Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Who ordered the bombings?

Within the space of three of four days we have seen two terrible aerial attacks in Syria. In the first, over the weekend, planes of the US and its allies attacked Syrian forces in Deir Azzor where they were under siege by ISIS fighters. In the second, yesterday, planes attacked UN aid convoys carrying relief supplies to the besieged inhabitants of Alleppo.  Over 60 Syrian soldiers were killed in the first attack and over 20 people were reported killed in the aid convoy attack.

What was the purpose of these attacks and who ordered them?

We know who carried out the Deir Azzor attack. The US, Australia, Denmark and the UK have admitted that it was planes of their countries that carried out the bombing. The US claimed it was an error made in the heat of battle and that the intended target was ISIS. There was a public apology. Nevertheless to see US Ambassador Samantha Power walking out of the UN Security Council meeting when Russia brought up the bombing, and then dismiss her Russian counterpart's action as a 'stunt' was truly sickening. She expressed no signs of remorse and no recognition that planes of foreign nations had attacked the troops of a sovereign nation on its own territory. And she is a diplomat? It is said that she is hoping for a senior position in a Hillary Clinton administration. God help us.

Does the US claim of a tragic accident hold up?

There is a tendency for armchair pundits, like myself, to see the war as a conflict between various 'players' like the Syrian Government, ISIS, the USA, Russia, Al Nusra etc. and then to ask which players were responsible and what did they stand to gain. But this is probably too simple a way of looking at things, in that each of these players comprises a number of factions many with their own agendas. With the chaos that is prevailing in Syria it is easy for any faction to act without official approval from those nominally overseeing it.

This I suspect is what happened in the US strike on the Syrian army at Deir Azzor. It seems unlikely that it was an accident - the Syrian troops were at an army base and airfield which has been in Government hands for months. Furthermore within ten minutes of the strike ISIS troops moved in to attack the base. From the outside it looks like a coordinated attack on the government troops holding the airfield. To believe the official Washington story (that it was an accident) one would have to believe that the US powers of reconnaissance and intelligence were particularly inept and they couldn't distinguish between troops holding a base (where they had been under siege for months) and their attackers.

It seems hard to believe that President Obama would have ordered such a strike, which aided ISIS, seeing how Donald Trump has accused him of being a founder of ISIS and seeing also how much time and effort Secretary of State John Kerry had put into negotiating a truce with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

So what happened? I suspect it was the US military acting without approval from the White House. Whether they would have had the approval of Defence Secretary, Ash Carter, is not clear, but I wouldn't be at all surprised to hear that they did. After all Carter had fought Kerry tooth and nail to prevent such a deal with Russia.  Many in the military are known to have had serious reservations about cooperating with the Russian military in going after ISIS, which was supposed to happen after the cease-fire had held for a week.

Seen from this perspective, the act of bombing Syrian troops seems like a attempt to sabotage the cease-fire deal, and at the same time deal a blow to the Assad regime. It also lent support to the terror groups which have been receiving arms and assistance for some time from US agencies or its proxies. The CIA has reportedly been heavily involved in this.

It is perhaps tragically ironic that the cease-fire would probably have collapsed without this murderous attack, which has made the US look very bad in the eyes of the world. One of the conditions of the cease-fire was that the so-called "moderate opposition" fighters had to separate themselves from the Nusra brigades. That wasn't going to happen. If there were indeed any moderate opposition groups in Alleppo, there is no way that the Nusra terrorists would have allowed them to leave, or separate, even if the moderates had wanted to. If East Alleppo was seen to have been cleared of non-jihadi forces, then there would be nothing to stop their enemies from increasing their bombing until no living being remained.

I find it interesting too that Australian, British and Danish planes were involved in the attack along with US ones. By implicating these allies in the bombing, the chance of condemnation from their governments was lessened. Whether the military commanders of these forces in Syria had any idea of whom they are attacking is an interesting question. I doubt if their governments knew, especially given that White House probably didn't know. I imagine there was a lot of people being bawled out over the phones this past weekend.

French planes were not involved. Maybe they weren't invited. After the ISIS attacks in Paris it would have put the French government in a very uncomfortable position if it was seen to be aiding ISIS.

Turning now to the bombing of the aid convoys. Both the Syrian Air Force and the Russian Air Force have been accused. Both have denied it. The US has claimed that the raid was a sophisticated 'double strike' in which the planes returned for a second time to attack the rescuers who had come to the aid of the injured after the first attack. This, it was claimed, pointed to a Russian action, with the implied suggestion that poor dumb Arabs couldn't coordinate anything so sophisticated.   

On this one there are accusations but apparently very little evidence one way or another.  Again it could be a rogue element or a faction in the Syrian or Russian militaries.  But I somehow doubt that would happen in the Russian military.  Anyone who undertook such an action without President Putin's approval would find themselves in a very sticky position.  I imagine senior officers in the Syrian Air Force would have more leeway.  After all Assad's continuation in power depends upon the support of his military.  Terrible hatreds must have built up over the past five years of fighting and I find it quite plausible that some air force officers, perhaps believing that weapons were coming in along with humanitarian aid, might decide that such a convoy was fair game. It is despicable and no doubt a war crime.  

The morass seems to be deepening.  Turkey has increased its incursion and now plans to hold a strip of land 30 kms. wide from its border, which will take its forces close to Aleppo.   This is nothing short of an invasion of another sovereign country.  Meanwhile US, NATO and Gulf State countries violate sovereignty by bombing at will.  It is true that Russia is bombing and that Iran has forces on the ground in Syria, but these were invited in by the internationally recognized government of Syria.  Not so the other parties.  

It seems likely that the two recent aerial bombings were not authorized from the top. So in trying to make sense of this cruel and senseless war it seems we have not only to consider the numerous main players - the Syrian Government, ISIS, Nusra, US, NATO, Russia, Hezbollah, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, Iran, the Kurds etc.but also factions within the players - Pentagon, CIA, State Dept. for US and no doubt similar factions within the Russian and Turkish militaries and who knows what within the various irregular groups.
But I imagine there is a one big difference between, on the one hand, the US and on the other Russia and Turkey. In the latter two cases any faction violating the overall strategy of the Czar or Sultan would be quickly removed. Not so in the US it seems. Unless of course we find that Ash Carter is replaced as Secretary of Defence the near future.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Conspiracies and False Flags.

I have been accused of being a "conspiracy theorist" on many occasions.  Such an accusation is an easy way of shutting down an argument.  And indeed shutting down or deflecting investigation was the intention of those who coined the term "conspiracy theory".  And who might benefit from shutting down discussion of the "official" narrative of a military, criminal or terrorist incident?  Well it was the CIA who coined the term "conspiracy theory" as the following report and facsimile of a 1967 dispatch reveals:


So I am off and running with a conspiracy about using the term "conspiracy theory"!

But really if one looks at the historical record of "momentous" incidents that have led to war or to a government grabbing extraordinary powers, it appears that in many incidents they have been "false flag" operations created for the purpose of justifying a war of aggression or the seizure of extraordinary powers.  The following website gives a list of 53 such false flag operations, for which it claims "officials in the government which carried out the attack (or seriously proposed an attack) admits to it, either orally or in writing."  It provides links (most of which I haven't checked out) for the sources.


It seems most major powers have used this technique, often with immediate success, although the truth eventually seems to leak out, although of course there may be false flag incidents for which the official narrative has gone unrefuted.   Some example given include: 

  • the Soviet Union shelling one of its own villages, Mainila, and blaming it on Finland, thereby justifying the Soviet invasion of Finland in what became the "Winter War" of 1939 (Item 4);                                                   
  • the "Mukden Incident"  in which the Japanese military set off an explosion on a railway track in Manchuria in 1931 and blamed it on the Chinese.  Japan used the incident as a justification for the occupation of Manchuria (Item 1);                                                                                                                                
  • the "Gulf of Tonkin Incident".  It was claimed that on two occasions, two days apart, in 1964, North Vietnamese torpedo boats fired on an American destroyer the USS Maddox.  It transpires that the second attack was completely fabricated, and that in the first attack, according to the Pentagon Papers,  it was the Maddox which fired first on the N. Vietnamese ships.  This incident led to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, in Congress, which President Lyndon Johnson used as a legal justification for sending troops to fight a war against N. Vietnam (Item 27)

  • In 1957 British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan and US President Dwight Eisenhower approved a CIA-MI6 plan to stage fake border incidents as an excuse for an invasion of Syria by its two pro-western neighbours, and then to topple the regime in Damascus (Regime change in Syria - we have form!) (Item 10).  

This last one was a failure it seems, as was the following fiasco in Basra, Iraq, in 2005, when British soldiers dressed as Arabs were arrested by Iraqi police and found to be carrying explosives. While the soldiers never explained what they were up to, the fact that the British Army send tanks to release them by breaking down a wall of the prison in which they were being held, seems to suggests that they were doing something nefarious and that the British authorities didn't want them admitting to anything.

In one event listed (Item 3), the Reichstag fire, the identity of the perpetrators is still being debated.  At the Nuremberg Trials, Nazi general Franz Halder testified that Herman Goering admitted that the Nazis were behind setting the fire, which destroyed the German parliament buildings.  Conveniently a young Dutch communist was found at the scene with firelighters and other suspicious material.  He was put on trial, found guilty and executed.  The morning after the fire the cabinet, which still had a non-Nazi majority, met to draw up an emergency decree that abrogated civil liberties across Germany. It abolished freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and association, and freedom of the press.  Communists and other opponents of the Nazis were quickly rounded up.  Clearly lists had been prepared in advance, just as in the recent arrests and purges which took place in Turkey following the failed coup in July.   

It was widely believed that the Reichstag fire was a false flag operation carried out by the Nazis, but in the post-war period there has been claims that the fire really was set by the Dutchman acting alone.  This has led to a lively debate among historians.  The issue is discussed in this well-written review of the book, Burning the Reichstag: An Investigation into the Third Reich’s Enduring Mystery, by the Cambridge historian Richard Evans.  


The  Mainila, Mukden and Gulf of Tonkin incidents led to serious wars. Also Mussolini justified his 1940 invasion of Greece on violence carried out on the  Greek-Albanian (Italian occupied) border - a false flag operation carried out by Italians.  And we all know of the allegations made by Dick Cheney and others, that Iraq was sponsor of 9-11.  So these false-flag conspiracies have had major detrimental consequences.  

And then there was Suez Crisis of 1956, when following Israeli incursions into Egypt, the governments of Britain and France called for both Israel and Egypt to cease fighting and withdraw ten miles from the Suez Canal.   When they did not do this the two European powers sent in their own armed forces to "protect the canal".  But in fact it had all been planned in advance.  The Protocol of Sevres was a secret agreement between the governments of Britain, France and Israel, to invade Egypt, in exactly the way that it happened, with (from the British and French side) the aim of toppling the Egyptian president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, and seizing control of the canal which Nasser had nationalized.

So, looking at the historical record, considering a conspiracy, especially a false flag one, as being behind some world-changing events, seems to me a very rational approach.  Of course not everything is a conspiracy - never discount the power of cock-ups!  And some conspiracy hypotheses are clearly nonsense. (Elvis was not abducted by aliens and Neil Armstrong probably did walk on the moon!) But with 9-11 for example there are so many unanswered questions and evidence inconsistent with the official narrative, that the hypothesis of a conspiracy being behind it deserves serious scrutiny.  This comment from a former Washington insider (Paul Craig Roberts) struck me as telling:

From my quarter century in Washington, it is clear to me that if such an event as 9/11 had actually happened for the reason given, the White House, Congress, and media would have been screaming for explanation of how a few Arabs outwitted the entire US National Security State—all 16 US intelligence agencies, the security agencies of Washington’s NATO allies and Israel, the National Security Council, Air Traffic Control, and airport security four times in one hour on the same day.  Instead the government refused any inquiry for one year until most of the evidence was destroyed.

Conspiracies do happen - more often than we would like to believe.  So the next time anybody accuses me of being a conspiracy theorist, I am going to point them to the historical record of conspiracies and call them a "conspiracy denier" or maybe just a patsy!  

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Most Important Lesson from Chilcot.

While there was not much in the way of facts in the Chilcot Report on the Iraq War, which had not already been aired in public, there are nonetheless many lessons to be learned from the whole tragic debacle.  The one I want to concentrate on can be summed up as:

Governments lie and their claims should never be taken at face value, especially when issues of war and peace are in the balance.  

Many would say that this is well known and perhaps it is.  But I still see the same old lies and half truths put before the public with seldom a squeak of protest.  As an example let me discuss a column in the Globe and Mail (or Glib and Stale as one wag put it) yesterday.  It is by Konrad Yakabuski and it is entitled 'Intervention chill' descends on the West.  In the piece Mr. Yakabuski uses the Chilcot report  to suggest that following the Iraq debacle, Western nations, especially the USA, are reluctant to intervene militarily in situations overseas where in his opinion such intervention would be beneficial.  

Apart from the dubiousness of the claim that Western nations are undergoing an 'intervention chill' there are a number of lies and dubious claims in the article which are very reminiscent of what the mainstream press was reporting in the months leading up to the Iraq invasion.  

The article leads off with the statement that "the invasion of Iraq was based on mistaken intelligence about Saddam Hussein's possession of weapons of mass destruction".  If the intelligence was 'mistaken' those using it chose, ingenuously, to be misled.  A more accurate adjective to describe the intelligence, on which the case for war was based, would be 'bogus'.  We know this from many sources (no doubt it is in Chilcot).  One particularly telling one is in a leaked memo from Sir Richard Dearlove, the head of the British MI6 at the time.  In this so-called Downing Street memo, Sir Richard stated that "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."

Many other aspects of the so-called intelligence were discredited even before the invasion, including the Niger uranium claim and Blair's ridiculous claim that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction which could strike European capitals in 45 minutes. US Secretary of State Colin Powell had, embarrassingly, to admit that much of the case he presented at the UN was based on falsehoods.  The whole intelligence thing was so amateurish and preposterous that sensible people should have had serious doubts about having these incompetent people lead their countries in a war, even if they supported such a war.  

But back to Yakabuski's article.  He continues with the claim that Bashar al Assad crossed President Obama's red line "by using chemical weapons on civilians."  Well we know that John Kerry, David Cameron and others claimed that the Syrian army was behind the chemical attack.  But there have been serious doubts about this claim. Simply arguing from Cicero's Cui Bono principle it would seem unlikely that al Assad would permit such an attack, knowing how damaging it would be to his position.  

Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh in a piece published in the London Review of Books in 2014 has argued that the chemical attack was a 'false flag' operation carried out by a Syrian opposition group with support from Turkish intelligence.  Since his piece appeared two deputies in the Turkish parliament have supported that claim saying, last October, that they have wiretap evidence of sarin being shipped from Turkey to an al Qaeda militant, Hayyam Kasap.  One of the deputies Eren Erdem said at a news conference  Wiretapped phone conversations reveal the process of procuring the gas at specific addresses as well as the process of procuring the rockets that would fire the capsules containing the toxic gas."

Now this does not by any means prove the case of a false flag operation.  But it does cast serious doubt on the claim that al Assad was behind the sarin attack.  A competent and principled reporter should know, and acknowledge, that there is serious doubt about whether the Syrian Government was behind the sarin attack, rather than taking at face value US and British government claims. 

In  terms of the main argument of his piece Mr. Yakabuski repeats the claim of Tony Blair's assistant Jonathan Powell that "Our failure to act in Syria has led to 400,000 dead."  This is a standard "liberal interventionist" position, but given its source it sounds an awful lot like a post hoc attempt at justifying the Iraq invasion.  

And again it is based on dubious facts.  The truth is that the West has been interfering in Syria from the start and continues to do so, and not only in the form of air strikes against ISIS.  Cables released by Wikileaks (Chapter10) reveal that plans to destabilize the al Assad regime go back at least to 2006.  US Ambassador to Syria at the time, William Roebuck, suggested using Egyptian and Saudi influence to stir up sectarian tensions and play on fears of Iranian influence.  It is also now widely accepted that the CIA has been shipping arms from Qadaffi's arsenals in Libya, to Syrian rebel groups. Many of these weapons, it is alleged, have ended up in the hands of ISIS or the Al Nusra front. 

Indeed it has been claimed (Aaron Klein - The Real Benghazi Story) that the September 11th attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi was related to the arms shipments.  Certainly the ambassador Christopher Stevens who was killed in the Benghazi attack was involved in arms dealing (New York Times, December, 2012).  

Again there is much uncertainty about the US involvement in the Syrian conflict.  But is is pretty clear that the US and other Western powers have been and continue to be active players in the Syrian situation.  It is just false to endorse the position of Tony Blair and Jonathan Powell, that the West has failed to get involved.   Again a conscientious reporter would acknowledge the grey areas concerning this and not just pretend that the US and its Western allies only act for the good of mankind - or rather that in this case that they have failed to so act.

Another obvious case of journalistic dereliction concerns NATO's position vis a vis Russia.  The official line is that Putin is an aggressor and that NATO must respond and place troops in the Baltic republics, to defend them against a Russian move (this in spite of a guarantee when the Soviet Union broke up that NATO would not station troops in former Soviet bloc countries).  There is not the slightest evidence that Putin has any designs on Latvia, Lithuania etc.  Rather it is the West that has been acting aggressively - the US has recently installed the Aegis Ashore missile defence system in Romania and will do so shortly in Poland.  It is not widely realized (because our derelict press don't inform us) that the anti-missile missiles can easily be replaced with nuclear tipped offensive missiles.  Imagine how Washington   would respond if Russia were to become friends with Mexico and started to install such a system there.  We don't in fact need much imagination because such a scenario was played out with the Cuban Missile crisis of the 1960s.  

I don't know whether it is through incompetence, laziness or complicity, but it seems that much of the mainstream media are far too happy to accept the government version of events, without attempting to understand what is really going on.  Of course there are many excellent investigative journalists who are digging deeper and finding things out.  But more and more they are being forced out of mainstream publications and having to rely on media with much lower public profiles.  The case of Seymour Hersh provides a good example. He is a widely respected investigated journalist.  He exposed the Mai Lai massacre in Vietnam (for which he won a Pulitzer prize) and American abuse of prisoners in Abu Ghraib.  He has excellent contacts in the military and intelligence communities and has won numerous awards for his reporting, most of which was published in The New Yorker.  But that magazine would not touch his piece on the chemical weapons attack in Syria, nor a later piece on the death of Osama bin Laden.  He published these pieces outside of the US in The London Review of Books, a periodical with a much lower profile than The New Yorker.

The level of awareness of much of the mainstream press seems to me sadly lacking. There is a lack of curiosity;  official statements are taken at face value and then often repeated so that they become part of the "accepted" narrative.  The Chilcot Report and the whole sorry Iraq mess should have taught the journalistic profession some lessons.   Sadly it doesn't seem to have done so. The most important lesson, it seems to me, is that governments and their apologists lie, especially in matters involving foreign affairs, the military and state security;  and to take their statements at face value is to be complicit in their lies. Journalists should be taught skepticism.  There are by now many case studies which could reveal the way in which the truth has been manipulated.

I think that in every journalism school, emblazoned above the entrance and displayed prominently in every class room, there should be the statement


Saturday, June 25, 2016

Brexit - Britain and its Discontents.

So Britain is out (or at least on its way out) of the EU and both Britain and the EU face an uncertain future.  

Personally I think that the British voters made a mistake, but I can understand why many chose to vote for an exit.  

I think there are three aspects of the EU which have led to disillusionment with the institution among a majority of British voters and among significant numbers in other EU countries.  They are:

1.  The right of free movement of workers within the countries of the EU;

2. The establishment of the Euro; and

3. The project of enlarging the EU to include countries formerly in the Soviet Bloc.  

The first goes back to the founding Treaty of Rome (1957) but was formalized and extended in 2004.  The second and third are part of the 'deepening' and 'widening' which took place subsequently.  The core founding members Germany and France were in favour of deepening. Britain, always leery of yielding too much sovereignty, promoted widening as an alternative. Together these aspects have led to the crisis which the EU now faces.

In the Brexit campaign the main issues seemed to have been immigration, immigration and immigration.  To a lesser extent people seemed to have been concerned about an unresponsive and rule-obsessed bureaucracy in Brussels;  about the Euro; and to have had the customary British indignation at foreigners interfering in British affairs.  But immigration and more generally globalization were the main issues - not dissimilar to the things which brought Donald Trump to the top of the heap in the Republican Party nominating process. 

As I have maintained for a long time, the issue of immigration was one that was never really put before the voters.  Since the war, all of the major parties have been in favour of immigration to a greater or lesser degree.  It is only recently, with the rise of UKIP, that the Conservative Party sought to really tighten up on immigration.  But in some ways it was too late because various British governments had signed on to the EU protocols allowing free movement of citizens of member states.  So while the Government could appear tough on keeping out refugee claimants, there was nothing it could do to stop immigrants from Poland, Romania and indeed from any country in the EU, entering quite legally.  

In the days prior to the Maastricht treaty and the Schengen Agreement to argue against immigration was to be accused of racism - most of the immigrants then were non-Europeans coming from the Commonwealth (at first the West Indies, Pakistan and India; later from Africa, Hong Kong etc.).  I recall Conservative MP Enoch Powell giving his Rivers of Blood Speech in which he warned of future violence if coloured immigration continued apace.  On looking it up I discovered he didn't actually say 'rivers of blood', but alluded to Virgil's Aeniad saying "As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see 'the River Tiber foaming with much blood.'"  (Powell was a classics scholar and in those days -1968 - politicians might make such allusions, although I don't suppose many more of his listeners then were familiar with Virgil than would be today).  

But anyway Powell was thoroughly trashed in the press and parliament for what was considered an incendiary and racist speech.   He was forced out of the Shadow cabinet by Opposition leader, Edward Heath while  then Prime Minister Harold Wilson referred to him as a "parliamentary leper".  This effectively shut down any public discussion on immigration for a very long time.  

It seemed to work too.  Rivers of blood did not flow and overall Britain seems have done quite well in absorbing its new citizens.  Certainly it has done a lot better than France and most other European countries. Nearly fifty years on from Powell's speech, Britons of Caribbean, South Asian or African descent, seem to be part of the fabric of British society - no less British than those whose descendants were there when William the Conqueror landed.  It probably helps that many successful sporting figures are from such groups (many members of the English national soccer team are black or part black, while south Asians have added strength to English cricket teams). Wolverhampton (the constituency of Enoch Powell) now proudly considers itself one of the Curry Capitals of England a rival to neighbouring Birmingham's Balti Triangle.  So just as the Commonwealth immigrants have adapted British ways, so have the British adapted to and adopted many of the ways of the immigrants.  This is no place more evident than in food, even to the extent that Chicken Tikka Masala can be claimed as a, or the, quintessential British dish - it is said to have been invented in a Bangladeshi  restaurant in Glasgow.  

Many Brexit voters seemed to have expressed a fear of more Muslim immigrants.  But the fact is that very few Muslim immigrants to Britain have come from the EU - most are from the sub-continent (Pakistan, Bangladesh and India) with much smaller numbers from African countries, Malaysia etc.   But some on the "Leave" side unscrupulously made the prospect of Turkey's entry into the EU seem imminent, so that in their hyped-up fear mongering 80 million Muslim Turks were soon to be allowed to move about freely within the EU.  Nonsense of course but it probably gained the "Leave" side quite a few votes.  

In a similar way Nigel Farage of UKIP had images of streams of refugees plastered on the sides of his campaign bus.  These were of last summer's exodus of Syrians, Afghans and others who had crossed from Turkey to Greece and were heading north west.  Virtually none made it to Britain, but it served as a good way of ramping up the fear and hostility to refugees and the EU.  

It is something of an irony that while Britain has successfully absorbed large numbers of non-European immigrants, it is the prospect of European immigrants - Poles, Hungarians, Romanians etc.  - that seems to be the main bogey now.  It is to some extent a consequence of Britain's promotion of widening, rather than deepening, the union - a policy that seems to be coming back to bite now.  I suspect that the widening policy was as much about geo-strategic concerns - peeling the countries away from the Russian orbit - as it was about economic ones.  It has certainly been successful from that point of view, but the cost to Europe has been high.  Rather unpleasant parties with scant regard for democracy seem to be taking over the governments of Poland and Hungary, while the movement west of workers from these much poorer countries seems to be generating a great deal of resentment and hostility in the UK and elsewhere.

I said above that I could understand why many Britons chose to vote for leaving the EU.  It is no coincidence that some of the strongest 'Leave' votes came from the poorer former industrial parts of the country.  For example, Sunderland, once a prosperous shipbuilding town and one of the earliest reporting constituencies voted 61% to leave, much higher than polls had predicted (53%).  This led to an immediate drop in the value of the pound.  And so it went on with strong 'Leave' votes from many languishing former industrial towns and cities.  But not only former industrial areas recorded high votes for leaving.  The highest proportions of 'Leave' votes (over 70%) came from a group of constituencies in East Anglia and Essex, primarily farming regions with strong connections to Europe.  Here apparently there is massive  resentment against newcomers who are preferred by employers in food processing and agricultural work.   

It is reported that many people in the poorer regions of England feel a strong sense that globalization and the European project have not helped them at all.  Rather, over the last couple of decades they have experienced high unemployment, declining wages and competition for jobs with recent immigrants, who reportedly will work longer and more inconvenient hours often for lower pay.  Is it any wonder that they feel a strong sense of resentment?  At the same time the government has forced austerity on all, with widespread cuts in services, especially to the more needy. And it is widely believed that these cuts are in place to pay off the huge debts incurred by irresponsible banks.  Along with the cuts the Government has reduced  taxes on the super rich.  Who wouldn't feel angry and resentful?

There is a good piece in the Guardian by John Harris
which describes some of the attitudes he and a colleague experienced while travelling the country trying to assess the national mood.  It describes the fury that many feel.  The fury of being demeaned and ignored by London and by the mainstream political parties.  It is not a comforting read.  It tells of a country split and angry, and he predicts a forthcoming sharp turn to the right - a right of the super-Thatcherism type.  This sounds unpleasantly reminiscent of what happened in Europe in the nineteen thirties, when the Great Depression and high unemployment led to the accession of nasty parties of the extreme right.  Coupled with the vilification of minorities - Muslims and immigrants  - it is all sounding depressingly familiar.

Another aspect of a Britain outside the EU which worries me is the fact that the country will be much more vulnerable to exploitation by multinational corporate power.  Even within the EU the British government has been unwilling to regulate the banking industry, and has given way to corporate pressure for privatization of everything from schools to health services.  It has faced prolonged and relentless attacks on the BBC and NHS.  Europe-wide regulations have provided some defence of environmental and health and safety standards, but in the future there will be very little to stand between corporate power and the greed and ambition of elected politicians.  Especially with a government wishing above all to attract investment in order to create jobs, the pressure will be on to trim the rights and protections of workers and to abandon or finesse environmental and health safeguards.  A policy of Divide and Rule works just as well for corporate power as it does for state power.  

I suppose in some ways all of this is a consequence of the shift in industrial and economic power away from Europe (and even from North America).  Globalization with its attendant free trade treaties has meant that most manufacturing has moved away from its Atlantic origins.  While globalization has led to rapid economic growth and an improvement in living standards for many, it has not been an unalloyed good.  There have been many losers, not least those who used to hold well-paid manufacturing jobs.  Perhaps it was inevitable in the long run.  But we certainly shouldn't be surprised if the losers in this process start to kick back.  If the mainstream 'establishment' parties ignore their interests, we should not be surprised when outsiders, like Donald Trump and Nigel Farage, both with some very questionable policies, or chancers like Boris Johnson choose to become their champions. 

The future does not look good.   But in some ways I think it is true to say that we have had this coming to us.  


Sunday, May 29, 2016

Atomic Hypocrisy, Nuclear Danger.

While President Obama was hugging a survivor of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, the US military was switching on the first part of its Aegis Ashore anti-missile system in Romania, prompting Russian president Vladimir Putin to warn that Romania (and Poland where the next deployment is scheduled) would be "in the cross hairs" of Russian rocketry.  

While Obama spoke eloquently in Japan about a "moral awakening" and called for "a world without nuclear weapons" his government was moving forward with a costly plan to renovate the U.S. nuclear arsenal.  The contradiction largely went unnoticed but Obama was roundly criticized by Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass) who wrote in an opinion piece that “The U.S. cannot preach nuclear temperance from a bar stool.”   

Obama has been pushing for a $1 trillion program to replace the U.S.’s entire stock of long-range strike bombers, cruise missiles, nuclear submarines and land-based missiles.  One has to wonder what is the purpose of such an enormous project.  There does not seem to be an imminent threat or even one in the foreseeable future.

Russia, understandably, feels very threatened by US actions.  It sees itself being surrounded by a hostile alliance (NATO).  Under the Aegis system the bases in Romania and Poland would become launch sites for US missiles (supposedly defensive).  Missiles launched from these sites would be within 30 minutes of major Russian cities.  Imagine what would happen if Russia were to attempt to establish a so-called missile defence system, with rocket capabilities, in say Venezuela or Nicaragua.  We saw how Soviet efforts to establish nuclear bases in Cuba led the world to the brink of a nuclear war.

But, says the US, the Aegis system is not aimed at Russia! No, its there to protect against the threat of nuclear missiles from Iran - notwithstanding the nuclear agreement that the Obama administration has recently reached with that country.   I wonder why they even bother with such pathetic justifications.  They wouldn't pass muster in a saloon bar or even a high school cafeteria.  It just reveals the level of cynicism of those who make such claims and in what low regard they hold their citizens.  

The hypocrisy of the United States position is lamentable and laughable, but the real issue is how dangerous this whole project is.  Russia has already warned that it will take retaliatory steps against the Aegis missile shield deployment.  Vladimir Putin yesterday voiced frustration that Russia's complaints about the missile shield had not been heeded.  "We've been repeating like a mantra that we will be forced to respond... Nobody wants to hear us. Nobody wants to conduct negotiations with us."  He didn't specify what actions Russia would take, but he insisted that it was not making the first step, only responding to moves by Washington. "We won't take any action until we see rockets in areas that neighbour us."

I think it would be foolish in the extreme to ignore Putin's warnings. Russia feels it is under threat from the West.  It has seen NATO pushing further and further east, in spite of promises made at the time of the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the re-unification of Germany.  New NATO states include the Baltic states (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia), Poland, Romania and most recently (this month) Montenegro.  The former Soviet republics Estonia and Latvia share a border with Russia, and Lithuania and Poland abut long-time Russian ally Belarus.   In the south Romania is separated from Russia by Ukraine, now in a state of chaos, following a Western backed coup of questionable legitimacy.  Even more threatening to Russia is the stated intent of NATO to one day include Georgia and Ukraine.  If this ever happens Russia will be surrounded in its west and south by a hostile military alliance.  

One has to wonder why the US and NATO are pursuing this dangerous policy.  Russia does not seem to pose a particular threat. All of Russia's so-called 'aggressive' moves have been reactions to US/NATO actions.  It seems that the US military establishment and NATO need to generate enemies in order to justify their existence and huge budgets.  

I suspect that in Washington a plan has been developed to do to Putin's Russia what Ronald Reagan is somewhat fancifully believed to have done to the Soviet Union i.e. bring it to bankruptcy by forcing it to spend enormously on weapons systems to match the Western military developments.  In that way it is probably believed, there will be regime change, Putin will be removed to be replaced by a compliant client government.   Of course the fact that there will have to be enormous US and NATO expenditures (Obama's one trillion upgrade plan and more) on its own weapons systems and military is a proposition not difficult to sell in Washington, with its powerful complex of military and armaments lobbies.  So this plan will satisfy many of the important players in Washington.

But looked at in a dispassionate way from the point of view of American citizens and indeed citizens of the rest of the world, it seems a deluded and dangerous folly.  Why go to such expense and run the risk of nuclear war?   Not only is the cost astronomical and the risks incalculable but the outcome is far from certain.  Russia has experienced disastrous invasions from the West many times in its history.  It suffered far greater losses than any other combatant in the Second World War (and in the First World War).  But it never capitulated, and I don't see it capitulating again.   The road down which the US and NATO seem to be heading will likely lead to disaster. 

Professor John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago when asked what was the most significant failure of US foreign policy in the past twenty-five years didn't choose the obvious answer - the 2003 Iraq invasion, with its huge cost in human life and wasted resources and the destabilization the Iraq, Syria and the wider Middle East, the emergence of ISIS etc. 

Instead Mearsheimer said that, in his opinion, there is a far greater disaster lurking and that is the total mismanagement of the relationship with Russia ever since the downfall of communism.  There is more on Mearsheimer's comments in the following article: 


by Phil Giraldi, a former CIA Case Officer and Army Intelligence Officer who holds a Ph.D in Modern History from University of London.  

In the article Giraldi makes the following comment:
"It should also be noted that much of the negative interaction between Washington and Moscow is driven by the consensus among the western media and the inside the beltway crowd that Russia is again or perhaps is still the enemy du jour. Ironically, the increasingly negative perception of Russia is rarely justified as a reaction in defense of any identifiable serious U.S. interests, not even in the fevered minds of Senator John McCain and his supporting neocon claque. But even though the consequences of U.S. hostility towards Russia can be deadly serious, the Obama Administration is already treating Georgia and Ukraine as if they were de facto members of NATO. Hillary Clinton, who has called Vladimir Putin another Adolf Hitler, has pledged to bring about their admittance into the alliance, which would not in any way make Americans more secure, quite the contrary, as Moscow would surely be forced to react."

Perhaps this explains the extreme reaction from the Republican Party establishment to the now near certainty  of Donald Trump being the party's nominee for president.  For Trump, in spite of the many rash and incendiary things he has said, has taken a very sanguine view of relations with Moscow. He does not see Putin as a mortal enemy and thinks he could deal with him. Not so Hillary Clinton who no doubt would double down on the current confrontational approach.  

Perhaps Trump should be thought of as the idiot savant on this issue or perhaps as the little boy who could not see the Emperor's wonderful clothes.   

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Weaponising the Anti-Semitism Slur.

Do you find this offensive?  Do you consider it anti-semitic?  Perhaps before you decide it would be helpful to know the origins of this map and text.  

It was posted by Norman Finkelstein on his blog on August 4, 2014. Dr. Finkelstein is an American author and activist, with a PhD in Political Science from Princeton University. He is Jewish.  Both his parents survived both the Warsaw Ghetto and internment in concentration camps - his father in Auschwitz, his mother in Majdanek. He is certainly not someone to whom one would normally apply the term "anti-semite".  

But it was this post that caused the resignation from the British Labour Party of Naz Shah, an MP of Pakistani origin, and stoked the allegations of left-wing anti-semitism.  Ms. Shah's 'crime' was to share Finkelstein's post on Facebook in August, 2014, adding the comment that it might "save them some pocket money".  The cries of anti-Semitism reverberated through the press and political establishment, with Conservative leader and Prime Minister David Cameron saying it was “extraordinary,” that she continued to hold the Labour whip, and accusing the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, of failing to get to grips with anti-semitisim in his party.  Corbyn and Shah crumbled under the assault, and Ms. Shah was suspended from the Labour Party.   

To me, rather than being anti-semitic, the post seems more to be a sardonic commentary on the Washington's  attitude towards Israel - about the way the US donates $3 billion annually for Israel's defence, and how its unyielding support for the Israeli government exacerbates conflict in the region affecting the price of oil and preventing any chance of peace and justice for the Palestinian people.   

Few people can withstand the public shaming that accompanies allegations of anti-semitism.   One who can, and has done before, is is the former mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, who in defence of Naz Shah, in an impromptu interview, made the technically incorrect statement that "when Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel.  He was supporting Zionism – this before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews."  Of course Israel did not exist in 1932, so the statement is incorrect.  And certainly Hitler was no Zionist.  But nonetheless there is some truth in Livingstone's claim since there was an agreement (the Havaara agreement) signed in 1933 between the Zionist Federation of Germany, the Anglo-Palestine Bank (under the directive of the Jewish Agency) and the economic authorities of Nazi Germany to help facilitate the emigration of German Jews to Palestine.  Presumably this was the policy that Livingstone was referring to.  

But again the press, the Conservative Party, the Blairite wing of the Labour party and many Israel supporters and representatives of Jewish groups, jumped all over this, accusing Livingstone of anti-semitism.  Again pressure was put on Jeremy Corbyn and again he meekly folded and suspended Livingstone from the Labour Party. 

Naz Sha's Facebook post appeared in 2014, so one has to ask the question of why these dubious allegations of anti-semitism in Labour's ranks have arisen at this time?  It surely could not have been a coincidence that local elections were due to be held across Britain a week or two after the affair exploded (in fact they were held yesterday, May 5th.).  And furthermore the key race for the mayor of London was between a Muslim of Pakistani origin (Sadiq Khan for Labour) and a British Jew (Zac Goldsmith for the Conservatives). Goldsmith has been accused of stirring up divisive ethnic tensions by claiming that Khan had shared the stage at some meetings with supporters of Islamic terrorism.  So allegations of anti-semitism in the Labour ranks might be expected to help the Conservative party.  But there is also a sizeable portion of the Labour Party, especially its MPs, who have never been comfortable with Corbyn assuming the leadership.  It has been claimed that this Blairite faction in the party, would be happy to see Labour taking a pounding in the local elections, setting the stage for a parliamentary coup against Corbyn.  This faction has been very uncomfortable with Corbyn's successful bid for the leadership last year, and ever since that time there have been murmurings about Corbyn's supposed anti-semitism.  This no doubt arises from Corbyn's stated support for the Palestinian cause.  Unlike Tony Blair and George Brown he has not fallen into line with the establishment position of one hundred percent support for Israel, no matter how egregious its behaviour.  

Is there anti-semitism on the left?  I don't know, but there is certainly anti-Zionism, which is not the same thing, although the government of Israel and its supporters would like to confound the two.  This can be seen in the struggle to hinder the BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) movement, the global campaign to put pressure on Israel to obtain for justice for the Palestinians.  For example under pressure from wealthy Jewish donors with political influence, the Board of Regents of the University of California has issued a statement linking anti-Zionism and anti-semitism.  Hillary Clinton has said  "We need to repudiate efforts to malign and undermine Israel and the Jewish people. The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement known as BDS is the latest front in this battle."  

But to follow the line of argument put forward by those who equate anti-Zionism with anti-semitism, any criticism of Israel is off-limits and beyond the pale.  We have seen too much of this bullying and intimidation of Israel's critics.   Remember Judge Richard Goldstone, a South African jurist of international repute, who issued a UN report condemning Israel (and Hamas) for war crimes in one of its attacks on Gaza.  He was so maligned and criticized within his own Jewish community that he later recanted and issued a new version of his report, much less critical of Israel.  

Also, believe it or not, Hillary Clinton, back in the days when she was First Lady believed in justice for Palestinians. In 1998 she said that she supported a Palestinian state.  Then, the following year, she kissed Suha Arafat after the Palestinian leader’s wife accused Israel of using “poison gas” against Palestinian children.  But then she ran for Senator in the state of New York, and soon realized that political power and influence lay with the supporters of Israel and not those of the Palestinians.  She was taught a very sharp, severe lesson and ever since has been a major champion of Israel, through thick and thin.  

Another person who the pro-Israel faction tried to bring into line was Norman Finkelstein, with whom we started this discussion.  Dr. Finkelstein has had more than his share of vilification from fellow Jews, not least for his book The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering, in which he claims that the Holocaust is used as an "ideological weapon" to enable the State of Israel, "one of the world's most formidable military powers, with a horrendous human rights record, [to] cast itself as a victim state" thereby providing Israel with "immunity to criticism".   

His career has been ruined by his political opponents.  He was a Professor at De Paul University from 2001 to 2007, but fell out of favour with the university after a public spat with Alan Dershowitz, over the latter's book The Case for Israel. Finkelstein was placed on administrative leave after being denied tenure.  Matthew Abraham author of Out of Bounds: Academic Freedom and the Question of Palestine, described the Finkelstein tenure case as "one of the most significant academic freedom cases in the last fifty years", claiming the case demonstrated "the substantial pressure outside parties can place on a mid-tier religious institution when the perspectives advanced by a controversial scholar threaten dominant interests."

When Dr. Finkelstein went to Israel in 2008, he was detained in Ben Gurion airport for twenty-four hours and then put on a plane back to Amsterdam, whence he had arrived.  He was subsequently banned from entering Israel for ten years.  

Israeli cabinet minister Naftali Bennett has claimed of Binyamin Netanyahu that "The prime minister is not a private person, but the leader of the Jewish state and the whole Jewish world."  Of course this is an absurd claim.  Netanyahu is a political leader - prime minister of the State of Israel.  He is not a religious or spiritual leader.  He has no claim to be leader of Jews in other countries - if so we have a serious problem of divided loyalties.  But I think it is this attitude that helps blur the line between anti-Zionism and anti-semitism.  Suppose the claim were true, in some part.  Then could Bennett or Netanyahu object if those who condemn Israel for its illegal occupation and for its inhumane treatment of the Palestinians, likewise condemn all Jews as responsible?   If Israel represents all Jews, then all Jews are responsible.  It makes no sense, and I suspect that Israel's leaders know it makes no sense.  But they are not concerned with justice or reasonable behaviour, only ways to stifle criticism of their illegal and immoral actions.   

PS.  Zadiq Khan  won the London mayoral election and Labour didn't do too badly over all, except in Scotland where the SNP swept the field. So the smear tactics don't seem to have been too effective.  In fact Zac Goldsmith is now facing criticism for the campaign he ran, and for his dog-whistle attempts to stir up Islamophobia.