greydog

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

Nov 092017
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews

People carry a large Puerto Rican flag as they protest looming austerity measures amid an economic crisis and demand an audit on the island's debt to identify those responsible, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Monday, May 1, 2017. Puerto Rico is preparing to cut public employee benefits, increase tax revenue, hike water rates and privatize government operations, among other things. (AP Photo/Danica Coto)

People carry a large Puerto Rican flag as they protest looming austerity measures amid an economic crisis and demand an audit on the island’s debt to identify those responsible, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Monday, May 1, 2017. Puerto Rico is preparing to cut public employee benefits, increase tax revenue, hike water rates and privatize government operations, among other things. (AP Photo/Danica Coto)

Part of the problem with the colonized mentality is that the one who is colonized begins to believe the lies that have been told by the colonizer: that we are inferior, we are backward, that we would be poor, that we would have no hope if it were not for a more developed, more civilized, more powerful entity.

ATHENS, GREECE and LAS PIEDRAS, PUERTO RICO – Until recently, the similarities were stunning. Puerto Rico, mired in a deep economic crisis for the past decade, has often been dubbed “The Greece of the Caribbean.” While there are a great many similarities in the “debt crises” both Greece and Puerto Rico have been experiencing, this superficial description hid a deeper truth: that colonial Puerto Rico, under the control of Washington and a Washington-imposed “fiscal control board” or “junta,” strongly resembles neocolonial Greece, under the thumb of the “troika” (the European Union, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund), on many levels above and beyond the economic difficulties both nations are experiencing.

This all changed after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico. While the hurricane itself left a trail of destruction all across the island, the real catastrophe is the perfect storm of colonialism, bureaucracy, cronyism, and disaster capitalism that has followed. Almost two months after the hurricane, much of Puerto Rico remains without access to electricity, water, or telephone and internet service.

As the humanitarian crisis on the island continues to deepen, Puerto Rico’s colonial governing regime, and its U.S.-imposed “fiscal review board,” could be accused of sabotaging recovery efforts on behalf of monied interests.

Déborah Berman-Santana is a retired professor of geography and ethnic studies at Mills College in Oakland, California. Now permanently residing in Puerto Rico, she was fortunate enough to be in Greece when Hurricane Maria struck the island. Part One of the interview with Berman-Santana that follows was recorded in Athens in early September and broadcast on Dialogos Radio.

It largely focuses on the colonial similarities between Puerto Rico and the nominally independent country of Greece. Part Two of this interview occurred with Berman-Santana safely back in Puerto Rico, describing the destruction Hurricane Maria left behind and how recovery efforts are actively being stymied by colonial and U.S. authorities.

MPN: Puerto Rico has been facing a severe economic assault across multiple fronts. Just as Greece has the so-called troika, Puerto Rico has the so-called junta, which of course is also a historically loaded word in Greece. Describe the austerity measures and cuts and reforms that the junta has been imposing, or attempting to impose, in Puerto Rico.

DBS: The United States Congress imposed a fiscal control board, which in Spanish is “junta de control fiscal.” It has been in place for a year. Basically, when they do not approve of something in the Puerto Rican government’s budget, they say no, this is not acceptable, you need to cut this, this, this, and this.

They do not necessarily have information on how best to operate — for example with the university, the public university of Puerto Rico, they want massive cuts. They do not even have information on the university, they have not asked for information to see if there must be cuts, where might be the best place to cut. It’s just basically taking a machete and chopping it up. However, they have also increased the budget for themselves.

A protester holds a sign that reads in Spanish, “We didn't take out a loan. We didn't see a dime. We're not going to pay” during a protest in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on July 15, 2015.

A protester holds a sign that reads in Spanish, “We didn’t take out a loan. We didn’t see a dime. We’re not going to pay” during a protest in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on July 15, 2015.

The U.S. Congress bill, the PROMESA bill that we talked about last year, directed Puerto Rico to pay $2 million per month for the expense of the junta. The new budget the junta inserted said that they must be paid $5 million per month! And of course they use this for all their expenses; they use this to hire dozens of contractors for publicity, for legal fees, for lobbying, for who knows what. These are all their friends.

They have also created a new entity, which is basically in charge of seeing how we can privatize and sell off public resources. I believe that [German finance minister] Schauble, last year or two years ago, created some fund in Greece, basically the privatization fund. Well, this is basically what they inserted into our budget just now. And of course, they’re saying that the pensions must be slashed and there must be more furloughs of public workers.

The government of Puerto Rico is going through a theater; they’re saying “oh, we’re not going to cut.” We all know that the government of Puerto Rico is not going to really fight this. This is just a theater so that their supporters think that it is fighting the junta.

MPN: A big issue during the hurricane, of course, is the proposed privatization of Puerto Rico’s energy utility. How have the junta and proponents of privatization attempted to use the hurricane and its aftermath to make a case for the privatization of the electric company?

DBS: Interestingly, the case was actually made before [Hurricane Irma], for years now. Also, the government lackeys who are the managers of the [energy] authority — not the actual workers of course — have been cutting and cutting and cutting and not re-hiring and re-training enough people to work, and trying to get contractors to work for less money. And so, the infrastructure has been deteriorating — and of course, when people get upset, they say that it’s because it’s public and if it were privatized if we had more competition, it would work out better.

The interesting thing is that the only reason we are recovering much more quickly [from Hurricane Irma] is that [the privatization argument] is a complete lie. For example, before the hurricane hit, the government head of the [energy] authority said that it can take five to six months before we can put [the grid] together because the electric energy authority is so bad.

Well, here we are a week later, almost all of Puerto Rico is back online. San Juan is, interestingly, not completely, although the mountain towns are, and the union of workers are claiming that they are being deliberately impeded from finishing in San Juan, so that people will still be angry and demand privatization.

This is the most militant union in Puerto Rico, and they’re wonderful. They are really our best union that’s left, and they’re of course “left.” They’re working 16-hour shifts — unbelievable photos if you saw them — and they are working, doing heroic things to get Puerto Rico back online. So the interesting thing is, Irma has actually not been good for the arguments for privatization.

MPN: Just as in Greece, Puerto Rico is being sold the promise of foreign investment and large-scale, critical infrastructure projects that supposedly are meant to foster economic growth and development and recovery on the island. What sorts of projects are being proposed and what would their actual impact likely be?

DBS: Part of the PROMESA bill is for “critical infrastructure energy projects,” not for the distribution infrastructure but for [combustible] energy — gas or coal. That’s not what we actually need. If they actually wanted to do something, maintenance, and reconstruction of the transmission infrastructure, that might be helpful — but that’s not where the money is, that’s not where the profits are.

The critical-infrastructure energy projects basically say “we want to streamline the permitting process.” There are many processes — of course, we are a colony of the United States, so we have their laws and ours; and the process of permits takes years for any massive project because there are the environmental issues, there are land use issues, there are public hearings you have to do. They want to streamline it to, I think, 90 days — which means that we have a project and we don’t want to tell the public, we want to get it done as quickly as possible. Also because they want to avoid protests.

For example, the popular protests have stopped two projects for gas ducts. This is over the past years, not just now. These would be gas lines that they would start from natural gas [fields] in the south and they would blast through the mountains — remember that Puerto Rico is very mountainous — and go to the northern side where San Juan is. We have had civil disobedience; we have had legal teams basically challenge these in the courts; we’ve prepared testimony for all the public hearings. Well, they want to bring [the pipeline proposals] back, but without the public hearings, and the local government has passed laws to criminalize civil disobedience.

So this is how they intend to do this: they have an energy-generating project, burning garbage to create energy, and we don’t even have enough garbage! And they don’t say this, but what the project really is, is to burn the garbage [from] all around the Caribbean. But of course, it doesn’t matter what happens to us because they’d like us to emigrate anyway.

We have managed to stop it, but they have just contracted a coordinator of the critical energy projects. He is a Puerto Rican-born — I’m not going to say he’s Puerto Rican — U.S. military man whom they’re going to put in charge of putting this together. I have seen him interviewed several times. He knows nothing! He is completely ignorant —  he is just there to facilitate this [project], the gas ducts.

I am sure they have other things that they are planning, things that they have tried to do before that they could not do because of protests. If they get rid of the protesters, then they can just shove it all through. Of course, gas projects, coal projects, maybe mining. We have copper, we stopped the copper mining plans 20 to 30 years ago. Maybe that’s coming back again.

MPN: Recent big news in Greece is the sudden departure of Canadian mining firm Eldorado Gold from the Skouries gold mine in northern Greece (since postponed), which has been a hotbed of activist activity in recent years, owing to its environmental impact and dubious economic benefits, despite its being described as the biggest foreign investment in Greece. We are seeing something similar in Puerto Rico, with the controversy over a privately-owned coal-powered plant and the dumping of the coal ash from this plant. Tell us about this issue.

DBS: Even though our electric energy authority is public, we do have a few private plants, and of course some of the energy-generating implements are private. For example, we do have a couple of projects of windmills from Siemens. They’re looking at Puerto Rico, I guess, as Greece in the Caribbean.

In the 1990s, Applied Energy Systems (AES), which is a multinational corporation based in the United States, proposed a “clean coal” plant in Puerto Rico that was supposed to give more energy generation capacity for Puerto Rico. And of course there’s a myth that Puerto Rico does not have enough energy-generating capacity, and that is [supposedly] why our energy bills are so high. So that was their argument.

I actually participated in the campaign to stop it from getting built. So what they did — this was on the south coast — was to bring the local community to one of their clean-looking plants in the United States, and they took them out and basically told them we’ll give you many jobs and it’s very clean and you shouldn’t listen to these “radicals,” like me, who don’t even live in your community, since they’re against everything.

So they finally did get the permits to build, because they promised that they would not dump the coal ash in Puerto Rico. They finally built it — starting in 2004 — and they were dumping the coal ash in the Dominican Republic. What happened in the Dominican Republic, people started getting sick and launched a campaign against AES. There was a trial, they had a settlement, and part of the settlement is that they would stop dumping in the Dominican Republic. In the Dominican Republic, they have other types of plants; they don’t have coal plants. But they still had the contract [which said] they could not dump in Puerto Rico. So there were some illegal dumps.

A coal ash mountain, part of the AES Guayama plant in Puerto Rico. (Photo: CPI file photo)

A coal ash mountain, part of the AES Guayama plant in Puerto Rico. (Photo: CPI file photo)

Finally, they also had another idea — that they would take some of the ash, you put water on it and it becomes something called “agrimax,” and you can use that as a building material, and they built roads in Puerto Rico, they built homes in Puerto Rico. This is the asbestos of the 21st century. [Agrimax has been used] in many, many communities, mainly in the south of Puerto Rico, and San Juan is in the north. In San Juan [the prevailing attitude] is, what happens in the provinces stays in the provinces.

So in 2014, the government of Puerto Rico did a secret amendment to the contract, which allowed AES to dump the ashes in two of the landfills in Puerto Rico. One of them is actually not far from where I live, and the other one is in Peñuelas [in the south], in an area where we had the old petrochemical complexes, still dealing with a legacy of pollution.

So they filled up the one near where I live and they couldn’t dump there anymore for a while. They started dumping in 2015 in the one in Peñuelas, but that community has been dealing with the legacy of contamination for many years, and they started the protest camps, they started doing civil disobedience. It became an issue. With this government, the government agreed because there was a lot of pressure, and we’ve had a lot of arrests, a lot of civil disobedience.

[Recently] there was a trial, in San Juan, of the last group of people arrested there. At this point, the government of Puerto Rico had said we’re going to pass a law that prohibits the dumping of the ash, but they inserted a little amendment at the last minute, written by the company, that said that the ash is only what’s dry. If you put water on it, it becomes Agrimax. And so, they started again with the dumping. They’ve had to dump at night with four hundred police [officers] to protect them, and there are still people protesting, so this is a big deal.

Of course, they couldn’t do anything during [Hurricane Irma]. We found out that they did not even bother to cover the mountain of ash that they have next to the plant. Who knows where this ash is right now. It’s everywhere! And so the struggle continues. That is the story, and they’ve also said “Oh, you need our generating capacity,” because they have a plant. But they only generate maybe 11 percent of what we need.

They close every time there’s a problem. The public plants never close. We don’t even need their plant because Puerto Rico has twice the generating capacity that it needs, and if we maintained everything we would never need them. In fact, we don’t need them now.

MPN: In yet another similarity with contemporary Greece — where there is an activist movement that has sprung up surrounding the case of a student by the name of Irianna, who is facing charges under Greece’s anti-terror laws for participation in a terror group — in Puerto Rico there is the case of political prisoner Nina Droz. Why has she been imprisoned and what in your view are the similarities with the Irianna case?

DBS: I think the main similarity has to do with using a test case to see if you can turn the public against such a person — and also to scare people, to make them afraid to protest. Specifically in the case of Nina Droz, [she] was not really involved in any organized critical activism; she’s a student, a model, teaches also. She is a party girl, lots of tattoos, so there could be a lot of prejudice against her because of how she looks.

[On] May 1, we had a massive demonstration in Puerto Rico against the junta, against austerity, and, for most of us, against the [colonial status], because some of us know that the real problem is not the junta. The problem is that we’re a colony.

It was a massive protest. On one side there was a group of masked students or masked people — who knows who they were! — all dressed in black. Many of the banks were actually boarded up and protected, except for our most important bank, Banco Popular de Puerto Rico. The nephew of the head of Banco Popular is the president of the junta, to give you an idea. They did not cover up their windows, and there was a moment where all the police withdrew, and there was a group of people in masks who broke the windows. No police around.

According to some of the TV coverage and some photos, there was a young woman who has since been identified as Nina [Droz] who was with an unidentified masked man. They are on the sidewalk next to one of the windows that’s been busted. It looks like perhaps they’re trying to light a piece of paper, and nothing happens.

But one of her feet is inside the bank, and based on that, the U.S. federal government says—there were some other people arrested but they were processed in the Puerto Rican system—they said Nina is in the U.S. system, because she is inside the bank and the bank is involved in interstate commerce and it’s [covered under federal law]. So she has been charged in the media and by the federal court with conspiracy, attempted terrorism, for trying to “blow up” this building with a little piece of paper which may or may not have had some fire on it.

[As of the time of this interview], Nina has not had a trial. She was assigned a federal defense attorney, a public attorney. There is a gag law against her attorney, so they cannot respond to anything in the media, and she’s been demonized in the media. She is in the federal holding court — she originally pled not guilty to all charges. After about two months she agreed to a plea deal to conspiracy, which is very vague, in exchange for reduced time.

Alejandra "Nina" Droz Franco, 37, pleaded guilty to "conspiring to commit an offense against the United States," during the May 1 protest, she is accused of trying to set fire to a building that housed Banco Popular and other interstate businesses. (Josian E. Bruno Gómez/EL VOCERO)

Alejandra “Nina” Droz Franco, 37, pleaded guilty to “conspiring to commit an offense against the United States,” during the May 1 protest, she is accused of trying to set fire to a building that housed Banco Popular and other interstate businesses.
(Josian E. Bruno Gómez/EL VOCERO)

But she still [as of the time of this interview] has not been sentenced, and there have been issues such as, for example, her birthday. Some of us were going to [organize] something outside the prison with a sign, “Happy Birthday,” just a little thing, and the prisoners can normally see that. Right before that, there was some “infraction,” who knows what, and they put her in solitary, and she was in solitary for almost a month. She was not given the reasons for it — because there’s a process, everything was delayed — and now they say she cannot even have visitors, not even her mother, if you can imagine that.

The sentencing [was] supposed to be at the end of October, and even the prosecutor has suggested two years [imprisonment]; her attorneys have suggested one year, but the judge could give her more. You never know what can happen. Evidently, she is not as obedient as they’d like, and she has complained about things, and the only reason we know anything about what’s happened is that she can send and receive letters. I myself have received a letter from her. And, there is a friend who is an attorney — not her attorney but able to visit her and able to talk a little bit about the situation, with a lot of care. She’s very careful.

Actually, I’ve talked to [theattorney] before I came here [to Greece] to discuss what she thought I could talk about here in Greece. So when I heard about the Irianna case, it struck me — I know there are differences, but it nevertheless struck me — that the system criminalized her for supposed associations, alleged associations that may or may not be true. And it used these charges to justify a very long sentence for a young woman who basically, if she has to serve a whole sentence, it’s a terrible thing. The same thing with Nina [Droz].

Nina, her letter is wonderful to read; it made me cry when I received it, and she says:

We should never be afraid to speak up for justice, to speak up for what’s right, and to give a voice to those who have no voice, and you can count on me to give my voice until the end of my days.”

So I just wanted to share that. People are writing to her and we want her to know that she’s not alone. This is a little different situation from some of our early political prisoners, who spent many years in organizations and they had a very strong political formation which enabled them to survive many years in prison. Nina doesn’t have that background, but she’s one of us.

MPN: Continuing this theme of parallels between Greece and Puerto Rico, in Greece the current U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey Pyatt was until recently the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine. In Puerto Rico, an individual by the name of Natalie Jaresko, who herself attained infamy in Ukraine, is now the executive director of the junta in Puerto Rico. What is Jaresko’s background and what is her role now in Puerto Rico?

DBS: Natalie Jaresko was born in Chicago of Ukrainian parents. She has a graduate degree in economics from the University of Chicago, which is infamous for its economics department, widely views as the birthplace of neoliberal economic theory. She has worked in the State Department, she has worked with the IMF [International Monetary Fund], and we think she is a CIA asset. She’s also a fellow at the Aspen Institute, and you can even see pictures of her with “Open Ukraine” behind her — and that may ring some bells to some people, anything that’s “Open Society.”

She is definitely accused of enriching her own company in Ukraine from the privatization and sale of the telecommunications network there. She was only there for a couple of years. They gave her Ukrainian citizenship, I think, within one day. She was named to be the finance minister right after the coup, so she was basically put in as Ukraine’s finance minister by the United States, and the little minor detail that she wasn’t a Ukrainian citizen [was overlooked], so they gave her Ukrainian citizenship.

Natalie Jaresko, executive director, with the financial oversight and management board for Puerto Rico, speaks during a House Committee on Natural Resources hearing to examine challenges in Puerto Rico's recovery and the role of the financial oversight and management board, on Capitol Hill, Nov. 7, 2017 in Washington. (AP/Alex Brandon)

Natalie Jaresko, executive director, with the financial oversight and management board for Puerto Rico, speaks during a House Committee on Natural Resources hearing to examine challenges in Puerto Rico’s recovery and the role of the financial oversight and management board, on Capitol Hill, Nov. 7, 2017 in Washington. (AP/Alex Brandon)

Natalie Jaresko, she still goes back and forth to Ukraine, and part of her contract with Puerto Rico is we pay for business-class trips once a month from Puerto Rico to Ukraine. She was named by the junta to be the executive director. She is of Ukrainian background so she at least speaks Ukrainian, but she knows nothing about Puerto Rico — zero. She is there to do the same thing or worse in Puerto Rico as she did in Ukraine.

When I write about her, I always say Natalie “Carnicera de Ukrania” Jaresko — that’s Natalie “Butcher of the Ukraine” Jaresko. I just have to give you some of the terms of her contract. Her annual salary, which we are paying for, [is] $625,000 a year. That is more than $200,000 more than the president of the United States earns. And she has all of her expenses [paid for]; she has a private suite in a luxury hotel; she has an entire security detail and all of her communications, and she has her nice business trips to the Ukraine and anywhere else she wants to go.

In exchange for that, she comes in and says well, you need to cut and slash — for example, the university budget: the University of Puerto Rico needs to be more like the United States’ public universities. In other words, we should slash the government’s share of the budget to the university and students should all go into debt and become debt slaves, like they are in the United States. It’s [currently] relatively inexpensive.

The University of Puerto Rico is an excellent, excellent university. It is the best university system [on Puerto Rico], with 11 campuses (of course, they want to slash, cut all the campuses, maybe two or three left). Much better than the private universities, and it is the vehicle for people — the best students in Puerto Rico, especially if they’re poor — to get an education and to contribute to the future of Puerto Rico. They’re an incredible resource, and it is also a very militant university.

The students have had many strikes. They had one a few months ago — they shut it down for two months, and the issue was the cuts. It was interesting, they actually had a personal meeting with the junta, face-to-face, that lasted all day, which is something that the government of Puerto Rico has not even had. The students managed to do that and actually had a list of demands, none of which have been fulfilled, but just to give you an idea.

Natalie Jaresko has also said that I am here to help Puerto Rico, you need to listen to me, I’m going to cut everything. By the way, the government of Puerto Rico said we are not going to hurt the most vulnerable. Of course, they never identify who are the most vulnerable. The PROMESA bill says “essential services” must be protected. Of course, they are never defined, what “essential services” are.

They also have hired a special security detail and they are lobbying to expand the new criminalization law to further criminalize protests against the junta. So this should give you an idea of what the “Butcher of the Ukraine” wants to do in Puerto Rico.

MPN: Let’s turn now to the hot-button issue of Puerto Rico’s political status. A few months ago we saw a nonbinding referendum on statehood take place — an issue that, from what I understand, remains extremely divisive in Puerto Rico and parallels the debate that we see in Greece regarding continued membership in the European Union. Describe for us the current state of affairs regarding the island’s political status and the political divisions in Puerto Rico.

DBS: As I have noted in speaking with you before and have published before, Puerto Rico is a colony, is an “unincorporated territory belonging to but not part of the United States.” That is its official designation according to the U.S. Supreme Court. We do not even have the limited sovereignty of a Native American tribe, just to give you an example. In the United Nations, we’ve been trying for many years to get the issue [of Puerto Rico’s colonial status] on the agenda of the General Assembly, but have not managed to do so.

It has been extremely divisive because the advocacy of independence has been demonized and criminalized for many, many years in Puerto Rico. There have been many, many imprisonments; there have been many deaths; there have been many disappearances, many people who were unable to find work. And so, many people, most people in Puerto Rico are either very afraid of [independence], or they believe we have no chance, we need to depend on the United States. Most Puerto Ricans are not quite knowledgeable about our own history.

A woman photographs a burning U.S. flag set on fire during protesters in favor of Puerto Rico's independence after a referendum was held on the island's status in the financial district, known as the golden mile, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Sunday, June 11, 2017. The U.S. territory overwhelmingly chose statehood on Sunday in a non-binding referendum held amid a deep economic crisis that has sparked an exodus of islanders to the U.S. mainland. Voter turnout was just 23 percent. (AP/Carlos Giusti)

A woman photographs a burning U.S. flag set on fire during protesters in favor of Puerto Rico’s independence in San Juan, Puerto Rico, June 11, 2017. (AP/Carlos Giusti)

At the present time, one of the major parties is a party that says our current status is okay if we can increase our autonomy. The other major party, which is currently in power, says no, we need equality, we need to become a state, the 51st state of the United States. And then there’s a smaller party and many people who do not vote at all, who say that without independence we cannot even begin to have this conversation because we don’t have control over our own affairs.

Puerto Rico has had five referendums since the 1960s about our political status. None of them was binding. The U.S. Congress has never committed to respecting the results. The last one was in June, and I actually wrote an article that was published in Greece in March, highlighting the interesting thing about that particular proposal, that there would be only two options: one was statehood, and the other was some kind of sovereignty.

Now, that’s kind of a loaded term, not always understood, but many independence supporters thought that this might be an opportunity, if we can actually have a very good showing of people who reject statehood and want some kind of sovereignty, then we might be able to push something. So many people who don’t even ordinarily vote were going to register.

Well, at that point the attorney general of the United States, Jeff Sessions, said to the governor of Puerto Rico that in order to have this referendum, you also need to include the current status. Now this is a referendum for the decolonization of Puerto Rico, that’s the name of it, and he said one of the options has to be to remain a colony. So one of your options to “decolonize” is to stay the way you are. The government said okay! And with that, all of the pro-independence, pro-sovereignty people said forget it, we’re boycotting. Then the other major party, the one that wants the current status with autonomy, also boycotted.

You had, in June, only one party [that] was represented, the pro-statehood party. No more than 23 percent of the voters even voted — and, because there was no oversight by the other parties, it may have been even less than 23 percent. Ninety-seven percent of voters voted in favor of statehood.

With that, the government went to Congress and said “97 percent of the voters want statehood.” They were completely ignored! Then they chose seven people and said “here are our Congressmen and we’re sending them anyway,” and they’re completely ignored, but they’re spending Puerto Rican public money that we supposedly don’t have, and they’re all sitting in Washington.

I’m not sure what they’re doing there, probably eating well and staying at a nice hotel, but Congress is completely ignoring them. They said “we’re going to meet with President Trump.” As far as I know there’s been no meeting. So we have not solved any problem — everything is exactly the way it was, except they spent $10 million of money that we don’t have on the stupid referendum.

MPN: Within this context of the broader economic crisis that Puerto Rico is experiencing, has the independence movement been able to gain any traction?

DBS: That’s always an interesting question. It’s not really easy to answer. One of the problems is that the independence movement, the left in general, is extremely divided. We have many, many little groups. People spend a lot of time, for example, on Facebook attacking each other. It’s very tiring. Sometimes when we have a meeting or protest people do show up together.

The interesting thing is, it’s not easy to say if we have support for independence or more support for independence. What I can say is, maybe there is more understanding that the United States is not going to help us — as if they ever did — that perhaps we need to figure out some way of not waiting for them to “rescue” us or to give us more power or to give us statehood.

A woman holds a sign up to police that reads in Spanish "The people are awake. Today we'll make history" during a May Day protest against looming austerity measures amid an economic crisis and demanding an audit on the island's debt to identify those responsible in San Juan, Puerto Rico, May 1, 2017. Puerto Rico is preparing to cut public employee benefits, increase tax revenue, hike water rates and privatize government operations, among other things. (AP/Danica Coto)

A woman holds a sign up to police that reads in Spanish “The people are awake. Today we’ll make history” during a May Day protest against looming austerity measures amid an economic crisis and demanding an audit on the island’s debt to identify those responsible in San Juan, Puerto Rico, May 1, 2017. Puerto Rico is preparing to cut public employee benefits, increase tax revenue, hike water rates and privatize government operations, among other things. (AP/Danica Coto)

The other thing is, because of what’s visibly happening in the United States — it’s always been happening, but the visible attacks, the visible oppression that is now getting a lot of media attention throughout the world — people are starting to believe that well, even if we became a state, we’re still Spanish-speaking, we’re still to a large extent of African descent.

How is it for the Blacks and the Latinos who live in the United States? They have statehood, do they have equality? So it’s beginning to open up things a little more.

The problem that we had is a question of getting rid of our own colonized mentalities, our colonized minds. I think that’s probably our biggest challenge. And to not just speak to ourselves, the people on the left, but to speak to our neighbors, to talk about this, and I constantly am talking to many of my neighbors, none of whom are independence activists, but they always want to ask me what I think about what’s going on.

MPN: One of the biggest stories of the past few months in Puerto Rico is the release of Oscar López Rivera, who was imprisoned in the United States for 34 years and was granted clemency by President Obama in the last days of his administration. Oscar is now back in Puerto Rico. What has the response to his release and repatriation been and what has he been doing since his release?

DBS: Oscar is now physically free — he has been spiritually free for a very long time, freer than many people I know, but he has been physically free, without restrictions, since the 17th of May. There has been a tremendous, overwhelming response among Puerto Ricans to his release, to basically being around. To be around him — I’ve been around a lot of political prisoners, and many of them, it takes a long time to adjust. His adjustment — he may have some adjusting to do that you don’t see, but you meet him in person, the smile, the hugs, he is very, very physical with everyone, for very good reasons.

He is constantly talking about unity, he is talking constantly about the decolonized mind, he is constantly asked to speak. So he has been not only speaking at many activities in Puerto Rico, but also elsewhere,  for example in the United States. He wants to thank communities all around the world for supporting him and for campaigning for him, so he’s been in many, many activities

Puerto Rico's activists show a picture of independence fighter Oscar López Rivera, center, jailed in the United States, during an event celebrating Revolution Day in Santiago, Cuba, Sunday, July 26, 2015. Cuba marks the 62st anniversary of the July 26, 1953 rebel attack led by Fidel and Raul Castro on the Moncada military barracks. The attack is considered the beginning of Fidel Castro's revolution that culminated with dictator Fulgencio Batista's ouster. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Puerto Rico’s activists show a picture of independence fighter Oscar López Rivera, center, at the time, jailed in the United States, during an event celebrating Revolution Day in Santiago, Cuba, Sunday, July 26, 2015. (AP/Ramon Espinosa)

He also went to Nicaragua, was at a conference, and President [Daniel] Ortega gave him the highest recognition of Nicaragua. He is scheduled to visit Cuba in November, and of course they were very, very active in working for his release, as well as release of earlier prisoners. So he is making a lot of the rounds still.

His plan, actually, is trying to set up a foundation to give him a little bit of [financial] independence, so that he can work in Puerto Rico. He was a community organizer before his imprisonment. He wants to do it in Puerto Rico, and he says he specifically wants to work on community-based alternatives, which already exist, but to unify them. He wants to unify the various activists, unify the people of Puerto Rico, speak to the people who are not necessarily activists and to break through this division that we have. He has the stature to force people to at least listen.

I can’t wait — I mean, some of us are a little impatient, we want to do this already, but he’s still speaking on many occasions. Sometimes it’s difficult to contact him — he has some people helping him because he will never say no to anybody, so some of the people who are helping him are trying to shield him a little bit. It’s a little bit of a coming out process, so to speak.

MPN: A famous quote from Oscar López Rivera concerns the struggle for independence and the anti-colonial struggle, which according to Oscar, begins with the decolonization of the mind. How are his words relevant in the present day, both for Puerto Rico and also for Greece, even if the country is nominally independent?

I think part of the problem with the colonized mentality is that the one who is colonized begins to believe the lies that have been told by the colonizer: that we are inferior, we are backward, that we would be poor, that we would have no hope if it were not for a more developed, more civilized, more powerful entity — for example, the United States, and in parallel, Northern Europe and Germany for the European Union. That we need to be developed, we need to be more advanced, we need to be more like them and less like the Global South.

I mean, Puerto Rico is without a doubt part of the Global South. But you get that idea, that we need for them to help us because we cannot help ourselves. We should not depend on ourselves because look how advanced they are, how happy they look, how well off they are, even if it’s not true. And if we believe that, it’s very difficult to do any of this. We won’t believe that we can make decisions on our own. We won’t demand our sovereignty, because we will think that we’re not capable of making those decisions by ourselves.

For many years we were told that if we were independent, Puerto Rico would be like Haiti. That, of course, completely ignores that Haiti, although nominally independent, is under military occupation, which benefits a very small oligarchy and keeps everyone else poor. If Haiti really could take sovereignty for itself, you would see a different Haiti. But that’s what they say to us.

There’s also the issue of our not being a European people — we have some European ancestry from the colonizers, but we are mainly not a European people. We are a Latin American-Caribbean-African-indigenous people with a very long history. We didn’t start our history when Columbus came. We have a history that goes back 7,000 years, and we have a lot of information about it. So we could draw on that and also our own history as Latin American people.

We’re in a lot of isolation. Everyone knows about the blockade the United States has against Cuba, but we have one also [the Jones Act]. It’s different, it’s very difficult for us to have direct contact, direct trade with the rest of the world. We have to do everything through the United States. And so we’re isolated.

I’ve heard many people in Greece say “I don’t know this story, why haven’t I ever heard this story?” I respond that you haven’t heard this story because it’s a blockaded story, it’s blockaded history. It’s one of the reasons that I’m here [in Greece]. And I think that the colonized mind is our biggest obstacle. I have seen that when we work together and we fight against the oppressor, the oppressor cannot stand against that. So that’s our biggest problem — I think it’s a bigger problem than U.S. military might or anything else that they can threaten us with.

MPN: The anti-colonial and independence movements that we’ve seen across the world, including those of the 1960s and 1970s, were by and large nationalist movements. Today though, we see arguments from many who associate nationalism with fascism, with racism, with xenophobia. How do you view the issue? Do you believe nationalism can be compatible with internationalism and a more cooperative worldview?

DBS: This is a very interesting question. I’ve had this conversation with many people. I know that in people there is a specific historical context of nationalism and fascism. I understand that. But the interesting thing, particularly in Latin America, is that the issue of nationalism has to do with national sovereignty, of controlling our own destiny, making our own decisions and not allowing the imperialists or neo-imperialists to make those decisions — whether it’s a European power or whether it’s the United States or whether it’s another country.

So in the context of Latin America, there is a nationalism that is called “anti-imperialist nationalism.” There is a tremendous amount of literature. It is not a nationalism that says we are better than everyone and we want to control others. We want to control ourselves.

Pro-independence demonstrators march demanding the release of political prisoners in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Tuesday, June 14, 2011. Obama's trip marks the first visit to Puerto Rico by a sitting U.S. President since John F. Kennedy's 1961 visit. (AP/Ramon Espinosa)

Pro-independence demonstrators march demanding the release of political prisoners in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Tuesday, June 14, 2011. Obama’s trip marks the first visit to Puerto Rico by a sitting U.S. President since John F. Kennedy’s 1961 visit. (AP/Ramon Espinosa)

Puerto Rico has had a very long history with the Nationalist Party. It’s very small right now, not very active. It was tremendously repressed. Our great martyr, Dr. Albizu Campos, was martyred, really, literally. He was the leader of the Nationalist Party. His politics, his economics, you could say were social democrat, more or less. But one of the main leaders was also Juan Antonio Corretjer, who was a communist. There are some revisionist historians who want to say that he was fascist, [but] there is no evidence for that.

I just want to share something very interesting: only a few months ago I was in Cuba, and we had this conversation because I had my conversations in Greece in mind when we had this conversation [in Cuba]. The people with whom I was talking said:

Of course, you will never find people more nationalist than Cubans. We love our country. We want to keep our culture. We want to defend our country against outside control, but we are internationalists. We want other countries to be able to defend their own sovereignty as well. We want to have relationships of mutual respect.”

And that, for them, is nationalism. And they also said, we understand there is a different history in Europe, but I think we need to rescue this word.

Now I am seeing with the very open racist attacks in the United States, I have heard some European friends say “oh, fascism is coming to the United States.” I say “No, that’s not it exactly. You’re seeing white supremacy, which is the founding principle of the United States, because it’s a European settler-colonizer regime that destroyed many indigenous nations and it maintains power through white supremacy.”

That’s not necessarily the same as fascism, and I believe the word “fascist” is thrown around a lot, but we are not talking about the actual alliance of the state and the private industry and the oligarchy. That seems to be lost a little bit.

So that’s a conversation that I think is very important also in Puerto Rico, because sometimes there are people who have read a lot of literature from Europe and they start saying “I don’t care about independence because it’s nationalist, I care more about socialism,” and I say “okay, but if we’re not independent, how are we going to be socialist? As a colony or as a state of the United States, are you expecting to be socialist? Are you expecting the communist ideal this way?” It’s less likely, I would say, and so I think it’s important to have this conversation in Greece as well.

MPN: This is the third consecutive year that you have visited Greece. What has brought you back to Greece for the third time, and where will you be speaking?

DBS: I’m very happy that I [was] invited back to speak at the Resistance Festival, which [occurred on the] 29th and the 30th of September at the Fine Arts School [in Athens]. I’m very, very happy to be working together with Dromos tis Aristeras, the wonderful weekly which I’ve also been able to send some updates on Puerto Rico and which was very, very active in the campaign to free Oscar.

I have a lifelong interest in and affinity with Greece. I even have some Greek ancestry — this is going way back. but it’s been a lifelong interest, a lifelong appreciation of the popular culture, the music And of course, with the issue of the austerity, with the resistance, and what’s happened with the troika, I immediately saw the similarities with what was happening in Puerto Rico.

And then they started calling Puerto Rico “the Greece of the Caribbean.” It’s a very superficial way that it’s used in the news, but there is a deeper truth there. Sometimes in my writings, I’ve talked about Greece as the “Puerto Rico of the Mediterranean,” because I think that we can learn from each other.

I’m hoping to increase the solidarity, increase learning about each other. At first, it was really just me, I kind of had this idea; now there is starting to be more interest. There are a couple of organizations in Puerto Rico that have contacted me to try to bring some people to speak from Greece, and there is more interest here. There are a number of different organizations [here] that are now trying to make contact with me.

I am open to speaking anywhere, with anyone, in English, in Spanish. I’m learning Greek — I’m still not speaking very well, but I’m reading more and I’m hoping at some point to be able to speak well enough to be able to present. If we have someone come [to Puerto Rico] from Greece who does not know Spanish or English, I hope I’ll know enough to help with that.

But I am hoping that we can continue this collaboration, continue solidarity. Maybe we can have young people from both countries visit each other, cultural exchange with the idea of helping each other’s struggle for a just society, for the ability to take care of ourselves and to stop this continued bleeding of our countries — the continued bleeding of our people, where our young people feel the need to leave.

I don’t want to see a Greece without Greeks. I don’t want to see a Puerto Rico without Puerto Ricans!

Part Two of Michael’s interview with Professor Berman-Santana, conducted in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, will be presented in an upcoming article.

Nov 082017
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

Dear listeners and friends,

nikoslogothetis31This week on Dialogos Radio, the Dialogos Interview Series will feature an interview with Nikos Logothetis, former member of the board with the Greek Statistical Authority, also known as ELSTAT.
 
Logothetis will discuss the allegations that have been made that Greece’s deficit and debt figures were augmented fraudulently by ELSTAT and its former president, Andreas Georgiou, to provide the impetus to drag Greece under troika supervision and under the destructive austerity and memorandum regime. Logothetis will speak to us about these allegations, the recent judicial decisions against Georgiou, and the court cases which are still ongoing.
 
For more details and our full broadcast schedule, please visit http://dialogosmedia.org/?p=7216.
 
Best,
Dialogos Radio & Media
Nov 052017
 

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

China_USA_Locator.svg

Introduction

US journalists and commentators, politicians and Sinologists spend considerable time and space speculating on the personality of China’s President Xi Jinping and his appointments to the leading bodies of the Chinese government, as if these were the most important aspects of the entire 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (October 18-24, 2017)[2].

Mired down in gossip, idle speculation and petty denigration of its leaders, the Western press has once again failed to take account of the world-historical changes which are currently taking place in China and throughout the world.

World historical changes, as articulated by Chinese President Xi Jinping, are present in the vision, strategy and program of the Congress. These are based on a rigorous survey of China’s past, present and future accomplishments.

The serious purpose, projections and the presence of China’s President stand in stark contrast to the chaos, rabble-rousing demagogy and slanders characterizing the multi-billion dollar US Presidential campaign and its shameful aftermath.

The clarity and coherence of a deep strategic thinker like President Xi Jinping contrasts to the improvised, contradictory and incoherent utterances from the US President and Congress. This is not a matter of mere style but of substantive content.

We will proceed in the essay by contrasting the context, content and direction of the two political systems.

China: Strategic Thinking and Positive Outcomes

China, first and foremost, has established well-defined strategic guidelines that emphasize macro-socio-economic and military priorities over the next five, ten and twenty years.

China is committed to reducing pollution in all of its manifestations via the transformation of the economy from heavy industry to a high-tech service economy, moving from quantitative to qualitative indicators.

Secondly, China will increase the relative importance of the domestic market and reduce its dependence on exports. China will increase investments in health, education, public services, pensions and family allowances.

Thirdly, China plans to invest heavily in ten economic priority sectors. These include computerized machinery, robotics, energy saving vehicles, medical devices, aerospace technology, and maritime and rail transport. It targets three billion (US) dollars to upgrade technology in key industries, including electrical vehicles, energy saving technology, numerical control (digitalization) and several other areas. China plans to increase investment in research and development from .95% to 2% of GDP.

Moreover, China has already taken steps to launch the ‘petro-Yuan’, and end US global financial dominance.

China has emerged as the world’s leader in advancing global infrastructure networks with its One Belt One Road (Silk Road) across Eurasia. Chinese-built ports, airports and railroads already connect twenty Chinese cities to Central Asia, West Asia, South-East Asia, Africa and Europe. China has established a multi-lateral Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (with over 60 member nations) contributing 100 billion dollars for initial financing.

China has combined its revolution in data collection and analysis with central planning to conquer corruption and improve the efficiency in credit allocation. Beijing’s digital economy is now at the center of the global digital economy. According to one expert, “China is the world leader in payments made by mobile devices”, (11 times the US). One in three of the world’s start-ups, valued at more than $1 billion, take place in China (FT 10/28/17, p. 7). Digital technology has been harnessed to state-owned banks in order to evaluate credit risks and sharply reduce bad debt. This will ensure that financing is creating a new dynamic flexible model combining rational planning with entrepreneurial vigor (ibid).

As a result, the US/EU-controlled World Bank has lost its centrality in global financing. China is already Germany’s largest trading partner and is on its way to becoming Russia’s leading trade partner and sanctions-busting ally.

China has widened and expanded its trade missions throughout the globe, replacing the role of the US in Iran, Venezuela and Russia and wherever Washington has imposed belligerent sanctions.

While China has modernized its military defense programs and increased military spending, almost all of the focus is on ‘home defense’ and protection of maritime trade routes. China has not engaged in a single war in decades.

China’s system of central planning allows the government to allocate resources to the productive economy and to its high priority sectors. Under President Xi Jinping, China has created an investigation and judicial system leading to the arrest and prosecution of over a million corrupt officials in the public and private sector. High status is no protection from the government’s anti-corruption campaign: Over 150 Central Committee members and billionaire plutocrats have fallen. Equally important, China’s central control over capital flows (outward and inward) allows for the allocation of financial resources to high tech productive sectors while limiting the flight of capital or its diversion into the speculative economy.

As a result, China’s GNP has been growing between 6.5% – 6.9% a year – four times the rate of the EU and three times the US.

As far as demand is concerned, China is the world’s biggest market and growing. Income is growing – especially for wage and salaried workers. President Xi Jinping has identified social inequalities as a major area to rectify over the next five years.

The US: Chaos, Retreat and Reaction

In contrast, the United States President and Congress have not fashioned a strategic vision for the country, least of all one linked to concrete proposals and socio-economic priorities, which might benefit the citizenry.

The US has 240,000 active and reserve armed forces stationed in 172 countries. China has less than 5,000 in one country – Djibouti. The US stations 40,000 troops in Japan, 23,000 in South Korea, 36,000 in Germany, 8,000 in the UK and over 1,000 in Turkey. What China has is an equivalent number of highly skilled civilian personnel engaged in productive activity around the world. China’s overseas missions and its experts have worked to benefit both global and Chinese economic growth.

The United States’ open-ended, multiple military conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Niger, Somalia, Jordan and elsewhere have absorbed and diverted hundreds of billions of dollars away from productive investments in the domestic economy. In only a few cases, military spending has built useful roads and infrastructure, which could be counted a ‘dual use’, but overwhelmingly US military activities abroad have been brutally destructive, as shown by the deliberate dismemberment of Yugoslavia, Iraq and Libya.

The US lacks the coherence of China’s policy making and strategic leadership. While chaos has been inherent in the politics of the US ‘free market’ financial system, it is especially widespread and dangerous during the Trump regime.

Congressional Democrats and Republicans, united and divided, actively confront President Trump on every issue no matter how important or petty. Trump improvises and alters his policies by the hour or, at most, by the day. The US possesses a party system where one party officially rules in the Administration with two militarist big business wings.

US has been spending over 700 billion dollars a year to pursue seven wars and foment ‘regime changes’ or coups d’état on four continents and eight regions over the past two decades. This has only caused disinvestment in the domestic economy with deterioration of critical infrastructure, loss of markets, widespread socioeconomic decline and a reduction of spending on research and development for goods and services.

The top 500 US corporations invest overseas, mainly to take advantage of low tax region and sources of cheap labor, while shunning American workers and avoiding US taxes. At the same time, these corporations share US technology and markets with the Chinese.

Today, US capitalism is largely directed by and for financial institutions, which absorb and divert capital from productive investments, generating an unbalanced crisis-prone economy. In contrast, China determines the timing and location of investments as well as bank interest rates, targeting priority investments, especially in advanced high-tech sectors.

Washington has spent billions on costly and unproductive military-centered infrastructure (military bases, naval ports, air stations etc.) in order to buttress stagnant and corrupt allied regimes. As a result, the US has nothing comparable to China’s hundred-billion-dollar ‘One Belt-One Road’ (Silk Road) infrastructure project linking continents and major regional markets and generating millions of productive jobs.

The US has broken global linkages with dynamic growth centers. Washington resorts to self-defecating, mindless chauvinistic rhetoric to impose trade policy, while China promotes global networks via joint ventures. China incorporates international supply linkages by securing high tech in the West and low cost labor in the East.

Big US industrial groups’ earnings and rising stock in construction and aerospace are products of their strong ties with China. Caterpillar, United Technologies 3M and US car companies reported double-digit growth on sales to China.

In contrast, the Trump regime has allocated (and spent) billions in military procurement to threaten wars against China’s peripheral neighbors and interfere with its maritime commerce.

US Decline and Media Frenzy

The retreat and decline of US economic power has driven the mass media into a frenzy of idiotic ad hominem assaults on China’s political leader President Xi Jinping. Among the nose pickers in print, the scribes of the Financial Times take the prize for mindless vitriol. Mercenaries and holy men in Tibet are described as paragons of democracy and ‘victims’ of a …flourishing modernizing Chinese state lacking the ‘western values’ (sic) of floundering Anglo-American warmongers!

To denigrate China’s system of national planning and its consequential efforts to link its high tech economy with improving the standard of living for the population, the FT journalists castigate President Xi Jinping for the following faults:

1.)    For not being as dedicated a Communist as Mao Zedong or Deng Xiaopeng

2.)    For being too ‘authoritarian’ (or too successful) in his campaign to root out corrupt officials.

3.)    For setting serious long-term goals while confronting and overcoming economic problems by addressing the ‘dangerous’ level of debt.

While China has broadened its cultural horizon, the Anglo-Saxon global elite increases possibility of nuclear warfare. China’s cultural and economic outreach throughout the world is dismissed by the Financial Times as ‘subversive soft power’. Police-state minds and media in the West see China’s outreach as a plot or conspiracy. Any serious writer, thinker or policymaker who has studied and praised China’s success is dismissed as a dupe or agent of the sly President Xi Jinping. Without substance or reflection, the FT  (10/27/17) warns its readers and police officials to be vigilant and avoid being seduced by China’s success stories!

China’s growing leadership in automobile production is evident in its advance towards dominating the market for electric vehicles. Every major US and EU auto company has ignored the warnings of the Western media ideologues and rushed to form joint ventures with China.

China has an industrial policy. The US has a war policy. China plans to surpass the US and Germany in artificial intelligence, robotics, semi-conductors and electric vehicles by 2025. And it will — because those are its carefully pronounced scientific and economic priorities.

Shamelessly and insanely, the US press pursues the expanding stories of raging Hollywood rapists like the powerful movie mogul, Harvey Weinstein, and the hundreds of victims, while ignoring the world historic news of China’s rapid economic advances.

The US business elites are busy pushing their President and the US Congress to lower taxes for the billionaire elite, while 100 million US citizens remain without health care and register decreased life expectancy! Washington seems committed to in State-planned regression.

As US bombs fall on Yemen and the American taxpayers finance the giant Israeli concentration camp once known as ‘Palestine’, while China builds systems of roads and rail linking the Himalayas and Central Asia with Europe.

While Sherlock Holmes applies the science of observation and deduction, the US media and politicians perfect the art of obfuscation and deception.

In China, scientists and innovators play a central role in producing and increasing goods and services for the burgeoning middle and working class. In the US, the economic elite play the central role in exacerbating inequalities, increasing profits by lowering taxes and transforming the American worker into poorly-paid temp-labor – destined to die prematurely of preventable conditions.

While Chinese President Xi Jinping works in concert with the nation’s best technocrats to subordinate the military to civilian goals, President Trump and his Administration subordinate their economic decisions to a military-industrial-financial-Israeli complex.

Beijing invests in global networks of scientists, researchers and scholars. The US ‘opposition’ Democrats and disgruntled Republicans work with the giant corporate media (including the respectable Financial Times) to fund and fabricate conspiracies and plots under Trump’s Presidential bed.

Conclusion

China fires and prosecutes corrupt officials while supporting innovators. Its economy grows through investments, joint ventures and a great capacity to learn from experience and powerful data collection. The US squanders its domestic resources in pursuing multiple wars, financial speculation and rampant Wall Street corruption.

China investigates and punishes its corrupt business and public officials while corruption seems to be the primary criteria for election or appointment to high office in the US. The US media worships its tax-dodging billionaires and thinks it can mesmerize the public with a dazzling display of bluster, incompetence and arrogance.

China directs its planned economy to address domestic priorities. It uses its financial resources to pursue historic global infrastructure programs, which will enhance global partnerships in mutually beneficial projects.

It is no wonder that China is seen as moving toward the future with great advances while the US is seen as a chaotic frightening threat to world peace and its publicists as willing accomplices.

China is not without shortcomings in the spheres of political expression and civil rights. Failure to rectify social inequalities and failure to stop the outflow of billions of dollars of illicit wealth, and the unresolved problems with regime corruption will continue to generate class conflicts.

But the important point to note is the direction China has chosen to take and its capacity and commitment to identify and correct the major problems it faces.

The US has abdicated its responsibilities. It is unwilling or unable to harness its banks to invest in domestic production to expand the domestic market. It is completely unwilling to identify and purge the manifestly incompetent and to incarcerate the grossly corrupt officials and politicians of both parties and the elites.

Today overwhelming majorities of US citizens despise, distrust and reject the political elite. Over 70% think that the inane factional political divisions are at their greatest level in over 50 years and have paralyzed the government.

80% recognize that the Congress is dysfunctional and 86% believe that Washington is dishonest.

Never has an empire of such limitless power crumbled and declined with so few accomplishments.

China is a rising economic empire, but it advances through its active engagement in the market of ideas and not through futile wars against successful competitors and adversaries.

As the US declines, its publicists degenerate.

The media’s ceaseless denigration of China’s challenges and its accomplishments is a poor substitute for analysis. The flawed political and policy making structures in the US and its incompetent free-market political leaders lacking any strategic vision crumble in contrast to China’s advances.

[1] Lumpen Capitalism refers to an economic system in which the financial and military sector exploits the state treasury and productive economy for the 1% of the population.

[2] The 19th National Congress was attended by 2,280 delegates representing 89 million members.

 

Oct 272017
 

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

7_8_SS_Trump_Bibi_Meeting

Can Generals James Mattis (US Secretary of Defense) and John Hyten (Head of US Strategic Command) Prevent a Disaster?

Introduction

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Presidents of the 52 Major Jewish American Organizations are leading President Trump, like a puppy on a leash, into a major war with Iran. The hysterical ’52 Presidents’ and ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu are busy manufacturing Holocaust-level predictions that a non-nuclear Iran is preparing to ‘vaporize’ Israel, the most powerful, nuclear-armed state in the Middle East. The buffoonish US President Trump has swallowed this fantasy wholesale and is pushing our nation toward war for the sake of Israel and its US-based supporters and agents. We will cite ten recent examples of Israeli-authored policies, implemented by Trump in his march to war (there are scores of others).

  1. After many years, Israel and ‘the 52 President’ finally made the US withdraw from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) because of its detailed documentation of Israeli crimes against Palestinian people. Trump complied with their demands.
  2. Tel Aviv demanded a Zionist fanatic and backer of the illegal Jewish settler occupation of Palestinian lands, the bankruptcy lawyer David Friedman, be appointed US Ambassador to Israel. Trump complied, despite the ambassador’s overt conflict of interest.
  3. Israel launched waves of savage bombings against Syrian government troops and facilities engaged in a war against ISIS-mercenary terrorists. Israel, which had backed the terrorists in its ambition to break-up of the secular Syrian state, demanded US support. Trump complied, and sent more US arms to the anti-government terrorists.
  4. Israel denounced the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal Framework and Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, signed by 6 major states and UN Security Council Members, (US, France, UK, Germany, China and Russia). A furious Netanyahu demanded that President Trump follow Tel Aviv and abrogate the multiparty agreement signed by his predecessor, Barack Obama. Trump complied and the US is at risk of openly violating its international agreement.

Trump parrots Netanyahu’s falsehoods to the letter: He raves that Iran, while technically in compliance, has violated ‘the spirit of the agreement’ without citing a single instance of actual violation. The 5 other signers of the ‘Framework’, the US military and the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency have repeatedly certified Iran’s strict compliance with the accord. Trump rejects the evidence of countless experts among US allies and ‘his own generals’ while embracing the hysterical lies from Israel and the ‘52’. Who would have thought the ‘hard-nosed’ businessman Trump would be so ‘spiritual’ when it came to honoring and breaking treaties and agreements!

  1. Israel and the ‘52’ have demanded that Washington imprison and fine US citizens who have exercised their constitutional First Amendment Right of free speech by supporting the international boycott, divest and sanctions (BDS) campaign, which is designed to end the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and crimes against Palestinians. Trump complied. Americans may soon face over a decade in prison and complete economic ruin for supporting a peaceful economic boycott of Israeli settler products. This will represent an unprecedented violation of the US Constitution. At present, US public employees, like teachers in certain US states, are facing job loss for refusing to sign a ‘loyalty oath’ not to boycott products from Israel’s illegal settlements. Desperate American victims of the floods and natural disasters in Texas are being denied access to public US taxpayer relief funds unless they sign similar loyalty oaths in support of Israel.
  2. Israel demanded that the US appoint Zionist fanatic real estate attorney, Jason Greenblatt and real estate speculator, Jared Kushner as Middle East peace negotiators. Trump appointed South Carolina businesswoman Nikki Haley as US Ambassador to the United Nations. Israel pushed for Ms. Haley, the first US governor to criminalize support for the peaceful BDS movement.
  3. Trump went against the advice of ‘his Generals’ in his own cabinet regarding Iran’s compliance with the nuclear agreement, and chose to comply with Netanyahu’s demands.
  4. Trump supports the long-standing Israeli project to maneuver a Kurdish takeover of Northern Iraq, grabbing the oil-rich Kirkuk province and permanently divide the once secular, nationalist Iraqi nation. Trump has sent arms and military advisers to the Kurds in war-torn Syria as they attempt to grab territory for a separate ‘Kurdistan’. This is part of an Israeli plan to subdivide the Middle East into impotent tribal ‘statelets’.
  5. Trump rejected the Turkish government’s demand to extradite CIA-Israeli-backed Fethullah Gulen, self-exiled in the US since 1999, for his leadership role in the failed 2016 military coup d’etat.
  6. Like all his predecessors, Trump is completely submissive to Israeli-directed ‘lobbies’ (like AIPAC), which operate on behalf of a foreign power, in violation of the 1938 Foreign Agents Registration Act. Trump chose his Orthodox Zionist son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a callow real estate investor and prominent supporter for war against Iran, as his chief foreign policy adviser.

President Trump’s irresponsible pandering to Israel and its American-Jewish agents has caused deep unease among the Generals in his cabinet, as well as among active duty and retired US military officers, who are skeptical about Tel Aviv’s push for open-ended US wars in the Middle East.

Ten Reasons Why Military Officers support America’s Nuclear Accord with Iran

The Netanyahu-Israel First power configuration in Washington succeeded in convincing Trump to tear-up the nuclear accord with Iran. This went against the advice and wishes of the top US generals in the White House and active duty officers in the field who support the agreement and recognize Iran’s cooperation.

The Generals have ten solid reasons for rejecting the Netanyahu-Trump push to shred the accord:

  1. The agreement is working. By all reliable, independent and official observers, including the International Atomic Energy Agency, the US intelligence community and the US Secretary of State – Iran is complying with its side of the agreement.
  2. If Trump violates the agreement, co-signed by the 6 members of the UN Security Council, in order to truckle to the whims of Israel and its gang of ‘52’, the US government will lose all credibility among its allies. The US military will be equally tainted in its current and future dealings with NATO and other military ‘partners’.
  3. Violation of the agreement will force the Iranians to restart their nuclear, as well as advanced defensive, weapons programs, increasing the risk of an Israeli-Trump instigated military confrontation. Any US war with Iran will be prolonged, costing the lives of tens of thousands of US troops, its land bases in the Gulf States, and warships in the Persian Gulf. Full-scale war with Iran, a large and well-armed country, would be a disaster for the entire region.
  4. US generals know from their earlier experiences under the George W. Bush Administration that Zionist officials in Washington, in close collaboration with Israeli handlers, worked tirelessly to engineer the US invasion of Iraq and the prolonged war in Afghanistan. This led to the death and injury of hundreds of thousands of US military personnel as well as millions of civilian casualties in the invaded countries. The ensuing chaos created the huge refugee crises now threatening the stability of Europe. The Generals view the Israel-Firsters as irresponsible armchair warmongers and media propagandists, who have no ‘skin in the game’ through any service in the US Armed Forces. They are correctly seen as agents for a foreign entity.
  5. US generals learned the lesson of the wars in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Somalia – where disastrous interventions led to defeats and loss of potential important regional allies.
  6. US generals, who are working with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to negotiate an agreement with North Korea, know that Trump’s breaking a negotiated agreement with Iran, only reinforces North Korea’s distrust of the US and will harden its opposition to a diplomatic settlement on the Korean Peninsula. It is clear that a full-scale war with nuclear-armed North Korea could wipe out tens of thousands of US troops and allies throughout the region and kill or displace hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of civilians.
  7. US generals are deeply disturbed by the notion that their Commander in Chief, the elected President of the United States, is taking his orders from Israel and its US proxies. They dislike committing American blood and treasure for a foreign power whose policies have only degraded US influence in the Middle East. The generals want to act for and in defense of US national interests – and not Tel Aviv’s.
  8. US military officials resent the fact that Israel receives the most advanced US military weapons and technology, which have been subsidized by the US taxpayers. In some cases, Israelis receive advanced US weapons before US troops even have them. They also are aware that Israeli intelligence agents (and American citizens) have spied on the US and received confidential military information in order to pre-empt US policy. Israel operates within the United States with total impunity!
  9. US generals are concerned about negotiating accords with China over strategic military issues of global importance. The constant catering and groveling to Israel, an insignificant global economic entity, has reduced US prestige and status, as well as China’s trust in the validity of any military agreements with the Americans.
  10. Trump’s total reliance on his pro-Israel advisers, embedded in his regime, at the expense of US military intelligence, has led to the construction of a parallel government, pitting the President and his Zionist-advisers against his generals. This certainly exposes the total hypocrisy of Trump’s presidential campaign promise to ‘Make America Great Again’. His practice and policy of promoting war with Iran for the sake of Israel are placing US national interest and the advice of the US generals last and will never restore American prestige.

Trump’s decision not to certify Iran’s compliance with the accord and his handing the ultimate decision on an international agreement signed by the six members of the UN Security Council over to the US Congress is ominous: He has effectively given potential war making powers to a corrupt legislature, often derided as ‘Israeli occupied territory’, which has always sided with Israeli and US Zionist war mongers. Trump is snubbing ‘his’ State Department, the Pentagon and the various US Intelligence agencies while giving into the demands of such Zionist zealots as New York Senator Charles Schumer, Netanyahu’s alter ego in the US Senate and a huge booster for war with Iran.

Conclusion

Trump’s refusal to certify Iran’s compliance with nuclear accord reflects the overwhelming power of Israel within the US Presidency. Trump’s rebuke of his generals and Secretary of State Tillerson, the UN Security Council and the 5 major cosigners of the 2015 accord with Iran, exposes the advanced degradation of the US Presidency and the US role in global politics.

All previous US Presidents have been influenced by the billionaire and millionaire diehard Israel-Firsters, who funded their electoral campaigns. But occasionally, some ‘Commanders in Chief’ have decided to pursue policies favoring US national interest over Israel’s bellicose ambitions. Avoiding a catastrophic war in the Middle East is such a case: Obama chose to negotiate and sign a nuclear accord with Iran. Tel Aviv’s useful fool, Donald Trump, intends to break the agreement and drag this nation further into the hell of regional war.

In this regard, international opinion has sided with America’s generals. Only Israel and its US acolytes on Wall Street and Hollywood applaud the blustering, bellicose Trump!

Oct 252017
 

By William Blum, 99GetSmart

donald-trump-e

Capturing the wisdom and the beauty of Donald J. Trump in just one statement escaping from his charming mouth:

“Our military has never been stronger. Each day, new equipment is delivered; new and beautiful equipment, the best in the world – the best anywhere in the world, by far.”1

Here the man thinks that everyone will be impressed that the American military has never been stronger.

And that those who, for some unimaginable reason, are not impressed with that will at least be impressed that military equipment is being added EACH DAY. Ah yes, it’s long been a sore point with most Americans that new military equipment was being added only once a week.

And if that isn’t impressive enough, then surely the fact that the equipment is NEW will win people over. Indeed, the newness is important enough to mention twice. After all, no one likes USED military equipment.

And if newness doesn’t win everyone’s heart, then BEAUTIFUL will definitely do it. Who likes UGLY military equipment? Even the people we slaughter all over the world insist upon good-looking guns and bombs.

And the best in the world. Of course. That’s what makes us all proud to be Americans. And what makes the rest of humanity just aching with jealousy.

And in case you don’t fully appreciate that, notice that he adds that it’s the best ANYWHERE in the world.

And in case you still don’t fully appreciate that, notice that he specifies that our equipment is the best in the world BY FAR! That means that no other country is even close! Just imagine! Makes me choke up.

Lucky for the man … his seeming incapacity for moral or intellectual embarrassment.

He’s twice blessed. His fans like the idea that their president is no smarter than they are. This may well serve to get the man re-elected, as it did with George W. Bush.

The strange world of Russian trolls

Webster’s dictionary: troll – verb: To fish by running a baited line behind a moving boat; noun: A supernatural creature of Scandinavian folklore.

Russian Internet trolls are trying to stir up even more controversy over National Football League players crouching on one knee (“taking a “knee”) during the national anthem, said Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), warning that the United States should expect such divisive efforts to escalate in the next election.

“We watched even this weekend,” Lankford said, “the Russians and their troll farms, and their Internet folks, start hash-tagging out ‘take a knee’ and also hash-tagging out ‘Boycott NFL’.” The Russians’ goal, he said, was “to try to raise the noise level in America to try to make a big issue, an even bigger issue as they’re trying to just push divisiveness in the country. We’ve continued to be able to see that. We will see that again in our election time.”2

Russia “causing divisiveness” is a common theme of American politicians and media. Never explained is WHY? What does Russia have to gain by Americans being divided? Do they think the Russians are so juvenile? Or are the Americans the childish ones?

CNN on October 12 claimed that Russia uses YouTube, Tumblr and the Pokemon Go mobile game “to exploit racial tensions and sow discord among Americans,” while the Washington Post (October 12) reported that “content generated by Russian operatives was not aimed only at influencing the election. Many of the posts and ads intended to divide Americans over hot-button issues such as immigration or race.”

Imagine … the American public being divided over immigration and race … How could that be possible without Russian trolls?

The Post (October 9) reported that the Russian trolling operation resides “in a large gray building north of the St. Petersburg city center … There, young people work 12-hour shifts and make between $800 and $1,000 a month, “an attractive wage for former students and young people. It is impossible to get inside the building, and there are multiple entrances, making it hard to tell who is a troll and who is not.”

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest are amongst the many Internet sites that we are told have been overrun by Russian trolls. The last named is a site that specializes in home decor, fashion and recipes. Have the Russians gone mad? Or are the American accusations the kind of stuff that is usually called – dare I say it? – “propaganda”?

“How much the trolls affected the outcome of the U.S. election is unclear,” the Post had to admit. “But their omnipresence is evident on Twitter and in the comments section of publications like the Washington Post, where trolls can be found criticizing news stories, lambasting other posters and accusing one another of being trolls.”

Are you starting to chuckle?

At one point the Post reported that Facebook “identified more than 3000 advertisements purchased in a Russian-orchestrated campaign to influence the American public’s views and exploit divisions around contentious issues.” And Congressional investigators said that some of the Facebook ad purchases had “obvious Russian fingerprints, including Russian addresses and payments made in rubles”, and that “accounts traced to a shadowy Russian Internet company had purchased at least $100,000 in ads during the 2016 election season.”

However, at other times the Post told us that Facebook had pointed out that “most of the ads made no explicit reference in favor of Trump or Clinton,” and that some ads were purchased after the election. We’ve been told, moreover, that Facebook Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos’s team “had searched extensively for evidence of foreign purchases of political advertising but had come up short.”3

In any event, we have to wonder: What political savvy concerning American elections and voters do the Russians have that the Democratic and Republican parties don’t have?

I have read numerous references to these ads but have yet to come across a single one that quotes the exact wording of even one advertisement. Is that not odd?

To add to the oddness, in yet another Washington Post article (September 28) we are informed that “some of the ads promoted African American rights groups, including Black Lives Matter, while others suggested those same groups posed a growing political threat, according to people familiar with the material.”

Politico, a Democratic-Party-leaning journal, reports that Russian-funded Facebook ads backed Green Party candidate Jill Stein, Democrat Bernie Sanders, and Republican Donald Trump.

Who and what is behind these peculiar goings-on?

More fun and games: the Department of Homeland Security in September notified Virginia and 20 other states about Russian efforts to hack their election systems in 2016.

Earlier this year, UK Foreign Minister Boris Johnson declared, apparently without embarrassment: “We have no evidence the Russians are actually involved in trying to undermine our democratic processes at the moment. We don’t actually have that evidence. But what we do have is plenty of evidence that the Russians are capable of doing that.”4 At a September 27 Congressional hearing, FBI Director Christopher Wray joined this proud chorus, testifying: “One of the things we know is that the Russians and Russian state actors are trying to influence other elections in other countries.” Mr. Wray forgot to name any of the other countries and the assembled Congressmembers forgot to ask him for any names.

Perhaps the main reason for questioning charges of Russian interference in the 2016 US election is that Russian President Putin would have been risking that the expected winner, Hillary Clinton, would have been handed a personal reason to take revenge on him and his country. But that’s just being logical and rational, two qualities Cold War II has no more use for than Cold War I did.

Know thine enemy

The Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency issued a report in June entitled “Russia: Military Power: Building a military to support great power aspirations”. Here’s an excerpt:

Moscow seeks to promote a multi-polar world predicated on the principles of respect for state sovereignty and non-interference in other states’ internal affairs, the primacy of the United Nations, and a careful balance of power preventing one state or group of states from dominating the international order. To support these great power ambitions, Moscow has sought to build a robust military able to project power, add credibility to Russian diplomacy, and ensure that Russian interests can no longer be summarily dismissed without consequence. … Russia also has a deep and abiding distrust of U.S. efforts to promote democracy around the world and what it perceives as a U.S. campaign to impose a single set of global values.5

Great power aspirations, indeed. How dare those Russkis promote a multi-polar world, respect for state sovereignty, non-interference, the United Nations, and balance of power? It’s all straight out of Lenin’s playbook, 100th anniversary edition.

As to the US promoting democracy around the world … Oh right, that’s what the Pentagon calls Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, the Philippines, Honduras, Turkey, et al.

Like the southern gentlemen who agreed that it was right to free the slaves, but did so only in their wills

“Hypocrisy is anything whatever may deceive the cleverest and most penetrating man, but the least wide-awake of children recognizes it, and is revolted by it, however ingeniously it may be disguised.” – Leo Tolstoy, Russian writer (1828-1910)

An anti-abortion congressman asked a woman with whom he was having an extramarital affair to get an abortion when he thought she might be pregnant. A Pittsburgh newspaper said it had obtained text messages between Republican Rep. Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania and Ms. Shannon Edwards, a divorcée. A message from Edwards said the congressman had “zero issue posting your pro-life stance all over the place when you had no issue asking me to abort our unborn child just last week when we thought that was one of the options.” It turned out that she wasn’t pregnant.

The revelation came as the House approved Republican legislation that would make it a crime to perform an abortion after 20 weeks of fetal development. Murphy, a member of the House Pro-Life Caucus, and popular among anti-abortion groups, is among the bill’s co-sponsors. He subsequently announced that he will not seek re-election next year.6

Our beloved president at one time clearly supported a woman’s right to abortion. In recent times he has once again exhibited his high (double) standards by speaking, just as clearly, against abortion.

Anti-abortion activists like to speak of saving the lives of “unborn children”, of how the fetus is fully a human being deserving of as much love and respect and legal protection as any other human being. But does anyone know cases of parents grieving over an aborted fetus the way we have often read or heard of parents, as well as their friends, grieving over the death of a three-year-old child or a teenager? Of course not. If for no other reason than the parents choose to have an abortion.

Does anyone know of a case of the parents of an aborted fetus tearfully remembering the fetus’s first words, or high school graduation or wedding or the camping trip they all took together? Or the fetus’s smile or the way it laughed? Of course not. Because the fetus is not a human being in a sufficiently meaningful physical, social, intellectual, and emotional sense. But the anti-abortion activists – often for reasons of sexual prudishness, anti-feminism, religion (the Catholic members of the Supreme Court have been very consistent in their anti-abortion votes), or other personal or political prejudices – throw a halo around the fetus, treat the needs and desires of the parents as nothingness, and damn all those who differ with them as child murderers. Unfortunately, with many of these activists, their perfect love for human beings does not extend to the human beings of Iraq or Afghanistan or any other victims of their government’s warfare.

Notes

  1. Washington Post, September 8, 2017
  2. Washington Post, September 28, 2017
  3. Ibid. September 18, 19, 24, and October 13, 2017
  4. The Guardian (London), March 14, 2017
  5. Russia Military Power,” Defense Intelligence Agency, pages 14-15
  6. Associated Press, October 4, 2017
Oct 232017
 

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

end-of-empire

Introduction

Since World War II most of the world’s conflicts have revolved around struggles for independence against Western and Japanese colonial/imperial regimes

Following formal independence, a new type of imperial domination was imposed – neo-colonial regimes, in which the US and its European allies imposed vassal rulers acting as proxies for economic exploitation. With the rise of US unipolar global domination, following the demise of the USSR (1990), the West established hegemony over the East European states. Some were subject to fragmentation and sub-divided into new NATO dominated statelets.

The quest for a unipolar empire set in motion a series of wars and ethnic conflicts in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, the Baltic States, North Africa, Asia and Western Europe – leading to ethnic cleansing and the global mass refugee crises.

The break-up of nation states spread across the globe as the rhetoric and politics of ‘self-determination’ replaced the class struggle as the flagship for social justice and political freedom.

Many of the prime movers of empire-building adopted the tactics of dividing and conquering adversaries – under the liberal pretext of promoting ‘self-determination’, without clarifying who and what the ‘self’ represented and who really benefited.

Sectional, regional, cultural and ethnic identities served to polarize struggles. In contrast ‘central’ regimes fought to retain ‘national unity’ in order to repress regional revolts.

The purpose of this paper is to analyze and discuss the national and international forces behind the slogans of ‘self-determination’ and the larger international and regional consequences.

Basic Concepts: Ambiguities and Clarification

One of the striking aspects of the process of globalization and national development is ‘uneven and combined development’ (ICD). This takes several forms – uneven development between regions, within and between countries, and usually both.

Imperial countries concentrate industries, commerce and banking while colonized/neo-colonized countries are left with export-linked, resource-based enclaves and low-wage assembly plants. Frequently, the capital cities of colonized and de-colonized countries concentrate and centralize political power, wealth, infrastructure, transport and finance while their provinces are reduced to providing raw material and cheap labor by subject people. Infrequently political power and administration – including the military, police and tax collection agencies – are concentrated in economically un-productive central cities, while the wealth-producing, but politically weaker regions, are economically exploited, marginalized and depleted.

Combined and uneven development on international and national levels has led to class, anti-imperialist and regional struggles. Where class-based struggles have been weakened, nationalist and ethnic leaders and movements assume political leadership.

Nationalism’, however, has two diametrically opposing faces: In one version Western backed regional movements work to degrade anti-imperialist regimes in order to subordinate the entire nation to the dictates of an imperial power. In a different context, broad-based secular nationalists struggle to gain political independence by defeating imperial forces and their local surrogates, who are often ethnic or religious minority rent-collecting overlords.

Imperial states have always had a clear understanding of the nature of the different kinds of ‘nationalism’ and which serve their interests. Imperial states support regional and/or ‘nationalist’ regimes and movements that will undermine anti-imperial movements, regimes and regions. They always oppose ‘nationalist’ movements with strong working class leadership.

Historical Experience

Imperial Perfidious Albion, the United Kingdom, slaughtered and starved millions of people who resisted its rule in Asia (India, Burma, Malaya and China), Africa (South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, etc.) and Europe (Ireland).

At the same time, British imperialists promoted regional conflicts arming Muslims to fight Hindus, Sikhs to fight Muslims, Gurkas to oppress Malays and create various warring religious, ethnic and linguistic groups throughout the Indian subcontinent, Burma and Malaya. Likewise the UK promoted conflicts among religious, secular nationalist and conservative groups throughout the Middle East.

The imperial powers naturally operate through the strategy of ‘divide and conquer’, labeling their adversaries as ‘backward’ and ‘authoritarian’ while praising their surrogates as ‘freedom fighters’ which they claim are ‘in transition to Western democratic values’.

However, the strategic issue is how imperial states define the kind of self-determination to support or repress and when to change their policies: Today’s allies are dubbed ‘democrats’ in the Western press and tomorrow they can be re-assigned the role of ‘freedom’s enemies’ and ‘authoritarian’, if they act against imperial interests.

The Two Faces of Self-Determination

In contrast to the imperial practice of shifting policies toward dominant regimes and separatist movements, most of the ‘left’ broadly support all movements for self-determination and label all opponents as ‘oppressors’.

As a result the left and the imperialist regimes may end up on the same side in a massive ‘regime change’ campaign!

The libertarian left cover-up their own fake ‘idealism’ by labeling the imperial powers as ‘hypocrites’ and using a ‘double-standard’. This is a laughable accusation, since the guiding principle behind an imperial decision to support or reject ‘self-determination’ is based on class and imperial interests. In other words, when ‘self-determination’ benefits the empire, it receives full support. There are no abstract historical, moral precepts, devoid of class and imperial content determining policy.

Case Studies: The Myths of the “Stateless Kurds” and “Ukraine’s Liberation”

In the Twentieth Century, the Kurdish citizens of Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran have made claims of ‘self-determination’ and fought against established nation-states in the name of ‘ethnic liberation’.

But who defines the real ‘self’ to be liberated?

In the case of Iraq in the 1990’s, Kurds were sponsored, armed, funded and defended by the US and Israel in order to weaken and divide the secular-nationalist Iraqi republic. Kurds, again with US support, have organized regional conflicts in Turkey and more recently in Syria, in order to defeat the independent government of Bashar Assad. Leftist Kurds cynically describe their imperial allies, including the Israelis, as ‘progressive colonialists’.

In brief, the Kurds act as surrogates for the US and Israel: They provide mercenaries, access to military bases, listening and spy posts and resources in their newly ‘liberated (and ethnically cleansed) country’, to bolster US imperialism, which ‘their warlord leaders’ have chosen as the dominant ‘partner’. Is their struggle one of national liberation or mercenary puppetry in the service of empire against sovereign nations resisting imperial and Zionist control?

In the Ukraine, the US hailed the cause of self-determination when it engineered a violent coup to oust an elected regime, whose crime was its commitment to independence from NATO. The coup was openly funded by the US, which financed and trained fascist thugs committed to the expulsion or repression of ethnic Russian speakers, especially in the eastern Donbas region and Crimea with the aim of placing NATO bases on Russia’s border.

The overwhelmingly Russian-speaking people of Crimea opposed the coup and exercised their right to self-determination by voting to rejoin Russia. Likewise the industrialized Donbas region of eastern Ukraine declared its autonomy, opposing the oppressive and grossly corrupt US installed regime in Kiev.

The violent US-EU sponsored coup in Kiev was a blatant form of imperial annexation, while the peaceful vote in Crimea and the militant Eastern Ukraine (Donbas) exercise of self-determination presented a progressive response by anti-imperialist forces. Thwarted in its project to turn Eastern Ukraine and Crimea into NATO launching pads for aggression against Moscow, US/EU condemned this response as ‘Russian colonization’.

Tibet and the Uighurs in China’s Xinjiang Province

Separatist groups have been actively engaged in armed uprisings for many decades in Tibet and Xinjiang, Western China. While they claimed to be ‘independent’, their feudal warlords have long been hostile to the positive advances of the Chinese revolution (including the abolition of slavery in Tibet, as well as opium trade and bride price and the extension of universal education in feudal Moslem regions). They collaborated with the US and expansionist India (where the Dalai Lama established his palace and camps of armed supporters, trained and armed by Western imperial agencies).

While the West advertises the Dalai Lama as a peace-loving holy man giving platitudinous speeches to adoring crowds, this saint never condemned the genocidal US wars against fellow Buddhists in Vietnam, Korea or elsewhere.

The well-funded Western pro-Tibet and pro-Uighur celebrity/victim circuit has ignored the links between the Dalai Lama and his imperial patrons, which ultimately defines the operational meaning of ‘self-determination’.

Kosova: Self-Determination by Terrorist White Slavers

After World War II, Yugoslavia, liberated from its vicious Nazi collaborators by the Communist partisans, embarked on becoming a peaceful self-managed, multi-ethnic socialist society. But in the 1990’s, the overt military intervention of NATO forces deliberately engineered the violent break-up of Yugoslavia into ‘independent’ statelets. The experiment of a multiethnic socialist state in Europe was destroyed. After massive ethnic cleansing of its non-Albanian populations, a new NATO puppet-state, Kosova, came under the control of an internationally recognized terrorist, white slaver, narco-US vassal Hashim Thaci and his Kosovo Liberation Army thugs.

With the massive US bombing campaign against Belgrade and other Yugoslav cities and with NATO military support, Kosova achieved ‘self-determination’ – as a huge land-based US aircraft carrier and ‘R&R’ center (Camp Bondsteel) with discounts at KLA-run brothels for the GI’s. Because Kosova serves as a mercenary outpost run by vassal thugs, Washington and Brussels endorsed its claims as a ‘liberated independent state’. It has also served as an international discount depot for the gruesome trade in human organs for transplant. Viewing the ethnically cleansed mafia state of Kosovo, then NATO commander, Canadian General Lewis MacKenzie, later admitted: ‘We bombed the wrong side’.

The break-up of Yugoslavia, led to multiple separatist mini-states, each of which fell in line with EU-economic domination and US military control. In Western jargon this was dubbed ‘democratic self-determination’ – the ugly reality is that of massive ethnic cleansing, impoverishment and criminality.

Catalunya’s Independence and Neo-Franco Spain

Spain is under the rule of a regime descended from the fascist dictator Francisco Franco. President Mariano Rajoy and his misnamed ‘Popular Party’ (PP) and his royal sidekick, King Felipe VI, have engaged in massive corruption scandals, money laundering and fraudulent multi-million euro public–private building contracts. Rajoy’s neo-liberal policies significantly contributed to a financial crash which resulting in a 30% unemployment rate and an austerity program stripping Spanish workers of their collective bargaining power.

In the face of Catalunya’s pursuit of self-determination via free and democratic elections, Rajoy ordered a police and military invasion, seizing ballots, breaking heads and asserting total control.

The Catalans’ peaceful exercise of self-determination via free elections, independent of imperial manipulation, was rejected by both the EU and Washington as ‘unlawful’– for disobeying Rajoy and his neo-Franco legions.

Self-Determination for Palestine and US Backed Israeli Colonization and Subjugation

For a half-century, Washington has supported brutal Israeli occupation and colonization of the Palestinian ‘West Bank’. The US consistently denies self-determination for the people of Palestine and its millions of displaced refugees. Washington arms and finances Israeli expansion through the violent seizure of Palestinian territory and resources as well as the starvation, incarceration, torture and assassination of Palestinians for the crime of asserting their right of self-determination.

The overwhelming majority of US Congressional officials and Presidents, past and present, slavishly take their cues from the Presidents of the 52 Major Jewish (Israeli) Organization who add billions to the coffers of colonial Tel Aviv. Israel and its Zionist surrogates inside the US government manipulate the US into disastrous wars in the Middle East against the self-determination of independent Arab and Muslim nations.

Saudi Arabia: Enemy of Yemen’s Self-Determination

Saudi Arabia’s despotic regime has fought against self-determination in the Gulf States and Yemen. The Saudis, backed by US arms and advisers, have dispossessed millions of Yemeni civilians and killed thousands in a merciless bombing campaign. Over the past decade the Saudis have bombed and blockaded Yemen, destroying its infrastructure, causing a massive plague of cholera and threatening starvation for millions of children in an effort to defeat the Houthi-led Yemeni liberation movement.

The US and UK have provided over a hundred billion dollars in arms sales and give logistical support, including bombing coordinates to the Saudi tyrants while blocking any UN-sponsored diplomatic action to relieve the immense suffering. In this grotesque war crime, Washington and Israel are the Saudi Monarchy’s closest associates in denying self-determination to the oppressed people of Yemen who have long resisted Saudi control.

Conclusion

The US imperialist state, like all aspiring empire-builders, represses or supports movements for self-determination according to their class and imperial interests. To be clear: Self-determination is a class-defined issue; it is not a general moral-legal principle.

Imperialism’s selective use and abuse of self-determination is not a case of ‘hypocrisy’ or ‘double standards’, as their left-liberal supporters complain. Washington applies a single standard: Does this movement advance Empire by securing and buttressing vassal regimes and their supporters? The language of ‘liberation’ is a mere gloss to secure the allegiance of vassals opposed to independent states.

For decades, Eastern European, Balkan and Baltic countries were encouraged to struggle for ‘self-determination’ against the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact, only to later embrace the yoke of vassalage under the command of NATO, the EU and Washington. In many cases their sovereignty and standard of living collapsed followed by ethnic cleansing, including the mass expulsion of Serbs from Croatia and Kosovo and the cultural-linguistic repression of ethnic Russians in Latvia and Ukraine.

The Kurdish ‘freedom fighters’, followed ethnic warlords who were funded by the US and Israel, and took over town, cities, oil resources and territory to serve as imperial military bases against the sovereign governments of Iraq, Iran and Syria.

In this context, the Kurdish warlords and oligarchs are loyal vassals and an integral component of the long-standing US-Israeli policy aimed at dividing and weakening independent allies of Palestine, Yemen and genuine liberation movements.

Clearly the criteria for deciding whose claims of self-determination are valid require identifying whether class and anti-imperialist interests are advanced.

Beyond the immediate conflicts, many independent regimes, in turn, become oppressive rulers of their own minorities and native critics. ‘Self-determination’ ad infinitum can ultimately lead to schizoid individuals – extolling their mythical people while oppressing others. Today, Zionism is the ultimate parody of ‘self-determination’. Newly independent countries and rulers frequently deny minorities of their own right to self-determination – especially those who sided with the previous power.

To the extent that the ‘national’ struggle is limited to political independence it can lead to a mere ‘changing of the guard’ – maintaining oppressive class exploitation and introducing new forms of cultural-ethnic and gender oppression.

In some instances the new forms of class exploitation may even surpass their previous conditions under imperial vassalage.

Kurds, Tibetans, fascist Ukrainian nationalists, Uighurs and other so-called freedom fighters turn out to be military Sepoys for aggressive US incursion against independent China, Iran and Russia. Leftist backers of these dubious ‘liberation movements’ tag along behind the empire.

Capitalist ‘globalization’ is today’s greatest enemy to authentic self-determination. Imperial globalization supports fragmented statelets – all the better to convert them into new vassals with their own flag and anthem!

 

globalist_really_is-copy

Oct 132017
 

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

Introduction

Multiple wars ravage the Middle East. Turkey has inserted itself into the middle of most of these regional conflicts and ended up a loser.

Under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey has intervened and formed alliances with a rogue’s gallery of imperial warlords, terrorists-mercenaries, Zionist expansionists, feudal potentates and obscure tribal chiefs, with disastrous economic, political and military consequences for the Turkish nation.

In this paper we will discuss Turkey’s domestic and foreign policies and behavior over the past decade. We will conclude with lessons for middle range powers, which might help in future decisions.

President Erdogan’s Domestic Disasters

Throughout the early decade of the 21st century, Erdoğan made a strategic alliance with an influential semi-clandestine organization led by a cult-leading cleric, Fethullah Gülen, who was conveniently self-exiled in the US and under the protection of the US intelligence apparatus. This marriage of convenience was formed in order to weaken the leftist, secular and Ataturk nationalist influenced opposition. Armed with the Gülenists’ treasure trove of forged documents, Erdoğan purged the military of its Ataturk nationalist leadership. He proceeded to marginalize the secular Republican Party and repressed leftist trade union, social movements and prominent academics, journalists, writers and student activists. With support from the Gülenists movement, ‘Hizmet’, Erdoğan celebrated his successes and won multiple election and re-election victories!

Initially, Erdoğan failed to recognize that the Gülenists/Hizmet operated as a subversive political organization, which permeated the state apparatus through a dense network of bureaucratic, military, judicial, police, and civil society organizations, with ties to the US military/CIA and friendly relations with Israeli policy makers.

By 2013, Erdoğan felt intense pressure from the Gülenists/Hizmet which sought to discredit and oust his regime by revealing multi-million dollar corrupt practices involving him and his family in a ‘Turquoise Color Revolution’ – remake of other ‘regime changes’.

Having discovered his internal vulnerability, Erdoğan moved to curtail the power and reach of the Gülenists/Hizmet controlled media. He was not yet prepared to deal with the immense scope and depth of the elite links to Gülenists/Hizmet. A Gülenists-led military coup was launched in July 2016, with the tacit support of the US military stationed in Turkey. This was foiled by a major popular mobilization with the support of  the armed forces.

Erdoğan then moved to thoroughly purge the followers of Hizmet from the military, public administration, schools, business, the press and public and private institutions. He extended his purge to include secular and nationalist political leaders who had always opposed the Gülenists and their attempted coup d’état.

As a result of the coup attempt and the subsequent purge, Erdoğan weakened and fractured every aspect of the state and civil society. Erdoğan ended up securing control of a weakened state with a degraded business, educational and cultural world.

The Gülenists coup was authored and led by its supremo Fethullah Gülen, ensconced in his ‘secret’ private estate in the United States. Clearly the US was implicated in the coup and they rejected Erdoğan’s demands to extradite him.

Erdoğan’s subservience to the US/NATO leadership have undermined his attempts to strike at the roots of the coup and its internal and external power structure. The US/NATO military bases still operate in Turkey and retain influence over its military.

In the aftermath of the coup, the decline of Gülenist influence in the economy contributed to economic reversals in investments and growth. The purge of the military and civil society reduced Turkey’s military preparedness and alienated the democratic electorate. Erdoğan had already nearly lost his bid to the presidency after his earlier purges in 2014.

Erdoğan’s Foreign Policy Disasters

Perversity is when a ruler weakens its military and represses its citizens and launches a series of risky foreign adventures: This is exactly what Erdoğan has done over the past several years.

First Erdoğan backed a terrorist uprising in Syria, providing arms, recruiting overseas ‘volunteers’ and providing them with unrestricted passage across the Turkish border. Many of the terrorists proceeded to join forces with Syrian, Iraqi and Turkish Kurds in establishing military bases on Ankara’s borders.

Secondly, Erdoğan ran a scurrilous electoral campaign among the millions of ethnic Turks living in Germany — violating that powerful nation’s sovereignty. As a result, Erdoğan increased tensions and animosity with what had been its closest ally in its quest for EU membership — effectively terminating the process.

Thirdly, Erdoğan backed NATO’s invasion and bombing of Libya, killing President Gadhafi, who had been an independent voice, capable of serving as a possible ally against imperial intervention in North Africa.

Fourthly, Erdoğan backed the brief government of Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood after its electoral victory in 2012 following the ‘Arab Spring’ uprising in Egypt of 2011. He backed a formula similar to his own Turkish policy of excluding the secular, democratic opposition. This led to a bloody US-backed military coup led by General Abdel Sisi in July 2013 — a lesson not lost on Erdoğan.

Fifth, Erdoğan’s de facto friendly relations with Israel — despite verbal criticism — in the face of Tel Aviv’s assassination of nine non-violent Turkish protestors trying to break the starvation blockade of Gaza — undermined relations with the pro-Palestine Arab world and nationalists in Turkey.

Sixth, Erdoğan developed lucrative ties with Iraqi Kurd dictator-warlord, Masoud Barzani, facilitating the flow of oil to Israel. Erdoğan’s own illicit oil deals with Barzani strengthened the cause of Kurdish separatism and exposed the widespread corruption of Erdoğan’s family dealings.

Seventh, Erdoğan provoked military tensions with Russia by shooting down a warplane in Syria. This led to an economic boycott, which reduced export earnings, devastated the tourism sector and added Moscow to his list of adversaries, (Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, US, Germany, Hezbollah and Iran).

Eighth, Erdoğan backed the tiny oil-state of Qatar, sending supplies and soldiers to oppose a threat from Saudi Arabia, the other royal oil statelets and Egypt, US allies and followers.

Despite his many disastrous domestic and foreign policies, Erdoğan learned nothing and forgot nothing. When the Israelis backed the Iraqi Kurds in organizing an independence ‘referendum’ aiming to ultimately annex the rich oil fields of Northern Iraq, Erdoğan took no action despite this threat to Turkish national security. He merely made verbal threats to cut off the Kurd’s access to Ankara’s oil pipelines. He took no concrete steps. Erdoğan preferred to pocket transit taxes from the oil, antagonizing Iraq and Syria and strengthening the links between Kurdish Iraq and its secessionist counterparts in Syria and Turkey.

Because of Erdoğan failure to close down the US military base following its support of the Gülenist-led coup, the Turkish army is still heavily under  US influence, opening the possibility of another uprising.

Erdoğan’s lip-service to ‘nationalism’ has served mainly as a political tool to repress domestic democratic political parties and trade unions and the Kurdish and Alevi communities.

Erdoğan’s initial support and subsequent opposition to the jihadi terrorist groups seeking to oust the secular-nationalist government in Damascus has caused ‘blowback’ — with ISIS terrorist cells bombing civilian targets Istanbul and Ankara with mass casualties.

Conclusion

Erdoğan’s unprincipled, opportunistic and pro-imperialist NATO alliance demonstrates the inability of an aspiring regional power to find a niche in the US Empire.

Erdoğan believed that being a loyal ‘ally’ of the US would protect Turkey from a coup d’état. He failed to realize that he had become a disposable pawn in US plans to instill more servile rulers (like the Gülenist) in the Middle East.

Erdoğan’s belief that Turkey’s collaboration with the US to overthrow Syria’s President Bashar Assad would lead to a successful territorial grab of Northern Syria: instead Erdoğan ended up serving the US-backed Syrian Kurds tied to the Turkish Kurds. By working to break up Syria and destroy its state and government, Erdoğan strengthened Kurdish cross border expansionism.

Erdoğan failed to recognize the most basic rule of imperial policy: There are no permanent allies there are only permanent interests. Erdoğan thought Turkey would be ‘rewarded’ by acting as a US surrogate with a share of power, wealth and territory in the Middle East. Instead, as a ‘normal’ imperial power, the US used Turkey when it was convenient and would then dispose of Erdoğan — like a used condom.

Anti-imperialism is not just an ideal and moral/ethical principle — it is a realistic approach to safeguarding sovereignty, democratic politics and meaningful alliances.

Oct 102017
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews

savvidis_0-1600x900To become a modern Greek oligarch, you don’t need a vast shipping empire a la Onassis. You just need some seed money, a sports team or two, some media properties, a curated public image, and some quid pro quo with the SYRIZA government that once promised to crush you.

ATHENS, GREECE — Greece is a country that is famously known for its strong tradition in the maritime sector, and for its many wealthy shipowners. Names such as Onassis and Latsis have become globally known and are synonymous with great wealth and with a playboy lifestyle of mingling with the rich and famous.

Greece is also a country whose language boasts a particularly rich and diverse vocabulary. There is seemingly a Greek word for anything and everything, and one such word is “diaploki.” A uniquely Greek word, diaploki neatly sums up the specific relationship and interplay that has developed in Greece among successive governments, politicians, and big-business and media magnates.

Prior to the initial election of the purportedly “radical leftist” SYRIZA party in Greece’s parliamentary elections of January 2015, one of the party’s main campaign promises was that it would “crush” Greece’s oligarchs, who hold preeminent positions in the country’s media landscape and in such key sectors as energy, infrastructure, insurance, and of course shipping.

After SYRIZA’s election, though, an about-face quickly followed across multiple fronts, including its stance towards Greece’s oligarchs. Today, instead of “crushing” them, it is actively favoring them. Following last year’s botched television licensing attempt, in which SYRIZA was apparently going to “crush” the oligarchs by auctioning off an artificially limited number of television licenses to the very deepest pockets — in other words, those of the oligarchs — SYRIZA is trying again. It is now planning to auction off television as well as radio licenses to the highest bidders — with no provision for any non-profit, non-commercial or community broadcasters of any kind.

A new breed of corruption and “diaploki”

CEO of media conglomerate 24 Media, Dimitris Maris (left) and Soviet-born businessman and former United Russia MP, Ivan Savvidis. (Right)CEO of media conglomerate 24 Media, Dimitris Maris (left) and Soviet-born businessman and former United Russia MP, Ivan Savvidis. (Right)

Amongst those who are flourishing under the reign of the SYRIZA-led coalition government, however, are not just the “old guard” of shipowner-oligarchs, such as Giannis Alafouzos (owner of Skai TV and Radio and Greece’s neoliberal newspaper of record, Kathimerini), the Kyriakou family (owners of the Antenna Media Group, including national broadcaster ANT1 Television), or the Vardinogiannis family (owners of national broadcaster Star Channel and extensive media and publishing interests). Now there is a new breed of businessmen-oligarchs who have risen to prominence under the SYRIZA regime, oligarchs who have quickly amassed holdings in the mass media and other industries, and who have access to and the ear of the current government and its personnel.

Two of Greece’s most notorious nouveau-oligarchs are Dimitris Maris and Ivan Savvidis. Maris is the CEO of one of Greece’s fastest-growing media conglomerates, 24 Media, which boasts a portfolio of numerous print, radio, and online properties. Savvidis is a Soviet-born businessman and former member of parliament with the United Russia party, who has turned his sights on his purported country of origin, Greece — amassing there, in recent years, significant business holdings across several sectors.

Using these two nouveau-oligarchs as examples, the following steps will describe exactly how one can become a Greek oligarch — and obtain the privileges and power that this position of status affords.

Step one: Build a business profile

In order to gain a foothold in the country’s political and economic system, the first decisive step for any budding oligarch-to-be is to construct a profile as a seemingly legitimate — or successful, at any rate — businessman.

In the case of Dimitris Maris, this successful — even if its legitimacy is arguable — business is none other than online gambling, as he is a shareholder in stoiximan.gr, one of Greece’s and Europe’s largest online gambling and sports betting operations. Founded in 2007 and based in Malta under the corporate umbrella of “Gambling Malta Ltd.,” stoiximan.gr is said to be operating in Greece with a “temporary” license (not unlike the country’s television and radio broadcast stations).

At the same time that the SYRIZA-led government is going as far as to confiscate pocket change from the already decimated bank accounts of newly impoverished Greek citizens, seizing monies owed in “back taxes,” stoiximan.gr and a few dozen other online gambling services operate in Greece with “temporary” licenses issued to offshore corporations, generating over 1 billion euros in revenue that is entirely tax-free. Indeed, in late 2016, allegations emerged that stoiximan.gr was being probed by prosecutors in Greece for tax evasion totaling over 35 million euros.

Nevertheless, stoiximan.gr continues to operate — and, as will be seen, Maris’ business empire has expanded beyond online gambling to the online- and mass-media landscape.

Ivan Savvidis took a somewhat different route to the top: he first became a Russian oligarch, before spreading his business and financial empire to Greece. Born in the former Soviet Union in what is now Georgia, Savvidis was employed in the Don State Tobacco Company in various positions. Following the collapse of the USSR, the company was privatized and Savvidis somehow emerged as its general manager. By 2012, he had entered the Forbes list of the wealthiest Russians in the world.

It was around this time that Savvidis expanded his business activity to crisis-hit Greece – a peculiar choice at face value, in light of the country’s economic instability and uncertain future, and also because there is some doubt as to whether Savvidis had ever visited or spent much time in Greece prior to this decade. As will be detailed below, his current business holdings in Greece – all acquired within the past few years – include media outlets, major infrastructural assets, tourist properties, tobacco, and soft drinks.

Step two: Purchase a sports team

Sports is politics and, in Greece, owning a sports club is a surefire way to snag power, influence, and a legion of fanatic supporters. All of Greece’s major football and basketball teams are owned by wealthy oligarchs, competing with each other both on and off the playing field.

Much more so than in North America, one’s affiliation with a sports team in Greece is treated with an almost religious fervor. This degree of support typically extends to the team’s management, ownership, and president, particularly when the team is playing well. In Greece, each major team is also affiliated with one or more sports newspapers (which have lost less of their circulation than the political press) and websites. These outlets provide not only “partisan” reporting of the team’s doings, but also full coverage of all of the owner’s other business activities. In this way, through ownership of these teams, the oligarchs in control inherit a ready-made “fan” base that will identify with and support all of the owner’s activities – support that is blindly reinforced in the athletic press.

Maris is the founder of 24 Media, which is the umbrella corporation of his various media endeavors and whose corporate website is only in English. One of Maris’ first media properties was the online portal sport24.gr, a site that — despite having been established later than other such websites in Greece, and lacking the “name brand” of the existing sports media outlets — has nevertheless managed in a short time to become perhaps the preeminent sports news website in the country.

Maris’ sports media holdings are buffered by contra.gr, a sports and lifestyle website that was bought out by 24 Media, and by radio station Sport 24 Radio, broadcasting in Athens and networked with stations throughout Greece. This, of course, is in addition to his aforementioned activity in the sports betting sector.

Savvidis followed the more traditional route, beginning in Russia, where between 2002 and 2005 he was the chairman of the FC Rostov football club, and since 2005 has been chairman of FC SKA Rostov-on-Don. In 2012 his presence in the sports world expanded to Greece, following the purchase of one of Greece’s major football clubs, PAOK FC. Having paid off the previously struggling club’s debts and enjoying the support of the pro-PAOK sports media of Thessaloniki, the city where the team is based, Savvidis inherited an immediate and automatically loyal fan base through his takeover of PAOK.

More recently, Savvidis has forayed into the world of Greece’s sports media, purchasing sports portal SDNA, while it is rumored that he is in the market to purchase another, more prominent sports website.

An additional bonus that comes from having control of or influence over the sports media is this: in Greece, such media outlets are well aware that their target audience, primarily younger adult males, are often unemployed or underemployed and wholly miserable and dissatisfied with their lives amidst the economic crisis. Largely apolitical, and wholly awestruck by the glitzy stadiums and high priced superstars of the foreign football leagues that they invariably follow, they do not miss an opportunity to put down Greece for all of its real or perceived shortcomings.

In turn, the sports media caters to this sentiment. For instance, one of 24 Media’s properties is the website oneman.gr, which exclusively targets young men with glamorous stories about life in “civilized” countries and heaps of sensationalist “only in Greece” stories — which are invariably negative. These stories are then heavily cross-promoted across 24 Media’s sports portals.

Step three: Establish or purchase media outlets

Once you’ve become a nationally known and perhaps notorious figure through your activity in the sports world, the next step is to enter the day-to-day lives of all Greeks through the purchase of or establishment of one or more mass media outlets. Having already inherited a base of popular support via the ownership of a sports club, the next step – ownership of mainstream, general-interest media and news outlets – affords oligarchs even more power and influence.

“Diaploki,” as mentioned earlier, refers to the corrupt interplay of politicians and the owners of major industries and the media. In Greece, a country that boasts a plethora of media outlets, most newspapers and broadcast stations are not profitable. Indeed, they are not necessarily intended to be profitable. The real value that they provide to their oligarch owners stems from the influence that these channels afford them. This encompasses influence over public opinion, cross-promotion of their own business and sporting activities and holdings, and, perhaps most significantly of all, influence over and pressure on politicians and the government of the day.

An old adage of those seeking or exerting influence in Greece was (and largely remains) “give me a [public works] contract or I’ll open a newspaper” – insinuating that the “dirty laundry” of the government or specific political figures would then “leak.” With most oligarchs entrenched in the construction sector, their co-owned media outlets have traditionally been employed for the purposes of pressuring governments for lucrative public contracts of all sorts. This tactic has been successful and continues to the present day, even with the supposedly left-wing SYRIZA-led government that at one time was pledging to keep the oligarchs in check.

In a sense, Maris breaks with this tradition. He did not develop, and as of yet has not turned to, holdings in sectors such as construction, banking, insurance, or heavy industry. His media properties began to grow largely in parallel with his activity in the sports gambling sector. Starting small, with a small number of online outlets such as sport24.gr and news247.gr, the 24 Media empire has dramatically grown during the years of SYRIZA’s governance of Greece.

In part, 24 Media’s strategy has been to import brand names from the United States, including launching the Greek versions of the Huffington Post, Dailymotion, and NBA.com. Following these intermediate footsteps, though, 24 Media has recently taken the big leap into radio — first through its launch of Sport 24 Radio and then, earlier this year, through the launch of news radio station “Radiofono 24/7” in the cities of Athens, Thessaloniki, Patra and Volos, with a network of affiliated stations in other parts of Greece.

Maris also expanded into the world of print in a rather peculiar fashion, through his ownership and management of the “populist-right” newspaper Dimokratia. Though, as will be shown below, Maris’ media outlets are staunchly pro-SYRIZA, Dimokratia maintains a populist-right facade while “protecting” SYRIZA and attacking its main parliamentary opposition.

In turn, SYRIZA, which at one time campaigned for social justice, looks the other way while 24 Media has earned a reputation among journalists for not insuring employees and for forcing unpaid overtime.

Aside from his influence over pro-PAOK sports media outlets, Savvidis’ first somewhat clumsy foray into the media landscape came through his participation in last year’s unconstitutional television licensing bid, touted by SYRIZA as a centerpiece in its “fight” against the oligarchs, but in which an artificially low (four) number of nationwide television licenses was auctioned off to the very highest bidders — oligarchs, in other words.

This licensing bid was struck down in late 2016 by Greece’s Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, while Greece’s existing television stations are on the air under a regime of temporary legality.

In this bidding process, Savvidis did not initially emerge as one of the four highest bidders, but after one of the winning bidders was disqualified, Savvidis inherited that license with the fifth-highest bid. Savvidis, however, did not actually own or operate a television station, television studios, or any other similar media property. This detail temporarily became moot when the bidding process for these licenses was overturned.

Savvidis re-emerged into the media forefront in Greece this year, initially through his purchase of 19 percent of the shares of the heavily indebted and struggling Mega Channel, formerly a powerhouse in Greece’s television landscape. Along with this purchase, Savvidis also obtained the Ethnos tabloid newspaper and the Imerisia financial newspaper. This buying spree concluded – for now at least – with the purchase of 100 percent of national television broadcaster Epsilon TV in August.

In turn, management of Savvidis’ new press holdings, Ethnos and Imerisia, was quickly handed over to — who else? — Maris’ 24 Media, a coming full circle of sorts for these two budding oligarchs.

Step four: Use these media outlets as partisan propaganda organs

Savvidis and Maris have more in common than just their management deal regarding the Ethnos and Imerisia newspapers. Both of these oligarchs are unabashedly and fanatically pro-SYRIZA, as evidenced by the political stance maintained by their respective media properties.

This was apparent, for instance, upon the return of Ethnos to newsstands on September 16, following an absence of many months and under the new management of Savvidis and 24 Media.

Ethnos front page on the day of its relaunch - September 16, 2017.

The Ethnos front page on the day of its relaunch, September 16, 2017.

The main front page headline of the relaunched Ethnos boasted, in large letters, of Greece’s “RETURN” to normality and its emergence out of the economic crisis under the stewardship of SYRIZA. This return to normalcy, crowed Ethnos, will be accompanied by foreign investments and by social benefits.

This banner headline was further accompanied by a front page editorial touting Greece’s turn “from fear to hope.” These headlines are, of course, laughable in light of the continued crisis Greece finds itself in and the austerity commitments the SYRIZA-led government has signed up for all the way through to 2060.

Indeed, all the outlets operated by 24 Media are notorious in Greece for their largely pro-SYRIZA tilt. On September 14 — with the SYRIZA-led government basking in the aftermath of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ triumphant State of the Union speech in Thessaloniki and French President Emmanuel Macron’s official visit to Greece — news of a “relatively small” oil spill in the Saronic Gulf, off the Athenian coastline, finally made its way into the news — even though the spill had occurred on September 10 — as the oil from the spill finally began to wash up on Athens’ shores.

For news247.gr, though, this environmental disaster played second-fiddle to an exultant story about the SYRIZA government’s fruitful efforts to bolster relations with Italy and form a “southern European front.” On the front page of the relaunched Ethnos, the oil spill story was buried in the bottom right corner, accompanied by a headline that was a play on a famous Greek proverb insinuating that the uproar over the spill was an overreaction.

The News247.gr front page on the afternoon of September 14, 2017. The story of the oil spill in the Saronic Gulf is downplayed, the headline concerns the SYRIZA-led government’s efforts to bolster relations with Italy and create a “Southern European front.”The News247.gr front page on the afternoon of September 14, 2017. The story of the oil spill in the Saronic Gulf is downplayed, the headline concerns the SYRIZA-led government’s efforts to bolster relations with Italy and create a “Southern European front.”

Such is the traditional modus operandi of media outlets in Greece: aside from exerting pressure upon governments and politicians for economic favors, these outlets are also used to shamelessly promote specific parties and particular political figures. Media outlets that “play ball” with the government of the day accordingly are afforded favors that go beyond lucrative contracts for their owners. For instance, state advertising expenditures traditionally were generously doled out not on the basis of circulation figures and audience size, but based on partisan favoritism. This practice continues today, even if outlays have dropped as a result of the crisis.

Therefore, it should come as no shock that Dimitris Maris is the founder and newly re-elected president of the Union of Online Publishers of Greece. Why is this significant? One of the highly touted initiatives of the current SYRIZA-led government is the formation of a “registry of online media outlets.” Maris, via the aforementioned Union, lobbied hard for the establishment of this registry, the primary purpose of which seems to be none other than establishing a formal structure for the allocation of state advertising monies to the online media. Those online outlets most favorable to the current government (such as 24 Media) stand to benefit the most, at least in the short term. Once again, diaploki comes full circle in Greece.

Step five: Leverage your influence to further expand your business empire

So you’ve gotten past your “entrepreneurial” stage. You’ve entered the sports world and made your presence felt in the media industry. And thanks to all of this, you have the government and key politicians in your pocket. What now? It’s time to put all that sweat and hard work to good use by leveraging your existing holdings and, even more so, your influence over the political system and over public opinion, to fatten up your business empire.

Maris has, for now at least, largely focused on feeding his online gambling operation, stoiximan.gr, which has begun sponsoring sports teams and entire leagues. For instance, stoiximan.gr is this season’s sponsor for Greece’s professional basketball league, one of the top leagues in Europe and home to perennial European powerhouses Olympiacos and Panathinaikos. And once again coming full circle, Maris’ stoiximan.gr is this season’s sponsor for Savvidis’ PAOK football club.

Savvidis, however, is quite the seasoned business figure. He got his start in the tobacco industry of the former Soviet Union – “taking over” a state-owned company that was privatized following the USSR’s collapse. This company then bought out Greek tobacco firm SEKAP, based in the northern Greek city of Xanthi, in 2013. That same year, Savvidis also took over management of the historic Macedonia Palace Hotel, with a prime location on the Thessaloniki waterfront. Earlier this year, Savvidis also took a controlling ownership share in Greek mineral water bottler Souroti. In another confluence of business and sports, Souroti is this season’s sponsor for the Greek soccer league, in which PAOK participates. And as reported by Maris’ sport24.gr, Savvidis launched a private aviation firm, Northern Wings, earlier in 2017.

Perhaps the centerpiece of Savvidis’ recent “investments” in Greece, however, derived from the privatization of the port of Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest port. Thessaloniki serves as a strategic gateway to the Balkans, Eastern Europe and the Black Sea region, via the port’s road and rail connections to the north and the coast-to-coast Egnatia motorway linking Italy (via a ferry terminal) with Turkey.

The sell-off of Thessaloniki’s port is part of a package of privatizations imposed by Greece’s lenders in the “troika”—consisting of the European Commission, European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund—as part of their so-called “bailout” packages for Greece. These privatizations are faithfully being implemented by the SYRIZA-led government, which prior to its election had campaigned against the selling off of publicly-owned assets, infrastructure, services, and utilities.

And who purchased the port of Thessaloniki? You can probably see where this is going. The port’s new owner is aconsortium consisting of the German private-equity firm Deutsche Invest Equity Partners, Terminal Link of France, and Belterra Investments, owned by none other than … Ivan Savvidis. In other words, Savvidis, openly a SYRIZA supporter, is one of the main buyers of a critical piece of national infrastructure being privatized by the SYRIZA-led government at the behest of its European and international lenders – despite pre-election promises to abolish such privatizations!

Put differently, it pays to cozy up to the government in charge — which will ensure that leveraging the assets you’ve worked so hard as an oligarch to attain pays dividends, in more ways than one. “Radical leftist” rhetoric is merely for the consumption of the gullible voting public. Privatizations (now euphemistically referred to as “investments”) and business deals are for the big boys in suits (with or without ties).

Step six: Cultivate a public image

Now that you, as a full-fledged Greek oligarch, have established firm footing in the business world, it’s time to cultivate that public image. Ownership of a sports team and control over major media outlets is no longer enough. Positive public relations and a sterling public image are absolute necessities at this point to keep the whole operation running smoothly.

In building his profile, Savvidis has sought to tug at the hearts and emotions of the community of Pontic Greeks, whose roots hail from the Black Sea region. Among his other positions, Savvidis is president of the Federation of Greek Communities of Russia, president of the Association of Greeks of Russia, coordinator of the World Council of Hellenes Abroad of the Former Soviet Union, deeply involved with the Greek and Russian Orthodox churches, and a regular visitorto the autonomous Orthodox monastic community of Agion Oros.

For his apparent contributions to the cause of the Pontic Greeks, a community that faced genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Turks between 1914 and 1922, Savvidis was named grand marshal of New York City’s Greek Independence Day Parade in March 2017. More significantly, while Savvidis is no longer a member of the Russian parliament, since 2012 he has been a member of Presidential Council on International Relations of the Russian Federation. A promotion, one could say, for his exemplary work. It doesn’t hurt that Vladimir Putin had long been eyeing investments for Russian firms in Greece.

Maris, like Savvidis, has also looked outward. For instance, Maris and 24 Media have sought to foster “synergies” with the Hellenic Initiative, a Greek-American organization based in New York City, one of many non-profits that developed, around the time the economic crisis began in Greece, to “assist” in Greece’s “recovery.”

Former president Bill Clinton spoke at the Hellenic Initiative’s October 2013 banquet, while Maris and other executives and journalists from 24 Media and its outlets spoke at the 2017 Delphi Economic Forum, a mind-numbing conclave with a speaker list reading like a globalist Who’s Who. Included were the Hellenic Initiative’s executive director, Mark Arey, as well as countless politicians, journalists, academics, business figures and representatives of establishment “think tanks,” every last one of which could accurately be described as pro-EU, pro-euro, pro-austerity — in a word: neoliberal.

To be more specific, what kind of crowd can you mingle with once you’ve made your way up the stepladder and established yourself as a bona fide Greek oligarch? A review of the Delphi speaker list reveals the many possibilities. These include:

  • High-ranking members of the current SYRIZA-led government that once claimed to be “anti-establishment.”
  • Politicians from former Greek governments who were largely responsible for laying the foundations for the present-day economic crisis (and some of whom have gone on to lofty posts in the EU or international NGOs).
  • Politicians from almost every “opposition” party represented in the Greek Parliament — all of whom though, notwithstanding their “opposition,” maintain the same pro-EU, pro-euro, pro-austerity stance.
  • Academics and representatives of various think tanks, whose body of work also belies a definite pro-EU, pro-euro, pro-austerity stance.
  • Representatives from such institutions as NATO, the World Bank, the European Central Bank, the Trilateral Commission, and Stratfor.
  • Executives from state-owned utilities, which are purportedly fiercely resisting privatization but mingling with those who wish to privatize.
  • Scandal-ridden current and former members of Greece’s regulatory body for broadcasters, as well as the government ministers overseeing this “independent” body.
  • EU favorites such as the former non-elected prime minister of Greece, Lucas Papademos, and the former non-elected prime minister of Italy, Mario Monti; central bankers from various countries; and representatives from various well-connected NGOs.

And, last but not least, establishment journalists at media outlets that (surprise!) are also pro-austerity, pro-euro and pro-EU in their entirety. This impounds a full slate of journalists and executives from 24 Media, including a former government minister with the “center-left” Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), Petros Efthimiou, who is now acting as executive adviser for 24 Media.

Many of these same speakers were also present at the 2017 Thessaloniki Forum. Also present? Ivan Savvidis. Who else? Representatives of, you guessed it, 24 Media! In turn, Maris attended the Northern Lights Summit in Finland (covered hereby the Greek edition of the Huffington Post) earlier this year, a conclave with a stated agenda of “saving open societies and free markets” and featuring a full slate of current and past politicians, central bankers, prominent journalists, and corporate CEOs.

As is painfully (or pleasantly, depending on your point of view) evident, membership in the club of Greek oligarchs has many perks and benefits!

Step seven: Hold down the fort

You’ve made it. You’re mingling with politicians, foreign ambassadors, representatives of the EU and World Bank and NATO, and prominent journalists who gladly will do your bidding. What’s next for a Greek oligarch?

Toe the line. Hold down the fort. Don’t make waves. And make sure to strike the perfect balance between keeping the government of the day in check, and being favorable and even deferential towards it when necessary.

One way to accomplish this is to bring them on board with you, as with the previously noted example of Petros Efthimiou, formerly of PASOK (as is much of SYRIZA’s cabinet). Laudatory headlines, as seen in the aforementioned examples of Ethnos and news247.gr, are sure to score some brownie points as well.

Another way to accomplish this is through fluff interviews and profile pieces where no difficult or remotely controversial questions are posed, as seen in this recent example where Greece’s general secretary of press and communication, Lefteris Kretsos, batted softball questions, about the government’s renewed efforts to move ahead with the auctioning of television and radio licenses, out of the park. The interview, broadcast on the Maris-owned radio station Radiofono 24/7 — itself operating in violation of Greek law (unjust as it is) prohibiting news programming on a registered non-news station — was hosted by Kostas Arvanitis, formerly general manager of the SYRIZA-owned radio station Sto Kokkino.

As seen before with the issue of 24 Media’s uninsured workers and questionable labor practices, obeying the law is optional once you’ve reached this stage. It should further be noted that Radiofono 24/7’s sister station in Thessaloniki, also classified as a non-news station, went on the air on an FM frequency previously owned by SYRIZA.

On the flip side, as a self-respecting oligarch with a media empire at your disposal, you won’t waste all your airtime, column inches, or pixels only on promoting favorable governments and politicians. You now have in your hands a virtually unlimited opportunity for unchecked self-promotion without any worries about criticism or formalities such as objectivity.

Looking for a media outlet to write up a profile of yourself describing you as a “game changer” in the media sector? Look no further than your very own media outlets. Need to promote your football team’s superstar? Simply prominently emblazon the interview on the front page of your own newspaper, Ethnos. True, this is an unusual move for an Athens-based paper, as PAOK’s fan base is largely in Thessaloniki and northern Greece — and in constant rivalry with the “Athens-centric” establishment — but who cares? You’re the boss!

Need to promote your newly-purchased newspaper, as in the case of Ethnos? Look no further than a friend and partner, as seen in this sport24.gr write-up for the aforementioned Ethnos interview. After all, what are friends and business partners for?

There you have it, easy as pie. Just follow these seven simple steps and you, too, can become a Greek oligarch!

Oct 072017
 

By greydogg, 99GetSmart

barcelona1

What follows is my response to a friend, who asked for my take on the situation in Barcelona:

As I have been living here for 5 years, the subject of independence has come up several times, especially this year. The first question I ask is, for or against? The second question is, in the EU or out of the EU? Lastly, I ask why they are for or against independence. Every person I have asked who wants independence also wants to remain in the EU, which makes no sense to me. It seems the only solid reason they want independence from Spain is financial. Personally, I don’t consider ‘dignity’ a solid reason. It’s just a slogan. On the other hand, most of the people we’ve spoken to are against independence.

The big problems I have with the alleged 90% in favor of independence as per the referendum on Sunday is that the government initially said it would take 3 days to hand count the ballots, yet they came out with the 90% figure on the same day of the referendum. How were they able to count over 2 million votes in a couple of hours? It’s a bit suspicious. What’s more, only 40% of Catalans voted, which doesn’t constitute a 90% mandate to declare anything. I read that a great majority of ‘no’ voters abstained because they didn’t want to participate in a referendum they viewed as illegal and didn’t want to give it legitimacy by voting. Therefore, the results did not express the will of the majority. Normally, I would say that, by not voting, you give up your voice, but in this case, it was a difficult choice because of the legal issues.

That said, I was very angry at Madrid for sending 16,000 rioting police to BCN to “stop a rebellion”. Rajoy was disingenuous by that remark. I can’t think of a better way to start a rebellion than by putting 16,000 boots on the ground. -_-

The police were brutal on Sunday and it was disgusting to see the way they treated peaceful people. I saw women, children and the elderly, with huge gashes on their heads and blood all over their faces from getting cracked with batons. In this case, Madrid lost the war of public opinion. It was a stupid and thuggish move. They had the EU and the law on their side and should have just let the Catalans vote and pursued legal means to stop them from actually going through with the process of seceding from Spain.

Even though I don’t have a dog in this fight, I am against independence for several reasons. First of all, I suspect this is a top down movement instead of a bottom up movement. I say this because I have yet to hear a good reason why Catalans want independence. They already have autonomy, so what would change? In my opinion, ordinary people have nothing to gain from independence and everything to lose. Going through with the referendum may cost them autonomy. The only people who will benefit are the corrupt government officials, who would gain more power and be able to steal freely from the public trough without having to share with Madrid. The Catalan government had the obligation and responsibility to present, to the people, what independence would entail, rather than to incite people with empty slogans like, “independence = dignity”. The Catalan government did not do this and Catalans didn’t ask, which is unfortunately common – that the public does not engage in critical thinking.

Being an independent nation means that Catalonia would have to apply to be in the EU – it would not be automatic and the EU has sided with Madrid regarding the legality of the referendum. Also, as an independent nation, Catalonia would need to open and staff embassies in every country – costing them billions. And, as much as I am anti-war, they would need a military – another couple of billion PLUS, there would have to be compulsory military service. That trashes the financial argument since those costs would not be even be close to the money they would save by not having to pay Madrid. To me, independence means financial crisis and soon, an IMF loan = disaster. As we have seen multiple times, IMF loans and austerity don’t affect politicians who somehow magically manage become millionaires on a 100k annual salary. It will only devastate the public.

I am increasing angry at the Catalan government, who irresponsibly put their own people at risk on Sunday (and in the future), for something that only benefits the politicians. And I’m a bit angry at Catalans for trusting their government, without question. How can anyone today have trust in government? If you are paying attention, it’s clear that every single government is corrupt and does not represent the People.

As it stands now, the military is stationed outside of Barcelona. I expect they will ‘occupy’ Barcelona next week, to prevent the parliament from meeting and declaring independence. I think that they will arrest the politicians responsible for the referendum and they will be prosecuted for sedition – a 20 year prison sentence. What will ensue, who knows? I’m thinking the Catalans will lose their autonomy and there won’t be much they can do about it except for general strikes and protests (which doesn’t work anymore). This will hurt our economy. Already, tourism is down and companies are fleeing. Many people are going to lose their jobs.

I don’t know how long the military will occupy Barcelona. I hope that doesn’t happen, but I think it will. Madrid holds all of the cards. There are a lot of punitive actions they can take and judging from their actions on Sunday, Madrid will not be kind to Catalonia.

What do you think?

Oct 052017
 

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

where-billionaires-come-from-cartoon

America has the greatest inequalities, highest mortality rate, most regressive taxes, and largest public subsidies for bankers and billionaires of any developed capitalist country.

In this essay we will discuss the socio-economic roots of inequalities and the relation between the concentration of wealth and the downward mobility of the working and salaried classes.

How the Billionaires become Billionaires

One of the most likely sources of billionaire wealth is through tax evasion in all of its guises and forms.

Contrary to the propaganda pushed by the business press, between 67% and 72% percent of corporations had zero tax liabilities after credits and exemptions … while their workers and employees paid between 25 – 30% in taxes. The rate for the minority of corporations, which paid any tax, was 14%.

According to the US Internal Revenue Service, billionaire tax evasion amounts to $458 billion dollars in lost public revenues every year – almost a trillion dollars every two years by this conservative estimate.

The largest US corporations sheltered over $2.5 trillion dollars in overseas tax havens where they paid no taxes or single digit tax rates.

Meanwhile US corporations in crisis received over $14.4 trillion dollars (Bloomberg claimed 12.8 trillion) in public bailout money, split between the US Treasury and the Federal Reserve, mostly from US tax payers, who are overwhelmingly workers, employees and pensioners.

The recipient bankers invested their interest-free or low interest US bailout funds and earned billions in profits, most resulting from mortgage foreclosures of working class households.

Through favorable legal rulings and illegal foreclosures, the bankers evicted 9.3 million families. Over 20 million individuals lost their properties, often due to illegal or fraudulent debts.

A small number of the financial swindlers, including executives from Wall Street’s leading banks (Goldman Sachs, J. P. Morgan etc), paid fines – but no one went to prison for the gargantuan fraud that drove millions of Americans into misery.

There are other swindler bankers, like the current Secretary of Treasury Steve Mnuchin, who enriched themselves by illegally foreclosing on thousands of homeowners in California. Some were tried; all were exonerated, thanks to the influence of Democratic political leaders during the Obama years.

Silicon Valley and its innovative billionaires have found novel way to avoid taxes using overseas tax havens and domestic tax write-offs. They increase their wealth and corporate profits by paying their local manual and service workers poverty level wages. Silicon Valley executives ‘earn’ a thousand times more than their production workers..

Class inequalities are further reinforced by ethnic divisions. White, Chinese and Indian multi-millionaires exploit Afro-American, Latin American, Vietnamese and Filipino workers.

Billionaires in the commercial conglomerates, like Walmart, exploit workers by paying poverty wages and providing few, if any, benefits. Walmart earns $16 billion dollar a year in profits by paying its workers between $10 and $13 an hour and relying on state and federal assistance to provide services to the families of its impoverished workers through Medicaid and food stamps. Amazon plutocrat Jeff Bezos exploits workers by paying $12.50 an hour while he has accumulated over $80 billion dollars in profits. UPS CEO David Albany takes $11 million a year by exploiting workers at $11 an hour. Federal Express CEO, Fred Smith gets $16 million and pays workers $11 an hour.

Inequality is not a result of ‘technology’ and ‘education’-  contemporary euphemisms for the ruling class cult of superiority – as liberals and conservative economists and journalists like to claim. Inequalities are a result of low wages, based on big profits, financial swindles, multi-trillion dollar public handouts and multi-billion-dollar tax evasion. The ruling class has mastered the ‘technology’ of exploiting the state, through its pillage of the treasury, and the working class. Capitalist exploitation of low paid production workers provides additional billions for the ‘philanthropic’ billionaire family foundations to polish their public image – using another tax avoidance gimmick – self-glorifying ‘donations’.

Workers pay disproportional taxes for education, health, social and public services and subsidies for billionaires.

Billionaires in the arms industry and security/mercenary conglomerates receive over $700 billion dollars from the federal budget, while over 100 million US workers lack adequate health care and their children are warehoused in deteriorating schools.

Workers and Bosses: Mortality Rates

Billionaires and multi-millionaires and their families enjoy longer and healthier lives than their workers. They have no need for health insurance policies or public hospitals. CEO’s live on average ten years longer than a worker and enjoy twenty years more of healthy and pain-free lives.

Private, exclusive clinics and top medical care include the most advanced treatment and safe and proven medication which allow billionaires and their family members to live longer and healthier lives. The quality of their medical care and the qualifications of their medical providers present a stark contrast to the health care apartheid that characterizes the rest of the United States.

Workers are treated and mistreated by the health system: They have inadequate and often incompetent medical treatment, cursory examinations by inexperienced medical assistants and end up victims of the widespread over-prescription of highly addictive narcotics and other medications. Over-prescription of narcotics by incompetent ‘providers’ has significantly contributed to the rise in premature deaths among workers, spiraling cases of opiate overdose, disability due to addiction and descent into poverty and homelessness. These irresponsible practices have made additional billions of dollars in profits for the insurance corporate elite, who can cut their pensions and health care liabilities as injured, disabled and addicted workers drop out of the system or die.

The shortened life expectancy for workers and their family members is celebrated on Wall Street and in the financial press. Over 560,000 workers were killed by opioids between 1999-2015 contributing to the decline in life expectancy for working age wage and salary earners and reduced pension liabilities for Wall Street and the Social Security Administration.

Inequalities are cumulative, inter-generational and multi-sectorial.

Billionaire families, their children and grandchildren, inherit and invest billions. They have privileged access to the most prestigious schools and medical facilities, and conveniently fall in love with equally privileged, well-connected mates to join their fortunes and form even greater financial empires. Their wealth buys favorable, even fawning, mass media coverage and the services of the most influential lawyers and accountants to cover their swindles and tax evasion.

Billionaires hire innovators and sweat shop MBA managers to devise more ways to slash wages, increase productivity and ensure that inequalities widen even further. Billionaires do not have to be the brightest or most innovative people: Such individuals can simply be bought or imported on the ‘free market’ and discarded at will.

Billionaires have bought out or formed joint ventures with each other, creating interlocking directorates. Banks, IT, factories, warehouses, food and appliance, pharmaceuticals and hospitals are linked directly to political elites who slither through doors of rotating appointments within the IMF, the World Bank, Treasury, Wall Street banks and prestigious law firms.

Consequences of Inequalities

First and foremost, billionaires and their political, legal and corporate associates dominate the political parties. They designate the leaders and key appointees, thus ensuring that budgets and policies will increase their profits, erode social benefits for the masses and weaken the political power of popular organizations.

Secondly, the burden of the economic crisis is shifted on to the workers who are fired and later re-hired as part-time, contingent labor. Public bailouts, provided by the taxpayer, are channeled to the billionaires under the doctrine that Wall Street banks are too big to fail and workers are too weak to defend their wages, jobs and living standards.

Billionaires buy political elites, who appoint the World Bank and IMF officials tasked with instituting policies to freeze or reduce wages, slash corporate and public health care obligations and increase profits by privatizing public enterprises and facilitating corporate relocation to low wage, low tax countries.

As a result, wage and salary workers are less organized and less influential; they work longer and for less pay, suffer greater workplace insecurity and injuries – physical and mental – fall into decline and disability, drop out of the system, die earlier and poorer, and, in the process, provide unimaginable profits for the billionaire class. Even their addiction and deaths provide opportunities for huge profit – as the Sackler Family, manufacturers of Oxycontin, can attest.

The billionaires and their political acolytes argue that deeper regressive taxation would increase investments and jobs. The data speaks otherwise. The bulk of repatriated profits are directed to buy back stock to increase dividends for investors; they are not invested in the productive economy. Lower taxes and greater profits for conglomerates means more buy-outs and greater outflows to low wage countries. In real terms taxes are already less than half the headline rate and are a major factor heightening the concentration of income and power – both cause and effect.

Corporate elites, the billionaires in the Silicon Valley-Wall Street global complex are relatively satisfied that their cherished inequalities are guaranteed and expanding under the Demo-Republican Presidents- as the ‘good times’ roll on.

Away from the ‘billionaire elite’, the ‘outsiders’ – domestic capitalists – clamor for greater public investment in infrastructure to expand the domestic economy, lower taxes to increase profits, and state subsidies to increase the training of the labor force while reducing funds for health care and public education. They are oblivious to the contradiction.

In other words, the capitalist class as a whole, globalist and domestic alike, pursues the same regressive policies, promoting inequalities while struggling over shares of the profits.

One hundred and fifty million wage and salaried taxpayers are excluded from the political and social decisions that directly affect their income, employment, rates of taxation, and political representation.

They understand, or at least experience, how the class system works. Most workers know about the injustice of the fake ‘free trade’ agreements and regressive tax regime, which weighs heavy on the majority of wage and salary earners.

However, worker hostility and despair is directed against ‘immigrants’ and against the ‘liberals’ who have backed the import of cheap skilled and semi-skilled labor under the guise of ‘freedom’. This ‘politically correct’ image of imported labor covers up a policy, which has served to lower wages, benefits and living standards for American workers, whether they are in technology, construction or production. Rich conservatives, on the other hand, oppose immigration under the guise of ‘law and order’ and to lower social expenditures – despite that fact that they all use imported nannies, tutors, nurses, doctors and gardeners to service their families. Their servants can always be deported when convenient.

The pro and anti-immigrant issue avoids the root cause for the economic exploitation and social degradation of the working class – the billionaire owners operating in alliance with the political elite.

In order to reverse the regressive tax practices and tax evasion, the low wage cycle and the spiraling death rates resulting from narcotics and other preventable causes, which profit insurance companies and pharmaceutical billionaires, class alliances need to be forged linking workers, consumers, pensioners, students, the disabled, the foreclosed homeowners, evicted tenants, debtors, the under-employed and immigrants as a unified political force.

Sooner said than done, but never tried!  Everything and everyone is at stake: life, health and happiness.