Category Archives: violence

Merchants of Death: America’s Toxic Cult of Violence Turns Deadly

Mass shootings have become routine in the United States and speak to a society that relies on violence to feed the coffers of the merchants of death. Given the profits made by arms manufacturers, the defense industry, gun dealers and the lobbyists who represent them in Congress, it comes as no surprise that the culture of violence cannot be abstracted from either the culture of business or the corruption of politics. Violence runs through US society like an electric current offering instant pleasure from all cultural sources, whether it be the nightly news or a television series that glorifies serial killers.

— Professor Henry A. Giroux, “Gun Culture and the American Nightmare of Violence”, January 13, 2016.

We are caught in a vicious cycle.

With alarming regularity, the nation is being subjected to a spate of violence that terrorizes the public, destabilizes the country’s fragile ecosystem, and gives the government greater justifications to crack down, lock down, and institute even more authoritarian policies for the so-called sake of national security without many objections from the citizenry.

Take the school shooting that took place at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Valentine’s Day: 17 people, students and teachers alike, were killed by Nikolas Cruz, a 19-year-old former student armed with a gas mask, smoke grenades, magazines of ammunition, and an AR-15 style semiautomatic rifle.

This shooting, which is being chalked up to mental illness by the 19-year-old assassin, came months after a series of mass shootings in late 2017, one at a church in Texas and the other at an outdoor country music concert in Las Vegas. In both the Texas and Las Vegas attacks, the shooters were dressed like a soldier or militarized police officer and armed with military-style weapons.

As usual following one of these shootings, there is a vocal outcry for enacting more strident gun control measures, more mental health checks, and heightened school security measures.

Also as usual, in the midst of the finger-pointing, no one is pointing a finger at the American police state or the war-drenched, violence-imbued, profit-driven military industrial complex, both of which have made violence America’s calling card.

Ask yourself: Why do these mass shootings keep happening? Who are these shooters modelling themselves after? Where are they finding the inspiration for their weaponry and tactics? Whose stance and techniques are they mirroring?

Mass shootings have taken place at churches, in nightclubs, on college campuses, on military bases, in elementary schools, in government offices, and at concerts. In almost every instance, you can connect the dots back to the military-industrial complex, which continues to dominate, dictate and shape almost every aspect of our lives.

We are a military culture engaged in continuous warfare.

We have been a nation at war for most of our existence.

We are a nation that makes a living from killing through defense contracts, weapons manufacturing and endless wars.

We are being fed a steady diet of violence through our entertainment, news and politics.

All of the military equipment featured in blockbuster movies is provided—at taxpayer expense—in exchange for carefully placed promotional spots.

Back when I was a boy growing up in the 1950s, almost every classic sci-fi movie ended with the  heroic American military saving the day, whether it was battle tanks in Invaders from Mars (1953) or military roadblocks in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956).

What I didn’t know then as a schoolboy was the extent to which the Pentagon was paying to be cast as America’s savior. By the time my own kids were growing up, it was Jerry Bruckheimer’s blockbuster film Top Guncreated with Pentagon assistance and equipment—that boosted civic pride in the military.

Now it’s my grandkids’ turn to be awed and overwhelmed by child-focused military propaganda in the X-Men movies. Same goes for The Avengers and Superman and the Transformers. (Don’t even get me started on the war propaganda churned out by the toymakers.)

Even reality TV shows have gotten in on the gig, with the Pentagon’s entertainment office influencing “American Idol,” “The X-Factor,” “Masterchef,” “Cupcake Wars,” numerous Oprah Winfrey shows, “Ice Road Truckers,” “Battlefield Priests,” “America’s Got Talent,” “Hawaii Five-O,” lots of BBC, History Channel and National Geographic documentaries, “War Dogs,” and “Big Kitchens.” And that’s just a sampling.

It’s estimated that U.S. military intelligence agencies (including the NSA) have influenced over 1,800 movies and TV shows.

And then there are the growing number of video games, a number of which are engineered by or created for the military, which have accustomed players to interactive war play through military simulations and first-person shooter scenarios.

This is how you acclimate a population to war.

This is how you cultivate loyalty to a war machine.

This is how, to borrow from the subtitle to the 1964 film Dr. Strangelove, you teach a nation to “stop worrying and love the bomb.”

As journalist David Sirota writes for Salon: 

[C]ollusion between the military and Hollywood – including allowing Pentagon officials to line edit scripts – is once again on the rise, with new television programs and movies slated to celebrate the Navy SEALs…. major Hollywood directors remain more than happy to ideologically slant their films in precisely the pro-war, pro-militarist direction that the Pentagon demands in exchange for taxpayer-subsidized access to military hardware.

Why is the Pentagon (and the CIA and the government at large) so focused on using Hollywood as a propaganda machine?

To those who profit from war, it is as Sirota recognizes:

a ‘product’ to be sold via pop culture products that sanitize war and, in the process, boost recruitment numbers….At a time when more and more Americans are questioning the fundamental tenets of militarism (i.e., budget-busting defense expenditures, never-ending wars/occupations, etc.), military officials are desperate to turn the public opinion tide back in a pro-militarist direction — and they know pop culture is the most effective tool to achieve that goal.

The media, eager to score higher ratings, has been equally complicit in making (real) war more palatable to the public by packaging it as TV friendly.

This is what professor Roger Stahl refers to as the representation of a “clean war”: a war “without victims, without bodies, and without suffering”:

‘Dehumanize destruction’ by extracting all human imagery from target areas … The language used to describe the clean war is as antiseptic as the pictures. Bombings are ‘air strikes.’ A future bombsite is a ‘target of opportunity.’ Unarmed areas are ‘soft targets.’ Civilians are ‘collateral damage.’ Destruction is always ‘surgical.’ By and large, the clean war wiped the humanity of civilians from the screen … Create conditions by which war appears short, abstract, sanitized and even aesthetically beautiful. Minimize any sense of death: of soldiers or civilians.

This is how you sell war to a populace that may have grown weary of endless wars: sanitize the war coverage of anything graphic or discomfiting (present a clean war), gloss over the actual numbers of soldiers and civilians killed (human cost), cast the business of killing humans in a more abstract, palatable fashion (such as a hunt), demonize one’s opponents, and make the weapons of war a source of wonder and delight.

“This obsession with weapons of war has a name: technofetishism,” explains Stahl. “Weapons appear to take on a magical aura. They become centerpieces in a cult of worship.”

“Apart from gazing at the majesty of these bombs, we were also invited to step inside these high-tech machines and take them for a spin,” said Stahl. “Or if we have the means, we can purchase one of the military vehicles on the consumer market. Not only are we invited to fantasize about being in the driver’s seat, we are routinely invited to peer through the crosshairs too. These repeated modes of imaging war cultivate new modes of perception, new relationships to the tools of state violence. In other words,we become accustomed to ‘seeing‘ through the machines of war.”

In order to sell war, you have to feed the public’s appetite for entertainment.

Not satisfied with peddling its war propaganda through Hollywood, reality TV shows and embedded journalists whose reports came across as glorified promotional ads for the military, the Pentagon turned to sports to further advance its agenda, “tying the symbols of sports with the symbols of war.”

The military has been firmly entrenched in the nation’s sports spectacles ever since, having co-opted football, basketball, even NASCAR.

This is how you sustain the nation’s appetite for war.

No wonder entertainment violence is the hottest selling ticket at the box office. As professor Henry Giroux points out:

Popular culture not only trades in violence as entertainment, but also it delivers violence to a society addicted to a pleasure principle steeped in graphic and extreme images of human suffering, mayhem and torture.

No wonder the government continues to whet the nation’s appetite for violence and war through paid propaganda programs (seeded throughout sports entertainment, Hollywood blockbusters and video games)—what Stahl refers to as “militainment“—that glorify the military and serve as recruiting tools for America’s expanding military empire.

No wonder Americans from a very young age are being groomed to enlist as foot soldiers—even virtual ones—in America’s Army (coincidentally, that’s also the name of a first person shooter video game produced by the military). Explorer scouts, for example, are one of the most popular recruiting tools for the military and its civilian counterparts (law enforcement, Border Patrol, and the FBI).

Writing for The Atlantic, a former Explorer scout described the highlight of the program: monthly weekend maneuvers with the National Guard where scouts “got to fire live rounds from M16s, M60 machine guns, and M203 grenade launchers… we would have urban firefights (shooting blanks, of course) in Combat Town, a warren of concrete buildings designed for just that purpose. The exercise always devolved into a free-for-all, with all of us weekend warriors emptying clip after clip of blanks until we couldn’t see past the end of our rifles for all the smoke in the air.”

No wonder the United States is the number one consumer, exporter and perpetrator of violence and violent weapons in the world. Seriously, America spends more money on war than the combined military budgets of China, Russia, the United Kingdom, Japan, France, Saudi Arabia, India, Germany, Italy and Brazil. America polices the globe, with 800 military bases and troops stationed in 160 countries. Moreover, the war hawks have turned the American homeland into a quasi-battlefield with military gear, weapons and tactics. In turn, domestic police forces have become roving extensions of the military—a standing army.

So when you talk about the Florida shooting, keep in mind that you’re not dealing with a single shooter scenario. Rather, you’re dealing with a sophisticated, far-reaching war machine that has woven itself into the very fabric of this nation.

You want to stop the gun violence?

Stop the worship of violence that permeates our culture.

Stop glorifying the military industrial complex with flyovers and salutes during sports spectacles.

Stop acting as if there is anything patriotic about military exercises and occupations that bomb hospitals and schools.

Stop treating guns and war as entertainment fodder in movies, music, video games, toys, amusement parks, reality TV and more.

Stop distributing weapons of war to the local police and turning them into extensions of the military—weapons that have no business being anywhere but on a battlefield.

This breakdown—triggered by polarizing circus politics, media-fed mass hysteria, militarization and militainment (the selling of war and violence as entertainment), a sense of hopelessness and powerlessness in the face of growing corruption, the government’s alienation from its populace, and an economy that has much of the population struggling to get by—is manifesting itself in madness, mayhem and an utter disregard for the very principles and liberties that have kept us out of the clutches of totalitarianism for so long.

Stop falling for the military industrial complex’s psychological war games.

Nikolas Cruz may have pulled the trigger that resulted in the mayhem in Parkland, Fla., but something else is driving the madness.

As Stahl concludes, “War has come to look very much like a video game. As viewers of the TV war, we are treated to endless flyovers. We are immersed in a general spirit of play. We are shown countless computer animations that contribute a sense of virtuality. We play alongside news anchors who watch on their monitors. We sit in front of the crosshairs directing missiles with a sense of interactivity. The destruction, if shown at all, seems unreal, distant. These repeated images foster habitual fantasies of crossing over.”

We’ve got to do more than react in a knee-jerk fashion.

Those who want safety at all costs will clamor for more gun control measures (if not an outright ban on weapons for non-military, non-police personnel), widespread mental health screening of the general population and greater scrutiny of military veterans, more threat assessments and behavioral sensing warnings, more CCTV cameras with facial recognition capabilities, more “See Something, Say Something” programs aimed at turning Americans into snitches and spies, more metal detectors and whole-body imaging devices at soft targets, more roaming squads of militarized police empowered to do random bag searches, more fusion centers to centralize and disseminate information to law enforcement agencies, and more surveillance of what Americans say and do, where they go, what they buy and how they spend their time.

All of these measures play into the government’s hands.

As we have learned the hard way, the phantom promise of safety in exchange for restricted or regulated liberty is a false, misguided doctrine that has no basis in the truth.

What we need is a thoughtful, measured, apolitical response to these shootings and the violence that is plaguing our nation.

As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the solution to most problems must start locally, in our homes, in our neighborhoods, and in our communities. We’ve got to de-militarize our police and lower the levels of violence here and abroad, whether it’s violence we export to other countries, violence we glorify in entertainment, or violence we revel in when it’s leveled at our so-called enemies, politically or otherwise.

Our prolonged exposure to the toxic culture of the American police state is deadly.

Regime Change Fails: Is A Military Coup Or Invasion Of Venezuela Next?

Speaking at his alma mater, the University of Texas, on February 1, Secretary of State Tillerson suggested a potential military coup in Venezuela.  Tillerson then visited allied Latin American countries urging regime change and more economic sanctions on Venezuela. Tillerson is considering banning the processing or sale of Venezuelan oil in the United States and is discouraging other countries from buying Venezuelan oil. Further, the US is laying the groundwork for war against Venezuela.

In a series of tweets, Senator Marco Rubio, the Republican from Florida, where many Venezuelan oligarchs live, called for a military coup in Venezueala.

How absurd — remove an elected president with a military coup to restore democracy? Does that pass the straight face test? This refrain of Rubio and Tillerson seems to be the nonsensical public position of US policy.

The US has been seeking regime change in Venezuela since Hugo Chavez was elected in 1998. Trump joined Presidents Obama and Bush before him in continuing efforts to change the government and put in place a US-friendly oligarch government.

They came closest in 2002 when a military coup removed Chavez.  The Commander-in-Chief of the Venezuelan military announced Chavez had resigned and Pedro Carmona, of the Venezuelan Chamber of Commerce, became interim president. Carmona dissolved the National Assembly and Supreme Court and declared the Constitution void. The people surrounded the presidential palace and seized television stations, Carmona resigned and fled to Colombia. Within 47 hours, civilians and the military restored Chavez to the presidency. The coup was a turning point that strengthened the Bolivarian Revolution, showed people could defeat a coup and exposed the US and oligarchs.

US Regime Change Tactics Have Failed In Venezuela

The US and oligarchs continue their efforts to reverse the Bolivarian Revolution. The US has a long history of regime change around the world and has tried all of its regime change tools in Venezuela. So far they have failed.

(a) Economic War

Destroying the Venezuelan economy has been an ongoing campaign by the US and oligarchs. It is reminiscent of the US coup in Chile which ended the presidency of Salvador Allende. To create the environment for the Chilean coup, President Nixon ordered the CIA to “make the economy scream.”

Henry Kissinger devised the coup noting a billion dollars of investment were at stake. He also feared the “the insidious model effect” of the example of Chile leading to other countries breaking from the United States and capitalism. Kissinger’s top deputy at the National Security Council, Viron Vaky, opposed the coup saying, “What we propose is patently a violation of our own principles and policy tenets .… If these principles have any meaning, we normally depart from them only to meet the gravest threat . . . our survival.”

These objections hold true regarding recent US coups, including in Venezuela and Honduras, Ukraine and Brazil, among others. Allende died in the coup and wrote his last words to the people of Chile, especially the workers, “Long live the people! Long live the workers!” He was replaced by Augusto Pinochet, a brutal and violent dictator.

For decades the US has been fighting an economic war, “making the economy scream,” in Venezuela. Wealthy Venezuelans have been conducting economic sabotage aided by the US with sanctions and other tactics. This includes hoarding food, supplies and other necessities in warehouses or in Colombia while Venezuelan markets are bare. The scarcity is used to fuel protests; e.g., “The March of the Empty Pots,” a carbon copy of marches in Chile before the September 11, 1973 coup. Economic warfare has escalated through Obama and under Trump, with Tillerson now urging economic sanctions on oil.

President Maduro recognized the economic hardship but also said sanctions open up the opportunity for a new era of independence and “begins the stage of post-domination by the United States, with Venezuela again at the center of this struggle for dignity and liberation.” The second-in-command of the Socialist Party, Diosdado Cabello, said: “[if they] apply sanctions, we will apply elections.”

(b) Opposition Protestsion

Another common US regime change tool is supporting opposition protests. The Trump Administration renewed regime change operations in Venezuela and the anti-Maduro protests, which began under Obama, grew more violent. The opposition protests included barricades, snipers and murders as well as widespread injuries. When police arrested those using violence, the US claimed Venezuela opposed free speech and protests.

The opposition tried to use the crack down against violence to achieve the US tactic of dividing the military. The US and western media ignored opposition violence and blamed the Venezuelan government instead. Violence became so extreme it looked like the opposition was pushing Venezuela into a Syrian-type civil [DV Ed. “Syrian-type civil” (sic)] war.  Instead, opposition violence backfired on them.

Violent protests are part of US regime change repertoire. This was demonstrated in the US coup in Ukraine, where the US spent $5 billion to organize government opposition including US and EU funding violent protesters. This tactic was used in early US coups like the 1953 Iran coup of Prime Minister Mossadegh. The US has admitted organizing this coup that ended Iran’s brief experience with democracy. Like Venezuela, a key reason for the Iran coup was control of the nation’s oil.

(c) Funding Opposition

There has been massive US investment in creating opposition to the Venezuelan government. Tens of millions of dollars have been openly spent through USAID, the National Endowment for Democracy and other related US regime change agencies. It is unknown how much the CIA has spent from its secret budget, but the CIA has also been involved in Venezuela. Current CIA director, Mike Pompeo,  said he is “hopeful there can be a transition in Venezuela.”

The United States has also educated leaders of opposition movements; e.g., Leopoldo López was educated at private schools in the US, including the CIA-associated Kenyon College. He was groomed at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and made repeated visits to the regime change agency, the National Republican Institute.

(d) Elections

While the US calls Venezuela a dictatorship, it is, in fact, a strong democracy with an excellent voting system. Election observers monitor every election.

In 2016, the economic crisis led to the opposition winning a majority in the National Assembly. One of their first acts was to pass an amnesty law. The law described 17 years of crimes including violent felonies and terrorism committed by the opposition. It was an admission of crimes back to the 2002 coup and through 2016. The law demonstrated violent treason against Venezuela. One month later, the Supreme Court of Venezuela ruled the amnesty law was unconstitutional. US media, regime change advocates and anti-Venezuela human rights groups attacked the Supreme Court decision, showing their alliance with the admitted criminals.

Years of violent protests and regime change attempts, and then admitting their crimes in an amnesty bill, have caused those opposed to the Bolivarian Revolution to lose power and become unpopular.  In three recent elections Maduro’s party won regional, local and the Constituent Assembly elections.

The electoral commission announced the presidential election will be held on April 22. Maduro will run for re-election with the United Socialist Party. Opposition leaders such as Henry Ramos and Henri Falcon have expressed interest in running, but the opposition has not decided whether to participate. Henrique Capriles, who narrowly lost to Maduro in the last election, was banned from running for office because of irregularities in his campaign, including taking foreign donations. Capriles has been a leader of the violent protests. When his ban was announced he called for protests to remove Maduro from office. Also banned was Leopoldo Lopez, another leader of the violent protests, who is under house arrest serving a thirteen year sentence for inciting violence.

Now, the United States says it will not recognize the presidential election and urges a military coup. For two years, the opposition demanded presidential elections, but now it is unclear whether they will participate. They know they are unpopular and Maduro is likely to be re-elected.

Is War Against Venezuela Coming?

A military coup faces challenges in Venezuela as the people, including the military, are well educated about US imperialism. Tillerson openly urging a military coup makes it more difficult.

The government and opposition recently negotiated a peace settlement entitled “Democratic Coexistence Agreement for Venezuela.” They agreed on all of the issues including ending economic sanctions, scheduling elections and more. They agreed on the date of the next presidential election. It was originally planned for March, but in a concession to the opposition, it was rescheduled for the end of April. Maduro signed the agreement even though the opposition did not attend the signing ceremony. They backed out after Colombian President Santos, who was meeting with Secretary Tillerson, called and told them not to sign. Maduro will now make the agreement a public issue by allowing the people of Venezuela to sign it.

Not recognizing elections and urging a military coup are bad enough, but more disconcerting is that Admiral Kurt Todd, head of Southcom, held a closed door meeting in Columbia after Tillerson’s visit. The topic was “regional destabilization” and Venezuela was a focus.

A military attack on Venezuela from its Colombian and Brazilian borders is not far fetched. In January, the New York Times asked, “Should the US military invade Venezuela?” President Trump said the US is considering military force against Venezuela. His chief of staff, John Kelly, was formerly the general in charge of Southcom. Todd has claimed the crisis, created in large part by the economic war against Venezuela, requires military action for humanitarian reasons.

War preparations are already underway in Colombia, which plays the role of Israel for the US in Latin America. The coup government in Brazil, increased its military budget 36 percent, and participated in Operation: America United, the largest joint military exercise in Latin American history. It was one of four military exercises by the US with Brazil, Colombia and Peru in Latin America in 2017. The US Congress ordered the Pentagon to develop military contingencies for Venezuela in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act.

While there is opposition to US military bases, James Patrick Jordan explains on our radio show the US has military bases in Colombia and the Caribbean and military agreements with countries in the region; and therefore, Venezuela is already surrounded.

The United States is targeting Venezuela because the Bolivarian Revolution provides an example against US imperialism. An invasion of Venezuela will become another war-quagmire that kills innocent Venezuelans, US soldiers and others over control of oil. People in the United States who support the self-determination of countries should show solidarity with Venezuelans, expose the US agenda and publicly denounce regime change. We need to educate people about what is really happening in Venezuela to overcome the false media coverage.

Share this article and the interview we did on Clearing The FOG about Venezuela and the US role in Latin America.  The fate of Venezuela is critical for millions of Latin Americans struggling under the domination of US Empire.

Little Barbies: Sex Trafficking of Young Girls is America’s Dirty Little Secret

Children are being “targeted and sold for sex in America every day.
— John Ryan, National Center for Missing & Exploited Children

They’re called the Little Barbies.

Children, young girls—some as young as 9 years old—are being bought and sold for sex in America. The average age for a young woman being sold for sex is now 13 years old.

This is America’s dirty little secret.

Sex trafficking—especially when it comes to the buying and selling of young girls—has become big business in America, the fastest growing business in organized crime and the second most-lucrative commodity traded illegally after drugs and guns.

As investigative journalist Amy Fine Collins notes, “It’s become more lucrative and much safer to sell malleable teens than drugs or guns. A pound of heroin or an AK-47 can be retailed once, but a young girl can be sold 10 to 15 times a day—and a ‘righteous’ pimp confiscates 100 percent of her earnings.”

Consider this: every two minutes, a child is exploited in the sex industry.

According to USA Today, adults purchase children for sex at least 2.5 million times a year in the United States.

Who buys a child for sex? Otherwise ordinary men from all walks of life.

“They could be your co-worker, doctor, pastor or spouse”, writes journalist Tim Swarens, who spent more than a year investigating the sex trade in America.

In Georgia alone, it is estimated that 7,200 men (half of them in their 30s) seek to purchase sex with adolescent girls each month, averaging roughly 300 a day.

On average, a child might be raped by 6,000 men during a five-year period of servitude.

It is estimated that at least 100,000 children—girls and boys—are bought and sold for sex in the U.S. every year, with as many as 300,000 children in danger of being trafficked each year. Some of these children are forcefully abducted, others are runaways, and still others are sold into the system by relatives and acquaintances.

“Human trafficking—the commercial sexual exploitation of American children and women, via the Internet, strip clubs, escort services, or street prostitution—is on its way to becoming one of the worst crimes in the U.S.,” said prosecutor Krishna Patel.

This is an industry that revolves around cheap sex on the fly, with young girls and women who are sold to 50 men each day for $25 apiece, while their handlers make $150,000 to $200,000 per child each year.

This is not a problem found only in big cities.

It’s happening everywhere, right under our noses, in suburbs, cities and towns across the nation.

As Ernie Allen of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children points out, “The only way not to find this in any American city is simply not to look for it.”

Don’t fool yourselves into believing that this is merely a concern for lower income communities or immigrants.

It’s not.

It is estimated that there are 100,000 to 150,000 under-aged child sex workers in the U.S. These girls aren’t volunteering to be sex slaves. They’re being lured—forced—trafficked into it. In most cases, they have no choice.

In order to avoid detection (in some cases aided and abetted by the police) and cater to male buyers’ demand for sex with different women, pimps and the gangs and crime syndicates they work for have turned sex trafficking into a highly mobile enterprise, with trafficked girls, boys and women constantly being moved from city to city, state to state, and country to country.

For instance, the Baltimore-Washington area, referred to as The Circuit, with its I-95 corridor dotted with rest stops, bus stations and truck stops, is a hub for the sex trade.

No doubt about it: this is a highly profitable, highly organized and highly sophisticated sex trafficking business that operates in towns large and small, raking in upwards of $9.5 billion a year in the U.S. alone by abducting and selling young girls for sex.

Every year, the girls being bought and sold gets younger and younger.

The average age of those being trafficked is 13. Yet as the head of a group that combats trafficking pointed out, “Let’s think about what average means. That means there are children younger than 13. That means 8-, 9-, 10-year-olds.

“For every 10 women rescued, there are 50 to 100 more women who are brought in by the traffickers. Unfortunately, they’re not 18- or 20-year-olds anymore,” noted a 25-year-old victim of trafficking. “They’re minors as young as 13 who are being trafficked. They’re little girls.”

Where did this appetite for young girls come from?

Look around you.

Young girls have been sexualized for years now in music videos, on billboards, in television ads, and in clothing stores. Marketers have created a demand for young flesh and a ready supply of over-sexualized children.

“All it takes is one look at [certain social media] photos of teens to see examples—if they aren’t imitating porn they’ve actually seen, they’re imitating the porn-inspired images and poses they’ve absorbed elsewhere,” writes Jessica Bennett for Newsweek. “Latex, corsets and stripper heels, once the fashion of porn stars, have made their way into middle and high school.”

This is what Bennett refers to as the “pornification of a generation.”

“In a market that sells high heels for babies and thongs for tweens, it doesn’t take a genius to see that sex, if not porn, has invaded our lives”, concludes Bennett. “Whether we welcome it or not, television brings it into our living rooms and the Web brings it into our bedrooms. According to a 2007 study from the University of Alberta, as many as 90 percent of boys and 70 percent of girls aged 13 to 14 have accessed sexually explicit content at least once.”

In other words, the culture is grooming these young people to be preyed upon by sexual predators. And then we wonder why our young women are being preyed on, trafficked and abused?

Social media makes it all too easy. As one news center reported, “Finding girls is easy for pimps. They look on MySpace, Facebook, and other social networks. They and their assistants cruise malls, high schools and middle schools. They pick them up at bus stops. On the trolley. Girl-to-girl recruitment sometimes happens.” Foster homes and youth shelters have also become prime targets for traffickers.

Rarely do these girls enter into prostitution voluntarily. Many start out as runaways or throwaways, only to be snatched up by pimps or larger sex rings. Others, persuaded to meet up with a stranger after interacting online through one of the many social networking sites, find themselves quickly initiated into their new lives as sex slaves.

Debbie, a straight-A student who belonged to a close-knit Air Force family living in Phoenix, Ariz., is an example of this trading of flesh. Debbie was 15 when she was snatched from her driveway by an acquaintance-friend. Forced into a car, Debbie was bound and taken to an unknown location, held at gunpoint and raped by multiple men. She was then crammed into a small dog kennel and forced to eat dog biscuits. Debbie’s captors advertised her services on Craigslist. Those who responded were often married with children, and the money that Debbie “earned” for sex was given to her kidnappers. The gang raping continued. After searching the apartment where Debbie was held captive, police finally found Debbie stuffed in a drawer under a bed. Her harrowing ordeal lasted for 40 days.

While Debbie was fortunate enough to be rescued, others are not so lucky. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, nearly 800,000 children go missing every year (roughly 2,185 children a day).

With a growing demand for sexual slavery and an endless supply of girls and women who can be targeted for abduction, this is not a problem that’s going away anytime soon.

For those trafficked, it’s a nightmare from beginning to end.

Those being sold for sex have an average life expectancy of seven years, and those years are a living nightmare of endless rape, forced drugging, humiliation, degradation, threats, disease, pregnancies, abortions, miscarriages, torture, pain, and always the constant fear of being killed or, worse, having those you love hurt or killed.

Peter Landesman paints the full horrors of life for those victims of the sex trade in his New York Times article “The Girls Next Door”:

Andrea told me that she and the other children she was held with were frequently beaten to keep them off-balance and obedient. Sometimes they were videotaped while being forced to have sex with adults or one another. Often, she said, she was asked to play roles: the therapist patient or the obedient daughter. Her cell of sex traffickers offered three age ranges of sex partners–toddler to age 4, 5 to 12 and teens–as well as what she called a “damage group.” “In the damage group, they can hit you or do anything they want to,” she explained. “Though sex always hurts when you are little, so it’s always violent, everything was much more painful once you were placed in the damage group.

What Andrea described next shows just how depraved some portions of American society have become. “They’d get you hungry then to train you” to have oral sex. “They put honey on a man. For the littlest kids, you had to learn not to gag. And they would push things in you so you would open up better. We learned responses. Like if they wanted us to be sultry or sexy or scared. Most of them wanted you scared. When I got older, I’d teach the younger kids how to float away so things didn’t hurt.”

Immigration and customs enforcement agents at the Cyber Crimes Center in Fairfax, Va., report that when it comes to sex, the appetites of many Americans have now changed. What was once considered abnormal is now the norm. These agents are tracking a clear spike in the demand for harder-core pornography on the Internet. As one agent noted, “We’ve become desensitized by the soft stuff; now we need a harder and harder hit.”

This trend is reflected by the treatment many of the girls receive at the hands of the drug traffickers and the men who purchase them. Peter Landesman interviewed Rosario, a Mexican woman who had been trafficked to New York and held captive for a number of years. She said: “In America, we had ‘special jobs.’ Oral sex, anal sex, often with many men. Sex is now more adventurous, harder.”

A common thread woven through most survivors’ experiences is being forced to go without sleep or food until they have met their sex quota of at least 40 men. One woman recounts how her trafficker made her lie face down on the floor when she was pregnant and then literally jumped on her back, forcing her to miscarry.

Holly Austin Smith was abducted when she was 14 years old, raped, and then forced to prostitute herself. Her pimp, when brought to trial, was only made to serve a year in prison.

Barbara Amaya was repeatedly sold between traffickers, abused, shot, stabbed, raped, kidnapped, trafficked, beaten, and jailed all before she was 18 years old. “I had a quota that I was supposed to fill every night. And if I didn’t have that amount of money, I would get beat, thrown down the stairs. He beat me once with wire coat hangers, the kind you hang up clothes, he straightened it out and my whole back was bleeding.”

As David McSwane recounts in a chilling piece for the Herald-Tribune: “In Oakland Park, an industrial Fort Lauderdale suburb, federal agents in 2011 encountered a brothel operated by a married couple. Inside ‘The Boom Boom Room,’ as it was known, customers paid a fee and were given a condom and a timer and left alone with one of the brothel’s eight teenagers, children as young as 13. A 16-year-old foster child testified that he acted as security, while a 17-year-old girl told a federal judge she was forced to have sex with as many as 20 men a night.”

One particular sex trafficking ring catered specifically to migrant workers employed seasonally on farms throughout the southeastern states, especially the Carolinas and Georgia, although it’s a flourishing business in every state in the country. Traffickers transport the women from farm to farm, where migrant workers would line up outside shacks, as many as 30 at a time, to have sex with them before they were transported to yet another farm where the process would begin all over again.

This growing evil is, for all intents and purposes, out in the open.

Trafficked women and children are advertised on the internet, transported on the interstate, and bought and sold in swanky hotels.

Indeed, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the government’s war on sex trafficking—much like the government’s war on terrorism, drugs and crime—has become a perfect excuse for inflicting more police state tactics (police check points, searches, surveillance, and heightened security) on a vulnerable public, while doing little to make our communities safer.

So what can you do?

Educate yourselves and your children about this growing menace in our communities.

Stop feeding the monster: Sex trafficking is part of a larger continuum in America that runs the gamut from homelessness, poverty, and self-esteem issues to sexualized television, the glorification of a pimp/ho culture—what is often referred to as the pornification of America—and a billion dollar sex industry built on the back of pornography, music, entertainment, etc.

This epidemic is largely one of our own making, especially in a corporate age where the value placed on human life takes a backseat to profit. It is estimated that the porn industry brings in more money than Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Apple, and Yahoo.

Call on your city councils, elected officials and police departments to make the battle against sex trafficking a top priority, more so even than the so-called war on terror and drugs and the militarization of law enforcement.

Stop prosecuting adults for victimless “crimes” such as growing lettuce in their front yard and focus on putting away the pimps and buyers who victimize these young women.

Finally, the police need to do a better job of training, identifying and responding to these issues; communities and social services need to do a better job of protecting runaways, who are the primary targets of traffickers; legislators need to pass legislation aimed at prosecuting traffickers and “johns,” the buyers who drive the demand for sex slaves; and hotels need to stop enabling these traffickers, by providing them with rooms and cover for their dirty deeds.

That so many women and children continue to be victimized, brutalized and treated like human cargo is due to three things: one, a consumer demand that is increasingly lucrative for everyone involved—except the victims; two, a level of corruption so invasive on both a local and international scale that there is little hope of working through established channels for change; and three, an eerie silence from individuals who fail to speak out against such atrocities.

But the truth is that we are all guilty of contributing to this human suffering. The traffickers are guilty. The consumers are guilty. The corrupt law enforcement officials are guilty. The women’s groups who do nothing are guilty. The foreign peacekeepers and aid workers who contribute to the demand for sex slaves are guilty. Most of all, every individual who does not raise a hue and cry over the atrocities being committed against women and children in almost every nation around the globe—including the United States—is guilty.

As Congress Feeds the Merchants of Death, the People Must Divest

In recent budget negotiations, Senate Democrats agreed to a boost in military spending that exceeded the cap for fiscal 2018 by $70 billion, bringing the total request to an enormous $716 billion.

Inevitably, this means more Pentagon contracts will be awarded to private corporations that use endless war to line their pockets. Democrats capitulated to this massive increase without so much as a scuffle. But the move hardly comes as a surprise, given how much money flows from weapons makers to the coffers of congressional campaigns for both parties.

While the majority of the weapons money goes to Republicans, Democratic Senators Tim Kaine and Bill Nelson appear in the top ten recipients of campaign contributions — in both chambers and parties — from military contractors in 2017 and 2018. Northrop Grumman gave $785,000 to Democratic candidates since 2017. Hillary Clinton took over $1 million from the industry in 2016. Even progressive darlings like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders take money from weapons manufacturers, and Sanders supported Boeing’s disastrous F-35 because his home state had a financial stake in the program.

If neither major political party will stand up to this status quo, what can be done?

One answer might be found in the recent push to divest from fossil fuel companies undertaken by, among others, Norway and New York City. By December of 2016, 688 institutions, representing over $5 trillion in assets, had divested from fossil fuels. In an interview with The Guardian, author Naomi Klein described the fossil fuel divestment effort as “a process of delegitimizing” the sector and of affirming that it yields “odious profits.”

An analogous campaign to delegitimize beneficiaries of war is long overdue. In addition to pressuring our members of Congress to refuse campaign donations from weapons manufacturers and war profiteers, we must mount a divestment effort at the institutional and municipal level. Investment in war must come at the cost of public disgrace.

University students can request holdings information from their schools. Often, investments in military corporations are bundled into more complex financial instruments whose investments are not publicly disclosed. The content of these instruments can be determined by contacting a university board of trustees or endowment manager. Then a divestment campaign can be launched, building campus coalitions, creating petitions, organizing direct actions and passing resolutions through student government bodies. A helpful guide for student activists can be found here.

Activists can launch municipal divestment efforts by determining the holdings of city pension, utility, or insurance funds. In 2017 the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the national association of cities with populations over 30,000, adopted a resolution acknowledging the need to transform funding priorities away from war-making and into local communities. Divestment campaigns can leverage this resolution in order to hold city leaders to their word. More information for activists at the city level is available here.

Divestment offers an alternate means of addressing the blight of war profiteering in an era in which traditional political routes have been closed by our craven representatives. It also brings the message into smaller communities — communities that crumble while defense contractors live in luxury.

A new coalition of about 70 groups across the country has formed to launch a Divest From the War Machine campaign. The coalition is inviting all those who are disgusted by the war profiteers to help galvanize university, city, pension and faith institutions to divest from war. Learn more here.

In a 2015 speech to the U.S. Congress, the very Congress that is so beholden to the war machine, Pope Francis asked why deadly weapons were being sold to those who inflict untold suffering on society. The answer, he said, was money, “money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood.” Looking at a room full of congresspeople who benefit from what he called “merchants of death,” the Pope called for the elimination of the arms trade. One way to heed the Pope’s call is to eat away at the profits of those who make a killing on killing.

Accompanying Honduras

As the bus was taking our accompaniment delegation to Honduras to the airport for our return home, it stopped by the offices of Radio Progreso. Piling on to the bus came some twenty staff members of the station to bid us goodbye. Each of them greeted us with an embrace, a kiss, or a clasp of hands expressing heartfelt gratitude for our having come to be with them at this dangerous and chaotic time in their country. It was a striking gesture of affection that deeply touched us, the visiting delegates.

Toma Arrival

We came to this country at the urgent request of SHARE El Salvador, a humanitarian aid organization with a long history of solidarity work in Central America. Police and military repression in Honduras since the overtly fraudulent elections in November 2017 has been getting worse, with over thirty people killed and more than one thousand in jails. Death threats aimed at those who are raising their voices the loudest are getting more overt and intense.

In particular, the life of Jesuit priest and native Honduran Father Ismael Moreno, known as Padre Melo, is in danger. Possibly as well known as the assassinated Berta Caceres, Melo is the director of Radio Progreso, an independent station that reports on human rights violations, police and military abuses, and the work of dissidents and protectors of the land and waters. A humble and soft-spoken man, he is a spiritual and political leader who has not minced words as he has pointed to the illegal and brutal behaviors of the Honduran government and elites. He has also denounced the United States for its support of the regime, and for its hypocrisy in certifying Honduras as having an acceptable human rights record. Now his picture is featured on a flyer being circulated purporting to depict terrorists in El Progreso, in what could well be a prelude to his assassination.

The organizers of our delegation had originally hoped that a handful of faith leaders could come on very short notice to accompany and protect Padre Melo, as well as others, and to witness and report on what is happening on the ground as the cycles of demonstrations and police repression escalate. Surprisingly, fifty people – mostly clergy – got on a plane and arrived on January 24 to spend a week meeting with Radio Progreso staff and grass roots activists, listen to stories from family members of victims of the repression, attend street demonstrations, marches, and vigils as observers, take part in religious ceremonies, and generally listen and observe.

Most of us knew the history we were walking into: the 2009 coup when President Zelaya was arrested in his pajamas by the military and flown out of the country; the immediate support of the U.S. for the new coup regime; the subsequent mass repression of the people; the corruption of political leaders as they have colluded with multinational corporations to steal land and exploit mineral resources; the assassinations of dissidents such as Berta Caceres; the impunity of the police and military; the flagrant violation of domestic and international law.

Then came the elections of 2017. Salvador Nasralla of the opposition Libre party was well ahead in the count when the ballot count was halted, supposedly by a glitch in the computer system. Twenty-one days later, the Supreme Electoral Tribune announced that Juan Orlando Hernandez, the incumbent, had been re-elected.

It was a transparently fraudulent election. Not only was the process full of so-called “irregularities,” the very fact that Orlando Hernandez was running for a second term was expressly forbidden by the Honduran constitution. Ironically, the rationale used for the ousting of Zelaya in 2009 was that he was conspiring to run for a second term. And here was Hernandez, the chosen one of the elites, doing exactly that and getting away with it.

In this context, one might expect demonstrations of dissent in any democratic society. But Honduras can scarcely be called a democracy at this point. People in the streets are understandably carrying signs calling their government a dictatorship. They are denouncing Hernandez and endlessly chanting for his ouster with the cry of “Fuera JOH!” They take roads and block traffic. They stand face-to-face with integrated forces of counterinsurgency-trained police and military in their riot gear with their armored cars, shields, water cannons, and seemingly endless supply of tear gas. All financed and supplied by the U.S.A.

It is breathtaking to see the courage and tenacity of the people. They know the dangers they face because so many of their loved ones have been victimized by this regime. When we listened to the families of the victims, we heard one story after another. Jose Luis was trying to leave a protest when he was shot in the face. He lost an eye. Maria’s husband was walking home from work in an area near where a protest was happening when he was shot, near his home. He is now paralyzed and brain damaged. When his son ran out of the house to help him, he was arrested, and bathed in pepper spray. A woman in tears told us how her husband was shot and taken to a hospital. He was judged to be in good condition. But then he was visited in his room by two military men who accompanied him to the operating room, where he died on the operating table. His wife has filed denunciations with the police and says she is now persecuted and followed.

As members of our delegation attended a street demonstration one evening, they got a ride home from a former legislator, Bertolo Fuentes, who is known for speaking out against the government. Fuentes is living in dangerous circumstances – his picture is in the center of the flyer that also targets Padre Melo, calling him a terrorist. As he was driving our fellow delegates home, Fuentes got a call that four uniformed policemen were invading his house. The police had pointed guns at the heads of his wife and son and had dragged his son from the house and kicked and beaten him. Fuentes immediately turned around and sped to his house. When the delegate group arrived, the policemen quickly left.

Some of our delegates, including a journalist, traveled to Pajuiles, where there is a small encampment of people next to a hydroelectric project being built at the entrance to their community. Nearby are two squads of fully integrated military, police, and military police that have been at this post since before the elections. There our delegates learned that on Tuesday, January 23 around 4 am, a 35-year old agricultural worker and father of five was dragged out of his home and executed by the police. He was shot more than 40 times in the back of his head and torso, by a military/police patrol, his mother and brother watching from nearby. The police and military post is less than 300 meters from where the man was killed. There has been no investigation or even mention by the police of the incident. Thursday night, the same day of the funeral, the police threw gas bombs into the community. This was confirmed by one police officer who spoke to our group.

At the end of the week, our delegation was able to meet with staff at the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa, including Chargé d’Affaire Heide Fulton, the acting head of the embassy since President Trump has not filled the ambassador position in Honduras. We told them these stories and more.

We explained how the violence of the state is causing people to flee. How, in fact, the U.S. sponsorship of this regime is a cause for the migration that so concerns politicians in our country, to which we have responded with our militarized border, walls, and prisons. And we pointed out that revoking the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Honduran refugees would only worsen the situation, causing more and more suffering and deaths in Honduras.

We explained how these very same conditions in Honduras were the same conditions many of us saw in El Salvador in the 1970s and 1980s. How Honduras could be looking at a much worse problem in the near future. How, in fact, the people we talked to in Honduras very much fear this will be the case after the inauguration of Hernandez, when the eyes of the world are no longer on Honduras. They fear the hammer will come down on them for their opposition.

We urged the State Department officials to hear us and to take the following immediate actions:

  1. Protect the lives of dissenters, in particular Padre Melo;
  2. Insist that the government stop using militarized policing to repress demonstrators;
  3. Release political prisoners who are being dragged off to jails for dissenting;
  4. Acknowledge that this was a fraudulent election and call, as the OAS has recommended, for a new election, conducted under international supervision.

We certainly had little expectation of a favorable response from these State Department officials, but we were nonetheless surprised at the tone deafness and bureaucratic defensiveness of Ms. Fulton’s reply. She instructed us that the State Department mission there is to “improve security, fight corruption, increase prosperity, and strengthen historically weak institutions.” She said that the country does not have enough police to provide security and that the U.S is remedying this. She said she would like to see factual evidence of what we were telling her we had seen and heard, and she stated that “there are two sides to every story.” She said she had not heard about any illegal detentions. And she said that since the Honduran constitution does not provide for a new election option, the U.S. could not do anything other than work for reforms that improved the process next time.

Of course, Fulton did not acknowledge the historic role the U.S. has played in Honduras, and indeed throughout Latin America and the world, in fostering the very conditions of destabilization that we witnessed, supporting repressive regimes, and undermining democratic structures and institutions. She didn’t blink when she said there was nothing the U.S. could do about the fraudulent election in Honduras, its client state. In the face of hearing the heartfelt testimony and pleas from this largely religious delegation, the trained diplomat came back with the expected dispassionate company line. As one delegate said, it showed the typical U.S. government “heart of stone.”

The next day, we got on the bus and headed to the airport. When we were thanked and so warmly sent on our way by the staff of Radio Progreso, we were reminded how remarkable the people of this country are. They continue in their courageous struggle with good humor, graciousness, and resilience, despite the grim repression they face. Many of us expressed our gratitude to them in return, for inspiring us to call on these inner strengths ourselves, even in the hardest of times, for protecting us, and for giving us a glimpse of the dictatorship our government supports.

On the plane home, still feeling the embraces of solidarity, I recalled the saying that is attributed to Lila Watson, an indigenous Australian: “If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
How can we be free when our sisters and brothers are not? La luche sigue.

When is there Going to be Accountability for US Wars and Aggression?

It’s WMD all over again.

Anonymous “US officials” are once again accusing a targeted “regime” of using “chemical weapons” and threatening that the U.S. military may have to “hold it accountable”. Once again, western media is broadcasting these accusations and threats without skepticism or investigation.

The Washington Post story is titled “Trump administration: Syria probably continuing to make, use chemical weapons”.  Jane’s Defence Weekly quotes a U.S. offical saying “They clearly think they can get away with this ….”

Jerusalel Online says “A US official says Syrian President Assad’s forces may be developing new types of chemical weapons, which which could reach as far as the US…”

The Reuters story in the New York Times says “US officials have said the Syrian government may be developing new types of chemical weapons, and President Donald Trump is prepared to consider further military action…. President Bashar al Assad is believed to have secretly kept part of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile….”

The Washingon Post article concludes with the threat, “If the international community does not take action now . . . we will see more chemical weapons use, not just by Syria but by non-state actors such as ISIS and beyond,” the first official said. “And that use will spread to U.S. shores.”

Based on a review of facts from recent history, it is very likely the story is false and is being broadcast to deceive the public in preparation for new military aggression. Anyone who thinks that politicians don’t consider timing and marketing needs to only recall the statement of a GW Bush official that “from a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.” The “product” was the PR campaign to get the American public to accept the invasion of Iraq.

When is there going to be some accountability for the US military industrial complex and their political and media enablers and promoters?

The invasion of Vietnam with over 500 thousand US soldiers was preceded by the phoney Gulf of Tonknin incident where a US ship was supposedly attacked by a North Vietnamese vessel. It was untrue and President Johnson knew it. The resolution was passed unanimously (416-0) in the House and only Wayne Morse and Ernest Gruening had the integrity and insight to oppose it in the Senate. Was anyone ever held accountable for the lie that led to over 58 thousand dead US soldiers and millions of dead Vietnamese? No.

The 1991 attack on Iraq and subsequent massacre of Iraqi soldiers and civilians was preceded by the fabricated testimony of the Kuwaiti Ambassador’s daughter pretending to be a nurse who had witnessed Iraqi soldiers stealing incubators and leaving Kuwaiti babies on the floor. Were the marketing officials Hill & Knowlton and politicians such as Tom Lantos who managed this deceit ever held accountable? No.

In 2003 the US launched the invasion of Iraq leading to the death of over a million Iraqis based on the false and fabricated evidence provided by the CIA and uncritically promoted by the mainstream media. For example,  Michael Gordon and Thomas Friedman promoted and lauded the invasion at the NYTimes. Were they held to account?  No, they carry right on to today.

In 2011 the US led NATO attacks on Libya with the stated purpose to “protect civilians” from massacre. This was explained and encouraged by journalists and pundits such as Nicholas Kristof and Juan Cole. NATO officials bragged about their operation. After the brief western euphoria, it became clear that the campaign was based on lies and the real result was an explosion of extremism, massacres and chaos which continues to today. Accountability? None. One rarely hears about Libya today. Out of sight, out of mind.

In August of 2013 we heard about a massive sarin gas attack on the outskirts of Damascus. Human Rights Watch and others promoting a western attack quickly accused the Syrian government. They asserted that Assad had crossed Obama’s “red line” and the US needed to intervene directly. Subsequent investigations revealed the gas attack was not carried out by the Syrian government. It was perpetrated by a Turkish supported terrorist faction with the goal of pressuring the Obama administration to directly attack Syria. Two Turkish parliamentarians presented evidence of Turkey’s involvement in the transfer of sarin. Some of the best and most time-proven US investigative journalists, including the late Robert Parry and Seymour Hersh, researched and discovered the evidence points to Turkish supported “rebels” not Syria. Despite the factual evidence exposing the “junk heap” of false claims, mainstream media and their followers continue to assert that Assad committed the crime.

In April 2017 it was the same thing: US and allies made accusations which were never proven and ultimately discredited. The UN/OPCW investigation team never visited the scene of the crime. They discovered the curious fact that dozens of victims in multiple locations showed up at hospitals with symptoms of chemical injuries before the attack happened. This is strong evidence of fraud but that investigation was not pursued. With or without awareness of the deceit, Trump ordered missile strikes on a Syrian air base which killed 13 people including four children. Accountability? None.

Recently it has become clear that dark forces in the US government ad military do not intend to stop their efforts to destroy Syria. Despite confusion and contradictory claims in the US administration, a core fact is that the US is training and supplying a sectarian military militia inside northern Syria against the wishes of the Syrian government. The US said they were in Syria to get rid of ISIS but now that ISIS is largely gone, the US military says it is not leaving. On the contrary, the US military helped escort ISIS fighters from Raqqa to al Bukamal and the US is now training ISIS fighters to be reincarnated as yet another anti-Assad “rebel” force.

As always, US aggression needs some measure of political support. To gain that, they need a justification. Thus it’s WMD all over again. Once again. the “bad guys” are using chemical weapons on their own people. Supposedly the Syrian government is incredibly stupid …. they just keep on using chemical weapons and giving the US a justification to act as judge, jury and executioner.

Most of the American public is too busy, distracted or overwhelmed with problems to investigate U.S. government claims. Mainstream media, including some alternative media, are failing badly. They are supposed to be holding government to account, critically questioning the assertions, investigating the facts, exposing contradictions and falsehoods. Along with the politicians and government, they have some responsibility for the ongoing wars and aggression. They all should be accountable. When is that going to happen?

The State of Our Union: A House Divided, Enslaved and Mired in the Mistakes of the Past

A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.

— Abraham Lincoln, June 16, 1858, at Springfield, Illinois.

History has a funny way of circling back on itself.

The facts, figures, faces and technology may change from era to era, but the dangers remain the same.

This year is no different, whatever the politicians and talking heads may say to the contrary.

Sure, there’s a new guy in charge with a talent for stirring up mayhem and madness, but for the most part, we’re still recycling the same news stories that have kept us with one eye warily glued to the news for the past 100-odd years: War. Corruption. Brutality. Economic instability. Partisan politics. Militarism. Disease. Hunger. Greed. Violence. Poverty. Ignorance. Hatred.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Brush up on your history, and you’ll find that we’ve been stuck on repeat for some time now.

Take the United States of America in the year 2018, which is not so far different from the United States of America during the Civil Rights era, or the Cold War era, or even the Depression era.

Go far enough afield, and you’ll find aspects of our troubled history mirrored in the totalitarianism of Nazi Germany, in the fascism of Mussolini’s Italy, and further back in the militarism of the Roman Empire.

We’re like TV weatherman Phil Connors in Harold Ramis’ classic 1993 comedy Groundhog Day, forced to live the same day over and over again.

Here in the American police state, however, we continue to wake up, hoping this new day, new president and new year will somehow be different from what has come before.

Unfortunately, no matter how we change the narrative, change the characters, change the plot lines, we seem to keep ending up in the same place that we started: enslaved, divided and repeating the mistakes of the past.

You want to know about the true State of our Union? Listen up.

The State of the Union: The state of our union is politically polarized, controlled by forces beyond the purview of the average American, and rapidly moving the nation away from its freedom foundation. Over the past year, Americans have found themselves repeatedly subjected to egregious civil liberties’ violations, invasive surveillance, political correctness, erosions of free speech, strip searches, police shootings of unarmed citizens, government spying, the criminalization of lawful activities, warmongering, etc.

The predators of the police state have wreaked havoc on our freedoms, our communities, and our lives. The government has not listened to the citizenry, refused to abide by the Constitution, and treated the citizenry as the source of funding and little else. Police officers shot unarmed citizens and their household pets. Government agents—including local police—remain armed to the teeth and act like soldiers on a battlefield. Bloated government agencies continue to fleece taxpayers. Government technicians spy on our emails and phone calls. And government contractors make a killing by waging endless wars abroad.

Consequently, the state of our nation has become more bureaucratic, more debt-ridden, more violent, more militarized, more fascist, more lawless, more invasive, more corrupt, more untrustworthy, more mired in war, and more unresponsive to the wishes and needs of the electorate. The policies of the American police state have continued unabated.

The Executive Branch: All of the imperial powers amassed by Barack Obama and George W. Bush—to kill American citizens without due process, to detain suspects indefinitely, to strip Americans of their citizenship rights, to carry out mass surveillance on Americans without probable cause, to suspend laws during wartime, to disregard laws with which he might disagree, to conduct secret wars and convene secret courts, to sanction torture, to sidestep the legislatures and courts with executive orders and signing statements, to direct the military to operate beyond the reach of the law, to act as a dictator and a tyrant, above the law and beyond any real accountability—were inherited by Donald Trump.

Trump has these powers because every successive occupant of the Oval Office has been allowed to expand the reach and power of the presidency through the use of executive orders, decrees, memorandums, proclamations, national security directives and legislative signing statements that can be activated by any sitting president. Those of us who saw this eventuality coming have been warning for years about the growing danger of the Executive Branch with its presidential toolbox of terror that could be used—and abused—by future presidents. The groundwork, we warned, was being laid for a new kind of government where it won’t matter if you’re innocent or guilty, whether you’re a threat to the nation or even if you’re a citizen. What will matter is what the president—or whoever happens to be occupying the Oval Office at the time—thinks. And if he or she thinks you’re a threat to the nation and should be locked up, then you’ll be locked up with no access to the protections our Constitution provides. In effect, you will disappear.

Our warnings went unheeded.

The Legislative Branch:  Congress may well be the most self-serving, semi-corrupt institution in America. Abuses of office run the gamut from elected representatives neglecting their constituencies to engaging in self-serving practices, including the misuse of eminent domain, earmarking hundreds of millions of dollars in federal contracting in return for personal gain and campaign contributions, having inappropriate ties to lobbyist groups and incorrectly or incompletely disclosing financial information. Pork barrel spending, hastily passed legislation, partisan bickering, a skewed work ethic, graft and moral turpitude have all contributed to the public’s increasing dissatisfaction with congressional leadership. No wonder 84 percent of Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing.

The Judicial Branch: The Supreme Court was intended to be an institution established to intervene and protect the people against the government and its agents when they overstep their bounds. Yet through their deference to police power, preference for security over freedom, and evisceration of our most basic rights for the sake of order and expediency, the justices of the United States Supreme Court have become the guardians of the American police state in which we now live. As a result, sound judgment and justice have largely taken a back seat to legalism, statism and elitism, while preserving the rights of the people has been deprioritized and made to play second fiddle to both governmental and corporate interests. The courts have empowered the government to wreak havoc on our liberties. Protections for private property continue to be undermined. And Americans can no longer rely on the courts to mete out justice.

Shadow Government: Donald Trump inherited more than a bitterly divided nation teetering on the brink of financial catastrophe when he assumed office. He also inherited a shadow government, one that is fully operational and staffed by unelected officials who are, in essence, running the country. Referred to as the Deep State, this shadow government is comprised of unelected government bureaucrats, corporations, contractors, paper-pushers, and button-pushers who are actually calling the shots behind the scenes right now.

Law Enforcement: By and large the term “law enforcement” encompasses all agents within a militarized police state, including the military, local police, and the various agencies such as the Secret Service, FBI, CIA, NSA, etc. Having been given the green light to probe, poke, pinch, taser, search, seize, strip and generally manhandle anyone they see fit in almost any circumstance, all with the general blessing of the courts, America’s law enforcement officials, no longer mere servants of the people entrusted with keeping the peace but now extensions of the military, are part of an elite ruling class dependent on keeping the masses corralled, under control, and treated like suspects and enemies rather than citizens. As a result, police are becoming even more militarized and weaponized, and police shootings of unarmed individuals continue to increase.

A Suspect Surveillance Society: Every dystopian sci-fi film we’ve ever seen is suddenly converging into this present moment in a dangerous trifecta between science, technology and a government that wants to be all-seeing, all-knowing and all-powerful. By tapping into your phone lines and cell phone communications, the government knows what you say. By uploading all of your emails, opening your mail, and reading your Facebook posts and text messages, the government knows what you write. By monitoring your movements with the use of license plate readers, surveillance cameras and other tracking devices, the government knows where you go. By churning through all of the detritus of your life—what you read, where you go, what you say—the government can predict what you will do. By mapping the synapses in your brain, scientists—and in turn, the government—will soon know what you remember. And by accessing your DNA, the government will soon know everything else about you that they don’t already know: your family chart, your ancestry, what you look like, your health history, your inclination to follow orders or chart your own course, etc. Consequently, in the face of DNA evidence that places us at the scene of a crime, behavior sensing technology that interprets our body temperature and facial tics as suspicious, and government surveillance devices that cross-check our biometricslicense plates and DNA against a growing database of unsolved crimes and potential criminals, we are no longer “innocent until proven guilty.”

Military Empire: America’s endless global wars and burgeoning military empire—funded by taxpayer dollars—have depleted our resources, over-extended our military and increased our similarities to the Roman Empire and its eventual demise. Black budget spending has completely undermined any hope of fiscal transparency, with government contractors padding their pockets at the expense of taxpayers and the nation’s infrastructure—railroads, water pipelines, ports, dams, bridges, airports and roads—taking the hit. The U.S. now operates approximately 800 military bases in foreign countries around the globe at an annual cost of at least $156 billion. The consequences of financing a global military presence are dire. In fact, David Walker, former comptroller general of the U.S., believes there are “striking similarities“, between America’s current situation and the factors that contributed to the fall of Rom including “declining moral values and political civility at home, an over-confident and over-extended military in foreign lands and fiscal irresponsibility by the central government.”

I haven’t even touched on the corporate state, the military industrial complex, SWAT team raids, invasive surveillance technology, zero tolerance policies in the schools, over-criminalization, or privatized prisons, to name just a few, but what I have touched on should be enough to show that the landscape of our freedoms has already changed dramatically from what it once was and will no doubt continue to deteriorate unless Americans can find a way to wrest back control of their government and reclaim their freedoms.

So how do we go about reclaiming our freedoms and reining in our runaway government?

Essentially, there are four camps of thought among the citizenry when it comes to holding the government accountable. Which camp you fall into says a lot about your view of government—or, at least, your view of whichever administration happens to be in power at the time.

In the first camp are those who trust the government to do the right thing, despite the government’s repeated failures in this department.

In the second camp are those who not only don’t trust the government but think the government is out to get them.

In the third camp are those who see government neither as an angel nor a devil, but merely as an entity that needs to be controlled, or as Thomas Jefferson phrased it, bound “down from mischief with the chains of the Constitution.”

Then there’s the fourth camp, comprised of individuals who pay little to no attention to the workings of government. Easily entertained, easily distracted, easily led, these are the ones who make the government’s job far easier than it should be.

It is easy to be diverted, distracted and amused by the antics of politicians, the pomp and circumstance of awards shows, athletic events, and entertainment news, and the feel-good evangelism that passes for religion today.

What is far more difficult to face up to is the reality of life in America, where unemployment, poverty, inequality, injustice and violence by government agents are increasingly norms.

The powers-that-be want us to remain divided, alienated from each other based on our politics, our bank accounts, our religion, our race and our value systems. Yet as George Orwell observed, “The real division is not between conservatives and revolutionaries but between authoritarians and libertarians.”

The only distinction that matters anymore is where you stand in the American police state.
In other words, you’re either part of the problem or part of the solution.

America is at a crossroads.

History may show that from this point forward, we will have left behind any semblance of constitutional government and entered into a militaristic state where all citizens are suspects and security trumps freedom.

Certainly, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we have moved beyond the era of representative government and entered a new age: the age of  authoritarianism. Even with its constantly shifting terrain, this topsy-turvy travesty of law and government has become America’s new normal.

As long as we continue to put our politics ahead of our principles—moral, legal and constitutional—“we the people” will lose.

And you know who will keep winning by playing on our prejudices, capitalizing on our fears, deepening our distrust of our fellow citizens, and dividing us into polarized, warring camps incapable of finding consensus on the one true menace that is an immediate threat to all of our freedoms? The government.

When we lose sight of the true purpose of government—to protect our rights—and fail to keep the government in its place as our servant, we allow the government to overstep its bounds and become a tyrant that rules by brute force.

Rule by brute force.

That’s about as good a description as you’ll find for the sorry state of our republic.

The list of abuses being perpetrated against the American people by their government is growing rapidly: SWAT teams crashing through doors. Militarized police shooting unarmed citizens. Traffic cops tasering old men and pregnant women for not complying fast enough with an order. Resource officers shackling children for acting like children. Citizens being jailed for growing vegetable gardens in their front yards and holding prayer services in their backyards. Drivers having their cash seized under the pretext that they might have done something wrong.

Brace yourselves. We are approaching critical mass.

Denying the Obvious: Leftists and Crimestop

And thus the U.S. left leadership sits in the left chamber of the hall of mirrors, complaining about conspiracy theories while closing its eyes to actual conspiracies crucial to contemporary imperialism.
— Graeme MacQueen, Beyond Their Wildest Dreams: September 11, 2001 and the American Left

It is well known that effective propaganda works through slow, imperceptible repetition. “The slow building up of reflexes and myths” is the way Jacques Ellul put it in his classic, Propaganda.  This works through commission and omission.

I was reminded of this recently after I published a newspaper editorial on Martin Luther King Day stating the fact that the United States’ government assassinated Dr. King.  To the best of my knowledge, this was the only newspaper op-ed to say that.  I discovered that many newspapers and other publications (with very rare exceptions), despite a plethora of articles and editorials praising King, ignored this “little” fact as if it were inconsequential.  No doubt they wish it were, or that it were not true, just as many hoped that repeating the bromide that James Earl Ray killed Dr. King would reinforce the myth they’ve been selling for fifty years, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary that is available to anyone wishing to investigate the truth.

The general attitude seemed to be: Let’s just appreciate MLK on his birthday and get on with it.  Don’t be a spoil-sport.

That this is the approach of the mainstream corporate media (MSM) should not be surprising, for they are mouthpieces for official government lies.  But when the same position is taken by so many liberal and progressive intellectuals and publications who are otherwise severely critical of the MSM for their propaganda in the service of empire, it gives pause. Like their counterparts in the MSM, these liberals shower King with praise, even adding that he was more than a civil rights leader, that he opposed war and economic exploitation as well, but as to who killed him, and why, and why it matters today, that is elided.  Amy Goodman at Democracy Now in a recent piece about an upcoming documentary about King is a case in point. Not once in this long conversation about a film about the last few years of King’s life and his commitment to oppose the Vietnam War and launch the Poor People’s Campaign is the subject of who killed him and why broached.  It is a perfect example of the denial of the truth through omission.

Propaganda, of course comes in many forms: big lies and small; half-truths, whispers, and rumors; slow-drip and headlong; misinformation and disinformation; through commission and omission; intentional and unintentional; cultural and political, etc.  Although it is omnipresent today – 24/7 surround sound – when it comes from the mouths of government spokespeople or corporate media the average person, grown somewhat suspicious of official lies, has a slight chance of detecting it.  This is far more difficult, however, when it takes the form of a left-wing critique of U.S. government policies that subtly supports official explanations through sly innuendos and references, or through omission.  Reading an encomium to Dr. King that attacks government positions on race, war, and economics from the left will often get people nodding their heads in agreement while they fail to notice a fatal flaw at the heart of the critique.  The Democracy Now piece is a perfect example of this legerdemain.

I do not know the motivations or intentions of many prominent leftist intellectuals and publications, but I do know that many choose to avoid placing certain key historical events at the center of their analyses.  In fact, they either avoid them like the plague, dismiss them as inconsequential, or use the CIA’s term of choice and call them “conspiracy theories” and their proponents “conspiracy nuts.”  The result is a powerful propaganda victory for the power elites they say they oppose.

Orwell called it “Crimestop: [it] means the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought.  It includes the power of not grasping analogies, of failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments if they are inimical to Ingsoc, and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction.  Crimestop, in short, means protective stupidity.”

There are many fine writers and activists who are very frustrated by their inability, despite a vast and continuous outpouring of excellent critiques of the machinations of the oligarchical rulers of the U.S., to convince people of the ways they have been brainwashed by government/media propaganda.  Most of their anger is directed toward the most obvious sources of this intricate psychological warfare directed at the American people.  They often fail to realize, however – or fail to say – that there are leftists in their ranks who, whether intentionally or not, are far more effective than the recognized enemies in government intelligence agencies and their corporate accomplices in the media in convincing people that the system works and that it is not run by killers who will go to any lengths to achieve their goals.  These leftist critics, while often right on specific issues that one can agree with, couch their critiques within a framework that omits or disparages certain truths without which nothing makes sense.  By truths I do not mean debatable matters, but key historical events that have been studied and researched extensively by reputable scholars and have been shown to be factual, except to those who fail to fairly do their homework, purposely or through laziness.

There is no way to understand today’s world without confronting four key historical events out of which spring today’s conditions of oligarchic rule, constant war, and the growth of an intelligence apparatus that makes Orwell’s 1984 look so anachronistic.

They are: the assassinations of JFK, MLK, and RFK by elements within the U.S. intelligence services, and the insider attacks of September 11, 2011. These are anathema to a group of very prominent left-wing intellectuals and liberal publications.  It is okay for them to attack Bush, Obama, Clinton, Trump, the Democratic Party, Bernie Sanders, liberals in general, creeping fascism, capitalism, the growth of the intelligence state, etc.; but to accept, or even to explore fairly in writing, what I assert as factual above, is verboten. Why?

When President Kennedy was murdered by the CIA, the United States suffered a coup d’état that resulted in years of savage war waged against Vietnam, resulting in millions of Vietnamese deaths and tens of thousands of American soldiers.  The murder of JFK in plain sight sent a message in clear and unambiguous terms to every President that followed that you toe the line or else.  They have toed the line.  The message from the coup planners and executioners was clear: we run the show.  They have been running it ever since.

When Martin Luther King declared his opposition to the Vietnam War and joined it to his espousal of a civil rights and an anti-capitalist program, he had to go.  So they killed him.

Then, when the last man standing who had a chance to change the direction of the coup – Robert Kennedy – seemed destined to win the presidency, he had to go.  So they killed him.

To ignore these foundational state crimes for which the evidence is so overwhelming and their consequences over the decades so obvious – well, what explanation can leftist critics offer for doing so?

And then there are the attacks of September 11, 2001, the fourth foundational event that has brought us to our present abominable condition.  One has to be very ignorant to not see that the official explanation is a fiction conjured up to justify an endless “war on terror” planned as perhaps the prelude to the use of nuclear weapons, those weapons that JFK in the last year of his life worked so hard to eliminate after the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

In refusing to connect the dots from November 22, 1963 through April 4 and June 5 1968 and September 11, 2001 until today, prominent leftists continue to do the work of Crimestop.  For the moment I will leave it to readers to identify who they are, and the numerous leftist publications that support their positions. There are two famous left-wing American intellectuals, one dead and one living, who are often intoned to support this work of propaganda by omission:  Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, both of whom dismissed the killing of JFK and the attacks of September 11 as inconsequential and not worthy of their attention. They have quite a few protégés whose work you probably read and agree with, despite the void at the heart of their critiques.  Why they avoid accepting the truth and significance of the four events I have mentioned, only they can say.  That they do is easy to show, as are the dire consequences for a united front against the deep-state forces intent on reducing this society and the world to rubble because of their refusal to confront the systemic evil that they render unspeakable by their acquiescence to government propaganda.

In  his groundbreaking book on the assassination of John Kennedy, JFK And The Unspeakable: Why He Died & Why It Matters, James Douglass quotes his guide into the dark underworld of radical evil and our tendency to turn away from its awful truths, the Trappist Monk Thomas Merton, who said of the Unspeakable:

It is the void that contradicts everything that is spoken even before the words are said; the void that gets into the language of public and official declarations at the very moment when they are pronounced and makes them ring dead with the hollowness of the abyss.

Can you hear it on your left?

Hotel Intercontinental Siege: Is Kabul Falling?

Afghanistan is now facing mortal danger. It has to survive, but it is not clear how it can manage.

Hotel Intercontinental in Kabul, which was attacked by gunmen last Saturday, used to fit like a glove, like a grandmother’s couch. Outside, the war has been raging. Millions of Afghan lives were aimlessly broken, hundreds of thousands lost. The price of more than 16 years of NATO occupation has exceeded $1 trillion, but instead of bringing peace and prosperity, it has reduced Afghanistan to rubble.

My room in hotel

All that is still functioning in the country are structures and infrastructure built before and during the Soviet era, like irrigation ducts, canals and bread factories. Other tangible assistance came recently from China and India, but almost nothing was provided by the NATO occupation countries, except countless fences, wires and military installations.

Soviet water pipe in the village, Nargarhar Province

Even before the siege at the Intercontinental Hotel, which left more than 20 people dead, Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani confessed to 60 Minutes correspondent Lara Logan that he is unable to protect his own capital.

But it is not only the capital, of course. The entire country is spiraling into chaos. It is clear that it will soon be impossible to control it anymore, at least as one entity, from Kabul.

It can be heard more and more often on the streets of Kabul, Jalalabad and Herat that reducing this country to perpetual conflict and chaos may be the exact plan of the occupation forces.

Reception at Intercontinental

I used to joke about Hotel Intercontinental – ‘This place feels like a Soviet three-star hotel in some provincial Siberian town. Bent shower bars, stained but otherwise clean carpets, indifferent but somehow friendly staff – you could wave as much as you wanted, but the waitress in the hotel’s cafe would only move after you’d come to her personally, smiled broadly, and pointed your finger at some particular item from the limited assortment of sweets.’

Stunning view from hotel

Despite everything, Hotel Intercontinental Kabul was always there, standing. It was crumbling, but still somehow majestic, full of history and old-fashioned charm. Its lobby was decorated with traditional Afghan landscapes and portraits. The vistas from the hotel rooms and balconies were breathtaking: the old Bagh-e Bala Palace with its vast public park, then the entire capital city down below as though sitting in a crater, and the great mountain range rising towards the sky right behind that urban sprawl.

During breakfast hours, a few tables near the window in the hotel restaurant were almost always occupied by Russian-speaking pilots and crew members from an Afghan passenger airline, Kam Air. I don’t know whether these people were Russian or Ukrainian, but they spoke Russian among themselves, and also to me. They were tall and muscular, as pilots operating in a war zone are expected to be.

We always exchanged greetings, as well as one or two jokes. No deep discussions, just that – a few jokes and a few very warm smiles.

Some time ago, I had to fly to the ancient city of Herat, and was traveling early in the morning with Kam Air on the same flight as the crew. My driver was late and I approached the airline minivan, which was just about to depart for the airport.

“Would you please take me with you to the airport, boys?” I asked.

“Yes, of course, of course – just jump in!” they grinned.

We were all part of a big family. Foreigners staying at Intercontinental – not rich and not poor, not part of any ‘government initiative’ or wealthy NGO. This hotel was for ‘working people’ – journalists, filmmakers, pilots. Those who required ‘special protection’ were staying behind the enormous concrete walls of their embassies, or in the only truly luxury hotel in the country – Serena.

Two hours later, we were flying over tremendous Afghan mountains and tiny ancient villages made of mud, miles below the wing. I was taking photographs, while imagining that insane US “mother of all bombs” that was dropped just a few days earlier on an identical hamlet, killing who knows how many innocent people.

The two powerful engines of an old but reliable MD-82 were purring reassuringly at the rear of the plane. Then, at some point, I closed my eyes and fell asleep. The next thing I experienced was a gentle pat on my shoulder, followed by friendly whisper: “Kofeiku ne khotite? Rebyata tut tol’ko cto svezii svarili” (“Would you like some coffee? The guys here just brewed a fresh one…”)

I drank the aromatic brew, looking down at those stunning, enormous mountains covered by snow. Russian-speaking pilots were in the cockpit, steering the plane with great experience and confidence.

I thought: “If there is one crew in the world that is qualified to fly over this beautiful but complex and dangerous terrain, then it is this one.”

It was one of those moments when I felt totally happy and alive, drunk with passion for what I had been doing: working in Afghanistan, exposing crimes committed there by the Western countries, falling head over heels in love with this ancient and proud nation, flying over its peaks into one of the most interesting cities of Central Asia – Herat.

On January 20, 2018, in the intensive care unit of Tokyo’s St. Luke’s Hospital, I was fighting for my life, months after my year-old foot wound reopened in Afghanistan, and had since refused to heal.

Through the fog of fever and IV, I observed coverage from Kabul on a television screen that was hanging above my bed. ‘My’ Intercontinental Hotel had been attacked. In fact, it was overrun by what was allegedly one of the most vicious branches of the Taliban, known as the Haqqani Network. At least that is what was tweeted by Javid Faisal, a spokesman for the Afghan government’s chief executive.

At least 21 people lost their lives during the 14-hour standoff. Almost immediately, several pilots and crew members from Kam Air were murdered in cold blood. So were two Venezuelan pilots. None of these people were ‘supporters of the government,’ nor were they collaborators with the invading NATO force.

They were simply a group of romantics, a group of rugged, brave but also very kind and gentle men who adored flying and who, like myself, fell in love with Afghanistan. I know this because they told me, and because it was just so obvious!

In case anyone is wondering, ‘my hotel in Kabul’ has nothing to do with the luxury US chain of the same name. It used to be part of the ‘real’ Intercontinental, but only from 1969, when its doors first opened, until 1980 (shortly after the Soviet Union intervention in Afghanistan). Now, it is a state-owned property, described as ‘luxury’ only by outsiders who are covering Afghanistan from afar. You can get a room there for a mere $50 if you negotiate very hard, and for $60 if your bargaining skills are somewhat limited.

Classical musicians at hotel

The hotel had already been damaged on several occasions, particularly during the civil war of the 1990s, when it is said that at one point only 85 out its 200 rooms were inhabitable. As recently as 2011, 21 people died here during an attack for which the Taliban claimed responsibility.

Despite its macabre history, however, Intercontinental is still the favorite property of many locals and some foreigners in Kabul. This is where many conferences are held, and – during the fasting month of Ramadan – fast is broken here by members of local elites, close to the swimming pool overlooking the city. And there is music here almost every night: true Afghan traditional music, with local instruments and singers trained by renowned masters.

Guard posts around the hotel

Security is, of course, everywhere. To return to this property from the city, I always have to go through three full security posts with my car. After all, Afghanistan is now considered to be one of the most dangerous countries on Earth for foreigners.

In just one week, three deadly attacks shook Afghanistan: one in Kabul, another outside Herat, and a third inside the city of Jalalabad, in which ISIS targeted the NGO, Save the Children.

Last year, I traveled to many corners of this scarred, ancient land. I spoke to people, including those in the villages that were at least partially taken over by Taliban. People are increasingly realizing that they are living in perpetual conflict. Refugees (or internally displaced persons) from the east are talking about the carnage that comes with the arrival of ISIS.

Hard drugs and poppy seeds are everywhere in the center of Kabul, right under the nose of the US occupiers – poppy fields literally surround Bagram Airforce Base.

Soviets and Russians are now remembered with love and great nostalgia; something that I already described in my previous essays from the country.

Very soon, no foreigners will be left in Afghanistan. That may be the main goal of the latest attacks. No witnesses, no alternatives, no solutions.

Who will benefit? Definitely not the devastated Afghan people. Perhaps the warlords, the extremist mullahs, and the occupiers.

Kam Air crew, flying passenger jets all over the country, and the dilapidated Intercontinental were some of the last symbols of normality – a weak promise that one can still come and see what is really happening in this country.

From now on, there will be hardly any foreigners in the country. It will be only us – war correspondents, as well as foreign soldiers and mercenaries.

Internally displaced woman shares her pain

Afghanistan is now facing mortal danger. It has to survive, but it is not clear how it could manage. Those who love it should return, no matter what risk we’d be facing. A news blockade should be prevented. Alternative (non-Western) information has to flow. By all means, at any price.

• Photos by Andre Vltchek

• Article first published as an Op-Ed by RT

The Algiers Accords: Decades of Violations and Silence

This week marks the 37th anniversary of a pledge made by the United States in 1981:

The United States pledges that it is and from now on will be the policy of the United States not to intervene, directly or indirectly, politically or militarily, in Iran’s internal affairs.

This week also marks 37 continuous years of the United States failing to uphold its pledge: the 1981 Algiers Accords.

Just how many people have heard of the 1981 Algiers Accords, a bilateral treaty signed on January 19, 1981 between the United States of America and the Islamic Republic of Iran? Chances are, not many. Just as chances are that not many are fully aware of what actually led to the signing of this treaty.

Following the success of the 1979 Iranian Revolution that overthrew the Shah, America’s strongman in Iran, plans were made to topple the new government in Tehran.  In 1980, under the Carter administration, the United States began clandestine radio broadcasts into Iran from Egypt. The broadcasts called for Khomeini’s overthrow and urged support for Shahpur Bakhtiar,1 the last prime minister under the Shah.  Other plans included the failed Nojeh coup plot as well as plans for a possible American invasion of Iran using Turkish bases.2

The new Revolutionary government in Iran, with a look to the past and the 1953 British-CIA coup d’état that overthrew the Mossadegh government and reinstalled the Shah, had good reason to believe that the United States was planning to abort the revolution in its nascent stages.  Fearful, enthusiastic students took over the U.S. embassy in Tehran and took the diplomats as hostages in order to prevent such plans from fruition.

These events led to the negotiation and conclusion of the Algiers Accords, point 1 of which was the pledge by the United States not to intervene in Iran’s internal affairs in any way. The Algiers Accords brought about the release of the American hostages and established the Iran–U.S. Claims Tribunal (“Tribunal”) at the Hague, the Netherlands. The Tribunal ruled consistently “the Declarations were to be interpreted in accordance with the process of interpretation set out in the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.”3

A pledge is only as valid and worthy as the person making it. From the onset, the United States failed to uphold its own pledge.  For instance, starting in 1982, the CIA provided $100,000 a month to a group in Paris called the Front for the Liberation of Iran. The group headed by Ali Amini who had presided over the reversion of Iranian oil to foreign control after the CIA-backed coup in 1953.4 Additionally, America provided support to two Iranian paramilitary groups based in Turkey, one of them headed by General Bahram Aryana, the former Shah’s army chief with close ties to Bakhtiar.5

In 1986, the CIA went so far as to pirate Iran’s national television network frequency to transmit an address by the Shah’s son, Reza Pahlavi, over Iranian TV in which he vowed: “I will return.”6 The support did not end there. Pahlavi had C.LA. funding for a number of years in the eighties which stopped with the Iran-Contra affair. He was successful at soliciting funds from the emir of Kuwait, the emir of Bahrain, the king of Morocco, and the royal family of Saudi Arabia, all staunch U.S. allies.7

In late 2002, Michael Ledeen joined Morris Amitay, vice-president of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs; ex-CIA head James Woolsey; former Reagan administration official Frank Gaffney; former senator Paul Simon; and oil consultant Rob Sobhani to set up a group called the Coalition for Democracy in Iran (CDI).8 In spite of his lack of charisma as a leader, in May, 2003, Michael Ledeen wrote a policy brief for the American Enterprise Institute website arguing that Pahlavi would make a suitable leader for a transitional government, describing him as “widely admired inside Iran, despite his refreshing lack of avidity for power or wealth.”7 In August 2003, the Pentagon issued new guidelines: All meetings with Iranian dissidents had to be cleared with Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith. Reza Pahlavis’ name was included in the list of contacts that had been meeting with Pentagon analysts.9

Concurrent with this direct interference, and in the following decade, Washington concentrated its efforts into putting a chokehold on the Iranian economy. A provision of the Algiers Accords was that “the United States will revoke all trade sanctions which were directed against Iran in the period November 4, 1979, to date.” Embargoes and sanctions became the norm.  Failing to interfere in Iran’s domestic affairs in order to topple the Islamic Republic through economic hardship, the United States once again turned up pressure through broadcasts and direct support for dissidents and terrorists – in conjunction with economic sanctions.

This stranglehold was taking place while concurrently, and in violation of the Algiers Accords, the CIA front National Endowment for Democracy was providing funds to various groups, namely “Iran Teachers Association” (1991,1992,1993,1994, 2001, 2002, 2003); The Foundation for Democracy in Iran (FDI founded in 1995 by Kenneth R. Timmerman, Peter Rodman, Joshua Muravchik, and American intelligence officials advocating regime change in Iran), National Iranian American Council (NIAC) 2002, 2005, 2006), and others.10

Funds from NED to interfere in Iran continued after the signing of the JCPOA. a The 2016 funding stood at well over $1m.

In September 2000, Senators openly voiced support for the MEK Terror group Mojaheddin-e-khalgh.  Writing for The New Yorker, Connie Bruck revealed that: “Israel is said to have had a relationship with the M.E.K at least since the late nineties, and to have supplied a satellite signal for N.C.RI. broadcasts from Paris into Iran.”11 Perhaps their relationship with Israel and their usefulness explains why President Bush accorded the group ‘special persons status’.12

During the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq, the terrorist group got protection from the U.S. troops in Iraq despite getting pressure from the Iraqi government to leave the country (CNN).13 In 2005, “a Farsi-speaking former CIA officer says he was approached by neoconservatives in the Pentagon who asked him to go to Iran and oversee “MEK [Mujahedeen-e Khalq] cross-border operations” into Iran.

Moreover, according to Pakistani Intelligence, the United States secretly used yet another terrorist group – the Jundallah to stage a series of deadly attacks against Iran. The United States seems to have a soft spot for terrorists.

In addition to CIA funding and covert operations with help from terrorists, the United States actively used radio broadcasts into Iran to stir up unrest including Radio Farda and VOA Persian. It comes as no surprise then that the recipient of NED funds, NIAC, should encourage such broadcasts.  Also, the BBC “received significant sum of money from the US government to help combat the blocking of TV and internet services in countries including Iran and China.”

It is crucial to note that while the United States was conducting secret negotiations with Iran which led to the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA), the MEK were delisted as a foreign terror organization. This provides them with the legitimacy to write opinion pieces in leading American papers.

Also important to note that during the JCPOA negotiations in which the United States participated as a party to an agreement, it was busy flouting the Treaty with its broadcasts into Iran – apparently, without objection. But the violation was not limited to broadcasts. Item B of the Treaty’s preamble states:

Through the procedures provided in the declaration relating to the claims settlement agreement, the United States agrees to terminate all legal proceedings in United States courts involving claims of United States persons and institutions against Iran and its state enterprises, to nullify all attachments and judgments obtained therein, to prohibit all further litigation based on such claims, and to bring about the termination of such claims through binding arbitration.

Unsurprisingly, the US again failed to keep its pledge and a partisan legislation allocated millions for the former hostages.

Clearly, the United States felt bound by the Treaty for it recognized Point 2. Of the Algiers Accords when in January 2016 when Iran received its funds frozen by America in a settlement at the Hague. Perhaps for no other reason than to pacify Iran post JCPOA while finding the means to re-route Iran’s money back into American hands.

It would require a great deal of time and verse to cite every instance and detail of United States of America’s violation of a Treaty, of its pledge, for the past 37 years. But never has its attitude been more brazen in refusing to uphold its pledge and its open violation of international law than when President Trump openly voiced his support for protests in Iran and called for regime change. The US then called an emergency UNSC meeting on January 5, 2018 to demand that the UN interfere in Iran’s internal affairs.

America’s history clearly demonstrates that it has no regard for international law and treaties.  Its pledge is meaningless. International law is a tool for America that does not apply to itself. This is a well-documented fact – and perhaps none has realized this better than the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.  But what is inexplicable is the failure of Iranians to address these violations.

U.S. Treaties and Agreements

The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties defines a treaty “as an international agreement concluded between States in written form and governed by international law, whether embodied in a single instrument or in two or more related instruments and whatever its particular designation.”

Under United States law, however, there is a distinction made between the terms treaty and executive agreement. Generally, a treaty is a binding international agreement and an executive agreement applies in domestic law only. Under international law, however, both types of agreements are considered binding regardless of whether an international agreement is called a convention, agreement, protocol, accord, etc.

  1. David Binder, “U.S. Concedes It Is Behind Anti-Khomeini Broadcasts,” New York Times, 29 June 1980.
  2. Mehmet Akif Okur, “The American Geopolitical Interests and Turkey on the Eve of the September 12, 1980 Coup,” CTAD, Vol.11, No.21, p. 210-211.
  3. Malintoppi, Loretta. World Arbitration Reporter (WAR) – 2nd edition, December 2010. See also: Vienna Convention on the law of treaties (with annex). Concluded at Vienna on 23 May 1969.
  4. Bob Woodward, Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA, 1981-1987, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987, p. 480. (Cited by Stephen R. Shalom, “The United States and the Gulf War”, February, 1990).
  5. Leslie H. Gelb, “U.S. Said to Aid Iranian Exiles in Combat and Political Units,” New York Times, 7 March 1982, pp. A1, A12.
  6. Tower Commission, p. 398; Farhang, “Iran-Israel Connection,” p. 95. (Cited by Stephen R. Shalom, “The United States and the Gulf War”, February, 1990).
  7. Connie Bruck, Ibid.
  8. Andrew I Killgore. The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. Washington: December, 2003. Vol. 22, Iss.10, p.17.
  9. Eli Lake, New York Sun, December 2, 2003.
  10. International Democracy Development, Google Books, p. 59.
  11. Connie Bruck, “A reporter at large: Exiles; How Iran’s expatriates are gaming the nuclear threat”. The New Yorker, March 6, 2006.
  12. US Department of State. US State Department Daily Briefing.
  13. Michael Ware, “U.S. protects Iranian Opposition Group in Iraq”, 6 April 2007.