Posted by: Lotfi Frigi | June 2, 2010

American Denial: Living in a Can’t-Do Nation

To those of us consternated by the US blocking the UN Security Council criticism of Israel’s deadly attack on the aid flotilla, I say, you are kidding yourselves if you expected a different outcome. For the umpteenth time, here’s again showing you who owns whom. If the US let the Zionist entity get away with killing their own navy personnel onboard the USS liberty, then is it any surprise that the US plays down an incident that cost the lives of others?

Tom Engelhardt wrote the following on ICH…

Graduates of the class of 2010, I’m honored to have been asked to address you today, but I would not want to be you.
I graduated in 1966 on a gloriously sunny day; then again, it was a sunnier moment in this country.  We were, after all, still surfing the crest of post-World War II American wealth and productivity.  The first oil crisis of 1973 wasn’t even on the horizon.  I never gave a thought to the gas I put in the tank of the used Volkswagen “bug” I bought with a friend my last year in college.  In those days, the oil for that gas had probably been pumped out of an American well on land (and not dumped in the Gulf of Mexico).  Gas, in any case, was dirt cheap.  No one thought about it — or Saudi Arabia (unless they were working for an oil company or the State Department).

Think of it this way: in 1966, the United States was, in your terms, China, while China was just a giant, poor country, a land of — as the American media liked to write back then — “blue ants.”  Seventeen years earlier, it had, in the words of its leader Mao Ze-dong, “stood up” and declared itself a revolutionary people’s republic; but just a couple of years before I graduated, that country went nuts in something called the Cultural Revolution.

Back in 1966, the world was in debt to us.  We were the high-tech brand you wanted to own — unless, of course, you were a guerrilla in the jungles of Southeast Asia who held some quaint notion about having a nation of your own.

Here’s what I didn’t doubt then: that I would get a job.  I didn’t spend much time thinking about my working future, because American affluence and the global dominance that went with it left me unshakably confident that, when I was ready, I would land somewhere effortlessly.  The road trips of that era, the fabled counterculture, so much of daily life would be predicated on, and tied to, the country’s economic power, cheap oil, staggering productivity, and an ability to act imperially on a global stage without seeming (to us Americans at least) like an imperial entity.
I was living in denial then about the nature of our government, our military, and our country, but it was an understandable state.  After all, we — the “sixties generation” — grew up so much closer to a tale of American democracy and responsive government. We had faith, however unexamined, that an American government should and would hear us, that if we raised our voices loudly enough, our leaders would listen.  We had, in other words, a powerful, deeply ingrained sense of agency, now absent in this country.

That, I suspect, is why we took to the streets in protest — not just because we despaired of American war policy, which we did, but because under that despair we still held on tightly to a hope, which the next decades would strip from our world and your generation.  And we had hopeful models as well.  Remember, the great Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s was still a force to be reckoned with — and the assassinations of Martin Luther King, the riots of 1968, the burning ghettoes, the shock of American troops occupying American inner cities, as yet had no reality for us.

Even in protest, there was a sense of… well, the only word I can think of is “abundance.”  At the time, everything seemed abundant.

President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society program was expansively underway in the midst of war — and even guns and butter seemed (for a while) a plausible enough combination for a country like ours.  The Peace Corps, that creation of the Kennedy presidency — which my future wife joined in 1964 — was still new and it, too, encapsulated that sense of American abundance and the hubris that went with it.  It was based, after all, on the idea that you could take a bunch of American kids like you, just out of college, with no particular skills, and ship them off with minimal training to needy nations around the world to improve life, all as part of a great Cold War publicity face-off with the Soviet Union.

And those kids, who turned out in droves to experience something bigger and better than themselves, did often enough find ingenious ways to offer limited amounts of help.  The Peace Corps was but one small measure of a pervasive sense — about to be shattered — of our country’s status as the globe’s preeminent can-do nation.  There was nothing we couldn’t do.  (Hadn’t we, after all, singlehandedly rebuilt devastated Europe and Japan after World War II?)

Then, of course, there was “the war.”  Vietnam, that is.  It was the oozing oil spill of that moment, regularly referred to as “an American tragedy” (never a Vietnamese one).  The tragic aspect of it, above all, seemed to be that victory would not come; that, as Henry Kissinger would later put it, speaking of communist North Vietnam, “I can’t believe a fourth-rate power doesn’t have a breaking point.”

The very idea of defeat — hardly mentionable in those years but ever-present — was corrosive to what, in a book of mine, I once called America’s “victory culture.”  Because the Vietnamese refused to give way in that “meat grinder” of a war in which millions of Vietnamese (and tens of thousands of American soldiers) would die, doubt, like that oil seeping into the Louisiana marshes today, oozed into the crevices of American life, and began to eat away at confidence.

Even the nightmare of war, however, had a positive side — and you can thank the draft for that.  The U.S. then had a civilian, rather than a professional (verging on mercenary) army.  It was, in a sense, still faintly in the tradition of the “people’s armies” that began with the French Revolution’s levée en masse.  For young men nationwide and those who knew them, the draft — the possibility that you, or your son, husband, lover, friend, might actually end up fighting America’s misbegotten war in Southeast Asia — ensured, strangely enough, a deeper connection both to war and country, something now absent in most of your lives.

With rare exceptions, you, the class of 2010, live unconnected to the wars America has been fighting these last nine-plus years.  As a result, you also live in avoidance not of a draft, but of the damage our country is doing to itself and others in distant lands.  That kind of denial is a luxury in a country now far less well known for its affluence and still squandering what wealth it has on wars and armaments.  Today, it’s guns, not butter, and that fateful choice, regularly renewed, seems totally divorced from your lives (though you will, in the end, pay a price for it).

When it came to this country and its wars, my education took place not in the classroom, but extracurricularly, as part of an antiwar movement.  It involved a kind of stripping down of so much I thought I knew, so much I had been taught or simply absorbed.  Much that I had to unlearn about this country is now your birthright, for better or worse.

Can’t-Do America

Who can deny that our American world is in trouble?  Or that our troubles, like our wars, have a momentum of their own against which we generally no longer raise our voices in protest; that we have, in a sense, been disarmed as citizens?

You, the graduating class of 2010, are caught in a system; then again, so are our leaders.  In recent years, we’ve had two presidents, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, who could not be mistaken for one another.  In most obvious ways — style, thinking, personality, politics, sensibility, impulses — they couldn’t be more different, as have been the ways they have approached problems.  One was a true believer in the glories of American military and executive power, the other is a manager of a declining power and what passes for a political “pragmatist” in our world.  Yet, more times than is faintly comfortable, the two of them have ended up in approximately the same policy places — whether on the abridgement of liberties, the expansion of the secret activities of military special operations forces across the Greater Middle East, the CIA drone war in the Pakistani borderlands and elsewhere, the treatment of prisoners, our expanding wars, Pentagon budgets, offshore oil drilling and nuclear power, or other topics which matter in our lives.

This should be more startling than it evidently is for most Americans.  If the policies of these two disparate figures often have a tweedledum-and-tweedledee-ish look to them, then what we face is not specific party politics or individual style, but a system with its own steamroller force, and its own set of narrow, repetitive “solutions” to our problems.  We also face an increasingly militarized, privatized government, its wheels greased by the funds of giant corporations, that now regularly seems to go about the business of creating new Katrinas.

Compared to the long-gone world I graduated into, yours seems to me little short of dystopian, even if, on the surface, it still has something of the look of American abundance.  If nothing changes in this equation, your experience, as far as I can tell, will be of ever less available, ever less decent jobs and of ever less wealth ever less well distributed, as well as of a federal government (“the bureaucracy”) that has everything to do with giant corporations, their lobbyists and publicists, and the military-industrial complex — and nothing to do with you.

You have grown increasingly used to an American world in which a war-fighting state armed with increasingly oppressive powers offers you a national security version of “safety,” directed by Fear Inc. and based on waning liberties.  You seem to me deeply affected by, but detached from, all of this.

In many ways, given our situation, your response seems reasonable enough.  The problem is: if you simply duck and go about your lives as best you can, what can this country hope for?


Israeli forces have attacked a flotilla of aid-carrying ships aiming to break the country’s siege on Gaza. At least 19 people were killed and dozens injured when troops intercepted the convoy of ships dubbed the Freedom Flotilla early on Monday. The flotilla was attacked in international waters, 65km off the Gaza coast.

Do you think that it is justifiable now to call the Zionist horde that leads the Zionist hordes in Israel “ZioNazis” or is that still politically incorrect? Is it justifiable now to consider Israel as the absolute incarnation of evil, fraudulence and brutality? Since its establishment, the Zionist regime has carried out actions which contravene the international regulations and cancel out the human rights in a way or another. Only a brief look into the account of Israel’s bloody interaction with the Palestinian people over the past years shows us that this fabricated regime does not deserve “the right of existence”, as the U.S. and European officials put it periodically. So, to hell with political correctness! And to hell with those ZioNazi bastards!

The massacre that took place Monday was a premeditated operation. Israel wanted blood because it believes that its ‘power of deterrence’ expands with the more dead it leaves behind. The Israeli decision to use hundreds of commando soldiers against civilians was taken by the Israeli cabinet together with the Israeli top military commanders. What we saw Monday wasn’t just a failure on the ground. It was actually an institutional failure of a morbid society that a long time ago lost touch with humanity.

Here are a few numbers for you that will make you sick in the stomach… Since September 2000, Israel killed more than 6,300 Palestinians, most of whom were children and defenseless civilians. Israel has also demolished more than 25,000 Palestinian homes since 1967. It possesses up to 200 nuclear warheads in violation of the United Nations Security Council resolution 487. Interestingly, it receives something around $7 million of military aid from the U.S. per day. 7,383 Palestinians are being kept in the prisons of Israel. The racist regime of Israel has built 223 settlements on the Palestinians’ confiscated lands. Over the six-year period between September 2000 and February 2006, 36589 Palestinians were injured by the Israeli forces of whom 3530 Palestinians were permanently disabled or maimed. Shockingly, this six-year period was witness to the confiscation of 249680 km2 of Palestinian lands. Israeli forces even refused to overlook the Palestinian trees as they uprooted 1,187,762 Palestinian trees from 2000 to 2006. This shows the nature of the brutal regime of Israel which is even at odds with the natural resources and trees, let alone the human beings.

Lord, when will this end? Lord, is it ever going to end?

My condolences to the families of those who were murdered by the cold-blooded bastards. Their heroism will be legend and their memory will live forever. To those of us still breathing, let’s make sure that those brave souls did not die for naught. Stand united against evil wherever it is. Stand up and shout for those around you to hear, illegitimi non carborundum! Don’t let the bastards grind us down!

Posted by: Lotfi Frigi | May 27, 2010

What Is Happening In The Koreas?

So what is happening in the Koreas? The question that begs to be asked is: WHY? Why would North Korea torpedo a South Korean ship? The asinine reasons given by the mainstream media are just that, asinine! Here’s an example of that. The genius that is Christian Oliver gave seven reasons as to the why in an article printed on The Wall Street Journal, two of which, number one and number seven, are “revenge” and “bitterness”! Are you freaking kidding me? What is this, high school drama?

Here’s how it should go, or political analysis 101, if you will… First, gather all the facts. Second, identify all parties directly involved in the incident. Third, identify all parties who are or might be affected by the incident. Fourth, familiarize yourself with all the dynamics at work between each and every party you identified. Fifth, and this should come easy at this point,  determine the motives. It’s that simple!

So, here’s what we’re being fed by the MSM (mainstream media), the crap that we are supposed to believe. In the middle of a war games exercise with the US and South Korea, the North Koreans entered undetected with their non-stealth submarines and shot off a German made torpedo, again undetected by our Aegis submarine detection systems, and then stealthily snuck away. Yes, that is what we are supposed to believe! Are you kidding me?

Could it, instead, have been a war games accident which can now be strategically blamed on the North Koreans so the US and South Korea can save face? Could it be a scare tactic to make the Japanese reconsider their desire to move our Marine base off Okinawa so we continue keeping a close watch on the Chinese? Or could it be a convoluted way to try to force the Chinese to intervene with North Korea, and sanction the North Koreans from sending armaments to Israel’s enemies, Iran and Syria? Hmmm… Another recurrence of the war drum theme of the Forces of Good versus the Axis of Evil? Another fabricated disaster to pave the way for another war, much like The Gulf of Tonkan, Reichstag or even 9/11? These are all guesses, I admit, but EDUCATED ones at least, not some juvenile, over-simplified guesses meant for the consumption of “the fat and stupid” masses.

Posted by: Lotfi Frigi | May 26, 2010

The Greeks Get It

Chris Hedges wrote in TruthDig…

Here’s to the Greeks. They know what to do when corporations pillage and loot their country. They know what to do when Goldman Sachs and international bankers collude with their power elite to falsify economic data and then make billions betting that the Greek economy will collapse. They know what to do when they are told their pensions, benefits and jobs have to be cut to pay corporate banks, which screwed them in the first place. Call a general strike. Riot. Shut down the city centers. Toss the bastards out. Do not be afraid of the language of class warfare-the rich versus the poor, the oligarchs versus the citizens, the capitalists versus the proletariat. The Greeks, unlike most of us, get it.

The former right-wing government of Greece lied about the size of the country’s budget deficit. It was not 3.7 percent of gross domestic product but 13.6 percent. And it now looks like the economies of Spain, Ireland, Italy and Portugal are as bad as Greece’s, which is why the euro has lost 20 percent of its value in the last few months. The few hundred billion in bailouts for other faltering European states, like our own bailouts, have only forestalled disaster. This is why the U.S. stock exchange is in free fall and gold is rocketing upward. American banks do not have heavy exposure in Greece, but Greece, as most economists concede, is only the start. Wall Street is deeply invested in other European states, and when the unraveling begins the foundations of our own economy will rumble and crack as loudly as the collapse in Athens. The corporate overlords will demand that we too impose draconian controls and cuts or see credit evaporate. They have the money and the power to hurt us. There will be more unemployment, more personal and commercial bankruptcies, more foreclosures and more human misery. And the corporate state, despite this suffering, will continue to plunge us deeper into debt to make war. It will use fear to keep us passive. We are being consumed from the inside out. Our economy is as rotten as the economy in Greece. We too borrow billions a day to stay afloat. We too have staggering deficits, which can never be repaid. Heed the dire rhetoric of European leaders.

“The euro is in danger,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told lawmakers last week as she called on them to approve Germany’s portion of the bailout plan. “If we do not avert this danger, then the consequences for Europe are incalculable, and then the consequences beyond Europe are incalculable.”

Beyond Europe means us. The right-wing government of Kostas Karamanlis, which preceded the current government of George Papandreou, did what the Republicans did under George W. Bush. They looted taxpayer funds to enrich their corporate masters and bankrupt the country. They stole hundreds of millions of dollars from individual retirement and pension accounts slowly built up over years by citizens who had been honest and industrious. They used mass propaganda to make the population afraid of terrorists and surrender civil liberties, including habeas corpus. And while Bush and Karamanlis, along with the corporate criminal class they abetted, live in unparalleled luxury, ordinary working men and women are told they must endure even more pain and suffering to make amends. It is feudal rape. And there has to be a point when even the American public-which still believes the fairy tale that personal will power and positive thinking will lead to success-will realize it has been had.

We have seen these austerity measures before. Latin Americans, like the Russians, were forced by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to gut social services, end subsidies on basic goods and food, and decimate the income levels of the middle class-the foundation of democracy-in the name of fiscal responsibility. Small entrepreneurs, especially farmers, were wiped out. State industries were sold off by corrupt government officials to capitalists for a fraction of their value. Utilities and state services were privatized.

What is happening in Greece, what will happen in Spain and Portugal, what is starting to happen here in states such as California, is the work of a global, white-collar criminal class. No government, including our own, will defy them. It is up to us. Barack Obama is simply the latest face that masks the corporate state. His administration serves corporate interests, not ours. Obama, like Goldman Sachs or Citibank, does not want the public to see how the Federal Reserve Bank acts as a private account and ATM machine for Wall Street at our expense. He, too, has helped orchestrate the largest transference of wealth upward in American history. He serves our imperial wars, refuses to restore civil liberties, and has not tamed our crippling deficits. His administration gutted regulatory agencies that permitted BP to turn the Gulf of Mexico into a toxic swamp. The refusal of Obama to intervene in a meaningful way to save the gulf’s ecosystem and curtail the abuses of the natural gas and oil corporations is not an accident. He knows where power lies. BP and its employees handed more than $3.5 million to federal candidates over the past 20 years, with the largest chunk of their money going to Obama, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

We are facing the collapse of the world’s financial system. It is the end of globalization. And in these final moments the rich are trying to get all they can while there is still time. The fusion of corporatism, militarism and internal and external intelligence agencies-much of their work done by private contractors-has given these corporations terrifying mechanisms of control. Think of it, as the Greeks do, as a species of foreign occupation. Think of the Greek riots as a struggle for liberation.

Dwight Macdonald laid out the consequences of a culture such as ours, where the waging of war was “the normal mode of existence.” The concept of perpetual war, which eluded the theorists behind the 19th and early 20th century reform and social movements, including Karl Marx, has left social reformers unable to deal with this effective mechanism of mass control. The old reformists had limited their focus to internal class struggle and, as Macdonald noted, never worked out “an adequate theory of the political significance of war.” Until that gap is filled, Macdonald warned, “modern socialism will continue to have a somewhat academic flavor.”

Macdonald detailed in his 1946 essay “The Root Is Man” the marriage between capitalism and permanent war. He despaired of an effective resistance until the permanent war economy, and the mentality that went with it, was defeated. Macdonald, who was an anarchist, saw that the Marxists and the liberal class in Western democracies had both mistakenly placed their faith for human progress in the goodness of the state. This faith, he noted, was a huge error. The state, whether in the capitalist United States or the communist Soviet Union, eventually devoured its children. And it did this by using the organs of mass propaganda to keep its populations afraid and in a state of endless war. It did this by insisting that human beings be sacrificed before the sacred idol of the market or the utopian worker’s paradise. The war state provides a constant stream of enemies, whether the German Hun, the Bolshevik, the Nazi, the Soviet agent or the Islamic terrorist. Fear and war, Macdonald understood, was the mechanism that let oligarchs pillage in the name of national security.

“Modern totalitarianism can integrate the masses so completely into the political structure, through terror and propaganda, that they become the architects of their own enslavement,” he wrote. “This does not make the slavery less, but on the contrary more- a paradox there is no space to unravel here. Bureaucratic collectivism, not capitalism, is the most dangerous future enemy of socialism.”

Macdonald argued that democratic states had to dismantle the permanent war economy and the propaganda that came with it. They had to act and govern according to the non-historical and more esoteric values of truth, justice, equality and empathy. Our liberal class, from the church and the university to the press and the Democratic Party, by paying homage to the practical dictates required by hollow statecraft and legislation, has lost its moral voice. Liberals serve false gods. The belief in progress through war, science, technology and consumption has been used to justify the trampling of these non-historical values. And the blind acceptance of the dictates of globalization, the tragic and false belief that globalization is a form of inevitable progress, is perhaps the quintessential illustration of Macdonald’s point. The choice is not between the needs of the market and human beings. There should be no choice. And until we break free from serving the fiction of human progress, whether that comes in the form of corporate capitalism or any other utopian vision, we will continue to emasculate ourselves and perpetuate needless human misery. As the crowds of strikers in Athens understand, it is not the banks that are important but the people who raise children, build communities and sustain life. And when a government forgets whom it serves and why it exists, it must be replaced.

“The Progressive makes History the center of his ideology,” Macdonald wrote in “The Root Is Man.” “The Radical puts Man there. The Progressive’s attitude is optimistic both about human nature (which he thinks is good, hence all that is needed is to change institutions so as to give this goodness a chance to work) and about the possibility of understanding history through scientific method. The Radical is, if not exactly pessimistic, at least more sensitive to the dual nature; he is skeptical about the ability of science to explain things beyond a certain point; he is aware of the tragic element in man’s fate not only today but in any collective terms (the interests of Society or the Working Class); the Radical stresses the individual conscience and sensibility. The Progressive starts off from what is actually happening; the Radical starts off from what he wants to happen. The former must have the feeling that History is ‘on his side.’ The latter goes along the road pointed out by his own individual conscience; if History is going his way, too, he is pleased; but he is quite stubborn about following ‘what ought to be’ rather than ‘what is.’ “

Posted by: Lotfi Frigi | May 25, 2010

U.S. Media Censors U.S. Support of Iran Fuel Swap

Is peace with Iran what we are really after? Or are we just playing games and posturing for the rest of the world to see while hiding our real intent, war at any cost with Iran? A lot of mumbling and stumbling, hidden agendas, contradictions, murky visions and conflicting opinions are emanating from the White House. Does anyone know who is running the show in that madhouse? I think I do…

Robert Naiman wrote the following in the Huffington Post earlier today…

Sao Paulo – If you get your information from major U.S. media, and you follow U.S. foreign policy, then you know that last week Iran, Brazil, and Turkey signed an agreement for Iran to ship about half of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium to Turkey, in exchange for subsequent Western supply of higher-enriched uranium to fuel Iran’s medical research reactor – fuel Iran needs in order to treat Iranian medical patients, fuel to which Iran is entitled as a signatory of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

If you were paying close attention, you might know that the deal is quite similar to one proposed a few months ago by the United States. An initial AP story on the Washington Post‘s website last Monday – which I cited at the time – said the agreement was “nearly identical” to the deal the U.S. was pressing for, although by the end of the day the AP article on the Post‘s website had been revised to downgrade this comparison to “mirrors.” [The original AP story is still visible here.] U.S. officials have dismissed the deal brokered by Brazil and Turkey, even though the deal is “nearly identical” to the one proposed by the U.S. Indeed, according to the Washington Post, U.S. officials are “thoroughly irritated” with Turkey for its role in mediating the agreement.

But if you get your information from major U.S. media, here’s something that you almost certainly don’t know: Brazil and Turkey say that before they reached the deal, they understood that they had the backing of the Obama Administration for their efforts. The available evidence suggests that Brazil and Turkey had good reason to believe that they had U.S. support, and that the Obama Administration has taken a 180 degree turn in its position in the last few weeks, and is now trying to cover its tracks, with the active collaboration of major U.S. media.

Reuters reports from Brasilia – in an article you won’t find on the web sites of the New York Times or the Washington Post:

Brazil argues Washington and other Western powers had prodded Brazil to try to revive the U.N. fuel swap deal proposed last October.”We were encouraged directly or indirectly … to implement the October proposal without any leeway and that’s what we did,” said Amorim.

In a letter to Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva two weeks ago, U.S. president Barack Obama said an Iranian uranium shipment abroad would generate confidence.

“From our point of view, a decision by Iran to send 1,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium abroad, would generate confidence and reduce regional tensions by cutting Iran’s stockpile,” Obama said, according to excerpts from the letter translated into Portuguese and seen by Reuters.

I haven’t seen any reference to this letter from President Obama to President Lula in the U.S. press – have you? But in Brazil, this letter from Obama to Lula was front-page news on Saturday morning – I saw it on the front-page of O Estado de S. Paulo, above the fold.

Note that the Reuters story, dated May 22, says Obama sent this letter two weeks ago. The deal was announced Monday, May 17. So, about a week before the deal was announced, Obama told Lula that from the U.S. point of view a decision by Iran to send 1,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium abroad would generate confidence and reduce regional tensions. Note furthermore that Obama’s words – according to Reuters, this is a direct quote from Obama’s letter – actually specify an exact amount of transfer that would “generate confidence”: 1,200 kilograms, exactly what was agreed a week later. So the U.S. officials and media stenographers (like Glenn Kessler in the Washington Post – “Iran creates illusion of progress in nuclear negotiations“) saying a 1,200 kilogram transfer would have been great in October but would be worthless now are directly contradicting what President Obama himself wrote to President Lula one week before the deal was announced. But if course you wouldn’t know about that direct contradiction from the U.S. media, because in the U.S. media, the letter from Obama to Lula apparently doesn’t exist.

Morever, Brazil says that before the deal, no-one raised the issue of Iran’s 20% enrichment as an obstacle:

“It wasn’t on the agenda. Nobody told us, ‘Hey if you don’t stop 20 percent enrichment, forget the deal’,” said [Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso] Amorim.

So, if Brazil is telling the truth – and there is no evidence that they are not – then this means that President Obama’s letter to Lula did not raise the 20% objection, and the excerpt provided by Reuters suggests that it didn’t.

So far, I’ve seen one clear reference in U.S. media to claims by Brazil and Turkey that they had the Obama Administration’s backing in pursuing negotiations: not in a news article, but in an International Herald Tribune column by Roger Cohen reprinted by the New York Times, “America Moves the Goalposts.”

Cohen wrote:

No wonder Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, is angry. I believe him when he says Obama and U.S. officials encouraged Turkey earlier this year to revive the deal: “What they wanted us to do was give the confidence to Iran to do the swap. We have done our duty.”

Cohen’s explanation for the Obama Administration’s stunning flip-flop? Domestic politics:

I believed Obama was ready to think anew on Iran. It seems not. Presidents must lead on major foreign policy initiatives, not be bullied by domestic political considerations, in this case incandescent Iran ire on the Hill in an election year.

Last year, the Administration concluded that Iran wasn’t ready to negotiate with the U.S. because of Iranian domestic politics. Now, it seems, the United States isn’t ready to deal because the Obama Administration is afraid of Congress.

It’s a shame we don’t have a leader in the White House right now who is ready to lead on this issue.

Posted by: Lotfi Frigi | May 21, 2010

Shaping the Story on Iran

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? asked the Roman poet, Juvenal, towards the end of his work “The Satires of Juvenal”. Who will guard the guards themselves? Who watches the watchmen?
It is an old question that Plato dealt with in “The Republic”. The perfect society as described by Socrates, the main character in a Socratic dialogue, relies on laborers, slaves and tradesmen. The guardian class is to protect the city. The question is put to Socrates, “Who will guard the guardians?” or, “Who will protect us against the protectors?” Plato’s answer to this is that they will guard themselves against themselves. We must tell the guardians a “noble lie”. The noble lie will assure them that they are better than those they serve and it is therefore their responsibility to guard and protect those lesser than themselves. We will instill in them a distaste for power or privilege; they will rule because they believe it right, not because they desire it.
Is anyone in power nowadays buying the “noble lie”? I do not believe so…

Philip Giraldi wrote the following on

There have been recent reports that Iran has enabled the travel of al-Qaeda leaders to Afghanistan and Pakistan where they will be able to confront and kill American soldiers.  If you think you have heard the story before, you have, in another context.  In the earlier rendition it was Saddam Hussein who was hand-in-glove with al-Qaeda, helping the group in its nefarious planning to attack the United States and kill Americans.  Saddam, who was in reality only a threat to his own people, was on the receiving end of a barrage of fabricated information claiming that he was secretly developing weapons of mass destruction and clandestinely dealing with the terrorists who were responsible for 9/11.  Or so the story goes.  And now it is Iran’s turn and the story and the storytellers are exactly the same.

Even when everything changes, nothing changes for the American mainstream media (MSM), which continues to be wedded to a policy of all war all the time. There is a long history of media lies. William Randolph Hearst’s New York Morning Journal used deliberately sensationalized news reports to stir up hysteria in 1897 that led to war with Spain, a war that he later boasted had been enabled by his newspaper.  But other leading American newspapers of that era were a lot more cautious in their reporting and some even lampooned Hearst’s hysterics in the lead-up to the conflict.  Today it is different as newspapers rarely compete for market share and have no interest in exposing the half-truths of their peers.  The unanimity of view is particularly evident on the editorial pages where the neocons and the groupthink that they have fostered have become deeply embedded.  Everyone in the MSM agrees that Iran either already has nukes or is about to go nuclear and that the country shelters terrorists on every block, all colluding to attack a completely innocent and guileless United States.  Saturated with the propaganda, the American public more or less accepts that narrative.

How we Americans have arrived at this sorry point is somewhat difficult to explain.  That most media outlets have become parts of much larger corporations that are uninterested in challenging authority, making their news coverage a large dose of pablum, is clearly part of the problem.  The closure of most overseas newspaper bureaus hasn’t helped either as it has reduced the number of local reporters who might have applied their own insider knowledge to developing stories.  Also the use of embedded journalists in war coverage has meant that only reporters writing stories favorable to the Pentagon spin are given access to the “hot information.”  But the biggest factor has been the de facto takeover of many editorial pages by hardliners who perversely believe that the United States can resolve its problems by continuing with the so-called “long war,” a conflict in which Washington is fated to engage in never ending struggles against an enemy that is increasingly being seen around the world as all Muslims.

The media hypes the threat and keeps the story going so the public is acquiescent as more Americans die and countless billions of dollars are thrown down a money pit.  This is frequently accomplished by redirecting the narrative when the truth is somehow unpalatable.  If, for example, Israel’s bestiality towards the Palestinians is creating danger for American soldiers deployed overseas it is far better to write instead about how deeply concerned Israelis are about the “existential” threat coming from Iran.  That ignores the actual clear and present danger to Americans and moves the discussion to the completely theoretical threat experienced by Israelis, reinforcing along the way the old narrative about Jews as victims, not as persecutors.

How this process works in practice with Iran is not too dissimilar to the way it worked with Saddam.  Make up a bunch of garbage and let it fly, hoping that some of it might stick.  Readers of might recall the phony Iranian nuclear triggers allegations that Gareth Porter and I put to rest back in January.  The Sunday Times of London, which is owned by Zionist stalwart Rupert Murdoch, has an astonishing track record for floating stories that in all likelihood come from Israel’s intelligence service Mossad.  The Times story, which claimed that Iran was developing an electronic trigger for a nuclear weapon in 2007, was important because if it had been true it would have meant that the December 2007 CIA National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) was flawed.  The NIE had maintained (and the intelligence community still maintains) that Iran abandoned its nuclear weapons program in 2003.  Undermining that judgment has been a key objective of the various neocon talking heads, all claiming that Iran has a secret program that the CIA does not know about.  The nuclear trigger story would have challenged the main conclusion of the NIE while also serving as confirmation of the allegations about the hidden nuclear laboratory, so it would have been a two-for-one if it had been accepted.  Fortunately, the story proved so full of holes that it went nowhere, but not for lack of trying.

Which brings us to the tale being spun by the Associated Press (AP).  If nukes are number one in the Iran narrative, terrorists are certainly number two.  And if allegations about Hezbollah and Hamas don’t excite you what could be better than producing a link to the ultimate nasties, al-Qaeda?   A week ago an investigative story was featured as an AP Exclusive:  “CIA tracks al-Qaeda moving from Iran.”  The account is based on the fact that a handful of al-Qaeda officers, including at least one of Osama bin Laden’s sons, fled to Iran after the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and were subsequently placed under house arrest. They have been there ever since.

The AP story claims that there is intelligence suggesting that some of the detainees have now been released.  The authors of the story opine that the change in policy is so al-Qaeda can “replenish its ranks.”  They cite a number of “current and former” intelligence officers as their sources but actually only quote two former CIA officers who apparently claim to have current knowledge about the movement of the terrorists.  The other sources are anonymous and it is not even completely clear if they are all American. One of the cited authorities, Bruce Riedel, has been retired from the Agency since 2006 and now works at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institute.  How Riedel would have access to highly sensitive information on the movement of al-Qaeda is by no means evident and the article does not reveal his connection to Haim Saban, a Hollywood billionaire whose deep attachment to Israel is well documented.

The second CIA officer is Clare Lopez, who is a senior fellow at the Center for Security Policy, which claims to be non-partisan but is basically a pro-Israel Muslim-bashing organization, as revealed by its website.  Leading neocon Frank Gaffney is the founder and president.  Lopez retired from CIA at some point prior to 2005, so she has been out of the loop even longer than Riedel.  Is the AP story being honest about the likely reliability and possible biases of its sources?  Apparently not.

The AP story’s contention that al-Qaeda is “replenishing its ranks” is nowhere supported by evidence that any of the detainees has shown up in any terrorist operation.  Nor is it clear how a handful of detainees could effectively replenish anything.  The account also ignores one fundamental problem in depicting a pattern of Iranian-al-Qaeda interaction.  Al-Qaeda is a Sunni fundamentalist group that thinks that Shi’ite Muslims are heretics and should be killed.  Iranians are predominantly Shi’ites.  It is hardly a basis for bonhomie.  And the account is sprinkled with questionable commentary, like the assertion that Iran “has historically allowed al-Qaeda members safe passage through the country,” which is flat out untrue.  The speculation that the departure of some al-Qaeda from Iran “foreshadows the release of al-Qaeda’s ‘management council,’ including some of al-Qaeda’s most dangerous figures” is also advanced without any evidence, apparently to hype the danger.  Even if it is true that some of the al-Qaeda are being released it is not credible to believe that a handful of men who have been under house arrest for nine years will suddenly appear in Pakistan and make magic, particularly as their prior to 2001 experience would count for little as both al-Qaeda and the American response to it have shifted dramatically since that time. Also, al-Qaeda would not be likely to trust the returnees, suspecting, not unreasonably, that they had been turned by the Iranians and were actually little more than spies for Tehran.

The AP story received considerable replay in the usual places, including on NPR, increasingly a shameless promoter of neocon foreign policy.  Thoroughly indoctrinated by propaganda, most readers or listeners would not question the fantasy tale of a handful of aging al-Qaeda men appearing from nowhere and using their ancient wisdom to turn the tables on the US Army.  And most would also unthinkingly buy into the explicit linkage of Iran to active support of the most reprehensible type of terrorists.  Ironically, Adolph Hitler’s Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda Joseph Goebbels, responsible for orchestrating the Third Reich’s media, best explained what is happening in today’s America vis-à-vis Iran.  He wrote, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic, and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

Posted by: Lotfi Frigi | May 20, 2010

Top Ten Other Gratuitously Offensive Draw-a-Cartoon Days

Professor Juan Cole blogged earlier this morning on Informed Comment…

The juvenile “draw Muhammad” day has generally been avoided by professional editorial cartoonists. One Islamophobic theme apparent in the writing on it is that Muslims are peculiar in their thin-skinned responses to such assaults on their religious sensibilities and that members of other religions never riot or protest. This assertion is not only bigoted but it is silly. So here are some other needlessly offensive cartoon-drawing days that could be adopted by the jerks bothering Muslims today, just to show that they are jerks toward other communities as well. All these subjects have produced vigorous protests or rioting and violence among members of other religious traditions. Me, I think when you know people have died in violence over some piece of thoughtlessness, it is the height of irresponsibility to repeat it for no good reason.

10. Cartoons of Hindu goddesses or of Mother India, nude.

9. Cartoon of a Haredi Jewish woman locked up in an insane asylum by secular Jewish authorities in Israel.

8. Buddha with girls in bikini: In Sri Lanka this spring “Buddhist extremists attacked the offices of Sirasa Media, who in cooperation with the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau was organizing the tour for Akon . . . an American pop singer of Senegalese extraction. The protesters were offended by Akon’s latest video “Sexy Chick,” which shows bikini-clad women dancing at a pool party, while in the background stands a statue of the Buddha.”

7. Cartoon showing a rape in a Sikh temple.

6. Cartoon showing Moses as gay lover.

5. Cartoon of Christians shooting down a Hindu pandit in India.

4. Cartoon of Irish Catholic neighborhoods festooned with banners showing a crown on a bible– celebrating the victory on 12 July 1690 of Protestant King William of Orange over his Catholic rival as king, James II, at the Battle of the Boyne near Belfast. It was such provocations by Protestants that kicked off decades of Troubles in Northern Ireland that left nearly 4000 dead and led to several major bombings of London.

3. Cartoon of witch casting a spell on an African soccer match.

2. Cartoon of Hindu Goddess Lakshmi eating a Burger King Texas Whopper. (Hint: Hindus hold cows sacred and forbid the consuming of beef.)

1. Cartoons showing people parking cars in Jerusalem on Saturday.

Posted by: Lotfi Frigi | May 18, 2010

Ready to Rumble in the Middle East?

Michael Brenner, Senior Fellow in the Center for Transatlantic Relations wrote in the Huffington post…

Sun Tzu, the much quoted Chinese military strategist, stressed the value of knowing your enemy. A broader diplomatic formulation is: know your enemy, know your allies, know everyone in the field of action — including yourself. Washington, like most great powers, is incapable of the last. Our special defect is the strong tendency to think that we know the enemy when we discern its hostile intent. That intent, in turn, is totally disconnected — in our minds — from what we, for our part, do and say. Such is strikingly the case in the Middle East. There, the resulting distortions in our reading of reality are compounded by including Israel in the American “we.” Washington has come to identify so completely with the Israelis as to deny ourselves dispassionate understanding of their place in the complicated regional scheme of things. Hence, we operate with two sets of blinders — little sense of how others’ behavior is affected by Israel as well as disregard for how it is influenced by their perceptions of us.

So it’s time for a few home truths as might be seen by a visitor from Mars — or, more prosaically, an observer in Beijing. Here is my take on their perspective.

1. Washington is unduly prone to lump together as enemies a diverse number of parties who share a lack of sympathy with American ends and purposes. Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas are tightly knit co-conspirators only in the minds of the United States and Israel. Each has its own priorities, its own ambitions and its own vulnerabilities. Iran’s are most complex and opaque. We assume they are preoccupied with doing us harm. That is a dubious assumption when we look beyond the rhetoric. That they see us as an opponent and a threat is surely correct. But its meaning needs to be placed in their perspective for its full meaning to be understand. The regime’s weakness, the country’s encirclement by American military forces and its being the object of an unrelenting American political and economic campaign to undermine it are compelling features of their strategic environment. Does this mean that the leadership in Tehran is guileless? Of course not. It does mean that they will seek every means to counter the United States — including gaining allies by means fair and foul. They also will cooperate with us when it serves its interests — as it did in Afghanistan in 2001 before Bush short circuited the connection by declaring Iran a charter member of the “Axis of Evil.”

2. America’s unflinching backing for Israel creates opportunities for the Iranians and creates powerful incentives for Hamas and Hezbollah to welcome practical help from Tehran. The same logic applies to Sunni Hamas as it does to Shi’ite Hezbollah. The former’s abiding interest is Palestine. It has no wider ambitions. Hezbollah’s abiding interest is Lebanon and its growing political strength there. Israel’s implacable hostility and violent attacks play to the political advantage of both insofar as they are in a contest with local rivals (Fatah, other Lebanese factions). Will they use violence themselves, in one form or another, against Israel? Of course. Provoking that violence also serves the political interests of Israel’s ultra nationalist government. The United States’ uncritical siding with Israel makes it a party to this cauldron of emotion and political intrigue.

3. Syria, for its part, plays its own hardball game of protecting its stake and advancing its self-defined interests in a region dominated by the United States, its Arab allies and Israel. Does it want a settlement with Israel? Probably — on its own terms, as does everyone else. Is it viscerally anti-American? Probably not. It can’t afford to be with the Soviet Union now history and being a secular regime in the vicinity of Sunni and Shi’ite fundamentalists with whom it shares little in the way of ideology.

4. American endorsed Israeli violence against Palestinians and the Lebanese has produced 500 times more casualties than Hamas and Hezbollah violence against Israelis. To recall the facts, thousands of civilians were killed and wounded in Lebanon in 2006 and in Gaza in 2008-2009. Entire sections of Beirut and villages in the south of the country were razed, and much Lebanese infrastructure destroyed. As for Gaza, there is the stunning report of Justice Goldstone, the self-avowed Zionist from South Africa whom the White House reflexively scorned. You still may judge that Israeli violence was justified. That is not the point of this commentary. Rather, it is the inability to comprehend how those actions were experienced by Palestinians and Hezbollah followers that is a serious foreign policy failing. Recent Israeli murmurings about another ‘go’ at Hezbollah to erase the humiliating stalemate of 2006 feeds fear and anger. The attitudes thereby engendered are objective facts of the political state of affairs. The behavior that flows from them can best be dealt with by recognizing it as such — whatever one chooses to do about it. If administration officials want to avoid a close concert of the Iranians, Syrians, Hamas and Hezbollah, then they should cease making the casual, convenient assumption that they’re all a bunch of bad guys out to get us. That is not simply wrong; worse, it is not very smart and a recipe for diplomatic failure.

5. Following on the above, it is an analytical mistake to view Hamas and Hezbollah as Iranian proxies who are obediently doing Tehran’s bidding. Whatever the reality of alleged Iranian Scuds to Hezbollah, and collaboration between Damascus and Tehran, it stems from a tactical, self-interested calculation among the parties. It is not diabolical machinations on the part of a latter-day ‘Axis of Evil.’ That is a self-serving, intellectually lazy notion nurtured by many inside and outside the Obama administration. It can only lead us into blind alleys. That is, unless one sees all these intricate issues liable to resolution by confrontation with the prospect of war.

It’s time to rethink how we look at economics and rethink all economic arrangements and relationships, my friends. It’s time to face the fact that international finance and international financiers are the root cause of the majority of our problems today. It’s time to get rid of them and their usurious and loan sharking debt money system. It’s time for governments to nationalize all  banks, including central banks. It’s time for all of us to shed this current system that thrives on financial slavery and debt peonage.

Here’s a great article on the subject written by Ismael Hossein-zadeh, a Professor of Economics at Drake University, and published on ICH…

Never before has so much debt been imposed on so many people by so few financial operatives—operatives who work from Wall Street, the largest casino in history, and a handful of its junior counterparts around the world, especially Europe.

External sovereign debt, as well as occasional default on such debt, is not unprecedented [1]. What is rather unique in the case of the current global sovereign debt is that it is largely private debt billed as public debt; that is, debt that was accumulated by financial speculators and, then, offloaded onto governments to be paid by taxpayers as national debt. Having thus bailed out the insolvent banksters, many governments have now become insolvent or nearly insolvent themselves, and are asking the public to skimp on their bread and butter in order to service the debt that is not their responsibility.

After transferring trillions of dollars of bad debt or toxic assets from the books of financial speculators to those of governments, global financial moguls, their representatives in the State apparatus and corporate media are now blaming social spending (in effect, the people) as responsible for debt and deficit!

President Obama’s recent motto of “fiscal responsibility” and his frequent grumbles about “out of control government spending” are reflections of this insidious strategy of blaming victims for the crimes of perpetrators. They also reflect the fact that the powerful financial interests that received trillions of taxpayers’ dollars, which saved them from bankruptcy, are now dictating debt-collecting strategies through which governments can recoup those dollars from taxpayers. In effect, governments and multilateral institutions such as the IMF are acting as bailiffs or tax collectors on behalf of banksters and other financial wizards.

Not only is this unfair (it is, indeed, tantamount to robbery, and therefore criminal), it is also recessionary as it can increase unemployment and undermine economic growth. It is reminiscent of President Herbert Hoover’s notorious economic policy of cutting spending during a recession, a contractionary fiscal policy that is bound to worsen the recession. It is, indeed, a recipe for a vicious circle of debt and depression: as spending is cut to pay debt, the economy and (therefore) tax revenues will shrink, which would then increase debt and deficit, and call for more spending cuts!

Spending on national infrastructure, both physical (such as roads and schools) and social infrastructure (such as health and education) is key to the long-term socioeconomic developments. Cutting public spending to pay for the sins of Wall Street gamblers is bound to undermine the long-term health of a society in terms of productivity enhancement and sustained growth.

But the powerful financial interests and their debt collectors seem to be more interested in collecting debt claims than investing in economic recovery, job creation or long-term socioeconomic development. Like most debt-collecting agencies, the IMF and the states serving as banksters’ bailiffs through their austerity programs may shed a few crocodile tears in sympathy with the victims’ of their belt-tightening policies; but, again like any other debt-collecting agents, they seem to be saying: “sorry for the loss of your job or your house, but debt must be collected—regardless”!

A most outrageous aspect of the debt burden that is placed on the taxpayers’ shoulders since 2008 is that most of the underlying debt claims are fictitious and illegitimate: they are largely due to manipulated asset price bubbles, dubious or illegal financial speculations, and scandalous conversion of financial gamblers’ losses into public liability.

As noted earlier, onerous austerity measures to force the public to pay the largely fraudulent external debt is not new. Benignly calling such oppressive measures “Structural Adjustment Programs,” the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have for decades imposed them on many less developed countries to collect debt on behalf of international financial titans.

To “help” the indebted nations craft debt-servicing arrangements with external creditors, the IMF imposed severe conditions on the way they managed their economies—just as it is now imposing (in collaboration with the European and American bankers) those austerity policies on the debtor nations in Europe. The primary purpose of such restrictive conditions is to divert or transfer national resources from domestic use to external creditors. These include not only belt-tightening measures to cut social spending and/or raise taxes, but also selling-off public enterprises, national industries, and future tax revenues.

Calling such fire-sale privatization deals “briberization,” the ex-World Bank chief economist Joseph Stiglitz revealed (in an interview with the renowned investigative reporter Greg Palast) how finance ministers and other bureaucratic authorities in the debtor countries often carried out the Bank’s demand to sell off their electricity, water, transportation and communication companies in return for some apparently irresistible sweetener. “You could see their eyes widen” at the prospect of 10% commissions paid to Swiss bank accounts for simply shaving a few billions off the sale price of national assets [2].

The IMF/World Bank/WTO “structural adjustment programs” also include neoliberal policies of “capital-market liberalization.” In theory, capital market deregulation is supposed to lead to the inflow and investment of foreign capital, thereby bringing about industrialization, job creation and economic expansion. In practice, however, financial liberalization often leads to more capital outflow (or capital flight) than inflow. To the extent that there is an inflow of capital it is not so much productive or industrial capital as it is unproductive or speculative capital (also known as “hot money”): massive amounts of capital that is constantly in transit across international borders in pursuit of real estate, currency, or interest rate speculation.

To attract foreign capital to the relatively vulnerable markets of debtor nations, the IMF frequently recommends drastic increases in interest rate. Higher interest rates are, however, both anti-developmental and detrimental to the goal of debt servicing. Higher interest rates tend to destroy property values, divert financial resources away from productive investment, and increase the burden of debt servicing.

For example, in the Philippines, which in 1980 adopted the IMF’s Structural Adjustment Program, “Interest payments as a percentage of total government expenditures went from 7 percent in 1980 to 28 percent in 1994. Capital expenditures, on the other hand, plunged from 26 percent to 16 percent.” By contrast, “the Philippines’ Southeast Asian neighbors ignored the IMF’s prescriptions. They limited debt servicing while ramping up government capital expenditures in support of growth. Not surprisingly, they grew by 6 to 10 percent from 1985 to 1995. . .while the Philippines barely grew and gained the reputation of a depressed market that repelled investors” [3].

A major condition of the IMF/World Bank/WTO’s “restructuring program” is trade liberalization. Free trade has always been the bible of the economically strong, self-righteously preached to the weak. It enables the strong to use their market power for economic gains, thereby perpetuating an international division of labor in which the technologically advanced countries would specialize in the production and export of high-tech, high-value added products while less developed countries would be condemned to the supply of less- or un-processed products. It is not surprising, then, that such a lop-sided policy of trade liberalization is sometimes called “free trade imperialism.”

Taking advantage of the so-called Third World debt crisis, the IMF, World Bank and WTO imposed free trade and other “adjustment programs” on 70 developing countries in the course of the 1980s and 1990s. “Because of this trade liberalization,” points out Walden Bello, member of the Philippines House of Representatives and president of the Freedom from Debt Coalition, “gains in economic growth and poverty reduction posted by developing countries in the 1960s and 1970s had disappeared by the 1980s and 1990s. In practically all structurally adjusted countries, trade liberalization wiped out huge swathes of industry, and countries enjoying a surplus in agricultural trade became deficit countries.” Bello further points out, “The number of poor increased in Latin America and the Caribbean, Central and Eastern Europe, the Arab states, and sub-Saharan Africa.” By contrast, in China and East Asia, where the neoliberal free trade and other Structural Adjustment Programs were rejected, significant economic development and considerable poverty reduction took place [3].

The attitude of the international financial parasites and their collection agencies such as the IMF regarding the disastrous consequences of their “restructuring” conditions is instructive.

An IMF official was quoted as acknowledging that the Fund’s austerity packages have often led to debt-collection without economic growth. But he added: “the Fund is a firefighter not a carpenter, and you cannot expect the firefighter to rebuild the house as well as put out the fire.” Obviously, what the “firefighter” tries to save from burning are external debt claims, not the economies or livelihoods of the indebted.

Another component of the IMF/World Bank’s “adjustment program” to service external debt is called elimination of “price distortions,” or establishment of “market-based pricing.” These are fancy, obfuscationist terms for raising prices on essential needs such as food, water and utilities. They also include elimination of subsidies on healthcare, education, transportation, housing, and the like; as well as curtailment of wages and benefits for the working class. In essence, these are roundabout ways of taxing the poor to pay the rich, the creditors.

Where such belt-tightening measures have made living conditions for the people intolerable, they have triggered what has come to be known as “the IMF riots.” The IMF riots are “painfully predictable. When a nation is, ‘down and out, [the IMF] takes advantage and squeezes the last pound of blood out of them. They turn up the heat until, finally, the whole cauldron blows up,’ as when the IMF eliminated food and fuel subsidies for the poor in Indonesia in 1998. Indonesia exploded into riots. . . ” [2]. Other examples of the IMF riots include the Bolivian riots over the rise in water prices and the riots in Ecuador over the rise in cooking gas prices. As the IMF/World Bank riots create an insecure or uncertain economic environment, they often lead to a vicious circle of capital flight, deindustrialization, unemployment, and socio-economic disintegration.

Only when the riots have tended to lead to revolutions, the parasitic mega banks and their debt-collecting bailiffs, the IMF and/or the World Bank, have been forced to accept less onerous debt-servicing conditions, or even debt repudiation. The Argentine people deserve credit for having set a good example of this kind of debt restructuring.

In late 2001 and early 2002, they took to the streets to protest the escalated austerity measures imposed on them at the behest of the IMF and the World Bank. “Political demonstrations and the looting of grocery stores quickly spread across the country. . . . The government declared a state of siege, but police often stood by and watched the looting ‘with their hands behind their backs.’ There was little the government could do. Within a day after the demonstrations began, principal economic minister Domingo Cavallo had resigned; a few days later, President Fernando de la Rua stepped down. . . . In the wake of the resignations, a hastily assembled interim government immediately defaulted on $155 billion of Argentina’s foreign debt, the largest debt default in history” [4].

Argentina also freed its currency (peso) from the US dollar (it had been pegged to dollar in 1991). After defaulting on its external debt and dropping its currency peg to the dollar, Argentina has enjoyed a most robust economic growth in the world. Debt re-structuring a la Argentina, that is, debt repudiation, is what today’s debt-strapped nations in Europe and elsewhere need to do to free themselves from the shackles of debt peonage.

Having subjected many nations in the less-developed countries of the South to their notorious austerity measures, international knights of finance are now busy applying those impoverishing measures to the more developed countries of the North, especially those of Europe. For example, the Greek government has in recent months announced a series of wage and benefit cuts for public workers, a three-year freeze on pensions and a second increase this year in sales taxes, as well as in the price of fuel, alcohol and tobacco in return for a bailout plan promised by the IMF and the European Central Bank.

Debt collectors’ austerity requirements in a number of East European countries (such as Latvia and Lithuania) have been even more draconian. Thomas Landon Jr. of The New York Times recently reported that, threatened with bankruptcy, “Lithuania cut public spending by 30 percent — including slashing public sector wages 20 to 30 percent and reducing pensions by as much as 11 percent. . . . And the government didn’t stop there. It raised taxes on a wide variety of goods, like pharmaceutical products and alcohol. Corporate taxes rose to 20 percent, from 15 percent. The value-added tax rose to 21 percent, from 18 percent” (April 1, 2010).

As these oppressive measures led to the transfer of nine percent of gross domestic product (euphemistically called “national savings”) from domestic needs to debt collectors, they also further aggravated the economic crisis: “Unemployment jumped to a high of 14 percent, from single digits — and an already wobbly economy shrank 15 percent last year” [Ibid.].

In Latvia, another victim of the predatory global finance, the recessionary consequences of creditor-imposed austerity measures have been even more devastating: “Latvia has experienced the worst two-year economic downturn on record, losing more than 25% of GDP. It is projected to shrink further during the first half of this year. . . . With 22% unemployment . . . and cuts to education funding that will cause long-term damage, the social costs of this trajectory are also high” [5].

While the debt crises of the weaker European economies such as Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Spain, Portugal and Ireland have reached critical stages of sustainability, the relatively stronger economies of Germany, France, and UK are also in danger of debt and deficit crises. Indeed, according to a recent IMF estimate, even in the more advanced economies of Europe the debt-to-GDP ratio will soon rise to an average of 100% [6].

Of course, the United States is also burdened by a mountain of debt that is fast approaching the size of its gross domestic product (of nearly $13.5 trillion). A major difference between the United States and other indebted nations is that the US is not as much at the mercy of its creditors or the IMF as are other debtor nations. Therefore, it can reasonably be argued that, on the basis of national or public interests, it could embark on an expansive fiscal policy, that is, a more aggressive stimulus package, that would take advantage of the power of “government as the employer of last resort,” more or less as FDR did, thereby creating jobs, incomes and economic growth. This would also add to government’s tax collection and reduce its debt and deficit.

Judging by the record, as well the budgetary projections, of the Obama administration and the lobby-infested Congress, however, such an expansionary fiscal policy seems very unlikely. Not only has the bulk of the government’s anti-recession assistance been devoted to the rescue of the Wall Street gamblers, but also the relatively small stimulus spending has largely been funneled into the pockets of the private/financial sector—through wasteful and ineffectual programs such as “cash for clunkers,” tax credit for new homebuyers, tax incentives for employers to hire, and the like. This stands in sharp contrast to what FDR did in the earlier years of the Great Depression: creating jobs and incomes directly and immediately by the government itself.

Not only is the administration’s feeble stimulus package soon coming to an end, but the government also recently imposed a three-year spending freeze on all public outlays except for military spending and the so-called entitlements. As their tax revenues, along with their traditional shares of federal assistance, are dwindling many states (especially California, Florida, New York, Arizona, Nevada and New Jersey) are facing serious financial difficulties. And as they curtail or shut down essential services at the libraries, museums, parks, schools, art centers, and hospitals, and give pink slips to their employees, the recessionary conditions are bound to exacerbate.

The wrenching economic hardship in the debt-ridden countries is not so much due to insufficient or lack of resources as it is the result of the lopsided and cruel distribution of those resources. It is increasingly becoming clear that the working majority around the world face a common enemy: an unproductive financial oligarchy that, like parasites, sucks the economic blood out of the working people, simply by trading and/or betting on claims of ownership.

Rectification of this unsavory situation poses stark alternatives: either the powerful financial interests, using the state power, succeed in collecting their debt claims by impoverishing the public; or the public will get tired of the vicious cycle of debt and depression, and will rise in protest—akin to the “IMF riots” in Argentina—to repudiate the largely fictitious and illegitimate debt. This is of course a class war. The real question is when the working people and other victims of the unjust debt burden will grasp the gravity of this challenge, and rise to the critical task of breaking free from the shackles of debt and depression.

While repudiation may cleanse the current toxic debt off the economies of the indebted societies, it would not prevent its recurrence in the future. To fend off such recurrences, it is also necessary to nationalize the banks and other financial intermediaries. It only stands to reason that national savings be placed under democratically controlled public management – not unelected, profit-driven private banks.

“They came first for the communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and by that time no one was left to speak up.”

Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) in a January 6, 1946 speech before representatives of the Confessing Church in Frankfurt

Peter Marmorek wrote the following essay for the Tikkun Daily…

This is a story I have always known, a story I grew up with. It is the story of how in Germany on Kristallnacht, Nov 9th, 1938 the mob which was destroying the houses of all the Jews in Mainz came to the house in which my Jewish grandparents lived. There they were met by Maria, my family’s Catholic cook, who faced the mob and said, “Why are you here? You know these people and you know they have done nothing to harm you.” And the people left the house untouched.

Nor was this the only story my grandmother told me of such kindnesses. I heard of their gardener, who had to be let go because Jews were not allowed to keep Christian servants, and who became Hitler’s gardener, and managed to get vegetables to my grandparents during the first two years of the war before they were able to escape. And when they did leave, the butcher gave them a smoked beef tongue, which they ate while riding the trans-Siberian railroad till they got to Vladivostok, where they took a ship which got through Japan before Pearl Harbor, and eventually landed in Seattle, where they were able to tell me these stories as I grew up. My grandmother told me the stories to teach me that not all Germans were bad. I remember that she said the Holocaust could happen anywhere; it could happen in Canada, or in the United States. And with that absolute sense of certainty about the world that teenagers have, I claimed that it could never happen here. Now, forty plus years later, I believe she was right and I was wrong. But sadly, I cannot tell her that in person. I can only show her that through what I do in the world.

Michael Lerner and Tikkun Magazine led directly to my involvement in Tikkun Toronto, and to Tikkunista, the weekly magazine I edit and publish online. Recently he has supported Judge Goldstone (author of the report critical of many Israeli actions during “Operation Cast Lead”) against those who threatened to disrupt his grandson’s bar mitzvah. Two nights ago Rabbi Lerner’s house was vandalized, with posters accusing him of being an Islamo-fascist. Phone calls to Tikkun Magazine have said, “Rabbi Lerner is dead”, and “We will kill all of you”.

I wish I could say I were as surprised as I am horrified. But increasingly those Jews who do not support the actions of the Israeli government are being demonized, called anti-Semitic, or self-hating Jews. And as the number of Jews critical of Israel continues to grow, the vehemence with which they are attacked increases. In some ways, this is a positive sign: I think of Gandhi’s saying, “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win .” We have clearly moved up to the third stage.

I drifted into this debate by chance. On Sept. 6th, 2001, as I was starting into the landing approach that would take me out of teaching high school, two young women persuaded me to become the staff advisor for the Muslim Student association at my school, explaining that all I had to do was find classrooms for Friday prayers, and explain to other staff what that was about. I was the only Jewish teacher in the school, but I taught World Religions, and they knew I knew about Islam and was unbiased. I accepted the next day, and four days later it was September 11th, and everything changed. I helped to put on school wide presentations about what Islam was and was not. I helped organize a presentation on the history of the Middle East, with Muslim, Christian, and Jewish speakers. I helped put on an Iftar, a dinner to break the Ramadan Fast that drew 500 students, 250 not Muslim. And as I did this, I learned a lot about my own prejudices along the way. (The marvellous thing about teaching is that if you’re doing it right, you learn more teaching than your students do.) A year later, when I was told about Tikkun Toronto, and its political actions to build a bridge between Jews and Muslims and to try and heal wounds, I realized that as a Jew my voice mattered in this discussion more than in so many other worthy fights for justice.

It is hard, and dangerous to speak truth to power. Power doesn’t like those people who stand in its way. Sometimes they get run over by a steam roller; more often they are made to recognize the cost that they will have to pay to continue to speak out. I am not Muslim; I am not Palestinian, so why should I speak out? Perhaps because I grew up hearing Martin Niemöller’s famous statement:

“They came first for the communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and by that time no one was left to speak up.”

Perhaps because I remember Edmund Burke’s, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Perhaps I should speak out because I remember hearing about Maria standing up against her people, and knowing that may have been why my grandparents survived the Holocaust. It would be a lie to say I don’t feel personal fear when I hear of Lerner’s house being attacked. But it would be worse than a lie if I let that fear silence me. I owe it to my history to speak out.

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »