Great Barrier Reef Politics

Australia’s environment has been in precarious hands since European settlement found its lengthy and persistent way to the continent.  It has been mined, mauled, drained, farmed, deforested and despoiled at a rate that was only restrained by the size of its small but rapacious populace.  When environmental matters have made an appearance, they have done so with a veil of political opportunism.  Few typify this more than Labor’s environment minister Senator Graham Richardson’s efforts regarding the Tasmanian forests.  To win over the conservation-minded voter in marginal, city-based seats, it was good to go green – at least for a bit.

The Great Barrier Reef has not been exempt from the political tussles of a troubled environmental conscience.  Its monumental size, and its status as an ecological wonder meant little in the late 1960s, when the appetite for development mattered most.  In 1967, it seemed to be facing imminent destruction, another casualty of a predatory mining industry keen for new conquests.  The state of Queensland had elected a National Party government hungry to exploit the environment’s wares.

As local tour operator Alistair Pike explained to the ABC, “We had a fairly full-on development oriented government… and mate, if they couldn’t drill it, mine it, chop it down or whatever, they really didn’t want to know about it.”  It took characters such as that feted “rat bag” of an activist, rogue of action and Mission Beach artist John Büsst to bring angered but focused attention on threats to bulldoze Ellison Reef.  An impeccably connected person, he had the ear of Australian prime minister and fellow diver Harold Holt.  A cast of characters were duly mobilised: the CSIRO forester Len Webb, and president of the Queensland Wildlife Society Judith Wright became enthusiastic and un-phased recruits.

In the Australian environmental conscience, this gorgeously freakish wonder of ecology has been seen in isolation, its problems a local provenance and interest rather than a global phenomenon of ailing.  As the earth continues is warming push, earthbound, and very terrestrially unimaginative politicians have been attempting to treat the Reef’s woes as separately resolvable from the broader challenges of climate change.

Little wonder, then, that a problem viewed in such limited terms could be duly remedied by donations without tender, lump sum payments without review.  Narrowly viewed problems tend to lead to narrowly devised solutions.  Such was the nature of the Turnbull government’s $444 million “rescue package” to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, one conceived and delivered in a haze.

The issue of who takes the reins and ensures study and conservation was never going to be free of a political push.  While common sense suggests that the task be left to government organisations within the scientific community – CSIRO, the Australian Institute for Marine Science and the Marine Park Authority, other contenders have been stalking the scene.

The Great Barrier Reef Foundation was deemed the chosen one, but questions are circulating as to why that outfit got preferment for such largesse.  For one thing, it seemed an oddly hasty move, given that it entailed an expenditure of almost the entire spending allocation for the 2050 Reef Partnership program.

Then came the organisation’s profile.  Its chief executive Anna Marsden is married to Ben Myers, chief of staff to former Queensland premier Campbell Newman. (Newman can be counted, incidentally, as one of those durable environmental sceptics who prefers the bulldozer to reef hugging conservation.)  One of the four founding businessmen behind the venture is the current chairman of the foundation, and former chairman of Esso Australia and the Commonwealth Bank.  Advocates of barrier reef protection, beware.

That particular non-profit group had a revenue stream of less than $8 million in 2017, a humble outfit with six full time employees.  Nothing suggests that those working for it had a clue that this staggering cash supply was coming their way.  “We didn’t have much time before the announcement to be prepared for it,” came the perplexed, albeit thrilled Marsden.  Easy to understand why Marsden considered this winning the lottery.  Overnight, even given a spread of funding over six years, the Foundation has become one of the largest, if not largest NGO in Australia.  By way of grim contrast, government employees connected with the science fraternity are facing skint measures to fund their projects.

The bungling has led to Josh Frydenberg, the environment and energy minister, asking the secretary of his department to urge the National Audit Office to give the funding arrangement serious consideration “as a priority”.

This piqued the interest of Tony Burke, Labor’s opposition spokesman, who claimed that it “was an extraordinary step for the secretary of the department to be sending a letter like that to the Auditor-General at the exact same time that Josh Frydenberg is standing up in Parliament saying there is no problem here”.

The outstanding feature of the funding spill to the foundation is its conspicuous absence of any reference to climate change.  It is a hermetic form of deliverable rescue sans climate science, an approach that politically factors in the climate change sceptics within the Turnbull government.  By all means try to preserve an Australian wonder; but ditch the climate science.  The conclusion of one unnamed scientist to the Fairfax press about the nature of this arrangement was elementary and crude: “Obviously this is political – it’s to head off Labor making a big issue of the Great Barrier Reef at the next election.” Woe to the reef.

What’s Left in Nicaragua after Ortega

Before the violence that started mid-April, Nicaragua had been the most peaceful, safest, and by far the most progressive country in Central America. Now that a semblance of peace has been restored in Nicaragua, the US government continues its campaign for regime change joined by some who formerly supported Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and his Sandinista party.

While much has been written for and against Ortega, what might replace him were he to leave is less well fleshed out. Latin Americanist academics Dan La Botz and Benjamin Waddell, both with extensive experience in and knowledge of Nicaragua, give us some insights into what might be expected were the opposition to take over.

US Regime Change Activities in Nicaragua

Although La Botz and Waddell are firmly in the “Ortega must go” camp, they are not naïve about US government interference in the internal affairs of Nicaragua. They are not among those that claim, incorrectly, that the uprising was simply a spontaneous phenomenon.

“International press has depicted the rapid escalation of civil unrest in Nicaragua as a spontaneous explosion of collective discontent.” But Waddell contends “it’s becoming more and more clear that the US support has helped play a role in nurturing the current uprisings.”

La Botz provides the background: “US organizations such as USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), and no doubt the CIA had for decades, of course, worked in Nicaragua as they do everywhere in the world.”

La Botz is not indifferent to US interference in Nicaragua. He was in fact critical of Washington’s early tepid reaction. US Vice President Pence, La Botz complained, “only demanded that the Ortega government protect its citizens and their rights,” but did not make a “general condemnation of the Ortega government, only a call for reform.”

La Botz concludes his article with the demand “the US must keep out.” But his evidence suggests that he should be demanding that the “US get out” of Nicaragua.

Waddell is more favorable to the efficacy of the US’s efforts in Nicaragua, reporting:

“Since 2014, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which was established in 1983 to promote democratic ideals in developing countries, has spent $4.1 million on projects in Nicaragua.”

Waddell describes, “US Congress created the NED—as a non-profit, private NGO—in 1983 at the height of the Cold War.” From “1984 to 1990, the US NED spent roughly $15.8 million dollars to fund civil society groups and to political parties, most of them opposed to the Sandinista government.” Waddell explains how this led to success for the US:

“In 1990, against all odds, Chamorro defeated Daniel Ortega, and ushered in three consecutive terms of conservative leadership.”

Waddell provides documentation on the US funding through NED to groups active in today’s opposition to the elected government of Nicaragua, including over half a million USD to Hagamos Democracia. Waddell commends these soft coup efforts by the US:

“Regardless of whether Mr. Ortega is removed from power, the NED’s involvement in Nicaragua reveals the potential for transnational funding to contribute to the cultivation of the type of skill sets, networking, and strategies necessary for civil society to successfully challenge authoritative (sic) governments.”

Composition of the Opposition to Ortega

“The Nicaraguan popular rebellion of this spring and early summer,” La Botz describes, “developed as a broad multi-class movement.” However, this movement “lacked a common political program.”  “The strongest organization with the clearest political ideas,” is not even remotely progressive, but has “fundamentally conservative, pro-capitalist ideas.” That leading organization “is COSEP (Consejo Superior de la Empresa Privada en Nicaragua), the leading business organization.”

The opposition leadership was joined by the “powerful” Catholic Church with its “conservative hierarchy,” according to La Botz. Other elements within the Catholic Church included “a theology of liberation current led by some university professors and parish priests, and the mass of pious believers.”

The third major group in the opposition are a diverse amalgam of students. In his brief overview, La Botz does not explain that prominent among the students are those from conservative private universities. Nevertheless, La Botz holds on to the wish that “a student ‘left’ could be emerging.”

Developments to date give little credence to the hope for a student opposition that is leftist. For instance, a delegation of opposition students went to Washington financed by the rightwing Freedom House to lobby for US sanctions against their own people. According to NACLA, these students “shared pictures on social media posing with Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who represent most conservative, right-wing and hawkish sectors of the Republican Party.” More recently the Nicaraguan opposition student voice was heard on a regime change panel at the Koch brothers-funded, rightwing Hudson Institute. These are not leftists.

What’s Left in Nicaragua

“Two left opposition groups with social democratic politics do exist,” La Botz reports, “the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS) and the Movement to Rescue Sandinismo (MPRS).”

The MPRS or Rescate, an on-and-off left split from the MRS, is a minor actor. It is composed mainly of Mónica Baltodano and Henry Ruiz, who are active on the web and doing interviews.

The more prominent MRS broke from the main Sandinista party in the 1990s. The MRS, heavily composed of intellectuals, never developed a popular base among the Nicaraguan people. Starting off as a left opposition to the Ortega wing of the Sandinistas, the MRS has since shifted to the right. MRS leaders are partly supported by their connections to the US-funded NGO world and are in alliance “with parties with a neo-liberal agenda.” MRS national president Ana Margarita Vijil and Managua president Suyén Barahona hobnob with rightwing US politicians.

Calling the MRS left is like the Tea Party’s claim that Obama is a socialist; it’s a matter of perspective.

La Botz laments the absence of opposition left social movements: “they remain small and marginal to the society as a whole.” In a curious convolution of logic, La Botz blames Ortega for the failure of an anti-Ortega left opposition to emerge: “Ortega’s FSLN has discredited the idea of socialism and repressed rival democratic socialist currents.” This has not, however, prevented the emergence of a right opposition. The left-leaning, well-organized labor and agrarian unions in Nicaragua, according to La Botz, have largely avoided the opposition.

In a revolution, there are only two sides. Despite the highly polarized situation in Nicaragua, La Botz conjurers a third way: “There is, however, the possibility that the democratic struggle could open up a social struggle that would create a new left.” In sum, the picture presented by La Botz is that presently the opposition to Ortega is not democratic or left, but that he hopes it could be, despite troubling ties to US intelligence agencies and NGOs.

NACLA reports reactionaries, not progressives, are emerging from the opposition:

“In fact, many in the (opposition) movement and the civic alliance are fervent anti-Sandinistas. These are people who do not just oppose Ortega and Murillo in the current context but also pro-capitalists who have attacked the Sandinistas since their emergence. This group includes Somocistas (those who defend the legacy of the Somoza dictatorship), Liberals, Conservatives, and former Contras. There is growing evidence that from the ranks of anti-Sandinistas such groups are arming themselves and gaining momentum.”

The Lesson of Libya

The trajectory of the anti-Ortega opposition is to a rightist putsch. Were it to succeed, handing direction of the pension plan over to the IMF would not be socialism. Leaving the enforcement of Nicaragua’s anti-abortion laws to the tender mercies of the Catholic bishops would not be feminism. And this would not be the solution that long-time solidarity activists such as Dan La Botz seek. If we are to learn from history, the overthrow of the Libyan government did not result in the utopian emergence of a socialist third way. Nor would such an outcome transpire with regime change in Nicaragua.

La Botz criticizes what he calls the “neo-Stalinist left” who oppose US intervention in Nicaragua. These same people that La Botz criticizes were also opposed to US intervention in Libya, which left that formerly thriving country a disastrously failed state where slavery is now practiced. There is a lesson to be learned about consistent anti-imperialism, and it is not supporting US-backed regime change.

Nicaragua has been tragically destabilized, threatening to reverse the major social gains achieved by the Ortega government. The North American left should unite around “US out of Nicaragua.” Let the Nicaraguan people choose their own government through elections as they have in 2006, 2011, and 2016 when they returned Ortega to the presidency with ever increasing voting margins.

Beyond the US-backed interests and their NGO-activists are undoubtedly genuine social elements in opposition to Ortega. Likewise any political party, especially one that has been in power as long as the Sandinistas, could benefit from rectification. But these are agenda items to be addressed by the Nicaraguan people without outside interference. The ossification of polarized positions in a climate of opposition-provoked violence guarantees nothing gets rectified and everyone loses.

The US is the world’s hegemon, imposing global neoliberalism. The Ortega government in Nicaragua has been targeted by the hegemon precisely because it has not served as an unquestioning client state. The fall of the Ortega government would close one more space for any alternative to the empire to survive.

The Supreme Leader of the Iranian Revolution Rectifies his Views

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of Iran has profoundly changed his views: on August 13, 2018, he declared that the effect of the US sanctions on the country was attributable to internal and not external causes, that is to say to the economic management of the Rohani administration. On August 15, he admitted to having made a mistake by authorizing Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to negotiate the 5 + 1 nuclear deal (JCPoA) with the United States. In March 2013, (...)

Is the Washington Post Biased?

The mind of the mass media: Email exchange between myself and a leading Washington Post foreign policy reporter:

July 18, 2018

Dear Mr. Birnbaum,

You write Trump “made no mention of Russia’s adventures in Ukraine”. Well, neither he nor Putin nor you made any mention of America’s adventures in the Ukraine, which resulted in the overthrow of the Ukrainian government in 2014, which led to the justified Russian adventure. Therefore …?

If Russia overthrew the Mexican government would you blame the US for taking some action in Mexico?

William Blum

Dear Mr. Blum,

Thanks for your note. “America’s adventures in the Ukraine”: what are you talking about? Last time I checked, it was Ukrainians in the streets of Kiev who caused Yanukovych to turn tail and run. Whether or not that was a good thing, we can leave aside, but it wasn’t the Americans who did it.

It is, however, Russian special forces who fanned out across Crimea in February and March 2014, according to Putin, and Russians who came down from Moscow who stoked conflict in eastern Ukraine in the months after, according to their own accounts.

Best, Michael Birnbaum

To MB,

I can scarcely believe your reply. Do you read nothing but the Post? Do you not know of high State Dept official Victoria Nuland and the US Ambassador in Ukraine in Maidan Square to encourage the protesters? She spoke of 5 billion (sic) dollars given to aid the protesters who were soon to overthrow the govt. She and the US Amb. spoke openly of who to choose as the next president. And he’s the one who became president. This is all on tape. I guess you never watch Russia Today (RT). God forbid! I read the Post every day. You should watch RT once in a while.

William Blum

To WB,

I was the Moscow bureau chief of the newspaper; I reported extensively in Ukraine in the months and years following the protests. My observations are not based on reading. RT is not a credible news outlet, but I certainly do read far beyond our own pages, and of course I talk to the actual actors on the ground myself – that’s my job.

And: yes, of course Nuland was in the Maidan – but encouraging the protests, as she clearly did, is not the same as sparking them or directing them, nor is playing favorites with potential successors, as she clearly did, the same as being directly responsible for overthrowing the government. I’m not saying the United States wasn’t involved in trying to shape events. So were Russia and the European Union. But Ukrainians were in the driver’s seat the whole way through. I know the guy who posted the first Facebook call to protest Yanukovych in November 2013; he’s not an American agent. RT, meanwhile, reports fabrications and terrible falsehoods all the time. By all means consume a healthy and varied media diet – don’t stop at the US mainstream media. But ask yourself how often RT reports critically on the Russian government, and consider how that lacuna shapes the rest of their reporting. You will find plenty of reporting in the Washington Post that is critical of the US government and US foreign policy in general, and decisions in Ukraine and the Ukrainian government in specific. Our aim is to be fair, without picking sides.

Best, Michael Birnbaum

========= end of exchange =========

Right, the United States doesn’t play indispensable roles in changes of foreign governments; never has, never will; even when they offer billions of dollars; even when they pick the new president, which, apparently, is not the same as picking sides. It should be noticed that Mr Birnbaum offers not a single example to back up his extremist claim that RT “reports fabrications and terrible falsehoods all the time.” “All the time”, no less! That should make it easy to give some examples.


For the record, I think RT is much less biased than the Post on international affairs. And, yes, it’s bias, not “fake news” that’s the main problem – Cold-War/anti-Communist/anti-Russian bias that Americans have been raised with for a full century. RT defends Russia against the countless mindless attacks from the West. Who else is there to do that? Should not the Western media be held accountable for what they broadcast? Americans are so unaccustomed to hearing the Russian side defended, or hearing it at all, that when they do it can seem rather weird.

To the casual observer, THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA indictments on July 14 of Russian intelligence agents (GRU) reinforced the argument that the Russian government interfered in the US 2016 presidential election. Regard these indictments in proper perspective and we find that election interference is only listed as a supposed objective, with charges actually being for unlawful cyber operations, identity theft, and conspiracy to launder money by American individuals unconnected to the Russian government. So … we’re still waiting for some evidence of actual Russian interference in the election aimed at determining the winner.

The Russians did it (cont.)

Each day I spend about three hours reading the Washington Post. Amongst other things I’m looking for evidence – real, legal, courtroom-quality evidence, or at least something logical and rational – to pin down those awful Russkis for their many recent crimes, from influencing the outcome of the 2016 US presidential election to use of a nerve agent in the UK. But I do not find such evidence.

Each day brings headlines like these:

“U.S. to add economic sanctions on Russia: Attack with nerve agent on former spy in England forces White House to act”

“Is Russia exploiting new Facebook goal?”

“Experts: Trump team lacks urgency on Russian threat”

These are all from the same day, August 9, which led me to thinking of doing this article, but similar stories can be found any day in the Post and in major newspapers anywhere in America. None of the articles begins to explain how Russia did these things, or even WHY. Motivation appears to have become a lost pursuit in the American mass media. The one thing sometimes mentioned, which I think may have some credibility, is Russia’s preference of Trump over Hillary Clinton in 2016. But this doesn’t begin to explain how Russia could pull off any of the electoral magic it’s accused of, which would be feasible only if the United States were a backward, Third World, Banana Republic.

There’s the Facebook ads, as well as all the other ads … The people who are influenced by this story – have they read many of the actual ads? Many are pro-Clinton or anti-Trump; many are both; many are neither. It’s one big mess, the only rational explanation of this which I’ve read is that they come from money-making websites, “click-bait” sites as they’re known, which earn money simply by attracting visitors.

As to the nerve agents, it makes more sense if the UK or the CIA did it to make the Russians look bad, because the anti-Russian scandal which followed was totally predictable. Why would Russia choose the time of the World Cup in Moscow – of which all of Russia was immensely proud – to bring such notoriety down upon their head? But that would have been an ideal time for their enemies to want to embarrass them.

However, I have no doubt that the great majority of Americans who follow the news each day believe the official stories about the Russians. They’re particularly impressed with the fact that every US intelligence agency supports the official stories. They would not be impressed at all if told that a dozen Russian intelligence agencies all disputed the charges. Group-think is alive and well all over the world. As is Cold War II.

But we’re the Good Guys, ain’t we?

For a defender of US foreign policy there’s very little that causes extreme heartburn more than someone implying a “moral equivalence” between American behavior and that of Russia. That was the case during Cold War I and it’s the same now in Cold War II. It just drives them up the wall.

After the United States passed a law last year requiring TV station RT (Russia Today) to register as a “foreign agent”, the Russians passed their own law allowing authorities to require foreign media to register as a “foreign agent”. Senator John McCain denounced the new Russian law, saying there is “no equivalence” between RT and networks such as Voice of America, CNN and the BBC, whose journalists “seek the truth, debunk lies, and hold governments accountable.” By contrast, he said, “RT’s propagandists debunk the truth, spread lies, and seek to undermine democratic governments in order to further Vladimir Putin’s agenda.”1

And here is Tom Malinowski, former Assistant Secretary of State for democracy, human rights and labor (2014-2017): last year he reported that Putin had “charged that the U.S. government had interfered ‘aggressively’ in Russia’s 2012 presidential vote,” claiming that Washington had “gathered opposition forces and financed them.” Putin, wrote Malinowski, “apparently got President Trump to agree to a mutual commitment that neither country would interfere in the other’s elections.”

“Is this moral equivalence fair?” Malinowski asked and answered: “In short, no. Russia’s interference in the United States’ 2016 election could not have been more different from what the United States does to promote democracy in other countries.”2

How do you satirize such officials and such high-school beliefs?

We also have the case of the US government agency, National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which has interfered in more elections than the CIA or God. Indeed, the man who helped draft the legislation establishing NED, Allen Weinstein, declared in 1991: “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.”3 On April 12, 2018 the presidents of two of NED’s wings wrote: “A specious narrative has come back into circulation: that Moscow’s campaign of political warfare is no different from U.S.-supported democracy assistance.”

“Democracy assistance”, you see, is what they call NED’s election-interferences and government-overthrows.4 The authors continue: “This narrative is churned out by propaganda outlets such as RT and Sputnik [radio station]. … it is deployed by isolationists who propound a U.S. retreat from global leadership.”5

“Isolationists” is what conservatives call critics of US foreign policy whose arguments they can’t easily dismiss, so they imply that such people just don’t want the US to be involved in anything abroad.

And “global leadership” is what they call being first in election-interferences and government-overthrows.

What God giveth, Trump taketh away?

The White House sends out a newsletter, “1600 daily”, each day to subscribers about what’s new in the marvelous world inhabited by Donald J. Trump. On July 25 it reported about the president’s talk before the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention in Missouri: “We don’t apologize for America anymore. We stand up for America. And we stand up for our National Anthem,” the President said to “a thundering ovation”.

At the same time, the newsletter informed us that the State Department is bringing together religious leaders and others for the first-ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. “The goal is simple,” we are told, “to promote the God-given human right to believe what you choose.”

Aha! I see. But what about those who believe that standing for the National Anthem implies support for America’s racism or police brutality? Is it not a God-given human right to believe such a thing and “take a knee” in protest?

Or is it the devil that puts such evil ideas into our heads?

The weather all over is not just extreme … It’s downright freakish.

The argument I like to use when speaking to those who don’t accept the idea that extreme weather phenomena are largely man-made is this:

Well, we can proceed in one of two ways:

  1. We can do our best to limit the greenhouse effect by curtailing greenhouse gas emissions (carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide) into the atmosphere, and if it turns out that these emissions were not in fact a significant cause of the widespread extreme weather phenomena, then we’ve wasted a lot of time, effort and money (although other benefits to the ecosystem would still accrue).
  2. We can do nothing at all to curtail the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and if it turns out that these emissions were in fact the leading cause of all the extreme weather phenomena, then we’ve lost the earth and life as we know it.

So, are you a gambler?

Irony of ironies … Misfortune of misfortunes … We have a leader who has zero interest in such things; indeed, the man is unequivocally contemptuous of the very idea of the need to modify individual or social behavior for the sake of the environment. And one after another he’s appointed his soulmates to head government agencies concerned with the environment.

What is it that motivates such people? I think it’s mainly that they realize that blame for much of environmental damage can be traced, directly or indirectly, to corporate profit-seeking behavior, an ideology to which they are firmly committed.

  1. Washington Post, November 16, 2017.
  2. Washington Post, July 23, 2017.
  3. Washington Post, September 22, 1991.
  4. William Blum, Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower, chapter 19 on NED.
  5. Washington Post, April 2, 2018.

Political Nuance

“The trouble with socialism is eventually you run out of other people’s money.”

This was the text of the bumper sticker adorning the old Chevy pickup in front of me in traffic today. As fate would have it, it was actually the second anti-socialist bumper sticker that I would see during my daily commute. The odd, coincidental nature of the two messages got me thinking about the nature and content of political expression these days and more specifically the lack of depth of those expressions.

While I am hesitant to be overly judgmental of Mr. Chevy experience has taught me that he likely would have difficulty explaining to me the difference between communism, fascism, and socialism. He likely has little or no concept that there are socialist governments that produce things such as universal healthcare, free college tuition, and progressive environmental policies and have made no efforts at global domination.

Here in the rural south such anti-socialist sentiment is, of course, not usual and I cannot lay all the blame on the drivers’ lack of political education. Beyond this region there is a portion of the American public at large that is woefully deficient in basic civics, misunderstanding not only foreign political philosophies but also the structure of their own government.

This is not a new reality for us, reducing true political nuance to catch phrases such as the expression of Mr. Chevy. We have heard these from “Just Say No” to “Make America Great Again” and everything in between. All of these exclamations are presented as succinct answers when, in fact, they leave much more unsaid and unexplained than they enlighten. Their appeal is to the emotions and not to the intellect encouraging us not to look too deeply into our political belief systems. I’m sure my fellow drivers’ fundamental disdain for socialism would not include any efforts to curtail his police and fire protection or his Medicaid and Medicare which are decidedly socialist programs.

Politicians are more than willing to play into these tendencies, offering simpleminded solutions to complex problems that they know are insufficient but that play well in media sound bites. On the right this strategy is usually all too easy to spot. A factory worker with two kids, a mortgage, and a car note loses his job because the business automated or outsourced his position. To call out the actual cause would put a republican politician at odds with the corporate interest that are a major funding source to his party. Instead said politician expresses some vague claims about the unregulated immigration system and connects unemployment problems to a supposed porous border.

For conservatives it has been an effective strategy as they use simplistic political stances such as “pro-life” to drive wedges into the American electorate. This action plan has produced results such as senior citizens who reliably vote for a party dedicated to taking away their Medicare and Social Security because they feel a moral obligation to oppose abortion. There is no examination on the policies that advocate defunding things like early childhood nutrition programs, medical care for poor or underserved children, or educational programs for children and youth. They simply look for the pro-life label and vote accordingly.

We would be remiss, however, if we did not admit to the prevalence of similar policies and tactics on the left. As we approach the midterm elections of 2018 the catch phrase of the democrats is “Vote Blue no matter who.” This dovetails with the rhetoric of progressive pundits that continue to castigate any non-republican that did not vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016. They have no compunction about telling those that cast their ballots for a third party candidate that they effectively voted for Donald Trump. The Green Party and the Russians, we are told, are responsible for stealing the election.

The discussion of the hacking of DNC emails centers on the duplicity of the Russian hackers and avoids any discussion of the substance of those emails. There are no serious conversations about the machinations of the democratic political establishment to assure that Hillary Clinton and not Bernie Sanders would be the party nominee. The dialog is always anti-Russian or anti-Trump (admittedly both are well worthy of criticism) and not on the qualifications are lack thereof of the democratic candidate.

We are told to forget the body of Alan Kurdi, the Syrian toddler whose body washed up on that Turkish beach in 2015. A victim of the Syrian conflict, he epitomized the thousands of dead and displaced children that can be partially blamed on the regime change strategy perpetuated by the Obama administration. This was a part of the foreign policy initiatives that included the deposing of the democratically elected President of Honduras, the destabilization of the Brazilian government, and the destruction of Libya. The fact that these actions were enthusiastically carried out by Secretary of State Clinton is irrelevant. We are to simply “Vote Blue no matter who.”

Am I saying that in the end the Trump administration and the Obama administration are the same or that this is some kind of zero sum game?  Of course not. There is no ignoring the regressive goals of the Trump presidency, the flagrant personal greed and self-aggrandizement, or the disregard for any semblance of democratic principles. What are we to make, however, of a more palatable democratic administration that continues to funnel millions into the armed forces of Israel and Saudi Arabia which in turn sacrifices the lives of more Palestinians or Yemenis? Is it a simplistic equation that exchanges thousands of dead Muslims for a possible Supreme Court Justice? Were the record deportations under President Obama the price paid for the implementation of Obama Care?

So the hard questions are avoided or ignored and we follow the lead of Mr. Chevy and adorn our vehicles with our catch phrase political philosophies. The simplistic logic is always that we republicans are better than you democrats or we democrats are better than you republicans. You don’t have to look any deeper or apply any nuance as the answers are simple; the republicans want to make the rich richer at the poor’s expense, the democrats want to take your hard earned money and give it to lazy immigrants or any one of a thousand arguments that reduce issue analyzation and political discourse down to digestible soundbites.

The truth is that life is complicated and none of those easily digested slogans adequately elucidates the complexity of our world or the thoughts and motivations that drive it. We should not be able to look at the body of young Alan Kurdi lying dead in the surf and separate it from the policies of regime change or the body of Tamir Rice on that Cleveland playground and not understand why Colin Kaepernick took to his knee. No amount of flag waving or anthem singing can erase the blame or wash the blood away.

If I could have a real conversation with Mr. Chevy I would tell him that properly implemented socialist programs could assure him universal healthcare, low cost education, and a cleaner environment. Unfortunately he will likely continue to hold to those simple sound bites; real honest political dialog won’t fit on his bumper sticker.

Climate Change, Extreme Weather, Destructive Lifestyles

Throughout the world heat waves, flooding and uncontrollable wildfires have caused widespread havoc, lives have been lost, homes destroyed, livelihoods ruined.

Unprecedented levels of heat have been recorded in North America, Europe and Asia, as well as the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. According to The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) record cold May temperatures were registered in “northeastern Canada and the northern Atlantic Ocean, off the southern coast of Greenland.” Global temperatures for the first five months of the year were the highest on record for a La Niña year; higher temperatures, “lead to more frequent and long-lasting heat waves causing adverse environmental impacts.”

These extreme weather patterns are the ferocious signs and sights of climate change in 2018, and, because so little is being done to tackle the causes, year on year they become more and more intense. Planet Earth is becoming a world in which the extreme becomes the expected, the disastrous the everyday.

How bad must it get?

The year began with the coldest first week of January on record for numerous cities in eastern America; freezing temperatures and heavy snowfall swept across Europe in March as the “Beast From the East” hit. Britain was severely affected, with up to three feet of snow in some areas and temperatures down to minus 10ºC.

Floods have affected East Africa killing dozens of people, tropical cyclones hit Somalia, Djibouti, Yemen and Oman, dust storms killed hundreds in India, and Pakistan had an intense heat wave with temperatures exceeding 40ºC. Heavy rains and 70 mph winds in Bangladesh caused landslides, deaths and injuries. California had the largest wild fires ever recorded, and down under, Australia is becoming the ‘Land of Drought’ according to the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull.

A heat wave of unprecedented temperatures scorched Europe and Japan, where 40ºC (104ºF) temperatures were recorded, 30 people died and thousands needed medical treatment for heat related conditions. A month earlier Japan had some of the worst floods in its history, more than 200 people lost their lives and almost 2 million people were evacuated; the Caribbean is bracing itself for this year’s hurricane season, while “still recovering from last year’s devastation,” which, the UNFCC say, was “the costliest on record”.

The list of extreme weather events across the word is endless; extremes that are increasingly normal as the impact of man-made climate change become more and more apparent, and yet little is being done to address the primary causes. How bad does it have to become before substantive action is taken to reverse the terrible damage we are doing to the natural world?

The mechanics of climate change

Climate change is being triggered by global warming; Global warming, described by NASA as “the unusually rapid increase in Earth’s average surface temperature…primarily due to the greenhouse gases released as people burn fossil fuels” occurs, “when the atmosphere traps heat radiating from Earth toward space.” This happens when so-called greenhouse gases (Carbon Dioxide (CO2), Methane (CH4) and Nitrous Oxide (N2O), being the three main culprits) clog the lower levels of Earth’s atmosphere. This leads to a range of effects: The planet overall becomes warmer (average ground temperature rises), causing “extreme weather events and other severe natural and societal impacts” to become more frequent; glaciers in the Arctic region melt sending huge quantities of water into the ocean, which raises the sea level, oceans are made warmer and expand, further contributing to rising levels. As the sea level rises land is flooded, cities, towns and villages are threatened, lives lost, homes destroyed, communities ripped apart, people displaced.

Man-made greenhouse gases (GGE) are produced by a range of sectors and activities: Animal agriculture produces the largest amount (18% of the total according to the UN, other sources put the figure much higher), followed by electricity and heat production, transportation and industry – all through burning fossil fuels – oil, coal and gas. GGEs have been increasing since the industrial revolution, leading to a rise in global ground temperatures, which to date has reached about 1ºC above pre-industrial levels. Temperatures continue to increase at around 0.17ºC per decade.

One degree doesn’t sound like much but, as the extreme weather events show, the effect of this modest rise on the climate is huge, the consequences far reaching, potentially catastrophic.

In 2015 the Paris Agreement on Climate Change was reached and signed by every country in the world; under President Trump America has since pulled out. Hailed as historic, its central aim is to keep global rises in temperature “well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.” Even if these rather optimistic targets are met, a recent study by an international team of scientists writing in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests, “there is a risk of Earth entering what the scientists call “Hothouse Earth” conditions.” The BBC report that the group believe 2ºC of warming “could turn some of the Earth’s natural forces [forests, oceans and land] – that currently protect us – into our enemies…As the world experiences warming, these carbon sinks could become sources of carbon and make the problems of climate change significantly worse.”

If this occurs they forecast the climate stabilizing at “a global average of 4-5°C higher than pre-industrial temperatures with sea level 10-60 m higher than today.” This would mean that some parts of the Earth would become uninhabitable. In order to avoid this nightmare scenario the authors make clear that “a total re-orientation of human values, equity, behavior and technologies is required. We must all become stewards of the Earth.” This requires a major shift in human attitudes.

Unhealthy destructive lifestyle

Climate Change and the environmental disaster in its various colors is the result of human activity and complacency; we have poisoned the oceans, rivers and streams, cleared 85% of the world’s tropical rainforests, mainly for livestock, and are turning healthy land into desert; we are filling the air we breathe with toxins, creating dead zones in the oceans and causing the eradication of species at an unprecedented rate. Collectively we seem to have no respect or love for the natural environment and whilst some people are acting responsibly, the majority fails to see the connection between lifestyle and disaster and appear content to treat the planet like a giant rubbish tip.

The natural order has been thrown into disarray by the widespread adoption of a selfish, destructive way of life: A particular lifestyle, or collection of related ‘lifestyle choices’, are responsible for the production of man-made greenhouse gases that are triggering the extreme weather patterns we are seeing all around the world.

Hedonism and consumerism sit at the heart of the unhealthy mode of living that is driving the catastrophe and making us ill; mankind’s relentless consumption of stuff, the vast majority of which is not needed, combined with an animal-based diet (common to 97% of the global population), has created a cocktail of chaos within the natural world, bringing about the greatest crisis in the history of mankind. It is a materialistic lifestyle that the global economy, and by extension the corporate state depends on and ceaselessly promotes. This is why, despite the intense urgency of the environmental issue, we hear little on mainstream media and virtually nothing from governments, who are more concerned with economic growth and petty domestic politics than the stability and health of the planet.

The harmony of the natural world has been thrown into chaos by the same approach to life that has separated us one from another, and fuelled internal conflict resulting in a global mental health epidemic. In all areas, where there should be unity and right relationship we see enmity, discord and disease. Restoring the planet to health and creating a world in which human beings can live healthy peaceful lives are inextricably linked. Both require a fundamental change in values, a shift away from divisive modes of living built on competition and greed to inclusive ways in which social/environmental responsibility is cultivated and embraced.

Such ideas are not new and are frequently championed, but the prevailing socio-economic ideology actively works to suppress such principles, and powerfully promotes values of division and selfishness. Despite this widespread conditioning, an unstoppable current of change can be seen sweeping the world; social responsibility is growing apace, and perennial values of goodness – cooperation, tolerance and sharing – are increasingly influencing the minds of men and women everywhere.

To galvanize this global movement a major public education program should be undertaken by governments and schools to increase awareness of climate change and lifestyle and create a sense of urgency and engagement. Change can be slow, but these are extraordinary times, and there is a growing recognition that if we unite all things are possible. If not, if we continue in the selfish, greedy, divisive ways of the past, the weather patterns will become more extreme and unpredictable, the air and waterways will become more toxic, loss of life will increase and the associated environmental ills will deepen. The choice is ours.

Corbyn’s Labour Party is Being Made to Fail: by Design

The Labour party, relentlessly battered by an organised campaign of smears of its leader, Jeremy Corbyn – first for being anti-semitic, and now for honouring Palestinian terrorists – is reportedly about to adopt the four additional working “examples” of anti-semitism drafted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

Labour initially rejected these examples – stoking yet more condemnation from Israel’s lobbyists and the British corporate media – because it justifiably feared, as have prominent legal experts, that accepting them would severely curb the freedom to criticise Israel.

The media’s ever-more outlandish slurs against Corbyn and the Labour party’s imminent capitulation on the IHRA’s full definition of anti-semitism are not unrelated events. The former was designed to bring about the latter.

According to a report in the Guardian this week, senior party figures are agitating for the rapid adoption of the full IHRA definition, ideally before the party conference next month, and say Corbyn has effectively surrendered to the pressure. An MP who supports Corbyn told the paper Corbyn would “just have to take one for the team”.

In a strong indication of the way the wind is now blowing, the Guardian added:

“The party said it would consult the main [Jewish] communal bodies as well as experts and academics, but groups such as the pro-Corbyn Jewish Voice for Labour have not been asked to give their views.”

No stomach for battle

The full adoption of the IHRA definition of anti-semitism will be a major victory both for Israel and its apologists in Britain, who who have been seeking to silence all meaningful criticism of Israel, and for the British corporate media, which would dearly love to see the back of an old-school socialist Labour leader whose programme threatens to loosen the 40-year stranglehold of neoliberalism on British society.

Besieged for four years, Corbyn’s allies in the Labour leadership have largely lost the stomach for battle, one that was never about substance or policy but about character assassination. As the stakes have been constantly upped by the media and the Blairite holdouts in the party bureacracy, the inevitable has happened. Corbyn has been abandoned. Few respected politicians with career ambitions or a public profile want to risk being cast out into the wilderness, like Ken Livingstone, as an anti-semite.

This is why the supposed anti-semitism “crisis” in a Corbyn-led Labour party has been so much more effective than berating him for his clothes or his patriotism. Natural selection – survival of the smear fittest for the job – meant that a weaponised anti-semitism would eventually identify Corbyn as its prime target and not just his supporters – especially after his unexpectedly strong showing at the polls in last year’s election.

Worse, Corbyn himself has conceded too much ground on anti-semitism. As a lifelong anti-racism campaigner, the accusations of anti-semitism have clearly pained him. He has tried to placate rather than defy the smearers. He has tried to maintain unity with people who have no interest in finding common ground with him.

And as he has lost all sense of how to respond in good faith to allegations made in bad faith, he has begun committing the cardinal sin of sounding and looking evasive – just as those who deployed the anti-semitism charge hoped. It was his honesty, plain-speaking and compassion that won him the leadership and the love of ordinary members. Unless he can regain the political and spiritual confidence that underpinned those qualities, he risks haemorrhaging support.

Critical juncture

But beyond Corbyn’s personal fate, the Labour party has now reached a critical juncture in its response to the smear campaign. In adopting the full IHRA definition, the party will jettison the principle of free speech and curtail critical debate about an entire country, Israel – as well as a key foreign policy issue for those concerned about the direction the Middle East is taking.

Discussion of what kind of state Israel is, what its policy goals are, and whether they are compatible with a peace process are about to be taken off the table by Britain’s largest, supposedly progressive party.

That thought spurred me to cast an eye over my back-catalogue of journalism. I have been based in Nazareth, in Israel’s Galilee, since 2001. In that time I have written – according to my website – more than 900 articles (plus another few hundred blog posts) on Israel, as well as three peer-reviewed books and a clutch of chapters in edited collections. That’s a lot of writing. Many more than a million words about Israel over nearly two decades.

What shocked me, however, as I started to pore over these articles was that almost all of them – except for a handful dealing with internal Palestinian politics – would fall foul of at least one of these four additional IHRA examples Labour is about to adopt.

After 17 years of writing about Israel, after winning a respected journalism prize for being “one of the reliable truth-tellers in the Middle East”, the Labour party is about to declare that I, and many others like me, are irredeemable anti-semites.

Not that I am unused to such slurs. I am intimately familiar with a community of online stalkers who happily throw around the insults “Nazi” and “anti-semite” at anyone who doesn’t cheerlead the settlements of the Greater Israel project. But far more troubling is that this will be my designation not by bullying Israel partisans but by the official party of the British left.

Of course, I will not be alone. Much of my journalism has been about documenting and reporting the careful work of scholars, human rights groups, lawyers and civil society organisations – Palestinian, Israeli and international alike – that have charted the structural racism in Israel’s legal and administrative system, explaining often in exasperating detail its ethnocractic character and its apartheid policies. All of us are going to be effectively cast out, denied any chance to inform or contribute to the debates and policies of Britain’s only leftwing party with a credible shot at power.

That is a shocking realisation. The Labour party is about to slam the door shut in the faces of the Palestinian people, as well as progressive Jews and others who stand in solidarity with them.

Betrayal of Palestinians

The article in the Guardian, the newspaper that has done more to damage Corbyn than any other (by undermining him from within his own camp), described the incorporation of the full IHRA anti-semitism definition into Labour’s code of conduct as a “compromise”, as though the betrayal of an oppressed people was something over which middle ground could be found.

Remember that the man who drafted the IHRA definition and its associated examples, American Jewish lawyer Kenneth Stern, has publicly regretted their impact, saying that in practice they have severely curbed freedom of speech about Israel.

How these new examples will be misused by Corbyn’s opponents should already be clear. He made his most egregious mistake in the handling of the party’s supposed anti-semitism “crisis” precisely to avoid getting caught up in a violation of one of the IHRA examples Labour is about to adopt: comparing Israel to Nazi Germany.

He apologised for attending an anti-racism event and distanced himself from a friend, the late Hajo Meyer, a Holocaust survivor and defender of Palestinian rights, who used his speech to compare Israel’s current treatment of Palestinians to early Nazi laws that vilified and oppressed Jews.

It was a Judas-like act for which it is not necessary to berate Corbyn. He is doubtless already torturing himself over what he did. But that is the point: the adoption of the full IHRA definition will demand the constant vilification and rooting out of progressive and humane voices like Meyer’s. It will turn the Labour party into the modern equivalent of Senator Joe McCarthy’s House of Un-American Activities Committee. Labour activists will find themselves, like Corbyn, either outed or required to out others as supposed anti-semites. They will have to denounce reasonable criticisms of Israel and dissociate themselves from supporters of the Palestinian cause, even Holocaust survivors.

The patent absurdity of Labour including this new anti-semitism “example” should be obvious the moment we consider that it will recast not only Meyer and other Holocaust survivors as anti-semites but leading Jewish intellectuals and scholars – even Israeli army generals.

Two years ago Yair Golan, the deputy chief of staff of the Israeli military, went public with such a comparison. Addressing an audience in Israel on Holocaust Day, he spoke of where Israel was heading:

“If there’s something that frightens me about Holocaust remembrance it’s the recognition of the revolting processes that occurred in Europe in general, and particularly in Germany, back then – 70, 80 and 90 years ago – and finding signs of them here among us today in 2016.”

Is it not a paradox that, were Golan a member of the Labour party, that statement – a rare moment of self-reflection by a senior Israeli figure – will soon justify his being vilified and hounded out of the Labour party?

Evidence of Israeli apartheid

Looking at my own work, it is clear that almost all of it falls foul of two further “examples” of anti-semitism cited in the full IHRA definition that Labour is preparing to adopt:

“Applying double standards by requiring of [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”

and:

“Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”

One hardly needs to point out how preposterous it is that the Labour party is about to outlaw from internal discussion or review any research, scholarship or journalism that violates these two “examples” weeks after Israel passed its Nation-State Basic Law. That law, which has constitutional weight, makes explict what was always implict in Israel as a Jewish state:

  1. that Israel privileges the rights and status of Jews around the world, including those who have never even visited Israel, above the rights of the fifth of the country’s citizens who are non-Jews (the remnants of the native Palestinian population who survived the ethnic cleansing campaign of 1948).
  2. that Israel, as defined in the Basic Law, is not a state bounded by internationally recognised borders but rather the “Land of Israel” – a Biblical conception of Israel whose borders encompass the occupied Palestinian territories and parts of many neighbouring states.

How, one might reasonably wonder, is such a state – defined this way in the Basic Law – a normal “democratic” state? How is it not structurally racist and inherently acquisitive of other people’s territory?

Contrary to the demands of these two extra IHRA “examples”, the Basic Law alone shows that Israel is a “racist endeavour” and that we cannot judge it by the same standards we would a normal western-style democracy. Not least, it has a double “border” problem: it forces Jews everywhere to be included in its self-definition of the “nation”, whether they want to be or not; and it lays claim to the title deeds of other territories without any intention to confer on their non-Jewish inhabitants the rights it accords Jews.

Demanding that we treat Israel as a normal western-style liberal democracy – as the IHRA full definition requires – makes as much sense as having demanded the same for apartheid South Africa back in the 1980s.

Unaccountable politics

The Labour party has become the largest in Europe as Corbyn has attracted huge numbers of newcomers into the membership, inspired by a new kind of politics. That is a terrifying development for the old politics, which preferred tiny political cliques accountable chiefly to corporate donors, leaving a slightly wider circle of activists largely powerless.

That is why the Blairite holdouts in the party bureaucracy are quite content to use any pretext not only to root out genuine progressive activists drawn to a Corbyn-led party, including anti-Zionist Jewish activists, but to alienate tens of thousands more members that had begun to transform Labour into a grassroots movement.

A party endlessly obsessing about anti-semitism, a party that has abandoned the Palestinians, a party that has begun throwing out key progressive principles, a party that has renounced free speech, and a party that no longer puts the interests of the poor and vulnerable at the centre of its concerns is a party that will fail.

That is where the anti-semitism “crisis” is leading Labour – precisely as it was designed to do.

Jordan: Staunch Western Ally, Angry and Confused

Where precisely, is Jordan now? Is it with the West, or with the Arab world? How independent is it, really, and what future lies ahead?

Recently, in the middle of the capital city – Amman – several sleek 5-star hotel towers grew towards the sky, including the trendy “W” and Rotana. Dressed to kill women from the Gulf, wearing high heels and suggestive make up, are now sipping cappuccinos in various cafes at the posh new pedestrian area called The Boulevard. Saudi men can be seen downing pints of beer and carafes of wine. It is a scene not unlike that commonly observed in Bahrain. The Gulf now comes to Amman to escape strict regulations, to play, to be careless, to enjoy life. Some people travel here for medical treatment, staying in overpriced private hospitals which resemble 4-star hotels more than medical facilities.

Built with money from the Gulf

But predominately, here in Amman, it is all about fashion, about food and drinks, about showing off and being seen – the entire area doesn’t have one single decent bookstore (there is only a tiny kiosk at the entrance to the Abdali Mall), art cinema or a concert hall.

Unlike Beirut, with its vibrant international art scene and thirst for knowledge, Amman’s affluent residents and visitors are obsessed with consumerism. With half-closed eyes, The Boulevard could be located in some smaller city of Texas or Georgia.

*****

Just a few kilometers away, at Al-Basheer Hospital (the biggest public medical facility in the country), doctors are on strike. They are exhausted, underpaid and depressed. Only emergency cases get treated. Blood is on the floor, patients look resigned.

 

I get pushed away as the Health Minister makes his visit with his entourage.

Ambulances keep howling, bringing casualties.

“Quality of public medical services in this country is appalling,” I am told by one of the patients.

Syrian ladies and child — refugees

I talk to two Syrian ladies who are waiting here with a sick boy. One of them laments:

We had to travel here all the way from Al-Azraq. We are not insured in this country, and even UNHCR does not help us, when we are facing medical emergencies. We went to a private clinic where a simple series of tests cost us 300 JD (US$428). We are here now. It is uncertain whether we will be treated at all. We are totally desperate.

Soon after, a plain-clothed cop begins interrogating me. “Do I have a permit to ask questions at the hospital?” I don’t. After I leave, two police officers try to intercept me. Pretending that I don’t understand, I smile like an idiot and they let me go.

*****

In Jordan, people are afraid to talk. To be precise, they do talk inside their homes and cars, or in the backrooms of their offices, but not in public. They hardly ever give their full names.

Jordanian soldiers just a few meters from River Jordan and Israeli controlled POT

In 2018, Jordan ‘exploded’ on various occasions. In February, riots broke in the city of Al-Salt, over the proposed 60% price hike of bread, but also over the increase of electricity and fuel prices as well as the cutting of subsidies for basic goods and services.

The infamous and brutal IMF structural adjustment had been gradually implemented in Jordan, which was suffering from a stagnating economy and bizarre misappropriation of funds. In 2017, Jordan’s recorded government debt stood at $32 billion, equivalent to 95.6% of the country’s GDP.

In June, massive protests shook the capital, Amman. Protesters were demanding the change of the government. They were outraged by planned tax hikes and the rapidly declining standard of living. They also called for the end of endemic corruption among government officials.

Scores of people were arrested.

In July, the government resigned, and King Abdullah asked Omar al-Razzaz, a former World Bank economist, to form a new government.

People dispersed. They were told that they had won, but almost nothing changed.

“Let me explain: before they were, for instance, threatening to introduce a 15% tax on cars,” my driver in Amman explained. “Now what they will do is introduce a tax hike of 5% this year and 10% in 2019. Everything is the same.”

In a desperate settlement, Kufrain Village, near the River Jordan and Dead Sea, a baker at Alihsan Bakery was much more outspoken:

We don’t trust the government: new or old. They are all the same bullshitters.

The riots? Change of government? Don’t make me laugh: so-called ‘riots’ were organized and led by intelligence officers and by the government itself. They manipulated people. This government does precisely the same things as the previous one, but with the new alphabetic order.

A day earlier, I had heard precisely the same lament from an upper-class Jordanian lady whom I met on the bank of the Jordan River, while visiting the Bethany Beyond Jordan Site (great opportunity to photograph fortified border with Israeli occupied Palestine (OPT).

She explained, cynically and in perfect English:

Jordanian people had enough; this time they were ready to overthrow the regime in Amman. The elites knew it. They organized riots, made them look real but relatively orderly, then changed a few political players at the top, while saving the system. People felt that they won, but, in fact, nothing changed, whatsoever.

Jordan is a staunch ally of the West. Its ‘Elites’ are unconditionally pro-US.

The country has been, for decades, betting on collaboration with NATO.

It hosts several deadly military and air force bases of various Western countries, the most lethal being Al-Azraq, where part of the war planes that were previously situated at the Turkish airbase Incerlik, have recently been re-located.

British and US Special Forces have been, for years, invading the Syrian state, from Jordanian territory.

Slums at the outskirts of Amman

Functioning as a service station of the West, it has been securing the main income of the country and to its ‘elites’, but not necessarily to its people. Very little or nothing has been invested into science, research or production. It is all about the military bases, malls for the expats, medical tourism for the rich Gulf citizens, few maquiladoras, and, of course, the main privately owned component of the local economy – tourism (some 14% of the GDP and growing).

By the Dead Sea – for the very rich and tourists

Tourism primarily benefits the big Western hotel chains and is consistently ruining the fragile ecosystem of the Dead Sea and lately, the Gulf of Aqaba. At the same time, the Al-Azraq air force base is destroying and draining the precious water reserves of the desert oases.

Official unemployment in Jordan now stands around 18% but is in reality much higher.

The border with Syria remains closed, so cheap goods cannot come in (relatively poor Jordan is periodically ranked as the most expensive country to live in the Arab world).

Azraq refugee camp

The country is presently ‘hosting’ 670,000 Syrian refugees, although some are now determined to return home. The refugees (many of them live in despicable conditions and face various types of discrimination) are yet another source of foreign funding for Jordan, but on the streets of Amman, people keep complaining that ‘Syrians take jobs from the local people’. That does not prevent Jordanians from importing cheap labor from poor countries like the Philippines and Kenya. No matter how stretched and impoverished, Jordanians are not ready to do ‘dirty jobs’.

*****

I spoke to a curator at the modest Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts. There, a surreal and post-modernist installation called “Factory” was trying to shock by avant-garde forms and, it appeared to me, by very little substance.

The National Gallery was desperately empty; people were most likely somewhere else, in cafes, malls or pubs.

I asked the curator whether she was planning to show some artwork depicting the recent riots, or to get to the core of what triggered the recent wave of desperation.

She looked at me, horrified:

“No, why? Of course not!”

I asked whether there is at least one gallery in Amman, that is reacting to the events?

“No,” she almost shouted at me. She was very angry. I was trying to understand, why.

It never pays to be a Western colony, in the Arab world or anywhere else. Some individuals or a group of people may get filthy rich, but the rest of the population will struggle. It will become ‘irrelevant’.

While neighboring Syria is winning its epic battle against the terrorists implanted there by the West and its allies, Jordan is living the sad reality of some Central American semi-colony of the United States.

Here, almost all ideology had been neutralized. Not even dreams of pan-Arab socialist unity that had been shaping, for decades, both Syria and Iraq, could be traced here.

Nobody in Jordan appears to be happy. Some complain, some don’t, but there are no concrete proposals on how to change the pro-Western regime.

In the meantime, the posh Boulevard area is ‘protected’ by metal detectors and guards, uniformed and plain-clothed. Hotels are turning into fortresses. Now even to enter some cafes at the Boulevard, one has to go through a second stage of security, including robust metal detectors. Amman is an extremely safe city. I wonder:

Is it in order to stop terrorism? Or, perhaps, is it to prevent poor and desperate people from entering and seeing with their own eyes that the foreign interests and local collaborators are robbing them of their own country?

I ask aloud. My local friend does not reply. In Jordan, there are some questions that should never be asked.

• All photos by Andre Vltchek

• First published in New Eastern Outlook (NEO)

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