Saturday, May 23, 2009

Remembering Memorial Day: "No, I Do Not Support the Troops"

No, I Do Not Support "The Troops"
by Arthur Silber

[For complete article reference link, please original here:

I. Introduction

I have intended to write this post for the last few years. As Memorial Day approaches, I thought: why not do it right now? Indeed, why the hell not? I have never sought outrage for its own sake; I write what I do because I am convinced it is true, and I am arrogant enough to believe that some of what I write concerns matters of importance. But I am prepared to admit that outrage -- especially when it proceeds from sentimental, superficial, aggressively anti-intellectual cultural pieties that enjoy widespread acceptance -- is a highly enjoyable side effect. Now that I consider the matter, at least insofar as negative reaction to certain of my essays is concerned, outrage is most typically not a side effect at all, but the reaction in toto. This was certainly true of the criticism that greeted, "Yes, I Want the United States to Lose," an article written in early 2007.

In reviewing that essay today, I see that I've been making one foundational argument for some time: that the United States' invasion and occupation of Iraq constituted and constitutes today an incomprehensibly monstrous series of war crimes. I extended this argument in a piece concerning the last two presidential candidates, "A Choice of War Criminals." I have yet to see a convincing argument that these actions by the U.S. do not constitute war crimes. The reason for that is simple and unavoidable: such an argument does not exist -- not, that is, if one actually examines the relevant evidence. Almost all American politicians, and almost all commentators and bloggers, resolutely refuse to consider that evidence, just as they refuse to consider the conclusions it compels. Instead, either by conscious design or (more commonly, at least as far as those not regularly concerned with politics are concerned) by unthinkingly absorbing basic assumptions from the cultural atmosphere, they believe and advance the central tenets of the American myth.

In this respect, they function in a manner identical to that employed by Barack Obama. In analyzing the monumental series of lies offered by Obama in his widely-praised speech about race in America -- and that praise revealed in a notably unforgiving manner just how remarkably stupid our public discourse has become -- I wrote:

The resistance of the ruling class and of most Americans to one aspect of the truth about 9/11 remains astonishing, and it demonstrates how puerile our national conversation is. Of course, the ruling class cannot admit that to state the obvious fact that actions have consequences is not to say that the U.S. "deserved" 9/11 -- for to acknowledge the millions murdered by the U.S. government and our policy of aggressive military intervention across the globe would subject our own actions to the kinds of judgments that only the United States is entitled to make, and only about the actions of others. The United States is uniquely exempt from the standards we apply to everyone else; thus runs the catechism at the church of our inherent national superiority.


Our national catechism tells us that America is Good -- and that America's murders are Good Murders. You may not say otherwise.

In this manner, among many others, liberal critics of the Iraq catastrophe have long demonstrated that they do not disagree with the basic foreign policy methods and goals put forth by conservatives (and by neoconservatives as well). Certainly, they do not: over the last hundred years, liberals have utilized endless global intervention in service of worldwide American hegemony, usually more determinedly and more bloodily than the conservatives themselves (always excepting the criminal reign of George II). In this respect, as in everything else of importance, Obama rigorously and unforgivably continues what went before, just as George W. Bush did. Neither Obama nor the liberals challenge even one of the fundamental premises underlying United States foreign policy; as a result, the devastation and death continue unabated. (As just a few recent examples, see here and here.) In the same way, liberals will almost never challenge the widespread practice of frequently repeated adulation of "the troops," and we will shortly examine one revealing instance of this dynamic.

As indicated, in some respects this current essay may be considered a companion piece to, "Yes, I Want the United States to Lose." This article also amplifies some themes in a piece I wrote for Memorial Day two years ago: "Against Annihilation of the Spirit: Let Us All Become Cowards." The starting point of that essay was an appreciation of an altogether remarkable film, The Americanization of Emily, with its extraordinary screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky. About that film, I said:

Chayefsky's target is the one identified by [Charlie Madison, the film's protagonist]: it is the glorification of war, and the countless ways in which all of us "honor the institution." We build statues of our war heroes and name streets after them; we erect shrines to the dead. We insist on the "ideals" for which we fought, and the "goodness" of our intentions. Many of us do this in the misdirected and destructive search for "meaning" in our lives: our own stunted souls prevent us from finding fulfillment and happiness in our individual lives, so we look for "glory" by climbing over endless piles of corpses.

And what is lost in all of this is the unbearable horror and pain inflicted on individual human beings, and the particularized, specific costs of our quest for glory, or meaning, or "national greatness," or honor.

If you want to begin to appreciate what happens in war -- what actually happens, not what you read in most books or see in almost all films -- I recommend you begin with the Paul Fussell books mentioned and the excerpts I offered in the earlier essay.

And to set the broader context for our consideration of the unquestioning reverence offered by virtually everyone for "the troops," I also provide these passages from, "Let Us All Become Cowards":

I recall that, several months ago, there was some discussion on various blogs about a particularly awful aspect of the obvious propaganda campaign leading up to the invasion of Iraq, and the public's eager willingness to believe all of it, or at least their notable failure to resist it. It was suggested that we had lost our "horror" of war, on the assumption that we had in some other time appreciated the monstrousness of the slaughter of human beings. This is an utterly naive and grossly mistaken rewriting of American history, one that proceeds directly from critical aspects of the mythology we tell ourselves about ourselves: that we are unique in all of history, that our form of government is the greatest and best possible to mankind, toward which all others should and must strive, and that our national character is predisposed toward compassion and peace.

Lies on top of lies, on top of still more lies, all of it.


So the myths prevail. Our wars are always noble, fought for the purest of motives. Our warriors are similarly noble, engaged in a high-minded crusade. They butcher and slaughter, and are butchered and slaughtered themselves, so that "civilization" might be preserved. Never mind that many of the warriors themselves would not agree. Never mind that the front-line soldiers know that war is insanity, and only insanity. Never mind the overwhelming, senseless, futile, endless horror of what actually happens in combat, and the details that never reach the public.

II. "The Troops" as the Crucial, Indispensable Element of Imperial Power

Because a certain kind of defender of American mythology will be eager to misunderstand and distort my argument, I must briefly clarify a few preliminary matters. This piece concerns "the troops" as an institution; that is, it concerns the U.S. military as the indispensable and primary means of implementing and realizing the goals of the U.S. ruling class. The major goal is worldwide dominance, to be achieved by, among other elements, a global empire of bases. As detailed in that essay, not only Republicans but Democrats as well, and also liberal bloggers such as Atrios and Think Progress, support an ever bigger and bigger military, regardless of the fact that the U.S. spends more on defense than the rest of the world combined. This, too, is a goal embraced by Obama, as noted in a typically bloodthirsty appreciation offered by Media Matters and discussed in the middle section of this recent article.

Please note that this goal of worldwide control has nothing whatsoever to do with self-defense in any meaningful way. It is a policy of offensive aggression, unceasing and with an unending list of possible targets. Thus, the primary purpose for which "the troops" are utilized is not defensive in nature, but offensive, against countries that have never threatened the U.S. and that most often could not threaten the U.S. in any serious manner. A person who joins the military is obliged to understand this, on the general principle that an adult ought to know what he is doing. This is especially true when a person seeks to become an instrumentality of death, either firsthand and directly, or indirectly, by offering support in any one of numerous ways for those who commit the murders.

Having said this, I will add that in many instances, I will decline to pass moral judgment in an individual case. To make that kind of judgment, one would need certain information: the understanding of the particular individual him or herself, what information he is aware of and has access to, and similar kinds of matters. In addition, I am painfully aware that, for many people, there appear to be no other avenues for education and advancement (economic and otherwise), a terrible truth that has broader application as the U.S. economy collapses. (Do you think it is a coincidence that government and military service become one of the last remaining secure areas of employment? I encourage you to consider the issue again. I am not suggesting that the ruling class has engineered widespread economic collapse to drive people into government service, military or of other kinds, but I do not suggest that primarily because I don't think any group, no matter how powerful, could control the huge number of variables involved, although they might believe they could. Hubris and narcissism usually go together. But I certainly do suggest that the government and the ruling class is more than willing to take full advantage of this calamitous state of affairs.)

Even though I will not offer moral judgments across the board, I will make judgments in certain categories of cases. Two major categories deserve condemnation in the strongest terms: those who torture other human beings, and those who diligently train to murder individuals who have never threatened them or their country and who, all too often, then do murder them. We correctly condemn those who offer the defense made -- and subsequently rejected -- on behalf of the war criminals of World War II, that they were only "following orders." But those war criminals were not soldiers for the Great and Good United States. For the sake of the latter, most Americans of all political persuasions will enthusiastically accept the Nazi defense. Our national denial is fully comprehensive, and contemptible in the extreme.

There are a few lonely exceptions to this unreflective acceptance of war crimes committed by the United States. Following the dictates of national mythology, those war crimes become "blunders" at worst. To name unflinchingly murder and war crimes for what they are would call into question those necessary articles of national faith that support most Americans' conception of themselves and their country. One notable and heroic exception is Lt. Ehren Watada, whose example I wrote about in, "The Personal Factor: You're Either With the Resistance -- or With the Murderers." When Watada refused to be deployed to Iraq, he understood precisely the nature of his action and what the consequences were likely to be: "My participation would make me party to war crimes." Heroes of this kind are rare in any age. In our time, they are almost unheard of, just as most Americans never knew who Watada was, or know today. As I wrote in "The Personal Factor":

It is the person who says, "No," whom we must seek to understand. It is not melodramatic or engaging in overstatement to say that he or she is our salvation.

On the general subject that concerns us, I strongly recommend to your careful consideration an article by Laurence Vance, "Should Anyone Join the Military?" I made a note of Vance's article when it first appeared in October 2007, and I have been meaning to excerpt it ever since.

You should consult the article in its entirety for Vance's full argument. Here, I will offer only too-brief excerpts. Vance begins his approach to the question in his title from an explicitly Christian perspective, but he immediately broadens that approach to all individuals:

Should anyone join the military?

Here are seven reasons why I think that no one, regardless of his religion or lack of it, should join today’s military.

1. Joining the military may cost you your limbs, your mind, or even your life.


2. Joining the military may have an adverse effect on your family. The breakup of marriages and relationships because of soldiers being deployed to Iraq and elsewhere is epidemic. Multiple duty tours and increased deployment terms are the death knell for stable families.


3. Joining the military does not mean that you will be defending the country. The purpose of the U.S. military should be to defend the United States. Period. Yet, one of the greatest myths ever invented is that the current U.S. military somehow defends our freedoms. First of all, our freedoms are not in danger of being taken away by foreign countries; if they are taken away it will be by our own government. It is not a country making war on us that we need to fear, it is our government making war on the Bill of Rights. And second, how is stationing troops in 150 different regions of the world on hundreds of U.S. military bases defending our freedoms? It is not the purpose of the U.S. military to change regimes, secure the borders of other countries, or spread democracy at gunpoint. The Department of Defense should first and foremost be the Department of Homeland Security.

4. Joining the military means that you will be helping to carry out an evil, reckless, and interventionist U.S. foreign policy. For many, many years now, U.S. foreign policy has resulted in the destabilization and overthrow of governments, the assassination of leaders, the destruction of industry and infrastructure, the backing of military coups, death squads, and drug traffickers, imperialism under the guise of humanitarianism, support for corrupt and tyrannical governments, interference in the elections of other countries, taking sides or intervening in civil wars, engaging in provocative naval actions under the guise of protecting freedom of navigation, thousands of dubious covert actions, the dismissal of civilian casualties as collateral damage, the United States being the arms dealer to the world, and the United States bribing and bullying itself around the world as the world’s policeman, fireman, social worker, and busybody.

5. Joining the military means that you will be expected to unconditionally follow orders.


6. Joining the military means that you will be pressured to make a god out of the military.


7. Joining the military means that you may be put into a position where you will have to kill or be killed. What guarantee do you have that you will always be in a non-combat role? You are responsible for the "enemy" soldiers you kill as they defend their homeland against U.S. aggression. It may soothe your conscience if you attempt to justify your actions by maintaining it is self-defense, but it is hardly self-defense when you travel thousands of miles away to engage in an unnecessary and unjust war. You are responsible for the civilians you kill. Dismissing them as collateral damage doesn’t change the fact that you killed someone who was no threat to you or your country. You are responsible for every soldier and civilian you kill: not Bush, not Cheney, not Rumsfeld, not Gates, not your commanding officers, and not Wolfowitz, Feith, Hadley, Perle, Abrams, Tenet, Powell, Rice, and the other architects of the Iraq War. Bush and company will not be firing a single shot. You will be expected to do their dirty work and live with it the rest of your life. "Thou shalt not kill" is not just a tenet of the Judeo-Christian tradition; it is part of the moral code of every civilization, pagan or religious.

Should anyone join the military? Certainly not today’s military. And until a major change in U.S. foreign policy occurs, not tomorrow’s military either. So be all you can be: Just don’t be it in the U.S. military.

For further details, study the full article. With regard to points five and six identified by Vance, you might want to read another of my essays: "The Obedience Culture, and the Death of the Mind." In that article, I quoted Paul Fussell on the broader significance of the dynamic that is crucial to any military's identity and operation:

Now my point is simple: if you are trained to be uncritical of the military, you can easily go a little further and learn to be uncritical of government and authority, and even to be uncritical of all established and received institutions. The ultimate result is the death of the mind, the transformation of the higher learning and independent scholarship into a cheering section for whatever popular notions and superstitions prevail at the moment. ... I wonder if the habit of unthinking obedience is a good one to instill in young Americans. For one thing, what is clear about the culture of war is that it is necessarily an obedience culture. In armies, as one critic has noticed, where there must be unquestioning obedience, there must necessarily be passive injustice. And not just that--the obedience culture is certain over the long-run to shrivel originality and to constrict thought, to encourage witless adaptation and social dishonesty.

III. The Non-Opposition of the Liberal-Progressives

Vance's article is not the only one from several years ago I've held in reserve. Another piece I noted, in January 2006, was a column by Joel Stein. The perspective Stein offered was a singularly unusual one, highly unusual even among liberals and progressives. My primary objection to the column is its jokey, humorous tone; this subject is one to which such a tone is especially unsuited. (I say that about very few topics; torture is another.) But this approach is part of Stein's writerly persona; we might wish it were otherwise, at least on a few topics, but such a wish is extremely unlikely to find fulfillment.

And despite what I consider to be this very regrettable flaw, Stein is entirely correct on the major substantive points:

I don't support our troops. This is a particularly difficult opinion to have, especially if you are the kind of person who likes to put bumper stickers on his car.


I'm not for the war. And being against the war and saying you support the troops is one of the wussiest positions the pacifists have ever taken -- and they're wussy by definition.


Blindly lending support to our soldiers, I fear, will keep them overseas longer by giving soft acquiescence to the hawks who sent them there -- and who might one day want to send them somewhere else. Trust me, a guy who thought 50.7% was a mandate isn't going to pick up on the subtleties of a parade for just service in an unjust war. He's going to be looking for funnel cake.


After we've decided that we made a mistake, we don't want to blame the soldiers who were ordered to fight. Or even our representatives, who were deceived by false intelligence. And certainly not ourselves, who failed to object to a war we barely understood.

But blaming the president is a little too easy. The truth is that people who pull triggers are ultimately responsible, whether they're following orders or not. An army of people making individual moral choices may be inefficient, but an army of people ignoring their morality is horrifying. ...

I do sympathize with people who joined up to protect our country, especially after 9/11, and were tricked into fighting in Iraq. ...

But when you volunteer for the U.S. military, you pretty much know you're not going to be fending off invasions from Mexico and Canada. So you're willingly signing up to be a fighting tool of American imperialism, for better or worse. Sometimes you get lucky and get to fight ethnic genocide in Kosovo, but other times it's Vietnam.


I'm not advocating that we spit on returning veterans like they did after the Vietnam War, but we shouldn't be celebrating people for doing something we don't think was a good idea. All I'm asking is that we give our returning soldiers what they need: hospitals, pensions, mental health and a safe, immediate return. But, please, no parades.

I note that, despite my agreement with Stein on the subject of supporting "the troops," he also provides confirmation of two of the deepest self-delusions still maintained by almost every liberal and progressive you will encounter, including almost all bloggers. The first is that anyone was "deceived by false intelligence." This is a deeply dangerous canard, one I have examined repeatedly and in detail. You can start with, "Played for Fools Yet Again," and follow the numerous links. The second is the lie about "ethnic genocide in Kosovo." I note again and again that liberals and progressives still repair to this awful lie about Clinton's disastrous interventions (as Clinton himself did in the first instance); I mentioned it just the other day (again, follow the links to much, much more; you might start with this one for the truth about the "genocide" claim in particular).

But about "the troops" and the reverence for them demanded by our culture of obedience, Stein is absolutely right. And note that one of his concerns (his reference to "no parades," for example) is the issue targeted by Chayefsky: the glorification of the military, and everything that follows from that glorification. It was tiresomely predictable that numerous conservative voices would be raised in ferocious denunciation of Stein. You can find many nauseating, self-congratulatory examples of that kind easily enough on your own, if the thrillingly outraged, incoherent, nearly unintelligible grunts of those who never learned to think are of interest to you.

Of more interest is denunciation from another corner, from what styles itself as the "opposition," except on any issue that matters. For example, this:

Wanker of the Day

Joel Stein

Bring on the parades. If our military rank and file have been betrayed by their civilian leadership they deserve our respect doubly.

To discourage any misperception, Atrios waded into the swamp of his own comments section. Many of those comments endeavored mightily to determine if Stein was "serious" in his argument -- this despite the fact that, regardless of Stein's persona as a humorist in large part, his seriousness about this argument was entirely obvious. So much for the contention that liberals as a group demonstrate unusual perceptiveness. Atrios had the answer for this maddeningly complex question:

stein's serious and should be dropped into baghdad along with goldberg and malkin

So much for the claim that liberals as a group exhibit great compassion and tolerance, especially where dissenters to the central claims of liberal orthodoxy are concerned. But Atrios's own vicious denunciation is part of the other major concern revealed in the comments: that "people like Stein" give liberals "a bad name," and allow conservatives to make the argument that liberals are "weak on national security." Never mind genocide in Iraq or those who condemn it as a monumental war crime. Forget all that, and instead contemplate the unspeakable tragedy of liberals being misperceived as weak when it comes to murdering the innocent.

In fact, liberals are unforgivably very far from "weak" in this regard. For many years, most liberals and progressives have revealed a sickening disregard for innocents slaughtered in the pursuit of Empire, an issue I explored just this week. "Exceptionally Awful," indeed.

I discussed some of the reasons for this perspective of most liberals and progressives in "The Obedience Culture, and the Death of the Mind":

The United States is fully militarized in a much deeper sense: it is now militarized psychologically and culturally. The other day, I analyzed how the critical lessons necessary to the achievement of an obedience culture are instilled in teenagers. As I noted there, the most fundamental lesson imparted to the high school students who peacefully protested the Iraq occupation is the necessity of obedience. Obedience, they were instructed, is the absolutely mandatory requirement -- if you wish to have a future, if you wish to pursue your goals, and if you wish to have any life at all.

As Fussell notes, and as I observed in my earlier discussion, you have only to give up a few things: justice, originality, honesty, and an independent mind. ...

Consider the people you know. Take a look at the views offered in our media. Consider the opinions offered on the most prominent and popular blogs, and the courses of action they support -- and the courses of action they reject. And then reflect upon the fact that the great majority of people are more than willing to give up all the values Fussell identifies. And for what? To be popular, to be successful, to wield "influence," to be "respectable."

In terms of its possessing a significant, genuinely vital intellectual and cultural life insofar as our political structures and governing purposes are concerned, the United States is already dead. That we refuse to recognize this does not alter the fact of our demise. Although it may take years or even decades for the rot to set in on a scale that forbids denial, all that remains for those of us who hope for a future of peace and liberty is to perform the autopsy, and to make certain we understand what went so horribly wrong.

Among liberal and progressive bloggers, you can find a very few honorable exceptions to the demanded liberal orthodoxy, which almost always apes the conventional (and conservative) orthodoxy in every significant respect. But those exceptions are very few; that they are, powerfully demonstrates the wide reach of the prevailing view, which inexorably pushes all dissenting views to the most distant margins.

IV. Conclusion

On the occasion of this Memorial Day and on the days to come, all of which promise to be deeply tragic and murderously bloody so long as the goals of the American ruling class remain unchanged, the objects of your reverence must be severely restricted. That reverence must be reserved for innocent lives, and especially for those innocent lives ended, maimed and altered forever by needless, futile, endlessly destructive war, past, present and future.

The historical and contemporary record makes possible only one conclusion: those needless and futile wars are not just "a few" or only "some" of them, and the trail of devastation is not the result of "regrettable misjudgments" for which amends have been made, or are even possible. No, almost every single war ever fought by the United States was entirely unnecessary in terms of any justifiable conception of self-defense; this is unquestionably true of every intervention since World War II. The murders are the result of intended and intentional policy, reached after deliberation and in service to the goals of the ruling class: power, wealth, dominion and control -- and always more power, wealth, dominion and control. To challenge those goals and to begin to alter them, you must challenge every assumption underlying the myths upon which the United States feeds, as it continues to brutalize and kill in vast numbers. One of the key assumptions that you must question and finally reject is the demand for glorification of "the troops."

To conclude, I offer again my words at the end of "Let Us All Become Cowards":

Chayefsky rejects the myths in their totality. He implores us to embrace cowardice. I beg you to follow his advice. You can be certain the cries for war will rise again, if not against Iran, then against North Korea, or in ten years' time against China, or against a country not now in the news, but which will fill the role required by the vast machinery of war. And when those cries overwhelm all facts and make reasonable argument impossible, and when they are amplified once again by an ever-compliant, always docile and obedient media, plead cowardice. If you value the sanctity of a single life, it is the only sane course to take, and the bravest.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Why has Policing in Britain Gone So Mad?

The Barbarians at the Gate: Why has Policing in Britain Gone So Mad?

by George Monbiot / May 20th, 2009

[For complete article reference links, please see source here.]

The principal cause of man’s unhappiness is that he has learnt to stay quietly in his own room. If our needs are not met, if justice is not done, it is because we are not prepared to leave our homes and agitate for change. Blaise Pascal (”the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his own room”) couldn’t have been more wrong.

We do not starve, we are not arbitrarily imprisoned, we may vote, travel and read and write what we wish only because of the political activism of previous generations. Almost all MPs, when pushed, will acknowledge this. Were it not for public protest they wouldn’t be MPs.

Yet, though the people of this country remain as mild and as peaceful as they have ever been, our MPs have introduced a wider range of repressive measures than at any time since the Second World War. A long list of laws — the 1997 Protection from Harassment Act, Terrorism Act 2000, Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, the 2005 Serious Crime and Police Act and many others — treat peaceful protesters as if they are stalkers, vandals, thugs and terrorists. Thousands of harmless, public-spirited people now possess criminal records. This legislation has been enforced by policing which becomes more aggressive and intrusive by the month. The police attacks on the G20 protests (which are about to be challenged by a judicial review launched by Climate Camp) are just the latest expression of this rising state violence. Why is it happening?

Before I try to answer this, let me give you an idea of just how weird policing in Britain has become. A few weeks ago, like everyone in mid-Wales, I received a local policing summary from the Dyfed-Powys force. It contained a section headed Terrorism and Domestic Extremism. “Work undertaken is not solely focused on the threat from international terrorists. Attention has also been paid to the potential threat that domestic extremists and campaigners can pose.” I lodged a freedom of information request to try to discover what this meant. What threat do campaigners pose?

I’ve just been told by the police that they don’t intend to reply within the statutory period, or to tell me when they will.1 I’ll complain of course, and (in 2019 or so) I’ll let you know the result. But Paul Mobbs of the Free Range Network has found what appears to be an explanation. Under the heading “Protect[ing] the country from both terrorism and domestic extremism”, the Dyfed-Powys Police website repeats the line about domestic extremists and campaigners. “In this context, the Force was praised for its management of the slaughter of what was felt to be a sacred animal from the Skanda Vale religious community in Carmarthenshire.” You might remember it: this Hindu community tried to prevent Shambo the bull from being culled by the government after he tested positive for TB. His defenders sought a judicial review and launched a petition. When that failed, they sang and prayed. That’s all.

Mobbs has also found a bulletin circulated among Welsh forces at the end of last year, identifying the “new challenges and changes” the police now face. Under “Environmental” just two are listed: congestion charging and “eco-terrorism”. Eco-terrorism is a charge repeatedly leveled against the environment movement, mostly by fossil fuel lobbyists. But, as far as I can discover, there has not been a single recorded instance of a planned attempt to harm people in the cause of environmental protection in the United Kingdom over the past 30 years or more. So what do the police mean by eco-terrorism? It appears to refer to any environmental action more radical than writing letters to your MP.

The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) now runs three units whose purpose is to tackle another phenomenon it has never defined: domestic extremism. These are the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit (NETCU), the Welsh Extremism and Counter-Terrorism Unit and the National Public Order Intelligence Unit. Because ACPO is not a public body but a private limited company, the three bodies are exempt from freedom of information laws and other kinds of public accountability, even though they are funded by the Home Office and deploy police officers from regional forces. So it’s hard to work out exactly what they do, apart from libeling peaceful protesters. I wrote a column in December about the smears published by NETCU, which described villagers in Oxfordshire peacefully seeking to prevent a power company from filling their local lake with fly ash as a “domestic extremist campaign.” It also sought to smear peace campaigners, Greenpeace and Climate Camp with the same charge. NETCU’s site went down on the day my column was published and hasn’t been restored since. But we have only patchy evidence of what else these three unaccountable bodies have been up to.

They appear to have adopted the role once filled by Special Branch’s counter-subversion campaign, which spied on Labour activists, including Jack Straw and Peter Mandelson (sadly the spooks failed to bump them off while there was still time). But as Paul Mobbs points out in his new report on Britain’s secretive police forces, today the police appear to be motivated not by party political bias, but by hostility towards all views which do not reflect the official consensus.

Mobbs proposes that mainstream politics in Britain cannot respond to realities such as global and national inequality, economic collapse, resource depletion and climate change. Any politics that does not endorse the liberal economic consensus, which challenges the concentration of wealth or power, or which doesn’t accept that growth and consumerism can be sustained indefinitely, is off-limits. Just as the suffragettes were repressed because their ideas — not their actions — presented a threat to the state, the government and the police must suppress a new set of dangerous truths. By treating protesters as domestic extremists, the state marginalizes their concerns: if people are extremists, their views must be extreme. Repression, in a nominal democracy, cannot operate accountably, so the state uses police units, which are exempt from public scrutiny.

I am sure Mobbs is right. There is no place for dissenting views in mainstream politics. I was told recently by a Labour back-bencher — a respected MP untainted by the expenses scandal - that “if the door was open just an inch to new ideas, I would stay on. But it has been slammed shut, so I’m resigning at the next election.” Our grossly unfair electoral system, which responds to the concerns of just a few thousand floating voters and shuts out the minor parties; the vicious crackdown on dissent within parliament by whips and spin doctors; the neoliberalism forced upon governments by corporate power and the Washington Consensus; the terror of the tabloid press: all combine to create a political culture which cannot respond to altered realities without collapsing. What cannot be accommodated must be suppressed.

The police respond as all police forces do; protecting the incasts from the outcasts, keeping the barbarians from the gate. The philosophy of policing has not changed; they just become more violent as the citadel collapses.

1. E-mail received on 6th May 2009. FOI REF: 263/2009.

George Monbiot
is the author of the best selling books, The Age of Consent: A Manifesto for a New World Order and Captive State: the Corporate Takeover of Britain; as well as the investigative travel books Poisoned Arrows, Amazon Watershed and No Man’s Land. He writes a weekly column for the Guardian newspaper (UK). Read other articles by George, or visit George's website.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Canada's Casino Pension Plan Crashes

CPP shrinks $17.2B in fiscal '09
Last Updated: Thursday, May 21, 2009 | 1:46 PM ET Comments26Recommend11
CBC News

The Canada Pension Plan fund lost 18.6 per cent of its value in fiscal 2009, the CPP Investment Board said Thursday.

The fund had $105.5 billion in assets at March 31, the end of its fiscal year, down $17.2 billion from the end of fiscal 2008.

The drop includes investment losses of $23.6 billion, partly offset by CPP contributions of $6.6 billion, the board said in a news release. It manages the pension plan on behalf of 17 million contributors and beneficiaries.

Market turmoil caused the loss, with real estate investments dropping nearly 44 per cent, and Canadian and emerging market equities both down 32 per cent.

"We remain well-positioned to generate the returns necessary to deliver on our mandate of helping to pay pensions for decades and generations to come,” said David Denison, board president and CEO.

The board said CPP contributions of $28 billion are expected to exceed annual benefits paid through to the end of 2019.

If the board can make an average 4.2 per cent real rate of return over the long term, contribution rates will not have to be raised, the chief actuary of Canada has said.

The four-year rate of return through March 31 was 1.42 per cent.

However, the board takes a very long-term view, Denison said, and expects there will be four-year periods when the rate is below the 4.2 per cent needed to hold contribution rates steady.

Since the board began investing a decade ago, the 10-year annualized rate of return is 4.3 per cent.

Every year is important, but the board's strategy "is designed to perform over significantly longer time frames," he said.

Colonel Advises Military Target "Enemy" Media

US Colonel Advocates US 'Military Attacks' on 'Partisan Media'in Essay for Neocon, Pro-Israel Group JINSA

By Jeremy Scahill

May 21, 2009 "RebelReports" -- In the era of embedded media, independent journalists have become the eyes and ears of the world. Without those un-embedded journalists willing to risk their lives to place themselves on the other side of the barrel of the tank or the gun or under the airstrikes, history would be written almost entirely from the vantage point of powerful militaries, or—at the very least—it would be told from the perspective of the troops doing the shooting, rather than the civilians who always pay the highest price.

In the case of the Iraq invasion and occupation, the journalists who have placed themselves in danger most often are local Iraqi journalists. Some 116 Iraqi journalists and media workers have been killed in the line of duty since March 2003. In all, 189 journalists have been killed in Iraq. At least 16 of these journalists were killed by the US military, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The network that has most often found itself under US attack is Al Jazeera. As I wrote a few years ago in The Nation:

The United States bombed its offices in Afghanistan in 2001, shelled the Basra hotel where Al Jazeera journalists were the only guests in April 2003, killed Iraq correspondent Tareq Ayoub a few days later in Baghdad and imprisoned several Al Jazeera reporters (including at Guantánamo), some of whom say they were tortured. In addition to the military attacks, the US-backed Iraqi government banned the network from reporting in Iraq.

A new report for a leading neoconservative group which pushes a belligerent “Israel first” agenda of conquest in the Middle East suggests that in future wars the US should make censorship of media official policy and advocates “military attacks on the partisan media.” (H/T MuzzleWatch) The report for JINSA, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, was authored by retired US Army Colonel Ralph Peters. It appears in JINSA’s “flagship publication,” The Journal of International Security Affairs. “Today, the United States and its allies will never face a lone enemy on the battlefield. There will always be a hostile third party in the fight,” Peters writes, calling the media, “The killers without guns:”

Of course, the media have shaped the outcome of conflicts for centuries, from the European wars of religion through Vietnam. More recently, though, the media have determined the outcomes of conflicts. While journalists and editors ultimately failed to defeat the U.S. government in Iraq, video cameras and biased reporting guaranteed that Hezbollah would survive the 2006 war with Israel and, as of this writing, they appear to have saved Hamas from destruction in Gaza.


Although it seems unthinkable now, future wars may require censorship, news blackouts and, ultimately, military attacks on the partisan media. Perceiving themselves as superior beings, journalists have positioned themselves as protected-species combatants. But freedom of the press stops when its abuse kills our soldiers and strengthens our enemies. Such a view arouses disdain today, but a media establishment that has forgotten any sense of sober patriotism may find that it has become tomorrow’s conventional wisdom.

The point of all this is simple: Win. In warfare, nothing else matters. If you cannot win clean, win dirty. But win. Our victories are ultimately in humanity’s interests, while our failures nourish monsters.

It is, of course, very appropriate that such a despicable battle cry for murdering media workers appears in a JINSA publication. The organization has long boasted an all-star cast of criminal “advisors.” Among them: Dick Cheney, Richard Perle, James Woolsey, John Bolton, Douglas Feith and others. JINSA, along with the Project for a New American Century, was one of the premiere groups in shaping US policy during the Bush years and remains a formidable force with Obama in the White House.

Reading Colonel Peters’s sick and twisted essay reminded me of the report that emerged in late 2005 about an alleged Bush administration plot to bomb Al Jazeera’s international headquarters in Qatar, which I covered for The Nation:

Britain’s Daily Mirror reported that during an April 2004 White House meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, George W. Bush floated the idea of bombing Al Jazeera’s international headquarters in Qatar. This allegation was based on leaked “Top Secret” minutes of the Bush-Blair summit. British Attorney General Lord Goldsmith has activated the Official Secrets Act, threatening any publication that publishes any portion of the memo (he has already brought charges against a former Cabinet staffer and a former parliamentary aide). So while we don’t yet know the contents of the memo, we do know that at the time of Bush’s meeting with Blair, the Administration was in the throes of a very public, high-level temper tantrum directed against Al Jazeera. The meeting took place on April 16, at the peak of the first US siege of Falluja, and Al Jazeera was one of the few news outlets broadcasting from inside the city. Its exclusive footage was being broadcast by every network from CNN to the BBC.

The Falluja offensive, one of the bloodiest assaults of the US occupation, was a turning point. In two weeks that April, thirty marines were killed as local guerrillas resisted US attempts to capture the city. Some 600 Iraqis died, many of them women and children. Al Jazeera broadcast from inside the besieged city, beaming images to the world. On live TV the network gave graphic documentary evidence disproving US denials that it was killing civilians. It was a public relations disaster, and the United States responded by attacking the messenger.

Just a few days before Bush allegedly proposed bombing the network, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Falluja, Ahmed Mansour, reported live on the air, “Last night we were targeted by some tanks, twice…but we escaped. The US wants us out of Falluja, but we will stay.” On April 9 Washington demanded that Al Jazeera leave the city as a condition for a cease-fire. The network refused. Mansour wrote that the next day “American fighter jets fired around our new location, and they bombed the house where we had spent the night before, causing the death of the house owner Mr. Hussein Samir. Due to the serious threats we had to stop broadcasting for few days because every time we tried to broadcast the fighter jets spotted us we became under their fire.”

On April 11 senior military spokesperson Mark Kimmitt declared, “The stations that are showing Americans intentionally killing women and children are not legitimate news sources. That is propaganda, and that is lies.” On April 15 Donald Rumsfeld echoed those remarks in distinctly undiplomatic terms, calling Al Jazeera’s reporting “vicious, inaccurate and inexcusable…. It’s disgraceful what that station is doing.” It was the very next day, according to the Daily Mirror, that Bush told Blair of his plan. “He made clear he wanted to bomb al-Jazeera in Qatar and elsewhere,” a source told the Mirror. “There’s no doubt what Bush wanted to do—and no doubt Blair didn’t want him to do it.”

Lest people think that the views of people like Col. Ralph Peters and the JINSA/PNAC neocons are relics of the past, remember that the Obama administration includes heavy hitters from this world among its ranks, as well as fierce neocon supporters. While they may no longer be literally calling the shots, as they did under Bush/Cheney, their disproportionate influence on US policy endures.

Jeremy Scahill is an award-winning investigative journalist, author of the bestselling book Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. His writing and reporting is available at


Why Canada’s leading climate scientist backed Campbell and Co

Climate of Confusion

Why Canada’s leading climate scientist backed Campbell and Co

Jason Youmans
Monday Magazine

The 2009 provincial election was fraught with confusion for enviro-minded voters. A public schism between environmental leaders in the weeks before the vote—one magnified by the corresponding media circus—left many British Columbians wondering where they should place their support if concern for the province’s environmental future was among their primary considerations.

Gordon Campbell, until recently at least, was not viewed as any great friend of the planet, what with his well-publicized connections to industry leaders in sectors whose contributions to natural stewardship include clearcuts and tailing ponds. So it was with some surprise that voters in the Victoria-Beacon Hill riding received pre-recorded election endorsements from UVic’s Dr. Andrew Weaver—whose name adorns a Nobel Prize for his work with the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change—telling them to vote for the riding’s BC Liberal candidate Dallas Henault.

Monday wanted to know why Weaver lent his support to the election-fighting efforts of a party that continues to crow about the revenues it generates selling licenses for oil and gas exploration in the B.C., hinterlands and has hinted at openness to the idea of allowing offshore oil and gas development below the province’s coastal waters.

For the respected researcher, it all came down to being true to his word—and being damn pissed off at the BC-NDP.

“I think it was my moral and ethical responsibility to point out that, on an issue where I have some expertise—which is the long-term consequences of climate change—that I have said in every public lecture I have ever given, that the single most important thing an individual can do is to support those who are trying to make the right decisions today because they are doing so not for their own political lifetime, but for inter-generational equity and for long term thinking. I would be a
hypocrite not to stand up and live up to my own words.”

Weaver says the Campbell government’s carbon tax—putting an actual price on carbon—does just that and represents a fundamental first step in changing consumption patterns and will be studied as a model by governments around the world. Besides, he adds, issues related to preserving wild salmon stocks and old-growth forests will be moot if the planet continues to warm at it present pace. And finally, his support of the BC Liberals does not mean he or voters should ignore government policies that prove inconsistent with the party’s avowed climate
commitments, he says.

Weaver was approached by politicians looking for his endorsement from both sides of B.C’s political divide prior to the vote.

“I had told Lana Popham who had contacted me, as had some other NDP people, that I was very upset with the party over their ‘Axe the Tax’ campaign,” says Weaver. “I decided to do what I can to ensure that that attitude does not prevail. It was not me being coerced. I was very proactive because I have spent 20 years of my life trying to ensure that we deal with this problem, and when I see cheap political opportunism, I have no choice but to call it what it is.”

Weaver believes the BC-NDP needs a round of soul searching following its recent defeat.

“The NDP, I think, should be ashamed of themselves and they should really take a very close look at themselves,” he says. “Maybe this is the kind of thing we might have seen from a Harper Conservative government, the kind of disingenuous misinformation they brought out against Stephane Dion, but we don’t expect this from the NDP. We expect the NDP to represent the individual person coming out with honest and open discourse and not misleading people for political opportunism.”

Meanwhile, in January 2008 the Campbell Liberals announced they would allocate $94 million to establish the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions at the University of Victoria. Weaver’s Order of British Columbia biography indicates he “played an active role,” in developing and establishing the program.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Ethiopia Back to Mogadishu

Ethiopian troops 'return to Somalia'
Fighting in and around Mogadishu has sparked a civilian exodus [AFP]

Ethiopian troops have reportedly crossed the border into Somalia as fighting there intensifies between government forces and Islamist fighters, witnesses said.

Although the Ethiopian government denied this, witnesses said on Tuesday that they saw troops in Kalabeyr, a town that links southern, central and northern Somalia to the Ethiopian border.

Tabane Abdi Ali, a local resident, said the troops spoke Ethiopia's Amharic language and their vehicles carried Ethiopian number plates.

However, Wahde Belay, an Ethiopian foreign ministry spokesman, denied the reports.

"That information is false. Our troops have not returned to Somalia ... They are on our side of the border," he said.

On Monday Hizbul Islam, a Somali opposition group fighting government forces and African Union peacekeepers, closed in on Mogadishu, Somalia's capital, after seizing Mahaday, a strategically important town north of the capital.

This came a day after al-Shabab, another anti-government group, captured the nearby town of Jowhar.

Government losing ground

The Somali government has been losing ground in recent weeks and now controls little more than the centre of Mogadishu, with the support of African Union (AU)troops.

Hizbul Islam has pledged to fight AU troops until they leave the country and topple Sharif Ahmed, the Somali president.

There have been sporadic reports of Ethiopian troops crossing the border since they pulled out of Somalia at the start of 2009 as part of a peace deal.

Ethiopian troops originally entered the country in 2006 to restore the UN-backed government to power in Mogadishu, which Islamist fighters had seized along with much of southern Somalia.

Somalis flee fighting

The clashes between government forces and rebel fighters have forced thousands of Somalis to flee west across the border into Kenya.

A charity said on Monday that more than 270,000 refugees in Kenya were facing alarming shortages of food, water and shelter in overcrowded camps.

Somalia has not had an effective government since 1991, when Mohamed Siad Barre was overthrown by armed groups who then turned on each other.

Sri Lankan army slaughters LTTE leaders

Sri Lankan army slaughters LTTE leaders
By K. Ratnayake
19 May 2009

Sri Lankan state television announced yesterday that leaders of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), including its chief V. Prabhakaran, had been killed by the army in fighting for the last small piece of LTTE territory. Among the other leaders who died were the LTTE’s intelligence chief Pottu Amman, B. Nadesan and S. Puleedevan.

Military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara announced that Prabhakaran had been killed in a fight in the early hours of Monday and that another 250 LTTE fighters died in the final battle. Another military source told the Associated Press that the LTTE leader had attempted to flee in an armour-plated van accompanied by a bus filled with LTTE fighters. Prabhakaran’s body, which was reportedly badly burned, is to be subjected to DNA testing for identification.

The pro-LTTE Tamilnet has challenged the military’s account accusing the army of carrying out a “determined massacre” of LTTE leaders. An official LTTE statement announced on Sunday that the LTTE would “silence its guns” to prevent the further loss of civilian lives. According to Tamilnet, LTTE political wing leader B. Nadesan had pressed for an evacuation by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Hours later Prabhakaran, Nadesan and other LTTE leaders were dead.

There is no independent account of what took place as the Sri Lankan government and military have banned on journalists, aid workers and other observers from the war zone. However, it cannot be ruled out in the climate of communal hysteria being whipped up by the Colombo government that the army wrecked its vengeance on the remaining LTTE leaders and fighters in part to cover up its war crimes.

Certainly, the latest postings on the Sri Lankan army’s web site contain a certain gruesome gloating. An article entitled “More and more Tiger top rung leaders confirmed decimated” declared the army had “confirmed the death of 11 more senior LTTE terrorists who attempted to escape their destiny”. Another headed “Two more terrorist ‘Masters’ and Jeyam bumped off” announced the killing of two more “senior LTTE terrorists”.

In the wake of the LTTE’s defeat, the political establishment in Colombo has come together to attempt to whip up an artificial atmosphere of jubilation. The main opposition parties—the United National Party and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP)—have congratulated the army and the government over the victory. Army Commander, Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka declared on state television: “The Sri Lankan armed forces have militarily defeated the LTTE and freed the nation from three decades of terror.”

The 26-year conflict was not, however, a “war on terror” but a communal war to establish the political supremacy of Sinhala ruling elite and to divide the working class. The final onslaught over the past week on the remaining few square kilometres held by the LTTE was carried out with criminal disregard for the lives of tens of thousands of Tamil civilians caught in the fighting. As far as the army was concerned, all Tamils were potential enemies.

In the final three days of fighting since last Thursday, tens of thousands of people fled the area. Defence ministry photos showed defenceless people crowded together, seeking to escape with small bundles of belongings on their heads. Video footage revealed scenes of utter devastation—ruined buildings, bombed out vehicles and smouldering weaponry.

In an act of political vindictiveness, three government doctors—Thangamutha Sathiyamoorthy, Thurairaja Varatharajah and V. Shanmugarajah—who maintained a makeshift hospital inside the LTTE’s pocket of territory have been detained and handed over to police. A health ministry spokesman told the Associated Press that the police were questioning the doctors with a view to charging them for disseminating false information.

For weeks, the doctors have been bitterly attacked by the Colombo government and the media for providing details of the hundreds of casualties caused by indiscriminate army shelling. The hospital itself was shelled twice last week. Government spokesmen first denied that the doctors even existed, then accused them of mouthing LTTE propaganda.

The UN, however, insisted that the doctors have provided accurate information. UN humanitarian chief John Holmes yesterday urged the government to treat them properly. “These are people who performed absolutely heroically in the last few weeks and months and deserve every praise and care—not anything else,” he said.

The government and military are clearly intent on covering up all evidence of their war crimes. Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe cynically declared yesterday. “There was no bloodbath as some people feared. Everybody has come out safely and they are being looked after by the government.”

In fact, the opposite is the case. According to a leaked UN report, 7,000 civilians were killed and 16,700 injured in fighting from January 20 to May 7. An estimated 1,000 died, many from army shelling, in the subsequent week and an unknown number in the past four days. Most of the casualties occurred inside the government’s so-called no-fire zone.

Describing the situation last weekend inside the LTTE territory, UNICEF spokesman James Elder declared: “It is hard to think of a worse place on earth to be right now than on that stretch of beach. It is a bloodbath. It is a catastrophic situation. We are seeing a complete disregard for civilian life.” He said that trapped civilians faced “indiscriminate firing from all sides.”

Elder explained: “When you look at the state of the first people to leave three weeks ago, there were malnourished children and women, and people with gunshot wounds and shrapnel injuries, and these people now have been there for another three weeks with next to nothing to eat in terrible conditions. It is going to be a nightmare.”

The ICRC reported yesterday that it had been trying to get to the war zone for nine days without success and expressed concern that the wounded were not being treated. Only those able to walk have left the area. The agency explained that it had been unable to contact 25 of its local staff since Sunday morning.

ICRC director of operations Pierre Krähenbühl said: “Under international humanitarian law, the lives of all those who are not or are no longer fighting must be spared. Wounded and sick people must be collected and cared for immediately, and detainees must be treated humanely. This is all the more urgent since no humanitarian aid has reached those who need it for over a week.”

A UNHRC statement yesterday put the number of civilians to emerge from the no-fire zone over the past few days at 65,000. The total number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) who have been herded into military-controlled detention camps in recent months, is now at least 265,000. The UNHCR warned that the new influx would “put an even greater strain on the transit and IDP sites that are already buckling under the pressure of the existing IDP population.”

The UNHCR complained that the army had “greatly curtailed access” to the centres, which lacked sufficient food and other basics. The agency called for more land to be set aside to put up new shelters to improve conditions in the 42 camps. These detention centres are fenced with razor wire and guarded by armed troops. The internees are not permitted to leave. The sick and wounded are crowded into hospitals and many have not been treated.

The humanitarian disaster in Sri Lanka has resulted in a number of hypocritical statements from the major powers expressing concern about the plight of Tamil civilians. A meeting of European Union foreign ministers yesterday called for an independent war crimes investigation into the killing of civilians in Sri Lanka and “a political solution” to end the conflict.

The US State Department also called for “the government [in Colombo] to engage the Tamils, Sinhalese and other Sri Lankans to create a political arrangement that promotes and protects the rights of all Sri Lankan.” Spokesman Ian Kelly declined to say whether Washington intended to carry out its threat to hold up a $1.9 billion IMF loan for Sri Lanka. The US and Britain have been using the loan as a lever to pressure Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse to accept their demands.

These appeals for a “political solution” are a tacit recognition that the protracted conflict was not a “war on terror” but the product of decades of anti-Tamil discrimination by successive Colombo governments. While the LTTE has been defeated as a fighting force, the US and European powers know that none of the underlying political issues are resolved and fear that communal tensions will lead to ongoing instability in Sri Lanka and also neighbouring India.

Neither the US nor the EU has any intention of pursuing President Rajapakse and his ministers for the war crimes for which they are responsible. For two and a half years, these governments have been silent as Rajapakse resumed the war in mid-2006 in breach of the 2002 ceasefire and gave free rein to the army in its murderous “war on terror”. If concerns about Tamil civilians are now being belatedly raised, it is to pressure the Rajapakse regime and to advance US and European interests in postwar Sri Lanka.

The Socialist Equality Party (SEP) in Sri Lanka warns that this “victory” will be the beginning of a new onslaught on the social position of the working class—Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim alike—as the Rajapakse government confronts the country’s deepening economic crisis. The SEP gives no political support to the LTTE and its communal program of Tamil separatism. However, the ruthlessness with which the military slaughtered LTTE leaders and fighters, along with Tamil civilians, in recent weeks is a sharp warning of the anti-democratic measures that will be used to deal with any opposition from working people to its economic offensive.