We’re facing a new Cold War

Noam Chomsky: 

The linguist and philosopher on the warped coverage of Putin’s Russia and the ways we whitewash our war crimes

Noam Chomsky: We're facing a new Cold War
Noam Chomsky (Credit: AP/Nader Daoud)
This article originally appeared on Jacobin.

JacobinEarlier this month, Dan Falcone and Saul Isaacson, both high school educators, sat down with Noam Chomsky in his Cambridge, MA office. In a brief conversation, edited and condensed here for clarity, they covered a wide range of topics — the projection of US power abroad and the stories told to justify it; COINTELPRO and domestic repression; the failures of the mainstream media; the West’s posture toward Putin; and much more. As always, we’re happy to publish Professor Chomsky’s invaluable insights.

Dan Falcone

I was recently in correspondence with a good friend of yours, Richard Falk, and we were discussing Juan Cole’s idea of “essentialism” as it pertains to the Muslim world. And this led me to think about how essentialism is present in liberal education.

For instance, take a good and appropriate cause like education for Muslim girls and how they face Taliban oppression. This is important to fight, obviously, but often the struggle is taught without the mentioning of American foreign policy or our own international crimes isolated from the entirety of the phenomenon.  This type of lesson planning in secondary education gets laudatory reviews. Could you help me in contextualizing this?

Noam Chomsky

Well take, say, the Taliban education that comes out of madrassas in Pakistan, and is funded by our main ally, Saudi Arabia, and was supported by the Reagan administration — because it was part of the support of Pakistan, primarily as a war against the Russians.

Well, the United States tried to keep the Russians in Afghanistan, and the goal was very explicitly stated by the CIA station chief in Islamabad, which got around the insurgency. What he said was, we don’t care about the liberation of Afghanistan. We want to kill Russians. A large part of that was to also support the worst dictatorship in Pakistan, the General Zia-ul-Haq dictatorship, who was allowed to develop nuclear weapons.

The Reaganites pretended they didn’t know, but of course they did, so that they could keep pouring funds in. The other thing that they were doing was radically “Islamizing” Pakistani society. So, the Saudis are not only the most extreme radical fundamentalists in the Islamic world and our main allies, but also a kind of missionary, and they have plenty of money. They have other wealthy sectors too, but they pour money into building mosques, Quranic schools, and so on. That’s where a lot of the Taliban came from.

So yes, we had a big role in it — plus, it’s worse than that.  I mean if you take a look at the serious history after the Russians withdrew, they left behind the Najibullah government, which was pretty reasonable in many ways. In fact, for women, at least in Kabul and places like that, they’re way better off than they’ve been any time since the Russians.

And the Najibullah government, which was pretty popular, maintained itself until two events took place. 1) The Russians withdrew, pulled out, ended support, and 2) The US maintained support for the mujahideen, who are mostly religious extremists and fundamentalists — guys who throw acid at women if they aren’t wearing the right clothes and so on. And they devastated Kabul, they practically destroyed it. They took over. Their rule was so awful that when the Taliban came in, they were actually welcomed.

Well, that’s part of history too, you know? Plus a lot that’s happened since isn’t very pretty. So yeah, if you want to study the education of the Taliban, these are things to do. And it’s not that we can’t read things, like you can read the story of Malala Yousafzai, which is very evocative.

She talks about the warlord society and so on, which the US instituted. There are other things one could read. I mean, there’s a very good book by Anand Gopal which came out recently. Although he’s pretty sympathetic to the US position, so it’s mostly about what he calls “mistakes” — how the United States essentially reconstructed the Taliban by misunderstanding the society.

But what he describes is very persuasive. He goes through, and he knows the country very well. And he describes in great detail how the gangsters and warlords and criminals manipulated the US forces. Some group would say, you’ve got to attack these guys over there, they happen to be a personal enemy claiming that they’re Taliban supporters. So the US would send in Special Forces and bombers and beat the shit out of everyone — and upgraded Taliban supporters.

Gopal says the Taliban basically withdrew when the US invaded. But then we helped them come back by means like these; through reconstructing the insurgency, which the government now can’t control. 

DF

So, there’s a simultaneous support for the bandits . . .

NC

Part of it was purposeful by the Reagan administration. Part of it is maybe just kind of arrogant ignorance. Assuming we understand how to do things when you know actually nothing about the society and just hit it with a sledgehammer and you end up supporting, maybe inadvertently, the most criminal elements who then are using the sledgehammer for their own purposes. You know, to smash up their personal enemies.

DF

I remember some of your talks after September 11, 2001, you were mentioning how there was a lot of praise for works in the social sciences where authors were reviewing books that would say America’s really only flaw is not doing enough in reaction to other people’s crimes.

NC

It goes on right now. Take a look at the current issue of Middle East JournalIt is one of the more free, open, most critical of professional journals. It’s been pretty good in the past, but there’s a symposium. It’s a large part of the issue, and it includes ambassadors, generals, and all kinds of big shots. They’re discussing the problems in the Middle East, the total chaos and what can we do better than in the past to stabilize the Middle East?

I mean, where did the chaos come from in Iraq and Libya? We did it. But the only question you can ask is how can we perform better in stabilizing the Middle East? Then of course there are these destabilizing elements like Iran, a rogue state, and the greatest threat to world peace. How are they to be stabilized in the Middle East?

If you take a look after the nuclear agreement, immediately there’s a lot of commentary. The New York Times had a front page, a think piece, from one of their big thinkers, Peter Baker. It says basically in agreement, you can’t trust Iran. You know, they destabilize the Middle East, and then he gives a list of reasons — each of them very interesting. But the most interesting is that one of the main crimes of Iran is that they were supporting militias that killed American soldiers.

In other words when we invade and destroy another country, that’s stabilizing, and if someone defends themselves that is destabilizing. That shows up in popular culture like this horrible film American Sniper. Take a look at it. The memoir is worse than the film, but it comes out that the first kill, the one he’s really proud of, is a woman and a child who are holding a grenade when their town is being attacked by American marines.

And they are savages, monsters, we hate them, they have to be murdered, and everybody’s applauding. I mean, even the New York Times arts pages was talking about what a wonderful film it was. It’s just mind-boggling.

DF

Speaking of mind-boggling, and international terror, I wanted to ask about domestic terror. I wanted to ask you about COINTELPRO. It does not get a lot of mentioning in the social science or historical educational curriculum. Can you tell me about COINTELPRO and the importance of teaching and learning about it in the democratic society?

NC

It’s an understatement to say it receives little attention. COINTELPRO was a program by the national political police, the FBI, which is basically what they are. It ran through four administrations, and it was conscious. It began by going after the Communist Party in the 1950s. It then extended into the Puerto Rican independence movement and the American Indian movements, the women’s movement, and the whole New Left. But the main target was the black movement.

It was a major program of disruption and went all the way to direct political assassination. The worst case was Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, who were simply murdered in a gestapo-style attack set up by the FBI. They were very effective black organizers. The FBI didn’t care much about the criminals, but they wanted to go after the effective organizers. It happened to have been exposed in the courts at about the same time as Watergate. I mean, in comparison to this program, Watergate is a tea party, nothing.

I was asked by the New York Review to write a brief article and a symposium when Watergate was exposed. But I had just read about this. I said look, Watergate is showing how famous people receive bad names in private and that shakes the foundation of the republic? And at the very same time you get the exposure of this incredible program, which went all the way to political assassination so it’s far more significant.

DF

The following of the stories that are the petty crimes insulate the powerful from the major crimes.

NC

If you look at yesterday’s New York Times, there’s a very interesting comparison between two stories. One of them is a front-page story, big continuation page. It’s about the journalistic malfeasance found in the Rolling Stone article. It’s a huge statement about terrible reporting. You know, they said the crime was a lack of skepticism, a terrible journalistic crime.

They have another article on Laos, which is quite interesting. It’s about an important woman, a Lao-American woman who’s working on trying to do something about the unexploded bombs that are killing people over in Northern Laos. And it cites a source, the right source, Fred Branfman, and his book, Voices from the Plain of Jars. And that’s where they get their information from.

Then it says, for the United States, the target of the US bombing was the Ho Chi Minh Trail where North Vietnamese were coming to South Vietnam and the Lao collaborators with the North Vietnamese. What are the facts in Fred Branfman’s book? The US was attacking Northern Laos. In fact, it’s shown on the map they were attacking, and it had nothing to do with the Ho Chi Minh Trail, no North Vietnamese.

Why were they doing it? Fred documented it. He quotes Monteagle Stearns, who was asked in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, why are we bombing this remote area of Northern Laos and wiping it out? And he gives the answer. He says there was a bombing halt over North Vietnam. And we had all these planes around and we didn’t have anything to do with them. So we destroyed Northern Laos.

That’s transmuted in the New York Times into straight government propaganda. And that’s an absolutely colossal lie. Is that going to beinvestigated by the Columbia Journalism Review? We’re going to have front-page stories? No. It’s an amazing comparison, and it’s every day.

Saul Isaacson

Stephen Cohen has argued that we’re closer to war with Russia than we have been since the Cuban missile crisis. Do you think he’s overstating the crisis in Ukraine?

NC

I don’t think so. I mean the government of Ukraine that came in after the coup, the parliament, voted almost unanimously to pursue membership in NATO. As Cohen and many others have pointed out, that is something utterly intolerable to any Russian leader. It’s kind of as if the Warsaw Pact had taken over South America and was now going to include Mexico and Canada. So, yeah, that’s serious.

It’s interesting the way Putin is treated. I think it is maybe in the same Middle East Journal I read recently, talking about supporting the US position on the Ukraine, and some serious person saying this will be opposed by North Korea, the Islamic state, and Stephen Cohen. [To question the US position on Ukraine means you will receive threats from] Stalinist apologists and get a bitter pronunciation of dismissal and ridicule.

SI

He also suggests that we’re on the verge of a new Cold War.

NC

It’s serious. I mean, look, Gorbachev agreed to the unification of Germany — and even its incorporation with NATO, which is an amazing concession if you look at history. But there was a quid pro quo: that NATO would “not expand one inch to the east,” that was the phrase, meaning to East Germany.

Once NATO had expanded to East Germany, Gorbachev was infuriated. He was informed by the Bush 41 administration that it was only a verbal promise. It wasn’t on paper, and the implication is if you’re dumb enough to accept a gentleman’s agreement with us, that’s your problem. Then Clinton came in, expanded NATO to the borders of Russia. And now it’s gone further, even to Ukraine which is right at the heart of, apart from historical connections, of Russian geo-strategic concerns. That’s very serious.

SI

And it’s getting so little press, so little coverage in the US.

NC

Not only little coverage but what there is, is insane. I mean it’s all about what a lunatic Putin is. There’s an article in one of the psychology journals about how he must have Asperger’s or some other articles about how he has brain damage. I mean, you can like him or not, but his position is perfectly understandable. 

DF

Finally, can you comment on the Holocaust Memorial and how the museum connects itself to the doctrine of the “Responsibility to Protect?” (R2P) What is America’s interest with R2P or the “Responsibility to Protect?”

NC

The Holocaust Memorial Museum was established in the 1970s, part of a huge expansion of Holocaust studies, memorials, etc. The date is of some significance. The right time would have been decades earlier, but that was before US relations with Israel were established in their current form (after the 1967 war), and inconvenient questions might have been raised about the US’s attitudes towards the Holocaust and particularly towards survivors.

Also striking is the absence of any remotely comparable reaction to enormous US crimes, such as virtual elimination of the indigenous population and the vicious slave labor camps that had an enormous role in the prosperity of the country. The lesson seems to be clear: we can lament the hideous crimes of others, when it is convenient to do so, but only the crimes of others.

As for R2P, there are two versions of the doctrine. One was adopted by the UN General Assembly. Changes from earlier UN resolutions are slight, and crucially, it maintains the essential provisions of the UN Charter barring the use of force without Security Council authorization (or in response to armed attack, irrelevant here).

The second version, in a report by a commission headed by Gareth Evans, is almost the same, but with one crucial difference: it authorizes regional groups to intervene with force within what they take to be their domains without Security Council authorization. There is only one regional group that can act this way: NATO.

So the Evans version essentially allows NATO (meaning the US) to resort to force when it chooses to do so. That is the operative version. Appeal is made to the innocuous UN version to justify the resort to force.

The case that was in everyone’s mind was the NATO attack on Serbia in the Kosovo conflict, bitterly condemned by most of the world but applauded by the NATO countries as a wonderful tribute to their magnificence.

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor (retired) at MIT. He is the author of many books and articles on international affairs and social-political issues, and a long-time participant in activist movements.

UN imposes arms embargo on rebels as Yemen slaughter continues

yemen-civil-war-400x277

By Niles Williamson
15 April 2015

The UN Security Council voted on Tuesday to impose an arms embargo on leading members of the Houthi militia as well as Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh, the son of former longtime dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh. The resolution was passed with 14 votes in favor and Russia abstaining.

The text of the embargo was drafted by Jordan, a nonpermanent member of the Security Council. The Jordanian monarchy is actively participating in the anti-Houthi air assault in Yemen being spearheaded by Saudi Arabia.

The Salehs have given support to the Houthi militia that seized control of Yemen’s capital in September, ousting President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi and placing him under house arrest. Hadi fled for the southern port city of Aden in February before leaving the country in March for Saudi Arabia in the face of a Houthi-led assault on his compound.

While the Security Council resolution calls for the Houthis to “immediately and unconditionally end violence,” it says nothing about the airstrikes being carried out on a daily basis by a coalition of Arab Gulf States headed by Saudi Arabia.

Since March 26 Saudi coalition air forces have launched more than 1,200 airstrikes against targets throughout Yemen, with some strikes killing scores of civilians. A bomb dropped on the Al Mazraq refugee camp in northern Yemen on March 30 killed at least 30 civilians. An airstrike on a dairy factory in the port city of Hodeida on April 1 killed at least 37 workers.

The Saudi monarchy, with US backing, has launched a widespread air assault against Houthi-controlled military targets as well as major urban areas. Street fighting in Aden between Houthi forces and armed forces opposed to them has left hundreds dead and hundreds more wounded, littering the streets with corpses.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, released a statement Tuesday warning about the destruction of infrastructure and the high rate of civilian casualties in the three-week-old campaign. “Every hour we are receiving and documenting disturbing and distressing reports of the toll that this conflict is taking on civilian lives and infrastructure,” he said. “Such a heavy civilian death toll ought to be a clear indication to all parties to this conflict that there may be serious problems in the conduct of hostilities.”

Hussein noted that coalition airstrikes have hit residential areas and homes throughout the country, including in the provinces of Taiz, Amran, Ibb, Al-Jawf and Saada. An airstrike that hit a residential area in Taiz on Sunday killed ten civilians and injured seven others.

Schools and hospitals throughout the country have been damaged or destroyed by airstrikes. Eight hospitals in the provinces of Aden, Dhale, Sanaa, and Saada have been hit by coalition bombs.

Speaking to Al Jazeera on Monday, Ivan Simonovic, UN Deputy Secretary General for Human Rights, warned about the growing humanitarian crisis in Yemen, saying that a majority of those killed so far have been civilians. “Over 600 people killed, but more than half of them are civilians.” Of the civilian deaths counted by the UN, at least 84 have been children and 25 were women.

While the United States has provided intelligence and logistical support to the Saudi coalition from the onset of the assault, it has been gradually increasing its involvement in the conflict. American imperialism has long sought to maintain its control over Yemen, which lies next to the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, a major oil choke point.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Obama administration has a direct hand in the selection of targets for airstrikes. Pentagon war planners at a joint operations center are directly approving every target selected by the Saudi military. The US military planners also provide the Saudis with the specific locations where they should drop the bombs.

“The United States is providing our partners with necessary and timely intelligence to defend Saudi Arabia and respond to other efforts to support the legitimate government of Yemen,” Alistair Baskey, White House National Security Council spokesman told reporters on Sunday.

US warships stationed off the coast of Yemen in the Red Sea have also begun assisting the Saudi-led coalition in enforcing a blockade of the country. On April 1, US sailors boarded a Panamanian-flagged ship in the Red Sea in search of weapons supposedly bound for the Houthis. The search did not turn up any weapons.

American drones continue to fly over Yemen in support of Saudi operations against the Houthi militia and the targeting of members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

An apparent drone strike on the southeastern port city of Mukalla Sunday killed senior AQAP leader Ibrahim Al Rubaish and as many as six other people. Rubaish, a Saudi national, had been held at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp from 2002 until his release back to Saudi Arabia in 2006. He reportedly fled to Yemen in 2009 and joined AQAP, and the US recently placed a $5 million bounty on his head.

While neither the CIA nor the Pentagon have claimed responsibility for the attack, it was likely carried out by the US, since Mukalla, which was seized by AQAP fighters earlier this month, has yet to be targeted by Saudi airstrikes. If confirmed, the attack would mark the first US drone strike in Yemen in nearly six weeks.

It has been three weeks since US Special Forces evacuated the Al Anad airbase north of Aden. Al Anad had served as the main hub for the officially secret American air war, which has killed more than 1,000 people in Yemen since 2009.

Meanwhile, both Saudi Arabia and Egypt are actively preparing a possible ground invasion of the country. The Egyptian military dictatorship reported that it and the Saudi monarchy are discussing a “major military maneuver” along with other Gulf states in the coming days.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/04/15/yeme-a15.html

At Auschwitz-Birkenau, Preserving a Site and a Ghastly Inventory

CreditJames Hill for The New York Times

OSWIECIM, Poland — To visit Auschwitz is to find an unfathomable but strangely familiar place. After so many photographs and movies, books and personal testimonies, it is tempting to think of it as a movie-set death camp, the product of a gruesome cinematic imagination, and not the real thing.

Alas, it is the real thing.

That is why, since its creation in 2009, the foundation that raises money to maintain the site of Auschwitz-Birkenau has had a guiding philosophy: “To preserve authenticity.” The idea is to keep the place intact, exactly as it was when the Nazis retreated before the Soviet Army arrived in January 1945 to liberate the camp, an event that resonates on Holocaust Remembrance Day, on Thursday.

It is a moral stance with specific curatorial challenges. It means restoring the crumbling brick barracks where Jews and some others were interned without rebuilding those barracks, lest they take on the appearance of a historical replica. It means reinforcing the moss-covered pile of rubble that is the gas chamber at Birkenau, the extermination camp a few miles away, a structure that the Nazis blew up in their retreat. It means protecting that rubble from water seeping in from the adjacent ponds where the ashes of the dead were dumped.

Photo

A display of childrens’ shoes belonging to some of the victims of the camps.CreditJames Hill for The New York Times

And it means deploying conservators to preserve an inventory that includes more than a ton of human hair; 110,000 shoes; 3,800 suitcases; 470 prostheses and orthopedic braces; more than 88 pounds of eyeglasses; hundreds of empty canisters of Zyklon B poison pellets; patented metal piping and showerheads for the gas chambers; hundreds of hairbrushes and toothbrushes; 379 striped uniforms; 246 prayer shawls; more than 12,000 pots and pans carried by Jews who believed that they were simply bound for resettlement; and some 750 feet of SS documents — hygiene records, telegrams, architectural blueprints and other evidence of the bureaucracy of genocide — as well as thousands of memoirs by survivors.

The job can be harrowing and heartbreaking, but it is often performed out of a sense of responsibility.

“We are doing something against the initial idea of the Nazis who built this camp,” said Anna Lopuska, 31, who is overseeing a long-term master plan for the site’s conservation. “They didn’t want it to last. We’re making it last.”

The strategy, she said, is “minimum intervention.” The point is to preserve the objects and buildings, not beautify them. Every year, as more survivors die, the work becomes more important. “Within 20 years, there will be only these objects speaking for this place,” she said.

The conservators are walking a less-trodden path in restoration. “We have more experience preserving a cathedral than the remains of an extermination camp,” said Piotr Cywinski, 43, the director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, which runs the site. Auschwitz, he said, “is the last place where you can still effectively take the measure of the spatial organization of the progression of the Shoah.”

Last year, a record 1.5 million people visited to take that measure, more than three times the number in 2001, putting even more strain on the aging buildings.

Between 1940 and 1945, 1.3 million people were deported to Auschwitz, the largest of the death camps, 90 percent of them Jews. The camp encompasses 500 acres, 155 buildings and 300 ruins.

Over the years, there have been dissenting views about the preservationist approach. “I’m not convinced about the current plans for Auschwitz,” saidJonathan Webber, a former member of the International Auschwitz Council of advisers, who teaches in the European Studies program at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow. “If you have a very good memorial, you could achieve that without having to have all this effort on conservation and restoration,” he added.

The preservation lab, with high-end technology, opened in 2003. One afternoon last week, Nel Jastrzebiowska, 37, a paper conservator, was using a rubber eraser to clean a row of papers in files. They were letters on Auschwitz stationery, written in German in rosy prose designed to slip past the censors. “I’m in good health,” one read, adding, “Send me money.”

On a nearby table sat the second horn part to Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio Italien (Op. 45), which had been played by the death camp’s orchestra. Ms. Jastrzebiowska would preserve the page as it was, she said, and keep the smudges showing that the pages had been turned. “The objects must show their own history,” said Jolanta Banas-Maciaszczyk, 36, the leader of the preservation department.

“We can’t stop time,” Ms. Jastrzebiowska said. “But we can slow it down.”

Photo

Visitors to the site crossing the railway line by the ramp where those arriving at the camp disembarked. CreditJames Hill for The New York Times

Ms. Jastrzebiowska’s husband, Andrzej Jastrzebiowski, 38, is a metal conservator. He spent three months cleaning all the eyeglasses in a vitrine, preserving their distressed state but trying to prevent them from corroding further. “When I saw the eyeglasses in the exhibition, I saw it as one big pile,” he said. But in the lab, he began to examine them one by one. One had a screw replaced by a bent needle; another had a repaired temple. “And then this enormous mass of glasses started becoming people,” Mr. Jastrzebiowski said. This “search for the individual,” he said, helps ensure that the work does not become too routine.

In 2009, the infamous metal sign reading “Arbeit Macht Frei,” or “Work makes you free,” which hangs over the entrance gate, was stolen. It was found several days later elsewhere in Poland, cut into three parts. (A Swede with neo-Nazi ties and two Poles were later charged with the crime.) Mr. Jastrzebiowski helped weld the sign back into one piece. But the scars from the welding told the story of the sign’s theft more than of its long history, and so the museum decided it would be more authentic to replace the damaged sign with a substitute.

The conservators have an easy camaraderie, but sometimes their task can become too much to bear. “Working with shoes probably is one of the most difficult parts of working here,” Ms. Banas-Maciaszczyk said. Everyone here has emotional moments. For her, it was a day when she was cleaning a little girl’s wooden sandal. She could see the small footprint inside. “This is something hard to describe,” she said. From 1940 to 1945, between 150,000 and 200,000 children died here.

Ms. Banas-Maciaszczyk said her mother thought she was crazy to come work at Auschwitz. “There are moments when I think, What am I doing here?” she acknowledged. But then she thinks of the bigger picture. “Everyone who works here must feel this importance,” she said. “If we didn’t feel that, no force would make us stay here.”

Kamil Bedkowski, 33, worked as an art conservator in Britain for eight years, even restoring ceiling frescoes at Windsor Castle. Now he is on the team shoring up the crumbling brick barracks of Birkenau where thousands slept at a time, crammed into decaying three-level wooden bunks. “This is the most challenging project I’ve ever worked on,” he said.

Almost all the conservators here are Polish and studied conservation at Polish universities — this is, after all, a Polish state museum, which employs some 287 people, plus 264 guides who operate in some 18 languages.

Most conservators are under 40, young enough not to feel any sense of responsibility for the Second World War — “It’s not our fault that the camp was built here,” Mr. Jastrzebiowski said — but old enough to have heard stories from their parents and grandparents. Few have any regular contact with Jews who aren’t survivors or visitors.

Despite the spirit of freezing the site in time, some exhibits have been redesigned in recent years — the Russian Federation’s tells the story of Russian political prisoners here; those of the Netherlands and France and Belgium talk about the fate of their Jews; the exhibit dedicated to the Sinti and Roma present the often-neglected story of those peoples murdered here. The Polish exhibit is colored by the country’s Communist past.

The new Jewish pavilion opened in 2013. It was designed by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. It shows black-and-white films of Jewish life in Europe before the war, then of Hitler’s rallies. In one room, the Israeli artist Michal Rovner has copied children’s drawings from the camp onto the wall. In another, all the names of the six million Holocaust dead are printed on a long row of pages, their edges yellowing from human touch.

The permanent exhibitions here will be updated over the next decade to include more evidence focusing bearing on the perpetrators, not just their victims. In the collection’s storage is a box with neat rows of red-handled rubber SS stamps conserved in acid-free boxes. These will eventually go on view. This is part of the long-term plan by the museum, aided by the foundation, which has raised nearly 120 million euros, or about $130 million, about half of it donated by Germany, to ensure conservation in perpetuity.

The museum has decided not to conserve one thing: the mass of human hair that fills a vast vitrine. Over the years, the hair has lost its individual colors and has begun to gray. Out of respect for the dead, it cannot be photographed. Several years ago, the International Auschwitz Council of advisers had an agonizing debate about the hair. Some suggested burying it. Others wanted to conserve it. But one adviser raised a point: How can we know if its original owners are dead or alive? Who are we to determine its fate?

It was decided to let the hair decay, on its own, in the vitrine, until it turns to dust.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/16/arts/international/at-auschwitz-birkenau-preserving-a-site-and-a-ghastly-inventory.html?smid=fb-share&_r=0#

Is our republic coming to an end? History may not be on America’s side

8 striking parallels between the U.S. and the Roman Empire

8 striking parallels between the U.S. and the Roman Empire
This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

Lawrence Lessig’s Republic Lost documents the corrosive effect of money on our political process. Lessig persuasively makes the case that we are witnessing the loss of our republican form of government, as politicians increasingly represent those who fund their campaigns, rather than our citizens.

Anthony Everitt’s Rise of Rome is fascinating history and a great read. It tells the story of ancient Rome, from its founding (circa 750 BCE) to the fall of the Roman Republic (circa 45 BCE).

When read together, striking parallels emerge — between our failings and the failings that destroyed the Roman Republic. As with Rome just before the Republic’s fall, America has seen:

1 — Staggering Increase in the Cost of Elections, with Dubious Campaign Funding Sources: Our 2012 election reportedly cost $3 billion. All of it was raised from private sources – often creating the appearance, or the reality, that our leaders are beholden to special interest groups. During the late Roman Republic, elections became staggeringly expensive, with equally deplorable results. Caesar reportedly borrowed so heavily for one political campaign, he feared he would be ruined, if not elected.

2 — Politics as the Road to Personal Wealth: During the late Roman Republic period, one of the main roads to wealth was holding public office, and exploiting such positions to accumulate personal wealth. As Lessig notes: Congressman, Senators and their staffs leverage their government service to move to private sector positions – that pay three to ten times their government compensation. Given this financial arrangement, “Their focus is therefore not so much on the people who sent them to Washington. Their focus is instead on those who will make them rich.” (Republic Lost)

3 — Continuous War: A national state of security arises, distracting attention from domestic challenges with foreign wars. Similar to the late Roman Republic, the US – for the past 100 years — has either been fighting a war, recovering from a war, or preparing for a new war: WW I (1917-18), WW II (1941-1945), Cold War (1947-1991), Korean War (1950-1953), Vietnam (1953-1975), Gulf War (1990-1991), Afghanistan (2001-ongoing), and Iraq (2003-2011). And, this list is far from complete.

4 — Foreign Powers Lavish Money/Attention on the Republic’s Leaders: Foreign wars lead to growing influence, by foreign powers and interests, on the Republic’s political leaders — true for Rome and true for us. In the past century, foreign embassies, agents and lobbyists have proliferated in our nation’s capital. As one specific example: A foreign businessman donated $100 million to Bill Clinton‘s various activities. Clinton “opened doors” for him, and sometimes acted in ways contrary to stated American interests and foreign policy.

5 — Profits Made Overseas Shape the Republic’s Internal Policies: As the fortunes of Rome’s aristocracy increasingly derived from foreign lands, Roman policy was shaped to facilitate these fortunes. American billionaires and corporations increasingly influence our elections. In many cases, they are only nominally American – with interests not aligned with those of the American public. For example, Fox News is part of international media group News Corp., with over $30 billion in revenues worldwide. Is Fox News’ jingoism a product of News Corp.’s non-U.S. interests?

6 — Collapse of the Middle Class: In the period just before the Roman Republic’s fall, the Roman middle class was crushed — destroyed by cheap overseas slave labor. In our own day, we’ve witnessed rising income inequality, a stagnating middle class, and the loss of American jobs to overseas workers who are paid less and have fewer rights.

7 — Gerrymandering: Rome’s late Republic used various methods to reduce the power of common citizens. The GOP has so effectively gerrymandered Congressional districts that, even though House Republican candidates received only about 48 percent of the popular vote in the 2012 election — they ended up with the majority (53 percent) of the seats.

8 — Loss of the Spirit of Compromise: The Roman Republic, like ours, relied on a system of checks and balances. Compromise is needed for this type of system to function. In the end, the Roman Republic lost that spirit of compromise, with politics increasingly polarized between Optimates (the rich, entrenched elites) and Populares (the common people). Sound familiar? Compromise is in noticeably short supply in our own time also. For example, “There were more filibusters between 2009 and 2010 than there were in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s combined.”

As Benjamin Franklin observed, we have a Republic — but only if we can keep it.

 

http://www.salon.com/2012/12/26/8_striking_parallels_between_the_u_s_and_the_roman_empire/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=socialflow

 

US targeted second American citizen for assassination

predator-firing-missile4

By Andre Damon
14 April 2015

A lead article in Monday’s New York Times describing a debate within the US government over whether to assassinate another American citizen brings into relief one basic fact: the United States is run by criminals.

The Times article revealed the name of an American citizen who had been placed on the so-called “kill list” for drone assassination. Due to a number of contingencies, the life of Texas-born Mohanad Mahmoud Al Farekh was ultimately spared. He was captured in a raid in Pakistan last year and was taken to the United States to face trial in Brooklyn, New York.

It has been known since 2010 that the Obama administration had decided to place at least one US citizen on its “kill list” of targets for drone assassination. This was Anwar al-Awlaki, who was assassinated in Yemen on September 30, 2011, many months later. The killing was a premeditated and unconstitutional act, targeting an individual who had not been charged, let alone convicted for any crime.

In a May 2013 speech at the National Defense University, President Barack Obama formally acknowledged the killing al-Awlaki, while also admitting that three other Americans had been killed as part of the “collateral damage” of other drone strikes. This included Awlaki’s teenage son one month after the killing of his father.

In February 2014, the Associated Press, citing “senior US officials,” reported that the White House was “wrestling with whether to kill [another US citizen] with a drone strike.” That man, unnamed at the time, was evidently Farekh.

Monday’s New York Times article makes clear that the life of Farekh was spared not because of any fundamental constitutional or democratic concerns, but rather as a result of tactical disagreements and jurisdictional conflicts among the agencies responsible for drone killings, including the Central Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon and the Justice Department.

According to the Times, “The Pentagon nominated Mr. Farekh to be placed on a so-called kill list for terrorism suspects; CIA officials also pushed for the White House to authorize his killing. But the Justice Department, particularly Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., was skeptical of the intelligence dossier on Mr. Farekh.”

In other words, the decision against murdering Farekh was entirely a matter of expediency, based, according to the Times, on the belief by the Justice Department that his capture would better serve the purposes of American imperialism than his extrajudicial killing.

According to the Times piece, a major reason for not killing Farekh was the fact that he fell through the jurisdictional cracks between the Pentagon and the CIA in their operations inside Pakistan.

The Times writes that in 2013, “The White House directed that the Pentagon, rather than the CIA, should conduct lethal strikes against American citizens suspected of terrorism … But the Pentagon has long been banned from conducting drone strikes in Pakistan, part of a 2004 deal with Pakistan that all such attacks be carried out by the CIA under its authority to take covert action—allowing Pakistan to publicly deny any knowledge of the strikes and American officials to remain silent.”

Between 2004 and 2015, the US killed as many as 3,949 people through drone strikes in Pakistan alone, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

Top administration officials are well aware that what they are doing is illegal and unconstitutional, particularly in relation to US citizens. One unnamed “former senior official” told the Times that “Post-Awlaki, there was a lot of nervousness” about killing American citizens, reflecting the very real awareness in the Obama administration that its actions could leave it open for prosecution in the future.

Whatever these concerns, however, the Obama administration, along with the entire political establishment, has vigorously defended the right of the president to assassinate US citizens without due process.

Tellingly, the Times reported that congressional leaders functioned not as a restraint and a check on the criminal actions of the White House and CIA, but rather sought to goad the White House to murder Farekh. The article states, “During a closed-door hearing of the House Intelligence Committee in July 2013, lawmakers grilled military and intelligence officials about why Mr. Farekh had not been killed.”

In February 2013, Attorney General Holder made clear that the administration claims its right to extrajudicially assassinate US citizens, even within the borders of the United States.

Holder wrote in a letter to Senator Rand Paul: “It is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the President to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States.”

In his May 2013 speech, Obama reinforced his commitment to the drone murder program, declaring, “America’s actions are legal … We were attacked on 9/11. Within a week, Congress overwhelmingly authorized the use of force.”

Obama then declared, seemingly contradicting himself, “For the record, I do not believe it would be constitutional for the government to target and kill any US citizen—with a drone or with a shotgun—without due process.”

This statement revolves around a crude verbal sophistry. In 2012, Attorney General Holder argued that the Constitution’s declaration that no person shall “be deprived of life … without due process of law” did not specify judicial process, but rather could apply to the internal deliberations within the executive branch.

As a result, the administration argued, the types of negotiations between cabinet officials, intelligence agencies and allied governments chronicled in Monday’s Times piece qualify as “due process.”

The Times article on Farekh was certainly cleared with the Obama administration and US intelligence agencies before being published. This may indicate that the turf battles described in it continue, and the article is part of ongoing maneuvers between the military and intelligence agencies of the US state apparatus.

The article is also part of a process of legitimizing and normalizing the clearly illegal and impeachable offenses described. In June of last year, the Obama administration released the drone murder memo outlining is pseudo-legal rationale for killing US citizens. Neither the memo not the crimes it outlined produced any significant objection from within the state or media establishment, the representatives and spokesmen of the corporate and financial aristocracy in America.

The author also recommends:

The Obama drone murder memo
[25 June 2014]

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/04/14/usdr-a14.html

Obama and Castro at the OAS summit

obama-castro

14 April 2015

The face-to-face meeting between US President Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro at the Summit of the Americas in Panama was almost universally described as “historic” in the mass media.

Despite the voluminous media commentary on the weekend event, however, there has been little discussion of the actual significance of the meeting between the two heads of state. In fact, the first such encounter in nearly six decades marked a major step in returning Cuba to the sphere of influence of US imperialism, a process that is fully endorsed by the Castroite regime.

The servile attitude of the Cuban government toward American imperialism was clearly expressed in Raul Castro’s speech at the summit. He heaped obsequious praise on the US head of state, describing Obama as an “honest man,” whose attitudes had been formed by his “humble beginnings,” adding that he had deeply considered the matter before expressing this opinion. He mentioned the name Obama ten times in his 49-minute address.

Reviewing the decades of US aggression against Cuba, Castro begged Obama’s “forgiveness” and declared that “he [Obama] has no responsibility for any of this.”

Hearing his Lincolnesque portrayal of the 44th president of the United States, one would hardly guess that Castro was describing a man who has presided over illegal wars, drone missile assassinations, mass surveillance at home and abroad, and conspiracies to carry out coups and regime-change operations from Honduras and Venezuela to Ukraine. Obama has distinguished himself as the unwavering mouthpiece of the US military-intelligence complex.

His shift toward “normalization” with Cuba reflects the conclusion of predominant sections of the Washington establishment that US imperialism can best advance its interests in the region by dropping its prolonged blockade and counting on the penetration of the island nation by American capital to create the conditions for returning Cuba to the status of a US semi-colony.

In addition to his meeting with Obama, Castro held discussions in Panama with Thomas Donahue, the chairman of the US Chamber of Commerce. Donahue has long been a leading spokesman for US capitalist interests that are intent on reentering Cuba for the purpose of exploiting its people and resources.

In terms of the broader interests of US imperialism, the rapprochement with Cuba is largely driven by the desire to put an end to a policy that has served as an irritant in the relations between Washington and the other nations in a hemisphere that it once proclaimed its own “backyard.”

US relations with Latin America are of growing concern to the ruling class under conditions in which China is supplanting the US as the main trading partner and investor throughout the region. It is already number one in Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Venezuela and Peru, and Beijing is committed to investing an additional $250 billion in the region over the next decade.

This decline in the relative weight of American capitalism in the region has found expression in the waning political significance of the Washington-based Organization of American States, which organizes the Summit of the Americas. After the last summit three years ago in Cartagena, Colombia, various countries, including Colombia, Washington’s closest ally, warned that if Cuba did not attend the next session, neither would they.

Castro’s appearance at the Panama summit and his embrace of Obama have thrown a lifeline to an organization that his brother Fidel only a decade ago denounced as “a corrupt, putrid and stinking institution” that had “only humiliated the honor of Latin American nations.”

Underlying this shift are definite material interests of the ruling stratum within Cuba, which is determined to hold onto its privileges and power, hoping to preserve the state as an interlocutor and cheap labor contractor for foreign capital.

The rapprochement of the Cuban government with imperialism says a great deal about the nature of the regime and the revolution that brought it to power in 1959. For decades, left nationalists in Latin America and petty-bourgeois radicals in Europe and North America had held up the nationalist revolution led by Fidel Castro as a new road to socialism, and declared that it had created a workers’ state in Cuba.

The most pernicious of these theories were developed by Pabloism, a revisionist tendency that broke with the Fourth International in the 1950s. It insisted that the socialist revolution no longer required the active and conscious intervention of the working class, led by a Trotskyist party. It could, they maintained, be accomplished by means of “blunted instruments,” including small bands of guerrillas carrying out an armed struggle against the state, with the workers reduced to little more than passive onlookers.

The promotion of Castroism and guerrillaism had a catastrophic political impact in Latin America. It served to divert revolutionary sections of youth away from the struggle to develop a revolutionary party in the working class and into suicidal armed combat with the state. Thousands of people died in such hopeless campaigns, paving the way for the assumption of power by a series of brutal military dictatorships.

The International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI) waged an implacable struggle against this retrograde perspective. It rejected the claims that the Castro regime’s nationalizations and social reforms made it a workers’ state or signaled a new road to socialism. Rather, it insisted, the Cuban regime represented one of the most radical variants of the bourgeois nationalist regimes that came to power in a number of the former colonial countries during the post-World War II era.

Unable to resolve Cuba’s historic problems of backwardness and dependence that were the legacy of colonialism and imperialist oppression, the government in Havana relied heavily on Soviet subsidies. These dried up with the USSR’s dissolution at the hands of the Moscow Stalinist bureaucracy.

The Cuban regime subsequently kept itself afloat through cheap oil supplies from Venezuela and capital investment from Europe, China, Russia, Canada and Brazil. Now, it has come full circle, seeking its salvation through the return of US imperialism.

This political evolution is a powerful vindication of Trotsky’s Theory of Permanent Revolution, defended by the ICFI, which established that the struggle for the liberation of the oppressed colonial and semi-colonial countries could be won only by the working class taking the leadership of the revolution, establishing its own state and extending the socialist revolution internationally.

This perspective and the assimilation of the bitter lessons of the protracted historical experience with Castroism are decisive for the building of new revolutionary parties of the working class throughout Latin America and in Cuba itself, where the turn toward US capitalism will inevitably lead to a sharpening of social inequality and the class struggle.

Bill Van Auken

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/04/14/pers-a14.html

‘We love being Lakota’: native autonomy in Pine Ridge

By Peterson Rasamny On April 12, 2015

Post image for ‘We love being Lakota’: native autonomy in Pine Ridge

‘The Native and the Refugee’ documentary project explores the similarities between the struggles and experiences of Native Americans and Palestinians.

By Matt Peterson & Malek Rasamny, photo by Chris Huber for Rapid City Journal.

In December 2014, we visited the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in what is now South Dakota. We chose to begin our project at the archetypal site of struggle for land, sovereignty and autonomy among natives in the United States. It was the Lakota people, including warriors Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, who put up some of the most historic fights against the US military forces in the nation’s expansion westward.

In the 1876-1877 Black Hills War, the US intervened militarily on behalf of settlers searching for gold in the Lakota’s most sacred site, now known as the Wind Cave National Park. It was in this context that the Battle of Little Bighorn took place, when the Lakota famously defeated George Armstrong Custer’s Battalion of the 7th Cavalry. Pine Ridge was later the site of the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre, in which that same 7th Cavalry killed hundreds of Lakota in its struggle to disarm and forcibly relocate them to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

In 1973, Wounded Knee was the site of a 4-month standoff and occupation organized by the American Indian Movement (AIM) against both the federal government and local tribal council. In 1975, two federal agents were killed in a shootout at Pine Ridge, for which AIM member Leonard Peltier remains held as a prisoner at the US Penitentiary Coleman in Florida. To add insult to injury, the presidential monument Mount Rushmore currently stands within what’s called the Black Hills National Forest.

The traditional Lakota territory includes parts of North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Montana and Wyoming. The Lakota historically were a semi-nomadic tribe that would follow herds of buffalo for food. In order to force them onto reservations, the US military encouraged the wholesale slaughter of buffalo in the Great Plains, resulting in their almost complete extinction.

It was through the destruction of their food supply — and not through any victories in battle — that the United States was able to force the Lakota into a position of economic subservience and dependence. Through a series of treaty violations, the borders of “Great Sioux Reservation” declared by the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty were reduced to the present situation in which the Lakota are now spread out over a number of non-contiguous reservations including Pine Ridge, Rosebud, Cheyenne River, Standing Rock and Crow Creek.*

The current unemployment rate on Pine Ridge is between 80-90%, and life expectancy is 50 years. Despite being one of the poorest areas on the continent, the Lakota refuse to accept a 1980 government settlement now totalling $1.3 billion in compensation for the theft of the Black Hills. They insist that no amount of money can be exchanged for the return of their sacred land to its rightful inhabitants. They are currently leading the resistance against TransCanada’s proposed Keystone Pipeline, which would be built directly through Lakota territory.

The histories and particularities of the Native American and Palestinian struggles are indeed quite different, but what they share is the experience of settlers moving to take over and control their traditional lands, later assisted by a military force which facilitated and justified the resulting displacement. The reservation and the refugee camp then become the essential sites to locate this history, identity, and struggle for land and sovereignty.

We met with veteran members of the American Indian Movement, and Owe Aku,Bring Back the Way to hear about the present situation on Pine Ridge, and to discuss their horizon for autonomy.

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We Love Being Lakota is the first in a series of videos and texts from the documentary project ‘The Native and the Refugee’, which connects the struggles taking place on Indian reservations in the United States with those in Palestinian refugee camps in the Middle East.

In February and March, this video was presented at T Marbouta in Beirut, Lebanon; at the Jordanian Women’s Union in Amman, Jordan; and at the Freedom Theatre in the Jenin Refugee Camp in the West Bank. It was produced in collaboration with Adam Khalil.


We Love Being Lakota
from The Native and the Refugee on Vimeo.

Matt Peterson and Malek Rasamny will return to Akwesasne, Pine Ridge and the Navajo Nation this Spring to continue working on The Native and the Refugee. They are based in Ridgewood, New York.

* For an in-depth account of the Lakota’s struggles to maintain control of its land over the last 200 years, read Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States (2014, pp. 186-191).

http://roarmag.org/2015/04/native-refugee-lakota-documentary/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+roarmag+%28ROAR+Magazine%29