Friday, May 24, 2013

M25 March Against Monsanto: Stopping the Most Evil Entity in the World

March Against Monsanto: How The March Against Monsanto Can (and will) Change The World

by Nick Bernabe -

The March Against Monsanto was started by a handful of millenials with a passion for change, a passion that we all have within us. Many people make the mistake of looking for someone to make change for them when the real change in this world comes from within.

The top-down approach for making the world a better place, i.e. electing politicians to do our bidding has come and gone, with little success.

There's a revolution happening right before our eyes, and before I had the opportunity to help with the world-wide March Against Monsanto, I was largely oblivious to this sea change that is coming.

The rules of change, of activism, of consciousness, and of helping people are being rewritten by you and me, one connection at a time. The new revolution of good is coming from the grass-roots and making its way upward; this bottom-up effect is exactly what those who would like to see us silent are afraid of.

This new way of media and activism cannot be controlled by the likes of corporations or governments; these are ideas and they cannot be stopped. This new paradigm shift starts with you, your friends and family, and the way you can connect with people around you; the way information is disseminated makes all the difference in this new paradigm.

The mainstream media controls 95% of the information that we see, from television to newspapers, to magazines. This is the top-down technique, where you have no choice but to consume what's being served, making for a fickle population that was manipulated by commercials and where money made the major difference between a bill passing or failing, and a politician being elected or losing. The new media is a media of choice, where people can choose to get information on a topic that they choose.

What does this mean? 

This means that a person that participates in the new media is more passionate, better informed, in turn a much more valuable asset to a social movement. These people are well versed in the information, founded in fact, and immune to the manipulation of a mainstream media establishment that is 90% owned by 6 monopolistic corporations. These new activists are warriors for truth and justice, and for those currently controlling the agenda, this can be a scary situation.

You see, the government and corporations are ingrained into the establishment; they're comfortable in their positions. This will be their downfall. History and science have shown that the comfortable devolve and the oppressed evolve; struggle is the essence of innovation and of change. This is why good always prevails over bad.

The March Against Monsanto has grown beyond my wildest dreams; a few months ago it was just an idea. It has grown into a full blown movement and the people that started it wouldn't be able to stop if they wanted. You see, the people have taken over the March, the decentralization has come in a natural way, an intuitive way. Movements can no longer be over-centralized, as over-centralization is detrimental to any organization, institution, business and government.

The new paradigm which is forming will be driven by people who care, not people who care for power. The old idea of inorganic manipulation, which used to be the norm, has fallen to the side in favor of this new movement of information: this new Revolution. Information is spreading in grass-roots, open source fashion, all the old rules are being thrown out.

How the March Against Monsanto can and will change the world. The beginning of the Food Revolution.

The March does not and cannot end on May 25, 2013. For many of the participants in the March Against Monsanto, this is their first protest or march that they have ever taken part of. This movement has awakened a very large group of people that care about their food supply and care about other people’s food supply. These courageous marchers have put aside all of their political and ideological differences to stand in solidarity for what is right.

How do we carry on this March Against Monsanto, this new food revolution passed the 25th?

Capture the momentum of this movement and harness it at the local level. Keep your local march network alive and growing.

All of the connections that you are making in your local areas, all of the people you are meeting through the organizing, planning, and marching process must be kept active for this march to have a lasting effect. If we just march on the 25th and nothing more, then the movement ends right then and there.

Each event page for each local city is full of great contacts, activists, and people that care. Compile these lists, make email lists, start a newsletter, make a local Facebook page and keep the pressure on to continue this fight. Pass around signup sheets at your local marches to collect emails. Even if you don't have a plan of action for what to do with the emails you compile, put them into a spread sheet and save them until you figure it out.

I recommend that once your march is over on Saturday evening that you change the Date of your local Facebook event to 5/24/14; this will keep the event page up and will make it easier to access your local food revolutionaries. Use open source organizing techniques to lower the burden and to keep your local movement decentralized. Using an open platform will make it easier for your local community and activists to add information into your spread sheets, email lists, and other data rich documents. Monsanto is not going away without a fight: They've been around for over 100 years and deeply entrenched in the political establishment of both parties.

After the March, take real steps to improve your food fate locally. Remember that people on a low or fixed income don’t have a choice to eat organic with their given incomes.

It’s not enough to simply tell people to eat organic, or vote for initiatives that will label GMOs. The very first thing you can do is plant your own garden. If you have the space, plant a garden larger than what you need to feed your family and help someone that is less fortunate with some fresh homegrown food from your garden.

What if you don’t have a yard to plant in?

One option is growing indoors. There is a growing industry of indoor gardeners that are starting to change the way we think about gardening through the use of hydroponics . You should be able to find a local hydroponics store near you and get it all set up and growing food for a couple hundred dollars. There are also plenty of online retailers of indoor growing equipment; try Craigslist if you're on a tight budget. What if you don’t have a yard and growing indoors in not an option for you? At this point we need to look to our fellow local activists from the March Against Monsanto.

Community gardens are a great way to bring in a fresh and organic food source into an urban area. 

Find a plot of land that is vacant or belongs to the local city, find out who is on charge of it and get the ball rolling on starting a community garden. Enlist some people that you have met though the march to help you physically, technically, and financially. Look to the local community to crowd source labor and resources. If none of these are an option for you, there’s still hope for you within the food revolution.

Share cropping is a way of getting some space to grow a garden that you can secure for free or a very low cost. Many urban sharecroppers will offer free food from the garden to the land owner in exchange for offering them some space to grow a garden. Share cropping is just like a community garden on a smaller scale. If you live in an area where there are many small yards with space available, think about setting up a sharecropping co-op where food can be traded and shared for little or no money. Always remember that the low income community is at the highest risk of GMO and chemical exposure from their food. Look into new technologies and techniques when setting up your new gardens. Vertical gardeningis great way to maximize limited space a make your garden virtually maintenance free. There’s an ancient technique of hydroponics that is just being rediscovered and developed: aquaponics.

Aquaponics is arguably the most efficient way to grow organic vegetables…and edible fish at the same time. This technique has been around for hundreds if not thousands of years, but new attention is being brought to aquaponics because of its efficiency and ability to grow both edible fish and vegetation. A Wisconsin man was able to grow over one million pounds of food in one year by utilizing these new and innovative growing techniques.


There are many forms of activism that we can use to improve our food fate and continue the food revolution. The March Against Monsanto is a perfect example of a mass movement that disseminates information to millions of people, awakening the masses to the injustices of the world. Activism can be done on a much smaller scale and many different ways. As I detailed earlier, the networks are being rebuilt in a new, more just way. Utilize your new local network of activists to keep pressure on local politicians and hold them to their promises. Organize mass emailing and mass calling to their offices when a critical vote is about to be made. Let them hear your voice amplified by your entire network. Build relationships with other activists from other causes, reach out to other interests and help support them, and they will support you. Spreading awareness is key to the food revolution; many people don't know what GMOs are, let alone know the negative effects on their health and environment that they cause.

Mobilize your local activist network often and keep them engaged in the community; you are the leaders of this movement! It's up to you to let your neighbors know what's in their food and how they can make real world progress to take their food back. These techniques can also be replicated on the national and global level, which is why it's important for you to stay connected to the national MAM campaign. We can find and spot things like the Monsanto Protection Act before they are passed into law and put out a call to action to all the local networks to help us get them stopped.

Support alternative media

Remember seeing the warnings about the dangers of the 'Monsanto Protection Act' on MSNBC and FOX News before it became a law? Me neither. That's because there was no warning from the mainstream media; in fact very few have even covered it to this day. We did find out about this bill when it was only a proposal from multiple reports by independent journalists, including SpreadLibertyNews on 12/17/12.

The pattern that we see from the mainstream is a dangerous one. As I noted earlier, over 90% of the media is owned by 6 companies, and just like Monsanto, these companies have also slipped into bed with the government.

Comedians have become the only mainstream media sources that are willing to challenge the establishment's political and economic might. Yet pundits like Jon Stewart who have been shown in polls to be more trusted for news than some major news outlets, only bring light to these harmful pieces of legislation after they are already passed into law. This is why supporting and finding alternative news sources is so important: Do you want to find out about harmful legislation before it's passed while we still have time to mobilize and try to stop them, or do you want to find out about it on TV when it's too late? Find and support independent journalists on sites like that aggregate news from many diverse sources, find the ones you like and subscribe to their posts.

The mainstream media has major interests in other industries, including military adventurism and yes you guessed it, GMOs. In a court ruling in 2003, it was determined that news companies can legally lie to their viewers and readers. The case was brought about when two FOX News journalists tried to publish a report about the negative health effects of Monsanto's bovine growth hormone (BGH) and were subsequently fired when they refused to censor their story to fit FOX's agenda.

Supporting alternative media is key in decentralizing our supply of unbiased information and getting news from sources that do not have billion-dollar agendas, finding like-minded activists, and keeping the pressure on politicians who seek to only enrich themselves and their corporate lackeys.

Note: I hosted a special radio show on 5/22/13, on The Anti-Media Radio where we went into more depth on all of these fundamental building blocks of the Food Revolution which included a panel of experts from each field I listed in this article. Please listen here here:

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Terracide and the Real Global War of Terror

Terracide and the Terrarists - Destroying the Planet for Record Profits

by Tom Engelhardt  - TomDispatch

We have a word for the conscious slaughter of a racial or ethnic group: genocide. And one for the conscious destruction of aspects of the environment: ecocide. But we don’t have a word for the conscious act of destroying the planet we live on, the world as humanity had known it until, historically speaking, late last night. A possibility might be “terracide” from the Latin word for earth. It has the right ring, given its similarity to the commonplace danger word of our era: terrorist.

The truth is, whatever we call them, it’s time to talk bluntly about the terrarists of our world.

Yes, I know, 9/11 was horrific. Almost 3,000 dead, massive towers down, apocalyptic scenes. And yes, when it comes to terror attacks, the Boston Marathon bombings weren’t pretty either. But in both cases, those who committed the acts paid for or will pay for their crimes.

In the case of the terrarists -- and here I’m referring in particular to the men who run what may be the most profitable corporations on the planet, giant energy companies like ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, BP, and Shell -- you’re the one who’s going to pay, especially your children and grandchildren. You can take one thing for granted: not a single terrarist will ever go to jail, and yet they certainly knew what they were doing.

It wasn’t that complicated. In recent years, the companies they run have been extracting fossil fuels from the Earth in ever more frenetic and ingenious ways. The burning of those fossil fuels, in turn, has put record amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. Only this month, the CO2 level reached 400 parts per million for the first time in human history. A consensus of scientists has long concluded that the process was warming the world and that, if the average planetary temperature rose more than two degrees Celsius, all sorts of dangers could ensue, including seas rising high enough to inundate coastal cities, increasingly intense heat waves, droughts, floods, ever more extreme storm systems, and so on.

How to Make Staggering Amounts of Money and Do In the Planet

None of this was exactly a mystery. It’s in the scientific literature. NASA scientist James Hansen first publicized the reality of global warming to Congress in 1988. It took a while -- thanks in part to the terrarists -- but the news of what was happening increasingly made it into the mainstream. Anybody could learn about it.

Those who run the giant energy corporations knew perfectly well what was going on and could, of course, have read about it in the papers like the rest of us. And what did they do? They put their money into funding think tanks, politicians, foundations, and activists intent on emphasizing “doubts” about the science (since it couldn’t actually be refuted); they and their allies energetically promoted what came to be known as climate denialism. Then they sent their agents and lobbyists and money into the political system to ensure that their plundering ways would not be interfered with. And in the meantime, they redoubled their efforts to get ever tougher and sometimes “dirtier” energy out of the ground in ever tougher and dirtier ways.

The peak oil people hadn’t been wrong when they suggested years ago that we would soon hit a limit in oil production from which decline would follow. The problem was that they were focused on traditional or “conventional” liquid oil reserves obtained from large reservoirs in easy-to-reach locations on land or near to shore. Since then, the big energy companies have invested a remarkable amount of time, money, and (if I can use that word) energy in the development of techniques that would allow them to recover previously unrecoverable reserves (sometimes by processes that themselves burn striking amounts of fossil fuels): fracking, deep-water drilling, and tar-sands production, among others.

They also began to go after huge deposits of what energy expert Michael Klare calls “extreme” or “tough” energy -- oil and natural gas that can only be acquired through the application of extreme force or that requires extensive chemical treatment to be usable as a fuel. In many cases, moreover, the supplies being acquired like heavy oil and tar sands are more carbon-rich than other fuels and emit more greenhouse gases when consumed. These companies have even begun using climate change itself -- in the form of a melting Arctic -- to exploit enormous and previously unreachable energy supplies. With the imprimatur of the Obama administration, Royal Dutch Shell, for example, has been preparing to test out possible drilling techniques in the treacherous waters off Alaska.

Call it irony, if you will, or call it a nightmare, but Big Oil evidently has no qualms about making its next set of profits directly off melting the planet. Its top executives continue to plan their futures (and so ours), knowing that their extremely profitable acts are destroying the very habitat, the very temperature range that for so long made life comfortable for humanity.

Their prior knowledge of the damage they are doing is what should make this a criminal activity. And there are corporate precedents for this, even if on a smaller scale. The lead industry, the asbestos industry, and the tobacco companies all knew the dangers of their products, made efforts to suppress the information or instill doubt about it even as they promoted the glories of what they made, and went right on producing and selling while others suffered and died.

And here’s another similarity: with all three industries, the negative results conveniently arrived years, sometimes decades, after exposure and so were hard to connect to it. Each of these industries knew that the relationship existed. Each used that time-disconnect as protection. One difference: if you were a tobacco, lead, or asbestos exec, you might be able to ensure that your children and grandchildren weren’t exposed to your product. In the long run, that’s not a choice when it comes to fossil fuels and CO2, as we all live on the same planet (though it's also true that the well-off in the temperate zones are unlikely to be the first to suffer).

If Osama bin Laden’s 9/11 plane hijackings or the Tsarnaev brothers’ homemade bombs constitute terror attacks, why shouldn’t what the energy companies are doing fall into a similar category (even if on a scale that leaves those events in the dust)? And if so, then where is the national security state when we really need it? Shouldn’t its job be to safeguard us from terrarists and terracide as well as terrorists and their destructive plots?

The Alternatives That Weren’t

It didn’t have to be this way.

On July 15, 1979, at a time when gas lines, sometimes blocks long, were a disturbing fixture of American life, President Jimmy Carter spoke directly to the American people on television for 32 minutes, calling for a concerted effort to end the country’s oil dependence on the Middle East. “To give us energy security,” he announced,

“I am asking for the most massive peacetime commitment of funds and resources in our nation's history to develop America's own alternative sources of fuel -- from coal, from oil shale, from plant products for gasohol, from unconventional gas, from the sun... Just as a similar synthetic rubber corporation helped us win World War II, so will we mobilize American determination and ability to win the energy war. Moreover, I will soon submit legislation to Congress calling for the creation of this nation's first solar bank, which will help us achieve the crucial goal of 20% of our energy coming from solar power by the year 2000.”

It’s true that, at a time when the science of climate change was in its infancy, Carter wouldn’t have known about the possibility of an overheating world, and his vision of “alternative energy” wasn’t exactly a fossil-fuel-free one. Even then, shades of today or possibly tomorrow, he was talking about having “more oil in our shale alone than several Saudi Arabias.” Still, it was a remarkably forward-looking speech.

Had we invested massively in alternative energy R&D back then, who knows where we might be today? Instead, the media dubbed it the “malaise speech,” though the president never actually used that word, speaking instead of an American “crisis of confidence.” While the initial public reaction seemed positive, it didn’t last long. In the end, the president's energy proposals were essentially laughed out of the room and ignored for decades.

As a symbolic gesture, Carter had 32 solar panels installed on the White House. (“A generation from now, this solar heater can either be a curiosity, a museum piece, an example of a road not taken, or it can be a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people: harnessing the power of the sun to enrich our lives as we move away from our crippling dependence on foreign oil.”) As it turned out, “a road not taken” was the accurate description. On entering the Oval Office in 1981, Ronald Reagan caught the mood of the era perfectly. One of his first acts was to order the removal of those panels and none were reinstalled for three decades, until Barack Obama was president.

Carter would, in fact, make his mark on U.S. energy policy, just not quite in the way he had imagined. Six months later, on January 23, 1980, in his last State of the Union Address, he would proclaim what came to be known as the Carter Doctrine: “Let our position be absolutely clear,” he said. “An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”

No one would laugh him out of the room for that. Instead, the Pentagon would fatefully begin organizing itself to protect U.S. (and oil) interests in the Persian Gulf on a new scale and America’s oil wars would follow soon enough. Not long after that address, it would start building up a Rapid Deployment Force in the Gulf that would in the end become U.S. Central Command. More than three decades later, ironies abound: thanks in part to those oil wars, whole swaths of the energy-rich Middle East are in crisis, if not chaos, while the big energy companies have put time and money into a staggeringly fossil-fuel version of Carter’s “alternative” North America. They’ve focused on shale oil, and on shale gas as well, and with new production methods, they are reputedly on the brink of turning the United States into a “new Saudi Arabia.”

If true, this would be the worst, not the best, of news. In a world where what used to pass for good news increasingly guarantees a nightmarish future, energy “independence” of this sort means the extraction of ever more extreme energy, ever more carbon dioxide heading skyward, and ever more planetary damage in our collective future. This was not the only path available to us, or even to Big Oil.

With their staggering profits, they could have decided anywhere along the line that the future they were ensuring was beyond dangerous. They could themselves have led the way with massive investments in genuine alternative energies (solar, wind, tidal, geothermal, algal, and who knows what else), instead of the exceedingly small-scale ones they made, often for publicity purposes. They could have backed a widespread effort to search for other ways that might, in the decades to come, have offered something close to the energy levels fossil fuels now give us. They could have worked to keep the extreme-energy reserves that turn out to be surprisingly commonplace deep in the Earth.

And we might have had a different world (from which, by the way, they would undoubtedly have profited handsomely). Instead, what we’ve got is the equivalent of a tobacco company situation, but on a planetary scale. To complete the analogy, imagine for a moment that they were planning to produce even more prodigious quantities not of fossil fuels but of cigarettes, knowing what damage they would do to our health. Then imagine that, without exception, everyone on Earth was forced to smoke several packs of them a day.

If that isn’t a terrorist -- or terrarist -- attack of an almost unimaginable sort, what is? If the oil execs aren’t terrarists, then who is? And if that doesn’t make the big energy companies criminal enterprises, then how would you define that term?

To destroy our planet with malice aforethought, with only the most immediate profits on the brain, with only your own comfort and wellbeing (and those of your shareholders) in mind: Isn’t that the ultimate crime? Isn’t that terracide?

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute's His latest book, co-authored with Nick Turse, is Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050.

[Note: Thanks go to my colleague and friend Nick Turse for coming up with the word "terracide."]

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook or Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch book, Nick Turse’s The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare.

Copyright 2013 Tom Engelhardt

Campaign to End Jewish National Fund Charity Status

No Canadian “Charity” for the Israeli Military!

by Canada Palestine Association

On June 9, the Jewish National Fund JNF Pacific Region is holding its Negev Gala Dinner. Palestinian supporters in Vancouver will be picketing the event to protest not only the JNF’s well-documented racist policies but also this year’s honourees, the “Israel Defense Forces”.

Stop the JNF!
Sunday, June 9, 4-6 pm
Gather across the street from  
3476 Oak St. (at 19th), Vancouver

It seems the JNF has given up on their attempts at greenwashing their ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and are now openly embracing Israeli military aggression.

Lets mark the 65th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba by protesting the JNF and the Canadian government’s refusal to even question the JNF’s charitable status, as revealed in recently released documents.

Organized by: Canada Palestine Association

Endorsed by: Boycott Israeli Apartheid Campaign, Gaza’s Ark, Independent Jewish Voices-Vancouver, Samidoun Prisoner Solidarity Network, Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights-UBC
Download leaflet
Join our Facebook Event

Assad's Russian Shield

Russia Strikes Back in Syria

by Juan Cole - TruthDig

President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation has drawn a line in the sand over Syria, the government of which he is determined to protect from overthrow. Not since the end of the Cold War in 1991 has the Russian Bear asserted itself so forcefully beyond its borders in support of claims on great power status. In essence, Russia is attempting to play the role in Syria that France did in Algeria in the 1990s, of supporting the military government against rebels, many of them linked to political Islam. France and its allies prevailed, at the cost of some 150,000 dead. Can Putin and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad pull off the same sort of victory?

Even as Damascus pushes back against the rebels militarily, Putin has swung into action on the international and regional stages. The Russian government persuaded U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to support an international conference aimed at a negotiated settlement. Putin upbraided Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over his country’s air attacks on Damascus. Moscow is sending sophisticated anti-aircraft batteries, anti-submarine missiles and other munitions to beleaguered Assad, and has just announced that 12 Russian warships will patrol the Mediterranean. The Russian actions have raised alarums in Tel Aviv and Washington, even as they have been praised in Damascus and Tehran.

The Syrian regime has been on a military roll in the past few weeks. It has made a bloody push into the hinterlands of Damascus, fortifying the capital. With Hezbollah support, it has assaulted the rebel-held Qusair region near northern Lebanon, an important smuggling route for the rebels and the key to the central city of Homs. The Baath government needs to keep Homs in order for Russia to resupply the capital via the Syrian port of Latakia on the Mediterranean. The Syrian government’s victories would not have been possible without Russian and Iranian help.

Regionally, a Moscow-Tehran axis has formed around Syria that is resisting Qatari and Saudi backing for the rebels. The increasing dominance of rebel fighting forces in the north by radical groups such as the al-Nusra Front, which has openly affiliated itself with al-Qaida, has resulted in a falloff of support for the revolution even in Saudi Arabia. Most Syrians who oppose the government are not radicals or even fundamentalists, but the latter have had the best record of military victories. Russian characterizations of the rebels as radical terrorists are a form of war propaganda; however, they have been effective. The Saudi and Jordanian plan to create a less radical southern opposition front at Deraa has met with a setback, since the regime recaptured that city last week. Doha and Riyadh are reeling from the Russia-backed counteroffensive.

At the same time, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov pulled off a coup two weeks ago by persuading Kerry to support the international conference on Syria, to which both the Baath government and the rebels would be invited, as a way station toward a negotiated settlement of the conflict (Russia’s holy grail). The agreement represented a climb-down for the Obama administration, which had earlier insisted that Assad leave office as a prerequisite to a resolution, language that the joint Russian-American communique issuing from the Kerry-Lavrov meeting in Moscow conspicuously avoided. Lavrov, a South Asia expert and guitar-playing poet, speaks as though what happened in Yemen, with a negotiated solution and a government of national unity, is a plausible scenario for Syria. But so much blood has been spilled in the latter that a military victory by one side or the other now seems far more likely.

When sources in the Pentagon leaked the information that explosions in Damascus on May 5 were an Israeli airstrike, Putin appears to have been livid. He tracked down Netanyahu on the prime minister’s visit to Shanghai and harangued him on the phone. The two met last week in Moscow, where Putin is alleged to have read Netanyahu the riot act. Subsequently, the Likud government leaked to The New York Times that its aim in the airstrike had been only to prevent Syrian munitions from being transferred to Hezbollah in Lebanon, not to help in overthrowing the Baath government. The Israelis were clearly attempting to avoid further provoking Moscow’s ire, and wanted to send a signal to Damascus that they would remain neutral on Syria but not on further arming of Hezbollah.

Putin, not visibly mollified by Netanyahu’s clarification, responded by announcing forcefully that he had sent to Syria Yakhont anti-ship cruise missiles and was planning to dispatch sophisticated S-300 anti-aircraft batteries. Both U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey and Israeli military analysts protested the Russian shipments. Although Netanyahu went on insisting that Israel would bomb Syria at will when it suspected supplies were being sent to Hezbollah, Putin had clearly just raised the risks of such intervention.

Russia’s motives have sometimes been attributed to the profits it realizes from its arms trade with Syria, going back to the Soviet era, but that business is actually quite small. Others have suggested that Syria’s leasing to Russia of a naval base at Tartous, Russia’s only toehold on the Mediterranean, is a consideration. Rather, Russia’s support of Assad is part of its reassertion on the world stage as a great power with areas under its control. Putin wants to raise Russia from the world’s ninth- to fifth-largest capitalist economy. Smarting from the aggressive American expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe and the planting of U.S. bases in Central Asia, Moscow is determined to recover its former spheres of influence. In addition, some senior Russian military analysts see “color revolutions” as a ploy by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency to overthrow unfriendly governments and then to plunder the resulting weak states of their resources, a tactic they fear menaces Russia itself. Drawing a line at Syria, in this view, is a way of underscoring that Putin’s own neo-authoritarian regime will not go quietly.

Russia is only a 24-hour drive from Aleppo, Syria’s northernmost metropolis. Having crushed a Muslim fundamentalist uprising in Chechnya and Dagestan at the turn of the century, and having stood up a friendly Chechen state government in the aftermath, Moscow is wary of the spread of radical Muslim movements in the nearby Levant. Moreover, some 10 to 14 percent of Syrians are Christians, many of them belonging to the Eastern Orthodox branch that predominates in Russia itself. The Russian Orthodox Church, a key constituency for Putin, has opposed the overthrow of the secular Baath government, seeing it as a protector of those coreligionists.

The thinking of the Russian foreign ministry is clear from its Saturday press release on the revival of the radical Sunni insurgency in Iraq in recent weeks. Complaining about what it termed terrorist attacks in Mosul and Baghdad, the ministry’s website said, according to a translation done for the U.S. government’s Open Source Center, that “We are particularly concerned about growing sectarian tensions in Iraq, which are turning into a direct armed confrontation between radical elements in the Shi’a and Sunni communities. This is largely due to the crisis situation in neighboring Syria and the spread of terrorist activities of militants operating there.” In other words, Russia sees the Syrian revolution as dominated by al-Qaida-linked groups such as the al-Nusra Front. Moscow views the civil war as a destabilizing event with the potential for radicalizing the Middle East, which it views as its soft underbelly.

The momentum of the Syrian rebels has palpably slowed in the last month, as Putin’s riposte has stiffened the resolve in Damascus and given its military the wherewithal to regain territory. The Russian president is weaving a protective web around his client, fending off the Wahhabi winds of Muslim fundamentalism blowing from the Arabian Peninsula. He has also pushed back against opportunistic Israeli intervention, worried that it might further destabilize Damascus. At the same time, he has impressed on Washington the need for a negotiated settlement, an idea that President Obama, long skittish about sending troops into further possible Middle East quagmires, has begun to tolerate. Putin’s supply of powerful new weapons systems to Assad’s military, and his dispatch of warships from the Russian Pacific fleet through the Strait of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean, make clear that the full force of Russian military might is, if need be, at the service of its Baath client. Putin’s gambit may or may not prove successful, but he is indisputably demonstrating that the age of the sole superpower and of American unilateralism is passing in favor of a multipolar world.

Juan R.I. Cole is the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan. He has written extensively on modern Islamic movements in Egypt, the Persian Gulf and South Asia and has given numerous media interviews on the war on terrorism and the Iraq War. He lived in various parts of the Muslim world for nearly 10 years and continues to travel widely there. He speaks Arabic, Farsi and Urdu.

Dragging Lebanon's Diaspora Palestinians into the Syrian Conflagration

Lebanon’s Palestinians are Being Pulled into Syria’s War

by  Franklin Lamb - Al Manar

Homs Palestinian Refugee Camp, Syria - Historically, Palestinian refugees, wherever they have sought temporary sanctuary following the ethnic cleansing of their country by the 19th century Zionist colonial enterprise, and pending their return to Palestine, have insisted on avoiding local and international conflicts while seeking a modicum of interim rights from the host countries.

This was true in Jordan during the run up to Black September in 1970, at the beginning of the Lebanese Civil war in 1975, the 1991 Kuwait crisis, the 2003 US invasion of Iraq and obtains especially today in the current crisis in Syria. For a number of reasons including poor tactical decisions by their leadership they have not always succeeded, and consequently they have paid steep price in lives, jobs, housing and expulsions from host countries.

In Syria, both the largest Palestinian refugee camp, Yarmouk, with its 125,000 residents, and Khan al-Sheeh, the second largest of the 14 camps with 45,000 before the crisis but currently swelled by another 26,000 mainly from Yarmouk camp, have become virtual war zones with large sections of the camps being overrun by gunmen fighting in support of the “Free Syrian Army.” All but two of the camps in Syria have been infiltrated by opposition forces and consequently have been targeted by government forces seeking to destroy the rebels. At times the camp residents have resisted both sides by demanding that the camps' normally strict neutrality be respected. Engaging initially in peaceful protects when outsiders invaded, some protests turned violent when their demands for camp neutrality were rejected.

Khan al-Sheeh, whose residents are from tribes and clans in northern Palestine, and who lost 22 camp residents to Zionist occupier gunfire during the May 2011 Nakba Day events on the Golan Heights, will be a formidable foe if they take up arms which they have not done for the past 33 years.

In January 2013, the Syria conflict entered into the camp when opposition forces -- a combination of Free Syrian Army (FSA) and al-Nusra Front fighters -- arrived and insisted on recruits, offering $200 per month cash, free cigarettes, a uniform, boots and of course an AK-47.

For the past five months, again like Yarmouk, Khan al-Sheeh and the other camps in Syria have been caught in the crossfire as opposition fighters try to advance toward the capital, while regime forces used cannons and rocket fire to block their advance, resulting in hundreds of civilian deaths and injuries. This week, so far in vain, the camp popular committees yet again appealed to both sides to observe a ceasefire within any Palestinian camp in Syria and also in Lebanon, the latter currently experiencing increased challenges for its 12 camps to stay out of the conflict.

Pressuring Lebanon’s camps to join Syria’s war

Lebanon’s widely respected independent leftist daily, As-Safir, has reported that veteran security and intelligence officers of the Lebanese security services are claiming to have information, but not precise details regarding number and location of “organized Takfiri (Sunni) networks” in Lebanon. The head of one security service told As-Safir, “the monitoring of the terrorist networks cannot be very detailed since they are solely located in the Palestinian camps, mainly in Ain el Helweh.”

Palestinian refugee camps in LebanonThis statement, like others these days in the Lebanese sectarian media, appears intended to incite the public against the refugees, inducing them to join the fighting. Another officer, closely working on the Lebanese government “terrorism" file, claims, again without offering any probative or material evidence, that “the only serious faction in Lebanon right now consists of the Ziad al-Jarrah Units that are affiliated with the Abdullah Azzam battalions." Both have some Palestinian gunmen. Abdullah Azzam is the most experienced group and it is present in Ain el Helweh. The officer indicated that he agrees with the general theory that as long as the military situation in Syria remains unsettled, the Lebanese Palestinian camps are open to all possibilities, including Palestinian armed involvement.

Other calls are being heard from Beirut, Saida and Tyre in the south, and also up north in Tripoli for Palestinians to comply with the fatwas being issued for all Sunni to fight the Bashar Assad regime and to build a “Sunni army” patterned after the Lebanese civil war-era PLO forces. How significant is the sentiment favoring this dangerous call is unknown. However, in all of the above noted areas, some Palestinians, mainly unemployed youngsters have been lured by offers of cash to take part in training, much like occurred before the 26 month old Syria conflict.

Some Salafist-jihadist types in Lebanon, especially near Tripoli’s Bedawi, and Nahr al Bared camps, as well as Ain el Helwe down south in Saida, are pushing among Palestinian youth the argument that if they join the war in Syria they will gain the internationally-guaranteed civil rights that all the other refugees receive except Palestinians in Lebanon. Part of the argument being pitched is that they are not going to get even elementary civil rights in Lebanon from Israelis, the UN or the international community, and certainly not from the EU or the Americans. Palestinians in Lebanon’s camps are being lectured that they will get civil rights here only when they take them by force, which is their right and their jihadist religious duty.

These arguments will fail, with few exceptions, among the quarter million Palestinian refugees actually still in Lebanon, as they have in the past. But the Palestinians' decent into deepening sectarian and religious divisions here in Lebanon is worrisome. Scholars, political analysts and even elements of the National Lebanese Resistance are counseling that an effective, moral, religious, and political measure that could bring Sunni and Shia together in Lebanon, while thwarting the schemes being hatched to get the Palestinians involved in the Syrian crisis, would be for the Lebanese Parliament to use 90 minutes of its ample free time -- in as much as the Parliamentary elections will not take place next month as scheduled -- to address the issue of Palestinian civil rights in that country.

By using 20 minutes of the proposed 90, recommended by the Palestine Civil Rights Campaign here, Lebanon’s Parliament can, in one fell swoop reach out to the Sunni community and the Christian community (about 90% of Palestinians in Lebanon are Sunni and approximately 10% Christian) by employing a quick and tidy yea-nay vote to repeal the 2001 racist law that forbids home ownership for Palestinian refugees here. This law outlawing the home ownership civil right for Palestinians only, as expressed by the two initial sponsors still in Parliament, was only originally meant as a 2001 election year gimmick to garner anti-Palestinian votes and not ever intended to be implemented.

History teaches us that the 2001 law was in fact part of the anti-Palestinian “pay-back” for the PLO’s involvement in the fifteen-year Lebanese civil war (1975-1990). In what many Palestinians in the camps here objected to then and continue to view as a cataclysmic error, its leadership ignominiously withdrew from Lebanon in the late summer of 1982, under Zionist and Reagan administration pressure and false promises of an immediate Palestinian homeland.

With the remaining 70 minutes, the Resistance-dominated Parliament could reach out to the Sunni and Christian communities as noted above and grant Palestinian refugees in Lebanon the same right to work that every refugee everywhere has, including those in the apartheid state of occupied Palestine. The same right as everyone is immediately granted when their passport is stamped at any Lebanese border post.

This single act by Lebanon’s Parliament, would help repair Shia-Sunni relations globally and would dampen down -- and expose for what they are, the extremist Salafist-jihadist-Wahhabist incitements to religious hatred, both intra-Muslim and Muslim-Christian. It would also, according to several Palestinian NGO’s working in Lebanon, keep Palestinians out of the Syrian conflict.

Allowing Palestinians in Lebanon the internationally guaranteed right to work, would also, according to studies by the UN International Labor Organization and other academic studies, substantially build up Lebanon’s fragile economy by creating more than twice the number of jobs that they would be employed at, including those in the 32 professions currently outlawed for Palestinian refugees.

Franklin Lamb is doing research in Syria and Lebanon
and can be reached c/o

Colombia Heightens War on Workers/Peasants

Colombia’s Peasants and Workers Under Fire

by James Jordan - Alliance for Global Justice

There has been an alarming escalation of repression against rural populations in Colombia. Much of this is focused against the National Unified Federation of Agricultural Workers Unions, or Fensuagro–the country’s largest labor organization representing rural workers. Fensuagro is doubly targeted not only because of the peasant farmers and workers it represents, but because it is the most prominent union in the Marcha Patriótica (Patriotic March), a social movement demanding meaningful land reform, an open and safe climate for the political opposition, unionists and human rights advocates, and popular participation in the nation’s peace process.

Repression has also been high in rural settings for unions such as the Colombian Federation of Educators, or Fecode, and for human rights defenders. It is troubling that this overlaps with the current peace process and with more than two years of the Labor Action Plan (LAP). The LAP was enacted in April 2011, calling on the Colombian government to fulfill a series of commitments in order for the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement to be passed. Only one month later, in May, 2011, the US Trade Representative’s office announced ahead of schedule that the Colombian government had fulfilled these commitments and the FTA went into full effect.

The rising repression seems to be motivated by two primary factors: 1) the desire of the Colombian oligarchy and transnational corporate interests to augment and consolidate the appropriation of peasant land in the event of a successful peace process and land reform; and, 2) an attempt to prevent the emergence of a strong Left political bloc.

The reality for rural workers has not been one of improved labor or basic human rights. Besides the repression against labor organizers and human rights advocates, forced displacement has increased by 83% over the past year according to CODHES (the Consultancy on Human Rights and Displacement). Colombia already has the world’s highest number of internally displaced, as many as 6 million, and more than 60% of these are from farming communities. Also hard hit are indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities, with Afro-Colombians disproportionately affected the past year. Of course, farming communities can also be indigenous or Afro-Colombian, so there is much overlap.

Peasant farmers provide 70% of the food that Colombians eat. But over the past 15 years of Plan Colombia, the US and Colombia’s “war plan”, Colombians have been dispossessed of 20 million hectares of land and half the country’s land is now in the hands of 1% of the population, , according to Virginia Bouvier of the United States Institute of Peace. If one looks at the places where farmers are displaced from, without exception the areas are in or near sites wanted for the development of extractive industries, hydroelectric projects built for the export of electricity, or big agribusinesses with operations carried out by foreign corporations.

Regarding the Marcha Patriótica, many fear that this repression portends a possible repeat of the genocide against the Patriotic Union. The Patriotic Union was a Left political party founded as part of a previous peace process that was derailed when some 5,000 of its leaders, candidates and elected officials were systematically assassinated over a period of ten years.

Over the past three months:

* Two Fensuagro organizers, Alonso Lozano and Gustavo Adolfo Pizo, have been assassinated, both of these leaders of the Fensuagro affiliate in Cauca, Sinpeagric (Union of Small Farmers of Cauca);

* One, Maribel Oviedo, of the Tolima Fensuagro affiliate, Astracatol (Association of Peasant Workers of Tolima) has been threatened with execution and illegally held hostage by members of the Colombian Armed Forces, her release secured when word was leaked to the local community about what was happening, and a national and international campaign was mobilized on her behalf;

* Eight Fensuagro unionists and Marcha Patriótica representatives have been arrested in the Department of Tolima just days after attending the Forum on Political Participation organized by the National University and a United Nations agency. Among those arrested is Guillermo Cano, Human Rights Coordinator for Astracatol and member of the Executive Board for Fensuagro.

* Seven Fensuagro unionists have been killed in the first year following the installation of the Marcha Patriótica in April 2011.

It is often said that Colombia is the most dangerous place in the world to be a union member. It follows, then, that Fensuagro is one of the most targeted unions on the planet. Over the past 30 years there have been more than 3,000 unionists murdered in Colombia. In the 37 years of Fensuagro’s existence, it has lost over 1,500 of its members. Because Fensuagro represents rural farmers and farm workers, they represent the population hardest hit by forced displacement.

Fecode has also suffered a great deal of repression, and most of that has been targeted against teachers in rural areas. Teachers are often one of only a few literate adults in many peasant villages, and play an integral role in community cohesion and the flow of information. Since 1986, Fecode has lost 972 of its members to assassinations, and last year, according to Fecode Pres. Zenen Nino, members of the union received in excess of 500 threats.

Another indicator of the repression aimed at rural populations is the persecution sustained by human rights advocates in rural settings. According to Somos Defensores (We Are Defenders), 2012 saw the most threats and attacks against human rights advocates in ten years, with an advocate being assaulted every 20 hours and one being killed every five days. There was a 49% increase in individual assaults over 2011. Somos Defenores reports that 97% of assassinated human rights advocates are from rural zones.

Despite this heavy repression, solidarity between US unions and Fensuagro is a recent phenomenon, and solidarity with Fecode has been intermittent. When the Alliance for Global Justice (AfGJ), which is not a labor organization, began its Colombia working group in August 2008, AfGJ was the only US organization with an ongoing program of solidarity with Fensuagro. That situation began to change when the United Steelworkers (USW) opened official channels of communication with the agricultural union in 2011. Since that time a series of resolutions of solidarity with Fensuagro have been passed by various labor federations and union bodies, beginning with the South Bay Labor Federation in California and spreading to the statewide California Labor Federation, the Long Island (New York) Labor Federation, the Pima County (Arizona) Labor Federation and the New York State United Auto Workers. It should be noted that the USW is the largest industrial union in the US and the California Labor Federation represents one out of six US unionists—so this new solidarity is not insignificant.

One can only hope that the USW and/or one of these resolution-sponsoring bodies will take the next step and carry a resolution forward to the AFL-CIO convention in Los Angeles in September 2013. However, despite these hopeful developments, the momentum seems to have stopped right when it is most needed. Rather than official labor delegations, efforts to broaden such solidarity via the entire AFL-CIO, and union-approved denunciations and alerts regarding the escalating repression of the past three months against Fensuagro, this new solidarity seems to have dissipated into silence.

In 2009, the Solidarity Center actually intervened to stop a nascent relationship between Fensuagro and the USW. The Solidarity Center is associated with the AFL-CIO, but receives more than 90% of its funding from the federal government, and its programs generally reflect US government priorities, rather than those of rank and file unionists. We do not know if there has been any recent intervention by the Solidarity Center, however, with Fensuagro’s strong criticisms of the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement and its association with the political opposition, and given that the escalation of violence against this and other unions stands in sharp contrast to the passing grade the USTR gave Colombia regarding labor rights, one can well imagine that those who hold the purse strings of the Solidarity Center in the State Department and USAID might be concerned with high profile solidarity given to Fensuagro.

It has been suggested that certain leaders of the AFL-CIO are taking a step backwards from solidarity with Colombian unions that are not in step with US government goals. The situation is further exacerbated by the particular reluctance of the AFL-CIO to be in direct contradiction to an administration affiliated with the Democratic Party. There is some precedence for this concern. There are 2008 and 2009 Wikileaks cables that reveal that at the very same time that the AFL-CIO was undertaking a campaign to defeat the FTA, the Solidarity Center’s Bogotá office was meeting with the US Embassy to discuss efforts to support the FTA.

There are perhaps internal struggles going on within the AFL-CIO regarding Free Trade Agreements, generally. In November of 2012, I attended a Labor Caucus at the annual Fort Benning, Georgia protests against the School of the Americas. At that meeting, I heard Cathy Feingold, the Director of International Affairs for the AFL-CIO, call passionately for a movement to defeat the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would be the largest FTA in the world, including the US, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, Japan,Vietnam and New Zealand. However, if one today visits the AFL-CIO website page on the TPP, one encounters a far different tone:

This trade agreement presents the Obama administration with an opportunity to reform U.S. trade policy so it helps U.S. businesses export goods, rather than outsource jobs. The president and his team have an opportunity to deliver a new trade model for the 21st century that creates jobs, protects the environment and ensures safe imports. Negotiations must include provisions that will benefit U.S. workers, not simply the largest global corporations.

In other words, the AFL-CIO is now calling for tinkering with the TPP, rather than defeating it.

There is no such confusion about FTA’s among union families. According to two separate polls in 2010, one by NBC/Wall Street Journal and one by the Pew Research Center, more than 60% of union families oppose new FTAs.

Besides the simple discomfort that some in the AFL-CIO must feel in regards to opposing the trade positions of the Obama administration, there is the added issue of the thumbs-up the Obama administration gave Colombia about labor rights in order to implement the FTA.

According to the National Labor School in Colombia, there were 20 assassinations of unionists in 2012, while the International Trade Union Confederation reported 35. These numbers are lower than the previous years, but, as noted in an article by Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli, of WOLA, and Dan Kovalik, of the USW (who, among USW leaders, has been especially committed to Colombia solidarity),

While this is an improvement from prior years…Colombia still remains number one in the world for total number of trade unionists killed. Moreover…one should keep in mind the fact, as previously observed by Colombia’s Jesuit Father Javier Giraldo, that after years of killing unionist in the hundreds—for a total of well over 3,000 since 1986—there are simply less unionists in Colombia to kill and killing tens of unionists a year now still elicits the requisite terror in the hearts and minds of Colombian workers to deter them from union activity.

Furthermore, a Public Citizen report on the aftermath of two years of the Labor Action Plan shows that “…union members in Colombia received 471 death threats—exactly the same number as the average annual level of death threats in the two years before the Plan….” And, as mentioned earlier, Fecode reports that it alone has received 500 threats in just the last year. Today the rate of unionization in Colombia is 4%, one of the lowest rates in the world, even below the rate of unionization in countries where labor unions are considered illegal.

It is well known that the Solidarity Center actively discourages political activity by labor unions. This position is, of course, selective. Anyone familiar with labor unions in the US knows how thoroughly allied the AFL-CIO is with the Democratic Party, and that it devotes huge resources in funds and people power to campaigning for chosen candidates.

On an international basis, the Solidarity Center showed little restraint when it acted as a conduit for US political interference in Venezuela in 2002. The Solidarity Center funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV) while they were plotting a failed coup against the elected government of Pres. Hugo Chávez. Curiously, a month before the coup actually took place, the Caracas office moved its operations to Bogotá, Colombia, where it remains today, continuing to coordinate activities in both Colombia and Venezuela. To this day the AFL-CIO still has posted on its website a defense not only of Carlos Ortega, the former President of the CTV who helped plan the 2002 coup attempt, but also of Carlos Fernandez, former President of Fedecamaras, the Venezuelan Chamber of Commerce, and Ortega’s partner in the failed overthrow. The CTV and Fedecamaras not only worked together toward the coup attempt of April , 2002, but in a lockout of oil workers in December, 2002 designed to cripple the Venezuelan economy. This is one of the few examples in international labor history where a labor union took its orders from a bosses organization in helping keep workers from their jobs.

In Haiti, we see an example of how the Solidarity Center rewards behavior in accordance with US government designs, and withholds solidarity from workers most in need, based on political reasons. The country’s largest union, the Confederation of Haitian Workers (CTH), was brutally persecuted during and after the US sponsored coup against the elected government of President Jean Bertrand Aristide. During this period, the Solidarity Center did nothing to support the CTH, but rather gave over $300,000 to a small labor organization that in the midst of the coup was calling for the resignation of Pres. Aristide.

However, when I went to Haiti in 2010, I found out that not only had the CTH been “rehabilitated”, but that its President was now part of the National Electoral Council that had prohibited Lavalas, Haiti’s largest political party, from participating in elections. The CTH had formerly been associated with Lavalas. The CTH had also dropped its objection to the development of a free trade zone employing factory workers for wages significantly below the minimum wage. Suddenly, the Solidarity Center started giving the CTH hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants.

The Solidarity Center is a core institute of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). NED co-founder Alan Weinstein told the Washington Post in 1999 that, “A lot of what we do was done 25 years ago covertly by the CIA.” So we can see clearly that the Solidarity Center concern about union political activity is thoroughly selective and based on US government priorities.

But in regards to unions associated with Left political orientations, the mantra of the Solidarity Center is almost endless, calling on unions to focus on particular labor struggles rather than political objectives. A September 14, 2004 cable from the US Embassy in Colombia speaks of a US Department of Labor (DOL) funded study conducted by the International Labor Organization (ILO) in Colombia. The title of the cable was REMOVING POLITCS FROM LABOR RELATIONS REDUCES VIOLENCE AND STRENGTHENS DIALOGUE. The cable notes that,

…removing politics from labor relations can play an important role in…reducing levels of violence against trade unionists and management.…The ILO study does more than support our conclusions about the nature of labor violence in Colombia [the emphasis is mine] ….The ILO study provides models for future action through which unions may be convinced to leave politics to Colombia’s political parties and focus instead on labor relations and the promotion of traditional labor priorities….We urge that serious consideration be given to extending this program or funding other programs — perhaps under FTA-related capacity building assistance….

By the time we get to August 11, 2008, we find another Embassy cable describing meetings that include Rhett Doumitt of the Solidarity Center’s Bogotá Office. The cable notes that, “Doumitt complains that the politics of the labor movement in Colombia impede positive, practical advances on labor issues.” It was during this same period that the Bogotá office of the Solidarity Center was participating in meetings with the Embassy to discuss the founding of a Colombian labor federation that would promote the US-Colombia FTA, despite a clear majority of unions in both Colombia and the US opposed to the FTA.

On April 9, 2013, I observed more than one million people marching in Bogotá, Colombia in support of the peace process. It is of some note that most Colombian unions did not endorse the march, although thousands of unionists participated in it. One labor activist told me it is because of the growing perception that unions should focus on specific labor issues and not on larger political struggles. With a major increase over the past year in Solidarity Center and US Department of Labor funding and activity in Colombia, one can only wonder what role they are playing today in efforts to de-politicize Colombian unions. ( and )

Three unions did endorse the march: Fensuagro, Fecode and USO. Fecode and USO have received some limited support from the Solidarity Center. Fensuagro has been summarily ignored or, worse, undermined.

The reality is that for these unions, it is simply impossible and unrealistic to divorce labor from political struggle. To suggest that it is political struggle that is the reason that these unions are targeted is an example of blaming the victim. Workers in Colombia have the same right to organize around their political interests as the AFL-CIO has to endorse and work for Democratic Party candidates. The problem is not that these unions are politically involved. The problem is that there is a political climate of violent repression for those who get involved in opposition activities.

The idea that Colombian labor unions should “leave politics to Colombia’s political parties and focus instead on labor relations” is especially cynical, given not only the ineffectiveness of Colombia’s traditional parties in protecting unionists, but, worse, the fact that they are the very ones who have ordered so many unionists to be put in jail, and given that the Colombian Armed Forces continue to be implicated in the repression of rural labor unionists and human rights advocates. For instance, in Tolima and Cauca, two of the Departments where Fensuagro unions are most targeted, the majority of threats and attacks against unionists are committed by the Colombian military.

We also hear of transnational corporations such as Drummond Coal, Coca-Cola, Chiquita Banana, Dole and others literally paying paramilitaries and looking the other way when these death squads intimidate and kill unionists. The idea that labor should isolate from political struggle is tantamount to saying that labor unions should not defend themselves from what constitutes a frontal assault by corporate supported paramilitaries and from the repression of the state. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the political orientation of unions like Fensuagro or of movements such as the Marcha Patriótica, any defender of civil liberties and labor rights and any proponent of peace must recognize that there is no just peace when nonviolent political dissent is violently crushed and workers are denied a voice in the nation’s affairs.

Let me make clear that the AFL-CIO and the Solidarity Center have also both acted at various times to defend Colombian unionists from repression. However, that defense was sharper during the Bush administration than during the Obama one. And there have indeed been some examples of US labor solidarity over the years with unions such as Fecode and USO. But there can be no doubt that the lion’s share of US labor solidarity has been reserved for union bodies that have refrained from active participation in political activities at odds with US government objectives. These have included labor organizations such as the General Confederation of Workers (CGT) and the National Union of Workers in the Agricultural Industry , or Sintrainagro, both supporters of the US-Colombia FTA. In fact, Sintrainagro in 2010 even offered to accompany the Colombian government in FTA negotiations.

Certainly, any union repressed for its organizing activities deserves international solidarity, including the CGT and Sintrainagro. Sintrainagro, which represents sugar cane workers, has recently endured its own share of threats and violence. But Fensuagro, Fecode and USO merit solidarity as well. Instead, what we are witnessing is the “Haiti model”, aka “carrot and stick approach”, already discussed: selected application of US labor solidarity not to meet the greatest need, but to reward practices that are in line with official US government policies. Thus, the Solidarity Center is acting as an arm not of labor, but of the US government. This has been the concern for pro-union critics of the Solidarity Center all along—not that we oppose the idea of a Solidarity Center, but that we want a Solidarity Center that proceeds from the ground up, from the locals to the halls of the AFL-CIO offices in DC, a Solidarity Center that reflects the international concerns of its membership, rather than the policy dictates of the federal government.

Fortunately, there is a movement afoot in US labor that is standing up in solidarity with Fensuagro, as well as with other targeted unions. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, it represents a new wind of labor independence in world affairs.

The USW deserves much credit for developing this new form of union to union, worker to worker solidarity. The USW’s official relationship with Fensuagro comes about as a result of its membership in Workers Uniting, a partnership with the largest unions in the United Kingdom and Ireland. These unions already had an established relationship with Fensuagro when the USW joined with them. The USW is also a union that includes not only US but Canadian workers. Thus the basis of the USW’s solidarity reflects its own increasingly global character. And while the USW is fully participant in the Solidarity Center, it must be noted that the avenue of this particular solidarity is via an independent and alternative route. The relationship established by the USW with Fensuagro has opened up the space for other important labor organizations to step forward and declare their solidarity with the embattled union.

All this can be seen as an extension of a process begun in 2005, when the AFL-CIO passed a resolution criticizing the war in Iraq and calling for the “rapid” return home of US troops. According to a press release by US Labor Against the War (USLAW), “Adoption of this resolution represents the first time in its 50 year history that the federation [AFL-CIO] has taken a position squarely in opposition to a major U.S. foreign policy or military action.”

The majority of the pro-Fensuagro resolutions have also explicitly mentioned Fensuagro’s membership in the Marcha Patriótica as a main reason it is targeted, and thus call for the safety not only of the union, but of the popular movement it is part of. Even before the peace process had begun, and when both the US and Colombian governments were rejecting the idea of negotiations in favor of a military-only solution, the Marcha Patriótica had been demanding a peace process. These resolutions are therefore implicitly critical of US policies that support war and repression in Colombia.

For labor activists in the US, there is another especially historic aspect: Solidarity with Fensuagro represents a break with the Solidarity Center status quo.

These resolutions actually give the Solidarity Center itself the chance to signal that changes may be taking place within its own structures. The Solidarity Center was formed in 1997 as part of a reform movement that was in contrast to the history of the AFL-CIO as a front for the CIA in its international relations. Nevertheless, it was headed formany years by Harry Kamberis, who came to the Solidarity Center not from the ranks of unionists, but from his position at the Asian-American Free Labor Institute (AAFLI), from 1986 to 1997. Kamberis’ main background was originally not with labor, but as a former foreign service officer and international business person. Kamberis was at AAFLI at a time of bloody repression of unionists in South Korea, the Philippines and elsewhere in Asia—with those most repressed also the most ignored by US labor. It was under Kamberis that money was funded to coup plotters in Venezuela in 2002. Kamberis also spoke supportively of Bush administration policies in Iraq.

Kamberis stepped down from his position in September, 2005. Since then, the Solidarity Center has been less likely to be directly involved in the kinds of questionable activities seen under Kamberis—although it could be that they are just better at hiding them. One of the most negative aspects of the Solidarity Center is that other than vague descriptions of certain programs, their books are not open for review by the public or by union members.

Nevertheless, there are many new faces at the Solidarity Center and some of these do come out of more progressive labor solidarity movements. But in Colombia and Venezuela, we still see an “old guard” in charge. If the Solidarity Center really wants to show unionists around the world that it is a new and different kind of organization, one thing that it can do is to welcome the USW relationship with Fensuagro, and the pro-Fensuagro resolutions that have been passed, and it can not stand in the way or undermine any efforts to bring a pro-Fensuagro resolution to the AFL-CIO convention this September.

But for the Solidarity Center to ever truly be trusted in Colombia and elsewhere, and if it is to win the confidence of labor’s rank and file and of the international solidarity and peace movements in the US, it must do three things:

1. Open its books on its operations past, present and future;

2. Ween itself off of State Department and USAID funding and fund itself via union monies and independent revenues;

3. Base its policies on actual need and with direction that comes from the bottom up, involving union locals and rank and file unionists, and thus representing the desires and mandates of the union movement itself, rather than that of the federal government.

Meanwhile, for those unions and labor organizations that have taken stands in favor of Fensuagro, we must call on them to stay active and to not back off. It is a disturbing trend that even those labor bodies that have publicly expressed their solidarity have slipped back into silence when the need is most acute. It is time for US labor to show clearly that it is ready to stand up for Fensuagro, stand up for Colombian unionists and, above all, to stand up for peace and justice in Colombia.

James Jordan is National Co-Coordinator for the Alliance for Global Justice.

Status for All Marchers Defy Montreal's P-6 Rule, Police Lie About Enforcement

Migrant Justice March Defies Bylaw P-6, Montreal police misinform media to protect arbitrary use of anti-protest bylaw

by Status for All

Montreal, 23 May 2013 - Police misinformed media and the public this week about protestors' compliance with the anti-protest bylaw P-6. In fact, organizers of Saturday's annual Status for All march against deportations refused to give police their itineraries and encouraged people to wear masks in conscious defiance of P-6. 
Despite police warnings and, in some cases, significant interference, four contingents - starting in Côte des Neiges, Verdun, Villeray and Hochelaga - were able to march through the city to converge downtown for a rally at Philips Square.

"The SPVM informed La Presse that itineraries were provided to police; they then repeated the same thing on twitter. This is false. We have never given our itinerary to the police and this year was no exception, despite the context of increased police repression. In addition, many people wore masks," said march organizer Rosalind Wong.
"We made a decision to not share our itineraries in defiance of the P-6 bylaw because we refuse to give police the power to decide when and where and who can protest. We also wanted to express our solidarity with the hundreds of people who have been arrested while protesting against this repressive bylaw in the last months. At the same time, we encouraged people to wear masks as an act of symbolic solidarity with members of our communities who cannot show their faces in public because of their status," said another march oganizer, Mary Foster.
"Our decision to defy P-6 was not easy because borders and racism make our communities vulnerable to police repression. However, we made a conscious choice to join the many other community organizations in Montreal who are standing up to this attempt to control popular movements," added Wong. "It is outrageous that the SPVM is pretending that we complied with P-6 to protect their arbitrary use of this bylaw and conceal their political profiling. We won't play along with that."

Status for All Information sheet on P-6 distributed before and during the march:

Anti-P-6 Statement signed by Status for All member organizations:


Press Release
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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Spoils of Democracy: Billionaire Endgame for America

Billionaires Unchained: The New Pay-As-You-Go Landscape of American “Democracy”

by Andy Kroll  - TomDispatch

Billionaires with an axe to grind, now is your time. Not since the days before a bumbling crew of would-be break-in artists set into motion the fabled Watergate scandal, leading to the first far-reaching restrictions on money in American politics, have you been so free to meddle. There is no limit to the amount of money you can give to elect your friends and allies to political office, to defeat those with whom you disagree, to shape or stunt or kill policy, and above all to influence the tone and content of political discussion in this country.

Today, politics is a rich man's game. Look no further than the 2012 elections and that season's biggest donor, 79-year-old casino mogul Sheldon Adelson. He and his wife, Miriam, shocked the political class by first giving $16.5 million in an effort to make Newt Gingrich the Republican presidential nominee. Once Gingrich exited the race, the Adelsons invested more than $30 million in electing Mitt Romney. They donated millions more to support GOP candidates running for the House and Senate, to block a pro-union measure in Michigan, and to bankroll the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other conservative stalwarts (which waged their own campaigns mostly to help Republican candidates for Congress). All told, the Adelsons donated $94 million during the 2012 cycle -- nearly four times the previous record set by liberal financier George Soros. And that's only the money we know about. When you add in so-called dark money, one estimate puts their total giving at closer to $150 million.
Tomgram: Andy Kroll, A Democracy of the Wealthy

Once upon a time, the election season began with the New Hampshire primary in early March and never really gained momentum (or much attention) until the candidates were chosen and the fall campaign revved up. Now, the New Hampshire primary is in early January, and by then, the campaign season has already been underway for a couple of years.

Consider campaign 2016, the next 1% presidential election of the twenty-first century. It’s more than underway with congressional hearings that are visibly organized to skewer possible Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, and that special table-setter, the first Karl Rove super PAC attack video/ad, also lighting out after the former secretary of state. Looked at another way, like recent presidential campaigns, the 2016 version actually began before the last election ended. The initial media handicapping of future candidates by reporters and pundits, for instance, hit the news well before the first voter emerged from a polling booth in 2012 -- and it’s never stopped. Similarly, the first Iowa poll for the next campaign season made it on the scene within days of the 2012 vote count (Hillary was ahead), and the first attack ads in early primary states are already appearing. With thousands or perhaps tens of thousands of polls to follow, Americans will repeatedly “vote” in contests set up by companies, often hired by political parties or politicians to take the pulse of the public in the unending serial ballots that now precede the actual election.

And don’t forget the single most obvious characteristic of supersizing American democracy: money that will flood the zone. Billions of dollars will go to “political consultants” (in 2012, an estimated $3 billion) and billions of dollars in ads will inundate TV, radio, and almost any other medium around ($6 billion in 2012 and expected to climb in 2016). Billions of words of punditry and commentary about the election (always) “of the century” will flow from well-funded TV news outfits stoked by all those ad dollars. Above all, there will be the money pouring into super PACs and the dark side, which will inundate everything else, shaping the new landscape in which U.S. elections now take place. The sums are staggering, and the limits on how much a wealthy person can “contribute” are rapidly falling away.

As a result, “earlier” and “more” are likely to be the operative political words for 2016, which means that, in a sense, American “democracy” couldn’t be more vigorous. Unfortunately, it's the vigor of the wealthy, as TomDispatch Associate Editor Andy Kroll makes clear. Increasingly, it's their system, politically speaking and in every other way, and welcome to it. Tom 

Billionaires Unchained: The New Pay-As-You-Go Landscape of American “Democracy”

by Andy Kroll

It was not one of Adelson's better bets. Romney went down in flames; the Republicans failed to retake the Senate and conceded seats in the House; and the majority of candidates backed by Adelson-funded groups lost, too. But Adelson, who oozes chutzpah as only a gambling tycoon worth $26.5 billion could, is undeterred. Politics, he told the Wall Street Journal in his first post-election interview, is like poker: "I don't cry when I lose. There's always a new hand coming up." He said he could double his 2012 giving in future elections. "I'll spend that much and more," he said. "Let's cut any ambiguity."

But simply tallying Adelson's wins and losses -- or the Koch brothers', or George Soros's, or any other mega-donors' -- misses the bigger point. What matters is that these wealthy funders were able to give so much money in the first place.

With the advent of super PACs and a growing reliance on secretly funded nonprofits, the very wealthy can pour their money into the political system with an ease that didn't exist as recently as this moment in Barack Obama's first term in office. For now at least, Sheldon Adelson is an extreme example, but he portends a future in which 1-percenters can flood the system with money in ways beyond the dreams of ordinary Americans. In the meantime, the traditional political parties, barred from taking all that limitless cash, seem to be sliding toward irrelevance. They are losing their grip on the political process, political observers say, leaving motivated millionaires and billionaires to handpick the candidates and the issues. "It'll be wealthy people getting together and picking horses and riding those horses through a primary process and maybe upending the consensus of the party," a Democratic strategist recently told me. "We're in a whole new world."

The Rise of the Super PAC

She needed something sexy, memorable. In all fairness, anything was an improvement on "independent expenditure-only political action committee." Eliza Newlin Carney, one of D.C.'s trustiest scribes on the campaign money beat, didn't want to type out that clunker day after day. She knew this was big news -- the name mattered. Then it came to her:

Super PAC.

The Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision is often blamed -- or hailed -- for creating super PACs. In fact, it was a lesser-known case, vs. Federal Election Commission, decided by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals two months later, that did the trick. At the heart of SpeechNow was the central tension in all campaign money fights: the balance between stopping corruption or the appearance of corruption, and protecting the right to free speech. In this instance, the D.C. appeals court, influenced by the Citizens United decision, landed on the side of free speech, ruling that limits to giving and spending when it came to any group -- and here's the kicker -- acting independently of candidates and campaigns violated the First Amendment.

Wonky as that may sound, SpeechNow reconfigured the political landscape and unchained big donors after decades of restrictions. The lawyers who argued the case, the academics and legal eagles whose expertise is campaign finance, and the beat reporters like Carney Newlin soon grasped what SpeechNow had wrought: a new, turbocharged political outfit that had no precedent in American politics.

Super PACs can raise unlimited amounts of money from pretty much anyone -- individuals, corporations, labor unions -- and there is no limit on how much they can spend. Every so often, they must reveal their donors and show how they spent their money. And they can't directly coordinate with candidates or their campaigns. For instance, Restore Our Future, the super PAC that spent $142 million to elect Mitt Romney, couldn't tell his campaign when or where it was running TV ads, couldn't share scripts, couldn't trade messaging ideas. Nor could Restore Our Future -- yes, even its founders wince at the name -- sit down with Romney and tape an interview for a TV ad.

It's far easier, in other words, for a super PAC to attack the other guy, which helps explain all the hostility on the airwaves in 2012. Sixty-four percent of all ads aired during the presidential race were negative, up from 51% in 2008, 44% in 2004, and 29% in 2000. Much of that negativity can be blamed on super PACs and their arsenal of attack ads, according to a recent analysis by Wesleyan University's Erika Franklin Fowler and Washington State University's Travis Ridout. They found that a staggering 85% of all ads aired by “outside groups” were negative, while only 5% were positive.

And it will only get worse. "It's going to be the case that the more super PACs invest in elections, the more negative those elections will be," Michael Franz, a co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project, told me. "They're the ones doing the dirty work." Think of them as the attack dogs of a candidate's campaign -- and the growling packs of super PACs are growing fast.

The savviest political operatives quickly realized how potentially powerful such outfits could be when it came to setting agendas and influencing the political system. In March 2010, Karl Rove, George W. Bush's erstwhile political guru, launched American Crossroads, a super PAC aimed at influencing the 2010 midterms. As consultants like Rove and the wealthy donors they courted saw the advantages of having their own super PACs -- no legal headaches, no giving or spending limits -- the groups grew in popularity.

By November 2010, 83 of them had spent $63 million on the midterm elections. Nearly $6 of every $10 they put out supported conservative candidates, and it showed: buoyed by the Tea Party, Republicans ran roughshod over the Democrats, retaking control of the House and winnowing their majority in the Senate. It was a "shellacking," as President Obama put it, powered by rich donors and the new organizations that went with them.

In 2012, no one, it seemed, could afford to sit on the sidelines. Having decried super PACs as "a threat to democracy," Obama and his advisers flip-flopped and blessed the creation of one devoted specifically to reelecting the president. Soon, they were everywhere, at the local, state, and federal levels. A mom started one to back her daughter's congressional campaign in Washington State. Aunts and uncles bankrolled their nephew's super PAC in North Carolina. Super PACs spent big on abortion, same-sex marriage, and other major issues.

In all, the number of super PACs shot up to 1,310 during the 2012 campaign, a 15-fold increase from two years earlier. Fundraising and spending similarly exploded: these outfits raised $828 million and spent $609 million.

But what's most striking about these groups is who funds them. An analysis by the liberal think tank Demos found that out of every $10 raised by super PACs in 2012, $9 came from just 3,318 people giving $10,000 or more. That small club of donors is equivalent to 0.0011% of the U.S. population.

Into the Shadows

In late April, roughly 100 donors gathered at a resort in Laguna Beach, California. They were all members of the Democracy Alliance, a private group of wealthy liberals that includes George Soros and Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes. Over five days, they swapped ideas on how best to promote a progressive agenda and took in pitches from leaders of the most powerful liberal and left-leaning groups in America, including Organizing for Action, the rebooted version of Obama's 2012 presidential campaign. Since the Democracy Alliance's founding in 2005, its members have given $500 million to various causes and organizations. At the Laguna Beach event alone, its members pledged a reported $50 million.

At the same time, about 100 miles to the east, a similar scene was playing out. A few hundred conservative and libertarian donors descended on the Renaissance Esmeralda Resort and Spa in Palm Springs for the latest donor conference convened by billionaire Charles Koch, one-half of the mighty "Koch brothers." Over two days, donors mingled with politicians, heard presentations by leading activists, and pledged serious money to bankroll groups promoting the free-market agenda in Washington and around the country.

The philosophies of these two groups couldn't be more different. But they have this in common: the money raised by the Democracy Alliance and the Kochs' political network is secret. The public will never know its true source. Call it “dark money.”

So what is dark money? How does it wind up in our elections? Say you're a billionaire and you want to give $1 million to anonymously influence an election. You're in luck: you can give that money, as many donors have, to a nonprofit organized under the 501(c)(4) section of the tax code. That nonprofit, in turn, can spend your money on election-related TV ads or mailers or online videos. But there's a catch: unlike super PACs, the majority of a 501(c)(4) nonprofit's work can't be political. Note, though, that where the IRS draws the line on how much politicking is too much, and even what the taxman defines as political, is very murky. And until Congress and the IRS straighten all of that out, donors wanting to influence elections have a mostly scrutiny-free way to unload their money.

This type of nonprofit has a long history in U.S. politics. The Sierra Club, for instance, has a 501(c)(4) affiliate, as does the National Rifle Association. But in recent years, political operatives and wealthy donors have seized on this breed of nonprofit as a new way to shovel secret money into campaigns. Between 2010 and 2012, the number of applications for 501(c)(4) status spiked from 1,500 to 3,400, according to IRS official Lois Lerner.

During the 2010 campaign, politically active nonprofits -- “super secret spooky PACs,” as Stephen Colbert calls them -- outspent super PACs by a three to two margin, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis. Take the American Action Network (AAN), run by former Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota. The group purports to be an "issue-based" nonprofit that only dabbles in politics, but its tax records suggest otherwise. From July 2009 through June 2011, as Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington noted, 60% of AAN's money went toward politics. (An AAN spokesman called the complaint "baseless.")

Because they're so lacking in transparency, some nonprofits have been emboldened to bend -- if not break -- the tax law. One of the more egregious examples was benignly named the Commission on Hope, Growth, and Opportunity (CHGO). Created in the summer of 2010, it informed the IRS that it wouldn't spend a penny on politics. During the 2010 elections, however, it put $2.3 million into ads attacking 11 Democratic congressional candidates. Then, sometime in 2011, CHGO simply closed up shop and disappeared -- a classic case of political hit-and-run. And it wouldn't have happened without a secretive wealthy bankroller: of the $4.8 million raised by CHGO, tax records show that $4 million came from a single donor (though we don’t know his or her name).

Transparency advocates and reformers supporting more limits on spending have pushed back against the new wave of dark money. They have filed numerous complaints with the IRS and the Federal Election Commission alleging that politically active nonprofits are flouting the law and demanding a crackdown. Marcus Owens, the former head of the IRS's exempt organizations division, which oversees politically active nonprofits, agrees that the agency needs to take action. "The government's going to have to investigate them and prosecute them," Owens, who is now in private practice, told me in January. "In order to maintain the integrity of the process, they're going to be forced to take action."

Don't hold your breath for that. This week, a report by a Treasury Department inspector general revealed that IRS staffers singled out tea partiers and other conservative groups which had applied for tax-exempt status for special scrutiny. Now, Republicans and Democrats are howling with outrage and demanding that heads roll. One result of this debacle, ex-IRS director Marcus Owens told me, is that the IRS will certainly shy away from cracking down on those nonprofits that do abuse the tax code.

At least one politician is upset enough by the steady flow of dark money into our politics to do something about it. Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, who is retiring in 2014, has made the issue of dark money one of the priorities of his time left in office. He plans to "look into the failure of the IRS to enforce our tax laws and stem the flood of hundreds of millions of secret dollars flowing into our elections, eroding public confidence in our democracy."

Do millionaires and billionaires dominate the donor rolls of nonprofits, too? Without disclosure, it's near impossible to know who funds what. But not surprisingly, the limited data we have suggest that, as with super PACs, rich people keep politically active nonprofits flush with cash. The American Action Network, for instance, raised $27.5 million from July 2010 to June 2011; of that haul, 90% of the money came from eight donors, with one giving $7 million. The story is the same with Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS. It raised $77 million from June 2010 to December 2011, and nearly 90% of that came from donors giving at least $1 million. And while Priorities USA, the pro-Obama nonprofit, raised a comparatively tiny $2.3 million in 2011, 80% of it came from a single, anonymous donor.

Big Money Civil War

A few days after the 2012 elections, a handful of Republican politicians including Governor John Kasich of Ohio and Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana met privately with Sheldon Adelson. They were officially in Las Vegas for a gathering of the Republican Governors Association, but it was never too early to court the man who, with a stroke of his pen, could underwrite a presidential hopeful's bid for his or her party's nomination.

Democratic candidates are no different. House and Senate hopefuls are flocking to Hollywood studio boss Jeffrey Katzenberg, one of their party's biggest donors and fundraisers. And why wouldn't they? Barack Obama might not be where he is today without Katzenberg. Days after Obama launched his presidential campaign in 2007, the DreamWorks Animation mogul gave the junior senator his imprimatur and prodded Hollywood into raising $1.3 million for him. Years later, Katzenberg provided $2 million in seed money for the pro-Obama super PAC that played a pivotal role in his reelection.

As 2016 nears, don't be surprised to see the next set of Democrats clambering over each other to win Katzenberg's endorsement and money. Paul Begala, the Democratic consultant and TV pundit, is already predicting what he calls the "Katzenberg primary."

More than ever, a serious Senate or White House bid is dependent not on climbing the party ranks, but on winning the support of a few wealthy bankrollers. In fact, it’s no longer an exaggeration to say that while the political parties still officially pick the candidates for office, the power increasingly lies with the elites of the political donor class.

Super PACs, just three years old, are now a fixture, not a novelty. They've become de rigueur for candidates running at the federal, state, and even local level. Want to scare off potential primary challengers? A super PAC with millions in the bank will help. Need to blast away at your opponent with negative ads without tarnishing your own reputation? Let a super PAC do the dirty work. Any candidate running for office begins with a to-do list, and with each month, getting a super PAC and making friends in the dark money universe rises higher on those lists.

Super PACs and their wealthy donors are also stoking civil wars within the parties. At the moment, they have been springing up to offer cover to politicians who vote a certain way, or stake out traditionally unpopular positions. For instance, Republicans for Immigration Reform, a relatively new super PAC, says it will spend millions to defend GOP politicos who take a moderate stance on immigration reform. And another super PAC, bankrolled by hedge fund investor Paul Singer, intends to spend big money to push more Republicans toward the middle on same-sex marriage. But there are also vigorous tea-party-style super PACs pushing their politicians toward the fringes. Each faction of the GOP is getting its own set of super PACs, and that means an already contentious fight for the future of the party could get far bloodier.

Democrats could find themselves in a money-fueled internal struggle, too. Tom Steyer, a former hedge fund investor worth $1.3 billion, says he’s sick of seeing climate change neglected in campaigns. He now plans to use his vast wealth to elevate it into a banner issue. In a recent primary in Massachusetts, he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars attacking Democratic Congressman Stephen Lynch for supporting the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. Lynch's opponent, Congressman Ed Markey, a leading House environmentalist, went on to win the primary, but Steyer's intervention raised plenty of eyebrows about possible Democrat-on-Democrat combat in 2014.

Meanwhile, as the recent Democracy Alliance and Koch retreats show, millionaires and billionaires are revving up to take ever-greater control of the political process via secretive nonprofits. In April, Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg unveiled, a quasi-dark-money outfit created to give Silicon Valley a greater political presence in Washington. It has already raised $25 million.

Right now, the best avenues for fired-up billionaires exist outside the traditional political parties. The Supreme Court could change that. In a case called McCutcheon vs. Federal Election Commission, the court is considering whether to demolish the overall aggregate limit on how much a donor can give to candidates and parties. If the court rules in favor of Republican donor Shaun McCutcheon, and perhaps goes on to eliminate contribution limits to candidates and parties altogether, super PACs could go out of style faster than Crocs. Donors won't need them. They’ll give their millions straight to the Democrats or the Republicans and that will be that.

There is an important backdrop to all of these changes, and that's the increase in income inequality in this country. Just as the incredibly wealthy are given the freedom to flood the political system with money, they've got more and more money to spend. Our lopsided economic recovery affords a glimpse of that growing inequality gap: from 2009 to 2011, the average wealth of the richest 7% of American households climbed by almost 30%, while the wealth of the remaining 93% of households actually declined by 4%. (So much for that “recovery.”)

Can there be any question that this democracy of ours is nearing dangerous territory, if we're not already there? Picture the 2016 or 2020 election campaigns and, barring a new wave of campaign reforms, it’s not hard to see a tiny minority of people exerting a massive influence on our politics simply by virtue of bank accounts. There is nothing small-d democratic about that. It flies in the face of one of the central premises of this country of ours, equality, including political equality -- the concept that all citizens stand on an equal footing with one another when it comes to having their say on who represents them and how government should work.

Increasingly, it looks like before the rest of us even have our say, before you enter the voting booth, issues, politics, and the politicians will have been winnowed, vetted, and predetermined by the wealthiest Americans. Think of it as a new definition of politics: the democracy of the wealthy, who can fight it out with each other inside and outside the political parties with little reference to you.

In the meantime, the more those of modest means feel drowned out by the money of a tiny minority, the less connected they will feel to the work of government, and the less they will trust elected officials and government as an institution. It’s a formula for tuning out, staying home, and starving whatever’s left of our democracy.

I caught a glimpse of this last November, when I spoke to a class of students at Radford University in Virginia, a state blanketed with super PAC attack ads and dark money in 2012. Over and over, students told me how disgusted they were by all the vitriol they heard when they turned on the TV or the radio. Most said that they ended up ignoring the campaigns; a few were so put off they didn't bother to vote. "They're all bought and sold anyway," one student told me in front of the entire class. "Why would my vote make any difference?"
Andy Kroll covers money in politics for Mother Jones magazine, and is an associate editor at TomDispatch, which he writes for regularly. He lives in Washington, D.C., the only place in America where people freely discuss campaign financing at happy hour.

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Copyright 2013 Andy Kroll