Saturday, February 09, 2013

Killing Net Neutrality in America

The End to Net Neutrality

by DAVID ROSEN- CounterPunch

Verizon, AT&T and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) are spearheading a three-pronged attack against net neutrality, the open Internet and other open forms of digital communications. If they succeed, telecommunications will be further “deregulated” and, thus, further privatized and monopolized. As a consequence, telecom services will get more expensive, local requirements subordinated to the whims of huge corporate monopolies, competition and innovation will suffer and U.S. world ranking in terms of broadband speed will further decline.

Last year, many within the broad tech, Internet and media communities – as well as ordinary citizens — organized to halt the Hollywood studios and record companies from pushing new “anti-piracy” laws through Congress. The battle against SOPA-PIPA is a model campaign for the next battle against the Communications Trust to preserve net neutrality, an open Internet and America’s very communications future.

One front in the campaign to end net neutrality is being pushed by Verizon. In 2011, it initiated a federal suit against the FCC’s authority to regulate digital communications. Currently, the FCC adheres to what is known as the “Open Internet rules,” an extension of the analog-era 1934 Communications Act. They require all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) — like Verizon – to maintain “net neutrality” standards, thus treating all data equally and barring them from slowing down or blocking websites.

Verizon argues that in the new world of digital communications, it is morphing from an old-fashioned “common carrier” or distribution pipe into a publisher, somehow analogous to CNN or the New York Times. It insists that FCC regulatory practices violate its 1st Amendment right to edit, prioritize or block its customers’ access to Internet content. Many reject this contention.

In 1995, Verizon was created out of the merger of Bell Atlantic (covering New Jersey to Virginia) and the New York Bell operating company, NYNEX (covering Maine through New York). In 2000, it acquired the independent phone company GTE and, in 2005, it acquired MCI, followed in 2008 with the acquisition of another independent, AllTel. The FCC challenge may foreshadow Verizon’s long-term plans to follow in the footsteps of cable companies like Comcast and TimeWarner and integrate content ownership with near-monopoly control over distribution.

The federal D.C. Circuit Court is expected to rule on this sometime soon. It is a pretty conservative and somewhat split Court. In December 2012, it supported the FCC’s regulation of Verizon Wireless over data roaming services. However, in 2010, it ruled that the FCC could not stop Comcast from blocking BitTorrent’s video sharing program. Stay tuned.

A second front is being pushed by AT&T and involves new Congressional legislation that would essentially end all regulatory obligations. AT&T insists, “this [traditional] regulatory experiment will show that conventional public-utility-style regulation is no longer necessary or appropriate in the emerging all-IP ecosystem.” No accountability – problem with your bill, too bad; slow bandwidth speeds, good luck; rural customers, get f**ked; schools, hospitals, police stations, pay up or good-by.

To cover-up this campaign, AT&T’s PR flacks recently promoted a new “$14 Billion” investment plan to upgrade its network. The nation’s leading media outlets — the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Reuters, Fox News, Los Angeles Times, Forbes and Bloomberg – all gave it prominent coverage. None of the established media asked the most obvious question: What have the telecoms, telco and cable, been doing for the last 20 years?

Two decades ago the telecoms promised to build Al Gore’s “Information Superhighway” and were deregulated to do so. Since then, they’ve pocketed an estimated $350 billion to build a post-modern digital telecom system. What do we have today? A 2nd-rate communications system! Further deregulations – toothless regulation – will likely only make things worse.

A third front is taking place outside the Washington beltway. ALEC “model legislation” ending traditional telephone company accountability requirements has been adopted by 23 states. This legislation removes a host of current obligations, including providing basic service filing pricing information, meeting quality-of-service standards, provid basic service, provide Lifeline services or operate as the “carrier of last resort.”

* * *

The telecommunication industry is loosely regulated monopoly. Broadly speaking, wireline phone and cable companies are “natural monopolies,” industries that require high start-up investment costs to build the infrastructure required to offer the services they provide. Such monopolies are traditional in electricity, water and natural gas, regulated by federal, state and/or local entities. As such, these regulated monopolies face limited if any competition.

Once upon a time, AT&T, the old Ma Bell, was a regulated monopoly. In 1984, it was broken up into seven regional monopolies and two long-distance providers. Over the intervening three decades, “deregulation” has led to ever-greater telecom market consolidation. The new Ma Bell duopoly of AT&T and Verizon dominate phone and wireless services.

Cable is “regulated” as another natural monopoly. Local governments regulate or oversee cable services through franchise agreements. Over the last half-century, the cable industry grew into a network of micro-monopolies, with (for the most part) a single operator controlling a local territory. Today, the more local the “regulator,” the less authority it has. Like the telcos, cable companies face little to no meaningful competition.

The phone and cable companies run two different types of natural monopolies, one “open,” the other “closed.” The best way to understand the difference is by considering the TV set top box. Because the telco network is “open,” one can purchase a separate 3rd party Internet set top box from Apple, Roku or Boxee and access Over-The-Top (OTT) TV programming. However, one can’t do the same with cable service that is, in effect, “closed.”

In 1996, the FCC requested the cable industry to “open” the cable box to 3rd parties. It has steadfastly resisted repeated efforts to open its network to 3rd set-top boxes providers. In October 2012, the FCC further strengthened the hand of the cable companies by granting them the right to encrypt broadcast channels or 1st tier programming. It did this ostensibly to block consumers from “stealing” cable programming. (Comcast is working the Boxee on an approved 3rd-party box.)

Way back when, both phone and cable providers used copper wires to run their very different networks. Telcos employed “twisted pair” to carry analog voice signals while cable companies used “coaxial” cable to offer analog television programming; wonderfully appropriate for the analog age, twisted pair didn’t support video and coax didn’t support voice. The telecom world was simple.

Well, those technology days are over, but telecom companies won’t give them up. With digital communications, all data is 1s and 0s. This should, in principle, encourage competition. Yet, it has led to the very opposite, decreased competition. The most revealing example of this process is the decisions by both AT&T and Verizon to cease building out their respective “next-generation” networks, U-Verse and FiOS, respectively. As of December 2012, FiOS had 4.7 million subscribers; as of September 2012, U-Verse had 4.3 million TV and 7.1 million Internet subscribers. More troubling, Verizon has entered into a $4 billion non-compete, “joint marketing agreement,” with TimeWarner and other cable companies.

* * *

The Communications Trust of telcos and cable companies, not unlike the giant media conglomerates, are moving to exercise greater control over telecommunications. Their strategies are noteworthy.

One involves regulating data traffic. Telcos endlessly complain about data bottlenecks and the need to impose restrictive data management methods to better regulate online traffic. This is their oft-repeated claim to end net neutrality. The basic problem with this argument is that, while the telecom network “backbone” is robust, the “last mile” to one’s home is woefully inadequate to support high-speed broadband. And why is it inadequate? This is the question, the industry, the Congress nor the media will ask. Why? The telcos still rely on the old “twisted pair” copper phone line and haven’t really invested in upgrading the last mile.

A second strategy involves gaining greater control over content, its ownership and/or copyright. This was most clearly evident in last year’s battle over SOPA and PIPA, Congressional bills pushed by the Hollywood studios and record labels under the guise of “anti-piracy” legislation to control what streams on the web. Verizon’s challenge to the FCC’s regulatory authority is a comparable effort.

A third approach is for the giant conglomerates to gain greater control over the market through vertical consolidation. A generation ago, AT&T was broken up and now a new “Ma Bell” of AT&T and Verizon is back bigger and badder then ever. Also a generation ago, GE pioneered the model of corporate control over content. It successfully integrated (i) content creation with NBC production, (ii) content distribution through NBC broadcast channels and Owned & Operated stations) and (iii) content reception through GE TV sets.

Today, a new era of vertical integration is taking shape. Cable companies Comcast, TimeWarner and Cablevision have proven that integrating content and distribution fattens the bottom line. The capstone of this new business model is Comcast acquisition of GE’s old content business, NBC-Universal. Similar efforts seem to part of the long-term development strategies of Apple and Google. One can only wonder if AT&T or Verizon will move into the “content” business by acquiring Sony Entertainment or Yahoo, both stumbling companies?

The telecom trust is moving to impose data caps to neutralize net neutrality requirements and to end the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN), the underlying telecom system. These efforts further the consolidation of communications by the monopolies.

Last year people successfully organized to fight SOPA-PIPA legislation. This year, public interest and other groups are organizing to fight effort by telecoms to further privatize telecom service and block all regulatory oversight. The AARP, Rural Strategies and others effectively resisted efforts by telcos in Kentucky and Ohio to raise rates and limit service. Groups in New York and Washington, DC, are organizing to take on the telecom trust at both the state and federal level. Stay tuned.

David Rosen writes the blog, Media Current, for Filmmaker and regularly contributes to CounterPunch, Huffington Post and the Brooklyn Rail, check out; he can be reached at

Frankensalmon Near Approval in US

Are 'Frankenfish' Swimming Your Way? FDA Debates GM Salmon

The seemingly straightforward question, “What are we having for dinner?” may get trickier to answer, due to a revolution in science. Many people call it "frankenfood" when the answer to the dinner question could be, "Salmon with a dash of eel genes"!

This genetic manipulation isn't some pie-in-the-sky notion. In December, the US Food and Drug Administration moved one step closer to approving Massachusetts-based AquaBounty's application to sell genetically modified (GM) salmon. The agency found the company's AquAdvantage GM salmon is safe for human consumption and does not pose a significant risk to the environment. Yet both AquaBounty's product and numerous other GMO foods have raised serious concerns from many different groups.

Technology is moving so far ahead of common understanding that the language of “trans-genes" is not yet in our vocabulary, but it should be. If you ask most Canadians what genetic engineering (GE), or genetic modification mean, most people don’t even understand the question, let alone have an answer.

As a primer for anyone who is bewildered by the idea of designer plants and animals, genetic modification is a technology that scientists use to bring genetic information from different species together in unnatural combinations. Think of it as a Rubik’s cube where you can twist in genes from unrelated species, adding spider genes to a goat, or genes from bacteria and viruses into corn.

Despite the general lack of knowledge about genetically modified organisms (GMO) our Federal government is promoting transgenic technologies using taxpayers’ money. As recently as January 2010, AquaBounty was given $2.9 million for research purposes. The company wants to produce all the GM salmon eggs on Prince Edward Island, and then ship the eggs to Panama for growing-out and processing, for export to North America as “table-ready” fish.

What is the difference between genetically modified (GMO) salmon and natural salmon? AquaBounty's gene-altered salmon are artificially given genes from an eel-like creature called ocean pout and genes from Chinook salmon.

These salmon have been genetically re-structured to produce growth hormones throughout the year and therefore grow unnaturally quickly. The gene-altered salmon are also nutritionally inferior to wild Atlantic salmon. According to data supplied by AquaBounty, gene-modified salmon contain less beneficial omega-3 fatty acids than other farmed salmon.

Of major concern about gene-altered salmon is escape and harm to wild salmon populations. What would happen if GE fish were to escape into the wild? The biotech company created the fish to be sterile, but admits that 5% could be fertile. I wonder whose job it will be to determine if fish are fertile?! Wild Atlantic salmon stock could be cross-contaminated and the already endangered natural species could be severely affected.

Another major issue is the health risks to humans who would eat this product. The health data supplied by the company has been summarized as "sloppy science, with woefully inadequate data, small sample sizes, and questionable practices", according to Senior Scientist Dr. Michael Hansen of the Consumers Union.

AquaBounty's research includes testing seemingly designed to obscure potential problems rather than reveal them. Take for instance the sample sizes. Common sense would tell you that when studying something as revolutionary as the world’s first GMO fish, which steadily pumps out growth hormones, that studies must be very broad and rigorous. Yet the actual sample size of the study to test for changes in morphology of the salmon involved only 12 fish.

Data published in the British newspaper, the Guardian, revealed that the AquaBounty salmon had an elevated level of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), which is a hormone linked to a number of cancers. The FDA, which is also in the process of approving this ‘animal-drug’ (as it is classified), dismissed the fact that there was a high rate of physical deformity among the modified salmon.

Another disturbing fact is that government officials in the US and Canada have not asked the company for data from long-term feeding trials. Without this testing, the public has no way of knowing if this modified salmon is safe to eat. Does that leave humans as the actual test animals? If approved, will the fish be labeled as being genetically modified? Currently there is no mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods in North America.

In the USA, over 300 environmental, consumer, health and animal welfare organizations, including salmon and fishing groups and associations, chefs and restaurants signed joint letters to the FDA requesting that the approval be denied.

Even the farmed fish industry is in opposition. The executive director of the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance told CBC, "The Canadian aquaculture industry does not support the commercial production of transgenic fish for human consumption."

In North America, people are still largely unaware of any threat to the wild natural Atlantic salmon. Those who are aware have planned demonstrations, are writing letters to the editor, talking to their government officials and telling their fish suppliers that they will stop eating salmon entirely if modified salmon goes to market and is unlabeled.

Consumers are not demanding designer fish, nor did they ask for the taxpayers' money to be used to re-create plants and animals into patented name brands. Citizens content with the natural plants and animals are increasingly disturbed that public involvement has been entirely bypassed on a subject as important as the future of the food supply.

The FDA is now accepting public comments on AqauBounty's application until February 25, 2013, after which it will render its decision of whether or not to approve the production and sale of this GM fish.

Take action on AquaBounty's applications through: 


by Heidi Osterman -

Salmon are Sacred and Idle No More March on Victoria Sunday F10

Alex Morton joins Long Walk to Victoria to carry voice of the salmon

by Salmon are Sacred

Hereditary Chief Beau Dick of the Kwakwaka'wakw nation is leading his family and supporters on a long walk that he says is for all Canadians. He left his home in Alert Bay, BC last Saturday and plans to arrive in Victoria by next Sunday, February 10. The 250-kilometer walk is inspired in part by the Idle No More Movement, an ongoing protest movement originating among the Aboriginal peoples in Canada.

Chief Beau Dick has invited Dr. Alexandra Morton, Anissa Reed, and other people of the Salmon Are Sacred movement to join the walk and be a voice for the wild salmon.

“We are honored to have the support from Alexandra Morton and the Get Out Migration team”, Chief Beau Dick said. “We are inspired by her own determination to protect the wild salmon from the corporate industrial feedlots. They carry the voice of the salmon that are so important to us.”

Members of Chief Beau Dick’s family and others are taking turns to carry two traditional copper pieces on the road. When they arrive at the Legislature in Victoria on Sunday, one of those copper pieces will be broken, as a way of representing the government’s broken promises to First Nations and the threats to the environment shared by all Canadians. It is a deeply significant and powerful ceremony as the copper represent life, the ancestors, and more.

“He is doing something for all of Canada”, Shawn Decaire of the Cape Mudge Band explained to a TV crew during a gathering along the walk. “To break a traditional copper means you have broken a line between us. And we feel the government has broken that line with all of Canada.”

This walk, and the social movement behind it, is about the livelihoods of coastal communities – white people and First Nations alike – and about reclaiming power from the corporate lobbyists who have taken over government. It is above all about democracy.

“The land belongs to the next generation and the government belongs to the people. These things have been forgotten. The Occupy movement and Idle No More were sparked by the abuse of power by government”, Alexandra Morton stated recently . “Salmon are central to this as they feed the coast.”

Eddie Garner, an elder from the Sto:lo nation who will be joining the walk to Victoria on Sunday, said: “Big corporations and government have used denial, lies and intimidation to suppress the true consequences of their plans. The power elites within government and corporations are ruthless and aggressive. But clamping down too hard makes people question authority. This is where Beau Dick’s vision becomes something that resonates with people from all backgrounds. It is about waking people up to their own power.”

Meanwhile, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), in yet another betrayal of Canadians in favour of corporations, has announced that it is no longer necessary to combat the deadly ISA salmon disease. In a stunning announcement, the agency declared 240,000 ISA virus-contaminated feedlot salmon to be fit for Canadian consumption, even as the United States refuses to import these diseased fish. The announcement suggests that the CFIA has lost control of the ISA virus, and that Canada’s ongoing pandemic is a repeat of what happened in Chile, when the entire salmon farming industry was destroyed by the ISA disease in 2007. Chile however, unlike British Columbia, does not have wild salmon that could be destroyed.

Rolling Out the New BC ID Card: Meeting Your Governmental Needs on the Internet

Privacy Groups demand halt to BC ID Card roll-out


Public must be consulted about what government is doing with our data before we are forced to use the BC Services Card

VANCOUVER - The BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) and the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (FIPA) are calling for the BC government to put the brakes on the roll out of the BC Services Card.

The BC Services Card is a key part of the BC government’s broader “e-government” strategy – a comprehensive identity management system meant to facilitate online access to government services and the integration of databases that contain citizen’s personal information. Last month, the government announced that the new cards would be launched beginning in mid-February, even though the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner had not finished reviewing the program.

In a statement released today, Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham pointed to a number of shortcomings with the plan, and called for a halt to any further expansion of the Services Card without extensive public consultations on the risks and benefits of data linkage. And while they agree with the pause, the BCCLA and BC FIPA say that it will take more than a public consultation to fix what’s really broken in the government’s plan.

"This government has got to come clean on the card before we are all forced to use it," said Micheal Vonn, BCCLA Policy Director. "British Columbians have been provided almost no real information about it, and the Commissioner herself says she was only given an "abbreviated time for review" of the program.”

The BC government has a terrible track record when it comes to developing data systems. Just last month the Auditor General blasted the Ministry of Justice’s JUSTIN case management system for poor information security and inadequate measures to "ensure that only appropriate users accessed sensitive information." Other recent IT flops include the Integrated Case Management system, which the Representative for Children and Youth called a "colossal failure," and the BCeSIS student data system, which must now be completely replaced at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars.

"The government’s performance on these projects is appalling on almost every level," said Vincent Gogolek, FIPA’s Executive Director. "We need a public inquiry to get to the bottom of this pattern of privacy invasive, security weak and costly IT adventures, certainly before the latest one is launched."

February 8, 2013

Media contacts:
Micheal Vonn, Policy Director
BC Civil Liberties Association

Vincent Gogolek, Executive Director,
B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association

Hassan Diab Threatened with Debtor's Prison Over Canadian Government Costs of His Years-Long Surveillance


“Hundred for Hassan” Campaign - Call for Support and Solidarity

by Hassan Diab Support Committee

To many people, "debtors' prison" sounds like an archaic institution, something out of a novel by Charles Dickens. But the idea of imprisoning people who can't pay what they “owe” is alive and well in the case of Dr. Hassan Diab. Hassan will be put in prison if he does not pay his “creditor” – in this case, the Canadian government – $2,000 per month for the cost of his own surveillance.

We invite you to be one of 100 people – A HUNDRED FOR HASSAN – who care about due process and the presumption of innocence and oppose abusive extradition proceedings, by pledging $20 per month or more to share the cost of Dr. Diab’s oppressive burden. This is our way of taking a public stand and saying, “This is just wrong.”

We also invite you to add your name to the Hundred for Hassan statement at:

To join the HUNDRED FOR HASSAN campaign, send an email to indicating how much you wish to pledge monthly, for how many months, and whether you would like to add your name to the above statement. We will respond and give you details on how to make your monthly contribution.

Visit the Hundred-for-Hassan web page at:


Hassan Diab is a Canadian citizen who enjoyed a peaceful and productive life as a university professor in Ottawa. Suddenly, in November 2008, he was thrown in prison after France requested his extradition in connection with a bombing that took place in Paris in 1980. Even though the “evidence” is very flimsy and problematic, Canada initiated extradition proceedings. After spending several months in prison, Hassan was released in April 2009 under very intrusive bail conditions that include a curfew, supervision when he leaves his home, and the obligation to wear an electronic/GPS tracking device around his ankle. Worse, he must pay for the device himself – $2,000 per month – or return to prison.

The whole case against Dr. Diab rests on secret intelligence from unknown sources that is likely to have been the product of torture. In the years since Hassan’s arrest, France has not been able to produce any court-worthy evidence linking him to the crime. On the contrary, it was revealed during the extradition proceedings that prosecutors have suppressed evidence showing Hassan’s innocence, including the fact that Hassan’s palm and finger prints do not match those of the suspect.

The only so-called “evidence” linking Dr. Diab to the crime is a deeply flawed handwriting analysis report by a French handwriting analyst that claims similarity between Hassan’s handwriting and five words on a hotel registration card in 1980. Three internationally renowned handwriting experts (from Canada, Britain, and the United States) have denounced this handwriting report as deeply flawed, biased, and wholly unreliable.

In June 2012, after a lengthy hearing, a Canadian extradition judge stated that the handwriting report is “convoluted”, “very confusing”, and “with conclusions that are suspect”. He said that the case against Dr. Diab is “weak” and “the prospects of conviction in the context of a fair trial seem unlikely”, but he said that his interpretation of Canada’s extradition law left him no choice but to commit Dr. Diab for extradition.

If Hassan’s case were tried in Canada as a criminal case, it would be thrown out of court. However, Canada’s extradition law is very accommodating to foreign governments, and human rights and due process are trampled upon in the name of extradition.

In a Kafkaesque twist, several months after the judge’s decision, France revealed that Dr. Diab has not been charged in France and there are no plans to bring him to trial. Rather, France wants him only for investigation purposes. If extradited, Hassan will languish in prison, possibly for years, while the French authorities continue a 32-year old investigation of a crime that he did not commit.

Despite the new revelation that Hassan is only wanted for questioning, the Minister of Justice signed an order, in April 2012, surrendering Hassan for extradition.

Case Update

Diab’s lawyers have launched an appeal of the Canadian judge’s committal decision and the Justice Minister’s surrender order.

In appealing the judge’s decision, Dr. Diab’s lawyers make the case that the judge should not have committed Hassan to extradition based on the French handwriting report that the judge himself found to be “convoluted”, “very confusing”, and “with conclusions that are suspect”.  To counter the Crown attorneys’ argument that France might have a “unique” handwriting methodology that differs from that used in Canada, Britain, and the United States, Hassan’s lawyers submitted evidence from two additional internationally renowned European handwriting experts who are knowledgeable about handwriting comparison analysis in French courts. These two experts attested that handwriting examination has a universally accepted methodology, and that there is no “unique” handwriting examination system in France. They also confirmed that the French handwriting report against Dr. Diab is methodologically flawed and its conclusions are unreliable.

In appealing the Justice Minister’s surrender order, Dr. Diab’s lawyers argue that the Minister lacks jurisdiction to order Dr. Diab’s surrender because Hassan has not been charged in France. Rather, France wants him only for investigation purposes. Dr. Diab’s lawyers also argue that surrendering Dr. Diab on the basis of secret and unsourced intelligence that may be the product of torture violates Dr. Diab’s rights under the Canadian Charter.

The appeal may be heard in the Summer or Fall of 2013. Meanwhile, Dr. Diab and his family must continue to raise funds every month to pay $2,000 for his own surveillance. This is on top of the fact that Hassan has been unemployed since the unfair termination of his University employment in 2009.

Hassan Diab Support Committee


Koch's Driving Keystone to Cut Chavez Out of Energy Loop

Koch Brothers Driving Keystone XL Pipeline from Canada to Cut Venezuelan Oil


 Greg Palast is a BBC investigative reporter and author of Vultures' Picnic. Palast turned his skills to journalism after two decades as a top investigator of corporate fraud. Palast directed the U.S. governmentʼs largest racketeering case in history– winning a $4.3 billion jury award. He also conducted the investigation of fraud charges in the Exxon Valdez grounding.

Greg Palast: Koch brothers could save two billion dollars a year if they can replace Venezuelan heavy crude with Canadian tar sands - one of the dirtiest sources of carbon emissions on the planet  

Friday, February 08, 2013

End IS Nigh: Bejoining the Apocalyptic

Rationally Speaking, We Are All Apocalyptic Now

by Robert Jensen - Truthout

We are all apocalyptic now, or at least we should be, if we are rational.

Because "apocalyptic" is typically associated with religious fanaticism and death cults - things that rational people tend not to take literally or seriously - this claim requires some explanation.

First, a definition: The term is most commonly used in reference to the Book of Revelation, also known as The Apocalypse of John, the final book of the Christian New Testament. The two terms are synonymous in their original meaning - "revelation" from Latin and "apocalypse" from Greek, both mean a lifting of the veil, a disclosure of something that had been hidden.
Second, the formulation "we are all (fill in the blank) now" has long been a way to assert that certain ideas have become the norm: "We are all Keynesians now," said Milton Friedman in 1965, for instance, or to express solidarity: "We are all New Yorkers now," said many non-New Yorkers after 9/11.

Rather than claiming divine inspiration, we can come to greater clarity about the desperate state of the ecosphere and its human inhabitants through evidence and reason. It is time for a calm, measured apocalypticism that recognizes that the ecosphere sets norms, which we have ignored for too long, and that we need to develop a new sense of solidarity among humans and with the larger living world.

So, speaking apocalyptically need not leave us stuck in a corner with the folks predicting lakes of fire, rivers of blood or bodies lifted up to the heavens. Instead, it can focus our attention on ecological realities and on the unjust and unsustainable human systems that have brought us to this point.

This "revelation" is simple: We've built a world based on the assumption that we will have endless energy to subsidize endless economic expansion, which was supposed to magically produce justice. That world is over, both in reality and in dreams. Either we begin to build a different world, or there will be no world capable of sustaining a large-scale human presence.

If that's not clear: When we take seriously what physics, chemistry and biology tell us about the health of the living world on which we depend, we all should be thinking apocalyptically. Look at any crucial measure of the ecosphere - groundwater depletion; topsoil loss; chemical contamination; increased toxicity in our own bodies; the number and size of "dead zones" in the oceans, accelerating extinction of species and reduction of biodiversity; and the ultimate game-changer of climate disruption - and ask a simple question: Where we are heading? Scientists these days are talking about tipping points and planetary boundaries, about how human activity is pushing the planet beyond its limits.

If we look honestly at the state of the world, it is difficult not to conclude that we are in end times of sorts - not the end of the physical world, but the end of the First-World way of living and the end of the systems on which that life is based.

I know that invoking the terms "apocalypse" and "end times" triggers many people's experiences with arrogant religious people who preach about deliverance fantasies. My message is not about a rapture that can be predicted, but about ruptures in the ecological and social fabrics that are underway and accelerating.

No matter how carefully I craft these statements - no matter how often I deny a claim to special gifts of prognostication, no matter now clearly I reject supernatural explanations or solutions - many people refuse to take this analysis seriously. Some people joke about "Mr. Doom and Gloom." Others suggest that such talk is no different than conspiracy theorists' ramblings about how international bankers, secret cells of communists, or crypto-fascists are using the United Nations to create a one-world government.

Even the most measured and careful talk of the coming dramatic change in the place of humans on Earth leads to accusations that one is unnecessarily alarmist, probably paranoid and certainly irrelevant in serious discussions about social and ecological issues. In the United States, people expect talk of the future to be upbeat, based on those assumptions of endless expansion and perpetual progress, or at least maintenance of our "way of life." Even those who realize the danger of such fanciful thinking are hesitant to speak too bluntly, out of fear of seeming crazy.

A calm apocalypticism is not crazy, but rather can help us confront honestly the crises of our time and strategize constructively about possible responses. We can struggle to understand - to the best of our ability, without succumbing to magical thinking - the state of the ecosphere and the impediments to sensible action in our societies.

This struggle to understand led me to write a short polemic, We Are All Apocalyptic Now: On the Responsibilities of Teaching, Preaching, Reporting, Writing, and Speaking Out. The book's message is simple: The big systems that structure our world, especially capitalism and the extractive economy, are incompatible with social justice and ecological sustainability. Those who have opportunities to write and speak out have a responsibility to articulate the radical analysis necessary to understand the problems and begin to identify solutions.

To think apocalyptically is not to give up on ourselves, but only to give up on the arrogant stories - religious and secular - that we modern humans have been telling about ourselves. Our hope for a decent future - indeed, any hope for even the idea of a future - depends on our ability to tell stories not of how humans have ruled the world, but how we can live in the world.

We are all apocalyptic now, whether we like it or not.

Robert Jensen  is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center in Austin, one of the partners in the community center 5604 Manor. He is the author of "All My Bones Shake: Seeking a Progressive Path to the Prophetic Voice," (Soft Skull Press, 2009); "Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity" (South End Press, 2007); "The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism and White Privilege" (City Lights, 2005); "Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity" (City Lights, 2004); and "Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream" (Peter Lang, 2002). Jensen can be reached at
Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission of the author. 

Panic and Rage Grip LA Police Department

Bitter Vengeance in La-La Land

by Peter Lee - China Matters

The Los Angeles Times delivers the news, and the post-modernist goods.

First, Zero Dark Thirty

We’re in the final weeks of Oscar voting, which means that the Los Angeles Times—home paper for most members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences—is able to fatten its bottom line by running ads touting the various Oscar contenders.

On Thursdays, there’s the insert “The Envelope”—a supplement that runs during awards season and features puff pieces and human interest stories on the various nominees nestled in ads placed by the movie studios to tout their Oscar offerings.

Chastain looking vulnerable and sorrowful

However, Hollywood types don’t necessarily have the 7-days-a-week subscription. Many of them only take the weekend package, which includes the crucial Friday Calendar (i.e. Arts and Entertainment) section. Crucial because most movies open on Fridays, and that’s when the reviews run.

Since we’re in the Oscar home stretch, the Friday Calendar section is stuffed with full-page and three quarter page color ads for the Best Picture Oscar nominees.

On my way past the ads to the comics, I was brought up short by the full page ad for Zero Dark Thirty.

As should be evident to anyone with a forebrain, the studio and creative team is fighting back mightily against the “torture lover” stigma that has apparently crimped ZDT’s Best Picture hopes.

Kathryn Bigelow got to make her case in a cover story for Time; screenwriter Mark Boal took to the LA Times and almost every other media outlet to advertise his abhorrence of torture and his concerns about the McCarthyesque tinge to Senate calls to investigate the movie’s depiction of torture in the hunt for bin Laden (a hot button issue for Hollywood, with its bitter and shameful memories of the House Un-American Activities Committees investigation of movie industry leftists in the 1950s, and the subsequent blacklist).

Anyway, for the Friday Calendar section, somebody decided to pull out all the stops in order to wrench the focus away from the people getting tortured in the movie to the…Passion of Maya!

Under the usual tombstone listing of critic encomia, there is a black and white picture of Jessica Chastain looking vulnerable and sorrowful…with an apparently Photo-shopped tear trickling down her cheek…all the way to her jawline!

Available only in the print edition! Because, as you can see from the left, the tear, though clearly visible on the full page ad, doesn’t lend itself well to digital reproduction. Accident…or design?

Now, one of the best and bracing parts of the movie, to my mind, was that Jessica Chastain didn’t cry. She was an unapologetic, vengeful, vindictive hardass when it came to hunting bin Laden, with an intensity that was unsettling, unnerving, and rang true to my idea of the kind of person who is 110% gungho on a career of hunting humans on behalf of the government.

Well, if this desperate piece of overreach sinks ZDT’s Oscar campaign, I guess this ad might be remembered as The Bitter Tear of Kathryn Bigelow.

The other fascinating story in today’s print edition of the LA Times could be found on the front page, albeit obscured by a full-page wrap promoting Argo for Best Picture.

The Southland (as we refer to Los Angeles and its environs stretching south to Orange County and west to the Nevada border) is transfixed by the horrific story of a killing rampage allegedly carried out by one Christopher Dorner.

Dorner is African-American, so for the purposes of the yahoos who populate Yahoo! News comments, I suppose he can be slotted into the Scary Black Man With a Gun or SBMWAG category.

Since he served in the military, we could amend the classification to SBMWAG And Advanced Weapons Training or SMBWAGAAWT.

However, the most interesting and disturbing part of the story is that Dorner is an ex-cop allegedly targeting cops and their families because of his resentment at getting kicked off the force four years ago. Make it SBMWAGAAWT Shooting Cops or SBMWAGAAWTSC.

He allegedly shot the daughter of the police captain who defended him (unsuccessfully) at his hearing, and her husband, as they sat in a parked car in Irvine down in Orange County. Then he apparently turned up almost a hundred miles away and wounded two cops and killed another in two shootouts in Riverside County.

The response of the police has been an understandable combination of anger and fear as they have combed the southern reaches of the state searching for Dorner, and stationed units to protect the families of officers possibly targeted.

Dorner appears to have abandoned his vehicle—a blue Nissan Titan pickup truck—and is testing his survivalist skills in the hilly terrain of the national forest around Big Bear Lake.

The pickup truck was featured in a couple paragraphs deep in the story:

As news of the shootings crackled across police radios before dawn, the hunt for Dorner’s Nissan Titan pickup truck intensified.

About 5:20 a.m. in Torrance, two women were delivering the Los Angeles Times from their blue pickup when LAPD officers spotted the truck.

The police apparently mistook the truck for Dorner’s and riddled it with bullets. The women, a mother and daughter team, were rushed to a hospital.

The mother, who is in her 70s, was shot in the shoulder. She was listed in stable condition. Her daughter was injured by shattered glass.

Hours later, the truck — perforated by numerous bullet holes — sat on the street near the home of an LAPD official who was cited in the manifesto and was under LAPD protection. Beck said the department was investigating the circumstances of the shooting.
“Tragically, we believe this is a case of mistaken identity,” he said. …
About 25 minutes after that shooting, Torrance police opened fire after spotting another truck similar to Dorner’s at Flagler Lane and Beryl Street. No one was reported hurt.
“If I had a [Nissan] Titan, I would park it today,” said Walter Howe, 60, at a Torrance Starbucks.

The LA Times thoughtfully declined to splash photos of the bullet-riddled pickup truck driven by its delivery folk on the front page.

But the actions of the Torrance Police Department, motivated by an undefinable combination of murderous panic and homicidal rage, brought home the idea that, in certain circumstances, the veneer of control, competence, and fairness that reconciles many Americans to the activities of the security state can be stripped away in a matter of hours.

Peter Lee edits China Matters. He can be reached at: chinamatters (at) prlee. org.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Paving the Way in Palestine


Bulldozers and More Talks: Paving the Road for a New Status Quo

by Ramzy Baroud

Despite much saber-rattling by Israel and the US administration and hyped-up expectations by the Palestinian leadership, the recognition of Palestine as a non-member observer state late last year is on its way to becoming yet another footnote in protracted conflict that has endured for 65 years.

Only hours after the announcement, Israel had its own announcement to make: the building of a new illegal settlement (according to international law, all of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are illegal) in Palestinian land. The area is called the E-1 zone by Israel. A couple of European countries responded with greater exasperation than usual, but soon moved on to other seemingly more pressing issues. The US called Israel’s spiteful move “counterproductive”, but soon neglected the matter. Palestinian activists who tried to counter Israel’s illegal activities by pitching tents in areas marked by Israel for construction were violently removed.

Mahmoud Abbas’ PA is at a standstill in the same pitiful possession. It continues to serve as a buffer between occupied, ethnically cleansed and rightfully angry Palestinians. Its existence would not have been possible without Israel’s consent. Fiery speeches, press releases and conferences aside, the PA has affectively sub-contracted part of the Israeli occupation – as in maintaining Israel’s security for example –in exchange for perks for those affiliated with the PA. Examples of these privileges include easier access to business contracts or jobs. It is this symbiosis that constantly averts any serious confrontation between Israel and the PA. Both parties would lose if the status quo were seriously hampered. For Israel to reclaim its responsibilities as an Occupying Power under international law would be a huge financial and political burden that could impede its settlement constructions in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. In fact, Israel is able to maintain all the benefits of military occupation without much cost. For Abbas, shutting down the PA conglomerate would mean financial and political suicide for the branch of Fatah politicians affiliated with him.

Thus some clever manifestation of the ‘peace process’ show must be found that would help both parties save face – Israel to finish its settlement plans and the PA to sustain its enterprise.

In fact, Israel’s decision on Jan 30 to release $100 million of taxes and tariffs collected on behalf of the PA (which it has withheld, some say robbed to punish the PA for its UN bid) was possibly a prelude to the resumption of the same ongoing peace charade. According to an Israeli official cited by AFP, the transfer was a “measure to ease the financial crisis faced by the Palestinians,” ironically manufactured by Israel. That gesture of ‘good will’ is likely to be harnessed into some ‘confidence building measures’ in hopes of resetting the entire ‘peace process’ game.

An explosion of mass rallies and protests in the West Bank – where most people didn’t receive a full pay check for months – will neither serve Israeli nor PA interests. Scenes of desperate Palestinian men and women marching throughout the territories would be a threat to both Abbas’ already drained political apparatus and Israel’s horribly disfigured image.

But there is evidence that there is more to the funds than averting a crisis likely to harm the interest of both parties. According to a statement made by Muhammad Sbeih, secretary-general for Palestinian affairs in the Arab League to Jordan’s al-Ghad newspaper on Jan 29 (and cited by Ma’an news agency on Jan 30) an Arab League delegation is soon to head to the US to ‘move forward the Middle East peace process’. “The proposal includes specific Arab ideas about Israel’s withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian territory, the establishment of a Palestinian state, guaranteed security for both sides.”

Moreover, on Feb 1, London-based Arabic newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi reported that the UK hosted a conference for Palestinian and Israeli officials to discuss ways of resuming the so-called peace process. According to the paper, quoting Palestinian sources, the Israeli delegation was headed by Yossi Belin – known for his role in laying the foundation for the Oslo accords. The head of the Palestinian delegation, prominent Fatah member Muhammad Ishtayya, denied that any negotiations took place. Instead, he told Ma’an the conference - held at the Wilton Park Resort in southern England – “only discussed the Middle East crisis.”

Meanwhile, attempts at wooing Hamas continue. Several Arabic newspapers, including Asharq Al-Awsat reported that the head of Hamas Politburo Khaled Meshaal had indicated in a recent meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan that Hamas is prepared to the accept the so-called ‘two-state solution.’ Meshaal allegedly asked the Jordanian King to relay the message to US President Barack Obama. However, a Hamas statement denied the reports as baseless.

Israeli politics regarding the occupation and illegal settlement constructions is unlikely to change after the recent elections. Despite media enthusiasm over the rise of Israel’s left and center, there are no indications that the new configuration is likely to sway Israel away from its war driven and occupation-based policies.

However, Israel looks at political events folding in Washington with anticipation and slight worry. The US administration is assembling its team for Barack Obama’s second term in office and of course, Israeli interests are high on the agenda. Two nominations in particular were of much interest to Israel, that of John Kerry, as secretary of state and Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense.

A Voice of America website commentary poised a mundane question in relations to Kerry’s new post on Feb 1: “Can Secretary of State John Kerry Bring Peace to Israel and the Palestinians?” Israeli media however, is far more candid in these matters. “Is John Kerry good for Israel?” asked Yedioth Ahronot on its English website. “He may be a friend of Israel but is not considered the standard bearer for Israel at the Senate,” the Israeli paper quoted a state official. If Kerry is not good enough, one can only imagine the seething anger of neoconservatives, pro-Israeli pundits and other officials at the nomination of Hagel. Hagel's past statements on Israel and Iran are neither those of “standard bearers for Israel” or anything that resembles a commitment of any sort.

In an all-day confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill, Republican lawmakers bounced on the former Nebraska Republican senator regarding everything he said or failed to say (or sign) over issues of vital interest to Israel. It was frankly difficult to decipher whether Sen. John McCain and Sen. Ted Cruz were more concerned about genuine US security issues or Israel’s ‘security’ masquerading as vital US national interests.

The oddity of the matter is that Hagel is chastised for criticizing the immense power wielded by the pro-Israel lobby in Washington – as if his allegations were mere fantasies – despite the fact that the major campaign that was unleashed against his nomination is by the very forces he rightfully criticized.

Few expect a major departure from old policies once the new Washington team is fully assembled, although others underscore a slow but steady shift in US priorities in the Middle East. Even if one adheres to a more optimistic reading of the supposed ‘shift’ underway in Washington, one cannot expect a major change to Israel’s behavior in the occupied territories. Without a real mechanism to force an Israeli change – which must be accompanied by taming the disproportionately powerful lobby – little on the ground is likely to change.

While American politicians were busy defending their pro-Israeli credentials in Senate hearings, other hearings of great importance, yet, thus far of little consequences, were being concluded elsewhere.

An inquiry set up by the Human Rights Council (HRC) last March and brazenly boycotted by Israel, had finally concluded that Israeli settlements are a violation of international law, calling on Israel to “immediately” withdraw all of its settlers from East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The UN investigators concluded that Israel's continued violations of the 1949 Geneva Conventions could amount to war crimes “that fall under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC),” Al Jazeera reported. “Israel must (...) cease all settlement activities without preconditions (and) must immediately initiate a process of withdrawal of all settlers”, the report, released, Jan 31, read in part.

The latest findings by the well-respected international organization once more accentuate the real parameters of any genuine peace. The kind of peace that of course doesn’t suit Israeli, hence US interests.

Until Palestinians find an alternative to this sorry trio of Israel-US-PA peacemakers, all they can expect is more of the same – a secret conference here, another settlement there and an occasional Israeli handout, oddly enough, taken from Palestinians’ own tax money.

- 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).

Have our war lovers learned anything?

American Foreign Policy – Have our war lovers learned anything?

by William Blum – The Anti-Empire Report #113

Over the past four decades, of all the reasons people over a certain age have given for their becoming radicalized against US foreign policy, the Vietnam War has easily been the one most often cited. And I myself am the best example of this that you could find. I sometimes think that if the war lovers who run the United States had known of this in advance they might have had serious second thoughts about starting that great historical folly and war crime.

At other times, however, I have the thought that our dear war lovers have had 40 years to take this lesson to heart, and during this time what did they do? They did Salvador and Nicaragua, and Angola and Grenada. They did Panama and Yugoslavia, and Afghanistan and Iraq. And in 2012 American President Barack Obama saw fit to declare that the Vietnam War was “one of the most extraordinary stories of bravery and integrity in the annals of military history”. 1

So, have they learned nothing? When it comes to following international law, is the United States like a failed state? The Somalia of international law? Well, if they were perfectly frank, the war lovers would insist that the purpose of all these interventions, and many others like them, was to keep the atheists out of power – the non-believers in America’s god-given right to rule the world – or to at least make life as difficult as possible for them. And thus the interventions were successful; nothing to apologize for; even the Vietnam War achieved its purpose of preventing that country from becoming a good development option for Asia, a socialist alternative to the capitalist model; precisely the same reason for Washington’s endless hostility toward Cuba in Latin America; and Cuba has indeed inspired numerous atheists and their alternatives for a better world.

If they were even more honest, the war lovers might quote George Kennan, the legendary State Department strategist, who wrote prophetically during the Cold War: “Were the Soviet Union to sink tomorrow under the waters of the ocean, the American military-industrial establishment would have to go on, substantially unchanged, until some other adversary could be invented. Anything else would be an unacceptable shock to the American economy.” 2

But after all these years, after decades of American militarism – though not a day passes without some government official or media acolyte expressing his admiration and gratitude for “our brave boys” – cracks in the American edifice can be seen. Some of the war lovers, and their TV groupies would have us believe that they have actually learned something. One of the first was Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in February 2011: “In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should have his head examined.”

And here’s former Secretary of State George Shultz speaking before the prestigious Council of Foreign Relations last month (January 29): “Iraq and Afghanistan cannot be the template for how we go about” dealing with threats of terrorism.

A few days earlier the very establishment and conservative Economist magazine declared: “The best-intentioned foreign intervention is bound to bog its armies down in endless wars fighting invisible enemies to help ungrateful locals.”

However, none of these people are in power. And does history offer any example of a highly militaristic power – without extreme coercion – seeing the error of its ways? One of my readers, who prefers to remain anonymous, wrote to me recently:

It is my opinion that the German and Japanese people only relinquished their imperial culture and mindset when they were bombed back to the stone age at the end of WWII. Something similar is the only cure for the same pathology that now is embedded into the very social fabric of the USA. The USA is a full-blown pathological society now. There is no other cure. No amount of articles on the Internet pointing out the hypocrisies or war crimes will do it.

So, while the United States is busy building bases and anti-missile sites in Europe, Asia and Africa, deploying space-based and other hi-tech weapons systems, trying to surround Russia, China, Iran and any other atheist that threatens American world hegemony, and firing drone missiles all over the Middle East I’m busy playing games on the Internet. What can I say? In theory at least, there is another force besides the terrible bombing mentioned above that can stop the American empire, and that is the American people. I’ll continue trying to educate them. Too bad I won’t live long enough to see the glorious transformation.
Afghanistan: Manufacturing the American Legacy

“A decade ago, playing music could get you maimed in Afghanistan. Today, a youth ensemble is traveling to the Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall. And it even includes girls.”

Thus reads the sub-heading of a Washington Post story of February 3 about an orchestra of 48 Afghan young people who attended music school in a country where the Taliban have tried to silence both women and music. “The Afghan Youth Orchestra is more than a development project,” the article informs us. For “the school’s many international donors, it serves as a powerful symbol of successful reconstruction in Afghanistan. And by performing in Washington and New York, the seats of U.S. political and financial power, the orchestra hopes to showcase what a decade of investment has achieved.”

“The U.S. State Department, the World Bank, the Carnegie Corporation and Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education have invested heavily in the tour. The U.S. Embassy in Kabul awarded nearly $350,000 footing most of the estimated $500,000 cost. For international donors, the tour symbolizes progress in a country crippled by war.”

The State Department’s director of communications and public diplomacy for Afghanistan and Pakistan declares: “We wanted Americans to understand the difference their tax dollars have made in building a better future for young people, which translates into reduced threats from extremists in the region.”

“There’s a lot of weariness in the U.S. and cynicism about Afghanistan,” said William Harvey, an American violinist who teaches at the school, where 35 of 141 students are girls. “What are we doing there? What can be achieved? These concerts answer those questions in the strongest way possible: Cooperation between Afghanistan and the international community has made it safe for young girls and boys to learn music.”

There can be no question that for the sad country of Afghanistan all this is welcome news. There can also be little doubt that a beleaguered and defensive US foreign policy establishment will seek to squeeze out as much favorable publicity as possible from these events. On the issue of the severe oppression of women and girls in Afghanistan, defenders of the US occupation of that desperate land would have you believe that the United States is the last great hope of those poor females. However, you will not be reminded that in the 1980s the United States played an indispensable role in the overthrow of a secular and relatively progressive Afghan government, one which endeavored to grant women much more freedom than they’ll ever have under the current Karzai-US government, more probably than ever again. Here are some excerpts from a 1986 US Army manual on Afghanistan discussing the policies of this government concerning women:
“provisions of complete freedom of choice of marriage partner, and fixation of the minimum age at marriage at 16 for women and 18 for men”
“abolished forced marriages”
“bring [women] out of seclusion, and initiate social programs”
“extensive literacy programs, especially for women”
“putting girls and boys in the same classroom”;
“concerned with changing gender roles and giving women a more active role in politics”. 3

The US-led overthrow of this government paved the way for the coming to power of Islamic fundamentalist forces, which led directly to the awful Taliban. And why did the United States in its infinite wisdom choose to do such a thing? Because the Afghan government was allied with the Soviet Union and Washington wanted to draw the Russians into a hopeless military quagmire – “We now have the opportunity of giving to the Soviet Union its Vietnam War”, said Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s National Security Adviser. 4

The women of Afghanistan will never know how the campaign to raise them to the status of full human beings would have turned out, but this, some might argue, is but a small price to pay for a marvelous Cold War victory.

Guantánamo Bay

People on the left never tire of calling for the closing of the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The fact that President Obama made the closing a promise of his 2008 campaign and repeated it again in the White House, while the prison still remains in operation, is seen as a serious betrayal. But each time I read about this I’m struck by the same thought: The horror of Guantánamo is not its being open, not its mere existence. Its horror lies in its being the site of more than 10 years of terrible abuse of human beings. If the prison is closed and all its inmates are moved to another prison, and the abuses continue, what would have been accomplished? How would the cause of human rights be benefitted? I think that activists should focus on the abuses, regardless of the location.

The War on Terror – They’re really getting serious about it now

For disseminating classified materials that exposed war crimes, Julian Assange is now honored as an official terrorist as only America can honor. We Shall Never Forget 9/11, Vol. II: The True Faces of Evil - Terror, a graphic coloring novel for children, which comes with several pages of perforated, detachable “terrorist trading cards”. Published by Really Big Coloring Books Inc. in St. Louis, the cards include Assange, Timothy McVeigh, Jared Lee Loughner, Ted Kaczynski, Maj. Nidal Hasan, Bill Ayers, and others. 5

Superpower – the film

Starring Noam Chomsky, Chalmers Johnson, Michel Chossudovksy, Karen Kwiatowski (Pentagon “defector”), William Blum, Sergei Khrushchev (son of Nikita), Kathy Kelly, and many others: (enter password when prompted: barbarasteegmuller) – 2 hours long.
New Book and talk

The eagerly awaited (I can name at least three people) new book by William Blum is here at last. “America’s Deadliest Export – Democracy: The Truth About US Foreign Policy and Everything Else” is made up of essays which are a combination of new and old; combined, updated, expanded; many first appeared in one form or another in the Anti-Empire Report, or on my website, at various times during the past ten years or so.

As mentioned in the book, activists like myself are sometimes scoffed at for saying the same old things to the same old people; just spinning our wheels, we’re told, “preaching to the choir” or “preaching to the converted”. But long experience as speaker, writer and activist in the area of foreign policy tells me it just ain’t so. From the questions and comments I regularly get from my audiences, via email and in person, I can plainly see that there are numerous significant information gaps and misconceptions in the choir’s thinking, often leaving them unable to see through the newest government lie or propaganda trick; they’re unknowing or forgetful of what happened in the past that illuminates the present; or knowing the facts but unable to apply them at the appropriate moment; vulnerable to being led astray by the next person who offers a specious argument that opposes what they currently believe, or think they believe; and, perhaps worst of all, many of them suffer pathetically from an over-abundance of conspiracy thinking, often carrying a justified suspicion or idea to a ridiculous level; virtually nothing is taken at face value.

The choir needs to be frequently reminded and enlightened to be better able to influence others, to be better activists.

To order a signed copy directly from me you can go to my website:

I’ll be speaking about the new book at Politics and Prose bookstore, 5015 Connecticut Ave., NW, in Washington, DC, Saturday, March 2 at 1 pm.


  1. May 28, 2012, speaking at the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington
  2. George Kennan, Wikipedia entry
  3. US Department of the Army, Afghanistan, A Country Study (1986), pp.121, 128, 130, 223, 232 (Library of Congress Call Number DS351.5 .A34 1986)
  4. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Wikipedia entry
  5. View the press release; see the cards
Any part of this report may be disseminated without permission, provided attribution to William Blum as author and a link to this website.

Fueling the Syrian Fire

How Israel is Fueling the Syrian Fire


The timing of the Israeli air raid early on January 30 on a Syrian target, that has yet to be identified, coincided with a hard to refute indications that the “regime change” in Syria by force, both by foreign military intervention and by internal armed rebellion, has failed, driving the Syrian opposition in exile to opt unwillingly for “negotiations” with the ruling regime, with the blessing of the U.S., EU and Arab League, concluding, in the words of a Deutsche Welle report on this February 2, that “nearly two years since the revolt began, (Syrian President Bashar Al-) Assad is still sitting comfortably in presidential chair.”

Nonetheless, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu keeps saying that Israel is preparing for “dramatic changes” in Syria, but senior Israeli foreign ministry officials accused him of “fear-mongering on Syria” to justify his ordering what the Russians described as the “unprovoked” raid, according to The Times of Israel on January 29. Another official told the Israeli Maariv that no Israeli “red lines” were crossed with regard to the reported chemical weapons in Syria to justify the raid. On January 16 Israel’s National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said there was “no evidence” to any Syrian steps to use such weapons. On last December 8 UN Chief Ban Ki-moon said there were “no confirmed reports” Damascus was preparing to use them. Three days later U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said: “We have not seen anything new” on chemical weapons “indicating any aggressive steps” by Syria. On January 31 NATO Chief Fogh Rasmussen said: “I have no new information about chemical weapons (in Syria).” Syria’s Russian ally has repeatedly confirmed what Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on February 2 that “we have reliable information” the Syrian government maintains control of chemical weapons and “won’t use” them. That’s what Syria itself keeps repeating, and “there is no particular reason why Israel is to be believed and Syria not,” according to a Saudi Gazette editorial on February 3.

More likely Israel is either trying to escalate militarily to embroil an unwilling United States in the Syrian conflict, in a too late attempt to pre-empt a political solution, out of a belief that the fall of the Al – Assad regime will serve Israel’s strategy, according to the former head of the Military Intelligence Directorate, (Major general, reserve) Amos Yaldin, or to establish for itself a seat at any international negotiating table that might be detrimental in shaping a future regime in Syria.

Escalating militarily at a time of political de-escalation of the military solution in Syria will not secure a seat for Israel in any forum. This is the message that the Israeli chief of General Staff, Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz, should have heard during his latest five – day visit in the U.S. from his host in Washington, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey; the head of Israel’s National – Security Bureau, Maj. Gen. (Res.) Ya’akov Amidror, who was in Moscow at the same time, should have heard a similar message from his Russian hosts.

The Israeli military intervention at this particular timing fuels a Syrian fire that has recently started to look for firefighters among the growing number of the advocates of dialogue, negotiations and political solutions both nationally, regionally and internationally.

The escalating humanitarian crisis and the rising death toll in Syria have made imperative either one of two options: A foreign military intervention or a political solution. Two years on since the U.S., EU, Turkish and Qatari adoption of a “regime change” in Syria by force, on the lines of the “Libyan scenario,” the first option has failed to materialize.

With the legitimate Syrian government gaining the upper hand militarily on the ground, the inability of the rebels to “liberate” even one city, town or enough area in the countryside to be declared a “buffer zone” or to host the self-proclaimed leadership of opposition in exile, which failed during the Paris – hosted “Friends of Syria” meeting on January 28 to agree on a “government – in – exile,” more likely because of this very reason, the second option of a political solution is left as the only way forward and as the only way out of the bloodshed and the snowballing humanitarian crisis.

The Israeli raid sends a message that the military option could yet be pursued. The rebels who based their overall strategy on a foreign military intervention have recently discovered that the only outside intervention they were able to get was from the international network of al-Qaeda and the international organization of the Muslim Brotherhood. No surprise then that the frustrated Syrian rebels are loosing ground, momentum and morale.

An Israeli military intervention would undoubtedly revive their morale, but temporarily, because it does not potentially guarantee that it will succeed in improving their chances where failure doomed the collective efforts of all the “Friends of Syria,” whose numbers dwindled over time from more than one hundred nations about two years ago to about fifty in their last meeting in Paris.

Such intervention would only promise more of the same, prolonging the military conflict, shedding more of Syrian blood, exacerbating the humanitarian crisis, multiplying the numbers of those displaced inside the country and the Syrian refugees abroad, postponing an inevitable political solution, and significantly rallying more Syrians in support of the ruling regime in defending their country against the Israeli occupier of their Syrian Golan heights, thus isolating the rebels by depriving them from whatever support their terrorist tactics have left them.

More importantly however, such an Israeli intervention risks a regional outburst if not contained by the world community or if it succeeds in inviting a reciprocal Syrian retaliation. Both Syrians and Israelis were on record in the aftermath of the Israeli raid that the bilateral “rules of engagement” have already changed.

All the “Friends of Syria” have been on record that they were doing all they could to enforce a “buffer zone” inside Syria; they tried to create it through Turkey in northern Syria, through Jordan in the south, through Lebanon in the west and on the borders with Iraq in the east, but they failed to make it materialize. They tried to enforce it by a resolution from the UN Security Council, but their efforts were aborted three times by a dual Russian – Chinese veto. They tried, unsuccessfully so far, to enforce it outside the jurisdiction of the United Nations by arming an internal rebellion, publicly on the payroll of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, logistically supported by Turkey and the U.S., British, French and German intelligence services and spearheaded mainly by the al-Qaeda – linked Al-Nusra Front, a rebellion focusing on the peripheral areas sharing borders with Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, after the failure of an early attempt to make the western Syrian port city of Latakia on the Mediterranean play the role the city of Benghazi played in the Libyan “change of regime.”

Now, Israel has stepped in the conflict, publicly for the first time, to try its hands to enforce a “buffer zone” of its own in an attempt to succeed where all the “Friends of Syria” have failed.

On February 3, British “The Sunday Times” reported that Israel is considering creating a buffer zone reaching up to ten miles inside Syria, modelled on a similar zone it created in southern Lebanon in 1985 from which it was forced to withdraw unconditionally by the Hezbullah – led and Syrian and Iranian – supported Lebanese resistance in 2000. Israeli mainstream daily Maariv (“evening” in Hebrew) the next day confirmed the Times report, adding the zone would be created in cooperation with local Arab villages on the Syrian side of the UN-monitored buffer zone, which was created on both sides of the armistice line after the 1973 Israeli – Syrian war.

Israel in fact have been paving the way materially on the ground for an Israeli – created buffer zone. Earlier, in a much less publicized development, Israel allowed the UN-monitored buffer zone between Syria and the Israeli – occupied Syrian Golan Heights to be overtaken by the “Islamist” Syrian rebels. The European Jewish Press reported on January 1, 2013 that the Israeli premier Netanyahu, during a visit to the Israeli – occupied Golan Heights, was informed the rebels “have taken up positions along the border with Israel, with the exception of the Quneitra enclave.” Earlier on last November 14 Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak was quoted by the AP to confirm that the “Syrian rebels control almost all the villages near the frontier with the Israeli – held Golan Heights.” On December 13 Israeli “The Jerusalem Post” quoted a “senior military source” as saying that “The rebel control of the area does not require changes on our part.”

UN observers monitoring the zone number about one thousand. An “Israeli officer” told a Mcclatchy reporter on last November 14 that the rebels in the zone are “fewer than 1,000 fighters.” Canada withdrew its contingent of monitors last September; Japan followed suit in January. In the previous month, France’s ambassador to the UN, Gérard Araud, warned the UN peacekeeping force on the Golan may “collapse,” according to The Times of Israel, citing the London – based Arabic daily of Al – Hayat.

The 1974 armistice agreement prohibits the Syrian government from engaging in military activity within the buffer zone; if it does it would risk a military confrontation with Israel and, according to Moshe Maoz, professor emeritus at Jerusalem’sHebrew University, “The Syrian army doesn’t have any interest in provoking Israel,” because “Syria has enough problems.”

However it would be anybody’s guess to know for how long Syria could tolerate turning the UN monitored demilitarized buffer zone, with Israeli closed eyes, into a terrorist safe haven and into a corridor of supply linking the rebels in Lebanon to their “brethren” in southern Syria.

Israel did not challenge militarily the presence of the al – Qaeda – linked rebels on its side of the supposedly demilitarized zone nor did it complain to or ask the United Nations for a reinforcement of the UN monitors there.

Ironically, Israel cites the presence of those same rebels along the borders of the Israeli – occupied Golan Heights as the pretext to justify “considering creating a buffer zone” inside Syria!

Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Bir Zeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.

Bordering a Police State: Changes Along the "Longest Undefended Border in the World"

Living in a Constitution-Free Zone: Drones, Surveillance Towers, Malls of the Spy State, and the National Security Police on the Northern Border

by Todd Miller - TomDispatch

Before September 11, 2001, more than half the border crossings between the United States and Canada were left unguarded at night, with only rubber cones separating the two countries. Since then, that 4,000 mile “point of pride,” as Toronto’s Globe and Mail once dubbed it, has increasingly been replaced by a U.S. homeland security lockdown, although it’s possible that, like Egyptian-American Abdallah Matthews, you haven’t noticed.

The first time he experiences this newly hardened U.S.-Canada border, it takes him by surprise. It’s a freezing late December day and Matthews, a lawyer (who asked me to change his name), is on the passenger side of a car as he and three friends cross the Blue Water Bridge from Sarnia, Ontario, to the old industrial town of Port Huron, Michigan. They are returning from the Reviving the Islamic Spirit conference in Toronto, chatting and happy to be almost home when the car pulls up to the booth, where a blue-uniformed U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agent stands. The 60,000-strong CBP is the border enforcement arm of the Department of Homeland Security and includes both customs and U.S. Border Patrol agents. What is about to happen is the furthest thing from Matthews’s mind. He’s from Port Huron and has crossed this border “a million times before.”

After scanning their passports and looking at a computer screen in the booth, the agent says to the driver, as Matthews tells the story:

“Sir, turn off the vehicle, hand me the key, and step out of the car.”

He hears the snap of handcuffs going around his friend’s wrists. Disoriented, he turns around and sees uniformed men kneeling behind their car, firearms drawn.

“To my disbelief, situated behind us are agents, pointing their guns.”

 Tomgram: Todd Miller, Locking Down the Borders

In the always-good-news category, a Monday front-page New York Times piece by David Sanger and Thom Shanker, filled with obvious administration leaks, lays out another step in the White House’s march out of American legality. As it has codified its drone assassination strikes, so it has been codifying and “legalizing” another new right of the Executive Branch -- the right to launch preemptive cyberattacks “if the United States detects credible evidence of a major digital attack looming from abroad... even if there is no declared war.” Of course, the White House has already launched such a set of attacks -- against Iran’s nuclear program -- without even the excuse of a threatened “major digital attack.” In other words, in total secrecy it initiated the planet’s first state-run cyberwar without notice to or consultation with anyone. And keep in mind that someday, given the potential devastation cyber attacks could wreak on our highly electronic way of life, cyberweapons will surely be reclassified as weapons of mass destruction.

In the meantime, with the Pentagon quickly expanding its new Cyber Command, the White House has taken another major form of potential aggression and given itself the right to use it without the say-so of anyone else. It is essentially codifying and declaring legal a cyber version of George W. Bush’s post-9/11 doctrine of preemptive war and, for all we know, heading for Dick Cheney’s infamous one percent doctrine. (Even a one percent chance of an attack on the United States, went Cheney's thinking, especially involving weapons of mass destruction, must be dealt with as if it were a certainty.)

And yet here’s the strange thing: even when such news hits the front page of the newspaper of record, it somehow doesn’t make much of an impression on us. As various forms of perpetual war are made “legal” by the White House, remarkably few find this worth the bother to discuss or debate, no less protest. Nonetheless, this week TomDispatch remains focused on the issue of legality (or rather illegality) and our National Security Complex, as well as on the lockdown of this country, since the two are so intertwined. On Sunday, Noam Chomsky explored why “the United States has the right to use violence at will,” and why, when it does, it’s “legal.” On Tuesday, I chimed in with a piece on how, for the National Security Complex and the White House, the rule of law has become a thing of the past, and how, in the service of their fantasies and fears, this country has been locked down.

Today, Todd Miller, who has previously written for this site on the militarization of the Mexican border, focuses on a part of that American lockdown which I’ve seldom seen discussed anywhere: the way our northern border, once possibly the most open on the planet, is being transformed into a “Constitution-free zone.” It’s a story that, like many TomDispatch tries to pursue, is not normally a focus of our world, but should be. Tom

Living in a Constitution-Free Zone: Drones, Surveillance Towers, Malls of the Spy State, and the National Security Police on the Northern Border

by Todd Miller

The CBP officer asks Matthews and the remaining passengers to get out of the car and escorts them to a waiting room. Thirty minutes later, he, too, is handcuffed and in a cell. Forty-five minutes after that another homeland security agent brings him into a room with no chairs. The agent tells him that he can sit down, but all he sees is a countertop. “Can I just stand?” he asks.

And he does so for what seems like an eternity with the door wide open, attempting to smile at the agents who pass by. “I’m trying to be nice,” is how he put it.

Finally, in a third room, the interrogation begins. Although they question Matthews about his religious beliefs and various Islamic issues, the two agents are “nice.” They ask him: Where’d you go? What kind of law do you practice? He tells them that a former law professor was presenting a paper at the annual conference, whose purpose is to revive “Islamic traditions of education, tolerance, and introspection.” They ask if he’s received military training abroad. This, he tells me, “stood out as one of their more bizarre questions.” When the CBP lets him and his friends go, he still thinks it was a mistake.

However, Lena Masri of the Council of American Islamic Relations-Michigan (CAIR-MI) reports that Matthews’s experience is becoming “chillingly” commonplace for Michigan’s Arab and Muslim community at border crossings. In 2012, CAIR-MI was receiving five to seven complaints about similar stops per week. The detainees are all Arab, all male, all questioned at length. They are asked about religion, if they spend time at the mosque, and who their Imam is.

According to CAIR-MI accounts, CBP agents repeatedly handcuff these border-crossers, often brandish weapons, conduct invasive, often sexually humiliating body searches, and detain people for from two to 12 hours. Because of this, some of the detainees have lost job opportunities or jobs, or given up on educational opportunities in Canada. Many are now afraid to cross the border to see their families who live in Canada. (CAIR-MI has filed a lawsuit against the CBP and other governmental agencies.)

Months later, thinking there is no way this can happen again, Matthews travels to Canada and crosses the border, this time alone, on the Blue Water Bridge to Port Huron. Matthews still hadn’t grasped the seismic changes in Washington’s attitude toward our northern border since 9/11. Port Huron, his small hometown, where a protest group, Students for a Democratic Society, first famously declared themselves against racism and alienation in 1962, is now part of the “frontline” in defense of the “homeland.” As a result, Matthews finds himself a casualty of a new war, one that its architects and proponents see as a permanent bulwark not only against non-citizens generally, but also people like Matthews from “undesirable” ethno-religious groups or communities in the United States.

While a militarized enforcement regime has long existed in the U.S-Mexico borderlands, its far more intense post-9/11 version is also proving geographically expansive. Now, the entire U.S. perimeter has become part of a Fortress USA mentality and a lockdown reality. Unlike on our southern border, there is still no wall to our north on what was once dubbed the “longest undefended border in the world.” But don’t let that fool you. The U.S.-Canadian border is increasingly a national security hotspot watched over by drones, surveillance towers, and agents of the Department of Homeland Security.

The Canadian Threat

Bert Tussing, U.S. Army War College Homeland Defense and Security Director, realizes that when people think of border security, what immediately comes to mind is the U.S.-Mexico border. After all, he is speaking in El Paso, Texas, where in the early 1990s the massive transformation and expansion of the border enforcement apparatus was born. Operation Blockade (later renamed Operation Hold-the-Line) became the Clinton administration’s blueprint for the walls, double-fencing, cameras, sensors, stadium-lighting, and concentration of Border Patrol agents now seen in urbanized areas -- and some rural ones as well -- from Brownsville, Texas, to San Diego, California. Tussing believes that this sort of intense surveillance, which has literally deformed communities throughout the southwest, should be brought to the northern border as well.

A former Marine with close-cropped brown hair, Tussing has a Napoleonic stature and despises being stuck behind a podium. “I kind of like moving around,” he quips before starting “The Changing Role of the Military in Border Security Operations,” his talk at last October’s Border Management Conference and Technology Expo.

Perhaps Tussing realizes that his audience holds a new breed of border-security entrepreneur when his initial Army-Marine joke falls flat. Behind the small audience are booths from 74 companies selling their border-security wares. These nomadic malls of the surveillance state are popping up in ever more places each year.

Hanging from the high ceiling is a white surveillance aerostat made by an Israeli company. Latched onto the bottom of this billowing balloon are cameras that, even 150 feet away, can zoom in on the comments I’m scrawling in my notebook. Nearby sits a mannequin in a beige body suit, equipped with a gas mask. It’s all part of the equipment and technology that the developing industry has in mind for our southern border, and increasingly the northern one as well.

Tussing homes in on a 2010 statistic: 59,000 people (“illegals if you will”) tried to enter the United States from countries “other than Mexico, the euphemistic OTMs.” Six hundred and sixty-three of these “OTMs” were from countries Tussing calls "special-interest nations" such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Libya, and Somalia, and also from countries the U.S. has identified as state-sponsors of terrorism like Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria.

Next, he turns to the U.S-Canada divide, mentioning the 1999 case of Ahmed Ressam who would have become “the millennium bomber,” if not for an astute U.S. Customs agent in Washington state. Here, as Tussing sees it, is the crux of the problem: “We found over time that he was able to do what he was to do because of the comparatively liberal immigration and asylum laws that exist today in Canada, which allowed him a safe haven. Which allowed him a planning area. Which allowed him an opportunity to build bombs. Which allowed him an opportunity to arrange his logistics.” He pauses. “This is not to say that Canada’s laws are wrong, but they are different from ours.”

A Government Accountablity Office report, he adds, claims that “the risk of terrorist activity is high along the northern border.” Of that 4,000-mile border between the two countries, he adds, “only 32 of those miles are categorized as what we say are acceptable levels of control.”

As what Tussing calls the "coup de grâce" to his argument for reinforcements of every sort along that border, he quotes Alan Bersin, former director of Customs and Border Protection: “In terms of the terrorist threat, it’s more commonly accepted that the most significant threat comes from the north,” not the south.

A Constitution-Free Zone

In 2012, the U.S. government spent more on the Homeland Security agencies responsible for border security than all of its other principal federal law enforcement agencies combined. The $18 billion allocated to Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement significantly exceeds the $14.4 billion that makes up the combined budgets of the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Secret Service, the U.S. Marshal Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. In the years since 9/11, more than $100 billion has been spent on border security. Much of that went to the southern border, but now an ever larger chunk is heading north.

On that northern border, things have come a long way since North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan in 2001 held up an orange cone and said, “This is America’s security at our border crossing... America can’t effectively combat terrorism if it doesn’t control its borders.”

Now Predator B drones, sometimes in the air for 20 hours at a stretch, are doing surveillance work from Grand Forks, North Dakota, to Spokane, Washington. Expensive surveillance towers equipped with night-vision cameras and sophisticated radar have been erected along the St. Clair and Niagara Rivers in Michigan and western New York state. Homeland Security built a $30 million border security “war room” at Michigan’s Selfridge Air National Guard Base, which, with its “video wall,” is worthy of a Hollywood action flick. This “gold standard” for border protection, as the CBP dubs it, is now one of many places where agents continuously observe those rivers of the north. As at Selfridge, so many resources and so much money has been poured into the frontlines of “homeland security,” and just upstream from cash-starved, post-industrial Detroit, the poorest city of its size in the United States.

In addition, the CBP’s Office of Air and Marine -- essentially Homeland Security’s air force and navy -- has established eight U.S. bases along the border from Plattsburgh, New York, to Bellingham, Washington. While such bases are commonplace on the southern border, they are new on the Canadian frontier. In addition, new state-of-the art Border Patrol stations are popping up in places like Pembina, North Dakota (at the cost of $13 million), International Falls, Minnesota ($6.8 million), and other places. This advance of the homeland security state in the north, funded and supported by Congress, seems both uncontroversial and unstoppable.

Don’t think that the eternal bolstering of “border security” is just a matter of fortifying the boundary line, either. Last November, the CBP ordered an additional 14 unmanned aerial vehicles. (They are, however, still waiting for Congress to appropriate the funding for this five-year plan.) With this doubling of its fleet, there will undoubtedly be more surveillance drones flying over major U.S. urban areas like Detroit, Buffalo, Syracuse, Bangor, and Seattle, places the ACLU has classified as in a “Constitution-free zone.”

That zone -- up to 100 miles from any external U.S. border -- is the area that the Supreme Court has deemed a “reasonable distance” in which to engage in border security operations, including warrantless searches. As in the Southwest, expect more interior checkpoints where federal agents will ask people about their citizenship, as they did to Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy in 2008. In the zone, you have the developing blueprint for a country not only in perpetual lockdown, but also under increasing surveillance. According to the ACLU, if you were to include the southern border, the northern border, and coastal areas in this zone, it would contain 200 million people, a potential “border” jurisdiction encompassing two-thirds of the U.S. population.

It’s October 2007 when I get my first glimpse of this developing Constitution-free zone in action at a Greyhound bus station in Buffalo, New York. I’m with Miguel Angel Vasquez de la Rosa, a Mexican lawyer who is brown-skinned and speaks only Spanish. As we enter the station, we spot two beefy Border Patrol agents in their dark-green uniforms patrolling the waiting area.

I have to blink to make sure I’m not seeing things, to remember where I am. I’m originally from this area, but have lived for years along the U.S.-Mexican border where I’ve grown used to seeing the “men in green.” I can’t remember ever seeing them here.

Before 9/11, Border Patrol agents on the southern border used to joke that they went north to “go fishing.” Not anymore. The 2001 USA Patriot Act mandated a 300% increase in Border Patrol personnel on the northern border, as well as the emplacement of more surveillance technology there. Further legislation in 2004 required that 20% of the agency’s new recruits be stationed on the Canadian divide.

The number of U.S. Border Patrol agents on the northern border went from 340 in 2001 to 1,008 in 2005 to 2,263 in 2010. Now, the number is approaching 3,000. That’s still small compared to the almost 19,000 on the southern border, but significant once you add in the “force multipliers,” since Border Patrol works ever more closely with local police and other agencies. For example, according to immigration lawyer Jose Perez, New York State troopers call the Border Patrol from Interstate-90 outside of Syracuse about a suspected undocumented person about 10 times a day on average. “And we aren’t even in Arizona.”

On that day in Buffalo, the two agents made a beeline for Miguel to check his visa. A moment later, the hulking agents are standing over another brown-skinned man who is rifling through a blue duffle bag, desperately searching for his documents. Not long after, handcuffed, he is walked to the ticket counter with the agents on either side. Somehow, cuffed, the agents expect him to retrieve his ticket from the bag, now on the counter. There are so many people watching that it seems like a ritual of humiliation.

Since 2007, this sort of moment has become ever more usual across the northern border region in bus and train stations, as “homeland security” gains ever more traction and an ever wider definition. The Border Patrol are, for instance, staking out Latino community centers in Detroit, and working closely with the police on the Olympic peninsula in Washington state, leading to a much wider enforcement dragnet, which looks an awful lot like round-ups of the usual suspects.

After 9/11, the Border Patrol’s number one mission became stopping terrorists and weapons of mass destruction from coming into the country between the ports of entry. The Border Patrol, however, is “an agency that doesn’t have limitations,” says Joanne Macri, director of the Criminal Defense Immigration Project of the New York State Defender Association. “With police officers, people have more due process protection.” Since 9/11, she adds, they have become “the national security police.”

And from what we know of their arrest records, it’s possible to grasp their definition of national security. Just in Rochester, New York, between 2005 and 2009, the CBP classified 2,776 arrests during what it terms “transportation raids” by skin complexion. The results: 71.2% of medium complexion and 12.9% black. Only 0.9% of their arrests were of “fair” complexion. And agents have had incentives to increase the numbers of people they sweep up, including Home Depot gift certificates, cash bonuses, and vacation time.

Macri tells me that it is now ever more common for armed national security police to pull people “who don’t belong” off buses and trains in the name of national security. In 2011, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement director John Morton, there were more than 47,000 deportations of undocumented people along the northern border.

Too Close to Home

The next time Abdallah Matthews crosses the international border, a familiar face asks him the normal questions: Where did you go in Canada? What was the purpose of your trip? Matthews is already in the same CBP waiting area, has already been handcuffed, and can’t believe it’s happening again.

The CBP agent suddenly stops. “Do you remember me?”

Matthews peers at him, and finally says, “Yes, I played soccer with you.” They haven’t seen each other since high school. They briefly reminisce, two men who grew up together along the St. Clair River before all those expensive surveillance towers with infrared cameras and radar went up. Although Matthews and the CBP agent were once friendly, although they lived in the same small town, there is now a boundary between them. Matthews struggles against this divide. He pleads: “You know who I am. I grew up here. I’ve been over this border a million times.”

This is, of course, only one of thousands of related stories happening along U.S. borders, north and south, in a universe in which, as anthropologist Josiah Heyman puts it, there are increasingly only two kinds of people: “the watchers and the watched.” And keep in mind that, with only "32 miles" under operational control, this is just the beginning. The U.S. border enforcement apparatus is only starting its migration north.

Matthews’s former high-school acquaintance guides him to the now-familiar room with the counter where three interrogators are waiting for him. They tell him to spread his legs. Then they order him to take off his shoes. It’s hard to take them off, however, when your hands are cuffed behind your back. The two interrogators in front are already shouting questions at him. (“What were you doing in Canada?”) The one behind him kicks his shoes. Hard. Then, after Matthews finally manages to get them off, the agent searches under his waistband.

When they are done, Matthews asks the agents what they would do if he were to circle around, reenter Canada, and cross the border again. The agents assure him that they would have to do the same exact thing -- handcuff, detain, and interrogate him as if his previous times had never happened.

Todd Miller has researched and written about U.S.-Mexican border issues for more than 10 years. He has worked on both sides of the border for BorderLinks in Tucson, Arizona, and Witness for Peace in Oaxaca, Mexico. He now writes on border and immigration issues for NACLA Report on the Americas and its blog “Border Wars,” among other places. He is at work on his first book, Border Patrol Nation, for the Open Media Series of City Lights Books.

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Copyright 2013 Todd Miller