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Saturday, 20 December 2014

US asserts itself with Cuba Shift

Published 23 January 2015


The US asserts itself with Cuba thaw

The US asserts itself with Cuba thaw
The breakthrough in US-Cuba relations came after months of secret negotiations (photo:dpa)

THE German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMFUS), a philanthropic foundation, think tank, and promoter of US-European co-operation, has hailed the shift in US policy towards Cuba as a great assertion of US power, writes Professor Inderjeet Parmar, Professor in International Politics, City University, London, UK.

The organisation praises Cuba’s health internationalism as a great and vital resource, the country’s governance as effective, and highlights Cuba as playing a key role in regional order.
William McIlhenny, senior Wider Atlantic fellow in The German Marshall Fund’s Washington DC office, described President Obama’s thawing in relations as 'bold and strategic'.

It was, he writes, 'a major step toward aligning US policy with that of our hemispheric and European friends. It removes one of the last props for some of the surviving pockets of backward-looking anti-Americanism in Latin America, and eliminates an irritant to friends by making it easier for US subsidiaries overseas to engage in trade with Cuba.'

It is a far cry from the Cold War days, when Cuba was ignored, attacked and belittled.
Now that the US has declared itself open to discussing normalised relations with Cuba, its civil society supporters find that Cuba is not such a bad place after all. Yet, they have forgotten the socialist model of development that has helped Cuba to progress so far in health and education and of the damage caused by the US to that Caribbean country over the past 50 years.

Cuba appears to be a stable oasis, a nation with organisational capacity and control of its territory and surrounding coasts, as well as the capacity to do good in the region.
As Mr McIlhenny’s GMFUS’s report attests, 'Of all the countries in the Caribbean and Central America, Cuba may ultimately have the greatest capacity and will to contribute meaningfully to regional and global public goods. Its response to the Ebola epidemic in Africa dwarfed that of many large developed states, and its disaster preparedness expertise and response capacity in the Caribbean has long made worthy contributions to neighbours.'

There remains, of course, the old charge of anti-Americanism against anyone who dares criticise the US.
GMFUS claims that Cuba can now put its anti-Americanism behind it.

In fact, for decades Cuba made a principled stand against a superpower which threatened it and the world with a combination of nuclear war, military invasion, fomenting rebellion, economic sabotage and assassination.

In the Orwellian world of American freedom, criticising any of those policies is bordering on racism. And the US’s civil society props continue to echo that line.

The geopolitical and economic benefits to the US and Europe remain central in thinking about the US-Cuba thaw.
Mr McIlhenny says, 'If the Atlantic, north and south, was the venue of conflict and diplomacy over Cuba, it is notable that it is in the Atlantic that the fruits of normalised US-Cuban relations will likely be greatest.'
He goes on to say that Cuba could become central to regional institutions if it transitions to 'openness', ie, neoliberalism, arguing that its institutional capacity and human capital are likely to be vital when organising regional and Atlantic co-operation.

It could also help Cuba’s relations with Latin-America, he says. 'Paradoxically, perhaps, the normalisation of US-Cuba ties may make it easier for Latin America’s open societies to engage with Cuban society more effectively in support of that transition.'

As US President Barack Obama noted, the US has tried embargo, blockade and sabotage, not to mention illegal attempts on Fidel Castro’s life, none of which succeeded.

The US is now changing tack and this is an important move that may well result in significant improvements in the region and on Cubans’ life chances.

Yet there is no mistaking the underlying motivation, as reflected in the GMFUS report: to subordinate Cuba to broader geo-economic and strategic imperatives in strengthening the US and weakening opposing statist, anti-neo-liberal strategies in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Friday, 19 December 2014

US-Cuba Thaw Welcome but US Must Lift the Embargo

The move towards strengthening relations between the US and Cuba has been in the offing for about a year or so and is not a complete surprise but is an important step for the two nations. A US Senate Report of 2009 indicated reduced support for the trade embargo's failure to destabilise the Cuban government. Yet, this is a breakthrough moment, most importantly for the trade embargo – the longest in history – but there are still highly sensitive issues that are yet to be resolved between the countries.

There are major human rights conflicts, questions over whether the US will apologise for assassination attempts and CIA sabotage and of course many hurdles to overcome to lift the trade embargo. Clearly, one of the biggest areas of uncertainty now is when the embargo will be removed. It has been in place since 1960 and has had a massive effect on the Cuban economy. The impact on costs of medicines in Cuba, due to scarcity of key imports, has led to epidemics, chronic disease and other health impacts, especially on men, as Cuba focuses scarce resources on women and children.

Yet, the Cuban health system has shown a resilience that is remarkable, despite the embargo, due to its socialised character, state food rationing, and a highly educated population.

Looking at the issue of trade helps to shed light on the timing of the announcement. As Obama said, the past policy of 'isolation' hasn't worked because others have violated it. The US has felt increasingly frozen out of Cuban trade opportunities that have resulted from economic reforms, especially as the EU is moving in through trade and other agreements. This has left the US becoming increasingly isolated while also increasing EU political influence.

China is moving into Cuban economic development while Brazil, a key regional rival to the US, is also moving into the Cuban economy with major trade deals. Florida businessmen, including Cuban exiles, have also favoured reopening of ties with the USA.

There has been ongoing pressure from the UN, with the General Assembly consistently voting for lifting the trade embargo. However, even as recently as November 2014 the US voted against other UN states on the matter with only Israel backing the US in a 188-2 vote.

The timing of the move to improve diplomatic relations could also be linked with other international factors, which are not reflecting well on the President. Obama may be looking for a legacy achievement in the second half of his final term. Nothing else is going as planned – Ukraine, Iraq, ISIS and Syria – so this could be a cheap goal to score.

In assessing the potential problems ahead we should not forget arguments over human rights. Obama still cites these issues in Cuba, yet the country is seen as a beacon of health humanitarianism around South America and Africa. Cuba sends abroad tens of thousands of doctors to assist weaker states and it has more doctors and health workers in Ebola-hit nations in West Africa than any other country. However, I am not sure if US human rights stand much scrutiny after Guantanamo, Bagram, Abu Ghraib, and the most recent US Senate report into CIA torture programmes.

There is also still the question of whether the US will apologise for the eight attempts it made to assassinate Fidel Castro in the 1960s. We also don’t know if the US will apologise for a wide range of economic sabotage and damage, by CIA and other US forces, which were carried out in attempts to destabilise the Castro administration after the 1959 revolution.

And Republican opposition in Congress has already begun - with support from some Democrats. Some of them are saying that they will refuse to ratify the appointment of a US ambassador to the tiny island state that has been under virtual siege by the US for over 50 years. Yet, the majority of second-generation Cuban-Americans want the restoration of normal relations with the 'old country'.

In the broader sense, what could this development say about the current view of US international authority? The country has tried to overthrow the Cuban government since the Bay of Pigs – military invasion, assassination attempts, spraying poisonous chemicals on Cuban crops, cutting aid to any third world nations that dared to help Cuba, and through a crippling trade embargo.

This move represents an admission of the limits of US power against a minnow state.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

US-sponsored torture continues despite Senate Report

The question of the likelihood of US officials facing prosecution in light of the US Senate's recent CIA torture report is a bit narrow. It does not include Bush, Cheney or Rumsfeld who actually pushed the practices from the very top of the administration. I doubt there will be any prosecutions; only CIA whistle-blowers get prosecuted.

The US Senate Report is pretty much along lines one would expect. It further undermines US moral authority, its disregard for US law and international law, including the UN Convention against Torture. There will be lots of denials and hand-wringing but many of those practices are still going on.

The Bush administration placed CIA interrogators under severe pressure in the wake of 9-11 to find a link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, to no avail of course as there was no link. Unsurprisingly, Bush has come out to defend the CIA, which seems like a self-justification for his, Secretary of Defence Rumsfeld's and Vice President Cheney's roles in the torture policy.

But torture has been a fairly routine practice of successive US administrations -during the Philippine insurrection of 1900-1908, for example, when waterboarding was used. 

The Obama administration wanted the report, including the summary, classified, (i.e. censored). And despite halting torture by Americans, Obama has done nothing about the torture carried out by US allies in Pakistan, Egypt, Jordan, Bangladesh, Kenya and other nations under American supervision. Hence, torture and the US remain inextricably linked. Blacksites, and secret prisons remain and are staffed by non-Americans, who are doing exactly what the US Senate Report highlights.

Guantanamo and Bagram remain open and holding a number of 'enemy combatants' without charge. The mere fact that they are outside of US constitutional reach tells anyone who cares to stop and think that they must be torture chambers.
In regard to Bangladesh and Kenya there seems evidence, or at least strong claims, that British security services were either complicit or involved. There are claims by a parliamentary committee into the death of Lee Rigby, to the effect that one of the killers was tortured by a unit in Kenya that collaborates with, and has been funded and trained by, the British secret services.

There will be lots of declarations of America having lost its way but the fact is that the practices are still going on either by Americans or supervised by Americans in allied states. The fact that torture does not even yield accurate or useful information is, to my mind, beside the point; it's logic suggests that if torture did yield information, it would be justified.

Civilised states do not torture people.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Shane Harris @War Repeats Racist Stereotypes

Despite its information-packed strengths, Shane Harris's @War appears to be another inside critique of the military-internet complex: when push comes to shove, the Foreign Policy writer opts for the old mentalities associated with the original 'military-industrial' complex: that, as Eisenhower warned, was potentially dangerous but also necessary - to protect America, freedom, civilisation and the West against the barbarians at the gates. This approach puts him squarely behind the conventional approach championed by American presidents since the beginning of the republic but especially since the social Darwinism of the late twentieth-century.

As the Anglo-Americans pulverised Korea through saturation bombing, 1950-53, dropping at least half the tonnage of bombs dropped on Germany throughout the Second World War, not to mention thousands of tons of napalm, and headed up towards the Yalu River bordering China, their leaders spoke of the sneaky methods of the Chinese and Koreans - fighting assymetrically as they were less well armed than the Americans, possessing few war planes, naval warships, missiles, tanks etc... They spoke about the lower value of Asian lives as there were 'so many of them'. They were willing to die in great numbers as a result while the Anglo-Americans valued life, though only their own, far more.

When General Douglas MacArthur's armies advanced at speed, theirs was heroic advance showing military prowess and strategic and tactical genius. When the Chinese entered the war, all the Anglo-Americans saw were "hordes" of Chinese, a rising tide, the 'yellow peril' inspired by Red fanaticism.

Shane Harris repeats the same old racist stereotypes and myths in @War: The Chinese cyber warriors are on the march. Apparently, and inexplicably, 'they' get really angry after events like the US bombing of the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia during the Kosovo War, and start retaliating via cyber warfare. And they filled official US government websites with 'anti-American' messages like: "Protest NATO's brutal action".

Any opposition or protest against US actions is therefore automatically 'anti-American' - bordering on racism - the 'anti-Semitism of the intellectuals'.

China's hackers are described as 'relentless... and shameless' and they know how to 'overwhelm' a more powerful enemy "by attacking his weaknesses with basic weapons." Probably unwittingly, Harris's argument chimes with the traditional narratives of the civilised Western ways of war with that of the barbarians: "Cyber espionage and warfare are just the latest examples in a long and, for the Chinese, proud tradition".

Forgotten, as inconvenient, was the guerilla warfare of the American patriots against English colonial armies during the War of Independence.

But what the Chinese do and think remains a "mystery" - the inscrutable East lives on; alien, different, beyond the pale, frustrating to the Western mind.

In the end, they are just a "Chinese cyber horde" motivated by "national pride" - unlike truly patriotic Americans motivated by a just cause.

In the Korean War, the advancing "Chinese hordes" - which on the spot war journalists showed to be an entirely spurious claim - were considered targets for atomic warfare.

The most critical, liberal elements of the military-internet complex today, like their military-industrial' complex counterparts of yesteryear, remain saturated in racialised and imperial thinking, threatened by any force, state or power that does not think or act like them.

US Must End Cuba Blockade

Cuba’s extraordinary global medical record shames the US blockade

From Ebola to earthquakes, Havana’s doctors have saved millions. Obama must lift this embargo

  • Illustration for Cuba's global medical record
    Illustration: Eva Bee
    Four months into the internationally declared Ebola emergency that has devastated west Africa, Cuba leads the world in direct medical support to fight the epidemic. The US and Britain have sent thousands of troops and, along with other countries, promised aid – most of which has yet to materialise. But, as the World Health Organisation has insisted, what’s most urgently needed are health workers. The Caribbean island, with a population of just 11m and official per capita income of $6,000 (£3,824), answered that call before it was made. It was first on the Ebola frontline and has sent the largest contingent of doctors and nurses – 256 are already in the field, with another 200 volunteers on their way.
    While western media interest has faded with the receding threat of global infection, hundreds of British health service workers have volunteered to join them. The first 30 arrived in Sierra Leone last week, while troops have been building clinics. But the Cuban doctors have been on the ground in force since October and are there for the long haul.
    The need could not be greater. More than 6,000 people have already died. So shaming has the Cuban operation been that British and US politicians have felt obliged to offer congratulations. John Kerry described the contribution of the state the US has been trying to overthrow for half a century “impressive”. The first Cuban doctor to contract Ebola has been treated by British medics, and US officials promised they would “collaborate” with Cuba to fight Ebola.
    But it’s not the first time that Cuba has provided the lion’s share of medical relief following a humanitarian disaster. Four years ago, after the devastating earthquake in impoverished Haiti, Cuba sent the largest medical contingent and cared for 40% of the victims. In the aftermath of the Kashmir earthquake of 2005, Cuba sent 2,400 medical workers to Pakistan and treated more than 70% of those affected; they also left behind 32 field hospitals and donated a thousand medical scholarships.
    That tradition of emergency relief goes back to the first years of the Cuban revolution. But it is only one part of an extraordinary and mushrooming global medical internationalism. There are now 50,000 Cuban doctors and nurses working in 60 developing countries. As Canadian professor John Kirk puts it: “Cuban medical internationalism has saved millions of lives.” But this unparalleled solidarity has barely registered in the western media.
    Cuban doctors have carried out 3m free eye operations in 33 countries, mostly in Latin America and the Caribbean, and largely funded by revolutionary Venezuela. That’s how Mario Teran, the Bolivian sergeant who killed Che Guevara on CIA orders in 1967, had his sight restored 40 years later by Cuban doctors in an operation paid for by Venezuela in the radical Bolivia of Evo Morales. While emergency support has often been funded by Cuba itself, the country’s global medical services are usually paid for by recipient governments and have now become by far Cuba’s largest export, linking revolutionary ideals with economic development. That has depended in turn on the central role of public health and education in Cuba, as Havana has built a low-cost biotech industry along with medical infrastructure and literacy programmes in the developing countries it serves – rather than sucking out doctors and nurses on the western model.
    Internationalism was built into Cuba’s DNA. As Guevara’s daughter, Aleida, herself a doctor who served in Africa, says: “We are Afro-Latin Americans and we’ll take our solidarity to the children of that continent.” But what began as an attempt to spread the Cuban revolution in the 60s and became the decisive military intervention in support of Angola against apartheid in the 80s, has now morphed into the world’s most ambitious medical solidarity project.
    Its success has depended on the progressive tide that has swept Latin America over the past decade, inspired by socialist Cuba’s example during the years of rightwing military dictatorships. Leftwing and centre-left governments continue to be elected and re-elected across the region, allowing Cuba to reinvent itself as a beacon of international humanitarianism.
    But the island is still suffocated by the US trade embargo that has kept it in an economic and political vice for more than half a century. If Barack Obama wants to do something worthwhile in his final years as president he could use Cuba’s role in the Ebola crisis as an opening to start to lift that blockade and wind down the US destabilisation war.
    There are certainly straws in the wind. In what looked like an outriding operation for the administration, the New York Times published six editorials over five weeks in October and November praising Cuba’s global medical record, demanding an end to the embargo, attacking US efforts to induce Cuban doctors to defect, and calling for a negotiated exchange of prisoners.
    The paper’s campaign ran as the UN general assembly voted for the 23rd time, by 188 votes to 2 (US and Israel), to demand the lifting of the US blockade, originally imposed in retaliation for the nationalisation of American businesses and now justified on human rights grounds – by a state allied to some of the most repressive regimes in the world.
    The embargo can only be scrapped by congress, still stymied by the heirs of the corrupt US-backed dictatorship which Fidel Castro and Guevara overthrew. But the US president has executive scope to loosen it substantially and restore diplomatic ties. He could start by releasing the remaining three “Miami Five” Cuban intelligence agents jailed 13 years ago for spying on anti-Cuba activist groups linked to terrorism.
    The obvious moment for Obama to call time on the 50-year US campaign against Cuban independence would be at next April’s Summit of the Americas – which Latin American governments had threatened to boycott unless Cuba was invited. The greatest contribution those genuinely concerned about democratic freedoms in Cuba can make is to get the US off the country’s back.
    If the blockade really were to be dismantled, it would not only be a vindication of Cuba’s remarkable record of social justice at home and solidarity abroad, backed by the growing confidence of an independent Latin America. It would also be a boon for millions around the world who would benefit from a Cuba unshackled – and a demonstration of what can be achieved when people are put before corporate profit.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

US Dominates Cyber Warfare

Facebook and other internet giants may be getting the blame for terrorism at home and abroad, but we know that the blame for fanning the flames lies a lot closer to home in the governments of Britain and the United States.

When it comes to cyber warfare, the US claims that the terrorists are the real threat. Yet, a new book gives the lie to that assertion: the US has led the world in developing the weapons of 'information wars' and now has greater technical reach and sophistication than any other force on the planet. Shane Harris's new book, @War, is a gold mine of information on the historical development of US cyber power, initially as a defensive move and increasingly thereafter as an offensive weapon against all rivals, large or small, nation states, non-state actors or particular individuals. And, despite continual and loud claims about the rule of law, America's cyber warfare violates American, international and others' laws through the sheer level of intrusion and sabotage carried out.

For example, had Iran planted the Stuxnet virus into the American nuclear enrichment process, President Obama would declare it an act of war requiring the superpower to exact revenge. Yet, that's exactly what the US and Israelis did to Iran's nuclear plant at Natanz, causing massive damage.

Harris talks about the emergence of a new 'military-internet complex' of state and private corporations collaborating to make data available to the NSA and a whole myriad of state agencies surveilling everything that moves in our social media, emails, phone calls, and other electronic communications. So much for the rule of law; and even when there's a hint that the law does not adequately serve the American foreign policy establishment's voracious appetite for information, the law can be changed.

That's what happened under the Bush administration when several top officials at the Justice Department threatened to resign if the president authorised the bulk collection of metadata, including details of an email sender's other information. The programme was pulled for a few months, the law altered to permit the previously illegal actions and this was all handed over to the Obama administration in 2009.

What does Haris mean by military-internet complex? It means the nine largest corporations - like Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Facebook (yes, Facebook), YouTube and Apple -  allowed the US government access to their information: that's 20% of total download traffic via YouTube; 425 million Gmail users; 281 million Yahoo accounts; and 420 million Outlook users; and 250 million iPhones sold by Apple in 2012.

Some corporations are so close to the NSA that they have a decades-long connection: SAIC in California, for example, is known by the NSA as "NSA-West".

Military-internet complex also has a face or faces, moving around the complex, making money, selling skills, and developing ever more powerful weapons of cyber warfare for full spectrum dominance. Mike McConnell, for example, who was intelligence adviser to General Colin Powell in the early 1990s, went on to head the NSA and created "offensive cyber teams" that would, among other things, violate international law by trying to "knock out the lights in Tehran". After leaving the NSA in 1996, McConnell worked as head of cyber security for Booz Allen Hamilton, making millions by selling back to the government what he'd learned at the NSA. In 2006, McConnell moved to director of national intelligence after a phone call from his old patron, VP Dick Cheney, and a chat with his old friend secretary of defence, Robert Gates.

Hacking into others' computers and networks and information flows, much of which flows through America itself, is now routine and integrated into the other forms of lethal military violence at the disposal of the United States.

And its efffects are lethal: it means intercepting phone calls, emails, etc... and relaying them all in real time to someone who decides that it is time to kill the enemy.

Not for the first time, complaints about the power of others - states, groups - and the relative weakness of the United States bear little resemblance to reality, in the post-truth virtual world of US power and paranoia.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Obama's Post-Racial Society? Not in Ferguson

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We share this important post-verdict message from United for Peace & Justice with which we are in full accord. USLAW is affiliated with UFPJ.
The Verdict Is In:
"As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they ask -- and rightly so -- what about Vietnam? They ask if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today -- my own government."
- Martin Luther King, Jr., Beyond Vietnam - A Time to Break Silence, April 4, 1967, Riverside Church, New York City
Dr. King understood the fundamental connections between the war at home and the wars abroad. In the wake of yesterday's grand jury decision not to indict Darren Wilson for the murder of Michael Brown, United for Peace and Justice continues to stand in solidarity with Mr. Brown's family, the people of Ferguson and communities around the country who are committed to transforming this tragic miscarriage of justice into a powerful movement to replace racism, injustice, violence and the militarization of police with economic and social justice for all.
In the days to come, we call on groups around the country to express their solidarity by joining or organizing local nonviolent actions. 

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Obama Extends US Afghan Mission

A promise made . . . and . . . a promise betrayed!

In May, Pres. Obama told us ". . . this is the year we will conclude our combat mission in Afghanistan.... America's combat mission will be over by the end of this year."
Friday we learned he secretly authorized at least another year of combat operations.
The president is listening to the Pentagon and arms industry.  He needs to hear from us.
The Promise
May 27, 2014 - NY Times
In a presidential address to the American people, Barack Obama said this: 
"2014, therefore, is a pivotal year. Together with our allies and the Afghan government, we have agreed this is the year we will conclude our combat mission in Afghanistan.... America's combat mission will be over by the end of this year. 
"Starting next year, Afghans will be fully responsible for securing their country. American personnel will be in an advisory role. We will no longer patrol Afghan cities or towns, mountains or valleys. That is a task for the Afghan people....
"At the beginning of 2015, we will have approximately 9800 U.S. service members in different parts of the country together with our NATO allies and other partners. By the end of 2015, we will have reduced that presence by roughly half and will have consolidated our troops in Kabal and and on Bagram Airfield. One year later, by the end of 2016, our military will draw down to a normal embassy presence in Kabul, with a security assistance component, just as we have done in Iraq....
"The bottom line is that it is time to turn the page on more than a decade in which so much of our foreign policy was focused on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq....
"We have to recognize that Afghanistan will not be a perfect place and it is not America's responsibility to make it one.  The future of Afghanistan must be decided by Afghans." 
The Betrayal
November 21, 2014 - NY Times

WASHINGTON —President Obama decided in recent weeks to authorize a more expansive mission for the military in Afghanistan in 2015 than originally planned, a move that ensures American troops will have a direct role in fighting in the war-ravaged country for at least another year. (emphasis added)
Mr. Obama’s order allows American forces to carry out missions against the Taliban and other militant groups threatening American troops or the Afghan government, a broader mission than the president described to the public earlier this year, according to several administration, military and congressional officials with knowledge of the decision. The new authorization also allows American jets, bombers and drones to support Afghan troops on combat missions....
Mr. Obama’s decision, made during a White House meeting in recent weeks with his senior national security advisers, came over the objection of some of his top civilian aides, who argued that American lives should not be put at risk next year in any operations against the Taliban — and that they should have only a narrow counterterrorism mission against Al Qaeda.
But the military pushed back, and generals both at the Pentagon and in Afghanistan urged Mr. Obama to define the mission more broadly to allow American troops to attack the Taliban, the Haqqani network and other militants if intelligence revealed that the extremists were threatening American forces in the country.
Instead of a plane ride home, U.S. troops will be treated to more of this:
The president is listening to the Pentagon and arms industry.  He needs to hear from us.

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Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Harvard's Military-Academic complex

Harvard's Belfer Center marks Armistice day by announcing how significant, if not essential, to maintaining peace is the preparation for war. And how important it is in such a policy-oriented centre to embrace so many former and serving military. The list is pasted below. It contains several well-known peacemakers, Orwellian-speak for so many who played leading roles in illegal aggressions in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Frank Broomell (U.S. Army)
Steven N. Cho (U.S. Army)

Charles G. Cogan (U.S. Army)

Neal A. Corson (U.S. Army)

Michael Cutone (U.S. Army)

Shai Feldman (Israel Defense Forces)

Douglas Ferguson (U.S. Army)

Charles Freilich (Israel Defense Forces)

Damone Garner (U.S. Army)

William Hogan (U.S. Air Force)

Christine Kramer (U.S. Army)

Matthew Kennedy (U.S. Army)
Christopher J. Leonard (U.S. Air Force)

Barak Mendelsohn (Israel Defense Forces)

Dan Meridor (Israel Defense Forces)

Rolf Mowatt-Larssen (U.S. Army)

Michael A. Mullen (U.S. Coast Guard)

Stuart W. Newberry (U.S. Air Force)

Tad Oelstrom (U.S. Air Force)

Brandon Parker (U.S. Air Force)

David Petraeus (U.S. Army)

Eric Rosenbach (U.S. Army)

Kevin Ryan (U.S. Army)

F.M. Scherer (U.S. Army)

Jeremiah William Schwarz (U.S. Navy)

Michael B. Siegl (U.S. Army)

Emile Simpson (British Army)

John White (U.S. Marines)

A key member of the American military-industrial-academic complex - he was president of Columbia University before entering the White House in 1952 - Dwight Eisenhower, warned of the damaging effects of so close a relationship of the universities with the federal government and military that were gateways to vast research grants and funding.
Eisenhower's complaint elided his own role in the construction of a permamnent war economy and a militarist culture but at least he pointed out its dangers.
Today, there's hardly a voice within the American establishment that dares speak out against the degree of attachment of the foreign policy establishment to a militarist, interventionist mindset.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Why Poor Americans Don't Vote

Many years ago, Richard Cloward and Frances Fox Piven wrote a great book - Why Americans Don't Vote; they cited an array of customs and byelaws across the US, especially in the deep South, that made it very difficult if not impossible for the poor and minorities to register. the 1960s put paid to a load of those aspects of petty apartheid.

But we live in a time of political and ideological decay as the power of big money screams, unions have lost power and alternatives have been organised out of politics, and the main parties - almost identical in terms of philosophy and corporate funding and a militarist mindset - dominate the corporate media.

 And the cycle of excluding the poor and minorities from the franchise continues to deepen... see below for examples.

New voting rules threaten to lower turnout


An illustration of President Lincoln at GOP headquarters in South Bend, Ind. Contemporary voting restrictions, critics say, are threatening the post-Civil War concept of universal suffrage.
E. Tammy Kim

Fear of voter fraud and two rulings by the Supreme Court — Crawford v. Marion County in 2008 and Shelby v. Holder in 2013 — have resulted in an unprecedented array of rules and restrictions across the U.S.
This election cycle, 21 states have new voting laws on the books. From registration to the ballot box, critics say, these statutes have made it difficult to vote, particularly for minorities, the poor, students and seniors.
There are already reports of voters being turned away from the polls. In early voting, a Houston, Texas judge reported having to deny a 93-year-old veteran with an expired driver's license. On election day, hundreds of Georgia residents complained of having to pay for parking at voting sites and were unable access registration and polling-place information due to computer problems. In Hartford, Connecticut, a judge issued an emergency ruling extending the hours at two polling places that had lost access to voter registration data. And an African American student in Texas was sent away from her voting location due to non-compliant ID.
Al Jazeera America has documented the travails of low-income voters in Indiana (see here and here) and the campaign launched by North Carolina racial justice groups against a name-checking program that threatens to wipe thousands of voters from the rolls. Stay with us as we continue to document voter turnout and voters turned away.

The Exceptional nation - Cuba

Published on

For Moment, the World Embraces the Cuba Model – and Slaps the Empire

“For Cuba, service to oppressed and exploited peoples is a revolutionary act of the highest moral caliber.”
A team of 165 Cuban medical doctors and nurses have arrived in Sierra Leone to support the Ebola response efforts. (Photo: WHO/S. Gborie)

This week, the nations of the world – with two savage exceptions – instructed their emissaries at the UN General Assembly to tell the world’s self-designated “indispensable” country to end its 54-year-long trade embargo against Cuba. The virtually unanimous global rebuke to the American superpower, in combination with the extraordinary breadth and depth of acclamation accorded Havana, tells us that it is Cuba, not the U.S., that is the truly “exceptional” nation on the planet.

It was the 23rd time that the United Nations has rejected the embargo. The outcome was identical to last year’s tally, with only the United States and Israel voting against the non-binding resolution. Although the list of American allies on the Cuban embargo issue could not possibly get any smaller – Israel, after all, can only exist if joined at the U.S. hip – this year’s political environment was even less deferential to the reigning military colossus. In recognition of its singular commitment to the fight against Ebola in Africa, Cuba soared, once again – the hero nation.

Despite having suffered cumulative economic damages of more than $1 trillion at U.S. hands over the last half-century, the island nation of 11 million people has made itself a medical superpower that shares its life-saving resources with the world. No country or combination of nations and NGOs comes close to the speed, size and quality of Cuba’s response to the Ebola crisis in West Africa. With 461 doctors, nurses and other health professionals either already on site or soon to be sent to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, Cuba sets the standard for international first-response. The Cuban contingent of medical professionals providing direct treatment to sick people outnumbers that of the African Union and all individual countries and private organizations, including the Red Cross. (Few of the 4,000 U.S. military personnel to be deployed in the region will ever lay a well-protected hand on an Ebola patient. Instead, the troops build field hospitals for others to staff.)

Doctors Without Borders is second to Cuba in terms of health professionals. But the French NGO is a swiftly revolving door, churning doctors and nurses in and out every six weeks because of the extreme work and safety conditions. Cuba’s health brigades are made of different stuff. Every volunteer is expected to remain on duty in the Ebola zone for six months. Moreover, if any of the Cubans contract Ebola or any other disease, they will be treated at the hospitals where they work, alongside their African patients, rather than sent home. (One Cuban died of cerebral malaria, in Guinea, last Sunday.)

It goes without saying that the Cubans are committed for the duration of the Ebola crisis; they have been at Africa’s service since the first years of the revolution. President Raul Castro reports that 76,000 Cuban medical specialists have served in 39 African countries over the years. Four thousand were stationed in 32 African countries when the current Ebola epidemic broke out. (Worldwide, Cuba’s “white-robed army” of care-givers numbers more than 50,000, in 66 countries – amid constant U.S. pressures on host countries to expel them.)

In sheer numbers, the Cuban medical posture in Africa is surpassed in scope only by the armed presence of AFRICOM, the U.S. military command, which has relationships with every country on the continent except Eritrea, Zimbabwe and Sudan. The governments of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone collaborate militarily with AFRICOM, but the heavily-armed Americans were of no use when Ebola hit. (According to a Liberian newspaper account, the Americans caused the epidemic, a widely held belief in the region.)

Indeed, the Euro-American legacy in Africa, from colonialism (Liberia has been a de facto colony of the U.S. since the days of President Monroe) to western-imposed financial “structural adjustments” that starved public health systems, is the root reason Liberia and Guinea have only one doctor for every 100,000 people, and Sierra Leone has just two.
Cuba knows colonialism well, having seen its independence struggle from Spain aborted by the United States in 1898, followed by six decades as a U.S. semi-colony. For Cuba, service to oppressed and exploited peoples is a revolutionary act of the highest moral caliber. That’s why, when the call went out, 15,000 Cubans competed for the honor to battle Ebola in Africa. As reported in The Guardian, doctors like Leonardo Fernandez were eager to fulfill their moral and professional mission. “We know that we are fighting against something that we don’t totally understand,” he said. “We know what can happen. We know we’re going to a hostile environment. But it is our duty. That’s how we’ve been educated.”

In the same way and for the same reasons, 425,000 Cubans volunteered for military service in Angola, from 1975 to 1991, leaving only after Angola was secure, Namibia had held its first free elections and South Africa was firmly on the road to majority rule. These Cubans were preceded by the doctor and soldier Che Guevara and 100 other fighters who journeyed to Congo in 1965 to join an unsuccessful guerilla war against the American-backed Mobutu regime.
Cuba has been selfless in defense of others, whether against marauding microbes or imperial aggression. “We never took any natural resources,” said Rodolfo Reyes Rodriguez, Cuba’s ambassador to the United Nations and a veteran of the war against white-ruled South Africa’s army in Angola. “We never took any salary, because in no way were we to be perceived to be mercenaries or on any kind of military adventure.”

For the United States, military adventure and the imperative to seize other countries’ natural resources or strangle their economies, are defining national characteristics – in complete contrast to Cuba. The U.S. embargo of its island neighbor is among the world’s longest-running morality plays, with Washington as villain. On this issue, the world’s biggest economic and military power could neither buy nor bully a single ally other than the Zionist state deformity.

Even Djibouti, the wedge of a nation between Eritrea and Somalia that hosts the biggest U.S. (and French) military base in Africa, spoke against the embargo on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Lithuania, a rabidly anti-Russian Baltic state, voiced the European Union’s objections to the embargo. Ethiopia, Washington’s henchman in the Horn of Africa, nevertheless opposed U.S. policy toward Cuba on behalf of the UN’s “Africa Group.” Tiny Fiji articulated the Group of 77 and China’s opposition to the trade blockade. Venezuela, Cuba’s major health partner in Latin America, voiced the anti-embargo position of Mercosur, the Common Market of the South.

Cuba’s neighbors in CARICOM, the Caribbean Economic Community, were represented by Saint Kitts and Nevis, whose ambassador pointed to Cuban-built hospitals and clinics throughout the region; the hundreds of Cuban doctors that have provided the only medical services available to many of Haiti’s poor before, during and after the catastrophic earthquake of 2010; and the thousands of Caribbean students that have benefited from free university education in Cuba.

Cuba’s exemplary conduct in the world has made the yearly UN vote on the U.S. embargo a singular opportunity for all the world body’s members, except one, to chastise the superpower that seeks full spectrum domination of the planet. It is the rarest of occasions, a time of virtual global unanimity on an evil in which the Empire is currently engaged. Once a year, the world – in both effect and intent – salutes the Cuban model. For a moment, humanity’s potential to organize itself for the common good illuminates the global forum.

Back Agenda Report executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at

Monday, 3 November 2014

UK Violates NPT with MDA Renewal

Why does Britain need to feel special?

The world is getting restless with some states’ attachment to nuclear weapons. So why is Britain going out of its way to deepen its nuclear relationship with the United States?

The small community of observers who watch Britain’s quiet moves to extend its nuclear lifeline with the United States have just been rewarded–the ten-year renewal and modification of the US-UK nuclear Mutual Defence Agreement (MDA) to be debated in Parliament next Thursday. Critics claim the arrangement stretches and breaks Britain’s legal commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and ensures Britain remains dependent upon America for both its nuclear arsenal and foreign policy direction.
But it goes deeper than that: Britain and other governments face a choice. In an age of climate change, resource scarcity and other global inter-dependencies, the chances of successful adaptation of human societies to these stresses depends upon governments cooperating more effectively within multilateral frameworks. Privileged arrangements like the MDA that undermine this approach must be swept away.
The MDA governs cooperation in matters related to nuclear weapons between the United States and the UK. The two states share Trident missiles from a common pool, technologies associated with the design and development of nuclear warheads, and critical parts of the huge ‘boomer’ submarines that carry the missiles and warheads. For example, despite different requirements that mean the UK will have to fill four missile tubes with concrete ballast or use them for different purposes, both versions of the new follow-on submarines will have a common missile compartment with twelve missile tubes, command and control facilities and crew quarters.

The Nuclear Information Service points out that this particular update to the MDA also opens the door to far more extensive cooperation on nuclear naval propulsion technology in particular. The PWR3 nuclear reactors in UK Trident successor submarines will use next generation American naval nuclear propulsion technology. Though not governed by any particular treaty, navies tend to protect their nuclear propulsion technology as closely as states guard their nuclear weapon designs. It is a highly sensitive aspect of the cat and mouse games that makes up anti-submarine warfare. The fact that the Americans are willing to share so much of their most prized secrets is an indication of the unique relationship, and gives a clue to one of the core reasons why the British elite are so attached to the MDA arrangements.

From a technical perspective, the modification and renewal of the MDA makes every sense. Both countries deploy the same Trident missile submarine system and use identical components. Cooperation on the next generation of technology saves money, results in better systems and cements the relationship between the two countries. Anyone that believes in a strong relationship between the two countries (and that includes almost everyone in the British political elite) must surely agree that if both countries are to field nuclear weapons, it makes sense to share information and technology.

What’s more, the amendments to the MDA also introduce important new dimensions to US-UK teamwork in the field of nuclear counter-proliferation and intelligence sharing. Surely this can only be a good thing? In sum, the two countries justify cooperation in the development of technologies we would rather live without as necessity to hold the line and prevent their enemies from developing their own weapons capabilities.
But this ‘better us than them’ mentality fails to acknowledge the bigger picture.

There are 184 non-nuclear weapon state members of the NPT who have foresworn nuclear weapons in their own national security strategies on the basis that global security is secured by mutual restraint. The five recognized nuclear weapon states have also acknowledged this by promising to negotiate away their own arsenals at an early date. This is a question of legal obligation. BASIC received a formal legal opinion from Rabinder Singh QC and Professor Christine Chinkin of Matrix Chambers back in 2004 suggesting the MDA runs counter to our NPT Article VI obligation to engage in nuclear disarmament negotiations.
But more than this, it’s a question of confidence in the future and commitment to global multilateral arrangements. These matter far more to our future than protecting military arrangements that deeply undermine the capacity for multilateralism.

Other states exercise self-restraint as non-nuclear weapon states and appear to thrive without suffering nuclear blackmail. It is not as if nuclear weapons are beyond their reach technically. One state that displays no such self-restraint is North Korea, one of the poorest countries on the planet. Claims this week from the US Commander of Forces in South Korea that North Korea has developed a nuclear warhead that can fit on top of its missiles may be premature, but no one should doubt they are well on the way to having a significant nuclear deterrent.

But most still choose not to have nuclear weapons. True, some in NATO believe they depend upon extended nuclear deterrence, but abstain from pursuing their own nuclear deterrent). States without such a relationship survive in turbulent regions, and actively choose non-nuclear security arrangements. They recognize they are safer if they and their neighbours find other ways of settling their disputes and achieving stability without nuclear deterrence.

Nevertheless, non-nuclear weapon states are increasingly restless over the continued attachment to national nuclear arsenals within a handful of states. They believe this not only threatens nuclear war, but also deeply harms long-term confidence in the NPT and other non-proliferation initiatives. Sustainable confidence requires stronger non-proliferation instruments and genuine nuclear disarmament–a movement towards universal non-discriminatory membership. Britain’s renewal of its nuclear arsenal, despite not being in direct strategic competition with any other state and being within the NATO alliance, is particularly corrosive to confidence.

So why, if we are so close to the United States, should Britain choose to spend a third its defence equipment budget over the next 15 years on Trident? This is a system with dubious military utility that essentially doubles up on the US umbrella our other allies seem content to depend upon.

It could be because Trident pulls the Americans in close and gives us a unique status in relationship to them. But this goes both ways. It also cements British dependency on the United States, and by extension commits the UK to a policy of maintaining US hegemony and exceptionalism. These are the very values that undermine the global multilateral systems we will increasingly rely upon for our real national and global security as global challenges of climate change and resource competition really bite –systems we claim to support.

We don’t like it when North Korea pursues their own nuclear weapons capability, or any suggestion that they are supplying Syria or Iran with nuclear or missile technology triggers strong reactions (and illegal ‘preventive’ military strikes from Israel). Yet the British government quietly renews the MDA with minimal fuss and no question of Parliament having a vote on the matter. Once complete, officials can get on with trading far more sophisticated and potent weapon systems the North Koreans can only dream about.
It is time we joined up our thinking: the worlds of nuclear deterrence, defence and alliance need to meet those of nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and fair global governance. For too long these communities have been kept apart, and the deterrence discussion has been pre-eminent in the thinking of national leaderships because of a self-fulfilling lack of confidence in multilateral arrangements.

The annual First Committee of the UN General Assembly responsible for multilateral disarmament negotiations, in session in New York this month, is just approaching its finale–a series of resolutions on ideas to develop and strengthen multilateral regimes. It is a precursor to the month-long NPT Review Conference next May that coincides with the British General Election, the first in a generation that precedes the final decision on whether we renew our only nuclear weapons system.

With business as usual in Whitehall’s Ministry of Defence, and deeper nuclear weapon relationships developing between the British and American shipbuilders, weapons designers and navies, is there really any hope of a new dawn for the non-proliferation regime?