greydog

Linda Ross aka greydog is a native Chicagoan who lives and works in Prague. greydog is the founder and editor of 99GetSmart.

Feb 202018
 

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

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The US empire spans the globe; it expands and contracts, according to its ability to secure strategic assets, willing and able to further military and economic power to counter emerging adversaries.

The map of empire is a shorthand measure of the vectors, reach and durability of global power and wealth. The map of empire is changing — adding and subtracting assets and liabilities, according to the successes and retreats of domestic and overseas power centers. While the US empire has been engaged in intense conflicts in the Middle East, the imperial map has been enlarge elsewhere at lower cost and greater success.

Enlarging the Empire

The US empire has substantially increased its scope and presence in several regions, especially in Latin America. The additions and enlargements include Argentina, Brazil,Colombia, Mexico, Central America, Peru and the Caribbean. The most important asset redrawing the empire in Latin America is Argentina. The US has gained military, economic and political advantages. In the case of Argentina, political and economic advances preceded military expansion.

The US provided ideological and political support to secure the election of its client Mauricio Macri. The new Argentine President immediately transferred over $5 billion dollars to the notorious Wall Street Vulture speculator, Paul Singer, and proceeded to open the floodgates for a lucrative multi-billion dollar flow of financial capital. President Macri then followed up by inviting the Pentagon and US intelligence services to establish military bases, spy stations and training operations along its borders. Equally important, Argentina embraced the US directives designed to overthrow the government of Venezuela, undermine Bolivia’s nationalist government under Evo Morales and pursue a policy of US-centered regional integration.

Argentina: A Client without an Economic Patron

While Argentina is a useful political and military addition to the US empire, it lacks access to the US market — it still depends on China — and has failed to secure a strategic trade agreement with the European Union. Washington has enlarged its military presence with a one-legged client.

Colombia and Mexico, long time US client states, have provided springboards for enlarging US influence in Central America, the Andean region and the Caribbean. In the case of Colombia, the US has financed its war of extermination against anti-imperialist insurgents and their peasant and working class supporters and secured seven military bases as launch pad for Washington’s destabilization campaign against Venezuela.

Mexico has served a multitude of military and economic functions — from billion dollar manufacturing platforms to multi-billion dollar laundering of narco-profits to US banks.

Brazil is the new addition to the empire with the ousting and arrest of the leaders of the Workers Party. The shift in political and economic power has enhanced US influence through its leverage over the wealthiest country in the continent. In sum,the US has enlarged imperial influence and control via its acquisition of Latin America. There is one caveat: At least in the cases of Brazil and Argentina, the US advance is tentative and subject to reversal, as it lacks firm economic and political foundations.

If Latin America reflects an enlargement and upsurge of US imperial influence, the rest of the global map is mostly negative or at best contradictory.

The empire-building mission has failed to gain ground in Northeast Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. In Europe, the US retains influence but it appears to face obstacles to enlarging its presence.

The key to the enlargement or decline of empire revolves around the performance of the US domestic economy.

Imperial Decline: China

The determination of the US in remapping the global empire is most evident in Asia. The most notable shift in US political and economic relations in the region has taken place with China’s displacement of the US as the dominant investment, trading infrastructure building and lending country in the region. Moreover, China has increased its role as the leading exporter to the US, accumulating trade surpluses of hundreds of billions of dollars each year. In 2017, China’s trade surplus reached $375 billion dollars.

Against the relative economic decline of the US, Washington has compensated by widening the scope of its maritime-military presence in the South China Sea, and increased its air and ground forces in South Korea, Japan, Australia, the Philippines and Guam. As to how the bolstering of the US military presence affects the US ‘re-mapping’ of its imperial presence, it depends on the dynamics of the US domestic economy and its ability to retain its existing principal military clients — South Korea, Japan, Australia and the Philippines.  Recent evidence suggest that South Korea shows signs of slipping outside of the US economic and military orbit. Seoul has trade issues with the US ‘protectionist agenda’ and opportunities to expand its trading links with China. Equally important, South Korea has moved toward reconciliation with North Korea, and downgraded the US military escalation. As goes South Korea, so goes the US military power base in northern Asia.

The US military strategy is premised on sustaining and expanding its client network. However, its protectionist policies led to the rejection of a multi-lateral trade agreement, which erodes its economic ties with existing or potential military partners. In contrast to Latin America, the US remaking of the imperial map has led to economic shrinkage and military isolation in Asia. US military escalation has poured even more deadly strategic US arms into the region, but failed to intimidate or isolate China or North Korea.

Re-mapping the Middle East

The US has spent several trillion dollars over the past two decades in the Middle East, North Africa and West Asia. US Intervention from Libya and Southern Sudan, Somalia, across to Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan has resulted in enormous costs and dubious advances. The results are meagre except in terms of suffering. The US has spread chaos and destruction throughout Libya and Syria, but failed to incorporate either into an enlarged empire. The Middle East wars, initiated at the behest of Israel, have rewarded Tel Aviv with a sense of invulnerability and a thirst for more, while multiplying and unifying US adversaries.

Empires are not effectively enlarged through alliances with with armed tribal, sectarian and separatist organizations. Empires, allied with disparate, fractured and self-aggrandizing entities do not expand or strengthen their global powers.

The US has waged war against Libya and lost the political leverage and economic resources it enjoyed during the Gaddafi regime. It intervened in Somalia, South Sudan and Syria, and has gained enclaves of warring self-serving ‘separatists’ and subsidized mercenaries. Afghanistan, the US’ longest war in history, is an unmitigated military disaster. After seventeen years of warfare and occupation, the US is holed up in the walled enclaves of the capital, Kabul. Meanwhile, the puppet regime feeds on multi-billion dollar monthly subsidies.

Iraq is a ‘shared’ imperial outpost — the result of fifteen years of military intervention. Kurdish clients, Sunni-Saudi warlords, Shia militia, Baghdad kleptocrats and US contractor-mercenaries all compete for control and a larger piece of the pillage. Every square meter of contested ‘terrain has cost the US five hundred million dollars and scores of casualties.

Iran remains forever under threat, but retains its independence outside of the US-Saudi-Israeli orbit. The US geo-political map has been reduced to dubious alliance with Saudi Arabia and its micro-clients among the Emirate statelets — which are constantly fighting among themselves — as well as Israel, the ‘client’ that openly revels in leading its patron by the nose!

Compared to the period before the turn of the millennium, the US imperial map has shrunk and faces further retrenchment.

The US-NATO-EU Map

Russia has reduced and challenged the US pursuit of a uni-polar global empire following the recovery of its sovereignty and economic growth after the disaster of the 1990’s. With the ascent of President Putin, the US-EU empire lost their biggest and most lucrative client and source of naked pillage.

Nevertheless, the US retains its political clients in the Baltic , the Balkans and Eastern and Central European regimes. However, these clients are unruly and often eager to confront a nuclear-armed Russia, confident that the US-NATO will intervene, in spite of the probability of being vaporized in a nuclear Armageddon.

Washington’s efforts to recapture and return Russia to vassalage have failed. Out of frustration Washington has resorted to a growing series of failed provocations and conflicts between the US and the EU, within the US between Trump and the Democrats; and among the warlords controlling the Trump cabinet.

Germany has continued lucrative trade ties with Russia, despite US sanctions, underscoring the decline of US power to dictate policy to the European Union. The Democratic Party and the ultra-militaristic Clinton faction remains pathologically nostalgic for a return to the 1990’s Golden Age of Pillage (before Putin). Clinton’s faction is fixated on the politics of revanchism. As a result, they vigorously fought against candidate Donald Trump’s campaign promises to pursue a new realistic understanding with Russia. The Russia-Gate Investigation is not merely a domestic electoral squabble led by hysterical ‘liberals.’ What is a stake is nothing less than a profound conflict over the remaking of the US global map. Trump recognized and accepted the re-emergence of Russia as a global power to be ‘contained’, while the Democrats campaigned to roll-back reality, overthrow Putin and return to the robber baron orgies of the Clinton years.  As a result of this ongoing strategic conflict, Washington is unable to develop a coherent global strategy, which in turn has further weakened US influence in the EU in Europe and elsewhere.

Nevertheless, the intense Democratic onslaught against Trump’s initial foreign policy pronouncements regarding Russia succeeded in destroying his ‘pivot to realism’ and facilitated the rise of a fanatical militaristic faction within his cabinet, which have intensified the anti-Russia policies of the Clintonite Democrats. In less than a year, all of Trump’s realist advisers and cabinet members have been purged and replaced by militarists. Their hard core confrontational anti-Russia policy has become the platform for launching a global military strategy based on vast increases in military spending, demands that the EU nations increase their military budgets, and open opposition to an EU-centered military alliance, such as the one recently proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron.

Despite President Trump’s campaign promises to ‘pull-back’, the US has re-entered Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria in a big way. The Trump shift from global containment and realism to ‘rollback and aggression’ against Russia and China has failed to secure a positive response from past and present allies.

China has increased economic ties with the EU. Russia and the EU share strategic gas and oil trade ties. Domestically, the US military budget deepens the fiscal deficit and drastically threatens social spending. This creates a scenario of increasing US isolation with its futile aggression against a dynamic and changing world.

Conclusion

The Trump remaking of the global empire has had uneven results, which are mostly negative from a strategic viewpoint.

The circumstances leading to new clients in Latin America is significant but has been more than countered by retreats in Asia, divisions in Europe, turmoil domestically and strategic incoherence.

Remaking global empires requires realism — the recognition of new power alignments, accommodation with allies and, above all, domestic political stability balancing economic interests and military commitments.

The key shift from realism toward a recovered Russia to militarization and confrontation has precipitated the breakdown of the US as a unified coherent leader of a global empire.

The US embraces prolonged losing wars in peripheral regions while embracing destructive trade wars in strategic regions. It budgeted vast sums on non-productive activities while impoverishing state and local governments via sweeping tax ‘reform’ favoring the oligarchs.

Global remapping now involves a volatile and impulsive US-driven empire incapable of succeeding, while emerging powers are immersed in regional power grabs.

There is no longer a coherent imperial empire controlling the fate of the globe. We live in a world of political maps centered on regional powers and unruly clients, while the most incompetent, gossip-mongering politicians in Washington compete with an arrogant, benighted President Trump and his fractured regime.

Feb 172018
 

By Gürkan Özturan, 99GetSmart

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February 16, 2018 has been a day of judicial upheaval in the Turkish courts. In several cases that have been heard at different courts today, the indictment of an imprisoned journalist was accepted and then, he was released from prison. Other journalists have received aggravated life sentences, the wrong suspect was brought to court and accused of murdering a student, and finally, a member of parliament was accused of aiding a terrorist organization and for cooperating with journalists in revealing arms deployed to fighting parties in Syria. In addition, a secret witness’ testimony disappeared from the courthouse and finally, a photographer who was released from prison only days ago was requested to be arrested again. This all happened in the same day.

 

INDICTMENT ACCEPTED & RELEASED FROM PRISON

Journalist Deniz Yücel, who has been in prison for over a year in Turkey’s notorious Silivri Prison, had previously announced that he would not want to be a bargaining chip on negotiation table between Germany and Turkey. Yesterday, after German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım, journalist Yücel has been freed. The news of his release was announced simultaneously with the acceptance of an indictment foreseeing an 18 year prison sentence. State owned Anadolu News Agency published the news of the indictment being accepted alongside journalist Yücel’s release from Silivri Prison, however, the news report did not mention the accusations against journalist Yücel.

LIFE SENTENCE FOR JOURNALISTS

Two other imprisoned journalists Ahmet and Mehmet Altan, brothers, about whom release decisions were given by the Constitutional Court as their “personal liberties and freedom of press and expression” have been violated through unjust imprisonment, have been given aggravated life sentences today, alongside 4 others tried in the same case. The case of the Altan brothers had been controversial as the indictment did not accuse them of solid crimes but suspicions. The Constitutional Court ruled that this is violation of their personal liberties, freedom of press and freedom of expression. However, a lower court overruled the Constitutional Court decision. Finally, the 26 Aggravated Felony Court of Istanbul has given the verdict that the journalists have attempted to disturb constitutional order, sentencing them to aggravated life imprisonment, which had replaced the death penalty in 2002.

WRONG SUSPECT AT COURT

Another court case that had a hearing today was about the murder of high school student Helin Palandöken. 17 year old student, Helin Palandöken, was shot to death with a shotgun when she came out of school by her stalker -Mustafa Yetgin- who had been threatening her. On the day of the murder, Yetgin had sent messages to Palandöken telling her to “come get her presents” and later a box was found in the suspect’s car containing rope and knives. Today, at the hearing of her trial, instead of an appearance by the prime suspect, Mustafa Yetgin, who was witnessed shooting Helin Palandöken by her classmates, another convict, Mehmet Yetkin, has been brought to court, causing absurdity in the courthouse. The hearing could not proceed due to the wrong suspect being brought to court and the hearing was postponed to a future date.

COOPERATING WITH TERROR ORGANISATION WITHOUT MEMBERSHIP

Main opposition Republican People’s Party CHP’s deputy for Istanbul, Enis Berberoğlu, has been imprisoned for charges of aiding a terrorist organisation without being a member. The accusation emerges from Berberoğlu aiding journalists Can Dündar and Erdem Gül of Cumhuriyet Daily in the case that revealed Turkish National Intelligence Organization MIT’s trucks deploying arms to fighting parties in Syria on May 29, 2015. Journalist, Can Dündar, was given 5 years 10 months and Erdem Gül, a 5 years prison sentence for “revealing documents that should have been kept as state secrets” and for publishing the documents. After the release of the journalists, MP Berberoğlu was accused of espionage for revealing the documents to journalists and sentenced to 25 years on June 14, 2017.

SECRET WITNESS TESTIMONY LOST IN THE COURT

A court case against the Peoples’ Democratic Party, HDP’s imprisoned former co-chair, Selahattin Demirtaş, was based on a secret witness testimony. An indictment called for 142 years in prison for the political leader. ‘Mercek’, the secret witness whose testimony was referred to in the indictment, supposedly given in 2009, has not been found in the trial folder. The trial has been postponed until April 11, 2018. HDP’s former co-chair, Selahattin Demirtaş, is currently in Edirne Prison.

RE-ARREST REQUEST FOR RELEASED PHOTOGRAPHER

Photographer Çağdaş Erdoğan, who had been arrested for membership to a terrorist organisation while taking photos around Fenerbahçe football stadium in Istanbul’s Kadıköy, was accused of taking photos of a secret National Intelligence Organization building. Erdoğan was taken into custody on September 2, 2017 and arrested at the court after a 12 day detention period. On February 13, 2018, the photographer had been released from prison, and public prosecutor in Istanbul has objected to his release, demanding re-arrest of the photographer.

Feb 142018
 

By Gürkan Özturan, 99GetSmart

Diren Coşkun has been on hunger strike since January 25

Diren Coşkun has been on hunger strike since January 25

On day 20 of trans LGBTI+ activist Diren Coşkun’s “indefinite hunger strike”, her friend and one of the organisers of Istanbul Pride Irmak Keskin had started a 3-day hunger strike and taken an oath of silence. Today is the second day of strike, and the interview conducted with her prior to her starting the strike (on February 12, 2018) is today published on dokuz8NEWS. In order not to divert attention from Diren Coşkun, Irmak Keskin has requested her images not to be shown, but instead images and illustration featuring Diren.

 

Can you please introduce yourself ?
Irmak is a plain person who has participated in various rights-struggles over the years. A simple person who has joined in a solidarity action for the primary subject, Diren.

What was your motivation in starting a 3-day hunger strike and taking an oath of silence?


Diren Coşkun

Diren is not the only trans-inmate in prisons. What she is going through is experienced by many LGBTI+ and vegan prisoners. In fact her resistance and outcry might seem about herself but the earnings of this struggle will open new doors for many prisoners. While there are other options outside the bars and starting hunger strike is a debatable action, but the news we receive of Diren point to her feeling forsaken. For that reason the methods and practicalities can be debatable yet this is a way of showing her that she is not alone nor forsaken. This action in truth is not just for Diren either. She is just one person who suffers this violence and the outcry holds multiple people within.

What is oath of silence? What caused you to take it?
Oath of silence is a passive resistance. It is a way of silent, non-reactive and tacit action against those staying listless seeing Diren. Homo-Sapiens’ survival possibility increases as long as they stick together; and can co-exist through communication. Especially in the modern & post-modern world, where a person feels connected to everyone and have possibility of communication with all, and when “unconnectedness” is cause for panic, it feels like standing still quietly in silence in front of the people is the best kind of answer. My oath of silence also covers all kinds of written and verbal communication, sign language and other methods of interaction.

What impact do you expect your action to have?
None of us think this process is going to cause miracles immediately, but we do expect Diren’s basic needs to be considered and answered to begin with, through raising more voices and spreading reactions in society.

What would you add as a final remark?
I wish for a process that will increase and expand the level of hope for all of us, with many earnings.

*This interview has been conducted the day before Irmak Keskin started her 3-day hunger strike and took oath of silence, on February 12, 2018.

Feb 132018
 

By Gürkan Özturan, 99GetSmart

Diren Coşkun, imprisoned trans LGBTI+ activist

Diren Coşkun, imprisoned trans LGBTI+ activist

Imprisoned trans LGBTI+ activist Diren Coşkun’s friends have started joining in hunger strike in order for Diren to be granted basic demands regarding treatment in prison. On day 20 of Diren Coşkun’s “hunger strike till death” and day 8 of Kıvılcım Arat’s hunger strike, Irmak Keskin has also joined in for a 3 day hunger strike.

Trans LGBTI+ activist Diren Coşkun had been arrested due to conclusive prison sentence for a court case that accused her of “membership to terror organisation” and “propagating terror” on August 14, 2017 at the Diyarbakır Courthouse, where she had gone for a bureaucratic procedure and got detained at random ID controls.

SOLITARY CONFINEMENT FOR TRANS INMATE DİREN COŞKUN


Diren Coşkun

Diren Coşkun’s LGBTI+ organisation Keskesor had announced that as she refused to be put in the men’s prison, she had been kept in solitary confinement cell in Diyarbakır T Type Prison. Moreover, Keskesor had also announced that while Diren had been harassed by gendarme soldiers on her way to prison, the prison guards had treated her kindly and addressed her as Ms. Diren, her name of choice, and not the one on her male-ID card.

HUNGER STRIKE FOR VEGAN DIET, SURGERY AND AGAINST SOLITARY CONFINEMENT

Later when Diren was transferred to Tekirdağ Prison, she was placed in a single cell which is called “coffin-room” among inmates, her friend Kıvılcım Arat announced on January 30, 2018. Arat also added that due to denial of basic demands such as release from solitary confinement, removal of blocking an approved surgery and being allowed vegan-diet in prison, Diren Coşkun had started “hunger strike till death” as of January 25th.

DIREN’S FRIENDS ALSO JOINED THE HUNGER STRIKE

On day 12 of Diren Coşkun’s hunger strike, her friend Kıvılcım Arat who is also a spokesperson for LGBTI+ movement in Istanbul, has announced that she is also starting hunger strike in support & solidarity of her imprisoned friend. Arat has announced “as long as we tolerate a life slipping away before us, we will be responsible for death” and called for extensive solidarity for meeting Diren’s demands.


Kıvılcım Arat / LGBTI+ Istanbul Spokesperson

These demands are not so big as to harm the political authority or undermine the government. She is vegan and is being denied a proper diet. For months, she was given only boiled potatoes and tomatoes. Diren is calling for a basic and humane demand. I only want people to show some sympathy. Has anyone ever starved for 15 days just to see a doctor? All should consider that. When someone goes to get a medical examination they get exhausted, and there is a person who has been starving herself to death for 15 days, just to get treatment.

HUNGER STRIKE & OATH OF SILENCE

Irmak Keskin, one of the organizers of Istanbul Pride has announced that on February 13, she would also start a 3-day solidarity “hunger strike in silence” to draw attention to Diren’s demands. On her social media profiles, Irmak Keskin announced “against all odds and all those remaining in silence towards this, I will renounce my existence in a way and I will take an oath of silence and have no written or verbal communication throughout my 3-day hunger strike.” Keskin also reiterated that her strike is to not only draw attention to basic needs and demands of Diren Coşkun, but also to raise awareness regarding all LGBTI+ inmates that are being treated inhumanely in prisons.

HUMAN RIGHTS ASSOCIATION CLOSELY MONITORS DIREN

Long term human rights defender, former chairperson of Human Rights Association Istanbul Branch, Eren Keskin has visited Diren Coşkun in prison and stated that she had started hunger strike as a final resort, as she has been denied her basic demands and even her right to be transferred to an open-prison. Lawyer Keskin quotes Diren saying “I do not trust this system, I have lost all faith in the system and thus started a hunger strike till death.” Lawyer Keskin also adds that Diren has been utterly disturbed by male prison guards searching her, especially when they touch her.

Lawyer Keskin also notes that she has tried to convince Diren against starting such a hunger strike, yet Diren continues living on water and sugar only. Lawyer Keskin observes Diren’s condition being psychologically and physically weakened but dedicated, wishing to see social solidarity. Lawyer Keskin finally notes that Human Rights Association’s Commission against Racism & Discrimination will closely monitor Diren’s condition.

Feb 102018
 

By William Blum, 99GetSmart

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The people who created Facebook and Google must be smart. They’re billionaires, their companies are worth multi-multi billions, their programs are used by billions around the world.

But all these smart people, because of Congressional pressure, have swallowed the stories about “fake news”. Facebook hired a very large staff of people to read everything posted by users to weed out the fake stuff. That didn’t last too long at all before the company announced that it wasn’t “comfortable” deciding which news sources are the most trustworthy in a “world with so much division”. We all could have told them that, couldn’t we?

Facebook’s previous efforts to ask its users to determine the accuracy of news did not turn out any better. Last year, the company launched a feature that allowed users to flag news stories they felt were inaccurate. The experiment was shuttered after nine months.

Author William Blum (right)

“Fake news”, however, is not the problem. News found in the mainstream media is rarely fake; i.e., actual lies made from whole cloth, totally manufactured. This was, however, a common practice of the CIA during the first Cold War. The Agency wrote editorials and phoney news stories to be knowingly published by Latin American media with no indication of CIA authorship or CIA payment to the particular media. The propaganda value of such a “news” items might be multiplied by being picked up by other CIA stations in Latin America who would disseminate it through a CIA-owned news agency or a CIA-owned radio station. Some of these stories made their way back to the United States to be read or heard by unknowing North Americans. 1

Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction” in 2003 is another valid example of “fake news”, but like the CIA material this was more a government invention than a media creation.

The main problem with the media today, as earlier, is what is left out of articles dealing with controversial issues. For example, the very common practice during the first Cold War of condemning the Soviet Union for taking over much of Eastern Europe after the Second World War. This takeover is certainly based on fact. But the condemnation is very much misapplied if no mention is made of the fact that Eastern Europe became communist because Hitler, with the approval of the West, used it as a highway to reach the Soviet Union to wipe out Bolshevism once and for all; the Russians in World Wars I and II lost about 40 million people because the West had twice used this highway to invade Russia. It should not be surprising that after World War II the Soviets were determined to close down the highway. It was not simply “communist expansion”.

Or the case of Moammar Gaddafi. In the Western media he is invariably referred to as “the Libyan dictator”. Period. And he certainly was a dictator. But he also did many marvelous things for the people of Libya (like the highest standard of living in Africa) and for the continent of Africa (like creating the African Union).

Or the case of Vladimir Putin. The Western media never tires of reminding its audience that Putin was once a KGB lieutenant colonel – wink, wink, we all know what that means, chuckle, chuckle. But do they ever remind us with a wink or chuckle that US President George H.W. Bush was once – not merely a CIA officer, but the fucking Director of the CIA!

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg now says:

“We decided that having the community determine which sources are broadly trusted would be most objective”; “broadly trusted” sources being those that are “affirmed by a significant cross-section of users”.

Right, a significant cross-section of users – Will that include me? Highly unlikely. Broadly trusted sources – Will that include media like my Anti-Empire Report? Just as unlikely. Anything close? Maybe a single token leftist website amongst a large list, I’d guess. And a single token rightist website. Zuckerberg and his ilk probably think that the likes of NBC, NPR and CNN are very objective and are to be trusted when it comes to US foreign-policy issues or capitalism-vs-socialism issues.

On January 19 Google announced that it would cancel a two-month old experiment, called Knowledge Panel, that informed its users that a news article had been disputed by “independent fact-checking organizations”. Conservatives had complained that the feature unfairly targeted a right-leaning outlet.

Imagine that. It’s almost like people have political biases. Both Facebook and Google are still experimenting, trying to find a solution that I do not think exists. My solution is to leave it as it is. There’s no automated way to remove bias or slant or judgment from writing or from those persons assigned to evaluate such. 2

Fake news by omission – the Haiti example

“I’m happy to have a president that will bluntly speak the truth in negotiations,” Eric Prince commented on Breitbart News. “If the president says some places are shitholes, he’s accurate.” 3

Thus did Mr. Eric Prince pay homage to Mr. Donald Trump. Prince of course being the renowned founder of Blackwater, the private army which in September 2007 opened fire in a crowded square in Baghdad, killing 17 Iraqi civilians and seriously wounding 20 more. 4

Speaking of Haiti and other “shitholes”, Prince declared:

“It’s a sad characterization of many of these places. It’s not based on race. It has nothing to do with race. It has to do with corrupt incompetent governments that abuse their citizens, and that results in completely absent infrastructure to include open sewers, and unclean water, and crime. It’s everything we don’t want in America.”

Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide

Like the US media, Prince failed to point out that on two occasions in the recent past when Haiti had a decent government, led by Jean-Bertrand Aristide, which was motivated to improve conditions, the United States was instrumental in nullifying its effect. This was in addition to fully supporting the Duvalier dictatorship for nearly 30 years prior to Aristide.

Aristide, a reformist priest, was elected to the presidency in 1991 but was ousted eight months later in a military coup. The 1993 Clinton White House thus found itself in the awkward position of having to pretend – because of all their rhetoric about “democracy” – that they supported the democratically-elected Aristide’s return to power from his exile in he US. After delaying his return for more than two years, Washington finally had its military restore Aristide to office, but only after obliging the priest to guarantee that he would not help the poor at the expense of the rich – literally! – and that he would stick closely to free-market economics. This meant that Haiti would continue to be the assembly plant of the Western Hemisphere, with its workers receiving starvation wages, literally! If Aristide had thoughts about breaking the agreement forced upon him, he had only to look out his window – US troops were stationed in Haiti for the remainder of his term.

In 2004, with Aristide once again the elected president, the United States staged one of its most blatant coups ever. On February 28, 2004, American military and diplomatic personnel arrived at Aristide’s home to inform him that his private American security agents must either leave immediately to return to the US or fight and die; that the remaining 25 of the American security agents hired by the Haitian government, who were to arrive the next day, had been blocked by the United States from coming; that foreign and Haitian rebels were nearby, heavily armed, determined and ready to kill thousands of people in a bloodbath. Aristide was pressured to sign a “letter of resignation” before he was flown into exile by the United States.

And then US Secretary of State Colin Powell, in the sincerest voice he could muster, told the world that Aristide “was not kidnaped. We did not force him onto the airplane. He went onto the airplane willingly. And that’s the truth.” Powell sounded as sincere as he had sounded a year earlier when he gave the UN a detailed (albeit imaginary) inventory of the chemical, biological and nuclear weapons in Iraq, shortly before the US invasion.

Jean-Bertrand Aristide was on record, by word and deed, as not being a great lover of globalization or capitalism. This was not the kind of man the imperial mafia wanted in charge of the Western Hemisphere’s assembly plant. It was only a matter of time before they took action. 5

It should be noted that the United States also kept progressives out of power in El Salvador, another of Trump’s “shithole” countries. 6

Liberals today

On January 24 I went to the Washington, DC bookstore Politics & Prose to hear David Cay Johnston, author of “It’s Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America”. To my surprise he repeatedly said negative things about Russia, and in the Q&A session I politely asked him about this. He did not take kindly to that and after a very brief exchange cut me off by asking for the next person in line to ask a question.

That was the end of our exchange. No one in the large audience came to my defense or followed up with a question in the same vein; i.e., the author as cold warrior. The only person who spoke to me afterwards had only this to say as he passed me by: “Putin kills people”. Putin had not been mentioned. I should have asked him: “Which government never kills anyone?”

Politics & Prose is a very liberal bookstore. (Amongst many authors of the left, I’ve spoken there twice.) Its patrons are largely liberal. But liberals these days are largely cold warriors it appears. Even though the great majority of them can’t stand Trump they have swallowed the anti-Russia line of his administration and the media, perhaps because of the belief that “Russian meddling” in the election led to dear Hillary’s defeat, the proof of which sees more non-existent with each passing day.

Sam Smith (who puts out the Progressive Review in Maine) has written about Hillary’s husband:

“A major decline of progressive America occurred during the Clinton years as many liberals and their organizations accepted the presence of a Democratic president as an adequate substitute for the things liberals once believed in. Liberalism and a social democratic spirit painfully grown over the previous 60 years withered during the Clinton administration.”

And shortly afterward came Barack Obama, not only a Democrat but an African-American, the perfect setup for a lot more withering, health care being a good example. The single-payer movement was regularly gaining momentum when Obama took office; it seemed like America was finally going to join the modern advanced world. But Mr. O put a definitive end to that. Profit – even of the type Mr. Trump idealizes – would still determine who is to live and who is to die, just like Jews intone during Rosh Hashanah.

Poor America. It can travel to other planets, create a military force powerful enough to conquer the world ten times over, invent the Internet and a thousand other things … but it can’t provide medical care for all its people.

Now, three of the richest men in the world, the heads of Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JP Morgan Chase, which collectively employ more than a million people, have announced they are partnering to create an independent company aimed at reining in ever-increasing health-care costs for companies and employees alike. The three men will pursue this objective through a company whose initial focus will be on technology solutions that will provide US employees and their families with simplified, high-quality and transparent healthcare at a reasonable cost. Almost no details were made available on how they plan to do this, but I predict that whatever they do will fail. They have lots of models to emulate – in Canada, Europe, Cuba and elsewhere – but to an American nostril these examples all suffer from the same unpleasant odor, the smell of socialism.

I say this even though their announcement states that the new company will be “free from profit-making incentives and constraints”. 7 And Warren Buffet, head of Berkshire Hathaway, is cited on CNN as follows:

“Warren Buffett says America is ready for single-payer health care. The billionaire investor tells PBS NewsHour that government-run health insurance ‘probably is the best system’ because it would control escalating costs. ‘We are such a rich country. In a sense, we can afford to do it.’” 8

Of course the US could have afforded to do it 50 years ago. I really hope that my cynicism is misplaced.

The Trump Bubble. (Written before the market crashed)

Repeatedly, President Trump and his supporters have bragged about the “booming” stock market, attributing it to the administration’s marvelous economic policies and the great public confidence in those policies. Like much of what comes out of the Donald’s mouth … this is simply nonsense.

The stock market is, and always has been, just a gambling casino, a glorified Las Vegas. Every day a bunch of people, (gamblers) buy and/or sell one stock or another; sometimes they sell the same stock they bought the day before; or the hour before; or the minute before; the next day they may well do the exact reverse. All depending on the latest news headline, or what a corporation has done to elicit attention, or what a friend just told them, or a fortune teller, or that day’s horoscope, or just a good ol’ hunch. Or they make up a reason; anything to avoid thinking that they’re just pulling the lever of a slot machine.

And many people buy certain stocks because other people are buying it. This is what stock market analysts call a speculative bubble. Prick the confidence and the bubble bursts.

“The stock market,” Naomi Klein has observed, “has the temperament of an overindulged 2-year-old, who can throw one of its world-shaking tantrums.”

Walter Winchell, the 1960-70s powerful and widely-syndicated gossip columnist of the New York Daily News, famously wrote that he lost his faith in the stock market when he saw that a stock could jump sharply in price simply because he happened to mention something related to the company in his column.

And all this occurs even when the stock market is operating in the supposedly honest way it was designed to operate. What are we to make of it when sophisticated investors devise a computer scam for instantaneous buying and selling, as has happened several times in recent years?

Yet President Trump and his fans would have us believe that the big jump in stock prices of the past year is testimony to his sterling leadership and oh-so-wise policies. What will they say when the market crashes? As Trump himself will crash.

Driverless police cars

Yes, that’s what they’re thinking of next. Among other things these cars will be able to catch speeders and issue tickets. But here’s the real test of the system’s Artificial Intelligence – Can the police car be taught how to recognize a young black man, drive to within a few feet of him, and fire a gun at his head?

*

This article was originally published by The Anti-Empire Report.

Notes

1. Philip Agee, Inside the Company: CIA Diary, published in 1974

2. Washington Post, January 19, 20, 23, 25, 2018

3. Breitbart News radio program, January 12, 2018

4. Wikipedia entry for Eric Prince

5. William Blum, Killing Hope, chapters 22 and 55; Rogue State, pp. 202-3, 219-20

6. Killing Hope, chapter 54

7. Business Wire, January 30, 2018

8. CNNMoney, June 28, 2017

Feb 102018
 

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

nn_kod_fisa_memo_political_fallout_180203_1920x1080.nbcnews-ux-1080-600

Few government organizations have been engaged in violation of the US citizens’ constitutional rights for as long a time and against as many individuals as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Seldom has there been greater collusion in the perpetration of crimes against civil liberties, electoral freedom and free and lawful expression as what has taken place between the FBI and the US Justice Department.

In the past, the FBI and Justice Department secured the enthusiastic support and public acclaim from the conservative members of the US Congress, members of the judiciary at all levels and the mass media. The leading liberal voices, public figures, educators, intellectuals and progressive dissenters opposing the FBI and their witch-hunting tactics were all from the left. Today, the right and the left have changed places: The most powerful voices endorsing the FBI and the Justice Department’s fabrications, and abuse of constitutional rights are on the left, the liberal wing of the Democratic Party and famous liberal media corporations and public opinion makers.

The recently published Congressional memo, authored by Congressman Devin Nunes, provides ample proof that the FBI spied on Trump campaign workers with the intent to undermine the Republican candidate and sabotage his bid for the presidency. Private sector investigators, hired by Trump’s rival Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee, worked with pro-Clinton operatives within the FBI and Justice Department to violate the national electoral process while flouting rules governing wiretaps on US citizens. This was done with the approval of the sitting Democratic President Barack Obama.

The liberals and Democrats and their allies in the FBI, political police and other elements of the security state apparatus were deeply involved in an attempt to implicate Russian government officials in a plot to manipulate US public opinion on Trump’s behalf and corrupt the outcome of the election. However, the FBI, the Justice Department and Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller have produced no evidence of collusion linking the Russian government to a campaign to undermine Hillary Clinton’s candidacy in favor of Trump. This is despite thousands of interviews and threats of long prison sentences against former Trump campaign advisers. Instead, they focus their attack on Trump’s early campaign promise to find common ground in improving economic and diplomatic ties between the US and Russia, especially in confronting jihadi terrorists.

The liberal-progressive FBI cohort turned into rabid Russia-bashers demanding that Trump take a highly aggressive stance against Moscow, while systematically eliminating his military and security advisors who expressed anti-confrontation sentiments. In the spirit of a Joe McCarthy, the liberal-left launched hysterical attacks on any and every Trump campaign adviser who had spoken to, dined with or exchanged eyebrows with any and all Russians!

The conversion of liberalism to the pursuit of political purges is unprecedented. Their collective amnesia about the long-term, large-scale involvement by the FBI in the worst criminal violations of democratic values is reprehensible. The FBI’s anti-communist crusade led to the purge of thousands of trade unionists from the mid-1940’s onward, decimating the AFL-CIO. They blacklisted actors, screen writers, artists, teachers, university academics, researchers, scientists, journalists and civil rights leaders as part of their sweeping purge of civil society.

The FBI investigated the private lives of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, even threatening their family members. They illegally spied on and infiltrated civil liberties organizations, and used provocateurs and spies in anti-war groups. Individuals lives were destroyed, some were driven to suicide; important popular American organizations were undermined to the detriment of millions. This has been its focus since its beginning and continues with the current fabrication of anti-Russian propaganda and investigations.

President Trump: Victim and Executor

President Trump has pursued an agenda mirroring the police state operations of the FBI – only on a global scale. Trump’s violation of international law includes collaboration and support for Saudi Arabia’s tyrannical invasion and destruction of the sovereign nation of Yemen; intensified aid and support for Israel’s ethnic war against the Palestinian people; severe sanctions and threatened nuclear first-strike against North Korea (DPRK); increased deployment of US special forces in collaboration with the jihadi terrorist war to overthrow the legitimate government of Syria; coup-mongering, sabotage, sanctions and economic blockade of Venezuela; NATO missile and nuclear encirclement of Russia; and the growing naval threats against China.

Domestically, Trump’s response to the FBI’s blackmail has been to replace the original political leadership with his own version; to expand and increase the police state powers against immigrants; to increase the powers of the major tech companies to police and intensify work-place exploitation and the invasion of citizens’ privacy; to expand the unleash the power of state agents to torture suspects and to saturate all public events, celebrations and activities with open displays of jingoism and militarism with the goal of creating pro-war public opinion.

In a word: From the right to the left there are no political options to choose from among the two ruling political parties. Popular political movements and mass demonstrations have risen up against Trump with clear justification, but have since dissolved and been absorbed. They came together from diverse sectors: Women against sexual abuse and workplace humiliation; African-Americans against police impunity and violence; and immigrants against mass expulsion and harassment. They staged mass demonstrations and then declined as their ‘anti-Trump’ animus was frustrated by the liberal-democrats hell-bent on pursuing the Russian connection.

In the face of the national-political debacle local and regional movements became the vehicle to support the struggles. Women organized at some workplaces and gained better protection of their rights; African-Americans vividly documented and published video evidence of the systematic brutal violation of their rights by the police state and effectively acted to restrain local police violence in a few localities; immigrant workers and especially their children gained broad public sympathy and allies within religious and political organizations; and anti-Trump movements combined with critics of the liberal/democrat apparatus to build broader movements and especially oppose growing war-fever.

Abroad, bi-partisan wars have failed to defeat independent state and mass popular resistance struggles for national sovereignty everywhere – from North Korea, Iran, Yemen, Syria, and Venezuela and beyond.

Even the fight within the two-headed reactionary party of the US oligarchy has had a positive effect. Each side is hell-bent on exposing the state-sponsored crimes of the other. In an unprecedented and historic sense, the US and world public is witness to the spies, lies and crimes of the leadership and elite on prime time and on the wide screen. We head in two directions. In one direction, there are the threats of nuclear war, economic collapse, environmental disasters and a full blown police state. In the other direction, there is the demise of empire, a revived and renewed civil society rooted in a participatory economy and a renewed moral order.

Feb 092018
 

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

Number_of_People_Victimized_Each_Year 122016

The public denunciation by thousands of women and a few men that they had been victims of sexual abuse by their economic bosses raises fundamental issues about the social relations of American capitalism.

The moral offenses are in essence economic and social crimes. Sexual abuse is only one aspect of the social dynamics facilitating the increase in inequality and concentration of wealth, which define the practices and values of the American political and economic system.

Billionaires and mega-millionaires are themselves the products of intense exploitation of tens of millions of isolated and unorganized wage and salaried workers. Capitalist exploitation is based on a rigid hierarchy with its private prerogatives, which enables the oligarchs to demand their feudal privileges, their seigniorial sexual predations.

US capitalism thrives on and requires unlimited power and the capacity to have the public treasury pay for its untrammeled pillage of land, labor, transport systems and technological development. Capitalist power, in the United States, has no counterpart; there are few if any countervailing forces to provide any balance.

Today, 93% of US private sector workers have no organized representation. Moreover, many of the 7% who are in unions are controlled and exploited by their corrupt union officials – in league with the bosses.

This concentration of power produces the ever deepening inequalities between the world of the billionaires and the millions of low-wage workers.

The much-celebrated technological innovations have been subsidized by the state and its educational and research institutions. Although these are financed by the tax-payers, the citizen-workers are marginalized by the technological changes, like robotics, that they originally funded. High tech innovations flourish because they concentrate power, profits and private privilege.

The hierarchical matrix of power and exploitation has led to the polarization of mortality rates and moral codes. For the working poor, the absence of competent health care has led to the massive use and abuse of prescription opioids and other addictive drugs. For the upper class, it has led to the flagrant physical and psychological abuse of vulnerable employees, especially, but not exclusively young working women. The prestigious bourgeois media blur the class polarization by constant reference to what they term ‘our shared traditional democratic values.’

The pervasive and growing vulnerability of workers of both sexes coincides with the incorporation of the latest technological innovations in production, distribution and promotion. This includes electronic and digital advances, artificial intelligence, robotics and extensive surveillance on workers, which incorporate high profits for the investors and long hours of demeaning monotonous work for those who manufacture and transport the ‘products’.

The proliferation of new technology has grown in direct relation with the abject debasement of labor and the marginalization and trivialization of workers. Amazon and Walmart approach trillions of dollars in revenue from mass consumption, even as the Chaplinesque speed-up of robotized humans race to fill the overnight delivery orders. The entertainment industry amuses the population across class lines with increasingly vulgar and violent offerings, while the moguls of film entertain themselves with their young workers – who are depersonalized and even raped.

The more egregious immorality exposes itself one time too often and is condemned, while the victims are temporality lionized for their courage to protest. The worst predators apologize, resign to their yachts and mansions and are replaced by new avatars with the same power and structures in place which had facilitated the abuse. Politicians rush to embrace the victims in a kind of political and media ‘Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy’ when one considers their own role as enablers of this dehumanization.

The problem is not merely corrupt and perverted individual miscreants: It is the hierarchy of inequality which produces and reproduces an endless supply of vulnerable workers to exploit and abuse.

The most advanced forms of entertainment thrive in an environment of absolute impunity in which the occasional exposé of abuse or corruption is hidden behind a monetary settlement. The courage of an individual victim able to secure public attention is a step forward, but will have greater significance if it is organized and linked to a massive challenging of the power of the bourgeois entertainment industry and the system of high tech exploitation. Sexual abuse of an individual in the workplace is just part of a chain that begins with exploitation of workers in general and can only be stopped through collective worker organization.

Can anyone say with a straight face that the US remains a nation of free and autonomous citizens? Servitude and moral degradation are the outcome of an atomized, impotent laboring class who may change one boss for another or one vulgar president for a moralizing hypocrite. We hope that the exposés will start something but without class conscious organizations we don’t know what will arise.

Feb 082018
 

By Gürkan Özturan, 99GetSmart

Hrant Dink Commemoration, January 19, AGOS

Hrant Dink Commemoration, January 19, AGOS

Armenian-Turkish journalist, founder and chief editor of AGOS, Hrant Dink had been murdered 11 years ago, on January 19, 2007. There is an ongoing struggle to get the instigators to answer to justice. However, in the last 11 years, press freedom in Turkey has been suffering a systematic decline. Currently Turkey is still the country with most number of journalists in prison, numerous media organisations have been shut down, and thousands of journalists are disemployed, while even social media activities are considered within the framework of terror crimes.

“Justice for Hrant” initiative has been intertwined with calls for press freedom and free expression in Turkey over the past decade. Director İmre Azem has followed the commemoration for Hrant Dink on its 11th anniversary, and followed the traces of press freedom in Turkey for dokuz8NEWS.

AGOS Chief Editor, Yetvart Danzikyan 

“Hrant Dink is definitely not the first journalist murdered. Uğur Mumcu, Çetin Emeç, Abdi İpekçi and such names have also been murdered. Hrant Dink’s case is different in following aspect; the other names I have just mentioned always make us consider that a faction within the state might be involved. When we look at the 11 years of this case and the hearings, we see that all factions of the state have been involved in Hrant Dink murder. For that reason, Hrant’s murder as an Armenian journalist, an Armenian intellectual says a lot about the dark pages of this country’s history. And regarding journalism… There are still journalists in prison, on trial. Some had to flee from the country.”

Journalist Tunca Öğreten

(Stayed in prison for 323 days, for writing news report on the leaked e-mails of Minister of Energy, Berat Albayrak. Öğreten still has 23 ongoing trials against him.)

“Previously they used to murder journalists to neutralise them. They made them unable to write. They used to scare others by killing journalists. Now the methods seem to have changed. In what I like to call the second generation now, they are imprisoning journalists and writers to get them unable to write news, declare their opinion.”

Academic, Yaman Akdeniz

“Journalists are laid off due to pressure. Especially accusations are being directed at journalists with reference to ‘membership to terror organisation’ or ‘propagating terrorism’. Or any article on the President might be considered as ‘insult to President’ and the writer gets detained, arrested, persecuted. When you write on social media, your Twitter account might be blocked. When you write on online news platforms such as Diken, your page can be blocked. Or when you write on Kurdish or critical news platforms, or on Sendika.org for example, your website might be blocked for 62 consecutive times. Social media users should also be added to this. One of the most significant aspects of this is the internet trolls who are threatening journalists, especially female journalists. There are threats of rape or death.

Over 120.000 websites blocked!

Law numbered 5651 which regulates publications online, has caused blocking access to more than 120.000 websites; over 100.000 news and social media accounts are also blocked. [Source: Yaman Akdeniz]

Investigation started into 1.138 social media accounts in a week

Ministry of Interior announced that on the third week of January between 11-22 January, an investigation has been run covering 1.138 social media accounts and 364 people have been subjected to legal processes.

122 journalists have welcomed new year in prison

Independent Communications Network Media Monitor 2018 report stated that 122 journalists have welcomed the new year in prison. The report also states that under the State of Emergency Rule, nearly 200 media organisations have been shut down with emergency decrees.

There are still thousands of journalists trying to operate under severe conditions despite censorship, pressure and threats.

Production+editing: İmre Azem / dokuz8NEWS

Feb 042018
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews

Members of the Communist Party-affiliated labor union shout slogans during a rally in Athens, Monday, Jan. 15, 2018. Greek lawmakers, eying the end of eight years of bailout programs, approved more painful austerity measures late Monday, as strikes and mass protests brought much of Athens to a standstill. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Members of the Communist Party-affiliated labor union shout slogans during a rally in Athens, Monday, Jan. 15, 2018. Greek lawmakers, eying the end of eight years of bailout programs, approved more painful austerity measures late Monday, as strikes and mass protests brought much of Athens to a standstill. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

The austerity measures, privatizations, salary and pension cuts, and all of the other measures implemented during the years during which the Greek economy was purportedly being “bailed out,” will remain in place. Indeed, it’s full steam ahead for all of these policies.

ATHENS, GREECE (Analysis) – Hundreds of thousands of Greeks took to the streets of Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city, on Sunday, January 21, in a mass rally opposing a compromise on the part of the Greek government regarding the Macedonia name dispute with Greece’s northern neighbor, temporarily recognized by the United Nations as the “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” (FYROM).

As talks between the governments of Greece and FYROM have progressed, seemingly out of the blue and after a very long period of dormancy, a significant percentage of the populace in Greece is seizing the opportunity to participate in the first large-scale street demonstrations in the country since the days leading up to July 5, 2015 referendum rejecting an austerity proposal put forth by Greece’s creditors. That referendum result was of course subsequently rejected by the “radical left” SYRIZA-led coalition government.

The Thessaloniki rally was, for many of its participants, more than just an opportunity to have their voice heard regarding the Macedonia name dispute. It was also a chance to speak out against the numerous other difficulties ordinary Greeks are facing, in the midst of an economic crisis that has been ongoing since 2010. Some of the speakers at the rally, and many participants as well, spoke out against austerity, forced home foreclosures and seizures, privatizations, and a host of other policies that the current government promised to oppose but instead has faithfully implemented since taking office in January 2015.

This promises to be the case this coming Sunday as well, at the follow-up rally being organized in Athens. This rally is set to take place in Syntagma Square, outside Greece’s parliament, the site of many massive protests in the past, including the “Indignants” movement opposing austerity in the spring and summer of 2011. And — while numerous representatives of SYRIZA were quick to label the Thessaloniki rally “fascist” or “nationalistic,” the purported domain of Greece’s far-right Golden Dawn party — Sunday’s rally in Athens will feature, as one of its main speakers, Greek composer and cultural icon Mikis Theodorakis, who is widely associated with the Greek left.

SYRIZA’s “success story”: calling austerity by a different name

When the SYRIZA-led Greek government isn’t busy denouncing the demonstrations, it is touting its economic “success story” and Greece’s supposed exit, in August, from its memorandum (loan) agreements with the country’s “troika” (the European Union, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund) of lenders. SYRIZA has boasted about the country’s forthcoming exit from these memorandum agreements — including the one it implemented in July 2015 following its rejection of the referendum result — since the summer of 2017.

Most recently, such claims were repeated by non-elected Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos. In a softball interview with Reuters earlier this week — where Tsakalotos was pictured in his office with a decal of the PAOK football club, owned by pro-SYRIZA oligarch Ivan Savvidis, in the background — Tsakalotos stated:

We’ve been outperforming our fiscal targets, the economy is returning. … To those people who think we need something more, like a precautionary credit line or whatever, they are just pushing the key question back and I don’t see any reason for that.”

According to Tsakalotos, Greece will not only emerge from the memorandum agreements and troika oversight in August, it will also not require a precautionary credit line to fund the country’s needs in the short term. Instead, Tsakalotos claims, the government has built a “safety net” of funds that can last the country a year or more. Tsakalotos went on to issue vague promises regarding growth, “reforms,” social policies, talks regarding debt relief, and an economy that is turning the corner.

What went unmentioned by both Tsakalotos and the Reuters journalists, however, is that an exit from the memorandum agreements in no way absolves Greece from the harsh austerity that has been implemented there since 2010. While SYRIZA is attempting to market an “exit from the memorandums” as a selling point in light of parliamentary elections — slated to be held no later than September 2019 — and European parliamentary elections in the spring of 2019, such an exit simply signifies the conclusion of the loan agreements the current and previous governments signed with the troika.

The austerity measures, privatizations, salary and pension cuts, and all of the other measures implemented during the years during which the Greek economy was purportedly being “bailed out,” will remain in place. Indeed, as will be shown below, it’s full steam ahead for all of these policies.

As part of the SYRIZA-led government’s propaganda efforts, the Greek state “re-entered the bond markets” in the spring of 2017, via a 3 billion euro bond sale. It was the first such entry into the markets for Greece since late 2013, when the coalition government of the center-right New Democracy and the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) completed a bond tender, again amidst proclamations of a Greek “success story.”

What went unmentioned in the Reuters interview, however, is that the bond yield (interest rate) of 4.625 percent was not only much higher than that of other crisis-hit countries in Europe, but higher than or comparable to that of such economic superpowers as Vietnam and Botswana.

These claims of a Greek economy on the rebound were repeated by SYRIZA and by media mouthpieces following last spring’s bond tender, even though the journalists in the aforementioned piece seem to have overlooked this bond issue, stating that one has not taken place in over three years.

Tsipras and media hallucinate a Golden Age

Greece's Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, left, speaks with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel during their meeting at Maximos Mansion in Athens, March 22, 2017. Gabriel is in Greece on a two-day visit as he is suggesting his country could offer to pay more money into the European Union, arguing that investing in Europe is "an investment in our own future." (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, left, speaks with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel during their meeting at Maximos Mansion in Athens, March 22, 2017. Gabriel is in Greece on a two-day visit as he is suggesting his country could offer to pay more money into the European Union, arguing that investing in Europe is “an investment in our own future.” (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung recently described Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras as the man who might go down in history for saving Greece from foreign economic supervision, while the Financial Times, in early January, fawned over Greece’s “remarkable turnaround” under Tsipras’ leadership. Another German newspaper, Die Welt, also gushed over Greece’s economic recovery in 2017, writing that Tsipras may even be able to solve Greece’s debt problem and, perhaps mockingly, added that he might even finally wear a tie.

Tsipras, in an interview on New Year’s Day, described 2018 as “the year of Greece” and has repeated the claim that Greece will emerge from the memorandums in August. At his annual State of the Nation speech at the Thessaloniki Trade Fair in September 2017, Tsipras promised an exit from the bailouts in 2018, “help” for workers and youth, and an end to creditor supervision of the Greek economy.

Such boasts on the part of the SYRIZA-led Greek government, and such omissions on the part of the global mainstream media, overlook the inconvenient reality that, barring some truly radical change, Greece will in no way be able to absolve itself of austerity and international financial oversight for the foreseeable future. This is because of the commitments the current government has made, which chain the country to a strict set of economic measures for decades to come.

Seeing through the mirage: what’s really on the horizon

Initially, in May 2016, the Greek parliament passed a 7,500 page omnibus bill, sans any parliamentary debate, that transferred control over all of the country’s public assets to a fund controlled by the EU’s European Stability Mechanism for a period of 99 years – that is, until the year 2115. Not even Marty McFly and Doc Brown traveled that far into the future!

Second, Greece’s loan commitments to the “troika” of lenders are set to continue, at the current rate of repayment, until 2059, as reported recently by the German newspaper Handelsblatt. That is the year when Greece is expected to have repaid the balance of the loans it has received, as part of its so-called “bailouts,” since 2010.

The same article pointed out that the Greek government has made commitments to implement further austerity measures through 2022. These measures — totaling 5.5 billion euros and agreed upon in June 2017 in what is, in essence, a fourth memorandum — include no less than 113 demands on the part of the troika, encompassing new privatizations of public assets and pension reductions. Other measures foreseen as part of this deal include a reduction in the tax- free income threshold and the further dilution of already-decimated worker rights. No increase in the also-decimated minimum wage is foreseen, nor are any new social measures to be implemented until 2023, despite Tsakalotos’ promises to the contrary.

In connection with this agreement, assets slated for privatization include such strategic holdings as 25 percent of Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport in Athens, the remaining regional airports that have not already been privatized, Greece’s national defense industry, and the Corinth Canal.

Third, the SYRIZA-led coalition government has committed to the maintenance of annual primary budget surpluses of 3.5 percent through 2023, and then 2 percent annually through 2060. In plain language, what this means is that the state will spend less than it earns in revenues. If revenues therefore decrease, expenditures will be slashed accordingly. And, as foreseen in the 2017 deal between the Greek government and the troika, should there be shortfalls in these fiscal targets, automatic budget and spending cuts are to be immediately implemented through at least 2022.

Here it should be noted that the net revenues of the Greek state declined in 2017, falling to 51.27 billion euros from 54.16 billion euros in 2016, leading in turn to a reduction in the pre-tax primary budget surplus from 2.78 billion euros to 1.97 billion euros. With state expenditures having reached 55.51 billion euros, Greece now faces a post-interest deficit of 4.24 billion euros, resulting in an increase in the country’s public debt. These figures will inevitably lead to the imposition of the automatic cuts agreed upon with the troika in 2017.

For those keeping score: Greece’s economy was said to be in dire crisis and endangering the whole of the Eurozone in 2009 with a debt-to-GDP ratio of approximately 127 percent. In 2017, after eight years of “bailouts,” this figure reached 179 percent. Yet the Greek economy is being touted as a “success story” and one that will, of course, remain firmly placed within the Eurozone.

While taking its backward victory lap, the SYRIZA-led government has made celebratory claims regarding the reduction in Greece’s official unemployment rate, which once hovered close to 30 percent but has since declined to 20.7 percent. It bears noting though that the total and per capita costs of labor have remained steady during this period, indicating that new jobs that are being created are on the very low end of the income scale. Furthermore, the percentage of those employed part-time or otherwise underemployed has increased in recent years. These individuals are not officially considered to be unemployed.

What also bears mentioning is the frightening “brain drain” — mass emigration — of Greeks during the years of the economic crisis. Approximately 500,000 to 600,000 Greeks are said to have left the country during the past decade. These losses do not just consist of unskilled or low-skilled laborers: 12,408 medical doctors, to take one example, have emigrated in the past 10 years. This means fewer skilled and educated professionals are living in Greece, spending their incomes in Greece, paying taxes in Greece, and contributing to Greece’s pension system.

In other words, unemployment is on the decline, just as long as all the unemployed give up and leave the country or accept low-wage jobs for which they are overqualified, receiving a pittance as an income.

Further illustrating the above, Greece ranks second in the world in negative wealth growth during the 2007 to 2017 period. On average, Greek households lost 37 percent of their wealth over this period, second only to Venezuela at 48 percent.

More austerity yet to come

Greek pensioners stand with other retirees as they gather to take part in an anti-austerity rally in Athens. Greek retirees are struggling to survive on ever dwindling pensions with repeated cuts imposed by successive governments as part of their country’s three international bailouts. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

Greek pensioners stand with other retirees as they gather to take part in an anti-austerity rally in Athens. Greek retirees are struggling to survive on ever dwindling pensions with repeated cuts imposed by successive governments as part of their country’s three international bailouts. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

In January, the SYRIZA-led coalition government voted into law a new omnibus bill, totaling 1,531 pages, that is chock full of new cuts and still more austerity for Greece’s ravaged populace. What do this bill’s measures encompass? Some highlights of the newly-passed legislation include:

  • Cuts to social benefits to all but the lowest-income households.
  • The establishment of an “energy stock market” and further “liberalization” of Greece’s energy marketplace. A similar scheme implemented in California in 2001 resulted in “rolling blackouts” in much of the state.
  • The implementation of electronic auctions for home foreclosures and seizures, which will now include primary residences that were previously protected under the law. The establishment of electronic auctions will enable a well-organized protest movement at courthouses throughout Greece, which successfully prevented numerous auctions, to be bypassed.
  • Creation of a similar electronic auction scheme, where the assets of those with outstanding debts as low as 500 euros to the Greek state, will be auctioned.
  • The merger of schools and subsequent shutdown of schoolhouses all across the country.
  • A severe curtailment of workers’ right to strike.
  • The integration of 14 key public services and utilities into the existing “privatization mega-fund.” These assets include a significant share of the Public Power Corporation (DEI), majority stakes in the Athens and Thessaloniki water systems, the national postal service, the Athens public transportation network, and the main Athens Olympic facilities, including the Olympic Stadium.

It bears remembering that SYRIZA, prior to its initial election in 2015, campaigned on a platform of stopping further sell-offs of public assets and reversing previous privatizations. These measures come in addition to previous agreements that the SYRIZA-led government made with the troika, which will lead to the loss of the equivalent of up to three monthly pension payments for recipients beginning in 2019, and additional pension reductions impacting 2.7 million recipients, who will face cuts of up to 40 percent.

Even employees at SYRIZA’s owned-and-operated media outlets, including the “Sto Kokkino” radio station and the Avgi newspaper, have faced cuts. Three workers at “Sto Kokkino” were recently fired for refusing to sign a new contract that would have reduced their salaries by 20 percent. These firings have led to employees staging repeated work stoppages at these outlets.

A moment of truth?

These are not the signs of an economy that is recovering. They are instead signs of an economy that continues to sputter, ravaged by austerity and widespread public despair.

It is this despair that might show its face at Sunday’s protest outside of the Greek parliament in Athens. It could be said that this is the moment of truth for the Greek people, who were lulled into complacency after the overwhelming referendum result rejecting troika-imposed austerity was overturned by the SYRIZA-led government that many once believed would keep its campaign promises, stand up to the creditors, and end austerity.

Will Sunday’s rally be as big as many in Greece are expecting, and will it have any tangible political result, above and beyond the Macedonia name dispute that served as its initial impetus? We should find out soon enough.

michael-120x120Michael Nevradakis is a PhD candidate in media studies at the University of Texas at Austin and a US Fulbright Scholar presently based in Athens, Greece. Michael is also an independent journalist and is the host of Dialogos Radio, a weekly radio program featuring interviews and coverage of current events in Greece.

Jan 312018
 

By Gürkan Özturan, 99GetSmart

Just a Dictator, actor Barış Atay

Just a Dictator, actor Barış Atay

Actor Barış Atay’s one-man play “Just a Dictator” had been banned prior to its staging in Artvin on January 9, and across Turkey on January 24. Despite the increasing pressure, Acting Union, actors, theatre-houses are reclaiming the play, and conducting live-reading in numerous locations.

 

The one-man theatrical play “Just a Dictator” was written by Onur Orhan, and staged by actor Barış Atay. The play has been staged since 2015, mostly in Istanbul’s Kadıköy and received joyous support from viewers who were energised after the play. Play asks the question “who is going to win in the end” and brings the question of social criticism forward.


‘Just a Dictator’ Poster

On January 9th 2018, the play was deemed as “undesirable” by the provincial governorship of Artvin, a city on the Northeastern Turkey. Only a couple of days after the initial cancellation of permits and later banishment of the play in Artvin, the home-stage of the play in Istanbul’s Kadıköy has been visited by police.

Theatre houses in Istanbul’s Kadıköy criticised the police visits stating that they are being pressured not to stage the play on January 12th. Three days later, main opposition Republican People’s Party CHP’s Istanbul deputy Sezgin Tanrıkulu filed a parliamentary question asking if actor Barış Atay’s one-man show “Just a Dictator” had been banned with governing Justice & Development Party AKP’s orders.

Before this question was answered, the home-stage of the play, Emek (Labour) Theatre House was surrounded by police forces, to prevent illegal and unpermitted staging of the play. Actor Atay reacted against the police siege around the theatre house and also criticised the next door pizzeria for filing complaint to the police that the stage has a back-door which might be used for bringing in viewers and actors.

Acting Union came forth and criticised the banishment of the play across Turkey, with a written statement which reiterated that actors are faced with an “all-out-censorship” that targets all kinds of cultural activities, on January 24.

On January 26, a call had been made for live-reading of the play “Just a Dictator” in numerous locations, on the evening of January 29th at 8.30 local time. ‘Do not Touch my Theatre Platform’ which is the organising committee of the civil disobedience action as live-reading of a banned play, has announced that they have received more than 2.000 requests for the script, which caused their e-mail servers to collapse, and they have uploaded the text online.

On the evening of the live-reading, several online radio stations have live-broadcasted the readings from several locations, while many actors have been present in various locations reading for their audience.

Actor Barış Atay’s twitter account has been suspended by Twitter during a live-streaming of his banned one-man show “Just a Dictator” and no further explanation has been announced yet.