Chris Hedges at The Earth at Risk Conference 2014

Chris Hedges at The Earth at Risk Conference 2014

Published on Nov 24, 201 4 • Interview with Chris Hedges at The Earth at Risk 2014 Conference and the moral imperative of resistance thru non-violent direct action and mass movements of sustained civil disobedience.

 

ISIS and Our Times – Noam Chomsky

It is not pleasant to contemplate the thoughts that must be passing through the mind of the Owl of Minerva as the dusk falls and she undertakes the task of interpreting the era of human civilization, which may now be approaching its inglorious end.

Bajid Kandala refugee cam, Iraq

The era opened almost 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent, stretching from the lands of the Tigris and Euphrates, through Phoenicia on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean to the Nile Valley, and from there to Greece and beyond. What is happening in this region provides painful lessons on the depths to which the species can descend.

The land of the Tigris and Euphrates has been the scene of unspeakable horrors in recent years. The George W. Bush-Tony Blair aggression in 2003, which many Iraqis compared to the Mongol invasions of the 13th century, was yet another lethal blow. It destroyed much of what survived the Bill Clinton-driven UN sanctions on Iraq, condemned as “genocidal” by the distinguished diplomats Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck, who administered them before resigning in protest. Halliday and von Sponeck's devastating reports received the usual treatment accorded to unwanted facts.

One dreadful consequence of the US-UK invasion is depicted in a New York Times “visual guide to the crisis in Iraq and Syria”: the radical change of Baghdad from mixed neighborhoods in 2003 to today's sectarian enclaves trapped in bitter hatred. The conflicts ignited by the invasion have spread beyond and are now tearing the entire region to shreds.

Much of the Tigris-Euphrates area is in the hands of ISIS and its self-proclaimed Islamic State, a grim caricature of the extremist form of radical Islam that has its home in Saudi Arabia. Patrick Cockburn, a Middle East correspondent for The Independent and one of the best-informed analysts of ISIS, describes it as “a very horrible, in many ways fascist organization, very sectarian, kills anybody who doesn't believe in their particular rigorous brand of Islam.”

Cockburn also points out the contradiction in the Western reaction to the emergence of ISIS: efforts to stem its advance in Iraq along with others to undermine the group's major opponent in Syria, the brutal Bashar Assad regime. Meanwhile a major barrier to the spread of the ISIS plague to Lebanon is Hezbollah, a hated enemy of the US and its Israeli ally. And to complicate the situation further, the US and Iran now share a justified concern about the rise of the Islamic State, as do others in this highly conflicted region.

Egypt has plunged into some of its darkest days under a military dictatorship that continues to receive US support. Egypt's fate was not written in the stars. For centuries, alternative paths have been quite feasible, and not infrequently, a heavy imperial hand has barred the way.

After the renewed horrors of the past few weeks it should be unnecessary to comment on what emanates from Jerusalem, in remote history considered a moral center.

Eighty years ago, Martin Heidegger extolled Nazi Germany as providing the best hope for rescuing the glorious civilization of the Greeks from the barbarians of the East and West. Today, German bankers are crushing Greece under an economic regime designed to maintain their wealth and power.

The likely end of the era of civilization is foreshadowed in a new draft report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the generally conservative monitor of what is happening to the physical world.

The report concludes that increasing greenhouse gas emissions risk “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems” over the coming decades. The world is nearing the temperature when loss of the vast ice sheet over Greenland will be unstoppable. Along with melting Antarctic ice, that could raise sea levels to inundate major cities as well as coastal plains.

The era of civilization coincides closely with the geological epoch of the Holocene, beginning over 11,000 years ago. The previous Pleistocene epoch lasted 2.5 million years. Scientists now suggest that a new epoch began about 250 years ago, the Anthropocene, the period when human activity has had a dramatic impact on the physical world. The rate of change of geological epochs is hard to ignore.

One index of human impact is the extinction of species, now estimated to be at about the same rate as it was 65 million years ago when an asteroid hit the Earth. That is the presumed cause for the ending of the age of the dinosaurs, which opened the way for small mammals to proliferate, and ultimately modern humans. Today, it is humans who are the asteroid, condemning much of life to extinction.

The IPCC report reaffirms that the “vast majority” of known fuel reserves must be left in the ground to avert intolerable risks to future generations. Meanwhile the major energy corporations make no secret of their goal of exploiting these reserves and discovering new ones.

A day before its summary of the IPCC conclusions, The New York Times reported that huge Midwestern grain stocks are rotting so that the products of the North Dakota oil boom can be shipped by rail to Asia and Europe.

One of the most feared consequences of anthropogenic global warming is the thawing of permafrost regions. A study in Science magazine warns that “even slightly warmer temperatures [less than anticipated in coming years] could start melting permafrost, which in turn threatens to trigger the release of huge amounts of greenhouse gases trapped in ice,” with possible “fatal consequences” for the global climate.

Arundhati Roy suggests that the “most appropriate metaphor for the insanity of our times” is the Siachen Glacier, where Indian and Pakistani soldiers have killed each other on the highest battlefield in the world. The glacier is now melting and revealing “thousands of empty artillery shells, empty fuel drums, ice axes, old boots, tents and every other kind of waste that thousands of warring human beings generate” in meaningless conflict. And as the glaciers melt, India and Pakistan face indescribable disaster.

Sad species. Poor Owl.

© 2014 Noam Chomsky
Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate


 

Militarized cops’ scary new toys: The ugly next frontier in “crowd control”

The horror we saw in Ferguson may be just the start. Here’s some other police gear our military is working on.

Police in Ferguson, Mo., Aug. 11, 2014

Now that the sight of American police decked out as if they are replaying the events of Blackhawk Down has alerted the American public to the militarization of our police agencies, perhaps they will finally be receptive to the warnings that some of us have been making for years about the next generation of weapons that are being developed for “crowd control.” As we’ve seen over the past few days, regardless of whether it’s created for military purposes, this gear tends to eventually end up on the streets of the United States.

In Ferguson this week the police used one of these new weapons, the LRAD, also known as a sound cannon. These were developed fairly recently as an interdiction device to repel pirates or terrorists in the aftermath of the attack on the USS Cole. But their use as a weapon to disperse crowds quickly became obvious. In Ferguson it seems to have served mostly as a warning device, but it can cause substantial pain and hearing damage if it’s deployed with the intent to send crowds running in the opposite direction. It’s been used liberally by police departments for the past few years, even at such benign public gatherings as a sand castle competition in San Diego, California. The police chief (as it happens, the former FBI agent in charge at the Ruby Ridge standoff) explained that it was there in case they needed it. Evidently, San Diego takes its sand castle competitions very seriously.

But the LRAD is a toy compared to some of the other weapons the military industrial complex has been developing to deal with “crowd control.” Take Shockwave, the new electric shock weapon developed by Taser International, a sort of taser machine gun:

The cartridges are tethered by 25-foot wires, which can be fired from a distance of up to 100 meters in a 20-degree arc. The “probes” on the end of the cartridges can pierce through clothing and skin, emitting 50,000 volts of electricity in the process.

“Full area coverage is provided to instantaneously incapacitate multiple personnel within that region” Taser explains.

“Multiple Shockwave units can be stacked together (like building blocks) either horizontally or vertically in order to extend area coverage or vertically to allow for multiple salvo engagements.” The product description states.

The weapons can also be vehicle mounted or “daisy chained” according to Taser. Clearly it is anticipated that these things will be used on sizable crowds, meaning an increased likelihood of indiscriminate targeting.

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The Department of Defense touts the use of these weapons as battlefield devices, but considering the huge market for military gear among police forces, it’s fairly obvious that they have been developed for domestic use as well. You can watch a demonstration of the device here. You’ll note the demo opens with the question: “What if you could drop everyone in a given area to the ground with the push of a button?” (They leave out the part where they are all screaming and writhing in terrible pain …)

And then there’s Taser’s new shotgun style taser called the XREP (for Extended Range External Projectile).It has the advantage of being able to be shot from a real gun and it delivers 20 long excruciating seconds of unbearable pain as opposed to the wimpy 5 seconds of the regular taser — which kills people with regularity. (You can see a demonstration of that one here.) The Taser drone is still in development but it’s sure to be a very welcome addition to the electroshock weapon arsenal.

If we believe, as Joe Scarborough does, that citizens are required to instantly comply with police regardless of the situation, these devices are perfect enforcement tools. On the other hand, if you believe that citizens have a right to peacefully protest and that police are not automatically entitled to deference in all circumstances, then you might want to think twice about the use of these weapons. They are only barely better than allowing police to shoot into crowds with bullets. Tasers can kill people and cause them to badly injure themselves and they are far too easy for police to use indiscriminately since the public has been brainwashed into believing they are harmless.

But there’s more. The military has been developing something called the Active Denial System, also known as the Pentagon’s Ray Gun. “60 Minutes” did a laudatory story on it a few years back in which it showed the training exercises the Army was using to test the weapon for potential use in Iraq. The funny thing was that the exercises featured soldiers dressed as protesters carrying signs that said “world peace,” “love for all,” which the “60 Minutes” correspondent characterized as something soldiers might confront in Iraq. (Who knew there was a large contingent of American-style hippies in Iraq staging antiwar protests?) The weapon itself is something out of science fiction: It’s a beam of electromagnetic radiation that heats the skin to a painful 130 degrees allegedly without inflicting permanent damage. They claim there have been almost no side effects or injuries. It just creates terrible pain and panics the peaceniks into dispersing on command. What could be better than that? Imagine how great it would be if any time a crowd gathers and the government wants to shut it down, they can just zap it with heat and send everyone screaming in agony and running in the opposite direction.

In his thorough Harper’s investigation on this subject, reporter Ando Arike explained the purpose behind all these new technologies:

[We have] an international arms-development effort involving an astonishing range of technologies: electrical weapons that shock and stun; laser weapons that cause dizziness or temporary blindness; acoustic weapons that deafen and nauseate; chemical weapons that irritate, incapacitate, or sedate; projectile weapons that knock down, bruise, and disable; and an assortment of nets, foams, and sprays that obstruct or immobilize. “Non-lethal” is the Pentagon’s approved term for these weapons, but their manufacturers also use the terms “soft kill,” “less-lethal,” “limited effects,” “low collateral damage,” and “compliance.” The weapons are intended primarily for use against unarmed or primitively armed civilians; they are designed to control crowds, clear buildings and streets, subdue and restrain individuals, and secure borders. The result is what appears to be the first arms race in which the opponent is the general population.

As I wrote earlier, in a couple of weeks the Soft-kill Convention, also known as Urban Shield, will be holding its annual trade show in Oakland, California. Police agencies from all over the world will attend to try out the various types of modern weapons that will be on display there. The super high-tech weapons described above are probably some years away from the commercial market. But it’s highly likely they will make their way to the police eventually through one of the many ways the weapons manufacturers manage to put this equipment in the hands of civilian authorities — if the federal government continues to make money available for that purpose.

Hopefully, Ferguson has alerted the public to the danger to our civil rights and liberties brought by the federal government arming police forces to the teeth with military gear. But it’s going to take vigilance to ensure that the next time we see civil unrest and peaceful protests on the streets of America, the authorities won’t be responding with electroshock or laser weapons or electromagnetic radiation devices designed purely for the purpose of gaining instant compliance from people in a crowd. If Americans foolishly accept these weapons as an improvement on the harsher methods we might see today there is a grave danger that we will be giving authorities much more power to quell dissent. In a free society it shouldn’t be easy to quell dissent. If it is, that society won’t be free for very long. More

 

 

Edward Snowden should not face trial, says UN human rights commissioner

The United Nations's top human rights official has suggested that the United States should abandon its efforts to prosecute Edward Snowden, saying his revelations of massive state surveillance had been in the public interest.

Navi Pillay

The UN high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, credited Snowden, a former US National Security Agency contractor, with opening a global debate that has led to calls for the curtailing of state powers to snoop on citizens online and store their data.

“Those who disclose human rights violations should be protected: we need them,” Pillay told a news conference.

“I see some of it here in the case of Snowden, because his revelations go to the core of what we are saying about the need for transparency, the need for consultation,” she said. “We owe a great deal to him for revealing this kind of information.”

The United States has filed espionage charges against Snowden, charging him with theft of government property, unauthorised communication of national defence information and wilful communication of classified communications intelligence to an unauthorised person.

Pillay declined to be drawn on whether President Barack Obama should pardon Snowden, saying he had not yet been convicted. “As a former judge I know that if he is facing judicial proceedings we should wait for that outcome,” she said. But she added that Snowden should be seen as a “human rights defender”.

“I am raising right here some very important arguments that could be raised on his behalf so that these criminal proceedings are averted,” she said.

Pillay was speaking after issuing a report on government surveillance, The Right to Privacy in the Digital Age (pdf), which says governments must accept stronger checks on their data surveillance powers and companies must do more to stand up to the state's demands for data.

Revelations of mass US surveillance based on documents leaked by Snowden sparked outrage among American allies including Germany, Brazil and Mexico. He has sought asylum in Russia.

The leaked documents revealed massive programmes run by the NSA that gathered information on emails, phone calls and internet use by hundreds of millions of Americans.

Mona Rishmawi, head of the rule of law branch of Pillay's office, said: “In this particular case, the way we see the situation of Snowden is he really revealed information which is very, very important for human rights. We would like this to be taken into account in assessing his situation.”

All branches of government must be involved in the oversight of surveillance programmes, and completely independent civilian institutions must also monitor surveillance, Pillay says in her report. Checks on government must also be clearly understandable by the public.

The report, which will be debated at the UN general assembly later this year, says any collection of communications data or metadata is potentially a breach of privacy.

Governments often force internet and telecoms firms to store metadata about their customers, which was neither necessary nor proportionate, Pillay said, adding that companies should always be ready to challenge government requests.

“This can mean interpreting government demands as narrowly as possible or seeking clarification from a government with regard to the scope and legal foundation for the demand; requiring a court order before meeting government requests for data; and communicating transparently with users about risks and compliance with government demands,” she told reporters.

She added: “I would say there are serious questions over the extent to which consumers are truly aware of what data they are sharing, how, and with whom, and to what use they will be put.

“And for how long is this data going to be out there? I would say that the same rights that people have offline must be protected online.”

An emergency data collection law being rushed through the British parliament may not address concerns raised by the European Court of Justice and is difficult to justify, Pillay said. More