The Coalition of the US Justice Department and GE against Alstom

France doesn’t know it, but we are at war with the US. … Yes, the Americans are hard-nosed, they are voracious, they want unilateral global dominance. It is an unknown war, an ongoing war, with no apparent deaths and yet a war to the death.

François Mitterand

A Frenchman called Frédéric Pierucci, with co-author journalist Matthieu Aron, has recently published a book titled Le Piège Américain (The American Trap).

It is a real thriller, with a not very happy ending. There are no dead bodies, albeit there is a significant corporate murder. But before the resolution comes the nightmare.

A Frenchman savors the pleasure of American incarceration

On 14 April 2013, Pierucci is arrested at JFK airport after an exhausting flight from his home in Singapore. Immediately chained, he is herded to FBI headquarters in Manhattan, where he is grilled by an arrogant youngish prosecutor named David Novick. This first encounter will reflect standard practice – nobody is interested in what Pierucci has to say. He is already guilty, though of exactly what will vary at prosecutorial discretion.

Pierucci is soon carted off, in chains, to the high security prison Wyatt in Rhode Island. On 12 June 2014, fourteen months later, he is finally released on bail. But what is his crime?

Pierucci was then head of a subdivision of Alstom Power. Alstom, and its previous incarnations, was a French industrial flagship in (amongst other domains) power generating equipment and in transport.

In 2003, Alstom tendered to build an electricity power plant on Sumatra. The job was relatively small scale as power plants go. However, Alstom had targeted a success on this contract as symbolic because it was then in trouble. In 2000, Alstom acquired the gas turbine assets of its then joint venture partner ABB, but ABB’s flawed equipment proved a financial disaster for Alstom, with debilitating consequences.

For the Indonesian bid, Alstom had arguably a superior design. But a US company became the favored bidder, rumored to be the product of a bribe. In any case, Indonesia in the Suharto era was seen as natural American territory. In response, Alstom found another intermediary ‘consultant’ and it subsequently won the contract in 2004. Pierucci, then US-based during 1999-2006, knew of the initial Indonesian bid, explicitly refused to sanction a bribe via the first intermediary but knew nothing of the bribe that clinched the deal. That bribe was the hook by which Pierucci was arrested and imprisoned in 2013.

The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act

The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) was passed in 1977 under the Carter Presidency. In the process of post-Watergate investigations of Nixon-era corruption, the authorities discover a widespread practice of US companies bribing foreign officials to obtain state-funded contracts. American companies fought back, claiming that the law will severely disadvantage American companies while non-American companies carry on the practice.

The asymmetry could not be permitted to prevail. The FCPA was applied only rarely during 1977-2001, and then predominantly against second rung companies. The US pressured the OECD to develop a comparable anti-bribery convention covering all member countries (in effect, enforceable from the US) – a convention established in 1997, formally effective 1999. The French government ratified the convention in September 2000.

But the big changes occurred domestically. In 1998, Congress gives the FCPA extra-territoriality, extending its reach to foreign corporations. After 2003, the Clinton administration decided to employ the full resources of the American state, unparalleled elsewhere, to support American companies in their global competition against other companies. The previous presumed asymmetry would be reversed to operate in American corporations’ favor. That ‘toolkit’ was dramatically enhanced with Clinton’s inheritance of the post-911 construction of a comprehensive intelligence operation. Henceforth all commercial secrets were fair game.

Alstom and other companies declined to confront the implications of the new regime. Such companies, with ‘respectable’ consulting firms offering advice, set up schemes to dissimulate compliance. Alstom’s denial was cemented when Patrick Kron was brought in to repair the ABB-linked problems, becoming PDG (combines CEO & Board Chairman roles, common in French companies) of Alstom in early 2003.

Alstom’s then legal officer Fred Einbinder (American-born) advised Kron to get with the times, but Einbinder was pushed aside in 2010 and his job taken by Keith Carr. Carr told Pierucci shortly before the latter’s 2013 trip to the US that if anything happened Pierucci should contact him. Pierucci did not know then the meaning of that cryptic message, and Carr would prove to be no help at all.

American justice and its centers of correction

In Pierucci’s book there are ancillary descriptions and lessons regarding the American ‘justice’ system and the American prison system.

On the justice system, Pierucci’s fate is in the hands of Department of Justice prosecutors David Novick and his immediate boss Daniel Kahn. Everything is manipulated.

Pierucci is regularly carted off, preliminary body search, in an armored vehicle, in chains, to New Haven three hours away, for a brief hearing before judge Joan Margolis. Ten charges (over a 72-page dossier) are laid that could sum to a sentence of one hundred and twenty-five years. Margolis kowtows to the vindictive Novick, who demands continued imprisonment because there is no extradition treaty with France, claiming that the serious charges are worthy of life imprisonment. Pierucci is returned to Wyatt with no progress. Pierucci is a pawn in Justice’s pursuit of Alstom.

Pierucci obtains one lawyer, then two, initially at Alstom’s expense. These urge Pierucci to play by the rules. The rules dictate that one confesses to ‘the crime’ in the hope of being handed a lesser sentence. Pierucci’s guilt is foreordained, although the details of his crime are fashioned pragmatically and are altered on the hop. It is a Kafkaesque environment, an adjective employed accurately by Pierucci in the book.

His lawyers early suggest that $100,000 might suffice to obtain bail; then they come back to ask him how much resources he commands. The answer is, nominally $400,000 maximum, to which the lawyers reply – hm, that isn’t going to be enough. Later, the judge demands $1 million from Alstom and $400,000 from Pierucci himself. The sum will be later increased.

Meanwhile, daily life in Wyatt is grim. Being the only white collar professional detainee in the place, he writes an account as inmate that adds to previous exposés of the US prison system. There is the predictable deprivation of liberties, the heady dose of gratuitous humiliation and dehumanization. All personal possessions are immediately confiscated, including the wedding ring. Access to natural light and air is a luxury. Connection with the outside world is tightly restricted. Being a privately-operated profit-driven prison, inmates have to pay for everything, the pricing to the captive consumer being exorbitant. The food is execrable. For a time, his only reading matter allowed is the prison rulebook.

Early on, Pierucci receives calls from Tim Curran, head of Alstom Power (US), and Keith Carr, legal officer, that negotiations are occurring with the Justice Department and he will be freed overnight. Carr himself had travelled to the US to meet Justice Department official merely a day after Pierucci’s arrest, but the key man condoning Alstom’s subterfuge had been allowed to jet off back home.

Pierucci needs documents from Alstom that would prove his innocence with respect to the Indonesian affair, but Alstom could not provide such documents without instead implicating senior executives in facilitating and covering up the affair.

Alstom offered no support to its incarcerated senior employee, save for paying the lawyer bills for a time – with the demand that if Pierucci is found guilty he will have to pay back the legal expenses. Early on, Alstom cuts off all his firm-based connections – phone, email, etc. After 21 years’ service he becomes a non-person.

Worse, the French government was also silent. Only one official, a Boston-based consulate employee, offered emotional support.

Pierucci was thus abandoned, facing an intolerable daily prison regimen, and malevolent prosecutors fronting, with complicit useless lawyers, a judicial system without honor. The barbarous treatment of whistleblower Chelsea Manning is prime testament to the subordination of American justice to the machinations of power.

On 29 July 2013, under instructions from his lawyers, Pierucci pleaded ‘guilty’ to being complicit, with his ‘co-conspirators’, in the Indonesian contract bribe. Things get worse rather than offering relief. The prosecution takes the plea literally, while knowing otherwise. Pierucci is being held as hostage to up the ante on Alstom.

Alstom, also taking the plea literally while knowing otherwise, abandons Pierucci completely by ceasing to fund his lawyers. No-one in Alstom dares to go near him, or near family members seeking means of redress. In September, Alstom sacks Pierucci for not being present to do his job. More:

Your admission of guilt … carries an undeniable prejudice to Alstom’s global image. In effect the nature of your acts, strictly contrary to the policies and values of the Alstom Group … [etc.]

The Department of Justice had been pursuing Alstom aggressively since 2010. Some foreign companies subject to the same pursuit came to the party early and were repaid with lesser fines attributed. Alstom, under Kron’s management, declined to do so – thus Pierucci’s ongoing imprisonment. Several other Alstom executives were also arrested, but Pierucci’s fate was then made to hinge on how these other executives responded to charges against them. One, being American, was bailed and in no hurry to come to the party.

Gradually, in prison, Pierucci gains ‘right’ of access to outside materials, and family and friends oblige. Pierucci devotes himself fulltime to the study of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and its operations. He discovers that the FCPA has been applied selectively. The FCPA has become an integral arm of foreign economic policy.

Penalties explode after 2008. An appendix in the book lists the 26 companies (to 2018) for which a fine over $100 million has been applied. Five are US-based (KBR/Halliburton, Och-Ziff Capital Management, JP Morgan Chase and Avon Products), and twenty-one are foreign. Of the total of fines inflicted ($8,872,000) on this group, 20 per cent applied to the American corporations, 60 per cent applied to European companies and 20 percent to others. The American defense and energy giants, etc., are not on the list. And even amongst foreign corporations, the pursuit is selective – those in collaboration with US corporations are overlooked.

General Electric in the wings

Let’s cut to the chase. Alstom was being pursued not merely because it is competitive with US giants like General Electric, but also because GE wants its assets and attendant skills and order book. The pursuit of Alstom was a joint Justice Department / GE endeavor.

Alstom would become the fifth company that GE bought with Justice Department leverage. That GE was chock full of ex-Justice Department staff facilitated the joint venture. Justice and GE would mutually determine the timing of the takeover of Alstom Energy (the bulk of the Alstom group) and of the attribution of the fine.

In late 2016 I documented in detail the pursuit and ultimate absorption by GE of Alstom Energy (‘Behind GE’s Takeover of Alstom Energy’), drawing considerably on Jean-Michel Quatrepoint’s 2015 Alstom: scandale d’État. Pierucci’s insider account complements the story.

On 19 December 2014 the Alstom AGM legitimizes the takeover that had been determined at high level in June. The same day, Alstom finally pleads guilty to the charges. GE already knows the scale of the fine and can thus fix the purchase price. A mere three days later, the Justice Department throws a press conference with full fanfare. Deputy Prosecutor General James Cole orates, in front of an immense American flag:

We are here to include in in a historic decision that marks the culmination of a decade of corruption on an international scale. A system of corruption has been put in place and then concealed by a French multinational enterprise: Alstom. … Such an unbridled and blatant offense demands a strong response from the law. [etc.]

The purchase had been agreed between the GE CEO and Alstom PDG in June 2014. Why then did the Justice Department wait another six months to orchestrate the fine? Essentially Kron had to be kept in charge until the AGM legitimized the deal.

Kron, who had overseen the corrupt practices, is granted at the AGM a €4 million bonus for orchestrating so deftly the sale of Alstom Energy to GE. Pierucci estimates that Kron finally left Alstom with more than €12 million in gratuitous handouts.

The Justice Department had, in its charges, pursued Alstom for graft in only five countries, whereas it had information implicating Alstom elsewhere. The point? The pursuit was less about the pursuit of guilty parties but more about the control of Alstom.

And Pierucci? At the Justice Dept conference on 22 December 2014, Attorney General Leslie Caldwell incidentally admits that Pierucci (and several others) had been held hostage to force Alstom to cooperate with Justice’s pursuit.

For this masterly process of legal legerdemain prosecutors David Novick and Daniel Kahn received promotions. Kahn’s brief biography on his Harvard website has his career as embodying the utmost moral probity, a dogged champion of worthy causes. The site notes that he was recipient of an ‘Assistant Attorney General’s Award for Exceptional Service for his work on the prosecution of Alstom S.A. and its executives’. Omitted is any reference to the entirely corrupt procedure by which Alstom was pursued in the interests of GE, and for which Pierucci became a sacrificial lamb.

The takeover still needed approval from Brussels regarding its competition impact, which gives the green light (with minor demands) in September 2015. The sale is finally concluded in November 2015. Peculiarly, several days later, Judge Janet Bond Arterton approves Alstom’s guilty plea, eleven months after the plea and fine had been negotiated. The entire American legal system is in on the act.

Pierucci has a second sojourn in the clink

Pierucci was present at the 19 December AGM, seating himself prominently but being studiously ignored from the podium. Given bail in June 2014 on the strength of surety from two supporters, he has a forced stay in the US for several months then is allowed to return to France and to his family. For three years he lives as a dangling man, unemployable.

In September 2017 Pierucci must forcibly return to the US to be finally charged (4 ½ years after his arrest. New charges, false, are belatedly added. On the 25th, he is before federal judge Arterton (the same). He is not interrogated but lectured on his deep moral culpability and failings. Totting up all the points associated with his crimes, and allowing for no criminal record, the learned judge places the range of his possible sentence at between 262 to 327 months (à la 21 to 27 years)! Pierucci was expecting, his useless lawyer advising, no further imprisonment. Consistent with the arbitrariness of it all, to teach the morally deficient Pierucci and others a lesson, Arderton hands down a sentence of 30 months. With good behavior in Wyatt, the sentence is reduced to 12 months.

In October, Pierucci takes a taxi to imprisonment in another private prison, this time the GEO-owned Moshannon Valley Correction Center in central Pennsylvania. More institutionalized brutality, penny pinching and slave labor, but at least there’s a library. He pushes to be transferred to France, without success.

On 10 September 2018, Pierucci is chained hands and feet and subject to prison stops (a regular sadistic practice labelled ‘diesel therapy’) over three days, and then an 8-day stint in Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Correctional Center (the ‘Guantanamo of New York’), the same place where he began his American incarceration 5 ½ years previously. He is given no clothes and has no money. Hygiene is deplorable, leaking water everywhere, nothing works, mice infestation. Drug lord El Chapo is a resident at the same time, adding to the clamor. On 21 September, chained hands and feet again, he is finally put on a plane for France. Briefly imprisoned, a judge gives him conditional liberty on the 25th – 25 months in prison, 15 in high security, a patsy for other’s wrongdoing.

Some French confront the catastrophe, others not

In the meantime, a cross-Party handful of Deputies became hot under the collar over not merely the breakup of a major French industrial flagship, but the farcical manner in which the takeover had proceeded. They established an inquest in the National Assembly, beginning March 2015, before which Kron repeated the lie that the Alstom group lacked the scale to compete and denied a Deputy’s accusation, self-evident, that his key role in pursuing and facilitating the GE takeover was due to Justice’s threat over Alstom and him personally. Kron remained unrepentant regarding his actions and subsequently sailed off into the sunset with his loot.

Pierucci notes that the inquest elicited information on the handmaidens to the judicial and takeover process. Both GE and Alstom employed armies of law firms, banks and PR firms, with the Alstom disbursements disclosed as summing to a staggering €262 million.

During the entire episode, Emmanuel Macron – successively President Hollande’s economic adviser at the Élysée, Hollande’s Economy Minister and then himself President – looked the other way. Macron abjectly defends the takeover in May 2015. As President, Macron has been too busy privatizing everything that moves, presiding over a ‘wind-down nation’ rather than the ‘start-up nation’ that he promised the electorate.

Immediately after the judicially accepted Alstom guilty plea in November 2015, GE goes into overdrive. It announces a global restructuring with 10,000 employees to be sacked. Its promises of substantial employment generation in France itself are hollow. It breaks its commitment to selling its transport subsidiary to Alstom Transport. Most particularly, it ups the price on the maintenance of EDF’s electricity-generating nuclear reactors, which crucial service Alstom Energy had previously performed. Blackmail at the heart of the national interest.

Ironically, the takeover of Alstom Energy has proved to be not the trophy that GE expected. Ha ha ha! But GE always has state support and tax evasion on a massive scale to sustain it. GE is an arm of the state and the state is an arm of GE.

The big picture

The story of the GE Alstom takeover has broader implications. The affair is not an aberration but symptomatic of how global competition is played out. The US, with the greatest arsenal, is the most brutal player. China is now upping the ante (as with its rejection of Australian coal over Australia playing the usual lackey to the US). China’s Belt & Road Initiative is a grander and more sophisticated exemplar. Europe remains a babe in the woods regarding how the game is played.

Canada’s arrest in January 2019 of Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer, is utterly representative of the game. Huawei is a threat not primarily because it provides a backdoor to Chinese state snooping (the US IT companies already provide a template) but because its 5G structure is technologically superior.

Japan arrested and imprisoned Renault-Nissan’s Carlos Ghosn (PDG and Board Chairman respectively) in November 2018. Ghosn has been a prince amongst executives, treating himself and kindred to lavish emoluments, so the fall has been spectacular. The Japanese authorities have accused him of appropriating Nissan corporate funds for personal ends. The authorities may very well have cause, but the affair goes beyond a personal cooking of the books. It is a matter of Japan, long familiar with and practiced at state-corporate global economic assertiveness, attempting to recover Nissan from the suzerainty previously exercised by Renault and Ghosn at its helm.

Meanwhile the economics profession is still prattling on about the benefits of ‘competition’ and ‘free trade’ – all in the abstract. The preposterous notion of ‘comparative advantage’ still lurks in the litany. In the interests of enlightenment of tertiary-trained generations, it would be desirable to pension off those specialists in fairy tales, consign their syllabuses to the scrap heap, and replace them with experts who understand how the global economic game is really played.

Identity Politics and the Politics of Identity

A state, is called the coldest of all cold monsters. Coldly lieth it also; and this lie creepeth from its mouth: “I, the state, am the people.

— Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

A constant cry from the far right on the subject of immigration usually contains the sentiment that “they” need to come here legally and when “they” come “they” need to learn English, suppress their culture of origin and become American. It is not a new sentiment but rather a question that has been asked in one form or another for over two centuries; what is American, what defines the identity of its citizenry?

As imperial America grew and expanded in the nineteenth century and cast it eyes and efforts towards the annexation of Mexico the great southern intellect and orator John C. Calhoun rose in the US Congress to address this very issue of what exactly comprised the American character and identity.

The next reason assigned is, that either holding Mexico as a province, or incorporating her into the Union, would be unprecedented by any example in our history.  We have conquered many of the neighboring tribes of Indians, but we have never thought of holding them in subjection, or of incorporating them into our Union.  They have been left as an independent people in the midst of us, or have been driven back into the forests.  Nor have we ever incorporated into the Union any but the Caucasian race.  To incorporate Mexico, would be the first departure of the kind; for more than half of its population are pure Indians, and by far the larger portion of the residue mixed blood.  I protest against the incorporation of such a people.  Ours is the Government of the white man.

— John C. Calhoun, speech on Mexico (January 4, 1848)

Here, in the early 21st century, so many suffer from an ahistorical perspective and fail to understand that the issues that divide and inflame us are not recent revelations but rather the cumulative results of centuries of injustice. The entrenched battle lines over the issues of race and identity that dominate today’s headlines are a continuation of a struggle that has at last reached its endgame.

Consider a recent tweet by the writer Josh Jordan claiming that newly elected Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was, according to a Gallup Poll, “underwater with every demographic group other than women, minorities and younger voters.” By implication what Mr. Jordan is telling us is that older white males are “every demographic group” or at least the only important one. Would it be too much of a stretch to see the continuity of thought between Mr. Jordan and Mr. Calhoun?

Despite the protestations to the contrary there still remains a virulent strain of white supremacy permeating the fabric of American society. Though not always a demographic reality the political power structure of the United States has always propagated rule by a white, Anglo-Saxon, predominantly male elite. In addressing this issue it is at this point we would start lamenting the election of 2016 and its results but as the above quote illustrates these thoughts and attitudes pre-date Mr. Trump.

Through two centuries American hegemony has maintained its preferred racial superiority with strategies of genocide, slavery, and oppression. In the early years of the republic the fledgling empire was surrounded and outnumbered by indigenous nations and imprisoned slaves yet it was able to perfect white apartheid rule. Despite the rhetoric of the equality of all people proclaimed by the sacred texts of democracy there has always been a struggle for actual equality by the voices from below.

This struggle has, over time, produced small victories but has had little success in breaking the structural barriers that maintained the political imbalance. The drama of American political theatre has played out through most of the 20th century presenting itself to the world at large as the shinning city on the hill while hiding its compromised core behind the curtain. The smoke and mirrors perpetuated the illusion of freedom while masking the reality of continued repression.

Unfortunately for those satisfied with the status quo the 21st century has dawned with a radically changing reality. Demographic projections tell us that America will become “minority white” by the year 2045 with non-whites, at that point, making up over 50 percent of the population of the United States. As referenced above, the early years of American existence mimicked this demography but political power was then vested in its white minority and that power dictated the parameters of American identity.

Beyond a historic population shift the 21st century carries forward a political revolution that has fought its way through the turbulent years of the 20thcentury. The question, indeed, is not the particulars of the 2040 or 2050 census but the extent of influence the centuries old struggle for civil rights has on the foundations of American political power. The question of our time will be, will the state dictate who we are or will the true nature of the citizenry be reflected by the state?

While politics have become a proverbial three-ring circus this question of identity lies at the root of the chaos. As the bifurcated government struggles across an ideological divide that seems unbreachable conservatives and liberals seem to have firmly planted their flags. A cursory examination could ascribe this current conflict as a continuation of the arguments of political dogma that has been a feature of party politics since the elections of 1800. Unfortunately, again, for the fans of the status quo this century will give credence to the Bob Dylan lyrics, “Times they are a changing.”

On the conservative side there is a substantial portion of the population that can be described as ideological heirs to our illustrious Mr. Calhoun. For those who marched at Charlottesville in 2017 or stand in support of politicians like Donald Trump and Steve King the question of American identity in the 21st century is not a question at all. To this faction of the U.S. electorate the historic White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant identity should still be the standard of our time. While there may be some softening around the edges the core of this demographic will remain steadfast till they are supplanted by a younger generation.

On the political left there is the claim, with some substantiation, of inclusivity. The democrats of today are the party of multi-culturalism and racial tolerance but there are questions about the extent of their political philosophy. For some historic perspective we need only consider the greatest icon of liberalism, Martin Luther King Jr. When Dr. King expressed his dream and marched for voting rights he had the support of the progressives of his day but when he went on to condemn the illegal and immoral war in Vietnam or the economic disparity in communities of color he quickly became anathema  to the same democratic leadership.

Through the progressive Obama administration the democrats continued the Bush “War on Terror,” tacitly approved political coups in Honduras, Egypt and Brazil, destabilized Libya and Syria, and set deportation records that devastated the immigrant community long before the arrival of Donald Trump. While Obama professed a liberal ideology the world continued to be on the receiving end of conservative policies that further destabilized the Middle East and Central America expanding a refugee crisis that has now engulfs the western world. This was the political reality that caused many to question the moral foundations of the left and dampened the enthusiasm for the 2016 Clinton campaign.

All of this brings us to the here and now as we move inevitably forward towards the 2020 Presidential election. More than a question of choosing a leader to carry us to the quarter century mark this election will be a referendum on the question of American identity. The election of this county’s first African-American president in 2008 and the fallout from that which contributed to the election of Donald Trump in 2016 has laid bare the racial and ideological divide and now demands an answer to the question, what is the quintessential American identity?

Are we destined to continue this century perpetuating the cold rigidity Nietzsche warned us of, taking our identity from a state that proclaims freedom and justice while its policies produce and support death and oppression? Will “American” continue to be a synonym for political power and the tyranny of that minority or can it at last reflect the true nature of the majority. Can we, as a people, come to terms with the idea that concepts such as universal health care, a clean environment, and an educated populace are not a radical move towards socialism but rather a fulfillment articulated by admittedly flawed men who coined noble sentiments such as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

If this experiment in democracy is to continue then it must shake off the shackles of kleptocracy, patriarchy, and imperialism embracing the ideals that have been claimed for over two centuries but never implemented. In fact we need to even move beyond that characteristic of American identity that embraces the notion of American exceptionalism. We, as a people, will become truly exceptional when we embrace the ideal of being human with the dignity and compassion that is inherent in that identification.

The Iron Fist of “Free Trade”

President Donald Trump is against the big, multilateral “free trade” deals (which have little to do with trade) supported by so-called “liberal elites” (who are not really liberal), like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Such deals include the Trans-Pacific Partnership, from which Trump withdrew, and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which appears to be dead in the water, due in large part to popular opposition. The more moderate wing of the Democratic Party (represented by the likes of Bernie Sanders) also opposes the big, multilateral deals, but for opposite reasons. Unions, working people and small businesses see the TPP and TTIP as a way of undermining their rights. Trump, on the other hand, sees them as not going far enough to maximize US corporate profits. Trump prefers bilateral (or one-to-one) deals because, in a bilateral deal, the US is the biggest partner, whereas in an association, the US position is weakened.

But in terms of the basics—privatizing public resources, cutting back on workers’ rights, opening the environment to exploitation—there’s little difference between bi- and multilateralism when it comes to “free trade.” In poor countries, “free trade” is underpinned by the iron fist of militarism. Consider the case of Congo in the 1960s: the US, Britain and Belgium overthrew the government, backed a dictatorship and laid the foundations for an exploitative Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) that enabled US corporations to sue to the government of the impoverished people.

The US State Department’s website lists three broad aims of BITs: “protect investment abroad…[;] encourage the adoption of market-oriented domestic policies that treat private investment in an open, transparent, and non-discriminatory way; and support the development of international law standards consistent with these objectives.” BITs are only “nationalistic” in the sense that they benefit national corporations. They undermine domestic workers and investors by allowing country x to open businesses or acquire businesses in country y. “Nationalism” in this context really means US corporate dominance.

In the 1980s, the Reagan administration signed BITs with several countries, most of them extremely poor. Early test-subjects included: the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC, 1984), the Republic of Congo (1990), Bangladesh (1986), Cameroon (1986), Egypt (1986), Grenada (1986), Haiti (1983), Senegal (1983) and Turkey (1985). Let’s look at the DRC, also known for a time as Zaire.

In June 1960, the Belgian Congo became independent of its European master. Patrice Lumumba came to power on a popular vote and made clear his intentions to use Congo’s resources in the interests of the Congolese: “The exploitation of the mineral riches of the Congo should be primarily for the profit of our own people and other Africans,” he told New York businesspeople. In September 1960, President Kasa-Vubu dismissed Lumumba, who had been Prime Minister for less than three months before the British, Belgian and US intelligence services conspired to murder him.

In Britain, MI6 officer and later peer, Daphne Park, was asked if MI6 was involved in Lumumba’s assassination. “I organized it,” said Park. The BBC acknowledges: “Lumumba made a fateful step − he turned to the Soviet Union for help [economic and military]. This set off panic in London and Washington.” Lumumba and his supporters, Maurice Mpolo and Joseph Okita, were tortured and executed by forces from Belgium and Congo’s Katanga region, before being dissolved in acid.

From the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission we learn that British intelligence plotted Operation Celeste, the murder of UN Secretary-General, Dag Hammarskjöld, who died in a plane crash. Hammarskjöld refused to withdraw UN troops from Congo, fearing further massacres between the warring factions. Britain’s MI5 and the Special Operations Executive were involved in the plot, which was hatched in apartheid South Africa via the South African Institute for Maritime Research. The CIA was also involved. Letters exchanged between agencies state: “Dag is becoming troublesome… and should be removed… I want his removal to be handled more efficiently than was Patrice.” The plan was to explode Hammarskjöld’s plane with a bomb allegedly supplied by Union Minière, a Belgian mining company with private interests in the copper-rich Katanga region.  In 1965, Lumumba’s pro-US Chief of Staff for the Congolese National Army, Mobutu Sese Seko, came to power. Mobuto quickly garnered an international reputation for brutality, banning political parties and crushing secessionist movements.

By 1984, when the US signed its first-ever BIT with the country, Congo was importing 60 per cent of its food, despite having plenty of arable land; half of all Congolese children died before the age of five; and wages were 10 per cent of what they had been prior to independence. The New York Times reported at the time: “Zaire has one of Africa’s largest markets and a liberal investment code.” The BIT stated that the objective was “to provide US investors with significant investment guarantees and assurances as a way of inducing additional foreign investment.” Another aim was “to encourage, and facilitate participation by private enterprise to the maximum extent practicable.” It also noted: “Each of these models was developed after lengthy and extensive consultations within the US Government and with the private sector.”

As well as the generic misery and mass deaths that come with propping up a dictator, one of the other anti-democratic facets of the BIT is the fact that American companies could now sue the Congolese government for alleged inhibitions of profit. In 1993, the firm American Manufacturing Trading sued Zaire in a case “based on the provisions of a [BIT].” The law suit chides Mobutu’s failure to prevent looting of foreign-owned corporations. It says that this is the fault of the Congolese people (“the government”), who must compensate companies like American Manufacturing Trading.

This model of using the iron fist of militarism to impose the “velvet glove” of so-called free trade is an in old one that generalizes around the world.


This article is an excerpt from my new book, Privatized Planet: “Free Trade” as a Weapon Against Democracy, Healthcare and the Environment, (New Internationalist).

Russia warns Bolton: “Monroe Doctrine” Remarks are Insulting to Latin America

What is the ‘Monroe Doctrine’? In brief, it is a document which defines the entire Western Hemisphere as a ‘backyard’ of the United States. It ‘philosophically’ justifies Washington’s neo-colonialism, and the most barbaric coups it has been triggering, as well as covered and open interventions in the Caribbean, and in Central and South America.

And now, National Security Advisor John Bolton, is using this term in connection with Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua, outraging those who are opposing the US foreign policy in the region. What he means is clear, although it is never pronounced as bluntly as that: Countries in the Western Hemisphere should never be allowed to go socialist, and they should be prevented from disobeying Western dictates.

In Doha, Qatar, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, expressed his outrage over Bolton’s evoking of the ‘Monroe Doctrine’ now, when the West is doing all in its power to overthrow the democratically elected left-wing government of Venezuela:

The theory and the practice of “backyards” is generally insulting…

Sergei Lavrov also added that:

Since 1945, when the UN was founded, the international law is being regulated by this universal and the most legitimate organization.

This is, obviously, not how the United States sees the world. Maybe it never even considered such an approach.


But back to the ‘notorious’ Monroe Doctrine.

Surprisingly, it was not always intended to intimidate and brutalize independent and progressive Latin American nations.

According to the definition of the United States Department of State:

The Monroe Doctrine was a United States policy of opposing European colonialism in the Americas beginning in 1823. It stated that further efforts by European nations to take control of any independent state in North or South America would be viewed as “the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States.

So, in theory at least, this policy was supposed to be putting the brakes on European colonialist expansionism. This may sound almost unbelievable now.

How very unfortunate that it has evolved into one of the most unscrupulous tools of oppression in modern history!

Contradictory to its original meaning, the United States used the ‘Monroe Doctrine’ in order to overthrow basically all patriotic, progressive and left-wing governments in the Western Hemisphere; governments that resisted the selfish geo-political interests of Washington, or the interests of US corporations, including the infamous United Fruit Company which was notorious for treating virtually all Central American countries as if they were its private plantations.

Then during the Cold War, US foreign policy towards Latin America was built on the belief that the ‘Monroe Doctrine’ should be invoked in order to prevent the spread of Soviet-backed Communism in the region.

What followed is well known: massacres in Central America, brutal coups and fascist dictatorships in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay and elsewhere; tens of thousands of men, women and children ‘disappeared’. Death squads murdering, raping and torturing everywhere, from Guatemala and Salvador to Argentina and Chile.

The fight for US hegemony was basically and cynically named as a ‘fight for democracy’. Slavery was defined as ‘freedom’. The ‘Monroe Doctrine’ became synonymous with Plan Condor, with monstrous torture chambers and with people being thrown alive into the sea from helicopters.


Now the Trump administration is re-deploying those old and fatal Cold War warriors, elevating them to high positions, the same people who were murdering, plotting and cheering assassins. The list reads like a “Wanted for Genocide” catalogue: Elliott Abrams, Michael Pompeo and yes: John Bolton.

These individuals are, of course, unapologetic.

Just recently, John Bolton declared:

In this administration we’re not afraid to use the phrase ‘Monroe Doctrine’. This is a country in our hemisphere and it’s been the objective of American presidents going back to Ronald Reagan to have a completely Democratic hemisphere.

He was talking about Venezuela, of course.

And so, the almost 200 year old ‘Monroe Doctrine’ has been revitalized; put to deadly work once again.

As reported by the Daily Star:

Mr. Bolton said the Donald Trump administration was “not afraid to use the phrase ‘Monroe Doctrine’,” when asked why it was targeting Venezuela while maintaining close alliances with tyrannies such as Saudi Arabia. The doctrine, dating back to the 1820s, denoted the Western hemisphere as a zone of US influence.

It is clear that this time, what Mr. Bolton envisions under the ‘Monroe Doctrine’ has nothing in common with the fight against European colonialism. It is a bellicose ‘modern-day’ interpretation of the doctrine: the justification for Western imperialism all over the Hemisphere. And perhaps all over the world.

Sergei Lavrov correctly defined Bolton’s remarks as ‘insulting’. They are also deadly. As they are indicative of what Western foreign policy may soon become, or has already become: an unapologetic and uncompromising return to the harshest form of expansionism.

What the US tried to avert (perhaps) some 200 years ago, it at some point joined, and then ‘perfected’. Now, it is trying to bring it to an absolute extreme.

• First published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook

Venezuela: Still on the Brink?

The silence is almost deafening. Is it the quiet before the storm? Or is the US giving up on Venezuela? I don’t think so. It’s more like a regrouping after a first defeat. Well, it’s a multiple defeat if we start counting since the failed coup attempt against Hugo Chavez on 11 April 2002.

However, Washington is not giving up. The first blows come flying. Pompeo to Maduro. Open your borders for humanitarian aid, or else…. which implies the usual, “all options are on the table.  ’Humanitarian’ military intervention is an option”.

Washington – April 10, 2019, high level US and South American (members of the infamous and nefarious Lima Group, naturally) politicians and military held a secret meeting about the strategic next steps to subdue Venezuela, how to “regime-change” the Maduro Government, by ‘military options’, as reported by investigative journalist Max Blumenthal. The meeting was dubbed ‘Assessing the Use of Military Force in Venezuela.’ It was hosted by the DC-based neoliberal thinktank the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Venezuela’s ambassador to the UN, Samuel Moncada, denounces Trump’s preparations for war to the entire UN community. The UN Community is increasingly taking note of the atrocities and lawlessness of the one rogue UN member that has the arrogance of thinking and acting as if it were above the law, above every law, even the laws made by its own lawmakers, the United States of America. In the context of the failed coup attempt on Venezuela, a group of about 60 UN members formed, including Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Iran and many more, representing about half of the world population, in support of Venezuela and especially in support of the UN Charter. The group requests and will enhance actions for UN members to respect the UN principles, the laws and rules upon which the United Nations were created almost 75 years ago. This is a new twist within the UN body.

On 11 April, US Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, met in Washington with 16 ministers of finance and representatives of 20 countries (Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, France, Germany, Guatemala, Guyana, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Panama, Portugal, Peru, Spain, and the UK) to enhance the support of some 50 countries of the self-declared president Juan Guaidó, and how to support Venezuela, once the Maduro Government “is gone”.  Hilarious, if it wasn’t so serious.  It is as if these otherwise smart people were falling into the trap of Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Propaganda Minister – if a lie is repeated enough, it becomes the truth. Indeed, there is no other country in recent history that emulates Hitler and his approaches to world dominance by manipulation as well as Washington. And indeed, it is not quite clear, who was teaching whom.

Venezuela’s Vice-president, Delcy Rodriguez, denounces the preparation of a military intervention in Venezuela by the US, Colombia and Brazil. She warns the world of a humanitarian disaster if the global community allows the United States and its minions to interfere in Venezuela.

Mexico’s new President, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), also vehemently rejects any interference in Venezuela and offers his Government’s services to mediate a dialogue between the Maduro Government and the opposition, a dialogue to which President Maduro has invited the opposition already many times. To no avail. Mostly because the orders from Washington are clear, no dialogue, no compromise, the Maduro Government must be go.

We will inject the necessary capital into the inefficient oil industry, and our petrol corporations are eager to revive Venezuela’s hydrocarbon industry and make it profitable again. These are the bold and honest words of John Bolton, US National security Adviser. Let’s see where all this hoopla may lead. If it sounds like wishful thinking, it is wishful thinking.

Even though the true media hero, Julian Assange is for totally illegal reasons behind bars in the UK. And this because laws are made in Washington as Washington sees fit, as Trump signs papers, shows them on TV and they becomes law – and laws of the US are applied throughout the US vassalic world, and especially by its poodle puppets in London. Never mind this minor detail of human derailment. More importantly, it seems that Mr. Assange’s spirit and that of his creation of truth telling, Wikileaks, is increasingly reflected by politicians and journalists who, though somehow coopted into the ‘system’, feel discomfort with this very system and decide to leak so-called classified information into the non-mainstream truth-telling media.

A classical case may be the secret ‘RoundTable’ that took place in Washington on 10 April to discuss the fate of Venezuela. The news about it was first published by the Grayzone portal on 13 April. Mr. Blumenthal has obtained the information along with a “check-in list” of the high-flying participants to this private ‘round-table’. When confronted and asked for interviews on the event, most members on the list were surprised, even stunned, and refused to talk. Somebody from inside must have leaked the information about the clandestine meeting.

On a totally different issue, but equally important for the concept and philosophy of leaking information to the outside world, is the recent disclosure – “leak” – by someone in the French military that sophisticated French weaponry was used by Saudi Arabia to attack and kill defenseless Yemenis. And this, although the French, and especially Roi Macron himself, has always denied that the French were participating offensively in this also illegal US-UK-NATO proxy war. The French narrative was and is that France’s weapons were only defensive. Sounds as stupid as calling the US War Ministry, the Ministry of Defense.

Are we entering a Leak-zone (no pun intended), an epoch of leaking, of divulging ‘secret’ and classified information? Have we had enough impunity? It’s time to stop it. What is this “classified” and secret information anyway? In a so-called Democracy why are the elected government officials privileged to hold on to secret information, unknown to the public who lives under the illusion that they elected them, and – more importantly, or even worse – the public, who pays for them. Can’t you see, dear People, what aberration of “democracy” we have moved into?  Please, just open your eyes and see all these contradictions, contradictions for us, but they serve the chosen — and you believe elected-by — you  elite, lining their pockets and increasing their power.

Now the public must know the truth. This new Leak-Culture may take hold. – If so, its high time, but never too late. It would be another sign towards the empire heaving on its last breath, or as Andrew Vltchek so adroitly puts it, when he describing the ultimate crime of the lawless London gang, the police manhandling a sick and defenseless Julian Assange, “By dragging him from the embassy into a police van, it [the empire] has admitted that it already has begun sewing its own funeral gown.”

Back to Venezuela. Has Washington given up? Most likely not. Although their first coup attempt has failed. The Venezuelan military did not defect. Despite Trump’s warning, even threats, they stood and still stand behind Nicolás Maduro. The humanitarian aid trucks at the border in Cúcuta did not cross into Venezuela. In fact, they were burned by the very opposition, hoping to make believe that Maduro’s troops put them on fire. No. They were indeed the opposition forces and their allies in Colombia. Ironically, the mayor of Cúcuta, after the humanitarian aid stayed stuck at the border, asked Colombian President Duque, whether he, the mayor, might distribute the aid among the poor people of Cúcuta, because this aid was more needed in Cúcuta than in Venezuela.

Second, Juan Guaidó was never able to mobilize the crowds as Washington expected. Guaidó, a US lackey in the first place, lacks any charisma. He does not appeal even to the majority of Venezuela’s opposition. So, he is a dead horse. Bad choice by Washington.

Third, a direct military intervention seems unlikely – at least at this point – as Russia quietly but with considerable force has made known her presence in the country. And so does China. Though China may not have sent military personnel, China’s position was and is: Don’t mess with Venezuela. China and Russia have both huge investments in Venezuela’s hydrocarbon industry.

In the meantime, Bolton and Pompeo have already accused, in addition to Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua as spreading ‘socialism’ the region. That’s their crime. It’s now in the open – it’s not just the oil, it’s also ideology. They are going to be sanctioned. In Cuba invoking again the 1996 Helms–Burton Act, under which foreign companies are prohibited from doing business in Cuba, lest they are prevented from doing business in the US. In addition, the amount of money Cuban American’s may send home is again limited, after Obama lifted the restrictions. And exile Cubans – mostly applying to those in Florida – may now sue Cuba in US courts for confiscated and nationalized land after the revolution. And that after 60 years. I wonder, what US courts have to meddle in Cuba. This latest US arrogance stinks to heaven.

Will the world smell it? Is Washington at the end of the rope with Venezuela? Will see. Not voluntarily; that’s for sure. But if leakers keep leaking, it’s a sign that even insiders have had it.

Whom Did Tax Reform Benefit?

Characterizations of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act have followed agendas – its opponents maintaining it is a bill for the wealthy, and its supporters arguing that the bill fairly satisfies all economic levels.

A previous article, Failure of Trump Tax Cuts, analyzed the effects of the Tax cuts on the economy and showed that tax cuts do not pay for themselves; they do not generate additional revenue that compensate for the loss of government receipts. This article analyzes tax cut effects on individual wage earners. Four scenarios, representative of the tax paying public in years 2017 and 2018, are presented.

  • Single tax payer using standard deduction;
  • Single tax payer using itemized deduction of $16,000;
  • Married taxpayer, two children, filing separately and using standard deduction; and,
  • Married taxpayer, two children, filing separately, and using itemized deduction of $16,000.

Effects on wage earners are not the sole means for evaluating the worth of tax bills; other factors will be considered.

The results for single taxpayers, using the standard deduction, are shown on the left in the following table.

In 2017, this type of taxpayer added a deduction from a $4050 exemption to the standard deduction of $6000. In 2018, the standard deduction was raised to $12,000, but no exemptions were allowed.

The single taxpayer in 2018, using the standard deduction, had a $1950 advantage in taxable income compared to the single 2017 taxpayer. Because the tax rates were also lowered in 2018, a single taxpayer of equivalent gross income gained another advantage and paid less tax than in 2017.

Which earning group did the reduced taxes most benefit?

By absolute figures, the higher the earnings, the greater is the benefit. However, a more accepted manner for examining the figures is by proportion. By these criteria, the lower waged earners received the greatest benefit — 21% for low wage earner, 18% for high wage earner, and 9.3% for ultra-high wage earners.

The results for single taxpayers, using itemized deduction of $16,000 deduction, are shown on the right of the table.

In this case, the 2017 wage earner had an advantage. In addition to the $16,000 itemized deduction, the 2017 wage earner received a single exemption of $4050 applied to the deductions. The lower tax rates in 2018 offset this advantage, but insufficiently; none of the single taxpayers received much benefit, and the lowest wage earners actually paid slightly more taxes.

The results for the married taxpayer, using standard deduction, are shown on the left in the next table.

In 2017, this type of taxpayer was able, from four $4050 exemptions, to add a deduction of $16,200 to the standard deduction of $6000. In 2018, no exemptions were allowed, even for married families. Offsetting this disadvantage were the child and spouse credits. In 2017, each dependent child, created a $1000 tax credit, directly off the bottom line of the tax statement. In 2018, each dependent child created a $2000 tax credit and a $500 tax credit was allowed for the spouse. In 2018, the child tax credits are refundable (not the spouse credit), which means a negative tax, up to $1400, is refundable.

The higher tax credits in 2018 enabled all of these types of married taxpayers ($4500 tax credits) to reduce their taxes in 2018. Note that the difference in taxes between the 2018 single taxpayer using the standard deduction and the married taxpayer using the standard deduction is exactly $45000. In this scenario, the absolute tax gain was almost equal between all wage earners, except the ultra-high wage earners. Proportionately, the lower wage earners received the most benefits.

The results for married taxpayers, using an itemized deduction of $16,000, are shown on the right of the table. In this case, by itemizing deductions, just as for the single taxpayers, the 2018 married taxpayers lost the $6000 advantage they had compared to the 2017 taxpayers. The combination of loss of this advantage, together with the difference in tax credits and tax tables for the two tax years, made erratic differences between taxpayers from the two years. Generally, the absolute advantage for the 2018 taxpayer was small, even going negative for middle-income wage earners.

For this scenario, only the ultra-high wage earners managed to maintain a distinct advantage in the 2018 tax year. The low wage earners had a decent advantage, but the $1400 limitation in the tax credits limited the advantage.

Other Considerations

The analysis uncovers the inutility of the standard tax deduction, which only moves the income down the tax schedule. As an example, a single wage earner of $40,000 in 2018 who uses the $12,000 standard deduction pays the same tax as a wage earner of $38,000 in the same tax schedule that has no standard deduction. For those who itemize deductions, subtracting $12,000 from their deduction steers taxpayers to itemize deductions only when they have more than $12,000 in deductions. Similar reasoning applies to the exemption; it also only shifts the tax table by the exemption, which every single taxpayer has, by the exemption amount. Having a standard deduction and an exemption make it seem that the Internal Revenue Department is being considerate of taxpayers, but all these considerations do is raise the level at which it is beneficial to itemize deductions. Is it not simpler and preferable to have neither a standard deduction nor exemptions and modify the tax table to more equitably distribute taxes?

Married taxpayers with children, who also have no exemptions in 2018, have a $500 tax credit for the spouse and a $2000 tax credit for each child. Regardless of the taxable income, all taxpayers receive the same credit. Is this fair or logical? Should the lower income groups, in which the care of a dependent child is a greater percentage of available income and, therefore, a greater financial burden, receive more benefit? Tax credits are a correct approach, but shouldn’t they be inversely proportional to the income? As an example, a wage earner with dependent children, could receive a tax credit by the formula

N X K/I = TC

where N= number of dependents, K = Tax Credit for one dependent, I = income, and TC = Total tax credits.

As an example, if N=2, K= 80 (expressed in 000), and I = 40 (expressed in 000), then
TC = 4 or $4000.
If I = $100,000, then TC = $1600.

Although the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act managed to save all 2018 wage earners something in their taxes, the savings beg another question, “Were the benefits sufficient to warrant the Tax act?” Entering into the discussion is that the reduced taxes increased the federal deficit. Regarding the entire situation from a total perspective, we have the increased deficit essentially financing the tax cuts. Wage earners received a temporary loan from the government, which should be repaid one day by increased taxes. Should be, but not definitely – the deficit monotonically increases with no regard of ever reducing it.

The tax cuts could have been used to re-distribute the wealth – heavy tax cuts for low wage earners and no tax cuts for ultra-high wage earners. Why give those earning $200,000 another $5000 and low wage earners only another $1500? Shouldn’t it be the other way? Better yet, why not make tax cuts, budget neutral, and have low wage earners receive sizeable tax cuts and ultra-high wage earners pay more taxes to compensate for the revenue lost to the government planners..

Going further, why has the administration bothered to spend huge dollars for preparing, legislating, and managing new income tax policies that gave $6000 to people who already had after tax income of $160,000, and served to increase the federal deficit and support their largesse? Why did it not keep the same tax legislation and use the costs incurred for the new tax legislation together with the monetary benefits that occurred with the new legislation and use the total revenue to assist the least advantaged citizens of the American economy?


(1) The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act mainly favored those using the standard deduction.

(2) From a proportional saving perspective, lower wage earners gained mostly from the Act

(3) The fact that the Act was not budget neutral, and increased the deficit, its effectiveness is definitely judgmental.

(4) A more meaningful and fair Tax Cuts and Jobs Act gives more decisive benefits to all low wage earners and serves to redistribute the wealth.

(5) Reappraisal of the income tax should have included a reappraisal of the worth of the standard deduction.

(6) The tax credits gave equal weight to all income levels, which does not seem fair or logical.

(7) The most debatable feature of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is that it assumes that the function of income taxes is to regulate consumer purchasing power rather than provide adequate revenue for government programs.

Americans for Tax Reform and Grover Norquist take note: There is no evidence that income tax cuts pay for themselves or stimulate the economy. Until poverty is eliminated, tax cuts are meaningless if they only give more funds to those who already have adequate means to live.

Statement of the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs dealing with Emmanuel Macron’s Reception of a Delegation of the so-called “Syrian Democratic Forces”

We condemn French President Emmanuel Macron's reception of a delegation of the so-called “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF) which is dominated by PYD/YPG, the Syrian extension of the terrorist organization PKK. This attempt that aims to provide pseudo legitimacy to the extensions of the terrorist organization is an utterly wrong step which does not comply with the spirit of alliance. We once again remind the importance of not allowing the promotion of agendas targeting Syria's political unity (...)

Earth Day, Planetary Boundaries, and the Green New Deal

As we celebrate Earth Day in 2019, we need to recognize that more than climate change threatens our environment and our very existence. We have passed or are approaching several Planetary Boundaries outside of which human society may not survive.

Environmental scientists have developed the concept of Planetary Boundaries to identify Earth system processes that human activity is disrupting. They have tried to identify boundaries beyond which that disruption will trigger radical planetary environmental changes that endanger the survival of human society.

Of the nine planetary boundaries these scientists have identified, they say that we have already passed four of them:

Climate Change: At 412 ppm atmospheric carbon last month, we have already passed the safe zone of below 350 ppm that would keep global temperature rise to under 1ºC and within the range of the current interglacial Holocene climate in which agriculture, the material foundation for human civilization, developed.

Biogeochemical Cycles: Earth’s biogeochemical nitrogen and phosphorus cycles have been disturbed even more than the carbon cycle. Nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers pollute waterways and coastal zones overwhelm ecosystems’ capacity to absorb and recycle them, resulting in ecosystem collapse and low-oxygen dead zones.

Biodiversity: The 6th Mass Extinction in Earth’s history is underway and threatening to collapse ecosystems and hence agriculture and food production. For example, scientists recently reported that insects have declined at a 2.5% rate of annual loss over the last 25-30 years, a reduction of 80% of insect biomass. Insects are at the base of every terrestrial ecosystem food web and energy pyramid. Agricultural pesticides, along with climate change and habitat destruction, are killing off the insects.

Land Use: Forests, wetlands, and biomes have been converted to industrialized agriculture and urban sprawl to the degree it is disrupting biogeochemical cycles and reducing biodiversity.

The other five boundaries these scientists identify are:

Ocean Acidification: Oceans are acidifying as atmospheric carbon dioxide dissolves into the water as carbonic acid. Acidification is already killing off the corals, threatening the ability of shellfish to form their shells, and thus threatening the stability of ocean ecosystems. The greatest danger is posed by the threat of acidification to phytoplankton. Recent scientific reports warn that by 2100, ocean heating and acidification could so reduce phytoplankton, the source of two-thirds of atmospheric oxygen, that it may result in the suffocation of animal life on Earth. If we have not passed this planetary boundary, we are fast approaching it.

Stratospheric Ozone Depletion: We have good news here thanks to the Montreal Protocol adopted in 1987 by the world’s nations to ban the production of the chemicals that depleted stratospheric ozone. This ozone layer that protects life from excessive ultraviolet radiation (UV) from the Sun is recovering. The Montreal Protocol is a model for the kind of binding international agreements we must forge to address climate change and other environmental threats

Freshwater: Intense water use by industrialized agriculture and urban systems is depleting fresh water faster than it is naturally replenished. Pollution, aquifer depletion, and water-conserving habitat destruction are the causes. At present trends, half of the world’s people and agriculture will face water shortages by 2050.

Atmospheric Aerosols: Microscopic particles in the atmosphere affect the climate and living organisms. Some aerosols warm and others cool the planet, with a slight net cooling affect so far, though it is far from overriding the warming effect of greenhouse gases released by human activity. But aerosols have a negative affect on human respiratory organs, resulting in an estimated 4 million premature deaths annually.

Novel Chemicals and Materials: These include chemical pollutants, heavy metals, radioactive materials, nanomaterials, and micro-plastics. Barry Commoner, the late environmental scientist and Citizens Party presidential candidate in 1980 (which German Green Petra Kelly called America’s Green Party), warned us in his book Making Peace with the Planet (1990) that these novel entities disrupt the biosphere in which every new chemical created in the course of evolution co-evolved with enzymes to break them down to be recycled in the web of life. Without these enzymes for biodegradability, these novel entities bioaccumulate in the ecosystems and organisms, with potentially dangerous consequences to ecosystems and human health. While it is debatable how close we are to overshooting this planetary boundary, there is no debate that microplastics, for example, are now in our food and our organs.  Of the over 80,000 novel chemicals created for commercial use, only 200 have been tested for safety by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Expanded Green New Deal

What the Planetary Boundaries analysis means is that a Green New Deal must do more than build a clean energy system by 2030. It must be expanded into a full-scale Green Economy Reconstruction Program that not only transforms energy production to renewables, but transforms all our production systems to ecological sustainability. We can’t even get to 100% clean energy without reconstructing all of our production systems, from agriculture to transportation.

Industrial corporate agriculture must be converted to regenerative organic agriculture to eliminate pesticides and draw atmospheric carbon into living soils. Manufacturing must be converted to processes that rely on biodegradable or recyclable chemicals and materials. Transportation must be electrified, powered by clean renewables, with more emphasis on freight rails, high-speed rails, and urban light rails than trucking, personal vehicles, and air travel for intermediate distances. Urban systems must be reconfigured around walkable communities where homes, work, shopping, and mass transit are within a short walk of each other.

The vast majority of the military-industrial complex must be converted to ecological civilian production. The U.S. should be the world’s humanitarian superpower, not its sole military superpower. We should be helping poor countries meet basic needs and jump over the fossil fuel age into the solar age. We should be making friends with a Global Green New Deal instead of enemies with endless wars and a military empire of over 800 military bases placed in other countries to make the world safe for exploitation by global corporations instead of safe for the world’s peoples.

Ecosocialist Green New Deal

Conversion to an ecologically sustainable and just economy cannot happen under the capitalist system. Capitalism’s competitive structure drives blind, relentless growth that is consuming and destroying the biosphere. Its competitive international structure breeds wars for resources, markets, cheap labor, and geopolitical military advantages. With the nuclear weapons of the nuclear powers on hair-trigger alert and a new nuclear arms race now underway, the capitalist system will annihilate us if we don’t replace it with an ecosocialist system first.

We need an ecosocialist Green New Deal in order to coordinate the conversion of all production systems to sustainability. We need social ownership of key industries, like the energy sector. Exxon and the Koch Brothers are not going to reinvest their fossil fuel earnings in renewables. We must nationalize big oil. We need a bottom-up democratic process of economic planning so the public sector—public enterprises, infrastructure, and services—is responsive to the people in their communities.

We need a Just Transition to a green economy so no one is harmed in the process. The Green New Deal must include an Economic Bill of Rights that guarantees to all a living-wage job, an income above poverty, decent housing, comprehensive health care, and a good tuition-free public education from pre-K to college.

We need system change, not business as usual.

Hamas prepares for the overthrow of Mahmud Abbas

A senior Palestinian Authority official said that Hamas is preparing to overthrow Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in order to seize control of the West Bank. A similar attempt in June-July 2015 did not succeed. Although the Palestinian parliament confirmed Mahmoud Abbas as president of the Palestinian Authority, the legitimacy of the parliament and Abbas' Presidency is as questionable as that of Hamas itself, given that the last elections in the Palestinian territories took place 13 (...)

The European Union threatens to resort to the WTO against the United States

The European Union informed the United States government that it will resort to the World Trade Organization (WTO) if the US tightens its economic blockade against Cuba by enforcing chapter III of the Helms-Burton law. The United States has announced that it will enforce Title III of the Helms-Burton Act (Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Freedom) Act of 1996), thereby authorizing so-called "Cuban-Americans" to pursue legal claims for properties which were confiscated after the (...)