Archive | February 15th, 2015

Organize for Venezuela

NOVANEWS
National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello points out some of the targets of the coup plan.

National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello points out some of the targets of the coup plan. 

Will the elephant that is U.S. authoritarian power win the day, week, month, year? Or will a fledgling path to better outcomes persist, grow still more, and spread still farther? It is a world historic question.

Venezuela is a nightmare for the Capitalist world.

Venezuela has spearheaded Latin America’s emergence from literally centuries of subordination to the U.S. regarding media, economic policies, culture, and international relations. That alone is a killable offense in the eyes of Washington. Indeed far less provokes American power to engage in mass murder, as in Iraq, as but one of many examples.

But consider Indochina. Millions of souls were dispatched from this earth with bombs, napalm, bullets, and starvation. The Reason? Vietnam was a nightmare for American elites. Vietnam’s example said to the world of poor and weak nations, you who are exploited by market madness – see, be like us and you can extricate yourselves and take over your own destiny. It was of course a killable offense, and off to war we went. The threat of a good example – which is to say of extricating one’s country from imperial domination by the U.S. – needed to be thwarted. American presidents, one after another, endeavored to prevent extrication, or, failing that, to show that the price of extrication was too high for countries to emulate. Use anything that flies to kill anything that moves. No movement, no country, will lightly risk that.

Now if truth be told, at no time did the U.S. believe, I think, that even a fully successful Vietnamese revolution was going to be a good example for the people of France, say, or Italy, or Australia, much less the U.S. They realized, however, that successful extrication would say plenty to the people of Thailand, Egypt, even Chile, perhaps, Indonesia, and, egad, maybe even India. And that was more than bad enough. Unleash the bombs. And more bombs, and more.

Two things, at least, are quite different now. First, to the good, it is harder to unleash the bombs – at least in certain parts of the world and on a scale sufficient to the task. The U.S. faces constraints at home not least because of the incredible courage of the Vietnamese spurring anti war and anti imperial understanding around the world, but also because of changes in power balances all over.

Second, also good, but very scary, in truth Venezuela is far more of a danger to the masters of war and purveyors of greed than Vietnam ever was. There are many reasons for this. Vietnam had considerable Tungsten but Venezuela has a whole lot of oil. More important, Venezuela is far better integrated into its local sector of the world, and indeed with gorwing connections of great depth throughout Latin America, than Vietnam was in Asia, so the good example of extrication threatens to spread much more easily in Venezuela’s case. But perhaps most of all, Venezuela is not just about escaping U.S. domination. No, Venezuela has been trying and to some degree succeeding, in being a good example for everyone, everywhere, in terms of domestic innovations as well. That is, Venezuela has been trying, and to some degree succeeding, in moving institution by institution, toward real public participation – toward enriched democracy and even self management for its populace – and toward a revamping of economics and kinship and culture all seeking and to a considerable degree attaining gorwing levels of equity, justice, and solidarity. This is hugely unpardonable.  Councils? Communes? Imagine Washington contemplating that. Seriously they are seeking to build WHAT? This must be made invisible. This must be reversed.

Of course media lies like crazy to keep it all invisible, and they do this precisely because if the public were to understand that the Bolivarian movement hasn’t trampled democracy but has expanded it – that it hasn’t trampled equitable distribution but has promoted it – that it hasn’t diminished dignity but enlarged it – their eyes would examine the reality rather than the media falsehoods, and with that examination, the good example, the dangerous example, would spread. And what a receptive audience is emerging in Southern Europe!

So the U.S. media keeps lying about Venezuela to hold things in check, and the U.S. government and corporate elites world wide keep trying to stall and reverse the trends by squeezing economically. And then they even try to overthrow the Venezuelan government as a step toward repressing its social movements and annihilating its good example. But whenever coups fall short, which is sad from the point of view of the masters of war, these sadistic devils do not waste time weeping. No, they continue to try to polarize the Venezuelan public, to try to scare them, to try to intimidate them, to try to economically cajole them, and to try to ensure that around the world everyone thinks it is all the Bolivarians’ fault, until Venezuelans, desperate, make choices that will undermine their prospects of being a really threatening example, such as centralizing authority, utilizing force, etc.

U.S. tactics, in other words, are not narrow and simpleminded, nor do they have an expiration date. The masters of war certainly like to win big in a swooping violent thrust – yes, thank you, they might say. Good for war contractors. But mainly, good for scaring the shit out of those who might want to get uppity. So they will try bombs if they can, and, if the balance of forces precludes that, as so far it has and I suspect it will continue to, then they will try and try again to engineer a coup. They will do this by supporting thuggish allies within Venezuela, by spreading tool of violence to those thugs, and, even more so and most importantly, as once in Chile to overthrow Allende, by pummeling the society with economic pressure and blaming the ensuing immensely hurtful dislocations on the Bolivarians, of course, so that the broad public will grow tired, grow angry, and become more easily subdued. That is what current, recent, and past U.S. policy, since Chavez told the U.S. to go to hell, have been about.

Will the elephant that is U.S. authoritarian power win the day, week, month, year? Or will a fledgling path to better outcomes persist, grow still more, and spread still farther? It is a world historic question. And the U.S. masters of war, even more so than the Venezuelan Bolivarians, understands that on one side is the Venezuelan good example (which is extrication plus perhaps even real equity and popular self management) threatening to inspire world wide change, whereas on the other side is fear and imposed obedience hoping to subvert world wide desires until people feel, again, that there is just no alternative so we must give in because if we don’t they will destroy us.

Given the above, and given the emergence of growing signs of very serious resistance – Greece, Spain, Rojava, Latin America – even to a degree Italy, France, and the U.S. too – Venezuela’s future, and I suspect it is no exaggeration to say the world’s future, is currently at play in the conflict.

So: Venezuela versus the U.S. Whose side are you on?

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Is Sweden’s Offensive Against Assange Unraveling?

NOVANEWS
 WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange holds up a copy of the Guardian after thousands of US military documents were leaked and exposed.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange holds up a copy of the Guardian after thousands of US military documents were leaked and exposed. 

In January, Sweden’s record was reviewed by UN Human Rights Council members. Ecuador asked it to justify long periods of pre-charge detention.

On the morning of 23 October 2010, WikiLeaks co-founder – Julian Assange – shared a London press conference stage with Iraq Body Count staff, and numerous other experts. Together, they defended WikiLeaks’ decision to release the Iraq War Logs, more than 400,000 secret U.S. army field reports.

Among the field reports was a video of a U.S. helicopter gunship involved in a notorious Baghdad incident, it showed U.S. combatants gleefully killing individuals after they tried to surrender. Assange highlighted that the disclosed logs documented 109,000 deaths in Iraq since the U.S. led invasion of the country in 2003. The total casualties of the illegal, oil hunger induced, war included 66,000 civilians, of which 15,000 were previously undocumented.

Following the release of the Iraq War Logs, the then UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak, said there was now a duty on the U.S. to investigate whether its officials were involved in or complicit in torture in Iraq.

Rather than respond to these calls for accountability, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden labelled Assange a “cyber-terrorist”.

Days later, the Iraq War Log revelations were overshadowed by news that Julian Assange was wanted in Sweden, to face questioning in relation to two allegations of “rape”. Despite the media frenzy, Assange has never been charged of anything. He is wanted for questioning by the Scandinavian country in relation to two sexual misconduct allegations.

In August 2010, Stockholm Chief Prosecutor, Eva Finne had cancelled an early arrest warrant saying there is “no suspicion” that Assange had committed “any crime whatsoever”. One of the women has since tweeted “I have not been raped” and alleged that the police have pushed through the investigation against Assange.

However, Prosecutor Marianna Ny re-opened the matter and issued a European Arrest Warrant and an Interpol “red alert” for Assange.

Since 2010, Assange has been waiting to hear whether he will be questioned, and charged in relation to the misconduct allegations. Prosecutor Ny refuses to travel to London to question Assange, even though Swedish law allows for it and the UK government has said it would actively facilitate it.

Swedish police have traveled to other countries to interview suspects in the past, including Germany, Serbia, the U.S., and even the UK. Assange has made at least four formal offers to the prosecution to interview him in person, in writing, via telephone, or via videoconferencing.

Swedish authorities have also never explained why they will not provide Assange a guarantee that they will not extradite him to the U.S.

There are real risks that Sweden may transfer Assange to the U.S. On 23 December 2014, Google finally informed WikiLeaks that it was cooperating with the U.S. Justice Department in a criminal investigation against WikiLeaks, which the department first launched in 2010.

Prosecutors are also withholding data in relation to the case from Assange’s lawyers.

Katrin Axelsson and Lisa Longstaff of Women Against Rape wrote: “The allegations against [Assange] are a smokescreen behind which a number of governments are trying to clamp down on WikiLeaks for having audaciously revealed to the public their secret planning of wars and occupations with their attendant rape, murder and destruction…”

For an example of how the U.S. treats whistle-blowers, one can look to U.S. soldier Chelsea Manning. Manning is currently serving 35 years in military prison for leaking information to WikiLeaks. Manning has been kept in “extreme” and “excessive” solitary confinement, violating her right not to be subject to torture and cruel inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. If transferred to the U.S., Assange can expect similar treatment.

In light of these concerns, Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London in June 2012. He sought asylum in Ecuador, and that country granted him refugee status. However, the UK refuses to grant him safe passage out of London, so he can travel to Ecuador. Instead it has spent more than £9 million to guard the Ecuadorean Embassy. This is more than what the UK has spent on investigating its own complicity in human rights abuses in Iraq.

On Monday 26 January 2015, Sweden’s human rights record was reviewed by UN Human Rights Council members. Ecuador asked Sweden to explain how it justifies long periods of pre-charge detention, and withholding potentially crucial evidence to individuals it is investigating. There are concerns that Assange’s health is deteriorating, while kept cooped up in a small room in the Ecuadorean Embassy.

There is no excuse for the Swedish authorities not to undertake their investigation – either by travelling to the UK, or by video-conferencing. Their failure to do so, has impeded Assange’s freedoms significantly. Ecuador’s questioning at the UN Human Rights Council, seeks to put pressure on States such as Sweden: States that contend to uphold the rule of law, while limiting the rights of those that dare shed light on what took place in the shadows of the war on terror.

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US to Send More than 4,000 Troops to Kuwait

NOVANEWS
U.S Marines departing the Helmand base in Afghanistan in 2014.

U.S Marines departing the Helmand base in Afghanistan in 2014. 

Reports indicate it could be the U.S.’ largest ground force in the region.

U.S. media reported Saturday that more than 4,000 ground combat troops are heading to Kuwait. Reports indicate it could be the U.S.’ largest ground force in the region.

The move comes as President Obama is seeking the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) against the Islamic State group.

Early this week Obama sent Congress the AUMF petition denying plans for a ground war, however the troops in Kuwait are prepared for any “contingency,” a Pentagon military source said.

The proposal must be approved by both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. Meetings began this week and a vote is expected in March.

The AUMF has garnered opposition from some in Obama’s own Democratic Party, who want to prevent another Middle East war, as well as from Republicans, who feel it is too lenient.

The U.S. Army has kept a brigade in Kuwait since 2011 and recently began using those soldiers to help train allies for battles against the Islamic State group.

The soldiers are from the Fort Carson’s 3rd Brigade and reports in the U.S media said that the soldiers have trained for more than a year for the Kuwait mission.

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Playing With Fire in an Age of Absurdity

NOVANEWS
Farewell to Rationality!
by ANDREW LEVINE

Will future historians call the time when the United States was the world’s hegemonic power – the “indispensable nation,” as the hapless Madeleine Albright called it — the Age of Absurdity? Now that the Obama administration has set its stamp upon it, they very well might.

Absurdity is in the details; it is manifest in small things and on many levels.   And it is manifest in the largest political issue of our time and any time: the question of war and peace.

The perpetual war regime Obama and his advisors have solidified – on the shoddiest of pretexts, but with the unbridled assistance of a compliant media and with full “bipartisan” support – is a potentially catastrophic case in point.

In this and other respects, Obama will be remembered not so much as an innovator but as a continuator of Bush-Cheney era policies. But, as thinkers of a dialectical cast used to remind us, sometimes quality emerges out of quantity.

And so it is that with more than a few – no one knows exactly how many — under-the-radar wars around the world to its (dis)credit, the absurdity level has been ratcheted up several notches under Obama’s tenure.

Along with a rise in religious zealotry, a phenomenon not unrelated to all those wars, this is why it has become harder than ever to make sense of what is going on in the world today. Things happen, apparently for no rhyme or reason. Incoherence reigns.

And people die. Obama will be remembered for this. And, to our shame, “we, the people” will be remembered for having acquiesced almost without resistance to what he and the people around him have done.

The peace movement is dead, the media are mute, and, in all likelihood, we will soon be engulfed in an electoral season in which the plain fact that Democrats and Republicans know not what they do will hardly even come up.

Meanwhile, war and preparations for war go on – seemingly in perpetuity.

* * *

Perpetual war. What is it good for?

The answer is the same as for war in general – absolutely nothing. From deep in the heart of Motown some forty years ago, Edwin Starr got that right.

Evidently, the Obama administration’s foreign policy team – the humanitarian interveners, the unreconstructed Clintonites, the leftover neocons, the whole sorry crew – disagrees.

We cannot be entirely sure, however. They may just be irrational or, more likely, so bad at what they do that it comes to the same thing.

To clarify what I mean by irrationality, think of the difference between the ends of actions, their objectives, and the means through which persons seek to realize those ends.

Philosophers disagree about how, if at all, ends can be rational. But they all agree, as Immanuel Kant wrote in 1785, that “to will the end is to will the means thereto.”

By that standard, we must infer that Nobel laureate Barack Obama and his advisors at the National Security Council and the State Department and in the think-tanks that service the national security state either want war without end, or else that they are unconstrained by the most basic requirement of practical reason.

‘Practical reason” pertains to actions, as distinct from beliefs, which are the province of “theoretical reason. “ In both cases, rationality is a normative standard, the most basic one we have. There is no reasoning with, or dealing with, those who violate this fundamental norm.

It is unacceptable for someone to understand a logical demonstration or an empirical argument supported by incontrovertible evidence and then to reject the conclusions that follow. One cannot argue with such a person; the only thing to do is walk away.

And it is wrong to seek some objective and then, knowingly, to adopt means that are sure to have the opposite effect.

Insanity can be a mitigating factor.   But our leaders are not insane – not in the clinical sense. When their actions are irrational, there is no denying their culpability.

To count as a rational agent, it is not enough that means and ends not be directly at odds – as when someone wants to go left, knows which way is left, and nevertheless goes right. Some notion of proportionality is also assumed.

Doing too little or too much can result from failures of judgment. But if the failures cannot be explained away – say, because they rely on information that is believed to be adequate but is not, or on flawed ways of thinking that are not immediately apparent – then charges of irrationally ring true.

It is tempting to lay all the blame for the manifest failures of means-ends rationality that characterize American policy in the historically Muslim world and in and around the lands that border Russia on incompetence alone, and to fault the Obama foreign policy team for its consequences.  They are certainly guilty as sin. But everyone knows where the buck stops.

It was not insanity that led Barack Obama to make Hillary Clinton and now John Kerry his Secretaries of State, or that causes him to take Susan Rice and Samantha Power seriously. And there is no escaping his reprehensibility for the mischief he lets them and their underlings unleash around the world.

Obama is as guilty for this as he is for what the American military does and, worse, the CIA and the other tools of empire that he wields like a private army.

But can we blame all this on incompetence alone?

There is no clear answer to this question because there is also the likelihood that, at least to some extent, Obama and his team are deliberately pursuing preposterous objectives – adopting means to ends as rational agents should, but for ends that are reprehensible or incoherent or both.

On questions of war and peace, this seems to be the case: it seems that perpetual war is what Obama and the ne’er-do-wells under him want.

Why? Not out of partiality to military virtues or nostalgia for more barbaric times.   European fascists and pre-war Japanese authoritarians were moved by ideals of this kind; Democrats are not. Though it can sometimes be hard to believe, neither are Republicans.

But without war and the threat of war the military-industrial-national security state complex would falter. Since even before President Eisenhower warned of what would happen if our republic ceded power to it, its unelected and unaccountable leaders have been calling the shots.

Therefore perpetual peace is out of the question. If enemies do not exist, the United States will have to invent them.

By the time Obama took office, the Iraq War was extremely unpopular. He could and did intensify it for a while, but it was plain from Day One that it had to be wound down, seemingly at least, before he could run for office again.

And so it was. It was only after Obama was reelected in 2012 that what the United States did to Iraq came back to bite him. Now Syria is a problem too, perhaps an even bigger one. This too is a result of what the United States did in and to Iraq.

When Obama took office, the Afghanistan War had been raging on for seven years. This was the war that Obama, and other “anti-war” Democrats like Howard Dean endorsed, even as they cautiously spoke out against its more prominent cousin.

Of the two wars, the one in Afghanistan was certainly he less unpopular, but also the less rational. Ostensibly, its point was and still is to combat “terrorism.”   To the extent this is so, it is a textbook case of willing an end and willing the opposite of the means thereto.

Drones and assassins kill terrorists along with many others, but they also create more terrorists than they kill. You don’t need an advanced degree in military science or diplomacy to realize this; you don’t even need a High School diploma. It is common sense.

The Afghanistan War is and always has been a war of revenge – undertaken because the Furies demanded it.

Civilization was supposed to have put an end to such causae belli. In civilized societies, “reasons of state” might justify wars but not desires for vengeance. Evidently, the philosophers and tragedians of Greek antiquity hadn’t counted on George Bush and Dick Cheney.

In time, the Afghanistan War’s unpopularity came to rival the unpopularity of the war in Iraq. And so, after surging and un-surging in Afghanistan as they had in Iraq, Team Obama decided that it would make sense to wind down, or seem to wind down, the Afghanistan War too.

But, unfortunately, they felt that they couldn’t just cut and run; that is the way that bullies lose credibility and that empires fall. They needed a face-saving way out.  But, like Iraq, Afghanistan was too broken to provide on. After more than a decade of American predations, how could it not have been?

All they could do, therefore, was dissimulate.

And so the two Bush-Obama wars were not so much concluded as repackaged – so that Obama could win in 2012, and so that the wars that, by then, were his to pursue could be continued indefinitely.

The military-industrial-national security state complex would surely have preferred less muted hostilities. But you can’t always get what you want, even when you run the show.

Nevertheless, they were on track for getting more than enough to keep them in business. It doesn’t take much blowback to keep the suicide bombers coming.   That on its own would have been enough to scare Americans and Europeans into allowing the wars – and, more important, the preparations for war — to continue indefinitely.

But those wars had been going on for so long that they were starting to seem old, even to their most ardent proponents. The military had had enough as well; too much death and maiming, not enough glory.

Could this be why Team Obama, with support from unreconstructed Cold Warriors in Europe, decided that the time had come to provoke Russia?

A new Cold War would certainly make life more interesting – and profitable — for them. And with the fear of Islamist terrorism in the West receding, a new Cold War would be just the thing to raise anxiety levels back to where our rulers like them to be.

Then suddenly that plan became redundant. The Islamic State (IS) emerged seemingly from nowhere; a collection of bloodthirsty and crazed religious zealots, brutal enough to appall even Osama Bin Laden.

With them around, there was no longer any need to demonize Vladimir Putin, the man into whose eyes George W. Bush had once looked and saw that it was good.

Of course, the IS didn’t exactly come from nowhere. It came from a broken Iraq and from a more recently devastated Syria; in other words, from machinations orchestrated in Washington and perpetrated by NATO, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States and, of course, by the United States itself.

But the IS, so far at least, has left the West alone. It kills Westerners it captures; its brutality towards them, and others who fall into its hands, is unspeakable. But, to date, IS sponsored terror has been confined geographically to areas under its control.

It takes a lot of empathic understanding, of putting oneself in the minds of others, to ascertain the IS’s ends and to see the method in its madness. Could they really want to revive the political structures of the first centuries of the Muslim era or to subject entire populations to fundamentalist understandings of Sharia law?

On the other hand, ridding the Middle East of its corrupt leaders is an eminently worthwhile and understandable goal, as is removing Western domination of historically Muslim lands. But none of this obviates the fact that even Hollywood could not contrive a more god-awful collection of murderous brigands.

Indeed, the IS is so awful that it will take a lot of work on the part of the American government to keep it up and running for long. They are not ingenious enough.

On the other hand, if their actual goal is what they say it is – to rid the world of the Islamic State — then the IS menace might be around for a while; Team Obama is incompetent enough for that.

The IS’s leadership knows that they have no way to inflict serious harm directly upon the West. Following Al Qaida’s lead, their strategy therefore is to get the West to harm itself. They are past masters at that.

It is amazing how much leverage they are able to squeeze out of a few well-advertised beheadings, abductions and burnings.

It is ironic too: “off with their heads” is a Western trope; and Islam doesn’t hold a candle – pun intended — to Christianity when it comes to burning people to death.

Killing by fire is an American specialty as well. We did it to the Japanese with atom bombs and to the Vietnamese and many others with napalm and white phosphorus.

We are doing it still – to Arabs and Africans — with bombs and drones. Is it any wonder that they would object?

What is wondrous is the sheer hypocrisy of it all. They, the Oriental other, are unbridled monsters; when we do the same, we say, when it is too late, only that “mistakes were made.”

At least their brutality serves the purpose they intend. The United States does more damage to people and things than they, the monsters, can dream of, but nothing worthwhile for us comes of it – unless keeping a thriving perpetual war regime going is a worthwhile end.

Indeed, unless this actually is Obama intention, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi leaves our Commander-in-Chief standing in the dust when it comes to adopting suitable and proportionate means to ends.

And then, as if the IS were not enough of a godsend for our masters of war, there were the massacres at the Charlie Hebdo offices and at the Kosher supermarket in Paris.

An Al Qaeda offshoot seems to have been behind at least the former atrocity; there have been suggestions that the IS had something to do with the second, though it is not clear what, and the connection has never been confirmed.

But even the hint that the IS might now be intent on terrorizing Western populations is enough to bring George W. Bush’s Global War on Terror – the reality, not the name –back full force.

Why then still provoke Russia? Isn’t one hyper-dangerous ill thought out misadventure enough?   Why pile more on – especially one that could lead to a nuclear war?

The question answers itself, and yet efforts to bring NATO and the EU right up to Russia’s borders continue. Obama, to his credit, is hesitant; but, in Congress and the media, the War Party is nipping at his heels, eager for a showdown in Ukraine.

This is absurdity squared. Not all the media flacks in the world can demonize Vladimir Putin enough to change the one obvious and basic truth that is of paramount importance in this situation: that it is reckless beyond belief – unforgivably reckless – – to infringe the basic security interests of a major nuclear power.

Yes, it would be good for business – in the United States and the EU – if Russia were again as weak and compliant as it was in the nineties, when the Clintons, forsaking promises Ronald Reagan had made to Mikhail Gorbachev, initiated NATO expansion.

Of course, it was never quite true that, as “Engine Charlie” Wilson put it when President Eisenhower nominated him to be Secretary of Defense that “what (is) good for the country (is) good for General Motors and vice versa.” This is even less true for today’s hedge funds and mega-banks and multi-national corporations.

But it remains steadfastly true that “he who pays the piper calls the tune.” Our political class today, far more than in Eisenhower’s time, is well paid for the services it renders.

Even so, one would think that the movers and shakers of American capitalism would be rational enough not to risk everything for just a little bit more.   What happened to means being proportional to ends?

The problem, again, is not insanity. But in an Age of Absurdity, one thing can lead to another and, pretty soon, there is no world left. The majority of Democrats and Republicans these days either don’t understand this, or don’t care.

For now, Obama’s hesitancy is saving us – that and Russian diplomacy. European, especially German, diplomacy is helping too.

The German government, under Angela Merkel, has little love for Vladimir Putin and the people around him.   But at least they can still understand how the world looks from Russia’s perspective, and they are still “realist” enough and rational enough to adopt proportionate means to the ends they seek to achieve.

If anyone in the American government is on the same page, they are keeping the news to themselves.

And so, Obama is under enormous pressure to supply the Ukrainian army with lethal weapons. Merkel disagrees; she understands the dangers the American War Party is courting. We can only hope that she prevails, and that the War Party loses big time.

The world is here now only because we somehow dodged the nuclear bullet in the forty plus years of the first Cold War, the one that was supposed to have ended in 1989 or 1991.

Will our luck hold out again if this new Cold War, the one Team Obama is revving up, expands and becomes entrenched?

Don’t count on it. In an Age of Absurdity, rationality hardly stands a chance.

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Police and Plunder

NOVANEWS
The Ideal of Justice
by PETER LINEBAUGH

In December 2014 the discussion of “police” began to look at the roots of the institution. Peter Gelderloos concluded a three part study inCounterPunch flatly stating, “The police are a racist, authoritarian institution that exists to protect the powerful in an unequal system.”[1]Sam Mitrani, a scholar of the Chicago police, concluded similarly, “The police were not created to protect and serve the population. They were not created to stop crime, at least not as most people understand it.” [2]Yet a physician in Ann Arbor, Catherine Wilkerson, caused a local stir when she stated “that neither racism nor racist police violence can be abolished under this economic system, i.e. under capitalism”.

On 21 January 2015 Ta-Nehisi Coates in a speech in Ann Arbor argued persuasively that plunder is the leading social activity at the base of racist violence beginning with slavery days and continuing to now. Capitalism is such a social activity! It is relatively new in human history. It depends on the exploitation of those who don’t own the means of subsistence and production by those who do. It creates racist oppression in order to divide the exploited so that the Few may rule the Many.

Two sources of knowledge are especially pertinent. The first is the report called Lynching in America issued last week by the Equal Justice Initiative. It describes 3,959 lynchings in the American South between 1877 and 1950. The second is Stolen Lives which documents more than 2,000 people killed by law enforcement in the decade of the 1990s.[3] If we add the data of capital punishment to these data we can begin to understand that the resulting murderous pattern of terror is the punishment of capital.

Investigation into the history of police soon finds it to be inseparable from conquest, slavery, debt, industrial discipline, and social hierarchies. Armed settlers, “pioneers,” militia, army units, slave patrollers, Texas rangers, posse comitatus, slave catchers, factory guards, troopers, private security forces, vigilante groups, MPs, lynch mobs, Ford’s “service department,” death squads, night riders, and the KKK have all served police functions.

It may help to define police as armed, uniformed, salaried agents of government, part of the civil service, but it was not thus clear at the

stopthief

beginning.

Etymologically the word is related to “policy” and to the Greek polis, or city. “Police” was a new word in English gaining usage in the 18thcentury at the time of the sugar plantation, textile factories, racism, and mechanization. The thing itself was integral to city forces of merchant, manufacturer, banker, shipper, factor, and insurer, as well as to planter and landlord. It developed on the one hand in opposition to parochial forces of the civil power – the constables and the watch – and on the other hand it developed separately from the military – the army and navy.

As for capitalism let us go back to Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nationsof 1776, because it connected the actual details of the labor process (exploitation) to the world market of commodities (globalization). He said “civil government, so far as it is instituted for the sanctity of property, is in reality instituted for the defense of the rich against the poor.”  His student, Adam Ferguson, said plainly “wealth comes from inequality.” The “poor” created wealth, i.e. worked, labored.

These ideas first appeared as “police” as reported in Adam Smith’sLectures on Police (c.1763) delivered in Glasgow, a new hub in the Atlantic economy for banking and commerce of tobacco plantations.  He defined police as “cleanliness, security, cheapness and plenty.” At first, then, “police” encompassed health, commodity, market, privatization, labor, and force. Already policy makers and profiteers were studying the intricate political relationship between low wages and high food prices. Although political economy and police violence were soon to separate as different limbs within the ruler’s body politics, they never lost their actual association with its heart. The goal was to make people work longer and harder.

Adam Smith’s contemporary wrote An Essay on Trade and Commerce(1770). “A multitude of people being drawn together in a small territory will raise the price of provisions; but, at the same time, if the police be good, it must keep down the price of labor.” The poor house must become “a house of terror.” The workers are “a many-headed monster which every one should oppose.” To establish the six-day working week, “a good police must be established.”

Divisions within this class were formalized by wage, geographic, gender, and racial differences, producing apparently permanent segments of that class of people without much of anything to call their own. So it comes as no surprise to learn that parallel to these “economic” developments was the development of racism. Carl Linneas, the Swedish biologist and deviser of binomial nomenclature in his Systema naturae(1758) created the term homo sapiens in a hierarchy of skin color. With spurious pretensions to science he identified four “races” describing white people as gentle, acute, quick, and governed by fixed laws and describing black people as crafty, indolent, careless, and capricious. These are not biological attributes but ones concerning obedience of interest to HR, bosses, foremen, overseers, in short, slavers!

Global commodity production entailed the enclosure of the commons, the fractionation of human beings, and the enslavement of women, children, and men, The social formation of Atlantic capitalism consisted of massive labor camps in America and the “Satanic mills” or factories of Britain.  The international political order had to change and did so creating new entities of power, the U.S.A. (1789) and the U.K. (1801).

Plantation (sugar, cotton) met factory (textiles) at the port (London, Liverpool).  The proletarian woman, the slave, the factory hand, the urban artisan, and the maritime worker, sailors, dockers. The port was where the first police were introduced. A new era of history commenced.  If you call it “industrialization,” or “modernization,” or even the “anthropocene” you are in danger of overlooking the demons at the center of it, Moloch and Mammon.

By the time of the Haitian slave revolt (1791) which brought the sugar system into crisis and at the time of the invention of the cotton ‘gin (1793) which brought the cotton system into expansion, the “pushing-system” began the transition of the most dynamic world commodity from sugar to cotton. Edward Baptist in the latest historical study of slavery and capitalism notes that the increased productivity of “the pushing system” depended on a decisive technology, “the whipping machine.”[4] The whip intensified labor to the limit of human endurance. It accompanied the expansion of slavery to new territories and the expansion of the internal slave trade from the Chesapeake to the Mississippi.

Economically speaking sugar began in the realm of production (slave plantation) and in Europe entered the realm of consumption (the tea cup, the rum bottle). In contrast, cotton began in the slave labor camp or plantation like sugar, but unlike sugar it became a means of exploitation on the other side of the Atlantic. Private property may belong to an individual for consumption, or it may be used as capital as an input of production. Police protect and serve the owners of these forms of property.

Capital exists in three modes or forms, as money (bank), as production (factory, plantation), as commodity (commerce, inventory). Capital as commodity sits in dockside warehouses. Capital as money sits in banks, insurance offices, and other counting houses. Capital as production will be in the field, the factory, and the ship. Thus the plantation, the docks, and the factory became three sites of a single economic system on either side of the Atlantic.

Glasgow (Scotland) was the city of Patrick Colquhoun (1745-1821). As a youth between 1760 and 1766 he lived on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay. He was a planner of the trans-Atlantic cotton economy compiling stats of the workers, wages, factories, and imports in order to assist the prime minister and cabinet of England maximize profits from the cycle of capital in England, India, America, Ireland, Africa. That work was interrupted by the revolutions in France and Haiti.

In the 1790s he criminalized custom. [5] He led the hanging of those committing money crimes. He led the apprehension of those in textile labor who re-cycled waste products to their own use. He organized political surveillance by spies and snitches of those opposing slavery. In addition to his Virginia cotton interests he owned shares in Jamaican sugar plantations. Financed by West India merchants and planters in 1798 Colquhoun established the Police Office. In 1800 Parliament passes the Marine Police Bill expanding and making official the police as a centralized, armed, and uniformed cadre of the state. His treatises on police inspired the foundation of police in Dublin (Ireland), Sydney (Australia), and New York (USA).

To summarize, then, in two points. First, at the time of the independence of America (1776) “police” (intellectually, theoretically, and politically) meant the social and economic relations between the rich and the poor in the governance and planning of world-wide empire. Second, at the time of the creation of the U.S.A. (1787-1791) the actual institution of police simultaneously criminalized the urban commons and efficiently linked plantation and factory, the U.S.A. and the U.K., into a temporary Atlantic system, call it capitalism.

Finally, there is no ‘moving forward’ without reckoning with this past. If it took more than a century (a blink in history’s eye) to produce this unsustainable amalgam of production and police, work and violence, wealth and terror, we must expect that our efforts to eliminate effectively the one must be accompanied by the restoration or reparation of the other. There is no reason, historically-speaking, why this can’t be done in a hurry. The ideal of justice is indefeasible and undivided; it is a unity and does not wait.

Notes. 

[1] “Learning from Ferguson: A World Without Police,” CounterPunch, 29 Dec. 2014.

[2] Sam Mitrani, “The Police Were Created to Control Poor and Working Class People,” CounterPunch, 31 Dec. 2014. See his book, The Rise of the Chicago Police Department: Class and Conflict, 1850-1894 (University of Illinois Press).

[3] Equal Justice Initiative, Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror (Mongomery, Alabama, 2015), and Stolen Lives Project, Stolen Lives Killed by Law Enforcement (New York, 1999)

[4] The Half has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism (New York: Basic Books, 2014)

[5] Patrick Colquhoun, A Treatise on the Police of the Metropolis (1796) and A Treatise on the Commerce and Police of the River Thames (1798)

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The Real Ruler of I$raHell: Sheldon Adelson

NOVANEWS
The Casino Republic
by URI AVNERY

Who is the ruler of Israel?

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, of course.

WRONG.

The real ruler of Israel is one Sheldon Adelson, 81, American Jew, Casino king, who was rated as the world’s tenth richest person, worth 37.2 billion dollars at the latest count. But who is counting?

Besides his casinos in Las Vegas, Pennsylvania, Macao and Singapore, he owns the US Republican party and, lately, both Houses of the US Congress.

He also owns Binyamin Netanyahu.

Adelson’s connection with Israel is personal. On a blind date, he fell in love with an Israeli woman.

Miriam Farbstein was born in Haifa, attended a prestigious high school, did her army service in the Israeli institute which deals with bacteriological warfare and is a multifaceted scientist. After one of her sons (from her first marriage) died of an overdose, she is devoted to the fight against drugs, especially cannabis.

Both Adelsons are fanatical supporters of Israel. Not just any Israel, but a rightist, supremacist, arrogant, violent, expansionist, annexationist, non-compromising, colonialist Israel.

In “Bibi” Netanyahu they found their man. Through Netanyahu they hope to rule Israel as their private fief.

To assure this, they did an extraordinary thing: they founded an Israeli newspaper, solely devoted to the furthering of the interests of Binyamin Netanyahu. Not of the Likud, not of a specific policy, but of Netanyahu personally.

Years ago I invented a Hebrew word for papers which are distributed for nothing. “Hinamon” translates, roughly, into “ragratis” or “gratissue” and was intended to denigrate. But I did not dream of a monster like “Israel Hayom” (“Israel Today”) – a paper with unlimited funds, distributed every day for nothing in the streets and malls all over the country by hundreds, perhaps thousands of paid young persons.

Israelis love getting something for nothing. Israel Hayom is now the daily paper with the widest distribution in Israel. It drains readers and advertising revenue from its only competitor – Yedioth Ahronoth (“Latest News”), which held this title until then.

Yedioth reacted furiously. It became a ferocious enemy of Netanyahu. Yossi Werter, a commentator of the center-left Haaretz (which has a far lower circulation) even believes that the present election boils down to a contest between the two papers.

That is vastly exaggerated. Judged by political and social content, there is little to differentiate the two. Both are super-patriotic, war-mongering and rightist. That is the journalistic recipe for attracting the masses anywhere in the world.

Yedioth is owned by the Moses family, a business-minded clan. The present, third-generation publisher is Arnon (“Noni”) Moses, the publicity-shy boss of a large economic empire based on the paper. The paper serves his business interests, but he has no special political interests.

Adelson is unique.

In Israel, betting is forbidden by law. We have no casinos, and secret gambling dens are raided by the police. In our early youth we were taught that casino moguls are bad people, almost like arms merchants. They take the money off poor addicted people, throwing them into despair, even suicide. See Dostoyevsky.

Israelis read Israel Hayom (it’s something for nothing, after all), but they don’t necessarily like the man and his methods. So some members of the Knesset were encouraged to enter a bill forbidding gratis newspapers altogether.

Netanyahu and the Likud party did everything to obstruct this bill. But in the preliminary vote (necessary for private members’ bills) they were beaten in an amazing way. Even members of Netanyahu’s governing coalition voted for it. The cameras caught Netanyahu literally running in the Knesset plenum hall to gain his seat before the voting started.

The vote was 43 to 23. Almost half the Likud members absented themselves. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and his party voted for the bill. So did ministers Ya’ir Lapid and Tzipi Livni.

From the preliminary vote to the final adoption, such a bill has to pass several stages. There was plenty of time to bury it in one of the committees. But Netanyahu was furious. A few days after the vote, he dismissed Lapid and Livni from the cabinet, causing the government coalition to break up and the Knesset to disperse.

Why did Netanyahu do such a foolish thing less then half way through his (third) term of office? There can be only one logical explanation: he was ordered to do so by Adelson, in order to prevent the adoption of the law.

If so, Adelson is now our chief lawmaker. Perhaps he is also our chief government-maker.

Money plays an ever-increasing role in politics. Election propaganda is made on television, which is very expensive. Both in Israel and the US, legal and illegal funds pour into the campaign, directly and indirectly. Corruption is abetted or tolerated by the courts. The very rich (known euphemistically in America as the “wealthy”) exercise undue influence.

In the last US presidential elections, Adelson poured rivers of dollars into the contest. He supported Newt Gingrich, and then Mitt Romney, with huge sums of money. In vain. Perhaps Americans don’t like to be ruled by captains of casinos.

For the next US presidential elections, Adelson has started early. He has summoned to his Las Vegas casino HQ all leading Republican candidates, to grill them on their allegiance to him – and to Netanyahu. Nobody dared to refuse the summons. Would a Roman senator refuse the summons of Caesar?

In Israel, such rituals are superfluous. The Adelsons – both Miri and Sheldon – know who their man is.

The Israel Hayom newspaper is, of course, a big propaganda machine, totally devoted to the re-election of Netanyahu. All quite legal. In a democracy, who can tell a newspaper whom to support? We are still a democracy, for God’s sake!

It seems to be strange for a country to allow a foreigner, who never lived in the country, to have such enormous power over its future, indeed, over its very existence.

That’s where Zionism comes in. According to the Zionist creed, Israel is the state of the Jews, all the Jews. Every Jew in the world belongs to Israel, even if temporarily residing somewhere else. A few days ago, Netanyahu publicly claimed to represent not just the State of Israel but also the entire “Jewish People”. No need to ask them.

Accordingly, Adelson is not really a foreigner. He is one of us. True, he cannot vote in Israel, though his wife probably can. But many people, including himself, believe that he, being a Jew, has a perfect right to interfere in our affairs and dominate our lives.

For example, the appointment of our ambassador in the US. Ron Dermer is an American, born in Miami, who was active in Republican politics. To appoint an American functionary of the Republican Party as ambassador of Israel to a Democratic administration may seem strange. Not so strange if Netanyahu acted under the orders of Sheldon Adelson.

It was Adelson who prepared the witches’ brew that is now endangering Israel’s lifeline to Washington. His stooge, Dermer, induced the Republicans in Congress – all of them dependent on Adelson’s largesse or hoping to be so – to invite Netanyahu to give an anti-Obama speech before both Houses.

While this intrigue was in preparation, Dermer met with John Kerry but did not tell him of Netanyahu’s coming. Neither did Netanyahu inform President Obama, who, in a fury, announced that he would not meet with the Prime Minister.

From the point of view of Israel’s vital interests, it is sheer madness to provoke the President of the United States of America, who controls American’s flow of arms to Israel and the American veto power in the UN. But from the point of view of Adelson, who wants to elect a Republican president in 2016, it makes sense. He has already threatened to invest unlimited sums of money to prevent the reelection of any Senator or Representative who is absent from Netanyahu’s speech.

We are nearing open warfare between the Government of Israel and the President of the United States.

Is someone playing roulette with our future?

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Economic Crises and the Radical Center

NOVANEWS
Class Warfare, Any One?
by ROB URIE

There have been efforts to rewrite the history of the economic and financial crises of recent experience since the days they first became evident in 2007. Two main tacks have been taken: the first is to place the genesis of the crises in nature as unfortunate accidents and the second is to minimize the damage done, the lives ruined, to claim that all is now well. Whether or not things have improved depends very much on one’s place in the economic order. The tiny fraction of the populace that ‘owns’ most of the wealth is doing quite well whereas peripheral Europe and the peripheral U.S., not so well. To the punchline: the excessive private debt that sank the global economy in 2008 remains unresolved while the powers that be have convinced most people that public (government) debt is the problem.

This is to grant that there is long history of using crisis hyperbole to sell ideas, usually bad ones. But the facts of recent decades, the rolling crises tied to banking and finance, have shared genesis in excessive private debt, in arbitrary limits on public debt and in conflation of public with private debt to create both false dilemmas and future crises. Western politicians may be ignorant of the specifics, of the scale and mechanics of economic catastrophe generation, but bailout dependent bankers have no such excuse. No crystal ball is needed to relate the genesis of past crises to present circumstance. Financial ‘deepening,’ embedding finance deeper and wider into an interdependent global economy, has continued apace since 2008 and the forces that sank the global economy then are larger and more deeply embedded now than they were before the last crisis.

uriedebt1

Graph (1) above: debt is a draw against future economic production. The greater the (private) debt in relation to this production the more crisis prone economies can be. In recent decades Wall Street, including large European banks, has massively expanded the quantity of credit (financing) relative to economic production in Western economies. This has resulted in the deterioration of lending standards explained alternately as banks competing for borrowers (Minsky) or as organized looting. This characteristic of credit expansion, of making loans to decreasingly credit-worthy borrowers, is in large measure what makes high private debt levels so dangerous. With recent history as a guide, bailouts of Wall Street without prosecutions for widespread criminal behavior create and perpetuate kleptocracy. Units are percentages. Source: World Bank.

When U.S. President Barack Obama conflated government debt with household debt he did more than make a false analogy. The Federal government in the U.S. can legally create money while households that do so go the prison if they are caught. Left unaccounted for is this financial deepening process, the increased reach that finds credit inserted into ever more tenuous parts of Western economies. In each of the last three economic downturns, the S&L crisis of the late 1980s – early 1990s, the dot-com bust of the early 2000s and the housing bust of 2006 – today, a larger percentage of wholly implausible ‘businesses’ were kept alive through new loans to replace old loans, not through producing something that people want. Wall Street itself is a prime example of this tendency— risky ‘bets’ and interdependencies would have ended it in 2008 had market forces run their course.

uriehouse1

Graph (2) above: the credit quality deterioration that is part of the credit expansion process remains a mystery to the economic mainstream because it requires integrating the interests of banks and government. In the early 2000s the (George W) Bush administration began actively lowering mortgage lending standards, in part by having his administration issue lax national standards that superseded more rigorous local standards. The same happened in Europe with no help from Mr. Bush illustrating the systemic nature of the tendency. The process is often explained as ‘underpricing’ risk. But had credit standards been maintained many of the loans that accumulated to crisis would never have been made and the global property bubble would have been averted. Graph (2) illustrates the relationship of mortgage debt to house prices. The drop in mortgage debt outstanding is from bank write-offs of uncollectible debts and eight years of payments made against the mortgages since crisis emerged. Units are millions of dollars (left scale) and House Price Index (right scale). Source: St. Louis Fed.

Here two related premises are often brought to bear— (1), ‘we’ need a functioning credit system and (2), the effects of the last crisis are receding pointing to their temporary nature. The lingering Depression in Europe is as much a product of this credit expansion process as the mortgage bust in the U.S. was / is. Credit that should never have been extended led to property bubbles across Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Greece as well as major American cities and regions. The mainstream economists’ explanation of ‘excess savings’ renders harmless the Wall Street lootocracy that knew it was making improbable loans to people who couldn’t afford to pay them back. Both the neo-classical and better informed heterodox ‘national accounts’ schools support the radical center against the observation that the rich used Wall Street to make themselves richer while screwing the rest of us. Class warfare anyone? Anyone?

uriebenefits3

Graph (3) above: the flat line across the bottom of the graph is the Average Real Wealth per Family for the ‘bottom’ 90% of the U.S. population. The red line represents that of the top 0.01%. And in fact, since the start of ‘recovery’ the incomes and wealth of the very richest have largely recovered while those of the bottom 90% have remained about where they were in 2009. The ‘centrist’ policies that brought about these outcomes can be seen as ‘fringe’ when one considers that a tiny fraction of the population has benefited while the vast majority hasn’t. Source: Emmanuel Saez.

Poor policy choices and the base frame of the Maastricht Treaty and related institutional constraints have made the Depression in peripheral Europe worse than in the U.S. But the center – periphery frame of earlier ‘agreements’ like Bretton Woods overlaid with the distribution of Wall Street power would place economic misery about where it has fallen as well. This can be seen inside the U.S. with the impact of crisis distributed along the class, race and gender lines that preceded it. Greeks worked longer hours for half the pay of Northern Europeans before crisis struck. Power imbalances have been reconstituted through these ‘passive’ institutional arrangements to keep those on top there. Western corporations and Wall Street understand this strategy well.

The argument back, that economic relations needn’t be zero sum affairs, is left to explain the history of Western capitalism. Put differently, wouldn’t all of Europe (and the U.S. for that matter) benefit from economic growth that austerity policies preclude? Austerity policies are banker economics. Wall Street created sequential crises of increasing scope and scale and then used its political power to set austerity as public policy. And since nominal ‘recovery’ began its beneficiaries can be placed quite comfortably in the frame of the class interests served. So, to the point made regularly in recent years: Keynesian policies, particularly fiscal policies, make more sense than banker economics. But these clearly aren’t the policies being implemented. To view this as an accident requires overlooking the existing distribution of economic power.

This point is being made, perhaps to the level of overkill; because it is the political and economic ‘center’ that is fringe in the sense of representing the interests of a tiny portion of the populace against those of most people on the planet. Democrat Barack Obama supports trade agreements that undermine labor and environmental regulations while claiming the centrist position that a ‘balance’ of interests is his goal. Mr. Obama dedicated his administration to reviving Wall Street and keeping its malefactors out of prison with the result that over 90% of the ‘recovery’ has gone to the richest one percent of the population. And the Social Democrat Parties of Europe have been neo-liberal sell-outs for some decades now. The ‘class interest’ frame comes from a perspective. But it well describes circumstances where the wealthy get to determine policies that benefit themselves.

The New York Times recently ran two related stories that illustrate the issues raised here. The first is a series on the absentee owners of super-luxury real estate in Manhattan. It seems that real estate is exempted from anti-money laundering regulations so luxury real estate is both bank account and place to escape to for global kleptocrats when social accountability becomes an issue. The other is that contrary to recent efforts to give Wall Street cover for its crimes in the housing boom – bust, mortgage fraud by lenders really did lead to the housing bubble and subsequent bust and Great Recession. Neither of these are ‘accidents.’ They are the result of public policies that serve specific class interests.

Left unsaid, or rather carefully circumscribed to support siloed discourse, is that the political economy of the West is not working in political, economic, social and environmental dimensions. If ‘good’ public policies are possible without wholesale revolution, where are they? The rise of Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain are hopeful signs, but they are peripheral. Austerity forces in the Democrat-Republican coalition in the U.S. and the Troika in Europe conspicuously don’t care if the policies ‘work’ in the sense of being socially beneficial. And the refusal to address the broader pathologies of capitalism points to the hold that class interests have on public policies. With wars in Ukraine and Iraq looming, it is the Western ‘center’ that is the lunatic fringe.

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Did the US Accidentally Give the World’s Most Powerful Cyberweapon to Terrorists?

NOVANEWS
Sony Hack: Made in America?
by PETER LEE

Next time Brian Williams or his carefully-coiffed successor assigns blame to some foreign actor for a cyberoutrage, I expect the “Cyber Threats Intelligence Integration Center” to figure prominently in the coverage.

According to AP (actually, according to AP’s Ken Dilanian, the notoriously obliging amanuensis  to the US security establishment ):

White House cybersecurity coordinator Michael Daniel has concluded that cyberintelligence at the moment is bedeviled by the same shortcomings that afflicted terrorism intelligence before 9/11 — bureaucracy, competing interests, and no streamlined way to combine analysis from various agencies, the official said.

The hack on Sony’s movie subsidiary, for example, resulted in a variety of different analytical papers from various agencies. Each one pointed to North Korea, but with varying degrees of confidence.

Unlike the National Counter Terrorism Center, which gets most of its information from intelligence agencies, the new cyberagency may rely to a much larger extent on private companies, which are regularly seeing and gathering cyberintelligence as they are hit with attempts by hackers to break into their networks.

Gathering threat signatures, and profiling hacker groups, has become a key component of collecting cyberintelligence — a discipline practiced both by government agencies and private firms.

Hmmm.

On the issue of prevention, I am rather skeptical of the “we will gather all the hay in the world in one gigantic stack and sift through it in real time to find the needle” assumption, though I remain optimistic that it will fund tuition payments for intel bureaucrats and contractors for many years into the future.

And, unless hackers are hopelessly stupid, I wonder if the vaunted private sector input—“gathering threat signatures, and profiling hacker groups” will, instead of identifying gormless hackers, simply assemble a larger pile of bullsh*t innuendo to be mined when a forensically weak case needs some additional fragrance.

On the other hand, I believe that the CTIIC (or “Stick” ™ as I hope they are already calling it) will perform yeoman service on the key matter of promptly and effectively documenting and evangelizing the US government’s case in the attribution of cyberattacks that have already occurred.

As I argued in various venues recently with reference to the Sony hack, for purposes of semiotics (clear messaging, positioning, blame avoidance, and signaling of US government intentions) if not forensics (proving whodunit), painting a convincing, action-worthy cyberbullseye on the back of some foreign enemy is a major challenge for governments these days.

When some high-profile outrage like Sony occurs, the US government has to make a prompt show of control, capability, and resolve.  Letting a bunch of data nerds chew over the data for a few weeks and spit up an equivocal conclusion like “It looks like the same guys who did this did that, and maybe the guys who did that were…” doesn’t quite fill the bill.

Which is pretty much what happened on Sony.  Various private sector and government actors all stuck their oar in, contradictory opinions emerged, messaging was all over the map.

“Stick” ™ fixes that.  By establishing a central clearing house for relevant information, the US government is on the right side of the information symmetry equation.  “You say you think this, but you don’t know this, this, and this, or the stuff we can’t tell you because it’s classified above your clearance.”

And even if the real takeaway from the investigatory process still is “It looks like the same guys who did this did that, and maybe the guys who did that were…” it comes out as “The Cyber Threats Intelligence Integration Center has attributed this cyberattack to North Korea with a high degree of confidence.  By Executive Order, the President has already commanded CyberCommand to make a proportional response.”

You get the picture.

So I expect jobs one and two and three for CTIIC will be to generate persuasive dossiers for backgrounding, leaking, whatever on the PRC, North Korea, and the Russian Federation, to be deployed when some mysterious alchemy of evidence, circumstance, and strategy dictate that one of them has to get tagged as The Bad Guy for some cyberoutrage.

Especially if the cyberoutrage has the American government’s own fingerprints all over it—which is apparently not a remote contingency.

A document from the Snowden trove reveals that the NSA  posited that the high-profile Shamoon attack on Aramco in August 2012, which was attributed to Iran, was retaliation for the “Wiper” virus unleashed on the Iranian oil industry a few months before.  Wiper, according to Kaspersky, bore a distinct resemblance to acknowledged US/Israeli jointly-developed anti-Iran malware like Stuxnet.

Just as a reminder, in a speech to business bigwigs, the CIA Director at the time, Leon Panetta, characterized Shamoon as an unprovoked attack–indeed a “Cyber Pearl Harbor”–against a private corporation, apparently in an effort to persuade corporations they had a lot of skin in the national cybersecurity game.

The inference that Shamoon was plausibly 1) retaliation for US/Israeli dirty tricks and 2) using US/Israel’s own dirty trickbag, casts an interesting sidelight on Panetta’s remarks.  Maybe the true significance of his speech was that the US government now realized US interests were vulnerable to effective cyber-retaliation, and it was time to play the “foreign menace” card in order to inoculate the US security establishment against rather well-founded suspicions that its own cyber-shenanigans might result in heightened threats and gigantic costs for US corporations that otherwise might not have a dog in the global cyberfight.  You know, like Sony.

But there was more to the story than PO’d Iranians fighting back.  The rapid Iranian counterattack had itself incorporated elements of the Wiper software.

The NSA document from April 2013, published today by The Intercept, shows the US intelligence community is worried that Iran has learned from attacks like Stuxnet, Flame and Duqu—all of which were created by the same teams—in order to improve its own capabilities.

Wiper was the first known data destruction attack of its kind. Although the NSA document doesn’t credit the US and its allies for launching the attack, Kaspersky researchers found that it shared some circumstantial hallmarks of the Duqu and Stuxnet attacks, suggesting that Wiper might have been created and unleashed on Iran by the US or Israel.

And there’s more.  Lots more.

Wiper is also believed to have inspired a destructive attack that struck computers belonging to banks and media companies in South Korea in March 2013. That attack wiped the hard drives and Master Boot Record of at least three banks and two media companies simultaneously and reportedly put some ATMs out of operation, preventing South Koreans from withdrawing cash from them. The report does not suggest that Iran was behind this attack.

Wiper is also widely believed to have been inspiration for the recent hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment. Again, in the latter attack, the hackers wiped data from Sony systems and overwrote parts of the Master Boot Record, preventing systems from rebooting.

In other words, the Sony hack: Made in America!

Unsurprisingly, the theme of the NSA document was anxiety that America’s enemies were turning its own weapons against it.  The immediate focus was Iran, but the NSA could and should be more anxious that it unwittingly augmented China’s cyber arsenal.

I find it likely that Iran invited the PRC to have a look at Stuxnet and Wiper and maybe even exchanged some ideas with Iran’s hackers.

But maybe the PRC didn’t even need to visit Tehran.  One of the embarrassing secrets of Stuxnet, marketed to the public as a zero-collateral-damage super precision cyberweapon targeting Iran’s airgapped computer network at its nasty uranium centrifuge facility, was more cyber-Ebola, escaping into the cybersphere and infecting about 100,000 hosts.

Looking at the NSA memo and the Sony hack, it is pretty plausible that the U.S. state of the art malware capabilities are not just in the hands of Iran and, maybe the PRC and North Korea.  So perhaps the underlying and unspoken NSA anxiety is that the Stuxnet/Wiper suite of nasties is not only held by state actors, albeit antagonistic ones, with whom the United States can engage.

Maybe the NSA (or Israel, which may have mischievously released Stuxnet just to bedevil anybody else who was controlling banks of uranium centrifuges with Siemens PLCs) also committed the cyber equivalent of proliferating WMDs to terrorists: putting the world’s most powerful cyberweapon in the hands of the black-hat hacking community.

No wonder the US needs CTIIC.  Gotta control that story, channel outrage against the necessary enemy, and short-circuit those embarrassing blowback accusations.

In other words, Talk Loudly and Carry a Big CTIIC.

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Why we need the International Criminal Court

NOVANEWS
International Criminal Court

By Lawrence Davidson

Americans consider themselves citizens of “the land of the free” with a tradition of rugged individualism that still provides mythical fodder for organisations such as the Tea Party and the National Rifle Association. People associated with such organisations (and their numbers are in the millions) also exhibit a deep suspicion of government. They believe that the politicians they elect should, as one-time Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater put it, aim not to pass laws, but to repeal them”. They believe that the fewer rules and laws there are (except those promoting their own peculiar brand of morality), the greater is the citizen’s freedom.

The need for rules and laws

It takes just a little bit of historical knowledge to know that this attitude is dangerous nonsense. The fact is you cannot have a stable and safe human environment without rules and laws. That is one reason why they have always existed in one form or another at multiple levels of human society: in the family, the classroom, private clubs, the town, the state, the country, and so forth. In fact, human history can be read as the expansion of enforceable rules or laws from smaller to larger groupings – wider circles obeying the same set of hopefully humane rules.

It is also a historical fact that the larger and more developed a society becomes, the more rules and laws it accumulates. This tendency, which has become analogous with “big government”, seems to drive right-wingers crazy. And indeed, some of these regulations might well be superfluous (generating “red tape”), but others are not. In fact, it is well thought out rules and laws that hold societies together – countering, though not always adequately, the centrifugal forces of economic greed, special interest selfishness, and the callousness of citizens who would turn their backs on societal needs so as to avoid paying taxes.

It is my guess that most of us, worldwide, know what good rules or laws look like. In part, they reflect the sort of rights and restrictions enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, various Geneva conventions, the Charter of the United Nations and similar documents agreed to by peoples of many cultures. When these are taken seriously as models for enforceable law, they have the potential to both rein in the anarchists and prevent draconian behaviour by the powerful and influential.

Who is above the law?

The adage that no one should be above the law is of particular importance here. The problem is that there are innumerable cases where some individual or group holds sufficient political power to defy the rule of law. This situation, which almost always leads to an abuse of power, can arise both domestically and internationally. In the context of domestic national affairs we call such people dictators or tyrants, or amoral chief executives of companies that allegedly are “too big to fail”. These folks are easily identified but, short of revolution, less easily brought to account. Then there are the crimes committed under the guise of foreign policy and directed against people of other countries. In such cases the average citizen of the offending nation either does not know what is happening or is made to believe that crimes are not crimes, but rather actions in defence of alleged national interests.These highly placed leaders presuming to be above the law are sometimes harder to identify and even less likely to be held accountable.

The International Criminal Court

It is to address this problem of the accountability that the International Criminal Court (ICC) was established in 2002 by a multilateral treaty known as the Rome Statute. According to its own rules, the ICC operates only when national courts will not or cannot prosecute an individual suspected of heinous crimes such as genocide, crimes against humanity or other war crimes. Also, in order for the ICC to have jurisdiction, crimes must have taken place within the territory of one or more of the 123 states that have ratified the statute.

A number of important countries, such as India, China and Saudi Arabia, have refused to sign the Rome Statute. Others, like the United States and Israel, have signed but never ratified the treaty and, subsequently, announced that they do not recognise the jurisdiction of the ICC.

That does not mean suspected criminals from non-ratifying nations are completely beyond the court’s jurisdiction. If a ratifying state claims that nationals of a non-ratifying state have committed crimes within its territory, the ICC can investigate and, if warranted, indict the accused party. But then one comes up against the problem of enforcement. How do you arrest the indicted person if he is Henry Kissinger, George W. Bush or any number of Israeli military and civilian leaders, all of whom may well warrant the ICC’s attention.

This issue has not yet been fully confronted because, until very recently, no one has actually brought the crimes of individuals representing large and powerful states, or their allies, to the attention of the ICC. As a result, the ICC’s list of prosecutions is notably lopsided. To date, all those indicted by the court have come from small nations without great power allies, and lacking influence within international institutions like the United Nations. Indeed, many of these prosecutions are against citizens of so-called failed states.

However, this is about to change due to the decision of the Palestinian National Authority to join the ICC. This has resulted in an ICC preliminary investigation of Israeli war crimes during the 2014 invasion of the Gaza Strip.

Conclusion

How this investigation plays out will be a real test of ICC effectiveness. At this stage of our collective political history, how serious are we about creating a common set of rules allowing the investigation and punishment of serious crimes committed not just by leaders of small and weak states, but also by those who lead strong and influential nations? In other words, since law is one of the foundations of civilisation, shouldn’t we make sure that no one stands above it.

Posted in Politics, WorldComments Off on Why we need the International Criminal Court

Those Crappy Trade Deals

NOVANEWS
Corporate Coup d’etat
by JOYCE NELSON

A really important news story – one that should be getting lots of coverage in the U.S. because of its huge financial and environmental implications – is instead getting the silent treatment from corporate media. A massive trade deal called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is almost completely flying under the media radar in the U.S.

This trade deal includes a provision that basically gives multinational corporations the ability to sue national governments over environmental or other regulations and policies they don’t like. As a result, U.S. taxpayers could be on the hook for potentially billions of dollars in payouts and legal fees. You’d think that might be worth at least some media coverage.

But according to Media Matters for America, the TPP hasn’t been mentioned at all by ABC, CBS, and NBC during the 17-month period from August 2013 to February 2015. [1] During that same period, Fox News and CNN each mentioned the TPP trade deal once.

As truth-out.org puts it, “The mainstream media’s complete and utter silence on one of the biggest stories of the year, maybe even the decade, is shocking but not all that surprising.” [2] That’s because they and their corporate advertisers and backers want the TPP to be ratified.

Corporate Coup d’etat

The Trans-Pacific Partnership contains something called “investor-state dispute settlement” (ISDS) – a controversial trade-dispute mechanism now being included in most secretly-negotiated trade deals. ISDS allows multinational corporations and investors to sue countries over policy or regulations that hinder their future profits. These lawsuits are secretly tried in special “arbitration tribunals” – courts that are basically privately run by the corporate sector, with the lawyers and judges selected from a few corporate law firms. In February 2014, Public Citizen said of ISDS: “Because the mechanism elevates private firms and investors to the same status as sovereign governments, it amounts to a privatization of the justice system.” [3]

This blatant hijacking of the justice system for the sake of investors and multinational corporations was first instituted in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) twenty years ago. It subsequently worked out so well for the corporate sector that now ISDS is being included in almost every bilateral and regional trade agreement across the planet, including TPP, the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), and the U.S.-EU Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). These agreements are being negotiated in secret. The implications, especially for the environment and the public, are dire.

Profiting From Injustice

In 2012, Brussels-based Corporate Europe Observatory and Amsterdam-based Transnational Institute put out a major investigative report about ISDS and the secretive “arbitration tribunals” called Profiting From Injustice: How Law Firms, Arbitrators and Financiers Are Fueling an Investment Arbitration Boom. The report found that even if governments win at these tribunals, they may still be liable for multi-million-dollar legal bills accrued by defending themselves against frivolous corporate lawsuits. Lawyers can charge as much as $1,000 an hour to work on these cases, and fighting a case can cost a government as much as $8 million in legal fees.

The co-author of the report, Pia Eberhardt has stated: “International investment treaties are a powerful corporate weapon to rein in government and make taxpayers pay for business losses.” Eberhardt added, “Policy-makers who sign such treaties are handcuffing themselves and their successors for decades to come.” [4] These trade and/or investment deals are usually locked in for twenty years or more.

The TPP has been negotiated in secret since 2008 and has been called “NAFTA on steroids.” The Nation has called it “in effect, a corporate coup d’etat” because of the ISDS mechanism embedded in the deal. [5]

In order to see how ISDS works against the environment and the public, we need only look at what’s been called “the poster child” of ISDS – Lone Pine Resources’ $250 million NAFTA lawsuit filed against Canada in 2012 because the Quebec provincial government issued a moratorium against fracking. As of February 2015, that Lone Pine NAFTA lawsuit is being fast-tracked and the outcome is being watched around the world.

The Council of Canadians – a large NGO that has long opposed ISDS trade deals and other issues – has said that if Canada settles the case before ISDS arbitration commences, or if Canada loses the case, “it will crack the world open to fracking.” [6]

Indeed, these crappy trade deals would crack the world open to just about anything the multinational corporations want – because if they can’t get a government regulation jettisoned, then under ISDS they can simply sue for lost future profits. Such lawsuits can slowly drain the coffers of any national government, while lining the pockets of lawyers and fattening the corporate bottom-line.

Fracking & The Moratorium

Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is the controversial shale oil/gas industry technique by which massive amounts of water, sand, and chemicals are pumped deep underground into shale rock to shatter the rock and release the oil or natural gas into the well core. For years the controversial practice has been linked to water over-use and contamination, air pollution, adverse health effects, earthquake swarms, and other environmental effects.

By the Spring of 2010, the issues around fracking were becoming well-known in Quebec, and a number of environmental groups began lobbying for the Quebec government to limit shale gas exploration and development in the province. In November of that year, Quebec’s Minister of Natural Resources announced a proposed moratorium on shale gas development in the St. Lawrence River, where Lone Pine Resources (and other companies) were intending to use horizontal drilling and fracking to access gas deposits underneath the river.

Given that the area is prime agricultural land and the source of drinking water for thousands of farmers and landowners, public opposition to fracking continued to grow in Quebec. In May 2011, the provincial government introduced legislation (Bill 18) that proposed to revoke all drilling rights and permits along a portion of the St. Lawrence River. That bill became law in June 2011.

Months later, in May 2013, the Quebec government introduced another piece of legislation (Bill 37) that proposed a moratorium on all shale gas exploration in the lowlands along the St. Lawrence.

Up until September of 2010, Lone Pine Resources had been a wholly owned subsidiary of a U.S. company called Forest Oil Corporation. But in September 2010, Lone Pine Resources became incorporated under the laws of the State of Delaware, and after the completion of an initial public offering (IPO) on June 1, 2011, the company became a stand-alone corporate entity, with its headquarters in Calgary (as Lone Pine Resources Canada Ltd.) and its incorporation in Delaware (as Lone Pine Resources Inc.).

The Delaware Loophole

According to a 2012 New York Times investigation, “it takes less than an hour to incorporate a company in Delaware,” and by getting this legal address, companies have hopes of “minimizing taxes, skirting regulations, plying friendly courts, or, when needed, covering their tracks.” [7] In the case of Lone Pine Resources, the Delaware incorporation was apparently important to the eventual filing of the NAFTA claim, which the company did in November 2012. Under NAFTA’s investor-state dispute settlement mechanism (called Chapter 11), only U.S. or Mexican companies can sue Canada. Lone Pine claims that it had spent millions of dollars on the project and that Quebec was acting “arbitrary” and “capricious” in revoking its right to horizontal-drill and frack under the St. Lawrence River.

As the Council of Canadians campaigners wrote in May 2013, “…of all the companies affected by Quebec’s restrictions on fracking, only one firm had the guts to threaten to file a NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) lawsuit against Canada unless the province [of Quebec] backed down [from a fracking moratorium]. Only one is pretending to be a U.S. firm in order to skirt Canadian courts and access NAFTA’s strange and excessive investor protections. Only this one firm is asking Canada to pay it $250 million in compensation for being deprived of its ‘right’ to frack. Yes, we’re talking about Lone Pine. The company’s NAFTA lawsuit is not just big news in Canada but it has sparked international outrage.” [8]

In 2013, thousands of people petitioned Lone Pine Resources to drop its NAFTA lawsuit. As Ilana Solomon of Sierra Club (U.S.) said, “Governments must have the flexibility to say ‘no’ to fracking and other environmentally destructive practices without trade rules getting in the way.” [9] Pierre-Yves Serinet, coordinator of the Quebec Network on Continental Integration, called the lawsuit “scandalous” and said, “These provisions of such free trade agreements are direct attacks on the sovereign right of the Quebec government to govern for the welfare of its population. It’s astonishing that the negotiations between Canada and the European Union [on CETA] follow the same blueprint. Time has come to end the excessive powers to multinationals.” [10]

Stopping the Deals

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) similarly stacks the deck against the public and the environment with its ISDS mechanism. As the Sierra Club (U.S.) has noted, corporations headquartered in the 12 or more nations signing on to the TPP would be able to sue the U.S. over energy and other policies that protect local communities.

In a piece for The Huffington Post called “Does Fracking Make You Queasy? So Will the Trans-Pacific Trade Pact,” the Sierra Club (U.S.) used the example of Japan, a potential TPP signatory: “More than 6,000 Japanese corporations have operations in the United States – many in the oil, gas, and mining industries – and each could challenge new U.S. laws and policies designed to protect our air and water. They could easily follow the example of a U.S. energy firm that recently filed its notice of intent to sue Canada over Quebec’s moratorium on fracking using similar investment rules. The energy firm was essentially asking Canadians to forfeit their clean air and water for its own profits.” [11]

But as news gets out about Lone Pine and the other similar ISDS lawsuits conducted under NAFTA provisions, many countries are taking notice – after hard work by activists. Canada’s David Suzuki has written that by 2012, several countries – including Australia, South Africa, India, Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuala – are simply refusing to sign trade and investment deals that include the ISDS mechanism. [12]

By early February 2015, the CETA trade deal was potentially unravelling because of the ISDS. And if the CETA fails, then the similar U.S.-EU trade deal (TTIP) and others (TPP) would also likely be in jeopardy.

Both Germany and France have indicated that they want to reopen CETA in order to change the ISDS provisions contained in it, even though the negotiations were completed in October 2013. [13] Various reports have noted that Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Sweden, Austria, Belgium, Italy and Greece are also all concerned about the investor-state dispute provision. They are recognizing that these ISDS trade deals mean their own regulatory decisions would be under attack and that to protect their own citizens, they might have to pay out millions at those secret arbitration tribunals.

The corporate media would prefer that people know nothing about these trade deals. Thanks to the alternative press, that is rapidly changing.

Joyce Nelson is an award-winning Canadian freelance writer/researcher working on her sixth book.

Footnotes:

[1] http://mediamatters.org/research/2015/02/04/study-tv-news-shows-largely-ignore-historic-tra/202403

[2] http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/28932-what-the-corporate-media-isn-t-telling-you

[3] http://www.citizen.org

[4] http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=15800&printsafe-1

[5] http://www.thenation.com/article/168627/nafta-steroids

[6] http://canadians.org/media/council/2013/13-May-13.html

[7] Leslie Wayne, “How Delaware Thrives As A Corporate Tax Haven, The New York Times (June 30, 2012)

[8] http://canadians.org/media/council/2013/13-May-13.html

[9] http://canadians.org/media/water/2013/31-May-13.html

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ilana Solomon, “Does Fracking Make You Queasy?  So Will the Trans-Pacific Trade Pact,” The Huffington Post (March 15, 2013)

[12] http://www.thewesternstar.com/Opinion/Columns/2012-12-09/article-3136356/Are-we-trading-awary-our-rights-and-environment

[13] http://www.euractiv.fr/sections/commerce-industrie/paris-et-berlin-veulent-reviser-laccord-ue-canada-311550

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