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Updated: 3 hours 26 min ago

Locked in a Cold War Time Warp

Tue, 2019-05-21 16:04

Drawing By Nathaniel St. Clair

On Saturday May 18th, the New York Times ran a lengthy front-page article by Alexander Burns and Sydney Ember entitled “Mayor Who Brought the Cold War to Vermont,” which exemplifies how the poisonous political climate of the Cold War has not yet receded.

The piece details presidential contender Bernie Sanders’ opposition to Ronald Reagan’s Central America Wars in the 1980s while Burlington Mayor, and Sanders’ travels to Nicaragua and meeting with Sandinista revolutionary leader Daniel Ortega.

The article also mentioned Sanders’ travels to Cuba where he came away impressed by Cuba’s “free health care, free education [and free housing],” and a trip to Yaroslavi in the Soviet Union, a Burlington sister-city, whose health care system, Sanders noted, was “free or virtually free.”

Sanders told the Times reporters: “I plead guilty to, throughout my adult life, doing everything that I can to prevent war and destruction.”

The piece, however, made a point of quoting Burlington residents who felt Sanders should have focused his energies on local matters like repairing sidewalks, and Otto J. Reich, former special envoy for Nicaragua under Reagan, who stated that “by virtue of these travels and associations, [Sanders] joined up with some of the most repressive regimes in the world.”

Burns and Ember editorialized that Sanders often “walked a line between fostering kinship with a foreign people and admiring aspects of a repressive system.”

If Sanders walked a fine line, however, what about the frontrunner for the 2020 Democratic Party nomination, Joe Biden whom The Times has never questioned for supporting repressive systems?

During the Arab Spring protests in Egypt, even National Public Radio (NPR) considered Biden to be on the “wrong side of history” when he rejected the term “dictator” to describe Egyptian ruler Hosni Mubarak who had at that point been in power for over 31 years.

When asked by PBS Newshour anchor Jim Lehrer whether the time had come for Mubarak, who mercilessly attacked demonstrators, to step aside, Biden said “no,” adding only that he hoped Mubarak would “be more responsive to some of the needs of the people out there.”

Two decades earlier, “lunch Bucket” Joe was again on the wrong side of history when he supported Reagan’s backing of the military junta in El Salvador, which was found by a Truth Commission to have been responsible for 93 percent of atrocities in the country’s civil war.

During the 1990s, as ranking Democrat on the Senate foreign relations committee, Biden championed increased military aid to Colombia, the most repressive regime in Latin America, which set a record for the number of trade union activists killed. Biden was a key architect of Plan Colombia, a militarized counter-narcotics program that helped intensify human rights abuses carried out in the war against the left-wing Fuerzas Armada Revolucionario de Colombia (FARC).

The Times has not raised any moral qualms about these policies, or about Biden’s close friendship during his Vice-Presidency with Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq whom locals considered to be a “Shia Saddam,” or Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine who came to power in an illegal coup in February 2014.

These latter regimes possessed much worse human rights records then the Sandinistas who won free and fair elections in 1984, which have been airbrushed from history.

Locked in a Cold War time warp, the New York Times is partaking in the shameful slandering of the one Democratic Party candidate capable of mobilizing people to defeat Trump by associating him with socialist governments that actually succeeded in improving the living quality of their populations.

This neo-McCarthyite campaign – only slightly more subtle than Fox News – can succeed only because of the abysmal ignorance of the American population about foreign affairs, which is in part a product of the mainstream media’s distorted coverage.

Venezuela: Amnesty International in Service of Empire

Tue, 2019-05-21 16:00

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

Uncle Sam has a problem in his South American “backyard” with those uppity Venezuelans who insisted on democratically electing Nicolás Maduro as their president instead of by-passing the electoral process and installing the unelected US asset Juan Guaidó. No matter, Amnesty International has come to the rescue with a full-throated defense of US imperialism:

“Faced with grave human rights violations, shortages of medicines and food and generalized violence in Venezuela, there is an urgent hunger for justice. The crimes against humanity probably committed by the authorities must not go unpunished.” (Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International)

Amnesty International fails in its broadside to put its claims against the Maduro government in the context of a concerted regime-change campaign, which amounts to war, by the bully from the north. The US is waging an illegal war against Venezuela and Amnesty International’s broadside leaves out this inconvenient fact, egregiously even omitting any mention of sanctions.

As human rights activist Chuck Kaufman of the Alliance for Global Justice noted about Amnesty International (AI): “They don’t seem to even care about their credibility anymore.” A more credible and honest account of what is unfolding in Venezuela, than the hatchet job presented in AI’s May 14th Venezuela: Crimes against humanity require a vigorous response from the international justice system, would have also noted along with the alleged transgressions of the Maduro government:

Grave human rights violations. Economists Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University recently reported that US sanctions on Venezuela are responsible for tens of thousands of deaths. This is the price being exacted on Venezuela, with a prediction for worse to come, for the regime change that AI is implicitly promoting.

Shortages of medicines and food. Since 2015, when US President Obama first instituted them, the US has been imposing ever more crippling illegal sanctions on Venezuela expressly to create misery for the population in the hope that it would then turn against their own democratically elected government. The sanctions are specifically designed to suffocate the economy so that Venezuela cannot address its problems. The US government boasts about the impacts of sanctions. Playing the good cop to the US role as bad cop, AI laments the very conditions they are tacitly promoting in asking for ever increasing “punishments.” New US sanctions on Venezuela were imposed on May 10th.

Generalized violence. The US government has repeatedly and unapologetically threatened military intervention in Venezuela if the elected government doesn’t abdicate. Short of attacking militarily, the US has waged war against Venezuela by economic and diplomatic means, not to mention low-intensity warfare such as cyber attacks. The extreme rightwing opposition has called for the extra-legal overthrow of the government and has eschewed electoral means for effecting political change. AI is correct in noting that since 2017 new violence has been inflicted on the Venezuelan people but fails to note the role of the opposition in provoking that violence with their guarimbas and other actions. Meanwhile Guaidó, whose popular support in Venezuela is bottoming out, is reported sending his envoy to meet with the US Southern Command to “coordinate.”

How is it possible that an organization purporting to stand for human rights and global justice can so blithely ignore facts that do not fit into their narrative and so obsequiously parrot the Trump-Pompeo-Bolton-Abrams talking points? Why would AI go so far as to meet with the self-appointed Guaidó and then within days issue a report condemning the Maduro government, without also investigating the other side in the conflict?

Unfortunately, this is not the first time AI has shown an imperial bias as it has regarding US-backed regime-change projects in Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Nicaragua.

Objectively deconstructing the many allegations (e.g., “more than 8,000 extrajudicial executions by the security forces”) made against Venezuela in the AI broadside and its accompanying report remains to be done. Unfortunately, the Empire has a surfeit of resources to churn out propaganda compared to the ability to counter it by genuine humanitarian groups. AI alone has an annual budget of over $300 million. According to sources cited by Wikipedia, AI receives grants from the US State Department, the European Commission, and other governments along with the Rockefeller Foundation.

To conclude, AI’s broadside calls for justice about as often as it calls for punishment with the subtext that punishment of the Empire’s victims is justice. Were AI truly concerned about justice, rather than justifying another US regime-change operation, they would champion the following:

+ Ending the unilateral sanctions by the US on Venezuela, which are illegal under the charters of the United Nations and the Organization of American States.

+ Supporting dialogue between the elected government and the opposition as has been promoted by Mexico, Uruguay, Pope Francis, and most recently by Norway.

+ Condemning regime-change activities and interference in Venezuela’s internal affairs and actively rejecting the US government’s aggressive stance as articulated by US VP Pence: “This is no time for dialogue. This is time for action.”

+ Respecting the sovereignty of Venezuela and restoring normal diplomatic relations between the US and Venezuela.

Trump is Making the Same Mistakes in the Middle East the US Always Makes

Tue, 2019-05-21 15:59

Photograph Source: Technical Sergeant John L. Houghton, Jr., United States Air Force – Public Domain

In its escalating confrontation with Iran, the US is making the same mistake it has made again and again since the fall of the Shah 40 years ago: it is ignoring the danger of plugging into what is in large part a religious conflict between Sunni and Shia Muslims.

I have spent much of my career as a correspondent in the Middle East, since the Iranian revolution in 1979, reporting crises and wars in which the US and its allies fatally underestimated the religious motivation of their adversaries. This has meant they have come out the loser, or simply failed to win, in conflicts in which the balance of forces appeared to them to be very much in their favour.

It has happened at least four times. It occurred in Lebanon after the Israeli invasion of 1982, when the turning point was the blowing up of the US Marine barracks in Beirut the following year, in which 241 US military personnel were killed. In the eight-year Iran-Iraq war during 1980-88, the west and the Sunni states of the region backed Saddam Hussein, but it ended in a stalemate. After 2003, the US-British attempt to turn post-Saddam Iraq into an anti-Iranian bastion spectacularly foundered. Similarly, after 2011, the west and states such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey tried in vain to get rid of Bashar al-Assad and his regime in Syria – the one Arab state firmly in the Iranian camp.

Now the same process is under way yet again, and likely to fail for the same reasons as before: the US, along with its local allies, will be fighting not only Iran but whole Shia communities in different countries, mostly in the northern tier of the Middle East between Afghanistan and the Mediterranean.

Donald Trump looks to sanctions to squeeze Iran while national security adviser John Bolton and secretary of state Mike Pompeo promote war as a desirable option. But all three denounce Hezbollah in Lebanon or the Popular Mobilisation Units in Iraq as Iranian proxies, though they are primarily the military and political arm of the indigenous Shia, which are a plurality in Lebanon, a majority in Iraq and a controlling minority in Syria. The Iranians may be able to strongly influence these groups, but they are not Iranian puppets which would wither and disappear once Iranian backing is removed.

Allegiance to nation states in the Middle East is generally weaker than loyalty to communities defined by religion, such the Alawites, the two-million-strong ruling Shia sect in Syria to which Bashar al-Assad and his closest lieutenants belong. People will fight and die to defend their religious identity but not necessarily for the nationality printed on their passports.

When the militarised Islamist cult Isis defeated the Iraqi national army by capturing Mosul in 2014, it was a fatwa from the Shia Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani that sent tens of thousands of volunteers rushing to defend Baghdad. Earlier in the fighting in Homs and Damascus in Syria, it was the non-Sunni districts that were the strongpoints of the regime. For example, the opposition were eager to take the strategically important airport road in the capital, but were held back by a district defended by Druze and Christian militiamen.

This is not what Trump’s allies in Saudi Arabia, UAE and Israel want Washington to believe; for them, the Shia are all Iranian stooges. For the Saudis, every rocket fired by the Houthis in Yemen into Saudi Arabia – though minimal in destructive power compared to the four-year Saudi bombing campaign in Yemen –can only have happened because of a direct instruction from Tehran.

On Thursday, for instance, Prince Khalid Bin Salman, the vice minister for defence and the brother of Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, claimed on Twitter that drone attacks on Saudi oil pumping stations, were “ordered” by Iran. He said that “the terrorist acts, ordered by the regime in Tehran, and carried out by the Houthis, are tightening the noose around the ongoing political efforts”. He added: “These militias are merely a tool that Iran’s regime uses to implement its expansionist agenda in the region.”

There is nothing new in this paranoid reaction by Sunni rulers to actions by distinct Shia communities (in this case the Houthis) attributing everything without exception to the guiding hand of Iran. I was in Bahrain in 2011 where the minority Sunni monarchy had just brutally crushed protests by the Shia majority with Saudi military support. Among those tortured were Shia doctors in a hospital who had treated injured demonstrators. Part of the evidence against them was a piece of technologically advanced medical equipment – I cannot remember if it was used for monitoring the heart or the brain or some other condition – which the doctors were accused of using to receive instructions from Iran about how to promote a revolution.

This type of absurd conspiracy theory used not to get much of hearing in Washington, but Trump and his acolytes are on record on as saying that nearly all acts of “terrorism” can be traced to Iran. This conviction risks sparking a war between the US and Iran because there are plenty of angry Shia in the Middle East who might well attack some US facility on their own accord.

It might also lead to somebody in one of those states eager for a US-Iran armed conflict – Saudi Arabia, UAE and Israel come to mind – that staging a provocative incident that could be blamed on Iran might be in their interests.

But what would such a war achieve? The military invasion of Iran is not militarily or politically feasible so there would be no decisive victory. An air campaign and a close naval blockade of Iran might be possible, but there are plenty of pressure points through which Iran could retaliate, from mines in the Strait of Hormuz to rockets fired at the Saudi oil facilities on the western side of Gulf.

A little-noticed feature of the US denunciations of Iranian interference using local proxies in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon is not just that they are exaggerated but, even if they were true, they come far too late. Iran is already on the winning side in all three countries.

If war does come it will be hard fought. Shia communities throughout the region will feel under threat. As for the US, the first day is usually the best for whoever starts a war in the Middle East and after that their plans unravel as they become entangled in a spider’s web of dangers they failed to foresee.

Custer’s Last Stand Meets Global Warming

Tue, 2019-05-21 15:59

Photograph Source: Charles Marion Russell – Public Domain

A recent article in Arctic News on the outlook for global warming foresees a frightening scenario lurking right around the corner. Hopefully, the article’s premise of impending runaway global warming (“RGW”) is off the mark, by a lot. More to the point, off by really a lot in order to temper the sting expected when abrupt temperature increases hit hard, as projected in the article, which is entitled: “Greenhouse Gas Levels Keep Accelerating.” Oh, BTW… the worst-case scenario happens within one decade!

Here’s a snippet: “… such a rise in greenhouse gas levels has historically corresponded with more than 10°C or 18°F of warming, when looking at greenhouse gas levels and temperatures over the past 800,000 years….” (Source: Greenhouse Gas Levels Keep Accelerating, Arctic News, May 1, 2019)

Obviously, it goes without saying no sane person wants to believe, and likely won’t believe or accept, studies about killer temperatures locked, loaded, and ready to fire, right around the corner. That fact alone serves to christen the title “Custer’s Last Stand Meets Global Warming.”

Furthermore, and for journalistic balance, it is important to mention that mainstream science is not warning of imminent Runaway Global Warming (“RGW”), as outlined in the Arctic News article.

Still, the article does have credibility because it is the product of academic scientists. Therefore, metaphorically speaking, one can only hope that their Ouija boards were out-of-whack, misinterpreting the data.

Alas, the Arctic News article would not be out there if only the U.S. Senate had taken seriously Dr. James Hansen’s early warnings about global warming way back in 1988. The New York Times headline d/d June 24, 1988 read: “Global Warming Has Begun, Expert Tells Senate.”

Curiously enough, ten years later, in 1998, the process of assembling the International Space Station (“ISS”) commenced as approved by Congress, which included 100% solar power. But, ignoring the obvious, no solar initiatives were suggested for the country, not even mentioned. In fact, ever since Dr. Hansen’s warning of 40 years ago, Congress is MIA, a big fat nada, not even one peep or word about efforts to contain global warming.

As such, it’s really no surprise (but somewhat shocking) that a Children’s Climate Crusade, originating in Sweden, is brewing and stewing about the global warming crisis, and they’re addressing a very long list of failures by “the establishment.” Honestly, does it take children to figure this one out?

The Arctic News article is a haunting commentary on the current and future status of global warming, as follows: The article describes a powerful combination of greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrogen oxide (NO2), and nitrous oxide (N2O) in combination with oceans and ice taking up ever-less planetary heat, threaten life on Earth within a decade.

According to the article: “So, how fast and by how much could temperatures rise? As oceans and ice are taking up ever less heat, rapid warming of the lower troposphere could occur very soon. When including the joint impact of all warming elements … abrupt climate change could result in a rise of as much as 18°C or 32.4°F by 2026. This could cause most life on Earth (including humans) to go extinct within years,” Ibid.

That can’t possibly be true, or can it? The good news is nobody knows 100% for sure. But, here’s the rub: Some really smart well-educated scientists think it could happen, in fact they are almost sure it will happen. According to the article, the setup for the worst-case scenario is falling into place much faster, and sooner, than ever thought possible. It’s highly recommended that interested parties read the entire article, Google: Greenhouse Gas Levels Keep Accelerating, Arctic News, May 1, 2019.

Based upon the article, civilization has been living on borrowed time, meaning, the oceans as well as glacial and ocean-bearing ice have been absorbing up to 95% of the planet’s heat, thus, minimizing atmospheric global warming and saving civilization from a bad heat stroke.

However, those two huge natural buffers are losing their mojo, kinda fast. Increasingly, extreme ocean stratification and heavy loss of ice minimize the effectiveness of those two crucial buffers to rapid global warming. Consequently, forcing the atmosphere to take up more and more, and way too much more, planetary heat, leading to bursts of global temperatures when least expected, the Custer’s Last Stand moment.

One of the primary causes of upcoming acceleration of global warming includes a very recent study about nitrous oxide, N2O, which is 300xs more potent than CO2 and has a lifetime of 120 years, found in huge quantities (67B tons) in Arctic permafrost, to wit: “The study by Wilkerson, et al (https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.8b02271) shows that nitrous oxide emissions from thawing Alaskan permafrost are about twelve times higher than previously assumed. A 2018 analysis (https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.8b02271) by

Yang et al points at the danger of large nitrous oxide releases from thawing permafrost in Tibet. Even more nitrous oxide could be released from Antarctica,” Ibid.

N2O, the third most important GHG, is an intensely effective molecule that impacts global warming 300xs more than CO2. That is an enormous, big time, impact. In that regard, the rate of current N2O emissions is extremely concerning. According to recent research, nitrous oxide is being released from melting permafrost “12xs higher than previously assumed.” That could be a sure-fire formula for helping to turbocharge global warming, and it lends supporting evidence to the underlying thesis of the Arctic News article.

So long as bad news is the order of the day, in addition to N2O as a powerful GHG (greenhouse gas), it is also an ozone depleting substance, uh-oh, which brings to mind shades of The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer of 1987, an international treaty designed to save civilization’s big fat ass.

For those who missed class back in the day (1987), the ozone (O3) layer of Earth’s stratosphere (10-30 miles above ground level) absorbs most of the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation, without which Homo sapiens would be toast!

Ozone is widely dispersed in the atmosphere, to an extreme; however, if it were all compressed into one thin layer, it would be the thickness of one penny. From a narrow viewpoint, as just explained, one penny of thickness of ozone molecules separates humanity from burning alive, and thus explains the Great Panic of the late 1980s when a Big Hole was discovered in the ozone layer as a result of too much human-generated chlorofluorocarbons (“CFCs”) Halons and Freons.

According to James Anderson (Harvard professor of atmospheric chemistry), co-recipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his work on ozone depletion, speaking at the University of Chicago about global warming in 2018: “People have the misapprehension that we can recover from this state just by reducing carbon emissions, Anderson said in an appearance at the University of Chicago. Recovery is all but impossible, he argued, without a World War II-style transformation of industry—an acceleration of the effort to halt carbon pollution and remove it from the atmosphere, and a new effort to reflect sunlight away from the earth’s poles… This has do be done, Anderson added, within the next five years.” (Source: Jeff McMahon, We Have Five Years To Save Ourselves From Climate Change, Harvard Scientist Says, Forbes, Jan. 15, 2018).

Based upon that gauntlet as laid down by professor Anderson, only 4 years remains to get something done to “save us.” But, sadly, there is no “WW-II style transformation of industry” under consideration, not even a preliminary fact-finding mission.

But, there is a very active ongoing Children’s Crusade prodding adults to do something… for a change, but as the children are quick to point out, they do not expect much help from the adults in the room based upon years of “doing nothing.”

Still, children skip classes to publicly protest the misbehavior of adults and occasionally, they give speeches, for example: At Katowice, Poland, COP-24 (Conference of the Parties) in December 2018, Greta Thunberg, a 15-year old from Sweden at the time, addressed the UN secretary general António Guterres. Here’s her speech:

“For 25 years countless people have stood in front of the UN climate conferences, asking our nation’s leaders to stop the emissions. But, clearly, this has not worked since the emissions just continue to rise.
So I will not ask them anything.

Instead, I will ask the media to start treating the crisis as a crisis.

Instead, I will ask the people around the world to realize that our political leaders have failed us.

Because we are facing an existential threat and there is no time to continue down this road of madness… So we have not come here to beg the world leaders to care for our future. They have ignored us in the past and they will ignore us again.

We have come here to let them know that change is coming whether they like it or not.”

Renewable Energy: the Switch From Drill, Baby, Drill to Mine, Baby, Mine

Tue, 2019-05-21 15:58

Photograph Source: Marshman – CC BY-SA 3.0

The most penetrating criticism I’ve seen of renewable energy is that it’s being promoted at massive scale to reassure us that we can go on as before, with little if any change of lifestyle, no move beyond our comfort zones. That’s a comforting view, one that we’d all love to be true. And yet, it raises a big and uncomfortable question. Can we mine, baby, mine, to ensure no reduction of living standards, no uncomfortable change of lifestyle?  

Alas, the shift away from drill, baby drill has already become a shift to mine, baby, mine.  Consumer demand for electric cars is a prime example. Heralded as next wave of personal transportation, electric cars will require little to no real change in personal comfort or lifestyle, but will require twice as much copper wire as today’s gasoline combustion vehicles. And building these cars will take yet a bit more mining to build the cars themselves. 

There will be millions upon millions of them. The mining industry sees it coming. 

Battering the planet for batteries

Then there’s the matter of batteries to make the EV lifestyle run. Consumer demand for batteries — millions of batteries — translates directly to demand for mining cobalt, and lithium or nickel. The anticipation of such grand demand is already stirring talk of soaring prices for these minerals as car-buyer demand puts pressure on the supply side

Then the batteries have to be replaced in a few years, creating car owner demand for another round of mining. All things considered, the transition from fuel tank to battery is likely a lot less simple and significantly more damaging than many innocently assume.

Add smartphones. They, too, add pressure to mine for the minerals that go into batteries. And our lifestyles include repeated demand for mining every time we buy some next new improved phone with extra bells and whistles, and then add to our carbon footprint by using it to watch videos. Even solar powered garage door openers can increase consumer demand for batteries.

Solar panels themselves add their own demand to mine, baby, mine — again, think copper to build the wiring. The great, glowing promise for solar panels is, like the promise for electric cars, is a promise to maintain current lifestyles, to stay in our comfort zones. The same comfort-zone lifestyles drive demand for the mining necessary to get the raw materials for wind power.

There’s no doubt that we need to build and buy the machinery needed to generate renewable energy from solar and wind. And battery storage is central to the effort. The mining basic to the building is going to happen, to one extent or another. Reduced the ultimate buyer demand can put limits to it, but there’s no stopping it. The need for building solar and wind capacity is too great to deny.

But there’s no denying that much of the building and buying is driven by striving for a comfort zone well beyond meeting anything that deserves the name of need. Recognizing this uncomfortable reality, 50 NGOs have recently scolded the World Bank for its  ClimateSmartMining proposal — which focuses a on how much mining would need to increase, and not on how we need to reduce our demands.

Beyond Batteries: Home-grown energy revolutions

Beyond the realm of mining for batteries, reducing our lifestyle demand can reduce the mining for materials to build vast square mileage put under wind farms, and the number of bats and birds killed by wind turbines. It can likewise limit copper mining required to build solar farms in wildlife habitat. 

Consumers obviously can’t do all this alone, so putting the pressure on politicians is and will be irreplaceable, but there’s no place like home for starting to make a difference.

We can start by reconsidering everything plugged into a wall outlet. Will life suffer excruciating pain if we leave vacuum cleaners unplugged, and reach for brooms?

Would that be too much to ask? Nobody needs to wait for an Act of Congress to get this ball rolling. Would it be once again possible to open a can of beans without an electric can opener? Electric toothbrushes, electric shavers, anything plugged into a wall outlet needs as hard a look as we can give.

We can start our own home-grown energy-revolutions simply by remembering that the shift to renewable solar and wind generation isn’t a matter of just keeping the lights on. Among many other things that need to be weighed, it’s also a matter of how much home lighting we truly need. Any 60 watt light bulb will demand less energy than a comparable 100 watt bulb. Do we really need home lighting in excess of 60 watt demand? 

Building and buying of efficient bulbs will of course make a difference, but even there the wattage demand will matter. There will be mining in order to build these bulbs, but the wattage demand is largely in the hands of the buyers. Is reducing that demand too much to ask? 

All things considered, I have to agree with the irony in 16 year old Greta Thunberg’s calmly eloquent, “We live in a strange world. Where we think we can buy or build our way out of a crisis that has been created by buying and building things.”

Ady Barkan, the Fed and the Liberal Funder Industry

Tue, 2019-05-21 15:53

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

Earlier this month, New York Times reporter Binyamin Appelbaum wrote a moving piece on Ady Barkan. Ady is a lifelong activist who is now dying from A.L.S., often known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

It is an incredibly sad story, Ady is just 35 years old. He is married with a young son. While I’m sure he would like to spend the time he has left with his loved ones, he is determined to use whatever energy he can to push for universal Medicare.

I was sitting next to him last month when we were both testifying on universal Medicare. Ady was in a wheel chair, having lost control over most of his muscles. He could not speak and instead had a mechanical voice speak out the words he typed.

It was clear that it was not easy for him to be there. He was sweating profusely in a room that was not particularly warm. It was a very impressive show of determination for a cause to which he is very committed.

I actually first met Ady through his work on a different topic, the Fed Up campaign, which was designed to push the Federal Reserve Board to prioritize full employment and higher wages. Fed Up was about bringing the voices of ordinary workers and community activists into the debate on monetary policy. Ady was one of the lead organizers with the Center for Popular Democracy, the group that spearheaded the Fed Up campaign.

As Appelbaum points out in this piece, the Fed Up campaign was remarkably successful in getting the Fed to take the concerns of working people more seriously. In general, the Fed is far more responsive to the concerns of the financial industry.

I recall a meeting back in 1994, in which one of the most liberal Fed governors ever, explicitly made this point to me. The Fed has a dual mandate, to push for high employment and to keep inflation low. These can be in conflict, as when a tight labor market leads to upward pressure on wages. The higher wages then get passed on in higher prices. Clearly this was the story in the 1970s. It has not been especially a problem in the decades since, largely because wages have rarely been rising rapidly.

I was arguing that the benefits from lower unemployment were so great, that the Fed should be willing to risk the possibility that inflation might rise slightly. To be clear, we were talking about a 0.5-1.0 percentage point increase in the inflation rate, not double digit inflation. We were looking at the same economic models, which all show inflation accelerates modestly in a tight labor market. It doesn’t suddenly soar into the double digits.

After I argued my case, he made it very clear that, while he viewed lower unemployment as desirable, low and steady inflation was essential. He did not want to risk even modest increases in the rate of inflation to put millions of people back to work.

The Fed Up campaign was about countering this asymmetry. We recognize the importance of keeping inflation under control, but it is not acceptable to condemn millions of people to unemployment and poverty.

Furthermore, a tighter labor market gives tens of millions of workers in the middle and the bottom of the wage distribution the bargaining power they need to secure higher wages. The only sustained periods of real wage growth in the last four decades have been the period in the late 1990s, when unemployment fell to a year-round average of 4.0 in 2000, and the last four years of this recovery, in which the unemployment rate is now even lower.

It was not a given that the unemployment rate would be allowed to fall to 3.6 percent, or even 4.6 percent. In 2014, a poll of the Fed’s Open Market Committee (FOMC), which determines monetary policy, found that the median estimate of the non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment (NAIRU), the effective measure of full employment, was 5.4 percent. This meant that in the view of most members of the FOMC, if the unemployment rate fell below 5.4 percent inflation would start to spiral upward.

As the unemployment rate began to approach this level, many members of the FOMC began to call for the Fed to raise interest rates to keep unemployment from falling lower. They also voted for higher rates at meetings.

The pressure applied by the Fed Up campaign acted as a counterweight to this pressure. It brought public attention to the importance of Federal Reserve Board. Decisions on interest rates that were usually done in the darkness of business pages were instead front page news. In this context, raising interest rates was not as easy as it might have been otherwise.

Of course it helped enormously that Fed Up had allies at the Fed, starting with then Chair Janet Yellen, who met with Fed Up and encouraged other top officials at the Fed to do so as well. Other allies included people like Lael Brainard, a Fed governor appointed by Obama, and several Fed district bank presidents, including Charles Evans, Narayana Kocherlakota, and his successor at the Minneapolis Fed, Neel Kashkari. It helped that we also had some very prominent economists arguing the case, including Joe Stiglitz and Paul Krugman, both Nobel prize winners, and Brad DeLong and even Larry Summers.

We can’t know the counterfactual of what the world would look like without Fed Up, but the fact that unemployment was allowed to fall has led to enormous benefits for those at the middle and bottom of the wage distribution. The people who got jobs in this tighter labor market were disproportionately black, Hispanic, people with less education, and increasingly people with criminal records. These were also the people who saw the most improvement in their ability to secure wage gains as a result of a tight labor market (see here, here, here, and here).

My reason for raising this in the context of Ady Barkan is a line in Binyamin Appelbaum’s piece. He reported that an internal memo of Fed Up’s main funder (a foundation started by a young Silicon Valley billionaire) indicated that it didn’t see much likelihood that Fed Up could have an impact on monetary policy. Fortunately, this foundation ignored this warning and took the risk of supporting Fed Up anyhow.

The same is not true of the large established liberal foundations, like Rockefeller and Ford. These foundations, which give out hundreds of millions of dollars a year, could not be bothered with something like Fed Up. Trying to pressure the Fed to adopt a monetary policy that was more supportive of low income people and minorities put them too much outside of their comfort zone.

If there had been an education or job-training program that benefited even one-tenth as many people, these foundations would have been tripping over each other to throw money at it and take their share of the credit. But the idea that what low-income people needed, first and foremost, was not an anti-poverty program designed by the government to help them, but rather putting an end to a monetary policy that hurt them, was a step too far. They could not interest themselves in an effort to restructure monetary policy to help rather than hurt the most disadvantaged.

For this reason, it is especially important to highlight the success of Ady Barkan and the Fed Up coalition in helping to change the behavior of the Fed. The fact that a small group of activists were thinking outside of the box, and a relatively small upstart foundation was willing to support them, has made a big difference in millions of people’s lives.

People in policy circles and the foundation world should know this. Too often it seems that the motto of the liberal Washington establishment types is “we have been losing for forty years, why change now?” The success of the Fed Up Coalition is a really good reason why they should change.

This column first appeared on Dean Baker’s Patreon page.

Maduro Gives Trump a Lesson in Ethics and Morality

Tue, 2019-05-21 15:52

In clear violation of the Vienna Convention, the United States police entered by force, after 37 days of resistance, the premises that housed the Venezuelan Embassy and arrested the four activists protecting the diplomatic headquarters from the terrorist vandalism of the so-called “Venezuelan opposition.

“The Venezuelan government will respond to the invasion of its embassy in Washington within the framework of international law,” declared Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza. “Once again, Donald Trump’s administration has shown how much the truth hurts and has reacted with arrogance, in violation of international law.

The Bolivarian Minister of Foreign Affairs reported on Thursday, May 16, that his country is evaluating its response to the illegal invasion of its Embassy in the United States, although he advanced that this will be within the framework of international law and protected by the principles of reciprocity.

From his Twitter account, Arreaza had repudiated the illegal seizure of the diplomatic headquarters by the U.S. police on Thursday. He emphasized then that with this action Washington was not fulfilling its obligations under the Vienna Convention, to which the United States and Caracas are signatories.

The foreign minister said that by forcibly evicting the four activists who were inside the embassy with the authorization of the Venezuelan government, the U.S. security forces additionally violated their human rights. “The morale of these activists proved to be more powerful than the force of repression carried out by the dozens of armed police officers deployed by Washington,” Arreaza said.

Carlos Ron, Bolivarian vice-minister for North America, recalled in an improvised press conference that the only legitimate government of Venezuela did not authorize the entry of U.S. police forces into the building of what was its embassy in Washington, so the police irruption constitutes, according to the Vienna Convention, a flagrant violation of international law.

The Washington Metropolitan Police illegally entered the facilities of the Venezuelan embassy in that U.S. capital city, violating the immunity from jurisdiction of the diplomatic headquarters and the documents and archives that rest there.

This action by the United States sets a dangerous precedent, because it sends a message to the world about possible aggressions of this nature that threaten other diplomatic offices in the future.

Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the Code Pink movement for peace, on Thursday had denounced the entry into the facilities of the Venezuelan Embassy of the Metropolitan Police Department of Washington (MPD) to forcibly evict the activists stationed there. The activist and public health specialist warned that the police illegally broke into the diplomatic headquarters in an act that she described as a violation of international law.

“By breaking into the Venezuelan Embassy to illegally arrest the Embassy Protection Collective, the police violated the Vienna Convention and international law,” Medea Benjamin said through his Twitter account.

CodePink had assumed the defense of the Venezuelan diplomatic headquarters in the United States in support of democracy in the South American country violated by Donald Trump’s administration.

Last Friday, President Nicolás Maduro publicly acknowledged the group of activists defending the Venezuelan embassy in Washington, “who have faced the aggressions of a “sick right” and imperialist interference.

“I send a solidarity greeting, full of deep gratitude and admiration to the Protection Collective of our Embassy in Washington, who have bravely faced the aggressions of a sick rightist and a criminal empire,” the Bolivarian President declared in a message posted on his Twitter account.

Outside the Venezuelan embassy in Washington D.C., activists were present to support the collective in defense of the building, who were guarding it to demand that food be allowed in. The activists denounced that supporters of the opposition to the Venezuelan government maintained the siege of the building, preventing the entry of food and medicines, cutting off the electricity and water supply, all in collusion with the government of Donald Trump.

About 15 activists remained inside the compound since mid-April to prevent Carlos Vecchio, the “representative” of the self-proclaimed opposition deputy interim president, Juan Guaidó, from taking over the embassy.

A CubaNews translation by Walter Lippmann.

Trump’s Iran Trap

Tue, 2019-05-21 15:50

Remember President Trump’s tweet and accompanying statements by the Trump administration officials concerning Iran – as reported here by CNN on May 19, 2019.

Trump’s statement amounts to a de facto declaration of war on Iran.

Objectively speaking, it is a lie that Iran threatens the US. It is a lie that the US sends aircraft carriers to the region in self-defence. It’s lies as blatant as the one about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction.

You may think that this is just psychological warfare and positioning. It is not. Because: Over time, this type of statements develop its own dynamics and the US will not be able to back down from what it threatens to do without loosing face.

President Trump’s statement is a blatant violation of international law, the UN Charter’s Article 2.4 which states:
“All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”

In this extremely worrying situation of years of step-by-step US build-up to war with Iran, every and each government that does not issue a formal public protest distancing itself from this type of rogue state behaviour that endangers world security must be considered co-responsible for a war on Iran if and when it breaks out.

Check out whether your government has the statesmanship and courage to do so, no matter where you live. Protest if it doesn’t.

This is not the way the world’s strongest military and a world leader should behave – against a state that has, according to every report including US assessments, adhered to every word in the JCPOA, the Nuclear Deal with Iran of 2015.

The only – gross and repeated – violator of that agreement is the United States of America, by its withdrawal from it and thereby also violating international law since that agreement is embedded in a UN Security Council resolution.

Additionally, the US continues and has stepped up sanctions that amount to (economic) war crimes and collective punishment of 85 million completely and indisputably innocent civilian Iranians.

NATO and the EU – as collective organisations – must now distance themselves from this policy and, in the field of US Iran policies, defy any pressure exerted by Washington, issue statements to the effect that this type of policies by a friend and ally is completely unacceptable morally and a crystal clear violation of international law as well as civilised behaviour among members of the global society.

Secondly, each member state must practice civil disobedience against the US in this field, step up all types of cooperation with Iran and – in actions and not just words, words and more words – isolate the US.

Any government that keeps silent in this extremely dangerous situation are philosophically as well politically complicit in every violent action that may be directed at Iran and its people at any point in the future.

To quote Albert Einstein: “The world is in greater peril from those who tolerate or encourage evil than from those who actually commit it.”

When it comes to its Iran policies, the United States must now be made clearly and unequivocally aware that it does not have and will not have any support – ethically, politically, militarily or economically – from allies and friends – neither when making such statements not if it is mad enough to start a war on Iran and destroy one more civilisation and sovereign state in the Middle East.

This is in the service of the US itself: One more war will make the US the most hated country on earth. It will devastate the US economy further. It will weaken and spell the end of the US Empire. It will – like all the other wars – be what I have repeatedly ermed a predictable fiasco on its own terms.

If you love America, act now. If you want to see it crumble and fall, keep silent and let it fall into its own – tendentially fascist, militarism-addicted – trap.

What is Anarchism?

Tue, 2019-05-21 15:47

What is anarchism? It is an attempt to bring about a more peaceful, cooperative, equitable society, as well as a framework with which to judge existing society and a set of tools with which to change it. But anarchism isn’t really one thing; it is rather a range of tendencies, bound together by their libertarian character—notably their opposition to the state—and their critique of both capitalist economic relations and the various forms of state socialism that have come and gone. The coercive power of the state underlies both capitalism and socialism, at least as we have known them, both dominating and submerging the individual and, through law-backed privilege, dividing owners from workers. Both are centralizing, hierarchical systems, monopoly systems kept afloat in the final analysis by force. Anarchists have presented a wide variety of economic proposals and lived a colorful medley of real-life social and economic experiments, sure that other ways—consensual and mutualistic rather than authoritarian and exploitative—are possible. As anarchism has matured, it has confronted ever more inequalities of authority, resisting racism and sexism, among other sources of social domination.

Anarchism emerged in the first half of the nineteenth century as a response to several related phenomena: the growth of industrial capitalism, the development of political economy as a separate and distinct discipline, and the rise of nationalism and the modern nation-state. And while the world is a very different place today, anarchism’s critique of centralized power remains relevant. Anarchism is a real, workable answer that, despite its provocative name, does not drive at lawlessness or chaos, but at a free, fair society in which communities are allowed to develop their own bottom-up solutions to concrete problems. Anarchism takes seriously the idea that if all people are equally free and equally entitled to dignity and autonomy, then no individual or group can have the right to impose upon or violate anyone. Thus did the eminent writer and historian George Woodcock suggest that anarchism is “aristocracy universalized and purified.”

Anarchists see that today’s crises, social, environmental, and economic, are the problems of largeness, of unaccountable monoliths in both the so-called public and private sectors. Concerned to cultivate and preserve genuine, human-scale communities, anarchism is fundamentally decentralist. It contemplates a society of loose networks in which groups may federate from time to time for given purposes, but in which there is no single institution arrogating the power to dictate rules, to dominate social and economic life, to preclude the spontaneous activities of free people. The dominant political dialogue and its menu of choices present a series of false choices, all quarters, whether putatively left or right, progressive or conservative, socialist or capitalist, submitting that, in Ivan Illich’s words, “monopolistic oligarchies” ought “to determine the means by which [our] needs shall be met.” It is not seriously considered by any party or side that monolithic bureaucracies, staffed with the appropriate experts, should not lord over us, making the important decisions as a duly appointed guardian would for a ward. The conversation seems to be premised on unthinking acceptance of twin absurdities: that an economy of giant multinational corporations is a proper free market and that the poor and powerless would benefit under a state socialism in which one capitalist, the state, owns and controls everything. Anarchists say that the names we give our systems are less important than the behaviors and relationships at issue; we argue that any attempt at socialism should be horizontal, decentralized, and libertarian, and that any free market must be free from the pervasive privilege that has always defined corporate capitalism as a matter of historical fact. Anarchism is revolutionary insofar as it looks forward to an end of the existing order, its replacement with a free society. But it requires neither the immediate overthrow of the existing order nor resigned despair until the day of the revolution. To again draw on Woodcock, we might treat anarchism “not as a formula for the immediate changing of society, but as a criterion, as a standpoint from which to judge and criticize existing society, and by which to shape one’s actions so that the libertarian and mutualist elements that exist in every society might be constantly activated and the authoritarian elements diminished.”

Anarchists do not hold fast to one view of human nature, if indeed they believe that such a thing exists at all. They do, however, suggest that if the essence of human nature is good, the state is redundant; if human nature is evil, rapacious, selfish, then the state, empowered with its geographical monopoly on the use of legitimate violence, is even more dangerous than mere criminals, the criminality of whom is at least recognized as what it is. Anarchists have attempted to call attention to this paradox not as enemies of law, order, and social cooperation, but as the harbingers of a more principled and complete order. Even as they are the friends of order, anarchists are the enemies of static orders, of regimentation and social monoculture. Current political language talks a lot about the Peoplebut doesn’t trust them to govern themselves, positing various intermediaries, all of whom of course have their own interests and desires. Our rulers maintain the pretense that they are governing for the good of all in order to continue their plunder and domination, aware that power of the conquerors lives first and ultimately in the minds of the conquered. When we change our minds, anarchists say, their power comes to end.

 

Trump’s War In Venezuela Could Be Che’s Revenge

Tue, 2019-05-21 15:04

Che Guevara had a dream. After decades of chasing the American Empire into guerrilla street fights from Guatemala to the Congo, Che dreamed of drawing that dreadful beast into an unwinnable quagmire on the graves of its first victims in the heart of Latin America, the treacherous mountain forests of Bolivia where the Conquistadors first struck it rich with Indio silver. Che dreamed of revenge for centuries of violence, of rape, genocide and colonialism. He dreamed of creating another Vietnam in the Western Hemisphere that would spread across Uncle Sam’s indentured colonies and liberate his people, all of his people, from Tierra del Fuego to Tijuana and beyond. Che chased this Quixotic dream into the rugged highlands of Bolivia in 1966 where he got more than he bargained for. Less than a year later he would be dead at the hands of a CIA death squad. But his dream remained, festering just beneath the flesh of a thousand banana republics.

Flash forward to a half century later. Just a few jungles north-west of Che’s grave, in the embattled nation of Venezuela. May 1st, May Day in this year of our lord Satan, twenty-hundred-and-nineteen. Everything should have gone perfectly. Everything was in place for Washington’s latest Latino coup de tat. After softening up the oil rich left-wing pariah state with decades of crippling sanctions and economic sabotage, the stage was finally set. Uncle Sam’s latest camera-ready caudillos, Juan Guaido and Leopoldo Lopez, a couple of scrumptiously fuckable brown choir boys who appear to have been hand plucked from Manudo by the School of the Americas had secured the loyalty of a score of Venezuelan power brokers from the Supreme Court to the Presidential Guard. The night before, Guaido announced his final triumphant putsch in the form of a march to his master’s house at the American embassy in Caracas. A profound publicity stunt in which the entirety of Nicholas Maduro’s fiercely loyal army would join him in overthrowing their own democratically elected government. His Employer in Chief seconded the motion vis a vis Twitter. It all should have gone perfectly, like a thousand times before.

To say it didn’t would be an understatement to say the least. To say the most, Guaido’s latest recital of counter-revolutionary puppet theatre became the geostrategic equivalent of Donald Trump shitting his tux on prom night. Guaido’s little victory march turned into a laughable pity parade, with Kid Pinochet joined only by a handful of rent-a-thugs in military cosplay. His calls for open revolt fell on deaf ears in all but the toniest barrios of the capital where the entire spectacle was epitomized by the sight of bougie rioteers in Dolce Gabbana, chucking Molotov cocktails. The Supreme Court and the Presidential Guard may have played hooky but the peasants didn’t. Upon word of Uncle Sam’s latest plan to pervert their nation, even Maduro’s enemies flooded the streets in rallies for his defense and, more importantly, the defense of the Bolivarian Revolution. If it wasn’t for the cowardly actions of one role-crazy tank driver in Tienanmen mode, the whole flopped coup may have been a virtually bloodless affair.

Naturally, the Administration Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight excepted defeat with all the honor and modesty of the Bad News Bears. Trump’s troika of tyrannic twats, Mike Pompeo, Elliot Abrams and Lucifer’s favorite mental midget, John Bolton, went berzerk scrambling for excuses to explain their complete and total humiliation at the hands of a porno-stashed ex bus driver nearly universally despised by his own people. It was Russia! It was, it was China! No! Hezbollah! No Cobra Kai! John Kreese himself coaxed Maduro off the tarmac with a hardy pep talk and told him to sweep the leg. Yeah, that’s it. No! It was those wily Cubans again, just like in Grenada. According to Satan’s push-broom, half their goddamn army blocked a sure thing without firing a bullet. Stealthy motherfuckers, those Cubans. Like goddamn ninjas, not one naked eye saw them coming or going. Anything, any excuse, any explanation other than the simple fact that Trump got punked and shit the bed. How did this happen? Latin American coups are supposed to be America’s last growth industry. We use to overthrow another democracy every other week back in the Dulles days. What have we become? What went wrong?

The most painfully obvious reason, at least to anybody outside the swamplands of the Beltway, is that the American Empire has become a joke and Trump is the punchline. Lets face it, somebody should, after Ahmed Chalabi and the boys from Tel Aviv convinced the indispensable nation to hand half the Middle East over to Al Qaeda in a doggy-bag we became a little less indispensable. But aside from the inevitable decline of the west, the best answer for why the Bolivarian Republic couldn’t be flipped like Honduras or Ukraine is the simple fact that it is indeed a republic, a democracy who’s foundation predates even Maduro’s far more honorable predecessor, Hugo Chavez, with the creation of the grassroots council communist experiment of the Barrio Assembly of Caracas in 1991.

Over a decade later, this movement was consecrated with its own popular revolution, not with the election of Chavez but with his defense in the streets during America’s most successful or rather least unsuccessful modern Venezuelan coup attempt in 2002. Revolution is the original direct democracy. Once a people have fought and bled for a republic or any cause for that matter that they can call their own, it becomes very hard, even with state reinforced poverty, to convince them to sell it up the river for a song, especially if the lyrics are in English. This is why Cuba still stands firm as a viable anti-colonialist boogeyman after decades of Yanqui skulduggery. If anything, Trump made Maduro more powerful, which leaves him with all out war as his last option.

This is where Che comes in again. That’s right, dearest motherfuckers, full circle time. Chances are, Trump is simply flexing his flabby glamour muscles for those decomposing fossils back in Little Havana. But if Bolton has his way, and never count that sick fucker out, every bluster will end in a ground war and a ground war in Venezuela would be a complete and total unmitigated disaster for the world’s last superpower, an Iraq sized black hole in the heart of Bolivar country. This disaster however could be an unexpected gift from the devil himself to Latin America’s flagging anti-imperialist left, from the fearsome collectivos to the resilient Shinning Path. Che spoke at length about the strategic value of creating two, three, many Vietnams to sap the American Empire of its resources across the Third World. With Afghanistan, Syria and possibly Iran, a costly war south of the border could be the final Vietnam that Che dreamed of and died for in Bolivia. Trump’s war in Venezuela could be Che’s revenge.

Call me a communist, dearest motherfuckers(we actually prefer Kropotkinite-American), but I can’t think of a more fitting end for a more despicable Imperial experiment. Death by greed on the stoop of Potosi, in the dark heart of where it all began, with Che’s wicked laughter hanging like cigar smoke above the ruins. I hate war, but with any luck this could be America’s last.

Springtime in New York

Tue, 2019-05-21 14:03

Springtime in New York

New York’s a glorious place
In the spring
Why would anyone split
When the leaves are so green
To go sit like a mouse in a house
And chew cheese, yes
And New York’s so nice
With the breeze through the trees
And the gold-dotted starlings who peck
With their beaks
As the violet pigeons all preen
In the streets
And you won’t see shells
Slicing children apart
Just cars crushing kids
Two or three times a week
And you won’t see children in jail
By the border, just ICE by the courthouse
As so many do,
you can look away too,
And like them can say
That you just never knew
As the ice sheets collapse
And the green parrots flew
Through the streets and the trees
Of New York in the spring
In 2019

 

The Yellow Vests of France: Six Months of Struggle

Mon, 2019-05-20 16:10

Photograph Source: Obier – CC BY-SA 4.0

I am writing you from Montpellier, France, where I am a participant-observer in the Yellow Vest movement, which is still going strong after six months, despite a dearth of information in the international media.

But why should you take the time to learn more about the Yellow Vests?  The answer is that France has for more than two centuries been the classic model for social innovation, and this unique, original social movement has enormous international significance. The Yellow Vests have already succeeded in shattering the capitalist myth of “representative democracy” in the age of neo-liberalism. Their uprising has unmasked the lies and violence of republican government, as well as the duplicity of representative institutions like political parties, bureaucratic unions and the mainstream media.

Moreover, the Yellow Vests represent the first time in history that a spontaneous, self-organized social movement has ever held out for half a year in spite of repression while retaining its autonomy, resisting cooptation, bureaucratization and sectarian splits. All the while, standing up to full-scale government repression and targeted propaganda, it poses a real, human alternative to the dehumanization of society under the rule of the capitalist “market.”

Six months ago on Nov. 17, 2018, Yellow Vests burst literally “out of nowhere,” with autonomous local units springing up all over France like mushrooms, demonstrating on traffic circles (roundabouts) and toll-gates, marching every Saturday in cities, including Paris. But unlike all previous revolts, it was not Paris-centered. The humid November soil from which these mushrooms sprouted was the near-universal frustration of French people at the abject failure of the CGT and other unions to effectively oppose Macron’s steam-roller imposition last Spring of his historic Thatcherite “reforms”: an inflexible neo-liberal program of cutting benefits, workplace rights, and privatizing or cutting public services, while eliminating the so-called Wealth Tax designed to benefit the poor.

The immediate cause of this spontaneous mass rising was to protest an unfair tax on fuel  (fiscal justice) but the Yellow Vests’ demands quickly expanded to include restoration of public services (transport, hospitals, schools); higher wages, retirement benefits, healthcare for the poor, peasant agriculture, media free of billionaire and government control, and, most remarkably, participatory democracy. Despite their disruptive tactics, the Yellow Vests were from the beginning wildly popular with average French people (73% approval), and they are still more popular than the Macron government after six months of exhausting, dangerous occupations of public space, violent weekly protests and slanderous propaganda against them.

Tired of being lied to, cheated, manipulated and despised, the Yellow Vests instinctively from the beginning rejected being instrumentalized by the corrupt  “representative” institutions of capitalist democracy – including political parties, union bureaucracies and the media (monopolized by billionaires and subsidized by the government). Jealous of their autonomy, a concept which radical intellectuals have been exploring for years, the Yellow Vest eschewed “leaders” and spokespeople even among their own ranks, and are even now very gradually learning to federate themselves and negotiate convergence with other social movements.

From the very beginning, the Yellow Vests’ basically non-violent unauthorized gatherings were met by massive police repression – teargas, flashballs, beatings, 10, 000 arrests, immediate drum-head trials, stiff sentences for minor infractions. The Macron government just passed a new “anti-vandalism” law making it virtually impossible to demonstrate legally. Macron’s orthodox neo-liberal French Republic has arguably become as repressive of domestic opposition as the right-wing “populist” regimes in Poland, Hungary, Turkey.

Macron’s violent repression of political opposition is responsible for at least two deaths, 23 demonstrators blinded in one eye, thousands seriously wounded. It has been condemned by the U.N. and European Union. But Macron has never acknowledged these injuries, which are rarely shown in the media. The TV news concentrates on sensational images of the violence (to property) of the Black Block vandals at the fringes of Yellow Vest demonstrations, never on the human victims of systematic government violence. A popular slogan proclaimed in Magic Marker on a demonstrator’s Yellow Vest reads: “Wake up! Turn off your TV! Join us!”

Since the Yellow Vests have no recognized spokespersons, government propaganda, abetted by the media, has had a free hand to dehumanize them to justify treating them inhumanly. Macron, from the height of his monarchical presidency, at first pretended to ignore their uprising, then attempted to buy them off with crumbs (a very few crumbs which were rejected) and then denounced them as “a hate-filled mob.” (N.B. In real life the Yellow Vests are largely low-income middle-aged folks with families from the provinces whose trade-mark is friendliness and improvised barbeques.) Yet for Macron and the media they constitute a hard-core conspiracy of “40,000 militants of the extreme right and the extreme left” often characterized as “anti-Semites,” who threaten the Republic.

Small wonder that, subjected to increasing violence and continuous slander, the numbers of Yellow Vests willing to go out into the streets to protest every week has diminished over 27 weeks.  But they are still out there and their favorite chant goes: “Here we are!  Here we are! What if Macron doesn’t like it? Here we are!” (On est là! Même si Macron ne veut pas, On est là!)

Fortunately, in the past few weeks the League for the Rights of Man and other such humanitarian groups have at last turned out to protest police brutality while committees of artists and academics have signed petitions in support of the Yellow Vests’ struggle for democratic rights, condemning the government and media. At the same time, Yellow Vests are more and more converging with Ecologists (“End of the Month/End of the World/Same Enemy/Same Struggle” ) and feminists (women play a big role in the movement).

Also with workers, many of them active as opponents of the bureaucracy in their unions. Red CGT stickers on Yellow Vests are now frequent sights at demos. Philippe Martinez, the General Secretary of the CGT, who has heretofore been sarcastic and negative about the Yellow Vests, has now been forced to admit that the cause of their rise was the failure of the unions, “a reflection of all the union deserts.” He was referring to “small and medium size businesses, retired people, poverty people, jobless people and lots of women” (the demographic of the Yellow Vests) that the unions have ignored.

The Yellow Vests are still here, in the fray, holding the breach open. The crisis in France is far from over. If and when the other oppressed and angry groups in France – the organized workers, ecologists, North African immigrants, students struggling against Macron’s educational “reforms”  – also turn off their TV’s and go down into the streets, things could change radically. The Yellow Vests’ avowed goal is to bring France to a grinding halt and impose change from below.

What if they succeed? We know what the “success” of structured parties like Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain led to. Maybe a horizontal federation of autonomous base-groups attempting to re-invent democracy could do better.

P.S. Latest news: the CGT just held its convention and voted unanimously for “convergence” with the Yellow Vests, something our group in Montpellier has been working towards for months. Tomorrow, for the first time, we are meeting with the other Yellow Vest groups in our region. “On ne lâche rien!” (Nothing escapes us, we don’t give in).

Abortion: White Panic Over Demographic Dilution?

Mon, 2019-05-20 16:01


What is behind the bigotry masquerading as sanctimonious religiosity fervently opposed to abortion in the United States?

One motivation for US conservatives’ opposition to abortion – “a woman’s right to choose” – as stated by demographer Ben Wattenberg (in his increasingly neoconservative later years, after the 1970s), and cited by the wonderful educator, Jane Elliott (“White Fear”, in her anti-racism teachings, is that white supremacists’ great fear is over demographic dilution.

American conservatives’ opposition to abortion is not primarily concerned with preventing Blacks, Latinos, minorities and the poor from procreating too many — and “too costly” to the public purse — non-white babies, but in fact to prevent white women from producing too few white babies. 60% of the 1.6 million abortions annually in the United States are for white women.

The banning of abortion was exactly the policy of the Nazi regime in Germany, when bounties were paid for high fertility by acceptably white – “Aryan” – women. The fertility rate of Whites in Europe, in the U.S.A., in South Africa, and in Israel with its captive and concentration-encamped Palestine, is the lowest of all ethnicities/races. Generally speaking, the poorer and darker people are, and the closer to the equator they live or come from, the more children they are likely to have produced and/or have in their families. There is a worldwide darkening of the complexion of humanity underway.

Were there not immigration into the wealthy and comfortable Northern European nations, which we used to think of as “pure white,” they would be losing population in coming decades, if not already. There is a direct INVERSE correlation between an ethnic/racial segment of a national population having greater educational attainment and financial security with a higher standard of living (a higher level of their nation’s Human Development Index, as tallied by the U.N.), with respect to their fertility rate. That is why Whites have the lowest fertility rate as compared with darker and poorer people.

The education and emancipation of poor Third World women – teaching them to read, and giving them means of gaining independent income – are the best ways to reduce runaway fertility and stabilize “overpopulation.” Demographic economists calculate that a stabilized world population of 2 to 4 billion people could live with comfortable standards of living in a stable world economy of much greater equality, and which was in balance with Nature; at present there are over 7.7 billion people on our planet. (The idea of reducing world population by 50% or more in 3 to 4 generations, is contentious and involved, and reserved for another essay in the future — maybe.) 

So, Northern Europe, the U.S.A. and other wealthy White enclaves are seeing their share of the population drop, proportionally in their nations. This is due to higher competing fertility more so than by unregulated “invasive immigration” by non-whites and foreigners of different type from that of the nativists.

In one sense the Nazi policy was kinder than that of tight-fisted US conservatives today, in that the Nazis provided good maternal medical care nationally to their favored “Aryan” portion of the German population, from 1933 till the war destroyed domestic life in Germany, by 1945.

Jane Elliott’s basic point is that US white supremacist panic about demographic dilution is what lies behind American political anti-abortion. The pseudo-moralistic religiosity camouflage layered over this “pro-life movement” is just to hide its racist foundation. This religious put-on is easily revealed as a fraud by the complete lack of concern by “moral majority” and “tea party” type nativist-racists:

about childhood poverty and malnutrition, and the abandonment by government of poor children to abysmal “education;”

about white nativist enthusiasm for, instead of their repulsion at, the snuffing out of “precious life” by the brisk police execution of black, brown, mentally challenged, and alternatively sexual people disfavored by Bibleist Bigotry, and arbitrarily assigned as athwart the law; and also the favoring of the legalized lynching known as “capital punishment;”

and about hollow Christianity’s utter lack of concern for any real threats to women and girls by good-old-boy Roy Moore type child molesters, and other sexual harassers of women, like Donald Trump and many other men in power, especially if White (or on the Supreme Court) and “conservative.”

This White nativist Bible-thumping Christian (sic) fear of demographic dilution has two components:

1. “White Christians are now a minority of the U.S. population,” at 43%, and

2. Between 1950 and 1970, the fractional White population dropped from its highest proportion since 1700 (about 90%) to nearly 88%. The fractional Black population rose from 10% to 11%; and the fractional Hispanic population grew at an accelerating pace — more than doubling — from 2.1% to over 4.4%. During the 40 years between 1970 and 2010, the fractional White population dropped significantly from 88% to 72%. The fractional Black population rose modestly from 11% to 12.6%; and the fractional Hispanic population zoomed from 4.4% to 16.3% (almost quadrupling proportionately). In the year 2000, the fractional Black and fractional Hispanic populations were essentially equal (12.3% and 12.5%, respectively), and subsequently the fractional Hispanic population became larger, and continues growing faster.

The trends shown above are what fuel US white supremacy, both in sentiment and in political action. The growth of the US Hispanic population is driven overwhelmingly by a higher fertility rate, less so by immigration. White people, worldwide, are the richest “racial” population, and they have the lowest fertility rate (more money, less kids). “Darker” and poorer populations have higher fertility rates.

Trumpism (which includes anti-abortionism for white people too), the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and the former apartheid by and for white South Africa were/are wars against demographic dilution, perpetrated by the wealthy white low ‘fertiles’ (WWLFs) against poor dark high ‘fertiles’, (PDHFs). These “heart of whiteness” wars against demographic dilution are also wars for exclusionary capital hoarding (“race capitalism”).

Also, these wars are the echoes of the slave-owning White fears of the 17th through 19th centuries (over slave revolts), and the fears by the European imperialism of the 18th through 20th centuries (enacted through colonial wars). There is tremendous resistance among the world’s people to tolerate each other and share the Earth, for doing so would tumble capitalism, authoritarianism, patriarchy and religion.

While there is certainly a strong component of a “war on women” in anti-abortionism, to cover for chauvinist male insecurity that seeks idiotic reassurance by possessing and dominating women, the deeper wellspring of American anti-abortionism is the White supremacist fear of demographic dilution.

From the Middle East to Northern Ireland, Western States are All Too Happy to Avoid Culpability for War Crimes

Mon, 2019-05-20 15:58


When is a war crime not a war crime? When it’s committed by us, of course.

But this truism is taking on a new and sinister meaning today – and not just because Trump and his crackpots may be planning another clutch of atrocities in the Middle East.

For there is now a dangerous slippage becoming apparent in which western states are more ready than ever to countenance military crimes against humanity, to accept them, approve of them and to expect us to connive at these gross and sickening breaches of international law.

I’m not just talking about the pathetic and grotesque behaviour of our latest minister of defence’s “amnesty on historical prosecutions” – which means we can murder Iraqis and Afghans and get away with it, but must be a bit more restrained in Northern Ireland. Not much more restrained, mind you, for just look at the snapping young Tory elites and the desiccated ex-generals who are yelping to extend this kill-by-permission to those who have killed British citizens in Belfast and Derry.

Not only is this an insult to the humanity of Irish men and women in Northern Ireland who happen to have British citizenship; it is also placing them in a limbo-world between brown-eyed Muslims in the Middle East who can be forgotten 10 years after they have been liquidated, and blue-eyed Brits, whose murder would have squads of policemen and anti-terror squads racing through the streets of the nation to hunt down and bring to justice their killers.

It’s not just a difference between the DNA of our victims, of course. It’s that word “historical”. For what Penny Mordaunt and her roughnecks are proposing is a statute of limitations on war crimes – something which thousands of ex-Nazis sought and prayed for after the Second World War.

No, British army soldiers are not Nazis, the US marines are not the Wehrmacht, the RAF and the USAF are not the Luftwaffe (although we might have to lay aside Hamburg and Dresden here). I am talking about parallels, not comparisons, about the sudden growth of a dangerous and warped mindset which proposes to exonerate murderers before they commit their crime.

But let’s move away from Britain’s tawdry struggle in the northeast of Ireland, albeit that many Brexiteers are quite prepared to return to it. Instead, let’s cross the Atlantic to the larger lunatic asylum in Washington where Trump has just awarded a full pardon to US army first lieutenant Michael Behenna.

He murdered an Iraqi man called Ali Mansur on 16 May 2008. Behenna was ordered to drive Mansur back to his home after he had been interrogated by US intelligence operatives about the killing of two American soldiers in a roadside bombing. They found no evidence of his guilt. But Behenna drove his prisoner into the desert, stripped him, interrogated him again at gunpoint and then shot him in the head and chest. The case was straightforward – or so you might think. Behenna was convicted of unpremeditated murder and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

But then the US justice department reduced his sentence from 25 years to 15 years, and paroled him in 2014. Behenna was a model prisoner, admired by his friends in his native Oklahoma.

And just 10 days ago, Trump granted this army killer a full pardon. No surprise from Trump’s point of view, of course. He has said that “torture works” and believes that mass murder works too.

“You have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families,” the US president said in a 2015 interview. Behenna committed murder just over 10 years ago, so no protests from Mordaunt and her chums in London: his crime was committed just after her 10-year limitation on murder in the Muslim world would have expired.

Another American combat veteran from Iraq put the lie to this nonsense the day after war criminal Behenna was blessed with freedom by Trump. Waitman Wade Beorn was a cavalry officer who told his soldiers to treat Iraqi civilians as if they were neighbours rather than enemies. In a remarkable article in the Washington Post, Beorn wrote that the US commander-in-chief had preferred to overlook serious war crimes “in favour of a warped notion of patriotism and heroism”. Trump subscribed to the “bad things happen in war mentality”, which is odd for a man who avoided military service.

But Beorn is unique in that he has also written a book about the German army’s participation in the Holocaust. Even given the premeditated, racist and highly ideologically driven environment of the Wehrmacht, he concluded, “the culture of each unit and the institutional leadership most directly influenced whether war crimes were committed. Murderous leaders led murderous units.”

Beorn is not comparing the US military with the Wehrmacht. He talks – albeit a trifle mawkishly – about America’s “systems of military education that highlight our values and the law of armed conflict” and their “strong ethical foundation”.

But he does highlight Adolf Hitler’s infamous “Jurisdiction Order” of May 1941, just before the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, which informed German troops that “for offences committed by members of the Wehrmacht and its employees against enemy civilians, prosecution is not compulsory, not even if the offence is at the same time a military crime or violation”.

As Beorn notes, “soldiers were literally told that they would not be tried for behaviour that would be a crime anywhere else in Europe”.

Which is – really – frighteningly close to our minister of defence’s theoretical proposals. Letting killers off the hook if they murder Afghans or Iraqis – although only after a decent interval – but not if they kill Brits, might have seemed rather familiar to Wehrmacht veterans. When a US president champions war criminals as brave patriots who are merely victims of political correctness, he “condones unethical and criminal behaviour,” Beorn writes. And there you have it. Suddenly, Bloody Sunday slides into view. And the 1971 Ballymurphy mass killing inquest in Belfast this week, which heard a former British soldier describe some of his Parachute Regiment comrades in truly fearful terms. He praised good and professional soldiers, but then added: “There were also psychopaths in there, there were people who were dangerous to have around.”

You bet there were. “Rogue soldiers were out of control, killing people on the street and knowing that they would be protected,” said witness M597 at the Belfast inquest – although just how “rogue” these soldiers were, after Bloody Sunday less than a year later, is debatable. But remember, Ballymurphy was 48 years ago, Bloody Sunday 47 years ago. This is the kind of thinking that is now getting lost among those British politicians who would wipe the slate clean.

Trump has publicly supported US major Matt Golsteyn, who is currently charged with premeditated murder in the shooting of an unarmed man and the burning of his body in Afghanistan in 2010. Trump has called him a “US military hero”.

Beorn has also taken up the case of Trump’s support for former Navy Seal Edward Gallagher, another alleged war criminal who, according to The New York Times, “shot a girl in a flower-print dress who was walking with other girls on the riverbank” of the Tigris in Mosul in 2017.

She fell to the ground clutching her stomach and was dragged away by the other women. Beorn recalls that in the same year – and we are now talking of less than two years ago – Gallagher allegedly killed a wounded teenager by stabbing him several times in the neck and once in the chest.

“Trump has tweeted that Gallagher would be given better conditions in confinement ‘in honour of his past service’,” Beorn wrote, “an honour many would say he threw away long ago.”

Well, thank God, you may say, for the Beorns of this world. But what of our meek acceptance of the official body counts of our armies and air forces in the Middle East? “Coalition” forces say that they conducted 34,464 strikes in Iraq and Syria since August 2014, unintentionally killing 1,257 civilians. But Amnesty International has investigated the civilian casualties of just one city – Raqqa in Syria – over a mere four-month period in 2017 alone, and come up with a civilian death toll of more than 1,600.

Far more disturbing – more fantastical, is perhaps the right word – is the Royal Air Force claim that it killed 1,019 “enemy fighters” in Iraq and Syria over four years. But only one civilian. Just one – only a single civilian – was killed among 1,020 deaths. These figures, which cover the period between September 2014 and January this year, were handed out by the British Ministry of Defence under a Freedom of Information request from the charity Action on Armed Violence. And all this was based, according to the MOD, on “the best available post-strike analysis”.

Almost as distressing as this palpably ridiculous figure was that the BBC reported this on 7 March as a straightforward news story, only qualifying its utterly incredible contents later in its story with the charity’s comment that this must be “a world record in modern conflict”.

The BBC’s defence correspondent then remarked that these were “extraordinarily precise figures” but that battlefield analysis is “not a precise science”. Which would mean – again at face value – that the RAF killed only one of the 1,257 civilians “unintentionally” killed in coalition air strikes in the same period.

I have to say that statistics of this kind are not just unbelievable, incredible and insulting to anyone who reads or studies them. They are obviously miraculous, nonsensical, irresponsible, preposterous, bizarre, weird, out-of-this-world, dreamlike and – for anyone who has covered wars for the past four decades – totally untrue. Anyone who actually believes this tiddlypush must also have a total conviction in the existence of Martians, Father Christmas or little green men at the bottom of the garden.

Yet the British Ministry of Defence got away with it. Killing civilians in air raids can be no less a crime than that of a soldier who individually murders civilians. And killing civilians “unintentionally” from the air – by planes or drones – does not let military forces claim innocence.

Amnesty’s investigation of the Raqqa attacks says that the real civilian death toll was not only shocking but totally unnecessary.

However, we have grown used to this. From the sky, from the street, in the desert, we kill and absolve ourselves.

No, “prosecution is not compulsory”. We can even call the killers heroes. These days we get away with murder – and we don’t even complain. We connive at it.

From the Gulf of Tonkin to the Persian Gulf

Mon, 2019-05-20 15:56

Photograph Source: U.S. Navy sailor aboard USS Maddox – Public Domain

Beijing.

The number of world wars should bury the argument that history does not repeat itself. But the detail is different, and the devil is in the detail.

Iran. Can warmongers again offer the arguments of weapons of mass destruction? No. The Iraq playbook can’t be repeated, but you don’t have to go too far back to find one that may suit.

Question. Where is Iran.

It’s in the Gulf.

OK, Gulf, well, we obviously can’t have Gulf War or justify intervention over the invasion of an emirate.

But we have had a Gulf before. True, different location, but it worked a treat. Dust down the Gulf of Tonkin scenario. The phantom attack on the USS Maddox in 1964 led to greater US military involvement in Vietnam.

A Great playbook from 1964. A US ship, a new Maddox, only this time hit by Iranian bullets from a speedboat. And it’s in the Gulf. The real Gulf.

National Security Adviser John Bolton announced on May 5 that the administration had ordered a carrier strike group to the Persian Gulf (short note on descriptions, it’s also called the Iranian Gulf or the Arabian Gulf, damn details). This was done on the basis of “troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” of unspecified Iranian threats. Brilliant, nothing definite, nice and vague. Then, a week later four oil tankers (two Saudi, one Norwegian and one Emirati) were damaged in an alleged “sabotage” attack. Again, few details have been released about the incident, which is said to have taken place early on May 12 within the territorial waters of the United Arab Emirates in the Gulf of Oman, east of the key UAE oil terminal port in Fujairah, near the Straits of Hormuz

Global maritime news websites have questioned the details surrounding the incident. The influential Lloyds List Maritime Intelligence, for example, criticized the authorities for “scant” information.

Maritime security company Dryad Global in a note to clients said “Saudi reticence to report the incident accurately within their own media channels and the current failure to provide imagery evidence of the attack raises important questions as to the nature of the attack.

“It remains unlikely that the risk to safety of vessels and crew will increase significantly in the short term however delays to commercial operations and the potential for interactions with military/militia forces has increased,” the report added.

Candidate Trump vowed to slash American deployments in the Middle East and vowed to “bomb the hell out of ISIS” and “take the oil.” Trump has let it be known that he has told the Pentagon he does not want war with Iran but consistency of message is not one of his strong points.

A conflict with Iran would represent a greater military challenge than toppling the Taliban or Saddam. Iran has a recognized ability to attack US forces and their allies directly and through proxy forces throughout

the Middle East and perhaps well beyond.

The global economy would also feel the consequences. About 20 percent of the global oil supply passes through passes through the Straits of Hormuz.

And what exactly is under consideration? Bombing key targets in Iran, limiting civilian casualties? Or the overthrow of the regime? What would define the success of military intervention?

Again history can provide some answers. Iranians elected Mohammad Mossadeq in 1951 and he renationalised the country’s oil production, which had been under British control through the Anglo-Persian Oil Company – which later became British Petroleum or BP.

The CIA played a key role in the 1953 coup which ousted him and reinstated the Shah. He fled in 1979.

The reinstatement of a Shah-type figure would be impossible but US intervention in Iran? Why when you ask that question does the phrase “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it’’ spring to mind?

 

Targeting Iran

Mon, 2019-05-20 15:56

Photograph Source: Tasnim News Agency – CC BY 4.0

A dangerous flashpoint has emerged in world politics at the moment. There is widespread fear that the United States and its allies might launch a military operation against Iran at any time. A US aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers are already deployed in the region. The alleged sabotage of four oil tankers, two of them Saudi, and the attack on a major oil pipeline are being linked in certain circles without an iota of evidence to Tehran. There is no need to repeat that scenarios of this sort are often manufactured to justify military aggression.

For more than a year now since unilaterally repudiating the 2015 Iran nuclear deal forged between Iran and six world powers, the US has not only re-imposed economic sanctions upon Iran but has also forced other states that trade with Iran to reduce drastically their interaction with Tehran. US targeting of Iran is a grave travesty of justice for the simple reason that the UN’s nuclear inspection agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency, has reiterated over and over again that Iran has complied with the nuclear deal. It should not therefore be punished with old or new sanctions.  This is also the position adopted by the other signatories to the deal, namely, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany.

But US president, Donald Trump is determined to act against Iran partly because of the growing influence of the Israeli government led by Benyamin Netanyahu and a segment of the Israeli lobby in the US upon his administration.  Though Israel has harbored deep distrust of the Iranian leadership since the 1979 Islamic Revolution because of the latter’s proven commitment to the Palestinian cause, it is only in recent years that it has begun to sense that a combination of three factors renders Iran and its people a formidable challenge to Israel’s goal of establishing its hegemonic power over West Asia. Iran’s oil and gas wealth has been reinforced by its scientific knowledge and capabilities underscored by a passionate devotion to the nation’s independence and sovereignty derived from both its historical experience and its attachment to a spiritual identity. Besides, the Iranian government is a staunch defender of the Syrian government which refuses to yield to Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, in itself a gross violation of international law.  Iran is also linked to the Hezbollah which has successfully resisted Israeli attempts to gain control over Lebanon, thus threatening the tiny nation’s   sovereignty.

There is also perhaps another reason why Israel and the US are hell-bent on targeting Iran at this juncture. Very soon, leaders of these two states will announce the so-called “deal of the century”, a farcical attempt to resolve the longstanding Israel-Palestine conflict. Because the deal from what little is known of it, is so palpably unjust to the Palestinian people, the Palestinians and the majority of the people of West Asia are expected to reject it outright. According to various sources, the deal condemns the Palestinians to perpetual apartheid. Iran and its allies can be expected to spearhead the opposition. It explains to some extent why Iran has to be hobbled immediately.

As an aside, it is ironical that Israel is showing such hostility to Iran when the Iranian Constitution not only recognizes the Jews as a minority but also provides the community with representation in its legislature. This is unique in West Asia. Israel’s failure to appreciate this is perhaps proof that its real commitment is not so much to the well-being of the Jews as the triumph of its Zionist ideology with its goal of expansionism and hegemony.

It is not simply because of Zionism or Israel that the US Administration is seeking to emasculate Iran. Weakening and destroying Iran is foremost on the agenda of another of Trump’s close allies in the region. The Saudi ruling elite also saw the Iranian Revolution of 1979 as a mortal threat to its position and power because it overthrew a feudal monarch, was opposed to US dominance of the region and sought inspiration in a vision of Islam rooted in human dignity and social justice.  As Iranian influence in West Asia expanded especially after the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, the Saudi elite became even more apprehensive of Iran and wanted the US to curb Iran’s role in the region.  In this regard it is worth observing that if Iran has become more influential in the region in the last 15 years or so, it is not only because of the astuteness of the Iranian leadership but also because of the follies of the Saudi and US ruling elite. The overthrow of Saddam Hussein through an Anglo-American invasion of Iraq in 2003 for instance paved the way for the ascendancy of Shia politicians more inclined towards Iran.

How and why Saudi and Israeli elite interests and ambitions are intertwined in the US push against Iran is not highlighted in the media including the new media. Consequently, only a small fraction of the public understands the real causes for the escalation of tensions in West Asia centering on Iran. It is largely because the media conceals and camouflages the truth, that a lot of people see the victim as the perpetrator and the perpetrator as the liberator. Or as Malcolm X once put it, “If you are not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”

The Violent History of the Venezuelan Opposition

Mon, 2019-05-20 15:55

The West alleges that the Venezuelan opposition is peaceful and democratic; however, their extensive history of right-wing violence proves otherwise.

The Venezuelan opposition is led by a predominately white bourgeoisie, the US state department and its allies. The US state department has provided at least $49 million since 2009 in aid for Venezuelan right-wing opposition forces who have sparked violent protests and murders of innocent civilians with the hopes of removing the democratically elected President Maduro. The US government has also provided $4.26 million for Venezuela through the US Agency for International Development (USAID) in 2015 in order to fund organizations that engage in anti-government work.

Contrary to Western narratives, these anti-government protestors have a history of escalating to extreme forms of violence, such as their burning of Venezuelan youth Orlando Jose Figuera, who was stabbed and set on fire on May 20th, 2018. This occurred in the Altamira neighborhood of Caracas, one of the wealthiest regions of the capital, after the anti-government protestors suspected he was a Chavista because he was Black. 80% of his body suffered burns and stab wounds as a result and he unfortunately died from this hate crime. This heinous act even drew the attention of Ernesto Vega, Venezuela’s Minister of Communication and Information, who issued a statement on his Twitter account following the death of Figuera, his statement is, as quoted: “Orlando Figuera, stabbed and burned alive by minds diseased by the hate in Altamira on May 20, just died of cardiopulmonary arrest,” he also elaborated that international mainstream media has failed to expose the opposition for how violent it truly is in its protests as opposed to “peaceful.”

Mainstream media has also failed to expose the reactionary nature of prominent Venezuelan bourgeois opposition leaders such as Leopoldo Lopez, who are romanticized as heroes fallen victim to a brutal regime when the reality is quite the contrary.

Leopoldo Lopez is a main figure of the Venezuelan opposition who was placed under house arrest after 3 years in prison due to health concerns.

He was imprisoned at first due to his planning and promotion of violent protests to topple the democratically elected Maduro government, these protests resulted in 43 casualties. Lopez is a wealthy white Venezuelan elite man who is directly descended from 19th century bourgeois liberator Simon Bolivar and Venezuela’s first president Cristobal Mendoza. He culminated his education in prestigious institutions in the US such as the Hun School of Princeton, which he attended alongside Saudi princes and the children of US Presidents and well known CEOS.

He was then admitted to Kenyon College followed by Harvard John F Kennedy School of Government. Some investigators speculate that he initiated a relationship with the CIA while at Kenyon. Lopez founded the group Primero Justicia while in school in 1992, which grew into a significant political party in right-wing Venezuelan politics.

Prior to becoming involved again in Venezuelan politics after his return to the country in 1996, he became an analyst at the quasi-privatized Venezuelan state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) where he worked until 1999 and while he worked there, he and his mother illegally sent hundreds of thousands of dollars to Primero Justicia, which breaks Venezuela’s anti-corruption laws. This act was not revealed until 2007 when an investigation conducted demonstrated what Lopez had done and banned him from obtaining political office titles for years.

After culminating his job at PDVSA, he was elected mayor of the Chachao department of Caracas in 2000, which is one of the wealthiest provinces in Venezuela. In 2002, Lopez started to regularly visit the headquarters of International Republican Institute (IRI) in Washington DC and meet with officials from the Bush administration. The IRI makes up one third of the National Endowment for Democracy, which is a US government funded NGO that was chaired by John Mccain and that has played a role in numerous US-sanctioned regime changes.
Both the IRI and the National Democratic Institute have financed Lopez’s Primero Justicia party as well as his other party Voluntad Popular which he established in 2010.

During his term as mayor of Chachao, Lopez participated in the 2002 US coup attempt against democratically elected president Hugo Chavez. The key role Lopez played in this coup attempt was in the illegal sequestration of former Minister of the Interior and Justice Ramon Rodriguez Chacin, along with engaging in violent attacks aimed at the Cuban Embassy in Caracas, which him and other violent counterrevolutionaries cut off water and electricity to and smashed windows and vehicles.

In 2007, Chavez forgave Lopez for his participation in the coup and prohibited him from holding political office from 2008 to 2014. Lopez has then tried to disassociate himself from the 2002 coup attempt which was generally not well received by anyone including the Venezuelan opposition. In 2014 Lopez’s lawyers tried to deny his involvement in the coup, but this was not successful as there was video evidence of him kidnapping Chacin and that his father, Leopoldo Lopez Gil, was a business leader who suspended the Venezuelan constitution that was provided by the fickle coup government.

This legacy of right-wing violence has continued to this day. On March 10th, 2019, the New York Times reported that the USAID that the Venezuelan government, UN and Red Cross rejected that was believed to have been burned by the Maduro administration, was in fact burned by the right-wing guarimberos, who were recently caught on camera throwing a molotov cocktail at the USAID truck. Juan Guaido, the interim figure backed by the US, recorded himself in now deleted videos of himself participating in violent guarimba riots back in 2014.

As much as the west wants to paint Venezuelan opposition as peaceful heroes and Maduro as a villain that needs to be taken down, neither is the actual case and are indeed imperialist propaganda.

They’re Just About Ready to Destroy Roe v. Wade

Mon, 2019-05-20 15:51

Militarism, consumerism, and racism have drawn alongside, and even to, misogyny and anti-immigrant hate. The juggernaut of greed, power, and hate may be impossible to stop at this point in U.S. history.

Those of goodwill have been fighting the good fight against these regressive forces for decades. When the Vietnam War ended, only a brief hiatus of warmongering took place before the right was drawing up its vicious plans again.

Racism has never had a vacation in the U.S. Slavery led to Jim Crow, and that turned into mass incarceration and white supremacy.

Now, the landmark case from 1973, Roe v. Wade, is on the precipice, with the recently passed anti-abortion law in Alabama set to go into effect in six months. The Alabama law is only the latest in decades of attacks agains Roe. Challenges to that law that make it up to the U.S. Supreme Court may in fact close off a woman’s right to abortion guaranteed under Roe. States like New York, Massachusetts, and Maine, among others, have and will take strong action to protect a woman’s right to access abortion, but huge swaths of the U.S. exist as women’s health-care deserts, just as food deserts exist in many ghettoes.

The political and religious right have always targeted women. Trump’s grotesque misogyny is not some chimera. It has been a focused effort to harness the right, and particularly the religious right, to cast women’s lives into the realm of second-class citizenship. Women, in Trump’s universe, are there for sexual exploitation. When Trump the pariah could not get what he wanted with words, the record shows he would have his way with money and force. The latter is the typical pattern of a male-dominated repressive political and social universe.

Women’s organizations that support women’s health care and reproductive rights have long fought a rear-guard battle against misogyny. The right is well-funded and has led the repressive fight against women since Roe became U.S. law. Their shock troops are most apparent at women’s health clinics where those seeking routine health treatment experience the horrific screaming, taunting, and ranting of those who hear the supposed voice of God driving them on.

All of this is a sideshow of the wealthy and the few who couldn’t care less about those who need to access health care, which those on the right have always had as a given. The last vestiges of anything resembling fair access to health care are slipping away, as are other traditions of fair play and fair treatment. Federal funds aren’t available for abortion services and overseas agencies supported by U.S. funding can’t even mention the word abortion. It is no accident they have enacted so-called fetal heartbeat laws while the misogynist-in-chief sits in the White House. It’s all about control of women and their lives.

 

Private Equity is a Driving Force Behind Devious Surprise Billings

Mon, 2019-05-20 15:50

Surprise medical bills are in the news almost daily. Last Thursday, the White House called for legislation to protect patients from getting surprise doctor bills when they are rushed to the emergency room and receive care from doctors not covered by insurance at an in-network hospital.

The financial burden on patients can be substantial — these doctor charges can amount to hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

What’s behind this explosion of outrageous charges and surprise medical bills? Physicians’ groups, it turns out, can opt out of a contract with insurers even if the hospital has such a contract. The doctors are then free to charge patients, who desperately need care, however much they want.

This has made physicians’ practices in specialties such as emergency care, neonatal intensive care and anesthesiology attractive takeover targets for private equity firms.

As health reporter Bob Herman observed, acquisition of these health services “exemplifies private equity firms’ appetite for buying health care providers that wield a lot of market power.”

Emergency rooms, neonatal intensive care units and anesthesiologists’ practices do not operate like an ordinary marketplace. Physicians’ practices in these specialties do not need to worry that they will lose patients because their prices are too high.

Patients can go to a hospital in their network, but if they have an emergency, have a baby in the neonatal intensive care unit or have surgery scheduled with an in-network surgeon, they are stuck with the out-of-network doctors the hospital has outsourced these services to.

This stands in stark contrast to other health-care providers, such as primary-care physicians, who will lose patients if they are not in insurers’ networks.

It’s not only patients that are victimized by unscrupulous physicians’ groups. These doctors’ groups are able to coerce health insurance companies into agreeing to pay them very high fees in order to have them in their networks.

They do this by threatening to charge high out-of-network bills to the insurers’ covered patients if they don’t go along with these demands. High payments to these unethical doctors raise hospitals’ costs and everyone’s insurance premiums.

That’s what happened when private equity-owned physician staffing firms took over hospital emergency rooms.

A 2018 study by Yale health economists looked at what happened when the two largest emergency room outsourcing companies — EmCare and TeamHealth — took over hospital ERs. They found:

“…that after EmCare took over the management of emergency services at hospitals with previously low out-of-network rates, they raised out-of-network rates by over 81 percentage points. In addition, the firm raised its charges by 96 percent relative to the charges billed by the physician groups they succeeded.”

TeamHealth used the threat of sending high out-of-network bills to the insurance company’s covered patients to gain high fees as in-network doctors. The researchers found:

“…in most instances, several months after going out-of-network, TeamHealth physicians rejoined the network and received in-network payment rates that were 68 percent higher than previous in-network rates.”

What the Yale study failed to note, however, is that EmCare has been in and out of PE hands since 2005 and is currently owned by KKR. Blackstone is the once and current owner of TeamHealth, having held it from 2005 to 2009 before buying it again in 2016.

Private equity has shaped how these companies do business. In the health-care settings where they operate, market forces do not constrain the raw pursuit of profit. People desperate for care are in no position to reject over-priced medical services or shop for in-network doctors.

Private equity firms are attracted by this opportunity to reap above-market returns for themselves and their investors.

Patients hate surprise medical bills, but they are very profitable for the private equity owners of companies like EmCare (now called Envision) and TeamHealth. Fixing this problem may be more difficult than the White House imagines.

This column first appeared on The Hill.

Bob Hawke: Misunderstood in Memoriam

Mon, 2019-05-20 15:39

What a cheeky way of going.  Death is rarely a matter of good timing but it can be part of a good career move or, as Robert J. Hawke’s passing might prove, the perfect conclusion to his political party’s attempt to reclaim office.  Having shuffled off his mortal coil a few days out of an Australian federal election, his Labor counterparts will hope so.

At a time when Australian politics suffers from dull atrophy and an entrenched dreariness, Hawke, virtue and vice, seems nostalgically stellar.  He cried on public occasions; he bellowed at his opponents with fury; and was fundamentally vulnerable to the usual failings: drink and women.  He wore his errors and his broken promises (with notable exceptions, particularly towards his treasurer and ultimate usurper, Paul Keating), lending himself to a whole assortment of descriptions.

Rather gratingly, the term larrikin is being used, or misused, in describing Australia’s twenty-third prime minister.  Originating in the Australia of the 19thand early 20thcentury, the word was hardly flattering, alluding to the hooliganism and violence of youths who came together in “pushes” and wrought mayhem upon the citizens of Melbourne and Sydney.  The taming, and domestication of the larrikin was an Australian historical achievement. Urbanised and turned to sporting mania, Australian society vanquished the larrikin, only to see the form re-appear in hologram form and shoddy cultural analysis.

Hawke was careful of his image, nursing and adjusting it for the negotiating muscle needed for the worker’s movement.  His stint at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar minted him as candidate for the political establishment, a Commonwealth man, if you will. Not that he would mention it. Stress was placed, instead, on the macho, the Herculean: Hawke could drink you under the table and down a yard glass in record time.  As he remembered, revealingly enough, in his autobiography, “The feat was to endear me to some of my fellow Australians more than anything else I ever achieved.”  In 1954, he made it into the Guinness Book of Records downing 2.5 pints of beer in 11 seconds.

He became an exaggeration of the common man with gifts, the everyday man with other worldly talents. But many of his instincts were standard political attributes: vanity, a lust for power, a desire for the top position.  As the Labor government of Gough Whitlam shuddered through its short burst of occupancy between 1972 and 1975, Hawke was having meetings with US embassy sources.

This was hardly accidental.  He smelled trouble, and wanted to put his oar in; with Whitlam’s days numbered, Hawke sowed the seeds of confidence: any future Labor leader, namely himself, would be more accommodating to Washington.  Embassy officials, and a few US intelligence personnel, had gotten edgy over Whitlam’s concerns with the US-Australian alliance in various respects.  Fears were floated that the leasing arrangements of the joint Pine Gap facility might not be renewed; the Nixon administration also pondered the prospect of downgrading its relationship with Canberra.  US embassy accounts, revealed through cables available via WikiLeaks, show Hawke, then the federal president of the ALP, keen to rubbish his doomed prime minister.

In a cable dated August 12, 1975, Hawke’s agitation is clear.  Whitlam had left the party in “bad financial shape”; credibility had been “eroded by ‘Whitlam stupidity’.” The prime minister was deluded, incapable of appreciating the imminent “parliamentary disaster” he and his party “surely faces at the next election”. Subsequent embassy cables noted the tense relations between the two men, with Whitlam seen as the dreamer before the apocalypse, and Hawke, the level headed realist in waiting.

When it became clear in the early 1980s that the Liberal Party’s Malcolm Fraser was winding down his government for the fall, Hawke saw his chance: the opposition Labor Party, nurtured by then leader Bill Hayden, would have to make way for him.  This was bruising to Hayden – Hawke had only been a member of Parliament for three years; Hayden was a tried, loyal veteran. It also showed the other side of Hawke avoided, and forgotten in the tear-watered eulogies: Hawke as brute and political slayer.  While Labor’s return to power in 1983 after being banished in the crushing election defeat of December 1975 was seen as a glowing achievement, a memorable remark by Hayden remains: even a drover’s dog could have won that election.

Yet for a person described by punters as “a voice for the working man”, Hawke saw Labor go along the way of its equivalents in other countries: embrace neo-liberal canons, the sawdust of micro-economic reform, and succumb to the temptations of privatisation.  Selling the public silver had one fundamental trickledown: governments at every level in Australia began doing it to balance the books and grab some ruddy cash.

The floating of the dollar, the cutting of tariffs, and the deregulation of the stodgy Australian banking system signalled the yielding of government responsibility to the irresponsibility of the corporate boardroom.  The commonweal would be tied to the corporation.  As this was happening, Hawke was attempting to boost the social welfare state, marked by universal health care, and encourage an accommodation between the interests of business and labour, in what became known formally as the Prices and Incomes Accord.  Consensus, not bludgeoning, was the solution.

With the body still warm, Australian politicians from across political affiliations have been reflecting.  “He was true to his beliefs in the Labor tradition and defined the politics of his generation and beyond,” claimed the conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison rather blandly.

Prime Ministerial aspirant Bill Shorten spoke of the saluting, by the labour movement, of “our greatest son”.  “The Australian people loved Bob because they knew Bob loved them.” But it was in Hawke’s collaborator, rival and foe Keating, that we get one of the better reflections of Hawke’s stewardship in political life.  The Hawke-Keating partnership of the 1980s is seen as one of farsightedness mixed with stab-in-the-dark modernisation.  Keating recounted “the rationale we employed in opening Australia to the world.”  Less than a larrikin, Hawke was an all-seeing politician and gifted performer, a ventriloquist of the Australian mood.  He could be consummately venal when he wanted to be and tenacious in what he thought was realism.  It came with its far-reaching consequences.

 

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