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Thursday, November 7, 2019

With Turkey’s Invasion, Trump Helped Create Humanitarian Catastrophe


















Syrian refugees fleeing the Turkish incursion in Rojava receive bedding materials as they arrive at the Badarash IDPs camp on October 17, 2019, in Dohuk, Iraq.BYRON SMITH / GETTY IMAGES

By Daniel Falcone 
Truthout

Nov 2, 2019 - In this interview, professor of politics and international studies Stephen Zunes of the University of San Francisco argues that the U.S. and Turkey are indeed responsible for the Kurds’ slaughter. He points out the deleterious results of the current administration’s foreign policy and how President Trump has dramatically increased the number of U.S. combat troops in the Middle East. Zunes argues that when Trump gave the green light to Turkey’s invasion by lifting U.S. sanctions, he created a humanitarian catastrophe. Trump, according to Zunes, has both bolstered his relationship with Turkey in line with his business pursuits and shows no signs of bringing U.S. troops home.

Zunes also argues it’s important for the progressive left to consider how to conceptualize a foreign policy that stands with the Kurds, while resisting the idea that armed force is the best way to protect human rights. Lastly, he points out the importance of a sound oppositional foreign policy in the upcoming Democratic primaries that could have lasting impacts on the world.

Daniel Falcone: Can you comment on Trump’s foreign policy in regard to Syria and how it is unfolding at the present time? What do you expect to be the immediate and long-term outcomes?

Stephen Zunes: Giving the green light to Turkey’s invasion and completely lifting the U.S.’s half-hearted sanctions once Turkish occupation forces had consolidated their control and ethnically cleansed … thousands of Kurds from their homeland in northern Syria has indeed been as bad a humanitarian catastrophe as reported, if not worse.

The bombing of civilian targets and the extrajudicial killings by the allied Syrian Arab militia (including elements of the Free Syrian Army now allied with Turkey) against progressive, secular civilian leaders underscore the severity of these U.S.-backed war crimes. Thanks to U.S. support, it appears that the Turks have established a “security zone” or “buffer zone” — a euphemism for military occupation along a 30 kilometer-wide strip on the Syrian side of the Turkish border, comparable to what Israel established in southern Lebanon for 22 years (1978-2000), which resulted in the rise of Hezbollah. Despite 10 United Nations Security Council resolutions calling on Israel to withdraw unconditionally, the U.S. blocked enforcement of these resolutions, with former President Bill Clinton having his ambassador to Israel press the Israelis to continue the occupation in the face of overwhelming opposition from the Israeli public.

This time, regarding Turkey, the United States has prevented the UN Security Council from passing any resolution, and it’s doubtful that Turkey will feel any real pressure to end the occupation, unless global civil society effectively mobilizes against it and forces their governments to place major sanctions against the Recep Tayyip Erdogan regime.

Trump is vilified by the mainstream media and establishment liberals for failing to show U.S. “resolve” and a strong show of force. Can you talk about how Trump is actually escalating global conflicts?

For reasons I’ve outlined earlier, U.S. forces should indeed withdraw from Syria. However, it should have been done in an orderly and thoughtful manner after consultations with military, intelligence and diplomatic officials, as well as the Kurds themselves. From all accounts, Trump’s decision was an impulsive one following a phone call with the right-wing autocratic Turkish president, with whom Trump has developed a close relationship, in part because of his business ties to that country.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Gun Culture: Why Michael Moore's 'Bowling for Columbine' Matters Now More Than Ever












Great satirical films hold up over time. Their messages keep resonating because the flaws they diagnose persist

By Sophia A. McClennan
Salon.com

OCT 19, 2019 - On Saturday, October 19 at 9 p.m. ET, MSNBC aired a special screening of Michael Moore’s Oscar-winning documentary “Bowling for Columbine,” followed by a live interview between Moore and Ari Melber, host of “The Beat.” 

Originally released in 2002, one year after the 9/11 attacks, the film explores the circumstances leading up to the 1999 Columbine High School massacre and the violent culture that fostered it.

The film is worth watching (or re-watching) for the simple fact that it drives home the painful reality that our nation has failed to act to reduce gun violence. As Moore explained in an interview preceding the special screening, “The day the Columbine shooting happened, that afternoon, my crew and I decided we have to do something about this. We have to make a documentary about this and we have to make sure that there is not another — I remember saying this that day — that there is never another school shooting. Sadly, now we are some 17 years later and there was more than one Columbine.”

At the time, the focus of the film was the gun culture that spawned the Columbine shootings. As the film opens, it sets the scene for the Columbine shootings by describing it as a “typical day.” The message is clear: Columbine was not an anomaly; it was a predictable consequence in a society that glorifies guns more than human life.

In scene after scene, from a bank that hands out guns to a mom who thinks the only way to protect her kids is by being armed, the film digs into the disturbing ways that gun culture has been not just justified, but normalized in the United States. Moore conducts a series of interviews with a wide range of gun owners — militia members, suburban housewives, farmers and more — all of whom are happy explain that they only feel safe if they have weapons.

In Moore’s artful style of satire, he often lets his interviewee reveal the flaws in their own logic. After a Lockheed Martin executive explains that he thinks the problem at Columbine was anger management, Moore asks, “You don’t think our kids think to themselves, well gee, dad goes off to the factory every day and he builds missiles, these were weapons of mass destruction. What’s the difference between that mass destruction and the mass destruction over at Columbine High School?” When the executive responds that he doesn’t see the connection, he makes Moore’s ironic point for him. At other times, he gently asks a reasonable question that underscores irrational, illogical, or incomprehensible actions: After he gets a gun from a Michigan bank handing them out to new customers, he asks, “Do you think it’s a little dangerous handing out guns in a bank?”

Great films hold up over time. They are worth watching for the art of their style, for their messages, and for the ways that they remind us of their context. Satirical films also help us think through moments when society was caught up in habits and behaviors that were profoundly irrational, destructive or delusional. Their messages continue to resonate because the flaws they diagnose persist. Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 film “Dr. Strangelove, Or How I l Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,” for example, continues to offer poignant commentary on toxic military masculinity.

“Bowling for Columbine” is worth screening today for all of those reasons.

But now, 17 years later, the film has another message. Watching the film today it becomes abundantly clear that our problem isn’t gun culture; the problem is that we have failed to do anything about it. Every message and every argument about the problems of U.S. gun culture appear in the film. They are all there.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

A Vet in a World of Never-Ending Wars and IEDs


















Afghan security personnel conduct an inquiry at the scene of a suicide car bombing near the police headquarters in Kandahar province south of Kabul, Afghanistan, on Dec. 22, 2017. (AP)

By Maj. Danny Sjursen
TomDispatch

Recently, on a beautiful Kansas Saturday, I fell asleep early, exhausted by the excitement and ultimate disappointment of the Army football team’s double overtime loss to highly favored Michigan. 

Having turned against America’s forever wars and the U.S. military as an institution while I was still in it, West Point football, I’m almost ashamed to admit, is my last guilty martial pleasure. Still, having graduated from the Academy, taught history there, and spent 18 long years in the Army, I find something faintly hopeful about a team of undersized, overmatched, non-National Football League prospects facing off against one of the biggest schools in college football.

I awoke, though, early the next morning to the distressing — if hardly surprising — news that President Trump had spiked months of seemingly promising peace talks with the Taliban, blocking any near-term hope for an end to America’s longest, most hopeless war of all. My by-now-uncomfortably-familiar response was to go even deeper into a funk, based on a vague, if overwhelming, sense that the world only manages to get worse on a near-daily basis. For this longtime skeptic of U.S. foreign policy, once also a secret dreamer and idealist, that reality drives me toward political nihilism, a feeling that nothing any of us can do will halt the spread of an increasingly self-destructive empire and the collapse of democracy at home.

Looking back, I can trace my long journey from burgeoning neoconservative believer to Iraq War opponent to war-on-terror dissenter to disenfranchised veteran nonbeliever. Thinking about this in the wake of Army’s loss and those cancelled Afghan peace talks, during a typically morose conversation with Tom, of TomDispatch, I realized that I could tell a story of escalating military heresy and disappointment simply from the three years of articles I’d written for his website. It mattered little that, at the time, I imagined them as anything but the stuff of autobiography.

If all this sounds gloomy, writing itself has been cathartic for me and may have saved me on this strange journey of mine. So, join me on a little autobiographical fast march through a world increasingly filled with improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, as seen through the eyes of one apostate military veteran. Maybe some of you will even recognize aspects of your own life journeys in what follows.

'Hope and Change' in Iraq

In October 2006, when Second Lieutenant Sjursen arrived in Iraq, Baghdad was still, at least figuratively, aflame. It took only a few months of repetitious, useless “presence patrols,” a dozen IED strikes on my scout platoon, the deaths of three of my troopers and the maiming of others, as well as ubiquitous civilian deaths in marketplace bombings, to free me from a sense that the war in Iraq served any purpose whatsoever. 

Hearing again and again, even from long oppressed Shia Iraqis, that life under Sunni autocrat Saddam Hussein had been better, it became increasingly apparent that the U.S. invasion, launched by the Republican administration of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney on thoroughly bogus grounds in the spring of 2003, had shattered their nation and perhaps destabilized a region as well.

Just 23 years old (and, by my own estimation, immature at that), I — and a surprising number of my junior officer peers — started cautiously acting out. I grew my hair longer than regulations allowed and posted World War I-era antiwar poems by British veterans like Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen on my locker. I eventually even began “phoning in” my patrols, while attempting to avoid dicey, ambush-prone neighborhoods whenever possible.

And yet, despite a growing sense of darkness, I’d yet to lose all hope. At home, the Democrats (many of whom had once voted for the Iraq War) won back Congress in November 2006, largely thanks to a sudden burst of antiwar, anti-Bush rhetoric. In 2007, I began using my limited Internet time to ingest transcripts of every speech by or article about an upstart young African American Democratic presidential contender, Barack Obama. Unlike anointed frontrunner Hillary Clinton, he seemed inspirational, an outsider, and — as an Illinois state senator — an early opponent of the very invasion that had landed me in my macabre predicament. I quickly decided he was my man, buying into his “hope and change” rhetoric, while dreaming of the day he’d end my war, saving countless lives, including possibly my own.

Sadly, if predictably, despite the new Democratic majority on Capitol Hill and monthly U.S. military fatalities that regularly hit triple digits, nothing could stop the Bush administration from continuing to escalate the war. I remember the moment in April 2007 when I heard that, thanks to President Bush’s announced troop “surge” in Iraq, my squadron was designated to stay three months past our scheduled year-long deployment. It felt like a gut punch. Steve, my fellow lieutenant, and I chain-smoked a pack of cigarettes in silence, while leaning against the brick wall of our Baghdad barracks. Then we faced the music and broke the news to our distraught soldiers.

In that bloodiest year of the war, my squadron would lose another half-dozen men in combat, while nearly 1,000 U.S. servicemen and women would die. Yet that famed, widely hailed surge would, of course, ultimately fail. Not that most policymakers thought so at the time. The Bush-anointed, media-savvy new commander in Iraq, Army General David Petraeus, sold a temporary drop in violence to a fawning Congress, including most of those Democrats, as a profound success. It scarcely mattered that the announced purpose of the surge — to create space and time for a political reconciliation between Iraqi sects and ethnicities — failed from the start. My long-shot dream that an “antiwar” Congress would cut off funds for the conflict remained just that.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

'We Must Learn to Live Together as Brothers or Perish as Fools'



As we face endless wars and the climate emergency with dwindling resources available to humanity, and while famines and lack of water become paramount as facts of life in ways we are not prepared for, those of us who hold to an ideal of a common humanity will have to confront these greatest of challenges. (Photo: Steve Eason/Flickr/cc)


By uniting as a common humanity, we can ultimately address the enormous challenges facing us.


By Mary Hladky and Thea Paneth
Common Dreams

Sept 10, 2019 - We are living in a profoundly dangerous moment. 

We write as members of the coordinating committee of United for Peace and Justice, a national network of peace groups.  We are long time activists and mothers of grown children.  We worry that violence in America is spinning out of control.  There are a multitude of alarming crises facing our country and the world which can overwhelm and paralyze us, preventing us from taking action. But there are things we can do.  We want to address some of these issues and suggest positive actions we can take.   

Across the U.S., hate speech emanating from a resurgent white nationalist movement is further dividing our country and erupting in violence.  

There is tremendous inequality in our country; 40% of Americans struggle every day to make ends meet and have legitimate fears about their future. The white nationalist movement capitalizes on these fears and emotions with rhetoric that demonizes “others.”  This movement spreads the idea that these undeserving “others” are working the system and depriving “real” Americans, when, in fact, the economic struggles people face are due to the rigged system that overwhelmingly showers financial benefits on the ultra-rich and corporations. 

Too many people are falling prey to this language and its powerful but misguided message.  FBI Director Wray recently told lawmakers that the majority of domestic terrorism involved some sort of white supremacist ideology.  

After so many mass shootings people are nervous about shopping, going to the movies, attending religious services, night clubs or large outdoor events.  And many are terrified to send their children to school.   The epidemic of mass shootings puts at risk the lives of anyone living in or visiting the United States.  

At political rallies and on Twitter our President uses “us versus them language” stoking fear, resentment, and anger to rile up his base.  It also has emboldened the white nationalist movement.  

Unfortunately, the President’s language, and the quiet acquiescence it receives from Republican leadership, provides the movement with a veneer of respectability, persuading many of its validity.   

Demeaning and dehumanizing language is the first step in creating a justification that some people are “sub-human” and may be legitimately mistreated, attacked or killed.  This language has a long history and deep roots in America.  It is difficult to acknowledge this uncomfortable reality, but it is something we must face and then dismantle. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

'Unprecedented, Wasteful, and Obscene': House Approves $1.48 Trillion Pentagon Budget














"Wanna know how broken and captured Washington is by the Pentagon and the corruption of our nation's 'defense' budget? Well, look no further than the soon to be enacted budget 'deal.'"

By Jake Johnson
Common Dreams

July 26, 2019 - In a bipartisan deal that one anti-war critic said demonstrates how thoroughly "broken and captured Washington is by the Pentagon," 219 House Democrats and 65 Republicans on Thursday voted to approve a budget agreement that includes $1.48 trillion in military spending over the next two years.

Just 16 Democrats—including Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.)—voted against the two-year, $2.7 trillion budget agreement. Largely due to expressed concerns about the deficit, 132 Republicans and Rep. Justin Amash (I-Mich.) also voted no.

The final vote was 284-149. (See the full roll call.)

"For the love of god, can we all stop pretending like this is somehow anything other than a continued orgy of unprecedented, wasteful, and obscene spending at the Pentagon."
—Stephen Miles, Win Without War
The House passage of the budget deal, which President Donald Trump quickly applauded on Twitter as a victory for the military, comes after the Congressional Progressive Caucus threatened in April to tank the measure in opposition to its out-of-control Pentagon outlays.

But most of the Progressive Caucus voted for the agreement on Thursday, pointing to increases in domestic spending.

"It's not a perfect deal by any means," Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), co-chairs of the Progressive Caucus, said in a statement ahead of the vote. "This deal does not address the bloated Pentagon budget, but it does begin to close the gap in funding for families, by allocating more new non-defense spending than defense spending for the first time in many years."

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Russian Blast Points to Danger of New Nuclear Arms Race


By JEREMY KUZMAROV

Counterpunch

On Thursday August 8th, an explosion at the Nenoksa Missile test site in northern Russia during testing of a new type of nuclear propelled cruise missile resulted in the death of at least seven people, including scientists and was followed by a spike in radiation in the atmosphere.
Analysts in Washington and Europe are of the belief that the explosion may offer a glimpse of technological weaknesses in Russia’s new arms program.
The deeper concern, however, should be of the perilous consequences of the new Cold War and arms race that is developing between the United States and Russia.
In February, the Trump administration pulled out of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), an arms control treaty considered to be among the most successful in history by former U.S. ambassador to Russia John Huntsman, which banned land-based ballistic missilescruise missiles, and missile launchers with ranges of 500–1500 kilometers.
The United States accused Russia of violating the treaty, though did not wait for this accusation to be verified by international inspectors.
Russia previously accused the United States of violating the treaty through its adoption of drone warfare, and by stationing missile launchers in Deveselu Romania.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

To Understand the El Paso Massacre, Look to the Long Legacy of Anti-Mexican Violence at the Border



The El Paso shooter wasn’t a “lone wolf.” His act of white supremacist terror is part of a century of racial violence targeting fronterizo communities.


In the immediate aftermath of the El Paso shooting—the largest massacre of Latinx people in the history of the United States—politicians of all stripes stood before the cameras and gave their diagnosis of what just happened. They sounded like the proverbial blind men who touched one part of the elephant and confused the different fragments for the whole. El Paso Mayor Dee Margo, a Republican who once praised the “freedom fence” for keeping out “riff raff,” emphasized that the atrocity was committed by an outsider. Other voices blamed mental health, video games, and the lack of gun control laws.

But none of these diagnoses went deep enough, looking only at the symptoms. Before we know how to fight back effectively against white supremacist terrorism like the El Paso massacre, we have to know exactly what we’re up against. History offers an important instrument to determine the root causes of what I characterize as a deadly epidemic.

The chilling manifesto reportedly posted online by the alleged shooter tapped into entrenched narratives with deep roots in the history of the U.S.-Mexico border. It’s unlikely that the 21-year-old from Allen, Texas, knew just how utterly repetitive his words and actions were.

The shooter wrote that he was protecting whites in America from “cultural and ethnic replacement” brought on by “the Hispanic invasion of Texas.” He claimed that “Hispanics will take control of the local and state government of my beloved Texas, changing policy to better suit their needs.”

According to one witness, as the perpetrator gunned down people in each aisle, he allowed anyone who “didn’t look Mexican” to walk away unharmed. Individuals with brown skin had no such pass. It didn’t matter to the alleged killer whether his targeted victims had legal papers or on what side of the barbed-wire fence they were born. He couldn’t have cared less whether the eight Mexican nationals among the 22 people he murdered had permits to shop in the United States.

The manifesto explains why distinctions of legal status were irrelevant to him: “Even though new migrants do the dirty work, their kids typically don’t. They want to live the American Dream which is why they get college degrees and fill higher-paying skilled positions.” In other words, brown people with college degrees threaten the racial purity of white America.



I am a third-generation native of El Paso. One of the Mexican Americans killed by the assassin’s bullet was Art Benavides, a friend of mine from high school, a happy-go-lucky guy who served for 23 years in the U.S. Army and Texas National Guard. He and I had been co-captains of the Jefferson High School swim team. El Paso, population 700,000, has been described as one of the largest small towns in the United States. Here, everyone seems to be connected by only one or two degrees of separation, and a tragedy such as this one is very personal.