Archive | December 5th, 2014



Terrorists Killed

(Photo: courtesy of Almanar)

DAYR EL-ZOR:  Syrian intelligence agencies are convinced Qatar and Saudi Arabia, in consultation with the Turk war criminals, urged ISIS to attack the Dayr El-Zor Airbase on Tuesday. The reasoning was very clear: a large mechanized SAA armored division (4th) led by Maj. Gen. Maaher Al-Assad, was heading to Al-Raqqa to besiege and liberate the city.  The Arabian rat-monkeys could not abide a Syrian city being freed of the stench and plague of Wahhabism and ordered Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi to launch the assault on the airbase in a manner similar to the attack on the Tabqa Base.  This time, however, as our readers shall see, the SAA was not only prepared, but capable of stanching the assault and taking the battle back to the degenerate rats of the ISIS.

On Wednesday, December 3, 2014, at approximately 10:30 p.m., Damascus time, an ISIS rat-skunk Wahhabist, drove a truck laden with explosives into the outer perimeter of Huwayjat Al-Mureei’iyya killing 16 SAA defenders.  The explosion is geographically exact at the Fisherman’s Wharf very close to the airbase. The truck was allowed to approach the SAA lines because it was camouflaged with Syrian Army insignias and signaled to our troops, in Syrian Arabic, that it was carrying “important material”.  The driver was atomized by the blast.

As Syrian Army officers and grunts collected around the site of the explosion, a second truck barreled its way toward them but was destroyed by troops carrying Kornet anti-tank launchers and rockets.  A general alarm was heard all around the area.  Maj. General Zhahreddeen alerted the SAAF immediately demanding air support to slow down the massing vehicles only 2 kms away.  Once the details were communicated and coordinates drawn, SAAF Sukhois and Yaks went into the air from the airbase at Dayr El-Zor along with rapid reinforcement by the 137th Armored Brigade 10kms west of the city.

The fighting in Dayr El-Zor has not been going well for the ISIS terrorists during the last month.  Other than largely useless plots of desert territory, the ISIS rodents have not been advancing at all.  In areas like Al-Shaa’er Mountain in Homs, they have suffered shattering defeat at the hands of the SAA.  In northern Aleppo, they are bracing for a drubbing as the Syrian Army continues to close up all pathways into the city.  In order to boost their flagging morale, with news of many hundreds of their foreign rodents leaving for their home countries, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdaadi took the Saudi-Qatari-Turk advice to heart and ordered this new fiasco.

SyrPer is now comfortable in predicting ISIS’s Waterloo here over the next 7 days.  ISIS has no ability to blunt the air campaign now skewering its ranks.  Yesterday, 4 pickups with 23mm cannons were confirmed incinerated.  SAA spotters report the deaths of over 140 rats with many more still not accounted for.

The SAA under command of Gen. Zhahreddeen, is proactively attacking the ISIS rodents at Al-Muree’iyya and Huwayjat Al-Sakr.  Indications of SAA confidence are the presence of a large fleet of attack jets and helicopters at the base.  At Tabqa, as you know, the SAA deliberately emptied the base before it was overrun by the syphilitic Wahhabists.  Rat communications are indicative of failure as they try to convince their principals of the need to “redeploy”.  Saudi, Qatari and Turk/Zionist idiots are eating crow as we write.  And by the by, the Syrian armored column is still heading to Al-Raqqa.


North Korea accuses US of spreading Ebola and choosing Africa as a bio-weapon testing ground


KCNA called for the US to face a human rights trial

North Korea is accusing the US of spreading the Ebola virus, claiming it has been “bent on the development of bio-weapons” in order to achieve world supremacy.

The secretive state reacted strongly to the Ebola outbreak by closing its border to tourists and quarantining anyone who does enter.

Now, a report by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) is claiming an aide to ex-President Reagan informed them the US had invented a progenitor of Ebola virus “for the purpose of launching a biological warfare”.

The aide was named as Roberts, who The Washington Post said could be a reference to Paul Craig Roberts, an econmoist.

Mr Roberts recently published a blog post entitled ‘Is The US Government The Master Criminal Of Our Time?’ which cited work published by two academics on Ebola.

Only a few weeks after a UN resolution condemned the country’s human right’s record, The KCNA criticised the US for its own human rights record.

The article said the US had given $140 million (£89 million) to a pharmaceutical company for research into the virus and chose Africa as a bio-weapon testing ground. It credited this claim to an unnamed Liberian professor.

It also claimed that the “US Department of Health and Human Services” admitted that the US “imperialists” have long conducted “vivisections with fatal epidemics, inflicting untold sufferings on mankind”.


It added: “Russian, Singaporean and American newspapers criticised that the US developed anti-Ebola virus vaccine through experiment on Ebola contagion, but has prevented this vaccine from being known to the world, only for its own interests.”

It also went on to claim that the Aids pandemic was also created by the US. In one final accusation, it said: “As already known to everyone, the US is the world’s biggest nuke possessor.”

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Sinking Deeper into the Mideast


The deserts of the Middle East and North Africa have become a kind of quicksand for U.S. policymakers, the more they thrash around violently the faster they sink, with the latest round of warfare against the Islamic State worsening matters, not improving them, as Phyllis Bennis told Dennis J. Bernstein.

By Dennis J Bernstein

The expanding U.S. war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is reverberating across the Middle East and North Africa where fundamentalist movements are gaining strength partly in reaction to the U.S. intervention.

Regional expert Phillis Bennis discussed this widening war and worsening destruction in an interview on “Flashpoints.” Bennis directs the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies and is also a fellow of the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam. She is the author of eight books including From Stones to Statehood: The Palestinian Uprising and Calling the Shots: How Washington Dominates Today’s UN.

President Barack Obama and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough. (This White House photo by Pete Souza was taken when McDonough was deputy national security adviser.)

President Barack Obama and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough. (This White House photo by Pete Souza was taken when McDonough was deputy national security adviser.)

DB: Let’s start in Iraq, Syria, ISIS. Give me your sense of where that situation is now, and a bit on what U.S. policy looks like in that regard.

PB: U.S. policy is a disaster. And, U.S. policy is helping to make things worse. We’re seeing increased U.S. air strikes along the border between Syria and Turkey. We’re seeing more attacks in Kobani, the town that has become the, sort of, symbolic linchpin of the ISIS attacks in Syria. What we’re not seeing is that these U.S. air strikes are actually keeping anyone safe.

We’re hearing of at least small numbers … perhaps larger numbers of civilian casualties. We’ve now had the third U.S. death of a pilot, in those air strikes. All of them, supposedly not combat related, as they like to put it. Which basically means that the plane, officially, was not shot down. But it does seem to me that when a plane crashes in a bombing raid, whether or not it was from being shot down, or from some kind of mechanical difficulties, or whatever, it’s a combat fatality. I mean, let’s be clear.

So we’ve had three fatalities, so far, in this new U.S. global war on terror, Obama-style. The Global War on Terror 2.0, we might call it. And things are getting worse, they’re not getting better. The idea that somehow the U.S. can send, what’s now about 3,100 U.S. soldiers on the ground, troops on the ground, the ones we heard were not being on the ground, but they are on the ground.

To identify and train up a functioning, powerful, motivated, disciplined Iraqi military when 160,000 troops at a time, totaling over a million U.S. troops, over the course of a decade could not do that, makes no sense. I don’t know why they think they can do it now when they couldn’t do it before with a hundred times more troops. It doesn’t make any sense. The U.S. policy doesn’t make any sense. And what we’re seeing is more bombing, less safe, people in the area more and more driven to become refugees.


The number of refugees is increasing, the amount of money available to the United Nations to take care of the refugees is decreasing. We just heard today that 41,000 Syrian refugees, just as winter approaches, will now no longer be getting food vouchers. They will have no access to food. Why? Because the U.N. doesn’t have the money that was pledged from various countries, including the U.S., although some U.S. funds have been paid, not all of it. And the result is, things are simply a disaster.

DB: Now, in terms of the refrain coming out of the Pentagon, and the White House is that our bombing campaign has, if not stopped, if not turned back, [caused] many setbacks for ISIS. From your information, from the way you are following this, what do you think the strength is. Is ISIS gaining? Is Washington having any success in its so-called program of turning them back?

PB: Well, I think what is happening is that some of these U.S. air strikes are finding, identifying, and killing members of ISIS. So they’re bombing pick-up trucks, they’re bombing groups of half-a-dozen troops at a time, that sort of thing. So, yes, ISIS is paying a price for this. ISIS fighters are being killed. Now if you want to consider that a great victory for U.S. policy, I suppose that’s a victory.

The problem is, it doesn’t seem to have any impact on the rise of ISIS, and the expansion of ISIS. This is a little bit similar to what we saw in Afghanistan in the early years of the war when the U.S. was able to simply wipe out the vast majority of Al-Qaeda fighting forces in Afghanistan.

You remember, Dennis, and many of your listeners will remember, just a couple of years into the war we already started hearing that there’s only somewhere between 50 and 100 Al-Qaeda fighters left in Afghanistan. And lots of people started scratching their heads, and saying “and exactly why are we keeping 100,000 troops there, if that’s the case?” “Well, because Al-Qaeda had expanded and now we’re also going after the Taliban, and we’re going after Al-Qaeda in Iraq.” Which, of course, is what became ISIS a few years later. “We have to go after Al-Qaeda in the Magreb, in and around Algeria and the North Africa area. We now have Al-Qaeda in Yemen. We have Al-Qaeda spreading around and now we have ISIS expanding.”

There’s now a militant group in the Egyptian Sinai, which a week or two ago declared themselves to be part of, and accountable to ISIS. So as the U.S. proceeds to drop bombs on pick-up trucks with half a dozen troops here and a half a dozen guerrillas there, what we’re seeing is an increase, just as we did with the Taliban and other militant organizations when the U.S. attacks them, that’s the best possible recruiting device that those organizations could ever wish for. The same thing is happening with ISIS.

DB: Particularly now, could you talk a little bit about the U.S. is bombing in Syria, the U.S. wants Turkey to get more engaged, we’ve got the U.S. bombing in a way that helps the Syrian government which it clearly opposes. You want to give your assessment of what’s happening here?

PB: Yeah, kind of messy, isn’t it? We have the U.S., as you say, bombing in Syria and bombing in Iraq, and it’s bombing the strongest opponents of the government in Syria, which is the government that just a year ago we were almost at war with. And it was only the opposition of the British Parliament, the face-saving provided by Russia, and the massive outpouring of anti-war demands on Congress from people in this country that stopped the Obama administration from bombing the Syrian regime at that time. Why? Because the Syrian regime was the worst regime we had ever faced.

Now we’re bombing the chief, most powerful strongest military opponents of the Syrian regime, which is ISIS. ISIS has absorbed into itself stolen money and weapons from, and sidelined, all the other opponents. It has become, by far, the dominant opponent of the Syrian regime, at a military level.

I mean, we should be clear there are still incredibly brave non-violent protestors in Syria that are challenging both the regime and these extremist forces. But on a military level, which is the only level the U.S. operates at, ISIS has become, by far, the most powerful opponent of the Syrian regime. And every bombing that the U.S. carries out, further strengthens the regime, not least because it takes forces away from the need for the regime to challenge ISIS. The U.S. is doing its work for it. So, that’s a very messy situation.

We also have to recognize that the whole question of Kurdish rights, Kurdish nationalism, has re-emerged in these last six months or so, as a major, really defining component here. And it makes everything far more complicated. If we look at the question in September, when we first saw the U.S. decision to bomb in Syria, something it had, up until then, refused to do. The official reason, at the time, was that the Yazidi community had been isolated and was stuck on Mount Sinjar. It was the heat of the summer, they were stuck without water. It was a lot of old people, a lot of babies, children, women; a desperate situation. The humanitarian situation was an absolute crisis.

And it was that crisis that was the, sort of, public rationale that the U.S. gave for engaging in bombing. Well, in fact, out of about 100 air strikes that were carried out at that time, by the U.S., only two of them were actually anywhere near Mount Sinjar. The rest were all up near the oil city of Erbil, the Kurdish oil city in Northern Iraq. The Kurds, the Yazidis, the Kurdish Yazidis on Mount Sinjar were saved by Syrian Kurds, not by the U.S. bombing but by Syrian Kurds allied with the organization known as the PKK, which is an organization of Turkish Kurds which the U.S. considers to be a terrorist organization.

So the Yazidis are saved by people the U.S. considers to be terrorists. That makes things a little bit complicated. What’s even more complicated is that the Iraqi Kurds around Erbil, Sulaymaniyah, that whole region has expanded by 40 percent through this period of U.S. bombing and the re-introduction of U.S. forces into Iraq. That Kurdish zone now includes the city of Kirkuk, a long disputed city with a mixed population, partly Kurdish, partly Iraqi Arab, and one that the Kurds wanted to control because it’s a wealthy oil center. At the same time and for the same reason, the Iraqi government wanted to keep control of it, keep it out of Kurdish hands.

So now we have a situation where the U.S. is operating militarily in alliance with the Kurds of Iraq, who are trying very hard to divide Iraq, something the U.S. says it opposes. So, everything the U.S. does, whether it’s in Iraq, whether it’s in Syria, is having an opposite effect as a direct result of each of its military strikes. So everything we hear from the Pentagon “Oh, we got some bad guys. Oh, we got somebody and we got a pick-up truck full of bad guys.” Well, that’s all well and good, but the result of it is the exact opposite of the medium to longer term goal that the U.S. has and instead is serving the interests of U.S. opponents.

DB: Just staying with the Kurds for a moment, the U.S. has a new sort of feeling of allied with the Kurds, Kurdistan in Iraq, people talk about a new, independent state, but clearly that reverberates in very different ways in Turkey. I mean, there are a lot more Kurds in Turkey than there are in Kurdistan, not to mention the Kurds in Iran. So where does that come into play?

PB:  Yeah, this is a big problem because what we’re seeing right now, this is the basis for the U.S.-Turkish divide over what to do. The reason that the Turks have been very resistant to playing a bigger military role in Kobani, for instance, the Syrian city that is right along the Syrian-Turkish border, is because they don’t want to be helping the Syrian Kurds towards greater independence.

The Syrian Kurds have been, more or less, unofficially allied with the Syrian government. That doesn’t mean they like the government, that doesn’t mean they necessarily support the government. But it does mean that they have reached a fairly official rapprochement with the Syrian government, which has agreed to not attack Syrian Kurdish areas.

So when Turkey is faced with going after ISIS, in Kobani, they don’t want to do that because they don’t want to give more support to the Syrian Kurds who are seen as friends of the Syrian leader, who is the deadly enemy of the Turkish government. So, it’s all incredibly complicated.

You know, again it comes back to everything the U.S. does in one place, is having a really negative effect on what it’s trying to do somewhere else. The Turkish Kurds, who had fought a real guerrilla war against the Turkish government for decades, have not been at war, have not been fighting militarily, have been engaged in negotiations for the last five years or more. And both sides have been reluctant to abandon those negotiations.

But on the other hand the Turkish Kurds are watching their compatriots in Syria and in Iraq, the Iraqi Kurds and the Syrian Kurds, who are having these military victories and suddenly controlling a lot more territory than they used to, and that’s giving them ideas that maybe it’s time to give up on those negotiations and try a different route. So there’s a lot of very dangerous possibilities at stake here.

DB: Oh, there’s so much going on. So let’s travel across Syria to the other border there. With Lebanon, it’s got a busy border. … You’ve got Palestinians fleeing Syria on the one hand and you’ve got Hezbollah joining the war with Syria on the other hand. How does that impact on the region, on Israel, which has already conducted its own strikes in Syria? How do you look at that?

PB: It’s hugely destabilizing, and at the humanitarian level, it’s disastrous. If you look at what’s happened in Palestinian refugee camps like the Sabra and Shatila camps, known around the world for the massacre against Palestinians that happened under the leadership of General Ariel Sharon, then the defense minister of Israel and later the prime minister, known as the Butcher of Beirut, as a result that lead to the massacre of over 2,000 Palestinians civilians in a two-day raid by Lebanese Christians while Israeli soldiers provided the light to allow them to kill through the night.

Sabra and Shatila today have been flooded with Palestinian refugees coming into Lebanon from their refugee camps in Syria, and by Syrian refugees who are fleeing the fighting. It’s put enormous pressure on the already very fragile, both political and physical infrastructure of the camps, and of Lebanon as a whole.

At the same time, you have, for many Palestinians in Syria, who have been forced to flee in some cases the third or even fourth time they’ve been made refugees. These were, many of them, were originally refugees in what the Palestinians call the Nakba or the Catastrophe, the massive dispossession of 750,000 Palestinians in the war that led to the creation of the state of Israel in 1947-48.

Many of them first found refuge and set up camps in Syria. Those camps later were filled with refugees from the ’67 war. Some of them were people who had gone during the ’67 war, had fled to Jordan, and then in 1970, during the Black September operation, had been driven out a third time, had found refuge now in Syria. And now a fourth time are being made refugees again, and are fleeing back into Lebanon. So for Palestinian families it is absolutely disastrous.

And because they are stateless they have no rights. In Lebanon, for instance, Lebanon is known among all the Arab countries that hold large numbers of Palestinian refugees, Lebanon has always had by far the most stringent restrictions on what Palestinian refugees can do. They are not only not allowed the rights of citizenship, as they are in Jordan and to a large degree historically in Syria until the war began, but they are also explicitly restricted from, I think it’s about 50 or so job categories. That they are simply not allowed to take those jobs. So refugees, Palestinian refugees, second, third generation refugees in Lebanon, are already living incredibly difficult, constrained, impoverished and dispossessed lives, along with the denial of their right to return to their homeland. So it’s made all of that worse.

DB: So then we’re going to sort of leap over Palestine-Israel and talk about Egypt but obviously in the context of talking about Egypt, obviously what happens there has a major impact if anything is going to change in terms of Palestine and the Israeli occupation. Do you want to talk about the horrific unfolding we’ve seen around the dismissing of charges against Mubarak because of technical whatever in the court system. Do you want to talk about what’s been going on there? Some people died in protests over the last several days.

PB: There was never any technical problem with the court system. The court system works fine, technically. The problem is political. The problem is the courts are an instrument of the military government that took power in a coup d’etat a year ago, overthrowing the first and, so far, last, freely elected president of Egypt, the Islamist leader Mohamed Morsi. And when Morsi was overthrown in the protests that resulted in the military government that came to power killed huge numbers of people. Over 1,000 people were killed in one set of demonstrations. Thousands have been imprisoned; famously the three Al Jazeera journalists remain in prison without any evidence, charged with being supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. Without, again, without any evidence at all. These are completely secular [journalists]. Two of them are not even Egyptians.

So the human rights situation has been disastrous in Egypt. And in the last couple of days the courts, the government controlled courts, have given up any efforts on accountability of Mubarak and his two sons and their top officials. And all the charges were dropped. He’s expected to get out any time now. And, in some of the protests that greeted that decision, several more people have been killed. But at the same time there has been a rise in Islamist opposition fighters, extremists militias of various sorts, that are operating kind of unaccountable to anybody in the Egyptian Sinai.

One of the results of that decision by the government that has been so far unable to stop them from their occasional attacks on military targets. They’ve killed some soldiers. In one large-scale attack they killed 31 soldiers, but the response of the government has been to, among other things, create a so-called buffer zone along the border between the Egyptian Sinai and the Gaza Strip. Which has meant, not only shutting down the tunnels that were used for smuggling crucially needed building supplies, food, other supplies into Gaza, but they also permanently shut down the Rafah crossing which was the last remaining way for Gazans to get in or out.

As of right now, Gaza is completely surrounded with no open border, without any way to get in or out. Students who have scholarships to study around the world can’t get out to get to embassies to pick up their visas, can’t leave to begin their studies. And they are simply losing their scholarships. They are losing their right to go to school. Patients that desperately need cancer treatment in Cairo, can’t get out. Four hundred to five hundred houses have been destroyed. These are Egyptian houses, on the Egyptian side of Rafah who have been summarily dismissed and told to go live somewhere else.

So the situation in Sinai is at an absolute boil. And the human rights situation in Egypt is getting worse and worse. So the situation there is becoming worse and in response to that at least one of the extremist organizations operating in the Sinai has declared its new allegiance to ISIS. So it’s now linking the instability in Egypt directly to the ISIS crisis in the Iraq-Syria region. So it’s very quickly becoming a widespread regional reality that we’re dealing with.

DB: And does this reverberate in the militant Palestinian community which is, you know, at the edge of … you can’t even say desperation in terms of what’s been going on there; the last slaughter with Israel. I mean it would seem to me that the militancy, the next intifada is around the corner, if not here now.

PB: Well, I think we have to be careful. There is no question desperation is rising, and it’s not only rising for militants. It’s rising for ordinary people, for children, for families, for pregnant women, for every possible constituent of society that you can imagine. People are desperate. There’s no work, there’s no money, increasingly there’s no food. Ninety percent of the water in Gaza, and there’s very little available, 90 percent of it is not fit for human consumption. Everything that you need for a normal, decent human life is denied. So desperation absolutely is on the rise.

When we speak of another intifada, I think that one way to see it is that the third intifada has already been underway for quite some time, and this one is an international intifada. And it’s largely non-violent. It’s largely led by the global BDS movement, the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Movement that is growing in power here in the U.S. and is enormously powerful in Europe and in places like South Africa and elsewhere.

But it’s also a situation in which that the call for BDS came from Palestinian civil society which is increasingly the most recognized leadership of the Palestinian people, at a time when both Hamas and Fatah, the two leading Palestinian parties are losing ground, are losing support, are losing the ability to speak for and even speak to their constituents.

So, I don’t think that we’re going to see something like the second intifada which was quite a violent uprising against extraordinary Israeli violence of the occupation. That violence, occupation violence has been absolutely skyrocketing in recent years, as you mentioned this last summers’ 50-day assault on Gaza was only the most recent. But the expansion of settlements, the destruction of homes, the arrests, the killings are driving people to absolute desperation.

I don’t think that necessarily means it will translate into a violent uprising. I think that there is already a set of uprisings underway, some of which is non-violent, much of it is non-violent, but certainly some have seen what we’ve seen some of these individual people who simply lose control and there’s an explosion. When people are just pushed to the limits. And we’ve seen these kinds of individual acts which do not constitute an intifada. They’re not organized, they are not led by anyone, they’re not part of organizations. They are simply desperate individuals who have been driven to the end of their tolerance. There’s a danger of that for sure.

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The Impending Failure in Afghanistan


America’s neocon-driven foreign policy is more about political one-ups-man-ship in Official Washington than the realities on the ground in countries like Afghanistan where the U.S. military is then expected to do more than is possible, leading to failure after failure, as Independent Institute’s Ivan Eland describes.

By Ivan Eland

As U.S. forces withdraw from parts of Afghanistan, the Taliban is making gains in several areas of the country. The Afghan police and army are slowly giving way, despite the United States spending 13 years and tens of billions of dollars training those forces.

When the United States completes its withdrawal from ground combat at the end of this year, this unfavorable trend will undoubtedly accelerate — that is, if the Afghan security forces don’t collapse altogether, as did similarly U.S. trained Iraqi forces in that country. Thus, in the longest war in American history, the U.S. military has failed to pacify Afghanistan — as had the mighty British Empire three times in the 19th and early 20th centuries and the Soviet superpower more recently in the 1980s. In fact, an outside force has not pacified Afghanistan since Cyrus the Great of Persia did it in ancient times.

Seen through a night-vision device, U.S. Marines conduct a combat logistics patrol in Helmand province, Afghanistan, April 21, 2013. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Anthony L. Ortiz)

Seen through a night-vision device, U.S. Marines conduct a combat logistics patrol in Helmand province, Afghanistan, April 21, 2013. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Anthony L. Ortiz)

Why did the United States have the hubris to think it could succeed in taming Afghanistan, when all of these other strenuous efforts had failed? Because many in the American foreign policy elite, media and citizenry believe in “American exceptionalism.” As propounded by politicians of both parties — for example, Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright in the Democratic Party and people such as John McCain and his sidekick Lindsay Graham in the Republican Party — America is the “indispensable nation” to a world that cannot do without its solving most major problems using military power.

Yet despite the current public fawning over military personnel and veterans of American wars, the U.S. military has been fairly incompetent in most major engagements since World War II that required significant ground forces — with only Desert Storm in 1991 being an unvarnished success in recent years. The U.S. armed forces are probably more powerful than any other military in world history, both absolutely and relative to other countries, yet their battlefield performance has not been that great, especially against irregular guerrilla forces in the developing world.

In the post-World War II era, the U.S. military managed to fight the then-poor nation of China to only a draw in the Korean War (1950-1953); lost the Vietnam War (1965-1973) to ragtag Viet Cong guerrillas and North Vietnamese; and made the same mistakes of Vietnam in Iraq and Afghanistan — initially using excessive firepower and alienating the population, the allegiance of which is key to fighting guerrillas.

Even in lesser ground operations against small weak foes, the U.S. military has not performed all that well. Although successful, the invasions of Grenada and Panama exhibited embarrassing snafus, such as friendly fire casualties caused by the inability of U.S. services to adequately communicate and coordinate and the wanton destruction of civilian areas and excessive casualties in what was supposed to have been a surgical operation, respectively.

The hostage rescue mission conducted in Iran in 1980 had to be aborted. Finally, U.S. interventions in Lebanon and Somalia under the Reagan and the George H.W. Bush/Clinton administrations, respectively, led to ignominious cutting and running from those countries after successful enemy attacks — inspiring Osama bin Laden to believe he could compel U.S. withdrawal from overseas interventions by launching terrorist attacks against U.S. military forces (the U.S.S. Cole) and facilities overseas and even American territory.

Whenever the U.S. military has a setback, it usually hints around that the civilian leadership of the country was more to blame. And civilian leaders are partly to blame in most of these instances, but the military should not escape public scrutiny for these disasters — which it largely has. The problem is that the American public feels guilty for the alleged abuse of returning Vietnam-era veterans and for the fact with an all-volunteer Army, it doesn’t have to sacrifice much during all these American military adventures overseas.

Of course, if the public really wanted to do something to support American service personnel, it should put a stop to them fighting and dying in faraway developing nations to allegedly combat much exaggerated threats to the United States. However, sufficient public outrage needed to end the conflicts was not evident for either Afghanistan or Iraq.

But what exactly went wrong in Afghanistan? As in Vietnam and Iraq, the U.S. military has not been fighting conventional armies, such as Iraqi forces during Desert Storm, which it is best at. Instead, in all three places, it was conducting what amounts to military social work. U.S. armed forces are fighting guerrillas that melt back into an all-important supportive indigenous civilian population. In Vietnam, initially, U.S. forces used excessive firepower, which alienated civilians; in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. military, forgetting the lessons of Vietnam, did the same thing.

But American citizens ask, “Aren’t our forces more benevolent than the brutal Taliban? Why does the Taliban still get so much support in Afghanistan?” The answer: because they are Afghans. As my book, The Failure of Counterinsurgency: Why Hearts and Minds Are Seldom Won, notes, when fighting indigenous insurgents, the foreign invader never gets the benefit of the doubt.

This central point makes it difficult for great powers to win wars against insurgents, no matter how nice they try to be to the civilian populace. And the U.S. military is usually fairly unfamiliar with the language and culture of distant lands in which they intervene, thus making it difficult to get good information about who is a guerrilla and who is not.

Often the only way to win a counterinsurgency is to annihilate the entire country with indiscriminate and potent violence; yet the Soviets used such scorched-earth policies in Afghanistan and didn’t win. Furthermore, the U.S. military would have difficulty selling such a morally bankrupt policy, which amounts to “destroying a country in order to save it,” in a republic.

America is exceptional, however in a way the nation’s Founders realized but has long been forgotten. Being far away from the centers of world conflict, the United States has probably the best intrinsic security of any great power in world history. Thus, the Founders had the luxury of being suspicious of standing armies in a republic.

Furthermore, as in any other public bureaucracy, when people are spending other people’s money, things often go awry. Thus, sending the military to war should only be done in the most dire cases of national security. Military restraint was the Founders’ vision, but we have drifted far from it into a militaristic society in constant war.

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Mexico’s Youth Under Siege: The War on Drugs is a War on Young People


Since the beginning of the war on drugs, launched by former president Felipe Calderon in December of 2006, an alarming number of young Mexicans have been killed in a context of almost total impunity.

The massacres of Ayotzinapa and Tlatlaya, which together represent the death or disappearance of 70 youth at the hands of security forces in just two incidents, are evidence of the national emergency that affects youth throughout the country

The War on Drugs, a Strategy of Social Control

The war on drugs, designed in the seventies by then-president Richard Nixon and intensified by Ronald Reagan, from its beginning sought to repress rebellious youth. Nixon came to power with serious challenges. There were massive socal protests in the streets, especially in the cities. The war in Viet Nam had generated a strong and radical student movement, a counterculture flourished among young people that rejected the dominant culture, the African-American population had risen up in defense of civil rights and revolutionary movements were growing–as was happening in Mexico and other parts of the world in this period of global history that’s identified with the year 1968.

The war on drugs launched in 1971 aimed at putting down the youth rebellion by criminalizing young people, especially those who most challenged the system–black youth, Latinos and the poor in general. Unemployment was up, social inequality was rising, along with the desire for change. The drug war was an attempt to divert attention from internal problems and present the use and trafficking of prohibited substances as “public enemy number one”.

Four decades later, the strategy has been alarmingly successful. From 1980 to 2008, the prison population quadrupled to 2.3 million people. One million African-Americans are behind bars, and–along with Latinos–they make up 58% of the prison population. The majority are in prison for drug-related offenses; among young people this by far the main cause. The war on drugs and the incarceration of young people has been an effective way to prevent social unrest in a society today where 1% of the population owns 40% of the national wealth. The target of the strategy of preventive repression has clearly been youth.

On the other hand, the drug war has been a dismal failure in the goal set by the authorities, which is to reduce the trafficking and use of prohibited substances. Annual reports show that U.S. drug consumption fluctuates, but has not dropped–in the case of some drugs, it has increased. There is no evidence of success in reducing supply, despite multimillion dollar counternarcotics programs such as Plan Colombia and Plan Mexico (the Merida Initiative).

The other “achievement” of the war on drugs in the U.S. has been to stigmatize poor youth. Suggesting that an individual has ties to illegal drugs, whether proved or not, is sufficient to socially isolate and undermine credibility and block social sympathy with the just demands of jobs, justice and human rights of whole groups of young people. The mass media have used the drug war to strengthen racism and ageism, creating fear of young people and especially the poor and minorities.

The War in Mexico

Mexico does not have the prison infrastructure or judicial system to incarcerate its young rebels in the same way the United States does, so in Mexico the drug war has been imposed in different ways but with the same objective of social control. Since 2006, the deployment of armed forces in Mexico has been an indispensable element in the strategy of the drug war. The use of the armed forces in public safety is prohibited or highly restricted in many countries, including the United States, due to the likelihood of abuse of power.

The militarization of the country has brought the sad consequences that are now visible: over 100,000 dead, some 30,000 missing, human rights violations, an increase in gender-based crimes, forced displacement, abuse of migrants, corruption and collusion and deterioration of the rule of law. Because of the disastrous results of the drug war in Mexico, as a candidate Pena Nieto disavowed the strategy. As president, Peña Nieto has done everything possible not to mention the violence and with the assistance of the media, has even sought to control the suppress news of incidents of violence, change the discourse and hide the reality.

If we start with the premise that the war on drugs is a mechanism of social control and not a strategy for fighting crime, it becomes clearer why Peña Nieto has maintained the strategy unchanged despite the social and political costs for his presidency and Mexican society, and why the US government will not allow the Mexican government to abandon the model. Militarization–whether by the Army, the Navy, the new gendarmerie, or militarized police–assures there is a repressive force in critical areas of the country. The drug war has cemented new relationships between the state and shadow powers, with complex alliances between security forces, a greater number of criminal groups and economic interests.

The result is rampant bloodshed.

For youth, one of the first red flags was the case of the two college students in Monterrey, killed by the army and -post mortem- accused of being members of organized crime. Now this pattern has been repeated dozens of times. According to photos and testimonies, the 102nd Army Battalion executed a group of young men and women in Tlatlaya. Weapons appear to have been placed on the corpses in totally implausible positions to simulate a battle. At first, the Army claimed that the 22 young people were killed in a “confrontation”. A witness stepped up to describe that only one died in the initial confrontation and 21 were executed after surrendering. As if haggling with the truth, Attorney General Murillo Karam now says only 8 were killed by soldiers acting on their own and all the others died in a shootout.

Despite the lack of serious investigations, circumstances reported by independent organizations indicate that many of the murders of young people in the contextof the drug war are due to a settling of accounts between criminal groups.This type of violence has increased due to the fragmentation of the cartels and the “kingpin strategy” of taking out capos, which leads to turf wars.

Even if they are murders among members of organized crime, this does not exonerate the state. First, because it has the obligation to ensure peace and security and second, the Mexican state is responsible for the violence unleashed by its drug war strategy, and third the lack of life opportunities -access to education and employment– puts youth at risk of enticement and forced recruitment by organized crime, or of simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. More than 7.5 million young Mexicans do not find opportunities for study or formal employment, a structural situation that restricts their life prospects, their hopes and their development. In recognition of this fact, among the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions made a formal recommendation to Mexico to “introduce effective public policies to prevent the recruitment of teenagers to organized crime.”

Currently there are various forms of state violence against young people and all have grown significantly in the context of the war on drugs. The main forms are: extrajudicial executions (killings by state forces without legal process), repression (murder, assault and/or disappearances that have features of persecution for political reasons) and “social cleansing” (attacks, disappearances and murders of individuals and marginalized groups occupying public spaces such as street people, prostitutes, street vendors and according to reports from Ciudad Juarez and elsewhere youth, just because they are young). Moreover, torture has risen as an instrument of a justice system that has nothing to do with justice.

All these forms of violence involve serious human rights violations and are directed against youth. The Rapporteur reports documented cases of the death of 994 children in the drug war, just between the years 2007-2010. The psychological trauma, injury and destruction of family have high social costs that affect generations.

The U.S. role
Prohibition laws in the United States created a huge black market estimated at $38 billion dollars, only between Mexico and the United States. This underground market allows the flow of resources to organized crime, with no possibility of regulation, control or social benefits.

In the capitalist system, the existence of an underground economy has financial and political advantages. On one hand, the criminalization of drugs creates a situation of vulnerability and ongoing harassment of youth by the repressive forces of the state, and assures that many of them will spend time behind bars. In foreign policy, the drug war justifies U.S. intervention.

The amount of money flowing without transparency or control was a factor, according to economists, in saving the global financial system in the 2008 crisis by providing liquidity to banks and financing speculation at a high level. Transnational banks not only accept drug money, but promote new and more sophisticated ways to launder money and ensure that illegal cash flows into the “legitimate” financial system.

Access to dirty money provides a way to finance illegal political activities and even secret or prohibited wars. The best known example is the funding of the Nicaraguan Contras with drug sales in U.S. neighborhoods by the CIA.

Forms of U.S. foreign intervention have changed with the globalization of corporations and international elites (think of the Slim business model, all the former Mexican presidents trained in U.S. universities and now chairing the boards of large corporations, etc.) Normally it is no longer necessary to pay the economic and political cost of sending troops to Latin America. Governments like Peña Nieto’s do the dirty work of U.S. “national security” and its secure access to natural resources and labor for international companies. The phrase “national security” is put in quotation marks because this model does not assure the security of U.S. citizens or even the state, but rather is oriented to secure the profits of major economic powers.

Mexico, the global laboratory of free trade, has become the laboratory of these new forms of intervention with the pretext of the war on drugs in 2007. Less than a year after Felipe Calderon launched the war here, then-President George W. Bush announced the Merida Initiative, which remains the focus of U.S. policy in the country seven years later. The Merida Initiative, according to the original description, covers counterterrorism, counternarcotics and border security, but is best known for the drug war.

The roots of the strategy are in NAFTA. The regional economic integration of Mexico, the United States and Canada is not so much the integration of three nations and economies, as a plan corresponding to the interests of the super-power in guaranteeing access to resources for the transnational private sector. This explains the euphoria in the United States after Peña Nieto’s reforms that threaten the sovereignty and the public good of Mexico. The reforms have been Wall Street’s goal since the beginning of the NAFTA negotiations and represent everything the U.S. could not get at the initial stage, starting with the privatization of PEMEX.

The FTA created new conditions for investment in the country, even though the name emphasizes trade. With these new highly favorable conditions, the transnationals have bought huge tracts of land in Mexico, have taken control of entire production processes, and with the latest expansion in extractive industries, especially mining and petroleum, have gained land-use concessions throughout the country.

With the expansion of investment opportunites, new and prospective investors and the governments that promote investments had a problem: How to protect new investments in Mexico–not from drug cartels because in 2006 the cartels didn’t pose much of a threat to business–but from the resistance of the people? The first response was the Security and Prosperity Partnership. The second was the militarization and creation of a police state in the name of the war on drugs with the support of the Merida Initiative.

The profound changes in land use and control of income and resources brought about by the structural reforms and NAFTA have not been easy. Across the country, commited have resisted changes that strip them of land and resources they lived off of for generations. As the changes intensify, resistance grows among indigenous peoples who refuse to be displaced from their sacred lands, farmers who want to continue to be farmers, urban neighborhoods that reject becoming mega-malls.

Territorial conflicts generated by the drug war models appear as turf battles between cartels, but this explanation hides a deeper conflict between the interests of the Mexican people as enshrined in the Constitution and the interests of big capital (including drug dealers) . In Colombia, conflict displacement has led to the invasion of transnational investors on indigenous and peasant lands with palm plantations, mining operations, and other megaprojects. Honduras is on the same path under the post-coup government following the rupture of the institutional order in 2009. In Mexico, the correlation between the presence of the armed forces and an increase in violence leads to the conclusion that there are areas where the state is interested in promoting violence and the displacement of the local population.

So far the U.S. government has sent more than $2 billion in equipment, training and services to Mexico under the Merida Initiative. The amount, not insignificant, shows a fundamental change in the bilateral relationship, in which U.S. security interests are primary and intervention, except direct military, has deepened. Althought the objective was supposedly to strengthen the rule of law and dismantle organized crime, the results have been the opposite.

The drug war in Mexico has allowed a degree of U.S. government intervention in Mexican national security and in the daily lives of its citizens that is unprecedented in recent history. The Calderon adminstration, to bolster its own strength, allowed a flood of U.S. intelligence, espionage, police and counternarcotics agents and a unknown number of private security companies under government contracts, Blackwater style.

Lately both the U.S. and Mexican governments have modified the language of the “war on drugs”, even prohibiting the phrase among government officials. In the United States, the contradiction between the moralistic “zero-tolerance” stance on drugs, and the failure, repressive nature and hypocrisy of prohibition laws has become evident. The social consensus around the war ond drugs model has broken down. Four states have legalized marijuana and 19 allow it for medicinal use. In Latin America, national leaders are questioning the model of the militarized drug war that makes thier countries do the dirty work of enforcing U.S. prohibitionist laws abroad when they are breaking down at home.

In response, the government, notably the Pentagon, has introduced terms like “narco-insurgency” and “narco-terrorism” to convince people of the continued need for repressive policies and the militarization of the continent even as the drug pretext wears thin. Although there is no evidence of an international terrorist threat from the region, the military-industrial complex seeks to justify the Bush Doctrine of U.S. hegemony in the region.

We’re experiencing a hazardous period in Mexico. We need to gather information about what’s happening above and below, discuss issues and share forums.

In this national emergency, the country’s future is at stake, and this future is the responsibility and heritage of youth. The war on drugs is a war against young people; nation’s resources and life itself are at stake.

Laura Carlsen is director of the CIP Americas Program in Mexico City.

This text is a version of testimony presented for the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal/Mexico Chapter “Destruction of Youth” hearing and has been presented at various universities. Spanish original here.

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Hagel’s Dismissal: End of the “Team of Rivals”? Or More of the Same?


Somebody on CNN suggested the other day that the dismissal of Chuck Hagel as Defense Secretary spells the end of Barack Obama’s notion of a “team of rivals.” (Recall how that term was used after the 2008 election to refer to the new president’s decision to include former rivals, notably Hillary Clinton, in his administration. It was derived from the title of a book by presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin celebrating Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet formed in 1860 that included three former opponents.)

Obama wanted to be the great healer, the magnanimous reconciler of a bitterly divided nation. Thinking it would aid this effort, he decided to protect the outgoing administration from prosecution for any crimes. He never seriously considered ordering the Justice Department to investigate the campaign of lies that had been waged to win support for the war. “Let’s move on,” declared the candidate of Hope and Change (and soon to be Nobel Peace Prize laureate) to the profound chagrin of those who’d hoped to see Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Powell, Rice & all in orange suits behind bars.

The footage of Obama walking on the White House veranda with his arm around George W. Bush sticks in my memory as the natural postscript to his timid assertion during the campaign that the war on Iraq had been “a strategic blunder.” Sometimes described—I think inappropriately—as an eloquent orator, Obama was hardly an antiwar firebrand. He never inveighed against the illegality and viciousness of the war. For him it was merely a mistake made by well-meaning people. He even retained Robert Gates, his predecessor’s Secretary of “Defense,” and—as former CIA director during the Iran-Contra affair, and bomber of defenseless cities and defender of torturers —the very antithesis of “hope and change”—in that key post to 2011.

Obama’s Youth in Hawai’i (and Mine)

I have a personal take on the 44th president. based on our somewhat comparable boyhood experiences in Hawai’i.  I see him as a Punahou product. When I was in my teens, the private Punahou High School, which Obama attended from 1975 to 1979, was in some ways the main rival school to my own, the public Radford High School, both located on the island of Oahu. Both schools were very mixed ethnically, although mine, with maybe eighty percent military brats, was known locally as “the haole school” given the relatively high proportion of white kids. (Haole is a Hawaiian language word for “newcomer” that has come to refer specifically to whites—except for the descendants of the Madeiran Portuguese who arrived in the Kingdom of Hawai’i from the 1870s.) Radford is close to the Pearl Harbor naval base, Hickam Air Force Base, Camp Smith and other military installations.

Punahou by contrast was mostly Asian, more reflective of the population of Hawai’i which was then around 30% Japanese-American, and 25% white including the large transient white military population. Hawaiians, part-Hawaiians, and other Polynesians; Filipinos and Chinese were each around 10%. The rest were Hispanics, Koreans, Vietnamese etc.

There were quite a few African-American kids at Radford, due to the military connection. But very few at Punahou. At that time the African-American population in the state of Hawai’i was just around one percent of the total. (It’s 1.6% now.)  Most blacks lived on military bases and there were not a lot of black school-age kids. As a 14-year-old freshman at Punahou in 1975, Obama as a (part-) African-American would have been a rarity.

But he would, as a hapa, have (with some effort) fit in just fine. Hapa (the Hawaiian word for “half”) refers to someone of mixed ethnicity. About a quarter of the population of the state is in this category, with part-Japanese, part-white probably being the largest sub-group. (The great majority of those who identify as “Hawaiian” are in fact part-Hawaiian.) The rate of “interracial” marriage is extremely high and was so even when Obama was born in 1961—to a Kenyan man studying at the University of Hawai’i and a white woman from Kansas.

As Obama has recounted, his parents soon separated, and he never really connected with his biological dad. They divorced, and after living with her son on the Mainland (as people in Hawai’i call the 48 states) for some time, his mom remarried, this time to an Indonesian man. From age 6 to 10 the boy lived in Indonesia, attending a Roman Catholic school with a mixed religious student body and occasionally attending mosque prayer services with his Muslim stepfather.

So by the time he enrolled at Punahou, “Barry” (as he asked to be called) had probably developed a pretty broad international perspective. And also perhaps a tendency to want to be everybody’s friend, avoid conflict and take a centrist position on everything—as he has as president. It was there, I am quite sure, that he acquired his oratorical voice, and learned how to debate both sides of an issue.

My own connection to Punahou involves public speaking and debate. Radford in the ‘70s had an amazing speech and debate program steered by the nationally recognized, highly decorated and beloved Karen Miyakado. (The program no longer exists due to funding cuts.) Through the program I attended numerous events, in categories such as original oratory and debate. (My debate partner and I as Hawai’i state champions went to Pittsburgh for the national competition one year. We didn’t get to the final round, but I got to the final round in my secondary category of “dramatic interpretation” doing a scene from Jean Anouilh’s Becket.)

Punahou also had an excellent public speaking program (which has fortunately not been eliminated by budget cuts.). The first time I’d done the Becket scene was at a speech tournament at Punahou (about three years before Obama enrolled there). I was preceded by a Japanese-American girl (at the time, we used the term sansei—Japanese for “third generation” for people like her) who gave an amazing “dramatic interp” performance. I thought she was the most beautiful person I’d ever met.  My 16 year old libido was on fire.

We talked afterwards, exchanging compliments about our acting abilities etc. She’d been taking French classes and was impressed by my pronunciation of Jean Anouilh. (I won the medal for best dramatic interp at the event, beating her out.) At the next tournament—I think at Roosevelt High—she gave me her phone number. We talked endlessly on the phone after that—in the days before cell phones when I had to use the phone in my parents’ bedroom upstairs to have any privacy, occasionally being interrupted and having to drop certain topics suddenly. She loved the sound of my voice. But she told me we couldn’t date.

It wasn’t because she was older than me, or that I didn’t yet have a driver’s license. It was because her mother was adamant that she only date and marry an ethnic Japanese. (Anyway my adolescent passion petered out and a couple years later I encountered her on the University of Hawai’i campus in an army uniform. She was in ROTC, whereas I had become a left-wing radical. My interest immediately shriveled.)

I debated at Punahou too, but was at the University of Hawai’i as of 1978, when Barry Obama was a sophomore in Mrs. Weldon’s speech class and part of Punahou’s debate team. (He is known to have won a debate on gun control, arguing in favor of it).

Trying to Be All Things to All People

My point in sharing my ancient romantic disappointment is this: even at a very progressive school like Punahou, in multi-ethnic Hawai’i—the most elite school in Hawai’i, that boasts of alumni including Sun Yat-sen—race (as the noted African-American public intellectual Cornel West puts it) matters. It matters in human relationships in general, including those in one’s adolescence that help shape one’s character.

Obama’s complex identity as a half-black, half-haole hapa; an eloquent speaker of the King’s English in class but probably speaking Hawaiian pidgin English in the community (as I did, and as every non-“local” young person not living in a cultural bubble wanted to do, to be accepted in the community); and as someone with mixed Christian and Muslim background must have shaped him in many ways.

I can’t psychoanalyze him of course.  I’ll just suggest that as his post-Hawai’i career progressed from Chicago community organizer to Harvard law professor, from Saul Alinsky and Malcolm X fan to a proponent of U.S. “exceptionalism,” from antiwar candidate to drone-master, Obama has straddled identities and wanted to be (as St. Paul describes himself in 1 Corinthians 9:19) “all things to all men.”

But this is not possible. He has long since alienated his antiwar base, and as Cornel West told MSNBC in August: “He posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit. We ended up with a Wall Street presidency, a drone presidency.” More recently West declared on CNN that “Ferguson signifies the end of the age of Obama.”

Obama has not brought hope and change to the African-Americans (and others including legions of white youth) who voted in record numbers to bring him to office. He will be remembered for presiding over a period of highly publicized police murders of young black men even as an African-American headed the Justice Department. And he will be remembered for totally destroying the once relatively prosperous African country of Libya for absolutely no good reason, producing chaos in the neighboring countries.

Political foes call Obama a “failed” or “weak” president. This is in part because he threatened to attack Syria, then reconsidered, and because he has not launched World War Three in support of the neocons’ drive to draw Ukraine into NATO and expel the Russian fleet from Crimea. This crowd has always applauded his murderous drone strikes on Pakistan, and they loved his post-Bush surge in Afghanistan. They welcomed some of his “team of rivals” appointments; the neocons adore fellow traveler Hillary Clinton. But they look at Obama’s plummeting approval figures, smugly note the mixed response to “Obamacare” and immigration actions, and pronounce him the worst president in U.S. history (as though anybody could rival his predecessor’s record of destructive achievement).

No, this Punahou (and Columbia University, and Harvard law School) graduate—this fairly competent public speaker, this picture of moral compromise—is not a failure. He’s doing what his campaign donors like Goldman Sachs hired him to do. He adds a veneer of legitimacy to the evolving police state, just by being what he is—the first “black president.” His manipulable mascot presence, especially when joined by fellow black (or part black) celebrities, safe media talking heads like Al Sharpton and Melissa Harris-Perry (who joined with the mainstream in condemning Edward Snowden’s revelations about massive government spying on you—as though he, not Obama’s regime—was the problem!) remains valuable and comforting to the elite.

Imagine if a white Republican (like Mitt Romney) had been in power when we learned that the government was preserving records of all our phone calls, so that they could be listened to months afterwards, and accessing all of our web activity with such impunity that any manager of an NSA-contracted office with some sort of vague “clearance” and an interest in your life could violate your privacy with impunity.

Imagine if a white Republican were accused of building a surveillance apparatus that East Germany’s former Stasi operatives admire (as they truly do!). Establishment liberal Democrats would have howled in indignation. But under Obama—who has ordered the prosecution of more whistle-blowers than any president in U.S. history—they direct their fire at the bearers of the bad news. They ask: How dare they try to undermine our president?

Choosing the Middle (Between Two Bad Options)

The president’s “team of rivals” concept has always been a delicate balancing act. What critics call Obama’s “distance” from foreign policy isn’t really an aloof indifference to policy details but a habit of identifying two strongly argued points of view (such as, to massively intervene in Afghanistan, or quickly withdraw?) and draw the line down the middle. Perhaps his boyhood debater-mind and later lawyer-mind have produced this compromise-as-default mode.

Options. Totally kiss ass to Israel, and bomb Iran at its bidding? Or point out (as the entire U.S. intelligence community has done, repeatedly) that Iran has no nuclear weapons program needing to be bombed? (On this, Obama takes the middle path, stoking public fears that Iran does actually present a real nuclear threat but might—as a result of harsh sanctions—be forced to sign a U.S.-dictated agreement acceptable to Binyamin Netanyahu and the AIPAC-steered Congress. Some depict this as a path of “moderation.”)

Should the U.S., by spending five billion dollars in trying to influence Ukraine’s politics, and working with neo-Nazis to pull off a coup toppling the elected president last February, move on to pull Ukraine into NATO tomorrow and provoke war with Russia (as Sen. John McCain would advocate)? Or should the U.S. back off from its confrontational mode, and its application of sanctions, as recommended by some NATO member governments hurt by counter-sanctions and worried that expansion of the alliance will lead to completely unnecessary war?

Again Obama is unsure of what to do. Having made Hillary his first Secretary of State, and letting her appoint the hideous neocon Victoria Nuland as Under Secretary of State for Eastern Europe, he’s stuck with the reality of the February putsch in Kiev, Russia’s angry reaction, and the uprising in Ukraine’s east (which he like the U.S. mainstream media cannot understand as legitimate local rebellion rather than  something orchestrated by outside agitators). He can’t exactly back off and say, “Actually, we made a mistake here, trying to encircle Russia militarily for no good reason—certainly not for any reason pertaining to U.S. security.”

Instead he sends John Kerry to meet with the (more mature) Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov hoping they can carve out some sort of agreement whereby Russia won’t recognize or absorb the self-proclaimed new republics of Donetsk and Luhansk and the U.S. won’t for the time being expand its anti-Russian NATO military alliance further.

It’s been widely reported that Hagel became frustrated with the efforts by Obama and his National Security Council to micro-manage military policies. Quite likely this means he was  bothered by his boss’s uncertain, vacillating policies towards Syria, Iran, Ukraine, Afghanistan or Pakistan. The Defense Secretary’s memo leaked in late October questioned policy towards Syria. (Recall that in August 2013 the president threatened missile attacks on Syria on the dubious grounds that the regime there had used chemical weapons, but backed off in September after Russia arranged for Syria to give up its stockpiles of such weapons.)

Now Obama wants to fight ISIL while helping rebels against ISIL’s main foe, the regime of Bashar al-Assad. It is a difficult task to impose on the U.S. military.

ISIL and Hillary: Twin Horrors

Obama vows to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the odious ISIL, which has over 30,000 (some say even over 100,000) forces at its disposal. The U.S. plans to train 5,000 Syrians to attack ISIL in the next year, and (having pretty much given up on the Iraqi army it trained, to the tune of billions of dollars during the hated occupation) plans to train another new force in Iraq that might join it in re-imposing some sort of order in that ruined country.

Obama is picking up the baggage left him by “Dubya” Bush, who has recently told CBS News that while he has no regrets about invading Iraq in 2003,  “My regret is that…a violent group of people have risen up again…This is ‘Al Qaeda plus’…they need to be defeated. And I hope we do…I hope the strategy works.”  In other words, Bush is not sorry for destroying a secular state in which there was no al-Qaeda presence—no “violent group of people” except for the (once-U.S.-backed) Iraqi Army and some of the U.S.-supported Kurdish Peshmerga forces—but sorry that after the smashing of Iraq and its political and military institutions an al-Qaeda spin-off group (now condemned by the mainstream leadership) has “risen up” in the region hence requiring more U.S. war.

The “plus” in this “al-Qaeda plus” is precisely the added energy provided to ISIL by Obama’s intervention in Syria! Determined to topple the secular, totally anti-al-Qaeda regime of Assad (with no real “U.S. national interest” at stake but mainly in response to Israeli urging), the U.S. backed a Syrian “opposition” that has either been destroyed or incorporated into ISIL.

“Team of rivals” centerpiece Hillary Clinton, who advocated the disastrous attack on Libya and who appointed Victoria Nuland to steer the highly provocative Ukraine regime change strategy, has since leaving office famously criticized her former (and in some ways, despite his lame duck status, current) rival for failing to intervene more strongly in Syria in 2011 in support of the “Syrian Free Army.” She’s alluded to his (actually rather reasonable) maxim—that alludes to such things as the U.S. invasion of Iraq that Clinton enthusiastically endorsed (at least, up to the last minute in her 2008 campaign when it became inopportune to do so)—“Don’t do stupid stuff.”

(Typically, Obama followed up on this public rebuke by hugging Hillary at a birthday party in Martha’s Vineyard and playing down any friction.)

Taking a shot at her ex-boss, Clinton told Time magazine: “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.” Her own organizing principle (in this staggering hyperpower) is to align with the neocon war-mongering liars, Pentagon hawks and military-industrial complex at every turn. She basks in the praise of the likes of Bob Gates, who calls her “first-rate in both intellect and temperament” and “sharp, pragmatic and tough-minded” in his recent memoire.

Arguably, one of the most stupid things Obama ever did was to appoint this one-time Young Republican leader and lifetime Über-hawk—who urged her husband as president to bomb Serbs in 1995 and 1999, to expand NATO thereby provoking Russia, and who has cheered on every “surge,” drone attack, “color revolution” regime change effort, Libyan-style military “humanitarian intervention” or Syrian-style mercenary-training operation of this century. By choosing her as his secretary of state Obama hugely bolstered the reputation a woman who’d been known principally as the First Lady-advocate of the failed Clinton-era national health plan bid, a figure in the Whitewater investigation, a wronged wife maintaining quiet dignity during the Lewinsky Oval Office “scandal,” and an unremarkable New York senator and wife of an ex-president whom somehow exudes—to some—an ongoing roguish charm.

She now has a curious appeal among many women, some who like her because (like the grotesque beast Madeleine Albright whom she resembles) she is an apparently “strong” female. And as noted above, the neocons who brought you the Afghan and Iraq wars, loved the Libya attack culminating in Gadafy’s murder (after was sodomized by a knife, all captured on film). Yes, it brought hundreds of militias to power, absolutely destroyed the Libyan state, and empowered al-Qaeda sympathizers who killed U.S. personnel including the ambassador, J. Christopher Stevens, while he was in Benghazi. But hey, it’s the thought that counts, and Hillary was trying to show the world that the U.S. calls the shots and can rain down awesome power anywhere it wants.

Isn’t it ironic that the main accusation of the more mainstream Republican politicians against Clinton (and Obama) is that she’s concealing information about the Sept. 11, 2012 Benghazi attack? That is, having brought down a seriously anti-al-Qaeda regime (that had cooperated with the CIA on a daily basis in recent years in counter-terrorism), and produced a power vacuum filled (as had been the case in Iraq after the Bush invasion) by Islamist terrorist forces, Clinton had supposedly exercised poor judgment. (She had not realized that the anti-U.S. protests that were brewing were not in response to the anti-Islam video that had been posted on Youtube but were preparation for a murderous assault on a U.S. diplomatic compound by people who just “hate America” in general). And afterwards she supposedly “covered up” the real story to save face.

Actually, the real “Benghazi scandal” is the U.S.-led NATO operation that Clinton championed (ostensibly to prevent a “genocidal” attack by Gadafy’s forces on that city, although the evidence for this was widely doubted) that produced ongoing chaos throughout Libya and beyond. You’d think that as the Republicans who hate and fear her strive to discredit her on this issue, and the neocons just want to move on and get her elected and push towards more bloody regime change in Syria and Iran, the Democratic Party mainstream would be shunning her as the ferocious hawk that she obviously is.

Imagining a Second Clinton Presidency

But no! She remains the undisputed front-runner for the Democratic 2016 presidential nomination. Things may change dramatically; I certainly hope they do. But (partly since the U.S. power structure has come around to emulating the North Korean and Syrian models of dynastic family succession), I can envision a Hillary Clinton administration with Victoria Nuland as Secretary of State.

And imagine Michèle Angelique Flournoy, Obama’s top choice to replace Hagel, as Hillary’s Secretary of Defense. Flournoy turned the president down, supposedly to devote time to her family—or more probably to the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), a “liberal-hawk” think-tank she co-founded seven years ago. (Compare the “Project for a New American Century” neocon think tank that was quietly retired in 2006 after serving its purpose.) Before that, under the Clinton administration, Flournoy was simultaneously  “Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Threat Reduction” and  “Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy” overseeing policy on Russia, Ukraine and Eurasian Affairs. That is, she was an architect of Bill Clinton’s wars in Bosnia and Serbia and the expansion of NATO to include Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary.

(The CNAS co-founder, by the way, is Kurt M. Campbell, formerly head of the East Asia desk at the Obama State Department from 2009 to 2013. He was deeply involved in the “pivot to Asia” concept which entails the redeployment of forces gradually withdrawn from the Middle East to the periphery of China to “contain” China’s rise. He affirmed U.S. policy that while Washington has “no opinion” on the serious territorial dispute between China and Japan about isles in the East China Sea, the U.S. was bound by the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty—authored by itself and imposed on Japan in 1952 as the seven-year Occupation ended—to “defend” the islands on Japan’s behalf in the event of a China-Japan confrontation.  He’s married to Lael Brainard, the former Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs and who knows, maybe a future Secretary of the Treasury as multiple international forces work to undermine the dollar’s hegemony in the world?)

Clinton, Nuland, and Flournoy! This is a frightening line-up of ladies. It would draw support from some woefully misguided feminists, of course, especially if Samantha Power and Susan Rice (both African-American women of the Condi Rice mold) stay on as UN ambassador and National Security Advisor. Just as Obama generated enormous enthusiasm among African-Americans, a Hillary Clinton administration would likely enjoy great support (initially) among women, who are conventionally less apt to support wars than men. It would be a neo-con’s dream team, drawing more (self-defined) liberals into the culture of “full-spectrum dominance” despite the trail of disaster the neo-cons’ wars have so obviously left behind.

Why would voters place into power such an administration of Despair and Stagnation? Why would they ignore (what to some of us are) the obvious lessons of the last dozen years of imperialist aggression?  Because the system itself  promotes and endlessly replicates “teams of rivals” who aren’t really rivals so much as complicit partners in a huge farce marketed as “democracy.” The whole, revered Two Party System is a team of rivals writ large.

How can it be that we are seriously facing in 2016 the prospect of another Clinton war-monger facing off against another (third) Bush war-monger for the job of the next president of a nation sick of war? Or than any critically thinking American can imagine that any of those proposed as likely candidates—from either of the two rival parties, who do their regular musical chairs game decade after decade—will bring actual hope and change?

What If Obama Had Really Tried to Change Things?

What if Obama had not tried be the great healer and to be all things to all people? What if he’d been the antiwar president, instead of the Afghan surge president? What if he’d insisted on a real national health care system, instead of quietly dropping the “federal option” and creating a boon for the insurance industry? What if he’d led on gay rights issues rather than merely watch as the courts banned discrimination in the military and marriage rights?

What if, in addressing the economic crisis he inherited in 2009, he’d punished Wall Street for its dishonesty and greed, and imposed strict regulations on it? If he’d acted like that, the old popular Barry would have become a controversial, divisive figure—but in a good, necessary way. Instead he committed $700 million in tax dollars to rescue banks like Goldman Sachs.

What if Obama had actually pressed his Justice Department and the Congress to address the problem he’d identified in a speech in 2007: “We have more black men in prison than we have in our colleges”? Why, when Prof. Henry Louis Gates (the director of Harvard’s W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research and an Obama supporter), was arrested by a cop in his own home in August 2009 (accused by a neighbor with possibly breaking and entering)—arrested and handcuffed on a charge of “disorderly behavior” after producing identification that he was who he was, and belonged where he was—did Obama refuse to condemn the cop?  He merely called the arrest “stupid” then invited Gates and Officer James Crowley to the White House for beers. (Makes you think about Obama’s recent outreach to Sen. Mitch McConnell to share bourbon to mitigate the damage to the Democrats of the mid-term elections.)

How reconciliatory! What if after that stupid episode the president had proposed that Congress spend $263 million for police body cameras to document their behavior? Why did it take the mass response to Ferguson to move his hand?

No, Obama did  none of this. Because you see, my friends, he couldn’t. (Goldman Sachs was one of his biggest campaign donors, by the way.) Not under this system, which only tolerates the rivalries that conceal its real power relations, encourages the masses to forget the recent past, cynically feeds on baseless “hope” for “change” and tries to posture as something other than it is: a class dictatorship steered by the One Percent.

The talking heads on cable news want to excite you about this or that close “race” between rivals and infinitely examine the likely voter numbers involved—as occurs in any (what they like to call) “election cycle. As though these political rituals are as natural as the perambulations of celestial bodies.

They’re eager to make you think it all matters, in some sort of transcendent way. They’re in fact asking you to choose, cycle after cycle, between a Tweedledee and Tweeledum.

You know the eighteenth-century English nursery rhyme?

Tweedledum and Tweedledee
Agreed to have a battle;
For Tweedledum said Tweedledee
Had spoiled his nice new rattle.
Just then flew down a monstrous crow,
As black as a tar-barrel;
Which frightened both the heroes so,
They quite forgot their quarrel.

Tweedledum and Tweedledee are like twin brothers. Their quarrels are never real—never quarrels about the
triumph of capitalist globalization, U.S. “exceptionalism,” the need to maintain U.S. military “full-spectrum dominance” including the relentless expansion of NATO, the need for limitless privatization in the name of greater “efficiency” and competitiveness, the need for more police, the need to reduce social spending, the need to threaten the world with war leaving “no options off the table.” At least in the last thirty years, these have always served as the basis of bipartisan consensus.

And whenever the bombing starts,  the team of rivals sit down for beers together and (like Tweedledum and Tweedledee) forget their quarrels.—the better to tag-team whatever posited enemy, and their own people. (Joint gang bangs can help resolve frictions between gangs, or for that matter, rival frat houses.)

Getting Out of the Box

In my opinion, the people who voted for Obama versus McCain in 2008, or Obama versus Romney in 2012, or who will vote Hillary Clinton versus Jed Bush (or whomever) are voting not so much for an individual (whose image is anyway a Madison Ave. creation) as for the system itself. In voting in this county, you vote for an electoral process designed to dissipate your energies and divert you from the (truly meaningful )politics of the factory floor or street. You vote for a cynical ritual, on the basis of perceptions (I won’t say “knowledge”) about the world shaped by the corporate media, for candidates vetted by the backroom kingmakers of the two political parties who have acquired the start-up capital to market their product.

In voting for one of the two—-and in this country it’s always two (or you’re told, if you vote for a third, you’re wasting your vote, since you won’t come out in support of the winning side, as though you were betting on a cockfight)—you are telling the state you believe in it, you support it. That’s what it wants. Even in a state of crisis, that’s it’s minimal goal: to retain legitimacy. It wants you to leave that voting booth with a sense that you’ve done your civic duty (like you were taught to, in high school social studies or “civics” class.)

Sometimes, especially if you’re religiously inclined (and note, by the way, that every candidate for high office must be a theist of some sort to receive the requisite corporate backing), you vote for a savior. You’re relieved when your candidate—like Obama—wins. Maybe you’re gratified to see that your candidate after his inaugural speech in January 2009 had 69% public approval. But then you see him drop to 31% in September 2014. Maybe you yourself have lost “hope” in him. What to do next, but to turn to Hillary or Jeb?

Many people’s heads are trapped in a box. Until they get out of the box there will be no revolution. If they stay in that box there will be no hope, nor real change.

Posted in USAComments Off on Hagel’s Dismissal: End of the “Team of Rivals”? Or More of the Same?

Practicing Hope: He’s Just 17



He’s seventeen, handsome, graceful and smart, plays mid right wing for a very good soccer club. His shoulders are broad, so is his smile, and he is getting taller. He is African American and I am his white mother.

We live in Vermont, where hippies still thrive raising carrots and kids on small farms. This is a state with only 626,630 people, 95.2% of whom are white. There used to be more cows than people, but those days are gone — well, at least the cows are. Folks answering demographic surveys around here are predominantly well educated, and aren’t partial to organized religion, though we have a lot of Buddhists practicing in these hills. Despite such mindfulness, I hear comments like, “There is no racism here.” “Everyone knows everyone and everybody helps one another.” The state motto is Freedom and Unity; Kindness could rule if Vermont were a separate Republic.

Even so, the Southern Poverty Law Center gives Vermont a grade of ‘F’ for civil rights instruction in the public schools.[1] It seems like teachers want to do the right thing and, along with most white people, they don’t want to say the wrong thing about race (or class or LGBT or adoption or disabilities) so they just don’t bring it up. Most white folks I know here don’t see any evidence of racism unless someone points to specific incidents or talks through the issues, like Driving While Black or Shopping While Black. Even then, some of my white friends, and many of my students, get exasperated, “Racism is so old-school,” I’ve been told. They don’t want to believe that racism exists. This essay is for them, and for my kids.

None of the parents I know have had to teach their white kids the skills to be safe in stores, schools, highways and neighborhoods, as I have. I thought about this as I read a piece by self-described upper middle class Attorney Lawrence Otis Graham in The Washington Post.[2] Graham and his family are African-American. He offered a list of nine rules he and his wife have taught their children, among them, never leave a store without a receipt, keep your hands free and visible, and always be polite, even in the face of disrespect. Even with this careful preparation, Graham’s fifteen-year-old son called home terrified, having been harassed by white men in a car, shouting the N-word as he walked on the sidewalk of his elite prep school.

African-American men and boys are incarcerated or killed by the weapons of racism in countless numbers. Most of us have learned about Emmett Till, brutally murdered for the possibility that he had whistled at a white woman in Money, Mississippi in1955. His mother braved threats and opened his casket for the world to see what happened to her 14-year-old-son in. Seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin, walking home with a fistful of Skittles in Sanford, Florida in 2012 is in our more recent memory. The summer of 2014 presented us with many more dead black young men and boys: in Ferguson, Missouri. Staten Island, New York. Los Angeles, California. Beavercreek, Ohio. Victorville, California. [3]

I recently discovered the stories of two boys (they called them Negro then) shot after the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham. They are not remembered as are the four girls who died in the blast.[4] The New York Times, September 15, 1963 article describes the shooting of one of the boys, 13-year-old Virgil Wade, “The Jefferson County sheriff’s office said ‘there apparently was no reason at all’ for the killing, but indicated that it was related to the general racial disorders.”[5] No apparent reason. General racial disorders. Our nation has a long history of bullets flying into innocent black youth. I knew this history, but it became mine when I became a mother.

I also have a daughter who is a year older than her brother. On my first trip to the grocery store in 1996 with my eentsy weentsy baby girl, a white employee collecting carts in the parking lot asked, “Is that a Negro?” I immediately responded, “Yes! And isn’t she beautiful?” Despite my initial (and intuitive) reaction, I have learned to be ever wary of the inexperience and obliviousness of other white people when it comes to my children. Sometimes I get a pleasant surprise; when my daughter was only a few months old, I steeled myself for a diatribe when a guy came over to my table at a diner. I confess, he fit the stereotype of “redneck” that I hadn’t yet overcome. The baby was too small to sit up on her own, so she was in my lap. He extended his finger for her to grab as he pulled his wallet out of his back pocket. He was smiling ear to ear as he proudly showed off a picture of his biracial granddaughter.

On another occasion, my son came home from kindergarten to report he’d been washing his hands after art with other classmates and one told him his hands were still dirty. My son responded, “Mine are clean but yours are covered with paint!” Another time, an elementary teacher was adamant that “black” was the proper term for her to use when teaching civil rights. My daughter was uncomfortable, “But I’m not black, I’m brown,” she told me. I asked her what she’d prefer the teacher say. She thought for a moment and proudly said, “African American.” When I talked to the teacher, I suggested she talk to the kids in the future to find out what they liked to be called. I have had a lot to learn about negotiating the world crisscrossing color lines.

A pivotal moment in my awareness occurred one luscious summer night at the beach. The kids were two and three, we were walking along the shoreline as sunset approached. It had been a lovely day, just the three of us, strolling around town, playing tag with the waves, tossing stones in the water or watching construction on the wharf. We could while many hours away in these pursuits. Our after dinner stroll was the icing on the day. Big sister was leading little brother down the strand. As they wandered ahead, I followed along happy to be in the midst of their joy. The infant and toddler years were receding and I was thinking how big and independent they were becoming. A tall and very strikingly handsome African American man watched us approach. I waved and called, “ Hello.” He boomed from his doorway, “Are they yours?” When I nodded he continued, “They’re cute now but what are you going to do when people cross the street when they are bigger?”

I had no words. Was this one of the what- right-do-you-have-as-a-white-woman-to-adopt-black-children challenges I had heard before, or simply a bold forewarning? There was no way to have a conversation; his was not an invitation, and the kids were already far ahead. That man’s question has not haunted me with doubts about whether I was right to adopt my children. Their birth giver settled that for me when she decided their destination and made sure brother got to be with sister. No, his question has provoked all of my work as an educator, community member, and mother.

I don’t want women to fear, as Sandra Bullock’s character did in Crash (2004), the sight of my son on the sidewalk approaching her. I don’t want people to duck into a store when they see my kids coming. I’ve led ‘interrupting oppression’ workshops and classes to guide people to understand the amazingly complex intersections of all prejudices and to appreciate and honor the variety of perspectives and ideas a diverse group can inspire. The forewarning of the man on the beach, and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s plea to have our children recognized for their character rather than their color—- are motivation to always be in conversation about understanding skin and gender and privilege and power. And fear.

The Color of Fear (1994), a documentary by Lee Mun Wah,[6] features eight men talking about race in North America. They are African American, Latino, Asian American and Caucasian. The clothing and eyewear is dated but the dialogue is still, (sad to say), relevant. One of the men, African American Victor Lewis, tries to find the words that will get White David Christensen, to understand the depths of the differences between them. David only wants to see America as just, full of people with the kinds of positive experiences he’d had. He resists believing that the lives of men of color have been traumatically different from his experience as a white man. My white students get very uncomfortable watching the scene where Victor declares that he is black man, not white, as it seems to him white people want him to be. He says he cannot trust David until David is willing to really listen to the stories of the men of color in the room. After the film someone always says, “He is so angry!”

When I first saw the film, I saw anger too. But having lived the years since, learning to see the world through my children’s eyes and paying attention to current events, I now say, “I see him as frustrated and extremely passionate. Wouldn’t you get impatient and heated while trying to talk to someone who so resisted the truth of what you were saying, the truth of your lived experience?” I have learned that passion is often misinterpreted as anger. I have been thus misinterpreted, as I get riled trying to be understood. Every time I watch this film I also think of my son. Will he be misconstrued?

Just as that man leaning in the doorway on the beach knew he would, my son has grown beyond cute. Will people cross the street when they see him coming now that he is no longer a small child but a tall, graceful young man?

My son wanted airsoft guns when he was 13. I told him then of an 8-year-old I had read about who would not hand over his toy and was shot by police. My son immediately dismissed my concerns, “But Mom, I’m playing in the woods with my friends. And really, come on, we’re in Vermont.”

Is that enough of a safety net?

It’s true; Vermont is not Ohio or Mississippi. Men We Reaped is Jesmyn Ward’s (2013) memoir remembering five men in her family circle who died young. These African American young men were whole, until they were thwarted by the economic and educational apartheid of their Mississippi. The young men she describes were hindered and emboldened by stereotypes of masculinity and African American. Drugs, guns, despair or white men driving while drunk murdered them.

Guns and guys. Economics. Rural landscapes. There are differences and similarities between rural Mississippi and Vermont. Our winters are for sledding, skiing, reading by the woodstove. Folks in Mississippi rebuild after hurricanes and slog through heat no Vermonter could abide. If it reaches 98 degrees folks practically faint around here. Many Vermonters want to do right, be good, be green, be advocates for every cause. They take pride in the history of the stalwart New Englander. There are many markers of Civil War veterans in Vermont cemeteries. Vermont is the first state to approve of civil unions for same-sex couples. They want their guns for hunting. They tend to leave one another alone but help out in a pinch without being asked.

But perfect we are not. Vermont has a statewide problem of prescription drug and alcohol abuse among teenagers and an economy that prompts our young, educated population to go out of state to find good jobs. Vermont gets an “F” while Mississippi gets a “C” on the Teaching Tolerance report card. Drugs, guns, and economics are all factors confronting youth in Vermont and Mississippi. I have faith that, with support, Vermont educators will rise to meet this challenge, teach beyond tolerance and tests, to deep understanding of stereotypes and prejudice. It is time to inspire students to desire and create a society, a new civil social paradigm, which will address school shootings by white children with high powered artillery and which does not accept the shooting of unarmed children, young adults, and citizens of color.

Vermonters are proud of the state’s dedication to justice and hold kindness as a rule. I’m grateful for that. But if we are too attached to an image of being kind and progressive, we miss the real racism that occurs to those who are darker skinned. We miss opportunities to understand our privilege as white people to walk down the street and not have someone cross the street or call the police because we are here. We miss the fact that our white children are not being shot for holding toys, as seventeen more brown children have since I had that conversation with my son four years ago. [7]

We don’t have to wait for this to change. History offers examples of non-violent activism that resulted in fast-moving changes. In the early days of AIDS activism we shouted, SILENCE=DEATH. No media, government agency, or pharmaceutical company seemed to care that so many gay men were suddenly dying. Men and women organized to work with doctors, lawyers, medical researchers, poets, and playwrights so political activism started to bring change and hope to people who were HIV positive. The primarily privileged white, male, educated provocateurs of this movement were determined to get their demands met, they assumed they had the right to health care and attention. That civil rights movement was organized with unprecedented immediacy and voice. We need that kind of momentum to gain justice for black boys and men dying by excessive police force and incarceration.

As I write this, there’s a huge crescent moon in the clear Vermont sky. That same moon shines over all of us. It shines in Ferguson, Missouri still smoldering after the riots over the grand jury’s decision in the case of Michael Brown’s death by Officer Wilson. It glows over Cleveland, Ohio where just last week twelve-year-old African American, Tamir Rice, died when white officers didn’t distinguish his pellet gun from a real one at a playground. Why are lethal shots fired? Not one shot, but many?

Thousands of lives – my son’s life — depend on our not being silent.

We have wonderful mentors and models for our crusade for justice —Suffrage for Women, Civil Rights for Native Americans and African Americans, Women, Gays, Lesbians, Transgender, and Disabled, Peace Movements and the AIDS movement. None of these efforts has lead to permanent success though. Constant vigilance is our responsibility.

At seventeen I was marching against the war in Vietnam. Now, I see that we were practicing hope. Hope for change, hope for humanity, hope for kindness. I adopted my African American daughter because I wanted to walk into the future as the future would be—multicultural, full of difference. I adopted my son knowing I had to guide a boy to becoming a man. I became a mother in the anticipation of joy and hope in a bright future for my kids. I am an educator because I believe knowing history and social constructions provokes understanding, especially of people who are different from us somehow.

Every young person killed is a son or daughter. Every shooter is too.

Shelley Vermilya, Ed.D. is a progressive educator who adores creating new knowledge with all kinds of learners. She teaches at the University of Vermont and Saint Michael’s College. She is a reader for the Central Vermont Reading to End Racism project working with elementary school kids and lives in Plainfield, VT with her two kids and partner.


[1] Teaching the Movement 2014: The State of Civil Rights Education in the United States.

[2] Lawrence Otis Graham,

[3] Summer of 2014

Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri.

Eric Garner of Staten Island, New York smothered in a chokehold.

John Crawford of Beavercreek, Ohio shot in the chest in Walmart holding a .177 calibre BB rifle.

Ezell Ford of Los Angeles, California shot in the back after an “investigative stop.”

Dante Parker of Victorville, California Tased repeatedly and died in the hospital.

Trayvon Martin of Sanford, Florida in February 2012 and, always, Emmett Till on August 26, 1955 in Money, Mississippi.

[4] 10.17.14) 14-year-old Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley and Carole Robertson and 11-year-old Denise McNair) were found beneath the rubble in a basement restroom. Ten-year-old Sarah Collins, who was with the other girls, lost her right eye, and more than 20 other people were injured in the blast.


[6] The Color of Fear. (1994).

[7] (accessed 10.17.14)

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Racial Apartheid in America: The Life and Times of Michael B


Economic inequality is a hot topic in America these days. It is the subject of hefty bestsellers, presidential addresses, and even Hollywood movies. The issue has even appeared on the radar screen of foreign policy pundits.

In this Sunday’s Washington Post, former assistant secretary of state Kurt Campbell writes about how “income inequality undermines U.S. power.” Campbell writes about how the growing divide between rich and poor undercuts U.S. “soft power” and saps U.S. ability to compete economically with a thriving Asia.

It’s unusual for former State Department officials like Campbell to delve into ostensibly domestic issues. Perhaps income inequality has become so unavoidably grotesque that it has begun to worry even the foreign policy elite. Perhaps Campbell’s essay is a trial balloon for his mentor, Hillary Clinton, as she tests which issues might play well in the 2016 presidential campaign.

What makes the essay particularly interesting, however, is what Campbell doesn’t address. He doesn’t discuss how U.S. policies accentuate global inequalities. Nor does he appreciate how the wealth gap at home is reinforced by U.S. foreign policies on resource extraction, for instance, or global trade.

But the most glaring absence from Campbell’s essay is the word “race.” Reading his piece, you might come away with the impression that inequality is not a black-and-white issue.

But it is.

Apartheid America

Consider these two astounding facts: “The United States incarcerates a higher proportion of blacks than apartheid South Africa did. In America, the black-white wealth gap today is greater than it was in South Africa in 1970 at the peak of apartheid.”

This quote comes from Nicholas Kristof, who has been publishing a series in The New York Times under the title “When Whites Just Don’t Get It.” In an earlier columnin the series, Kristof points out that whites in South Africa owned 15 times more than blacks in 1970s, while the current ratio for the United States is 18 to 1.

In the context of the last 50 years, the statistics look even starker. According to a set of charts the Washington Post published last year on the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s“I Have a Dream” speech, the gap between whites and blacks has either remained the same or has gotten worse over the last half century. The gap in household income, the ratio of unemployment, and the number of children going to segregated schools have all remained roughly the same. The disparity in incarceration rates has gotten worse.

U.S. scholars have used the term “apartheid” to refer to specific historical periods (such as the era of Jim Crow), the residential segregation that existed for decades, the educational segregation that persists, and a criminal justice system that is so often criminal in its lack of justice. But can we apply the label of “apartheid” to all of American society?

South Africa got rid of apartheid. Although it remains more sharply divided economically than virtually any other major country, the end of apartheid did spur the growth of the black middle class, which expanded from 300,000 people to 3 million, with blacks rising from 11 percent to 41 percent of the overall middle class in 20 years.

But in the United States, very little has changed in five decades. The higher echelons of the African American community have done reasonably well, but not the middle class or the working poor. Since 1970, the percentage of African Americans in the middle class has actually declined. And the depression that hit the country after 2007 wiped out whatever gains this middle class might have achieved.

The media is full of pictures of Obama and Oprah, of Condoleezza and Susan Rice, of Serena Williams and Will Smith. Their omnipresence suggests that America is far from an apartheid society. And yet, for all their power and prominence, they are the outliers.

The Tragedy of Ferguson

In 1983, J.M. Coetzee published The Life and Times of Michael K, a novel about an unemployed gardener adrift in a war-torn South Africa. Michael K, whose race is never explicitly identified, is harassed by police, press-ganged into manual labor, accused of being a guerrilla. Riots and looting take place across the landscape of a country sharply divided between rich and poor. This is the future of apartheid, Coetzee suggested: a war of all against all. Six years later, apartheid fell, and the worst-case scenario was averted.

Now let’s take a look at The Life and Times of Michael B, the American sequel to Coetzee’s novel. The settings are disturbingly similar. Ferguson, Missouri looks even more like apartheid South Africa than the average American city. Ferguson is more than 60 percent African American, but only three of the 53 cops are black. The mayor is white, as is the chief of police. Nearly one-third of the African American population lives below the poverty line. And in 2013, 93 percent of the arrests involved blacks. Injustice and inequality has generated protests, riots, and police crackdowns.

The protagonist of this American sequel, Michael B, was an African American teenager who struggled to grow up in these challenging circumstances. He graduated high school on schedule, an achievement in and of itself in a town where only 78 percent of the students managed to get their degrees. He had no criminal record. He liked to play video games, smoke a little dope, hang out with friends. He listened to rap music and had just started to record some of his own songs. He planned to go to a technical college.

He was, in other words, a typical teenager.

On August 9, 2014, his death at the hands of a white policeman became an American tragedy, the circumstances of which have been much debated, dissected, and disputed. As with any tragedy that resonates in the larger world, the story of Michael Brown brings all the hopes and fears of a community to the foreground.

In Ferguson, the gross inequalities are an everyday matter. The rich lifestyles of successful rappers contrast with the reality of poorly paid jobs for those lucky enough to get them. The image of President Obama commanding the military, the Special Forces, and the National Guard is almost a grotesque reversal of the average African American experience in Ferguson facing the arbitrary—and downright racist—application of force by local whites. And the corporate self-helpism of Oprah, with its I-can-overcome-all-odds optimism, offers a dreamscape so at odds with the everyday indignities of negotiating the local power structure and the social welfare bureaucracy.

Physician: Heal Thyself

There’s certainly a foreign policy story in here, just as income inequality in general has many global dimensions.

The story of the shooting death of an unarmed African American man, the ensuing protests, the behavior of the police toward protestors, the acquittal of the police officer responsible for the killing: all of this provided foreign journalists and commentators rich fodder for stories about American hypocrisy. The U.S. government talks a great game about democracy, conflict resolution, nation building, and the like. But if we can’t effectively solve a problem that wasn’t even officially acknowledged until 50 years ago—and we can’t show much in the way of improvement except for a narrow slice of the African American middle class—then why on earth should any other country bother to listen to “experts” from the State Department and their bromides?

Until it puts its own house in order, the United States should adopt a more modest foreign policy. Perhaps the glare of the spotlight will force such a change. Accusations of hypocrisy can sometimes have that effect. The quintessential TV dad, Bill Cosby, stepped down from the board of Temple University because of a slew of rape allegations. Larry Craig, the anti-gay Republican senator from Idaho, left office after being accused of soliciting sex from an undercover policeman. James Watson, who shared a Nobel Prize for the discovery of DNA, retreated into the shadows after making a blatantly racist—and unscientific—judgment about Africans.

Of course, Cosby has also denied the charges and continued his recent comedy tour, Craig is a lobbyist, and an unapologetic Watson is back in the news for auctioning off his Nobel. Hubris is often embarrassment-proof. And since U.S. foreign policy is nothing if not arrogant, don’t hold your breath that the State Department will suddenly redirect its “democracy promotion” efforts to building a more perfect union at home.

Call the system of racial inequality in the United States what you will: the “two nations” of black and white, the new Jim Crow, or just plain ugly. But if the term “apartheid” shames the establishment into acting—and prompts pundits like Kurt Campbell to utter the word “race” when discussing inequality—then by all means let’s use the unflattering comparison. It’s a fitting way of bearing witness to the life and times of Michael B and everyone else who has suffered under this abhorrent system.

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Race, Class, and Violence: Count the Shots



David Brook’s December 2 column in the NYTimes arguing that classism, not racism, is what really ails our nation came off as one of the more racially tone-deaf commentaries so far on events in Ferguson. What must it feel like for an African-American to take in Brooks’s examination of 21st century class differences by means of a description of 19th century conditions in Britain: “The people who lived in these slums were often described as more like animals than human beings. For example, in an 1889 essay in The Palace Journal, Arthur Morrison described, “Dark, silent, uneasy shadows passing and crossing — human vermin in this reeking sink, like goblin exhalations from all that is noxious around. Women with sunken, black-rimmed eyes, whose pallid faces appear and vanish by the light of an occasional gas lamp, and look so like ill-covered skulls that we start at their stare. ‘Proper’ people of that era had both a disgust and fascination for those who lived in these untouchable realms. They went slumming into the poor neighborhoods, a sort of poverty tourism that is the equivalent of today’s reality TV or the brawlers that appear on ‘The Jerry Springer Show.’”

To be fair, later in the column it becomes clear that Brooks doesn’t buy this as a valid comparison with our own times. But that begs the question, why did he attempt it? Not only does it come across as grossly racist, but also he is grossly mistaken to assume that class not race explains the divide in our country between white and black. Most if not all of the latent classism in our country originates in the kind of institutionalized racism that the tragedy of Ferguson has brought into sharp relief.

I know a little more than I want to about Brooks’s tone-deafness because I happen to be a privileged white who attended elite schools and colleges. I cringe when I look back at my experience at Princeton in the late 1950s: my class (in the sense of the year I graduated, but the other meaning works too) included one African-American, and we were served daily in our dining commons by a young black waiters in white coats whose service we took so completely for granted that their invisibility to us future Masters of the Universe was total. I remember attending a party in Princeton where a distinguished alum had recently returned from a diplomatic posting in an African country. His jolly, oblivious stereotyping of the native peoples where he had served was such a Faulknerian caricature that it would have been laughable if it hadn’t felt so sad and dangerous. I also recall slowly awakening to the challenge of making connections across the divide of our racially split culture when I read John Howard Griffin’s classic “Black Like Me,” published in 1961, a year before I graduated. Griffin, a white, worked with a doctor to chemically darken his skin and immersed himself in a six-week voyage through the Deep South. The strain of the terror and deprivation he endured simply surviving as a black man brought him close to breakdown. White people six decades later could do worse than take another look at Griffin’s harrowing tale as a way to learn what it means to be on the receiving end of both passive stares of exclusionary indifference and active stares of hate and fear.

What happened between Darren Wilson and Michael Brown is just one incident among so many that exhibit to the world a toxic mix of deep structural racism and the casual escalation of violence as a “solution” to conflict.  Racism shades into every aspect of American life, including the patronizing and obstructive attitude of many in the Congress toward the President, clearly to them a black man who is too confidently sassy and “uppity” to know his place. It even extends to our international policies, where violence toward others of swarthier skin and alien creed is more often the first resort than the last. Tragically and ironically, it therefore implicates our own first African-American president in the murderous, too-rapidly-escalating, international-law-violating vengefulness that motivates our endless “war on terror,” as our political Masters of the Universe join the headlong rush to create enemies faster than we can kill them.

A single statistic utterly gives the lie to the idea that change is impossible in our country: Darren Wilson fired more shots into Michael Brown than the entire police in England and Wales fired at people in 2013.

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Why Police Body Cameras Aren’t the Solution: It Can All be Caught on Tape and Police Still Walk



Police body cameras are all the rage lately. Al Sharpton wants them used to monitor the activities of cops. Ann Coulter wants them used to “shut down” Al Sharpton. The White House wants them because, well, they’re a way to look both “tough on police violence” and “tough on crime” by spending $263 million on new law enforcement technology.

When Al Sharpton, Ann Coulter and the president of the United States agree on anything, my immediate, visceral reaction is extreme skepticism. In this case, the known facts support that skepticism.

It’s exceedingly unlikely that widespread use of police body cameras would reduce the incidence or severity of unjustified police violence. We’ve already seen the results of numerous technology “solutions” to that problem.

The introduction of mace and tasers to police weapons inventories encouraged a hair-trigger attitude toward encounters with “suspects” (“suspect” being law-enforcement-ese for “anyone who isn’t a cop”). Their supposed non-lethality made it safer to substitute violent action for peaceful talk.

The introduction of military weaponry and vehicles to policing hasn’t produced de-escalation either. Quite the opposite, in fact — now we get to watch small-town police departments stage frequent re-enactments of the Nazi occupation of Paris in towns across America.

And police car “dash cams?” That’s obviously the most direct comparison. But the dash cam always seems to malfunction, or the police department mysteriously loses its output, when a credible claim of abusive police behavior arises.

On the other hand, it’s absolutely certain that widespread use of police body cameras would increase the scope and efficacy of an increasingly authoritarian surveillance state.

The White House proposal calls for an initial rollout of 50,000 cameras. Does anyone doubt that the output of those cameras would be kept, copied, cross-referenced and analyzed against law enforcement databases (including but not limited to facial recognition databases) on a continuing basis?

Assuming a camera attaches to a particular officer with an eight hour shift (rather than being passed around at shift changes for 24-hour use), that’s 400,000 hours per day of random warrantless searches to be continuously mined for probable cause to investigate and arrest people. Even George Orwell didn’t go so far as to have 1984‘s Thought Police carry portable cameras everywhere they went!

Video technology is certainly part of the solution to police violence, but that solution should remain in the hands of regular people, not the state. More and more of us every day come into possession of the ability to record video on the spot, while instantly porting it to Internet storage so that it can’t be destroyed at the scene or tampered with after the fact. Cops need to be on cameras they don’t control.

But part of the solution is still just part of the solution. Even when cameras catch violent, abusive, criminal cops in action — as, for example, when business security cameras filmed Fullerton, California police officers Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli beating homeless man Kelly Thomas to death in 2011 — it’s incredibly hard to get prosecutions and even harder to get convictions.

Ubiquitous video monitoring of state actors by regular people is a start. But the only real way to guarantee and end to police violence is to bring an end to state “law enforcement” — in fact, to the state itself.

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