'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Thursday, March 29, 2012

General Strike in Spain/Clashes in Barcelona 

UPDATE 2: A first hand account from Oscar Reyes in Barcelona, posted at Red Pepper:

* Over 1,000 people joined the march from our neighbourhood (Sant Andreu) into town. It wasn’t the 'usual suspects'. It was the regulars of our local high street – where most shops were closed – transplanted onto Meridiana, a major six-lane road into the centre of Barcelona. The good-humored march was one of numerous feeder marches that helped to bring the city to a standstill. The unions report an 800,000-strong demonstration. El Pais puts it at over 275,000.

* It isn’t hard to find evidence of clashes in the centre of town. Barricades had been lit on many of the road junctions around Diagonal, a well-off shopping district. These are being cleared away by street sweepers. But it’s the details that are telling here: the bin lorries are each placarded with 'serveis minims' [minimum service]. Most of the banks have had their windows smashed. They are cordoned off, but there is no attempt at a clean up here.

UPDATE 1: From the Guardian:

Demonstrators brought the centres of Madrid, Barcelona and other cities to a standstill as trade unions claimed the strike was more widely supported than previous nationwide stoppages in 2010 and 2002. Rajoy's officials claimed, however, that the 2010 strike against a socialist government had received greater support.

Electricity consumption fell by 17%, suggesting the strike was impacting on major industries – though most shops appeared to be open in Madrid.

Street fires were set in both Madrid and Barcelona, where roads into the city were blocked, but there were few reports of serious violence.

The strike was most successful where Spain's big two unions, the General Workers Union and the Workers Commissions, are strongest – in large factories, the civil service and transport.

General Workers leader Cándido Méndez put average participation at midday at 77% but said that it was 97% in industry and construction.

This strike has been an unquestionable success, he said.

Civilized protest looked unlikely to alter the determination of the government to drive on with reforms and austerity.


There was a general strike in Spain today to protest the austerity policies being imposed by the government and the European Union. The police in Barcelona have used rubber bullets and tear gas, with reports of people smashing shop windows. Meanwhile, there have been large protest marches in Madrid and Barcelona. For a Guardian video report of events in Barcelona today, go here. For a livestream broadcast from Barcelona through the Global Revolution website, with English subtitles, go here. For Twitter updates in Spanish and English, go to the #M29 hashtag. Other video sources can be found through Twitter and YouTube as well.

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

77 Deaths in Norway/7 Deaths in France 

Even if, like me, you are unable to read French, you can still understand the contrast here between Anders Breivik and Mohamed Merah. According to Le Figaro, one is a terrorist, the other is not. Guess which one is which?

Hat tip to the Angry Arab.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

No One Asked Their Names 

UPDATE 2: Afghan officials retract an earlier claim that there are eyewitness villager accounts of several soldiers involved in the massacre: The evidence collected from the villagers was not enough to confirm that there was more than one shooter. Accounts of multiple gunmen were based on hearsay.

UPDATE 1: Did Staff Sergeant Robert Bales kill and wound all of the victims, or did other troops in his unit participate as well? Consider, for example, this troubling information:

Residents of an Afghan village near where an American soldier is alleged to have killed 16 civilians are convinced that the slayings were in retaliation for a roadside bomb attack on US forces in the same area a few days earlier.

In accounts to The Associated Press and to Afghan government officials, the residents allege that US troops lined up men from the village of Mokhoyan against a wall after the bombing on either March 7 or 8, and told them they would pay a price for the attack.

Consider also that witnesses have told an Afghan investigative team that a substantial number of troops were involved in the massacre:

Between 15 and 20 American soldiers were involved in the March 11 massacre of civilians in Kandahar Province, according to a parliamentary probe of the killings, not merely one sergeant as has been widely reported for the past week. An investigative team of parliament members spent two days in the province, interviewing members of the victims' families and tribal elders and gathering evidence related to last Sunday's murders in which 16 Afghan civilians, including nine children, were killed and their bodies set on fire. The attacks lasted one hour Sunday morning and were carried out by two groups of U.S. soldiers, the leader of the investigative team told Pajhwok Afghan News.

The villages are one and a half kilometre from the American military base, Hamidzai Lali said. We are convinced that one soldier cannot kill so many people in two villages within one hour at the same time, and the 16 civilians, most of them children and women, have been killed by the two groups. The investigation indicates 15 to 20 soldiers took part in the killings, said Lali, who has asked the Afghan government, the United Nations and the international community to ensure the perpetrators are punished in Afghanistan. He expressed anger that the one soldier arrested by the U.S. military in connection with the murders had been flown from Afghanistan to Kuwait. People interviewed by the lawmakers warned that if the killers were not punished, they would launch a movement against the Afghan authorities who had agreed to the presence of foreign troops in the country in 2001, Lali said.

Meanwhile, Bales' defense attorney is suggesting that he had nothing to do with the massacre because he purportedly doesn't remember anything. His attorney has also stated that, to date, the Pentagon has not provided him with any information connecting Bales to it. Implausible? Probably, but, then again, the mainstream media has been recycling Pentagon press releases about the incident without requiring any actual proof to the point of incredulity.

INITIAL POST: Qais Azimy identifies the anonymous victims of the Afghan massacre:

The dead:
Mohamed Dawood son of Abdullah
Khudaydad son of Mohamed Juma
Nazar Mohamed
Shatarina daughter of Sultan Mohamed
Zahra daughter of Abdul Hamid
Nazia daughter of Dost Mohamed
Masooma daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Farida daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Palwasha daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Nabia daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Esmatullah daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Faizullah son of Mohamed Wazir
Essa Mohamed son of Mohamed Hussain
Akhtar Mohamed son of Murrad Ali

The wounded:
Haji Mohamed Naim son of Haji Sakhawat
Mohamed Sediq son of Mohamed Naim

As emphasized here in the days after the massacre, Azimy contrasts the anonymity of the victims with the obsessive interest in the details of the accused perpetrator's life: We even know where his wife wanted to go for vacation, or what she said on her personal blog.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

firedoglake Bans Anti-Zionist 

UPDATE 5: The conflict continues.

UPDATE 4: The firedoglake insurrection prevails. Cavlan has been reinstated, with an explanation that the moderator was confused about the nature of the video in question. But the fact that it took over 36 hours to address the situation when it is common for websites to resolve similar ones within hours, if not minutes, will certainly fuel speculation among firedoglake members. It is entirely possible that there were a significant number of cancelled memberships during this period. Hard liners, like Teddy Partridge and Phoenix Woman, who found themselves abandoned after going to the mat in support of arbitrary, non-responsive authority for site moderators, cannot be pleased. A commonly expressed belief is that Cavlan, who is also running for office as a third party candidate, was banned as part of a firedoglake retrenchment in preparation for support for the Democratic Party in the fall.

UPDATE 3: firedoglake is apparently breaking new ground in dubious Marxist revisionism as well. In subsequent replies to comments in response to his diary about Professor Richard Wolff's lectures about Das Kapital, SouthernDragon states that the content of the The Communist Manifesto should be discounted because Marx wrote it under contract and that, after 1850, he limited himself to understanding the operations of a capitalist economy. Marx, in the words of the Dragon, had made quite clear to his associates that he wasn’t interested in the future. Just another empiricist like Darwin. Of course, when Alan Maki disputed this, he was predictably accused of the heinous crimes of threadjacking, stalking, trolling. Shhh, shhhh, please don't tell SouthernDragon and his allies on the thread about Marx's involvement in the International Workingman's Association.

UPDATE 2: At 10:27 PM PST, there are over 700 comments in response to marsdragon's defense of Michael Cavlan. The prevailing ethos of those defending the behind the scenes censorship at firedoglake has been concisely stated by Teddy Partridge:

Whatever gives anyone this sense they are owed any explanation at all about any operation of this blog? Whence cometh this sense of entitlement?

And after 550+ comments, bleatings, demands, and whines, don’t you get it? No one’s going to explain, ever, when someone’s banned or given a timeout. It’s never going to happen, because the more explanations are provided, the easier it is for those who wish the blog ill to work around the criteria.

Besides, it’s essentially an internal matter between the blog and the commenter (you claim has been) banned: it would be inappropriate for management to comment publicly on its relationship with any commenter or diarist. The matter is between FDL and the commenter, who has allegedly provided an explanation to another commenter via email.

don’t think anyone else is going to explain anything to any of you, nor need they.

Translation: keep purchasing firedoglake memberships and just shut the fuck up while my diaries and Phoenix Woman's diaries get front page exposure on the website day after day. Why anyone would contribute a nickel to firedoglake to support narcissists like this is beyond me.

UPDATE 1: Actually, Anthony Noel is acquitting himself quite well in the ongoing debate over the banning of Cavlan and the video of Kaufman at firedoglake.

INITIAL POST: firedoglake bans Michael Cavlan after he posted an anti-Zionist video deemed offensive. David Seaton subsequently reposted it, a video of a speech by Sir Gerald Kaufman in the House of Commons. marsdragon will probably be shown the door shortly because of his aggressive defense of Cavlan and insistence for an explanation for the moderator's actions. One of the most humorous responses to this episode comes from Anthony Noel, who states that he has e-mailed Jane Hamsher about the situation and expects to get an explanation because she has responded to him promptly in the past.

Right. Just like Jane responded to my e-mail when I told her that she had falsely described me as a Department of Homeland Security or K Street operative, and provided documentary proof of my past interviews of firedoglake journalists. I will never get that response because she was attacking my character in the most transparently preposterous ways to get rid of me. My best guess is that she wanted to do it because she disliked me for being a leftist advocate for Occupy Oakland as revealed by my profile on the site.

Unlike Cavlan, I voluntarily left firedoglake because I had no interest in participating on a site where the person responsible for it can libel someone without any accountability. In this instance, there have been a number of anti-Zionist posts in recent days on the site, and I suspect that she has decided that a purge is in order. The naivete of FDL members who actually believe that firedoglake is an open forum for progressive political activity is on display in the comments to the posts of Seaton and marsdragon. Please let me know if the links to them go dead.

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Monday, March 19, 2012

Six Month Anniversary of Occupy Wall Street 

On Saturday, protesters observed the six month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street:

. . . on the 6-month anniversary of the original Occupation of Wall Street, #OWS went back to our origins. After a weekend of marches on Wall Street complete with spring training exercises, a St. Patrick´s Day march, street theater, floating tents, and dancing in the intersections, Liberty Square was re-occupied by thousands of Occupy supporters. Unfortunately, bringing back memories of November 15th, NYPD violently evicted us from our home once again while Occupiers were hugging old friends and celebrating the coming of spring in the park.

According to the New York Times, scores were arrested, and more injured, during the attack. Police used city buses to corral mass-arrested protesters. Media were not allowed to cover the events. After clearing the Square, NYPD placed barricades around the area - an act specifically barred by previous legal action. At least one person was taken to the hospital on a stretcher. We have also heard reports of seizures and broken bones. On Livestream, peaceful protesters are seen being tackled, punched, stomped, choked, hit with batons, and thrown against cars for no reason other than sitting down to peacefully protest inequality in a public park.

More, from the Guardian:

At the end of a day of demonstrations in lower Manhattan on Saturday, police cleared the park of a group of protesters just before midnight. The NYPD said 73 people were arrested during the day.

Activists said the NYPD clamped down hard on the renewed demonstrations. A woman suffered a seizure while handcuffed on a sidewalk, another protester was thrown into a glass door by police officers while he was handcuffed, and a young woman said she was choked and dragged by her hair.

Individuals who have been involved in Occupy protests for months described the NYPD actions on Saturday as the most violent they had seen.

The police were especially harsh in their treatment of people arrested after attempting to set up a new encampment in Zuccotti Park:

Police used a city bus to remove more than a dozen arrested protesters. Protester Shawn Carrie managed to send a number of tweets and text massages from inside the vehicle. He claimed that a police officer smashed a guy's head into a window and stomped on the neck of another protester.

Police broke my left thumb and possibly my jaw. My right ear is bleeding and there's a bootprint on my face, Carrie tweeted. The National Lawyers Guild confirmed Carrie was taken to Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan, along with McMillan and one other injured protester.

In another incident, officers arrested a medic while trying to shut down a sidewalk march, and, while doing so, cracked the top portion of a plate glass door by slamming his head into it.

The deliberate violence directed towards Occupy by the NYPD raises yet again, that question that has yet to be answered. How should the movement relate to the police? Are they, as chanted during the early days of the movement part of the 99%? Or, are they more analogous to the hated security forces in countries like Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, Yemen and Algeria, among others? Or, somewhere in between? In Oakland, protesters clearly see them as a detested security apparatus, hence the numerous Fuck the Police marches. But progressive, middle class East Bay activists have tired of violent confrontations with the police, such as occurred on J28. Conversely, Occupy appears to have waned in places where the police have successfully suppressed the movement by raiding encampments, although it may reemerge in new, unanticipated ways.

Perhaps, it may be useful to examine the nature of the police as they relate to Occupy in order to contemplate what may happen in the future. The situations in New York City and Oakland may be instructive. In Oakland, the police initiated the violence suppression of Occupy nationally with assaults upon the first encampment and subsequent protests, using tear gas, bean bags and flash grenades, resulting in the infamous injury inflicted upon Scott Olson. It thereafter participated in the manufacture of false information related to the prevalence of crime and the impact upon local business to generate public support for the raid upon the second encampment.

Interestingly, though, some officers publicly objected to the possible use of force prior to the November 2nd general strike, and large marches were allowed to take place unimpeded. Violence erupted late in the evening when the police intervened to stop the attempted takeover of the Traveler's Aid Society building by a large crowd of young people. Later, during the December 12th port shutdown, the police were again quiescent, probably because of the substantial participation of rank and file union members. During J28, the police responded to the attempt to take over the Kaiser Auditorium with extreme, paramilitary force. Meanwhile, they have engaged in an aggressive policy of arresting people for minor, frequently non-existent offenses to disrupt protests and prevent the creation of a new encampment at Oscar Grant Plaza, and persuaded the Alameda County District Attorney to overcharge arrestees to an absurd degree.

What tentative conclusions can be drawn from this cursory history? Perhaps, only two: (1) that the attacks upon Occupy Oakland have been part of a coordinated, national effort to suppress Occupy since their inception; and (2) that there remains a local dimension to the ongoing confrontations between Occupy Oakland and the OPD. It is this second feature that paradoxically intensifies them while leaving open the possibility for some fracturing within law enforcement as to how to proceed in any given situation. Hostility towards the OPD by many in Occupy Oakland is well grounded in a long history of police violence directed towards poor people and people of color for decades. Conversely, the OPD appears to be aware that its ability to act violently without public censure is dependent upon directing such violence, as much as possible, towards people who have been consistently reviled by the mainstream, people that can be characterized in conformity with stereotypes associated with young people of color and the Black Bloc. Accordingly, there remains the possibility that Occupy Oakland and the OPD will engage in a low intensity conflict for many years, a conflict mediated by the surrounding community, similar to an earlier one between the Black Panthers and the OPD.

Oddly enough, it is in New York City, where the protesters have been less confrontational than in Oakland, that the police more readily fit the model of a state security force. Manhattan is subjected to one of the most rigorous programs of video surveillance of any part of the US. NYPD officers and private security officers from major Wall Street firms work together in a command center that enables to them to monitor activity in the financial district. NYPD officers have fanned out to neighboring cities and states to profile Muslim communities, an exhaustive effort that includes photographs and descriptions of local businesses and mosques. JP Morgan Chase, and perhaps other financial institutions, have made substantial contributions to organizations associated with the NYPD. In this, the NYPD has a relationship with Wall Street similar to the one that the Metropolitan Police of London has had with the media empire of Rupert Murdoch. In both instances, the police perceive their interests in conformity with their powerful, transnational corporate allies. In London, the Met passed confidential information to reporters working for a Murdoch owned tabloid, the News of the World, and sought to forestall any investigation of misconduct after the sensational phone hacking revelations, while, in New York City, the NYPD willingly puts its post-9/11 surveillance apparatus and crowd control tactics at the service of Wall Street. Surely, it is not a coincidence that the Met and the NYPD are known for their aggressive use of kettling as a way to shut down unwanted protest.

Hence, as yesterday, the NYPD acts with little restraint when it comes to dealing with Occupy Wall Street, despite the lack of the pretexts that have served the OPD in similar circumstances. While Marxists see a working class base within the NYPD, the possibility of NYPD officers responding favorably to a political line that incorporates them into the 99% appears remote, less so, in fact, than in Oakland, where some officers of color have objected to police tactics. Perhaps, given the nationalization of the police through various forms of federal financial assistance and training, such distinctions are trivial, but they should be explored before treating the police in all urban contexts as monolithic. Clearly, there is an attempt to transform the police along the lines of private military contractors like Xe, but we shouldn't assume that it has been fully implemented. In any event, the NYPD appears to be farthest along in this process, which suggests that there is no limit to the violence that can be used against those involved in Occupy Wall Street. If there is to be a violent confrontation between Occupy and the police beyond what we have experienced to date, it is most likely to happen in New York City.

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Friday, March 16, 2012

Fukushima Revisited 


The release of radioactivity from Fukushima — both as atmospheric fallout and direct discharges to the ocean — represents the largest accidental release of radiation to the ocean in history.


Oct. 15: Hot spots in Tokyo

Independent groups found 20 radioactive hot spots inside Tokyo, 150 miles from the disaster zone, that were contaminated with cesium as heavily as parts of the exclusion zone around Chernobyl, in Ukraine, site of a similar radiation disaster in 1986. Kiyoshi Toda, a radiation expert and medical doctor at Nagasaki University told the New York Times, Radioactive substances are entering people’s bodies from the air, from the food. It’s everywhere.


Dec. 19: Up to 14,000 U.S. deaths linked to fallout

The peer reviewed International Journal of Health Services reported that as many as 14,000 excess deaths in the United States appear linked to radioactive fallout from Fukushima. The rise in reported deaths after March 17 was largest among U.S. infants under age one. The 2010-2011 increase for infant deaths in the spring was 1.8 percent, compared to a decrease of 8.37 percent in the preceding 14 weeks. The study by Joseph Mangano and Janette Sherman, using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s weekly reports, was the first on Fukushima health hazards to be published in a scientific journal.

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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Follow the Money 

UPDATE: There is a predictable symmetry between those who finance presidential campaigns and those who benefit from government economic policy:

The aftermaths of the Great Recession and the Great Depression produced sharply different changes in U.S. incomes that tell us a lot about tax and economic policy.

The 1934 economic rebound was widely shared, with strong income gains for the vast majority, the bottom 90 percent.

In 2010, we saw the opposite as the vast majority lost ground.

National income gained overall in 2010, but all of the gains were among the top 10 percent. Even within those 15.6 million households, the gains were extraordinarily concentrated among the super-rich, the top one percent of the top one percent.

Just 15,600 super-rich households pocketed an astonishing 37 percent of the entire national gain.

And, as you might have guessed, the concentration has intensified in recent decades:

The top one percent enjoyed 45 percent of Clinton-era income growth, 65 percent of Bush-era growth and 93 percent of Obama-era growth, though that is only through 2010.

A more damning indictment of the domestic policies of the Obama administration is hard to imagine.

INITIAL POST: Like many of you, I have pretty much tuned out the 2012 presidential campaign. From the fragments of media coverage that I have encountered, the Republican candidates are fighting about which one is this most militaristic and willing to transfer the most wealth to the top 1%. Meanwhile, President Obama is strategically counterpunching, taking advantage of the nascent economic recovery and opportunities to look reasonable in comparison to the religious right lunacy that periodically erupts during the Republican primaries.

But the real story, the one with the most importance, is the extent of the corruption of the US electoral process, as related by the indefatiguable David Dayen. 5 people are responsible for 25% of all SuperPAC contributions, political action committees that may raise and spend money independent of the candidates, with 200 people are responsible for 80% of them. Through the end of January, SuperPACs have spent nearly as much money on the Republican primary campaign as the candidates themeselves. It is fair to say that Newt Gingrinch would be out of the race if not for the open checkbook of Sheldon Abelson and his wife. Of course, President Obama, unopposed on the Democratic side, has no need for such expenditures at this time, but has endorsed SuperPAC efforts on his behalf.

For a good summary of the tentacular strangulation of the electoral process by SuperPACs, and the relationship of the wealthy donors who finance them to specific Republican candidates, go to this post at I Acknowledge Class Warfare Exists. Based upon the most recent information, OpenSecrets.org has determined that 379 SuperPACs have raised over $130 million dollars and spent over $77 million of it in this election cycle, with some of it directed outside of the presidential campaign. At this rate, SuperPAC spending for the entire campaign could exceed $400 million, and this is a conservative estimate, given the explosion of spending that will take place after the Republican and Democratic nominees are selected.

Why, you ask, am I walking through all this reported campaign finance data generated by well meaning journalists and liberal sunshine organizations? I am doing so because it should induce us to ponder whether we can bring about any meaningful change in this country through any participation in the electoral process. Preliminarily, it is essential to observe that this data conclusively pulls down the curtain on that brief period of progressive optimism during 2008, an unwarranted optimism based upon the utopian notion that presidential candidates, like Obama, could fund their campaigns independent of wealthy donors through small donations over the Internet. As reported just after the 2008 campaign by the Campaign Finance Institute, Obama received 74% of his contributions from people who contributed over $200, with large donors, defined as people who contributed over $1,000, providing 80% more funding than small donors, defined as people who contributed $200 or less.

Michael Malbin, the executive director of the Institute, reached the following conclusions from his evaluation of 2004 and 2008 campaign finance data:

. . . While the large donors thus were responsible for much more of Obama's money than either his small or middle range group, he received somewhat less proportionally from large donors than did his rivals or predecessors. Forty-seven percent of Obama's money came from large donors compared to 56% for Kerry and 60% for both Bush and McCain. However, because Obama's 47% is based on a larger total, that means he also raised significantly more large-donor money in absolute terms than any of his rivals or predecessors.

Much of this money was raised the old fashioned way. Since only about 13,000 of those who started out small for Obama ended up crossing the $1,000 threshold, that means the bulk of Obama's $213 million in large-donor contributions during the primaries came from about 85,000 people who started out giving big and stayed there. Much of this large-donor money – perhaps close to a majority – came to the campaign through bundling methods initially perfected by Bush.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) – which in the absence of legally mandated disclosure had to use information provided by the campaigns – 561 bundlers had raised a minimum of $63 million for Obama by mid-August and 534 people had raised a minimum of $75 million for McCain. The bundlers undoubtedly were responsible for more than these amounts because the campaigns reported the bundlers in ranges and CRP's minimum totals were based conservatively on the low end of each range. A reasonable guess might estimate the real amount at about 50% above the minimum – the mid-point for each range – yielding a total of perhaps about $90 million for Obama as of mid-August and more than $100 million for McCain.

It is important to go through this recent history because it provides some insight as to why the Obama presidency adopted a neoliberal, militaristic course instead of a progressive one. Contrary to the public relations associated with the 2008 campaign, Obama was as dependent upon contributions from wealthy donors as past candidates, he was merely able to supplement them more effectively with a large, aggregate amount of small donations because of the enthusiasm generated by the prospect of electing a charismatic, young, potentially progressive, African American president. Obama revealed the true course of his presidency shortly after his election through his appointments of people like Rahm Emanuel, Robert Gates and Timothy Geithner. The naivete of Obama's supporters at the time, still intoxicated with the euphoria of his victory, was almost heartrending. I still remember my KDVS radio program co-host saying, with a straight face, as if were entirely plausible, that Robert Reich would be an excellent choice for Secretary of the Treasury.

Now, the situation, as documented by groups like OpenSecrets.org, is more transparent. Not necessarily worse, but more easily understood. The US electoral process remains dominated by people able to contribute large sums of money, but much of it is received from a shockingly small number of people, as explained by Dayen. Given that the 2008 progressive effort to transform the US socioeconomic system through participation in the Obama campaign has failed, an effort proselytized by an array of people ranging from Bill Fletcher to Barbara Ehrenreich to Tom Hayden to Jesse Jackson to Melissa Harris-Perry to the late Howard Zinn, among others, what is the alternative to another such failed effort? Can we really expect to incrementally democratize the US political system through political and legal reformist endeavors in the face of such concentrated financial power? With the participants of Occupy struggling with internal conflict and police repression, such questions retain their difficulty and their urgency. Difficult, because the possibility of a mass confrontation with US and transnational elites still appears unlikely, urgent, because the distress associated with their violent, rapacious practices shows no sign of abatement.

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Monday, March 12, 2012

an Invisible Children guidebook 

UPDATE 2: So why are they making it seem like Uganda is one big hellhole because of Kony, because it's not.

UPDATE 1: This is the same narrative about Africa that we have seen for centuries.

Hat tip to Jews sans frontieres.

INITIAL POST: Blissfully, I live outside the universe of viral videos, so I only heard about the Invisible Children one about Joseph Kony and the Lords Resistance Army indirectly. I admit that I am late to the story, but I will share my responses: First, if Americans really care that much about gruesome, militaristic violence, they should confront the brutalities inflicted upon others around the world by their own government, instead of supporting a call for more US military assistance for a Uganda military known for its own human rights abuses.

Second, I thought, the more things change, the more they remain the same. Over the course of my life, Americans have flocked to claims that leaders of color are one of the primary sources of global violence. Mao, Castro, Arafat, Gaddafi, Noriega, Aidid, Hussein, Bin Laden, Ahmajinedad . . and, now, Kony. With the passage of time, succeeding figures have been described in more and more lurid terms that highlights their foreign, uniquely perverse character, paradoxically in contradictory ways, contrast, for example, the hedonism of Gaddafi, Noriega and Hussein with the puritanical extremism of Bin Laden and Ahmajinedad. If we could just get rid of these evil demons, the world would be such a wonderful place. The root of this phenonmenon go all the way back to the extermination of Native Americans by, first, the Spanish, and then, the US, with the whites of the time condemning the indigenous population for the interwoven existence of these seemingly oppositional attributes within their non-Christian cultures. As then, anyone who suggests that we should understand the circumstances that give rise to them and seek to address these conditions, instead of putting them on wanted posters, is frequently maligned as an apologist. Callum McCormick has aptly observed that any effort to comprehend the current situation in Uganda as anything more than a binary moral opposition is rejected as an unnecessary complication.

Predictably, one rarely encounters powerful white political figures presented in this way, consider, for example, Donald Rumsfeld, who, as Secretary of Defense, approved the use of harsh interrogation techniques against Guantanamo detainees, personally monitoring the torture of Mohammed al-Qahtani. People like Rumsfeld are able to escape such condemnation because their violence is displaced by modern communications technology and allegedly objective processes for developing information and making administrative decisions, much in the same way that CIA officers evaded responsibility for the mass killings and torture associated with the Phoenix Program and Operation Condor. In the end, the outward appearance of rationality associated with the modernist effort to transform societies still afflicted by the residue of primitivism exonerates them. If Kony had come from an elite Uganda family and attended Harvard or Oxford prior to returning to Uganda to impose austerity with the assistance of a repressive security apparatus, he would be praised in the US media as an exemplary example, regardless of the number of child victims.

Curiously, the Israelis, perceived in a Eurocentric way, also avoid such a characterization, despite a documented history of calculated state violence in Lebanon and the occupied territories. Of course, it is not the fault of Invisible Children that many Americans reflexively respond in this way, but it is, whether consciously or not, exploiting a fundamentally neoconservative, racist discourse that privileges the state sanctioned violence of the US and its allies over others. If the objective is to truly help the people of Uganda, then an approach different from the failed, purportedly humanitarian interventions of the last 25 years should be considered. Otherwise, the arrest and trial of Kony, as sought by Invisible Children, is likely to be noteworthy for giving someone an opportunity to take his place. It would also be conveniently consistent with the rules of the game, whereby violent political figures in opposition to US interests risk finding themselves being prosecuted in The Hague for crimes against humanity, while similarly situated US allies have received billions in assistance.

Hat tip to Lenin's Tomb.

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Free Fire Zone Afghanistan (Part 11.5) 

UPDATE: Publicly, at least, the Pentagon has already figured it out:

A similar line came from the Pentagon, where a spokesman described the killings as a deplorable but isolated incident and said that the indications were that they were perpetrated by a single individual acting on his own.

Of course, there are a lot of important questions to ask. Did the perpetrator tell anyone else in the unit of his plans? Did anyone notice him departing the base in full gear and night goggles by himself? Did he really act alone, or did anyone provide him with assistance? If so, what did they do? Did he display any behavior in the days and weeks prior to the killings that alarmed anyone? If so, did they act upon what they observed? The Pentagon will probably ask all of these questions, and more, but don't expect it to tell us the answers because they would contradict the specious humanist explanation for the occupation.

INITIAL POST: A witness recounts how the soldier went about killing his victims:

One survivor recounted how the US soldier, reportedly a father himself, had hunted down an Afghan family like military targets through their modest home, set among vineyards and pomegranate orchards just south of the US base.

He was walking around taking up positions in the house in two or three places like he was searching, said 26-year-old Muhammad Zahir, who from a hiding place in another room recognised the man's Nato uniform but was unable to see his face.

He was on his knees when he shot my father, Zahir said. His father had been carrying only a cup of tea when he came out of his room to meet the shooter; he was wounded in the thigh, but survived.

After the gunman left, Zahir said he heard gunshots near the house again. He stayed in hiding for a few minutes to make sure the killer was gone.

Some of the bodies had single, execution-style bullet wounds in their heads, and those from a home where he killed 11 people were charred and wrapped in burned coverings, although Dastagiri and villagers were unsure whether they had been set deliberately on fire or a blaze had been started by munitions.

And, another, similar account:

In Panjwai, a reporter for The New York Times who inspected bodies that had been taken to the nearby American military base on Sunday counted 16 dead, including five children with single gunshot wounds to the head, and saw burns on some of the children’s legs and heads. All the family members were killed, the dead put in a room, and blankets were put over the corpses and they were burned, said Anar Gula, an elderly neighbor who rushed to the house after the soldier had left. We put out the fire.

Relatives said the bodies of two women showed stab wounds and that some of the women were shot as they ran from room to room to try to avoid the gunman. Among the dead at the base, a man aged about 50 had a single gunshot wound to his chest.

The villagers also brought some of the burned blankets on motorbikes to display at the base, Camp Belambay, in Kandahar, and show that the bodies had been set alight. Soon, more than 300 people had gathered outside to protest.

Meanwhile, the process of personalizing the perpetrator while preserving the anonymity of the victims has already begun:

An official told ABC News that the soldier has suffered a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) in the past, either from hitting his head on the hatch of a vehicle or in a car accident. He went through the advanced TBI treatment at Fort Lewis and was deemed to be fine.

He also underwent mental health screening necessary to become a sniper and passed in 2008. He had routine behavioral health screening after that and was cleared, the official said.

When the soldier returned from his last deployment in Iraq he had difficulty reintegrating, including marital problems, the source told ABC News. But officials concluded that he had worked through those issues before deploying to Afghanistan.

For more background as to how this humanization, this selective individualization, serves the purpose of rationalizing the killings of civilians by US troops, please consider reading my post from August 2008, People in White. Consistent with this, John Glaser enumerates numerous incidents in which US troops killed Afghan and Iraqi civilians and received minimal or no punishment. I wonder whether investigators will look into whether there were any warning signs that should have been recognized. I also wonder whether the other troops in the unit will adopt the well known code of silence utilized by the police when investigated for misconduct. The military has a strong motivation to characterize the killings as something that happened in isolation. The personalization of the perpetrator assists in the attainment of this objective as well.

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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Free Fire Zone Afghanistan (Part 11) 

UPDATE 2: Afghan witnesses say that multiple soldiers were involved.

UPDATE 1: Laura King of the Los Angeles Times seeks to downplay the killings:

Civilian casualties -- almost always accidentally inflicted when they come at the hands of the Western military -- have long been a sore point in the West’s dealings with Karzai.

Apparently, she hasn't read the reports that the US acknowledges a 50% error rate in targeting perceived enemies during night raids and drone strikes in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even assuming that one is willing to accept the US narrative as to the purpose of these attacks, given that the US has continued to launch these attacks with full knowledge that they kill large numbers of civilians, it is not possible to characterize the resulting deaths as accidental.

INITIAL POST: From the Guardian:

A US soldier has killed more than a dozen Afghan civilians, many of them women and children, in a night-time shooting spree in southern Afghanistan.

The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, condemned the shootings as intentional murders and demanded an explanation from the US.

The victims of the shootings, which left up to 16 civilians dead, included nine children and three women, Karzai's office said in a statement.

This is an assassination, an intentional killing of innocent civilians and cannot be forgiven, Karzai said. He said he has repeatedly demanded the US stop killing Afghan civilians.

The White House said it was deeply concerned by initial reports of the incident and was monitoring the situation closely.

General John Allen, the top US commander in Afghanistan, issued a statement pledging a rapid and thorough investigation into the shooting spree, and said the soldier will remain in US custody.

The invasion and occupation of Afghanistan has always been about retribution for 9/11, at least as far as many of the troops are concerned. Of course, the Afghans had nothing to do with it, except for that small number of people who helped shelter Bin Laden and others involved in al-Qaeda. But the US keeps telling the troops that Afghanistan is a central theatre in the war on terror, despite the lack of any quantifiable al-Qaeda presence in the country, and when faced with predictable resistance from the Afghan populace, horrifying incidents of this kind are inevitable.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Goodbye, Dennis the Menace (Part 3) 

Kucinich, out of Congress after being redistricted into a tough primary fight with Marcy Kaptur that he lost. Good riddance, although Russell Simmons is no doubt heartbroken. It is tempting to say that he was thrown onto the trash heap of political has-beens despite providing a progressive fig leak for the neoliberal policies of Obama and Pelosi when the Democrats controlled Congress during the 2009-2010 session. But a has-been is defined as: A person, especially one formerly popular or influential, whose popularity or effectiveness has peaked and is now in decline. It is typically said of professionals and celebrities whose prime is behind them.

Given that Kucinich was never especially popular, at least as defined by the national electoral process, and that he was never effective legislatively, it would, strictly speaking, be inaccurate to even describe him as a has-been. Would it be more precise, using baseball lingo, to call him a never was? Well, not exactly, that's a little too harsh. Merriam-Webster defines never was as one that has attained no rank, success, or eminence. He did, it must be conceded, wins elections to become the mayor of Cleveland and a congressional representative, and he did attain a sort of avant-garde eminence amongst a small group of progressives, for whom he singularly represented their political impotence.

Kucinich was, in effect, a reed by which these progressives clung to the hope that the US could be moved in a more socially responsible direction through the electoral process. In this, his presidential campaigns anticipated the enthusiastic, pragmatic embrace of Obama in 2008 by a much larger progressive constituency. In both instances, progressives underestimated the extent to which the electoral process had degenerated into a duopoly where the two major parties competed for the privilege of which one could better serve the interests of capital. If Kucinich really wanted to perform a public service, he would expose this in relation to his experiences in Congress by writing and publishing his memoirs. Somehow, I doubt that will happen. At heart, he's a team player, as he showed when he voted for health care reform in 2010.

His defenders might contend that Kucinich was in the tradition of Peter Camejo, a revolutionary political figure who, unlike Camejo, actually got elected to office. Camejo, formerly a highly respected leadership figure in the Socialist Workers Party, subsequently participated in the creation of the Green Party and ran for the governorship and the Senate here in California as a third party candidate. It is, of course, a strained comparison. Kucinich was obviously no revolutionary, and, as many have observed, he performed the function of keeping purportedly rebellious progressives inside the Democratic Party, especially during presidential election years. He would run in the primaries, garner a small, enthusiastic vote from progressives that might otherwise be tempted to support a third party effort, and then dutifully support the nominee, no matter how far removed from his own perspective. Not surprisingly, the other, more mainstream, better financed candidates generally ignored him.

Camejo put the people first and the party second, while Kucinich invariably did the opposite. That's why he was expelled from the Socialist Workers Party. Beyond this, he participated in the electoral process as a means of educating people about the urgency of a radical, revolutionary transformation of the US. His efforts can therefore be paradoxically characterized as one of many foreshadowings of Occupy, a marked contrast to Kucinich's facilitation of the cooption of progressives by Obama. Kucinich yet again revealed the importance of his need to remain part of the congressional club when he voted for a bill on February 27th that would criminalize protest at many federal buildings and facilities, the Federal Restricted Grounds and Improvement Act. As with his vote for health care reform, he must have known that it was an act of desperation because of the contempt that those who run the Democratic Party have for him. Sadly, by trying to split the difference, he also earned the contempt of those for whom he sought to represent.

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Monday, March 05, 2012

An #M5 Occupy Education Report 

UPDATE 4: In relation to my post last Thursday, I haven't been able to find any posts or dairies at firedoglake about the Occupy Education actions that took place in California and New York yesterday. The total number of occupiers arrested in Sacramento yesterday was 76.

UPDATE 3: 72 arrests reported at the state capital last night after the capital building closed at 6pm. Prior the arrests, students conducted a general assembly and thereafter issued a set of demands for the improvement of the higher education system:

1) Pass the Millionaire Tax

2) Cancel all student debt

3) Democratize the UC Board of Regents and the CSU Board of Directors and Trustees

4) Fully fund all education

5) Amend Prop 13 to move to a split roll tax, commercial vs residential

UPDATE 2: Livestream of the south steps of the state capital at 5:05pm here.

UPDATE 1: Apparently, there was an attempted banner drop inside the capital rotunda at around 3:30pm. Three people were reportedly arrested, with hundreds chanting Let them go! Riot police are disembarking outside my office nearby and gathering to enter the building.

INITIAL POST: I stepped out for lunch to check out one of Occupy Education rallies across the street today. For those of you who are unaware, the purpose of the rallies and other protests at the state capital in Sacramento today is to highlight the skyrocketing cost of public education in California and the underlying privatization of the system. My impression is that the number of protesters was smaller than anticipated, say, in the 2500 to 3000 range.

I walked around the periphery of the capital grounds about an hour after the earlier, noon, traditional rally on the west steps of the capital, where the usual Democratic Party apparatchiks, like Speaker Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John Perez, were scheduled to speak in support of the necessity for more money for education, even though they have sheparded several budgets through the legislative process that cut funding for it. A student organization sponsored it, calling it a Fund Our Future rally. As you might have guessed, I wasn't very motivated to attend, although the probable emphasis upon the passage of a tax increase initiative in the fall is a worthwhile, if inadequate, step. The rally was centered around a dubious notion promoted by UC chancellors and regents during acrimonious protests last fall, namely that the students need to stop protesting them and should direct their hostility towards the legislature instead, allowing them to proceed with an ongoing, creeping privatization of the system that has been taking place since the late 1980s.

But the more significant revelation was the smaller than expected turnout. It is a reflection, I believe, of the political demoralization that has taken hold in the aftermath of the suppression of Occupy movement. It may also be a reflection of displeasure with efforts to distance the Fund Our Future event from a rally, with possible subsequent direct actions, later today. At 5:30pm, there will be another rally sponsored by Refund California and Occupy Education California, through a permit provided by the Sacramento Central Labor Council. The student organizations involved with Fund Our Future openly distinguished their rally from this one, with some even criticizing Refund California and Occupy Education California for trying to take over our event. The nerve of those people! Don't they know that any political expression at the capital on the left should be subject to a pre-clearance procedure overseen by the Young Democrats?

I'd like to say that I am hopeful that there will be a larger than expected turnout for this late afternoon rally, a turnout in excess of the 500 to 800 people expected. Given that some of the people from the earlier one will stay for the later one, that might happen. I doubt, however, that this will result in some positive, politically effective direct action, because I believe that the demoralization to which I have already alluded is involved here as well. Unfortunately, we are living at a time where both representational politics and direct action have failed to develop sufficient momentum to bring about a social transformation.

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Thursday, March 01, 2012

Updates: The NYPD, firedoglake and #F29 and Occupy Education 

UPDATE: wendydavis posted a diary about the #F29 actions at firedoglake at 9:01am, just as I was putting the finishing touches on my post here.

INITIAL POST: First, more on the NYPD surveillance program directed against Muslims:

The Obama administration has pointedly refused to endorse or repudiate the NYPD programs it helps pay for. It remains unclear whether the White House knew how the NYPD was spending the grant money until the AP asked the White House about it last week.

We make very clear that we consider Muslim Americans partners in the effort to combat, you know, radical extremism, [Press Secretary] Carney said Monday. I think we've made that clear again and again. And that continues to be our position.

John Brennan, Obama's top counterterrorism adviser, last year called the NYPD's efforts heroic but would not elaborate. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, whose department also gives grant money to the NYPD and is one of the lead federal agencies helping police build relationships with Muslims, has refused in recent months to discuss the police tactics. Tom Perez, the Justice Department's top civil rights lawyer, has repeatedly refused to answer questions about the NYPD.

In other words, the Obama administration has no problems with it, and will continue to fund it.

Meanwhile, as noted here, there were numerous Occupy actions yesterday directed against banks and corporations associated with the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization known for its lobbying activities on behalf of such interests. Oddly, I could find no coverage of them at all on firedoglake. I could find no posts in advance of them, nor any posts as they took place. If they were any such posts, they were buried within the site at a hard to find location. firedoglake does great work providing supplies to occupations around the country, but it is rather peculiar that there was a news blackout, whether accidental or deliberate, in regard to these #F29 actions. Stranger still, firedoglake is in the process of a membership drive wherein the site highlights its support for Occupy as a reason to join.

Of course, many of the posts at firedoglake are provided by members, so, perhaps, there were no members with knowledge of the #F29 actions. Even so, you'd think someone who blogs there on a daily basis would have reported on them, and it is perplexing to find a diary on The Magic of "29", and nothing about the #F29 actions. In any event, on Monday, there will be a large protest march to the state capital here in Sacramento as part of a nationwide Occupy Education day of action, with some reports that there will be an attempt to Occupy the Capital and conduct a general assembly inside the building. There are also walkouts taking place today in support of this effort. One hopes that firedoglake will find these actions newsworthy, as Occupy needs all the sympathetic coverage that it can get in the face of corporate media hostility.

As for the Monday protest here in Sacramento, it could result in confrontations with the highway patrol and local law enforcement officers responsible for policing the capital grounds, as they have historically utilized a zero tolerance policy towards any protest activity inside the building. In one notorious episode from the early 1990s, they arrested, and the Sacramento County District Attorney subsequently unsuccessfully prosecuted, about 10 disabled people in wheelchairs for protesting inside the lobby of the governor's office. They will not hesitate to respond violently, unless expressly ordered not to do so.

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