Money, Not Protection of Palestinian Christians, Was at the Root of Holy Sepulchre Protest

It was a protest long overdue – and one that produced rapid results.

On Sunday, for the first time in living memory, Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre slammed shut its doors to worshippers and tourists. In justifying the closure of the site where it is believed Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected, Church leaders accused Israel of launching a “systematic and unprecedented attack against Christians in the Holy Land”.

By Wednesday the church had reopened after Israel, bombarded with bad publicity, appeared to climb down.

Shuttering the church had threatened economic damage too. More than a quarter of Israel’s nearly 4 million visitors each year are Christian pilgrims. They and many other tourists come primarily to follow in the footsteps of Jesus – and the Holy Sepulchre is top of their sightseeing list.

The churches are right that the survival of a meaningful Palestinian Christian presence in the Holy Land hangs in the balance. Christians now comprise just 10 per cent of the large Palestinian minority in Israel – or about 2 per cent of Israel’s total population.

In the Palestinian territories, which are under belligerent Israeli occupation, Christian numbers have similarly plummeted.

But however serious the problem, the joint statement from Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic leaders was only tangentially concerned with the fate of this local community of believers. The protest was really about protecting the churches’ profits from real-estate and investment deals.

Power of evangelicals

The Christians of the Holy Land are overwhelmingly Palestinian, while the churches speaking on their behalf are overwhelmingly foreign. The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and the Vatican are vast enterprises that are as concerned with their commercial viability and influence on the global stage as they are about the spiritual needs of any specific flock.

And nowhere is that fact more obvious and telling than in the cradle of the Christian faith – today split between Israel and the fragments of an embryonic Palestinian state.

The churches have long had to navigate a complex political game in the Middle East with Israel, the region’s key power-broker, and with Israel’s patron in Washington.

That task has grown more daunting in recent years, as Christian evangelical influence has come to dominate politics in the United States. Most US evangelicals are far more interested in “end-time” prophecies that require unthinking support for Israel and illegal Jewish settlements than they are in preserving a 2,000-year-old local Christian tradition.

The rising power of the evangelicals was exemplified in Donald Trump’s presidential election victory in late 2016, and his recent decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, terminating already frail hopes of a two-state solution.

Christian exodus

These trends are simply accelerating a long-standing process in which Palestinian Christians, whether in Israel or under occupation, are fleeing the Holy Land.

Confined to overcrowded ghettoes by Israel, starved of economic and social opportunities, and victims like other Palestinians of trigger-happy Israeli security forces, many have tapped overseas networks of Christians to re-establish their lives in Europe or North America.

Notably, however, it was not this prolonged exodus that prompted the churches to close the doors of the Holy Sepulchre, or the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, or the Nativity Church in Bethlehem.

No Catholic custodian or Greek patriarch has dared to take such a decisive and bold stance in solidarity with the Holy Land’s “living stones” – Palestine’s Christians.

‘Charade’ protest

Whatever the public relations spin, the Holy Sepulchre was shuttered chiefly because the churches’ business interests were in jeopardy.

That was why Aleef Sabbagh, a Palestinian member of the Orthodox Central Council that for many months has been trying to oust their Greek overlord, Patriarch Theophilos III, called the protest a “charade”.

He noted that local Christians had long demanded the closure of the Holy Sepulchre to protest Israeli policies but had always been overruled by church leaders.

The church did not shut during the second intifada, when Palestinians were being killed in large numbers, nor during Israel’s repeated attacks on Gaza.

Business interests?

When the statement from the heads of the churches angrily denounced Israel’s break with the “status quo”, they meant a financial status quo – what they termed their “rights and privileges” – that has chiefly benefitted the clerics of Italy and Greece.

At the heart of the stand-off with Israel were two issues that have incensed church leaders.

One was a recent decision by the mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, to end the churches’ long-standing exemption from paying municipal taxes on their properties. Given the churches’ vast land holdings, the Jerusalem municipality hoped to collect more than $180m in back taxes.

The other concern was draconian legislation the Israeli government had drafted to seize properties that the churches – chiefly the Greek Orthodox Patriarch – had been leasing at knockdown prices to private Israeli developers and settler groups.

Churches ‘squeezed’

Despite the ostensible climbdown this week, Israel has not actually abandoned either of these policies. According to Israeli media, they have been “postponed”. History suggests that the Israeli authorities will simply wait for a better opportunity, or find a different route, to arrive at the same destination.

Israel’s long-standing approach has been to intimidate the Churches by all means possible. At different times it has frozen clerical work visas, and refused or delayed approval of senior appointments, including that of the Greek Orthodox patriarch himself. Israel regularly obstructs planning permits for church property. Meanwhile, far-right groups close to the governing coalition menace clergy in the streets and vandalise church property under cover of dark.

The latest efforts to financially “squeeze” the churches were designed to intensify the intimidation, stoking their debts to further weaken their standing. That would have been bad news for Palestinians, making the churches even more submissive in their dealings with Israel.

It would also have risked fuelling the sell-off of more Church land – to Israel – to pay off existing debts and avoid incurring future ones. Palestinians living on those lands, especially in Jerusalem, would then have been at Israel’s mercy.

Atallah Hanna, the only Palestinian archbishop in the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, has rightly warned that Israel’s long-standing goal is to “empty” Jerusalem of its Palestinians.

Pandora’s box

Nonetheless, the foreign Christian leaderships are at least in part to blame for opening up a Pandora’s box on land matters in Jerusalem and elsewhere.

They have treated their extensive holdings, much of it land and property entrusted to them by Palestinian Christians and overseas pilgrims, as chips in a game of real-estate poker. Israel has been looking for a chance to raise the stakes.

The tax exemption was derived from the charitable status of the churches’ spiritual mission and their outreach work with Palestinian communities that included the provision of schools and hospitals.

But increasingly the churches have downgraded their charitable works and diversified into other, more clearly commercial ventures, such as shops, offices and restaurants. Pilgrimage hostels were redeveloped into well-appointed and profitable hotels.

Part of the money was then siphoned off to the mother countries rather then reinvested in strengthening local Palestinian communities.

Meanwhile, the Greek Orthodox Church has been cashing in its holdings in Jerusalem, Israel and the West Bank, selling long-term leases, and in some cases the title deeds, on these lands to private Israeli developers and settler organisations.

According to the Orthodox Central Council, real estate deals over the past decade may have earned the Greek Patriarchate more than $100m. Most local Christians are wondering where all that money went. Their communities certainly haven’t seen it.

Selling to settlers

Israel was squarely behind the transactions when the church was selling lands on which Palestinian families lived. Settlers, rather than the churches, did the dirty work of carrying out evictions.

But then the churches got greedier still. They started selling future leases on lands in West Jerusalem that had housed Israeli Jews since the 1950s. The investors are now preparing to turf out these Jews from their homes too, so that the prime real-estate locations can be redeveloped more profitably.

The Israeli government was enthusiastic about the evictions of Palestinian Christians, but has drawn a thick red line at the eviction of Jews. That provided the impetus for the new legislation to let Israel seize lands and properties leased by the churches.

The bill may have been shelved temporarily, but it or something similar will resurface because the problem it addresses has not gone away.

Betrayal of Muslims

In their protest statement, the churches not only ignored their years of unthinking collusion with Israel against Palestinian Christians, but also betrayed any lingering solidarity with Palestinian Muslims.

They suggested that Christians had been singled out for attack by what they termed Israel’s “unprecedented” policies targeting their financial interests. They added: “This reminds us all of laws of a similar nature which were enacted against the Jews during dark periods in Europe.”

In fact, the churches have been handled with kid gloves compared to the treatment of Palestinian Muslims and their religious institutions since 1948.

Christian endowment land may be under threat now, but almost all properties in a similar endowment for Muslims – the Waqf – were seized by Israel at the Jewish state’s birth. Muslim communities lost these lands and properties – in effect, their welfare net – 70 years ago.

Israel’s free hand

The fact is Palestinian Christians were long ago abandoned by their churches, which preferred to avoid a serious clash with Israel that would harm their larger interests.

That has left Israel with a relatively free had to act against Palestinian communities. Most recently it has been waging a relentless war of financial attrition against Christian-founded schools and hospitals – two key resources for Palestinian communities – in Israel and occupied East Jerusalem. The assault has barely registered with the Church leaderships.

Sensing its upper hand, Israel has sought to make Palestinian Christians in Israel more dependent on the state, rather than the Churches, in an effort to pressure them gradually into becoming US-style Christian Zionists.

It has established a new classification of nationality in Israel – “Aramaean” – to replace Palestinian Christians’ existing, more inclusive “Arab” nationality. The cultivation of a hardline Christian nationalism is intended to sow tensions with Palestinian Muslims.

At the same time, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has launched a campaign to pressure Palestinian Christians into serving in the Israeli army, with the intention of weakening a unifying Palestinian nationalism and physically pitting Palestinian Christians against Palestinian Muslims.

Close the doors again

These measures have so far been strenuously resisted by most Palestinian Christians, but that is no thanks to the Vatican or the Greek Patriarchate.

These foreign leaderships are culpable for their casual neglect of the Palestinian cause, their slash-and-burn policies towards local Christians, and their special pleading.

There were plenty of opportunities – more honorable ones – over the past decade to shut the Holy Land’s major Christian pilgrimage sites in protest.

The cause should not have been about safeguarding business interests, but about focusing global Christian attention on the incremental destruction of indigenous Palestinian communities, Christian and Muslim alike.

The churches have seen how effective closing the Holy Sepulchre can be. It is time to close the church’s doors again – and this time for the right reasons.

• First published in Middle East Eye.

25 Years Ago: Feds Attack at Waco in Name of Gun Control

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Twenty-five years ago today, federal agents launched a military style attack on peaceful Texas residents who were suspected of having modified firearms. At a time when much of the media is in a frenzy in favor of gun control, the ATF raid on the Branch Davidians is a reminder of how armed bureaucrats will convert a right to regulate into a license to kill.

ATF agents never rehearsed how to conduct a legal, non-violent search of the Davidians’ residence. Instead, it was “Showtime” – the code name for the raid – and ATF invited television crews to film their triumph against bad guys. Federal agents shot first, apparently awarding themselves a divine right to kill the dogs outside before charging into the house.

With the profusion of politician calls for prohibiting semi-automatic weapons, Waco offers a somber reminder of how any such ban would be enforced.

Following are a few pieces I did on Waco in 1995 , when some members of Congress briefly acted like they gave a damn about the carnage.

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The New Republic

MAY 15, 1995

HEADLINE: NOT SO WACKO

BYLINE: James Bovard James Bovard is the author of Lost Rights: The Destruction of American Liberty (1994).

On last Sunday’s “60 Minutes,” when Lesley Stahl gingerly asked President Clinton if he had “any second thoughts” about the raid at Waco, he didn’t hesitate. “Before that raid was carried out,” Clinton fumed, “those people murdered a bunch of innocent law enforcement officials … and when that raid occurred it was the people who ran that cult compound who murdered their own children, not the federal officials. They made the decision to destroy all the children that were there.” You don’t have to sympathize with those seeking vengeance for the raid, though, to recognize that some second thoughts are in order.

Start with last year’s trial in which a jury found five of eleven surviving Branch Davidians guilty of manslaughter (not, as Clinton said, murder) in the deaths of four agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). The bureau claimed it had a video proving that the Davidians fired first during the ATF’s February 28, 1993, raid. Yet it never produced the video at the trial, and Rolland Ballestros, one of the first ATF agents out of the cattle trucks, told Texas Rangers and Waco police shortly after the raid that he thought the first shots came from agents aiming at the Davidians’ dogs. Besides, as Robert Cancro, chairman of the psychiatry department at the New York University Medical Center, commented in the Justice Department’s report on the Waco operation: “Certainly an armed assault by 100 agents had to be seen as an attack independent of who fired the first shot…. The law does not usually allow the potential attacker to fire first before a response can be called self-defense.”

Nor is it clear that the government should be absolved of blame for the fires in which eighty-one Branch Davidians died. The fires could, as the Justice Department claims, have been started by the Branch Davidians themselves, but many doubts remain. Federal officials have insisted that the CS gas (a potent form of tear gas) they lobbed into the Davidian compound was nonflammable. But according to US Army manuals, there is a significant risk of inflammability from CS gas particulates. One US Army Field Manual offers the following warning: ” When using the dry agent CS1, do not discharge indoors. Accumulating dust may explode when exposed to spark or open flame.” FBI officials testified after the April 19 fire that agents had thrown flash bang grenades–which can easily set off fires–into the compound during the gassing operation.

Federal officials also misrepresented the potential effects of the CS gas on the Davidians. A 1975 US Army publication on the effects of CS gas notes, “Generally, persons reacting to CS are incapable of executing organized and concerted actions and excessive exposure to CS may make them incapable of vacating the area.” According to Attorney General Janet Reno, the FBI hoped that pumping the gas into the compound would force people to flee outdoors. In fact, the gas itself may have prevented people from escaping.

Harvard University professor of law and psychiatry Alan Stone was one of the experts brought in by the Justice Department in 1993 to evaluate the agency’s action at Waco. In a recent interview, Stone observed, “Some of the government’s actions may have killed people before the fire started. I cannot tell whether the tanks knocked down places where people were already. I don’t know if there were people in there crushed by the collapsing building as a result of FBI tanks plowing into the structure before the fire started.”

Neither the ATF nor the FBI has made any apologies for their actions at Waco. Indeed, the ATF recently rehired two agents (with back pay) who were fired for lying about whether they knew that Koresh was expecting the initial ATF raid; the agents ordered the raid to proceed even after they were informed that Koresh was expecting an attack. James Jorgensen of the National Association of Treasury Agents denounced the rehiring last February: “This most recent callous action by the government is disgraceful. It defiles the memory of the brave ATF agents who gave their lives doing their duty.”

All of this adds up to reason for skepticism about the federal government’s version of what happened at Waco. It’s not only right-wing lunatics who have such doubts. A Treasury Department report written by outside experts and issued in September 1993 found “disturbing evidence of flawed decision making, inadequate intelligence gathering, miscommunication, supervisory failures, and deliberately misleading post-raid statements about the raid and the raid plan by certain ATF supervisors.” After the Justice Department issued its own considerably more favorable report on the FBI’s performance at Waco (it repeatedly praised the agency for “remarkable restraint” during its gassing operation), The New York Times published an editorial called, “the waco whitewash.” Even Justice Department investigators could find no evidence for the

rationale that Reno invoked for the FBI’s final assault: the need to use gas and tanks to prevent Koresh from abusing children.

Yet the Clinton administration and some members of Congress, such as Democrat Charles Schumer of New York, have been adamantly opposed to any oversight hearings on the Waco raid. Last Saturday Schumer denounced one such hearing scheduled for next month: “We know what that was all about. That was an attack on the ATF. This planned hearing was simply some red meat to some of those extreme right forces.” During the 1960s, conservative members of Congress reacted similarly to proposed oversight hearings on FBI abuses. Unfortunately, some liberals are now picking up the mantle.

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The Wall Street Journal

Monday, May 15, 1995

Waco Must Get a Hearing


By James Bovard

The Senate voted 74 to 23 last Thursday to indefinitely postpone  hearings on federal government actions in Waco, Texas, in 1993 and in the Ruby Ridge, Idaho (Randy Weaver) case in 1992. Sen. Arlen Specter  had urged the Senate to set a specific deadline for the hearings. But Sen. Orrin Hatch, the Judiciary Committee chairman, declared that any  hearings on Waco should be postponed until after the Oklahoma City bombers have been caught, tried and punished — which could take several  years. This is a grave error.

Attorney General Janet Reno declared on May 5: “There is much to be angry about when we talk about Waco — and the government’s conduct is  not the reason. David Koresh is the reason.” But public opinion polls show that approval of the government’s action at Waco is plummeting –  down from 80% just after the final assault in April 1993 to barely 40% now. There can be no justification for the terrorist attack last month  in Oklahoma City; but likewise there is no justification for delaying asking serious questions about government misconduct. House Speaker Newt  Gingrich announced Thursday that the House would be having thorough hearings on both cases by August, but no specific dates have been set.  The longer hearings are postponed, the greater the danger that the FBI will repeat the same tragic mistakes that preceded scores of deaths at  Waco.

Here are some of the issues that members of Congress must examine on Waco:

– Regarding the Feb. 28, 1993, attack on the compound by 100 Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents: Who shot first? Rolland  Ballesteros, one of the first ATF agents out of the cattle trailer that morning, told Texas Rangers investigating the case that the first shots  came from agents shooting the dogs. (He recanted at the Davidian trial last year, insisting instead that the Davidians shot first.) The ATF  claimed to have a video proving that the Davidians shot first, but refused to make it public. Congress should require all ATF videotapes of  the initial battle to be made public.

– Regarding the April 19, 1993, final FBI assault on the Davidians: When and why did the FBI decide to demolish the compound with its tanks?  Even before the fire started, roughly 20% of the compound had collapsed as a result of tank incursions. Amazingly, despite graphic videotapes of  54-ton FBI tanks smashing through the compound’s walls, Ms. Reno  declared this past April 30: “We didn’t attack. We tried to exercise every restraint possible to avoid violence.”

– Did any of the government tank incursions at Waco kill innocent women or children? Attorney General Reno declared on May 5, “It is  unfair, it is unreasonable, it is a lie, to spread the poison that the government was responsible at Waco for the murder of innocents.”  However, Harvard Prof. Alan Stone, one of the outside experts the Justice Department brought in, concluded: “Some of the government’s  actions may have killed people before the fire started. I cannot tell whether the tanks knocked down places where people were already. I don’t  know if there were people in there crushed by the collapsing building [as a result of FBI tanks plowing into the structure] before the fire  started.”

– What effect did the CS gas pumped into the compound for six hours have on the women and children? While Reno recently characterized the  gas as a mere “irritant,” Technology Review noted in October 1988 that CS gas is far more potent than another widely used tear gas. CS gas can  kill: United Nation officials estimated that the use of CS gas resulted in 44 fatalities in the Gaza Strip in 1988, as well as more than 1,200  injuries and numerous miscarriages.

– What did the FBI hope to accomplish by gassing the Davidians? FBI Deputy Director Floyd Clarke told Congress nine days after the fire that  the FBI’s plan was to “immediately and totally immerse the place in gas, and throw in flash-bangs which would disorient them and cause people to  . . . think, if not rationally, at least instinctively, and perhaps give them a way to come out.” Flash-bang grenades temporarily blind people  and, according to a US Army Field Manual, “Generally, persons reacting to CS are incapable of executing organized and concerted actions and  excessive exposure to CS may make them incapable of vacating the area.”

– What role might the government have had in starting or spreading the fires in the compound? Federal officials after the fire insisted  that the CS gas was nonflammable. But, according to US Army manuals, there is a significant risk of flammability from the CS gas  particulates. US Army Field Manual FM-21-27 states: “Warning: when  using the dry agent CS-1, do not discharge indoors. Accumulating dust may explode when exposed to spark or open flame.” Retired Army Col. Rex  Applegate, one of the nation’s foremost experts on riot control agents, declared in a recent interview, “Any flash bang will start fires.”

– Congress should force the Justice Department and FBI to make public all audio tapes from inside the compound at Waco and all  communications tapes between the tank operators and their commanders. Ms. Reno told federal law enforcement officers on May 5 that the  Davidians’ “words were recorded while they were spreading the fuels to ignite the fire.” However, controversy exists over the audio tapes from  inside the compound. At the trial last year, prosecutors presented a transcript of tapes made from electronic listening devices inside the  compound, claiming that the tapes showed a Davidian suicide scheme. However, after challenges from defense attorneys, the government’s audio expert conceded that he altered the transcripts after meeting with  Justice Department officials.

As the New York Times reported: “Defense lawyer Mike DeGeurin demonstrated that more than 100 hours of FBI tapes from the compound had  been reduced to an hour of excerpts by the prosecution’s audio expert. ‘We didn’t hear things today from the earlier transcripts, such as  people praying as tanks were bashing in their homes, or children calling for their parents.”‘

– Why does Janet Reno keep changing her rationale for the government’s final assault at Waco? Immediately after the fire, she  justified the assault as needed to stop David Koresh from beating babies. (The FBI later admitted that it had no information to indicate  that such accusations against Koresh were valid.) But on May 5 of this year Ms. Reno announced that the “first and foremost” reason for the  tank/gas assault was that “law-enforcement agents on the ground concluded that the perimeter had become unstable and posed a risk both  to them and to the surrounding homes and farms. Individuals sympathetic to Koresh were threatening to take matters into their own hands to end  the stalemate [and] were at various times reportedly on the way.”

– How did Janet Reno lose 16 machine guns? The major justification for the initial ATF raid was the allegation that the Davidians illegally  possessed machine guns. At the trial last year, the Justice Department claimed that 48 machine guns were found at the Davidian compound after  the fire. Defense experts were prohibited from examining the weapons to see if they had been tampered with by the government, as happened in at  least one other high-profile federal court case in recent years. On May 5, Ms. Reno said that the Davidians had only 32 machine guns. At this  rate, all the alleged machine guns will vanish by 1997.

– Why are President Clinton and Ms. Reno misrepresenting the jury verdict as a vindication for the government? The jury verdict was  correctly characterized by the New York Times as a “stunning defeat” for the federal government; a Los Angeles Times headline declared, “Outcome  Indicates Jurors Placed Most Blame on the Government.” Bill Johnston, the lead federal attorney at Waco, burst into tears in bitter  disappointment at the verdict. The defendants received relatively light sentences — until the Justice Department subsequently arm-twisted the  judge into reinstating charges that he had originally dismissed after the jury verdict.

Mr. Clinton declared on April 23, “This is a freedom-loving democracy because the rule of law has reigned for over 200 years now.” The  foundation of the rule of law is that government officials must obey the same laws as private citizens. The ghosts of Waco will continue to haunt  the US government until the truth is told about what the government did and why.

— Mr. Bovard is the author of “Lost Rights: The Destruction of American

Liberty” (St. Martin’s Press).

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Finally – an article that came out the day after the congressional hearings ended. I was astounded that Janet Reno’s “rent-a-tank” comment did not prove inflammatory. But the Washington media covered for Big Janet – as it always did.

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The Wall Street Journal

Wednesday, August 2, 1995

Hearings Show Waco Defense is Wacky

By James Bovard

The Waco hearings, which ended yesterday with testimony by Attorney General Janet Reno, were marked by administration obfuscation, Democratic pettifogging and far too much feeble, half-hearted questioning from Republicans. But enough new information has come out to make mincemeat of the Clinton administration’s Waco story.

Within 36 hours after the Feb. 28, 1993, initial assault on the Branch Davidian compound, the federal government abandoned routine law enforcement to avoid gathering evidence that might embarrass the government. A Sept. 17, 1993, Treasury Department confidential memo to Assistant Treasury Secretary Ronald Noble stated that on March 1, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms initiated a shooting review and “immediately determined that these stories [of agents involved] did not add up.” Justice Department attorney Bill Johnston “at this point advised [ATF supervisor Dan] Hartnett to stop the ATF shooting review because ATF was creating” exculpatory material that might undermine the government prosecution of the Davidians.

The coverup continued on April 14, 1993. That day, the Treasury Department assistant general counsel, Robert McNamara, sent a memo to several top-ranking Treasury officials stating that the Justice Department “does not want Treasury to conduct any interviews or have discussions with any of the participants who may be potential witnesses” because of fear of creating exculpatory material. The memo noted, “While we may be able to wait for some of [the witnesses] to have testified in the criminal trial, the passage of time will dim memories.”

The Justice Department also warned the Treasury Department not to contact outside experts to analyze the original raid: “DOJ does not want us to generate gratuitous ‘expert witness’ materials; the prosecutors are concerned that these people won’t have all the facts upon which to base a thoughtful opinion and could play into defense hands.”

Regarding the FBI’s April 19, 1993, gassing of the Davidians, the Justice Department official report on Waco stressed that the FBI intended to gas the compound incrementally over a 48-hour period. A few minutes after the FBI gas attack began, the Davidians fired upon the tank that was injecting gas into the compound. The FBI, following its official plan, greatly accelerated its gassing — effectively injecting all the gas it planned to use over two days over a three-hour period.

While the official report portrayed the speed-up of the assault as a regrettable reaction to the Davidians’ gun shots, FBI commander Jeffrey Jamar told the House committee that he believed before the final assault that the chances of the Davidians firing on the tanks was 99% — thus making the speedup of the gassing and subsequent demolition a virtual certainty.

Congressional Democrats, who spent the first days of the hearings denouncing David Koresh for child abuse, strove mightily to claim that the CS gas the FBI used on the 21 children and 60-plus adults at Waco was as innocuous as a Flintstone vitamin. But Bill Marcus, a senior science advisor at the Environmental Protection Agency, pointed out that the CS would effect children between eight and 20 times as harshly as it affected adults. Mr. Marcus observed: “The FBI failed to read and follow the label directions” on the CS gas and the methylene chloride that agents mixed it with.

Regarding the methylene chloride that the FBI inserted into the compound, former ATF fire expert Rick Sherrow testified, “The Dow Chemical Corporation Materials Safety Data Sheet specifically states that this chemical forms flammable vapor air mixtures [and] ‘[i]n confined or poorly ventilated areas, vapors can readily accumulate and cause unconsciousness and death.”‘

Rep. John Mica (R., Fla.) observed that even if the children didn’t die directly from the CS gas, “we sure as hell tortured them for six hours before they died.”

The briefing book the FBI gave Attorney General Reno on April 12, 1993, contained false information on the effects of the CS gas. The document stated, “Experience with the effects of CS on children including infants has been extensively investigated. Available reports indicate that, even in high concentrations or enclosed areas, long term complications from CS exposures is extremely rare.” However, Defense Department toxicologist Harry Shaw testified that only two studies were available on the effects on children. One study showed that an infant exposed to CS for a few hours had to be hospitalized for 28 days; the FBI intended to gas the children in the Waco compound for 48 hours.

Rep. John Shadegg (R., Ariz.) made a painfully short presentation on July 28 showing the massive portions of the Davidian compound destroyed by FBI tanks before the fire began. Under vigorous questioning, the FBI’s Floyd Clarke admitted, “The destruction of the building was part of the ultimate plan which was included” in the briefing book given to Attorney General Reno on April 12. Yet, though FBI officials admitted that they were far along in the process of destroying the building before the fire started, the official FBI statement to the hearing still bragged, “The FBI agents demonstrated remarkable restraint and did not fire a single shot during the entire standoff.”

And, while Mr. Clarke stated that the assault was intended to destroy the compound, former FBI commander Jamar insisted: “The intent was to hopefully get their attention to where they would engage in serious negotiations.” Destroying their home was an excellent means of getting the Davidians’ attention but was not the kind of good-faith gesture that could have advanced negotiations.

The highlight of Attorney General Reno’s testimony yesterday was her assertion that the 54-ton tank that smashed through the Davidian compound should not be considered a military vehicle — instead it was just “like a good rent-a-car.” Such an observation does not inspire confidence in the Justice Department’s moderation in its future operation.

The evidence of a coverup and gross federal misconduct is far stronger in the Waco hearings than in the Whitewater investigation. The Republican leadership in Congress should seize upon the recent revelations to demand a special counsel to be appointed to investigate possible federal crimes and coverups regarding Waco.

Reprinted with permission from JimBovard.com.

Behind The State Department’s $40 Million Troll Farm

The State Department's "counter-propanda" office, the "Global Engagement Center" has recently had its budget doubled by a $40 million cash transfer from the Pentagon. What does this mean? The US government will do much more meddling in the internal affairs of foreign countries with the excuse that it is "countering" unproven Russian meddling in the US elections and political life. Much of the money will go to NGOs that toe the US government line and act as force-multipliers for US neocon propaganda. The project is an assault on non-interventionists in the US. More in today's Liberty Report:

Canada’s Social Democrats Suppress “Palestine Resolution”

They came, mostly young people, to fight for justice. They came to support the rule of international law, to help solve a longstanding injustice through non-violent means; they came to tell an oppressed people you have not been forgotten; they came to do what is right for a left wing political party; they came to speak truth to power.

And how did the left wing party respond? By using the “machine” — orders from on high, backroom arm-twisting, opaque block voting and procedural manoeuvring — to prevent debate. Silence in class!

While NDP insiders probably feel they dodged the “Palestine Resolution” bullet at their recent convention, many party apparatchiks may come to regret their undemocratic moves. Their naked suppression of debate might stir rage against the machine they’ve proved to be. At a minimum it has provoked many to ask why.

Why, when the Palestine Resolution was endorsed unanimously by the NDP youth convention and by over 25 riding associations, did the powers that be not want it even discussed?

Given the resolution mostly restated official Canadian policy, except that it called for “banning settlement products from Canadian markets, and using other forms of diplomatic and economic pressure to end the occupation” one can only assume that the party machine either supports the indefinite Israeli occupation of Palestinian land or has some sort of problem with boycotts and economic sanctions. Clearly the NDP is not against boycotts and economic sanctions in principle since they’ve recently supported these measures against Russia, Venezuela and elsewhere.

If, after a half-century of illegal occupation, one can’t call for boycotting Israeli settlement goods, then when? After a century? Two?

Or is the problem the particular country to be boycotted? Does the NDP hierarchy believe that anti-Semitism can be the only possible motivation for putting economic pressure on Israel to accept a Palestinian state? Or perhaps it is simply a worry that the dominant media would attack the party?

Whatever the ideological reason the bottom line is the Palestine Resolution was buried to ensure it wouldn’t be discussed. When its proponents sought to push it up the priority list at an early morning session before the main plenary, the party hierarchy blocked it. In a poorly publicized side room meeting they succeeded 200 to 189. NDP House Leader Guy Caron mobilized an unprecedented number of current and former MPs, including Murray Rankin, Randall Garrison, Craig Scott, Tracey Ramsey, Alexandre Boulerice, Hélène Laverdière, Nathan Cullen and others, to vote against debating the most widely endorsed foreign policy resolution at the convention (Niki Ashton was the only MP to support re-prioritizing the Palestine Resolution.)

Apparently, the party leadership discussed how to counter the resolution at two meetings before the convention. In a comment on a Guardian story about the need for the NDP to move left, Tom Allen, a staffer for Windsor Tecumseth NDP MP Cheryl Hardcastle, describes “panicked” planning to defeat the resolution. “As for the part about the ‘party establishment (being) easily able to deflect challenges from the left.’ I would respectfully submit that this is wrong. As an NDP staffer I can tell you that it wasn’t easy at all this time and, especially with regards to the ‘Palestinian Resolution,’ which required a great deal of panicked last minute organizing to defeat (and only then by a close margin).”

Why would the party establishment risk turning off so many young activists, exactly the sort of member new leader Jagmeet Singh claims he wants to attract?

A quick look at some of the more prominent supporters of shutting down debate suggests an answer.

Victoria area MPs (defence critic) Randall Garrison and (justice critic) Murray Rankin who voted against debating the Palestine Resolution are members of the Canada Israel Inter-Parliamentary Group and took a Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs paid trip to Israel in 2016. After the IDF slaughtered 2,200 Palestinians in Gaza in the summer of 2014, Rankin offered words of encouragement to an emergency fundraiser for Israel.

Party foreign critic Hélène Laverdière, who voted to suppress the Palestine Resolution, took a paid trip to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s conference in Washington in 2016 and participated in a Jewish National Fund event in Israel.

British Columbia liaison and critic for democratic institutions, Nathan Cullen also voted against debating the Palestine Resolution. “I am strongly in support of Israel”, Cullen bellowed in a 2016 statement about how people should be allowed to criticize that country. In 2014-15 Cullen’s office took in Daniel Gans through CIJA’s Parliamentary Internship Program, which pays pro-Israel university students $10,000 to work for parliamentarians (Gans then worked as parliamentary assistant to NDP MP Finn Donnelly). In 2014 Cullen met representatives of CIJA Pacific Region to talk about Israel, Iran and other subjects. According to CIJA’s summary of the meeting, “Mr. Cullen understood the importance of a close Canada-Israel relationship.”

Maybe the loudest anti-Palestinian at the convention was former president of the Ontario NDP and federal council member Janet Solberg. Unsatisfied as a settler in Toronto, Solberg pursued a more aggressive colonial experience when she moved to historic Palestine as a young adult.

Just before the convention the President of the Windsor-Tecumseh Federal NDP, Noah Tepperman, sent out an email to all riding associations calling on them to oppose Palestine resolutions. In it he claimed, “boycotts based on religion, nationality or place of origin directly contravene the spirit of inclusiveness to which we in the NDP are committed.” He further alluded to an anti-Jewish agenda by connecting the different solidarity resolutions to “a backdrop of already-high-and-rising antisemitism here in Canada as well as abroad.” But, Tepperman sits on the board of the Windsor Jewish National Fund, which is an openly racist organization.

The truth is pro-Israel-no-matter-what-it-does NDP members in positions of power within the party won a narrow battle. How the war goes will depend on the lessons learned by those seeking a party that’s an instrument of real change, that fights against all forms of racism and oppression.

Endgame Russia: NATO Sprawl Invades Eastern Europe, No More Illusions

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In the past, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) justified its militarization of large swaths of Eastern Europe by pointing to the omnipresent threat of terrorism, or some 'rogue' foreign state, inherently understood to be Iran. Today the mask has slipped and it is no longer denied that NATO's primary target is Russia.

But first, a trip down nightmare lane. The road to ruin - at least as far as US-Russia relations were concerned - began immediately following the 9/11 terror attacks. Three months after that fateful day, in December 2001, George W. Bush informed Vladimir Putin that the US was withdrawing from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, a strange move considering that the treaty had kept the peace between the nuclear superpowers since 1972. This geopolitical "mistake," as Putin rightly defined it, allowed the US to begin the process of deploying a missile defense system, smack on the border with Russia, allegedly to shield the continent against an attack by Iran. Never mind the fact that Tehran had absolutely no reason, not to mention the wherewithal, to carry out such a suicidal mission. But Washington has never been one to let facts get in the way of a forced move on the global chess board.

Thus, the Bush administration advocated on behalf of a land-based missile defense system with interceptors based in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic. However, due to serious objections from Russia, not to mention the apprehensive citizens of the host countries, the plan had reached an impasse in 2008 - just as Obama was replacing Bush in the White House. Some would call that impeccable timing. What happened next can only be described as a devious sleight of hand on the part of Washington.

In September 2009, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Barack Obama, announced to great fanfare that the US would "shelve" the Bush plan. This announcement was received in Moscow and beyond as a sign that America's first black president was truly the real deal when it came to working on behalf of global peace. Suddenly, it appeared that the Bush reign of error had been an ugly anomaly, a bad eight-year dream. That grand illusion lasted for about as long as it took to read that sentence.

Barack Obama, the man who had seduced the global masses with his velvety albeit telepromoted delivery, shifted gears the very next day, announcing that the US would be deploying, in four phases, sea-based SM-3 interceptor missiles in Eastern Europe instead. An opinion piece in the New York Times, penned by then Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, provided all the information to understand that the world had been hoodwinked.

"Steady technological advances in our missile defense program — from kill vehicles to the abilities to network radars and sensors — give us confidence in this plan," Gates wrote. "The SM-3 has had eight successful tests since 2007, and we will continue to develop it to give it the capacity to intercept long-range missiles like ICBMs. It is now more than able to deal with the threat from multiple short- and medium-range missiles — a very real threat to our allies and some 80,000 American troops based in Europe that was not addressed by the previous plan."

"We are strengthening — not scrapping — missile defense in Europe," he concluded.

With the benefit of hindsight and common sense, it seems that Washington's plan from the start was to move forward with the sophisticated SM-3 system; the bulky Bush initiative just provided the necessary distraction to usher in the advanced Obama plan, which presents a major threat to the global strategic balance.

But all that is ancient history compared to what is happening today. Under the guise of 'Russia aggression,' a concept that was peddled to the unsuspecting masses based on the fake news of a Russian 'invasion' of Ukraine and Crimea, compounded by claims that Russia somehow swayed the 2016 US presidential elections, US-led NATO has dropped all pretensions and declared open season on Russia. Combined with Donald Trump's empty threat that the US would exit NATO if member states did not start spending more on defense (2 percent of annula GDP), Eastern Europe has become a veritable hothouse of paranoia-driven militarization.

In what the Kremlin has described as the greatest amassing of military assets on its border since World War II, NATO troops and hardware have set up camp from as far north as Estonia, down through Latvia and Lithuania, into Romania and Poland, where the rotation of US troops is now standard operating procedure.

Meanwhile, massive military games aimed at deterring the Russian bogeyman continue unabated on Russia's border. In April, British journalist Neil Clark described just one of these exercises, dubbed Summer Shield. The NATO military exercises "got underway at the Adazi military base. Soldiers from Latvia, the US, Bulgaria, Estonia, Canada, Lithuania, the UK, Luxembourg, Romania, Slovakia, Germany and also non-NATO member Sweden are taking part in the drills," Clark wrote.

He then went on to make a rather unsettling yet accurate observation: "Today’s mantra regarding 'Russian aggression' is the 2003 equivalent of 'Saddam’s Weapons of Mass Destruction,' to be repeated ad nauseum by anyone supporting NATO’s Drang nach Osten. And like the WMD claim, it’s based on zero evidence."

Such reckless behavior would have been difficult to fathom less than a decade ago.

But these are brave new times, and American madness has settled upon the realm of foreign relations like a noxious cloud, forcing client states to crack open their tattered wallets or be left out in the cold when the big, bad Russian bear comes a knocking.

Consider the case of Romania, one of Europe's poorest countries. Prompted by Donald Trump's warning that North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members must fork over 2 percent of their GDP on military spending, Bucharest just made a down payment on a $1 billion American-made M142 HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System), as well as four new multi-function corvettes.

Romanian Defence Minister Mihai Fifor told Jane’s that these exorbitant purchases would “improve Romania’s national and allied defense capability” and emphasized that Romania’s commitment to the 2% of GDP spending cap “for the next 10 years is strong”.

Prime Minister Viorica Dancila said, “We want those procurement programs to also strengthen our defence industry based on offset arrangements where possible”.

This was not the first American military incursion into Romania under the guise of guarding against Iran and other alleged rogue players.

In May 2016, the US activated its $800 million missile shield in Romania, which Russia obviously views as a direct threat.

“At the moment the interceptor missiles installed have a range of 500 kilometers, soon this will go up to 1000 kilometers, and worse than that, they can be rearmed with 2400km-range offensive missiles even today, and it can be done by simply switching the software, so that even the Romanians themselves won’t know,” Vladimir Putin told reporters during a visit to Greece in May 2016.

“We have been saying since the early 2000s that we will have to react somehow to your moves to undermine international security. No one is listening to us,” Putin warned.

It remains to be seen how long NATO tone deafness will continue before the militarization of Eastern Europe gets completely out of control and the situation becomes untenable. Or perhaps the point of no return has already come to pass and, fait accompli, we are merely enjoying an illusory calm before the storm.

Reprinted with permission from Strategic Culture Foundation.

Endgame Russia: NATO Sprawl Invades Eastern Europe, No More Illusions

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In the past, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) justified its militarization of large swaths of Eastern Europe by pointing to the omnipresent threat of terrorism, or some 'rogue' foreign state, inherently understood to be Iran. Today the mask has slipped and it is no longer denied that NATO's primary target is Russia.

But first, a trip down nightmare lane. The road to ruin - at least as far as US-Russia relations were concerned - began immediately following the 9/11 terror attacks. Three months after that fateful day, in December 2001, George W. Bush informed Vladimir Putin that the US was withdrawing from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, a strange move considering that the treaty had kept the peace between the nuclear superpowers since 1972. This geopolitical "mistake," as Putin rightly defined it, allowed the US to begin the process of deploying a missile defense system, smack on the border with Russia, allegedly to shield the continent against an attack by Iran. Never mind the fact that Tehran had absolutely no reason, not to mention the wherewithal, to carry out such a suicidal mission. But Washington has never been one to let facts get in the way of a forced move on the global chess board.

Thus, the Bush administration advocated on behalf of a land-based missile defense system with interceptors based in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic. However, due to serious objections from Russia, not to mention the apprehensive citizens of the host countries, the plan had reached an impasse in 2008 - just as Obama was replacing Bush in the White House. Some would call that impeccable timing. What happened next can only be described as a devious sleight of hand on the part of Washington.

In September 2009, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Barack Obama, announced to great fanfare that the US would "shelve" the Bush plan. This announcement was received in Moscow and beyond as a sign that America's first black president was truly the real deal when it came to working on behalf of global peace. Suddenly, it appeared that the Bush reign of error had been an ugly anomaly, a bad eight-year dream. That grand illusion lasted for about as long as it took to read that sentence.

Barack Obama, the man who had seduced the global masses with his velvety albeit telepromoted delivery, shifted gears the very next day, announcing that the US would be deploying, in four phases, sea-based SM-3 interceptor missiles in Eastern Europe instead. An opinion piece in the New York Times, penned by then Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, provided all the information to understand that the world had been hoodwinked.

"Steady technological advances in our missile defense program — from kill vehicles to the abilities to network radars and sensors — give us confidence in this plan," Gates wrote. "The SM-3 has had eight successful tests since 2007, and we will continue to develop it to give it the capacity to intercept long-range missiles like ICBMs. It is now more than able to deal with the threat from multiple short- and medium-range missiles — a very real threat to our allies and some 80,000 American troops based in Europe that was not addressed by the previous plan."

"We are strengthening — not scrapping — missile defense in Europe," he concluded.

With the benefit of hindsight and common sense, it seems that Washington's plan from the start was to move forward with the sophisticated SM-3 system; the bulky Bush initiative just provided the necessary distraction to usher in the advanced Obama plan, which presents a major threat to the global strategic balance.

But all that is ancient history compared to what is happening today. Under the guise of 'Russia aggression,' a concept that was peddled to the unsuspecting masses based on the fake news of a Russian 'invasion' of Ukraine and Crimea, compounded by claims that Russia somehow swayed the 2016 US presidential elections, US-led NATO has dropped all pretensions and declared open season on Russia. Combined with Donald Trump's empty threat that the US would exit NATO if member states did not start spending more on defense (2 percent of annula GDP), Eastern Europe has become a veritable hothouse of paranoia-driven militarization.

In what the Kremlin has described as the greatest amassing of military assets on its border since World War II, NATO troops and hardware have set up camp from as far north as Estonia, down through Latvia and Lithuania, into Romania and Poland, where the rotation of US troops is now standard operating procedure.

Meanwhile, massive military games aimed at deterring the Russian bogeyman continue unabated on Russia's border. In April, British journalist Neil Clark described just one of these exercises, dubbed Summer Shield. The NATO military exercises "got underway at the Adazi military base. Soldiers from Latvia, the US, Bulgaria, Estonia, Canada, Lithuania, the UK, Luxembourg, Romania, Slovakia, Germany and also non-NATO member Sweden are taking part in the drills," Clark wrote.

He then went on to make a rather unsettling yet accurate observation: "Today’s mantra regarding 'Russian aggression' is the 2003 equivalent of 'Saddam’s Weapons of Mass Destruction,' to be repeated ad nauseum by anyone supporting NATO’s Drang nach Osten. And like the WMD claim, it’s based on zero evidence."

Such reckless behavior would have been difficult to fathom less than a decade ago.

But these are brave new times, and American madness has settled upon the realm of foreign relations like a noxious cloud, forcing client states to crack open their tattered wallets or be left out in the cold when the big, bad Russian bear comes a knocking.

Consider the case of Romania, one of Europe's poorest countries. Prompted by Donald Trump's warning that North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members must fork over 2 percent of their GDP on military spending, Bucharest just made a down payment on a $1 billion American-made M142 HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System), as well as four new multi-function corvettes.

Romanian Defence Minister Mihai Fifor told Jane’s that these exorbitant purchases would “improve Romania’s national and allied defense capability” and emphasized that Romania’s commitment to the 2% of GDP spending cap “for the next 10 years is strong”.

Prime Minister Viorica Dancila said, “We want those procurement programs to also strengthen our defence industry based on offset arrangements where possible”.

This was not the first American military incursion into Romania under the guise of guarding against Iran and other alleged rogue players.

In May 2016, the US activated its $800 million missile shield in Romania, which Russia obviously views as a direct threat.

“At the moment the interceptor missiles installed have a range of 500 kilometers, soon this will go up to 1000 kilometers, and worse than that, they can be rearmed with 2400km-range offensive missiles even today, and it can be done by simply switching the software, so that even the Romanians themselves won’t know,” Vladimir Putin told reporters during a visit to Greece in May 2016.

“We have been saying since the early 2000s that we will have to react somehow to your moves to undermine international security. No one is listening to us,” Putin warned.

It remains to be seen how long NATO tone deafness will continue before the militarization of Eastern Europe gets completely out of control and the situation becomes untenable. Or perhaps the point of no return has already come to pass and, fait accompli, we are merely enjoying an illusory calm before the storm.

Reprinted with permission from Strategic Culture Foundation.

Prostituting Charity: The Oxfam Debate

Oxfam has outdone itself.  In the murky, squalid business where charity seems to chase, then embed itself in disaster zones like a dedicated virus, Oxfam ranks highly.  In terms of a tally, the number of reported abuses in the charity sector is galloping ahead, with one of Britain’s most noted charities in the lead.

The revelations this month that the charity’s staff sexually exploited victims of the Haiti earthquake in 2010, a point subsequently concealed, have triggered a storm of British discontent.  The revelations included a very active country director, Roland van Hauwermeiren, who revelled in sex parties as he went about his humanitarian work.  Allegations of sexual abuse in Oxfam shops have also made their searing mark.

The organisation has lost over 7,000 donors since the revelations, and MPs on the international development committee overseeing aid have been unimpressed. The Charity Commission may well have been misled by former executives Dame Barbara Stocking and Penny Lawrence.

Oxfam’s CEO, Mark Goldring, is all apologies, notably after remarking in an interview with The Guardian that the charity was being attacked as if “we murdered babies in their cots.  Certainly, the scale and the intensity of the attacks feel out of proportion to the level of culpability. I struggle to understand it.”

The official line from the organisation was more humbling, though prefaced by an insistence that measures of reform had been implemented. “It is clear we still have not done enough to change our own culture and to create the strongest possible policies to protect people we work with globally. We are doing that right now.  But we must do much more and act with greater urgency.”

On the other side of the moral saviour is the self-helping abuser.  Such figures have needs and callings.  The squalid reality soon manifests.  Vulnerability is less there to be alleviated than cultivated, teased into an ongoing relationship between the victim and the touted rescuer.  Historically, however, the mission of rescue can be broadly seen as part of the stock idea of the civilising project.  The modern humanitarian project is a colonialism of the emotions, pornogrified guilt that finds refuge in despair.

It is precisely such a civilising mission that was said to cause debility and emotional decay. The obligated civilisers, in engaging their burdensome task, would encounter harsh environments, uncompromising geography and problematic natives.

It was precisely such background that provided the alibi and apologia for the white civilizer’s bad behaviour read against noble necessity. Geographer Ellsworth Huntington suggested in Civilization and Climate (1915) that temperate zones engendered mental stimulation while tropical climates induced “tropical inertia”.

The focus of such geographers and the odd enthused quack was an insistence on justifiable degeneracy as an occupational hazard.  “Tropical neurasthenia” was one term coined by Charles Woodruff in his 1905 work The Effects of Tropical Light on White Men, emphasising the preponderance of insanity amongst certain US soldiers based in the Philippines. (Those based in cooler regions evinced fewer problems.)

“According to the man’s complexion and general resistance to this exhaustion from increased metabolism and effects of the light may be so slight as to show mere enervation, or nervous weakness being more marked in older men.”  Such studies served to bolster the views of Benjamin Kidd, a British sociologist who insisted that peoples from temperate zones could never adjust to tropical climes.

Taking such factors into account, and the modern, heart bleeding charity worker becomes a colonial builder.  Such a figure is part of the modern industry of rescue, dressed up as a charitable exercise.  According to Afua Hirsch, theories such as tropical neurasthenia may well have fallen out after the Second World War, “but to this day our understanding of countries that receive humanitarian assistance is still deeply grounded in the same colonial thinking.”

Even those considered voraciously read and enlightened on the problems of empire find room, even if small, to defend such missions.  Poverty and disaster invite assumptions.  “I do wonder how hard it must be to sustain ‘civilised’ values in a disaster zone,” pondered Cambridge classicist Mary Beard.  That statement, it should be added, followed on from, “Of course one can’t condone the (alleged) behaviour of Oxfam staff in Haiti or elsewhere.”

The Beard episode induced outrage.  Language police duly considered her use of inverted commas of civilisation as unwarranted and misguided.  Others chose to avoid seeing them.  Torrential abuse followed.

Fellow Cambridge academic Priyamvada Gopal finessed a particularly brutal response, reflecting on her own place of employment.  Cambridge, that abode “where there is little direct abuse but plenty of genteel and patrician casual racism passing as frank and well-meaning observations.” Beard had done nothing to show contrition, indeed persisted in refusing “to see what was so profoundly and deeply wrong” with such claims, supplemented by “bizarre, indeed cringe-making comparisons between the French resistance and aid workers.”

Beard felt, a point she subsequently made in a blog for the Times Literary Supplement, she had been “guilty of a shorthand which misled.”  She duly concluded that it was “too easy to imagine that we are better than those who do the work we would be too scared to do.”  The implication of such a sentiment, framed as an obligatory task of the nobly decent, is clear: even those involved in rescue and inadvertent civilising are humans too.  Patrician morality is alive and kicking.

Prostituting Charity: The Oxfam Debate

Oxfam has outdone itself.  In the murky, squalid business where charity seems to chase, then embed itself in disaster zones like a dedicated virus, Oxfam ranks highly.  In terms of a tally, the number of reported abuses in the charity sector is galloping ahead, with one of Britain’s most noted charities in the lead.

The revelations this month that the charity’s staff sexually exploited victims of the Haiti earthquake in 2010, a point subsequently concealed, have triggered a storm of British discontent.  The revelations included a very active country director, Roland van Hauwermeiren, who revelled in sex parties as he went about his humanitarian work.  Allegations of sexual abuse in Oxfam shops have also made their searing mark.

The organisation has lost over 7,000 donors since the revelations, and MPs on the international development committee overseeing aid have been unimpressed. The Charity Commission may well have been misled by former executives Dame Barbara Stocking and Penny Lawrence.

Oxfam’s CEO, Mark Goldring, is all apologies, notably after remarking in an interview with The Guardian that the charity was being attacked as if “we murdered babies in their cots.  Certainly, the scale and the intensity of the attacks feel out of proportion to the level of culpability. I struggle to understand it.”

The official line from the organisation was more humbling, though prefaced by an insistence that measures of reform had been implemented. “It is clear we still have not done enough to change our own culture and to create the strongest possible policies to protect people we work with globally. We are doing that right now.  But we must do much more and act with greater urgency.”

On the other side of the moral saviour is the self-helping abuser.  Such figures have needs and callings.  The squalid reality soon manifests.  Vulnerability is less there to be alleviated than cultivated, teased into an ongoing relationship between the victim and the touted rescuer.  Historically, however, the mission of rescue can be broadly seen as part of the stock idea of the civilising project.  The modern humanitarian project is a colonialism of the emotions, pornogrified guilt that finds refuge in despair.

It is precisely such a civilising mission that was said to cause debility and emotional decay. The obligated civilisers, in engaging their burdensome task, would encounter harsh environments, uncompromising geography and problematic natives.

It was precisely such background that provided the alibi and apologia for the white civilizer’s bad behaviour read against noble necessity. Geographer Ellsworth Huntington suggested in Civilization and Climate (1915) that temperate zones engendered mental stimulation while tropical climates induced “tropical inertia”.

The focus of such geographers and the odd enthused quack was an insistence on justifiable degeneracy as an occupational hazard.  “Tropical neurasthenia” was one term coined by Charles Woodruff in his 1905 work The Effects of Tropical Light on White Men, emphasising the preponderance of insanity amongst certain US soldiers based in the Philippines. (Those based in cooler regions evinced fewer problems.)

“According to the man’s complexion and general resistance to this exhaustion from increased metabolism and effects of the light may be so slight as to show mere enervation, or nervous weakness being more marked in older men.”  Such studies served to bolster the views of Benjamin Kidd, a British sociologist who insisted that peoples from temperate zones could never adjust to tropical climes.

Taking such factors into account, and the modern, heart bleeding charity worker becomes a colonial builder.  Such a figure is part of the modern industry of rescue, dressed up as a charitable exercise.  According to Afua Hirsch, theories such as tropical neurasthenia may well have fallen out after the Second World War, “but to this day our understanding of countries that receive humanitarian assistance is still deeply grounded in the same colonial thinking.”

Even those considered voraciously read and enlightened on the problems of empire find room, even if small, to defend such missions.  Poverty and disaster invite assumptions.  “I do wonder how hard it must be to sustain ‘civilised’ values in a disaster zone,” pondered Cambridge classicist Mary Beard.  That statement, it should be added, followed on from, “Of course one can’t condone the (alleged) behaviour of Oxfam staff in Haiti or elsewhere.”

The Beard episode induced outrage.  Language police duly considered her use of inverted commas of civilisation as unwarranted and misguided.  Others chose to avoid seeing them.  Torrential abuse followed.

Fellow Cambridge academic Priyamvada Gopal finessed a particularly brutal response, reflecting on her own place of employment.  Cambridge, that abode “where there is little direct abuse but plenty of genteel and patrician casual racism passing as frank and well-meaning observations.” Beard had done nothing to show contrition, indeed persisted in refusing “to see what was so profoundly and deeply wrong” with such claims, supplemented by “bizarre, indeed cringe-making comparisons between the French resistance and aid workers.”

Beard felt, a point she subsequently made in a blog for the Times Literary Supplement, she had been “guilty of a shorthand which misled.”  She duly concluded that it was “too easy to imagine that we are better than those who do the work we would be too scared to do.”  The implication of such a sentiment, framed as an obligatory task of the nobly decent, is clear: even those involved in rescue and inadvertent civilising are humans too.  Patrician morality is alive and kicking.

Disordering the World: the Rise of Neo-Liberalism

Photo from Age of Extremes cover | CC BY 2.0

In his melancholic book, Age of Extremes: the Short Twentieth Century 1914-1991 (1995), British historian Eric Hobsbawm states: “The history of the twenty years after 1973 is that of a world which lost its bearings and slid into instability and crisis” (p. 403). American historian Tony Judt (Postwar: a History of Europe Since 1945 (2005) captures a widely expressed sentiment: “After 1945-75, Western Europe’s ‘thirty glorious years’ gave way to an age of monetary inflation and declining growth rates, accompanied by widespread unemployment and social discontent (p. 455). Hobsbawm thinks that it was only in the 1980s that it became clear that the “golden age” of the social welfare state had crumbled and disintegrated.

In the 1970s and 1980s something new and threatening to human solidarity and well-being was wresting itself free of service to the common good and undermining the “principle of oneness.” Its name was Neo-liberalism, the mighty Moloch to whom all must surrender. It also became undeniable that the “global nature” of the crisis was being uneasily recognized. One part of the world—the USSR and E. Europe—had collapsed entirely. And in Africa, West Asia, Latin America the growth of the GDP ceased as a severe depression settled in the lands like an unwanted damp fog. But from the corporate elite’s towering vantage-point, western economies seemed to be thriving even if millions of individuals weren’t.

Thus, by the mid-1970s the Western world had entered a period of profound change, both economically and ideologically. Global ruling elites, with the transnational corporations as their power base, began a complex process of dismantling social forms of capitalism to liberate market constraints or regulations. By now we are all familiar with the brutal consequences of global elite ‘development’ policies: World Bank and IMF structural adjustment programmes pushed Southern (and Northern) economies into the dirt wreaking havoc with welfare policies. Capital had been wrestling itself free of tutelage from either state or civil society. In fact, it was now going to teach civil society a thing or two. Capitalism and social democracy could not be fused any longer. The dream of the 1960s that once material needs were fulfilled we could get on with self-fulfilment, emancipation, recognition or creating authentic community lay in ruins by the time of the collapse of the USSR and the Berlin wall in the late 1980s.

Alas! Neo-liberalism now stood tall and arrogant in the ruble and ruin of the old Soviet Union as its economy fell apart, the GDP plummeting by 17% in 1990-1. The US lost its dueling partner and emerged as top-gun, the giant hegemon who could now stride the world like a colossus and boss everyone around.

But the glory of the new Hegemon and its Neo-liberal vision of the consumer paradise for the significant few had a dark side. In 1993 in New York City, for instance, 23,000 men and women were homeless and out in the streets. Not everybody, it seemed, was bathing in golden tubs and tossing money into the air. Post-war democratic capitalism, so Wolfgang Streeck argued brilliantly (Buying Time: the Delayed Crisis of Capitalism [2014]), faced a series of potentially lethal crises. The first crisis struck in the late 1970s when inflation rates began to rise rapidly throughout the western world. Sustained growth faltered.

The governments could no longer sustain continuously rising standard of living unchecked by fears of unemployment. By the 1980s inflation had been conquered. But with interest rates massively increased, unemployment rates jumped to levels not seen since the Great Depression in the US and elsewhere. Inflation receded, but public debt began to increase significantly. The movement (or shift) from the democratic capitalist tax state to the debt state was underway. We had plunged into the “fiscal crisis of the state”. The neo-liberal state had to borrow to accommodate demands for benefits and services from citizens.

Capital was only “buying time.” It was digging a cavernous hole: debt had to be serviced and financial markets were stealing considerable economic clout. They wanted to be paid and society disciplined and returned to fiscal consolidation. Essentially, during the 1990s—and continuing into our contemporary period—rapidly rising income inequality (caused by the manipulation of financial markets, de-unionization and cuts to social services and grand opportunities for citizens to indebt themselves) characterized this period and first ghastly decade of the twenty-first century. Here, the crisis of public debt and the pain of cuts was temporarily resolved through “privatized Keynesianism” (that is public debt is replaced by private debt). Now, in 2018, the world has witnessed the most massive gap between the 1% rich and the rest of us poor souls in human history.

The current global economic crisis creates and accentuates deep rifts between humankind and banishes the core idea of social justice from political discourse. The neo-liberal global economy prevents movement beyond the nation-state towards a new cosmopolitan world order. Meshed and entangled in global intricacies of trade and commerce, the nation-state cannot even make its own economic decisions. We remain locked into a world of warring nation-states.

One might argue that the present “crisis point” within the neo-liberal economic dis/ordering of the world results from the inability of the US hegemon to completely dominate the global economy, acting as jury, judge and keeper of democracy for all. China and Russia are seriously resisting this rather desperate attempt. All nations of the world are jumpy, edgy and confused. They haven’t a clue where the globally interdependent world is heading.