Monday, May 4, 2015

Make the Rich Panic

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It does not matter to the corporate rich who wins the presidential election. It does not matter who is elected to Congress. The rich have the power. They throw money at their favorites the way a gambler puts cash on his favorite horse. Money has replaced the vote. The wealthy can crush anyone who does not play by their rules. And the political elites—slobbering over the spoils provided by their corporate masters for selling us out—understand the game. Barack and Michelle Obama, as did the Clintons, will acquire many millions of dollars once they leave the White House. And your elected representative in the House or Senate, if not a multimillionaire already, will be one as soon as he or she retires from government and is handed seats on corporate boards or positions in lobbying firms. We do not live in a democracy. We live in a political system that has legalized bribery, exclusively serves corporate power and is awash in propaganda and lies.

If you want change you can believe in, destroy the system. And changing the system does not mean collaborating with it as Bernie Sandersis doing by playing by the cooked rules of the Democratic Party. Profound social and political transformation is acknowledged in legislatures and courts but never initiated there. Radical change always comes from below. As long as our gaze is turned upward to the powerful, as long as we invest hope in reforming the system of corporate power, we will remain enslaved. There may be good people within the system—Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are examples—but that is not the point. It is the system that is rotten. It must be replaced.

“The only way you can get the parties’ attention is if you take votes away from them,” Ralph Nader told me by phone. “So,” he said of Sanders, “How serious is he? He makes Clinton a better phony candidate. She is going to have to agree with him on a number of things. She is going to have to be more anti-Wall Street to fend him off and neutralize him. We know it is bullshit. She will betray us once she becomes president. He is making her more likely to win. And by April he is done. Then he fades away.”

We must build mass movements that are allied with independent political parties—a tactic used in Greece by Syrizaand in Spain by Podemos. Political action without the support of radical mass movements inevitably becomes hollow, and that, I think, will be the fate of the Sanders presidential campaign. Only by building militant mass movements that are unrelentingly hostile to the system of corporate capitalism, imperialism, militarism and globalization can we wrest back our democracy.

“The gates are controlled by two parties indentured to the same commercial interests,” Nader said. “If you don’t go through those gates, if you do what[Ross] Perot did, ... you [might] get 19 million votes [but] not one electoral vote. If you do not get electoral votes you don’t come close. And even if you do get electoral votes you are up against a winner-take-all. This means if you lose you don’t build for the future as you would with proportional representation. The system is a locked-out system. It is brilliantly devised. It is pruned to perfect a two-party duopoly.”

We have to organize around a series of non-negotiable demands. We have to dismantle the array of mechanisms the rich use to control power. We have to destroy the ideological and legal system cemented into place to justify corporate plunder.

This is called revolution. It is about ripping power away from a cabal of corporate oligarchs and returning it to the citizenry. This will happen not by appealing to corporate power but by terrifying it. And power, as we saw in Baltimore, will be terrified only when we take to the streets. There is no other way.

“The rich are only defeated when running for their lives,” the historian C.L.R. Jamesnoted. And until you see the rich fleeing in panic from the halls of Congress, the temples of finance, the universities, the media conglomerates, the war industry and their exclusive gated communities and private clubs, all politics in America will be farce.

It is apparent to most people across the globe that organizing political and social behavior around the dictates of the marketplace has proved to be a disaster for working men and women. The promised prosperity that was to have raised living standards through trickle-down economics has been exposed as a lie. The corporate state, understanding that it has been unmasked with the rise of unrest, has formed militarized police forces, stripped us of legal protection, taken over the legislative bodies, the courts and mass media, and built the most intrusive system of mass surveillance in human history. Corporate power, if unchecked, will suck every last bit of profit out of human society and the ecosystem before collapse. It has no self-imposed limits. And it has no external limits. Only we can create them.

To save ourselves from impending financial and environmental catastrophe we need to build movements that have as their uncompromising goal the abolition of corporate power. Corporation after corporation, including banks, energy companies, the health care sector and defense contractors, must be broken up and nationalized. We must institute a nationwide public works program, especially for those under the age of 25, to create conditions for full employment. We must mandate a $15-an-hour minimum wage. We must slash our obscene spending on defense—we spend $610 billion a year, more than four times the outlay of the second-largest military spender, China—and cut the size of our armed forces by more than half. We must rebuild our infrastructure, including mass transit, roads, bridges, schools, libraries and public housing. We must make war on the fossil fuel industry and turn to alternative sources of energy. We must place heavy taxes on the rich, including a special tax on Wall Street speculators that would be used to wipe out the $1.3 trillion in student debt. We must ensure that education at all levels, along with health care, is a free right of all Americans, not something accessible for the wealthy alone. We must abolish the Electoral College and mandate public financing of political campaigns. We must see that the elderly, the disabled, poor single parents and the mentally ill receive a weekly income of at least $600, or we must find them space in state-run institutions if they require daily care. We must institute a moratorium on foreclosures and bank repossessions. We must end our wars and the proxy wars in the Middle East and bring home our soldiers, Marines, airmen and sailors. We must pay reparations to Iraq and Afghanistan, and to African-Americans whose ancestors largely built this country as slaves who never were compensated for their labor. We must repeal the Patriot Act and Section 1021of the National Defense Authorization Act. We must abolish the death penalty. We must dismantle our system of mass incarceration, release the vast majority of our 2.3 million prisoners, place them in job-skill programs and find them work and housing.

Police must be demilitarized. Mass surveillance must end. Undocumented workers must be given citizenship and full protection under the law. NAFTA, CAFTAand other free-trade agreements must be revoked. Anti-labor laws such as the Taft-Hartley Act, along with laws that criminalize poverty and dissent, must be repealed.

All this is the minimum.

Do not expect the corporate masters of war and commerce to willingly let this happen. They must be forced.

Revolutions take time. They are often begun by one generation and completed by the next. “Those who give the first check to a state are the first overwhelmed in its ruin,” Michel de Montaignewrote in 1580. “The fruits of public commotion are seldom enjoyed by him who was the first mover; he only beats the water for another’s net.” Revolutions can be crushed by force, as amply demonstrated by history. Or they may be hijacked by individuals such as Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky and Josef Stalin or movements that betray the populace. There are no guarantees that we will move toward a worker’s paradise or socialist utopia—we might move toward the most efficient form of totalitarianism in human history.

Radical movements are often their own worst enemies. The activists within them have a bad habit of fighting over arcane bits of doctrine, forming counterproductive schisms, misreading power and engaging in self-defeating and ultimately self-destructive internal power struggles. When they do not carefully calculate their power and the moment to strike, they often overreach and are crushed. The state uses its ample resources to infiltrate, monitor and vilify groups and arrest or assassinate movement leaders—and all uprisings, even supposedly leaderless ones, have leaders. Success is not assured, especially given the endemic levels of violence that have characterized American society.

But no matter what happens, the chain reaction that leads to revolt has begun. Most people realize that our expectations for a better future have been obliterated, not only those for ourselves but also for our children. This realization has lit the fuse. There is a widespread loss of faith in established systems of power. The will to rule is weakening among the elites, who are entranced by hedonism and decadence. Internal corruption is rampant and transparent. Government is despised.

The nation, like many prerevolutionary societies, is headed into crisis. Lenin identified the components that come together to foster a successful revolt:

The fundamental law of revolution, which has been confirmed by all revolutions, and particularly by all three Russian revolutions in the twentieth century, is as follows: it is not enough for revolution that the exploited and oppressed masses should understand the impossibility of living in the old way and demand changes, what is required for revolution is that the exploiters should not be able to live and rule in the old way. Only when the “lower classes” do not want the old way, and when the “upper classes” cannot carry on in the old way—only then can revolution win.
When I was a foreign correspondent I covered revolts, insurgencies and revolutions, including the guerrilla conflicts in the 1980s in Central America; the civil wars in Algeria, Sudan and Yemen; and the two Palestinian uprisings or intifadas, along with the revolutions in East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Romania and the war in the former Yugoslavia. I have seen that despotic regimes collapse internally. Once the foot soldiers of the elite—the police, the courts, the civil servants, the press, the intellectual class and finally the army—no longer have the will to defend the regime, the regime is finished. When these state organs are ordered to carry out acts of repression—such as clearing people from parks and arresting or even shooting demonstrators—and refuse their orders, the old regime crumbles. The veneer of power appears untouched before a revolution, but the internal rot, unseen by the outside world, steadily hollows out the state edifice. And when dying regimes collapse, they do so with dizzying speed. Upheaval is coming. The people must be prepared. If we are, we will have a chance.

Fukushima’s “Caldrons of Hell”: More than 300 Tons of Highly Radioactive Water Generated Daily

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Asahi Shimbun, May 1, 2015 (emphasis added): Yauemon Sato, the ninth-generation chief of a sake brewery operating here since 1790 [and president of electric power company Aizu Denryoku] likens the crippled reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant to “caldrons of hell.” In a recent interview with The Asahi Shimbun, Sato said the nuclear disaster “continues to recur every day”… Excerpts from the interview follow: Question: What drives you to be so active, including in the use of renewable energy? — Sato: You know the caldron of hell? You will be sent to hell and will be boiled in that caldron if you do evil. And there are four such caldrons in Fukushima… And the disaster has yet to end. It continues to recur every day. More than 300 tons of water, contaminated with intense levels of radioactive substances, are being generated every day…
  • 11:30 – The Prime Minister [said Fukushima] had been brought to a close. My reaction on hearing his words was, ‘Stop kidding.’ Reality is, though 4 years have passed, the accident has not yet been brought to a close at all.
  • 15:15 – What is the situation within the core? How much has melted? Where is the fuel exactly? We do not know… This is an accident of a severity that cannot be imagined anywhere else… As you can see, we are facing a very, very difficult situation. The only choice that we have open to us is to somehow keep the situation from getting worse.
  • 30:30 – We are in a very terrible situation, I would even call it a crisis.
  • 55:30 – The Japanese government has issued a declaration that this is an emergency situation. As a result, normal laws do not have to be followed. What they are saying is that, in these very high radiation exposure level areas, they have basically abandoned people to live there. They’ve actually thrown them away to live there… The Cs-137 that’s fallen onto Japanese land in the Tohoku and Kanto regions, so much so that this area should all be put under the radiation control area designation [the Kanto region includes Tokyo and is home to over 40 million people].
  • 1:01:00 – I really do want to impress upon you that the accident effects are continuing.
  • 1:02:00 – Bahrain’s Ambassador to Japan: If you were the Prime Minister of Japan, what are you going to do with this very complicated situation?… Koide: When you have an emergency legally declared, regular laws are put on hold. What that means is people can be thrown away into areas where normally people should not be… The first thing I would do as Prime Minister is evacuate all the children that are in the contaminated areas.
  • Watch Koide’s presentation here

Body Counts, Drones and ‘Collateral Damage’ (aka ‘Bug Splat’)

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In the twenty-first-century world of drone warfare, one question with two aspects reigns supreme: Who counts?

In Washington, the answers are the same: We don’t count and they don’t count.

The Obama administration has adamantly refused to count. Not a body.  In fact, for a long time, American officials associated with Washington’s drone assassination campaigns and “signature strikes” in the backlands of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Yemen claimed that there were no bodies to count, that the CIA’s drones were so carefully handled and so “precise” that they never producedan unmeant corpse—not a child, not a parent, not a wedding party. Nada.

When it came to “collateral damage,” there was no need to count because there was nothing to tote up or, at worst, such civilian casualties were“in the single digits.”  That this was balderdash, that often when those drones unleashed their Hellfire missiles they were unsure who exactly was being targeted, that civilians were dying in relatively countable numbers—and that others were indeed counting them— mattered little, at least in this country until recently. Drone war was,  after all, innovative and, as presented by two administrations, quite miraculous. In 2009, CIA Director Leon Panetta called it“the only game in town” when it came to al-Qaeda.  And what a game it was.  It needed no math, no metrics.  As the Vietnam War had proved,  counting was for losers—other than the usual media reports that so many “militants” had died in a strike or that some al-Qaeda “lieutenant”  or “leader” had gone downfor the count.

That era ended on April 23rd when President Obama entered the White House briefing room and apologizedfor the deaths of American aid worker Warren Weinstein and Italian aid worker Giovanni Lo Porto, two Western hostages of al-Qaeda.  They had,  the president confessed, been obliterated in a strike against a terrorist compound in Pakistan, though in his comments he managed not to mentionthe word “drone,” describing what happened vaguely as a “U.S.  counterterrorism operation.”  In other words, it turned out that the administration was capable of counting—at least to two.

And that brings us to the other meaning of “Who counts?”  If you are an innocent American or Western civilian and a drone takes you out, you count.  If you are an innocent Pakistani, Afghan, or Yemeni, you don’t.   You didn’t count before the drone killed you and you don’t count as a corpse either.  For you, no one apologizes, no one paysyour relatives compensation for your unjust death, no one even acknowledges that you existed.  This is modern American drone reality and the question of who counts and whom, if anyone, to count is part of the contested legacy of Washington’s never-ending war on terror.

Once upon a time, of course, enemy deaths were a badge of honor in war, but the American “body count,” which would become infamous in the Vietnam era, had always been a product of frustration, not pride.  It originated in the early 1950s, in the “meat-grinder” days of the Korean War, after the fighting had bogged down in a grim stalemate and signs of victory were hard to come by.  It reappeared relatively early in the Vietnam War years as American officials began searching for “metrics” that would somehow express victory in a country where taking territory in the traditional fashion meant little.  As time went on, the brutality of that war increased, and the promised “light at the end of the tunnel” glowed ever more dimly, the metrics of victory only grew, and the pressure to produce that body count, which could be announced daily by U.S. press spokesmen to increasingly dubious journalists in Saigon did, too.  Soon enough, those reporters began referring to the daily announcements of those figures as the “Five O’Clock Follies.”

On the ground, the pressure within the military to produce impressive body counts for those “Follies” resulted in what GIs called the “Mere Gook Rule.” (“If it’s dead and it’s Vietnamese, it’s VC [Viet Cong].”)  And soon enough anything counted as a body.  As William Calley, Jr., of My Lai massacre fame, testified, “At that time, everything went into a body count—VC, buffalo, pigs, cows.  Something we did, you put it on your body count, sir… As long as it was high, that was all they wanted.”

When, however, victory proved illusory, that body count came to appear to ever more Americans on the home front like grim slaughter and a metric from hell.  As a sign of success, increasingly detached from reality yet producing reality, it became a death-dealing Catch-22.   As those bodies piled up and in the terminology of the times a “credibility gap” yawned between the metrics and reality, the body count became a symbol not just of a war of frustration, but of defeat itself. It came, especially after the news of the My Lai massacre finally broke in the U.S., to look both false and barbaric. Whose bodies were those anyway?

In the post-Vietnam era, not surprisingly, Washington would treat anything associated with the disaster that had been Vietnam as if it were radioactive.  So when, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration’s top officials began planning their twenty-first-century wars in a state of exhilarated anticipation, they had no intention of reliving anything that reeked of Vietnam.  There would be no body bags coming homein the glare of media attention, no body counts in the battle zones.  They were ready to play an opposites game when it came to Vietnam. General Tommy Franks, who directed the Afghan invasion and then the one in Iraq, caught the mood perfectly in 2003 when he said, “We don’t do body counts.”

There would be no more “Five O’clock Follies,” not in wars in which victory was assured for “the greatest force for freedom in the history of the world” and “the finest fighting force that the world has ever known” (as presidents took to callingthe U.S. military).  And that remains official military policy today.  Only recently, for instance, Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby respondedto a journalist’s question about how many Islamic State fighters and civilians U.S. air power had recently killed in Washington’s latest war in Iraq this way: “First of all, we don’t have the ability to—to count every nose that we shwack [sic]. Number two, that’s not the goal. That’s not the goal… And we’re not getting into an issue of body counts. And that’s why I don’t have that number handy. I wouldn’t—I wouldn’t have asked my staff to give me that number before I came out here. It’s simply not a relevant figure.”

From 2003 to 2015, official policy on the body count has not reflected reality.  The U.S. military has, in fact, continued to count bodies.  For one thing, it kept and reportedthe numbers on America’s war dead, bodies that truly counted, though no one would have called the tallies a body count.  For another, from beginning to end, the military has been secretly counting the dead on the other side as well, perhaps to privately convince themselves, Vietnam-style, that they were indeed winning in wars where a twenty-first-century version of the credibility gap appeared all too quickly and never left the scene.  As David Axe has written, the military “proudly boasts of the totals in official documents that it never intends for public circulation.”  He added, “The disconnect over wartime body counts reflects a yawning gap between the military’s public face and its private culture.”

To Count or Not to Count, That Is the Question

But here was the oddest thing: whatever the military might have been counting, the fact that it stopped counting in public didn’t stop the body count from happening.  It turned out that there were others on this planet no less capable of counting dead bodies.  In the end, the cast of characters producing the public metrics of this era simply changed and with it the purpose of the count.  The newcomers had, you might say, different answers to both parts of the question: Who counts?

Over the last century, as “collateral damage”—the deaths of civilians, rather than combatants—has become ever more the essenceof war, the importance of who is dying and in what numbers has only increased.  When the U.S. military began refusing to make its body count part of a public celebration of its successes, civil society stepped in with a very different impulse: to shame, blame, and hold the military’s feet to the fire by revealing the deeper carnage of war itself and what it does to society, not just to the warriors.

While the previous counters had pretended that all bodies belonged to enemies, the new counters tried to make “collateral damage” the central issue of war.  No matter what the researchers who have done such counts may say, most of them are, by their nature, critiques of war, American-style, and included in them were no longer just the bodies, civilian and military, found on the battlefield, but every body that could somehow be linked to a conflict or its fallout, its side effects, its afteraffects.

Think of this as a new numerology of defeat or disaster or slaughter or shame.  In the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, distinctly non-military outfits took up this counting or estimating process.  In 2004 and 2006, the Lancet, a British medical journal, published studiesbased on scientific surveys of “excess Iraqi deaths” since the American invasion of 2003 and, in the first case, came up with an estimated 98,000 of them and in the second with 655,000 (a much-criticizedfigure); such studies by medical and other researchers have never stopped.  More recent counts of such deaths have ranged from 500,000in 2013 to one millionor 5% of the Iraqi population this year.

The most famous enumeration of civilian casualties in Iraq, however, comes from the constantly upgraded tally—based on published media reports, hospital and morgue records, and the like—of Iraq Body Count, the independent website that bills itself as “the public record of violent deaths following the 2003 invasion of Iraq.”  At this moment, its most up-to-date top estimate for civilian deaths since that invasion is 156,000 (211,000, including the deaths of combatants).  And these figures are considered by the site and others as distinctly conservative, no more than what can be known about a subject of which much is, by necessity, unknown.

In Afghanistan, there has been less tallying, but the U.N. Mission there has kept a countof civilian casualties from the ongoing war and estimates the cumulative figure, since 2001, at 21,000(though again, that is undoubtedly a conservative figure).  However, when it comes to the American drone campaigns in Pakistan and Yemen, in particular, where the Obama administration has adamantly resisted the idea of significant civilian casualties, the civilian counters have been there under the most impressivelydifficult circumstances, sometimes with representatives on the ground in distant parts of Pakistan and elsewhere.  In a world in which drone operators refer to the victims of their strikes as “bug splat” and top administration officials prefer to obliterate those “bugs” a second time by denying that their deaths even occurred, the attempt to give them back their names, ages, and sexes, to remind the world of what was most human about the dead of our new wars, should be considered a heroic task.

The London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, in particular, has done careful as well as dogged worktabulating drone casualtiesin Pakistan and Yemen, including counts and estimates of all those killed by drones, of civilians killed by drones, and of children killed by drones.  It even has a project, “Naming the Dead,” that attempts to reattach names and other basic personal information—sometimes even photos—to the previously nameless dead (721 of them so far).  The Long War Journal (a militarized exception to the rule when it comes to the counters of this era) has also kept a record of what it could dig up about drone deaths in Pakistanand Yemen, as has theNew America Foundationon Pakistan.  In 2012 the Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic studied the three sources of such counts and issued a reportof its own.

Among the more fascinating reports, the human-rights group Reprieve recently considered claims to drone “precision” and surgical accuracy by doing its own analysisof the available data.  It concluded that, in trying to target and assassinate 41 enemy figures in Pakistan and Yemen over the years, Washington’s drones had managed to kill 1,147 people without even killing all the figures actually targeted.  (As Spencer Ackerman of the Guardian wrote, “The drones came for Ayman Zawahiri on 13 January 2006, hovering over a village in Pakistan called Damadola. Ten months later, they came again for the man who would become al-Qaida’s leader, this time in Bajaur. Eight years later, Zawahiri is still alive. Seventy-six children and 29 adults, according to reports after the two strikes, are not.”)

In other words, when it came to counting, civil society rode to the rescue, though the impact of the figures produced has remained limited indeed in this country.  In some ways, the only body count of any sort that has made an impression here in recent years has been sniper Chris Kyle’s 160confirmed Iraqi “kills” that played such a part in the publicity for the blockbuster movie American Sniper.

Exceptional Killers

In his public apology for deaths that were clearly embarrassing to him, President Obama managed to fall back on a trope that has become ever more politically commonplace in these years.  Even in the context of a situation in which two innocent hostages had been killed, he congratulated himself and all Americans for the exceptional nature of this country. “It is a cruel and bitter truth,” he said, “that in the fog of war generally and our fight against terrorists specifically, mistakes—sometimes deadly mistakes—can occur.  But one of the things that sets America apart from many other nations, one of the things that makes us exceptional is our willingness to confront squarely our imperfections and to learn from our mistakes.”

Whatever our missteps, in other words, we Americans are exceptional killers in a world of ordinary ones.  This attitude has infused Obama’s global assassination program and the White House “kill list” that goes with it and that the president has personally overseen.  Pridein his killing agenda was evident in the decision to leaknews of that list to the New York Times back in May 2012.  And this version of American exceptionalism fits well with the exceptionalism of the drone itself—even if it is a weapon guaranteed to become less exceptional as it spreads to more countries (in part through recently green-lighted U.S. drone salesto allies).

On the rarest of occasions, Obama admitted in that White House briefing room, drone strikes even kill exceptional people (like us) who need to be attended to presidentially, whose deaths deserve apologies, whose lives are to be highlighted in special media accounts, and whose value is such that recompense is due to their families.  In most of the places the drone goes, however, those it kills by mistake are, by definition, unexceptional.  They deserve neither notice nor apology nor recompense.  They count for nothing.

One thing makes the drone a unique weapon in the world of the uncounted dead on a planet where killing otherwise seems like a dime-a-dozen activity: its pilot, its “crew,” those who trigger the launch of its missiles are hundreds, even thousands of miles away from danger.  Though we speak loosely about drone “warfare,” the way that machine functions bears little relation to war as it was once defined.  Conceptually, the drone represents a one-way street of destruction.  Because in its version of “warfare” only one side can be hurt, its “signature” is slaughter, not war, no matter how carefully it may be used.  It is an executioner’s weapon.

In part because of that, it’s also a blowback weapon.  Though it may surprise Americans, those to be slaughtered, the hunted, don’t take to the constant buzz of drones in their skies in a kindly fashion.  They reportedly exhibit the symptoms ofPTSD; they are resentful; they grasp the unfairness and injustice that lies behind the machine and its form of “warfare” and are unimpressed with the exceptionalism of the Americans using it.  As a result, drones across the Greater Middle East have been the equivalent of recruitment postersfor those who want revenge and so for extremist outfits everywhere.

Drones should be weapons of shame and yet, despite the recent round of criticism here in the wake of the hostage killings, their use is still widely supportedin Washington and among the public.  The justification for their use, whatever “legal” white papersthe Obama administration has produced as cover, is simple enough: power.  We send them across sovereign boundaries as we wish in search of those we want to kill because we can, because we are us.

So all praise to the few in our world who think it worth the bother to count those who count for nothing to us. They do matter.