19 October 2018

Weaponised wine cellars: How not to solve the US gang problem

Al Jazeera English

A recent New York Post article reports that the ultra-rich of the Hamptons - an elite swathe of territory on New York's Long Island - are converting their properties into luxury fortresses in order "to hide from MS-13", the Mara Salvatrucha gang.
MS-13 have been described by USA Today as the "favourite villain" of President Donald Trump, who has delighted in referring to the gang's members as "animals". 
The Post details the various security options available, for gigantic sums, to guard against the MS-13 "spectre". Fortunately for the Hamptonites, there's still plenty of room for entertainment, with panic rooms"doubling as home theatres, wine cellars or even gun vaults". 
Billionaire John Catsimatidis is quoted endearingly: "I sleep with a gun underneath my pillow: a Walther PPK/S, the same one James Bond carried". 
Never mind that vast socioeconomic inequality is, you know, a driving force behind crime in the first place. But the beauty of capitalism is that there are always loads of profitable non-solutions to exacerbate problems under the guise of fixing them. 
As the president of a company that installs bullet-proof windows and doors tells the Post: "We get business when there is a tremendous amount of fear being generated".
Enter President Trump, whose goal in life is to turn the US itself into one giant fortified gun vault. In May of this year, the White House issued a brief dispatch titled "What You Need To Know About The Violent Animals Of MS-13", in which the word "animals" was utilised no fewer than nine times - lest there be any doubt as to its spontaneous political correctness in official discourse. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

09 October 2018

Hezbollah ‘missile sites’ and Israel’s precision-guided propaganda

Middle East Eye

In a typically farcical performance at the United Nations General Assembly on 27 September, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took the opportunity to update the world on the alleged activities of his favourite cross-border nemesis: Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
According to Netanyahu’s visual aid - a conspicuously marked diagram - Hezbollah is currently presiding over three secret sites near Beirut’s international airport where, under orders from Tehran, regular old missiles are being converted into precision-guided ones. In other words: the airport and whatever humans might find themselves in the overcrowded vicinity are fair game in any impending conflict.
In response to the allegations, Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil accompanied an array of foreign diplomats and journalists on a tour of the supposed missile sites, emphasising his view that Israel is simply seeking to “justify another aggression” against Lebanon - a valid assessment, given Israel’s track record of invading, bombarding and occupying its northern neighbour.
The tour took place on 1 October, and, as expected, produced no evidence of the missile conversion process.
That same day, the Israeli military tweeted its own opinion that “#Hezbollah has a long history of covering up inconvenient truths and then parading foreign officials around” - a rather brazen claim from a country that has spent the past seven decades covering up the fact that it happens to be founded on a policy of ethnic cleansing and slaughter. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

25 September 2018

Follow the petrodollars: Why Gulf wealth matters to Britain is a question everyone should be asking

Middle East Eye

In November 2012, former British Prime Minister David Cameron descended upon the Gulf for a visit aimed at - among other things - selling a bunch of Typhoon fighter jets to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. 
After all, what else could the UK head of government possibly have to do besides play travelling arms salesman?
In response to concerns about the dismal human rights records of the territories in question, Cameron offered the following reassurance: “[W]e do believe that countries have a right to self-defence, and we do believe that Britain has important defence industries that employ over 300,000 people, so that sort of business is completely legitimate and right.”
This sort of logical leap would become even trickier a couple of years later, when the UK supported the slaughter-fest in Yemen presided over by a Saudi- and Emirati-led coalition. As for the whole business of defence, this, it turns out, is one significant aspect of an extensive and complex UK-Gulf relationship that must be defended at all costs.
In a newly released book entitled AngloArabia: Why Gulf Wealth Matters to Britain, David Wearing - a teaching fellow in international relations at Royal Holloway, University of London - sets out to methodically document the nature and function of these ties.
So much for “legitimacy” and “self-defence”.

Case in point: the Arab uprisings of 2010-11, which included a panorama of brutal repression in Bahrain - that lovable kingdom and devoted ally described by Britain’s Royal United Services Institute as a "substitute for an aircraft carrier permanently stationed in the Gulf".
Overall, reports Wearing, “the data show that the British government’s response to the new wave of demands for democracy region-wide was to continue a sharp increase in arms supplies to its key authoritarian allies”. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

16 September 2018

Can exhumation kill Franco once and for all?

Al Jazeera English

In August, the Spanish government issued a decree paving the way to exhume the remains of fascist dictator Francisco Franco from their current place of honour in the Valley of the Fallen, a massively creepy monument north of Madrid.
The dictator's family members have been given until September 15 to select a new resting place for him; otherwise, the state will decide. The transfer will, theoretically, take place later this year. 
The English-language edition of Spain's El Pais newspaper quotes Franco's grandchildren as complaining that the decree constitutes an "act of retrospective revenge without precedent in the civilised world".
Indeed, it would be most uncivilised to disturb the embalmed body of the man responsible for terrorising Spain for much of the last century. 
After all, only half a million people are estimated to have perished in the civil war of 1936-39 that brought Franco to power, where he remained until his death in 1975. 
On top of that, a mere 114,000 or so were disappeared during the war and ensuing dictatorship, many of them executed by Francoist death squads and deposited in mass graves that have yet to be excavated.
The Valley of the Fallen, incidentally, was itself built by the forced labour of political prisoners held by the fascist regime. It also houses the bones of more than 33,000 unidentified victims of the civil war. 
Other perks of Franco's enlightened rule included the practice of trafficking in newborns, which continued after the dictator's death and - according to some observers - resulted inhundreds of thousands of stolen Spanish babies.
But just how much progress does the forcible migration of Franco's remains signify? READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

11 September 2018

Is Georgia in love with Israel?

Middle East Eye

In August, Georgia Today - an English-language newspaper of the eponymous former Soviet republic - featured a verbose analysis headlined “Georgia as ‘the Israel of the Caucasus’ - a Concept Worth Considering?”
Following numerous twists and turns - including a quote from late Israeli prime minister Golda Meir, noting that “if we have to [choose] between being dead and pitied, and being alive with a bad image, we would rather be alive and have the bad image” - the article appears to conclude that there are many prospects for “further developing the Georgia-US bilateral relationships”.
Successful development, we are left to assume, would ideally propel the wannabe NATO member into a special relationship akin to that enjoyed between the US and its favourite Israeli partner in crime. In other words, the whole “Israel of the Caucasus” concept is definitely worth considering.
Not that the concept is really anything new. Rewind for a moment to 2008 and the five-day war between Georgia and Russia that began when Georgia attacked breakaway South Ossetia. The Electronic Intifada’s Ali Abunimah, noting Israel’s intimate involvement in the war-making venture on account of “hundreds of millions of dollars in arms and combat training” to Georgia over previous years, speculated that the Georgian government may have been endeavouring to “play the role of the ‘Israel of the Caucasus’ - a loyal servant of US ambitions in that region”.
Among these ambitions was the “broader US scheme to encircle Russia”, while the training services provided by the real Israel to the Caucasian one were said to involve “officers from Israel’s Shin Bet secret service - which has for decades carried out extrajudicial executions and torture of Palestinians in the occupied territories”, as well as the Israeli police and major Israeli arms companies. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

21 August 2018

The US Helped Massacre Yemeni Schoolchildren

Jacobin

Back in 2010, New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman descended briefly upon Sanaa, the capital of Yemen, where he “took part in a ‘qat chew’” with Yemeni officials, businessmen, and other elites.
Qat, Friedman explained to his uninitiated readership, was “the mildly hallucinogenic leaf drug that Yemeni men stuff in their cheek after work.” Though Friedman himself “quit after fifteen minutes,” he still managed to devise the following “new rule of thumb” for US involvement in the country: “For every Predator missile we fire at an Al Qaeda target here, we should help Yemen build fifty new modern schools that teach science and math and critical thinking — to boys and girls.” This magical “ratio of targeted killings to targeted kindergartens” was, Friedman felt, America’s best bet “to prevent Yemen from becoming an Al Qaeda breeding ground.”
Fast forward to August 2018, and the concept of targeted kindergartens has acquired rather more sinister connotations following the recent slaughter of at least forty Yemeni children on a school bus. The perpetrators: the US-backed, Saudi-led coalition that, since 2015, has been terrorizing Yemen in the name of fighting terror. Among the coalition partners is the United Arab Emirates, glitzy land of ski slope–equipped malls, modern-day slavery, and love affairs with Blackwater founder Erik Prince. Additional coalition backing is provided by the UK and other friendly Europeans.
On August 17, CNN reported that the munition responsible for the school bus massacre was a five-hundred-pound “laser-guided MK 82 bomb made by Lockheed Martin,” pillar of the US military-industrial complex. The bomb’s provenance is not enormously surprising given the $110 billion US-Saudi defense deal to which Donald Trump gave birth last year in Riyadh.
Shortly after the airstrike on the bus, a journalist asked US defense secretary James Mattis for his thoughts on the US role in the conflict in Yemen given that such operations are conducted “with US training, US targeting information, US weapons.”
The transcript of Mattis’s response, which appears on the Defense Department website, includes such insights as: “There, I would tell you that we do help them plan what we call — what kind of targeting? I’m trying to trying of the right word.”
Whatever the word was, Mattis remained of the opinion that “we are not engaged in the civil war” and that “we will help to prevent, you know, the killing of innocent people.”
Of course, anyone familiar with the United States’ track record will be aware that protecting innocents is never really the name of the game. In addition to out-and-out killing sprees, more subtle modes of human elimination also come to mind — as when reports in 1996 that half a million Iraqi children had died because of US sanctions elicited the assessment from then-US ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright: “We think the price is worth it.” READ MORE AT JACOBIN.

On 'victims of terrorism' day, call out the real terrorists

Middle East Eye

Back in 1986, famed Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano penned an essay on Nicaragua, in which he highlighted some ironies he had detected concerning the matter of “terrorism”.
Specifically, Galeano wrote, a certain prominent nation then claiming that “even the stars must be militarised … to confront the terrorist threat” happened to be the very same one that was simultaneously engaged in “terrorist acts against Nicaragua, practising terrorism as an imperial right and … exporting state terrorism, on an industrial scale, under the registered trademark of the National Security Doctrine”.
The nation in question was, of course, the United States, which had committed itself to punishing Nicaragua for that country’s decision to veer from the straight and narrow path of obsequiousness to the needs of US capital. Punitive methods included unleashing havoc-wreaking right-wing proxy forces and mining Nicaraguan harbours.
Without doubt, it’s worth keeping such ironies in mind as we mark this year’s International Day of Remembrance of and Tribute to the Victims of Terrorism on 21 August - not that plenty more irony hasn’t accumulated over the past three-plus decades.
A United Nations General Assembly resolution explains that the commemorative day is meant to “honour and support the victims and survivors of terrorism and to promote and protect the full enjoyment of their human rights and fundamental freedoms”. The resolution also reasserts the assembly’s conviction that “any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation, wherever, whenever and by whomsoever committed”.
Typically vacuous UN language aside, it’s curious that the international body has chosen a terror-oriented day of remembrance, given that the UN has not managed to define terrorism in the first place. As the UN website specifies, “an unequivocal definition of terrorism would remove the political distinction that some make between the actions of so-called freedom fighters and terrorists”. 
Fair enough, but what about when there’s little distinction between the actions of governments and the actions of terrorists? READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

12 August 2018

Legal cannabis offers doubtful buzz for Lebanon's financial woes

Middle East Eye

The question as to whether a legal cannabis industry can salvage Lebanon's deteriorating economy has spawned a drove of recent headlines. The Guardian’s "Budding business: how cannabis could transform Lebanon" specifies that the Lebanese government will consider legalising medical cannabis production for export as "part of a package of reforms proposed by McKinsey & Company," a US consulting firm that operates globally.
The firm was contracted by the Lebanese government in January to devise a plan for lessening the economic plight of the world's third-most indebted country, where the poverty rate in certain areas approaches 65 percent.
According to Bloomberg, McKinsey's extensive recommendations were presented to Lebanese President Michel Aoun in early July and also include "building a wealth-management and investment-banking hub," "setting up a construction zone for prefabricated housing that can be used in the rebuilding of war-torn Syria and Iraq," and getting in on new avocado markets.
Given Lebanon's already flourishing illegal cannabis industry, concentrated in the Bekaa Valley, it's not difficult to detect the origins of this particular recommendation. And yet, there appears to be some disagreement among the Lebanese political elite over who thought of it first.
Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, head of the Progressive Socialist Party and Twitter-user extraordinaire, tweeted in favour of legalisation back in 2014, but a recent Middle East Eye article quoted Lebanese MP Yassine Jabber as attributing the brainchild to Amal Movement leader Nabih Berri, Lebanon's eternal parliament speaker: "Berri got the idea when he visited a pharmacy in Italy recently and saw cannabis-derived products."
Of course, there are plenty of other manoeuvres that could help alleviate Lebanon's fiscal predicament.
For one, the country could presumably do without that preposterously expensive presence known as the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) - "interim" being used in the loosest sense of the word - which, since 1978, has done nothing to protect Lebanon from Israeli assault but has helped itself to prime coastal real estate and other Lebanese goodies.
According to the UN website, the approved UNIFIL budget for July 2017 to June 2018 alone was $483m. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

09 August 2018

Under fire: the perpetual US war on Native Americans

Al Jazeera English

On its website, the United Nations notes that the focuses this year will include "the challenges and ways forward to revitalise indigenous peoples' identities and encourage the protection of their rights in or outside their traditional territories".
To be sure, the protection of indigenous rights is particularly challenging in this day and age. In various contexts around the world, the presence of indigenous communities is seen as an obstacle to profit-driven corporate exploitation and environmental despoliation.
In the United States - vanguard of the capitalist system and usurper extraordinaire of Native American land - the goal of "revitalis[ing]" indigenous identity will presumably prove formidable indeed seeing as the entire US enterprise is, in fact, predicated on the suppression of Native agency, culture, territorial bonds, and general dignity.
Also suppressed, of course, is the whole business of genocide upon which the US is built, which naturally complicates the country's self-advertisement as the epitome of liberty, justice, freedom, democracy, etc. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

22 July 2018

Israel’s New-Old Discrimination

Jacobin

On Thursday, the Israeli parliament passed a new law establishing Israel as the “nation-state of the Jewish people.” The consensus thus far in the ever-astute elite media is that the move was “controversial.”
The Jerusalem Post website provides the English text of the legislation, which stipulates that “[t]he actualization of the right of national self-determination in the state of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.” In other words, Palestinians need not exist.
Other gems include the affirmation that “[t]he state views Jewish settlement as a national value and will labor to encourage and promote its establishment and development.” The New York Times carefully speculates that this provision could “possibly aid … those who would seek to advance discriminatory land-allocation policies.” The law furthermore demotes Arabic from an official language to one with “special status in the state.”
While Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has celebrated the law’s passage as “a pivotal moment in the annals of Zionism and the State of Israel,” other Zionists are less jovial. The Times of Israel quotes Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the prominent Union for Reform Judaism in the United States, as lamenting: “The damage that will be done by this new Nation-State law to the legitimacy of the Zionist vision and to the values of the state of Israel as a democratic — and Jewish — nation is enormous.”
Jacobs is no doubt correct, but it would seem that such legitimacy would already have been definitively crushed by Israel’s recurring habit of slaughtering unarmed Palestinians and taking their land. Indeed, the ruckus over the brand-new law obscures the reality that there’s not actually much new about it at all. READ MORE AT JACOBIN.