Russian strategic bombers to patrol off US coastlines

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By Alex Lantier
14 November 2014

As fighting flares again between the NATO-backed regime in Kiev and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, Russia announced Wednesday that it is re-starting regular patrols in international air space off the US coastline by nuclear-capable strategic bombers. This is the first time since the end of the Cold War that Russia is planning routine patrols off the coast of the United States.

This is a sharp warning that the confrontation the United States and the NATO powers are waging with Russia and China—enormously escalated by the right-wing US-backed coup in Ukraine—poses the risk of world war and a nuclear conflagration.

At a meeting of Russia’s national military council announcing the decision, Defense Secretary Sergei Shoigu said: “In the current situation, we have to maintain military presence in the western Atlantic and eastern Pacific, as well as the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. Due to that, as part of the drills, Russian long-range bombers will conduct flights along Russian borders and over the Arctic Ocean.”

Shoigu made clear that this deployment was a response to NATO threats in the Ukraine crisis. “In many respects, this is connected with the situation in Ukraine, with fomentation of anti-Russian moods on the part of NATO and reinforcement of foreign military presence next to our border,” he explained.

The Kremlin is thought to be negotiating deals for naval or aerial resupply with countries around the world: Algeria and Cyprus in the Mediterranean; Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba in Latin America; Seychelles in the Indian Ocean; and Vietnam and Singapore in Southeast Asia.

As fighting flares in nearby Ukraine, Shoigu also announced that Russia would strengthen its forces on the Crimean peninsula. “Under these conditions, the formation of full-fledged and self-sufficient forces on the Crimean peninsula is a priority task,” he said. He also stated that Russia’s southern military district, the area of the Russian mainland bordering Ukraine, would be reinforced.

Russia’s nuclear saber-rattling is utterly reactionary. Nonetheless, central responsibility for the risk of nuclear war rests with the imperialist powers of the NATO alliance.

In overthrowing Russian-backed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, the NATO powers, led by Washington and Berlin, worked directly with right-wing, Ukrainian fascist elements such as the Right Sector militia and allied reactionaries, including business oligarch Yulia Tymoshenko. In a leaked phone call the month after the coup, Tymoshenko called for the annihilation of ethnic Russians in Ukraine and the murder of Russians and Russian President Vladimir Putin. “It’s about time we grab our guns and kill those scum and their leader,” she said.

Tymoshenko still enjoys NATO support, and a member of her Fatherland Party, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, is Ukraine’s prime minister.

As civil war erupted in Ukraine, and NATO poured troops, warships and fighter planes into Eastern Europe—from the Baltic republics to Poland and the Black Sea—Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot down under circumstances that remain unclear. The NATO powers immediately blamed the catastrophe on Russia, and the Western media whipped up a hysterical campaign that could only be interpreted as a call to war with Russia. (See: Are you ready for nuclear war?)

After months of tension, with fighting intensifying again in eastern Ukraine, the Kremlin has evidently concluded that these bellicose threats are serious, and require a Russian response aimed not only at the Kiev regime, but also at its international backers.

While Shoigu’s threat is directly aimed at the United States, Russian war planning inevitably entails preparation for strikes on major US allies: the survival of some portion of Russia’s population in a war with a US-led alliance depends on destroying the nuclear weapons stationed on the soil not only of the United States, but also Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey and Japan. Britain and France also maintain their own nuclear weapons.

Aerial tensions are also exploding in Europe and the Asia-Pacific. British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon told the Wall Street Journal that Russian military aviation was intensifying its activities in international air space around Europe.

“We’ve seen larger formations, going further,” he said. “On October 31, we saw Russian aircraft go past Norway, past Denmark, past the UK, past Ireland, all the way down to Portugal.” Fallon called the flights “intimidating and frankly dangerous.”

While Russian warships are currently deployed for exercises off Australia, a tense aerial stand-off has erupted in East Asia. Recent Japanese government figures show that Tokyo scrambled fighter jets to monitor Russian military aircraft at a far higher rate this year through September than the same period in 2013—324 times, as opposed to 126. The total number of times Japanese aircraft scrambled to intercept incoming aircraft this year was at a historic high of 533.

This eruption of a major war scare between the world powers testifies to the irrationality of the nation-state system and the historic bankruptcy of capitalism.

The only way forward is the mobilization of the international working class against imperialist war and for socialism on an internationalist program. In this struggle, no support can be given to the maneuvers of the capitalist regimes in Moscow or Beijing. Representing a layer of super-rich oligarchs that emerged from the restoration of capitalism and the looting of public property, they are incapable of making any appeal to anti-war sentiment in the international proletariat.

Their policy veers between making bellicose threats, with the aim of forcing the imperialist powers to the negotiating table, and attempting to reach a deal with them as providers of oil or cheap labor to major transnational corporations. Thus, Russia has recently tested a new Bulava intercontinental ballistic missile, and China is testing Jin-class ballistic missile submarines capable of launching nuclear strikes on the continental US from the Pacific Ocean.

While such weapons can play a major role in a war that would incinerate the planet, they do nothing to mobilize opposition to such a war that exists among workers internationally. Instead, they will be seized upon by the imperialist powers and their allies as a pretext to step up their denunciations and military encirclement of Russia.

Asked by the Sueddeutsche Zeitung what he thought of “Russian hardball tactics in the air and the seas,” Estonian Defense Minister Sven Mikser replied: “In a certain way, it is positive. It helps the West to remain vigilant.”

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/11/14/russ-n14.html

Controlling the Surveillance State

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A new report from the ACLU shows that local law enforcement agencies have been spending big bucks on surveillance technology — and offers recommendations on how to rein in the spending.

California cities and counties have spent more than $65 million on surveillance technologies in the past decade while conducting little public debate about the expenditures, according to a new report published this week by three American Civil Liberties Union chapters in the state. Public records reviewed by the ACLU also indicate that though cities and counties in California bought surveillance technologies 180 instances, they only held public discussions about the proposals just 26 times.

The technologies examined in the report included automated license plate readers, closed-circuit video cameras, facial recognition software, drones, data mining tools, and cellphone interception devices known as ISMI catchers or stingrays. The report analyzed purchases by 59 cities and by 58 county governments in California. In many instances, city and county officials used federal grant money to make the purchases, and then asked local legislative bodies to rubber-stamp their decisions. “We long suspected California law enforcement was taking advantage of federal grant money to skirt official oversight and keep communities in the dark about surveillance systems,” said Nicole Ozer, the technology and civil liberties director for the ACLU of California.

The report also found that only one-third of the cities and counties surveyed had privacy policies to prevent law enforcement abuse.

The ACLU report also includes a model ordinance that would require a public process and official legislative approval by local governments before law enforcement could purchase or use surveillance technologies that could impact the privacy of community members. Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian and San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos planned to announce on Wednesday their intention to introduce versions of the ACLU’s ordinance to their respective legislative bodies. In an interview, Avalos said he believes the proposed ordinance is a long overdue response to an alarming trend. “The level of surveillance in our society has increased dramatically over the past fifteen years and has gotten notably worse under the Obama administration,” Avalos said. “There’s technology out there that is available for cops to pick up … and it’s not clear to me how the technology will be used or useful.”

Avalos also stated that the purchase and use of such equipment is an alarming example of mission creep. “SFPD [San Francisco Police Department] and other police departments are developing an intelligence-gathering capacity beyond what their mission should be,” he said, adding that he is concerned that city policing policy is being driven by technology and equipment purchases that are not currently under the control or oversight of elected officials.

This is not the first effort to regulate the use of surveillance technology by Northern California law enforcement. An ad-hoc advisory committee formed in Oakland to oversee the drafting of the city’s privacy policy for the Domain Awareness Center has recommended similar legislation to city councilmembers (see “Oakland’s Surveillance Fight Continues,” 7/22/14). Oakland’s proposed ordinance would carry a $5,000 penalty or result in a misdemeanor for anyone found to have violated the city’s guidelines. In October, the City of San Carlos rejected a proposal to buy license plate readers on the grounds that the threat to civil liberties and privacy posed by the tracking technology outweighed any potential public safety benefits.

The ACLU’s model ordinance would establish a process for public debate and a consideration of the types of technologies being considered for purchase. The ordinance also would cover the use of surveillance technologies shared between law enforcement agencies, including those employed by fusion centers, such as the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center, which coordinates the sharing of Stingrays owned by police in Oakland and San Francisco and maintains a centralized database of license-plate-reader data from dozens of Northern California agencies. Equipment obtained through private charities such as police foundations would also be covered under the model ordinance. Last month, ProPublica revealed the role of police foundations in New York City and Los Angeles in purchasing surveillance technology that was outside the oversight of local elected officials.

The ACLU report noted that many surveillance tools are being purchased and deployed without consideration of long-term costs associated with maintaining and using such equipment. “The fiscal impact of surveillance can far exceed initial purchase prices for equipment,” the report stated. “Modifying current infrastructure, operating and maintaining systems, and training staff can consume limited time and money even if federal or state grants fund initial costs. Surveillance technologies may also fail or be misused, resulting in costly lawsuits. Looking beyond the sticker price is essential.”

Many communities have purchased costly systems that are intrusive and don’t address the issues that residents believe are important. “The federal funding streaming down from Washington has sidestepped thoughtful considerations of what makes sense for communities,” Ozer said, noting that Oakland received millions of dollars for its Domain Awareness Center, yet received much smaller grants for its successful Operation Ceasefire program.

Avalos said he is in discussions with SFPD Chief Greg Suhr over the proposed ordinance, and is looking forward to hearing the input of his colleagues. “We want a public process around this issue before we enter into the legislative work,” Avalos said.

He is particularly disturbed by the SFPD’s use of devices that capture information from cellphones, like stingrays, and is looking forward to a full accounting of the police department’s technology and policies. Surveillance, Avalos said, “is a broad way of controlling behavior, [and] that is not an American or San Francisco value.”

Turkey Is Supporting ISIS

We Shouldn’t Be Surprised

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by BEN NORTON

In one of the most contemptible of recent political developments, we now know that the great secular, democratic nation of Turkey is directly aiding ISIS fascists in order to crush the secular, left-wing Kurdish resistance.

This proud member of NATO sat on its hands for weeks, watching across the Syrian border as Daesh fascists tried to take over the town of Kobane, a Kurdish stronghold under-equipped resistance forces have valiantly defended with their lives. Many Western pundits were perplexed by Turkish inaction, going to great lengths to craft risible theories. Clear-eyed analysts, on the other hand, understood what Turkey’s modus operandi was all along: “The enemy of the enemy is my friend.” Secular, leftist Kurdish opposition forces are a threat to Turkish hegemony. President Erdoğan would clearly prefer brutally violent Sunni ethnoreligious supremacist extremists over secular, leftist, autonomous Kurds.

As of 10 November, 363 brave Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighters have been martyred. 609 ISIS fascists have been taken down with them.

Until recently, it was speculated that Turkey had provided indirect support to Daesh; there did not appear to be evidence showing direct Turkish assistance to ISIS fascists. New evidence leads to the latter conclusion.

On 7 November, Newsweek published “’ISIS Sees Turkey as Its Ally’: Former Islamic State Member Reveals Turkish Army Cooperation.” The piece is based on testimonies by a former ISIS communications technician who goes by the pseudonym Sherko Omer. Omer traveled to Syria to fight against the bloody Assad regime — a regime with brutal state terrorist campaigns of mass bombingtorturestarvation, and rape of civilians, including children — yet soon “found himself caught up in a horrifying sectarian war, unable to escape.” He never planned on joining ISIS; he was not a Salafi extremist. Omer was trapped in a terrifying snare — a sectarian, international proxy war — and feared for his life, knowing full well that Daesh murders defectors.

Omer managed to escape by surrendering to Kurdish forces (ISIS extremists would not have spared his life after such a surrender), and subsequently detailed to Newsweek what he saw in his time working for the fascist group.

He notes that Turkey allowed trucks from the Daesh stronghold in Raqqa to cross the “border, through Turkey and then back across the border to attack Syrian Kurds in the city of Serekaniye in northern Syria in February.” He later adds that, not only did they travel “through Turkey in a convoy of trucks,” they even stayed “at safehouses along the way.”

As a communication technician, Omer recalls “connect[ing] ISIS field captains and commanders from Syria with people in Turkey on innumerable occasions,” reporting that he “rarely heard them speak in Arabic, and that was only when they talked to their own recruiters, otherwise, they mostly spoke in Turkish because the people they talked to were Turkish officials.”

“ISIS commanders told us to fear nothing at all because there was full cooperation with the Turks,” Omer says.

Newsweek indicates that, until October, “NATO member Turkey had blocked Kurdish fighters from crossing the border into Syria to aid their Syrian counterparts in defending the border town of Kobane,” and “that people attempting to carry supplies across the border were often shot at.”

YPG spokesman Polat Can claimed:

There is more than enough evidence with us now proving that the Turkish army gives ISIS terrorists weapons, ammunitions and allows them to cross the Turkish official border crossings in order for ISIS terrorists to initiate inhumane attacks against the Kurdish people in Rojava [north-eastern Syria].

We now know that he was indeed correct.

“ISIS and Turkey cooperate together on the ground on the basis that they have a common enemy to destroy, the Kurds,” Omer divulged.

Not a New Policy

Newsweek states that it could not independently verify Omer’s testimony, but “anecdotal evidence of Turkish forces turning a blind eye to ISIS activity has been mounting over the past month.” There have even been reports of the Turkish military shooting Kurdish civilians who are trying to flee into Turkey for safety.

Turkish journalist Fehim Taştekin has been writing for months about how “armed groups like al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic Front cross the [Turkish] border freely.” In just one horrific example, in May 2014, he tells of an incident in which the Turkish military killed a Syrian Kurdish mother, in front of her own children, as they fled from Daesh fascists. (On the same day, the Turkish military shot 14-year-old Ali Ozdemir in the face, causing him to lose both of his eyes. He had crossed the border to visit his grandmother.)

Syrian journalist Bazran Halil explained in May 2014, months before the ISIS siege on Kobani:

The canton of Kobani is surrounded by ISIS. There is no electricity, no water. People drink water from wells. We are threatened by cholera. Turkey is the only place where people can meet their needs. Think, we don’t even have chickens. For Turkey to close the border means, ‘Go surrender to ISIS.’ In the border segments under control of Islamist organizations, everything is allowed to cross. Factories looted in Aleppo are carried across in trucks, and nobody says anything.

The Turkish policy, nevertheless, is to shoot, and to shoot to kill. The chairman of the Bar Association in Diyarbakir, a large southeastern Turkish city, insists that execution is the proper punishment to mete out to refugees “illegally” crossing the border. The chief of Diyarbakir’s Human Rights Association explains that soldiers on the border are ordered to shoot to kill. This is Turkey’s “Rojava policy” — that is to say, its plan to quash the resistance and kill the Kurds.

In fact, while Daesh was carving out huge swaths of Syrian territory in which to impose a fascist “caliphate” (that is recognized by approximately zero of the world’s prominent Muslim scholars, leaders, and institutions), Turkish fighter jets bombed the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)  — a secular, leftist organization affiliated with the YPG — for the first time since their 2012 ceasefire. Turkey insisted the bombs were not meant to defend ISIS (there is certainly no way attacking resistance groups as they courageously battle against ethnoreligious supremacist terrorists fighting desperately to take over their land could possibly be construed as implicitly supporting that fascist menace).

Given the long and egregious history of anti-Kurdish racism in Turkey, institutionalized under Atatürk, we should not be surprised. Yet Erdoğan’s regime is doing much more than crushing YPG/PKK freedom fighters — something much, much more perilous. Turkey is fanning the flames of a bloody and mushrooming sectarian conflagration that has already engulfed much of the Middle East and may very well extend further, consuming all in its wake.

Ben Norton is an artist and activist. His website can be found at http://bennorton.com/.

 

http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/11/11/turkey-is-supporting-isis/

 

Israel committed war crimes in Gaza, Amnesty International finds

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By Jean Shaoul
10 November 2014

Amnesty International (AI) has concluded that Israel used disproportionate military force during last summer’s 50-day Operation Protective Edge in Gaza.

Israeli bombs killed entire Palestinian families in their homes without warning or military purpose, which would constitute war crimes.

A damning Amnesty report, Families Under Rubble, says, “Israeli forces killed scores of Palestinian civilians in attacks targeting houses full of people, which in some cases have amounted to war crimes.” It accuses Israel of “callous indifference” towards the lives of civilians, adding that the country’s military may be guilty of war crimes.

Amnesty has detailed eight instances in which people’s homes were attacked with large aerial bombs without warning, resulting in the deaths of at least 104 civilians, including 62 children. It gives numerous accounts of eyewitnesses who describe the horror of sifting through the rubble of their destroyed homes for loved ones. One survivor describes holding a bag full of the “shreds” of her son’s body.

Philip Luther, director of AI’s Middle East and North Africa Programme, said, “Israeli forces have brazenly flouted the laws of war by carrying out a series of attacks on civilian homes, displaying callous indifference to the carnage caused.”

In some of the cases, Amnesty was unable to identify any obvious military target, in which case the attacks deliberately targeted civilians and would constitute war crimes. Israeli officials refused to provide justification for the attacks cited in the report or even acknowledge that they happened.

In other cases, Amnesty identified possible military targets that could have justified attacks but stressed that the mass loss of civilian lives accompanying the strikes clearly outweighed any advantages. Luther said, “The repeated, disproportionate attacks on homes indicate that Israel’s current military tactics are deeply flawed and fundamentally at odds with the principles of international humanitarian law.

“What is crucial now is that there is accountability for any violations of international humanitarian law that have been committed. The Israeli authorities must provide answers.”

Luther called for the UN Security Council to refer the issue to the International Criminal Court (ICC) so that the prosecutor could investigate allegations of crimes under international law by all parties. But both organisations are subject to US dictates and bullying. Washington has traditionally vetoed all resolutions in the Security Council hostile to Israel, while last Thursday the ICC’s chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said she would not be taking action over Israel’s raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla in 2010 that killed ten Turkish activists. She said that despite “reasonable basis” that war crimes had been committed, the ICC had to prioritise larger-scale events.

“I have concluded that the potential case(s) likely arising from an investigation into this incident would not be of ‘sufficient gravity’ to justify further action by the ICC,” she said.

Israel dismissed the report as “a propaganda tool for Hamas and other terror groups” and questioned its methodology. This was because Amnesty, along with other well-known international human rights organisations, had been denied access to Gaza since 2012, and had thus been forced to carry out the research for the report remotely, in conjunction with two fieldworkers based in Gaza.

The Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that Amnesty “ignores documented war crimes perpetrated by Hamas” and “The report does not mention the word terror in relation to Hamas or other armed Palestinian groups, nor mentions tunnels built by Hamas to infiltrate Israel and perpetrate terror attacks.”

This is a barefaced lie, as AI pointed out that Palestinian armed groups committed war crimes by firing thousands of rockets indiscriminately into Israel, killing six civilians, including one child.

Israel announced that it would not co-operate with the Commission of Inquiry established by the UN Human Rights Council. While Israel claims to be carrying out investigations into 90 separate incidents, nothing will come of them.

Amnesty International was not alone in accusing Israel of war crimes. Human Rights Watch, the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem and UN officials also charged Israel with breaching international law.

Unable to provide any progressive response to the decades long Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and confronting mounting social tensions among Israelis and Palestinians alike, the Israeli government launched a homicidal campaign against the defenceless Palestinians in Gaza.

According to UN figures, Operation Protective Edge killed 2,192 Palestinians, including 1,523 of whom 519 were children, injured tens of thousands more, and destroyed or damaged at least 18,000 homes, making up to 10 percent of the population homeless. The Israel Defense Force (IDF) attacked schools, including UN schools, hospitals, water plants, sewage treatment plants, ambulances and journalists. Their indiscriminate assassination attempts against leaders of the Islamist Hamas movement killed dozens of their family members. Israel in contrast lost six civilians, one migrant worker, and 64 soldiers.

Oxfam, the international aid agency, said that, “under current restrictions and rate of imports it could take more than 50 years to build the 89,000 new homes [those destroyed in previous wars have still not been rebuilt], 226 new schools, as well as the health facilities, factories and water and sanitation infrastructure that people in Gaza need.”

This savage war had the backing of the Obama administration and the European powers until angry international protests and demonstrations against Israel’s inhumanity threatened to set off a widespread anti-war movement that would cut across Washington’s plans for a wider war in Iraq and Syria. Israel was therefore forced by the imperialist powers to bring the war to a temporary end, agreeing to a deal that would see the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas police Gaza on Israel’s behalf.

While various Arab and Western governments pledged $5.4 billion at a donor conference hosted in Cairo last month, more than half will go to the Palestinian Authority (PA) and its security forces, already the largest in the world relative to its population. A massive 26 percent of the PA’s budget, ahead of education (16 percent) and health (9 percent), goes on security, while nearly half of its workforce is employed in security.

The Palestine Liberation Organization told the Ma’an News Agency last Sunday that no date had been set for implementing reconstruction projects in Gaza.

General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaking about the Amnesty report, told a New York meeting of the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs that he thought the Israel Defence Force “did what they could” to avoid civilian casualties. “I actually do think that Israel went to extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage and civilian casualties,” he declared. “In this kind of conflict, where you are held to a standard that your enemy is not held to, you’re going to be criticized for civilian casualties.”

Dempsey said that the Pentagon had three months ago sent a “lessons-learned team” of senior officers and non-commissioned officers to work with the IDF to see what could be learned from the Gaza operation.

For the European Union, it was business as usual. The EU’s new Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini went to Israel on Friday to see Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu. While she criticised recent terrorist attacks and Israel’s settlement construction in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, she said nothing about the Amnesty report.

In the West Bank and East Jerusalem, tensions are rising amid widespread fears of another intifada. Within Israel itself, angry riots broke out when a Palestinian youth was shot and killed in a town near Nazareth by security forces, whose fabricated justification was exposed by a video clip. [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1UNlXJ7QQGM#t=15].

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/11/10/isra-n10.html

Our insistence on calling soldiers heroes deadens real democracy

It’s been 70 years since we fought a war about freedom. Forced troop worship and compulsory patriotism must end

You don't protect my freedom: Our childish insistence on calling soldiers heroes deadens real democracy
Graduation ceremony at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado, May 28, 2014. (Credit: AP/Brennan Linsley)

Put a man in uniform, preferably a white man, give him a gun, and Americans will worship him. It is a particularly childish trait, of a childlike culture, that insists on anointing all active military members and police officers as “heroes.” The rhetorical sloppiness and intellectual shallowness of affixing such a reverent label to everyone in the military or law enforcement betrays a frightening cultural streak of nationalism, chauvinism, authoritarianism and totalitarianism, but it also makes honest and serious conversations necessary for the maintenance and enhancement of a fragile democracy nearly impossible.

It has become impossible to go a week without reading a story about police brutality, abuse of power and misuse of authority. Michael Brown’s murder represents the tip of a body pile, and in just the past month, several videos have emerged of police assaulting people, including pregnant women, for reasons justifiable only to the insane.

It is equally challenging for anyone reasonable, and not drowning in the syrup of patriotic sentimentality, to stop saluting, and look at the servicemen of the American military with criticism and skepticism. There is a sexual assault epidemic in the military. In 2003, a Department of Defense study found that one-third of women seeking medical care in the VA system reported experiencing rape or sexual violence while in the military. Internal and external studies demonstrate that since the official study, numbers of sexual assaults within the military have only increased, especially with male victims. According to the Pentagon, 38 men are sexually assaulted every single day in the U.S. military. Given that rape and sexual assault are, traditionally, the most underreported crimes, the horrific statistics likely fail to capture the reality of the sexual dungeon that has become the United States military.

Chelsea Manning, now serving time in prison as a whistle-blower, uncovered multiple incidents of fellow soldiers laughing as they murdered civilians. Keith Gentry, a former Navy man, wrote that when he and his division were bored they preferred passing the time with the “entertainment” of YouTube videos capturing air raids of Iraq and Afghanistan, often making jokes and mocking the victims of American violence. If the murder of civilians, the rape of “brothers and sisters” on base, and the relegation of death and torture of strangers as fodder for amusement qualifies as heroism, the world needs better villains.



It is undeniable that there are police officers who heroically uphold their motto and mission to “serve and protect,” just as it is indisputable that there are members of the military who valiantly sacrifice themselves for the sake of others. Reviewing the research proving cruelty and mendacity within law enforcement and the military, and reading the stories of trauma and tragedy caused by officers and soldiers, does not mean that no cop or troop qualifies as a hero, but it certainly means that many of them are not heroes.

Acknowledging the spread of sadism across the ranks of military also does not mean that the U.S. government should neglect veterans, as they often do, by cutting their healthcare options, delaying or denying treatment, and reducing psychiatric services. On the contrary, if American politicians and pundits genuinely believed that American military members are “heroes,” they would not settle for sloganeering, and garish tributes. They would insist that veterans receive the best healthcare possible. Improving and universalizing high quality healthcare for all Americans, including veterans, is a much better and truer way to honor the risks soldiers and Marines accept on orders than unofficially imposing a juvenile and dictatorial rule over speech in which anything less than absolute and awed adulation for all things military is treasonous.

One of the reasons that the American public so eagerly and excitedly complies with the cultural code of lionizing every soldier and cop is because of the physical risk-taking and bravery many of them display on the foreign battleground and the American street. Physical strength and courage is only useful and laudable when invested in a cause that is noble and moral. The causes of American foreign policy, especially at the present, rarely qualify for either compliment. The “troops are heroes” boosters of American life typically toss out clichés to defend their generalization – “They defend our freedom,” “They fight so we don’t have to.”

No American freedom is currently at stake in Afghanistan. It is impossible to imagine an argument to the contrary, just as the war in Iraq was clearly fought for the interests of empire, the profits of defense contractors, and the edification of neoconservative theorists. It had nothing to do with the safety or freedom of the American people. The last time the U.S. military deployed to fight for the protection of American life was in World War II – an inconvenient fact that reduces clichés about “thanking a soldier” for free speech to rubble. If a soldier deserves gratitude, so does the litigator who argued key First Amendment cases in court, the legislators who voted for the protection of free speech, and thousands of external agitators who rallied for more speech rights, less censorship and broader access to media.

Wars that are not heroic have no real heroes, except for the people who oppose those wars. Far from being the heroes of recent wars, American troops are among their victims. No rational person can blame the soldier, the Marine, the airman, or the Navy man for the stupid and destructive foreign policy of the U.S. government, but calling them “heroes,” and settling for nothing less, makes honest and critical conversations about American foreign policy less likely to happen. If all troops are heroes, it doesn’t make much sense to call their mission unnecessary and unjust. It also makes conversations about the sexual assault epidemic, or the killing of innocent civilians, impossible. If all troops are heroes, it doesn’t make any sense to acknowledge that some are rapists and sadists.

The same principle of clear-eyed scrutiny applies to law enforcement agencies. Police departments everywhere need extensive investigation of their training methods, qualifications for getting on the job, and psychological evaluation. None of that will happen as long as the culture calls cops heroes, regardless of their behavior.

An understandable reason for calling all troops heroes, even on the left, is to honor the sacrifice they make after they die or endure a life-altering injury in one of America’s foolish acts of aggression. A more helpful and productive act of citizenship, and sign of solidarity with the military, is the enlistment in an antiwar movement that would prevent the government from using its volunteer Army as a plaything for the financial advancement and political cover of the state-corporate nexus and the military-industrial complex of Dwight Eishenhower’s nightmares.

Given the dubious and dangerous nature of American foreign policy, and the neglect and abuse veterans often suffer when returning home wounded or traumatized, Americans, especially those who oppose war, should do everything they can to discourage young, poor and working-class men and women from joining the military. Part of the campaign against enlistment requires removing the glory of the “hero” label from those who do enlist. Stanley Hauerwas, a professor of divinity studies at Duke whom Time called “America’s best theologian,” has suggested that, given the radical pacifism of Jesus Christ, American churches should do all they can to discourage its young congregants from joining the military. Haurwas’ brand of intellectual courage is necessary, even among non-Christians, to combat the hysterical sycophancy toward the military in a culture where even saluting a Marine, while holding a coffee cup, is tantamount to terrorism.

The men and women who do enlist deserve better than to die in the dirt and come home in a bag, or spend their lives in wheelchairs, and their parents should not have to drown in tears and suffer the heartbreak of burying their children. The catastrophes become less common when fewer people join the military.

Calling all cops and troops heroes insults those who actually are heroic – the soldier who runs into the line of fire to protect his division, the police officer who works tirelessly to find a missing child – by placing them alongside the cops who shoot unarmed teenagers who have their hands in the air, or the soldier who rapes his subordinate.

It also degrades the collective understanding of heroism to the fantasies of high-budget, cheap-story action movies. The American conception of heroism seems inextricably linked to violence; not yet graduated from third-grade games of cops and robbers. Explosions and smoking guns might make for entertaining television, but they are not necessary, and more and more in modern society, not even helpful in determining what makes a hero.

A social worker who commits to the care and advocacy of adults with developmental disabilities – helping them find employment, group home placement and medical care, and just treating them with love and kindness – is a hero. A hospice worker in a poor neighborhood, providing precious comfort and consolation to someone dying on the ugly edges of American healthcare, is a hero. An inner-city teacher, working hard to give essential education and meaningful affirmation to children living in neighborhoods where bullets fly and families fall apart, is a hero.

Not all teachers, hospice workers or social workers are heroes, but emphasizing the heroism of those who do commit to their clients, patients and students with love and service would cause a shift of America’s fundamental values. It would place the spotlight on tender and selfless acts of solidarity and empathy for the poor. Calling all cops heroes too often leads to pathetic deference to authority, even when the results are fatal, and insisting all members of the military are heroes too often reinforces the American values of militarism and exceptionalism.

The assignment of heroism, exactly like the literary construct, might have more to do with the assignment of villainy than the actual honoring of “heroes.” Every hero needs a villain. If the only heroes are armed men fighting the country’s wars on drugs and wars in the Middle East, America’s only villains are criminals and terrorists. If servants of the poor, sick and oppressed are the heroes, then the villains are those who oppress, profit from inequality and poverty, and neglect the sick. If that is the real battle of heroism versus villainy, everyone is implicated, and everyone has a far greater role than repeating slogans, tying ribbons and placing stickers on bumpers.

 

David Masciotra is the author of Mellencamp: American Troubadour (forthcoming, University Press of Kentucky). He writes regularly for the Daily Beast and Splice Today. For more information visit http://www.davidmasciotra.com.

Ayotzinapa protests awaken Mexico from a nightmare

by ROAR Collective on November 7, 2014

Post image for Ayotzinapa protests awaken Mexico from a nightmareThe disappearance of 43 students whirls Mexico into a political crisis, but the social movement that has risen up in response could change it forever.

By Maggie Blanca and Jeremy Crowlesmith

The political and humanitarian crisis in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero marks a new low in a country marred by corruption and drug violence. More than a month after the disappearances of 43 students there is still no sign of them, while official government search efforts are laced by ambiguities to say the least.

At the same time the disappearances have stirred up a hornet’s nest that has taken the form of an unparalleled and broad social movement in all corners of Mexico.

Mexico, with Guerrero at its epicenter, seems torn between despair and hope. Despair from the horror of the atrocious events in Iguala, and hope from the structural change promised by the societal response. Which social and political processes have erupted, exactly, and what does this mean for the possibilities of social change in Mexico?

 A breeding ground for revolutionaries

The entrance of the Rural Normal school in Ayotzinapa welcomes her students with murals of Che Guevara, Vladimir Lenin, Friedrich Engels, and Carlos Marx. The disappeared students come from a school with a history of left politics embedded in a special national education program set up to train primary school teachers. Started in 1920, this program has the express goal of social emancipation of the poor. The school has produced two of Guerrero’s most important guerrilla leaders in the seventies and, unsurprisingly, has gained the reputation of being a breeding ground for radical activism.

Contemporary students are the children of farmers and indigenous families living in the poorest and most marginalized areas of Mexico. The school’s position as a hotbed of activism has not gone unnoticed and has constantly forced students to face state repression in the form of chronic underfunding, police violence and criminalization.

 The disappearances

On September 25, a group of Ayotzinapa students went to the nearby town of Iguala to organize transport to the remembrance protest of the 1968 Tlatelolco student massacre. For lack of money, the students appropriated three buses on the fateful night; in response, the mayor of Iguala gave orders to stop the buses “no matter what.” Enforcing the orders, the local police opened fire on several buses, killing six students and bystanders and leaving 25 wounded. The night deteriorated into a head-hunt for the fleeing students, 43 of whom were eventually abducted in police vehicles never to be heard of since.

The response of the government was riddled with exceptional incompetence, as the following events reveal. The day after the drama, the responsible mayor of Iguala requested a leave of absence and went on the run. Meanwhile, the governor of Guerrero and the president of the republic have been involved in a ping-pong game of finger pointing to avoid responsibility. The respected human rights center Tlachinollan, located in Guerrero, has pointed out the serious deficiencies in the official investigation and the search for the students. Consequently, the parents of the disappeared students have announced to only trust the findings of a foreign team of investigators. Mexicans have lost all trust in the authorities to bring the crisis to a just end.

Spray paint on the wall in Mexico-City reading ‘narcoestado’, or drugs state

 A public secret revealed

The Iguala events have irrefutably revealed ties between powerful drug cartels, the local police force and the responsible mayor. The interwoven nature of local governments with organized crime is no secret. But the revelations brought to light by the recent events have forced the government to break with their policy of official denial. As president Peña Nieto stated at a press conference, “the Iguala events have revealed the naked truth.”

Ayotzinapa has become the paragon of institutional ties with drug cartels and represents the sickness that has been ailing Mexican society in the form of corruption, extreme violence and impunity for years.

The movement that has risen in response to the Iguala events breaths a certain sense of relief. A family member of an Ayotzinapa student who disappeared a few years ago, relates how the movement has helped her: “Without Ayotzinapa our voices would still be shrouded in silence.”

Where people used to whisper, they now openly agitate against the narcogobierno [drugs government]. This sea change must not be underestimated in the context of the extreme violence and repression which would normally make a public expression of this nature a dangerous act. Ayotzinapa has finally laid bare this public secret.

Thousands protests in the streets of Acapulco on October 17

 The perfect storm?

The disappearance of the students has mobilized and brought together diverse local groups from all social strata and regions of Mexican society. Committees of support have been set up in the most remote corners of Mexico, the Zapatistas have held a silent march in Chiapas and famous Mexican actors have declared their solidarity. However, the heart of the movement is located in Iguala, in the Asamblea Nacional Popular (ANP) headed by the parents and schoolmates of the disappeared students.

The strength of the Ayotzinapa movement is based in the coalition of student and teachers organizations. This coalition seems to be the recipe for a perfect storm. Both are at the forefront of the struggle and are flooding Mexican streets with staggering numbers, of which the 50.000 strong demonstration on October 22 in Mexico City has been the largest so far.

In Guerrero, epicenter of the struggle, highways are blockaded daily, government buildings are torched and radio stations occupied and taken over. Students and teachers of leading universities have called various strikes, and there is talk of a general strike to come. To top all this off, teachers associations have set themselves the goal of taking over all of Guerrero’s town halls. At the time of writing the count is set at 22 out of a total of 81.

In recent Mexican history, teachers and students have been the vanguard of social struggles, which has given them an important symbolic value. It also provides the current movement with the needed practical experience and organizational structures to build upon.

 Roots of the movement

Mexican universities are well known for their militant and radical student movements. The latest revival took place in the form of a national movement called #YoSoy132 (#IAm132). The movement started during the presidential election campaigns of 2012 when the students agitated for the democratization of the media because of their their partial reporting, which favored erstwhile presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto. The movement is organized horizontally and made up of 130 local and autonomous assemblies spread all over Mexico, coordinating in its national Interuniversitaria, which has now taken up the cause of the Ayotzinapa students.

Just like #YoSoy132, the radical teachers organizations besmirched the start of the presidential term of Peña Nieto with large-scale protests when he announced controversial neoliberal reforms in education, energy and telecommunications. The democratic section of the national teachers union CNTE, well known for their role in the Oaxaca uprising of 2006, has led the protests against the attempt to privatize Mexican education.

In Guerrero, these militant protests were led by the teachers organization CETEG, which has united the forces of farmers, indigenous people, students and community police, thereby broadening the struggle against the entire neoliberal offensive of the new government. Besides the education reforms, they protested the privatization of the energy sector, destructive mining projects, repression of political activists and the lack of public security.

The Interuniversitaria, CNTE and CETEG are the motor of the current Ayotzinapa movement.

Banner reading “We are all Ayotzinapa”, “Don’t forgive, or forget”, “Punish those responsible”, “Alive they took them, alive we want them back”

 Insecurity unites a diverse movement

“Alive they took them, alive we want them back.” Recurrent in all protests, this slogan expresses the most important demand of the movement: the unharmed return of the students and the punishment of all those responsible for their disappearance. Banners and social media also often show the hash-tag ‘#AyotzinapaSomosTodos’ [#WeAreAllAyotzinapa]. This sends the clear message that this ‘could have happened to anybody in Mexico’. This sad reality of the structural insecurity caused by the deep ties between the corrupt government and organized crime speaks to a diversity of Mexicans and is the glue that binds the Ayotzinapa movement.

A current in the movement articulates Ayotzinapa as a systemic problem. It is mainly the radical teachers organizations which are determined not to settle for the usual course of events in Mexican political crises, namely a reshuffling of the political cards and then back to business as usual. The protesters’ response to the resignation of Guerrero’s governor says it all. “It will not solve anything,” was the loud response after which the mobilization and protests continued with unrelenting zeal. Indeed, the appointment of an interim governor of Guerrero was answered immediately with the demand for his dismissal since he was not chosen by el pueblo, the people, but by the federal government. On their own terms, the Ayotzinapa movement demands the dissolution of the municipal, state and federal governments. As they say in Mexico, “The cob must be stripped of all its corn.”

The broad coalition that makes up the Ayotzinapa movement has its internal complexities and tensions. The issue of insecurity speaks just as well to people who want a properly functioning liberal democracy as to radical groups that would like to see far-reaching political change. This is evident from the following examples.

A few days after the disappearance of the students, shopkeepers and merchants of Guerrero’s capital Chilpancingo joined the protest demanding the resignation of the governor. The extreme violence in the region has been seriously affecting commerce in Chilpancingo, leading to this groups’ participation. Under a similar pretext of insecurity, 200 striking police officers in Acapulco joined the struggle. While the middle classes focus on the issue of insecurity, a group of socialist students of the Ayotzinapa movement choose a more fundamental focus.

The students have decided to temporarily occupy two mega-stores in Chilpancingo to hand out food and basic supplies. Electronics and luxury items remain untouched, which makes it different from ordinary plundering, but rather sends a clear political statement that inequality is at the root of the problems in Mexico. This message also resonates in many of the highway blockades, where the Ayotzinapa movement gives civil vehicles free passage but denies it completely to the trucks of multinationals like Coca Cola and BIMBO, symbols of the inequality of the capitalist system.

The different currents that feed the Ayotzinapa movement are its strength because of the broad support. At the same time, the divergent currents carry with them the risk of fragmentation.

 From de-escalation to militarization

During the first month of protests, the government was surprisingly peaceful in its response. Even when more militant actions occurred, like setting fire to government buildings or occupations of town halls, the authorities did not intervene. The government seemed to be hoping for a fiery but short lived movement that would burn out by itself. Besides, this de-escalation strategy was at the time the only realistic course of action since a new victim of state violence would only have heightened the flames of discontent.

However, the government did employ its usual tactic of discrediting the students and teachers by labeling them as dangerous and radical vandals. More recently they have even stooped to the level of accusing the Ayotzinapa students of being allied to a drug cartel. Strikingly enough, these accusations have not had the sought-after effect on the people.

On October 29, more than a month into the protests, the first violent confrontation with the military police forces took place when teachers of CETEG attempted to occupy the Casa Guerrero, the White House of Guerrero. Meanwhile, the government is taking over control of the cities of Guerrero as well as twelve municipalities. A large-scale militarization of the region is taking place, denounced by the teachers organizations as an attempt to suppress the movement. Now that more and more anger is directed towards the president himself, the chances of a violent intervention are growing by the day.

 Self-organization: leading by example

The long-standing community police forces of Guerrero are an inspiration to the Ayotzinapa movement. When people speak of real solutions to rising insecurity, they are quick to refer to the self-organized community police, “where the people do it themselves.”

Indigenous communities, mostly, have organized their police groups based on their own culture and organizational structures. The police are directly responsive to the community which governs and controls their activities. The areas where the community police is active are seen as the safest places in Guerrero.

UPOEG is one of the community police organizations which has gained a lot of respect by immediately organizing search parties for the disappeared students, coordinating their efforts with the parents. As such, UPOEG is filling the void left by the government and shows the power and possibilities of self-organization. Besides its policing role, UPOEG is also putting forward a plan to create a ‘fourth level of government’ next to the existing federal, state and municipal structure of Mexico. This would take the shape of a ‘council of community leaders’ with the aim of pulling political power to the bottom of Mexican society: the communities.

Self-organization in Guerrero is referred to by the Ayotzinapa movement as an example of what another Mexico might look like.

Satirical version of Time Magazine cover depicting president Peña Nieto as Death, with the accompanying text “Slaying Mexico”

 The importance of international pressure

The fear that political instability will disrupt Mexican commercial interests makes the country highly susceptible to international pressure. This was apparent when the Zapatistas rose up in 1994 during the implementation of the NAFTA free trade agreement. The pressure exerted on Mexico as a response to the international solidarity movement was of crucial importance in the course of the Zapatista struggle.

The Mexican government does not want to lose her image as ‘stable’ and ‘open for business’. The protesters in Mexico are well aware of this fact. They have made a satirical version of the cover of the influential Time Magazine and spread it far and wide via social media. The image parodies an edition of Time with Peña Nieto ‘Saving Mexico’ on the front cover. The parody depicts the president as Death with a scythe in his hand, accompanied by the text “Slaying Mexico.” This is a firm call for international pressure.

International intellectuals supported the struggle with a critical open letter to president Peña Nieto signed by Noam Chomsky, Umberto Eco and more than two-thousand other academics.

Once more, it is of crucial importance that the eyes of the world are turned to Mexico to restrain its government from using all-out repression against the Ayotzinapa movement. The course of struggle is unclear, and a burst of violence lurks in every corner, just like the possibility for social change. One thing is certain: a diverse group of Mexicans is envisioning Another Mexico, which now more than ever, is possible.

Maggie Blanca is an independent journalist and PhD student in Cultural Anthropology.

Jeremy Crowlesmith is an independent journalist based in Utrecht, the Netherlands, with a background in student organizing and independent media.

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The Staggeringly High Number of Muslim Countries the U.S. Has Bombed or Invaded Since 1980


Glenn Greenwald lambasts American hypocrisy when it comes to Islamic violence.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com

 As the inevitable two-year campaign for the White House gears up, foreign policy is likely to be a hot topic, particularly within the Republican Party, where hawks like Sen. Ted Cruz (TX) may face off with more restraint-oriented lawmakers like Sen. Rand Paul (KY).

Journalist Glenn Greenwald points to a Washington Post op-ed by Andrew Bacevich laying out the case that our foreign relations with the Muslim world are fraught with too much violence – with Syria being the 14th country we’ve bombed or occupied since 1980:

As America’s efforts to “degrade and ultimately destroy” Islamic State militants extent into Syria, Iraq War III has seamlessly morphed into Greater Middle East Battlefield XIV. That is, Syria has become at least the 14th country in the Islamic world that U.S. forces have invaded or occupied or bombed, and in which American soldiers have killed or been killed. And that’s just since 1980.

Let’s tick them off: Iran (1980, 1987-1988), Libya (1981, 1986, 1989, 2011), Lebanon (1983), Kuwait (1991), Iraq (1991-2011, 2014-), Somalia (1992-1993, 2007-), Bosnia (1995), Saudi Arabia (1991, 1996), Afghanistan (1998, 2001-), Sudan (1998), Kosovo (1999), Yemen (2000, 2002-), Pakistan (2004-) and now Syria. Whew.

Greenwald comments on the statistic by referencing the recent controversies of Sam Harris and Bill Maher attacking Islam as uniquely violent, “Those who sit around in the U.S. or the U.K. endlessly inveighing against the evils of Islam, depicting it as the root of violence and evil (the “ mother lode of bad ideas“), while spending very little time on their own societies’ addictions to violence and aggression, or their own religious and nationalistic drives, have reached the peak of self-blinding tribalism. They really are akin to having a neighbor down the street who constantly murders, steals and pillages, and then spends his spare time flamboyantly denouncing people who live thousands of miles away for their bad acts. Such a person would be regarded as pathologically self-deluded, a term that also describes those political and intellectual factions which replicate that behavior.”

Read Greenwald’s full article here.

 

Zaid Jilani is the investigative blogger and campaigner for the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. He is formerly the senior reporter-blogger for ThinkProgress.

http://www.alternet.org/world/staggeringly-high-number-muslim-countries-us-has-bombed-or-invaded-1980?akid=12451.265072.JKEBIf&rd=1&src=newsletter1026338&t=19