Dissident Voice

Dissident Voice
12 Aug 2022 | 9:32 pm

Joe Lombardo Interview 

Events continue to unfold at a quickening pace. Facing an alarming escalation in tensions around the world, we asked Joe Lombardo for his most current thoughts.

Joe Lombardo is the co-coordinator of the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC) and has been an organizer in the anti-war movement and a labor activist for decades. He is a cofounder and lead organizer for Bethlehem Neighbors for Peace, a local anti-war group based near Albany, New York, a member of the Troy Area Labor Council, and former staff person of the Vietnam era National Peace Action Coalition (NPAC). He is the author of many articles and a frequent radio and TV commentator.

We focus here on the realities of the international power struggle unfolding in real time, specifically addressing the role of the U.S. in the tensions and its capacity to reduce them. We are looking for paradigm-shift ideas for improving the prospects for peace. His responses below of are exactly as he provided.

Here is what Joe had to say.

John Rachel:  We hear a lot of terms and acronyms bandied about. 'Deep State' … 'MIC' … 'FIRE sector' … 'ruling elite' … 'oligarchy' … 'neocons'.  Who actually defines and sets America's geopolitical priorities and determines our foreign policy? Not "officially".  Not constitutionally. But de facto.

Joe Lombardo:  I look at this in class terms.  I believe there is a ruling class that determines international policy based upon their perceived class interests, and who make the rest of us fight their wars and pay the bills. They control the 2 main parties and their politicians through financial control. They also control the media, the police and courts and the military. They don't all necessarily agree on what to do, so differing opinions are debated through the Republican and Democratic Parties.  I don't believe that there is a "deep state" that works independently of that ruling class to determine policy.

JR:  We've had decades of international tensions. Recent developments have seen a sharp escalation in the potential for a major war. The U.S. apparently cannot be at peace. "Threats" against the homeland are allegedly increasing in number and severity. The trajectory of our relations with the rest of the world appears to be more confrontations, more enemies, more crises, more wars.

Is the world really that full of aggressors, bad actors, ruthless opponents? Or is there something in our own policies and attitudes toward other countries which put us at odds with them, thus making war inevitable and peace impossible?

JL:  I believe the aggressor everywhere is US imperialism.  The US has about 20 times the number of foreign military bases as all other countries combined, they have a military budget close to that of the rest of the world. The US is the only country that has used nuclear weapons on people.  They have invaded one country after the next, occupied many, caused coups, imposed sanctions to destroy the economy of countries which don't toe the US imperialist line, and have built opposition in those countries that they can exploit through the CIA, NED, USAID and other groups to cause conflict and regime change.

The US uses its financial power to keep the underdeveloped countries underdeveloped, and all countries subservient. These policies have caused a lot of anger against the US.  If that anger is met by military force, we have war.

JR:  Our leaders relentlessly talk about our "national interests" and our "national security", warning that both are under constant assault. Yet, we spend more than the next nine countries combined on our military. Why does such colossal spending never seem to be enough?

JL: The amount of spending can never be enough because the US is using the Military Industrial Complex to siphon money out of the hands of the working people and into the hands of the wealthy elites. This 'easy money' process has recently been stepped up especially in the Ukraine war.

We have no common "national interests."  The obscenely wealthy, who run the country, have one set of interests and the working people have another. Our national security is not guaranteed by the military but by good jobs, healthcare, education and by satisfying human needs and seriously addressing climate change.  We need a society with a much more equal distribution of wealth.  This will stop our conflicts nationally and internationally.

JR:  It's evident that you, and the many individuals who follow you and support your work, believe that America's direction in both the diplomatic sphere and in the current conflict zones represents exercise of government power gone awry. Can you paint for us in broad strokes the specific changes in our national priorities and policies you view as necessary for the U.S. to peacefully coexist with other nations, at the same time keeping us safe from malicious attacks on our security and rightful place in the world community?

JL:  The US has to stop exploiting other nations as well as the working class at home.  A much more equal distribution of wealth nationally and international, combined with a serious attack on the endemic white supremacy and male dominance in our society and an end to all discrimination is the only way we can coexist with others at home and abroad.

JR:  The general public, especially when it's aware of the self-sabotaging results of our current foreign policies and military posturing, clearly wants less war and militarism, preferring more peaceful alternatives on the world stage and greater concentration on solving the problems at home. As peace activists, we are thus more in line with the majority of citizens on issues of war and peace, than those currently in power.  What happens if we determine that those shaping current U.S. policy don't care what the citizenry thinks, are simply not listening to us? What if we conclude that our Congress, for example, is completely deaf to the voice of the people? What do we do? What are our options then? What are our next concrete steps as political activists in working toward a peaceful future?

JL:  I think we will never make the basic changes that we need to have a peaceful and prosperous world and country through the present political structures.  More and more people are giving up on the two-party system.  Our corporate media keeps us in the dark.  We are seeing increased censorship and attacks on those who tell the truth by expressing opinions different from the government's narrative. These attacks include those on Julian Assange, Daniel Hale and the recent FBI raid on the African People's Socialist Party among others.  If the people come to the conclusion that we need basic systemic change and we are unable to get it through our present political structures, we will have to fight for it in other ways.  There are many ways that people have fought for change in the past and have won significant changes, these include mass mobilization, mass civil disobedience and general strikes.  All options may need to be considered, we will get freedom and peace, in the words of Malcolm X, "by any means necessary."

John Rachel:

We are grateful to Joe Lombardo for sharing his valuable and thought-provoking views. The interview was arranged by John Rachel, Director of the Peace Dividend Project. The Peace Dividend Strategy is not a meme or a bumper sticker. It is an end-to-end methodology for challenging the political establishment and removing from power those compromised individuals who work against the interests of the great majority of U.S. citizens. The only hope for our hyper-militarized nation is each and every one of us having a decisive voice in determining the future we want for ourselves and our children.

The post Joe Lombardo Interview  first appeared on Dissident Voice.
Dissident Voice
12 Aug 2022 | 9:07 pm

The Inflation Reduction Act: Is it Enough Soon Enough?

Could somebody please get an extension ladder to help Senator Schumer down from the ceiling? He's stuck in the rafters in a high-pitched note of self-congratulation whilst spraining his elbow as he awkwardly and repeatedly tries to pat his own back, screaming over and over again "the greatest climate legislation of all time!"

Compared to what?

Still, one signal that something really good must be in the nonsensically titled Inflation Reduction Act is the fact that no Republican senators voted for it. Nowadays, the extreme right has the entire Republican edifice on its hands and knees, almost in a fetal position in a deadly chokehold, and they're not about to risk voting for anything that smacks of help for ordinary Americans. Plus, as for climate-type legislation, they detest mention of global warming. It gives 'em the willies.

Nevertheless, in spite of 100% Republican opposition, the bill is likely to pass and become law. It does a lot of really good things to help climate change/global warming. There is no doubt about this.

The real question is whether it's enough soon enough. And, similar to all commitments by nations of the world to mitigate climate change, will it really happen? Climate change mitigation plans have a very spotty, almost zero, record of achievement.

The bill directs about $370 billion (that's a lot) over 10 years toward promoting clean energy and climate resilience, with about two-thirds of the money coming in the form of tax credits for producing electricity from clean energy sources, investing in renewable energy technologies and addressing climate change through carbon sequestration, renewable fuel production, and clean energy manufacturing.

According to Evergreen Action, a left-of-center advocacy founded by former staffers to Gov. Jay Inslee's presidential campaign, which advocated zero emissions by 2035 when some other candidates didn't even know what zero emissions really meant:

The bill is an opportunity for a major breakthrough in America's fight against climate change. This bill has the potential to be the single largest investment in clean energy in American history. Making major investments in clean energy is one of the best ways Congress can lower inflation and shield Americans from the volatility of fossil fuel markets. 1

The bill includes $60 billion to boost domestic clean energy manufacturing, including $30 billion in production tax credits for solar panels, wind turbines, batteries and critical mineral processing. It also offers lower- and middle-income motorists a $7,500 tax credit for clean vehicles, while states and electric utilities would see $30 billion in grants and loans to expand clean energy. The bill also includes $60 billion for environmental justice communities and a fee on methane emissions that will rise to $1,500 a ton by 2026.

The Nature Conservancy released the following statement on August 7th:

The Senate's approval of the Inflation Reduction Act gives us hope, and more optimism than we've had in years, that the U.S. Congress recognizes the urgency of the global climate crisis and is prepared to lead a meaningful response.

Almost all environmental advocacy groups favor the legislation. Indeed, it would be ridiculous to naysay the only true broad-reaching climate legislation in American history.

But, is it enough soon enough? Which may have been on the minds of legislators in Washington, D.C., assuming the nation's intelligence agencies sent them classified notes about the most frightening climate behavior in human history; i.e., the world is drying up!

And, maybe they read the recent NASA/National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration report that the planet is trapping heat at a rate that's twice as fast as only 15 years ago.

Carbon emissions have turned the planet into a heat machine. Compelling evidence of this tragedy is found throughout the world, as follows. It demands a much bigger Inflation Reduction Act but on a worldwide coordinated basis:

According to SPEI Global Drought Monitor, severe drought is now found throughout the planet.

A recent University of Cambridge study claims that since 2015 European drought has accelerated and intensified. In fact, the continent is experiencing the most intense drought in 250 years.

Italy's Po River Valley, as of July 2022, has cut water for 125 towns. Drinking water is delivered via trucks to Piedmont and Lombardy, as local reservoirs no longer exist. They're gone! Italy's drought alert is now spreading to the central part of the country to the rivers Arno, Aniene, and Tiber where water levels are "drastically down."

The Rhine River, Europe's most important waterway for commerce and industry and tourism, is close to shutting down. Key shipping lanes are down to 19 inches water depth. This is happening two months before the normal seasonal lows. Transports already reduced from 6000-ton loads to 800 tons but may be forced to halt completely, depending, and making coal shipment to Germany and inclusive of all commercial goods, a horrendous challenge for upcoming winter months.

In France more than 100 towns are without drinking water and now receive water deliveries by truck. The government has established a water crisis team. Trees and bushes are prematurely shedding leaves. France's nuclear power plants, at a time when half of its 56 reactors are offline due to maintenance and serious corrosion issues, are now threatened due to river water temperatures used to cool the reactors. Restrictions kick in 26°C. Some plants are experiencing 28°C and 30°C river water temps.

In Spain, water restrictions have been imposed on Barcelona, Malaga, Huelva, and Pontevedra. Catalonia has severe restrictions on individual liters per day. The price of olive oil is likely to spike by at least 25% as heat hits crops.

In Portugal, 99% of the country is experiencing severe drought. It's the driest in 1,200 years. Lawn watering prohibited.

According to NASA, the worst drought in 900 years is hitting the entire Middle East. A Carnegie Endowment study as of 2022 claims water scarcity is threatening violent conflicts throughout MENA, the acronym for the Middle East and North Africa. 80-90 million people in the region will experience water insecurity within three years. The European Commission Joint Research Center, in a recent study, claims there's a 75%-90% chance of water wars.

Santiago's population of 6.5 M is on a severe water-rationing program with rotating 24-hour cutoffs for homes in the city. On the suburban outskirts of Santiago, water is delivered by truck to 400,000 families or 1.5M people. They are allotted 50 liters (13.2 gallons) water per day per person. Additionally, in the northern regions of Chile, precipitation is down 90%.

In Argentina, the drought is so bad that the famous Iberia wetland is at its worst levels in 80 years as fires raged earlier this year in one of the world's largest wetlands.

In SE Asia, the Mekong River, the principal river for the entire region, is in 4-year drought, the worst in 60 years. Cambodian water for crop irrigation is down to 20% of normal.

China has informed Guangzhou (pop 15M) and Shenzhen (pop 12.5M), the country's tech hub, to cut per capita water use from January to October of 2022. The Pearl River Basin, which serves as the water source for China's most populous urban centers, as mentioned, has been hit with severe drought, plus the looming drinking water crisis is compounded by drought-induced saltwater intrusion.

In Japan, Matsuyama (pop 515K) and Shikokuchuo (Pop 84K) are rationing water to citizens. Some areas of the country are experiencing crippling water shortages. The country is also experiencing power shortages and intends to go to more coal.

In Africa, Ethiopia and Kenya are faced with brutal drought. Three million livestock have died under the fierce influence of heat. In the Horn of Africa, 20M people are at risk of starvation and failure of water supplies.

America's two largest water reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell are within a few tens of feet of dead pool status defined as water no longer running downstream beyond Hoover dam and Glen Canyon dam respectively. Lake Mead dead pool is 895 feet elevation; it's currently 1,041 feet. Lake Powell's dead pool is 3,370 feet elevation. It is current 3,536 feet. The US Bureau of Reclamation recently informed the seven Colorado River Basin states to cut water usage on an emergency basis.

Is the Senate's Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 big enough, soon enough? Probably not.

Congress really needs to go back to Biden's initial $3.5T Build Back Better Plan. In that regard, The Economist, July 21, 2022 ran this article: "American Climate Policy is in Tatters—Manchin Single-handedly scuttled Biden's BBB Plans for $3.5 trillion".

The entire planet is reeling from global warming. America's modest couple hundred billion climate plan is a drop in the world's bucket. The whole world needs to mimic Biden's original BBB plan, or it's lights out. The evidence of that is compelling, unless, of course, facts don't count any longer.

  1. "How the Senate Climate Bill Could Slash Emissions by 40 Percent", Scientific American, July 28, 2022.
The post The Inflation Reduction Act: Is it Enough Soon Enough? first appeared on Dissident Voice.
Dissident Voice
12 Aug 2022 | 4:49 am

A Story of Russia

Contemporary Russian politics are too often analysed without sufficient knowledge of Russian history.

— Orlando Figes, The Story of Russia, p 268

The conflict among nations in Ukraine and the breakaway Donbass oblasts/republics has been magnified in western monopoly media since Russia backed up its security demands. To the extent that people want to ascertain the verisimilitude of media information, people ought to become familiar with the region, its peoples, and the history. With this intention and with an open mind to a viewpoint counter to my orientation (I am decidedly of a socialist orientation, but, I trust, with allegiance to verifiable evidence), I read The Story of Russia (Metropolitan Books, 2022) by the bourgeois historian Orlando Figes.

Thus, it did not surprise me that on page 1, Figes opines, "Vladimir Putin… managed to look bored. He seemed to want the ceremony to be done as soon as possible." On page 2, "Putin looked uncomfortable." In the introduction more bias is evident; Figes writes of "the Russian annexation of Ukrainian Crimea," (p 2) "the 'putsch' in Kiev, as the Kremlin called the Maidan uprising," (p 4) "history writing in Russia, since its beginning in medieval chronicles, has been intertwined in mythical ideas," (p 5) and Putin's "authoritarian regime." (p 6) In contemporary understanding, regime is pejorative for a totalitarian/autocratic government.

In the second chapter, "Origins," Figes says that Putin asserts "the old imperial myth that the Russians, the Ukrainians and the Belarussians were historically one people." In succeeding chapters, The Story of Russia runs through the intercourse between myriad groups of peoples, the Vikings, Finns, Mongols, Khazars, Turks, Arabs, Germans, French, etc that have intermixed knowledge, languages, cultures, religious beliefs, and commerce with Slavs. Russia has been conquered and has conquered others many times.

Figes lays out an eminently comprehensible historical sequence that led to rule by a revered tsardom with its concomitant corruption along with an exploited and impoverished peasant class. Traditionally, tsarist Russia leaned favorably toward western Europe which did not have the same favorable inclination toward Russia. This changed with Catherine the Great who envisioned Russian greatness stemming from a southern orientation. (p 127)

Serfdom would be identified as holding Russia back in wars and competition with the West. (p 154) The tsar would, when forced, in due course relinquish some powers, such as the establishment of zemstvos (self-government in Russian provinces), but eventually the corruption of the autocratic tsarist class would lead to a revolution that violently deposed the Romanovs. (For a dramatization of the history, see the Netflix series The Last Czars.)

Post-revolution, the Bolsheviks (Majoritarians) emerged victorious over the Mensheviks (Minoritarians). Figes writes that the tsar continued afterwards in "Soviet cults of the Leader." (p 191)

Whereas Lenin, in his cult, appeared as a human god or saint, a sacred guide for the Party orphaned by his death, the cult of Stalin portrayed him as a tsar, the 'little-father tsar' or tsar-batiushka of folklore … (p 225)

Unfortunately, The Story of Russia suffers from being replete with many unsubstantiated claims, rumors, and opinions. One would expect that a book written by a professor of history who specializes in Russia would source most pertinent information, especially information that is debatable. For example, Figes writes of "Nikolai Yezhov, an unscrupulous henchman, who fed Stalin's paranoid fears." (p 229) Maybe this is so, but what is his source for a scrupulous reader to scrutinize in order to confirm or deny this? During the Great Terror, Figes writes that in 1937, "1,500 Soviet citizens were shot on average every day…" (p 232) Elsewhere, he relates that the Gulag population reached 2 million prisoners in 1952. (p 250) There is no sourcing to evaluate this information.

Figes is derisory of Joseph Stalin and Russian militarism during World War II:

There was almost no limit to the number of lives that the Stalinist regime was willing to expend to achieve its military goals…. Only by this ruthless disregard for human life can we explain the shocking losses of the Red Army — around 12 million soldiers killed between 1941 and 1945…

Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev fares no better in Figes' estimation:

Khrushchev's erratic leadership, his tendency to act on intuition and then attack his critics, his meddling in affairs where he lacked expertise, and his dangerous confrontation with the USA in the Cuban Missile Crisis …

It is written as if the confrontation was entirely provoked from the Soviet side, that the John Kennedy administration was not dangerously confronting the Soviet Union. Unmentioned is that, since 1959, the US had had nuclear missiles deployed in Turkiye which bordered the USSR.

Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev was "a grey and mediocre functionary" (p 253) who "had more practical than intellectual capacities." (p 254)

The Soviet Union would collapse on President Mikhail Gorbachev's watch. Boris Yeltsin's ascent to the Russian presidency would coincide with the political demise of Gorbachev; however, Yeltsin would personify the Peter Principle. He was completely out-of-his-depth. Figes asks, "How can we explain the failure of democracy under Yeltsin, and the reemergence of dictatorship under Putin's leadership?" (p 268) Figes explains that under Yeltsin, the people called the system a "shitocracy." (p 270) Was this solely due to Russian incompetence? There is scant attribution to the role played by western nations and institutions such as the IMF that advised Yeltsin's team to apply the shock therapy of neoliberalism (a "social disaster" says Figes, p 269) that helped precipitate the downfall of Yeltsin and pave the way for a new face and new direction.

Figes writes that Vladimir Putin became the successor to Yeltsin by agreeing to protect Yeltsin and his family from their corruption. (p 271) Putin is also accused of corruption; Figes footnotes harsh Putin critic Masha Gessen's book The Man without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin (2012) as substantiation. As testament to her analytical prowess, Gessen predicted in her book's epilogue, "Putin's bubble will burst." Yet in July 2022, Putin still enjoys immense popularity in Russia.

Figes likens Putin to a grand prince where Russian oligarchs are "totally dependent on his will" much as the boyar clans were reliant upon the royal court in Russia. (p 54)

According to Figes, Putin's Russia is a managed democracy where electoral results are determined beforehand.

The author criticizes laws he identifies as protecting an ahistorical image of Russia; for example, a law requiring foreign-funded NGOs to register as a "Foreign Agent." (p 278) Not mentioned is that the US has its own Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) (FIRA in Canada) and that NGOs are cited as instigators behind so-called color revolutions.

Figes further criticizes Putin for weaponizing the memory of war against foreign powers. Here a bias of Figes stands out by referring to a non-aggression pact between the USSR and Nazi Germany (commonly referred to as the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact) as the Hitler-Stalin Pact. (p 279) Is Figes unaware that the West collaborated with Nazi Germany? In his book The Myth of the Good War, historian Jacques Pauwels told of European elitists's support for fascism as a bulwark against Bolshevism, (p 42, 47) which was also true in the US. (p 53)

Figes also takes issue with Putin for comparing "Ukraine's nationalists to collaborators with the Nazis in the war." (p 279) The evidence of Nazism in Ukraine is so prolific that one must be either ignorant or purposefully blind:

Azov Battalion fighters with Nazi flag (WikiCommons)

Not being a professional historian, I will focus on Figes's rendering of contemporary history, which seems particularly disputable on factual and logical grounds.

1. As stated, Figes pooh poohs the "Ukraine-Nazi myth" (p 298): "The Kremlin's Russian media outlets consistently referred to the interim Ukrainian government as a 'junta', backed by 'neo-Nazis' and 'fascists', an obvious propaganda tactic …. They [the Kremlin] staged protests against the new authorities in Kiev…" (p 290)

This is a one-sided presentation. According to the World Socialist Web Site:

The background and implications of the 2014 far-right coup in Kiev, which overthrew the pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, is critical for understanding the current Ukraine-Russia war. This coup was openly supported by US and European imperialism and implemented primarily by far-right shock troops such as the Right Sector and the neo-Nazi Svoboda Party.

Salon wrote of US machinations:

When Ukrainian President Yanukovych spurned a U.S.-backed trade agreement with the European Union in favor of a $15 billion bailout from Russia, the State Department threw a tantrum.

Hell hath no fury like a superpower scorned.

2. "the Kremlin launched a new Crimean War…. At the end of February [2014], Russian special forces occupied the peninsula, … oversaw a hurried referendum … in which 97 per cent of the people voted for reunion with Russia." (p 290-291)

Figes paints the expression of self-determinism in sinister language, but Figes doth protest too much, as he admits, "Even with a properly conducted plebiscite [in Crimea] the same decision would have been reached with a large majority." (p 291) Since the Russians were so welcomed by Crimeans, this basically refutes Figes's claim of a military occupation.

3. "The warring parties failed to find agreement on the Minsk II Accords…" (p 291)

From Wikipedia, the signatories are listed as:

  1. Separatist's leaders Alexander Zakharchenko and Igor Plotnitsky
  2. Swiss diplomat and OSCE representative Heidi Tagliavini
  3. Former president of Ukraine and Ukrainian representative Leonid Kuchma
  4. Russian Ambassador to Ukraine and Russian representative Mikhail Zurabov

4. Regarding Putin's identification of NATO bases in Ukraine as a security threat, Figes writes, "From a western point of view this seemed mad and paranoid. NATO, after all, was a defensive alliance and had no reason to attack Russia." (p 293)

To paint NATO, after all, as a purely "defensive alliance" is disingenuous. Did NATO attack ex-Yugoslavia in self-defense? Guised as a European-Canada-US alliance was Libya a threat to NATO? With all due respect to the people of Afghanistan, was a country largely populated by sandal-wearing goat herders with a Kalashnikov rifle strapped over one shoulder a threat to NATO?

Conversely, does the history of myriad western interventions not point to a potential threat for Russia?

5. Figes claims the invasion of Ukraine has revealed that the "Russian army, it turned out, was not as good as people thought." (p 296) "Putin, it was said, was hoping to announce a victory … on 9 May, Victory Day…" (p 297) It was said? Who said this? Figes applies his military analysis and reaches the same conclusion as another non-professional military analyst Noam Chomsky. They both equate the prowess of the Russian military to the duration of the military engagement.

6. Figes writes of a mass-based opposition led by Alexei Navalny. (p 299) Yet this "mass-based opposition" leader, as Figes describes Navalny, is without any party members in the Russian State Duma.

7. "The Russians carried out a number of atrocities in towns such as Bucha…" (p 296)

Concerning the massacre in Bucha, Drago Bosnic, an independent geopolitical and military analyst, wrote:

The Ukrainian side claims Russian troops killed at least 412 people, while so-called 'independent' sources state there were 50 victims. The peculiar claims were completely unsupported by any actual official investigation by any neutral side. The Kiev regime and their Western sponsors flatly refused to allow an international investigation, while any claims contrary to the official narrative were immediately suppressed.

Why prevent an investigation that one claims should reveal war crimes perpetrated by the enemy? (Yes, US president Biden in a televised message tells Russian citizens: "You are not our enemy." Biden expresses his scorn for the "war killer" Putin.)

Former US Marines intelligence officer Scott Ritter — who graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in the history of the Soviet Union and departmental honors at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania — names the culprit behind the Bucha massacre: Ukrainian national police murdered Ukrainians.

Without exception, without exception all of the data points to the Ukrainian national police carrying out a cleansing operation on April 1st that targeted pro-Russian collaborators and what they called saboteurs. And when we say cleansing operation, it means killing them. There is a video where a member of this national police unit asked permission to shoot people who aren't wearing the blue armband, and he was given permission to fire."

The US has the satellite images of this says Ritter, who emphatically states:

The US knows exactly what happened, but the US is not in the business of telling the truth. They are in the business of promulgating Ukrainian lies, and this lie was to create a narrative of Russia as a genocidal state trying to massacre innocent Ukrainian civilians. That is not what happened. The evidence is clear. If we took this to trial today Judge, I could guarantee you that I'd be able to make a very strong circumstantial case that this crime was committed by the Ukrainian national police and that they'd have nothing to defend with.

Months afterward, Ritter remains firmly convinced that Ukraine was behind the massacre of its own people in Bucha (start watching video at 1:33:50):

All the forensic data points to the absolute incontrovertible fact that Ukrainian security services carried out crimes against pro-Russian elements of the population of Bucha in late March, early April of 2022…. I will debate anybody, anytime, anywhere, on any platform, hell, I'll travel to Ukraine to do it in front of the Ukrainian parliament if they want. I am not running away from these facts.

Ritter has thrown down a figurative glove. Will Figes pick it up? Ritter looks at the evidence, does his research, and applies logic in reaching a conclusion. Too often, when evidence is demanded, Figes comes up wanting.

Figes has made many claims and predictions, if the presence of Nazis breaks through the monopoly media censorship and propaganda, if Russia defeats Ukraine (and it already has according to Ritter), then what does that signify about Figes and his historical scholarship?

Given all this, it is argued that The Story of Russia is, more accurately, A Story of Russia, a story according to Orlando Figes. As for what the history of Russia is, that is something to be discovered by curious and discerning readers and researchers.

The post A Story of Russia first appeared on Dissident Voice.
Dissident Voice
11 Aug 2022 | 5:36 pm

Can We Please Have an Adult Conversation about China?

Wang Bingxiu of the Shuanglang Farmer Painting Club (Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture, China), Untitled, 2018.

As the US legislative leader Nancy Pelosi swept into Taipei, people around the world held their breath. Her visit was an act of provocation. In December 1978, the US government – following a United Nations General Assembly decision in 1971 – recognised the People's Republic of China, setting aside its previous treaty obligations to Taiwan. Despite this, US President Jimmy Carter signed the Taiwan Relations Act (1979), which allowed US officials to maintain intimate contact with Taiwan, including through the sale of weapons. This decision is noteworthy as Taiwan was under martial law from 1949 to 1987, requiring a regular weapons supplier.

Pelosi's journey to Taipei was part of the US's ongoing provocation of China. This campaign includes former President Barack Obama's 'pivot to Asia', former President Donald Trump's 'trade war', the creation of security partnerships, the Quad and AUKUS, and the gradual transformation of NATO into an instrument against China. This agenda continues with President Joe Biden's assessment that China must be weakened since it is the 'only competitor potentially capable of combining its economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to mount a sustained challenge' to the US-dominated world system.

China did not use its military power to prevent Pelosi and other US congressional leaders from travelling to Taipei. But, when they left, the Chinese government announced that it would halt eight key areas of cooperation with the US, including cancelling military exchanges and suspending civil cooperation on a range of issues, such as climate change. That is what Pelosi's trip accomplished: more confrontation, less cooperation.

Indeed, anyone who stands for greater cooperation with China is vilified in the Western media as well as in Western-allied media from the Global South as an 'agent' of China or a promoter of 'disinformation'. I responded to some of these allegations in South Africa's The Sunday Times on 7 August 2022. The remainder of this newsletter reproduces that article.

Ghazi Ahmet (Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China), Muqam, 1984.

A new kind of madness is seeping into global political discourse, a poisonous fog that suffocates reason. This fog, which has long marinated in old, ugly ideas of white supremacy and Western superiority, is clouding our ideas of humanity. The general malady that ensues is a deep suspicion and hatred of China, not just of its current leadership or even the Chinese political system, but hatred of the entire country and of Chinese civilisation – hatred of just about anything to do with China.

This madness has made it impossible to have an adult conversation about China. Words and phrases such as 'authoritarian' and 'genocide' are thrown around with no care to ascertain facts. China is a country of 1.4 billion people, an ancient civilisation that suffered, as much of the Global South did, a century of humiliation, in this case from the British-inflicted Opium Wars (which began in 1839) until the 1949 Chinese Revolution, when leader Mao Zedong deliberately announced that the Chinese people had stood up. Since then, Chinese society has been deeply transformed by utilising its social wealth to address the age-old problems of hunger, illiteracy, despondency, and patriarchy. As with all social experiments, there have been great problems, but these are to be expected from any collective human action. Rather than seeing China for both its successes and contradictions, this madness of our times seeks to reduce China to an Orientalist caricature – an authoritarian state with a genocidal agenda that seeks global domination.

This madness has a definite point of origin in the United States, whose ruling elites are greatly threatened by the advances of the Chinese people – particularly in robotics, telecommunications, high-speed rail, and computer technology. These advances pose an existential threat to the advantages long enjoyed by Western corporations, who have benefited from centuries of colonialism and the straitjacket of intellectual property laws. Fear of its own fragility and the integration of Europe into Eurasian economic developments has led the West to launch an information war against China.

This ideological tidal wave is overwhelming our ability to have serious, balanced conversations about China's role in the world. Western countries with a long history of brutal colonialism in Africa, for instance, now regularly decry what they call Chinese colonialism in Africa without any acknowledgment of their own past or the entrenched French and US military presence across the continent. Accusations of 'genocide' are always directed at the darker peoples of the world – whether in Darfur or in Xinjiang – but never at the US, whose illegal war on Iraq alone resulted in the deaths of over a million people. The International Criminal Court, steeped in Eurocentrism, indicts one African leader after another for crimes against humanity but has never indicted a Western leader for their endless wars of aggression.

Dedron (Tibet Autonomous Region, China), Untitled, 2013.

The fog of this New Cold War is enveloping us today. Recently, in the Daily Maverick and the Mail & Guardian, I was accused of promoting 'Chinese and Russian propaganda' and having close links to the Chinese party-state. What is the basis of these claims?

Firstly, elements in Western intelligence attempt to brand any dissent against the Western assault on China as disinformation and propaganda. For instance, my December 2021 report from Uganda debunked the false claim that a Chinese loan to the country sought to take over its only international airport as part of a malicious 'debt trap project' – a narrative that has also been repeatedly debunked by leading US scholars. Through conversations with Ugandan government officials and public statements by Minister of Finance Matia Kasaija, I found, however, that the deal was poorly understood by the state but that there was no question of the seizure of Entebbe International Airport. Despite the fact that Bloomberg's entire story on this loan was built on a lie, they were not tarred with the slur of 'carrying water for Washington'. That is the power of the information war.

Secondly, there is a claim about my alleged links to the Chinese Communist Party based on the simple fact that I engage with Chinese intellectuals and have an unpaid post at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University, a prominent think tank based in Beijing. Yet, many of the South African publications that have made these outrageous claims are principally funded by George Soros' Open Society Foundations. Soros took the name of his foundation from Karl Popper's book, The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945), in which Popper developed the principle of 'unlimited tolerance'. Popper argued for maximum dialogue and that opinions against one's own should be countered 'by rational argument'. Where are the rational arguments here, in a smear campaign that says dialogue with Chinese intellectuals is somehow off-limits but conversation with US government officials is perfectly acceptable? What level of civilisational apartheid is being produced here, where liberals in South Africa are promoting a 'clash of civilisations' rather than a 'dialogue between civilisations'?

Countries in the Global South can learn a great deal from China's experiments with socialism. Its eradication of extreme poverty during the pandemic – an accomplishment celebrated by the United Nations – can teach us how to tackle similar obstinate facts in our own countries (which is why Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research produced a detailed study about the techniques that China employed to achieve this feat). No country in the world is perfect, and none is above criticism. But to develop a paranoid attitude towards one country and to attempt to isolate it is socially dangerous. Walls need to be knocked down, not built up. The US is provoking a conflict due to its own anxieties about China's economic advances: we should not be drawn in as useful idiots. We need to have an adult conversation about China, not one imposed upon us by powerful interests that are not our own.

Yang Guangqi of the Shuanglang Farmer Painting Club (Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture, China), Untitled, 2018.

My article in The Sunday Times does not address all the issues that swirl around the US-China conflict. However, it is an invitation to a dialogue. If you have any thoughts on these issues, please email me.

The post Can We Please Have an Adult Conversation about China? first appeared on Dissident Voice.
Dissident Voice
11 Aug 2022 | 5:03 pm

The COVID Blues

The post The COVID Blues first appeared on Dissident Voice.
Dissident Voice
11 Aug 2022 | 4:11 am

A Looting Matter: Cambodia’s Stolen Antiquities

Cambodia has often featured in the Western imagination as a place of plunder and pilfering.  Temples and artefacts of exquisite beauty have exercised the interest of adventurers and buccaneers who looted with almost kleptocratic tendency.

In 1924, the French novelist and future statesman André Malraux, proved himself one of Europe's greatest adventurers in making off with a ton of sacred stones from Angkor Wat.  It is estimated that 20 statutes were taken.  Malraux, along with his wife Clara and collaborator Louis Chevasson, were subsequently apprehended for their pinching efforts on the order of George Groslier, founding director of the National Museum of Cambodia.  According to the culturally eclectic Groslier, Malraux deserved the title of le petit voleur (the little thief) for such brazen exploits.

The assortment of crises from the 1960s to the 1990s also did their fair share in creating conditions of instability.  Where genocide, unrest and a collapse of social order unfolds, plunderers thrive.  Archaeological sites offered rich pickings to looters, often in collaboration with local military authorities. The pilfered items would then be taken to the Cambodia-Thailand border and taken to Thai brokers.

With the collapse of the Khmer Rouge, things worsened further.  Hundreds of temples were left vulnerable, rich prey to opportunistic authorities and rapacious individuals.  Over the course of November and December 1998, the 12th-century temple of Banteay Chhmar fell prey to a raid that saw some 500 square feet of bas-relief hacked into pieces and transported.  Antiquities expert Claude Jacques considered it "a case study for looting, every kind of looting, big and small."

With such a record of extensive, relentless theft, any return of antiquities is bound to be seen as a squiggle upon paper – hardly an achievement.  But the recent return from the United States of 30 looted items, including bronze and stone statues of Hindu and Buddhist deities, was a positive note in a field otherwise marked by disappointments.  It is, at the very least, a modest addition to other repatriations that have begun to take place from various collections and auction houses.

The system of recovery and repatriation is never easy.  Museums are often reluctant to part with goods obtained in questionable circumstances.  The larger the museum's collections, the less innocent its administrators tend to be.  Stolen artefacts pack and fill museums globally, and the trend is unlikely to change.

In the case of the 30 items of concern here, they had been procured by the object itchy Douglas Latchford, a Bangkok dealer also known as Pakpong Kriangsak and gifted in the art of forging documents to conceal the way the various samples had been obtained.  Along the way, this Malraux-like incarnation, an "adventurer scholar", had also become an authority on Cambodian art, co-writing three books on Khmer antiquities with scholar Emma Bunker.

In 1951, he settled in Thailand and proceeded to concoct fabulous stories of innocent acquisition.  In 2010, Latchford gave the Bangkok Post a taste of his storytelling, spinning a horrendous fib by claiming that "most of the pieces he has come across have been found and dug up by farmers in fields."  The enterprising Latchford, for his deceptive labours, managed to acquire a collection of Khmer Empire antiquities so vast it constituted the largest outside Cambodia itself.

Along the way, a number of trusts were also set up in tax havens to further complicate problems of ownership.  The establishment of the Jersey-domiciled trusts was a direct response to interest shown by US authorities in Latchford's empire of ill-gotten gains.

In fact, Latchford's activities had interested the US Department of Justice for some years, and was charged in 2019 with wire fraud conspiracy and various crimes related to the sale of looted Cambodian antiquities through creating false provenance documents and falsifying shipping documents and invoices.  His death in 2020 terminated the proceedings against him.

On this occasion, a number of private collectors and various US museums succumbed to three civil forfeiture claims made by Manhattan-based federal prosecutor Damian Williams in the Southern District of New York.  In November 2021, Williams, in filing a civil complaint against a museum in Denver, Colorado, noted how Latchford had "papered over the problematic provenance of Cambodian antiquities with falsehoods, in the process successfully placing stolen goods in the permanent collection of an American museum."

According to the press release from the US Department of Justice, the stolen items had been obtained by "an organized looting network" and duly sold by Latchford.  They included "a 10th century sculpture of Skanda on a Peacock and a monumental 10th century sculpture of Ganesha, both looted from the ancient Khmer capital Koh Ker."

Williams, reflecting on the 30 returned artefacts, was basking in some glory.  "Today, we celebrate the return of Cambodia's cultural heritage to the Cambodian people, and reaffirm our commitment to reducing the illicit trafficking of art and antiquities."

Ricky J. Patel, Acting Special-Agent-in-Charge of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), also added his bit, noting that HIS New York's dedicated Cultural Property, Arts and Antiquities Unit had worked "alongside our government partners, hunted down leads, examined origin, reviewed financial records, and conducted dozens of interviews to find and recover these pieces we are returning today."

The HSI unit in question is advertised as an elite gathering of 10,400 employees comprising 6,800 special agents located in 225 cities across the United States and 86 overseas locations across 55 countries.

Such efforts deserve some lowkey cheer.  Other culprits are getting off rather easily in this whole affair.  The success of Latchford and his ilk must, in the end, be based on a degree of connivance and understanding from those who received his stolen goods.  He had attained sufficient notoriety as far back as the early 1970s, when he began supplying a UK auction house with looted Khmer antiquities.  Even amateurs mildly interested in Cambodian artefacts would have been familiar that anything coming out of the country should have been subjected to glares of suspicion.

Tess Davis, director of the Antiquities Coalition, is blunt about the implications of this.  "If I were a museum curator, I would check every Cambodian piece acquired after 1965 just to be safe; that's how prolific [Latchford] was."  New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art is one institution that has admitted to doing so, "reviewing the pieces that came [into its] collection via Latchford and his associates".

Ironically, the relinquished antiquities will also be displayed in a museum – in this case, the National Museum of Cambodia, located in Phnom Penh.  When they do feature, it will be worth noting where they were to begin with, unmolested in shrouded, jungled history, only to be tampered with by warriors in search of moneyed glory.

The post A Looting Matter: Cambodia's Stolen Antiquities first appeared on Dissident Voice.
Dissident Voice
10 Aug 2022 | 11:13 pm

Some Thoughts for Aspiring Journalists and Public Servants

Magnus gubernator et scisso navigat vello.  A great helmsman can navigate even when his sail is torn.

— Seneca, Moral Letters, 30. 3.

This is as true today as it was in antiquity. A president who steers the Ship of State knows that human nature is weak and that government officials are sometimes tempted to abuse their power. It is for this reason that he welcomes a free press to ensure honesty in his administration.

Journalists asking trenchant questions are worth their weight in gold. They protect the public from dishonest public servants, who, for example, advocate for small government as a dog whistle for what on the surface looks like economizing on the taxpayer's dime but is actually an invitation to dishonesty. It is a transparent ruse to fire government investigators and lawyers who examine complaints about corporations accused of fraud or violating federal laws and regulations that protect the public health, safety, and the environment.

If it weren't for intrepid journalists like Lincoln Steffens, Ida Tarbell, and David Graham Phillips in the early twentieth century, the public couldn't be sure that members of a president's administration were complying with the law. This is especially true when a department or agency may receive hundreds of complaints that corporations are polluting the environment and posing a public health hazard, but at the same time are big contributors to a governor's or congressional member's re-election campaign.

In such cases, those contributions must be returned lest they be perceived by the public as hush money by those corporations breaking the law. When in doubt, one checks the politician's voting record against his political donors list for a possible conflict of interest or, more bluntly, a possible bribe, in which case a call to the congressional member's office will suffice. For some corporations, a campaign contribution may well be intended as "protection money" for congressional "friends" to look the other way when those corporations run afoul of the law, like dumping toxic waste in a river.

This is where the press is essential for ensuring that the government is telling the truth by actually doing what it's supposed to be doing. History is full of governments that lied to their people, so what's to stop modern governments from following in that grand old tradition?

In electing men and women to political office, the people give these representatives tremendous power over themselves and take an enormous risk. How can they be sure that these officials won't abuse their power, turn on the people, set up a dictatorship, lock people up, take over the courts, abolish unions, and silence journalists as was done in Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany and, as in the case of Julian Assange, is being done today by the US, UK, Sweden, and supporting western governments?

A free press has always been the scourge of would-be dictators, who fear these professional skeptics who ensure that the public is getting the truth rather than government handouts or spin.

This is also why we need an educated electorate that knows how to think critically and question whatever their leaders are saying and doing and not blindly trusting them as so often happens today. However, this takes courage, but is important because you may wind up believing whatever you're told, which is fine for children but hardly for those in a democracy who may wake up in a concentration camp. A free people must also be a nation of skeptics, who cannot assume that their leaders are honest.

Let me invite you into a journalist's stream of consciousness when interviewing a questionable public servant: Am I getting the whole story here? What's being omitted?  Am I being misled? Is this person honest, an ideologue, a pathological liar, a shill for his party?

Why is he offering fluff and no substance? Doesn't he realize how transparent he is? Why this incessant chatter? Is he trying to keep me at bay? He doesn't seem qualified for his position at all. Doesn't he realize the impression he's making? Offering only tired clichés and talking in circles. How would he reconcile what he's saying with what others have told me about this same problem?

Let's see how he'll answer these questions: How do you reconcile your oath of office with what just came out in the papers? How do you see your responsibility toward protecting the people? If you had all the money and power you needed, how would you change your department for the better? In what way could you do more for the people? When exactly did you find out about this scandal that just came to light? Didn't your staff alert you that something was wrong? How can you assure the public that something like this won't ever happen again? Shouldn't there be a better early-warning-system in place? The public is blaming you for what happened? What is your comment?

But journalists shouldn't stop there; they should interview other officials of other political parties and past administrations. They should elicit as much information as possible, deal with their implications, fit them together within a much larger picture, and present their conclusions to the public. They are the people's safeguard against deception, and an honest administration welcomes this concern because these genuine journalists are the people.

Some governments, however, fear a free press because their politicians are dishonest and engaged in all sorts of corruption which they try to conceal by setting up barriers lest their crimes be exposed. Rather than putting journalists in jail, concentration camps, or murdering them outright as in former days, they ridicule them, question their patriotism, and try to undermine their credibility by turning the public against them by calling them "the enemy of the people." They sidestep legitimate questions the people want answered, all the while being confident that the public won't suspect what they're doing, not realizing that they're setting off alarm bells about their corruption.

Now, there are two possibilities – either the journalists are lying or the government is. Who would have more incentive to do so? Journalists, who are risking their reputations, imprisonment, or lives in uncovering the truth, or a government engaging in cover-up? Why would journalists lie if having worked their sources and following up leads, they discovered the evidence and were about to release it?

A free press is never the enemy of the people, but its only hope by providing public oversight and accountability. It isn't as if those in office have been placed there by some Divine Right of Kings, but solely on sufferance of the people. It may occasionally happen, however, that a leader may become so drunk with power as to take leave of his senses and fancy that he is above the law, the infallible sign for removal from office.

Those in cabinet posts swear an oath to safeguard their department's integrity, and if they fail to honor that oath, they should be tried for perjury, sent to prison, and barred from political office for life. This should be the fate of any official, no matter how powerful, who uses her office to enrich herself. Government needs relentless oversight, and a free press with the courage to provide it. This isn't harassment, but simply performing its duty.

Salus populi suprema lex.  The people's welfare is the highest law.

— Cicero, On Laws, 3. 3. 8.

If you're thinking of becoming a journalist, you may want to read what follows about public servants trying to do the right thing.

Your first priority as a member of Congress is to forget yourself and think only of the people who put you there by ensuring that their interests always come first. They are the only reason you entered politics, and your allegiance should always be to them and never to corporations, their enablers or lobbyists, who will be only too willing to contribute to your re-election campaign.

The quid pro quo would naturally be your soul by passing laws that would jeopardize the people, who are your fellow human beings. Accepting money from corporations is signing a Faustian bargain with the Powers of Darkness.

Moreover, members of Congress with stock in Big Oil and Big Pharma will never vote against their financial interests regardless of what the people want, although recent congressional action may put a stop to this scandal. Furthermore, two Democratic Senators, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, have undermined President Biden's progressive agenda that would have helped over three hundred million Americans in countless ways, and yet these senators have found it possible to live with themselves.

Then there was the incomparable Bill Bradley, the celebrated college and professional basketball player, Rhodes scholar, stellar New Jersey Democratic senator whom many thought would have made a wonderful President, who left politics in the mid-1990s after three terms in office because he felt that our government was "broken," a gentleman's euphemism for irredeemably corrupt.

People are the reason you're in politics, and once you forget that, you're no longer worthy of your office. You can never let anything get in the way of this commitment for they are the reason our nation was founded. They are the bedrock of our democracy and they should never be exploited, cheated, or robbed by Big Business, and yet this happens daily. You must develop a tolerance for working in such an environment by learning not to inhale.

Democracy is about freedom from corporate tyranny, which wants to own both politicians and judges to make laws and decide cases in favor of these corporations to the detriment of the people as collateral damage as an acceptable price of doing business. They are hired guns as guilty as the corporations whose crimes they enable.

They and the CEOs responsible for the laws and policies which cause sickness and death should be tried and imprisoned for life. If they knew that they would be held accountable, the practice would stop. As President Calvin Coolidge once said, "The business of America is business." This cavalier dismissal of human life is so deeply entrenched in our culture that it has become invisible.

There once was a time in our country when a person was thought to be a flesh-and-blood human being. Then something incredible happened when corporations became more important than actual people who stood in the way of corporate profits, the beginning of our government's moral rot.

They then set about convincing judges and politicians that they were even more real with more legal rights than real people, who could then be legally sacrificed upon the altar of corporate greed to appease the Gods of Quarterly Profits. This is the cornerstone of American business and political life, corrupting everyone who makes his peace with this system.

How many other such evils gradually become invisible to American eyes because they have become so "familiar" as though they were part of the natural order! Familiarity breeds not only contempt, but also invisibility! Jesse James robs a railroad train and the law is in hot pursuit, but a hedge fund manager robs an entire railroad company and everyone yawns.

"Corporate bribes," a.k.a. campaign contributions, "dark money," and PACS have corrupted every branch and level of government, so that money makes a mockery of a government that claims to be honest because the very politicians who could end the practice profit from it.

Corporations run the country at both the federal and state levels because Congress and state legislatures enact these laws, some even drafted by lobbyists themselves, to ensure that corporate interests are enshrined in those laws. The Rich and Powerful own the politicians. Not all of them, to be sure, but enough of them who so anger the people that they are now demanding radical change.

This is class warfare against the American people by the Rich and Powerful whose will has become law by a complicit Congress, another evil of our political system. The upshot is that many federal and state congressional members have willingly allied themselves with corporations, while continuing to betray the people in defiance of their oath of office.

Which raises the question, to enter political life must one check one's morals at the door? Become schizophrenically moral in one's personal life and blissfully immoral in one's political life? Is this really the way it has to be?  Shouldn't conscience also matter on Capitol Hill, the White House, and in the august chambers of the Supreme Court itself?

If at some future time you are in political office and feel tempted by corporate campaign contributions, it may be time to retire from political life. Staying on may cause you to betray your oath and yourself. This is why term limits are so important because if your goal is to stay in office, you may do anything to remain there even betray the very people who trusted you to protect them against such villany.

All the above is an open secret about government, and anyone thinking of devoting their life to politics or journalism must understand the relentless pressure you will be under. Perhaps it is asking more than weak human beings can bear, yet some do succeed in keeping faith with themselves.

As a journalist, be ever on your guard against being used, manipulated, or invited to become "a friend" of government officials. Avoid such invitations and always keep your professional distance lest you find it hard to write critically about such "friends," when they're giving you "exclusives" to advance your career, when you've only become their creature and lose the respect of your fellow journalists and, more importantly, of yourself and your family.

This is the challenge of American politics today, and the younger generation should understand what has been happening in this country, especially since the 1980's. If you're thinking of entering politics or becoming a journalist, it's important that you do so with your eyes wide open.

You may already realize much of this, but nevertheless are still planning to enter government or to write about it to help cure American political life from within.  While in college, you may be majoring in pre-law, political science, history, sociology, philosophy, or journalism. Read widely in and outside these fields.  Talk to your professors about what is going on in the country today. Invite journalists to your class and sit at their feet and drink in their wisdom. They are the real deal, consummate professionals, battle-hardened veterans, Samurai warriors who have been to the mountain. Their informal talks are indispensable for getting beneath the headlines and are an education like no other. They will teach you how to avoid the quicksand.

The post Some Thoughts for Aspiring Journalists and Public Servants first appeared on Dissident Voice.
Dissident Voice
10 Aug 2022 | 10:56 pm

Without Palestine, There is No Arab Unity

It seemed all but a done deal: Israel is finally managing to bend the Arabs to its will, and Palestine is becoming a marginal issue that no longer defines Israel's relations with Arab countries. Indeed, normalization with Israel is afoot, and the Arabs, so it seems, have been finally tamed.

Not so fast. Many events continue to demonstrate the opposite. Take, for example, the Arab League two-day meeting in Cairo on July 31 – August 1. The meeting was largely dominated by discussions on Palestine and concluded with statements that called on Arab countries to reactivate the Arab boycott of Israel, until the latter abides by international law.

The strongest language came from the League's Assistant Secretary-General who called for solidarity with the Palestinian people by boycotting companies that support the Israeli occupation.

The two-day Conference of the Liaison Officers of the Arab Regional Offices on the Boycott of Israel praised the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which has been under intense western pressures for its unrelenting advocacy of international action against Israel.

One of the recommendations by Arab officials was to support Arab boycott initiatives in accordance with the Tunis Arab Summit in March 2019, which resolved that "boycott of the Israeli occupation and its colonial regime is one of the effective and legitimate means to resist."

Though one may rightly cast doubts on the significance of such statements in terms of dissuading Israel from its ongoing colonization schemes in Palestine, at least it demonstrates that in terms of political discourse, the collective Arab position remains unchanged. This was also expressed clearly to US President Joe Biden during his latest visit to the Middle East. Biden may have expected to leave the region with major Arab concession to Israel – which would be considered a significant political victory for the pro-Israel members of his Democratic Party prior to the defining November midterm elections – but he received none.

What American officials do not understand is that Palestine is a deeply rooted emotional, cultural and spiritual issue for Arabs – and Muslims. Neither Biden, nor Donald Trump and Jared Kushner before him, could easily – or possibly – alter that.

Indeed, anyone who is familiar with the history of the centrality of Palestine in the Arab discourse understands that Palestine is not a mere political question that is governed by opportunism, and immediate political or geopolitical interests. Modern Arab history is a testament to the fact that no matter how great US-Western-Israeli pressures and however weak or divided the Arabs are, Palestine will continue to reign supreme as the cause of all Arabs. Political platitudes aside, the Palestinian struggle for freedom remains a recurring theme in Arab poetry, art, sports, religion, and culture in all its manifestations.

This is not an opinion, but a demonstrable fact.

The latest Arab Center Washington DC (ACW) public opinion poll examined the views of 28,288 Arabs in 13 different countries. Majority of the 350 million Arabs continue to hold the same view as previous generations of Arabs did: Palestine is an Arab cause and Israel is the main threat.

The Arab Opinion Index (AOI) of late 2020 is not the first of its kind. In fact, it is the seventh such study to be conducted since 2011. The trend remains stable. All the US-Israeli plots – and bribes – to sideline Palestine and the Palestinians have failed and, despite purported diplomatic 'successes', they will continue to fail.

According to the poll: Vast majority of Arabs – 81 percent – oppose US policy towards Palestine; 89 percent and 81 percent believe that Israel and the US respectively are "the largest threat" to their individual countries' national security. Particularly important, majority of Arab respondents insist that the "Palestinian cause concerns all Arabs and not simply the Palestinians." This includes 89 percent of Saudis and 88 percent of Qataris.

Arabs may disagree on many issues, and they do. They might stand at opposite sides of regional and international conflicts, and they do. They might even go to war against one another and, sadly, they often do. But Palestine remains the exception. Historically, it has been the Arabs' most compelling case for unity. When governments forget that, and they often do, the Arab streets constantly remind them of why Palestine is not for sale and is not a subject for self-serving compromises.

For Arabs, Palestine is also a personal and intimate subject. Numerous Arab households have framed photos of Arab martyrs who were killed by Israel during previous wars or were killed fighting for Palestine. This means that no amount of normalization or even outright recognition of Israel by an Arab country can wash away Israel's sordid past or menacing image in the eyes of ordinary Arabs.

A most telling example of this is how Egyptians and Jordanians answered the AOI question "Would you support or oppose diplomatic recognition of Israel by your country?" The interesting thing about this question is that both Cairo and Amman already recognized Israel and have diplomatic ties with Tel Aviv since 1979 and 1994, respectively. Still, to this day, 93 percent of Jordanians and 85 percent of Egyptians still oppose that recognition as if it never took place.

The argument that Arab public opinion carries no weight in non-democratic societies neglects the fact that every form of government is predicated on some form of legitimacy, if not through a direct vote, it is through other means. Considering the degree of involvement the cause of Palestine carries in every aspect of Arab societies – on the street, in the mosque and church, in universities, sports, civil society organizations and much more – disowning Palestine would be a major delegitimizing factor and a risky political move.

American politicians, who are constantly angling for quick political victories on behalf of Israel in the Middle East do not understand, or simply do not care that marginalizing Palestine and incorporating Israel into the Arab body politic is not simply unethical, but also a major destabilizing factor in an already unstable region.

Historically, such attempts have failed, and often miserably so, as apartheid Israel remains as hated by those who normalized as much as it is hated by those who have not. Nothing will ever change that, as long as Palestine remains an occupied country.

The post Without Palestine, There is No Arab Unity first appeared on Dissident Voice.
Dissident Voice
10 Aug 2022 | 10:35 pm

The Government Wants to Silence the Opposition

Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.

President Harry S. Truman

Militarized police. Riot squads. Camouflage gear. Black uniforms. Armored vehicles. Mass arrests. Pepper spray. Tear gas. Batons. Strip searches. Surveillance cameras. Kevlar vests. Drones. Lethal weapons. Less-than-lethal weapons unleashed with deadly force. Rubber bullets. Water cannons. Stun grenades. Arrests of journalists. Crowd control tactics. Intimidation tactics. Brutality. Lockdowns.

This is not the language of freedom. This is not even the language of law and order.

This is the language of force.

This is how the government at all levels—federal, state and local—now responds to those who speak out against government corruption, misconduct and abuse.

These overreaching, heavy-handed lessons in how to rule by force have become standard operating procedure for a government that communicates with its citizenry primarily through the language of brutality, intimidation and fear.

We didn't know it then, but what happened five years ago in Charlottesville, Va., was a foretaste of what was to come.

At the time, Charlottesville was at the center of a growing struggle over how to reconcile the right to think and speak freely, especially about controversial ideas, with the push to sanitize the environment of anything—words and images—that might cause offense. That fear of offense prompted the Charlottesville City Council to get rid of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee that had graced one of its public parks for 82 years.

In attempting to err on the side of political correctness by placating one group while muzzling critics of the city's actions, Charlottesville attracted the unwanted attention of the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and the alt-Right, all of whom descended on the little college town with the intention of exercising their First Amendment right to be disagreeable, to assemble, and to protest.

That's when everything went haywire.

When put to the test, Charlottesville did not handle things well at all.

On August 12, 2017, government officials took what should have been a legitimate exercise in constitutional principles (free speech, assembly and protest) and turned it into a lesson in authoritarianism by manipulating warring factions and engineering events in such a way as to foment unrest, lockdown the city, and justify further power grabs.

On the day of scheduled protests, police deliberately engineered a situation in which two opposing camps of protesters would confront each other, tensions would bubble over, and things would turn just violent enough to justify allowing the government to shut everything down.

Despite the fact that 1,000 first responders (including 300 state police troopers and members of the National Guard)—many of whom had been preparing for the downtown rally for months—had been called on to work the event, and police in riot gear surrounded Emancipation Park on three sides, police failed to do their jobs.

In fact, as the Washington Post reports, police "seemed to watch as groups beat each other with sticks and bludgeoned one another with shields… At one point, police appeared to retreat and then watch the beatings before eventually moving in to end the free-for-all, make arrests and tend to the injured."

"Police Stood By As Mayhem Mounted in Charlottesville," reported ProPublica.

Incredibly, when the first signs of open violence broke out, the police chief allegedly instructed his staff to "let them fight, it will make it easier to declare an unlawful assembly."

In this way, police who were supposed to uphold the law and prevent violence failed to do either.

Indeed, a 220-page post-mortem of the protests and the Charlottesville government's response by former U.S. attorney Timothy J. Heaphy concluded that "the City of Charlottesville protected neither free expression nor public safety."

In other words, the government failed to uphold its constitutional mandates.

The police failed to carry out their duties as peace officers.

And the citizens found themselves unable to trust either the police or the government to do its job in respecting their rights and ensuring their safety.

This is not much different from what is happening on the present-day national scene.

Indeed, there's a pattern emerging if you pay close enough attention.

Civil discontent leads to civil unrest, which leads to protests and counterprotests. Tensions rise, violence escalates, police stand down, and federal armies move in. Meanwhile, despite the protests and the outrage, the government's abuses continue unabated.

It's all part of an elaborate setup by the architects of the police state. The government wants a reason to crack down and lock down and bring in its biggest guns.

They want us divided. They want us to turn on one another.

They want us powerless in the face of their artillery and armed forces.

They want us silent, servile and compliant.

They certainly do not want us to remember that we have rights, let alone attempting to exercise those rights peaceably and lawfully, whether it's protesting politically correct efforts to whitewash the past, challenging COVID-19 mandates, questioning election outcomes, or listening to alternate viewpoints—even conspiratorial ones—in order to form our own opinions about the true nature of government.

And they definitely do not want us to engage in First Amendment activities that challenge the government's power, reveal the government's corruption, expose the government's lies, and encourage the citizenry to push back against the government's many injustices.

Why else do you think WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange continues to molder in jail for daring to blow the whistle about the U.S. government's war crimes, while government officials who rape, plunder and kill walk away with little more than a slap on the wrist?

This is how it begins.

We are moving fast down that slippery slope to an authoritarian society in which the only opinions, ideas and speech expressed are the ones permitted by the government and its corporate cohorts.

In the wake of the January 6 riots at the Capitol, "domestic terrorism" has become the new poster child for expanding the government's powers at the expense of civil liberties.

Of course, "domestic terrorist" is just the latest bull's eye phrase, to be used interchangeably with "anti-government," "extremist" and "terrorist," to describe anyone who might fall somewhere on a very broad spectrum of viewpoints that could be considered "dangerous."

This unilateral power to muzzle free speech represents a far greater danger than any so-called right- or left-wing extremist might pose. The ramifications are so far-reaching as to render almost every American an extremist in word, deed, thought or by association.

Watch and see: we are all about to become enemies of the state.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People and in its fictional counterpart The Erik Blair Diaries, anytime you have a government that operates in the shadows, speaks in a language of force, and rules by fiat, you'd better beware.

So what's the answer?

For starters, we need to remember that we've all got rights, and we need to exercise them.

Most of all, we need to protect the rights of the people to speak truth to power, whatever that truth might be. Either "we the people" believe in free speech or we don't.

Fifty years ago, Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas asked:

"Since when have we Americans been expected to bow submissively to authority and speak with awe and reverence to those who represent us? The constitutional theory is that we the people are the sovereigns, the state and federal officials only our agents. We who have the final word can speak softly or angrily. We can seek to challenge and annoy, as we need not stay docile and quiet… [A]t the constitutional level, speech need not be a sedative; it can be disruptive… [A] function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute. It may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger."

In other words, the Constitution does not require Americans to be servile or even civil to government officials. Neither does the Constitution require obedience (although it does insist on nonviolence).

Somehow, the government keeps overlooking this important element in the equation.

The post The Government Wants to Silence the Opposition first appeared on Dissident Voice.
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