Although concussed, we still try to read

 What follows is a small gathering of expressions from across the Great Water of contempt for the United States. It is interesting to note how opinion of the US appears to have deteriorated among the tiny remaining corps of  unembedded, English--writing foreign correspondents today. Perhaps it is merely an illusion in our own foggy minds, but it seemed to us that during the “run-yup” to the invasion of Iraq there was dismay and anger. Once the slaughterhouse got going full blast the tone turned to disgust and despair. There were even moments of irony as the exceptional and indespensible world power came off its rails.  But there is now a tone of such contempt for the propaganda Americans are fed daily by their government that even ordinary Americans  themselves cannot avoid it. It is manifest when turning to some of the journalists that have been reporting accurately from the ground in the regions where yuppies raised on video games are playing at the consols of armed drone-guidance systems that kill the women and children of warriors that are not a figment of Pentagon PR. These fathers, brothers and sons of the slain are the warriors that have been eating our troops alive for years in a perpetual war for the benefit of defense contractors and global energy corporations. These are the warriors we are told by the Complex that are being "trained to fight," when what is meant is that they are being trained to use the latest delights of the arms dealers although they do quite well with their trusty AK-47s. It is a perpetual war for the defense of plutocrats and nothing but this oligarchy, at the expense of People here, there and everywhere.
The piece by Robert Fisk ends on the cowardice of Obama ends with a piece on the Jumblatt family, rulers of the Druze in Lebanon, including a letter from a powerful enemy to the present Druze leader on the occasion of his mother’s funeral .  It is a remarkable expression of the culture of war that has molded the people  from the region the US and Israel seek to dominate or destroy. The patient, civil decorum of  revenge taking!
But our oligarchy is impatient. Rather than the slow job of improving the material conditions and the education of those potentially dangerous among the poor, it prefers to sell them drugs, incarcerate them in private prisons, and throw the bravest of them into the slaughterhouse of the Middle East to fight people who have defended their land against imperial invasion from the West since the days of Alexander the Great about 2,400 years ago.
Other nations are hoving into view, waving through the cracks in the Media Shield Over America, the real Star War.  Brazil is one example. Brazil, home country of Pepe Escobar, world famous “Roving Eye” coiner of much useful global political vocabulary, best of all “pipelinestan”  -- the best reporting we know of about the energy-delivery systems in place, being built or planned, and the conflicts surrounding them. Brazil, refuge of Glenn Greenwald, who is reporting  on Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing. Brazil, whose president castigated the US at the UN for its spying. Brazil, future site of the World Cup and the Summer Olympics. Brazil, China’s farm. Brazil, first letter in BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and lately South Africa), first formed as BRIC, a bloc in the UN against the US invasion of Iraq. Brazil, whose democracy is a sham concealing its own post-colonial oligarchy, according to an unfavorite son.
These are writers we had once turned to naively hoping their honest words would be heard – not just read but heard – by power. But the sycophants elected through processes increasingly corrupted by plutocracy, seem to wander disoriented in a crowded mall shopping on other people’s credit cards.
Perhaps, eventually, they need to be approached slowly, gotten away from the incessant kah-ching-ching-ching, talked to softly and calmly, put in the caged backseats of a squad cars, and driven away to be released on the meanest streets of DC.
But first, we need to develop a humility about the incredibly screwed up and battered state of American political consciousness, as scrambled as the brains of football players  about which the media is raving so hypocritically at the moment. Our ears are ringing, we’ve got cotton in our mouth, and we’re seeing stars. The Koch Bros. and their fellow oligarchs are beating our brains in.  There is a political concussion in every Ted Cruz sound bite. Facts are the only remedy but we rarely get closer to them than old Carl Bernstein raising factuality as a possible defense of reason on “Morning Joe,” only to be shouted down by the moronic Son of Newt. -- blj

Al Jazeera


The myth of 'isolated' Iran


Officials in Tehran are welcomed across the global South, despite Washington's claims of international confinement.
Pepe Escobar

New York, NY - Let's start with red lines. Here it is, Washington's ultimate red line, straight from the lion's mouth. Only last week Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta said of the Iranians: "Are they trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No. But we know that they're trying to develop a nuclear capability. And that's what concerns us. And our red line to Iran is do not develop a nuclear weapon. That's a red line for us."
How strange, the way those red lines continue to retreat. Once upon a time, the red line for Washington was "enrichment" of uranium. Now, it's evidently an actual nuclear weapon that can be brandished. Keep in mind that, since 2005, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has stressed that his country is not seeking to build a nuclear weapon. The most recent National Intelligence Estimate on Iran from the US Intelligence Community has similarly stressed that Iran is not, in fact, developing a nuclear weapon (as opposed to the breakout capacity to build one someday).
What if, however, there is no "red line", but something completely different? Call it the petrodollar line.
Banking on sanctions?
Let's start here: In December 2011, impervious to dire consequences for the global economy, the US Congress - under all the usual pressures from the Israel lobby (not that it needs them) - foisted a mandatory sanctions package on the Obama administration (100 to 0 in the Senate and with only 12 "no" votes in the House). Starting in June, the US will have to sanction any third-country banks and companies dealing with Iran's Central Bank, which is meant to cripple that country's oil sales - though Congress did allow for some "exemptions".
The ultimate target? Regime change - what else? - in Tehran. The proverbial anonymous US official admitted as much in the Washington Post, and that paper printed the comment. ("The goal of the US and other sanctions against Iran is regime collapse, a senior US intelligence official said, offering the clearest indication yet that the Obama administration is at least as intent on unseating Iran's government as it is on engaging with it.") But oops! The newspaper then had to revise the passage to eliminate that embarrassingly on-target quote. Undoubtedly, this "red line" came too close to the truth for comfort.
Former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen believed that only a monster shock-and-awe-style event, totally humiliating the leadership in Tehran, would lead to genuine regime change - and he was hardly alone. Advocates of actions ranging from air strikes to invasion (whether by the US, Israel, or some combination of the two) have been legion in neocon Washington. (See, for instance, the Brookings Institution's 2009 report "Which Path to Persia?"PDF].)
Yet anyone remotely familiar with Iran knows that such an attack would rally the population behind Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards. In those circumstances, the deep aversion of many Iranians to the military dictatorship of the mullahtariat would matter little.
Besides, even the Iranian opposition supports a peaceful nuclear programme. It's a matter of national pride.
Iranian intellectuals, far more familiar with Persian smoke and mirrors than ideologues in Washington, totallydebunk any war scenarios. They stress that the Tehran regime, adept in the arts of Persian shadow play, has no intention of provoking an attack that could lead to its obliteration. On their part, whether correctly or not, Tehran strategists assume that Washington will prove unable to launch yet one more war in the Greater Middle East, especially one that could lead to staggering collateral damage for the world economy.
In the meantime, Washington's expectations that a harsh sanctions regime might make the Iranians give ground, if not go down, may prove to be a chimera. Washington spin has been focused on the supposedly disastrous mega-devaluation of the Iranian currency, the rial, in the face of the new sanctions. Unfortunately for the fans of Iranian economic collapse, Professor Djavad Salehi-Isfahani has laid out in elaborate detail the long-term nature of this process, which Iranian economists have more than welcomed. After all, it will boost Iran's non-oil exports and help local industry in competition with cheap Chinese imports. In sum: a devalued rial stands a reasonable chance of actually reducing unemploymentin Iran.
More connected than Google
Though few in the US have noticed, Iran is not exactly "isolated", though Washington might wish it. Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Gilani has become a frequent flyerto Tehran. And he's a Johnny-come-lately compared with Russia's national security chief Nikolai Patrushev, who only recently warned the Israelis not to push the US to attack Iran. Add in as well US ally and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. At a loya Jirga ["grand council"] in late 2011, in front of 2,000 tribal leaders, he stressed that Kabul was planning to get even closer to Tehran.
On that crucial Eurasian chessboard, Pipelineistan, the Iran-Pakistan (IP) natural gas pipeline - much to Washington's distress - is now a go. Pakistan badly needs energy and its leadership has clearly decided that it's unwilling to wait forever and a day for Washington'seternal pet project - the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline - to traverse Talibanistan.
Even Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu recently visited Tehran, though his country's relationship with Iran has grown ever edgier. After all, energy overrules threats in the region. NATO member Turkey is already involved in covert ops in Syria, allied with hardcore fundamentalist Sunnis in Iraq, and - in a remarkable volte-face in the wake of the Arab Spring(s) - has traded in an Ankara-Tehran-Damascus axis for an Ankara-Riyadh-Doha one. It is even planning on hosting components of Washington's long-planned missile defence system, targeted at Iran.
All this from a country with a Davutoglu-coined foreign policy of "zero problems with our neighbours". Still, the needs of Pipelineistan do set the heart racing. Turkey is desperate for access to Iran's energy resources, and if Iranian natural gas ever reaches Western Europe - something the Europeans are desperately eager for - Turkey will be the privileged transit country. Turkey's leaders have already signalled their rejection of further US sanctions against Iranian oil.
And speaking of connections, last week there was that spectacular diplomatic coup de théâtre, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Latin American tour. US right-wingers may harp on a Tehran-Caracas axis of evil - supposedly promoting "terror" across Latin America as a springboard for future attacks on the northern superpower - but, back in real life, another kind of truth lurks. All these years later, Washington is still unable to digest the idea that it has lost control over, or even influence in, those two regional powers over which it once exercised unmitigated imperial hegemony.
Add to this the wall of mistrust that has only solidified since the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran. Mix in a new, mostly sovereign, Latin America - pushing for integration not only via leftwing governments in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador but through regional powers Brazil and Argentina. Stir and you get photo ops such as Ahmadinejad and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez saluting Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.
Washington continues to push a vision of a world from which Iran has been radically disconnected. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland is typical in saying recently: "Iran can remain in international isolation."  As it happens, though, she needs to get her facts straight.
"Isolated" Iran has $4bn in joint projects with Venezuela including, crucially, a bank (as with Ecuador, it has dozens of planned projects from building power plants to, once again, banking). That has led the Israel-first crowd in Washington to vociferously demand that sanctions be slapped on Venezuela. Only problem: how would the US pay for its crucial Venezuelan oil imports then?
Much was made in the US press of the fact that Ahmadinejad did not visit Brazil on this jaunt through Latin America, but diplomatically Tehran and Brasilia remain in sync. When it comes to the nuclear dossier in particular, Brazil's history leaves its leaders sympathetic. After all, that country developed - and then dropped - a nuclear weapons programme. In May 2010, Brazil and Turkey brokered a uranium-swap agreement for Iran that might have cleared the decks on the US-Iranian nuclear imbroglio. It was, however,immediately sabotaged by Washington. A key member of the BRICS, the club of top emerging economies, Brasilia is completely opposed to the US sanctions/embargo strategy.
So Iran may be "isolated" from the United States and Western Europe, but from BRICS to NAM (the 120 member countries of the Non-Aligned Movement), it has the majority of the global South on its side. And then, of course, there are those staunch Washington allies, Japan and South Korea, now pleading for exemptions from the coming boycott/embargo of Iran's Central Bank.
No wonder, because these unilateral US sanctions are also aimed at Asia. After all, China, India, Japan and South Korea, together, buy no less than 62 per cent of Iran's oil exports.
With trademark Asian politesse, Japan's Finance Minister Jun Azumi let Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner know just what a problem Washington is creating for Tokyo, which relies on Iran for ten per cent of its oil needs. It is pledging to at least modestly "reduce" that share "as soon as possible" in order to get a Washington exemption from those sanctions, but don't hold your breath. South Korea has already announced that it will buy ten per cent of its oil needs from Iran in 2012.
Silk Road redux
Most important of all, "isolated" Iran happens to be a supreme matter of national security for China, which has already rejected the latest Washington sanctions without a blink. Westerners seem to forget that the Middle Kingdom and Persia have been doing business for almost two millennia. Does the "Silk Road" not ring a bell?
The Chinese have already clinched a juicy deal for the development of Iran's largest oil field, Yadavaran. There's also the matter of the delivery of Caspian Sea oil from Iran through a pipeline stretching from Kazakhstan to Western China. In fact, Iran already supplies no less than 15 per cent of China's oil and natural gas. It is now more crucial to China, energy-wise, than the House of Saud is to the US, which imports 11 per cent of its oil from Saudi Arabia.
In fact, China may be the true winner from Washington's new sanctions, because it is likely to get its oil and gas at a lower price, as the Iranians grow ever more dependent on the China market. At this moment, in fact, the two countries are in the middle of a complex negotiation on the pricing of Iranian oil, and the Chinese have actually been ratcheting up the pressure by slightly cutting back on energy purchases. But all this should be concluded by March, at least two months before the latest round of US sanctions go into effect, according to experts in Beijing. In the end, the Chinese will certainly buy much more Iranian gas than oil, but Iran will still remain its third biggest oil supplier, right after Saudi Arabia and Angola.
As for other effects of the new sanctions on China, don't count on them. Chinese businesses in Iran are building cars, fibre optics networks, and expanding the Tehran subway. Two-way trade is at $30bn now and expected to hit $50bn in 2015. Chinese businesses will find a way around the banking problems the new sanctions impose.
Russia is, of course, another key supporter of "isolated" Iran. It has opposed stronger sanctions either via the UN or through the Washington-approved package that targets Iran's Central Bank. In fact, it favours a rollback of the existing UN sanctions and has also been at work on an alternative plan that could, at least theoretically, lead to a face-saving nuclear deal for everyone.
On the nuclear front, Tehran has expressed a willingness to compromise with Washington along the lines of the plan Brazil and Turkey suggested and Washington deep-sixed in 2010. Since it is now so much clearer that, for Washington - certainly for Congress - the nuclear issue is secondary to regime change, any new negotiations are bound to prove excruciatingly painful.
This is especially true now that the leaders of the European Union have managed to remove themselves from a future negotiating table by shooting themselves in their Ferragamo-clad feet. In typical fashion, they have meekly followed Washington's lead in implementing an Iranian oil embargo. As a senior EU officialtold National Iranian American Council President Trita Parsi, and as EU diplomats have assured me in no uncertain terms, they fear this might prove to be the last step short of outright war.
Meanwhile, a team of International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors has just visited Iran. The IAEA is supervising all things nuclear in Iran, including its new uranium-enrichment plant at Fordow, near the holy city of Qom, with full production starting in June. The IAEA is positive: no bomb-making is involved. Nonetheless, Washington (and Tel Aviv) continue to act as though it's only a matter of time - and not much of it at that.
Follow the money
That Iranian isolation theme only gets weaker when one learns that the country is dumping the dollar in its trade with Russia for rials and rubles - a similar move to ones already made in its trade with China and Japan. As for India, an economic powerhouse in the neighbourhood, its leaders also refuse to stop buying Iranian oil, a trade that, in the long run, is similarly unlikely to be conducted in dollars. India is already using the yuan with China, as Russia and China have been trading in rubles and yuan for more than a year, as Japan and China are promoting direct trading in yen and yuan.  As for Iran and China, all new trade and joint investments will be settled in yuan and rial.
Translation, if any was needed: In the near future, with the Europeans out of the mix, virtually none of Iran's oil will be traded in dollars.
Moreover, three BRICS members (Russia, India and China) allied with Iran are major holders (and producers) of gold. Their complex trade ties won't be affected by the whims of a US Congress. In fact, when the developing world looks at the profound crisis in the Atlanticist West, what they see is massive US debt, the Fed printing money as if there's no tomorrow, lots of "quantitative easing", and of course the Eurozone shaking to its very foundations.
Follow the money. Leave aside, for the moment, the new sanctions on Iran's Central Bank that will go into effect months from now, ignore Iranian threats to close the Strait of Hormuz (especially unlikely given that it's the main way Iran gets its own oil to market), and perhaps one key reason the crisis in the Gulf is mounting involves this move to torpedo the petrodollar as the all-purpose currency of exchange.
It's been spearheaded by Iran and it's bound to translate into an anxious Washington, facing down not only a regional power, but its major strategic competitors China and Russia. No wonder all those carriers are heading for the Gulf right now, though it's the strangest of showdowns - a case of military power being deployed against economic power.
In this context, it's worth remembering that in September 2000 Saddam Hussein abandoned the petrodollar as the currency of payment for Iraq's oil, and moved to the euro. In March 2003, Iraq was invaded and the inevitable regime change occurred. Libya's Muammar Gaddafi proposed a gold dinar both as Africa's common currency and as the currency of payment for his country's energy resources. Another intervention and another regime change followed.
Washington/NATO/Tel Aviv, however, offers a different narrative. Iran's "threats" are at the heart of the present crisis, even if these are, in fact, that country's reaction to non-stop US/Israeli covert war and now, of course, economic war as well.  It's those "threats", so the story goes, that are leading to rising oil prices and so fuelling the current recession, rather than Wall Street's casino capitalism or massive US and European debts. The cream of the one per cent has nothing against high oil prices, not as long as Iran's around to be the fall guy for popular anger.
As energy expert Michael Klare pointed out recently, we are now in a new geo-energy era certain to be extremely turbulent in the Gulf and elsewhere. But consider 2012 the start-up year as well for a possibly massive defection from the dollar as the global currency of choice. As perception is indeed reality, imagine the real world - mostly the global South - doing the necessary math and, little by little, beginning to do business in their own currencies and investing ever less of any surplus in US Treasury bonds. 
Of course, the US can always count on the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) - Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates - which I prefer to call the Gulf Counter-revolution Club (just look at their performances during the Arab Spring). For all practical geopolitical purposes, the Gulf monarchies are a US satrapy. Their decades-old promise to use only the petrodollar translates into them being an appendage of Pentagon power projection across the Middle East. Centcom, after all, is based in Qatar; the US Fifth Fleet is stationed in Bahrain. In fact, in the immensely energy-wealthy lands that we could label Greater Pipelineistan - and that the Pentagon used to call "the arc of instability" - extending through Iran all the way to Central Asia, the GCC remains key to a dwindling sense of US hegemony.

If this were an economic rewrite of Edgar Allen Poe's story, "The Pit and the Pendulum", Iran would be but one cog in an infernal machine slowly shredding the dollar as the world's reserve currency. Still, it's the cog that Washington is now focused on. They have regime change on the brain. All that's needed is a spark to start the fire (in - one hastens to add - all sorts of directions that are bound to catch Washington off guard). Inside Story: The cost of Iranian oil

Remember Operation Northwoods, that 1962 plan drafted by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to stage terror operations in the US and blame them on Fidel Castro's Cuba. (President Kennedy shot the idea down.) Or recall the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964, used by President Lyndon Johnson as a justification for widening the Vietnam War. The US accused North Vietnamese torpedo boats of unprovoked attacks on US ships. Later, it became clear that one of the attacks had never even happened and the president had lied about it.
It's not at all far-fetched to imagine hardcore Full-Spectrum-Dominance practitioners inside the Pentagon riding a false-flag incident in the Gulf to an attack on Iran (or simply using it to pressure Tehran into a fatal miscalculation). Consider as well the new US military strategy just unveiled by President Obama in which the focus of Washington's attention is to move from two failed ground wars in the Greater Middle East to the Pacific (and so to China). Iran happens to be right in the middle, in Southwest Asia, with all that oil heading toward an energy-hungry modern Middle Kingdom over waters guarded by the US Navy.
So yes, this larger-than-life psychodrama we call "Iran" may turn out to be as much about China and the US dollar as it is about the politics of the Gulf, or Iran's nonexistent bomb. The question is: What rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Beijing to be born?

Turning the Planet Into Junkies
Breaking America’s Bad Exceptionalism
Never underestimate American soft power.
What if the US government actually shut down to mourn the passing of Breaking Bad, arguably the most astonishing show in the history of television? It would be nothing short of poetic justice – as Breaking Bad is infinitely more pertinent for the American psyche than predictable cheap shots at Capitol Hill.
Walter White, aka Heisenberg, may have become the ultimate, larger than life hero of the Google/YouTube/Facebook era. In an arc of tragedy spanning five seasons, Breaking Bad essentially chronicled what it takes for a man to accept who he really is, while in the process ending up paying the unbearable price of losing everything he holds dear and what is assumed to be his ultimate treasure; the love of his wife and son.
Along the way, Breaking Bad was also an entomologist study on American turbo-capitalism – with the 1% haves depicted as either cheats or gangsters and the almost-haves or have-nots barely surviving, as in public school teachers degraded to second-class citizen status.
Walter White was dying of cancer at the beginning of Breaking Bad, in 2008. Progressively, he gets rid of Mr Hyde – a placid chemistry teacher – for the benefit of Dr Jekyll – undisputed crystal meth kingpin Heinsenberg. It’s not a Faustian pact. It’s a descent into the dark night of his own soul. And in the end he even “wins”, under his own terms, burning out with a beatific smile.
His secret is that it was never only about the transgressive high of producing the purest crystal meth. It was about the ultimate Outsider act, as in a Dostoevsky or Camus novel; a man confronting his fears, crossing the threshold, taking full control of his life, and finally facing the consequences, with no turning back.
And then, as in all things Breaking Bad, the music told a crucial part of the story. In this case, no less than the closing with Badfinger’s My Baby Blue, the bleakest of love songs:
Guess I got what I deserve
Kept you waiting there, too long my love
All that time, without a word
Didn’t know you’d think, that I’d forget, or I’d regret
The special love I have for you/
My baby blue
So – as Walter White finally admits, fittingly, in the last episode – he did it all, Sinatra’s My Way, not for the sake of his family, but for him. And here we have the purest crystal meth as a reflection of this purest revelation in this purest of TV shows, blessed with unmatched writing (you can almost palpably feel the exhilaration in the writers’ room), direction, sterling cast, outstanding cinematography quoting everything from Scarface to Taxi Driver via The Godfather, meticulous character development and gobsmacking plot
But then again, that spectral song My Baby Blue is not only about crystal meth – just like Tommy James and the Shondell’s Crystal Blue Persuasion, used in a spectacular montage in season four.
It’s about Jesse Pinkman, Walter White’s repeatedly used and abused young business associate. It’s as if it was written by Walt as a tribute to Jesse; Jesse is the “baby” always evoking Walt’s “special love” in the form of usually spectacularly misfiring paternal feelings.
I’m in the Empire business
Walt/Heisenberg is a scientist. His scientific genius was appropriated by unscrupulous partners in the past, who enriched themselves in a tech company. As Heisenberg, finally the scientific/mechanical genius comes to full fruition – from a wheelchair bomb to a raid based on magnets and even a remix of the 1963 Great Train Robbery in the UK, not to mention the perfectly cooked meth.
Here’s one the writers’ take on cooking Breaking Bad. Yet that does not explain why Walter White touched such a nerve and became a larger-than-life global pop phenomenon from Albuquerque to Abu Dhabi.
A classic underdog narrative explains only part of the story. In the slow burn of five seasons, what was crystallized was Walter White as Everyman fighting The Establishment – which included everyone from demented criminals (a Mexico drug cartel, brain-dead neo-nazis) to vulture lawyers (“Better Call Saul”), cheating former associates and, last but not least, the US government (via the Drug Enforcement Agency).
Nihilism – of a sub-Nietzschean variety – also explains only part of the story. One can feel the joy of the Breaking Bad writers tomahawking the Judeo-Christian concept of guilt. But this has nothing to do with a world without a moral code.
One glance at James Frazer’s The Golden Bough is enough to perceive how Walter White, in his mind, does hark back to family-based tribal society. So is he essentially rejecting the Enlightenment?
We’re getting closer when we see Breaking Bad as a meditation on the myth of the American Dream – and its extrapolation as American exceptionalism. As Walter White admits to Jesse, he’s deep into “the Empire business“. In real life, Walter White might have been a mastermind of the Orwellian-Panopticon complex.
So with My Baby Blue ringin’ in my head, I ended up finding my answer in a book I always take with me while on the road in America: D H Lawrence’s Studies in Classic American Literature. Not by accident Lawrence was a deep lover of New Mexico – where Breaking Bad‘s geopolitics is played out. And Walter White is indeed there, as Lawrence dissects James Fenimore Cooper’sThe Deerslayer. (Here’s a digital version of the essay.)
Walter White, once again, embodies “the myth of the essential white America. All the other stuff, the love, the democracy, the floundering into lust, is a sort of by-play. The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.”
When Walter White turns into Heisenberg he morphs into Deerslayer:
A man who turns his back on white society. A man who keeps his moral integrity hard and intact. An isolate, almost selfless, stoic, enduring man, who lives by death, by killing, but who is pure white.
This is the very intrinsic – most American. He is at the core of all the other flux and fluff. And when this man breaks from his static isolation, and makes a new move, then look out, something will be happening.
The genius of the Breaking Bad writers’ room – with creator Vince Gilligan at the core – was to depict Walter White’s descent into the maelstrom as primeval, intrinsically “most American”. No wonder Gilligan defined Breaking Bad essentially as “a western”. Clint Eastwood was fond of saying that the western and jazz were the only true American art forms (well, he forgot film noir and blues, rock’n roll, soul and funk, but we get the drift).
So call this warped western a masterful depiction of American exceptionalism. And mirror it with the soft pull of a dying, lone superpower which is still capable of turning the whole planet into junkies, addicted to the cinematically sumptuous spectacle of its own demise.
Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009). He may be reached at
This column originally appeared on Asia Times.
Brazil’s Challenge to US Dominance
By Andrés Cala
There were several factors – both domestic and geopolitical – that moved Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff to blast American spying during her address to the United Nations General Assembly last week. But Washington is missing the most important message: Brazil, South America’s new economic titan, is assuming a role as regional leader.
Brazil, in effect, has replaced the U.S. as the most influential player on the South American continent and its reach can only be expected to increase. By missing the speech’s larger implication, the White House and Congress are making a miscalculation that undermines U.S. interests in Latin America and the world.
Brazil’s muscle-flexing is the result of an evolution which began over a decade ago as the resource-rich nation began to experience rapid economic development. The entire region now looks to Brazil, not the U.S., as a model for progress – and that includes Washington’s allies such as Colombia, Peru and Chile. This new paradigm is being cemented geopolitically and economically.
Consequently, Washington can choose to partner up with Brazil and this newly empowered region as a whole or the U.S. can stick to its old-fashioned and counterproductive policies of paternalism and exploitation, which will only increase its isolation.
In the context of this regional transformation, Brazil’s angry reaction to National Security Agency spying, leaked by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, is more understandable. Rousseff unequivocally condemned NSA spying on her government’s internal communications, on Brazil’s permanent mission at the UN and its other diplomatic delegations, on Brazil’s vital corporations including its oil and mining giants Petrobras and Vale, and on private e-mails of thousands of Brazilians.
It is “a breach of international law,” a “serious violation of human rights and civil liberties,” an “affront … especially among friendly nations,” and “above all, a disrespect of the sovereignty of my country,” Rousseff told the UN General Assembly. And Washington’s excuse that the spying is meant to protect Americans from terrorist activity is “unsubstantiated,” she said.
That speech was not all Rousseff has done. After the NSA revelations, she demanded a formal apology directly from President Barack Obama, who did personally intercede with her in private to smooth matters over, at least twice during the G-20 summit in Russia and over the phone, but to no avail. On Sept. 17, she cancelled a state visit to the U.S.
It is true that Rousseff, with her protests against NSA spying, was addressing a domestic audience in Brazil and that as a result her popularity spiked as the presidential campaign has started heating up there. The flap over NSA spying has diverted some public attention from a summer of turmoil that triggered massive protests by Brazilians demanding better governance.
However, beyond the political popularity of chastising the United States, Rousseff’s complaints tapped into deep grievances felt by Brazil and most other South American countries, including Colombia, which also protested NSA spying. The damage to U.S. ties in Latin America is serious, and playing it down, as U.S. pundits are doing, is only making it worse.
“Like so many other Latin Americans, I fought against arbitrary power and censorship,” Rousseff told the UN General Assembly. “Without privacy, there is no liberty of opinion. Without respect for sovereignty, there is no basis for relations between nations.”
It’s not new that Latin America feels trampled upon by Washington; what’s new is that the leading countries of the region are increasingly ready to push back. Latin America expects its relations with the U.S. to evolve proportionally to the region’s coming of age economically, as has happened with other global powers, such as China, Russia and Europe.
Bluntly put, a Brazil-led Latin America wants a relationship of equals with Washington, and if the U.S. can’t offer that, the estrangement between North and South will continue to widen, ultimately harming U.S. interests with a region that represents a large and growing economic market.
Latin America’s Ascent
During the Cold War, South America was a mess, partly as a result of U.S. and Soviet meddling – with the CIA supporting right-wing military coups whenever Washington sensed the possibility of “another Cuba” in its “backyard” – but mostly the fault lay in the fact that many South American leaders were corrupt, incompetent and largely indifferent to the problems of illiteracy and poverty facing many citizens.
This is true not only from a humanitarian reading, but from an orthodox capitalist one. Wealth is conditioned to spending by the many rather than the concentration of riches in the hands of the few. Such extreme privilege is no rival to a model in which millions of middle-class spenders can access healthcare, education and consumer goods.
During the 1990s, a neoliberal generation of reformers came to power and delivered macroeconomic growth based on the U.S. and World Bank imposed “Washington Consensus,” with exports soaring and mass privatizations reducing fiscal uncertainty. But wealth distribution worsened, and poverty and political instability increased proportionally.
In response, a resurgent Left was empowered, first with Hugo Chávez in Venezuela in 1998, Lula da Silva in Brazil in 2002, Kirchner in Argentina in 2003, Tabaré Vázquez in Uruguay in 2004, Rafael Correa in Ecuador in 2007, and others representing left-of-center coalitions promising to undo the “neoliberal excesses” of their predecessors.
The result was a redistribution of wealth that has created “the American dream” with a Latin flavor. Between 2002 and 2008, 60 million Latin Americans moved out of poverty, according to the World Bank. The people of the region began to perceive the opportunity of middle-class upward mobility rather than the stagnation of severely stratified societies.
The global economic crisis that began in 2007  in  the U.S. hit countries like Argentina, Ecuador and Venezuela hard,  but in general the region showed great resilience. The main reason was that the countries had generally pursued sounder economic policies with lower fiscal deficits or higher surpluses, low inflation and flexible exchange rates.
As a result, the balance of payments improved and helped to increase foreign reserves and to reduce foreign borrowing. In addition, the region diversified its exports taking advantage of the new opportunities in Asia, namely China.
By 2012, Latin America and the Caribbean’s gross domestic product was $5.3 trillion, almost tripling in the last decade. Brazil’s economy soared nearly fivefold to $2.3 trillion, now rivaling the UK as the world’s sixth biggest economy. U.S. exports to Latin America are equal to the combined exports to Europe or China.
That is a diametrically different reality from just two decades ago when El Norte treated South America disdainfully as home to a string of “banana republics” to be manipulated as part of Washington’s “sphere of influence” rather than treated as political and economic partners. The infamous phrase “America’s Backyard,” dating back almost two centuries to the days of the Monroe Doctrine, is still used commonly in American policy-making circles.
Obama’s Blunders
When Obama came to power in 2009, he hadn’t even set foot in Latin America and only made it to South America in March 2011 when he visited Brazil and Chile. But Obama’s promise to “reestablish American leadership in the hemisphere” fell on deaf ears. His foreign policy toward the region was just a tweaked version of George W. Bush’s approach, which in turn was a botched extension of the mess that Bill Clinton left behind.
In response to Obama’s patronizing neglect, South American leaders made clear that they were doing all right without U.S. guidance and interference. Brazil had emerged as the region’s dominant economy and South American nations began making political choices within a broad spectrum of right and left.
It’s not that South America suddenly became a bastion of stability and prosperity. Many of the old problems remained, but the countries feel ready to deal with their problems on their own. Meanwhile, U.S. policies toward the region remained stuck in a kind of time warp: embargoing Cuba, confronting Venezuela, prosecuting the “drug war,” creating unrealistic “free trade” zones.
The Obama administration might be better off listening to what the leaders of countries like Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Colombia and Mexico are saying. Latin Americans have other priorities, and so do most Americans. The economy is and will remain the most pressing problem for all, including Hispanic voters in the United States.
Obama is right to say that most people in the region – policymakers and citizens alike – are tired of outdated ideological standoffs. But for exactly the same reasons, they are also tired of U.S. preaching about Washington’s concept of “democracy” and the danger posed by Cuba.
Washington might find it more beneficial and profitable to look toward a genuine partnership with the region and particularly Brazil. It is what many of the leaders have been demanding for some time – and this strategic shift is rapidly becoming both urgent and unavoidable.
The  benefits  from a “good neighbor” policy that is more than just rhetoric could translate into American  jobs,  American exports and American economic growth. It also could further consolidate the political evolution of Latin America into a truly democratic model with a strong middle class creating both stability and prosperity and with those benefits then spreading to smaller and weaker countries.
U.S. leaders — who have spent more than a decade distracted by Middle East terrorism — will have to acquaint themselves with this new reality that has evolved much closer to home, a proud and assertive Latin America now led by Brazil and unwilling to accept the dictates of Washington.
The United States can adjust to this new reality or find itself ever more isolated.
Andrés Cala is an award-winning Colombian journalist, columnist and analyst specializing in geopolitics and energy. He is the lead author of America’s Blind Spot: Chávez, Energy, and US Security.+
Information Clearinghouse
Brazil Burning: The Story of an Illusion Gone Sour
Protests in Brazil indicate what goes way, way beyond a cheap bus fare.

By Pepe Escobar

When, in late 2010, Dilma Rousseff was elected President after eight years of the impossibly popular Lula, a national narrative was already ingrained, stressing that Brazil was not the “country of the future” anymore; the future had arrived, and this was a global power in the making.

This was a country on overdrive – from securing the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics to a more imposing role as part of the BRICS group of emerging powers.

Not unlike China, Brazil was breathlessly exploiting natural resources – from its hinterland to parts of Africa – while betting heavily on large agribusiness mostly supplying, you guess it, China. 

But above all Brazil fascinated the world by incarnating this political UFO; a benign, inclusive giant, on top of it benefitting from a lavish accumulation of soft power (music, football, beautiful beaches, beautiful women, endless partying). 

The country was finally enjoying the benefits of a quarter of a century of participative democracy – and self-satisfied that for the past ten years Lula’s extensive social inclusion policies had lifted arguably 40 million Brazilians to middle class status. Racial discrimination at least had been tackled, with instances of the Brazilian version of affirmative action.

Yet this breakneck capitalist dream masked serious cracks. Locally there may be euphoria for becoming the sixth or seventh world economy, but still social exclusion was far from gone. Brazil remained one the most (deadly) unequal nations in the world, peppered with retrograde landowning oligarchies and some of the most rapacious, arrogant and ignorant elites on the planet – inevitable by-products of ghastly Portuguese colonialism.
And then, once again, corruption raised its Hydra-like head. Here’s a first parallel with Turkey. In Brazil as in Turkey, participative democracy was co-opted, ignored or forcefully diluted among an orgy of “mega-projects” generating dubious profits for a select few. In Turkey it revolves around the ruling party AKP’s collusion with business interests in the “redevelopment” of Istanbul; in Brazil around public funds for the hosting of the World Cup and the Olympics. 
The new capitalist dream could not mask that the quality of life in Brazil’s big cities seemed to be on a downward spiral; and that racism – especially in the police – never went away while the demonization of peasant and Native Brazilian leaders was rampant; after all they were obstructing the way of powerful agribusiness interests and the“mega-projects” craze. 
What can a poor boy do
There’s no Turkey Spring – as there’s no Brazilian Spring. This isn’t Tunisia and Egypt. Both Turkey and Brazil are democracies – although Prime Minister Erdogan has clearly embarked on a polarizing strategy and an authoritarian drive. What links Turkey and Brazil is that irreversible pent-up resentment against institutional politics (and corruption) may be catalyzed by a relatively minor event. 
In Turkey it was the destruction of Gezi park; in Brazil the ten-cent hike in public bus fares was the proverbial straw that broke the (white) elephant’s back. In both cases the institutional response was tear gas and rubber bullets. In Turkey the popular backlash spread to a few cities. In Brazil it went nationwide. 
This goes way, way beyond a cheap bus ride - although the public transport scene in Brazil’s big cities would star in Dante’s ninth circle of hell. A manual worker, a student, a maid usually spend up to four hours a day back-and-forth in appalling conditions. And these are private transport rackets controlled by a small group of businessmen embedded with local politicians, who they obviously own.  
Arguably the nationwide, mostly peaceful protests have scored a victory – as nine cities have decided to cancel the bus fare hike. But that’s just the beginning.
The mantra is true; Brazilians pay developed world taxes and in return get sub-Saharan Africa quality of service (no offense to Africa). The notion of “value for money” is non-existent. It gets even worse as the economic miracle is over. That magical “growth” was less than 1% in 2012, and only 0.6% in the first quarter of 2013. The immensely bloated state bureaucracy, the immensely appalling public infrastructure, virtually no investment in education as teachers barely get paid $300 a month, non-stop political corruption scandals, not to mention as many homicides a year as narco-purgatory Mexico – none of this is going away by magic.
Football passion apart – and this is a nation where everyone is either an expert footballer or an experienced coach – the vast majority of the population is very much aware the current Confederations Cup and the 2014 World Cup are monster FIFA rackets. As a columnist for the Brazilian arm of ESPN has coined it, “the Cup is theirs, but we pay the bills.”
Public opinion is very much aware the Feds played hardball to get the “mega-events” to Brazil and then promised rivers of “social” benefits in terms of services and urban development. None of that happened. Thus the collective feeling that “we’ve been robbed” – all over again, as anyone with a digital made in China calculator can compare this multi-billion dollar orgy of public funds for FIFA with pathetically little investment in health, education, transportation and social welfare. A banner in the Sao Paulo protests said it all; “Your son is ill? Take him to the arena.”
Remember “Standing Man”
The neo-liberal gospel preached by the Washington consensus only values economic “growth” measured in GDP numbers. This is immensely misleading; it does not take into account everything from rising expectations for more participative democracy to abysmal inequality levels, as well as the despair of those trying to just survive (as in the orgy of expanded credit in Brazil leaving people to pay annual interest rates of over 200% on their credit cards).
So it takes a few uprooted trees in Istanbul and a more expensive shitty bus ride in Sao Paulo to hurl citizens of the“emerging markets” into the streets. No wonder the Brazilian protests left politicians - and “analysts” - perplexed and speechless. After all, once again this was people power – fueled by social media - against the 1%, not that dissimilar from protests in Spain, Portugal and Greece. 
Unlike Erdogan in Turkey – who branded Twitter “a menace” and wants to criminalize social networking - to her credit Rousseff seems to have listened to the digital (and street) noise, saying on Tuesday that Brazil “woke up stronger” because of the protests.
The Brazilian protests are horizontal. Non-partisan; beyond party politics. No clear leaders. It’s a sort of Occupy Brazil – with a cross-section of high-school and college students, poor workers who struggle to pay their bus fare, vast swathes of the tax-swamped middle class who cannot afford private health insurance, even homeless people, who after all already live in the streets. Essentially, they want more democracy, less corruption, and to be respected as citizens, getting at least some value for their money in terms of public services. 
The die is cast. Once again, it’s people power vs. institutional politics. Remember “Standing Man” in Taksim Square. The time to take a stand is now.
Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times/Hong Kong, an analyst for RT and TomDispatch, and a frequent contributor to websites and radio shows ranging from the US to East Asia.
Robert Fisk in Damascus: Assad's troops may be winning this war in Syria's capital - untouched by Obama's threats
Dispatch from Damascus: The killing fields remain, and truth is as rare as hope
And so the war goes on. Missile alerts may be over but the killing fields remain, untouched by Obama’s pale threats or Sergei Lavrov’s earnestness. The Syrian army fights on in the rubble and the shells fly over Damascus and the road from Lebanon is still littered with checkpoints. Only when you reach the city do you notice how many people have now built iron guard doors before their homes and iron gates on car parks. The claim that 40-50,000 rebels surround the capital is probably untrue but there are up to 80,000 security men and soldiers inside Damascus and, on this battlefront, they may well be winning.
It’s a campaign that started long before the use of sarin gas on 21 August and continued long afterwards. But on that fateful night, the Syrian army did mount one of its fiercest bombardments of rebel areas. In 12 separate attacks, it tried to put special forces men inside the insurgent enclaves, backed up by artillery fire. These included the suburbs of Harasta, and Arbin.
I was chatting yesterday to an old Syrian friend, a journalist who used to be in the country’s special forces and he – quite by chance – said he was embedded with Syrian government troops on the night of 21 August. These were men of the Fourth Division – in which the President’s brother Maher commands a brigade – and my friend was in the suburb of Moadamiyeh – the site of one of the chemical attacks. He recalls the tremendous artillery bombardment but saw no evidence of gas being used. This was one of the areas from which the army was attempting to insert bridgeheads into rebel territory. What he does remember is the concern of government troops when they saw the first images of gas victims on television – fearing that they themselves would have to fight amid the poisonous fumes.
Frontline Syrian forces do carry gas masks but none was seen wearing any. “The problem,” my friend said, “is that after Libya there are so many Russian weapons and artillery pieces smuggled into Syria that you don’t know what anybody’s got any more. The Libyans can’t produce enough of their oil but they sure can export all Gaddafi’s equipment.” But that doesn’t necessarily include sarin gas. Nor does it let the Syrian government off the hook. The protocols on the use of gas and missiles are said to be very strict in Syria so, of course, we come back to the old question: who ordered those missiles fired during the awful night of 21 August?
Some questions are familiar. Why use gas when so much more lethal weaponry is being flung at rebel forces across the country? If the government wanted to use gas, why not employ it north of Aleppo where not a single government soldier or official exists? Why in Damascus? And why wasn’t gas used on this scale in the previous two years? And why employ such a dreadful weapon when the end result is that Syria – by giving up its stocks of chemical weapons – has effectively lost one of its strategic defences against an Israeli invasion? No wonder, another Syrian friend of mine remarked last night, that the Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem had such a long and shocked face when he made his Moscow announcement. Wasn’t Israel the real winner in all this?
Most probably Israel is also the winner in Syria’s civil war, as its once great neighbour is smashed and pulverised by a conflict which may continue for another two years. Syria was never a wealthy nation, but rebuilding its smashed cities and railways and roads is going to take many years. Rumours in Damascus are thicker than the smoke which envelops part of the city. Among the latest is an allegedly secret Western demand that a new Syrian government be formed of 30 ministers – 10 of them regime figures and at least 10 others independents – and that there must be a total restructuring of the army and security services. Since the West no longer has the means of enforcing such ambitious plans, all this sounds unlikely. Unless the Russians are also supporting the idea.
North of Damascus, the Jabhat al-Nusra forces are now way back from the ancient, partly Christian town of Maaloula which was recaptured by the Syrian Third Armoured Division. But this poses another question. Why on earth did the Nusra fighters take Maaloula if they had no intention of holding it? Did they think that the Syrian regime would be so distracted by the thought of an American attack that it would lack the will to drive them out? Sadly both sides have ceased to care about the weapons they use or the immorality of using them. When an Islamist fighter can film himself eating the flesh of a dead soldier, all scruples have gone.
And here is one final thought. Not long ago, rebels in Damascus murdered a woman in Harasta. One of her sons is now serving in the Syrian army. He has never touched or fired gas in his life. But as a member of his family said to me, “if he was ordered to, he would not have the slightest hesitation. He would love to revenge himself on those who killed his beloved mother.”
Princess May Shakib Arslan
A week ago, one of Lebanon’s great ladies died. At 85 years old, Princess May Shakib Arslan was the widow of humanist, philosopher and politician Kamal Jumblatt who was murdered in 1977 – so the family are convinced – by Syrian assassins. Ms Arslan was also the mother of Walid Jumblatt, the present Druze leader, head of the ruthless Druze militia in the Lebanese civil war and perhaps the bravest current critic of the Syrian regime. Thousands trooped to her funeral in Mukhtara, hundreds queued to offer their condolences. But one sinister, indeed venomous letter arrived at the Jumblatt home from a certain General Jamil Sayyed, the former – and very pro-Syrian – director of Lebanon’s General Security. General Sayyed is a man you listen to. Here is part of what he wrote:
“I hope in these sad circumstances and in view of the genuine tears you have shed over your late mother, that you yourself remember…the thousands of mothers, widows and orphans that you made cry through the killings you perpetrated in your wars…I implore the mercy of God for [Princess May Shakib Arslanatt’s] soul and his forgiveness for all sins that she accidentally or deliberately committed. It is not her fault that she made you as you are. It’s not too late for Jumblatt to ask forgiveness or change who he is.” Is it a warning?
US cowardice will let Israel’s isolated right off the hook
The Likudists suddenly find that the whole world wants peace in the Middle East rather than war
These are hard times for the Israeli right. Used to bullying the US – and especially its present, shallow leader – the Likudists suddenly find that the whole world wants peace in the Middle East rather than war. Brits and Americans didn’t want to go to war in Syria. Now, with the pleasant smile of President Rouhani gracing their television screens, fully accepting the facts of the Jewish Holocaust – unlike his deranged and infantile predecessor – the Americans (75 per cent, if we are to believe the polls) don’t want to go to war with Iran either.
Having, live on television, forced President Obama to grovel to him on his last trip to the White House – Benjamin Netanyahu brusquely told him to forget UN Security Resolution 242, which calls for a withdrawal of Israeli forces from lands occupied after the 1967 war – the Israeli Prime Minister did a little grovelling himself on Monday. He no longer called for a total end to all Iranian nuclear activities. Now it was only Iran’s “military nuclear programme” which must be shut down.
And, of course, like Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction programme” which President George W Bush had to invent when the weapons themselves turned out to be an invention, we still don’t know if Mr Netanyahu’s version of Iran’s “military nuclear programme” actually exists.
What we do know is that when Mr Rouhani started saying all the things we had been demanding that Iran should say for years, Israel went bananas. Mr Netanyahu condemned him before he had even said a word. “A wolf in sheep’s clothing.” “An anti-Semite.” Even when Mr Rouhani spoke of peace and an end to nuclear suspicions, Israel’s “Strategic Affairs” Minister – whatever that means – said time had run out for future negotiations. Yuval Steinitz claimed that “if the Iranians continue to run [their nuclear programme], in another half a year they will have bomb capability”.
Mr Netanyahu’s own office joined in the smear campaign.
“One must not be fooled by the Iranian President’s fraudulent words,” one of Mr Netanyahu’s men sneered. “The Iranians are spinning in the media so that the centrifuges can keep on spinning.”
The Rouhani speech was “a honey trap”. Mr Netanyahu himself said Mr Rouhani’s address to the UN, a speech of immense importance after 34 years of total divorce between Iran and the US, was “cynical” and “totally hypocritical”.
Israel Hayom, the Likudist freesheet, dredged up – yet again – the old pre-Second World War appeasement argument that the Israeli right have been reheating for well over 30 years. “A Munich wind blows in the west,” the paper said.
Perhaps it had its effect. If he was not so frightened of Israel – as most US administrations are – President Obama might actually have shaken hands with Mr Rouhani last week; though Mr Rouhani himself might have preferred not to touch the hand of the “Great Satan” too soon. Instead, President Obama settled for a miserable phone call and proved that he knew how to say goodbye in Farsi. Pathetic is the word for it.
In the past, Arab delegates would storm out of the UN General Assembly when Israelis took the stand. When the crazed President Ahmadinejad spoke, Western nations and the Israelis stormed out. But when Mr Rouhani came to speak, Western nations crowded into the chamber to hear him. But Israel stormed out.
“A stupid gesture,” according to that wise old Israeli sage, writer and philosopher Uri Avnery. “As rational and effective as a little boy’s tantrum when his favourite toy is taken away. Stupid because it painted Israel as a spoiler, at a time when the entire world is seized by an attack of optimism after the recent events in Damascus and Tehran. Stupid, because it proclaims the fact that Israel is at present totally isolated.”
Mr Avnery’s contention is Israel wanted two wars, the first against Syria, the second against Iran.
As he wrote last week, when Congress hesitated to strike Damascus, “the hounds of hell were let loose. Aipac (the largest Likudist pro-Israeli lobby group in the US) sent its parliamentary rottweillers to Capitol Hill to tear to pieces any senator or congressman who objected”.
Yet at the White House on Monday, the Israeli Prime Minister had calmed down. I doubt if it will last. Israel, I suspect, will do everything it can to cut down Mr Rouhani’s overtures, whatever American public opinion might say.
For there was President Obama at Monday’s meeting, praising Mr Netanyahu for his support for a two-state solution. And what did President Obama actually say? That there was “a limited amount of time to achieve that goal”.
So why was there only a “limited amount of time”? Not a single scribe asked the poor fellow.
There is, of course, only a “limited amount of time” – in my view, no time at all – to achieve this illusory goal because the Netanyahu government is thieving, against all international law, yet more Palestinian Arab land for Jews and Jews only, at a faster rate than ever, to prevent just such a Palestinian state ever existing.
The Israeli right are well aware of this. And when President Obama can’t even explain this weird “limited amount of time”, the Israelis know that he is still a groveller. This is what real “appeasement” is all about. Fear.
And even if President Obama had the courage to say boo to a goose in his final term in office, you can be sure that Madame Clinton – to quote Sir Thomas More – doesn’t have the spittle for it. For she wants to be the next appeaser-president.
The Likudists have isolated Israel from the world just now but be sure American cowardice will let them off the hook.
Apple Turnover
Apple offers 21st Century technology – with 19th Century ethics.
By George Monbiot
Are you excited by the launch of Apple’s new iPhones? Have you decided to get one? Do you have any idea what you’re buying? If so, you’re on your own. When asked where it obtains its minerals, Apple, which has done so much to persuade us that it is deft, cool and responsive, looks arrogant, lumbering and unaccountable.
The question was straightforward: does Apple buy tin from Bangka Island? The  wriggling is almost comical.
Nearly half of global tin supplies are used to make solder for electronics. About 30% of the world’s tin comes from Bangka and Belitung islands in Indonesia(1), where an orgy of unregulated mining is reducing a rich and complex system of rainforests and gardens to a post-holocaust landscape of sand and acid sub-soil(2). Tin dredgers in the coastal waters are also wiping out the coral, the giant clams, the local fisheries, the endangered Napoleon wrasse, the mangrove forests and the beaches used by breeding turtles.
Children are employed in shocking conditions. On average, one miner dies in an accident every week. Clean water is disappearing, malaria is spreading as mosquitoes breed in abandoned workings, small farmers are being driven from their land(3). Those paragons of modernity – electronics manufacturers – rely for their supplies on some distinctly old-fashioned practices.
Friends of the Earth and its Indonesian counterpart, Walhi, which have documented this catastrophe, are not calling for an end to tin-mining on Bangka and Belitung: they recognise that it supports many people who would not find work elsewhere. What they want is transparency on the part of the companies buying the tin extracted there, leading to an agreement to reduce the impacts and protect the people and the wildlife. Without transparency there’s no accountability; without accountability there’s no prospect of improvement.
So they approached the world’s biggest smartphone manufacturers, asking whether or not they are using tin from Bangka. All but one of the big brands fessed up. Samsung, Philips, Nokia, Sony, Blackberry, Motorola and LG admit to buying (or probably buying) tin from the island through intermediaries, and have pledged to help address the mess(4). One company refuses to talk.
Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, claimed last year that “we want to be as innovative with supply responsibility as we are with our products. That’s a high bar. The more transparent we are, the more it’s in the public space. The more it’s in the public space, the more other companies will decide to do something similar.”(5) Which would be fine, if Apple did not appear to be pursuing the opposite policy.
Mobilised by Friends of the Earth, 25,000 people have now written to the company to ask whether it is buying tin from the ecological disaster zone in Indonesia(6). The answer has been a resounding “we’re not telling you”.
I approached Apple last week, and it felt like the kind of interview you might conduct with someone selling televisions out of the back of a lorry. The director of corporate PR refused to let me record our conversation. He insisted that it should be off the record and for background only, whereupon he told me … nothing at all. All he would do was direct me back to the webpage I was asking him about(7).
This states, with baffling ambiguity, that “Bangka Island, Indonesia, is one of the world’s principal tin-producing regions. Recent concerns about the illegal mining of tin from this region prompted Apple to lead a fact-finding visit to learn more.”(8) Why conduct a fact-finding visit if you’re not using the island’s tin? And if you are using it, why not say so? Answer comes there none.
On Monday I asked him a different set of questions. In a previous article, in March, I praised Apple for mapping its supply chain, and discovering that it uses metals processed by 211 smelters around the world(9). But, in view of its farcical response to my questions about Bangka, I began to wonder how valuable that effort might be. Apple has still not named any of the companies on the list, or provided any useful information about its suppliers.
So I asked the PR director whether I could see the list and whether it has been audited: in other words, whether there’s any reason to believe that this is a step towards genuine transparency(10). His response? To direct me back to the same sodding webpage. Strange to relate, on reading it for the fourth time I found it just as uninformative as I did the first time.
While I was tearing out my hair over Apple’s evasions, Fairphone was launching its first handset at the London Design Festival. This company, formed not just to build a genuine ethical smartphone but also to try to change the way in which supply chains and commercial strategies work, looks like everything that Apple should be but isn’t(11). Though its first phone won’t be delivered until December, it has already sold 15,000 sets: to people who want 21st Century technology without 19th Century ethics.
The Restart Project, that helps people to repair their own phones (something that Apple’s products often seemed designed to frustrate(12)) was at the same show: pointing out that the most ethical phone is the one you have in your pocket, maintained to overcome its inbuilt obsolescence(13).
This isn’t the only way in which Apple looks out of date. Last week, 59 organisations launched their campaign for a tough European law obliging companies to investigate their supply chains and publish reports on their social and environmental impacts(14). Why should a company be able to choose whether or not to leave its customers and shareholders in the dark? Why shouldn’t we know as much about its impacts as we do about its financial position?
Until Apple answers the questions those 25,000 people have asked, until it displays the transparency that Tim Cook has promised but failed to deliver, don’t buy its products. Made by a company which looks shifty, unaccountable and frankly ridiculous, they are the epitome of uncool.
2. Friends of the Earth, 2012. Mining for Smartphones: the true cost of tin.
3. As above.
10. See OECD, 2013. OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas: Second Edition. OECD Publishing.