Saturday, September 24, 2016

Remembering the Sabra-Shatila Massacre

34 Years After the Sabra-Shatila Massacre

by Franklin Lamb - CounterPunch


September 23, 2016 

Shatila Palestinian Refugee camp, Beirut  - The intense summer heat was gone and the evening was breezy and cool that fateful Thursday evening, September 15, 1982, according to survivors of the Sabra-Shatila Massacre who, 34 years later, still remember and recount many details of the slaughter that was soon to follow.


Palestinian families marching and
remembering their loved ones murdered
34 years ago at Shatila camp, Beirut.
Photo: Franklin Lamb

It was following the 9/14/1982 assassination of President-elect Bachir Gemayel, leader of the Lebanese Forces militia and senior Kataeb Party official, that Israeli forces closed in with their tanks and blockaded the Shatila refugee camp and the adjacent Sabra neighborhood.

By prearrangement with their Christian phalange allies, the Israeli invaders led the Kataeb affiliated Phalange militia from Beirut airport north two miles to inside the camp, in violation of their agreement with the US Reagan administration.

The militia’s intent was to slaughter Palestinians but anyone they encountered including some Lebanese among others, became targets. What followed were nearly three days of slaughter , rape and dismemberment of the civilian population, men, women and children as the Christian militia penetrated the camp and conducted a frenzied, partly drug fueled, killing spree slaughtering an estimated 1, 800 to 3,500. The carnage was aided by Israeli forces that surrounded Shatila, lighted the night sky with flares turning the night into day, provided heavy equipment to bury and hide bodies, communicated with the Phalange terrorists and blocked camp residents from fleeing Shatila during the carnage while ushering reinforcement killer militia inside.

Neither the Israeli organizers-facilitators nor their Lebanese designates were ever held accountable. The latter’s amnesty was assured by the political and moral corruption among the increasingly polarized sects in Lebanon. This fact transformed the killers and ‘warlords’ into “political lords”, several of whom still hold political “leadership” positions with a couple vying to be Lebanon’s next President. Their past crimes seemingly long forgotten.

In Lebanon’s 12 camps, among the Shatila Massacre victims family and community who along with international supporters, relive and re-examine the decades old massacre annually at Shatila’s Martyr’s Cemetery, there is increasing Despondency, Cynicism, and Determination.

Despondency over the fact that Palestinians here in Lebanon and elsewhere are still awaiting justice, as Saeb Erekat, the Secretary General of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) reminded the UN Security Council last weekend.

Despondency over the fact that the government of Lebanon continues to outlaw the elementary civil rights to work or to own a home. Both fundamental human rights which by international law are granted to refugees in every country, except Lebanon which continues to flaunt its obligations under binding Treaty and Customary International Law.

Sixty eight years after the 1948 Nakba and 49 years after the June 5, 1967 Naksa forced more than 100,000 Palestinians fleeing for their lives to seek refugee across the nearest border to their Zionist targeted homes and to enter Lebanon, despondency deepens. Refugees who crossed over from north Palestine into Syria were immediately granted full refugee rights but no civil rights still for Palestinians in Lebanon.

Despondency over the fact that in their camps nearly every indicia of social well-being, including but not limited to, health care, social development, education, housing, security, and ability to earn money and care for their families, continue an accelerating downward spiral toward an abyss and with no reversal in sight.

Armed Clashes in Ain el Hilweh camp, the largest in Lebanon and located 40 miles south of Beirut, between Fatah and an Islamist group led by Bilal Badr are continuing as of 9/22/2016 with other groups also fighting intermittently. One cause of the increased violence is the outlawing of the right to work and other civil rights which continue to be blocked by Lebanon’s Parliament. Despondency over the sounds of machine guns, bombs and rocket propelled grenades near a vegetable market and the camp’s al Fawqani Street where a taxi driver was murdered a few days ago, just as children started the school year. For two days this week, camp residents held a general strike in Ain al Hilweh to protest the recurrent killings. Violence is also on the increase in Lebanon’s other 11 Palestinian camps. Tensions fueled again by being deprived of the civil right to work and to own a home and feelings of general hopelessness over lack of opportunities among the despondent youth.

Nearly three and one half decades since the 1982 Massacre, Cynicism is also widespread and growing among Lebanon’s Palestinians. With good reason. Few if any Palestinians this observer knows in Lebanon or Syria, have much confidence in the current leadership of the PLO. Or in politicians in the region, Arabs, Iranians, Turks or others, who continue to babble “Resistance” rhetoric while they collaborate with right wing anti-Palestinian officials in blocking Palestinian rights in Lebanon. Simultaneously with their varying political posturing while playing the “Palestinian Card.”

Thirty-four years after the Sabra-Shatila Massacre, and ten years after the 2006 “Devine Victory” of the Lebanese “Resistance”, Cynicism is spreading. Hezbollah is now also openly criticized, even among a growing number of Shia, for playing the “Palestinian Card” while doing little if anything for the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

One hears in the camps increasingly, comments like these chronicled by two Palestinian Arab University students from Burj al Barajneh camp in south Beirut.

“What has the Resistance ever done for Palestinians in Lebanon’s 12 camps?”

“Resistance” begins at home by helping rebuild camp infrastructure not by attacking Yarmouk and other Palestinian camps in Syria or by besieging, starving, blocking humanitarian aid or killing Palestinian in Syria.”

“The road to Al Quds is south and direct, it does not wind all over Syria.”

“After May of 2000 when the Israeli were forced from Lebanon, we were grateful to Hezbollah and Hassan Nasrallah was much admired. Also in 2006 despite 1.300 civilian casualties. That respect and support has eroded due to

“Resistance” projects in Syria.”

“Few Palestinians or Syrians support the “Resistance” as they did before it invaded Syria.”

“The “Resistance” has killed more Palestinians in Syria during the past five years than the Zionists have killed Palestinians over the past 68 years since the Nakba. What kind of “Palestinian Resistance” is this?”

Some of these strong comments may not be agreed to by many, but one way the “Resistance ” can help Palestinians in Lebanon regain confidence is if Hezbollah will take 90 minutes in Parliament, 60 minutes to grant Palestinian refugees in Lebanon the same elementary civil right to work that every other “Resistance” movement and country grants refugees.

Hezbollah can then use the remaining 30 minutes in Parliament to repeal the racist 2001 law that forbids any Palestinian from owning a home outside one of Lebanon’s squalid and deteriorating camps. Resistance actions speak louder than just Resistance words. Ninety minutes and the political will to push Parliament will unblock the elementary civil rights to work and to own a home for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. It is all that Palestinians in Lebanon ask of Hezbollah to be true to their cause.

Against this backdrop of Despondency and Cynicism one feels in the camps also a remarkable Determination to Return to Palestine. This observer observes a similar determination among a newer influx of refugees in Lebanon, those from Syria.

Virtually every Syrian refugee I have encountered in Lebanon or elsewhere wants one thing. For the civil war in their country to end so that they can return to beloved Syria. The Lebanese politicians who regularly bleat about the Palestinian and Syrian refugees taking over this sinking country hide from their supporters the fact that few if any of these refugees-Syrian or Palestinian- want to remain in Lebanon one day longer than absolutely necessary.

As part of a deepening Determination to Return, a third Intifada is increasingly being discussed. But it will likely not be confined to occupied Palestinian territory but rather will involve many of the 4 million Palestinians in the Diaspora and well as their growing number of international supporters. It will be led by Palestinians themselves not the Arabs or international community who have mouthed some slogans and nodded but have done little if anything at all to advance Full Return.

Thirty four years after the 1982 Massacre at Sabra-Shatila, the dream of Return to Palestine endures, and the struggle for Full Return shall never die. Not until the victims of 34 years ago in Beirut, and all Palestinians martyred before and after the 1948 Nakba receive posthumous justice. Determination among Palestinians in Lebanon to Return exceeds their Despondency and Cynicism caused by injustice. And it gives rise to hope for a better future.

Franklin Lamb volunteers with the Lebanon, France, and USA based Meals for Syrian Refugee Children Lebanon (MSRCL) which seeks to provide hot nutritional meals to Syrian and other refugee children in Lebanon. http://mealsforsyrianrefugeechildrenlebanon.com. He is reachable c/o fplamb@gmail.com.
More articles by:Franklin Lamb

Princes of Peace Polish Off Syria as Prelude to Greater War

US-Turkey Lurch to World War in Syria

by Finian Cunningham - SCF


September 24, 2016

Following US President Barack Obama’s dubious stellar performance this week at the UN General Assembly recounting a litany of lies for almost one hour before the eyes of the world, it was the turn of Turkey’s leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan to insult humanity’s intelligence.

Like his American ally, who inverted reality by claiming that US war crimes against numerous nations were a virtuous legacy, Erdogan performed a similar spellbinding conjuring trick.

In his address to the UN, the Turkish president said his military has rendered peace to the Middle East region by invading Syria last month.

Can you imagine Adolf Hitler declaring to the then League of Nations that Germany had just invaded Poland to restore peace to Europe? It is astounding, when you think about it, how the august international forum in New York City indulged Erdogan and Obama with such polite attention, when they are both responsible for the supreme war crime of aggression against the sovereign state of Syria?

Turkish and American troops are occupying a 100-km wide swathe of northern Syria after they both launched Operation Euphrates Shield on August 24, with tanks and warplanes in support of ground forces. Syria and Russia have both expressed concern over the incursion, with Damascus denouncing it as a violation of its sovereignty and territorial integrity. American warplanes have been violating Syrian sovereignty for nearly two years. Just because Turkey and the US claim that the latest operation is aimed at fighting the ISIS terror network, that still does not confer legitimacy.


Four weeks on from the US and Turkey launching the incursion into Syrian territory, Ankara says that it is expanding its occupation.

Earlier this week, Erdogan said his troops would push further south into Syria to take a total area of 5,000 square kms – about five times the area already under its present control. In Orwellian jargon, the Turkish-US forces are labelling the annexed territory as «safe zones». Exactly to whom this is being made «safe» for is not yet clear.

While in New York City, the Turkish leader urged the US to step up its military cooperation with Ankara to, as he put it, «finish off Daesh [ISIS]» in Syria. Erdogan is pushing Washington even harder to get onboard with the long-held Turkish objective of setting up «no fly zones» in the occupied northern Syrian territory.

Erdogan also hinted that he expected a Clinton presidency to be more gung-ho about escalating military involvement, and in particular implementing no fly zones. Hillary Clinton has already said that she would take a more hostile line towards Syria and Russia, going as far as declaring she would deploy military force to oust President Bashar al-Assad.

It is notable that Erdogan is making his appeals solely to Washington for greater military intervention «to finish off Daesh» in Syria. Surely, if Turkey was serious about this stated objective then it would be entreating Russia to join forces, given that Russia has shown itself to be the most effective military power against the terror groups, after it was requested to intervene by the Syrian government last year.

That Erdogan wants to go it alone with the US on his supposed «anti-terror» mission in Syria points to an ulterior agenda. That agenda is nothing less than war on Syria. Using the pretext of «fighting terrorism» is a risible cover for the fact that Turkish and American military forces are illegally operating on Syrian soil. And as they expand their presence towards the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, what should become apparent is that these two NATO members are involved in a full-on invasion of Syria.

Forget about ISIS or any other terror outfit that Washington and Ankara are publicly claiming to be combatting. Turkish media last year exposed the Erdogan government’s cross-border weapons supply to illegally armed insurgents in Syria. The notoriously «porous» Turk border is porous because that is part of Ankara’s covert war on Syria, in league with Washington and other NATO members, Britain and France, as well as the Wahhabi terror-funding Saudi regime.

Russian military surveillance footage has also proven that the Turkish authorities were colluding with terror groups in running oil-smuggling operations, until, that is, Russian aviation forces obliterated this Erdogan war racket.

The so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA) militias that Turkish military are collaborating with in their latest offensive into Syrian territory are equally complicit in horrific crimes of terrorism as the more infamous ISIS and Al Nusra extremists. The FSA terror gangs are sanitized in the Western media as some kind of «vetted opposition». But they were involved, for example, in the massacre at Kassab in Latakia Province back in March 2014, along with the Al Qaeda throat-slitters and Turkish military support.

For Turkey to claim now to be working with FSA militias to «cleanse» border areas from «terrorists» is a derisory illusion.

Far more conceivable is that Erdogan’s Ankara regime feels that the US-led «regime change» plot against Syria is facing defeat at the hands of the Syrian army bolstered by Russia, Iran and Hezbollah. The battle for Aleppo is the last stand for the foreign-backed proxy army of terror gangs, which were unleashed on Syria in March 2011 for the purpose of waging covert war for regime change.

The US-led criminal conspiracy against Syria is failing, largely due to Russia’s intervention a year ago this month. In 12 months, the tide of war has been turned in favor of the Syrian state’s victory against the foreign-backed insurgency.

Given the grim prognosis for the regime-change conspirators, Turkey and the US appear prepared now to ratchet up direct military intervention. In short, they are moving to fully-fledged war on Syria.

Erdogan seems to be using the failed coup in his country in mid-July as added leverage on Washington. Reeling from Turkish accusations that the US was somehow complicit in aiding the coup attempt (probably overblown), Washington seems keener to accommodate Erdogan’s demands over Syria.

During negotiations with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the UN this week, US Secretary of State John Kerry was talking the language of Erdogan by calling for no fly zones around Aleppo as a condition for restoring a shattered ceasefire.

Erdogan’s Turkey has always been the most belligerent protagonist among the US-led gang of state terror-sponsors. After the failed coup, Erdogan appeared to abandon the secret war agenda towards his southern neighbor. The Turkish president went on a charm offensive towards Russia and Iran, the main allies of Syria. He even muted earlier bellicose demands for regime change against Assad. That apparent conciliatory attitude was short-lived though. Maybe it was a foil to catch Russia and Iran off guard when Erdogan ordered his tanks to roll over the Syrian border. It seems so.

As the rhetorical smoke and mirrors clear away, what should be evident is that Turkey and the US are openly at war with Syria. That puts in proper context the massacre of Syrian troops at Deir ez-Zor last weekend by US warplanes. American claims of it being an «accident» are as ridiculous as other tenuous American claims of «fighting terrorism».

If the analysis presented here is correct, then the startling conclusion is that a world war is underway, with Russia and the US being pitted against each other. And if we are honest, we would have to admit that that war has been coming for a long time, a war that Washington bears responsibility for.

Syria "No-Fly Zone" Code for Broader Middle East War: Will Obama's Last Act Be Starting WWIII?

Top US general warns Syrian “no-fly” zone means war with Russia

by Bill Van Auken - WSWS


24 September 2016

The enforcement of a “no-fly” zone in Syria would mean a US war with both Syria and Russia, the top US uniformed commander told the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday.

Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spelled out the grave implications of the policy advocated by both predominant sections within the Republican Party as well as Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton amid rising violence in Syria and increasing pressure by Washington on the Russian government to unilaterally agree to grounding its own aircraft as well as those of the Syrian government.

Secretary of State John Kerry has repeatedly demanded that Russia adhere to what would essentially be a one-sided “no-fly” zone under conditions in which US warplanes would continue carrying out airstrikes.

Kerry presented his proposal as a means of reviving and restoring “credibility” to a ceasefire agreement that he and the Russian Foreign Minister negotiated on September 9. This cessation of hostilities collapsed less than a week after its implementation in the face of hundreds of violations by US-backed Islamist “rebels” who have refuse to accept its terms, as well as two major back-to-back attacks.

The first was carried out by US and allied warplanes one week ago against a Syrian army position, killing as many as 90 Syrian soldiers and wounding another 100. Washington claimed that the bombing was a mistake, but Syrian officials have pointed to what appeared to be a coordination of the airstrike with a ground offensive by Islamic State (also known as ISIS) fighters who briefly overran the bombed position.

This was followed on September 19 by an attack on a humanitarian aid convoy in Aleppo that killed at least 20 and destroyed 18 trucks. The US immediately blamed Russia for the attack, without providing any evidence to support the charge. Russia and the Syrian government have denied responsibility and suggested that the so-called “rebels” shelled the convoy.

The US position was reflected in the testimony of both Dunford and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter before the Senate panel Thursday. The general admitted to the committee, “I don’t have the facts,” as to what planes carried out the attack, but quickly added, “There is no doubt in my mind that the Russians are responsible.” Similarly, Carter declared,

“The Russians are responsible for this strike whether they conducted it or not.”

The collapse of the ceasefire under the weight of these incidents abrogated an agreement that had been bitterly opposed by both Carter and the Pentagon’s uniformed command. The latter have publicly declared their opposition—in terms bordering on insubordination—to the deal’s provision for coordinated actions and intelligence sharing with Russia, which America’s top generals see as the main enemy.

This view was reiterated Thursday by General Dunford, who declared that based on the “combination of their behavior and their military capability, Russia is the most significant threat to our national interests.” Asked if he supported the proposal for intelligence sharing, Dunford responded, “We don’t have any intention of having an intelligence-sharing arrangement with the Russians.”

Speaking in New York Thursday night after the so-called International Syria Support Group ended a meeting with no progress toward restoring the US-Russian ceasefire agreement, Secretary of State Kerry declared:

“The only way to achieve that [cessation of hostilities and violence] is if the ones who have the air power in this part of the conflict simply stop using it—not for one day or two, but for as long as possible so that everyone can see that they are serious.”

After leaving the same meeting, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov rejected the demand that the Syrian government take “unilateral steps” under conditions in which the US-backed “rebels” reject the ceasefire.

“We insist and find support for steps being taken by the opposition as well, so as not to let Jabhat al-Nusra take advantage of this situation,” he said.

This, however, is precisely the aim of Washington. The US military and intelligence complex is increasingly concerned that with the backing of Russia and Iran, the Syrian government is on the brink of breaking the five-year-old siege waged by the Islamist militias armed and paid by the CIA and Washington’s principal US allies, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar. Syrian and Russian planes began intense bombardment of “rebel”-held eastern Aleppo Friday in what has been reported as preparation for a major ground offensive to retake this area of the city. If the offensive proves successful, the US war for regime change will have suffered a strategic reversal.

Al Nusra, the Syrian affiliate of Al Qaeda, which is formally designated by both the US and the UN as a terrorist organization, constitutes the backbone of the proxy forces employed by US imperialism to effect regime change in Syria. One of the major controversies surrounding the US-Russian truce agreement was its call for the US to persuade the “rebels” on its payroll to separate themselves from Al Nusra. This Washington was unable and unwilling to do, both because they are so closely integrated with the Al Qaeda elements and because they could not survive as a fighting force without them.

The imposition of a no-fly zone over Aleppo and other Al Nusra-controlled areas is increasingly seen as a life and death matter for the US-backed Islamists. As Thursday’s Senate hearing indicated, while Kerry is appealing to Russia to voluntarily stand down, there are significant elements within the US state that are calling for the imposition of the no-fly zone by force.

Gen. Dunford was asked by Mississippi Republican Senator Roger Wicker if the US could take “decisive action” in imposing a no-fly zone. Wicker indicated that he had discussed the matter with Democrats, who indicated that they would support such a venture if the US intervention were given another name.

“For now, for us to control all the airspace in Syria would require us to go to war with Syria and Russia,” Dunford replied to the Senator.

“That’s a pretty fundamental decision that certainly I’m not going to make.”

Dunford’s remark provoked an intervention by the committee chairman, Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, who pushed him to clarify that total control of the Syrian airspace would require war with Russia and Syria, while a no-fly zone could potentially be imposed short of that.

The hearing provided a chilling exposure of the discussions going on within the US state and its military over actions that could quickly spiral into an all-out confrontation with nuclear-armed Russia, bringing humanity to the brink of catastrophe.

In separate remarks the day before the Senate hearing, both Carter and Dunford stressed that the US will maintain its military deployment in the Middle East long after the defeat of ISIS, the pretext for the current interventions in Iraq and Syria.

Speaking to the Air Force Association conference, Dunford declared, “If you assume, like I do, that we’re going to be in that region, if not Iraq, for many, many years to come,” decisions would have to be taken on the establishment of permanent military headquarters and command-and-control infrastructure.

“What is obvious and very clear is that we’re going to be in that region for a while,” Carter declared in a “troop talk” streamed live on social media. He added:

“ISIL is a big problem, but one we’re going to take care of through defeat. But we have Iran over there, we have other issues in the Middle East.”

In other words, Washington is planning the continuation of its unending wars in the Middle East, including military action directed against Iran, with the aim of imposing American hegemony over the region’s vast energy resources and strategically weakening the principal targets of US imperialist aggression, Russia and China.

The Power of Sitting: Not Standing for Injustice

Oh, Say Can You See the Carnage? Why Stand for a Country That Can Gun You Down in Cold Blood?

by Mike Whitney - CounterPunch


September 23, 2016 


If black athletes in the NFL honestly think that African Americans who live under Old Glory are as ‘equally protected ‘as whites, then they should stand up during the national anthem and sing-along.

But if they know that blacks aren’t getting a square deal, and that blacks can be gunned down at any time by trigger-happy cops who never face the consequences, then they owe it to themselves and their country to demand change by remaining seated.

I’m sorry that football players have to go through this. I’m sorry they find themselves in a situation where they’re forced to make a political statement. After all, they’re not politicians and they don’t want to be. They’re private citizens like the rest of us who just want to do their jobs, make some money, and be left the hell alone.

But what choice do they have now? The epidemic of cop killings around the country is forcing people to stand up and say “Enough”. So now black athletes are being asked to either stand up, sing along and act like highly-paid circus animals, or follow in the steps of Rosa Parks and Malcolm X and Mohammed Ali and the other people of conscience who put themselves at risk by acting on principal.

That’s the choice they’re faced with, isn’t it? Do I act like a man and stand on principal or take the easy-way-out and go along with the crowd?

There is no third option.


Football players are not going to be able to sweep the whole matter under the rug like the Seattle Seahawks did last week by standing with arms linked (while the anthem was played) to demonstrate their solidarity with the victims of police violence. That was a total bullsh** response. It doesn’t matter if you stand separately or stand and link arms; when you “stand” you are paying tribute to the flag. Period.

In contrast, sitting is a demonstration of defiance. Sitting is an act of protest. Sitting is an act of colossal courage. Sitting is an act of solidarity with the victims of police violence. And, regardless what anyone says, sitting is an act of supreme patriotism, the kind of patriotism that surpasses empty displays of ritual conformity and heel-clicking submissiveness. Sitting is a jarring, thought-provoking way of forcing Americans to look themselves in the mirror and ask the painful questions they try to avoid at all cost, like why are all these young, unarmed black men getting blown away with such maddening frequency, and why do these killer cops never pay for their crimes, and why is it still so goddamned hard for black Americans to get any goddamned justice in this country?

No one wants to talk about these things because they make us feel bad about ourselves, they tarnish our sense of “exceptionalism” and our idiot belief that we are a “post-racial” society.

Post racial, my ass. There’s a large group of people living in this country whose rights have always been provisional and who’ve never gotten a fair shake, and that sure as heck hasn’t changed since Obama got took office, in fact, the situation is worse than ever.

When living under the American flag means that everyone is protected equally from killer cops, then I’ll gladly stand for the national anthem. Until then, forget about it.
 
MIKE WHITNEY lives in Washington state. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press). Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at fergiewhitney@msn.com.
More articles by:Mike Whitney

Friday, September 23, 2016

Line 5: Enbridge's Great Lakes Time Bomb

Pressure Mounts Against Aging Enbridge Oil and Gas Pipeline Through Great Lakes

by Larry Buhl  - DeSmog


September 21, 2016

Public pressure is mounting to decommission two 63-year-old underwater pipelines that rest in an environmentally sensitive waterway between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. About 540,000 barrels of oil and liquid natural gas flow daily through the 20-inch pipelines, called Line 5, which lie in an exposed trench on the public bottomlands of the Mackinac Straits west of the Mackinac Bridge.

Image: Mussles cover the Line 5 pipeline.
Credit: University of Michigan

Built in 1953, Line 5 is now owned by the Alberta, Canada-based petroleum company Enbridge, Inc. Many fear the aging pipeline is an accident waiting to happen, with recent modeling showing a single oil spill could impact more than 150 miles of coastline.

Enbridge has been boasting about the findings of a state pipeline safety task force report released a little over a year ago that found no signs of internal or external corrosion on Line 5.

Critical Gaps


What the company doesn’t say is that even the authors of the report aren’t convinced of its validity, due to “gaps” in information provided by Enbridge on its own pipelines.

“Substantial questions remain and can only be resolved by full disclosure of additional information, and rigorous, independent review by qualified experts,” the 2015 report reads.

In a press conference following the release of the report, Michigan’s Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette and Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) director Dan Wyant said Enbridge had not been forthcoming about the methods of pipeline integrity inspections performed by its contractors.

Enbridge says it continually monitors metal loss, cracks, and pipeline movements, and in some cases sends divers to visually inspect the pipelines.

The company maintains the pipelines could operate safely for another half-century, though it acknowledges that a heavy crust of invasive mussels cover parts of the pipelines.

Environmental groups claim these invasive species are likely corroding the pipeline coating.

Line 5's Days Numbered


Enbridge has been trying to assure the public through a series of barbeques and community gatherings that Line 5 is completely safe.

Schuette said in 2015 that Line 5’s days “are numbered,” and that the pipeline would never be built today under modern environmental standards. Gov. Rick Snyder promised to address recommendations included in the report quickly.

But critics say the state has been anything but quick to respond to the concerns about Line 5. A pair of independent studies that could lead to recommendations on Line 5’s future are planned but won’t be completed until mid-to-late 2017.

“The state has been studying (Line 5) since 2014, using data from the company,” Sierra Club’s Michigan Chapter Chair, David Holtz, tells DeSmog.

Holtz says an independent third party assessment of Line 5 would probably refute the company’s claims that everything is fine.

“There is no real deadline for the state to do anything and no political will to confront the oil industry,” Holtz says.

Environmental lawyers say the governor and the attorney general have the authority to decommission the pipeline at any time as part of the 1953 easement agreement that granted the original owner of Line 5, Lakehead Pipe Line Partners, the right to occupy the bottomlands.

Liz Kirkwood, an environmental attorney and director of the Traverse City-based nonprofit Flow for Water, tells DeSmog that Michigan faces all of the risks from Line 5 and gets almost none of the benefit.

She said, “The state of Michigan agreed to never allow private interests to pollute public trust waters. Michigan has a heavy burden here because 20 percent of the world’s fresh water is in lakes bordering the state.” 

Dire Straits


Concerns were galvanized earlier this year when University of Michigan computer modeling was released showing that 152 miles of shoreline on Lakes Huron and Michigan were at risk from a single Line 5 oil spill.

Environmentalists and citizens in the region bring up the company’s 2010 pipeline break — the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history — as an example of what could happen.

In July, Enbridge agreed to pay $177 million, including $61 million in penalties, as part of a consent decree with the U.S. government tied to the company’s 2010 pipeline rupture near Marshall, Michigan. The spill affected nearly 40 miles of the Kalamazoo River. Enbridge did not admit negligence in the rupture.

In a poll released by the National Wildlife Foundation in May, nearly two-thirds of Michiganders said companies should not be allowed to operate pipelines running under the Great Lakes.

A majority of Michigan’s 12 federally recognized Native American tribes have passed resolutions opposing Line 5, and the Chairman of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians said Line 5 threatens the sovereign rights of tribal members to fish the lakes.

More than 50 municipalities across Michigan — liberal, conservative, and everything in-between — have passed resolutions calling for all pipelines operating in the Straits of Mackinac to be shut down.

Calls For Risk Reduction


On September 14, the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign sent a letter to Michigan's Pipeline Safety Advisory Board co-chairs Heidi Grether and Valerie Brader, urging the panel to endorse four actions before an independent study commences. Their requests were to:

  • Require Enbridge to shut down the flow of oil in Line 5 in the Straits during the winter months, when ice and strong currents make oil capture nearly impossible.
  • Investigate at least eight alleged violations by Enbridge of easement requirements for operating Line 5 in the Straits, including pipeline corrosion.
  • Require Enbridge to hire an independent contractor to evaluate Line 5 before installing anchors that would keep the pipeline from popping out of its trench.
  • Have the Michigan DEQ conduct a full environmental review of Line 5 under the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act before issuing a permit to Enbridge to install 18 additional pipeline anchors.

Those recommendations were brought up by board member Craig Hupp of Grosse Pointe when the Pipeline Safety Advisory Board met on Monday night, September 19.

But according to the Environmental Council's spokesperson Andy McGlashen, most of the two-hour meeting was spent discussing how to ease public fears about the difficulty of cleaning up oil spills in the winter and just paid “lip service” to the recommendations. “The board basically said they didn't have the technical expertise to evaluate those recommendations,” McGlashen told DeSmog, adding that the board adjourned without a plan to find technical experts or take any action before its next meeting on December 12.

Enbridge, like other companies operating pipelines, has pointed out that the alternative ways of moving oil — by rail and by truck — are even less safe, and that decommissioning Line 5 would ultimately increase the risk of oil spills or explosions.

Holtz tells DeSmog he thinks the company’s line of reasoning is bogus, saying,

“There are other pipelines in the region that aren’t under water. Line 5 is just a shortcut. Line 5 is Enbridge’s problem. It shouldn’t be Michigan’s problem.”

Enhanced Listening: Torture Chamber Music

Torture Chamber Music

by David Yearsley  - CounterPunch



September 23, 2016


With the transfer last month to the United Arab Emirates of fifteen prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, and with word yesterday that one of two long-term Malaysian detainees may be headed home to continue “de-radicalization” in a maximum security prison there, Obama lurches towards bitter fulfillment of his long-ago campaign pledge to close the notorious prison and torture center. He has 118 days to deal with the last 61 detainees.

In thinking musically about the grim legacy of Guantanamo’s torturous regime the obvious place to start is with the hits—ones that leave no bruises—the CIA used in its “enhanced interrogations.”

Among the weaponized pop deployed was Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady” played so relentlessly, reported Binyam Mohamed, who was released in 2009 after seven-years detention, that he could hear other inmates “screaming and smashing their heads against walls.” The track was forced on Mohamed for twenty consecutive days. I barely made it through the four-minute video with the audio squeaking out of my laptop’s speakers.

Instead of surveying this appalling record, it is time to take stock in the last days of the Obama a, and for this the Musical Patriot turns to a reliable source.

Bach on torture is hard to forget. He treats it rarely in his vocal works, but when he does, no composer matches his uncanny ability to evoke its procedures’ harrowing extortion of truth and lies, and the shattering recriminations it visits on both the tortured and the torturer. This is not music of the lash and the rack, but of mental terror.

Many interpreters of Bach’s cantatas and their libretti might claim that references to torture in these works are merely metaphorical, literary weapons used to make religious arguments about morality and salvation. But then as now, torture was an omnipresent, much-debated practice, thought to be a crucial means not so much for establishing guilt, but for confirming it. When Bach’s music referred to torture it was not an abstract, merely figurative, turn of phrase, but summoned thoughts of horrific punishments potentially to be visited on anyone accused—and for their own good.

How important and much-discussed the topic was in Bach’s time can be gauged by opening up the forty-fourth volume of the largest encyclopedia project of the eighteenth century and reading the article on “torture.” Published in Bach’s Leipzig from 1732-1754, Zedler’s Universal-Lexicon includes a main article on torture that extends to thirty folio pages of dense type. One of the longest articles in the encyclopedia, this essay and the ancillary entries on related aspects of torture consume more ink even than the thirty-pages devoted to Martin Luther.

The “torture” article begins by following a by-then familiar circuit of logic, one that suggests to me that even its eighteenth-century apologists knew their position was untenable. If torture weren’t effective, runs this argument by tautology, then the world would be full of criminals, since the innocent would have so often been convicted and the guilty freed.
 The main purpose of physically aggressive interrogation is not necessarily to bring the truth to light, since “the painful question” [die peinliche Frage] as torture was also known in German, should only be resorted to when overwhelming evidence indicates guilt. Rather, the idea is to force the accused to acknowledge their crimes and duly repent. In this sense torture is a favor to the tortured: verbal expiation holds the possibility of redemption rather than damnation. Even if the death penalty is convict’s immediate worldly fate, salvation might be the eternal reward of even the most heinous earthly criminal. According to this reasoning, torture becomes a means towards truth and reconciliation.

But the violent extraction of a questionable “truth” suggests that much of this has to do with assuaging society’s guilt about the possibility of putting someone to death falsely; an admission of guilt, even if brought to the light of day with the instruments of torture, confirms for the benefit of the accusers that justice has been done. Hardened refusal to admit to the crime seals the damnation of the unrepentant criminal. Bach’s choirboys sang at public beheadings and hangings in Leipzig: even ten year-olds were deemed fit to watch and to sing at such spectacles.

The vast juridical and philosophical literature on torture is referred to throughout the Zedler article, while the still-current critique of it is also presented at several junctures. Simply put: torture doesn’t work. The article cites several sources that assert that those with hardy constitutions can better resist torture, but those who are weaker will admit to anything just to stop the agony. In response, the article’s author admits that torture doesn’t always work and that it can extort false admissions. But failing other more effective means, torture is an essential tool when used properly and legally.

In the Zedler article the practice of torture, then as now, is defended on technological and legalistic grounds that merely serve to divert attention from the brute fact of its wrongness. Refining the techniques of interrogation raise the Germans over the infidels. Merely tying up the accused and whipping him is condemned by the author as “just plain Turkish and downright barbaric.” By contrast, the modern instruments of torture are markers of civilization: the thumbscrews; the Spanish boots; resinous pine splints under the fingers; water torture (both drop treatment and what we would come to call waterboarding)—all these are just fine. Among dozens of other techniques, that separate enlightened Europeans from the barbaric Turks are abrading the skin and then putting hornets or mice or other of “vermin” under a glass pressed above the wounds. Christian civilization also condones the slathering cut feet with salt and letting a goat lick them off .

The most meager of prisoner’s rights are recognized in Zedler, though this only highlights the brutality of the entire practice: nursing mothers with infants younger than six months cannot be legally tortured, nor the deaf and speechless. Procedures should not permanently disfigure or cripple the victim, and—surprisingly—if accidental death ensues, the overseeing judge can be held accountable and accordingly punished.

As for military combatants, the author’s approach turns from legalistic argument to commonsense. Since you can never trust your enemy anyway, you shouldn’t believe what he says when, for example, he is pressed naked between two coffin-like plates and ropes on geared-spools are tied around his toes and then cranked.

The most harrowing part of the article is not the list of instruments, ranging from the elaborate and simple, but the transcripts of sample torture sessions included in order to demonstrate to stenographers on how to take proper notes. One runs as follows:

“The Torturer [he’s also the Executioner, which adds to the horror] ties up the Accused. The Accused says he has done nothing illegal and that he is innocent. The Torturer applies the thumbscrews. The Accused says he knows nothing. The Torturer cranks the screws. The Accused says he knows nothing. The Torturer cranks the screws again. The Accused screams: ‘No, No, Lord Jesus.’ The Screws are tightened. The Accused screams for mercy. The thumbscrews have failed to be effective. The Torturer fits the Spanish boots to the Accused. The Torturer hits the boots. The Accused screams that he did indeed commit the robberies. The Accused is asked who is accomplices are and without further torture quickly names his henchmen as Schnabsack, Tall Abraham, and the Pole.
”

The much shorter Zedler article on “Torture Chamber” stresses that, like Guantanamo, the venue of interrogation should be placed far, far from the sites of civic life.

Within two months of taking up his position as Director of Music in Leipzig in 1723, one of the most prestigious civic musical positions in Germany, Bach
led a performance of his cantata, “Herr, gehe nicht ins Gericht mit deinem Knecht” (Lord, do not go into court with your servant). Paraphrasing the second verse of Psalm 143, the text of Bach’s opening chorus assumes that in the Godly courts all are guilty of heinous crimes. The orchestral introduction is simultaneously tenuous and inexorable, resisting judgment but realizing that there is no escape from its dark decrees. A series of doubting harmonies moves forward because there is no going back, the melody concluding with a series of sighing supplications just before the chorus enters with full, oppressive force. In spite of these pleas not to be brought into court, the chorus realizes it must face judgment. Once the choir enters it, too, trudges ahead in solemn, if reluctant procession.

In setting the second line of the chorus “before You, no living person is just,” Bach suddenly animates the texture with a frantic fugue, one that brilliantly conveys the turbulent, ephemeral rush of earthly life and sin, the perpetual conflicts fought with the self and with others. Like life, the chorus careens to a preemptory end that ushers the individual, heard in the subsequent alto recitative, before God. Here no torture is necessary to elicit the truth. God is a “just judge,” and the individual’s admission of guilt is complete and untroubled:


I state my confession freely to you
and do not throw myself into danger
by denying, by concealing
the errors of my soul


The central aria, “Wie zittern und wanken, die S√ľnder Gedanken” (How they tremble and waver, the thoughts of the sinners) follows immediately with high throbbing strings. There is no real bass-line, no foundation to the sound. The shimmering, major-key harmony hovers like mist, or, as it turns out, deadly poison. A plaintive oboe soars into and above these yearning, trembling sonorities. The music seems to offer comfort, in spite of the dark minor tinges at the end of the oboe’s rapturous phrase that concludes its introductory solo.

The voice that emerges is also high, ethereal: the soprano describes “How the sinner’s thoughts tremble and waver / while they bring accusations against each other / and on the other hand dare to make excuses for themselves.” Bach unspools long arcs of striving melody on the words “accusation” and “dare” that bring to mind the tensions of legal wrangling and internal rationalization. What makes this music so unsettling is the mysterious way that Bach imbues this atmosphere of recrimination with a glowing aura of solace. For the sinner, the earthly courts of justice and opinion and the internal arguments one makes with the judge that is one’s own conscience, promise distant hope.

But this hope cannot be sustained, as is clear already before the final line of the aria turns to the evil-doer’s “troubled conscience torn apart by its own torture.” In contrast to the long melismas heard over the first lines of the aria, Bach treats the word “torture” and the violent verb “to tear apart” [zerrissen] with grimly controlled emphasis. Only at the last repetition of “torture” does the soprano emit a high, agonized note over the central vowel, like a long cry of pain. The cadence comes as an expression of relief, like the deliverance from pain that the torturer plays on when he at last allows the victim a gasp of air after near-drowning immersion, or releases pressure on the thumbscrews, or removes the electrodes.

After the voice falls silent, relieved of its anguish, the music of the long introduction returns in full, leaving listeners to contemplate the psychological implications of the aria. At the close, the music evaporates in a cloud of doubt with the vain hope of earthly validation still hanging in the air.

More than merely a figurative turn, the torture this music portrays attains its impact more through its calm serenity than its occasionally sharp inflections that work like decisive turns of the crank. This is a torture conducted in the isolated chamber of the mind.

From here the cantata proceeds to a forward-striving bass recitative, which overturns the “sentence of condemnation” by moistening the legal document with the blood of Jesus. An affirmative tenor aria with triumphant trumpet renounces Mammon and the vanities and pleasures of the world. A final chorale looks forward to the calming of the troubled conscience in a heaven reserved for those “full of faith.”

Bach’s Leipzig was a paradoxical place, a theocracy that also hosted important strains of the Enlightenment and witnessed the rapid growth of modern modes of leisure and consumerism. Many of these tensions are evident in the modern world, too, and help explain why this darkly powerful cantata is as alive today as it ways nearly three hundred years ago at the time of its first performance. The moral to be drawn from it still holds: torturers must face not only their own conscience, but also the judgment of the highest court.
 
DAVID YEARSLEY is a long-time contributor to CounterPunch and the Anderson Valley Advertiser. His recording of J. S. Bach’s organ trio sonatas is available from Musica Omnia. He can be reached at dgyearsley@gmail.com
More articles by:David Yearsley

The Best Democracy Money Can Buy Debuts

Greg Palast’s The Best Democracy Money Can Buy

Opens in Theaters Sept 23 NYC & Sept 30 LA 

by Greg Palast


We are thrilled to announce that Cinema Libre will distribute our new film, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy: A Tale of Billionaires & Ballot Bandits, in the US and select foreign territories.

The movie will open in New York and Los Angeles, on September 23 and 30 respectively, before being released as widely as possible before the November 8th election.

In addition to the traditional cinema release, groups, organizations and grassroots activists will be able to arrange theatrical-on-demand® screenings via Gathr.

The film is set to roll out on DVD/SVOD on October 18, 2016.


READ THE FULL PRESS RELEASE


This real life detective story is told in a film noir style with cartoon animations, secret documents, hidden cameras, and a little help from Law & Order: Special Victims Unit detectives, Ice-T and Richard Belzer, Shailene Woodley, Rosario Dawson, Willie Nelson and Ed Asner, Palast and his associates expose the darkest plans of the uber-rich to steal America’s democracy.

Music by Mario Grigorov, additional music by Graham Nash.

*****

COMING TO THEATERS


NEW YORK — SEPTEMBER 23 - 29 2016


@ Cinepolis Chelsea, 260 West 23rd Street, New York, NY 10011

(Daily showtimes and tickets to be listed soon!)


LOS ANGELES — SEPTEMBER 30 - OCTOBER 6 2016

@ Laemmle’s Noho 7, 5240 Lankershim Blvd. North Hollywood, CA 91601
(Daily showtimes and tickets to be listed soon!)


SELECT SCREENINGS IN BOTH NY AND LA WILL FEATURE

A Q&A WITH GREG PALAST & FRIENDS.

*****

Greg Palast (Rolling Stone, Guardian, BBC) is the author of The New York Times bestsellers, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy and Billionaires & Ballot Bandits, which will open as a feature documentary movie in New York on September 23 & Los Angeles on September 30.

Check for Movie Screenings in your area | More cities coming soon
Want to bring the film to a cinema near you?
Contact zach [at] gregpalast [dot]com

Subscribe to Palast's mailing list and Podcast to receive regular updates on this issue.

Visit the Palast Investigative Fund store or simply make a tax-deductible contribution to keep our work alive!

Or support the The Palast Investigative Fund (a project of The Sustainable Markets Foundation) by shopping with Amazon Smile.

GregPalast.com

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Police Killings Call for Boycotts and Justice

Police Killings from Charlotte to Tulsa Spark Calls for Boycotts and Justice

by TRNN


September 22, 2016

African-American activists and community members gathered in Charlotte, North Carolina on Wednesday to express anger at the police shooting of Keith Scott that spurred mass protests the night before, with some calling for an economic boycott. Meanwhile a witness has come forward saying the 43-year old was shot despite complying with police orders, as the city's mayor called for calm and peace following the overnight violence.



The Real News brings the latest on the police killings of Keith Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Terrance Crutcher in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which took place 95 years after the Tulsa Race Riots

Seriously: War, Peace, and Absurdity

You Must Be Kidding! Adventures in an American World of Frustration

by Tom Engelhardt - TomDispatch

September 22, 2016
 
Recently, sorting through a pile of old children’s books, I came across a volume, That Makes Me Mad!, which brought back memories. Written by Steve Kroll, a long-dead friend, it focused on the eternally frustrating everyday adventures of Nina, a little girl whose life regularly meets commonplace roadblocks, at which point she always says... well, you can guess from the title! Vivid parental memories of another age instantly flooded back -- of my daughter (now reading such books to her own son) sitting beside me at age five and hitting that repeated line with such mind-blowing, ear-crushing gusto that you knew it spoke to the everyday frustrations of her life, to what made her mad.

Three decades later, in an almost unimaginably different America, on picking up that book I suddenly realized that, whenever I follow the news online, on TV, or -- and forgive me for this but I’m 72 and still trapped in another era -- on paper, I have a similarly Nina-esque urge. Only the line I’ve come up with for it is (with a tip of the hat to Steve Kroll) “You must be kidding!”

Here are a few recent examples from the world of American-style war and peace. Consider these as random illustrations, given that, in the age of Trump, just about everything that happens is out-of-this-world absurd and would serve perfectly well. If you’re in the mood, feel free to shout out that line with me as we go.

Nuking the Planet: I’m sure you remember Barack Obama, the guy who entered the Oval Office pledging to work toward “a nuclear-free world.” You know, the president who traveled to Prague in 2009 to say stirringly: “So today, I state clearly and with conviction America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons... To put an end to Cold War thinking, we will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy, and urge others to do the same.” That same year, he was awarded the Nobel Prize largely for what he might still do, particularly in the nuclear realm. Of course, that was all so 2009!

Almost two terms in the Oval Office later, our peace president, the only one who has ever called for nuclear “abolition” -- and whose administration has retired fewer weapons in our nuclear arsenal than any other in the post-Cold War era -- is now presiding over the early stages of a trillion-dollar modernization of that very arsenal. (And that trillion-dollar price tag comes, of course, before the inevitable cost overruns even begin.) It includes full-scale work on the creation of a “precision-guided” nuclear weapon with a “dial-back” lower yield option. Such a weapon would potentially bring nukes to the battlefield in a first-use way, something the U.S. is proudly pioneering.

And that brings me to the September 6th front-page story in the New York Times that caught my eye. Think of it as the icing on the Obama era nuclear cake. Its headline: “Obama Unlikely to Vow No First Use of Nuclear Weapons.” Admittedly, if made, such a vow could be reversed by any future president. Still, reportedly for fear that a pledge not to initiate a nuclear war would “undermine allies and embolden Russia and China... while Russia is running practice bombing runs over Europe and China is expanding its reach in the South China Sea,” the president has backed down on issuing such a vow. In translation: the only country that has ever used such weaponry will remain on the record as ready and willing to do so again without nuclear provocation, an act that, it is now believed in Washington, would create a calmer planet.

You must be kidding!


Plain Old Bombing: Recall that in October 2001, when the Bush administration launched its invasion of Afghanistan, the U.S. was bombing no other largely Islamic country. In fact, it was bombing no other country at all. Afghanistan was quickly “liberated,” the Taliban crushed, al-Qaeda put to flight, and that was that, or so it then seemed.

On September 8th, almost 15 years later, the Washington Post reported that, over a single weekend and in a “flurry” of activity, the U.S. had dropped bombs on, or fired missiles at, six largely Islamic countries: Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia. (And it might have been seven if the CIA hadn’t grown a little rusty when it comes to the drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal borderlands that it's launched repeatedly throughout these years.) In the same spirit, the president who swore he would end the U.S. war in Iraq and, by the time he left office, do the same in Afghanistan, is now overseeing American bombing campaigns in Iraq and Syria which are loosing close to 25,000 weapons a year on those countries. Only recently, in order to facilitate the further prosecution of the longest war in our history, the president who announced that his country had ended its “combat mission” in Afghanistan in 2014, has once again deployed the U.S. military in a combat role and has done the same with the U.S. Air Force. For that, B-52s (of Vietnam infamy) were returned to action there, as well as in Iraq and Syria, after a decade of retirement. In the Pentagon, military figures are now talking about “generational” war in Afghanistan -- well into the 2020s.

Meanwhile, President Obama has personally helped pioneer a new form of warfare that will not long remain a largely American possession. It involves missile-armed drones, high-tech weapons that promise a world of no-casualty-conflict (for the American military and the CIA), and adds up to a permanent global killing machine for taking out terror leaders, “lieutenants,” and “militants.” Well beyond official American war zones, U.S. drones regularly cross borders, infringing on national sovereignty throughout the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa, to assassinate anyone the president and his colleagues decide needs to die, American citizen or otherwise (plus, of course, anyone who happens to be in the vicinity). With its White House “kill list” and its “terror Tuesday” meetings, the drone program, promising “surgical” hunting-and-killing action, has blurred the line between war and peace, while being normalized in these years. A president is now not just commander-in-chief but assassin-in-chief, a role that no imaginable future president is likely to reject. Assassination, previously an illegal act, has become the heart and soul of Washington’s way of life and of a way of war that only seems to spread conflict further.

You must be kidding!


The Well-Oiled Machinery of Privatized War: And speaking of drones, as the New York Times reported on September 5th, the U.S. drone program does have one problem: a lack of pilots. It has ramped up quickly in these years and, in the process, the pressures on its pilots and other personnel have only grown, including post-traumatic stress over killing civilians thousands of miles away via computer screen. As a result, the Air Force has been losing those pilots fast. Fortunately, a solution is on the horizon. That service has begun filling its pilot gap by going the route of the rest of the military in these years -- turning to private contractors for help. Such pilots and other personnel are, however, paid higher salaries and cost more money. The contractors, in turn, have been hiring the only available personnel around, the ones trained by... yep, you guessed it, the Air Force. The result may be an even greater drain on Air Force drone pilots eager for increased pay for grim work and... well, I think you can see just how the well-oiled machinery of privatized war is likely to work here and who’s going to pay for it.

You must be kidding!


Selling Arms As If There Were No Tomorrow: In a recent report for the Center for International Policy, arms expert William Hartung offered a stunning figure on U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia. “Since taking office in January 2009," he wrote, "the Obama administration has offered over $115 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia in 42 separate deals, more than any U.S. administration in the history of the U.S.-Saudi relationship. The majority of this equipment is still in the pipeline, and could tie the United States to the Saudi military for years to come.” Think about that for a moment: $115 billion for everything from small arms to tanks, combat aircraft, cluster bombs, and air-to-ground missiles (weaponry now being used to slaughter civilians in neighboring Yemen).

Of course, how else can the U.S. keep its near monopoly on the global arms trade and ensure that two sets of products -- Hollywood movies and U.S. weaponry -- will dominate the world’s business in things that go boom in the night? It’s a record to be proud of, especially since putting every advanced weapon imaginable in the hands of the Saudis will obviously help bring peace to a roiled region of the planet. (And if you arm the Saudis, you better do no less for the Israelis, hence the mind-boggling $38 billion in military aid the Obama administration recently signed on to for the next decade, the most Washington has ever offered any country, ensuring that arms will be flying into the Middle East, literally and figuratively, for years to come.)

Blessed indeed are the peacemakers -- and of course you know that by “peacemaker” I mean the classic revolver that “won the West.”

Put another way...

You must be kidding!


The Race for the Generals: I mean, who's got the biggest...

...list of retired generals and admirals? Does it surprise you that there are at least 198 retired commanders floating around in their golden parachutes, many undoubtedly still embedded in the military-industrial complex on corporate boards and the like, eager to enroll in the Trump and Clinton campaigns? Trump went first, releasing an “open letter” signed by 88 generals and admirals who were bravely standing up to reverse the “hollowing out of our military” and to “secure our borders, to defeat our Islamic supremacist adversaries, and restore law and order domestically.” (Partial translation: pour yet more money into our military as The Donald has promised to do.) They included such household names as Major General Joe Arbuckle, Rear Admiral James H. Flatley III, and Brigadier General Mark D. Scraba -- or, hey!, one guy you might even remember: Lieutenant General William (“Jerry”) Boykin, the evangelical crusader who made the news in 2003 by claiming of a former Somali opponent, “I knew that my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God, and his was an idol."

Somehow, those 88 Trumpian military types assumedly crawled out of “the rubble” under which, as The Donald informed us recently, the Obama administration has left the American high command. His crew, however, is undoubtedly not the “embarrassment” he refers to when talking about American generalship in these years.

Meanwhile, the Clintonites struck back with a list of 95, “including a number of 4-star generals,” many directly from under that rubble, and within the week had added 15 more to hit 110. Meanwhile, members of the intelligence community and the rest of the national security state, former presidential advisers and other officials, drum-beating neocons, and strategists of every sort from America’s disastrous wars of the last 15 years hustled to line up behind Hillary or The Donald.

If nothing else, all of it was a reminder of the bloated size and ever-increasing centrality of the post-9/11 national security state and the military-industrial complex that goes with it. The question is: Does it inspire you with confidence in our candidates, or leave you saying...

You must be kidding!


Conflicts of Interest and Access to the Oval Office: Let’s put aside a possible preemptive $25,000 bribe to Florida’s attorney general from the Donald J. Trump Foundation to prevent an investigation of a scam operation, Trump "University." If that “donation” to a political action committee does turn out to have been a bribe, no one should be surprised, given that The Donald has long been a walking Ponzi scheme. Thanks to a recent superb investigative report by Kurt Eichenwald of Newsweek, consider instead what it might mean for him to enter the Oval Office when it comes to conflicts of interest and the “national security” of the country. Eichenwald concludes that Trump would be “the most conflicted president in American history,” since the Trump Organization has “deep ties to global financiers, foreign politicians, and even criminals” in both allied and enemy countries. Almost any foreign policy decision he might make could hurt or enrich his own businesses. There would, in essence, be no way to divest himself and his family from the international Trump branding machine. (Think Trump U. writ large.) And you hardly need ask yourself whether The Donald would “act in the interests of the United States or his wallet,” given his prior single-minded pursuit of self-enrichment.

So much for conflicts of interest, what about access? That, of course, brings up the Clintons, who, between 2001 and the moment Hillary announced her candidacy for president, managed to take in $153 million dollars (yes, that is not a misprint) for a combined 729 speeches at an average fee of $210,795. That includes Hillary’s 20-minute speech to eBay's Women's Initiative Network Summit in March 2015 for a reported $315,000 just a month before she made her announcement. It’s obviously not Hillary’s (or Bill’s) golden words that corporate executives truly care about and are willing to pay the big bucks for, but the hope of accessibility to both a past and a possible future president. After all, in the world of business, no one ever thinks they’re paying good money for nothing.

Do I need to say more than...

You must be kidding!


Of course, I could go on. I could bring up a Congress seemingly incapable of passing a bill to fund a government effort to prevent the Zika virus from spreading wildly in parts of this country. (You must be kidding!) I could discuss how the media fell face first into an SUV -- NBC Nightly News, which I watch, used the video of Hillary Clinton stumbling and almost falling into that van, by my rough count, 15 times over four nights -- and what it tells us about news “coverage” these days. (You must be kidding!) I could start in on the constant polls that flood our lives by confessing that I’m an addict and plan on joining Pollers Anonymous on November 9th, and then consider what it means to have such polls, and polls of polls, inundate us daily, teaching us about favorable/unfavorable splits, and offering endlessly varying snapshots of how we might or might not vote and which of us might or might not do it day so long before we ever hit a voting booth. (You must be kidding!) Or I could bring up the way, after five years of assiduous “research,” Donald Trump grudgingly acknowledged that Barack Obama was born in the United States and then essentially blamed the birther movement on Hillary Clinton. (You must be kidding!)

I could, in other words, continue welcoming you into an increasingly bizarre American landscape of war and peace (without a Tolstoy in sight).

Still, enough is enough, don’t you think? So let me stop here and, just for the hell of it, join me one last time in chanting: You must be kidding!

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He is a fellow of the Nation Institute and runs TomDispatch.com. His latest book is Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt's latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2016 Tom Engelhardt

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Power of Privilege: American Diplomacy Prepares for the Trump Era

Samantha Power Condemns Russia for Condemning a U.S. War Crime

by Gary Leupp - CounterPunch


September 21, 2016

U.S. ambassador to the UN Samantha Power was furious Saturday when a Russian demand for an emergency closed-door session of the UN Security Council forced her to show up at the UN building to explain U.S. actions.

The Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin called the session to condemn the U.S. for an attack on a Syrian Army position in Deir Ezzor earlier that day that had killed at least 62 government troops (perhaps as many as 83) and injured over 100.

This was a clear, egregious violation of the weeklong ceasefire negotiated by Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and generally observed by the Syrian army and the “moderate” armed opposition. The U.S. immediately ceased the strike after the Russians protested. The Pentagon announced that it was not targeting Syrian forces, indeed apologizing to Damascus via Moscow for the loss of life.

It says the incident is under investigation.

But the impact of the attack is quite serious. Nearby ISIL forces were able to capture the site and advance towards Deir Ezzor’s airport, which remains in government hands. To prevent this, Russia has reportedly deployed more forces in the area. Meanwhile Syria accuses Washington of deliberately aiding ISIL to bring down the Assad regime.

Power’s response? She showed up at the UN in a huff, told Churkin straightaway that she was not going to listen to him, and that the Russian demand for the meeting was a mere “stunt.” Leaving a deputy to chat with the other Security Council diplomats, she appeared at a podium before reporters to denounce the “stunt,” as a “cynical and hypocritical” effort by the allies of the horrible Syrian government to embarrass the U.S. Her angry statement alluded only in passing to the killing of the Syrian troops. Shortly afterwards, a clearly amazed Churkin recounted to the same reporters Power’s arrogant behavior.

The U.S. ambassador was plainly irked that she would have to spend her Saturday night explaining to the ambassadors from Russia, China, Britain, France, Angola, Egypt, Japan, Malaysia, Senegal, Spain, Ukraine, Uruguay and Venezuela why the U.S. did this, or how it could have happened. Why, from her point of view, should the U.S. ever have to apologize, or even explain its actions, when it is so exceptional, and indispensable, and fundamentally good, whereas other nations are good to the extent that they cooperate with the U.S. (as Saudi Arabia does so dependably) and bad to the extent that they impede U.S. objectives (such as ongoing NATO expansion or more Middle East “regime change”).

Power’s statement began:

“Good evening, everybody. We are still gathering information at this time, but we have been able to confirm that, earlier today, the United States struck what we believed to be an ISIL target. We halted the attack when we were informed by Russia that it was possible that we were striking Syrian regime military personnel and vehicles. We are investigating the incident. If we determine that we did indeed strike Syrian military personnel, that was not our intention, and we, of course, regret the loss of life.

“This said, even by Russia’s standards, tonight’s stunt – a stunt replete with moralism and grandstanding – is uniquely cynical and hypocritical. Since 2011, the Assad regime has been intentionally striking civilian targets with horrifying, predictable regularity… And yet, in the face of none of these atrocities has Russia expressed outrage, nor has it demanded investigations, nor has it ever called for a Saturday night emergency consultation in the Security Council – or a Monday day; or a Tuesday day; or a Wednesday day; Thursday day; Friday day, Saturday, Sunday – you name it. If there’s a day of the week, they have never called an emergency consultation on any of these practices…

“And a year ago, at the UN General Assembly, Russia decided to join the Assad regime, escalating the conflict, and – perhaps worst of all – itself adopting some of the regime’s worst practices: hitting hospitals, hitting refugee camps, hitting markets without a single public expression of remorse.”

Thus Power shifted focus from the illegal attack on the army of a sovereign state to the alleged crimes of that state. In her position of moral bankruptcy and with no leg to stand on legally, she was reduced to schoolyard bully’s wonted weapon of ridicule.

“Seriously? They’re calling this emergency meeting? Really? Now, because of a single airstrike – a strike that, if it struck regime forces, did so in error; a strike that we have swiftly acknowledged and committed to investigating – again, none of which the Assad regime or Russia have done in their airstrikes on innocent civilians. Now, of all times, Russia calls the entire UN Security Council to convene urgently so that it can stand up here and express outrage. Imagine how often this Council would be meeting if we were to gather every time the regime or Russia struck a hospital, or a school, or a bread line.”

Or, one might add, if it were to gather every time the U.S. struck a hospital, or school, or wedding party in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Libya or Pakistan. Notice that the Russians have not “demanded investigations” of these crimes. Russia did not call for a meeting last April, after the U.S. bombed a hospital in Kunduz, or in November 2008, when a U.S. airstrike killed 63 people including 37 civilians, mostly women and children, at a housing complex in the village of Wech Baghtu in Afghanistan.

Power treats the slaughter of Syrian soldiers in “a single airstrike” (just one, after all) as a trivial matter, an irritation only because Putin wants to make it one. Just as her former boss Hillary Clinton has, in connection with the DNC email leaks documenting who her nomination was rigged, tried to change the subject to “Russian efforts to influence the U.S. elections,” so Power is trying to change the subject here from one minor U.S. atrocity to Russian support for Assad’s military.

Churkin was diplomatically appalled. “I have never,” he told the press, “seen such an extraordinary display of American heavy-handedness as we are witnessing today.” He recounted how the livid Power had dissed him before storming out of the meeting room, leaving a deputy who merely stated that the attack was “under investigation.”

Now the Russians note that the Lavrov-Kerry deal for U.S.-Russian cooperation on Syria so painstakingly negotiated as of Sept. 9 is in danger of collapse. That would be very unfortunate, because the likely alternative is another U.S. regime change war, including a high possibility to aerial confrontations with Russia over Syria.

***

I won’t say I “support” that agreement on Syria, which was soon embraced by the Syrian government, Turkey, Iran and the EU. I would support a mass uprising of the Syrian people towards the establishment of an independent, secular and socialist society that that empowers working people and promotes religious tolerance and gender equality. But that is not in the cards, any time soon.

No, I’d say I’m relieved by the agreement, just as I was relieved by the announcement of the Iran “nuclear deal” in April 2015, as a sort of respite in the succession of horrible breaking news stories that is our time. It is a step back from war.

Lenin declared that for a revolution to occur there must be a revolutionary situation and a revolutionary party. I don’t see any such party in Syria; instead, there is a welter of armed groups both foreign and domestic whose ideologies range from Baathism to Islamism and whose tactics range from the truly demonic to the merely vicious. Among these assorted forces the Syrian Arab Army and its allies have been most effective against the al-Nusra-aligned “Free Syrian Army” (in fact a myriad of militias without a central command, led—to the extent that they have any leadership—by the CIA).

Before the outbreak of the so-called “Arab Spring” in 2011, Syria was (like most countries in the region) an oppressive, undemocratic police state with what U.S. State Department officials hypocritically and selectively term a “poor human rights record.” (This record includes accepting “extraordinary renditions” dispatched by the Pentagon for torturous interrogation in Syria from 2001.) It was on the U.S. list of “terror sponsoring” nations due to its support for groups that Israel considers terrorists. Still the U.S. had enlisted Syria in the 1991 attack on Iraq, maintained diplomatic relations with Damascus, and welcomed Bashar al-Assad as a “reformer” after he succeeded his father in 2000. Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state, had referred to him as such as late as 2010.

But meanwhile a faction in the State Department (best represented by the hideous neocon John Bolton during the George W. Bush administration) has pressed incessantly for regime change in Syria. Members of this faction have referred to Syria as “low-hanging fruit”—that is, easy pick countries ripe for the plucking. They have for some years been restrained by more cautious officials; Hillary Clinton, who if not a neocon by a technical definition is surely their most solid “liberal interventionist” ally, famously wanted to arm the Syrian “opposition” in 2011 (or rather, wanted to arm it more than Washington did covertly and through third parties) while Obama rejected her plan. But Clinton has positively boasted of this policy difference, as if to promote her war mongering credentials and win more endorsements from the likes of Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan.

The months leading up to the Lavrov-Kerry agreement saw the publication of a dissent memo signed by 51 State Department officials urging that the U.S. target Assad, not ISIL, in Syria; the publication of a slough of columns by liberal pundits condemning U.S. “silence” and “inaction” in Syria; and Clinton’s repeated statements during her campaign that she favors imposing a “no-fly zone” over Syria (which really means war and regime change a la Libya). Hillary stated that after winning the election she would make Syria her foreign policy priority.

The writing seemed to be appearing on the wall. (Recall the Bible story of the fall of Balshazzar, the Chaldean king, in which his fall to the Persian Empire—the U.S.A. of the day—was foretold by “the fingers of a human hand” that “appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lamp stand in the royal palace;” Daniel 5:5). It really looked like more insane war, this time in Syria.

I found a Boston Globe column by “the Internationalist” Thanassis Cambanis on July 3 especially troubling. Entitled “Syria nears the abyss, now’s the time to act” it contained the bald assertion: “Military escalation in Syria today us the best of bad options. Even dissidents in the US Department of State have gone public with their desire for it.” Even the dissidents? What a shameless misrepresentation! In fact, what was at stake in July, following advances by the Russia-backed Syrian Arab Army, was whether the U.S. and Russia would work together to jointly target forces both consider terrorist and to jointly mediate a solution to the Syrian political conflict as favored by Kerry, or the State Department neocons and allies would push for more war, producing more “creative chaos” in another Muslim country that bothers Israel. Cambanis openly advocated U.S. military intervention.

The column conveyed the impression that everyone, right and left, agrees that of course the U.S should act—which necessarily means (not that he mentioned it), attacking a sovereign state, violating the UN Charter (again), facing Russian and Chinese opposition in the UNSC (unlike in 2011), and provoking Russia which has been helping Syrian state forces against the Nusra-ridden opposition since September 2015. As the TV anchor airheads responded to the viral video of the 5-year-old shell-shocked Aleppo boy rhetorically asking viewers Why are we doing nothing? it did look like Hillary as next president would pull another “humanitarian intervention” like her husband pulled with her encouragement in Bosnia and Kosovo, and like she pulled in Libya. And given Russia’s investment in the survival of the regime, such intervention could produce very frightening results.

But from the first week of August the Russian Foreign Ministry began to optimistically predict a U.S.-Russia agreement to coordinate bombing raids on agreed-upon terrorist targets. The concessions entailed in this agreement (although the state RT news channel hasn’t emphasized them) are principally from the U.S., and reflect the new facts on the ground since the Russian intervention beginning last fall. The Syrian regime has maintained control of most of the population centers, commands considerable support, and Assad is not going to step down tomorrow. The U.S. agreed to put the Assad issue on the back burner while focusing on the ISIL terror issue.

Samantha Power’s explosion of indignation at the UN suggests that priorities may soon reverse again.

The Russians have argued for a year that the U.S. and Russia need to draw up a list of groups to include on the terror list, since Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other U.S. allies fund some of these. And when the Russians have bombed them the U.S. has protested. It was announced earlier this month that the two governments had agreed on who is who, that the U.S. would instruct its clients to end ties with the targeted groups, that the government forces and opposition forces deemed legitimate (i.e. non-terrorist) would both observe a cease-fire, while the Syrian Air Force would suspend bombing operations and talks towards a political solution would resume in Geneva.

This arrangement appears to have been another deft chess move by the Russians, who as you recall saved Obama’s ass when in 2013 he almost attacked Syria in response to (probably false) reports that the Syrian state had used chemical weapons against its people. Lavrov called up Kerry and told him Assad would turn over all Syrian chemical weapons to the UN if the U.S. would back off on the regime-change plan. Thus Obama was spared a legacy more hideous than that of his predecessor. He wound up merely presiding over repeated failed efforts to construct a proxy army in Syria by the CIA and Special Forces, which have produced multiple embarrassments since June 2015.

The obvious inability of the U.S. to produce regime change in Syria using reliable creatures and allies, global revulsion at U.S. aggression, the stubbornness of the regime and its forces with their level of popular support pushed Washington to respond positively to Moscow’s repeated requests for talks. Thus the agreement to co-sponsor a “transition” (of some sort, of unspecified duration) avoiding confrontation.

Overextended and overexposed, the U.S appeared to be backing down in Syria. That could only be good. But now what happens? The main groups comprising the “Free Syrian Army” agreed to the ceasefire. So did the Syrian government. The Russians and Americans jointly warned the “legitimate opposition” to steer clear of al-Nusra (now Fateh al-Sham) and ISIL lest they be bombed. The cease-fire up to Saturday had been a general success, although the delivery of humanitarian aid to Aleppo has been stymied, not by Russian or Syrian action, but by Turkish obstruction. The cease-fire has been rejected by the Saudi- and Turkish-backed Ahrar al-Sham militia, an ally of al-Qaeda considered “moderate” by the amoral thugs who make these designations in the State Department (and include it within what they call the “Free Syrian Army”), among others.

Meanwhile over the weekend a group called Ahrar al-Sharqiya (within the FSA) drove out a small contingent of U.S. Special Forces from the Syrian town of al-Rai. Videos show a Pentagon convoy retreating back towards the Turkish border accompanied by locals calling U.S. troops “pigs” and “crusaders” and chanting “Down with America,” “Get out you dogs,” and “They are coming to Syria to occupy it.”

“We don’t want a single American fighting in Syria alongside us,” declares one man. “”We are Muslims, we are not infidels. Get out!” Is there any wonder the U.S. has been unable to recruit a puppet Syrian army to achieve its regime change goals?

***

It seems to me the Syrian armed opposition (as opposed to the peaceful protesters of the “Arab Spring”) is a kind of rainbow coalition ranging from truly secular soldiers who defected from the army out of some vague interest in fighting for human rights to jihadis happy to behead or crucify pro-Assad children or enslave Yezidi women. Many members of the myriad groups will feel uncomfortable sitting on the sidelines while a new coalition of bombers targets their erstwhile comrades. It might not be possible to separate the “moderates” from the “radicals” if the former’s numbers are small.

U.S. policy has centered (as have State Department talking points certainly) on the premise that there’s a popular movement in Syria, based not on religious fundamentalism and intolerance but on liberal democratic values, that deserves U.S. support in its desire to topple the regime of Bashar al-Assad. (It should be pointed out, should it not, that Washington was conspiring to overthrow the Syrian government, which it labels a sponsor of terrorism, for its own reasons long before the Arab Spring? And that the U.S. has a long history of using and co-opting mass movements to produce regime change?)

The degree of success of the ceasefire from this point will show us how willing the opposition (legitimated by inclusion on a joint U.S.-Russian list) is to break ties with men that they (or many among them at least) have seen as brothers in the struggle, and watch them eradicated or dispersed by this unexpected alliance of pro- and anti-Assad forces. They know this weakens them as a military player, and as negotiators in Geneva in the future. It will be very hard for them to insist on Assad’s immediate removal as a precondition of peace talks if and when the main threats to the Syrian state have been vitiated and the national army is steadily advancing against the “Free Syrian Army” militias.

And (even) if Hillary wins the presidency and decides to ratchet up tensions with Russia starting in Syria, it might be more difficult as Moscow strikes the world (including the governments of China and India) as by far the more responsible, rational actor in the Middle East. Power’s Saturday night live performance at the UN, conveying sheer arrogance and contempt for world opinion, will not sway anyone over to the Syrian regime-change cause. It just draws the lines more clearly and reveals the depth of bad faith.

How could the U.S. Air Force, with all the intelligence at its disposal, including Russian intelligence Moscow is eager to share, kill 62 likely conscript Syrian boys fighting ISIL imagining they’re striking the really bad guys? I doubt it was done deliberately (although I wouldn’t rule it out either, given what we know about the U.S. has used Islamist forces in Syria in the past). But it shows a basic indifference to Syrian life, a willingness to screw up and then when criticized angrily fume that there’s lots of death going on. So why pick on the U.S.?

Sort of like Samantha Power saying at the UN—as she always does—that given all the Palestinian attacks on Israelis, why pick on Israel when it (say) bombs the hell out of Gaza? Different standards apply, don’t you see?

So if Russia in its determination to prevent an Islamist takeover of Syria and maintain a viable secular Syrian state takes on the terrorists, staving off the U.S. drive to topple Assad regardless (as in Iraq or Libya) of any consequences; and if the U.S., having realized its need to cooperate to some extent with Russia (to avoid the profound embarrassment of its destruction of Iraq leading to the conquest of Syria by bin Laden clones), cooperates for a week but then fucks up big-time by bombing the key participant in the cease-fire and infuriating Russia; and then the agreement collapses—hey, isn’t it obvious?

It was all a Russian cynical hypocritical stunt, designed to embarrass the leaders of the Free World in their ongoing noble efforts to spread freedom in the Middle East.
 
Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: gleupp@tufts.edu
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