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  • Looking Back at 2014: U.S. Policy and Practice
Published 5 January 2015
In order to inspire and motivate people to engage in serious political action, activists must develop alternatives to society's dominant ideologies, institutions and cultural practices.

The US Empire marches on: 25 years after the Gulf War, 40 years after Vietnam and 100 years after the start of World War I, US elites insist on expanding ongoing ecological devastation, terrorism abroad and repression at home. If this past year provides any indication of future events and trends, the world should brace itself for a jarring ride.

This past year, extreme weather events snatched the attention of millions around the globe: wild fireshurricanestornadosdroughtcrop failurerecord-high temperaturesdeclining biodiversity, and various other environmental catastrophes, all of which can be directly connected, or in some way attributed, to climate change.

In early 2014, the Polar Vortex unleashed a frozen nightmare throughout many parts of the world. Unsurprisingly, many scientists have suggested that the Polar Vortex is connected to climate change, with warmer weather contributing to "shrinking ice in the seas off Russia," which allows for cold air to escape the Arctic, tormenting those living in many parts of Asia, Europe and North America. Of course, the poor suffer the worst aspects of runaway climate change. According to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, over 116,000 Chicagoans are homeless on any given night in the Windy City. Consequently, several dozen US citizens died last winter due to a lack of proper shelter, clothing and nutrition. 

Even Vatican officials have made the connection between poverty and climate change. In fact, Pope Francis recently delivered a major speech on climate change, directing the many thousands of bishops and priests in the Catholic Church to take the issue seriously. Surely, Pope Francis' address was delivered with Typhoon Haiyan in mind. After all, he visited the Philippines a short time ago, meeting with victims of the monstrous typhoon—the largest in recorded history. Paddy Ashdown writes in the Guardian, "Climate change is no longer a murky forecast of an abstract and distant future, it is already a reality which will tamper with the lives of our very own children."

Throughout last year, US news outlets reported that California is experiencing its worst drought since the founding of the state in 1850. Others have argued that California's historic drought is the region's worst in over 500 years. In fact, the drought, much like the Polar Vortex, is undoubtedly connected to climate change. In contrast, no less than a few weeks ago, China and the US sabotaged global climate talks in Lima. As Walden Bello reflects, "These are parameters that all but ensure that the world will be on way to the 4 to 6 degrees centigrade plus world that will be our generation’s catastrophic legacy to our descendants."

Some descendants, particularly those living in Gaza, continue to endure US-style democracy and freedom, namely in the form of bullets and bombs. No less than a month after ISIS seized Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, Israel launched yet another US-backed slaughter in Gaza. This time, over 2,200 Gazans were killed and over 15,000 wounded, almost a quarter of whom were children. By mid-August 2014, over 20,000 tons of explosives had been dropped on Gaza by Israeli military forces. Over 30% of Gazans were displaced in the horrendous attacks, with over 50% being treated for some sort of combat-related wounds. Indeed, as Paul Street recently recalled, there are "worthy and unworthy victims." Gazans, quite obviously, are unworthy of US compassion, while the 71 Israelis killed in their government's imperial assault constitute the worthy victims.

In Iraq, a country that's been utterly devastated and almost completely destroyed by decades of US imperial ambitions, more Iraqi civilians died in the month of November 2014, 1,500, than US troops in the first year of the occupation, 2003. Undoubtedly, the citizens of Fallujah are well aware of the US' toxic legacy, as rates of cancer and birth defects in the city are worse than in the aftermath of the US' nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. After decades of failed policies, ISIS and various other militant groups now dominate a significant portion of Iraq and Syria, including some of the largest cities, prisons and agricultural regions. Meanwhile, most Americans, but particularly US elites, attempt to wash their hands of Iraqi blood, claiming the US has done everything in its power to leave behind a "stable and self-reliant Iraq," as President Obama recited back in 2011.

In the meantime, Afghanistan plunges into utter chaos, becoming the world's largest narco-trafficking state. Opium production now accounts "for 15 percent of the GDP, which is more than double what cocaine accounted for at the height of Escobar-era Colombia." This, the longest "war" in US history, supposedly came to an end Sunday, December 28th, 2014, with a routine, hollow ceremony in Kabul, although the US will maintain a presence of 11,000 troops in the war-torn nation. As always, the war never really ends, it shifts, redevelops and morphs into another obscenity. It would be wise to recall the routine, hollow rituals recently held in Iraq, or the dozens of previous formalities supposedly marking an end to US imperial adventures.

Since 2001, the US has given Afghan security forces over 750,000 handheld weapons, not to mention tanks, armored vehicles, logistical mechanisms, tactical gear, training, planes, helicopters and countless other military equipment. Much like the fiasco concerning the Iraqi Armed Forces and ISIS, one can imagine how these weapons will be utilized in the coming years. In the US, short-term memory is a requirement for elected office.

Moving along, the world captured a glimpse of US ideology when Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland said, "F**k the E.U." in a wiretapped phone conversation with US Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, as they contemplated the future of Ukraine, Russia and the EU, back in February 2014. Since then, Ukraine has deteriorated into utter catastrophe, resulting in over 4,300 people dead, and tens of thousands physically injured or psychologically traumatized.  Recently, the American filmmaker Oliver Stone wrote this about the situation in Ukraine: "A dirty story through and through, but in the tragic aftermath of this coup, the West has maintained the dominant narrative of ‘Russia in Crimea’ whereas the true narrative is ‘USA in Ukraine.’ " As the US Empire undermines Ukrainian sovereignty, melting ice in Russian seas destabilizes American weather patterns.

Additionally, the US Empire was busy in 2014 undermining elections, fomenting counterrevolutionary actions and continuing its two-hundred-year assault on the continent of Latin America. Indeed, Cuba experienced several forms of US-led terrorism in the year 2014. For example, there was the faux Twitter account, operated by a well-known lackey of US Empire: US Agency for International Development (USAID). The account, open from 2009-2012, was created in order to foment rebellion among Cuba's youth. Initially starting out as an account dedicated to everyday activities—sports, weather, relationships—the fake Twitter account was eventually used to engender political unrest and critical views of the Cuban government. In typical Orwellian fashion, Jay Carney, Obama's former White House Press Secretary, when asked about the program said, "It is neither covert, nor an intelligence program." 

At home, the US State continued its legacy of political repression and deafness, violently suppressing peaceful protests from St. Louis to New York. After the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, among the many other victims of US police state violence, tens of thousands of Americans took to the street to voice their outrage and disgust. In Ferguson, Missouri, armored vehicles, logistical apparatuses, spy equipment, helicopters and military-grade-weapons engulfed protestors. Police shot several people with rubber bullets and tear gas canisters while arresting hundreds more. One Ferguson police officer was caught on video threatening to "f**king kill" the non-violent protestors. One can only imagine what would have ensued without civilian oversight and alternative media outlets.

Similarly, US efforts to stop the flow of "illegal immigration" from Latin America have resulted in an increasingly militarized Border Patrol Agency. In fact, most of the units, much like local police departments, now resemble military personnel. These practices aren't only terrorizing the poor masses who arrive in the US after the treacherous and often deadly trek north, they  also continue the 400 year onslaught on indigenous communities and their lands. For instance, the 28,000 members of the Tohono O’odham Nation who live on a 76-mile stretch that spans both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border now suffers routine military-style surveillance drones and the haunting sound of nightly helicopter patrols.

In an interview conducted on March 14th, 2014 with DemocracyNow!, Alex Soto, a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation and an organizer with O’odham Solidarity Across Borders, had this to say about the increased militarization and neoliberalization of the US-Mexico border.

"You know, growing up—and I’m only 28 now—just being young, I was always raised to know that, as O’odham, the land on both sides of the so-called U.S.-Mexico border is our land. And so, when I was young, there was no border there, other than chicken-wire fence for ranching or, you know, practices within the community. Only until—since the early '80s to the early ’90s, in particular with the passing of NAFTA, did we see the push to then regulate the border due to the level of migrant communities or indigenous people from Mexico now migrating here due to policy, economic policies by the U.S. So, you know, through the ’90s, it has escalated more and more just due to that, into 2001, with 9/11, where it pushed more policies towards militarization. So right now we're currently in that state, along—more or less because of immigration policy, as well. So, hand in hand, these issues are impacting us that are not necessarily O’odham issues, but the global context is now pushing that militarization on our land."

Unsurprisingly, the three groups of people who've suffered the most under the 200 year reign of US Empire, namely, African Americans, Latin Americans and indigenous peoples, have also borne the brunt of US repression at home during 2014. Drug cartels, oil companies, weapons manufacturers and various other corporate, state and non-state actors have benefited greatly from their long-standing arrangements and power structures. Without doubt, the US Empire is crumbling from within, lashing out at those who dare to resist, both at home, and abroad. 

Even though 2014 was filled with negative stories, data, information and narratives, people around the globe lashed out at those in power, garnering small victories. To illustrate, Medea Benjamin recently penned an article entitled "10 Good Things About the Year 2014" in which she mentions the popularization of Palestinian justice, protests for police accountability, immigration reform, among other gains accomplished in 2014. Yet, it's quite difficult for activists to bridge the gap between "small victories" and the objective reality that things are getting worse. From ecological devastation, to increased militarization, economic inequality and massive surveillance, current trends indicate that 2015 will look a lot like 2014.

Unless, of course, there's a major political rupture in the machinery of global capitalism and empire. The activists, organizers and revolutionaries resisting throughout the globe should be recognized for their efforts. Some paid with their lives. Others are confined to prison cells. Even more continue to organize. The question is: How can activists parlay their efforts in an effective fashion? The world, while thankful for "small victories," needs big ideas and disciplined, internationally coordinated resistance. The major mechanisms of power—the state, capital, the church, mainstream media outlets, etc., continue to dominate the political, economic, spiritual and cultural landscapes.

In order to inspire and motivate people to engage in serious political action, activists must develop alternatives to society's dominant ideologies, institutions and cultural practices. In short, 2015 must be a year of creativity, reflection and effective action. Now, more than ever, our collective efforts are needed. 

Vincent Emanuele is a writer, radio journalist and political activist. He can be reached at vince.emanuele@ivaw.org

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