The Real Reasons Trump is Quitting Unesco

At first glance, the decision last week by the Trump administration, followed immediately by Israel, to quit the United Nation’s cultural agency seems strange. Why penalise a body that promotes clean water, literacy, heritage preservation and women’s rights?

Washington’s claim that the UN’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) is biased against Israel obscures the real crimes the agency has committed in US eyes.

The first is that in 2011 Unesco became the first UN agency to accept Palestine as a member. That set the Palestinians on the path to upgrading their status at the General Assembly a year later.

It should be recalled that in 1993, as Israel and the Palestinians signed the Oslo accords on the White House lawn, the watching world assumed the aim was to create a Palestinian state.

But it seems most US politicians never received that memo. Under pressure from Israel’s powerful lobbyists, the US Congress hurriedly passed legislation to pre-empt the peace process. One such law compels the United States to cancel funding to any UN body that admits the Palestinians.

Six years on, the US is $550 million in arrears and without voting rights at Unesco. Its departure is little more than a formality.

The agency’s second crime relates to its role selecting world heritage sites. That power has proved more than an irritant to Israel and the US.

The occupied territories, supposedly the locus of a future Palestinian state, are packed with such sites. Hellenistic, Roman, Jewish, Christian and Muslim relics promise not only the economic rewards of tourism but also the chance to control the historic narrative.

Israeli archaeologists, effectively the occupation’s scientific wing, are chiefly interested in excavating, preserving and highlighting Jewish layers of the Holy Land’s past. Those ties have then been used to justify driving out Palestinians and building Jewish settlements.

Unesco, by contrast, values all of the region’s heritage, and aims to protect the rights of living Palestinians, not just the ruins of long-dead civilisations.

Nowhere has the difference in agendas proved starker than in occupied Hebron, where tens of thousands of Palestinians live under the boot of a few hundred Jewish settlers and the soldiers who watch over them. In July, Unesco enraged Israel and the US by listing Hebron as one of a handful of world heritage sites “in danger”. Israel called the resolution “fake history”.

The third crime is the priority Unesco gives to the Palestinian names of heritage sites under belligerent occupation.

Much hangs on how sites are identified, as Israel understands. Names influence the collective memory, giving meaning and significance to places.

The Israeli historian Ilan Pappe has coined the term “memoricide” for Israel’s erasure of most traces of the Palestinians’ past after it dispossessed them of four-fifths of their homeland in 1948 – what Palestinians term their Nakba, or Catastrophe.

Israel did more than just raze 500 Palestinian towns and villages. In their place it planted new Jewish communities with Hebracaised names intended to usurp the former Arabic names. Saffuriya became Tzipori; Hittin was supplanted by Hittim; Muyjadil was transformed into Migdal.

A similar process of what Israel calls “Judaisation” is under way in the occupied territories. The settlers of Beitar Ilit threaten the Palestinians of Battir. Nearby, the Palestinians of Sussiya have been dislodged by a Jewish settlement of exactly the same name.

The stakes are highest in Jerusalem. The vast Western Wall plaza below Al Aqsa mosque was created in 1967 after more than 1,000 Palestinians were evicted and their quarter demolished. Millions of visitors each year amble across the plaza, oblivious to this act of ethnic cleansing.

Settlers, aided by the Israeli state, continue to encircle Christian and Muslim sites in the hope of taking them over.

That is the context for recent Unesco reports highlighting the threats to Jerusalem’s Old City, including Israel’s denial for most Palestinians of the right to worship at Al Aqsa.

Israel has lobbied to have Jerusalem removed from the list of endangered heritage sites. Alongside the US, it has whipped up a frenzy of moral outrage, berating Unesco for failing to prioritise the Hebrew names used by the occupation authorities.

Unesco’s responsibility, however, is not to safeguard the occupation or bolster Israel’s efforts at Judaisation. It is there to uphold international law and prevent Palestinians from being disappeared by Israel.

Trump’s decision to quit Unesco is far from his alone. His predecessors have been scuffling with the agency since the 1970s, often over its refusal to cave in to Israeli pressure.

Now, Washington has a pressing additional reason to punish Unesco for allowing Palestine to become a member. It needs to make an example of the cultural body to dissuade other agencies from following suit.

Trump’s confected indignation at Unesco, and his shrugging off of its vital global programmes, serve as a reminder that the US is not an “honest broker” of a Middle East peace. Rather it is the biggest obstacle to its realisation.

• First published in The National, Abu Dhabi.

Trump And Iran: Have The Neocons Won?

President Trump's Iran policy speech on Friday was riddled with errors -- the kinds of errors the neocons have been peddling for more than a decade. He did not out and out cancel the US participation in the Iran nuclear deal with claims that Iran has violated the agreement. Everyone knows -- and it has been repeatedly certified -- that Iran has not violated the terms of the 2015 agreement. Instead he claimed that Iran is not living up to the spirit of the agreement and punted the issue down to Congress -- against the advice of most of his senior staff. Will Washington's allies follow suit? Will the deal fall apart? What will Iran do if it is no longer bound by the nuclear-limiting treaty? Will President Trump follow his neocon whisperers down the path that George W. Bush followed in 2003 -- to war? Tune in to today's Liberty Report:

US Deploys Special Forces ‘Decapitation’ Team To South Korea

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Today, the South Korean and US navies on Monday kicked off massive combined drills off the coast of the peninsula amid heightened tensions, a train exercise which North Korea has warned may prompt another ballistic missile launch, potentially to coincide with the launch of the Chinese 19th Party Congress on October 18. The two allies plan to continue the Maritime Counter Special Operations Exercise (MCSOFEX) through Friday in the East Sea and the Yellow Sea.

As reported over the weekend, the drill involves the US 7th Fleet's aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) and two Arleigh Burke-class destroyers - the USS Stethem (DDG-63) and the USS Mustin (DDG-89). The carrier strike group will train with South Korean warships and other defense assets, such as the Sejong the Great Aegis ship and P-3 Orion anti-submarine aircraft in the East Sea.

And while details of the drill were well-known in advance, what was reported for the first time overnight from Yonhap is that a unit of US special forces tasked with carrying out "decapitation" operations is also aboard a nuclear-powered submarine in the group, according to a defense source. So far, little else is known about why said decapitation team is on location, or whether it will be put into use, although it presence may explain Trump's "calm before the storm" comment that beffudled the media two weeks ago.

Among other assets mobilized for the joint drill are F-15K, FA-18 and A-10 fighter jets, as well as AH-64E Apache attack helicopters, Lynx and AW-159 Wild Cat naval choppers. The US has also deployed a Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) plane to closely monitor the North's ground and naval forces.

Some more details about the drill from Yonhap:
The joint training is aimed at promoting 'communications, interoperability and partnership in the (U.S.) 7th Fleet area of operations,' the fleet said. It initially announced that the practice around the peninsula will end next Thursday but later corrected the date to Friday. Meanwhile, the US has sent a B-1B Lancer strategic bomber, F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets and several other types of high-profile defense assets to the Seoul air show to open this week.

'Approximately 200 US personnel are expected to participate in the Seoul International Aerospace and Defense Exhibition (ADEX) 2017, scheduled from Oct. 17-22 at the Seoul K-16 airport,' the 7th Air Force said.

Among the U.S. military aircraft to join the biennial event are the F-22 Raptor, B-1B Lancer, A-10 Thunderbolt II, C-17 Globemaster III, C-130J Hercules, KC-135 Stratotanker, E-3 Sentry, U-2 Dragon Lady and RQ-4 Global Hawk, it added. Also fielded will be the Air Force's fifth-generation fighter, the F-35A Lightning II, U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon and a U.S. Army CH-47F Chinook.

'This year's air show will feature demonstrations from US Air Force F-22 Raptors assigned to the 3rd Wing, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska,' the 7th Air Force said. More than 400 defense firms from 33 countries plan to participate in the ADEX to begin Tuesday.
As part of the drills, the US military said on Monday that it would practice evacuating noncombatant Americans out of South Korea in the event of war and other emergencies, the NYT reported.  The evacuation drill, known as Courageous Channel, is aimed at preparing American “service members and their families to respond to a wide range of crisis management events such as noncombatant evacuation and natural or man-made disasters,” the United States military said in a statement.

The South Korean government of President Moon Jae-in has repeatedly warned that it opposes a military solution to the North Korean nuclear crisis because it could quickly escalate into a full-blown war in which Koreans would suffer the most, with some estimates predicting that over 2 million South Koreans could die in the North Korean retaliation.

Meanwhile, on Monday, North Korea accused the US of “pushing” the DPRK into making a hydrogen bomb, the head of North Korea’s delegation to the multinational Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) meeting has said.

“Exactly the US have pushed the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] to become a possessor of the hydrogen bomb,” the deputy chairman of the Supreme People’s Assembly of North Korea, An Tong Chun, announced Monday. The North Korean official was speaking at the assembly of the world’s oldest international body of lawmakers in St. Petersburg, Russia. Parliamentarians from more than 160 nations are attending the IPU session.

The question now is whether North Korea will once again test said Hydrogen bomb and, if so, whether the crack "decapitation" team meant to take out North Korea's leadership will be put to use.

Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.

President Trump Beats War Drums For Iran

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President Trump has been notoriously inconsistent in his foreign policy. He campaigned on and won the presidency with promises to repair relations with Russia, pull out of no-win wars like Afghanistan, and end the failed US policy of nation-building overseas. Once in office he pursued policies exactly the opposite of what he campaigned on. Unfortunately Iran is one of the few areas where the president has been very consistent. And consistently wrong.

In the president’s speech last week he expressed his view that Iran was not “living up to the spirit” of the 2015 nuclear agreement and that he would turn to Congress to apply new sanctions to Iran and to, he hopes, take the US out of the deal entirely.

Nearly every assertion in the president’s speech was embarrassingly incorrect. Iran is not allied with al-Qaeda, as the president stated. The money President Obama sent to Iran was their own money. Much of it was a down-payment made to the US for fighter planes that were never delivered when Iran changed from being friend to foe in 1979. The president also falsely claims that Iran targets the United States with terrorism. He claims that Iran has “fueled sectarian violence in Iraq,” when it was Iranian militias who prevented Baghdad from being overtaken by ISIS in 2014. There are too many other false statements in the president’s speech to mention.

How could he be so wrong on so many basic facts about Iran? Here’s a clue: the media reports that his number one advisor on Iran is his Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley. Ambassador Haley is a “diplomat” who believes war is the best, first option rather than the last, worst option. She has no prior foreign policy experience, but her closest mentor is John Bolton – the neocon who lied us into the Iraq war. How do these people live with themselves when they look around at the death and destruction their policies have caused?

Unfortunately the American people are being neoconned into another war. Just as with the disastrous 2003 US attack on Iraq, the media builds up the fear and does the bidding of the warmongers without checking facts or applying the necessary skepticism to neocon claims.

Like most Americans, I do not endorse Iran’s style of government. I prefer religion and the state to be separate and even though our liberties have been under attack by our government, I prefer our much freer system in the US. But I wonder how many Americans know that Iran has not attacked or “regime-changed” another country in its modern history. Iran’s actions in Syria are at the invitation of the legitimate Syrian government. And why won’t President Trump tell us the truth about Iranian troops in Syria – that they are fighting ISIS and al-Qaeda, both of which are Sunni extremist groups that are Iran’s (and our) mortal enemies?

How many Americans know that Iran is one of the few countries in the region that actually holds elections that are contested by candidates with very different philosophies? Do any Americans wonder why the Saudis are considered one of our greatest allies in the Middle East even though they hold no elections and have one of the world’s worst human rights records?

Let’s be clear here: President Trump did not just announce that he was “de-certifying” Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal. He announced that Iran was from now on going to be in the bullseye of the US military. Will Americans allow themselves to be lied into another Middle East war?

Two or Three Things I Know About Capitalism

A number of recent, press articles, including an over 8000 word feature piece in the New York Times have asked, to quote the The NYT’s headline, “Why Are More American Teenagers Than Ever Suffering From Severe Anxiety?”

Although the question was proffered, the reporters and editors responsible for the articles remain resolutely obtuse to the obvious: The bughouse crazy environment of late stage capitalist culture evokes classic flight or flight responses attendant to episodes of severe anxiety and panic attacks.

The word panic has its derivation in reference to the Greek god of wilderness and wildness, of pastural repose, of the animal body encoded within human beings and its attendant animalistic imperatives, Pan. To wit, deracinate an animal from its natural habitat and it will evince, on an instinctual basis, a flight or flight response. If caged, the unfortunate creature will pace the confines of its imprisonment, chew and tear at its fur and flesh, become irritable, enervated, languish and even die from the deprivation of the environment it was born to inhabit. A caged animal, even if the unfortunate creature endures captivity, is not the entity nature conceived; the living being has been reduced to A Thing That Waits For Lunch.

Human beings, animals that we are, respond in a similar fashion. Experiencing anxiety is among the ways our innate animal spirits react to the capitalist cage. Inundate a teenager with the soul-defying criteria of the corporate/consumer state, with its overbearing, pre-careerist pressures, its paucity of communal eros, its demands, overt and implicit, to conform to a shallow, manic, nebulously defined yet oppressive societal order, and insist that those who cannot adapt, much less excel, are losers who are fated to become “basement dwellers” in their parent’s homes or, for those who lack the privilege, be cast into homelessness then the minds of the young or old alike are apt to be inundated with feelings of angst and dread.

Worse, if teenagers are culturally conditioned to believe said feelings and responses are exclusively experienced by weaklings, parasites, and losers then their suffering might fester to the point of emotional paralysis and suicidal inclinations.

What does the capitalist state offer as remedy? Obscenely profitable, corporately manufactured and widely prescribed psychoactive medications. Treatment, which, at best, merely masks symptoms and bestows the illusion of recovery.

As R. D. Laing observed: “What we call ‘normal’ is a product of repression, denial, splitting, projection, introjection and other forms of destructive action on experience. It is radically estranged from the structure of being.”

In short, it is insanity to be expected to adapt to socially acceptable insanity. Yet we are pressured to adapt to, thus internalise odious, groupthink concepts and tenets. To cite one example, homelessness is natural to the human condition and is a communally acceptable situation.

Closer to fact: The problem of homelessness is the result of a societal-wide perception problem — the phenomenon is the very emblem of the scrambling, twisting, dissociating, and displacing of perception that capitalist propagandists specialize in. Homelessness would be considered a relic of a barbaric past if this very simple principle was applied: Having access to permanent shelter is a human right and not a privilege.

What kind of a vile, vicious people would deny the simple proposition? Those conditioned by a lingering Puritan/Calvinist mindset to believe: Punishment for resisting the usurpation of the fleeting hours of one’s finite life must be severe. If the overclass can no longer get away with, as was once common practice in the Puritan/Calvinist tradition, public floggings to whip the labor force into line, then those who will not or cannot comply will be cast onto the cold, unforgiving concrete of a soulless cityscape.

It comes down to this: societies that are ridden with vast wealth inequity, due to the machinations of a rapacious overclass, create the obscenity known as homelessness. Moreover, the situation is only one of the numerous obscenities inherent to state capitalism. Obscenities that include, events that are dominating the present news cycle; e.g., the predations of a lecherous movie mogul, to the sub-cretinous doings and pronouncements of a Chief of State who is a bloated, bloviating, two legged toxic waste dump.

How is it then, liberals fail to grasp the fact the Trump presidency is not an aberration; rather, his ascension to power should be regarded as being among the high probability variables of late stage capitalism and empire building? The psychopathic, tangerine-tinged clown Trump is the embodiment of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, a development that is concomitant to over-expanded empires. Thus he will continue to flounce deeper into the quagmire of crash-engendering, economic legerdemain and perpetual war.

Empires are death cults, and death cults, on a subliminal bases, long for their own demise. Paradoxically, the collective mindset of imperium, even as it thrusts across the expanse of the world, renders itself insular, cut off from culturally enhancing novelty, as all the while, the homeland descends into a psychical swamp of churning madness.

A draining of the swamp of the collective mind cannot come to pass, for the swamp and citizenry are one. Withal, the likes of leaders such as Trump rise from and are made manifest by the morass of the culture itself. In a swamp, the gospel of rebirth and redemption is heard in the song of humus. New life rises from its compost.

In the presence of Trump’s debased mind and tumefied carcass, one is privy to arias of rot. While Hillary Clinton’s monotonous tempo was the dirge of a taxidermist — cold, desiccated of heart, and devoid of life’s numinous spark — Trump’s voice carries the depraved cacophony of a Célinean fool’s parade…its trajectory trudging towards the end of empire.

As liberals new BFFL George W. Bush might ask, “Is our liberals learning?”

In a word, no. For example, the collective psyche of US culture as been enflamed by the revelations that actresses were coerced into sexual encounters with a movie mogul whose power in the industry was only matched, even enhanced, by his sadistic nature. The staff of his company assisted, were complicit in, or remained silent about his lechery, as did the whole of the movie industry and the entertainment press. All as NFL athletes are being threatened with expulsion from the League if they kneel during the national anthem.

Yet the great unspoken remains: The enabling of and submission to the degradation, exploitation and tyranny, and the lack of resistance thereof share a common and singular factor: The careerism of all concerned. The cultural milieu concomitant to capitalism is at the rotten root and noxious blossoming of the situation.

Jean-Luc Godard’s 1967, cinematic barnburner 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her should be required viewing for those unaware or in denial of the acuity of the film’s theme; i.e., becoming enmeshed within the psychical landscape of dominance, degradation, and submission inherent to and inseparable from capitalist/consumer culture will cause one to become party to societal sanctioned prostitution. When life is negotiated within a collective value system that devalues and deadens the individual’s inner life thus warps every human transaction, anomie descends, the worst among a people ascend to positions of power.

Panic is the sudden realization that everything around you is alive.

— William S. Burroughs, from Ghost of Chance

When friends visited me in New York, where I lived for decades, I would take them on walking tours through the city. We would cross the Westside Highway and stroll the pedestrian walk along the Hudson River, or cross the East River by walking across the Brooklyn Bridge.

The effect of these excursions on people was often profound…the combined elements of the elemental beauty of the rivers and vastness of the city’s architecture and scope, clamour, and the dense interweaving of traditional ethnic customs and ad hoc social codes of New Yorkers often would heighten the visitors’ senses and open them to larger, more intricate awareness of themselves and extant reality…the freeways of the contemporary mind (conditioned to be constantly engaged in manic motion, with one’s mind either frenzied by an obsession with performing (ultimately futile) manoeuvres directed to saving time — or stalled at a frustration inducing standstill) were replaced by the exigencies of life at street level; i.e., novel situations that had to be apprehended and negotiated.

The possibilities of life seemed greater. The crimped eros of insular suburban thought became loosened before the city’s intricacies and expansiveness. Although: Not all, or even a scant few, New Yorkers can maintain the state of being. Few of us can live by Rilke’s resolve to “make every moment holy.” Life, in the city, becomes grotesquely distorted…High rents, inflicted by hyper-gentrification, in combination with the deification of success and its cult of careerism overwhelm one’s psyche…There is so far to fall.

Angst (the word originally can be traced to the ancient Greek deity Ananke, the immovable by prayer and offering bitch Goddess of Necessity and the root word of anxiety) clamps down one’s sense of awareness. Ananke dominates the lives of the non-privileged citizenry while Narcissus, Trump’s, the Clinton’s et al and their financial and cultural elitists’ patron God rules the day. The pantheon of possibility has been decimated, a cultural cleansing has been perpetrated, by the egoist caprice of the beneficiaries of the late capitalist dictatorship of money.

Hence, we arrive at the primal wisdom tacitly conveyed by anxiety-borne states of fight or flight. Due to the reality that capitalism, on both an individual and collective basis, drives individuals into madness, all as the system destroys forest and field, ocean and sea and the soulscape of all who live under its rapacious dominion, our plight comes down to this: We either struggle and strive, by and any and all means, to end the system — or it will end us.

Climate Change Insurgent: Tony Abbott’s Crusade

He is the inimitable, true political ugliness, the bad boy with a mistimed punch.  While not quite professorial in his lunacy (that honour will have to go to Pauline Hanson of One Nation, whose sincere bigotry remains pungent), he aspires to it with a greater sense of reason.

This Exocet missile of Australian politics continues to direct his power and magic into the vessels of the Turnbull government, hoping that his relevance will resume form.  His victories, gained from the right wing of the Liberal-National coalition, have been significant, effectively trimming the efforts of the government.

Tony’s never so immaculate releases always tend to rumble.  Before an audience at the Global Warming Policy Foundation in London this week, Abbott was very clear: “Primitive people once killed goats to appease the volcano gods.”

The societies of now were certainly more “sophisticated” but for all that progress humans were still characteristically delusional, a superstitious lot “sacrificing our industries and our living standards to the climate gods to little effect.”

Environmentalism had become a dangerous dogma rather than an indispensable pursuit for a healthier earth. Environmentalism has managed to combine a post-socialistic instinct for big government with a post-Christian nostalgia for making sacrifices in a good cause.

This was not all.  A heated earth was something to relish not abhor. “In most countries, far more people die in cold snaps than in heatwaves, so a gradual lift in global temperatures, especially if it’s accompanied by more prosperity and more capacity to adapt to change, might even be beneficial.”

In this calculus of death, Abbott’s point is distorting.  True, cold is a natural killer of the infirm and elderly, and generally, more effective on current figures.  But then again, excessive heat is set to catch up in its reaping potency.

According to the World Health Organisation, the middle of the century will see malaria, diarrhoea, heat stress and malnutrition gathering up an extra 250,000 people a year. “Areas with weak health infrastructure – mostly in developing countries – will be the least able to cope without assistance to prepare and respond.”

Abbott, in the true spirit of a climate insurgent, adopts a two pronged approach. Even if climate change was happening (which it’s not, being the science of “absolute crap” in his charming terms), it could hardly be a bad thing even if it was. Having looked at photographs of Manly beach over a century, he saw no signs of rising sea levels.  (Such a scientifically inquiring mind!) But surely, a heated earth was far better than a frozen one?

Beneath the currents of the Abbott show was a sense that the science, and scientists, could not be trusted.  “The growing evidence that records have been adjusted, that the impact of urban heat islands have been downplayed, and that data sets have been slanted in order to fit the theory of dangerous anthropogenic global warming does not make it false; but it should produce much caution about basing drastic action upon it.”

The coalition government’s response back in Australia was that Abbott had become a mind changer.  If they were consulting the politician who greeted world leaders at the G20 summit in Brisbane in 2014, this was certainly the case. Then, as prime minister, Abbott felt duty bound to make the case that there was such a grave thing as climate change. Climate change scepticism was tantamount to Holocaust denial, and Abbott was playing along, so much so he endorsed the Paris Climate Agreement. But before his audience in Westminster, he suggested that he had always had doubts.

During the Turnbull tenure, Abbott has become the spear thrower for the climate change deniers, manoeuvring himself into territory that embraces both unalloyed radicals and resident nutters.  There is much to admire about this suicidal tendency, which is purely political rather than scientific or environmental.  It is the pursuit of self-interest and national interest, a view that suspects, combats and dismisses.  Few Australian politicians could ever do it and get away with it.

The coalition government, however, risks being outflanked yet again. On Thursday night, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop vented on the ABC’s 7:30 Report, suggesting that the former PM had lost the plot.  “It is up to him to explain the differences between his opinion [as prime minister] and his opinion now.”

In an effort to douse the flames of doubt now engulfing the ministry, Bishop insisted that “the important thing is the government’s position and under Prime Minister [Malcolm] Turnbull we are working hard to come up with a plan that delivers affordable and reliable energy that will meet with our international obligations.”  A plan, in short, that did everything.

Prime Minister Turnbull had hoped that the Finkel Report would fireproof him against the next Abbott surge and finally put the climate change voodoo to bed. But the Abbott war against Turnbull is taking place in several theatres, all of which have shown Turnbull to be a modern Maginot line.

On climate, Turnbull’s embrace of the Finkel recommendations, largely because of sceptics within his own party, remain limited, centred on the idea of a Clean Energy Target Abbot regards with satanic scorn.  Abandoning it will be Abbott’s prize, and a sign of a government gazing further over the precipice of electoral annihilation.

Universal Basic Income, or Basic Universal Alternative?

The Green Party of England and Wales have just concluded their autumn conference, held this year in the pleasant Yorkshire town of Harrogate. One of the meetings I particularly wanted to take part in was titled “Universal Basic Income. Its time has come”. The main speaker was Guy Standing, someone who has apparently been promoting Basic Income for about thirty years. Although this gives him cause to claim some proprietorial rights for the idea, the Greens’ version of the same thing, known to us as Citizens Income (CI), has been a cornerstone policy for about forty years.

UBI/CI proposes that everyone should receive a guaranteed regular income – whether they need it or not. I’m a relative newcomer to the idea, learning about it for the first time when I first joined the Greens about three years ago. I couldn’t believe they were serious. Having ploughed through most of the Greens’ considerable number of policies, and agreed with just about every one of them, (CI) struck me as too ridiculous for words – the sort of thing some evil conspirator might plant like a bomb, waiting for the right moment to detonate it.

But perhaps it was me; perhaps I should find out more about it.

Whilst the intentions of CI are unquestionably right and good and humane – an attempt to eradicate poverty – the proposed solution of CI is full of flaws. Nevertheless, the concept of UBI/CI appears to be gaining a lot of traction all around the world. It has been tested in India and is currently being tried out in Brazil, Finland, and parts of Scotland. There are plans to trial it in Spain and the Netherlands. So could Guy Standing, a leading academic guru for UBI, reveal to me its virtues and eliminate my doubts?

Mr Standing is an impressive speaker. Clearly very used to speaking to large audiences, he’s articulate and confident, like a good salesman. Although he must have spoken for twenty minutes or so, he didn’t say anything that answered my concerns. But what he did say actually increased my reservations, and set alarm bells ringing loudly in my ears.

Leaving aside the rather tacky plugging of his newest book, something he did over and over throughout his talk, and afterwards with nearly every response he gave to questions from the audience, what really alarmed me was his apparent delight in the support UBI is supposedly attracting from the establishment.

Supping with the devil

Mr Standing informed us that he had recently been invited to speak about UBI in Davos. He seemed to think this was a fantastic achievement. Being welcomed into the arms of the world’s most powerful oppressors of humanity and despoilers of the planet was sold to us by Mr Standing as something we should admire and respect – instead of being horrified by (which was my reaction). Then Mr Standing told us that “even Hillary Clinton” had taken an interest in UBI, and that billionaire businessmen and IT wizards in Silicon Valley had been seeking his wisdom. None of this appears to have troubled Mr Standing. Quite the contrary. He seemed proud of these things, suggesting that we should be heartened and encouraged by the implied credibility the rich and powerful are giving to UBI. He seemed to be oblivious to the obvious conflict of interests – the problem of talking about a scheme that’s supposed to eliminate human poverty with the very people who are responsible for causing it, and who choose to carefully maintain it.

Pilot error

Then he spoke about the pilot schemes for UBI that are apparently being tried in various parts of the world. These pilots have attracted quite a lot of media attention lately. I confess I haven’t looked at any of the results. Whilst I agree with the general principle of scientifically testing new ideas (without using any animals – obviously), it seems to me quite impossible to properly test something like UBI. Trying to trial UBI in a town or a city where the rest of the economy is working around it as normal would be a bit like conducting a delicate scientific experiment using soiled and defective apparatus.

We always need to be very careful about anything which has supposedly been thoroughly tested by the people who are trying to sell it. Although not always unreliable, self-interest can obviously be a major factor in these situations. Furthermore, if the pilots were being run by economists, instead of real scientists, the results are likely to be even more problematic – since mainstream economics has been wholly based on unsubstantiated and unproven theories. In short, the results of any pilot scheme concerning UBI needs to be rigorously examined. But this is not what appears to be happening.

For example, Mr Standing described a pilot in India that he’d been involved with. He couldn’t go into detail because his time was limited (and it was probably in his book), but the outline was that a few thousand people in some remote town had all received a basic income for the trial period and surprise, surprise, the local economy improved. Who would have thought it? Add some money to a working economy and sales will pick up. Incredible.

Presumably we were supposed to be impressed by this anecdote. But how significant is it really? A couple of thousand people living amidst a working economy of almost one and a half billion others. How reliable could such a test be?

The virtue of work

There was time for questions after Mr Standing’s talk. I had my hand up for most of that time, but wasn’t invited to speak. Most of the people in the room were clearly disciples of UBI, and no effort was made by the chair to discover if there was anyone present who was not. Perhaps it was taken for granted that such a person could not possibly be in the room. My questions would have reflected my considerable concern for the role of public services in a world where no one needs to work, for Mr Standing didn’t mention public services at all in his talk.

Mr Standing rightly pointed out that the giant advances in twenty-first century communications, robotics, and artificial intelligence (AI) are having huge impacts on how we work. He suggested, rightly in my view, that in the near future the economy will not need very many humans to maintain it. So what to do with billions of redundant human beings? If people cannot obtain money through work, because no one needs them to work, how are they to obtain the money they need to survive? And how are corporations to continue maximising profit? For its many longstanding disciples (and perhaps some new converts in the corporatocracy), UBI is the obvious answer.

Mr Standing referred to a wonderful new world where people will no longer have to work, because machines will be doing everything, and these people will be getting all the money they need from UBI to do… absolutely nothing. He tried to sell to us the idea that idleness is actually a good thing. Whilst I don’t wholly disagree with that, there is a very important condition: idleness should be voluntary, not something imposed by circumstances; people locked up in solitary confinement, for example, are idle, but their condition is widely regarded as a type of torture. So what about those people who don’t want to be idle, people who love their work, or people who live on their own and like to go out to work for its social benefits as much as its monetary rewards?

There’s nothing to stop people working, the prophets of UBI claim, but they would now be able to pick and choose the work they do because they would no longer be reliant on an income. But who will employ them in a world where corporations no longer need human beings? They could do voluntary work, reply the UBIers, or study, or work for themselves. Nothing is said about the future role of the public sector.

In the brave new world of UBI it seems that society will be wholly controlled by the private sector – and particularly by large corporations. After all, a world without government has been the dream of the super-rich for at least half a century, as Nancy MacLean, for example, shows in her excellent book Democracy in Chains. In this world, corporations will supply every possible product or service, and no doubt the shareholders will profit very handsomely for doing so. In this world there would be no role for the state.

Such a world is perfectly feasible. Technically, it could exist and function. But is such a world really desirable for the planet in general, and the vast majority of human beings in particular?

For me, the single biggest problem with such a model is the loss of democratic control. In a world where unelected, unaccountable corporations rule – even more than they do already – the citizen would have absolutely no control of the direction of their country. One of the main indicators of this possibility is the loss of a role for state-run public services. The fact that Mr Standing, a leading global prophet of UBI, is rubbing shoulders with corporate royalty in places like Davos shows not only that the corporate business world is clearly taking an interest in UBI, but also that a well-known guru of UBI is perfectly happy to oblige them. Corporations have long been hostile to public services, whom they see as unacceptable competition, so why might the corporate world be interested in UBI?

Given that banking giants such as JP Morgan have long been involved with supplying and controlling food stamps in the US gives us a clue, I think. They do this not because they care about feeding hungry people, but because there’s a sizeable profit for them in doing so. The US government pays them very handsomely for providing this service. The state could do the job itself – and possibly much cheaper and more efficiently – but it abdicated the responsibility, together with any accountability, to investment banks.

Someone would have to administer and control UBI, if it was to be widely adopted. Who better than an investment bank with previous form in delivering an essential social service?

What’s in a name?

Mr Standing did make one point that I hadn’t considered before, and which made me think. He mentioned at one point, almost as an aside, that he wasn’t altogether happy with the label “Universal Basic Income”. It’s possible, he said, that a better name for it could be found. I think he might be right, together with a new and improved concept.

There can be no disputing the fact that human beings no longer need to work anywhere near as much in order to maintain the economy as they used to do two hundred years ago, say. It was widely claimed at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution that everyone would benefit from the advent of machines that were replacing human beings on the land and in factories, that everyone would have far more leisure time as a result. The same thing is being said again today about the advances in IT, robotics and AI. The claims for the social benefits of machinery two hundred years ago were, of course, bogus. As far as much of society was concerned, the effect was mass oppression, starvation, and a vast concentration of wealth into the hands of the super-rich. There’s absolutely no reason to think that today’s super-rich will behave any differently to their predecessors, and no reason to think today’s new technical wizardry will improve life for the 99% any more than the Industrial Revolution did for our predecessors.

For me, a state-run public sector should be the real backbone of the new world order. Work for human beings is essential. Real idleness, such as Mr Standing appears to recommend so highly, can often be seen in the young families of the super-rich. Some of these young people understand at a very early age that they will never have to lift a finger in order to feed or house themselves, that all they need do is have fun and enjoy themselves. Most of these people are utterly useless and, if suddenly required to fend for themselves, are just about incapable of doing so. In a world where every young person is able to be idle, where finding meaningful work if you want it is almost impossible because machines do almost everything, we could have a world largely composed of ignorant, useless, incompetent human beings.

About three miles from where I live is a small engineering firm that produces high-tech components for turbines. Most of its products are entirely made by machines controlled by human beings. It was recently noticed by the managers that if a machine broke down and some part had to be hand-tooled in the old fashioned way, almost no one could do it. There were only a few grey-haired grizzly faces with decades of relevant engineering skills who would be able to do the job. So the firm has started using the oldsters to train the youngsters in their traditional engineering skills – skills that are no longer taught. Some of the oldsters have actually retired, and don’t have to work, but love the opportunity to pass on their skills. The youngsters don’t currently need those skills on a daily basis, but the firm now aims to ensure that it always has a core of properly-skilled engineers, rather than just machine-minders.

So work is important. It’s increasingly less important for its traditional purpose of providing an income, but it’s still vitally important for providing a meaningful role for human beings, as well as satisfying a common human desire to do something useful, and or skillful.

There are basically two types of work: working in the private sector, or working in the public sector. Corporations mostly control the private sector, and given that their first duty is to maximise profit, they’re not interested in anything that limits their ability to do so – like employing unnecessary human beings, or paying for the education and training of those it does employ. In other words, it’s highly unlikely that corporations would provide the important societal functions, in sufficient numbers, that is already required and which will be even more necessary in the future. Only the public sector can do this. And only the public sector should do this.

A distinction needs to be made and clearly understood between necessary work and unnecessary work. Necessary work is that which provides food and water, for example, energy and communication services, healthcare, education, law and order, public maintenance services and public transport. Unnecessary work could include luxury embellishments of essential services, as well as manufacturing unnecessary products and providing unnecessary services. The private sector, properly regulated, could and should be free to make as much profit as it can from providing unnecessary goods and services. Provision of necessary goods and services must be left to the public sector.

The single most important reason for doing this is to ensure democratic control of essential goods and services. The 99% have absolutely no control of the transnational corporations that are increasingly ruling our lives. It is effectively a form of tyranny, fascism in all but name. The 1% have been slowly re-creating a society that last existed two hundred years ago: a society that only benefits the super-rich at the expense of the super-poor.

Democracy allows the people some control of the decision-makers who rule their lives. Although democracy is a much-tarnished concept in all but a few countries (such as Switzerland), it nevertheless provides a slight framework for allowing the 99% to rule their rulers. The erosion of democracy in favour of corporate tyranny, which has been steadily increasing since the end of World War Two, is making it harder and harder for people to control their own lives.

The public sector could and should create and provide work in delivering essential goods and services. Anyone who wants to work should always be able to find good paid employment working in public service. There could always be a multitude of good employment options working for the state. The corporate business world will never be able to do that, and shouldn’t be able to even if it could – because of the fact that the people have no control of corporations, and therefore no control of the type and quality of goods and services they provide.

So I have a suggestion for the new name that Mr Standing suggested he’s looking for: Alternative Income. Instead of a Universal Basic Income, I propose we need a Basic Universal Alternative – guaranteed useful work.

At the moment we have a system where many people can access state benefits only if they are willing and able to provide a form of slave labour. That repulses me as much as it may repulse Mr Standing. People are forced into this situation because decades of “austerity” economics have ravaged public services so that good and useful work is effectively unobtainable. It’s believed by many of its disciples that the main benefit of UBI is that people would no longer be forced into this situation. It’s a good and reasonable aim, but there is a better way.

Instead of just doling out money to people whether they need it or not, surely it’s better to first provide the option of doing useful, well-paid public service? If people choose not to do that for whatever reason, then by all means make some modest payment sufficient to meet their basic needs, rather than forcing them into the arms of capitalists. Call it Alternative Income (AI) – an alternative to working. But require that people apply for it, stating why they don’t want to work; and put a limit of six months on payments, by which time claimants would have to re-apply. This should not be means-tested, nor any limit imposed on how many times AI could be claimed.

If it’s suggested that there’s no problem financing a Universal Basic Income where no one needs to work for their money, as its disciples do, then clearly there would be no problem financing a vibrant public sector which could always find useful work for people to do.

There are very few people who choose to lead totally indolent lives, and very many who naturally aspire to lead useful lives that contribute to society. If people were properly educated, to see themselves as small parts of a greater society and temporary custodians of a precious fragile planet, instead of selfish and greedy exceptional beings, the goodness and humanity that’s naturally common to most people would be further encouraged to blossom. Only the public sector could provide an endless supply of such jobs. The private sector has no interest in doing so.

UBI/CI are worthy and workable schemes, but the interest the corporate business world appears to be taking in them should scare the life out of their disciples rather than reassure them. I don’t suggest UBI/CI should be scrapped, merely amended, because there’s a much better alternative – guaranteed, useful, well-paid work in public service, with a guaranteed Alternative Income available for those who don’t want to work.

Will Hamas-Fatah Reconciliation Deal Succeed?

The announcement of an Egypt-brokered reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas on Thursday raised hopes that a decade of bitter feuding between the rival Palestinian factions may finally come to an end.

The early conclusion of the talks in Cairo hinted at how much pressure both sides were under to make progress.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas hailed what he called a “declaration of the end to division”. He is expected to visit Gaza within the next month, for the first time since Hamas ousted Fatah from the enclave in 2007.

However, the two sides reached only a partial agreement, addressing civil and administrative matters. Far more contentious issues – such as national elections, reform of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the status of Hamas’ armed wing – were set aside for consideration at the next meeting in late November.

Ghassan Khatib, a former Palestinian Authority (PA) minister, said that after previous failed reconciliation efforts, the chances of success had been improved because both factions had accepted “a step-by-step approach”.

Rafah crossing to open

Most importantly, agreement was reached on allowing security forces under Abbas’ control to oversee the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt. Egypt has promised to end its closure of the crossing, allowing goods and people to pass through and alleviating the enclave’s humanitarian crisis.

Gaza’s police force will be rebuilt to include 3,000 PA officers, and Hamas officials in Gaza are to be integrated into PA ministries. The sanctions imposed by Abbas since the spring to tightly limit the entry of fuel, cutting Gaza’s electricity supplies to a few hours a day, will end.

“The price of this kind of reconciliation-lite is affordable, even for Israel,” Khatib told Al Jazeera. “As long as reconciliation deals only with humanitarian and environmental problems, and with the provision of services and the salaries of employees, it can succeed.

“But the moment it addresses major security and political matters, it will fail.”

Egypt’s role has proved crucial. Mouin Rabbani, a Palestinian analyst based in Jordan, said Cairo had exploited the humanitarian crisis in Gaza as leverage to resolve its own security concerns in Sinai. “Egypt wanted to deprive ISIS of the benefits of a safe haven in Gaza,” he told Al Jazeera.

In addition, Cairo feared that, if the crisis continued, it might lead to another round of fighting between Israel and Hamas, leaving Palestinians clamouring for entry into Sinai to escape the devastation. That risked shining a spotlight on Egyptian complicity with Israel in sustaining the siege of Gaza through its closure of the Rafah border crossing.

Boost to Trump deal

The US administration is reported to be eager to see the talks succeed too, as a way to sideline Hamas and improve the chances for President Donald Trump to sell his long-promised “ultimate” deal for peace. That is the one straw that Abbas, pursuing his diplomatic campaign for statehood, can still clutch at.

“Reconciliation is something everyone wants now,” Khatib said. “Abbas wants to extend his jurisdiction to Gaza. Hamas wants to be rid of the burden of the day-to-day governance of Gaza. The international donors want to be able to direct money into Gaza again.

“Even Israel has an interest in a solution to Gaza’s humanitarian problems. After all, Gaza’s untreated sewage ends up on Israeli beaches, too.”

But the wider issues of reconciliation are likely to prove harder to resolve.

Hundreds of PA officials from the occupied West Bank arrived in Gaza last week to start setting up a national consensus government.

This administration of technocrats is intended as a temporary measure until Palestinian elections can be arranged and a representative government installed. The issue of elections is expected to be dealt with in the next round of talks.

National elections

But it is hard to see how national elections can be conducted. It was Hamas’ upset election victory 11 years ago that led to a civil war with Fatah that cemented Gaza’s effective political and territorial separation from the West Bank.

Polls indicate that Abbas or any of his likely successors would lose the presidential election to Hamas leader Ismail Haniya. In addition, Fatah would suffer in Gaza, where its vote would be weakened by support for Mohammed Dahlan, Abbas’ rival who has been exiled to the United Arab Emirates. With the help of Egypt, Dahlan has been pumping Gulf money into Gaza to build his support base and challenge Abbas.

Abbas’ best hope may be that Hamas agrees not to contest the presidential election, as a way to avoid the responsibility of running Gaza again

Or, more likely, said Khatib, long-overdue elections will be deferred, and the current government of unelected technocrats allowed to continue in office.

Reconciliation ‘doomed’

Equally divisive is the question of whether or how to integrate Hamas into the institutions of the PLO. Hamas has in the past insisted that in return for sharing the governance of Gaza with Fatah, it expects to have a stake in a reformed PLO.

But including Hamas would be certain to undermine Abbas’ diplomatic strategy of seeking Palestinian statehood, Khatib said. Israel and the international community would be likely to withdraw their recognition of the PLO as the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people”.

“The danger is that each side knows reconciliation is doomed and is waiting this out in the hope that developments will provide them with an opportunity to blame the other side for failure,” Rabbani said.

Hamas’ armed wing

Another major hurdle is finding an arrangement for Hamas’ 25,000-strong security forces in Gaza. Abbas has said he expects Hamas’ military wing to be subordinate to the PA security services in Ramallah. In an interview with Egyptian TV last week, he called for “one state, one regime, one law and one weapon”.

Further, the Trump administration may insist on this provision. A statement last week from Jason Greenblatt, the White House’s envoy to the region, said the unity government would have to “explicitly commit to nonviolence”.

However, disarmament or limitations on Hamas’ military wing would almost certainly be a deal-breaker, especially given the PA’s long-standing “security coordination” with Israel.

Hamas has spent years building a sophisticated network of tunnels under Gaza that it believes were the key to its success in withstanding the onslaught from Israel in the 2014 war. It is difficult to imagine it giving up either the tunnels or its weapons.

Hamas’ popularity also depends on its commitment, sanctioned by international law, to armed resistance. To concede control over its military wing would be to strip the movement of its raison d’etre.

Nonetheless, there may be a path out of this apparent deadlock.

Egypt’s role

In response to Abbas’ statements, Haniya told Egyptian TV that, while the movement would never cede what he called “weapons of the resistance”, it would agree to joint decisions with Fatah about when and how they would be used.

Egypt is reported to have proposed the creation of a joint security council in Gaza. Its representatives would be split evenly between Hamas and Fatah, and consensus needed to sanction armed actions.

Crucially, Egypt would have oversight of the council, effectively giving it a casting vote if the two Palestinian factions could not agree.

A former Palestinian government minister, who wished not to be named, told Al Jazeera he expected Egyptian intelligence officials to directly supervise Gaza’s security forces. That would allow Cairo to monitor more closely connections between Salafist groups in Gaza and those in Sinai, which have been waging an insurgency against the Egyptian army.

But it is not clear whether Abbas will agree to relinquish his powers as supreme commander of the Palestinian security forces.

Elephant in room

Rabbani warned against ignoring “the elephant in the room”: Israel.

Palestinian and Egyptian sources reported that an Israeli delegation touched down in Cairo for a few hours on Tuesday, as the talks between Hamas and Fatah began.

If those reports are right, it confirms how vital Egypt considers Israel’s cooperation if reconciliation is to hold.

The last unity government, established in summer 2014, was short-lived. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced it from the outset as a “vote for terror”.

Weeks later, after three Jewish youths were kidnapped and killed in the occupied West Bank, Israel stepped up attacks on Gaza, culminating in a war that killed more than 1,500 civilians in the enclave. The fighting sounded the death knell for the unity government.

Israel readying for war

There are fears that Israel might try to engineer another confrontation to sabotage the reconciliation process.

“Statements from [Defence Minister Avigdor] Lieberman are that Israel is preparing for another war with [the Lebanese faction] Hezbollah,” said Rabbani. “But he has said that such a war can’t be contained to the northern border – it will include Hamas too.”

Gershon Baskin, a director of the Israel-Palestine Centre for Research and Information and one of the few Israelis to have regular contact with the Hamas leadership, said Netanyahu would be on the lookout for opportunities to damage the unity government.

“For sure, he is keen to create disruptions,” he told Al Jazeera. “He prefers that the West Bank and Gaza stay divided so that there is no pressure on him to negotiate. He can then say Abbas does not represent all Palestinians or have control over all Palestinian territory.”

Subversion by stealth

But Baskin also believes Netanyahu will be reluctant to make his opposition to the deal too explicit.

He noted that the Israeli army is also warning that the humanitarian crisis in Gaza risks triggering a new round of fighting with Hamas that would be better avoided.

Netanyahu will also not want to be seen to be openly defying the White House when Trump has publicly stated that he wants a regional peace framework in which Egypt is likely to play a key role.

Trump, it was recently reported, told Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-general, at a meeting last month that he considered Netanyahu the bigger obstacle to a peace deal.

And Netanyahu is likely to be wary of sabotaging too directly the handiwork of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi when the Egyptian president clearly regards Palestinian reconciliation as a pressing security interest for Egypt.

But Netanyahu will do his best to subvert the unity government by stealth, said Baskin.

Even before the reconciliation agreement was announced, Netanyahu had called on the unity government to disband Hamas’ military wing and for Hamas to cut its ties to Iran – conditions designed to strain Hamas-Fatah ties.

This week, in a reminder of how quickly a confrontation could escalate, Israel attacked Gaza to punish Hamas after a Salafist group fired a rocket into Israel after the arrest by Hamas of several of its members.

• First published in Al Jazeera

Wrongful Rhetoric and Trump’s Strategy on Iran

Mordechai Vanunu was imprisoned in Israel for eighteen years because he blew the whistle on Israel’s secret nuclear weapons program. He felt he had “an obligation to tell the people of Israel what was going on behind their backs” at a supposed nuclear research facility which was actually producing plutonium for nuclear weapons. His punishment for breaking the silence about Israel’s capacity to manufacture nuclear weapons included eleven years of solitary confinement.

Yesterday, reading about President Donald Trump’s new strategy on Iran, Vanunu’s long isolation and sacrificial commitment to truth-telling came to mind.

Donald Trump promised to “deny the Iranian regime all paths to a nuclear weapon.” But it is Israel, which possesses an estimated 80 nuclear warheads, with fissile material for up to 200, which poses the major nuclear threat in the region. And Israel is allied to the nation with the world’s largest nuclear arsenal: the United States.

Israel doesn’t acknowledge its nuclear arsenal publicly, nor does Israel allow weapons inspectors into its nuclear weapons facilities. Along with India and Pakistan, Israel refuses to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. And it has used conventional weapons in numerous destabilizing wars which include aerial bombing of Gaza, Lebanon and the West Bank.

Vanunu, designated by Daniel Ellsberg as the “the pre-eminent hero of the nuclear era,” helped many people envision nations in the region making progress toward a nuclear weapons-free Middle East.

In fact, Iran’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jawad Zarif, spoke eloquently about just that possibility, in 2015, holding that “if the Vienna deal is to mean anything, the whole of the Middle East must rid itself of weapons of mass destruction.” “Iran,” he added, “is prepared to work with the international community to achieve these goals, knowing full well that, along the way, it will probably run into many hurdles raised by the skeptics of peace and diplomacy.”

Significantly, since the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” pact with Iran was concluded in 2015, the International Atomic Energy Association has steadily verified Iran’s compliance with inspections. Iran has accepted around-the-clock supervision by IAEA officials. What’s more, “Iran has gotten rid of all of its highly enriched uranium,” according to Jessica Matthews, writing for the New York Review of Books. Matthews continues:

It has also eliminated 98 percent of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium, leaving only three hundred kilograms, less than the amount needed to fuel one weapon if taken to high enrichment. The number of centrifuges maintained for uranium enrichment is down from 19,000 to 6,000. The rest have been dismantled and put into storage under tight international monitoring. Continuing enrichment is limited to 3.67 percent, the accepted level for reactor fuel. All enrichment has been shut down at the once-secret, fortified, underground facility at Fordow, south of Tehran. Iran has disabled and poured concrete into the core of its plutonium reactor—thus shutting down the plutonium as well as the uranium route to nuclear weapons. It has provided adequate answers to the IAEA’s long-standing list of questions regarding past weapons-related activities.

What do the Iranians think of the U.S. government?  Ordinary Iranians might well think that whatever discontent they have with their own government the U.S. is their most implacable and most immediate enemy. Invective like Trump’s recent words could be a precursor of disastrous invasion.  Many Iranians remember the U.S.-backed coup that ended their democracy in 1953, and they remember the fierce U.S. support given to Saddam Hussein in the brutal eight years of the Iran-Iraq war.

Noam Chomsky rightly names the U.S. Shock and Awe attack against Iraq as the greatest destabilizing force at work in the Middle East. “Thanks to that invasion,” writes Chomsky, “hundreds of thousands were killed and millions of refugees generated, barbarous acts of torture were committed — Iraqis have compared the destruction to the Mongol invasion of the thirteenth century — leaving Iraq the unhappiest country in the world according to WIN/Gallup polls. Meanwhile, sectarian conflict was ignited, tearing the region to shreds and laying the basis for the creation of the monstrosity that is ISIS. And all of that is called ‘stabilization.’”

Trump’s record of statements and of cabinet appointments suggests that regime change in Iran is a long-term goal.

Despite massive involvement in funding and fomenting terrorism on the part of Saudi Arabia, Trump’s evolving strategy for the Middle East strangely emphasizes Iranian impacts on the region, particularly regarding the conflict in Yemen.

Yemen is entering conflict-driven famine, with a correspondingly lethal cholera outbreak, making it the worst of the region’s “Four Famines,” now widely recognized as collectively the worst starvation crisis in the 72-year history of the United Nations. “In Yemen,” says Trump, “the IRGC, (the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp), has attempted to use the Houthis as puppets to hide Iran’s role in using sophisticated missiles and explosive boats to attack innocent civilians in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as to restrict freedom of navigation in the Red Sea.” It is Saudi Arabia and its UAE ally, with crucial U.S. backing, that have been intensely bombing Yemen since 2015 and maintaining a punishing Red Sea blockade against shipments often vital to famine relief. “The Saudi-led coalition’s ships are preventing essential supplies from entering Yemen,” according to an October 11, 2017 Reuters report. The report goes on to assess the dire consequences, for Yemen, caused by blocking and delaying ships carrying food and medicine. It documents many cases in which vessels were thoroughly searched, certified not to be carrying weapons, and still not allowed to enter Yemen.

In a time when 20 million people face starvation, it’s particularly obscene for any country to pour resources into nuclear weaponry. Mordechai Vanunu took extraordinary risks and endured incredible suffering to rescue the human species from the foolhardiness of building and maintaining nuclear arsenals. I wonder if people worldwide can rise to a level of courage and seriousness needed to simply recognize, and then, where possible, act in response to the world’s real threats. Within the U.S., can several decades of U.S. government bipartisan lying about Iran be overcome with saner, more humane narratives? Can the threat of U.S. invasion be lifted long enough to allow Iran’s people a window for once again considering democratic reforms? Silence about these issues seems ominous. But silence can be broken.

We have Vanunu’s courageous example. Let’s not waste the precious time we have in which to follow it.

Breaking the Blockade against Cuba: Interview with Claudia Camba

Cuba is the model of what can be achieved. Imagine how much more it could do without the economical and media blockade!”. These are the words of Claudia Camba, president of the UMMEP Foundation (“Un Mundo Mejor Es Posible”, “A better world is possible”) and coordinator of the Cuban missions in Argentina. In this exclusive Investig’Action interview, she tells us about Cuban solidarity in Argentina and Latin America, and specially about Operación Milagro (“Operation Miracle”) and the Dr. Ernesto “Che” Guevara ophthalmologic centre in Córdoba

*****

Ricardo Vaz: Can you tell us a bit of the history of Operación Milagro (“Operation Miracle”)?

Claudia Camba: Operación Milagro was borne out of another great Cuban internationalist mission, which was the literacy program “Yo Sí Puedo” (“Yes I can”), and more concretely in Venezuela, where this literacy program was called “Misión Robinson”. The Venezuelans, through this program, had the goal of teaching 1 million people how to read and write in six months. Throughout this time they had some major successes as well as big difficulties, and one of them was the participants’ vision. Almost all the illiterate taking part in this program were adults with vision problems.

To overcome this Cuba sent 1500 optometrists, to test the peoples’ vision and give them glasses. But even with glasses some people could not see, and after an examination it turned out that they had cataracts. That is how “Misión Milagro”, which initially was just between Venezuela and Cuba, was born. With this mission over 300.000 Venezuelans travelled to Cuba to have surgery, not only for cataracts but also for other eye problems.

RV: And this mission is later extended to Argentina?

CC: Later on, in 2005, Hugo Chávez and Fidel Castro begin to wonder: why not extend this mission to the whole of Latin America? Our organisation, UMMEP (“Un Mundo Mejor Es Posible”, “A better world is possible”), had been conducting the “Yo Sí Puedo” literacy program in Argentina, and we were approached by Cuba about the possibility of articulating ourselves with “Operación Milagro”. For us it was an honour to accept this cooperation.

In the beginning the mission involved sending Argentinian patients to be operated in Cuba. The first airplane with Argentinian patients left at the time of the “Summit of the Peoples”, in November 2005. This summit was created to counter the Summit of the Americas in Mar del Plata. Bush was coming to set up the ALCA free trade agreement and many Latin American presidents, with this newfound unity that had been forming, were prepared to strike a blow against Bush and the empire. One part of it was burying ALCA, and another was creating ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas), from the initiative of Venezuela and Cuba, in Argentina. That is why it was so symbolic that on that very day the first Argentinian patients left for Cuba.

RV: And what about the “Che Guevara” hospital in Córdoba, when does it appear?

CC: This initial version of Operación Milagro lasted around 6 months. It was ridden with difficulties, because as you can imagine, we were dealing with very humble people that did not have passports, had never left the country, some did not even know the neighbouring town. Argentina is a very big country, and to fly out of Buenos Aires you sometimes need to travel 2000 km to reach the airport. So the matter of passports and travels was very difficult.

Hugo Chávez and Fidel Castro (Photo: Granma)

But in January 2006 Evo Morales triumphed in Bolivia, and declared that Bolivia was to join the ALBA agreements. Then Cuba replied that, under these agreements, hospitals would be built in Bolivia. We sent a letter to Fidel Castro proposing that, if this went ahead, then Argentinian patients could be operated in Bolivia. Being a neighbouring country, passports were not needed and a national ID document was enough. And that is how this began, this epic journey which involved Fidel, Evo and Chávez, through which 13 hospitals were built, 2 of them dedicated to patients from Argentina. Over 30.000 people from Argentina were operated in Bolivia.

A few years later, the following idea appeared, again from Cuba: given all our experience, with thousands of surgeries and plenty of doctors who did the pre- and post-surgical work in Argentina, why not gather these doctors and set up our own hospital in Argentina? This would have Cuba’s support, but not a Cuban medical team, because in Argentina the Cuban doctors’ degrees are not recognised. (This is absurd, since we are talking about the country with the highest development in terms of healthcare in Latin America and the Caribbean!).

With this idea in mind, we searched for a location, Cuba donated all the equipment and we inaugurated the Ernesto “Che” Guevara hospital on October 8, 2009, at first in a temporary location that was loaned to us. We started there and operated more than 7000 patients in that hospital. Two years ago we had the good fortune of being able to move to our own building, which has the advantage that it can be extended in the future, to make room for a university, lodging for patients. The campaign we are launching has to do with that.

RV: You have mentioned the relation between Operación Milagro and the literacy program “Yo Sí Puedo“. But how is it connected to another major component of Cuban internationalism, which is the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM)?

CC: The establishment of the mission in Argentina is deeply connected to ELAM and to the first Argentinian graduates from the school. Not in the stage where patients were being flown to Cuba but in the Bolivian stage. In this stage, when Fidel proposed setting up hospitals, he also urged that the first 50 Argentine graduates from ELAM be called to work in this mission. This was a very important task, because they did not have their medical degrees recognised in Argentina. Fidel was very worried, especially about their morale, since they had been trained to save lives and were barred from doing it. They were not able to practice medicine in Argentina, but they could do it in Bolivia. This would help their self-esteem since their situation was incredibly unfair.

Many of these doctors had been in Venezuela and founded, after a suggestion from Chávez, the so-called “batallón 51”. Seven of them joined us. Other doctors joined us later, and there was also the possibility of giving them scholarships to get specialty training in Cuba. This is the case of our current director, Lucía Coronel, who studied epidemiology. Besides her there are three general practitioners from the ELAM, an anaesthesiologist and an ophthalmologist. These are the ELAM graduates currently working with us in Operación Milagro. The other doctors are graduates from the universities in Córdoba. It is also interesting to witness how both groups come together, exchange ideas, make each other better, it is wonderful.

Operación Milagro has allowed 50.000 Argentinians to regain their vision free of charge (Photo: Operación Milagro)

RV: Is there resistance from the Argentinian medical corporations to these Cuban-trained doctors? After all, they are taking away a potentially lucrative business!

CC: That is true. The pressure against us, if we look at it, we do not feel it will come from the government. Because we are solving a problem for the government, it is not in their interest to attack us. Those who seem to be getting emboldened, with the capitalists and the right-wing back in power, are the medical corporations. This is what is happening in Argentina. Now, what might happen? Throughout the years, they have pressured doctors not to join us. They never managed to do that with the Cuban-trained ones, of course. They tried to denigrate them, but the people love them, they are where they are supposed to be.

In our case, if the medical establishment attacks us I think it would backfire. Because imagine a hospital where every day people arrive from different parts of Argentina, especially from around Córdoba. If, suppose, they attacked us and we had to close (which will not happen because it is not possible), they will have their waiting rooms full of poor people. What we have been figuring out through the years is that the large waiting lists in the hospitals have worked to increase the prices of surgeries in the private sector, prices that may reach 20.000 or even 30.000 pesos (between 1000 and 1500€). The very doctors that are in the public hospitals many times also run private practices. So it might be in their interest to have large waiting lists, it is a matter of supply and demand using blind people to regulate the market. But at the same time these corporations have no intention of operating on anyone for free.

It is important to stress that this hospital is a hospital of the people. In other words, the people will defend it. But, of course, the corporations have their own interests, which is why we are struggling for socialism.

RV: Going back to a more concrete topic, how does the hospital run? In terms of funding, medicines, etc…

CC: The hospital runs thanks to the solidarity of Cuba. Essentially, up until now, the Cuban ministry of health donates every year the necessary medicines and supplies for the hospital to run, through the institution that manages medical services abroad. This is a lot of money. And when we were having financial troubles Cuba also helped us so we could keep going. Beyond that, we also get funds from donations. Some people do it through the internet, others leave it in a box we have in the hospital. Other countries have also offered their solidarity. For example, the Juntas Generales de Guipúzcoa, from the Basque Country, donated money for 3 years to buy a laser equipment, as well as medicines and supplies. Some laboratories also donate medicines and supplies and that is how we keep going. Trade unions and social movements also offer their contributions.

Claudia Camba participated in the XIV Spain Solidarity Meeting with Cuba, which took place in Bilbao from 9-11 June 2017 (Photo: Cubainformación)

RV: People sometimes do not understand, especially western people, that a country like Cuba that has its fair share of difficulties, maintains these solidarity programs…

CC: The key is to understand the difference between solidarity and charity. Solidarity means sharing what we have, and charity is giving away whatever is left. Not only that, solidarity will never bind anyone, or be a mechanism to colonise, or demand something in return, rather it will complement the existing knowledge. This is why Cuba has always sought to have sustainable hospitals and why we are also planning to set up a medical school, so that solidarity can keep multiplying beyond Cuba. In practice the hospital is Argentinian, there is only a Cuban doctor that works as a consultant, and then there are 15 Argentinian doctors. In other words, this goal of sustainability has been achieved.

Other than that there is the difference between two systems. It is hard to grasp it if we are looking from a capitalist perspective. This is like the tourist that goes to Cuba and evaluates everything with a capitalist mindset. Now, whoever understands that socialism is meant to place people front and centre, and not capital, will understand this. And on the other hand, if we want to talk about poverty, there are plenty of poor people in Argentina, as well as problems of children living in the streets, eating from rubbish bins, as well as child prostitution. In Cuba you will not find a child suffering from malnutrition, or sleeping in the street. Unicef recognised Cuba as the only Latin American country without childhood malnutrition. It is the country with the largest life expectancy and the lowest child mortality rate in Latin America and the Caribbean. Does every Cuban have a car? Surely not, but that is also not the case in Argentina. This is what I mean. Poverty can mean different things from a capitalist or a socialist perspective.

RV: Now turning to the “Súmate” campaign (“Join Us”), what are its goals?

CC: In our current hospital building we have the possibility of constructing two more floors on top. The idea is to start by building an area to lodge patients that come from the countryside. People come and sometimes have no place to stay, they have surgery and end up sleeping in the bus terminal. This is unthinkable, it is illogical, a health hazard for the person. So we are planning to build this not only for the people in the countryside nearby, but also to coordinate with other provinces further away, so that people can come in an organised fashion, have surgery, stay here, then return to their houses and have a doctor do a post-surgery check. This is the idea to begin with.

The second step is to create an auditorium for lectures, so that we can bring specialists from around the world to share their experiences with Argentinian doctors about everything that has to do with public healthcare. We want to strengthen public health system. And the accommodation will also work for them, because in the cities there is access to this kind of training, but not so much in the countryside. That means that they can never operate on patients because they have no way of receiving training, and we think that is something that we can help with.

The “Súmate” campaign in front of the Dr. Ernesto “Che” Guevara ophthalmologic centre in Córdoba (Photo: Operación Milagro)

RV: As far as I understand, the work involves more than just receiving patients. There is also outreach work to find patients?

CC: Indeed. The program is built on a premise from the beginning, which is called “active search” (“pesquisa activa”). Fidel, for example, talked about this when he was in Córdoba and gave a speech at the university. The point is that we do not simply wait for people to find us. Although we do have open consultations, on weekends the doctors go out, thanks to a network that social organisations set up in their neighbourhoods, and perform this active search. So the doctor goes there because there is something going on with peoples’ vision, and those that have a problem that we are able to deal with are forwarded to the hospital. This way we are breaking some of the biggest barriers in ophthalmology, which are geographical, informational or communicational. There are people who believe their problems have no solution! Especially older people. But blindness due to cataracts is reversible, so we need to go out and find them. This is what our doctors do.

RV: One last question: the blockade against Cuba also manifests itself through the media. This makes it so that nothing is said about Cuban internationalism and solidarity. Why do you think this is so? Why is it so dangerous for people to find out what Cuba is doing?

CC: Because it would reveal the humanism of socialism. Because it would reveal what a country that has been under a blockade for more than 50 years has been able to achieve. This is similar to the demonisation of Venezuela, omitting all that Venezuela has been doing around the world. For example, the PetroCaribe program in the Caribbean, or its response after the earthquake in Haiti. Venezuela also helped us in a lot of programs, with Cuba often providing the human resources and Venezuela the financial ones. All this solidarity is never heard of.

Even more so concerning Cuba, because Cuba is the model of what can be achieved. Imagine how much more it could do without the economical and media blockade! It is our task to break the blockade. And we, Argentinians involved in solidarity with Cuba, feel that these missions are a way to breach the blockade bit by bit. Every time we get to a poor neighbourhood the people are made aware of Cuba, they are introduced to this very small island called Cuba that is big when it comes to solidarity. And that is how they get to know for the first time what Cuba is all about.

More information is available at the Operación Milagro and Súmate websites. Donations, in Argentinian pesos (1€ ~ 20 Argentinian pesos) can be done here. (If anyone is interested in a higher quality version of the video above please write to ricardo.vaz [at] investigaction.net)

• First published in Investig’Action