Monthly Archives: September 2012

Election Realities

Who’s most in touch with reality re: the upcoming election? Those who plan to vote for third party candidates (or ignore the election completely), or the majority who will vote for the lesser of two evils? Chris Hedges has an eloquent answer in his latest editorial.

How Do You Take Your Poison? by Chris Hedges,, 9-24-12

We will all swallow our cup of corporate poison. We can take it from nurse Romney, who will tell us not to whine and play the victim, or we can take it from nurse Obama, who will assure us that this hurts him even more than it hurts us, but one way or another the corporate hemlock will be shoved down our throats. The choice before us is how it will be administered. Corporate power, no matter who is running the ward after January 2013, is poised to carry out U.S. history’s most savage assault against the poor and the working class, not to mention the Earth’s ecosystem. And no one in power, no matter what the bedside manner, has any intention or ability to stop it.

If you insist on participating in the cash-drenched charade of a two-party democratic election at least be clear about what you are doing. You are, by playing your assigned role as the Democratic or Republican voter in this political theater, giving legitimacy to a corporate agenda that means your own impoverishment and disempowerment. All the things that stand between us and utter destitution—Medicaid, food stamps, Pell grants, Head Start, Social Security, public education, federal grants-in-aid to America’s states and cities, the Women, Infants, and Children nutrition program (WIC), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and home-delivered meals for seniors—are about to be shredded by the corporate state…

The costs of our most basic needs, from food to education to health care, are at the same time being pushed upward with no control or regulation. Tuition and fees at four-year colleges climbed 300 percent between 1990 and 2011, fueling the college loan crisis that has left graduates, most of them underemployed or unemployed, with more than $1 trillion in debt. Health care costs over the same period have risen 150 percent. Food prices have climbed 10 percent since June, according to the World Bank. There are now 46.7 million U.S. citizens, and one in three children, who depend on food stamps. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency under Obama has, meanwhile, expelled 1.5 million immigrants, a number that dwarfs deportations carried out by his Republican predecessor. And while we are being fleeced, the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve Bank has since 2008 doled out $16 trillion to national and global financial institutions and corporations.

Fiscal implosion is only a matter of time. And the corporate state is preparing. Obama’s assault on civil liberties has outpaced that of George W. Bush. The refusal to restore habeas corpus, the use of the Authorization to Use Military Force Act to justify the assassination of U.S. citizens, the passing of the FISA Amendments Act to monitor and eavesdrop on tens of millions of citizens without a warrant, the employment of the Espionage Act six times to threaten whistle-blowers inside the government with prison time, and the administration’s recent emergency appeal of U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest’s permanent injunction of Section 1021(b)(2) of the National Defense Authorization Act give you a hint of the shackles the Democrats, as well as the Republicans, intend to place on all those who contemplate dissent.

But perhaps the most egregious assault will be carried out by the fossil fuel industry. Obama, who presided over the repudiation of the Kyoto Accords and has done nothing to halt the emission of greenhouse gases, reversed 20 years of federal policy when he permitted the expansion of fracking and offshore drilling. And this acquiescence to big oil and big coal, no doubt useful in bringing in campaign funds, spells disaster for the planet. He has authorized drilling in federally protected lands, along the East Coast, Alaska and four miles off Florida’s Atlantic beaches. Candidate Obama in 2008 stood on the Florida coastline and vowed never to permit drilling there.

You get the point. Obama is not in charge. Romney would not be in charge. Politicians are the public face of corporate power. They are corporate employees. Their personal narratives, their promises, their rhetoric and their idiosyncrasies are meaningless. And that, perhaps, is why the cost of the two presidential campaigns is estimated to reach an obscene $2.5 billion…

You can dismiss those of us who will in protest vote for a third-party candidate and invest our time and energy in acts of civil disobedience. You can pride yourself on being practical. You can swallow the false argument of the lesser of two evils. But ask yourself, once this nightmare starts kicking in, who the real sucker is.

Ghaith Abdul-ahad

I have a new hero: a 37-year-old Iraqi photojournalist with a boyishly handsome face and a gentle voice. Ghaith Abdul-ahad deserted from Saddam Hussein’s army and lived underground in Baghdad for 5 years. An architecture student, he was inspired to become a photojournalist after working as a translator for European and American journalists after the US invasion of his country in 2003. He learned English, he says, because he wanted to read a relatively unbiased history of the Middle East.

Ghaith has written articles for the Guardian and the Washington Post on the war in Iraq and done reporting from Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan, and Libya. While in Libya, he was held by Qaddafi’s forces for two weeks. He filmed and narrated the “Frontline” program on the Syrian revolution I referred to in yesterday’s post.

This morning I listened to Ghaith on a recent “Fresh Air” podcast. He said the U.S. is giving just enough aid to the Syrian rebels so that the Assad regime can’t crush them, but not enough so that they can win. In other words, our government’s wanting to back the winning side in order to have as much control as possible over Syria’s future is prolonging the fighting there indefinitely, with 30,000 dead so far, most of them civilians. A force for good? I don’t think so.

The Future of the Syrian Revolution

The Syrian revolution is one of the most important events happening in the world today. Inspired by the same Arab Spring that sparked major changes in Egypt and Tunisia, it’s turned into a bloody, house-to-house civil war because of the unwillingness of dictator Bashar Assad to cede power to more popular elements.

Frontline recently aired a piece on what’s going on in Syria that you can watch online. But “The Future of the Syrian Revolution” by Lee Sustar, published on 8-16, is even more helpful in understanding what’s involved. Here it is, somewhat edited for brevity:

The Future of the Syrian Revolution by Lee Sustar, Socialist Worker, 8-16-12

As the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad enters what could be a terminal crisis, imperialist forces are maneuvering to shape the outcome of the revolution. This has prompted some on the left to write off the resistance as tools of the U.S. and its allies. But a closer look at the Syrian struggle shows that popular revolutionary forces remain the leading force in the resistance – and they have the potential to shape post-Assad Syria.

The 17-month-old crisis in Syria entered a critical new phase when Assad’s military tried to provoke revolutionary fighters into a premature uprising in late July. By attacking rebel fighters with overwhelming force in the capital city of Damascus, the government apparently hoped to crush rebel forces before they could launch an insurrection. Yet despite suffering heavy losses and being massively outgunned, the rebels – loosely grouped under the umbrella of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – were not defeated.

Meanwhile, to take the pressure off fighters in Damascus, rebel fighters launched an uprising in Syria’s commercial and industrial hub of Aleppo. Assad was forced to deploy helicopters and fighter jets to that city, previously seen as a key bastion of support for the regime.

Syria’s security chiefs apparently calculated that by pounding civilian areas, they would turn the wider population against the rebels as tens of thousands of people fled both Damascus and Aleppo. Instead, however, the resistance seems only to have become more entrenched in those cities. Resistance forces in Aleppo even captured tanks, suggesting a new level of panic and desertion in the military.

By forcing the Syrian military to concentrate its forces on the country’s two key cities, the rebels have been able to assert control of entire towns and regions, and even to harass military supply lines. The urban warfare followed a bombing that killed four top Syrian security personnel, dramatically demonstrating that Assad’s inner circle is now vulnerable.

With Assad’s iron grip on Damascus and Aleppo now broken, the Syrian bourgeoisie – mostly Sunni Muslims – may finally be willing to desert the regime, as a wave of factory closures in Aleppo hammers them economically. This will compel Assad to try to further mobilize the regime’s traditional base of support among religious minorities, chiefly the Alawite sect of Islam that’s heavily represented in the upper reaches of the military and the security apparatus, but also Christians and Druze. (The Druze are a sect that split from Shia Islam in the 11th century, and the Alawites are a mystical Shia sect that formed in the 10th century.)

Imperialist intervention in Syria has led many on the international left to mistakenly write off Syrian revolutionary forces as having been hijacked by the U.S. and its regional proxies, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. It’s true that the U.S. has for months been sending guns and money to a select group of political fighters and grooming political operatives that it hopes will do the bidding of the U.S. and European powers. Leading elements of the expatriate Syrian National Council (SNC) have also attempted to make alliances with imperialism, calling for stepped-up intervention by Western powers, such as military action to establish safe havens for refugees on Syrian territory or the imposition of a no-fly zone to neutralize Assad’s air power.

But is it really the case that one of the most inspiring, self-organized revolutionary movements in recent decades has degenerated into a pliable tool of the West? Are we looking at a repeat of Libya, where NATO air strikes played the decisive role in turning the tide in the civil war? Are ultra-sectarian Islamist forces –backed by the Saudis and Qataris–becoming a dominant force?

The answer to all these questions is no. While imperialist forces are angling to install a post-Assad leadership to their liking – preferably a military strongman – the revolutionary movement has continued to develop in response to the struggle in Syria itself. There are well-documented divisions within the SNC and the Free Syrian Army (FSA), and criticisms of both from grassroots Syrian revolutionary forces on the ground in the Local Coordinating Councils (LCCs). The latter have organized heroic mass resistance for more than a year and half despite the most savage repression – mass arrests, torture, artillery attacks on civilian areas, massacres, and, now, aerial bombardment.

The U.S. has so far refused to give heavy weapons to the FSA, using Turkey to keep a lid on arms flows to the rebels. Fighters can obtain AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades, but not anti-tank or anti-aircraft weapons (the recent downing of a Syrian fighter jet was apparently a lucky hit from heavy machine gun fire).

The question of Syria’s long oppressed Kurdish minority is a big problem for the imperialists. Turkey, which also has a large Kurdish minority, has banned Kurdish parties from participating in SNC meetings within its borders. (The SNC has had a terrible position on Kurdish self-determination, insisting on the Arab character of Syria.)

In the hopes of peeling off Kurdish support for the revolution, Assad granted citizenship to the 250,000 of Syrian Kurds who had previously been considered stateless. As the armed resistance mounted, Assad pulled Syrian armed forces out of Kurdish areas and allowed the PYD – the Syrian arm of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) – to act as the de facto regional power. This move threatened Turkey, which feared that Syria would become a base for renewed Kurdish armed resistance led by the PKK. A crisis was averted when Masoud Barzani, president of Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government, intervened to create a political deal between the PYD and other parties, making himself a broker for Syria’s Kurds in relation both to Turkey and a post-Assad Syrian government.

The U.S. prefers to keep Syria intact and to prevent the emergence of an independent Kurdistan that could destabilize the Kurdish region in NATO ally Turkey. It’s had to bide its time, because even a “limited” intervention, such as the creation of a no-fly zone, would require a massive bombardment of Syrian anti-aircraft positions in densely populated areas. Imperialist forces have so far carefully calibrated their support for the rebels to foster a prolonged, low-grade guerilla war to grind down the regime. The U.S. hopes to encourage the Syrian military brass to mount a coup against Assad, which could then be dressed up as a civilian transitional government fronted by the most pro-Western elements of the SNC.

By attempting to keep as much of the Syrian state intact as possible, the U.S. and its allies want to preempt popular, democratic revolutionary councils like the LCCs. The U.S. doesn’t want an accountable Syrian government that reflects the opinion of the majority of the population, since this would almost certainly create a crisis on the border of the U.S.’s key ally, Israel.

Assad tried to provoke sectarian violence between Muslims and his own Alawites and Christians by massacring Muslim civilians, but so far sectarian violence hasn’t taken place on a large scale, and the support of religious minorities for the regime is cracking. Walid Jumblatt, the Druze Lebanese politician who is seen as the leader of his co-religionists in Syria, came out against Assad months ago.

Imperialists worry about the potential for jihadist and al-Qaeda forces to get a foothold in Syria, as they did in Iraq. The U.S. decision to rely on Saudi Arabia and Qatar to run guns and money to rebel forces has created an opening for those elements. There are jihadist and sectarian elements in the field that reportedly are attracting young fighters because of their superior discipline and armaments.

To sum up, rather than unleashing a Libyan-style intervention, the U.S. and its allies have waited for the revolution to weaken the regime enough to force out Assad without becoming strong enough to carry out a democratic transformation of Syrian society.

Members of the LCCs have been frustrated by their lack of political control over FSA militias, though some LCCs coexist with armed fighters, and in some areas, where the Syrian state has essentially withdrawn, LCCs administer towns devastated by attacks and dole out food and charity.

After more than a year of mass civil resistance against repression, the armed struggle has taken center stage. If the rebels win, it won’t be because they’ve achieved superior military firepower, but because the social base of the regime collapses. Even if Assad retains the loyalty of most members of religious minorities, he will fall if the popular support for the revolution compels the Syrian bourgeoisie to abandon him. Long tied to the regime through patronage from state-owned enterprises and, more recently, benefits from market-type reforms, Syrian capitalists are being forced to choose between a state that can no longer protect their interests and a working class, poor, and peasant uprising that threatens their wealth and power.

Imperialist forces will do their best to contain that movement from below. But in the end, class conflicts, as well as the armed resistance, will play the decisive role in the outcome of the Syrian revolution.



Here’s a “ray of hope, good direction to be going in” article for you:

Champions of De-Growth Offer Alternatives to Destructive ‘Extractivism;’ Global South invited to ‘de-grow’ at international conference by Claudia Ciobanu, Inter Press Service, 9-25-12

“We should find the way, with our small degrowth movement in the global North, to align ourselves with the environmental justice movement originating with indigenous peoples from the South,” Catalan ecological economist Juan Martinez-Alier said at the third international degrowth conference in Venice, Italy.

Degrowth is popular concept particularly in France, Italy and Spain, and is slowly gathering fans in other parts of Europe and North America. It argues that a democratic collective decision to consume and produce less in the global North is the most appropriate solution for the multiple crises facing the world today. Renouncing economic growth in the North, say the proponents, would not only allow humanity to stay within the ecological limits of the planet but also contribute to restoring global social justice.

In practice, degrowth is compatible with grassroots projects such as food cooperatives, urban gardening, local currencies, co-housing projects, waste reduction and reuse initiatives, or the ‘transition towns’ idea originating in the UK. It allows for cooperation with local, regional and even national authorities, albeit not heavily relying on governmental measures, and it is anti-corporate.

Proponents of degrowth champion the concept of “buen vivir,” a vision of life in which the well-being of human and the rest of the natural world are considered as interrelated and pursued at the same time.

The third international degrowth conference that took place September 19-23 in Venice brought together about 600 activists and intellectuals to discuss issues as varied as food sovereignty, the energy transition, a minimum guaranteed income, the debt crisis, and participatory politics. Among these, one of the most visible themes this year has been the increased attention paid to solutions to global crises stemming from the global South and their compatibility with the degrowth vision.

Martinez-Alier spoke about the need for convergence between degrowth and environmental justice movements in the global South following a showing of the movie “Yasuni ITT: El Buen Vivir,” which depicts struggles around the exploration of oil resources in the Yasuni biosphere in the Ecuadorian Amazon, threatening the lifestyles and even lives of indigenous peoples there, the Kichwas and the Waoranis.

According to the ecological economist, degrowth activists working towards radically reducing consumption in the global North should align their struggle with that of social movements fighting against extractive projects in Latin America: for one, reducing consumption in the North would diminish demand for those natural resources mined for in the Amazon and other pristine natural areas; for another, indigenous victories to preserve homelands intact also means less pollution from mining and big infrastructure projects and less of a push in the direction of disastrous climate change.

According to Colombian anthropologist Arturo Escobar, degrowth offers answers about how the global North can act to tackle the global crises, but – being created by the global North for the North – it has, and should have, little to say about how the global South should move ahead. Instead, what degrowth activists and researchers can do is create a “significant conversation with the global South” and work together with activists and intellectuals from there “to see from the perspective of Southern social movements.”

Escobar explained that the most promising directions of change in the South are coming primarily from indigenous, black and peasant social movements. According to the anthropologist, the Latin American continent is at the moment experiencing three types of societal change projects. One model is “conventional modernization,” a promotion of neo-liberal pro-globalization policies in Mexico and Colombia, which, according to Escobar, “are by no coincidence the closest allies of the U.S. in the region and have the highest degree of violence and political control.”

Secondly, most countries in the region (Venezuela, Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil, Chile under former president Michelle Bachelet, Paraguay under former president Fernando Lugo, and Uruguay) represent an “enlightened development model” of leftist regimes which continue to pursue pro-growth traditional development agendas but pay special attention to tackling poverty and inequality and even succeed in these tasks. Nevertheless, the traditional development approach translates into the intensive exploitation of natural resources in order to generate income, with negative consequences on nature and indigenous populations living there as well as on climate.

The third Latin American change project in Escobar’s classification stems from social movements critical of extractivism as a strategy to address social injustice, and is closely associated with the Andean indigenous concept of “buen vivir,” a vision of life in which the well-being of humans and the rest of the natural world are considered as interrelated and pursued at the same time. Escobar refers to this third project of change as decolonial, post-liberal, or transitional.

The concept of buen vivir was incorporated in the Ecuadorian constitution in 2008, but critics of the Ecuadorian government argue that the continued pursuit of some extractive projects in this country runs counter to this vision.

According to Arturo Escobar, a solid dialogue between degrowth proponents in the North and post-extractivist social movements and intellectuals in the global South is a good way to begin addressing the global crises as long as we are aware that the answers will not be universal or immediate. “But what degrowth proponents (who reject economic growth) must be aware of,” Escobar told IPS, “is that development is much more than growth. So it might be that the global South needs some growth, in areas such as health, education, employment, and decent standards of living, if this is subordinated to the principle of buen vivir and not under the currently predominant vision of development.

At the same time, the growth vision cannot be rejected for the North and considered acceptable for the South; the South does not need development, it does not even need sustainable development, it needs alternatives to development.”

What I take away from all this is: live simply so that others may simply live, and be aware of and support positive movements around the world.

The first part of this will be the hardest for me. Consumption is encouraged and considered natural in our capitalist and escapist culture — our economy’s about to implode and our environment will soon be too hot to live in, but don’t worry your empty little head; concentrate on the latest TV show or picking out the right pair of boots to go with your new fall outfits. The habit of materially distracting and “rewarding” ourselves, to the extent that we can afford it, is so ingrained in most of us that we’ll need to remind ourselves several times a day that we want to live as simply and non-consumptively as possible. I, for one, will want to do this in as non-preachy and humble a way as possible — explore it in a fun rather than a perfectionistic way. I’m guessing we’ll find ways to use our time and energy that are more satisfying and meaningful as we change our consumptive habits.