Archive | July 8th, 2016

How the Corporate Food Industry Destroys Democracy

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Protesters rally for GMO labeling in Vermont, January 16, 2014. Vermont implemented a law to label goods containing genetically engineered ingredients on July 1, and it's facing full-out attack from Monsanto.

By The Daily Take Team,

The Thom Hartmann Program | Op-Ed

Protesters rally for GMO labeling in Vermont, January 16, 2014. Vermont implemented a law to label goods containing genetically engineered ingredients on July 1, and it’s facing full-out attack from Monsanto. (Photo: Bob Farnham)

On July 1, Vermont implemented a law requiring disclosure labels on all food products that contain genetically engineered ingredients, also known as genetically modified organisms or GMOs.

Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food and Water Watch, hailed the law as “the first law enacted in the US that would provide clear labels identifying food made with genetically engineered ingredients. Indeed, stores across the country are already stocking food with clear on-package labels thanks to the Vermont law, because it’s much easier for a company to provide GMO labels on all of the products in its supply chain than just the ones going to one state.”

What that means is that the Vermont labeling law is changing the landscape of our grocery stores, and making it easier than ever to know which products contain GMOs.

See more news and opinion from Thom Hartmann at Truthout here.

And less than a week later after that law went into effect, it is under attack. Monsanto and its bought-and-paid-for toadies in Congress are pushing legislation to override Vermont’s law. Democrats who oppose this effort call the Stabenow/Roberts legislation the “Deny Americans the Right to Know” Act, or DARK Act.

This isn’t the first time that a DARK Act has been brought forward in the Senate, and one version of the bill was already shot down earlier this year. The most recent version of the bill was brought forward by Michigan Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Kansas Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, both recipients of substantial contributions from Big Agriculture. Stabenow has received more than $600,000 in campaign contributions since 2011 from the Crop Production and Basic Processing Industry, and Pat Roberts has received more than $600,000 from the Agricultural Services and Products industry.

When Senator Stabenow unveiled the industry-friendly legislation, she boasted that, “For the first time ever, consumers will have a national, mandatory label for food products that contain genetically modified ingredients.” Which sounds great, and it would be great, if it were true.

But the fact is, the DARK Act would set up a system of voluntary labeling that would overturn Vermont’s labeling law and replace it with a law that’s riddled with so many loopholes and exemptions that it would only apply to very few products, and there’s no enforcement mechanism and no penalties or consequences of any kind for defying the bill. It also allows for labeling GMO-containing foods to be “labeled” with a QR code, those black squares that can only be read by your smartphone or computer.  That let’s manufacturers say, “We labeled it!” but prevents all but the most tech-savvy consumers from figuring out what the code means.

The Vermont labeling law, by the way, isn’t a law that just somehow managed to slip through Vermont’s legislature; the state legislature spent two years debating it, held more than 50 committee hearings and heard testimony from more 130 representatives before passing the bill in 2010.

Monsanto is pushing its puppets to pass the DARK Act quickly this week, effectively killing Vermont’s labeling law without a single hearing on the issue of labeling foods or seeds.

Despite the fact that nine of out of 10 Americans support laws requiring clear GMO labeling, members on both sides of the aisle in Congress would rather pass legislation to help agricultural giants like Monsanto pad their bottom lines instead of passing a law that a majority of Americans actually support.

And while conservatives normally profess to hate federal overreach and profess to love state’s rights, there are bought-off politicians in both political parties pushing to pass the DARK Act and overturn Vermont’s labeling law.

Opponents of GMO labeling have, in the past, said that the costs to clearly label products would require “expensive new packaging,” but the DARK Act gives lie to that; this labeling fight is clearly about Monsanto and other agricultural giants making sure that consumers don’t know what’s in their food.

This law that Monsanto’s puppets in Congress are pushing would cost companies roughly the same as the Vermont labeling law, because it would also require new labeling. But instead of having a clear label, the new packaging would allow a QR code to scan or a toll-free number to call to find out whether a certain product contains GMOs. It won’t save the companies any packaging money at all, but it would make it really, really hard for shoppers to find out whether or not a product contains GMOs.

If our democracy actually worked, this bill never would have seen the light of day, because people overwhelmingly want to know what’s in their food and support GMO labeling. But our democracy doesn’t work, because our lawmakers are bought and paid for by special interests like Monsanto.

If we want our lawmakers to pass popular laws that actually work, we need to get money out of politics, we need to overturn Citizens United and we need to amend the Constitution to make it clear that political bribes aren’t free speech and corporations aren’t persons.

Call the offices of Senators Roberts and Stabenow to let them know what you think about actual, clear GMO labeling and then check out MoveToAmend.org for more about the campaign to get money out of politics.

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Tariq Ali on Chilcot Iraq Report

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Tony Blair Is a War Criminal for Pushing Us Into Illegal War

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 Video Interview

While Iraq is marking a third day of mourning, a long-awaited British inquiry into the Iraq War has just been released. The Chilcot report is 2.6 million words long — about three times the length of the Bible. Using excerpts from private correspondence between former Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.S. President George W. Bush, the report details how Blair pushed Britain into the war despite a lack of concrete intelligence. For example, eight months before the invasion, Blair wrote to Bush: “I will be with you, whatever.” Then, in June 2003, less than three months after the invasion began, Blair privately wrote to Bush that the task in Iraq is “absolutely awesome and I’m not at all sure we’re geared for it.” Blair added, “And if it falls apart, everything falls apart in the region.” For more, we speak with British-Pakistani writer, commentator and author Tariq Ali.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I’d like to ask Tariq Ali your response to the report, especially the sections that talk about Blair’s almost obsession with regime change, with getting rid of Saddam Hussein. And also, why did it take seven years to produce this report?

TARIQ ALI: It took seven — it took seven years because it — it took seven years because every single person interviewed had to have a chance to see the report, and Blair and his lawyers were looking at the fine print very closely, as were the generals and other people.

The findings of the report, quite honestly, are not very remarkable or original, as Sami has already said. These were things that were being said by all of us before this war started. It was what virtually every speaker said at the million-strong Stop the War demonstration in London. Tony Benn and Jeremy Corbyn, in particular, have been saying all this. So, to have official confirmation that what we were all saying was right is nice, but it’s too little and too late.

And because the report had no desire or was not permitted to discuss the legality of this exercise, it means that while there is evidence in the report for independent lawyers to proceed and file a citizen suit, the report itself doesn’t allow the state to actually prosecute Blair for war crimes. He is a war criminal. He pushed the country into this illegal war. His supporters in Parliament are trying to get rid of Jeremy Corbyn, who was 100 percent right on this war, backed by the bulk of the media. So we’re in a strange situation now. The report, I think, will anger lots of people who, unlike us, were not convinced by the movement that what was taking place was a lie, based on a lie, and it was illegal. What is going to happen now remains to be seen, but I would very much hope that independent groups of lawyers and jurists demand now that Blair is charged and tried. It’s very clear he pushed the war. He forced the intelligence services to prepare dodgy dossiers. He pushed his attorney general to changing his opinions before he was allowed to address the Cabinet. All that, we have in the report. The question is: Is anyone going to answer for it, or is this just designed to be therapeutic?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Tariq, about this whole issue of the Labour leadership in Parliament trying to remove Jeremy Corbyn, even though he was one of the most vocal antiwar advocates, and even though the base, the majority base, of the Labour Party still supports him?

TARIQ ALI: Well, I mean, it’s bizarre. You know, some people said to me that the reason they tried this coup against Jeremy in Parliament was so he wasn’t leader of the Labour Party when the Chilcot report came out. We’ll see what he says today at his press conference in three or four hours’ time. But I think he will be very harsh. The irony is that the woman who is the main candidate against him is a supporter of the Iraq War. Now that we have a judicial inquiry which says what it says about the war, I think surely it’s time that constituency Labour parties started the process of removing some of the chief warmongers from Parliament. They don’t represent anyone now, except a Cabinet in the past, a government which went to war. And if you look at some of the footage being shown on Channel 4 today — what Corbyn said, what Benn said, with what Blair said, I mean, the utter complacency and brutality with which Blair told Parliament, “There are some people here who think that regime change is wrong,” and Gordon Brown nodding vigorously and Margaret Beckett on the other side — these are all the people involved in trying to get rid of Jeremy Corbyn. And something — you know, I hope Labour members will now fight back, because it’s precisely against this sort of thing that Corbyn has been fighting the right inside the Labour Party.

AMY GOODMAN: Sami Ramadani, you’re on the steering committee of Stop the War Coalition, a friend of Labour opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn. This backlash against him for — around the Brexit vote, which he was opposed to when he was the opposition leader and spoke out against — on Democracy Now!, spoke out against Britain leaving the European Union just two weeks ago, what you think is behind it?

SAMI RAMADANI: Really, my own feeling is — and probably Tariq would share that view with me — is that they are genuinely worried that Jeremy Corbyn might lead the next — to victory, the Labour movement to victory in the next general election. And they are terrified of that prospect. They looked at the four by-elections that happened since he was elected, and they were all won with comfortable majorities. In fact, the last one doubled Labour’s majority. And then they looked at the local election results, and again he did very well. And they are genuinely worried that if he wins, what’s going to happen to them? What’s going to happen —

AMY GOODMAN: They’re concerned he’ll be prime minister?

SAMI RAMADANI:  — to their political record of supporting the Iraq War or voting with the Tories or abstaining on important welfare — welfare policies or the Tories applying neocon policies? They seem to prevaricate or concede to Tory demands and so on and so forth. And their abandonment of working-class communities over 20, 25 — they continued on a Thatcherite policy for — Margaret Thatcher’s premiership destroyed so many working-class communities, and the new Labour leadership under Tony Blair simply continued that policy of abandoning working-class communities, and some of whom became so disillusioned, even voted for — withUKIP, which is an extreme right-wing party —

AMY GOODMAN: Sami Ramadani, we have to break.

SAMI RAMADANI:  — party here. And Jeremy Corbyn is providing a new vision and a new strategy, and they want to undermine him.

AMY GOODMAN: Sami Ramadani, we have to break, and Tariq Ali, but we’re going to come back to ask you about what happened in Iraq this weekend, the largest car bomb attack since the Gulf War began. We’ll be back in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In Iraq, the death toll from Saturday’s car bombing in Baghdad has topped 250, making it the deadliest car bombing in that country since the 2003 U.S. invasion. While Iraq is marking a third day of mourning, a long-awaited British inquiry into the Iraq War has just been released, blaming Tony Blair for his role in choosing to invade Iraq. I wanted to turn to former Prime Minister Blair. In November, he told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria that there were, quote, “elements of truth” to the claim that removing Saddam Hussein played a part in the creation of ISIS.

FAREED ZAKARIA: When people look at the rise of ISIS, many people point to the invasion of Iraq as the principal cause. What do you say to that?

TONY BLAIR: I think there are elements of truth in that. But I think we’ve, again, got to be extremely careful; otherwise we’ll misunderstand what’s going on in Iraq and in Syria today. Of course, you can’t say that those of us who removed Saddam in 2003 bear no responsibility for the situation in 2015.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Sami Ramadani, your response to that — to that clip and to the recent bombing in Baghdad and the general situation in Iraq now, 13 years after the war started?

SAMI RAMADANI: I think I just have to contain my anger, really, because listening to Tony Blair there pontificating about his role in this genocidal war makes any — any human being, really, with a bit of humanity in them quite angry. After all this death and destruction, he would be sitting there trying to justify the fact that terrorism was brought into Iraq after 2003, all of these so-called leaders of ISIS. By the way, ISISwas al-Qaeda in Iraq. That was its official name. And we know al-Qaeda was founded in Afghanistan with the help of the CIA and the support of Britain and so on. But as usual, some of these terrorist organizations that they encourage and arm bite the hand that feeds them occasionally.

But that doesn’t change the strategic picture, that nearly all Iraqis, even supporters — some of the supporters of the invasion and occupation testify to the fact that terrorism was encouraged by the occupation forces, whether of the British or American variety. And the multiplicity of these terrorist organizations was also encouraged by the regional powers — Saudis, Qataris, Turkey. They’re all close U.S. allies. They funded these organizations. They supplied them with arms. Turkey gradually became the logistical base of these terrorist organizations. Some 30,000 fighters, according to the United Nations, came from over 80 countries across the world — trained fighters, most of them — from as far as Chechnya and Libya and Tunisia and Saudi Arabia, of course, and so on. And they were all — as The New York Times, as Seymour Hersh, as many other reliable sources have revealed, that the CIAcoordinated a lot of this from Turkey.

So, to sit down and listen to Tony Blair trying to dissociate himself and George Bush and the policymakers then of the proliferation of terrorist groups, the murders in Iraq — really, Iraqis, if you ask ordinary people, they will tell you we are still at war. The 2003 invasion and occupation of the country has not ended. This terrorism is a continuation of that war. They see these terrorist organizations as an arm of the same invasion and occupation of the country. They’re still dividing and ruling. They are still trying to dominate Iraq, because the Iraqi people have a great history of fighting for independence, for progress, for socialism even —

AMY GOODMAN: Sami Ramadani —

SAMI RAMADANI:  — and they cannot control the country that easily, and terrorism is serving them.

AMY GOODMAN: Sami and Tariq Ali, I want to play for you a clip of Donald Trump yesterday in Raleigh, North Carolina, talking about Saddam Hussein.

DONALD TRUMP: Saddam Hussein was a bad guy. Right? He was a bad guy, really bad guy. But you know what he did well? He killed terrorists. He did that so good. They didn’t read him the rights. They didn’t talk. They were terrorists. It was over. Today, Iraq is Harvard for terrorism. You want to be a terrorist, you go to Iraq. It’s like Harvard.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Donald Trump yesterday. Tariq Ali, your response?

TARIQ ALI: Well, I mean, you know, how can one deny the truth of what he’s saying? I mean, yesterday, the BBC here showed a photograph — a filmed interview with a guy who had helped to bring Saddam Hussein’s statue down, which was a staged event, Amy, as you know, immediately after Baghdad was occupied. That guy appeared on the BBC yesterday and said he’s ashamed he did that. He wants to apologize for it. He said, “Saddam killed members of my family, but life, everyday life, in Iraq under him was much better than it is today.” Most Iraqis, even if they hated Saddam and suffered, say life was much better under him than it was under the occupation and what’s going on today.

So Trump is not wrong, and precisely because he is capable of saying things like that and Clinton isn’t, because her consort as president was involved in the sanctions against Iraq. Madeleine Albright defended the deaths of half a million kids because of the sanctions. So, what can one say? And the other thing which is worth remembering, they are now all saying they made mistakes in Iraq. They’ve made the same and even worse mistakes in Libya. They’re carrying on with Syria. They’re doing nothing to stop the Saudi invasion of Yemen or the Saudi occupation of Bahrain. And then they pretend to be a bit more humble: “We won’t make the same mistakes again.” Well, you are making them even as the West is watching.

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Death Squad Revelations and the New Police in Honduras

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By Annie Bird

On June 21, 2015 the London-based Guardian newspaper published an article describing the testimony of a soldier who says he deserted the army after his unit was given an order to kill activists whose names appeared on two lists. He reported seeing one list given to his Military Police unit that formed part of the Xatruch task force, and a second for a Military Police unit that formed part of the National Force of Interinstitutional Security (FUSINA) task force. The second contained the name of Lenca indigenous leader Berta Caceres, murdered on March 3, 2016.

On June 22 Honduran Defense Minister Samuel Reyes published a response to the Guardian article, claiming that the Military Police did not have a seventh battalion, that the FBI had not trained military forces in Honduras and that the TESON (Troops Specialized in Jungle and Nocturnal Operations) training course did not have US military trainers.

However, the Honduran military has reported to local press that the Military Police is in the process of creating a series of ten battalions, each with slightly under 500 soldiers.  In December 2014 the military reported that the fifth and sixth battalions had graduated, and by January 2016 it reported that there were 4,000 active Military Police, making it clear at least eight battalions are in operation.

The Guardian article referred to reports of training by the FBI and other US agencies of the FUSINA joint task force in an activity Secretary Reyes himself announced in a press conference with US Embassy personnel on May 13, 2015, as reported by AFP and Honduran media.

The Guardian article referred to two specialized training courses, including the TESON course described by the soldier, with US and Colombian trainers. The US Special Operations Command as recently as January 2016 affirmed its support of Honduran of forces.  The US Army Rangers helped create the TESON course and have reported support since. Graduates of the TESON training course are considered the elite forces and are spread across military units.

On May 2, 2016 five men were arrested for Berta Caceres’ murder, including Major Mariano Diaz Chavez.  A special-forces officer, Major Diaz participated in joint US-Honduran military operations in Iraq, and a multilateral peacekeeping operation in the Sahara, and is reported to have graduated from the TESON special-forces training course.  Major Diaz was a Military Police for Public Order [PMOP] instructor based in Tegucigalpa. There are two bases in Tegucigalpa which have been used for PMOP training, the base in La Venta and the base in Tamara.   In the three weeks prior to Mariano Diaz Chavez’s arrest, the 53rd Brigade of the Florida National Guard conducted training operations with soldiers and the TIGRES police unit on the base in Tamara, potentially working with Major Diaz.

Military Police, FUSINA and the National Police

When the Central American Regional Security Strategy of the System for Central American Integration (SICA) was announced in April 2011, the Inter-American Development Bank and US State Department announced creation of a “Group of Friends” of the initiative. From this time forward, a program of counter-insurgency policing began to be implemented in Honduras, coupling the creation of “stabilization” police forces—FUSINA, the elite force TIGRES and the Military Police — with so-called “community policing”, the stated goal of the constantly failing police reform efforts.

On August 24, 2013 the law creating the Military Pollice for Public Order (PMOP) was published, authorizing a military force of up to 5,000 soldiers dedicated to civilian policing. Upon passage of the PMOP law, the National Defense and Security Council (CNDS) created the FTCCI, and in February 2014 the CNDS created the National Force for Interinstitutional Security (FUSINA). The law mandated the Military Police to operate as part of the Combined Interinstitutional Joint Task Force (FTCCI), with embedded judges with national jurisdiction, a figure created in June 2011.

The PMOP law, along with a February 2014 amendment, allows these judges to preside over proceedings via internet from undisclosed locations even outside of the country. It also allows them to enter and leave the country bypassing normal immigration processes.

Just weeks before the creation of PMOP, Congress passed the legislative proposal creating the elite TIGRES police unit. It mandated the new unit to operate with the Honduran military as part of inter-agency task forces. The TIGRES law, passed in June 2013, was the second TIGRES proposal. The first proposal failed to pass congress in 2012 under heavy criticism that it was a revival of the counterinsurgency death squads from the 1980s.

The failed 2012 version amalgamated military and police into a hybrid, carabinero/ gendarmerie-style security force, whose command could shift between civil and military authorities. This proposal met with strong opposition, despite announcements that a $65 million loan from the Inter-American Development Bank would be dedicated to supporting the creation of the new force.

The response was apparently to divide the proposal into two new agencies, bound to act together via inter-agency task forces — what is today the TIGRES of the National Police, and the PMOP on the military side.

Over the past three years the Honduran Military has conducted a series of training courses to create Military Police battalions, with the stated goal of establishing 10 battalions with a total of 5,000 soldiers throughout the country, each specialized in different operational capacities. The First and Second Battalions, trained in late 2013, specialize in intelligence operations. In January 2013 it was reported that a total of 4,000 PMOP were in operation.

FUSINA has also grown quickly. Just two years after its creation, it mobilized 11,000 military, police and other agents in a Holy Week security operation. In June of 2016, the total size of the Honduran National Police forces was 14,500 agents, though plans were announced to reduce that force by 5,500.

The planned National Police purge, the latest in a series of failed police reform initiatives since 2011, is under the guidance of a police reform commission, made up of four individuals, including the current Minister of Security and former commander of FUSINA, Julian Pacheco, and lawyer Vilma Morales.

The commission lacks legitimacy. In addition to the current scandal surrounding FUSINA, respected police reform advocate and former Chief of Internal Inspections of the National Police, Maria Luisa Borjas, claims Morales made a deal with former Minister of Security Oscar Alvarez to bury a case against former police chief Juan Carlos Bonilla who was facing charges of running a death squad. She was an acting Supreme Court Magistrate at the time.

Boots on the Ground Can’t Address the Roots of the Violence 

So-called “stability operations” in Honduras will not solve the problems of poverty and violence whose effects spill over into the United States. Honduras is not in “a transition”; rather Honduras has an entrenched and increasingly militarized political and economic system that uses institutionalized corruption to control resources for the benefit of a small, violent, ruling class whose hold on power was clenched in a military coup seven years ago.

Only a strong justice system can dismantle this system, yet the State Department is not supporting efforts to reform the justice system that the Honduran government refuses to accept, like the offer by the Inter American Commission on Human Rights to sponsor an independent group of experts to investigate the murder of Berta Caceres.

But even the strongest efforts for justice system reform cannot combat the root problems unless the actors that enable it, including the US government that continues to fund abusive security forces and international business interests that benefit from public funds channeled to them by development banks like the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank and Overseas Private Investment Corporation, cease to reward the repression and corruption.

Until this happens, real community policing efforts will continue to fail, and stability policing agencies will continue to be tools of repression to enforce the interests of the corrupt economic elite that Berta confronted.

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The Iraq War Never Ended: An Interview with Anand Gopal

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  • Members of Asaib Ahl al-Haq, a Shi
    Members of Asaib Ahl al-Haq, a Shi’ite militia that is part of the Iraqi government’s Popular Mobilization Forces. | Photo: Reuters.
The U.S. is at war with the same extremist group it claimed to have defeated five years ago, and it’s relying on sectarian extremists to “win” again.

The United States is winning the war on terror, just as it always has. The Islamic State group is “on the defensive,” Col. Steve Warren told reporters earlier this year. In Iraq, it has reportedly lost 40 percent of its territory since an international coalition led by the U.S. began bombing the country, again, in August 2014. In Syria ,it has lost 20 percent of its territory, the coalition claims.

OPINION:
Governments Are Killing More Civilians Than They Care to Admit

That’s the story in 2016. A similar tale was spun in 2011.

“The story of America’s victory over terror in Mesopotamia needs to be told,” wrote Walter Russell Mead, a foreign policy expert at the neoconservative Hudson Institute, nearly five years ago. At that point, just a few months before President Barack Obama announced the withdrawal of most U.S. troops in Iraq, the mood was triumphant, with those who backed the 2003 invasion and occupation claiming retroactive justification from the fact that, after years of insurgency, “the Sunni Arabs of Iraq made a fateful decision,” as Mead put it. “They chose America over al-Qaida.”

And indeed they had, for a time, for a good deal of money. At its peak, 103,000 Sunni fighters, were put on the U.S. payroll and proclaimed the “Sons of Iraq,” paid to attack al-Qaida’s local affiliate rather than U.S. occupation forces. And it worked—again, for a time, for a good deal of money.

When most U.S. troops left in December 2011, those who had run al-Qaida in Iraq out of the country were supposed to be incorporated into the Iraqi state’s security forces. Instead, Prime Minister Nouri al-Malik—fresh off an election loss to a secular, nationalist coalition, which proved to be no obstacle to the U.S. and Iran insisting he remain in power—had his country’s Sunni sons thrown in prison, tortured and disappeared. Despite the vanquishing of al-Qaida, the clumsily sectarian system that the U.S. installed after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein remained in place, with a sectarian strongman backed by foreign powers at the top.

The factors that contributed to the Sunni insurgency and the rise of extremism were left in place, so three years later—after the Maliki government answered non-violent, non-sectarian protests demanding equality before the law with a hail of bullets, mirroring the response of other authoritarian regimes in the region—the insurgency returned, Sunnis returning to the fight against a state created by occupation years after the occupation itself had ended. By 2014, al-Qaida in Iraq had rebranded as the Islamic State and came roaring back across the border with Syria, proclaiming itself the savior of a repressed minority as it sought to exterminate any minority that was not Sunni.

Today the U.S. is once again at war with Sunni extremists in Iraq as well as Syria, and this time that war—a very real one, with airstrikes that have likely killed over 1,000 civilians—is supported even by those opposed to prior interventions.

RELATED:
UN: At Least 18,000 Iraqis Killed During 22 Months of Violence

“I voted against the war in Iraq,” U.S. senator and presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders says on his website. The only good it served “was to destabilize an entire region, and create the environment for al-Qaida and ISIS to flourish.”

As for the war in 2016, Sanders believes the United States “should be part of an international coalition, led and sustained by nations in the region that have the means to protect themselves.” In other words: the policy being pursued by the Obama administration today, where U.S. airstrikes support and U.S. weapons arm largely Shia militias known as “Popular Mobilization Forces” that are organized and trained by the Islamic Republic of Iran.

That’s the war that’s being won, according to all of the governments waging it—including, lest one forget, the government of Iraq.

Writing in The Atlantic this month, war correspondent Anand Gopal paints a rather different picture: one where the war against the Islamic State is being won, militarily, while the forces fighting it lose the hearts and minds of a Sunni population that feels no less terrorized by the sectarian extremists the U.S. empowers today compared to the sectarian extremists it first created when it decided in 2003 to introduce war in a country that had not attacked it, once considered the gravest of all war crimes.

“Regime change without worrying about what happens the day after you get rid of a dictator does not make a lot of sense,” Sanders has said. After the feel-good victory one must plan for the day after, and no one much likes to do that.

Anand Gopal | Photo: Wikimedia

A valid point, but as Gopal observes—based on the sort of on-the-ground reporting increasingly absent in an online world of 140-character talking points stretched into 800-word, half-thought pieces with a high bounce rate—it’s one being ignored by all those backing a war policy today without a thought as to what comes next; without paying much if any attention to the evil that the U.S. and its allies, new and old, are empowering to replace the evil they seek to destroy.

teleSUR spoke to Gopal, an award-winning war correspondent who has covered Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria for publication such as Harper’s, The Nation and the Wall Street Journal, about the U.S.-led war on the Islamic State and what ordinary people witnessing that war firsthand think about the claim that it’s being won.

The U.S. has been bombing the Islamic State in Iraq since August 2014, arming and in some cases providing air cover for these Popular Mobilization Forces. The U.S. of course says it’s succeeding and Iraqi forces have taken back some territory. You just got back from Iraq. Is that the perception among people you spoke to, that the U.S. and its allies are winning the war against the Islamic State?

Well, when you talk about winning the war you really have to distinguish between the military situation and the broader political situation. So militarily, absolutely it is the case that the anti-ISIS forces, which is the U.S. and the Iraqi government and Iranian forces, are indeed defeating ISIS on the ground. ISIS has lost a great deal of territory in the last year and it will most likely continue to lose territory.

Anti-government protest in Fallujah in 2013 | Photo: AFP

But if you look at the broader political situation and really look at the reasons why ISIS was produced in that area in the first place—the underlying sectarianism and the sense among some sections of the population that the Iraqi state is deeply corrupt and abusive—there’s been no headway on those issues. It’s just as bad and abusive as it was a year ago or two years ago, and so the underlying issues that led to the rise of ISIS really haven’t been affected, which means even if we see the military defeat of ISIS on the ground, it doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll see peace in Iraq; it doesn’t necessarily mean that we won’t see another insurgency or other types of violence that will continue for a long time because of the U.S.’s actions and the Iraqi state’s actions.

I wanted to talk to you about those underlying factors. Of course the U.S. invasion in 2003 and subsequent occupation created fertile ground for these sort of extremist groups, but when the U.S. withdrew most of its troops in December 2011 we were told that al-Qaida in Iraq, the predecessor to the Islamic State, was mostly defeated. The question being: the U.S. occupation is often seen as driving extremism, so what explains the resurgence of al-Qaida in Iraq since most U.S. troops left?

I think it’s actually right that al-Qaida iness Iraq was largely defeated by 2011, but the U.S. in its withdrawal had left essentially a deeply broken and shattered society, and it’s really from the ashes of that society that al-Qaida in Iraq was able to reemerge. The reason why al-Qaida in Iraq was able to be defeated in the short-term was because of what was called “the Anbar Awakening,” which essentially was the U.S. throwing lots of money and guns at insurgent forces, bribing them to stop fighting against the U.S., and that’s what they did.

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A lot of the forces that were fighting the U.S. and Iraqi governments stopped, but that wasn’t accompanied with any sort of political reconciliation. These are militias and forces that had been fighting for years, and without any reconciliation, without any attempt to try to absorb these forces into the Iraqi armed forces, or more generally into Iraqi society, essentially led to these forces reemerging as an insurgency again, and that’s what happened a couple years after the U.S. left.

There was a protest movement in 2013 that was mostly led by Sunnis who were demanding equal rights and demanding an end to some of the counter-terrorism laws that were in place since the days of the occupation, in which thousands of innocent people had been swept up and tortured or killed by the Iraqi state. The protest movement was drowned in blood by the government and it was through that process—the destruction of the protest movement and the lack of a broader reconciliation—that the insurgency reappeared in Iraq, and within the insurgency al-Qaida in Iraq was able to maneuver to get a dominant position.

As I understand it, those protests werealthough they were mostly Sunni, they were explicitly non-sectarian. And as you note in your article, Iraqi Sunnis have kind of lagged behind the Kurds and Iraqi Shias in terms of embracing the kind of identity politics that’s been forced on Iraq by the U.S.-written constitution. We know about the crackdown, and how it parallels the crackdown in neighboring Syria, but how did a crackdown on a non-sectarian protest movementhow did highly sectarian Sunni extremists exploit that?

Well, there was actually two waves of the protest movement. The first was actually in 2011, and that wave, which was actually dubbed the “Iraqi spring,” that was happening around the same time as the other uprisings in the Arab world—that one was much less sectarian in character. It had Sunnis and Shias and a strong secular component as well. So you had elements of the left, for example the Iraqi Communist Party, and Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, succeeded in dividing that protest movement; divide and conquer. He arrested certain elements of it—he isolated the secular elements of it—and through various ways succeeded in sort of forcing the sectarian character on that movement.

Essentially the state declared war on a section of its population and so we have what we have today.

So by the time 2013 rolled around, and you had a second wave of those protests, it had a much more of a Sunni character in the sense that it was predominantly in the Sunni areas where the protests were taking place. But even then it wasn’t really an avowedly sectarian protest movement. There was an element of that movement that was articulating for a separate Sunni state, but there were also others who were just demanding an end to the de-Baathification laws and to some of the counter-terrorism laws. But the movement faced a lot of repression. I think this mirrors what happened in Syria, where you had unarmed protesters that were gunned down; you had people who were thrown in prison; anybody who was associated with the protesters was called a terrorist — was called a member of al-Qaida; there were widespread accounts of torture.

In this way slowly the movement mutated into an armed struggle, and in the process of becoming an armed struggle the forces that had the access to the most guns and the most money were some of the hard-line insurgent groups, including the old Baathist organization and al-Qaida in Iraq, and so those groups were able to rise to the top in the general breakdown of the protest movement. Really very similar in some respects to what happened in Syria.

Was any of this preventable, in your view? After the U.S. withdrew, was there anything that could have been done to stop Iraq from going down this sectarian road? Obviously Nouri al-Maliki was propped up by the United States, and also Iran. Was there anything they could have done to pressure him not to carry out this crackdown, or was this kind of set in motion by the U.S. invasion and occupation and we were always going to end up in a not very good place?

I think if you look at it broadly, what you’re seeing is the failure of the integration of different segments of society as a result of the post-2003 order, and so if you look at it that way it really is sort of a structural consequence of the way in which the U.S. invaded and established the occupation. I think the odds were stacked against any sort of peaceful outcome. But I don’t know if anything is strictly preordained because there were lots of specific moments along the way which were clearly moments that had exacerbated tensions.

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I’ll give you a couple examples. One is 2010, the Iraqi parliamentary elections, when a movement, Iraqiya—which was a non-sectarian group, a secular group—actually won the elections and Maliki maneuvered to undo those results. He was backed by President Obama on that in what was essentially a power grab. And that led toward retrenching sectarian politics from the top. And during the protest movements there were a number of incidents when the Sunni elites were actually looking to make connections with the Iraqi state but they were arrested or turned away or in some cases tortured.

The key moment there was when Maliki decided to pull the army out on various protest encampments. Tribal militias took over the protest grounds and the Iraqi government just started shelling these areas, killing hundreds of people in Fallujah. Essentially the state declared war on a section of its population and so we have what we have today.

Can you shed any light on the thinking of the Maliki government? As you note, they were more than willing to deploy armed force against nonviolent protesters. But when the Islamic State came roaring back across the border from Syria the Iraqi army fled, and Maliki was widely criticized for not taking the threat seriously. What explains that? Why deploy lethal force against nonviolent protesters who you are calling al-Qaida but be hesitant to do so against actual al-Qaida?

Well, that’s a good question. An issue from Maliki’s perspective is, if you look at the Anbar Awakening, there are cases where the U.S. basically put every military-aged male in a town on the payroll and said that, “you are a member of the Sons of Iraq.” There were 60,000 people who are technically part of the Sons of Iraq program and this is far greater than what the Iraqi state had the capacity to absorb.

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In terms of why Maliki was so willing to open fire against protesters—ISIS, actually, its biggest victories, particularly in Mosul and Fallujah, those victories weren’t really military victories. They were really political victories first, and what I mean is that if you take, for example, Fallujah, tribal revolutionaries took Fallujah and then ISIS kind of came in from within that and coopted parts of the revolutionary movement and took it over slowly. And they had a lot of local support in doing that.

Same in Mosul. They had a lot of local support. That sort of accounts for why those places fell so quickly. They had support from within and so it was very difficult for the army to go in and actually fight and take it. That accounts for the semi-collapse of the army in the face of ISIS because they’re seeing towns that all of a sudden overnight are becoming ISIS strongholds and none of the soldiers were willing to go into what was going to be an almost certain bloodbath. That’s why the Iraqi state was unable to take over these places very quickly.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the fact there are a lot of conspiracy theories in Iraq trying to explain the rise of the Islamic State. I saw a poll the other week that said many Iraqis believe the Islamic State was a deliberate creation of the United States. I’m wondering: During your travels in Iraq, what did Iraqis tell you? And I’m also curious whether there’s a sectarian divide on this. It seems to me that maybe Sunnis might be more willing to argue that ISIS was the result of state repression that they exploited, whereas perhaps Shia Iraqis might be less willing to concede their government and its pursuit of sectarian policies led to the rise of the Islamic State.

Well, even among Sunnis though, those who very clearly describe to me the outcome of these policies, it is a fact that many of those Sunni groups and Sunni leaders who initially allied with ISIS in 2014 have now realized that it was a terrible mistake because ISIS has destroyed their communities. And so they’re also opposed to ISIS and so one of the ways they account for it is they say it was created by the U.S. as a way to destroy the Sunni movement. It’s a very popular conspiracy theory.

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Among Shias and others, they would also say the same thing: that it was created by the U.S. to destroy Iraq. The only difference you might see between the two groups is that a lot of Sunnis will tell you that the United States and Iran are secretly working together and have created ISIS and they’re running it, and they will point to the Shia militias and other groups (benefitting). Whereas, you’re less likely to hear Shias say that Iran is part of the problem, but they will say that the United States and conspiracy theorists — they’re all agreed that the United States created ISIS. It’s a very widespread belief.

I want to talk about the relationship between the U.S. and Iran in terms of policy in Iraq. It’s kind of amusing: Ayatollah Khamenei, on his Twitter account, kind of hints at these conspiracy theoriesthat the U.S. is not really serious about fighting the Islamic State, suggesting it created that problem to justify a perpetual presence in Iraq. But in reality, it seems Iran and the U.S.their policies are complementary. The militias are trained by the Islamic Republic and are armed and given air cover in some cases by the United States.

Do Iran and the United States effectively have the same policy in Iraq, and what is that?

I think they have very similar policies; they’re working in parallel, almost. The Iranian militias tend to have a much stronger presence towards the north of Baghdad, for example in Diyala. Whereas in Anbar the U.S. has successfully lobbied to keep the Shia militias to a limited role. Ultimately, at the end of the day, there’s a de facto alliance between the two sides. They’re both working to try to stabilize the Iraqi state and defeat ISIS. Both appear to agree on keeping Haider al-Abadi in place, and his position right now is very precarious due to protests. So you have this very complicated situation in which Shia militias that are in some cases even receiving U.S. air power in Iraq are fighting against ISIS and certain Shia militias are going to Syria to support Bashar al-Assad, who the U.S. at least ostensibly is opposed to. So it’s extraordinarily complicated, but in Iraq I think it is the case that there is a de facto alliance that’s become stronger since the Iran deal.

Both Iran and the United States seem to share this sectarian conception of how Iraq should exist. In the case of the United States, one could perhaps chalk it up to a patronizing Orientalism that only sees foreigners in terms of their ethnic group or religious identity. In the case of Iran, it just seems like cynical, power politics; they’d rather like to have a state that identifies as Shia next door. Is that a correct interpretation? And is there any hope of a non-sectarian, unified Iraq arising if two of the most influential foreign powers there don’t share that vision?

Absolutely the U.S. and Iran share a sectarian vision of Iraq, and for the U.S. that has been the case since the beginning. Iraqis will tell you back in 2003, 2004, they would try to go meet with the U.S. in one of the pre-parliamentary councils, and everyone had to say whether they were Sunni or Shia or Kurd, and people would say, “I’m a communist. I’m secular.” They would say, “It doesn’t matter. You’re Sunni or Shia.”

There’s still a real possibility for non-sectarian policies. It really depends on the levels of violence and it depends on the will of outside forces.

The U.S. had this very sectarian mentality that is sort of a classic way in which outside forces deal with local populations; the British and the French have done the same thing, historically. Despite that, I think there’s surprisingly there’s still hope for non-sectarian, anti-sectarian politics in Iraq. Even now, in the last nine months or so, there’s been a big, powerful protest movement in Baghdad, protesting against lack of services, lack of electricity, the deep, widespread levels of corruption in government. Until the last couple months it was largely a secular movement, one that had participation from Sunnis and Shias, and also one that had participation from various secular forces, from trade unions, from communists and others. And in the last two months that movement has sort of been taken over by Moqtada al-Sadr, and it’s become much more of a Shia Islamist movement. But the demands are still non-sectarian demands. They’re demanding to end the sectarian quotas in government, to end the patronage system in government. And what you’re seeing in the last year, and what you saw in 2010, you see the flourishing of a cross-sectarian politics.

Mural in Baghdad featuring Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei | Photo: Reuters

I think whenever the levels of violence drop, as in 2010, or how it was this past summer when the threat to Baghdad from ISIS receded, you tend to see the Islamist forces losing ground and some of the more secular forces gaining ground. I think that shows that there’s still a real possibility for non-sectarian policies. It really depends on the levels of violence and it depends on the will of outside forces as well, who tend to use sectarianism as a way to pursue their own ends.

Can you speak at all to what has given rise to this protest movement? As you’re saying, now it has a little bit more of a not necessarily sectarian color, but it’s more of a Shia Islamist movement with Moqtada al-Sadr endorsing it. Why is al-Sadr endorsing this? Why would Iraqi Shiites be upset with a system that, at least from an outside perspective, it seems that they benefit from at the expense of the Sunnis?

The movement started last summer because of the soaring temperatures and the fact that there was no electricity in large parts of the country, especially in Baghdad. This is just a basic failure of state services and so that’s how the movement began. But it grew to address the rot that’s at the core of the Iraqi state. For example, all the political parties are patronage parties; posts are doled out to specific parties. Many people argue they haven’t really delivered anything for ordinary people, and while it’s true that broadly speaking after 2003 Shias have benefitted, relative to Sunnis, it’s not like Shias are doing well either. The price of oil has collapsed. The state is moving toward austerity politics, where some of the social services are being gutted. It’s not fun to be a Shia in Iraq, it’s just the challenges are different than being a Sunni, and so there’s a lot of dissatisfaction with and anger towards the government, toward officials, and that’s why there’s a demand to remove this patronage system and have a technocratic government. That was the demand for months and months.

People would say, “I’m a communist. I’m secular.” They would say, “It doesn’t matter. You’re Sunni or Shia.”

Moqtada al-Sadr got involved in February for complicated reasons. One reason, I think, is he’s trying to sell himself as a nationalist. His militia, his people, are probably the least sectarian today of any of the Shia militias. He’s gotten behind the protests and given it a lot of muscle, to the point where now, once his people got involved, the Abadi government was actually forced to draw up a new cabinet that was full of technocrats. And when he did that all the entrenched interests, the Islamist parties, Maliki’s side, they fought back and demanded that he retract it. So now Abadi is in a very precarious situation, caught on one side between a mass movement, and the Sadrists, and on the other side by the Islamist parties and the old elite that was brought here by the United States in 2003, which means that we may see in the coming months a coup, we may see in an overthrow of Haider al-Abadi. We don’t know what’s going to happen, but it looks to be an explosive situation today.

I wanted to touch on what is essentially the focus of your article in The Atlantic, which is the Popular Mobilization Forces. There’s a specific line in there where you point out that “NGOs and human rights workers have been documenting cases, and they allege that—in certain areas, at least—anti-ISIS forces may have killed as many Sunnis as ISIS has.” Obviously in the United States, in large part because of the terrorist attacks that ISIS has carried out in the West, we have this focus on the Islamic State as a kind of exclusive evil. With respect to Syria, a very common thing to say would be like Bernie Sanders in the last Democratic debate: Assad and ISIS are bad, but we have to deal with ISIS first.

Are we focused too much on the Islamic State at the expense of a holistic approach to the problems of the Middle East?

Absolutely, I think it’s a major problem. With Sanders’ comments that we have to deal with ISIS before we deal with Assad—it actually doesn’t make sense to do that, because Assad helped produce ISIS. His bombing and torturing guaranteed that groups like ISIS would emerge. Same in Iraq: the sectarianism of the state and the militias helped produce ISIS. The danger becomes that if you look at just the immediate problem of the Islamic State, you end up deputizing the same sorts of actors that helped produce the problem you’re trying to fight in the first place. That’s a problem in Syria and Iraq.

Can you explain what sorts of abuses the Popular Mobilization Forces have been accused of carrying out?

The militias have been accused of a whole range of things, from extrajudicial killings to horrific torture to you name it. A lot of things we tend to associate with ISIS—beheadings and the mass slaughter—most of them have done that as well it’s just that they, like the Assad regime, tend to do these things without the camera rolling. They have a different audience. They have a different constituency that they’re trying to reach. But every one of these groups is extremely brutal.

An enormous amount of power still exists among social movements and ordinary people on the ground, but they tend to get smothered by the policies of major states like the U.S.

I write about in this article one Sunni family describing what they have gone through. They flee ISIS—and flee the brutality of ISIS—only to deal with the brutality of Shia militias in Baghdad. And there’s many, many stories like that. There are cases where after territories have been “liberated” from ISIS that militias have gone in and set houses on fire, set people on fire, and all sorts of horrific things.

These are things that tend not to get talked about in the West, particularly so with Assad. If you get a chance to look at the photographs of people who were in Assad’s prisons and see the horror that is unfolding on a daily basis there—ISIS pales in comparison to what Assad has been doing in terms of inflicting terror on a population.

In the United States, it seems the political establishment and the leading candidates for the Republican and Democratic presidential nominations, they’re all basically in agreement that the Obama administration’s strategy for fighting the Islamic State is more or less working. No one has the stomach for another ground invasion, so this kind of “half-in” approach of airstrikes and proxies on the ground, whether it’s these Popular Mobilization Forces or the Kurds in Iraq and Syria, the perception is that this working.

If you had the opportunity to speak to any of these candidates, or President Obama himself, and you were asked whether this strategy is working, what would you tell them? What would you recommend to U.S. politicians who, for better or worse, are determined to continue intervening in Iraq’s affairs?

It’s hard for me to say only because I think that U.S. politicians, when they are talking about these things, they tend to look at it from a completely different framework than I am. These policies either work or don’t work with respect to what they perceive to be U.S. national security interests and so in that sense you can see that ISIS is being defeated and it may seem that this is helping U.S. national security interests.

Shia militiamen | Photo: Reuters

I’m actually less interested in what is perceived as U.S. national security interests and more interested in what ordinary people on the ground in Iraq or Syria view as being in their interest. And there you see a real divergence, because the U.S. just does not have the track record of acting in the interests of ordinary people—the U.S. or any other state, for example Russia or Iran—in that region. Any kind of strategy that relies on the policies of on high, in many ways will be doomed to fail, instead of looking at what’s actually happening on the ground. So, for instance, in Syria, since the partial ceasefire we’ve seen a blossoming of the protest movement that had been more or less crushed for a few years—a protest movement that’s not only protesting against Assad, but also against Jabhat al-Nusra, which is the al-Qaida franchise in Syria.

An enormous amount of power still exists among social movements and ordinary people on the ground, but they tend to get smothered by the policies of major states like the U.S. and others.

That makes total sense. Obviously U.S. politicians are interested in the perceived U.S. national interest and they’re not so much concerned about Iraq as a functioning state—as long as it’s functioning enough to keep ISIS there, contained, and not in the West.

Exactly. Keep it on life support.

Posted in IraqComments Off on The Iraq War Never Ended: An Interview with Anand Gopal

Claims That Iraq Had Weapons Were Based on Nicolas Cage Movie

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  • Sir John Chilcot said Blair should not have accepted the intelligence reports on Saddam
    Sir John Chilcot said Blair should not have accepted the intelligence reports on Saddam’s weapons at face value. | Photo: Reuters / YouTube
Suspicions of Iraqi chemical weapons were based on an inaccurate and purely fictional depiction in the 1996 movie, “The Rock.”

A British spy agency apparently based some of its intelligence on Iraq’s supposed “chemical weapons” on a movie starring Nicolas Cage, according to The Chilcot report released Wednesday.

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Despite claims by the U.S. and U.K. to justify the decision to attack Iraq, no such weapons were found following the 2003 invasion. The voluminous report, seven years in the making, concludes that British intelligence reached its conclusions in large measure because “flawed intelligence and assessments” often went unchallenged.

Among these was the assertion that Iraq had increased its production of chemical and biological agents which British intelligence apparently based on a movie scene that inaccurately depicted nerve agents being transported in glass containers. Of this, the Chilcot report wrote:

“In early October, questions were raised with SIS [Secret Intelligence Service] about the mention of glass containers in the 23 September 2002 report. It was pointed out that… glass containers were not typically used in chemical munitions; and that a popular movie (The Rock) had inaccurately depicted nerve agents being carried in glass beads or spheres (and that) Iraq had had difficulty in the 1980s obtaining a key precursor chemical for soman (a chemical agent).”

Directed by action film director Michael Bay, “The Rock” is a 1996 blockbuster thriller starring Nicolas Cage as a FBI chemical-warfare expert.

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The Chilcot report stated that the intelligence officials had concluded that their information was unreliable, but with pressure mounting on then Prime Minister Tony Blair to produce evidence of weapons of mass destruction, SIS agents failed to inform the prime minister’s office of their conclusion.

“There were concerns about the risks if the inspections found nothing,” the inquiry noted.

David Manning, a former British diplomat, advised Blair that they “should hould work hard over the next couple of months to build our case.”

Following the release of the Chilcot report, Blair has expressed regret, but said that the world would have been worse off without the invasion of Iraq, and that the war was based on good intentions.

While the Chilcot’s report’s chairman, Sir John Chilcot, has said evaluating the legality of the Iraq war was outside the scope of the report, he added that Blair and his ministers should not have accepted the intelligence reports on Saddam’s weapons at face value.

Posted in Iraq, UKComments Off on Claims That Iraq Had Weapons Were Based on Nicolas Cage Movie

Instead of Closing Guantanamo, the US Invests in Expansion

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  • Human rights groups continue to demand the U.S. close
    Human rights groups continue to demand the U.S. close ‘Gitmo’ | Photo: Reuters
The United States Navy will spend $240 million to build new facilities at the military detention camp at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

The Pentagon will spend $240 million to build new infrastructure and repair old buildings at the Guantanamo navy base in Cuba, according to contract documents.

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None of the improvements and repairs will be done to the detention center inside Guantanamo, but at buildings used by personnel assigned to work in the base.

The $240 million budget will be split between five construction firms over a period of five years. One of those companies, Munilla Construction Management LLC of Miami, will be paid $63 million to build a school for the children of military and civilians working in the island.

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There are currently two schools for military families in the island, and according to U.S. officials, the facilities are too small for the 6,000 people living in the base.

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“The quality of life for our residents and their families is of the utmost importance and the new school will provide a great opportunity for our children for many years,” said Base Commander Captain David Culpepper.

Meanwhile, 779 prisoners have been jailed at Guantanamo since it opened after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Of those, 689 have been released or transferred and nine have died, while 80 are still held, without recognized charges or trials.

U.S. President President Barack Obama promised to close the military base on occupied Cuban soil during his 2008 presidential campaign, but reversed course after taking office in 2009.

Cuba has repeatedly insisted that the U.S. return the occupied territory as part of the normalization of relations between the two countries that began in December 2014.

Presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump condemned the plan to close down the prison, and promised that if elected in November’s general election, he would “load it up with some bad dudes.”

Posted in USAComments Off on Instead of Closing Guantanamo, the US Invests in Expansion

2nd Brexit Referendum ‘May Be Justified,’ 

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Public opinion shifting strongly against a Brexit could justify a second referendum, former Attorney General Dominic Grieve says.

In correspondence seen by the Independent, Grieve told a constituent the result of the first referendum had to be “treated with respect” but that a second vote could become democratically justifiable.

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“We have to accept … that the referendum result represents, at the time it was held, a clear statement of the majority view that we should leave the EU,” wrote the Conservative MP, who was the government’s chief legal advisor until 2014.

“In a democracy such a result cannot be ignored. The government and Parliament must treat it with respect.

“It is of course possible that it will become apparent with the passage of time that public opinion has shifted on the matter. If so a second referendum may be justified.”

Grieve also urges the constituent to keep campaigning against Brexit.

“There is in a free society no requirement for us to change our opinions just because a current majority disagrees with them. Mine remain the same and I will continue to argue for what I believe is right and in our best interests.”

The comments come after research suggested 1.2 million ‘Leave’ voters regret their decision.

The survey by Opinium, which accurately predicted the EU referendum result, was conducted after widespread anecdotal social media reports of people saying they only voted to leave the EU as a protest and now regretted doing so.

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Posted in Europe, UKComments Off on 2nd Brexit Referendum ‘May Be Justified,’ 

Naziyahu denies reports of assassination attempt in Kenya

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Netanyahu has certainly made plenty of enemies over the years so an assassination plot would not come as a surprise.

Netanyahu crosshairs

Although we have not been able to verify if there was an actual attempt on Netanyahu, we note the fact that AP chose to report it and that both the Israelis and Kenyans chose to deny it. No smoke without fire?

Associated Press

Netanyahu denies reports of assassination attempt in Kenya

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday denied reports of an attempt on his life in Kenya during his heavily guarded African tour this week, saying he knew “nothing” of it.

Netanyahu said he was learning about the reports of an assassination attempt for the first time during a press conference with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn in Addis Ababa.

“The answer is we know nothing about it because there is nothing in it,” Netanyahu said.

He made the remarks in response to a reporter’s question following an anonymously sourced report in the Kuwaiti newspaper al-Jarida.

Kenyan officials also denied there was an effort to kill Netanyahu.

“An attempted assassination can’t be secret. It has to be something visible, and to my knowledge there was absolutely nothing of the sort,” Kenya’s Interior Ministry spokesman Mwenda Njoka told The Associated Press.

“I’m not aware, and there was no such thing at all. Those are lies,” Inspector General of Police Joseph Boinnet said.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said a report that the motorcade changed its route because of an explosives threat was “simply not true.”

The Israeli prime minister is protected by heavy security in Israel and abroad, given high threats against Israeli targets around the world. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish extremist in Tel Aviv in 1995.

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Historian Nicholas Kollerstrom Challenges the Holocaust Industry

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People in the Holocaust establishment believe that truth is what they want to believe. They will always endeavor to undermine historical-factual debate about what really happened.

Nicholas Kollerstrom

Nicholas Kollerstrom

Nicholas Kollerstrom has a B.A. in the natural sciences from Cambridge University, with an emphasis on the history and philosophy of science. He is also an astronomer, receiving his Ph.D. from the University College London. He was a former correspondent for the BBC and received grants from the Royal Astronomical Society to do scientific work related to the discovery of Neptune.

Kollerstrom has written numerous technical articles and essays.[1] He is the author of Newton’s Forgotten Lunar Theory: His contribution to the Quest for Longitude (London: Green Lion Press, 2000) and The Metal-Planet Relationship: A Study of Celestial Influence (Eureka, CA: Borderland Sciences Research Foundation, 1993). Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers contained several of his essays on mathematician and astronomer John Couch Adams (1819-1892), astronomer John Flamsteed (1646-1719) and Isaac Newton. But because he has challenged the Holocaust establishment using science and reason, all his work was removed from the Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers.

Kollerstrom was widely cited in the scholarly literature[2]—until he began to look at chemical evidence for how Zyklon was used during World War II. Graham Macklin, manager of the research service at the National Archives, scorns at Kollerstrom’s claims that Auschwitz-Birkenau had a swimming pool for inmates and that the inmates themselves used to listen to orchestras.[3]

Macklin, because he is part of the establishment, could not investigate or refute the claim using reason because that would ruin his reputation. Therefore he chose the easy route: mockery and ridicule. But Kollestrom was not the only person to say this. People who were actually at the camp testified the same thing. Historian Paul Berben, who actually talked to numerous survivors after the camp was liberated and who meticulously looked into the archives, wrote in Dachau: The Official History:

“A few sporting and cultural activities were authorized. Officially the S.S. could no longer maltreat the inmates as they liked. But the disciplinary regime remained very harsh.”[4]

Even “money brought on arrival and any that was subsequently sent to a prisoner was credited to him, and he could only draw 15 R.M. monthly. As some prisoners had considerable sums of money, especially in the early years, the S.S. conducted profitable financial transactions. When in 1942 the system of ‘gift coupons’ was instituted, the prisoners could no longer have money in their possession. The money in their account had to be used for the purchase of articles obtainable at the canteen, another course of considerable profit to the camp administration.”[5]

Berben notes that “theatrical entertainments, concerts, revues and lectures were arranged too. Among the thousands of men who lived in the camp there were all sorts of talents, great and small, to be found: famous musicians, good amateur musicians, theatre and musical artists. Many of these men devoted their time in the most admirable way to gain a few moments of escape for their comrades in misery, and to keep up their morale. And these activities helped too to create a feeling of fellowship.”[6]

The following may shock you:

“The camp had a library which started in a modest way but which eventually stocked some fifteen thousand volumes. It had been formed with the books brought in by prisoners or sent to them by their families, or from gifts. There was a very varied choice, from popular novels to the great classics, and scientific and philosophical works.

“Only books in German and at the most a few dictionaries were allowed, but there were some ‘forbidden’ volumes there too, whose bindings had been camouflaged by the prisoner-librarians and which received particular attention from those who were ‘in the know.’

“The intellectuals in the camp kept the catalogues up to date and were in charge of lending out the books. Unfortunately, it was not possible for more than a very few prisoners to do any reading, so it was mainly only those lucky enough to be attached to the library who benefited from it.

“Yet it is astonishing to learn that some men in spite of their miserable convicts’ existence nevertheless found the energy to take an interest in the arts, in science and in philosophical problems.”[7]

In addition, letters sent to individual families “had to be written in German and to one single recipient. Contents had to deal only with family matters and no reference at all was permitted to life in the camp, or the letter was not sent off.”[8]

During the last few years of the war, “it was decreed that a prisoner could send or receive two letters or two cards per month. He had to write in ink, very legibly, on the fifteen lines of each page of a letter. His correspondent could only use plain paper, and double envelopes were not allowed.”[9]

Jewish historian Sarah Gordon corroborated many similar claims in a book that was published by Princeton University Press in 1984.[10] Putting all the pieces together, can popular historians in good conscience ignore these facts and perpetuate one incoherent assertion after another without sober thought?

If Plato is right, that “having a grasp of the truth is having a belief that matches the way things are” and that “being deceived about the truth is a bad thing,”[11] how can scholars and thinking people pursue the truth if they are not allowed to ask deeper questions about the past? Weren’t we told in grade school that science begins by asking fundamental questions? Did our science teachers lie to us by exposing us to the scientific method? Did our history teachers deceive us by telling us to dig into archives, look for historical documentations and to watch out for contradictions?

Furthermore, would people like Descartes, Kant, Hegel, etc., make it in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, where draconian speech codes can be found throughout Europe and America and where professors are scared to death to talk freely about certain issues?[12] Wouldn’t they be asked to seal their lips and drop their pens without rational discourse? Wouldn’t the Dreadful Few dispatch an exorcist from Tel Aviv to cast out Descartes’ demon in France? We are going to explore some of these questions in the following interview with Nicholas Kollestrom.


Alexis: Let’s start with a statement from your book. You write:

“The fastest way to get expelled from a British university is by saying you are looking at chemical evidence for how Zyklon was used in World War II, with a discussion of how delousing technology functioned in the German World War II labour camps.

“This is considered to be absolutely forbidden. How strange is that? After being a member of my college for 15 years I was thrown out with one day’s warning, having been given no opportunity to defend myself, a fact announced on its website. What I had done was so terrible that it could not announce what my crime was: I felt like Faust caught making his pact with the devil.”[13]

This is quite puzzling. Don’t scientists pride themselves in looking for rigorous evidence? Don’t academic centers like the University College of London boast about free speech, particularly when a person is a noted scholar? Were you using the scientific method when you were investigating how Zyklon was used during World War II? If so, why did the academic community go banana? Did you ask them about your academic sin?

Kollerstrom: I guess it was just too much for them to handle. I was a science historian in a ‘Science and Technology Studies’ department at UCL in London, Britain’s 3rd oldest university, which was supposedly set up on a secular basis, that there would not be any inquisition about private beliefs of its members of staff.

But I had to realize that belief in ‘the Holocaust’ is nowadays some sort of religion, it’s the one thing that academics are not allowed to doubt or criticise. They put up on their UCL website that they were totally opposed to what I was doing, but did not say what the terrible thing was! There was just silence from my colleagues or rather ex-colleagues and I had to realise that I’d never get another paper published in an academic journal.

Sure I was using the scientific method, I was comparing and critiquing two different published surveys of residual cyanide in the walls of German WW2 labor-camps. They both used much the same method of analyzing the cyanide so I pooled the two data-sets together. This gave about forty measurable samples which is quite a decent sample. What was puzzling was that in all the media damnation that ensued, no-one was interested in what I’d actually done, in the basic chemistry, it was just ‘We’ve found a Nazi!’

Alexis: Serious scientists like yourself are always on a quest for the truth, asking probing questions and discerning between evidence in order to give an accurate explanation of the available data and controversial issues. Once all rival alternatives are weighted, then inference to the best explanations should be drawn.[14] Do you think people are afraid to look at the evidence because they might find something that would not be compatible with their preconceived ideas? Are some people playing fast and loose with the facts?

Kollerstrom: You have well described what the scientific method is supposed to be. I believe what is going on here is a clash between science and religion, where ethically-damned Revisionists are trying to look at scientific evidence to reconstruct the past and Holocaust-legislators wish to ban any doubt over their official narrative. My wish here is that some kind of forum could exist where different views of what happened in WW2 could be discussed. If we don’t believe in rational debate then we’re lost.

You might suppose that science historians could discuss say hygiene delousing technology prior to DDT. You might suppose that is obscure enough to be a non-explosive topic. DDT started to be widely used after WW2 for this purpose. Before that for, say, forty years Zyklon delousing chambers were the normal way of doing it. It was normal hygiene technology for killing bugs in clothing and so on. So no-one’s allowed to discuss this, because that would violate the new religion, because it would soon end belief in the huge human gas chambers that existed only in WW2, only in Poland.

Alexis: Scientist and academic professionals are to be skeptical about claims or assertions or even documents and examine them in light of various sources to corroborate and even challenge accepted views. If the documents show contradictions, or if they challenge our preconceived vision, then we need to slow down and reconsider our worldviews to see whether they were based on evidence or popular opinion. Why are people in the Holocaust establishment afraid to examine their metaphysical assumptions?

The first principle in examining any scientific or historical account is that truth exists—even if historians or scientists do not know what it is at the moment of investigation. If truth does not exist, then ultimately the scientist is wasting his time looking for clues, which lead to hypotheses, theories, and ultimately scientific “facts.” Do people in the Holocaust establishment believe that truth actually exists? Do they think that truth is to be pursued and fabrications and colossal hoaxes ought to be avoided?

I have interacted with a number of academics over the years on this issue, and I was quite stunned to realize that not a single one of them actually believes in serious scholarship, despite the fact that they write books superficially postulating that evidence matters. One of them would not even give me permission to publish the interaction because that would ruin what he said in a book which was ironically published by the University of California Press.[15]

Kollerstrom: I reckon they, i.e. people in the Holocaust establishment, believe that truth is what they want to believe.[16]They will always endeavor to undermine historical-factual debate about What Really Happened with claims about alleged emotions, of love or hate, such as: ‘You are just an anti-Semite’, or ‘You really hate …’ Whatever.[17] Or they will claim to be hurt.

My colleague Richard D. Hall who does ‘RichPlanet’ recently wrote to various different Jewish ‘Holocaust’ groups in the UK which are especially concerned with ‘Holocaust education’ – and that is big business over here – asking if they could provide anyone who could debate the issue, but none of them would. The professional skepticism of scientists just goes right out of the window where this topic is concerned I’m afraid.

I agree with you totally about the mental enslavement which academics here display. For example, a few years ago a team from Britain’s University of Birmingham science department went to Treblinka with ‘ground penetrating radar’ equipment. They didn’t find a single gassed body, or any bodies under the ground come to that, no gas chambers, zilch. No wait, they found some shark’s teeth in the ground.

This was promoted by the British media as having confirmed the canonical story that eight hundred thousand people mainly Jews had been gassed using diesel exhaust in that transit-camp. Was the British scientific establishment bothered that diesel-exhaust is not actually lethal and couldn’t have gassed anyone? No, evidently not.

Or, to give a US example, Elie Wiesel’s Night (which has supposedly sold twelve million copies) has been used in many ‘Holocaust study’ courses in American universities. That features the primary Holo-image of burning piles of human corpses. They are just set on fire, and they burn. Why has not the US Society for Advancement of Science protested at such nonsense being taught in universities?


Nick Cohen

Nick Cohen

Alexis: I read Nick Cohen’s article in the Guardian about you and I was completely shocked to read some of the statements that this man propounded. He titled his article: “When academics lose their power of reason.” Does an academic lose his power to reason when he asks probing questions?

Cohen quoted philosopher Jeremy Bentham saying that “As to the evil which results from a censorship, it is impossible to measure it, for it is impossible to tell where it ends.” [18] He moved on to say that “Admittedly, if the philosopher had lived long enough to hear the conspiracy theories of the 21st century, even his defence of free speech might have weakened.”[19]

I think Bentham would have been stunned to see how the Holocaust establishment itself is an impediment to serious science, history and reason, since true science is determined by rigorous evidence, not by ad hominem attack, straw man and red herring such as “conspiracy theories.” Would you agree? I am pretty sure that Cohen has never read your work on some of these issues. In fact, you state quite rationally in the book:

“We need to find out how to discuss [the ‘Holocaust’] calmly, how to respect different viewpoints, and what are the primary sources we should be consulting.”[20]

Kollerstrom: Sure. I got vilified by Nick Cohen in The Observer right after being chucked out of my College – having been in it for fifteen years – and discovered that I was allowed no right of reply. The Observer thereby put a death-wish against me by allowing Cohen to say I needed to be stuffed and put next to Jeremy Bentham (his stuffed body being on display at UCL).

As you note, Cohen was there dismissing conclusions drawn from measurements of cyanide in the walls of the German labor-camps as a ‘conspiracy theory.’ He used an effective form of discourse designed to terminate debate and replace it with a fairly simple emotion – hate. A lot of people hated me after I’d been through all this, and that was a new experience.


Alexis: You wrote:

“After somewhat over a decade of quiet academic research, my life changed rather abruptly as I became ethically damned, thrown out of polite, decent groups, banned from forums and denounced in newspapers, with half my friends not speaking to me anymore—while the other half still would, provided I kept off ‘that awful subject.’

“So as a philosopher I was granted an unusual and excellent opportunity to ponder the difference between what is real and what is illusory. I should be grateful to my fellow-countrymen for absolutely refusing rational debate on this topic, for insisting on my silence over it, and for transforming discussion into insult.

“I know what I have been through. I have been well-cooked…The damnation cast upon me was ostensibly political…Going into my local, or even my gym, I felt as if some Mark of Cain had been branded onto my forehead.”[21]

You also said that “no one seemed interested in what I had actually done, namely synthesize a couple of chemical investigations concerning residual wall-cyanide taken from World War II labour camps.”[22] Now, that is the work of a serious scientist. What kind of investigation do you think the Holocaust establishment was expecting? Did you ever ask some of their representatives the kind of evidence or scientific enquiry they would accept?

Kollerstrom: Plato’s metaphor of the Cave seems to have suddenly become very relevant in the 21st century. He there described how people were chained to see just the flickering images on the wall, which they mistake for reality. They become furious with any persons who come from the above-ground world who try to tell them about it and seek to destroy them. We surely have to believe – as you Sir have tried to show in various articles – in some sort of Logos principle which means that we can by debate find together by logic whatever the truth is.

I think that the ‘Holocaust establishment’ is concerned to promote stories, of alleged ‘Holocaust survivors. We need to bear in mind the catastrophic situation that has here developed, where the German government has been paying and continues to pay anyone who claims to be such a Holocaust-survivor.[23] That is a very strong motivation for memory-enhancement, shall we say. These people then go into schools. Their ‘memories’ are promoted by the Establishment, and anyone who challenges the accepted wisdom gets ethically-damned.

The UCL I would want to have belonged to would have had detailed debate about brick and wall absorption of cyanide gas, the nature of the ferrocyanide complex and when it turns blue, and whether it remains permanently in the brick. It would have commissioned a new investigation to go and visit Birkenau-Auschwitz and chip away some further brick samples, and used the very latest chemical-assay procedures for measuring the cyanide. But, maybe that only happens in some parallel universe….


[1] See for example Nicholas Kollerstrom, “John Herschel on the Discovery of Neptune,” Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage, 9(2), 151-158 (2006); “Decoding the Antikythera Mechanism,” Astronomy Now, Vol. 21, No. 3, 32–35, 2007; “The Case of the Pilfered Planet: Did the British steal Neptune?,” Scientific American, December 1, 2004; “Overview/Neptune Discovery,” Scientific American, November 22, 2004.

[2] See for example William L. Harper, Isaac Newton’s Scientific Method: Turning Data into Evidence about Gravity and Cosmology (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 65, 162; Nicholas Campion, A History of Western Astrology, Volume II: The Medieval and Modern Worlds (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2009), 310; James Gleick, Isaac Newton(New York: Vantage Books, 2004), 226; Roger Hutchins, British University Observatories 1772-1939 (New York: Routledge, 2008), 91, 94, 105, 117, 155, 156, 158, 460, 467.

[3] Nigel Copsey and John E. Richardson, eds., Cultures of Post-War British Fascism (New York: Routledge, 2015), 190.

[4] Paul Berben, Dachau: The Official History (London: Norfolk Press, 1975), 57.

[5] Ibid., 60.

[6] Ibid., 72.

[7] Ibid., 72-73.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., 73.

[10] Sarah Gordon, Hitler, Germans, and the Jewish Question (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984).

[11] Plato, The Republic (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 116.

[12] Kant and others have already been labeled anti-Semites. Paul Lawrence Rose, Revolutionary Antisemitism in Germany from Kant to Wagner (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990).

[13] Nicholas Kollerstrom, Breaking the Spell: The Holocaust—Myth & Reality (Uckfield, UK: Castle Hill Publishers, 2014), 9.

[14] See for example Peter Lipton, Inference to the Best Explanation (New York: Routledge, 1991); Susan Haack,Evidence Matters: Science, Proof, and Truth in the Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014); Christopher Behan McCullagh, Justifying Historical Descriptions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984).

[15] I will publish it when he is dead.

[16] For a fairly good treatment on this, see Daniel J. Flynn, Intellectual Morons: How Ideology Makes Smart People Fall for Stupid Ideas (New York: Crown Forum, 2004).

[17] For scholarly treatments on the anti-Semitism issue, see for example Norman Finkelstein, Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History (Berkley: University of California Press, 2005 and 2008); Albert S. Lindemann, Esau’s Tears: Modern Anti-Semitism and the Rise of the Jews (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997); Bernard Lazare, Antisemitism: Its History and Causes (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995).

[18] Nick Cohen, “When academics lose their power of reason,” Guardian, May 4, 2008.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Kollerstrom, Breaking the Spell, 15.

[21] Ibid., 16.

[22] Ibid.

[23] For studies on this, see for example Norman Finkelstein, The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering (New York: Verso, 2000); see also Nir Gontarz, “Israeli Diplomat in Berlin: Maintaining German Guilt About Holocaust Helps Israel,” Haaretz, June 25, 2015.

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Hillary Clinton’s Democratic Party platform follies

Hillary Clinton and hubris

By Lawrence Davidson

A self-destructive tactic?

There has been close coordination between the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, and those representing her on the committee shaping the party’s platform. It is here that a battle was waged with reformers representing Bernie Sanders over party positions on a large number of important issues. The positions and behaviour of those acting as Clinton proxies can therefore provide a window into her attitude toward the movement Sanders has launched.

The platform committee sessions quickly became confrontations with the supporters of Bernie Sanders, and resulted in a successful effort to stymie his reform agenda for the Democratic Party. This was done despite the political danger such a tactic of frustration represents – dangerous because Sanders has some 12 million supporters, many of whom are not yet convinced that Hillary Clinton deserves their vote. Thus, what may turn out to be a politically self-destructive game-plan on her part requires some explanation. Here is one possible way of understanding her actions.

Who is Hillary Clinton?

Hillary Clinton has pursued the presidency for almost a decade with a tenacious determination. She almost achieved the nomination in 2008 only to lose to Barack Obama. That led to an eight-year stifling of this ambition. Finally, in the long run-up to the 2016 election, she was convinced the nomination was hers. She had lined up her own party’s leadership, the Chuck Schumers and Nancy Pelosis, and found it relatively easy to match her own policy preferences with theirs. Ahead of her, she believed, was a relatively easy road to the White House through the defeat of a fractionalised Republican Party led by an opposition candidate who, it would seem, had limited appeal.

Then along came Bernie Sanders, whose energetic and timely social democratic approach to long-standing US problems threatened to steal the Democratic Party show. His positions were not hers, nor did they conform to the tastes of the party leadership. This latest complication must have exasperated Clinton. Even after she won enough delegates to assure her nomination, she still could not get rid of Sanders. And, his persistence, combined with just enough popularity to demand her and the party leadership’s attention, threatens even now to compromise her upcoming contest with the Republicans.

Clinton’s response to all of this is in part shaped by her bedrock alliance with party leaders. They certainly oppose Sanders’s reformist aims. However, more than any of these intra-party considerations, her response is shaped by her own personality, which causes her to be determined to make the presidential run, and play out the subsequent White House tenure, on her own terms.

So, what is to be said about Hillary Clinton’s personality? In an essay by Audrey Immelman, published in 2001 by the Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics of St Johns University in Minnesota, a discussion of Clinton’s dominant traits is taken up. Here are some of the conclusions: Hillary Clinton is an aggressive and controlling personality; when she makes up her mind about something, she loses interest in other people’s points of view; she is often impatient; she lacks empathy and can act harshly to those seen as standing in her way; she has boundary problems due to her excessive level of self-confidence – that is, when she “knows” she is right, she doesn’t like the idea that there are limits that she has to abide by.

Given these traits, one can imagine what she thinks of Bernie Sanders and his challenge to her ambitions. She is, of course, forced to deal with him, but she will seek the cheapest price necessary to buy him and his supporters off. Her Democratic Party allies seem to agree with this strategy, and this means that Sanders will get little more than words from both Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party leaders.

Thinking that words will suffice

Indeed, that is what is happening. To see a run-down on how Clinton’s strategy plays out, plank by plank of the proposed party platform, go to William Boardman’s 28 June 2016 essay, Platform for Deception – Democrats at Work”. Boardman clearly shows that Clinton and her allies are playing a smoke and mirrors game with the party platform. They pay lip service to almost all of Sanders’s demands, but in almost every case refuse to commit to any policy programmes for change. It is as if Clinton and her allies are saying to Sanders and his supporters: “You can make us pronounce platitudes, but when it comes to practice, you cannot make us do anything. Policy formulation is not your business.” Having drawn this line in the sand, the Democratic spin doctors have started calling the resulting vacuous platform a progressive triumph. For instance, according to the Democratic National Committee chairwoman, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the result is “a platform draft that advances our party’s progressive ideals and is worthy of our great country.”

The probability that this will satisfy either Bernie Sanders or his roughly 12 million supporters is close to zero. Sanders himself has pledged to take the fight for a progressive and reformist platform on to the floor of the Democratic Convention. “Whether they like it or not, we’re going to open the doors of the Democratic Party,” he announced. This pledge may lead to the most raucous Democratic Party Convention since 1968.

Playing “hard ball”

So, how are Hillary Clinton and her Democratic Party allies, people like Schumer and Pelosi, likely to react to a convention floor challenge? Keep in mind that these are not people who are used to being confronted or defied. And they certainly aren’t fellow reformers. All of them, including Hillary Clinton, who sold her soul to the Democratic Party when she became a senator from New York in 2001, are “systems people”. That is, they are creatures of the very system that Sanders wants radically overhauled. You don’t usually get leaders bred to a particular organisational environment ready and willing to cooperate in its deconstruction. Rather, they will fight, sometimes ruthlessly, to maintain thestatus quo from whence they draw their power and influence.

Here is how this confrontation may play out: Sanders will indeed make a stand at the Democratic Convention at the end of July 2016. Here there is likely to be a replay, this time in public, of the frustrating sessions of the platform committee. Issues will be briefly debated (Clinton’s people will control the gavel), this time in front of a national audience. There may be some further concessions on wording coming from Clinton, but no commitments to specific policies. In other words, the Sanders delegates will be defeated and yet another notable effort at reform will probably pass into history.

There is a word for this sort of over-confidence, this overweening sense of power that prevents meaningful compromise – it is hubris – the pride that goes before a fall.

Throughout this process, Clinton and her allies will repeatedly insist that the real concern is not progressive reforms (they will claim that their smoke and mirrors platform already has addressed those concerns) but rather the danger of party disunity in the face of the challenge offered by Donald Trump. This will paint the Sanders people as possible spoilers and, ultimately, force Sanders to choose between pushing his progressive programme and defending the country against the Republican right wing. Since Sanders is already publicly committed to the latter objective, all Clinton and the Democratic leaders believe they have to do is go through the convention practising damage control. Then they turn to Sanders and say: “Are you going to back us or do you want to help Trump win?”

Bernie Sanders is indeed in a tough spot. In an op-ed piece in the Washington Post on 23 June 2016, he spelled out his penultimate aim this way:  “What do we want? We want to end the rapid movement that we are currently experiencing toward oligarchic control of our economic and political life.” What the Clinton and the Democratic leadership are forcing Sanders to do is chose between oligarchies – the Democratic Party one or the Republican Party one – which is exactly the unsatisfactory choice voters have had all along. For Sanders, this is going to be a very bitter pill to swallow. He is 74 years old and this is likely his final battle for meaningful change.

Conclusion

Why all this to-do over a non-binding platform document? Perhaps because, for a short but critical time, you have 12 million voters taking it seriously – seriously in a way that may cause damage to Clinton’s presidential ambitions. Yet her blinding self-confidence won’t let her consider this possibility, and that myopia is why she refuses to make substantive compromises to Sanders. She is sure she can co-opt his followers with promises and high-sounding declarations. She also probably sees her Republican opponent as such a loud-mouthed fool that she “knows” that, if she holds Sanders at bay, moderate Republicans will turn to her rather than simply staying home on voting day. Maybe. However, though she fails to see the point, her ultimate victory is not at all a sure thing.

Clinton’s weakness is just that which she considers her great strength: her self-assured conviction, her certainty that she “knows” what she is doing. She “knows” that her opportunity for success is at hand and she “knows” how to grasp it. There is a word for this sort of over-confidence, this overweening sense of power that prevents meaningful compromise – it is hubris – the pride that goes before a fall.

So, we have a fair idea of what Hillary and her political allies will do. We know that Sanders has pledged to help “badly” defeat Trump. The only unknown is what the 12 million supporters of the Sanders movement for reform will do. In theory, if a sufficient number of these people can find new leaders and hold themselves together, hitting the streets in a coordinated and continuous way right through the November election, they have a chance of scaring at least some of the Democratic leaders into a progressive path. But that is theory, and practice is always a more difficult endeavour.

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