31 July 2015

Italian PM Renzi's ode to Israel

Middle East Eye

In what he referred to as a “secular pilgrimage” to Jerusalem last week, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi appeared before the Israeli Knesset to deliver a speech. Given that his performance wound up being an extended ode to a state that awards and withholds rights based on religion, however, the bout of ass-kissing might have been classified as slightly less than secular in nature.

From the official Israeli viewpoint, a few sections of the ode were presumably in need of some fine-tuning. For example, Renzi could have specified that the recent nuclear deal with Iran was a pact with the devil, which he did not. His calculation that Israel’s existence predated the state’s formal establishment “by centuries” furthermore contradicts the millennia-long history stipulated by Israeli propaganda.

But Renzi more that compensated for these deficiencies with lines like: “Those who think about boycotting Israel fail to realize they’re just boycotting themselves.” Although not included in the transcript of the speech on Renzi’s website, major Italian newspapers have quoted the prime minister as tacking this ending on to the sentence: “… boycotting themselves, and betraying their own future.”

Not only is it safe to assume such rhetoric won’t resonate with the average Italian—who is now contending with rising poverty and unemployment rates as well as other domestic headaches—Renzi’s pronouncement will undoubtedly be news to much of the rest of the global population.

Residents of the Gaza Strip, for one thing, might find it difficult to pin their hopes on the entity that has for nearly 70 years been obliterating Palestinian futures via bombs, bulldozers, and blockades. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

30 July 2015

Thinking While Black


On May 13, 1985, one of the blacker days of the U.S. war on its domestic black population, the Philadelphia Police Department undertook the aerial bombing of an African-American neighborhood in the city where members of the radical group MOVE had taken up residence.

Firemen were instructed not to attend to the resultant raging fire. When the smoke cleared, the following had been eliminated: six adults, five children, and more than 60 homes. No criminal charges ever ensued for city officials, but Ramona Africa—the sole adult survivor of the MOVE contingent—was thrown in prison for seven years.

Former Black Panther and radio journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, a veteran of death row now condemned to an eternity behind bars in Pennsylvania, described the judicial spectacle thusly:

“The courts of the land turned a blind eye, daubed mud in their socket, and prosecuted Ramona Africa for having the nerve to survive an urban holocaust, jailing her for the crime of not burning to death.”

This, of course, is merely one of many creative categories of criminal behavior uniquely available to black Americans over the years. The just-released volumeWriting on the Wall, the first comprehensive selection of Mumia’s short prison commentaries from 1982 to the present, is a handy resource for keeping track of some of them.

A dispatch on Amadou Diallo, for example, contains Mumia’s assessment of what had prompted New York City police officers to unleash 41 bullets on the unarmed immigrant from Guinea in 1999. Diallo, Mumia reasons, had “committ[ed] the capital crime of ‘standing while black’—SWB.”

A 2006 piece titled “No Safe Age” speculates as to the transgressions of an elderly woman shot to death in her Atlanta home by narcotics officers: “What was her crime? Trying-to-Survive-to-90 While Black?” READ MORE AT WARSCAPES.

27 July 2015

Lebanon’s rubbish state: A metaphor comes to life

Middle East Eye

“Either the contracts are extended or you will drown in garbage.”
According to Lebanon’s Al Akhbar newspaper, these were the words of former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in October of 2010, when he warned a cabinet session of the repercussions of failing to renew the contract of private waste management company Sukleen, run by Hariri family friends.
Since the 1990s, Sukleen has been responsible for waste disposal in Beirut and the Mount Lebanon governorate.
Now, less than five years after Hariri’s prophecy, the drowning has come to pass; over the last week, the streets of the Lebanese capital have been inundated by heaps of festering garbage.
But the mess has to do with a lot more than contract extensions.
On 17 July, Sukleen’s latest extension expired in tandem with the closure of the Naameh landfill south of Beirut, which has since 1997 absorbed much of Lebanon’s refuse.
Meant to operate for only six years, the landfill was also on the receiving end of its own fair share of extensions, thanks to which it is now at 500 percent capacity.
In an effort to mitigate their own engulfment in garbage, residents of the area have blocked roads to ensure no further Sukleen deliveries to Naameh. Which brings us to the question: why, if the domestic calendar has been marked for quite some time with the impending closure of the landfill, has the government not managed to devise an alternative arrangement?
Granted, Lebanon’s leaders have as of late had their hands full not electing a president, not fixing Lebanon’s dismal electricity situation, and not attending to the needs of the majority of the inhabitants of the country, where the poverty rate exceeds 60 percent in some areas. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

20 July 2015

The US in Cuba: a history of organised crime

Al Jazeera English

In a recent blog post for the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), a prominent American membership organisation and think-tank, research associate ValerieWirtschafter assesses the course of the "Cuban Renaissance" that is apparently now under way thanks to domestic reforms and the diplomatic thaw with the United States.
Based on her own mid-Renaissance visit to Cuba earlier this year, Wirtschafter remarks on some counterintuitive aspects of the expanding tourism industry on the born-again island.
"The hotel industry in particular - including the State run Hotel Nacional in Havana - seems to glorify the country's gangster past, a violent history that partially spurred popular support for Fidel Castro's Revolution."
She goes on to comment on the "equally bewildering" collision of universes that transpired when celebrity socialite Paris Hilton and Castro's son were photographed taking selfies together at a Havana cigar festival in February. The ex-Hilton hotel in Havana, opened in 1958 by the heiress' grandfather, was one of the revolution's first casualties when Castro commandeered it as a provisional headquarters the following year.
Nowhere does the article mention a certain - perhaps far more bewildering - fact: that Cuba's "gangster past" and "violent history" were largely a product of US government policies and machinations by the American Mafia. In the wake of Castro's triumph, both entities continued to help ensure that Cuba was continually beset by counter-revolutionary violence. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

16 July 2015

'El Chapo' Guzman in context

Al Jazeera English

In February of last year, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman - Mexico's most-wanted drug lord and head of the Sinaloa Cartel - was captured in the resort town of Mazatlan in a collaborative US-Mexican law enforcement operation.
The InSight Crime website declared the "dramatic" event the "end of an era for Mexico's underworld", where "the new normal may be an increasingly chaotic criminal terrain".
"Facing a more coordinated Mexican security strategy", the co-director of InSight, Steven Dudley continued, "the next generation of criminal groups may find it impossible to replicate the empire Guzman created."
But while there is no doubt about the chaos of the terrain, with more and more groups vying for a piece of the illicit pie, the era in question may not have been brought to such a definitive end.
This past weekend, Guzman escaped from Mexico's Altiplano maximum-security prison, reportedly via a tunnel measuring 1.5 kilometres. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

14 July 2015

Resistencia: The Fight for the Aguán Valley


In May 2011, the government of Honduras hosted an economic conference in the city of San Pedro Sula to promote foreign and domestic investment. Titled “Honduras is Open for Business,” the event drew the likes of Colombia's ex-president Álvaro Uribe and the world’s richest human, Carlos Slim.
During one portion of the spectacle, Honduran Foreign Minister Mario Canahuati, a former Honduran ambassador to the United States and president of the Honduran Council of Private Enterprise, fielded questions from members of the press. Among them was Canadian filmmaker and videojournalist Jesse Freeston, whose footage of the exchange appears in his just-released film Resistencia: The Fight for the Aguán Valley.
All smiles for the first millisecond or so, Canahuati’s expression quickly sours when Freeston brings up the word on the street: that Honduras is not open for business but rather up for sale. Canahuati replies vehemently that the country is not for sale but that “we can rent out our Honduras for a short period, for the benefit of our people.”
If by “our people” Canahuati meant the Honduran oligarchy, then that’s a perfectly valid statement. But Canahuati is hardly qualified to speak on behalf of the rest of the country. Back in 2004, the US International Trade Commission issued a reporton the potential effects of the free trade agreement that was then being negotiated between the United States, Central America, and the Dominican Republic; in it, then-ambassador Canahuati is said to have encouragingly “note[d] that the US textile and apparel industry will be one of the main beneficiaries” of the agreement. 
The average citizen of Honduras, of course, has more pressing concerns than the health of imperial businesses. Although Honduran territory is repeatedly “rented out” to exploitative entities like mining corporations and the US military, many Hondurans find it hard simply to survive. Sterling examples showcased in Freeston’s film include the peasant farmers in the Aguán Valley in the northeastern part of the country. Much of the area has been appropriated into the personal lebensraum of Honduran tycoon Miguel Facussé, who prior to perishing last month at the age of ninety was the country’s largest landowner. Facussé’s appetite for profit through the cultivation of lucrative palm plantations throughout the valley inevitably spelt hunger and hardship for farmers wishing to plant a crop or two of their own. READ MORE AT WARSCAPES.

08 July 2015

Gaza’s recurring Stone Age

Middle East Eye

8 July marks the one-year anniversary of the start of Operation Protective Edge, the Israeli military’s conversion into rubble of numerous sections of the Gaza Strip.
According to the United Nations, 2,251 Palestinians were killed during the assault; most were civilians, and 551 were children. In Israel, six civilians perished.
One of the most densely populated areas in the world, Gaza also appears to have a disproportionately high incidence of tragedy per square kilometre. Indeed, in contemplating Gaza’s timeline, one is hard-pressed to spot any anniversary that commemorates something pleasant rather than disastrous.
A week and a half ago, for example, was the ninth anniversary of the commencement of Israel’s Operation Summer Rains on 28 June, 2006, which was followed by Operation Autumn Clouds. The meteorological convergence produced more than 400 dead Palestinians.
On the forecast for later this year are the anniversaries of Operation Pillar of Defence - which began on 14 November, 2012 and left nearly 200 Palestinian corpses in its wake - and Operation Cast Lead, launched on 28 December, 2008. The latter project reduced the population of the Gaza Strip by about 1,400, primarily civilians.
The fifteenth of May is, of course, another big day, being the anniversary of the original catastrophe that set the ball rolling towards many more: the forcible establishment in 1948 of the state of Israel, on Palestinian land. Right off the bat, approximately 10,000 Palestinians were killed and three-quarters of a million were rendered refugees, thanks to the policy of ethnic cleansing upon which the state was founded.
Meanwhile, Israel’s adeptness at manipulating timelines has helped to ensure that Gaza’s contemporary history remains chock full of atrocities. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

06 July 2015

America’s billion-dollar mission in Lebanon

Middle East Eye

As I’ve written about on more than a handful of occasions, a pet paranoia cultivated by the US in recent years has been Iran’s perceived encroachment into America’s “backyard.”
Back in 2008, Michael Rubin of the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute warned that the Iranian embassy in Managua, Nicaragua, was “now the largest diplomatic mission in the city.” This and other Iranian efforts in the region supposedly indicated that former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad “might see Latin America as a beachhead from which to conduct an aggressive strategy against the United States and its allies.”
As journalist Charles Davis has noted, then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also jumped on the bandwagon, announcing: “The Iranians are building a huge embassy in Managua… And you can only imagine what that’s for.”
As it turned out, “imagine” was the operative word.
In July 2009, The Washington Post reported from Managua that, “here in Nicaragua, no one can find any super-embassy.” According to the paper, Nicaraguan government officials “say the US Embassy complex is the only ‘mega-embassy’ in Managua.”
The recent revelation of US plans for a ginormous new embassy in Lebanon - right next door to the current ginormous US embassy in the village of Awkar north of Beirut- further underscores America’s hypocrisy in decrying alleged Iranian violations of its own backyard while setting up camp in Iran’s. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

03 July 2015

Executing Justice: WikiLeaks Unmasks Saudi Arabia

TeleSUR TV English

Two decades ago, a Palestinian relative of a friend of mine attended an execution in a public square in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. As it turned out, the executed man was not the only casualty of the day; my friend’s relative, already in poor health, suffered a fatal heart attack upon witnessing the event. Most members of the international community are of course spared the potentially adverse side effects of contact with Saudi reality, for a variety of reasons.

For starters, the kingdom’s oil-fueled status as U.S. ally extraordinaire means that the general absence of human rights in the country is less of a superpower obsession than it would be were the Saudis to declare themselves, say, a Bolivarian republic. As the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman put it in 2007: “Of course, we must protect the Saudis”—which was four years after he confessed that, “[f]rankly, I have a soft spot for the de facto Saudi ruler, Crown Prince Abdullah, who is a man of decency and moderation.” 

The June publication by WikiLeaks of a deluge of cables from the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs meanwhile also helps to explain the subdued global reaction to a country that behaves quite similarly to the Islamic State group. The accompanying press release begins by noting that, as of June, the Kingdom had already carried out 100 beheadings this year: “The story was nowhere to be seen on Arab media despite the story's circulation on wire services. Even international media was relatively mute about this milestone compared to what it might have been if it had concerned a different country. How does a story like this go unnoticed?” 

Short answer: money. Why bother cleaning up your act when you can simply clean up your image by disbursing gargantuan sums to international media outlets and other opinion-shaping entities? READ MORE AT TeleSUR TV ENGLISH.