are just too rich to be afforded as the state goes forward,” said Madigan in touting the bill.

What Madigan really meant to say was, “We can’t continue to slash taxes for rich fucks by ripping off public pension funds and also meet our obligations to the little people — so fuck those little people.”

Madigan — widely regarded as the most powerful politician in the state — has a long history of channeling the pro-business, pro-privatization, anti-tax agenda of ‘reform’ advocates. And on Tuesday, the ‘reformers’ who embraced Madigan’s bill included little people haters like the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, Illinois Chamber of Commerce, Illinois Manufacturer’s Association and the wildly misnamed Civic Federation, which should be called the Rich Fucks Federation because it only cares about the civic well-being of … well … rich fucks. Those same state legislators and their political overlord Madigan are nothing if not consistent. Legislators are also poised to vote on massive tax breaks and corporate welfare giveaways to multi-billion dollar companies.

The bill wasn’t quite good enough for the Illinois Policy Institute, an active player in the right-wing ALEC bill mill, mainly because Madigan’s pension assault doesn’t fully embrace the elimination of all public pensions in favor of 401k plans controlled by the same Wall Street ruling elites who blew up the economy five years ago.

But it’s a start!

IPI’s mouthpieces have been mightily busy in recent months positioning their take on ‘fairness’ — that is, how unfair it is that public sector workers who pay roughly 10% of their annual wages into their own pension funds should get more than the rest of us poor suckers who are forced to rely on the poverty wages of Social Security in our old age. Their right-wing ideology is pretty simple: “Pensions bankrupt companies … and if we’re not careful, they’ll bankrupt the state of Illinois.” By ‘State of Illinois’, IPA and their allies mean rich fucks. By ‘bankrupt’, IPA means ‘tax at a fair rate.’ Right-wing libertarian outfits like the IPI would prefer to see economic safety net structures like Social Security, which pays out an average monthly ‘benefit’ of $1,250, eliminated altogether in favor of ‘market’ solutions like 401ks. Those who were relying on 401k schemes to provide a measure of dignity in their hard-earned retirement know how that worked out. Not: workers lost on average between a quarter and a third of the value of their 401k funds in 2008, and nationally these schemes are woefully underfunded.

Other prospective public pension raiders are more unabashedly enthusiastic about the deal. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle — a Democrat whose county houses Chicago and its suburbs and employs 20,000 workers in the system’s jails, public hospitals and other frontline agencies — says she may use the bill as a template for her upcoming raid on Cook County’s pension fund. Chicago Mayor 1%, Rahm Emanuel — who jammed through NAFTA for Bill Clinton and derailed the public option in Obama’s insurance company bailout scheme — is also a big fan. Literally within minutes of passage, Mayor 1% — who’s facing a budget shortfall driven by the same kind of multi-year failure to pay into employee pensions — issued a press statement touting Tuesday’s legislation as a model for Chicago’s pending assault on worker retirement benefits.

Public pensions in Illinois ARE facing big deficits — structural deficits created by decades of pension raiding and underfunding by legislators desperate to avoid taxing ruling elites at fair rates. Union leaders in Illinois, unfortunately, have been oddly unwilling to take off the gloves with ruling elite toadies like Madigan, who won the state AFL-CIO’s endorsement just last year. The state’s public sector unions also routinely back many of the same candidates that Madigan backs — and who Madigan armtwisted into supporting this sell-out. Now, with this legislative debacle poised to become law, union leadership will move forward with challenging the constitutionality of this week’s pension raid in the state courts.

That might work, or it might not. Although state judges are also public workers — and among the highest-compensated outliers in Illinois’ public pension system — the black-robed jurists who will rule on the constitutionality of this pension raid are exempted from any hit on their personal pensions. With no dog in the fight — but with enormous dependency on kingmakers like Madigan for slating in judicial elections — it’s been argued that relying on the courts is simply one more piece of magical thinking by Illinois union leaders who continue to operate under the assumption that they’ve got to back Illinois Dems because they’ve got no-where else to go.

How, one might ask, can Illinois have a structural debt crisis when the state’s level of funding for services is among the lowest in the nation? Because rather than taxing ruling elites, the state “racked up a ton of debt by using the pension systems like a credit card to pay for public services for which there was not enough tax revenue,” according toRalph Martire of the Center for Tax & Budget Accountability. Slashing the pensions of public workers will do nothing to fix this problem. Nor will slashing Medicaid — by $1.6 billion last year alone, gutting health care for thousands of poor Illinois families. In fact, this week’s pension ‘fix’ only kicks the can down the road — because the state’s structural deficit persists. What state residents really need is a way out of Illinois’ ginormous and growing debt to — yes — banksters, a debt created because the state has massively borrowed from those banksters instead of remedying its fundamental revenue issues.

And that problem can only be remedied by tackling the state’s hopelessly regressive taxing infrastructure — what one analysis called one of the most unfair taxing states in the nation.

Illinois law essentially bans a graduated income tax — great for rich people and really crappy for the rest of us. That’s generated a dynamic in which the poorest 20% of Illinois families pay twice as much of their income in state and local taxes as the richest 20%. Roughly two-thirds of companies that do business in Illinois pay no state income taxes at all, and grassroots groups are currently fighting for legislation that will at least force state officials to disclose just how terrible corporate tax inequities really are in the state. At the same time, Illinois political hacks have been plenty eager to hand out corporate welfare like Halloween candy, with literally billions of dollars going to banksters and bloodsuckers that range from CME to oil companies.

Curtis Black has outlined in exquisite detail the machinations of the state’s ass-backward taxing structure — one that dovetails flawlessly with the growing income inequality that plagues not just Illinois — although Illinois does worse than most states — but the entire nation. Black’s snapshot summary also paints a responsible path forward: a proposal for a “progressive tax system” that would reduce the tax rate for more than nine out of ten residents and still raise billions of additional dollars a year for vital front-line services — as well as pension obligations the state has been dodging so it can undertax rich fucks.

But that’s a no-go with Madigan. Illinois’ Democratic Party bosses have demonstrated one clear reality this week: they are just not going to allow their puppet legislators to vote on behalf of workers and retirees if they have to choose between the well-being of public wage earners and ruling elites. They’ve also advanced a potent scheme for corporatist raids on public pensions across the nation — although they’re hardly alone. Two years ago another ‘Democrat’, Rhode Island Treasurer and vulture capitalist Gina Raimondo, mounted a not dissimilar assault on public pensions, and there’s clearly a pattern here according to wonks who range from former Kentucky official Chris Tobe to investigative journalist Matt Taibbi.

On the upside, other cities have succeeded in beating back these kinds of predatory initiatives, including Cincinnati earlier this fall. But the Cincinnati push-back on pension raids was grounded in real grassroots opposition — and that was sorely absent in the state capital on Tuesday. While the Wisconsin state capitol was roiled by weeks of protest two years ago when ALEC governor Scott Walker went after public workers’ rights, barely a handful of rank and file members were down in Springfield talking to legislators on Tuesday. “It was beyond weird,” says one union member. “I’ve never seen the Capitol so empty.”

There’s a hard lesson in this for Illinois’ labor leaders, particularly when it comes to truly resetting what has historically been a cozy relationship with Democratic Party kingmakers in the state: you can’t trust Democratic Party leaders like Mike Madigan not to screw you, no matter how much cash and sweat equity you throw at them, because when push comes to shove they’re gonna back the agenda of the rich fucks.

While it’s certainly within the realm of possibility (however slim) that Illinois’ courts might toss the legislation, maybe finally — finally — the rank and file can incite their leaders do what Seattle residents did this fall and recognize that it’s time to walk away from their serial abusers in the Democratic Party. Because, fellow workers, they know which side they’re on — and it’s not ours.

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éirígí mark International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People

NOVANEWS

On Friday, November 29, éirígí marked the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People with a candle-lit vigil outside the Israeli Embassy in Ballsbridge, Dublin 4.

The vigil, which began at 6pm, was called to show solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for national liberation and to demand the immediate release of Ahmad Sa’adat, the imprisoned General Secretary of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, who is being held in solidarity confinement by the Israeli state. The parallels between the Irish and Palestinian struggles were highlighted when those at the protest also demanded the immediate release of éirígí Newry spokesperson Stephen Murney, who has been interned by the British state for one year.

Solidarity with Palestine

Those at the vigil carried the Palestinian and Irish national flags as well as éirígí and PFLP flags. Others held placards which read ‘Free Ahmad Sa’adat – Free Stephen Murney’ and ‘End the Occupation of Palestine’, while a large banner calling on passers-by to ‘Boycott Israeli Goods’ was illuminated by candles.

The vigil received a great response from rush hour motorists, much to the annoyance of the large force of Gardaí who were present. After the hour long event ended, the Special Branch stopped a car containing a number of people who had travelled from Wicklow to attend the protest. Such harassment remains the stock in trade of Ireland’s political police.

Free Ahmad Sa'adat, Free Stephen Murney

Speaking from Dublin, Cathaoirleach éirígí Brian Leeson said, “Tonight’s vigil is a display of ongoing solidarity from Ireland, with the Palestinian people in their continuing fight for freedom and justice. The people of Ireland and Palestine have common enemies in the forces of capitalism and imperialism who are trying to do dominate every region of this planet. Our joint struggle is the international fight of the working class for liberation. From Dublin, we send a message to the Palestine people today. You do not stand alone. Your struggle is our struggle, your fight is our fight, and your victory will be our victory.”

Under close watch

Leeson continued, “The similarities between the struggle in Ireland and Palestine are clear. Both people face a militarily superior occupying power that has no right to be in our respective countries. Both peoples have had to contend with a section of their revolutionary movement being bought off by the forces of occupation and have had to adapt accordingly. Both peoples have been subjected to exile, wrongful imprisonment and death for daring to assert their national and class rights.”

Leeson concluded, “Those of us in Ireland who are serious about fighting for national liberation and socialism are committed to the principle of international solidarity with other struggling peoples. The people of Palestine can count on our ongoing support and comradeship. For our part, we are committed to doing whatever we can to highlight, here in Ireland, the injustice of the Zionist occupation of Palestine and the realities of the Palestinian people’s ongoing fight for national self-determination.”

– See more at: http://www.eirigi.org/latest/latest051213.html#sthash.nQfCgWAd.dpuf

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Don’t take my pension!: The looming public worker nightmare

NOVANEWS

What happens to a municipal worker’s pension when a city goes bankrupt? Unlike banks, they won’t get bailed out

Don't take my pension!: The looming public worker nightmare
Dan McNamara, president of the Detroit Fire Fighters Association, speaks to firefighters (Credit: AP/Paul Sancya)

We are now on the cutting edge of a wave of municipal bankruptcies fueled by pension obligations that cities cannot afford. Cities made workers promises in good times based on optimistic assumptions that did not always hold true.

Yet it is far from clear that bankruptcy provides any solution to municipal pension problems. No city has ever reduced its pension obligations in bankruptcy without pensioner consent. While municipal bankruptcy has been around since the 1930s, pension-driven bankruptcies are a new phenomenon. Few of the local government units that have filed for bankruptcy since the 1930s have even been true municipalities. Most have been sewer, water and hospital districts plus oddballs like county fairs and NYC Off-Track Betting or the Las Vegas Monorail.

The cities that have filed for bankruptcy are generally tiny towns that find themselves in economic distress for mundane or ridiculous reasons, not because of pensions: The town treasurer absconded with a million dollars; the city’s tax on strip clubs was an unconstitutional violation of freedom of express; the state shut down the illegal speed trap the town was operating on the interstate. Nor were the largest and most famous municipal bankruptcy cases resolved to date about pensions: Orange County, Calif., and Jefferson County, Ala., both ended up in bankruptcy because of bad investments in financial derivatives. Pensions were one of many factors in New York City’s financial crisis in 1975, but the bankruptcy law at the time made filing impractical because it would have necessitated the city first soliciting the consent of thousands of unknown holders of its bearer bonds.

The new wave of municipal bankruptcies — Detroit, Stockton and San Bernardino being the leading cases — are all set to test the question of whether pensions can be cut in bankruptcy, particularly in the face of state laws protecting those pension obligations. If municipal pensions can be cut in bankruptcy, we should expect to see more cities eyeing bankruptcy as a possibility, and other cities using the threat of bankruptcy as negotiating leverage to wring concessions from pensioners and employees.

Chicago, for example, after undergoing an unheard of three-notch downgrade on its municipal debt, is struggling to find a way to handle its municipal debt without taking the politically unpopular step of raising taxes. Thus far the city has engaged in a questionable campaign to sell off all sorts of public assets, such as its parking meter revenues for the next 75 years. There’s only so long, however, a city can “burn the furniture” to stave off its financial problems.

Posted in USA, Campaigns, PoliticsComments Off on Don’t take my pension!: The looming public worker nightmare

Socialism is not a political party; it is the first stage of communization

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Part of the genius of the Decolonize/ Occupy movement was our instinctual sense that the state can’t really control the capitalist market.  In fact, the state helped create this market by colonial force and it has now been devoured up by the forces it unleashed.

Instead of appealing to politicians to reel in capitalism and make it work for us, we tried to attack capital directly – we  occupied Wall St. and  ”Wall St. on the Waterfront”.   As we said during the Dec. 12th, 2011 port shutdown, the Wisconsin-style attempts to occupy capitol buildings had failed to stop the politicians from passing austerity measures.  So why not start occupying the capital of the corporations that buy the politicians in those capitols?  Why not disrupt their ports, factories, etc.?  This could be the first step of a broader effort – where employed workers, unemployed folks, union members and non-union alike could unite to occupy and seize the means of life – the farms, rail lines, schools, grain elevators, etc. that we need to survive and thrive.

As I argue below, existing capitalist states are so hollowed out and dysfunctional that they can barely control the market enough to keep capitalism functioning smoothly.   So it seems utopian to expect them to control the market enough to redistribute wealth equally, or to avert ecological catastrophe.

I think this means the capitalist state cannot be reformed to gradually become more and more socialist; they tried that in Europe, and it failed.  All the so-called “socialist” parties there are imposing austerity measures, gutting things like free education and health care.  They tried it in various countries in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America, and they either ended up in debt-bondage to the IMF, imposing austerity on their own people –  or they were isolated, invaded, and overthrown.

Without an accelerating revolutionary movement in the streets, workplaces, and neighborhoods, I think that Sawant will be pressured into one of these corners.

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I’m not saying we should abstain from politics in order to focus on building subcultures that “drop out” of the system.  These subcultures often end up reproducing oppressive and capitalistic social relationships themselves.  And without taking back all the wealth we’ve created through our labor, we won’t have enough resources to actually meet each other’s needs and desires.  Everything the state and the corporations have we made; we may want to destroy the nuclear weapons and surveillance systems and other aspects of control, but we can probably recycle the machinery, distribution networks,  buildings, etc.

Some Leninist supporters of Sawant might agree the state can’t be reformed through elections, but they might see her election as a strategic step toward popularizing a party that can eventually overthrow it by force.  But if we look at the 20th century, I think we need to be honest about the dangers of professional political classes, even progressive ones created by insurgent vanguard parties or guerrilla armies.  They’ve consolidated power on the backs of the workers, citizens, peasants, or whoever else they claim to serve.  They’ve also imposed state-capitalist economic plans that have pushed the planet further toward climate catastrophe.

I’m particularly skeptical of attempts to take over a state like the U.S.A., whose roots are in the colonial settler republic of the 1700s and whose branches spread as an increasingly incoherent coordinating committee for the global capitalist empire; in fact, its roots and branches don’t always work well together, pushing this state into increasing contradictions like the recent government shutdown.  It will probably take a world revolution to bring down this state, and if that becomes possible, I hope we aim a lot farther than the creation of a Soviet States of America.

 I think a revolution will need to thoroughly smash this capitalist state and this empire, immediately starting a long-term process of communization: creating what we need and want, freely producing for each other.

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 Socialism is simply the word that Marx used for certain initial attempts at communization, for the moment when the workers’ movement begins to take over and the working class begins to abolish itself as a class, unleashing our pent up creative powers to build a classless society.  This is a contingent, reversible moment where people either continue to make the revolution or allow it degenerate into state capitalism. Or, they fail entirely and a  wave of fascist rebels  or warlords start filling the vacuum.

We have to admit that none of us can really guarantee the success of  this communization process – especially if it has to happen under conditions of  rising sea levels, pandemics, food insecurity, the proliferation of drug cartels,  etc.  If we had these answers, “communization ” would be debated in occupied factories right now, not in graduate school bars and suffocating, navel-gazing “ultraleft”, “left communist”,  and anarchist scenes.  We are not sure how to avoid the fates which have swamped so many past revolutions.  But that’s exactly what we need to figure out.

 I think we can learn from the emphasis on direct democracy  that many anarchist and indigenous movements have implemented-  face to face decision making about what we want to create, about how we want to reorganize our society in ecological ways, or how we want our kids’ to learn and grow.

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Breaking the System’s Shock Absorbers

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However, I think we can also learn from the autonomist Marxists’ recognition that the current capitalist state is not monolithic or static.  The state is the product of contradictory class forces, and since classes are constantly being composed and recomposed, the state can change and adapt, especially in response to pressures from below –  from people like us.

capitalism_firm_grip_on_wheel

Capitalism and the state are currently in a moment of crisis and transition.  They are having trouble governing.  This does not automatically mean that revolution is around the corner, and even if revolution happens this does not automatically mean the outcome will be anarchistic communization.  But we need to recognize that the current state has its own set of problems, and that our enemies are not always united in some grand conspiracy. 

Local and federal governments are allowing various corporations or ruling class factions to prioritize their own short term profits rather than investing in captalism’s longterm stability.  We see this especially with the investments in trains carrying coal for export, instead of high speed passenger trains that could start to replace cars.  We see it in the destablization of public education which allows various crackpot social entrepeneurs to market new products to “save” the system even while their products harm youth and make it more difficult to train the next generation of workers for the system.

We also see this tendency when companies replace workers with machines, even though this eventually causes their rates of profit to fall and creates a potentially rebellious population of unemployed people.   We may see it in drastic form if the Trans Pacific Partnership is passed,  reinforcing multinational corproations’ ability to sue local governments that try to regulate them.  This could close off a whole range of reformist political strategies such as lobbying,  petitioning, collective bargaining.  Why lobby someone who doesn’t have the power to give you what you want?

 All of this  leaves the state and ruling class with less leeway to reproduce the illusion they represent some social contract or common good.  That reality is both a cause, and an effect, of the creative rebellions that are happening here, and, more intensely, around the world.

“Grassroots” groups like unions, nonprofits, etc. that used to be locked into stable relationships with the state  may increasingly find themselves having to freelance.  This creates a new political terrain and we will need to learn to navigate it.

We will find ourselves betrayed, isolated, and crushed if we don’t remain independent of Sawant and the progressive union bureaucrats and social entrepreneurs who backed  her election.  But we will also find ourselves isolated and crushed if we abstain from future Occupy-like movements just because the last one produced a new socialist politician.

I’m noticing a number of my comrades are trying to maintain their anarchist credentials by flippantly dismissing Kshama as just another progressive Democrat.  I think they’re bending facts to fit their dogmas.  It is obvious that Sawant is sincere about fighting the corporate-controlled Democratic party machine; this is evident in her call to seize the Boeing factories and to put them under democratic workers’ control, and in her refusal to take corporate donations.   But breaking from the Democrats alone is not enough to replace capitalism and the state with total freedom, and it creates new problems for us at the same time as it solves old ones.  We can’t solve the new ones by claiming Sawant is just an old one.

We need to remember that the corporate status quo is not maintained solely by the two parties of the 1%.  In fact, it isn’t maintained solely by the state bureaucracy.  It is a product of social relationships that run throughout society – relationships that are continually reproduced and reinforced  by hierarchal “grassroots” organizations like unions, nonprofits, religious groups, and activist groups.  These shock-absorbers channel rebellious energy into safe cul-de-sacs where it won’t threaten the stability of the system.

 The state doesn’t simply rule through brute force – if it tried to crush every oppositional movement, this would just piss people off even more and we’d rise up to overthrow it.  I know the grand juries and all the killer cops can make it seem this way, but I doubt we are on the verge of martial law or general suppression of all radical activity.  The state still rules through hegemony and counterinsurgency – through winning the hearts and minds of potential opponents, rendering them a loyal opposition.  Some radicals call this tendency“social democracy”.

kanye no church in the wild

I’m not saying there is some grand conspiracy going on to brainwash us.  Hegemony is always partial, tentative, contradictory, and dynamic.  If  the state aimed for total mind control it would become corny, obvious, and easier to mock.  Usually it’s more subtle, and actually relies on everyday people creating new forms of incomplete rebellion ourselves, forms that can then set trends, allowing the system to market new, “edgy” commodities we can consume to blow off steam – everything from Kanye West’s appropriation of Black Block imagery to the corrosive proliferation of academic postmodernism through anarchist and activist subcultures.

Also, not all of these cooptation efforts are centrally coordinated and calibrated to effectively maintain the stability of capital as a whole.  Again, some of them are simply efforts of various factions of capital to make a short term profit, and at times these short term motives will actually undermine overall capitalist stability by popularizing a culture of rebellion (e.g. movies like Elysium or the Hunger Games).

Other times, they undermine the overall hegemony by coopting a movement in a  clunky way that is effective enough to avoid short term profit loss but not effective enough to prevent people from drawing radical conclusions over the long haul.  Still other times, they attempt to directly make a profit off of people’s grievances, such as all the corporate education reform movements that promote Pearson, Inc.’s standardized  testing products as a phony solution to the very real  racialized inequality between Black students and white students in the public schools.

The most classic forms of hegemony are patriarchy and white supremacy – things like the sexual violence in the Occupy camp that fractured the movement,  or the failure of majority white longshore workers in Seattle to support the majority African port truckers when they went on strike here in 2012. These are not just imposed from above; we re-generate them in how we relate to each other on a daily basis.  The system convinces us to internalize the shock absorbers that allow capitalism to run right over our antagonistic gestures.  When we see this happening, we shouldn’t fall into an abyss of guilt and conclude that we’ve failed and that no alternative is possible.  All of this is part of living in a capitalist society, and we’re not exempt from it just because we’re radicals.  But that’s also exactly why we want to destory capitalism.  Race and gender oppression are social constructions, and like any construction site, they can be sabotaged.

For capitalism’s hegemony to work, the people who build the shock absorbers actually need a bit of leeway, breathing room to experiment at the grassroots level.  Not every nonprofit worker or union organizer is a conscious social democratic hack.  Some of them might be sincere revolutionaries, and others might just be good people trying to help out their neighbors.  But at the macro level, these institutions operate by intertwining these good intentions with the constraints set by the system.  In times of crisis, otherwise good people from these milieus are  recruited into action to rapidly generate peace treaties that de-escalate struggles between the oppressed and the oppressors, the ruling class and the working class, the state and the ungovernable crowd. At that point, they become our opponents.  

So, what all of this means is that if  we want freedom beyond the two party system, we’ll need more than militant action in the streets. We’ll also need more than socialists in office.  You can’t smash  a social relationship like people smash windows.  You also can’t vote it out of office.

We’ll need to break through these shock absorbers in a strategic and thorough way -and it will be a messy, impure process since the shock absorbers are intertwined with our daily lives and our very sense of who we are – so breaking through them is as much an act of social self-creation as it is an act of destructive transcendence.  If we don’t do that, then any Leftward shift among elected politicians will remain largely symbolic and hollow, and militant actions in the streets will be easily isolated and contained.

In Seattle, the Democratic Party would have lost control back in the ‘60s or earlier if it hadn’t forged a mutual alliance with shock absorbing institutions like nonprofits, identity-based activist organizations, and unions. Sawant represents a break from the Democrats. But does she represent an erosion of these more diffuse forces of hegemony, or is she going to reinforce them in new ways?

Posted in ZIO-NAZI, PoliticsComments Off on Breaking the System’s Shock Absorbers

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