17 August 2017

DEA Scrambles to Increase Budget Tapping Funds from War on Terror

The Washington Spectator

In February 2016, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) announced that, with the help of some European partners, it had partially busted a “massive” drug trafficking and money-laundering operation being conducted by “Lebanese Hezbollah’s External Security Organization Business Affairs Component (BAC).”
Observers familiar with repeated U.S. attempts to stigmatize Hezbollah with the narco-terrorist label should be forgiven for their skepticism over the renewed charges. Never mind that Hezbollah has never mentioned an External Security Organization; Western experts know best. And clearly, anyone with a “BAC” must be super-serious about drugs.
According to the DEA, members of the Hezbollah BAC had “established business relationships with South American drug cartels, such as [Colombia’s] La Oficina de Envigado, responsible for supplying large quantities of cocaine to the European and United States drug markets.” Proceeds from drugs and money laundering were then allegedly used to buy weapons for the Syrian war effort.
This was not the first time the United States had claimed to catch the Party of God red-handed with illicit substances—although this particular plot was somewhat inferior to previous ones in terms of entertainment value. For years we’ve been treated to breathless reports, often courtesy of concerned neoconservative and Zionist think tanks and individuals, about Hezbollah’s Iran-backed narcotic incursions into our very own hemisphere.
We’ve seen Hezbollah waging “cocaine jihad,” instructing Mexican drug lords in the arts of bomb-making and narco-tunnel construction along the U.S. border, collaborating with Brazilian prison gangs, establishing sleeper cells and training camps willy-nilly, and participating in transatlantic drug runs with great ease—according to one prominent U.S. expert—thanks to Venezuela’s alleged “geographic proximity to West Africa.” In 2010, Rep. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.) alerted the Department of Homeland Security to the idea that droves of incarcerated gang members in the United States were suddenly sporting tattoos in Farsi. Another enduring favorite among the fearmonger set is the fact that it is possible to travel by air from Caracas to Tehran, which can only mean bad things.
The Hezbollah-in-our-backyard hype serves a number of convenient functions. It renders the organization a direct threat to the homeland, justifying both continued U.S. militarization of Latin America and ongoing antagonism toward Iran on a global level. Particularly during the final years of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez, who died in 2013, U.S. propaganda conflating various national nemeses into a single Islamo-socialist narco-jihadi-terror menace lurking just across the southern border sought to discredit a whole lot of folks in one fell swoop.
As’ad AbuKhalil, a Lebanese-American political science professor at the University of California, Stanislaus, remarked in a recent email to me on the barrage of narco-allegations leveled against Hezbollah: “They actually remind me of the Cold War days when I first came to the United States and I would read fantastic claims by Zionist groups trying to connect any and every Palestinian group to various communist plots worldwide.” Perhaps some Zionist or Saudi propagandists would also like to link Hezbollah to global warming, he suggested. READ MORE AT THE WASHINGTON SPECTATOR.

16 August 2017

Does Albania have an America problem?

Middle East Eye

Among the more eccentric features of the Albanian landscape these days are an estimated 700,000 concrete bunkers scattered throughout the country’s farms, mountains, beaches, and city centres - an enduring testament to Albania’s Cold War history of self-imposed isolation under Stalinist ruler Enver Hoxha, who in addition to detecting ubiquitous enemies also banned religion and private cars.

After the fall of communism in the early 90s, certain of Albania’s international enemies were quickly rehabilitated - hence the current existence of a George W Bush Street in the capital of Tirana, a George W Bush statue in the village of Fushe-Kruje, and a (perhaps prematurely erected) Hillary Clinton statue in Sarande.

In his book Modern Albania: From Dictatorship to Democracy in Europe, Fred Abrahams, a special adviser at Human Rights Watch, describes the scene awaiting the convoy of visiting US Secretary of State James Baker in 1991: “[A]n ecstatic mob engulfed the cars, hoping to glimpse the guest from the West. Men threw flowers, kissed the windshields, and tried to carry Baker’s limousine into town.”
Similar enthusiasm was on display for the visit to the Muslim-majority nation of the aforementioned Bush in 2007, when, as Abrahams notes, the Albanian post office also “issued a set of commemorative stamps”.
I myself can safely report that Albania is the only country out of the 60-plus I have visited where my admission to being American has elicited the word “fantastic” in response. During my stay this summer in a small coastal town in south Albania, a town resident found it necessary to set off 4 July fireworks.
Of course, the US has got more than just a stamp collection out of the arrangement. International affection is, after all, meaningless unless it can be exploited for politico-economic gain. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

10 August 2017

Power to Truth

Jacobin

On 6 August, Israel confirmed its intentions to shut down Al Jazeera’s bureau in Jerusalem. The Israeli Communications Minister explained that the decision was “based . . . on the move by Sunni Arab states to close Al Jazeera offices and prohibit their work.”
To be sure, there’s no better way to market oneself as the only democracy in the Middle East than to follow the example of regimes that jail and whip pro-democracy writers.
But the move against Al Jazeera is simply the latest episode in an ongoing war on press freedom and freedom of speech in Israel — a war that itself merely assists Israel’s more physical war on Palestinians, African refugees, and others.
And while Al Jazeera may have temporarily seized the spotlight, we mustn’t forget the lower-profile cases of journalists fighting to speak truth to power.
Take independent Israeli-Canadian journalist David Sheen, for example, who reports regularly on Israeli racism against Africans and other injustices. Sheen is currently being sued for defamation — to the tune of 750,000 shekels (more than $200,000) — by Israel Ziv, former head of the operations directorate of the Israeli army and founder of Global CST, a security consulting firm involved in projects from Latin America to Africa. According to a 2001 article in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, one of Ziv’s nicknames during his army days was “Reich Commander.”
The lawsuit is the result of a January 2017 dispatch by Sheen for Electronic Intifada, in which Ziv appears as one of the top ten “ringleaders in Israel’s war on Africans.” READ MORE AT JACOBIN.

09 August 2017

On the Lebanon-Israel border: A room with a (militarized) view

The Region

My first glimpse of Israel took place in 2006, shortly after the conclusion of what the Lebanese call the July War and the Israelis call the Second Lebanon War—a title that conveniently rounds down the number of times Israel has mercilessly assaulted Lebanese territory.
My friend Amelia and I had embarked on a postwar hitchhiking tour of Lebanon, which in many areas amounted to a tour of rubble, bombed-out bridges, and oil-coated coastline. Over the course of the 34-day conflict, Israel had dispensed with some 1,200 lives in the country, the majority of them civilians.
We arrived late one evening to the south Lebanese town of Kfar Kila, situated directly on the Israeli border, after hitching a ride from a soda delivery truck in the village of Houla. Lacking any sort of plan and dependent entirely on the goodwill of the Lebanese, we made the acquaintance of a young man called Ali who invited us to stay the night at his family’s house and graciously refrained from inquiring as to why the hell we were wandering around a recent war zone in the dark.
Most of Ali’s family had fled northward following the onset of hostilities in July; an uncle had remained behind to look after the cows, four of which were ultimately martyred by the Israeli army. From the balcony of the house one could observe the glittering Israeli outpost of Metulla, which shone in blissfully uninterrupted contrast to the Lebanese side of the border, where electricity cuts continue to be a more regular phenomenon than electricity itself.
The arrival of daylight offered new scenes to behold of Israeli military vehicles and bulldozers, barricades and barbed wire, while also revealing Israel to be distinctly greener than its northern neighbor—a perk, no doubt, of usurping Palestinian water supplies. Ali escorted Amelia and me down the road to Fatima Gate, the old border crossing between Lebanon and Israel where Edward Said famously threw a stone in July 2000, shortly after Israel’s forcible eviction from the country it had occupied for 22 years. It was suggested that Amelia and I throw a stone, as well—an option that was politely rejected in light of the presence of Israeli soldiers burrowed under a heap of camouflage just across the fence.
In subsequent years, the Israelis apparently deemed the existing border fortifications insufficient and took it upon themselves to construct a new-and-improved boundary. Visiting Kfar Kila these days, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d accidentally stumbled upon Donald Trump’s fantasy for the US-Mexico border. A looming cement wall now adds to the myriad ways Israel has militarized and obstructed the regional landscape—all, of course, while supposedly making the desert bloom. READ MORE AT THE REGION.

02 August 2017

The myth of American 'greatness'

Al Jazeera English

As the world has by now been made painfully aware, Donald Trump's preeminent goal as president of the United States is to "make America great again".
But for many students - not to mention victims - of international history, the burning question remains: when exactly was America great?
The answer is surely not to be found in the atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945, the lethal chemicals used to saturate Vietnam, or the unexploded munitions that continue to maim and kill people in Laos decades after the secret US war on that country.
Nor, presumably, would Latin Americans slaughtered by US-backed dictators and death squads be able to provide many clues as to the whereabouts of America's historical "greatness".
Ditto for Iraqis, Afghans, Yemenis and other civilian populations consistently over-represented in the US-inflicted "collateral damage" category.
On the domestic front, too, the whole concept of greatness has been rather elusive - unless, of course, we take it to mean a centuries-long tradition of crushing Native Americans, blacks, and everyone else whose dignity can be comprehensively violated in the service of elite socioeconomic domination. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

28 July 2017

Hezbollah’s ‘narco-jihad’: Propaganda on drugs

Middle East Eye

On 8 June 2017, the United States government hosted one of its regular gatherings to discuss the enduring threat posed by that alleged narco-terrorist menace known as Hezbollah - Lebanon’s Party of God.

This particular House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing was titled "Attacking Hezbollah’s Financial Network: Policy Options" and was chaired by Republican congressman Ed Royce, who proceeded to enlighten the audience as to the organisation’s “broad criminal network involved in a range of illegal activities, from drug trafficking to cigarette smuggling to money laundering to counterfeiting”.
Recapping one of the highlights of the previous year, Royce recalled that the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) had “implicated Hezbollah in a multi-million dollar drug trafficking and money laundering network that spanned four continents and put cocaine ultimately on the streets of the United States”.
Of course, anyone with a vague grasp of history might find such accusations pretty rich coming from a US government that has literally put cocaine on its own streets by, for example, helping right-wing Nicaraguan Contras profit from the drug trade in the 1980s. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

18 July 2017

Holiday in style at Israel’s ‘anti-terror fantasy camps’

Middle East Eye

Just when you thought the Israelis couldn’t possibly cram any more items into an already overflowing repertoire of preposterous behaviour, Israel’s Haaretz newspaper recently ran a piece titled “Anti-terror Fantasy Camps Are Popping Up Throughout Israel and the West Bank - and Tourists Are Eating It Up”.
(And if that’s not enough preposterousness for you, Haaretz suggests you also read “Israeli army shows fake amputated limbs, paints wounds on kids for Independence Day”.)
The fantasy camp dispatch begins in the illegal Israeli settlement bloceuphemised as “the Gush Etzion region of the West Bank”, where one fine morning tourists from Hong Kong are “pretending to be Israeli army commandos” at a counter-terrorism and security training academy by the name of Caliber 3:
“As their Rambo-like trainer barks out orders, they move their assault rifles into position and, using the Hebrew word for fire, repeat after him: ‘Esh. Esh.’
"‘Louder,’ he demands. ‘I can’t hear you guys. Don’t be so politically correct.’”
While political correctness may not be part of the tour package, lots of other things are - including “a simulation of a suicide bombing in a Jerusalem marketplace, immediately followed by a stabbing attack, a live demonstration with attack dogs and a sniper tournament”.
Super-tough visitors can sign up for a more advanced itinerary entailing “an Entebbe-like hostage-rescue mission”. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

12 July 2017

The long reach of the US border

Al Jazeera English

Earlier this summer, an American friend of mine was returning home from Tunisia, where he had been conducting PhD research.
Checking in for his connecting flight in Paris, he was put on the phone with a representative of US Customs and Border Protection for questioning - since we all know France shares a border with the United States.
Upon reaching America proper, my friend was hauled off for interrogation at the airport in New York on subjects ranging from the details of his Twitter account to the issue of whether or not anyone had suggested he join an armed group in Libya.
You can pick your own moral of the story. One possibility, perhaps, is that academics that insist on showing an interest in certain parts of the world should build detention time into their travel itineraries.
Another - more broadly applicable to the general global population - is that, no matter where you are, the US border can be brought to you. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

29 June 2017

Trump's America: Bring on the hate

Al Jazeera English

It's makeover time for America's Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) programme - one of the many examples of US projects that were already bad enough before coming under the fearlessly sociopathic direction of Donald Trump.
Launched during the presidency of Barack Obama, CVE is ostensibly meant to prevent terrorist activity by encouraging the early detection of potential "radicalisation" of individuals.
In practice, it has often resulted in a socially destructive situation in which parents, teachers and other community members are expected to report young people to law enforcement for any activity that might be construed as suspicious.
As we know from recent US history, even the most mundane of activities - such as using a pressure cooker to prepare food - can be suspicious when performed by a Muslim and can even merit a visit from the FBI.
Granted, under Obama some efforts were made to advance the idea that CVE is not Islam-specific.
For instance, the FBI website still offers a ludicrous online activity called "Don't Be a Puppet" - designed for use in schools - in which anyone with nothing else to do can earn a certificate for successfully completing "the FBI's Countering Violent Extremism training".
I gave up after a few minutes, but in those few minutes I did find out that environmental activists can be violent extremists, too. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

28 June 2017

Couscous, capitalism and neocolonialism in Tunisia

Middle East Eye

On the ferry from Europe to Tunisia in May, I met a middle-aged Tunisian man on his way home for a visit from the northern Italian city of Ancona, where he had worked in a plastic factory for the past 15 years. 

The man confessed that he had often questioned his decision to abandon his village near the Tunisian-Algerian border to seek work in Italy, where - contrary to popular belief, he declared - there was little proper food to be found. In his village, he said, his family grew everything they needed. He launched into an enthusiastic run-down of the bread-making process.

Unfortunately for my little-while friend and other global inhabitants, however, the current international economic order does not look kindly on hints of self-sufficiency or agricultural independence.

In a brand-new documentary Couscous: Seeds of Dignity by Tunisian geographer and academic Habib Ayeb, one Tunisian farmer incidentally laments: “You’ll see, in ten years we’ll import sandwiches from Italy. To make a sandwich, we’ll have to go get the flour from Italy.”

The film, which is so beautifully shot that one feels continuously tempted to photograph the screen, deals with issues relating to food sovereignty in Tunisia from the ground up - from the point of view of the small farmer, whose expertise and physical bond with the land have been rejected and violated at every turn by corporate-capitalist agricultural policies designed to wrest as gigantic a profit as possible from the human need to consume food. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.



21 June 2017

Colombia and the Business of Peace

The Washington Spectator

Hitchhiking across Colombia in 2009, my friend Amelia and I received a particularly memorable ride from an upbeat truck driver who careened in carefree fashion along cliffside curves while we—perched one on top of the other on the metal fixture that served as the passenger seat—endeavored to remain upright and thereby maintain some semblance of order in the universe.
The soundtrack that accompanied the experience consisted of a cassette tape with approximately four songs, one of them a catchy tune with the refrain “Yo no voy a morir”—I will not die—one of the few reassuring features of that precarious journey.
For many in Colombia, of course, Yo no voy a morir is wishful thinking, given that violent death has been a staple of the Colombian landscape for over half a century. As of the onset last year of the peace process between the Colombian government and the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Latin America’s longest-running civil war had left some quarter of a million people dead and displaced millions more.
But the government and the guerrillas aren’t the only parties to the conflict, which has also been sustained by ruthless paramilitary outfits that were supposedly disbanded a decade ago and yet managed almost simultaneously to reincarnate themselves.
Over the years, paramilitary exploits have included homicidal activity to facilitate the profitable extraction of local resources and homicidal collaboration with state security forces. Their funding was derived, notoriously, via bribes from multinational companies like Chiquita Brands, which was convicted in 2007 for bankrolling terrorism through its in-country operations.
Now, despite the exuberant international clamor over the prospect of peace in Colombia, the paramilitary threat has far from subsided. As usual, optimists appear to have jumped the gun. According to a short documentary released in April by Colombia-based video journalist Toby Muse, no fewer than 130 social activists had been killed in the country over the previous 15 months. “As the [FARC] rebels lay down their weapons,” Muse explains, “mafias and so-called paramilitaries are trying to take over the zones left behind.” There’s little room for justice in the mix. READ MORE AT THE WASHINGTON SPECTATOR.

13 June 2017

How not to write about Beirut

Middle East Eye

For journalists, travel writers, and anyone else looking to make a buck off of Orientalist cliche, the Lebanese capital of Beirut - pardon, the erstwhile “Paris of the Middle East” - is a one-stop shop.
There are plenty of more refined sociocultural observations to be made beyond Beirut’s usual accolades as magical meeting point between East and West, phoenix rising from the ashes, and progressive oasis of cosmopolitanism in an oppressive and conflict-ridden region.
The New York Post informs us that Beirut is “a city where women in heels shimmy on tabletops”. For the Telegraph, it’s a place where “skinny girls in hot pants and crop-tops gyrate… to thumping beats, upending bottles of vodka into the mouths of the bare-chested men dancing beside them”.
VICE, in its own typically obsessive pursuit of sensational non-insight, reports on the mind-blowing existence of Beirut bars that “offer coke-fuelled benders down the street from Hezbollah headquarters”, while the New York Times once again brings up the matter of female footwear: “Women with Louis Vuitton handbags are forever extracting their spike heels from the cracks” in the boardwalk at Zaitunay Bay, the city’s “luxury playground”.
Never mind that shimmying on tabletops and the like is not an option for Lebanese folks of various religious persuasions, in addition to being financially prohibitive in a country where the poverty rate in certain areas exceeds 60 percent. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

30 May 2017

The Tunisia emergency: From Arab Spring ideal to military poster child

Middle East Eye

In a now-signature move, the government of Tunisia on 16 May again extended the state of emergency that has been in place since a series of deadly attacks carried out by Islamic State (IS) in 2015.
The Los Angeles Times explains that Tunisia’s emergency law “gives the government stepped-up powers to deal with suspected terrorists but also curtails to a degree the rights of ordinary citizens”, such as freedom of assembly.
For many Tunisians, the Times notes, the state of emergency “harks back to days when authorities acted with impunity to quell any dissent”.
In Tunisia and beyond, of course, counter-terrorism has long been a convenient excuse for dismantling basic freedoms.
Take the United States, for example, where the war on terror has done wonders in definitively obliterating all sorts of liberties - from privacy to freedom of the press to the right to exist as an Arab-American without being spied on by law enforcement and otherwise have one’s existence criminalised.
Meanwhile, the rights and privileges of the arms industry have only increased, as the US continues to wage both overt and covert war around the globe and to dutifully stock the arsenals of an array of unsavoury allies. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

28 May 2017

The United States of insanity

Al Jazeera English

Since the ascent to power of US President Donald Trump, two discussion topics have become increasingly popular: whether or not the man is insane and whether or not it's appropriate to talk about whether or not the man is insane.
While many psychiatrists, mental health workers and media figures have abided by the idea that it is unethical to publicly debate the head of state's mental soundness, others view the taboo as reckless.
In an interview with The Independent, for example, Yale University's Dr Bandy Lee cited Trump's "taunting of North Korea" and spontaneous bombing of Syria as indications that his "instability, unpredictability and impulsivity … point to dangerousness due to mental impairment."
In February, The New York Times ran a letter to the editor signed by 35 mental health professionals concerned that Trump's "words and behaviour suggest a profound inability to empathise".
Such traits, the authors note, cause people to "distort reality to suit their psychological state, attacking facts and those who convey them".
This diagnosis would appear to be pretty spot-on, as anyone can tell from a quick glance at the president's Twitter account.
But while Trump's unregulated comportment tends to endow him with an aura of singularly unhinged dangerousness, it's worth recalling that his presidential predecessors weren't exactly racking up any points in the empathy department. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

27 May 2017

Power for Capital’s Sake

Jacobin

Nearly two decades before George W. Bush appointed Henry Kissinger to lead the 9/11 commission — a post from which he resigned following complaints about his conflicts of interest — the former secretary of state chaired another group investigating important national security issues: The National Bipartisan Commission on Central America.
Formed in 1983 under President Ronald Reagan, the twelve-member gang issued its report in early 1984 on the “profound crisis” gripping the neighboring region, where right-wing governments and paramilitaries were waging war on leftist movements, indigenous people, and anyone else in their way.
Kissinger certainly possessed the qualifications to spearhead this operation, which Foreign Affairs described as “attempt[ing] to create a bipartisan consensus for what is basically current Administration policy toward Central America — only more so.”
Never one to pass up a good war with the old red menace, Kissinger presumably welcomed the opportunity since the dirty war in Argentina — which he had personally green-lit — had just concluded, leaving tens of thousands of victims in its wake.
In their lengthy report, the commission members professed a moral obligation to help Central America wrest itself from its dire circumstances. But they based their recommendations on something besides altruism. While the commissioners acknowledged that, in many cases, legitimate and homegrown grievances — colonial and more recent forms of oppression, widespread denial of basic rights, and extreme socioeconomic disparity — fueled popular support for leftist insurgencies, the real threat came from outside: the Soviet-Cuban axis was “seek[ing] expansion of influence through exploitation of misery.”
The report paints the “hostile powers” and “aggressive external forces” infiltrating the hemisphere as an existential danger. “Outside forces have intervened to exacerbate the area’s troubles.” “Cuba and the Soviet Union are investing heavily in efforts to expand their footholds.” “The intrusion of aggressive outside powers . . . is a serious threat to the United States.” “The crisis is on our doorstep.”
Never mind that neither Cuba nor the Soviet Union mined Nicaragua’s harbors— the United States did that in 1983, following the Sandinista revolution — or that Cuba is already located not only within the hemisphere in question but also within Latin America. Anyway, the Soviets probably put it there. READ MORE AT JACOBIN.

25 May 2017

Something is rotten in the state of Tunisia

Middle East Eye 

An hour or so after arriving in the southern Tunisian coastal city of Gabes, my throat was overtaken by an unfamiliar agitation, causing me to assume that I had either suddenly acquired asthma or inadvertently swallowed a swarm of mosquitoes.
I apologised to my companions for disrupting our stroll along the promenade with graceless coughing convulsions. Habib Ayeb - a Tunisian academic and documentary filmmaker based at the University of Paris VIII in France - quickly debunked my auto-diagnosis. “It’s the pollution.”
Gabes, which boasts the world’s only coastal oasis, unfortunately also has several other distinguishing characteristics, including comprehensive contamination.
Since the 1970s, the city has hosted an industrial zone that presently comprises phosphate refineries and other poisonous for-export operations primarily under the command of the state-owned Tunisian Chemical Group. The area has now attained the distinction of being Tunisia’s cancer capital and a general hub for human and animal afflictions.
Of course, the powers-that-be do their best to obscure this obvious cause-and-effect sequence. After all, what connection could ecosystemic malaise and rampant illness possibly have to “clouds of rotten-smelling yellow gas” emitted from smokestacks and tonnes of radioactive waste dumped into the sea?
As often happens these days in the face of existential concerns, the trusty narrative of “development” is trotted out. Factories mean jobs, so the story goes, and are thus necessary for survival - never mind if you can’t breathe. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

05 May 2017

Letter from Mexico

The Washington Spectator

In 2013, my friend Juan’s cousin disappeared while attempting to cross from Mexico into the United States to return to his job at a restaurant in Florida. The cousin had successfully crossed the border on several previous occasions, and this particular passage, Juan tells me, was reportedly arranged by the restaurant’s proprietor via some human smuggling contacts.
The last his family knew, the cousin had made it to the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juárez. “After that, he was never heard from again,” says Juan. When I visited the family in 2015 in their village outside Puebla, the cousin’s mother—Juan’s aunt—still spent much of her time staring vacantly into space.
The family’s story is far from unique, as the selective criminalization of U.S.-bound migration has rendered the U.S.-Mexican frontier disproportionately lethal. Not only does criminalization make undocumented travelers exceedingly vulnerable to abuse, ever-expanding border fortifications have forced migrants into more perilous routes through the desert, which has become a cemetery of sorts. Juan himself—now a resident of Mérida on the Yucatán peninsula—once entered the United States by way of the Arizona desert, and describes walking for four days at the mercy of the elements. He throws in a brief rundown of the hazards of seeking cover from border patrol helicopters in cactus patches.
Regarding the prospect of an even more dangerous border landscape under Donald Trump—who has taken the liberty of reducing the Mexican population to rapists, drug dealers, and other bad hombres and has promised a “big, beautiful wall” to keep them out—Juan observes that “walls have never deterred anyone. Especially when there’s a demand for cheap labor in the States.”
The point of a punitive immigration policy has never been to put a stop to undocumented immigration in the first place, but rather to perpetuate its lucrative exploitability. In his 2013 book The Right to Stay Home: How US Policy Drives Mexican Migration, David Bacon writes that “displacement and inequality are as deeply ingrained in the free market economy as they were during the slave trade.” Here, displacement refers to the effects on Mexican communities of policies like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which obliterated the livelihoods of millions of Mexican farmers and otherwise fueled migration by, inter alia, saturating the Mexican market with subsidized agricultural products from the United States in blatant violation of the principles of “free trade.” To be sure, there’s nothing like having one’s subsidized corn and eating it too. READ MORE AT THE WASHINGTON SPECTATOR.

03 May 2017

US media on Israel: The press freedom that never was

Middle East Eye

Wednesday, 3 May, marks World Press Freedom Day.
Some will no doubt view the occasion as a bit of a joke given that the current leader of the so-called free world is a US President committed to waging war on the media.
But while Donald Trump may appear to constitute a departure from business as usual in a nation that has so diligently marketed itself as a bastion of freedom of the press, thought, expression, and all that good stuff, the US media has never exactly been free.
After all, in addition to performing regular cheerleading functions on behalf of military and corporate conquest, American news outlets have also upheld an enduring red line: criticism of Israel, the Middle East’s lovable democracy-that-isn’t.
Consider an anecdote recounted by the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman, himself a dedicated Zionist who nonetheless happened to mention “indiscriminate” Israeli shelling of West Beirut in an article in 1982 - when Israel’s invasion of Lebanon killed some 20,000 Lebanese and Palestinians, the overwhelming majority of them civilians.
As Friedman tells it, his editors removed the word “indiscriminate,” after which he penned a memo accusing them of cowardice. Former Times executive editor AM Rosenthal then “exploded at [Friedman’s] insubordination” and scarily summoned him to a meeting, which ended up being a “long, emotional lunch, with tears on both sides” and a $5,000 raise for Friedman.
The lunch culminated with a “bear hug” from Rosenthal and the warning: “Now listen, you clever little !%#@: don't you ever do that again.”
Lesson learned. So much for the 20,000 dead. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

26 April 2017

Blowing Israel’s aqua-shenanigans out of the water

Middle East Eye

High up on Israel’s list of fabricated and otherwise shamelessly embellished achievements is that of having allegedly “made the desert bloom” promptly after setting up shop on usurped Palestinian land in 1948.
Never mind that Palestine wasn’t exactly a desert - or that “blooming” techniques involved mass slaughter as well as plenty of ecological devastation. We mustn’t let facts get in the way of creation myths.
In contemporary times, Israel has continued to market itself as a global pioneer in water technology and conservation, from drip irrigation systems to desalination.
Of course, some might argue that Israel has enjoyed an unfair competitive advantage in the water realm given that it has been able to dominate access to the valuable resource by diverting regional waterways in its favour and literally hijacking Palestinian aquifers.
Now, Israel is once again making disingenuous waves through the Israeli firm Water-Gen - which, a recent obsequious dispatch in the Times of Israel informs us, is “look[ing] to quench global thirst” by extracting water from air. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

25 April 2017

‘No Room for Refugees’ in Lebanon, but Plenty for Political Elites

NewsDeeply
Recent clashes in Ain al-Hilweh, Lebanon’s most populous Palestinian refugee camp, saw residents fleeing for safety as explosions and gunfire reverberated throughout the surrounding city of Sidon.
The fighting pitted Fatah and other Palestinian groups against militants affiliated with extremist Bilal Badr. At least 10 people were killed and dozens wounded, while several buildings were left in ruins.
Lebanese political leaders were quick to condemn the violence. Lebanon’s seemingly perennial parliament speaker Nabih Berri warned that the only beneficiary of the clashes was the state of Israel. (One wonders, then, who benefited when a militia headed by Berri himself laid siege to Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon for several years in the 1980s.)
Yet it is a crisis partly of the Lebanese leadership’s own making. Such bloody showdowns between rival factions wouldn’t be happening if places like Ain al-Hilweh didn’t exist in the first place.
Palestinian refugees fled to Lebanon amid the widespread violence and plunder that attended the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. Now numbering more than half a million in Lebanon, Palestinian refugees are denied citizenship and basic rights, banned from a fluctuating number of professions, prohibited from owning property and often dehumanized in Lebanese society. Many reside in squalid and overcrowded camps – Ain al-Hilweh being the largest.
There is little room for Palestinians to assert their rights or dignity within Lebanon’s sectarian political system, which apportions power among 18 recognized sects based on a census conducted in 1932, after which there has been no subsequent population tally. The number of Lebanese presently in Lebanon is estimated to be around 4 million. READ MORE AT NewsDeeply.

22 April 2017

The Earth versus capitalism

Al Jazeera English

During one of numerous failed attempts to establish himself as an environmentalist, New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman enthusiastically reported in 2010 that - in honour of Earth Day on April 22 - the United States Navy had test-flown a fighter jet "powered by a 50-50 blend of conventional jet fuel and camelina aviation biofuel made from pressed mustard seeds".
Armed with this and other bits of trivia, Friedman concluded that the US military was thus in fact on the front line of the battle for a clean Earth.
Never mind that, mustard seeds or not, the US Defense Department remains one of the top polluters on the planet.
To be sure, the neoliberal media's toxic alignment with military and corporate agendas produces lucrative returns for those involved.
And as long as the arms industry and other pillars of the international capitalist order remain healthy, the long-term health of Earth and its inhabitants matters little. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

14 April 2017

Non-crime and punishment at the American University of Beirut

Middle East Eye

On 24 March, Reuters reported an announcement by US federal prosecutors that the American University of Beirut (AUB) had agreed to pay $700,000 to the US government for allegedly assisting three entities linked to Hezbollah.
The photograph of the AUB entrance that accompanies the article on the Reuters website initially came equipped with a caption explaining that this was “where Dean Kevlin, an American senior member of staff, went missing on Thursday”.
In short, all sorts of alarming news - until the powers that be at Reuters realised that the Kevlin in question had in fact disappeared (briefly) in 2001, after which the caption was amended accordingly.
Notorious Islamophobe Daniel Pipes meanwhile chimed in with a nanny-nanny-boo-boo on Twitter: “[AUB] has long coddled extremists. Now, this cost it a pretty $700K fine.”
What, then, was this Very Important Crime committed by the university? READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

05 April 2017

A different kind of war in America's 'backyard'

Al Jazeera English

Back in 1954, the United States orchestrated a coup d'etat against Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz, whose transgressions had included a less than totally obsequious approach to the American banana company United Fruit, predecessor of Chiquita Brands International.
As usual, the US knew what was best for the nations located in its self-proclaimed "backyard".
Civil war descended on Guatemala six years after the coup, and ensuing decades played host to acts of genocide (pdf) committed by US-backed forces, with more than 200,000 people ultimately killed or disappeared.
Elsewhere in Latin America, the US nobly pursued its mission to make the world safe for capitalism by extending support to right-wing death squads and dictators.
Nowadays, of course, the communist bogeyman can no longer be hyped as an existential hemispheric threat, and friendly Latin American regimes have ceased dropping suspected leftists from airplanes.
Nevertheless, the US has continued to preside over punitive manoeuvres - some subtler than others - to ensure that it remains in business in the "backyard".
These range from endorsing right-wing coups to funding murderous police forces and other security outfits to agitating on behalf of US agribusiness agendas - thereby obliterating any notion of a separation of corporation and state.
Have we really come that far since 1954? READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

03 April 2017

‘Maps of Exile’: Europe's ongoing denial over cause of refugees' flight

Middle East Eye

During a brief visit last year to the Italian city of Naples, I witnessed a sidewalk scene involving three African men selling purses and three conspicuously armed Italian law enforcement officials.
The latter trio was in the midst of guaranteeing public safety by confiscating bundles of purses and taunting the visibly distressed Africans with them, as a crowd of tourists looked on.
Indeed, across Europe these days, the forcible denial of migrant dignity appears to have been subsumed into the list of on-the-job duties for security personnel.
Dehumanising treatment is facilitated by the pejorative rhetoric of Europe’s ruling classes; eternal Italian political fixture Silvio Berlusconi, for example, once complained that parts of Milan were looking too much like Africa. A dutifully xenophobic media furthermore labours to encourage existential fears in the minds of European audiences. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

20 March 2017

Special offer for Lebanon: Time travel with the Israeli military

Middle East Eye

As Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett sees it, another war between Israel and its Lebanese neighbour “will mean sending Lebanon back to the Middle Ages”.
This endearing soundbite was reported on 13 March by Haaretz correspondent Amos Harel following a conversation with Bennett. According to the article, the minister invoked Lebanese President Michel Aoun’s remarks regarding Hezbollah’s integral role in Lebanon’s defence apparatus to justify the medieval approach.
To be sure, Hezbollah’s defensive functions proved particularly irritating to the Israelis when, in 2000, the organisation spearheaded the eviction of Israel from Lebanese territory after more than two decades of occupation.
The Middle Ages treatment meanwhile appears to boil down to a total eradication of any distinction between the Lebanese state and Hezbollah and between military and civilian elements in the country.
Bennett rues an alleged Israeli promise to the United States government in 2006 “not to hit Lebanon’s infrastructure” during that summer’s 34-day war - a promise the education minister contends thwarted an Israeli victory. He proposes the following formula for future conflicts:
“The Lebanese institutions, its infrastructure, airport, power stations, traffic junctions, Lebanese Army bases – they should all be legitimate targets if a war breaks out.” READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.