The official cover-up of social and political issues in the police murder of Michael Brown

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27 August 2014

Thousands of workers and youth participated in funeral services for Michael Brown on Monday, an expression of widespread outrage over the police murder of the unarmed 18-year-old. However, the funeral service itself, attended by three representatives of the Obama administration and presided over by Democratic Party operative Al Sharpton, was a thoroughly establishment, right-wing affair.

The aim of the ceremony, paid for and run by Sharpton’s organization, was to obscure the class issues raised by the killing of Brown, legitimize the de facto imposition of martial law in Ferguson, Missouri, and channel social opposition back behind the political establishment.

The ruling class responded to the spontaneous eruption of protests over the killing of Brown with a two-pronged strategy. First, the repressive apparatus of the state was mobilized, including militarized SWAT teams toting automatic weapons, driving armored vehicles, and firing tear gas, rubber bullets and bean bags at peaceful protesters. More than 200 people were arrested in the police crackdown.

Ferguson became a test case for imposing police-state conditions on an American city in response to social unrest. Journalists were threatened, arrested and assaulted. The National Guard was called in. A curfew was imposed and the constitutional right to assemble was effectively suspended under the “state of emergency” declared by Governor Jay Nixon, a Democrat.

Sheer repression did not suffice to silence the protests, however. Hence the second prong of the ruling class strategy. Figures such as Sharpton along with local preachers and Democratic Party politicians were mobilized to promote racial politics and direct the protests along safe channels. The Obama administration sent Attorney General Eric Holder, an African American, to Ferguson, and Governor Nixon appointed Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson, also an African American, to head up the police response.

This dual strategy found expression in the funeral eulogy delivered by Sharpton—both in what he said, and what he did not say. The one-time FBI informant spoke not as a partisan of the workers and youth of Ferguson, but rather as an emissary of the capitalist state, i.e., of the very forces that killed Brown and sought to crush the subsequent protests.

Most significant in Sharpton’s remarks was the absence of any reference to the social and economic issues underlying the killing of Brown (and hundreds of other police killings across the country) and the mass repression that followed. There was no mention of the unemployment and poverty that characterize Ferguson and cities throughout the country, nor was there any reference to the immense social inequality that drives the ruling class to employ increasingly violent means to suppress social anger and unrest.

Instead, Sharpton devoted much of his remarks to vile slurs against African-American youth in general and the protesters in Ferguson in particular. He complained that too many people are “sitting around having ghetto pity parties.” Celebrating the fact that a section of African Americans like himself have “got some positions of power,” he denounced those who “decide it ain’t black no more to be successful.” He continued, “Now you wanna be a n****r and call your woman a ho.”

These foul remarks, dripping with contempt, were combined with an open defense of the state. “We are not anti-police, we respect police,” proclaimed Sharpton. The murder of youth like Brown is the product only of a few “bad apples,” he declared, which can be corrected with measures like hiring more African-American police officers.

While avoiding any criticism of the massive military-police response to the protests over Brown’s killing, Sharpton repeated all the tropes used by the state to justify its repression. He bemoaned the fact that Brown’s parents “had to break their mourning to ask folks to stop looting and rioting,” adding, “Michael Brown must be remembered for more than disturbances.”

The use of the word “disturbances,” part of the lexicon of the police and military, is significant, carrying with it the implication that the protests were illegitimate. The police repression, Sharpton implied, was a necessary response to violence by the protesters.

He made no mention of the connection between domestic repression and the waging of aggressive wars abroad, ignoring the fact, noted by many Ferguson workers and youth who spoke to the World Socialist Web Site, that even as the National Guard was being deployed to Ferguson, Obama was once again ramping up the US military’s involvement in Iraq.

Sharpton’s support for the police crackdown reflects what he is: an agent of the state and representative of a section of the corporate establishment and upper-middle class that has amassed great wealth even as the great majority of the population, including African-American workers and youth, has seen its living standards plummet. This privileged and corrupt social layer has long promoted identity politics to conceal the basic class divide in society and sow divisions within the working class.

In particular, Sharpton spoke as a representative of the Obama administration. He has developed the closest ties with administration officials, coordinating his actions and remarks with the White House. This is an administration that has intensified the assault on the working class and overseen an enormous growth of social inequality, while increasing the militarization of the police.

The financial aristocracy reacts to any expression of social opposition with repression. In the 1960s, the ruling class responded to urban uprisings with violence, but that was followed by pledges to address inequality and poverty and the implementation of limited social reforms. Today, the ruling class has nothing to offer but more repression.

The events in Ferguson are an expression of the explosive character of social relations in the United States. The financial aristocracy is petrified over the revolutionary implications of the open emergence of class conflict. Hence the resort to violence on the one hand and reliance, on the other, on Sharpton and other so-called “civil rights” leaders to complement state terror with diversions and lies.

Andre Damon

Why moral perversity of U.S. position in Gaza is stunning

Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters:

I think it’s safe to say that if U.S. neighborhoods were living under siege, folks like Rand Paul wouldn’t take it

Pink Floyd's Roger Waters: Why moral perversity of U.S. position in Gaza is stunning

Roger Waters (Credit: Reuters/Chip East)

The carnage in Gaza continues after the latest collapse of cease-fire talks and over four weeks of asymmetrical bombardment by Israel. With the death of more than 2,000 Palestinians, and the displacement of hundreds of thousands more, the complicity of the American government has been exposed to the world as never before. Yet the mantra repeated ad nauseam by the U.S. government and media alike remains the same: Israel has a right to defend itself.

The moral perversity of the U.S. position is stunning. How can the U.S. government ask Israel to be more careful about civilian lives while simultaneously arming and then rearming the IDF so it can more effectively inflict such devastation on an imprisoned and occupied people?

The U.S. could act to stop the senseless slaughter but it won’t. Instead, it’s cheerleading.  Members of Congress are mindlessly parroting Israeli talking points without a thought given to the Palestinian perspective or to preserving human life. Brimming with righteousness, they argue for turning Israel loose – Sen. Rand Paul in particular – and invoke Israel’s right to self-defense, despite the fact that, as the occupying power, Israel has an obligation to protect the Palestinians it rules, not massacre them.

Do congressional leaders ever stop to wonder what they would do if they were born Palestinian, had their homes and private property stolen from them, and were forced to live without freedom under an illegal Israeli occupation for 47 years? Do they know what it means to be on the receiving end of Israel’s barbaric “mow the lawn” euphemism?  Scarcely a word is said about the rights of Palestinians who are being pummeled from the sky and shot dead in their neighborhoods by the region’s most powerful military.  What, I wonder, would Americans do if it were their neighborhoods being invaded and if they were the ones living under siege? I think it’s safe to say Americans wouldn’t stand for it.

Despite these realities, it’s far more advantageous in Washington to come down like a ton of bricks on the Palestinians and maintain that they are the cause of their own suffering. No politician’s career has ever been hurt by blaming Palestinians or by applauding Israel’s illegal occupation, colonization and war crimes.



Pressure on American politicians to conform to the party line is abetted by skewed media coverage.  For instance, CNN, while purporting to be a news channel, relentlessly churns out Israeli propaganda.

It is easy for those of us who do not live under the tyranny of the occupation to condemn the military wing of Hamas for using randomly fired rockets that might cause civilian casualties in neighboring Israel, and I do unreservedly condemn it. Having said that, an occupied population has the legal right to resist the military of the occupier. The occupier has a legal obligation to protect the occupied. Under these circumstances the reporting on CNN is biased beyond all belief.

Numerically, one can readily see the bias. Far more pro-Israel guests than pro-Palestinian experts are invited on air to make their case.

An exception to that general rule, and obviously not on CNN, is Henry Siegman, a prominent Jewish voice and a former national director of the American Jewish Congress, who recently got the opportunity to expose the shortcomings of Israeli talking points. Siegman was interviewed fairly and in depth by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!  Sadly Democracy Now! is not mainstream media. If only it were!

Contrast that appearance with the reception Yousef Munayyer received during an extraordinarily “unfair” Fox News interview by the execrable Sean Hannity. Actually, to dignify Hannity’s rude and infantile shouting and finger pointing as an “interview” would be wrong.

If only CNN – or Fox, for that matter – would sometimes rely for their analyses on someone as intelligent and humane as Siegman.  Unfortunately, however, CNN persisted for weeks with the extremely biased analysis of Israel’s former ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren. Even CNN appears to have recognized how biased a contributor Oren was as it recently changed his title from CNN analyst to former ambassador.

Staunchly pro-Israel voices like Oren’s have resoundingly proclaimed: Any resistance, violent or nonviolent, in fact any criticism of Israeli colonization and denial of Palestinian rights, is off limits. What they are advocating, in essence, is perpetual armed conflict until greater Israel is a fait accompli, and complete Israeli domination over any surviving Palestinians is accepted as a reasonable status quo. Commentators such as Oren feign interest in a two-state peaceful solution but they and the state they represent resist all attempts to implement such a plan.

On a positive note, I take heart from the fact that support for Jewish Voice for Peace has skyrocketed over the last month as members of the American Jewish community, appalled at Israel’s actions, have looked for a place to register their concern. JVP advocates for an end to occupation and the siege on Gaza, for Palestinian rights – as dictated by international law – and peace with justice for Palestinians and Israelis alike. It primarily does so by educating people with basic facts and by using the tools of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions to apply pressure on Israel to cease its human rights abuses.

Additionally, we welcome Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz to the swelling ranks of celebrity dissenters.  Their courageous stand is a beacon to us all. We need many more like them if we are to shift the discourse and persuade the American and Israeli governments to adopt more realistic, humane and hopefully fruitful policies. To paraphrase Siegman, “If you want to stop the rockets, end the siege of Gaza and the occupation of both Gaza and the West Bank.”  He sounds like a sage but this is just common sense. If I might stick in my two pennies’ worth, why not then engage in serious conversations with the Unity Palestinian Government, which up to now Israel has seemed determined to destroy.

The U.S. Congress, far too beholden to the right-wing Israel lobby, will be the last to figure out this tragic jigsaw puzzle and human catastrophe and grasp the critical need for a political solution.  And mainstream media, if unchallenged, will continue to distort reality and embolden the counterproductive, AIPAC-driven unrealistic position that it portrays as fact.

On a personal note, I am pro-human rights for all peoples all over the world.  I am pro-peace for all Israelis and Palestinians.  I am not singling out Israel.  I deplore all abuses and violence, whether in Syria, China, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, England, the USA, Egypt, Libya, wherever.  That said, international law was designed to protect against such human rights violations and should be applied fairly to all.

In the case of Israel/Palestine, legal channels have yet to be seriously pursued. Consequently, change will continue to be led by popular efforts.  Specifically, the growing nonviolent BDS campaign offers the best chance of successfully pressuring Israel to alter its ways and allow for Palestinian freedom and rights. Despite major efforts to destroy it, more and more people are joining the BDS movement. It is this growing momentum that gives me hope that, together, the people of the world will eventually help deliver what governments have been unwilling to secure: justice and a lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis.

I wrote a short poem a few days ago that I have been encouraged to append here.

It is called “Crystal Clear Brooks.”  Although it expresses my feelings, I cannot but think that the children in Gaza would give anything but their birthright and their pride and their basic human rights for a glass of crystal clear water. And, I think too, of the Bakr children, the sons of fishermen, who were slain while playing on a Gaza beach.

 

Crystal clear brooks

When the time comes

And the last day dawns

And the air of the piper warms

The high crags of the old country

When the holy writ blows

Like burned paper away

And wise men concede

That there’s more than one way

More than one path

More than one book

 More than one fisherman

More than one hook

When the cats have been skinned

And the fish have been hooked

When the masters of war

Are our masters no more

When old friends take their whiskey

Outside on the porch

We will have done well

If we’re able to say

As the sun settles down

On that final day

That we never gave in

That we did all we could

So the kids could go fishing

In crystal clear brooks.

 

http://www.salon.com/2014/08/25/pink_floyds_roger_waters_why_moral_perversity_of_u_s_position_in_gaza_is_stunning/?source=newsletter

Why Burning Man is not an example of a loosely regulated tech utopia

The rules are important at Burning Man. But being rich means you get to do what you want, just like anywhere else

Why Burning Man is not an example of a loosely regulated tech utopia
El Pulpo Mecanico, at the Burning Man 2012 “Fertility 2.0″ arts and music festival, August 29, 2012. (Credit: Reuters/Jim Urquhart)

“Burning Man culture,” writes Gregory Ferenstein in Vox, “discourages money or bartering; the entire economy is a gift economy.”

Ferenstein, a regular attendee at the Nevada desert counterculture festival so beloved by Northern California’s tech-hipsters, is defending Burning Man from critics like the New York Times’ Nick Bilton, who have noted that in recent years, rich attendees have been setting up their own luxury camps within the confines of Black Rock City. Ferenstein makes some good points explaining why tech billionaires love Burning Man, but it’s still difficult to square his point on “burning man culture” with the details reported by Bilton.

“We used to have R.V.s and precooked meals,” said a man who attends Burning Man with a group of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs… “Now, we have the craziest chefs in the world and people who build yurts for us that have beds and air-conditioning.” He added with a sense of amazement, “Yes, air-conditioning in the middle of the desert!”

His camp includes about 100 people from the Valley and Hollywood start-ups, as well as several venture capital firms. And while dues for most non-tech camps run about $300 a person, he said his camp’s fees this year were $25,000 a person. A few people, mostly female models flown in from New York, get to go free, but when all is told, the weekend accommodations will collectively cost the partygoers over $2 million.

Such camps, reports Bilton, also included “Sherpas” that serve as servants.

Ferenstein writes that the tech execs have basically the same experience as everyone else. But he appears to be tone-deaf to the enormous offense of labeling paid employees “Sherpas” and doesn’t bother to mention the female models flown in from New York. That’s not the gift economy, and it’s not the sharing economy. And it’s surely not something that anyone even imagined possible when tripping around a very big bonfire on Baker Beach in the early ’90s.



Ferenstein also wanders into a self-combusting contradiction, of the sort that would look pretty good exploding  in the desert night. Burning Man, he writes, “is an experiment in what a city would look like if it were architected for wild creativity and innovation…. At Burning Man, sharing is the economy. It’s rather appealing to the Silicon Valley elite to see an entire city function on an economic idea that is at the heart of the knowledge economy. It’s an important glimpse of why the founders are so optimistic that a loosely regulated field of tech startups can outweigh the potential downsides of unregulated sharing.”

But Burning Man is intensely regulated. It’s got its own police force. Gun control is absolute. Attendance is limited to a set number of people who can afford the not-cheap tickets. The very layout of Black Rock City is a paean to planning and organization. Central control is as much the essence of Burning Man as is hedonism and fire.

We can argue about the proper extent of regulation. Is Burning Man more like Houston, which scoffs at zoning restrictions, or San Francisco, where plastic bags are outlawed? (The rules on trash at Burning Man might come off as pretty extreme to your typical happy-go-lucky free market polluter, after all.) But to use Burning Man as a model for what tech billionaires want for a greater society is to actually argue that rules are extremely important, and anarchy is a failure!

The key point made by Nick Bilton is that the very existence of a camp inside Burning Man where tickets cost $25,000 and female companionship is imported is a demonstration that Burning Man, far from being an alternative to society, is business as usual.

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

http://www.salon.com/2014/08/22/why_burning_man_is_not_an_example_of_a_loosely_regulated_tech_utopia/?source=newsletter

Israel’s Most Important Source of Capital: California

The New Gold Rush

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by DARWIN BOND-GRAHAM

 

Last Saturday between one and two thousand protesters marched on the Port of Oakland to blockade one of its busy marine terminals and prevent an Israeli ship from docking. After confronting a line of police guarding the waterfront the protesters declared victory; the Zim Lines vessel hovered offshore, afraid to dock, they said, and port workers wouldn’t be unloading its cargo.

One protester, looking beyond the line of police guarding the port, explained that the purpose of the action was to “impede the flow of capital.” Stopping one of Zim’s ships—the company’s vessels arrive in Oakland about four times a month, according to Zim’s web site—was a small, but real economic blow against Israel.

But if it’s a matter of stopping the flow of capital, the ports are a relatively small conduit of trade between California and Israel. For over 20 years California’s technology industry has been channeling billions of dollars to finance the growth of Israeli tech firms. In that time, tech has become a key sector for Israel’s economy. The flow of capital between California and Israel is digital, transmitted as currency and intellectual property. And this flow of capital occurs mostly through the decisions of a small number private equity firms and perhaps as few as a dozen large corporations. These flows of capital supporting Israel’s economy are less susceptible to social movement pressure.

The amount of support of for Israel’s economy originating from Silicon Valley’s private equity firms is especially large. In 2001, during the first year of the Second Intifada, Sequoia Capital Partners, a private equity company headquartered in Menlo Park, raised $150 million to invest in Israeli technology companies. This was Sequoia’s second Israel-focused venture capital fund. Last year Sequoia raised its fifth Israel-dedicated fund, totaling $215 million. Since 1999 Sequoia Capital has injected over $789 million into Israel’s software and electronics industries. Much of this money managed by Sequoia Capital was contributed by California investors, including major tax-exempt institutions like the J. Paul Getty Trust, and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

Accel Venture Partners, another one of the giants of Silicon Valley private equity, set up its first Israel-focused investment vehicle in 2001. Joseph Shoendorf of Accel told the Haaretz newspaper in 2007 that Accel has invested over $200 million in 20 Israeli companies. He added that many of Accel’s investments in Israel are not the run-of-the-mill consumer apps and gadgets that are so popular in the Bay Area’s tech scene. Although Israeli engineers produce plenty of that, Shoendorf said, “the world’s security situation is expected to get worse, and as a result, inventiveness will increase. The armies of the world are seeking solutions to a problem, and will encourage technological answers.”  Last March, Accel successfully raised $475 million for a fund that will burn a lot of its powder supporting Israeli tech companies.

You’re starting to get the picture. Billions flow from California’s Bay Area into Israel to support chip manufacturers, Internet startups, and telecommunications companies.

A lot of California’s venture capital has been exported to Israel to fund military and cybersecurity startups. Israeli society, constantly mobilized for a counter-insurgency war and occupation, creates an environment in which the nation’s hi-tech firms see their main role as contributing to the security of the Jewish state.

But the U.S. tech industry is also steeped in surveillance and weapons companies, and even the big consumer and enterprise brands like Google, Microsoft, and Cisco produce militarized software and hardware for use in the “homeland” and abroad. The contributions of Hewlett Packard in creating Israel’s biometric tracking system to control the movements of Palestinians is well known. Hewlett Packard also maintains the Israel Defense Ministry’s server farms, a job IBM previously held.  What makes the California-Israel economic connection powerful, however, isn’t so much the nature of the technologies being traded, and the capabilities they provide the Israeli state and military, but more so the sheer economic value of these transactions.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Israel received $1.846 billion in direct investment from U.S. investors in 2012, the most recent year for which statistics are available. This is about two thirds of the total military aid the U.S. government provided Israel the same year.

U.S. investors have built up large positions in Israel’s economy, mostly through ownership of stock in Israeli corporations. In 2012 U.S. investors held a $19.7 billion stake in Israel’s economy, more than double the interest owned by all European countries combined. And corporations registered in the Cayman Islands, a tax shelter where thousands of American investors establish offshore funds, owned another $8.6 billion of Israel’s economy. For example, the Sequoia Capital Partners venture firm of Menlo Park raised $215 million last August to invest entirely in Israel. The legal place of incorporation for this fund? The Cayman Islands.

California investors own and manage stakes in Israeli companies like Mellanox Technologies, Ltd.. In 2002 Silicon Valley venture capital firms and several U.S. tech companies provided Mellanox with $64 million in funding. The American investors included three Menlo Park private equity firms, Sequoia Venture Partners, U.S. Venture Partners, and Bessemer Venture Partners, as well as technology giants IBM and Intel. Using this capital, Mellanox, headquartered in Yokneam, Israel, grew from a small company into a transnational technology giant valued today at $1.8 billion. It’s a key supplier of hardware to Hewlett Packard, IBM, and Intel. It’s main office in Yokneam looks like any other tech campus you can see in San Mateo County off the 101 Highway with gleaming glass mid-rise buildings tucked among trees and grass.

Yokneam is in the heart of Israel’s Silicon Wadi (“wadi” being a dry stream bed in Arabic, meaning “valley” in colloquial Hebrew). Prior to 1948 Yokneam was called Qira, the site of a Palestinian village and farms, but the area was “depopulated” and occupied by Israeli forces, and later settled and transformed into one of Israel’s most affluent cities.

Lots of Silicon Valley venture capital firms have set up offices in Israel. The location of choice for California investors seems to be Herzliya Pituach, a posh ocean side district of the city of Herliya. North of Tel Aviv, Herzliya is named after Theodor Herzl, considered by many to be the intellectual father of Zionism. The Herzliya Pituach is one of the wealthiest spots in all of Israel, home to many of the nation’s elite families. Bessemer Venture Partners’ Israel office is located just a few blocks from the Marinali Marina yacht harbor, and a short drive from million dollar beachfront homes. Sequoia Venture Partners maintain an office on Ramat Yam in one of the high rise towers with views of the azure Mediterranean Sea.

The business links between Silicon Valley and Israel aren’t apolitical. Many of California’s venture capital investors and technology executives are staunch supporters of pro-Israel causes. They have established numerous nonprofit organizations to strengthen economic and political ties between California and Israel.

The California-Israel Chamber of Commerce, located in Sunnyvale in an office park filled with software firms, is funded by Silicon Valley investors, corporations and law firms including Intel, Paypal, Silicon Valley Bank, and Morrison Foerster. Executives from these companies sit on the Chamber’s board of directors. Their ties to pro-Israel political groups are numerous.

Zvi Alon, a director of the California-Israel Chamber, runs a family foundation out of his Los Altos Hills home. Alongside a donation of $9,900 in 2011 to the California-Israel Chamber, Alon also made donations worth $36,000 to the Friends of Israeli Defense Forces. Alon is also credited as being a founder of Israel21C, an “online news magazine offering the single most diverse and reliable source of news and information about 21st century Israel to be found anywhere.”

Operating out of offices on Montgomery Street in downtown San Francisco, across the Street from Israel’s consulate, Israel21C produces media promoting Israel’s technology companies. Recent articles published by the group include “20 top tech inventions born of conflict,” and a profile of the “maverick thinker” behind the creation of Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. A recent film produced by the organization promotes Tel Aviv as a startup epicenter similar to San Francisco.

The General Consul of Israel in San Francisco, Andy David, is a board member of the California-Israel Chamber, as is the president of Silicon Valley Bank.

Nir Merry, another board member of the California-Israel Chamber, was born and partly raised in Israel in the Ma’agan Michael kibbutz. His father worked in a hidden underground ammunition factory making armaments used by Jewish commandoes in the battles that created the state of Israel. In a talk to students at the University of California, Santa Barabara, Merry elaborated on the links between Israel’s technology companies and its military.

“I volunteered to become a commando. It’s quite related to the topic of innovation,” said Merry. “Because to be a commando we have to be very innovative.”

Silicon Valley’s financial and technological assistance to Israel is by no means only a private sector effort. In March of 2014 Governor Jerry Brown signed a memorandum of understanding with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promising to promote economic links between California and Israel. The setting for the signing ceremony, Mountain View’s Computer History Museum, underscored the centrality of the tech industry in the agreement.

On the same trip Netanyahu visited Apple’s Cupertino headquarters where he was ushered into the executive board room for a chat with the company’s leaders. He also toured Stanford University.

Netanyahu’s California appearance was designed to beat back the Palestinian solidarity movement’s boycott, divest and sanction campaigners who, in recent years, have increased pressure on California’s universities and other public institutions to divest from companies that do business with Israel. During the signing ceremony for the MOU that would give Israeli companies access to California’s technology infrastructure, Netanyahu thanked Governor Brown for California’s divestment from Iran. In 2012, California virtually barred insurance companies from owning Iranian assets. Earlier the state passed legislation requiring its pension funds to divest from Iranian companies. As a result of these laws, the state’s teachers retirement fund CalSTRS even consults with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee regarding its investments.

Netanyahu also thanked Brown for the economic benefits that California’s giant public employee pension funds, CalPERS and CalSTRS, provide to Israel. Both are major investors in Israel’s economy.

The California-Israel MOU originated from California assembly member Bob Blumenfield’s office. Blumenfield, the sponsor and author of several Iran sanctions bills, is now a city council member in Los Angeles. Blumenfield is a staunch ally of Israel, and has used his political offices, from Sacramento to the state’s largest city, to strike back against the boycott, divest, sanction movement aimed against the Israeli military occupation of Palestine. Most recently Blumenfield organized LA’s top elected officials, including mayor Eric Garcetti, to make a public statement in support of Israel.

“We stand with Israel against a Hamas regime that terrorizes Israelis from the skies and now, from beneath the ground,” Blumenfield told the public.

Mayor Garcetti called Israel “our strongest ally in a tumultuous region.”

Palestinian solidarity activists inside Israel’s biggest economic and military partner, the United States, and inside one of its biggest investors, California, have struggled for years to build a boycott, divest and sanction movement. They’ve asked pension funds and universities to divest from companies that do business with the state of Israel, and they’ve asked academics and musicians to boycott Israel by canceling concerts and shunning conferences. They’ve had some success, but as California’s continuing links to Israel show, their task is a difficult one.

Their struggle will continue long after Zim’s ship pulls anchor and leaves Oakland’s harbor. Supporters of Israel will be working to strengthen California’s ties to their cause and prevent any economic protest movement from gaining traction. This coming October the California-Israel Chamber of Commerce will be hosting an international business summit at the Microsoft Campus in Mountain View where innovation and investment will be among the topics of discussion. And between now and then another six to eight Israeli vessels will probably also moor along Oakland’s waterfront trading millions in goods.

Darwin Bond-Graham is a sociologist and investigative journalist. He is a contributing editor to Counterpunch. His writing appears in the East Bay Express, Village Voice, LA Weekly and other newspapers. He blogs about the political economy of California at http://darwinbondgraham.wordpress.com/

 

 

http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/08/20/israels-most-important-source-of-capital-california/

Are We Out of Big Ideas?

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“The Gods have died!”, the villagers cried.

“What should we do? Mourn? Grieve? Plead?”, the Chief asked the Priest, desperate.

“No”, said the Priest, looking at the sky, afraid.

**

Here’s a tiny question. Are we idearupt? As in: bankrupt of great ideas?

Go ahead. Name me an “ism” that still works.

I’ll wait.

Conservatism? #LOL. Liberalism? #lol. Capitalism, or what’s left of it? Sure, maybe for billionaires. “Libertarianism”? I invite you to Mogadishu, good sir. Socialism…syndicalism…anarchism…mercantilism…revanchism…shit!!

Wait. What about…Bronyism?

Perhaps you see my point.

We’re living through a kind of implosion. Not just of institutions—that much is obvious. But a collapse of institutions that was detonated by an implosion.

Of ideas.

Yesterday’s ideas about how to organize societies and economies simply don’t work anymore.

And so we’re left in a vacuum. What’s a vacuum? A void. An emptiness. An absence. We’re out of good ideas about how societies, democracies, and economies should be organized and managed.

But not just “how”. More deeply, by whom—and why.

What’s the point, you often wonder. Of your life. Of the sheer goddamned futility of it all.

Working harder on stuff that doesn’t matter to buy junk you can’t afford to impress people you don’t like obeying the orders of robots programmed by assholes who’ve never read a book in their lives that oversee the entire economy purely for the production of “profit” not real things that actually benefit human lives which are getting poorer so they’re just one paycheck away from disaster…and even if you do somehow win the infernal contest of all the above, what’s the jackpot at the end of the rainbow? A life that’s totally meaningless in the first place.

What the fuck?

If you think all that’s…futile…you’re not wrong. You’re precisely right. It is. Yesterday’s great “isms” do not offer enough, to enough, for enough, from enough.

Whether it is “liberalism” or “conservatism”, the result is the same.

The middle class implodes; the rich grow incalculably richer; the poor are trampled. What’s the result? To pay for social services, the assets of the state are “privatized“; but they cannot do so for long. Eventually, ninety percent plus of people see their incomes stagnate; their wealth vanish; economies stall as people grow poorer. Society can no longer afford public goods, as tax bases dry up; public and private debts grow; and currencies are devalued. People’s lives go from prosperous and stable to precarious and impoverished in a generation or two.

See the pattern? The collapse of great ideas about to organize stuff isn’t merely…an idea. It’s reality.

Consider the twentieth century. The world created international law, international development, international trade, and international human rights. These were tremendous, astonishing human accomplishments. The kind that mankind might never have even dreamed of a few short centuries ago.

And now? What do we consider “great ideas”? Cruising to your less-than-minimum-wage temp gig at a robo-warehouse in your self-driving car share checking how many “friends” Spot made on the latest doggy dating app hoping you got another heart on yours?

Those aren’t great ideas. They’re clever businesses, and for that we should applaud them. But we must recognize. You can’t Tinder your way to a better world. You can’t even Tinder your way to a life worth living.

All the great “isms” are winking out. And so. The world is starting to burn. Nations are fracturing. Social contracts are being torn apart. In most of the world’s richest nations, not one but two generations will be lost. The global economy is stagnating.

And already from that witches cauldron is rising the smoke. Of violence, animosity, extremism, hatred. Which will eventually, if the fire is left untended, kindle into a wildfire of war.

All this is not inevitable. Yet. But it is predictable. For a single, simple reason.

We no longer have ideas powerful enough to organize the world. Yesterday’s “isms” are vanishing. And in their place is left a vacuum.

Here’s the catch.

You.

You probably believe that something always fills a vacuum. For you’ve been trained to be an obedient believer in progress; in advancement; in growth; in efficiency; in spontaneous order; in self-organization; in automaticity; in manifest destiny; and in all that’s inevitability.

In other words, you’re a True Believer in…the Big Idea: the idea of the progress of ideas.

Something always fills a vacuum, right? A bigger, better idea?

Wrong.

Sometimes, nothing does. For a very long while.

Sometimes, there is no progress of ideas.

Sometimes the darkness stays. And lasts. And deepens. Into an endless, frozen midnight. An abyss of collapsing ideas; from which mankind must escape.

We call those times Dark Ages. And my worry is that we’re stumbling headlong into one.

**

“The Gods have died!”, the villagers cried.

“What should we do? Mourn? Grieve? Plead?”, the Chief asked the Priest, desperate.

“No”, said the Priest, looking at the sky, afraid. “We must pray!”, he shouted, angrily.

“Pray?”, the villagers muttered to themselves, confused. “To whom?”

“To the Gods”, the Priest whispered.

“But the Gods are dead”, the Chief protested.

“Who do you think killed them?”, the Priest demanded.

“Gods who were more powerful still. And it is to them we must pray”.

“New Gods! But who are they?”, the villagers asked one another, astonished, anxious, afraid.

“They will reveal themselves. But only if our prayers prove worthy. Come. Let us pray!”, the Priest commanded.

“We are saved!”, cried the villagers.

“Glory!”, cried the Chief.

The Priest smiled.

He raised his hands to the heavens; and they all bowed beneath the perfect sky the new Gods hid behind.

The sun rose high. There was not a cloud to be seen.

It was how every Dark Age begins.

View story at Medium.com

BLOGGER COMMENT:  The “big ideas” of today are silly multimillion dollar phone apps and dumping ice cubes on your head in front of the new Audi.

I recall having many conversations like this in the Sixties. I’m happy there are those beginning to question the status quo in the 21st century.  Perhaps one might begin by looking back to Aristotle, Plato, Socrates…

The Islamic State: a monster US empire created

by Jerome Roos on August 18, 2014

Post image for The Islamic State: a monster US empire created

The rise of fundamentalism is a decidedly modern phenomenon in which US imperialism has always played a major role. The Islamic State is no exception.

As the jihadi militants of the Islamist State — IS, formerly known as ISIS — rampage through Syria and Iraq, wantonly beheading infidels and sending hundreds of thousands scurrying for safety, many in the West are still all too eager to reduce the rapidly escalating conflict to a sectarian struggle between Sunnis and Shias, or a broader clash of civilizations between Muslims and everyone else — between Islam and other religions, between Islam and non-believers, or between Islam and the modern world.

But, its own practices and ideological narratives aside, the Islamic fundamentalism of IS is not some kind of barbaric relic from an unenlightened religious past, nor can the ongoing wars in the Middle East be reduced to a simplistic binary narrative. Like European fascism, Islamic fundamentalism is a decidedly modern phenomenon, and wherever we look in modern history, we find that the Western powers have always played a major role in its rise. The Islamic State is no exception.

The jihadists of IS and its antecedent groups initially rose to prominence in the vacuum left by the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq. When the US toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003, they did not only purge the state apparatus of his Baathist allies, but they purged it of the entire Sunni minority of which Saddam himself had been a part. Most dramatically, large parts of the majority-Sunni army were disbanded, leaving tens of thousands of combat-savvy and frustrated young men without pay and without any meaningful influence on the new Shia-dominated and US-backed political establishment in the country.

As was already obvious to many observers back then, the US invasion thus set the stage for a disastrous backlash. Many of Saddam’s former Sunni soldiers ended up joining the jihadist insurgency against the US occupation, giving Al Qaeda a new foothold in Iraq — a country where it had previously had no real influence to speak of. The bloody sectarian strife that subsequently broke out, killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and preparing the ground for further radicalization, was not the cause but the outcome of the destabilization of the Iraqi state at the hands of the occupying forces.

In fact, the link between the US occupation and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Iraq is more direct than most realize. Last week, the New York Times ran a fascinating background article about Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Muslim cleric and ruthless leader of IS who just crowned himself Caliph of the Islamic world, which noted that, “at every turn, Mr. Baghdadi’s rise has been shaped by the United States’ involvement in Iraq — most of the political changes that fueled his fight, or led to his promotion, were born directly from some American action.”

When the US army first detained Baghdadi in Fallujah in early 2004, he was considered little more than a “street thug.” But according to the Hisham al-Hasimini, an Iraqi scholar who studied Baghdadi’s background for Iraq’s intelligence agency, the current IS leader underwent a process of radicalization during his five years’ imprisonment in a US detention facility. “Iraqi to the core,” the Times writes, “his extremist ideology was sharpened and refined in the crucible of the American occupation.”

In subsequent years, Baghdadi surrounded himself with former members of Saddam’s Baathist party, who — despite their lack of credentials as radical Islamists — turned out to be key allies in the establishment of Al Qaeda in Iraq (the immediate antecedent to ISIS) as an insurgent movement and para-state, replete with its own army of jihadists, its own base of taxation (or extortion), its own oil revenues from the fields it managed to capture in Syria (and now Iraq), and increasingly its own public services (like local transport and religious education) in the areas under its control.

But while the world’s morbid fascination with IS stems from its lightning advances and its campaign of brutality in western Iraq last June, it was in Syria — as the world largely looked the other way — that the jihadist group groomed its warrior feathers, gaining a strategic stronghold, mopping up moderate Islamist groups to significantly expand its own numbers, rooting out the Free Syrian Army, besieging the Kurdish resistance, and obtaining various additional sources of income that were to prove crucial in  its further campaigns and its efforts to cement itself as a self-sustaining para-state.

Meanwhile, as it brandished its anti-Shia credentials, ISIS received lavish financial support from one of the United States’ main allies in the region: Saudi Arabia. The other Gulf states — Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates — are also implicated in directly or indirectly financing various extremist groups in Syria, including Jabhat al-Nusra, the official Al Qaeda affiliate in the country and second biggest faction after ISIS. But as one senior Qatari official affirms, “ISIS has been a Saudi project.” Patrick Cockburn, a long-term Middle East correspondent, notes that “Saudi Arabia has created a Frankenstein’s monster over which it is rapidly losing control.”

Given the United States’ historical support for extremist groups — most notably its sponsoring of the mujahideen in their struggle against communism in Afghanistan, which directly paved the way for the rise of the Taliban and Al Qaeda — it should not come as a surprise that, this time around, the US has also been directly involved in enabling the rise of ISIS. In fact, it turns out that leading US lawmakers, including Republican Senator John McCain, have been actively pressing their allies to support the Syrian opposition and oust Assad. “Thank God for the Saudis and Prince Bandar, and for our Qatari friends,” McCain exclaimed as as recently as February 2014. (Prince Bandar is alleged to be the Saudi point man behind the funding of ISIS.)

At the same time, another important US ally in the region, Turkey — a NATO member — has been a crucial hub for ISIS by deliberately opening its 500-mile border to allow Syrian rebels to fall back onto Turkish territory and to permit Western jihadists – alienated young Muslim men from Europe, Australia and the US – to join their comrades in Syria. Consistent rumors have been doing the rounds that the head of Turkey’s intelligence services, Hakan Fidan, a key confidante of Prime Minister Erdogan, was personally responsible for the country’s covert support for ISIS.

Greatly strengthened by Gulf financing and an influx of foreign fighters, with Turkey providing a much-needed back-base and thoroughfare, and with the Obama administration actively refusing to support the democratic Syrian resistance, ISIS quickly destroyed and eclipsed the moderate opposition, solidly growing into the main rebel group in Syria and finishing off the last-remaining strongholds of the Syrian revolution — until it deemed itself powerful enough to launch back into Iraq and march right up to Tikrit without encountering any serious resistance.

Now, in one of the greatest ironies of all, the United States finds itself back in Iraq, eleven years after its original invasion, bombing its own tanks, its own artillery pieces, and its own armored personnel vehicles — once provided to the Iraqi army during the eight-year occupation and summarily seized by ISIS as it sacked deserted bases across western Iraq — to stem the advances of an extremist enemy that its own imperial misadventures gave rise to. Once again, the US and its allies have created a monster they can no longer control. Once again, they will go to war to try to eradicate it. And once again, they will probably end up making an even bigger mess in the process.

Jerome Roos is a PhD researcher in International Political Economy at the European University Institute, and founding editor of ROAR Magazine. This article was written as part of his weekly column for TeleSUR English.

http://roarmag.org/2014/08/islamic-state-invasion-iraq/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+roarmag+%28ROAR+Magazine%29

Democratic Party operatives seek to stifle opposition, facilitate police crackdown in Ferguson, Missouri

By Eric London
18 August 2014

Democratic Party-affiliated organizations led by Al Sharpton held a meeting Sunday at Greater Grace Church outside Ferguson, Missouri in an effort to diffuse opposition to the August 9 police murder of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown.

Over 700 people attended the meeting, a reflection of the mass anger in Ferguson over the killing of Brown and the militarized crackdown on protests that has followed. From start to finish, however, the meeting bore all the trademarks of a carefully planned Democratic Party operation, orchestrated by Sharpton’s National Action Network in close collaboration with the police, the local Democratic machine and the Obama administration.

Al Sharpton arrives at Greater Grace Church on Sunday

Aside from Sharpton, who gave the keynote address, the line-up included Democratic Congressman William Clay, Martin Luther King III, attorney Benjamin Crump, and Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson. Jesse Jackson was also present but did not speak.

The message issued by all the major speakers was clear: go home, register to vote and pray.

Religious paeans set the tone of the meeting, which unfolded as an exercise in obfuscation. Bishop L.O. Jones introduced the speakers by announcing his support for Johnson, who was appointed last Thursday by Democratic Governor Jay Nixon to oversee the antidemocratic crackdown that has swept the city. Nixon has declared a “state of emergency” to facilitate police repression.

The night after the event, police under Johnson’s direction fired tear gas and deployed armored vehicles against peaceful protesters, well before the midnight curfew, which has now been extended indefinitely.

“Captain Johnson has been doing a very fine job,” Jones said. “He is a fine man, he is working very hard, and may he be in our prayers.”

Johnson has played a central role in the ruling class’s efforts to divert opposition to widespread police brutality. As an African-American man from Ferguson, the political establishment felt he was well qualified to play the role of “good cop,” while giving them room to intensify the attack.

With consummate hypocrisy, Johnson told the audience: “I will protect your right to protest.” He then added that he hoped the events would teach him “to be a better black father.”

“This is my neighborhood,” he claimed. “You are my family, you are my friends. I am you.”

Johnson’s cynicism was outdone only by Sharpton himself, who expressly encouraged those in attendance to appeal to the most right-wing elements of the ruling class. Naming Florida’s Republican Governor Jeb Bush and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by name, Sharpton shouted demagogically: “Nobody can go to the White House until they stop by our house.”

Sharpton went on to proclaim, “We’re not anti-police, we’re not anti-sitting down and solving the problem.”

He then denounced the residents of the town for not voting for the Democratic Party in recent elections: “Some of y’all that are mad now weren’t mad three weeks ago for election day,” he said. “We’ve got to vote. Twelve percent [election turnout] is an insult to your children.”

He went on to insult those who stayed out to demonstrate at night: “There is a difference between an activist and a thug,” he said. He concluded his remarks by calling for a voter registration drive and for young people to join his personal political machine, the NAN.

The biggest applause from the audience came when Sharpton made a brief reference to the immense social and economic crisis in Ferguson and similar cities throughout the country, saying that if the government had money to militarize the police, it had money to spend on jobs programs to put people to work. This point was greeted with a standing ovation.

Sharpton and all the main speakers at the event, however, are Democratic Party politicians and strong supporters of the Obama administration. Under Obama, vast resources have been handed out to the banks and Wall Street, while the ruling class has waged war against the jobs and living standards of the working class. Obama has also presided over an immense increase in the militarization of the police as part of a broader assault on basic democratic rights.

Several speakers made direct appeals to Obama. When Congressman Clay said, “I want to give a big shout out to the president and Attorney General Holder for stepping it up,” the applause was subdued. After Clay’s comment, a majority of the audience began engaging in side conversations. The parents of Michael Brown found their way off the stage.

The hollow refrain issued by the speakers stood in stark contrast to the explosive tensions that hung over the suburban city of 20,000 as the meeting took place. Several hours after the conclusion of the meeting, thousands of demonstrators gathered along West Florissant Street before dusk fell. The mood was a mix of elation and apprehension as the curfew approached.

Alongside the imposition of a curfew, Nixon has asserted for himself the powers available to him during a “state of emergency.”

According to Missouri law, a state of emergency may be called during a “man-made disaster of major proportions.”

Such a disaster allows the governor “to assume all direct operational control of all emergency [i.e. armed] forces and volunteers in the state” and to “seize, take, or requisition to the extent necessary to bring about the most effective protection of the public” any transportation, housing, or energy sources in the area.

The meeting called yesterday only confirms that the entire political establishment—including the likes of Sharpton and Jackson—are united in their determination to suppress and if necessary violently repress with all the powers of the state the popular opposition that has erupted over the police murder of Michael Brown.