Saturday, December 02, 2017

Black Goat Extirpation: Reaping the Firestorm

In Age of Forest Fires, Israel’s Law Against Palestinian Goats Proves Self-inflicted Wound for Zionism

by Jonathan Cook - Dissident Voice

December 1st, 2017

A ban by Israel on herding black goats – on the pretext they cause environmental damage – is to be repealed after nearly seven decades of enforcement that has decimated the pastoral traditions of Palestinian communities.

The Israeli government appears to have finally conceded that, in an age of climate change, the threat of forest fires to Israeli communities is rapidly growing in the goats’ absence.

The goats traditionally cleared undergrowth, which has become a tinderbox as Israel experiences ever longer and hotter summer droughts.

Exactly a year ago, Israel was hit by more
than 1,500 fires that caused widespread damage.

The story of the lowly black goat, which has been almost eliminated from Israel, is not simply one of unintended consequences. It serves as a parable for the delusions and self-destructiveness of a Zionism bent on erasing Palestinians and creating a slice of Europe in the Middle East.

The 1950 Plant Protection Law, one of Israel’s earliest measures, was introduced as a way to outlaw the black goat, also known as the Syrian goat, from large areas of the country. The goats had been the lifeblood of Bedouin farming communities.

At the time officials declared that the goat was damaging vegetation, especially millions of pine saplings recently planted as forests.

The trees were fulfilling an important Zionist mission, in the eyes of Israel’s founding fathers. They were there to conceal the rubble of more than 530 Palestinian villages the new state had set about destroying and prevent the return of some 750,000 Palestinians who were expelled during the 1948 war that founded Israel – what Palestinians call the Nakba, Arabic for “Catastrophe”.

Close by the ruins of the villages, Israel established hundreds of exclusively Jewish communities like the kibbutz and moshav to farm the former lands of the Palestinian refugees.

Both the ban on goats and the mass planting of European pines were part of Zionism’s efforts to sell the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians as “environmentalism” – a supposedly green agenda that is now being exposed as a sham.

Planting pine forests

Jews around the world were encouraged to drop pennies into charitable “blue boxes” as a donation to help the young state “redeem the land”.

In fact, the money was being mostly used to plant pine forests over the razed Palestinians villages, making it impossible for the refugees to return and rebuild their homes.

Additionally, the pine was useful because it was fast-growing and evergreen, shrouding in darkness all year evidence of the ethnic cleansing committed during Israel’s creation. And the forests played a psychological role, transforming the landscape in ways designed to make it look familiar to recent European immigrants and ease their homesickness.

Finally, the falling pine needles acidified the soil, leaving it all but impossible for indigenous trees to compete. These native species – including the olive, citrus, almond, walnut, pomegranate, cherry, carob and mulberry – were a vital component of the diet of Palestinian rural communities. Their replacement by the pine was intended to make it even harder for Palestinian refugees to re-establish their communities.

In charge of planting and maintaining these forests was the Jewish National Fund, an internationally recognised Zionist charity. Paradoxically, its website extols its work in Israel as “innovators in ecological development and pioneers in afforestation and fire prevention”. The JNF claims to have planted some 250 million trees across Israel.

In an indication of Israel’s success is selling these colonisation policies as environmentalism, the United Nations lists the JNF as having expertise in climate change, forestry, water management and human settlements. The UN also allows the organisation to sponsor panels and workshops at UN conferences around the world.

In September the JNF attended the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, where, it noted, it would be “presenting its activities in creating a greener world”.

Jewish farmer-warriors

The 1950 legislation, also known as the Goat Damage Law, continued Israel’s land colonisation policies – this time, not against the Palestinian refugees, but against the small number of Palestinian communities that had survived the Nakba.

By the end of the 1948 war, some 150,000 Palestinians were still clinging to their communities, chiefly in the north, in the Galilee, and in the south, in the semi-desert Negev, or Naqab. In 1952, under international pressure, these Palestinians were given citizenship.

Many of the surviving Palestinian communities knew little aside from an agriculture their ancestors had practised in the region for generations. But Zionism’s credo – that “Hebrew labor” would allow Jews to “make the desert bloom” and remake themselves as farmer-warrior “Sabras” – required that Palestinians be displaced from farming land.

Estimates are that some 70 percent of the land belonging to Palestinian communities in Israel was seized by the state – and is now held in trust for Jews around the world. Deprived of land and access to cheap water for agriculture, most Palestinian citizens were forced to become casual laborers, many of them working on building sites in the country’s center.

But one group was seen as a particular threat to the new Zionist ethos – and especially hard to turn into a captive labour force. The Bedouin were located in remote locations in the Galilee’s hills and the dusty plains of the Negev, and their pastoral way of life, herding goats and sheep, made it hard for Israel to control them.

‘Dunam after dunam’

The connection between the land and the goats – and the central role both played in maintaining Palestinian identity and reinforcing a tradition of “sumud”, or steadfastness – was identified early on by the Zionist movement.

One of its early slogans, referring to an Ottoman unit of land measurement, was “dunam after dunam, goat after goat”. The goal was to take Palestine piece by piece, so incrementally and quietly it would pass unnoticed in the rest of the world.

After the Nakba, Israel turned to aggressive containment policies against the Bedouin who had not been expelled outside the state’s new borders. These policies focused on both their lands and herds.

In 1965, the year before military rule over Palestinian citizens ended, a Planning and Building Law de-recognised almost all Bedouin communities. Their homes were declared illegal and they were denied all public services.

Israel’s goal was to pen the Bedouin up in a handful of urbanised “townships”, forcing them to abandon agriculture and become casual labourers in a Jewish economy, like other Palestinian citizens.

The 1950 Plant Protection Law struck an especially hard blow against the Bedouin. The black goats supplied them with milk for their own use and for sale, and the hides were used for tents and blankets.

As agriculture minister in the late 1970s, Ariel Sharon stepped up the campaign against the Bedouin – and similarly preferred to veil his policies as a bogus concern about ecology.

In his case, he had a private investment in the state’s success in “Judaising” the Negev and getting rid of most of the Bedouin: in 1972 he had acquired a vast ranch there, covering 4 sq km.

The land had formerly belonged to refugees from the destroyed Palestinian village of Houg, now imprisoned in Gaza. Palestinian physician and author Hatim Kanaaneh notes that the village’s only remaining structure, the mosque, was “serving as the pen for [Sharon’s] Arabian thoroughbred horses”.

The Green Patrol

Five years after be bought Sycamore ranch, Sharon created the “Green Patrol”, a paramilitary unit of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, whose tasks included seizing and slaughtering the Bedouin’s black goats.

Palestinian community activist Maha Qupty notes that in the first three years of the Green Patrol’s operations, the number of black goats was slashed by 60 percent, from 220,000 to 80,000. The patrol’s practices were so brutal that an official watchdog, the State Comptroller, censured the unit in his 1980 report.

The number of goats in Israel has fallen much further in recent years. A report in the Haaretz newspaper pointed out that by 2013 there were only 2,000 goats still grazing in and around the vast Carmel forest, next to Haifa, down from 15,000 before the Green Patrol’s establishment.

And it was in that same Carmel Ridge that the danger posed by the goats’ enforced disappearance first became apparent.

The extensive forest hugging the slopes of the Carmel Ridge was planted to enforce and conceal the expulsion of several Palestinian villages. But in 2010 the forest was engulfed in flames that ultimately claimed the lives of 44 people. The majority were warders travelling to Damun prison, where Palestinian political prisoners are held outside the occupied territories in violation of international law.

The fire, which raged for four days, required the evacuation of 17,000 people from their homes, including from sections of Haifa.

That blaze was a prelude to much more widespread fires a year ago, at the end of a long dry summer. Some 1,700 fires were reported across Israel and the West Bank, many of them in the forests Israel had planted over the destroyed villages. Haifa was again badly damaged.

Zionism’s self-inflicted wound

In both the 2010 and 2016 forest fire outbreaks, Palestinian citizens were accused by police and government officials of being responsible, despite a dearth of evidence – and convictions – to back up such claims.

Allegations of arson were a useful deflection from the reality: that the fires were a Zionist own goal. The danger posed by planting unsuitable European pine forests in the arid conditions of the Middle East had been aggravated by longer summers, as climate change kicked in, and by the destruction of the black goats. They had cleared the vegetation around the trees that prevented the fires from quickly spreading.

In fact, there had been warnings that these pine forests were a fire hazard long before the advent of significant climate change. Nearly 20 years ago, I visited a kibbutz on the edge of the Carmel Ridge where there had been a recent fire.

Nir Etzion sits on the agricultural lands of Ayn Hawd, which was a rare example of a Palestinian village that had escaped destruction – in its case, to be reinvented as a Jewish artists’ colony under a similar name, Ein Hod.

The staff at Nir Etzion told me a familiar and paranoid tale: that internal Palestinian refugees, living close by, had started the fire to drive them from their kibbutz. The kibbutzniks overlooked the fact that the refugees themselves were put in much graver danger by the fire.

As I recounted in my contribution to a book of essays, Catastrophe Remembered, experts were clear even then that the European pine forests on the Carmel Ridge were dangerous in the region’s dry conditions.

Repair ‘historic injustice’

But until this month, the dreams of the Zionist movement – of disappearing all traces of a Palestine that existed before Israel’s creation – had proved far more potent than the danger of forest fires.

Paradoxically, it has taken Jamal Zahalka, a Palestinian member of the Israeli parliament, to pry his colleagues from their delusions and face up to the reality of climate change.

Zahalka is the moving force behind the effort to repeal the 1950 law, justifying its revocation on a study by a good Zionist institution – the Technion, Israel’s renowned technical university. Its research has confirmed a wisdom that was obvious to generations of Palestinian farmers: that the goats graze on dry bushes and shrubs, and thereby suppress the risk of fires.

Zahalka has stated that the repeal of the 1950 law will “restore the goat’s lost honor” and “repair a historic injustice” for Palestinian farmers.

Zahalka has won backing from the agriculture minister, Uri Ariel, and Ayelet Shaked, the justice minister. Both are tightly linked to the settler movement, and Ariel is a director of the JNF.

But faced with the scientific evidence and the threat of more fires, Ariel has climbed down. “Goats are an important factor in fire prevention, and we want to encourage the act of grazing,” he now says.

Sadly, it has taken Israeli governments nearly 70 years to reverse their policy of destroying the black goat – a policy that intentionally sought to wreck Palestinian agriculture, and with it Palestinian communities, heritage and identity.

Jonathan Cook, based in Nazareth, Israel is a winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books).
Read other articles by Jonathan, or visit Jonathan's website.

Burying the Lead on Flynn "Collusion"

Flynn Plea Shows Collusion With... Israel?


December 2, 2017

Michael Flynn, the National Security Advisor to Donald Trump until his ouster just a few months into his administration, has pleaded guilty to lying to investigators looking into alleged Trump-Russia ties.

Flynn is the most high level member of the White House inner circle to be indicted and he is said to be cooperating with investigators. And the news has been greeted across liberal media much like it was today on the TV program The View.


"Oh my God. Oh, breaking news. ABC news Brian Ross is reporting, Michael Flynn promised full cooperation to the Mueller team and is prepared to testify that, as a candidate, Donald Trump directed him to make contact with the Russians. Yes!"

Michael Flynn's guilty plea to lying to the FBI falls short on Russia "collusion" but points to the Trump administration acting on Israel's behalf, says author and journalist Max Blumenthal

Flynn's Begins Rolling Heads in D.C.

The Scalp-Taking of Gen. Flynn

by Robert Parry  - Consortium News

December 1, 2017

Exclusive: The Russia-gate prosecutors have taken the scalp of ex- National Security Adviser (and retired Lt. Gen.) Flynn for lying to the FBI. But this case shows how dangerously far afield this “scandal” has gone, reports Robert Parry.

Russia-gate enthusiasts are thrilled over the guilty plea of President Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn for lying to the FBI about pre-inauguration conversations with the Russian ambassador, but the case should alarm true civil libertarians.

Retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen Michael Flynn at a campaign
rally for Donald Trump at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix,
Arizona. Oct. 29, 2016. (Flickr Gage Skidmore)

What is arguably most disturbing about this case is that then-National Security Adviser Flynn was pushed into a perjury trap by Obama administration holdovers at the Justice Department who concocted an unorthodox legal rationale for subjecting Flynn to an FBI interrogation four days after he took office, testing Flynn’s recollection of the conversations while the FBI agents had transcripts of the calls intercepted by the National Security Agency.

In other words, the Justice Department wasn’t seeking information about what Flynn said to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak – the intelligence agencies already had that information. Instead, Flynn was being quizzed on his precise recollection of the conversations and nailed for lying when his recollections deviated from the transcripts.

For Americans who worry about how the pervasive surveillance powers of the U.S. government could be put to use criminalizing otherwise constitutionally protected speech and political associations, Flynn’s prosecution represents a troubling precedent.

Though Flynn clearly can be faulted for his judgment, he was, in a sense, a marked man the moment he accepted the job of national security adviser. In summer 2016, Democrats seethed over Flynn’s participation in chants at the Republican National Convention to “lock her [Hillary Clinton] up!”

Then, just four days into the Trump presidency, an Obama holdover, then-acting Attorney General Sally Yates, primed the Flynn perjury trap by coming up with a novel legal theory that Flynn – although the national security adviser-designate at the time of his late December phone calls with Kislyak – was violating the 1799 Logan Act, which prohibits private citizens from interfering with U.S. foreign policy.

But that law – passed during President John Adams’s administration in the era of the Alien and Sedition Acts – was never intended to apply to incoming officials in the transition period between elected presidential administrations and – in the past 218 years – the law has resulted in no successful prosecution at all and thus its dubious constitutionality has never been adjudicated.

Stretching Logic

But Yates extrapolated from her unusual Logan Act theory to speculate that since Flynn’s publicly known explanation of the conversation with Kislyak deviated somewhat from the transcript of the intercepts, Flynn might be vulnerable to Russian blackmail.

Russia’s former Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak. (Photo from Russian Embassy)

Yet, that bizarre speculation would require that the Russians first would have detected the discrepancies; secondly, they would have naively assumed that the U.S. intelligence agencies had not intercepted the conversations, which would have negated any blackmail potential; and thirdly, the Russians would have to do something so ridiculously heavy-handed – trying to blackmail Flynn – that it would poison relations with the new Trump administration.

Yates’s legal theorizing was so elastic and speculative that it could be used to justify subjecting almost anyone to FBI interrogation with the knowledge that their imperfect memories would guarantee the grounds for prosecution based on NSA intercepts of their communications.

Basically, the Obama holdovers concocted a preposterous legal theory to do whatever they could to sabotage the Trump administration, which they held in fulsome disdain.

At the time of Flynn’s interrogation, the Justice Department was under the control of Yates and the FBI was still under President Obama’s FBI Director James Comey, another official hostile to the Trump administration who later was fired by Trump.

The Yates-FBI perjury trap also was sprung on Flynn in the first days of the Trump presidency amid reverberations of the massive anti-Trump protests that had arisen across the country in support of demands for a “#Resistance” to Trump’s rule.

Flynn also had infuriated Democrats when he joined in chants at the Republican National Convention of “lock her up” over Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server and other alleged offenses. So, in targeting Flynn, there was a mix of personal payback and sabotage against the Trump administration.

The Legal Construct

The two-page complaint against Flynn, made public on Friday, references false statements to the FBI regarding two conversations with Kisylak, one on Dec. 22, 2016, and the other on Dec. 29, 2016.

Hillary Clinton speaking at a rally in Phoenix, Arizona, March 21, 2016. (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

The first item in the complaint alleges that Flynn did not disclose that he had asked the Russian ambassador to help delay or defeat a United Nations Security Council vote censuring Israel for building settlements on Palestinian territory.

The New York Times reported on Friday that Russia-gate investigators “learned through witnesses and documents that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked the Trump transition team to lobby other countries to help Israel, according to two people briefed on the inquiry.

“Investigators have learned that Mr. Flynn and Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, took the lead in those efforts. Mr. Mueller’s team has emails that show Mr. Flynn saying he would work to kill the vote, the people briefed on the matter said,” according to the Times.

Breaking with past U.S. precedents, President Obama had decided not to veto the resolution criticizing Israel, choosing instead to abstain. However, the censure resolution carried with Russian support, meaning that whatever lobbying Flynn and Kushner undertook was unsuccessful.

But the inclusion of this Israeli element shows how far afield the criminal Russia-gate investigation, headed by former FBI Director Robert Mueller, has gone. Though the original point of the inquiry was whether the Trump team colluded with Russians to use “hacked” emails to defeat Hillary Clinton’s campaign, the criminal charge against Flynn has nothing to do with election “collusion” but rather President-elect Trump’s aides weighing in on foreign policy controversies during the transition. And, the first initiative was undertaken at the request of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, not Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The second item, cited by Mueller’s prosecutors, referenced a Dec. 29 Flynn-Kislyak conversation, which received public attention at the time of Flynn’s Feb. 13 resignation after only 24 days on the job. That phone call touched on Russia’s response to President Obama’s decision to issue new sanctions against the Kremlin for the alleged election interference.

The complaint alleges that Flynn didn’t mention to the FBI that he had urged Kislyak “to refrain from escalating the situation” and that Kislyak had subsequently told him that “Russia had chosen to moderate its response to those sanctions as a result of his request.”

The Dec. 29 phone call occurred while Flynn was vacationing in the Dominican Republic and thus he would have been without the usual support staff for memorializing or transcribing official conversations. So, the FBI agents, with the NSA’s transcripts, would have had a clearer account of what was said than Flynn likely had from memory. The content of Flynn’s request to Kislyak also appears rather uncontroversial, asking the Russians not to overreact to a punitive policy from the outgoing Obama administration.

In other words, both of the Flynn-Kislyak conversations appear rather unsurprising, if not inconsequential. One was taken at the behest of Israel (which proved ineffective) and the other urged the Kremlin to show restraint in its response to a last-minute slap from President Obama (which simply delayed Russian retaliation by several months).

Double Standards

While Flynn’s humiliation has brought some palpable joy to the anti-Trump “Resistance” – one more Trump aide being taken down amid renewed hope that this investigation will somehow lead to Trump’s resignation or impeachment – many of the same people would be howling about trampled civil liberties if a Republican bureaucracy were playing this game on a Democratic president and his staff.

Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn attending a dinner marking the RT network’s 10-year anniversary in Moscow, December 2015, sitting at the same table as Russian President Vladimir Putin and Green Party leader Jill Stein.

Indeed, in the turnabout-is-fair-play department, there is some equivalence in what is happening over Russia-gate to what the Republicans did in the 1990s exploiting their control of the special-prosecutor apparatus in the first years of Bill Clinton’s presidency when interminable investigations into such side issues as his Whitewater real-estate deal and the firing of the White House travel office staff plagued the Clinton administration.

Similarly, Republicans seized on the deaths of four U.S. diplomatic personnel on Sept. 11, 2012, in Benghazi, Libya, to conduct a series of lengthy investigations to tarnish Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s tenure and raise questions about her judgment. Democrats understandably called these attacks partisan warfare in legal or investigative garb.

What I have heard from many Hillary Clinton supporters in recent months is that they don’t care about the unfairness of the Russia-gate process or the dangerous precedents that such politicized prosecutions might set. They simply view Trump as such a danger that he must be destroyed at whatever the cost.

Yet, besides the collateral damage inflicted on mid-level government officials such as retired Lt. Gen. Flynn facing personal destruction at the hands of federal prosecutors with unlimited budgets, there is this deepening pattern of using criminal law to settle political differences, a process more common in authoritarian states.

As much as the Russia-gate enthusiasts talk about how they are upholding “the rule of law,” there is the troubling appearance that the law is simply being used to collect the scalps of political enemies.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and

Friday, December 01, 2017

Riding the Gilded Escalator with America's Zombie Commander-in-Chief

A President Made for a Zombie Apocalypse World

by Tom Engelhardt - CounterPunch

December 1, 2017

Don’t look away. I mean it! Keep on staring just like you’ve been doing, just like we’ve all been doing since he rode down that escalator into the presidential race in June 2015 and, while you have your eyes on him, I’ll tell you exactly why you shouldn’t stop.

To begin with, it’s time to think of Donald J. Trump in a different light. After all, isn’t he really our own UnFounding Father? While the Founding Fathers were responsible for two crucial documents, the Declaration of Independence (1,458 words) and the Constitution (4,543 words), our twenty-first century UnFounding Father only writes passages of 140 characters or less. (Sad!)

Other people have authored “his” books. (“I put lipstick on a pig,” said one of his ghostwriters.)

Photo by Taymaz Valley | CC by 2.0 

He reportedly doesn’t often read books himself (though according to ex-wife Ivana, he once had a volume of Hitler’s speeches by his bedside). He’s never seen a magazine cover he didn’t want to be on (or at least that he didn’t want to claim, however spuriously, he had decided not to be on). He recently indicated that he thought the Constitution had at least one extra article, “Article XII,” which he promised to “protect,” even though it didn’t exist. (My best guess: he believed it said, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved neither to the States respectively, nor to the people, but to Trump and his heirs and there will be no inheritance tax on them.”)

None of this should be surprising since, for him, the Constitution is undoubtedly a hearsay document, as is much of the rest of life. Still, at 71, who could doubt that he himself has the constitution of an ox, thanks perhaps to those Big Macs he reportedly adores, the Trump Steaks he tried to peddle, and the taco bowls (“I love Hispanics!”) that he once swore he gobbles down. As someone capable of changing his mind on almost anything (other than himself), his attention span tends to be short. So briefing him on the state of the world, if you happen to be in the U.S. Intelligence Community, is evidently a challenging task. You reportedly want to keep it, well, brief — no more than a page per topic, three topics per visit, lots of visuals. And don’t forget to skip the “nuance,” as well as any dissenting or conflicting views (especially on him, since that’s the rare subject he truly cares about).

His daily briefings reportedly have only a quarter of the information President Obama’s had, perhaps because the world’s gotten simpler since those godforsaken days. Thank you, Rocket Man! And to give him credit where it’s due, he’s done a remarkably thorough job of turning the Oval Office into a business venture for himself and his kids. (Hey, if you happen to be a foreign diplomat, lobbyist, industry group of any sort, cabinet member, or White House adviser who wants anything from the Oval Office, let me recommend the new Trump International Hotel just down the block on Pennsylvania Avenue for a meal or an event! There’s no better way to curry favor, even if you happen to be an Indian businessman and there’s no curry on the menu. Don’t miss those $24 chocolate cigars!) For the rest of us, we’ve gained immeasurably from his business ventures since his election. Otherwise, how would we know what the once-obscure word “emoluments” actually meant.

Thank you, big guy!

He’s Da Man

Keep in mind, though, that none of this makes him any less historic. As a start, it’s indisputable that no one has ever gotten the day-after-day media coverage he has. Not another president, general, politician, movie star, not even O.J. after the car chase. He’s Da Man!

Since that escalator ride, he’s been in the news (and in all our faces) in a way once unimaginable. Cable news talking heads and talk-show hosts can’t stop gabbling about him. It’s the sort of 24/7 attention that normally accompanies terrorist attacks in the United States or Europe, presidential assassinations, or major hurricanes. But with him, we’re talking about more or less every hour of every day for almost two-and-a-half years without a break.

It’s been no different on newspaper front pages. No one’s ever stormed the headlines more regularly. And I haven’t even mentioned the social media universe. There, he has, if anything, an even more obsessional audience of tens of millions for his daily tweets, which instantly become The News and then, of course, the fodder for those yakking cableheads and talk-show hosts.

Think of him not so much as a him at all but as a perpetual motion machine of breaking headlines.

Part of that’s certainly attributable to the fact that no presidential candidate or president has ever had his knack for attracting the cameras and gluing eyeballs. Give him credit for a media version of horse sense that’s remarkable. It’s a talent of a special sort fit for a special moment. What catnip is for cats, he is for TV cameras. He was the Kardashian candidate and now he’s the Kardashian president.

But that’s the lesser part of the tale. To grasp why we can’t help staring at him, why we essentially have no choice but to do so, you need to understand something else: this sort of attention hasn’t been a fluke. It doesn’t represent a Trumpian black hole in time or an anomaly in our history, and neither does he. Of course, he’s Donald J. Trump in all his… well, not glory, but [you fill in the word here]. However, he’s also a symptom. He didn’t create this particular media moment or this American world of ours either. He just grasped how it worked at some intuitive level and rode it (or perhaps it rode him) all the way to the White House.

He’s gotten so much attention in part because he rose in (or, in his case, descended into) a changed media landscape that most of us hadn’t even begun to grasp. He didn’t, however, create that landscape either. If anything, it created him. What he did was make himself the essence of it. He was what a news media in crisis needed, as staffs were being decimated, finances challenged by the online world, reporters disappearing. He came on the scene, politically speaking, just when a once-upon-a-time sense of the “news” was morphing into so many focus groups on what would glue eyeballs, while coverage was increasingly being recalibrated for a series of designated 24/7 events, each generally filled with horror, fear, and plenty of weeping people. Think: terror attacks, mass killings, and anything involving “extreme weather” with all its photogenic damage.

By the time The Donald set foot on that escalator, our world of news was already devolving into a set of 24/7 zombie apocalypse events. Otherwise, he and his rants, his red face and strange orange comb-over wouldn’t have made much sense at all. He would have been an unimaginable candidate before the media went into crisis, experienced what might be thought of as its own news inequality gap, and began refocusing on a few singular events of particularly resonant horror. These, in turn, regularly wiped away most of the rest of what was actually happening on this planet, while giving media units with smaller staffs and fewer resources the opportunity to put all their attention and energy into a set of eye-gluing, funds- and staff-preserving spectacles.

As CBS Chairman Les Moonves put it bluntly during the 2016 presidential campaign, speaking of the focus on Trump’s candidacy and antics,

“It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS… I’ve never seen anything like this, and this is going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going.”

In the end, it wasn’t Trump who brought it on; it was the media. And all of this took place in the midst of the rise of a social media scene in which “fake news” was becoming the order of the day and millions of eyeballs could be reached directly by any conspiracy nut or, for that matter, presidential candidate with the moxie to do it.

It was, in other words, the perfect moment for a billionaire salesman-cum-conman-cum-reality-TV-sensation to descend that escalator. Donald Trump was neither a media mistake, nor an out-of-space-and-time experience. He was a man made for our unfounding media moment.

The President as Chameleon

And this same way of thinking about him is applicable to so much else. As our UnFounding Father, he’s inconceivable without an American world that was already experiencing various kinds of incipient unfounding.

Whatever he might now be fathering, he himself was the child, for instance, of a distinctly plutocratic moment. If we have our first billionaire in the White House, it’s only because by 2015 this country’s democratic politics had devolved (with a little helping hand from the Supreme Court) into a set of 1%, or perhaps even .01%, elections.

An American inequality gap that first began to almost imperceptibly widen in the 1970s has, by now, reached Grand Canyon proportions. Before it hits its ultimate moment, it may make the nineteenth-century version of a Gilded Age look like an era of moderation. Since 1980, stunningly enough, the share of national income of the richest 1% has doubled. If all that American wealth hadn’t gushed upward, if it hadn’t produced a raft of billionaires, as well as hordes of multi-millionaires and millionaires, with so many interests to protect, we would never have experienced such prodigious top-down funding of elections; the building of a 1% democracy, that is, would have been inconceivable. If the Republican Party hadn’t been sold to the Koch Brothers and the Democratic Party hadn’t gone all neoliberal on us, can you really imagine working class voters putting their faith in a billionaire to make America great again for them? I doubt it.

Similarly, if this country hadn’t been pursuing its never-ending war on terror so assiduously and unsuccessfully these last 16 years, while Washington was being transformed into a war capital, the national security state was rising to prominence as a kind of shadow government, and the funding of the U.S. military hadn’t become the only truly bipartisan issue in Congress, Trumpism would never have been conceivable. In our American world, The Donald’s tendency toward authoritarianism is often treated as if it were a unique attribute of his.

To believe that, however, you would have to overlook the growth in this century of a distinctly authoritarian spirit in Washington. You would have to ignore what it meant for the national security state to be ever more embedded in our ruling city. You would have to forget about the American intelligence community’s development of an historically unprecedented surveillance machinery aimed not just at the world but at American citizens as well.

The Donald’s surprising decision to surround himself with “my generals” in a fashion never before seen in Washington, even in wartime, was treated in a similarly anomalous fashion. And yet, given the Washington he entered, it was anything but. During the election campaign, candidate Trump referred to those same generals as “rubble,” while deriding the losing wars they had been fighting for so long. He seemed in some way to grasp that this was a country and a citizenry increasingly being unmade by war.

Still, it took him next to no time as president to tack to where Washington had been heading since 9/11. As I’ve argued elsewhere, he might better be thought of as our chameleon president: a Democrat who became a fervent Republican, a billionaire businessman who somehow convinced rural white working class voters that he was their man, a former globalizer who’s taken off like a bat out of hell after globalizing trade pacts of every sort. He’s a man ready to alter his positions to fit the moment when it comes to everything except himself.

The Dumbfounding Father of Twenty-First-Century America

Let me mention just one more aspect of this Trumpian moment: climate-change denial. At a time of such planetary stress, in his fervent promotion of a fossil-fuelized America — of coal mining, pipelines, and fracking, among other things — in his essential rejection of the very idea of climate change, in his appointment of one climate-change denier after another to key positions in his administration, in his decision to make the United States the only country on the planet not to take part in the Paris climate agreement, he seems like an almost inexplicable manifestation of anti-scientific frenzy. And yet think back. He’s now the head of the party that, in recent years, sold itself to Big Energy, lock, stock, and barrel. This, at the very moment when the oil giants were suppressing their own research on climate change and pouring money into organizations that would promote climate-change-denial disinformation campaigns. By default, he has now become the head of what can only be called the party of climate-change denial. In that sense, he couldn’t be more in the spirit of his times.

Okay, it’s true. He’s presidentially bizarre in ways no one expects a leader to be (other than, perhaps, some strange autocratic ruler in Central Asia). And he’s certainly potentially dangerous. But he’s something else, too: just what late twentieth and twenty-first century America prepared us for (even though we didn’t know it). He’s the essence of where this country now is and seems to be headed.

So don’t imagine that he’s getting too much attention in the land of the rich and home of the craven. Instead, look at him carefully. Now, stare at him again. And keep looking. If you don’t take him in, you won’t understand what this moment actually is. Yes, he’s the Dumbfounding Father of twenty-first-century America and that’s distracting, but he’s also the ultimate symptom of the unfounding of this nation, of the moment when — to slightly adapt a Cole Porter line — Plymouth Rock finally landed on us.

Truly, don’t look away from the unbelievable figure now in the White House because how else will you know where we are? And until we grasp that, until we understand that he isn’t an aberration but the zeitgeist and that simply removing him from the Oval Office won’t solve our problems, we aren’t anywhere at all.

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

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The "Exxon Valdez" that Didn't: A Visit to the Crippled ATB Tanker, the Jake Shearer

Our Visit to the Crippled American ATB Tanker, the Jake Shearer 

by Ingmar Lee - 10,000 Ton Tanker

November 30, 2017

Today we visited the crippled American tugboat, the "Jake Shearer" after its near-disaster off the Goose Islands in Hecate Strait... The "Jake Shearer" was severely damaged the other night when its fully loaded, 10,000 deadweight-ton-capacity petroleum-barge was wrenched out of its massive locking pins and set adrift, after being hit, apparently, by a series of "rogue waves."

In storm force winds, the uncontrolled barge immediately began to drift inexorably towards the Goose Islands, about 5 miles to the north.

With its giant hydraulic "Articoupler" locking pins damaged and non-functional, with a punctured fuel and ballast tank, without any sort of rear deck winch or conventional towing tackle, and without any sort of inflatable RIB working skiff, the "Jake Shearer" was completely unable to regain control of the massive barge as it rapidly approached the Gosling Rocks.

Although, judging by the numerous scuff marks along the sides of its hull, and by the spinning, chaotic AIS-track record of its desperate journey, it appears as though the tug had made some futile attempts to "nudge" the barge away from the reefs. It must be noted, that the worst oil-spill to ever hit the BC coast (in 1988) resulted when the tugboat "Nestucca" punched a hole in its own oil-barge in an attempt to regain control of it when it had gone adrift.

At the eleventh hour, within a stones-throw of impending disaster, and in a dangerous "Hail Mary" maneuver, the "Jake Shearer" managed to transfer some crew onto the stricken barge, who were able to drop an anchor in 200 ft of water, pay out 1000 ft of cable, after which the "Zidell Marine 277" petroleum barge, loaded to a depth of 19' on its Plimsoll gauge, fetched up about 1/2 mile from the rocks. After a harrowing, stormy night, it was finally towed to safety by the American tug, "Gulf Cajun."

The "Jake Shearer" is too damaged to navigate itself and because its locking pins do not work, it is tied-in manually with ropes into the barges stern notch. I am told that the tanker will remain in Norman Morrison Bay until Transport Canada officials deem it safe to be towed away. I have heard a report that it may require more underwater patching. It will be towed, along with its barge, via Milbanke Sound, Finlayson, Princess Royal, and Grenvill Channels, all the way to Ketchikan Alaska. Since the wreck of its sistership, the "Nathan E Stewart" last year, these channels of the BC Inside Passage have been off-limits to American tankers, but in this case, considering its problems, the "Jake Shearer" has been issued a "special exemption."

The Justin Trudeau regimes so-called "North Coast Tanker Ban" will do exactly NOTHING to prevent the ongoing transits of the BC Inside Passage and Hecate Strait by this American tanker traffic, which conducts, on average 24 round trips per year through our waters. In fact, the "North Coast Tanker Ban" entirely exempts this traffic, encourages it, and will perpetuate it with its tanker-sized, 12,500 deadweight-ton-capacity loophole. As written, the Trudeau tanker ban EXEMPTS tankers like the "Jake Shearer" which carries 1/4 of the spill volume released into the Gulf of Alaska by the Exxon Valdes from the ban.

Honduran President Prefers Not to Leave Following Election Loss

Protests Erupt as Honduras Presidential Election Results Reversed


November 30, 2017

The country's electoral authority reversed the initial presidential election results, now giving the conservative incumbent a lead in the vote count.

Tensions are mounting as protesters clash with the police.

Heather Gies reports from Tegucigalpa, Honduras



11th Hour for British Columbians to Stop Disastrous Site C Mega Project

11th Hour on Site C

by Stop Site C

November 30, 2017

Hello Friends!

 The NDP have not yet made their final decision on Site C and we need to help build their confidence in making a decision to protect all British Columbians from this unnecessary, destructive and costly project. They need to hear from as many British Columbians as possible and feel supported in a decision to cancel Site C.

We are at the 11th hour of our fight to stop the Site C Dam. The BC NDP Cabinet is meeting with six advisors on the dam RIGHT NOW, and a decision is expected soon! We have deeply appreciated your support with our campaign in the past and we are hoping that at this critical time, you would be willing to undertake one or more of the actions below to make sure that when the NDP cabinet ministers return from their meeting today, their offices are flooded with messages from all of us that WE DON’T WANT SITE C!


Take Action to Stop Site C Now by:

Go to Peace Valley Environment Association’s site to compose your letter and it will automatically be sent to all 23 BC NDP MLAs plus your MLA.

Go to Sierra Club BC’s letter writing site and submit a pre-drafted letter (or modify to make it your own) to key BC NDP ministers.

Call your MLA now through Sierra Club BC’s easy-to-use on-line tool.

Send a short letter to all of your local papers at once through Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative’s handy web-based tool here.

Call any number of cabinet ministers’ offices you choose and leave a message that you want Site C cancelled through Wilderness Committee BC’s site here.

Share this e-mail with your friends and share our campaign posts on Facebook and Twitter.
You will find any further information you need about the issues of concern associated with Site C at this informative website. Additionally, you will learn much about the issues in our latest video:

Thank you so much for your support. We are within reach of the finish line on this project that the PVEA has been battling for over 40 years. The PVEA has board members who have spent their entire lives protecting the Peace River Valley and all British Columbians from Site C. We don’t need this power, and if and when BC does need more power, there are far less destructive and less expensive ways to obtain it.

The BC NDP campaigned on the implementation of their Power BC plan. This plan includes less expensive and more effective options for addressing BC’s energy needs through building retrofits, existing hydro infrastructure upgrades, and the pursuit of solar and wind energy. Please send a letter endorsing this plan that they campaigned on and let them know that you fully support their decision to cancel this project.

For the Peace,

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Suddenly Soviets: Turning American Journalists into "Foreign Agents"

Suddenly, I’m a ‘Russian Agent’!

by Dave Lindorff - CounterPunch

November 28, 2017

For a number of years now, I've been periodically interviewed as a source or commentator on news programs and as an occasional panel participant on RT TV, the Russian government-funded English-language television station. For the past year, I’ve been paid a small amount for my work.

Effective Monday, November 13, something changed, though. RT suddenly became a “registered foreign agent.” The Russian government-funded news service, headquartered in Washington, with bureaus in several other US cities, filed the required papers (under protest) — the only foreign news service operating here required to do so — and said it intends to sue. Russia is also retaliating and will be requiring some US news organizations operating in Russia, including Voice of America, to similarly register as foreign agents.

Photo: Surian Soosay | CC BY 2.0

 This means that as of two weeks ago, I have been working, at least on a minimal basis of perhaps one short 5-10-minute interview per week, for a “foreign agent.”

The US government, a lot of heavy-breathing members of Congress, and the bulk of the corporate media in the US at this point are suggesting that journalists like me are at best “useful idiots” helping to promote Russian propaganda in the US — propaganda that our government claims is designed to sow discord among the citizenry and to undermine support for American democracy. Why, RT has been accused of such heinous behavior, according to former National Security Director James Clapper “promoting a particular point of view, disparaging our system, our alleged hypocrisy about human rights, etc.”

Scary stuff, huh? He even accused RT of airing debates by third-party presidential candidates during the 2016 campaign — something the corporate media for years has dutifully refused to do in what I guess they consider a patriotic defense of our two-party system.

Pathetic as the case against RT may be, I’ve been the butt of jokes by liberal friends who say that I’m a “Russian agent” because they’ve bought the spurious argument that Russia “hacked” the US election and delivered us a Trump presidency. I wonder though, how many such Americans have ever actually watched RT-TV. I suspect it’s very few.

First off, it’s not that easy to see it on your TV, since most cable and fiber-optic television bundlers leave it out o.f their packages, as they also leave out the Al Jazeera English Channel option, in response to pressure from the government. If they did watch it — which you can and should do at least to check it out at RT-America and at (the international edition) — they would find shows hosted not by Russians, but by American journalists, many of them well known names like Larry King, Ed Schultz, Jesse Ventura and Chris Hedges. A number of these people are working for RT because they were either sacked by US media outlets, like Schultz at MSNBC or had a planned program cancelled like Ventura, also at MSNBC, or left in disgust like Chris Hedges, a veteran war reporter for the NY Times.

For myself, I have agreed to be a go-to expert source for RT because over the years, after once upon a time being called to be on shows like MSNBC, CBS News and NPR programs, I don’t get those calls anymore. It’s not that I or my journalism have changed, but that the corporate media have grown flaccid and afraid of controversy.

If I want to talk on TV about a story like the one I broke — based upon documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act — showing that the Houston FBI office learned or knew of a well-developed plot to conduct “intelligence” on the Houston Occupy movement, identify the leaders, and then “if deemed necessary” to assassinate them using “suppressed” sniper rifle fire, or the story I broke based upon information obtained from a county coroner suggesting that a potential key witness in the case of alleged Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev was actually murdered by an FBI agent in Orlando, I have to talk about it on RT. No US corporate news organization will touch such stories.

Same thing if I want to make the point that the US has been providing funding, arms and training in Syria to anti-Assad fighters of Al Nusra, an affiliate of the Al Qaeda organization. You simply cannot say such undeniably factually correct things on a US news program, but you can say them on RT.

I’m under no illusion that RT is some sainted news organization that doesn’t have a pro-Russian point of view. Of course it does, just as the government-funded BBC has a pro-British perspective. But I also well know (having worked for years as a staff journalist for major US news organizations), that every corporate news outlet in the US has a pro-US point of view, and that particularly where the story involves both US and Russian interests, as in the case of Ukraine and Syria, the whole truth is not being told by any Russian or US news organization. If I can get a bit of the truth out by talking on RT to counter propaganda and untruths in the US media, so much the better.

I would hope that American viewers would have the sense to know that if they watch the news on RT, they are getting a pro-Russian perspective and to take what they see and hear with a grain of salt, just as I would hope they would consider American news reports with the same degree of skepticism (that may be optimistic!).

In any event, the reality is that I am no more an “agent of Russia” for agreeing to be interviewed (for a fee) on Russian TV than I would be an agent of Britain for being interviewed on the BBC or for having an article published in the New York Times or Business Week — both publications I’ve written for, the latter on retainer for five years.

Never once have I had an interview on RT edited to make it appear I’m saying something I didn’t say, and never once have I said something on RT that I didn’t firmly believe to be true based upon my own research.

When the issue of the US government requiring RT America to file as a foreign agent came up, my wife told me she thought by continuing to contribute comments to the station I was probably hoping to get called before some Congressional committee, a la the 1950s House un-American Activities Committee with its hearings on Communist subversion. I told her she was right: I would love nothing better than to get questioned about my work by some Congressional panel, and would be happy to have rabid anti-Russian Congressmembers view any one of my RT clips and point to anywhere that I was pushing Russian propaganda.

Example: Here is a lengthy interview I did on RT International on the issue of “fake news” allegations and concerns expressed by Facebook’s head of security about calls for the company to block alleged fake news its news feeds. I’m betting it’s not a perspective you’ve heard on your evening news, but I certainly stand by the points I’m making, and am not purveying any Russian propaganda, but let the viewer can be the judge.

What’s really going on here with this “foreign agent” registration requirement is a kind of paternalistic censorship, much like those North Korean TV sets that didn’t include settings on their channel selection dials for South Korean stations. It should concern every American who believes in the importance of the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of the press, which after all is not just freedom for the US-based press, but also freedom of Americans’ right to read, listen to and view information from any source, and to make their own judgements about its veracity or logic. When the government, as it is doing here in making efforts to block RT from the internet and from cable and fios TV, and in requiring it to register as a foreign agent, thereby implicitly and perhaps eventually actually threatening those journalists like me who continue to contribute to or work for the Russian-funded station, it is deciding what is safe, and what is not safe for Americans to read, listen to or view. That is starting down a very dangerous slope; a slope that inevitably will lead to much broader censorship and self-censorship of media in the US.

Only a year ago, the Washington Post published a shabbily sourced and, frankly, libelous lead story based upon the “research” of a mysterious organization called PropOrNot, whose funding and personnel were left unidentified, that claimed to have uncovered a massive Russian propaganda campaign in the US. This outfit, most likely the work of the Pentagon’s cyber command, claimed that some 200 online news sites in the US, including RT, but also US sites like CounterPunch,, Truthout, Naked Capitalism and the Black Agenda Report, are either active promoters of Russian propaganda or “useful idiots” — a term tossed around wildly during the McCarthy period to demonize people said to perhaps ignorantly back a Communist agenda of subversion.

The thing is, despite claims by rabid members of Congress and in the military industrial complex that Russia has aggressive aims of conquest in Europe, Russia isn’t even a US enemy. In reality, Russia is a major trading partner of Europe’s and is a major supplier of European natural gas, the US and Russia have been fighting on the same side in Syria, the Russians are the ones who fly our astronauts to and from the International Space Station, and US corporate investment in Russia, despite several years of increasing sanctions levied over the issue of Ukraine and Crimea, is enormous. In other words, from the point of view of a journalist appearing on an RT program, it is no different from appearing on a BBC or Deutsche Welle, or, for that matter, on a CCTV program in China.

Meanwhile, if we want to really look for foreign agents at work in our country, look no further than the CEOs, presidents and board chairs of some of American’s largest companies. Collectively, the S&P 500 includes companies 48% of whose revenues are earned abroad. Since some, like the big telecom firms, earn almost no revenues abroad, it’s not surprising that some of the biggest corporations on the list are earning the bulk of their revenues and profits overseas (and are booking their profits there too in order to avoid US corporate taxes).

Take seven of the biggest: In the case of Apple, 62.3% of its 2016 revenues of $306 billion was earned abroad. For Qualcom, the figure was a whopping 98.6%$ of its $30.6 billion in 2016 revenues. Intel, meanwhile, “only” earned 82% of its $31.7 billion in 2016 revenues from abroad. ExxonMobil, headed by Rex Tillerson until he was named President Trump’s secretary of state, earned $67.3% of its 2016 revenues from abroad (and has been seeking a deal to license close to $1 trillion in gas an oil reserves off Russia’s Siberian coast in the Arctic Ocean), while Johnson & Johnson earned 5.2% of its 2016 revenues abroad. General Electric meanwhile, doesn’t just earn the bulk of its revenues abroad — about 53% in 2016. As of the end of 2014, 55% of its workforce of 305,000 was located abroad — a number that continues to rise. And yet President Obama, without a hint of irony, named GE’s then CEO, Jeffrey Immelt, to be a “jobs czar” for the administration in 2009 (a year later, GE reportedly paid no US taxes, though it paid $3 billion in taxes to foreign jurisdictions in which it operates).

Although clearly all of these nominally US corporations and their chief executives are American, it is equally clear that their real allegiance — since as we are continuously told, the fiduciary duty of corporate executives is to maximize shareholder value — is not to Uncle Sam. When push comes to shove, if a policy or bill in Congress is going to threaten their international business operations, these executives are going to lobby against it. If there’s a bill that will help them move profits abroad, they’ll push for it. They should, therefore, be required to register as foreign agents, yet never has such a thing even been proposed.

It makes a joke out of this whole campaign attacking RT-TV. Especially as it’s a safe bet — so safe I’m not even going to make the effort to dig up the numbers — that many or most of the Democrats and Republicans in Congress clamoring to have RT banned solicit and happily accept campaign contributions from these so-called American companies every election cycle, which should be rights make them also foreign agents in practice.

Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).
More articles by:Dave Lindorff

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Borneo's Devastated, Oblivious People

Borneo: Island Devastated, People Oblivious

by Andre Vltchek and Mira Lubis - Dissident Voice

November 28th, 2017

She was just standing there, in the middle of burning land, surrounded by stumps of trees, fire everywhere, smoke rising towards a hopelessly gray sky. The expression on her face was mischievous, almost girlish. I had no idea how old she was: she could have been 28, just as she could easily have been 55.

Bu Elvi

This island, this village, this charred land: it all looked like hell to me, but obviously not to her: it actually made her laugh, burst with pride.

After all, it was her island, not mine; it was her land, her trees, and it was all getting royally fucked. She was personally participating in this carnage of nature – she, as well as her husband, her entire family, her neighbors.

Her name was Bu Elvi. ‘Bu’ means mom, or mam or Misses, in Bahasa Indonesia. Her scorched land spans near the village of Dusun Terusan, and Dusan Terusan is near Sintang, in the heart of Borneo, on the largest island in Asia, which is also the second largest island in the world, on what we habitually call ‘our Planet Earth’; although frankly, this moonscape of Indonesian Borneo/Kalimantan has very little to do with what used to be the ‘blue planet’.

“I follow stock exchange regularly”, Bu Elvi brags, boastfully.
“I know that prices of rubber went down at least three times, lately. Now we will burn all this down, since the government refuses to give us any substantial compensation… and then, we will plant some vegetables, at least for a while.”

“And then?” we ask. “What if the prices of rubber go up again?”

“Then, well…” she hesitates, but for just a few moments. Regaining her bearings, she declares, defiantly: “If that happens, we will burn the vegetables and reintroduce the rubber plantation.”

Now it is all black around her. It is desperate and depressing. But she doesn’t look suicidal, miserable, or even guilty. She does precisely what she was told to do under General Suharto’s military dictatorship, which was sponsored by the United States and the rest of the West. She does what she was taught to do right after the dictatorship collapsed (at least on paper) – in the present era of savage capitalism and unbridled thieving, which has also been clearly supported from abroad. She is making money. She is simply producing dough. She does not rely on anybody, she is well aware of the bottom line: nobody will give her anything. Even if she were starving to death, she would get nothing. And so she opts to be ‘independent’, as well as strong, aggressive, arrogant and, observed from some distance, mildly insane.

She is, of course, religious, as everyone in this country is forced to be from his or her childhood. Most likely, she doesn’t give a damn about this life, as there is, she believes, something much better, ‘somewhere else and big’, right after this suffering on Earth.

She is a tough woman, a ‘survival of the fittest’ kind of person, in short a ‘new Indonesian’.

Can one blame her? Perhaps yes. Perhaps no. She has to live, to survive in this inhuman, savage system, designed and injected from somewhere, from far away.

Still, the land is burning. Here and all around Sintang, all around Borneo, and in all corners of this entire Indonesian archipelago.

Would she opt for the independence of her island, if such an option were to be available?

She doesn’t need to think; she is suddenly absolutely certain. She clenches her right fist, grinning at us:

“Merdeka! Independence!”

I am wondering whether it matters, whether it matters at all, who is ruling over this island. Fascism, savage capitalism, as well as the collaboration with foreign powers and institutions, has created a monoculture in this once great archipelago whose motto stated proudly: ‘Unity in Diversity’.

If there is merdeka, and if Bu Elvi rules, would the land stop burning?


I spoke to a woman near the city of Samarinda, in Eastern Kalimantan. She was selling some fruits and crackers in a small store, predominantly serving workers from the immense plantations located literally behind her back. No primary forest was left anywhere in the vicinity. Everything in the area was black, or green, but if green it covered by sawit, the Indonesian word for palm oil.

Palm oil processing factory near Singkawang

Her business was so-so, she said, nothing spectacular. Frankly, she was hardly making ends meet, and she had no health insurance, no housing subsidies, and no financial support from the government. Despite all this, she appeared to be content. Or at least she said that she was:

We don’t have any fires around here, anymore. Before, when there was still some tropical forest left, there were constant fires. Now it is all quiet.

“Isn’t it because the palm oil companies and mining multi-nationals finally got what they always wanted?” I wondered.
“Now they do what they desire. They cut down everything. Why would anyone burn things now? Forest is gone… Island is totally ruined. Palm oil, open mines and rubber plantations are covering almost entire surface of it…”

Poisoned land after gold mining in Borneo

She stares at me, blankly. She does not understand what am I talking about, what am I hinting at. She is confused. No one speaks like this, here. No one thinks this way. No one thinks, anymore, full stop…


“I used to come here every weekend,” whispers Ms Mira Lubis, a professor at Tanjungpura University in Pontianak city:

“It used to be so serene, so beautiful. This beach… My beach… My father was a doctor. He worked very hard. When he got tired, he took us all here, an entire family. I used to play in the pristine sand, with my brothers… I used to swim here. Now just look around…”

She shows me her childhood photos. I can see ‘her beach’, as it used to be, decades ago. I can see it now. She has tears in her eyes.

I look around. And it is all ruined: someone poured concrete over the sand: terrible job, thoroughly amateurish. Ugly stalls are everywhere, like sores. The sand area was reduced to just a couple of meters. Some huts and ugly, crumbling structures double as a ‘seaside hotel’.

The beach appears to be totally abandoned and forgotten. The only thing that is never forgotten in Indonesia is an entrance fee; charging random visitors for entering anything, even this devastated place. In this country, nothing is public, nothing is free, and nothing is for the people. Even destruction is promoted as an attraction, as a ‘tourist destination’. You stop your car near the emergency room of a hospital: you have to pay… You enter a disaster area, a place ruined by a mining company somewhere in East Java: you are forced to pay. Scarred nature, ruined land quickly becomes a sightseeing attraction! You essentially pay for everything in Indonesia, especially if you are dirt poor.

Mira is walking slowly along ‘her beach’. She is deep in thoughts; she looks devastated. Her calm childhood memories are now confronted by reality, which appears to be simply monstrous. Her green island inhabited by ancient cultures and thousands of species of animals, birds and plants, now resembles a computer-generated image from a second-rate horror film.

She specializes in water communities, but the water is poisoned, mighty waterways polluted.

Far away, there is a brilliant, purple-red sunset covering the entire horizon. The sun is setting down behind a cluster of offshore islands. It is a brilliant, stunning sight. Borneo used to be one of the most beautiful places on Earth. But now, only contours are left; contours, memories and bitterness.


Again, I work; we work – filming, photographing and talking to local people. I don’t need any data. There is no need for theories. This is all clear, raw, absolutely indisputable.

Everything can be ‘explained’ and ‘neutralized’ by complex and ‘scientific’ theories, by going round in circles, by blurring the reality. Indonesian ‘science’ and academia, after 1965, has produced nothing useful for the country and for humanity, but they do one thing well: ‘muddying the water’, confusing and complicating things, making sure that what is obvious from the first sight, is squarely disputed, denied. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of PhD’s are made this way and for this very purpose, annually.

Gold mining in Borneo

And the island is burning. Filthy chemical streams are everywhere. There is “illegal” gold mining on the land and in the middle of the mighty but horrendously polluted rivers of Borneo; mining is visible from the air and surface, but controlled by ‘influential individuals’, even by armed forces, and therefore untouchable.

Borneo is now synonymous with mining and logging, as well as with terrible plantations that have already cannibalized most of the land. Nothing is being produced, but everything has been extracted.

Borneo after mining

People are losing their land. They are losing health, even lives. The world is losing its ‘lungs’ – the tropical forests – or more precisely, it has already lost them all around this unfortunate archipelago.

Savage capitalism, moral and financial corruption, multi-national companies on the loose; this is a sad, even horrifying reality of the country, which totally lost its bearing.

Soon all will be gone

Borneo, it appears, is nearing the end. The entire Indonesia is nearing the endgame, but it is considered ‘politically incorrect’ to mention it in the West, particularly in the mainstream media. Indonesia is, after all, ruining itself, so the West can prosper. It was like that during colonialism, and it has been like that, again, ever since the US-sponsored military coup of 1965.

I work feverishly in Borneo: I film, I write and photograph. Others are standing by me, trying to help. Are we going to achieve anything? I hope we will; we have to, otherwise, soon, here and elsewhere, everything will be finished, privatized, commercialized and eventually destroyed.

I also work in Afghanistan, in the Middle East and in several fully ruined countries of Africa. Everything here, in Borneo, appears to be extremely familiar. Is it really peace that is reigning here? I’m highly doubtful. To me it looks like a war, like an extremely brutal war. It looks like the war of people against their own people, the war of people against nature, against all living beings and species; a war against the forests and river, and even against life itself.

It looks like a neo-colonialist nightmare. It once used to be the most beautiful place in Asia, now it is scarred, charred and in terrible pain. But it is still breathing; it is alive. And what is alive is always worth fighting for.

• Originally published by NEO (New Eastern Outlook)

• All photos by Andre Vltchek

Andre Vltchek is a philosopher, novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He has covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. Three of his latest books are his tribute to “The Great October Socialist Revolution” a revolutionary novel “Aurora” and a bestselling work of political non-fiction: “Exposing Lies Of The Empire”. View his other books here. Watch Rwanda Gambit, his groundbreaking documentary about Rwanda and DRCongo and his film/dialogue with Noam Chomsky “On Western Terrorism”. Vltchek presently resides in East Asia and the Middle East, and continues to work around the world. He can be reached through his website and his Twitter. Mira Lubis is Senior lecturer at Department of Urban and Regional Planning, Tanjungpura University, Pontianak, West Kalimantan.
Read other articles by Andre Vltchek and Mira Lubis.