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Todd Gitlin: As the Globe Warms, So Does the Climate Movement

By: Tom Engelhardt Thursday October 2, 2014 7:15 am

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

 

Don’t call it a “march.” It was a “stand” — and a first stand at that, not a last one.  The People’s Climate March, billed as the largest climate demonstration in history, more than exceeded expectations and was an experience that has yet to desert me.  Its moment couldn’t have been grimmer in global warming terms.  That week, record-breaking concentrations of greenhouse gases were reported in the atmosphere, with the added grim news that the oceans and the forests, the planet’s major “carbon sinks,” were starting to absorb less CO2. Under the circumstances, I had the urge to do my bit to make the march huge and so organized a group of 16 friends and family members, ranging in age from 2 to 72. Marchers were to gather on New York’s Central Park West between 86th Street and Columbus Circle at 59th, where the event was to kick off at exactly 11:30 a.m.  At 11, when our crew arrived at 72nd Street, designated as a meeting place for children, families, and oldsters like me, the main route along Central Park West was already jam-packed and feeder streets like ours were filling fast.

On our small, ever-tighter stretch of cement was a typically heterogeneous crew sporting small dogs, a large penguin doll, a gazillion handmade signs, and a strutting, dancing drum-and-cymbal band. Amid cheers, music, and conversation, time passed and passed and passed. Though those younger than me were getting texts indicating that the march had set off in a timely manner, we didn’t move.  Not an inch.  And then it began to dawn on me. This demonstration was going to be so big, with so many people feeding into it, that “marching” for many of us would be an alien activity. As TomDispatch regular Todd Gitlin makes thrillingly clear today, we were quite literally in the midst of a genuine movement being born.  In fact, our crew, only 13 blocks north of the starting spot, didn’t even inch forward for more than an hour and a half after the official launch.

That’s what it turns out to mean to have 400,000 people crammed into a New York mile and cordoned off by the police (who control the streets, effectively imprisoning crowds).  By the time I reached the official beginning of the march at 59th Street, three and a half hours after we arrived, my legs were goners.  So, for another half an hour, I stopped with a friend, Peter Dimock, and watched the march pass in all its strange splendor and remarkable youthfulness, a kaleidoscope of floats and signs and costumes and performances spilling by, and still I couldn’t see the end of it. It’s the only demonstration I’ve ever attended where, officially speaking, I never began — and that represents a triumph of organizing and evidence of a growing concern for the state and fate of our planet.

Peter spent much of the march scribbling down what was on the panoply of signs around us, almost all made by individuals to express some urge about our degrading world, so many that his list of hundreds could make a dispatch in itself.  And yet he caught only a small fraction of the march’s signs.  Here are just a few of those to give you a taste of what may, as Gitlin suggests, have been a defining moment of hope in an otherwise grim era:

“Being Cool Has Never Been So Hot,” “Another Grandmother for Climate Justice,” “Our Planet is Not Something You Can Negotiate,” “I’m Sure the Dinosaurs Thought They Had Time, Too,” “Frack Off: Indigenous Women Leaders Leading Media Campaign to Defend Our Planet,” “Tax CO2,” “The Answer, My Friend, Is Blowing in the Wind” (with an image of a wind turbine), “Even Princeton” (sign held by one of a group of Princeton engineering and technology students marching together), “Don’t Panic, Learn to Swim,” “Evolve or Dissolve,” “Infinite Economic Growth (crossed out), Finite Planet,” “‘Natural Gas’ Is Not the Answer,” “There is No Planet B,” “I’m Marching for the Only Habitable Place in the Universe,” “Wall Street, Your Kingdom Must Come Down,” “Save the Snowmen,” “We Did Not Inherit the Earth from Our Ancestors. We Borrowed It From Our Grandchildren.” Tom

A Change in the Climate
The Climate Movement Steps Up
By Todd Gitlin

Less than two weeks have passed and yet it isn’t too early to say it: the People’s Climate March changed the social map — many maps, in fact, since hundreds of smaller marches took place in 162 countries. That march in New York City, spectacular as it may have been with its 400,000 participants, joyous as it was, moving as it was (slow-moving, actually, since it filled more than a mile’s worth of wide avenues and countless side streets), was no simple spectacle for a day. It represented the upwelling of something that matters so much more: a genuine global climate movement.

When I first heard the term “climate movement” a year ago, as a latecomer to this developing tale, I suspected the term was extravagant, a product of wishful thinking. I had, after all, seen a few movements in my time (and participated in several).  I knew something of what they felt like and looked like — and this, I felt, wasn’t it.

I knew, of course, that there were climate-related organizations, demonstrations, projects, books, magazines, tweets, and for an amateur, I was reasonably well read on “the issues,” but I didn’t see, hear, or otherwise sense that intangible, polymorphous, transformative presence that adds up to a true, potentially society-changing movement.

It seemed clear enough then: I could go about most of my life without brushing up against it. Now, call me a convert, but it’s here; it’s big; it’s real; it matters.

There is today a climate movement as there was a civil rights movement and an antiwar movement and a women’s liberation movement and a gay rights movement — each of them much more than its component actions, moments, slogans, proposals, names, projects, issues, demands (or, as we say today, having grown more polite, “asks”); each of them a culture, or an intertwined set of cultures; each of them a political force in the broadest as well as the narrowest sense; each generating the wildest hopes and deepest disappointments. Climate change is now one of them: a burgeoning social fact.

The extraordinary range, age, and diversity exhibited in the People’s Climate March — race, class, sex, you name it, and if you were there, you saw it — changes the game. The phalanxes of unions, indigenous and religious groups, and all manner of local activists in New York formed an extraordinary mélange. There were hundreds and hundreds of grassroots groups on the move — or forced to stand still for hours on end, waiting for the immense throng, hemmed in by police barricades, to find room to walk, let alone march.  At least in the area that I could survey — I was marching with the Divest Harvard group, alongside Mothers Out Front — opposition to fracking seemed like the most common thread.  And the only audible appeal to a politician I heard was a clamor to get Governor Andrew Cuomo to ban fracking in New York State.

If what follows sounds circular, so be it: there is a social movement when some critical mass of people feel that it exists and act as if they belong to it.  They begin to sense a shared culture, with its own heroes, villains, symbols, slogans, and chants. Their moods rise and fall with its fate. They take pleasure in each others’ company. They look forward to each rendezvous. And people on every side — the friendly, the indifferent, as well as the hostile — all take note of it as well and feel something about it; they take sides; they factor it into their calculations; they strive to bolster or obstruct or channel it. It moves into their mental space.

The climate movement is, of course, plural, a bundle of tendencies. There are those who emphasize climate justice — “fairness, equity, and ecological rootedness” in one formulation — and those who don’t. Politico’s headline-writer called 350.org and other march co-sponsors “rowdy greens,” to distinguish them from old-line Washington-based environmental groups.  To my mind, they are not so much rowdy as decentralized on principle, which means that the range of approaches and styles is striking. This is a feature characteristic of all the great social movements of our time.

Unities and Diversities

Degrees of militancy also vary– again, this goes with the territory of mass movements. The day after the march came the Flood Wall Street sit-downs, tiny by comparison and far more targeted on specific enemies: the hell-bent fossil-fuel corporations that pump record amounts of carbon into the atmosphere and the banks that support them. These demonstrations have their own disruptive but remarkably civil forms of disobedience, and there will be more of them in the months to come, as well as a host of local campaigns — against tar sands oil in South Portland, Maine, on ranches and campuses in Nebraska, and among Texas evangelicals; against fracking throughout New York and many other states. Some will be more militant, some more sedate, some broader-based, some narrower. Factions will emerge — a movement large enough to turn out throngs won’t be able to avoid them — but so will an acute awareness of commonalities, not least the recognition that time is running out for a civilization that seems unnervingly committed to burning down the house it inhabits.

“Were you in New York on September 21, 2014?” will be a question that future generations will wield as today those of a certain age might ask, “Were you in the March on Washington on August 28, 1963?” (In both cases, they’re prone to mistake a single manifestation for the entirety of the movement.)

Cynics will look at photos of the crowd, observe the staggering range of posters and banners, and conclude that those 400,000 participants — the number certified in a remarkable act of legitimation by Fox News — are so disparate that they can’t even agree about what they stand for; and that would be accurate, up to a point, but rather trivial in the end and certainly not as important as critics might imagine.

The same could have been said of the vast antiwar mobilizations of the late 1960s — crowds ranging from Quaker pacifists and Democratic liberals to Vietnam veterans and Viet Cong supporters, and more brands of revolutionary socialists than General Mills made cereals — and of the early feminist parades as well. The civil rights movement called itself nothing more specific than a “freedom movement,” and both its supporters and its adversaries knew in their bones what that meant. The house of the climate movement will hold many mansions (and probably its share of hovels, too), but for all the differing emphases, even conflicts on particular issues, there will be a great bulge of de facto agreement on one thing: governing institutions have, so far, defaulted and the depredations of corporations and governments have to be stopped. Now.

Complaints about the movement’s disparate nature, its radical “horizontalism,” its lack of “demands” also miss the coordination abundantly in evidence. At 12:58 p.m. that Sunday in New York, two minutes of silence, previously announced via text messages and e-mails, cascaded northward from Columbus Circle up Central Park West through a boisterous crowd — a crowd of crowds — and suddenly the roar, the bands, the noise subsided. The silence surged block after block in the most disciplined manner. You could feel it rippling uptown. And so did the clamor that followed, block by block, the whooping and horn-blowing and marching-band uproar that signaled a single, unmistakable, gigantic statement: “We’re here!”

Slash-and-burn leftists will carp. Some already have, calling the March “a corporate PR campaign,” a zinger joyfully picked up by the world’s biggest climate change denial site, or claiming that the march sold out to capitalism because $220,000 was raised to plaster the subways with posters advertising the march and some large environmental groups have decidedly un-green investment policies. It will be said that to make any substantial progress, there must be a global revolution against capitalism, but what such a revolution should disown is decidedly unclear: Markets? All large corporations, or some? All profit motives?

And what forms of social organization are to be recommended is equally blurry. Broad-brush sloganeering is feel-good bait for those who nestle comfortably in the history of left-wing revolutions, but erases important distinctions among types of capitalists and forms of capitalism. There’s a world of difference between the ExxonMobils and BPs straining to extract every last reserve of fossil fuel from the ground and companies that harness solar, wind, and other sustainable energy. There’s equally a world of difference between American-style top-down corporate governance and German-style codetermination, a system in which labor elects almost half a company’s board of directors.

Caps and Freezes

Critics will accurately note that this new movement is unfocused; it does not converge on a single demand or small set of demands as did the anti-Vietnam War movement of the 1960s and early 1970s, or the nuclear freeze movement of the 1980s, which was responsible for the only New York protest (Central Park, 1982) that outnumbered the People’s Climate March. Some climate activists think a carbon tax might prove the common denominator; it’s even supported by some conservatives, and recent moves by fossil-fuel companies suggest that they believe a carbon tax is only a matter of time. Others doubt that America is ready for new taxes, whatever they’re called.

What policies and terminology will best underscore the truths that carbon-based energy is scarcely “cheap” and that it exacts a host of planet-imperiling social and economic costs remains in dispute. There’s a big push for “carbon pricing” from the World Bank, for instance.  What’s meant is a mixture of taxes, cap-and-trade policies, and internal pricing proposals, all based on the principle that once the actual costs of carbon are factored into policy calculations, it will become pricier and renewable energy less so.

After the march, Éva Borsody-Das, an activist with the Divest Harvard alumni, wondered whether unity might be attained on the common ground of a “carbon freeze.” It would be modeled on the “nuclear freeze” proposal of the early 1980s for a U.S.-Soviet agreement to stop the testing, production, and deployment of nuclear weapons. The author-psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton, a veteran of that movement, has proposed the use of the term “climate freeze,” meaning “a transnational demand for cutting back on carbon emissions.” In Lifton’s judgment, public as well as elite opinion is undergoing a “climate swerve” that might plow the ground for advances in policy.

What would such freezes mean? How would progress toward them be measured? Would they be enough? That’s for future debates within the movement to sort out, if they can.  But immense social movements are not buckets of answers, but places where people converge on questions.  They are zones where debates evolve. They raise expectations, they disappoint. They win battles, but lose them, too. People arrive, people burn out, people fall away. They get fed up with each other, accuse each other of buying in and selling out and preaching to the choir, and undoubtedly in the case of the present movement, charges that none of us have yet imagined.

But don’t forget this: the movement has arrived.  It’s a fact.  And as the climate-change crisis mounts and powerful institutions default, it needs to grow if we have any hope of keeping in the ground the lion’s share of the carbon reserves already known to lie there. (Eighty percent of them is the figure usually cited.)

It would be decidedly premature to suggest that this movement will soon win anything, no less everything it wants, or that it will succeed in curtailing the burn-off of fossil fuel carbon compounds and all the extinctions and acidifications and extreme weather and sea rise that will follow. But the People’s Climate March does suggest that something commensurate with the magnitude of the global climate crisis has come into being.

The great boom of the last two-and-a-half centuries happened because industrialists took charge of the remains of previous life forms — fossil fuels indeed! — to power the most rapid, productive, and destructive transformation in history. They remade the world and, in the process, unmade it. With all its accomplishments, the world they made is well on its way to burning through its assets.

Nature and history have talked back. In a few short centuries, the carbon-based fuels of the industrial breakthrough have come to threaten the entirety of a civilization they made possible. In the People’s Climate March is the suggestion that civilization might rise to the challenge, perhaps in time to avert total catastrophe. After the march, the four-letter word I heard most was: hope.

Todd Gitlin, professor of journalism and sociology and chair of the PhD program in communications at Columbia University, is a TomDispatch regular and the author of 15 books, including The Whole World Is Watching, The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage, and Occupy Nation: The Roots, the Spirit, and the Promise of Occupy Wall Street.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me.

Copyright 2014 Todd Gitlin

 

Turkey: Another brick in the wall of Censorship

By: GREYDOG Thursday October 2, 2014 5:40 am

Posted by SnakeArbusto and greydogg, 99GetSmart

Written by Turkish political analyst / blogger, Gürkan Özturan:

A documentary film called “Until Globe Surface Becomes the Face of Love” tells the story of resistance against state repression during the Gezi Park protests of June 2013 in Turkey. The director, Reyan Tuvi, has worked on scenes recorded at ground zero in real-time protests and reflected on the multicultural atmosphere in Gezi Park during the uprising, telling the story of different characters who have contributed to the struggle for the sake of lifestyles that they dream of and to change their destiny.

Yet, when the film was brought before the primary jury and got approved as one of the 15 finalists, it was taken off the shortlist due to legal concerns. The explanation stated that the film violates Articles 125 and 299 of the Turkish Penal Code.

The quoted articles read as follows:

TPC 125:

1) Anyone who undermines the honour, dignity or respectability of another person or who attacks a person’s honour by attributing to them a concrete act or a fact, or by means of an insult shall be sentenced to imprisonment for a term of three months to two years, or punished with a judicial fine. In order to convict for an insult made in the absence of the victim, the act must have been witnessed by at least three persons.

(2) If the act is committed by means of a spoken, written or visual message addressing the victim, the perpetrator shall be sentenced to the penalties set out above.

(3) If the offence of insult is committed:

a) against a public official in connection with their duty;

b) in response to the expression of religious, political, social, philosophical beliefs, thoughts and opinions, in response to an individual’s changing or attempting to propagate their religious, political, social, philosophical beliefs, thoughts and opinions, or in response to an individual’s compliance with the requirements and prohibitions of their religion;

c) by reference to the holy values of a person’s religion, the penalty shall be not less than one year.

(4) (Amended by Law 5377 of 29 June 2005 /Article 15) Where the offence of insult was committed in public, the penalty shall be increased by one sixth.

(5) (Amended by law 5377 of 29 June 2005 /Article 15) In the case of insults to public officials in connection with their efforts working as a committee, the offence shall be deemed to have been committed against all committee members. In such a case, the provisions related to concatenated offences shall be applied.

TPC 299

(1) Anyone who insults the President of the Republic shall be imprisoned for a term of from one to four years.

(2) (Amended by Law 5377 dated 29 June 2005/Article 35) Where the offence is committed in public, the sentence shall be increased by one sixth.

(3) Initiation of a prosecution for this offence shall be subject to authorization by the Minister of Justice.

Members of the primary jury also read out a press statement telling the public at large that they consider this act of bringing the film under penal code investigation serves the purposes of censorship. When even the jury declares this kind of action as censorship, there is not much to be debated on the side of the state representatives.

The primary jury’s statement is as follows:

“As the jury of 51st Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival, Competition for National Documentary, out of all the lists of films, we have selected 15 films for the finals and notified the festival management. We then came to learn that one of the films has been disqualified for the reason that it violates two clauses of the Turkish Penal Code, Articles 125 and 299, with its content.

We, the primary jury, consider this kind of an action – a film being disqualified from the shortlist due to its investigation through the Turkish Penal Code – as censorship. Even though we have shared with the festival management that this is unacceptable and requested that the situation be corrected, these concerns and request have been discarded. We thus declare here that we do not recognize such censorship and neither do we want to be part of it.”

Currently there are still hundreds of thousands of websites, books, films, and songs banned in Turkey. And this film about one of the most honorable periods of Turkish history is yet another brick in the wall of censorship. But still, just as we the “Internetophiles” had protested when the censorship bill was brought to the Parliament floor, the primary jury at this film festival also say they do not recognize the censorship.

More stories by Gürkan Özturan http://theradicaldemocrat.wordpress.com

More stories about Turkey @ http://99getsmart.com/category/turkey/

Over Easy

By: Ruth Calvo Thursday October 2, 2014 4:50 am

Over Easy

The community that began with Southern Dragon’s Lakeside Diner continues. Today we collect news from outside the usual, and renew the discussion.

Iraq’s heritage has been raided by ISIS which is financing war on the culture by selling priceless treasures collected over centuries by the country’s historians.  With Hajj now in process, that began October 1, fears of further depradations by ISIS are disturbing the gathering for the holy ceremony.  U.N. humanitarian concerns centered on access to those in Syria cut off from assistance.

Qais Hussein Rasheed, head of the Baghdad Museum, said organized groups were working in coordination with ISIS.

“It’s an international artefacts’ mafia,” he told reporters. “They identify the items and say what they can sell,” he said. Since some of these items were more than 2,000 years old it was difficult to know exactly their value.

Citing local officials still in ISIS-controlled areas, Rasheed said the biggest example of looting so far had taken place at the 9th century B.C. grand palace at Kalhu of the Assyrian King Ashurnasirpal II.

Protesters continued to call for free elections, and opposed the candidates being offered as the only choices by Chinese leadership in Hong Kong.   China’s 65th observance of October 1 as a National Day did not make a dent in the protest.  Protesters were demanding China’s appointed leader step down by today’s end.

Hong Kong’s chief executive CY Leung urged them to back electoral reforms set out by Beijing. He was heckled by some protesters, who turned their backs when the national anthem was played.

China says it will “safeguard Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability”.

Protesters have gathered at the main protests site in the Central business district, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok.

Mexico has traditionally been associated with maize, or corn, and a grass-roots movement has been instituted there to return to native corn species which are most suited to the conditions and best nutritionally.  ‘Without Corn, There is no Country’ has led efforts to return to native crops, and posted at FDL on September 30.

Along with the lawsuit, the petitioners requested a precautionary measure, requesting that GMO corn not be allowed within the country’s borders until the class action lawsuit has been definitively settled. [Ajudge’s ruling banning GMO corn came last October.] There have been more than 70 legal challenges from the companies and the government.

The Without Corn, There Is No Country campaign has gotten stronger. More organizations are joining together to struggle against mass dispossession of lands, dispossession caused by the government prioritizing land use for extraction of petroleum and shale gas over food production.

The defense of corn is not just to preserve our sacred plant. It is also fundamental to sustaining Mexico as a living genetic reserve of important varieties of fruits and vegetables that feed humanity. This great agro-biodiversity would never exist without the campesinos/as who, over centuries, have fed and nurtured a proud culture which is an example for many countries.

 

Never.Give.Up.

Video: The All Muslims Argument Beautifully Destroyed

By: jbade Wednesday October 1, 2014 9:12 pm

It is nice to hear someone call out the Main Stream Media for their open bigotry on the monolithic “Muslim Countries Issues”.  Most Muslim countries have very peaceful non-mutilating societies.

VIDEO: Chipmunks Shut Down Utah Tar Sands

By: Kit OConnell Wednesday October 1, 2014 2:41 pm
An activist wearing a full-face chipmunk mask and gogges, gives a double thumbs up sign in front of a construction vehicle, against a background of a blue sky with a few clouds.

A “chipmunk” from Utah Tar Sands Resistance gives the thumbs-up in front of a construction vehicle at Utah’s Book Cliffs, the first domestic tar sands mine, September 23, 2014.

Activists dressed as chipmunks shut down construction at the first US tar sands mine on September 23. It was the latest in a series of actions by Utah Tar Sands Resistance targeting the 213 acre Book Cliffs tar sands mine.

A video released by the group shows chipmunks spreading rapidly through through the camp site where they block construction equipment with their bodies. Though the finale of the video playfully describes the chipmunks fates as “poisoned by tar sands waste water,” activists actually shut down construction for part of a day, resulting in five arrests. There have been 27 total arrests since the beginning of the campaign to halt construction.

Music: “Unscorch The Earth” by Sole and DJ Pain 1

A bellweather project

Anti-tar sands activists in Utah believe that if construction at Book Cliffs is allowed to continue, it will result in more tar sands extraction in the state and elsewhere in the country.

“This project is a bellweather project,” said Raphael Cordray, an organizer with Utah Tar Sands Resistance. “If they can make this project successful than it will open up the flood gates for a whole lot of other tar sands and oil shale strip mining projects in the area and in America in general.”

According to Cordray, the site was chosen because it is public land administered by the state, letting US Oil Sands, the firm constructing the mine, take advantage of the state’s comparatively lax environmental regulations.

“They’re pursuing it in the easiest place they can with the least amount of regulation. The [United States] Bureau of Land Management identified 860,000 acres within Utah, Wyoming and Colorado that’s available in the future.”

The group has hope that continued direct action can shut down the mine.

“It’s a good place to focus on because it’s not an operating mine and because they leased this land in 2005 and they’ve yet to produce a commercially successful product,” Cordray told Mint Press News.

Other tactics being considered include lawsuits over water pollution and pressuring the EPA to enforce their strictest standards, because this public land actually belongs to indigenous people.

“It’s considered Indian country so there’s a whole new standard that [...] the state of Utah pretended like they didn’t know applied.”

Global crisis, local action

One of the concerns local activists have raised about the recent massive Climate March in New York City is that it might take energy from local environmental issues and direct action.

In “I Think I’ll Just Stay In Texas (But Bring Me Back A Bagel)“ on Rising Tide North America’s Growing Deep Roots blog, Eric Moll writes:

The only problem is that 350.org can’t seem to find the real frontline. Those of us who were in New York during and after Sandy know the frontlines: the Rockaways, Coney Island, Staten Island, Redhook. What will the so-called “People’s Climate March” do for the people who were most affected by Sandy and are most threatened by the next big storm?

Did anyone ask these communities what [thousands of] climate activists could do for them? Logistical nightmares aside, do they have any buildings that need repairing, any gardens that need expanding? Is there anything the marchers could do to oppose local forces of gentrification, police violence, or racism in a way that might actually improve some lives? Some local target with a bit more relevancy than the United Nations?

Mint Press News asked Cordray what activists can do to find targets for direct action and climate justice in their own communities. One possibility are Environmental Protection Agency lawsuits.

“The good news is that the EPA is citizen enforceable. It’s one of the few things in government where a citizen can sue to enforce a regulation. It’s uncommon for citizens to be able to enforce government laws on other entities.”

It’s also important for activists to plan for the future, as many destructive environmental projects require years of infrastructure construction before extraction begins.

“If you look closely at what’s going on in local communities, there are a lot of activities lining up to support local industry that aren’t the best for the community. Things like refineries are constantly in violation of the law but nobody has the energy to follow up. [...] Just a few phone calls could start a lot of action in your community.”

Chipmunk communique and legal support fund

The chipmunks issued the following statement through Utah Tar Sands Resistance:

Nigeria: Rebels without a paycheck?

By: Jane Stillwater Wednesday October 1, 2014 9:42 am

_______________________________________________________
Author’s note:  Who among our founding fathers way back in 1776 would ever have guessed that, just two hundred and thirty eight years later, America’s main driving force, highest ideal, most efficient function and top-priority goal would be to sell weapons and hoard oil.
_______________________________________________________

I recently dared to ask a Nigerian-American friend of mine the same dreaded question that I had asked him the last time we had talked. “How are things going over in Nigeria right now?” 

“Bad.  Really bad,” he once again replied.  “I’m sure you don’t even want to hear about it.”  Yeah I do.

“There have been lots of bombings over there lately.  And not just any kind of bombs either.  Definitely not the old-fashioned home-made pipe bombs and glorified Molotov cocktails that one would expect.  These are sophisticated, well-placed and expensive bombs being set off by so-called Muslim terrorist groups.  And hiring and training mercenaries like that doesn’t come cheap.  Many of them may be misinformed fanatics but still — they still need to be trained and equipped and fed.  A whole lot of money is involved.  Billions.”

“But from what I had learned from studying about Nigeria in college, its Muslim population, the Fulani, mostly used to herd cows,” I replied.  Apparently that’s no longer true.

“The Boko Haram and other terrorist groups in Nigeria today have amazingly well-equipped and well-trained troops — and their main goal seems to be to de-civilize the country.  Farmers and herders who should only have been able to stage revolutions with blunderbusses at best, are now expert sappers and know the advanced operation mechanisms of RPGs by heart.”

Now why do these techniques sound so familiar?  Well-trained troops?  Expensive equipment?  Causing chaos?  Attempting to destabilize countries?  Oh, right.  The “rebels” who seized the government in Libya, the “rebels” who tried to seize the government in Syria and the “rebels” who seized the government of Ukraine and parts of Iraq — not to mention the “rebels” who had seized Chile, Vietnam, Indonesia, Iran, Honduras, Guatemala, Afghanistan and the Congo back in the day. 

These rebels are definitely getting paychecks!

And we are definitely not talking about the idealistic, poorly-trained and ill-equipped rebels fighting for freedom and their lives against despots and madmen who have seized control over places like eastern Ukraine, Palestine, East Timor, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia (or the American colonies in 1776 for that matter).  Those rebel chumps are only trying to protect their families, homes, lives, liberties and pursuit of happiness.  Those kinds of rebels don’t matter.  The CIA doesn’t equip or train those kinds of chumps.  They don’t count.

“And aside from the constant threat from terrorists,” my friend continued, “we also have to deal with the highest level of corruption in the world.  For instance, one storefront lawyer with almost no clients was suddenly promoted to governor of a Nigerian state — and suddenly he’s spending $150 million on a private jet and socking away millions more in a private bank account offshore.

“And now if he wants any money, he just transfers it out to the state’s coffers and into his own.  And it’s all perfectly legal to do that.”

This sounds like what a U.S. Army officer once told me about Afghanistan.  “The corruption here is amazing, sure, but leaders do the same thing in America too — the only difference being that in America, they pass laws to make the corruption legal first.”  Citizens United comes to mind.  And a whole bunch of shady oil and weapons deals too.

“And here’s another bad thing,” said my Nigerian-American friend.  “In the river-delta area of Nigeria, land that used to grow produce is now hopelessly and dangerously polluted by American oil concessions.”

“But what about the Ebola virus?” I asked next.

“That’s a problem in Liberia, not in Nigeria.  Yet.”  Nope, too late.  It’s already arrived at the airport.

And then he told me about another situation — one that I am sadly familiar with myself, having spent a lot of time in Africa and the Middle East.  “Here in America, I am leading a double life.  Part of me goes to Target to shop and eats at Olive Garden and feels perfectly happy and safe.  But the other part of me just constantly marvels at how my fellow Americans can be so completely unaware of all the pain and killing and hunger that exists in other parts of the world — and that are the direct result of brutal and monstrous actions done in their name.”

I too feel the same way — torn between utter gratitude that I have electricity and my children are safe, on the one hand, and on the other hand, knowing that all across the world, the CIA is arming mercenaries to kill and maim children in far away places with names like Libya, Syria, Ukraine, Gaza, Iraq and Nigeria; names that many Americans couldn’t even find on a map.

“The powerful people in Nigeria will do anything for money,” said my friend sadly.

“And so will the powerful people of America too,” I sadly replied.

The Great White Lie

By: Deena Stryker Wednesday October 1, 2014 7:59 am

I must have been six or seven years old when I first heard the words ‘white lie’. My mother explained that it was ok to tell a lie to spare someone’s feelings. At present a gigantic white lie is being perpetrated on the American people. The government warns that the war against Islamic terrorism will go on for years, but fails to tell us why. That white lie spares us the feeling of despair we would experience if we knew that we’re not only fighting ISIS and its acolytes in Syria and Iraq, but eventually like-minded groups that stretch across entire swathes of the world.

As long as the public is only aware of ISIS and Al Queda, it can resign itself to the idea of the Untied States having ‘one more enemy’ in the long list of enemies it has faced  Were people aware of the fact that the convictions that motivate ISIS and AQ are shared by ever rising numbers of Muslims around the world, they would be so distraught that they might actually begin to wonder what those convictions are, so that perhaps an open-ended war could be averted.

I’ve always disputed Huntington’s ‘Clash of Civilizations’ because it implies that Western civilization is superior to all others. Now it’s precisely that conviction that is being challenged ever more forcefully and ever more broadly by Muslims, at a time when many Westerners have arrived at the same con-clusion.

There are two strands to Muslim opposition to the West: the one we hear about is religious, focusing on sexual freedom and attitudes toward women, however, the Muslim world counts a growing cohort of secular young people. As we saw with the Tamarod movement against President Mubarak, many of these youth are attracted to neo-liberal ‘democracy’, with its accent on ‘progress’ and ‘making it’. But there is another group, epitomized by the young Turks who demonstrated for weeks in Istanbul’s beloved Gezi Park to prevent it from being razed to build a shopping mall. This group rejoins a growing number of Westerners who see consumerism as detrimental both to the planet and the soul.

Now just imagine that the religious majority of the world’s Muslim population of 1.6 billion (23% of the world’s population), is affected by the spread of Islamist groups. That is what is being hidden from Western publics, as governments gear up for another round of war.

Aymenn Jawad Al Tamimi, a graduate of Oxford University and a Shillman-Ginsburg Fellow at the Middle East Forum, has analyzed support for radical Islamist leaders, including Baghdadi, in countries across the Middle East, Africa and the Pacific.

Over Easy: NASA’s Terra Satellite Documents Aral Sea Disappearance

By: Crane-Station Wednesday October 1, 2014 4:40 am

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite began documenting the decline of the Aral Sea in 2000. NASA now says that eastern basin of the South Aral Sea is completely dried for the first year in modern times.

“This is the first time the eastern basin has completely dried in modern times,” said Philip Micklin, a geographer emeritus from Western Michigan University and an Aral Sea expert. “And it is likely the first time it has completely dried in 600 years, since Medieval desiccation associated with diversion of Amu Darya to the Caspian Sea.”

In the 1950s and 1960s, the government of the former Soviet Union diverted the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya—the region’s two major rivers—to irrigate farmland. The diversion began the lake’s gradual retreat. By the start of the Terra series in 2000, the lake had already separated into the North (Small) Aral Sea in Kazakhstan and the South (Large) Aral Sea in Uzbekistan. The South Aral had further split into western and eastern lobes.

The Aral Sea was actually an immense fresh water lake, located between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. The lake was fed by the region’s two major rivers, the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya. Prior to the early 1960s, the Aral Sea supported a thriving commercial fishing industry. The diversion of the rivers for irrigation depleted the water levels and resulted in increased salinity and mineral deposits in the lake, altering the ecology and killing the fish. By the early 1980s, commercial fishing had been eliminated.

Although the dams, canals, and other water works that were “built in order to transform the desert” into agricultural fields for cotton and other crops did cause the desert to bloom for a time, the price in the end appears to be an ecological disaster. Not only has the once-fourth-largest inland body of water dried up, but as it has diminishes, sandstorms now affect the area.

References and Links to the NASA images:

The Aral Sea Loses Its Eastern Lobe September 26, 2014
NASA Terra-MODIS Image of the Day

World of Change Aral Sea
NASA images showing the progression, from 2000 to 2014.

Guardian:
Satellite images show Aral Sea basin ‘completely dried’