Archive for the 'war' Category

The real invasion of Africa is not news and a licence to lie is Hollywood’s gift

Dandelion Salad, February 3, 2012

The real invasion of Africa is not news and a licence to lie is Hollywood’s gift
by John Pilger

Global Research
http://johnpilger.com
January 30, 2013

A full-scale invasion of Africa is under way. The United States is deploying troops in 35 African countries, beginning with Libya, Sudan, Algeria and Niger. Reported by Associated Press on Christmas Day, this was missing from most Anglo-American media.

The invasion has almost nothing to do with “Islamism”, and almost everything to do with the acquisition of resources, notably minerals, and an accelerating rivalry with China. Unlike China, the US and its allies are prepared to use a degree of violence demonstrated in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Palestine. As in the cold war, a division of labour requires that western journalism and popular culture provide the cover of a holy war against a “menacing arc” of Islamic extremism, no different from the bogus “red menace” of a worldwide communist conspiracy.

Reminiscent of the Scramble for Africa in the late 19th century, the US African Command (Africom) has built a network of supplicants among collaborative African regimes eager for American bribes and armaments. Last year, Africom staged Operation African Endeavor, with the armed forces of 34 African nations taking part, commanded by the US military. Africom’s “soldier to soldier” doctrine embeds US officers at every level of command from general to warrant officer. Only pith helmets are missing.

It is as if Africa’s proud history of liberation, from Patrice Lumumba to Nelson Mandela, is consigned to oblivion by a new master’s black colonial elite whose “historic mission”, warned Frantz Fanon half a century ago, is the promotion of “a capitalism rampant though camouflaged”.

A striking example is the eastern Congo, a treasure trove of strategic minerals, controlled by an atrocious rebel group known as the M23, which in turn is run by Uganda and Rwanda, the proxies of Washington.

Long planned as a “mission” for Nato, not to mention the ever-zealous French, whose colonial lost causes remain on permanent standby, the war on Africa became urgent in 2011 when the Arab world appeared to be liberating itself from the Mubaraks and other clients of Washington and Europe. The hysteria this caused in imperial capitals cannot be exaggerated. Nato bombers were dispatched not to Tunis or Cairo but Libya, where Muammar Gaddafi ruled over Africa’s largest oil reserves. With the Libyan city of Sirte reduced to rubble, the British SAS directed the “rebel” militias in what has since been exposed as a racist bloodbath.

The indigenous people of the Sahara, the Tuareg, whose Berber fighters Gaddafi had protected, fled home across Algeria to Mali, where the Tuareg have been claiming a separate state since the 1960s. As the ever watchful Patrick Cockburn points out, it is this local dispute, not al-Qaida, that the West fears most in northwest Africa… “poor though the Tuareg may be, they are often living on top of great reserves of oil, gas, uranium and other valuable minerals”.

Almost certainly the consequence of a French/US attack on Mali on 13 January, a siege at a gas complex in Algeria ended bloodily, inspiring a 9/11 moment in David Cameron. The former Carlton TV PR man raged about a “global threat” requiring “decades” of western violence. He meant implantation of the west’s business plan for Africa, together with the rape of multi-ethnic Syria and the conquest of independent Iran.

Cameron has now ordered British troops to Mali, and sent an RAF drone, while his verbose military chief, General Sir David Richards, has addressed “a very clear message to jihadists worldwide: don’t dangle and tangle with us. We will deal with it robustly” – exactly what jihadists want to hear. The trail of blood of British army terror victims, all Muslims, their “systemic” torture cases currently heading to court, add necessary irony to the general’s words. I once experienced Sir David’s “robust” ways when I asked him if he had read the courageous Afghan feminist Malalai Joya’s description of the barbaric behaviour of westerners and their clients in her country. “You are an apologist for the Taliban” was his reply. (He later apologised).

These bleak comedians are straight out of Evelyn Waugh and allow us to feel the bracing breeze of history and hypocrisy. The “Islamic terrorism” that is their excuse for the enduring theft of Africa’s riches was all but invented by them. There is no longer any excuse to swallow the BBC/CNN line and not know the truth. Read Mark Curtis’s Secret Affairs: Britain’s Collusion with Radical Islam (Serpent’s Tail) or John Cooley’s Unholy Wars: Afghanistan, America and International Terrorism (Pluto Press) or The Grand Chessboard by Zbigniew Brzezinski (HarperCollins) who was midwife to the birth of modern fundamentalist terror. In effect, the mujahedin of al-Qaida and the Taliban were created by the CIA, its Pakistani equivalent, the Inter-Services Intelligence, and Britain’s MI6.

Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser, describes a secret presidential directive in 1979 that began what became the current “war on terror”. For 17 years, the US deliberately cultivated, bank-rolled, armed and brainwashed jihadi extremists that “steeped a generation in violence”. Code-named Operation Cyclone, this was the “great game” to bring down the Soviet Union but brought down the Twin Towers.

Since then, the news that intelligent, educated people both dispense and ingest has become a kind of Disney journalism, fortified, as ever, by Hollywood’s licence to lie, and lie. There is the coming Dreamworks movie on WikiLeaks, a fabrication inspired by a book of perfidious title-tattle by two enriched Guardian journalists; and there is Zero Dark Thirty, which promotes torture and murder, directed by the Oscar-winning Kathryn Bigelow, the Leni Riefenstahl of our time, promoting her master’s voice as did the Fuhrer’s pet film-maker. Such is the one-way mirror through which we barely glimpse what power does in our name.

Copyright © John Pilger, JohnPilger.com, 2013

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Government Preparing for Nuclear War

Thursday, December 16th’s NY Times article “How to Survive a Nuclear Bomb” is dishonest in saying the government is preparing for nuclear attack by terrorists. The government’s scenarios for terrorist nuclear attack involve bombs hidden in cargo containers, suitcases, etc. which explode with no advance warming.  But the government advice is to seek shelter, complete with diagrams of survivability in rooms of different types of buildings, and projections of casualty reductions if Los Angeles residents are sheltered in a car, versus a shallow basement, versus an underground garage, etc. All these presuppose at least minutes of advance warning.  These preparations are not being made for terrorist attack.  They are being made to prepare us ideologically for major war, probably with China, which would inevitably include nuclear weapons.  Increasing US aggressiveness to maintain world dominance will inevitably lead to war where we are captive participants, unless we can mount a gigantic movement against it.

 

Food Capitalism and Global Warming Produces Starvation and Food Riots

Raj Patel, September 4, 2010

Food Rebellions: Mozambicans Know Which Way the Wind Blows

It has been a summer of record temperatures – Japan had its hottest summer on record.[1] Same with South Florida and New York.[2] Meanwhile, Pakistan and Niger are flooded, and the Eastern US is mopping up after Hurricane Earl. None of these individual events can definitively be attributed to global warming, as any climatologist will tell you. But to see how climate change will play out in the twenty-first century, you needn’t look to the Met Office. Look instead to the deaths and burning tyres in Mozambique’s ‘food riots’ to see what happens when extreme natural phenomena interact with our unjust social and economic systems.

The immediate causes of the protests and in Mozambique’s capital, Maputo, and Chimoio about 500 miles north, are a 30-percent price increase for bread, compounding a recent double-digit increase for water and energy.[3] When nearly three quarters of the household budget is spent on food, that’s a hike few Mozambicans can afford. So far, the death toll hovers around ten, including two children. The police claim that they had to use live ammunition against protesters because ‘they ran out of rubber bullets’.[4]

Deeper reasons for Mozambique’s price hike can be found a continent away. Wheat prices have soared on global markets over the summer in large part because Russia, the world’s third largest exporter, has suffered catastrophic fires in its main production areas. These blazes, in turn, find their origin both in poor fire-fighting infrastructure and Russia’s worst heatwave in over a century.[5] On Thursday, Vladimir Putin extended an export ban in response to a new wave of wildfires in its grain belt, sending further signals to the markets that Russian wheat wouldn’t be available outside the country.[6] With Mozambique importing over 60% of the wheat its people needs, the country has been held hostage by international markets.[7]

This may sound familiar. In 2008, the prices of oil, wheat, corn and rice peaked on international markets – corn prices almost tripled between 2005-8.[8] In the process, dozens of food-importing countries experienced food riots, one of which claimed the political scalp of Haiti’s Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis.[9]

Behind the 2008 protests were, first, natural events that looked like an excerpt from the meteorological section of the Book of Revelations–drought in Australia, crop disease in central Asia, floods in South East Asia. These were compounded by the social systems through which their effects were felt. Oil prices were sky high, which meant higher transport costs and fossil-fuel-based fertilizer prices. Biofuel policy, particularly in the US, shifted land and crops from food into ethanol production, diverting food from stomachs to fuel tanks. Longer term trends in population growth and meat consumption in developing countries also added to the stress. Financial speculators piled into food commodities, driving prices yet further beyond the reach of the poor. Finally, some retailers used the opportunity to raise prices still further, and while commodity prices have fallen back to pre-crisis levels, most of us have yet to see the savings at the checkout.

So, is this 2008 all over again? The weather has gone wild, meat prices have hit a 20 year high, groceries are being looted, and heads of state are urging calm. The general view from commodities desks, however, is that we’re not in quite as dire straits as two years ago. Fuel is relatively cheap and grain stores well stocked. We’re still on track for the third-highest wheat crop ever, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations(FAO),[10] so even without Russian wheat, there’s no need to panic.

While all this is true, it misses the point: for most hungry people 2008 isn’t over. The events of 2007-8 tipped over 100 million people into hunger, and the global recession has meant that they have stayed there. In 2006, the number of undernourished people was 854 million.[11] In 2009, it was 1.02 billion – the highest levels since records began. The hungry aren’t simply in Africa. According to one survey, over Christmas 2009 in the United States, 57 million Americans weren’t sure where their next meal was coming from.[12] Among those hardest hit by these price rises, in the US and around the world, were female-headed households.[13] The relations and structures of power that produce gender aren’t exempt from the weather, after all.[14] That’s why 60% of those going hungry are women or girls.[15]

Not only are the hungry still around, but food riots have continued. In India, double-digit food price inflation was met by violent street protests at the end of 2009. The price rises were, again, the result of both extreme and unpredictable monsoons in 2009, and an increasingly faulty social safety net to prevent hunger.[16] There have been frequent public protests about the price of wheat in Egypt this year, and both Serbia and Pakistan have seen protests too.

Although commodity prices fell after 2008, the food system’s architecture has remained largely the same over the past two decades. Bill Clinton has recently offered several mea culpas for the international trade and development policies that spawned the food crisis. Earlier this year, he blamed himself for Haiti’s vulnerability to international price fluctuations. “I did that,” he said in testimony to the US Senate. “I have to live every day with the consequences of the lost capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people, because of what I did. Nobody else.”[17] More generally, Clinton suggested in 2008 that “food is not a commodity like others… it is crazy for us to think we can develop a lot of these countries [by] treating food like it was a color television set.”[18]

Yet global commodity speculators continue to treat food as if it were the same as television sets, with little end in sight to what the World Development Movement has called “gambling on hunger in financial markets.” The recent US Wall Street Reform Act contained some measures that might curb these speculative activities, but their full scope has yet to be clarified. Europe doesn’t have a mechanism to regulate these kinds of speculative trades at all.[19] Agriculture in the Global South is still subject to the ‘Washington Consensus’ model, driven by markets and with governments taking a back seat to the private sector. And the only reason biofuels aren’t more prominent is that the oil they’re designed to replace is currently cheap.

Clearly, neither grain speculation, nor forcing countries to rely on international markets for food, nor encouraging the use of agricultural resources for fuel instead of nourishment are natural phenomena. These are eminently political decisions, taken and enforced not only by Bill Clinton, but legions of largely unaccountable international development professionals. The consequences of these decisions are ones with which people in the Global South live everyday. Which brings us back to Mozambique.

Recall that Mozambique’s street protests coincided not only with a rise in the price of bread, but with electricity and water price hikes too. In an interview with Portugal’s Lusa News, Alice Mabota of the Mozambican League of Human Rights didn’t use the term ‘food riots’. The protests are far more subtle and politically nuanced. In her words, “The government … can’t understand or doesn’t want to understand that this is a protest against the higher cost of living.” The action on the streets isn’t simply a protest about food, but a wider and more political act of rebellion. Half of Mozambique’s poor already suffer from acute malnutrition, according to the FAO.[20] The extreme weather behind the grain fires in Russia transformed a political context in which citizens were increasingly angry and frustrated with their own governments. Although it’s hard to read it outside the country, that’s a story well known within countries experiencing these food rebellions.

Yesterday, I reached Diamantino Nhampossa, the Coordinator of the União Nacional de Camponeses Moçambique – the Mozambican National Peasants Union. “These protests are going to end,” he told me. “But they will always come back. This is the gift that the development model we are following has to offer.” Like many Mozambicans, he knows full well which way the wind blows.

[UPDATE FROM Mozambique: The protesters have scored a victory. The government has agreed to reel back the increases on bread and water, though the electricity price hikes remain in force, and the government will have to make cuts ‘elsewhere’. ]

[1] http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jejeLCKDLGD9Ael1Wdi-AIQQf4sw

[2] http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/09/01/its-official-hottest-summer-ever/

[3] http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5gJ6PTteGMk_JCbJrgfRnFeBLHtWA AFP puts it at 17% – Guardian at 30%, as do most other news sources.

[4] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/sep/02/mozambique-bread-riots-looters-dead

[5] http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/47086656-9d75-11df-a37c-00144feab49a.html andhttp://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/f61cbbd8-a225-11df-a056-00144feabdc0.html

[6] http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/5f6f94ac-b6bc-11df-b3dd-00144feabdc0.html

[7] My calculations using FAOSTAT for 2007 suggests Mozambique imports 64.4%, but the Independent has the figure at 70%. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/now-meat-price-surge-raises-fear-of-food-inflation-2069227.html

[8] http://www.unctad.org/en/docs/gdsmdpg2420093_en.pdf

[9] http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSN1228245020080412

[10] http://www.bakeryandsnacks.com/Financial/Wheat-volatility-leads-to-surge-in-global-food-prices-finds-FAO

[11] http://www.fao.org/publications/sofi/en/

[12] http://www.frac.org/pdf/food_hardship_report_2010.pdf

[13] http://www.fao.org/publications/sofi/en/

[14] http://www.unifem.org/partnerships/climate_change/facts_figures.php

[15] http://www.wfp.org/hunger/stats?gclid=CLazjMb47aMCFSFugwod5A8H1A

[16] http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/news/business/18-india-faces-food-price-discontent-violent-protests-am-06

[17] http://www.democracynow.org/2010/4/1/clinton_rice

[18] http://www.fao.org/news/story/0/item/8106/icode/en/

[19] http://www.wdm.org.uk/sites/default/files/hunger%20lottery%20report_6.10.pdf

[20]http://typo3.fao.org/fileadmin/templates/ess/documents/Media_and_Communication/MZB_20100823_OPais_scan.pdf

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When the leaders speak of peace … Co-opting the Anti-Nuclear Movement

As Brecht wrote:

When the leaders speak of peace
The common folk know
That war is coming.
When the leaders curse war
The mobilization order is already written out.

Monthly Review MRzine July 22, 2010

Co-opting the Anti-Nuclear Movement

By Darwin BondGraham

No medium of propaganda is as powerful and effective as film.  Think of the classics, the most notorious efforts to sway the public with the electrifying and collective passion of cinema: racial apartheid was justified in the US with Birth of a Nation.  The Soviets glorified their revolution with The Battleship Potemkin.  Then there was Triumph of the Will.

A typical propaganda film tugs at emotions and invokes fears.  It invokes dark threats to “the people,” and it offers up solutions extolling state and corporate power.  Unlike a political documentary it will not criticize the state or corporations.  Instead it will celebrate great men as our leaders and saviors.  Distinct from a run-of-the-mill political documentary, a propaganda film butchers the complexity and contradictions that permeate politics and real life, presenting things in simplistic moral terms.  Functionally, propaganda is mobilized to secure popular support for a primary, often hidden agenda that is not apparent in the film’s narrative.  Propaganda is a tool used by elites to secure the consent of the masses, channeling their anxieties.

Now hitting theaters is one of the most dangerous propaganda films produced in decades.  Countdown to Zero “traces the history of the atomic bomb from its origins to the present state of global affairs.”  A promotional blurb on the film’s web site claims that it “makes a compelling case for worldwide nuclear disarmament, an issue more topical than ever with the Obama administration working to revive this goal today.”

Before I go any further in explaining Countdown as a propaganda film I should note that not all propaganda need be the product of a secretive and manipulative council of elites behind some curtain.  Instead, the many contributors to Countdown and its promotional efforts have different motivations and intentions.  What makes this film a coherent piece of propaganda is its medium, style, and likely effects on the US political climate.  There are powerful actors who will use it for nefarious ends.

On its surface Countdown to Zero is about nuclear disarmament, but deeper down the film is making a very specific case that isn’t about disarmament at all.  Its political function will prove to be quite different.  Countdown is joining a suite of political campaigns and other propagandistic efforts, the point of which is to build support for increased US spending on nuclear weapons, as well as a more belligerent foreign policy, based around Islamophobic depictions of “terrorists” and “rogue states.”  Countdown is likely to be used by hawks to drum up support for military action against Iran, North Korea, and other states that would dare to transgress the current near-monopoly that a handful of states have on the bomb.

To understand how this is possible, one has to break through the simplistic and moralizing presentation of issues in the film and its promotional materials, and explore the complex political situation into which it is being launched.

The first and most important thing to understand is that the Obama administration does not have a disarmament agenda.  Because the entire moral thrust of the film rests on this notion, it’s important to dispel it right off the bat.  Obama and his military advisers have made their nuclear ambitions abundantly clear on multiple occasions.

The administration’s Nuclear Posture Review in no significant way changed the nuclear force structure or use doctrines.  The NPR makes it abundantly clear that US national security is founded on the nuclear “deterrent” and that no one in government will seek to reduce the role of nukes in the foreseeable future.

The recently negotiated New START treaty does not significantly cut the US and Russian arsenals.  In fact the treaty language secures an allowance for US “missile defense” programs as well as the “prompt global strike” weapons system while consolidating the US stockpile and reaffirming existing strategic agreements with Russia that are about balance.  As noted by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the irony here is that the Senate’s possible ratification of New START is premised on the Obama administration’s pledge to fund US nuclear weapons programs upwards of $180 billion over the next ten years, something even George W. Bush could not accomplish.  The down payment for the next fiscal year includes a $624 million surge in nuke spending, for a total of $7.01 billion.  The administration foresees spending more than $1 billion each year to refurbish and upgrade existing warheads and bombs.  To support New START requires accepting these huge infrastructural and programmatic investments in nuclear weapons, far into the future.

To put it more simply, the debate in Washington revolves around two camps fighting over how large an increase in nuclear weapons spending there will be.  At this point in time all agree on expending billions more.  All agree on building a new plutonium pit factory, a new uranium processing facility, a new components factory, and five other major capital projects in the nuclear weapons complex to extend the US nuclear enterprise half a decade or more into the future.  Most agree on procuring a new class of nuclear equipped submarines.  Most agree on new ballistic missiles.  Everyone seems to be fine with upgrading warheads and bombs.

Some conservatives are uncomfortable with the cosmetic cuts to the stockpile that will be made under the auspices of New START.  Senate Republicans have circled their wagons to demand greater funding increases in consideration of ratification, and given all of the agreements they have with the Democrats and the Obama administration over expanding the weapons complex, they are actually correct.  In order to carry out this bi-partisan nuclear arms buildup, quite a bit more than a $1 billion per year boost (at its peak) will be needed for the NNSA‘s budget, especially as inflation eats into the real value of future year budgets.

Determining the future of the US nuclear weapons complex is a tricky balancing act for the foreign policy elite because it is embedded in a larger set of much more important goals.  The overriding goal of foreign policy for the United States, with respect to nuclear weapons, is to maintain control of nuclear weapons and materials.  Forget lofty ideas like disarmament.  Lofty moral oughts only matter with respect to the realpolitik of geo-strategy (and this is where Countdown comes in, as we shall see).

To elite strategists who will decide at the end of the day, the power of nuclear weapons only matter within, and comprise a small part of, a much greater geopolitical game.  Henry Kissinger made this very point in 1957 with his first book, the subject being the role of nuclear weapons in US foreign policy.  Controlling resources, energy supplies, and access to geo-strategic regions for US corporations and allies is the primary goal of US foreign policy, and this requires a stable imbalance of powers, with the US the weightier.

Nuclear weapons are problematic today because they remain a necessary means of overpowering other nations and intimidating foes, but they have also become a liability as other states threaten to go nuclear in order to restore balance to a unipolar world.  A blatant display of American hypocrisy is seen as a major weakness for the maintenance of American power by liberal imperialists like Obama.  Conservatives like Senator Jon Kyl would rather just avoid soft power altogether and stick to a hard-nosed defense policy.

This is why US policy with respect to Iran seems so disjointed and paralyzed.  Iran possesses immense energy resources, it straddles a region of geo-strategic importance, and its influence and power is growing.  For US elites, Iran must be controlled at all cost.  A nuclear Iran would make this much, much more difficult.  Regime change is the goal, just like in Iraq.  Nonproliferation as an end in itself seems to offer the most justifiable reason for using force and “rebuilding” nations (remember that it was the reason given for the 2003 invasion and ongoing occupation of Iraq).  But with its Bush-era reputation of seeking new nukes, liberals fear, the United States can hardly coerce or attack Iran in the name of nonproliferation.  The US being the world’s preeminent nuclear power with no interest in disarming, that would be bald hypocrisy.  But then again the US will not disarm, for this would be anathema to the needs and goals of the foreign policy elite.  What to do?

Into this mix arrives Countdown to Zero and similarly crafted propaganda pieces.  Countdown‘s major achievement is repackaging the strategy of anti-nuclear nuclearism into a sexy and thrilling propaganda film full of special effects and heart-pulsing music.  It will invoke fear of nuclear weapons to justify aggression, war, and the extension of US control over much of the rest of the world.

While the film’s title and a lot of the fanfare surrounding it emphasizes the “zero” message of disarmament, Countdown is actually an alarmist portrayal of dark-skinned men, Muslims, “terrorists,” and other racial or ethnic bogeymen who we are told, over the span of 90 minutes, are seeking nuclear weapons to use against the American people.  A related theme in the film is the demonization of Iran and North Korea which are portrayed as dangerous rogue states with ties to terrorist organizations, and who must be controlled, against whom military action may be warranted — or else.  Or else what?

One of the main “experts” in Countdown to Zero, Joseph Cirincione frames the take home message at the outset by invoking a very post-9-11 Bush administration theme:

“That day changed our sense of security and how we view the world.  We learned how vulnerable we are to the destructive acts of a determined few.  Just think how worse it would have been if the terrorist had nuclear weapons.”

Cirincione is not just any expert.  He is the doyen of the Democratic Party’s NGO apparatus that shapes nuclear weapons policy through foundation funding of grassroots groups and elite policy shops.  Cirincione is president of the Ploughshares Fund.  In spite of its name, Ploughshares’ mission these days actually involves beating ploughs into swords.

Throughout the 1990s, but especially during the George W. Bush years, Ploughshares and its circle of foundations called the Peace and Security Funders Group increasingly narrowed the range of acceptable anti-nuclear activism, while simultaneously ghettoizing the field so that the work of various NGOs became less and less applicable to social justice and economic development issues, and increasingly focused on abstract global problems and hypotheticals, such as the possible use of nuclear weapons.  In the process, discussions of the injustices of the global political economy and how nuclear weapons fit into it were silenced.  Anti-nuclear activism became increasingly specialized, boring, and disconnected from issues that affect people’s everyday lives.  Arms control eclipsed abolition as the rallying cry.  Those NGOs that obeyed the consolidation period survived with funding and access to media, so long as they kissed the ring.

Ploughshares was at the center of it all.  Today the Fund’s priorities are shaped by its board of directors made up of Democratic Party donors, other foundation executives, and liberal academics.  The Fund’s advisers include men like George Shultz, the former Bechtel president who served as Reagan’s Secretary of State, and former Defense Secretaries William Cohen and William Perry.  The last is actually a board member of the for-profit corporations that manage the nation’s two nuclear weapons labs, Los Alamos and Livermore.  You figure it out.

Ploughshares’ adviser and propagandist Jeff Skoll is president of Participant Media, one of the production companies behind Countdown to Zero. The film’s co-producer, the World Security Institute (a major recipient of Ploughshares Fund dollars), tapped its Global Zero project membership to narrate the film through dozens of interviews with the likes of elder statesmen and NGO executives like Cirincione who are very friendly to the Obama administration’s nuclear buildup.

Participant Media is a full service propaganda shop for liberal campaigns, producing both documentaries and dramas.  In addition to the benchmark documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, Participant is responsible for some very excellent and thoughtful films like Syriana, Food, Inc., and The Cove.  And this is where complexity comes in.  Some of the producers and voices featured in Countdown to Zero have wonderful intentions, and all of them are probably genuinely concerned with, and fear, the possible day that nuclear weapons might be used, whether by a state or by a criminal group.  Herein also is the propagandistic danger of Countdown to Zero.

Albert Camus once wrote that “the evil that is in the world almost always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding.”  Backed with a lot of foundation money, the producers of Countdown to Zero have paid organizers across the US to do considerable outreach for the film, whipping up interest on Facebook and other social media and generally co-opting the energies and intentions of many anti-nuclear activists.  Countdown premiers July 23 and will be shown in theaters across the US.  Many screenings are being organized by activists whose intentions are unimpeachable, if naive.

What audiences are going to learn from Countdown to Zero is that nuclear weapons are a threat today because the bad guys might get a hold of them.  They’ll learn that al-Qaeda is seeking nuclear weapons, which is their sworn duty; that highly enriched uranium is easy to smuggle; that “we are on the verge of a nuclear 9-11”; that tens of thousands of pounds of uranium are stored under virtually no security around the globe.  In other words they’ll learn that dark scary men, Muslims, “terrorists,” and anarchists are trying to kill them with nuclear weapons, and that nations like Iran and North Korea will gladly assist them.  Their feelings of revulsion for nuclear weapons will be stimulated and channeled against these dark enemies of civilization.

What they’ll learn about US nuclear weapons and policy, if it is discussed in any real and honest depth at all, is that better control and management is needed, a slightly smaller arsenal is desirable.  But mostly they’ll learn to just trust our leaders: everything will turn out alright so long as the proper authorities are in power.  Joseph Cirincione will eagerly explain to audiences that George Shulz, Henry Kissinger, William Perry, and Sam Nunn are hard at work to “secure” our nuclear weapons.  It all sounds great, but the “four horsemen,” as they have come to be known, are actually among the biggest lobbyists for the surge in nuclear weapons spending and the construction of a new US nuclear weapons complex.

In a promotional video attached to the START ratification effort Cirincione urges viewers to “join this patriotic consensus” toward zero.  In a recent op-ed, he has urged Senate ratification of New START, writing, “The statesmanship demonstrated by the Consensus members today could help break the partisan blockade in the Senate and restore America’s leadership on this urgent security challenge.”  The capital C Consensus he’s referring to is a newly formed NGO, created to translate the groundswell of public response they expect from propaganda efforts like Countdown to Zero, into sharp policy programs for government, including aggressive military action against would-be nuclear states, much of it in the name of nonproliferation.  The Consensus for American Security is one manifestation of the platform that many foreign policy elites hope will solve the contradiction in current US nuclear policy.  The mission statement of the Consensus includes, “strengthening and modernizing America’s nuclear security,” because it “is a vital element of protecting the United States and its allies.”

Ploughshares put up the money for The Consensus for American Security . . . an organization dedicated to strengthening and modernizing America’s nuclear security.  Modernizing is not an arbitrary word.  In the current policy debate over the future of the US nuclear weapons complex and stockpile, modernization means a very specific thing.  It means approving the Obama administration’s program to build a pit factory, a uranium processing facility, a components plant, and other billion-dollar capital projects for the weapons complex.  It also means modernizing warheads and bombs by rebuilding them and designing new features.  And it means acquiring new, very expensive platforms like subs, bombers, and missiles.

Members of the Ploughshares Consensus include a predictable list of centrist retired military brass and statesmen, most of whom occupy revolving door positions on other foundation and NGO boards like Ploughshares, and more than a few of whom have links to the military industrial complex: George Shulz, Samuel Berger, Vice Admiral Lee Gunn, and physicist Sidney Drell, all of them strong supporters of US nuclear weapons programs and American empire.

The Consensus’s second mission appears to involve stoking Islamophobia.  A special project of the Consensus, the American Security Project, is a well-funded think tank churning out reports about “al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,” and “Are We Winning?  Measuring Progress in the Struggle Against al Qaeda and Associate Movements.”  ASP’s homepage features a photograph of “terrorists” in black masks hauling an American nuclear warhead (a W-76 or W-88 it appears) on a bamboo rickshaw over a wooden bridge toward a waiting van in some distant jungle.

Countdown to Zero is one component of a larger and coherent foundation campaign to stoke up public fears about nuclear weapons for the purpose of extending a near-monopoly on nuclear weapons, and legitimating a more aggressive foreign policy aimed at regime change in Iran and elsewhere.  The consensus behind those who funded and produced the film has little to do with disarmament, and a lot to do with stabilizing the American empire.


Darwin BondGraham is a board member of the Los Alamos Study Group, a disarmament, energy, and economic development organization based in Albuquerque, N.M.  See, also, “The US-Russia START Treaty: Just What Does ‘Arms Control’ Really Mean?” (MRZine, 20 May 2010).

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America Speaks: Pushback in Palo Alto, CA

It was truly amazing how America Speaks worked to force us into giving us the answers they wanted: cutting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.  They presented us with a 25-page doomsday 2025 budget scenario, where Obama’s defense budget and Bush’s tax cuts to the rich had been continued indefinitely. Even after our policy wizards ended mass unemployment and  the Iraq-Afghanistan war,  they said,  rapidly-growing health costs and senior population would drag the nation down to a second-rate power status unless we came up with $1.2 trillion in cuts or revenue increases.   Then they whooped us up, to get us dancing in front of the cameras waving over-sized dollar bills,  while the giant screen flashed to other Town Halls in city after city, where people were also dancing with dollar bills, all of us in a simultaneous paroxysm of debt-smashing enthusiasm.  Then they smothered us in smarmy togetherness, and inclusiveness, and earnestness, about making “our” nation a better place for our children and grandchildren.  It was like all of us were extras in Jim Carrey’s “The Truman Show.”

Given all this, I was amazed at how much pushback there was. Our group started out talking about how loaded the war budget and tax break assumptions were that led to the $1.2 trillion figure. Most people felt and said it was kind of outrageous to have a eight minute perfunctory conversations about 30 million unemployed or under-employed with no solution being proposed, and then have us dust off our hands and imagine in 2025 we’d gained full employment and put the wars behind us. The person next to me said this was about class war.

When the discussion of health care cuts came up, people were so disgusted with having to choose 5%, 10% or 15% cuts without being able to specify how the cuts would be made, that they refused to make any cuts at all. Even the table moderator had to admit it was a stupid way to do it. At least half the people said they’d be glad to cut health expenses if we had single payer or negotiated drug prices.

When the subject of military spending came up, there a big discussion about whether the military and the wars were making us safer, whose interest the wars were being fought in, and whether the cuts would hurt ordinary soldiers. We ended up agreeing on the highest possible cut (15%) with some wanting much higher.

In the revenue portion, everyone was emphatic that rich people should be hit heavily, and the arguments that this might discourage saving, or investment, or it might slow the growth of jobs got no traction. Everybody agreed on raising the cap on payroll taxes to the original 90% of earned income, and some said the cap should be eliminated, though this was not an option, of course. There was some debate over whether to raise the rate of payroll tax.

What amazed me was that much of the same feelings seemed to be expressed nationally. They had to admit on the national simulcast that there was a huge sentiment for single payer, and that people didn’t like the options of cutting categories of services like healthcare without saying how it was done. It made a complete mockery of their blather about our “empowerment,” and “taking control.” I felt like when they brought out Commission member Alice Rivlin, she didn’t know how to respond to the pushback, and just blathered herself.

About 2/3 of the way through, we had reached about $800 billion, and it was getting difficult because people didn’t want to make additional cuts, but the table moderator kept saying we needed to make our target of $1.2 trillion. By this time, we had all gotten comfortable with each other and beginning to feel bonded, so I ventured to say that we were like a jury faced with a judge’s instruction we didn’t feel was fair because it was based on continued war spending and tax cuts to the rich. But juries do disobey judges, and we had the option of disobeying our instructions, too. This made some impression on people, but there was a strong impulse to meet our goal, and more cuts were made up to $1 trillion.

When we were asked what we would commit to do to continue working on these issues, I said I was in the  California Alliance for Retired Americans and the SF Gray Panthers and we had already had a town hall to defend Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Another person said she was from Democracy for America and would continue to work to stop the war. Another said he was from the Coffee Party, and I think he said he said he wanted to work against economic inequality.

Our table did vote to raise the Social Security retirement age, which I was really disappointed about. I talked about my 35 year old son who’s done landscape work and shines shoes, and whose shoulders and back are already beginning to fall apart. He’s got a kid, and he’ll never earn enough to go to school for a career change, and he’s unlikely to get a job with a pension, and I don’t see how he’ll last to 65, let alone 69. It didn’t make a difference; they still voted for the age increase. I think off all the issues in the afternoon, this was the question that demanded the most identification with workers.

I’m sorry we didn’t get a chance to talk afterward very much, but in the little talking I did with other California Alliance for Retired Americans and Move-On people, it seemed like they had the same kind of experience at their tables, and as I said, the pushback seemed to be reflected even in the simulcast. Of course, the America Speaks organizers are going to massage their message to the Obama Commission next Wednesday; they actually started doing it during the Town Hall, forming phrases like “legislators, do your duty,” “make the hard decisions,” “remember the people are powerful,” all of which which encourage the Commission to carry out the Peterson agenda. Still, I think our resistance to being stampeded was a well-deserved slap in the face to Peterson (and Obama.)  Now begins the work of talking to as many people as possible about the threats of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and to plan actions for when the Obama Commission submits its recommendations to Congress in early December.

Here’s a link to a Huffington Post article, “In Deficit “Town Meetings,” People Reject America Speaks Stacked Deck”

Or Suburban Guerrilla’s “America Speaks, Will the Politicians Listen?”

A video clip form Bucks County PA

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Reduce Debt? Cut Oil Wars, not Social Security!

Social Security Works, June 1, 2010

Save Social Security

President Obama May Cut Social Security Benefits, Report Says

Helen Thomas, Hearst White House columnist

WASHINGTON — Say it isn’t so, Mr. President. You surely are not going to make a deal with Republicans to cut Social Security benefits, are you?

Here’s word from The Nation Magazine: “The President intends to offer Social Security as a sacrificial lamb to entice conservative deficit hawks into a grand bipartisan compromise in which Democrats agree to cut Social Security benefits while Republicans accede to significant tax increases to reduce government red ink.”

The grand compromise would form the crux of the recommendations by the new 18-member National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility that was set up to find ways to reduce the federal budget deficit. Commission co-chairs are former Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., and Erskine Bowles, a former chief of staff in the Clinton White House.

The panel’s recommendations are scheduled to be announced in December, safely after the November elections. A recommendation requires a minimum of 14 votes among the commissioners. If Obama agrees to ask Congress to cut Social Security benefits, it would amount to a sellout by a president of the same Democratic Party that embraced Franklin D. Roosevelt, the father of Social Security, back in 1935.

Social Security is not a charity. It is a trust fund created by contributions paid by workers and their employers, designed to assure a future livelihood, first for the elderly, then orphans, then the disabled. It’s a retirement savings plan — not a handout.

Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, headed a Social Security Commission in 1982 under the Reagan administration that recommended a modest increase in taxes which resolved worries that the New Deal program might go broke.

If Obama is worried about the federal budget deficit, he shouldn’t turn to Social Security. The solution to the deficit is staring him right in the face: Obama should cut our human and money losses by getting out of the impossible — and costly — wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Of course, we do have plans to leave Iraq this summer — if leaving 50,000 occupation troops there is really leaving. Why are we doing that? This was the war of choice — not of necessity — that former President George W. Bush got us into, based on wrong information. Our continuing occupation of Iraq merely compounds our tragic mistake of invading in the first place.

Somehow I doubt that the Simpson-Bowles deficit commission will have the courage to tell the president about a very cool way to cut federal spending: Get American troops out of wars where we have no business.

Get real, Mr. President, cutting Social Security would be a break of trust with the American people. Millions of Americans cannot live without their Social Security stipends. So don’t tamper with those monthly checks.

Social Security is so deeply rooted in our society that the American people protested loudly when Bush came up with a half-baked plan to privatize Social Security. Fortunately, American voters saw to it that his Wall Street boondoggle went nowhere.

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US to launch Fallujah-style attack in Afghanistan

World Socialist Web Site, February 6, 2010

US to launch Fallujah-style attack in Afghanistan

As US and British troops prepare to attack the town of Marjah in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, military commanders and the media are openly comparing the operation to the November 2004 siege of Fallujah, one of the bloodiest war crimes of the Iraq war.

The operation in central Helmand province, long an area of intense resistance to the US-led occupation, will constitute the largest military offensive since Washington invaded the country in October 2001. At least 15,000 troops are expected to lay siege to the Helmand river valley town, which has 80,000 inhabitants and is said by the US military to be a stronghold of the Taliban.

A total of 125,000 people live in the district around Marjah, which is an agricultural center 350 miles west of Kabul. The population has been swelled by Afghans fleeing villages occupied by US Marines last summer, following President Barack Obama’s order shortly after he took office to send 21,000 more troops into Afghanistan.

US Marines, frustrated and enraged over casualties suffered at the hands of an unseen enemy who is able to attack and then blend back into the local population, will be unleashed against the town in a violent military assault, with predictable results.

Brigadier General Larry Nicholson, commander of the US Marines in southern Afghanistan, spelled out the character of the upcoming offensive. Those found in Marjah would have three options. “One is to stay and fight and probably die,” he said. “The second one is to make peace with his government and reintegrate.” The third would be to attempt to escape, “In which case we’ll probably have some people out there waiting on them as well.”

“We’re going to go in big,” said Nicholson, commander of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade. “I’m not looking for a fair fight,” he added.

In a highly unusual move, the US command has publicly announced plans for the offensive. “It’s a little unconventional to do it this way, but it gives everybody a chance to think through what they’re going to do before suddenly in the dark of night they’re hit with an offensive,” said General Stanley McChrystal, the senior US commander in Afghanistan.

The stated intention of revealing the target of the upcoming offensive is to allow civilians to flee before the Marines move in. It also provides a preemptive alibi for the US offensive by painting those who fail to heed the warning as die-hard Taliban who deserve to be killed.

Stratfor, a military-intelligence web site with close ties to the US state apparatus, reported Thursday that “the assault is likely to include the cordoning off of the area, so many of the fighters dedicated to its defense will probably be forced to fight to the death or surrender.”

The article continued: “With assaults on Fallujah and Ramadi in Iraq under their belts, the Marines are experienced with this sort of urban assault.”

What is the record of urban assaults of “this sort”?

The Marine assault on Fallujah in November 2004 reduced most of the city of 300,000 people to rubble, as warplanes dropped thousands of tons of explosives and helicopter gunships and battle tanks fired missiles into buildings and strafed the area with cannon fire.

The US military command claimed to have killed 2,000 “insurgents,” but the real death toll remains unknown. Civilians who remained in the town were subjected to the same bombardment. Some were shot to death during the door-to-door raids that followed, and others were killed while fleeing. Wounded fighters were summarily executed, and medical facilities were targeted for military attack. All those in the city were denied food, water and electricity for more than 10 days.

The operation was a vicious exercise in collective punishment against the population of Fallujah for the killing there of four Blackwater mercenaries and the city’s protracted resistance to foreign occupation. It embodied the criminality of the entire war and was characterized by multiple and gross violations of the laws of war.

If American military commanders are to be believed, a similar operation is being prepared in Afghanistan, and for similar reasons. The town of Marjah is to be turned into a killing field.

As in Fallujah, vengeance plays a role. US military forces have seen a steady escalation in casualties over the past year, while the CIA suffered a humiliating attack at the end of December that left seven of its operatives dead on the Afghan border.

In Afghanistan, as in Iraq, the US military command sees value in making an example of a population center known as a center of resistance to occupation, sending a message to the entire country that such resistance is futile and will be met with slaughter and destruction.

This bloodletting is officially justified in the name of a never-ending struggle against terrorism. Behind the propaganda, the driving force of the war in Afghanistan, like the war in Iraq, is the attempt by America’s ruling elite to counter the crisis of US capitalism through the use of force and the seizure of strategic positions in the Persian Gulf and Central Asia, both centers of vast energy reserves.

A year ago, when Barack Obama entered the White House, there existed hope among broad layers of the American people that his inauguration would turn such words as Fallujah, Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, Blackwater, torture and rendition into the lexicon of a dark and shameful, but closed, chapter in US history.

The preparation of the Marjah offensive only underscores that, far from being ended, the crimes of the Bush administration are continuing and escalating under the Democratic president.

Today there are more US troops deployed abroad in colonial-style wars and occupations than under Bush, and the killing has spread from Iraq and Afghanistan to Pakistan and Yemen. The Obama administration is seeking $322 billion for the two ongoing wars and occupations, a figure that will doubtless be swelled by further demands for “supplemental” funding.

The supposed candidate of “hope” and “change” has emerged ever more clearly as the hand-picked agent of sections of the political establishment and military-intelligence complex that wanted to effect certain tactical changes in policy, while continuing to employ militarism abroad and wage a relentless assault on the working class at home.

American working people cannot accept a new round of war crimes carried out in their name. The demand for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all US and other foreign troops from Afghanistan must be joined with a political offensive against the Obama administration and the financial oligarchy that it defends.

Bill Van Auken

The author also recommends:

The siege of Fallujah: America on a killing spree
[18 November, 2004]

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