What a Field Day for the Heat

mage courtesy of Conservation Minnesota
From Nokdim, an Israeli settlement on the West Bank. Image courtesy of NY Times blog The Lede
By Carlos Martinez
July, 2012

Washington's Wars and Occupations:
Month in Review #87/July 31, 2012

Versión en español                                      

By Carlos Martinez

This month it's not just temperatures that are hot. Tensions are boiling from Syria, Israel/Palestine and Mexico to Anaheim, California. Carlos Martinez surveys the landscape.

The hottest year in U.S. history is blistering the Midwest with the worst drought in half a century. Violence is flaring from Syria to the "Magic City” of Anaheim, California.  Mexico’s “Yo Soy 132” Movement is bringing a different kind of heat into politics while the LIBOR scandal spotlights the everyday criminality of the big banks and their government enablers. A new Associated Press reportpredicts that the 2011 Census will show U.S. poverty figures increasing to their highest level in 50 years.

It's a long, hot summer - and not likely to cool off any time soon.   

SYRIA AT A BOILING POINT

July saw steady escalation in the uprising-turned-civil war in Syria. As the month ends a large-scale ground and air attack by the Assad regime against rebels is underway in Aleppo, the country’s most populated city. Although objective figures are impossible to determine, the U.N. estimates that more than 10,000 people have been killed since the uprising began in March 2011, while the opposition-affiliated Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claims that the death toll has topped 20,000. Beyond the mounting deaths, the UN Refugee Agency has registered over 120,000 Syrian refugees in four neighboring countries - Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey.  

Earlier in the month rebels dealt the Assad regime a severe blow with an explosion killing three top government officials, including the President’s brother-in-law.  And the opposition Free Syrian Army has reportedly taken control of key posts along the borders of Turkey and Iraq. But because Assad's military is still mainly intact and the regime maintains a measure of popular support, most analysts do not see any quick end to the conflict. The UN Security Council’s permanent members remain deadlocked as Russia, Assad's most powerful ally, and China have vetoed three Security Council resolutions backed by the U.S., Britain and France which they believe would open the door to direct Western intervention. Western powers, allied with local proxies Saudi Arabia and Qatar, are vying with Russia, China, and Iran to exert their influence in Syria and further their geopolitical interests.  

The Syrian opposition remains far from united, with some favoring Western intervention and others taking an anti-imperialist stance. Regardless of the geopolitical maneuvers by outside powers, hundreds of thousands of Syrians have clearly expressed their desire for a democratic transformation. The current uprising is only the latest manifestation of resistance to decades of political repression, first under the rule of President Bashar Assad’s father, Hafiz Assad, and then under the current government.  A demand for political reforms emerged out of an earlier "Damascus Spring" in 2000, following President Hafiz Assad’s death; this demand has resurfaced after being brutally suppressed at the time.   

The desire for change, even if pushed underground, intensified during the years between 2006 and 2011 as Syria suffered through the worst drought in several hundred years. Over one million Syrians were left in a state of extreme food insecurity and thousands were forced to flee their rural homes to the growing poverty-stricken urban areas. The government, wedded to economic policies that served only the crony-ridden elite, did little to alleviate popular suffering. Thus conditions for a new uprising were ripe when the Arab Spring broke out in Tunisia and Egypt last year. Whether or not President Assad is forced out of office soon, the Syrian people are engaged in what academic Hamid Dabashi has aptly referred to as an “open-ended revolution” determined to produce a more democratic social order.

But this is not the goal of the Western powers or the sympathizers they are courting within the opposition. (Or, from a different angle, of the elements within the anti-Assad camp who see the uprising in religious/sectarian terms.) Washington and its allies aim to manipulate the uprising and shape the outcome, not for the benefit of the Syrian people but to strike a blow against Iran.           

ISRAELI SETTLERS: 'WE ARE HERE TO STAY"

A major source of the intensifying anti-Iran crusade is the Israeli government. Some believe the goal is to lay the groundwork for a military strike by Israel or the U.S., others that a more important purpose is to distract attention from accelerating Israeli seizure of Palestinian land and settlement building. On the latter front, an Op-Ed in the July 26 New York Times by the head of the Israeli Settlers Council lays out without disguise the 'Greater Israel' vision which is the operative policy not just of the settlers but the Israeli government: "Israel's Settlers Are Here to Stay."

That such a naked statement of the intent to impose an apartheid regime on all historic Palestine is on display makes the U.S. Presidential candidates pandering to Israel and the Israel Lobby all the more shameful. Obama just signed an agreement to give Israel $70 million more in no-strings-attached aid, while Romney in Israel says this is not nearly enough, promising with only the most thinly disguised wink to endorse more settlement building and green-light an Israeli attack on Iran, poisoning this racist pot further by saying that "Jewish culture" – not occupation – is the reason Israeli income levels are higher than Palestinians (while misstating how unequal they are by a factor of 10.)   

MEXICO’S “YO SOY 132” MOVEMENT BRINGS THE HEAT

In a variation on last month’s judicial coups in Egypt and Paraguay, July saw an orchestrated power grab by Mexico's PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party). The PRI was once the world’s longest-ruling party, running Mexico’s political system effectively as a one-party state from 1929 until 2000, when power was transferred to the right-wing National Action Party’s (PAN) candidate Vicente Fox. Under Fox and then Felipe Calderon, the PAN implemented the same U.S.-backed neoliberal policies of free trade and privatization embraced by PRI governments since the 1980s. 

Mass disaffection over the PAN’s handling of the drug war, leading to over 55,000 deaths during Calderon’s presidency, effectively demolished their candidate's chances for election. With the PAN out of the picture, Mexico’s business class and monopolistic media networks, Televisa and TV Azteca, threw their weight behind the PRI candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto. The old PRI electoral machine was once again put into full gear, re-enacting Mexico’s fraudulent 2006 presidential contest. Peña Nieto was handily swept into power using a combination of vote-buying, voter coercion in workplaces, ballot box theft, violation of campaign spending limits, secret pacts with dominant media, and a number of other mechanisms. 

Popular discontent with the Mexican media conglomerates’ blatant support for Peña Nieto spilled out into the streets with massive student protests leading up to the elections.  On May 11, a large group of students at a private university in Mexico City protested a press conference the PRI candidate held at their campus.  Students responded to accusations by Televisa that the protestors were not students but simply supporters of the center-left opposition candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador by releasing a video showing their university ID cards. The video, featuring 131 students, gave birth to the emerging movement’s name as viewers began tweeting “#Yo Soy 132” (“I am 132”) as a message of support.

Quickly, local #YoSoy132 groups were formed throughout Mexico and in cities around the world.  Taking inspiration from the horizontalist organizing forms of Spain’s “Indignados” and Occupy, #YoSoy132 maintained its commitment to non-partisanship and was mainly united in its rejection of the PRI’s return to the presidency.  The movement organized a string of massive protests against Televisa and Peña Nieto bringing tens of thousands out in Mexico’s major cities.  During the elections, they formed a #YoSoy132 Observer Commission, which received 1,100 reports of alleged irregularities.   

The movement against the fraudulent elections has continued to mobilize, with a number of mega-marches and more than 90,000 people turning out in Mexico City on July 22.  On July 14 and 15, the #YoSoy132 National Assembly met with representatives from some 300 civil organizations to develop a national plan of action leading up to Peña Nieto’s inauguration. Lopez Obrador’s Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) has filed a legal complaint calling for election results to be thrown out, accusing the PRI of breaking campaign spending limits and laundering money.  For its part, the #YoSoy132 movement declares that it will continue to build on its groundbreaking up-swell of youth mobilization - the likes of which have not been seen since the vicious massacre of the 1968 student protests - until the Mexican media and political system are truly democratized.

AUSTERITY AND BRUTALITY IN THE “MAGIC CITY” 

Back in this country, this record-breaking hot summer has seen an uptick in made-in-the-U.S.A. brutality.  A report released this month by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement shows that at least 120 Black women and men have been murdered since January 1 at the hands of police, private security guards, and self-appointed vigilantes.  This is equivalent to the murder of one Black person every 36 hours. Invasive policing and racial profiling continue to devastate Black people and other communities of color. And this trend has only been exacerbated by the current economic crisis. 

The explosive combination of economic austerity and police brutality was on full display this month in Anaheim - the so-called Magic City and home of Disneyland. Anaheim's number of officer-involved shootings now stands at six this year. In just two nights, police murdered two Latino men, Manuel Angel Diaz and Joel Acevedo. Hours after the first shooting, angry local residents confronted police who responded with violent force.  Shocking video footage spread over the internet within hours, showing police firing tear gas at close range and unleashing a K-9 attack dog into a crowd of men, women and children.  As protests have continued unabated over the following days, the Anaheim police have responded with further arrests and an increasingly militaristic presence. 

“The whole system is guilty” has become a popular chant in the Anaheim protests.  The upheaval has spotlighted the sense of racial and economic inequality felt by many of Anaheim’s Latino residents, who now make up 53% of the local population. Activists place a good part of the immediate blame on the Anglo-dominated City Council, which has diverted billions of dollars away from social services and community investment in order to subsidize the city’s tourist sector. 

LIBOR SCANDAL: BUSINESS CRIMINALITY AS USUAL

 
K.

This month the criminal activity that takes place in big bank boardrooms was exposed as openly as police brutality in Anaheim. Revelations that that major banks had conspired to "fix" the LIBOR interest rate hit the front pages. LIBOR - the London Interbank Offered Rate - is an average interest rate established by the British Bankers’ Association based on the interest rates that the world’s largest banks report that they are paying or expect to pay for borrowing from other banks. These LIBOR rates are the baseline interest rates for a vast number of loans, credit cards, securities, and derivatives around the world.

In late June, England-based Barclays Bank admitted to British regulators that a number of its traders worked with other banks to manipulate LIBOR before and during the 2008 financial meltdown in order to benefit their financial positions.  Barclays paid $450 million to U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.K.'s Financial Services Authority to settle the charges. Sixteen of the world’s other major banks, including Bank of America, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase, are currently under investigation for colluding in the manipulation.  In a series of Capitol Hill hearings, it was revealed that Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, who oversaw Wall Street as president of the New York Fed for five years, and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke were both aware of the LIBOR manipulation but did nothing to notify lawmakers.

The major losers from the LIBOR scandal have been local and state governments, transit agencies, and other public institutions who were convinced by banks and insurance companies for years to purchase interest-rate swaps in order to receive lower interest rates on bonds sold for public projects. The swaps protected them when LIBOR rose, but hurt them when LIBOR fell.  A report issued last month by the Refund Transitcoalition estimates that by keeping LIBOR artificially low, banks effectively robbed 13 city transit agencies of $92.6 million. In response, Baltimore has already filed a federal class-action lawsuit accusing over a dozen banks of engaging in a systematic conspiracy that cost the city many millions.    

While ordinary people are told that austerity is the only way, the Pentagon and oil and gas industries continue to be showered with dollars, resulting in record-breaking temperatures, droughts, and inevitably in food riots. Continue on this path and it's not just the earth's climate that's going to get hotter.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the entire War Times project

Carlos Martinez is the coordinator at the Bay Area Center for Political Education, a movement-building organization providing activists and organizers a space for developing theory and strategy, He is co-author of Venezuela Speaks! Voices from the Grassroots, a collection of interviews with members of Venezuela's grassroots social movements published by PM Press in January of this year.

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