News for progressives

Turning Algeria Into a Necrocracy

Counterpunch - Tue, 2019-03-19 15:57

Photograph Source Magharebia

Let us now praise famous men. Abdelaziz Bouteflika, for example. What goes on in his comatose brain? What moves in the 82-year old heart of the zombie president who – as the Algerians protesting his fifth attempt at presidential power have just discovered – will now stay on as a coffin-leader into next year. Or, who knows, the year afterwards?

But why on earth do men like Bouteflika do these things? In his case, he’s not just “clinging to power”. He is being prevented from entering the grave.

Old men forget, observed Shakespeare’s Henry V, and wartime diplomat Duff Cooper used this as the title of his memoirs. “Autumn has always been my favourite season,” he wrote. “… I love the sunlight but I cannot fear the coming of the dark.” He lived for another 11 years.

Winston Churchill was 80 when, on the morning of 23 March 1955, he was shocked to read the headline in The Guardian: “Cabinet urging premier to resign. His health said to be retarding his work.”

And yes, we are coming to Bouteflika of Algeria in just a moment. And Hosni Mubarak, who was 83 when the Arab revolution overwhelmed him in 2011, while still pleading for another seven months in power. Or the present King Salman of Saudi Arabia, 83 last year.

Or field-marshal-president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is only 64 but for whom the parliament and courts are now providing him with the chance of ruling Egypt in 2030 when he will be 75, or far longer if he chooses.

Less than two years before he read that Guardian headline, Churchill had suffered a severe stroke at 10 Downing Street. His cabinet colleagues did not notice next morning, and the public were told he was merely “exhausted”. He was paralysed on one side. Thanks be to God that he did not have a hoarse voice in parliament, which might have given the game away.

Yet three months after this (second) stroke, Churchill made a triumphant speech to Margate Tories about his intention to hold a summit with the Russians – he was standing for 50 minutes and never once faltered – and the next month learned that he had been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Old men did not always forget. Nor wish to depart.

“If I dug in I don’t think they could make me go,” Churchill told Lord Moran, his doctor. “But I like Anthony [Eden] so much and I have worked with him so long. And he wants to be prime minister terribly.”

And so Churchill, who had been falling asleep at cabinet meetings, departed 13 days after that painful Guardian article, leaving Eden to destroy what was left of the British empire at Suez.

Churchill resigned at 80 (he died at 90), but Bouteflika at 82 is now doing a Mubarak, postponing elections in which he will not now stand and staying on as president until the poll takes place in perhaps seven months’ time. Or in 2020. Or longer. Decrepit Churchill may have been, but Bouteflika – and let us be horribly honest here – is a corpse whose heart, quite by chance, is still beating. He does not speak. He cannot walk. His courtiers cannot tell if he understands.

Even when he was elected for a fourth time in 2014 after a lot of constitutional jiggery-pokery, Algerian cartoonists drew him as a man already in his sarcophagus. Why should Algeria’s young people have to elect a cadaver, Algerians asked, then? What an insult to the nation.

They were saying the same again this month, just after the speechless wonder returned from hospital in Geneva, a journey so profoundly secret that the aircraft were so arranged on the Swiss tarmac as to prevent cameras catching sight of the funereal plane. Yet Bouteflika has announced – no, let us be fair, it is said that he has announced – that if the massive demonstrations are not called off there will be “chaos”.

Which is exactly what Mubarak threatened in February 2011 if he was not allowed to stay in power. This week, far too late, the young Algerian protesters spotted the ruse – that by cancelling the elections in which he was standing, Bouteflika would remain in the convalescent and medical clinic at Zeralda 14 miles from Algiers with all the powers of president but without, of course, the physical faculties to exercise them.

We must be fair, of course. Bouteflika hasn’t told us specifically that he wants to stay in power. Because, of course, he cannot speak. This is a problem. At least others of his age who have notched up a brace of strokes have been able to talk – Churchill, for example.

Or Tito, who refused to allow his gangrenous leg to be amputated until it was too late, and so died just three days short of his 88th birthday.

Neither predicted “chaos” on their departure, although Suez and the break-up of Yugoslavia suggest they should have done so. Chaos, of a kind, certainly followed Mubarak’s overthrow, but only for a year of pseudo-Islamic rule after which the aforesaid Sisi – he of the potentially eternal presidency – thankfully staged a coup d’etat and imposed an even more brutal “elected” dictatorship on Egyptians than Mubarak.

Bouteflika’s other problem – aside from his speechlessness – is the sinister “pouvoir”, silent and corrupt and ruthless, who cannot find, or fear to find, a pliable “homme d’etat” to take his place. That’s why he originally said he would stand for a fifth term in the April poll, which he will not now do because the election itself has been postponed.

And ergo, the president-who-would-be-dead – or, unkind hearts say, should be dead – stays in power. No wonder Algeria’s judges joined the youth of Algiers in their demonstrations. Algeria was never a democracy. Now it has become a necrocracy.

Everyone in Algiers knows that the “chaos” of which Bouteflika allegedly spoke would not emerge in the streets of Algiers but within the “pouvoir” itself. And here, as all Algerians are aware, lurks Bouteflika’s brother Said – 21 years the younger – through whom, so it is said, all communications to the president must pass.

Shortly after Bouteflika came to power in 1999, Said made short work of two rivals. But he has around him general Ahmed Gaid Salah, surely one of the Middle East’s most sinister generals, and Said’s own good businessman friend Ali Haddad.

These are wealthy men with a coterie of friends in both the army and the millionaire-heavy merchants who have villas in Switzerland and apartments in central Paris. And they all know of the crimes beyond description to which the “pouvoir” is heir. They have the files. Men associated with the dreadful years of the 1990-98 civil war – the “eradicateur” General Toufiq, for example – have already been pushed aside with the help of Said Bouteflika.

So for the moment, Bouteflika must be kept alive. Does he wish to be? It scarcely matters. He must be kept alive until the succession is decided – through a glass darkly – by those around him.

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If there are moments of full sanity, we must assume that perhaps power still has the effect of rejuvenating those who are politically dead. But why did Mubarak hold on when millions of Egyptians demanded his removal? Why do these wretched men not retire, gently, diplomatically, in a dignified way? They surely do not fear death. Presidents attract assassins. Retired presidents do not.

What may very well account for this is the rubric of Arab presidential patriarchy, for whom the people – submissive, repressed, tortured, infantilised – are always his “children”, protected by the great and wise father-figure in the palace whom none may disobey.

But all tyrannies of this kind are haunted by the fact that the presidential father of his people ultimately wants not his people but his biographical children or family to inherit his throne. When Mubarak emotionally addressed the youth of Tahrir Square in February 2011 as “my children, my children”, they all knew that the one “child” that now mattered was Mubarak’s heir apparent: his son Gamal.

Ben Ali of Tunisia intended that his family should rule indefinitely. So do the emirs and kings of the gulf, whether or not an ambitious prince should lop off the head of a meddlesome journalist after gaining power. In Syria, the caliphate was actually anointed when the constitution was changed to allow the young Bashar al-Assad to inherit his father’s presidency. It was 11 years before the Syrian war began.

Surely in Algeria, Said must wish his brother long life. But is that why he helps to keep him alive? Or are Algerians to wait until the Bouteflikas, too, have resolved the future of power with their military and commercial courtiers before another fake election can be held and the old boy allowed to die; already so far gone, alas, that he really cannot “fear the coming of the dark”.

Categories: News for progressives

Day of Wrath

Counterpunch - Tue, 2019-03-19 15:56

Photograph Source nrkbeta • CC BY-SA 2.0

“In all times some must be rich, some poore, some highe and eminent in power and dignitie; others mean in subjeccion.”

– John Winthrop, Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony (A Model of Christian Charity, 1630)

“I think I can see the whole destiny of America contained in the first Puritan who landed on those shores.”

– Alexis de Tocqueville (Democracy in America) 1830.

“Today utopia is maligned because no one really wants to see its realization.”

– Max Horkheimer (The Authoritarian State, 1940)

I continue to see this repackaged antisemitism appearing everywhere, but perhaps most disturbingly on the left. And it seems tied into a growing cultic response regards the multiple environmental crises. And thirdly, I see the retreat, from so many on the left, to a tacit or even overt endorsement of Democratic Party candidates or office holders. Often from people who claimed they were done with the Democrats, wanted to see them destroyed, etc. But are now describing the new “socialist” (sic) dems as, well… socialist. Suddenly, Tulsi or Omar or AOC are treated with comfortable amnesia. It is more proof, if any were needed, that marketing and advertising works.

There is no hope in anyone who cannot unequivocally reject all US actions against Venezuela. Unequivocally means stopping the liberal slandering of Maduro. He is the elected president. He represents Venezuela. He has also presided during a time of near constant pressure from U.S. funded and backed fascist opposition. Not to even mention sanctions. All the “mistakes” liberals claim Maduro has made were reactions to either covert attempts at destabilization, or outright assaults on his life. The U.S. has been attacking Venezuela for 18 years, and for the entirety of Maduro’s presidency. But still, there is a constant liberal commentary about his “mistakes”, how he has created chaos and poverty. This is another example of that casual unconscious racism for which the American bourgeoisie is so famous.

It is time to demand this faux left stop the revanchist position of white saviour — of knowing what decisions to make. I cannot find words for how sick I am of the condescending and subtle but indelible racism of white American liberals. No more perfect stage for this subject position can be found than Maduro and the Bolivarian revolution. And for the record none of the Democrats listed above passed the Venezuela test.

So why do so many on the left flock to these manufactured sheepdogs of the DNC? AOC and Omar and Bernie have all called Maduro a dictator, and all mediated their anti intervention remarks (some retracting them) with calls for “empowering” the Venezuelan people (because, I guess, voting in free elections is not empowering). All endorse the idea that the U.S. in its strategies for Venezuela, have only good intentions. In fact both Omar and AOC have smeared all official US enemies, from Maduro to Assad to Iran. They are imperialists who have no problem with the slaughter of the global south. They are unambiguously pro Imperialist.

Glen Ford wrote recently:

“White evangelicals — once and still the greatest source of anti-Semitism in the U.S. – are paradoxically the firmest supporters of Warrior Israel and its Bible-mandated role in ushering in the coming “tribulation” and Christ’s defeat of evil. Accordingly, 53 percent of evangelical Christians supported President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital , while 63 percent of the general U.S. public opposed to the move. Rev. William Alberts, the “Counterpunch Minister,” writes that 87 percent of U.S. white evangelicals rallied to George Bush’s Iraq war because their spiritual leaders thought the invasion “would create exciting new prospects for proselytizing Muslims.” Rev. Albert calls this “Biblically legitimized imperialism,” but white Americans don’t require divine sanction to find excuses for killing non-whites. It’s how the West was won, and how the U.S. became a superpower.

Racialized imperialism is embedded in the white American worldview, including most whites that call themselves “progressives” – which is why so many of them support U.S. “humanitarian” military intervention in places like Libya and Syria, and now Venezuela. Humanitarian interventionists share with George Bush and Donald Trump the belief that the U.S. has the right – no, the responsibility – to use its superpowers to “protect” other peoples from their own governments.”

And these topics are linked. The new hard boiled antisemities, a sort of newish voice of no nonsense real politik, leaps headlong into the oldest most well worn antisemetic tropes available…those about global secret Jewish power, and media influence and Rothschild’s banks. I had an unfortunate experience with Mint Press, that retitled my article (The Anti Imperialism of Fools 0CounterPunch ) to “The United States Doesn’t Need Jewish Help to Wage War”. Now why would they do that? Ask yourself that. And I certainly never submitted the piece to them, nor did they ever ask permission to print it or use it. And the photo they used was of Netanyahu. The attempt was to invert the meaning of my article that was, in fact, on antisemitism.

And this is, in a sense, what the Evangelical is doing as well. They support and embrace Israel, while maintaining their steadfast antisemitism in all other respects. For Zionists are not quite “Jews” to them.

I was on a thread in which the mantra became “why cant we talk about the disproportionate amount of campaign contributions to the Democratic Party from JEWS? The power they wield in media and politics”. To point out by way of quick answer that none of the Joint Chiefs are Jewish, nor are any high ranking generals in any branch of the armed services, nor are the five richest families in the US. But this is rebutted with , well,  Zuckerberg and Page,… etc. What about Adelson and Soros? What does one say to this? 95% of concert violinists are Jewish, too. 74% of the NBA is black. So what? The fact that the US ruling class has identical interests with many zionists or even almost all zionists does not make a conspiracy of Jew power. One can hear in these new voices the echo of 1930s Berlin. Herr Rippontrop….we must have an adult conversation about the Jewish question.” “Yes, vee cannot run away from zer power in banking and zer cultural influence”. Today this is the voice of both the NASCAR white underclass and the voice, increasingly, of the (badly) educated white liberal — the one with mountains of student debt, few job prospects, and tons of resentment.

To be clear; and to rephrase the retitling of my earlier article, the US doesn’t need Zionists to make it go to war or invade or orchestrate coups. Its been doing that longer than Israel has been a country.

And to be clear, the attack on Venezuela is both Imperialist and racist. One cannot over estimate the importance of race in the opposition to Chavez and now Maduro from the US and from the fascist white South Americans that are behind Guaido (Lopez really).

Allow me to quote Glen Ford again…

The historical U.S. embrace of apartheid Israel is rooted in much more than “the Benjamins” wielded by Zionist lobbies. The two most lawless states on the planet revel in their shared roguishness, bound together by race-based colonial ideologies that sanction and celebrate their crimes against humanity. Were it not for the U.S. superpower, there would be no State of Israel, an outpost of Europe in Arabia that most white Americans perceive as inhabited by kindred souls surrounded by savages, like the settlers of American mythology. It is the United States’ “exceptional” duty to arm and protect the “chosen” people of Israel, whose expansionist imperatives are perceived as benign and defensive, mimicking American Manifest Destiny.

The Green New Deal is being embraced and applauded by many on the left, much as AOC herself, and Illhan Omar and Tulsi Gabbard are being embraced for saying a few tepid truths to power, or in the case of the GND, of rescuing capitalism. I mean this is a kind of Stockholm Syndrome variant. I remember you would see guys arrested for the first time (usually) and how they desperately wanted the arresting officer to *like* them. They wanted the system about to punish them, to *like* them. A small part of this was just the desire for some tiny affection while in a situation otherwise bereft of affection. But it was always more than that, too. It was the identification with aggression, with the aggressor, with power, and with violence. For this groveling before Police detectives or even uniform cops (and often later guards) took on a slight odor of eroticism, too. Of S&M (see Pier Paolo Pasolini and Jean Genet). It also tied in with the sedimented traces of Puritan purges and self accusations. Anyway…a bit of that is going on here. Gabbard says one thing about, oh, maybe we were helping ISIS. Like this is big news right? Well, for the oily and noxious Stephen Colbert I guess it was. But no matter the rest of Gabbard’s imperialist framing of recent history, she is applauded. Or Illhan Omar for saying stuff that everyone knows and says.. even while herself supporting the idea that the USA is a force for good in the world. There is a keen desire among even ardent leftists and critics of the U.S. to find an excuse to *like* the U.S. To like the system. To somehow be allowed to join in the festivities of the latest electoral pageant. And I do sympathize to a degree; it takes a toll to always be a minority voice of dissent. To always be a buzz kill. And deep down the thought of actual change is terrifying, and if a reason, however threadbare, is provided, that reason will be jumped on and praised. Illhan Omar is praised less for what she said, which was relatively minor (and walked back anyway) but because of who is criticizing her. Trump and Republicans criticize her, the neo-con Pro Zionists criticize her, ergo she must be this terrific agent of social change. I mean I’ve read several pieces talking about how scared the establishment Democrats are of the new “socialist” Democrats. Now it should be noted that Omar has waffled a good deal on the BDS issue, but regardless she has, it is true, been relentlessly attacked by the right (FOX news, the president, and a few conservative Democrats even). Attacked and smeared. Much as Maduro is smeared, come to think of it. Now what Omar has said has been said literally thousands of times. Norman Finklestein has said it more articulately and in more depth, and done it for years. But he’s not a politician. Still, note that nobody is enshrining him for courage and truth. Perhaps they should, but they are not. The point is that these are comments (those of Omar and AOC) that threaten little. They unleash a lot of airtime for reactionary pro Zionist politicians, and they keep the idea of Israel and its specialness front and center. And they make left leaning liberals, and sadly some actual hard core leftists, gush with new found and utterly irrational optimism. Omar has also voted along party lines in congress. (here is one example..thanks to Sam Husseini.)

This was a bill that encouraged the Arab League to recognize Israel, as well as allowing for the targeting of the IAEA (on Israel’s behalf, really). The point being this is standard Democratic Party voting. And Omar and AOC are perfectly in line with that. They are Democrats first, not beacons of truth.

A small additional aside here…AOC’s chief of staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, likes to wear a t shirt emblazoned with the image of Nazi loving Subhas Chandra Bose, from the anti communist Congress Party of India. Bose was a contemporary of Gandhi. I’m not entirely sure what one does with such info, but file it under the rehabilitation of fascism.

Now, I even saw one article talking about how the establishment is scared of Bernie Sanders because he is too left.

Bernie Sanders? Come on, Bernie is the establishment. Omar and AOC are the establishment, too. They are products of a careful vetting and coaching system, the end result of a marketing campaign. They are products of the political machine. The Democrats needed a new brand, and AOC is it. And Bernie tags along, as he has done for thirty years. I mean my god the man called Chavez a “dead commie dictator”. Whoa, what a radical. The guy has been rewarded with seats on committees and my guess is he will get a chance to give a big speech at the next convention to introduce the candidate of choice (if I had to guess, I’d say Kamala Harris, but I’m probably premature in that). Or Ilhan Omar who one writer dubbed an avatar of truth. For what? For saying Israel was kinda, sorta, racist? That AIPAC was too pushy? I mean not stop the presses material. But the larger problem here is that everyone continues to talk about the Democratic party and this binary system of oppression. We are all, including myself right here, talking and writing about the same dulled bankrupt duopoly of war and corporate theft. The war party, branch one and branch two. And everyone is already caught up in the empty spectacle of American electoral theatre.

Meanwhile, across Europe, and in South America, and in India , there are rabidly right wing fascist and ultra nationalist parties growing in power and strength. But the liberal establishment would rather focus on Israel and the *Joooos*. And here we come to a curious psychological mechanism: something I want to call the Cult of Compassion. It applies to both the antisemitism that is growing and to the new Green agendas. Now to be clear, these things are not fictions or fabrications…I mean there IS an environmental crises (though the nature of this crises seems still rather opaque) and there is a vicious incremental genocide going on in Gaza. But one might wonder at why the populace of Yemen is so ignored. Why are the suffering people of Venezuela ignored or told to empower themselves with U.S.aid. Why are the people of Afghanistan ignored, ignored for over seventeen years of US occupation, or those of more than half the countries in Africa. No, the compassion for Palestinians is driven by the hatred of Israel. And Israel is worth hating. No doubt. But so is Saudi Arabia and so is the opposition in Venezuela, or the Nazis in power in Ukraine, or the Vatican. But there are few memes about the Vatican’s wealth — which is extensive I can assure you. The cultic expression of compassion is never about the ostensive object — whether that is the children during the recovered memories witchhunt, or the victims of sexual aggression in #metoo, nor is it the planet or Nature now in the majority of Green movements. It is a form of narcissistic subject creation. The desire for a cause. And in an age in which nobody bothers to read the fine print or research sources, the media with the most visibility controls the narrative.

The U.S. has military bases in every country in Africa save one. It has ravaged the land and protected western mining rights. It has armed both sides in the countless small conflicts that are taking place even now across the continent. It has helped foment larger and vicious wars in which millions have died, maybe tens of millions. The U.S. has nine hundred bases globally and a military budget that has grown to something like 700 billion a year. All the so called new socialists are on board with this, too. They are giving cover to the forces of Imperialist plunder. When Mike Pompeo talks of taking on Nicaragua next and then Cuba, the voting record of Omar and Ocasio Cortez is helping him make that a reality. So why do experienced leftists call these imposters “socialist”? Where is the compassion for the people of Honduras, prey now to the brutal right wing regime that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put in power? How many of AOC’s adoring fans even know the name Berta Cáceres? What of Haiti? Or North Korea or Iran, or Syria, or any of the other official targets of U.S. aggression? The Democratic Party is not being changed by these quislings. They are only the bright and shiny (and younger) version of Bernie Sanders. And if you really did care about the environment, you would start here, with the war machine.

Oh and then there is this (H/T @Club de Cordeliers and @Keatssycamore)…Omar fronting for rich white gentrifiers….

All this pantomime infighting between the Socialist Democrats and the pro Israel Democrats is only that. Pantomime, its political vaudeville. Nothing more. It provides cover for the supposed heroism of Omar and AOC.

But back to this question of antisemitism as it ties in with this new cultic passion for Green and Ecological awareness.

The imprint of Puritanism is strong even now, and the Evangelicals in government (about whom not nearly enough has been written or researched) have internalized far more of Jonathan Edwards and Cotton Mather and the Massachusetts Bay Colony, of John Winthrop and Roger Williams than they would admit or even know. But America overall has never lost the basic psychic architecture of the Puritan. Certainly not in relation to ideas of collective public behaviour and thinking.

“This philosophy of the national covenant was not only a logical deduction from the Covenant of Grace, but also the theme of the Old Testament: Jacob wrestles in solitude with J ehovah, but Israel make their cohesion visible in an external organization – a church, a corporation, a nation, even a plantation. In their corporate capacity, saints stand, as long as they hold together, in a relation to God separate from (although bound up with) their spiritual salvation. As a people they are chosen because by public act they have chosen God. The prerequisite is not, cannot be, a flawless sanctity of all citizens, but a deliberate dedication of the community to a communal decision, like a declaration of war.”

Perry Miller (The New England Mind: From Colony to Province)

Before the great Protestant migration to America the devout were scattered in small communities or cells, half in hiding, and mostly out of touch with one another. What America offered (and it could well have been anywhere, it just happened to be America) was the opportunity to be united in one collective body. And they did view it as a grand experiment. But the relevant aspect here is that the more their endeavours met with failure or at least less than success, the more self accusing the collective became. For it was “their” fault, not the fault of the experiment. As Perry Miller wrote…“the more these people accused themselves of having shirked their covenant, the more they asserted that they had not lost confidence.” Hence, far more than in England, public days of purgation (following experience of wrath, or catastrophe or misadventure) and humiliation were evidence of not just their confidence but their basic virtue and a realistic assessment of reality in this “new” England. But there occurred in 1692 a rather profound shift in theological interpretation for the Puritans. From that day forward “corruption” was seen as a visitation of wrath. Meaning that corruption was not a cause but the result of wrath — a sign of wrath and a punishment. It was a shift from the external to the internal. From material misfortunate and sin, to sinful thinking and spiritual self pollution. Moral deficiency eclipsed failures of fortune, or failures of planning. All became attributed to interior spiritual weakness.

Allow me a longer quote here from Miller….

“The subjective preempted the objective: a universal anxiety and insecurity had become no longer something which, being caused, could be allayed by appropriate action, but rather something so chronic that the society could do nothing except suffer-and perpetually condemn itself. In the thirty years after 1660, the conception of the relation of society to the divine was unwittingly (and unintentionally) transformed into a thesis which positively reversed primitive doctrine. The mental anguish of the second and third generations was intensified because, while recognizing that somehow they had declined, they had lost the measure by which to decipher exactly how much or why. And so the day of humiliation became, not a blood-letting and a cure, but an increase of appetite that grew by what it fed upon.”

Contemporary America retains the structure of Puritan logic, sans the belief in redemption. And today the new American puritan lies about it. The false optimism is a direct outgrowth of this universal anxiety and ambivalence. The sense of American decline and promises broken feeds the need for various ersatz days of purgation. For public ritual displays of self flagellation. This ritual scaffolding has merged with a Rene Girardian scapegoating mechanism. For today there is a projection outward of that sense of acute anxiety and standing in for the body politic are celebrities or even politicans. Guilt or innocence has little to do with it, actually. From Harvey Weinstein to Kevin Spacey, from Julian Assange to Jussie Smollet to Lori Loughlin — and the grand inquisitors like Robert Mueller and Jeff Sessions. I mean from whatever sewer Trump crawled from, he is the perfect symbol of our internal corruption visited upon the land by an angry god. And this addictive need for public gossip and infantile amusements can be read as moral deficiency due for cataloguing in some grand fast day sermon, a jeremiad. Public spectacles of humiliation are a staple of American life, and have been since the early 1600s.

I have said before, though, that one aspect of the seemingly endless popularity of the Zombie story in film and TV is based in a desire FOR apocalyptic end of time events. Somewhere buried within the bourgeois mind is a desire to wash it all away and start over. And with that comes, in standard Hollywood terms, a new frontiersman mentality — it is to do Manifest Destiny again, only better, and starring ME.

Maybe (and I say this with some seriousness) all of this has to do with several decades now of Hollywood television and the profound insistence on a suspension of disbelief. One is trained to accept and follow nearly any narrative, regardless how illogical or meandering. And it also reflects overall the decline of the individual. What Adorno called the “unrestrictedly adaptable” , the “subjectless subject”.

But to stay on message here, the culture overall is, it seems, returning to ever older and earlier forms of ritual and collective violence (the very oldest antisemitic tropes are in play again). I will link to an earlier piece I wrote on antisemitism and some of the history.

America never learned how to be a society. The U.S. has always been preparing to be a great nation without ever even becoming a nation at all. From Manifest Destiny to the Monroe Doctrine to Responsibility to Protect, the mission has been about ‘others’. The empty rituals of the spectacle today are by virtue of their emptiness, reactionary. Winthrop reassured the early Puritan congregation that the mean and low were never meant to rise to positions of prosperity and respect. God ordained a hierarchy of classes.

From Propaganda, in a piece on Noam Chomsky recently…

“The “Left” has taken quite a journey from the 1960s, the beginning of Chomsky’s career as a political commentator, to now. During that time, what people perceive as “the Left” transformed from something which was usually opposed to the status quo and genuinely radical into something more like what CIA official Cord Meyer called the “compatible left,” an agglomeration of “liberals and pseudo-intellectual status seekers who are easily influenced” by the elites that they purport to challenge, in the words of Doug Valentine. One of the primary purposes of “courting the compatible left,” according to Valentine, was to “court Socialists away from Communists” and into safe channels.”

The new antisemitism seems joined at the hip to the anti-communist left. What Doug Valentine called ‘The Compatible Left’. That relationship makes sense of course. Over at Truthdig, Chris Hedges wrote a piece titled “Israel’s Stranglehold on American Politics.” It is both antisemitic AND anticommunist. To Hedges, Israel controls U.S. foreign policy. Apparently Zionist slanders are very ‘communist-like’. I think he says ten or twelve times that the article is not antisemitic. But it is. Israel does not control the U.S. government. AIPAC is a U.S. organization in fact. That the U.S. is perfectly fine with Israeli war crimes in Gaza is not surprising. For one thing it helps normalize U.S. war crimes. It is never clear how Israel leverages the U.S., how exactly they are able to control America without whose support Israel cannot exist. Hypnosis? Blood sacrifice?

Horkheimer wrote in 1944..

“Fascism is the caricature of social revolution. . . . The monopolistic elimination of competition takes within the fascist states radically destructive forms only against the Jews, on the outside against colonial or national groups. Apart from that this trend is only a side effect of the new subordination of the masses into the machine of production. The unchecked brutality of the individual entrepreneur will be checked in the age of working contracts and social welfare and be replaced by more rational relations within society. To understand the rationality of this, to understand the irrationality of this rationality, is our most important task. On the solution of this task depends also a theory of current antisemitism to a very large extent.”

(Letter to Adorno, November 13, 1944)

The popularizing of anti communism today (see, oh, Jordan Peterson for example) and the rise of this revanchist antisemitism, runs alongside the rehabilitation of fascism one sees in media almost daily. They are tied together. In the same way one must see the links between U.S. racist police departments (fully militarized now, something that began in earnest under Obama) and the violence against the global south (see Venezuela, blackouts, and sanctions and sabotage of infrastructure). The fight for ecological well being begins with fighting these things, not supporting quisling Democrats. Rather than worrying about Israel being given money by US Zionists and Pro Zionist organizations, to then *control* America (sic), Hedges might better be concerned with what Leo Zhao (100 Years of Anti Communism) describes here…

“Much of this legacy of mind-boggling corporeal violence, and the just as brutal history of economic strangulation and political coercion, other than a few episodes too big to hide, is brushed aside and ignored in mainstream Western narratives { } Even more concealed, disguised, and obscured than the process of physical and material onslaught are the innumerable and never ending operations in the war for hearts and minds. Even more hidden from public view are the myriad of disinformation campaigns; the countless counterfeit radio-stations; the labyrinthine global media networks (such as the “Radio Free…” networks, with tentacles deep in every continent); the CIA and Pentagon deals with Hollywood studios; the hordes of “independent” think-tanks publishing blatant lies under the flags of “liberty” and “human rights”. All of this comprising an elaborate global propaganda structure, with mutual support between its various branches, quoting and verifying each other. The red-scare content generated, which pushes imperialist agendas, normalises bourgeois ideology, valorises capitalism, and vilifies socialism, then finds its way into text books, taught in academies largely purged of leftist professors save for some tokens.”

Israel is not “dragging” the U.S. war.

“Today I will once more be a prophet: if the international Jewish financiers in and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, then the result will not be the Bolshivization of the earth, and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe.”

– Adolf Hitler (Speech to Reichstag, 30 January, 1939)

In other words, this is the epoch of immense and towering propaganda. And the first target of Western propaganda for over half a century has been communism. And today, the media outlets are in the hands of ever fewer people and organizations. An article here, from 2016 but only now translated, is worth reading if you wonder at all about this.

Antisemitism is tied directly to anticommunism. And left anticommunism is increasingly an acceptable position that is tied directly to normalizing and restoring the legitimacy of fascism.

Categories: News for progressives

Truth, Freedom and Peace Will Prevail in Rwanda

Counterpunch - Tue, 2019-03-19 15:54

I would first like to thank the International Women’s Network for Democracy and Peace honouring me with this Award that bears the name of a great patriot and fighter for freedom, peace and democracy, Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza. But I would also like to congratulate the Network for its extraordinary work. Like Victoire, you and your work inspire us to keep the faith in this struggle. You are contagious and I thank very much for being so.

In less than a month we will be commemorating the 25th anniversary of what was the worst terrorist attack of the 1990s, and what has become the biggest political and media scandal of the last quarter of a century. It is a scandal that gets worse every day that goes by.

You know what I’m talking about: the shooting down on April 6, 1994 of the plane carrying two African heads of State and their entourage. If that plane had not been shot down, we would not be here; Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza would never have been jailed; and very likely Rwanda could have hoped to live in peace over the past 25 years, Rwanda and its neighbours, and particularly the Congo and Burundi.

The crime committed was threefold. 1) the shooting down of the plane; 2) the cover-up and the lies about that crime; and 3) the unspeakably devastating consequences.

When they killed Presidents Juvénal Habyarimana and Cyprien Ntaryamira on April 6, 1994, the assassins killed all hopes of peace and a democratic resolution of the conflict that had paralysed the country since it was invaded on October 1, 1990. Peace that had been negotiated and signed supposedly with the guidance and goodwill for big powers. Peace that could have prevented so many deaths, so much suffering, peace that could have enabled a sharing of power in Rwanda.

In law, hiding a crime is also a crime. Covering up the truth, lying about that first crime is as devastating as the crime itself, because it allows the criminals to continue with their murderous scheme. Those guilty of the crime of covering up the truth include many individuals, institutions, countries and media.

Immediately after the presidential plane was shot down, the New York Times,the so-called “journal of record,” established the line. Allow me to quote it: “the credible suspicion is that they were killed by Hutu hard-liners in Rwanda who oppose reconciliation with the Tutsi people.”

Believe it or not, 25 years on, we continue to wade through the same muddy lies about the shooting down of the plane on April 6. Yet all the necessary evidence is there to prove that it was the Rwandan Patriotic Front led by Paul Kagame that shot down the presidential plane. Suffice it to mention the evidence gathered by “National Team” under Michael Hourigan for the International Tribunal for Rwanda; the Bruguière investigation; documents revealed by Judy Rever; Carla Del Ponte’s declarations and removal; even the ICTR abandoned that theory shortly after it received its mandate—it simply had no evidence to bring to bear.

The evidence in fact leaves no doubt that the current president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, and his army shot the plane down. Their goal and that of their sponsors was, whatever the cost, to put an end to the Arusha Peace Accord, to eliminate any power sharing plan, and to establish a military powerhouse capable of dominating the entire region. Not for the well-being of the Rwandans, Burundians or Congolese, but of the well-being – or should I say wealth – of their sponsors and their agents in Rwanda. And who are those sponsors? The best indication came directly from the former Secretary General of the UN, Boutros Boutros-Ghali who told me in an interview: “The Rwandan genocide is 100 percent American responsibility,” adding that it was with the help of the United Kingdom.

The third crime is the consequences, but the time does not allow me even to summarize them properly. In short, the consequences include all the deaths in Rwanda; the exodus of millions of Rwandans, mainly towards the Democratic Republic of Congo; the killings by the current Rwandan regime in the Congo, including selective extraterritorial executions elsewhere; the regime’s unending and inhuman hunt and harassment of Rwandans who dare to doubt or challenge the regime’s version of the Rwandan tragedy. The regime in Kigali does this domestically in Rwanda but also throughout the world, and particularly in Belgium, France, Sweden, Canada and the United States (to mention only these countries), and they do it with the help of the legal systems in each of these countries. Their pretext is always the same: fighting impunity.

IMPUNTY: That is a word that has been in all the media and on everybody’s lips since the shooting down of the plane. Peace and reconciliation is impossible, they say, unless those responsible for the tragedy are punished.

To my knowledge never has a word been turned upside and emptied of its meaning like this one.

How have the political authorities in Rwanda their big power sponsors reacted to this triple crime? In short, total impunity has been granted to the real criminals and the wrong people have been criminalized.

+ They have criminalized and imprisoned in penal colonies those who after the shooting down of the presidential plane tried to pick up the pieces and restore peace so as to end the killings and anarchy that prevailed after April 6.

+ They have criminalized the women and men who, like the great leader whose name is on this award, wish to mourn all of the people killed in the wake of the shooting down of the plane.

+ They have criminalized ICTR defense investigators and witnesses

+ They have criminalized women who, like Victoire Ingabire Umuhoze or Diane Rwigara, decided courageously and in the name of democracy to run in presidential elections against the Rwandan dictator Paul Kagame.

+ They are trying to criminalize and they harass the men and women who investigate and search for the truth about the shooting down of the plane and its consequences and who speak out about it. Our friend Judi Rever is a perfect example.

+ They even try to criminalize the very basic act of saying: “Just a minute, that is not what happened in Kigali (Ça ne s’est pas passé comme ça à Kigali).

Now speaking about ‘impunity.’  On the Twitter account of the International Criminal Court, the ICC, for Feb. 18, 2019, this is what you can read: “Productive meeting between ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and His Excellency Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda in the margins of Munich Security Conference.” Under the text is an all-smiles photo of the dictator Kagame shaking hands with Fatou Bensouda, the very person appointed to put an end to impunity.

But the world is changing rapidly; there are grounds for hope. Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza was freed. Diane Rwigara was freed. Elsewhere in Africa and in other parts of the world, the signs are positive. The times that allowed criminals like Kagame and his masters in Washington to call the shots in Africa and elsewhere are coming to an end.

There is a proverb that says: “He or she who combats the truth will be defeated.” The opposite is just as true. “He or she who defends the truth will be victorious.” Despite powerful forces, more and more people are searching for the truth, finding it and revealing it.

Armed with this truth, and with the courage, confidence and determination of people like Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, we will be capable of victory. And that victory will mean freedom, peace, and democracy for Rwanda and its neighbours.

Thank you

*Acceptance speech by Robin Philpot of the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Prize made in Brussels on March 9, 2019.

Categories: News for progressives

Women Marchers and Absentees

Counterpunch - Tue, 2019-03-19 15:53

A week ago I walked over to Berlin’s central square, Alexanderplatz (nick-named “Alex”) to join in observing International Women’s Day.  Berlin, alone among Germany’s 16 states, has declared it a paid holiday, compensating for the fact that the city-state has fewer religious holidays than all the others. A third of the city was once part of the (East) German Democratic Republic, which always marked the day; that may also have contributed to the decision. This was its first year.

There have already been attempts to commercialize it, á la Mother’s and Father’s Day. But maybe not here at Alex, I reflected: perhaps more would now hear of the German Socialist (and later Communist) Clara Zetkin, a champion of women’s rights (and for all working people), who played a major role in getting a special day of militancy designated in Copenhagen in 1910. A few might even learn of its inspiration – a strike by ten thousands of brutally exploited needle-trades workers in New York in 1908, mostly Jewish immigrant women, who defied weeks of hunger and police violence.

Frankly, I expected a rally like so many I had joined: for Mumia Abu Jamal,  the Easter Peace Marches against war and weapon shipments, against a Trump-Bolton-Adams putsch against Venezuela – with many recognizable friends and fellow fighters, the dedicated “old faithful”, often well-on in years – a courageous bunch but far too few!

Then – what a surprise! The wide square was jammed with thousands and thousands, mostly young women, maybe 20 % young males, and only a light seasoning of grayheads and graybeards. During an hour’s wait before marching off with sound trucks and big banners I squeezed through the crowd, hunting for a familiar face. I finally found another old-timer, a refugee from Pinochet’s Chile who settled here. Always active, she was currently busy fighting right-wing attempts to seize Berlin’s Venezuelan Embassy. But she took part today, and we were glad to meet.

But how good it was to see so many young people on the move, with an amazing variety of placards, signs, flags and posters, mostly hand-made, with countless clever slogans, aggressive against patriarchy, against wage and salary levels 20 percent under those of men, for women’s power in so many ways, against femicide abroad, violence here, against menacing “right to life” fanatics. A wonderful variety, some with a fresh vocabulary the news cameras carefully avoided so as not to get bleeped off TV screens.

There were a few women I failed to find in that cheeky crowd, aside from tight-mouthed right-to-lifers.

One of course was Theresa May, talking herself hoarse in harried attempts to save her party, her country and her job as prime minister. Visits to this town would be to seek ways of slipping less painfully out of a European Union dominated by its strongest member, Germany, which is not overly eager to help her out of the schlimazel – and perhaps become a pacemaker for other EU deserters.

Nor could I expect to find Angela Merkel. Though certainly familiar with a date always marked in the East German republic she grew up in, she too has other worries. Her job as chancellor officially lasts until 2021 but terms can be shortened here without USA-type impeachment. Though seemingly an invulnerable conservative symbol, she is now threatened not from the left but from a stiff, nasty German right whose roots go back to Konrad Adenauer – and much further. For such types, Merkel has leaned too far to what for them is “leftward”, in order to preserve a shaky coalition with the Social Democrats. Her call in 2015 that Germany could manage hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria, Iraq or elsewhere lost many votes to “anti-foreigner” racists, and though many measures have been watered down or reversed, many still hate her. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, replacing Merkel in her second position as party chair, now seems to want the top job as well and to tilt back to the right to get there. There are rumors about not waiting until 2021 to ease Merkel out, politely, to be sure, and she is fighting back. (Her rival’s long double name is often shortened to AKK, but aside from gender she bears no similarity at all to the name-shortened US-Congresswoman AOC!)

Nor did I glimpse Andrea Nahles in the crowd, chair of the Social Democratic Party. She too has problems. The SPD, once a close rival of the Christian “Union” parties and still a member of the ruling coalition, has been sinking like a rammed oil tanker. Its main supporters for over a century were workers and their labor unions, but fewer and fewer in that category see the SPD as their champion. Nahles, less popular than ever (but forever smiling), is trying, with her party, to win them back by voicing progressive ideas and plans to overcome its tame reputation. Thus far it seems stuck at about 15-16 %, behind the Greens and half the rating of Merkel’s dual party.

I don’t know whether Annalena Baerbock, co-chair of the Greens (with Robert Habeck) was anywhere in the crowd. The Green youth section was very visible. This party is unlike its USA namesake. It is the only party which has been growing, despite dubious local coalitions with Merkel’s rightist party, its general disinterest in working class problems and its harshly bellicose position toward Russia. But its stand on women’s, LGBT and immigrant rights, its stress on environment and just not being in the central government have given it a lead with many dissatisfied people who have no sympathy for the neo-fascists.

As for that bunch, their leaders, male or female, were the last ones to be expected on Women’s Day even though Alice Weidel, head of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) caucus in the Bundestag, lives and raises two sons with a woman partner from Sri Lanka. But her party denounces same-gender marriage and abortion rights (and higher taxes for the wealthy). Its speeches drip with hatred toward the “take-over” of Europe by nasty Muslims but praise Germany’s past greatness before losing the                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               War. But Weidel and two male party leaders are now busy fighting charges of fraud – accepting illegal donations from shady donors in Switzerland and elsewhere. Nobody missed them at Alex. But they still get 12-14% in the polls and threaten to gain new strength in the May and September elections.

But what about Die Linke (The Left)? I saw groups with signs of its youth partner organization “solid” and its student branch and, as the march started up, I met Ellen Brombacher, spokesperson of the Communist Platform, one of the largest of a few dozen special interest groupings within the party.

Sadly, I did not see the party’s best-known, very brainy female member, its best orator, Sahra Wagenknecht.

Deploring the stagnation of the Left in the polls at 8-10% and its losses in eastern Germany, last September she and other prominent left-leaning people founded a new movement – “Aufstehen” (Stand Up). It sought to reach dissatisfied voters from different parties, even some who voiced their protest by choosing the alt-right AfD. Many party leaders, especially the so-called “moderates”, condemned the move and found that her words somehow seemed to echo the AfD stress on working people already in Germany, opposing the waves of refugees and immigrants. The arguments were heated; would this move succeed in gaining ground for the left or only further split its ranks?

By March it was quite clear: Aufstehen, hoping to benefit from Sahra’s media popularity, with virtually no down-to-earth system, had not caught on! Indeed, it had barely caused a few small ripples. This past weekend, claiming ill health, Sahra gave up, retiring from its leadership and very soon her position as co-chair of the Left caucus in the Bundestag. Without her, Aufstehen could no longer stand up; most of its early adherents charged, though more discreetly, that maybe it had basically been an ill-prepared ego-trip. A pity; I have rarely heard a more wonderful speaker!

But the Linke is needed more than ever in the fight in fighting giant armament spending despite a housing shortage, rising rent costs, a stagnating job scene, hospitals, schools, child care and care for the aged and infrastructure all begging for help, with a constant danger of escalation and an atomic conflagration. Can the Left now get past the inner quarreling which has so weakened it? Can it break with its frequently failing initiative in organizing struggles outside the Bundestag? Can it take a lead in fighting the fascist menace hanging over our heads in Germany and nearly all Europe?

There have since been more rallies, at Alex and elsewhere in Berlin and Germany. School children skip classes on Fridays to demand immediate environmental action, another rally, defying miserable weather, opposed the racists in the shadow of the Christchurch killing. A strike by civil servants, from kindergarten teachers to garbage collectors, won a partial victory, a one-day warning strike stopped Berlin’s bus system. There’s plenty to fight about and people can be moved to action – hopefully with active participation of the Linke. The fight goes on – La lucha continua!

Categories: News for progressives

The Dangers of Values: Brenton Tarrant, Fraser Anning and the Christchurch Shootings

Counterpunch - Tue, 2019-03-19 15:53

The argument that the Christchurch shooter, suspect Brenton Tarrant, or the views of Australia’s Senator Fraser Anning, seemingly holding a lone torch, are somehow not representative of the broader whole, be it Australia or New Zealand, is a self-deflecting exercise. They are the uncomfortable mirrors of ruin, actual and perceived.  They are the voices of people who can either be marginalised and confined or addressed.

Tarrant’s views sizzle with clenching anxiety, shot through the desire to recover what has been lost and what has been taken. It is deprivation, and it is not so much nostalgia as castration and insufficiency.  How to overcome that?  The response is spectacular violence, one that seeks to “show the invaders that our lands will never be their lands, our homelands are our own and that, as long as white man still lives, they will NEVER conquer our lands and they will never replace our people”.

Australian Senator Fraser Anning, with the bodies still warm, decided to wade into the debate.  “Does anyone still dispute the link between Muslim immigration and violence?” he posed on Twitter.  He had no time for the “clichéd nonsense” that the Christchurch killings were the result of poor gun laws or those “holding nationalist views”. “The real cause of bloodshed on New Zealand streets today is the immigration program which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand in the first place.”

Marginalisation, coupled with severe muzzling, is the preferred formula to such individuals.  A petition to remove Anning from parliament, for instance, has reached 750,000, a move that will do wonders to martyr him and make way for crude shrines.  “We call on the Australian government to expel this man who blames victims for their own violent deaths, and uses references to genocide to further his hateful agenda.”

Repeatedly, remarks have been made across the politically smug spectrum that neither the shooter, nor the reactionary senator, represent the “values” of Australasia.  Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, Penny Wong, has dismissed Tarrant’s views as alien and incompatible. “He is not who we are.”  Ditto Anning, deemed a freak.  “I say to the people of New Zealand, I say to all people, Mr Anning does not represent Australia, he does not represent our values, he does not represent who we are.”

This is self-denying, camouflaging guff; individuals like Tarrant and Anning are, in of themselves, representative of a particular strain of thinking of alienation, morbid fear of extinction, a terror of being subsumed.  Call it bruised White ego, the governing classes left out in the cold.  Call it a sense of drowning and asphyxiation and falling into social and political irrelevance. They are the ones whose views suggest a loss of control, and, fundamentally, a loss of power.  Consider Anning’s remarks on March 12: “I can see what happened in the UK where 429 Muslims are in political office now and hold massive influence over law making including introducing Sharia law.”  Those of Wong’s persuasion would do well to consider that many Australians of a certain ilk and background are, however delusional, terrified about the incompatibilities of Islam and the Anglo-Australian legal system.

In August last year, Anning made the claim before his Senate colleagues in his maiden speech that Australia needed to finally redress the issue of immigration.  He reflects on the era of Sir Robert Menzies, one where change was slow and wealth abundant; he then looks the country now, and sees welfare seekers everywhere.  (A touch shabby on the actual success of Australia’s immigration program, is Anning.)  “In the days of Menzies, immigrants arriving here were not allowed to apply for welfare and that attracted the right sort of hard-working people this country needed.”

Such a program, one that had been taken out of the hands of the Australian people, needed a “final solution”.  Whether Anning’s choice of words was intentionally vulgar, or simply ignorant and convenient, is impossible to know.  But few listened or consulted the full text of that speech, which has a number of surprises.  Anning mentions, for instance, the methods of the Italian Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci, the inspiration behind an “insidious revolution”. Understand Gramsci, and you will understand the dangers posed by cultural Marxism.  Anning misses the boat by a good stretch on why individuals concur with their institutions (people can be seduced not to revolt), but his views nonetheless draw the customary lines in the sand in the culture debates.

His words got their predictable reaction, fodder for his brand label. As a minor politician, publicity is pure oxygen.  In the kingdom of clippings and short takes, his message was simplified and amplified. It is also worth noting that Katter’s Australia Party, to which he initially belonged, endorsed his claims about immigration only to have a dramatic change of heart.

Playing the values game is a dangerous one. What, exactly, are “Australian values”, inchoate and slippery as they are?  We see those two words repeated with machine automated promptings. Australian values were not reflected in the killings; they were not reflected in the extremist sentiments of the suspect shooter or the senator with a loose tongue.  But Australian values have just as easily been ones of expropriation, dispossession and racial fear, a product of British colonial mentality, frontier conflict against the Indigenous population, and the deputy sheriff essentials so keenly embraced by this extension of the US imperium.  How pleasant it is to assume that something else is at play, that Anning and Tarrant are the exceptional monsters in the playground.

The poisoned well of anxiety and resentment is a deep and broad one, common to Islamic State and the right wing fundamentalism that supplies their counter.  They are, as journalist Stan Grant noted on ABC News quoting from Mark Lilla, the shipwrecked minds; they catastrophize the world, see it as calamitous. They nourish each other, supplying the nutrient of hate. To not understand the fundamental unity of these seemingly opposite positions, and seeking ways to remove that polarity, will be to mask the condition.  Talk about values, to that end, is pernicious.


Categories: News for progressives

Let Big Pharma Build the Wall

Counterpunch - Tue, 2019-03-19 15:53

Allow me to present a modest proposal that should serve to resolve all this anxiety and confusion about where to get the money to build THE WALL along our southern border with Mexico: Let Big Pharma build THE WALL.

Seriously. This idea should make President Trump deliriously happy. It’s capitalism friendly. Everyone knows you can always trust business to do a better job than government (see Boeing 737 Max 8). Big Pharma has the money and none of the pesky budget problems that bog down our Democratic form of government. And they’ll have even more Benjamins if we follow up construction of a big beautiful wall with appropriate regulations to enable better management of cross border traffic. 

Here’s the thing. Walls serve two functions. Walls keep things/people out, and they keep things/people in. We already have 280 miles of vehicle fencing (that doesn’t stop people) and 374 miles of pedestrian fencing (that doesn’t stop determined people) along our 1,954 mile border with Mexico.

Our current border security practices and the existing sections of wall are failing to keep people out, but they fail even more miserably at the second function of walls: keeping people in. Big Pharma can’t be happy about that.

NPR cited a US government trade report that estimated nearly 1 million Californians travel to Mexico every year for healthcare services, including prescription drugs.

Reportedly 9,000 US citizens cross the border every day from Yuma, Arizona, to Algodones, Mexico, where there is a pharmacy, dentist or eye doctor on every corner. Most of them presumably are not there to enjoy the scenery, which differs far less from the desolate environment on the US side of the border than the drug prices do.

Obviously, when these unpatriotic Americans buy their prescriptions in Mexico they are paying much lower prices than they would have to in the US, and this costs Big Pharma big money. It would cost the government money too if Big Pharma paid their fair share of taxes. Oxfam estimated that four Big Pharma giants dodged $2.3 billion in US taxes from 2013 to 2015.

The insurer for 170,000 public employees of the State of Utah is now paying for patients using one of 13 targeted drugs to fly to San Diego (along with a companion of their choice!), get chauffeured back and forth across the border to buy a 90-day supply of drugs, and fly back to Utah. They’re also giving these volunteers a $500 incentive cash bonus for each trip, which has to happen four times a year for chronic users.

Why? Because even with the travel expenses, the state saves buckets of money on each patient. The cost differential between Mexico and the US can run to thousands of dollars per scrip per month. For instance, in the US a 28-day supply of the MS drug Avonex runs about $6,700, while in Tijuana it might cost approximately $2,200.

Even if you’re not from the enlightened State of Utah, you can save big by traveling to Mexico. Insulin prices have skyrocketed in recent years. A three-month supply of one type of insulin that might cost $3,700 here may be had for as little as $600 in Mexico. One 100 milligram Viagra dose that costs about $65 here can be had for about $5 in Mexico.

How about EpiPens? They cost north of $700 for two in the US (although a decade ago they were less than $100 for two). Reportedly you can get vials of epinephrine in Mexico for as little as $2. Pick up some syringes and safely inject yourself (with a little instruction) if you have to. (By the way, many other civilized countries will let you buy an EpiPen for about 10% of the cost in the US.)

You do the math. An estimated 1.25 million Americans have Type 1 Diabetes. They need insulin. An estimated 3.6 million Americans were prescribed an EpiPen in 2015. They need to carry one. Can’t say how many millions are taking Viagra, Cialis and other ED (erectile dysfunction) meds, but Viagra sales (even with the increased competition in recent years) are still running over $1 billion per annum. Big Pharma is losing big.

So let the FDA and Big Pharma do their own math (since they have such a close working relationship as to be almost indistinguishable anyway). They can set a percentage of all profits to be gained from stopping the bleeding caused by Mexican cross border drug purchases, which percentage shall be equivalent to the amount needed to build THE WALL and hire enough border agents to start conducting comprehensive pill searches of all US citizens re-entering the country from Mexico.

Talk about killing two birds (and God knows how many patients) with one stone. And if all those migratory drug users turn around and head north to try to operate the same scam up in Canada, just start building a wall along the Canadian border too. That’ll create a lot of good jobs. And anyway, are those Canadians and that Trudeau guy as reliable as they used to be?

After all, there’s nothing more important than your health, except your security, of course. There’s no problems the free market can’t fix. And there’s no good reason to leave the country for medical care, when we already have the finest health care system in the history of the world.
Problem solved. Let freedom (for corporations) reign.

Categories: News for progressives

Venezuela Beneath the Skin of Imperialism

Counterpunch - Tue, 2019-03-19 15:52

Twenty-Five minutes into the Mission Impossible film starring Tom Cruise, there’s a scene of a high-jacked train. Amongst the high-jackers their conversation reveals an exquisite U.S. imperialistic Machiavellian monologue, past and present: “you are defined by who you hate” and “once you know who you hate, everything works.” It is probably one of the most defining mental state descriptions of the mode of operandi by U.S national security advisors towards Venezuela for the past 20 years.

The application of hate as an instrument of control puts at risk; innocent, political neutral bystanders and everyone else. It is a stored surplus for any power-seeking malevolent intentions to acid strip away any reasonable doubt to question authority and imperial rule. It is the perfect rationale that best camouflages racism, bigotry, cruelty and vengefulness. Its coiled tension when released can cause irreversible damage. Hence, the grip of hate can evolve into violence and evil acts of destruction. It points to an emotional/calculating path of insanity that goes in many directions and can be as permanent as U.S Imperial hegemony with different levels of undiscriminating forms of punishment.

The Jekyll and Hyde character of empires according to its national security excuses and interest will determine the degree of humane rights violations and destruction with no regrets or remorse what so ever. Past U.S presidents have made it very clear as did H.W Bush during an international incident, “I will never apologize for the United States of America. I don’t care what the facts are.”[1]U.S Imperialism draws its adrenaline from the logic of a biblical syndrome as the chosen one to lead as a divine favor to the world. Not to say the least the rewards that come plundering and domination. The banality of hate normalizes everyday practices with justifications that conceal the inhibited ability to a face-to-face discussion without the vantage point of might or superiority.

It is unable to see eye to eye with otherness as equals for it is easier to harm, stereotype and accuse when the other is under the scope of hate. Hate is a manipulative variable, a barrier and an essential component to suppressing truth. Hate short circuits the will to dialogue and allows degenerate thinking possess hearts and souls. It is the first step to indifference. CAUTION To fall under its spell is a moral and an ethical defeat against sanity, peace and justice. A recent tweet with a brutal image posted by a U.S senator from Florida against President Maduro reflects the malevolent character of a U.S senator gone insane and stray with hate.[2]

The targeting of Venezuela is not just to remove its political Bolivarian identity but to build animosity amongst people of the region towards one another. It is a tactful jingoistic approach against Venezuela to fragment a unifying possibility while Bolivarians seeks a way out from the shadows of a world economic system made from the simmering ashes of colonization. The assault to its national sovereignty by U.S imperialism stokes anxieties of distrust and seeks out the fissures within its boundaries like it did in Chile 1973. Such hostility is an extension of Eisenhower’s dictum during the Korean War: “Set Asian to fight Asians.”[3]In the case of Venezuela, it is ‘set the Venezuelans to fight Venezuelans.  The imperial goal is to pry open the country to the will of a global economic ruling status quo at all cost.

The psych-ops against Venezuela from both spheres of the world; the global north and their obedient collaborators of the global south Led by U.S, is a strategy of throwing the other of balance based on insidious fake accusations driven by deceiving social media networks, journalist and short-sighted reporters. For Argentinian journalist Rudolfo Walsh (1927-1977) conformist and imperial abiding reporting are ‘cultural tranquilizers.’

The attempt by the U.S government  and the Lima group as an accomplice to steal and control Venezuela’s natural resources, oil (the largest oil reserve in the world), nickel, copper, natural gas, gold, water is not the only objective in this conflict; it’s to delay and push back decades the possibility to strategize a healthy regional economic system for Venezuelans and partners that can counter capitalist imperial ambitions. The coveting of such natural wealth by U.S is disturbing as is the manufacturing of destruction by its arrogant use of its military might and world influence. The repeated historical pattern of coveting strategical resources once again proves that U.S hegemony is lethal to a safe planet. Such bold imperial plan to heist Venezuela’s main source of state revenues (oil production) could not have better been expressed other than by National Security Advisor John Bolton:

“We’re in conversation with major American companies now,” he said. “I think we’re trying to get to the same result end here. … It will make a big difference to the United States economically if we could have American oil companies really invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela.”[4]

Any extreme measures vs radical measures for Hannah Arendt does not imply change. In the case of Venezuela, the extreme measures (first phase of indirect violence) against its sovereignty are regressive actions of economic strangulation (sanctions) meant to frustrate and bend the will of its democratically elected government, president, its citizens at a time of economic difficulties. All attempts by Venezuelan government to an open dialogue have been canceled by the opposition. The attack against Venezuela is against a possible radical shift that implies an economic structural change were by power and destiny lays in the hands of its constituency without any outside interference. While the freezing of Venezuela’s accounts and access to loans essential for trade and to pay for imports is animperial geographical reliningof Venezuela’s ability to escape the financial chokehold imposed by the financial power houses of the world. Hence it is an extension of an undeclared war.

Venezuela’s reliance on its military for protection is questioned by some. The answer is, how can it not be when the powerful grow powerful and the weaker grow weak resisting zealot medieval inquisitions by Europe, Canada, U.S and a harmful reactionary opposition. The press and tranquilizing media have confine Venezuela’s military support of Maduro as having been paid off… as if loyalty and dignity in defending their country did not exist. Could it be U.S attempts at buying the generals failed?  What is ignored is the anti-imperialist character of the Bolivarian forces.[5]The Venezuelan military deserters who crossed over to Colombia on February 23, 2019, now find themselves abandoned both by Colombia and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. The UNCHR and the Colombian Government have given the soldiers 4 days to leave the refugee camp.[6]

The whole theatrical show of humanitarian aid and U.S war planes landing on a dusty border town in Colombia with reporters reporting from the frontline with serious faces of concern is a typicalhollywoodscript while the American public as spectators watch each scene unfold like a movie that is meant to be seen only from afar. For the act of watching requires no input and neither is the spectators expected to contribute in any way other than to watch and be entertained. Like extras in a film the participants  as well as the viewers are regulated to take orders and perform according to the script. It is either you like or not. If you don’t, then turn the channel, move away and look the other away. In his 2005 epilogue to America the New Empire,(pg.390) Scottish Historian V. G Kiernan expressed the following: “a significant portion of the U.S public has come to regard maintenance of Empire as a great sacrifice, involving humanitarian devotion to the spread of democracy and the global well-being.”

As states from the global south dismantle and liquidate their resources and state own enterprises (some willingly others forced) to the highest bidders of the North, they cease to be owners and instead are converted into managers for the rich and the mighty at the expense of the people present and future. Any subsidizing is reserved for corporations, banks and entities vital to imperial domination and not to beneficial healthy planetary programs.

U.S war traumas derived from defeats are superseded by more wars. It is condemned like Sisyphus to a never-ending task of perpetual war after reaching the top of the hill only to restart again. For it is sentenced by the very same nature of empire ambitions (market expansion+ unlimited/appropriation of natural resources+ finance capital control+ cultural hegemony+ Military might.) and its institutional arrogance that comes from conquering and dominating. No peace can come from this systematic harassment towards Venezuela: “It is meant to destroys the social fabric and cuts at collective bonds – using chaos to get its way.”[7]

The self-inflicting pain caused by U.S Imperialism is transferred over to the uncritical and consciously naïve citizen: the political neutral bystander, the innocent, and everyone else. Be it left or right, center left or center right, liberals and democrats the absence of an ethical complicity with any victim of empire ventures is complicit with its system. For hate allied with injustice, racism and depravation of basic human needs is a blinding factor that can and has subjected the innocent, the uncritical and consciousness naïve citizen to participate in direct or indirect horrendous acts of human rights violations by allowing it to happen. Under such circumstances hate can be best described when it crystalizes into what Arendt describes as the banality of evil.

Imperial propaganda, its motives and its persuasive ways are hidden in the colonial details (fine print). There are plenty of historical facts that counter the conjured lies by unscrupulous governments. If anything, taking a closer look at the facts and moving away from any biases towards the global South in this case Venezuela, is an important step to take. It will assist our co- responsibility we owe to ourselves and to others with justice, truth, fairness and dignity for all.[8]


[1] V.G Kiernan, America The New Imperialism: From White settlement to World Hegemony (2005, London, New York, Verso publications)pg. 392.


[3] V.G Kiernan, America The New Imperialism: From White settlement to World Hegemony (2005, London, New York, Verso publications) pg. 292.





[8] Scholar and philosopher Frederick B. Mills makes a  reference  to our co-responsibility in his monograph of Enrique Dussel’s Ethics of Liberation: An Introduction.

Categories: News for progressives

Scott Walker’s Failure, Progressive Wisconsin’s Win: Milwaukee’s 2020 Democratic Party Convention

Counterpunch - Tue, 2019-03-19 15:50

Still smarting from their Wisconsin gubernatorial loss, Scott Walker’s chief publicist/polemicist, Christian Schneider, advanced an Op-Ed last week in the Washington Post  in response to the Democratic Party’s Milwaukee placement of their 2020 convention. The Op-Ed reads like an attempt to position Walker for a political comeback. Milwaukee’s convention threatens Walker’s political future, because despite Milwaukee’s failings, many parts of the city are presently thriving. Walker built his political brand attacking Milwaukee’s progressive past and blowing hard into his dog whistle that called racist voters to his side. John Dean, Richard Nixon’s former chief counsel has called Scott Walker “more Nixonian than Nixon.” A humorless man bereft of the vices that make people interesting, Walker only knows and cares about the algebra of power. It is clear his only goal is to recapture political office. Having only barely lost the 2018 gubernatorial contest by 30k votes, he sees his return readily within reach. The Democrats’ convention will counter his narrative of a city taking the rest of the state down that Walker has disgracefully crafted in the past. Thus, last week, in a typical Nixonian move, Schneider was given the task of taking down the convention, thus leaving Walker above the fray to smile and declare the news of the convention good for the city.

Scheider’s Washington Post Op-Ed attacking Milwaukee and the convention presented 3 themes: 1) Wisconsin leans conservative, not progressive, therefore don’t expect this convention to do the Democrats any favors for the 2020 Presidential contest. 2) Governor Walker delivered a set of policy victories that show progressive policies will be unpopular in Wisconsin. 3) That Scott Walker should take the victory lap for landing the Dems’ 2020 convention, since he supported funding construction of the conference venue.

First, Schneider declared the common wisdom on why Dems lost Wisconsin is wrong (i.e., Hillary Rodham Clinton’s failure to visit WI during the campaign), even while being half right for reasons he does not understand. It’s not that Wisconsinites dislike ‘progressive’ Clinton. It is that they dislike ‘third-way’ DNC establishment Hillary. It’s possible that visits to Wisconsin by HRC’s Hamptons and Hollywood campaign during the general election might not have pushed her to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue via a Wisconsin win. Schneider, however, fails to mention that HRC visited Wisconsin in the primary campaign, only saying she failed to visit in the final weeks of the presidential campaign. It’s the kind of language parsing Walker’s people rely on to construct false narratives, yet maintain plausibility in being able to later deny. The reason HRC’s visit during the general election might not have helped win Wisconsin, however, is because she was indeed unpopular in WI, where Bernie Sanders beat her by a whopping 13% in the primary. Moreover, Jill Stein (considered by many to the left of HRC, regardless of whether one likes her or not) took enough votes from Clinton in the general election to allow Trump’s victory. In short, Wisconsin is strongly “progressive” (contra Schneider’s assertion) even if also strongly conservative. In Wisconsin, it is the political center that is weak. Clinton failed the day in 2016 not because she was considered progressive, as Schneider hints, but because she was considered not progressive at all.

Second, Schneider argues that Wisconsinites unlikely support a progressive agenda, given Governor Walker’s policy “successes.” Schneider asserts Wisconsinites will not support progressive policies, such as Medicare for All, because such a high number of Wisconsinites already have healthcare. Scheider’s alchemy, however, looks to spin gold out of his soggy wool. The reason so many Wisconsinites are covered by private health insurance is because the state was dead last (50th of 50 states) in new business startups Walker. New businesses often lack resources to insure workers. Wisconsin relies disproportionately on old industries for employment, thus a greater percentage of Wisconsin’s workforce in its entrepreneurially starved economy still have private health insurance as they work for legacy  industries. But, as businesses continue shedding costs, who knows how long health insurance will be provided by these older industries? The ‘known known’ is that co-pays and other costs keep rising and healthcare keeps getting less affordable. In short, the private health insurance model has been broken for decades and needs to be dispatched in favor of public provisioned healthcare.

Schneider also blames decades long socialist leadership of Milwaukee as having delivered only hardships to the city. First, under genuinely progressive leadership, Milwaukee re-elected socialist mayor Frank Zeidler by 72% in 1952. In 1958 Fortune Magazine labeled Milwaukee as the 2nd best run city (1st would have been too immodest for Wisconsinites) under socialist rule and wages remained 30% above the national mean even in 1970. Schneider blames progressive “regulation” for Milwaukee’s decline in the 1980s, when in fact the chief hit the city’s economy  took was was when Ronald Reagan moved to halt stagflation with a massive restriction of the money supply. This revalued the dollar upward, thus dealing a devastating blow to Milwaukee’s export-based industries, rendering them uncompetitive on global markets. Moreover, the GOP has been in charge of Wisconsin from the 1980s to present for much of that time, including with Scott Walker as former Milwaukee County Executive where he left a fiscal mess of deferred maintenance costs and slashed budgets for parks, workers and the needy.

Schneider also declares Walker delivered the stadium (the 2020 proposed DNC conference venue) making the Dem’s convention possible. While true that Walker never saw a giveaway to big business (e.g., Foxconn) or big contractors he did not like, the partially public-financed Milwaukee Bucks’ Fiserv Forum had bipartisan support, even if progressives (such as the authors) opposed this massive deployment of public cash for a privately owned building.

By several metrics, Milwaukee is making a comeback, even though its return has not yet reached many of its minority communities and its white working class. Governor Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP built their brand attacking Milwaukee and people of color. Controlling the narrative of the past and present is essential for their hoped for return to power. Walker and Schneider need to paint Milwaukee as a failed progressive city governed by socialists. Milwaukee’s recovery challenges that narrative, as what people will find if they learn about Milwaukee’s true progressive past (its socialist period).

Meanwhile, cheers to Milwaukee’s socialist past with cautious hope it might return. As for Scott Walker, let’s keep him in retirement…


Categories: News for progressives

Time for Change at NewsGuild?

Counterpunch - Tue, 2019-03-19 15:37

The 21,000-member NewsGuild, an affiliate of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), is a rarity in organized labor. It’s one of the few national unions that lets all members vote for its top officers, instead of choosing them at a convention limited to local union delegates.

Unfortunately, this democratic union, which has recently experienced major growth, may be dimming its luster among journalists in newly organized workplaces by excluding some from a leadership vote that begins this week.

The good news is that 3,000 staff members of sixty publications or “new media” outlets have won the right to negotiate with management in the last four years.The bad news is that two-thirds of them are still engaged in protracted struggles for a first contract, at papers like the Los Angeles Times.

Members in Good Standing?

Following standard U.S. union procedure, the Guild does not ask newly organized workers to start paying dues until such negotiations are concluded and a first contract has been ratified.

In the meantime, if they’ve signed Guild membership cards, they can help choose local bargaining committee members and vote to approve (or reject) any contract settlement.

But, if they haven’t paid dues money to the Guild yet, they are not considered “members in good standing.” So, if an election for national union leaders is underway, they have no say about who will direct Guild organizing and bargaining for the next four years.

The contested status of new Guild activists has given rise to an unusual leadership challenge, mounted by one of their own. Jon Schleuss, a 31-year old reporter at the Los Angeles Times, who helped lead a successful organizing drive there, is running for Guild president against  61-year old Bernie Lunzer. The latter has been a full-time union official, at the local or national level, since the year his opponent was born. He has been re-elected president twice without opposition.

For some Guild members, Lunzer’s three-decades of experience vs Schleuss’s three-years of union involvement makes the choice between the two a no-brainer. Guild Executive Vice-President Marian Needham, already re-elected by acclamation, warns about putting “this organization in the hands of a person who has never been a local president, never been to a [Guild] conference as a delegate, never served as a pension trustee, or as a steward, for that matter, in a shop with a contract” and “never had a day’s experience working as a union representative.”

The incumbent’s campaign website——stresses his involvement in past bargaining fights like the Detroit newspaper strike in the mid-1990s. As Guild president since 2008, Lunzer has “participated in multiple contract negotiations throughout the U.S. and helped locals in Canada and Puerto Rico on major issues.”


Rank-and-File Campaigner

At his own expense and assisted by small donations from fellow Guild members, Schleuss is visiting newsrooms and participating in candidate debates across the country, where he makes the case for generational change. At a March 12 campaign stop at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, where his opponent once worked, he spoke to about 60 day and night shift workers.

He described his background as a campus activist and then fledgling daily newspaper reporter and local NPR show host in Arkansas. In 2013, he became an award-winning data and graphics reporter at the Los Angeles Times, a non-union bastion for 135 years. He played a key leadership role in organizing 460 LA Times coworkers, a breakthrough which inspired Guild campaigns among media workers elsewhere. While serving on his own local bargaining committee, Schleuss has taught journalism at the University of Southern California. He urged Minneapolis NewsGuild members to check out details of his platform.

“The reaction to Jon at our paper was extremely positive,” says Randy Furst, a veteran reporter, Guild member for 46 years and past union vice-chair of the Star-Tribune.  “Schleuss is a breath of fresh air. He’s committed to mobilizing members and organizing new media sectors. He is exactly the type of person we need to lead our union at this critical moment when newspapers and other news organizations are under attack.”

According to Furst, workers in his 200-person bargaining unit have an election complaint of their own. Unlike many Guild dues payers, who will be voting by mail during a six-week period, Star Tribune staff will be allotted only one hour to cast their ballots, at work, on a single day. With no absentee voting permitted, Furst fears that turn-out will be greatly reduced. Since Schleuss’s visit, fired up Minneapolis Guild members have been circulating a petition demanding that voting opportunities be expanded, either through mail balloting, scheduling more time for walk-in voting, or making absentee ballots available.

Dialogue Needed?

On the issue of recently organized workers not being able to vote, Guild President Lunzer agrees that “we need a dialogue going forward on this issue” because “we’ve not been in this situation before.” He expresses confidence that the union can “devise a solution that would be approved by the membership” and “that would involve earlier payment of dues than expected in new units.” Becoming a member in good standing–prior to or without being covered by a Guild contract—“could be an individual’s decision.”

In the meantime, the deadline for becoming an eligible voter in the current election was last December. So even reporters in several units that have ratified first contracts since then will be disenfranchised, a situation which Norfolk, VA. Guild member Brock Vergakis finds exasperating. “There’s lots of room for improvement [in the Guild] and it starts with making it easier for more people to participate,” he told PayDay Report.

Unlike most unions, the Guild does provide space on its web-site for campaign statements from both candidates for national president. But, according to leaders of seven newly-formed Guild units—who call themselves “Journalists for a Democratic Union”– information about the Guild’s nominating convention in January only became available a few weeks before the meeting. When some new activists attended, they were seated as “guests,” not delegates. When Schleuss was nominated for president by duly credentialed delegates from three large locals, he was given two minutes to appeal for broader support.

The challenger from Los Angeles, who can’t even vote for himself, favors “reforming the Guild’s constitution to increase democracy and transparency in our union.” According to Schleuss, “every member in good standing should be encouraged to vote in our elections, and we should make casting a ballot as simple and secure as possible.”

Leading Not Easy

It’s likely that many Guild loyalists—if they are eligible to vote—will be casting their ballots based on how they think the union is faring against powerful employers in a rapidly changing industry. Nolan Rosenkrans, president of the Toledo NewsGuild, favors Lunzer because of his past help battling “an ownership group that views its employees with contempt.” As Rosenkrans notes, “leading an international union is not easy. Each local has its own priorities, its own concerns, its own fights. Not only does Bernie care about each fight at each local, he knows how to unite those locals.”

A Schleuss supporter in another local, who chose not to be identified, blamed Guild headquarters for being stuck, for too long, in a “defensive posture,” when dealing with a “corporate onslaught” of job cuts and contract concessions at traditional newspapers. According to this organizer, the union was “unprepared and ill- equipped” to recruit workers in “new media” jobs. He/she hopes that a leadership change, reflecting the union’s grassroots organizing surge, will help shake up the culture and functioning of the Guild.

That kind of shake-up in other unions, like the American Federation of Teachers, hasn’t  been the product of electing just one new leader. In Chicago and Los Angeles, AFT affiliates became more militant and democratic—and able to conduct successful city-wide contract struggles–only after years of work by a well-organized reform caucus and/or a full slate of new officers.

Among Schleuss’s many disadvantages, in the Guild, is his last-minute entry into the race, without any running mates for two other top positions. (Lunzer is aligned with an “administration team” that includes two female Guild leaders.) If the “Journalists for a Democratic Union” supporting Schleuss evolve into a stronger, more broad-based network within the Guild as a result of his campaign, the organizational changes they seek will become far more achievable, whether their candidate wins or loses this time around.

Steve Early is a journalist and author who belongs to the Freelancers’ Unit of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. As a longtime national staff member of the Communications Workers of America, he was involved in the original merger between CWA and The Newspaper Guild. He is a supporter of Jon Schleuss’s campaign for NewsGuild president. He can be reached at


Categories: News for progressives

Inside the Yellow Vests: What the Western media will not report

by Ollie Richardson for The Saker Blog Disclaimer: if you think that Soros/Russia/America/Illuminati is behind the Yellow Vests or some other batsh*t nonsense, then please stop here. This article isn’t
Categories: News for progressives

EU dilemma: how to deal with China

by Pepe Escobar (cross-posted with the Asia Times ) by special agreement with the author) Facing China’s irresistible rise all across the chessboard, and under relentless US pressure, the not
Categories: News for progressives

Never mind the throne speech, yesterday's excitement was about the Kamikaze Campaign

Rabble News - Tue, 2019-03-19 13:01
David J. Climenhaga

Never mind the throne speech. Yesterday's excitement all took place in the basement media room of the Alberta legislature building an hour afterward.

The afternoon Speech from the Throne by Alberta's NDP government was pretty much what you'd expect under the circumstances, which are that Premier Rachel Notley is expected to call an election any day now.

That is to say, the speech read by Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell was more of a campaign document with an emphasis on the past successes of Premier Notley's NDP government from the perspective of potential supporters than a policy roadmap of the government's next term in office, which is the traditional function of such a speech in a parliamentary democracy.

Accordingly, the speech's tone was generally upbeat: "Restoring trust in government," with digs at past and potential future misconduct by Conservative insiders; "creating good jobs in a more diversified economy," outlining the NDP response to recession and low oil prices; and "a province that works for everyone," how this government resisted the traditional Alberta remedy for a downturn, austerity that makes things generally worse. ("Together, we have done away with the entitled, broken politics of the past.")

That done, the media barely hung around their usual post-throne-speech haunts in the legislative building's rotunda as the entire opposition United Conservative Party Caucus ignored the grand marble staircase and slipped furtively out the back exit of the Chamber and the side door of the building -- a maneuver that surely must be unique in parliamentary history!

Instead, the representatives of the Fourth Estate were waiting impatiently in the basement where Opposition Leader Jason Kenney had promised to show up at 5 p.m. to rattle off a pro forma denunciation of the throne speech. No surprises there either. ("Today's throne speech reveals an NDP government that is completely out of touch with the economic reality facing Albertans," yadda-yadda.) Everything the NDP said they did right, Kenney said they did wrong. Almost no one quoted him about that when they sat down at their laptops, either.

Those metaphorical media pencils were sharpened and poised, though, but not for that. Their attention was focused on the metastasizing "Kamikaze mission" story of how Kenney captured the UCP leadership from his rival Brian Jean in 2017, which mainstream media are now beginning to refer to as a scandal without quotation marks.

Kenney, freshly barbered and looking slim and natty in a nice dark suit, denied everything. Everything.

His 2017 leadership campaign did nothing wrong, he insisted. If anything wrong happened, his campaign had nothing to do with it. If it did have anything to do with it, he knew nothing about it. The sources for the media stories that break seemingly daily now, sometimes more often, are disappointed losers and people with sketchy histories. I'm paraphrasing, but you get the idea.

The general outlines of the Jeff Callaway Kamikaze Campaign are getting to be well known, of course, as is the suggestion there were some significant flow-through donations to keep it afloat. But yesterday's revelations about a specific $60,000 contribution, described as a loan, from a well-heeled Friend of Kenney (FoK) was new.

But you have to give the man his due. Peppered with questions for the better part of an hour, he never gave an inch. No contrition, no admission; an explanation for everything.

Despite a phalanx of reporters flinging hardball questions, with no spin, reminiscent of a better day in Canadian journalism, Kenney had given up nothing by the time your self-invited blogger slipped out the back door as quietly as a UCP MLA on his way back to his office underneath the Sky Palace.

No need to take my word for it. You can read the accounts of the professionals here, and here, and here, and here.

My guess is there are still more revelations to come in this affair. I bet Kenney denies them too.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Toronto Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog,

Photo: David J. Climenhaga

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Categories: News for progressives

Russia Deploys Su-25 Attack Aircraft To Contain Idlib Militants

Syrian War Report – March 18, 2019: Russia Deploys Su-25 Attack Aircraft To Contain Idlib Militants Government forces and the Russian Military Police have kicked off a joint security operation
Categories: News for progressives


The USAF temporarily forward deployed B-52s tempo stands at: (From RAF Fairford, UK) 1xB-52 in Estonia, 1 B-52 in Romania 1 B-52 over Barents Sea (From Guam) 2 B-52 off
Categories: News for progressives

Christchurch should serve as a kick in the pants to Trudeau government

Rabble News - Mon, 2019-03-18 20:05
March 18, 2019Following Christchurch, Trudeau government must address Islamophobia nowThe tragic mosque attack in Christchurch, New Zealand should serve as a kick in the pants for the Trudeau government to take action to combat Islamophobia in Canada.
Categories: News for progressives

Terrorism Has No Religion

Counterpunch - Mon, 2019-03-18 16:10

‘… and death shall have no dominion’

– Dylan Thomas

The only way to begin is by joining in sorrow with those bereaved in Christchurch on 15 March and remembering and respecting the fellow humanity of those who, so painfully recently, were also living. Of course, we must find a way to comfort those made fearful by this terror: especially since such fear-making was its major purpose.

There are some crimes of such moment that we always remember where we were and what we were doing when we heard. The assassination of John F. Kennedy is one such that is often named; September 11th is another. The latter was a terrorist attack that was made for showing on television; I heard it on the radio and obstinately refused to watch TV for two days. The Christchurch massacres were made for propagating the terror and ideology via the internet. I am not yet clear about what this means, but it is obvious that it is significant, and that the jumbled ravings of the killer were put together with gleanings from the Web. He says so, in his pre-murder ‘manifesto’. Police and politicians cautioned us not to watch the video footage. Indeed I had no stomach to do so. Yet I spent the night reading the weird manifesto, which was easy enough to get hold of early on.

When I heard the appalling news — somewhat late — I was sitting at my desk, trying to write about Islamophobia. Ironically, the last sentence that I had written, was: ‘There is nothing intrinsically Islamic about these ‘old enemies’ vanquished (eventually, for a time) by the empire; Islam was just part of the package of the otherness, along with non-Whiteness / non-Europeanness, of these brown or black non-Christians who stood in opposition to the empire.’ I was harking back to how the crazed jingoists of the white settlement colony of New South Wales had sent troops to Sudan in 1885 to avenge General Gordon’s ill fate in Khartoum — and it was an immensely popular gesture — invoking, in their recruitment and fundraising campaign, ‘England’s and all Christendom’s old enemies, the Saracens’. The anti-Muslim racism was bound up in empire, I was arguing.

It is a sort of white (European) supremacism, anti-immigration and ethnic cleansing that pervade the 74 incoherent pages of Christchurch murderer’s diatribe. Islam is almost incidental to him, though a mish-mash of obsessions alludes to Saracens, crusader imagery, Knights Templar, ‘the Turk’, the siege of Vienna and so on and on. Yet also Valhalla, just to emphasise that it’s about ‘race’: the killer proudly owns to fascism and racism and does not baulk at neo-nazism, though he regrets that there are no real nazis any more. The ‘vipers’ nests’ must be burned, and non-European children who are in ‘our lands’ must be killed, without hindrance of sentiment. The killer is fixated upon the non-white others out-breeding ‘us’, and effecting ‘white genocide’ — a by now standard Islamophobic trope and one similarly colouring the ‘manifesto’ of that other mass killer, Anders Breivik, to whose motivations and crimes the Christchurch mass murderer’s have already been widely compared.

The nonsense of this irruption of irrationality should not lead us to the error of believing that individual madness is the cause, or that the motivations are unshared. In the immediate aftermath of the 2011 Oslo massacres, when ‘we were all Norwegians’, George Morgan and I wrote (in Global Islamophobia, 2012: 1) that the mass murder displayed ‘the clear imprint of a revanchist nationalist politics that has gained popularity in many parts of the contemporary West. … While rightwing political organisations have scurried to denounce Breivik and the murders … it is clear that he drew on their (tortured) political logic to rationalise his actions’. Australia’s right-wing racist Senator, Fraser Anning, who has remarked that migration was behind the Christchurch massacre, and recently called even more despicably for a ‘final solution’ to the ‘Muslim Question’, is in the same camp. Breivikcredited the likes of Dutch anti-Muslim politician Geert Wilders and the English Defence Leaguefor his inspiration. This perpetrator’s’manifesto’ played onexactly the same sorts of themes: mass immigration, Muslim birth rates, ‘white genocide’, and all the rest. It is not only hisinsignias that are fascist. It is exterminist, and we have seen it before.

New Zealand rightwing extremist blogger Cameron Slater, having in 2015 just quoted Golda Meir as condemning Arabs as not loving their children, wrote of Islam: ‘… religion of peace? No way, it is a death cult and we should kill them before they kill us’. Well, the message got across on 15 Marchin Christchurch. Slater,Fraser Anning and their ilk all sell the samesort ofproduct. Will they own it now?

What hate crime and terrorism have in common — and this crime was both — is that they victimise communities beyond those directly targeted, in order to ‘send a message’. A bright young academic, and our recent co-author on Islamophobia, exclaimed to our collaborator in her grief, ‘They keep killing us!’. The perpetrator’s warped and wicked testimonial, The Great Replacement, with its obsession about ethnic cleansing, makes clear that the armies of his allies (yes, he sees himself as a courageous ‘soldier’, repelling ‘invaders’ by killing unarmed civilians including children) will keep doing so until ‘they’ go back to ‘their own lands’. He wants to reinforce a ‘they’ and ‘us’ — and wemust not let him.

Others will have commented more than enough about the irony of this (white Australian) immigrant railing against immigration and appointing himself as the defender of ‘our land’ — which he conceives of as a little finger of Europe. While obsessed with ‘race’, he does not mention, in 74 pages, Indigenous people in either the land of his birth or the land of his recent residence. His white supremacism harks ‘back’ mythically to a racially pure/purified Europe. It is different from the US white supremacism excused (embraced!) by Trump, which disparages Black Americans or Hispanic peoples; rather it regards the United States (and indeed Brazil) as hopelessly degenerate and irredeemable. (The manifesto looks forward to guns and war sorting all that decadence out, with the white race emerging victorious.) This racist gunman is no more concerned with the ‘race’ legacy in the Americas of chattel slavery than he is with that of settler colonialism and the dispossession of indigenous peoples. It’s a strangely Europe-centred racism, cobbled together with memes from the internet: no less effective, for all that.

I feel strangely soiled, having immersed myself in this excrement. And deeply disturbed. But I am committed to the methodological principle of taking this sort of testimonial seriously, for explanations of the crime. Also, to finding ways of countering this sort of ideology. There are many such violent racists out there on the internet, and recruiting and proselytising in our communities — and he boasts of this. He addresses them, instructs them.

One of the first public comments that I read about the massacre was Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s observation that terrorism does not belong to any religion. He has a global political point to make, and he is correct in doing so. Before his election to political office, when people in Pakistan’s north-west were systematically terrorised by murderous US-alliance drones in the name of western counter-terrorism, Imran Khan campaigned in a principled way against this. He has to deal with Indian nationalist terrorism on the other side, along with plenty of the ‘home-grown’ terrorism. Empire and nationalism may be inflected by religion, but they are by no means reducible to it.

I later watched with unexpected admiration as New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern spoke, movingly and with dignity, of compassion and indeed the duty to give shelter to those in need of it, as crucial, unifying New Zealand values. How different from bullying ‘mateship’ purveyed as ‘national values’ on the other (my) side of the Tasman. She did seem to have trouble mentioning the M-word, but then the murderer declared that he selected his victims as immigrants and non-‘Europeans’ rather than as Muslims. In two mosques, at Friday prayer time, mind you.

Some of the media commentary noted the Kiwi ‘black humour’ bandied for comfort among the traumatised people anxiously gathering outside the mosques (these ‘others’ are capable of such Kiwiness!). In that vein, and as we will all be New Zealanders for the while, I might observe that the killer began his legacy rant with a complete rendition of Dylan Thomas’s ‘Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night’. One dear literature-loving Muslim colleague of mine commented that the man had added one more (minor) crime — of plagiarism — to his record. Yes, the rant is pretentious and pseudo-erudite, with sprinklings from literature and worldly-travelled posturing as well as potty-mouthed locker room macho menace.

In laying claim to inheriting — and safeguarding — all of European civilisation, Tarrant declares his English, Scots and Irish heritage. No Welsh: some small comfort for Dylan Thomas. As the epigraph at the top of this present piece suggests, perhaps ‘we’ should take Dylan Thomas back.

Scott Poynting is a visiting fellow at the Centre for Islamic Studies and Civilisation, Charles Sturt University. He is Adjunct Professor in the School of Justice at Queensland University of Technology and in Criminology at Western Sydney University. He co-edited, with George Morgan, Global Islamophobia (Routledge 2016) and, with Monish Bhatia and Waqas Tufail, Media, Crime and Racism (Palgrave, 2018).

This essay originally appeared on the Criminology Collective site.

Categories: News for progressives

Black Lives on Trial

Counterpunch - Mon, 2019-03-18 16:10

March 18, 2018. Sacramento, California. Two police officers, Terrence Mercadal and Jared Robinet, respond to a 9-1-1 call about an individual breaking car windows. They track the suspect down. They see the suspect is holding a gun. Or a tool bar. They fire twenty rounds.

Seven bullets enter Stephon Clark’s body from the back. One hits his chest.

Clark, a 22 year-old black man in his grandmother’s backyard, falls to his death.

Turns out what he was holding was not a gun or a tool bar, but a cell phone.

Almost a year goes by. On March 2, 2019, Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert announces that no criminal charges would be filed against Mercadal and Robinet. The officers had not broken the law.

Schubert proceeds by pointing out that Clark had recently been accused of assaulting the mother of his children. He had exchanged threatening text messages with his fiancé. He had looked online for information on penalties for domestic violence. He had searched the internet about suicide methods. He had drugs in his system the night of the shooting.

In other words, even if charges were pressed, it would be Clark on trial and not the officers.

It happened with Trayvon Martin. A 17 year-old black boy, walking back from 7-Eleven during halftime of the NBA All Star Game. A bag of Skittles and a can of Arizona Iced Tea in his pocket. A cell phone in hand. He was shot and killed by George Zimmerman who thought Martin looked suspicious. Zimmerman was not a policeman, but was policing nonetheless. He cited self-defense and was released from custody that same night. The verdict in the ensuing trial: Not guilty.

Zimmerman was acquitted because ultimately it was Martin who had been on trial all along. It was Martin who was being judged for his hoodie, marijuana, graffiti, and tattoos. Martin, who was portrayed as a dangerous hoodlum, rather than a teenage boy who eats Skittles and watches basketball. A teenage boy who was murdered on his way back from a 7-Eleven.

It happened with Michael Brown. Another unarmed black teenager. He was killed by police officer Darren Wilson who fired twelve bullets at him. According to some witnesses, during the confrontation Brown had his hands up in surrender. According to police records, Wilson shot him in self-defense. In his grand jury testament Wilson described Brown having “the most intense aggressive face,” “like a demon.” “I felt like a five-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan,” he appealed. Brown was 6′ 4″, weighing 292 lbs. Wilson, 6′ 4″ and 210 lbs.

Stephon Clark, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland… Trial after trial, the killers are acquitted. The deaths, somehow justified.

Mumia Abu-Jamal would say of the dead: Executed twice, the second time in the court system.

In The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois wrote: “The police system of the South was originally designed to keep track of all Negroes.” “When the Negroes were freed,” he explained, “and the whole South was convinced of the impossibility of free Negro labor, the first and almost universal device was to use the courts as a means of re-enslaving the blacks. It was not then a question of crime, but rather one of color, that settled a man’s conviction on almost any charge.”

Not a question of crime, but rather one of color.

Whether Stephon Clark was holding a gun, tool bar, or cell phone did not matter. He was black.  His blackness was the real threat. His blackness was the crime.

And now, even after his death, his life remains on trial. Just like those who came before him. Just like those who will soon be slain.

Categories: News for progressives

The World’s Most Dangerous Divide

Counterpunch - Mon, 2019-03-18 16:00

In the beautiful and terrifying novel The City of Devi, communal hatreds escalate in India and Pakistan until the two countries feel compelled to threaten each other with nuclear weapons. At least, it starts out as a threat. Pakistan vows to take out Mumbai, and India will level Karachi. But everyone involved knows that nuclear war doesn’t really work that way.

“Nuclear bombs are like potato chips,” the author Manil Suri writes, “nobody can stop at just one. Every scenario predicts that a country under attack will launch all its weapons at once to avoid losing them.”

The populations of the two cities panic. A great exodus takes place as residents flee by car, by train, even by foot, and the wealthy try to snag the last berths on the outgoing ships. A woman and a man traverse this chaos in search of the object of their affections: it’s love in the soon-to-be-ruins. They hope against hope that the bombs won’t fall. And then an accident happens, as they so often do, and Pakistan mistakenly launches one missile at Mumbai. And India retaliates with four strikes on Karachi.

One of the characters in the novel, Mr. Cheerio, assesses the damage from some faraway perch via short-wave radio:

You might think me cold-blooded, but this is one of the best possible outcomes in terms of human cost. Only one or two cities struck, and that too almost empty — can you imagine the miniscule probability? There was bound to be an exchange, either now or in the future — things had gone too far. Every war-game simulation I’ve ever seen predicted results more final, more unthinkable, than how this seems to have played out.

Manil Suri is a mathematician, as well as a novelist, so he knows about probabilities. The devastation wrought by the nuclear exchange in The City of Devi is terrible — the incineration, the radiation, the environmental damage. But a roll of the nuclear dice could have produced much worse.

Those worse-case scenarios are what India and Pakistan — and the rest of the world — have been recently currently contemplating. After all, the most likely locus of nuclear war is not on the Korean peninsula. It’s not across the old Cold War divide in Europe. It won’t involve Israel’s secret cache of H-bombs.

If nuclear war comes, it will happen because of a calculation or miscalculation by India or Pakistan. There are fanatics on both sides who care only about vanquishing their rival by any means necessary.

Unlike in a novel, however, a catastrophic denouement to the current conflict is not inevitable.

Tit for Tat

India and Pakistan have been engaged in a tug-of-war over the territory of Kashmir since the very separation of the two countries that followed independence in 1947. China, too, has gone to war with India over its portion of the territory. Kashmir is the only place in the world where three nuclear powers have a border dispute.

In the most conflict-ridden part of the region, the Jammu and Kashmir region of northern India, a separatist movement inspired by Islamic radicalism squares off against about a half a million Indian troops. Three wars between India and Pakistan, plus the skirmishes that have taken place in between, have claimed around 70,000 lives.

Last month, as part of the insurgency against Indian control of this part of Kashmir, a suicide bomber went after a unit of Indian soldiers, killing 40. In response, India launched its first cross-border attack on Pakistan in nearly 50 years when it bombed a presumed militant encampment. Pakistan responded by dropping some bombs inside Indian territory. Neither attack seems to have destroyed much of anything, though India claims otherwise.

In a subsequent dogfight, Pakistan shot down an Indian jet fighter and captured the pilot. In a hopeful move, Pakistan returned the pilot to India “as a gesture of peace.” However, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi reciprocated with a threat: the first attacks were just practice, he warned, “now we have to make it real.”

A new round of attacks, however, was not forthcoming. Pakistan has promised to go after Islamic militancy and has even taken some steps in that direction. As The Economist put it, “Relations between India and Pakistan are returning to the normal huffy disdain after a week of military brinkmanship.”

It’s a mistake, however, to think that all is well on the subcontinent.

Future Sparks

The political party of Narendra Modi subscribes to a virulent version of Hindu nationalism. He largely soft-peddled this nationalism four years ago when the BJP won a commanding parliamentary majority. Once in power, however, Modi has fallen back on what worked for him as the chief minister of Gujarat: inflaming the passions of his more militant followers. Writes Max Frost in The National Interest:

Indian politicians have normalized hardline Hindu nationalism through draconian cow protection laws, the renaming of cities with Muslim names, and the appointment of extremist Hindu nationalists to powerful positions. These shifting priorities explain Modi’s 2017 appointment of a firebrand Hindu monk, Yogi Adityanath, as chief minister of India’s most populous state. Adityanath has claimed that Hindus are “preparing for religious war” and has called Muslims “a crop of two-legged animals that has to be stopped.”

Hindu nationalists have also taken aim at the Indian constitution, which provides Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir province the special status of greater autonomy. So, for instance, Indian citizens from other parts of the country can’t buy property in the province, which helps it retain its Muslim majority. Top BJP officials, however, want Article 370, the offending part of the constitution, repealed.

Indian elections take place next month, and Modi is campaigning for a second term. Because of the myriad problems facing the country, he was looking at a significant backlash at the polls. The aggressive response to Pakistan, however, has boosted his electoral fortunes. According to political analyst Yogendra Yadav, Modi’s party could have lost at least 100 seats in the upcoming election, but now, “the impression is things have improved for BJP.”

Pakistan has promised to go after suspected militants on its territory. But Prime Minister Imran Khan is in a difficult position. The country is practically bankrupt, and he has had to go begging to Saudi Arabia in particular for assistance. He has also taken a more accommodationist approach to the Taliban as a way to resolve the war in Afghanistan and reduce cross-border problems. The Trump administration, meanwhile, has not shown Pakistan much love. China has much better relations with Islamabad, but has been quite selective in pressuring its ally to crack down on extremism. China views some extremist factions, for instance, as useful for cementing Beijing’s influence in Afghanistan and hobbling its major challenger in the region, namely India.

As The New York Times notes, the Trump administration is in no position to act as a mediator, given the president’s obvious preference for India, “where he has pursued business interests.” Indeed, the subcontinent has emerged as a locus of U.S.-China conflict, as Beijing has pushed forward with its Belt and Road initiative in Pakistan and the United States is pressuring India to join its containment strategy against Iran.

India and Pakistan may well shape up to be the modern counterpart to Cold-War-divided Germany. Kashmir, then, is the new Berlin: divided, tense, full of intrigue. The two superpowers have found two very dangerous proxies to engage in shadow play.

The military confrontation, meanwhile, has developed its own dynamic. As Arzan Tarapore writes at War on the Rocks:

India demonstrated a new appetite for imposing costs on Pakistan, and especially for crossing thresholds and accepting risk. Its actions probably still won’t deter Pakistan, though they will make the next crisis more dangerous. India may now assess that henceforth it can strike its neighbor, absorb a proportionate Pakistani retaliation, and safely de-escalate later in a crisis. But with Pakistan now more concerned about its own deterrent, this crisis may induce both sides to take riskier action next time.

Such riskier actions could escalate all the way to the nuclear level. And the consequences of a nuclear exchange would be considerably worse than what’s depicted in The City of Devi. If the two sides only use only a portion of their nuclear arsenals, it would kill millions of people on the subcontinent and also have a devastating impact worldwide. A partial nuclear winter would settle upon the planet: the resulting hunger, drought, and disease would kill as many as 2 billion people.

Now that the acute crisis has passed, regional actors have to use this reprieve to defuse the world’s most dangerous nuclear faultline. Those efforts have to begin with Kashmir. Fortunately, the difficult task of working out a joint resolution to the problem has already been done, back in the mid-2000s. As Ahmed Rashid points out:

Indian and Pakistani envoys agreed to make the Line of Control, the heavily militarized border between the Indian and Pakistani-controlled portions of Kashmir, irrelevant by giving the Kashmiris the right to free movement and trade across the line. They agreed upon providing autonomy to Kashmir’s subregions and drawing down forces as violence receded. They also agreed to establish a body of Kashmiris, Indians, and Pakistanis, vaguely described as a “joint mechanism,” to oversee the political and economic rights of the Kashmiris on both sides of the line.

Khan seems amenable to revisiting this deal; Modi will not budge until after the elections. The missing ingredient at this point is pressure from outside the subcontinent. Here, the cluelessness of the Trump administration and the unraveling U.S.-China relationship serve as significant obstacles.

But maybe India and Pakistan will show more sense than their respective backers. These are ancient civilizations that have weathered many previous storms. Now they just have to team up to avoid a nuclear winter.

Categories: News for progressives

On the Ground in Venezuela vs. the Media Spectacle

Counterpunch - Mon, 2019-03-18 15:59

British photojournalist Alan Gignoux and Venezuelan journalist-filmmaker Carolina Graterol, both based in London, went to Venezuela for a month to shoot a documentary for a major global TV channel. They talked with journalist Paul Cochrane about the mainstream media’s portrayal of Venezuela compared to their experiences on the ground.

Paul Cochrane (PC): What were you doing in Venezuela, how long were you there and where did you go?

Alan Gignoux (AG): We went in June 2018 for a month to shoot a documentary; I can’t disclose what channels it will be on right now, but it should be on air soon. We visited the capital Caracas, Mérida (in the Andes), Cumaná (on the coast), and Ciudad Guayana (near the mouth of the Orinoco river).

PC: How did being in Venezuela compare to what you were seeing in Western media?

Carolina Graterol (CG): I am a journalist, I have family in Venezuela, and I knew the reality was very different from what the media is portraying, but still I was surprised. The first thing we noticed was the lack of poverty. Alan wanted to film homeless and poor people on the streets. I saw three people sleeping rough just this morning in London, but in Venezuela, we couldn’t find any, in big cities or towns. We wanted to interview them, but we couldn’t find them. It is because of multi disciplinary programmes run by the government, with social services working to get children off the streets, or returned to their families. The programme has been going on for a long time but I hadn’t realized how effective it was.

PC: Alan, what surprised you?

AG: We have to be realistic. Things look worn down and tired. There is food, there are private restaurants and cafes open, and you could feel the economic crisis kicking in but poverty is not as bad as what I’ve seen in Brazil or Colombia, where there are lots of street children. Venezuela doesn’t seem to have a homeless problem, and the favelas have running water and electricity. The extreme poverty didn’t seem as bad as in other South American countries. People told me before going I should be worried about crime, but we worked with a lady from El Salvador, and she said Venezuela was easy compared to her country, where there are security guards with machine guns outside coffee shops. They also say a lot of Venezuelan criminals left as there’s not that much to rob, with better pickings in Argentina, Chile or wherever.

PC: How have the US sanctions impacted Venezuelans?

CG: Food is expensive, but people are buying things, even at ten times their salary. Due to inflation, you have to make multiple card payments as the machine wouldn’t take such a high transaction all at once. The government has created a system, Local Committees for Production and Supply (known by its Spanish acronym CLAP) that feeds people, 6 million families, every month via a box of food. The idea of the government was to bypass private distribution networks, hoarding and scarcity. Our assistant was from a middle class area in Caracas, and she was the only Chavista there, but people got together and created a CLAP system, with the box containing 19 products. Unless you have a huge salary, or money from outside, you have to use other ways to feed yourself. People’s larders were full, as they started building up supplies for emergencies. People have lost weight, I reckon many adults 10 to 15 kilos. Last time I was in Venezuela three years ago, I found a lot of obese people, like in the US, due to excessive eating, but this time people were a good size, and nobody is dying from hunger or malnutrition.

PC: So what are Venezuelans eating?

CG: A vegetarian diet. People apologized as they couldn’t offer us meat, instead vegetables, lentils, and black beans. So everyone has been forced to have a vegetarian diet, and maybe the main complaint was that people couldn’t eat meat like they used to do. The situation is not that serious. Before Hugo Chavez came to power, Venezuela had 40% critical poverty out of 80% poverty, but that rate went down to 27%, and before the crisis was just 6 or 7% critical poverty. Everyone is receiving help from the government.

PC: So food is the main concern?

CG: The real attack on the economy is on food. When you have hyperinflation everything goes up in price, but food has become the main source of spending because this is the variable going up in price at exorbitant levels. Bills like water, electricity, public transport haven’t gone up that much and represent a small percentage of any family spending. This is why the distortions in the economy are not intrinsic, but caused by external factors, otherwise everything should have gone up, no matter what it is.

PC: Alan, did you lose weight in Venezuela?

AG: No! What surprised me was how many people are growing their own vegetables. It is a bit like in Russia, where everyone has a dacha. Venezuela is tropical, so it is easy to grow produce. Mango trees are everywhere, so you can pick a mango whenever you want.

PC: So the crisis we read about everyday is primarily due to the US sanctions?

CG: The sanctions have affected the country. I want to be fair. I think the government was slow to act on the direction the country was being pushed. It was probably not a good idea to pay off $70 billion in external debt over the past five years. In my opinion, (President Nicolas) Maduro decided to honor the external debt, thinking this was the right way to pay our commitments, but at the same time, this economic war started waging internally, and also externally, blocking international loans.

The government should also have taken action against Colombia for allowing over one hundred exchange houses to be set up on the border with Venezuela. These exchange houses eroded the currency as they were using different exchange rates, and that contributed to the Bolivar’s devaluation. I think they should have denounced the (Juan Manuel) Santos government. If Colombia says that Venezuelan oil that crosses its border is contraband, why not currency? Remember, the biggest industry in Colombia is cocaine – narcotics trafficking – and it has grown exponentially, so they’ve an excessive amount of US dollars and need to launder them, which drained the Venezuelan currency. It is induced hyperinflation. Also, in Miami, the Venezuelan oligarchy created a website called DolarToday about 12 years ago to destroy the Venezuelan economy.

PC: What else struck you?

CG: People are still smiling and making jokes about the situation, which I find incredible. People are willing to share, and we were in some tricky situations, like when our car broke down at night.

AG: Everyone says don’t drive at night in Venezuela. We were on the road, and figured we’d only half hour to go, what could go wrong? Then a transformer burned out. I thought I was about to have my Venezuelan nightmare, stuck in the middle of nowhere on a dark road at night. Who would ever find you?

CG: As there were no lights we had to use our phones to let big trucks know we were on the road.

AG: We pretended I was deaf as I couldn’t pass for Venezuelan with my Spanish accent. So, a really old old pick-up truck pulls up, and the occupants looked rather salty, but they were very nice and took us to a petrol station.

CG: I told you Alan, you are not in the US, you are not going to be shot!

AG: I was with three women with money, I thought OK I will be shot, but it all turned out fine, and they thought I was deaf.

CG: We were told we could sleep in a shop but we slept in the car instead, and it was fine.

PC: What about the power cuts that have plagued the country?

CG: During blackouts, people told stories, played music, or went out and talked on the streets. It was a paradise, no TVs, smartphones, but real human contact. People cook together. During the day they’re playing board games, dominoes, and kids are having fun. People with kids are possibly more stressed, especially if you live in a tower block, as if you’ve no electricity, you’ve no water. That is why the US hit the electricity grid as it means no water in Caracas – a city of 10 million people. Luckily there are wells with clean water around the city, so people queue up to get it.

PC: So there was a real discrepancy between the image you were given of Venezuela and the reality?

AG: Sure, there are queues for oil, but people are not dying of starvation and, as I said, poverty is no where near what it is like in Brazil. I wouldn’t say a harsh dictatorship, people were open, and criticized the government, and the US, but also Chavez and Maduro. The Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV) have admitted they had made bad economic decisions. I thought it would be more repressive, and it wasn’t. People were not fearful about speaking out. I think Venezuelans blame the Americans for the situation more than Maduro.

PC: What do you make of the hullabaloo in February about US and Canadian aid being blocked by Venezuela?

AG: It is a Trojan horse, a good way to get the US in, and why international agencies were not willing take part in the plan. Instead there has been Chinese and Russian aid.

CG: There’s not the chaos US and Trump were expecting. (Opposition leader and self-proclaimed president Juan) Guaidó is the most hated guy in Venezuela. He has to stay in luxury hotel in La Mercedes, an expensive neighbourhood of Caracas. They have electricity there, as they were prepared, so bought generators. That is why Guaidó went there, and has a whole floor of a luxury hotel for him and his family. While people are suffering Guaidó is trying on suits for his upcoming trip to Europe. It is a parallel world.

AG: You think Guaidó will fail?

CG: Venezuelans are making so many jokes with his name, as there’s a word similar to stupid in Spanish – guevon. And look at the demonstration in La Mercedes the other day (12 March), the crowds didn’t manifest. It is becoming a joke in the country. The more the Europeans and the US make him a president, the more bizarre the situation becomes, as Guaidó is not president of Venezuela! Interestingly, Chavez predicted what is happening today, he wrote about it, so people are going back to his works and reading him again.

PC: There’s plenty of material on the history of American imperialism in South America to make such predictions, also, more recently, the Canadians and their mining companies, in Paraguay, Honduras, and now backing Guaidó.

CG: Exactly. Look at Chile in 1973, what happened to the Sandinistas in El Salvador, in Guatemala.

It is a well rehearsed strategy to destroy an economy using external forces to drive up prices of supplies and products. When you have such a cycle, it explodes.

Alan Gignoux is a photojournalist, with a particular focus on socio-political and environmental issues. Alan’s work has been published in The New York Times, CNN Traveller, The Independent, Reuters and World Photography News, among others (

Carolina Graterol is a Venezuelan journalist, filmmaker and artist ( She has worked for the BBC World Service (Spanish) and Telesur. She is the director of “A Letter from Venezuela” (2019).



Categories: News for progressives

The Fed and the 3.8 Percent Unemployment Rate

Counterpunch - Mon, 2019-03-18 15:55

Last week’s job report, in spite of the slow job growth for February, was actually pretty good news. As many of us pointed out, the most likely reason that the Labor Department reported only 20,000 new jobs in February, is that the economy reportedly added 311,000 jobs in January.

There is always a substantial element of error in these numbers. If we envision that there is some underlying rate of job growth of say, 180,000 a month, if we get a number like January’s strong figure, it is reasonable to expect that job growth in subsequent months will be slower. Either the rapid growth in January was due to error in the survey, or alternatively many businesses may have decided that January was a good time to hire. In both cases, it is reasonable to expect slower growth in future months.

If this just sounds like hand waving to cover up a bad story, consider that the non-seasonally adjusted change in employment in February was a plus 827,000 jobs. In other words, if we just looked at the raw data, the economy actually added a ton of jobs in February. Of course, the economy always adds lots of jobs in February. In 2018 it added 1,236,000 and in 2017 it added 1,030,000. This is why we have seasonal adjustments. But the adjustment is never perfect, and it is one of the factors that leads to error in the headline numbers that get so much attention.

So we should not be too troubled by the weak job growth reported for February. However, as I noted in my jobs report, there was a drop in average weekly hours, which could presage lower hiring in future months. Also, several sectors, notably construction (both residential and non-residential) and manufacturing seem to be weakening, so there are some grounds for concern about slowing growth, apart from the 20,000 jobs reported for February.

But I actually wanted to focus on the good news in the report, specifically the edging down of the unemployment rate to 3.8 percent and the modest acceleration in the rate of growth in the average hourly wage to 3.4 percent over the last year. These items are very good news, especially when we consider that they were the result of policy, specifically the Federal Reserve Board’s decision to allow the unemployment rate to fall below the 5.5 percent unemployment rate that most economists had considered a floor.

The conventional view was that inflation would begin to spiral upward if the unemployment rate fell below 5.5 percent (many economists put the floor at 6.0 percent or even higher), therefore the Fed should begin to raise interest rates to slow the economy and job creation and to keep the unemployment rate from falling below this level. The group of economists arguing this position included some of the Fed’s governors and bank presidents, with at least one of the latter arguing for rate hikes as early as 2011.

Fortunately, the inflation hawks did not carry the day. The Fed, under the leadership of then-chair, Janet Yellen, allowed the unemployment rate to continue to fall. As I have pointed out elsewhere (here, here, and here), lower unemployment not only means that more people have jobs, it disproportionately benefits the most disadvantaged in the labor market. The job gainers are disproportionately black, Hispanic, people with less education, people with disabilities, and people with criminal records.

This fact should make Federal Reserve Board policy a major issue on progressives’ agenda. I am proud to say that CEPR has worked with the grassroots coalition Fed Up to pressure the Fed to comply with the full employment portion of its mandate. Our allies in making the economic argument included the Economic Policy Institute, my friend from EPI days Jared Bernstein who is now at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, and Bill Spriggs, another old friend from EPI (see a pattern here?) who, as its chief economist, helped bring along the AFL-CIO. The work of this group helped to counteract pressure from inflation hawks who would have the Fed only worry about inflation and not concern itself with maintaining high levels of employment.

While we can be pleased with our success in pressing the Fed (of course we had some great allies on the inside, including Fed Governor Lael Brainard, Minneapolis Bank President Narayana Kocherlakota, and his successor Neel Kashkari), it is still striking how little attention Fed policy gets from the larger progressive community. Although the Fed Up campaign did have the support of one generous funder, for the most part, our work was spare-time activity.

Imagine that someone came up with a job training program that gave another 3 million people jobs with a disproportionate share of the job gainers being the most disadvantaged people in society. I suspect the major liberal foundations would be falling over themselves to fund this program, anxious to take part of the credit for the success.

Of course, the benefits from low unemployment go beyond just getting more jobs. The tighter labor market gives workers at the middle and bottom of the labor force the bargaining power to get real wage gains. We saw this in the late 1990s boom, when the period from 1996 to 2001 gave us the first period of sustained real wage growth for the middle and bottom of the labor force since the early 1970s. Real wages have been rising since 2014, with low- and middle-wage earners seeing real wage gains of between 4.0 percent and 6.0 percent.

That’s not great, but it is going in the right direction and is hardly trivial. For a full-time worker getting $15 an hour, this implies wage gains of between $1,200 and $1,800 a year. For a worker earning $25 an hour, this implies wage gains of between $2,000 and $3,000 a year. We can be pretty certain that if the inflation hawks had kept unemployment from falling below 5.5 percent the path of wage growth would have looked very different the last four and a half years.

One other source of frustration in this effort is the folks on the left who feel the need to remind us that almost 40 million people are still below the poverty line and that more than 40 percent of black children live in poverty. These statistics are, of course, horrible and unacceptable, but it is a bit bizarre they continually get brought up in the context of efforts to lower the unemployment rate and increase wage growth at the middle and the bottom.

If we had successfully pushed for an increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit or an increase in the availability of high-quality child care, would people feel the need to remind us that there are still plenty of people who are suffering? It’s pretty much of a non sequitur. None of us thought that we could right all the wrongs in the economy and society by getting the Fed to allow the unemployment rate to fall further.

We did feel that we could improve the lives of tens of millions of people, and in that respect, we have succeeded. I don’t care about getting credit, but we could use allies since this is an ongoing battle. While we can think of long-term policies, that are both politically and practically difficult, which could offer huge benefits (Medicare for All is one obvious example), pushing the Fed on pursuing a high-employment policy is a politically and practically feasible policy that offers immediate and certain gains.

I remember a few years back the Republican Congress was pushing a budget that called for a 5 percent cut in the food stamp budget. This cut would have been roughly equal to $4 billion a year or 0.1 percent of the federal budget. The liberal punditry and many inside the Beltway groups rallied to beat back the proposed cut.

While I’m glad they stopped a cut which would have hurt a lot of low-income people who depend on this benefit, the difference between 3.8 percent unemployment and 5.5 percent unemployment probably means close to a hundred times as much in terms of wage income for low- and moderate-income households. It would be nice if it got almost as much attention.

This article originally appeared on Dean Baker’s blog.

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