The Political Economy of the Paris Agreement: Preserving the Existing Social & Economic Order

Real-world Economics Review, Issue no. 75

The Political Economy of the Paris Agreement on Human Induced Climate Change: a Brief Guide

By Clive L. Spash [Vienna University of Economics and Business, Austria]





Technological optimism is at the core of the IPCC projections and the assumptions that inform the Paris Agreement. On publication of the IPCC 5th Assessment report the official press release quoted the Chair, R.K. Pachauri, as stating that:

“To keep a good chance of staying below 2ºC, and at manageable costs, our emissions should drop by 40 to 70 percent globally between 2010 and 2050, falling to zero or below by 2100.”

The latter is the new rhetoric of negative emissions that relies on imagined future technologies (e.g. biotechnology, geoengineering, carbon capture and storage). The press release also reports the findings of Working group III as showing that:

“…mitigation cost estimates vary, but that global economic growth would not be strongly affected. In business-as-usual scenarios, consumption – a proxy for economic growth – grows by 1.6 to 3 percent per year over the 21st century. Ambitious mitigation would reduce this by about 0.06 percentage points.”

This major transformation of the energy basis of the economy in fossil fuels is floated in the press as having no real impact on economic growth without anyone raising a qualm. In fact Lord Stern and colleagues have been arguing that economic growth will be boosted by the energy transformation to a “new climate economy” (GCEC, 2014). Elsewhere, I have discussed some of the many fallacies of this Green Growth argument and noted the connection to a power elite (Spash, 2014). Yet this is now the dominant international position and hope of the Paris Agreement.

The whole of Article 2 is qualified by the phrase: “…in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty”. As I have noted elsewhere (Spash, 2016), the Paris Agreement cannot be read outside the context of the, October 2015, UN Resolution A/RES/70/1 “Transforming our world: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, which promotes economic growth, technology, industrialisation and energy use. Goal 8 is to sustain per capita economic growth at a rate of “at least 7 per cent gross domestic product per annum in the least developed countries”. The environmental devastation this would entail is meant to be addressed by the “endeavour to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation”, which is meaningless unless undertaken in absolute terms and that is simply impossible for the industrial economy being promoted in Goal 9. The Paris Agreement follows suit and claims that: “Accelerating, encouraging and enabling innovation is critical for an effective, long-term global response to climate change and promoting economic growth and sustainable development” (Article 10).

The ultimate concern is the threat to economic growth and this is a perspective that has been heavily lobbied for by advocates, such as Stern, of the new climate economy under the banner “better growth, better climate”. As they state: “In the long term, if climate change is not tackled, growth itself will be at risk” (GCEC, 2014a, p.9). The climate can and will be changed, but growth must not be threatened.

The negotiations around human induced climate change reveal the tensions and contradictions of the resulting policy. There are those who argue for more and better growth spurred on by new technologies to be developed via innovative corporations (GCEC, 2014). This is to be funded, as usual, by massive public investment that will ‘leverage’ private finance, or in plain terms subsidise corporate profit-making while pretending to remove market imperfections. Advocates are heavily invested in preserving the existing social and economic order as evident by the elite networks of the 1% within which they operate (Spash, 2014). The hope is for new miracle technologies to allow moving pollutants from the air to the soil and water, and reliance on treating the Earth as a mechanical toy for boys to (geo)engineer. The economics profession with its macroeconomic obsessions over jobs and growth is living in a fantasy world without any biophysical reality and merely plays along with this techno-optimist tune, and unfortunately the heterodoxy has so far done little to alter this.

The targets of Paris are not some simple internalisation of an externality that is messing-up the perfectly functioning market system. If taken seriously they are a call for a major transformation of the global economy away from its foundation on fossil fuels and energy intensive systems. As the UNFCCC’s Director for Strategy has stated:

“The objective is to put in motion a fundamental transformation in the way we use and produce energy, how we plan our cities, how we manage land and how we prepare for a changing climate and cooperate to minimise its disruptive effect. Transformation takes strategy. You need to know your destination if you are serious about reaching it” (Thorgeirsson, 2015).

Yet, while the need for transformation is now widely recognised, this is generally interpreted as being totally consistent with maintaining the same social ecological and economic structure as today. That is a structure of social inequity, ecological exploitation and an economy promoting hedonistic materialism supplied through a system of corporate and State capital accumulation. The politics of human induced climate change go to the heart of the modern industrialised capital accumulating economy and the rhetoric of growth as supplying development and progress. In the end the Paris Agreement changes nothing. The destination is the same old growth economy and that is in total contradiction with addressing human induced climate change.

Download the paper:

Clive L. Spash, “The political economy of the Paris Agreement on human induced climate change: a brief guide”,
real-world economics review, issue no. 75, xx June 2016, pp. xx-xx,


The Work of Revelations: Snowden, the Torture Report, and the Diminishing Returns of Info-Spectacles


January 2, 2015



Omidyar, right, with (clockwise from left) Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden, and Laura Poitras. Illustration by Matthew Woodson. Photo: Matthew Woodson. Image: THE PIERRE OMIDYAR INSURGENCY [Source]


“An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come,” wrote Victor Hugo. Isn’t that ultimately the message of Les Misérables? In contrast to the revolutionaries hopelessly slaughtered en masse at the barricades, it’s Jean Valjean’s unimpeachable righteousness alone that ultimately drives his longtime tormentor to suicide. I dreamed a dream…

Rather than just being the domain of French Romantics and office motivational posters, the notion that information alone has transformative power is the cornerstone of establishment left thinking. It stems from liberal enlightenment ideals that configure history as a linear progression—embodied in the apocryphal quote about the moral arc of the universe. It goes one way, and that’s forwards towards progress. This coincides happily with the preponderance of lawyers in the ranks of mainstream human rights and civil liberties groups, for whom information is the sine qua non of preparing briefs and mounting cases.

There’s a more controversial theory that information isn’t inherently good. Even revelatory information—stuff the powerful don’t want you to know—ostensibly in the service of a progressive goal, can be used for right-wing ends if it obscures or moderates a more radical prescription. If information is getting used to co-opt a more radical course of action, then that project is reactionary.

For its part, progressive e-magazine TruthDig doesn’t want people messing with this line of thinking in the case of the Senate Torture report: “When the truth is spoken by politicians…skeptics are right to suspect it’s not merely the truth. It is always tailored to redound to some benefit to the speaker. But there are moments in history when that doesn’t matter.”

We’re being told it’s one such moment now. The Senate Intelligence Committee has released a heavily redacted, heavily abridged “Executive Summary” of its 6,000 page report on CIA torture. Adding to the report’s mystique is the fact that the White House and CIA wanted to suppress the information contained within, with the CIA even hacking the computers of Senate staffers compiling the report. The torture report seems like the most illicit kind of revelatory information, so it’s created an enormous amount of commentary and condemnation.

However, with the exceptions of some specific ghoulish details, most of the information was already known. The most horrific facts—that the CIA raped prisoners, that torture was used to fabricate justifications for the War in Iraq, that human beings were tortured to death, that almost a quarter of torture cases were the result of mistaken identity—had all been reported on within the last decade.

There’s a disconnect between the content of the torture report and the narrative that now surrounds the event itself. When TruthDig called for putting skepticism aside, it was in a piece hailing Senators Dianne Feinstein and John McCain as their progressive heroes of the week. Feinstein’s fingerprints are on many of the US’s worst abuses of this century, and McCain is one of the most bloodthirsty figures in the US government, and by extension the planet. Given that these newly minted progressive heroes are some of the worst imperialists, and the torture report’s aura doesn’t reflect reality, this seems like exactly the right moment for those meddlesome skeptics to be asking questions.

The journalists and public figures who promote the torture report present it as transformative information, but it’s shaping up to be a spectacle that sets the left back yet again. The report has followed many parallels with the last time this happened, the spectacle surrounding Ed Snowden’s leaks to Glenn Greenwald et al. The Snowden drama provided a useful template for how dissent is going to be managed, channeled, and moderated going forward. The way the NSA leaks were handled has provided the elites a scalable model for taking the release of even revelatory information and using it to come out on top and consolidate their power.


Fortunately, last October Pierre Omidyar’s First Look Media had an acrimonious public divorce with once-hire Matt Taibbi. If Taibbi had been someone with less social capital, then the failure of Racket might’ve just been a momentary hiccup for the internet’s hottest journalistic “insurgency.” As it stands, the fact that people want to be in Taibbi’s orbit has opened up a lot of space for analysis of Omidyar’s would-be media empire, where the establishment consensus was once airtight. It’s certainly vindicated what Taibbi said about journalists being akin to an easily spooked herd of deer, who only get around to asking the right questions “eventually. But far after the fact.”

When the leaks began, they painted a complete picture of a monster whose contours had only previously been hinted at. Stories about warrantless wiretapping and the size of “Top Secret America” had won their authors Pulitzers and hinted that the US government was spying on all of us. There were reports of a secret government data-storage facility of gargantuan proportions being built in Utah. Stories had periodically cropped up in unexpected places about the government’s ability to record and store all our communications. However, now the public knew the truth definitively. There was excitement, talk of change, reform, maybe even something more drastic. Soon, the whistleblower went public. More stories came out, about more countries.

However, there were problems from the outset. Tarzie, one of maybe 3 or 4 people asking the right questions from the outset, drew these threads out in August 2013 in his “Fuck the Guardian” series. Some of the serious problems were a zeal for secrecy and redactions, an over-emphasis on one set of actors at the expense of the bigger picture, and a single-minded devotion to “debate” and reform as the ideal solution. There were plenty of other problems, like the smearing of Chelsea Manning and a near-monopoly on information, all of which spoke to having surrendered ground to the very enemies being exposed. The entire event was taking place on the state’s terms, and as Arthur Silber wrote, “when the state floods the zone, any chance for reform is dead.”

However, the state weren’t the only interested parties. There was a big story to be told, after all, and a billionaire patron chose to underwrite the project. The consensus that instantly emerged–and remained firmly in place until Racket’s collapse–was that Pierre Omidyar was a “civic minded billionaire.” What was being exchanged between Omidyar and Greenwald was a paycheck for prestige. As Tarzie pointed out at the beginning, PayPal had conducted an extrajudicial corporate blockade against WikiLeaks that hobbled the organization, and Greenwald lied about Omidyar’s involvement.

When it came out that Omidyar had funded regime change in Ukraine and the election of a fascist PM in India, and would profit handsomely for it, this revelatory information wasn’t enough to tarnish the “civic-minded” gloriole. “Since the rich man in question has demonstrably been involved in funding imperialist activities,” explained Patrick Higgins, the Snowden leak keepers were now “by extension, running interference on imperialism’s behalf.” A typical imperialist oligarch bought a bulletproof reputation as a civic-minded hero, for only $250 million (of which only $50 million has actually been paid so far). To get an idea of what a robust return on investment this is, Bill Gates has to spend billions of dollars a year in order to be seen as a humanitarian while defending capitalism’s brutality and making Malthusian calls for population reduction in Africa and Asia.

Snowden eventually came out of his self-imposed media exile and played a part in the vaunted debate. It’s been reported that whistleblowers tend to be conservative individuals, and this makes sense. Someone who thinks the CIA is an organ of state terrorism is unlikely to get hired there, nor would they seek to restore it to an imagined past if they joined up and eventually found this to be the case. That explained phenomena like Snowden’s insistence that information be mediated by “responsible journalists and government stakeholders,” and a whole slew of reactionary statements he made as the spectacle went on.

As Snowden explained, he was “still working for the NSA” in spirit, seeking to reform temporarily disoriented agencies. For anyone hoping that substantive change would result, this is a death sentence. As Chris Floyd said, “the system itself is not under threat [when] the only goal of any revelations will be ‘reform.’ ‘Reform’ and ‘debate’ can always be managed by those who control the levers of power.”

In the end, the public accrued very limited benefits if any. There were stories that essentially recapitulated the same theme of mass government data collection, told with some different details but committed salesmanship. Long after most of the world has moved on, The Intercept’s reporters still use the same breathless promotional language. In mid-December 2014 Jeremy Scahill was promoting a “Blockbuster” story at The Intercept that’s basically a longer version of a story already reported at Der Spiegel 14 months ago. There wasn’t even reform, either, with one failed bill widely derided as a “sham.” Even First Look supporters concede that the NSA ultimately “retained its powers.” And they might have stronger defenses against future leakers in place now, thanks to Ed Snowden. As reported in a Wired cover story, as Snowden took documents from NSA servers, he did so in a way that “[gave] the government time to prepare for leaks in the future,” in case anyone more radical than him came along.

If anyone benefitted from the event, besides the leak’s owners and the state, it was the tech sector. Snowden updated Thomas Jefferson for the disruptor set when he recommended restraining government surveillance with “the chains of cryptography.” He announced the Reset the Net initiative on June 5th, 2014. By unveiling it a year after the Guardian released its first Snowden-sourced story, the event was marketed as the solution to government surveillance, the logical endpoint of the events that have preceded it. According to Wired, Reset the Net is “a coalition of more than two-dozen tech companies,” i.e. former partners in government spying who would now be the vanguards of privacy. When Trevor Timm, a board member of the Electronic Frontiers Foundation with Greenwald, listed “Four Ways Edward Snowden Changed The World,” two reasons were essentially sales pitches for the tech industry. To hear left celebrities orbiting the Snowden trove tell it, all Silicon Valley had to do was suffer a mild public shaming in order to become zealous guardians of their users’ privacy.

Obviously, some factions of the state and oligarch class* would rather the public know nothing. However, if this isn’t an option, then there are ways to accrue benefits from the information release. The Snowden spectacle has shown how the guilty parties can create positive outcomes for themselves, coming out even better than before. The common threads include:

  1. A distracting, singular focus on one set of actors at the expense of other guilty parties.
  2. An erasure of related and often more serious crimes.
  3. The lionizing of deeply reactionary figures.
  4. Right-wing, power-serving “solutions.”
  5. The erasure of leftist ideas from the left.
  6. A further fetishizing of the transformative power of revelation.

In the Snowden spectacle and the torture report, there are two situations in which information is released to the public. It’s been known, but now there are specific details and official confirmations. This is presented as a revelation, and re-stated in different permutations to retain public interest. From there, the ruling class will create an unexpected victory.

  1. Distracting Focus on One Set of Actors

In the case of the Snowden leaks, over a year of reporting focused almost exclusively on the NSA. There was almost no reporting done on the private sector, or the 16 other government agencies that comprise the Intelligence Community—from the FBI and DEA to Army intelligence and the National Reconnaissance Office.

In the case of the Senate torture report, the focus has been exclusively on CIA torture authorized and directed by the Bush administration and its lawyers. Dick Cheney has come out of the shadows to issue ghoulish pronouncements about torture’s goodness, acting as a cartoonish, literally heartless proxy for the entire cast of villains.

However, the focus on the Bush administration has erased contemporary Democratic culpability in the torture program. The 2002 briefing of House Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Jay Rockefeller by the CIA was, according to CIA war criminal and noted sociopath José Rodriguez, “short and sweet.” Though Democrats at the at the time adduced torture as a reason to vote for Democrats, it was, like anti-war opposition, cheap posturing to score political points.

A few years later, it was rising Democratic star Barack Obama’s turn to sweep torture under the rug after exploiting it for electoral reasons. In a tremendously revealing statement that received scant attention at the time, then-Senator Obama said that impeachment was off the table because it was reserved for “serious breaches” of the President’s authority. The statement was a clear indication that Obama didn’t—and doesn’t—consider torture to constitute a serious offense, at least when committed by the United States. Though candidate Obama made overtures to investigate torture, his 2008 behavior on FISA showed how hollow these promises were. On the campaign trail, the Senator declared that he would filibuster TeleCom immunity, before voting for it once it was politically expedient. When Obama was elected and made “look forwards, not backwards” his mantra, the Democratic leadership owned torture as much as Bush.

Just like the NSA was the sole focus of the Snowden cache, a casual observer would think that the CIA were the sole perpetrators of torture after 9/11. The singular focus on the CIA has erased the fact that the US military was responsible for many of the most horrific abuses of the War on Terror. Abu Ghraib, for instance, was born out of a policy to “’Gitmoize’ Iraq,” applying the brutal torture policies of America’s Cuban hellhole to the entire nation of Iraq. Military installations were the sites of countless crimes, like Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Base or Iraq’s Camp Nama, whose name was backronymed to mean “Nasty-Ass Military Area.”

The Senate torture report has successfully cordoned off torture as the work of one agency and one set of elites, when the entire political class and national security apparatus is guilty.

  1. Erasure of Related and More Serious Crimes

The Snowden event brought us dozens of stories that reiterated essentially the same point. Less publicized was Reuters’ August 2013 report on NSA-DEA “parallel construction,” where the NSA was giving warrantlessly surveilled information to the DEA, who then build up a criminal case under the pretense that the information had been lawfully obtained. In this case, abstract reports on government abuse were crowding out concrete reports of government abuse. The narrative around the Senate report has taken this aspect of the Snowden drama to a much higher degree. There is a constellation of American crimes that are being erased, whitewashed, and legitimized by the focus on the CIA torture report.

The Obama administration and the CIA saw the kind of legal and political mess that came from indefinite detention, and concluded that assassination was easier. A 2004 report from the CIA’s inspector general warned that “The agency faces potentially serious long-term political and legal challenges as a result of” the torture regime. “The report was the beginning of the end for the program,” according to journalist Mark Mazzetti. “The ground had shifted, and counterterrorism officials began to rethink the strategy for the secret war. Armed drones, and targeted killings in general, offered a new direction.”

Consequently, the Obama administration has waged a far more vicious assassination campaign than Bush ever did, with thousands killed in drone strikes and even American citizens targeted for extrajudicial murder. Obama’s theory of executive power was best summarized by Attorney General Eric Holder explaining that “due process” didn’t need to involve a trial by jury, but could be achieved by the President deciding to murder you in one of his “Terror Tuesday” meetings.

That’s not to say that torture isn’t still practiced. Torture is still common practice in Guantánamo Bay, where inmates are subjected to excruciating force-feedings. The experience of having a feeding tube slid through the nasal cavity and down into the prisoner’s stomach is usually compared to having a razor blade shoved through the nostril and down the throat.

Obama’s vaunted torture ban has also not banned torture, merely returned it to the grey-area status it enjoyed before the Bush administration codified it. The CIA has long practiced torture, like under the Phoenix program in Vietnam or taught at the notorious School of the Americas. Today, the CIA maintains its “extraordinary rendition” and secret prison programs, with loopholes in place for torture to continue more covertly. Torture is still allowed for the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), and since expanding JSOC’s operational scope has been a cornerstone of Obama’s war-fighting policies, some inductive reasoning indicates that it’s expanded into those dark corners. As the blog Moon of Alabama points out:

The Army Field Manual 2 22.3. Appendix M is still in force and it allows “interrogation techniques” which the UN’s Committee against Torturesays (PDF) amount to torture. The White House is also still believing that using torture abroad is not covered by the UN Convention Against Torture and thereby permissible.

This, together with Appendix M, lets me assume that the U.S. is still torturing people abroad. Why else would it keep those legal holes open?

All this is only to discuss how torture is still practiced in prosecuting the War on Terror (or as it’s called now, the Overseas Contingency Operations). It’s an entirely different story about the United States practicing torture in its system of mass incarceration through solitary confinement, which “human beings experience…as torture,” according to Dr. Atul Gawande.

  1. Reactionary Heroes

The release of the torture report has lead to some strange scenes. Teju Cole, for instance, a longtime critic of American imperialism, thanked Dianne Feinstein “for [her] service” in the pages of the New York Times. Dianne Feinstein has long been a supporter of almost every imperialist venture the US has embarked upon. Her husband’s status as a member of a lucrative government contractor also makes her, quite literally, a war profiteer.

As for John McCain, this release affords him to playact the maverick that the media needs to remind everyone that he is. It’s also erased the fact that in 2008 McCain fought to exempt the CIA from a torture restriction.

Besides Feinstein and McCain, the biggest hero in the release of the torture report has been John Kiriakou, the CIA case officer who first blew the whistle on the CIA’s torture program. As is typical of National Security whistleblowers, Kiriakou is deeply conservative, a “patriotic” spy whose “Letters from Loretto” penitentiary spend a lot of time railing against the FBI. A common theme of his letters are slams against the FBI for their dishonesty, positioning the CIA—who’ve spent over a decade running a global torture and assassination program—as the honest Agency.

At least the Snowden case gave Americans a fresh face, who only exposed his retrograde beliefs gradually. The Senate torture report has boosted “heroes” who are some of the past decade’s most imperialist figures.

  1. Power-Serving Solutions

Jane Mayer, who’s written more about America’s post-9/11 torture regime than any other journalist, wrote in the New Yorker that “torture is becoming just another partisan issue.” Particularly given the incoming Republican-majority Senate, torture accountability seems like a position that the Democrats can own after having tacitly endorsed it. According to Mayer, Feinstein “proved that Congress can still perform its most basic Madisonian function of providing a check on executive-branch abuse,” while “By contrast, the new report, even before it was released, came under attack from Republicans.” Soon, newly minted transparency and accountability heroine Feinstein will be out, replaced by Republican Richard Burr, “a staunch defense and surveillance hawk,” according to Joshua Eaton at Al Jazeera. “At the same time, one of the intelligence community’s most outspoken voices, Mark Udall, will leave the committee after losing re-election last month.” The departure of the Democrats “threatens to stall attempts to reform the nation’s surveillance laws and avoid transparency about the CIA’s controversial interrogation program,” Eaton says. The narrative, as it’s taken hold, paints a clear distinction between Democrats and Republicans on this issue.

For a Democratic party seeking to reinvigorate its increasingly apathetic base after what Dr. Cornel West calls “a Wall Street and drone presidency,” this is a great branding opportunity. One of Obama’s first decisions in office was to immunize torturers. However, with a Republican Congressional majority imminent, this is a perfect chance for the soon-to-be-helpless Democrats to act like they’d been champions of transparency all along.

For those who remember the now-ancient years of Bush’s second term, the reason proffered to vote for Democratic representatives in 2006 was to stop the Bush agenda. Then, Democrats still couldn’t do anything without a Democrat in the White House. Once Americans gave the Democratic party the veto-proof Democratic supermajority that they needed for some sweet Change, they discovered that relatively little could get done in the face of Republican intransigence. Increasing numbers of Americans see little hope in the two-party system, but the torture report provides a golden opportunity for the Democrats to burnish their image anew.

The report puts torture back in the contested category it once enjoyed. Democrats can once again compel their supporters to go to the polls to vote against torture and in favor of transparency—just like they did in 2006 and 2008, and by recycling the exact same rhetoric. That Hillary Clinton is making a public show of denouncing torture and praising the report’s release is a sign that this is exactly what’s going to happen. Clinton, who supported torture and is “a walking profanity” embodying the worst American corporatism and imperialism, signals that the Democrats are interested in play-act opposition to torture once again, after years of tacit approval.

Beyond just the Democrat/Republican modality, the torture report is functioning as a whitewash for the entire American project. There’s the predictable “rally ‘round the flag” effect—the idea that only America could produce a work of decency and introspection like a report on its own torture program.

Then there’s the hand-wringing over how aberrant torture is—how America lost its way—and accompanying appeals to return to an imagined past. “When I was growing up,” a typical missive goes, “Americans thought of torture as a tactic used by history’s villains.” It’s true, America thought of torture as a uniquely evil tactic, while committing it covertly and teaching it to its proxies. While the author of the above passage was growing up, learning that torture was the sole domain of dictators and terrorists, the US was exporting torture expertise throughout the Southern Cone.

Torture has been with the US since its foundation—what could the treatment of African slaves be called besides that? Overseas torture programs also date back at least to the counterinsurgency to subjugate the Philippines at the birth of the 20th century. So the idea that the CIA torture program was a unique, momentary evil that erupted from the minds of Dick “work the dark side” Cheney and John “the President can crush a baby’s testicles” Yoo serves to conveniently whitewash America’s history as a white supremacist and imperial entity. The release of the torture report is propagating these narratives even as it seems to challenge power.

  1. An Erasure of Substantive Leftist Beliefs

Adolph Reed has written about how one of the ideological functions of neoliberalism is to erase substance from politics, and leave only empty signifiers. “Being a progressive is now more a matter of how one thinks about oneself than what one stands for or does in the world.” The Snowden drama was remarkable for how much it divorced substantive leftist politics from a position called “leftist.” Leftists went to the mattresses for a journalist’s right to redact, hoard, and genuflect to NatSec concerns. “Marxists, anarchists, libertarians and Occupy activists now call a billionaire by his first name”:Pierre. The Snowden leaks told the left some information about bulk collection in exchange for dragging it rightward.

The torture report is so far succeeding in erasing more of the left. Anthony Romero, the executive director of the ACLU, published a New York Times op-ed calling for Obama to pardon the Bush administration. “If the choice is between a tacit pardon and a formal one, a formal one is better. An explicit pardon would lay down a marker, signaling to those considering torture in the future that they could be prosecuted.” Besides the obvious inversion of reality evinced by Romero’s position, and the childish treatment of “the law” as some supernatural Platonic construct, it’s literally the ACLU advocating pardons for war crimes. Stephen Walt reiterated this position in a Foreign Policy piece that compared Chelsea Manning to Dick Cheney. A few days later, he tweeted this:

Merry Christmas, torturers. #empathy

A few days after Romero’s op-ed, the ACLU published a piece titled “CIA Agents Said ‘No’ to Torture.” The reason people are discussing the torture report is because CIA personnel said “yes” to torture, but the ACLU is here to remind Americans that #NotAllSpies chose to commit this offense to human dignity. These case officers and analysts the ACLU is celebrating held fast to their day jobs assassinating people, subverting foreign democracy, or otherwise manifesting “the ruling class’s determination to retain power and privilege.”

Those who did torture were, shockingly, not even trained torturers. This is according to one narrative that’s cropped up, echoed by progressive outlets like Mother Jones and lawyers for prisoners’ rights group Reprieve. Deferring to the state’s euphemisms for torture, Mother Jones says that “Extreme interrogations…went on for more than three months before CIA officers received any sort of training in the new techniques from anyone.” For some, evidently, the problem is that CIA torturers hadn’t been briefed on proper torture techniques. This probably resulted in total amateur mistakes like threatening to murder their mothers instead of sisters, or blasting Metallica for 8 hours when they should’ve been blaring Marilyn Manson. Maybe liberal outlets were too quick to pounce on the $80 million payments to those two torture psychologists, since there were too few torture-professionals rather than too many.

Whatever the celebrity left believes their positions to be, many of their concerns don’t seem particularly left-wing. Even less than a month into the torture report drama, we’ve seen calls for pardons, celebrations of CIA spies, and a focus on improper torture techniques and insufficiently trained torturers. With heroes like Feinstein and McCain at the center of this, there’s no rightward boundary for how far the left can slide.

  1. The Fetishizing of Information

In the end, the fetish for information above all else is reified. If only the public learns the truth, if only the lawyers who overwhelmingly staff human rights groups have more direct evidence, something will change. Each revelatory event is also presented as the proverbial Big One, restarting the cycle from scratch. There have been diminishing returns, but the salesmanship is just as enthusiastic.

Shahid Buttar, the executive director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, called the torture report “the most important document revealing crimes of the intelligence agencies since the Pentagon Papers.” The Snowden leaks, Wikileaks and Cablegate, the Washington Post’s “Top Secret America”—all these events didn’t accomplish much since this is the event we’ve been waiting for. Buttar harkens back to the Pentagon Papers, which have become the Ur-Leak Event in all these conversations. Daniel Ellsberg himself adds to the mystique of each event by coming out and saying he’s been waiting his whole life for it (free idea for The Onion: “Daniel Ellsberg can’t remember all the people who are the next Daniel Ellsberg”).

The narrative that This Is The Leak Event We’ve Been Waiting For serves to keep the public interested in supporting leftish groups like the ACLU, whose lawyers can now meet standing requirements and prepare the relevant briefs. It also resets the clock, convincing a new group of people that justice is imminent while the ruling class manages increasingly favorable outcomes. The Snowden spectacle worked out so well that the torture report offers more reactionary ideas for even less new information.

The idea that information itself, especially information you’re not supposed to possess, is its own good is an article of faith. There’s additional pressure because pointing out that revelatory information is already publicly available is associated with the political right. When someone points out that the information isn’t “new,” it’s usually a crass attempt at smarmy self-promotion or a diversionary tactic from a party with some stake in derailing the inquiry (Mark Ames once wrote “you can always tell a paid troll by their ‘nothing new here’ nonsense”).

However, the left can’t embrace these events without interrogating them more than is going on now. As it stands, the ruling class is being strengthened by these spectacles, and seeing their power further entrenched. Most insidiously, with each info-drama, the left is being purged of actual leftist substance. The idea that’s reflexively invoked, “at least now we know,” is wrong—there’s more than that going on. As Chris Floyd said:

Yet revelations of these machinations, of government/corporate crime or “excesses,” have made no difference. Nothing changes, because the commanding heights of politics and media are in the hands of people deeply committed to preserving the system that gives them wealth and power.

We live in an age of revelation. There has never been era in which so much clear and glaring evidence of so many horrific crimes and abuses by state and private power has been so widely and freely available. Year after year, the revelations pile up. None of it makes any difference. Instead, power doubles down.

The truth alone might not set us free. Powerful entities are working to see it does nothing, or even make us less free in the end.

Update: additional reading– “Liberals vs. Radicals on the Power of Information



Issue 299
November/December 2016
Brave New Worlds

By Paul Kingsnorth

Paul Kingsnorth argues that ‘progressive’ green thinkers have been seduced by the EU and bypassed by a modern-day Peasants’ Revolt.


Illustrations by Edd Baldry

In his introduction to the 1979 edition of his novel Pig Earth – the first in a trilogy chronicling the decline of peasant life in Europe in the 20th century – John Berger makes a distinction between what he calls a “culture of progress” and a “culture of survival”. The culture of progress, he says, “was born with the bourgeoisie as an ascendant class, and has been taken over by all modern theories of revolution”. In the contemporary West, virtually every political ideologue – capitalists, communists, liberals, modern conservatives – is in this sense a progressive. They believe in constant improvement, constant change: their differences amount, says Berger, to “a fight about the content of progress”.

The culture of survival, by contrast, is the culture of the peasantry, of Indigenous people; of pre-modernity. It is the culture of the great majority of human history, and of many people still, and it is exemplified for Berger by the French peasantry among whom he still lives. A culture of survival does not have an end goal: it just is. Its purpose is to live from day to day and year to year. It is a repeating pattern. The end goal of the culture of progress, meanwhile, is at its grandest the abolition of death itself. For this goal, the destruction of traditional ways of being and seeing, and much of the world’s wild beauty, is a sacrifice worth making.

Back in 1979, the peasantry of France, and across Europe, was haemorrhaging from the land. This was no accident: it was a planned extinction, and Berger was quite clear who the agents were – the European Economic Community, as it then was. “The economic planners of the EEC”, he wrote, “envisage the systematic elimination of the peasant by the end of the century. For short-term political reasons, they do not use the word elimination but the word modernisation. Modernisation entails the disappearance of the small peasants (the majority) and the transformation of the remaining minority into totally different social and economic beings.”

Forty years on, the process of elimination (sorry, “modernisation”) in Western Europe is complete, and the EEC – now the EU – is turning its attention to Eastern Europe. The destruction of the peasantry, and the naturally diverse landscapes they inhabited and created, is now being rolled out in Romania, Poland, Hungary and other EU nations. The epic destruction created by Europe’s Common Agricultural Policy – the wiping out of hedgerows, forests and wildlife, landscape features, small and family farms, and the promotion of industrial farming and agricultural free trade – has arguably done more damage to the rural landscapes of Europe in fifty years than any other single instrument in the previous five hundred.

Back in the 1970s, when Berger was writing, most radical thinkers, including most greens, were clear about the damage being wrought by the undemocratic, bureaucratic and centralised European Economic Community. E.F. Schumacher, Leopold Kohr, Edward Goldsmith, Tony Benn and many others could be heard making a clear case against the culture of progress it represented. Unelected, created by stealth, operating in the interests of big business, the EEC had a clear aim: to diminish, if not abolish, the democratic sovereignty of European nations, and to “pool” that sovereignty in the interests of creating a giant, borderless free-trade zone. Though it was dressed up with talk of peace, equality and brotherhood, it was, as its name implied, primarily an economic edifice. Its culture of progress was a culture of homogenisation, centralisation, control and profit.

Fast forward four decades, and what is now the European Union has been highly successful in achieving this aim. From a six-nation free-trade zone, it has morphed into a 28-nation superstate with its own currency, its own government and its own laws, which apply equally to all member states regardless of their specific cultures and traditions. It has removed “barriers to trade” within its border, including local ways of living, national laws and, most controversially, the right of nation-states to control inflows of people from elsewhere. Accountability, distinctiveness and localism have been crushed beneath its weight.

“Whenever something is wrong,” wrote Leopold Kohr in his classic book The Breakdown of Nations, “something is too big.” Virtually everything in the EU is too big these days, and it shows. The impossibility of maintaining one financial model for 28 nations has required the EU to cast the people of its poorer periphery nations, from Ireland to Greece to Spain to Portugal, into debt peonage or mass unemployment in order to keep its superstate dream alive: something it has done with extreme ruthlessness. The economic crisis this has caused, combined with the cultural and social impact of its open borders policy, has led to the rise of far-right parties in many EU nations: the very thing defenders of the union say it exists to counter. Economically, culturally and politically, the giant is staggering: giants always do. Small, after all, is beautiful, right?

So you would think that when a major nation like Britain chose to leave the EU and forge its own path, there would be some celebration amongst greens. It’s true, of course, that the EU has been the progenitor of a number of beneficial environmental regulations (imposed upon nation-states, rather than created and passed into law by their own parliaments, of course). But do they make up for the damage it has done to agriculture, to cultural distinctiveness, to the wildlife and the soil, to democracy? It’s an impossible calculation to make, but whatever side you come down on there should, at the very least, surely be a good degree of healthy scepticism amongst greens about the nature and future of the European Union.

And yet, most greens – most people who consider themselves in any way radical, in fact – seem to be crying into their muesli about Brexit. Or, worse, instead of simply complaining, many who voted Remain have been launching vicious attacks on those who chose to leave the union. Idiots! Racists! Selfish old fools! If only they had known what they were talking about, if only they had been properly educated, if only they hadn’t believed the nasty right-wing newspapers, they would have seen that their future lay with a sclerotic, unaccountable bureaucracy and its friends in big business.


It’s been astonishing to watch. With a few notable exceptions – Green Party peer Jenny Jones, for example – green and supposedly “alternative” politicians, thinkers and public figures have thrown in their lot with the EU’s domineering culture of progress: and not just tentatively, but with huge enthusiasm. The decision to leave has been treated by some of them not as an opportunity, a throwing off of shackles or even simply a change that must be accommodated, but as a national disaster.

What is going on here? The EU violates just about every green principle going. It is the opposite of local; it is destructive to the natural world; it wipes out cultural distinctiveness; it is anti-democratic; it puts the interests of banks and corporations before the interests of its working people. Why – when – how – did the green movement abandon its commitment to localism and democracy, and jump into bed with a beast like this?

One answer, I would suggest, is that the European Union has become a symbol rather than a reality. I would guess that very few people who voted to either leave the EU or remain in it know much at all about how it actually works. Rather, they voted for or against what it symbolised to them. To those in favour, the EU is a symbol of continental cooperation, cosmopolitanism, free movement of people (and money, of course), and other such wholesome things. To oppose the EU, by contrast, represents nationalism, racism, small-mindedness and a lack of a university degree: all things against which most self-described “progressives” instinctively react. In other words, this is not a rational debate about the benefits or otherwise of a political union. It is a whose-side-are-you-on? battle: and increasingly, it is split along class lines.

Class has always been the fault line running down the middle of the green movement, and with the Brexit vote it has been exposed. Those who voted to leave wanted to regain democratic control of their nation. They wanted a voice, because many of them felt perpetually ignored. The working classes and the lower middle classes – not the cultural or political elites – pulled off a kind of modern-day Peasants’ Revolt, against the advice of every section of the establishment. The greens could have been on their side, making the case for relocalising power, reclaiming national democracy, and creating environmental and social regulations that apply specifically to this island and its bioregions. That’s what localism looks like, after all.

But the case was never made. Why? Perhaps because few greens come from the social classes that have been affected negatively by the EU and its part in the globalisation project. The greens have always been a movement primarily of educated, middle-class intellectuals. Unlike either the socialist left or the conservative right, they have never had a popular movement behind them, and at times like this it shows. Have many green voters had their wages undercut by mass migration? Have many eco-intellectuals felt unheard and unloved as the global liberal project rolls onward? Or have they been in the vanguard? At a moment when all is up for grabs – when an optimistic, genuinely radical case could be made for relocalising Britain – the greens, and the left generally, look like marooned members of an elite, clinging to each other for support, and wondering what just happened. They suddenly look very… well, conservative.

This, I would also suggest, is related to another problem that the green movement suffers from. A distinctive green politics has been subsumed over the last few decades into the broader politics of the “progressive”, globalist left. Once, the greens challenged that culture of progress on both left and right, and ploughed their own, ecocentric furrow, seeking to reconnect people with Nature, the planet and their local communities, trying to forge a new political narrative and language. But all this has long gone. Today, green politics is a subset of the fringe left: promoting top-down solutions and regulations; campaigning against “austerity” in a way that suggests that growth is a solution rather than a problem; pushing for open borders regardless of the social impact on the poorest third of society, and regardless of the population growth and consequent environmental destruction it causes. Once a radical political movement, the greens now look like social democrats with solar panels.

The final answer to the puzzle comes from the change in the green relationship to the state. Once, greens were suspicious of the size and power of both states and corporations. Today, though, much of the “green left”, true to the tradition of British state socialism, seems to see the state as a defender of the people against the market. If this is how you see things, then a superstate is a superdefender. This explains how we have got to the position where much of the green left appears to view the European Union as a benevolent sugar daddy, defending Britain against both corporations and its own elected government.

What can be done about this? As Britain prepares to leave the EU, it seems an urgent question. An exciting, radical case for a rejuvenated British democracy, free from EU bureaucracy, is there for the taking. If we are no longer subject to the dictates of the Common Agriculture Policy or the Common Fisheries Policy, for example, surely it is possible to at least propose a much more sustainable ways of managing the land and seas. The greens should be right in at the heart of this debate. But they are not. And until they start to understand why people voted to reject the EU, their message is likely to go unheard.

Something genuinely radical has just happened in Britain. A potential crack has opened in the culture of progress, and it has been opened not by intellectuals, ideologues or political philosophers, but by 17.4 million ordinary people. “Progressives” like to claim to speak on behalf of the “grass roots”: now they have seen what the grass roots looks like. If ever there were a moment that was ripe for the seizing, this is it. It could go in any direction now. What will the greens do?


[Paul Kingsnorth is a writer, former deputy editor of the Ecologist, and a co-founder of The Dark Mountain Project. His new novel, Beast, was published in July this year. He lives in Ireland.]

Further Reading:

June 27, 2016: So This is Brexit and What Have We Done

July 3, 2016:The Grief of the Elites [Excerpt: “The middle class left, which dominates Britain’s cultural conversation and assumes its right to guide it, is full of rage. This excellent piece dissects it, suggesting that ‘the disconnect between the majority of the voting public and the liberal left is vast, full of snobbery and is only growing.’ It seems that way from here. Who are these stupid, ageing, white, working-class idiots who have just destroyed our children’s’ glorious future, they demand? It’s a rhetorical question. They don’t seem interested in speaking to anyone who voted to leave. It is much easier to caricature them as racist bigots who need to get with the progressive future.”]

Leonardo DiCaprio, the Malaysian Money Scandal and His “Unusual” Foundation

Hollywood Reporter

August 17, 2016

By Gary Baum

According to the Justice Department, certain donations to the Oscar winner’s charity came directly from a multibillion-dollar embezzlement drama in Southeast Asia.

On the evening of July 20, under a tent at a vineyard in St. Tropez brimming to his specifications with booze, billionaires and babes, Leonardo DiCaprio was preparing to host one of the glitziest charitable events of the year: the third annual fundraiser for his Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation. Earlier that same day, under far less glamorous auspices half a world away, the U.S. Department of Justice was filing a complaint with the U.S. District Court in downtown Los Angeles that suggested the recent Oscar winner is a bit player in the planet’s largest embezzlement case, totaling more than $3 billion siphoned from a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund called 1MDB.

While the complaint does not target DiCaprio — he’s referred to twice in the 136-page document and only as “Hollywood Actor 1” — the scandal shines an unfamiliar light on the charitable foundation of the most powerful actor in Hollywood thanks to the way the LDF has benefited directly from DiCaprio’s relationship with key figures in the saga. And much like the gala in St. Tropez, with its expressions of one-percenter excess ostensibly in support of saving the environment (guests helicoptering in to dine on whole sea bass after watching a short film about the dangers of overfishing), a closer look at the LDF itself raises questions about its ties to the 1MDB players as well as the lack of transparency often required (or offered in this case) for the specific structure the actor has chosen for his endeavor.

From left: Constance Jablonski, Joan Smalls, Doutzen Kroes, Lily Donaldson and Anja Rubik were photographed just before the July 20 Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation gala in St. Tropez.

Set up not as a nonprofit but instead as a donor-advised fund (DAF) attached to the California Community Foundation, which is a nonprofit, the LDF therefore is not required to file itemized public disclosures about its own revenue, expenditures and disbursements. “It’s difficult to characterize the giving of the DiCaprio Foundation because its status as part of the CCF makes it impossible to look at its finances,” industry trade journal Inside Philanthropy noted in 2015.

Despite repeated efforts, DiCaprio, 41, the LDF and the CCF all declined to fully answer fundamental questions related to transparency and accountability of the foundation — a decision that disappoints charity experts consulted by THR. “Everything might be perfectly fine, but we don’t know,” says Aaron Dorfman, president of the Washington, D.C.-based National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, of the LDF.

Among the questions asked: Who pays for the LDF’s six-member staff (the CCF is not allowed to cover the expense) as well as underwrites the events and other operating costs? What’s the total overhead, and how much of the money raised goes into operations versus charitable grants?

DiCaprio (right) with LDF global finance chairman Gatsby at the 2014 gala.

Also, is the LDF’s global finance chairman, Milutin Gatsby — a Serb likely originally known as Gijic — operating under a pseudonym? (Yes, Gatsby-and-Gatsby jokes were on the lips of just about everyone at the St. Tropez event.) The LDF wouldn’t make Gatsby available for comment.

(It also is unclear whether the DOJ will try to recoup 1MDB assets donated to the LDF. The Justice Department would not comment, other than to say this is an ongoing investigation. THR has learned, however, that charities are not off-limits in such asset-seizure cases.)

Multiple attendees who spoke to THR describe the annual LDF galas as freewheeling bacchanals in which wives feel outnumbered by suspiciously predisposed Slavic women in bustiers and couples openly cavort in the bathroom stalls. At the July 20 event in St. Tropez, where tickets started at $11,778 (10,500 euros) DiCaprio greeted a roomful of approximately 500 partygoers, including oligarchs (Dmitry Rybolovlev), supermodels (Naomi Campbell) and plenty of fellow A-listers, among them Bono, Charlize Theron, Tobey Maguire, Robert De Niro, Scarlett Johansson, Jonah Hill, Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

From left: Kroes, Saudi producer Mohammed Al Turki, Smalls and Alessandra Ambrosio at the LDF gala.

Notably absent this year was Jho Low, 35, the bespectacled Malaysian businessman and party boy at the center of the 1MDB scandal who, at least as early as 2010, became a regular drinking buddy of DiCaprio’s (the biggest star on a roster of Low’s celebrity friends that includes Paris Hilton, Jamie Foxx and Alicia Keys). Low, notorious for stunts like sending 23 bottles of Cristal to Lindsay Lohan for her 23rd birthday at the club 1OAK in Las Vegas in 2009, is alleged in the DOJ complaint to have used roughly $1 billion in 1MDB funds for a personal shopping spree. This included the acquisition of a $31 million penthouse in Manhattan’s Time Warner Center, once occupied by Jay Z and Beyonce, and a $39 million Hollywood Hills mansion a few doors down from DiCaprio.

Low, who graduated from Wharton School of Business in 2005, in 2009 was brought into the inner circle of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak as an adviser on a precursor to the 1MDB wealth fund. Despite only earning the bit-part title of “Malaysian Official 1” in the Justice Department complaint, Razak is the key figure at the heart of the scandal. But it’s Razak’s stepson Riza Aziz who provides the link to both Low and DiCaprio. It was Low who introduced Aziz to Joey McFarland, previously Hilton’s party booker, and together they set up Red Granite Pictures. Red Granite eventually would surprise Hollywood insiders by landing the rights to DiCaprio’s passion project The Wolf of Wall Street. The DOJ complaint alleges, however, that the financing for the film came from a $238 million pot of money siphoned from the 1MDB fund. (Red Granite maintains it is cooperating with all inquiries; the company still has an office above DiCaprio’s own Appian Way in a Sunset Strip midrise opposite Soho House West Hollywood.)

The DOJ alleges Low paid for Vincent van Gogh’s La Maison de Vincent a Arles using money from the 1MDB fund and an account in Singapore. It was seized by Swiss authorities July 21.

The 1MDB saga has been Hollywood-tinged from the start. Tim Leissner, the Goldman Sachs banker who brokered the deal that set everything in motion, is Kimora Lee Simmons’ husband. (He since has left the firm.) Low was given a “special thanks” in the film’s credits and hailed as a “collaborator” in DiCaprio’s 2014 Golden Globes acceptance speech. The Malaysian returned the favor in grand fashion with splashy bromantic gifts — in one instance, according to the DOJ, he and the Red Granite execs brought DiCaprio along on an $11 million gambling bender in Las Vegas; in another, they reportedly laid out $600,000 to gift him Marlon Brando’s best actor Oscar statuette for On the Waterfront. (DiCaprio — who has a notable habit of buddying up with smooth dudes who end up in federal prison for money crimes, from late investment adviser Dana Giacchetto to art dealer Helly Nahmad — still was several prestige roles away from finally claiming his own.)

They also made donations to DiCaprio’s foundation. At the actor’s birthday party in 2013, Low and McFarland were among those who reportedly helped raise more than $3 million for the charity by buying marked-up bottles of champagne. Earlier that year, diverted 1MDB funds were alleged by the DOJ complaint to have been used by Low to purchase a pair of artworks (for a total of $1.1 million) by Ed Ruscha and Mark Ryden at a Christie’s auction benefiting the LDF (one of many buys during a spending spree that shook the art world). And at the glittering St. Tropez auction held in 2015, with the likes of David Geffen, Paul Allen, Tom Barrack and Harvey Weinstein in attendance, Low offered the LDF a sculpture by Roy Lichtenstein, 1982’s Brushstroke, valued at roughly $700,000. But Low wasn’t there to see it go under the hammer; instead, he is believed to have fled to Taiwan — which has no extradition treaty with the U.S. — as the net of international investigators began closing in.

Roy Lichtenstein’s Brushstroke sculpture

According to the LDF, the July 20 gala raised more than $45 million in funds for global conservation efforts. Yet the organization would provide no documentation to THR to support these and other claims. Due to its unorthodox structure, the LDF is not obligated to disclose any specifics about its donations and repeatedly has been critiqued in recent years by Inside Philanthropy for its opacity as a prominent celebrity charity. (By comparison, the most recently available 990 IRS nonprofit filing from, for instance, Elton John’s AIDS Foundation, runs 101 pages to account for an entity handling just over $10 million in assets.)

The LDF did provide a statement from its recently hired CEO, Terry Tamminen. He contends that grants of more than $30 million already have been made so far this year and calls the LDF “an incredibly efficient, highly effective philanthropic organization that, through its relationship to the California Community Foundation, is supporting credible organizations that are carrying out some of the most important work on the planet.” In its own statement, the CCF’s senior counsel, Carol Bradford, explains that it “strives to preserve the wishes of our many donors, which can often include anonymity or privacy in their giving choices.”

The LDF wasn’t always a donor-advised fund. For its first decade, it was a small nonprofit run by DiCaprio’s mother, Irmelin, distributing $1.6 million in 2008, its final year before dissolving its status to join the CCF. (DiCaprio’s father, George, and noted economist Jeffrey Sachs, director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University, rounded out the board.)

Low snapped up a Bombardier private jet for $35.3 million.

DAFs increasingly have become preferred giving vehicles in the U.S., largely due to their immediate charitable tax deductions, negligible startup costs and the fact that they’re not subject to the same annual payout requirements as a private foundation. According to a 2015 report published by the National Philanthropic Trust, the number of accounts launched between 2010 and 2014 jumped 29 percent, bringing the total to 238,293. While the most prominent entrant during this period was Mark Zuckerberg’s $2.5 billion charitable effort in 2014, set up at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation and greeted with public criticism over its structure, the NPT says the average account size is $300,000. In a fact sheet the LDF provided to THR, its decision to become a DAF is positioned as one of practicality and efficiency — that the well-regarded, century-old CCF (which manages nearly 1,600 charitable entities totaling $1.5 billion in assets) could assist with due diligence regarding grantees as well as expertly handle backend financial and administrative functions pertaining to donations processing. (The CCF also handles funds for a few other Hollywood figures, including Eva Longoria and, as it happens, Foxx.)

In general, DAFs’ rising popularity, which experts explain also is bolstered by the paucity of red tape in the sector, has brought skepticism. The IRS, according to its web page about the category, now is examining cases (though none are specifically named) of DAFs that “appear to be established for the purpose of generating questionable charitable deductions, and providing impermissible economic benefits to donors and their families (including tax-sheltered investment income for the donors) and management fees for promoters.” (THR has no evidence that the LDF is using the DAF structure in such a way.)

Viceroy L’Ermitage Beverly Hills was bought by a company called Wynton in January 2010, using funds traceable to Low’s bank account, which the DOJ says were misappropriated from the 1MDB development fund.

Philanthropy authorities say the LDF, with its possibly subsidized staff and lavish events — as well as, crucially, its international solicitation apparatus — is a relative anomaly among community foundation DAFs, which typically are far more simple: A donor provides his own money and then advises where it should be spent. “It’s unusual,” says Ann Skeet, a director at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, which examines ethics in businesses and nonprofits. Adds Ray Madoff, head of The Forum on Philanthropy and the Public Good at Boston College Law School, “Typically, Leonardo DiCaprio would gift his own assets to his donor-advised fund rather than using it as a fundraising vehicle.”

That one of the most powerful figures in Hollywood — whom United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in 2014 designated as a U.N. Messenger of Peace, with a special focus on climate change — has been sainted by his professional and social circles for his globe-trotting do-gooding may have permitted him to operate with comparatively little scrutiny so far. Notes Daniel Borochoff, president of Chicago-based CharityWatch: “[DAFs’] structure allows them to shirk accountability. They aren’t obligated to tell you, as a donor, anything. [DiCaprio’s] able to fundraise with one because he’s such a huge international celebrity. If you were an unknown, it would be a lot harder because people would quickly start asking questions.”

Alex Ritman contributed to this report.

This story first appeared in the Aug. 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.


Further Reading:

October 7, 2016: Actor Leonardo DiCaprio dared to debate Malaysian corruption in London

October 15, 2016: Leonardo DiCaprio urged to quit as UN climate advocate over 1MDB links

October 16, 2016: Swiss activists barred from London premiere after telling DiCaprio to repay 1MDB funds

October 18, 2016: Leonardo DiCaprio to pay back dodgy Malaysian funds



The Limits of the Political Vision of the Authors of the Leap Manifesto


October 14, 2016

by Roger Annis


Author and environmentalist Naomi Klein published a feature article in the Globe and Mail‘s edition of Saturday, Sept 24 in which she defends against its detractors the Leap Manifesto issued in Canada in April 2016. Her unique argument in this essay explains that Canada’s “founding economic myth” has been that of the ‘good’ created by the vast pillaging of the country’s natural resources following the arrival of settlers from Europe. She argues that the myth’s endurance helps to explain the failure of Canada’s contemporary capitalist elite to making the necessary political and economic changes in the face of the global warming emergency.

Klein explains that Canada is on course to blow past the already risible greenhouse gas emission targets it assumed at the international climate change conference in Paris in December 2015, including an industry-planned increase of Alberta tar sands production of 43 per cent. The tar sands industry wants to see four new bitumen pipelines built to carry their raw product to foreign markets.

Klein asks, “Why is it so hard for Canadian political leaders, across the political spectrum, to design climate policies that are guided by climate science?”

She explains that to the European mercantilists driving settlement of the Americas, “the so-called New World was imagined as a sort of spare continent, to use for parts. And what parts: Here seemed to be a bottomless treasure trove – fish, fowl, fur, giant trees, and later metals and fossil fuels. And in Canada, these riches covered a territory so vast, it seemed impossible to fathom its boundaries.”

“Again and again in the early accounts, the words “inexhaustible” and “infinite” come up – to describe old growth forests, beavers, great auks, and of course cod (so many, they ‘stayed the passage’ of John Cabot’s ships).” (Cabot was an early British explorer of the North Atlantic.)

Klein makes an unconvincing comparison between settlement of the U.S. and Canada, saying that the absence in Canada of a slave-powered agricultural economy gave an especially acute dimension to natural resource pillaging compared to what occurred in the United States. But her main point stands–that the ideology of “unlimited” natural resources available for plunder is deeply rooted in Canada’s dominant historical narrative. It’s a useful insight for educating today’s population about the dangerous consequences of such an abiding myth.

That said, Klein’s essay regretfully provides little hint of an alternative to the founding myth she deftly critiques. She makes a characteristic argument that happens to be inaccurate and also misleading when she writes:

“… Other countries are moving ahead with policies that begin to reflect the scientific realities. Germany and France have both banned fracking.

“Even in the United States, there is a wider spectrum of debate. The new platform of the Democratic Party, for instance, states that no new infrastructure projects should be built if they substantively contribute to climate change – essentially the same position that caused all the outrage around The Leap Manifesto…”

Any comparison to the Leap Manifesto, a genuinely radical critique of the environmental status quo, and lofty but empty words by the U.S. Democratic Party is quite misplaced. The comparison illustrates that the higher up the media chain where Naomi Klein speaks, the farther she detaches herself from any critique of capitalism as being the root cause of the global warming emergency. In fact, notwithstanding the sub-title–‘Capitalism Vs. The Climate’—of her 2014 best-selling book, there is very little hard, anti-capitalist critique in her writings and speeches.


That is also true of the many uncritical reviews of the book which have been published and of the manifesto itself.[1]. The manifesto was issued in April 2016 in an effort to spark serious discussion in the moribund New Democratic Party (Canada’s party of the soft left) and in Canadian society more broadly concerning the global warming emergency. (Read the manifesto here: The Leap Manifesto: A Call for a Canada Based on Caring for the Earth and One Another.)

To wit…

Avi Lewis expounds on the Leap Manifesto

A co-author to Klein of the Leap Manifesto, Avi Lewis, engaged in a two-hour debate about the document in Ottawa on Sept 15, 2016 together with Thomas Homer-Dixon. The debate is broadcast on the CPAC cable television channel and website. Lewis’ contributions to the debate provide insight into the strengths as well as weaknesses of the political outlook of the manifesto and its authors.

Lewis’ debating adversary authored a Globe and Mail op-ed in April 22, 2016 opposing the central tenets of the Leap Manifesto. It was titled ‘Start the Leap revolution without me‘. Thomas Homer-Dixon is the CIGI chair of global systems at the Balsillie School of International Affairs at the University of Waterloo, Ontario.

Homer-Dixon argued in the debate that while he appreciates the sentiments underlying the Leap Manifesto and even acknowledges that the economic system of “capitalism” is a contributing cause of the global warming emergency, he says there are many more causes at play. He calls the Leap Manifesto “divisive” and says it is “muddled” due to the excessive breadth of the issues it addresses. He also says the focus of the manifesto on “capitalism” as the source of global warming is misdirected; there are many additional sources unrelated to capitalism.

Lewis’ lead-off in the debate is a sharp critique of what he describes as the excesses of “capitalism”. His explicit use of the term is in contrast to the speeches and interviews of Naomi Klein as well as the texts of ‘This Changes Everything’ and the Leap Manifesto itself.

Lewis says that nothing short of a frontal challenge to the expansion dynamic of capitalism is required if rising greenhouse gas emissions causing global warming are to be slowed and eventually reversed. But later in the exchange, Lewis steps back from this central argument. He says the heart of the problem with capitalism is the variant he calls “extractivism”.

Lewis considers “extractivism” to be a distinct phase and element of the capitalist system, saying that capitalism and extractivism emerged in parallel at the outset of the industrial revolution. He calls the surge of human economic pillaging emanating from Europe in the early stages of mercantile expansion “extractivism” and “colonialism”. These were then “turbocharged” by “industrialism”.

This method of analyzing the parts of a social phenomenon distinct from one another leads to a failure to properly understand the whole. While Lewis acknowledged in his talk that the expansion dynamic of industrial capitalism is why the global warming emergency is upon us and is proving so intractable to solve, his division of the constituent whole–capitalism–into seemingly distinct parts–extractivism, colonialism, etc–confuses the subject.

What is the alternative?

The reader can listen to Avi Lewis in the debate with Thomas Homer-Dixon and then judge for himself or herself his proposed political response to the global warming crisis.

He begins rather well. He says there must be a “systematic challenge to every major pillar of our current economic order” if the world is to successfully confront the global warming challenge. He says a victory on the “ideological level” over capitalism is required to create the political conditions to overcome the crisis. He suggests six necessary themes to that ideological challenge:

* Governments must lead the fight against global warming. No other entity in society commands the necessary resources and authority to do so. (Lewis then provides another misleading tangent, saying that what is needed today is a societal mobilization similar to the one sparked by the fight against German Nazism in World War Two. The problem here is that the outcome of WW2—the victory of the U.S.-led imperialist alliance–laid the foundation for the vast expansion of consumerist capitalism which today threatens the planet.)

* There should be higher taxes on the wealthy and carbon taxes which discourage Environmentally damaging consumer and industrial purchasing choices.

* Market mechanisms to lower greenhouse gas emissions have failed, Lewis argues, citing the example of the European carbon emissions trading-credit system.

* “We have to smash the austerity mindset once and for all.”

* The ‘free trade’ investment and trade deals of recent decades be torn up.

* Finally, Lewis argued for ending the global consumerism treadmill that impoverishes the global south. “Over-consumption” must be lowered across the board, he says.

Lewis added that transition to a society burning fewer fossil fuels is not a barrier to progress. It is “the wind beneath our wings”.

As refreshing as are Lewis words and proposals, they beg two large sets of action that are required to meet the global warming challenge.

Emergency retrenchment

Nothing short of an emergency retrenchment of all the waste and destructive excess of capitalist production is required today. That means taking radical political and social measure to curb the relentless capitalist expansion dynamic. Without this corollary to action, all the dire warnings of the dreadful consequences of rising average global temperatures merely sow fear and uncertainty. Yet, Lewis and the Leap Manifesto say far too little on this score.

Last month, the CBC reported:

The Leap Manifesto… calls for Canada to be “powered entirely by just renewable energy” within 20 years, to end trade deals that don’t benefit local economies and pitches the idea of a national childcare program and universal basic annual income.

“It’s actually about giving power to those who have been disempowered and it’s about taking some power away from people who have too much,” said [Avi] Lewis.

Taking “some power” away from those who have too much hardly meets the political challenge.

A centrepiece of the Leap Manifesto vision is this: “We could live in a country powered entirely by renewable energy.” But if the production and consumption of “things” were powered by “renewables” instead of fossil fuels, then human society would still be headed for the precipice.

The very notion of “renewable” energy is a dangerous and reckless idea which far too many environmentalists give credence. Basic science tells us that every energy source requires inputs and it has emissions consequences. Hydroelectric dams ruin rivers, lands and forests and are damaging sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Solar panels are made from metals and fossil fuels; vast numbers of them are required if the goal is to replicate the vast quantities of fossil fuel-produced electricity. Electric engines (in vehicles, wind turbines, etc) consume vast quantities of metals and rare earth minerals. Wind energies require storage and back-up systems. All large-scale forms of “renewable” energy production require large-scale transmission systems. And so on.

Any form of large-scale energy production gives rise to large, centralized production and distribution systems, the opposite of the “democratically run” management of energy production called for by the manifesto.

The manifesto does speak, importantly, of “Moving to a far more localized and ecologically-based agricultural system would reduce reliance on fossil fuels, capture carbon in the soil, and absorb sudden shocks in the global supply – as well as produce healthier and more affordable food for everyone.” But this is a lot more radical and difficult than it sounds, as can also be said about the total re-casting of urban design with which capitalism has saddled the planet for many generations to come.

What form of government is needed to meet the climate challenge?

Lewis correctly states that government action is required to lead society out of the looming emissions calamity on the planet. But what kind of government is he talking about and on what scale? A lesser-evil variant such as the present Liberal government in Ottawa or a Hillary Clinton-led Democratic Party government in the United States?

What social classes have the interest and organizing capacity to lead the formation of governments that would act in the interest of society as a whole and not simply on behalf of the tiny, capitalist elite? What kind of political parties are required to achieve such a government?

These and other such important questions go unanswered in the world of Leap. We get a certain hint of an answer in this CBC Radio report on Sept 17:

Lewis compared the Leap movement to the Indignados, Spain’s anti-austerity movement that became a political party, and Bernie Sanders supporters in the United States, who are still trying to figure out what to do after his concession.

“It’s a critical question… I think the social forces in Canada need to be more than movements but less than parties,” Lewis said. “We have to be careful to not denigrate the power of grassroots action.”

“Less than parties”? Lewis’ statement came around the same time of his announcement that he would not run for the leadership of the NDP, disappointing many left-wing and environmental activists. So where does that leave us? Protest, and protest some more, all the while hoping that some people in high places are listening? But they are not listening; we know that for a fact.

Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein make an important contribution to thought and action on the global warming crisis. They are popular for good reasons. But their vision of the full scope of the global warming crisis and their proposals for what to do are inadequate.

That by itself is not a problem. They are who they are. The problem begins when more radical environmental thinkers and activists, including would-be Marxists, choose not to rock the Leap Manifesto consensus. They opt to limit their vision to the limited outlook of Klein, Lewis and the proposals in the Leap Manifesto.

Complicating matters further in Canada is that leftists and environmentalists are standing around waiting for a Jeremy Corby-type leadership miracle to take place in the NDP or something similar to take place in the conservative, pro-private enterprise Green Party. The urgently needed task of building a broad party of the political left gets left on hold.

This is the subject I addressed in my article six months ago reporting on the outcome of the national convention of the New Democratic Party. Delegates there voted to oust the right-wing party leader, Thomas Mulcair, which was most welcome. But this was mistakenly interpreted by leftists as opening a stage of wholesale renewal of the party. This has not taken place, nor can a deep renewal of the NDP be anticipated so long as there is no independent pressure operating on the party from the left.

My article was titled, ‘Climate change emergency shakes Canada’s corporate establishment and fractures the country’s social democratic party‘. It argued: “The socialist left in Canada has been without effective political voices since the 1970s. Only in Quebec has a partial break been made towards a strong and effective party of the political left, with the formation of Québec solidaire in 2006. Canada and Quebec need a party of the political left which can speak out and organize for socialism.”

Alas, no progress towards a party of the left has been made. The wait for a miracle in the NDP miracle is still on. Yet not a single leadership candidate has come forward to lead the moribund party. It is looking for all the world that the right-wing leadership in the NDP may seek to set aside the April 2016 convention vote and draft Mulcair to stay on as party leader. NDP members of Parliament voted unanimously in August that he stay on as interim leader until a party leadership convention in 2017.

So the gauntlet is still laying there on the ground. Who will pick it up?

[1] One of the few substantive analyses of Naomi Klein’s 2014 best-selling book This Changes Everything was published in January 2015 by a writing collective calling itself ‘Out of the Woods’. Their review was titled ‘Klein vs Klein’ and can be read here.

[Roger Annis is a retired aerospace worker in Vancouver BC. He writes regularly for Counterpunch and compiles his writings on a ‘A Socialist in Canada’. He is an editor of the website The New Cold War: Ukraine and beyond. He can be reached at]

Usefully Dumb and Usefully Dumber: Naomi Klein and Glenn Greenwald

The Rancid Honeytrap

October 23, 2016

By Tarzie



I can’t think of anyone more qualified to hold forth on the Proper Way to Oppose The Ruling Class than wealthy clerks who work for oligarchs. So we who agonize over how to end capitalism while respecting the privacy rights of people who topple governments and spread fascism should be very grateful that ruling class fascism enablers George Soros and Pierre Omidyar kindly put their respective administrative assistants, Naomi Klein and Glenn Greenwald, at liberty to commingle their brands on whether or not disclosure of John Podesta’s emails is a step too far. Spoiler alert: The answer from both is yes.

What is power, wonders Klein. Who gets to decide when it trumps privacy? Am I powerful? Are you? Isn’t the Podesta hack the kind of thing Snowden was protecting us from? I am reminded of the right-wing harassment of climate change activists. Assange seems personally and politically motivated. He doesn’t care how the stakes for this election are so very high. I know a war resister who’s living in a church in Vancouver. He wants a pardon. He’s not aiming to destroy anything. Unlike Assange, he’s principled.

Well, you know, says Glenn, Snowden said that actually trying to change things directly is sociopathic and narcissistic, regardless of how abhorrent those things are. Which is why he handed his documents off to me for curation. So that people could know only the things I think they should know and talk about them. I think Assange is alone now in thinking there is a better way than this for handling leaks. He’s been shut inside that embassy for years and clearly it’s driving him insane.

And so on.

When do these people agonize in the same proportion over Empire’s “collateral damage” as they do over largely hypothetical imperial functionaries who are injured or embarrassed by an attack on power? Where is their handwringing over the nazis Soros and Omidyar helped bring to power in Ukraine?

Fucking Klein shilled for empire’s terrorist proxies in Libya. The “tide of history” she called them. Clearly her awesomely nuanced view of privacy and power does not afford protection from knife rape to an official enemy’s anus; nor, seemingly does a Honduran indigenous activist’s brain enjoy protection from death squad bullets. At least not enough to place the person responsible for these violations outside contention for the presidency in an election with the highest stakes ever. For all her revoltingly stupid blather about privacy, Klein’s concerns are clearly partisan. The leaks are hurting Hillary who, like her, is on the Soros payroll.

I won’t dignify this swamp by further wallowing in it. Trust that Greenwald and Klein continue to make complete asses of people who think that the Celebrity Left’s main purpose is something more lofty than containment and discipline, or that riff raff like Soros and Omidyar are their patrons for any other reason. This is a matter of simple fucking common sense. It’s sickening that it’s still subject to debate.



Enough of CIA’s ‘Enough Project’ in Africa! [Avaaz, International Crisis Group, Center for American Progress]

Libya360 | Internationalist News Agency

Cross-posted from TeleSUR

October 7, 2016

By Thomas C. Mountain

The “Enough Project” claims it’s mission is to prevent genocide in Africa, but has been conspicuously silent when it comes to the genocidal famine in Somalia.


WKOG editor: As people finally become aware of Avaaz – as a key instrument of empire – watch for the Enough Project which could, if embraced by the public, become the new NGO assigned to create acquiescence for the destabilization of targeted countries. The Enough Project was co-founded by the Center for American Progress (see below) and the International Crisis Group in 2007. Key partners include Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Oxfam and UNHCR. Enough is a project of the New Venture Fund, and is based in Washington, DC. Its co-founders are John Prendergast (former Director for African Affairs at the National Security Council) and Gayle Smith (current administrator of the United States Agency for International Development).


“ENOUGH operates under the umbrella of the Democratic Party’s corporate funded propaganda and influence peddling operation, The Center for American Progress (CAP).” Former Democratic congressman and Avaaz co-founder Tom Perriello served as President and CEO of the Center for American Progress Action Fund and as a Counselor for Policy at Center for American Progress until July of 2015 when he was appointed Special Envoy for the African Great Lakes and the Congo-Kinshasa by the White House.

“The Enough Project focuses on Africa” – Sudan, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, northern Uganda, and the Horn of Africa.


The Enough Project has worked hand-in-hand with Avaaz in the past.

Perriello and Avaaz co-founder Ricken Patel also co-founded and co-directed which officially launched in 2004. “ is a project of Avaaz co-founder Res Publica, a group of public sector professionals dedicated to promoting good governance and virtuous civic cultures.”Today, this organization is now known as “Darfurian Voices”: “Darfurian Voices is a project of 24 Hours for Darfur.” The U.S. Department of State and the Open Society Institute were just two of the organization’s funders and collaborating partners. Other Darfurian Voices partners include Avaaz, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), International Centre for Transitional Justice, Darfur Rehabilitation Project, Humanity United, Darfur People’s Association of New York, Genocide Intervention, Witness, Yale Law School, The Sigrid Rausing Trust and the Bridgeway Foundation. Of all the listed partners of, with the exception of one located in London, England, all of the entities involved are American and based on U.S. soil.


Despite the carefully crafted language and images that tug at your emotions, such NGOs were created for and exist for one primary purpose – to protect and further American policy and interests, under the guise of philanthropy and humanitarianism.



Enough of the CIA’s “Enough Project” in Africa!

EP, as it is known, was founded by senior U.S. Intel “spook” Gayle Smith, former Senior Director of the National Security Council under President Obama and now head of the USAID/CIA.

Today EP is headed by Ms. Smith’s protégé John Prendergast whose history as head of EP is one of subterfuge and lies in service to Pax Americana.

EP claims it’s mission is to prevent genocide in Africa, as in the name “Enough Project”, yet has been conspicuously silent when it comes to the genocidal famine in Somalia during the Great Horn of Africa Drought in 2011-12 where 250,000 Somali children starved to death.

Recently George Clooney was enjoying 15 minutes of fame as a humanitarian claiming to have exposed massive corruption in South Sudan when he should have been warning the world of the U.N.’s next genocide in Somalia as in 300,000 starving children. Soon the genocide in Somalia will hit its peak with hundreds, up to 1,000 children a day dying from hunger with only a deafening silence emanating from the CIA’s Enough Project.

EP, with support from its big brother the Center for American Progress, only once in its history raised a real genocide, that back in 2007-8 when Gayle Smith was out to political pasture, she being a rabid democrat during the Bush Jr. years in office. Then she was part of the Democrat “opposition” to the Bush regime and oh so briefly raised the food and medical aid blockade in the Ogaden in Ethiopia, where the only instance of both the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders being expelled from a famine stricken region has been allowed.

Once Ms. Smith jumped on the Obama For President bandwagon, no further mention of the genocide in the Ogaden was heard. Today EP is proving its loyalty to Pax Americana by playing huckster for regime change in South Sudan, as in denying China access to African oil via the invasion of “peacekeepers” in the name of Responsibility To Protect of Libyan infamy. The USA has abandoned former “rebel leader” Riek Machar in favor of direct military intervention by the U.N. and the USA’s gendarme in Africa, the African Union.

The Chinese have started to expand their oil production so expect to hear louder cries of outrage from the likes of EP about various crimes and even “genocide” in South Sudan followed by demands for more foreign military intervention in the country.

With all their lies and subterfuge, don’t you think that we here in Africa have had enough of the CIA’s Enough Project?



[Thomas C. Mountain is an independent journalist in Eritrea living and reporting from here since 2006.]


Further reading:

Imperialist Pimps of Militarism, Protectors of the Oligarchy, Trusted Facilitators of War | Part IV

US Behind Massacres in Beni, Congo



Modern Day White Mercenaries in the Congo

Libya 360 Internationalist News Agency

June 17, 2015

by Keith Harmon Snow



Excerpt from the article Western-Backed Terrorism in the Congo: Where is General Laurent Nkunda?

“People are killed every day, here and there,” says one Congolese human rights investigator in eastern Congo.  “U.S. intelligence agents and the organizations they work with produce disinformation favorable to Rwanda and Uganda.  These guys are on someone’s payroll and they have enough money to throw around to their own networks of informants in the Great Lakes region.”


The U.S. and its allies, primarily Australia, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Germany, Holland and Israel, are all part of the networks of multinational interests plundering the natural resources of the Great Lakes countries.  The corporations involved in eastern Congo are never mentioned, and no pictures are ever shown of their networks of exploitation that exist in parallel and coincidence with the violence.

The corporations operating in eastern Congo protected by the media and western intelligence apparatus, but soaked in Congolese blood, include Banro Gold, Casa Mining, Mwana Africa, Loncor, Anglo-Gold Ashanti, Kilo Gold, Moku Gold, Randgold and Alphamin Resources.

Israeli Dan Gertler — one of the Congo’s greatest current enemies — has bought up petroleum operations in the lakes regions on the Uganda-Congo frontier.  Gertler’s political allies in power in Israel have been making deals with Rwanda.  Another Israeli has been awarded oil-drilling rights in Virunga National Park just in the past two weeks after Canadian oil company SOCO International pulled out under public pressure.

Corporations like Alphamin promise to provide community development programs, with all kinds of publicity of their supposed largesse and generosity. Usually these are cheap exchanges, the equivalent of trinkets for land and minerals, the legacy of colonial occupation and theft.

On 10 June 2015, communities dispossessed of lands and livelihoods by Banro Gold in South Kivu began to confront Banro Gold for the substandard homes provided by Banro. “There is trouble in Luhwindja where Banro is exploiting,” reported one Congolese human rights investigator on 10 June 2015. “Banro did nothing to help the locals. The houses they [Banro] built are falling down because people had to abandon them. People are dying from pollution.”

The operations of the big mining companies present in eastern Congo are completely whitewashed by the western press and western mercenaries and intelligence front group organizations like the International Crises Group, International Rescue Committee, ENOUGH, Raise Hope For Congo, the U.S. Committee for Refugees and the Social Science Research Council.[63]


Enough staff and CFCI leaders deliver letter to Avaaz co-founder and Special Envoy Tom Perriello

The reappearance on the ground in Congo of these Rwandan warlords illuminates the apparatus of impunity involving western governments, non-government front organizations, the United Nations, multinational corporations, think tanks, western academia, the genocide industry, and the industries that profit through the creation of careers and markets for the euphemistically named AID, charity, humanitarian relief, conflict-resolution, and development industries.   None of these latter industries would flourish without the market-based manufacture of suffering, despair, disease and deracination, or the market-based production of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees.

As it is with the western human rights corpus “that keeps intact the hierarchical relationships between European and non-European populations,” [64] so it is with all these other industries.  Suffering is big business.


[62][endif] Private communication, 5 May 2015.



[A participant at the 65th Annual Conference on World Affairs, Keith Harmon Snow is the 2009 Regent’s Lecturer in Law & Society at the University of California Santa Barbara.  Some of his reportage, writings, photography and human rights reports can be seen on the web sites: Conscious Being AllianceAll Things Pass & Keith Harmon Snow. keith harmon snow, USA: +1.413.626.3800, 84 Goshen Road, Williamsburg, MA 01096 USA.]

Read the full article:

Western-Backed Terrorism in the Congo: Where is General Laurent Nkunda?


Did Human Rights Watch Sabotage Colombia’s Peace Agreement?

Like the country’s far right, HRW wanted to send human-rights violators to prison more than it wanted to end the war.

The Nation

October 3, 2016


It’s a heartbreaking disaster for the long, intricate peace process, which sought to put an end to Colombia’s more than five-decade-long civil war. That war has claimed hundreds and hundreds of thousands of lives and has displaced millions upon millions of people. The peace deal, which was worked out during years of negotiations, mostly in Havana, was more aspirational than binding, offering hope that one of the world’s longest-running conflicts would come to an end. Now, that deal is in “tatters.” But keep in mind that “no” won with a sliver of a voting majority (less than 1 percent) of a minority (of eligible voters), with turnout low due to, in many precincts, extreme tropical rain, mostly in coastal departments where “yes” won handily.

That bad-weather luck almost wants you to invoke the apocalyptic conclusion to Colombia’s most famous novel, Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, where an unending hurricane washes all away. But the peace might not be lost. Lisa Haugaard, of the indispensable Latin American Working Group, told me, “The Colombian government, fully engaged in finding a negotiated solution, did not do the outreach, socializing, and explaining of the accords that was necessary.  The ‘no’ campaign effectively organized around its negative message. Fortunately, after it was clear the ‘no’ vote narrowly won, both President Santos and FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño pledged that the cease-fire will hold and that they remain committed to peace.”

According to The New York Times, the government and FARC have already announced that they would send diplomats to Havana to begin discussing how to salvage the peace. The FARC responded to the vote by announcing that they remained committed to peace; indeed, the UN has already started disarming the guerrillas. Santos stated that the cease-fire will hold, and the historian Robert Karl, who just wrote a terrific “centuries long history behind Colombia’s peace agreement with the FARC” in The Washington Post, tells me that Santos, as president, has “a good deal of discretionary power” over the military, so let’s hope Santos can keep the security forces on a leash. What Washington, who has spent billions on this war (for the lethal effects of Plan Colombia, see these very useful charts by the Latin American Working Group), will do is unclear. As of early morning Monday, the State Department hasn’t commented.

“No” won because the right wing, led by former President Álvaro Uribe, was able to turn a vote that was supposed to be on peace into a vote on the FARC. The geographic breakdown of the referendum indicates that “no” won in areas where Uribe and his political party have their support. Take a look especially at the department of Antioquia, where Uribe got his political start as a champion of paramilitary death squads. Sixty-two percent of Antioquia’s voters cast “no.” In the department’s capital, Medellín, a city that has been sold in the United States as a neoliberal success story—Modern! Urbane! Fun! Come visit!—63 percent of voters said “no” (for Medellín’s neoliberal “makeover,” see this essay by Forrest Hylton).

Uribe served as president from 2002 to 2010. He is best thought of as a Colombian Andrew Jackson, riding to the top office of his country on the wings of mass murder, rural ressentiment, and financial speculation. As an ex-president, he has been toxic, doing everything he could to keep the war going.

The Colombian elite, especially the retrograde sector Uribe represents, has much to lose with peace: The end of fighting would create a space in which the country’s many social conflicts—having to do with land, labor, and resource extraction—could be dealt with on their own terms, rather than distorted through counterinsurgent politics. And peace would be costly for some sectors, especially for all those Colombians in the “security” business who for years have fed off the Plan Colombia trough.

Polls show that a majority of Colombians favor peace. But Uribe and his allies in the media and congress lied, obfuscated, and scared. They managed to convince a small minority (the 54,000-vote victory margin for “no” is about a quarter of the number of civilians killed or disappeared by the state since the start of the civil war) that the agreement was a giveaway to the FARC and that Santos was “delivering the country to terrorism.” The Times identifies Uribe and the “far right” as the “biggest winner.” The former president “had argued that the agreement was too lenient on the rebels, who he said should be prosecuted as murderers and drug traffickers. ‘Peace is an illusion, the Havana agreement deceptive,’ Mr. Uribe wrote on Twitter on Sunday after casting his ‘no’ vote.” Thus Uribe has forced himself on the bargaining table, with Santos saying, as paraphrased by the Times, that he would be “reaching out to opposition leaders in the Colombian Congress like former President Álvaro Uribe,” with the Times adding that “experts predicted a potentially tortured process in which Mr. Uribe and others would seek harsher punishments for FARC members, especially those who had participated in the drug trade.”

The campaign to keep Colombia’s war going had an unlikely ally: Human Rights Watch. José Miguel Vivanco, the head of HRW’s Americas Watch division, emerged as an unexpected player in Colombian politics when he came out strongly against the “justice” provisions of the peace agreement. Vivanco agreed with Uribe by offering the most dire reading of the agreement possible, saying that perpetrators—in the FARC and the military—of human-rights violations would receive immunity. Vivanco was all over the press in Colombia, with his comments used to build opposition to the accords. Once it became clear that he was lining up too closely with Uribe, he staged a mock public dispute with the former para-president, even while continuing to basically support Uribe’s position (h/t Alejandro Velasco).

That Human Rights Watch played useful idiot to Colombia’s far right was confirmed by its executive director, Kenneth Roth, who on Sunday night gloated about the outcome of the vote on Twitter: “Looks like Colombians aren’t so eager to premise ‘peace’ on effective impunity for FARC’s and military’s war crimes.”

Now what, Ken? What are you going to tweet at these victims of the FARC who came together to urge a “yes” vote? According to the Colombian weekly Semana, those regions that suffered the most deaths at the hands of the FARC were the most supportive of the peace talks. A “paradox,” Semanasaid. Enough was enough, victims and their families said. They are painfully aware—in ways that Roth and Vivanco, with their unaccountable Twitter broadsides against the peace process apparently aren’t—of consequences. And they prove more capable of understanding something that the leaders of Human Rights Watch can’t: that you don’t end a half-century war, with its nearly incomprehensible political history and ever-shifting alliances, by applying legal absolutes. You rather end it by political compromise.



[Greg Grandin teaches history at New York University and is the author, most recently, of Kissinger’s Shadow.]

How the US Manipulates Humanitarianism for Imperialism

Reports from Underground

October 6, 2016

by Steven Chovanec



Image courtesy of Mark Gould

The United States is manipulating humanitarian concern in an effort to protect its proxy militias and its imperial regime-change project in Syria.  The media and intellectual classes are dutifully falling in line, promoting a narrative of military aggression under the cover of “protecting civilians.”  These same “responsibility to protect” arguments led to the invasions of Iraq and Libya, exponentially increasing the massacres, chaos, and proliferation of violent extremism within those countries.  They are hypocritical, designed to further interests of conquest and domination, and will lead to more death and destruction in Syria as well.

The United States has no stake in the wellbeing of Syrian civilians, despite their condemnations of Russia’s offensive in Aleppo.  This is clearly shown in the fact that the people they are supporting are guilty of the same crimes they accuse Russia and Syria of: indiscriminate attacks, targeting of civilians, destruction of schools, hospitals, etc.  Furthermore, the offensive in Aleppo is really no different from what the US did in Manbij, where they are said to have incorporated a “scorched earth policy” while they liberated the city from ISIS, whereby the civilian population was treated “as if they were terrorists or ISIS supporters.”  Arguably their conduct was even worse, as they there earned the distinction of launching the deadliest single airstrike on civilians out of the entire 5-year conflict, massacring at least 73 where no ISIS fighters were present.  The Manbij operation elicited no moral outcry from the media and punditry, understandably since these were “unworthy victims” given that they were our victims and not those of our enemies.  The same can be said about the US operations in Kobani and Fallujah, whereby the entire towns were essentially reduced to rubble without any uproar.

Saudi Arabia as well has no concern for Syrian civilians, as they have been ruthlessly besieging and bombing Yemen, with the support and help of the United States, for two years without any concern for civilian lives.  Their assault has led to a humanitarian situation even more dire than in Syria, leaving at least 19 million in need of humanitarian assistance; in Syria it is estimated that a total of 18 million are in need of aid.

Turkey as well is not concerned, as is evidenced by their conduct towards their Kurdish population, yet the recent quiet by Erdogan over the fate of Aleppo is indicative of an understanding reached between him with President Putin, whereby Turkey establishes a presence in northern Syria and blocks the advance of the Kurds, and in return limits its support to the rebels and the insurgents in Aleppo.

The real reason the US is decrying the Russian operation is the fact that they are staring aghast at the near-term possibility that their proxy insurgency in Aleppo will be defeated.  Not only will this mark the decisive turning point in the war, the rebels all-but being fully overcome with the Syrian government in control of all the populated city centers except Idlib, but others have argued that it could as well mark the end of US hegemony over the entire Middle Eastern region in general.  In other words, the US is trying to turn global public opinion against the Russian effort in an attempt to halt the advance and protect their rebel proxies trapped in Aleppo.

So, who are these rebels?

In short, they are an array of US-supported groups in alliance with and dominated by al-Qaeda.  During the past ceasefire agreement these rebels refused to break ties with al-Qaeda and instead reasserted their commitment to their alliances with the group.  The UN’s special envoy for Syria recently explained that over half of the fighters in eastern Aleppo are al-Nusra (al-Qaeda’s Syria affiliate), while according to the US Department of Defense, it is “primarily Nusra who holds Aleppo.”

Expert analysis concurs, as Fabrice Balanche of the Washington Institute details how these rebel alliances indicate “that the al-Nusra Front dominates more different rebel factions, including those considered ‘moderate.’”  He explains that al-Qaeda’s “grip on East Aleppo has only increased since the spring of 2016.”

It is these fighters, al-Qaeda and their affiliates, that the US is trying to protect from the Russians, and as well other US intelligence operatives that are likely embedded with them.  The narrative that Russia is committing a humanitarian catastrophe is intended to hide this fact, as well as to shift the blame for the suffering in Aleppo off of the US’ shoulders.  Yet it was the US support to the rebels that is primarily responsible for the suffering.

To illustrate this, the people of eastern Aleppo never supported the rebels nor welcomed them.  The rebels nonetheless “brought the revolution to them” and conquered the people against their will all the same.  Of the few reporters who actually went to the city, they describe how Aleppo has been overrun by violent militants through a wave of repression, and that the people only “saw glimmers of hope” as the Syrian army was driving them from the area.  The people decried this “malicious revolution” and characterized the rebel’s rule as a “scourge of terrorism.”  This, of course, was of no concern to the US at the time, who now proclaims to be the “protectors” of the civilians in Aleppo.

Around 200-600,000 of the original population fled and relocated in the government-held western part of the city.  Of the civilians who remain, they are primarily the families of the fighters, who themselves are paid to stay and fight.  The official numbers for those remaining are 200,000, yet the actual number is likely much lower, around 40-50,000.

Nonetheless, the remaining civilians who were trapped within this warzone were prevented from leaving.

During the first ceasefire, humanitarian corridors were opened and the civilians were encouraged by the Syrian army to leave, yet the rebels stopped them, with reports saying they went as far as to shoot at those who tried.  The attempt to evacuate the civilians was condemned by the US, who argued that the innocent people “should be able to stay in their homes.”  The radical groups were using the civilian population as human shields in order to protect themselves, and the US was supporting it.  Further corroborating this is the special UN envoy Steffan de Mistura, who quotes reports indicating that the rebels have been utilizing “intentional placement of firing positions close to social infrastructure, aside and inside civilian quarters.” This is because it has always been the policy of the Syrian government to separate civilians from insurgents, as it is simply much more militarily effective to fight against an enemy that is not ensconced within a civilian population.  Likewise, it has always been US and rebel policy to prevent this separation.

According to a knowledgeable individual with contacts with high level Syrian officials, the US and EU always rejected the Syrian governments proposals to separate civilians from the fighters, as they explained, “because doing so will be helping you win.”  This makes sense, given that if all of the civilians from eastern Aleppo were evacuated there would then be nothing stopping the Syrian army from crushing the remaining fighters, and there as well would be no international outcry over them doing so.  The source explains: “Syria’s war is an urban war theater.  [The] only way for insurgents to compete is to use residential areas to hide and operate out of.  This is in direct contrast to [the] Syrian army who would like to fight a theater totally void of civilians.”

Those claiming to be protecting Aleppo’s civilians from the Russian and Syrian onslaught are in actuality using them as a means to protect their success on the battlefield.

Given this, the strategy of the Syrian government has been to bomb sporadically in order to scare the civilians and force them to flee from areas controlled by the militants.  This is also why the Syrian army just recently halted their advance in order to allow civilians to evacuate; they wanted the civilians out of the picture so they could militarily defeat the rebels more quickly and easily.

If one actually were concerned about saving the civilians in eastern Aleppo it is pretty straight forward that one would try to evacuate the civilians from the area, and that the backers of the rebel groups would put pressure on them to allow this to happen.  From there it would follow that all sides abide by the UN Security Council resolutions of which they agreed to, which call for the suppression of financing, fighters, and support to al-Qaeda, for the suppression of al-Qaeda “and all other entities associated” with them, and “to eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Syria,” of which Aleppo is one of the largest.

Unfortunately, it is only Syria and Russia who are following through on these commitments, while the US and its allies are consciously blocking them.  The media and intellectual opinion are as well falling in line,obscuring from the narrative all of these inconvenient truths that do not support the interests of the policy planners in Washington.  In this way, the media are shown to be completely subservient to state power, drumming up support for another aggressive war based on falsities and half-truths in the exact same way that led to the continuing catastrophes in Libya and Iraq.  When the US was driving ISIS from Manbij, just as Syria is now driving al-Qaeda from Aleppo, killing hundreds of civilians at a time, there was not so much as a debate about it, much less an international outcry.

Yet now there are countless calling to “save” Syrians by bombing them and flooding the warzone with more weapons and fighters, ironically using “humanitarian” concern to call for policies that will lead to even more death and misery.  The rebels are dominated by jihadi extremists, and any further support to them will further strengthen the radicals engaged in a project of ethnic cleansing, conquest, and reactionary theocratic governance.  Bombing would only help to further descend Syria into chaos and death, just as it did in Iraq and Libya.

This is an international proxy war and humanitarian concerns are being manipulated unscrupulously in support of interests having nothing to do with concern for innocent lives.  Don’t fall for this faux humanitarianism from which more war, imperialism, and thus more death and destruction will result.


[Steven Chovanec is a  freelance journalist and independent geopolitical analyst based in Chicago. Bachelors in International Relations with a minor in Sociology at Roosevelt University. Independent, open-source research & analysis into geopolitics and social policy. Follow on Twitter @stevechovanec – Facebook – Tsu – e-mail: schovanec@mail.roosevelt.edu]