All posts by Roger D. Harris

Now Three Years into the Reign of Trump, What’s Left?

On January 20, Donald G. Trump completed his third year in office. My one blog that received five-digit Facebook shares predicted Trump would lose in 2016. I was spectacularly wrong but not alone. Even the Las Vegas bookies thought Clinton was a shoo-in with her unbeatable two-punch knockout of (1) I’m not Trump and (2) World War III with the Russians would be peachy at least until the bombs start falling. What could possibly have gone wrong?

More to the point, the unexpected victory of Trump was the historical reaction to the bankruptcy of Clinton-Bush-Obama neoliberalism. Now after three years of Mr. Trump, what’s left?

During the George W. Bush years – he’s now viewed favorably by a majority of Democrats – Democrats could wring their tied hands to the accolades of their base. My own Democrat Representative Lynn Woolsey stood up daily in the House and denounced Bush’s Iraq war. For a while there was a resurgent peace movement against US military adventures in the Middle East, which was even backed by some left-leaning liberals.

But the moment that Obama ascended to the Oval Office, the Iraq War became Obama’s war, Bush’s secretary of war Gates was carried over to administer it, and Woolsey forgot she was for peace. No matter, Obama, the peace candidate, would fix it. Just give him a chance. For eight years, Obama was given a chance and the peace movement went quiescent.

Trump takes office

Surely a Republican president, I thought, would harken a rebirth of the peace movement given the ever-inflated war budget and the proliferation of US wars. The US is officially at war with Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and Niger. To the official list are any number of other states subject to drone attacks such as Iran, Pakistan, and Mali. And then there are some 30 countries targeted with illegal unilateral coercive measures as form of economic warfare. Yet a funny thing happened on the way to the demonstration.

With Republicans in control of both Congress and the White House, my expectation was that Democrats would safely take a giant step to the right in accordance with their Wall Street funders, while safely keeping a baby step to the left of the Republicans appeasing their liberal-leaning base. To certain extent, this is what happened with Trump’s tax cut for the wealthy. The Democrats could and did claim that their hands were once again tied…wink, wink to their Wall Street handlers.

Yet on many more fundamental issues, the Democrats did not take advantage of paying lip service to their base’s economic priorities by attacking the Republicans on their weak left flank. No, the Democrats mounted an assault on the Republicans from the right with what The Hill called Pelosi’s “fiscally hawkish pay-as-you-go rules,” increasing the war budget, and launching Russiagate. Instead of appealing to working people on bread and butter issues, the Democrats gave us turbo-charged identity politics.

Bernie Sanders had raised genuine issues regarding runaway income inequality and plutocratic politics. However, Sanders was suppressed by a hostile corporate press and an antagonistic Democratic Party establishment, which arguably preferred to risk a Republican victory in 2016 than support anyone who questioned neoliberal orthodoxy.

Sanders’ issues got asphyxiated in the juggernaut of Russiagate. His legacy – so far – has been to help contain a progressive insurgency within the Democratic Party, the perennial graveyard of social movements. Had Mr. Sanders not come along, the Democrats – now the full-throated party of neoliberal austerity at home and imperial war abroad – would have needed to invent a leftish Pied Piper to keep their base in the fold.

So, after three years of Trump, the more than ever needed mass movement against militarism has yet to resurrect in force, notwithstanding promising demonstrations in immediate response to Trump’s assassination of Iran’s Major General Soleimani on January 3 with more demonstrations to come.

Imperialism and neoliberalism

Dubya proved his imperialist mettle with the second Iraq war; Obama with the destruction of Libya. But Trump has yet to start a war of his own. Though, in the case of Iran, it was not from lack of trying. The last US president with a similar imperialist failing was the one-term Carter. But Trump has 12 and possibly 60 more months to go.

In his short time in office, Trump has packed his administration with former war industry executives, increased troops in Afghanistan, approved selling arms to the coup government of Ukraine, made the largest arms sale in US history to Saudi Arabia, supported the Saudi’s war against Yemen, recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and killed more civilians in drone strikes than “Obomber.” In the empire’s “backyard,” Trump tightened the blockade on Cuba, intensified Obama’s sanctions on Venezuela to a blockade, oversaw the devastation of Puerto Rico, and backed the right wing coup in Bolivia. The Venezuelan Embassy Protectors are fighting the US government for a fair trial, while Julian Assange faces extradition to the US.

Now that Trump has declared the defeat of ISIS, the US National Defense Strategy is “interstate strategic competition” with Russia and China. This official guiding document of the US imperial state explicitly calls for “build[ing] a more lethal force” for world domination. Giving credit where it is due, back in 2011, Hillary Clinton and Obama had presciently decreed a “pivot to Asia,” targeting China.

Closer to home Trump has been busy deregulating environmental protections, dismantling the National Park system, weaponizing social media, and undoing net neutrality, while withdrawing from the Paris Agreement on global warming. What’s not to despise?

Russiagate and impeachment

Russiagate – in case you have a real life and are not totally absorbed in mass media – is about a conspiracy that the Russians and not the US Electoral College are responsible for Hillary Clinton not getting her rightful turn to be President of the United States.

For the better part of the last three years under the shadow of Trump in the White House, a spook emerged from the netherworld of the deep state and has toiled mightily to expose wrongdoers. This man, former head of the FBI, Robert Mueller, we are told is only one miracle short of being canonized in blue state heaven. Yet even he failed to indict a single American for colluding with Russia, though he was able to hand out indictments to Americans for other wrongdoings not related to Russia.

Undeterred by this investigation to nowhere, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi initiated impeachment proceedings against the sitting president in the Democrat’s first successful step to promote Mike Pence as the next POTUS.

When an unelected and unaccountable CIA operative in secret collusion with opposition politicians (e.g., Adam Schiff) and with backing from his agency seeks to take down a constitutionally elected president, that is cause for concern. Operating under the cloak of anonymity and with privileged access to information, national security operatives skilled in the craft of espionage have the undemocratic means to manipulate and even depose elected officials.

What has arisen is an emboldened national security state. The CIA, lest we forget, is the clandestine agency whose mission is to use any means necessary to affect “regime change” in countries that dare to buck the empire. Latin American leftists used to quip that the US has never suffered a coup because there is no US embassy in Washington. There may not be a US embassy there, but the CIA and the rest of the US security establishment are more than ever present and pose a danger to democracy.

Now Obama’s former Director of National Intelligence and serial perjurer James Clapper holds the conflicted role of pundit on CNN while still retaining his top security clearance. Likewise, Obama’s former CIA director, torture apologist, and fellow perjurer John Brennan holds forth on NBC News and MSNBC with his security clearance intact.

Class trumps partisan differences

The Democrats and Republicans mortally combat on the superficial, while remaining united in their bedrock class loyalty to the rule of capital and US world hegemony. The first article of the Democrat-backed impeachment is the president’s “abuse of power.” Yet, amidst the heat of the House impeachment hearings, the Democrats, by an overwhelming majority, helped renew the Patriot Act, which gives the president war time authority to shred the constitution.

Contrary to the utterances of the Democratic presidential candidates on the campaign trail about limiting US military spending, the latest $738 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is $22 billion over the last. The Democratic Progressive Caucus didn’t even bother to whip members to oppose the bill. On December 11, in an orgy of bi-partisan love, the NDAA bill passed by a landslide vote of 377-48.

President Trump tweeted “Wow!” Democratic Party leader and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith called the bill “the most progressive defense bill we have passed in decades.”

This bill gifts twelve more Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets than Trump had requested and green-lights funding of Trump’s border wall with Mexico. Stripped from the bipartisan NDAA “compromise” bill were provisions to prohibit Trump from launching a war on Iran without Congressional authorization. Similarly dropped were limits to US participation in the genocidal war in Yemen.

A new Space Force is authorized to militarize the heavens. Meanwhile the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has set the doomsday clock at 2 minutes before midnight. Unfortunately, the Democrat’s concern about Trump’s abuse of power does not extend to such existential matters as nuclear war.

Trump’s renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement (i.e., USMCA), an acknowledged disaster, was renewed with bipartisan support. On the domestic front, Trump cut food stamps, Medicaid, and reproductive health services over the barely audible demurs of the supine Democrats.

Revolt of the dispossessed

Behind the façade of the impeachment spectacle – Ken Starr and Alan Dershowitz are now on Trump’s legal team – is a ruling class consensus that trumps partisan differences. As political economist Rob Urie perceptively observed:

The American obsession with electoral politics is odd in that ‘the people’ have so little say in electoral outcomes and that the outcomes only dance around the edges of most people’s lives. It isn’t so much that the actions of elected leaders are inconsequential as that other factors— economic, historical, structural and institutional, do more to determine ‘politics.’

In the highly contested 2016 presidential contest, nearly half the eligible US voters opted out, not finding enough difference among the contenders to leave home. 2020 may be an opportunity; an opening for an alternative to neoliberal austerity at home and imperial wars abroad lurching to an increasingly oppressive national security state. The campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Tulsi Gabbord and before them Occupy point to a popular insurgency. Mass protests of the dispossessed are rocking France, India, Colombia, Chile, and perhaps here soon.

2019 Latin America in Review: Year of the Revolt of the Dispossessed

A year ago, John Bolton, Trump’s short-lived national security advisor, invoked the 1823 Monroe Doctrine making explicit what has long been painfully implicit: the dominions south of the Rio Grande are the empire’s “backyard.” Yet 2019 was a year best characterized as the revolt of the dispossessed for a better world against the barbarism of neoliberalism. As Rafael Correa points out, Latin America today is in dispute. What follows is a briefing on this crossroads.

Andean Nations

Venezuela, the leader for regional integration and 21st century socialism, continued to be ground zero in the clash between the empire and those nations pursuing post-neoliberal alternatives and a multipolar world.

On the evening of January 22, trained US security asset and head of the suspended Venezuelan National Assembly Juan Guaidó received a call from US Vice President Pence, giving Guaidó the green light to declare himself president of Venezuela. The next day, Guaidó proclaimed his presidency on a Caracas street corner. Within minutes Trump recognized the self-appointment, later followed by some fifty US allies. Still most nations in the world did not recognize Guaidó, and the United Nations continues to recognize Maduro as the constitutional president of Venezuela.

Guaidó called for harsher US sanctions on his own people and even the US “military option.”  Gone was the pretext that sanctions targeted only the government. The former US Ambassador to Venezuela William Brownfield  boasted that these measures “would have an impact on everyone… to accelerate the collapse.” From President Barack Obama’s sanctions in 2015, Trump progressively ratcheted up the pain to the current blockade. This illegal collective punishment had already caused over 40,000 deaths by the beginning of the year according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), in a war by economic means, denying the Venezuelan people vital food and medicine.

Yet Guaidó failed to come to power. His publicity stunt on February 23 to bring “humanitarian aid” from Colombia fizzled. To make things worse, envoys of Guaidó in Colombia were caught embezzling some of the very funds slated for humanitarian assistance. Soon after this debacle, a staged coup on April 30 by Guaidó and a few military officers on an overpass in eastern Caracas aborted. In November, Guaidó made an even more pathetic coup attempt. His ability to garner support atrophied, drawing the ire even of some hardline opposition who formerly backed him, while the Maduro government continued to rally substantial popular demonstrations and signed a peaceful coexistence agreement with some moderate opposition parties in September.

Despite attempts by Washington to incite ruptures within the Venezuelan security forces, the “civic-military union” built by Chavez and continued under Maduro held firm, and the ranks of the militias continue to grow. And despite heavy lobbying by the Trump administration, Venezuela was voted onto the UN Human Rights Council on October 27.

In a bid to compensate for the diminished stature of the anti-Venezuela Lima Group,  on December 3, Colombia convened a summit for the activation of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (TIAR) against Venezuela, to ratchet up sanctions even further and keep the military option on the table. By the end of 2019, even the Wall Street Journal conceded, “Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro, once thought ripe for ouster, looks firmly in place.”

In Washington, North American solidarity activists defended the Venezuelan embassy from being taken over by Guaidó collaborators (April – May 2019). With the permission of the Venezuelan government and pursuant to international law, the Embassy Protectors held out for 37 days until expelled by the Secret Service. The four last defenders – Margaret Flowers, Kevin Zeese, Adrienne Pine, David Paul – will go to trial, facing possible stiff penalties. On October 25, journalist Max Blumenthal was also arrested and charged (subsequently dropped), as the US government cracks down on dissent both at home and abroad.

Colombia is the chief regional US client state, distinguished by being the largest recipient of US military aid in the hemisphere. Hillary Clinton called Plan Colombia a model for Latin America. Yet this model leads the world in extra-judicial killings of journalists, union leaders, and environmentalists. Meanwhile, Colombia continues to be the planet’s largest supplier of illicit cocaine.

A 2016 peace agreement saw the guerrilla FARC lay down their arms, but the government has honored the agreement mainly in the breach. Death squad activity continued in 2019, targeting former FARC militants. A faction of the FARC returned to the guerrilla path.

In a sign of growing disaffection with the hardline right-wing influence of former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe and his protégé and current President Iván Duque, the far right suffered significant losses in the October regional and municipal elections. Left-leaning Claudia López became the first woman and first lesbian to be mayor of the capital city of Bogotá. By year-end, Colombia experienced massive general strikes opposed to government austerity policies dictated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Bolivia. Evo Morales was the first indigenous president of this largely indigenous country. Under the 14 years of his Movement for Socialism party (MAS), Bolivia had the highest economic growth rate and the greatest poverty reduction in the Western Hemisphere. Bolivia became a world champion for indigenous and poor people, aligning with the progressive governments of Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua.

Morales was fairly re-elected president on October 20. Because the US-backed candidate lost, the US called his election “fraudulent.” A compliant Organization of American States (OAS) disseminated misleading information on the validity of the election. Thus, the stage was set for the November 10 coup, when Morales was forced to “resign” by the military.

Thirteen US members of Congress sent a “dear colleague” letter condemning the “Administration’s support for [the] military-backed regime and silence on violent repression [which] contributes to spiraling crisis.” This letter stands in stark contrast to the close association of key figures behind the coup with allies in Washington, the OAS Secretary General’s embrace of coup leader Luis Fernando Camacho, and the endorsement of the coup by the right-wing neighbors. President Trump “applauded” the Bolivian military despite its well documented systematic  violations of human rights.

The self-proclaimed President Jeanine Áñez smeared indigenous communities as “satanic” in tweets, later deleted. Morales is now in exile, and the indigenous and other poor continue to protest in the face of lethal, racist repression.  At this writing, Morales, the MAS, and most of the popular sectors have agreed to new elections but efforts are underway by backers of the de facto government to disqualify the MAS from participating in an eventual election.

Ecuador. Speaking of reversals, Ecuador’s President Lenín Moreno took the prize. Moreno had served as vice president in a previous leftist government headed by Rafael Correa, who had campaigned for Moreno. Upon assuming the presidency in 2017, Moreno inexplicably and unexpectedly betrayed the platform, the voters, and the party that put him in office. He jailed his vice president and later other leaders of his former party and put out an arrest warrant for Correa, who is now in exile. On April 11, Moreno handed Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who had been in asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, to the British police.

Moreno withdrew Ecuador from ALBA, the leftist regional organization of Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and some Caribbean nations. Last January, he recognized the US puppet Guaidó as president of Venezuela. By mid-year, Moreno gave the US an airbase on the Galápagos.

Moreno forgave some $4.5 billion in fines and debt by major corporations and oligarchs and then papered it over by an IMF loan. With the loan came austerity measures, el paquetazo, including removing fuel subsidies. The mass protest of the dispossessed, led by the indigenous CONAIE organization, was so overwhelming that Moreno was temporarily forced to flee the capital city of Quito and rescind some elements of the paquetazo. Moreno continues to push IMF stipulated austerity measures, while repressing his former party’s elected representatives.

Peru is in crisis, wracked with corruption scandals. In April 2019, former President Alan García shot himself as the police were preparing to arrest him for corruption, while fellow former President Alberto Fujimori is in jail on corruption accusations and human rights violations.  Former President Alejandro Toledo also faces corruption accusations and is fighting against extradition from the US. Pedro Pablo Kuczynski was the last directly elected president of Peru. Formerly a US citizen and an IMF and World Bank official, he was forced to resign for corruption in March 2018 shortly before he was slated to host a meeting of the anti-Venezuela Lima Group to expose Venezuela for corruption.

Ever since, the presidency of Peru has been disputed. The current moderate-right President Martín Vízcarra dissolved the congress; the congress controlled by the far-right Keiko Fujimori (free after a year in detention for corruption) impeached the executive, although Vízcarra recovered the presidency. In the context of this dog fight among the elites have been massive anti-corruption mobilizations from below.

The Southern Cone

Brazil. New Year 2019 marked the inauguration of Jair Bolsonaro as president of Brazil. The election of hard-right Bolsonaro – called the “Trump of Brazil” by friends and foes alike – was a major reversal from the previous left-leaning Workers Party governments.

Brazil has by far the biggest economy in Latin America and the eighth in the world and is part of the BRICS bloc including Russia, India, China, and South Africa. With a sycophant of Trump heading Brazil, both hemispheric and world geopolitics suffer the loss of a countervailing element to US hegemony. Brazil voted with the US and Israel for continuing the US blockade on Cuba and against 187 other UN members.

Former left-leaning President Lula da Silva would have easily beaten Bolsonaro, if the polls were any indication, but corrupt judge Sergio Moro sent Lula to prison on evidenceless charges. The judge was rewarded by ironically being made minister of justice in the new Bolsonaro government. Similarly, Dilma Rousseff, who was Lula’s left-leaning successor as president of Brazil, had been deposed on a technicality by the right-leaning congress in what amounted to a parliamentary coup in 2016.

An international campaign to free Lula finally succeeded in November, but far too late for him to run against Bolsonaro. Lula is free and fighting now, but could be incarcerated again.

Bolsonaro went about dismantling social welfare measures, firing government workers, and rewarding multinational corporations, while the Amazon burned. Predictably the popular sectors arose leading to an uncertain political situation in Brazil.

Chile. The Chilean people launched a general strike against austerity with slogans such as “neoliberalism was born in Chile and will die here.” Reacting to the “privatization of everything,” the uprising this fall has been truly from the grassroots with the established political parties sprinting to catch up with the popular revolt of the dispossessed.

Over a million protestors have taken to the streets in a country with a population of only 19 million. Many have remained there for weeks despite severe repression by the state, leaving numerous killed by live ammunition and rubber bullets. According to official state data, more than 8,000  have been jailed, almost 3,000 injured, and over 200 suffered ocular damage. Hundreds of  lawsuits for police brutality have been filed, including sexual abuses. The right-wing billionaire President Sebastián Piñera suspended some constitutional rights, declaring a “state of emergency” in a country still under the constitution created by the dictator Pinochet.

Argentina. After right-wing President Mauricio Macri imposed textbook perfect neoliberal economic reforms, the Argentine economy spectacularly and predictably failed with rampant inflation, food shortages, currency free-fall, and capital flight. Even the middle class protested in the streets in enormous uprisings of the dispossessed.

On October 27, the center-left ticket of Alberto Fernández as president and Cristina Fernández as VP won and announced Argentina will leave the regional anti-Venezuela Lima Group. They will also have to deal with Macri’s record breaking $50.1 billion IMF loan, saddling the people with austerity measures in a country that is broke and again at the edge of default.

Uruguay. The ruling left-center Frente Amplio’s candidate, Daniel Martínez, won in the first round of Uruguay’s presidential elections on October 27, but by a too narrow margin to avoid a runoff election. He faced a united right-wing in the November 24 runoff against Luis Lacalle Pou, which ended his party’s 15-year rule.

The Caribbean

Cuba. The US embargo of Cuba, initiated  by US President Kennedy and now a blockade (el bloqueo), along with covert regime-change operations and occupation of Guantánamo have continued in an unbroken policy of aggression through Democratic and Republican administrations alike. Most recently Trump resurrected Title III of the Clinton-era Helms-Burton Act to intensify the blockade. The Cuban people show no sign of capitulating.

Cubans welcomed a new president, as Miguel Díaz-Canel succeeded Raúl Castro. On April 10, they ratified a new constitution, after an extensive consultative process, engaging some 9 million people, 780,000 suggestions, 9,600 proposals, and 133,000 citizen meetings.

Puerto Rico and Cuba were the spoils of the first imperialist war, the 1898 Spanish-American War. Unlike free Cuba, Puerto Rico is still a neglected colonial possession of the US. And that political fact has never been clearer with Puerto Rico still not fully recovered from Hurricane María and still not governing itself to solve its own problems.

Puerto Rico experienced mass protests and a general strike in 2019. Governor Ricardo A. Rosselló was forced to resign on July 22. Puerto Rican liberation hero Oscar López Rivera observed: “Even before the governor announced his resignation, the fact is that he was not governing Puerto Rico.”

Haiti. After the harsh 29-year US-backed Duvalier dictatorships and the subsequent “military transition,” a brief flourishing of democracy ended in Haiti when the US brazenly kidnapped President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and flew him into exile in 2004. Since then, a series of dubiously elected presidents – some literally installed and all propped up by the US – have produced human rights and social welfare conditions worse than under the dictatorships.

Billions in relief after the 2010 earthquake and in Petrocaribe funds from Venezuela have largely “disappeared” into the pockets of corrupt politicians. In response, the ever-restive Haitian populace has yet intensified the uprising of the dispossessed throughout the country. The newly formed Patriotic Forum united 62 social movements, who call not only for the resignation of President Jovenel Moïse, but a complete dismantling of the “system of exclusion” and for a new republic of justice, transparency, and participation. They demanded chavire chodyè a (overturn the cauldron).

Central America and Mexico

Honduras. The designation of Honduras as a narco-state is supported by the October 18  conviction in US federal court of President Juan Orlando Hernández’s (JOH) brother Tony for cocaine smuggling.  JOH, the latest of a line of corrupt presidents since the 2009 US-backed coup, is identified as co-conspirator by the prosecutors. Testimony in the US court revealed that the notorious Mexican drug lord known as El Chapo gave JOH $1 million to help him rig the presidential election in 2013.

The US continued to prop up the tottering JOH regime staggering in the face of huge waves of popular protests including a prolonged national strike this summer. And those not opposing the government in the streets headed for asylum in the US, fleeing from gang violence and government malfeasance.

Guatemala. Right-wing comedian Jimmy Morales became president of Guatemala in August. In response to the revolt of dispossessed against his neoliberal rule, he declared a state of siege in five departments. Tens of thousands marched on Guatemala City, including the indigenous Xinkas, while many more Guatemalans fled the violence and everyday oppression seeking asylum at the US border.

The wounds of the US-backed genocidal dirty war of the 1980s against the largely indigenous population, taking some 200,000 lives, have not been healed but continue to be reinforced by harsh neoliberal measures and a regime of impunity fueling the exodus to the north. While lamenting the plight of these migrants, the corporate press in the US failed to recognize the made-in-America causes of their evacuation.

El Salvador. Likewise, El Salvador, another former victim of the US-backed dirty wars, added to the stream of Honduran and Guatemalan migrants seeking asylum in the US from the conditions created in large part by the country of their intended refuge.

Businessman Nayib Bukele, formerly associated with the left FMLN party and now turned right, was elected under the banner of the right-wing GANA party. He assumed the presidency on June 1, replacing Salvador Sánchez Ceren of the FMLN. Bukele has fallen in line with Washington’s drive to curtail emigration from the Northern Triangle countries (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador) and has reversed his nation’s foreign policy to accord with the Lima Group’s drive for regime change in Venezuela.

Nicaragua. 2019 was a year of hopeful recovery in Nicaragua, healing from successfully repulsing a US-backed coup the previous year. The domestic perpetrators were granted amnesty by leftist President Daniel Ortega, and social welfare indices were again on the ascent. Although the poorest country in Central America, Nicaraguans were for the most part not fleeing for the US but were rebuilding their homeland.

Mexico is the second largest economy in Latin American and the eleventh in the world. After decades of right-wing rule, left-of-center Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) assumed the presidency last December and his new MORENA party swept local and regional offices with the expectation that corruption, inequality, and other long festering economic injustices would be addressed. AMLO dissented from the anti-Venezuelan Lima Group and instituted a series of progressive domestic reforms.

Trump forced AMLO to contain the Central American immigrants massing on the US southern border or face tariff increases and other measures that would wreck the Mexican economy. As nineteenth century Mexican President Porfirio Díaz famously lamented: “Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States.”

A New Year’s message

2019 has not been an entirely bullish year for US imperialism, notwithstanding the hard turns to the right in Brazil, Bolivia, and Ecuador.  Powerful winds against neoliberalism are gusting in Brazil, Ecuador, Chile, Peru, Argentina, Haiti, Honduras, Guatemala, and even in the US “Commonwealth” of Puerto Rico. Regime-change operations failed in Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua. US-preferred candidates suffered losses in Mexico, Colombia, and Bolivia (later reversed by a coup). And the hegemon is challenged in its own “backyard” by the increased influence of Russia and especially China, now the second largest trading partner with Latin America and the Caribbean.

Recently Cuban President Díaz-Canel addressed the 120-state Non-aligned Movement (a third of which are sanctioned by Washington) with this perceptive thought for a multi-polar world: “There are more of us. Let us do more.”

Sierra Club Takes a Commendable Turn on Population, Climate Change, and Inequality

The Sierra Club – long a retrograde proponent of saving the planet by driving a Tessler, eating wild caught salmon, and voting blue – took positive environmental leadership with their end of the year issue of the Sierra magazine. Stating it is “time to fix the population fixation,” they examine the interactions of population, climate change, and inequality. This commendable development from bourgeois lifestyle environmentalism to a more genuine red-green understanding, though, has a way to go.

The ideology of over-population

The ideology of over-population diverts criticisms of capitalist social relations of unequal distribution. It serves to justify a system, capitalism, which creates needs for the many while satisfying them only for the very few. The Sierra Club, in a bold turn, now argues that the problem is not the fertility of women but “overconsumption” and the “outsized contribution of the wealthiest few to the climate crisis and the extinction emergency.”

Birth rates go down when human needs are met and women are afforded reproductive freedom, while the global carbon footprint of the superrich few is vastly greater than that of the poor multitudes. As the status of women improves, birth rates have indeed been stabilizing; world population is predicted to nearly stop growing by the end of the century.

The opening Sierra editorial argues:

The tendency of environmentalists to blame individuals – in particular, women in developing countries – for the number of children they have is problematic…Pointing the finger at women for this is essentially blaming the victim.

Noting that “the killers behind the mass shootings in New Zealand and El Paso, Texas referenced overpopulation and environmental degradation as reasons to target immigrants,” the Sierra Club unambiguously decries “such eco-fascist rhetoric” as having “no place in the environmental movement.” A sympathetic article follows in the Sierra magazine about the Border Angels, who defy the US Border Patrol by leaving caches of water in the Sonoran Desert for migrants.

Climate justice is given its due importance in the latest issue of Sierra with the recognition that:

Some people are consuming wildly more and wildly different than others…10 percent of the world’s population is responsible for about 50 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, and about 60 percent of those people are in the Global North. The bottom half of the world’s population is responsible for about 15 percent of emissions.

The Sierra Club understands, “a mere 100 companies count for more than 70 percent of the carbon pollution.” This is a big step forward from the simplistic notion that “people create pollution, so population is the problem.” But a sharper point on capitalist relations of production by the national environmental organization is wanting, and the vast contribution of the US military to global warming is rendered invisible in the Sierra Club’s analysis.

In “a conversation about capital, consumption, and population” recognition is given by the Sierra Club of the need to “transcend our culture of consumption.” An audacious (for a mainstream environmental organization) comment is made about “the value of life beyond a capitalist system” [Emphases added.] Flirting with a Marxist concept of alienation, the article is critical of seeing “ourselves as a commodity or a consumer.”

The article recognizes “growth is what’s creating more inequality,” but does not yet quite name the beast by saying it is capitalist growth, although they come close with saying “it’s a system.” Their call for “system change” is informed by understanding the connection of “growth and the disparity of income levels and the wealth gap.”

Reducing wealth inequality is a fundamental climate solution

The Sierra Club deserves credit for coming around to a progressive stance on population, immigration, and minorities. Back in the 1950s, the southern California chapter of the club had a policy barring African Americans. In the late 1960s, the Sierra Club published Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb, which wrongly predicted that hundreds of millions of people (including in the US) would starve to death in the 1970s due to population growth. In the 1980s, Sierra Club national committees advocated for limiting immigration to the US. In 1998 and again in 2004, elements within the organization pushed hard to change the then policy of neutrality on immigration to one of actively closing the US borders to immigrants. The nativist anti-immigrant faction was defeated.

Presently, the Sierra Club opposes the border wall, supports a path to citizenship for the undocumented, and works actively with immigrant rights groups. From those dark days of Ehrlich when human population and especially the reproductive capacity of women were seen as the source of environmental problems, this latest issue of the Sierra magazine has the tagline “the planet is in crisis – SHE has solutions.” A young African woman wearing a hijab is on the cover.

The Sierra Club is a member-based NGO with the latitude to make this leap forward on the population question. Most other major environmental NGOs won’t likely follow, because they are more dependent on funding from rich individuals and foundations for whom the hint of income equality is a non-starter. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, with their Environment and Population Research Centre and their Climate Foundation, works tirelessly to suppress what the Sierra article concludes: “reducing wealth inequality [is] a fundamental climate solution.”

Hopefully the days are gone when the Sierra magazine gets all weak-kneed gushing over the “green lifestyle” of a former corporate executive who cashed in early on her stock options, left the “rat race” of Los Angeles, and moved into a sprawling spread in the formerly unspoiled desert. And the reason why Sierra viewed her as an environmental paragon? She installed solar panels on her roof. Hopefully, too, will be the passing of those cheery infomercials for the US military about how cool it is that their killing machines are fitted with solar panels.

Identifying overconsumption and waste as problems is a breakthrough from the mainstream narrative on climate solutions, which usually focuses almost solely on alternative technologies and consumer preferences to maintain the capitalist growth economy of waste. If only “we” weaned ourselves off of “our addiction” to oil and went solar, the narrow narrative goes, all would be satisfactory. The next step, yet to materialize for the Sierra Club, would be to recognize the necessity of ending that system of waste known as capitalism.

Nevertheless, the Sierra article concludes on an auspicious note:

What we need to think about is how do we bring those who are the biggest power brokers on the planet to heel.

Greater Middle East Project of Chaos

Destination Afghanistan was known as the big easy back in the halcyon days of the late 1960s. Hippies from throughout the affluent West hitchhiked to the capital, Kabul, where crash pads and hashish were cheap, and the locals were tolerant. Life appeared to be mellow in the scenic shadow of the Hindu Kush Himalayans. That was then.

Now Afghanistan is engulfed in year 18 of the forever US war with no end in sight. The war has gotten so old – the longest in US history – that the Pentagon PR flacks changed the code name from Operation Enduring Freedom to Operation Freedom’s Sentinel to spruce up its image.

Half of Kabul is now in rubble. Music, education for girls, and cultivation of opium poppies are prohibited in areas controlled by the former US-allied Taliban. US-backed warlords in the rest of this devastated land supply the majority of the world’s illicit heroin, visiting a plague of drug addiction on nearby Iran, China, and Russia – official US enemies – and on the ghettos, rural wastelands, and hipster dens of the West. US attempts at “reconstruction” of Afghanistan have cost $117 billion, eclipsing the price tag of the entire Marshall Plan for Europe.

So why is the US still in Afghanistan? The official explanation has something vaguely to do with the arch villain Osama bin Laden from Saudi Arabia who was last holed up in Pakistan before reportedly being assassinated by US special forces and unceremoniously dumped into the sea eight years ago.

Max Blumenthal’s The Management of Savagery (Verso, 2019) provides a far more cogent explanation for the US wars in Afghanistan along with Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Libya, and Syria with Iran on the to-do list (and may be on the war list by the time this article gets posted). Savagery reads like a real-life whodunit tracing the shadowy back channels of the CIA, FBI, DIA, and NSA piping jihadists around the greater Middle East to create chaos only to find their assets turning against them. Besides being well written, the analysis of the maturation of the neoliberal imperial project by the world’s sole remaining superpower illuminates the current bi-partisan consensus for militarism.

The politics of chaos

 The collapse of the Soviet Union left a geopolitical power vacuum and an opportunity for the US to more aggressively exert its imperial will. The ensuing politics of chaos produced some strange bedfellows: “human rights” thinktanks with Gulf monarchies, anti-Semites with Zionists, the US security state with jihadists, and neoconservatives with establishment liberals.

Bin Laden, according to Savagery, had a master plan to create “full chaos” in the greater Middle East, which he believed would precipitate the collapse of local regimes so that the culture of jihad could supersede them. Dovetailing this scenario was the neocon plan for regime change in regional states not subservient to US dictates and Israeli expansion. “In the global war bin Laden envisioned,” Blumenthal reports, “these [US] foreign policy fanatics would make the perfect partners.” Leading the charge were neocon Republicans like John Bolton and Elliot Abrams with the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), later to be joined by liberal Clinton Democrats.

Both foreign jihadists and domestic militarists needed a precipitating incident, what the PNAC envisioned as a “catastrophic and catalyzing event.” That came with 9/11. Blumenthal finds credence that the US government likely had some foreknowledge of the attacks, but accuses some Truthers of inadvertently running interference “for the imperialist power they claimed to disdain” by “omitting any historical discussion of the American government’s relationship with the forces directly implicated in the attacks.”

The Authorization for the Use of Military Force was passed just five days after 9/11 as a joint resolution of Congress with only one dissenting vote. “Congress thus voluntarily abdicated its constitution authority and,” according to Blumenthal, “gave its blessing to America’s forever war.” The Patriot Act followed a month later, “granting the executive branch unprecedented wartime powers to investigate and prosecute Americans.”

The neocons and the alt-right have been able to mainstream anti-Muslim politics in the US. Meanwhile the liberal “responsibility to protect” (R2P) doctrine has created popular support for forever war “by weaponizing the discourse of human rights to justify the use of force against governments that resisted the Washington consensus.” The R2P liberals achieved what the right could not.

“In the era of Russiagate, when so many liberals cling to institutions like the FBI and NATO as guardians of their survival,” Blumenthal explains, “the dastardly record of America’s national security mandarins has been wiped clean.” The forever wars are “marketed to the Western public as clinical exercises in freedom-spreading” with a “dual layer patina of patriotic hoopla [for the right] and humanitarian goodwill [for the liberals].”

The refugee crises coming out of the Middle East, generated by the forever wars and accompanying economic sanctions (more accurately, illegal unilateral coercive measures), have consequently fueled xenophobia both in the US and abroad. This, in turn, has fostered an ascendant wave of rightists. “Trump’s election,” Blumenthal contends, “would not have been possible without 9/11 and the subsequent military interventionism conceived by the national security state.”  The national security state did not arise with Trump, but “has maintained a steady continuity between successive administrations.”

Unwanted refugees are not the only inconvenient byproduct of the forever wars in the greater Middle East. The US security state’s alliance with jihadists to overthrow the Soviet-friendly government in Afghanistan – a pattern which is has been repeated in each subsequent Middle Eastern misadventure – has created a “disposal problem” of what to do with these US-armed combatants.

For Americans, the tragedy of 9/11 was just the most dramatic example of the “disposal problem.” “The plague of international jihadism that the United States helped to unleash through its covert interventionism in Cold War-era Afghanistan,” Blumenthal warns, “was to expand and metastasize…”

The neoliberal imperial project, a symbiotic association of liberal “military humanism” and right-wing straight-up militarism, is now showing signs of undoing according to Blumenthal:

Through covert operations and overt invasions, America’s national security state had destabilized entire regions, from the Levant to North Africa, unleashed a migration crisis of unprecedented proportions onto Europe and spurred an inevitable right-wing backlash that was unraveling the neoliberal consensus they sought to protect.

Critical reviews

In a critical review of Savagery, Louis Proyect finds himself “in agreement” on Afghanistan and Libya but not on Syria. Proyect rejects the analysis that the purpose of the US is or ever was regime change of the Assad government in Syria: “with the regime still intact, it might be obvious that this was never the goal.”  Proyect dismisses what otherwise the purpose of the US war effort might be with a “let’s leave that aside.” In contrast, regime change is the central thesis of Blumenthal’s book.

 Proyect accuses Blumenthal of being “one of Assad’s biggest supporters on the left,” though a reading of Savagery would suggest Blumenthal is not an apologist for the governments targeted by the US for regime change. In an interview after his recent visit to Syria, Blumenthal commented: “Whether or not Syria is a dictatorship or a police state; I would not dispute that at all.” Rather, the focus of Savagery is on the policies and actions of the US and its allies, the deleterious effects it has had on the people of the region, and the blowback it has had at home.

A critique in the Times Literary Supplement, from a liberal “humanitarian imperialism” point of view, kvetches:

It is easy to blame the United States for many of the world’s ills: easy because of the availability of evidence. It is also easy to overstate your case, with misleading or one-sided examples – the trap that Max Blumenthal falls into in The Management of Savagery.

Which raises the question of why, given “the availability of evidence,” the TLS and its co-conspirators in the corporate media unerringly fall into the opposite trap of being sycophants of the Empire? Why have they failed to connect the dots, as Blumenthal has, and shown “how America’s national security state fueled the rise of Al Qaeda, ISIS, and Donald Trump”?

Why Trump Is Facing Impeachment

The United States has spent EIGHT TRILLION DOLLARS fighting and policing in the Middle East. Thousands of our Great Soldiers have died or been badly wounded. Millions of people have died on the other side. GOING INTO THE MIDDLE EAST IS THE WORST DECISION EVER MADE…..

— Tweet, Donald J. Trump, October 9, 2019.

Granted Trump may arguably be more corrupt than Biden. But that’s splitting hairs over which crook is more crooked. Bullying vassal states and “doing well by doing good” are indicators of finesse in Washington. Inside the beltway, corruption is not a liability for holding high political office, but a requirement. The key to membership in the power elite club is carrying water for the imperial state, and most club members must go through an elaborate vetting process to prove that they are reliable. Some such as Trump slip through.

The sine qua non for membership in this exclusive club is to prove you’ll take a hit for the empire. When the results of the 2000 US presidential election were inconclusive, Al Gore took a fall rather than risk instability at the top: “(for) the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession.” There are higher callings than merely winning the presidency for good servants of the empire.

But would Trump have been so compliant? Maybe not. So, impeachment is in order to either chasten him to faithful obedience or get rid of him.

The Not Thoroughly Vetted President

The presidential primaries are an audition process to see who can best serve the ruling class while conning the public. If the presidential “debates” demonstrate anything, it is that all the contestants are aspiring reality TV stars. Trump was different only in that he had previous experience.

Whenever one of the contestants shows vacillation on empire, they get slapped on the side of the head. Gabbard got summarily dismissed from the debates for her failure of faith in wars of imperial aggression as the highest expression of humanitarianism. Sanders had to grovel, calling the democratically elected president of Venezuela a “vicious tyrant.”

And to qualify for the debates, a contestant must first prove that they are a “serious candidate.” In a “democracy” where bribing politicians is considered “free speech” and where corporations are afforded the constitutional rights of “persons,” the single overriding measure of seriousness is raising bundles of money from the rich. Of course, the rich did not become rich without expecting a return on their investments. Warren’s surge, as it was dutifully reported in the press, came when some of the big money began to shift from Biden to her.

Trump on the other hand had his own billionaire’s booty to back him, plus a little help from his wealthy cohorts. As billionaire Ross Perot proved in 1992, if you are filthy rich, you can independently run for president. And, in his case, throw the election from Bush the Elder to Bill Clinton.

To win a presidential election, however, you need more than deep pockets…you need a little help from your friends in getting a major party backing. Why a major party ballot line is so useful has constitutional antecedents.

The revolution of 1776, the last revolution that the US elites liked that was not rigged by the CIA, gave us the Articles of Confederation as the ruling document for the new sovereign. By 1787 the US elites of the time, Hamilton and supporting cast, were chaffing under what they characterized as the “excesses of democracy.” A new constitution was drafted and approved with “checks and balances.” What needed to be checked and balanced? Democracy, the direct rule of the people, was what was checked in the new document, while slavery was reaffirmed under the highest law of the land.

The new constitution gave us the Electoral College, whereby presidents are selected by “electors” rather than trusting the direct vote of the people and states can vote as a block. This allowed Trump to triumph even when his opponent received some 3 million more votes. Oddly, his Democratic Party opponents have since focused on alleged Russian interference through Facebook ads rather than the need to make the US Constitution an instrument for expression of the popular will.

But we are getting ahead of the story, because Trump still had to become the front runner in a crowded Republican field before he could even take on the other party of capital. Here he had help from friends in unexpected quarters. The Republican establishment hated him, but Clinton and the so-called liberal media became Trump boosters. The corporate media gave the flamboyant Trump a bully platform because it was good for ratings.

Clinton and the Democratic National Committee, as revealed in their leaked emails published by Wikileaks, pulled for Trump because they thought him an easier opponent than, say, the mainstream Republican heir-apparent Jeb Bush. There was precious little difference between the positions of Jeb and Hillary, though the popular images projected by the two major parties superficially diverged. The core of both parties greatly overlap, while the right fringe of the Republicans and the left fringe of the Democrats provide the contrasting colors but not the contending policy directions.

The 2016 electoral contest was a spectacle of insurgencies. Initially, there was Sanders. That he was somehow considered an “outsider” is a symptom of just how terminally ingrown the US polity has become. How could someone who served years in the US Senate and caucused with the Democrats be an outsider? Sanders ran on two premises: supporting the Democratic Party and raising suppressed issues such as income inequality. He succeeded in the first and failed in the second.

Meanwhile after 40 years of neoliberalism, CEO compensation has grown 940%  as compared to 12% for typical employees in the US.

Trump in his way also pandered to the genuinely deteriorating condition of US workers. Both the Trump and the Sanders anti-establishment insurgencies, however, were contained within the two-party system and thus were structurally destined not to come to fruition. The establishment won’t come down by joining them.

Unfaithful Servant of Imperialism

Defying even the Las Vegas bookies’ predictions, Trump became the 45th President of the US. He had kvetched about the plight of US workers and made some noise about ending unending wars, but was he for real? After all, Obama had promised to get out of Gitmo and NAFTA, but ended up doing neither. Obama, the former critic of Bush’s Iraq war, continued Bush’s wars and started a handful of his own.

Upon occupying the Oval Office, Trump not unexpectedly threw the working class under the bus with his tax cut for the rich and similar actions, which must have won him some brownie points from the owning class. But to date he has failed to start a new war. The last US president with a similar failing was the one-term Jimmy Carter. And now Trump is showing insufficient enthusiasm for continuing the war in Syria and possibly even a closet aversion to starting World War III with nuclear-armed Russia. These may be impeachable offenses in the estimation of parts of the ruling class.

David R. Sanger, writing in the October 7 New York Times, represents “liberal” establishment views in support of US imperialism: “Mr. Trump’s sudden abandonment of the Kurds was another example of the independent, parallel foreign policy he has run from the White House, which has largely abandoned the elaborate systems created since President Harry Truman’s day to think ahead about the potential costs and benefits of presidential decisions.”

There you have it. Trump is accused of having an “independent” foreign policy, emanating out of his office of all places, even though he is the elected President of the US and the one charged with executing foreign policy.

Who is Trump “independent” from? It’s not the US citizenry according to the Times. As the article points out: “Mr. Trump sensed that many Americans share his view – and polls show he is right… Mr. Trump has correctly read the American people who, after Iraq and Afghanistan, also have a deep distaste for forever wars.”

So, who might Trump have betrayed? According to the article, it’s “circumventing the American generals and diplomats who sing the praises of maintaining the traditional American forward presence around the world.” This is whom his alleged crime of independence is against. They fear Trump could “abandon” the post-war imperial consensus.

Note that the Times, as reflective of current ruling class ideology, no longer bothers to justify the dictates of the world’s sole hegemon as a crusade against the current evil, be it communism or terrorism. Simply, the imperial state must be supported. Hence, Trump’s view that “acting as the world’s policeman was too expensive” or his tweet, “time for us to get out,” have become grounds for impeachment.

The article favorably cites Republican majority leader Senator Mitch McConnell, who called on Trump “to exercise American leadership” by capitulating to the dictates of the imperial state, while contrasting it to that glory day “not even three months after his inauguration, [when] he ordered the first military strike of his presidency.”

The Times article continues: “That system is badly broken today. Mr. Trump is so suspicious of the professional staff – many drawn from the State Department and the C.I.A. – and so dismissive of the ‘deep state’ foreign policy establishment, that he usually announces decisions first, and forces the staff to deal with them later.”

“That system,” cited above, is the post-WWII permanent state. Trump is chastised in the Times for being “so dismissive of the ‘deep state’ foreign policy establishment.” Trump instead, according to the article, has the temerity to make his own decisions and then he expects the agencies of government to follow his instructions. For some, having the elected representative formulate policy and the unelected state apparatus follow it would be democratic. But not so for the cheerleaders of US imperialism.

The Dark Knight Rises

Trump’s habitual corruption and bullying has now been outed by a whistleblower. Unlike Ellsberg, Manning, and Snowden, who sought to correct US imperial policy, this whistleblower comes from the very gatekeeper of imperialism, the CIA. According to his lawyers, there is not a lone whistleblower but a whole cabal of well-placed spooks in the secret US security apparatus. The deep state (I would prefer the term “permanent” state) is more than a conspiracy theory.

The impeachment imbroglio is bigger than Trump. That the outing of Trump was done by a current employee of a US agency shrouded in secrecy, who is unaccountable and unknown, should be a subject of enormous concern for all small-d democrats and not just anti-imperialists. The CIA has the means and mission to overthrow regimes, and now ours may be one of them, however undesirable the current president may be.

We, the people, should take no solace that Trump, in his careening about, may stumble in the direction of anti-imperialism. Trump is just as much an imperialist as the rest. Only he is not as reliably consistent and that is what has gotten leading segments of the ruling class into a hissy fit. The ruling class is not always unified on policy. Here we are witness to an intra-class struggle. But we needn’t take sides, because the ruling class is always unified in serving their class interests, which are not ours.

A policy conflict, some have speculated, is raging within the ruling class between Trump’s “isolationist” and a more “globalist” imperialism. Rest assured the ruling class has institutions to adjudicate these disputes such as the Council on Foreign Relations. For the neocons and the “liberal” right-to-protect “humanitarian imperialists,” Trump’s lurches in the direction of non-intervention and rapprochement are only venial sins. The mortal sin would be if the erratic Trump fails to listen to what the Times delicately calls the “professionals.”

A corollary fear is if the “populist” (note how the ruling class thinks of this as a pejorative) Trump listens to the people’s desire for peace. Unlike the first fear, the latter is unwarranted. That is, unwarranted unless and until the people rebuild an independent peace movement to check the rising tide of US militarism.

On the Road to Damascus

“Welcome to your second country” was the greeting our Syrian hosts gave us when we arrived for the International Trade Union Forum for “solidarity with the workers and people of Syria against the economic blockade, imperialist interventions, and terrorism.”

Throughout my short one-week stay, Syrians, on seeing I was a foreigner, would muster their best English to ask where I was from. Invariably upon hearing that I was from the US, the questioner would shake my hand, touch hand to heart, and say “welcome.” Ironically, these victims of the US-backed war of regime change and economic sanctions went out of their way to extend their hospitality to us, while the jihadists, whom the US has been arming, training, and implicitly backing, are the ones who, at least according to George W. Bush, “hate us.”

After their expansive hospitality, the most striking aspect of the Syrians I encountered was their pride in their country’s culture of diversity and tradition of a secular state. Mosques of various denominations were cheek to jowl with a variety Christian churches.

Although I was not permitted to photograph military personnel, no restrictions limited our activities or where we could go, though we stayed mainly in the vicinity of Damascus. I was free to either travel on my own or to accept the offers of our hosts to show us the sights.

For all the reality of over eight years of vicious war, life appeared normal. Damascus had the appearance of a bustling world capital; in fact, it is the oldest continuously occupied capital in the world. I didn’t encounter US fast food restaurants or see any skyscrapers. Thriving commerce and a remarkable diversity of dress and ethnicities were everywhere. The antiquities of this ancient city were not antiseptically preserved behind museum glass, but part of the living landscape. Houses built into the old city wall were still inhabited.

As a Syrian university student proudly explicated about her homeland: “We are a country where people resist any colonialism; we have 9,000 years of culture.”

Conference addresses illegal sanctions

The two-day conference addressed the illegality under international law of economic sanctions and other coercive measures, as well as the effects of the blockade on the people of Syria. The importance of solidarity was emphasized in confronting imperialist interventions that aim at undermining the security of peoples and the sovereignty of states. The role of trade unions, civil society, and media was recognized in exposing the political hypocrisy of states that claim to fight terrorism while supporting it in reality.

The conference opened with a welcoming address by Syrian Prime Minister Imad Khamis and was attended by other government officials and members of the governing party. If there were any security precautions for these high-level dignitaries, they were invisible to me.

Some 232 delegates representing 52 countries attended. Leading members of the World Federation of Trade Unions, Organization of African Trade Union Unity, (Syrian) General Federation of Trade Unions, International Confederation of Arab Trade Unions, Arab Labor Organization, and the 15-million-member Indian confederation (the world’s largest trade union) spoke at the conference.

The North American delegation included trade unionists, peace activists, and journalists.  Ajamu Baraka of the US Peace Council, Black Alliance for Peace, and Black Agenda Report declared: “There can be no working-class justice, no working-class rights in a world where powerful elite social forces are prepared and are using extreme violence.”

Noting that the “US spends more on national defense than China, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, Japan, Saudi Arabia and India combined,” Baraka explained that the “theft of public resources for the military and militarism domestically and abroad represent a one-sided class war waged on the working class in the US. The six trillion dollars spent on US wars since 2003 are resources that could have been directed to address the increasing desperate plight of workers and poor people in the US.”

The final declaration of the conference called for the closure of US and Turkish bases in Syrian territory, withdrawal of uninvited foreign forces from Syria, the cessation of aggressive US-alliance air raids, and solidarity with similarly US-sanctioned Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba.

Blowback

The Jerusalem Post on September 9, the second day of the conference, had already trolled social media to discover that reporter Max Blumenthal “claimed (emphasis added) that he was in Damascus at the General Federation of Trade Union conference.” The Israeli newspaper criticized Blumenthal for investigating “regime-held areas” by actually visiting them. Similarly criticized were Lebanese-American journalist Rania Khalek (also at the conference) for a visit to Syria in 2016 and US Representative and Democratic presidential primary candidate Tulsi Gabbard for a visit the following year. Presumably, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, funded by the British Foreign Office and run by a clothing dealer out of his home in Coventry, England, is where they should have gone for information on the Middle East.

The blowback experienced by Donald Lafleur has been far more vehement. He has been threatened with losing his position as executive vice president of the 3.3 million-member Canadian Labour Congress. The Canadian National Post newspaper, whose journalism on the Middle East is not simply a fallback to the Cold War but to the Crusades, attacked Lafleur for attending the conference with “neo-Stalinist ‘anti-war’ zombies.” The veteran postal worker, traveling to Syria on his own dime and time, had the temerity to express solidarity with fellow workers instead of with the bourgeoisie the National Post so loyally champions.

Hassan Yussuff, President of the Canadian Labour Congress, attacked Lafleur for calling for an end of punishing and illegal sanctions on his fellow workers in Syria. Ken Stone of the Congress of Union Retirees of Canada responded:

If we believe in democracy, trade unionists can visit another country without accepting our government’s positions on international affairs. In fact, a healthy trade-union movement would offer a different analysis of world issues than Canada’s government, which is subservient to corporations. The solidarity actions of a leading trade unionist serve as an example to us all in removing barriers of distrust and misunderstanding, permitting us to learn from the struggles of the Global South.

Also attacked by the National Post for attending the conference were “Kremlin-friendly” journalists Max Blumenthal and Anya Parampil with The Grayzone, anti-war activist Fra Hughes from Belfast, and “Lebanese-Californian” Paul Larudee with the Syria Solidarity Movement. (Larudee was actually born in Iran, but the distinction between Arabic-speaking Lebanon and Farsi-speaking Iran is too subtle for the National Post.)

Meeting with Assad

Security-wise, it was a lot easier to get into the presidential palace to meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad than it is to take a commuter plane from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The president individually greeted each one of us as we entered. He thanked a German delegate for his country’s acceptance of Syrian refugees. The German, in turn, mock-implored Assad to “take me in.”

After apologizing for keeping us waiting while he shook hands with each one of us, Assad explained that 90% of Syria had been “liberated” and the intention was to regain the entirety of the national territory. Final victory, however, would not come until all Syrians are won over to national unity.

Syria, according to Assad, is socialist where workers are in “partnership with the state” and are the “leading section” of the society. Minimal medical care and education are free in Syria, even during the height of the war.

Assad explained that the gap between capitalists and those who produce the wealth – the working class – has widened internationally since the 1970s and particularly after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Workers paid the price for the world capitalist financial crisis of 2008.

“Conflicts,” Assad noted, “won’t end in the near future” but “Syria is not isolated.” The US, he explained, does not enjoy the monopoly of technology that it held 20 years ago.  Today a new network of relationships is developing among Brazil, China, Russia, India, and the small states of the world. The US, he warned, may end up blockading itself.

The 2-hour meeting, including a robust Q&A, concluded with Assad’s recommendation to “teach reality.”

One view of a complex picture

“In the west, are people stupid or are they just thinking stupidly?” asked a young Syrian woman. We were at Damascus University after the conference. An Australian conference attendee, Tim Anderson, had just spoken to a standing-room-only crowd on his book Axis of Resistance: Towards an Independent Middle East. In response to her question, Anderson explained how the western mass media paints a particular view of the complexity of Syrian reality.  “Imperial cultures have tried to normalize war in the 21st century,” adding “regime change is a soft term for a war of aggression.”

For the Syrians I met, their president, Bashar Al-Assad, was seen as the guarantor of national unity in the face of aggression from abroad. Many were the stories of friendly encounters with the president and his family. It may well be that those who held contrary views did not express them to foreigners, but those who did seemed genuine in their personal affection for the person they regarded as their leader in these times of peril.

My experience on the road to Damascus was also one view of a complex picture, a view not often seen in the West. But whatever view one takes in the Syrian conflict, the US policy of economic sanctions, restricting access to food and medicines, is an illegal and unconscionable collective punishment of the Syrian people.

Venezuela Building Socialism in the Midst of a War

“Venezuela,” Daniela Rodríguez explained, “is building socialism in the midst of a war.”  According to Rodríguez, “the U.S. is using new tools of warfare trying to subjugate, dominate, and push back socialism not only in Venezuela but in any part of the world.” Nevertheless, she added, “we are learning new ways to defend humanity.”

A youth member of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, Rodríguez was only nine years old when Hugo Chávez was elected president of Venezuela in 1998 and initiated the Bolivarian Revolution. Based on her activism, this millennial explained to a mostly seasoned audience at the Left Forum in Brooklyn, New York, on June 29: “The road to socialism is not a flat road. It is a road with many obstacles. But the direction of our government has been clearly towards socialism. The Venezuelan constitution has shown the way. It is not easy to make a revolution the democratic way in the context of globalization and international warfare” from the U.S.

Rodríguez had been invited as a special guest to a panel of activists reporting back on their solidarity delegation to Venezuela last March.

Joe Lombardo recounted that what their delegation to Venezuela saw was the opposite of what was being reported in the U.S. corporate press. Lombardo is co-coordinator of the United National Anti-war Coalition (UNAC). He twice tried to attend announced opposition rallies in Caracas, which didn’t materialize. In fact, the government had dispatched police to protect the opposition supporters had they assembled because, for most Venezuelans, the U.S.-backed far-right opposition was profoundly unpopular. Meanwhile, the delegation witnessed huge demonstrations mobilizing in defense of the government.

Delegation organizer Bahman Azad of the U.S. Peace Council described how the U.S. is promoting wars all over the world. With its unparalleled power, the U.S. can use hybrid warfare techniques such as unilateral coercive economic measures to rain misery upon the population of any country that shows independence from the U.S.-imposed world order. The U.S. is currently unilaterally sanctioning not only Venezuela but also some 30 other countries. The increasing danger of major power confrontation and consequently of world war urgently calls for building a unified movement against militarism, because only a peace movement within the U.S. can overcome this war mongering.

Azad reflected that societies like Venezuela cannot transmute from capitalist to socialist overnight but must transform over time. Azad, citing Lenin, explained that a revolutionary vanguard must lead, but only by a single step lest it get too detached from the people and become right in essence

Another delegate, Sara Flounders, with the International Action Center noted that it is not for North Americans to tell the Venezuelans that they are not socialist enough. Instead of academic criticisms that Venezuela has not nationalized enough private property, we should understand that right now the U.S. government is preventing the Venezuelan-owned CITGO company in the U.S. from repatriating profits, which would be used to provide needed food and medicines to the Venezuelan people.

William Camacaro, of the Alberto Lovera Bolivarian Circle, resides in the U.S. and recently led a delegation to his native Venezuela. To say that the Venezuelan government of Nicolás Maduro does not need to be defended from the U.S. regime-change project because it has not overthrown its bourgeoisie is, according to Camacaro, to implicitly support the U.S.-backed coup effort.

Kevin Zeese, co-director of Popular Resistance and another delegate, further explained that the Venezuelan revolution for socialism is best understood as a “process.”

Zeese is part of the Embassy Protection Collective, which defended the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, DC at the invitation of the Venezuelan government after the Venezuelan embassy staff left the U.S. For 37 days they prevented the embassy from being occupied by representatives of the unelected Juan Guaidó who is the U.S.-anointed and self-proclaimed interim president of Venezuela.

Zeese along with Margaret Flowers, also a co-director of Popular Resistance and attending the panel, plus two other Embassy Protectors were ultimately arrested by the U.S. government and now face possible high fines and imprisonment. A defense committee has been formed and is soliciting donations to help defray legal fees and doing educational work to help build a national consensus against the ongoing coup attempt in Venezuela by the U.S. A demonstration is called for at Herald Square in Manhattan with a march to the UN on September 22.

Rodríguez expressed her great gratitude for the courage of the Embassy Protectors defending both the Venezuelan embassy and, she added, international law. The Venezuelan people see them, she explained, as true heroes and inspirations.

An Ecuadorian attending the panel called Venezuela “the light for Latin America,” because of its internationalist commitment to helping people. He thanked the Maduro government of Venezuela, which was the first to send millions of dollars of relief aid when Ecuador had a disastrous earthquake.

Rodríguez concluded about the historical struggle against imperialism and for humanity. “I am just a worker,” she explained. “I believe in something – the need to promote solidarity. We need to feel solidarity with suffering in any part of the world. The Empire doesn’t respect international law. The United Nations is being attacked by the very nation that hosts it.” She lamented the terrible misery in Venezuela happening now due to the U.S. regime-change project, closing that “justice shall prevail.”

Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution in the Crosshairs of US Imperialism

With the likes of John Bolton and Elliot Abrams directing US foreign policy, the US government has abandoned all pretense of “plausible denial” for its illegal regime-change initiatives. The “humanitarian” bombs may not be falling but, make no mistake, the US is waging a full-bore war against the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela.

Back in 1998, Venezuela had had nearly a half a century of two-party rule. A duopoly, not unlike the Republican and Democratic parties in the US, alternated in power imposing a neoliberal order. Poor and working people experienced deteriorating conditions of austerity regardless of which party was in power.

Then third-party candidate Hugo Chávez was elected president. He initiated what has become known as the Bolivarian Revolution, which has inspired the peoples of the world while engendering the enmity of both the US imperialists and the Venezuelan elites.

This article explores the contributions, shortcomings, and lessons of the Bolivarian Revolution’s two decades, in the context of the US regime-change efforts from its inception to current attempts by the US to install the unelected Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s president.

  1. Forging a new national identity based on a people’s history. History, it is said, is written by the victors. The historical narrative typically reflects the class that enslaved the Africans, dispossessed the Indigenous, and exploited the workers. There are exceptions. In the US, we have the legacy of Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States.

In Venezuela, Chávez revised his country’s history and thereby wrought a sea change of national consciousness. Prior to Chávez, Venezuela was arguably the most sycophantically pro-US country in South America. Miami was looked to for cultural affirmation; baseball was the national pastime.

Chávez took special inspiration from the leader of the South American struggle against Spanish colonialism and named his project after Simón Bolívar, known as the “Liberator.” Bolívar was not merely a national leader, but a true internationalist. The Bolivarian project is about the integration of nations based on mutual respect and sovereignty. Bolívar presciently declared in 1829: “The United States appears to be destined by Providence to plague Latin America with misery in the name of liberty.”

This new Venezuelan national identity and consciousness, based on their history told from the bottom up, may prove to be the most lasting legacy of the Bolivarian Revolution.

  1. Inclusive society. Fundamental to the Bolivarian project has been the inclusion of the formerly dispossessed: especially women, people of color, and youth.

As professor of Latin American history at NYU Greg Grandin observed, this inclusiveness has awakened “a deep fear of the primal hatred, racism, and fury of the opposition, which for now is directed at the agents of Maduro’s state but really springs from Chávez’s expansion of the public sphere to include Venezuela’s poor.”

For example, when an opposition demonstration came upon an Afro-descendent street peddler, he was presumed to be a chavista because he was dark-skinned and poor. The opposition demonstrators poured gasoline over him and set him on fire. Then the horrific image was posted on social media.

A less gruesome example occurred at the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, DC. North American activists in solidarity with the Bolivarian government protected the embassy in accordance with international law from being usurped by representatives of US-backed Juan Guaidó for 36 days. Before the protectors were evicted by the US Secret Service on May 16, counter-protesting opposition expatriate Venezuelans would wave bananas at African American solidarity activists, chanting “go back to the zoo.” Such is the racist loathing that fuels the Venezuelan opposition.

  1. Special option for poor and working people. Why should a state of all the people have a special option for those who are poor and working? Because these are the people who most need the social welfare services of the state. Billionaires don’t need government schools, hospitals, and housing, but the masses of Venezuelan people do.

The Bolivarian project had halved poverty and cut extreme poverty by two-thirds, while providing free health care and education. On May 27, the United Nations cited Venezuela as one of the top countries for guaranteeing the right to housing, recognizing the over 2.5 million public housing units built.

  1. Democracy promotion. The role of a state aspiring to be socialist is not simply to provide social welfare, but to empower the people.

The Bolivarian project has experimented in what is called “protagonistic democracy”: cooperatives, citizens councils, and communes. Some succeeded; others did not.  One of the first priorities was to eradicate illiteracy. The Bolivarian state has promoted community radio stations, low-cost computers, internet cafés for senior citizens, and other venues for popular expression. Venezuela now has one of the highest rates of higher education attendance in the world. These are not the hallmarks of a dictatorship.

  1. 21st century socialism. More than even Bernie Sanders, the Bolivarian Revolution put socialism on the agenda for the 21st century. For this we owe the Venezuelans a debt of gratitude, not for providing us with a playbook to be copied, but for demonstrating that the creation of a better world is principally a process.

This was not the primary transgression placing Venezuela in the crosshairs of US imperialism. Promoting socialism may be regarded as blasphemy, but the original sin is the following.

  1. Multi-polar world and regional integration. The greatest challenge to the Empire, to the world’s sole superpower, is a multi-polar world based on regional integration. In 1999, Chávez helped strengthen OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries). In 2004, he helped initiate ALBA (Alliance for Our Peoples of America), followed by PetroCaribe in 2005, UNASUR (Union of South American Nations) in 2008, and CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) in 2011. Venezuela has consistently demonstrated solidarity with the Palestinian struggle and other oppressed peoples.

When the small fish organize, the big fish gets nasty. Above all, this is why the world’s hegemon has targeted Venezuela.

The traumatic transition from Chávez to Maduro

 Chávez, suffering from cancer, died on March 5, 2013. The reaction in Venezuela was polarized. The elites danced in the street. The majority, composed mainly of poor and working people, were traumatized.

The bully to the north, smelling blood, saw an opportunity. The US had conspired to overthrow the Bolivarian Revolution from the beginning, backing a short-lived coup in 2002 followed by a boss’s strike. With the passing of Chávez, the imperialist offensive doubled down.

A snap election was called according to the Venezuelan Constitution for April 14 to replace the deceased president. Chávez, anticipating his demise, had designated Nicolás Maduro as his successor. Although polls had shown Maduro with a 10% lead going into the election campaign, he won with a narrow 1.5% margin.

I was in Caracas as an election observer when Maduro won. My observation of the election was like that of former US President Jimmy Carter, who had declared a year before that of the 92 elections the Carter Center had observed, “The election process in Venezuela is the best in the world.”

Within minutes of the announcement of Maduro’s victory, the main opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles, came on TV to denounce the election as fraudulent and call on the people to “show their rage.” Thus began the opposition’s violent offensive, the guarimbas, to achieve by violence what they could not achieve in democratic elections.

The opposition charges of fraud were investigated by Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) and found groundless, based on a 100% audit of the electronic vote backed up with paper receipts. Capriles still maintained the charge of fraud, and the US became the sole nation to refuse to recognize the Maduro presidency. The opposition violence continued, taking over 40 lives.

Upon assuming the presidency, Maduro inherited existing problems of crime, inefficiency, corruption, inflation, and a dysfunctional currency exchange system. These were problems that existed during the Chávez period and even prior to that. These problems persist in varying degrees to the present, despite concerted programs to address them.

President Maduro has had his feet held to the fire by the imperialists from the get-go. Far from having a respite, shortly into his presidency, Venezuela was hit with petroleum prices plummeting from a high of nearly $125/barrel to a low of close to $25/barrel. Despite efforts to diversify the economy, Venezuela remains dependent on oil exports for most of its foreign exchange, which is used to fund the social programs.

US regime-change war intensifies

The US regime-change war continues to intensify with increasingly harsh sanctions. These unilateral measures are illegal under the charters of the United Nations and the Organization of American States, because they constitute collective punishment. Trump’s security advisor, John Bolton, elucidates: “It’s like in Star Wars, when Darth Vader grips someone. That’s what we’re doing economically with the (Venezuelan) regime.”

In 2013, the US waited until after the presidential election in Venezuela to declare it fraudulent. Taking no chances, the US declared the 2018 election fraudulent four months before it was held. Joining Trump in this rush to pre-judgement were eleven Democratic senators including Bernie Sanders.

The charges of fraud were based on three issues: setting the date of the election, disqualifying opposition parties, and barring opposition candidates. Maduro had continually called for dialogue with the opposition to set the election date. But each time a date was mutually agreed upon, the opposition backed out after their US handlers intervened. As for the disqualified parties, they had lost their ballot status because they had boycotted past elections. They then refused to reapply for ballot status, because their intention was not to participate in the electoral process.

Opposition candidates, namely Leopoldo López and Henrique Capriles, were barred from running, because they had committed criminal acts that warranted their exclusion. López clearly incited violence that resulted in deaths and would have received far harsher treatment had he committed such acts in the US. Capriles was convicted of economic fraud, “administrative irregularities,” during his tenure as a state governor. While the courts found Capriles guilty, this action against a political opponent damaged the Maduro government’s international image.

Overall, the charges of fraud by the radical right opposition were mainly pretenses to delegitimize the upcoming election. However, several moderate opposition candidates did run, defying the US demand that the election be boycotted.

Henri Falcón was the leading opposition candidate to run in 2018, championing a neoliberal platform of privatization, austerity for workers, and subservience to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The US, which would ordinarily gleefully embrace such a platform, instead threatened Falcón with sanctions for breaking the election boycott.

The explanation for this seemingly anomalous behavior by the US government is that the stakes in Venezuela are much higher than just the presidency. The regime-change project is to exterminate the Bolivarian Revolution, reverse its social gains, and return Venezuela to a subservient client state where the world’s largest oil reserves would be freely exploited by US corporations.

Orwellian world of US foreign policy

As CEO of the capitalist world order (that is what is meant by exercising “American world leadership”), then US President Obama declared in 2015 that Venezuela constituted an imminent and extraordinary threat to US national security. He didn’t mean a military or even an economic threat. That would have been preposterous. What Obama was implicitly confirming is that Venezuela poses a “threat of a good example.” Venezuela is at the top of US imperialism’s hit list because of the good things, not for its faults.

President Trump has intensified Obama’s regime-change policies aimed at Venezuela. Condemning the Bolivarian Revolution, Trump opined: “Socialism is not about justice, it’s not about equality, it’s not about lifting up the poor.” Might he have been really thinking of capitalism? His national security advisor John Bolton tweeted that removing the democratically elected President Maduro by violent coup and installing the US-anointed and unelected Guaidó is protecting the Venezuelan constitution.

On the other side of the aisle, Senator Sanders accused Chávez of being a “dead communist dictator.” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez described the US regime-change war as a contest of “authoritarian regime versus democracy,” with the questionable presumption that the US is the democracy.

In the Orwellian terminology of US politicians and corporate media, a fraudulent election is one where the people vote their choice. A dictator is the democratically elected choice of the people. And the so-called dictator is an authoritarian if he resists rather than surrenders to the bullying power.

Surrender does not appear to be on the agenda for the Bolivarian Revolution, with US asset Guaidó forced to negotiate in Norway after his failed coup attempts. Despite the suffocating sanctions and threats of military action, the poor and working people in Venezuela who are most adversely affected by the US war against them remain the strongest supporters of their elected government.

Make Orwell fiction again!

Venezuela: Amnesty International in Service of Empire

Uncle Sam has a problem in his South American “backyard” with those uppity Venezuelans who insisted on democratically electing Nicolás Maduro as their president instead of by-passing the electoral process and installing the unelected US asset Juan Guaidó. No matter, Amnesty International has come to the rescue with a full-throated defense of US imperialism:

Faced with grave human rights violations, shortages of medicines and food and generalized violence in Venezuela, there is an urgent hunger for justice. The crimes against humanity probably committed by the authorities must not go unpunished.

— Erika Guevara-Rosas, America’s director at Amnesty International

Amnesty International fails in its broadside to put its claims against the Maduro government in the context of a concerted regime-change campaign, which amounts to war, by the bully from the north. The US is waging an illegal war against Venezuela and Amnesty International’s broadside leaves out this inconvenient fact, egregiously even omitting any mention of sanctions.

As human rights activist Chuck Kaufman of the Alliance for Global Justice noted about Amnesty International (AI): “They don’t seem to even care about their credibility anymore.” A more credible and honest account of what is unfolding in Venezuela, than the hatchet job presented in AI’s May 14th Venezuela: Crimes against humanity require a vigorous response from the international justice system, would have also noted along with the alleged transgressions of the Maduro government:

  • Grave human rights violations. Economists Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University recently reported that US sanctions on Venezuela are responsible for tens of thousands of deaths. This is the price being exacted on Venezuela, with a prediction for worse to come, for the regime change that AI is implicitly promoting.
  • Shortages of medicines and food. Since 2015, when US President Obama first instituted them, the US has been imposing ever more crippling illegal sanctions on Venezuela expressly to create misery for the population in the hope that it would then turn against their own democratically elected government. The sanctions are specifically designed to suffocate the economy so that Venezuela cannot address its problems. The US government boasts about the impacts of sanctions. Playing the good cop to the US role as bad cop, AI laments the very conditions they are tacitly promoting in asking for ever increasing “punishments.” New US sanctions on Venezuela were imposed on May 10th.
  • Generalized violence. The US government has repeatedly and unapologetically threatened military intervention in Venezuela if the elected government doesn’t abdicate. Short of attacking militarily, the US has waged war against Venezuela by economic and diplomatic means, not to mention low-intensity warfare such as cyber attacks. The extreme right wing opposition has called for the extra-legal overthrow of the government and has eschewed electoral means for effecting political change. AI is correct in noting that since 2017 new violence has been inflicted on the Venezuelan people but fails to note the role of the opposition in provoking that violence with their guarimbas and other actions. Meanwhile Guaidó, whose popular support in Venezuela is bottoming out, is reported sending his envoy to meet with the US Southern Command to “coordinate.”

How is it possible that an organization purporting to stand for human rights and global justice can so blithely ignore facts that do not fit into their narrative and so obsequiously parrot the Trump-Pompeo-Bolton-Abrams talking points? Why would AI go so far as to meet with the self-appointed Guaidó and then within days issue a report condemning the Maduro government, without also investigating the other side in the conflict?

Unfortunately, this is not the first time AI has shown an imperial bias as it has regarding US-backed regime-change projects in Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Nicaragua.

Objectively deconstructing the many allegations (e.g., “more than 8,000 extrajudicial executions by the security forces”) made against Venezuela in the AI broadside and its accompanying report remains to be done. Unfortunately, the Empire has a surfeit of resources to churn out propaganda compared to the ability to counter it by genuine humanitarian groups. AI alone has an annual budget of over $300 million. According to sources cited by Wikipedia, AI receives grants from the US State Department, the European Commission, and other governments along with the Rockefeller Foundation.

To conclude, AI’s broadside calls for justice about as often as it calls for punishment with the subtext that punishment of the Empire’s victims is justice. Were AI truly concerned about justice, rather than justifying another US regime-change operation, they would champion the following:

  • Ending the unilateral sanctions by the US on Venezuela, which are illegal under the charters of the United Nations and the Organization of American States.
  • Supporting dialogue between the elected government and the opposition as has been promoted by Mexico, Uruguay, Pope Francis, and most recently by Norway.
  • Condemning regime-change activities and interference in Venezuela’s internal affairs and actively rejecting the US government’s aggressive stance as articulated by US VP Pence: “This is no time for dialogue. This is time for action.”
  • Respecting the sovereignty of Venezuela and restoring normal diplomatic relations between the US and Venezuela.

Leftish Apocalyptic Environmentalism and the Ideology of Overpopulation

Gregory Barrett’s rant against childbearing in Dissident Voice repeats a similar admonition by the author a year before in the same publication. Barrett, who now regrets having his two daughters, finds 2019 to be just as bad as 2018 to have offspring.

Unsustainable production models and wasteful lifestyles

While Barrett’s article includes repeated references to his own thought, there is only one hyperlink to evidence purporting to support his view about “near-term human extinction” caused by the fertility of women. The cited report does not, in fact, support Barrett’s argument, but rather supports this response to his essay. The report concludes: “We can no longer ignore the impact of current unsustainable production models and wasteful lifestyles.” That is, population numbers are not the fundamental problem, but capitalist relations of production and consumption are.

Barrett’s complaint is encapsulated in the title of his article: “Doctrinaire left lines up with Trumpists, calls overpopulation ‘myth’: humans über alles…to the bitter end.” Barrett does not identify the “doctrinaire left,” though presumably those who read and publish in Dissident Voice are included. Nor does he provide evidence of the left lining up with so-called Trumpists.

Trump did suspend US contributions to the UN Population Fund. But it was because Trump opposed women’s reproductive freedom including access to abortion. In contrast, women’s reproductive choice is an issue long supported by the left.

Overpopulation is a theory justifying capitalist social relations

While there are overpopulation theory proponents on the left, the theory has its origins and greatest publicists in bourgeois political thought.

After World War II, overpopulation theory was resurrected to support the ideological initiatives of the ascendant US superpower and its cohorts. The World Bank, the Rockefeller Foundation, and later the Ford Foundation have been leaders in promoting the threat of overpopulation. More recently Ted Turner’s philanthropies and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, bolstered by Warren Buffett’s fortune to become the world largest private charity, now spread the overpopulation gospel.

This ideological initiative in the service of international capital took place in the context of a wave of third world national liberation struggles in the post-war period. Peasant tillers of the soil were demanding land reform; workers were demanding just compensation. Overpopulation theory conveniently seeks to delegitimize these struggles by suggesting that poverty, which gives rise to the struggles, results from too much reproduction rather than exploitation and repression.

Let the people have their rightful means to land and livelihood, and they will take care of their own contraceptive needs. Where the standard of living and educational level of a population rises, especially for women, birthrates plummet.

Distribution of resources – not limitation – is the problem

Overpopulation theory claims, as Monthly Review editor John Bellamy Foster observes, “that all of the crucial problems of bourgeois society and indeed of the world could be traced to over-procreation on the part of the poor.” Accordingly, Barrett warns that the “vast numbers of humans on our planet may be killing it,” without distinguishing between the perpetrators and the victims.

Eight people now have the same wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population. At the other end of the spectrum, the poorest 40% of the world’s population use less than 5% of the world’s resources. Friends of the Earth reports, “People in rich countries consume up to 10 times more natural resources than those in the poorest countries.”  If we do have an over-population problem, it is too many too rich people depleting too many resources.

The earth and its resources are undeniably finite, but currently there is more than enough food to meet the caloric needs of the world’s population. Hunger exists in the world and even in the US, but that is a problem of economics and distribution, not a problem of too little to go around.

Over the last century, world population increased four times. However, world resource consumption increased over 20-fold, suggesting that even at zero population growth consumption of resources would still have grown over 500%.

It is not population growth itself, nor even total human consumption, but the kind of social relations leading to harmful patterns and types of consumption that are environmentally destructive. These are determined not by the absolute numbers of humans but by the political economy imposed on them.

The ideology of overpopulation is based on fake science

It is instructive to compare climate change theory to overpopulation theory. Climate change predictions are based on science in contrast to the quackery of overpopulation theory. Scientific climate models provide clear quantitative benchmarks for when anthropogenic climate warming became a dominant factor, what level of CO2 in the atmosphere should be targeted, and when this needs to be achieved.

In contrast, the overpopulation theorists do not posit a time when there weren’t too many humans. Instead, they base their simplistic plea that there are too many people in the world based on prejudice against the fertility of women of color (see also Sasser), which has its antecedents in racist and classist eugenics.

When did the earth become overpopulated according to overpopulation theory? In 1798, Thomas Malthus, a seminal overpopulation theorist, wrote his Essay on the Principle of Population in opposition to the English Poor Laws. Malthus posited a “natural law” for population to increase beyond the means of subsistence.

Malthus, as do modern-day proponents of overpopulation theory, do not contend that the earth will become over-populated in the future. Rather, they believe that it is a “law of nature” that human needs for resources always have and always will outstrip the planet’s supply. As Friedrich Engels wrote in 1844, according to the logic of Malthus’ theory “the earth was already over-populated when only one man existed.”

While climate scientists have empirically predicted the deleterious effects of global warming, the overpopulation ideologues have a consistent record of crying wolf. Take perhaps the leading and most respected overpopulation proponent in the US, Paul R. Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb, who predicted in print:

  • In the 1970s, hundreds of millions of people (including in the US) would starve to death.
  • By the mid-70s, “smog disasters” would kill 200,000 people per year in the US.
  • In the 1980s, “food riots” would lead to the dissolution of the US Congress.
  • Between 1980-1989, 65 million would die of starvation in the US.
  • By 1999, the US population would decline by 22.6 million due to scarcities.

Overpopulation theory has discredited itself as fake science by its own false predictions. Unrepentant, Ehrlich claims that his critics are “idiots,” he “never made predictions,” and he only made the “mistake” of presenting “scenarios.”

High fertility rates are a symptom not the cause of social and environmental problems

This is not to imply that population growth is not an important issue. Only from an environmental point-of-view, it needs to be coupled with an understanding of the social relations that generate patterns of consumption and distribution.

Barrett, who calls himself a “refugee,” could learn from the example of his adopted home in Germany, which is experiencing negative population growth. Germany is an example of a society where, to a significant degree, women have freedom of reproductive choice, improved equality, and a relatively secure standard of living. The lesson being that a society that provides for people’s material and social needs, especially those of women, results in lower birth rates.

In contrast, Syria, which is benighted by a US-backed regime-change war, has the world’s highest birthrate of 7.37%. High fertility rates in such conflict zones may be understood as products of dysfunctional social relations. That is, high fertility rates are a symptom not the cause of social and environmental problems.

The ideology of overpopulation serves to divert criticisms of capitalist social relations of unequal distribution. Wasteful and environmentally destructive economic mis-planning invariably results from those social relations. Barrett exemplifies the phenomenon of the uncritical acceptance of such bourgeois ideas by otherwise consistent leftists.

Anne Hendrixson of the Population and Development Program at Hampshire College observes:

Babies and yet-to-be-born babies in areas like Sub-Saharan Africa are not responsible for existing environmental problems. The reverse is true: wealthy countries like the United States are responsible for burdening those babies with a legacy of global environmental degradation and climate change caused (problems).

The biggest danger of blaming overpopulation for environmental problems is that it ignores the real culprits.