Archive | January 22nd, 2020

The New Mind Control. “Subliminal Stimulation”, Controlling People without Their Knowledge

The internet has spawned subtle forms of influence that can flip elections and manipulate everything we say, think and do

By Robert Epstein

Global Research,

This incisive article was first published by Global Research on March 3, 2016

Over the past century, more than a few great writers have expressed concern about humanity’s future. In The Iron Heel(1908), the American writer Jack London pictured a world in which a handful of wealthy corporate titans – the ‘oligarchs’ – kept the masses at bay with a brutal combination of rewards and punishments. Much of humanity lived in virtual slavery, while the fortunate ones were bought off with decent wages that allowed them to live comfortably – but without any real control over their lives.

In We (1924), the brilliant Russian writer Yevgeny Zamyatin, anticipating the excesses of the emerging Soviet Union, envisioned a world in which people were kept in check through pervasive monitoring. The walls of their homes were made of clear glass, so everything they did could be observed. They were allowed to lower their shades an hour a day to have sex, but both the rendezvous time and the lover had to be registered first with the state.

In Brave New World (1932), the British author Aldous Huxley pictured a near-perfect society in which unhappiness and aggression had been engineered out of humanity through a combination of genetic engineering and psychological conditioning. And in the much darker novel 1984 (1949), Huxley’s compatriot George Orwell described a society in which thought itself was controlled; in Orwell’s world, children were taught to use a simplified form of English called Newspeak in order to assure that they could never express ideas that were dangerous to society.

These are all fictional tales, to be sure, and in each the leaders who held the power used conspicuous forms of control that at least a few people actively resisted and occasionally overcame. But in the non-fiction bestseller The Hidden Persuaders (1957) – recently released in a 50th-anniversary edition – the American journalist Vance Packard described a ‘strange and rather exotic’ type of influence that was rapidly emerging in the United States and that was, in a way, more threatening than the fictional types of control pictured in the novels. According to Packard, US corporate executives and politicians were beginning to use subtle and, in many cases, completely undetectable methods to change people’s thinking, emotions and behaviour based on insights from psychiatry and the social sciences.

Most of us have heard of at least one of these methods: subliminal stimulation, or what Packard called ‘subthreshold effects’ – the presentation of short messages that tell us what to do but that are flashed so briefly we aren’t aware we have seen them. In 1958, propelled by public concern about a theatre in New Jersey that had supposedly hidden messages in a movie to increase ice cream sales, the National Association of Broadcasters – the association that set standards for US television – amended its code to prohibit the use of subliminal messages in broadcasting. In 1974, the Federal Communications Commission opined that the use of such messages was ‘contrary to the public interest’. Legislation to prohibit subliminal messaging was also introduced in the US Congress but never enacted. Both the UK and Australia have strict laws prohibiting it.

Subliminal stimulation is probably still in wide use in the US – it’s hard to detect, after all, and no one is keeping track of it – but it’s probably not worth worrying about. Research suggests that it has only a small impact, and that it mainly influences people who are already motivated to follow its dictates; subliminal directives to drink affect people only if they’re already thirsty.

Packard had uncovered a much bigger problem, however – namely that powerful corporations were constantly looking for, and in many cases already applying, a wide variety of techniques for controlling people without their knowledge. He described a kind of cabal in which marketers worked closely with social scientists to determine, among other things, how to get people to buy things they didn’t need and how to condition young children to be good consumers – inclinations that were explicitly nurtured and trained in Huxley’s Brave New World. Guided by social science, marketers were quickly learning how to play upon people’s insecurities, frailties, unconscious fears, aggressive feelings and sexual desires to alter their thinking, emotions and behaviour without any awareness that they were being manipulated.

By the early 1950s, Packard said, politicians had got the message and were beginning to merchandise themselves using the same subtle forces being used to sell soap. Packard prefaced his chapter on politics with an unsettling quote from the British economist Kenneth Boulding: ‘A world of unseen dictatorship is conceivable, still using the forms of democratic government.’ Could this really happen, and, if so, how would it work?

The forces that Packard described have become more pervasive over the decades. The soothing music we all hear overhead in supermarkets causes us to walk more slowly and buy more food, whether we need it or not. Most of the vacuous thoughts and intense feelings our teenagers experience from morning till night are carefully orchestrated by highly skilled marketing professionals working in our fashion and entertainment industries. Politicians work with a wide range of consultants who test every aspect of what the politicians do in order to sway voters: clothing, intonations, facial expressions, makeup, hairstyles and speeches are all optimised, just like the packaging of a breakfast cereal.

Fortunately, all of these sources of influence operate competitively. Some of the persuaders want us to buy or believe one thing, others to buy or believe something else. It is the competitive nature of our society that keeps us, on balance, relatively free.

But what would happen if new sources of control began to emerge that had little or no competition? And what if new means of control were developed that were far more powerful – and far more invisible – than any that have existed in the past? And what if new types of control allowed a handful of people to exert enormous influence not just over the citizens of the US but over most of the people on Earth?

It might surprise you to hear this, but these things have already happened.

To understand how the new forms of mind control work, we need to start by looking at the search engine – one in particular: the biggest and best of them all, namely Google. The Google search engine is so good and so popular that the company’s name is now a commonly used verb in languages around the world. To ‘Google’ something is to look it up on the Google search engine, and that, in fact, is how most computer users worldwide get most of their information about just about everything these days. They Google it. Google has become the main gateway to virtually all knowledge, mainly because the search engine is so good at giving us exactly the information we are looking for, almost instantly and almost always in the first position of the list it shows us after we launch our search – the list of ‘search results’.

That ordered list is so good, in fact, that about 50 per cent of our clicks go to the top two items, and more than 90 per cent of our clicks go to the 10 items listed on the first page of results; few people look at other results pages, even though they often number in the thousands, which means they probably contain lots of good information. Google decides which of the billions of web pages it is going to include in our search results, and it also decides how to rank them. How it decides these things is a deep, dark secret – one of the best-kept secrets in the world, like the formula for Coca-Cola.

Because people are far more likely to read and click on higher-ranked items, companies now spend billions of dollars every year trying to trick Google’s search algorithm – the computer program that does the selecting and ranking – into boosting them another notch or two. Moving up a notch can mean the difference between success and failure for a business, and moving into the top slots can be the key to fat profits.

Late in 2012, I began to wonder whether highly ranked search results could be impacting more than consumer choices. Perhaps, I speculated, a top search result could have a small impact on people’s opinions about things. Early in 2013, with my associate Ronald E Robertson of the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology in Vista, California, I put this idea to a test by conducting an experiment in which 102 people from the San Diego area were randomly assigned to one of three groups. In one group, people saw search results that favoured one political candidate – that is, results that linked to web pages that made this candidate look better than his or her opponent. In a second group, people saw search rankings that favoured the opposing candidate, and in the third group – the control group – people saw a mix of rankings that favoured neither candidate. The same search results and web pages were used in each group; the only thing that differed for the three groups was the ordering of the search results.

To make our experiment realistic, we used real search results that linked to real web pages. We also used a real election – the 2010 election for the prime minister of Australia. We used a foreign election to make sure that our participants were ‘undecided’. Their lack of familiarity with the candidates assured this. Through advertisements, we also recruited an ethnically diverse group of registered voters over a wide age range in order to match key demographic characteristics of the US voting population.

All participants were first given brief descriptions of the candidates and then asked to rate them in various ways, as well as to indicate which candidate they would vote for; as you might expect, participants initially favoured neither candidate on any of the five measures we used, and the vote was evenly split in all three groups. Then the participants were given up to 15 minutes in which to conduct an online search using ‘Kadoodle’, our mock search engine, which gave them access to five pages of search results that linked to web pages. People could move freely between search results and web pages, just as we do when using Google. When participants completed their search, we asked them to rate the candidates again, and we also asked them again who they would vote for.New Google Algorithm Restricts Access to Left-wing, Progressive Web Sites

We predicted that the opinions and voting preferences of 2 or 3 per cent of the people in the two bias groups – the groups in which people were seeing rankings favouring one candidate – would shift toward that candidate. What we actually found was astonishing. The proportion of people favouring the search engine’s top-ranked candidate increased by 48.4 per cent, and all five of our measures shifted toward that candidate. What’s more, 75 per cent of the people in the bias groups seemed to have been completely unaware that they were viewing biased search rankings. In the control group, opinions did not shift significantly.

This seemed to be a major discovery. The shift we had produced, which we called the Search Engine Manipulation Effect (or SEME, pronounced ‘seem’), appeared to be one of the largest behavioural effects ever discovered. We did not immediately uncork the Champagne bottle, however. For one thing, we had tested only a small number of people, and they were all from the San Diego area.

Over the next year or so, we replicated our findings three more times, and the third time was with a sample of more than 2,000 people from all 50 US states. In that experiment, the shift in voting preferences was 37.1 per cent and even higher in some demographic groups – as high as 80 per cent, in fact.

We also learned in this series of experiments that by reducing the bias just slightly on the first page of search results – specifically, by including one search item that favoured the other candidate in the third or fourth position of the results – we could mask our manipulation so that few or even no people were aware that they were seeing biased rankings. We could still produce dramatic shifts in voting preferences, but we could do so invisibly.

Still no Champagne, though. Our results were strong and consistent, but our experiments all involved a foreign election – that 2010 election in Australia. Could voting preferences be shifted with real voters in the middle of a real campaign? We were skeptical. In real elections, people are bombarded with multiple sources of information, and they also know a lot about the candidates. It seemed unlikely that a single experience on a search engine would have much impact on their voting preferences.

To find out, in early 2014, we went to India just before voting began in the largest democratic election in the world – the Lok Sabha election for prime minister. The three main candidates were Rahul Gandhi, Arvind Kejriwal, and Narendra Modi. Making use of online subject pools and both online and print advertisements, we recruited 2,150 people from 27 of India’s 35 states and territories to participate in our experiment. To take part, they had to be registered voters who had not yet voted and who were still undecided about how they would vote.

Participants were randomly assigned to three search-engine groups, favouring, respectively, Gandhi, Kejriwal or Modi. As one might expect, familiarity levels with the candidates was high – between 7.7 and 8.5 on a scale of 10. We predicted that our manipulation would produce a very small effect, if any, but that’s not what we found. On average, we were able to shift the proportion of people favouring any given candidate by more than 20 per cent overall and more than 60 per cent in some demographic groups. Even more disturbing, 99.5 per cent of our participants showed no awareness that they were viewing biased search rankings – in other words, that they were being manipulated.

SEME’s near-invisibility is curious indeed. It means that when people – including you and me – are looking at biased search rankings, they look just fine. So if right now you Google ‘US presidential candidates’, the search results you see will probably look fairly random, even if they happen to favour one candidate. Even I have trouble detecting bias in search rankings that I know to be biased (because they were prepared by my staff). Yet our randomised, controlled experiments tell us over and over again that when higher-ranked items connect with web pages that favour one candidate, this has a dramatic impact on the opinions of undecided voters, in large part for the simple reason that people tend to click only on higher-ranked items. This is truly scary: like subliminal stimuli, SEME is a force you can’t see; but unlike subliminal stimuli, it has an enormous impact – like Casper the ghost pushing you down a flight of stairs.

We published a detailed report about our first five experiments on SEME in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in August 2015. We had indeed found something important, especially given Google’s dominance over search. Google has a near-monopoly on internet searches in the US, with 83 per cent of Americans specifying Google as the search engine they use most often, according to the Pew Research Center. So if Google favours one candidate in an election, its impact on undecided voters could easily decide the election’s outcome.

Keep in mind that we had had only one shot at our participants. What would be the impact of favouring one candidate in searches people are conducting over a period of weeks or months before an election? It would almost certainly be much larger than what we were seeing in our experiments.

Other types of influence during an election campaign are balanced by competing sources of influence – a wide variety of newspapers, radio shows and television networks, for example – but Google, for all intents and purposes, has no competition, and people trust its search results implicitly, assuming that the company’s mysterious search algorithm is entirely objective and unbiased. This high level of trust, combined with the lack of competition, puts Google in a unique position to impact elections. Even more disturbing, the search-ranking business is entirely unregulated, so Google could favour any candidate it likes without violating any laws. Some courts have even ruled that Google’s right to rank-order search results as it pleases is protected as a form of free speech.

Does the company ever favour particular candidates? In the 2012 US presidential election, Google and its top executives donated more than $800,000 to President Barack Obama and just $37,000 to his opponent, Mitt Romney. And in 2015, a team of researchers from the University of Maryland and elsewhere showed that Google’s search results routinely favoured Democratic candidates. Are Google’s search rankings really biased? An internal report issued by the US Federal Trade Commission in 2012 concluded that Google’s search rankings routinely put Google’s financial interests ahead of those of their competitors, and anti-trust actions currently under way against Google in both the European Union and India are based on similar findings.

In most countries, 90 per cent of online search is conducted on Google, which gives the company even more power to flip elections than it has in the US and, with internet penetration increasing rapidly worldwide, this power is growing. In our PNAS article, Robertson and I calculated that Google now has the power to flip upwards of 25 per cent of the national elections in the world with no one knowing this is occurring. In fact, we estimate that, with or without deliberate planning on the part of company executives, Google’s search rankings have been impacting elections for years, with growing impact each year. And because search rankings are ephemeral, they leave no paper trail, which gives the company complete deniability.

Power on this scale and with this level of invisibility is unprecedented in human history. But it turns out that our discovery about SEME was just the tip of a very large iceberg.

Recent reports suggest that the Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is making heavy use of social media to try to generate support – Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat and Facebook, for starters. At this writing, she has 5.4 million followers on Twitter, and her staff is tweeting several times an hour during waking hours. The Republican frontrunner, Donald Trump, has 5.9 million Twitter followers and is tweeting just as frequently.

Is social media as big a threat to democracy as search rankings appear to be? Not necessarily. When new technologies are used competitively, they present no threat. Even through the platforms are new, they are generally being used the same way as billboards and television commercials have been used for decades: you put a billboard on one side of the street; I put one on the other. I might have the money to erect more billboards than you, but the process is still competitive.

What happens, though, if such technologies are misused by the companies that own them? A study by Robert M Bond, now a political science professor at Ohio State University, and others published in Nature in 2012 described an ethically questionable experiment in which, on election day in 2010, Facebook sent ‘go out and vote’ reminders to more than 60 million of its users. The reminders caused about 340,000 people to vote who otherwise would not have. Writing in the New Republic in 2014, Jonathan Zittrain, professor of international law at Harvard University, pointed out that, given the massive amount of information it has collected about its users, Facebook could easily send such messages only to people who support one particular party or candidate, and that doing so could easily flip a close election – with no one knowing that this has occurred. And because advertisements, like search rankings, are ephemeral, manipulating an election in this way would leave no paper trail.

Are there laws prohibiting Facebook from sending out ads selectively to certain users? Absolutely not; in fact, targeted advertising is how Facebook makes its money. Is Facebook currently manipulating elections in this way? No one knows, but in my view it would be foolish and possibly even improper for Facebook not to do so. Some candidates are better for a company than others, and Facebook’s executives have a fiduciary responsibility to the company’s stockholders to promote the company’s interests.

The Bond study was largely ignored, but another Facebook experiment, published in 2014 in PNAS, prompted protests around the world. In this study, for a period of a week, 689,000 Facebook users were sent news feeds that contained either an excess of positive terms, an excess of negative terms, or neither. Those in the first group subsequently used slightly more positive terms in their communications, while those in the second group used slightly more negative terms in their communications. This was said to show that people’s ‘emotional states’ could be deliberately manipulated on a massive scale by a social media company, an idea that many people found disturbing. People were also upset that a large-scale experiment on emotion had been conducted without the explicit consent of any of the participants.

Facebook’s consumer profiles are undoubtedly massive, but they pale in comparison with those maintained by Google, which is collecting information about people 24/7, using more than 60 different observation platforms – the search engine, of course, but also Google Wallet, Google Maps, Google Adwords, Google Analytics, Chrome, Google Docs, Android, YouTube, and on and on. Gmail users are generally oblivious to the fact that Google stores and analyses every email they write, even the drafts they never send – as well as all the incoming email they receive from both Gmail and non-Gmail users.

According to Google’s privacy policy – to which one assents whenever one uses a Google product, even when one has not been informed that he or she is using a Google product – Google can share the information it collects about you with almost anyone, including government agencies. But never with you. Google’s privacy is sacrosanct; yours is nonexistent.

Could Google and ‘those we work with’ (language from the privacy policy) use the information they are amassing about you for nefarious purposes – to manipulate or coerce, for example? Could inaccurate information in people’s profiles (which people have no way to correct) limit their opportunities or ruin their reputations?

Certainly, if Google set about to fix an election, it could first dip into its massive database of personal information to identify just those voters who are undecided. Then it could, day after day, send customised rankings favouring one candidate to just those people. One advantage of this approach is that it would make Google’s manipulation extremely difficult for investigators to detect.

Extreme forms of monitoring, whether by the KGB in the Soviet Union, the Stasi in East Germany, or Big Brother in 1984, are essential elements of all tyrannies, and technology is making both monitoring and the consolidation of surveillance data easier than ever. By 2020, China will have put in place the most ambitious government monitoring system ever created – a single database called the Social Credit System, in which multiple ratings and records for all of its 1.3 billion citizens are recorded for easy access by officials and bureaucrats. At a glance, they will know whether someone has plagiarised schoolwork, was tardy in paying bills, urinated in public, or blogged inappropriately online.

As Edward Snowden’s revelations made clear, we are rapidly moving toward a world in which both governments and corporations – sometimes working together – are collecting massive amounts of data about every one of us every day, with few or no laws in place that restrict how those data can be used. When you combine the data collection with the desire to control or manipulate, the possibilities are endless, but perhaps the most frightening possibility is the one expressed in Boulding’s assertion that an ‘unseen dictatorship’ was possible ‘using the forms of democratic government’.

Since Robertson and I submitted our initial report on SEME to PNAS early in 2015, we have completed a sophisticated series of experiments that have greatly enhanced our understanding of this phenomenon, and other experiments will be completed in the coming months. We have a much better sense now of why SEME is so powerful and how, to some extent, it can be suppressed.

We have also learned something very disturbing – that search engines are influencing far more than what people buy and whom they vote for. We now have evidence suggesting that on virtually all issues where people are initially undecided, search rankings are impacting almost every decision that people make. They are having an impact on the opinions, beliefs, attitudes and behaviours of internet users worldwide – entirely without people’s knowledge that this is occurring. This is happening with or without deliberate intervention by company officials; even so-called ‘organic’ search processes regularly generate search results that favour one point of view, and that in turn has the potential to tip the opinions of millions of people who are undecided on an issue. In one of our recent experiments, biased search results shifted people’s opinions about the value of fracking by 33.9 per cent.

Perhaps even more disturbing is that the handful of people who do show awareness that they are viewing biased search rankings shift even further in the predicted direction; simply knowing that a list is biased doesn’t necessarily protect you from SEME’s power.

Remember what the search algorithm is doing: in response to your query, it is selecting a handful of webpages from among the billions that are available, and it is ordering those webpages using secret criteria. Seconds later, the decision you make or the opinion you form – about the best toothpaste to use, whether fracking is safe, where you should go on your next vacation, who would make the best president, or whether global warming is real – is determined by that short list you are shown, even though you have no idea how the list was generated.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, a consolidation of search engines has been quietly taking place, so that more people are using the dominant search engine even when they think they are not. Because Google is the best search engine, and because crawling the rapidly expanding internet has become prohibitively expensive, more and more search engines are drawing their information from the leader rather than generating it themselves. The most recent deal, revealed in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing in October 2015, was between Google and Yahoo! Inc.

Looking ahead to the November 2016 US presidential election, I see clear signs that Google is backing Hillary Clinton. In April 2015, Clinton hired Stephanie Hannon away from Google to be her chief technology officer and, a few months ago, Eric Schmidt, chairman of the holding company that controls Google, set up a semi-secret company – The Groundwork – for the specific purpose of putting Clinton in office. The formation of The Groundwork prompted Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, to dub Google Clinton’s ‘secret weapon’ in her quest for the US presidency.

We now estimate that Hannon’s old friends have the power to drive between 2.6 and 10.4 million votes to Clinton on election day with no one knowing that this is occurring and without leaving a paper trail. They can also help her win the nomination, of course, by influencing undecided voters during the primaries. Swing voters have always been the key to winning elections, and there has never been a more powerful, efficient or inexpensive way to sway them than SEME.

We are living in a world in which a handful of high-tech companies, sometimes working hand-in-hand with governments, are not only monitoring much of our activity, but are also invisibly controlling more and more of what we think, feel, do and say. The technology that now surrounds us is not just a harmless toy; it has also made possible undetectable and untraceable manipulations of entire populations – manipulations that have no precedent in human history and that are currently well beyond the scope of existing regulations and laws. The new hidden persuaders are bigger, bolder and badder than anything Vance Packard ever envisioned. If we choose to ignore this, we do so at our peril.

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Replant the American Dream. “Your USA Today is The World’s Most Hated Nation”. Why?

By Larry Romanoff

Some years ago, David Ignatius wrote an article in the Washington Post titled, ‘Replant the American Dream’ (1), in which he told of travelling the world as a foreign correspondent some 35 years ago, and how he believed that as an American he carried a kind of white flag, presumably of purity and moral superiority, signifying that he – being an American – was ‘different’, and that “the world knew it”.

He then noted dejectedly that the US was slowly “shredding the fabric that defines what it means to be an American”, that Americans are now seen as “hypocrites who boast of our democratic values but who behave lawlessly and with contempt for others”. His basic premise was that the US, and Americans generally, had “used up all their seed corn” and needed now to reach out to the world and ‘share America’s values’ once again.

He then ended with a statement of hope about the celebration of American Thanksgiving Day. Reading from his mythological American history book, he recounted the Pilgrims’ desolate fears as they departed the Old World for America, and “the measureless bounty they found in the new land”, which they shared with the local natives. You have already read an accurate account of the first Thanksgiving, which was a bit short on sharing measureless bounty. Ignatius ended with the words: “We need to put America’s riches back on the table and share them with the world, humbly and gratefully.” I wrote a reply to Mr. Ignatius that said in part:

You said that when you travelled the world as a correspondent carrying your American flag, you believed and felt you were different from all the others, a perception all foreigners shared. But that isn’t exactly how it was. What you really meant to say was “I was better than them, and they knew it”. Your despair is not from having shredded your fabric, but a nostalgic regret that those people have finally realised you are not better than them, but are worse, and that they no longer respect you but despise you. You don’t want to reach out and ‘share America’s riches’. What you want is to replant the false utopian values of American superiority in the minds of all those people so you can once again travel the world and tell yourself you are better than everyone else – and to once again see that delusion in their eyes.

You said you must stop behaving as if you were in a permanent state of war, but your America has always been in a permanent state of war. That’s what you do. Wars of aggression are what define you as a nation.The Collective American Consciousness: America is to be Judged by its Citizens, not its Politicians…

You don’t want the world to think badly of you about your culture of torture, massacres and war, but you have no intention of ceasing them.

You continue to destroy nations, topple governments, foster regional wars and revolutions, reduce small countries to poverty and misery, but you want to be judged only by the utopian values you preach but never follow.

You say that Americans “travelling and sharing” will make everything okay again, that you would no longer be misunderstood.

But why do you think your US today is the world’s most hated nation? It isn’t because the world doesn’t understand you, but because it does understand you. You are reviled as a nation and as a people, for your values that produce only instability, terror, misery, poverty and death.

You say you want to “give something back to the world”. Well, maybe you could begin by giving back the country you live in, to those from whom you stole it. Maybe you could give Panama back to Columbia and Hawaii back to the Hawaiian people. And maybe Puerto Rico back to the Puerto Ricans. Maybe you could give Korea back to the Koreans and stop preventing the unification they have wanted for the past 60 years. Maybe you could get out of Taiwan and Hong Kong. Maybe you would like to give back the wealth you forcibly plundered from about 100 nations with the strength of your military.

Perhaps you would like to give back to Chile the hundreds of billions worth of copper you stole. Maybe you would like to return all the gold you plundered from all of Central and South America and the Caribbean, when you repeatedly invaded those countries, forced open – and then emptied – the vaults in their central banks. Maybe you would like to convince Citibank to give back the billions in gold it stole from the Chinese citizens who trusted it. Maybe you would like to give back to the Philippines and Nicaragua and Haiti the peace and happiness they had before you colonised and destroyed them.

Maybe you would like to give back to mothers in Iraq the 500,000 babies that Madeline Albright killed.

You said you wanted to share America’s riches with the world, but the time for that is long past. You no longer have any riches to share with anyone, and you never shared them even when you did have. Instead, you shared your depleted uranium artillery with the people of Iraq and Libya, who today have fetuses born that are described as ‘unidentifiable lumps of flesh’. For a decade, you shared napalm and Agent Orange with the people of Vietnam who today, fifty years later, still have tens of thousands of hideously-deformed babies being born.

Your CIA shared its 1,000-page torture manual and its Death Squad training with dozens of your dictators in Latin America. You shared your brand of democracy with Yugoslavia, converting it from a peaceful federation to a broken and pathetic mess of despair, and you then shared that same template with a dozen other nations, priding yourself on your “color revolutions”, leaving nothing but death and misery in each of them.

If you don’t mind, we don’t want you to share anything more with us.

We have had enough exposure to American-style freedom, democracy and human rights, to last us for generations.

And, to tell you the truth, we in the world have lost our stomach for your worldwide carpet of atrocities, brutality, death and misery, as well as our tolerance for your hypocrisy.

All we want is for you to just go home, mind your own goddamned business, and get your dirty, bloody, dollar-soaked fingers out of most of the world’s nations you are exploiting. The seed corn that you refer to, is gone, but it was not eaten. It just rotted.

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Trump Makes Space Great Again


Still from “Spaceballs.”

With a stroke of a pen, Donald Trump created an entirely new branch of the armed forces last year. It’s the first new branch of the U.S. military since 1947.

The Space Force is not exactly a new idea. It’s a revival of a Reagan-era initiative that had been set up to oversee missile defense, which the George W. Bush administration repurposed after 9/11 to focus on the war in Afghanistan.

Yet what Trump has put together is fundamentally different, and potentially more destabilizing, than the previous incarnation.

Unlike virtually everything else that Trump has touched, this boondoggle has generated almost no controversy. Congress approved Trump’s initiative, which was folded into the annual National Defense Authorization Act, by an overwhelming bipartisan vote at the end of 2019. Not only have very few voices of protest been raised against this extraordinary expansion of U.S. militarism, it has even generated some unexpected praise.

In The Washington Post, for instance, David Montgomery wrote a long encomium in the magazine section in early December entitled “Trump’s Excellent Space Force Adventure.”

Creating a Space Force is arguably an excellent idea, one for which Trump may deservedly go down in history, along with all the other things he will be remembered for. No, really. I’m tempted to laugh at myself as I type these sentences because I, too, greeted news of the Space Force with incredulous guffaws… What I missed at the time, though — and what everyone else mocking Space Force doesn’t seem to appreciate — is the sheer range of problems that could ensue if other countries are able to establish extraterrestrial military supremacy.

This would be an easy-to-dismiss article if David Montgomery were one of the right-wing crazies, like columnist Marc Thiessen, that the Post publishes on a regular basis. But no, Montgomery is a very good journalist who has dutifully covered labor issues and progressive activism even as the rest of the media universe has run screaming in the other direction.

That makes it incumbent to take his article and this topic very seriously. What exactly is this Space Force? And why has Trump’s latest contribution to ensuring America’s “full-spectrum dominance” been such an easy sell?

The Next Big Fight

The new Space Force nearly didn’t get off the ground.

Former Pentagon chief Jim Mattis was so cool to the idea that in July 2017 he wrote a letter to Congress declaring his opposition on the grounds that it would, among other things, create unnecessary military bureaucracy. But the proposal had bipartisan support in Congress — Mike Rogers (R-AL) and Jim Cooper (D-TN) of the House Armed Services Committee — and an enthusiastic booster in Donald Trump as well. So, it rocketed through Congress when so any other initiatives have stalled.

The Space Force will be cobbled together from various existing agencies. Its 400 staff are based temporarily at an air force base. Its second in command comes out of the Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command. It will oversee more than 70 Army, Navy, and Air Force space units. It will soon employ 16,000 people, but all of them previously worked for the Air Force Space Command.

Its budget will be around $40 million. That’s not a lot of money in Pentagon terms, given that the most recent budget provided the Air Force with $3 billion for the B-21 bomber alone and the Navy with a whopping $34 billion for shipbuilding. But expect significant increases in future allocations. After all, the military budget contains around $14 billion for space operations distributed across the various services. When it comes to the Space Force, not even the sky’s the limit.

Like any proper government agency, the Space Force’s first priority is planning, according to its new head, Gen. Jay Raymond: “His command is building integrated planning elements to embed with other commands. Lead staffers have already been hired and the command is preparing to establish the first teams at U.S. European Command, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, and U.S. Strategic Command.”

That also entails coordination with allies. The Space Force is already liaising like crazy with European and Asian partners.

That all sounds benign: planning, liaising. But let’s not forget the purpose of this new branch of the military. It has taken over responsibility from the Strategic Command — in charge of the U.S. nuclear arsenal — for any war-fighting that takes place in space.

As Pentagon head Mark Esper has said, the Space Force will “allow us to develop a cadre of warriors who are appropriately organized, trained, and equipped to deter aggression and, if necessary, to fight and win in space…The next big fight may very well start in space, and the United States military must be ready.”

Space Race

When it comes to nuclear weapons and drones and cyberwarfare, it’s too late for the United States to turn an initial technological advantage into a global moratorium on production. Since it quite deliberately missed such opportunities for multilateral disarmament, Washington now feels obliged to spend scads of dollars to ensure that it maintains a significant lead over its various adversaries, ostensibly to deter the bad guys from using their weapons.

The same applies to space. “The ultimate goal is to deter a war in space,” David Montgomery writes. “In the Pentagon’s view, space must be considered a warfighting domain precisely to keep it peaceful.”

Well, that’s what the Pentagon always says. It’s why it calls itself a “Defense Department” to obscure what it really is: a bureau devoted to wage war, not simply deter it. As for space, the Pentagon sees a virtually limitless terrain for expansion.

According to the “deterrence” model, however, such expansion requires a clear and present danger. One major vulnerability the Pentagon has identified in space is the U.S. complex of commercial and military satellites.

The fear that other countries would take down U.S. assets in orbit around the earth has been around for some time. During the Carter administration, the United States and Soviet Union began negotiating a ban on anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons. The Reagan administration abandoned those talks, largely because it feared they would restrict the president’s cherished “Star Wars” plan of constructing a massive missile defense system.

Both sides then began building ASATs, and others joined the race. To date, no country has actually used this technology to take down the satellite of another country. Rather, they’ve only used it to take down their own satellites — as a test of capabilities. Four countries have done just that: the United States, Russia, India, and China.

However, it’s actually not so easy to take out a satellite. GPS and communications satellites orbit at altitudes above what an ICBM can reach. A space rocket could do the trick, but that would cost a lot of money and still require multiple hits to disrupt communications.

“Killer satellites,” orbiting weapons that can take out neighboring satellites, are another option. The United States has accused Russia of deploying four such potential weapons. Russia has responded that these small satellites serve an entirely different purpose: to repair other satellites that have suffered malfunctions. In truth, it’s hard to discern from the outside the ultimate purpose of such repair vehicles: remedy a friendly satellite or ram an unfriendly one. Such are the inherent dangers of dual-use systems.

Then there’s the threat of hypersonic vehicles that can deploy satellites, killer or otherwise, as well as potentially conduct operations in space. China is working on a hypersonic glider, as is Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin made a big splash at the end of 2019 when he announced a new Russian missile that can fly 27 times the speed of sound. Such systems make any missile defense systems, which already face major challenges in taking out conventional missiles, absolutely (as opposed to mostly) useless.

The United States has tested its own hypersonic missile. Lockheed Martin is developing a new hypersonic SR-72, which would be a combination drone and stealth bomber. DARPA has teamed up with Boeing to get a hypersonic plane into operation, which would fall somewhere between a traditional airplane and a rocket. The Pentagon has also developed its X-37b military space plane, which it insistsis not designed for military purposes but only to test out new satellite technologies (a frankly dubious contention).

War over the Worlds

A third realm of space conflict — in addition to weapons that enter space on their way toward terrestrial targets and weapons that aim at each other in space — is over the territory and resources of nearby moons and planets.

That might seem far-fetched, since no country seems close to setting up anything like a base on the moon or on Mars. But militaries are voracious in their ambitions. And they’ll always have their visionary — read: kooky — boosters like Newt Gingrich, who wants to team up with Trump on his colonizing space idea, “occupying the moon, developing the moon, and continuing to Mars.”

Just as powerful nations are scrambling to claim territory in the Arctic that has become accessible due to climate change, these space cadets are looking to stake claims to an even larger set of commons that lie beyond this planet.

Just listen to Maj. Gen. John Shaw, the leader of Space Force’s Space Operations Command: “I’ve been telling the team, ‘Don’t think about a warfighting service for the next decade. Create a warfighting service or the 22nd century. What is warfighting going to look like at the end of this century and into the next?’”

In other words, let’s ask Congress for a blank check to spend on any crazy idea we might have about the future of war.

In an Air Force report published in September, military personnel and academics considered various space scenarios for 2060. The “positive” scenarios — titled Star Trek, Garden Earth, and Elysium — all assume that the “U.S. coalition retains leadership over the space domain and has introduced free-world laws and processes that have led to significant global civil, commercial, and military expansion in space and resulted in large revenue streams.”

Sounds like extraterrestrial colonialism to me, though for the time being without the indigenous populations to exterminate first. Not surprisingly, in these scenarios the United States maintains its leadership through overwhelming military power deployed in the stratosphere and beyond.

The “negative” scenarios — titled Zhang He (sic), Xi’s Dream, and Wild Frontier — assume either an “alternate nation” leads in space or no clear winner emerges from a vigorous national competition.

It’s no mystery what this “alternative nation” is.

Zheng He was a great explorer of the fifteenth century who might have established China as the preeminent colonial power in the world if the emperor at the time hadn’t decided to focus on affairs closer to home. Xi is, of course, Chinese leader Xi Jinping and his dream of a prosperous and powerful China.

The report makes no mention of arms control, international negotiations to preserve the commons of space, or even the dangers of a military space race. Instead, these blue-sky thinkers could only imagine a battle between the United States and the up-and-coming hegemon over all the marbles.

And that’s where they intersect with Trump as well. At a meeting of the National Space Council in 2018, he said:

I want to also say that when it comes to space, too often, for too many years, our dreams of exploration and discovery were really squandered by politics and bureaucracy, and we knocked that out. So important for our psyche, what you’re doing. It’s going to be important monetarily and militarily. But so important for right up here — the psyche.  We don’t want China and Russia and other countries leading us. We’ve always led.

And so the United States has. We’ve always led the way in devising destructive technologies and, for a good many decades, using them to wage war across the planet.

The Alternative

The first attempts to extend arms control to space came in the 1960s. The Limited Test Ban Treaty banned nuclear tests in space. The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 banned weapons of mass destruction from space, but all attempts to ban conventional weapons have failed. China and Russia have proposed something along those lines. The biggest naysayer? The United States, which argues that the treaty only forbids technologies that China and Russia currently don’t possess.

Perhaps — but that doesn’t prevent the United States from starting negotiations on various mechanisms to demilitarize space. Restarting negotiations to ban anti-satellite weapons would be a good start, but that might be too ambitious for the current moment.

So, cooperation among the principal space powers could begin with a suitable confidence-building mechanism, like a joint initiative for dealing with space junk.

The Europeans are out there trying to harmonize the various national initiatives for dealing with all the debris circling the earth. There are 14,000 pieces of garbage larger than 4 inches across (pieces of satellites, rocket stages), and even smaller items can do irreparable damage to a spacecraft. The United States could take a proactive approach to the commons by working with others to clean up space — and not just catalog the problem as it is doing now.

Alas, cleaning up trash is also probably a stretch for the Trump administration, given how blind it is to environmental problems, even if that trash is a national security hazard.

But what the United States is doing now with the new Space Force is the worst kind of response to the problem of the increased militarization of space. It is creating an imaginary “space gap” that the United States has to pour money into closing, just like the various missile and bomber gaps of the late twentieth century. It will increase the risk of conflict in space, not reduce it.

The Space Force is a huge white elephant, worse than the Reagan-era missile defense system dubbed Star Wars. In fact, it’s Star Wars without end, sequel after sequel hitting military theaters near you. Even in the unlikely event that all is quiet on the terrestrial front, the new Space Force and its promise to keep the universe safe from bad guys will serve to justify astronomical Pentagon budgets for decades to come.

Posted in USAComments Off on Trump Makes Space Great Again

Martin Luther King and the Black Revolutionary Tradition


Photograph Source: Marion S. Trikosko, U.S. News & World Report Magazine – Public Domain

Every year, until The Revolution comes again, the counter-revolution manipulates the historic birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, that so many people fought for, as their symbol of Black “integration” into imperialism and “non-violent” acquiescence to, at best, Barack Obama’s cynical negation of his dream. As Donald Trump has just assassinated Iranian General Quassem Soleimani—with Democratic Party token opposition at best and acquiescence at worse, Dr. King reminds us that “the United States, my government, is the greatest purveyor violence in the world.” As Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren squabble for position and too often, reduce the meaning of life to a barren economic populism, Dr. King reminds us that U.S. society is a moral disgrace and we need a revolutionary movement to challenge its “racism, militarism, poverty, and materialism.” His thoughts offer Democrats and the Movement a challenge. There is an urgent need for a revolutionary worldview to challenge the racism and reaction of Donald Trump’s Make America Great fascist appeal. Meanwhile, on the ground, Black and Latino communities and the world are suffering the worst political, economic, and ecological catastrophe with little help in sight. In this context the most engaged and introspective study of Dr. King’s theory and practice is an urgent corrective than can offer hope and inspiration.

I saw a Revolution with my own eyes and helped to make it. Beginning in 1964 I was a field secretary with the Congress of Racial Equality, an organizer with the Newark Community Union Project, a national officer and organizer with Students for a Democratic Society, a ten-year assembly line worker at Ford and General Motors. I was an elected leader of the national UAW New Directions Movement where we challenged the “in bed with the company” materialism of the UAW International with the King-like slogan, “Justice, not just us.”

Today I work in South Central Los Angeles with the Labor/Community Strategy Center along with Black and Latinx community members and high school students fighting for “the social welfare state not the police state/the climate justice state not the warfare state. We are working in the traditions of Sitting Bull, Toussaint L’Ouverture, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, Claudia Jones, Paul Robeson, Ho Chi Minh, Patrice Lumumba, Fannie Lou Hamer, Malcolm X, and the wonderful, revolutionary Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. How fortunate we are that our Strategy and Soul Movement Center is at 3546 Martin Luther King. Jr. Boulevard in the heart of South L.A. at the historic corner of King and Crenshaw. This year as with every year, we work to protect and expand Dr. King’s legacy from those who would bury it in a grave and celebrate one of the great revolutionaries in U.S. and world history. Every year I reframe and publish this essay with the goal of expanding the discussion and debate about a Black and Third World led anti-racist, anti-imperialist, climate justice united front.

In 2020, as with every year, the annual King Day celebrations provide a great opportunity to defend Dr. King’s revolutionary legacy against The System’s efforts to white wash and degrade his frontal challenge to its crimes. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the great revolutionaries in U.S. and world history. He was a leader of the Civil Rights and Black Liberation Movement, a fierce internationalist, anti-imperialist, and Pan Africanist, a Black militant, pro-communist socialist, and part of The Movement that was far to the left of and in opposition to the Democratic Party.

Since 1980, with the rise of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, The Two Party System, aka U.S. imperialism, has waged a Counter-revolution against the Great Victories of the Revolutionary Sixties. In that the revolutionary left won so many of the ideological battles against U.S. hegemony, The System has understood that a counter-revolution must include a ferocious battle over the historical record. In the past 40 years, in particular, it has been profoundly painful to witness, and very difficult to combat, the lies and slanders against the historical, and political achievements of the Black and Third World led movements. This includes an epidemic of recantation literature written by depressed and disillusioned former radicals denigrating the great achievements of the U.S. Communist Party, Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, Black Panther Party, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Nation of Islam, the New Communist groups such as the League of Revolutionary Struggle, and the great communist led revolutions in the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, and Vietnam. It has also included character assassinations, arrests, and actual assassinations of those with the most vivid and irrepressible revolutionary memories. As just one terrifying reflection of the impacts of this campaign, I have heard some young Black and Latino organizers, with such militant intentions, repeat without grasping the sources “this is not your grandfather’s civil rights movement” caricaturing the heroic and historic work of visionary leaders like Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In the case of Dr. King, the U.S. government, Democratic Party and Civil Rights Establishment distort King’s life by putting him forth as a “non-violent” accommodating, dreamer. They attempt to use him as a counterforce against Malcolm X, Mao Tse-tung, Ho Chi Minh, Paul Robeson, W.E.B. Du Bois, Fidel Castro, Frederick Douglass, Fannie Lou Hamer, and the great Third World revolutionaries throughout history. In truth, Dr. King was one of their colleagues and comrades and in turn, they all had great appreciation of his unique and courageous role in History.

In that History only exists through the struggle over historical interpretation, I, along with many others, want to reinforce the historical view of Dr. King as a great leader in the Black Revolutionary Tradition whose work should help shape our organizing today.

Dr. King rejected the myths of U.S. society. He rejected its Mad Men packaging of itself as “the leader of the free world” to tell it like it is; that the United States is “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.”

Dr. King saw “the Negro revolution” as part of a Third World and world revolution. “I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values…For years, I labored with the idea of reforming the existing institutions of the South, a little change here, a little change there. Now I feel quite differently. I think you’ve got to have a radical reconstruction of the entire society, a revolution of values.”

Dr. Clayborne Carson, Director of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute at Stanford University, in his King Papers, related the following story.

Before leaving Ghana, King welcomed a visit from English clergyman and anti-colonial activist Michael Scott, during which the two men compared the freedom struggles in Africa and the United States. King reportedly expressed admiration for the bus boycott then taking place in Johannesburg, South Africa, and remarked that there was “no basic difference between colonialism and racial segregation…at bottom both segregation in American and colonialism in Africa were based on the same thing —white supremacy and contempt for life.”

Dr. King supported the Black Power movement and saw himself as a tendency within it. He marched with Stokley Carmichael and Willie Ricks on the March against Fear in Mississippi in June 1966. While initially taken back by their cries of Black Power, he soon elaborated his own views as part of the Black Power continuum. “Now there is a kind of concrete, real Black power that I believe in … certainly if Black power means the amassing of political and economic power in order to gain our just and legitimate goals, then we all believe in that.”

Dr. King sided with the people of Vietnam including the Vietnamese Communists against the U.S. invasion. In his Beyond Vietnam speech, written by and with his close comrade, Vincent Harding, his anti-colonial support for the legitimacy of the Vietnamese Communist cause was clear.

The Vietnamese people proclaimed their own independence in 1945 after a combined French and Japanese occupation, and before the Communist revolution in China. They were led by Ho Chi Minh. Even though they quoted the American Declaration of Independence in their own document of freedom, we refused to recognize them. Instead, we decided to support France in its reconquest of her former colony.

Our government felt then that the Vietnamese people were not “ready” for independence, and we again fell victim to the deadly Western arrogance that has poisoned the international atmosphere for so long. With that tragic decision we rejected a revolutionary government seeking self-determination, and a government that had been established not by China (for whom the Vietnamese have no great love) but by clearly indigenous forces that included some Communists. For the peasants this new government meant real land reform, one of the most important needs in their lives. For nine years following 1945 we denied the people of Vietnam the right of independence. For nine years we vigorously supported the French in their abortive effort to recolonize Vietnam.

Dr. King was deeply appreciative of the Black communist traditions of W.E.B. DuBois and Paul Robeson. He was well aware of the irony and significance that Dr. DuBois died, in Ghana, an exile from the United States and a Communist, on the very day of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963.

Dr. King observed,

We cannot talk of Dr. DuBois without recognizing that he was a radical all of his life. Some people would like to mute the fact that he was a genius who became a Communist in his later years. It is worth noting that Abraham Lincoln warmly recognized the support of Karl Marx during the Civil War and corresponded with him freely. In contemporary life the English speaking world has no difficulty with the fact that Sean O’Casey was a literary giant of the twentieth century and a Communist or that Pablo Neruda is generally considered the greatest living poet though he also served in the Chilean Senate as a Communist…Our irrational, obsessive, anti-communism has led us into too many quagmires to be retained as if it was a model of scientific thinking

King did not merely mention the great contributions of Communists from Du Bois, Casey, Neruda and Ho Chi Minh; he situated himself in that tradition not as a member but clearly as a friend and admirer.

Dr. King’s non-violence was aggressive and militant reflected in non-violent direct action.

Of course Dr. King had his own unique views inside the civil rights movement and Black united front. His views on non-violence were real and deeply held. He also saw non-violence as a tactic to prevent a massive violent backlash from racist whites. King tried to position his demonstrations in ways to get the largest amount of white liberal and international support and to pressure the national Democratic Party that was tied at the hip to the racist Dixiecrats. His belief in non-violence deeply held, but was also tied to the theory and practice of militant, aggressive, Non-Violent Direct Action.

When I worked with CORE and allied with SNCC In 1964-1965 they were known as the Black militants— and yet both organizations saw themselves, at the time, as non-violent. But that did not prevent and in fact encouraged Black people to march into the registrar of elections in Southern cities and refuse to leave, Black students to occupy lunch counters and refuse to leave, Black and white people marching at the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma confronting an army of armed police and white racists, or Black people in the north marching into elected officials’ offices and occupying them, yelling, chanting, singing, and confronting. Everyone we challenged in “the white power structure” saw militant, non-violent direct action by Black people as a big threat and retaliated accordingly. No one at the time praised Dr. King for his “moderation.” They saw angry Black people and saw Dr. King as a threat, which he certainly was, and saw his non-violence and “urgency of now” as a political force to be crushed not co-opted.

Dr. King fought the Democratic Party of Lyndon Johnson and the Black Democratic Establishment. When Dr. King brought his movement to Chicago the Democratic Party Black establishment refused to support him, sided with the racist Mayor Daley, and told him to “go down south where you belong.” Many of them refused to join his mass and militant marches for open housing and an end to police brutality. In response, Dr. King called out the Black political establishment.

The majority of Black political leaders do not ascend to prominence on the shoulders of mass support … most are still selected by white leadership, elevated to position, supplied with resources and inevitably subjected to white control. The mass of [Blacks] nurture a healthy suspicion toward this manufactured leader.

Dr. King understood that the Civil Rights and Black Liberation Movement was from the outset a battle against the system itself.

King understood the intersection of radical reforms and social revolution and was always working to understand the time, place, conditions and balance of forces that would shape his rhetoric and tactical plan. King was one of the greatest and most effective reformers of all and yet, in confronting the system’s intransigence his own revolutionary outlook kept evolving. King’s prominence began in 1955, in his leadership of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the same year as the murder of Emmett Till and the Bandung Conference of Non-Aligned Nations—as a continuation of the 63 years of The Sixties that began in 1917 and did not end until the rise of Thatcher and Reagan in 1980.

Even after the U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn school segregation in the case of Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954, Montgomery in 1955, the great Greensboro sit-ins of 1960, the exciting work of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and Congress of Racial Equality Freedom Rides of 1961 the conditions of Black people in the United States remained at criminal levels. By 1963 white Democratic Party terror in the South and Democratic Party racism and brutality in the ghettos of the North had generated a great deal of militancy, organizing, and consciousness but little change in the system. At the great March on Washington in August 1963 King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, SNCC, CORE, NAACP, Urban League, and A. Phillip Randolph’s Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters took place amid air of hope–but also great impatience and militancy. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech (a phrase that was not in its initial draft) was in fact a revolutionary indictment of U.S. society.

One hundred years later [after the formal abolition of slavery] the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself in exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition

In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s Capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check; a check which has come back marked insufficient funds.

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check–a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.

King is imploring, cajoling, the best in the Black and white masses and even those in U.S. ruling circles. But his words make clear he is also threatening U.S. society and trying to mobilize Black rebellion. When he says “crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of segregation” he is making it clear that slavery is in fact still in place. He describes the United States as a society that offers the Negro bad checks and broken promises, When he says, “We refuse to believe the bank of justice is bankrupt” he is echoing the cry of the Staple Singers—“When will we be paid for the work we’ve done.”

King’s formulation of “the fierce urgency of now and the tranquilizing drug of gradualism” was a frontal assault on the President Kennedy and the Democrats cry for “patience” in face of injustice. King countered with the spirit of Freedom Now—the cry of Black militants in South Africa, South Carolina and the South Bronx—and supported by a growing number of white supporters of the civil rights movement. In fact, “Now” was one of the revolutionary slogans of its time. And President Kennedy and the whole world were listening.

One of King’s revolutionary observations– that is still painfully relevant today–was, “the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself in exile in his own land.” In 1960 I was recruited by organizers of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee to join “the civil rights revolution.” By the time I got to CORE in Harlem and the Northeast in 1964 my mentors were staying up all night debating what exactly that revolution would look like. While the struggle focused on democratic rights and full equality many SNCC and CORE leaders were talking about some form of Black nation, Black Power, Black militancy, Black separatism—not as a way of “getting away” from the system but as part of a plan to challenge it—and for some, overthrow it. Clearly influenced by Malcolm X but also the African liberation movements people were talking about a challenge to U.S. capitalism and some type of socialist system. It was not all that clear or delineated but the concepts of full equality, full democratic rights, Black rights, self-determination, radical reform and revolution were far more interrelated than counter-posed. All of them involved Black people in the leadership of a multi-racial movement—either through integration or separation or most often both. In that context, I am arguing that Dr. King was a Black revolutionary nationalist, perhaps of a more moderate nature, but he was a student of world history and was impacted by the revolutionary ideas of the times. For Dr. King, as early as 1963, to tell the president of the United States that Black people in the U.S. are “exiles in their own land” was clearly a call for some form of both full equality and Black self-determination and was already far away from the “more perfect union” myth that the system was selling but receiving very few Black buyers.

King was a victim of capitalist state violence, surveillance, psychological, character, and actual assassination.

The story of J. Edgar Hoover’s campaign to destroy ML King and force him into a nervous breakdown and suicide is not tangential but central to King’s revolutionary history–and the surveillance and police state we live under today. And yet, another element of the revolutionary history of Dr. King that is being whitewashed is his actual assassination was by the system itself. Part of this cover-up is to destroy the memory of the work of Coretta Scott King in exposing the actual assassination of Dr. King.

In his “I’ve Been to the Mountain Top” speech the very night before he was murdered Dr. King was very aware of what he felt was his possible and imminent assassination.

Like anybody, I would like to live – a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

And while his words are brave, every time I hear that talk I hear a mortal man not fully at peace, nor should he have been, with his mortality–but trying to comfort and reassure Black people that “we as a people” will find liberation–rather than asking them to protect him–which he knew they could not.

On December 8, 1999, (21 years after his death) after the King family and allies presented 70 witnesses in a civil trial, twelve jurors in Memphis, Tennessee reached a unanimous verdict after about an hour of deliberations that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated as a result of a conspiracy.

In a press statement held the following day in Atlanta, Mrs. Coretta Scott King welcomed the verdict.

There is abundant evidence of a major high level conspiracy in the assassination of my husband, Martin Luther King, Jr. And the civil court’s unanimous verdict has validated our belief. I wholeheartedly applaud the verdict of the jury and I feel that justice has been well served in their deliberations. This verdict is not only a great victory for my family, but also a great victory for America. It is a great victory for truth itself. It is important to know that this was a SWIFT verdict, delivered after about an hour of jury deliberation. The jury was clearly convinced by the extensive evidence that was presented during the trial that, in addition to Mr. Jowers, the conspiracy of the Mafia, local, state and federal government agencies, were deeply involved in the assassination of my husband. The jury also affirmed overwhelming evidence that identified someone else, not James Earl Ray, as the shooter, and that Mr. Ray was set up to take the blame. I want to make it clear that my family has no interest in retribution. Instead, our sole concern has been that the full truth of the assassination has been revealed and adjudicated in a court of law… My husband once said, “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” To-day, almost 32 years after my husband and the father of my four children was assassinated, I feel that the jury’s verdict clearly affirms this principle. With this faith, we can begin the 21st century and the new millennium with a new spirit of hope and healing.

Sadly, the police/surveillance/counter-insurgency state is stronger than ever—but at least there is growing public challenge to its hegemony. Understanding the revolutionary story of Dr. King and the system’s decision to bring him down is essential if we want to understand and make history in the present.

King was from the outset a Black militant and revolutionary who advocated non-violent direct action but saw “the Negro revolution” as the overriding objective.

While Dr. King strongly argued for non-violence as both a tactical and ethical perspective he also supported the right of Black people to armed self-defense and allied with the advocates of armed self-defense and even armed struggle in the Black movement.

At a time of the most rampant and systematic police violence the system’s armed requirement that Black people are “non-violent” is intellectually and morally lethal. It flies in the face of the long-standing tradition of armed self-defense in the Black community and the urgency to defend that tradition today.

Worse, to use Dr. King against that basic right is the height of cynicism and historical distortion.

Clay Carson’s In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s, helps shed light on this complex relationship. While many young organizers were critical of Dr. King SNCC’s Stokley Carmichael explained best their appreciation of his profound impact on the Black masses.

“People loved King..I’ve seen people in the South climb over each other just to say, “I touched him, I touched him.” I’m even talking about the young…These were the people we were working with and I had to follow in his footsteps when I went in there. The people didn’t know what was SNCC. They just said, “You one of Dr. King’s men?” “Yes, Ma’am I am.”

Carson explains the pivotal role of “militant and self-reliant local black residents who owned weapons and were willing to defend themselves when attacked. Black rallies in the county were often protected by armed guards sometimes affiliated with the Louisiana-based Deacons for Defense and Justice”

Many SNCC organizers, disagreeing with King’s focus on non-violence, explained, “We are not King or SCLC. They don’t do the work the kind of work that we do nor do they live in the areas we live in. They don’t drive the highways at night”…Carmichael recalled that the discussion ended when he asked those carrying weapons to place them on the table. Nearly all the black organizers working in the Deep South were armed.

But again the system wants to act like the battle between King and SNCC and the Black militants was a morality play or an ideological war. But it wasn’t. It was an intellectual, strategic, and yes, ethical struggle among equals and King was both open minded and introspective about the limits of his non-violent advocacy–and as such, people had respect for his own principles and rationale.

In 1965, James Farmer, the director of CORE, a truly dedicated pacifist, told a group of us at a mass meeting, “I am completely non-violent but I want to thank our brothers from the Deacons for Defense (who were both standing guard and yes, getting a standing ovation from the organizers) whose arms allow me to be non-violent.” My read of history is King felt similarly.

And even more importantly, King well understood that his “non-violence” could be used by the system as a justification for state violence and of course the system’s need to destroy the Black united front. In his speech, “Beyond Vietnam” on April 4, 1967 King addressed frontally his most principled conversations with the angry youth of the urban ghettos. He stated,

“As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problem. I have tried to offer my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through non-violent action. But they asked, and rightfully so, “What about Vietnam?”…Their questions hit home and I knew I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government.”

Note that King does not try to raise a moral critique of those who would use Molotov cocktails and rifles in response to the economic and armed violence of the state. And by making clear he considered its advocates “the oppressed” he supported the morality, if not the tactics, of their cause. Instead, he simply argued that he did not feel it would “solve their problem” and even then qualified his own advocacy of non-violence to make the case that “social change comes most meaningfully” but not exclusively from non-violence. He admitted it was a legitimate debate.

Martin Luther King Jr., SNCC, CORE, and Malcolm X represented at the time the “left” of the Black united front and worked to find strategic and tactical unity with the NAACP and Urban League–which made the March on Washington, the Civil Rights Bill, and the Voting Rights Bill possible. While King had many contradictions with the young Black militants he understood them and they him as strategic allies against a system of white supremacist capitalism.

SNCC, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, and M.L. King were on the frontlines of the movement against the U.S. war of aggression in Vietnam.

While SNCC and Malcolm were among the first to speak out frontally against the war as early as 1965, by April 1967 both King and Muhammad Ali took enormous risks to frontally challenge the war on moral grounds and to argue that Black people in particular had no interest in supporting the war.

In his monumental Beyond Vietnam speech Dr. King argued in support of Vietnamese self-determination and rejected the view that the U.S. had any legitimate interests in Vietnam.

Reading primary documents is essential for the revolutionary historian/strategist/tactician and organizer. In reading and re-reading Beyond Vietnam I still hang on its every word.

* King called out U.S. war crimes against the Vietnamese people making the analogy that the United States feared the most–comparisons with Nazi Germany. He asked, what the Vietnamese people “think when we test our latest weapons on them just as the Germans tested out new medicine and new tortures in the concentration camps of Europe.”

* King praised the integrity and legitimacy of the National Liberation Front of Vietnam including the communists who he argued were the legitimate political leaders of the Vietnamese people’s struggle.

“They were led by Ho Chi Minh” and were creating “a revolutionary government seeking self-determination.” He describes Ho as saved only by “his sense of humor and irony… when he hears the most powerful nation in the world speaking of aggression as it drops thousands bombs on a nation eight thousand miles from its shores.” (Communists with a sense of humor and irony–perhaps the most revolutionary insight of all.)

*King focused on demand development. In the end movements are unified by ideas, people, organizations and demands. He called on the U.S. government

* End all bombing in North and South Vietnam

* Declare a unilateral cease fire

* Curtail the U.S. build up in Thailand and Laos

* Recognize the role of The National Liberation Front in any future Vietnam government

* Remove all foreign–that is, U.S. troops from Vietnam

* Make reparations for the damage

This was tantamount to calling for immediate U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam. It recognized the victory of the National Liberation Front and argued for what would later become a critical component of Black people’s demands against the U.S. government — “reparations.”

The story of the system’s attacks on Dr. King once he spoke out against the war in Vietnam and his courage in the face of this assault is another chapter of Dr. King’s revolutionary contribution to U.S. and world history. One important version of that story is Tavis Smiley’s documentary, Death of a King: Dr. Martin Luther King’s Final Year.

Dr. King brought a powerful and frontal indictment of the system of white supremacist, racist, capitalism. He appreciated the ideas of others and worked to build a Black and multi-racial united front against what he called “racism, poverty, and militarism.” He was willing to confront “the cowardice” inside his own bosom and modeled how all of us have to put our bodies, souls and lives on the line. He rejected gradualism and demanded “Freedom Now.” He advocated non-violence but defended the right of those who disagreed with him to armed self-defense.   He rejected U.S. chauvinism, called for a militant internationalism, and challenged the U.S. Empire at home and abroad. He was independent of and yes, willing to challenge and confront the Democratic Party. He was and is a great contributor to the endless struggle for human and planetary liberation.

It is time to celebrate the Revolutionary King on the anniversary of his birthday. We thank Stevie Wonder, who spoke for all of us, when he wrote,

I just never understood
How a man who died for good
Could not have a day that would
Be set aside for his recognition
Because it should never be
Just because some cannot see
The dream as clear as he
that they should make it become an illusion
And we all know everything
That he stood for time will bring
For in peace our hearts will sing
Thanks to Martin Luther King
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday. Happy birthday to you!

Posted in USAComments Off on Martin Luther King and the Black Revolutionary Tradition

Another Date That Will Live in Infamy: 10 Years After Citizens United


Photograph Source: DonkeyHotey – CC BY 2.0

On January 21, 2010, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down one of its worst and most activist decisions ever.  Indeed, in terms of harm caused and likelihood for future harm, the Court’s decision in Citizen’s United is, likely, the most pernicious Supreme Court decision ever issued in our nation’s history.

A historical recap: Citizens United, a wealthy non-profit that ran a Political Action Committee with millions of dollars in assets, produced and promoted an anti-Hillary Clinton documentary movie to be used in the 2008 Democratic primary. The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002[1]prohibited electioneering communications within 30 days of the last primary election and within 60 days before the general election. Citizens United challenged the constitutionality of this ban, along with the Act’s disclaimer and disclosure requirements. The federal district Court upheld the law and Citizens United’s appeal reached the Supreme Court.

Instead of disposing the case on the narrow legal basis before it, and in what can only be described as gross judicial activism, the Court sent the case back to the district court to be re-briefed (not to be re-heard by the trial judge) on the broader issue of whether the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act was facially unconstitutional.  Having then before it the question that the Court really wanted to decide, the Court held that the Act was unconstitutional as being a ban on corporate independent expenditures and a suppression of protected corporate political free speech.

Remember, too, that, textually, the Federal Constitution does not once refer to corporations or other non-human legal entities, much less accord any such non-human entities a “right” to anything or to be protected from anything. In point of fact, every constitutional right that non-human legal entities now enjoy was created, from whole cloth, by the United States Supreme Court.  Every single one—including the right of political free speech!

That said, Citizens United and other decisions which it spawned have ushered in the unprecedented use of dark, individual and institutional mega-money expenditures to influence elections and to, effectively, silence the voices of individual small contributors and ordinary voters.  This decision and its progeny have chipped away at expenditure and contribution limits imposed by Congress and by the States, upon individuals, corporations, unions, special interest groups, “non-profits,” and trade associations.

Citizens United has resulted in multi millions of dollars pouring into elections with little or no disclosure of the source of funding and with little, if any, accountability for the truth or accuracy of the information and messages promulgated. Indeed, candidates for political and judicial office are being “marketed” to voters in the same fashion that pharmaceuticals are hawked to consumers (unfortunately, though, without disclosure of the adverse side effects).

For example, in state judicial elections: outside spending by interest groups has shattered records; state supreme court elections have witnessed an influx of secret money and a stunning lack of transparency; there are more million-dollar state supreme court races than ever before; more than half of all states with elected high courts are now impacted by big-money elections; money influences how judges vote; dark money campaign ads target judicial candidates, often in misleading ways, and, ultimately prejudice criminal defendants. [2]

Another example: In his book America Compromised,[3] Lawrence Lessig describes how dark money corrupts our elections.  One of the ideals of democracy is that citizens are equal and that, at both the primary and general elections, in a democratic election, citizen’s votes should have equal weight.[4] If the first stage is corrupted, the results of the second stage are also corrupted.

The Citizens’ United effect works as an election filter—as Prof. Lessig calls it, “the Greenback Primary.” Mega and dark money funders act as the primary election nominators, and effectively pick the candidate list from whom voters get to choose. Members of Congress and candidates for Congress spend from 30% to 70% courting these big-money funders and become sensitive to the needs of, beholden to and effectively wedded to the agenda of these funders.

These funders, according to Prof. Lessig, constitute a very small number of Americans.  “In 2014 the top 100 contributors gave as much as the bottom 4.75 million—those 100 funders represent just .0000025% of all funders.  As of February 2016, the top 50 Super Pac contributors had given nearly half the money received by all SuperPacs.” “In 2014, just 57,864 contributors gave the equivalent of $5,200 (maximum across both the primary and general election cycles).”

Thus, a tiny fraction of Americans dominate the first stage of America’s two-stage election process–with the resulting exclusion of the vast majority of voters during that first, critical stage.  While the Citizens United Court stated that people have the “ultimate influence” over elected officials, the fact remains that the funders have the first or interim effect—they determine or “filter” with their money, who the nominees are.  As Tammany Hall’s infamous Boss Tweed said: “I don’t care who does the electing, so long as I get to do the nominating.”

A filter based on money is as illegitimate as any other filter—e.g. one based on race. Filters corrupt elections and dilute and devalue the franchise.

In short, the wolf of money, dressed up in the sheep’s clothing of corporate political free speech is driving and corrupting our elections, our political processes, our public officials, and our courts; it is drowning out the voices of ordinary citizens; it is responsible for the flood of false information and misleading media; and it is devaluing and diluting the franchise of ordinary voters.

Money corrupts and enough of it corrupts absolutely.  And, as we again pass the billion dollar expenditure mark in the 2020 elections, we’ll have the finest politicians that money can buy.

Indeed, the day Citizens United was handed down—January 21, 2010—will be remembered by those who care about our elections, the corruption of our political processes, and the value of ordinary Americans’ voice and franchise, as yet another day of infamy.


[1] 2 U.S.C.S. § 441(b)


[3] America Compromised, Lawrence Lessig, The University of Chicago Press, 2018, Chapter 1.

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Warmonger Cotton Accuses Antiwar Think Tank of Anti-Semitism


Photograph Source: Gage Skidmore – CC BY-SA 2.0

If you wonder what the post-Trump Republican Party will look like, take a glimpse at Tom Cotton, one of the US senators from Arkansas (where I live). Cotton has waged a relentless campaign for war against Iran and has supported every horror produced by the US foreign-policy establishment for the last 20 years. He makes other American hawks look like pacifists. Cotton once said that his only criticism of the US prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where people are held indefinitely without charge or trial, is that too many beds are empty.

Typical of take-no-prisoners warmongers, Cotton savages critics of the prowar policy that has characterized US foreign policy in the 21st century. No baseless charge is beneath him. He recently attacked the Quincy Institute in the course of remarks about anti-Semitism. (You can see what’s coming.) According to Jewish Insider, Cotton said that anti-Semitism “festers in Washington think tanks like the Quincy Institute, an isolationist blame America first money pit for so-called ‘scholars’ who’ve written that American foreign policy could be fixed if only it were rid of the malign influence of Jewish money.”

This is worse than a series of malicious lies — every word is false. In fact, it’s an attempt to incite hostility toward and even disruption of one of the bright spots on the mostly desolate foreign-policy-analysis landscape.

The Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft (QI) started last year with money from, among others, the Charles Koch Foundation and George Soros’s Open Society Foundations. Its officers and staff include respected and sober foreign-policy analysts and journalists such as Andrew Bacevich, Trita Parsi, Jim Lobe, and Eli Clifton. Also associated with the institute are the well-credentialed foreign-policy authorities John Mearsheimer, Paul Pillar, Gary Sick, Stephen Walt, and Lawrence Wilkerson. This is indeed a distinguished team of foreign-policy “realists” who are heroically resisting America’s endless-war-as-first-resort policy.

Named for John Quincy Adams — who as secretary of state famously declared that “America “goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy” — QI “promotes ideas that move U.S. foreign policy away from endless war and toward vigorous diplomacy in the pursuit of international peace.” The QI website goes on to state:

The U.S. military exists to defend the people and territory of the United States, not to act as a global police force. The United States should reject preventive wars and military intervention to overthrow regimes that do not threaten the United States. Wars of these kinds not only are counterproductive; they are wrong in principle.

It then goes on to indict the current foreign-policy establishment:

The foreign policy of the United States has become detached from any defensible conception of U.S. interests and from a decent respect for the rights and dignity of humankind. Political leaders have increasingly deployed the military in a costly, counterproductive, and indiscriminate manner, normalizing war and treating armed dominance as an end in itself.

Moreover, much of the foreign policy community in Washington has succumbed to intellectual lethargy and dysfunction. It suppresses or avoids serious debate and fails to hold policymakers and commentators accountable for disastrous policies. It has forfeited the confidence of the American public. The result is a foreign policy that undermines American interests and tramples on American values while sacrificing the stores of influence that the United States had earned.

This may not be pure libertarian foreign policy (“U.S. interests” is too slippery a term for my taste), but compared to what passes for foreign-policy thinking these days, it’s pretty damn good.

So why is Tom Cotton so upset? It should be obvious. QI opposes the easy-war policy of the last 20 years. Of course Cotton is upset. Take away war, and he’s got nothing in his toolbox. He certainly doesn’t want to see the public turn antiwar before he’s had a shot at high office, say, secretary of state, secretary of defense, CIA director, or even the presidency.

Cotton’s charges against QI are wrong on every count.

QI is not isolationist as long as it supports trade with the world and diplomacy as the preferred method of resolving conflicts.

It’s not a blame-America-first outfit because the object of its critique is not America or Americans, but the imperial war-loving elite of the American political establishment. Cotton is part of that elite, but that does not entitle him to identify the mass of Americans with his lethal policy preferences.

It’s not a money pit. As you can see, QI boasts an eminent lineup thinkers and writers. So the money is obviously well-spent on badly needed analysis. QI should have been set up long ago. Cotton shows his pettiness by putting the word scholars in sarcasm quotes. He should aspire to such scholarship as Bacevich, Parsi, et al. have produced.

But where Cotton really shows his agenda is his absurd claim that anti-Semitism “festers” in QI (and other think tanks — which ones?).

Cotton here is performing that worn-out trick that, alas, still has some life in it: conflating criticism of Israel and its American lobby with people who are Jewish (and who may well oppose how the Israeli state mistreats the Palestinians). I’m sure he knows better: this is demagogy and not ignorance.

On its face, the proposition that virtually anyone who criticizes Israel’s conduct toward the Palestinians and its Arab and Iranian neighbors probably hates Jews as Jews is patently ridiculous. Any clear-thinking person dismisses that claim out of hand.

Undoubtedly Cotton has in mind primarily Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, authors of The Israel Lobby and Foreign Policy, published in 2008. (It began as an essay in The London Review of Books.) In that work, Walt and Mearsheimer reasonably attribute the lion’s share of influence on US policy in the Middle East to the Israel lobby, “a loose coalition of individuals and organizations that actively works to move U.S. foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction.” They add, “[I]t is certainly not a cabal or conspiracy that ‘controls’ U.S. foreign policy. It is simply a powerful interest group, made up of both Jews and gentiles, whose acknowledged purpose is to press Israel’s case within the United States and influence American foreign policy in ways that its members believe will benefit the Jewish state.”

This is hardly controversial stuff, although reasonable people can disagree over whether the lobby was decisive in any given case.

But does anyone doubt that American champions of Israel work overtime and spend a lot of money to advance what they see as Israel’s interests? If so, see this and my book Coming to Palestine. (Many non-Zionist Jews disagree with them about those interests.) Organizations like AIPAC often boast about their influence. That they sincerely believe Israel’s interests coincide with America’s interests is beside the point. (I won’t address that dubious contention here.) That influence, which supports massive annual military aid to Israel, has helped to facilitate the oppression of the Palestinians, wars against Lebanon, and attacks on Syria, Iraq, and Iran. It has also provoked hostility to America and vengeful terrorism against Americans. (For example, the 9/11 attacks as acknowledged by the government’s commission.) Pro-Israel American political and military officials acknowledge this.

Cotton need not wonder why the lobby has succeeded so often since he himself is using the anti-Semitism canard to inhibit Israel’s critics. No one wants to be condemned as anti-Semite (or as any other kind of bigot), so we can easily imagine prominent people in the past withholding criticism of Israel for fear of being thought anti-Jewish. (It’s Israel and its champions, not Israel’s critics, who insist that Israel is the state of allJews, no matter where else they may be citizens.) Thankfully, despite the efforts of Cotton, Kenneth Marcus, Bari Weiss, Bret Stephens, and others, the invidious conflation has lost much of its force. More than ever, people understand that to oppose the entangling alliance with Israel and to express solidarity with the long-suffering Palestinians do not constitute bigotry against Jews.

Can Cotton produce any evidence that anyone at QI believes that pro-Israel Jewish Americans should be barred from lobbying and making political donations or that such an obvious violation of liberty would fix American foreign policy? Of course not. There is no evidence. Moreover, I’m sure the QI realists understand that other interests also propel the prowar US foreign policy, including glory-seeking politicians and generals and the profit-craving military-industrial complex.

Those who reflexively and slanderously tar Israel’s critics as anti-Semites seem not to realize that the worthy effort to eliminate real anti-Semitism is undermined by their efforts to immunize Israel and its American champions from good-faith criticism.

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The US and Iran’s Perpetual Almost-War is Unsustainable – and Will End Badly


Photograph Source: Tasnim News Agency – CC BY 4.0

Today Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei gave his first Friday sermon in Tehran for eight years to an audience of thousands, as he tried to calm down the furious public reaction to the Revolutionary Guards mistakenly shooting down a Ukrainian plane carrying 176 passengers, then proceeding to lie about their responsibility for three days.

Khameinei spoke of the “cowardly” killing of General Qassem Soleimaniby the US, of President Trump using the destruction of the plane to “push a poison dagger” into the backs of the Iranian people. Rhetorical flourishes like this are not going do him a lot of good with critics who see the shootdown as epitomising the incompetence, duplicity and division of his government.

But the nature of the crisis differs markedly from the way it is being portrayed abroad. For more has gone wrong than a series of blunders. Obscured amid the plaudits and denunciations directed at Soleimani and Khamenei is the fact that both men’s policies in the Middle East had become counterproductive.

Over the last four years, Iran has had great success in spreading its influence in countries with large Shia populations. But it has failed to consolidate the status quo it played such a large role in creating. “The Iranians are good at gathering cards, but not at playing them,” is an old saying in the region.

Despite Iranian successes in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, the power structure in all three countries is rickety and prone to crises. Over the last four months, Iraq, Lebanon and Iran have been rocked by mass protest, while Syria is in the final throes of civil war.

Much depends on how the Iranian leadership responds in the next few months to the assassination of Soleimani, formerly their high-profile viceroy overseeing the Iranian zone of influence. They could continue to head towards a full scale US-Iran conflict or, just possibly, veer towards some sort of compromise deal.

Neither side wants a war, as demonstrated by America’s belated revelation that 11 of its soldiers were injured by the Iranian ballistic missile strike on two of its bases in Iraq on 8 January. At the time, Trump had reassured the world that there were no American casualties. and therefore no need for him to retaliate. Meanwhile, Iranian paramilitaries in Iraq have been instructed not to attack US facilities in order to de-escalate the crisis.

In the longer term, if Iran continues with the policies pursued by Soleimani and Khamenei, it will feel compelled to resume low-intensity warfare to provide a counterbalance to US sanctions. Before this happens, Iran will have to decide if it is going to use the elimination of Soleimani to devise a new strategies to replace those that have failed.

Nobody watches the changing political winds in Tehran as closely as Iraqis, who know that their country is where the US-Iran struggle is being fought out.

“Iran is in a very critical position,” says a prominent Iraqi Shia politician in Baghdad quoted in the online magazine Middle East Eye. “The policy that Khamenei previously pursued in managing the Iraq file and the region is no longer successful. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard had contributed to creating problems in Iraq that turned into a burden for Iran and became an obstacle in the way of its negotiations with the United States.”

Discussions now taking place in Iran are about whether the Revolutionary Guards should retain the Iraq file, or be handed over to some other body, such as intelligence or the foreign ministry. Soleimani’s former deputy and nominated successor as head of the Quds Force, Esmael Ghaani, has been handling Afghanistan, and is less familiar with the Middle East.

Quite aside from US pressure for disengagement, it is very much in Iran’s interests in Iraq to take a less hands-on role, and to look to the Iraqi government and Shia political parties to drive out the US. In Syria, where Iran had orchestrated support for President Bashar al-Assad after 2011, an Iranian pullback is feasible, because Assad has largely won the war to stay in power, and since 2015, the leading role in supporting him has been taken over by Russia.

Given these developments, it should be easier than it looks for Tehran and Washington to reach agreement on reducing Iran’s regional activism. The problem is that in Middle Eastern politics, everybody tends to overplay their hand at one time or another, usually when they come to overconfidently believe that they can put their opponent permanently out of business. The US has repeatedly fallen into this trap in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria – and it is all too likely to do the same in its confrontation with Iran which, whatever the two sides’ intentions, will remain a dangerous stalemate, always at risk of tipping into outright war.

The US maximalist demands on Iran’s nuclear facilities, ballistic missiles and regional influence effectively mean that it wants regime change or capitulation. Both outcomes are possible; neither is likely. The Iranian leadership tends to come together when threatened, and is prepared to use any degree of force to stay in power. Western capitals have been looking expectantly for an end to the clerical regime in Tehran since the overthrow of the Shah in 1979 – but to no avail.

President Trump withdrew from the Iranian nuclear deal in May 2018 without a coherent explanation of what was wrong with it, or what would be put in its place. Since then, both Iran and the US have carried out what could be deemed acts of war, culminating in the last few months in the Iranians attacking Saudi oil facilities, and the US assassinating Soleimani. On each occasion, both sides avoided full-scale retaliation, but this restraint rests on a knife-edge, and cannot last forever. The basis for a deal exists, but that does not mean one will materialise.

Posted in USA, ZIO-NAZI, IranComments Off on The US and Iran’s Perpetual Almost-War is Unsustainable – and Will End Badly

Torture of Palestinian detainees prevails in Nazi camp’s

A group of people stage a demonstration in front of the Israel’s West Bank separation wall to show their support to the Palestinian prisoners in Bethlehem, West Bank on 22 March 2019 [Wisam Hashlamoun/Anadolu Agency]

A group of people stage a demonstration in front of the Israel’s West Bank separation wall to show their support to the Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli prions on 22 March 2019 [Wisam Hashlamoun/Anadolu Agency]

Ramona Wadi 

In comments to Al Jazeera regarding Israel’s use of torture against Palestinian detainees, Qadura Faris, head of the Palestinian Prisoner Societydeclared: “The Israeli security wants to leave a mark on the psyche of those it detains: resistance has a price, and it is hefty.”

Torture methods used by Israel include stress positions, beatings which result in severe injuries, sleep deprivation, emotional blackmail, threats of torture against family members of the detainees and the transfer of detainees to secret prisons. In one case reported by the Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, Addameer: “The harsh beating was committed with the intention to kill the detainee.”

Israel allows the use of torture in so-called exceptional cases and exempts the officials involved in torture from criminal responsibility. This ambiguity has contributed to a rampant use of torture against Palestinian detainees held in Israeli jails. Complaints to authorities have not yielded any results. Israel’s tactics of depriving legal counsel to tortured detainees during interrogation also hinders immediate recognition and awareness of such human rights violations as they occur.

READ: Palestinian human rights cannot be addressed without decolonisation 

Addameer’s latest update on torture in Israeli jails, since August 2019, shows how Israel manipulates its so-called state of exception in order to circumvent the absolute prohibition of torture in international law. Israel’s security narrative – a commodity that has become part of mainstream rhetoric and adopted globally – provides the legal loophole within Israeli legislation to torture Palestinian detainees. Given that Palestinians, without exception, are all deemed a purported threat to Israel, there are no parameters excluding detainees from torture. On the contrary, rather than having their rights protected, Palestinians in Israeli jails risk additional violations while the perpetrators of such violence are immune from prosecution, by means of the same security narrative that allows for the torture of Palestinians.

Lives of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails - Cartoon [Arabi 21]

Lives of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails – Cartoon [Arabi 21]

The recent update notes: “According to the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI), about 1,200 complaints of torture during Israeli interrogations have been filed since 2001. All the cases were closed without a single indictment.” Addameer also notes that torture is classified as a war crime – a pertinent point as Israel faces a possible investigation at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Interestingly, Addameer quotes a statement by Nils Melzer, the UN special rapporteur on torture, who draws comparisons in terms of occupation and torture, between the US presence in Guantanamo and Israel’s colonial entrenchment in Palestine. Both Israel and the US, he states, are setting an example of impunity when it comes to the torture of detainees.

Since 1967, 73 Palestinian prisoners were killed by torture in Israeli jails. Torture survivors have no recourse to justice, as it is Israel who decides whether an investigation should be opened. Meanwhile, the international community continues to ignore such flagrant violations of human rights – war crimes, to use the current assertions levelled against Israel. Indeed, if the international community paid less importance to Israel’s security narrative, and concerned itself primarily with the violations justified through its purported right to defend itself, it is possible that there will be more cohesion regarding the legal importance of holding Israel accountable for its repression of the Palestinian people.

Posted in Palestine Affairs, ZIO-NAZI, Human RightsComments Off on Torture of Palestinian detainees prevails in Nazi camp’s

Palestinian prisoner battling cancer dies in Israeli custody

Sami Abu Diak’s death comes amid high tension as thousands of Palestinians rally against recent US settlement decision.26 Nov 2019

A demonstrator hurls stones at Israeli troops during a protest as Palestinians call for a day of rage over US decision on settlements, near the Jewish illegal settlement of Beit El in the occupied West Bank [Mohamad Torokman/Reuters]
A demonstrator hurls stones at Israeli troops during a protest as Palestinians call for a day of rage over US decision on settlements, near the Jewish illegal settlement of Beit El in the occupied West Bank [Mohamad Torokman/Reuters]

A Palestinian prisoner battling cancer died in Israeli custody, officials said on Tuesday, sparking accusations of medical neglect.

The announcement of Sami Abu Diak’s death came amid heightened tension in the occupied West Bank, where protests were already planned for the later in the day.

Dubbed a “day of rage” by organisers, the demonstrations were called to denounce a recent decision by the United States to no longer consider illegal Israeli settlements to be a violation of international law.


The demonstrators were also expected to call for Abu Diak’s release, who had been imprisoned for 17 years after being arrested during the second Palestinian Intifada, or uprising.

Official Palestinian news agency Wafa said the 36-year-old suffered from terminal cancer and had been refused compassionate leave to be with his family. It carried what it said was the last message from Abu Diak, whose health reportedly deteriorated two weeks ago, saying he had wanted to spend his last days with his mother.

The Palestinian presidency held Israel responsible for his death, alleging he was “subjected to the deliberate medical negligence practised by (Israeli) occupation authorities towards all prisoners”.

In a statement, Israel’s prison authority said a seriously ill unnamed “security prisoner” died after being transferred to an Israeli hospital. It said he had been convicted for killing three people.

According to Addameer, a Palestinian prisoners’ rights group, Abu Diak had first complained of abdominal pain in 2015, which was treated with painkillers. Two weeks later, he lost consciousness and was transferred to the Israeli Soroka hospital.

He then underwent surgery to remove parts of his intestines, and was diagnosed with cancer. After that, Abu Diak underwent other surgical procedures that reportedly left him unconscious while on anaesthetics for more than a month.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) and Abu Diak’s family had asked for his release to allow him to die at his family’s side, but Israeli officials denied the request. The Palestinians also reached out to European countries and the Red Cross to apply pressure on Israel to release him.

The Palestinian Prisoners Club said he was the fifth Palestinian to die in Israeli custody in 2019, and the 222nd since 1967, while the Palestinian Prisoners Affairs Commission said tensions were high in Israeli prisons following the death.

Al Jazeera’s Nida Ibrahim, reporting from Ramallah, said detainees’ families and former prisoners had previously called for the “day of rage” protests to also be a show of support for the more than 5,000 Palestinians held in Israeli jails, including Abu Diak.

An Israeli soldier fires a weapon during a protest as Palestinians call for a day of rage over U.S. decision on Jewish settlements, in Hebron in the Israeli-occupied West Bank November 26, 2019. REUTE

An Israeli soldier fires a weapon during a protest as Palestinians call for a day of rage over US decision on illegal Jewish settlements, in Hebron in the occupied West Bank [Mussa Qawasma/Reuters]

Later on Tuesday, Palestinians took to the streets across the West Bank to protest against the decision by US President Donald Trump’s administration to no longer abide by a 1978 State Department legal opinion that the settlements were “inconsistent with international law”.

According to several United Nations Security Council resolutions, the most recent in 2016, Israeli settlements are illegal under international law as they violate the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits an occupying power from transferring its population to the area it occupies.

The settlements are also considered a major stumbling block to an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. 

More than 600,000 Israelis currently live in settlements in the West Bank, including occupied East Jerusalem. Some three million Palestinians live there.

The US move, announced on November 19, is the latest in a series of pro-Israeli decisions by the Trump administration.

In 2017, Trump recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and, in 2018, the US formally opened an embassy in the city. US policy had previously been that the status of Jerusalem was to be decided by the parties to the conflict.

In 2018, the US also announced it was cutting its contributions to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

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The UK’s Labour Party: For the 0.5%, not the 99.5%

Labour as the party of the minority within the minority
Gilad Atzmon writes:

If insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results, then the British Labour Party is institutionally insane and beyond recovery.

Labour’s leadership candidates didn’t learn a thing from their party’s humiliating electoral defeat last month. Instead of returning to universal anti racist politics consistent with the so-called “Labour values”, the compromised contenders for the party’s leadership bow to the demands made by the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD), a self-selected pressure group that claims to represent 0.5 per cent of the British public. Our Labour leadership candidates have attended to whims uttered by a tiny privileged voice while ignoring at least 99.5 per cent of the British public. “For the very few and no one else,” falls short of describing this political suicide.

This weekend, Labour’s first leadership hustings in Liverpool provided another spectacular display of the candidates’ spineless and unprincipled behaviour. Each waited his or her turn to utter embarrassing statements that they hoped would appease their party’s bitterest enemy.

Jess Phillips

During the event, leadership candidate Jess Phillips took a furious swipe at her rivals’ “alleged silence over anti-Semitism”. She claimed thatLabour‘s failure on anti-Semitism had lost the party its “moral high ground” in the battle against racism. She referred in her comments to Rebecca Long-Bailey, Emily Thornberry and Sir Keir Starmer, who had all been part of Corbyn’s team.


Emily Thornberry, who just a week ago was on “her hands and knees” asking for Jewish “forgiveness”, hit back at the accusations, saying she has always been clear that anti-Semitism “undermines us as a party”. Vowing to kick out so-called “anti-Semites”, she said: “What the Israeli government is doing at the moment is completely unacceptable. But that is not the fault of the Jews.”

Someone should remind this “kneeling enthusiast” [Emily Thornberry] that in his entire career Jeremy Corbyn never criticised Jews, Judaism or Jewishness.

Someone should remind this “kneeling enthusiast’ that in his entire career Jeremy Corbyn never criticised Jews, Judaism or Jewishness. He did criticise Israel and Zionism, while making a clear distinction between Jews and Zionism. It is his criticism of Israel and its politics that made Corbyn and the party “anti-Semitic” in the eyes of the Zionist pressure groups. If Thornberry insists on getting on her hands and knees to ask for a pardon, she ought to understand the “fault” that has been attached to her party, otherwise her conduct fits too well with the definition of insanity.

Keir Starmer, Rebecca Long-Bailey and Lisa Nandy

Frontrunner Keir Starmer and the other two leadership candiates, Rebecca Long-Bailey and Lisa Nandy, all repeated the same line. Each vowed to repair Labour’s relationships with British Jews. There is nothing inherently wrong with altering the party’s appeal to Jews but the leadership candidates must have failed to notice that Corbyn wasted his political energy as a party leader trying to do just that.

In the early stages of his leadership, Corbyn’s popularity was the result of the false perception that he was an ideologically principled leader. It was Corbyn’s anti-war stand, opposition to Anglo-American imperialism and Zionism that so many liked. As time passed, it became clear that Corbyn, the person, had little or nothing in common with his revolutionary image. He zigzagged around every possible topic, including anti-Semitism and Zionism, as well as Brexit. The man who at one stage was perceived as the left’s icon publicly transformed himself into a caricature of a political “left over”. Corbyn lost the election because he was unfit to dwell in Number 10. People realised that if Corbyn couldn’t handle a tiny foreign lobby, he would struggle to deal with a statesman such as Vladimir Putin.

But there was a lesson entangled in Corbyn’s political demise. When Corbyn showed a bit of  willingness to resist the lobby’s pressure, his public support grew dramatically. Two weeks before the election, while being interviewed by the BBC’s Andrew Neil, Corbyn refused to apologise to the Jewish community. He took a firm stand and upheld a universal anti-racist approach to discrimination. His rise in the polls was immediate. In some of polls Labour halved the gap with the Tories. At the time, I was sceptical about Corbyn’s bravery. I thought his reaction was likely accidental. Perhaps he wasn’t prepared for the question and forgot to crawl on demand. It only took a few days before Corbyn and his shadow chancellor reverted to their usual apologetic take on the matter. The rest is history. Corbyn’s Labour suffered its worst electoral defeat in 84 years.

This week we learned that Labour’s leadership candidates haven’t learned a thing. Insanely, they repeated Corbyn’s mistakes, maybe expecting different results. Instead of producing a firm position consistent with their party’s universal ideology, they competed to appease the whims and demands of one hostile foreign lobby. As in every tragic story, there was a glimpse of hope: MP Diane Abbott reported in a tweet from the Liverpool hustings that “Richard Burgon gets the most applause of anyone at the Liverpool deputy leadership hustings for his thoughtful response on the anti-Semitism issue”.

Listening to candidate for the deputy leadership Richard Burgon’s comments reveals that his seemingly firm stand against the “anti-Semitism blitz”, did indeed receive warm applause from the Labour Party members in the room. However, a careful listen to his position shows that his stance on the issue is even more ridiculous than that of the other candidates. Burgon refuses to sign the BoD’s demands because he wants to work with the BoD as well as “all other Jewish organisations’. Burgon was referring particularly to the “minority within the minority, whether it would be LGBT Jewish people or Black Jewish people…”

Rather than looking for a “minority within a minority” to flirt with, Burgon and the Labour Party would do well to reinstate the party’s flat rejection of racism of all types.

The party that claimed to act for ‘the many, not the few; is now concerned with 5 per cent (considered the demographics of sexual orientation and gender identity within Western society) of the 0.5 per cent of the entire British population. In mathematical terms, Burgon rejects the BoD’s demands because he is concerned with a population that comprises 0.000025 of the country’s entire population. I haven’t  bothered to look at the percentage of Black Jews in Britain as there is no indication that such a community exists or is at all organised. And if it does exist, it has yet to oppose the BoD’s alleged hegemony.

Rather than looking for a “minority within a minority” to flirt with, Burgon and the Labour Party would do well to reinstate the party’s flat rejection of racism of all types. If such an approach falls short of satisfying the Israel lobby, the Labour Party is free to continue without its approval. This is the only meaning of acting as a true opposition party.

It all paints a very grim picture. The Labour Party in its current form is an occupied zone. It is not occupied by Zionists or Blairites as we often hear. It is conquered by its own insanity. The positive reaction to Burgon’s comments suggests that Labour supporters are still attuned to their party’s ideas. It is just the leadership that has drifted.

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