Saturday, June 20, 2009

North Korea: “Sanity” at the Brink

North Korea: “Sanity” at the Brink

By Michael Parenti

June 20, 2009 "Commondreams" -- Nations that chart a self-defining course, seeking to use their land, labor, natural resources, and markets as they see fit, free from the smothering embrace of the US corporate global order, frequently become a target of defamation. Their leaders often have their moral sanity called into question by US officials and US media, as has been the case at one time or another with Castro, Noriega, Ortega, Qaddafi, Aristide, Milosevic, Saddam Hussein, Hugo Chavez, and others.

So it comes as no surprise that the rulers of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) have been routinely described as mentally unbalanced by our policymakers and pundits. Senior Defense Department officials refer to the DPRK as a country "not of this planet," led by "dysfunctional" autocrats. One government official, quoted in the New York Times, wondered aloud "if they are really totally crazy." The New Yorker magazine called them "balmy," and late-night TV host David Letterman got into the act by labeling Kim Jong-il a "madman maniac."

To be sure, there are things about the DPRK that one might wonder about, including its dynastic leadership system, its highly dictatorial one-party rule, and the chaos that seems implanted in the heart of its "planned" economy.

But in its much advertised effort to become a nuclear power, North Korea is actually displaying more sanity than first meets the eye. The Pyongyang leadership seems to know something about US global policy that our own policymakers and pundits have overlooked. In a word, the United States has never attacked or invaded any nation that has a nuclear arsenal.

The countries directly battered by US military actions in recent decades (Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, then again Iraq), along with numerous other states that have been threatened at one time or another for being "anti-American" or "anti-West" (Iran, Cuba, South Yemen, Venezuela, Syria, North Korea, and others) have one thing in common: not one of them has wielded a nuclear deterrence--until now.

Let us provide a little background. Put aside the entire Korean War (1950-53) in which US aerial power destroyed most of the DPRK's infrastructure and tens of thousands of its civilians. Consider more recent events. In the jingoist tide that followed the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, President George W. Bush claimed the right to initiate any military action against any "terrorist" nation, organization, or individual of his choosing. Such a claim to arbitrary power--in violation of international law, the UN charter, and the US Constitution--transformed the president into something of an absolute monarch who could exercise life and death power over any quarter of the Earth. Needless to say, numerous nations--the DPRK among them--were considerably discomforted by the US president's elevation to King of the Planet.

It was only in 2008 that President Bush finally removed North Korea from a list of states that allegedly sponsor terrorism. But there remains another more devilishly disquieting hit list that Pyongyang recalls. In December 2001, two months after 9/11, Vice President Dick Cheney referred chillingly to "forty or fifty countries" that might need military disciplining. A month later in his 2002 State of the Union message, President Bush pruned the list down to three especially dangerous culprits: Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, who, he said, composed an "axis of evil."

It was a curious lumping together of three nations that had little in common. In Iraq the leadership was secular, in Iran it was a near Islamic theocracy. And far from being allies, the two countries were serious enemies. Meanwhile the DPRK, had no historical, cultural, or geographical links to either Iraq or Iran. But it could witness what was happening.

The first to get hit was Iraq, nation #1 on the short list of accused evil doers. Before the 2003 US invasion, Iraq had the highest standard of living in the Middle East. But years of war, sanctions, and occupation reduced the country to shambles, its infrastructure shattered and much of its population drenched in blood and misery.

Were it not that Iraq has proven to be such a costly venture, the United States long ago would have been moving against Iran, #2 on the axis-of-evil hit list. As we might expect, Iranian president Mahmoud Amadinijad has been diagnosed in the US media as "dangerously unstable." The Pentagon has announced that thousands of key sites in Iran have been mapped and targeted for aerial attack. All sorts of threats have been directed against Tehran for having pursued an enriched uranium program--which every nation in the world has a right to do. And on a recent Sunday TV program, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that the United States might undertake a "first strike" against Iran to prevent its nuclear weapons development.

Rather than passively await its fate sitting in Washington's crosshairs, nation #3 on the US hit list is trying to pack a deterrence. The DPRK's attempt at self-defense is characterized in US official circles and US media as wild aggression. Secretary Clinton warned that the United States would not be "blackmailed by North Korea." Defense Secretary Robert Gates fulminated, "We will not stand idly by as North Korea builds the capability to wreak destruction on any target in Asia--or on us." The DPRK's nuclear program, Gates warns, is a "harbinger of a dark future."

President Obama condemned North Korea's "belligerent provocative behavior" as posing a "grave threat." In June 2009, the UN Security Council unanimously passed a US-sponsored resolution ratcheting up the financial, trade, and military sanctions against the DPRK, a nation already hard hit by sanctions. In response to the Security Council's action, Kim Jong-il's government announced it would no longer "even think about giving up its nuclear weapons" and would enlarge its efforts to produce more of them.

In his earlier Cairo speech Obama stated, "No single nation should pick and choose which nation holds nuclear weapons." But that is exactly what the United States is trying to do in regard to a benighted North Korea--and Iran. Physicist and political writer Manuel Garcia, Jr., observes that Washington's policy "is to encourage other nations to abide by the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty--and renounce nuclear weapons--while exempting itself." Others must disarm so that Washington may more easily rule over them, Garcia concludes.

US leaders still refuse to give any guarantee that they will not try to topple Pyongyang's communist government. There is talk of putting the DPRK back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, though Secretary Clinton admits that evidence is wanting to support such a designation.

From its lonely and precarious perch the North cannot help feeling vulnerable. Consider the intimidating military threat it faces. The DPRK's outdated and ill-equipped army is no match for the conventional forces of the United States, South Korea, and Japan. The United States maintains a large attack base in South Korea. As Paul Sack reminds us in a recent correspondence to the New York Times, at least once a year the US military conducts joint exercises with South Korean forces, practicing a land invasion of the DPRK. The US Air Force maintains a "nuclear umbrella" over South Korea with nuclear arsenals in Okinawa, Guam, and Hawaii. Japan not only says it can produce nuclear bombs within a year, it seems increasingly willing to do so. And the newly installed leadership in South Korea is showing itself to be anything but friendly toward Pyongyang.

The DPRK's nuclear arsenal is a two-edged sword. It can deter attack or invite attack. It may cause US officials to think twice before cinching a tighter knot around the North, or it may cause them to move aggressively toward a confrontation that no one really wants.

After years of encirclement and repeated rebuffs from Washington, years of threat, isolation, and demonization, the Pyongyang leaders are convinced that the best way to resist superpower attack and domination is by developing a nuclear arsenal. It does not really sound so crazy. As already mentioned, the United States does not invade countries that are armed with long-range nuclear missiles (at least not thus far).
Having been pushed to the brink for so long, the North Koreans are now taking a gamble, upping the ante, pursuing an arguably "sane" deterrence policy in the otherwise insane world configured by an overweening and voracious empire.

Michael Parenti's recent books include: Contrary Notions: The Michael Parenti Reader (City Lights); Democracy for the Few, 8th ed. (Wadsworth); and God and His Demons (Prometheus Books, forthcoming). For further information, visit his website: www.michaelparenti.org.

Fisk on Iran

Robert Fisk’s World: In Tehran, fantasy and reality make uneasy bedfellows

It’s said that the cruel ‘Iranian’ cops aren’t Iranian at all. They’re Hizbollah militia

Saturday, 20 June 2009


At around 4.35 last Monday morning, my Beirut mobile phone rang in my Tehran hotel room. "Mr Fisk, I am a computer science student in Lebanon. I have just heard that students are being massacred in their dorms at Tehran University. Do you know about this?" The Fisk notebook is lifted wearily from the bedside table. "And can you tell me why," he continued, "the BBC and other media are not reporting that the Iranian authorities have closed down SMS calls and local mobile phones and have shut down the internet in Tehran? I am learning what is happening only from Twitters and Facebook."

When I arrived at the university, the students were shrieking abuse through the iron gates of the campus. "Massacre, massacre," they cried. Gunfire in the dorms. Correct. Blood on the floor. Correct. Seven dead? Ten dead, one student told me through the fence. We don't know. The cops arrived minutes later amid a shower of stones. Filtering truth out of Tehran these days is as frustrating as it is dangerous.

A day earlier, an Iranian woman muttered to me in an office lift that the first fatality of the street violence was a young student. Was she sure, I asked? "Yes," she said. "I have seen the photograph of his body. It is terrible." I never saw her again. Nor the photograph. Nor had anyone seen the body. It was a fantasy. Earnest reporters check this out – in fact, I have been spending at least a third of my working days in Tehran this past week not reporting what might prove to be true but disproving what is clearly untrue.

Take the call I had five hours before the early-hour phone call, from a radio station in California. Could I describe the street fighting I was witnessing at that moment? Now, it happened that I was standing on the roof of the al-Jazeera office in north Tehran, speaking in a late-night live interview with the Qatar television station. I could indeed describe the scene to California. What I could see were teenagers on motorcycles, whooping with delight as they set light to the contents of a litter bin on the corner of the highway.

Two policemen ran up to them with night-sticks and they raced away on their bikes with shouts of derision. Then the Tehran fire brigade turned up to put out – as one of the firemen later told me with infinite exhaustion – their 79th litter-bin fire of the night. I knew how he felt. A report that Basiji militia had taken over one of Mir-Hossein Mousavi's main election campaign office was a classic. Yes, there were uniformed men in the building – belonging to Mousavi's own hired security company.

Now for the very latest on the fantasy circuit. The cruel "Iranian" cops aren't Iranian at all. They are members of Lebanon's Hizbollah militia. I've had this one from two reporters, three phone callers (one from Lebanon) and a British politician. I've tried to talk to the cops. They cannot understand Arabic. They don't even look like Arabs, let alone Lebanese. The reality is that many of these street thugs have been brought in from Baluch areas and Zobal province, close to the Afghan border. Even more are Iranian Azeris. Their accents sound as strange to Tehranis as would a Belfast accent to a Cornishman hearing it for the first time.

Fantasy and reality make uneasy bedfellows, but once they are combined and spread with high-speed inaccuracy around the world, they are also lethal. Sham elections, the takeover of party offices, a massacre on a university campus, an imminent coup d'├ętat, the possible overthrow of the whole 30-year old Islamic Republic, the isolation of an entire country as its communications are systematically shut down.

I am reminded of Eisenhower's comment to Foster Dulles when he sent him to London to close down Anthony Eden's crazed war in Suez. The secretary of state's job, Eisenhower instructed Dulles, was to say "Whoah, boy!" Good advice for those who believe in the Twitterers.

But the no-smoke-without-fire brigade has a point. Look at the extraordinary, million-strong march against the regime by Mousavi's supporters on Monday. Even the Iranian press was forced to report it, albeit on inside pages. Yes, the authorities have indeed closed down the local SMS service. Yes, they have slowed down – but not closed – the internet. My Beirut roaming phone now rarely reaches London, although incoming calls arrive – unfortunately for me – round the clock. The Iranian government is obviously trying to interfere with the communications of Mousavi supporters to prevent them from organising further marches. Outrageous in any normal country, perhaps. But this is not a normal country. It is a state as obsessed with the dangers of counter-revolution as the West is obsessed with Iran's nuclear ambitions. The Supreme Leader's speech yesterday was proof of that.

But then we had the famous instruction to journalists in Tehran from the Ministry of Islamic Guidance that they could no longer report opposition street demonstrations. I heard nothing of this. Indeed, the first clue came when I refused to be interviewed by CNN (because their coverage of the Middle East is so biased) and the woman calling me asked: "Why? Are you worried about your safety?" Fisk continued to spend 12 hours a day on the streets. I discovered there was a ban only when I read about it in The Independent. Maybe the Guidance lads and lassies couldn't get through on my mobile. But then, who had cut the phone lines?

We have, in fact, reported all the censorship – of local newspapers as well as communications. The footage of a brutal police force assaulting the political opposition on the streets of the capital has shocked the world. Rightly so, although no one has made comparison with police forces who batter demonstrators on the streets of Western Europe, who beat women with night-sticks, who have kicked over an innocent middle-aged man who immediately suffered a fatal heart attack, who have shot down an innocent passenger on the London Tube... There are special codes of morality to be applied to Middle East countries which definitely must not apply to us.

So let's take a look at those Iranian elections. A fraud, we believe. And I have the darkest doubts about those election figures which gave Mousavi a paltry 33.75 per cent of the vote. Indeed, I and a few Iranian friends calculated that if the government's polling-night statistics were correct, the Iranian election committee would have had to have counted five million votes in just two hours. But our coverage of this poll has been deeply flawed. Most visiting Western journalists stay in hotels in the wealthy, north Tehran suburbs, where tens of thousands of Mousavi supporters live, where it's easy to find educated translators who love Mousavi, where interviewees speak fluent English and readily denounce the spiritual and cultural and social stagnation of Iran's – let us speak frankly – semi-dictatorship.

But few news organisations have the facilities or the time or the money to travel around this 659,278 square-mile country – seven times the size of Britain – and interview even the tiniest fraction of its 71 million people. When I visited the slums of south Tehran on Friday, for example, I found that the number of Ahmadinejad supporters grew as Mousavi's support dribbled away. And I wondered whether, across the huge cities and vast deserts of Iran, a similar phenomenon might be discovered. A Channel 4 television crew, to its great credit, went down to Isfahan and the villages around that beautiful city and came back with a suspicion – unprovable, of course, anecdotal, but real – that Ahmadinejad just might have won the election.

This is also my suspicion: that Ahmadinejad might have scraped in, but not with the huge majority he was awarded. For with their usual, clumsy, autocratic behaviour, the clerics behind the Islamic Republic may have decreed that only a greater majority for the winner could decisively annihilate the reputation of its secular opponents. Perhaps Ahmadinejad got 51 per cent or 52 per cent and this was preposterously increased to 63 per cent. Perhaps Mousavi picked up 44 per cent or 45 per cent. I don't know. The Iranians will never know, even though the Supreme Leader told us yesterday that the incredible 63 per cent was credible. That is Iran's tragedy.

Yes, Ahmadinejad remains for me an outrageous president, one of those cracked political leaders – like Colonel Ghaddafi or Lebanon's General Michel Aoun – which this region sadly throws up, to the curses of its friends and to the delight of its enemies in the West. And the Islamic Republic itself – while it has understandable historical roots in the savagery of the Shah's regime which preceded it, not to mention the bravery of its people – is a dangerously contrived and inherently unfree state which was locked into immobility by an unworldly and now long-dead ayatollah.

And those nuclear arms? How many of us reported a blunt statement which the Supreme Leader and the man who ultimately controls all nuclear development in Iran made on 4 June, just eight days before the elections? "Nuclear weapons," he said in a speech in which he encouraged Iranians to vote, "are religiously forbidden (haram) in Islam and the Iranian people do not have such a weapon. But the Western countries and the US in particular, through false propaganda, claim that Iran seeks to build nuclear bombs – which is totally false..."

There are few provable assurances in the Middle East, often few facts and a lot of lies. Dangers are as thick as snakes in the desert. As I write, I have just received another call from Lebanon. "Mr Fisk, a girl has been shot in Iran. I have a video from the internet. You can see her body..." And you know what? I think he might be right.

Monday, June 15, 2009

New Monster Development in Langford Lurches Forward

Skirt Mountain: New Monster Development in Langford Lurches Forward Local group calls for a halt, citing abuse of process and environmental damage.

----------------------------------
Editorial: Over the past two years, Langford City Council and Skirt Mountain developers have carved out an appalling legacy that includes the destruction of million-year-old caves, terraforming wildlife habitat into golf courses, a river of toxic orange sludge flowing downhill from Len Barrie's mansion, repeated threats to sue their critics, a reprimand from the BC Civil Liberties Association, public
intimidation by gangs of abusive thugs, and an army of Special Forces police attacking a small tree-sit camp. Anyone who values free speech, civil society, environmental protection, native heritage, and intelligent urban planning is urged to speak out for an end to this insanity.
------------------------------------

On Monday, June 15, Langford City Council is set to give final approval to South Skirt Mountain, a new monster condo development adjacent to Bear Mountain Resort, Goldstream Provincial Park, Florence Lake and the TransCanada Highway. Four developers plan to build 2800 condos along the new Bear Mountain Parkway above the half-built Spencer Interchange. A local environmental group, Vancouver Island
Community Forest Action Network (VIC FAN), is preparing to file a petition in BC Supreme Court to overturn the development bylaw.

Skirt (or Spaet) is the same mountain that was half-demolished by Bear Mountain Resort during the building boom, the same mountain with the rare cave (now destroyed) and the still-undisturbed native grave sites, and the same mayor and council abusing the public process to benefit private developers, again.

Spaet Mountain is considered shared territory between several First Nations, although only two have given "permission" for destruction of indigenous grave sites.

The initial outcry earlier this year over wrecking the Garry Oak bluffs, arbutus groves, native sites, and waterways has been joined by new charges that accuse Langford City Council of bias and withholding public documents about the development. Local residents are calling out the mayor and council for acting in bad faith and violating provincial statutes.

The February 23 public hearing on the South Skirt Mountain project was a fiasco, with Mayor Stew Young "bullying, berating and browbeating" citizens who spoke against the development. A repeat public hearing was more restrained, but speakers were heckled and requests for public documents were refused by deputy mayor Denise Blackwell.

In their haste to approve this development, VIC FAN submits that Langford's mayor and council have ignored due process and disrespected procedural fairness.

More info, news archive, analysis, videos and photos at www.forestaction.ca.

The developers are the owners of three separate land parcels who have joined for the project: Totangi Properties Ltd., owned by Blair and Warren Robertson; Skirt Mountain Village Ltd. owned by Ron Coutre and Russell Trace; and Bear Mountain Estates Ltd. — no connection to the existing Bear Mountain development — owned by the Marquardt family.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

What Two-States?

What Kind of Two-State Solution?
by Immanuel Wallerstein

Now that President Obama has put his weight so openly and publicly behind the concept of a two-state "solution" for the Israel-Palestine controversy/struggle, such a "solution" may well be achieved in the coming years. The reason is simple. Stated abstractly, such a solution has overwhelming support in world political opinion. Polls show a majority of Jewish Israelis favor it, as do a majority of Jews elsewhere in the world. Support among Arab leaders is strong and wide. Even Hamas indicates it is willing to accept the concept of two states on the basis of an indefinite "truce" in the struggle. Some "truces" in the modern world have lasted four centuries. And more recently, there have been "truces" on the Korean peninsula and in Kashmir for more than a half-century. Some "truces" seem pretty permanent.

What seems to be left out of the discussion these days is what does the expression "two states" mean? Quite diverse definitions exist. We should remember that the last real negotiations, those between Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak in 2000, foundered at the last minute at Taba over diverse definitions.

What are the issues in these contrary definitions? There are at least six different issues which the mere slogan of “two states” hides. The first issue is the definition of sovereignty. The Palestinians of course think that sovereign means sovereign -- a state with the same powers as any other sovereign state. Even those Israeli political leaders who have accepted the terminology of two states have been thinking of a limited version of sovereignty. For example, what kind of military apparatus would such a Palestinian state have? Would it control completely overflight permissions? Would it have unlimited control of its borders?

The second issue is of course the borders of such a state. Both the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Hamas feel that accepting the 1967 borders is already an enormous concession on their part. They certainly do not expect to obtain anything less. But such borders of course do not include the post-1967 Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories, nor in east Jerusalem. Tiny adjustments in these borders might be acceptable. But tiny means truly tiny.

The third issue is internal democracy in Israel. Will non-Jewish Israelis continue to have fewer rights than Jewish Israelis? This is a central and very little discussed question.

The fourth issue is whether the two states will be defined as secular states or religious states. Will the Palestinian state be a Muslim state? Will Israel continue to be a Jewish state?

The fifth issue is the so-called right of return. Israel was founded on the unlimited right of return of any Jew who wishes to come to Israel. The Arabs who fled from Israel (or were forced out) demand a right of return. This has been the knottiest issue in the entire historic debate. It is a question of both demography and land. The Palestinians might accept a merely symbolic gesture on this question, if all other issues were resolved in ways they considered appropriate.

Finally, of course, there is the question of what would happen with the existing Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories. It is conceivable that the Palestinians might say that some of them could remain where they are. But it seems hardly likely that the settlers would agree to stay in a Palestinian state, or would willingly accept evacuation to Israel.

Now what has Obama done? He has taken a strong position on two questions the present ultra-right Israeli government refuses to accept: no further expansion of any kind of the existing settlements and a commitment to a two-state solution. This is unquestionably positive and courageous in the context of U.S. internal politics.

However, it risks being dangerous in terms of any real solution. For consider the following possibility. Under severe arm twisting of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu by Obama, Netanyahu concedes both points, and reshuffles his cabinet in the light of this shift in position. Will he then not turn around and say to Obama that now the Palestinians must make comparable concessions? But he would not really be talking about "controlling violence" by the Palestinian Authority -- the usual Israeli governmental mantra. He will mean concessions on all the issues I have listed above -- on none of which any Palestinian leadership can today make any significant further concession.

Obama's courageous gestures will then turn out to be a mode of distraction from the real underlying issues.


Immanuel Wallerstein, Senior Research Scholar at Yale University, is the author of The Decline of American Power: The U.S. in a Chaotic World (New Press).