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Counterpunch Shadowboxes and Loses

By Edward Curtin | February 17, 2019

In a fair boxing match, opponents enter the ring with similarly padded gloves and battle under the bright lights for the world to see. There are, of course, cases where one fighter cheats, as in the infamous case in 1983 when Luis Resto wore weakly padded gloves and hand wraps hardened with plaster to make them rock solid. His opponent, Billy Collins, an up-and-coming boxer from Tennessee with a 14-0 record, was permanently and very seriously injured in the fight at Madison Square Garden. His eyes were battered shut and his vision damaged. He never fought again and died depressed the following year at age twenty-two.

In the fight for truth in the public arena, similar subterfuges occur.

To battle honestly in the open forum, to argue to and fro squarely, is often prevented in advance by eliminating an opponent’s voice from the debate. This is the typical method used by the corporate mass media that stack the deck with sycophants and refuse dissidents a place to voice their ideas.

Then there is the masquerade of fighting an opponent who is really a collaborator and benefactor, whose punches one counters in a game of shadow boxing meant to convince the audience that the fight is real and you are on their side. Some alternative media use this technique because they are gatekeepers for the power elite.

Sometimes this ruse is so blatant that the fix becomes transparent because the smart-asses who play this game screw up, yet they still expect their real opponents to shut up and walk away because their fixer’s mantra  is “Never apologize, never explain.” It has always been the code of the rich and powerful.

Some are brawlers, however, and fight back against this bullshit.

The well-known leftist website Counterpunch is an example of the “never apologize, never explain” school. A number of writers and journalists who have published many pieces at Counterpunch have been banned from this site in recent years without an explanation, Andre Vltchek and C.J. Hopkins being two who crossed an invisible boundary the Shadow had drawn and were never again published by Counterpunch. Others, smelling an odd odor, have walked away. The numbers are growing.

I’ve recently seen Counterpunch shadowbox and the Shadow won.

On January 29, 2019, I published an article highly critical of the CIA at Global Research, where I am a Research Associate. After this piece appeared, I received an email from the editor of Counterpunch, Jeffrey St Clair, telling me that he too was going to publish this article on Friday, February 1, for Counterpunch’s weekend edition. I had written a few dozen pieces that Counterpunch had published and had a very cordial relationship with St Clair. In fact, when I was in Rome in 2018, he had asked me to place a stone for him on Keats’ and Shelley’s graves when I visited the cemetery where they were buried. I did that, and my wife took photos that I sent to him. All was copacetic. Buddies. High fives!

On February 1, 2019, shortly after midnight Eastern time (12:02 AM), Counterpunch published my piece for their weekend edition where articles remain for three days. When I awoke at 4 A.M., I saw it. Then at 8 A. M., when I arrived at the college where I teach, I again saw it. At 11 A.M., when I had finished teaching a few classes, I looked again and it had disappeared. Transitive verb: Counterpunch had disappeared it. Eliminated it. Scratched it. Excised it.

All the other numerous articles remained. Only mine was gone. At first I thought it was a mistake. But as the day wore on I wondered. So I emailed St Clair and asked my buddie what had happened. As compatriots don’t do, he did not reply. But I assumed he was busy, as I am, and gets many emails. So I waited. When I emailed him again, there was no reply. A third very cordial email three days later went unanswered.

Unlike Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot, I am no longer waiting. No reply is coming, and St Clair isn’t Godot, or on second thought he may be, a chimerical leftist gatekeeper enticing Counterpunch’s followers to wait forever for a revelation that isn’t coming. Like his mentor and the founder of Counterpunch, Alexander Cockburn, who was so fond of excoriating as “idiots” and “conspiracy nuts” anyone questioning the JFK assassination or the attacks of September 11, 2001 – two fundamental issues that only believers in official government conspiracy theories such as Cockburn could dismiss – St Clair seems similarly dismissive of explaining why a writer’s critique of the CIA would deserve to be eliminated after being published. As if only an idiot would want to know.

However, any reasonable person would ask: Why would he not respond?  St Clair, the editor-in-chief, published the piece and then disappeared it after 10-11 hours? This is highly unusual, to put it mildly. Unprecedented for the so-called left-wing alternative media. It is the kind of thing when done by the mainstream corporate media would be denounced and exposed as censorship. Not publishing an article is a publication’s prerogative, of course, but what could cause one to eliminate an article highly critical of the CIA after people had ten or so hours to read it, and since the author and editor had a very cordial relationship up to that point and the editor had days to read it carefully?

One doesn’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to realize that someone objected to the piece. But who could that be? If it were St Clair’s managing editor, Joshua Frank, twenty years his junior (the two run the operation), then St Clair could have explained to me why, since we were on good terms. I wouldn’t have liked it and argued my points, but at least we could have cordially agreed to disagree. But the Frank possibility makes no sense, for a managing editor would be intimately involved in the publishing process that was completed the previous day in time for the very early Friday A.M. postings. And in any case, St Clair is in charge.

Clearly an outside reader objected. The question is: Who is that reader that could exert such control over a publication that promotes itself as one that “Tells the Facts, Names the Names.” A publication that is considered radically leftist and in opposition to the ruling elites.

Okay, Counterpunch, would you name the name of the shadowy one who won this fight?

February 17, 2019 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , | 2 Comments

Thought Crimes On The Left

“You can trust yourself to know who to collaborate with and in what areas; this notion that you cannot safely collaborate with the right is based on the false premise that we’re all too stupid and inept to make distinctions…” – Caitlin Johnstone

By Stuart Davies | MintPress News | July 18, 2017

A few days ago, MintPress News published a rather nasty hit piece by Yoav Litvin titled “The Green Party – Marks in a Media Con Job“, originally printed in CounterPunch a few days earlier. Litvin’s original post in CounterPunch was followed two days later by a very similar hit piece by Joshua Frank, ridiculously titled “On Caitlin Johnstone and David Cobb’s Attempt to Destroy the Green Party.”

Both articles attacked the popular progressive blogger/journalist Caitlin Johnstone, who has made a name for herself of late in international left/progressive circles for her acerbic, witty iconoclasm and pungent political analyses.

Naturally, most of those who have an appreciation for some of the excellent points that Johnstone has made in her (thus far) brief period of popularity will not agree with her thinking in every circumstance. But many of the ideas and opinions she expresses obviously resonate with considerable numbers on both the left and the right, and it is worth examining some of those ideas to get an inkling of what has gotten these two men so bent out of shape.

It seems a safe bet to disregard Litvin’s gratuitous and irrelevant sneering at Johnstone’s slim journalistic track record prior to making a big splash in social media more recently – that surely does not merit such a mean spirited attack. Ostensibly, their venom is primarily due to the fact that Johnstone has called for (an explicitly limited) collaboration with individuals on the alt-right on specific issues such as deep state lies and propaganda spewed out in the corporate media.

Both Litvin and Frank characterize those on the right with whom Johnstone has indicated a willingness to engage in limited collaboration as “alt right fascists” or the “racist far-right”. Neither of them hesitates to tar Johnstone, and anyone on the left who share her views, including David Cobb, with the most extreme rightward bigotry expressed by such limited allies on the alt right – in spite of the fact that Johnstone makes it very explicit what the parameters of her agreement (and disagreement) are with such characters.

“… there is still a lot of stigma attached to the notion of collaborating with the other side of the ideological spectrum… My own work gets criticized by establishment loyalists in this way on a daily basis; they point to the fact that I oppose things like US interventionism in Syria and the establishment narrative about Russia and then use the fact that the anti-establishment right opposes these things as well to imply that this makes me identical to the most vitriolic white supremacists of the alt-right.

… (limited collaboration) doesn’t mean we have to embrace all the beliefs of the anti-establishment right, nor does it mean we’ve got to collaborate with all of them… You can trust yourself to know who to collaborate with and in what areas; this notion that you cannot safely collaborate with the right is based on the false premise that we’re all too stupid and inept to make distinctions…”

Never mind that Johnstone isn’t the first to advocate working with elements of the right where there is common ground  – Ralph Nader made a similar case in the past, and the remarkable success of Bernie Sanders’ campaign was in large part due to his focus on issues that resonated across the political spectrum.

I have no recollection of anyone at CounterPunch coming unglued over that sort of common sense political pragmatism when Nader or Sanders called for it. Nor was there any attempt to advance the ludicrous premise that advocating such an odd political alliance amounts to embracing a full blown “red/brown” (left/fascist) alliance, or is the result of Russian influence – exerted by the Kremlin moving into the media vacuum left when the western media consolidated into one homogenous corporate mass.  So perhaps we should look elsewhere for clues as to what is getting these boy’s knickers in a knot.

In truth, what seems to really rub these self-appointed arbiters of (allegedly) leftist purity the wrong way is that Johnstone has come right out and called bullshit on a few key sacred propaganda cows. She has made the mistake of pointing out some of the lies that have been relentlessly rammed down the throats of the public regarding recent events in Syria, for example. She names names and blames western corporate co-opted governments and their colleagues in the corporate media for these misinformation campaigns.

What else are we to infer when Litvin attempts to substantiate his assertion that Johnstone is “promoting racists” with this link? In fact, this is a video about a fraudulent propaganda campaign pushed by CNN, which uses a young Syrian girl to mislead the American public about events there.

More revealing yet is when Frank uncorks here:

“So why is Cobb, and many others, so ga-ga over Johnstone? Could it be that she echoes Kremlin talking points and bogus conspiracies every chance she gets, exciting leftists looking for easy answers to today’s complex problems? Ding Ding. Of course, there’s much, much more. Despite the overwhelming evidence that DNC staffer Seth Rich wasn’t murdered for releasing emails, Johnstone has stood her conspiratorial ground. She’s also written for 9/11 Truth sites, so one can assume she is at the very least sympathetic to their fruitless cause.”

Ah, there it is! There are the narratives that must be defended by left gatekeepers everywhere! So, so reminiscent of the familiar conspiracy baiting style of the old CounterPunch.

Apparently, anyone who does not buy the blatant deep state lies regarding the two publicized chemical weapons attacks in Syria – promulgated by the Obama or Trump administration and relentlessly echoed in the corporate media – has been suckered by “bogus conspiracies and Kremlin talking points”.

In point of fact, I have noticed that Kremlin talking points often lack clarity, depth, and detail on certain issues. They might want to consider taking lessons from a few individuals in the west who have brilliantly researched and explicated some of these subjects. Unfortunately for those who peddle the pathetic lies of the corporate empire, facts matter to at least some of the public. When it comes to analyzing the question of these chemical weapons attacks, we not only have our own critical thinking abilities, we also have some excellent homegrown sources of information to draw on, such as Pulitzer prize winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh and former Pentagon chemical weapons expert Theodore Postol, professor emeritus of science, technology, and national security policy at MIT. Litvin and Frank apparently prefer the fact free version of events offered by Niki Haley, the NY Times, and CNN.

Whether it is the well coordinated deep state propaganda campaign on events in Syria, Ukraine, Venezuela, Libya, the US, or elsewhere in the world, we have a fine crop of genuine left/progressive journalists with a commitment to discerning and telling the truth. On the matter of the “white helmet samaritans” propaganda, for example, we have Vanessa Beeley, as well as Eva Bartlett, or Mnar Muhawesh, John Pilger and Abby Martin.

Conspiracy theories, you say? Why bother with theories when you have a plethora of cold, hard, facts? But facts which contradict the official narrative on any subject are clearly meant to be viewed as “conspiracy theories” by our corporate masters. They remind us of this via their henchmen that permeate the corporate media, and those liberally salted within the ranks of the progressive media as well. Caitlin Johnstone’s offense is that she has gone beyond the pale with her defiant challenging of certain sacred cows of the corporate state, and that is an offense that must not go unpunished.

Stuart Davies is a writer and artist, a lifelong resident of the left coast living in Southwestern Oregon.

July 20, 2017 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , | 2 Comments

Selling imperialist propaganda in an anti-imperialist wrapper

sockpuppet

Any resemblance to persons living or dead or quoted in this article is entirely coincidental
OffGuardian | August 31, 2016

As we predicted a few weeks ago, the Washington war party seems to have seized the initiative from the “lame duck” Obama administration over Syria and is currently pushing hard for a direct confrontation with the Syrian Arab Army, and possibly with Russia. Extreme anti-Assad hate porn has been saturating the press in what looks very much like a bid to “normalise the unthinkable” and prep us for a major war.

So, why are Counterpunch and the Socialist Worker choosing such a time to present a piece on Syria by Ashley Smith that reads like a briefing from the Clinton campaign or Kagan’s Foreign Policy Initiative?

We aren’t going to leap on a bandwagon and accuse Counterpunch or the SW of discreditable intentions. Counterpunch in particular has been a source of hugely valuable anti-imperialist commentary for very many years and it would be incredibly arrogant for we newcomers not to give it every respect for that. But what are they thinking here?

Smith tries to present this piece as a condemnation of the “campist” left for its kneejerk siding with a “brutal dictator”( Assad), simply because he is being attacked by the US imperialists. Maybe the Counterpunch co-editor (Jeffrey St. Clair) who defended the piece was convinced by this? That would be fair enough, if that was really Smith’s point. We’re the first to agree Assad isn’t beyond criticism and shouldn’t be sanctified by the “enemy of my enemy” syndrome. We’re the first to acknowledge he may entirely deserve to be called a tyrant. But Smith’s article doesn’t come close to exposing Assad’s real crimes. It doesn’t even try. It just settles for a lot of familiar misdirection, such as this:

The regime carried out a chemical weapons attack in a suburb of Damascus in 2013…

Why would such a gratuitous lie by omission be perpetrated by any author trying to bring honest analysis to bear? Why does Smith offer no balancing mention that even the corporate media has admitted there is no proof who perpetrated the Ghouta attack? Or that investigative journalists and people on the ground have amassed considerable amounts of data (see also here and here and here) pointing to it being perpetrated by the Turkish and US (imperial)-backed rebels?

But in case you’re thinking this is just an isolated slip of judgement on Smith’s part, do please read his entire article, and take note of these selected highlights:

“… The Syrian Revolution has tested the left internationally by posing a blunt question: Which side are you on? Do you support the popular struggle against dictatorship and for democracy? Or are you with Bashar al-Assad’s brutal regime, his imperial backer Russia, his regional ally Iran and Iran’s proxies like Hezbollah from Lebanon?..”


“… Since then, they [the US] have turned a blind eye to Assad’s massacre of some 400,000 Syrians, and his regime’s use of barrel bombs, chemical weapons and barbaric sieges of cities like Aleppo. Today, 11 million people–half the country’s population–have been displaced, with the Assad regime responsible for the lion’s share of the death and destruction…”


“… In reality, the U.S. retreated in general from outright regime change as its strategy in the Middle East after the failure of its invasion and occupation of Iraq. The main priority behind the alternative direction for U.S. imperialism pursued by Barack Obama is that the U.S. should avoid destabilizing regimes for fear of the chaos that ensues in the aftermath…”


“… The campist misreadings, however, have led them to the conclusion that the U.S. government is pulling the strings in the rebellion in Syria. Some have gone so far as to argue–absurdly–that the U.S. backs ISIS against Assad. Ironically, this puts the campists in agreement with Donald Trump, who, in his latest ravings, claims that Obama and Clinton were “founders” of ISIS.


“… In Syria, however, Washington’s goal is obvious, and has been for some time: It doesn’t want regime change. Perhaps the hated figurehead of Assad will be pushed aside, but U.S. policy from the beginning has been to preserve the core of Assad’s state….. Why? Above all, the U.S. fears an unpredictable outcome, whether as a result of the advance of the Nusra Front or ISIS–but especially in the form of a popular revolution…”


“… In its initial stages, the uprising in Syria had a nonviolent and mass character, but the savage repression and violence carried out by the regime militarized the conflict. The U.S. blocked the shipment of heavy weaponry, such as anti-aircraft systems, that would have strengthened secular and democratic forces that have borne the brunt of the Assad regime’s terror…”


“… Today, Washington’s goals are to wipe out ISIS and to secure a negotiated settlement in Syria that preserves the regime, if not Assad himself. In America’s camp, regional powers like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey have tried to push the envelope even further, backing various jihadist forces to strengthen their position in region and weaken their opponents, from Assad to Iran, as well as challengers from below such as the Kurds…”


“… On the other side of the international geopolitical rivalry, Russia–profoundly weakened since its defeat in the Cold War a quarter century ago–is reasserting its imperial power through its all-out support for the Assad regime in Syria…”

So, how many approved mainstream Syria-tropes has Smith managed to crowbar into his piece in the guise of telling it like it is to the comrades? Let’s run through the checklist :

  • The a priori demonisation of the “brutal” Assad regime (“responsible for the lion’s share of the destruction”) and its allegedly “imperial” territorially ambitious Russian backers, together with the sanctification of the allegedly “populist” alleged “rebels” without qualification, substantiation or historical perspective? Check…
  • Promotion of the myth that Assad is known beyond doubt to have committed the Ghouta atrocity, and total suppression of any contesting possibility? Check…
  • Promotion of the myth that “barrel bombs” are a form of terror weapon worse than conventional bombs or shells, and that they are being used by, and exclusively by, the Syrian regime? Check
  • Promotion of the myth the US is a helpless bystander to the chaos, regardless of the mountain of evidence to the contrary? Check
  • Promotion of the myth the US “fears” unpredictable outcomes, even though it routinely induces them wherever it goes (Libya, Somalia, Iraq, Ukraine)? Check…
  • Promotion of the myth the US only went into Syria to “stabilise” the situation and/or to “fight ISIS”? Check…
  • Promotion of the myth that Assad is directly responsible for the “400,000 dead”, when even the UN rep who estimated this figure was making a guess at the number killed in the five years of civil war as a whole? Check.
  • Promotion of the myth that Assad is “hated” in Syria and refusal to acknowledge the evidence to the contrary? Check.
  • Promotion of the myth that Aleppo, as a whole, is under siege by the SAA, and the denial by omission of the truth that the city is split in two or that al Nusra is shelling and killing civilians in the west of the city? Check
  • Denial by omission of the entire question of legality or the requirement to abide by international law, and framing the debate instead as one of who “we” want to see running Syria? Check
  • The concomitant assumption by implication that “we” have some sort of moral obligation to overthrow governments we don’t like and to supply weaponry to anyone who opposes them? Check.
  • The ridiculing of the mere idea the US backed ISIS to overthrow Assad, and the omission of evidence that shows this is exactly what they did? Check…

Impressive, no? If a paid government stenographer at the Guardian had written this they couldn’t have hoped to hit more approved talking points. Just like the US imperialists he claims to loath Smith tries to sell the idea Assad spontaneously started “assaulting” the “rebels” for no reason apart from evil (just like Yanukovich in Ukraine), and not as a response to the western-funded attempts at yet another phoney color revolution. He tries, just like the US imperialists, to make us see these poorly-defined “rebels” not as al Qaeda or ISIS or bands of mercenaries, but valiant heroes, struggling to fend off tyranny. He hopes we’ll be as dyslexic about the real legal and moral issue as he and his Washington friends are, and simply accept a priori our right/obligation to decide who gets to run Syria based on how much we like them.

But Smith doesn’t just sell on used mainstream lies, he also adds a few deceptions and reinventions of his own, aimed exclusively at getting his left wing audience to see regime change and armed intervention as the New Anti-Imperialism.

He starts by boldly reversing reality and presenting the “rebels”, not Assad as the target of US aggression. He tells us Obama doesn’t really oppose the Syrian government and that he “denied” the “rebels” the “heavy weaponry they pleaded for to stop the regime’s assault.” Given these “rebels” are currently bombarding western Aleppo (you know that place he doesn’t want to talk about) with US-donated mortars, rockets and sniper fire, this claim is about as stupid as it gets, and he ends up tying himself in knots of contradictions trying simultaneously to say Obama supports everything Assad stands for but also wants him – inexplicably – to go. He is so blatantly trying to weasel us into calling on Obama to send Tomahawks to the terrorist mercs (oops, sorry, “those who rose up for democracy and justice”) that it’s embarrassing. He thinks his audience are morons with short term memory loss and no idea how to use search engines, and by underestimating them only succeeds in making himself look a fool.

His phoney left, phoney social-justice warrior, phoney righteous indignation and general incompetence at creating a plausible alternative narrative only makes the lies he tells more repulsive. It’s a horrible display. As morally bankrupt as it is idiotic. It’s the Establishment-sanctioned war narrative in a red-painted, rainbow-tinged box.

Everyone sing along with Ashley now…


August 31, 2016 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Faulty Analysis and Conclusions on Syria

By Rick Sterling | CounterPunch | October 21, 2015

Recently CounterPunch published an article Obama’s Legacy: An Abyss Gazing Backwards by Muhammad Idrees Ahmad. It exemplifies the faulty analysis and conclusions of those advocating direct U.S. intervention in Syria, from far right wing neoconservatives to liberals and even some self-styled Marxists.

Because of the dangerous consequences of these assumptions and conclusions, it is important that they be critically examined. We can use the above mentioned article as an example.

The same article with different title was published one week earlier in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) paper The National. The title was “Obama’s legacy is tarnished as Putin fills the vacuum in Syria”.

The Syrian “vacuum” is a popular myth promoted by those who want the U.S. to become more aggressive in Syria. In reality the U.S. has very actively aided and abetted the violent opposition in Syria from the start. The Defense Information Agency report from August 2012 confirms that weapons were flowing to the Syrian armed opposition after the overthrow of the Libyan government in Fall 2011. The claim that the U.S. was only supplying communications equipment and other non-lethal supplies in 2012 and 2013 was for public consumption and ‘plausible deniability’. In reality the U.S. was supplying great quantities of weapons. The ‘dark side’ included a huge budget for CIA operations including training and arming the Syrian armed opposition. Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and UAE were spending billions annually in support of mercenaries and fanatics trying to overthrow the secular Damascus government. Contrary to what Ahmad says, the US-backed rebels were largely a fiction. Apart from the Islamic State in the Levant (ISIL or ISIS), the most effective fighting force was the official Al Qaeda franchise, Jabhat al Nusra. Out of the public view, to the extent it existed, FSA was working closely with Nusra/Al Qaeda.

In a confusing use of terms, Ahmad contrasts “counter-terrorism” with “counter-insurgency”. What he means by “counter-insurgency” is regime change via direct intervention or invasion. What he means by “counter-terrorism” is regime change via coup or proxy army.

Pakistan-born Muhammad Idrees Ahmad suggests that Obama is spineless because he has opted for “counter-terrorism” (proxy armies, drone strikes, etc) instead of “counter-insurgency” (direct U.S. Attacks). This is short-sighted and ahistorical. There is no public desire for another US invasion of another country. This is partly because the Iraq invasion and disaster is still fresh in the public mind. It also follows a pattern from the past: after the defeat of the US invasion of Vietnam, the US reverted to using a proxy army (the Contras) against Nicaragua in the early 1980s.

But warmongers in the media, such as Ahmad, are not the public. More often than not, they reflect the views of their sponsors. It’s no surprise that Ahmad’s article was first published by UAE’s The National. The United Arab Emirates is closely allied with Saudi Arabia and vigorously promotes conflict with Iran. A recent expose on the UAE Ambassador to Washington shows the level of corruption in Washington, how easy it is to win influence throwing money around, and the core policy of the United Arab Emirates. This policy is aligned with Israel and opposed to Iran, Syria, Russia. The celebrity ambassador, Yousef al Otaiba, is vigorously campaigning for the U.S. to intervene or attack Syria directly. The subtitle of the article succinctly describes the UAE Ambassador:

“Yousef Al Otaiba is the most charming man in Washington: He’s slick, he’s savvy and he throws one hell of a party. And if he has his way, our Middle East policy is going to get a lot more aggressive.”

What connects Otaiba and Ahmad is the tiny wealthy monarchy known as the United Arab Emirates and promotion of U.S. aggression against Syria.

Ahmad says “Obama betrayed his hand long ago when he failed to match hot rhetoric with even modest action …. [when] Assad brazenly breached his ‘red line’ by using chemical weapons” . This assertion is standard fare for journalists promoting war. In reality the accusation has been largely disproved. The Human Rights Watch “vector” analysis was dubious from the beginning and then entirely discredited. The most thorough investigation concludes the weapons were launched from territory held by the armed opposition. American investigative reporters Seymour Hersh, Robert Parry and Gareth Porter, plus former CIA officer Ray McGovern, have all concluded the attacks were likely by the armed opposition trying to trap the U.S. into bombing Syria. Muhammad Idrees Ahmad, like nearly all mainstream journalists promoting the war, ignores the contrary evidence.

In tandem with “Obama is weak” goes “Russia is strong” or “Russia looks strong” or “Putin looks strong because Obama is weak”. The media warmongers are like kids on a school playground, trying to egg on a fight. Except in this case it’s not a bloody nose at stake; it’s the lives of tens of thousands of Syrians and potentially millions in World War 3.

Ahmad outdoes himself in the charge for war by claiming “Russian actions in Syria are an act of aggression against the country’s beleaguered people.” In contrast with his fantasy, virtually the entire Syrian population are hugely relieved and happy that Russia has started providing air support, modern laser guided weapons and satellite information to help reverse the tide. An American Syrian friend who lives in Latakia recently reported that people in the city were extremely worried in August through mid September with increasing car bombs and jihadi fired missiles coming into the city. They are now starting to feel safe again. The mood has dramatically changed for the better. Another Syrian friend reported that in his home village near Homs, women were ululating in happiness when Russian jet fighters attacked nearby ISIS and Nusra camps.

Those seeking direct US/NATO intervention in Syria describe the conflict as “weak Obama vs strong Putin”. They are unhappy and critical because the proxy army has failed to overthrow the Syrian government. They want direct invasion even if it risks world war. It’s a very dangerous and deluded mindset. Above all it profoundly ignores or distorts the wishes of the Syrian people who have consistently and increasingly made clear they do not support the violent opposition. Two years ago a poll commissioned by NATO revealed that 70% of the population supports the government.

The conflict in Syria shows what happens when international law is ignored with impunity. Both the UN Charter and customary international law prohibit one country using force, directly or by proxy army, against another.

The Syrian conflict shows what happens when the “rule of the jungle” prevails. The “abyss” is not Syrians getting support from Russia and starting to prevail over mercenaries and sectarian fanatics. The “abyss” is the death and destruction of the cradle of civilization caused by clear aggression. The Obama legacy significantly depends on whether he resists or caves in to warmongers such as Muhammad Idrees Ahmad and the Ambassador from UAE.

Rick Sterling is a co-founder of Syria Solidarity Movement. He can be contacted at rsterling1@gmail.com

October 21, 2015 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , , | Leave a comment

A Microcosm of the Nation–Control Unit Prisons

By RON JACOBS | CounterPunch | March 15, 2013

In the late 1990s and early part of this century I worked as a researcher and writer for the journal Southland Prison News.  This small journal usually ran about thirty pages and was sent out to prisoners incarcerated primarily in the US South.  Edited by an inmate in Virginia, each issue contained a digest of articles concerning prisoners and prisons along with a feature or two, some book reviews, some prisoner poetry and art.  I stopped working for the journal when the funding dried up.  Before that work, I had never spent much time working on prison-related issues.  Sure, I had attended forums and rallies supporting various political prisoners and prisoner rights ever since the uprising and massacre at Attica prison in 1971, but my political work usually did not involve prison issues.  Perhaps this came from a distaste acquired through various brushes with the law and the subsequent days spent in jail here and there.

The same cannot be said for Nancy Kurshan and the people whose work she so artfully chronicles in the recently released book Out of Control: A Fifteen Year Battle Against Control Unit Prisons.  Kurshan, a lifelong political activist, (among other things, she is one of the founders of the Yippies) is an ardent opponent of the US prison system, especially those prisons known as control unit prisons.  Her book tells of the genesis and growth of these units throughout the United States and of the battle to oppose them.

It is not a tale with a happy ending.  According to the text’s introduction, over 80,000 prisoners are currently locked away in control unit prisons in the United States.  What this means is that over 80,000 prisoners exist in a world controlled almost completely by prison architecture and the guards those prisons employ.  Living in cells smaller than many suburban bathrooms, the walls are painted white, lights are on most of the day, no windows or even bars, hardly any exercise, no reading materials and no visitors; that is the life of most prisoners in these units.  Sometimes there are even further restrictions.  Rarely are there fewer. These units are constantly watched by prison video feeds and prisoners are often beaten at will by the guards. If this doesn’t bother you, then you probably shouldn’t bother reading the rest of this review.

There are over 2,000,000 people locked up in the United States.  That is more than any other nation in the world.  Furthermore, the rate of incarceration in the United States is higher than that of any other nation.  According to the NAACP, African American and Latinos comprised 58% of all prisoners in 2008, even though they make up approximately one quarter of the US population.  This is not because Blacks and Latinos are more likely to be criminals.  It is because US laws and the police that enforce those laws target these demographic groups.  This fact alone lends credence to the argument made by the activists in Out of Control that there is a calculated plan to imprison black and Latino men in the US.  The history of the US is one that required control of its Black population, even after slavery.  Indeed, even more so after slavery.  Prisons are part of that plan.  It is with this as a fundamental part of that understanding that Kurshan tells her story of a movement (Movement to End the Marion Lockdown) built to oppose that calculation.

The reader is presented with detailed descriptions of the meetings, protests, legal campaigns, and other work the Committee to End the Marion Lockdown undertook over the fifteen years of its existence.  This group was composed of leftists, religious clergy and laity, families of prisoners and other concerned humans. There are small victories and many defeats, primarily because of the complete lack of regard for prisoners’ humanity displayed by the Bureau of Prisons, most politicians and other officials.  There are also the small victories.  After years of demanding a new water source be built for the Marion prison, headway was finally made.  Occasionally, even a prisoner gets freed.  Throughout, the narrative is told with a warmth and humanity that exists in direct contrast to the tales being told.  Her description of the development of a friendship between her family and the Reverend Bruce Wright, whose book Black Robes, White Justice was one of the first books to discuss in plain terms the role the US justice system plays in continuing the racism of US society, is the story of a friendship between unsung warriors.

Many of the procedures used in control unit prisons began in the 1960s when the United States government started locking up leftist revolutionaries and others as part of its COINTELPRO program.  This time period is also when leftists began to consciously focus on prisoner rights, in part because their leaders were being locked up.  This work helped them to understand that prisons are the final point of confrontation between the state and those who act against it.  Indeed, this is precisely why prisoner struggles for human rights are components of the greater struggle for those rights.

As pointed out before, there are now over 2,000,000 people incarcerated in the United States.  Prison construction and maintenance is often one of the larger elements of government budgets.  This is despite the fact that crime has consistently gone down in the past decade.  These facts make it clear that prisons are not so much about fighting crime as they are about controlling segments of the population.  As austerity takes a greater hold on the US economy, one can be certain that more working and poor men and women will be sent to prison while the real thieves run the country further into the ground.

Besides being a detailed and inspiring account of a group of human rights activists, Nancy Kurshan’s Out of Control is a useful resource for discussing the realities of prison in the twenty-first century United States. It is also the tale of a particular part of the movement opposed to that reality.

Ron Jacobs is the author of the forthcoming novel All the Sinners, Saints. He is also the author of The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up and The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden.  His third novel All the Sinners Saints is a companion to the previous two and is due out in April 2013.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press.  He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

March 16, 2013 Posted by | Book Review, Civil Liberties, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Full Spectrum Dominance, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | Comments Off on A Microcosm of the Nation–Control Unit Prisons

The U.S.’s Grossly Corrupt Health Protection System

Blame the Pentagon

By JEFFREY ST. CLAIR and JOSHUA FRANK | CounterPunch | February 15, 2013

The nation’s biggest polluter isn’t a corporation. It’s the Pentagon. Every year the Department of Defense churns out more than 750,000 tons of hazardous waste — more than the top three chemical companies combined.

Yet the military remains largely exempt from compliance with most federal and state environmental laws, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Pentagon’s partner in crime, is working hard to keep it that way.

For the past five decades the federal government, defense contractors and the chemical industry have joined forces to block public health protections against perchlorate, a component of rocket fuel that has been shown to effect children’s growth and mental progress by disrupting the function of the thyroid gland which regulates brain development.

Perchlorate has been leaking from literally hundreds of defense plants and military installations across the country. The EPA has reported that perchlorate is present in drinking and groundwater supplies in 35 states. Center for Disease Control and independent studies have also overwhelmingly shown that perchlorate is existent in our food supplies, cow’s milk, and human breast milk. As a result virtually every American has some level of perchlorate in their body.

Currently only two states, California and Massachusetts, have set a maximum allowable contaminant level for perchlorate in drinking water. But the EPA won’t follow these states’ lead. In the Colorado River, which provides water for over 20 million people, perchlorate levels are high. The chemical is most prevalent in the Southwest and California as a result of the large number of military operations and defense contractors in the region.

In 2001 the EPA estimated that the total liability for the cleanup of toxic military sites would exceed $350 billion, or five times the Superfund Act liability of private industry. But the federal government has been complacent and allowed perchlorate to run rampant throughout our water supplies. This negligence and lack of regulatory oversight has left the Pentagon, NASA and defense contractors free to set their own levels, trimming the high, but necessary costs of restoring groundwater quality.

While the situation has become dire in recent years, it was the Clinton administration that didn’t do nearly enough to begin cleaning up these sites and certainly did not keep a close eye on how the Pentagon spent the money it received. During the 1990s the Defense Department spent only $3.5 billion a year cleaning up toxic military sites — much of that on studies, not actual work. In 1998, the Defense Science Review Board, a federal advisory committee set up to provide independent advice to the secretary of defense, looked at the problem and concluded that the Pentagon had no clear environmental cleanup policy, goals or program, which led lawyer Jonathan Turley, who holds the Shapiro Chair for Public Interest Law at George Washington University, to call the Pentagon the nation’s “premier environmental villain.”

“If they can spend $1 million on a cruise missile, it seems kind of ridiculous they won’t spend $200,000 to see if our food is contaminated with rocket fuel,” says Renee Sharp, a scientist with Environmental Working Group. But if the Clinton program was chintzy, the Bush plan has been downright penurious.

While Bush has boosted overall Pentagon spending by billions, the administration has simultaneously slashed its environmental remediation program. Moreover, the Bush defense plan has called for “new rounds of base closures” to “shape the military more efficiently.” Efficiency is usually a code word for sidestepping environmental rules.

These military sites, which total more than 50 million acres, are among the most insidious and dangerous legacies left by the Pentagon. They are strewn with toxic bomb fragments, unexploded munitions, buried hazardous waste, fuel dumps, open pits filled with debris, burn piles and yes, rocket fuel. An internal EPA memo from 1998 warned of the looming problem: “As measured by acres, and probably as measured by number of sites, ranges and buried munitions represent the largest cleanup program in the United States.”

When a site gets too polluted, the Pentagon has chosen simply to close it down and turn it over to another federal agency. Over the past three decades, the Pentagon has transferred more than 16 million acres, often with little or no remediation. The former bombing areas have been turned into wildlife refuges, city and state parks, golf courses, landfills, airports and shopping malls.

Serious contamination of streams, soil and groundwater is a problem at nearly every military training ground. The sites are often saturated with heavy metals and other pollutants as well as unexploded weapons. The Government Accountability Office’s list of the kinds of unexploded munitions left behind on many training sites reads like a catalogue for a Middle East arms bonanza: “hand grenades, rockets, guided missiles, projectiles, mortars, rifle grenades, and bombs.”

But the government has gone to great extents to cover up its deadly legacy. In 2002 the Pentagon, defense contractors and perchlorate makers persuaded the editors of a prestigious journal to rewrite an article on the chemical’s health effects without the lead author’s knowledge or consent. Then in 2005 the White House loaded a National Academy of Science panel, which was set up to assess the health risks of perchlorate, with paid consultants of the rocket fuel industry, which, not surprisingly, recommended that exposure levels be set many times higher than the lower doses recommended by numerous independent research studies.

“Perchlorate provides a textbook example of a corrupted health protection system, where polluters, the Pentagon, the White House and the EPA have conspired to block health protections in order to pad budgets, curry political favor, and protect corporate profits,” Richard Wiles, Executive Director of the Environmental Working Group, told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on May 7 during a hearing held by committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) who would like to see national safety standards for perchlorate in drinking water.

“All the pieces needed to support strong health protections are in place,” said Wiles. “This is a nightmare of epic proportions for the Department of Defense and its contractors, and rather than address it head-on, they have spent 50 years and millions of dollars trying to avoid it.”

Jeffrey St. Clair’s latest books are Born Under a Bad Sky and Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is now available in Kindle format.  He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net

Joshua Frank, Managing Editor of CounterPunch, is the author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush, and along with Jeffrey St. Clair, the editor of Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance in the Heartland, and of Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is now available in Kindle format. He can be reached at brickburner@gmail.com.

February 15, 2013 Posted by | Corruption, Deception, Economics, Environmentalism, Militarism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The U.S.’s Grossly Corrupt Health Protection System

They Are Still Killing Trade Union Leaders

Global Capital’s Death Squads and Night-Riders

By DAVID MACARAY | CounterPunch | April 18, 2012

Make no mistake.  We had some ugly anti-labor mischief of our own during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, where union organizers, political radicals, suspected anarchists and Bolsheviks were blackballed, beaten, imprisoned, deported, murdered, and state-executed—all in the name of “law and order.”  But while many of these men (and women, too….they deported Emma Goldman to Russia) were clearly railroaded, at least the high-profile figures were given the semblance of a jury trial.

Question:  So what happens these days in developing countries when a prominent, charismatic union activist—with the courage to stand up to sinister, government-supported business groups who have, on more than one occasion, already threatened his life—attempts to get the country’s underpaid, under-benefited workers to join a labor union?  Answer:  They kill him.

It was reported Monday, April 9, that the body of Aminul Islam, the charismatic and widely respected union leader of Bangladesh’s garment industry, had been found (on Friday, April 6) dumped along side a road in Ghatail, a town approximately 60 miles northwest of Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital.  Not only had Islam been murdered, local police reported that the corpse bore evidence of “severe” torture.

Since 2006, Aminul Islam had been a major thorn in the side of the garment bosses, as he fought for higher wages, safer working conditions, and increased employee dignity.  Many Bangladeshis work 12-14 hour days, make as little as 21-cents per hour, and don’t even get regular breaks.  With a reported $19 billion in overseas sales in 2011, Bangladesh is the world’s second-largest apparel exporter.  The stakes are enormously high.  With an estimated 5,000 factories cranking out fabric night and day, the textile industry is single-handedly keeping Bangladesh’s economy afloat. Which is why they were so frightened of Aminul Islam.

Most recently, Islam had been trying to organize workers at factories owned by a company called the Shanta Group.  According to shipping records, Shanta produces garments for many well-known American companies, including Tommy Hilfiger, Nike, and Ralph Lauren.  Because Islam’s activism was acknowledged to have been largely responsible for worker uprisings and demonstrations in 2010—demonstrations that nearly crippled the industry—business groups weren’t going to stand idly by and watch him convince Shanta’s 8,000 workers to join the union.  They weren’t going to allow it.  So they killed him.

Mind you, these atrocities aren’t happening only in faraway Bangladesh; they are happening in our own hemisphere as well—in Central and South America.  In fact, the place where they have occurred the most—and continue to occur with chilling regularity—is Colombia.  According to the Solidarity Center (the labor federation’s international arm, headquarted in Washington D.C.), nearly 4,000 Colombian trade unionists have been murdered over the last 20 years.  Indeed, more trade unionists are killed in Colombia each year than in the rest of the world combined.

The United States supports the government of Colombia.  We support this anti-labor government that gives lip service to initiating programs designed to stop the violence, but who, in truth, has done little to prevent death squads and night-riders from tooling around the country murdering trade unionists.

And that’s where the arrangement now stands.  Our clothing is made by workers whose factory conditions are deplorable; our produce is harvested by pickers whose field conditions are deplorable; and our government supports regimes whose human rights records are a joke.  The U.S. has more than 800 military bases strewn around the word, we spend more money on defense than the rest of the world combined, and Barack Obama is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  That’s a very weird trifecta.

DAVID MACARAY, an LA playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor”), was a former union rep.   He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press.  He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net

April 18, 2012 Posted by | Economics, Solidarity and Activism, Subjugation - Torture, Timeless or most popular | , , , , | Comments Off on They Are Still Killing Trade Union Leaders

Colombia: Obama’s Bloodiest Betrayal?

Obama Poised to Give Presidential Seal of Approval to Gross Labor Rights Violations in Colombia

By DANIEL KOVALIK, GIMENA SANCHEZ-GARZOLI & ANTHONY DEST | CounterPunch | April 11, 2012

On November 9, 2011, the family of Juan Carlos Galvis – a prominent union leader with Sinaltrainal and personal friend of ours – was subjected to a violent home invasion by two presumed paramilitaries.  The intruders entered the Galvis home while Juan Carlos and his son were away and assaulted his wife, Mary, and his two daughters, Jackeline and Mayra.  They grabbed Mayra, a child with Downs Syndrome, and put a gun to her head, threatening to kill her if Mary did not tell them the whereabouts of Juan Carlos and his son.  They then bound and gagged Mary and Jackeline, again asking them to say where Juan Carlos and his son were. The assailants then proceeded to spray paint Mary and Juan’s faces on a wedding photo the family had posted on the wall. Before leaving the home, they stole two laptops, some USB memory drives, documents, and trashed the house. The traumatic attack left Mayra in shock for days and unable to speak.

The family was forced to flee to another town where they are now hiding. Their fears are well founded. Two of Juan Carlos’ Sinaltrainal colleagues, John Fredy Carmona Bermudez and Luis Medardo Prens Vallejo, were killed in recent months.

All in all, 30 unionists were killed in Colombia last year. The National Labor School (ENS) reports that 4 have already been killed this year, and other trade union movements have reported additional murders (e.g., Justice for Colombia has reported 6). Such killings have made Colombia, where around 3,000 unionists have been killed since 1986, the most dangerous country in the world to be a trade unionist, and if the assassination rate this year continues as it has thus far, Colombia will most certainly retain this notorious distinction.

Meanwhile, the Colombian government has done nothing effective to prosecute those responsible for such anti-union violence, with the UN recently reporting that Colombia’s rate of impunity for such crimes remains at 95% – meaning that only 5% of the union killings have ever been successfully prosecuted.

It was these two factors – the unprecedented rate of union killings and the high rate of impunity for these killings – that led Barack Obama in 2008 to declare in his third debate with John McCain that he opposed the Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA).

While being a trade unionist in Colombia is dangerous, those that are unionists are the few that can more freely organize. Under the Alvaro Uribe Velez Administration the “associative labor cooperatives” (CTAs) model proliferated throughout Colombia. This union-busting model that precludes direct contracts between workers and companies gravely debilitates working conditions, salaries, and occupational safety protections. Workers have risked losing their meager livelihoods by holding stoppages to obtain direct contracts that are more likely to guarantee their basic labor rights.

In April 2011, Presidents Obama and Santos presented a Labor Action Plan designed to address anti-union violence, prosecute anti-union crimes, do away with labor inter-mediation, and improve conditions for workers in the port, sugar, oil palm, and other sectors. Since the LAP was signed, Colombia has played the game of appearing to comply with the LAP while at the same time undermining its purpose. It has met surface requirements like setting up the Labor Ministry, passing legislation, and fining abusive companies.

While the number of trade unionists killed has gone down (and of course, as Father Javier Giraldo opined some time ago, there are indeed many less unionists to kill), the security climate and death threats against them have not changed. This leaves the possibility that the number of murders and attacks could flare up once the FTA moves forward. The murder of trade unionists and labor activists is often spun to be unrelated to their labor rights activities—robbery, jealous lovers or links to narcotrafficking are the reasons used to whitewash the murders. For example, Hernan Dario, a lawyer who represented the largest public sector union in Valle del Cauca (Sintraemcali) and several labor activists in the sugarcane sector, was murdered. His name was subsequently dragged through the mud based on unsubstantiated allegations linking him to drug dealers. This tactic was utilized in order to create an environment of confusion and impede actions for justice in this case.

Last year, Colombia passed a law that supposedly banned CTAs, yet the reality is that this only restricts them by name since other forms of labor inter-mediation, including the Simplified Stock Companies, shell companies, and supposed “union contracts,” have replaced them. In the sugar and port sectors, leaders of work stoppages and those affiliated to trade unions are rarely rehired through these new contracts. The Ministry of Labor and the labor inspectors designated by the LAP are not effectively intervening to remedy these situations. Over 70 Afro-Colombian port workers in Turbo who attempted to form a union in October 2011 have been fired. Those workers were given an ultimatum—sign a letter stating they will not affiliate with a trade union or enjoy unemployment.

The Ministry is not even intervening to implement the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) recommendations as mandated by the Labor Action Plan. The case of 51 fired public sector workers of EMCALI is just one of many examples. Rather than implement the ILO’s March 2012 recommendations to rehire the workers, authorities proceeded to evict the workers who held a hunger strike in Cali last week. These victims of Colombia’s unjust labor practices, all of whom have been unemployed since 2004 since they were blacklisted for standing up for labor rights, are not even permitted to protest.

Some of the workers who would most benefit from effective implementation of the Labor Action Plan are Afro-Colombians. Most Afro-Colombian workers, who make up an estimated 25% of Colombia’s population and a disproportionate number of the country’s over 5.2 million internally displaced, work in sectors where labor rights standards are weakest. As such, many are not able to freely exercise their right to unionize, and if they try to do so face death threats or impoverishment. Many Afro-Colombian workers describe their situation as “modern day slavery.”

Afro-Colombian dockworkers in Buenaventura, a key port for the FTA, work in one of Colombia’s most abusive environments. In this port, Afro-Colombians come to work in hazardous conditions for 24 to 48 hours straight, often sleeping on the containers. The demanding environment obligates them to stay inside the port complex for an entire week without the possibility to return home. Healthcare is often reserved for the more privileged individuals working in offices, and workers who are hurt or disabled are often fired. Those attempting to organize are threatened or denied employment. It took a work stoppage in January 2012 for some of these workers to receive direct contracts. The majority of port workers continue to be employed through intermediaries, and those with the direct contracts have low salaries and are prohibited from unionizing. Only today, after months of pressure, has the Ministry of Labor opened up an investigation into some of these abuses.

Still, despite continued anti-union violence, the high rate of impunity, serious impediments to union organizing, and the dire conditions faced by workers, President Obama is now poised to announce at the Summit of the Americas that Colombia has complied with the Labor Action Plan. Working conditions and protection for trade unionists in Colombia do not reflect the U.S. government’s evaluation of the Labor Action Plan. If Obama goes ahead with his plans in Cartagena to green light the FTA, Colombian and U.S. workers will lose their last bit of leverage to stem the tide of anti-union violence and defend the rights of Colombia’s most vulnerable populations.

Daniel Kovalik is general counsel of the United Steelworkers. 

Gimena Sanchez-Garzoli and Anthony Dest work for the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)

April 11, 2012 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Economics, Progressive Hypocrite, Subjugation - Torture | , , , , | 1 Comment