Liberate Knowledge

…to democratize power in all its forms.

Romney’s defeat is worth celebrating. Obama’s victory is not.

It’s good Mitt Romney will not be our president. It’s bad Barack Obama will be.

It’s bad for the people of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and countless other countries where he is DIRECTLY responsible for the deaths of thousands upon thousands. (Remember: Obama approves each drone strike, including those that target mourners of previous drone strikes against ambiguous targets. We have also bombed more countries under Obama than we did under Bush.) It’s bad for the people that will continue to be deported under the record expansion of deportation policy that his administration has overseen (1 million, more than Bush). These are very real people. Their lives are not something politicians simply “have to sacrifice” for elections. It’s bad for the citizens that will have their constitutional protections stripped away and indefinitely detained, a policy Obama pushed for and got passed – and which we have no way of knowing if its already been used. (Building upon and worsening even Bush’s PATRIOT Act. Remember how outraged we all were about that?). It’s bad for the climate and environment, as Obama has worked to expand offshore drilling and only reluctantly temporarily put a halt on Keystone, which will effect impoverished communities and countries the worst. And on and on and on.

So you can be happy that Romney is not president. I recognize and fully agree with it would be worse if he was. For a myriad of crucial reasons it is better that Obama is president. But that does not mean it is good he is president. It is not a dichotomy. And, in fact, Obama has been worse than Bush on a score of issues. And, again, these have real consequences to real people – there are corpses, torn apart families, destroyed communities and ecosystems that are on his hands. There is not one Obama that is a progressive and one Obama that is a warmonger, who oversees and approves the deaths and destruction of thousands and thousands and thousands of lives and communities. They are not two different people; they are one in the same.

We can do better. Much better. Romney’s defeat is worth celebrating. Obama’s victory is not.


What The United States Really Means By “National Dialogue” and “Humanitarian”: The Bloody Crackdown in Bahrain

This is the face of the little-reported crackdown against protesters that is taking place in Bahrain, which comes after the Obama administration approved Saudi Arabia’s military action in the country to “restore order” for the ruling family. Beware, this is what the U.S. means when it calls for a country facing revolt to have a “national dialogue

Tanks currently patrol the streets and security forces torture anyone they think may have possibly been a protester during the time the nation teetered on revolution, an uprising that was inspired by the downfalls of the brutal US-backed regimes in Egypt and Tunisia. In these three countries – Egypt, Tunisia, and Bahrain – the Obama administration and its European allies insisted that a vaguely defined “national dialogue” take place in order to “resolve” the crises. Of course, in Egypt and Tunisia, the people themselves spoke through the struggles that brought their oppressive (US-funded) governments to their knees. In Bahrain, the Obama administration allowed (and remained quite about) Saudi Arabian military forces that swept into the country for the sake of “restoring order” (read: unquestioned government rule). In fact, not only did they allow this invasion to take place, but they actually traded it in exchange for Saudi Arabia’s backing of the Western military campaign in Libya.

And thus, a “national dialogue” in Bahrain was imposed. This is a dialogue in which anyone suspected of having sympathies for the uprising can be rounded up and never heard from again; doctors and nurses are abducted from hospitals on suspicion of healing and “arming” protesters; people are kidnapped in front of their families and taken away to be tortured; tanks and helicopters keep Shia villages on lock-down; and people are shot on the streets or in prisons simply on the whims of the security forces.

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The Dangers of this Nationalistic Fever and Bloodlust over Osama bin Laden’s Death

Image shared under creative commons:

Update: A slightly edited version of this has been reposted over at Mondoweiss.

Look, I’m glad Osama is gone. Now I wish for the swift crumbling of the US empire as well as the liberation of all the people it oppresses and kills around the globe.

Yet, make no mistake: his assassination will be used to continue and potentially escalate the so-called “Global War on Terror.”  Already I hear the media drum beat growing that “the war must go on” and “we must fight against those that would retaliate.” Each time you feed the Global War on Terror, a by definition never-ending war,  it simply grows and grows. Right now this growth is being cultivated through the calls we’re hearing to be “steadfast” in the face of the “retaliations” that are “sure to come.” (Which begs the question: why did we even assassinate Osama, who by many accounts was now just a figure head and had no operational power, if we knew it would result in retaliations against even more innocent lives?)

However, there is one impending and already manifesting danger even greater than the retaliations from Osama-allies that our politicians and media outlets are fomenting fear over: the immediate explosion of  nationalistic fever and bloodlust that swept across the nation directly following the announcement of bin Laden’s assassination. I direct your attention to the short clip below of students celebrating on the University of Massachusetts, Amherst campus – which is fairly representative of the simultaneous celebrations engulfing the nation well into the early morning of May 2nd.

(P.S. The next time some American media outlet plays videos of Arabs or Muslims burning something while declaring “how barbaric” they are and “how much they hate us,” show them that clip).

Images like these swept over the country, with young people in the streets and even in front of the White House cheering “we won! USA! USA!” and “it’s over! It’s finally over!”, on repeat throughout the night. I had to ask myself while watching these events: they really have no idea, do they?

If by “we won” and “it’s finally over,” these jubilant celebrators meant that our “win” was killing the ultimate terrorist boogeyman – than, yes, I suppose the specter of bin Laden has been defeated. Yet, the Ghost of Osama will keep the eternal “Global War on Terror” (GWOT) and the mass killings (perpetuated primarily by the United States) going and going. The GWOT is by definition an un-winable, never-ending war. It is a “fight” against a vaguely defined concept, meant to keep us on our toes anytime we determine there is a new boogeyman that must be defeated. And the great thing is that it’s global! We’ve got the whole world to scour over for terrorists! We’ll never have a shortage.

What’s important here, however, is that Osama’s assassination is being used consciously and subconsciously to justify and forget about all of the Afghanis and Pakistanis who have died. And, most likely, even the dead Iraqis as well. Don’t forget, we invaded (and continue to occupy) Iraq on the lie that Osama and Saddam were collaborating to kill Americans. (I’m serious: be watchful for the first time you hear “we killed Osama!” as retroactive nonsensical justification for the war in Iraq. I have already heard it mentioned once.). I repeat – the basis for our invasion of Iraq was a lie, and hundreds of thousands have died in Iraq as a result of it. That’s 9/11 over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over again. (And it’s still going on).

The problem is that American patriotism is so blinding that many Americans can’t even perceive how the death of this one asshole doesn’t justify the death of 14,000-34,000 Afghanis, thousands of Pakistanis, hundreds of people in Yemen, hundreds of thousands in Iraq, and thousands of more Americans. Not to mention the destruction these wars have brought to our environment, nor the financial and social cost we have burdened at home for them. (And by “we” I mean mostly the poor, women, and other historically marginalized communities. Those weapons and oil corporations seem to be doing pretty well for themselves.) So to all those Americans screaming “mission accomplished!” at the top of your lungs: I don’t really understand. What was the mission? To kill Osama? Tell that to the hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of innocent people that died before him in that effort, as well as to those that are still yet to perish in the wake of the “great” and “mighty” USA.

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Reflections on Hampshire’s Successful Campaign to Divest from the Illegal Israeli Occupation, Two Years Later

An SJPer after divestment and during our struggle with the college administration.

These were my prepared remarks for the opening panel at the AFSC’s “Organize a Just Peace in Israel and Palestine” conference this past March. I was asked to speak about my experience organizing with Students for Justice in Palestine at Hampshire College and explore our successful divestment campaign.

Two years ago, in 2009, Students for Justice in Palestine succeeded in forcing Hampshire College to become the first institution of higher education in the United States to divest from the Israeli Occupation. Now, I don’t know if any of you have heard of Hampshire College before. It’s this tiny little college, in a tiny little town, in the backwoods of the tiny little state of Massachusetts; it has a tiny little population, and a tiny little endowment. Yet, when we succeeded in becoming the first college to divest from the illegal occupation, we were endorsed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu; the late Dr. Howard Zinn; Noam Chomsky; musician Roger Waters of Pink Floyd; Naomi Klein, Phyllis Bennis; the Palestinian BDS National Committee; Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney; a Nobel Peace Laureate; poets; writers; activists; international policy makers, and more. At the same time, unconditional supporters of Israel’s atrocities and injustices also attacked us. For example, I personally received a phone call from Alan Dershowitz, which was just the first step in a very public intimidation campaign he launched against us.

So – let me back up, how did we get there?

Historic Economic Boycotts and the Current BDS Movement

First, I think it’s important to put why we launched a divestment campaign at our school into perspective.

There is a growing movement within this nation and worldwide called Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions – or BDS for short – which is a new, vital movement aimed at impacting the situation in Gaza, the West Bank, Jerusalem, and Israel itself. And I stress that this is vital in the Palestine/Israel struggle because all other attempts, such as the so-called “peace process,” have proven ineffectual and even harmful as they have drawn out the colonization and occupation of Palestine.

At its core, BDS is a dual tool that is being used to put economic pressure on Israel and to educate the wider public about Palestine. So, what does BDS look like?

In July of 2005, to quote the official Global BDS website, “a clear majority of Palestinian civil society called upon international civil society organizations and people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel.”

Students viewing a mock apartheid wall Hampshire SJP erected on the library lawn, across the college's main walk-way. Four different versions of this wall were put up - each with protest art as well as information about the wall, Gaza, the occupation, and Palestine in general.

In short, people all around the world are boycotting products from illegal Israeli colonies in the West Bank (like Ahava beauty products), students are pressuring their colleges to divest from companies producing military equipment and weapons for the Israeli army, and government officials are feeling the heat to put economic sanctions on Israel until it complies with international law and lifts the blockade on Gaza.

There are a few things that are extremely important to understand about the BDS initiative that makes it a critical strategy. The first is that it is completely non-violent. BDS is an effort to employ economic means to utilize global, grassroots efforts rather than simply waiting on ineffective governments to act. The second important thing to keep in mind is that BDS is an indigenous call from Palestine. It is what Palestinians are telling us we can do to be their allies in their struggle.

What’s more, this movement is rooted in a history of successful struggles for justice. Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela utilized a BDS movement to end the apartheid regime in South Africa, which finally collapsed in the 1980’s. Now, they have also endorsed BDS as a means to end the occupation and colonization of Palestine. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks employed boycotts and other economic strategies in the Civil Rights movement. Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass also attempted to abolish slavery through economic means.

Today, globally and in the United States, BDS efforts have been making gains in the face of tremendous odds. I can share my personal experience as one example of these successes.

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Dictionary of the Empire, Part 2

This is the second entry in a series of posts where I attempt to put the Empire’s complex language into laymen terms so we can all understand what U.S. politicians and pundits really say. Read Part 1 here.

Introduction to the Dictionary

When you hear Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, General Petraus, John McCain, Wolf Blitzer, and other leaders of the United States as well as political pundits speak, it can often be confusing to understand – as though their words and phrases don’t actually reflect reality. The primary reason for this is that these leaders and media talking-heads are in fact speaking a different language that transcends normal dictionary definitions. In fact, they are speaking what is called the “Language of Empire,” a language in which words and phrases often have complex sub-layers or mean exactly the opposite of their normal definition.

Therefore, in order to help everyday people better understand the intentions of the United States’ media and political figures, I have begun to compile a list of phrases and words that the Empire uses and what they mean in normal words. This is a “Dictionary of the Empire.” Of course, this will have to be an ongoing project, as the Empire’s language constantly evolves and grows in order to suit its purpose at any given moment.


Collateral Damage

People that our bombs accidentally blow up who aren’t white.

Important Note: This phrase is often perceived by leftists to be a synonym of “state terrorism.” In the eyes of the Empire, however, this is a false equivalency because non-American lives are less valuable than American lives – after all, they’re “collateral” and not “people.”


You are not allowed to say this word on TV. And if you do, you’re a radical-Marxist-communist-anarchist-Lenninist-Maoist-terrorist.

See also: imperialism, colonialism.

National Dialogue

Used as: We call for a national dialogue in the country where protesters are rising up against the oppressive regime we support and being shot by weapons that we supplied.

“We talk with a gun, you listen.”

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The Hard Truth about the Libyan Intervention: The West Doesn’t Care About Innocent Lives and Democracy

Like many anti-war activists who don’t support the West’s military intervention in Libya, I have been struggling to put my objections into words. But I have finally figured it out. It’s not that I don’t support a “humanitarian intervention” in Libya, it’s simply that I have absolutely no reason to believe this is what the West’s bombing campaign is actually about. Those that promote the idea of the intervention have what on paper sounds like a good cause: stop Gaddafi from killing scores of innocent people while supporting a democratic uprising against a dictator.

Unfortunately, there are two colossal facts that must be completely ignored in order for anyone to believe that these are the true intentions of the West’s intervention in Libya:

1) The United States and Europe do not care about innocent lives in the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia. In fact, they are one of the worst perpetrators of killing civilians in these regions.

I can’t believe that I actually have to make this point, yet so many people on the left who support the intervention seem to have purposefully forgotten that the United States and NATO are already at war with two countries in the Middle East while bombing scores of others.

In Iraq, the number of those that have died from our 8-year war is simply staggering. A conservative estimate of the death toll puts the figure in the 100’s of thousands; while some say that once you incorporate all of the factors (such as a lack of adequate medical facilities as a result of the war, which has led to countless unnecessary deaths), there may be a million or more dead in Iraq. In fact, our continued occupation has completely decimated the country’s infrastructure, which by 2007 reduced the average life expectancy of an Iraqi by four years (from 71 years-old to 67). Our military has been occupying Afghanistan for a decade while demolishing entire villages, bombing weddings, and even posing for pictures with dead civilian Afghans. Our drones are ravaging Pakistan and we are launching countless “secret” bombing raids into Yemen (and that country’s regime covers this up on our behalf). The list goes on and on.

And when Israel killed over 1,000 in South Lebanon in 2006 and another 1,400 in Gaza in 2009, the U.S. and Europe did nothing to protect those civilians. The United States government didn’t even say that these mass killings were wrong.

The only difference that exists when civilians are killed by Gadaffi’s shelling versus when they die from Western bombs is that one is being called “murder” and the other is known as “collateral damage.” This is a prime example of how people’s lives are suddenly devalued when they get in the way of America’s bombs, contrasted to their new-found value when under threat from America’s enemies at a convenient time.

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Dictionary of the Empire, Part 1

This is the second entry in a series of posts where I attempt to put the Empire’s complex language into laymen terms so we can all understand what U.S. politicians and pundits really say. Read Part 2 here.

Introduction to the Dictionary

When you hear Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, General Petraus, John McCain, Wolf Blitzer, and other leaders of the United States as well as political pundits speak, it can often be confusing to understand – as though their words and phrases don’t actually reflect reality. The primary reason for this is that these leaders and media talking-heads are actually speaking a different language that transcends normal dictionary definitions. In fact, they are speaking what is called the “Language of Empire,” a language in which words and phrases often have complex sub-layers or mean exactly the opposite of their normal definition.

Therefore, in order to help everyday people better understand the intentions of the United States’ media and political figures, I have begun to compile a list of phrases and words that the Empire uses and what they mean in normal words. This is a “Dictionary of the Empire.” Of course, this will have to be an ongoing project, as the Empire’s language constantly evolves and grows in order to suit its purpose at any given moment.


Call on both sides to show restraint

Dear oppressive regime that we support: please finish off the protesters at your earliest convince. As soon as possible would be better for our image.

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Hypocrisy Headache: American Ignorance as a Weapon Against Libyans

Reads: "No Foreign Intervention / Libyan People Can Manage It Alone"

Right now, I’m suffering from a severe hypocrisy headache that no medicine can cure. Across blogs, social media, news outlets, and even conversations with friends and family, we’re hearing calls for a no-fly zone over Libya in the wake of the brutal suppression of the uprising tearing across the country. Not only is this a dangerous call – unless it is specifically requested by Libyans (and to be fair, there does seem to be disagreement among those who are rebelling about whether this is desired) – but it is a completely hypocritical stance for anyone in the United States to be taking.

The logic behind the no-fly zone is that the Gaddafi Regime in Libya is using its air force to decimate the uprising, but, more importantly, it is also killing and maiming civilians as a result of its offensive. This is completely true and indefensible, but there are a number of ways that governments and the “international community” can support the Libyan people’s uprising without implementing a no-fly zone. And here in the U.S., the charge for a no-fly zone is being led by War Hawks and neo-conservatives. Those clamoring for it primarily include notorious war-mongers such as Paul Wolfowitz, John McCain, and Joe Lieberman (go here to read more about the neo-cons calling for the No-Fly Zone). And on, Michael Lind sheds light on the reality of the true intentions of those in the U.S. demanding a no-fly zone over Libya, which is essential to understand:

[Wolfowitz’s, McCain’s, Lieberman’s, etc.] implication is that the enforcement of “no-fly zones,” by the U.S. alone or with NATO allies, would be a moderate, reasonable measure short of war, like a trade embargo. In reality, declaring and enforcing a no-fly zone in Libya would be a radical act of war. It would require the U.S. not only to shoot down Libyan military aircraft but also to bomb Libya in order to destroy anti-aircraft defenses. Under any legal theory, bombing a foreign government’s territory and blasting its air force out of the sky is war.

Could America’s war in Libya remain limited? The hawks glibly promise that the U.S. could limit its participation in the Libyan civil war to airstrikes, leaving the fighting to Libyan rebels.

These assurances by the hawks are ominously familiar.

Lind points to the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Iraq, and argues perfectly that all three of these “quick” wars easily evolved into much larger and disastrous wars – especially the last two. When selling the American public and the world on the Afghanistan and Iraq wars (or “military operations”) less then 10 years ago, the Bush administration repeatedly proclaimed these “military actions” would be simple, smooth, and easy. (There too they promised we would be greeted as liberators). Last time I checked, however, the U.S. is still bogged down in both countries. Lind goes on to explain how many of the arguments that have kept us in Afghanistan and Iraq far longer than promised, despite destroying the nations’ infrastructures and taking the lives of hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of innocents, would destine to keep us in Libya as well:

The lesson of these three wars is that the rhetoric of lift-and-strike is a gateway drug that leads to all-out American military invasion and occupation. Once the U.S. has committed itself to using limited military force to depose a foreign regime, the pressure to “stay the course” becomes irresistible. If lift-and-strike were to fail in Libya, the same neocon hawks who promised that it would succeed would not apologize for their mistake. Instead, they would up the ante. They would call for escalating American involvement further, because America’s prestige would now be on the line. They would denounce any alternative as a cowardly policy of “cut and run.” And as soon as any American soldiers died in Libya, the hawks would claim that we would be betraying their memory, unless we conquered Libya and occupied it for years or decades until it became a functioning, pro-American democracy.

The U.N. will ultimately decide if a no-fly zone should be imposed over Libya, as the Obama Administration wouldn’t dare to act alone. And such a decision from the administration would depend on the American public’s willingness (or perceived willingness) to get involved in another international military conflict. Here, the War Hawks are counting on exploiting two forms of American ignorance and cognitive dissonance in their aims for a no-fly zone that, in their minds, would hopefully avalanche into a much larger military campaign. Most Americans: 1) forget (or don’t know) that our military is already involved in numerous conflicts all across the region – ranging from full scale occupations and wars to secretive bombing campaigns and undercover ops; and 2) don’t understand that the rationale for applying a no-fly zone over Libya would require implementing a no-fly zone against the U.S. and its allies in the region as well.

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Translating the lessons of Open Source Ecology to environmental justice

I’ve been increasing interested by the concept of applying the open source software model to the physical world that surrounds us. And Open Source Ecology (OSE), an organization that believes “everyone in the world should have access to technologies needed to escape poverty and generate natural wealth for themselves and their communities,”  is doing just that. On the Commons reports:

OSE’s ultimate goal is to develop 40 open source tools that could allow a group of individuals using scrap materials and other low-cost supplies to create an entire village. To date OSE has successfully created the plans for a drill press, a brick press that produces building blocks out of soil, a mid-sized tractor, and transmission-free hydraulic engine that powers the machinery. By utilizing scrap metal to assemble these machines, the end product is significantly cheaper than buying them.

On OSE’s Web site, Wiki-page and blog, interested groups and individuals can access detailed building and operation instructions as well as projected materials costs.

Now, I would be incredibly intrigued to see how an effort like Open Source Ecology could also be translated to urban or small-scale settings. Environmental justice is a critical issue, yet I’m a little wary of the concept of building new, intentional communities when so much work needs to be done in our existing ones. A few basic examples of pandemic environmental injustices across a wide-range of communities includes a lack of accessibility to healthy food within low-income neighborhoods in cities, environmental racism, the need for clean drinking water, poisoned soil, and so much more.

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“What if instead of debate teams we had solutionary teams?”

Ever since I first listened to this TEDx talk, “The World Becomes What You Teach,” I’ve repeatedly returned to a question the presenter – Zoe Weil of the Institute for Humane Education – brings up:

“What if instead of having debate teams we had solutionary teams?”

What if, indeed.

I don’t see eye to eye with every argument Weil makes in her presentation (more on this below), but I feel that this one particular point is of significant importance and should be drawn out further. Hierarchal education – in schools, universities, and other settings (workshops, trainings, etc.) – is in many ways a replication of our economic structure. It is based off the philosophy of extreme competition, where there are winners (straight A students; CEOs and bosses) and losers (those who flunk out; workers making minimum wage and who have no rights) as well as everyone in between. Extreme competition is exercised in classrooms formally through debates and informally/indirectly through tests and grades (where some succeed and some fail). On a slightly more macro level, most schools have one or a few valedictorians who are recognised as “the best of the best” by their institutions.  And, just like with capital, the higher GPA you have, the easier it will be for you to get into the university/college of your choice and then, consequently, the job/career path of your dreams.

And, of course, many of our society’s classically classist tropes also exist within the education system, e.g. people from disadvantaged backgrounds only need to “pull themselves up by their boot straps” (by working hard; by studying hard) and they will “make it” in school and then life – even though it’s long been established that students from disadvantaged backgrounds often face seemingly insurmountable odds in their educational careers.

Extreme competition-based education therefore replicates an exploitative economic system that only has an interest in promoting individualistic (and corporate) desires, rather than cultivating the ability of learners to make an impact in their communities and world. In education and in life,  a few come out on top while the rest are fodder for the system (or “good foot soldiers in the economy”).

That’s why this idea of “solutionary teams” that Weil has proposed strikes me as so interesting. It’s by no means a revolutionary discovery, but it is certainly a uniquely framed concept within the larger community-based education movement. Instead of pitting students against each other formally and informally when thinking about problems, why don’t we put them in situations where they collaboratively work to improve each others’ lives?

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