31 Dec 2016

Best films of 2016

David Walsh & Joanne Laurier

Although technologies have sped upand made possiblemany things, they cannot by themselves overcome the gap between reality and its artistic assimilation and representation. That gap, in the first place, has an objective character.
As Leon Trotsky noted in Literature and Revolution, “The nightingale of poetry, like that bird of wisdom, the owl, is heard only after the sun is set. The day is a time for action, but at twilight feeling and reason come to take account of what has been accomplished. … As a matter of fact, all through history, mind limps after reality.”
The artistic mind is certainly limping along badly at present. In fact, for the moment the gap between art and reality is growing larger, as the economic and political contradictions intensify at an ever quickening pace.
This past year witnessed various political earthquakes: Brexit, a near coup in Turkey, the election of Donald Trump, the conflict in Syria, the anti-Russian hysteria of the American media, etc. A number of the events, in a contradictory manner, expressed mass popular disaffection and anger. Right-wing, nationalist parties have gained the most at this point, because of the utter worthlessness of both the traditional “left” parties and trade unions and the upper middle class pseudo-left, totally obsessed with race and gender. This is not a permanent situation.
For the most part, the film community in the US, at least on the surface, remains in thrall to racial and gender politics and the Democratic Party. This largely prevents it at present from doing anything truly sharp or innovative, or orienting itself to the most burning social questions.
However, whatever the conscious intentions of the filmmakers involved, both Free State of Jones (Gary Ross) and Loving (Jeff Nichols) cut across the racialist narrative in particular. Each in its own way demonstrated on the basis of historical experience that a struggle against oppression in America, including racism, is only possible on the basis of the highest, noblest ideals and the combined efforts of the entire working class population.
Oliver Stone’s Snowden, moreover, argued that the Obama administration represented a “seamless transition” from its predecessor in continuing to construct not merely the foundations, but the walls and floors of a police state.
The appearance of those three films had some significance. Appropriately, the overall critical and media response to Free State of Jones and Snowden was hostile.
A number of important foreign films from 2015 made brief appearances in North American movie theaters in 2016, including Colonia (Florian Gallenberger), about the horrors perpetrated by the Chilean military dictatorship and its ex-Nazi supporters, and The People vs. Fritz Bauer (Lars Kraume), on the hunt for Adolf Eichmann and the Frankfurt Auschwitz trials in the early 1960s. Also from 2015, less significant, but still intriguing, were Ixcanul [Volcano] (Jayro Bustamante), about a Mayan girl in Guatemala and her struggles, and Microb e and Gasoline (Michel Gondry), in which a couple of French adolescents try to make their way in the world.
Sami Blood
We saw a number of films at film festivals this year that have not yet been released in the US. Most prominent among them were The Chosen (Antonio Chavarrías), about Trotsky’s assassination, Sami Blood (Amanda Kernell), on the subject of the aboriginal people in Sweden in the 1930s, Marija (Michael Koch), dealing with immigrants in Germany, and Lady Macbeth (William Oldroyd), which treats social oppression and stifling in the 19th century.
So here are three lists:
1. New films released in 2016 in the US
Free State of Jones (Gary Ross)
Loving (Jeff Nichols)
Snowden (Oliver Stone)
Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt)
Indignation (James Schamus)
Wiener-Dog (Todd Solondz)
If they are not successful films, Manchester by the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan) and Moonlight (Barry Jenkins), and perhaps Paterson (Jim Jarmusch), at least indicate a growing interest in the conditions and feelings of wider layers of the population, and not just the top 5 or 6 percent.
2. 2015 films released this year in the US
The Colony (Colonia, Florian Gallenberger)
The People vs. Fritz Bauer (Der Staat gegen Fritz Bauer, Lars Kraume)
Ixcanul, or Volcano (Jayro Bustamante)
Microbe & Gasoline (Microbe et Gasoil, Michel Gondry)
Lady Macbeth
3. Films viewed at festivals this year and not yet released in the US
The Chosen (El elegido, Antonio Chavarrías)
Sami Blood (Sameblod, Amanda Kernell)
Marija (Michael Koch)
Lady Macbeth (William Oldroyd)
Past Life (Avi Nesher)
Radio Dreams (Babak Jalali)

Popular music in 2016

Hiram Lee & Matthew Brennan

Much of the popular music released in North America this past year was uninspired and superficial. Some of it was merely empty-headed and crude. Chart-topping artists like Bruno Mars and Kanye West were content to sing hymns to their own egos and careers. As it turns out, listening to performers sing or rap about how wealthy and successful they are is perhaps twice as boring as simply hearing someone talk about it.
Those artists who did turn their attention to real life faced a genuine obstacle in their path. The presence on the more “socially-conscious” albums this year of conceptions bound up with identity politics and racialist perspectives was pervasive. Questions of war, poverty, and social devastation—affecting hundreds of millions of people of every race, gender, and nationality around the world—were largely ignored.
It is critical for artists to overcome decades of anti-working class conceptions that have been nearly ubiquitous in universities and upper-middle class intellectual circles. A broader concern with social life in all its complexity, and with the working class itself, is urgently needed from artists, including musicians.
Many prominent musicians considered vaguely to be “socially conscious”—including singers (and siblings) Solange and Beyoncé, rappers Common and Kendrick Lamar—visited the White House this year to meet with, perform for and celebrate the Obamas. Nothing very good, and certainly nothing oppositional, will come from such layers.
But there were others whose music showed concern for wider layers of people, whose work was animated by a genuine sense of protest and whose love songs were more passionate and truthful than the rest. Whatever limitations their music may contain, the artists listed below, in our view, created some of the more moving and meaningful works this year.

Hiram Lee


William Bell (1971)
While there were significant contributions from veteran R&B singers like William Bell and Aaron Neville, many of the better “pop” albums came from the world of country music. There was a tendency, however, for even some of the better performers to imitate their inspirations a little too exactly, sometimes turning out nostalgic carbon copies of music from an earlier period (Kelsey Waldon). Others closer to Nashville have something to say, but tend to be a little too slick and inoffensive for their own—or anyone else’s—good (Brandy Clark and Mark Chesnutt).
Paul BurchMeridian RisingWilliam Bell—This is Where I LivePJ Harvey—The Hope Six Demolition Project
PJ Harvey—"The Hope Six Demolition Project"
Sturgill Simpson—A Sailor’s Guide to EarthRobert Ellis—Robert EllisBrandy Clark—Big Day in a Small TownShovels and Rope—Little SeedsMark Chesnutt—Tradition LivesAaron Neville—ApacheAndrew Bird—Are You SeriousKelsey Waldon—I’ve Got A Way


Arriving at a list of favorite jazz albums required sifting through a lot of pseudo-R&B, overly academic works rich on math but low on feeling and works by self-indulgent free jazz performers who couldn’t resist interrupting a groove every few measures with some off-time flourish of drum rolls or squeaking saxophone reeds—drowning in a stream of consciousness.
These works stood out. Not all of it will please traditionalists.
Ralph Peterson Trio—Triangular IIIHerlin Riley—New DirectionHouston Person & Ron Carter—ChemistryMurray, Allen & Carrington [David Murray, Geri Allen & Terri Lyne Carrington]—PerfectionOmer Avital—Abutbul MusicCharles Lloyd & The Marvels—I Long to See YouMatthew Hartnett—Southern ComfortAllen Toussaint—American TunesJohn Scofield—Country for Old MenBranford Marsalis Quartet w/ Kurt Elling—Upward Spiral

Matthew Brennan


Robbie Fulks (Photo credit: Robman94)
These were albums that I felt conveyed, or attempted to convey, human and humane qualities with a notable sensitivity or creativity. There was the warmth and playfulness in the John Prine duets, the thoughtful and engaging samples and songs crafted by Oddisee and Moodymann, and the empathetic voices Courtney Marie Andrews and Robbie Fulks give to the characters in their songs.
It is also notable that PJ Harvey (and though less musically rewarding, ANOHNI as well) wrote an album almost entirely dedicated to grappling with the official hypocrisy of the Obama administration.
I was also moved by the more subdued, but thoughtful jazz albums by Jeff Parker (of Tortoise) and the Wolfgang Muthspiel Quintet. And there were a number of interesting if uneven field recordings from Africa during the 1950s, 60s and 70s released this year (for example, Paul Bowles’ 1959 Morocco recordings and the “Wake Up You” Nigerian rock recordings of the mid-1970s), but I thought the one that was most rewarding was the Bobo Yeye collection from post-colonial Burkina Faso during the 1960s and 70s.
John Prine—For Better, Or WorseOddisee—The Odd TapePJ Harvey—The Hope Six Demolition ProjectBobo Yeye: Belle Époque In Upper Volta (Collected Artists)
Wolfgang Muthspiel—Rising GraceJeff Parker—The New BreedCourtney Marie Andrews—Honest LifeRobbie Fulks—Upland StoriesMoodymann—DJ Kicks 

Individual songs

John Prine & Fiona Prine (Elvis Presley cover)—“My Happiness”
Caleb Klauder & Reeb Willms (Buck Owens cover)—“There Goes My Love”
Charles Bradley—“Good To Be Back Home”
Frankie Cosmos—“On The Lips”
Frank Ocean—“Pink + White”
Hamilton Leithauser & Rostam—“A 1000 Times”
Hamilton Leithauser & Rostam—“1959”
Hope Sandoval & Kurt Vile—“Let Me Get There”
Kevin Morby—“I Have Been To The Mountain”
The Handsome Family—“Gold”
Anderson .Paak—“The Dreamer”
Andrew Bird & Fiona Apple—“Left Handed Kisses”
PJ Harvey—“The Wheel”
ANOHNI—“Drone Bomb Me”
Jeff Parker—“Cliché”
Leyla McCalla—“A Day for the Hunter, A Day for the Prey”
Ryley Walker—“The Roundabout”
Jessy Lanza—“Oh No”
KING—“The Greatest”
Andrew Bird (Photo credit: Dani Cantó)

Instrumental/Electronic Music

LMYE—“Cali 76”
Jefre Cantu-Ledesma—“Love’s Refrain”
Carl Gari & Abdullah Miniawy—“Darraje”
Khun Narin—“Chackim”
Explosions In The Sky—“Logic Of A Dream”
The Range—“Florida”
Glenn Jones—“Flower Turned Inside Out”
Nathan Bowles—“Gadarene Fugue”

Great Barrier Reef suffering worst-ever coral bleaching

Bryan Dyne

Researchers from Australia and the United States have reported that a 700-kilometer span of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has lost two-thirds of its shallow-water coral in the past nine months as a result of coral bleaching induced by global warming. This is the most severe episode of coral loss on the Great Barrier Reef on record, surpassing the events of 1998, 2002 and 2006. It will take at least ten years for the region to recover.
The current mass bleaching was caused by water temperatures approximate 1 degree Celsius above average from February to April (late summer and early fall in the Southern hemisphere), the result of climate change and assisted by a particularly strong El Niño. About half of the coral in the northern part of the reef are dead. Given that the reef lost more than half of its coral between 1985 and 2012, this latest episode threatens continued existence of the Great Barrier Reef as a whole.
To check against this phenomenon happening randomly, the researchers generated thousands of different climate models, looking at the relationship between ocean temperature and human carbon emissions. While it is not impossible that this warming could have occurred without humans, the chance that this could have occurred naturally is just over a half of a percent. This agrees with three decades of study into the relationship between global warming and coral bleaching.
Like all coral reefs, the Great Barrier Reef is a series of complex organisms that survive largely based on the symbiotic dependency between coral and an algae known as zooxanthellae. The algae provides the coral food and color while the coral provides an environment for the algae to grow. The relationship, however, is rather fragile and continues largely based on the conditions surrounding the reef, including weather such as typhoons or hurricanes, the water’s chemical composition and the water’s temperature.
If, as in the current case, water temperatures rise above a certain threshold for an extended period of time, the coral becomes stressed and expels its algae. This leaves the coral bleached white and reduces its energy supply by ninety percent. At this point, the coral begins to starve and has anywhere from months to weeks to live. Starvation in turn also leaves the coral more likely to die from predators such snails and crown of thorns starfish, bacterial infections and pollution.
Rising temperatures are not the only threat to coral reefs. Increased oceanic acidification (another consequence of global warming), chemical pollutants, runoff and overfishing are among the other factors that can stress coral enough to cause bleaching.
The loss of the Great Barrier Reef would have far-reaching ecological consequences. It has existed for about 18 million years and in its current form for about 8,000 years, since the last Ice Age. It is the largest structure on Earth constructed by living organisms. It consists of 2,900 individual reefs over 900 islands, spanning 344,400 square kilometers and can be clearly seen from outer space.
Millions of animals use it as their primary breeding ground each year, including several million aquatic creatures and between 1.4 and 1.7 million birds. It is home to 5,000 species of mollusks, 1,500 species of fish, 500 species of algae and seaweed, 215 species of birds and dozens of species of sea turtles, sharks, sea horses and other aquatic creatures. Hundreds of these species are endangered, with many of those being unique to the region.
As global ocean temperatures continue to rise, the life supported by the Great Barrier Reef is increasingly threatened. If the current warming continues apace, the reef is predicted to undergo a mass bleaching once every two years, rather than once every five or ten years. Given that it will take a minimum of ten years to recover from the current bleaching, more frequent occurrences raise the risk of the Great Barrier Reef as a whole dying off and many of the species it protects going extinct.
The problems facing the Great Barrier Reef are of a global character. Reefs in Hawaii and the Caribbean have also suffered mass coral bleaching events that coincide generally with global warming and particularly with El Niño events. In 1998, a global bleaching event killed off one-sixth of the world’s coral. In 2010, reefs in Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean suffered there worst recorded bleaching events, with some regions losing 20 percent of their total coral.
While coral bleaching has been observed for about a bit more than a century, occurrences in the first half of the 20th century were local and relatively mild. Parts of reefs would bleach, smaller sections would die, but the reefs as a whole would recover. An early instance of regional bleaching was observed during 1979, in the Caribbean and the Florida keys. The first recorded global coral bleaching event coincided with the El Niño of 1982-83.
Since then, global bleachings have occurred in the wake of every El Niño weather pattern. It was established in 1990 that global warming is the primary culprit. Research published then by climate scientists at the Smithsonian Institution conclusively showed that the coral bleachings of 1979-80, 1982-83 and 1986-88 were a result of warmer ocean waters caused by the combined effect of El Niño and rising average ocean temperatures as a result of increased carbon emissions.
The situation has grown more serious in the past quarter century. Human-induced global warming has continued apace, with 90 percent of the excess heat caused by carbon emissions going into the world’s oceans. As a result, average global ocean temperatures have increased 1 degree Celsius since 1980, stressing coral reefs globally to just under the conditions for bleaching. It is estimated that if carbon emissions continue as they are, coral reefs will suffer bleaching every other year by the mid-2030s. As was predicted in 1990, if the trend of increasing global temperatures is allowed to continue, coral reefs will soon no longer exist.

Soaring prison populations highlight social crisis in Australia

Robert Campion

Recent reports have revealed an accelerating increase in imprisonment rates in Australia, a damning indicator of social distress and the repressive responses of consecutive Labor and Liberal-National governments, federal and state.
Nearly 40,000 people are now in prison around the country, compared to a total in 1975 of 8,900 prisoners. Historically, the national imprisonment rate between 1945 and 1985 remained relatively stable, averaging 65 prisoners per 100,000 adults. This figure has more than trebled since the 1980s to 208 prisoners per 100,000 adults in 2016.
There has been virtually no media coverage of this spiralling trend, because it raises serious questions about the connection with the rising level of social inequality over the same decades.
In its latest Prisoners in Australia report, released this month, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) says the number of prisoners in adult corrective services custody increased by 8 percent in the past year—from 36,134 prisoners at June 30, 2015 to 38,845 at June 30, 2016. The imprisonment rate rose by 6 percent from 196 prisoners per 100,000 adult population in 2015.
The ABS report highlights a stark rise in the number of unsentenced adult prisoners—that is, prisoners who are still waiting trial or sentencing but who have been denied bail. It states that this number increased by 22 percent, from 9,898 in mid-2015 to 12,111 in mid-2016, following a similar 21 percent increase from 2014 to 2015.
Some of the reasons behind this growth in imprisonment were studied by the Jesuit Social Services (JSS) in a report, States of Justice, also published this month. It showed that the imprisonment rate jumped by 25 percent during the past five years, despite the rate of offences remaining relatively steady.
States of Justice points to the social and economic roots of the trend. It found that 25 percent of prisoners are homeless when they enter prisons and 43 percent are homeless when they leave. Half are unemployed upon entering, and find it even more difficult to find work upon leaving, with 79 percent having to rely on welfare payments. The JSS report concludes: “In many cases prison does not prevent crime—it may well nurture it.”
Equally disturbing is the fact that almost half of the male prisoners and over 60 percent of the females have a reported history of mental illness. There is also a high chance that they have used illicit drugs, with related offences increasing by 40 percent from 2008–09, and most of the rise occurring between 2013 and 2015.
Just as revealing is the fact that the typical prisoner is highly unlikely to have finished secondary education. Only 16 percent of prisoners completed Year 12, and only a third finished Year 10.
There was also a disturbing rise in disadvantaged children being held in detention in the state of Victoria between 2010 and 2015. The proportion of detained children with prior or current involvement with Child Protection authorities increased from 51 percent to 64 percent.
As a result of all these factors, the recidivism rate is growing. Five years ago, 39.9 percent of prisoners returned to prison less than two years after their release. Now, the figure is 44 percent.
There are no rising crime rates to explain these results; in fact, the crime rate is either steady or dropping. The number of people committing crimes has risen only 1 percent since 2010, and the number of victims of crime has fallen by approximately 3 percent.
What has occurred are reactionary “law and order” campaigns with successive Labor and Coalition seeking to outdo each other in incarcerating people. The measures included ever-more draconian legislation, severe sentencing laws, restrictions on bail and jailing for non-payment of fines.
This has been accompanied by relentless media sensationalism about the supposedly soaring levels of violent crimes and the fraudulent “war on terror”—a catchcry seized upon by governments around the world to bolster the state apparatus and attack democratic rights.
This offensive is having a serious impact on the most disadvantaged members of society, further exacerbating social inequality.
The Jesuit report mentions the promise of the Hawke Labor government to “do better” 25 years ago, upon receiving the report of its Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in custody. Since that time, however, the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) people in custody has doubled.
Other figures show that the incarceration rate for indigenous people, who are the most oppressed section of the working class, has skyrocketed by 75 percent over the past decade, compared to a 33 percent increase for non-indigenous prisoners. According to the Jesuit report, the ATSI imprisonment rate stands 13 times higher than the rate for non-ATSI prisoners.
The Jesuit report recommends putting public spending to “much better use” by expanding investment into “prevention, early intervention (especially early childhood services) and diversion.” It calls for the “reform of the justice system” by introducing “recidivism targets” and “more intensive transition support,” and a more “combined effort” to collect data on the social crisis.
These calls are falling on deaf ears in the corporate and political establishment because Australia, like other countries, is embroiled in a pro-business assault upon working conditions, social services and basic democratic rights. Far from an exception, in terms of incarceration, Australia is, in fact, ahead of countries such as the United Kingdom, France and Germany.
Amid a worsening global economic crisis and mounting social inequality, the entire political establishment, which includes the Greens, has nothing to offer working people and youth except the threat of repression and imprisonment. Above all, the erection of an ever-greater police and prison apparatus reveals a fear of growing class tensions and an attempt to intimidate and suppress the development of popular unrest.

UK: The Sky takeover deal and the rehabilitation of Rupert Murdoch

Thomas Scripps

Five years after the billionaire media oligarch Rupert Murdoch and his key personnel got away scot-free in the phone hacking scandal, their rehabilitation by the British ruling elite is complete.
This month, an £11.2 billion deal was agreed between Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox and the UK TV company Sky.
Providing Karen Bradley, the Conservative government’s Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, accepts the arrangement, Fox—which already owns 39 percent of Sky—will pay £10.75 a share for the remaining 61 percent, taking full control of the company. Once Bradley is formally notified of the deal, her department has 10 days to decide if the takeover triggers public interest concerns and whether media regulatory body Ofcom will be called to investigate.
The Murdochs, through News UK, already control the largest circulation share of any newspaper group in Britain—owning The SunThe Sun on SundayThe Times and The Sunday Times—at just under 30 percent on weekdays and over a third on Sundays. With full control of Sky, they would also gain just under 20 percent of the TV news market and 45 percent of radio audience through Sky’s supply of news to radio stations. The immense wealth of the Murdoch’s business empire would also exercise a quasi monopoly of journalistic talent and manpower.
The deal is an attempt to complete the takeover following the failure of Fox’s previous bid in 2010/11. That fell through following revelations that the now defunct News of the World Sunday tabloid, also owned by Murdoch, had illegally hacked, on an “industrial scale,” the phones and computers of thousands of individuals—including the mobile of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler—and had also bribed police officers. Such was the public revulsion and anger at these practices that the 168-year-old newspaper was forced to close.
The findings led to a major police investigation, resulting in a number of trials and convictions—although not of Murdoch and his family—and the establishment of the Leveson Inquiry into the activities of the British press. In this atmosphere, ruling circles deemed Murdoch’s business empire too “toxic” to be allowed a substantial extension of its ownership of media outlets in Britain.
Less than six years later, however, there is broad confidence among Fox and Sky executives that the deal will be given the go ahead. James Murdoch, Rupert’s son, and CEO of Fox and Chairman of Sky, announced with confidence, “this [deal] passes regulatory muster.” He continued, “We think… that no meaningful concessions will need to be made.”
That the Murdochs can move to complete their plans so soon is testimony to the thorough job done by the British ruling class and judicial system in obscuring their criminal influence and activity. From the outset, it was clear that Leveson’s inquiry was intended only to whitewash the role played by Murdoch and those close to him in the hacking scandal and to obscure the multitude of shady connections between his media empire and the British bourgeoisie.
Rupert Murdoch’s ridiculous claim that he was completely unaware of the illegal practices at his newspaper was accepted. While acknowledging “some concern” over James Murdoch’s evidence, Leveson let the matter lie, stating that he was unable “to reach any conclusion.”
As for Murdoch’s relationship to British politics, Leveson engaged in a blatant cover-up. Acknowledging that politicians from all parties had developed a relationship with the media “which has not been in the public interest,” the report stated there is no evidence of “anything resembling a ‘deal’ whereby News International's support was traded for the expectation of policy favours.”
In the latter part of 2015, the negligible impact of Leveson on Murdoch’s operations became clear. In September, Murdoch reinstated Rebekah Brooks, the disgraced former head of News of the World and The Sun, as CEO of his News UK. Millions of pounds were thrown at defending Brooks in her 2014 trial over phone hacking—her legal team reportedly earning £30,000 per week. She was acquitted on the shaky plea of “incompetence.” One month later, the Crown Prosecution Service declared there would be no further prosecutions over the phone hacking scandal. The second part of the Leveson Inquiry, into the “Ethics and Culture” of the British press, has been kicked into the long grass.
The new Sky deal is an indication that Murdoch feels ready to return to business as usual. Among the broader population, however, there remains significant, well-founded, distrust of the corrupt billionaire. A petition launched by campaigning group 38 Degrees calling on Bradley to refer the bid to Ofcom, has reached 141,000 signatures, gaining 37,000 in its first 24 hours. A separate petition set up by Avaaz had reached 40,000, with 7,000 messages sent in to Bradley’s office.
These concerns will fall on deaf ears. The timing of the Murdoch empire’s effort to take control of Sky is significant. Commentators have pointed to the falling value of the pound versus the dollar post-Brexit, advantaging Fox, who would pay in dollars. Economic calculations, however, are only half the story. That Fox feels confident to make the bid is indicative of the serious political motives in play.
Murdoch supported the Leave campaign in the referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union (EU), in expectation of major reforms in favour of big business and the super-rich should the UK leave. The Leave campaign was backed by The SunThe Sun on Sunday and The Sunday Times. His other UK paper, The Times made a tactical call for Remain. Given that the government of Theresa May is determined to push through Britain’s EU exit, the strengthening of Murdoch’s hand in UK media would be a considerable advantage.
May and Murdoch met this September in New York, just three months before the Sky deal was announced. Though Bradley told parliament the two had not discussed the takeover, given the extensive relations between all of Britain’s official political parties with the billionaire, this cannot be taken at face value.
Another critical element is involved in the Sky deal. In the last period, there have been indications of a growing militant movement of the working class against nearly a decade of deepening austerity. Over the last year, 50,000 junior doctors held unprecedented strikes, along with postal workers and rail workers. Other workers, including airline cabin crew have voted to strike—with the trade union bureaucracy sabotaging these before they got off the ground.
Murdoch has considerable experience in breaking strikes, having presided over the smashing of the Fleet Street printers’ strike—with the aid of police violence and union treachery—during the Wapping dispute of 1986. Ever since, his newspapers have remained at the forefront of attacks on strikers and working people generally. The Tory government has repeatedly stated its determination to break workers’ strikes, and in March will introduce new anti-strike laws. Murdoch and his media empire are considered a valuable and staunch ally in this effort.
Aware of the widespread hostility to Murdoch among the population, former Labour leader Ed Miliband deemed it necessary to offer token opposition. Miliband declared in parliament “We all said in 2011 that never again would we allow the Murdochs to wield unfettered power.” In fact, Miliband, in his position as Leader of the Opposition in 2011, only called on then Prime Minister David Cameron to apologise for a “catastrophic error of judgement” in hiring Andy Coulson—imprisoned in the hacking scandal—as an advisor.
Labour can go no further in their criticisms as they are as intimately associated to Murdoch as are the Tories. In 2011, Brooks stated, “I went to Downing Street regularly while [Gordon] Brown and [Tony] Blair were at Number 10.”

US railroads demand concessions from 145,000 workers

Jeff Lusanne

Long drawn out contract negotiations between rail unions and the major US freight railroads have recently been terminated by railroad management, prompting the unions to seek federal mediation. The railroads leading the contract negotiation are demanding that workers pay more for health care, accept minimal raises and adopt even more concessions on working conditions.
The contract negotiation covers 145,000 employees in 11 unions, the largest of which are the United Transportation Union (UTU/SMART), Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), and Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees (BMWED). Representatives from most of the largest US railroads—Union Pacific, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, Norfolk Southern, Kansas City Southern, and CSX—form the National Carrier’s Conference Committee (NCCC), which carries out the negotiations. Additional railroads and employees are covered or influenced by the contract, which sets the standard for the industry.
Negotiations began two years ago and agreements expired on December 31, 2015, but rail workers continue to labor under the previous contract. The railroads appear to be biding their time until the Trump administration takes office, a factor they apparently see working to their advantage.
Typical of railroad management’s attitude is a December 15 statement that declares, “Now is not the time for excessive demands. Railroad employees are among the most highly compensated in the nation.” That leads to a link describing compensation that is full of misleading data. That wages surpassed the inflation rate in the last 10 years is presented as an outrage. The wages that the railroad bosses decry often come from working far more than 40 hours a week, in potentially extreme circumstances.
A bridge and trestle on a route between Mullens and Princeton, West Virginia, closed in 2015 after over a century of operation
Most egregious, perhaps, is the bulleted statement claiming that workers enjoy “11 national holidays and three weeks of vacation each year.” Railroads operate on nearly every major national holiday, and have strict “absenteeism” policies that penalize what they consider excessive time off. Notoriously, there is no schedule for operating employees, and they often work 12-hour shifts, longer if travel time is included, and are frequently away from home. A common challenge faced by many railroad workers is being forced to miss family events, holidays, and even funerals.
Presently, employees pay at least $229 a month for health coverage, but the railroads are insisting that this is “below average” and must rise. The BMWED notes that it offered “savings” in health care that do not cost any railway worker or the railroads any money, raising the question of whether the unions are proposing lower-quality health plans for workers. Nevertheless, the railroads rejected that proposal.
The railroads have welcomed the intervention of the National Mediation Board, a federal agency that coordinates labor-management relations. Its three members consist of two Democrats and one Republican, and membership will likely change with the new administration.
The Railway Labor Act of 1926 was designed to prevent any possibility of a railroad strike. Whenever the mediation board declares an impasse in the negotiations—which could take months or even years—a 30-day cooling off period begins, during which negotiations continue. After that period, railroads could lock out employees, or unions could call a strike, unless the president authorizes a Presidential Emergency Board. The unions, tied to the Democratic Party, entirely accept this framework, so that even as negotiations have progressed, railroads have been able to impose cuts without opposition.
For their part, the major railroad unions are concerned that the huge concessions demanded by railroads could spark a rebellion by workers. Dennis Pierce, the national president of the BLET, writes that “the level of concessions that were demanded on our health and welfare benefits [are] way beyond anything rail unions have seen in decades” and that the low wage increases would not even cover increased health care costs.
The rail unions have overseen decades of concessions and a dramatic drop in railroad employment (from 1.5 million in 1947 to less than 250,000 today.) The two crewmembers in the cab of a freight train are split between two unions, which have a history of working with the railroads to gain the edge by offering concessions. In 1994, the BLET asked engineers to cross the UTU (conductors) picket line at Soo Line railroad, though the engineers themselves refused by 98 percent. In 2014, the UTU/SMART tried to push a contract with one-man operation, under the condition that they got to collect union dues from the one remaining crewmember who now did two people’s work. Workers also rejected that. Whether the railroads are pushing one-person or even crewless trains in this round of negotiations has not been stated, but it is highly likely.
As certain traffic (particularly coal and oil) fell off over the last two years, many railroads imposed furloughs (layoffs) of thousands of employees. This is not uncommon with the increase and decrease of traffic, but this time, more permanent cuts were also made. Yards, shops, and maintenance bases were closed, and routes in the South and Appalachia closed, downgraded, or sold off to short line and regional operators. Those operators often pay less to employees, effectively serving as cheaper subcontractors to the large railroads, which often maintain the right to all traffic generated on the sold off routes.
Beyond that, there have been significant operational changes aimed at using fewer crews despite the fact they impose more difficult working conditions and increased safety hazards. CSX Railroad has made the most dramatic changes. Historically, the length and tonnage of freight trains has gradually risen, and it is not uncommon for a train traveling longer distances to be over a mile in length. CSX enacted new policies that suddenly have combined what used to be two trains into one monster train, which can be up to 3 miles long and 25,000 tons. The benefit to management is that they only need to employ one crew instead of two.
Employees point out that such monster trains are more prone to problems, operate more slowly and cause traffic delays because they exceed capacity. In the end, they may end up going so slowly that they require just as many crews. Despite this, managers know how to manipulate that data to make it look good for investors.

US government collecting social media accounts of visitors to country

E.P. Milligan

The US government has begun requesting foreign travelers to submit their social media information to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) before traveling into the country. The practice is claimed to be part of broader efforts to identify potential “terrorist threats.”
The request is part of the online Electronic System for Travel Authorization, a visa waiver application that many visitors must complete. The choices include Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube, as well as additional space for applicants to volunteer other lesser-known platforms.
Privacy rights activists have pointed out that there are few guidelines about how the information could be used by CBP or shared with other agencies. In effect, the practice represents an infringement on the First and Fourth Amendments, protecting freedom of expression and protection from unreasonable searches and seizures. This represents yet another development of a broader process of the erosion of democratic rights, as the US government assumes ever more increasingly the character of a police state.
While the CBP instituted the practice last week, the agency has claimed that—for now—it will not bar entry to applicants who decline to provide their social media information. The US Federal Register states that “collecting social media data will enhance the existing investigative process and provide Department of Homeland Security (DHS) greater clarity and visibility to possible nefarious activity and connections by providing an additional tool set which analysts and investigators may use to better analyze and investigate the case.”
The US government approves roughly 10 million visa applications a year and had 77.5 million foreign visitors in 2015 alone. The scooping up of such a vast amount of data will in effect lead to the creation of the largest government-controlled database of its kind virtually overnight.
The ACLU and the Center for Democracy and Technology have cautioned that the practice could potentially provide the state with “gateways into an enormous amount of [users’] online expression and associations, which can reflect highly sensitive information about that person’s opinions, beliefs, identity and community.”
The groups also warned that government surveillance will “fall hardest on Arab and Muslim communities, whose usernames, posts, contacts and social networks will be exposed to intense scrutiny.”
The Internet Association, a group representing companies such as Facebook, Google and Twitter, argued the policy violates freedom of expression.
Internet privacy group Access Now pointed out that while the DHS claims the data collection is not mandatory, most applicants will not know that they have a choice at all. It is also likely to serve as a dangerous precedent upon which the government could implement further information probes.
Nathan White of Access Now stated: “The process to enter the US is confusing, and it’s likely that most visitors will fill out the card completely rather than risk additional questions from intimidating, uniformed officers—the same officers who will decide which of your jokes are funny and which ones make you a security risk.”
The DHS is believed to already have the ability to perform limited scans of social media data. The idea was first floated by the government following the San Bernardino killings in California, in which social media profiles factored into the investigations alongside a locked iPhone 5C.
Fifteen years after the bogus “War on Terror” began, the United States has curtailed basic democratic rights and conducted mass illegal surveillance on the population. What is more, in every major terrorist attack on both US and European soil, the perpetrators have been known by intelligence agencies.
Clearly, the increasing surveillance of the population has done little to prevent terrorist threats. In reality, the impetus behind authoritarian measures has far more to do with strangling social opposition.
The most notorious and far-reaching anti-democratic measures were revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden, who uncovered massive government spying of US citizens as well as foreigners through the illegal collection of cellphone metadata. He has been forced into exile over fear of arrest or even assassination.
The US government has already made enormous efforts to track the movements of citizens and foreigners alike. In early 2015, information obtained through the Freedom of Information Act revealed that the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has been tracking the movements of millions of Americans through a national license plate reader program.
The DEA operates a National License Plate Recognition program, started in 2008, that connects its license plate readers with other law enforcement agencies. Under the guise of the “War on Drugs,” the federal government is moving quickly to create a centralized database of all drivers’ movements throughout the country.
A report released by the ACLU in July 2013, called “You Are Being Tracked,” detailed a massive system of automatic license plate readers in use throughout the United States. Small, high-speed cameras mounted on police cars, road signs, bridges, and elsewhere capture thousands of license plates per minute.
Drivers’ information is kept for years or even indefinitely, with little to no protection for personal privacy rights. The information also can be shared with any other government agency regardless of whether or not it pertains to the “War on Drugs.”
An undated document shows the DEA has already deployed at least 100 license plate readers across the US, and that its database already held more than 343 million records. A 2010 document demonstrates that the agency had installed 41 plate reader monitoring stations in Texas, New Mexico and California alone.
The DEA uses the collected information to data mine in order to “identify travel patterns” of specific individuals “of high interest,” helping to track and even predict their movements. The report does not specify what constitutes a person of “high interest.” It goes on to describe how the system monitors drivers in real time, with the ability to notify law enforcement officers immediately when a certain plate is spotted.

Massive security operations planned for US New Year’s celebrations

Tom Hall

Police departments throughout the United States have seized upon the attack on a Christmas market in Berlin this month to justify a massive security buildup surrounding New Year’s Eve celebrations in major US cities.
These military-style operations accompanying New Year’s ceremonies, often placing whole sections of city centers on lockdown, have become as much of an annual tradition in the United States as the celebrations themselves.
The security buildup comes in spite of the absence of any credible threats of terror attacks within the United States.
“U.S. defence and security agencies said they believed the threat of militant attacks inside the United States was low during this New Year’s holiday,” Reuters reported yesterday. However, federal security bulletins have made unsubstantiated statements of concern over “homegrown violent extremists” carrying out attacks against celebrations.
The real function of these operations is not to ensure the safety of the crowds but to stoke fears over possible terror attacks in order to legitimize American imperialism’s wars abroad and to acclimate the population to police-state measures and attacks on democratic rights at home.
In New York City, where more than a million people traditionally flock to Times Square to ring in the new year, preparations will far exceed even the unprecedented military-style operation conducted last year, in the wake of the terror attacks in Paris and the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, when thousands of officers, supported by snipers, bomb-sniffing dogs, surveillance cameras, and helicopters, herded revelers through multiple checkpoints before being cordoned off into one of dozens of enclosures in the square itself.
This year, more than 7,000 officers will descend upon Times Square and the surrounding neighborhood. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Highly visible heavy-weapons teams will be deployed in Times Square, as well as counterterrorism officers equipped with long guns and bomb-sniffing dogs. Throughout Saturday and into the night, detailed personnel will sweep hotels, theaters and parking garages for threats and suspicious packages, according to authorities. Plainclothes police officers will be in the crowds, hundreds of cameras will monitor the area and a fleet of helicopters will fly above Times Square.” Twenty-seven streets in the middle of Manhattan, the most densely populated area in the country, will be closed down to accommodate the operation.
But the “main event” of this year’s operation in New York City will be the placement of dozens of garbage trucks filled with sand to weight them down outside the event to act as barriers against attacks with trucks of the kind carried out in Berlin and Nice, France, earlier this year.
Over the past few months, the trucks have “become a regular feature of the city’s security infrastructure,” the New York Times observed, having previously been deployed outside Trump Tower on Election Day and at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. The paper noted that these trucks would also be deployed at Central Park and on the Coney Island boardwalk, where separate events are being planned.
Summing up the conversion of an annual holiday celebration into an armed fortification, New York Police Department Police Commissioner James O’Neill told the press, “We’re going to have one of the most well-policed, best protected events at one of the safest venues in the entire world, given all the assets that we’ve employed here.”
Similar buildups are being prepared in other major American cities. Officials in Chicago have not released any specific information about their security preparations, but it is expected to be formidable. The city’s main celebration at Navy Pier on Lake Michigan is expected to have an increased security presence, including “[s]ecurity officers with metal-detecting wands, uniformed and plain clothes police, and K-9 units,” according to Chicago’s CBS affiliate.
In Boston, which was subjected to an unprecedented military style lock-down in 2013 following the Boston Marathon bombing, Police Commissioner William Evans told a press conference, “You’ll see some heightened security out there, but you won’t see all of it. Also, we’ll have a lot of undercover officers. We’ll have some bomb assets in the area, so people shouldn’t be afraid to come out.”
Boston’s public radio station, WBUR, is telling people to “[e]xpect to see barricades blocking roads around the Copley Square area, similar to how BPD now blocks off areas along the Boston Marathon route using dump trucks.”
Atlanta’s police department has canceled all of its officers’ off days and instituted 12-hour shifts in order to patrol the city’s New Year’s celebrations as well as the Peach Bowl college football game between Alabama and Washington taking place today. “You’ll see more officers in high visibility uniforms, we’ll have our K-9 unit fully deployed, we have our special operations response team,” the head of the local transit agency’s Emergency Preparedness Unit told the press.
In New Orleans, the city will “dispatch heavy trucks to blockade much of Bourbon Street,” the main road in the city’s famous French Quarter entertainment district, USA Today reported. Additional personnel from both the New Orleans Police Department and the Louisiana State Police will be deployed to heavily trafficked areas of the city. At least some of them will be equipped with tactical gear, Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced, for the first time in the city’s history (although the city was infamously occupied by the National Guard for months following Hurricane Katrina).
In the Los Angeles suburb of Pasadena, home of the annual Tournament of Roses Parade and associated Rose Bowl college football game, last year’s unprecedented buildup involving 2,000 federal officers from dozens of agencies will be increased again this year. Water-filled barriers will be placed at over 50 intersections along the parade route, the Los Angeles Times reported, in response to the attacks in Berlin and Nice. Roughly 1,500 police officers will patrol the parade route, Pasadena Police Chief Phillip L. Sanchez said.
Citing the increased resources available after the Department of Homeland Security assigned the highest possible threat rating to the parade, a Pasadena police lieutenant told the local news website Pasadena Now, “We have not pulled back from increasing these resources and we don’t have plans to decrease by any means.”

More than 5,000 refugees drowned in the Mediterranean in 2016

Martin Kreickenbaum

The number of people who have drowned fleeing to Europe via the Mediterranean this year has risen to more than 5,000, according to the official data of the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
According to UNHCR spokesman William Spindler, the new tragic record “means that on average, 14 people have died every single day this year in the Mediterranean trying to find safety or a better life in Europe.”
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that the actual number of victims is much higher than revealed by the UN statistics, which only record the officially registered death tolls. In particular there is a lack of reliable data on the route from North Africa to Spain, where many of the crossings across the Mediterranean remain undiscovered.
UNHCR reported that 3,777 refugees lost their lives on the Mediterranean Sea in 2015 and about 3,000 in 2014.  The subsequent death toll was regarded as a necessary price to pay to deter other refugees from seeking to reach Europe.
The threshold of 5,000 official victims was exceeded on the night of the 22nd of December, when two boats capsized shortly before reaching the coast of the Italian island of Sicily. The Italian Coast Guard was able to rescue 80 refugees, while 57 drowned. On the other vessel, a dinghy, 40 of 120 occupants could not be recovered.
The Mediterranean is by far the deadliest zone for refugees. Although only a fraction of the world’s 60 million refugees seek to reach Europe, two-thirds of the world’s 7,400 deaths occur here. In addition, there are 1,440 refugees who have been killed in the escape routes leading to Europe—in West Africa, the Sahara, the Horn of Africa and the Middle East. In Turkey, more than 100 refugees were shot dead by border policemen.
The number of deaths has increased despite the fact that the number of refugees arriving in Europe has fallen by almost two-thirds, from over 1 million in 2015 to 358,000 in 2016. The rapid increase in deaths is a direct result of the European Union’s closure of the Aegean and Balkan routes. The fugitives were thus forced to cross the much more dangerous routes via Egypt or Libya to Italy.
In the case of major boat disasters in the Mediterranean, such as in May when more than 1,000 refugees drowned within a week, European politicians regularly make hypocritical promises that such a tragedy should never happen again. In fact, “the number of deaths has risen even further. And politically speaking, nothing, absolutely nothing has been done to curb this tragedy,” Christopher Hein of the Italian Refugee Council explained.
The hypocrisy at work knows no limits. During the battle for Aleppo, politicians and the media accused the Syrian and Russian army of crimes against the civilian population. However, the same politicians have not lifted a finger to help bring the approximately 80,000 refugees from Aleppo to Europe. Instead, the EU has continued to set up new obstacles and expanded the measures to defer refugees to Europe’s neighbours. The driving force behind this policy is the German government under Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The border protection agency Frontex has been expanded to become the European Border and Coast Guard and has been given considerably more power. Dozens of warships patrol the Mediterranean. Their task is not to rescue refugees, but to destroy refugee vessels.
Internment camps have been set up in Greece and Italy, which are described as “hotspots”. Refugees have to stay there for months under catastrophic conditions and often have no way to apply for asylum. In Italy 120,000 people live in completely overcrowded camps. In Greece there are about 60,000, although a large number remain in tents in the winter, with snowfall and temperatures around the freezing point.
In March, Merkel negotiated a dirty deal with the Turkish government. As a result, Turkey erected fences and walls on its border with Syria and sealed off the border crossings. Since then, Turkish soldiers and border policemen have shot dozens of refugees, many have been ill-treated and brutally deported, according to human rights organizations. Nevertheless Merkel recently declared cynically that the deal with Turkey had saved lives every day.
Under the direction of the German Minister of the Interior Thomas de Maizière (CDU), the EU has concluded so-called “migration partnerships” with African governments. Pressure has been applied to the respective African regimes by linking the payment of development aid to accepting deported refugees and the closure of borders.
While the German government claims that the “migratory partnerships” are fighting the causes of the crisis, their real purpose is forcibly preventing refugees from fleeing and deporting them en masse back to Africa. The German ruling party, the CSU, has recently taken up another initiative from de Maizière, demanding that refugees who are rescued from distress be return to Africa— although this is a flagrant violation of the Geneva Convention on Refugees.
According to the German government, similar agreements involving refugee repatriation are to be concluded with Tunisia and Egypt, as was the case with Turkey. The refugees are to be interned in camps in North Africa, although it is well known that the Tunisian and Egyptian regimes trample human rights underfoot and arbitrarily abuse refugees.
The EU regularly assigns blame for the deaths in the Mediterranean Sea to the people smugglers, claiming they lure refugees with false promises onto unseaworthy boats. In fact, there is no other way for refugees to seek security than to trust the smugglers, bearing in mind that the possibility of joining family members already in Europe is now massively restricted.
In addition, more and more immigrants are trying to escape from Libya. Flavio di Giacomo of the UNHCR in Rome said there are more crossings than usual this winter: “This trend confirms the fact that the conditions in Libya are becoming increasingly dangerous for migrants.”
Di Giacomo said: “Many refugees have told us that they did not want to come to Europe when they left their countries of origin. Many of them just wanted to go to Libya. But there they have only experienced violence and abuse. As a result, they decided to come to Europe by sea and fell into the hands of unscrupulous smugglers, who forced them to go aboard unseaworthy boats. These people come to Europe on irregular routes because there are not enough regular routes.”
The situation in Libya has been aggravated mainly by the devastating 2011 NATO regime change operation which plunged the country into chaos. The refugees thus become victims of the imperialist powers in a double sense. With the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen, the US and its European allies have robbed millions of people of their livelihoods and forced them to flee. At the same time, by blocking borders, revoking asylum law, and programmes of massive forced repatriation, they have prevented them from escaping the chaos.

US Army, German Bundeswehr dispatch thousands of troops to Eastern Europe

Johannes Stern

A massive deployment of US and NATO troops to Poland and the Baltic states is underway. According to a December 30 statement by the German Bundeswehr (Armed Forces) Press and Information Centre, “As part of the NATO operation ‘Atlantic Resolve,’ three US transport ships are expected in Bremerhaven in the first week of January.”
The statement noted that in early November, “Soldiers of the 3rd Brigade of the 4th US Infantry Division began loading the ships with vehicles and containers.” Overall, “more than 2,500 pieces of cargo (trucks, combat vehicles, trailers, containers) [were] initially shipped to Germany and then transported to Poland and other countries in Central and Eastern Europe.” The materiel is to “arrive in the period January 6-8 by maritime transport in Bremerhaven, and will then be transported to Poland by rail and military convoys by approximately January 20.”
Earlier this month, the newspaper Kieler Nachrichten called the arms build-up “the greatest redeployment operation of the US Army to Germany since 1990.” More than 2,000 tanks, howitzers, jeeps and trucks are being deployed for NATO exercises in Eastern Europe that will continue for nine months.
According to statements by the US Army Europe, 4,000 additional troops and 2,000 tanks will “contribute to and strengthen the alliance’s deterrence and defense.” Colonel Todd Bertulis, deputy head of logistics of the Stuttgart-based US Command in Europe (EUCOM), said the operation will ensure that “the necessary combat power is brought to the right place in Europe at the right time.”
Lieutenant General Frederick “Ben” Hodges, commander of US forces in Europe, said, “Three years after the last American tanks left the continent, we need to get them back.” He made the statement during a visit to the Logistics School of the Bundeswehr in Lower Saxony Garlstedt. He told journalists that the measures were a “response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the illegal annexation of Crimea.”
Russia was preparing for war, the general claimed. All Russian ministries would, he declared, “prepare accordingly—mobilize, if you will.” He continued, “This does not mean that there necessarily has to be a war, none of this is inevitable, but Moscow is preparing for the possibility.”
This presentation turns reality on its head. The deployment of US combat troops is part of NATO preparations for war against Russia, the culmination of a continual eastward expansion of NATO since the dissolution of the Soviet Union 25 years ago.
In Ukraine, it is not Russia that is the aggressor, but the US and NATO. Washington and Berlin, in close collaboration with fascist forces, organised a coup against the pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, in early 2014, installing a rabidly anti-Russian, nationalist regime in Kiev. That move sparked a separatist rebellion by Russian-speaking regions in the country’s east, which Moscow has supported and the Kiev government, backed by Western arms and money, has sought, unsuccessfully, to violently suppress.
The events in Ukraine were seized on by the US, the European Union and NATO to impose economic and diplomatic sanctions and dramatically expand NATO military forces along Russia’s western border.
In advance of the January 20 inauguration of US President-elect Donald Trump, who has called for a ratcheting down of tensions with Russia in order to focus US aggression more directly on China, opposed forces within the US military-intelligence and political establishment are seeking to escalate the confrontation with Moscow.
This week, Republican Senator John McCain toured the Baltic States to assure them of the continued support of the United States. In an interview broadcast by Estonian radio, McCain called for a further build-up of NATO forces against Russia and declared that every “credible member” of the US Congress viewed Russian President Vladimir Putin “for what he is: a thug and a bully and a KGB agent.”
In the dangerous escalation against nuclear-armed Russia, which poses the danger of a third world war, the Bundeswehr is playing a central role. “Without the support of the [German] Army, we can go nowhere,” Lieutenant General Hodges said during an appearance at the Joint Support Service of the Bundeswehr.
Lieutenant General Peter Bohrer, deputy chief of the Joint Support Service, agreed. “In the past,” he said, “Germany was a frontline state. Today we are a transit zone, and one of our key tasks is to undertake common support… We are open to carrying out these tasks together with our American partners.”
After arriving in Germany, the American soldiers and their heavy equipment will be moved from Bremerhaven by rail through northern Germany to Eastern Europe. The Bundeswehr press office announced: “Some 900 cars with military materiel will be transported by train from Bremerhaven to Poland. There are also about 600 pieces of freight that will be transported by train to Poland from the military training ground at Bergen-Hohne. Nearly 40 vehicles will travel directly by road from Bremerhaven to Poland.”
Germany, which rolled over Eastern Europe in its war of extermination 75 years ago, is preparing to send combat troops to the Baltics. In January, 26 tanks, 100 other vehicles and 120 containers will be transported by train to Lithuania.
In an interview with the military newspaper Bundeswehr aktuell, General Volker Wieker confirmed that Germany had agreed with the United States, Canada and the UK at the NATO summit in Warsaw “to take the lead, with each establishing a battle group.” Germany will send the 122nd Infantry Battalion. He added that other supplies would follow, “so that we will achieve a so-called Full Operational Capability by mid-year.”
What is meant by “full operational capability” was underlined by a public Bundeswehr exercise in Grafenwöhr, where the German battalion prepared for deployment. According to a video report by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the manoeuvres involved “an enemy attack on the Lithuanian-Russian border.”
The future commander of the NATO Battle Group in Lithuania, Lieutenant-Colonel Christoph Huber, explained the “tactical purpose” of the manoeuvres as follows: “The comrades of the Second Company successfully carried out the battle here…winning time for their comrades and thereby destroying the enemy forces. This is high-intensity combat training.”