Antiwar protests in Manila, Philippines

These are intrepid antiwar activists in Manila, Philippines (yesterday), protesting the upcoming visit of Obama & ongoing negotiations between the Philippines & US to establish a framework for long-term presence of US troops in the country & the “unlimited & unqualified use of Philippine bases & facilities by US forces.” Filipinos have a belly-full of that arrangement since WWII, particularly in the Vietnam War when their country played a vital role for the US military.

If you want to get the measure of Obama, you ignore his affable meeting with the pope & the media nonsense about how they share a concern for the poor. These activists, defying his mission on behalf of the Pentagon, take his full measure: that of war-monger in chief.

Hats off to our Filipino brothers & sisters! No military presence in the Philippines!

(Photo by AP)

Brutal military occupation of favelas in Brazil labeled a “pacification” program

This image of civilians caught in crossfire is iconic of occupation–from Northern Ireland to Iraq, Afghanistan, & here the favelas (shantytowns) of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Brazil notoriously has one of the highest numbers of homeless children & slum residents in the world due to ruthless neoliberal plunder of its land & resources. In a process we’ve seen played out on every continent, rural workers are dispossessed & forced to migrate abroad for work or to city slums. But now those slums conflict with IMF programs mandating privatization of public lands & gentrification/urban development schemes so the slum residents must be evicted again.

Favelas in Rio de Janeiro are not just located on desirable urban real estate; many are within a stones throw of stadia where the 2014 World Cup & 2016 Olympic games will be played. So the Brazilian government created an inflammatory view of favelas as havens for criminal drug mafias & under the guise of fighting the drug war marched special forces military units trained in urban warfare into the favelas (starting in 2008) armed with assault weapons & armored vehicles.

You can’t believe the baloney Brazilian politicians & world media use to justify this brutal occupation as a pacifying program meant to bring social harmony. They claim, without an ounce of sarcasm, that soldiers & riot cops will no longer just summarily execute suspected traffickers but will play a role in social development; they will organize youth sports clubs, schools, skill development workshops, teach ballet classes, & other “peaceful forms of socialization”–as if favela residents were feral animals.

The occupying army hasn’t gotten around to the social service programs in the past five years since they’re up to their eyeballs ransacking homes, forcibly evicting people & making them homeless by the thousands, under the guise of routing out the drug traffickers. Residents have made quite clear they want education, health services, & less provocation & violence from the cops. There isn’t a single public service they do not need, including electricity, waste management, health clinics (dealing with every medical need from prenatal care to drug addiction to treatment for tuberculosis), schools, housing, sanitation, roads, sports programs, & most of all, jobs. What they’ve gotten is lectures on trash clean-up.

The rhetoric used to justify this brutal police occupation is not at all coincidentally a clone of what is used against Black youth in the US to justify often martial law conditions in many Black communities & the suspension of civil liberties–in particular “stop & frisk” laws & the summary execution of hundreds of Black youth minding their own business on city streets. When people believed the lies against Black youth & allowed suspension of the Bill of Rights in the Black community without protest, it was only a matter of time before the government trashed the Bill of Rights for immigrants. And now it’s under siege for all of us. That’s why “an injury to one is an injury to all” is not just a romantic, feel-good ditty we chant like a mantra. It’s an iron law of justice for working people.

We don’t know the scope or the statistics, but drug addiction among the poor of Rio de Janeiro is likely quite high–and favelas may well be a center for drug peddling. But the drug mafias orchestrating global trafficking don’t live in favelas; they live in mansions. Going after favela residents is nothing but a fancy switch & bait device to deflect attention from the real criminals.

Military raids in the favelas of Rio have increased in the past several months since the 2014 World Cup games are scheduled to begin in June when hundreds of thousands of well-heeled tourists will be pouring into the city. The Dilma Rousseff regime sent special forces units & more riot cops into the favelas to quell an alleged wave of violence in the “pacified” slums. If there is unrest, it’s more likely opposition to the brutal occupation. As we can see from this photo, the security of favela residents is not a concern.

(Photo by Felipe Dana/AP)

Immigration is a human right! Open up the damn borders!

One of the main TV stations here conducts its investigations on immigration like it was an adjunct to the Border Patrol. I have had many poison pen exchanges with their reporters on this score, insisting they just report the damn news & stop trying to nail immigrants. Recently, they’re reporting frequently on the detention of women, mostly from Central America, crossing the border with very young children. Tonight the ever-burgeoning Border Patrol arrested a group of women & small children when they disembarked from rafting across the Rio Grande just a few miles from here.

The station made quite an issue of the charge that Border Patrol agents arrest immigrants, process them, & release them for a later hearing. Many hearings, they report, are scheduled in faraway states so somehow undocumented immigrants have to get past immigration check points on the highways going north to get to their hearings. And then they never show up at the hearings. Of course not. If you can get past immigration, you look for your family & for work; you don’t go to a hearing where you might get deported. And immigration authorities damn well know that. Do you see the insanities of racist immigration policies!?

But you know, that story may make sense to investigative reporters cum immigration patrol but it sure does not make sense to me. According to our intrepid reporters, immigrants are not allowed to work or to move without notifying immigration. And since getting past those check points is the toughest obstacle to finding work in the northern US, why do they schedule deportation hearings in New Jersey or Minnesota when they know most will make a run for it to avoid deportation? If the number of Border Patrol agents is dramatically increasing, why are they employing what the TV station regrettably terms a “catch & release” policy (like they were fish & not humans)? It’s not like they have a humane deportation program. They just dump people on the other side of the border whether they have means to survive or not. And this is when the Obama regime, according to all reliable sources, is deporting more people than at any other time in US history. Can someone explain these mysteries to me?

Immigration is a human right! Open up the damn borders!

(Photo of Mexican children orphaned by the US drug war from hispanicallyspeakingnews.com)

Jimmy Carter opposes Boycott, Divestment, & Sanctions against Israeli apartheid

Former US president Jimmy Carter (who many naifs consider a saint) announced yesterday that he opposes BDS. He was speaking for The Elders, a group of senior political figures formed in 2007 by Nelson Mandela. Its membership includes Desmond Tutu & Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland & UN official. Tutu, who has long supported BDS, has not spoken out to distinguish himself from the group position. One hopes such a disavowal is forthcoming.

Carter’s opposition to BDs may surprise those who thought his 2006 book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid” an indictment of Israeli apartheid because of the immense furor it evoked in Zionist circles. Alan Dershowitz was among those who flew into orbit, challenging Carter to a debate. The book, in fact, was entirely equivocal in designating Zionist policies as apartheid but was damning in depicting the barbaric realities of those policies in the West Bank. A brief tip of the hat to Carter for standing the guff he took for writing the book.

But Carter is no champion of Palestinian justice. He isn’t just an outspoken promoter of the two-state, bantustate solution for Palestinians; he has blood on his hands from brokering the Camp David Accords in 1978 when he was president. Those accords, signed between Anwar Sadat of Egypt & Menachem Begin of Israel, were so flawed they were even rejected by the UN. Jordan & Syria refused to participate (at least openly) & Palestinian representatives were excluded. The Accords had nothing to do with Palestinian justice but with neutralizing Egypt & making it a partner with the US & Israel in isolating Palestinians. The Accord provisions established the framework for the arrant betrayal of Palestinian justice negotiated by Yasser Arafat in the Oslo Accords in 1993.

In return for massive trade concessions to Israel (including ending the boycott by Egypt & opening the Suez Canal to Israel), the US committed to billions of dollars in military aid to Egypt & established it as a military bulwark for US hegemony against Palestinians & in the entire region. Sadat was assassinated for his betrayal but the military arsenal created in Egypt under Mubarak, created by the Camp David Accords, made it possible to defeat the initial tsunami of the Egyptian uprising in 2013. That is the legacy of Jimmy Carter.

Many equivocate or outright oppose BDS saying the comparison with apartheid in South Africa is inexact; it’s only an approximation or is outright invalid. This isn’t just pedantic or sophistic thinking; it’s missing the forest for the trees. South Africa gave us the term “apartheid” but they didn’t invent the ignominious policies. It existed in the US South & throughout the Americas for hundreds of years before it was initiated in South Africa in the 20th century. The US Civil War ended slavery but in an attempt to reverse Black Reconstruction in the late 19th century, extreme racist segregation was reinstalled using paramilitary violence. US apartheid, called “Jim Crow,” was every bit as oppressive & violent as apartheid in South Africa.

Equivocators will point out differences between South African apartheid & US Jim Crow; there are plenty–as there are between South African & Israeli apartheid. It isn’t the differences that make them all apartheid but the common features: segregation in housing; economic, educational, & social disadvantages; denial of basic human, democratic, & civil rights; violence; repression; murder; incarceration. Need we list more!?

The BDS movement against Israeli apartheid & ethnic cleansing is separating the wheat from the chaff in international politics. The BDS movement is not just a potent economic lever against apartheid; it is playing a key role in countering the “Exodus” mythology about Israel & in delegitimizing the repugnant Zionist dystopia of an only-Jewish state–a ghetto writ large. The term ghetto was originally used to describe the city areas where Jews were restricted & segregated. Is a ghetto the Zionist vision of freedom!?

The economic impact of BDS in some ways has less importance than the political exposé of Zionism & its dystopic vision–a vision which not merely concedes ground to racism but joins the reactionary forces & pretends their methods of tyranny & supremacism are the road to freedom.

Oppose Israeli apartheid & ethnic cleansing by supporting BDS; supporting the cultural boycott of Israel; & demanding No military aid to Israel!

(Photo of Carter by Lydia Smith)

Kangaroo court justice for sexual predator Jeffrey Sinclair

The US Army is just about the best gig serial killers & rapists can get. Those inclined by criminal pathology to such barbarisms will find the army a hospitable venue with complementary impunity from criminal prosecution. That’s due to the court-martial system where the Pentagon tries its own criminals & can rig the system any way it likes. It pretends it’s adversary & defendant at the same time & makes a kangaroo court look like a model of jurisprudence by comparison.

The most recent case in point is the court-martial verdict on hotshot general Jeffrey Sinclair. A female officer & subordinate on his staff in Iraq & Afghanistan accused him of sexual assault (oral sodomy) & of threatening to kill her & her family if she reported him. After two years of proceedings, the felonious charges were dropped when Sinclair pleaded guilty to adultery & sexting with two other subordinates. He walks away from any prison time with a $20,000 fine, a tsk tsk from the military, & can retire early (he’s 51 years-old) with his pension intact.

An unidentified women’s group, legal experts, & members of the US Congress expressed shock at the verdict allowing him to walk away scot-free. What’s to be shocked about in a verdict that was a done deal when the trial began!? One marvels the case even got to a courtroom. Out of the estimated 20,000 sexual assaults in the military per year (that’s a Pentagon statistic so likely massively underestimated), only 575 cases were processed, & only 96 of those went to court-martial. Ninety percent of the assault victims are involuntarily discharged.

Even if the court had sentenced Sinclair to jail time, the Pentagon would find a way to dodge it. When Lt. William Calley was found guilty on March 29, 1971, of the premeditated murder of 22 Vietnamese civilians in the My Lai massacre, he was sentenced to life imprisonment & hard labor at Fort Leavenworth, a maximum security prison. It was a show trial, because a couple days later president Nixon ordered him transferred from Leavenworth to house arrest at a cushy base. He only spent 3-1/2 years of house arrest before being released.

US Army staff sergeant Robert Bales pleaded guilty to murdering 16 Afghan civilians & 6 counts of assault & attempted murder in a March 2012 massacre; he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. You can be certain, it’s only a matter of time before he walks free even if they have to drum up a technicality in the trial. The system is rigged & somewhere in those proceedings, someone intentionally screwed up to assure him impunity.

The reason for all these legal intrigues is clear: the US Army fosters psycho-pathology; wars of colonial domination require racism, violence & social hatred of every kind. Charging Sinclair with adultery is mockery since prostitution is an adjunct of the military, often administered by the Pentagon. If soldiers are punished for such conduct, they are less likely to enlist or to follow orders.

Integrating the US military was a major civil rights battle for Blacks, Latinos, & Native Americans during WWII; it became an issue for women in the 1970s. That doesn’t mean antiwar activists should not do everything in our powers to persuade young men & women to turn their backs on military service & instead find something useful to do with their lives.

(Photo of Sinclair leaving courthouse smirking, knowing he & the Pentagon pulled a scam on justice by James Robinson/AP)

Extinct predators end up in US Congress

This is an artist’s sketch of Anzu wyliei, a bird-like dinosaur nicknamed “the chicken from hell” that roamed the US area of North & South Dakota, 68 to 66 million years ago. Anzu was over 11 feet (3.5 metres) head to tail & weighed 500 to 660 pounds. A freaky cross between a chicken & a lizard, it looked like it could stomp you to death, rip you to shreds, or simply peck you to death. It had a beak, no teeth, murderous claws, spindly legs, a skinny, long tail, & feathers going every which way. Beauty & intelligence were not its strong points.

It’s not certain why scientists claim Anzu has gone extinct; it’s more likely they just downsized because you can find them all over the US Congress & they’ll be coming out of the woodwork during the next presidential elections. Their brains remain just as teeny weeny as they were 68 million years ago & they’re still pecking us to death. We should all remain wary since we’re not safe until they do indeed go extinct.

(Photo from Mark Klingler/Carnegie Museum of Natural History/PA)

Zoos & cruelty toward animals

Genome scientists report that orangutans share 97% of their DNA sequence with humans. That doesn’t really mean very much but a misanthrope could say they got all the brains & we got all the power. They’re reportedly quite solitary animals while humans are social creatures–but social creatures who tolerate the most antisocial behaviors.

This is Kirno, a 14-year-old orangutan smoking a cigarette inside his enclosure at Jurug Zoo in Solo, Central Java, Indonesia. Zoo officials claim he smokes dozens a day because visitors ignore warning signs prohibiting throwing food or cigarettes to the apes & throw pre-lit cigarettes at him, laughing while he imitates one of the unhealthiest human habits.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time the Jurug zoo has made news for cigarette smoking orangutans. In 2012, they moved a 13-year-old named Tori from a cage to a small island inside the zoo to stop her from smoking. In two years they haven’t figured out how to stop visitors from hurting the animals!? Or is cruelty toward animals the very nature of zoos?

It turns out Kirno was “rescued” by the zoo about four years ago from a knucklehead who kept him caged as a pet. In October of last year (we’re talking not even six months), zoo officials boasted he was freed from cage-living & had a healthy life on the same island as Tori. They claim the island is designed as natural a habitat as possible with trees, bushes, & dens, similar to the rain forests of Borneo. (As if that could fool the orangutans!) Jurug zoo is engaged in breeding orangutans (since they’re being driven extinct by Indonesian palm oil plantations) & hope Kirno can produce offspring.

The problem with this touching narrative is that it’s mostly horse manure & nothing gives that away more clearly than the fact that zoo officials are unable to put a stop to the abuse of the animals by visitors throwing things at them. In 2009, the Centre for Orangutan Protection (COP) in Indonesia conducted a study of five zoos in Java & concluded Jurug zoo was the worst in the physical & mental treatment of orangutans. At that time, they were still kept in cramped, concrete cages which had no roofs to protect them from scorching sun, rain, or wind. They were provided with one small plastic bag of water per day & paper-wrapped plain rice. Orangutans eat leaves, fruits, & insects, not rice. Deprived of all life-purpose, they were not only bored but began to exhibit signs of extreme mental disorder, including repeatedly beating their heads against the wall. Moving them from cement boxes to an island was a step in the right direction but by no means a solution.

These unspeakable cruelties are not just the result of poor managerial systems at Jurug but the very nature of zoos. There is no progressive perspective in zoo management because zoos are nothing but the incarceration of wild animals, turning them into spectacles, & depriving them of all purpose & possibility for happy lives.

We can denounce the knuckleheads throwing cigarettes at orangutans but it’s far more important to denounce zoos as barbaric throwbacks to a time when people believed in the Great Chain of Being. If we want to merit some glory from sharing 97% of orangutan genetics, we ought to do something to put an end to zoos. In the meantime, let’s get it straight: if Jurug officials wanted to protect Kirno & the other orangutans from abuse, they would post guards, they would fine offenders, they would run forums to educate on animal welfare, or they would put the island off-limits to visitors.

(Photo by Sijori Images/Barcroft India)

Neoliberalism & slum fires

There are hundreds of slum fires every year in dozens of countries since one billion people now live in sprawling urban squatter colonies of makeshift housing. Fire forensics are seldom reported but fire officials routinely cite the cause as faulty & pirated power lines, flammable building materials, or gas tank explosions. Residents often claim arson & criminal negligence by municipal authorities. The locations of slums in areas targeted for gentrification & urban development renders the claim of arson entirely credible–even likely.

The number of slum residents is expected to double in the next 15 years to two billion people as millions of farmers & farm workers are expropriated & displaced by the IMF model of agribusiness plantations. Every year, 240,000 displaced rural residents move to Manila. Philippines, making it the fastest growing city in the world. The World Bank reports squatters now comprise 40% of 12 million Manila residents. They are mostly unemployed or part of the informal economy & live on USD$1.00 a day or less. They live along waterways including Manila Bay, railroads, around garbage dumps; thousands make their living scavenging those garbage dumps for recyclables.

The savagery of neoliberalism is relentless. Under IMF investment strategy, public domain urban lands now inhabited by those squatters must be privatized for commercial & industrial development, including resorts, casinos, mega-shopping malls, special economic zones. The squatters have to go.

In 2008, the Philippine Supreme Court authorized government officials to demolish “illegal structures & dwellings” along all waterways connected to Manila Bay & ordered it over & done with by December 2015. The court ordered authorities to clear out tens of thousands of shanty residents but laid out no relocation guidelines–legitimizing a free-for-all for neoliberal barbarism. President Aquino & other officials made it quite clear they intended aggressive action to clear squatters & relocate them to the isolated, rural areas they originally fled from to find work. One government official said he had received orders from Aquino that “If push comes to shove, we will have to blast those houses.”

Officials tried to make it easy on themselves by offering incentives for squatters to relocate. A government relocation program offered family grants of 18,000 Philippine pesos (USD $403) to move. They sweet-talked residents claiming they were trying to move them out of flood-prone zones. If their concerns were so damn humanitarian, why didn’t the government instead use the relocation dough to build levees & public housing!?

Another tactic employed by officials has been to burn the slum communities to the ground. There have been dozens of slum fires all over Manila in gentrification/urban renewal zones. Tens of thousands have been made homeless but with no place to go most reclaim what was salvageable from the ashes & move back to the site to rebuild. Not to be daunted by public resistance, officials wait a period & then burn the new settlements to the ground. Many people, including several children, have died in these conflagrations.

This photo is of a fire (March 12th) in Malabon City, a part of metropolitan Manila being slated for gentrification. Over the past few years, there have been several slum fires in Malabon with several deaths & thousands made homeless. Fire investigators are still determining the cause of this fire. (Don’t hold your breath!) Public housing was announced in 2012 to quite a lot of fanfare but on completion would provide housing for only 720 families. In 2013, the government proposed relocation of 24,000 “informal settlers” (as they call the squatters) & in fact the population of Malabon has decreased in the past few years. There are no reports on how successful relocation efforts were or where those relocated ended up. One hopes they took the lousy $403 bucks & stayed put in Malabon.

In the barbaric phase of capitalism, human life is expendable & poor people just a nuisance. Their fate is no concern compared to greed. It’s time humanity put an end to such tyranny.

Housing is a human right!

(Photo by Erik De Castro/Reuters)

Emancipation US-style in Afghanistan

Emancipation US-style: a woman begging in the flooded streets of Kabul, Afghanistan. One stands in awe before the impotent banalities of US war propaganda–but here again, a picture is worth a thousand lies.

Will the Pentagon & right-wing feminists blame this too on the Taliban? Because the Taliban don’t run Afghanistan; US-NATO forces do.

US-NATO out of Afghanistan! US out of Iraq!

(Photo by Rahmat Gul/AP)

Capitalism has a way of messing up the nicest holidays

Today is St. Patrick’s Day, a cultural holiday for the Irish & a religious feast day for most Christians. In the US, it has lost any religious meaning & is mostly celebrated by politicians & alcoholics claiming to be Irish. This year it is also Holi, a Hindu religious festival celebrating the victory of good over evil & the arrival of spring (similar to Easter in the Christian tradition). The distinctive thing about Holi is its free-for-all use of colored powders which are strewn all over families & strangers, friends & foe. Because of its joyous character & due to the Indian diaspora, it is now popularly celebrated in many countries.

Traditionally, the vibrant colored powders were plant-based, including herbs, berries, flowers, leaves, trees, & had medicinal purpose in Ayurvedic medicine. Turmeric, neem, sandalwood, gooseberries, chick peas, grapes, hibiscus, marigolds, pomegranate, beetroot, saffron were all mixed with flours & pastes to make up the powders & provide some medicinal charms along with the frolics & celebration of love.

Today, the natural ingredients have been replaced by chemically produced industrial dyes & minerals not only lacking medicinal purposes but causing many health problems from inhalation, ingestion, & skin contact. Reportedly, many celebrants wear nose masks & sun glasses to avoid inhaling pigments or exposing their eyes to chemical injury. One of the chief ingredients of the synthetic powders is called gulal which contains small crystals of mica to give a sparkling effect.

Mica is a mineral with thousands of industrial uses, including in the mineral makeups sold at a hefty price. The Dr. Oz Show has actually warned women about potential health hazards from repeated use of mineral makeup. Construction workers who work with mica products wear masks to prevent inhalation. Mica has been used for a few thousand years so it’s remarkable how little modern science has evaluated its toxic properties. The Center for Disease Control in the US claims to know almost nothing about it but the US Occupational Safety & Health Administration (no vanguard on toxic work conditions for workers) reports that respiratory illness, anemia, & weight loss are associated with inhalation. The mica Material Safety Data Sheet (the MSDS is provided by manufacturers & includes only the most damning side effects) says mica is hazardous in cases of ingestion, inhalation, skin & eye contact.

So why the hell would mica be included in ingredients for Holi celebrations which include children, elderly, & those with health issues!? And why is this young Indian worker sifting gulal powder at a factory near Siliguri not provided protective equipment–most importantly a respirator, safety goggles, & skin protection!? Such reckless endangerment of the health & lives of working people has become the norm & unions have done damn little to address it. Safety is a primary issue for working people. They need unions that will fight for them, not just rake in dues money to feed ungrateful politicians & enrich labor fat cats.

(Photo by Diptendu Dutta/AFP/Getty Images)

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