Feb 212015
 

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

Yánis Varoufákis and Aléxis Tsípras

Yánis Varoufákis and Aléxis Tsípras

Introduction

The Greek government is currently locked in a life and death struggle with the elite which dominate the banks and political decision-making centers of the European Union. What are at stake are the livelihoods of 11 million Greek workers, employees and small business people and the viability of the European Union. If the ruling Syriza government capitulates to the demands of the EU bankers and agrees to continue the austerity programs, Greece will be condemned to decades of regression, destitution and colonial rule. If Greece decides to resist, and is forced to exit the EU, it will need to repudiate its 270 billion Euro foreign debts, sending the international financial markets crashing and causing the EU to collapse.

The leadership of the EU is counting on Syriza leaders abandoning their commitments to the Greek electorate, which as of early February 2015, is overwhelmingly (over 70%) in favor of ending austerity and debt payments and moving forward toward state investment in national economic and social development (Financial Times 7-8/2/15, p. 3). The choices are stark; the consequences have world-historical significance. The issues go far beyond local or even regional, time-bound, impacts. The entire global financial system will be affected (FT 10/2/15, p. 2).

The default will ripple to all creditors and debtors, far beyond Europe; investor confidence in the entire western financial empire will be shaken. First and foremost all western banks have direct and indirect ties to the Greek banks (FT 2/6/15, p. 3). When the latter collapse, they will be profoundly affected beyond what their governments can sustain. Massive state intervention will be the order of the day. The Greek government will have no choice but to take over the entire financial system . . . the domino effect will first and foremost effect Southern Europe and spread to the ‘dominant regions’ in the North and then across to England and North America (FT 9/2/15, p. 2).

To understand the origins of this crises and alternatives facing Greece and the EU, it is necessary to briefly survey the political and economic developments of the past three decades. We will proceed by examining Greek and EU relations between 1980 – 2000 and then proceed to the current collapse and EU intervention in the Greek economy. In the final section we will discuss the rise and election  of Syriza, and its growing submissiveness in the context of EU dominance, and intransigence, highlighting the need for a radical break with the past relationship of ‘lord and vassal’.

Ancient History: The Making of the European Empire

In 1980 Greece was admitted to the European Economic Council as a vassal state of the emerging Franco-German Empire. With the election of Andreas Papandreou, leader of the Pan-Hellenic Socialist Party, with an absolute majority in Parliament, hope arose that radical changes in domestic and foreign policy would ensue. 1 In particular, during the election campaign, Papandreou promised a break with NATO and the EEC, the revoking of the US military base agreement and an economy based on ‘social ownership’ of the means of production. After being elected, Papandreou immediately assured the EEC and Washington that his regime would remain within the EEC and NATO, and renewed the US military base agreement. Studies in the early 1980’s commissioned by the government which documented the medium and long-term adverse results of Greece remaining in the EEU, especially the loss of control of trade, budgets and markets, were ignored by Papandreou who chose to sacrifice political independence and economic autonomy in favor of large scale transfers of funds, loans and credit from the EEC. Papandreou spoke from the balcony to the masses of independence and social justice while retaining ties to the European bankers and Greek shipping and banking oligarchs. The European elite in Brussels and Greek oligarchs in Athens retained a stranglehold on the commanding heights of the Greek political and economic system.

Papandreou retained the clientelistic political practices put in place by the previous right-wing regimes – only replacing the rightist functionaries with PASOK party loyalists.

The EEC brushed off Papandreou’ phony radical rhetoric and focused on the the fact they were buying control and subservience of the Greek state by financing a corrupt, clientelistic regime which was deflecting funds for development projects to upgrade Greek economic competitiveness into building a patronage machine based on increased consumption.

The EEC elite ultimately knew that its financial stranglehold over the economy would enable it to dictate Greek policy and keep it within the boundaries of the emerging European empire.

Papandreou’s demagogic “third world” rhetoric notwithstanding, Greece was deeply ensconced in the EU and NATO. Between 1981-85, Papandreou discarded his socialist rhetoric in favor of increased social spending for welfare reforms, raising wages, pensions and health coverage, while refinancing bankrupt economic firms run into the ground by kleptocratic capitalists. As a result while living standards rose, Greece’s economic structure still resembled a vassal state heavily dependent on EEC finance, European tourists and a rentier economy based on real estate, finance and tourism.

Papandreou solidified Greece’s role as a vassal outpost of NATO; a military platform for US military intervention in the Middle East and the eastern Mediterranean; and market for German and northern European manufactured goods.

From October 1981 to July 1989 Greek consumption rose while productivity stagnated; Papandreou won elections in 1985 using EEC funds. Meanwhile Greek debt to Europe took off . . . EEC leaders chastised the misallocation of funds by Papandreou’s vast army of kleptocrats but not too loudly. Brussels recognized that Papandreou and PASOK were the most effective forces in muzzling the radical Greek electorate and keeping Greece under EEC tutelage and as a loyal vassal of NATO.

Lessons for Syriza: PASOK’s Short-term Reforms and Strategic Vassalage

            Whether in government or out, PASOK followed in the footsteps of its rightwing adversary (New Democracy) by embracing the NATO-EEC strait-jacket. Greece continued to maintain the highest per capita military expenditure of any European NATO member. As a result, it received loans and credits to finance short-term social reforms and large scale, long-term corruption, while enlarging the party-state political apparatus.

With the ascent of the openly neoliberal Prime Minister Costas Simitis in 2002, the PASOK regime “cooked the books”, fabricated government data on its budget deficit, with the aid of Wall Street investment banks, and became a member of the European Monetary Union. By adopting the euro, Simitis furthered deepened Greece’s financial subordination to the non-elected European officials in Brussels, dominated by the German finance ministry and banks.

The oligarchs in Greece made room at the top for a new breed of PASOK kleptocratic elite, which skimmed millions of military purchases, committed bank frauds and engaged in massive tax evasion.

The Brussels elite allowed the Greek middle class to live their illusions of being ‘prosperous Europeans’ because they retained decisive leverage through loans and accumulating debts.

Large scale bank fraud involving three hundred million euros even reached ex-Prime Minister Papandreou’s office.

The clientele relations within Greece were matched by the clientele relations between Brussels and Athens.

Even prior to the crash of 2008 the EU creditors, private bankers and official lenders, set the parameters of Greek politics.  The global crash revealed the fragile foundations of the Greek state – and led directly to the crude, direct interventions of the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the European Commission – the infamous “Troika”. The latter dictated the ‘austerity’ policies as a condition for the “bail-out” which devastated the economy, provoking a major depression; impoverishing over forty percent of the population, reducing incomes by 25% and resulting in 28% unemployment.

Greece: Captivity by Invitation

Greece as a political and economic captive of the EU had no political party response. Apart from the trade unions which launched thirty general strikes between 2009 – 2014, the two major parties, PASOK and New Democracy, invited the EU takeover. The degeneration of PASOK into an appendage of oligarchs and vassal collaborator of the EU emptied the ‘socialist’ rhetoric of any meaning. The right wing New Democracy Party reinforced and deepened the stranglehold of the EU over the Greek economy. The troika lent the Greek vassal state funds (“bail-out”) which was used to pay back German, French and English financial oligarchs and to buttress private Greek banks. The Greek population was ‘starved’ by ‘austerity’ policies to keep the debt payments flowing - outward and upward.

Europe: Union or Empire?

The European economic crash of 2008/09 resounded worst on its weakest links – Southern Europe and Ireland.  The true nature of the European Union as a hierarchical empire, in which the powerful states – Germany and France – could openly and directly control investment, trade, monetary and financial policy was revealed. The much vaunted EU “bailout” of Greece was in fact the pretext for the imposition of deep structural changes. These included the denationalization and privatization of all strategic economic sectors; perpetual debt payments; foreign dictates of incomes and investment policy. Greece ceased to be an independent state: it was totally and absolutely colonized.

Greece’s Perpetual Crises: The End of the “European Illusion”

The Greek elite and, for at least 5 years, most of the electorate, believed that the regressive (“austerity”) measures adopted – the firings, the budget cuts, the privatizations etc. were short-term harsh medicine, that would soon lead to debt reduction, balanced budgets, new investments, growth and recovery. At least that is what they were told by the economic experts and leaders in Brussels.

In fact the debt increased, the downward economic spiral continuedunemployment multiplied, the depression deepened.  ‘Austerity’ was a class based policy designed by Brussels to enrich overseas bankers and to plunder the Greek public sector.

The key to EU pillage and plunder was the loss of Greek sovereignty. The two major parties, New Democracy and PASOK, were willing accomplices. Despite a 55% youth (16 – 30 years old) unemployment rate, the cut-off of electricity to 300,000 households and large scale out-migration (over 175,000), the EU (as was to be expected) refused to concede that the ‘austerity’ formula was a failure in recovering the Greek economy. The reason the EU dogmatically stuck to a ‘failed policy’ was because the EU benefited from the power, privilege and profits of pillage and imperial primacy.

Moreover, for the Brussels elite to acknowledge failure in Greece would likely result in the demand to recognize failure in the rest of Southern Europe and beyond, including in France, Italy and other key members of the EU (Economist 1/17/15, p. 53). The ruling financial and business elites in Europe and the US prospered through the crises and depression, by imposing cuts in social budgets and wages and salaries. To concede failure in Greece, would reverberate throughout North America and Europe, calling into question their economic policies, ideology and the legitimacy of the ruling powers. The reason that all the EU regimes back the EU insistence that Greece must continue to abide by an obviously perverse and regressive ‘austerity’ policy and impose reactionary “structural reforms” is because these very same rulers have sacrificed the living standards of their own labor force during the economic crises (FT 2/13/15, p. 2).

The economic crises spanning 2008/9 to the present (2015), still requires harsh sacrifices to perpetuate ruling class profits and to finance state subsidies to the private banks. Every major financial institution – the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the IMF – toes the line: no dissent or deviation is allowed. Greece must accept EU dictates or face major financial reprisals. “Economic strangulation or perpetual debt peonage” is the lesson which Brussels tends to all member states of the EU. While ostensibly speaking to Greece – it is a message directed to all states, opposition movements and trade unions who call into question the dictates of the Brussels oligarchy and its Berlin overlords.

All the major media and leading economic pundits have served as megaphones for the Brussel oligarchs. The message, which is repeated countless times, by liberals, conservatives and social democrats to the victimized nations and downwardly mobile wage and salaried workers, and small businesspeople, is that they have no choice but to accept regressive measure, slashing living conditions (“reforms”) if they hope for ‘economic recovery’ – which, of course, has not happened after five years!

Greece has become the central target of the economic elites in Europe because, the Greek people have gone from inconsequential protests to political powers. The election of Syriza on a platform of recovering sovereignty, discarding austerity and redefining its relations with creditors to favor national development has set the stage for a possible continent-wide confrontation.

The Rise of Syriza: Dubious Legacies, Mass Struggles and Radical (Broken) Promises

The growth of Syriza from an alliance of small Marxist sects into a mass electoral party is largely because of the incorporation of millions of lower middle class public employees, pensioners and small businesspeople. Many previously supported PASOK. They voted Syriza in order to recover the living conditions and job security of the earlier period of “prosperity” (2000-2007) which they achieved within the EU. Their radical rejection of PASOK and New Democracy came after 5 years of acute suffering which might have provoked a revolution in some other country. Their radicalism began with protests, marches and strikes were attempts to pressure the rightwing regimes to alter the EU’s course, to end the austerity while retaining membership in the EU.

This sector of SYRIZA is ‘radical’ in what it opposes today and conformist with its nostalgia for the past – the time of euro funded vacation trips to London and Paris, easy credit to purchase imported cars and foodstuffs, to ‘feel modern’ and ‘European’ and speak English!

The politics of Syriza reflects, in part, this ambiguous sector of its electorate. In contrast Syriza also secured the vote of the radical unemployed youth and workers who never were part of the consumer society and didn’t identify with “Europe”.  Syriza has emerged as a mass electoral party in the course of less than five years and its supporters and leadership reflects a high degree of heterogeneity.

The most radical sector, ideologically, is drawn mostly from the Marxist groups which originally came together to form the party. The unemployed youth sector joined, following the anti-police riots, which resulted from the police assassination of a young activist during the early years of the crisis. The third wave is largely made up of thousands of public workers, who were fired, and retired employees who suffered big cuts in their pensions by order of the troika in 2012. The fourth wave is ex PASOK members who fled the sinking ship of a bankrupt party.

The Syriza Left is concentrated at the mass base and among local and middle level leaders of local movements.  The top leaders of Syriza in power positions are academics, some from overseas. Many are recent members or are not even party members. Few have been involved in the mass struggles – and many have few ties with the rank and file militants. They are most eager to sign a “deal” selling out the impoverished Greeks

As Syriza moved toward electoral victory in 2015, it began to shed its original program of radical structural changes (socialism) and adopt measures aimed at accommodating Greek business interests. Tsipras talked about “negotiating an agreement” within the framework of the German dominated European Union. Tsipras and his Finance Minister proposed to re-negotiate the debt, the obligation to pay and 70% of the “reforms”! When an agreement was signed they totally capitulated!

For a brief time Syriza maintained a dual position of ‘opposing’ austerity and coming to agreement with its creditors. It’s “realist” policies reflected the positions of the new academic ministers, former PASOK members and downwardly mobile middle class. Syriza’s radical gestures and rhetoric reflected the pressure of the unemployed, the youth and the mass poor who stood to lose, if a deal to pay the creditors was negotiated.

EU – SYRIZA: Concessions before Struggle Led to Surrender and Defeat

The “Greek debt” is really not a debt of the Greek people. The institutional creditors and the Euro-banks knowingly lent money to high risk kleptocrats, oligarchs and bankers who siphoned most of the euros into overseas Swiss accounts, high end real estate in London and Paris, activity devoid of any capacity to generate income to pay back the debt. In other words, the debt, in large part, is illegitimate and was falsely foisted on the Greek people.

Syriza, from the beginning of ‘negotiations’, did not call into question the legitimacy of the debt nor identified the particular classes and enterprise who should pay it.

Secondly, while Syriza challenged “austerity” policies it did not question the Euro organizations and EU institutions who impose it.

From its beginning Syriza has accepted membership in the EU. In the name of “realism” the Syriza government accepted to pay the debt or a portion of it, as the basis of negotiation.

Structurally, Syriza has developed a highly centralized leadership in which all major decisions are taken by Alexis Tsipras. His personalistic leadership limits the influence of the radicalized rank and file. It facilitated “compromises” with the Brussels oligarchy which go contrary to the campaign promises and may lead to the perpetual dependence of Greece on EU centered policymakers and creditors.

Moreover, Tsipras has tightened party discipline in the aftermath of his election, ensuring that any dubious compromises will not lead to any public debate or extra-parliamentary revolt.

The Empire against Greece’s Democratic Outcome

The EU elite have, from the moment in which Syriza received a democratic mandate, followed the typical authoritarian course of all imperial rulers. It has demanded from Syriza (1) unconditional surrender (2) the continuation of the structures, policies and practices of the previous vassal coalition party-regimes (PASOK-New Democracy) (3) that Syriza shelve all social reforms, (raising the minimum wage, increasing pension, health, education and unemployment spending  (4) that SYRIZA follow the strict economic directives and oversight formulated by the “troika” (the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund) (5) that SYRIZA retain the current primary budget surplus target of 4.5 percent of economic output in 2015-2017.

To enforce its strategy of strangulating the new government, Brussels threatened to abruptly cut off all present and future credit facilities, call in all debt payments, end access to emergency funds and refuse to back Greek bank bonds – that provide financial loans to local businesses.

Brussels presents Syriza with the fateful “choice”, of committing political suicide by accepting its dictates and alienating its electoral supporters. By betraying its mandate, Syriza will confront angry mass demonstrations. Rejecting Brussels’ dictates and proceeding to mobilize its mass base, Syriza could seek new sources of financing, imposing capital controls and moving toward a radical “emergency economy”.

Brussel has “stone-walled” and turned a deaf ear to the early concessions which Syriza offered. Instead Brussels sees concessions as ‘steps’ toward complete capitulation, instead of as efforts to reach a “compromise”.

Syriza has already dropped calls for large scale debt write-offs, in favor of extending the time frame for paying the debt. Syriza has agreed to continue debt payments, provided they are linked to the rate of economic growth. Syriza accepts European oversight, provided it is not conducted by the hated “troika”, which has poisonous connotations for most Greeks. However, semantic changes do not change the substance of “limited sovereignty”.

Syriza has already agreed to long and middle term structural dependency in order to secure time and leeway in financing its short-term popular impact programs. All that Syriza asks is minimum fiscal flexibility under supervision of the German finance minister-some “radicals”!

Syriza has temporarily suspended on-going privatization of key infrastructure (sea- ports and airport facilities) energy and telecommunication sectors. But is has not terminated them, nor revised the past privatization. But for Brussels “sell-off” of Greek lucrative strategic sectors is an essential part of its “structural reform” agenda.

Syriza’s moderate proposals and its effort to operate within the EU framework established by the previous vassal regimes was rebuffed by Germany and its 27 stooges in the EU.

The EU’s dogmatic affirmation of extremist, ultra neo-liberal policies, including the practice of dismantling Greece’s national economy and transferring the most lucrative sectors into the hands of imperial investors, is echoed in the pages of all the major print media. The Financial TimesWall Street JournalNew York TimesWashington PostLe Monde are propaganda arms of EU extremism. Faced with Brussel’s intransigence and confronting the ‘historic choice’ of capitulation or radicalization, Syriza tried persuasion of key regimes. Syriza  held numerous meetings with EU ministers. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Finance Minister Yanis Vardoulakis traveled to Paris, London, Brussels, Berlin and Rome seeking a “compromise” agreement. This was to no avail. The Brussels elite repeatedly insisted:

Debts would have to be paid in full and on time.

Greece should restrict spending to accumulate a 4.5% surplus that would ensure payments to creditors, investors, speculators and kleptocrats.

The EU’s lack of any economic flexibility or willingness to accept even a minimum compromise is a political decision: to humble and destroy the credibility of SYRIZA as an anti-austerity government in the eyes of its domestic supporters and potential overseas imitators in Spain, Italy, Portugal and Ireland (Economist1/17/15, p. 53).

Conclusion

The strangulation of Syriza is part and parcel of the decade long process of the EU’s assassination of Greece. A savage response to a heroic attempt by an entire people, hurled into destitution, condemned to be ruled by kleptocratic conservatives and social democrats.

Empires do not surrender their colonies through reasonable arguments or by the bankruptcy of their regressive “reforms”.

Brussel’s attitude toward Greece is guided by the policy of “rule or ruin”. “Bail out” is a euphemism for recycling financing through Greece back to Euro-controlled banks, while Greek workers and employees are saddled with greater debt and continued dominance. Brussel’s “bail out” is an instrument for control by imperial institutions, whether they are called “troika” or something else.

Brussels and Germany do not want dissenting members; they may offer to make some minor concessions so that Finance Minister Vardoulakis may claim a ‘partial victory’ – a sham and hollow euphemism for a belly crawl.

The “bail out” agreement will be described by Tsipras-Vardoulakis as ‘new’ and “different’ from the past or as a ‘temporary’ retreat. The Germans may ‘allow’ Greece to lower its primary budget surplus from 4.5 to 3.5 percent ‘next year’ – but it will still reduce the funds for economic stimulus and “postpone” raises in pensions, minimum wages etc.

Privatization and other regressive reforms will not be terminated, they will be “renegotiated”. The state will retain a minority “share”.

Plutocrats will be asked to pay some added taxes but not the billions of taxes evaded over the past decades.

Nor will the PASOK – New Democracy kleptocratic operatives be prosecuted for pillage and theft.

Syriza’s compromises demonstrate that the looney right’s (the Economist, Financial Times, NY Times, etc.) characterization of Syriza as the “hard left” or the ultra-left have no basis in reality. For the Greek electorate’s “hope for the future” could turn to anger in the present. Only mass pressure from below can reverse Syriza’s capitulation and Finance Minister Vardoulakis unsavory compromises. Since he lacks any mass base in the party, Tsipras can easily dismiss him, for signing off on “compromise” which sacrifices the basic interests of the people.

However, if in fact, EU dogmatism and intransigence forecloses even the most favorable deals, Tsipras and Syriza, (against their desires) may be forced to exit the Euro Empire and face the challenge of carving out a new truly radical policy and economy as a free and independent country.

A successful Greek exit from the German – Brussels empire would likely lead to the break-up of the EU, as other vassal states rebel and follow the Greek example. They may renounce not only austerity but their foreign debts and eternal interest payments. The entire financial empire – the so-called global financial system could be shaken . . . Greece could once again become the ‘cradle of democracy’.

Post-Script:   Thirty years ago, I was an active participant and adviser for three years (1981-84) to Prime Minister Papandreou. He, like Tsipras, began with the promise of radical changes and ended up capitulating to Brussels and NATO and embracing the oligarchs and kleptocrats in the name of “pragmatic compromises”.  Let us hope, that facing a mass revolt, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Syriza will follow a different path. History need not repeat itself as tragedy or farce.

[1] The account of the Andreas Papandreou regime draws on personal experience, interviews and observations and from my co-authored article “Greek Socialism: The Patrimonial State Revisited” in James Kurth and James Petras, Mediterranean Paradoxes:  the Politics and Social Structure of Southern Europe (Oxford:  Berg Press 1993/ pp. 160 -224)

James Petras was Director of the Center for Mediterranean Studies in Athens (1981-1984) and adviser to Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou (1981-84). He resigned in protest over the PM expulsion of leading trade unionists from PASOK for organizing a general strike against his ‘stabilization program’.

Petras is co-author of Mediterranean ParadoxesThe Politics and Social Structure of Southern Europe. His latest books include Extractive Imperialism in the Americas (with Henry Veltmeyer); and The Politics of Empire:  the US, Israel and the Middle East.

Feb 192015
 

Written by Turkish political analyst / blogger, Gürkan Özturan:

Nuh Köklü

Nuh Köklü

Journalist Nuh Koklu had been having a snow fight with his friends on the evening of February 18 in Istanbul’s Kadıköy district. The area is known for its relaxed atmosphere and peaceful neighborhood—except for the police’s violent attacks on peaceful protests. During the snow fight, according to the Turkish media, a snowball hit a shop window, angering the shopkeeper.

The shopkeeper, furious over the snowball, went out to attack the youngsters playing in the street. When he was outnumbered and pushed back, he went inside the shop, grabbed a knife and went running after the young people. A member of the group fell to the ground, the shopkeeper attacked, and Nuh went in to protect his friend. The shopkeeper stabbed Nuh Koklu in the heart repeatedly.

The shop of the killer shopowner has been marked “Murderer” by some friends of the journalist

The shop of the killer shopowner has been marked “Murderer” by some friends of the journalist

Nuh was taken to a hospital nearby, but he had died. The shopkeeper was also taken to a hospital.

Did President Erdoğan’s Rhetoric Have an Effect?

The incident took place not long after Turkish President Erdoğan’s notorious comments regarding the legality of violence applied by shopkeepers. At a speech he gave at the union of shopowners, Erdoğan had said “shopowners of this country are protectors of honor, peace and stability on streets; they are the soldiers, guardians, and police of the streets; when the moment comes they suppress coup attempts.”

Ali İsmail Korkmaz

Ali İsmail Korkmaz

Erdoğan’s speech came not long after the trial of the murderers of Ali İsmail Korkmaz, who was beaten to death by police and shopkeepers during Occupy Gezi protests. Rhetoric adopted by government members seems to have a much greater impact on society when it comes to justification of violence and the

legitimacy of monopoly over violence. Nuh Koklu had been a union member and a leading figure in strikes. Although he had been an unemployed journalist lately—like thousands of others—, he has been keeping his audience informed as an independent reporter. The last ever tweet he shared read “Paranoid governments’ biggest fear is a people united; it is time of a univocal reaction to all kinds of troubles now.”

Nuh Köklü during a strike

Nuh Köklü during a strike

More stories by Gürkan Özturan http://theradicaldemocrat.wordpress.com

More stories about Turkey @ http://99getsmart.com/category/turkey/

Jan 272015
 

Posted by SnakeArbusto, 99GetSmart

The Troika imposes policies that are destroying social rights in Greece

greek-ow-1024x287

“An audit committee of the Greek debt could show that 80% of the debt required by the troika is illegal,” said Mr. Toussaint on an interview with Christina Vasilaki, stoKokkino`s correspondent in Brussels.

Éric Toussaint, Senior Lecturer at the University of Liège, is president of CADTM Belgium (Committee for the Abolition of Third-World Debt), and a member of the Scientific Committee of ATTAC France.

“An audit committee of the Greek debt could show that 80% of the debt required by the troika is illegal,” said Mr. Toussaint making reference to Article 7, paragraph 9 of the European Regulation on countries in program adaptation, according to which:

“A Member State subject to a macroeconomic adjustment programme shall carry out a comprehensive audit of its public finances in order, inter alia, to assess the reasons that led to the building up of excessive levels of debt as well as to track any possible irregularity”.

Radio interview transcribed by SnakeArbusto:

CV Which is the EU Regulation that Syriza’s demand for an audit of debt could be based on?

ET In May 2013 the European Parliament and the European Commission adopted a Regulation requiring all countries who sign a Memorandum of Agreement–as in the present case of Greece,  Ireland, Portugal, and Cyprus. Article 7 of this Regulation says that governments will carry out a comprehensive audit of the debt contracted by the country and to identify possible irregularities. So, Paragraph 9 of this Article of the Regulation allows a government headed by SYRIZA to create, immediately, such a commission in implementation of the Regulation.

CV What can be revealed by this audit?

ET For me it’s very clear that the debt contracted by Greece with the Troika, which represents 80% of the Greek debt now, is clearly illegitimate because the Troika has imposed policies on Greece which have destroyed part of the economy of Greece and destroyed the social rights and the economic rights of the population.

CV Do you believe that it’s necessary to write off part of the Greek debt? And what would be the result for access to the international markets in the long term?

ET As you know we have had more than 600 restructurings of debt since 1950. A lot of countries have suspended payment of the debt, and in the case of Greece, if Greece succeeds in imposing a large cancellation of its debt, which is totally possible, I think there is no real problem, after several years, (for Greece) to go back to the market if Greece needs it. But also you could imagine some alternative way of financing Greek development – fiscal reform (), reducing the taxes paid by the poor and increasing the taxes paid by the richest 1% of the population and big private enterprises could allow the government to raise sufficient money to not be obliged to go to the market and contract new debt.

CV Could the extension of the maturity of the loan and the reduction of the interest rates be an alternative solution?

ET Greece needs a real cancellation of a big part of its debt. And for the other part of the debt which will not be cancelled, abolished, a reduction of the interest rates and an extension of the maturity of payment is necessary, I suppose, too. But it’s not an alternative to the cancellation. It’s complementary to cancellation. You need both things.

Radio Interview @ http://cadtm.org/The-Troika-impose-to-Greece

Jan 212015
 

By William Blum, 99GetSmart

EvilYanks

After Paris, condemnation of religious fanaticism is at its height. I’d guess that even many progressives fantasize about wringing the necks of jihadists, bashing into their heads some thoughts about the intellect, about satire, humor, freedom of speech. We’re talking here, after all, about young men raised in France, not Saudi Arabia.

Where has all this Islamic fundamentalism come from in this modern age? Most of it comes – trained, armed, financed, indoctrinated – from Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria. During various periods from the 1970s to the present, these four countries had been the most secular, modern, educated, welfare states in the Middle East region. And what had happened to these secular, modern, educated, welfare states?

In the 1980s, the United States overthrew the Afghan government that was progressive, with full rights for women, believe it or not 1, leading to the creation of the Taliban and their taking power.

In the 2000s, the United States overthrew the Iraqi government, destroying not only the secular state, but the civilized state as well, leaving a failed state.

In 2011, the United States and its NATO military machine overthrew the secular Libyan government of Muammar Gaddafi, leaving behind a lawless state and unleashing many hundreds of jihadists and tons of weaponry across the Middle East.

And for the past few years the United States has been engaged in overthrowing the secular Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad. This, along with the US occupation of Iraq having triggered widespread Sunni-Shia warfare, led to the creation of The Islamic State with all its beheadings and other charming practices.

However, despite it all, the world was made safe for capitalism, imperialism, anti-communism, oil, Israel, and jihadists. God is Great!

Starting with the Cold War, and with the above interventions building upon that, we have 70 years of American foreign policy, without which – as Russian/American writer Andre Vltchek has observed – “almost all Muslim countries, including Iran, Egypt and Indonesia, would now most likely be socialist, under a group of very moderate and mostly secular leaders”. 2 Even the ultra-oppressive Saudi Arabia – without Washington’s protection – would probably be a very different place.

On January 11, Paris was the site of a March of National Unity in honor of the magazine Charlie Hebdo, whose journalists had been assassinated by terrorists. The march was rather touching, but it was also an orgy of Western hypocrisy, with the French TV broadcasters and the assembled crowd extolling without end the NATO world’s reverence for journalists and freedom of speech; an ocean of signs declaring Je suis Charlie … Nous Sommes Tous Charlie; and flaunting giant pencils, as if pencils – not bombs, invasions, overthrows, torture, and drone attacks – have been the West’s weapons of choice in the Middle East during the past century.

No reference was made to the fact that the American military, in the course of its wars in recent decades in the Middle East and elsewhere, had been responsible for the deliberate deaths of dozens of journalists. In Iraq, among other incidents, see Wikileaks’ 2007 video of the cold-blooded murder of two Reuters journalists; the 2003 US air-to-surface missile attack on the offices of Al Jazeera in Baghdad that left three journalists dead and four wounded; and the American firing on Baghdad’s Hotel Palestine the same year that killed two foreign cameramen.

Moreover, on October 8, 2001, the second day of the US bombing of Afghanistan, the transmitters for the Taliban government’s Radio Shari were bombed and shortly after this the US bombed some 20 regional radio sites. US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld defended the targeting of these facilities, saying: “Naturally, they cannot be considered to be free media outlets. They are mouthpieces of the Taliban and those harboring terrorists.” 3

And in Yugoslavia, in 1999, during the infamous 78-day bombing of a country which posed no threat at all to the United States or any other country, state-owned Radio Television Serbia (RTS) was targeted because it was broadcasting things which the United States and NATO did not like (like how much horror the bombing was causing). The bombs took the lives of many of the station’s staff, and both legs of one of the survivors, which had to be amputated to free him from the wreckage. 4

I present here some views on Charlie Hebdo sent to me by a friend in Paris who has long had a close familiarity with the publication and its staff:

“On international politics Charlie Hebdo was neoconservative. It supported every single NATO intervention from Yugoslavia to the present. They were anti-Muslim, anti-Hamas (or any Palestinian organization), anti-Russian, anti-Cuban (with the exception of one cartoonist), anti-Hugo Chávez, anti-Iran, anti-Syria, pro-Pussy Riot, pro-Kiev … Do I need to continue?

“Strangely enough, the magazine was considered to be ‘leftist’. It’s difficult for me to criticize them now because they weren’t ‘bad people’, just a bunch of funny cartoonists, yes, but intellectual freewheelers without any particular agenda and who actually didn’t give a fuck about any form of ‘correctness’ – political, religious, or whatever; just having fun and trying to sell a ‘subversive’ magazine (with the notable exception of the former editor, Philippe Val, who is, I think, a true-blooded neocon).”

Dumb and Dumber

Remember Arseniy Yatsenuk? The Ukrainian whom US State Department officials adopted as one of their own in early 2014 and guided into the position of Prime Minister so he could lead the Ukrainian Forces of Good against Russia in the new Cold War?

In an interview on German television on January 7, 2015 Yatsenuk allowed the following words to cross his lips: “We all remember well the Soviet invasion of Ukraine and Germany. We will not allow that, and nobody has the right to rewrite the results of World War Two”.  5

The Ukrainian Forces of Good, it should be kept in mind, also include several neo-Nazis in high government positions and many more partaking in the fight against Ukrainian pro-Russians in the south-east of the country. Last June, Yatsenuk referred to these pro-Russians as “sub-humans” 6, directly equivalent to the Nazi term “untermenschen”.

So the next time you shake your head at some stupid remark made by a member of the US government, try to find some consolation in the thought that high American officials are not necessarily the dumbest, except of course in their choice of who is worthy of being one of the empire’s partners.

The type of rally held in Paris this month to condemn an act of terror by jihadists could as well have been held for the victims of Odessa in Ukraine last May. The same neo-Nazi types referred to above took time off from parading around with their swastika-like symbols and calling for the death of Russians, Communists and Jews, and burned down a trade-union building in Odessa, killing scores of people and sending hundreds to hospital; many of the victims were beaten or shot when they tried to flee the flames and smoke; ambulances were blocked from reaching the wounded … Try and find a single American mainstream media entity that has made even a slightly serious attempt to capture the horror. You would have to go to the Russian station in Washington, DC, RT.com, search “Odessa fire” for many stories, images and videos. Also see the Wikipedia entry on the 2 May 2014 Odessa clashes.

If the American people were forced to watch, listen, and read all the stories of neo-Nazi behavior in Ukraine the past few years, I think they – yes, even the American people and their less-than-intellectual Congressional representatives – would start to wonder why their government was so closely allied with such people. The United States may even go to war with Russia on the side of such people.

L’Occident n’est pas Charlie pour Odessa. Il n’y a pas de défilé à Paris pour Odessa.

Some thoughts about this thing called ideology

Norman Finkelstein, the fiery American critic of Israel, was interviewed recently by Paul Jay on The Real News Network. Finkelstein related how he had been a Maoist in his youth and had been devastated by the exposure and downfall of the Gang of Four in 1976 in China. “It came out there was just an awful lot of corruption. The people who we thought were absolutely selfless were very self-absorbed. And it was clear. The overthrow of the Gang of Four had huge popular support.”

Many other Maoists were torn apart by the event. “Everything was overthrown overnight, the whole Maoist system, which we thought [were] new socialist men, they all believed in putting self second, fighting self. And then overnight the whole thing was reversed.”

“You know, many people think it was McCarthy that destroyed the Communist Party,” Finkelstein continued. “That’s absolutely not true. You know, when you were a communist back then, you had the inner strength to withstand McCarthyism, because it was the cause. What destroyed the Communist Party was Khrushchev’s speech,” a reference to Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev’s 1956 exposure of the crimes of Joseph Stalin and his dictatorial rule.

Although I was old enough, and interested enough, to be influenced by the Chinese and Russian revolutions, I was not. I remained an admirer of capitalism and a good loyal anti-communist. It was the war in Vietnam that was my Gang of Four and my Nikita Khrushchev. Day after day during 1964 and early 1965 I followed the news carefully, catching up on the day’s statistics of American firepower, bombing sorties, and body counts. I was filled with patriotic pride at our massive power to shape history. Words like those of Winston Churchill, upon America’s entry into the Second World War, came easily to mind again – “England would live; Britain would live; the Commonwealth of Nations would live.” Then, one day – a day like any other day – it suddenly and inexplicably hit me. In those villages with the strange names there were people under those falling bombs, people running in total desperation from that god-awful machine-gun strafing.

This pattern took hold. The news reports would stir in me a self-righteous satisfaction that we were teaching those damn commies that they couldn’t get away with whatever it was they were trying to get away with. The very next moment I would be struck by a wave of repulsion at the horror of it all. Eventually, the repulsion won out over the patriotic pride, never to go back to where I had been; but dooming me to experience the despair of American foreign policy again and again, decade after decade. 7

The human brain is an amazing organ. It keeps working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 52 weeks a year, from before you leave the womb, right up until the day you find nationalism. And that day can come very early. Here’s a recent headline from the Washington Post: “In the United States the brainwashing starts in kindergarten.”

Oh, my mistake. It actually said “In N. Korea the brainwashing starts in kindergarten.” 8

Let Cuba Live! The Devil’s List of what the United States has done to Cuba

On May 31, 1999, a lawsuit for $181 billion in wrongful death, personal injury, and economic damages was filed in a Havana court against the government of the United States. It was subsequently filed with the United Nations. Since that time its fate is somewhat of a mystery.

The lawsuit covered the 40 years since the country’s 1959 revolution and described, in considerable detail taken from personal testimony of victims, US acts of aggression against Cuba; specifying, often by name, date, and particular circumstances, each person known to have been killed or seriously wounded. In all, 3,478 people were killed and an additional 2,099 seriously injured. (These figures do not include the many indirect victims of Washington’s economic pressures and blockade, which caused difficulties in obtaining medicine and food, in addition to creating other hardships.)

The case was, in legal terms, very narrowly drawn. It was for the wrongful death of individuals, on behalf of their survivors, and for personal injuries to those who survived serious wounds, on their own behalf. No unsuccessful American attacks were deemed relevant, and consequently there was no testimony regarding the many hundreds of unsuccessful assassination attempts against Cuban President Fidel Castro and other high officials, or even of bombings in which no one was killed or injured. Damages to crops, livestock, or the Cuban economy in general were also excluded, so there was no testimony about the introduction into the island of swine fever or tobacco mold.

However, those aspects of Washington’s chemical and biological warfare waged against Cuba that involved human victims were described in detail, most significantly the creation of an epidemic of hemorrhagic dengue fever in 1981, during which some 340,000 people were infected and 116,000 hospitalized; this in a country which had never before experienced a single case of the disease. In the end, 158 people, including 101 children, died. 9 That only 158 people died, out of some 116,000 who were hospitalized, was an eloquent testimony to the remarkable Cuban public health sector.

The complaint describes the campaign of air and naval attacks against Cuba that commenced in October 1959, when US president Dwight Eisenhower approved a program that included bombings of sugar mills, the burning of sugar fields, machine-gun attacks on Havana, even on passenger trains.

Another section of the complaint described the armed terrorist groups, los banditos, who ravaged the island for five years, from 1960 to 1965, when the last group was located and defeated. These bands terrorized small farmers, torturing and killing those considered (often erroneously) active supporters of the Revolution; men, women, and children. Several young volunteer literacy-campaign teachers were among the victims of the bandits.

There was also of course the notorious Bay of Pigs invasion, in April 1961. Although the entire incident lasted less than 72 hours, 176 Cubans were killed and 300 more wounded, 50 of them permanently disabled.

The complaint also described the unending campaign of major acts of sabotage and terrorism that included the bombing of ships and planes as well as stores and offices. The most horrific example of sabotage was of course the 1976 bombing of a Cubana airliner off Barbados in which all 73 people on board were killed. There were as well as the murder of Cuban diplomats and officials around the world, including one such murder on the streets of New York City in 1980. This campaign continued to the 1990s, with the murders of Cuban policemen, soldiers, and sailors in 1992 and 1994, and the 1997 hotel bombing campaign, which took the life of a foreigner; the bombing campaign was aimed at discouraging tourism and led to the sending of Cuban intelligence officers to the US in an attempt to put an end to the bombings; from their ranks rose the Cuban Five.

To the above can be added the many acts of financial extortion, violence and sabotage carried out by the United States and its agents in the 16 years since the lawsuit was filed. In sum total, the deep-seated injury and trauma inflicted upon on the Cuban people can be regarded as the island’s own 9-11. 10

Notes

  1. US Department of the Army, Afghanistan, A Country Study (1986), pp.121, 128, 130, 223, 232
  2. Counterpunch, January 10, 2015
  3. Index on Censorship, the UK’s leading organization promoting freedom of expression, October 18, 2001
  4. The Independent (London), April 24, 1999
  5. Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk talking to Pinar Atalay”, Tagesschau (Germany), January 7, 2015 (in Ukrainian with German voice-over)
  6. CNN, June 15, 2014
  7. See William Blum, West-Bloc Dissident: A Cold War Memoir, chapter 3
  8. Washington Post, January 17, 2015, page A6
  9. William Blum, Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II, chapter 30, for a capsule summary of Washington’s chemical and biological warfare against Havana.
  10. For further information, see William Schaap, Covert Action Quarterly magazine (Washington, DC), Fall/Winter 1999, pp.26-29
Jan 172015
 

By Takis Fotopoulos, 99GetSmart

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Abstract : The aim of this article is to show the extreme hypocrisy of the Transnational Elite in its lamenting of the actions of Islamic terrorism and its effects. Yet, it can easily be shown historically that it was the same elite and its client regimes, which effectively created Islamic terrorism by extinguishing the secular national liberation movements in the Arab world and by destroying, in the process, hundreds of thousands of lives, as well as the infra-structures of well-functioning social states.

Yesterday, Paris saw the “biggest” rally in France’s history, as the French Interior Ministry described it. This was of course hardly surprising, as the entire political part of the Transnational Elite (TE ― i.e. the elites which run the New World Order of neoliberal globalization, based mainly in the G7 countries), attended it. On top of this, it was a prominent country-member of the same elite that organized it. The main aim of the rally was ostensibly to condemn terrorism. Yet, as I will try to show, it was the same TE, which also created the phenomenon of Islamic terrorism, particularly during the period of the thirty years or so since the emergence of the NWO, which is defined by two parallel systemic events. First, the rise and mass expansion of the transnational corporations that today rule the world economy and the consequent phasing out of economic and national sovereignty that is replaced by a new form of transnational sovereignty shared mainly by the members of the TE and, second, the parallel collapse of “actually existing socialism” in the form of the Soviet bloc.

The concept of modern terrorism derives from the French revolution, where terrorism was only state terrorism, although this concept has been distorted in the NWO to fit its own needs, so that it is not defined anymore on the basis of who carries it out and why, as in the past, but almost exclusively on the basis of the methods and tactics used and, particularly, of targeting civilians.[1] This means that if a conquering army occupies your country, kills women and children in their thousands and then, in desperation, you kill women and children of the occupying country, wherever you find them, the crimes of the occupying army will be as a rule pardoned, as a kind of collateral damage or “error,” whereas your action will be characterized as crime and either you will be killed instantly in action, or you will rot in prison for the rest of your life.  Needless to add that, on the basis of this convenient (for the TE) definition of terrorism, most of liberation or anticolonial movements would have been characterized as terrorist, including the ANC and the Algerian FLN. This is why Hamas, for instance, has been defined today as terrorist because it has killed a few hundred Israeli civilians in its history, while the thousands of Palestinian civilians and many children among them, killed by the Israeli security services, settlers and others, were just characterized as “collateral damage,” if not “human shields” used by their parents!  No wonder that in yesterday’s mass rally the Israeli PM was a prominent guest and he did not even have any qualms about comparing the Paris attack at Charlie Hebdo with the “rocket” attacks on Israeli cities [2] (which had perhaps fewer victims than the former!) characterizing Palestinian resistance as “terrorist”!

The new “ideology” used to justify the present war on terrorism is expressed in terms of the “barbaric” methods used by the ISIS jihadist, despite the fact that the elites were fully aware of the fact that the same (mostly) jihadists, with the elites’ connivance, used exactly the same methods against the Libyan and Syrian peoples in the past few years to achieve “regime change” in the corresponding cases. It is therefore clear that the elites have simply adopted a convenient definition of terrorism, which, however, has nothing to do with the historical origin of the term and its traditional meaning.

On the basis of this distorted definition of terrorism, in retrospect, it is relatively easy to see who and how has created the phenomenon of modern terrorism, or what I would better call transnational terrorism. In fact, transnational terrorism is a new phenomenon, characterizing the New World Order of neoliberal globalization, namely, terrorism that is controlled by the TE and its client states. As I argued elsewhere,[3] transnational terrorism is, in effect, the form that state terrorism takes today against the victims of neoliberal globalization, and its main weapons are either economic violence (e.g. Greece, Portugal, Spain etc.), or physical violence (Iraq, Libya, Syria, Ukraine etc.).

Thus, it can be easily shown that a lot of today’s butchers of ISIS, Al Nusra etc.  carried out similar (if not worse) massacres in the recent past. First, in Libya, in 2011 when they were playing the role of NATO infantry. Next, after finishing their “work” there, many of those jihadists moved to Syria, where they continued the same project. That time, the aim was the destruction of the Assad regime, which was based on the Ba’athist national liberation movement, and its replacement by a theocratic caliphate.[4] At least this is what the gullible followers of these organizations believed, not being usually conscious of the actual role they played  as instruments of the TE and its client criminal regimes in the region, e.g. Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which excelled in organizing crimes against the peoples of Libya and Syria. Finally, when these organizations began attacking the direct instruments of the TE in the area (e.g. the “Free Syrian Army”), which were earmarked to succeed Assad and transform the country into an informal protectorate of the NWO (something like Greece), then the TE decided that their time was up. In other words, ISIS simply functions at present as the pretext for the continuation of the “long war,” this time against Syria. That is, the main objective has always been to crush the national liberation movement in Syria today, and Iran tomorrow, whether this is achieved by a coup “from above” (the traditional military coup), or “from below,” (the “Maidan” model), or whether it is done by external intervention combined with a “coup from below” (the Libyan model).

So, as in the case of traditional state terrorism, in the pre-globalization era of nation-states its victims were mainly individuals or organizations resisting the concentration of power in the hands of national elites, in today’s transnational terrorism, the victims of it are mainly states that have not been fully integrated into the NWO, either because they are based on national liberation movements (e.g. the Ba’athist regimes in Iraq and Syria, or Jamahiriya in Libya) or because they are based on peoples who have a vivid memory of self-determination and are struggling to maintain their national and economic sovereignty in the globalization era (Russia).

However, to understand the nature of political Islamism, from which Islamic terrorism emerged, we have to go back to the former’s historical development, particularly in the post-1948 period. The earliest main expression of political Islamism, which was supported by the Western elites, was the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) but in the last few years, following its failure in Egypt, the TE shifted its sympathies from the MB to the Salafists and the jihadists supported by the Gulf regimes and particularly Saudi Arabia. Both the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists have used violence in their clashes with Arab secularism and particularly the Arab regimes based on national liberation movements. No wonder that both the MB and the Salafists were supported at times by the Western elites and the TE today. This is how political Islam gave rise to Islamic terrorism. But let us see, in some more detail, this process.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which initially expressed the Islamist movement, was formed with the active support of the British colonialists and expressed “the most reactionary, antidemocratic and against social progress version of the newborn ‘political Islam’.”[5] Their main aim has always been the Islamization of Egypt’s political and cultural institutions and the promotion of sharia as the basis for legislation. This is summed up by its main slogan used worldwide: “Islam is the solution”. So, the old Islamic movement, i.e. the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which later expanded all over the Middle East, was a traditionally conservative movement mainly concerned with the cultural aspects of colonization and later of globalization. The Brotherhood has always made pragmatic alliances with regimes ― those of King Farouk from 1936; the Free Officers under Nasser (who ousted Farouk in 1952); and Sadat from 1970 (who used the Brothers against the Nasserites and the Left). The tactical alliance with the Free Officers, however, was inevitably short lived as they had divergent political goals: the Officers believed in a secularist national liberation movement whereas the “Brothers” in an Islamist regime. No wonder that a failed attempted assassination of Nasser in 1954 led to the brutal suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood and the imprisonment and sentencing to death of Sayyid Qutb, one of its leading ideologues, which led to the jihadist movement. In fact, a year after Qutb’s death in 1966, Ayman al-Zawahiri, aged 16 at the time, set up a jihadist cell at his school and invited a few friends to join. In May 2011, Zawahiri became the leader of Al-Qaida, following the murder of Osama bin Laden by US Special Services. As Fawaz A Gerges pointed out, “the birth of the jihadist movement cannot be understood without reference to this great clash between the Muslim Brotherhood and Nasser’s forces”.[6] This early clash developed later on into a clash between the Muslim Brotherhood and Ba’athists in Iraq and Syria and in the last couple of years into a clash between Salafists and the MB, which in 2014 was declared a terrorist organization by Saudi Arabia.

The Brotherhood’s relation to Western powers had started early on, and even during the Second World War, the British viewed the Brotherhood as a possible counterweight against the secular nationalist party, the Wafd, and the communists.[7] But it was in the post-Second World War period, and particularly since 1946-1948, when two crucial events took place, almost at the same time, which marked the post-war period in the Middle East and the entire world, i.e. the beginning of the Cold War in 1946 and the establishment of the Zionist Israeli state in 1948 on occupied Palestinian land. In the immediate post-war period, i.e. during the Cold War, the main division was between pro-Soviet and pro-Western Arab countries. Then, with the rise of Arab nationalism and Arab socialism, on the one hand, a kind of front developed between the supporters of national liberation (Nasser’s Egypt, the Ba’athist regimes in Iraq and Syria, Libya’s Jamahiriya) and, on the other, the front of Western stooges emerged (i.e. the reactionary Gulf regimes, Jordan, Morocco etc.).

However, the NWO that was imposed on the Middle East, first through economic means and corruption in Egypt, and then through brutal military violence by the TE in Iraq and Libya, completely changed the balance of power within the Arab World. Particularly when the client Muslim Brotherhood regimes that emerged in Tunisia and Egypt during the Arab “Spring,” under the cover of “revolutionary movements,” played a leading (and dirty) role in the destruction both of Libya and of Syria. It was of course hardly surprising that the TE backed the MB when one takes into account its real nature, as Samir Amin stressed:

“The Muslim Brotherhood is committed to a market-based economic system of complete external dependence. They are in reality a component of the comprador bourgeoisie. They have taken their stand against large strikes by the working class and against the struggles of poor peasants to hold on to their lands. So the Muslim Brotherhood are “moderate” only in the double sense that they refuse to present any sort of economic and social program, thus in fact accepting without question reactionary neoliberal policies, and that they are submissive de facto to the enforcement of U.S, control over the region and the world. They thus are useful allies for Washington (and does the US have a better ally than their patron, the Saudis?), which now vouches for their “democratic credentials”.”[8]

On the other hand, Ba’athism was a synthesis of nationalism (initially in the form of pan-Arabism) and Arab socialism, in so far as it adopted socialist principles like the public ownership over the strategic sectors of the economy, the belief that socialism is the only way to develop an Arab society that is truly free and united, and secularism. In other words, Ba’athism was mainly a left-wing Arab-centric ideology, a kind of “socialism with Arab characteristics.” In fact, the most important characteristic of Ba’athism was its anti-imperialist nature. The Western hostility against it, in fact, began in the mid-seventies, as it did also in the Syrian case, when the Iraqi Ba’athists embarked on a program of Arab socialism that culminated in the nationalization of oil, seeking to achieve a form of economic independence to complement political independence. Then, they soon realized that they had to de-integrate Iraq’s economy from the capitalist market economy and minimize free enterprise on the means of production, with the ultimate objective to establish an Arab socialist society in which all citizens would enjoy the benefits of development. Clearly, therefore, the main economic aim of the campaign on Iraq was to return oil exploitation to the Western powers and reintegrate the Iraqi economy into the world capitalist market. This aim was confirmed by later reports according to which State Department blueprints, sent to Congress before the invasion began, laid out a vision for Iraq’s reconstruction that would move the country aggressively toward “self-managed economic prosperity, with a market-based economy and privately owned enterprises that operate in an environment governed by the rule of law.”[9]

This is why the Ba’athist regime in Syria as well as the Iraqi Ba’athist regime in Iraq had to be destroyed. Their secular, multi-ethnic and multi-faith societies, and, even more important, their historical foundation on national liberation movements, which by definition were enemies to the NWO, were obviously anathema not only to the TEs but also to the reactionary regimes belonging to the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC) and Turkey ― the main client regimes (together with Jordan) in the area. The campaign to destroy Iraq began early on with the Gulf War, followed by heavy sanctions and frequent bombings, which culminated with the invasion and occupation of the country for a ten year period leading to hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives being destroyed in the process. This was followed by similar processes in Libya and finally in Syria. Yet, although such huge crimes never led to any demonstrations in the West comparable to yesterday’s demonstration, the resentment created among the Arab populations was growing all the time and in the absence of any strong secular national liberation movements (which have been effectively destroyed by the TE) their only way to express their anger against the West was to join the various Islamic terrorist movements, mostly supported by the Gulf States and particularly Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

It is of course not surprising that Saudi Arabia and its ideology was enthusiastically embraced in the West, both in the pre-globalization era and at present. In fact, Saudi Arabian Salafis seem to be even more reactionary than Muslim Brothers. As Benjamin Schett wrote in a significant recent article on Salafism/Wahhabism:

Wahhabi ideology serves U.S. interests for several reasons. Its followers’ archaic perception of society makes them reject any kind of progressive social change. Therefore they are well equipped to push back socialist, secular or nationalist movements, whose independence-oriented policies are a threat to America’s geopolitical agenda. Although Wahhabism certainly is not representative of the majority of Sunni Muslims, Wahhabi Muslims are Sunni extremists, which causes them to maintain an extremely hostile stance towards Shi’te Islam.[10]

So, Saudi Salafists were useful to the TE both in the pre-globalization era, because it was a useful tool in the hands of Western elites to fight Soviet influence and pan-Arabic socialism, as well as in the NWO because they were a valuable tool in the hands of the Transnational Elite to fight any nations resisting the abolition of their sovereignty within the New World Order (NWO) of neoliberal globalization. This was clearly shown, for instance, when Saudi Arabia supported in every possible way the Salafi jihadis, who butchered the peoples of Libya and Syria. In fact, it was only very recently that they stopped supporting their offspring, ISIS, when they had become targeted by the Transnational Elite for attempting to follow their own line in building an Islamic State.[11] Unsurprisingly, the methods used by ISIS, like beheading, which were repeated ad nauseam by the TE media in order to terrorize Western middle classes and justify its “war on terrorism,” have in fact been practiced for years by its client Saudi regime, with nobody in the “civilized” West bothering much about it, as long as they were able to keep expanding their highly profitable business of arms selling to the regime.

In conclusion, it is the TE itself, which today pretends it suffers because of the activities of Islamic terrorists, that, in fact, bears the main responsibility for Islamic terrorism. Not just in the simple sense that it funded and supported jihadists fighting national liberation regimes in Iraq, Libya or Syria, as the degenerate Western Left argues but, even more important, because, historically, it did everything possible to assist the flourishing of Islamic terrorism. In other words, the massive support the TE  provided over time to political Islamism and Islamic terrorism, in its campaign to destroy Arab national liberation movements, had led to the flourishing of an “army” of jihadists, lacking of any political ideology for national liberation and against globalization and relying instead on religious irrationalism. This was of course the desired by the TE aim, in order to prevent them from understanding who their real enemy is, so that they could organize accordingly to fight it. Yet, even if the aim of many (but by no means all) of these jihadists is irrational, i.e. to create a caliphate, this does not prevent them from understanding that, even achieving this aim, they have to fight against the TE, which, all these years, has destroyed their countries and/or their fellow believers.

* The article was also published simultaneously in Pravda.ru.

NOTES:

[1] See e.g. Seumas Milne, “Terror and tyranny,” The Guardian (25/10/2001).

[2] “Hezbollah leader on Charlie Hebdo: ‘Extremists more offensive to Islam than cartoons’,” RT (10/1/2015).

[3] see Takis Fotopoulos, The New World Order in Action: Integrating Eastern Europe and the Middle East (Published shortly by Progressive Press), ch. 9.

[4] ibid.

[5] Samir Amin, “2011: An Arab Springtime? Reflections from Egypt”, Europe solidaire sans frontiers (15/5/2011).

[6] Fawaz A Gerges: “This Brotherhood has a real sense of purpose,” Independent (7/2/2011).

[7] Jack Shenker & Brian Whitaker, “A rare glimpse into the world of the Muslim Brotherhood,” The Guardian (9/2/2011).

[8] Samir Amin, “2011: An Arab Springtime? Reflections from Egypt”,

[9] Jonathan Weisman and Mike Allen “Officials Argue for Fast U.S. Exit From Iraq,” Washington Post (21.04.2003).

[10] Benjamin Schett, “US Sponsored “Islamic Fundamentalism”: The Roots of the US-Wahhabi Alliance,” Global Research (7/9/2012).

[11] See Takis Fotopoulos, The New World Order in Action: Integrating Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

Jan 152015
 

Written by Turkish political analyst / blogger, Gürkan Özturan:

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In Turkey, media response to Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris has had two sides, as in many other places. The polarization has been between those that celebrated the attack and those that stood in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo’s press freedom and supported it. In order to stand in solidarity with the French satirical paper, the Turkish satirical magazines Leman, Penguen and Uykusuz have agreed to come out with the same cover page for this week’s issue. Like many cartoonists all around the world, Turkish cartoonists also mourned over the violent massacre. Yet Charlie Hebdo once again came up with the unexpected and drew a cover page that showed Mohammed crying and holding a banner that reads “Je Suis Charlie.”

The French newspaper Libération had offered refuge for the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo, and the new issue’s announcement came in their offices too. On the other hand in Turkey, the prominent newspaper Cumhuriyet Daily has been announced to be one of the two newspapers that are allowed to reprint parts of Charlie Hebdo’s latest issue. According to Libération’s news piece, Cumhuriyet Daily from Turkey and Italy’s Il Fatto Quotidiano will be printing parts of the latest issue of Charlie Hebdo. Later on the French magazine will be available digitally in four languages, in French, English, Spanish and Arabic.

Turkey’s most popular satirical magazines: Leman, Penguen, Uykusuz

The announcement that Cumhuriyet would reprint parts of the magazine has caused an uproar among some extra-sensitive Islamists in Turkey. While over the past week some pro-government media have been declaring even mentioning of the Mohammed cartoons as blasphemy and an insult to religion, now thousands of people in Turkey have turned to Cumhuriyet as the local target. The newspaper’s headquarters have received countless threats through the night, including serious death threats.

A few hours after the threats starting flowing into Cumhuriyet’s inbox, the mayor of Ankara tweeted his message that this is a plot to make Muslims appear violent. He accused Cumhuriyet of participating in an international plot to provoke devout Muslims to raid the newspaper’s headquarters and play the victim. He also invited all his Twitter followers to take Cumhuriyet to court for blasphemy, which is punishable by imprisonment in Turkey. However the police did not allow the “crime” to be committed and raided the Cumhuriyet Daily’s printing house, to make sure no caricatures of Mohammed are printed. Open censorship has been an issue in Turkey with regard to books, but no raid of a newspaper printing house has taken place for some time.

On the other hand, the daily’s Twitter account announced that the newspaper will reprint parts of Charlie Hebdo’s latest issue in four pages to show their solidarity and support for free speech and press freedom, and that in so doing they have had regard for the sensitivity of the religious citizens of the country. In fact it is largely ignored that the Quran itself does not prohibit representations of the Islamic prophet, but rather the worship of idols.

However, the digital lynching campaign seems to continue as this piece is being written, and the threats might in fact turn into reality. Currently Cumhuriyet holds an unfortunate world record for the number of journalists (eight) that have fallen victim to assassinations and bombings. The last time the newspaper’s headquarters were subjected to a bombing was in 2006, but no one was hurt. However the hate speech and targeting by Islamist media has so far proven to be heavily destructive. The Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink’s case is still referred to as an example. The journalist had been targeted by certain media, which sparked a nationalist reaction and led to his being shot in the back in front of his newspaper on January 19, 2007. Now, the same media’s targeting Cumhuriyet and the satirical magazines reminds one of those unfortunate past events and is perceived as worrisome.

Cumhuriyet Daily’s cartoon problems have appeared previously as well. One of the cartoonists of the newspaper, Musa Kart, once drew then Prime Minister Erdoğan as a cat and was sued for it, which led to a wave of drawing Erdoğan as an animal in the satirical magazines. The famous cartoonist is also on trial and risks a nine-year prison sentence for his drawings in the newspaper. “If I must go to prison for exercising the duties of free press,” he has said, “then so be it. Today caricaturists are sitting on the bench awaiting trial in Turkey, but this proves that justice only comes in the form of a comic drawing here.”

In recent weeks, there has been an uproar in the pro-government media in Turkey with regard to cartoonists, and several columnists have targeted comic relief and portrayed satire as a dangerous weapon.

According to international observers, Turkey has a very low rating for press freedom and is listed as “Not Free” in the Freedom House rankings on journalism. According to PEN Norway’s report on free speech in Turkey, there are still dozens of journalists in prison and dozens more on trial. As Cumhuriyet’s new issue with Charlie Hebdo content will appear at kiosks on Wednesday morning, we will see how the statistics change now; yet it seems as if immediate protection of the newspaper’s headquarters is a necessity. After the violent threats, one can not help but wonder if the imams in Turkey would stand in solidarity and show support for press freedom as did the German-Turk imams in Germany after the attacks in Paris. During the past week millions of people have declared themselves to be Charlie in solidarity. But on Wednesday, it’s “Je Suis Cumhuriyet.”

 

More stories by Gürkan Özturan http://theradicaldemocrat.wordpress.com

More stories about Turkey @ http://99getsmart.com/category/turkey/

Jan 102015
 

By Iddhis Bing, 99GetSmart

Stephane Charbonnier, Publisher at Charlie Hebdo

Stephane Charbonnier, Publisher at Charlie Hebdo

Edouard Perrin is a French documentary filmmaker who works at Premières Lignes in Paris. As part of Cash Investigations, he is widely known for his programs on tax evasion in France and other countries, most notably Luxembourg. 99GetSmart Readers may remember the Invisible Money series that appeared here, which was based on the documents provided to Perrin by Antoine Deltour, an ex-employee of the accounting firm PwC. Perrin’s refusal to be intimidated by approximately 300,000 pages of material and his persistance with the story led to several awards and a major European scandal, now known as LuxLeaks. Subsequent revelations that have appeared on the ICIJ and Guardian websites are in substantial measure based on Perrin’s research. Readers may also recall that the material appeared on 99GetSmart more than a year in advance of those somewhat larger news organizations.

Premières Lignes is located on the same floor of the same building as Charlie Hebdo in Paris, and Perrin was present when the well-armed attackers burst into the building at 11:30 a.m. He along with others managed to escape to the roof. What follows is a translation of the brief message that Perrin posted on his Facebook page on Wednesday.

Readers interested in the Invisible Money series can find it at the bottom of this post.

J Iddhis Bing

 

Ed Perrin’s statement:

Facebook asks, What’s on your mind this evening?

I don’t have any idea.

Or too many, far too many.

I work at the Premières Lignes press agency.

We are Charlie Hebdo’s neighbors on the same floor.

Hebdo was where I published my first articles. During the last century.

Just a few hours ago, I searched for the pulse of my revered mentors in journalism, in criticism, in derision and above all in freedom of thought.

In vain.

Cabu, Charb, Honoré, Maris, Wolinsky… and others whom I cannot recall at this moment.

May the earth rest lightly upon you.

P.S. If by some miracle there is a god who shelters them, they would want to see EVERYONE on their feet. Charb had even made it his raison d’etre: To die standing rather than live on one’s knees. Or worse, in hiding.

PPS: If by chance, someone, anyone, has personal contact with Tony Barber of the Financial Times, could he or she be kind enough to inform him that he’s not welcome here. That’s a euphemism. I recommend that everyone read, if it hasn’t been pulled by the Financial Times, yesterday’s midday editorial blog. It is exactly the opposite of how we should think and act.

PPPS: On the subject of Fight, and therefore of an enemy, I invite you to reread Camus.

“The evil that exists in the world almost always stems from ignorance.”

The Plague

“There always comes a time in history when those who dare to say two plus two equals four are punished with death.”

The Plague, again

“For those of us who do not believe in God, without justice there can only be despair.”

The Just

“I have thrown a bomb at your tyranny – not at a man.”

” – No doubt. But it is the man who was hit.”

Also from The Just

“Happiness? – To hold the hand of a man before he dies.”

The Just, once again

With love, Ed

Notes

1 Barber’s column was subsequently pulled by FT.

2 Fight (Combat, in French) was the French underground resistance newspaper Camus wrote for.

Charlie 5

Invisible Money Series by Iddhis Bing:

- Invisible Money 1: How It Gets That Way: http://99getsmart.com/?p=4736

- Invisible Money 2: Voyage to Luxembourg: http://99getsmart.com/?p=4914

- Invisible Money 3: http://99getsmart.com/?p=5319

- Invisible Money 4: Of Luxembourg, London and Paris, and a Lady Named Merkiavelli: http://99getsmart.com/?p=5411

- Invisible Money 5: The Cloud Factory Revisited Up The Ladder, Marius Kohl to Luc Frieden: http://99getsmart.com/invisible-money-5-the-cloud-factory-revisited-up-the-ladder-marius-kohl-to-luc-frieden/

Jan 052015
 

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

2015

Introduction

The balance sheet for 2014 and the prospects for 2015 provide us with a complex panorama of negative and positive outcomes. In most cases theadvances, are not earth-shattering but open possibilities for further progress.  The negative developments, however, have greater and more threatening systemic outcomes.

We will proceed in a telegraphic fashion to outline the positive and negative developments in 2014 and their real and potential symbolic and substantive impacts. In the second part of the essay we will sketch out some of the most important events and the way in which the positive and negative outcomes of 2014 will play out in 2015.

Positive Developments in 2014

While most leftist and progressive writers have emphasized the negative events of 2014, a more nuanced analysis will reveal ten important positive outcomes.

(1)   The revelations that the US National Security Agency was engaged in a world-wide long-standing and continuous spying operations against hundreds of millions of Americans, allies and adversaries, citizens and leaders provoked deep distrust and questioning of Washington’s claims of upholding democracy and respecting the sovereignty of nations. The revelations led to greater vigilance among countries and domestic demands for reform.

(2)   The US Senate revelations that the CIA engaged in widespread and repeated torture of political suspects, documented the growth of a police state apparatus and provoked a world-wide demand to prosecute prominent US leaders for crimes against humanity.

(3)   The growth of economic, political and military ties between Russia and China augurs a rebalancing of global power – fostering a multi-polar world, which can act as a deterrent to future western imperial aggression.

(4)   China’s President Xi’s deepening anti-corruption campaign has led to the arrest of leading business and political leaders and has encouraged  popular denunciations and demands for ‘good government’ and greater attention to social demands.

(5)   President Putin’s support for the Eastern Ukraine resistance to the Kiev puppet regime and for Crimean separatists, and his moves to restrict and, in some cases, prosecute criminal behavior among oligarchs has successfully countered Western efforts to encircle, undermine and revert Russia to a vassal state.  US-NATO backed neo-liberals within Russia have been severely weakened Western sanctions may strengthen efforts  to socialize the economy.

(6)   The opening of a dialogue with Cuba, and Washington’s recognition that its half century blockade has only isolated the US in Latin America, is a step in the right direction. The increase in tourism and economic missions may increase demands for the end of the blockade.

(7)   The growth and spread of the  Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) against the Israeli occupation of Palestine has reached major trade unions, student and religious organizations, which in turn has influenced numerous political leaders to recognize Palestine, overcoming massive opposition from the Presidents of the 52 Major American Jewish organizations in the US and their counterparts overseas.

(8)   The Iranian – US peace and nuclear negotiations have lessened the prospect of an Israeli promoted regional war. The ongoing negotiations have led to some advances, mostly concessions by Iran, but, at least, have favored diplomacy over US military aggression.

(9)   Latin America witnessed a near sweep by ‘left of center’ regimes against US backed ‘hard right’ neo-liberals, in Brazil, Venezuela, Chile, Uruguay, Ecuador and Bolivia. While these election outcomes will not in any way challenge capitalism or lead to the expropriation of the agro-mineral and financial elite, they do indicate a relative degree of independence from US militarist foreign policy. The election of President Santos in Colombia, and the defeat of the far right opposition candidate, allowed for the peace negotiations with the FARC, the popular insurgency, to proceed toward a definitive agreement.

(10)     The widespread dissemination of multi-media recordings of prominent scientists testifying to and documenting the evidence demonstrating that the collapse of the World Trade Center could only be a controlled demolition and not a result of the plane crashes, has led to widespread calls for a new investigation of 9/11.

Negative Events in 2014

Major events and policies in 2014 which have had a profoundly negative effect on the prospects for peace and social justice are equally numerous.

(1)    The US and EU installation of a puppet regime in the Western Ukraine (Kiev) and its conversion into an economic vassal state of the European Union and NATO outpost on Russia’s border is a major blow against democracy and boost to Ukrainian neo-fascist political leaders. The militarization of the Ukraine, as an adversary of Russia, threatens a global nuclear war.

(2)   The military coup in Egypt and the violent purge, jailing and torture of elected officials and secular dissidents, ensures the return of US influence in North Africa and reinforces Israel’s blockade of Gaza and  colonization over the West Bank. Food and transport subsidies were ended in accord with the IMF. In 2014 as a result of the military dictatorship’s pro-business policies, the Egyptian stock market index returned 30% to foreign and domestic speculators. Between the coup in mid-2013 to the end of 2014, the M5CI stock index of Egypt doubled.

(3)   The US re-entry in the Iraq civil war, its air war in Syria to counter the advance of ISIS, and the decision to retain thousands of troops in Afghanistan means that the militarist policies of the past decade continue to define US foreign policy in the Middle East. Civilian casualties are mounting and the wars are showing no signs of ending. The devastation wrought by the US-NATO military intervention in Libya continues to provoke Islamic extremism and civilian flight.

(4)   US repeatedly supported Israeli seizures and colonization of Palestinian land in the West Bank and Jerusalem and Israel’s  savage murder of 2000 Palestinians and 5 billion dollar devastation of property in Gaza. Under the prodding of Zionist multi-billionaires and AIPAC, the US blocked the PLOs effort to gain UN membership via arm-twisting of African representatives in the Security Council.

(5)   The President and Congress’s defense of NSA spying and CIA responsibility for torture has further weakened residual constitutional guarantees.

(6)   The electoral victories by the hard right in the US legislative elections will present major problems in proceeding with peace negotiations with Iran, in ending the economic blockade of Cuba and lessening the Government’s purge of immigrants.

(7)   The Ferguson protest against the police assassination of a young black man grew into a nationwide protest (“black lives matter”) against the police impunity and violence, and had all the makings of a popular movement to democratize the state. Instead the police officials and police unions launched a massive counter-attack and mobilization, defending police power, by exploiting the killing of two policemen in New York City by a deranged individual.

(8)   The US success in imposing sanctions against Russia, with the backing of the European Union, the escalation of military exercises on Russia’s Baltic frontiers and in the Caucuses, threaten a nuclear confrontation.

(9)   Washington’s promotion of Asian-Pacific economic pacts excluding China, the military base agreements with Japan, Australia and the Philippines, and the expansion of provocative air and sea surveillance of China’s coastlines, has dimmed any prospect that Washington is willing to accommodate China’s ascent as a world power.

(10)   Economic policies continue to concentrate wealth in the upper 1%, while investment bankers escape jail sentences for on-going multi-billion dollar swindles and illicit operations, laying the bases for a new financial crisis.

Looking Toward the New Year

The prognosis for 2015 is not promising. For one thing the positive changes that took place in 2014 are not sustainable and will be under threat by the further rightward shift in US policy.

The likelihood is that the new rightwing majority in Congress will do everything possible to prevent the ending of the US economic blockade of Cuba. The powerful Israel power configuration in the Congress, mass media and in the Treasury will likely impose such onerous and unilateral demands on Iran as to undermine any meaningful agreement. In Israel far right neo-fascist parties are likely to take power, early in 2015, and accelerate the seizure and colonization of Palestinian land foreclosing any prospects of a negotiated agreement. The Zionist power configuration in Washington will guarantee continued US backing.

The Obama Administration, blinded by its success in securing EU support for sanctions against Russia, will push harder for a full scale economic war, in hopes of overthrowing the Putin government.

Incremental increases in troops and military commitments in South Asia, the Middle East and the Baltic regions will further heighten economic tensions with China and North Korea as well as Russia.

Obama will work with the new rightwing Congress to lower corporate taxes, to secure fast track passage of free trade agreements with Europe(excluding Russia) and Asia (excluding China) and to strengthen the arbitrary police power of the CIA, NSA, and FBI.

The police, organized and mobilized, will further subordinate civilian authorities, and launch a full scale war on the movement to curtail police violence against Afro-Americans. New York City’s giant pro-police show of force is a dress rehearsal for 2015.

The US economy will become even more lopsided, unequal and subject to financial volatility. Middle and working class Americans will become further alienated from the parties, legislature and executive – abstention will increase. However, many Americans will struggle to elect popular representatives in local elections and initiatives.

Overseas the US will fail to secure any decisive military victory in any major theater of war. ISIS in Syria and Iraq is likely to continue to occupy wide swaths of territory and to sustain a long term war. The Taliban will eventually surround the big cities and garrisons in which US advisers are holed up. Libya will continue to be a failed state. The Ukraine will likely descend into economic bankruptcy. In southern Europe the left-socialist party SYRIZA will probably win the elections and attempt to impose a moratorium on debt payments and stimulate the economy. The neo-liberal political regimes in Italy, Spain and Portugal will continue to deteriorate. In France the Socialist regime’s embrace of a pro-business agenda will provoke major conflicts with trade unions and may fracture. The National Front may become the leading party, adopting positions on the Right (anti-immigrant) and Left (anti EU austerity). Leftist, populist and far –right parties and movements are likely to increase support in eight scheduled elections in the EU this year.

Turmoil, wars, and sanctions will lead to new political alignments. Just as Russia and China move to realign, so too, political forces in North and South America, Asia and the Middle East may find new de facto alignments. Saudi and Israel, Iran and Iraq, Turkey and Russia, Brazil and Venezuela . . .

Unpredictable challenges may emerge from minor and major players: Greece’s new Syriza government, by refusing to abide by Berlin’s austerity agenda, may provoke a major crises in the EU. China’s anti-corruption campaign could lead to heighten mass protests. North and South Korea may open long sought negotiations – excluding the US.

With the beginning of 2015 we enter a journey to the end of the night…

Dec 302014
 

By Ernst Wolff, 99GetSmart

Wolff_Pillaging-the-World_front-400x567

The following text is the forward to Ernst Wolff’s book entitled : Pillaging the World. The History and Politics of the IMF, © Tectum Verlag Marburg, 2014, ISBN 978-3-8288-3438-5, www.tectum-verlag.de. The book is available in English and German

No other financial organization has affected the lives of the majority of the world’s population more profoundly over the past fifty years than the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Since its inception after World War II, it has expanded its sphere of influence to the remotest corners of the earth. Its membership currently includes 188 countries on five continents.

For decades, the IMF has been active mainly in Africa, Asia and South America. There is hardly a country on these continents where its policies have not been carried out in close cooperation with the respective national governments. When the global financial crisis broke out in 2007, the IMF turned its attention to northern Europe. Since the onset of the Euro crisis in 2009, its primary focus has shifted to southern Europe.

Officially, the IMF’s main task consists in stabilizing the global financial system and helping out troubled countries in times of crisis. In reality, its operations are more reminiscent of warring armies. Wherever it intervenes, it undermines the sovereignty of states by forcing them to implement measures that are rejected by the majority of the population, thus leaving behind a broad trail of economic and social devastation. 

Ernst Wolff

In pursuing its objectives, the IMF never resorts to the use of weapons or soldiers. It simply applies the mechanisms of capitalism, specifically those of credit. Its strategy is as simple as it is effective: When a country runs into financial difficulties, the IMF steps in and provides support in the form of loans. In return, it demands the enforcement of measures that serve to ensure the country’s solvency in order to enable it to repay these loans.

Because of its global status as “lender of last resort” governments usually have no choice but to accept the IMF’s offer and submit to its terms – thus getting caught in a web of debt, which they, as a result of interest, compound interest and principal, get deeper and deeper entangled in. The resulting strain on the state budget and the domestic economy inevitably leads to a deterioration of their financial situation, which the IMF in turn uses as a pretext for demanding ever new concessions in the form of “austerity programs”.

The consequences are disastrous for the ordinary people of the countries affected (which are mostly low-income) because their governments all follow the same pattern, passing the effects of austerity on to wage earners and the poor.

In this manner, IMF programs have cost millions of people their jobs, denied them access to adequate health care, functioning educational systems and decent housing. They have rendered their food unaffordable, increased homelessness, robbed old people of the fruits of life-long work, favored the spread of diseases, reduced life expectancy and increased infant mortality.

At the other end of the social scale, however, the policies of the IMF have helped a tiny layer of ultra-rich increase their vast fortunes even in times of crisis. Its measures have contributed decisively to the fact that global inequality has assumed historically unprecedented levels. The income difference between a sun king and a beggar at the end of the Middle Ages pales compared to the difference between a hedge fund manager and a social welfare recipient of today.

Although these facts are universally known and hundreds of thousands have protested the effects of its measures in past decades, often risking their lives, the IMF tenaciously clings on to its strategy. Despite all criticism and despite the strikingly detrimental consequences of its actions, it still enjoys the unconditional support of the governments of all leading industrial nations.

Why? How can it be that an organization that causes such immense human suffering around the globe continues to act with impunity and with the backing of the most powerful forces of our time? In whose interest does the IMF work? Who benefits from its actions?

It is the purpose of this book to answer these questions.

The Bretton Woods Conference:

Starting out with Blackmail

While the Second World War was still raging in Europe, in July 1944, the United States invited delegations from 44 countries to the small ski resort of Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. The official aim of the conference, held for three weeks in the luxurious “Mount Washington” hotel, was to define the basic features of an economic order for the post-war period and to provide the cornerstones of a system that would stabilize the world economy and prevent a return to the situation that had existed between the two world wars. The 1930s in particular were distinguished by high inflation, trade barriers, strongly fluctuating exchange rates, gold shortages and a decline in economic activity by more than 60 %. Furthermore, social tensions had constantly threatened to break down the established order.

The conference had been preceded by several years of secret negotiations between the White House and Downing Street which had already been working on plans for a new world monetary order since 1940. A recorded comment from the head of the British delegation, the economist Lord Keynes, sheds light on the former elite’s attitude towards the interests and concerns of smaller countries: “Twenty-one countries have been invited which clearly have nothing to contribute and will merely encumber the ground… The most monstrous monkey-house assembled for years.”

It did not take long before their contemptuous attitude rebounded on Lord Keynes and his compatriots. During the course of the conference, it became increasingly clear how much the global balance of power had shifted to the disadvantage of Great Britain. Excessive war spending had turned the country, already severely weakened by the First World War, into the world’s biggest debtor and pushed it to the brink of insolvency. Great Britain’s economy was on its knees and the rise of the liberation movements around the world already heralded the final breakup of its once global colonial empire.

The undisputed victor of the Second World War, however, was the United States. Having become the largest international creditor, it held nearly two-thirds of the world’s gold reserves and commanded half of all global industrial production. In contrast to most European countries its infrastructure was intact and while its delegation engaged in negotiations at Bretton Woods, the US army’s general staff planned a nuclear assault on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in order to emphasize America’s claim to global dominion.

As a result of this new balance of power, Lord Keynes’ plan for a new economic order was flatly rejected. Representing a country with substantial balance of payments problems, he had proposed an “international payments union” that would have given countries suffering from a negative balance of payments easier access to loans and introduced an international accounting unit called “Bancor” which would have served as a reserve currency.

The US, however, was unwilling to take on the role of a major creditor that Keynes’ plan had foreseen for it. The leader of their delegation, economist Harry Dexter White, in turn presented his own plan that was finally adopted by the conference. This “White Plan” conceptualized a world currency system never before seen in the history of money. The US dollar was to constitute its sole center and was to be pegged to all other currencies at a fixed exchange rate while its exchange relation to gold was to be set at $ 35 per ounce of fine gold. The plan was supplemented by US demands for the establishment of several international organizations designed to monitor the new system and stabilize it by granting loans to countries facing balance of payments problems.

After all, Washington, due to its size and rapid economic growth, had to move ahead in order to obtain access to raw materials and create global sales opportunities for its overproduction. This required replacing the hitherto most widely used currency, the British pound, by the dollar. Also, time seemed ripe for replacing the City of London by Wall Street, thus establishing the US in its new position as the focal point of international trade and global finance.

The gold-dollar peg and the establishment of fixed exchange rates partially reintroduced the gold standard, which had existed between 1870 and the outbreak of World War I – albeit under very different circumstances. By fixing all exchange rates to the US dollar, Washington deprived all other participating countries of the right to control their own monetary policy for the protection of their domestic industries – a first step towards curtailing the sovereignty of the rest of the world by the now dominant United States.

The distribution of voting rights suggested by the US for the proposed organizations was also far from democratic. Member countries were not to be treated equally or assigned voting rights according to the size of their population, but rather corresponding to the contributions they paid – which meant that Washington, by means of its financial superiority, secured itself absolute control over all decisions. The fact that South Africa’s racist apartheid dictatorship was invited to become a founding member of the IMF sheds a revealing light on the role that humanitarian considerations played in the process.

The US government sensed that it would not be easy to win over public opinion for a project so obviously in contradiction with the spirit of the US constitution and many Americans’ understanding of democracy. The true goals of the IMF were therefore obfuscated with great effort and glossed over by empty rhetoric about “free trade” and the “abolition of protectionism”. The New York Herald-Tribune spoke of the “most high-powered propaganda campaign in the history of the country.”

The IMF’s first task was to scrutinize all member states in order to determine their respective contribution rates. After all, the Fund was to exert a long-term “monitoring” function for the system’s protection. The US thus claimed for itself the right to be permanently informed about the financial and economic conditions of all countries involved.

When half a year after the conference the British insisted on an improvement in their favor to the contracts, they were unambiguously made aware of who was in charge of the IMF. Without further ado Washington tied a loan of $ 3.75 billion, urgently needed by the U.K. to repay its war debts, to the condition that Great Britain submit to the terms of the agreement without any ifs, ands, or buts. Less than two weeks later Downing Street gave in to Washington’s blackmail and consented.

On December 27, 1945, 29 governments signed the final agreement. In January 1946, representatives of 34 nations came together for an introductory meeting of the Board of Governors of the IMF and the World Bank in Savannah, Georgia. On this occasion, Lord Keynes and his compatriots were once again left empty-handed: Contrary to their proposal to establish the headquarters of the IMF, which had in the meantime been declared a specialized agency of the United Nations, in New York City, the US government insisted on its right to determine the location solely by itself. On March 1, 1947, the IMF finally took up its operations in downtown Washington.

The rules for membership in the IMF were simple: Applicant countries had to open their books and were rigorously screened and assessed. After that they had to deposit a certain amount of gold and pay their financial contribution to the organization according to their economic power. In return, they were assured that in the case of balance of payments problems they were entitled to a credit up to the extent of their contribution – in exchange for interest rates determined by the IMF and the contractually secured obligation of settling their debts to the IMF before all others.

The IMF finally received a starting capital of $ 8.8 billion from shares of its member states who paid 25 % of their contributions in gold and 75 % in their own currency. The United States secured itself the highest rate by depositing $ 2.9 billion. The amount was twice as high as Great Britain’s and guaranteed the United States not only double voting rights, but also a blocking minority and veto rights.

The IMF was run by a Board of Governors, to whom twelve executive directors were subordinated. Seven were elected by the members of the IMF, the other five were appointed by the largest countries, led by the US. The offices of the IMF as well as those of its sister organization, the World Bank, were set up on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington within walking distance from the White House.

The original statutes of the IMF state that the organization’s objectives were, among others,

  • To promote international cooperation in the field of monetary policy,
  • To facilitate the expansion and balanced growth of international trade,
  • To promote exchange rate stability and assist in the establishment of a multilateral system of payments,
  • To provide member countries facing balance of payments difficulties with temporary access to the Fund’s general resources and under adequate safeguards,
  • To shorten the duration and lessen the degree of disequilibrium in the international balances of payments of member countries.

These official terms make it seem as if the IMF is an impartial institution, placed above nations and independent of political influences, its main objective consisting in running the global economy in as orderly a manner as possible, swiftly correcting malfunctions. This is no coincidence. This impression was intended by the authors and has in fact achieved its desired effect: It is exactly this notion that has been conveyed to the global public for more than six decades by politicians, scientists and the international media.

In actual fact, the IMF has, from the very beginning, been an institution launched by, controlled by, and tailored to the interests of the United States, designed to secure the new military superpower economic world domination. To conceal these intentions even more effectively, the founding fathers of the IMF in 1947 started a tradition which the organization has held to this day – appointing a non-American to the post of managing director.

The first foreigner, selected in 1946, was Camille Gutt from Belgium. As finance minister of his country during World War II, the trained economist had helped the British cover their war expenses by lending them Belgian gold. He had aided the war effort by supplying his government’s allies with cobalt and copper from the Belgian colony of Congo and supporting the US government with secret deliveries of Congolese uranium for its nuclear program. In 1944 he had carried out a drastic currency reform (later known as the “Gutt operation”) that had cost the working population of Belgium large amounts of their savings.

Gutt headed the IMF from 1946 to 1951. During his time in office he largely focused on the implementation and monitoring of fixed exchange rates, thus ushering in a new era of hitherto unknown stability for US and international corporations when exporting goods and purchasing raw materials. He also paved the way for major US banks seeking to deal in credits on an international scale and opened up markets all over the world for international finance capital searching for investment opportunities.

The world’s major political changes after World War II caused considerable headaches for the IMF, because they limited the scope of the organization. Above all, the Soviet Union took advantage of the post-war situation, characterized by the division of the world among the major powers and the drawing of new borders in Europe. Still relying on the socialization of the means of production by the Russian Revolution of 1917, Stalin’s officials sealed off the so-called “Eastern bloc” from the West in order to introduce central economic planning in these countries. The Soviet bureaucracy’s primary objective, however, was not to enforce the interests of working people, but to assure the subordination of the Eastern Bloc under its own interests for the purpose of pillaging these countries. In any case, the fragmentation of Eastern Europe meant that Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and several other markets became blank areas for international financial capital.

The seizure of power by Mao Zedong in 1949 and the introduction of a planned economy in China by the Communist Party deprived Western investors of another huge market and eventually led to the Korean War. Implementing their policy of “containment” of the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence, the US tacitly accepted the loss of four million lives only to deliver a clear message to the rest of the world: that the largest economic power on earth would no longer remain passive if denied access to any more global markets.

The Post-War Boom: The IMF Casts its Net

The post-war years were characterized by the rapid economic growth of all leading industrial nations, referred to as the “Wirtschaftswunder” (“economic miracle”) in Germany. Although IMF lending played only a minor role during this time, the organization’s leadership did not remain inactive. On the contrary: the second IMF chief Ivar Rooth, a former Governor of the Swedish Central Bank and ex-Director of the Basel Bank for International Settlements, set out on a course that was to acquire major significance in the later history of the organization – introducing conditionality, i.e. establishing obligatory requirements for granting loans.

Harry Dexter White had already made a proposal along these lines at the Bretton Woods Conference, but encountered fierce resistance from the British. Meanwhile, however, Britain’s position had continued to deteriorate. Former colonies, mainly in Africa, were fighting for their independence, and in the Middle East the Suez crisis was looming – providing the US with an opportunity to advance its own interests in the IMF more forcefully.

By establishing so-called “stand-by arrangements”, Ivar Rooth added the principle of “conditionality” to the IMF’s toolbox. The granting of loans was now subjected to conditions that went far beyond the specification of loan deadlines and the level of interest rates.

In implementing these measures, which were tightened after Britain’s defeat in Suez led to a rise of tensions in Anglo-American relations, the IMF’s strategists developed a strategy that helped them to cleverly deceive the public. Starting in 1958, they obliged the governments of debtor countries to draw up “letters of intent” in which they had to express their willingness to undertake “reasonable efforts” to master their balance of payments problems. This made it seem as though a country had itself proposed the measures that were actually required by the IMF.

But even that did not go far enough for the IMF. As a next step, loans to be disbursed were sliced into tranches (“phasing”) and thus made conditional upon the respective debtor country’s submissiveness. In addition, the IMF insisted (and still insists) that agreements between the IMF and its debtors should not be considered international treaties and therefore should not be subject to parliamentary approval. Finally, the IMF decreed that any agreements with it were not intended for the public eye and had to be treated as classified information – a scheme that applies to this day.

Conditions were to be continually tightened in the course of the IMF’s history and would prove to be a crucial mechanism for increasing foreign domination of developing countries. They also contributed to the growing power of the IMF, because the World Bank, most governments and the vast majority of international commercial banks from now on only granted loans to those countries which, on the basis of the fulfillment of the IMF’s criteria, had received its “seal of approval”.

In 1956 a meeting was held in Paris that was to win landmark importance for the later development of the IMF. Struggling to repay a loan, Argentina had to sit down with its creditor countries and representatives of the IMF in order to have new conditions dictated to it. The meeting took place in the offices of French Finance Minister Pierre Pflimlin, who also chaired it. It did not remain the only one of its kind. In subsequent years, meetings between IMF representatives, creditors and debtors were held frequently in the same place, gradually developing into fixed monthly conferences that were to become known as the “Paris Club”. A scope of extremely important decisions were taken within this framework – without parliamentary consent and hidden from the eyes of the public. Commercial banks around the world soon recognized the importance of these conferences, and therefore started their own “London Club”, whose meetings usually took (and still take) place simultaneously with those of the Paris Club.

Barely noticed by the global community, the IMF subsequently turned to a field of activity that was to boost its power massively in a relatively short time. The wave of declarations of independence by African states at the beginning of the 1960s marked the beginning of a new era. Countries that had been plundered for decades by colonialism and lay in tatters economically, now had to find their proper place in the world and especially in the world economy under rapidly changing conditions. Their governments therefore needed money. Since most of these countries offered commercial banks too little security due to social tensions, political unrest and barely existing infrastructure, the IMF took advantage of the situation and offered its services as a creditor.

Although most African countries were so poor that they were only granted relatively modest sums, even these had consequences. The maturity dates of interest and principal payments relentlessly ensured that states that had just escaped from colonial dependence were seamlessly caught in a new network of financial dependence on the IMF.

As credit lending required the debtor’s membership in the IMF, the organization, whose founding members had only included three African countries – Egypt, Ethiopia, and South Africa – was joined by more than 40 additional African states between 1957 and 1969. In 1969, 44 out of 115 members were African. Although they made up more than one third of the overall organization, their voting rights that same year amounted to less than 5 %.

Chile 1973:

Embarking upon the Path of Neoliberalism

The beginning of the 1970s marked the end of the post-war boom, a twenty-five year period of economic expansion in which workers in the leading industrial nations had been granted great social concessions and experienced a hitherto unknown improvement of their living standards. It was the internal disintegration of the Bretton Woods system that brought about the end of that period. As a result of rising US investment abroad and escalating military spending – particularly for the Vietnam War – the amount of dollars globally in circulation had continually increased. All attempts by the US government to bring this proliferation under control had failed because US capital had blended with foreign capital and no nation on earth was capable of reining in this massive concentration of financial power.

In 1971, the United States, for the first time in its history, ran a balance of payments deficit. At the same time the imbalance between the global dollar supply and US gold reserves stored in Fort Knox assumed such dimensions that even raising the gold price to $ 38.00 and then to $ 42.20 could no longer guarantee its exchange against an ounce of gold. On August 15, 1971, US President Nixon pulled the brakes and severed the link between gold and the dollar, displaying the typical arrogance of a superpower by not consulting a single ally.

In December 1971, a conference of the G10 group, founded in 1962 by the world’s top ten industrialized nations, decided on an alignment of exchange rates, which brought about a readjustment of the dollar’s value against other currencies. This led to a devaluation of the dollar, ranging from 7.5 % against the weak Italian lira to 16.9 % against the strong Japanese yen. In February 1973, the dollar was devalued again, but it soon became clear that the system of fixed exchange rates could no longer be upheld. In March 1973, the G10 and several other industrialized countries introduced the system of flexible exchange rates to be established by the central banks – without consulting a single country outside the G 10 and despite the fact that the new regime blatantly contradicted article 6 of the founding document of the IMF on fixed exchange rates and monetary stability.

The abolition of fixed exchange rates historically terminated the core tasks of the IMF. The only role left for it was that of a lender in charge of the allocation of funds and their conditionality, entitled to inspect the accounts of applicants and thus exercise direct influence on their policies. However, it was exactly this function for which extremely favorable conditions would soon arise.

In 1973, the members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), which had been founded in 1960, used the Yom Kippur War between Egypt and Israel to curb the amount of oil supplied to the West (“oil embargo”) and drastically raise oil prices. This led to a huge increase in the profits of oil companies and oil-producing countries. These gains ended up in commercial banks, which in turn tried to use them for profitable investments. As the global economy slipped into a recession in 1974 / 75 and investment opportunities in industrialized countries dwindled, the lion’s share of the money took on the form of loans to third world countries in Asia, Africa and South America, which – due to their increased expenditures after the rise in oil prices – urgently needed money. The IMF itself responded to the increased credit needs of developing countries by introducing the “Extended Fund Facility” in 1974, from which member countries could draw loans of up to 140 % of their quota with terms of four and a half to ten years.

Although the facility had been specifically set up to finance much-needed oil imports, the IMF – as well as the banks – cared little about what the money was actually spent on. Whether it went straight into the pockets of dictators such as Mobutu in Zaire, Saddam Hussein in Iraq or Suharto in Indonesia – who either squandered it, transferred it to secret foreign accounts or used it for military purposes, in each case driving up the national debt – did not matter to the IMF and the banks as long as they received their interest payments regularly.

However, the situation changed abruptly when Paul Volcker, the new chairman of the US Federal Reserve, raised its prime rate (the interest rate at which commercial banks can obtain money from central banks) by 300 % in order to reduce inflation in 1979. The United States slipped into another recession, which meant that fewer raw materials were needed due to lower economic activity.

For many developing countries the combination of receding demand, falling raw material prices and skyrocketing interest rates meant that they could not meet their payment obligations to international banks. A massive financial crisis loomed. The debt burden of developing countries at the beginning of 1980 amounted to a total of $ 567 billion. A payment default of this magnitude would have led to the collapse of many Western banks and therefore had to be prevented at all costs.

It was at this point that the IMF was given its first great chance to enter the stage as a lender of last resort. While its public relations department spread the news that the organization was working on bail-outs in order to “help” over-indebted countries, the Fund took advantage of its incontestable monopoly position and tied the granting of loans to harsh conditions. In doing so, it was able to draw on two different experiences gained in the preceding years.

Firstly, a CIA-supported military coup in Chile in September 1973 had ended socialist president Salvador Allende’s rule and brought fascist dictator Augusto Pinochet to power. Pinochet had immediately reversed Allende’s nationalizations, but found no remedy against galloping inflation. In an attempt to regain control of the situation, he had turned to a group of 30 Chilean economists (known as the “Chicago Boys” because they had studied at the Chicago School of Economics under Nobel Prize winner Milton Friedman) and proposed to them a clearly defined division of labor: He would provide for the suppression of any kind of political and trade union opposition and crush all labor disputes, while they were to carry out a radical austerity program on the basis of neoliberal ideas.

Within a few weeks an extensive catalog of measures was developed. It called for a drastic limitation of money supply, cuts in government spending, layoffs in the public sector, privatization in health care and education, wage cuts and tax increases for working people, while at the same time lowering tariffs and corporate taxes. The program was openly referred to as a “shock therapy” by either side.

Both Pinochet and his partners, who were presented to the public as a “government of technocrats”, fulfilled their side of the agreement to the hilt. While the dictator violently smashed any opposition to the government’s drastic measures and ensured that many political dissidents disappeared forever, the “Chicago Boys” launched a frontal assault on the working population. They drove up unemployment, which had stood at 3 % in 1973, to 18.7 % by the end of 1975, simultaneously pushing inflation to 341 % and plunging the poorest segments of the population into even deeper poverty. The impacts of the program actually aggravated the problem of social inequality for decades to come: In 1980, the richest 10 % of the Chilean population amassed 36.5 % of the national income, expanding their share to 46.8 % in 1989, while at the same time that of the poorest 50 % fell from 20.4 % to 16.8 %.

During his bloody coup, Pinochet had fully relied on the active support of the CIA and the US Department of State under Henry Kis­singer. When implementing the toughest austerity program ever carried out in a Latin American country, the “Chicago Boys” received the full backing of the IMF. Regardless of all human rights violations, IMF loans to Chile doubled in the year after Pinochet’s coup, only to quadruple and quintuple in the following two years.

The IMF’s other experience concerned the UK. Great Britain’s inexorable economic decline over two and a half decades had made the country the IMF’s largest borrower. From 1947 to 1971, the government in London had drawn loans totaling $ 7.25 billion. After the recession of 1974 / 75 and speculative attacks on the pound, it had come under even greater pressure. When in 1976, the British government once again turned to the IMF for help, the United States seized the opportunity to demonstrate their power. Allying themselves with the resurgent Germans, they forced the Labour government under Prime Minister Harold Wilson to limit public spending, impose massive cuts in social programs, pursue a restrictive fiscal policy, and refrain from import controls of any kind. This drastic intervention represented a hitherto unknown encroachment on the sovereignty of a European borrower country, resulting in the fact that no leading Western industrialized country ever again applied for an IMF loan.

 

Dec 202014
 

By William Blum, 99GetSmart

aa-torture-statue-of-liberty-as-tortured-figure-good-one-1

American Exceptionalism and American Torture

In 1964, the Brazilian military, in a US-designed coup, overthrew a liberal (not more to the left than that) government and proceeded to rule with an iron fist for the next 21 years. In 1979 the military regime passed an amnesty law blocking the prosecution of its members for torture and other crimes. The amnesty still holds. 1

That’s how they handle such matters in what used to be called The Third World. In the First World, however, they have no need for such legal niceties. In the United States, military torturers and their political godfathers are granted amnesty automatically, simply for being American, solely for belonging to the “Good Guys Club”.

So now, with the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture, we have further depressing revelations about US foreign policy. But do Americans and the world need yet another reminder that the United States is a leading practitioner of torture? Yes. The message can not be broadcast too often because the indoctrination of the American people and Americophiles all around the world is so deeply embedded that it takes repeated shocks to the system to dislodge it. No one does brainwashing like the good ol’ Yankee inventors of advertising and public relations. And there is always a new generation just coming of age with stars (and stripes) in their eyes.

The public also has to be reminded yet again that – contrary to what most of the media and Mr. Obama would have us all believe – the president has never actually banned torture per se, despite saying recently that he had “unequivocally banned torture” after taking office. 2

Shortly after Obama’s first inauguration, both he and Leon Panetta, the new Director of the CIA, explicitly stated that “rendition” was not being ended. As the Los Angeles Times reported at the time: “Under executive orders issued by Obama recently, the CIA still has authority to carry out what are known as renditions, secret abductions and transfers of prisoners to countries that cooperate with the United States.” 3

The English translation of “cooperate” is “torture”. Rendition is simply outsourcing torture. There was no other reason to take prisoners to Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Egypt, Jordan, Kenya, Somalia, Kosovo, or the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, amongst other torture centers employed by the United States. Kosovo and Diego Garcia – both of which house large and very secretive American military bases – if not some of the other locations, may well still be open for torture business, as is the Guantánamo Base in Cuba.

Moreover, the key Executive Order referred to, number 13491, issued January 22, 2009, “Ensuring Lawful Interrogations”, leaves a major loophole. It states repeatedly that humane treatment, including the absence of torture, is applicable only to prisoners detained in an “armed conflict”. Thus, torture by Americans outside an environment of “armed conflict” is not explicitly prohibited. But what about torture within an environment of “counter-terrorism”?

The Executive Order required the CIA to use only the interrogation methods outlined in a revised Army Field Manual. However, using the Army Field Manual as a guide to prisoner treatment and interrogation still allows solitary confinement, perceptual or sensory deprivation, sensory overload, sleep deprivation, the induction of fear and hopelessness, mind-altering drugs, environmental manipulation such as temperature and noise, and stress positions, amongst other charming examples of American Exceptionalism.

After Panetta was questioned by a Senate panel, the New York Times wrote that he had “left open the possibility that the agency could seek permission to use interrogation methods more aggressive than the limited menu that President Obama authorized under new rules … Mr. Panetta also said the agency would continue the Bush administration practice of ‘rendition’ … But he said the agency would refuse to deliver a suspect into the hands of a country known for torture or other actions ‘that violate our human values’.” 4

The last sentence is of course childishly absurd. The countries chosen to receive rendition prisoners were chosen precisely and solely because they were willing and able to torture them.

Four months after Obama and Panetta took office, the New York Times could report that renditions had reached new heights. 5

The present news reports indicate that Washington’s obsession with torture stems from 9/11, to prevent a repetition. The president speaks of “the fearful excesses of the post-9/11 era”. There’s something to that idea, but not a great deal. Torture in America is actually as old as the country. What government has been intimately involved with that horror more than the United States? Teaching it, supplying the manuals, supplying the equipment, creation of international torture centers, kidnaping people to these places, solitary confinement, forced feeding, Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Chicago … Lord forgive us!

In 2011, Brazil instituted a National Truth Commission to officially investigate the crimes of the military government, which came to an end in 1985. But Mr. Obama has in fact rejected calls for a truth commission concerning CIA torture. 6 On June 17 of this year, however, when Vice President Joseph Biden was in Brazil, he gave the Truth Commission 43 State Department cables and reports concerning the Brazilian military regime, including one entitled “Widespread Arrests and Psychophysical Interrogation of Suspected Subversives.” 7

Thus it is that once again the United States of America will not be subjected to any accountability for having broken US laws, international laws, and the fundamental laws of human decency. Obama can expect the same kindness from his successor as he has extended to George W.

“One of the strengths that makes America exceptional is our willingness to openly confront our past, face our imperfections, make changes and do better.” – Barack Obama, written statement issued moments after the Senate report was made public. 8

And if that pile of hypocrisy is not big enough or smelly enough, try adding to it Bidens’ remark re his visit to Brazil: “I hope that in taking steps to come to grips with our past we can find a way to focus on the immense promise of the future.” 9

If the torturers of the Bush and Obama administrations are not held accountable in the United States they must be pursued internationally under the principles of universal jurisdiction.

In 1984, an historic step was taken by the United Nations with the drafting of the “Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment” (came into force in 1987, ratified by the United States in 1994). Article 2, section 2 of the Convention states: “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”

Such marvelously clear, unequivocal, and principled language, to set a single standard for a world that makes it increasingly difficult for one to feel proud of humanity. We cannot slide back. If today it’s deemed acceptable to torture the person who supposedly has the vital “ticking-bomb” information needed to save lives, tomorrow it will be acceptable to torture him to learn the identities of his alleged co-conspirators. Would we allow slavery to resume for just a short while to serve some “national emergency” or some other “higher purpose”?

If you open the window of torture, even just a crack, the cold air of the Dark Ages will fill the whole room.

Cuba … at long, long last … maybe …

Hopefully, it’s what it appears to be. Cuba will now be treated by the United States as a country worthy of at least as much respect as Washington offers to its highly oppressive, murdering, torturing allies in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Honduras, Israel, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

It’s a tough decision to normalize relations with a country whose police force murders its own innocent civilians on almost a daily basis, and even more abroad, but Cuba needs to do it. Maybe the Cubans can civilize the Americans a bit.

Let’s hope that America’s terrible economic embargo against the island will go the way of the dinosaurs, and Cuba will be able to demonstrate more than ever what a rational, democratic, socialist society can create. But they must not open the economy for the Yankee blood-suckers to play with as they have all over the world.

And I’ll be able to go to Cuba not as a thief in the night covering my tracks and risking a huge fine.

But with the Republicans taking over Congress next month, all of this may be just a pipe dream.

Barack Obama could have done this six years ago when he took office; or five years ago when American Alan Gross was first arrested and imprisoned in Cuba. It would have been even easier back then, with Obama’s popularity at its height and Congress not as captured by the Know-Nothings as now.

So, Cuba outlasted all the punishment, all the lies, all the insults, all the deprivations, all the murderous sabotage, all the assassination attempts against Fidel, all the policies to isolate the country. But for many years now, it’s the United States that has been isolated in the Western Hemisphere.

Reason Number 13,336 why capitalism will be the death of us.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria – the “superbugs” – if left unchecked, could result in 10 million deaths a year by 2050. New drugs to fight the superbugs are desperately needed. But a panel advising President Obama warned in September that “there isn’t a sufficiently robust pipeline of new drugs to replace the ones rendered ineffective by antibiotic resistance.”

The problem, it appears, is that “Antibiotics generally provide low returns on investment, so they are not a highly attractive area for research and development.” 10

Aha! “Low returns on investment”! What could be simpler to understand? Is it not a concept worth killing and dying for? Just as millions of Americans died in the 20th century so corporations could optimize profits by not protecting the public from tobacco, lead, and asbestos.

Corporations are programmed to optimize profits without regard for the society in which they operate, in much the same way that cancer cells are programmed to proliferate without regard for the health of their host.

Happy New Year. Here’s what you have to look forward to in 2015.

  • January 25: 467 people reported missing from a university in Mexico. US State Department blames Russia.
  • February 1: Military junta overthrows President Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela. Washington decries the loss of democracy.
  • February 2: US recognizes the new Venezuelan military junta, offers it 50 jet fighters and tanks.
  • February 3: Revolution breaks out in Venezuela endangering the military junta; 40,000 American marines land in Caracas to quell the uprising.
  • February 16: White police officer in Chicago fatally shoots a 6-year old black boy holding a toy gun.
  • March 6: Congress passes a new law which states that to become president of the United States a person must have the surname Bush or Clinton.
  • April 30: The Department of Homeland Security announces plan to record the DNA at birth of every child born in the United States.
  • May 19: The Supreme Court rules that police may search anyone if they have reasonable grounds for believing that the person has pockets.
  • May 27: The Transportation Security Administration declares that all airline passengers must strip completely nude at check-in and remain thus until arriving at their destination.
  • June 6: White police officer in Oklahoma City tasers a 7-month-old black child, claiming the child was holding a gun; the gun turns out to be a rattle.
  • July 19: Two subway trains collide in Manhattan. The United States demands that Moscow explain why there was a Russian citizen in each of the trains.
  • September 5: The Democratic Party changes its name to the Republican Lite Party, and announces the opening of a joint bank account with the Republican Party so that corporate lobbyists need make out only one check.
  • September 12: White police officer in Alabama shoots black newborn, confusing the umbilical cord for a noose.
  • November 16: President Obama announces that Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, North Korea, Sudan, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Bolivia and Cuba all possess weapons of mass destruction; have close ties to the Islamic State, al Qaeda, and the Taliban; are aiding pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine; were involved in 9-11; played a role in the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the attack on Pearl Harbor; are an imminent threat to the United States and all that is decent and holy; and are all “really bad guys”, who even (choke, gasp) use torture!
  • November 21: The United States invades Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, North Korea, Sudan, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Bolivia and Cuba.
  • December 10: Barack Obama is awarded his second Nobel Peace Prize
  • December 11: To celebrate his new peace prize, Obama sends out drones to assassinate wrong-thinking individuals in Somalia, Afghanistan and Yemen.
  • December 13: Members of Ukraine’s neo-Nazi parties, which hold several high positions in the US-supported government, goose-step through the center of Kiev in full German Storm Trooper uniforms, carrying giant swastika flags, shouting “Heil Hitler”, and singing the Horst Wessel song. Not a word of this appears in any American mainstream media.
  • December 15: US Secretary of State warns Russia to stop meddling in Ukraine, accusing Moscow of wanting to re-create the Soviet Union.
  • December 16: White police officer shoots a black 98-year-old man sitting in a wheel chair, claiming the man pointed a rifle at him. The rifle turns out to be a cane.
  • December 28: The Washington Redskins football team finish their season in last place. The White House blames Vladimir Putin.

Notes

  1. Associated Press, December 11, 2014
  2. New York Times, December 11, 2014
  3. Los Angeles Times, February 1, 2009
  4. New York Times, February 6, 2009
  5. New York Times, May 24, 2009
  6. Washington Post, December 11, 2014
  7. National Security Archive’s Brazil Documentation Project
  8. Washington Post, December 10, 2014
  9. See note 7
  10. Washington Post, December 13, 2014