Monday, 24 December 2012

A wishful Christmas carol

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom,
it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity,
it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope,
it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us,
we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way...
Dickens - A Tale of Two Cities

Hope springs eternal in the human breast, so it's been said. All joy, love and good spirit might we long for in our altruistic Christmas carol.

And, indeed, one does wish enduringly for that better world: of transcending the terror of war, economic privation, eco-extinction and the multiple other afflictions of market-militarist life.

Yet, invoking the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come, what ever really changes in the world of greed politics, corporate destruction and state violence?

'Wise of the West' still cometh

An American president returns to office with still not the slightest inclination towards serving humanity, far less his own country, by seeking to end brutal wars, drone killings or the wicked sanctions now bringing despair to innocent Iranians.

A punitive, hopeless occupation staggers on in Afghanistan. Iraq, conquered, packaged-up and now ridden with daily explosions, remains stuck in the dark ages. And life is now a post-traumatic nightmare for many of those now 'liberated' by Nato from Gaddafi's Libya.

The year also ends with Hillary 'we-came-we saw-he-died' Clinton, David Cameron and the rest of the gun-totin' 'international community' announcing their extended services to the Syrian 'rebels' while warning darkly of Assad's chemical weapons 'threat'.

The absent evidence of any such 'intent' is but a pedantic detail to the more immediate political and media demonisation of another selective foe.

And so the case for this more difficult of 'liberal interventions' ratchets up another notch, despite clear evidence of further rebel atrocities in this most intractable of civil wars.

As Seumas Milne notes:
"You might imagine the multiplication of such incidents and the advance of fundamentalist groups in Syria would give western governments reason to pause before bolstering their support for the rebels. But in fact that's exactly why they insist they need to step up their involvement. David Cameron told parliament this week that there was now a "strategic imperative" to act because the Syrian war (which the west and its Gulf allies have been fuelling) is "empowering al-Qaida-linked extremists". There is an "opportunity", he says, for Britain, the US and autocratic regimes such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan to "shape" the Syrian opposition."
As Milne concludes, the West and its proxies show no appetite for mediation in a war that no side can actually win. Instead, of 'necessary intervention', it's, like Libya, another zero-sum commitment to more violence and massacres.

Holy land's unholy killing
It's another year when the same Western posse sat dutifully alongside Obama as Israel once again pulverised Gaza

While Syrian state violence was soundly denounced, Israeli state murder was continuously and quietly approved.

Nor could Obama or the UK bring themselves to support that most basic proposition of Palestine as an observer state at the UN.

Even the subsequent Israeli declaration of 3000 more illegal settler homes in East Jerusalem merited no more than an ambassadorial wrist-slap from Britain and a few Euro others.

How the European Union prided itself in collecting the Nobel Peace Prize while allowing Netanyahu and the 'world's most moral army' to carry on its ethnic cleansing.

As another young Palestinian was shot dead by Israeli soldiers outside a Hebron holy site, there was no such cause for rejoicing across a still brutally occupied West Bank.

Behind the big wall of Israel that cuts off the little town of Bethlehem, the repression carries relentlessly on.

Even an Israeli embassy, it seems, could find no other Christmas overture to Palestinians of the nativity town than a scurrilous message of hate.

Fittingly, Bush, Blair and other war crime associates remain banned from the Church of the Nativity.

Season of darkness

The carols may also carry a sombre tone back in the US, as the year culminates in yet another school massacre, the multiple victims this time twenty small children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.

As Michael Moore reiterated after America's last major shooting, it's a timely reminder of that country's insane gun culture - or is 'timely' even relevant anymore given the depressing frequency and likely repetition of such killings?

But, as Moore suggests, there's something much more disturbing at work here.

These killing sprees denote, for those who care to look, or look to care, a society itself deeply disfigured by violence; like the scarred child who grows up in a violent household coming to see violence as somehow natural.

And how is that violence 'normalized' in the mind of the average American, not just the brooding proto-killer?

Besides all the usual exposure to cultural gore, might it also be something to do with the violence of US foreign policy, that country's perennial warmongering and ransacking of other lands, its bullying removal of awkward leaders?

Might it be linked with the brutality of capital punishment and America's other savage ideas of penal 'correction'?

Could it also, somehow, be reflective of the wider do-or-die message of selfish corporate life?

Is it just the lone 'shooters' who are psychopathic or the entire system?  Which, if the latter, explains why, despite Obama's tears for the school victims, despite lofty promises of 'swift action', there's little serious prospect of guns being comprehensively removed from American households.

That's not just due to the power of the NRA gun lobby or right-wing proclamations of 'reserved liberties'. It's because the state itself and the corporate system it serves works on the inviolable rights of property, rather than human beings, with all the violent containment and industry of death that entails.

From locking-up mass numbers of Americans to the torturing of 'militant suspects' in macabre dungeons, from serial renditioning to the beastly incarceration of moral whistleblower Bradley Manning, all 'problems', it seems, have to be addressed, rationalised and 'resolved' through the prism of repression, vengeance and violence.

There's simply nothing that promotes equanimity, humility, peaceful engagement, the core ideals of dialogue, negotiation and wholesome resolution.

As with Clinton's crowing laughter after the execution of Gaddafi, we saw how Obama and his political-military circle gazed approvingly as Navy Seal operatives moved in, apparently live on camera, to murder Osama bin Laden. Recall, likewise, how pumped-up people celebrated openly on Times Square, chanting "USA, USA".

The unashamed gloating over this and other extrajudicial killings tell us much about how that state-approved violence filters down to the American public.

Predatory angels 

Beyond all the caressing words, Obama is himself an executive killer. And, as with his brutal directives against foreign peoples and urgings for violent execution, any grievance, as the school shooter seemingly had with some teachers and his mother, must be effected and 'resolved' with firepower.

The politicians and media lament Adam Lanza, this 'delinquent loner' sitting in a backroom plotting his killing spree. Yet, think of America's Predator drone operations, where anonymous uniforms crouch before computerised screens, pressing buttons to kill people half way around the world.

And make no mistake about the selection of targets: the US military, overseen by Obama, Commander-in-Chief, specifically approves the murder of children.

As revealed in disclosures about Obama's "Terror Tuesday" meetings, this is a president and his cabal operating well beyond any supposed rule of law:
From torture at CIA black site prisons and Abu Ghraib abuses to extraordinary renditions, from TSA body scanners and warrantless wiretaps to the PATRIOT Act, Americans have failed to be outraged by the government's repeated violations of the rule of law [...]

The New York Times' recent revelation that President Obama, operating off a government "kill list," has been personally directing who should be targeted for death by military drones (unmanned aerial assault vehicles) merely pushes us that much closer to that precipitous drop-off to authoritarianism. Should we fail to recognize and rectify the danger in allowing a single individual to declare himself the exception to the rule of law and assume the role of judge, jury, and executioner, we will have no one else to blame when we plunge once and for all into the abyss that is tyranny [...]

Declaring Obama's actions "without precedent in presidential history," the New York Times describes a process whereby every few weeks, Obama and approximately a hundred members of his national security team gather for their "Terror Tuesday" meetings in which they hand pick the next so-called national security "threat" to die by way of the American military/CIA drone program. Obama signs off personally on about a third of the drone strikes: all of the ones in Yemen and Somalia, and the risky ones in Pakistan [...]

Indeed, Obama's first authorized drone attack in Yemen led to the deaths of 14 women and 21 children, and only one al Qaeda affiliate. Incredibly, the government actually justifies these civilian deaths by suggesting that the individuals must be "militants" or "combatants" simply because of their proximity to the target.
In a society where its own president is driven by fear, paranoia and security psychosis, is it any wonder that the sale of public guns soared in the wake of Newtown? Obama is not, as many arms righters worry, some 'un-American' advocate of gun control, he's a model exponent of gun law.

In a particularly acute analysis, Glenn Greenwald unravels some of the darkest reasons why Obama and Americans at large can weep in deep sincerity over Newtown while feeling little empathy or interest in the murder of Muslim children in foreign lands:
But there are nonetheless two key issues highlighted by the intense grief for the Newtown victims compared to the utter indifference to the victims of Obama's militarism. The first is that it underscores how potent and effective the last decade's anti-Muslim dehumanization campaign has been.
Every war - particularly protracted ones like the "War on Terror" - demands sustained dehumanization campaigns against the targets of the violence. Few populations will tolerate continuous killings if they have to confront the humanity of those who are being killed. The humanity of the victims must be hidden and denied. That's the only way this constant extinguishing of life by their government can be justified or at least ignored. [...]
The violence and rights abridgments of the Bush and Obama administrations have been applied almost exclusively to Muslims. It is, therefore, Muslims who have been systematically dehumanized. Americans virtually never hear about the Muslims killed by their government's violence. They're never profiled. The New York Times doesn't put powerful graphics showing their names and ages on its front page. Their funerals are never covered. President Obama never delivers teary sermons about how these Muslim children "had their entire lives ahead of them - birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own." That's what dehumanization is: their humanity is disappeared so that we don't have to face it. 
But this dehumanization is about more than simply hiding and thus denying the personhood of Muslim victims of US violence. It is worse than that: it is based on the implicit, and sometimes overtly stated, premise that Muslims generally, even those guilty of nothing, deserve what the US does to them, or are at least presumed to carry blame. 
And when we think of such dehumaniztion and the victim "bug-splats" - so goes their cruel terminology - take some time also to reflect on Israel's similar callous conduct and the indifference of many of its citizens to Palestinian suffering.

So many Palestinian children have been snuffed-out in this casual manner, whether by Spot and Shoot joystick operators along Gaza's militarised fence or by missiles from F-16 planes blowing them to bits.

Like Obama's disregard for the children murdered by drones in Pakistan, Yemen and other 'far-off' places, where's the tears and memorials for them?

Tales of two cities and Oliver's twists

All of which dark surveillance and cold detachment marks the same psychopathic phantom we benignly call the corporation.

Akin to the school shooter, corporate forces act ruthlessly, in a manner utterly uncaring of people or their suffering. As with the violent taking of others' land and resources through bombing or other subterfuge, 'free-market' interests are violently rampaging their way to profit.

All across the globe, from Wall Street to the City of London, mammonic greed and financial imperatives prevail, crushing the lowly, wiping out lives.

So passes another year of rampant, class-driven austerity in Britain as George Gideon Oliver Osborne, Cameron's Etonian chum, continues to purge the poor and most vulnerable for the greed and chaos of the bankers. 
Despite supposed 'clawbacks', city bankers still enjoy hefty bonuses, while those in cuts-ridden cities languish in poverty, with record numbers of people, including those in work, now in desperate need of food banksDickens himself would be appalled.

There are now widespread reports from many UK cities of starving children stealing bread from supermarkets just to survive.

In another piece of cruel Dickensian legislation, the ConDem government have also ordered disabled people to take compulsory jobs, all part of the grovel-for-your-gruel workhouse ethic that passes these days for a welfare system. 

In the city of Glasgow, as with many others, there's the ongoing scandal of divided life expectancies; a postcode lottery of relative wealth, health and survival.
Bleak House it certainly is for many:
"The reality of real poverty can be witnessed all over Glasgow this Christmas. The people who will suffer from its worst effects are simply, in the eyes of our chancellor, the people who live under the stairs. To him, they are beyond consideration while the Labour party long ago abandoned them. [...]

This Christmas in Glasgow’s East End hundreds of mothers will face a dehumanising dilemma. They must choose either to disconnect their gas or electricity supplies so that they can feed their children. Some of them will try to predict from weather bulletins what day will be the coldest of the week and may aim to sleep the entire family in a single heated room that night."
None amongst Osborne's privileged class of city gents and grasping bankers, we can be sure, will be facing that kind of economic chill and worry this Christmas.

A worried FBI memorandum on Frank Capra's famous Christmas film It's a Wonderful Life once warned of its 'subversive' message, fearing that it:
"represented rather obvious attempts to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as a "scrooge-type" so that he would be the most hated man in the picture [...] a common trick used by Communists. In addition, [redacted] stated that, in his opinion, this picture deliberately maligned the upper class, attempting to show the people who had money were mean and despicable characters. [...] In summary, [redacted] stated that it was not necessary to make the banker such a mean character [...]"
What kind of similar concerns, one wonders, are being recorded by the current agencies of social control as pariah bankers, city overlords and their political servants continue to scrooge society's most exposed?

And I think to myself, what a wonderful world

Still, just to help us stay collectively cheery this festive time, knowing that we're all one and together in the doomsday stakes, there's always the looming prospect of a planetary collapse - a real earth crisis, that is, rather than the much misinterpreted Mayan one.

Four years and counting.

Reflecting again on the massacre at Newtown, one is struck by the cold indifference of the psychopathic shooter; how he had no apparent feeling or empathy for his victims. Likewise with political crazies like Netanyahu as - still safe and protected, rather than dead or imprisoned - he surveyed the latest massacre of Gaza.

One is reminded of the same casual indifference to humanity when corporations and politicians wantonly approve the massacring of the planet.

Ministers have, for example, just fired-off a policy directive permitting mass gas fracking across the UK, surely understanding the devastating consequences. It's like pumping more and more bullets into the victim without any seeming care or feeling.

And while the political and corporate assassins continue their murderous eco-crimes, a liberal class stands idly by in complicit silence. As David Cromwell of Media Lens laments:
"One of the biggest failures of the liberal class has been its inability to see, far less challenge, the inherently destructive and psychopathic nature of corporations. [...]

In September, senior NASA climate scientist James Hansen had warned of a ‘planetary emergency’ because of the dangerous effects of Arctic ice melt, including methane gas released from permafrost regions currently under ice. ‘We are in a planetary emergency,’ said Hansen, decrying ‘the gap between what is understood by scientific community and what is known by the public.’As ever, the latest UN Climate Summit in Doha was just another talking shop that paid lip service to the need for radical and immediate action in curbing greenhouse gas emissions in the face of climate chaos. [...]

The failure of the liberal class to rein in, or seriously challenge, corporate power is typified by this appalling gap between climate change rhetoric and reality."
All too typically, a Guardian editorial urges us to do our "patriotic duty" and get out there shopping for the economy.  Any dutiful consideration of the environment goes, of course, unmentioned.

Yet, as the polar ice melts and the atmosphere warms, might we take some comfort from the more resilient weathering of the human spirit?

Even as the planet succumbs to insatiable corporate forces, it's still a wonderful life when we remember those much richer human resources that people continue to uphold, rather than kill for, in rejection of violence, greed, hate and fear. Thus could Robbie Parks, father of one of the children killed in the Newtown school, still find some compassion to include the family of Adam Lanza in his comforting thoughts.

The admirable capacity for consideration of suffering others, even at times of personal loss, economic fear or other life anxiety stands in stark contrast to the malevolence, self-grabbing and unforgiving nature of our political-corporate disorder.  It may be our last hope of earthly salvation.
And, finally, as corporations and market forces continue to trash human lives with neoliberal rules and consumer debris this Christmas, here's a remarkable story from a Paraguay landfill site where poverty-stricken people are turning that trash around through inventive craftsmanship and musical resistance. What inspiring humanity.

With a kindly nod to John Winston Lennon (who returned his MBE in rejection of empire, establishment and the fall of Cold Turkey down the charts) even if war on the poorest, the weakest and the weapons-inflicted children is far from over:


Monday, 3 December 2012

Palestine, the UN vote and Israeli 'responses'

While the UN's qualified recognition of Palestinian statehood changes little and may even have some regressive effects, it's a welcome landmark in popularising the Palestinian cause, further isolating Israel and shaming its diminishing band of state backers.

The UN vote to upgrade Palestine to observer state was carried overwhelmingly, with 139 states for, 9 against (Canada, Czech Republic, Israel, Marshall Islands, Micronesia (Federated States of), Nauru, Palau, Panama, United States) and 41 abstentions (including the UK, Germany and Australia).

Although the vote was not for full state membership, it's telling that Israel acted so vehemently in seeking to deny Palestine even this modicum of enhanced standing.

Israel's bitter 'response' to the vote: that it will proceed with building another 3000 houses, thus realising a contiguous link between East Jerusalem and its West Bank settlements.

In summoning the Israeli ambassador, the UK is, apparently, now:
"furious at Israel's decision to take punitive measures in response, including the authorisation of the 3,000 new settler homes and the development of land east of Jerusalem known as E1 for construction. A Foreign Office spokesperson said on Monday: "We deplore the recent Israeli government decision to build 3,000 new housing units and unfreeze development in the E1 block. This threatens the viability of the two-state solution."
Leaving aside its negation of the Palestine bid, Britain's belated 'fury', we can be sure, lies not in any proactive support for the Palestinians but in the discomfort it feels in Israel having upset its default posture of a 'peace processing' 'two-state solution'.

Likewise, Hillary Clinton's muted 'criticism' of the announcement only confirms Washington's own window-dressing and resilient loyalty to a state acting, like the US, as a law unto itself.

As with Israel's previous disregard for such 'warnings', there's a reasonable certainty that this latest illegal construction would have proceeded anyway, with or without the UN vote.

So, while helping to garner global awareness and public support, does the UN's ratification amount to any real advancement of the Palestinian case on the ground?

Again, in terms of the physical occupation/siege, it solves nothing: Israel, as we see from the ongoing expansion, remains in total control.

However, it does alter the political/legal configuration of the issue, as in the new fact that one state, Israel, is now occupying another state, rather than a 'territory', albeit a state with only observer standing.

Moreover, that observer status now permits Palestinian participation in various UN bodies and, more significantly, the International Criminal Court, a more acute concern for Israel, the US and UK.

As Francis Boyle (professor of international law at the University of Illinois College of Law) specifies: "This can be the start of a ‘Legal Intifadah’":
1. “Palestine can join the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court and file a Complaint with the ICC against the illegal settlements and settlers, who are committing war crimes;
2. “Palestine can join the Statute for the International Court of Justice, sue Israel at the World Court, and break the illegal siege of Gaza;
3. “Palestine can join the Law of the Sea Convention and get its fair share of the enormous gas fields lying off the coast of Gaza, thus becoming economically self-sufficient;
4. “Palestine can become a High Contracting Party to the Four Geneva Conventions [this deals with the laws of war];
5. “Palestine can join the International Civil Aviation Organization and gain sovereign, legal control over its own airspace;
6. “Palestine can join the International Telecommunications Union and gain sovereign legal control over its own airwaves, phone lines, bandwidths.”
Norman Finkelstein argues, in similar vein, that the UN vote represents a significant milestone in the Palestinians' legal standing, a key advancement realised by adhering to "the baseline of international law" - unlike Israel's modus operandi, which is to openly dismiss and flout it.

Yet, while acknowledging these new legal openings and gathering global support for Palestine, Ali Abinimah has strong doubts about the overall worth of the 'upgrade', believing that it merely confirms Palestinians' lowly aspirations in yielding to far less than a full rights agenda, while serving to prop-up a quisling Abbas and his Palestinian Authority.

In the wake of the latest attacks on Gaza, the strong European turn in support of this latest Palestinian bid can also be read as such countries registering their 'concerns' without having to engage in any more serious censure of Israel. It's also something of a rearguard nod to the 'moderate Abbas' rather than having to extend any kind of conciliatory hand towards Hamas.

Hamas's own declaration of support for the UN bid, reflecting its onward rapprochement with Fatah, suggests other valid concerns about a possible watering-down of Palestinian rights.

Joseph Massad also warns that the vote risks abrogating key Palestinian rights, authenticating Israel's racist colonial state and effectively handing over negotiating/spokesperson powers from the PLO to the PA.

As Massad notes, beyond all the claims being made for 'statehood', the principal issue of basic Palestinian rights  - notably, the right of return - is still uppermost for most Palestinians. And any realisation of that, as Ali Abunimah correctly asserts, will require a much more sustained agenda of internal Palestinian resistance and international solidarity.

Yet, despite these valid reservations over the UN 'victory', one can still take some encouragement from the actual vote. As Jonathan Cook (at his public facebook page) notes:
The UN vote in favour of the Palestinians is a small moment of triumph against Israeli bullying that should be celebrated. Observer status may mean little in practice, at least in the short term, but it marks a notable shift in the world community's acceptance of Palestinian rights, a trend that will continue to accelerate. It also complicates Israel's relations with the Palestinians, particularly on the issues of the settlements and war crimes, that may benefit the Palestinians over the longer term.
Despite Israel's vociferous hostility to the resolution and America's 'warning' that it 'sets back a negotiated peace', the vote represents a very public endorsement of Palestinian rights. In the wake of the latest travesty against Gaza, it's another ringing rebuke to Israel, the US and 'pragmatic' abstainers like the UK.

Israel's decision to withhold Palestinian tax revenues also helps expose its full vengeful nature - as does the deeply hateful and racist outpourings of Israel's own UNICEF 'peace ambassador' Judy Salom Nir-Mozes.

With typical chutzpah, Israel's UN ambassador Ron Prosor twisted the UN defeat thus:
"A defeat for Israel? I see it differently. The Arabs have an automatic majority at the UN. Only 87 of the 193 members of the UN are countries defined as democracies. In other words, more than 100 members of the UN are countries living under repressive regimes."
Might it ever occur to the 'maligned' Prosor that his is one of the most repressive, apartheid-driven regimes on earth, stealing ever-more land, starving and bombing Gazans into submission and denying basic democratic rights to its Arab 'citizens'?

In stark contrast to Israel's own selective 'democracy' and contempt for international law, the Palestinian win at the UN will be seen, in world opinion, as the actions of a courageous underdog standing up to a cocky bully and its playground protectors. Whatever long and difficult task ahead in breaking the occupation and realising true Palestinian rights, the value of such moral and popular publicity should not be underestimated.