Saturday, December 08, 2012

Bailing Out: One Ecowarrior Admits Defeat


The Surrender of an Ecowarrior

by Ray Grigg - Shades of Green

Lau's sense of time moves faster than the slow march of civilizations. Her sense of frustration and futility is explainable and justified from her personal perspective. 

When does heroism become folly? When does struggle become futile? When does surrender become liberation? When is enough, enough? Then what? These are just some of the questions that come streaming into focus from a poignant personal essay by Lynn Lau, a 37 year-old environmentalist who, after 21 years of conscientious effort, has finally decided to abandon her quest to “Save the Planet”. Her story is worth relating and pondering.

Lau's essay recounts when, as a girl of 16, she stopped eating meat as her “personal contribution to reducing global carbon emissions” (Globe and Mail, “An Ecowarrior Retires”, Nov. 6/12). Then her quest for a better environment escalated to writing letters, waving banners at protests, running for political office and donating money. She tried raising chickens, growing her own vegetables, cultivating worms in her compost, and adhering strictly to the principles of the 100-mile diet. She sampled communal living to reduce her ecological footprint. When she married and had a baby, she used flannel diapers so they could be washed and recycled. And she even attempted to become a teacher, assuming her influence on schoolchildren would eventually elevate society's environmental consciousness. Her conscientious efforts covered nearly half of the 50 years since Rachael Carson's Silent Spring first sounded global ecological alarms.

And the result? Lau's answer is a blunt assessment of the impact of her own efforts, together with the collective work of the army of environmental warriors who have been her companions on this quest to “Save the Planet”. Her conclusion is “abject failure”. Ecological deterioration continues largely unabated. The trajectory “over the cliff of our planet's carrying capacity” has accelerated during the five decades of defining, measuring, documenting, predicting and talking, talking, talking.

Lau concedes that all this effort has “raised awareness” but admits to the “embarrassing” revelation that “solving the world's environmental problem is going to involve something much more powerful than a magnanimous sentiment toward Mother Nature, no matter how widely felt.” In her opinion, “reverent feelings” and “useful tidbits about flora and fauna” are not going to meet the challenge.

Besides, she admits, “to be an environmentalist you need to be a misanthrope at heart”. You need to be “individualistic” and “distrustful of authority”, qualities that do not win the support of the general public. She hints that environmentalists have an impractical idealism that matches neither the profound complexity of the problem to be solved nor the fundamental change in attitude that an entire modern culture must undergo.

The other reason environmentalists are not going to be successful, she concludes, is that, “We live in a society that solves massive problems through the co-ordinated efforts of specialists.” Their expertise with satellites measures the general health of the biosphere while their detailed scientific study evaluates its specific health. Their vast digital networks are our communication systems. Politicians, bureaucrats, technocrats, economists and others of many disciplines design, implement and operate the civic machinery that is the essential structure of societies. The business of humanity functions because of specialists. If “raised awareness” is not a part of this process, as she suggests, does this then mean that all the effort of environmentalists has been a waste of time and energy?

In the larger scheme of things, vision always precedes knowledge, just as information always precedes action. The “raised awareness” provided by all the effort of environmentalists is preparation for the work of the specialists. The “abject failure” described by Lau is merely the usual delay that occurs between understanding and behaviour.

This delay presents two questions. The first concerns the height to which “raised awareness” must rise before reaching a critical mass that is powerful enough to translate into action by the specialists. The second concerns people. Specialists are activated by political processes, when the collective will of the community directs the specialists to mobilize and correct an identified problem. We have not yet reached this critical mass of collective will. Confusion and ambivalence have not yet been replaced by conviction and resolution. We are still in at intermediate stage where environmentalists continue to raise awareness but their concerns have not yet translated into significant corrective action.

It's helpful here to think of history rather than individuals. Lau's sense of time moves faster than the slow march of civilizations. Her sense of frustration and futility is explainable and justified from her personal perspective. But the large change that she wants will require a paradigm shift, a wholesale adjustment in the way we collectively see ourselves and relate to the world. Not surprisingly, the momentum of humanity's habitual behaviour doesn't match her expectations. And she may be forgetting precedence. History suggests that humanity rarely acts with foresight.

Yet, despite Lau's judgment of “abject failure”, she still offers hints of optimism. “I don't know what specialists can save us from ourselves,” she confesses, “but I hope they're out there, mixing intelligence and ingenuity with money, getting something accomplished on a really big scale.”

After 21 years of heroic effort she's probably tired, disillusioned by the distance between where we are and where we need to be. Besides, she realizes she can't get off the “sinking ship we're on”. So, as she says, “I'm going to quit bailing for now and take a seat on the deck to enjoy the scenery.” She deserves the rest. And while she's enjoying the scenery, increasing numbers of others will be bailing and raising awareness.

How the Super Rich Do It to You

The 6 Economic Facts of Life in America That Allow the Rich to Run off with Our Wealth

by Les Leopold - Alternet

Do you ever wonder why it takes the average family 47 years to make as much as a hedge fund honcho makes in one hour?

Does it bother you that in 2010, after the crash, the top 25 hedge fund chiefs made as much as 685,000 teachers who educate 13 million children?

Are you worried that cutting government debt means raising your social security eligibility age and cost of living adjustment, so that you have to work longer and receive lower retirement benefits?

Have no fear. The super-rich are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to sell you their economic fabrications. Why so much inequality? They say because the rich have the most important skills and you don't. Why so much unemployment? They say it's because our skimpy unemployment insurance keeps people from looking for work. Why so much government debt? They say it's because you have too many "entitlements." Why the Wall Street crash? They blame poor people for buying homes they couldn't afford.

In short, the super-rich want us to believe that any effort to tax them a bit more or control Wall Street will only kill more jobs and harm our economic well-being. And most of all they don't want us to know the six economics facts of life that explain how the super-rich are running away with our nation's wealth.

1. The super-rich are stealing our fair share of productivity. The U.S. economy is enormously productive. Since 1947, the amount of goods and services we produce per hour of labor has risen by nearly 300 percent. That's because as a nation, we blend together a potent mix of effort, skills, technology and organizational capacities. Our enormous productivity is why we are the richest nation on earth.

Yet, why don't we feel that rich? Why are we told we must tighten our belts?

Until the mid-1970s, the more productivity increased, the higher the real wages of the average working person (after taking out the impact of inflation). As a result, our standard of living doubled in 25 years. But, as you can see from the chart below, after the mid-1970s, productivity (the red line) continued to boom, but the average wage stalled.

Click to enlarge.

It wasn't an accident, or market forces, or an act of God. It was a result of human polices designed by and for the rich. Tax cuts for the rich, financial deregulation, support for moving jobs overseas and union-busting combined to give the super-rich more and more of our economy's productivity gains. In 1970, the top 100 average corporate executive earned $45 for every $1 earned by the average worker. By 2006 it had jumped to a whopping $1,723 to $1. That's the very definition of greed run wild.

Click to enlarge.

Think about this: If the average wage had continued to rise along with productivity as it did after WWII, your real wage today (after inflation) would be twice as high!

We've been had

2. Americans really want a wealth distribution more like Sweden's. Here's a nightmare fact of life the super-rich don't want you to know. Two researchers recently tried to find out just how much economic inequality Americans were comfortable with. Michael Norton of Harvard Business School and Dan Ariely of Duke University conducted a nationwide poll with more than 5,000 respondents to see how Americans saw our current level of equality, and what level they wanted to see. (“Building a Better America – One Wealth Quintile at a Time”)

The results were startling. First, virtually all Americans greatly underestimated the degree of inequality in our economy today. They had no idea how extreme the U.S. wealth distribution really is -- which goes to show you what a good job the super-rich have done in mis-educating us.

Second, when asked to construct an ideal distribution of income, 92 percent of Americans preferred radically more equality – on a par with the social democratic state of Sweden! What’s more, it didn’t matter whether the respondent was a Republican or Democrat, rich or poor, black or white, male or female. Everyone wanted more economic fairness.

Imagine that! Americans, even Republicans who voted for Romney and Ryan, would rather live with the Scandinavian distribution of wealth. Little wonder that the super-rich and their minions do all they can to belittle so-called "Euro-socialism." They don't want us to know that maybe we are hard-wired for fairness instead of the staggering inequality that helps no one but the super-elites.

3. Everything we hear about government debt is wrong. Right now, the biggest target of public mis-education is the government debt debate. And the biggest spender on the mis-education of the American public is billionaire Pete Peterson (who personally has added to the government's debt by dodging hundreds of million in taxes through the 15 percent "carried interest" loophole that blessed his private equity fund). Having no sense of shame, he and other super-elites want to convince us that government spending and debt will ruin us all. Unfortunately, very little of what they claim is true:

China owns our all our debt? Wrong! There's a chilling ad put out by a Peterson front group that features a Chinese lecturer in the year 2030 addressing (with English subtitles) a packed audience of Chinese students about the rise and decline of the U.S. The confident, smirking teacher describes how the U.S. abandoned its principles as it "tried to spend and tax its way out of a great recession" and then crumbled beneath its "crushing debt." He then provides the kicker: "Of course we owned most of their debt...ha ha ha, and now they work us," he says to the raucous laughter of the students. The ad is a complete Peterson lie. China owns only 8 percent of our debt. Most of our debt is actually owned by our own quasi governmental agencies like the Federal Reserve and Social Security.

Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are bankrupting the country? Wrong! The current deficits are the result of two unfunded wars, the Bust tax cuts for the super-rich and the Wall Street crash of the economy that killed 8 million jobs, and led directly to the ensuing bailouts, lost tax revenues and increases in unemployment insurance payments.

We will become like Greece if we don't balance our budget? Wrong! Greece can't print money to pay back its debt because it no longer has its own currency (and neither does Mississippi). The United States does. Also, our economy is more than 50 times larger that Greece's. The chances of the US ending up in a Greek debt crisis are about the same as finding a Martian in your bathtub.

We have to solve the "debt crisis" right now or the economy will crash? Wrong! We have an unemployment crisis, not a debt crisis. Interest rates are at all-time lows because the world wants to park its money here in dollars. In fact, this is the time to borrow more to put our people back to work by rebuilding our crumbling, fossil fuel-dependent infrastructure and educating our children. If our people go back to work, the economy grows, unemployment costs go down, tax revenues rise, and the debt ratio shrinks without paying back one penny of it.

Why so many lies? Because financial elites like Peterson don't want to pay their fair share of taxes. They don't believe in funding a safety net for all Americans. They don't want to the government to help put Americans back to work. Instead, they want an economy by and for the elites.

4. We are under-taxed, not over-taxed. The super-rich want us to believe that taxes are too high and that those taxes are harming job creation and economic growth. It's a fabrication. First of all, taxes for most Americans have declined, according to a recent New York Times analysis:

..... most Americans in 2010 paid far less in total taxes — federal, state and local — than they would have paid 30 years ago. According to an analysis by The New York Times, the combination of all income taxes, sales taxes and property taxes took a smaller share of their income than it took from households with the same inflation-adjusted income in 1980.

Second, we have much lower tax rates that our chief European competitors. For example, Germany, an economic powerhouse, has an average tax rate of 40.6 percent while the U.S. rate is only 26.9 percent. Germany uses that money to rebuild its infrastructure, invest in education and find creative ways to nearly eliminate unemployment.

Third, the super-rich use a sleight of hand to make middle-class taxpayers believe that lower-income people are moochers. Like Mitt Romney, they are found of saying that 47 percent of Americans don't pay income taxes and that the rich pay most of those taxes. But income taxes are but a small portion of the tax bite on lower-income people who pay through payroll tax deductions, sales taxes and property taxes.

Finally, because our taxes are declining, it means that our public services are decaying as well. This creates a downward spiral the super-rich want to encourage: the more services decline, the less we want to pay in taxes, the more services decline. If you're really wealthy you don't care about public services since your life is entombed in private services -- private schools, private airports, private planes, private gated villas and so on.

5. Government jobs are just as good as private sector jobs. Another major con job concerns the attack on public employees. The greedy rich are trying to pit public and private sector workers against each other in large part because public employees still seem to have benefits the rest of us have lost (and they have unions and vote mostly Democratic). Corporate greed demands that we snuff out those benefits so workers won't demand them in the private sector. To further denigrate government, elites want us to believe that a private sector job is somehow more righteous that a public one -- that public employment is sort of like being on the dole because government workers are immune to the rough and tumble of competitive pressures that drives the private sector.

It's another hoax

The truth is that some jobs are better done by government on behalf of the public. We learned almost 200 years ago that it didn't make sense to have competing fire and police departments. We also learned that if we wanted the average person to go to school, we needed public school systems, and not just private ones. Most countries (but not ours) have learned that much of the healthcare system runs better when it's publicly financed and controlled -- that for-profit hospitals and clinics do not provide the best care. In short, every modern economy is a combination of private and public sector jobs that are valuable to our society.

6. Wall Street needs to be shrunk (until we can drown it in a bathtub). The function of finance is simple: moving our savings into productive investments. By doing so, money supposedly moves to where it will do the most good for our economy. This function is considered so simple that most economics textbooks ignore Wall Street entirely.

However, when Wall Street is left to its own devices, it tends to create vast casinos that dramatically increase financial profits at the expense of the real economy. Worse still, as the speculative casinos grow and grow, the economy as a whole is endangered. Wall Street's grew rapidly just before the great crash of 1929 and just before the Great Recession of 2008-'09. It was stock manipulation during the 1920s and it was the housing casino over the last two decades. But in both cases it happened because Wall Street was deregulated and got too damn big. As the chart below shows, Wall Street is gobbling up more and more of our country's profits.

Click to enlarge.

We learned after 1929 that economic stability required severe financial regulation. We sat on Wall Street for nearly 50 years and it worked beautifully, especially between WWII and the 1970s. There were virtually no financial crashes anywhere in the world. But once we deregulated finance again, all hell broke loose as the world suffered through more than 150 smaller financial crashes. Finance grew and grew until it took down the entire U.S. economy. Along the way, Wall Street offered the easiest path to great riches for the few.

The simplest solution is the one hated by the super-rich: a small sales tax on each and every financial transaction involving stocks, bonds and every kind of derivative. By taxing the casino, we shrink its size and make it less dangerous to the rest of the economy. We also create new revenues for our economy, nearly all of it coming from the top fraction of the top 1 percent. No wonder they don't want us to know that.

Is Knowledge Power?

It's not enough for the greedy rich to buy politicians. They also need to buy our minds. That's why they pay for all this misleading economic education. But if we master the basic economic facts of life, we won't get conned. And we will have a much better chance at building a more just and healthy economy.

Les Leopold is the executive director of the Labor Institute and Public Health Institute in New York, and author of The Looting of America: How Wall Street's Game of Fantasy Finance Destroyed Our Jobs, Pensions, and Prosperity—and What We Can Do About It (Chelsea Green, 2009). 

"Freeing" Community Radio: The FCC's Low Power Deception

The Low Power FM Deception

by STEVE DUNIFER - CounterPunch

Despite the well-intentioned efforts of organizations such as Prometheus Radio Project and Free Press to reform the media landscape, these efforts have only played into the hands of the government and the corporations who control it. This is the nature of reform, nothing more than a discussion about how to make the jail cell more comfortable - leaving intact the established relationships of power, control and finance. In the case of Prometheus Radio Project, they have fallen victim to their own historical revisionism, forgetting it was a national campaign of electronic disobedience (the Free Radio Movement) that forced the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to revisit the issue of low power community broadcasting. Hardly a gesture of beneficence from then FCC chairman William Kennard who began his legal career with a 1 year fellowship from the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), assuming the role of assistant general counsel for the NAB shortly thereafter. Moving on from there, he made partner in a DC law firm (i.e. lobbyists) representing corporate communications interests prior to being appointed FCC Chairman by Bill Clinton in 1997. Currently, he is the Managing Director for the Global Telecom and Media Group of the Carlyle Group. It was Bill Clinton who signed the Telecommunications Deregulation Act of 1996, leading to an intense period of further media consolidation and control.

As a whole, the Free Radio Movement was not interested in a few crumbs off the table or an extremely thin slice of the pie — it wanted the entire bakery! The airwaves belonged to the people and the people were going to take them back. Despite its own particular shortcomings, this movement, over a period of less than 10 years, was able to elevate the discussion of media ownership and control to both a national and an international level. Although it did not blossom into a movement until 1993, it owed much to the slightly earlier efforts of radio radicals such as Black Rose, Bill Dugan, Mbanna Kantako, and Tetsuo Kogawi. During this period, normally not well known academic authors and media critics such as Robert McChesney were finally able to find a national platform for their views on media consolidation.

With a history beginning in the early days of radio broadcasting, radio as a tool of popular liberation, struggle and expression has always been the instrument of choice whether as: a voice of US labor in the 1920′s; part of the Resistance during WWII; an expression of the Bolivian tin miners’ struggles in the 1950′s; Radio Rebelde, the voice of the Cuban Revolution; radio ships blasting rock and roll into the British Isles when the BBC refused to play such music; the pirate radio explosion in Europe during the 1970′s and 1980′s; and, Radio Venceremos and Radio Farabundo Marti in El Salvador during the Central American “Dirty Wars” of the 1980′s.

It was this spirit that attracted many individuals and communities to the Free Radio Movement. Although the campaign of electronic civil disobedience did not get really rolling until early 1995, when a Federal Judge refused the FCC’s motion for a preliminary injunction to shut down Free Radio Berkeley, broadcasting stations started taking to air soon after Free Radio Berkeley received widespread publicity in 1993. Unlicensed FM radio broadcast station took to the airwaves across the breadth of the US and divergent areas such as: the traffic medians of Mexico City and Haitian Slums. From the beginning, Free Radio stations operated by communities of color received a rather disproportionate degree of enforcement action by the FCC.

Faced with a radio rebellion, the FCC and National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) responded with the expected heavy hand of repression – the NAB is considered to be the most powerful lobbying group in DC since their member control any given politician’s face time in the media. For the FCC, this consisted of raiding stations and threatening the levying of high fines against anyone who had the temerity to believe that the airwaves belonged to the people. A laughably histrionic PR campaign was waged against the Free Radio Movement by the NAB – one claim being that the proliferation of unlicensed stations would literally cause airplanes to fall from the sky. To many, it seemed possible the NAB might consider the hiring of private mercenaries to deal with the situation if their PR efforts and the enlisting of local radio stations in an overall campaign against Free Radio Stations failed to stem the tide. During the course of their convention in 1998 where they were met with organized demonstrations for Free Speech on the airwaves, an NAB daily trade publication stated that they had originally considered one of the leaders of the Free Radio Movement to be just a minor annoyance, but in light of the protests on their doorstep in Las Vegas, he was now considered to be a major threat.

In fact, this sort of kick-down-the-doors, SWAT team mentality lead to the early retirement of the head of the San Francisco FCC field office during the mid 90′s. He was perceived by his superiors at the FCC as being too much of a loose cannon. (Although, this did not prevent an actual multi-jurisdictional SWAT raid on the home of a Tampa Radio broadcaster, Doug Brewer.) Despite immense efforts and resources, both the FCC and NAB lost the PR battle, as far as the court of public opinion was concerned.

Most likely, cooler heads prevailed at the FCC who told the NAB to back off and allow them to handle the situation in a time tested manner – co-option. Given the trend, it was likely a full-fledged Federal Court victory would be given to the Free Radio Movement – almost achieved in the case against Free Radio Berkeley. A Waterloo moment the FCC sought to avoid at all costs.

Combining co-option with an another trusty tool, divide and conquer, the FCC announced that it would establish a Low Power FM (LPFM) broadcast service, but anyone who had been engaged in unsanctioned acts of broadcasting would not be eligible for a possible future LPFM license. In other words, go off the air now if you ever have any hope obtaining a license at some indeterminate point in the future. To be expected, quite a number of Free Radio folks responded with a resounding “F” you. Other stations went dark.

In typical fashion, the FCC created a rather difficult and costly (at least in terms of what it cost to set up a Free Radio Station – $1000 to $2000) LPFM license application process in 1999. Of course, the NAB got its Congress Critters (the lobbying probably carried out by the FCC Chairman’s former law firm) to immediately to pass a bill ironically titled the The Broadcast Preservation Act of 1999. This bill severely curtailed the number of LPFM stations by imposing upon them harsher technical standards than were applied to non-LPFM stations – thus preventing any stations from being established in urban areas of any size.

Some former broadcasters (labeled pirate by both the FCC and NAB) decided to unfurl the Jolly Roger, sheath the broadswords and spike the cannons, seeking a less confrontational approach by organizing the Prometheus Radio Project to assist communities with the LPFM application process and station building. Unfortunately, they engaged in more than a modicum of historical revisionism in attempt to cast off their past and make themselves more appealing to funding organizations such as the Ford Foundation, who are more than skittish about “illegitimate activities”. These same foundations fund a number of so-called progressive voices, considered by a number of folks to be information gatekeepers.

According to the Prometheus narrative, the entire LPFM service, limited as it was, came about as a result of a reasonable and fair-minded FCC chairman William Kennard seeing the need for such a service. Given his corporate background, pigs were much more likely to fly. Such a narrative was a disservice and an affront to the many people, communities and their supporters and legal groups such as the National Lawyers Guild who had put so much on the line in the cause of Free Speech.

Unprepared to the handle the large number of LPFM applications, it took the FCC an inordinately long time to grant LPFM construction permits and licenses to community organizations who had managed to deal with the entire process. Several large national religious organizations contributed more than their fair share to the confusion by filing hundreds of what amounted to be bogus applications on behalf of local religious groups who had no idea what LPFM was or that someone else had filed in their name.

During this period much of the energy of the Free Radio Movement dissipated due to a number of factors. Engaging in media reform was more appealing and less risky than electronic civil disobedience. The established, progressive left never accepted the Free Radio Movement – concerned about image and offending Democrat Party associated foundations, the source of much of their funding. Being a rather diverse amalgam of anarchists, DIY punks, community activists, libertarians, 60′s radicals and contrarians with very little in the way of funding and resources, the Free Radio Movement was not able to create a more evolved, comprehensive and unified strategy, moving beyond the more immediate aspects of putting FM broadcast stations on the air.

Despite these shortcomings, the Free Radio Movement made a number of significant contributions to the media landscape. One being the idea of sharing media content, specifically MP3 audio, via the internet several years prior to Napster and podcasting becoming household words. Instead of audio cassettes being mailed between radio stations, an audio content sharing website,, was established to facilitate the sharing of radio programs. is still going strong today with thousands of audio programs available for download. This ultimately led to the concept of the open publishing model being applied to all types of media – the basis for the Independent Media Centers. In collaboration with Wired magazine, some the first webcasts of live radio were made from the studios of Free Radio Berkeley. Finally, the first time a webcast had been made of a political protest occurred when live audio from a demonstration outside the Berkeley studios of KPFA in 1999 was relayed by a small FM transmitter supplied by Free Radio Berkeley to a nearby receiver feeding the audio to a computer audio server.

An embryonic LPFM service presented a number of challenges to the Free Radio Movement. Many folks felt this was a small victory but more concessions from the FCC should be demanded. During the commentary phase prior to the official launch of the LPFM broadcast service, the FCC received thousands of letters and such. From the point of view of the Free Radio Movement, if such a service was going to established, it would have to be totally non-commercial, locally owned and controlled and structured in a manner to be as financially and technically feasible as possible for grassroots organizations. Further, with the advent of digital TV (an 80 billion dollar give away of spectrum) looming on the horizon, a demand was made for the ultimate expansion of non-commercial FM broadcasting into VHF TV channels 5 and 6 (to be abandoned when the digital transition to UHF channels took place), thereby adding 60 new FM channels to the broadcast spectrum. Needless to say, this has yet to implemented – the phrase “a snowball’s chance in hell” is appropriate.

A general consensus along with a good deal of grumbling emerged from the Free Radio Movement along the lines of – we will accept LPFM, but the war is not over. At that point, two divergent currents emerged. One being the folks who decided they would keep putting stations on the air no matter what and the other represented by the Prometheus Radio Project. A third wave consisted of people who held a more ecumenical position of maintaining the need for a continuing campaign of electronic civil disobedience while at the same time providing whatever assistance they could to communities who wished to engage in the LPFM process. If a few deserving communities could establish a voice with an LPFM station, then that was all for the greater good of media democracy and Free Speech.

The Prometheus Radio Project did their best to create a firewall between itself and the notion of electronic civil disobedience. Inherently, this is the genesis of the title of this article – the LPFM deception. It was a deception on a number of levels. By distancing themselves from civil disobedience the Prometheus Project deceived itself into thinking it could prevail on the policy level with out the threat of street heat. Instead it found itself in a protracted, decade long legislative struggle to expand the LPFM service. By what amounted to a legislative miracle, they did prevail with the passage of the Community Radio Act of 2010. As a result, the FCC will open the window for new LPFM applications in the Fall of 2013. In addition, in coalition with a number of other organizations, they were able to beat back an effort by the FCC for further media deregulation. Ultimately, their strategy may have worked, but at what cost?

By focusing primarily on the legislative level and achieving legitimacy, another deception has taken place – that being to limit the imaginative possibilities grassroots broadcasting offers. Imagine this, non-union workers are demonstrating outside of a Wall Mart armed with the usual picket signs, leaflet and megaphones. But wait, there are also large signs being held up at key points in the parking lot and entry points on nearby roads. These signs say “Tune to 87.9”. A transmitter has been set up nearby in a van or car to broadcast a continuously looping message at the frequency of 87.9 MHz – an electronic leaflet. Workers who are supportive can listen to the broadcast in the safety of their cars without risking their jobs by being seen by management taking a leaflet directly from the folks on the picket line. Drivers going by can tune to the station to hear about what is happening, hard to hand a physical leaflet to car going by at 35 MPH. Drive by Radio. This is one of many possibilities. Temporary stations pop up at community gatherings such as flea markets, concerts and farmers’ markets. All schools, senior and community centers and libraries should have their own stations as well, an impossibility under the current regime imposed by the FCC.

Another not so obvious self-imposed deception concerns the exact nature of a broadcast license. At the most fundamental level, a license is a business law contract between an individual acting on his own behalf or on the behalf of an organization and the government agency issuing the license. It does not matter whether it is a fishing license, driver’s license or broadcasting license. Signing the license form is an implicit abandonment of normally protected rights and presumption of innocence. Possession of a broadcast license allows the FCC to regulate speech (the 7 dirty words), issue fines without any proof other than their say so and enter the station premises at any time without notice or search warrant. Further, fines and penalties cannot be adjudicated at a local Federal District Court. They must first be appealed through a serpentine process within the FCC itself prior to seeking any other legal remedy. After exhausting all administrative remedies within the FCC, the appeal process is then handed off to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in Washington, DC – arguably one of the most conservative and reactionary court districts in the US. Needless to say, the FCC appeal process is an exhaustive and expensive journey. Individuals operating a Free Radio station without sanction or license retain their basic rights of Free Speech, presumption of innocence and protection from unlawful search and seizure – at least in theory with what is left of the Bill of Rights.

At another level, it is deceptive thinking to assume that what the FCC has offered us is the best that can be achieved. Yes, an additional 800 LPFM stations is a good thing, depending who ends up with licenses. The major issue of who owns the airwaves has yet to be resolved in any meaningful way, however. Leading to the more general question of who is going to control and own the Commons – the people or the corporations? The current chairman of the FCC is putting forth a proposal that would allow one corporation to own 8 radio stations, 2 TV stations, one newspaper and internet access in any given market area. By taking the strategy of electronic civil disobedience off of the table, the FCC, in relative peace, can continue to being a captive protector of the corporations it is supposed to regulate.

One could take the cynical position of radio broadcasting does not matter, being a legacy technology in this new era of internet information and such. But the reality is that if they come for my radio in the morning, they will come for your internet in the afternoon. Free Speech is anathema to the state and the corporations it serves. Remember, it was just recently proposed to give the White House an internet kill switch. Events taking place in the Middle East over the last few years demonstrate what happens when governments feel threatened by popular movements and revolt – they shut down the entire communications network, forcing a return to the use of legacy technologies such as fax, packet radio, dial-up ISPs, etc. Imagine the consequences if folks in those countries had had portable FM transmitters with laptop studios ready to go. All the various forms of communications do not exist in isolation from one another. They must be combined together to form a synergistic whole, as the Independent Media Centers have demonstrated, to achieve their full potential as a tools for personal and collective liberation.

While the potential addition of 800 or so new LPFM stations is to be welcomed, it remains to seen as to whether radical and grassroots communities will find a voice by this means. It is a matter that will require a high degree of organizing and the establishing of coalitions on an unprecedented level. Finally, one must avoid self-deception by not seeing LPFM as a final victory, but rather one battle of a continuing war for not only the broadcast airwaves but the entire Commons.

Stephen Dunifer is the founder of Free Radio Berkeley in Berkeley, California.

Targetting Journalists in Gaza

Journalists targeted in Israeli attack 


 This report contains graphic scenes. Viewer discretion is advised.

Watch full multipart The Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza

Friday, December 07, 2012

Fitting a Frame for Syria Invasion

US tightens military noose around Syria

by Bill Van Auken - WSWS

Amid an escalating drumbeat about a supposed threat that Syria’s government is preparing to use chemical weapons against its own people, Washington has deployed a naval armada off the country’s coast.

The USS Eisenhower carrier strike group was sent through the Suez Canal from its deployment in the Persian Gulf earlier this week and has reportedly arrived in the Mediterranean near Syrian shores. The deployment joins that of an amphibious battle group already present in the eastern Mediterranean, consisting of the USS Iwo Jima, the USS New York and the USS Gunston Hall, which together carry a contingent of 2,500 US Marines.

Between the two naval forces, Washington now has 17 warships, 70 fighter-bombers and 10,000 military personnel within close striking distance of Syria. This is in addition to the Air Force’s 39th Air Base Wing stationed at the Incirlik base in Turkey together with tens of thousands of US ground troops deployed in Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

Citing US military sources, the Times of London reported Wednesday that Washington is ready to launch a military attack on Syria “within days.”

“It won’t require major movement to make action happen,” an unnamed US official told the British newspaper. “The muscle is already there to be flexed.”

Pentagon sources have suggested that an intervention carried out on the pretext of securing Syria’s chemical weapons would require some 75,000 troops.

In a further threat of direct US-NATO intervention, NATO governments are moving ahead to implement Tuesday’s decision of the NATO foreign ministers conference to deploy Patriot missile batteries on Turkey’s border with Syria. Germany’s defense and foreign ministers announced a decision to deploy some 400 German troops on the border. Similar detachments will also be sent by the US and the Netherlands.

While Turkey claimed it needed the missiles to defend itself from a supposed threat that Syria would fire missiles carrying chemical weapons towards its border, the Patriot batteries could also be used to impose a de facto “no-fly zone” over northern Syria, allowing the US-backed “rebels” to consolidate control over territory and creating the conditions for the installation of a Western-backed government on Syrian soil.

US officials have reiterated threats made by President Barack Obama and others in the administration about the government of President Bashar al-Assad crossing a “red line” and facing military action if it uses chemical weapons.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta Thursday described the US administration as “very concerned that as the opposition advances, in particular on Damascus, that the regime might very well consider the use of chemical weapons.”

Panetta referred to unspecified intelligence as the cause of these supposed concerns. Media outlets like the New York Times, CNN and NBC News have trumpeted this “intelligence,” citing unnamed US officials as the sources for vague and often contradictory accounts of developments that have allegedly pointed toward a potential use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Syria’s deputy foreign minister, Faisal Maqdad, charged Thursday that the allegation made by the US and other NATO countries about Syria’s chemical weapons were designed to create a “pretext for any subsequent interventions.”

“Syria stresses again, for the tenth, the hundredth time, that if we had such weapons, they would not be used against its people,” said Maqdad in an interview with Lebanon’s Al Manar television.

Speaking at the NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused Washington and its allies of manufacturing the alleged chemical weapons threat.

“As soon as we get these rumors [about chemical weapons] we engage in constructive demarche; when we get confirmation that nothing of that type is happening we share this information with our American colleagues,” Lavrov told the media.

There are no grounds to grant any credibility to the claims made by Washington and its media servants in presenting a supposedly imminent threat of a chemical weapons attack by the Syrian government as a trigger for war.

To the extent that there is any genuine content to these claims, it was expressed on Wednesday by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who declared that Washington was concerned “that an increasingly desperate Assad regime might turn to chemical weapons, or might lose control of them to one of the many groups that are now operating within Syria.”

The statement raised for the first time the prospect that the real threat in Syria is that the so-called rebels that the US and its allies are backing could overrun Syrian military facilities and capture chemical weapons.

Citing unnamed US officials, CNN reported on Wednesday that the US State Department is preparing to add Jabhat al-Nusra, a Syrian Islamist militia that is playing the leading role in the military campaign against the Assad government, to its list of “Foreign Terrorist Organizations.”

According to recent reports, the Al Qaeda-connected al-Nusra militia has fielded as many as 10,000 fighters, many of them foreign Islamists who have been funneled into Syria. The group is said to be the best-armed element waging the war for regime change and is credited with recently overrunning two Syrian military bases.

Much of the weaponry going to the group has reportedly been sent in by the US-backed monarchy in Qatar. The CIA set up a command-and-control headquarters in southern Turkey earlier this year to coordinate the distribution of these arms and other aid going to the “rebels.”

The designation of the al-Nusra militia as a terrorist organization would no doubt be meant to publicly distance Washington from the Al Qaeda elements upon which it has relied to wage the sectarian civil war to oust Assad. It would amount to a damning self-indictment, however, with the US government effectively making a formal admission that it has been supporting a terrorist war in Syria, replete with suicide bombings and sectarian massacres.

One reason for the pending terrorist designation is to pave the way for the US and its allies to intervene more directly in arming the “rebels,” while claiming to distinguish between “secular-democratic” elements—found largely in luxury hotels in Doha—and Islamist militias, which are bearing the brunt of the US-backed war.

Such a move is likely in conjunction with a “Friends of Syria” meeting to be held in Marrakech, Morocco next week in which Washington may join with its NATO allies in recognizing a new “rebel” front—the National Coalition for the Opposition Forces—which was cobbled together under the direction of the US State Department.

In a related development, the New York Times published a front-page article Thursday that cited unnamed US officials explaining that in last year’s war for regime change in Libya, “the Obama administration secretly gave its blessing to arms shipments to Libyan rebels from Qatar” that resulted in “turning some of these weapons over to Islamic militants.” The newspaper said that evidence had yet to emerge that these weapons were used in last September’s assault on the US consulate and a secret CIA facility in Benghazi that killed the US ambassador and three other Americans.

There is little new in the article, which stresses that the Libyan experience “has taken on new urgency as the administration considers whether to play a direct role in arming rebels in Syria, where weapons are flowing in from Qatar and other countries.”

No doubt underlying these reports and maneuvers are bitter divisions within the US military-intelligence apparatus over the tactics being pursued in the wars for regime change, first in Libya and now in Syria. It would be surprising if elements within the American military did not have serious reservations about a policy founded on the US arming and supporting of forces tied to Al Qaeda.

However, an examination of the trajectory of US policy in the Middle East points to a definite relationship between Washington’s attempts to assert its hegemony by military means and Al Qaeda that is sharply at odds with the official narrative of the “war on terrorism.”

Over the past decade, every regime targeted by US imperialism for military overthrow in the Middle East, from Iraq to Libya to Syria, has been hostile to Al Qaeda and the Islamist agenda. In each of these countries, Islamist and Al Qaeda-linked forces had no real power until the US intervened. The principal target for US militarism, Iran, is a nation whose population is composed predominantly of Shiite Muslims, who have been targeted for attack by Al Qaeda elements in Iraq and elsewhere.

The motivation for military action against these countries has not been to further a “war on terror,” much less to promote democracy or humanitarianism, but rather to assert US hegemony over an oil-rich and strategically vital region of the world.

To the extent that there is a genuine issue regarding chemical weapons in Syria, it is because the Obama administration has backed a “rebel” force that is dominated by Al Qaeda-linked militias into whose hands these weapons may fall, posing the threat that they may be used in terrorist attacks elsewhere.

Tsunami Warning Issued and Lifted After 7.3 Temblor Rocks Fukushima, Miyagi, Iwate Japan

Quake of M7.3 jolts Fukushima, Miyagi, Iwate areas; tsunami warning issued --Tsunami warning issued

by CLG

A tsunami warning has been issued after a 7.3 magnitude earthquake struck off Japan's eastern coast. The epicentre of the quake was about 245km (150 miles) south-east of Kamiashi at a depth of about 36km, the US Geological Survey said.

The quake was felt in the capital Tokyo and a one-metre tsunami is reported to have reached the city of Ishinomaki in Miyagi Prefecture. Miyagi was hit by a devastating earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Distant Wars, Distant Warriors

Cameron and Obama's Hired Thugs Now Butchering Their Way Through Syria

by Patrick Henningsen - 21st Century Wire

What a lark. Directing a war from the comfort of a golf course, or over a warm Cognac at Chequers. While they wine and dine in DC and Westminster, their hired hands work overtime to make rivers of blood in Syria.

Barak Obama and David Cameron, flanked by their ‘diplomats’ Hillary Clinton and William Hague, are all doing their bit to increase the bloodshed in Syria by backing the FSA rebel, al Qaida jihadist terrorists, who are presently working their way through the once stable country like termites eating through a once healthy home.

Blood comes cheap, and with budgets tight at home, western leaders are happy with the current arrangement. Rebel terrorist fighters are being paid between $500 and $2000 per month, and arms are free of charge through various NATO proxies and Gulf States. Their job assignment is a blunt one – to intimidate loyal pro-Syrian citizens, and to butcher thousands of innocent civilians – all in all, inflicting a reign of terror much like that one engineered by Washington in Nicaragua during the 1980′s. This is who Washington, London and Paris are backing in their quest to finally bring Syria under their globalist umbrella.

We have never have witnessed this level of open international criminality and hypocrisy by our puppet leaders in the West.

At least with Iraq, Bush and Blair tried to be creative with their lying by making up unbelievable stories of ”mobile anthrax labs”.

Nine years on, our well-paid elite political prostitutes don’t even bother with fish stories, they just put the weapons in the hands of terrorists, and pay these professional murderers to kill indiscriminately.

All this will eventually bring shame to the citizens of western nations in the long run, much the same way that the Nazis brought shame to the German people (but no shame to the corporations, bankers and elites though – because you can only feel shame if you have a conscious to begin with).

They will keep using the same tried and tested methods, unless they can be stopped by their own electorate.

Here is a video promoting Obama and Cameron’s favoured operatives in Syria…

Falling Again for Empire in Syria


“I Don’t Know Whether to Kiss You…or Waterboard You…”

by Peter Lee - China Matters

A line that coulda shoulda been in Skyfall but wasn’t.

Skyfall was enjoyable, in a grim sort of way. I certainly regretted the shortage of many of the signature Bond tropes—babes, booze, quips, and gadgets-- that enlivened the earlier films, especially in the self-mocking days of Sean Connery and Roger Moore, and made the gaping plot holes more endurable.

The wheels come off Skyfall in the final act, where Bond returns to his ancestral home in Scotland with his bosslady, M, to lure the archvillain, Silva into a trap.

For some reason, although MI6 is aware of this ruse, Bond receives no official backup and has to fight off a helicopterload of henchman relying only on his wits, courage, Dame Judy Dench, and the decrepit but murderous old family retainer and caretaker, Kincade, played by Albert Finney.

In the good/bad old days, Roger Moore would have marched into the old homestead calling peremptorily for Kincade! only to be pleasantly nonplussed by the appearance of the current officeholder, Kincade’s gorgeous granddaughter, wearing nothing but a bikini under an ankle-length fur coat and wielding a shotgun. Then, after some improbable but amusing mayhem, the villain would be subjugated, Felix Leiter would appear to mop up the underlings, and M would be on the helicopter back to London harrumphing, “Where’s Bond?” Cut to Moore luxuriating with the lovely Ms. Kincade in a profusion of mink before a roaring fire, purring, “I’ve always wanted to explore the hills and valleys of my native Scotland…”

Roll credits.

In Skyfall, by contrast, much unconvincing elder-abuse derring-do ensues, culminating in a showdown in the wee kirk in the heather that holds the bones of Bond’s sainted parents. With Bond temporarily detained below the ice of the local tarn, Silva takes by surprise Dench—and Finney, who appears to have chosen this dangerous moment to take a crap in the church outhouse, only to return through a side door adjusting his suspenders just in time to stand there like a gormless idiot while Silva pulls the awkward stunt of putting his own gun to his own head, lining up Dench’s head next to his, and imploring Dench to pull the trigger, end it for them both, and take care of his mommy issues.

This would have been the perfect opportunity for M—already mortally wounded but fortuitously not exhibiting the shock, disorientation, trembling, stammering, and meaningless gibbering usually associated with severe blood loss—either to toss off a devastating quip—“No, after you, I insist!”—while twisting herself out of the way and pulling the trigger, or do the stiff upper lip thing, snuffing Silva at the cost of the remaining four minutes of her life and sacrificing her not-a-damp-eye-in-the-house death scene with JB.

Spoiler alert: Neither of these two things happens.

The key dilemma for any Bond movie is finding a plausible, crowd-pleasing mission for a heartless government assassin that doesn’t make him look like a thug or recreational terrorist or scab taking work away from the CIA and Mossad.

If you read the relentless fluffing in the Guardian (and paid attention to the whole “Queen parachutes into London Olympics with Daniel Craig” deal) you will realize that Skyfall hangs its hat on English patriotism. Early in the movie, in a psychological evaluation, Bond responds to the word “country” in a free association test with a steely “England” (instead of “club” or “Marie Osmond”, or, for that matter, “Scotland” no doubt pissing off the independence enthusiasts that hoped he might have gone all Braveheart). There is also some Churchill and British bulldog-related flagwaving intended to evoke thin red line/all for England emotions.

Mission accomplished; Skyfall, has surpassed Avatar as England’s biggest national grosser. The unintended amusement emerges when we learn exactly what Bond is protecting England from.

The set piece for this conundrum occurs during the superb second act attack on London, in the parliamentary inquiry scene where some officious young MP gets in M’s face and tells her to discontinue MI6’s black ops activities in favor of the modern point and click intel gathering that is all the rage these days.

In her reply, Dame Judy Dench deploys high dudgeon in the service of low seriousness, talking about the big, bad, dangerous world and justifying the 00s with the rhetorical question “How safe do you feel?”
Fortuitously, at this moment, Silva bursts into the hearing room on his mission of mayhem, proving that spry if wrinkly velociraptors like James Bond and even lumbering brontosaurs like M have their uses.

At least, that’s what director Sam Mendes thinks.

The catch, of course, is that Silva is an ex-MI6 agent whom M abandoned to the tender mercies of Chinese intelligence and who subsequently turned rogue.

I would have found it preferable and infinitely more entertaining if Dench had used the occasion of Silva’s irruption to acidly berate the franticly scurrying MPs, “This is exactly what I’m talking about! If we stop employing overtrained psychopaths, who is going to deal with the overtrained psychopaths who leave our employ?”

Which brings me in a roundabout way to Syria, where the anti-Assad powers (including Great Britain, of course, but also including a) the US, Turkey, and the rest of NATO and b) the GCC) will soon have the pleasure of scraping up the mess created by their material and diplomatic support of the insurrectionists.

Undoubtedly one of the options on the table is to send in some kind of armed force, not to deal with Assad (who is now having the sort of difficulties in his capital—high level defections, serial car bombs, loss of control of the airport, etc.—usually associated with regime collapse), but to restore order and support pro-Western opposition forces after Assad falls.

The general disinterest in this development astounds me.

Consider the matter of the NATO plan to position Patriot batteries in Turkey.

Is Assad going to compound his current woes by attacking Turkey? Is there any conceivable explanation for the NATO move other than to reduce the danger of Syrian regime retaliation if Turkey sends in troops?

Consider the matter of the US and UN warnings about chemical weapons. Assad has announced that the regime will not use them against domestic enemies; in any event, given the close quarters mayhem going on in Syrian cities (and the presence of civilian human shields by accident or design), it doesn’t seem a workable option. The most likely use, if any, of chemical weapons, would be against a foreign army.

Consider the matter of the hurried reorganization of SNCORF—an exercise in regime change that replaced the corrupt and conspiratorial Muslim Brotherhood-dominated SNC with a new group of stooges, equally ineffectual and isolated from the domestic opposition, but who presumably will be more responsive to foreign demands once it comes time to erect a useful pro-Western intervention-friendly proxy on the rubble of Assad’s regime and the bodies of the bloody-minded Islamist insurrectionists.

But the whole Day After contingency planning angle—including the explosive possibility that Turkish troops will be marching into an Arab country, thereby reigniting not-so-fond memories of the Ottoman Empire—gets almost no attention in the Western press.

Of course, the collapse of the Ottoman Empire—and the fragmentation of the Arab Middle East into arbitrary, unstable, and largely unrulable fiefdoms—was very much the work of the British Empire during and after World War I.

In large part, the last fifty years of US foreign policy in the Middle East has been dealing with the consequences of Britain’s inability to hold on to its empire from Suez to Tehran or even manage its dissolution.

Maybe there’s a movie out there about England stepping up and shouldering the grim obligation of cleaning up the abortion the Empire midwived in the Middle East.

It certainly isn’t Skyfall.

P.S. Want the Skyfall china bulldog? It's sold out. But Royal Doulton has promised to grunt out another litter by March 2013.

Gaza City: Unspeakable Villains, Speechless Victims

Doctors and Medics Operate Under Fire and Siege in Gaza

by JOSHUA BROLLIER - Voices for Creative Nonviolence

Walid al Nassasra stands next to the former home of his brother near Rafah.

Photo: Johnny Barber.

Gaza City - Dr. Majdi Na’eim worked for eight consecutive days at Al-Shifa Hospital throughout Israel’s “Pillar of Cloud” operation in the Gaza strip. With hundreds of wounded pouring into the emergency room, there was no time for him and many of his colleagues to even leave the hospital. On the final and one of the most brutal days of the assault, Israel targeted Ni’ma tower in Gaza City. Dr. Na’eim was in the emergency room aiding physicians when he learned that one of the arriving casualties was his two year old son, Abdel Rahman Na’eim. Imagine a father’s horror and instant grief. At his son’s wake, Dr. Na’eim told friends and family who were seeking to comfort him, “I’m terribly sorry. I’m unable to talk about anything.”

Gazans in the medical field have been working in unimaginable circumstances for years. During Israel’s Operation Cast Lead, “17 health personnel were killed and 26 injured. In total, 29 ambulances were damaged or destroyed by bombs or crushed by armoured vehicles, while 48 per cent of Gaza’s 122 health facilities were either directly or indirectly hit by shelling.” On November 29th, 2012, Bashar Abu Murad, head of emergency and rescue services at the Palestine Red Crescent, sat down with our delegation and gave us a first-hand account of the January 15th, 2009, attack on Al-Quds hospital. He described the panic as the hospital sustained two white phosphorus blasts from Israeli forces. A massive fire broke out after the first munitions were launched. It took six hours to squelch the fire with only water and sand bags. Workers frantically scrambled to evacuate patients and others who were taking refuge. Meanwhile, a journalist hid under the table. Bashar personally carried three people from the intensive care unit to safety. Though the first fire was eventually stopped, the hospital was rendered useless after a second shelling of white phosphorus.

Our conversation moved to the experiences of this war. Though Al-Quds hospital was not directly attacked this time and the doctors there had not seen evidence of injuries from white phosphorus, they described third degree burns and amputations caused from Israel’s “non-lethal” warning bombs and the many casualties from larger missiles fired from F16s financed by the United States. Bashar spoke of the difficulties of functioning as a medical service in a society under siege. Emergency medical technicians must improvise without basic supplies like gauze for the injured and enough body bags for the intake of casualties. Field medics and emergency medical technicians have limited contact with the hospitals because the blockade restricts them to having only insufficient analogue radios instead of modern digital communications technology. Al-Quds was running off of a gas generator due to the unstable supply of electricity. The hospital had just attained a three month buffer supply of basic medicines, all of which were depleted in the conflict. Abu Murad continued, “It is hard to even think clearly in these conditions. All 1.5 million Gazans are suffering from PTSD from this war.” The doctors were not excluded from his statement.

Later that afternoon, we interviewed two young ambulance drivers, Shadi al Tayef and Aadl el Azbot. We asked them how they summoned the courage to carry on in this work during the recent war after ambulances were targeted in Operation Cast Lead. Shadi replied, “This war was not unfamiliar from the last. In the final days, the streets were empty. Everyone was waiting in their houses. We do it only because we care about saving the people. It is all for the people.” Aadl continues to drive ambulances and is not deterred even though he was previously injured by shrapnel when the Israelis fired upon a site for the second time after the emergency vehicles arrived. According to the drivers, the Israeli military had to be aware of the emergency medics’ presence, not only from the elaborate surveillance systems comprised of drones and hot-air balloons equipped with cameras, but also because they must first coordinate every rescue mission with the Red Cross which is in direct contact with the Israeli military. Ambulance workers have often been denied access to sites until it is too late to save the wounded, only to be fired upon after receiving clearance. “We are still suffering from trauma even up to this moment,” Aadl declared anxiously. The Red Crescent society does offer psychological services to its employees, but it hard to conceive that it can keep up with the level of need. Six ambulances were destroyed and seven workers were injured during the “Pillar of Cloud” conflict. “We must cope with the situation at work, but we are given space to be human and take time at home,” Shadi asserted.

Countries and organizations sympathetic to Gazans working under fire have extended medical and financial solidarity to provide services to the population and rebuild facilities. Around the corner from Al-Quds, we toured a Moroccan military field hospital which was set up just days after the major hostilities ended. Initially, we were somewhat intimidated by the long lines, tight Moroccan security surrounding the compound and the foreboding looking communications director. Wearing opaque sun glasses, full army fatigues and towering over six feet tall, this public relations representative looked more like a commander than a humanitarian worker. We were put at ease when he welcomed us proudly, “Ahlan wa Sahlan,”and readily introduced us to the primary physician.

Dr. Hassan Ismael explained that the Moroccan King ordered the hospital to be equipped with 26 doctors and 15 specialists. As of the 4th of December, the doctors had been working for nine days, seeing over 4000 people and providing over 6000 services for no cost to the patients. Services include treatment for severe burns and broken bones, emergency surgical operations and the dispensing of medicines, many of which were not regularly available in Gaza. The doctors were also happy to provide care for illnesses not related to the war. We met with a refugee, originally from Jaffa, who received injections for severe arthritis. She stood up immediately, waving her arms emphatically. “These doctors are from God… A gift from the God!” she repeats. Nearby, a father from Khan Younis finally found appropriate treatment for his epileptic son.

It was impressive to see the quality and efficiency of what was taking place in the field hospital when the military infrastructure, which is so often used by the majority of countries for nothing more than a tool of domination and destruction, was converted to serve human needs. When much of the world stood by silently and watched, Moroccans also set up a similar medical camp and provided financial aid to rebuild Al-Quds hospital after Operation Cast Lead.

Members from the international emergency delegation to Gaza reached out to their circles to raise around 25,000 dollars for medication to give to Gazan hospitals. Though the doctors and administrators we encountered were grateful for the donations and gestures, they emphasized that the problem that Gaza is facing is primarily political. They desire an end to the siege, occupation, military incursions and the right to self- determination, among other concrete demands. They welcomed support, but they do not want to be reliant upon international aid. They have the training, knowledge and dedication to do their jobs well and to be self-sufficient. Dr. Khalil Abu-Foul, a spokesperson for the Red Crescent, gave us a reality check, “You are our eyes in your country. These rockets are from your country. Just send the facts, it’s enough.”

Sitting with families over the past week, most of whom have “facts on the ground” and stories every degree as distressing as that of Dr. Majdi Na’eim’s tragic loss of his son, I have often felt a complete lack of words. What can one say when visiting the home and farm of Walid and Tawqfiq al Nassasra, Bedouin farmers and brothers living near Rafah? On November 19th at 10 PM, an Israeli war plane targeted Tawqfiq’s tin-roof home. The house was completely destroyed leaving a massive crater in the ground. Tawqfiq’s two teenage sons, Ahmed and Mohamed, were both killed. They did not suffer any bone fractures. The pressure from the bomb caused their internal organs to explode. It is amazing there were any survivors. Tawqfiq is still hospitalized, while his wife was blinded and his young daughter was severely burned. What apologies will matter to the wife or daughter, who are now permanently disfigured and disabled, whose tearful gazes pierced our lifeless cameras and shredded our notebooks full of numbers and statistics? What prospects for recovery or receiving advanced treatment do they have while Gaza is still under siege? I grasped for some condolence. The words are insufficient. We all have a responsibility to take stronger actions so that these tragedies will never happen again.

Joshua Brollier is a co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence. He, Kathy Kelly and Johnny Barber are reporting for CounterPunch from Gaza. He can be reached at

Does a Change of Status Change Anything Else for Palestine?

Palestine’s New Status: A History Rerun or a New Palestinian Strategy

by Ramzy Baroud -

Palestine has become a “non-member state” at the United Nations as of Thursday November 29, 2012.The draft of the UN resolution beckoning what many perceive as a historic moment passed with an overwhelming majority of General Assembly members: 138 votes in favor, nine against and 41 abstentions.

It was accompanied by a passionate speech delivered by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. But decades earlier, a more impressive and animated Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat sought international solidarity as well. The occasion then was also termed ‘historic’.

Empowered by Arab support at the Rabat Arab League summit in October 1974, which bestowed on the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the ever-opaque title "the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people", Arafat was invited to speak at the UN General Assembly. Despite the fervor that accompanied the newly found global solidarity, Arafat's language signaled a departure from what was perceived by Western powers as radical and unrealistic political and territorial ambitions.

In his speech on November 13, Arafat spoke of the growing PLO’s legitimacy that compelled his actions: 

“The PLO has earned its legitimacy because of the sacrifice inherent in its pioneering role and also because of its dedicated leadership of the struggle. It has also been granted this legitimacy by the Palestinian masses .. The PLO has also gained its legitimacy by representing every faction, union or group as well as every Palestinian talent, either in the National Council or in people’s institutions...” 

The list went on, and, despite some reservations, each had a reasonable degree of merit.

The same however can hardly be said of Abbas’ Palestinian Authority (PA), which exists as a result of an ambiguous ‘peace process’ nearly 20-years ago. It has all but completely destroyed the PLO’s once functioning institutions, redefined the Palestinian national project of liberation around a more ‘pragmatic’ – read self-serving – discourse that is largely tailored around self-preservation, absence of financial accountability and a system of political tribalism.

Abbas is no Yasser Arafat. But equality important, the Arafat of 1974 was a slightly different version of an earlier Arafat who was the leader of the revolutionary Fatah party. In 1974, Arafat made a statehood proposal that itself represented a departure from Fatah's own previous commitment to a ‘democratic state on all Palestine’. Arafat's revised demands contained the willingness to settle for "establishing an independent national state on all liberated Palestinian territory". While the difference between both visions may be attributed to a reinterpretation of the Palestinian liberation strategy, history showed that it was much more. 

Since that date and despite much saber-rattling by the US and Israel against Arafat’s ‘terrorism’ and such, the PLO under Arafat’s Fatah leadership underwent a decade-long scrutiny process, where the US placed austere demands in exchange for an American ‘engagement’ of the Palestinian leadership. This itself was the precondition that yielded Oslo and its abysmal consequences.

Arafat was careful to always sugarcoat any of his concessions with a parallel decision that was promoted to Palestinians as a national triumph of some sort. Back then there was no Hamas to stage a major challenge to the PLO’s policies, and Leftist groups within the PLO structure were either politically marginalized by Fatah or had no substantial presences among the Palestinian masses. The field was virtually empty of any real opposition, and Arafat’s credibility was rarely questioned. Even some of his opponents found him sincere, despite their protests against his style and distressing concessions.

The rise of the PLO’s acceptability in international arenas was demonstrated in its admission to the United Nations as a “non-state entity” with an observer status on Nov 22, 1974. The Israeli war and subsequent invasion of Lebanon in 1982 had the declared goal of destroying the PLO and was in fact aimed at stifling the growing legitimacy of the PLO regionally and internationally. Without an actual power base, in this case, Lebanon, Israeli leaders calculated that the PLO would either fully collapse or politically capitulate.

Weakened, but not obliterated, the post-Lebanon War PLO was a different entity than the one which existed prior to 1982. Armed resistance was no longer on the table, at least not in any practical terms. Such change suited some Arab countries just fine. A few years later, Arafat and Fatah were assessing the new reality from headquarters in Tunisia.

The political landscape in Palestine was vastly changing. A popular uprising (Intifada) erupted in 1987 and quite spontaneously a local leadership was being formed throughout the occupied territories. New names of Palestinian intellectuals were emerging. They were community leaders and freedom fighters that mostly organized around a new discourse that was created out of local universities, Israeli prisons and Palestinian streets. It was then that the legend of the Intifada was born with characters such as children with slingshots, mothers battling soldiers, and a massive reservoir of a new type of Palestinian fighter along with fresh language and discourse. Equally important, new movements were appearing from outside the traditional PLO confines. One such movement is Hamas, which has grown in numbers and political relevance in ways once thought impossible.

That reality proved alarming to the US, Israel and of course, the traditional PLO leadership. There were enough vested interests to reach a ‘compromise'. This naturally meant more concessions by the Palestinian leadership in exchange for some symbolic recompense by the Americans. The latter happily floated Israel’s trial balloons so that the Israeli leadership didn't appear weak or compromising. 

Two major events defined that stage of politics in 1988: On Nov 15, the PLO’s National Council (PNC) proclaimed a Palestinian state in exile from Algiers and merely two weeks later, US Ambassador to Tunisia Robert H. Pelletreau Jr., was designated as the sole American liaison whose mission was to establish contacts with the PLO. Despite the US’ declared objection of Arafat’s move, the US was in fact pleased to see that the symbolic declaration was accompanied by major political concessions. The PNC stipulated the establishment of an independent state on Palestinian 'national soil’ and called for the institution of “arrangements for security and peace of all states in the region” through a negotiated settlements at an international peace conference on the basis of UN resolution 242 and 338 and Palestinian national rights.

Although Arafat was repeatedly confronted by even more American demands – that truly never ceased until his alleged murder by poison in Ramallah in 2004 – the deceleration was the real preamble of the Oslo accords some few years later. Since, Palestinians have gained little aside from symbolic victories starting in 1988 when the UNGA “acknowledged” the Algiers proclamation. It then voted to replace the reference to the “Palestine Liberation Organization” with that of “Palestine”. And since then, it has been one symbolic victory after another, exemplified in an officially acknowledged Palestinian flag, postage stamps, a national anthem and the like. 

On the ground, the reality was starkly and disturbingly different: fledgling illegal Jewish settlements became fortified cities and a relatively small settler population now morphed to number over half a million settlers; Jerusalem is completely besieged by settlements, and cut off from the rest of the occupied territories; the Palestinian Authority established in 1994 to guide Palestinians towards independence became a permanent status of a Palestinian leadership that existed as far as Israel would permit it to exist; polarization caused by the corruption of the PA and its security coordination with Israel led to civil strife that divided the Palestinian national project between factional and self-serving agendas.

The support that ‘Palestine’ has received at the United Nations must be heartening, to say the least, for most Palestinians. The overwhelming support, especially by Palestine’s traditional supporters (most of humanity with few exceptions) indicates that the US hegemony, arm twisting and Israeli-US propaganda was of little use after all. However, that should not be misidentified as a real change of course in the behavior of the Palestinian Authority which still lacks legal, political and especially moral legitimacy among Palestinians who are seeking tangible drive towards freedom, not mere symbolic victories.

If Abbas thinks that obtaining a new wording for Palestine status at the UN would provide a needed political theater to justify another 20 years of utter failures, then time is surely to prove him wrong. If the new status, however, is used as a platform for a radically different strategy that would revitalize a haggard political discourse with the sole aim of unifying the ranks of all Palestinians around a new proud national project, then, there is something worth discussing. 

Indeed, it is not the new status that truly matters, but rather how it is interpreted and employed. While history is not exactly promising, the future will have the last word. 

Ramzy Baroud ( is an internationally syndicated columnist and the editor of His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London).

Future Imperfect: Iran on the American Horizon

Mr. President, Tear Down This Wall: Washington’s Iranian Future

by Pepe Escobar - TomDispatch

In Election 2012’s theatre-of-the-absurd “foreign policy” debate, Iran came up no less than 47 times. Despite all the fear, loathing, threats, and lies in that billionaire’s circus of a campaign season, Americans were nonetheless offered virtually nothing substantial about Iran, although its (non-existent) WMDs were relentlessly hawked as the top U.S. national security issue. (The world was, however, astonished to learn from candidate Romney that Syria, not the Persian Gulf, was that country’s “route to the sea.”)

Now, with the campaign Sturm und Drang behind us but the threats still around, the question is: Can Obama 2.0 bridge the gap between current U.S. policy (we don't want war, but there will be war if you try to build a bomb) and Persian optics (we don't want a bomb -- the Supreme Leader said so -- and we want a deal, but only if you grant us some measure of respect)? Don’t forget that a soon-to-be-reelected President Obama signaled in October the tiniest of possible openings toward reconciliation while talking about the “pressure” he was applying to that country, when he spoke of “our policy of... potentially having bilateral discussions with the Iranians to end their nuclear program.”

Tehran won’t, of course, “end” its (legal) nuclear program. As for that “potentially,” it should be a graphic reminder of how the establishment in Washington loathes even the possibility of bilateral negotiations.

Mr. President, Tear Down This Wall

Let’s start with the obvious but important: on entering the Oval Office in January 2009, President Obama inherited a seemingly impregnable three-decade-long “Wall of Mistrust” in Iran-U.S. relations. To his credit, that March he directly addressed all Iranians in a message for Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, calling for an “engagement that is honed and grounded in mutual respect.” He even quoted the thirteenth century Persian poet Sa’adi: “The children of Adam are limbs of one body, which God created from one essence.”

And yet, from the start he was crippled by a set of Washington misconceptions as old as that wall, and by a bipartisan consensus for an aggressive strategy toward Iran that emerged in the George W. Bush years when Congress ponied up $400 million for a set of “covert operations” meant to destabilize that country, including cross-border operations by special forces teams. All of this was already based on the dangers of “the Iranian bomb.”

A September 2008 report by the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington think tank, was typical in assuming a nuclear-weapons-capable Iran as a fact. It was drafted by Michael Rubin from the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, the same AEI that had unashamedly promoted the disastrous 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq. Several future Obama advisers “unanimously approved” the report, including Dennis Ross, former senator Charles Robb, future Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, Anthony Lake, future U.N. ambassador Susan Rice, and Richard Clarke. The 2007 National Intelligence Estimate by all U.S. intelligence agencies stating that Iran had ended any nuclear weapons program in 2003 was bluntly dismissed.

Mirroring the Bush administration’s “all options are on the table” approach (including cyberwar), the report proposed -- what else? -- a military surge in the Persian Gulf, targeting “not only Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, but also its conventional military infrastructure in order to suppress an Iranian response.” In fact, such a surge would indeed begin before George W. Bush left office and only increase in scope in the Obama years.

The crucial point is this: as tens of millions of U.S. voters were choosing Barack Obama in 2008, in part because he was promising to end the war in Iraq, a powerful cross-section of Washington elites was drafting an aggressive blueprint for a future U.S. strategy in the region that stretched from North Africa to Central Asia and that the Pentagon was then still calling the “arc of instability.” And the key plank in this strategy was a program to create the conditions for a military strike against Iran.


With an Obama 2.0 administration soon to be in place, the time to solve the immensely complex Iranian nuclear drama is now. But as Columbia University’s Gary Sick, a key White House adviser on Iran during the Iranian Revolution and the Tehran hostage crisis of 1979-1981, has suggested, nothing will be accomplished if Washington does not start thinking beyond its ever-toughening sanctions program, now practically set in stone as “politically untouchable.”

Sick has proposed a sound path, which means that it has no hope of being adopted in Washington. It would involve private bilateral discussions by credible negotiators for both sides based on a mutually agreed-upon agenda. These would be followed by full-blown negotiations under the existing P5+1 framework (the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council -- U.S., Russia, China, France, and Britain -- plus Germany).

Considering the frantic post-2009 seesawing of sanctions, threats, cyber attacks, military surges, and colossal mutual incomprehension, no one in his right mind would expect a pattern of “mutual respect” to emerge easily out of Washington’s “dual track” approach.

It took Ambassador Hossein Mousavian, research scholar at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and spokesperson for the Iranian nuclear negotiating team from 2003 to 2005, to finally explain it all last August in a single sentence: "The history of Iran's nuclear program suggests that the West is inadvertently pushing Iran toward nuclear weapons." Chas Freeman, former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, agrees, suggesting in a recent speech that Iran now “seems to be reenacting Israel’s clandestine weapons development program of five decades ago, developing capabilities to build and deliver nuclear weapons while denying that it intends actually to do any such thing.”

What makes these developments even more absurd is that a solution to all this madness exists. As I’ve written elsewhere, to satisfy the concerns of the West regarding Iran's 20% stockpile of enriched uranium,

“a mutually acceptable solution for the long term would entail a ‘zero stockpile.’ Under this approach, a joint committee of the P5+1 and Iran would quantify the domestic needs of Iran for use of 20% enriched uranium, and any quantity beyond that amount would be sold in the international market or immediately converted back to an enrichment level of 3.5%. This would ensure that Iran does not possess excess 20% enriched uranium forever, satisfying the international concerns that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons. It would be a face-saving solution for all parties as it would recognize Iran's right to enrichment and would help to negate concerns that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons.”

Time to Hit the New Silk Road(s)

The current U.S. strategy is not exactly a raging success. Economist Djavad Salehi-Esfahani has explained how Tehran’s theocratic rulers continue to successfully manage the worst effects of the sanctions and a national currency in free fall by using the country’s immense oil and natural gas wealth to subsidize essential imports. Which brings us to the bedrock question of this -- or possibly any other -- moment: Will Obama 2.0 finally admit that Washington doesn’t need regime change in Tehran to improve its relationship with that country?

Only with such an admission (to itself, if not the world) are real negotiations leading to a Wall of Mistrust-blasting deal possible. This would undoubtedly include a genuine d├ętente, an acceptance of Iran’s lawful pursuit of a peaceful nuclear program, guarantees that the result would not be a covert weapons project, and a turning away from the possibility of a devastating war in the Persian Gulf and the oil heartlands of the Greater Middle East.

Theoretically, it could also include something else: an Obama “Nixon in China” moment, a dramatic journey or gesture by the U.S. president to decisively break the deadlock. Yet as long as a barrage of furiously misinformed anti-Iran hawks in Washington, in lockstep with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israeli government, deploy a relentless PR offensive burning with incendiary rhetoric, “red lines,” deadlines, and preemptive sabotage of the P5+1 negotiations, such a moment, such a gesture, will remain the faintest of dreams.

And even such an elusive “Obama in Tehran” moment would hardly be the end of the story. It would be more like a salutary twist in the big picture. To understand why, you need to grasp just how crucial Iran’s geopolitical positioning is. After all, in energy and other terms that country is the ultimate crossroads of Eurasia, and so the pivot of the world. Strategically, it straddles the supply lines for a sizeable part of the globe’s oil and gas reserves and is a privileged hub for the distribution of energy to South Asia, Europe, and East Asia at a moment when both China and India are emerging as potential great powers of the twenty-first century.

The urge to control that reality lies at the heart of Washington’s policy in the region, not an Iranian “threat” that pales as soon as the defense spending of the two countries is compared. After all, the U.S. spends nearly a $1 trillion on “defense” annually; Iran, a maximum of $12 billion -- less, that is, than the United Arab Emirates, and only 20% of the total defense expenditures of the six Persian Gulf monarchies grouped in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

Moreover, the Iranian nuclear “threat” would disappear for good if Obama 2.0 ever decided to push for making the Middle East a nuclear-free zone. Iran and the GCC have endorsed the idea in the past. Israel -- a de facto (if never officially acknowledged) nuclear power with an arsenal of up to 300 warheads -- has rejected it.

Yet the big picture goes way beyond the strategic gaming of the U.S. and Israel about Iran’s possible future arsenal. Its position at the ultimate Southwest Asian strategic crossroads will determine much about the future New Great Game in Eurasia -- especially whose version of a modern Silk Road will prevail on the great energy chessboard I call Pipelineistan.

I’ve argued for years that all these intertwined developments must be analyzed together, including Washington’s announced Asian military “pivot” (aka “rebalancing”). That strategy, unveiled in early 2012 by President Obama, was supposed to refocus Washington’s attention away from its two disastrous wars in the Greater Middle East to the Asia-Pacific region with a special focus on containing China. Once again, Iran happens to lie right at the heart of that new policy, given how much of its oil and natural gas heads east to China over waters patrolled by the U.S. Navy.

In other words, it hardly matters that Iran is a rickety regional power run by aging theocrats with an only modestly impressive military. The relationship between Obama 2.0 and Iran is guaranteed to involve the nuclear question, but also (whether acknowledged or not) the global flow of energy across Pipelineistan, and Washington’s future relations with China and the rest of Asia. It will also involve Beijing’s concerted movements to prop up the yuan in relation to the dollar and, at the same time, accelerate the death of the petrodollar. Finally, behind all of the above lies the question of who will dominate Eurasia’s twenty-first century energy version of the old Silk Road.

At the 2012 Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) meeting in Tehran, India, Iran, and Afghanistan pushed for the creation of what might be called a new southern Silk Road -- really a network of roads, railways, and major ports that would connect Iran and its energy wealth ever more closely to Central and South Asia. For Delhi (as for Beijing), getting closer to both Afghanistan and especially Iran is considered crucial to its Eurasian strategy, no matter how much Washington may disapprove.

India is betting on the port of Chabahar in Iran, China on the port of Gwadar in Pakistan (and of course a gas pipeline from there to Iran) as key transshipment hubs linking Central Asia and the Gulf. Both ports will be key pawns in Pipelineistan’s New Great Game, which is quickly slipping from Washington’s control. In both cases, despite its drive to isolate Iran, there is little the Obama administration can do to prevent these and other instances of closer Eurasian integration.

Washington’s grand strategy for a “Greater Central Asia” under its control once centered on Afghanistan and India. Its disastrous Afghan War has, however, blown a hole through its plans; so, too, has its obsession with creating energy routes that bypass Iran (and Russia), which looks increasingly irrational to much of the rest of Eurasia. The only version of a Silk Road that the Obama administration has been able to devise has been war-related: the Northern Distribution Network, a logistical marathon of routes crisscrossing Central Asia for bringing military supplies into Afghanistan without relying fully on an increasingly unreliable Pakistan.

Needless to say, in the long term, Moscow will do anything to prevent a U.S./NATO presence in Central Asia. As with Moscow, so with Beijing, which regards Central Asia as a strategic rearguard area when it comes to its energy supply and a place for economic expansion as well. The two will coordinate their policies aimed at leaving Washington in the lurch through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. That’s also how Beijing plans to channel its solution for eternally war-torn Afghanistan and so secure its long-term investments in mineral and energy exploitation. Ultimately, both Russia and China want post-2014 Afghanistan to be stabilized by the United Nations.

The ancient Silk Road was humanity’s first globalization highway centered on trade. Now, China in particular is pushing for its own ambitious version of a new Silk Road focused on tapping into energy -- oil and natural gas -- from Myanmar to Iran and Russia. It would, in the end, link no less than 17 countries via more than 8,000 kilometers of high-speed rail (on top of the 8,000 kilometers already built inside China). For Washington, this means one thing: an evolving Tehran-Beijing axis bent on ensuring that the U.S. strategic target of isolating Iran and forcing regime change on that country will be ever just out of reach.

Obama in Tehran?

So what remains of the initial Obama drive to reach out to Iran with an “engagement that is honed and grounded in mutual respect”? Not much, it seems.

Blame it -- once again -- on the Pentagon, for which Iran will remain a number one “threat,” a necessary enemy. Blame it on a bipartisan elite in Washington, supported by ranks of pundits and think tanks, who won’t let go of enmity against Iran and fear campaigns about its bomb. And blame it on an Israel still determined to force the U.S. into an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities that it desires. In the meantime, the U.S. military build-up in the Persian Gulf, already at staggering levels, goes on.

Somebody, it seems, has yet to break the news to Washington: we are in an increasingly multipolar world in which Eurasian powers Russia and China, and regional power Iran, simply won’t subscribe to its scenarios. When it comes to the New Silk Road(s) linking South Asia, Central Asia, Southwest Asia, and China, whatever Washington’s dreams may be, they will be shaped and constructed by Eurasian powers, not by the United States.

As for an Obama 2.0 “Nixon in China” moment transplanted to Tehran? Stranger things have happened on this planet. But under the present circumstances, don’t hold your breath.

Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times, an analyst for al-Jazeera and the Russian network RT, and a TomDispatch regular. His latest book is Obama Does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

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Copyright 2012 Pepe Escobar