Saturday, October 26, 2013

10-26-13 Activist Newsletter

October 26, 2013, Issue 195

1.   QUOTES OF THE MONTH: To Have And Have Not

1.   QUOTES OF THE MONTH: To Have And Have Not

"The haves are on the march. With growing inequality, so grows their power. And so also diminish the voices of solidarity and mutual reinforcement, the voices of civil society, the voices of a democratic and egalitarian middle class."
— James K. Galbraith, U.S. economist (1952-   )

"We can either have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both."
— Louis Brandeis, U.S. Supreme Court Justice (1856-1941)

“I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence.”
Eugene Victor Debs, U.S. labor leader, socialist politician (1855-1926)

 "If our civilization is destroyed, it will not be by barbarians from below. Our
 barbarians come from above."
— Henry Demarest Lloyd, U.S. pioneer muckraking journalist (1847-1903)


1.The Census Bureau reported recently that 22% of American children under the age of 10 lived in poverty in 2012 — that’s 16.1 million kids out of a an “official” total of 46.5 million poor Americans. — a figure that has jumped significantly since 2007. According to Charles Blow in the Oct. 26 New York Times, 22.83% of children in New York State live in poverty, a jump of 3.41% since 2007. The worst state is Mississippi, with 34.69% of poor youth, a hike of 5.3%. North Dakota (13.5%) was the only state that did not experience an increase. There are 1,168,354 homeless children attending  pre- and K-12 schools in the U.S. A total of 5.8 million young people between the ages of 16 and 24 are not in school and jobless.

2. Liberation newspaper reports that in 2008-2012, "mid-wage” jobs ($14-$21 and hour) declined by 38% while “low wage” jobs ($7.50-$13.5 an hour) increased by 37%. Since business profits have been rising steadily it is apparent that the increased size of the low-wage working class has contributed mightily to the hike in profits.

By Jack A. Smith, the Activist Newsletter

For all the enervating political tumult and shouting emanating from Washington these days, there is remarkably little to show for it except what has become virtually routine political paralysis.

None of the key differences that are fought over by the politicians seem to directly relate to these five most crucial and threatening specific issues confronting the American people:

1. The erosion of American democracy by a political system flagrantly dominated by great wealth, the big corporations, Wall Street and the major banks. One person may have one vote, but a billionaire — by virtue of funding certain candidates — has the equivalent of thousands of votes on Election Day and in the federal and state legislatures and executive offices thereafter. This more closely resembles an oligarchy (rule by a small group of powerful people and interests) than genuine democracy.

2. The grave weakening of civil liberties and the privacy rights of the American people by the Bush and Obama Administrations has in a dozen years transformed the United States into a global Surveillance State. Whatever happened to the “checks and balances” that were supposed to exist in the U.S. political system to protect the people from such abuses? Our postal mail, email, Internet practices, phones and other electronic devises are now hacked at will by the U.S. government and many law enforcement agencies. Somewhere in the U.S., a potential Big Brother regime is patiently waiting in the wings for conditions to ripen. The apparatus is at the ready.

In this connection the Washington Post reported Oct. 5: “David Sanger, the New York Times reporter who has spent two decades reporting in Washington, says that the Obama administration is the ‘most closed, control-freak administration’ he's ever covered. That criticism comes from a forthcoming report on U.S. press freedom written by former Washington Post editor Leonard Downie Jr., in which he claims that national security reporters face "vast and unprecedented challenges" as a result of government surveillance, secrecy and "sophisticated control" of the news media's access to government. [See article by Glen Greenwald below.]

3. Rapidly rising economic inequality has reached the point where about half the population now is either low wage or poor while the middle class is being depleted and the top 1% to 5% is living like royalty. Meanwhile, unemployment and foreclosures remain high while social programs that benefit the people are on the chopping block. How can there be a healthy democracy if there isn’t even the semblance of economic democracy for the poor, the working class, the lower middle class and now large sectors of the middle class as well?

4. Climate change is already upon us and yet — despite some recent White House mumblings about lowering greenhouse gas emissions — the U.S. will shortly become world’s largest crude oil and natural gas producer, thanks to Obama Administration policies and the proliferation of hazardous fracking. Washington always demands to be recognized the world leader, by force if necessary, and now it’s leading the world toward a disaster by ignoring the climate crisis for fear of disrupting corporate and financial profits.

5. The U.S. government is determined to remain the world’s military superpower, spending over $600 billion a year on the Pentagon and an equal amount on various “national security” endeavors — more than an annual $1.2 trillion all told.  President Obama is currently fighting ground or drone wars in Afghanistan, West Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, while continuing to increase the military buildup against China. In addition, Obama is sending special military forces of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) to scores of countries around the globe to advance U.S. interests — and most Americans have no idea this is happening.

Obviously, from a left perspective, the main danger is the Republicans — the far right wing, the Tea Party reactionaries, most of big business and finance, libertarians, intimidated moderates, fundamentalist Bible thumpers, and remnant racists. They usually oppose abortion rights and deny global warming. Many want to “shrink” the federal government in order to eliminate Social Security and all social programs that benefit the people,  destroy all regulatory oversight of big business, and erect nearly insurmountable barriers against the labor movement.

However, the five key issues listed above are the product of both the Republican and Democratic Parties. The Libertarians and the Tea Party strongly oppose the erosion of civil liberties. The libertarians are staunchly against imperialist war. Indeed, most Democrats seem to shrug off both issues when their party occupies the Oval Office.

The Democratic Party is a secondary danger (or lesser evil, if you prefer). Despite controlling the White House and Senate for five years and the House for two of those years — it has proven itself incapable of mounting an effective counterattack against rampant right wing ideology, not least because the center-right Democrats have neither the political orientation, nor the will to adequately serve the needs of American working families. Both parties, after all, are wedded to a private enterprise system utterly based on economic inequality at home and imperialist wars abroad. Can this be honestly doubted by liberals and progressives, even as they undoubtedly will pull the lever for Hilary Clinton and more of the same in 2016?

What has the Democratic Party done to halt the erosion of American democracy? What has it done to strengthen civil liberties? What has it done (in the last 50 years) to reverse the ever-widening inequality gap between rich and poor? What has it done to end wars and substantially reduce the bloated military/national security budgets in order to invest in social programs? What has it done to promptly take major steps to convert from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy? It has done nothing of significance.

Our American society is swiftly changing for the worst. We all can see this. It has a way to go yet, and can be stopped and reversed before the rightist momentum becomes uncontrollable. To accomplish this, a new progressive/left politics is absolutely necessary. The march of the right wing must be halted and pushed back. The march of the left (not the center right lesser evil) must commence. All else, in our view, is wishful thinking.


Demonstrators at anti-suirveillance rally in Washington, Oct. 26.
By Bart Jansen and Carolyn Pesce (as edited)

WASHINGTON — Thousands rallied against NSA's domestic and international surveillance Saturday, Oct. 26, by marching to the Capitol and calling for closer scrutiny of the agency as more details of its spying are leaked.

Holding signs that said "Stop mass surveillance," "Thank you, Edward Snowden" and "No NSA mass spying," and chanting slogans like "no secret courts," the protesters gathered under a blue sky to hear various speakers.

Stop Watching Us organized the march and is a diverse coalition (including right as well as left) of more than 100 public advocacy groups of various political views aiming to deliver a petition to Congress calling for an end to mass surveillance by the National Security Agency. The group includes civil liberties watchdogs like the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation and more broad-based groups like the ANSWER Coalition, Council on American-Islamic Relations, FreedomWorks and Occupy Wall Street.

The NSA spying controversy has been growing amid new revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden that the U.S. monitored the cellphone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. It was the latest in revelations of spying on foreign countries — leaders of France and Italy have protested NSA surveillance as well as Brazil's president, who has canceled a visit to the U.S.

Jesselyn Radack, national security director for the Government Accountability Project, one of the rally organizers, read the crowd a statement from Snowden decrying the government's ability to examine call records and internet transactions.

"Our representatives in Congress tell us this is not surveillance. They're wrong," Radack quoted Snowden as saying. She gestured toward the Capitol building behind her and added, "We are watching you."
David Segal, executive director of Demand Progress, one of the grass-roots groups that helped organize the event, said before marching from Union Station to Third St. and Pennsylvania Ave. in front of the Capitol that the goal is to put a face to opposition to surveillance.

Members have been lobbying this week for legislation to curb surveillance after a near-miss in July, with a 205-217 loss in the House, for a provision to block bulk collection of data such as phone records. The provision was sponsored by Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., who is scheduled to speak to protesters on the National Mall.

Other legislation is expected next week from Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), and Rep James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), Segal said: "I think that what the NSA has been doing is so transparently egregious that we have a real shot at winning this fight."

Dave Miller of Bloomfield, N.Y., near Rochester, held a sign saying "What part of 'shall not' don't you understand?" At 56, he was attending his first political rally because of his concerns about surveillance.
"The natural progression is more control, more power," Miller said. "No matter what they say, we're going down the path toward tyranny."

Holmes Wilson of Worcester, Mass., and a founder of the grass-roots group Fight for the Future, wore tape across his mouth and held a walking banner that said "Spying is censorship."
"I'm terrified by the ability the U.S. has to do surveillance here and all over the world," Wilson said, referring to the NSA gathering information from people's phones and e-mail. "They know who we associate with and where we are at any given time. It's only getting worse."

—From , USA TODAY. Organizer website,


[Given the despicable actions of right wing Republicans and the Tea Party that brought about the 16-day partial government shutdown this month, it’s easy to join the Democratic Party in declaring victory for President Obama and the American people — much too easy, in fact. “Obama Wins” was a repeated headline in the liberal media, but there was much more to it than that, as this commentary from a socialist point of view will make clear.]

By Eugene Puryear

At first glance it may seem strange to assert that the Tea Party, or at least its economic program, has emerged victorious from the government shutdown. After all, no less an authority on Republicans than Karl Rove declared in the Wall St. Journal that Tea Party-led Republicans walked straight into President Obama’s “trap” and strengthened his position.

Taking a deeper look at the government’s policy direction, however, shows that the semi-fascist Tea Party has permanently enshrined large parts of its fundamentalist capitalist agenda. From taxes to spending cuts that eviscerate services for the working class and boost the rich, their program has become an accepted part of the bipartisan consensus, with the full assent of President Obama.

The President himself, in his post-shutdown remarks, made this quite clear when he stated that this has not been a “political” fight but instead a “failure in governance.” In other words, Republicans had no need to shut down the government to get agreement on austerity measures — this could have been accomplished instead in the disguise of a “compromise.”

This can be seen clearly in the counter-proposal the Democrats offered Republicans at one point to avoid a shutdown: locking in 100% of the sequester cuts. These cuts, which affect the whole range of pro-worker social programs, were originally designed by Democrats to be so extreme that they would force Republicans to the table. Now it is perfectly acceptable for these “unthinkable” cuts to be made permanent from the White House’s point of view.

The deal to end the shutdown and raise the debt ceiling points in the same direction. They have established a commission to determine whether the sequester cuts should remain, or be “replaced” by other cuts.

White House references to other budget “savings” is a nod in the direction of so-called “entitlement reform.” Right-wing Republicans and many liberals has been laser focused on the need to start hacking away at Social Security and Medicare, and reduce the potential tax burden on the super-rich. Heaven forbid they have to pay a penny so that the people who made them so rich can have any semblance of a dignified retirement.

Here again the Tea Party’s brinkmanship strategy has facilitated the President’s promotion of Wall Street’s program of deep cuts to programs that are important for working and poor people. Without any prompting, President Obama declared before the shutdown he was willing to concede to Republicans the establishment of Chained Consumer Price Index, which is a new way of calculating Social Security benefits that will lower the average payout. This is terrible news for those on fixed incomes, and something previously considered unthinkable in Democratic Party circles.

Many other examples could be cited, but the basic point is this: the Tea Party strategy, while damaging to its brand in the short term has been extremely successful in locking in their overall agenda. As the 2012 elections showed, both wings of the ruling class — liberal and conservative — were united in the understanding that social programs (“entitlements”) would have to be cut; the only question was whether or not to use the more elegant carving knife, or take the meat cleaver approach. In crudely trying to hack away at social programs, the Tea Party has only made the Democrats’ carving knife seem more “sensible.”

The President has essentially capitulated to the Republicans by offering up giant concessions on spending cuts in attempts to construct “grand bargains” at the expense of the working class. The hard-right understands their only leverage is the collective power of saying “No” to everything the White House puts forward. Their obstructionism, which consistently causes these political crises, serves to set the terms of the debate further to the right — in order to “govern,” the President accepts the rightward shift and, by extension, appeases the Tea Party faction itself.

In retrospect the focus on the Affordable Care Act was nothing more than a switch-and-bait tactical move. Some of the right-wing’s true believers are disappointed that they did not succeed at defunding “Obamacare,” but that was never really in the cards — as the architects of the strategy knew. Obama can claim victory over the Tea Party because he “hung tough.” But the truth is, the seemingly kamikaze irrationality of Tea Party representatives like Ted Cruz shifted the public eye onto the ACA and away from core right-wing priorities like spending and tax cuts, thereby making it easier for Obama to pursue a concessions strategy.

This is why mainstream ruling-class Republicans initially embraced the Tea Party. They hoped that by empowering this semi-fascist movement of petit-bourgeois anger — which largely repackages the core economic program of Wall Street — they could bludgeon elite liberals into much deeper concessions. While the Tea Party has often escaped the control of their puppet masters, and sometimes embarrassed them, their tactical moves in Congress have done exactly what was intended. They have dragged the country further into the realm of unrestrained corporate power, free of encumbrances like unions, taxes, and regulation, free to pursue profit by any means, regardless of the destruction this program wreaks on the lives of working and poor people.

For his part, the President has shown himself to be a man of no permanent principles, just the permanent interests of the U.S. capitalist rulers. At no time has he attempted to mobilize the social power of millions of people who are opposed to this sort of destruction of the living standards of working people. This should come as no surprise given that the corporate rulers of our society, even if they find the Tea Party impolitic and sometimes wild, are resolutely opposed to a mass social movement of working people arising in defense of their own interests.

What the top corporate and financial bosses desire is an orderly demolition of the gains won by working people in the post-WWII era. This is what President Obama provides.

Liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, no one on Capitol Hill or in the White House is looking out for the interests of the half of society that is in or near poverty — no matter what they say in their stump speeches and grandstanding on CSPAN.

The only way to fight the Tea Party, the government and the country’s Wall Street overlords is to build a massive, politically independent, movement of precisely those tens of millions of people. That is the only path to creating a new society that puts the needs of society above the needs of the CEOs

— From Liberation, Oct. 17 ( Eugene Puryear is a Marxist writer, activist and member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation.

By Steven Rosenfeld

The next drama shaping up in Washington is one almost all Americans don’t want — cutting Social Security retirement benefits earned over a lifetime. At least nine Democratic senators are lining up with Republicans looking for big spending and tax cuts.

“It’s a horrible negotiating position,” said Warren Gunnels, senior policy advisor to Sen. Bernard Sanders, (I-VT), who has been appointed to the 2013 federal budget conference committee, where the debate is taking shape.

“You hear these people saying, ‘We have to be the adults at the table and the Republicans don’t negotiate. Aren’t we reasonable?’” he continued. “A more reasonable position is a majority of Americans don’t want Social Security, Medicare and Medicare cut at all. Why don’t we have one political party represent what a majority of people want?”

October’s government shutdown and threatened debt default was disruptive and hurt the economy. But what is emerging is an entirely different drama, one that could shape the quality of tens of millions of people’s final decades. Most Americans do not have much in retirement savings and will live on Social Security now averaging $1,200 a month, and receive their healthcare under Medicare. Similarly, nearly two-thirds of Medicaid recipients are children from poor homes or adults with disabilities.

The National Journal, a leading conservative publication, did a nationwide poll in the first week of the shutdown and tilted its questions to try to show public support for the GOP’s intransigence and for cutting entitlements. What it didn’t put on its website but was buried in its results was that 76% said Social Security should be cut “not at all,” as opposed to cut “a lot” or “some.” A total of 81% said Medicare should be cut “not at all.” And 60% replied "not at all" to cutting Medicaid. These results tracked two other National Journal polls done in 2012 and other national surveys.

But, as Sen. Sanders’ policy aide noted, the mindset in too many Washington circles is taking a completely opposite view. You would expect corporate defenders among the GOP to do what they have been doing since the government reopened — clamoring for cuts to social programs, as their rich benefactors don’t need them, and cutting tax rates, which makes wealthy people and businesses even wealthier. That’s what GOP leaders said; they’ll end the across-the-board federal cuts known as the sequester if Democrats agree to future cuts in Social Security and Medicare.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid firmly said “no” to that. But a day after the government reopened, the nation’s top Democrat, President Obama, spoke about the need to address “long-term obligations that we have around things like Medicare and Social Security.” The Senate Budget Committee chairwoman, Washington’s Patty Murray, said “all issues are on the [negotiating] table.” [Obama has said precisely this several times over the years and has never taken it back.]

The Senate’s number-two top Democrat, Illinois’ Dick Durban, subsequently told Fox News that “Social Security is going to run out of money in 20 years…. Medicare may run out of money in 10 years. Let’s fix it now.” Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner told the same program, “We all know at the end of the day, Republicans are going to have to give on revenues, Democrats are going to have to give on entitlement reform.”

At least nine Senate Democrats Democrats are entering these negotiations embracing the GOP’s terms. California’s Dianne Feinstein, Montana’s Max Baucus, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin , Delaware’s Chris Coons and Tom Carper , and Colorado’s Michael Bennett have all said they support cuts to entitlements in letters to constituents, proposed bills or statements made after the President’s fiscal reform commission led by Eskine Bowles and Alan Simpson issued its 2010 report proposing capping or cutting entitlements while lowering or eliminating corporate taxes.

No wonder George Will, arguably the nation’s leading right-wing commentator, boasted on Fox News Oct. 20 about the upcoming budget negotiation, saying, “We are now talking entirely in Republican terms, in Republican vocabulary after this so-called defeat…. No taxes, how much is spending going to be cut? The federal workforce is being cut, discretionary domestic spending is being cut”.…

The Wall Street Journal quickly capitalized on the division among Democrats with its own Oct. 20 report:

“Cracks are showing in the Democratic coalition as the next round of budget talks gets under way…. With eyes now turning toward a newly formed budget committee, some liberal lawmakers and groups are worried that Democrats will negotiate cuts to Social Security benefits and other entitlement programs. The president's budget blueprint, which was released in April, proposed slowing the growth of Social Security spending by using a new measure of inflation to determine benefits.”

The new formula, called the chained consumer-price index, would reduce benefits. According to Rep. Keith Ellison (D., Minn.), co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, “The president is about to run into a major base problem if he tries to do this. My advice to him is: Don't do it.” Earlier this year, more than 100 House Democrats signed a letter to the president laying out their opposition to the “chained” index.

— Steven Rosenfeld covers democracy issues for AlterNet, including this Oct. 24 article, and is the author of "Count My Vote: A Citizen's Guide to Voting" (AlterNet Books, 2008).

By Campaign for America’s Future

 The Bureau of Labor Statistics September jobs report, released Oct. 22, summarizes the labor market before the damage inflicted by the government shutdown (Oct. 1-16).  It shows an economy that is treading water, barely creating enough jobs – 148,000 in September – to cover new entrants into the workforce.  This is fewer jobs than the average over the last year. Over 20 million people are still in need of full-time work.

The most telling figures are those reflecting participation in the economy. A year ago in September 58.7% of the population was employed; 58.6% were employed last month.  The participation rate of those in the civilian labor force was 63.6% a year ago; it is 63.2% last month.

This “new normal” is stagnating at an unacceptable level.  Mass unemployment continues.  Wage stagnation is certain.  Families will continue to lose ground.

Now Washington is headed into another manufactured crisis around the budget in which the discussion is entirely over how much, what and how fast to cut spending. But the deficit is plummeting, decreasing faster than anytime since the demobilization after World War II. The pace of its decline is impeding any recovery. But for jobs, the reality is “little change.”

By Common Dreams

If global warming continues its trajectory, the year average temperatures surpass historical norms is 2047, bringing huge threats to global biodiversity, according to a new study in Nature.

Researchers at the University of Hawaii-Manoa created an index based on 39 climate models used in a dozen countries, and compared that data to the extreme records from 1860 through 2005.

“We looked at the minimum and maximum values that occurred in that 150-year window and that’s how we set our bounds of recent historical variability,” explained Ryan Longman, a doctoral student who worked on the analysis.

The researchers were then able to come up with the "year of climate departure," and found that the worldwide average for that date was 2047, meaning that every year after that point will be as warm or warmer. In other words, it's the date "when the old maximum average temperatures become the new minimum temperatures." 

In 2047, Washington, DC, and New York City will experience temperatures exceeding historical norms.  In Mexico City, that date could come as soon as 2031.  For Kingston, Jamaica, it's just 10 years away.

"Scientists have repeatedly warned about climate change and its likely effects on biodiversity and people," declared Camilo Mora, the study's lead author. "Our study shows that such changes are already upon us.

"These results should not be reason to give up. Rather, they should encourage us to reduce emissions and slow the rate of climate change…. This can buy time for species, ecosystems, and ourselves to adapt to the coming changes."

By Bobby Magill

As fracking catapults the United States to the top of the list of the world’s largest crude oil and natural gas producers, climate scientists worry that the nation's booming fossil fuels production is growing too quickly with too little concern about its impact on climate change, possibly endangering America’s efforts to curb global greenhouse gas emissions.

The U.S. is likely to become the world’s top producer of crude oil and natural gas by the end of 2013, producing more hydrocarbons than either Russia or Saudi Arabia, the U.S Energy Information Administration recently announced.

America achieved its new role as world leader in crude oil and natural gas production because of advancements in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, technology, that have made tapping hard-to-reach shale gas and oil deposits more economically feasible than ever before, according to the EIA.

Energy development in four shale oil plays alone — in Texas, along the Gulf Coast, in North Dakota and in California — was tapping a store of 24 billion barrels of crude oil considered technically recoverable, according to a 2011 EIA report on emerging U.S. shale oil and gas plays.

But it’s also happening in the suburbs of Denver, where oil and gas wells tapping the Niobrara shale and other hydrocarbon-bearing formations are being drilled in and around residential neighborhoods. It's happening in North Dakota, where companies tapping the Bakken shale hope to send their crude to market using the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline. It’s happening in the Marcellus shale of western Pennsylvania and throughout the Northeast, where the EIA reported this week that natural gas production has increased 30% — an increase of 3.2 billion cubic feet per day — so far this this year over 2012.

The EIA reported Oct. 4 U.S. petroleum production has increased 7 quadrillion Btu (British thermal units) since 2008, particularly because of growth in oil production in the Eagle Ford shale region of South Texas, the Permian Basin area of West Texas and in the Bakken shale region of western North Dakota. At the same time, natural gas production increased by 3 quadrillion Btu, primarily because of production growth in the eastern U.S.

The U.S. is also the world’s chief crude oil consumer, burning 18.6 million barrels of crude and other liquid fossil fuels per day in September and producing 10.9 million barrels per day. China, the world’s chief oil importer, used 10.9 million barrels and produced 4.6 million barrels, the Associated Press reported Oct. 9.

Climate scientists say America’s oil and gas boom is having unintended consequences, not just for the climate or the local environment in energy producing regions, but for America's global role in tackling climate change.

“As we produce more, we burn more, and we send more CO2 per person into the atmosphere than almost any other country,” said Susan Brantley, geosciences professor and director of the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute at Pennsylvania State University. “We are blanketing our world with greenhouse gas, warming the planet.”….

— The brief EIA report and a chart is at

By Victor Kotsev, Asia Times, Oct. 25, 2013

With Saudi Arabia and Russia both flexing muscles and the U.S.-Iranian dialogue in uncharted waters, the bloody Syrian civil war, which has killed at least 110,000 people to date, is undergoing a new profound transformation. The rebels have turned into their own worst enemies, and though the stalemate continues, for the first time since the start of the uprising Syrian President Bashar al-Assad looks relatively comfortable in his grip on power.

One has to wonder what is left of the Free Syrian Army (by some accounts only a few thousand soldiers) after some of its units recently defected to al-Qaeda and others apparently entered into direct negotiations with the regime. News of the second development was broken by the veteran correspondent Robert Fisk in the Independent late last month, and it seems that even future cooperation between Assad's army and former defectors against the extremists may be in the works.

Nobody yet speaks about Assad winning the war or recovering the territorial integrity of Syria, such as it was two and a half years ago. That would require some very advanced military-diplomatic tricks, such as dealing with the resurgent Kurds and crushing decisively the powerful foreign-backed jihadist juggernaut — the latter a feat that both [former] Cold War superpowers repeatedly failed to accomplish over the last three decades. [The Soviets in Afghanistan in the late 1970s-80s; the U.S. in Afghanistan and throughout much of the Middle East from the late 1990s to today.]

But the Syrian president has been on quite a roller-coaster recently and has so far come out of it as well as he possibly could. It seems surreal that as recently as 2011, an ill-fated Vogue article described Syria as "the safest country in the Middle East." Just over a year later, the country was in ruins and it looked like the regime was imploding under the military pressure of the rebels. It made a comeback, only to come close to the cliff again less than two months ago, when the U.S. threatened to attack over its alleged use of chemical weapons in August.

Right now the possibility of a Western intervention has all but evaporated: U.S.-Iranian negotiations have taken the front seat. In the foreseeable future, moreover, deepening Russian involvement in Syria could be a guarantee of sorts for Assad's tenure.

William Polk, a top former US analyst and a member of the Cuban Missile Crisis management team, estimated in a recent analysis that the US-Russian agreement over the Syrian chemical weapons would eventually involve some "5-10 thousand Russians and perhaps twice that number of UN-designated peacekeeping forces from third countries." Polk added, "With a Russian force in residence and forced to protect its widely scattered personnel and a significant UN peacekeeping force interspersed among the Russians, the government can to some degree discount external aggression."

Officially, Moscow is tight-lipped about any such plans, but it is already deeply involved in Syria and even the Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization hinted recently that Russia would assist more actively there.

Still, the hard-core international supporters of the rebels, such as Saudi Arabia, are not giving up either. The fight is likely to be long and no less brutal than it has already been. In an interview with Foreign Policy magazine, Syria expert Joshua Landis estimated that the recent decision by the Saudis to reject their seat at the UN Security Council was meant to deflect pressure on them to change their course.

"If the Saudis were to join the UN Security Council they would have to follow the U.S. and Russia's lead," Landis was quoted as saying. "There would be heavy pressure on Saudi Arabia to stop subsidizing Salifist [jihadist] militias in Syria. Russia and America would say 'Look, you are part of the United Nations and you have to sever your ties with the Syrian rebels and stop sending them arms and money.' But Saudi Arabia doesn't want to rein them in."

On the ground, the extremist wing of the rebels is still very strong, controlling large swathes of northern Syria and even making periodic advances near Damascus. Jihadists from all over the world are streaming into the country at an unprecedented rate and the death toll on the government side, already believed to be considerably higher than that among the rebels, continues to climb.

But with the decline of the moderate rebels, the opposition may be fast losing the hearts and minds of all but the most committed ordinary Syrians. It doesn't help that in some places people are starving to the point where Islamic clerics are telling them to eat cats and dogs, and their plight is set to get even worse as the weather gets colder.

Indeed, those civilians in the devastated rebel-held areas who survive the coming winter are extremely unlikely to want another one, whatever the stakes. If Assad still doesn't look like he's anywhere near leaving by election time next summer, many of them could even vote for him.

Nothing is set in stone. The Saudis and their allies still have tricks left up their sleeves, and there are more than a few other spoilers out there who will try to torpedo the U.S.-Iranian track….

—For an Oct. 24 news video on Syria, with RT interviewing Brian Becker, National Coordinator of the ANSWER Coalition, go to

By the ACLU

In response to increasing restrictions on personal freedoms and civil protest, national human rights organizations from 10 countries this week launched the International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations (INCLO).

They also released “Take Back the Streets: Repression and Criminalization of Protest Around the World,” a collection of case studies showing patterns of police crackdown and abuse against peaceful assembly, accompanied by concrete recommendations to expand free speech.

"Fundamental rights and freedoms we enjoy are a direct result of protest movements of the past,” said Gastón Chillier, executive director of the Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales in Argentina. “Freedom of speech and as a result, our societies, will only flourish if peaceful assembly is protected from excessive police force and government obstruction.”

The INCLO investigation and report bring together examples of protest under attack in which INCLO members are involved. The report offers three primary recommendations for governments to advance freedom of speech: increase regulation of less-lethal weapons (tear gas, pepper spray), explicitly affirm support for freedom of peaceful assembly, and be vigilant against administrative limitations to protest.
“Member organizations will work together to counter the efforts to repress political speech,” said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). “Only when citizens can voice their concerns and advocate openly for positive change can democracy flourish.”

Current members are the ACLU, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (Argentina), the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, the Kenyan Human Rights Commission, the Legal Resources Centre (South Africa), Liberty (United Kingdom) and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties.

Take Back the Streets is available at:

Pakistani civilians demand an end to U.S. drone attacks.
By Alex Kane

Two leading human rights organizations have released investigative reports into U.S. drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan.

Amnesty International, which focused on drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas, and Human Rights Watch, which looked at attacks in Yemen, found that some drone strikes were carried out unlawfully and that civilians have been killed. Both organizations also called on the U.S. government to be more transparent on the drone program, which has been marked by secrecy over the years.

The U.S. drone strikes target the Taliban, other Islamist militant groups and Al Qaeda in Pakistan, while the drone attacks in Yemen target Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. But civilians have been caught up in the attacks, sowing anger at the U.S. and leaving ordinary people caught between militant groups and the the U.S. military and CIA.

Amnesty International looked at 45 drone strikes in North Waziristan between January 2012 and August 2013. Field researchers did detailed investigations into nine drone strikes in Pakistan. Amnesty found that an October 2012 drone attack killed a 68-year-old grandmother named Mamana Bibi while she was picking vegetables and was surrounded by her grandchildren. The group also looked at a July 2012 attack that killed 18 workers, including a 14-year-old boy, who were about to start eating.

While the U.S. had claimed that they were “terrorists,” Amnesty’s investigation found no evidence for that assertion. “We cannot find any justification for these killings. There are genuine threats to the USA and its allies in the region, and drone strikes may be lawful in some circumstances,” said Amnesty’s Mustafa Qadri in a statement. “It is hard to believe that a group of laborers, or an elderly woman surrounded by her grandchildren, were endangering anyone at all, let alone posing an imminent threat to the United States.”

Human Rights Watch investigated six attacks in Yemen — one from 2009 and the others from 2012-2013. The group found that “two of the attacks killed civilians indiscriminately in clear violation of the laws of war; the others may have targeted people who were not legitimate military objectives or caused disproportionate civilian deaths.” One of the strikes targeted a passenger van in central Yemen, killing 12 civilians. The reported target of the strike was nowhere to be found.

Both groups called on the Obama administration to lift the veil of secrecy around the drone strike program. In May 2013, President Obama pledged more transparency in a major speech on counter-terrorism policy. But Amnesty says that promise “has yet to become a reality, and the USA still refuses to divulge even basic factual and legal information.” Human Rights Watch likewise is calling for more transparency and investigations into the killings….

“The US should investigate attacks that kill civilians and hold those responsible for violations to account,” said Letta Tayler, the author of the Human Rights Watch report. “It’s long past time for the US to assess the legality of its targeted killings, as well as the broader impact of these strikes on civilians.”

— Alternet, Oct. 22.  Note: On Oct. 30 filmmaker Robert Greenwald will release his new feature-length documentary titled, "Unmanned: America's Drone Wars." A film trailer and information are at

By the Activist Newsletter

Periodically, the Activist Newsletter reports about the increasing and extremely dangerous U.S. military buildup in East Asia aimed against China. It is being carried out under President Obama’s geostrategic policy known as the “Pivot to Asia.” Following is a portion of an article titled “Obama’s Asia Problem” from the Oct. 21 issue of Time magazine:

“The pivot is about more than handshakes and free trade, however. It's also a muscle flex. The Pentagon is deploying more aircraft carriers, destroyers and submarines in the region and says it will deploy 60% of its overseas forces in Asia, up from the current 50%. Officials have said those forces will be exempt from upcoming Pentagon budget cuts.

“The Air Force recently announced plans to move more fighter jets to Singapore, Thailand and India, and one U.S. official said bombers could eventually be stationed in Australia. Talks are under way with the Philippines about a substantial U.S. presence there. A new force of 2,500 Marines is planned to be based on Australia's northern coast. And in April the U.S.S. Freedom sailed into Singapore — the first of four new littoral-combat ships that will operate continuously out of the country's Changi Naval Base.

“Though Washington officials play down their significance, these military moves delivered a clear message to China: ‘Asia Pivot Targets Beijing,’ declared a 2012 headline in the Global Times, a Chinese Communist Party-linked newspaper.”


[Following are the first few paragraphs of a much longer article by Tom Engelhardt titled “Why Washington Can’t Stop — The Coming Era of Tiny Wars and Micro-Conflicts.” The beginning is a catalog of American military power. A link to the entire article is below.]

By Tom Engelhardt

In terms of pure projectable power, there’s never been anything like the U.S. Its military has divided the world — the whole planet — into six “commands.”  Its fleet, with 11 aircraft carrier battle groups, rules the seas and has done so largely unchallenged for almost seven decades. 

Its Air Force has ruled the global skies, and despite being almost continuously in action for years, hasn’t faced an enemy plane since 1991 or been seriously challenged anywhere since the early 1970s.  Its fleet of drone aircraft has proven itself capable of targeting and killing suspected enemies in the backlands of the planet from Afghanistan and Pakistan to Yemen and Somalia with little regard for national boundaries, and none at all for the possibility of being shot down. 

It funds and trains proxy armies on several continents and has complex aid and training relationships with militaries across the planet.  On hundreds of bases, some tiny and others the size of American towns, its soldiers garrison the globe from Italy to Australia, Honduras to Afghanistan, and on islands from Okinawa in the Pacific Ocean to Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.

Its weapons makers are the most advanced on Earth and dominate the global arms market.  Its nuclear weaponry in silos, on bombers, and on its fleet of submarines would be capable of destroying several planets the size of Earth. 

Its system of spy satellites is unsurpassed and unchallenged.  Its intelligence services can listen in on the phone calls or read the emails of almost anyone in the world from top foreign leaders to obscure insurgents. 

The CIA and its expanding paramilitary forces are capable of kidnapping people of interest just about anywhere from rural Macedonia to the streets of Rome and Tripoli.  For its many prisoners, it has set up (and dismantled) secret jails across the planet and on its naval vessels. 

 It spends more on its military than the next most powerful 13 states combined.  Add in the spending for its full national security state and it towers over any conceivable group of other nations.

In terms of advanced and unchallenged military power, there has been nothing like the U.S. armed forces since the Mongols swept across Eurasia.  No wonder American presidents now regularly use phrases like “the finest fighting force the world has ever known” to describe it.  By the logic of the situation, the planet should be a pushover for it.  Lesser nations with far lesser forces have, in the past, controlled vast territories.  And despite much discussion of American decline and the waning of its power in a “multi-polar” world, its ability to pulverize and destroy, kill and maim, blow up and kick down has only grown in this new century.

No other nation's military comes within a country mile of it.  None has more than a handful of foreign bases.  None has more than two aircraft carrier battle groups.  No potential enemy has such a fleet of robotic planes.  None has more than 60,000 special operations forces.  Country by country, it’s a hands-down no-contest.

The Soviet (once “Red,” now Russian) army is a shadow of its former self.  The Europeans have not rearmed significantly. Japan’s “self-defense” forces are powerful and slowly growing, but under the U.S. nuclear “umbrella.”  Although China, regularly identified as the next rising imperial state, is involved in a much-ballyhooed military build-up, with its one aircraft carrier (a retread from the days of the Soviet Union), it still remains only a regional power.

Despite this stunning global power equation, for more than a decade we have been given a lesson in what a military, no matter how overwhelming, can and (mostly) can’t do in the 21st century, in what a military, no matter how staggeringly advanced, does and (mostly) does not translate into on the current version of planet Earth.

—Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of “The United States of Fear” as well as a history of the Cold War, “The End of Victory Culture” (now also in a Kindle edition), runs the Nation Institute's His latest book, co-authored with Nick Turse, is “Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050.”

By Glenn Greenwald

It's hardly news that the Obama Administration is intensely and, in many respects, unprecedentedly hostile toward the newsgathering process. Even the most Obama-friendly journals have warned of what they call "Obama's war on whistleblowers". James Goodale, the former general counsel of the New York Times during its epic fights with the Nixon administration, recently observed that "President Obama wants to criminalize the reporting of national security information" and added: "President Obama will surely pass President Richard Nixon as the worst president ever on issues of national security and press freedom."

Still, a new report released Oct. 10 by the highly respected Committee to Protect Journalists — its first-ever on press freedoms in the U.S. — powerfully underscores just how extreme is the threat to press freedom posed by this administration. Written by former Washington Post executive editor Leonard Downie, Jr., the report offers a comprehensive survey of the multiple ways that the Obama presidency has ushered in a paralyzing climate of fear for journalists and sources alike, one that severely threatens the newsgathering process.

The first sentence: reads: "In the Obama administration's Washington, government officials are increasingly afraid to talk to the press." Among the most shameful aspects of the Obama record:

“Six government employees, plus two contractors including Edward Snowden, have been subjects of felony criminal prosecutions since 2009 under the 1917 Espionage Act, accused of leaking classified information to the press — compared with a total of three such prosecutions in all previous U.S. administrations. Still more criminal investigations into leaks are under way. Reporters' phone logs and emails were secretly subpoenaed and seized by the Justice Department in two of the investigations, and a Fox News reporter was accused in an affidavit for one of those subpoenas of being 'an aider, abettor and/or conspirator' of an indicted leak defendant, exposing him to possible prosecution for doing his job as a journalist. In another leak case, a New York Times reporter has been ordered to testify against a defendant or go to jail."

It goes on to detail how NSA revelations have made journalists and sources petrified even to speak with one another for fear they are being surveilled: “I worry now about calling somebody because the contact can be found out through a check of phone records or emails,’ said veteran national security journalist R. Jeffrey Smith of the Center for Public Integrity, an influential nonprofit government accountability news organization in Washington. 'It leaves a digital trail that makes it easier for the government to monitor those contacts,' he said."

It quotes New York Times national security reporter Scott Shane as saying that sources are "scared to death." It quotes New York Times reporter David Sanger as saying that "this is the most closed, control freak administration I've ever covered." And it notes that New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan previously wrote, "it's turning out to be the administration of unprecedented secrecy and unprecedented attacks on a free press."

Based on all this, Downie himself concludes:

“The administration's war on leaks and other efforts to control information are the most aggressive I've seen since the Nixon administration, when I was one of the editors involved in The Washington Post's investigation of Watergate. The 30 experienced Washington journalists at a variety of news organizations whom I interviewed for this report could not remember any precedent."

And this pernicious dynamic extends far beyond national security: "Ellen Weiss, Washington bureau chief for E.W. Scripps newspapers and stations, said 'the Obama administration is far worse than the Bush administration' in trying to thwart accountability reporting about government agencies." It identifies at least a dozen other long-time journalists making similar observations.

The report ends by noting the glaring irony that Obama aggressively campaigned on a pledge to usher in The Most Transparent Administration Ever. Instead, as the New Yorker's investigative reporter Jane Mayer recently said about the Obama administration's attacks: "It's a huge impediment to reporting, and so chilling isn't quite strong enough, it's more like freezing the whole process into a standstill."

Back in 2006, back when I was writing frequently about the Bush administration's attacks on press freedom, the focus was on mere threats to take some of these actions, and that caused severe anger from vocal progressives. Now, as this new report documents, we have moved well beyond the realm of mere threats into undeniable reality, and the silence is as deafening as the danger is pronounced.

— From the Guardian, Oct. 10.The full CPJ report is at

Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, just behind Indochinese leader Ho Chi Minh.
[Few Americans today, particularly those born in the last four decades, have an understanding of the importance of the Vietnam War. This U.S. defeat by a very small country was a turning point in American imperial history, the ramifications of which continue until this day. Vietnamese Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, who died this month, played a major role in that defeat. The following obituary traces the origins and outcome of this tumultuous event.]

By Jack A. Smith

Vietnamese Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, who helped defeat Japan, then France, then the United States in a 35-year war for national independence, died in Hanoi on Oct. 4 at the age of 102. He had been ailing and living in a military hospital for the last four years.

Giap’s extraordinary generalship drove French imperialism out of the three countries of Indochina — Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia — in the mid-1950s. At the time he declared the anti-French struggle “was victorious because we had a wide and firm National United Front… organized and led by the party of the working class — the Indochinese Communist Party, now the Vietnam Workers Party.”

Decades later, he described the Vietnamese triumph against France as "the first great victory for a weak, colonized people struggling against the full strength of modern Western forces. This is why it was the first great defeat for the West. It shook the foundations of colonialism and called on people to fight for their freedom."

Next came what the Vietnamese call the American War. The United States supported French colonialism in Indochina beginning in 1954 with money and a Military Assistance Advisory Group. It remained in the southern half of the country after France withdrew its tattered legions, virtually destroying Vietnam with its bombs, heavy artillery, chemical poisons and a half million troops until it was ousted with finality in 1975. Gen. Giap played a major role in bringing about this stunning defeat of history’s most powerful military state. It was the first time the U.S. lost a war.

"We had to use the small against the big — backward weapons to defeat modern weapons," Giap said. "At the end, it was the human factor that determined the victory." He further noted elsewhere that “guerrilla warfare is the means whereby the people of a weak, badly equipped country can stand up against an aggressive army possessing better equipment and techniques.”

At the same time, Giap made it entirely clear that the enormous pressure put upon Washington by the nationwide antiwar movement in the U.S. was a major contributing factor to Vietnam’s victory. He later told historian Stanley Karnow: "We were not strong enough to drive out a half million American troops, but that wasn't our aim. Our intention was to break the will of the American government to continue the war." The U.S. “second front” — consisting of millions of American civilians and GIs who expressed their opposition to an unjust war — helped bring it to an end. Well over 60% of the American people opposed the war by the late 1960s-early '70s. The first peace protest took place in 1962; the first very large protest took place in Washington in 1965. Subsequently there were thousands of antiwar demonstrations large and small in cities, towns, and campuses all over America

Another factor contributing to Vietnam’s success was the material support from both Russia and China despite the growing political antagonism between the two communist giants.

Given that he is considered one of the great generals in modern history, and called by some the “Red Napoleon,” it is of no little interest that he was self-taught in the arts of war, never having attended even one class in the subject.

Giap was familiar with Vietnam’s long history, dating back thousands of years, of resisting foreign invasions and domination, mainly from China and Mongolia. He studied some of these engagements. But his practical abilities derived from modern sources. Primarily, he studied the extensive contemporary military writings of Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, adapting them to the social, political and geographical conditions of Vietnam. He further learned from his mentor, Ho Chi Minh, the great leader of the Indochinese struggle for national liberation, as well as Marx, Engels, Lenin and others.

Additional factors molded his military prowess. He had an abiding hatred of foreign domination. He was a passionate communist and sought to build a socialist society benefitting the masses of people. He applied Marxist analysis to problems.

Vo Nguyen Giap (pronounced vo nwin ZHAP) was born in 1911 to an educated farming family with strong nationalist views against France, which occupied parts, than all of Vietnam, starting in the mid-1800s. His father took part in unsuccessful uprisings against French domination in the 1880s. Years later he was arrested for subversion and died in prison in 1919 — some say he was murdered — when his son was eight. Soon afterward, one of his older sisters was arrested and eventually released due to illness brought about by prison conditions, and died weeks later, while her younger brother was nine. When he was an adult, the French arrested his first wife, who also died in prison.

Anti-French activity was subdued in Vietnam during Giap’s formative years, though he carried on the rebel tradition. At around the age of 12, according to Wikipedia,  “He was expelled from school after two years for taking part in protests, and went home to his village for a while. While there, he joined the Tân Việt (New Vietnamese) Revolutionary Party, an underground group founded in 1924, which introduced him to communism. He returned to Hue and continued his political activities. He was arrested in 1930 for taking part in student protests and served 13 months in Lao Bảo Prison. He joined the Communist Party of Vietnam in 1931and took part in several demonstrations against French rule in Indochina as well as assisting in founding the Democratic Front….

“From 1933 to 1938, Giap studied at the University of Hanoi (and continued his political activities) as he earned a bachelor's degree in law with a major in political economy.” He worked as a history teacher and married fellow student and revolutionary Nguyen Thi Minh Giang in 1938 and had a daughter named Hohg Anh (Red Queen of Flowers).

France outlawed the Indochinese Communist Party, causing many members to hide and operate as an underground. Party leader Ho Chi Minh and others escaped to neighboring China to continue their work. Over 2,000 party members were arrested. Giap left for China in May 1940; his wife stayed in Vietnam with her family and was soon arrested and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He never saw her again.

Four months later, most of France was in the hands of the Nazi collaborationist Vichy government, which allowed imperialist Japan to occupy Vietnam to “protect” Indochina. Ho, now back in Vietnam, formed the Vietnam Independence League to organize against the occupation. Giap, who was 20 at the time, was assigned to build an intelligence network and develop political bases in the far north of Vietnam. He edited a periodic news sheet for distribution to the masses. Many years later he admitted one of the toughest jobs in his life was writing the simple, very short items Ho ordered. Ho was right because many of the people receiving the news sheet could hardly read.

In the next few years Giap would rise from this position to that of military commander of the Viet Minh — the League for the Independence of Vietnam, the communist coalition to seek separation from France — and the commander of the Vietnam People’s Army. (We will refer to the Viet Minh during the anti-French war, and then to the Vietnam People’s Army afterward.) His close proximity to Ho didn’t hurt, but without ability he would have gotten nowhere.

In 1942, Giap and others were ordered to build the League’s military wing. A year later he learned that his wife died in prison but that Red Queen of Flowers was safe with her maternal grandparents (as an adult she became a doctor). By the end of 1943 Giap reported hundreds of men and women had joined the Viet Minh army. That same year, membership in the Independence League was said to have reached hundreds of thousands.

The Communist Party called on Giap to form a “Vietnamese People's Propaganda Unit for National Liberation,” which became the People’s Army of Vietnam a year later. Giap built and led the first Armed Propaganda Brigade of 33 men and three women armed with one machine gun, 31 rifles and 2 revolvers. They would fight if attacked but their main task was mobilizing the people of various hamlets against Japanese and French imperialism through propaganda plays, skits, music, dance and bringing news of the struggle to remote areas. In time many such brigades were created. The U.S., incidentally, helped finance the Viet Minh’s struggle against the Japanese by supplying rifles and perhaps other aid, though it supported the return of the French.

Japan was defeated in August 1945 and was preparing for a formal surrender in September. By that time the rebel forces numbered a few thousand. Ho on Aug. 19 ordered the Viet Minh to begin the revolution against the restoration of French colonial rule. There were uprisings against the French throughout Vietnam. The Japanese just looked the other way.

On Sept. 2, Ho Chi Minh proclaimed the founding of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV). He was named Chairman of the Provisional Government, in effect the Premier of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Giap became Minister of the Interior, while still commanding the Viet Minh. Ho sought to obtain recognition of the DRV from the U.S., to no avail despite repeated entreaties to President Truman, who ignored them.

The Nationalist Chinese army arrived in Vietnam in early September, ostensibly to disarm the Japanese but occupying the northern half of the country. At the same time British forces occupied the southern half. They remained until the French colonial army returned, starting in October. The leaders of the U.S., the USSR and the UK (the Big Three) prearranged this scenario, which also succeeded in closing any gap in military authority that the resistance forces might seek to exploit before the French returned.

The Communist Party officially dissolved in 1945, presumably to save itself, although the leadership continued functioning, membership kept increasing and the Viet Minh was in the beginning stages of a war for independence against powerful French force. The date for the beginning of the full-blown Anti-French Resistance War in Indochina is Dec. 19, 1946.  This was, in effect, the First Indochina War. The second was against the U.S.

The Communist Party was formally reestablished in 1951, but with a new name: the Workers Party of Vietnam. According to the CIA, it had between 200,000 and 400,000 members.

Ho and Giap entered negotiations with the French, testing whether it might be possible to gain independence without a war. Ho followed up with a six-month parlay with the French government in Paris, leaving Giap in Hanoi, leading the DRV. In August 1946 Giap married a second time to Ba Hanh, who eventually gave birth to four children.

By October, 1946, the war was beginning, even while Ho was still negotiating abroad. On Dec. 19 the DRV declared war on France. A succession of skirmishes and small engagements followed. The Viet Minh had no heavy weapons and other essential accouterment for a larger war until the Chinese Communist Party won its war against the Nationalists in October 1949. Chinese and Soviet supplies soon began to cross the Chinese border, as did some Chinese instructors. Giap was soon able to launch large battles that seriously bruised the French forces. This broadened the antiwar movement in France and spawned doubts in a sector of the population about the necessity for holding on to Indochina.

By 1953 French generals feared the insurrection was spreading across Vietnam’s western border into Laos after a Viet Minh unit attacked French border outposts in that country. This convinced the French commander, Gen. Henri Navarre, to establish a major military base near the small town of Dien Bien Phu, just 10 miles from the border in northwest Vietnam. He intended to interdict Vietnamese forces heading to Laos or lure them to attack a base that he considered invulnerable because of its fortifications, and the fact that it was surrounded by mountains, with a nearby former Japanese airstrip for resupply. Navarre knew Giap did not possess heavy artillery or the means to transport such tonnage up the mountains and into position. After several months the base was ready by the end of 1953.

Giap figured out what to do — one of the most audacious maneuvers in modern military history. It resulted in France losing its three colonies in Indochina, and paved the way for the loss of most of its other colonies, mainly in Africa.

Navarre was wrong. Giap had artillery but he kept it a secret until the right moment. His plan required 50,000 troops, thousands of support forces, 24 howitzers, and antiaircraft guns, ammunition and supplies for an army. Each howitzer weighs between 3 and 7 tons, depending on the type Giap used. The problem was how to get the howitzers up the mountains despite roadless, very difficult terrain without being detected. He decided that large teams of porters would push and haul each piece up the backside of the mountains, facing away from the base. Once there, they would tunnel and drag the howitzers to the forward slopes on the other side facing the enemy down below, and position them to cause maximum damage to various parts of the sprawling base. It was an incredible accomplishment.

The French — who numbered about 13,000— discovered the Viet Minh had heavy weapons on March 14, 1954, when the first shot came crashing down upon them. After two weeks of this bombardment, Giap sent in the troops. It was a tough fight, including trenches. On May 7, Giap sent 25,000 Viet Minh on a final assault on the remainder of the garrison — and it was over. (Figures on the dead and wounded are contradictory but it is generally believed that the Viet Minh lost far more troops than the French — a not uncommon happening in Giap’s battles.)

Americans participated in Dien Bien Phu, from the armed forces and CIA. A total of 37 CIA pilots took part in air drops to supply the French. The Navy sent maintenance crews and mechanics. The U.S. sent planes and troop carriers.

An elated Ho was in Geneva when Giap claimed victory, planning to attend the May 8 Geneva Conference on Indochina. It was clear Dien Bien Phu was the end for France in Indochina. The conference came to a decision June 17: Vietnam would be split temporarily in two at the 17th parallel. The DRV would remain in control of the north. The powerful forces in the south were Emperor Bao Dai (a collaborator with both the French and Japanese) and his conservative government, the Catholic Church and the United States. A free election was to be held throughout Vietnam in two years to vote for a president who would rule the unified country. About a million people, overwhelmingly Catholics, migrated from north to south during the first year. The U.S. Navy supplied the ships. About 100,000 from the south went north, mostly leftists.

The election never took place, however. South Vietnam and its U.S. backers refused to participate. Presiding President Dwight D. Eisenhower explained why in his memoirs: Ho was going to get 80% of the vote, in his (and presumably the CIA’s) opinion.  The U.S. only wanted a reunified Vietnam if it was in the hands of an anti-communist government.

 According to the New York Times, “about 94,000 French troops died in the war to keep Vietnam, and the struggle for independence killed, by conservative estimates, about 300,000 Vietnamese fighters.

The Pentagon says the Vietnam War lasted 11 years, (1962-1973), but U.S. involvement actually continued for 21 years (1954-1975). When Paris withdrew remaining French troops in April 1956, according to writer John Prados, "their departure made America South Vietnam's big brother," i.e., overlord and military protector against popular liberation forces in the southern half of the country.

Giap led the Vietnam People’s Army (VPA) throughout much of the American War, building it into a world class fighting force. He was also in charge of the guerrilla forces of the south, the fighting wing of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam. Many were southerners who moved north after the split, only to return surreptitiously as an organized fighting force. Others never left the south.

The NLF guerrillas played an extraordinary role in the anti-U.S. struggle. In time the VPA sent many detachments from the north to join them in battle against U.S. troops.

Giap supplied the forces in the south through what was called the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which consisted of newly built trails connected to many refurbished old paths from the now Democratic Republic of Vietnam, into Laos, south through Cambodia to various exits in South Vietnam. Much of it is covered by a canopy of jungle growth, hiding traffic from the air. It was put together, constantly repaired and sometimes diverted because of U.S. air strikes, between 1959 and 1975. It was clear enough by the decisive year of 1973 for heavy trucks to travel its length. Total length with many offshoots is said to be more than 1,500 miles.

By June 1962, 9,700 U.S. "military advisers" plus a large number of CIA agents were training and fighting to support the corrupt U.S.-backed regime in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), at which time President Kennedy's Defense Secretary, Robert McNamara, announced that "every quantitative measure shows that we're wining the war." There were 20,000 by the end of 1963.

The major escalation of U.S. troops began after President Lyndon B. Johnson evidently lied about an alleged North Vietnamese attack Aug. 4, 1964, on a U.S. Navy destroyer, the Maddox, cruising in the Gulf of Tonkin. There had been an altercation between three Vietnamese torpedo boats and the Maddox on Aug. 2. The boats were heading toward the U.S. vessel when the Maddox opened fire, evidently believing it was coming under attack. Torpedoes were then fired, missing their target, and the small boats fled.

On Aug. 4, the Maddox reported it was again attacked, prompting an outcry from Johnson and Defense Secretary McNamara the next day. Two days later, at Johnson’s request, both houses of Congress overwhelmingly passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that allowed the U.S. to ultimately increase ground forces to 535,040 troops in Vietnam. The DRV always maintained there was no second attack. McNamara, who eventually regretted his role, traveled to Vietnam 31 years later to meet with Giap. During his visit, he asked the general what really happened Aug. 4, to which Giap replied, “Nothing.”

Perhaps the worst problem Giap faced was not U.S. ground forces but an almost unbelievable amount of attacks from the air that not only slaughtered untold numbers of civilians in both halves of Vietnam but came close to destroying Hanoi’s economy, making it more dependent than ever on supplies from China and the Soviet Union. One response, which Giap approved, was to dig underground tunnels throughout the country — some with living space — so families, farmers, workers and soldiers could find safety from bombs, shells, napalm, and Agent Orange poison defoliant.

U.S. bombs and heavy artillery pulverized Indochina. The Pentagon detonated 15,500,000 tons of air and ground munitions —12,000,000 tons on South Vietnam alone. By comparison, the U.S. detonated only 6,000,000 tons of ground and air munitions throughout World War II in Europe and the Far East. All told, by the end of the war, 26,000,000 bomb craters pockmarked Indochina, nearly all from U.S. weapons and bombers.

The U.S. lost 58,151 troops in the war. About four million Vietnamese civilians and soldiers were killed on both sides in a catastrophe that could have been entirely avoided had Washington allowed the free elections to take place. Over a million civilians in neighboring Laos and Cambodia also were killed or wounded by U.S. firepower.

The Pentagon detonated 15,500,000 tons of air and ground munitions —12,000,000 tons on South Vietnam alone. By comparison, the U.S. detonated only 6,000,000 tons of ground and air munitions throughout World War II in Europe and the Far East. All told, by the end of the war, 26,000,000 bomb craters pockmarked Indochina, nearly all from U.S. weapons and bombers.

National Liberation Front soldiers during the Tet Offensive that turned the tide of the war.
Vietnam’s most famous battle of the war was Tet Offensive, led by about 85,000 National Liberation Front and Vietnam Peoples Army troops from the north between Jan. 30-March 28, 1968, against soldiers from South Vietnam, the U.S., South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and Thailand. (Tet is the lunar new year.) Two smaller, follow-up phases of the offensive took place May 5-June 15 and Aug. 17-Sept. 23. (It is estimated that some 200,000 NLF/VPA may have participated in the entire campaign. The U.S., et al, troop strength was about a million.)

Liberation fighters attacked Saigon, 36 of 44 provincial capitals, a few autonomous cities, 64 district capitals and dozens of hamlets. They raided many military bases and airfields. In Saigon, they attacked the U.S. embassy and the Presidential Palace.

Ultimately, the attack did not succeed in militarily terms. NLF/VPA troops suffered far higher casualties and retained only a trace of territory. The uprising that the planners believed would take place throughout South Vietnam — a prime objective — did not happen.

Politically, however, the Tet Offensive was a strategic success for the Vietnamese, leading to U.S. withdrawal in five years and to complete victory two years later.

On the home front before Tet, Washington was promising that victory we near, and the truth is that that the DRV and the Liberated Zones of South Korea had taken a terrible beating. But many Americans had already turned against the war. The antiwar movement was large and vocal. Gradually, the truth about America’s brutal conduct in the war began to leak out. For many Americans the enormous scope of the Tet offensive was a shock, propelling many more into the antiwar camp. 

As a direct result of Tet and the shift in public opinion, Johnson made two historic moves. (1) In March he announced that America’s vicious bombing campaign, Operation Rolling Thunder, would end Nov. 1, paving the way for peace talks. (2) This was followed by an announcement March 31 that Johnson would not run for a second term in the November elections.

Giap is often depicted as the brilliant general behind Tet, but that does not appear to be accurate. He evidently entertained qualms about a massive attack as opposed to expanding a guerrilla-type struggle. For almost a year, the upper political and military echelons of the government and Workers Party discussed, argued about and finally planned the Tet Offensive. Some of the arguments reflected differences in approach that evidently emanated from the Sino-Soviet ideological split. Once the decision was made, all sides — certainly including Ho, who seemed to be in the middle — united to make it as successful as possible.

Gen. Hoang Van Thai led the Tet campaign. Giap himself was now the Defense Minister, and worked for its success, though he was critical of the failure to order the withdrawal of troops in vulnerable situations. Over the years Giap made these comments about Tet:

 “The Tet offensive had been directed primarily at the people of South Vietnam, but as it turned out, it affected the people of the United States more. Until Tet, they thought they could win the war, but now they knew that they could not.”

He told the journalist Stanley Karnow: “We wanted to show the Americans that we were not exhausted, that we could attack their arsenals, communications, elite units, even their headquarters, the brains behind the war…. We wanted to project the war into the homes of America’s families, because we knew that most of them had nothing against us.”

Ho Chi Minh died at the age of 79 on Sept. 2, 1969. He had been ill and relinquished his offices four years earlier, remaining one of the party leaders. He was and is Vietnam’s most beloved figure. Ho was also Giap’s mentor and close ally.

U.S. Troops pulled entirely out of Vietnam in 1973.

The final days of the war for liberation, reunification and socialism began with the 1975 Spring Offensive led by Gen. Van Tien Dung, who was Giap’s chief of staff during the fight for Dien Bien Phu. Giap was consulted but did not play a big role. Virtually the entire armed forces where thrown into the campaign to capture Saigon, the capital, of southern Vietnm, which succeeded on April 30, 1975. The name Saigon was soon changed to Ho Chi Minh City, now a thriving metropolis. The name of the unified state was the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

Giap advised against the invasion of Cambodia to oust the Khmer Rouge, which took place Dec. 25, 1978. He was removed as Defense Minister earlier that year. He lost his position as a long time member of the party’s top organization, the Politburo, in 1982, and his tenure as deputy prime minister ended in 1991.

He was without portfolio but that did nothing to reduce his extreme popularity among the Vietnamese people, where it remains to this day. Giap was out of power, but he lived quite comfortably. In his latter years he became an outspoken environmentalist. In time he regained considerable public recognition. The party brought him back to public view when he was honored at the 40th anniversary of the victory at Dien Bien Phu in 1994, and the 30th anniversary of victory and the naming of Ho Chi Minh City in 2005.

This writer attended the 2005 ceremonies as a guest. Giap, 94, was seated in the front row of a grandstand during a military parade celebrating the liberation. Up close, he was a very old, very small man with pure white hair, adorned in a splendid white general’s uniform with golden epaulets. He had only one medal on his chest. He was also the center of public attention — a giant of a man who helped slay the dragons of Japanese, French and American imperialism.

By Samantha Winslow, Labor Notes

Transit workers in the Bay Area returned to work Oct. 22 after a five-day strike shut down a train system that serves 400,000 riders daily. The tentative agreement offers raises of 3-4%  each year to Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) workers alongside concessions on health care costs and pensions. BART will deduct 1% per paycheck (not counting overtime) for pensions the first year, increasing 1% each year for the life of the four-year agreement.

“It’s a win in very difficult times,” said Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) national President Larry Hanley. “We were facing the full brunt of big business in the Bay Area.”

The union fought off the big concessions on wage and benefits that BART was after, and held on to the right to have a say in work and safety rules. “Our commitment to improving the safety at BART doesn’t end with these negotiations,” said Des Patten, Professional Chapter President of Service Employees (SEIU) Local 1021.

The agreement clarifies the issue of past practices that the unions said was a sticking point in negotiations. If the two sides can’t resolve safety concerns related to changes in work rules, they can take management’s proposed changes to arbitration.

While BART management seemed eager to extract big concessions by pushing the unions into an unpopular strike, its strategy backfired when an off-duty train struck and killed two non-union engineers, putting a national spotlight on BART union workers’ safety concerns. The ultimate settlement shows concessions on both sides, with the union retaining some safeguards on working conditions.

Despite rallies, leafleting the public, and working with religious and community groups, the two local unions never persuasively connected the contract issues of electricians, drivers, conductors, mechanics, and station agents with those of riders — allowing BART to argue that workers were holding up changes that would make things more efficient for riders.

Public sentiment overall was negative toward strikers, not only because of the inconvenience for thousands of commuters but also because the media were carrying management’s line. “It was a carefully plotted out effort,” Hanley said, “not just to reduce their wages, but to use a very public group who had the right to strike to inflame the community.

“They were successful in getting numbers of the public to attack the BART workers for things like having a pension, for owning a home,” Hanley said. It would have taken a far more ambitious campaign, like the Chicago Teachers Union’s build-up to their 2012 strike, to shift this dynamic….