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    Turning Fear Into Power: An Interview With Unarmed Peacekeeper Linda Sartor

    Truthout - Thu, 10/23/2014 - 10:02

    Linda Sartor standing on a Soviet tank outside of Kabul, Afghanistan. (Photo: Peggy Gish / WNV)Linda Sartor is not afraid to die. Dedicated to nonviolence, she spent 10 years after September 11, 2001 traveling to conflict zones throughout the world as an unarmed peacekeeper, with roles ranging from protective accompaniment to direct interpositioning between parties when tensions were running high. She documents her work across the world — in Israel/Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Iran and most recently Bahrain — in her new book, Turning Fear into Power: One Woman’s Journey Confronting the War on Terror. Inwardly quiet and exceedingly humble (she chose to sleep outside for eight years of her adult life), her courage and conviction are not only refreshing, they’re infectious. I recently had the privilege of spending a day with her to discuss her travels and the ways in which they have changed her as an individual, as well as her relationship to nonviolent action.

    Is there a nonviolent response to terrorism?

    I think George W. Bush misused the word “terrorism” so much that it really has no meaning. When protesters in the Occupy movement are portrayed as terrorists, that really changes the meaning of democracy too. If there is such a thing as real terrorism, I think it is often a last resort cry for help by people who are being severely abused and mistreated and who don’t have any other way to be seen and heard by those who could bring justice to a situation. A nonviolent response to terrorism is anything that brings more justice into the world, including more equity in our global economic system so that all people have their needs met and no one can abuse anyone else for their own economic advantage.

    What does activism mean to you?

    I think the word activism most often means protesting against something, but I am more excited about Gandhi’s idea of constructive program. I prefer the focus on creating models of what we want as opposed to protesting against what we don’t want because I believe that when we put energy against something it actually gives that something more power.

    You worked for an organization doing constructive program, which is at the forefront of international unarmed peacekeeping, the Gandhian dream of the Shanti Sena, or Peace Army. Can you tell a story illustrating that kind of nonviolence at work?

    The day after a massacre in a Christian Tamil village on an island in Sri Lanka, we Nonviolent Peaceforce unarmed civilian peacekeepers were greeted by the priest who took us to see the bodies. The people of the village were all excited to tell us what they had experienced the night before when the 11 people were killed. Each story confirmed that the killers were of the Sri Lankan Navy. The way it worked in Sri Lanka was that the bodies had to stay in place until the judge looked at them. When the judge arrived walking down the street, she was accompanied by Navy and police. So as soon as the villagers saw the group coming, the women and children all quickly went inside the churchyard and the men clumped closer to each other on the side of the street across from the church. The tension was palpable.

    I positioned myself on the side of the clump of men, so the Navy, police and judge walked past me first and then past the village men. As they passed, I smiled and waved and that proved to be totally disarming of the tensions. At that moment, I felt a bodily knowledge that I was safer because I was unarmed than I would have been armed. No one had any reason to be afraid of me, so I was not in personal danger. From that morning on, until the villagers decided to move from their village into a refugee camp, we were able to provide a protective presence to the people and they felt a sense of security that the Navy, which was supposedly responsible for their security, could not provide.

    You are one person. What makes you hopeful that you can make a difference?

    After 9/11, I couldn’t sit still. I felt a longing to get into some sort of action to take a stronger stand than I had ever taken before. In the 10 years of my life that I portray in my book, I don’t know concretely how much of a difference my actions made in the bigger picture. Like the Afghan Peace Volunteers I spent time with in Afghanistan, I don’t necessarily expect to see the changes I am committed to working toward come about in my lifetime. But I believe that I have to work toward those changes anyway. It is like the line in the song “The Impossible Dream” that says, “And I know if I’ll only be true to this glorious quest, that my heart will lie peaceful and calm when I’m laid to my rest; and the world will be better for this.”

    On another level, if I see something out there in the world that is not okay with me, I believe that if I look inside myself and ask something like, “Where is that violence in me?” then I have a place within myself that I can work to heal. Maybe that is the only place where I really have the power to make a difference. I do believe that that little bit of healing does contribute to the healing that’s needed in the world.

    I have been inspired by the words of the poet Clarissa Pinkola Estes, when she says, “Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely … We know that it does not take everyone on Earth to bring justice and peace, but only a small determined group who will not give up.”

    Your book is about transforming fear into nonviolent power. Fearlessness was one of Gandhi’s key characteristics of the nonviolent soul, or satyagrahi. In his 1928 work, “Satyagraha in South Africa,” he said, “A satyagrahi bids goodbye to fear.” What role do you think fear plays in perpetuating violence in our world?

    I see that the powers of domination that seem to be in control of the world today thrive on creating and perpetuating a culture of fear. Fear is contagious and easily blown out of proportion by our imaginations. I see that especially when it is at a distance. For example, people who don’t live in California are afraid of earthquakes and since I have never been in a tornado I fear that. I realized when I was preparing for my first trip — which was to Israel/Palestine — that for everyone back home it would seem like I would be in danger all the time. But in reality, there were only a few moments that were quite scary, and the rest of the time was not.

    We can learn to let fears be our teachers and when we accept, or even embrace, a fear and let ourselves learn what we have to learn from it, it has less control over us. It’s not that we ever get rid of fear, it is just that we can be with fear in a different way. The more I am able to be with my fears, the more freedom I have to do what my heart is calling me to do, and the more alive I feel in the end.

    Do you recommend that everyone travel to conflict zones as you have?

    I encourage people to recognize that they don’t have to do what I did, but that their own hearts have unique callings that are right for them. I trust that if each of us does that, it can lead to solutions that we can’t find when we only think about the problems from our heads and from the perspective of what we’ve done before.

    Richard Alford: AIG Redux – How the Fed Usurped Congress

    Naked Capitalism - Thu, 10/23/2014 - 09:55
    Yves here. Richard Alford, a former New York Fed economist, provides his assessment of the AIG bailout in light of some of the revelations in the AIG bailout trial. While many of his arguments have merit, I want to quibble with a couple of them. The first is the size of the actual amount taken by AIG and the reason for the drawdowns. At the time AIG hit the wall, the amount it needed was first estimated at $50 billion to cover its credit default swaps portfolio and $20 billion for its securities lending. The Maiden Lane III vehicle that the Fed created to take the CDOs has a $62.9 billion face value, so we can use that as a rough and ready value, and the securities lending bailout costs rose to roughly $50 billion. But consider: those two together get you to only a bit over $110 billion versus the peak lending amount reported as just shy of $185 billion. And some of that ~$110 billion includes laundering a bank bailout through AIG, by not obtaining haircuts on the CDS on the Maiden Lane CDOs. So where did that say $80 billion go? It might be commercial paper or medium term notes during the very worst of the crisis, although with the Fed supporting AIG, you'd think investors would be see its paper as fine. We're conferring with some close AIG watchers and may write up a discussion of what that AIG black hole consisted of. Second is that at the end, Alford adopts a "what matters is looking forward," as in preventing future crises. Yes, but we are great believers in post-mortems, particularly in light of the George Santayana saying, "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
    Categories: political economy

    The Importance of Being Exceptional: From Ancient Greece to 21st Century US

    Truthout - Thu, 10/23/2014 - 09:37

    The origins of the phrase “American exceptionalism” are not especially obscure. The French sociologist Alexis de Tocqueville, observing this country in the 1830s, said that Americans seemed exceptional in valuing practical attainments almost to the exclusion of the arts and sciences. The Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, on hearing a report by the American Communist Party that workers in the United States in 1929 were not ready for revolution, denounced “the heresy of American exceptionalism.” In 1996, the political scientist Seymour Martin Lipset took those hints from Tocqueville and Stalin and added some of his own to produce his book American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword. The virtues of American society, for Lipset -- our individualism, hostility to state action, and propensity for ad hoc problem-solving -- themselves stood in the way of a lasting and prudent consensus in the conduct of American politics.

    In recent years, the phrase “American exceptionalism,” at once resonant and ambiguous, has stolen into popular usage in electoral politics, in the mainstream media, and in academic writing with a profligacy that is hard to account for. It sometimes seems that exceptionalism for Americans means everything from generosity to selfishness, localism to imperialism, indifference to “the opinions of mankind” to a readiness to incorporate the folkways of every culture. When President Obama told West Point graduates last May that “I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being,” the context made it clear that he meant the United States was the greatest country in the world: our stature was demonstrated by our possession of “the finest fighting force that the world has ever known,” uniquely tasked with defending liberty and peace globally; and yet we could not allow ourselves to “flout international norms” or be a law unto ourselves. The contradictory nature of these statements would have satisfied even Tocqueville’s taste for paradox.

    On the whole, is American exceptionalism a force for good? The question shouldn’t be hard to answer. To make an exception of yourself is as immoral a proceeding for a nation as it is for an individual. When we say of a person (usually someone who has gone off the rails), “He thinks the rules don’t apply to him,” we mean that he is a danger to others and perhaps to himself. People who act on such a belief don’t as a rule examine themselves deeply or write a history of the self to justify their understanding that they are unique. Very little effort is involved in their willfulness. Such exceptionalism, indeed, comes from an excess of will unaccompanied by awareness of the necessity for self-restraint.

    Such people are monsters. Many land in asylums, more in prisons. But the category also encompasses a large number of high-functioning autistics: governors, generals, corporate heads, owners of professional sports teams. When you think about it, some of these people do write histories of themselves and in that pursuit, a few of them have kept up the vitality of an ancient genre: criminal autobiography.

    All nations, by contrast, write their own histories as a matter of course. They preserve and exhibit a record of their doings; normally, of justified conduct, actions worthy of celebration. “Exceptional” nations, therefore, are compelled to engage in some fancy bookkeeping which exceptional individuals can avoid -- at least until they are put on trial or subjected to interrogation under oath. The exceptional nation will claim that it is not responsible for its exceptional character. Its nature was given by God, or History, or Destiny.

    An external and semi-miraculous instrumentality is invoked to explain the prodigy whose essence defies mere scientific understanding. To support the belief in the nation’s exceptional character, synonyms and variants of the word “providence” often get slotted in.  That word gained its utility at the end of the seventeenth century -- the start of the epoch of nations formed in Europe by a supposed covenant or compact. Providence splits the difference between the accidents of fortune and purposeful design; it says that God is on your side without having the bad manners to pronounce His name.

    Why is it immoral for a person to treat himself as an exception? The reason is plain: because morality, by definition, means a standard of right and wrong that applies to all persons without exception. Yet to answer so briefly may be to oversimplify. For at least three separate meanings are in play when it comes to exceptionalism, with a different apology backing each. The glamour that surrounds the idea owes something to confusion among these possible senses.

    First, a nation is thought to be exceptional by its very nature. It is so consistently worthy that a unique goodness shines through all its works. Who would hesitate to admire the acts of such a country? What foreigner would not wish to belong to it? Once we are held captive by this picture, “my country right or wrong” becomes a proper sentiment and not a wild effusion of prejudice, because we cannot conceive of the nation being wrong.

    A second meaning of exceptional may seem more open to rational scrutiny. Here, the nation is supposed to be admirable by reason of history and circumstance. It has demonstrated its exceptional quality by adherence to ideals which are peculiar to its original character and honorable as part of a greater human inheritance. Not “my country right or wrong” but “my country, good and getting better” seems to be the standard here. The promise of what the country could turn out to be supports this faith. Its moral and political virtue is perceived as a historical deposit with a rich residue in the present.

    A third version of exceptionalism derives from our usual affectionate feelings about living in a community on the scale of a neighborhood or township, an ethnic group or religious sect. Communitarian nationalism takes the innocent-seeming step of generalizing that sentiment to the nation at large. My country is exceptional to me (according to this view) just because it is mine. Its familiar habits and customs have shaped the way I think and feel; nor do I have the slightest wish to extricate myself from its demands. The nation, then, is like a gigantic family, and we owe it what we owe to the members of our family: “unconditional love.” This sounds like the common sense of ordinary feelings. How can our nation help being exceptional tous?

    Teacher of the World

    Athens was just such an exceptional nation, or city-state, as Pericles described it in his celebrated oration for the first fallen soldiers in the Peloponnesian War. He meant his description of Athens to carry both normative force and hortatory urgency. It is, he says, the greatest of Greek cities, and this quality is shown by its works, shining deeds, the structure of its government, and the character of its citizens, who are themselves creations of the city. At the same time, Pericles was saying to the widows and children of the war dead: Resemble them! Seek to deserve the name of Athenian as they have deserved it!

    The oration, recounted by Thucydides in the History of the Peloponnesian War, begins by praising the ancestors of Athenian democracy who by their exertions have made the city exceptional. “They dwelt in the country without break in the succession from generation to generation, and handed it down free to the present time by their valor.” Yet we who are alive today, Pericles says, have added to that inheritance; and he goes on to praise the constitution of the city, which “does not copy the laws of neighboring states; we are rather a pattern to others than imitators ourselves.”

    The foreshadowing here of American exceptionalism is uncanny and the anticipation of our own predicament continues as the speech proceeds. “In our enterprises we present the singular spectacle of daring and deliberation, each carried to its highest point, and both united in the same persons... As a city we are the school of Hellas” -- by which Pericles means that no representative citizen or soldier of another city could possibly be as resourceful as an Athenian. This city, alone among all the others, is greater than her reputation.

    We Athenians, he adds, choose to risk our lives by perpetually carrying a difficult burden, rather than submitting to the will of another state. Our readiness to die for the city is the proof of our greatness. Turning to the surviving families of the dead, he admonishes and exalts them: “You must yourselves realize the power of Athens,” he tells the widows and children, “and feed your eyes upon her from day to day, till love of her fills your hearts; and then when all her greatness shall break upon you, you must reflect that it was by courage, sense of duty, and a keen feeling of honor in action that men were enabled to win all this.” So stirring are their deeds that the memory of their greatness is written in the hearts of men in faraway lands: “For heroes have the whole earth for their tomb.”

    Athenian exceptionalism at its height, as the words of Pericles indicate, took deeds of war as proof of the worthiness of all that the city achieved apart from war. In this way, Athens was placed beyond comparison: nobody who knew it and knew other cities could fail to recognize its exceptional nature. This was not only a judgment inferred from evidence but an overwhelming sensation that carried conviction with it. The greatness of the city ought to be experienced, Pericles imagines, as a vision that “shall break upon you.”

    Guilty Past, Innocent Future

    To come closer to twenty-first-century America, consider how, in the Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln gave an exceptional turn to an ambiguous past. Unlike Pericles, he was speaking in the midst of a civil war, not a war between rival states, and this partly explains the note of self-doubt that we may detect in Lincoln when we compare the two speeches. At Gettysburg, Lincoln said that a pledge by the country as a whole had been embodied in a single document, the Declaration of Independence. He took the Declaration as his touchstone, rather than the Constitution, for a reason he spoke of elsewhere: the latter document had been freighted with compromise. The Declaration of Independence uniquely laid down principles that might over time allow the idealism of the founders to be realized.

    Athens, for Pericles, was what Athens always had been. The Union, for Lincoln, was what it had yet to become. He associated the greatness of past intentions -- “We hold these truths to be self-evident” -- with the resolve he hoped his listeners would carry out in the present moment: “It is [not for the noble dead but] rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom.”

    This allegorical language needs translation. In the future, Lincoln is saying, there will be a popular government and a political society based on the principle of free labor. Before that can happen, however, slavery must be brought to an end by carrying the country’s resolution into practice. So Lincoln asks his listeners to love their country for what it may become, not what it is. Their self-sacrifice on behalf of a possible future will serve as proof of national greatness. He does not hide the stain of slavery that marred the Constitution; the imperfection of the founders is confessed between the lines.  But the logic of the speech implies, by a trick of grammar and perspective, that the Union was always pointed in the direction of the Civil War that would make it free.

    Notice that Pericles’s argument for the exceptional city has here been reversed. The future is not guaranteed by the greatness of the past; rather, the tarnished virtue of the past will be scoured clean by the purity of the future.  Exceptional in its reliance on slavery, the state established by the first American Revolution is thus to be redeemed by the second. Through the sacrifice of nameless thousands, the nation will defeat slavery and justify its fame as the truly exceptional country its founders wished it to be.

    Most Americans are moved (without quite knowing why) by the opening words of the Gettysburg Address: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers...” Four score and seven is a biblical marker of the life of one person, and the words ask us to wonder whether our nation, a radical experiment based on a radical “proposition,” can last longer than a single life-span. The effect is provocative. Yet the backbone of Lincoln’s argument would have stood out more clearly if the speech had instead begun: “Two years from now, perhaps three, our country will see a great transformation.” The truth is that the year of the birth of the nation had no logical relationship to the year of the “new birth of freedom.” An exceptional character, however, whether in history or story, demands an exceptional plot; so the speech commences with deliberately archaic language to ask its implicit question: Can we Americans survive today and become the school of modern democracy, much as Athens was the school of Hellas?

    The Ties That Bind and Absolve

    To believe that our nation has always been exceptional, as Pericles said Athens was, or that it will soon justify such a claim, as Lincoln suggested America would do, requires a suppression of ordinary skepticism. The belief itself calls for extraordinary arrogance or extraordinary hope in the believer. In our time, exceptionalism has been made less exacting by an appeal to national feeling based on the smallest and most vivid community that most people know: the family.  Governor Mario Cuomo of New York, in his keynote address at the 1984 Democratic convention, put this straightforwardly. America, said Cuomo, was like a family, and a good family never loses its concern for the least fortunate of its members. In 2011, President Obama, acceding to Republican calls for austerity that led to the sequestration of government funds, told us that the national economy was just like a household budget and every family knows that it must pay its bills.

    To take seriously the metaphor of the nation-as-family may lead to a sense of sentimental obligation or prudential worry on behalf of our fellow citizens. But many people think we should pursue the analogy further. If our nation does wrong, they say, we must treat it as an error and not a crime because, after all, we owe our nation unconditional love. Yet here the metaphor betrays our thinking into a false equation. A family has nested us, cradled us, nursed us from infancy, as we have perhaps done for later generations of the same family; and it has done so in a sense that is far more intimate than the sense in which a nation has fostered or nurtured us. We know our family with an individuated depth and authority that can’t be brought to our idea of a nation. This may be a difference of kind, or a difference of degree, but the difference is certainly great.

    A subtle deception is involved in the analogy between nation and family; and an illicit transfer of feelings comes with the appeal to “unconditional love.” What do we mean by unconditional love, even at the level of the family? Suppose my delinquent child robs and beats an old man on a city street, and I learn of it by his own confession or by accident. What exactly do I owe him?

    Unconditional love, in this setting, surely means that I can’t stop caring about my child; that I will regard his terrible action as an aberration. I will be bound to think about the act and actor quite differently from the way I would think about anyone else who committed such a crime. But does unconditional love also require that I make excuses for him? Shall I pay a lawyer to get him off the hook and back on the streets as soon as possible? Is it my duty to conceal what he has done, if there is a chance of keeping it secret? Must I never say what he did in the company of strangers or outside the family circle?

    At a national level, the doctrine of exceptionalism as unconditional love encourages habits of suppression and euphemism that sink deep roots in the common culture. We have seen the result in America in the years since 2001. In the grip of this doctrine, torture has become “enhanced interrogation”; wars of aggression have become wars for democracy; a distant likely enemy has become an “imminent threat” whose very existence justifies an executive order to kill. These are permitted and officially sanctioned forms of collective dishonesty. They begin in quasi-familial piety, they pass through the systematic distortion of language, and they end in the corruption of consciousness. 

    The commandment to “keep it in the family” is a symptom of that corruption. It follows that one must never speak critically of one’s country in the hearing of other nations or write against its policies in foreign newspapers. No matter how vicious and wrong the conduct of a member of the family may be, one must assume his good intentions. This ideology abets raw self-interest in justifying many actions by which the United States has revealingly made an exception of itself -- for example, our refusal to participate in the International Criminal Court. The community of nations, we declared, was not situated to understand the true extent of our constabulary responsibilities. American actions come under a different standard and we are the only qualified judges of our own cause.

    The doctrine of the national family may be a less fertile source of belligerent pride than “my country right or wrong.” It may be less grandiose, too, than the exceptionalism that asks us to love our country for ideals that have never properly been translated into practice. And yet, in this appeal to the family, one finds the same renunciation of moral knowledge -- a renunciation that, if followed, would render inconceivable any social order beyond that of the family and its extension, the tribe.

    Unconditional love of our country is the counterpart of unconditional detachment and even hostility toward other countries. None of us is an exception, and no nation is. The sooner we come to live with this truth as a mundane reality without exceptions, the more grateful other nations will be to live in a world that includes us, among others.

    The Importance of Being Exceptional: From Ancient Greece to 21st Century US

    Truthout - Thu, 10/23/2014 - 09:37

    The origins of the phrase “American exceptionalism” are not especially obscure. The French sociologist Alexis de Tocqueville, observing this country in the 1830s, said that Americans seemed exceptional in valuing practical attainments almost to the exclusion of the arts and sciences. The Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, on hearing a report by the American Communist Party that workers in the United States in 1929 were not ready for revolution, denounced “the heresy of American exceptionalism.” In 1996, the political scientist Seymour Martin Lipset took those hints from Tocqueville and Stalin and added some of his own to produce his book American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword. The virtues of American society, for Lipset -- our individualism, hostility to state action, and propensity for ad hoc problem-solving -- themselves stood in the way of a lasting and prudent consensus in the conduct of American politics.

    In recent years, the phrase “American exceptionalism,” at once resonant and ambiguous, has stolen into popular usage in electoral politics, in the mainstream media, and in academic writing with a profligacy that is hard to account for. It sometimes seems that exceptionalism for Americans means everything from generosity to selfishness, localism to imperialism, indifference to “the opinions of mankind” to a readiness to incorporate the folkways of every culture. When President Obama told West Point graduates last May that “I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being,” the context made it clear that he meant the United States was the greatest country in the world: our stature was demonstrated by our possession of “the finest fighting force that the world has ever known,” uniquely tasked with defending liberty and peace globally; and yet we could not allow ourselves to “flout international norms” or be a law unto ourselves. The contradictory nature of these statements would have satisfied even Tocqueville’s taste for paradox.

    On the whole, is American exceptionalism a force for good? The question shouldn’t be hard to answer. To make an exception of yourself is as immoral a proceeding for a nation as it is for an individual. When we say of a person (usually someone who has gone off the rails), “He thinks the rules don’t apply to him,” we mean that he is a danger to others and perhaps to himself. People who act on such a belief don’t as a rule examine themselves deeply or write a history of the self to justify their understanding that they are unique. Very little effort is involved in their willfulness. Such exceptionalism, indeed, comes from an excess of will unaccompanied by awareness of the necessity for self-restraint.

    Such people are monsters. Many land in asylums, more in prisons. But the category also encompasses a large number of high-functioning autistics: governors, generals, corporate heads, owners of professional sports teams. When you think about it, some of these people do write histories of themselves and in that pursuit, a few of them have kept up the vitality of an ancient genre: criminal autobiography.

    All nations, by contrast, write their own histories as a matter of course. They preserve and exhibit a record of their doings; normally, of justified conduct, actions worthy of celebration. “Exceptional” nations, therefore, are compelled to engage in some fancy bookkeeping which exceptional individuals can avoid -- at least until they are put on trial or subjected to interrogation under oath. The exceptional nation will claim that it is not responsible for its exceptional character. Its nature was given by God, or History, or Destiny.

    An external and semi-miraculous instrumentality is invoked to explain the prodigy whose essence defies mere scientific understanding. To support the belief in the nation’s exceptional character, synonyms and variants of the word “providence” often get slotted in.  That word gained its utility at the end of the seventeenth century -- the start of the epoch of nations formed in Europe by a supposed covenant or compact. Providence splits the difference between the accidents of fortune and purposeful design; it says that God is on your side without having the bad manners to pronounce His name.

    Why is it immoral for a person to treat himself as an exception? The reason is plain: because morality, by definition, means a standard of right and wrong that applies to all persons without exception. Yet to answer so briefly may be to oversimplify. For at least three separate meanings are in play when it comes to exceptionalism, with a different apology backing each. The glamour that surrounds the idea owes something to confusion among these possible senses.

    First, a nation is thought to be exceptional by its very nature. It is so consistently worthy that a unique goodness shines through all its works. Who would hesitate to admire the acts of such a country? What foreigner would not wish to belong to it? Once we are held captive by this picture, “my country right or wrong” becomes a proper sentiment and not a wild effusion of prejudice, because we cannot conceive of the nation being wrong.

    A second meaning of exceptional may seem more open to rational scrutiny. Here, the nation is supposed to be admirable by reason of history and circumstance. It has demonstrated its exceptional quality by adherence to ideals which are peculiar to its original character and honorable as part of a greater human inheritance. Not “my country right or wrong” but “my country, good and getting better” seems to be the standard here. The promise of what the country could turn out to be supports this faith. Its moral and political virtue is perceived as a historical deposit with a rich residue in the present.

    A third version of exceptionalism derives from our usual affectionate feelings about living in a community on the scale of a neighborhood or township, an ethnic group or religious sect. Communitarian nationalism takes the innocent-seeming step of generalizing that sentiment to the nation at large. My country is exceptional to me (according to this view) just because it is mine. Its familiar habits and customs have shaped the way I think and feel; nor do I have the slightest wish to extricate myself from its demands. The nation, then, is like a gigantic family, and we owe it what we owe to the members of our family: “unconditional love.” This sounds like the common sense of ordinary feelings. How can our nation help being exceptional tous?

    Teacher of the World

    Athens was just such an exceptional nation, or city-state, as Pericles described it in his celebrated oration for the first fallen soldiers in the Peloponnesian War. He meant his description of Athens to carry both normative force and hortatory urgency. It is, he says, the greatest of Greek cities, and this quality is shown by its works, shining deeds, the structure of its government, and the character of its citizens, who are themselves creations of the city. At the same time, Pericles was saying to the widows and children of the war dead: Resemble them! Seek to deserve the name of Athenian as they have deserved it!

    The oration, recounted by Thucydides in the History of the Peloponnesian War, begins by praising the ancestors of Athenian democracy who by their exertions have made the city exceptional. “They dwelt in the country without break in the succession from generation to generation, and handed it down free to the present time by their valor.” Yet we who are alive today, Pericles says, have added to that inheritance; and he goes on to praise the constitution of the city, which “does not copy the laws of neighboring states; we are rather a pattern to others than imitators ourselves.”

    The foreshadowing here of American exceptionalism is uncanny and the anticipation of our own predicament continues as the speech proceeds. “In our enterprises we present the singular spectacle of daring and deliberation, each carried to its highest point, and both united in the same persons... As a city we are the school of Hellas” -- by which Pericles means that no representative citizen or soldier of another city could possibly be as resourceful as an Athenian. This city, alone among all the others, is greater than her reputation.

    We Athenians, he adds, choose to risk our lives by perpetually carrying a difficult burden, rather than submitting to the will of another state. Our readiness to die for the city is the proof of our greatness. Turning to the surviving families of the dead, he admonishes and exalts them: “You must yourselves realize the power of Athens,” he tells the widows and children, “and feed your eyes upon her from day to day, till love of her fills your hearts; and then when all her greatness shall break upon you, you must reflect that it was by courage, sense of duty, and a keen feeling of honor in action that men were enabled to win all this.” So stirring are their deeds that the memory of their greatness is written in the hearts of men in faraway lands: “For heroes have the whole earth for their tomb.”

    Athenian exceptionalism at its height, as the words of Pericles indicate, took deeds of war as proof of the worthiness of all that the city achieved apart from war. In this way, Athens was placed beyond comparison: nobody who knew it and knew other cities could fail to recognize its exceptional nature. This was not only a judgment inferred from evidence but an overwhelming sensation that carried conviction with it. The greatness of the city ought to be experienced, Pericles imagines, as a vision that “shall break upon you.”

    Guilty Past, Innocent Future

    To come closer to twenty-first-century America, consider how, in the Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln gave an exceptional turn to an ambiguous past. Unlike Pericles, he was speaking in the midst of a civil war, not a war between rival states, and this partly explains the note of self-doubt that we may detect in Lincoln when we compare the two speeches. At Gettysburg, Lincoln said that a pledge by the country as a whole had been embodied in a single document, the Declaration of Independence. He took the Declaration as his touchstone, rather than the Constitution, for a reason he spoke of elsewhere: the latter document had been freighted with compromise. The Declaration of Independence uniquely laid down principles that might over time allow the idealism of the founders to be realized.

    Athens, for Pericles, was what Athens always had been. The Union, for Lincoln, was what it had yet to become. He associated the greatness of past intentions -- “We hold these truths to be self-evident” -- with the resolve he hoped his listeners would carry out in the present moment: “It is [not for the noble dead but] rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom.”

    This allegorical language needs translation. In the future, Lincoln is saying, there will be a popular government and a political society based on the principle of free labor. Before that can happen, however, slavery must be brought to an end by carrying the country’s resolution into practice. So Lincoln asks his listeners to love their country for what it may become, not what it is. Their self-sacrifice on behalf of a possible future will serve as proof of national greatness. He does not hide the stain of slavery that marred the Constitution; the imperfection of the founders is confessed between the lines.  But the logic of the speech implies, by a trick of grammar and perspective, that the Union was always pointed in the direction of the Civil War that would make it free.

    Notice that Pericles’s argument for the exceptional city has here been reversed. The future is not guaranteed by the greatness of the past; rather, the tarnished virtue of the past will be scoured clean by the purity of the future.  Exceptional in its reliance on slavery, the state established by the first American Revolution is thus to be redeemed by the second. Through the sacrifice of nameless thousands, the nation will defeat slavery and justify its fame as the truly exceptional country its founders wished it to be.

    Most Americans are moved (without quite knowing why) by the opening words of the Gettysburg Address: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers...” Four score and seven is a biblical marker of the life of one person, and the words ask us to wonder whether our nation, a radical experiment based on a radical “proposition,” can last longer than a single life-span. The effect is provocative. Yet the backbone of Lincoln’s argument would have stood out more clearly if the speech had instead begun: “Two years from now, perhaps three, our country will see a great transformation.” The truth is that the year of the birth of the nation had no logical relationship to the year of the “new birth of freedom.” An exceptional character, however, whether in history or story, demands an exceptional plot; so the speech commences with deliberately archaic language to ask its implicit question: Can we Americans survive today and become the school of modern democracy, much as Athens was the school of Hellas?

    The Ties That Bind and Absolve

    To believe that our nation has always been exceptional, as Pericles said Athens was, or that it will soon justify such a claim, as Lincoln suggested America would do, requires a suppression of ordinary skepticism. The belief itself calls for extraordinary arrogance or extraordinary hope in the believer. In our time, exceptionalism has been made less exacting by an appeal to national feeling based on the smallest and most vivid community that most people know: the family.  Governor Mario Cuomo of New York, in his keynote address at the 1984 Democratic convention, put this straightforwardly. America, said Cuomo, was like a family, and a good family never loses its concern for the least fortunate of its members. In 2011, President Obama, acceding to Republican calls for austerity that led to the sequestration of government funds, told us that the national economy was just like a household budget and every family knows that it must pay its bills.

    To take seriously the metaphor of the nation-as-family may lead to a sense of sentimental obligation or prudential worry on behalf of our fellow citizens. But many people think we should pursue the analogy further. If our nation does wrong, they say, we must treat it as an error and not a crime because, after all, we owe our nation unconditional love. Yet here the metaphor betrays our thinking into a false equation. A family has nested us, cradled us, nursed us from infancy, as we have perhaps done for later generations of the same family; and it has done so in a sense that is far more intimate than the sense in which a nation has fostered or nurtured us. We know our family with an individuated depth and authority that can’t be brought to our idea of a nation. This may be a difference of kind, or a difference of degree, but the difference is certainly great.

    A subtle deception is involved in the analogy between nation and family; and an illicit transfer of feelings comes with the appeal to “unconditional love.” What do we mean by unconditional love, even at the level of the family? Suppose my delinquent child robs and beats an old man on a city street, and I learn of it by his own confession or by accident. What exactly do I owe him?

    Unconditional love, in this setting, surely means that I can’t stop caring about my child; that I will regard his terrible action as an aberration. I will be bound to think about the act and actor quite differently from the way I would think about anyone else who committed such a crime. But does unconditional love also require that I make excuses for him? Shall I pay a lawyer to get him off the hook and back on the streets as soon as possible? Is it my duty to conceal what he has done, if there is a chance of keeping it secret? Must I never say what he did in the company of strangers or outside the family circle?

    At a national level, the doctrine of exceptionalism as unconditional love encourages habits of suppression and euphemism that sink deep roots in the common culture. We have seen the result in America in the years since 2001. In the grip of this doctrine, torture has become “enhanced interrogation”; wars of aggression have become wars for democracy; a distant likely enemy has become an “imminent threat” whose very existence justifies an executive order to kill. These are permitted and officially sanctioned forms of collective dishonesty. They begin in quasi-familial piety, they pass through the systematic distortion of language, and they end in the corruption of consciousness. 

    The commandment to “keep it in the family” is a symptom of that corruption. It follows that one must never speak critically of one’s country in the hearing of other nations or write against its policies in foreign newspapers. No matter how vicious and wrong the conduct of a member of the family may be, one must assume his good intentions. This ideology abets raw self-interest in justifying many actions by which the United States has revealingly made an exception of itself -- for example, our refusal to participate in the International Criminal Court. The community of nations, we declared, was not situated to understand the true extent of our constabulary responsibilities. American actions come under a different standard and we are the only qualified judges of our own cause.

    The doctrine of the national family may be a less fertile source of belligerent pride than “my country right or wrong.” It may be less grandiose, too, than the exceptionalism that asks us to love our country for ideals that have never properly been translated into practice. And yet, in this appeal to the family, one finds the same renunciation of moral knowledge -- a renunciation that, if followed, would render inconceivable any social order beyond that of the family and its extension, the tribe.

    Unconditional love of our country is the counterpart of unconditional detachment and even hostility toward other countries. None of us is an exception, and no nation is. The sooner we come to live with this truth as a mundane reality without exceptions, the more grateful other nations will be to live in a world that includes us, among others.

    Social Media and Marissa Alexander: Freedom Mobilization and Victim-Blaming

    Truthout - Thu, 10/23/2014 - 09:34

    Justice for Marissa Alexander protest in Oakland, July 20, 2013. (Photo: Steve Rhodes)

    Truthout can only survive through reader support - click here to make a tax-deductible donation and help publish journalism with real integrity and independence!

    Social media has been a powerful tool in building support and raising funds for Marissa Alexander's defense, while providing creative ways to discuss domestic violence and self-defense, particularly among black women.

    This piece is the third story in a three-part series exploring the intersections of domestic violence, race, the criminal legal system and the case of Marissa Alexander. The first is in the link above and the second is here.

    The trial of Marissa Alexander - the Florida mother facing 60 years in prison for firing a warning shot against her abusive husband - is approaching on December 8, 2014.

    A large part of the mobilization for Marissa's freedom is happening via social media, where it ties in with broader discussions about violence against black women - both domestic violence and state violence. Through hashtag campaigns, an online store, fundraising and creative efforts - such as an ongoing Twitter campaign in which tweeters upload videos of themselves reading Nikki Finney's poem, "Flare," about Marissa Alexander - activists have been drawing attention to not only Marissa's case, but the core issues that have allowed it to play out as it has. The campaigns encourage people to think about the ways that black women, as victims of domestic violence, have been historically denied rights to self defense.

    And so, while social media platforms are useful spaces for conducting freedom campaigns, they - particularly Twitter - have also served as forums for open discussions of the victimhood of black women.

    Twitter has also served as a vehicle for basic facts: Since most mainstream media have ignored Marissa Alexander's case, much of the news about it has been publicized through social media. The conversations sparked by this publicity have oftentimes been productive and contributed to movement building. They have called into question stereotypes of who is seen as "vulnerable" and who traditional media outlets produce as "real victims" of violence.

    Sometimes, though, loud, blatant and explicit forms of racism and gender-based stereotypes have been blasted throughout social media in response to the facts about Marissa's case. In real time, we are watching conversations that challenge the idea of black women as victims. In these conversations, people often use victim-blaming language that directly implies that Marissa and other domestic violence survivors are inherently responsible for their own assaults.

    People who would have possibly not known about Marissa's case, if not for social media, are being made aware of her unjust criminalization - but they don't always assess it as "unjust." I have seen statements such as, "Why did she stay?" Or, "Why did she marry him if there was a history of abuse?" These types of questions are used to make survivors of domestic violence appear like they are not "real" victims. In fact, they are made to appear like perpetrators or even complicit in their own violence.

    Some of the discussions of domestic violence and intimate partner violence on social media also reveal another dominant cultural tendency: They lack any acknowledgement of black women's pain.

    While groups in Chicago and elsewhere were mobilizing for Marissa's freedom last month, the nation was circulating the video of Janay Rice being explicitly attacked by former Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice. In an article in Ebony, Damon Young calls reactions to this video "explaining it away." Many people attempted to "explain away" the assault of Janay Rice, even though there was considerable evidence, through videotape, that she was in fact a victim, not a perpetrator. Similarly, in the case of Marissa Alexander, considerable evidence shows that Marissa endured abuse at the hands of her estranged husband - and he himself admitted this. Yet these assaults can be "explained away," in a world where dominant narratives do not give black women the status of victim.

    Conversations that cast doubt on Marissa's right to defend herself become a simultaneous justification of assault against black women. They deflect from the fact that Marissa - along with so many others who've been in her place - was in fact a survivor and not a perpetrator. In addition to flat-out victim blaming, this refusal to acknowledge black women's pain shows up in questions about how much Marissa was abused, or how severely - as if, when it comes to women of color, it is appropriate to ask, "Was her pain bad enough?" Even with overwhelming evidence like a videotape or an abuser's testimony, black women are still not seen as "real" victims by dominant forces.

    This refusal to acknowledge victimhood has harmful effects in and of itself. "Explaining away" or denying domestic violence further criminalizes and punishes women, particularly women of color, for violence that has been perpetrated against them (including violence by the state).

    However, a very particular moment in the United States, as it relates to domestic violence, is here. With the publicity around Janay Rice, major institutions like the National Football League (NFL) and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) have been forced to address issues of domestic violence due to pressure from social media. The NFL, especially, has seen a major push through social media activism to address its lack of policy for issues of domestic violence among players. Issues of domestic violence are playing out on the stage of national athletics, as well as in a courtroom in Jacksonville, Florida, for Marissa Alexander. Although it brings out all kinds of responses - some of them counterproductive - this is still a moment that can be seized to raise much-needed awareness and draw attention to the movements that are already happening.

    As October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Free Marissa Now, the Chicago Alliance to Free Marissa Alexander and various other groups are immersed in a "Keeping Marissa in Mind" campaign, drawing attention to Marissa Alexander's case - as well as the "cases" of all women of color, who are not seen as victims of violence with rights to defend themselves.

    Social media has been used as an incredible tool for mobilization on behalf of Marissa Alexander. It has also been used as a medium for "explaining away" domestic violence. It is up to us to continue to mobilize, building our own narratives and speaking out about black women's pain, as we work toward Marissa Alexander's freedom.

    For more information on what you can do to help Marissa, please consult the Free Marissa Now Mobilization Campaign's website to Get Involved! For further information on how to develop a prisoner defense committee, to support people involved with the criminal legal system, please consult the Chicago Alliance to Free Marissa Alexander.

    Social Media and Marissa Alexander: Freedom Mobilization and Victim-Blaming

    Truthout - Thu, 10/23/2014 - 09:34

    Justice for Marissa Alexander protest in Oakland, July 20, 2013. (Photo: Steve Rhodes)

    Truthout can only survive through reader support - click here to make a tax-deductible donation and help publish journalism with real integrity and independence!

    Social media has been a powerful tool in building support and raising funds for Marissa Alexander's defense, while providing creative ways to discuss domestic violence and self-defense, particularly among black women.

    This piece is the third story in a three-part series exploring the intersections of domestic violence, race, the criminal legal system and the case of Marissa Alexander. The first is in the link above and the second is here.

    The trial of Marissa Alexander - the Florida mother facing 60 years in prison for firing a warning shot against her abusive husband - is approaching on December 8, 2014.

    A large part of the mobilization for Marissa's freedom is happening via social media, where it ties in with broader discussions about violence against black women - both domestic violence and state violence. Through hashtag campaigns, an online store, fundraising and creative efforts - such as an ongoing Twitter campaign in which tweeters upload videos of themselves reading Nikki Finney's poem, "Flare," about Marissa Alexander - activists have been drawing attention to not only Marissa's case, but the core issues that have allowed it to play out as it has. The campaigns encourage people to think about the ways that black women, as victims of domestic violence, have been historically denied rights to self defense.

    And so, while social media platforms are useful spaces for conducting freedom campaigns, they - particularly Twitter - have also served as forums for open discussions of the victimhood of black women.

    Twitter has also served as a vehicle for basic facts: Since most mainstream media have ignored Marissa Alexander's case, much of the news about it has been publicized through social media. The conversations sparked by this publicity have oftentimes been productive and contributed to movement building. They have called into question stereotypes of who is seen as "vulnerable" and who traditional media outlets produce as "real victims" of violence.

    Sometimes, though, loud, blatant and explicit forms of racism and gender-based stereotypes have been blasted throughout social media in response to the facts about Marissa's case. In real time, we are watching conversations that challenge the idea of black women as victims. In these conversations, people often use victim-blaming language that directly implies that Marissa and other domestic violence survivors are inherently responsible for their own assaults.

    People who would have possibly not known about Marissa's case, if not for social media, are being made aware of her unjust criminalization - but they don't always assess it as "unjust." I have seen statements such as, "Why did she stay?" Or, "Why did she marry him if there was a history of abuse?" These types of questions are used to make survivors of domestic violence appear like they are not "real" victims. In fact, they are made to appear like perpetrators or even complicit in their own violence.

    Some of the discussions of domestic violence and intimate partner violence on social media also reveal another dominant cultural tendency: They lack any acknowledgement of black women's pain.

    While groups in Chicago and elsewhere were mobilizing for Marissa's freedom last month, the nation was circulating the video of Janay Rice being explicitly attacked by former Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice. In an article in Ebony, Damon Young calls reactions to this video "explaining it away." Many people attempted to "explain away" the assault of Janay Rice, even though there was considerable evidence, through videotape, that she was in fact a victim, not a perpetrator. Similarly, in the case of Marissa Alexander, considerable evidence shows that Marissa endured abuse at the hands of her estranged husband - and he himself admitted this. Yet these assaults can be "explained away," in a world where dominant narratives do not give black women the status of victim.

    Conversations that cast doubt on Marissa's right to defend herself become a simultaneous justification of assault against black women. They deflect from the fact that Marissa - along with so many others who've been in her place - was in fact a survivor and not a perpetrator. In addition to flat-out victim blaming, this refusal to acknowledge black women's pain shows up in questions about how much Marissa was abused, or how severely - as if, when it comes to women of color, it is appropriate to ask, "Was her pain bad enough?" Even with overwhelming evidence like a videotape or an abuser's testimony, black women are still not seen as "real" victims by dominant forces.

    This refusal to acknowledge victimhood has harmful effects in and of itself. "Explaining away" or denying domestic violence further criminalizes and punishes women, particularly women of color, for violence that has been perpetrated against them (including violence by the state).

    However, a very particular moment in the United States, as it relates to domestic violence, is here. With the publicity around Janay Rice, major institutions like the National Football League (NFL) and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) have been forced to address issues of domestic violence due to pressure from social media. The NFL, especially, has seen a major push through social media activism to address its lack of policy for issues of domestic violence among players. Issues of domestic violence are playing out on the stage of national athletics, as well as in a courtroom in Jacksonville, Florida, for Marissa Alexander. Although it brings out all kinds of responses - some of them counterproductive - this is still a moment that can be seized to raise much-needed awareness and draw attention to the movements that are already happening.

    As October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Free Marissa Now, the Chicago Alliance to Free Marissa Alexander and various other groups are immersed in a "Keeping Marissa in Mind" campaign, drawing attention to Marissa Alexander's case - as well as the "cases" of all women of color, who are not seen as victims of violence with rights to defend themselves.

    Social media has been used as an incredible tool for mobilization on behalf of Marissa Alexander. It has also been used as a medium for "explaining away" domestic violence. It is up to us to continue to mobilize, building our own narratives and speaking out about black women's pain, as we work toward Marissa Alexander's freedom.

    For more information on what you can do to help Marissa, please consult the Free Marissa Now Mobilization Campaign's website to Get Involved! For further information on how to develop a prisoner defense committee, to support people involved with the criminal legal system, please consult the Chicago Alliance to Free Marissa Alexander.

    Links 10/23/14

    Naked Capitalism - Thu, 10/23/2014 - 06:55
    Categories: political economy

    Uber Economics: There is No Such Thing as Bad Publicity

    Naked Capitalism - Thu, 10/23/2014 - 05:36
    Yves here. This post on Uber raises a sobering point about activism and human cognition. How do you opposed a cause you regard as dubious without unwittingly legitimating it? For instance, remember when one of the many justifications offered for the Iraq War was that Saddam Hussein was in cahoots with Osama bin Laden? Even though that idea was patently false, efforts to debunk it actually reinforced the connection between Hussein and Bin Laden simply by featuring their names in close proximity. If readers, particularly activists, have ideas for how to steer clear of effectively promoting ideas and causes you are challenging, please let us know in comments.
    Categories: political economy

    Protest Against Death of Ms Dhu in Police Custody - Photos and Video

    Mathaba Network News - Thu, 10/23/2014 - 03:41

    Protests took place around Australia today on the steps of state parliaments against the State government forces murder of young woman Ms Julieka Dhu in Western Australia ...read more: FREE | MEMBERS VERSION.


    The Financialization of Life

    Naked Capitalism - Thu, 10/23/2014 - 03:09
    Yves here. One of the efforts the Naked Capitalism community has been engaged in is trying to understand and map our emerging political and economic order. Over the last four decades, massive changes have taken place in social values, in job security, in the importance of communities relative to other networks, like professional associations, and in the role of the state. Economists, social scientists, and laypeople have used various frameworks for describing this period. Understanding the driving process is important not merely for the purposes of description, but also for analysis, since a major question remains open: is this a last gasp of large-scale industrial capitalism, or is this the starting phase of a new economic order? We've tended to see this period as a self-limiting finance-led counter-revolution against the New Deal, but that may prove to be too optimistic a reading. This Real News Network interview with Costas Lapavitsas, a professor in economics at the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies, takes a different perspective. Lapavitsas contends that financialization itself constitutes a new form of capitalism, which is supported by neoliberal ideology. Independent of whether you fully agree with Lapavitsas' framing, this talk gives a good overview of the major economic and political changes since 1970. His summary would be useful for those who could use a historical perspective on these shifts, or want a high-level understanding of the restructuring of modern economies without having to get too deep into the weeds. But even though this interview is designed to go down easily, it offers a lot of grist for thought.
    Categories: political economy

    Ilargi: 40% of Eurozone Banks Are In Bad Shape

    Naked Capitalism - Thu, 10/23/2014 - 02:24
    Yves here. While investors remain fixed on how much more the Fed and the ECB will pump into financial assets via QE, Eurozone banks lumber on in their walking wounded state. Deflationary pressures and lousy growth grind down weak and even once-good borrowers. And it's not as if the banks who lent to them in the first place were good shape themselves. As we wrote at the onset of the Eurozone bank stress tests, they were designed to be even more cosmetic than the US bank stress tests. Just a month ago, we posted an analysis that showed that many countries in Europe have banking systems weaker than those in Latin America. Even with the efforts to use the stress tests as a confidence-building exercise, the result of the current exam of Eurozone banks is expected to be less than impressive.
    Categories: political economy

    A Story About Ben Bradlee That’s Not Fucking Charming

    The Intercept - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 14:54

    “So what have you been doing?”

    The question was barked out by Ben Bradlee, and the young reporter who had to come up with a quick answer was me. I had been freelancing for The Washington Post from South Korea for three years, I had scored a half dozen or so front-page stories, and I was meeting the legendary editor at the end of a day of interviews for a staff job as a metro reporter. Within the first minute or two, he sensed that I was not only a liar but a bad liar.

    I mentioned that I had arrived from Seoul via an improbable route. As a vacation, I had flown to Beijing, gotten on the trans-Mongolia train to Moscow, and from there I had taken another train to Berlin, arriving in time to chisel a few stones from the wall that had been breached by East Germans a few days earlier. It was November 1989, communism was collapsing in Eastern Europe, and I had sipped a thrilling bit of it.

    Smart editors have a knack for calling bullshit on bullshit, and Bradlee was a pro at that. On this late November afternoon, Bradlee was calling bullshit on me.

    All of that was true. The rest was not — that what I really wanted at this point in my life was to work in one of the paper’s local bureaus. I had been coached by the foreign editor and my friends at the paper to tell this fib, so that I would get a staff job and, after a few of what would be the dullest years of my life, earn my way back overseas as a full-fledged foreign correspondent, rather than a $150-per-story freelancer. I tried my best to sound enthusiastic about Montgomery County.

    “Why would you want to work here?” Bradlee replied in the growly register he was famous for. “What’s happening in Eastern Europe is the best fucking story since World War II.”

    Smart editors have a knack for calling bullshit on bullshit, and Bradlee was a pro at that. He had called bullshit on Richard Nixon several times, and he had even called bullshit on himself after the paper published a series of prize-winning stories that had been fabricated by its reporter, Janet Cooke; the Post’s apology was complete, and its internal investigation, which criticized Bradlee, was blunt. On this late November afternoon, Bradlee was calling bullshit on me.

    I folded, telling the truth. I had studied Russian in college and I would love to cover the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall but the foreign desk didn’t have a position for me in the region. The next best thing would be a metro job followed, hopefully as soon as possible, by an overseas post. Bradlee laughed. He started telling stories about the great times he had living in Paris after World War II, and then he dismissed me with a friendly wave.

    Bradlee died yesterday at the age of 93, and you’ve probably read about it already. He was the Watergate editor, the editor in “All the President’s Men,” a great editor of the 20th century. All of that is true. What’s also true is that he had a compulsion to do whatever he felt like doing, and he made the right choice more often than editors who were more cautious. He didn’t have a political edge — the man lived in Georgetown — but he did have an attitude.

    When I left his office I had no idea what would happen. The foreign editor, Michael Getler, the kindest person in the newsroom, would hear of my treason and shake his head in despair; I had failed him. The metro editor, Milton Coleman, would hear of it and say, You can never trust those overseas hotshots, I’m not going to hire another of them. The end was near for me.

    A few minutes later, I saw Bradlee heading to Getler’s office. I don’t know what was said, but not long afterwards I was told that Getler wanted to talk to me immediately. This wasn’t part of the plan. I walked into his office and he didn’t look up to say hello. He was angry, and I was the reason.

    “Okay,” he said. “I’ll send you to Budapest.”

    I don’t recall him saying anything else. No smile, no handshake. This hadn’t been his call. Bradlee had apparently ordered him to send the kid to Eastern Europe, and now he had to scrounge around his freelance budget to pay me for stories he didn’t want or need. Kind as he was, at that moment I think he wanted to fire me for insubordination.

    Instead of a local school board I got Eastern Europe and the dreadful thing that reporters of a young age wish for, a war to cover; mine would be in the Balkans. I have no idea what I would have become, or who I would have been, if Bradlee had done as most editors would have done, listening to my polite lies and shuffling me along toward a by-the-numbers career that would kill my soul.

    I am sure my cause was helped by the fact that I was young and white and male, the kind of object that older editors who are white and male tend to have a biased soft spot for. This is why it’s good we don’t have as many Ben Bradlees these days; the mirroring and replication of a dominant culture is weaker now. Which doesn’t mean we’re in a universally better place; we have a lot of editors who are more cautious than they should be (patriarchy replaced by management culture), and a large number of top slots are still filled with guys (yes, including at The Intercept). It’s hard to believe that gender played no role in the firing of Jill Abramson at The New York Times.

    This little story has reached the point where I am supposed to say something charming and sweet. That’s the way appreciations tend to go in the literary equivalent of the bottom of the ninth. In honor of Bradlee, whose language was famously not a model of restraint, I’d like to say, fuck that. The point of this little story, the point that Bradlee conveyed when he let me loose in Eastern Europe, is don’t hold back, find a great story or a great cause and don’t fucking let go.

    Photo: AP; Bradlee: Alexis Rodriguez-Duarte/Corbis

    The post A Story About Ben Bradlee That’s Not Fucking Charming appeared first on The Intercept.

    A New Way to Silence Mumia Abu-Jamal

    FAIR blog - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 14:24
    The state of Pennsylvania wants to silence Mumia Abu-Jamal--and just past a blatantly unconstitutional new law that is an attack on press freedom. Where's the media outrage?

    2:00PM Water Cooler 10/22/14

    Naked Capitalism - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 13:58
    Today's Water Cooler: Shootings on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Hong Kong, dueling autopsies in Ferguson, CPI release, slavery, and trouble with visualizations.
    Categories: political economy

    American Exceptionalism at Play in Interpreting the Convention on Torture

    The Real News Network - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 13:10
    Michael Ratner of the Centre for Constitutional Rights rejects the idea that the convention on torture exempts the US outside its borders

    Blackwater Founder Remains Free and Rich While His Former Employees Go Down on Murder Charges

    The Intercept - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 12:58

    A federal jury in Washington, D.C., returned guilty verdicts against four Blackwater operatives charged with killing more than a dozen Iraqi civilians and wounding scores of others in Baghdad in 2007.

    The jury found one guard, Nicholas Slatten, guilty of first-degree murder, while three other guards were found guilty of voluntary manslaughter: Paul Slough, Evan Liberty, and Dustin Heard. The jury is still deliberating on additional charges against the operatives, who faced a combined 33 counts, according to the Associated Press. A fifth Blackwater guard, Jeremy Ridgeway, had already pleaded guilty to lesser charges and cooperated with prosecutors in the case against his former colleagues. The trial lasted ten weeks and the jury has been in deliberations for 28 days.

    The incident for which the men were tried was the single largest known massacre of Iraqi civilians at the hands of private U.S. security contractors. Known as “Baghdad’s bloody Sunday,” operatives from Blackwater gunned down 17 Iraqi civilians at a crowded intersection at Nisour Square on September 16, 2007. The company, founded by secretive right-wing Christian supremacist Erik Prince, pictured above, had deep ties to the Bush Administration and served as a sort of neoconservative Praetorian Guard for a borderless war launched in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

    While Barack Obama pledged to rein in mercenary forces when he was a senator, once he became president he continued to employ a massive shadow army of private contractors. Blackwater — despite numerous scandals, congressional investigations, FBI probes and documented killings of civilians in both Iraq and Afghanistan — remained a central part of the Obama administration’s global war machine throughout his first term in office.

    Just as with the systematic torture at Abu Ghraib, it is only the low level foot-soldiers of Blackwater that are being held accountable. Prince and other top Blackwater executives continue to reap profits from the mercenary and private intelligence industries. Prince now has a new company, Frontier Services Group, which he founded with substantial investment from Chinese enterprises and which focuses on opportunities in Africa. Prince recently suggested that his forces at Blackwater could have confronted Ebola and ISIS. “If the administration cannot rally the political nerve or funding to send adequate active duty ground forces to answer the call, let the private sector finish the job,” he wrote.

    None of the U.S. officials from the Bush and Obama administrations who unleashed Blackwater and other mercenary forces across the globe are being forced to answer for their role in creating the conditions for the Nisour Square shootings and other deadly incidents involving private contractors. Just as the main architect of the CIA interrogation program, Jose Rodriguez, is on a book tour for his propagandistic love letter to torture, Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives, so too is Erik Prince pushing his own revisionist memoir, Civilian Warriors: The Inside Story of Blackwater and the Unsung Heroes of the War on Terror.

    While the Blackwater verdict is an important and rare moment of accountability in an overwhelmingly unaccountable private war industry, it does not erase the fact that those in power—the CEOs, the senior officials, the war profiteers—walk freely and will likely do so for the rest of their lives.

    What is so seldom discussed in public discourse on the use of mercenaries are the stories of their victims. After the Nisour Square massacre, I met with Mohammed Kinani, whose 9-year-old son, Ali, was the youngest person killed by Blackwater operatives that day. As he and his family approached the square in their car:

    “[T]hey saw one armored vehicle and then another, with men brandishing machine guns atop each one,” Mohammed recalls. The armored cars swiftly blocked off traffic. One of the gunners held both fists in the air, which Mohammed took as a gesture to stop. “Myself and all the cars before and behind me stopped,” Mohammed says. “We followed their orders. I thought they were some sort of unit belonging to the American military, or maybe just a military police unit. Any authority giving you an order to stop, you follow the order.” It turns out the men in the armored cars were neither U.S. military nor MPs. They were members of a Blackwater team code-named Raven 23.

    As the family waited in traffic, two more Blackwater vehicles became visible. Mohammed noticed a family in a car next to his—a man, woman and child. The man was staring at Mohammed’s car, and Mohammed thought the man was eyeing Jenan. “I thought he was checking my sister out,” Mohammed remembers. “So I yelled at him and said, ‘What are you looking at?’” Mohammed noticed that the man looked frightened. “I think they shot the driver in the car in front of you,” the man told him.

    Mohammed scanned the area and noticed that the back windshield of the white Kia sedan in front of him was shattered. The man in the car next to Mohammed began to panic and tried to turn his car around. He ended up bumping into a taxi, and an argument ensued. The taxi driver exited his car and began yelling. Mohammed tried to break up the argument, telling the taxi driver that a man had been shot and that he should back up so the other car could exit. The taxi driver refused and got back into his vehicle.

    At that point, an Iraqi police officer, Ali Khalaf Salman, approached the Kia sedan, and it started to slowly drift. The driver had been shot, and the car was gliding in neutral toward a Blackwater armored car. Salman, in an interview, described how he tried to stop it by pushing backward. He saw a panicked woman inside the car; she was clutching a young man covered in blood who had been shot in the head. She was shrieking, “My son! My son! Help me, help me!” Salman remembered looking toward the Blackwater shooters. “I raised my left arm high in the air to try to signal to the convoy to stop the shooting.” He said he thought the men would cease fire, given that he was a clearly identified police officer.

    “As the officer was waving, the men on the armored cars started shooting at that car,” Mohammed says. “And it wasn’t warning shots; they were shooting as in a battle. It was as though they were in a fighting field. I thought the police officer was killed. It was insane.” Officer Salman managed to dive out of the way as the bullets rained down. “I saw parts of the woman’s head flying in front of me,” recalled his colleague, Officer Sarhan Thiab. “They immediately opened heavy fire at us.”

    That’s how the Nisour Square massacre began.

    “What can I tell you?” Mohammed says, closing his eyes. “It was like the end of days.”

    Mohammed would later learn that the first victims that day, in the white Kia, were a young Iraqi medical student, Ahmed Haithem Al Rubia’y, and his mother, Mahassin, a physician. Mohammed is crystal clear that the car posed no threat. “There was absolutely no shooting at the Blackwater men,” he says. “All of a sudden, they started shooting in all directions, and they shot at everyone in front of them. There was nothing left in that street that wasn’t shot: the ground, cars, poles, sidewalks; they shot everything in front of them.” As the Blackwater gunners shot up the Rubia’ys’ vehicle, Mohammed said, it soon looked like a sieve “due to how many bullet holes it had.” A Blackwater shooter later admitted that they also fired a grenade at the car, causing the car to explode. Mohammed says the Blackwater men then started firing across the square. “They were shooting in all directions,” he remembers. He describes the shooting as “random yet still concentrated. It was concentrated and focused on what they aimed at and still random as they shot in all directions.”

    One of the Blackwater shooters was on top of an armored vehicle firing an automatic weapon, he says. “Every time he would finish his clip, he would throw it on the ground and would load another one in and would start shooting again, and finish the new one and replace it with another.” One young Iraqi man got out of his car to run, and as he fled, the Blackwater shooter gunned him down and continued firing into his body as it lay on the pavement, Mohammed says. “He was on the ground bleeding, and they’re shooting nonstop, and it wasn’t single bullets.” The Blackwater shooter, he says, would fire at other Iraqis and cars and then return to pump more bullets into the dead man on the ground. “He sank in his own blood, and every minute the [Blackwater shooter] would shoot left and right and then go back to shoot the dead man, and I could see that his body would shake with every bullet. He was already dead, but his body was still reacting to the bullets. [The shooter] would fire at someone else and then go back to shoot at this dead man.” Shaking his head slowly, Mohammed says somberly, “The guy is dead in a pool of blood. Why would you continue shooting him?”

    In his vehicle, as the shooting intensified, Mohammed yelled for the kids to get down. He and his sister did the same. “My car was hit many times in different places. All I could hear from my car was the gun shots and the sound of glass shattering,” he remembers. Jenan was frantic. “Why are they shooting at us?” she asked him. Just then, a bullet pierced the windshield, hitting Jenan’s headrest. Mohammed shows me a photo of the bullet hole.

    As gunfire rained on the SUV, Jenan grabbed Mohammed’s hair, yanked his head down and covered him with her body. “My young sister was trying to protect me by covering me with her body, so I forced myself out of her grip and covered her with my body to protect her. It was so horrific that my little sister, whom I’m supposed to protect, was trying to protect me.” Mohammed managed to slip his cellphone from his pocket and was going to call his father. “It’s customary that when in agony before death, you ask those close to you to look after your loved ones,” he says. Jenan demanded that Mohammed put down the phone, reminding him that their father had had two strokes already. “If he hears what’s happening, he’ll die immediately,” she said. “Maybe he’ll die before us.”

    At that moment, bullets pierced the SUV through the front windshield. A bullet hit the rearview mirror, causing it to whack Mohammed in the face. “We imagined that in a few seconds everyone was going to die–everyone in the car, my sister and I and our children. We thought that every second that passed meant one of us dying.” He adds, “We remained still, my sister and I. I had her rest her head on my lap, and my body was on top of her. We’d sneak a peek from under the dashboard, and they continued shooting here and there, killing this one and that one.”

    And then the shooting stopped.

    Kinani thought his family had somehow miraculously survived the massacre. But then the silence of the aftermath was shattered by relatives in his car shouting, “Ali is shot! Ali is shot!”

    Mohammed rushed around to Ali’s door and saw that the window was broken. He looked inside and saw his son’s head resting against the door. He opened it, and Ali slumped toward him. “I was standing in shock looking at him as the door opened, and his brain fell on the ground between my feet,” Mohammed recalls. “I looked and his brain was on the ground.” He remembers people yelling at him, telling him to get out while he could. “But I was in another world,” he says. Then Mohammed snapped back to consciousness. He put Ali back in the car and placed his hand over his son’s heart. It was still beating. He got in the driver’s seat of his car, tires blown out, radiator damaged, full of bullets, liquids leaking everywhere, hoping still that he could save [Ali’s] life. Somehow he managed to get the car near Yarmouk Hospital, right near the square. He picked up Ali and ran toward the hospital. He nearly collapsed on the road, and an Iraqi police officer took Ali from his arms and ran him into the hospital.

    Mohammed checked that the other children were safe and then dashed to the hospital. “I entered the emergency room, and blood was everywhere, dead people, injured people everywhere,” he remembers. “My son was in the last bed; the doctor was with him and had already hooked him with an IV line.” As Mohammed stood by Ali’s bed, the doctor told him that Ali was brain dead. “His heart is beating,” the doctor said, “and it will continue to beat until he bleeds out and dies.” The doctor told him that if there were any hope to be found, it would require taking Ali in an ambulance to a neurological hospital across town. The fastest route meant that they had to pass through Nisour Square. Iraqi police stopped them and told them they could not pass. “The US Army is here and won’t let you through,” the officer told them. The driver took an alternate route and was going so fast the ambulance almost crashed twice. When they got to the hospital, Mohammed offered to pay the driver–at least for the gas, which is customary. The driver refused. “No, I would like to donate blood to your son if he needs it,” he told Mohammed. A few moments later, Mohammed stood with a doctor who told him there was nothing they could do. Ali was dead.

    Filmmaker Richard Rowley and I produced a 30 minute documentary on the Nisour Square massacre and the story of Ali Kinani for Democracy Now! and The Nation magazine:

    Photo: Susan Walsh/AP

    The post Blackwater Founder Remains Free and Rich While His Former Employees Go Down on Murder Charges appeared first on The Intercept.

    Matt Stoller: Why Is Alan Greenspan’s Lawyer, Scott Alvarez, Still Controlling the Federal Reserve? (AIG Bailout Trial)

    Naked Capitalism - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 09:55
    Yves here. This important post explains why Scott Alvarez, the general counsel of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, needs to be fired. His responses to the plaintiffs' questions at the AIG bailout trial weren't simply evasive; they reveal a deep, almost visceral, dedication to defending the very policies that nearly destroyed the world economy as well as a salvage operation that favored financial firms over the real economy. We have embedded the transcripts from the first three days of the AIG bailout trial, which cover Alvarez's performance on the stand, at the end of this post. Alvarez was brought to the Fed by Alan Greenspan. As a staff lawyer, he helped implement bank deregulation policies such as ending supervision of primary dealers in 1992, refusing to regulate derivatives in 1996 (I recall gasping out loud when I first read about the Fed's hands off policy), and implementing the rules that shot holes through Glass Stegall before it was formally repealed in 1999. Among those measures was giving a commercial bank, Credit Suisse, waivers to take a 44% stake one of the biggest investment banks, First Boston, in 1988 and assume control in 1990. Alvarez also has a poor record as far as representing broad public interest in his tenure as General Counsel, which started in 2004. The Fed did an even worse job than the bank-cronyistic Office of the Comptroller of the Currency in enforcing Home Ownership and Equity Protection Act, a law that put restrictions on high-cost mortgage lenders. The Fed was also one of the two major moving forces behind the disastrous Independent Foreclosure Review, an exercise that promised borrowers who were foreclosed on in 2009 and 2010. The result instead was a fee orgy by the supposedly independent consultants, capricious and inadequate payments to former homeowners, and virtually no disclosure of what was unearthed during the reviews. Yellen has said she wants to make financial stability as important a priority of the Fed as monetary policy. That means, among other things, being willing to regulate banks. Scott Alvarez is too deeply invested in an out-of-date world view to carry that vision forward. If Yellen intends to live up to her word, Alvarez has to go.
    Categories: political economy

    The Latin American Disappeared and Repeating History in Mexico

    Truthout - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 09:52

    The disappearance of 43 college students, abducted by police and organized crime from the Mexican state of Guerrero for their political activism, is a particularly disturbing example of the resurgence of a terror tactic used during Latin America's dirty wars. The college students' disappearance is yet another episode in the long history of disappearing those critical of Latin American governments during the Cold War and dirty wars in Latin America.

    This story could not have been published without the support of readers like you. Click here to make a tax-deductible donation to Truthout and fund more stories like it!

    On October 15, activists rallied outside Mexican embassies across Latin America demanding the return of the 43 students of Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers College of Ayotzinapa, commonly referred to as normalistas, who were abducted by police and organized crime from the Mexican state of Guerrero for their political activism. The college students' disappearance is yet another episode in the long history of disappearing those critical of Latin American governments during the Cold War and dirty wars in Latin America.

    In Guatemala City, activists from HIJOS Guatemala, an organization that advocates for the investigation of those who were disappeared during the country's 36-year internal armed conflict, organized a demonstration outside the Mexican Embassy. Photos of the disappeared students were displayed, and a banner declaring, "The anger and indignation exceeds borders," was taped below the Mexican crest.

    "This is a historic moment for Latin America and it is important for the people who were affected by the Cold War and the dirty war to demonstrate in solidarity with the normalistas in Mexico," said Paco, a HIJOS member from Guatemala. "We are repeating history. The conservative forces are making alliances with the mafias and cartels. They are using the disappearances to advance their interests of market liberation."

    Guatemalans know all too well the terror and fear created by disappearances. According to Uruguayan journalist and author Eduardo Galeano, Guatemala was the "first Latin American laboratory in which the dirty war was carried out." During the internal armed conflict, 40,000 people were disappeared by the right-wing military dictatorships. Nearly 20 years after the end of the war, families still demand to know what happened to their loved ones.

    Support for the normalistas in Guerrero has come from across Latin America, and from around the world. Similar demonstrations in Argentina, Chile and Brazil, among other countries - all where critics were threatened with disappearances during the dirty wars of the 1960s through 1990s - were held to coincide with the demonstrations in Mexico.

    "Alive They Were Taken, Alive We Want Them Back"

    The students from Guerrero's Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers College of Ayotzinapa, were last seen on September 26 in Iguala, Guerrero, when state police and members of organized crime from the western Mexican state ambushed their buses. Three students were killed at the scene, along with three bystanders in the attack, which was directed at the students. Reports from the scene state that the 43 people were forced off the buses by police, and put into police vehicles. The students have not been seen since.

    Soon after the attack, the mayor of Iguala, Albarca Velázquez, and the police chief went into hiding. Both are alleged to have ordered the attack on the students, and have connections to organized crime in Guerrero.

    In the search for the missing students, searchers have made the gruesome discovery of more than 19 mass graves in the state of Guerrero around Iguala, a testament to the widespread use of disappearances in the drug war in Mexico. As of yet, none of the graves have contained remains of the missing students.

    Normalistas were in Iguala to raise money to fund their travel to Mexico City to participate in demonstrations organized by the students of National Autonomous University and the National Polytechnic School, to mark the October 2 anniversary of the 1968 massacre of students by the military.

    Maria Oliveras, the mother of Antonio Santana, one of 43 missing students, lights a candle and prays at the school campus where she and other relatives of the missing students are holding a constant vigil in Iguala, Mexico, October 16, 2014. (Photo: Janet Jarman / The New York Times)

    Teachers from across Mexico joined students in condemning the Mexican government and joined the protests demanding the return of the missing students. The radical Oaxacan teachers union, Section 22 voted in early October to support the students, and strike alongside them. The coalition has held protests across Mexico demanding, "alive they were taken, and alive we want them back."

    Students from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, in association with other public and private universities and student organizations, called for a national strike demanding the return of their fellow students.

    On October 13, students and teachers demanding the return of the missing students in Guerrero clashed with police, and set fire to the government palace. The following day in the Mexican state of Michoacán, students were arrested for attempting to hijack buses to support the students protesting in Guerrero.

    Since the disappearance, federal police have arrested 50 individuals, including 14 police officers, who are allegedly connected to the attack. Yet no amount of effort from Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto will eliminate activists' claims that he is partially responsible for the disappearances.

    For many activists in Mexico, the disappearance of the students from Iguala is eerily similar to the state violence that occurred during the years of the dirty war in Guerrero where the government targeted guerillas and campesinos and detained and disappeared them, as did the dictatorships of Central and South America in the 1970s and 1980s. Like the disappearances of the dirty wars, the attacks on students are meant to stymie and intimidate their movement.

    As a result, the students and teachers are quick to denounce the insecurity and fear that is created by the neoliberal policies of a Mexican government that has allowed the cartels and the state to become deeply intertwined. Furthermore, as critics point out, Peña Nieto has focused more on pursuing neoliberal reforms than tackling corruption within the Mexican state - corruption that allows the disappearance of 43 students with absolute impunity.

    Living Memory

    The solidarity coming from Latin America is significant. Today, the memory of those who disappeared without a trace during the dirty wars still lingers.

    "Disappearing" dissidents was the favored technique used to strike fear into those who challenged the right-wing dictatorships during the dirty wars in South America. Operation Condor in the Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil was responsible for the disappearance of tens of thousands of leftists and critics of the conservative governments who were following Milton Friedman's blueprint for neoliberal reforms. In many cases, those carrying out the disappearances received training from the CIA.

    Galeano captures the fear created by the disappearances in his seminal book Days and Nights of Love and War, in which he recounts his experiences during the dirty war in exile from his home in Uruguay.

    "The technique of the 'disappeared': There are no prisoners to claim nor martyrs to mourn. The earth devours the people and the government washes its hands," he wrote about the disappearances in Latin America.

    The disappearance of the students in Mexico follows this same formula: a state force using criminal or paramilitary elements to execute the repression. This isn't something lost on the activists of Latin America; the memories of terror still remain 20 or 30 years later, as do the memories of those who were never found.

    Furthermore, the paramilitary violence - as carried out by the cartels - reflects the violence of neoliberal transformation of the economies of Brazil, Chile and Argentina, when the state apparatus was used to strike terror into the hearts of the critics of dictatorships.

    Mexico first embarked down the path toward neoliberal reforms of the economy in the 1980s. The 1994 signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) sped up the reforms, the opening of the economy and the selling off of public institutions. Peña Nieto has overseen the near completion of the neoliberal agenda by privatizing the oil industry, "reforming" the telecommunications industry, breaking teachers unions and utterly transforming the Mexican education system. The recent violence is a return to this dark period in Latin America history, especially as Mexico pursues a neoliberal development policy that activists claim is "ripping the social fabric of their country."

    In an interview in August 2014, an educator associated with Section 22 of the Oaxacan teachers union, a radical union that has led the resistance of teachers to Peña Nieto's education reforms, recounted his fear that Mexico was "returning to the era of state repression." In many ways, the disappearance of the 43 students in Guerrero is that return.

    Canada, At War For 13 Years, Shocked That ‘A Terrorist’ Attacked Its Soldiers

    The Intercept - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 08:56

    (updated below – Update II)

    TORONTO – In Quebec on Monday, two Canadian soldiers were hit by a car driven by Martin Couture-Rouleau, a 25-year-old Canadian who, as The Globe and Mail reported, “converted to Islam recently and called himself Ahmad Rouleau.” One of the soldiers died, as did Couture-Rouleau when he was shot by police upon apprehension after allegedly brandishing a large knife. Police speculated that the incident was deliberate, alleging the driver waited for two hours before hitting the soldiers, one of whom was wearing a uniform. The incident took place in the parking lot of a shopping mall 30 miles southeast of Montreal, “a few kilometres from the Collège militaire royal de Saint-Jean, the military academy operated by the Department of National Defence.”

    The right-wing Canadian government wasted no time in seizing on the incident to promote its fear-mongering agenda over terrorism, which includes pending legislation to vest its intelligence agency, CSIS, with more spying and secrecy powers in the name of fighting ISIS. A government spokesperson asserted “clear indications” that the driver “had become radicalized.”

    In a “clearly prearranged exchange,” a conservative MP, during parliamentary question time, asked Prime Minister Stephen Harper (pictured above) whether this was considered a “terrorist attack”; in reply, the prime minister gravely opined that the incident was “obviously extremely troubling.” Canada’s Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney pronounced the incident “clearly linked to terrorist ideology,” while newspapers predictably followed suit, calling it a “suspected terrorist attack” and “homegrown terrorism.” CSIS spokesperson Tahera Mufti said “the event was the violent expression of an extremist ideology promoted by terrorist groups with global followings” and added: “That something like this would happen in a peaceable Canadian community like Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu shows the long reach of these ideologies.”

    In sum, the national mood and discourse in Canada is virtually identical to what prevails in every Western country whenever an incident like this happens: shock and bewilderment that someone would want to bring violence to such a good and innocent country (“a peaceable Canadian community like Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu”), followed by claims that the incident shows how primitive and savage is the “terrorist ideology” of extremist Muslims, followed by rage and demand for still more actions of militarism and freedom-deprivation. There are two points worth making about this:

    First, Canada has spent the last 13 years proclaiming itself a nation at war. It actively participated in the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and was an enthusiastic partner in some of the most extremist War on Terror abuses perpetrated by the U.S. Earlier this month, the Prime Minister revealed, with the support of a large majority of Canadians, that “Canada is poised to go to war in Iraq, as [he] announced plans in Parliament [] to send CF-18 fighter jets for up to six months to battle Islamic extremists.” Just yesterday, Canadian Defence Minister Rob Nicholson flamboyantly appeared at the airfield in Alberta from which the fighter jets left for Iraq and stood tall as he issued the standard Churchillian war rhetoric about the noble fight against evil.

    It is always stunning when a country that has brought violence and military force to numerous countries acts shocked and bewildered when someone brings a tiny fraction of that violence back to that country. Regardless of one’s views on the justifiability of Canada’s lengthy military actions, it’s not the slightest bit surprising or difficult to understand why people who identify with those on the other end of Canadian bombs and bullets would decide to attack the military responsible for that violence.

    That’s the nature of war. A country doesn’t get to run around for years wallowing in war glory, invading, rendering and bombing others, without the risk of having violence brought back to it. Rather than being baffling or shocking, that reaction is completely natural and predictable. The only surprising thing about any of it is that it doesn’t happen more often.

    The issue here is not justification (very few people would view attacks on soldiers in a shopping mall parking lot to be justified). The issue is causation. Every time one of these attacks occurs — from 9/11 on down — Western governments pretend that it was just some sort of unprovoked, utterly “senseless” act of violence caused by primitive, irrational, savage religious extremism inexplicably aimed at a country innocently minding its own business. They even invent fairy tales to feed to the population to explain why it happens: they hate us for our freedoms.

    Those fairy tales are pure deceit. Except in the rarest of cases, the violence has clearly identifiable and easy-to-understand causes: namely, anger over the violence that the country’s government has spent years directing at others. The statements of those accused by the west of terrorism, and even the Pentagon’s own commissioned research, have made conclusively clear what motivates these acts: namely, anger over the violence, abuse and interference by Western countries in that part of the world, with the world’s Muslims overwhelmingly the targets and victims. The very policies of militarism and civil liberties erosions justified in the name of stopping terrorism are actually what fuels terrorism and ensures its endless continuation.

    If you want to be a country that spends more than a decade proclaiming itself at war and bringing violence to others, then one should expect that violence will sometimes be directed at you as well. Far from being the by-product of primitive and inscrutable religions, that behavior is the natural reaction of human beings targeted with violence. Anyone who doubts that should review the 13-year orgy of violence the U.S. has unleashed on the world since the 9/11 attack, as well as the decades of violence and interference from the U.S. in that region prior to that.

    Second, in what conceivable sense can this incident be called a “terrorist” attack? As I have written many times over the last several years, and as some of the best scholarship proves, “terrorism” is a word utterly devoid of objective or consistent meaning. It is little more than a totally malleable, propagandistic fear-mongering term used by Western governments (and non-Western ones) to justify whatever actions they undertake. As Professor Tomis Kapitan wrote in a brilliant essay in The New York Times on Monday: “Part of the success of this rhetoric traces to the fact that there is no consensus about the meaning of ‘terrorism.’”

    But to the extent the term has any common understanding, it includes the deliberate (or wholly reckless) targeting of civilians with violence for political ends. But in this case in Canada, it wasn’t civilians who were targeted. If one believes the government’s accounts of the incident, the driver waited two hours until he saw a soldier in uniform. In other words, he seems to have deliberately avoided attacking civilians, and targeted a soldier instead – a member of a military that is currently fighting a war.

    Again, the point isn’t justifiability. There is a compelling argument to make that undeployed soldiers engaged in normal civilian activities at home are not valid targets under the laws of war (although the U.S. and its closest allies use extremely broad and permissive standards for what constitutes legitimate military targets when it comes to their own violence). The point is that targeting soldiers who are part of a military fighting an active war is completely inconsistent with the common usage of the word “terrorism,” and yet it is reflexively applied by government officials and media outlets to this incident in Canada (and others like it in the UK and the US).

    That’s because the most common functional definition of “terrorism” in Western discourse is quite clear. At this point, it means little more than: “violence directed at Westerners by Muslims” (when not used to mean “violence by Muslims,” it usually just means: violence the state dislikes). The term “terrorism” has become nothing more than a rhetorical weapon for legitimizing all violence by Western countries, and delegitimizing all violence against them, even when the violence called “terrorism” is clearly intended as retaliation for Western violence.

    This is about far more than semantics. It is central to how the west propagandizes its citizenries; the manipulative use of the “terrorism” term lies at heart of that. As Professor Kapitan wrote yesterday in The New York Times:

    Even when a definition is agreed upon, the rhetoric of “terror” is applied both selectively and inconsistently. In the mainstream American media, the “terrorist” label is usually reserved for those opposed to the policies of the U.S. and its allies. By contrast, some acts of violence that constitute terrorism under most definitions are not identified as such — for instance, the massacre of over 2000 Palestinian civilians in the Beirut refugee camps in 1982 or the killings of more than 3000 civilians in Nicaragua by “contra” rebels during the 1980s, or the genocide that took the lives of at least a half million Rwandans in 1994. At the opposite end of the spectrum, some actions that do not qualify as terrorism are labeled as such — that would include attacks by Hamas, Hezbollah or ISIS, for instance, against uniformed soldiers on duty.

    Historically, the rhetoric of terror has been used by those in power not only to sway public opinion, but to direct attention away from their own acts of terror.

    At this point, “terrorism” is the term that means nothing, but justifies everything. It is long past time that media outlets begin skeptically questioning its usage by political officials rather than mindlessly parroting it.

    Photo: AP/The Canadian Press, Adrian Wyld

    UPDATE: Multiple conservative commentators have claimed that this article and my subsequent discussion of it are about this morning’s shooting of a solider in Ottawa. Aside from the fact that what I wrote is expressly about a completely different incident – one that took place in Quebec on Monday – this article and my comments were published before this morning’s shooting spree was reported. So unless someone believes I possess powers of clairvoyance, the claim that I was commenting on the Ottawa shooting – about which virtually nothing is known, including the identity and motive of the shooter(s) – is obviously false.

    Then there’s also the extremely predictable accusation that I was justifying the attack on the soldiers. I know from prior experience in discussing these questions that no matter how clear you make it that you are writing about causation and not justification, many will still distort what you write to claim you’ve justified the attack. That’s true even if one makes as clear as the English language permits that you’re not writing about justification: “The issue here is not justification (very few people would view attacks on soldiers in a shopping mall parking lot to be justified). The issue is causation.” If there’s a way to make that any clearer, please let me know.

    One more time: the difference between “causation” and “justification” is so obvious that it should require no explanation. If one observes that someone who smokes four packs of cigarettes a day can expect to develop emphysema, that’s an observation about causation, not a celebration of the person’s illness. Only a willful desire to distort, or some deep confusion, can account for a failure to process this most basic point.

    UPDATE II: In that brilliant essay I referenced above, published just three days ago in The New York Times, Professor Tomis Kaptian made this point:

    Obviously, to point out the causes and objectives of particular terrorist actions is to imply nothing about their legitimacy — that is an independent matter….

    That point is so simple and, as he said, “obvious” that I have a hard time understanding what could account for some commentators conflating the two other than a willful desire to mislead.

    The post Canada, At War For 13 Years, Shocked That ‘A Terrorist’ Attacked Its Soldiers appeared first on The Intercept.

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