Sunday, 29 July 2012

Syria's WMD?

byEric Margolis            July 28, 2012          Common Dreams
The regime of Bashar Asad just managed to shoot itself in both feet, provide ammunition to Syria’s enemies, and give them yet another excuse to intervene in its civil war.  A senior Syrian government spokesman just confirmed his nation did indeed possess chemical weapons, and might employ them against a “foreign aggressor.”
Western governments and media that have become cheerleaders for Syria’s rebels went into full trumpet mode, issuing dire warnings of Syria’s “threat of weapons of mass destruction.” Israeli and the US officials warned they might have to seize Syria’s chemical arsenal lest it fall into the hands of Lebanon’s Hezbullah. Shades of Iraq and Saddam Hussein’s wmd’s.  The bumbling Damascus regime was too inept to explain that Syria had acquired a limited arsenal of chemical weapons over the past twenty years as a counter-force to Israel’s tactical nuclear weapons. Western media barely mentioned this important point.
During the 1973 Arab-Israel War, Moscow informed Damascus that Israel was readying tactical nuclear-armed missiles, land mines, and bombs to halt what looked like a Syrian armored breakthrough on the Golan Heights. Damascus was also targeted by Israeli nuclear weapons. Syria determined to obtain a limited deterrent to forestall any future such nuclear threats.
Syria’s arsenal of mustard, cyanide, and nerve gas is loaded into bombs, short-ranged Scud or SS-21 missiles, or short-ranged artillery shells. Chemical weapons are not weapons of mass destruction. They have limited killing power, unreliable, and are subject to weather conditions. Western media simply ignored this fact. As they did the point that lightly armed Hezbullah would likely be unable to obtain or employ such weapons. In the kind of urban warfare now going on in Syria, chemical weapons would have little use. Far more effective and deadly would be the thermobaric fuel air explosives employed by Russia, US, and Israel that rip apart the lungs of soldiers fighting from cover. Israel has the Mideast’s largest arsenal of chemical and biological weapons.
Israel’s military establishment and rightwing parties have made no secret of their yearning for revenge against Hezbullah, which inflicted a sharp defeat on Israel’s army in southern Lebanon in 2006. Nor have Israel’s expansionist rightists given up the ambition of former leader Ariel Sharon of turning Lebanon into an Israeli protectorate ruled by Maronite Christian rightists. And diverting southern Lebanon’s water to Israel.
As fighting raged in Syria, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak disclosed that he had asked the military to prepare for a possible attack on targets in Syria to secure strategic weapons in the event the Asad regime collapses. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a similar threat to attack Syria. Israeli officials also threatened to occupy what’s left of Syria’s Golan Heights to supposedly prevent them from turning into a “terrorist haven.” Today, Israeli heavy artillery on Golan is only 30 km from Damascus.
Is Washington giving Israel a green light to attack Syria as a consolation prize for delaying an attack against Iran? Certainly, overthrowing the Asad government has become an obsession in Washington. The road to Tehran runs through Damascus, chant US neoconservatives and many bellicose Republicans.
Further raising the temperature, Turkey is threatening to occupy a heavily Kurdish chunk of northern Syria which it claims is being used to launch attacks into Turkey. Why Turkey is thinking about acquiring more rebellious Kurds when it can’t handle its own remains unclear. But Turkey is getting more deeply involved each day in Syria, arming and supplying anti-Asad rebels and now rumbling about “security zones” on the border. Ankara’s machinations in Syria threaten to undo the success of its previous “no problems” policy with its neighbors.
The US, France, Turkey and Israel have all finalized plans for attacking Syria. The biggest winner in such a scenario would be Israel, as it was in the US war against Iraq. Sending Syria into turmoil would eliminate the most important supporter of the Palestinians resistance, cut off Hezbullah, leave it vulnerable to a final assault, isolate Iran, and cement Israel’s annexation of Syria’s Golan Heights.     {Slightly abbrev.)
© 2012 Eric Margolis

Syrian war of lies and hypocrisy

Robert Fisk                         Independent/UK                        29 July 2012
Has there ever been a Middle Eastern war of such hypocrisy? A war of such cowardice and such mean morality, of such false rhetoric and such public humiliation? I'm not talking about the physical victims of the Syrian tragedy. I'm referring to the utter lies and mendacity of our masters and our own public opinion – eastern and western – in response to the slaughter, a vicious pantomime more worthy of Swiftian satire than Tolstoy or Shakespeare.

While Qatar and Saudi Arabia arm and fund the rebels of Syria to overthrow Bashar al-Assad's Alawite/Shia-Baathist dictatorship, Washington mutters not a word of criticism against them. President Barack Obama and his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, say they want a democracy in Syria. But Qatar is an autocracy and Saudi Arabia is among the most pernicious of caliphate-kingly-dictatorships in the Arab world. Rulers of both states inherit power from their families – just as Bashar has done – and Saudi Arabia is an ally of the Salafist-Wahabi rebels in Syria, just as it was the most fervent supporter of the medieval Taliban during Afghanistan's dark ages. Indeed, 15 of the 19 hijacker-mass murderers of 11 September, 2001, came from Saudi Arabia – after which, of course, we bombed Afghanistan. The Saudis are repressing their own Shia minority just as they now wish to destroy the Alawite-Shia minority of Syria. And we believe Saudi Arabia wants to set up a democracy in Syria?

Then we have the Shia Hezbollah party/militia in Lebanon, right hand of Shia Iran and supporter of Bashar al-Assad's regime. For 30 years, Hezbollah has defended the oppressed Shias of southern Lebanon against Israeli aggression. They present themselves as the defenders of Palestinian rights in the West Bank and Gaza. But not a word have they uttered about the rape and mass murder of Syrian civilians by Bashar's soldiers and  militia.

Then we have the heroes of America – La Clinton, the Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, and Obama himself. Clinton issues a "stern warning" to Assad. Panetta announces that things are "spiralling out of control" in Syria. They have been doing that for at least six months. Has he just realised? Bashar must be shaking in his boots. But what US administration would really want to see Bashar's atrocious archives of torture opened? Why, only a few years ago, the Bush administration was sending Muslims to Damascus for Bashar's torturers to tear their fingernails out for information, imprisoned at the US government's request. Bashar, you see, was our baby.

Then there's that neighbouring country which owes us so much gratitude: Iraq. Last week, it suffered in one day 29 bombing attacks in 19 cities, killing 111 civilian and wounding another 235. The same day, Syria's bloodbath consumed about the same number of innocents. But Iraq was "down the page" from Syria, buried "below the fold", as we journalists say; because, of course, we gave freedom to Iraq, Jeffersonian democracy, etc, etc, didn't we?

And talking of journalism, who in BBC World News decided that even the preparations for the Olympics should take precedence all last week over Syrian outrages? British newspapers and the BBC in Britain will naturally lead with the Olympics as a local story. But in a lamentable decision, the BBC – broadcasting "world" news to the world – also decided that the passage of the Olympic flame was more important than dying Syrian children.

Then, of course, there's us, our dear liberal selves who are so quick to fill the streets of London in protest at the Israeli slaughter of Palestinians. Rightly so, of course. When our political leaders are happy to condemn Arabs for their savagery but too timid to utter a word of the mildest criticism when the Israeli army commits crimes against humanity – or watches its allies do it in Lebanon – ordinary people have to remind the world that they are not as timid as the politicians. But when the scorecard of death in Syria reaches 15,000 or 19,000 – perhaps 14 times as many fatalities as in Israel's savage 2008-2009 onslaught on Gaza – scarcely a single protester, save for Syrian expatriates abroad, walks the streets to condemn these crimes against humanity. Israel's crimes have not been on this scale since 1948. The message that goes out is simple: we demand justice and the right to life for Arabs if they are butchered by the West and its Israeli allies; but not when they are being butchered by their fellow Arabs.

And all the while, we forget the "big" truth. That this is an attempt to crush the Syrian dictatorship not because of our love for Syrians or our hatred of our former friend Bashar al-Assad, or because of our outrage at Russia, whose place in the pantheon of hypocrites is clear when we watch its reaction to all the little Stalingrads across Syria. No, this is all about Iran and our desire to crush the Islamic Republic and its infernal nuclear plans – if they exist – and has nothing to do with human rights or the right to life or the death of Syrian babies. Quelle horreur!   [Abbrev.]

When conscience Collides with Authority

 By Ian Harris                        Otago Daily Times            July 27, 2012

If your conscience collides with authority, which will win? If you pledge loyalty to an organisation, institution or country, are you bound to obey whatever the circumstances?

The questions are those of the whistle-blower, the party politician, the conscientious objector – and in the United States today, the Catholic nun. There, thousands of sisters who vowed obedience to their church and its hierarchy find certain church teachings disturbing, and are resisting attempts to whip them back into line.  This does not amount to a Protestant-style revolt against the authority of pope and bishops. But the nuns are certainly stirring the church in a way that will resonate with Protestants who are aware of their heritage.

The latest tussle between conscience and authority comes as no surprise. Many Catholics in the United States and elsewhere are dismayed that in the decades since 1962-65, when fresh breezes blew through the Second Vatican Council, successive popes have worked steadily to put the liberating genie back in the bottle – and none so diligently as doctrinal enforcer Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.  So when leading American nuns expressed support for President Obama’s broadening of health care, thought afresh about homosexuality and the male-only priesthood, and focused on social justice issues, their bishops and the Vatican combined to order them to “get in behind”..

In 2010 the bishops opposed health reforms that obliged Catholic hospitals, universities and charities to provide contraceptive coverage free to women employees, Catholic or not. This, they said, was an assault on the church’s ban on contraception and therefore on religious freedom.  A compromise was reached allowing the women to receive that cover direct from the health insurance industry. Sisters of the Leadership Conference of Women. 
Religious, an umbrella organisation representing about 80 per cent of American nuns, found that satisfactory and said so. This angered the bishops, who insisted that no public money should be spent in church institutions on something they oppose.

Despite the bishops and their teaching, surveys have shown that up to 98 per cent of Catholic women use contraceptives. For them it is a question of conscience and personal responsibility, and they don’t let the church get in the way. In April this year an inquiry by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith determined that the Leadership Conference had serious doctrinal problems. Besides not toeing the line on homosexuality and the priesthood, the nuns were accused of promoting “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith”. The report said they should not “disagree with or challenge the bishops, who are the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals”.

Also in the firing line is Network, a social justice lobby founded by a group of sisters. Their error was to put too much emphasis on poverty and economic injustice, while staying silent on abortion and same-sex marriage. The hierarchy’s efforts to rein the nuns in have not gone down well with many Catholics, including priests, who were already perturbed by Rome’s tepid response to child sexual abuse on the part of some clergy. The branding of progressive Catholics as “termites” by the president of the Catholic League did not help.

If Catholic commentators in major newspapers are any guide, however, there is change in the wind. One excoriates “an out-of-touch, self-consumed hierarchy and its musty orthodoxies”. Noting that American Catholics’ views on contraception, abortion and same-sex marriage are much the same as among Americans in general, he says: “These Catholics look to the church not for exacting rules, but for a locus for their spirituality.”
Another columnist commends the breakaway Spiritus Christi Church in Rochester, NY, which describes itself as “Catholic, not Roman Catholic”. The church has a woman pastor and performs same-sex unions. He advises fellow-Catholics: “If you are not getting the spiritual sustenance you need, if you are uneasy being part of an institution out of step with your conscience – then go.”

It seems to me that if the Catholic Church is ever to fulfil the promise of Vatican II, it will be the women who make it happen, both in America and closer to home. Episcopal (Anglican) Bishop John Spong sees it the same way. After the April slap-down of the Leadership Conference he wrote: “Those vital nuns are now on the battle line facing this out-of-touch male hierarchy. I predict, however, that the nuns will ultimately prevail.”
The Vatican, he added, had never understood either feminine ways of operating, “or that truth cannot be finally trampled in the service of institutional power.”              Ian Harris’s “Faith and Reason” column in ODT

Monday, 23 July 2012

Science can stop Aids but to end the plague we need love

The Aids epidemic is fuelled by stigma, hate, ignorance and indifference
By Elton John                                     Independent/UK                            23 July 2012
Here's a story of a young man coming to terms with his sexuality, who got mixed up in drugs and drink. He took chances with unprotected sex, and he was at very high risk of contracting HIV. He hit rock bottom, his life was a mess. He should have died, to be honest, and he almost did. But then, something amazing happened. People showed him compassion and love, respect and understanding. He turned his life around. He has a wonderful life, a loving partner, and a beautiful son and he's been sober for 22 years.
By all rights, I shouldn't be here. I should be dead, six feet under, in a wooden box. I should have contracted HIV in the 1980s and died in the 1990s, just like Freddie Mercury, Rock Hudson and many friends and loved ones. Every day, I wonder: how did I survive? I don't know the answer, but I do know that the message that saved my life is the message that can save millions of lives if we put it into practice: everyone deserves compassion and dignity and everyone deserves love. The Aids disease is caused by a virus, but the Aids epidemic is not. It is fuelled by stigma, hate, misinformation, ignorance and indifference.
There's much talk now about the end of Aids and rightly so. We can end Aids; thanks to research and advocacy, we have life-saving treatment and prevention. But that's not good enough. It's just not good enough to beat this disease once and for all. We need more than medicine and we need more than money – we also need love.
After 31 years and 30 million people gone, we have seen both responses. Hate in Uganda, stigma in Ukraine, indifference in America. It makes me sick, all of this fear, ignorance and hate. But we've also seen love. We've seen monks working with drug addicts in Thailand, social workers helping HIV-positive prisoners, corporations putting lives ahead of profits or gay men living with Aids in San Francisco joining hands with heterosexual women living with Aids in Botswana.
More than eight million people are now on treatment and we can see an end to this epidemic on the horizon. But it's going to take a hell of a lot more compassion to get us there. How can compassion get us to our destination? We're not going to end new infections among injection drug users by locking them up or leaving them to die of addiction or Aids; that just spreads the disease and the suffering. We need to give them love, support, clean needles, and treatment. We're not going to curb new infections among men who have sex with men in Africa by stoning gay men and passing laws against homosexuality. To stop the epidemic in South Africa tell those living with HIV to be proud that they know their status: that's what the government there is beginning to do, and it's working.
 Maybe you think I'm hopelessly naïve. I know we need more than love and compassion. We need prevention programmes to be funded. We need treatment programmes to be expanded and we need a vaccine to be discovered. But even if we had all that – even if we had a vaccine – it wouldn't be enough. Science can stop the disease, but science alone can't end the plague. We now have miraculous treatments that double as prevention. But we can't get those living with HIV on treatment if they're afraid to disclose their status because of stigma or homophobia.
I pray that one day we will have a vaccine but we won't be able to get it to all those in need without the compassion of governments. Millions of people feel ashamed because of their HIV-positive status, because of their sexuality, because of their poverty. I've felt that shame. It almost killed me and it's killing people all around the world, right now. We have to replace the shame with love, the stigma with compassion. That is how we will end this plague.
Love is the most powerful force in the world and I know that from experience. During the darkest days of my recovery, I was shown extraordinary compassion by people I didn't even know. Their love changed my life. It saved my life. The gift of love from strangers, from a community of people who believe in you and support you, is one of the most remarkable gifts you could ever receive. Everyone deserves it. Not nearly enough people receive it. But we can do something about that and when we do, we will wake up from this nightmare into a brand new day.    

This is an edited version of the keynote address given by Elton John to the 2012 International Aids Conference in Washington DC

The Careerists

by Chris Hedges              July 23, 2012

The greatest crimes of human history are made possible by the most colorless human beings. They are the careerists. The bureaucrats. The cynics. They do the little chores that make vast, complicated systems of exploitation and death a reality. They collect and read the personal data gathered on tens of millions of us by the security and surveillance state. They keep the accounts of ExxonMobil, BP and Goldman Sachs. They build or pilot aerial drones. They work in corporate advertising and public relations. They issue the forms. They process the papers. They enforce the laws and the regulations. And they do not ask questions
Good. Evil. These words do not mean anything to them. They are beyond morality. They are there to make corporate systems function. If insurance companies abandon tens of millions of sick to suffer and die, so be it. If banks and sheriff departments toss families out of their homes, so be it. If financial firms rob citizens of their savings, so be it. If the government shuts down schools and libraries, so be it. They serve the system.
These systems managers believe nothing. They have no loyalty. They are rootless. They do not think beyond their tiny, insignificant roles. They are blind and deaf. And we churn them out of universities. Lawyers. Technocrats. Business majors. Financial managers. IT specialists. Consultants. Petroleum engineers. “Positive psychologists.” Communications majors. Cadets. Sales representatives.. They are T.S. Eliot’s “the hollow men
It was the careerists who made possible the genocides, from the extermination of Native Americans to the Turkish slaughter of the Armenians to the Nazi Holocaust to Stalin’s liquidations. They were the ones who kept the trains running. They filled out the forms and presided over the property confiscations. They enforced the law. They did their jobs.
Political and military careerists, backed by war profiteers, have led us into useless wars, including World War I, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. And millions followed them. Duty. Honor. Country. Carnivals of death. They sacrifice us all. In the futile battles of Verdun and the Somme in World War I, 1.8 million on both sides were killed, wounded or never found. In July of 1917 British Field Marshal Douglas Haig, despite the seas of dead, doomed even more in the mud of Passchendaele. Haig “won” if more Germans than allied troops died. Death as score card. Passchendaele took 600,000 more lives on both sides of the line before it ended.
Hannah Arendt noted that Adolf Eichmann was primarily motivated by “an extraordinary diligence in looking out for his personal advancement.” He joined the Nazi Party because it was a good career move. “The trouble with Eichmann,” she wrote, “was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal.”
Gitta Sereny makes the same point in her book “Into That Darkness,” about Franz Stangl, the commandant of Treblinka. Stangl was not a sadist. He was soft-spoken and polite. He loved his wife and children very much. Unlike most Nazi camp officers, he did not take Jewish women as concubines. He was efficient and highly organized. He took pride in an official commendation as the “best camp commander in Poland.” Prisoners were simply objects. Goods. “That was my profession,” he said. “I enjoyed it. It fulfilled me.”
These armies of bureaucrats serve a corporate system that will quite literally kill us. They carry out minute tasks. They are docile. Compliant. They obey. They sit on school boards. They go to Rotary. They attend church. It is moral schizophrenia. It fragments the world. Little acts of kindness and charity mask the monstrous evil they abet. And the system rolls forward. The polar ice caps melt. The droughts rage over cropland. The drones deliver death from the sky. The state moves inexorably forward to place us in chains. The sick die. The poor starve. The prisons fill. And the careerist, plodding forward, does his or her job.  [Excerpts only]

© 2012
Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times.

The Geopolitics of Compassion

by Robert C. Koehler                      Common Dreams                      July 19, 2012

“The militarization of the United States and the strengthening of the national security complex continues to accelerate,” Tom Engelhardt wrote earlier this month. “The Pentagon is, by now, a world unto itself. . . .”  And as the world’s major powers play a 21st-century version of the “Great Game” to control the resources of the world, the U.S., in contrast with China, writes David Vine, “has focused relentlessly on military might as its global trump card, dotting the planet with new bases and other forms of military power.”
We’re a hyper-militarized global empire, dominating if not quite “ruling” a large swath of the world by brute physical, as well as economic, force. We go to war, or the equivalent of war, whenever and wherever we feel like it, killing civilians, destabilizing societies, waving our red flag.  Engelhardt, in his essay on “the Failure of the Military Option,” summarizes the disastrous consequences we’ve inflicted on much of the world just since 2001, in our ill-considered interventions and globalized pursuit of manifest destiny. We’ve created chaos everywhere  including Pakistan, Iran, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, Somalia, Egypt and Libya — as well as Afghanistan and Iraq.
Yet none of its failures have given the U.S. military the least pause in throwing its muscle around somewhere else, or building new bases. “Chalmers Johnson noted: “America’s version of the colony is the military base.” 
This is geopolitics, a collision and collusion of impersonal forces, as removed from ordinary humanity as gravity, weather and continental drift. The best we can do is live our lives around it, right? Feelings don’t enter into it, beyond the cries of the wounded and the survivors, and the occasional meaningless apology of one government to another: The collateral damage was “regrettable.” This is the game of history. The weak become compliant satellites of “the hegemon” — the United States — or defiant outcasts, ripe for invasion and occupation.
“Beyond these categories,” he writes, “are the discarded –– completely failed entities like Somalia, Ethiopia, Mali, where utterly poor and miserable people live. “The hegemon and satellites have not a care in the world for the welfare of such people, except sending drones or troops from neighboring client states to kill those described as ‘terrorists.’ What desperate poverty and misery lead to has no space within the realm of this thinking.”
And this is the world over which we seemingly have no influence. Theoretically, democracy gives all citizens some power in the realm of geopolitics, in whether our country behaves as an empire, brutally and clumsily asserting its influence around the world, or displays a new and unprecedented sort of leadership, recognizing the sanctity of life and the wholeness of the planet.
I know, this sounds naïve to the point of absurdity, especially because what I’m really talking about is power — the power to disarm an empire, the power to redefine the nation’s interests, the power to bring compassion (synonymous with sanity) to the realm of geopolitics. Who am I kidding?
“We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensable to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.”
So reads the Charter for Compassion, one of many global cries for a new way of being, which includes a new, demilitarized geopolitics. This can only happen if democracy becomes, once again, a force of history.
© 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.    [Abridged]
Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His new book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound is now available.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Faith and Reason by Ian Harris

Otago Daily Times          July 13, 2012

A certain type of preacher delves into the Bible to find “signs of the times” – references in obscure passages which they say point to world trouble spots 2500 years later – and warn that “the end is nigh”. They’re always wrong.  Today, however, a swelling chorus of scientists is alerting us to real “signs of the times” – in stresses to our planet from greenhouse gases, climate change, shrinking forests, expanding deserts, destruction of species, depletion of finite resources, all exacerbated by a soaring world population whose needs for food, water, shelter and work will only add human to planetary distress.

Market-focussed economists and profit-driven businesses jostle to drown those voices out, and when push comes to shove, compliant politicians go along with the money men: the economy must come first.  Hence it is not surprising that our Government this month back-pedalled on its emissions trading scheme, brought in to nudge our economy some way towards a more sustainable future.

Transition measures designed to cushion the impact of the Emissions Trading Scheme on businesses will now run for another two years. Taxpayers will continue to subsidise polluters. The carbon price will stay capped. Farming, which generates nearly half of the country’s harmful emissions, is off the hook for “at least” two more years.  In other words, short-term market gain has once again trumped the need to protect the environment on which long-term prosperity – and life itself – depend.

Of course there are rational economic reasons to tiptoe around restricting pollution: more jobs, more profit, more tax revenue, more growth, less debt.  But while the deferrals delight business and farming interests, the Government’s tepid lead on its greenhouse gas obligations looks like a bad case of the bland leading the blind. Or is it the blind leading the bland? In a saner world, economic activity would be anchored firmly within the physical constraints of the planet and a rounded view of life, not the other way round.

Harvard moral and political philosopher Michael Sandel reminds us that in a wholesome view of life ethical norms are central. They are reflected in old-time values such as honesty, integrity, fairness and responsibility. Today the acids of self-centredness, sharp practice and greed are corroding them – a sign of the times, but not a happy one. Sandel cites the environment as one of many areas where financial incentives, so beloved of market theorists, are squeezing out ethical norms that should apply.

On greenhouse gases, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with putting carbon dioxide into the air – we do it every time we breathe out. It becomes objectionable, says Sandel, when it happens in excess, as part of an energy-profligate way of life: “That way of life, and the attitudes that support it, are what we should discourage, even stigmatise.”   He criticises the Kyoto Protocol on curbing emissions for sending mixed signals. It allows countries that cannot or will not reduce their greenhouse emissions to pay another country to reduce theirs. In short, they buy the right to pollute. That damages two desirable norms: “It entrenches an instrumental attitude toward nature, and it undermines the spirit of shared sacrifice that may be necessary to create a global environmental ethic.

“From the standpoint of the heavens, it doesn’t matter which places on the planet send less carbon to the sky. . . Letting rich countries buy their way out of meaningful changes in their own wasteful habits reinforces a bad attitude – that nature is a dumping ground for those who can afford it.” Likewise with carbon offsets. These allow companies to donate to green energy projects in the developing world by charging for the carbon people use in taking a flight, for example, or driving a car. Those who pay these offsets might think that absolves them of any further responsibility.

“The risk,” says Sandel, “is that carbon offsets will become, at least for some, a painless mechanism to buy our way out of the more fundamental changes in habits, attitudes, and ways of life that may be required to address the climate problem.”  In other words, markets reflect and promote certain norms, which may then crowd out non-market norms that are more important for life and the future of the planet – respect for nature and its processes, for example, and living in such a way as to place less pressure on them. That makes New Zealand’s shilly-shallying for short-term economic advantage ominous, for the challenge today is to live as if our children’s future – and their children’s future – mattered. That’s where our priorities should lie.

This Global Financial Fraud and Its Gatekeepers

We're seeing systemic corruption in banking – and systemic collusion

by Naomi Wolf                             Guardian/UK                         July 15, 2012

The notion that the entire global financial system is riddled with systemic fraud – and that key players in the gatekeeper roles, both in finance and in government, including regulatory bodies, know it and choose to quietly sustain this reality – is one that would have only recently seemed like the frenzied hypothesis of tinhat-wearers, but this week's headlines make such a conclusion, sadly, inevitable.
 New York Times business section on 12 July shows multiple exposes of systemic fraud throughout banks: banks colluding with other banks in manipulation of interest rates, regulators aware of systemic fraud, and key government officials aware of it and colluding as well. The HSBC banking group is being fined up to $1bn, for not preventing money-laundering between 2004 and 2010 – a six years' long "oops.  What is weird is how these reports so consistently describe the activity that led to all this vanishing cash as simple bumbling.
A page later, "Wells Fargo will Settle Mortgage Bias Charges" as that bank agrees to pay $175m in fines resulting from its having – again, very lucratively – charged African-American and Hispanic mortgagees costlier rates on their subprime mortgages than their counterparts who were white and had the same credit scores. The piece discreetly ends mentioning that a Bank of America lawsuit of $335m and a Sun Trust mortgage settlement of $21m for having engaged is similar kinds of discrimination.
The top headline of the day's news sums up why it is not simple: "Geithner Tried to Curb Bank's Rate Rigging in 2008". The story reports that when Timothy Geithner, at the time he ran the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, learned of "problems" with how interest rates were fixed in London, the financial center at the heart of the Libor Barclays scandal. He let "top British authorities" know of the issues and wrote to his counterparts suggesting reforms. Were his actions ethical, or prudent? A possible interpretation of Geithner's action is that he was "covering his ass", without serious expectation of effecting reform of what he knew to be systemic abuse.
And what happened? Barclays kept reporting false rates, seeking to boost its profit. Last month, the bank agreed to pay $450m to US and UK authorities for manipulating the Libor and other key benchmarks, upon which great swaths of the economy depended. This manipulation is alleged in numerous lawsuits to have defrauded thousands of bank clients. So Geithner's "warnings came too late, and his efforts did not stop the illegal activity".
And then what happened? Did Geithner, frustrated that his warnings had gone unheeded, call a press conference? No. He stayed silent, as a practice that now looks as if several major banks also perpetrated, continued. And then? Tim Geithner became Treasury Secretary. At which point, he still did nothing.
It is very hard, looking at the elaborate edifices of fraud that are emerging across the financial system, to ignore the possibility that this kind of silence – "the willingness to not rock the boat" – is simply rewarded by promotion to ever higher positions, ever greater authority. If you learn that rate-rigging and regulatory failures are systemic, but stay quiet, well, perhaps you have shown that you are genuinely reliable and deserve membership of the club.
Whatever motivated Geithner's silence, or that of the "government official" in the emails to Barclays, this much is obvious: the mainstream media need to drop their narratives of "Gosh, another oversight". The financial sector's corruption must be recognized as systemic.
Meanwhile, Britain is sleepwalking in a march toward total email surveillance, even as the US brings forward new proposals to punish whistleblowers by extending the Espionage Act. In an electronic world, evidence of these crimes lasts forever – if people get their hands on the books. In the Libor case, notably, a major crime has not been greeted by much demand at the top for criminal prosecutions. That asymmetry is one of the insurance policies of power. Another is to crack down on citizens' protest.                 [Abridged]
© Guardian News and Media Limited 2012     

Washington's Militarized Mindset

The Lessons From the Failure of the Military Option

by Tom Engelhardt                         July 5, 2012

The militarization of the U.S. and the strengthening of the National Security Complex continues to accelerate.  In the post-9/11 era, the military-industrial complex has been thoroughly mobilized under the rubric of “privatization” and now goes to war with the Pentagon.  With its $80 billion-plus budget, the intelligence bureaucracy has simply exploded.  There are so many competing agencies and outfits, surrounded by a universe of private intelligence contractors, all enswathed in a penumbra of secrecy, and they have grown so large that you could say intelligence is now a ruling way of life in Washington -- and it, too, is being thoroughly militarized.  Even the once-civilian CIA now runs its own “covert” drone wars in Pakistan.  Diplomacy, too, has been militarized.  The State Department is transforming itself into an unofficial arm of the Pentagon.   
The Military Solution in the Greater Middle East    If the institutions of American life and governance are increasingly militarized, then it shouldn’t be surprising that the problems facing the country are ever more often framed in militarized terms and that the only solutions considered are similarly militarized.  In fact, Washington’s record there should be eye-opening.  Here is a little regional scorecard of what American militarization has meant in the Greater Middle East, 2001-2012:
Pakistan:  The U.S. has faced a multitude of complex problems in this nuclear nation beset with insurgent movements, its tribal areas providing sanctuary to both Afghan and Pakistani rebels and jihadis. Washington’s response has been war, a drone assassination campaign in the country’s tribal borderlands largely focused on al-Qaeda leaders.  Those rare robotic air strikes have since expanded into something like a full-scale covert drone war that is killing civilians, is intensely unpopular throughout Pakistan, and by now is clearly meant to punish the Pakistani leadership for its transgressions as well. 
Afghanistan: Following a November 2001 invasion the U.S. opted for a full-scale occupation and reconstruction of the country.  In the process, it managed to spur the reconstruction and reconstitution of the previously deeply unpopular and defeated Taliban movement.  An insurgent war followed.  Despite a massive surge of U.S. forces, CIA agents, special operations troops, and private contractors into the country, the calling in of air power in a major way, and the expansion of a program of “night raids” by special ops types and the CIA, success has not followed.  By the end of 2014, the U.S. is scheduled to withdraw its main combat forces from what is likely to be a thoroughly destabilized country.
Iran: In a program long aimed at regime change the U.S. has clamped energy sanctions on Iran, supported a special operations campaign, run a massive CIA drone surveillance program in the country’s skies, and (with the Israelis) loosed at least two major malware “worms” against the computer systems and centrifuges of its nuclear facilities, which even the Pentagon defines as acts of war.  It has also backed a massive build-up of U.S. naval and air power in the Persian Gulf..
Iraq: The U.S. invaded in March 2003, occupying the country.  It fought (and essentially lost) an eight-year-long counterinsurgency war, withdrawing its last troops at the end of 2011, but leaving behind in Baghdad the world’s largest, most militarized embassy.  The country, now an ally and trading partner of Iran, remains unreconstructed and destabilized.   
Kuwait: Just across the border from Iraq, the U.S. has continued a build-up of forces.  In the future, according to a U.S. Senate report, there could be up to 13,000 U.S. personnel permanently stationed in the country. 
Yemen: Washington, long a supporter of the country’s strong-man ruler, now backs the successor regime. It has put at least small numbers of special operations troops on the ground there as advisers and trainers and has escalated a combined CIA drone and Air Force manned-plane air campaign, helping further destabilize this impoverished and desperate land.
Bahrain: Home of the U.S. Fifth Fleet, tiny Bahrain, facing a democratic uprising of its repressed Shiite majority, called in the Saudi military on a mission of suppression.  The U.S. has offered military aid and support to the ruling Sunni monarchy.
Syria:  In radically destabilized Syria, where a democracy uprising has morphed into a civil war that threatens to further destabilize the region, including Lebanon and Iraq, the CIA has now been dispatched to the Turkish border. 
Somalia: Egypt: Libya:    Tom Engelhardt sees nothing to be cheerful about here too.
How to Set the Planet on Fire and Learn Nothing  (This is the heading for the concluding section of a long article.)
[Heavily edited excerpts from Tom Englehardt’s blog]

Friday, 6 July 2012

The Fourth of July and my American son

For me, a black Briton, patriotism has always been problematic. But for my US-born son, the American dream has real meaning.

During my first week in the US, I went to the Mall in Washington, DC for the Fourth of July. With flags billowing and picnic baskets disgorging, I remember hearing John Wayne's voice, over a loudspeaker, extolling the nation's innate virtues, followed by a huge cheer. Within half an hour, he was joined by some Martin Luther King championing, once again greeted by applause. I admit I was confused. Which America were they rooting for? The gun-toting, swashbuckling land of the settler or the non-violent home to the struggle for equality. Or was there more than one?

This is what I've always found both impressive and enraging about American patriotism. I love its flexibility. Every race, ethnicity and religion found a place for themselves in the national story. But that story all too often slips from a celebration of shared citizenship to a proclamation of genius – as though being an American is, in itself, a higher form of human being.

This has always struck me as a virus that can find its home in any political body. For many, being American is understood not as a starting point from which a greater understanding of the world might be achieved, but an end point, after which the rest of the world ceases to exist. Badges and placards announcing that "Peace is an American value" or that the war in Iraq was somehow "un-American" make me every bit as uncomfortable as the more traditional bellicose and belligerent jingoism. In my experience, sentences that start, "As an American …" rarely end well.

In Britain, patriotism is an altogether rather embarrassing and more rigid affair. Generally speaking, flags and anthems are for sporting events, royal weddings, Jubilees and nationalists – all of which in some way hanker for former glory. I don't begrudge the joy of thousands who braved the rain to watch the flotilla of boats float along the Thames last month, but I don't share it and have never found a way to relate to it. British patriotism, it seems, exists not so much as love for your country, but for its past. We are great, goes the logic, because we were better. Hence the football chant when Britain plays Germany – "two world wars and one world cup"; reaching back almost 50 years for some sense of cultural superiority.

As such, British identity – and this goes for most other European national identities – has long suffered from the illusion not of genius going forward, but purity going backwards. Being British, in the minds of many, is not a work in progress but an artefact inherited from the past. As a black Briton whose parents came to the UK from Barbados in the early 1960s, this is the kind of nation-love I can do without. It harks back to a time before I existed and celebrates it because I wasn't there.

Britain doesn't have an independence day; it simply looks askance as most of the rest of the world celebrates independence from it. For me, growing up, it felt that there was no way to become British. It was an identity you either accepted wholesale or did without. I did without. So, I have long looked upon the Fourth of July with twinge of envy. If there must be nation states, then I would rather there be a national identity I can relate to. If I'm going to pay taxes, I might as well get the badge.

I now have an American son. Over the five years since he was born, I have made my peace with the fact that I will eventually lose him to a vaguely familiar world of little league, dental braces and phonetic spelling. But the notion that I may also have to give him up to the unwieldy beast of American identity is far more tricky. Not only have I never been a patriot. Before I came to the US, I'd actively avoided them. So how to make sense of the fact that I might be raising one?

I have seen that while African Americans may be far less prone to patriotism than most other Americans, and whatever skepticism may exist, they are far more patriotic than any other black minority I have ever seen and, I would argue, far more patriotic than white Britons. Just as Martin Luther King's dream was "deeply rooted in the American dream", so the African-American challenge to the nation has long been for it to live up to its promise, rather than to live down its past.

So, when the fireworks are set off and the anthem is sung, do I tell my son to do like his peers and put his hand on his heart and sing along? When the flags are handed out, will I encourage him to take one? When he asks to hang one from the front door will I wince? Or will I just be relieved that – unlike me – he has never had to experience the automatic dislocation between race and place, in the knowledge that none will see any incongruity between the colour of his skin and the crest on his passport. Given that most Americans of his generation are not white, he'll grow up in a country where minority is a purely political designation, not a demographic one. True, as a black boy, his odds of going to prison will be higher than those of his going to university. But whatever he thinks of America or being an American, he will never feel like a guest in his own home. He will never be in any doubt that he is American. Nor will other Americans. And that's saying something.


Gary Younge's latest book, Who Are We – And Should it Matter in the 21st Century?, is published by Penguin in England.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Kucinich: US Drone Program Is ‘Vigilantism Conducted by Robots’

By Common Dreams staff                                                       June 29, 2012

The U.S. drone assassination program is "vigilantism conducted by robots" and has caused us to "journey into moral depravity," said Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) in an interview with The Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

In the June 21 interview with the London-based Bureau, Kucinich gives a scathing review of the U.S. wars in Yemen and Pakistan and states that the nation's justice values have been "radically altered" and that we now have a system of trial by execution.

"We have ventured into a world since 9/11 where international law is set aside and where the implements of war are becoming so ubiquitous that all the rules are being ignored and conflict zones are expanding. Where suspected terrorists – and we do not know what they are really suspected of doing, you know – they can be suspects now, and they can be executed. Or they can just be perceived to be a male of combat age and be executed."

Kucinich remarks how the power of Congress to declare war has now morphed into "the derogation to the executive of the power to strike at any nation at any time for any reason." On the covert, escalating war in Yemen, including drone strikes, Kucinich bluntly states, "We understand that we are at war in Yemen."

The congressman emphasized that the U.S. drone program represents a bastardization of justice: "What we have done here with the drone program is to radically alter our system of justice. Because, remember, if the whole idea is that we are exporting American values, those drones represent American values. And now we are telling the world that American values are summary executions, no rights to an accused, no arrest process, no reading of charges, no trial by jury, no judge, only an executioner."

And by having such an assassination program without legal justification, we "journeyed into moral depravity," Kucinich stated.

Kucinich added that going against the UN Charter, the US has been "clearly aggressing against Pakistan, and against Yemen, and against a whole range of countries. This can only lead to more war. With these wars, any drone now is an incendiary that spreads war more broadly and it incites more people to join the cause of those who protest the US policies and who seeks to commit violence."

This kind of killing by execution "is vigilantism conducted by robots," he stated.

Highlighting media complicity in war, Kucinich said that as in the Iraq war, "It’s not bad form to kill civilians, it’s only bad form to talk about it. " "There has been a tradition of American journalists in modern times to serve as the spear carriers for the government." He added that the problem has increased because of the decreasing number of newpapers and ones owned by "large corporate interests."

Kucinich said that civilian casualties in war are by and large ignored. The only time civilian casualties are used is to articulate a cause for further US military involvement in a conflict such as in Syria.

He ended by cautioning that "it’s going to be very disturbing for the American people when they awake from their slumber to look out upon a world where there’s carnage everywhere that’s created by our nation without any legal process, without any constitutional basis and without any articulated justification."