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Thursday, April 29, 2010

May Day 2010: "Let’s get serious about building an alternative to the ALP"-Socialist Alliance


                                         Rudd and Gillard: Strangling Our Rights at Work

What more do Federal and State Labor governments have to do to workers before we start getting serious about building a working-class political alternative to the ALP?
Look at the first four months of 2010:

• Occupational Health and Safety standards have been reduced in the name of “harmonisation”, even as deaths on building sites have climbed since the Australian Building and Construction Commission Gestapo was set up;

• Julia Gillard has called on high school parents to strike break and oversee literacy and numeracy tests if the Australian Education Union goes ahead with a ban on their introduction;

• Since “modern, simplified” awards came into force under Fair Work Australia, tens of thousands of workers face wage cuts and are being driven to appeal to FWA to ensure they will not be worse off;

• The latest report of the International Labor Organisation’s Committee of Experts has confirmed that the ABCC breaches conventions signed by Australia. The ILO is waiting for Canberra “to indicate any measures taken to instruct the ABCC to refrain from imposing penalties or commencing legal proceedings” while new legislation is before parliament. But Julia Gillard has ignored the ILO’s request. She has also made a point of visiting the Pilbara to show her solidarity with the mining bosses and—effectively backing the ABCC—scold workers at the Pluto LNG processing plant who struck “illegally” against Woodside Petroleum’s plan to force them from fixed to motel accommodation.

• Bosses are using the Fair Work Act to tie unions up in endless costly litigation, as in the Tahmoor (NSW) mineworkers EBA struggle. For 18 long months multinational mining giant Xstrata has refused to negotiate the EBA in good faith, using dirty tactics such as lock-outs to wear the mineworkers down.

The Rudd government’s industrial law is making it near impossible for the union movement to defend workers around issues not covered by their EBA. In the face of the pay cut of $10-$25 a week due to the wage freeze imposed by the last decision of the Fair Pay Commission, the ACTU is claiming a $27 increase in the minimum wage, affecting 1.4 million workers. ACTU secretary Jeff Lawrence recently took four of these workers to hear him address the National Press Club and challenged “anyone to look them in the eye and tell them they don’t deserve a pay rise”.

And what if the new Minimum Wage Panel of FWA decides they don’t? Unions can’t launch industrial action in defence of the low-paid without breaking the law. They would also face massive fines if they walked off to demand serious action on global warming, to protest Labor’s own industrial law or to show solidarity with workers in struggle anywhere.

And that’s just at the federal level. In NSW and Queensland workers and unions have been fighting hated privatisations. No wonder that polling by Unions NSW shows that a majority of union members would vote Green, Independent or Coalition at the next NSW election, and that more unionists would vote Coalition than ALP!

ALP link a millstone

So why should unions continue to support Labor?  
We’ve all heard the standard reply—the Coalition would be worse and Labor has to be supported to keep them out of office. The latest expression of this line is the ACTU’s campaign against Tony Abbott—he’d bring back Work Choices by another name.

As long as this argument rules in the union movement we are doomed to permanent retreat—bound to support one slightly less anti-union party over the other. And Labor governments will always get away with implementing the smallest possible improvements—safe in the knowledge that their union supporters will paint these as massive pro-worker reforms.

Take the ACTU’s recent celebration of the first year of the Fair Work Act. Because it has abolished Australian Workplace Agreements, partially restored protection from unfair dismissal, put in place a slightly improved safety net and an arbitration system with draconian powers (“independent umpire”) Jeff Lawrence describes FWA as “light years away from Work Choices”!

Of course Abbott will try to put as much of Work Choices back on the agenda as he can. Yet while unions must warn about this danger, why do they have to remain virtually silent about Labor’s failure to rip up Work Choices? Why does the ACTU never point out that FWA is actually worse than Howard’s 1996 Workplace Relations Act? Why must it mean that Labor gets almost unconditional support, both political and financial?

Let’s not forget that Labor has refused to repeal the Fraser government’s 1977 secondary boycott laws and all subsequent penal provisions. These make organised labour unequal in law with employer organisations.

Under FWA our right to organise is also stuck at an enterprise level—unlike the employers who can set their prices and conditions of sale across entire industries. That defeat was imposed by the Keating government. As a result our unions as a whole have become weaker even with every success at the negotiating table.

That’s because the best EBA result still accepts a legal framework which binds us to show no solidarity with our fellow workers. Stronger unions may win good agreements, but weaker ones lose out and workers increasingly wonder about the value of unions at all.

To reverse this retreat we must grasp that support for Labor is not key to keeping the Liberals out of office. The best way—which also keeps Labor under pressure—is for unions to remain independent of the ALP and run strong campaigns for their members. Then workers who see that Labor has failed to deliver will be much less likely to vote for the worse option of the Liberals.

At election time our unions should support all candidates prepared to stand with organised labour in pursuit of our rights—socialists, Greens, independents and even Labor candidates who pledge to put workers interests first.

Getting serious about an alternative to Labor

And that’s just at the federal level. In NSW and Queensland workers and unions have been fighting hated privatisations. No wonder that polling by Unions NSW shows that a majority of union members would vote Green, Independent or Coalition at the next NSW election, and that more unionists would vote Coalition than ALP!

There are heartening signs that some in the trade union movement are searching for an alternative to the political retreat of our movement. Victorian Electrical Trades Union secretary Dean Mighell has called for unions to break their ties with Labor; the ETU Queensland branch has sacked two MPs who refused to oppose the Bligh government’s privatisations; the Victorian branch of the CFMEU has called for a Senate vote for the Greens. These signs must be strengthened.
The crucial step is to spread the growing discussion on union political representation out to all union members. This could start with special delegate seminars where the arguments for and against unions breaking with the ALP could be debated.

The discussion would involve financing existing political parties. One important point would be to deduct all fines—starting with fines imposed through the ABCC— from donations to the ALP, redistributing them to alternative parties and independents.

Thirdly, unions committed to creating an alternative political voice for working people should discuss with all left, progressive and community organisations how they might become involved. That approach would also put positive pressure on the divided left to seek greater unity.

For its part, the Socialist Alliance is 100% committed to helping build a political voice—a new workers’ party—that would truly represent and fight for their interests. Let us work together and help meet the most important challenge facing working people in this country!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A New Climate Movement in Bolivia by Naomi Klein, Cochabamba, Bolivia

Naomi Klein


It was 11 am and Evo Morales had turned a football stadium into a giant classroom, marshaling an array of props: paper plates, plastic cups, disposable raincoats, handcrafted gourds, wooden plates and multicolored ponchos. All came into play to make his main point: to fight climate change, "we need to recover the values of the indigenous people."

Yet wealthy countries have little interest in learning these lessons and are instead pushing through a plan that at its best would raise average global temperatures 2 degrees Celsius. "That would mean the melting of the Andean and Himalayan glaciers," Morales told the thousands gathered in the stadium, part of the World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth. What he didn't have to say is that the Bolivian people, no matter how sustainably they choose to live, have no power to save their glaciers.

Bolivia's climate summit has had moments of joy, levity and absurdity. Yet underneath it all, you can feel the emotion that provoked this gathering: rage against helplessness.

It's little wonder. Bolivia is in the midst of a dramatic political transformation, one that has nationalized key industries and elevated the voices of indigenous peoples as never before. But when it comes to Bolivia's most pressing, existential crisis--the fact that its glaciers are melting at an alarming rate, threatening the water supply in two major cities--Bolivians are powerless to do anything to change their fate on their own.

That's because the actions causing the melting are taking place not in Bolivia but on the highways and in the industrial zones of heavily industrialized countries. In Copenhagen, leaders of endangered nations like Bolivia and Tuvalu argued passionately for the kind of deep emissions cuts that could avert catastrophe. They were politely told that the political will in the North just wasn't there. More than that, the United States made clear that it didn't need small countries like Bolivia to be part of a climate solution. It would negotiate a deal with other heavy emitters behind closed doors, and the rest of the world would be informed of the results and invited to sign on, which is precisely what happened with the Copenhagen Accord. When Bolivia and Ecuador refused to rubber-stamp the accord, the US government cut their climate aid by $3 million and $2.5 million, respectively. "It's not a free-rider process," explained US climate negotiator Jonathan Pershing. (Anyone wondering why activists from the global South reject the idea of "climate aid" and are instead demanding repayment of "climate debts" has their answer here.) Pershing's message was chilling: if you are poor, you don't have the right to prioritize your own survival.

When Morales invited "social movements and Mother Earth's defenders...scientists, academics, lawyers and governments" to come to Cochabamba for a new kind of climate summit, it was a revolt against this experience of helplessness, an attempt to build a base of power behind the right to survive.

The Bolivian government got the ball rolling by proposing four big ideas: that nature should be granted rights that protect ecosystems from annihilation (a "Universal Declaration of Mother Earth Rights"); that those who violate those rights and other international environmental agreements should face legal consequences (a "Climate Justice Tribunal"); that poor countries should receive various forms of compensation for a crisis they are facing but had little role in creating ("Climate Debt"); and that there should be a mechanism for people around the world to express their views on these topics ("World People's Referendum on Climate Change").

The next stage was to invite global civil society to hash out the details. Seventeen working groups were struck, and after weeks of online discussion, they met for a week in Cochabamba with the goal of presenting their final recommendations at the summit's end. The process is fascinating but far from perfect (for instance, as Jim Shultz of the Democracy Center pointed out, the working group on the referendum apparently spent more time arguing about adding a question on abolishing capitalism than on discussing how in the world you run a global referendum). Yet Bolivia's enthusiastic commitment to participatory democracy may well prove the summit's most important contribution.

That's because, after the Copenhagen debacle, an exceedingly dangerous talking point went viral: the real culprit of the breakdown was democracy itself. The UN process, giving equal votes to 192 countries, was simply too unwieldy--better to find the solutions in small groups. Even trusted environmental voices like James Lovelock fell prey: "I have a feeling that climate change may be an issue as severe as a war," he told the Guardian recently. "It may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while." But in reality, it is such small groupings--like the invitation-only club that rammed through the Copenhagen Accord--that have caused us to lose ground, weakening already inadequate existing agreements. By contrast, the climate change policy brought to Copenhagen by Bolivia was drafted by social movements through a participatory process, and the end result was the most transformative and radical vision so far.

With the Cochabamba summit, Bolivia is trying to take what it has accomplished at the national level and globalize it, inviting the world to participate in drafting a joint climate agenda ahead of the next UN climate gathering, in Cancún. In the words of Bolivia's ambassador to the UN, Pablo Solón, "The only thing that can save mankind from a tragedy is the exercise of global democracy."

If he is right, the Bolivian process might save not just our warming planet but our failing democracies as well. Not a bad deal at all.

This column was first published in The Nation (http://www.thenation.com/)

Naomi Klein is an award-winning journalist and syndicated columnist and the author of the international and New York Times bestseller The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, now out in paperback. Her earlier books include the international best-seller, No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies (which has just been re-published in a special 10th Anniversary Edition); and the collection Fences and Windows: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate (2002). To read all her latest writing visit www.naomiklein.org

Published on Friday, April 23, 2010 by The Nation

Monday, April 26, 2010

Why sharks should not own sport by John Pilger


In his latest column for the New Statesman, John Pilger describes how the rich and powerful have taken over and distorted the people's pleasure - sport, from Tiger Woods Inc to the World Cup, soon to begin in South Africa. Pilger looks at the way Fifa and multiple sponsors have invaded South Africa and ordinary South Africans have been pushed aside in the cause of profiteering.
As Tiger Woods returns to golf, not all his affairs are salacious headlines. In Dubai, the Tiger Woods Golf Course in Dubai is costing $100million to build. Dubai relies on cheap third world labour, as do certain consumer brands that have helped make Woods a billionaire. Nike workers in Thailand wrote to Woods, expressing their “utmost respect for your skill and perseverance as an athlete” but pointing out that they would need to work 72,000 years “to receive what you will earn from [your Nike] contract”.

The American sports writer, Dave Zirin, is one of the few to break media silence on the corporate distortion and corruption of sport. His forthcoming book Bad Sports: How Owners Are Ruining the Games We Love (Scribner) blows a long whistle on what money power has done to the people’s pleasure, its heroes like Woods and the communities it once served. He describes the impact of the Texan Tom Hicks’s half-ownership of Liverpool Football Club, which followed another rich and bored American Malcolm Glazer’s “leveraged takeover” of Manchester United in 2005. As a result, England’s most successful club (with Liverpool) is now 716.5 million pounds in debt.

How long has this been going on? In 1983, you could buy a ticket to a first division game for 75 pence. Today, the average at Old Trafford is around 34 pounds. Watch the latest crop of parents on morose queues to buy overpriced club strips and insignia, also made with cheap and often sweated labour, with the brand of a failed multinational emblazoned on it. Profiteering is now an incandescent presence across top-class sport. Sven-Goran Eriksson will trouser up to two million pounds for just three months’ work in Ivory Coast, where half the population has barely enough to survive. Australia’s finest, most boorish cricketers are collecting their bundles for a few months’ cavorting in the Indian franchises. The attitude is entitlement, the kind that less talented “celebrities” flaunt. It was in no way remarkable that in 2007-8 a number of the heirs to Don Bradman’s Invincibles achieved what was once nigh on impossible; they were disliked in their own country. Those high fives and air-punching fists have become salutes not to “everyone working for each other, everyone having a share of the rewards” (Bill Shankly), but to the voracious sponsor and the forensic camera.

Take for example FIFA, which has effectively taken charge of South Africa for the World Cup. Along with the International Olympic Committee, FIFA is sport’s Wall Street and Pentagon combined. They have this power because host politicians believe the “international prestige” of their visitation will bring economic and promotional benefits, especially to themselves. I was reminded of this watching a documentary by the South African director Craig Tanner, Fahrenheit 2010. His film is not opposed to the World Cup, but reveals how ordinary South Africans, whose game is football, have been shoved aside, dispossessed and further impoverished so that a giant TV façade can be erected in their country.

A new stadium near Nelspruit will host four World Cup matches over 10 days. Jimmy Mohlala, speaker of the local municipality, was gunned down in his home in January last year after whistle-blowing “irregularities” in the tenders. An entire school, which was in the way, has been removed into prefabricated, sweltering steel boxes on a desolate site with a road running through it. “When the World Cup is over,” said the writer Ashwin Desai, “it will become obvious that these stadiums are going to be empty shells, that our money has been used for what is really a pyramid scheme”.

A community of 20,000 people, the Joe Slovo Informal Settlement, is threatened with eviction from where they live near the main motorway between Cape Town and the city’s airport. They are deemed an “eyesore”. Street vendors will be arrested if they fail to comply with FIFA rules about trade and advertising and mention the words “World Cup”, even “2010”. FIFA will earn about two and quarter billion pounds from the TV rights, exceeding its income from the last two World Cups combined.

Incredibly, South Africa will get none of this. And this is country with up to 40 per cent unemployment, a male life expectancy of 49 and thousands of malnourished children. This truth about the “rainbow nation” is not what fans all over the world will see on their TV screens, although they may glimpse an unreported feature of modern South Africa, which is a vibrant, rolling resistance that has linked the World Cup to an economic apartheid that remains as divisive as ever. Indeed, another kind of World Cup for effective popular protest has long been won in the streets of South Africa’s townships.

In his chapter on Liverpool FC, Dave Zirin describes a similar resistance that also offers inspiration to those struggling to reclaim sport from the sharks. A fans’ organization, Share Liverpool FC, is aiming for 100,000 shareholders to buy back the club from Tom Hicks and his co-owner, George Gillett. Liverpool fans have also formed the Liverpool Supporters Union (LSU), which has had thousands in the streets calling for a boycott of the Bank of Scotland if it gives Hicks and Gillett any more credit. Remember how the boycott of Murdoch press succeeded in Liverpool following the Sun’s lies over the Hillsborough tragedy. “If we stand together and speak with one voice, regardless of language or accent,” says the LSU, “we can make a genuine difference to our football club, the city of Liverpool and indeed the wider footballing world.” On 17 April, Hicks and Gillett announced they were selling the club. Manchester United fans are mounting a similar, principled resistance in defence of the sport they love and which they believe rightly is theirs. We should support them.

Who's run off with the inheritance? by Mark Steel


Mark Steel

Suddenly this election is hilarious. In David Cameron's broadcast he looked as if he was about to say: "Look, I mean it's NOT FAIR, I was MEANT to be Prime Minister and we were winning and having a baby and EVERYTHING and now you've RUINED it Clegg you beastly thing I HATE you," and start crying, while George Osborne handed him a hankie, then looked into the camera and said "NOW look what you've done. Vote Conservative on May 6th." When they can keep calm, the Tory argument against voting Lib Dem seems to be, "Look, you idiots, there's no point in letting him win, can't you see he can't win?"

Several Tories have sneered that as the polls changed after the TV debate, democracy has been reduced to a political Britain's Got Talent. So, for the next one, Cameron will come on with a dancing dog. And his first answer will be: "My vision for education is we need small government, and big society, but let me express that like this", and play a backing track of "Surrey with the Fringe on Top", while a Jack Russell jumps over an umbrella.

One Tory MP said on BBC news: "We should never have agreed to let Clegg have equal status in the debates". Quite right – he should only have been allowed to take part by carrying the drinks on a tray. Or by sitting at the edge with a lemonade, occasionally calling out, "Haven't you finished yet? How much longer, I'm bored".

Michael Portillo said the change in the polls was entirely down to Clegg looking into the camera during the debate. So if Lorraine Kelly off GMTV had taken part she'd have said, "Ooh my Lord the economy, my it's such a lot of money don't you think", but because she speaks into the camera she'd now be on course to hold the balance of power in a hung parliament.

Some of them dismiss the idea that anything's changed at all. Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail derided the supposed increase in Lib Dem support as: "Broadcasters talking it up to build themselves an audience for the next programme". That's a conspiracy theory to impress the people who think 9/11 was organised by the CIA.

It's as if someone's swiped their inheritance. Maybe they'll insist on all the channels having a debate, in the hope that Clegg will be caught out on the Shopping Channel when someone asks: "If you proceed with your plan to abolish the bottom tax rate for those earning below £19,000 per year, that could be worth £95 per annum. So should that be spent on this pair of absolutely stunning diamante ear-rings reduced from £225 or this gorgeous set of crystal glasses, hand-made and simply delightful?" While the presenter shouts "Mr Clegg!".

Some Tories want to counter Clegg by yelling about immigration, and one Labour MP has issued a leaflet saying the Lib Dems plan to "give the vote to paedophiles". Because that's the perfect way to respond when people announce in their millions that they're sick of negative campaigning – you reply: "Yes all right, but that ponce will give the vote to paedophiles".

What the Labour and Tory arrogance ignores is that even if the swing in Clegg's favour is flimsy, as it's due to one TV appearance, much of the support for Brown or Cameron must have been even flimsier for it to be so easily prised away. For several years, and especially since the Iraq war, many Labour voters haven't really voted for "Labour" but for "Oh blimey, pwww, Labour I suppose".

At some level Labour seem to understand this, so in this campaign they've tried to be the people's anti-banker party, which might work if they were more honest and said: "Over the last 13 years we've thoroughly licked every wealthy banker's arse. And do you know we're worn out, so if we're elected we're going to have six months off before starting again! Vote Labour".

And if the Lib Dems win, nothing fundamental would change, but at least we'd have the novelty of having to work out why the Prime Minister is a tosspot rather than knowing it from the start.

First published in The Independent on 21st April 2010

'These people speak with great and terrifying and justifiable anger.' by Robert fisk


'I listen as a lost people tell of their woes in a kind of trance'

Outside, there was a tropical storm, all swaying palm trees, bright lightening and thunder like an airstrike.

You could imagine – amid the stale croissants and bland coffee of the "executive" lounge and the frightened local newspapers – that Malaysians grow used to this, the thousand shades of greenery amid the hanging trees, the little Chinese temples and the ancient mosques and the dripping villas wherein once lived the rubber-planters from Godalming and Guildford, men who believed the Japanese could never struggle through this mess and reach Singapore. And so, here in Kuala Lumpur, there was something perverse to my little meeting with the Palestinians of Malaysia – yet more representatives of a lost, occupied Middle Eastern people, washed up on the far side of the earth; the same accents, the same desperation, the same courtesy, the same patience when I unforgivably forgot to offer them tea for almost half an hour.

In Hong Kong, I visited Muslim families and traced the roots of their Yemeni origins, and in Kentucky this week – Lexington, to be precise – I met up again with Terry Anderson, the American hostage held for almost seven years by his Shia Muslim captors in Beirut, "trust-me" Ali featuring once more in our conversations: the kidnapper who always gave Terry hope and never produced it. In a frozen Ottawa, I once picked up a taxi driven by a man who lived next door to my favourite tea-house in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli. Live in the Middle East and it follows you around.

Sometimes, it's a surprise – we Westerners are like this – to find that the people you write about don't take such a romantic view of the world. The old betrayals return. The casual remark knocks you over. "I went to the Palestine Embassy," one of the Palestinian men round the hotel table in hot, greasy Kuala Lumpur tells me casually. "I needed to renew my passport. But I come from Gaza and the ambassador refused. He refuses to renew all passports belonging to Palestinians from Gaza. That is how it is. Even here I must be punished by my own Palestinian government for the fact that Hamas rules Gaza. Because Hamas controls Gaza, I must be an illegal alien in Malaysia. This is my fate. What can we do?" And there are those familiar, beseeching, pathetic – in the literal sense of the word – upturned hands. Talk to Palestinians and they give you the world.

The world of Iraq under Saddam, for example. What a guy! He stood up to the Israelis! He tried to help Palestine! "He was a real man!" one of the younger Palestinians tells me. "He was a hero! There was no president like him!" It was the fate of thousands of Palestinians to wash up in Baghdad, to be housed well by the Great Dictator, to be given jobs and education – until "we" arrived to "liberate" Iraq, when the Iraqis turned on their oh-so-fortunate Palestinian guests and evicted them from their homes and killed some of them and sent them on the road to exile all over again. Even unto Kuala Lumpur.

Ghassan Younis Mahmoud. Born in Baghdad in 1982 (grandfather fled Palestine via Jordan to Baghdad in 1948), government-provided house in the Mahmoudiah district of the Iraqi capital. His father worked in the weapons factory at Salman Pak – guns, pistols, no "weapons of mass destruction" – but dodged orders to join the Iraqi army and fight the Americans. To no avail. "Our district was bombed in the 2003 war," Mahmoud says. "My brother was killed during a gun battle – he wasn't involved, just a passer-by – and then in 2007, the Iraqi militias threatened us, It was the Mahdi Army. They took our house away three years after we bought it." Mahmoud fled the Shia gunmen for Syria, spent 11 months in Aleppo and then flew as a tourist to the one country that didn't ask him for a visa – Malaysia. His original Iraqi passport was a fake but he got a real Palestinian passport through the husband of an aunt in the West Bank. He is a bright man – no supporter of Saddam, as it happens – and in real life should be working as a schoolteacher or a businessman in "Palestine". But he works listlessly in a Lebanese restaurant in Kuala Lumpur. "I want to go to Europe – anywhere, if I have a choice – and my cousins are in Stockholm. Another refugee.

Other men among my guests have darker tales. They fled to Malaysia, then to Thailand, were imprisoned in Bangkok, then shipped to the Philippines and imprisoned again. The problem, these nations discovered, was that the Palestinians couldn't be deported home. They didn't have a home, for some reason. Malaysia does not recognise Israel – Malaysian Christians can travel to Jerusalem only with government permission – and so the authorities in Kuala Lumpur could not negotiate with the men who control "Palestine".

Fawaz Ajjour managed to study business administration in the Philippines, married a Philippine woman – their first son, Ahmed, was born there – but, using an Egyptian travel document, he took his wife to Gaza where she gave birth to their second child. She left Gaza before him but when he tried to follow her, he was held at Manila airport for three weeks, returned to live with his father in Cairo and, when his papers expired, set off for another country which did not require a visa: the Ukraine. He spent 10 years there, sick for much of the time, unable to see his family.

These people speak with great and terrifying and justifiable anger. Hussan Farhan draws me a picture of the Baghdad estate where his family lived. It is the same old story. The family arrived via Basra in 1948, were given a government house in 1979, in the suburb of Baladiah. "After 2003, there were kidnappings, killings, abductions. I went to Syria for eight days, then bought a ticket to Malaysia which let me in as a tourist and now I've gone to the United Nations to ask them to help me." Abbas teaches English at a Libyan school in Kuala Lumpur. "I would be ready to accept Malaysian citizenship if I could. Of course. Otherwise, I have to wait for the UN to help me." The Abbas family, by the way, come from a small village called Izzem, not far from Haifa, in what is today Israel.

It goes on like this, brothers in Norway, friends in Europe, a lost people telling their woes in a kind of trance – refugees get bored with their own life-stories – as the warm rain sluices down the window of the executive lounge and the thunder cracks around the building. Just occasionally, the emotion breaks through so I will end with a remark from Ajjour, speaking from the far side of the earth. "You know something? Mahmoud Abbas, our leader, will do nothing for us. It is better for us to keep the Israeli boots on our heads than to live like this."


published in The Independent 17th April 2010


 

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Chomsky Warns of Risk of Fascism in the US By Matthew Rothschild

Noam Chomsky, the leading leftwing intellectual, warned last week that fascism may be coming to the United States.

“I’m just old enough to have heard a number of Hitler’s speeches on the radio,” he said, “and I have a memory of the texture and the tone of the cheering mobs, and I have the dread sense of the dark clouds of fascism gathering” here at home.

Chomsky was speaking to more than 1,000 people at the Orpheum Theatre in Madison, Wisconsin, where he received the University of Wisconsin’s A.E. Havens Center’s award for lifetime contribution to critical scholarship.

“The level of anger and fear is like nothing I can compare in my lifetime,” he said.

He cited a statistic from a recent poll showing that half the unaffiliated voters say the average tea party member is closer to them than anyone else.

“Ridiculing the tea party shenanigans is a serious error,” Chomsky said.

Their attitudes “are understandable,” he said. “For over 30 years, real incomes have stagnated or declined. This is in large part the consequence of the decision in the 1970s to financialize the economy.”

There is class resentment, he noted. “The bankers, who are primarily responsible for the crisis, are now reveling in record bonuses while official unemployment is around 10 percent and unemployment in the manufacturing sector is at Depression-era levels,” he said.

And Obama is linked to the bankers, Chomsky explained.

“The financial industry preferred Obama to McCain,” he said. “They expected to be rewarded and they were. Then Obama began to criticize greedy bankers and proposed measures to regulate them. And the punishment for this was very swift: They were going to shift their money to the Republicans. So Obama said bankers are “fine guys” and assured the business world: ‘I, like most of the American people, don't begrudge people success or wealth. That is part of the free-market system.’

People see that and are not happy about it.”

He said “the colossal toll of the institutional crimes of state capitalism” is what is fueling “the indignation and rage of those cast aside.”

“People want some answers,” Chomsky said. “They are hearing answers from only one place: Fox, talk radio, and Sarah Palin.”

Chomsky invoked Germany during the Weimar Republic, and drew a parallel between it and the United States. “The Weimar Republic was the peak of Western civilization and was regarded as a model of democracy,” he said.

And he stressed how quickly things deteriorated there.

“In 1928 the Nazis had less than 2 percent of the vote,” he said. “Two years later, millions supported them. The public got tired of the incessant wrangling, and the service to the powerful, and the failure of those in power to deal with their grievances.”

He said the German people were susceptible to appeals about “the greatness of the nation, and defending it against threats, and carrying out the will of eternal providence.”

When farmers, the petit bourgeoisie, and Christian organizations joined forces with the Nazis, “the center very quickly collapsed,” Chomsky said.

No analogy is perfect, he said, but the echoes of fascism are “reverberating” today, he said.

“These are lessons to keep in mind.”

Matthew Rothschild is the editor of The Progressive magazine. April 12, 2010

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Behind the Afghan Fraud by By CONN HALLINAN

"We Have Shot an Astounding Number of People"


 All frauds have a purpose, mostly to relieve the unwary of their wealth, though occasionally to launch some foreign adventure: the 1965 Tonkin Gulf hoax that escalated the Vietnam War comes to mind.

So what was the design behind “Operation Moshtarak,” or the “battle of Marjuh,” in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, the largest U.S. and NATO military operation in Afghanistan since the 2003 invasion? That Moshtarak was a fraud was obvious from the start, a con job that the U.S. media enthusiastically went along with.

Marjuh was billed as a “fortress,” a “city of 80,000” and the Taliban’s “stronghold,” packed with more than 1,000 “hard core fighters.” But as Gareth Porter of the Inter Press Service revealed, Marjuh is not even a city, but a district of scattered villages. As the days went by—and civilian deaths passed military casualties—the number of “hard core” fighters declined to 750, then 500, and then maybe 100. In the end, it was barely a skirmish. “Hardly a single gun was captured by NATO forces,” tribal elder and former police chief Abdul Rahman Jan told Time.

According to Porter, Marju is “either a few clusters of farmers’ homes or a large agricultural area covering much of the southern Helmand River Valley.” Marjuh actually embraces about 125 square miles, an area big enough to simply swallow the 10,000 U.S., NATO and Afghan Army troops assigned to the offensive.

The area was also billed as the “linchpin of the militants’ logistical and opium-smuggling network.” Marjuh is indeed an area with significant poppy cultivation, but according to Julian Mercille, a Lecturer at University College Dublin and an expert on U.S. foreign policy, the Taliban get “only 4 percent of the trade.” Local farmers reap about 21 percent of the $3.4 billion yearly commerce, according to Mercille, while “75 percent of the trade is captured by government officials, the police, local and regional brokers and traffickers.” In short, our allies.

And the word “linchpin” soon dropped off the radar screen as it became obvious that Operation Moshtarak would not touch the drug trade because it would alienate local farmers, thus sabotaging the goal of winning the “hearts and minds” of residents.

In some ways the most interesting part of the Marjuh operation was a gathering that took place shortly after the “fighting” was over: President Barak Obama called a meeting Mar. 12 in the White House to ask his senior staff and advisors if the “success” of Moshtarak would allow the U.S. to open negotiations with the Taliban. According to Porter, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates opposed talks until after a similar operation aimed at Khandahar is completed this summer.

The Khandahar offensive is being pumped up as a “blow at the Taliban’s heartland” and the “fulcrum” of the Afghan war. Khandahar is, indeed, where the Taliban got its start and, at 600,000, is Afghanistan’s second largest city. Whether a military operation will have any more impact than the attack on Marjuh is highly unlikely. While Time was predicting the Taliban would make a “bloody stand,” the insurgents have never engaged in a standup battle with the U.S. and NATO. As they did in Marjuh, they will simply decamp to another area of the country,or blend in with the local population.

However, the White House gathering suggests that the administration may be searching for a way out before the 2012 elections. With the economic crisis at home continuing, and the bill for the war passing $200 billion, Afghanistan is looking more and more like a long tunnel with no light at the end.

Certainly our allies seem to have concluded that the Americans are on an exit path.

The Karzai government and the UN have opened talks with some of the Taliban, as well as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Islamic Party. Pakistan—correctly concluding it was being cut out of the peace talks—swept up 14 senior Taliban officials, including the organization’s number two man, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.

The Pakistanis claim they are simply aiding the U.S. war effort, but the former head of the UN mission to Afghanistan, Kai Eide, bitterly denounced the arrests as nothing more than effort to derail the on-going negotiations. What seems certain now is that whenever talks do open, the Pakistanis will be at the table. “You cannot achieve stability in Afghanistan without Pakistan,” the country’s Prime Minister, Yusuf Raza Gilani told the Financial Times.

If Islamabad is in on the talks, that means the Taliban will have a presence in whatever peace agreement emerges, a fact that has distressed India. Not only is it likely that India will lose much of its influence with the Karzai government—and see more than a billion dollars in aid go for naught—its traditional enemy, Pakistan, will almost certainly regain much of its former influence with Kabul. “Pakistan wants to exercise tutelage over Afghanistan,” former Indian foreign minister Kanwal Sibal told the Financial Times.

The push by the U.S. to find a political solution is partly driven by the rapidly eroding NATO presence. The Canadians are sticking by their pledge to be out by 2011, and when the Netherlands tried to raise the possibility of Dutch troops remaining, the government fell. The British Labor Party, behind in the polls but catching up to the Tories, wants to rid itself of the Afghan albatross before upcoming elections and has been supportive of Karzai’s negotiations.

The U.S. is also discovering that the Afghanis play a mean game of chess.

When the Obama Administration demanded that the Karzai government reinstate an independent electoral commission, plus end corruption—in particular, dumping the President’s larcenous half brother Ahmed Wali Karzai who runs Khandahar like a feudal fiefdom—the Afghan president flew off to Teheran to embrace the President of Iran, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, and meet with Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Given that the U.S. is trying to isolate Iran in the region, Karzai’s Iran visit was not a happy moment on the Potomac.

Yet Iran has influence over the Northern Alliance, which will need persuading to accept the Taliban into a coalition. Rather than isolating Iran, Karzai has made it central to a peace agreement that the U.S. and NATO want.

For the past five years the U.S. has been wooing India as a bulwark against China, but because Washington needs Pakistan to broker a peace, the Americans agreed to sending F-16 fighter-bombers, helicopter gun ships, and reconnaissance drones to Islamabad. A better-armed Pakistan, however, hardly goes down well in New Delhi, particularly because the Indians see their former influence in Kabul on the wane.

So India promptly went off and met with the Russians. Ever sympathetic, Moscow offered New Delhi a bargain basement price on an aircraft carrier and a passel of MIG-29s tossed in. That dealt a blow to another aim of U.S. diplomacy: keeping Russia out of South Asia.

The same week as Pakistan’s foreign minister was in Washington with a laundry list of goodies for “helping out” in Afghanistan, Karzai jetted off to Beijing to talk about aid and investments. So much for the plan to keep China out of Central Asia.

This is beginning to look like checker players vs. chess masters.

But there does seems to be a developing consensus that the war must wind down. If that is the direction, than the Karzai government’s upcoming “peace jirga,” set for late April or early May, takes on greater importance.

While the administration appears to be divided over how, when, and with whom to negotiate, “withdrawing” doesn’t mean the U.S. won’t leave bases behind or end its efforts to penetrate Central Asia. The White House recently announced an agreement with Kyrgyzstan to set up a U.S. “counter-terrorism center” near the Chinese border.

The danger at this juncture is seeing peace talks as a zero-sum game: if Pakistan gains, India loses; if the U.S. withdraws, the Taliban win; if Iran is helpful it will encourage nuclear proliferation.

The bottom line in Afghanistan is the Afghans. What they want, and how they get it, is not the business of Washington, Brussels, New Delhi, Teheran, or Islamabad. The “graveyard of empires” has claimed far more Afghan lives than those of the invaders. As U.S. Afghan commander Stanley McCrystal told the New York Times, “We have shot an astounding number of people.”

Indeed, we have.

Conn Hallinan can be reached at: ringoanne@sbcglobal.net

from CounterPunch 12-4-2010

Friday, April 09, 2010

Spare me the academics who only want a 'safe, positive space' by Robert Fisk

I put my medium bomber squadron on alert to defend the English language

I'm all for talking to students. I try to tell the "truth" about the Middle East – call
ing a wall a wall, if you like – and to follow The Independent's line: tell it like it is, however many ill-spelt, ranting emails, blogopops, mugbooks and other ephemera turn up at head office. Friends who are currently abandoning the hate-hell of the internet tell me that the only good button is the one called "delete". But back to universities – and that little matter of free speech.

The University of Ottawa – an institution I had the pleasure of addressing only last year – is currently sinking into a slough of despond over a lady called Ann Coulter, a right-wing ranter of the Fox News/internet-raver/hate variety that now dominates the Republican party in America. After the international crimes against humanity of 11 September 2001, she said that the West should invade all Muslim countries and force their inhabitants to become Christians. In other words, she's a pretty nasty piece of work. Not long ago, she even suggested that Muslims should not be allowed to fly – because they could always travel by magic carpet or camel. Cute, sensitive, childlike humour. Got it?

Anyway, Coulter was booked to talk at Ottawa but received an email of such pomposity from the university's provost, M. François Houle, that students took their cue to protest at her presence; her "security" men decided she should cancel her appearance. When I left Ottawa this week, she was still pushing up the headlines.

So let's take a look at the preposterous M. Houle. In an email to Coulter – why he couldn't write a proper letter, I have no idea – he quoth: "I hereby encourage you to educate yourself, if need be, as to what is acceptable in Canada and to do so before your planned visit here. Promoting hatred against any identifiable group would not only be considered inappropriate, but could in fact lead to criminal charges." Note here the linguistic giveaways. "Hereby" – indeed! Houle, the legalistic town crier. Then "to educate yourself" – the implication, of course, is that Coulter is a drop-out. "Inappropriate." Oh my God, yes, we've got to behave in an "appropriate" way, haven't we, in our nice happy-clappy liberal society? And then the killer: "criminal charges". Yup, M. Houle is a thought-policeman. "'Criminal", mark you. Wow!

Worse was to come. While the abominable Coulter grabbed the headlines by saying nothing – how Canada's political ragbag would love to do that – a second-year sociology and women's studies student, Rita Valerino, was widely – and rightly – quoted for the following jargon-based nonsense. "I was just worried that things were going to be said about certain groups of people that were going to make them feel very unsafe and very uncomfortable and we promise our students here at the University of Ottawa a safe, positive space."

Aaaaagh! Talk about an anthropological pit, this was as twee as you could get. "Certain groups", eh? Muslims, perhaps? So why not say so? "Unsafe"? "Uncomfortable"? You mean that Muslims can't stand up for themselves? And then there is the clincher: "a safe, positive space". Yes, we all want to live in a "positive space", don't we? Time and space. Private space. Political space. I read this twaddle over and over again. And when I hear the word '"space", I put my medium bomber squadron on alert to defend the English language – just as I do when academics "posit" ideas.

Not that I don't get the same treatment from time to time. Not long ago, the University of Concordia in Montreal invited me to talk about journalism and the Middle East. But a week before I was to give my lecture, Benjamin Netanyahu had been prevented from giving a lecture of his own at the same university. Students had gathered outside the lecture hall, a glass door had been smashed and Netanyahu – who was charging, by the way, $100,000 a gig (Mr Bob was charging nothing) – was outrageously gagged.

I have to add that the organisers were vetting which students could attend this iniquitous man's lecture – a good way of insuring soft questions for a hard man – but the university reacted true to form: no more lectures on the Middle East for the foreseeable future. But whoops! They had forgotten that Mr Bob was due to speak a week later.

So on the morning of the day I was to talk, they sent two academic spies to listen to my address to the press club of Canada, both of whom scuttled off to a pay phone afterwards to report back on my "appropriateness" to speak. I, of course, then became the "spy", standing behind their booth, listening. By afternoon – once they realised my talk was going ahead – a Jewish group at the university plastered the sides of the escalator to the lecture theatre with bright red posters claiming that I would upset the harmony of Concordia University – and cause racial unrest – if I was allowed to talk. A Canadian television station even asked me for my reaction. I said nothing, but invited them to film me as I took the escalator and tore all the posters off the wall. Which I did. They showed this scene on television – but not a second of my lecture.

But there you go. Over the past week, the Canadian press, while piously rejecting Coulter's ravings, has been asking whether Muslims are the only protected species on planet Canada. And, more to the point, questioning the provisions of human rights legislation in Canada's provinces which dispense with the presumption of innocence and proof beyond a reasonable doubt. As one Ontario professor complained, "To human rights types, the political right has no right... What you say might cause offence, and we can't have that."

In the hateful National Post (founder, one Conrad Black, currently in a US penitentiary), Lorne Gunter announced: "The fact of the matter is, they protect only those individuals who are members of groups currently in favour with the political, bureaucratic, cultural, academic and media establishments – such as gays, feminists, Muslims, francophones and immigrants – while relegating to the back of the rights bus men, Christians, Jews, English-speakers and those of European descent."

O lordy, lordy. Weasel words – and universities are full of weasels – have sharp teeth. They bring out the wolves. And wolves have sharp teeth, too. I think I'm safer back in the Middle East.

Published in The Independent 3April 2010

We Are Not Liberals! Misrepresenting the Left By RON JACOBS

Despite the current media-induced confusion, liberals are not leftists. This misconception is not only embarrassing to those of us who are genuinely leftist in our politics, it is also discrediting the Left. From the New York Times to FOX News, the portrayal of the US Democratic party and Barack Obama as leftist is creating a perception in the US populace that leftists are ineffective politicos who have no principles they won't modify. Of course, the Left has not done that great of a job explaining the situation in any other way, thereby leaving the way open for the misconceptions put forth by the media to appear as truth.

If one wants to know what a liberal is, they need only to look at The US Democratic Party. From Hilary Clinton to Dennis Kucinich, that party is in no way leftist. How can I say that? To begin with, liberals differ from leftists in fundamental ways. For starters, liberalism is founded on the sanctity of private property. According to John Locke, who is quite possibly the godfather of liberalism, it is the possession of property that gives humans their freedom. Indeed, in its early days, liberalism only saw freedom as being deserving to propertied males. While not disparaging the positive aspects of liberalism's early days--its opposition to monarchy and the role of the Church, to name two of the most important ones--it is crucial to acknowledge the shortcomings of a philosophy grounded in the ownership of property. Since the fact of private ownership was a qualification for entry into self-governance it obviously excluded many members of those societies where the politics of liberalism replaced the monarchy and the Church. Add to this fact the denial of political power to women and (in the newly created United States) the acceptance of slavery, and the shortcomings of liberalism as a philosophy guaranteeing liberty and equality become glaringly obvious. It is understood by those that utilize a Marxist analysis to understand history that liberalism is a bourgeois philosophy, primarily because it protects the dominance of that class in those societies where it flourishes.

Of course, history does progress. The slave trade was eventually outlawed in Europe and suffered a bloody end in the United States. Women did eventually achieve political and economic power in those nations where liberalism is the underlying philosophical foundation of the regime. This progress did not occur due to the graces of the ruling class, however. Of all the countries that fall under the liberal banner, France experienced the greatest upheavals on its way to eventual liberty for all of its citizens. The United States was close behind. Equality remains at best a promise. The greatest challenges to liberalism were the twentieth century's two world wars. Yet, both of these wars were the result of liberalism's necessary relationship to the capitalist economy. World War I was the result of a rivalry between empires that had run out of new lands To conquer. Those empires then turned on each other in an attempt to steal each other's colonies. World War Two was a direct assault on the principles of liberalism by the totalitarian philosophy of fascism.

This brings us neatly to the historical moment when liberalism became identified with governmental intervention into the domestic economy in ways not seen before. Instead of helping only the wealthy and their corporations dominate the economy as in the past, liberals began to encourage the installation of governmental controls on unfettered capitalism. This did not happen because liberals were interested in destroying capitalism, but in saving it. The institutions of capital in much of the world were under heavy fire from workers and others in the years preceding World War Two. Unlike the conservative free marketeers in public life, liberals during the reign of FDR understood that the only way to save capitalism from what they considered the twin evils of Bolshevism and fascism was to institute programs that would guarantee working people work and some minimum financial security. Government programs designed to provide this minimal security were legislated under intense attacks from the free marketeers and were the result of years of strikes and other battles from the labor Left. It is reasonable to state that these safety net programs and the transformation of the US economy to a Keynesian model that relied heavily on the production and sale of war materials did save capitalism in the United States and, consequently, throughout much of the world. This also placed the United States into the role of the primary capitalist and imperialist power. This transformation did at least two things. It insured that war and the preparation for war would continue to be a growth industry for US business and it created a situation where US workers (mostly white males at the time) would be able to live a relatively good life in terms of income and job security, thanks to the intensified exploitation of labor forces in the developing world. It also allowed the liberal government to push through programs like Lyndon Johnson's Great Society and Medicare.

The peak of postwar liberalism in the US was the 1960s. Its greatest triumph was passing legislation that ended legal apartheid in the US and its greatest defeat was the defeat of US forces in Southeast Asia. The latter, which was presented to the world as a mission to bring the liberal ideals of liberty and equality to the people of that region of the world, was disproved. The actual conduct of the war exposed this presentation for the lie it was: a bloody and brutal attempt to destroy a nation and a people that bordered on genocide. It also gave the US Left, which was at its greatest popularity since the 1930s, the opportunity to expose the myth of liberalism. That is, that liberalism's ideals of liberty and equality could not be obtained under the economic machine of capitalism. This contradiction was apparent both in Vietnam and in the US, as the struggle for racial equality became an effort by the government to repress those individuals and groups dedicated to achieving that equality.

The post World War Two years of capitalist expansion were followed by years of contraction that began in the early 1970s (most agree that 1973 was the exact year). This created a fear among the capitalist class and its governmental sycophants that they might lose their position in the world. So, they began to cut back on labor costs, shipping operations to the non-union southern US and then overseas and reneging on retirement promises and health care contracts. At first, there were those among the liberal establishment in the US who stood with the workers and opposed these moves. However, by the time the ultraright administration of Ronald Reagan was out of office, it was almost impossible to find a liberal who would stand with striking workers. Indeed, it was getting pretty difficult to find a national union official who would stand with striking workers. The free marketeers were back on top and were once again in complete control of the economic policy of Washington. This period saw the rise of a new type of liberal (the neoliberals) to positions of power in the White House and throughout Washington. Neoliberal Bill Clinton campaigned on a promise to halt so-called free trade agreement known as NAFTA and then pushed it through Congress in his first years in office. NAFTA and other free trade agreements were not about free trade, but about forcing already indebted nations of the developing world to accept US goods while destroying their own economies. At the same time, credit rules began to be loosened in the United States, resulting in the creation of untold billions of dollars that did not truly exist. Yet, as long as everyone from the individual getting a home loan to the World Bank forcing austerity measures on national governments believed that the money was good there was no apparent problem. The neoliberal model of world development--a model that encouraged dependence on US banks and corporations and espoused the philosophy that the free market would solve all social ills--reigned supreme.

As for the liberal political program, it became a mere shadow of its earlier self. No longer were society wide programs to eliminate poverty like the Great Society programs mentioned earlier considered. Instead, the liberals looked at such programs and destroyed them under the guise of reform. Perhaps the best example of this strategy can be found in Bill Clinton's Welfare Reform Act of 1996, a piece of legislation that took free marketeer Ronald Reagan's statement that people in the US were only poor by choice and made that statement policy. Even when it came to identity politics, the liberals were hesitant to push their belief in equality to far. Instead of demanding legislation insuring de jure equality for the LBGT community, the Clinton administration chose to institute ambiguous policies that clarified little and arguably caused more discrimination. In addition, during his campaign, Clinton borrowed from the racist Southern strategy of the GOP and attacked performer Sister Souljah for her statements about black resistance to white racists. An adjunct to this more conservative social stance could be seen in liberals public embrace of religious figures and politics. Bill Clinton and the Democratic Party also supported the 1995 legislation increasing the number of federal offenses that could result in the death penalty while further militarizing the nation's police forces. The US military attack on Yugoslavia in 1999 that came after forcing the Belgrade government to accept a peace agreement that guaranteed war was the final act in a reign that reminded everyone on the left that liberalism exists to defend the interests of the bourgeoisie.

The Left believes in justice. According to most liberals, so do they. However, the Left also believes that there can not be genuine justice for all unless there is economic justice for all. To put it briefly, human rights can not exist for all regardless of class until economic inequality is addressed and minimized. Ideally, this means that the motivation of profit is eliminated altogether. It does not deny the right of people to own their own property, but it does deny those who would profit from letting others use that property through rent. Unlike liberalism, leftists publicly acknowledge the fundamental nature economics plays in how political structures operate. This doesn't mean that liberals don't understand the essential role capitalism plays in maintaining the liberal state in all its guises, it just means that leftists know that to lessen the inequalities that exist under capitalism, it is necessary to change it with the eventual goal of ending its predominant role in determining social relations. In short, leftists understand that capitalism is a fundamental source of social inequalities, while liberals tend to believe that, if capitalism cannot cure those inequities, it can surely help lessen them. This belief exists despite the historical empirical evidence that the opposite is true.

If one looks at history, it seems apparent that leftism arose in response to the failings of the original liberal projects of the French revolution and the American war for independence. Both of these catalytic events did at least two important things. They ended the power of the monarchy and put the newly forming bourgeois class in power. Meanwhile, the peasants and the growing industrial working class discovered that the ideals of liberty and equality did not apply to them. In fact, their unequal status in relation to the bourgeoisie was essential to the rule of that class. This realization created a need for a different political philosophy that progressed beyond the principles of the French Revolution. Like the philosophy of that revolution, this newer philosophy was born from the experience of the oppressed. It found its most complete expression in the pens of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

Liberals fear the end of capitalism and therefore will not support those who desire to undermine it. This is why they supported the Cold War. It is why they support the establishment of a client state in Iraq and one of the reasons why they support Israel. It is why they support the expansion of the US war in Afghanistan. It is why they support a health care bill that is not single payer but supportive of the insurance industry. It is why Barack Obama had no doubts when he bailed out Wall Street. The musician Phil Ochs said it like this in his 1965 song "Love Me, Love Me I'm a Liberal."

But don't talk about revolution


That's going a little bit too far


So love me, love me, love me, I'm a liberal...


There's no one more red, white and blue


So love me, love me, love me, I'm a liberal

Like liberals, there are several varieties of leftists. All, however, share an understanding that capitalism is an essentially unfair economic system that rewards those who already have capital much more frequently than those who just work their tails off. They also understand that capitalism needs wars to survive and requires inequality to function. This is why they oppose it. As stated before, liberals have a much rosier view of capitalism and have historically been willing to do whatever it takes to save it. So, while they may be the Left's occasional allies, they are not the Left, no matter how many times FOX News and the New York Times say they are.

Ron Jacobs is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs' essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch's collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. He can be reached at: rjacobs3625@charter.net

published in CounterPunch April 7, 2010

The Veils of Illusion, Dracula's Army By RICHARD NEVILLE


That the contents of a previously suppressed Pentagon video has come as a nasty shock to so many, highlights the noxious disinformation fog in which Western citizens are cocooned. The mainstream media may be omnipresent, yet it is by no means neutral. From day one of the Terror Wars, the slaughter of civilians depicted in the video released by WikiLeaks, Collateral Damage, has been a key feature of the conflict. Both sides play dirty, but one side owns the skies.

In Afghanistan and Iraq the invaders have committed numerous atrocities: shooting unarmed locals at check points, on the street, even while they're tilling fields. We've bombed wedding parties, raided homes at midnight and murdered occupants of all ages, lying about it. We've stormed hospitals in Fallujah, unleashed chemical weapons (phosphorous), left a trail of depleted uranium … We've flattened the offices of Al Jazeera (twice), shoved “suspects” in dungeons, hid inmates from the International Red Cross and tortured prisoners to death …. and it’s still happening, day after day, with Drones wiping out remote villages, shredding their families, assassinating anyone we choose.

On April 4, the New York Times revealed how a “badly bungled American Special Operations assault” tried to over-up in the deaths of three Afghan women during a night raid. Soldiers then corrupted the evidence, gouged incriminating bullets from corpses and blamed their murders on the Taliban. Australia's covert forces have sunk in a similar mire, more than once killing the wrong people at the wrong address. After a year's so-called investigation, it is reported that not a single witness to the slayings has been interviewed. Surely it's time for the UN to outlaw the use of these undercover ops, with a license to murder and no-one to hold them to account.

When you think about it, when you tally up the criminal carnage of the last decade, and when you listen to the brutal exchanges on the Apache gunship - “please, another kill … light 'em all up” - you start to wonder what drives the spiralling of today's military atrocities. Yes, an army marches on its stomach, and that may still be true, but these days you get the sense that the burgers are washed down with lavish tumblers of blood. Often the blood of innocents. It becomes an addiction, perhaps, an insatiable desire that's part Gothic and part Surrealist, like a videogame played on a helicopter hovering over Transylvania.

When a short segment of Collateral Damage was played on Sydney's ABC TV news, viewers were told the rest of the clip was “too disturbing to watch”. Too disturbing to whom? The spin doctors? Our grandmothers? After almost a decade of war, a bit of disturbance is long overdue. It's time see up close what a modern military invasion is capable of destroying.

A few days ago, the former head of the UN's chief nuclear agency, Mohammed ElBaradei, told the British Guardian, that those who launched the war in Iraq were responsible for killing a million innocent people and could be tried under international law. Mmmm. The culprits are legion. George Bush, Tony Blair, John Howard and a slew of soldiers, advisors, lawyers and security aides.

Despite the claims of valiant WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange, several dark videos have surfaced over the years on the internet, while the knee-jerk pro war media kept is eyes firmly averted. A positive outcome of this aversion has been the rapid rise of the online anti war community, including WikiLeaks. Even as their horror story was breaking worldwide, CNN's front page was still desperately promoting its vital scoops on Tiger Woods and Apple's I-Pad, as amusingly captured here.

“What's the big deal?” This was a typical comment after the video release. “It's all a haunt from the past. Move on and kill them all. Even if they had pointed sticks in a war zone or an apple cart full of grenades. War is war. It is not going for a coffee at Starbucks or walking on egg shells anymore. Laughing at the dead is nothing new”. Thankfully, a significant number of war veterans return home from their tours of duty with seasoned eyes, and speak out against the injustices and brutality they witnessed. Instead of trying to shield viewers from the impact of Collateral Murder, a hefty chunk of it should have dominated the news. It is not the media's job to minimize the brutalities of the war and the crimes of commanders. Oh, sorry, it is their job.

In this first decade of the 21st Century, it is time to ask what kind of war machine the West has created? From the little we are allowed to know, it appears to be lawless, tech obsessed sadistic and dumb. It is an army of fat Draculas sucking the blood from the throats of the dispossessed, the impoverished, the ill educated, fuelled by an annual US investment of $607 billion on weapons of death.

“American and NATO troops firing from passing convoys and military checkpoints have killed 30 Afghans and wounded 80 others since last summer”, notes the New York Times, “but in no instance did the victims prove to be a danger to troops”. General McChrystal agrees: “We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat”. At last the mask slips. We get a dash of straight talking about the cruelty and futility of these odious invasions. As I write, bombs continue to explode in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan - a legacy of the mess created by the West. How can we claim to be Godly, as we blast families in mud huts with drones? How can we send war criminals from small nations to the International Court, while our own offenders still live high on the hog, immune from rebuke. Long live WikiLeaks. May it continue to tear down the veils of illusion.

Richard Neville lives in Australia, the land that formed him. In the Sixties he raised hell in London and published Oz. He can be reached through his websites, http://www.homepagedaily.com/ and http://www.richardneville.com.au/

Published in CounterPunch April 8 2010

Anti-Union, Anti-Regulation Mafia by Laura Flanders

Laura Flanders
OK, so the details keep coming out after the deaths of at least 25 miners at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia. While we don't yet know just what caused Monday's explosion, we have learned a lot about the company that owned the mine, Massey Energy.

For that mine alone, Massey received 1300 citations for safety violations since 2005—50 in the last month. And it turns out that rather than fix, their habit was to challenge two out of three violations as a matter of course, part of their "production first approach" to the dangerous business of mining. It makes you wonder - what's it going to take for companies like this one to be treated as political pariahs?

Hurt the planet, work your employees to death. . . how come yet get to keep contributing to politicians and those politicians can keep their heads up? We don't allow donations from the Mafia.

For a start, let's look at the contributions from CEO Don Blankenship. He's given $42,300 in the last two election cycles, $4300 to Senator James Inhofe, $2000 to Pennsylvania Senate candidate Pat Toomey, and $30,400 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

All Republicans, but a deeper investigation will probably find money spread through both parties. How about any politicians who accepted that money face some serious questioning?

Our colleague Esther Kaplan noted in The Nation that for the first time in history, the Mine Safety and Health Administration is headed by a union man, Joe Main. This is a step in the right direction, but right now we should be punishing not only the violators, but the politicians who enable them.

The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders, the host of GRITtv which broadcasts weekdays on satellite TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415 Free Speech TV) on cable, and online at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com

Published on Thursday, April 8, 2010 by GRITtv

The Shame of Spain and the Ghost of Fascism by Scott Boehm

No Pasaran-They shall not pass-Antifascist poster.


When Spain is mentioned in the English-speaking world, romanticized images of Mediterranean landscapes quickly come to mind. They are usually set to a passionate flamenco-inspired soundtrack and mingle with the fantasy of tantalizingly fresh paella, golden olive oil and ruby red wine. This is the Spain most outsiders imagine and experience, and it is largely what the Spanish economy has depended upon since the 1960s when the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco launched a massive tourist campaign to stimulate a struggling economy. The campaign was the stuff of economic miracles. Spain rapidly became one of the world’s premier vacation destinations.
But all the sun in the world couldn’t hide the horror lying in the shadows of a country haunted by a recent war that touched every aspect of Spanish life. At least not forever.

In 2000, twenty-five years after Franco’s death, Emilio Silva, a journalist searching for answers to questions about that war and his family’s relation to it accidentally discovered and exhumed the mass grave where his grandfather’s remains were located. Silva’s grandfather, a humble shop owner and supporter of the democratic state established in 1931, was summarily executed by members of the Falange—the Spanish fascist party—along with twelve other people from his village in the north of Spain shortly after Franco and a handful of generals launched a coup against the Spanish Republic in July 1936. Hitler, Mussolini, and the Catholic Church backed the conspirators while the United States, England and France turned a blind eye to the massacre that ensued.

While the events of 1936-1939 are popularly referred to as ‘the Spanish Civil War,” the term misrepresents what actually occurred. More than a war between two more or less equally prepared and similarly matched sides, it was the mass extermination of “los rojos”—anyone considered part of “the anti-Spain” by the self-proclaimed, and well-armed, guardians of national identity and patriotic spirit. The “reds” put up a long fight, but ultimately they were killed, tortured, raped, imprisoned, kidnapped, used as slave labor and/or driven into exile for four decades.

Like Emilio Silva’s grandfather, hundreds of thousands of the victims of such repression—continued by the Francoist state at the conclusion of the war—continue to lie prostrate in mass graves. Since the exhumation in 2000, their descendents and sympathizers have formed a growing historical memory movement. Like Antigone, they have repeatedly asked for one thing from the Spanish state: nothing more than the possibility of exercising their desire to properly bury their dead. Like Creon, the Spanish state has consistently responded with statements, actions and laws that laugh in the face of their ethical claim.

In 2008, Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón, internationally famous for having put Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet on trial for genocide in 1998, admitted a series of lawsuits filed by several historical memory organizations and individuals seeking assistance with the location and exhumation of the remains of family members. Garzón subsequently opened the first criminal case into the 1936 coup and the Francoist dictatorship. He concluded that the generals who launched the war were guilty of crimes against humanity, and ordered the exhumation of nineteen mass graves. A few weeks later, Garzón was forced to close his case under pressure from fellow judges of the National Court and the Attorney General’s office. Once again, the hopes of family members were crushed by the weight of law and the callousness of the Spanish state.

(For a brief description of Garzón’s case, see my article “On Human Rights, Spain is Different” published on Common Dreams December 10, 2008: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2008/12/10).

If the story ended here, it would be yet another sad lament in a long litany of historical wrongs for the victims of Francoist repression. But this story, unfortunately, is not over.

Shortly after Garzón withdrew his case, a far-right lobby and the Falange—the same Spanish fascist party that killed Emilio Silva’s grandfather and dumped his body in a ditch like hundreds of thousands of others—filed lawsuits against Garzón for opening the historic case. To the surprise of many international law and human rights organizations, the Supreme Court admitted the suits last May. Yesterday Judge Luciano Varela ruled that Garzón must stand trial. He faces removal from the National Court and banishment from the bench for twelve to twenty years, which would mean the sudden end of Garzón’s illustrious, if controversial, legal career.

While Garzón has been roundly criticized for self-promotion and basking in the spotlight of high-profile cases, such personal faults are irrelevant to the case at hand. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the Fascist party and its associates—which appears quite possible—it will be a far-reaching victory for the state of impunity that characterizes contemporary Spain and a devastating loss for those seeking the most minimal act of justice for the dead. It will also be a significant blow to international criminal law, convert Spain into a legal embarrassment in the eyes of the world and discredit the integrity of Spanish jurists.

This would seem bad enough, but if Garzón is debarred it also means that fascism will be validated as a legitimate and effective political force in democratic Spain. Not only will the family members of the victims of fascist violence lose the only judge daring enough to challenge the 1977 amnesty law protecting those responsible for mass extermination and state repression—a law considered illegal under international law—they will also be forced to swallow the fact that, in Spain at least, democracy means that fascist complaints carry more weight than the burden of those traumatized by the Spanish state during much of the twentieth century.

Ten years into the twenty-first, the political panorama looks chillingly familiar to those who have survived or studied Francoist “justice.” Once again, the force of law is being used to discipline those who challenge a deeply unjust social order. But it is more than simply punishment; it is a threat to those who might follow in the footsteps of Garzón, and an insult to all the Antigones of the world. It is also the apparition of fascism, alive and well in sunny Spain, rearing its ugly head from behind long, haunting shadows.

In Madrid, you can almost hear its voice echoing throughout the hallowed halls of justice: “Olé! Somebody pass the sangría…”

Scott Boehm is a Researcher for the Spanish Civil War Memory Project (http://orpheus.ucsd.edu/speccoll/scwmemory/) at UC San Diego where he is a Ph.D. candidate in Literature. His dissertation, "Trauma and Transitionism" examines the intersections of culture, memory and justice related to mass extermination and state repression in Spain. He can be contacted at sboehm@ucsd.edu.

Published on Thursday, April 8, 2010 by CommonDreams.org

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Believe It or Not (2010 Imperial Edition) by Tom Engelhardt

U.S. War-Fighting Numbers to Knock Your Socks Off

In my 1950s childhood, Ripley's Believe It or Not was part of everyday life, a syndicated comics page feature where you could stumble upon such mind-boggling facts as: "If all the Chinese in the world were to march four abreast past a given point, they would never finish passing though they marched forever and forever." Or if you were young and iconoclastic, you could chuckle over Mad magazine's parody, "Ripup's Believe It or Don't!"

With our Afghan and Iraq wars on my mind, I've been wondering whether Ripley's moment hasn't returned. Here, for instance, are some figures offered in a Washington Post piece by Lieutenant General James H. Pillsbury, deputy commanding general of the U.S. Army Materiel Command, who is deeply involved in the "drawdown of the logistics operation in Iraq": "There are... more than 341 facilities; 263,000 soldiers, Defense Department civilians and contractor employees; 83,000 containers; 42,000 vehicles; 3 million equipment items; and roughly $54 billion in assets that will ultimately be removed from Iraq."

Admittedly, that list lacks the "believe it or not" tagline, but otherwise Ripley's couldn't have put it more staggeringly. And here's Pillsbury's Ripley-esque kicker: the American drawdown will be the "equivalent, in personnel terms alone, of relocating the entire population of Buffalo, New York."

When it comes to that slo-mo drawdown, all the numbers turn out to be staggering. They are also a reminder of just how the Pentagon has been fighting its wars in these last years -- like a compulsive shopper without a 12-step recovery program in sight. Whether it's 3.1 million items of equipment, or 3 million, 2.8 million, or 1.5 million, whether 341 "facilities" (not including perhaps ten mega-bases which will still be operating in 2011 with tens of thousands of American soldiers, civilians, and private contractors working and living on them), or more than 350 forward operating facilities, or 290 bases are to be shut down, the numbers from Iraq are simply out of this world.

Those sorts of figures define the U.S. military in the Bush era -- and now Obama's -- as the most materiel-profligate war-making machine ever. Where armies once had baggage trains and camp followers, our camp followers now help plant our military in foreign soil, build its housing and defenses, and then supply it with vast quantities of food, water, fuel, and god knows what else. In this way, our troops carry not just packs on their backs, but a total, transplantable society right down to the PXs, massage parlors, food courts, and miniature golf courses. At Kandahar Air Base in Afghanistan, there was until recently a "boardwalk" that typically included a "Burger King, a Subway sandwich shop, three cafes, several general stores, a Cold Mountain Creamery, [and an] Oakley sunglasses outlet." Atypically enough, however, a TGI Friday's, which had just joined the line-up, was recently ordered shut down along with some of the other stores by Afghan war commander General Stanley McChrystal as inimical to the war effort.

In Ripley's terms, if you were to put all the vehicles, equipment, and other materiel we managed to transport to Iraq and Afghanistan "four abreast," they, too, might stretch a fair way around the planet. And wouldn't that be an illustration worthy of the old Ripley's cartoon -- all those coffee makers and port-a-potties and Internet cafes, even that imported sand which, if more widely known about, might change the phrase "taking coals to Newcastle" to "bringing sand to Iraq"?

For all the sand Iraq did have, from the point of view of the U.S. military it didn't have the perfect type for making the miles of protective "blast walls" that became a common feature of the post-invasion landscape. So, according to Stephen Farrell of the New York Times, U.S. taxpayer dollars floated in boatloads of foreign sand from the United Arab Emirates and Qatar to create those 15-ton blast walls at $3,500 a pop. U.S. planners are now evidently wondering whether to ship some of the leftover walls thousands of miles by staggeringly roundabout routes to Afghanistan at a transportation cost of $15,000 each.

When it comes to the U.S. drawdown in Iraq and the build-up in Afghanistan, in fact, the numbers, any numbers, are little short of unbelievable.

* Believe it or not, for instance, U.S. commanders in our war zones have more than one billion congressionally mandated dollars a year at their disposal to spend on making "friends with local citizens and help[ing] struggling economies." It's all socked away in the Commander's Emergency Response Program. Think of it as a local community-bribery account which, best of all, seems not to require the slightest accountability to Congress for where or how the money is spent.

* Believe it or not (small change department), the Pentagon is planning to spend an initial $50 million from a "$350 million Pentagon program designed to improve the counterterrorism operations of U.S. allies" on Croatia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, all of whom, in the latest version of the Coalition of the Billing, just happen to have small numbers of troops deployed in Afghanistan. The backdrop for this is Canada's decision to withdraw its combat forces from Afghanistan in 2011 and a fear in Washington that the larger European allies may threaten to bail as well. Think of that $50 million as a down payment on a state bribery program -- and the Pentagon is reportedly hoping to pry more money loose from Congress to pay off the smaller "allies" in a bigger way in the future.

* Believe it or not, the Defense Logistics Agency shipped 1.1 million hamburger patties to Afghanistan in the month of March 2010 (nearly doubling the March 2009 figure). Almost any number you might care to consider related to the Afghan War is similarly on the rise. By the fall, the number of American troops there will have nearly tripled since President Obama took office; American deaths in Afghanistan have doubled in the first months of 2010, while the number of wounded has tripled; insurgent roadside bomb (IED) attacks more than doubled in 2009 and are still rising; U.S. drone strikes almost doubled in 2009 and are on track to triple this year; and fuel deliveries to Afghanistan have nearly doubled, rising from 15 million gallons a month in March 2009 to 27 million this March. (Keep in mind that, by the time a gallon of gas has made it to U.S. troops in the field, its cost is estimated at up to $100.)

* Believe it or not, according to a recent report by the Pentagon inspector general, private contractor KBR, holding a $38 billion contract to provide the U.S. military with "a range of logistic services," has cost Washington $21 million in "waste" on truck maintenance alone by billing for 12 hours of work when, on average, its employees were actually putting in 1.3 hours.

* Believe it or not, the State Department has paid another private contractor, Triple Canopy, $438 million since mid-2005 simply to guard the massive, 104-acre U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, the largest on the planet. That's more than half the price tag to build the embassy, the running of which is expected to cost an estimated $1.8 billion dollars in 2010. Triple Canopy now has 1,800 employees dedicated to embassy protection in the Iraqi capital, mainly Ugandan and Peruvian security guards. At $736 million to build, the embassy itself is a numbers wonder (and has only recently had its sizeable playing field astroturfed - "the first artificial turf sports field in Iraq" -- also assumedly at taxpayer expense). Fans of Ripley-esque diplomatic gigantism should have no fears about the future either: the U.S. is now planning to build another "mother ship" of similar size and cost in Islamabad, Pakistan.

* Believe it or not, according to Nick Turse of TomDispatch.com, nearly 400 bases for U.S. troops, CIA operatives, special operations forces, NATO allies, and civilian contractors have already been constructed in Afghanistan, topping the base-building figures for Iraq by about 100 in a situation in which almost every bit of material has to be transported into the country. The base-building spree has yet to end.

* Believe it or not, according to the Washington Post, the Defense Department has awarded a contract worth up to $360 million to the son of an Afghan cabinet minister to transport U.S. military supplies through some of the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan -- and his company has no trucks. (He hires subcontractors who evidently pay off the Taliban as part of a large-scale protection racket that allows the supplies through unharmed.) This contract is, in turn, part of a $2.1 billion Host Nation Trucking contract whose recipients may be deeply involved in extortion and smuggling rackets, and over which the Pentagon reportedly exercises little oversight.

Believe it or not, the staggering logistics effort underway to transport part of the American way of war from Iraq to Afghanistan is now being compared by those involved to Hannibal (not Lecter) crossing the Alps with his cohort of battle elephants, or to that ancient conqueror of conquerors, Alexander the Great ("the largest building boom in Afghanistan since Alexander built Kandahar"). It has become commonplace as well to say, as President Obama did at Bagram Air Base on his recent six-hour Afghan drop-in, that the U.S. military is "the finest military in the history of the world," or as his predecessor put it even more emphatically, "the greatest force for human liberation the world has ever known."

The Ripley-esque numbers, however, tell a somewhat different story. If war were really a Believe It or Not matter, or victory lay in the number of hamburgers transported or the price of fuel consumed, the U.S. military would have been the winner long ago. After all, it may be the most product-profligate military with the heaviest "footprint" in history. Though it's seldom thought strange (and rarely commented upon in the U.S.), the Pentagon practices war as a form of mass consumption and so, not surprisingly, bears a striking resemblance to the society it comes from. Like the Taliban, it carries its way of life to war on its back.

It's striking, of course, that all this is happening at a moment when, domestically, small businesses can't get loans and close to 10% of the population is officially out of work, while state governments are desperately scrabbling for every available dollar (and some that aren't), even as they cut what would once have been considered basic services. In contrast, the Pentagon is fighting its distant wars as if American pockets had no bottoms, the national treasury had no limits, and there was quite literally no tomorrow.

And there's one more small contrast to be made when it comes to the finest military in the history of the world: for all the private security guards, mountains of burgers, lakes of gasoline, miles of blast walls, and satchels of cash to pass out to the locals, it's been remarkably unsuccessful in its pacification campaigns against some of the motliest forces of our time. The U.S. military has been fought to something like a draw by relatively modest-sized, relatively lightly armed minority insurgencies that don't even pass muster when it comes to shooting straight.

Vast piles of money and vast quantities of materiel have been squandered; equipment by the boatload has been used up; lives have been wasted in profusion; and yet the winners of our wars might turn out to be Iran and China. The American way of war, unfortunately, has the numbers to die for, just not to live by.

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. He is the author of The End of Victory Culture, a history of the Cold War and beyond, as well as of a novel, The Last Days of Publishing. His latest book, The American Way of War (Haymarket Books), will be published in May. To catch a special TomCast audio interview in which Jonathan Schell and Engelhardt discuss war and nuclear weapons from the 1960s to late last night, simply click here or, if you prefer to download it to your iPod, here.

Published on Wednesday, April 7, 2010 by TomDispatch.com

Collateral Murder in Iraq by Amy Goodman

Amy Goodman

A United States military video was released this week showing the indiscriminate targeting and killing of civilians in Baghdad. The nonprofit news organization WikiLeaks obtained the video and made it available on the Internet. The video was made July 12, 2007, by a U.S. military Apache helicopter gunship, and includes audio of military radio transmissions.

Two Reuters employees—a journalist and his driver—were killed in the attack, along with at least eight other people, and two children were injured. The radio transmissions show not only the utter callousness of the soldiers, laughing and swearing as they kill, but also the strict procedure they follow, ensuring that all of their attacks are clearly authorized by their chain of command. The leaked video is a grim depiction of how routine the killing of civilians has become, and is a stark reminder of how necessary journalism is, and how dangerous its practice has become.

After photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen, 22, and his driver, Saeed Chmagh, 40, were killed, Reuters demanded a full investigation. Noor-Eldeen, despite his youth, had been described by colleagues as one of the pre-eminent war photographers in Iraq. Chmagh was a father of four.

The video shows a group of men in an open square in Baghdad, leading the two Reuters employees to a building nearby. Noor-Eldeen and Chmagh are shown, each carrying a camera with a telephoto lens. A U.S. soldier in the helicopter says: “OK, we got a target 15 coming at you. It’s a guy with a weapon.” There is much back and forth between two helicopters and ground troops in armored vehicles nearby:

“Have five to six individuals with AK-47s. Request permission to engage.”

“Roger that. Uh, we have no personnel east of our position. So, uh, you are free to engage. Over.”

The helicopter circles around, with the cross hairs squarely in the center of the group of about eight men. WikiLeaks and its partner for this story, the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service, added subtitles to the video, as well as arrows indicating the Reuters employees.

Sustained automatic-weapon fire erupts, and most of the men are killed instantly. Noor-Eldeen runs away, and the cross hairs follow him, shooting nonstop, until he falls, dead.

The radio transmission continues, “All right, hahaha, I hit ’em ...” and then, “Yeah, we got one guy crawling around down there. ...”

Chmagh, seriously wounded, was dragging himself away from the other bodies. A voice in the helicopter, seeking a rationale to shoot, said: “Come on, buddy. All you gotta do is pick up a weapon. ... If we see a weapon, we’re gonna engage.”

A van pulled up, and several men, clearly unarmed, came out and lifted Chmagh, ostensibly to carry him to medical care. The soldiers on the Apache sought and received permission to “engage” the van and opened fire, tearing apart the front of the van and killing the men. The weapon used was a 30-millimeter machine gun, used to pierce armor. With everyone in sight apparently dead, U.S. armored vehicles moved in. When a vehicle drove over Noor-Eldeen’s corpse, an observer in the helicopter said, laughing, “I think they just drove over a body.” The troops discovered two children in the van, who had miraculously survived. One voice on the military radio requests permission to evacuate them to a U.S. military hospital. Another voice commands them to hand over the wounded children to Iraqi police for delivery to a local clinic, ensuring delayed and less-adequate treatment.

The U.S. military inquiry into the killings cleared the soldiers of any wrongdoing, and Reuters’ Freedom of Information requests for the video were denied. Despite the Pentagon’s whitewash, the attack was brutal and might have involved a war crime, since those removing the wounded are protected by the Geneva Conventions. WikiLeaks says it obtained the video “from a number of military whistle-blowers.” Wikileaks.org, founded in late 2006 as a secure site for whistle-blowers to safely release documents, has come under attack from the U.S. and other governments.

WikiLeaks has broken numerous stories and has received awards. It and members of the Icelandic Parliament are working together to make Iceland a world center of investigative journalism, putting solid free speech and privacy protections into law. The words of legendary journalist I.F. Stone still hold true: “Governments lie.” Because of that, we need courageous journalists and media workers, like Namir Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh, and we need whistle-blowers and news organizations that will carefully protect whistle-blowers’ identities while bringing their exposés to public scrutiny.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

Published on Wednesday, April 7, 2010 by TruthDig.com

Amy Goodman is the host of "Democracy Now!," a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 800 stations in North America. She is the author of "Breaking the Sound Barrier," recently released in paperback and now a New York Times best-seller.