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.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Is Russia not the only country using radiological weapons to murder perceived enemies?

The murder by polonium-210, in London, of Alexander Litvinenko is widely believed to have been carried out by Andrey Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtum, likely acting under the direction of Russia's intelligence agency the FSB.  These were the conclusions, released in January, of British High Court judge, Sir Robert Owen, following a public inquiry into the murder.  

Russia and its leader Vladimir Putin were condemned for the outrage, although in truth there was no direct evidence linking Lugovoy and Kovtum to Putin, only the fact that both were agents of the KGB in Soviet times (as was Putin) and subsequently became independent "security consultants."  In addition the polonium used in the murder was traced by Professor (of theoretical physics) Norman Dombey, at the University of Sussex, to a particular reactor in Russia.  Professor Dombey also opined that "the involvement of a FSB poison laboratory was also likely" and that in his opinion "the Russian state or its agents were responsible for the poisoning."   This hardly seems sufficient evidence to unequivocally convict Putin and the Russian state.  But a public inquiry is not the same thing as a criminal trial and so I presume that Sir Robert felt free to speculate saying "the FSB operation to kill Mr Litvinenko was probably approved by Mr Patrushev (head of FSB) and also by President Putin." 

But the Litvinenko murder is not the main subject of this post.  Rather it is about the death of Hugo Chavez in 2013, that I wish to write and like Sir Robert to engage in some speculation.   Since Chavez's death the economy and social cohesion of Venezuela seem to have been spiralling downward.  Corruption is said to be rampant.  I think nobody would be much surprised if the current president, Nicolas Maduro, were to be ousted from office, one way or another.  Of course the collapse in the world price of oil has not helped the Venezuelan economy.   But beyond that it seems that Maduro just does not have the same connection to the Venezuelan masses that  Chavez enjoyed.   

I had not thought much about Chavez's death since it happened.  At the time there were some vague allegations that he had been "got at" in some way.  But it seemed to me like an unfortunate and untimely death, just like that which afflicted NDP leader Jack Layton, after he had led his party to their best ever election performance and just when he was preparing to assume the role of Leader of the Opposition in parliament.    But today I read an article The Strange Death of Hugo Chavez 
which is based on an interview with Eva Golinger, a Mexican lawyer and investigative journalist and winner of the International Award for Journalism in Mexico. 

Ms. Golinger begins by outlining the known attempts on Hugo Chavez' life.  These include the well-known 2002 coup, when he was kidnapped, but released when the people of Caracas and loyal units in the army rose up against the coup.  Golinger claims that she obtained "irrefutable evidence using the US Freedom of Information Act, that the CIA and other US agencies were behind the coup and supported financially,militarily and politically, those involved."   Then there was another foiled plot in 2004, when a group of Colombian paramilitaries were captured on a farm outside of Caracas just days before a planned attack on the presidential palace.  

But what really caught my attention was the claim that there was plot to kill Chavez in New York during his visit to the United Nations General Assembly in 2006.   This was the time when Chavez referred to George W Bush as "the Devil" claiming that he could "still smell the sulphur" on the dais from where Bush had spoken 24 hours earlier.   On that visit Chavez was due to address the US public at a "local, renowned university", but in a routine check by his security personnel, "high levels of radiation were discovered in the chair where he would have sat."   The chair was removed and subsequent tests showed that the level of radiation "could have resulted in significant harm to Chavez, had it gone undetected."  The chair had been provided by an American individual involved in local logistical support, and who, according to Golinger, "was shown to be acting with US intelligence agents."     

Of course there is no real smoking gun here.  But if Russian agents had poisoned Litvinenko with radioactive material the idea that US agents might use similar tactics against Chavez, seems eminently plausible.  

Ms. Golinger goes on to speculate on whether Chavez's cancer could have been induced by a fatal injection or other means.  She discusses how the 1975 Church Commission into the CIA uncovered the existence of an "assassination weapon developed by the CIA to induce heart attacks and soft-tissue cancers."  Chavez died of an aggressive soft-tissue cancer.  

Of course, there is no hard evidence.  But we do know that the CIA made several attempts to murder Fidel Castro. According to Wikipedia the assassination attempts "included cigars poisoned with botulinum toxin; a tubercle bacilli infected scuba-diving suit along with a booby-trapped conch placed on the sea bottom; an exploding cigar, a ballpoint pen containing a hypodermic syringe preloaded with the lethal concoction Blackleaf 40; and plain, mafia-style execution endeavours, among others.  There were plans to blow up Castro during his visit to Ernest Hemingway's museum in Cuba."   These plots were revealed during the hearings of the US Senate's Church Committee in 1975, set up to investigate CIA clandestine operations. One result of the Committee's report was an Executive Order issued by then president Gerald Ford banning US sanctioned assassinations of foreign leaders. But in 2001, the  9-11 attacks happened and constraints on US clandestine activities were lifted, if not officially then at least in practice, with then Vice-President Dick Cheney, saying that they would have to "work the dark side."   It seems very plausible that with their new 'licence to kill' the CIA and other agencies might have dusted off some of their old weaponry and decided to have a go at Hugo Chavez, who had long been a thorn in their side. 

It is interesting to see how many other leaders who have incurred the displeasure of the United States have developed cancer, or died of undiagnosed ailments.  Perhaps the best known is Yasser Arafat, who died after a short illness in 2004.  The rate of cancers among Latin American leaders is astonishingly high, at least for those whose political orientation is anywhere left of centre.  Apart from Chavez (diagnosed in 2011),  victims include Argentina's Nestor Kirchner (colon cancer - died of heart attack in 2010); Paraguay's Fernando Lupo (lymphoma - still alive),  Brazil's Lula da Silva (throat cancer - still alive); Argentina's Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (thyroid cancer - still alive); Brazil's Dilma Rousseff (lymphoma - still alive, but politically only just so) and Colombia's Juan Manuel Santos (prostate cancer - still alive and still in office).  While Fidel Castro survived many assassination attempts, he almost died from a mysterious stomach and intestinal ailment he contracted in 2006 after attending a  People’s Summit held in Cordoba, Argentina, along with Chavez and Nestor Kirchner.   Castro is the only one of the three still alive.  

Of course it could all be coincidence - people do develop cancer and other health problems as they get older.  But if the Russian state employs agents to administer radioactive poison to those of whom it disapproves, why should we believe that the US is any different?  We know that the CIA has done some very nasty and criminal things in the past.  Now with relaxed oversight, it seems to me highly likely that they, and similar agencies, would have resurrected some of those evil practices. 

Should Jack Layton's family be taking another look at his untimely death? 

Friday, March 18, 2016

Obama's Pre-Emptive Strike.

Most leaders in their last years in office worry about their 'legacy' or how the world in the future will view their tenure in power.   Many wait until they are free of day-to-day responsibilities before publishing their memoirs, hoping to set the record straight (or bend it in a favourable direction) or giving extensive interviews to journalists who will act as sort of instant biographers.  But Barack Obama has acted pre-emptively and, with more than nine months left of his term, given extensive interviews to Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic, which has published them in a series.  I must confess I have not read the interviews which apparently, combined, are almost of book length. Instead I am relying on second-hand reports such as the following by Patrick Cockburn, Middle East correspondent of The Independent. 


Cockburn comments that Obama, unlike David Cameron and his Chancellor, George Osborne, learns from his mistakes.  He also seems to have learned from his political rivals, by whom I mean the NeoCons, in that he has adopted the tactic employed by George W. Bush (and many Israeli governments of the past) of striking pre-emptively.   

In many ways Obama's remarks seem like Dwight D. Eisenhower's farewell address of January, 1961, in which he warned America of the dangers of the growing power of the "military-industrial" complex. Obama in his turn warns of how it is not in the interests of the USA to be led into overseas wars, which are really more in the interests of others than of the US itself.  He is particularly critical of the influence of Saudi Arabia and other Sunni states, long allied to the US.  He is also critical of Britain's David Cameron and French ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy, for the way in which they beseeched the US to lead a NATO air campaign against Libyan president Mummer Qadaffi, but then walked away when the Libyan state structure was destroyed, leaving the chaos which has prevailed for the last five years.  It was this breech of diplomatic politesse, criticizing leaders of allied countries, that seemed to gain most traction in the press, but what Obama had to say was really much more important than that - it amounts to a repudiation of the foreign policy that the United States has been following, since the inauguration of George W. Bush, i.e. for most of this century.  

Goldberg states that "A widely held sentiment inside the White House is that many of the most prominent foreign-policy think tanks in Washington are doing the bidding of their Arab or pro-Israeli funders." He also mentions how Obama "broke with the Washington playbook. This was his liberation day" referring to when he overturned his own 'red-line' and refused to bomb Syria.   

The Cockburn piece dwells heavily on the malign influence of Saudi Arabia, both in spreading Wahabbi extremism throughout the Muslim world and in their "purchase of people and institutions which they see as influential".  "Academic institutions of previously high repute in Washington have shown themselves to be as shamelessly greedy for subsidies from the Gulf and elsewhere, as predatory warlords and corrupt leaders in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and beyond".

In Cockburn's piece little mention is made of the malign influence of the pro-Israel NeoCons.  I don't know if this is how it is in Goldberg's piece.  But I wouldn't be surprised - Goldberg is a dual US-Israeli citizen and served in the Israeli Defence Forces.  He was a drum-beater for the invasion of Iraq, and according to Glen Greenwald prepared and disseminated a litany of falsehoods which rivalled those of Judith Miller of The New York Times.  However unlike many of the War Party, Goldberg later recanted publishing a piece in 2008, entitled "How Did I Get Iraq Wrong?"  

Whether Goldberg should still be counted as a NeoCon is a moot point.  But the fact is that the NeoCons as a group, hold considerable influence among the Washington foreign policy community.  And I am sure that their influence on foreign policy under Obama has been very bit as strong and as malign as that of Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States. In so many cases the interests and aims of the Saudis and Israel coincide e.g. in overthrowing and de-stabilizing Iraq; throttling the 'Arab Spring'; overthrowing any Arab leader who is perceived as an enemy either for being prepared to act independently (Qadaffi) or who is too close to Iran (al Assad).  Both Saudis and NeoCons have urged US governments to use military force to accomplish these goals either directly or through the support of proxy militias such as is happening in Syria.  

But it seems that Obama has had a conversion.  One could almost say that the conversion happened on the road to Damascus, since as Goldberg reports, it happened with Obama's refusal to bomb Syria, after the sarin gas attack on the edge of Damascus, attributed at once by the NeoCons and the compliant media, to al Assad, but which on further examination appears to have been a "false-flag" operation, designed to discredit the al Assad regime (see e.g. 


No doubt Obama's fight with Binyamin Netanyahu and the Saudis over the nuclear deal reached with Iran, helped to clarify his thinking - both parties tried, with all means at their disposal, to act in a way which Obama saw clearly was not in the best interests of the USA.  

An intersting question is why Obama has chosen to go public with his concerns at this point.  One answer is that he wishes to burnish his legacy - sort of implying a statement along the lines of "Sorry I made some mistakes (e.g. Libya) but I was misled by people in the pay or the sway of other interests.  It won't happen again on my watch."  Of course too, he is probably deeply concerned at the way in which the US has been steered in directions inimical to its best interests. But there is a third possible explanation which I find interesting.  This is that he is firing a shot across the bow of Hillary Clinton's election campaign.  

Hillary Clinton has shown herself to be like those "predatory warlords and corrupt leaders shamelessly greedy for subsidies from the Gulf".  The Clinton Foundation received $25 million from the Saudis.  Qatar and Oman are both reported to have given between one and five million.  What do they expect in return?  Well Hillary, for one thing, as Secretary of State helped broker the sale of $29 billion of advanced fighter jets to the Saudis - jets which are now being used to pound Yemen, its impoverished neighbour.    

There is an irony in Hillary's position vis a vis the Saudis, that not too many have picked up on.    In the election campaign Hillary is presenting herself as a champion of women's rights and during an early primary campaign event, Madeleine Albright, with Hillary at her side, stated that there was a "special place in Hell reserved for women who didn't help other women".  She clearly was not thinking about the repressed women of Saudi Arabia, when she said it.    

Hillary has been no less shameless in the way she grovels to Israel. As Mondoweiss reports: She has promised to take the Israel relationship “to the next level,” has bragged that she was born within months of Israel, she has promised to fight Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) and work with Republicans to do so. She has also promised to invite Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House in the first month of office. 

So it seems that Hillary, if she wins next November would be quite happy to do the bidding of the Saudis and the Israelis, even into wars, which Obama has pointed out are often not in America's best interests. This is fascinating because Donald Trump, who seems set to be the Republican candidate, has taken a different position, and has promised that he would not get the US involved in foreign wars of choice, and would adopt a more even-handed stance in his dealings with Israel.  

Is Obama trying to warn Hillary?  Or is he perhaps trying to scupper her chances?  With the popularity of Donald Trump, there does seem to be a change in the air, with respect to US policy in the Middle East.  Obama's statements can only help in this direction.  Whether anything will come of it remains to be seen, but it seems at last that people are waking up to the fact that the US has been used by unscrupulous allies.  

Could it be that the reign of the NeoCons is coming to an end? 

Saturday, March 12, 2016

US Justice in Disrepute. Judge awards S10.5 billion against IRAN over 9/11.

It is not just the American political process that is in disrepute these days.  The justice system is also suffering   We have sadly become accustomed to police officers  killing unarmed (usually black) citizens, and then typically being acquitted of any culpability.   Such killings and acquittals,  like mass shootings, hardly even make it to the front page these days. But now the judiciary is also looking extremely dodgy - well at least one judge in the US District Court. 

As I understand it the findings of the 9/11 Commission stated that 15 of the 19 hijackers involved in the outrages of September 11, 2001, were citizens of Saudi Arabia.  And that the attacks were organized and funded by al Qaeda under the leadership of Osama bin Laden, another Saudi citizen.  Now I am not saying that the Commissions report was the unvarnished truth - many, including one of the commissioners have questioned the accuracy of its conclusions.  And 28 pages, allegedly documenting Saudi complicity in financing the attacks, have been redacted, in spite of many calls for their release.  

But as far as I know, no one has seriously suggested that Iran was behind the outrages.  

Nonetheless on March 9 of this year, U.S. District Judge George Daniels in New York issued a default judgment against Iran for $7.5 billion to the estates and families of people who died at the World Trade Center and Pentagon.  In addition he awarded $3 billion to insurers who paid property damages for claims resulting from the events of 9/11.  A brief summary of the ruling can be found here


The ruling results from a 2011 case referred to as Havlish et al. vs. bin Laden et al.  brought by spouses of some of the victims of 9/11.  Some more details can be found here


Iran apparently did not contest the allegations made against it (although the suit was against al Qaeda, not Iran, unless Iran is included in the et al.).  Maybe this is one of the reasons the judge found against Iran.  But if this is the case should not Saudi Arabia have been deemed to hold some responsibility?   However to complicate things further the same judge (George Daniels) dismissed a case, brought by victims' families against Saudi Arabia in 2005, based on his opinion that Saudi Arabia (and co-defendant Saudi High Commission for the Relief of Bosnia-Herzegovina) were foreign sovereigns immune from lawsuit under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. 

So it would seem that in Judge Daniels' opinion, The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a "foreign sovereign" but "The Islamic Republic of Iran" is not a "foreign sovereign"!

I know that Dickens has Mr. Bumble say in Oliver Twist "the law is a ass - a idiot",  but these rulings by Judge Daniels seem to take its idiocy to new heights.  

Although this whole sorry story can be found on the internet, it has not made much news in the mainstream media (although Bloomberg did mention it - see above). I wonder why?  

There are a few possible explanations for Judge Daniels' ruling.  One is that he is an idiot; another he is that completely venal and is in the pay of some group who want to discredit Iran (and exculpate Saudi Arabia). A third is that there are some points of law which could explain the ruling (although I can't imagine what).  And a fourth is that Judge Daniels knows something, which the public at large has not been told - that indeed the whole 9/11 Commission Report was a whitewash and that Iran's complicity was for one reason or another kept secret.  

Which of these would you go for?   For me provided we can rule out the third (recondite points of law) I would go for number two, that Judge Daniels for one reason or other, has an agenda, which involves blackening Iran.  

But as I see it he has only succeeded in blackening the reputation of US justice.