Feb 092016
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

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A version of this commentary originally aired on Dialogos Radio, during the week of February 4-10, 2016.

Once again, Greece is experiencing a time of political and social uncertainty, a time where yet again many citizens have begun to search for a new political savior, one that will pull Greece out of its current economic abyss and provide the promise of “hope” and “change”, putting an end to the crisis and placing Greece back on a path towards growth and better days.

This is highly similar to what was taking place in Greece just over a year ago, when millions of people within and outside of Greece believed that SYRIZA could comprise this sort of political force. And they believed this purely on the basis of rhetoric and promises. The big promises made by Alexis Tsipras and the rest of SYRIZA regarding the abolition of the austerity measures with one law and one article, the supposedly anti-austerity Thessaloniki policy platform, the tearing apart of the memorandum agreements, promises, promises and yet more promises from SYRIZA, including promises that all of these wonderful things could take place firmly within the confines of the European Union and the Eurozone, and that SYRIZA, when in power, would indeed manage to change Europe!

No one, however, seemed to notice how SYRIZA’s pre-election rhetoric was already being significantly watered down compared to their earlier promises. No one noticed that whereas Tsipras had once said that remaining in the Eurozone is not a fetish, SYRIZA was now not even contemplating an exit from the euro, not even as a Plan B. No one noticed that SYRIZA abandoned its platform to nationalize the banking system. Formerly radical economist Costas Lapavitsas, whom we have unfortunately interviewed in the past on our program, had once been proposing a so-called “radical economic platform” including a euro exit. In January 2015 however, just prior to the elections, he appeared on the BBC to defend SYRIZA’s economic platform as a form of “mild Keynesianism.” Dozens of candidates on SYRIZA’s ballot were former members of the corrupt PASOK party which ruled Greece for most of the 40 years following the fall of the military dictatorship, and many of them were elected and attained cabinet posts in the new government of supposed hope and change.

However, perhaps the biggest sign of the flip-flop and broken promises that were to follow was the inclusion of the false prophet Yanis Varoufakis on the SYRIZA ballot and his selection as Greece’s minister of finance after the elections. Varoufakis, a former adviser to PASOK’s George Papandreou, who brought austerity and the IMF to Greece, had carefully developed a reputation as a supposedly “radical” anti-austerity economist who was not afraid to clash with the system and who would demand the end of austerity and the memorandum agreements. Yet this same Varoufakis was telling us, long before the elections, that it was impossible for a country to leave the Eurozone, while rejecting the actions of countries such as Argentina and Iceland, stating that he instead sought a so-called “European solution” for the Greek crisis. Nobody seemed to notice this, and instead, Varoufakis earned the most votes of any individual candidate in the January 2015 elections.

Now, one year later, we are once again seeing the same theater of the absurd take place before our eyes, and this time Varoufakis, the son of a wealthy industrialist who is married to the daughter of another wealthy industrialist, is being presented as the best and only hope for change and for the elimination of austerity, not just in Greece but for all of Europe. On February 9th, he will announce the launch of his new pan-European political movement with a presentation in, where else, Berlin, a movement that is already promising to “restore democracy” to Europe and to “save” Europe from itself. And everyone who last year was ridiculing and insulting anyone who dared to suggest that SYRIZA was not what it presented itself as being and that it would break is promises, has now forgotten what they were saying a year ago and is doing the same exact thing to anyone who dares to question Varoufakis, his record, or his sincerity.

Let’s take this opportunity, therefore, to remind everyone about the major “achievements” of Varoufakis, before, during, and after his term as Greece’s finance minister.

Varoufakis is the man who, as Greece’s finance minister in the first days of the new SYRIZA government last year, had gone to the initial negotiations at the Eurogroup summit proposing the continuation of 70% of the previously existing austerity measures and memorandums, for another six months, as he said. He refused to even raise the specter of a Eurozone exit for Greece, not even as a negotiation tactic or as a Plan B. In fact, Varoufakis, while he was supposedly negotiating hard with the troika, publicly stated that Greece has no Plan B! It should therefore come as no surprise that the 70% proposed by Varoufakis became 100%, meaning continuation of 100% of the previous austerity measures and memorandums, for the next four months. Varoufakis agreed to this and had the audacity to return to Greece claiming that the agreement was an example of “creative ambiguity” and that the troika would now be known as the kinder, gentler “institutions.”

At the same time, Varoufakis, in countless appearances and interviews in the media, kept parroting the same stale myths about Greece and the people of Greece, such as the myth, which was proven to be a lie, that Greece had the highest rate of Porsche Cayenne ownership in the world. Varoufakis lectured us about the, quote, “hard working German taxpayers,” who were, quote, “bailing out Greece,” and who, quote, “wanted a return on their investment,” neglecting to say, however, that Germany and the troika have profited quite handsomely just off of the interest that Greece is paying on its forced loans, without even getting into the lucrative assets which Greece was forced to privatize and which they bought up. Instead, Varoufakis was telling us about the need to lead a so-called “austere existence,” all the while he and his wife were photographed for a French magazine’s photo shoot, in front of a table full of lobster and champagne at their home with a full view of the Acropolis.

This was nothing, however, compared with what was to follow. Varoufakis, along with the other saviors within SYRIZA, nominated and elected the corrupt, conservative, pro-austerity former New Democracy minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos as president of the republic. Once again, the SYRIZA and Varoufakis apologists told us to give them more time. Varoufakis repeatedly stated that Greece’s debt would be repaid, quote, “in perpetuity” and that it is legal, at the same time that the Greek government had put on a big show of creating a parliamentary committee to investigate the legality of this very same debt. In an interview with the Associated Press, Varoufakis flatly stated that he will “squeeze blood from a stone” in order for the IMF to be repaid, while in another interview, Varoufakis stated that he sought to develop good relations with Christine Lagarde and the IMF, which held views that he, quote, personally agreed with.

Varoufakis repeatedly stated that his homeland is Europe and not Greece and that he would like to see the development of a so-called United States of Europe. He stated that the Eurozone is like the “Hotel California,” where you can check out any time you like but you can never leave. Such was the nature of Varoufakis’ supposedly fierce negotiation, just as when he told ABC Television in Australia that even if Greece wanted to it was unable to mint its own currency, because Greece’s mint was destroyed when Greece joined the Eurozone. It seems he was unaware of the fact that Greece’s mint is still alive and well and is where the 20 euro notes are still printed today.

Moving forward, the “heroic” Yanis Varoufakis stated that the previous privatizations would not be rescinded and that he agreed with the privatization of public assets such as airports and harbors under certain supposed conditions. Indeed, he spoke out in favor of further so-called “investments” by China’s Cosco in Greece, including the privatization of the port of Piraeus, saying that this would be a positive development for the country.

Forging ahead, Varoufakis selected Elena Panaritis as Greece’s representative to the International Monetary Fund. The same Panaritis who was a former World Bank official and who had designed the destructive Fujishock policies which had been implemented in Peru and which drove millions of people into poverty, which led to price increases on basic goods of up to 8000%, where hundreds of public assets were privatized, and all of this done under the rule of an autocratic government whose ruler, Alberto Fujimori, is now serving a 25 year sentence for murder and other serious charges. The same Elena Panaritis who, as a member of parliament with PASOK, voted in favor of austerity and the memorandums. This was the selection of the supposedly “heroic” Yanis Varoufakis, who however never raised the issue of German war reparations to Greece and never investigated the actions of Yannis Stournaras and other former finance ministers for their role in bringing the austerity agreements to Greece.

Continuing on, Varoufakis, in the spring of 2015 when he was still finance minister, oversaw the issuance of a governmental decree, a practice which SYRIZA had promised it would not follow when in government, which confiscated the cash reserves of the entire Greek public sector. This decree was then ratified by the Greek parliament, including with the vote of Varoufakis, and the cash reserves of the Greek public sector were confiscated and used to make the May IMF loan repayment. After this, Varoufakis and the SYRIZA government, as part of their supposedly hard negotiations with the European so-called partners, presented a 47 page proposal which foresaw 8 billion euros of new austerity measures, including a perpetually increasing primary budget surplus—meaning more austerity—further tax increases, elimination of early pension benefits, which do in fact exist in countries like the US and elsewhere, and the privatization of public assets such as major airports and harbors. Everything that the current SYRIZA government is doing and that Varoufakis apologists claim to be against. At around the same time, Varoufakis presented a proposal for the introduction of a parallel currency following the model of the IOUs issued by the state of California, while he publicly admitted that capital controls would be introduced in Greece.

After this followed the big, “heroic” example of democracy in action, the referendum on whether to approve or reject the austerity measures proposed by the European so-called partners of Greece. Varoufakis, who was still finance minister, did not present any proposal to the Greek people, however, of what the governments plans would be if the “no” vote prevailed. And indeed, when the “no” vote did in fact prevail, not only was there no plan, but Varoufakis coincidentally was absent from the parliamentary vote which gave authorization to Alexis Tsipras to reach a deal with the lenders. Varoufakis did state publicly, however, that if he had voted, he would have voted yes to give Tsipras this authorization, authorization which resulted, of course, in the third and harshest, thus far, memorandum agreement for Greece.

This is the charlatan whose record as Greece’s finance minister is one of nothing but austerity, and who yet is now being touted as the savior not just for Greece but for all of Europe, the man who will end austerity and, quote, save Europe and save capitalism from itself. Varoufakis is the man who has praised the, quote, “radical” and “dynamic” individualism of Thatcherism, in other words, of neoliberalism, and the man who publicly eulogized Thatcher on his blog after her death in 2013. He is the man whose new book was presented in the Athens Music Hall in January 2015, just prior to the elections which brought SYRIZA to power, by far-right Greek television talking head Mbambis Papadimitriou, who once expressed his support for a so-called “serious Golden Dawn.” Varoufakis is the man who has repeatedly heaped public praise on German chancellor Angela Merkel for her handling of the refugee crisis, the same Merkel and the same Germany which has contributed militarily to the carnage in the Middle East, the same Germany where there have been dozens of arson attacks of refugee housing facilities, the same Germany which has housed some refugees in former concentration camps, the same Germany which has confiscated valuables from refugees entering the country, the same Germany which is accused of paying off African governments to take back asylum seekers and to prevent them from coming to Germany again. And we are supposed to believe the words of this man, Varoufakis, when he says that he can somehow change Europe and the EU for the better, but that the euro cannot be changed and that a country could never leave it.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the bold, brilliant, anti-austerity savior Yanis Varoufakis. And the unfortunate reality is that even when faced with the facts, Varoufakis’ many fans and apologists will dismiss all of the above, even doubting the facts of Varoufakis’ actions during his tenure as Greece’s finance minister. A selective amnesia which begs the question, when will we stop believing in the “hope and change” that the system itself presents to us?

Feb 062016
 

By William Blum, 99GetSmart

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Is Bernie Sanders a socialist?

“Self-described socialist” … How many times have we all read that term in regard to Vermont senator Bernie Sanders? But is he really a socialist? Or is he a “social democrat”, which is what he’d be called in Europe? Or is he a “democratic socialist”, which is the American party he has been a member of (DSA – Democratic Socialists of America)? And does it really matter which one he is? They’re all socialists, are they not?

Why does a person raised in a capitalist society become a socialist? It could be because of a parent or parents who are committed socialists and raise their children that way. But it’s usually because the person has seen capitalism up close for many years, is turned off by it, and is thus receptive to an alternative. All of us know what the ugly side of capitalism looks like. Here are but a few of the countless examples taken from real life:

  • Following an earthquake or other natural disaster, businesses raise their prices for basic necessities such as batteries, generators, water pumps, tree-removal services, etc.
  • In the face of widespread medical needs, drug and health-care prices soar, while new surgical and medical procedures are patented.
  • The cost of rent increases inexorably regardless of tenants’ income.
  • Ten thousand types of deception to part the citizens from their hard-earned wages.

What do these examples have in common? It’s their driving force – the profit motive; the desire to maximize profit. Any improvement in the system has to begin with a strong commitment to radically restraining, if not completely eliminating, the profit motive. Otherwise nothing of any significance will change in society, and the capitalists who own the society – and their liberal apologists – can mouth one progressive-sounding platitude after another as their chauffeur drives them to the bank.

But social democrats and democratic socialists have no desire to get rid of the profit motive. Last November, Sanders gave a speech at Georgetown University in Washington about his positive view of democratic socialism, including its place in the policies of presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson. In defining what democratic socialism means to him, Sanders said: “I don’t believe government should take over the grocery store down the street or own the means of production.” 1

I personally could live with the neighborhood grocery store remaining in private hands, but larger institutions are always a threat; the larger and richer they are the more tempting and easier it is for them to put profit ahead of the public’s welfare, and to purchase politicians. The question of socialism is inseparable from the question of public ownership of the means of production.

The question thus facing “socialists” like Sanders is this: When all your idealistic visions for a more humane, more just, more equitable, and more rational society run head-first into the stone wall of the profit motive … which of the two gives way?

The most commonly proposed alternative to both government or private control is worker-owned cooperatives or publicly owned enterprises managed by workers and consumer representatives. Sanders has expressed his support for such systems and there is indeed much to be said about them. But the problem I find is that they will still operate within a capitalist society, which means competition, survival of the fittest; which means that if you can’t sell more than your competitors, if you can’t make a sufficient net profit on your sales, you will likely be forced to go out of business; and to prevent such a fate, at some point you may very well be forced to do illegal or immoral things against the public; which means back to the present.

Eliminating the profit motive in American society would run into a lot less opposition than one might expect. Consciously or unconsciously it’s already looked down upon to a great extent by numerous individuals and institutions of influence. For example, judges frequently impose lighter sentences upon lawbreakers if they haven’t actually profited monetarily from their acts. And they forbid others from making a profit from their crimes by selling book or film rights, or interviews. The California Senate enshrined this into law in 1994, one which directs that any such income of criminals convicted of serious crimes be placed into a trust fund for the benefit of the victims of their crimes. It must further be kept in mind that the great majority of Americans, like people everywhere, do not labor for profit, but for a salary.

The citizenry may have drifted even further away from the system than all this indicates, for American society seems to have more trust and respect for “non-profit” organizations than for the profit-seeking kind. Would the public be so generous with disaster relief if the Red Cross were a regular profit-making business? Would the Internal Revenue Service allow it to be tax-exempt? Why does the Post Office give cheaper rates to non-profits and lower rates for books and magazines which don’t contain advertising? For an AIDS test, do people feel more confident going to the Public Health Service or to a commercial laboratory? Why does “educational” or “public” television not have regular commercials? What would Americans think of peace-corps volunteers, elementary and high-school teachers, clergy, nurses, and social workers who demanded well in excess of $100 thousand per year? Would the public like to see churches competing with each other, complete with ad campaigns selling a New and Improved God?

Pervading all these attitudes, and frequently voiced, is a strong disapproval of greed and selfishness, in glaring contradiction to the reality that greed and selfishness form the official and ideological basis of our system. It’s almost as if no one remembers how the system is supposed to work any more, or they prefer not to dwell on it.

It would appear that, at least on a gut level, Americans have had it up to here with free enterprise. The great irony of it all is that the mass of the American people are not aware that their sundry attitudes constitute an anti-free-enterprise philosophy, and thus tend to go on believing the conventional wisdom that government is the problem, that big government is the biggest problem, and that their salvation cometh from the private sector, thereby feeding directly into pro-free-enterprise ideology.

Thus it is that those activists for social change who believe that American society is faced with problems so daunting that no corporation or entrepreneur is ever going to solve them at a profit carry the burden of convincing the American people that they don’t really believe what they think they believe; and that the public’s complementary mindset – that the government is no match for the private sector in efficiently getting large and important things done – is equally fallacious, for the government has built up an incredible military machine (ignoring for the moment what it’s used for), landed men on the moon, created great dams, marvelous national parks, an interstate highway system, the peace corps, social security, insurance for bank deposits, protection of pension funds against corporate misuse, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Institutes of Health, the Smithsonian, the G.I. Bill, and much, much more. In short, the government has been quite good at doing what it wanted to do, or what labor and other movements have made it do, like establishing worker health and safety standards and requiring food manufacturers to list detailed information about ingredients.

Activists have to remind the American people of what they’ve already learned but seem to have forgotten: that they don’t want more government, or less government; they don’t want big government, or small government; they want government on their side. Period.

Sanders has to clarify his views. What exactly does he mean by “socialism”? What exactly is the role the profit motive will play in his future society”?

Mark Brzezinski, son of Zbigniew, was a post-Cold War Fulbright Scholar in Warsaw: “I asked my students to define democracy. Expecting a discussion on individual liberties and authentically elected institutions, I was surprised to hear my students respond that to them, democracy means a government obligation to maintain a certain standard of living and to provide health care, education and housing for all. In other words, socialism.” 2

We should never forget

The modern, educated, advanced nation of Iraq was reduced to a virtual failed state … the United States, beginning in 1991, bombed for much of the following 12 years, with one dubious excuse after another; then, in 2003, invaded, then occupied, overthrew the government, tortured without inhibition, killed wantonly … the people of that unhappy land lost everything – their homes, their schools, their electricity, their clean water, their environment, their neighborhoods, their mosques, their archaeology, their jobs, their careers, their professionals, their state-run enterprises, their physical health, their mental health, their health care, their welfare state, their women’s rights, their religious tolerance, their safety, their security, their children, their parents, their past, their present, their future, their lives … More than half the population either dead, wounded, traumatized, in prison, internally displaced, or in foreign exile … The air, soil, water, blood, and genes drenched with depleted uranium … the most awful birth defects … unexploded cluster bombs lying in wait for children to pick them up … a river of blood running alongside the Euphrates and Tigris … through a country that may never be put back together again … “It is a common refrain among war-weary Iraqis,” reported the Washington Post in 2007, that things were better before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.”

The United States has not paid any compensation to Iraq.

The United States has not made any apology to Iraq.

Foreign policy is even more sensitive a subject in the United States than slavery of the black people and genocide of the Native Americans. The US has apologized for these many times, but virtually never for the crimes of American foreign policy. 4

In 2014, George W. Bush, the man most responsible for this holocaust, was living a quiet life in Texas, with a focus on his paintings. “I’m trying to leave something behind”, he said. 5

Yes, he has certainly done that – mountains of rubble for one thing; rubble that once was cities and towns. His legacy also includes the charming Islamic State. Ah, but Georgie Boy is an artiste.

We need a trial to judge all those who bear significant responsibility for the past century – the most murderous and ecologically destructive in human history. We could call it the war, air and fiscal crimes tribunal and we could put politicians and CEOs and major media owners in the dock with earphones like Eichmann and make them listen to the evidence of how they killed millions of people and almost murdered the planet and made most of us far more miserable than we needed to be. Of course, we wouldn’t have time to go after them one by one. We’d have to lump Wall Street investment bankers in one trial, the Council on Foreign Relations in another, and any remaining Harvard Business School or Yale Law graduates in a third. We don’t need this for retribution, only for edification. So there would be no capital punishment, but rather banishment to an overseas Nike factory with a vow of perpetual silence. – Sam Smith 6

On March 2, 2014 US Secretary of State John Kerry condemned Russia’s “incredible act of aggression” in Ukraine. “You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext.”

Iraq 2003 was in the 21st century. The pretext was completely trumped up. Senator John Kerry voted for it. Nice moral authority you have there, John.

On the same occasion, concerning Ukraine, President Obama spoke of “the principle that no country has the right to send in troops to another country unprovoked”.   Do our leaders have no memory or do they think we’ve all lost ours?

Does Obama avoid prosecuting the Bush-Cheney gang because he wants to have the same rights to commit war crimes? The excuse he gives for his inaction is so lame that if George W. had used it people would not hesitate to laugh. On about five occasions, in reply to questions about why his administration has not prosecuted the like of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, et al. for mass murder, torture and other war crimes, former law professor Obama has stated: “I prefer to look forward rather than backwards.” Picture a defendant before a judge asking to be found innocent on such grounds. It simply makes laws, law enforcement, crime, justice, and facts irrelevant. Picture Chelsea Manning and other whistleblowers using this argument. Picture the reaction to this by Barack Obama, who has become the leading persecutor of whistleblowers in American history.

Noam Chomsky has observed: “If the Nuremberg laws were applied, then every post-war American president would have been hanged.”

It appears that the German and Japanese people only relinquished their imperial culture and mindset when they were bombed back to the stone age during World War II. Something similar may be the only cure for the same pathology that is embedded into the very social fabric of the United States. The US is now a full-blown pathological society. There is no other wonder drug to deal with American-exceptionalism-itis.

Notes

  1. Senator Bernie Sanders on Democratic Socialism in the United States, November 19, 2015
  2. Los Angeles Times, September 2, 1994
  3. Washington Post, May 5, 2007
  4. William Blum, Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower, chapter 25
  5. New York Times, September 16, 2014
  6. Sam Smith of Maine, formerly of Washington, DC
  7. Reuters, March 3, 2014
Feb 062016
 

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Dear listeners and friends of Dialogos Radio,

This week on Dialogos Radio, the Dialogos Interview Series will feature a timely interview with Mona Amanatidou and Christos Triarchis, representatives of Greece’s Popular Stoppage of Payments movement. They will speak to us about the movement and its actions, particularly their weekly blockades of courthouses to prevent the auction of foreclosed residences. In addition, they will speak about the many other popular movements which are active in Greece at the moment and about current political and social circumstances in the country.
 
In addition to this interview, we will feature our commentary of the week segment, which will shed light on the true Yanis Varoufakis, behind his facade as an “anti-austerity” crusader, while we will also air plenty of great Greek music. All this and more, this week exclusively on Dialogos Radio!
 
For more details and our full weekly broadcast schedule, visit us online at http://dialogosmedia.org/?p=5943, where you can also find our podcasts, our archived on-demand programming, our articles and written work, and our online radio station, Dialogos Radio 24/7.
 
Best,
Dialogos Radio & Media
*******************************
 
Αγαπητοί ακροατές και φίλοι,
 
Αυτή την εβδομάδα στο «Διάλογος», θα παρουσιάσουμε μία εξαιρετικά επίκαιρη συνέντευξη με τον Λεωνίδα Λαγογιάννη από το κίνημα Λαϊκή Στάση Πληρωμών. Ο κ. Λαγογιάννης θα μας μιλήσει για το κίνημα και τις δράσεις του, ιδίως στα ειρηνοδικεία για την αποτροπή των πλειστηριασμών. Επίσης θα μας μιλήσει για τις τρέχουσες πολιτικές και κοινωνικές εξελίξεις, για τα μπλόκα που έχουν στήσει οι αγρότες σε όλη την Ελλάδα, και για τις επόμενες δράσεις που ετοιμάζει η Λαϊκή Στάση Πληρωμών στο άμεσο μέλλον.
 
Επίσης, θα μεταδώσουμε όπως πάντα τον καθιερωμένο μας εβδομαδιαίο σχολιασμό, όπου αναλύουμε τον πραγματικό Γιάνη Βαρουφάκη και το «έργο» του ως υπουργός οικονομικών της Ελλάδας, εν όψει της έναρξης λειτουργίας του καινούριου του πολιτικού κινήματος. Όλα αυτά και πολλά άλλα αυτή την εβδομάδα αποκλειστικά στο «Διάλογος»!
 
Για περισσότερες πληροφορίες και το πλήρες εβδομαδιαίο πρόγραμμα μεταδόσεων μας, μπείτε στο http://dialogosmedia.org/?p=5936. Στην ιστοσελίδα μας επίσης μπορείτε να βρείτε τα podcast μας (αρχεία συνεντεύξεων), το αρχείο εκπομπών μας, την αρθρογραφία μας, και το διαδικτυακό μας ραδιόφωνο, Διάλογος Radio 24/7
 
Φιλικά,
Διάλογος Radio & Media
Jan 082016
 

By William Blum, 99GetSmart

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New Years Eve 2016

I stayed up about two hours past my usual bedtime to watch the New Years Eve celebration in Times Square.

For one reason only.

To see happy people.

A year like 2015 can do that to you.

The sight of many thousands of young people standing in the cold for hours, hugging and kissing, screaming and laughing, was very precious.

Also a bit unnerving. What’s wrong with them? Don’t they know what kind of world they’re living in? Don’t they know that their celebration is a prime target for terrorists?

Well … nothing happened … thank you God that I don’t believe in … try and keep that up …

Christopher Hitchens, in 2007, in response to conservative columnist Michael Gerson’s article: “What Atheists Can’t Answer”, wrote: “How insulting is the latent suggestion of his position: the appalling insinuation that I would not know right from wrong if I was not supernaturally guided by a celestial dictatorship … simply assumes, whether or not religion is metaphysically ‘true’, that at least it stands for morality. … Here is my challenge. Let Gerson name one ethical statement made or one ethical action performed by a believer that could not have been uttered or done by a nonbeliever.”

Gerson, great champion of morality, it should be noted, was a speechwriter for George W. Bush. God help us. And pray that Bush and Cheney remain alive long enough to hang.

Dear readers … think … just imagine … What if THIS is the afterlife?

Happy New Year.

Vulgar, crude, racist and ultra-sexist though he is, Donald Trump can still see how awful the American mainstream media is.

I think one of the main reasons for Donald Trump’s popularity is that he says what’s on his mind and he means what he says, something rather rare amongst American politicians, or politicians perhaps anywhere in the world. The American public is sick and tired of the phoney, hypocritical answers given by office holders of all kinds. When I read that Trump had said that Senator John McCain was not a hero because McCain had been captured in Vietnam, I had to pause for reflection. Wow! Next the man will be saying that not every American soldier who was in the military in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq was a shining hero worthy of constant media honor and adulation.

When Trump was interviewed by ABC-TV host George Stephanopoulos, former aide to President Bill Clinton, he was asked: “When you were pressed about [Russian president Vladimir Putin’s] killing of journalists, you said, ‘I think our country does plenty of killing too.’ What were you thinking about there? What killing sanctioned by the U.S. government is like killing journalists?”

Trump responded: “In all fairness to Putin, you’re saying he killed people. I haven’t seen that. I don’t know that he has. Have you been able to prove that? Do you know the names of the reporters that he’s killed? Because I’ve been – you know, you’ve been hearing this, but I haven’t seen the name. Now, I think it would be despicable if that took place, but I haven’t seen any evidence that he killed anybody in terms of reporters.”

Or Trump could have given Stephanopoulos a veritable heart attack by declaring that the American military, in the course of its wars in recent decades, has been responsible for the deliberate deaths of many journalists. In Iraq, for example, there’s the Wikileaks 2007 video, exposed by Chelsea Manning, of the cold-blooded murder of two Reuters journalists; the 2003 US air-to-surface missile attack on the offices of Al Jazeera in Baghdad that left three journalists dead and four wounded; and the American firing on Baghdad’s Hotel Palestine the same year that killed two foreign news cameramen.

It was during this exchange that Stephanopoulos allowed the following to pass his lips: “But what killing has the United States government done?”  1

Do the American TV networks not give any kind of intellectual test to their newscasters? Something at a fourth-grade level might improve matters.

Prominent MSNBC newscaster Joe Scarborough, interviewing Trump, was also baffled by Trump’s embrace of Putin, who had praised Trump as being “bright and talented”. Putin, said Scarborough, was “also a person who kills journalists, political opponents, and invades countries. Obviously that would be a concern, would it not?”

Putin “invades countries” … Well, now there even I would have been at a loss as to how to respond. Try as I might I don’t think I could have thought of any countries the United States has ever invaded.

To his credit, Trump responded: “I think our country does plenty of killing, also, Joe, so, you know. There’s a lot of stupidity going on in the world right now, Joe. A lot of killing going on. A lot of stupidity. And that’s the way it is.”  2

As to Putin killing political opponents, this too would normally go unchallenged in the American mainstream media. But earlier this year in this report I listed seven highly questionable deaths of opponents of the Ukraine government, a regime put in power by the United States, which is used as a club against Putin. 3 This of course was non-news in the American media.

So that’s what happens when the know-nothing American media meets up with a know-just-a-bit-more presidential candidate. Ain’t democracy wonderful?

Trump has also been criticized for saying that immediately after the 9-11 attacks, thousands of Middle Easterners were seen celebrating outdoors in New Jersey in sight of the attack location. An absurd remark, for which Trump has been rightfully vilified; but not as absurd as the US mainstream media pretending that it had no idea what Trump could possibly be referring to in his mixed-up manner.

For there were in fact people seen in New Jersey apparently celebrating the planes crashing into the World Trade Center towers. But they were Israelis, which would explain all one needs to know about why the story wasn’t in the headlines and has since been “forgotten” or misremembered. On the day of the 9-11 attacks, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was asked what the attacks would mean for US-Israeli relations. His quick reply was: “It’s very good. … Well, it’s not good, but it will generate immediate sympathy (for Israel).” There’s a lot on the Internet about these Israelis in New Jersey, who were held in police custody for months before being released.

So here too mainstream newspersons do not know enough to enlighten their audience.

Russia, as explained to Russians by Americans

There is a Russian website [inosmi = foreign mass media] that translates propagandistic russophobic articles from the western media into Russian and publishes them so that Russians can see with their own eyes how the Western media lies about them day after day. There have been several articles lately based on polls that show that anti-western sentiments are increasing in Russia, and blaming it on “Putin’s propaganda”.

This is rather odd because who needs propaganda when the Russians can read the Western media themselves and see firsthand all the lies it puts forth about them and the demonizing of Putin. There are several political-debate shows on Russian television where they invite Western journalists or politicians; on one there frequently is a really funny American journalist, Michael Bohm, who keeps regurgitating all the western propaganda, arguing with his Russian counterparts. It’s pretty surreal to watch him display the worst political stereotypes of Americans: arrogant, gullible, and ignorant. He stands there and lectures high ranking Russian politicians, “explaining” to them the “real” Russian foreign policy, and the “real” intentions behind their actions, as opposed to anything they say. The man is shockingly irony-impaired. It is as funny to watch as it is sad and scary.

The above was written with the help of a woman who was raised in the Soviet Union and now lives in Washington. She and I have discussed US foreign policy on many occasions. We are in very close agreement as to its destructiveness and absurdity.

Just as in the first Cold War, one of the basic problems is that Exceptional Americans have great difficulty in believing that Russians mean well. Apropos this, I’d like to recall the following written about George Kennan:

Crossing Poland with the first US diplomatic mission to the Soviet Union in the winter of 1933, a young American diplomat named George Kennan was somewhat astonished to hear the Soviet escort, Foreign Minister Maxim Litvinov, reminisce about growing up in a village nearby, about the books he had read and his dreams as a small boy of being a librarian.

“We suddenly realized, or at least I did, that these people we were dealing with were human beings like ourselves,” Kennan wrote, “that they had been born somewhere, that they had their childhood ambitions as we had. It seemed for a brief moment we could break through and embrace these people.”  5

It hasn’t happened yet.

Kennan’s sudden realization brings George Orwell to mind: “We have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.”

Holocaust Deniers

It’s easier to deny the existence of God than to deny the existence of certain aspects of the Holocaust. And not as dangerous. In Europe “denying the Holocaust” is illegal in 14 countries.

Ken Meyercord, who lives in Virginia, has long been a researcher of this phenomenon. He writes that the debate over the Holocaust boils down to three principal issues:

  1. How many died?
  2. Was the “Final Solution” really an extermination plan or was it a plan to deport Europe’s Jews?
  3. Were there actually gas chambers?

He’s prepared an 11-page e-pamphlet on the subject, “Did the Holocaust really happen the way we’ve been told?” It can be obtained by emailing iconohead@gmail.com.

It’s a good thing the United States doesn’t have a law against reporting on the American Holocaust. I’d have been put away long ago, for the sum total of US foreign policy can well be described by that infamous word beginning with an “H”; indeed, my first website carried the name “American Holocaust”.

However, in California there is now a proposed ballot initiative which would restrict “Holocaust Denial”. The Holocaust Denial Speech Restrictions Initiative (#15-0073) is an initiated constitutional amendment proposed for the California ballot on November 8, 2016. The measure would prohibit any speech in any state-funded school, museum or educational institution that claims Jewish, Armenian or Ukrainian Holocausts did not exist. It would also prohibit Holocaust denial organizations from distributing information or conducting activities at these state-funded locations. 6

In case you’re wondering what the Ukrainian Holocaust was, it’s something left over from the Cold War – charges of widespread famine caused by the Soviet Union amongst the people of Ukraine. But I believe that such charges must be approached with some caution, given, amongst other reasons, the documented campaign by the Hearst Press in the United States to squeeze out every drop of anti-communist blood they could from the historical events. You can read about this in a book by Douglas Tottle, “Fraud, Famine and Fascism: The Ukrainian Genocide Myth From Hitler to Harvard” (1987), available free online.

Notes

  1. Robert Parry, “Trump Schools ABC-TV Host on Reality,” Consortiumnews, December 21, 2015
  2. Interview of Donald Trump by Joe Scarborough, December 18, 2015
  3. William Blum, Anti-Empire Report #138, April 3, 2015
  4. See for example: the first three minutes of Core of Corruption – Film 1 – In the Shadows – Part 10 and “The Five Dancing Israelis Arrested on 9-11”
  5. Walter Isaacson & Evan Thomas, The Wise Men (1986), p.158
  6. California Holocaust Denial Speech Restrictions Initiative (2016)
Dec 282015
 

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

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Introduction

The IMF is the leading international monetary agency whose public purpose is to maintain the stability of the global financial system through loans linked to proposals designed to enhance economic recovery and growth.

In fact, the IMF has been under the control of the US and Western European states and its policies have been designed to further the expansion, domination and profits of their leading multi-national corporations and financial institutions.

The US and European states practice a division of powers: The executive directors of the IMF are Europeans; their counterparts in the World Bank (WB) are from the US.

The executive directors of the IMF and WB operate in close consultation with their governments and especially the Treasury Departments in deciding priorities, deciding what countries will receive loans, under what terms and how much.

The loans and terms set by the IMF are closely coordinated with the private banking system. Once the IMF signs an agreement with a debtor country, it is a signal for the big private banks to lend, invest and proceed with a multiplicity of favorable financial transactions. From the above it can be deduced that the IMF plays the role of general command for the global financial system.

The IMF lays the groundwork for the major banks’ conquest of the financial systems of the world’s vulnerable states.

The IMF assumes the burden of doing all the dirty work through its intervention. This includes the usurpation of sovereignty, the demand for privatization and reduction of social expenditures, salaries, wages and pensions, as well as ensuring the priority of debt payments. The IMF acts as the ‘blind’ for the big banks by deflecting political critics and social unrest.

Executive Directors as Hatchet Persons

What kind of persons do the banks support as executive directors of the IMF Whom do they entrust with the task of violating the sovereign rights of a country, impoverishing its people and eroding its democratic institutions?

They have included a convicted financial swindler; the current director is facing prosecution on charges of mishandling public funds as a Finance minister; a rapist; an advocate of gunboat diplomacy and the promotor of the biggest financial collapse in a country’s history.

IMF Executive Directors on Trial

The current executive director of the IMF (July 2011-2015) Christine Lagarde is on trial in France for misappropriation of a $400-million-dollar payoff to tycoon Bernard Tapie while she was Finance Minister in the government of President Sarkozy.

The previous executive director (November 2007-May 2011), Dominique Strauss-Kahn, was forced to resign after he was charged with raping a chambermaid in a New York hotel and was later arrested and tried for pimping in the city of Lille, France.

His predecessor, Rodrigo Rato (June 2004-October 2007), was a Spanish banker who was arrested and charged with tax evasion, concealing ϵ27 million euros in seventy overseas banks and swindling thousands of small investors who he convinced to put their money in a Spanish bank, Bankia, that went bankrupt.

His predecessor a German, Horst Kohler, resigned after he stated an unlikely verity – namely that overseas military intervention was necessary to defend German economic interests, such as free trade routes. It’s one thing for the IMF to act as a tool for imperial interests; it is another for an IMF executive to speak about it publicly!

Michel Camdessus (January 1987-February 2000) was the author of the “Washington Consensus” the doctrine that underwrote the global neoliberal counter-revolution. His term of office witnessed his embrace and financing of some of the worst dictators of the time, including his own photo-ops with Indonesian strongman and mass murderer, General Suharto.

Under Camdessus, the IMF collaborated with Argentine President Carlos Menem in liberalizing the economy, deregulating financial markets and privatizing over a thousand enterprises. The crises, which ensued, led to the worst depression in Argentine history, with over 20,000 bankruptcies, 25% unemployment and poverty rates exceeding 50% in working class districts . . . Camdessus later regretted his “policy mistakes” with regard to the Argentine’s collapse. He was never arrested or charged with crimes against humanity.

Conclusion

The criminal behavior of the IMF executives is not an anomaly or hindrance to their selection. On the contrary, they were selected because they reflect the values, interests and behavior of the global financial elite: Swindles, tax evasion, bribery, large-scale transfers of public wealth to private accounts are the norm for the financial establishment. These qualities fit the needs of bankers who have confidence in dealing with their ‘mirror-image’ counterparts in the IMF.

The international financial elite needs IMF executives who have no qualms in using double standards and who overlook gross violations of its standard procedures. For example, the current executive director, Christine Lagarde, lends $30 billion to the puppet regime in the Ukraine, even though the financial press describes in great detail how corrupt oligarchs have stolen billions with the complicity of the political class (Financial Times, 12/21/15, pg. 7). The same Lagarde changes the rules on debt repayment allowing the Ukraine to default on its payment of its sovereign debt to Russia. The same Lagarde insists that the center-right Greek government further reduce pensions in Greece below the poverty level, provoking the otherwise accommodating regime of Alexis Tsipras to call for the IMF to stay out of the bailout (Financial Times, 12/21/15, pg.1).

Clearly the savage cut in living standards, which the IMF executives decree everywhere is not unrelated to their felonious personal history. Rapists, swindlers, militarists, are just the right people to direct an institution as it impoverishes the 99% and enriches the 1% of the super-rich.

Dec 162015
 

By SnakeArbusto, 99GetSmart

The second round of France’s regional elections is over, and once again a “democratic groundswell” has happened, as it did in the second round of the 2002 presidential election. What this means is that a certain number of voters who had not bothered to vote in the first round, aware of what the Front National really is behind its façade of being just another “legitimate” party, and despite their dissatisfaction with the “legitimate” parties, mobilized against the danger of a Fascist party acceding to real political power. The Front, which according to polls could have won control of six of France’s administrative Regions, won none, and the two major parties now hold power in the 12 mainland Regions, with Les Républicains (LR) holding the presidencies of seven Regions, including the Ile-de-France. The Socialists withdrew their tickets from the election in two Regions where they were in third place to keep the Front from winning.

Front leader Marine Le Pen has reacted by pointing to a “campaign of calumny” organized “in the gilded palaces of the Republic.” This is a reference to the fact that after the Revolution, the Republic took over the most sumptuous palaces in Paris to serve as – for example – the president’s (the Palais de l’Elysée) and Prime Minister’s (the Hôtel de Matignon) official residences, the way a hermit crab takes up residence in the abandoned shell of a dead gastropod and the way Napoléon, according to official legend, declared himself emperor to occupy that function in the name of the people, transforming it rather than destroying it.

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Le Pen’s comment has been more or less universally scoffed at and her disdainful reference to the Republic seen as proof that the Front’s true nature is anti-democratic. But it deserves reflection, because it may reveal the true nature of the Republic that has supposedly risen up and defended itself against the Fascist onslaught.

The standard narrative is that the French Republic has brought constant progress, both economically and socially. As such, despite ideological differences, the French people are viscerally attached to it, and Sunday’s groundswell is proof of that. The fact that wealth has continued to concentrate and that the standard of living of the great majority of people has stagnated for some years now, according to that narrative, is the result of “economic conditions” – outside forces, like the natural forces that can result in disastrously poor harvests (which, indeed, set off the Revolution).

But might it not be true that the Republic itself is in fact an instrument of the elite, and that behind its carefully cultivated façade, supported by a culture that has given the world great art and that is indeed deeply ingrained in the people of France and in the very language they speak and write, is a predatory entity which at best will only tolerate relative prosperity for the people it governs? And that is prepared to continue to apply policies that place the burden of austerity on the majority even while wealth continues to concentrate?

In that sense, the Front National truly can lay claim to being no less legitimate than the two parties that have handed power back and forth in France for the past sixty years or so.

Dec 162015
 

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

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What Makes Recep Run? The Making of a Modern Pasha

Erdoğan began his ascent to power as a social reformer in opposition to the power elite; he was a rabble-rouser for popular Islam and social welfare. Once he takes political power he enriches his family and the business elite and purges adversaries and rivals.

With political power and economic connections, he amasses personal wealth through illicit business transactions.

With political power and personal wealth, he seeks prestige and status among the Western elites by serving imperial interests: He shoots down a Russian military jet over Syrian territory and thereby threatens hundreds of Turkish businesses and loses a major source of personal enrichment. When the Russians threaten to cut off energy exports to Turkey, Erdoğan’s opponents suggest he heat his own palace and villas with cow dung this winter.

The Two Faces of Erdoğan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has a long and ignoble history of betraying political associates, trading partners and military allies; of pledging friendship and then bombing his ‘friends’ and murdering citizens; of negotiating ‘in good faith’ and then killing rivals; of playing democrat then behaving like an ordinary demagogic dictator.

Erdoğan appeals to the plebeian and austere values of the Anatolian provincial petty bourgeoisie, while building the largest luxurious presidential palace in the world – fit for a 21st century Pasha. He repeatedly pronounces his fealty to the ‘Turkish Nation’, while he robs the Turkish treasury by repeatedly accepting bribes and pay-offs from building contractors who then double charge for publicly-funded projects.

More recently, Erdoğan claims to oppose terrorism and fight ISIS, while the major Turkish and regional newspapers, journalists and most domestic observers document the massive flow of illegal arms across the Turkish-Syrian border to ISIS terrorists.

Erdoğan’s ‘Carnal Relation’ with ISIS

Erdoğan supports ISIS by bombing the Syrian Kurdish fighters who resist the jihadi mercenaries; by shooting down a Russian military jet defending the Damascus government against the terrorists; by smuggling and selling oil which ISIS had stolen from Iraq and Syria; by providing medical assistance to wounded ISIS fighters; and by training and arming ISIS terrorists in Turkish bases.

There is a reciprocal relationship: Erdoğan uses ISIS operatives to terrorize his own domestic opposition, including terror bombing a gathering of Kurdish ‘socialist youth’ in the town of Suruç on July 20, 2015, which killed 33 and the massive bombing in Ankara on October 10 of a ‘peace and justice’ march, which killed over 100, targeting trade unionists, leaders of professional associations, community activists and members of a democratic Kurdish electoral party and wounded many hundreds.

During the legislative election of 2015 ISIS terrorists and thugs from Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) attacked the offices, meetings and candidates of the opposition parties, especially of the Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), to ensure that Erdoğan secured a super-majority.

In other words, Erdoğan has three uses for ISIS serving his external and internal interests:

(1)  To attack and destroy secular Kurdish forces resisting ISIS in Syria and Iraq, thus preventing the formation of an independent Kurdish state on the Turkish border.

(2)  To attack and destroy Syria’s independent Baathist government under Bashar  Al-Assad, dismantle the multicultural secular state apparatus and install a Sunni Islamist client in Damascus subordinate to Erdoğan’s AKP.

(3)  To attack and terrorize the Turkish domestic opposition, including the broad-based Kurdish HDP, and the leftist trade union confederation (DISK).

Erdoğan has a decade-long strategic alliance with the militant Wahhabi terrorists who now make up ISIS. He intends to ‘remake’ the map of the Middle East to serve his own expansionist ambitions. In part this explains why Erdoğan has provided large-scale arms and material to the terrorists, trained thousands of mercenaries and provided medical aid to wounded ISIS fighters. It also explains why Erdoğan took the unprecedented and extremely provocative step of shooting down a Russian military jet over Syrian territory, which had been bombing Erdoğan’s ISIS allies. Russian and Syrian Army successes against ISIS have threatened his ambitions.

Erdoğan’s transformation from ‘Muslim democrat’ to bloody authoritarian Islamist ruler with pretensions of becoming the dominant Middle Eastern Pasha has to be seen in light of his rise to power over the past 40 years.

What Makes Recep Run?

Erdoğan, early on, showed his affinity for extremist Islamist politics. In the 1970’s he was head of the youth branch of the Islamist Salvation Party (MSP), a virulent anti-communist, anti-secular party committed to converting Turkey, a huge multi-ethnic secular state, into a theocratic regime (along the lines of contemporary ISIS).

After the military coup of 1980 the MSP was dissolved and reappeared as the Welfare Party. Erdoğan became a leader of the new (re-named) Islamist party.

Erdoğan and the Welfare Party exploited Turkish mass discontent with the corrupt and authoritarian military. The Welfare Party embraced a populist social welfare program with Islamist religious undertones in order to build a formidable grassroots organization in the working class neighborhoods in Istanbul. Erdoğan was elected mayor of Turkey’s largest city in 1994.

As Mayor, Erdoğan over-reached his power by preaching militant Islamism and was convicted in 1998 of sedition against the secular state. He served 4 months of a 10-month sentence.

Henceforth he changed tactics: His Islamist fanaticism was disguised. He changed the party name from Welfare to the modern sounding Justice and Development Party (AKP). Erdoğan then launched a series of political maneuvers, in which he cleverly manipulated adversaries to gain power and then … stabbed each of them in the back.

Erdoğan: Embrace and Back-Stab 

Despite his earlier conviction for sedition against the secular state, the ‘reformed’ Erdoğan allied with the Kemalist, secular Republican Peoples Party (CHP) to overturn the military’s ban on his participation in politics in 2002. He was elected Prime Minister in 2003. After the AKP won the general election it cut its ties with the CHP. Erdoğan was re-elected Prime Minister in 2007 and 2011.

Erdoğan allied with the pro-US Islamist leader Fethullah Gülen’s Hizmetor Cemaat Movement, which was influential within the judicial system, police and army. Together they launched a purge against secular military and judicial officials, journalists and media critics.

The Erdoğan – Gülenist state apparatus arrested and jailed 300 secular military officers, judges and journalists and replaced them with Erdođan and Gülen loyalists – all Islamists.

Dubbed “Operation Sledgehammer” the entire purge was based on fabricated charges of treason and conspiracy. Yet it was described by the Western media in terms that flattered Erdoğan’s democratic credentials, calling it an ‘effort to consolidate democracy’ against the military.

It had nothing to do with democracy: The purge consolidated Erdoğan’s personal power and allowed him to pursue policies that were more overtly neoliberal and Islamist. The purge of the judiciary further allowed Erdoğan to enrich crony capitalists and family members.

Erdoğan: The Birth of a Neoliberal Pasha

Erdoğan then embraced an IMF-designed ‘stabilization and recovery’ program, which reduced wages, salaries and pensions while privatizing public sector enterprises and activities. This attracted a large inflow of capital as foreign investors and cronies snapped up the goodies at bargain prices. Most emblematic of this ‘free-for-all cronies’ approach to the economy was the Soma coal mine disaster in May 2014 when over 300 miners were killed in a previously state-owned mine, which had suffered a breakdown of worker safety conditions after it had been privatized to an Erdoğan-crony. Despite local and international outrage, Recep ignored the scandal and unleashed police on the demonstrating miners.

Erdoğan’s combination of Islam with brutal neoliberalism attracted support from Brussels, Wall Street and the City of London. Large inflows of speculative foreign capital temporarily inflated Turkey’s GNP and Erdoğan’s wealth and ego!

In the beginning of his rule Erdoğan’s concessions, tax incentives, government contracts to big capital were broadly distributed to most sectors, but especially to his crony capitalists within the construction and real estate sectors.

As the capitalist boom continued and his power increased, Erdoğan became more obsessed with his role as the savior of Turkey. By 2010, a serious difference developed between Erdoğan and his Gülenist partners over the division of power. Erdoğan moved rapidly and brutally. He launched another massive purge of suspected ‘Gülenist officials’. He arrested, fired, jailed and relocated Gülen sympathizers among judges, police and civil servants despite the fact that these were officials who had served him well during the earlier purge of the secular military.

Erdoğan is not willing to share power with any other party, movement or group. Pasha Recep wanted to monopolize power. He has attacked critical newspapers, businesses and conglomerates claiming these were ‘Gülen controlled’. Erdoğan ensured that only capitalists completely loyal to him would receive regime patronage. In other words, he strengthened the size, strength and importance of crony capitalists: especially in the real estate and construction sector.

Pasha Recep’s Assault on Civil Society

Turkey, under Erdoğan’s absolute power, has seen a geometric increase in corruption and mindless ‘development projects’, leading to the degradation and usurpation of public spaces. His arbitrary and destructive policies have provoked sustained civil society protests, especially in the center of Istanbul – during the Gezi Park demonstrations, which began in May 2013.

In response to civil society demonstrations, Erdoğan shed all pretensions, ripping off his ‘modern democratic’ mask and brutally repressing the peaceful protestors in the heart of Istanbul– resulting in 22 deaths, hundreds wounded and more arrested and sentenced to long jail term. Erdoğan subsequently targeted liberal critics and business leaders, who had criticized his brutal use of force.

2013, the year of the Gezi Park Movement, was a turning point – Erdoğan and family members were implicated in a $100 million-dollar corruption scandal while liberal critics of the regime were purged.

Facing opposition from sectors of the elite as well as popular classes, Erdoğan became more rabidly ‘Islamist’, chauvinistic and megalomaniacal – ‘Neo-Ottoman’.

In short order, he re-launched his attack on the Turkish Kurds and increased his support to the Islamist terrorists in Syria, including what would become ISIS. These policies were designed to complement his ongoing war against the secular Kurds in Iraq and Syria.

Erdoğan: Backstabbing Secular Syria and “Best Friend” Russia

From the beginning of his rule, Erdoğan cultivated the ‘best of relations’ with Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin. He signed dozens of trade agreements with Damascus and Moscow. Putin was welcomed to Ankara and Erdoğan to Moscow where they signed billion-dollar energy deals and mutual co-operative agreements.

Up to 3 million Russian tourists visited Turkish resorts each year, a bonanza for one of Turkey’s major industries.

Erdoğan’s regime was ebullient, effusive, embracing Moscow and Damascus while systematically preparing the ground for more backstabbing!

By 2011, Erdoğan had been deeply involved in preparing the ground for what would become the bloody Islamist uprising in Syria. Early on, hundreds of armed foreign Islamist terrorists crossed the Turkish border into Syria. Their presence overwhelmed local Syrian dissidents. Armed Islamists seized villages and towns brutally purging them of Christians, Kurds, Alewives and secular Syrians. They took over the oil fields. From one day to the next, Erdoğan was transformed from loving friend to deadly foe of neighboring Syria demanding ‘regime change’ through terrorist sectarian violence.

Erdoğan embraced the most extreme, sectarian Wahhabi Islamist groups because they were committed to undermining the nationalist aspirations of the Syrian Kurds as well as overthrowing the secular Al-Assad government. Erdoğan’s covert alliance with ISIS and other Islamist terrorist groups was motivated by several strategic considerations, which are outlined below:

1)      The alliance serves to prevent the establishment of an autonomous Kurdish enclave on the Syrian-Turkish border in the event of a Damascus defeat, which Erdoğan fears would then link armed Syrian Kurds with the huge disaffected Kurdish population in southeastern Turkey and lead to the formation of an autonomous secular Kurdish state.

2)     Erdoğan’s alliance with jihadis in Syria has served Ankara’s ambition to impose a puppet Sunni-Islamist regime in Damascus.

3)     The ISIS regime controlling the Syrian and Iraqi oil fields provides Turkey with a source of cheap fuel and lucrative profits for the regime. Recep’s son, Necmettin Bilal Erdoğan owns and operates the BMZ Group which buys the contraband Syrian and Iraqi oil in Turkey and sells it overseas (especially to Israel) earning nearly a billion dollars a year for ‘the family’.

It is not surprise that the Erdoğan family directly financed ISIS, which uses the cash from contraband oil, pillaged antiquities and ‘tribute’ taxes, to purchase heavy and light arms, military and transport vehicles and communications equipment in Turkey and elsewhere to support its terror campaign in Syria and Iraq. Well-informed Turkish observers believe that Erdoğan’s intelligence officials are directly involved in recruiting ISIS terrorists to operate within Turkey and attack Erdoğan’s internal opposition, especially the Kurdish electoral party HDP and the broad-based Turkish left and trade union movements. Observers claim Turkish intelligence operations had a direct role in the ‘ISIS’ bomb attacks in Suruç and Ankara this year, which killed and maimed hundreds of Erdoğan opponents and civil society activists.

Erdoğan and ISIS developed a co-dependent relation, one of mutual manipulation. Each has publicly declared their tactical enmity to the other, while busily pursuing joint strategic aims.

Ankara uses the pretext of fighting ISIS in order to bomb the Kurds in Syria who are resisting the jihadis. ISIS uses the pretext of opposing the NATO member Turkey in order to cover its massive oil and weapons trade deals with Erdoğan’s family and crony business enterprises.

The Pasha Stabs the Bear and the Bear Bites Back – One Stab Too Many 

Russia’s highly effective aerial bombing campaign against the jihadi and ISIS terrorist networks in Syria was in response to a formal request for military intervention by the legitimate government of President Bashar Al-Assad. Russia has long-standing ties to the Baathist regime in Damascus. The intervention has threatened to undermine Erdoğan’s regional power ambitions and illicit business operations in Syria. First and foremost, it ended Erdoğan’s plan to annex a large swathe of Northern Syria and call it a ‘no fly zone’. The Turkish-controlled ‘no fly zone’ in Syria would  expand Turkish military training bases for ISIS and other jihadi terrorists and secure the transport routes for ISIS oil shipments smuggled out of Iraq and Syria.

Unlike the US, which had rarely bombed the strategic Erdoğan-ISIS oil smuggling operations, the Russians destroyed over a thousand oil trucks and numerous ISIS oil depots and logistical centers in the first month of its air campaign. By reducing the flow of smuggled oil, Russia cut off the main source of massive profit for Bilal Erdoğan’s BMZ Company as well as for Turkish arms dealers.

Like gangsters, Erdoğan, his family and cronies have been immersed in massive corrupt business activities at home and abroad; he can no longer operate within the context of the larger interests of the Turkish capitalist class with its $40 billion dollar annual trade and investment relations with Russia. Erdoğan’s decision to shoot down a Russian jet in Syrian territory, on November 24, 2015, was largely motivated by his fury at Russia’s successful interruption of the ISIS  oil convoys. By protecting his own family interests, Erdoğan stabbed more allies in the back: The Russians, as well as large sections of the Turkish capitalist class!

Up until Erdoğan’s act of war against Russia, he had publicly embraced Putin as an ally, friend and partner. The two leaders had cordial relations for over a decade. The Turkish military was fully informed about Russian military operations in Syria, including its flight paths. Then suddenly in November 2015 he risked a total rupture in relations and invited retaliation against Turkey from Russia by shooting down a Russian jet.

Russia immediately responded by upgrading its most advanced weapons systems to defend its operations and bases in Northern Syria and intensified its bombing of the ISIS – Turkish oil operations.

Russia retaliated by imposing visa restrictions and economic sanctions on Turkey, adversely affecting the multi-billion dollar tourist business. Strategic energy deals were terminated. Large-scale Turkish construction contracts were ended. Turkish agricultural exports to Russian markets virtually stopped.

The Pasha Bites His own Tail

Erdoğan’s unilateral actions were clearly against the broad interests of Turkey’s large export sector. From Gezi to Gülen, from one purge to another, Erdoğan, the former ‘poster boy’ of neoliberal Turkish capital, has become a self-centered despot, acting on behalf of a narrowing circle of corrupt family and crony capitalists. Erdoğan set himself up as a modern day pasha more in the image of the self-indulgent Ibrahim I (the Madman) than the far-seeing Suleyman I (the Wise).

Once Erdoğan realized the damage that his fit of egomaniac fury against the Russians had provoked abroad and his growing isolation within Turkey, he rushed to NATO on bended knee to beg for support. True to his authoritarian personality, Recep Erdoğan crawls on his knees before his ‘superiors’ (NATO-US) while grabbing the throats of his ‘inferiors’ (the Turkish people)!

Conclusion

Erdoğan’s road to absolutist power is strewn with indiscriminate purges, terror and deceit; violence against environmental and liberal protestors in Gezi Park and moderate Gülen Islamists; jail sentences and firing of journalists and publishers, military officials and judges; repression of workers and capitalists; terror bombing against activists and democrats; and war against Kurds and Syrians.

Erdoğan’s paranoid and greed-driven vision of politics precludes any trust and stable relations. He thinks he is very clever with his combination of charm and broken promises, but he fools nobody. He reignites the war against the Kurds in Turkey and Syria but they retaliate!

He attacks Russia and provokes a very costly retaliation so far limited to the Turkish economy.

He increases his personal power, but undermines the interests of the Turkish nation and its people. Erdoğan believes he is the rising regional hegemony, indispensable to the West. He blackmails the EU for billions of Euros to control the flood of refugees fleeing violence in Syria and Iraq with his promises to warehouse desperate refugees in Turkish concentration camps. But Europeans must know that their money can never buy trust and loyalty from the Pasha.

His oil deals with ISIS are in tatters. Russian bombs ensure that Erdoğan will have to find other sources of illicit profit. Worst of all, Erdoğan’s furious actions have lost markets, allies and domestic support. He faces enemies from all sides – liberal professors, students, big business owners and organized workers in Istanbul; small business people in the tourist trade; construction and oil companies in Ankara; farmers in Anatolia, and, above all, the coal miners in Soma Manis.

Who knows under what circumstances Pasha Recep (the ‘Megalomaniac’) will be replaced?

Dec 102015
 

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

venezuela-election15-47

Introduction

Pundits and commentators on the Left and Right are pronouncing ‘the end of the progressive cycle in Latin America’. They cite the recent presidential elections:

1. Argentina, where hard-right Mauricio Macri was elected;

2. Brazil, where President Dilma Rousseff has appointed a neo-liberal ‘Chicago Boy’ economist, Joaquin Levy, as Finance Minister and launched an IMF-style regressive structural adjustment policy designed to reduce social expenditures and attract financial speculators; and

3. Venezuela, where Washington channeled millions of dollars to far-right parties, as well as violent extra-parliamentary and paramilitary groups, to destabilize the center-left Maduro government; right-wing Democratic Unity Coalition  (MUD) won the legislative elections in December 2015 with more than 2:1 margin over the Chavista Venezuelan United Socialist Party (PSUV).

No doubt progressive social legislation has come to a virtual halt, even before the recent political advances of the US-backed right-wing parties with their neo-liberal economic agenda.

But paralysis, and even retreat and electoral defeats of the center-left regimes, do not mean the return to the neo-liberal 1990’s, a period of privatizations, pillage and plunder, which had plunged millions into poverty, unemployment and marginality.

Whatever the current voting results, the collective memory of mass hardship, resulting from ‘free market’ policies, is seared in the memory of the vast majority of the working population.

Any attempt by the newly elected officials to ‘unmake and reverse’ the social advances of the past decade will be met with (1) militant resistance, if not open class warfare; (2) institutional and political constraints; (3) and low commodity prices drastically limiting export revenues.

A careful analysis of the policies proposed by the neoliberal right, their implementation and impact will demonstrate their likely failure and the rapid demise of any new right-wing offensive. This will abort the neoliberal cycle.

Argentina: President Macri and Wall Street – Premature Ejaculation

In the upper income neighborhoods of Buenos Aires, there was singing and dancing in the streets as the Presidential election results rolled in and Mauricio Macri was pronounced the victor. Wall Street, the City of London and their financial mouthpieces, the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times, announced the coming of a new era and the end of ‘anti-investor, populism and nationalism, wasteful social spending’ referring to increases in pensions, family allowances and wages, approved by the previous center-left government.

Mauricio Macri does not merely represent the plutocracy; he is one of the richest plutocrats in Argentina. He not only boasts of a ‘carnal relationship’ with Washington in his acceptance speech, he pleasured US President Obama by announcing he would work to expel Venezuela from MERCOSUR, Latin America’s foremost regional economic integration organization.

Macri announced a cabinet made up of hard-core neoliberal economists, former supporters of the military dictatorship and even a rabid rightwing rabbi. He then spelled out his policy agenda, which had been cleverly hidden during his electoral campaign when his raucous rhetoric for ‘change’, spoke to everybody and nobody.

Macri promises to (1) end capital controls, export taxes and retentions on agro-business exports, (2) devaluate the peso, (3) pay over $1.2 billion dollars of Argentine public money to the Wall Street vulture-speculator, Paul Singer, who had bought $49 million dollars of old Argentine debt (a profit of astronomical proportions for buying paper), (4) privatize and de-nationalize the state-owned airline, oil company and pension funds (5)sign-off on  EU and US-centered free trade agreements, thus undermining Latin America integration projects like MERCOSUR; (6) tear up the joint memo of understanding with Iran regarding an investigation into a terror bombing as requested by Israel; and (7) expel Venezuela from MERCOSUR.

In a word, the multi-millionaire playboy President plans harsh austerity for the Argentine working class and bountiful handouts for the economic elite.

The day after the elections, local and overseas speculators boosted Argentine stocks 40% anticipating the free market bonanza. George Soros and hedge fund mogul, Daniel Loeb, ‘piled into Argentine assets’. Investment fund managers urged Macri to act swiftly in imposing his ‘sweeping reforms’  before Argentina’s famous capacity for mass popular resistance could be organized to resist his policies.

Macri’s Wall Street and Washington patrons are well aware that their clients’ boisterous big business bombast faces serious political obstacles because his policies will provoke severe economic hardships.

President Macri does not even have a majority in Congress to approve his radical proposals. The congress is controlled by a coalition of rightwing and center-left Peronist parties, which will need to be coaxed, bought or coerced.

The Argentine Congress will balk at supporting his entire neoliberal agenda. When he resorts to ‘executive decrees’ to bypass Congress, he will be contested in the courts, streets and legislature. It is doubtful he will be able to neutralize all his critics and implement his radical neoliberal agenda.

The head of the Central Bank, Alejandro Vanoli, who was appointed by the previous center-left Fernandez government, is not likely to go along with Macri’s tight money policy, radical devaluation and fiscal austerity. Marco will likely look for a pretext to purge the incumbent and nominate a free market crony. However, the institutional damage will increase the general sense of a lawless regime willing to trample the constitutional order to impose his free market dogma.

Macri’s promise to end the ‘tax’ retention on agro-exports will decrease government revenues, exacerbating the fiscal deficit and necessitating deeper reductions in social expenditures. The contrast between higher earnings for the agro-business elite and lower living standards for labor is an invitation to greater class hostility and strife. Even more decisive Macri’s “export strategy” will be undermined by the low world demand and prices of Argentine commodity exports.

Macri’s promise to end capital and price controls on his first day in office will provoke a major devaluation of the peso which may exceed 60%. This will automatically result in severe increases in the price of consumer goods and increased profits for the export elites, provoking mass unrest across the occupational spectrum.

Macri promises to meet with the 7% of speculator hold-outs of old Argentine debt (from the pillage years of the 1990’s) demanding full payment with interest, especially the ‘vulture funds’ led by Wall Street’s Paul Singer of Elliott Capital Management. Pay-offs of over $1.3 billion on an original $49 million purchase of Argentine debt to Wall Street speculators will provoke fury among Argentine workers and nationalists who will shoulder the added burden on top of austerity and cuts in social welfare. Moreover, the 93% of debt holders, who had agreed to the ‘financial haircut’ and discounted the debt at 70% will now demand full payment multiplying tenfold the demands on the Treasury with disastrous consequences.

The devaluation and decline of purchasing power will not attract the ‘tidal wave of foreign investment’ to lift the economy and provide jobs and general prosperity as Macri had promised during his campaign. Foreign capital will not create new enterprises; they will concentrate on buying  existing privatized public enterprises at fire-sale prices. Incoming capital will not increase the productive forces; it will only shift the direction of the flow of profits from public coffers to private pockets, from the domestic economy to overseas investors.

Neoliberalism: Then and Now

The general foreign and domestic political climate is vastly different today from the 1990’s when the previous neoliberal experiment was launched with such disastrous consequences. In the late 1980’s, Argentina was suffering from acute inflation, stagnation and declining income. The working class organizations were still recovering from the murderous decade of military rule. Moreover, in the 1990’s the US was at the pinnacle of imperial power in Latin America. China was only beginning its dynamic growth cycle. The USSR had disintegrated and Russia was a struggling vassal state. Latin America was ruled by a motley collection of neo-liberal clones under the thumb of the IMF.

Today Macri faces an organized working class. The trade unions and militant popular movements are intact and have experienced a decade of substantial gains under a center-left government. The IMF experience remains a poisonous memory for hundreds of thousands of Argentines. Hundreds of military officials responsible for crimes against humanity have been arrested, tried and prosecuted under the out-going regime. The threat of a military coup, ever-present in the 1980’s and 90’s, is non-existent. China has become the key market for Argentine agro exports (soya). Macri, despite his declared passion to serve Washington, is obligated to accommodate to the Chinese market.

Any moves out of MERCOSUR and into the arms of the Transpacific Trade Agreement will prejudice Argentina’s strategic trade links with Brazil, Venezuela, Uruguay and Paraguay. Today Macri will find a hostile climate in Latin America for his proposed embrace of the US. His promise to ‘expel Venezuela from MERCOSUR’ has already been rejected by its members.

In summary, Macri will find it impossible to replicate the neoliberal policies of the 1990’s for all the above reasons. There is one additional factor to consider: The earlier version of the ‘free-market experiment’ led to the most severe economic depression in Argentine history with double-digit negative growth, unemployment exceeding 50% in working class districts (and 25% nationally) and poverty and extreme misery in some Argentine provinces exceeding Sub-Sahara Africa.

If Macri believes he can rush through the “harsh medicine” – and avoid the inevitable mass protest – while attracting a massive inflow of capital with which to rapidly grow the economy, he is gravely mistaken. After the initial giveaways and uptake of the stock market, the Soros and Loeb speculators will grab their profits and run. Weakened domestic consumption and the depressed global commodity market do not attract long term, large-scale capital.

The real question is not (as the financial pundits claim) whether Macri will ‘seize the opportunity’ but how soon after he tries to impose his free market model his regime will crash amid the ruins of a depressed economy, raging inflation and general strikes.

Brazil: Right Turn or a Left Opportunity

Commentators left and right cite the vertical decline of support for President
Dilma Rousseff from over 50% to less than 10% as a sign of the ‘decline of the left’. Judicial investigations have led to the arrest and prosecution of dozens of Congressional leaders of the so-called ‘Workers Party”’(PT) for wholesale bribery, money laundering and illicit transfers of millions of dollars!

Prosecutors have jailed scores of PT officials, legislators and senior executives of the giant public petroleum company, Petrobras, the directors of the biggest construction companies and investment banks who were partners in crime with former PT President Lula Da Silva. The one-time trade union leader, President Lula, turned into a poster boy for Wall Street and more recently a notorious influence peddler for Brazilian big businesses.

Prosecutors have arrested 117 officials from Petrobras, the giant state oil corporation, and Brazil’s biggest company. They have arrested two of Brazil’s most powerful capitalists: Marcelo Odebrecht, president of Constructora Norberto Odebrecht, and Octavio Marquez de Acevedo of the Andrade Gutierrez Corporation. Both contributed to the Workers Party electoral campaign of ex-President Lula Da Silva and current President Dilma Rousseff.

Big business contributors, currently under investigation or jailed, had received forty-times the value of their political donations in terms of lucrative PT government contracts (a 4000% return on investment!).

Criminal cases and arrests for ‘bribes for contracts’ schemes have affected the financial sector, including the billionaire financier Andre Esteves, founder-President of BTG Pactual , a close friend and associate of Lula Da Silva.

The entire elite of Brazil’s capitalist and financial class has been indicted, jailed or is under investigation. The Treasurer of the PT, Senate and Congressional leaders and Presidential advisers of the ‘Workers’ Party have been arrested and jailed for bribes, money laundering and fraud, in connection with the Petrobras and other corporate corruption scandals.

The judicial investigation demonstrates that the PT had become a party of the corporate elite. PT leaders and officials work closely with business elites in channeling billions to corporate treasuries. In contrast, the PT’s so-called “poverty program” donated $60 a month to poor families, just above subsistence level. This poverty program was part of a vast patronage machine designed to secure votes to elect corrupt officials embedded with big capital and financiers!

While the prosecutors are not explicitly anti-capitalist, the investigations have exposed the corrupt basis of capitalist rule. In the course of one year Brazilian prosecutors have conducted deeper and more thorough research on the power elite and determined how it rules, exploits and pillages the wealth of the country than any analysis by the vast majority of ‘leftist’ academics and journalists over the fifteen years of PT mis-governance.

The prosecutors have acted against the entire class of capitalist executives and their political partners in the PT with greater force and integrity than the major ‘left’ trade union (the CUT) and social movement (Landless Rural Workers (MST) leaders. The CUT and MST leaders secured minor regime concessions, in exchange for ignoring the large-scale, long-term criminal links between bankers, agro-businesspeople, industrialists and the PT.

While leaders of the MST, the CUT and the National Union of Students gave ‘critical’ support to Presidents Lula and Dilma and their entourage of corrupt Congresspeople, the prosecutors exposed years of endemic fraud, swindles and bribes which had enabled the PT leaders to buy luxury BMWs, Rolex watches and million-dollar villas and luxury condos in exclusive neighborhoods.

Deltan Dallagnol, one of the prosecutors leading the investigation, has demonstrated that the PT works for the rich and powerful, foreign and domestic capitalists and deceives the poor. His investigations demonstrate that the PT is not a ‘center-left’ party – it is a party of kleptocrats working for capitalists.

One thing is sure:  the PT is not a party embracing diverse popular classes; it is not an arena for popular struggle. It is a party that serves diverse capitalist sectors, including finance, construction, petroleum and agro business.

Because of corruption, the cost of government projects doubled and tripled. As a result vital social services were starved of funds and deteriorated and public transport construction was delayed for years.

In summary, the decline and discredit of the PT is not a defeat for the Left  because the PT regime never was on the left. On the contrary, the discredit of the PT is a positive victory for anti-capitalist forces struggling against the ruling class and political elite.

Conclusion

The victory of hard right neoliberal Mauricio Macri in Argentina and the disintegration of the PT do not augur a new rightwing cycle in Latin America. Marco’s economic team will quickly confront mass opposition and, outside the upper class neighborhoods, they lack any political mass support. Their policies will polarize the country and undermine the stability, which investors require. Brutal devaluations and the end of capital controls are formulas, not for economic development, but for inciting general strikes. Conflict, stagnation and hyperinflation will put an end to the enthusiasm of local and foreign investors.

Moreover, Macri cannot embrace Washington’s entire agenda because Argentina’s natural trading partner is China.

Macri’s regime is the beginning and the end of a reversion to the neo-liberal disaster, similar to what took place at the end of the 1990’s.

The fall of the PT, more a product of conscientious prosecutors than the action of trade unions and social movements, opens political space for new working class struggles, free from the constraints of corrupt leaders and bureaucrats.

Even if the Right returns to power in Brazil – it is tainted with the same stench of corruption; its capitalist partners are in jail or facing prosecution. In other words, the fall of the PT is only part of the decline and decay of all the capitalist parties.

Over time, soon after the collapse of the ‘New Right’, a new authentic left may emerge, free of corruption and links to big business. Hopefully, an authentic working class party will form, which can pursue socio-economic policies to end exploitation of labor, the pillage of the public treasury and the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. This should be a left, which sustains the environment, respects nature and upholds the rights of Afro-Brazilians, indigenous people and women.

Dec 082015
 

By SnakeArbusto, 99GetSmart

After Sunday’s first round of the regional elections, the extreme-Right Front National is being called “France’s leading party.” Its candidates led in six Regions. Its spokespersons are now invited to take part in election-night specials by the different TV networks, private and public. This legitimization of the party seems to be progressing inexorably as the media and the establishment political parties they support look on, powerless to stop the process.  But in fact, the media have played a part in legitimizing the Front all along. And it should not be forgotten that as far back as 1986, Socialist president François Mitterrand had encouraged the FN, using his executive power to allow proportional legislative elections in order to undercut the establishment Right. And that Right has moved closer and closer to the Front’s positions, especially during the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy. The Front National may be a threat to France, but to some degree at least, it isFrance.

The question now is not whether the FN will win the presidency of one of France’s Regions, but how many presidencies and legislative majorities it will win. And the establishment Left and Right and the media are in panic over what they can do to stop the Front.

marine

The Front’s spokemen tend to be young, smart, and modern-looking. They tell us, during the minute or so they are given at the start of the program to outline their major themes, that they are the only party that represents real change. They refer to the two leading official parties, PS (Socialist) and LR (Les Républicains), as the “LRPS”, implying that there is no real difference between them. The Front’s leader and presumed presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen, has now eased comfortably into her party’s growing legitimacy. j-mIt is almost as if the party’s real face – the sneering bulldog face of her father, founder Jean-Marie Le Pen – were no longer visible. If one looks closely at Marine, however, chieftain’s features and mannerisms clearly emerge, despite Marine’s younger, female (if not feminine) repackaging. And the candidate for the Regional presidency in the South, Marine’s niece Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, is young and, on the surface, attractive.

But no one who looks below the surface has illusions about what the Front really represents. Just as Jean-Marie’s face is visible in the hatchet-carved contours of Marine’s, the party’s real program – or at least that is what the Front is surely counting on – is legible like a watermark. There is no need – they hope, and their future victory depends on it – to trumpet racist, supremacist rhetoric anymore. They can discuss economic issues and pretend to have truly new solutions, and they can spotlight Front members and even candidates who are of North African or Black African descent, much as the Republican Party in the USA now does. marion_sVoters can vote for a party whose stock in trade has always been racism and xenophobia out of simple, ingrained racism or out of a genuine fear of “immigrant hordes” – to borrow a phrase from another politician who plays on the same fears – just as the party itself denies its real face in presenting these token members and candidates. But in the party’s pronouncements, phrases like “respect for our culture and our identity” send a barely-coded message.

And the Front’s candidate in the Ile-de-France region, the aristocratically-named Wallerand de Saint-Just, is more indicative of the party’s real values and traditions – those of the reactionary, anti-Socialist, anti-labor, and even anti-republican, bourgeois and even aristocratic, traditionally Catholic “Old France.” For, hidden just below the surface of France’s i-Phone-toting society, a discreet segment of the population defends “traditional values,” with some even calling for the restoration of the monarchy. Not so discreet, in fact, as time goes on and the Front National consolidates its influence. In 2010, for example, young “traditionalist” Catholics, male and female, staged an attack on gay demonstrators at a “kiss-in” on the square in front of Notre-Dame cathedral, shouting “habemus papam!” – a reference to the election of conservative Pope Benedict XVI and to their preference for the Tridentine Mass. wallerand_sBehind such “traditions,” one can perceive the outline of the Vichy regime, whose façade of tradition and family values in fact concealed a willingness to surrender to Nazism in exchange for ridding France of a government that genuinely represented the working class. Saint-Just is among the reactionary Catholics, aligned with the Society of St. Pius X, who have illegally occupied the church of Saint Nicolas du Chardonnet in Paris since 1977. A ceremony in honor of Holocaust-denying historian and declared Fascist Maurice Bardèche was held in the church in 1998. St-Just is now being sued by his environmentalist opponent in the current elections for saying in a tweet that the Left bears responsibility for the Friday the 13th terror attacks.

The official Left and Right are now united in pointing to the Front as a threat to “our values,” to democracy, to the Republic. Their spokespersons attempt to call out the Front on its real values, history, and alignment. But they can’t debate positions that are unspoken. They attempt to discredit the party by pointing to the loans it has received from supposed “Russian Mafiosi aligned with the dictator Putin.” This is a reference to Konstantin Malofeev, founder of the international investment fund Marshall Capital Partners. It would be more accurate to call Malofeev a successful young entrepreneur, whose interests include telecoms, real estate, and agriculture. Somehow these loans are supposed to raise a red flag in the minds of readers/viewers of the official media, which have participated in the campaign to portray Vladimir Putin as a brutal dictator for years now, following the standard NATO party line. The problem is that Putin is now an ally of France and to some extent of the US in the “struggle against terrorism.” And if you think about it for a minute, all the Front is doing is seeking funding from corporate interests – exactly what all the “legitimate” political parties do. The problem is that French corporations are not yet ready to openly support the Front. But it’s a fairly safe bet that they will if the Front’s legitimization and rise to power continues to advance. And after all, is there really a fundamental difference between the “Russian mafia” and large French corporations, other than the fact that the latter publish Sustainable Development reports and sponsor the COP 21 environment conference?

France’s official Right and Left, along with the media, have themselves to blame for this situation. The Socialists are in danger of losing most of the Regions where they now hold power, and worse, of being on the wrong side of a momentum that is likely to carry either the Front or the official Right to power. François Hollande has used the recent tragedy to bolster his status with potential Front voters, calling the terror attacks “attacks on the values of the Republic” and at the same time using them as an excuse to curtail civil liberties and freedom of speech and of the press – those very same values –, increase surveillance of citizens, and increase the powers of the police. He used the emergency powers he put in place just after November 13th, and which the legislature has now voted to extend, to arrest peaceful organizers of protests at the COP 21. Aren’t such measures more or less exactly what the media and the “respectable” politicians are warning us we can expect from the Front if it takes power?

sark_holl_s

As for the official Right, or the “Republican Right” as the media call it to distinguish it from the extreme Right, it has never been very far removed from the Front, and current leader and former president Nicolas Sarkozy captured the presidency in 2007 by co-opting the Front’s themes of law and order and fear of an immigrant invasion. Sarkozy has feigned courting the Front National, even saying once that “Marine Le Pen is compatible with the Republic” – no doubt as a way of giving voters a signal that if they vote for him they can count on getting what the Front promises and still maintain respectability by voting for a party they can admit they voted for. Indeed, the Front’s popularity was long underestimated partly because many voters who vote for them will not admit it in a poll or to family and friends. Now, of course, more and more of such voters will come out of the closet. The “Republican Right” has tripped itself up: If Le Pen is “compatible with the Republic,” then who needs the Republican Right, who have been in power many times and never ushered in the “real change” politicians are always promising? The result of all the overtures to the Front’s voters is that the voters no longer see any difference between the two.

The same is true of the Socialists. Their own pandering to the Front national vote is nothing new. It shifted into a higher gear when Manuel Valls became Prime Minister and, taking a page from Sarkozy’s playbook, staged arrests of undocumented working parents who had come to fetch their children at school and hounded the Rom population. Valls physically resembles Sarkozy – short and cocky – and his intention of duplicating Sarkozy’s strategy is transparent. The Socialists have made it clear from the start ¬– indeed, from the time of the Mitterrand government – that they are Socialists in name only and at best are a kind of Social-Democrat party. Hollande had declared during his presidential campaign that “my real adversary is finance.” But since he took office, he and his Prime Minister have announced several times that they “love business.” Their real constituency, in fact, is enterprise and finance, and their mantra is “growth.” They have shown themselves to be facilitators of the Washington Consensus, privatizing publicly-owned companies to the point where one would need a very strong light to see the outlines of the fundamental Socialist values – that housing, health care, education, and transportation should be protected from the forces of finance and the market. The environmentalists, considered a constituent element of the French Left, have now distanced themselves from the Socialists. In fact, there is now a socialist wing of the Socialist party. These factions have now struck compromises and merged their tickets with the Socialists to face the “threat” of the Front National. Such maneuvers can only cause voters to wonder how much substance there actually is behind the political rhetoric. The PS seems to hope that citizens will continue to vote for them out of a belief that they still do embody those values, but no longer talk about them out of a need to attract voters away from the Right. But again, if the Left has become indistinguishable from the Right, and since both have had their chances before, who can blame voters for giving the sanitized Front National a chance?

Dec 072015
 

By William Blum, 99GetSmart

latuff-syria

Questions to ask President Obama the next time (also the last time) you’re invited to one of his press conferences:

Which is most important to you – destroying ISIS, overthrowing Syrian president Assad, or scoring points against Russia?

Do you think that if you pointed out to the American people that Assad has done much more to aid and rescue Christians in the Middle East conflicts than any other area leader that this would lessen the hostility the United States public and media feel toward him? Or do you share the view of the State Department spokesperson who declared in September that “The Assad regime frankly is the root of all evil”?

Why does the United States maintain crippling financial sanctions and a ban on military aid to Syria, Cuba, Iran and other countries but not to Saudi Arabia?

What does Saudi Arabia have to do to lose its strong American support? Increase its torture, beheadings, amputations, whippings, stonings, punishment for blasphemy and apostasy, or forced marriages and other oppression of women and girls? Increase its financial support for ISIS and other jihadist groups? Confess to its role in 9-11? Attack Israel?

What bothers you more: The Saudi bombing of the people of Yemen or the Syrian bombing of the people of Syria?

Does the fact that ISIS never attacks Israel raise any question in your mind?

Does it concern you that Turkey appears to be more intent upon attacking the Kurds and the Russians than attacking ISIS? And provides medical care to wounded ISIS soldiers? Or that ISIS deals its oil on Turkish territory? Or that NATO-member Turkey has been a safe haven for terrorists from Libya, Chechnya, Qatar, and elsewhere? Or that last year Vice President Biden stated that Turkish president Erdogan’s regime was backing ISIS with “hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of tons of weapons”?

If NATO had never existed, what argument could you give today in favor of creating such an institution? Other than – as some would say – being a very useful handmaiden of US foreign policy and providing American arms manufacturers with trillions of dollars of guaranteed sales.

Does the United States plan on releasing any of its alleged evidence to back up its repeated claims of Syrian bombing and chemical warfare against the Syrian people? Like clear photos or videos from the omnipresent American satellite cameras? Or any other credible evidence?

Does the United States plan on releasing any of its alleged evidence to back up its repeated claims of Russian invasions of Ukraine in the past year? Like clear photos or videos from the omnipresent American satellite cameras? Or any other credible evidence?

Do the numerous connections between the Ukrainian government and neo-Nazis have any effect upon America’s support of Ukraine?

What do you imagine would have been the outcome in World War Two if the United States had opposed Soviet entry into the war because “Stalin must go”?

Would you prefer that Russia played no military role at all in Syria?

Can the administration present in person a few of the Syrian opposition “moderates” we’ve heard so much about and allow the media to interview them?

Have you considered honoring your promise of “No boots on the ground in Syria” by requiring all American troops to wear sneakers?

Don’t tell my mother I work at the State Department. She thinks I play the piano in a whore house.

Excerpts from a State Department daily press briefing, November 24, 2015, following the Turkish shootdown of a Russian plane, conducted by Mark Toner, Deputy Spokesperson:

QUESTION: President Obama said he will reach out to President Erdogan over the next few days.

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Did not mention Putin. That really puts you squarely on Turkey’s side, doesn’t it?

……………………

QUESTION: You’re saying Turkey has the right to defend itself; President Obama said the same thing. What defense are you talking about? Does anyone think Russia was going to attack Turkey?

MR TONER: Again, I mean, this is –

QUESTION: Do you think so?

MR TONER: Look, I don’t want to parse out this incident. I said very clearly that we don’t know all the facts yet, so for me to speak categorically about what happened is – frankly, would be irresponsible.

……………………

QUESTION: Even if you accept the Turkish version that the plane traveled 1.3 miles inside Turkey and violated its airspace for 17 seconds – that’s according to Turkey – do you think shooting down the plane was the right thing to do?

MR TONER: Again, I’m not going to give you our assessment at this point. We’re still gathering the facts.

……………………

QUESTION: In 2012, Syria shot down a Turkish plane that reportedly strayed into its territory. Prime Minister Erdogan then said, “A short-term border violation can never be a pretext for an attack.” Meanwhile, NATO has expressed its condemnation of Syria’s attack as well as strong support for Turkey. Do you see the inconsistency of NATO’s response on this?

MR TONER: As to what President Erdogan may have said after that incident, I would refer you to him.

……………………

QUESTION: Turkoman forces in Syria said they killed the two Russian pilots as they descended in parachutes.

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Turkoman forces are supported by Turkey and are fighting against the Syrian Government, they are part of the rebel force there. Do you consider these rebels to be a moderate force in Syria?

……………………

QUESTION: I’m trying – I mean, do you think that everybody has the right to defend themselves?

MR TONER: We’ve said very clearly that people have the right to defend themselves.

QUESTION: Right? Including the Assad regime?

MR TONER: No. 1

Is it terrorism or is it religion? Does the question matter?

From the early days of America’s War on Terror, and even before then, I advocated seeing terrorists as more than just mindless, evil madmen from another planet. I did not believe they were motivated by hatred or envy of American freedom or democracy, or of American wealth, secular government, or culture, although George W. Bush dearly wanted us to believe that. The terrorists were, I maintained, driven by decades of terrible things done to their homelands by US foreign policy. There should be no doubt of this I wrote, for there are numerous examples of Middle East terrorists explicitly citing American policies as the prime motivation behind their actions. And it worked the same all over the world. In the period of the 1950s to the 1980s in Latin America, in response to a long string of outrageous Washington interventions, there were countless acts of terrorism against US diplomatic and military targets as well as the offices of US corporations. 9/11 was a globalized version of the Columbine High School disaster. When you bully people long enough they are going to strike back.

In 2006 Osama bin Laden was inspired to tell Americans to read my book Rogue State because it contained the following and other similar thoughts of mine: “If I were the president, I could stop terrorist attacks against the United States in a few days. Permanently. I would first apologize – very publicly and very sincerely – to all the widows and the orphans, the impoverished and the tortured, and all the many millions of other victims of American imperialism.”

So does this mean that I support ISIS?

Absolutely not. I think they’re one of the most disgusting collection of supposed humans in all of history. But I’m surprised at how often those who are highly critical of them, and supportive of the movement to defeat them, are very reluctant to denounce ISIS as a religious force; this, apparently, would be politically incorrect. Shortly after the terrible November 13 events in Paris I was watching the French English-language TV station France 24, which presented a round-table discussion of what happened in Paris amongst four or five French intellectual types. Not one of them expressed a negative word about Islam; it was all sociology, politics, economics, psychology, history, Western oppression, etc., etc. Hadn’t any of them ever heard any of the perpetrators or their supporters cry out “Allahu Akbar”?

I then read a detailed review of an article by Thomas Piketty, the French author of the much-acclaimed 700-page opus Capital in the Twenty-First Century, the international best-seller of last year. According to the review in Le Monde, Piketty said that inequality is a major driver of Middle Eastern terrorism, including the Paris attacks, and that Western nations have themselves largely to blame for that inequality. Terrorism that is rooted in inequality, he maintains, is best combatted economically. Not a word about Muhammad in the 7th century, Sharia Law in the 21st century, or anything in between. 2

Next, by contrast, we turn to an interview with Mizanur Rahman, one of social media’s most famous promoters of the Islamic State, whom Britain and the US consider to be a recruiter for ISIS. British authorities closely monitor his movements and have taken his passport. He wears a court-mandated electronic ankle bracelet.

Rahman is known for his thousands of tweets and Facebook posts, and fiery lectures on YouTube, intended to inspire vulnerable young people. He openly advocates for a global caliphate, a homeland ruled by Islamic sharia law, which he says is a superior political, legal and economic system to democracy. The Islamic State’s black flag will one day fly over the White House he insists, adding that the militants will probably conquer Washington by military force, but he watches his words carefully to avoid being accused of advocating violence. Still, he argues, the concept of spreading Islam by force is no less honorable than Western countries invading Iraq or Afghanistan to spread democracy. [I wonder if he really believes that Western foreign policy has anything to do with spreading democracy.]

Rahman called last month’s Islamic State attacks in Paris “an inevitable consequence” of French participation in coalition airstrikes against the militants’ de facto capital in Raqqa, Syria. “I don’t think anybody should really be surprised at what happened,” he said. “In war, people bomb each other. I think it’s an opportunity for the French people to empathize with the people in Raqqa, who suffer very similar impact whenever the French airstrikes hit them – the civilian casualties, the shock, the stress. The anger that they must be feeling toward the Islamic State right now is the same kind of anger that the people of Iraq and Syria feel towards France.”

He argues that it is no worse for the Islamic State to behead American journalists than for the United States to kill Muslim civilians in drone strikes. “I’m promoting sharia because I think it’s the best,” Rahman, a former accountant and web designer, said in the London coffee shop interview. “I think it is better than what we have, and what is wrong with saying that?” [Nothing unless you enjoy music, sex, and alcohol and find praying five times a day highly oppressive.)

In August, Rahman was charged in Britain with “inviting support” for the Islamic State, and he faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted. He is free on bail under strict conditions, including the ankle bracelet.

Rahman called the allegations against him ridiculous and anti-Muslim persecution. He said that he has done nothing more than preach the virtues of Islam and that he has never specifically recruited anyone to join the Islamic State or urged anyone to commit violence.

“Islam is more than just a book with an old story. It’s actually a code for life,” he said, adding that Islam is a blueprint for everything from personal hygiene to international relations. “It’s not just some medieval rantings.”

Rahman’s first arrest was in February 2002, when he was fined 50 pounds for defacing posters for a pop band that featured scantily clad women, something he considered indecent. [But forcing women to walk around fully covered from head to toe, with only their eyes showing, is not indecent? And what woman in the entire world would dress like that without great pressure from a male-dominated society?]

Peter Neumann, head of the International Center for the Study of Radicalization at King’s College in London stated that Rahman is skilled at persuading Muslims that it is their religious obligation to swear allegiance to the Islamic State leader, arguing that God wants the world united under a caliphate, without ever overtly calling for them to move to Syria or Iraq. [How, we must ask, does Rahman know what God wants? There are countless individuals all over the world confined to institutions for committing violence which, they insisted, was in response to God talking to them.]

The couple in California … The only explanation my poor pagan mind can offer for their unspeakable behavior is “martyrdom”. They knew that their action would, in all likelihood, result in their death and they believed what they had been taught – oh so profoundly taught in the Kuran and drummed into their heads elsewhere like only religion can – that for martyrs there are heavenly rewards in the afterlife … forever.

“With or without religion, good people will do good things and bad people will do bad things. But for good people to do bad things – that takes religion.” Steven Weinberg, Nobel Prize-winning physicist

Notes

  1. U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing, November 24, 2015
  2. Washington Post, December 1, 2015, p.A11
  3. Washington Post, November 23, 2015