29 December 2016

2016 and the truth behind fake news

Al Jazeera English

The legacies of the year 2016 include the introduction into the popular lexicon of the term "fake news".
To be sure, "fake" is a more than apt description for media content fabricated by Macedonian teenagers looking to exploit the United States market for sensational nonsense.
Ditto for "news" items such as the alleged campaign by Democratic congresspersons in Florida to implement Islamic law - a fiction regurgitated by president-elect Donald Trump's nominee for national security adviser.
But as The Intercept's Glenn Greenwald recently pointed out, "The most important fact to realise about this new term" is that "those who most loudly denounce Fake News are typically those most aggressively disseminating it".
Indeed, the ongoing hullabaloo in US mainstream media over the notion that the Russians hacked the election in Trump's favour via a sinister campaign of mass disinformation would itself appear to be a strong contender for the "fake news" category. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

21 December 2016

Presidential Pardons and the United States’ Unpardonable Crimes

TeleSUR English

Over recent decades, the United States has strived to perfect the art of the double standard in the international arena, with impressive results. For example, it is now known that when other countries allegedly meddle in the internal affairs of sovereign nations it’s called meddling in the internal affairs of sovereign nations, but when the U.S. does it it’s called freedom and democracy promotion.

When other people commit terrorism it’s called terrorism; when the U.S. commits terrorism, on the other hand, it’s called collateral damage, an accident, unfortunate — or freedom and democracy promotion.
It should come as no surprise, then, that a surplus of hypocrisy is also on display in jailing patterns in the U.S., where the highest incarceration rate in the world continues to disproportionately punish Black people and where crimes resulting in life sentences have include shoplifting three belts.
Despite regularly lambasting Cuba and other locales on the issue of political prisoners, the U.S. has its own fair share of prisoners of conscience — some of whom are now occupying a bit more media space than usual on account of the denouement of Barack Obama’s term and the countdown on opportunities for presidential pardons.
Among the most visible prisoners is, of course, Chelsea Manning, sentenced in 2013 to 35 years in prison for transferring classified government documents to the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.
So much for freedom. READ MORE AT TeleSUR ENGLISH.

06 December 2016

Article 522: Letting rapists off the hook in Lebanon

Middle East Eye

The Turkish government, in keeping with its established reputation as a shameless violator of human rights and decency, recently made unfavourable headlines yet again with what international media have termed a “child rape bill” that would have pardoned men convicted of statutory rape provided they marry their victims.

Following protests in Turkey, the measure has been withdrawn but not eliminated. The BBC quotes a female Turkish parliamentarian as defending the bill on these grounds:
“It is about giving normality to young women who have been married underage due to cultural norms, other norms, and now find themselves with their children suffering because their husbands are in prison… One of the examples is when the woman is 15 and the man is 17 [when they marry].”
But while such cases can’t be written off as irrelevant, they certainly don’t justify the institutionalisation of impunity - particularly when a get-out-of-jail-free card is apparently already available in many cases of rape. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

02 December 2016

Lebanon’s very own apartheid wall?

Middle East Eye

News recently emerged in Lebanon that the army had begun constructing a “security” wall - complete with watchtowers - around the perimeter of Ain al-Hilweh, the country’s largest Palestinian refugee camp on the outskirts of the city of Sidon.
Although the Lebanese government is, for sectarian reasons, not extremely into counting the residents of its country - the last national census was conducted in 1932 during the French mandate - more than half a million Palestinian refugees are estimated to be present, many of them in Lebanon’s 12 official refugee camps.
Over recent years, the Palestinian population of Lebanon has expanded on account of the civil war in neighbouring Syria and the absorption of Palestinian refugees from that country, who have thus been rendered refugees twice over.Although the Lebanese government is, for sectarian reasons, not extremely into counting the residents of its country - the last national census was conducted in 1932 during the French mandate - more than half a million Palestinian refugees are estimated to be present, many of them in Lebanon’s 12 official refugee camps. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

30 November 2016

Darwin’s Mistake


The late Alexander Cockburn, reflecting on the work of decorated New York Times foreign affairs columnist and neoliberal warmonger extraordinaire Thomas Friedman, once observed: “Friedman’s is an industrial, implacable noise, like having a generator running under the next table in a restaurant. The only sensible thing to do is leave.”
But while generators at least serve a rather obvious function, the same can’t usually be said of Friedman, who has just spewed out his latest unnecessarily humongous book Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations.
In the nearly eight hundred pages that comprise my electronic version of the manuscript, there is approximately one glimmer of hope: the point at which Friedman remarks that this is “maybe my last book.”
The title Thank You for Being Late is a reference to Friedman’s realization that when his Washington, DC breakfast companions are a few minutes tardy, he can use the time not only to people-watch and eavesdrop on neighboring conversations but also to have ideas. Who knew?
The gist of the book — a product, apparently, of Friedman’s conscious decision to occasionally slow down and think in the age of accelerations — is that the world is becoming a very different place thanks to technology, globalization, and climate change, and that we must adapt to the new reality in order to succeed.
As for why anyone would require seven hundred–plus e-book pages to make this point, it’s safe to assume that one cannot accrue $75,000 speaking fees if one’s book is only one sentence long.
To his credit, for many of these pages Friedman manages to avoid generator-under-the-next-table mode in favor of the far more tolerable generator-in-the-next-room mode. Whole paragraphs are devoted to innocuous, non-aneurysm-inducing subjects such as cow-milking robots, the number of lemur species on the island of Madagascar, the definition of “telex” according to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, and the dimensions of Bigbelly garbage receptacles with built-in solar panels.
Things get more annoying as Friedman produces typically grating lines like “Attention, Kmart shoppers” and “This ain’t no cloud, folks!” — the latter being the reason we must henceforth refer to “the cloud” in cloud computing as “the supernova.” READ MORE AT JACOBIN.

26 November 2016

Fidel Castro in context

Al Jazeera English

As of the year 2006, Fidel Castro, Cuba's revolutionary leader who has died aged 90, had reportedly been the subject of no fewer than 638 assassination plots by the CIA. 
The Guardian newspaper notes that these had ranged from mundane bombing and shoot-'em-up schemes to more ludicrous proposals, such as one involving "a diving-suit to be prepared for him that would be infected with a fungus that would cause a chronic and debilitating skin disease". 
At first glance, of course, it may seem odd and overreactive that a global superpower would engage in neurotic efforts for over half a century to take out the leadership of an island nation smaller than the US state of Pennsylvania. 
But has it really just been a simple case of neurosis-for-the-sake-of-neurosis? READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

24 November 2016

Zumba-Thons and Other Non-Solutions to Violence Against Women

TeleSUR English

Since 1999, the United Nations has observed Nov. 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

Hillary Clinton took the concept and ran with it during her service as U.S. Secretary of State, proclaiming on Nov. 25, 2011, that “empowering women and girls is already a priority of the United States, but we need more countries to step up and take on this challenge.”
According to Clinton, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women was an occasion to remember “the horrific acts of violence against women that take place every day around the world and pledge to recommit ourselves to changing attitudes and ending all forms of violence against women and girls.”
Judging from the U.N. website and fundraising toolkit, violence against women can be counteracted by “orang[ing] the world”— orange being the color selected by the U.N. Secretary General’s UNiTE To End Violence Against Women campaign. Suggested activities range from tweets and Instagram posts containing the hashtag “#orangetheworld” to fundraising events such as a “Zumba-thon, Spin-a-thon, Bowl-a-thon, or other a-thons.”
Never mind that a more straightforward way of reducing “horrific acts of violence against women” might be to terminate devastating military assaults by Clinton’s own country — not to mention those of other countries like Israel, whose shameless slaughter of women as well as children and men is relentlessly endorsed by the U.S. 
Needless to say, the recent election of a decidedly anti-human U.S. head of state doesn’t bode well for the so-called “orange world.” READ MORE AT TeleSUR ENGLISH.

16 November 2016

Israel: The world’s number one ‘master of disaster’

Middle East Eye

In recent days Israeli media has been aflutter with reports that their country has received an unprecedented distinction from the World Health Organisation (WHO), the public health arm of the United Nations. Apparently, this confirms Israel’s position as superstar among nations.
On 13 November, the Times of Israel blared the headline: “UN ranks IDF emergency medical team as ‘No. 1 in the world’”. The Ynetnews website followed suit with “WHO: Israel’s field hospital best in world”, while the Jewish Telegraphic Agency opted for “Israeli army medics named world’s best in disaster relief.”  
The website of Israel’s i24news television channel announced: “Israeli field hospital ranked best in the world by WHO.”
Purged of fanfare, the essence of the story is this: Back in 2013, the WHO developed a classification system for foreign medical teams responding to sudden onset disasters (earthquakes, for example), in order to help ensure preparedness and quality of services as well as facilitate better organised deployment of personnel and equipment in accordance with the situation at hand. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

12 November 2016

On Gangs and Violence: Lessons from El Salvador

TeleSUR English

“What have you heard recently about gangs and violence?”
The Tribune quotes one response from an 11-year-old student named Yaritza in the town of Lourdes, who says she has heard “[t]hat there are a lot of murders.” The article continues: “Officials say nearly 30,000 students have… graduated from the anti-gang program in more than 50 schools in the area.”According to an October article in The Texas Tribune, this is one of the questions appearing in elementary school workbooks provided to El Salvador by the United States as part of an anti-gang education initiative designed to discourage U.S.-bound migration.
Unfortunately, Yaritza has heard correctly: in August 2015, The Guardian reported on El Salvador’s designation as the homicide capital of the world, where three consecutive August days had produced 40, 42, and 43 murders respectively.
The newspaper noted that “[e]ven Iraq – with its civil war, suicide bombings, mortar attacks and US drone strikes – could not match such a lethal start to the week.” READ MORE AT TeleSUR ENGLISH.

02 November 2016

Getting away with murder in Mexico

Al Jazeera English

Every November 2, Mexicans mark the Day of the Dead by honouring deceased loved ones.
Given the disproportionate number of deaths produced by Mexico's US-backed drug war, officially launched in 2006, it is starting to seem like an ever-more tragically appropriate tradition.
In a recent investigative piece for The Nation, Dawn Paley details the "spectacular violence" that has accompanied the drug war project.
"In 2014, Mexico ranked as the country with the third-most civilians killed in internal conflict, after Syria and Iraq. Bodies have been buried, burned, displayed in public places, hung from bridges and overpasses or beheaded and left at city hall."
Estimates vary as to the total number of deaths since the start of the war, but many observers put it at above 100,000.
And this isn't even counting the more than 27,000 Mexicans currently missing or disappeared - by most objective accounts an underestimate - or the 70,000-120,000 Central American migrants estimated to have disappeared while travelling through Mexico since 2006.
According to the state-sanctioned narrative, the violence is the fault of Mexico's drug cartels, period.
But this alibi is more than slightly defective. For one thing, as Paley notes, the cartels "are often indistinguishable from local and state police, and form networks dedicated to extortion, kidnapping, and killing, all of which increases social control and helps to suppress dissent." READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

31 October 2016

Forget Halloween: there's plenty of real-life horror in the Middle East

Middle East Eye

In the Iranian city of Isfahan the other day, I chatted with a carpet vendor who had in his possession two carpets woven by Afghan refugees in Iran.
At first glance, they appeared to be just like any other colourfully patterned carpets, but upon closer inspection one’s eye began to pick out warplanes, guns and tanks among the more typical shapes.
The seller remarked to me matter-of-factly in reference to the Afghan weavers’ products: “That is the world they know” - one in which the terror of war has infused every aspect of existence.
To be sure, it’s a world away from those in the West who, in accordance with the annual cycle of profit-driven holidays, are today celebrating Halloween.
Nothing against horror films or haunted houses, of course, but we might as well exploit the occasion to reflect on the circumstances of people for whom horror and fright constitute a permanent condition rather than an occasional source of controlled entertainment. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

27 October 2016

Media Roll Out Welcome Mat for ‘Humanitarian’ War in Syria


As she marches toward the US presidency, Hillary Clinton has stepped up her promotion of the idea that a no-fly zone in Syria could “save lives” and “hasten the end of the conflict” that has devastated that country since 2011.
It has now been revealed, of course, that Clinton hasn’t always expressed the same optimism about the no-fly zone in private. The Intercept (10/10/16) reported on Clinton’s recently leaked remarks in a closed-door speech to Goldman Sachs in 2013:
To have a no-fly zone you have to take out all of the air defense, many of which are located in populated areas. So our missiles, even if they are standoff missiles so we’re not putting our pilots at risk—you’re going to kill a lot of Syrians.
Other relevant characters, such as US Joint Chiefs of Staff chair Joseph Dunford (Daily Caller9/26/16), have warned that a no-fly zone in Syria would simply intensify the conflict—which presumably isn’t the best way to hasten its end.
Luckily for those who prefer to rally around illogic, however, plenty of media have already rolled out the welcome mat for peddlers of the “humanitarian” vision of increased Western military interference in Syria.
The New York Times’ self-appointed savior of women, Nicholas Kristof (10/6/16), invoked the plight of a young Syrian girl in Aleppo to conclude that Obama’s alleged “paralysis” on Syria “has been linked to the loss of perhaps half a million lives” in the country, as well as to “the rise of extremist groups like the Islamic State,” among other unpleasant outcomes. We have no “excuse,” we’re told, for “failing to respond to mass atrocities.” READ MORE AT FAIR.

25 October 2016

Dear Hillary: You Can’t Be a Pro-War Feminist

TeleSUR English

In her recent debate with Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton once again marketed herself as a champion of women’s rights and a crusader against sexual assault.

The performance earned Clinton big points from people who have apparently not found it necessary to reflect on the fundamental irreconcilability of feminism and giddy warmongering.
But the fact remains: Clinton’s performance on the international battlefield over the years makes a mockery of any pretense of support for the rights of women not to be violated, either sexually or otherwise.
Take, for example, Clinton’s firm endorsement of the war on Iraq — or what might be more appropriately termed the total destruction of that country. In one chapter of the new collection False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Rodham Clinton, edited by Liza Featherstone, CODEPINK co-founder Medea Benjamin describes confronting then-Senator Clinton in the run-up to the 2003 invasion:
“Having just returned from Iraq, I relayed [to Clinton] that the weapons inspectors in Baghdad told us there was no danger of weapons of mass destruction and that the Iraqi women we met were terrified about the pending war and desperate to stop it. ‘I admire your willingness to speak out on behalf of the women and children of Iraq,’ Clinton replied, ‘but there is a very easy way to prevent anyone from being put into harm’s way and that is for Saddam Hussein to disarm.’”
It’s a bit difficult to disarm, of course, when one is not in possession of the arms in question. And unfortunately for Clinton’s current campaign against sexual violence, the “harm” that continues to plague the nation of Iraq courtesy of the U.S. and its friends has included plenty of instances of rape by invading soldiers—as tends to happen in such situations. READ MORE AT TeleSUR ENGLISH.

19 October 2016

Hillary Clinton: She May Be a Woman, but She’s Far From a Feminist

The Wire

Since the launch of her presidential campaign, breathless supporters would have us believe a Hillary Clinton victory would be the feminist movement’s equivalent of a moon landing.
Celebrities, media figures and self-identifying feminists have leapt onto the spaceship-bandwagon along with plenty of lesser-known volunteers such as Ariel Chesler, author of a recent dispatch on the popular US website The Daily Beast, titled “Father, Husband – and Proud, Pro-Hillary Feminist.”
After describing his experience being moved to tears by a female-empowering Star Wars scene, Chesler notes that “a similar rush of emotion occurred… when I began introducing my daughters to Hillary Clinton, showing them clips of her rallies and speeches.”
According to Chesler’s analysis, Clinton and certain “superheroines” of film and television “offer us everything we’ve been waiting for” in order to dismantle the “misogyny we carry within us.” He goes on to applaud Clinton’s statement that the US needs “more love and kindness.”
But as emotionally persuasive as some might find Chesler’s tribute and others like it, this sort of Hillary-phoria conveniently ignores the fact that her policies have not and will not empower or benefit the majority of women at home or abroad. Excised from the scene is her legacy of sustaining traditions of racism and classism – two institutions that are structurally tied up with the very patriarchal system she’s portrayed as defying – not to mention, you know, her predilection for bombing other countries, which arguably isn’t the best way to transmit love and kindness.
For those interested in an unwhitewashed version of Clinton’s track record, a good place to start is False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Rodham Clinton, edited by Liza Featherstone. I myself have a short segment in the compilation, in which I primarily discuss Clinton’s integral role as US secretary of state in ensuring the success of the 2009 right-wing coup d’état in Honduras. As American economist Mark Weisbrot has pointed out, the aftermath of the coup has been characterised by skyrocketing femicides, among other disasters.
So much for feminism.  READ MORE AT THE WIRE.

14 October 2016


The Washington Spectator

Back in 1996, shortly after the end of the war in Bosnia, New York Times foreign affairs “sage” Thomas Friedman posed this question in his column: “What does Bosnia need today if it is going to be stabilized?”
The answer, according to Friedman’s calculations: “Bosnia needs big tanks, big roads, and Big Macs.”
To be sure, the vision of tank-based corporate conquest is of a piece with the variety of neoliberal plunder that Friedman has devoted much of his career to championing. And while the Bosnians took their sweet time getting into the Big Mac game—it was not until 2011 that the country’s first McDonald’s opened in Sarajevo—the location of this particular McDonald’s on none other than Marshal Tito Street is certainly the stuff of Friedman’s wet dreams. Another spike in the coffin of Communism.
Following Ronald McDonald’s triumph over the iconic Yugoslav leader, then, did stability immediately begin to emanate along with the French fry grease?
As anyone not blinkered by neoliberal, capitalist doctrine might expect, the corporate globalization process in Bosnia has entailed a fair amount of human misery. And although the apologists for global capitalism will continue their efforts to silence naysayers with lofty illogic, the fact remains that it simply is not good for the average human being when the needs of foreign investors are made paramount and basic existence is rendered financially prohibitive.
On a flight to Sarajevo earlier this year, I was seated next to two Turkish businessmen who interrupted their high-decibel discussion of investment opportunities in Bosnia exactly once: when a glance out the window prior to landing evoked a comparison of a certain Turkish landscape to the verdant hills below.
Incidentally, “available natural resources and beauties” is listed on the website of the Foreign Investment Promotion Agency of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FIPA) as one of the answers to the question “Why Bosnia and Herzegovina?” Among the nation’s numerous other offerings and perks are “strategic location,” “abundance of industrial zone [sic] . . . and available production facilities,” “favorable legal environment,” “low tax rates,” and “regional and bilateral Free Trade Agreements.” READ MORE AT THE WASHINGTON SPECTATOR.

10 October 2016

'At least in Syria we are still seen as human beings': The real refugee crisis

Middle East Eye

As France proceeds with preparations to dismantle the Calais refugee camp, which currently houses more than 10,000 people, the Guardianreports that “incidents of self-harm and depression among children in the… camp are increasing as the mental health of unaccompanied minors deteriorates in advance of the site’s demolition”.
According to aid worker testimony cited in the article, a “psychological collapse” is being witnessed among many child refugees. Some unaccompanied minors had reportedly “talked about killing themselves, such was their despair over the camp’s future”.
It’s hardly surprising that, in situations in which humans feel completely and utterly helpless to control their environments, harming or even eliminating oneself is one way of exerting a semblance of control.
Such approaches also endow psychological pain with visible manifestations more readily perceptible to the outside world.
Of course, it doesn’t help when the outside world reacts with a psychological condition of its own - total insanity - in dealing with refugees. Forget empathy; there is no time for petty humanity when refugee hordes are threatening the sacrosanct boundaries of Fortress Europe and other entities, propelling local panties into a hysterical and xenophobic bunch. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

Christopher Columbus: The myth that keeps on giving

Al Jazeera English

On October 12, 1492, a geographically misguided voyager by the name of Christopher Columbus happened upon the so-called New World. 
Five centuries later, famed Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano would refer to the day as the one on which "America discovered capitalism" as Columbus, "financed by the kings of Spain and the bankers of Genoa, brought this novelty to the Caribbean islands".
In his journal, Columbus enthusiastically "prophesied that ‘all Christendom will do business here'". Galeano remarks: "In that [prediction] at least he was right".
And a violent business it was, as meticulously demonstrated in the now-deceased Galeano's masterpiece Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent.
Open the book to any page and you’ll find passages like this:
"The massacres of Indians that began with Columbus never stopped … The Yaqui Indians of the Mexican state of Sonora were drowned in blood so that their lands, fertile and rich in minerals, could be sold without any unpleasantness to various US capitalists."
Indeed, the European pastime of physical and economic decimation of the territory and its peoples was deftly inherited by the United States, which has also managed to develop such subtler forms of imperial devastation as drug wars and free trade agreements. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

05 October 2016

Headless Franco Versus Kim Jong Un in Spain

TeleSUR English

On Oct. 14, a temporary exhibition will be inaugurated at Barcelona’s Born Center for Culture and Memory, itself the centerpiece of a neighborhood prominently associated with Catalan nationalism. The exhibition is titled “Franco, Victory, Republic. Impunity and Urban Space.”
Among its features are two statues from the era of fascist dictator Francisco Franco, who ascended to power via the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39 and reigned until his death in 1975. One of the statues is of a horse-mounted Franco who happens to be lacking a head, having been inexplicably decapitated while in storage in 2013. The head was never found.
The statues will be displayed in the wide pedestrian area in front of the cultural center, apparently as a means of encouraging discussion about impunity and other legacies of the dictatorship as well as the uses of political artwork in public space.Among its features are two statues from the era of fascist dictator Francisco Franco, who ascended to power via the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39 and reigned until his death in 1975. One of the statues is of a horse-mounted Franco who happens to be lacking a head, having been inexplicably decapitated while in storage in 2013. The head was never found.
And there are plenty of things to discuss indeed. On top of the estimated half a million civil war dead, more than 100,000 persons 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 state’s top-notch foot-dragging on the exhumation front has to do with a variety of factors, among them the reality that Francoism itself is far from dead and buried. There are lingering ties to the dictatorship among certain members of the political class, and select sectors of the population continue to view Franco in a positive light. Acting right-wing Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of the Popular Party (PP) has railed against the idea that “even a single euro” of public funds be used to promote historical memory and “recuperate the past.” 
The refusal to engage in a reckoning with history has also been aided considerably by a post-Franco amnesty law pardoning crimes of the previous era—hence, perhaps, the utility of discussions about impunity. READ MORE AT TeleSUR ENGLISH.

21 September 2016

Radicalised nation: Fear and hypocrisy in New York

Middle East Eye

Following the recent explosions in New York City and New Jersey - one of which injured 29 people and the other of which injured none - President Barack Obama offered a typical presidential message to the American people.
The CNN website quotes his analysis that “terrorists and violent extremists… want to inspire fear in all of us, and disrupt the way we live”. The upshot, according to Obama: “We all have a role to play as citizens in making sure that we don't succumb to that fear.”
Easier said than done, perhaps - particularly when the New York City Police Department (NYPD) had just decided to bombard mobile phone users with a mass alert from the Office of Emergency Management. The subject: the explosion suspect.
An article in The Atlantic describes the unprecedented use of the emergency system, which is usually reserved for things like apocalyptic weather patterns and abducted children:
“Just before 8 in the morning on Monday [19 September], cellphones chimed in unison across New York City. It wasn’t the sound of text messages: it was a dissonant siren, repeated six times, accompanied by a short note. ‘WANTED: Ahmad Khan Rahami, 28-yr-old male. See media for pic. Call 9-1-1 if seen’.”
In the business of “inspir[ing] fear in all of us”, then, state security forces seem to be giving “terrorists and violent extremists” a run for their money. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

Israel and Paraguay: Two Peas in a Counterterror Pod?

TeleSUR English

While attending the 2009 General Assembly of the Organization of American States in Honduras, then-Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon sounded the alarm: “We know that there are flights from Caracas via Damascus to Tehran.” 
Although flight routes by now have presumably been altered on account of the war in Syria, the possibility of air travel between Latin America and Iran continues to serve as one of the pillars of alleged evidence that the Islamic Republic has “penetrated” the Western Hemisphere with its usual aims of bringing destabilization and terror to the United States’ “doorstep.”
Other bits of “proof” of nefarious meddling include the fact that Iran happens to maintain various embassies and cultural centers in the region. Never mind that the Iranians are not the ones penetrating Organization of American States meetings — or that Ayalon himself proclaimed in regard to Israel’s diplomatic history: “(We) have had embassies in Latin America, more embassies here than we had in many other parts of the world, even though the distance is great.”Although flight routes by now have presumably been altered on account of the war in Syria, the possibility of air travel between Latin America and Iran continues to serve as one of the pillars of alleged evidence that the Islamic Republic has “penetrated” the Western Hemisphere with its usual aims of bringing destabilization and terror to the United States’ “doorstep.”
A few years back I paid a visit to the Iranian embassy in La Paz, Bolivia, portrayed in traditional propaganda as a terror command and control center guarded by the Quds Force, an elite division of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. As of 2012, it consisted of a house with a yard and a female Bolivian receptionist. The Quds Force had managed to disguise itself as a solitary Bolivian policeman.
And while the Israelis and their backers in the U.S. insist on casting as potentially apocalyptic in nature each and every diplomatic and economic maneuver in the hemisphere by Iran and other Shia entities, Israel barges ahead with its own perfectly acceptable forms of hemispheric conquest. READ MORE AT TeleSUR ENGLISH.

20 September 2016


Current Affairs

“Because missiles can fly through windows, the courtroom is windowless.” So reports Ronen Bergman in “The Hezbollah Connection,” an epic 8,000-word dispatch from The New York Times Magazine last year. The courtroom in question belongs to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), a United Nations-backed entity in The Hague, Netherlands. The STL is tasked with trying in absentia five Hezbollah members accused of orchestrating the 2005 bombing that killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri along with 21 others in a massive blast in Beirut. More than a decade later, as the tribunal fumbles its way toward ostensible justice from the depths of its windowless chambers, one can’t help but begin to question how any disgruntled party in Lebanon would go about firing missiles at a Netherlands courtroom 2,000 miles away.
Earlier this year in Beirut, I spoke with members of several STL defense teams who were in town interviewing “witnesses” for the tribunal. These particular witnesses were officials from Lebanese mobile phone companies, as the prosecutors’ case is in large part based on the analysis of enormous quantities of mobile phone logs, which are said to point to the five Hezbollah men. Much of the STL’s work thus consists of the endless examination of telecom information using unproven methods of co-location and link analysis. Indeed, as lawyer Philippe Larochelle—who has since resigned from his position as co-counsel for defendant Hussein Hassan Oneissi—put it to me: it’s essentially the case that “the accused are phones.”
The trial of the phones kicked off in The Hague in January 2014, following all manner of delays and detours. In one rather lengthy detour, from 2005-2009, four Lebanese generals were imprisoned without charge thanks to a recommendation by initial UN prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, who was operating on a defective theory that the generals had conspired with the Syrian government to assassinate Hariri. Once a sufficient international stink had been made over the wrongful imprisonment and the generals had finally been freed, the STL fixed its attention solely on Hezbollah.
As the New York Times sees it, the STL is “necessary simply because of Hezbollah’s unique role in Lebanon and the world: Although the group is classified by the U.S. State Department as a foreign terrorist organization, it is also a popular political party in Lebanon, and therefore it is difficult, perhaps impossible, for Lebanon or any other single nation to provide an appropriate venue for its prosecution.”
But “necessary” is an odd way of describing the STL to begin with. The tribunal’s singular nature makes it an unusual international priority. For one thing, it’s expensive; some half a billion dollars had already been spent as of February 2015—with Lebanon in charge of 49 percent of the bill. This is hardly small change in a country plagued by widespread poverty and a dearth of government services. During my most recent visit to Tyre, Lebanon’s fourth-largest city (located twenty minutes from the border with Israel), the area was receiving as little as two hours of government-supplied electricity per day. A November 2014 article in Lebanon’s Daily Star newspaper noted that the country had just managed to fork over $36 million “in dues” to the STL despite “financial troubles, as the [Lebanese] economy reels from the impact of a massive refugee influx from Syria and ongoing security problems.” The previous December, meanwhile, the U.S. State Department issued a press statement applauding “Lebanon’s decision to fulfill its 2013 funding obligations” to the STL and emphasizing that the United States, too, had “provided strong financial support to the Tribunal since its inception, and we will continue to do so.” READ MORE AT CURRENT AFFAIRS.

15 September 2016

Pulling the wool over our eyes: An Israeli right of return for... sheep?

Middle East Eye

Shortly after the 1948 establishment of the state of Israel on Palestinian land, the Israeli Knesset passed a “Law of Return” entitling any Jew anywhere in the world to settle in the new entity.
Over the decades, this handy piece of legislation has enabled an influx of ethnically chosen ones as the spaces available to Palestinians continue to shrivel.
Anyone paying attention to actual facts on the ground rather than invented histories will of course have noticed a criminal defiance of logic.
Under the Law of Return, even people with no connection whatsoever to the territory in question are granted an inalienable right of “homecoming” to a home that isn’t theirs, while Palestinians physically born on the land - and descendants of those born there - are barred from a literal return, often condemned to a life in exile with few if any rights.Anyone paying attention to actual facts on the ground rather than invented histories will of course have noticed a criminal defiance of logic.
A new layer of absurdity has recently been added to the mix via a project dreamt up by Canadian residents Gil and Jenna Lewinsky, thanks to whom a flock of more than 100 Canadian sheep is now in the process of staging its own so-called “return” to the holy land. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

07 September 2016

Sexualising occupation: The uses and abuses of Israel’s female soldiers

Middle East Eye

One major anti-highlight of the August issue of VICE magazine is a “story” titled “The Defiant Femininity of Israel’s Female Soldiers”, which consists of a series of photographs by Israeli-born Mayan Toledano, herself a veteran of Israel’s universal draft.
In the introductory paragraph, we learn that because Toledano felt “stripped of all vestiges of femininity” and individuality during her military service, she created this photo series depicting “soldiers whose girlishness and teenage boredom act as a subtle but undeniable form of protest”.
The quality and composition of the images are hardly impressive and some could even be mistaken for advertisements for facial cleanser. The girls’ “subtle” activities include buttoning their shirts, looking at their cell phones, and lying in bed.
This is the second time in less than six months that Toledano’s Israeli woman soldier pictures have appeared at VICE. Their first appearance in March included a slightly longer intro by Maayan Goldman, who gushed about how “the young subjects fail, beautifully, to conform [and] are softly glowing in their singularity”.
Goldman again contends that, “in a way, it's their girly, teenage boredom that reflects a passive, sleepy protest against violence” - but fails to explain how complicity in an advanced killing machine might amount to a protest against violence and conformity.
To be sure, the thousands of Palestinians obliterated by the Israeli army over the past few years alone would presumably find intra-army “glowing” less than newsworthy. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

30 August 2016

In Latin America, people disappear but crimes remain

Al Jazeera English

Back in 2012, in the southern Peruvian city of Ayacucho - birthplace of the Maoist guerrilla outfit Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) - I found myself carrying a small white coffin containing the remains of a man named Alejandro Aguilar.
As I recounted at the time in a blog post for the London Review of Books, Aguilar had been an itinerant wool trader and was one of the victims of a 1984 guerrilla massacre of more than 100 Peruvians.
Twenty-eight years later, his remains had been exhumed from a mass grave and were being returned to his wife and other family members, who had travelled to Ayacucho by bus from their village more than 700 km away.
I happened to be standing nearby when a hand was needed with the coffin, and thus paid my first and last respects to Aguilar before he was loaded back on to the bus for his final journey home.
There were copious tears from the family, but they assured me they were grateful to have closure at long last. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

26 August 2016

Honduras and Israel: A New Special Relationship

TeleSUR English

In the aftermath of the 2009 coup in Honduras, I had the opportunity to interview deposed President Manuel Zelaya, who, having been kindly escorted in his pajamas to Costa Rica by the Honduran military, had then resurfaced in Tegucigalpa and taken refuge in the embassy of Brazil. The interview took place via an intermediary inside the embassy, who conveyed my questions to Zelaya.
One topic we touched on was a comment the left-leaning Zelaya had made concerning “Israeli mercenaries” operating in Honduras. This had unleashed a predictable hullabaloo in international media, with commentators tripping over each other to portray the besieged leader as an anti-Semite extraordinaire on some sort of permanent acid trip.
In my write-up of the interview, which was published in an insignificant publication, I happened to point out that Israeli mercenaries weren’t exactly foreign to the Central American landscape. When the piece came out, the publisher of another insignificant publication—to which I had contributed some anti-coup articles—threw a fit. How dare I bring the Israelis into it; I would alienate all of Washington!
Now that the coup has restored Honduras to its rightful position as glorious hub of right-wing extremism, it’s even easier to bring the Israelis in. And current Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández knows it.In my write-up of the interview, which was published in an insignificant publication, I happened to point out that Israeli mercenaries weren’t exactly foreign to the Central American landscape. When the piece came out, the publisher of another insignificant publication—to which I had contributed some anti-coup articles—threw a fit. How dare I bring the Israelis into it; I would alienate all of Washington!
He’s currently pushing the country’s Congress to approve a military cooperation agreement with Israel that he swears is “fundamental to the growth of the Honduran nation.” READ MORE AT TeleSUR ENGLISH.