Category Archives: Barack Obama

Toronto Raptors’ President embraces Rawanda’s Bloodstained Dictator

Toronto Raptors’ president Masai Ujiri claims to be an ambassador for Africa. But, his embrace of the most bloodstained African leader makes a mockery of any pan-Africanist pretenses.

On July 26 Ujiri traveled to Kigali to visit Rwandan president Paul Kagame. He was photographed next to the ruthless dictator sporting a T-shirt with a small map of the continent. Ujiri posted on Instagram:

Put your money where your mouth is. So proud of President Kagame building the Kigali Arena. Told us a year ago that he was going to do it. DONE. A shining example that — Africa is NOW!!

A Rwandan media report highlights how the trip bolstered Kagame. “Toronto Raptor’s president lauds Kagame for fast tracking construction of Kigali Arena”, read the headline.

In a December article titled “Why do Raptors associate with blood-stained dictator?” I detailed Ujiri’s “friendship” with Kagame, which has blossomed amidst growing recognition of his violence. Among numerous examples, Ujiri invited Kagame to participate in a number of events at the 2016 NBA All-Star week in Toronto, responding to a Toronto Star inquiry about the matter by saying “there is no controversy.”

But there should be. CNN recently headlined a story, “Opposition members keep going ‘missing’ in Rwanda. Few expect them to return” while a Deutsche Welle article noted, “Rwanda’s disappearing opposition”. An August Harpers story titled “Brutal from the beginning: everyone’s favorite strongman” discussed the NBA’s romance with Kagame who “for a quarter century… has maintained power through familiar authoritarian means — rewriting constitutions to establish one-party rule and extend term limits, administering elections in which he received up to 99 percent of the vote. His reign has also been marked by widespread human-rights abuses, likely including the assassination of political opponents.”

That’s a benign description of Kagame whose record is anything but “familiar”. The “military genius” played an important role in toppling governments in Kampala in 1986, Kigali in 1994 and Kinshasa in 1997. After the latter effort Rwandan forces reinvaded the Congo, which sparked an eight-country war that left millions dead between 1998 and 2003. Over the past two decades — again last March — Kagame has repeatedly invaded the Congo, which has as much as $24 trillion in mineral riches. Rwandan-instigated violence in eastern Congo has contributed to the Ebola outbreak, sexual violence and dreadful conditions of Coltan workers there.

Rwanda has been in conflict with Burundi for years and during the past year Kagame and former brother in arms, Uganda President Yoweri Museveni, have nearly gone to war. Uganda accuses Kagame’s operatives of infiltrating the country and carrying out countless abductions and killings.

Five years ago Pretoria expelled Rwandan diplomats from South Africa after the country’s officials were implicated in the assassination of Kagame critics. Former Rwandan intelligence chief Patrick Karegeya was murdered in Johannesburg while former army chief Faustin Kayumba survived an assassination bid.

In publicly and forthrightly backing Kagame, Ujiri is aligning himself with Washington’s main ally in East Africa. Trained at the US Army Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, Kagame is close to liberal imperialists such as Tony Blair and Bill Clinton. Kagame has also drawn close to Israel and Justin Trudeau’s government has continued Canada’s support for the dictator.

After the Raptors won the NBA championship in June many progressives celebrated Ujiri’s on-stage snub of Trump-light Ontario Premier Doug Ford. While hostile to conservative political forces that denigrate African countries as “shitholes”, Ujiri has aligned with an inequitable power structure that forces most Rwandans, Congolese, Burundians, Ugandans etc., to live on under three dollars a day.

It takes chutzpah to wear a T-shirt with a little map of the continent as you embrace a leader whose hands are dripping in African blood. Ujiri’s liberal capitalist political brethren — Trudeau, Obama and Clinton — are surely impressed. But those of us who see Africans as fellow human beings, not simply a “market” to be exploited, must be sad and at least a little angry.

A Gory Gift to Trump: A Cruel, Militarized, Expensive, and Decades Old, Bipartisan Border Policy

John Carlos Frey’s Sand and Blood relates the roughly 140-year history of U.S. anti-immigrant racism and policy on the southwest border, and highlights its mostly pre-Trump, bipartisan intensification over the last thirty-odd years. Frey, an American citizen born in Tijuana, Mexico, and raised in San Diego county, did not give the Border Patrol or border policy much thought until one day in 1977, when he was 12. His mother, a green card-holding, legally-residing Mexican American, was arrested walking near her home because a Border Patrol agent did not believe she was legal, nor that she lived nearby. She was deported to Tijuana before her family could do anything. Luckily, they were able to bring her back the next day. The experience encouraged Frey’s outlook to shift from innocent indifference to sober scrutiny, a shift that pushed him to become a leading journalist examining border and immigration policies and attitudes.

Anti-immigrant hate and hysteria in the United States is hardly an unknown matter. However, Frey managed to surprise this reader when he dug up a rather antique, if grotesque case. In 1753, Ben Franklin, sounding Trump-like, but with more august language, worried about what he considered the low-quality Germans entering the country, threatening to destroy our language and even, he must have gasped, our very nation. The expression of such anti-German opinion, however, like other early anti-immigrant expressions, never rose to the fever-pitch fixated on Chinese immigrants. And that is where Frey begins his 140-year history.

In the 1880s, the terrifying immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border were desperate Chinese laborers, not Mexicans. Mexicans were crossing, returning, and re-crossing then, but their presence was mostly ignored given that they met the exploitative needs of agricultural interests and, I would guess, American insecurities lay elsewhere. Mexican migrants remained invisible near-slaves—the status of hated-celebrity near-slaves, that would be a future privilege. The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act barred Chinese laborers from entering the country—belying the sentiments about “huddled masses” and all that, written just a year later and eventually stamped on the base of the Statue of Liberty. The focus of early military patrols along the Mexican border, as early as 1904, remained on Chinese immigrants. However, a shift characterized by increased anti-Mexican attitudes and policies soon began; policies which included such humiliations as daily stripping and delousing of migrant workers, including the spraying of clothes with toxic chemicals during a Typhoid scare.

In 1924, border and immigration policy worsened notably, though it would take decades before it reached the current systematic militarized cruelty aimed overwhelmingly at desperate and poor Central American migrants. That year, the Immigration Act prohibited entry by most Asians entirely (on whom racist hysteria, as noted, was then still fixated) and created a quota system for other immigrants, all on the basis of worries about “American homogeneity” (14)—meaning whiteness, mostly. Additionally, the Labor Appropriations Act established the Border Patrol, the pre-existing body of which was expanded from 75 agents to 450 by the previously-mentioned Act—putting it on its path to its current gargantuan, nearly-20,000-agent size. Still, the Border Patrol was, in the 1920s certainly, mostly absorbed with stemming alcohol smuggling from Canada. And for fifty years, border and immigrant policy remained relatively low key.

Frey says that in the 1970s, border security still appeared mostly a “show for the public” (5) and the border, particularly near San Diego, a tranquil “free zone” (29) where cross-border movement and family contact continued to some extent undisturbed. Politically-powerful business interests focused on maintaining cheap labor sources managed to mute racist and militaristic policies. In the 1980s, however, though the capitalist desire for cheap labor remained, as it does to this day, officials began, largely for “political reasons” (5), to shift the balance toward the racism and militarization. Reagan, though hardly anti-racist, to say the least, sincerely backed the “amnesty” angle of a mid-80s immigration bill, eventually adopted. However, the bill also made life harder and more dangerous for Central American immigrants, including those fulfilling cheap labor needs. In California, Governor Pete Wilson, despite a two-thirds disapproval rating, rode anti-immigrant Proposition 187 to a second term. President Bill Clinton noticed this, apparently, and turned increasingly anti-immigrant. Clinton built on Bush Sr. policies remarkably reminiscent of the suggestions of a hate-group, the moderately-named Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). Clinton even ignored INS and Border Patrol calls for administrative reforms to accelerate legalization and opted instead for an unprecedentedly brutal militarized approach at the border that intentionally funneled migrants into desert death-zones. Presidents Bush Jr. and Obama inherited and continued the policies. 9/11 served the hysteria well, and provided an excuse for the expense and horror, though it did not originate them.

Trump did not bring border policy horror to America, either. He also inherited it. He remains unable to gain any further legal leeway to impose his vision of border policy, reports Frey. Instead, he has taken full advantage of existing laws, while trying often to stretch their applicability (which has meant increased cruelty to migrants). Though he has been “bold and brash” (178) about the policies, and his rhetoric devoid of nuance, his expressions have often merely echoed those of previous politicians, like Bill Clinton. His wall is an impossibility, in part, for the same reason migration is so deadly—the harsh terrain. The default option will remain the militarized crossing places in concert with the death zones. Yet, the impossibility of the wall did not prevent the longest government shutdown in US history, all over funding for the impossible wall—highlighting the political nature of border policy, as the death and cruelty grinds on.


The unfortunate father and daughter depicted in the image above, and how they relate to Frey’s narrative, merit notice. The AP story1 from which it was taken included a graph illustrating death rates at the border over the last twenty years, based on U.S. Customs and Border Patrol stats. These peaked, we are to believe, at nearly 500 in 2005, and again in 2013, before declining to last year’s number, 283. The father and daughter’s deaths occurred on the Mexican side of the border, so the thoroughness of the accounting for their loss of life may be hard to determine. However, a key matter to understand, as Frey tells us, is that the Border Patrol consistently and knowingly undercounts the dead, ignoring the significant numbers of border deaths discovered by others (while also sometimes exaggerating apprehensions). Such policies misinform the public, certainly, obscuring the conscious lethal-desert-method of deterrence, while playing up the apprehension-method. In Vietnam, official body-counts of enemies killed were controversial, but reportedly exaggerated to demonstrate achievement of official goals; body-counters, for bureaucratic reasons, simply double- or triple-counted those dead they found. At the modern U.S.-Mexico border, bodies are undercounted because the understood policy of deterrence by death cannot be broadcast—and so the Border Patrol ignores those dead found by others, dead who thereby do not exist in official counts converted into published graphs like the one accompanying the AP News story.


Frey and I share a birth year (1965), and we both grew up in the American Southwest, giving us a chronological as well as a cultural overlap I appreciate. However, since my entire family is U.S.-born, and because, frankly, we customarily check the ‘white’ box on the decennial census form, Frey’s experiences and mine diverge. Mercifully, the Border Patrol never arrested my mother walking down the street in her neighborhood due simply to her ethnicity and proximity to the border. Frey’s extensive work as a journalist offers another line of departure between us, toil that led him eventually to this volume.

The book is an important and very informative addition to the current conversation about immigration and border policy. It serves to support serious critique of relevant Trump policies, which have upped the ante in the worst ways, while at the same time gutting the simplified histories that leave the impression horrible border policies began in 2017. Frey demonstrates how the militarized, inhumane border policies are not Trumpian, but American, common to both liberal and conservative administrations, taking on their current hyper-militaristic and hyper-cruel qualities at the eager command of Bill Clinton, Democratic star.

Frey could have strengthened his argument that U.S. policies and behaviors have contributed to the push and pull factors encouraging immigration; details, for example, regarding such policies and behaviors in regard to places like El Salvador and Honduras. Relating the experiences of two brothers from the former country, one of whom dies while the other becomes incarcerated, Frey mentions the now-international El Salvadoran street gang MS-13, the menaces of which compelled the two brothers to leave. Frey might have given some attention to the history of the gang in the context of the illegal U.S.-proxy war against El Salvador, carried on in the country for over a decade, and its aftermath. Said history would reinforce Frey’s contention that U.S. immigration policy has been both cruel and irrational, and has long been complicated by the needs of other power centers in the United States, whether agricultural and construction interests, or the foreign policy establishment. Those of the first examples have effectively pulled migrants to U.S., while those of the other, such as our illegal intervention in the El Salvadoran civil war, or the birth of MS-13 as an outcome of the violence we magnified, pushed migrants here. Additionally, the 2009 US-supported military coup in Honduras against the country’s elected government has decidedly worsened conditions there, pushing Hondurans to go somewhere, and the US remains, ironically, the most promising destination of desperate people in Central America.

Likewise, Frey’s plea would have benefited from fuller consideration of the neoliberal capitalist context of the harshening border and immigration policies over the last thirty years. It seems hardly a coincidence these policies occurred just in the wake of the turn to neoliberal policies in the US, policies which have exported jobs like hot commodities, exalted the market at the expense of the public, increasing poverty and inequality, and cast down the government as any kind of help to the public and brake on private ambition. Clinton’s neoliberal NAFTA sent the Mexican economy into the gutter. Increased migration resulted, which he answered with death zones at the border.

Regarding nationalism and its relation to this matter, though arguably outside the scope of Frey’s reportorial approach, more discussion of the attitudes and psychology involved would have explained some of the insanity. For instance, the theme of supposed Mexican dirtiness (discussed in chapter one), arising intermittently for decades, mimics a common refrain heard from nationalist racists in many modern contexts—an attitude enlisting germ theory to serve of the cause of white supremacy, a sort of ideological cousin of social Darwinism. Also, as social psychologist Richard Koenigsberg has said:

Nations are conceived as bodies. We project our own body into a national body. One’s fragile, vulnerable self is blown up—to become a gigantic, omnipotent self. Because territory is imagined in corporeal terms (Neocleous), the state seeks to secure it borders—its “orifices and entry points.” Orifices and entry points must be closed—to prevent penetration. Porous boundaries need to be firmed up, sealed off—walls built to protect the vulnerable self. One’s actual, fragile body fuses with the fantasy of a of a gigantic, invulnerable body. National bodies require borders to prevent penetration. Anxiety is played out on a monumental scale. Walls must be built—nothing can be allowed to penetrate. Each and every orifice must be sealed.

How this “anxiety is played out on a monumental scale” is the story of a state that has arrived at both indifference and desperation. This desperation arises from a political degeneration that refuses to answer, is indifferent to, the decline of the public in any way that threatens the globalization interests of the U.S. ruling class—which, as Sean Starrs’ has written, has not declined, as commonly believed, but globalized instead. Decline is just the fate of the rest of us. And if harsh border policies, thrown as thin scraps to a deluded public, seem to ease their despair, so much the better. If society’s increasingly desperate need for some form of civic freedom, which fosters both community and popular power, and not just tolerance, is forbidden for the threat it poses to ruling class power and wealth, then closing up the nation’s orifices becomes the toxic political gruel of the day. And, in turn, opening them without thought about the issue of civic freedom and popular power, looks like the only conceivable reply.

The words of Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, in Dialectic of Enlightenment, seem suitable here. They spoke, in part, of the Nazis and their high-tech horrors when they wrote the following line, but they also had their eyes on the West more generally, including, of course, those who triumphed over the Nazis. The “wholly enlightened earth”, they wrote, “is radiant with triumphant calamity”. Certainly, our wholly enlightened border policy radiates with a sort of triumphant calamity. The policies and infrastructure, as documented by Frey, the expensive, tax-payer-funded high-technology, a boon to private interests, the largely-privatized internment camps (what’s more enlightened than privatization?), the rationality of pushing migrants into desert and mountain death zones, and the political, corporate, and bureaucratic deceits that cover it all up, including the uncounted dead, epitomize the serene, systematic malice of a modernity sucked nearly dry of humanity.

Frey relates the shock and horror he felt while accompanying the nonprofit Angels of the Desert on a search for two missing migrants. Their faceless corpses were eventually found. “Animals and insects eat the soft flesh of the face first” (199). These were two of the officially-undercounted hundreds who die every year in our Border Patrol’s intentionally-created death zones, zones which, they say, offer them a “tactical advantage”, certainly a shrewd building block in our “triumphant calamity”. Martin Luther King Jr.’s cautionary words about “sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity”, cited by Frey, accord in a way with Horkheimer and Adorno’s verdict on modernity. Frey’s critique comes up short of the latter’s, but his judgment is nevertheless worth taking to heart. He reminds us that we have rejected the enslavement of African Americans, the slaughter of Natives Americans, the internment of Japanese Americans, the denial of the vote to women, of interracial and same-sex marriage, and the delay of civil rights. Frey says rejecting our cruel and (objectively) irrational border policies would continue that tradition. He looks forward to all of this horror becoming a mere part of “our dark, stained history” (200).

The extremely negative impacts of Trump’s border policies on actual human beings, and the relatively-popular racist fever dreams both partially underpinning and feeding off them, illuminate our present with a hellish light. However, the neoliberal capitalist policies and transformations, and all the deceits about drugs, terrorism, and immigration, of the last forty years or more, all of which preceded Trump, and which in the wrong hands feed the racist fever dreams even more, were effectively embraced across party lines. Trump, chin up, to more cruel and deadly effect for migrants, simply took the bipartisan decorated-but-desiccated zombie of border policy and wore it like a gaudy costume.

• First published at Hard Crackers

  1. Peter Orsi and Amy Guthrie, “A grim border drowning underlines peril facing many migrants”, AP News, June 26, 2019.

Survivor 2020, and some Ghosts from Recent Elections Past

Gore Vidal once remarked that the United States has only one political party with two right wings.  At the risk of betraying my own political bias:  I couldn’t agree more!  Still, maybe 2020 will be different?

The ultra-marathon-up to the next election has already begun in the Summer of 2019 with the Democratic Party debates.  MSNBC, a kind of Fox News for liberals network, hosted the first round, fielding twenty candidates, split evenly over two nights.  Most of the presidential contestants in this “high concept game show” format were treated as bunting, or so many doodles in the margins of a Big Pharma script, more to be seen than heard..  As boutique diversity merges into statistical redundancy, the DNC theory seems to be: the more contestants, the more emphatic shall be the “win” of the eventual “winner.”  But, wasn’t that the Republican formula in 2015/16?

No matter how the contest is set up, upsets are always possible–or, even desirable.  For example, witness Hillary Clinton’s nomination over Bernie Sanders — “Oops!” — only four years ago.  Then, lo and beholden to all the bankers who’ve bailed him out, Donald Trump “burned,” so to speak, Clinton in the general election, which he only lost by a whopping 3 million votes — and Clinton wasn’t all that popular to begin with!  Just ask Bernie Sanders, or Debbie Wasserman-Schultz.

Indeed, contrary to conventional expectations, upsets were the order of the day during the last quadrennial election cycle.  God forbid that we should be allowed to elect a Socialist-sounding Jew from Vermont! Hillary Clinton, and her big bank backers, certainly did not want that; so, why not hand the country off to a Reality TV show host like the big bank beholden Trump, instead? Was that the sound of our one political party rubbing its two right wings together?

Because American politics have become so like sports by other means, it is worth reiterating that the 2020 DNC strategy has not only copied the 2016 Republican playbook:  they have actually expanded upon it by simply adding more players.  Recall that the Republican side of the post-Obama campaign began with a baker’s dozen of contestants with “unelectability” literally tattooed on their foreheads — including that tweety faux-pachyderm, Trump.  Given the “surprising” results of 2016, it is notable that Team Trump chose not to challenge Barack Obama in 2012, despite Trump’s weirdly well-publicized “birther” campaign against Obama, which foreshadowed both Big Media’s free press pass for all things Trump, as well as the aura of illegitimacy that has framed the Presidency ever since…Trump was “elected“?  One wonders how far an illegitimate fruit can fall from an illegitimate tree?

Indeed, Trump’s strange election eerily echoes the hollow resonance of the most bizarre quadrennial in recent history, when George Bush the Second rode a single Supreme Court vote into the Oval Office, in 2000. However, before delving into that doozy, its follow-up, in 2004, deserves special mention.

There once was an anti-war candidate named Howard Dean (from Vermont, of all places!) whose front-runner status got Debbie Wasserman-Schultzed, as it were, by Presidential campaign veteran Dick Gephardt, in Iowa.  Before the Gephardt take-down, Dean had been riding high on his opposition to the occupation of Iraq, which was clearly going very badly.  Dean’s potential nomination meant that the anarchy in Iraq — a direct result of the illegal American-led invasion — would factor prominently in the general election. In the event, the anti-war buck was preemptively stopped in Iowa, allowing the Iraq war hawk John Kerry a “surprise” win. From Iowa, Kerry cruised to the nomination, only to play second fiddle to his Skull-and-Bones Yale fraternity mate, the incumbent Bush, and a disastrous war policy had been saved.

Later, Howard Dean was given a participation award in the form of the DNC Chairmanship.  Since then, the former anti-war candidate has swiveled full circle to become a cranky Yankee who has vilified 2020’s anti-war star, Tulsi Gabbard.  Put another way:  Howard Dean was eaten by the one party political machine, only to be regurgitated in a more palatable form — if not rocking the War Party’s boat is anyone’s idea of a more palatable form.

Now, back in 2000, nothing very military was going on.  The one party political apparatus had coughed up two equally unappealing Junior fur balls:  Al Gore and George W. Bush.  Incidentally, Bush would have never gotten his day in Supreme Court if Gore had won his home state, Tennessee.  In fact, well before Dan Rather “called” Florida for Gore on election night, “dirty tricks” in South Carolina had pushed Bush — in a tight race — past Senator and Vietnam War veteran John McCain.  McCain was later given a participation trophy for services rendered:  the Republican nomination in 2008, where he was soundly squashed by the relatively unknown upstart Barack Obushma — I mean, Obama — who had himself “upset” Hillary Clinton (of all the usual suspects!) for the Democratic side of the one party nomination in 2008.

Ironically enough, both Obama and Trump have an “upset” of Hillary Clinton in common.  That Obama and Trump share two sides of the same big bank coin:  is this insight becoming increasingly more obvious?  For example, despite 8 years of the “Change”-ling Obama, America is still making Afghanistan a “Great Game” again under Trump, as if Bush the Second’s war-mad regime were still ghosting about in office 18 years later, like it never left.  And the War Party rolls on…

However, before the War Party got really rolling, in 2001, there was Green Party Candidate Ralph Nader, who remains the most interesting figure in the scandalous 2000 election.  In 2000, Nader scooped all mainstream media pundits by correctly identifying his major party opponents as “Tweedledee and Tweedledum.” Nevertheless, unlike our current “Fake News” President, Nader was not granted a free press pass for “bucking the System.”

And not only that.  Nader’s campaign was seen as so threatening to the one-party-with-two-faces that he was physically denied access to the sites of nationally televised debates between TweedleBush and TweedleGore1, for fear of Nader’s potentially “disruptive” influence.  Pointing out the obviousness of duopoly:  how “disruptive,” indeed!

Meanwhile, back in 2019, the “Survivor 2020” program seems hell-bent on appearing to include everyone — even if you’re Andrew Yang and your mic’s not turned on.  “Technical glitches, folks; just technical glitches.  We’ll get everyone a Universal Basic Income right after these words from our sponsors!”  Of course, it’s a game predicated on extinction, the last contestant standing.  No one wants to go home a dinosaur, having voted a dinosaur in office.  Next thing you know, extinction’s your next door neighbor!

Not to beat a dead horse race, but to rest my case, I recall a certain debate between status quo Auntie Hillary and Grandpa Donny-boy Trump, in 2016, at Washington University in St. Louis, where Hillary, wearing an irradiant shade of white, accused an obviously lurching Trump of being a “puppet.”  In true Trump form, the Donald shot back:  “No, you’re the puppet!”  Each political actor then accused the other of being “the puppet” in a seemingly spontaneous exchange of pointless, puppet blows.  Which was an uncanny moment of Truth for both of these foremost Liars vying for the Presidential Throne; each recognized the “Other’s” puppet status, quite equally — and for All to see!

In case there are any questions about the Duopoly:  See Gore Vidal…

  1. See: John Hagelin vs the Federal Election Commission, decided on June 10, 2005.

Iran Seizure of a British Tanker: More than Tit for Tat

The British-flagged tanker “Steno Impero”, heading for Saudi Arabia, was seized on Friday, 19 July 2019, by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), in the Strait of Hormuz, after it rammed an Iranian fishing boat, whose distress call it ignored.

The tanker was taken to an Iranian port, because it was not complying with “international maritime laws and regulations,” Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said. Most importantly, the ship did not respond to several warnings from helicopters and Iranian boats, as apparently it turned off its transponder. How could that happen under control of professional sailors, other than as an open provocation.

Shipping safety in the Strait of Hormuz is crucial. Between 20% and 30% of the world’s hydrocarbons are shipped through this narrow passage of international water way before entering the Gulf of Oman. The strait is closely watched by Iran, as it is of utmost security concern for Iran. If this passage were to be closed due to conflict, it could bring down the world economy.

Do those that play these provocations, the UK as a handler dancing to the strings pulled by of Washington, realize what’s at stake?  Do they want to bring the Middle East to the brink of war? A regional war that could easily convert into a world war? That may well be the longer-term intention. In the short-run, though, it looks like pushing the escalation to a point where US ‘Client Europe’ may be discouraged from insisting on maintaining their part of the Iran Nuclear deal, or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and to blackmail Iran into a bilateral negotiation with the US on Iran’s nuclear program.

The first objective may be achieved; the second – no way. Iran is not falling for such fraud, especially with the country that pulled unilaterally out of the deal that was negotiated for two years (since November 2013) before it was signed in Vienna, Austria on 14 July 2015, by the 5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – China, France, Russia, UK and US – plus Germany and the European Union, and, of course, Iran).

Not only did President Trump, guided by his buddy, Israel’s Netanyahu, tear up the agreement unilaterally, but he also reinstated one of the most severe economic sanctions programs on Iran, plus all the western lies and smear propaganda launched against Iran. It is sheer insanity to believe that Iran would, under these circumstances, go to the negotiating table with her hangman. That will not happen. But war tensions are being further raised which is fully in the direction of the war criminal-in-chief, John Bolton’s dream, ever since the invasion in 2003 of Iraq which he also helped to engineer. It is like this sick man’s raison d’être. Mass killing by war and conflict is in his genes. The world can only hope that Trump, or those who pull the strings behind Trump, will eventually dismiss Bolton.

Iran has already said that they will launch a full investigation into the British tanker’s, Steno Impero’s, sailing off course and ramming a fishing boat and that the UK is invited to participate in the investigation.

Backtracking to 4 July, when the British Royal Marines seized the Iranian tanker Grace 1 in Spanish waters, off the coast of Gibraltar, under the pretext that the super tanker was carrying oil destined for Syria which was under the EU’s sanction program. Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, denied that the oil was destined for Syria; did, however, not elaborate further.

Spanish Foreign Minister, Mr. Josep Borrell, said that Washington informed Spain about the impending capture by the UK of the Iranian tanker in Spanish territorial waters. Spain could have said “no” but didn’t. Why not? Afraid of sanctions?

The UK did the bidding of Washington against her own interests, because the UK was one of three EU countries – Germany, France and UK – who at least made it appear as if they wanted to preserve their part of the Iran Nuclear Deal. Mind you, this is not for love of Iran, but pure business interest. Iran should be aware of that – meaning, Iran could be shot in the back at any time by the EU, by the very countries that try – or make appear they try – to circumvent the US sanctions.

What happened on 4 July was an act of sheer piracy, nothing less. A crime on high seas which the west just tolerated. The vessel is still under British control, while the arrested crew has since been liberated. Aside from the fact that Iran’s capture of the British oil tanker may look like tit for tat, Iran acted fully legitimate, as its Revolutionary Guard is policing the Strait of Hormus for security of other ships sailing through the narrow passage.

In one of his typical outbreaks of a madman, President Trump warned in a televised ‘fire and fury’ speech at the white House on Friday 19 July, “We have the greatest ships – the most deadly ships, we don’t want to have to use them. We hope for [Iran’s] sake they don’t do anything foolish. If they do, they will pay a price like nobody’s ever paid.”

Why would Trump not use the same language to warn the Brits for their pirating an Iranian vessel in Spanish waters? Well, we know this is the crazy, unbalanced and off-kilter world we live in. It’s so normal, people in the west take this imbalance and injustice, this double-talk and hypocrisy as the gospel.

All indications are, however, while building up a war scene, the US are seeking justification for what they had already called out – an alliance of the willing to send war ships to the Straight of Hormus to assure safe passage for ‘everybody’. Well, this would certainly not fly with Iran. But important to know is what’s behind this idea. Imagine the US navy and her puppet allies controlling the sea passage through which almost a third of all the world’s hydrocarbon sails every day. Washington would have one more tool to sanction, strangle countries they feel do not bend enough to Washington’s dictate. Their oil shipment would be withheld, to bring their economy down.  This might be the most effective weapon yet.

World beware! Even those who are in favors with the self-declared hegemon, you never know when the pendulum may swing the other way, simply because the Israel-driven US of A may be on a whim aggression course against an imaginary enemy, or corporate interests are shifting.  In conclusion nobody would be safe and, the world economy could come crashing down, like a house of cards, making 2008 look like a walk in the park.

Barack Obama: “Turns Out I’m Really Good At Killing People”

In Obama’s Unending Wars, Kuzmarov has brought together many telling proofs, nuggets, of just how horrible the world is, and just how responsible the US and its henchmen around the world are. A kind of who-does-it. Kuzmarov is that rare analyst (Belen Fernandez is another) who respects footnotes, leaving fascinating bits there that would otherwise detract from his focus.

Standing out in my mind after reading OUW is the power that China has matured into in the past three decades, the US more and more resentful and frightened by it. Russia also has reclaimed much of its international clout, abandoned by Yeltsin, retrieved and nurtured by Putin, again infuriating the US. Other developed countries play almost no part in OUW, as if passive spectators of the geopolitical battles now being fought, as if they don’t even exist.

But as a Canadian, that makes perfect sense. Canada long ago lost any respect internationally, respect it once merited during and immediately after WWII, the only ‘good war’ the world has ever seen, fought courageously by ‘good guys’ against ‘bad guys’. We are living in a grey fog ever since. OUW is a fine lighthouse piercing through it.

 

Uncle Sam = Great Satan

That brings me to the other impression Kuzmarov’s book leaves: a mourning for the once well-meaning Uncle Sam, under the last great US president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who presided over a quasi-socialist experiment, the only way to extract the US from its capitalist hell, and who made friends with everyone, except the ‘bad guys’ Hitler and Tojo. Sadly FDR died before he could cement his vision of a peaceful world order, where the US was not the world policeman fighting pretty well the rest of the world, able to cow most countries, and making enemies of those who insisted on independence.

Kuzmarov mentions FDR only as author of the ‘Good Neighbor Policy’ towards Latin America, basically cancelling the Monroe Doctrine. It was a mixed bag, with FDR’s acceptance of Nicaragua caudillo Samoza as ‘our son of a bitch’, but even in admitting that shameful act, FDR underlines his distaste for realpolitik. FDR was fighting an already ravenous US imperialist elite, who openly supported Hitler, who had, since the invasion of Philippines in 1898, been invading, occupying, setting up puppet regimes increasingly, especially in Central America.

But FDR is the antithesis of Obama. It is Wilson who is the role model for Obama. An intellectual president with an elegant plan, a mission, to bring the world to heel in the name of American principles, and anyone in the way — beware!

There are so many facts marshalled, it is hard to keep focused. Halfway through, the name Crown caught my eye, a recurring motif. Already on p. 20, we learn that one of Obama’s primary financial sponsors was Henry Crown & Company, which owns 20% of General Dynamics (GD), manufacturer of the Trident rocket, Stryker troop carrier, bunker buster bombs, LAV-25 amphibious armored vehicle, Abrams tank, nuclear subs, naval destroyers … During Obama’s presidency, General Dynamics bought out 11 firms specializing in satellites, geospatial intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, working for 16 intelligence agencies (how many are there!) after investing $10m per year in lobbying. Then it gets interesting. GD got caught lying to the government, but — what, me worry? — paid a $4m ‘fine’ and the same year (2016) tripled its profits over 2000.

There are many Crowns. Their dynasty began as Material Services Corporation, one of the government’s largest WWII contractors (sued for $1m for price-gouging). Rechristened GD by 1962, it was awarded a $7b Pentagon contract for bombers (influence peddling investigation quashed). James Crown told the New York Times that his father was ‘fairly hawkish about Israel’s security,’ and felt Obama was ‘terrific on Israel.’ Lester told the Chicago Jewish News that the two-state solution was fine if ‘you will have a demilitarized, peaceful Palestinian entity.’ Ha! Not a ‘state’. Hey, did Lester help Jared Kushner write his ‘deal of the century’?

Obama’s legacy is clear. He is a good provider. He is just not interested in corruption. The imperial gravy train is full speed ahead. It is now an ‘intelligence’ government, with shadowy private corporations increasingly doing the imperial dirty work, leaving the real ‘bad guys’ looking cultured, too smart to be nasties. Bush-Cheney have their Blackwater (rechristened Xe now Academi). Obama told CIA director Leon Panetta the CIA would ‘get everything it wanted.’ The NYT reported that ‘in the 67 years since the CIA was founded, few presidents have had as close a bond with their intelligence chiefs as Mr. Obama with Mr. Brennan’ (architect of the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program).

It certainly looks, now, that Trump has boxed himself in everywhere he has tried to be original: Iran, Venezuela, Russia, Afghanistan, Syria… But Obama put the finishing touches on the box. Kuzmarov makes it clear that all of those Trump ‘initiatives’ — economic war against Iran, Venezuela, and Russia, negotiations with the Taliban, US troops in Syria (uninvited) — were all in Obama’s game plan.

Obama promised ‘we can’. We all pointed to his vote against the Iraq invasion in 2003, his Nobel Peace prize, misunderstanding his ‘no stupid war’ for ‘no war’. Obama saw himself as the ‘smart war’ guy. After all he is ‘black’, so he can’t possibly be an agent of US white-man imperialism; he’s so much smarter than stupid Bush with his ‘stupid war’.

Handbook

Reading Kuzmarov is like reading a speeded-up survey of the past decade, with the same scenarios repeated: something smacks of people power, the US nurtures instability (take your pick, Nicaragua, Burkina Faso …), leading to a collapse of authority, growth of insurgents, ‘invite’ in US troops, make sure your new puppet is secure. But that could be Haiti, or Chad, or Syria.

It’s hard to keep on top of all the machinations in the world, so you can see OUW as a handbook, focus on the gaps in your knowledge. I found Yemen especially instructive. The Houthi only recently formed as a force, harking back to the pre-colonial Zaydeh clan that ruled in the north prior to the outbreak of civil war in the 1960s (i.e., they have street creds).

By 2013, the Houthi were part of a larger coalition that included deposed dictator Saleh and his loyalists, various tribal militias and most military and public sector workers, who were protesting the corruption and poor living standards under the post-2011 (unelected) Saudi-approved Mansour Hadi. The Pentagon had a working relationship with the Houthi in the fight against al-Qaeda (i.e., they’re okay). But Obama and now Trump refuse to work with them, supporting the Saudi sponsor, which has meant the resurgence of al-Qaeda in southern Yemen and the worst humanitarian crisis going.

The US-led Saudi coalition against the Houthi recruited al-Qaeda to fight the Houthi (haven’t we heard that before? Afghanistan 1980s?). Shia are immune to the al-Qaeda virus, which was spawned by the Saudi Wahhabi sect. So if the US is serious about fighting al-Qaeda, ISIS, et al, its natural ally is not Saudi Arabia but Iran.

Did ‘smart’ Obama see that? Is that why he persisted in trying to bring Iran back into the international community, to work with it to really, really defeat the Islamic terrorists?

In Obama’s defense, he did a few brave, principled things:

*He carried through on the START talks and treaty with Russia

*He supported negotiations with Iran and even coughed up $400m to settle a pre-1979 contract for arms to the Shah which were never delivered

*He (sort of) normalized relations with Cuba

*He pardoned hundreds of prisoners who had been caught in Clinton’s ‘three-strikes’ sentencing bill

*He pardoned Chelsea Manning (but went after Snowden and Assange with a vengeance)

*He voted to abstain on a UN condemnation of Israeli settlements

*He was mixed on the environment, encouraging fracking, but cancelling the pipeline through Standing Rock (though not for long).

It is important to remember this in assessing his legacy. Just painting Obama ‘black’ doesn’t leave much room for analysis. My own views on Obama are mixed. He was not just a puppet, though his good initiatives were few and timid. Power certainly corrupted him, as it did his earlier JFK heirs, Bill and Hillary, who likewise moved from (disavowed) student radicalism to outright channelers of Cecil Rhodes.

Kuzmarov mentions Bill Ayers as a friend of Obama. But Ayers, a former leader of the Weather Underground, lost his illusions about Obama after he was elected. In 2013, he told USA Today:

Every president in this century should be put on trial … for war crimes. Every one of them goes into office — an office dripping with blood — and then adds to it. And, yes, I think that these are war crimes. I think that they’re acts of terror. [Then:] He is a curious man who does a lot of reading. He’s a really good guy.

Don’t believe everything you read or that people are quoted as saying. I suspect Ayers was just playing to the mainstream audience. No point in signing your own death warrant for USA Today.

Which brings me to the unanswered question: Yes, Obama is slick, articulate, clever, well read. Not very funny, despite the cheery smile. But does he believe the things he spouts? Even half or one tenth? As I read his mellifluous words in OUW, I conjured up Obama’s schoolmarmish, mechanical, measured baritone, exhorting us to listen up:

As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King’s life work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence… I cannot be guided by [Gandhi and King’s] examples alone. I face the world as it is. … To say that force may someday be necessary is not a call to cynicism — it is a recognition of history, the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.*

In his Nobel Peace prize lecture, he recalls winner Wilson (1919) who “led the world in constructing an architecture to keep the peace: a Marshall Plan and United Nations, mechanisms to govern the waging of war, treaties to protect human rights, prevent genocide, restrict the most dangerous weapons.”

One-tenth? He did go to Hiroshima (the first sitting US president), though he was careful not to mention who did what there.

As I read, I would pause from time to time to daydream ‘what if…?’

This is Kuzmarov’s last chapter ‘Seeking a better way to live’, and it is not just platitudes. ‘I know why I don’t want the empire. There are better ways to live and better ways to die.’** And there are Americans who understand that. In The Demilitarized Society: Disarmament and Conversion (1988), Seymour Melman criticized the peace movement for not developing and promoting a long term program for converting the US into an economy of peace.

Speaker of the House Jim Wright (D-TX), once a hawk, convened a meeting of members who had proposed economic conversion legislation to switch the US economy from the Vietnam-era killing machine into … whatever. But Newt Gingrich (Lockheed Martin in his constituency) targeted him in a political witch-hunt, and the plan died. Just as the Soviet Union was collapsing, when there were no enemies (phantom or otherwise), Newt drowned out any further discussion of economic conversion. A historic opportunity had been destroyed.

There are good American politicians! But what about the 1.3m American soldiers? What do they do, every day, day after day? Polish boots, terrorize Afghans, terrorize terrorists, play video war games, drink beer, counting the days till their leave from whatever hell-hole they’re in? Surely there are better ways to live and die.

There are so many horrible things the US does, that if it didn’t, the whole world (including the US) would benefit. Standing up to Saudi Arabia and Israel, letting alone good guys like Maduro. Making peace with Russia and Iran (Obama at least tried with the latter). The world wouldn’t hate the US if it let up a bit on the jingoism, the killing. Why can’t an American president do good anymore, like FDR? Or Lincoln?

The latter gives a hint. Doing the right thing often results in assassination in the US. After JFK, RFK, MLK and Malcolm X, the likelihood of a truly progressive (like Obama’s youthful friend Bill Ayers) is almost zero, and if s/he strays a bit too far from the script, BANG!

My sore spot

I have only one dispute with this stimulating, instructive and highly readable survey of imperialism. Kuzmarov dismisses the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood as the empire’s choice in 2012. That is not true. They were/are in no one’s back pocket — US or Saudi. They have been victimized from both sides.

Kuzmarov notes that they refused to join the US-led campaign to overthrow Assad, upsetting Obama, though logically they should have. The Syrian MB was slaughtered in 1980 when they starting a violent uprising, inspired by the (peaceful) Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979. Morsi said little about them, instead extending a hand to Iran, the first Egyptian president to visit Tehran (for the Non-Aligned Movement conference). Only in June 2013, with the coup in the air, did Morsi call for an international campaign to overthrow Assad. Kuzmarov rightly states this was pretty tame stuff, and that Obama was hoping for more, a replay of the 1980s in Afghanistan.

But 2013 was not 1980. And even this limp support for overthrowing a leader and his army was too much for the Egyptian army, which was/is rooting for Assad, fearing their MB. Take my word. Morsi is right up there with Lenin and Khomeini, defending the revolution.

* ‘The World Beyond Iraq’, Fayetville, North Carolina, March 19, 2008.

** William Appleman Williams, Empire as a Way of Life, Oxford University Press, 1980. p266.

Stop Immigrant Arrests, Close The Camps, Transform Immigration Policy

Protesters stand up to Trump’s attacks on immigrants in Los Angeles (Molly Adams|flickr).

Public awareness of the brutal repression against immigrants seeking entry to the United States, the reasons for their migration, and terrorism against immigrants living in the US are reaching levels that make them hard to ignore. The current immigration crisis is self-created and bi-partisan. Although the Trump administration’s rhetoric is extreme, it reflects policies that have developed over a long period of time.

Under Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a person has “the right to leave any country, including his or her own, and to return to his or her country at any time.” Until the twentieth century, immigrants were welcomed into the United States. Immigrant and slave labor built many of the institutions and much of the infrastructure in the US.

It was after World War I, when migration to the US increased, that the government began to use quotas and exert more control over immigration. That control has become increasingly excessive, especially from the 1990’s until today. The US’ borders are highly militarized, which has adverse impacts on border communities, and immigrants have been criminalized, which has lead to raids, detention and deportations that rip families and communities apart. This crisis will only be corrected if people demand new policies based on human rights and respect for the self-determination of all peoples

Cartoon by Canadian Michael de Adder, for which he was fired.

The Immediate Crisis

People are fleeing Central America in large part due to US policies that have installed violent, repressive governments as well as corporate trade agreements that benefit US transnational corporations while exploiting workers. People are fleeing north for survival. Subjected to abuse at home, migrants are met at the border with more abuse.

The abuse includes people seeking asylum being held in detention camps while they await trial. It includes children being separated from their parents and sometimes held in cages, often without basic necessities and with young children taking care of even younger children. Corporations are profiting from child detention while children die, like this seven-year-old girl, or this eight-year-old on Christmas DayHomeland Security’s own Inspector General has issued a report decrying the overcrowding and other poor conditions of immigrant detention facilities including feeding people rotten, foul-smelling and spoiled food.

Some have described these detention camps as concentration camps. While these are not the mass death camps of Hitler’s Germany, they meet the definition of concentration camps: a place where large numbers of people, especially political prisoners or members of persecuted minorities, are deliberately imprisoned in a relatively small area with inadequate facilities. Immigrants call the caged areas “dog kennels” and the cold rooms where they stay “iceboxes.”

These camps are run by government officials who have been caught making racist and vile comments on a private Facebook group with about 9,500 members. They “joked about the deaths of migrants, discussed throwing burritos at Latino members of Congress visiting a detention facility” and posted a photo of a father and his 23-month-old daughter lying face down in the Rio Grande saying, “I HAVE NEVER SEEN FLOATERS LIKE THIS.”

The US has a long history of concentration camps domestically and as part of imperial wars. It is a shameful history and some deny that the immigrant detention prisons are concentration camps. Those of us who can see the reality must face-up to another truth: our responsibility. Many have wondered how the concentration camps in Nazi Germany were able to exist in a modern, developed nation. Now we must ask ourselves two questions: How can these camps exist in the United States? What can we do to close them and liberate those being imprisoned?

We know from the history of concentration camps in the US and around the world that we must act to close these camps. We cannot be complicit by not taking action. This is not merely about the 2020 election and removing Trump from office, it is about rapidly building a national consensus that these are unacceptable and people mobilizing to do all they can to close the camps.

This week, President Trump is taking his racist, anti-immigrant policy from the border to raids against immigrants across the country. Trump announced these raids two weeks ago, then delayed implementing the mass arrests. Communities across the nation have organized to protect their friends, neighbors and family members who are threatened by this attack. We applaud sanctuary cities that refuse to cooperate with ICE, churches that will house people threatened by immigration raids and people offering legal services to those who are arrested.

Listen to our interview with immigration lawyer Heather Benno on Clearing the FOG about what people need to know to plan for and resist ICE raids. It will be available Monday morning.

Bill Clinton announces his “tough on crime” agenda during the 1992 presidential campaign at the state prison at Stone Mountain, Georgia, the spiritual home and 1915 birthplace of the second Ku Klux Klan.

The Long-Term Reality Of Abusive Immigration Policies

The concept of the “illegal immigrant” comes from a 1929  law that made it illegal to enter the United States. The law made border crossings a criminal offense that became felonies with subsequent violations. The law was based in racism, authored by a segregationist Democratic Senator from South Carolina, Coleman Blease who opposed the education of Black people, advocated lynching, and criticized First Lady Lou Hoover when she invited Jessie De Priest, the wife of Chicago congressman, to the traditional tea by new administrations for congressional wives. Her husband, Oscar De Priest, was the first Black person elected to Congress since Reconstruction.

On the Senate floor, Blease said the First Lady should remember it is the “White” House. He then read the racist poem “N****** in the White House.”  The poem was excised from the Congressional Record by unanimous agreement due to protests from Republican senators. Blease also sought to make marriage between people of different races a federal crime. The roots of today’s immigration policies originated with white supremacists like Blease.

President Bill Clinton made this racist law much worse in 1996. Clinton, a southern corporate Democrat, signed the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act in 1996. These laws increased the severity of immigration violations by expanding the list of crimes that could increase jail sentences and fast-tracked deportations.

The Clinton laws laid the foundation for mass deportations under subsequent presidents. Bush, the Compassionate Conservative, more than tripled federal immigration prosecutions to 15,424 by 2003. In 2005, he incarcerated immigrants in federal jails when detention bed space in state facilities had become overcrowded. Illegal crossings declined significantly by 2008 but still, half the federal criminal docket was of immigrants crossing the border. The Bush administration intertwined local police with federal immigration enforcement by making more than 70 agreements allowing local police to enforce immigration laws. This is a continuing problem that results in immigrants not reporting crimes to the police.

President Obama remains the “Deporter-In-Chief” as he doubled the number of federal immigration prosecutions despite the fact that border crossings dropped by roughly half from 2009 to 2016. The result, the first Black president has the legacy of locking up more people of color on federal criminal charges than any other president in history. Immigration prosecutions topped 91,000 in 2013―28 times the number of such prosecutions in 1993. The Obama administration deported over 1.2 million people, the most of any president in US history. President Trump has come nowhere near the number of annual arrests and deportations of the Obama era.

The biggest difference with the Trump administration is the open cruelty of Trump and other administration officials in justifying their “zero tolerance” and family separation policies. The separation of young children from their parents is government-sponsored child abuse. The inhumane conditions in the migrant detention camps are violations of international human rights laws.

A member of the U.S. Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC) and a family after they crossed the Rio Grande river into the United States from Mexico in Fronton, Texas, October 18, 2018 (REUTERS/Adrees Latif)

Stopping the Abuse of Immigrants and the Deportation Machine

People are organizing to confront this crisis, such as blocking access to immigrant prisons or mobilizing to stop their construction. Below are some examples of actions people are taking. We hope it spurs you and the people in your community to act because this crisis must be confronted with direct action.

There were nationwide Close the Camps protests across the country on July 2. Workers have walked off of jobs of employers providing services to the camps. People are also trying to donate diapers and toys to camps where children are held, but are being rejected.  On Friday, July 12, 2019, Lights for Liberty: A Vigil to End Human Concentration Camps will bring thousands of people to locations worldwide to protest the inhumane conditions faced by migrants.

There have been interfaith protests at ICE offices and people risking arrest at the borders. People are blockading immigrant detention centers not just along the border but around the country, and are facing jail sentences for doing so. Youth are protesting local governments who have agreements to work with ICE. Students are marching to protest the detention of fellow students.

Immigrants who are held in the camps are fighting back by engaging in hunger strikes sometimes resulting in forced feeding through nasal tubes. Immigrants who are targeted build community and defense committees to fight back against ICE.

Others are working to help migrants survive. The group “No More Deaths” is providing food and water to people crossing the border. This week, federal prosecutors announced they will retry Scott Warren, a border-aid worker accused of providing water to migrants, on three felony charges. In a prior prosecution, the jury was deadlocked and refused to convict him.

Also this week, 240 civil rights and immigrant rights groups wrote the leadership of the House of Representatives to decriminalize border crossings, roll-back the Clinton-era laws, stop entangling local police in immigration prosecutions and end detention without bail. The letter lays out some of the problems. The demands will not be won by negotiation with the power structure but by building power so the political elites have no choice but to end this crisis.

Organizations like RAICES are on the front lines providing free and low-cost legal and social services to immigrant children, families, and refugEes. Lawyers are fighting for the due process rights of immigrants, rights that are often denied. The National Network for Immigrant and Refugee RightS has developed a list of national, state and local Immigration Hotlines to report raids, seek help if being detained or at risk of being deported and report missing migrants. Download a PDF of IMMIGRATION HOTLINES here. There is also the National Immigration Detention Hotline created and managed by Freedom for Immigrants.

While we work to confront the current crisis, we also must build a national consensus for systemic change in immigration policy. This includes ending criminalization and militarization of the borders and replacing them with open borders modeled after the EU to uphold the basic human right of freedom of movement. Open borders would be an economic benefit as they would add $78 trillion to the world economy. Migration is also a benefit to the US economy.

The US must end its regime change operations in Latin America, as well as trade policies designed for corporate profits, and institute a Latin American Marshall Plan. US neo-colonial, imperialist interventions and corporate trade policies are root causes of desperate mass migration. We can end the self-created border crisis and replace it with policies based on respect for human rights and self-determination and cooperation to build an economy that works for all.

Dr. Chris Wright: “Critical and Informed Thinking Is Dangerous to the Powerful”

Mohsen Abdelmoumen: You wrote Worker Cooperatives and Revolution where you talk about workers’ cooperatives. In this fascinating book, we note your optimism about the coming of a new era where the human is at the center. You give the example of the cooperative New Era Windows, in Chicago. In your opinion, are we in a new era where the union of workers in the form of a cooperative will shape the future of the world?

Dr. Chris Wright: I think I may have been a little too optimistic in that book about the potential of worker cooperatives. On the one hand, Marx was right that cooperatives “represent within the old form the first sprouts of the new.” They’re microcosmic socialism, since socialism is just workers’ democratic control of economic activity, which is essentially what cooperatives are. Even in the large Mondragon firms that have seen some conflicts between workers and the elected management, there is still vastly more democracy (and more equal pay) than in a typical large capitalist enterprise.

Moreover, there’s an expanding movement in the U.S and elsewhere to seed new cooperatives and promote the transformation of existing capitalist firms into co-ops (which, incidentally, are often more productive, profitable, and longer-lasting than conventional businesses). Countless activists are working to spread a cooperative ethos and build a wide range of democratic, anti-capitalist institutions, from businesses to housing to political forms like participatory budgeting. (Websites like Shareable.net and Community-Wealth.org provide information on this movement.) This whole emerging “solidarity economy” is really what interested me when I was writing the book, though I focused on worker co-ops. I was struck that the very idea of a socialist society is just the solidarity economy writ large, in that all or the majority of institutions according to both visions are supposed to be communal, cooperative, democratic, and non-exploitative.

It’s true, though, that a new society can’t emerge from grassroots initiative alone. Large-scale political action is necessary, since national governments have such immense power. Unless you can transform state policy so as to facilitate economic democratization, you’re not going to get very far. Cooperatives alone can’t get the job done. You need radical political parties, mass confrontations with capitalist authorities, every variety of disruptive “direct action,” and it will all take a very, very long time. Social revolutions on the global scale we’re talking about take generations, even centuries. It probably won’t take as long as the European transition from feudalism to capitalism, but none of us will see “socialism” in our lifetime.

Marxists like to criticize cooperatives and the solidarity economy for being only interstitial, somewhat apolitical, and not sufficiently confrontational with capitalism, but, as I argue in the book, this criticism is misguided. A socialist transformation of the country and the world will take place on many levels, from the grassroots to the most ambitiously statist. And all the levels will reinforce and supplement each other. As the cooperative sector grows, more resources will be available for “statist” political action; and as national politics becomes more left-wing, state policy will promote worker takeovers of businesses. There’s a role for every type of leftist activism.

MA: Do you not think that the weakening of the trade union movement in the USA and elsewhere in the world further encourages the voracity of the capitalist oligarchy that dominates the world? Does not the working class throughout the world have a vital need for a great trade union movement?

CW: The working class desperately needs reinvigorated unions. Without strong unions, you get the most rapacious and misanthropic form of capitalism imaginable, as we’ve seen in the last forty years. Unions, which can be the basis for political parties, have always been workers’ most effective means of defense and even offense. In the U.S., it was only after the Congress of Industrial Organizations had been founded in the late 1930s that a mass middle class, supported by industrial unions with millions of members, could emerge in the postwar era. Unions were important funders and organizers of the American Civil Rights Movement, and they successfully pushed for expansion of the welfare state and workplace safety regulations. They can serve as powerful allies of environmentalists. It’s hard to imagine a livable future if organized labor isn’t resurrected and empowered.

But I don’t think there can be a return of the great postwar paradigm of industry-wide collective bargaining and nationwide social democracy. Capital has become too mobile and globalized; durable class compromises like that aren’t possible anymore. In the coming decades, the most far-reaching role of unions will be more revolutionary: to facilitate worker takeovers of businesses, the formation of left-wing political parties, popular control of industry, mass resistance to the global privatization and austerity agenda, expansion of the public sphere, construction of international workers’ alliances, etc.

Actually, I think that, contrary to old Marxist expectations, it’s only in the 21st century that humanity is finally entering the age of the great apocalyptic battles between labor and capital. Marx didn’t foresee the welfare state and the Keynesian compromise of the postwar period. Now that those social forms are deteriorating, organized labor can finally take up its revolutionary calling. If it and its allies fail, there’s only barbarism ahead.

MA: Your book Finding Our Compass: Reflections on a World in Crisis asks a fundamental question, namely, do we live in a real democracy?

CW: We certainly don’t. None of us do. The U.S. has democratic forms, but substantively it’s very undemocratic. Even mainstream political science recognizes this: studies have shown that the large majority of the population has essentially zero impact on policy, because they don’t have enough money to influence politicians or hire lobbyists. Practically the only way for them to get their voices heard is to disrupt the smooth functioning of institutions, such as through strikes or civil disobedience. We’ve seen this with the gilets jaunes protests in France, and we saw it when air traffic controllers refused to work and thus ended Donald Trump’s government shutdown in January 2019. We live in an oligarchy, a global oligarchy, which isn’t constrained much by the normal “democratic” process of voting.

But voting can be an important tool of resistance, especially if there are genuine oppositional candidates (like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for example). In that case, society can start to become a little more democratic. So it remains essential for the left to organize electorally, even if it will take a while for there to be a big policy payoff.

MA: Do you not think a new crisis of capitalism is in progress? Does not the capitalist system generate crises?

CW: I’m not an economist, but anyone can see that capitalism has a deep-rooted tendency to generate crises. There’s a long tradition of Marxist scholarship explaining why crises of overproduction and underconsumption (among other causes) repeatedly savage capitalist economies; David Harvey, Robert Brenner, and John Bellamy Foster are some recent scholars who have done good work on the subject. A lot of it comes down to the fact that “excessive capitalist empowerment,” to quote Harvey, leads to “wage repression” that limits aggregate demand, which constrains growth. For a while the problem doesn’t really appear because people can borrow, and are forced to borrow more and more. But accumulation of debt can’t go on forever if there’s no growth of underlying income. Huge credit bubbles appear as borrowing gets out of control and capitalists invest their colossal wealth in financial speculation, and the bubbles inevitably collapse. Then things like the Great Depression and the Great Recession happen.

As horrible as economic crises are, leftists should recognize, as Marx did, that at least they present major opportunities for organizing. It’s only in the context of long-term crisis and a decline of the middle class that there can be a transition to a new society, because crisis forces people to come together and press for radical solutions. It also destroys huge amounts of wealth, which can thin the ranks of the hyper-elite. And the enormous social discontent that results from crisis can weaken reactionary resistance to reform, as during the 1930s in the U.S. (On the other hand, fascism can also take power in such moments, unless leftists seize the initiative.)

There is no hope without crisis. That’s the paradoxical, “dialectical” lesson of Marxism.

MA: You wrote an article about Obama’s mediocrity. Don’t you think that the current US President Donald Trump is competing with Obama in mediocrity?

CW: In the competition over who’s most mediocre, few people hold a candle to Trump. He’s just a pathetic non-entity, an almost impossibly stupid, ignorant, narcissistic, self-pitying, cruel, vulgar little embodiment of all that’s wrong with the world. He’s so far beneath contempt that even to talk about him is already to lower oneself. So in that sense, I suppose he’s a suitable ‘leader’ of global capitalism. Obama at least is a good family man, and he’s intelligent. But he’s almost as lacking in moral principles as Trump, and he has no moral courage at all. I don’t know what to say about someone who announced in 2014, as Israel was slaughtering hundreds of children in Gaza, that Israel has a right to defend itself, and went on to approve the shipment of arms to that criminal nation right in the midst of its Gaza massacre. He’s a self-infatuated megalomaniac without morality.

MA: You wrote in one of your articles that the US government considers its citizens as enemies by using generalized surveillance. Does not the real danger come from this system which spies on everyone?

CW: I think Glenn Greenwald is right that few things are more pernicious than an expansive “national security” state. Surveillance is a key part of it, facilitating the persecution of protesters, dissenters, immigrants, and Muslims. The so-called “law and order” state is a lawless state of extreme disorder, in which power can operate with impunity. It begins to approach fascism.

One danger of the surveillance state is that it might operate like Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon: because people don’t know when they’re being watched or targeted, they monitor and regulate themselves all the time. They avoid stepping out of line, being obedient drudges and consumers. Any misstep might sweep them up in the black hole of the police state’s bureaucracy. So they internalize subservience. Of course, in our society there are many other ways of making people internalize subservience. Surveillance is only one, though a particularly vicious and dangerous one.

Another reason to be concerned is that internet companies’ ability to “spy” on users allows them to censor content, whether on their own initiative or from political pressure. Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other such companies are constantly censoring leftists (and some on the right) and deleting their accounts. Critics of Israeli crimes are especially vulnerable, but they’re hardly alone. The only real way to solve this problem would be to make internet companies publicly owned, because private entities can do virtually whatever they want with their own property. It’s absurd that leftists can connect and coordinate and build movements only subject to the approval of Mark Zuckerberg and other corporate fascists. It’s also terrifying that a surveillance alliance can develop between corporate behemoths and governments. That’s another feature of fascism.

MA: How do you see the inhuman treatment of Julian Assange and the persecution of him by the British and American administrations?

CW: As left-wing commentators have said, the persecution of Assange is an assault on journalism itself, and on the very idea of challenging the powerful or holding them to account. In that sense, it’s an assault on democracy. But that’s pretty much always what power-structures are doing, trying to undermine democracy and expand their own power, so the vicious treatment of Assange is hardly a surprise. But I doubt that the U.S. and Britain will be able to win their war on journalism in the long run. There are just too many good journalists out there, too many activists, too many people of conscience.

MA: This capitalist society is based on consumption but boasts of concepts such as “freedom of expression”, “human rights”, “democracy”, etc. Don’t we live rather in a fascist system?

CW: I wouldn’t say the West’s political economy is truly fascist. It has fascist tendencies, and it certainly cares nothing for freedom of expression, human rights, or democracy. But civil society is too vibrant and gives too many opportunities for left-wing political organizing to say that we live under fascism. The classical fascism of Italy and Germany was far more extreme than anything we’re experiencing now, especially in the U.S. or Western Europe. We don’t have brownshirts marching in the streets, concentration camps for radicals, assassinations of political and union leaders, or total annihilation of organized labor. There’s still freedom to publish dissenting views.

But major power-structures in the U.S. would love to see fascism of some sort and are working hard to get there. And they have armies of useful idiots to do their bidding. American “libertarians,” for example, of whom there are untold millions, are essentially fascist without knowing it: they want to eliminate the welfare state and regulations of business activity so as to unfetter entrepreneurial genius and maximize “liberty.” They somehow don’t see that in this scenario, corporations, being opposed by no countervailing forces, would completely take over the state and inaugurate the most barbarous and global tyranny in history. The natural environment would be utterly destroyed and most life on Earth would end.

In one sense of fascism, Marxists from the 1920s and 1930s would, as you suggest, say we do live in a rather fascist system. For them, the term denoted the age of big business, or, more precisely, the near-fusion of business with the state. Insofar as society approached a capitalist dictatorship, it was approaching fascism. We don’t literally live under that kind of dictatorship, but without determined resistance it could well be our future.

MA: Isn’t there a need to reread Karl Marx? How do you explain the disappearance of critical thinking in Western society?

CW: I actually think there’s a lot of critical thinking in Western society. The rise of “democratic socialism” in the U.S. is evidence of this, as is the popularity of Jeremy Corbyn in Britain. The left is growing internationally — although the right is too. But insofar as society suffers from a dearth of critical thinking, the reasons aren’t very obscure. Critical and informed thinking is dangerous to the powerful, so they do all they can to discourage it. Lots of studies have probed the methods of corporate and state indoctrination of the public, and the enormous scale of it. Noam Chomsky is famous for his many investigations of how the powerful “manufacture consent”; one of the lessons of his work is that the primary function of the mass media is to keep people ignorant and distracted. If important information about state crimes is suppressed, as it constantly is, and instead the powerful are continually glorified, well then people will tend to be uninformed and perhaps too supportive of the elite. It’s more fun, anyway, to play with phones and apps and video games and watch TV shows.

The mechanisms by which the business class promotes “stupidity” and ignorance are pretty transparent. Just look at any television commercial, or watch CNN or Fox News. It’s pure propaganda and infantilization.

As for Karl Marx: there’s always a need to read Marx, and to reread him. He and Chomsky are probably the two most incisive political analysts in history. But Marx was such an incredible writer too that he’s a sheer joy to read, and endlessly stimulating and inspiring. He rejuvenates you. (His political pamphlets on France, for instance, are stylistic and analytic masterpieces.) Besides, you simply can’t understand capitalism or history itself except through the lens of historical materialism, as I’ve argued elsewhere.

Of course, Marx wasn’t right about everything. In particular, his conception and timeline of socialist revolution were wrong. The “revolution,” if it happens, will, as I said earlier, be very protracted, since the worldwide replacing of one dominant mode of production by another doesn’t happen in a couple of decades. Even just on a national scale, the fact that modern nations exist in an international economy means socialism can’t evolve in one country without evolving in many others at the same time.

I can’t go into detail on how Marx got revolution wrong (as in his vague but overly statist notion of the “dictatorship of the proletariat”), but in Worker Cooperatives and Revolution I devote a couple of chapters to it. It’s unfortunate that most contemporary Marxists are so doctrinaire they consider it sacrilege if you try to update or rethink an aspect of historical materialism to make it more appropriate to conditions in the 21st century, which Marx could hardly have foreseen. They’re certainly not honoring the Master by thinking in terms of rigid dogma, whether orthodox Marxist or Leninist or Trotskyist.

MA: You are a humanist and the human condition is central in your work. Are you optimistic about the future of humanity?

CW: Frankly, no, I’m not. The forces of darkness just have too much power. And global warming is too dire a threat, and humanity is doing too little to address it. It’s worth reflecting that at the end of the Permian age, 250 million years ago, global warming killed off almost all life. If we don’t do something about it very soon, by the end of the century there won’t be any organized civilization left to protect.

And then there’s the problem of billions of tons of plastic waste polluting the world, and of the extinction of insects “threatening the collapse of nature,” and of dangerous imperialistic conflicts between great powers, and so on. I don’t see much reason for optimism.

We know how to address global warming, for example. But the fossil fuel industry and, ironically, environmentalists are acting so as to increase the threat. According to good scientific research, as reported in the new book A Bright Future (among many others), it’s impossible to solve global warming without exponentially expanding the use of nuclear power. (Contrary to popular opinion, nuclear power is generally very safe, reliable, effective, and environmentally friendly.) Renewable energy can’t get the job done. The world has spent over $2 trillion on renewables in the last decade, but carbon emissions are still rising! That level of investment in nuclear energy, which is millions of times more concentrated and powerful than diffuse solar and wind energy, could have put us well on the way to solving global warming. Instead, the crisis is getting much worse. Renewables are so intermittent and insufficient that countries are still massively investing in fossil fuels, which are incomparably more destructive than nuclear.

But the left is adamant against nuclear power, and it’s very hard even to publish an article favorable to it. Only biased and misinformed articles are published, with some exceptions. So the left is working to exacerbate global warming, just as the right is. Why? Ultimately for ideological reasons: most leftists like the idea of decentralization, dispersed power, community control of energy, and anti-capitalism, and these values seem more compatible with solar and wind energy than nuclear. The nuclear power industry isn’t exactly a model of transparency, democracy, or political integrity.

But the Guardian environmental columnist George Monbiot is right: sometimes you have to go with a lesser evil in order to avoid a greater one, in this case the collapse of civilization and probably most life on Earth. Is that a price environmentalists are willing to pay so they can preen themselves on their political virtue? So far, it seems the answer is yes.

We humans have to break free of our tribal ways, our herd-thinking ways. We have to be more willing to think critically, self-critically, and stop being so complacent and conformist. The younger generation, actually, seems to be leading the way, for instance with the Extinction Rebellion and all the exciting forms of activism springing up everywhere. But we still have a terribly long way to go.

I haven’t lost hope, but I’m not sanguine. The next twenty or thirty years will be the most decisive in human history.

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!

The New Politics of Starvation

President Donald Trump’s use of the most vicious aspects of economic warfare prompt another examination of the politics of starvation.

After George W. Bush’s administration, Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump lessened Bush’s aggressive war policies and leaned to economic warfare. Sounds harmless when compared to exploding bombs, but it is not — economic warfare can crush an adversary without firing a shot. Gone to its extreme, economic warfare has the force of a neutron bomb; it disables the nation’s infrastructure and debilitates its population. Isolation from the international financial system, material embargos, and other sanctions reduce living standards and bring populations close to starvation The most serious aspects of economic warfare are major crimes and a form of terrorism.

Iran, Cuba, North Korea, and Iraq endured the most punishing sanctions from the United States. Results of sanctions against these countries, models for the effects of sanctions, show that sanctions have rarely accomplished their stated purposes and their intentions may be for other reasons — stalling economic progress, weakening challenges to antagonistic actions, advancing dominance, and promoting regime change.

Iran

Disturbed with the rule of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and infuriated by the hostage taking of 52 of U.S. embassy personnel by extreme Islamic students and militants, President Jimmy Carter froze several billions of dollars in Iranian bank deposits, gold and other properties, and followed with a 1980 embargo on trade with and travel to Iran. These punitive actions accomplished nothing for the United States, strengthened the Ayatollah’s Authority and hardened the student demands for releasing the captured embassy officials.

President Reagan, who partially owed his climb into the executive office to the hostage crisis, showed contempt for Iran’s resolution of the problem. Driven by the unproven assertion that Iran was involved in the 1983 bombing of a marine barracks in Beirut, and favoring Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the Iraq-Iran war, the U.S. president imposed additional sanctions on the Islamic Republic. and, in 1987, banned all imports from Iran.

Duriing the Clinton administration, the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) penalized all foreign companies that provided investments over $20 million for the development of petroleum resources.

Iran’s entrance into the atomic age provoked a series of new sanctions. Economic warfare soon reached full scale by subduing Iran’s earnings from its most precious resource and export – oil. The U.S. Congress passed unilateral sanctions that targeted Iran’s energy and banking sectors. Sanctions did not halt Iran’s nuclear activities, or prevent it from signing contracts with foreign firms to develop its energy resources. Exports slowly grew to an estimated $82 billion in 2012, with liberated Iraq and independent China filling the gap as trading partners.

Nevertheless, economic warfare affected Iran’s industries and welfare. In October 2012, Iran’s currency, the rial, fell to a record low against the US dollar, losing about 80 per cent of its value in one year. Lack of spare parts and inability to replace planes affected aviation safety. Real growth rate in GDP, at a steady six per cent a year during the first decade of the twenty first century, fell to two per cent in 2011-2012. One report, citing officials from the U.S. Departments of State and Energy, concluded that gasoline imports in the Shah’s former kingdom declined from 130,000 barrels a day in 2009 to 50,000 barrels a day in 2011. Machinery wears, and the  costs and time for repairs rapidly increased. A nation of educated professionals, who depended upon access to foreign technology and scientific cooperation, had their access to knowledge severely curtailed.

In a October 5, 2012 report to the UN General Assembly, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon summarized effects of sanctions on Iran’s population.

The sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic of Iran have had significant effects on the general population, including an escalation in inflation, a rise in commodities and energy costs, an increase in the rate of unemployment and a shortage of necessary items, including medicine,

The embargoes have also hampered humanitarian operations, as the imposed restrictions on Iran’s banking system have halted the imports of medicines needed for treating diseases like cancer and heart and respiratory conditions.

The Obama administration eventually eased restrictions on the sale of medicines to Iran, and, after the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, in which Iran halted and downsized its uranium enrichment, the UN lifted sanctions. In a following year, Iran GDP increased 15 percent.

On May 8, 2018, U.S. President Donald Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. and U.S. sanctions came into effect again in November 2018. President Trump articulated his plan for renewed sanctions as, “to bring Iran’s oil exports to ‘zero’ and remove a main source of revenue for the regime.” Trump imposed the ultimate harm afforded by economic warfare — starve the people and have them revolt against the regime.

That has not happened nor is predicted to occur. World Bank statistics indicate a severe slowing of the economy and steady rise of inflation.

As shown in the charts, oil production, and GDP growth dropped monotonically and severely. Currency value suffered an initial shock and had some recovery. Inflation was up 40%, especially in food (up 60%) — a suffering economy, a suffering people, and no political gain for the U.S.

Cuba

Immediately after the 1960 Cuban revolution, the United States imposed an embargo against Cuba. Fifty plus years of sanctions have not succeeded in accomplishing the purposes for which the United States proposed the sanctions — compensation to U.S. firms nationalized by Cuba and the overthrow of the Castro regime. The only result of the embargo has been deprivation of the Cuban people.

Although the United Nations General Assembly on November 2, 1995, voted 117 to 3 to recommend an end to the U.S. embargo against Cuba, President Clinton, on March 12, 1996, signed into law the misnamed Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act. This Act imposed penalties on foreign companies doing business in Cuba, permitted U.S. citizens to sue foreign investors who make use of American-owned property seized by the Cuban government, and denied foreign investors in Cuba’s industry to enter the U.S.

The World Health Organization (WHO) complimented pre-90’s Cuba for its public health system, which had been credited with eliminating hunger and malnutrition and wiping out infectious diseases. A tightened embargo reinforced Cuba’s suffering after Russia withdrew subsidies. and, soon, Cuba of the mid-90’s portrayed another image. The American Association for World Health and the American Public Health Association ascertained that the embargo caused significant deterioration in Cuba’s food production and health care:

  • Cuba was banned from purchasing nearly 1/2 of new drugs on the market.
  • Physicians had access to only 890 medications, down from 1,300 in 1989.
  • Deterioration of water supply increased water borne diseases.
  • Daily caloric intake dropped by 33% between 1989 and 1993.

In 2000, the Clinton administration finally allowed Cuba to have some relief from an aggressive economic warfare. The administration allowed the sale of agriculture and medicine to Cuba for humanitarian purposes. According to the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service, U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba reached $380 million in 2004. However, after hitting a peak of $710 million in 2008, U.S. food sales to Cuba declined over 50 percent by the year 2011. Reasons for the decline were largely economic – lack of foreign currency and better financial terms being offered by other countries.

Representatives of a dozen leading U.S. business organizations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, signed a letter in December urging Barack Obama to scrap the embargo. The letter pegs the cost to the U.S. economy at $1.2 billion per year. The CPF’s estimates are much higher: up to $4.84 billion annually in lost sales and exports. The Cuban government estimates the loss to Cuba at about $685 million annually. Thus the blockade costs the United States up to $4.155 billion more a year than it costs Cuba.1

After a period of harsh policy toward Cuba under President George W. Bush, President Obama announced in late 2014 that Washington and Havana would begin normalizing relations. To that end, the Obama administration achieved three pillars of normalization: 1) the removal of Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, which allowed Cuba to access international finance; 2) the reestablishment of diplomatic relations; and 3) relaxed restrictions on travel and trade through executive action. The embargo remained in place.

In 2017, the Trump administration reversed some of the changes made under President Obama, but the vast majority remained U.S. policy. Despite some tighter trade sanctions and limitations on authorized travel, there are still legal pathways for Americans to export and travel to Cuba. On the list of  new sanctions is allowing Americans to sue foreign companies in Cuba that are profiting from or using properties that were seized during the Cuban revolution.

Havana — The Cuban government announced Friday it is launching widespread rationing of chicken, eggs, rice, beans, soap and other basic products in the face of a grave economic crisis. Commerce Minister Betsy Díaz Velazquez told the state-run Cuban News Agency that various forms of rationing would be employed in order to deal with shortages of staple foods.

Díaz blamed the hardening of the U.S. trade embargo by the Trump administration. Economists give equal or greater blame to a plunge in aid from Venezuela, where the collapse of the state-run oil company has led to a nearly two-thirds cut in shipments of subsidized fuel that Cuba used for power and to earn hard currency on the open market.2

Another suffering economy, suffering people, and no political gain for the U.S.

North Korea

The proud and impoverished nation of North Korea has been continually subjected to sanctions, threats of economic sanctions, and hastily withdrawn sanctions. The media is peppered with the words: “U.S. Lifts sanctions,” “U.S. recommends sanctions,” “South Korea wary of sanctions.” It’s difficult to know if North Korea is being sanctioned or being forced into being sanctioned. After its 2006 claim of conducting a nuclear test, the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic Korea) leaders responded to intended sanctions by labeling them as “a declaration of war.”

The DPRK has,suffered from economic warfare, which includes restrictions on trade and financial transactions. Export of sensitive dual-use items (items that have both military and non-military uses) have, at times, been prohibited.  During March 2012, the politics of starvation entered the situation; angered by an intended North Korea missile test, the U.S. suspended food aid to the “hermit kingdom.”

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States has suspended planned food aid to North Korea as Pyongyang vows to push ahead with a plan to launch a long-range missile in defiance of international warnings, U.S. military officials said on Wednesday.

Under President Obama, sanctions increased as a policy of “strategic patience;” the US waited for North Korea to change its bad behavior before engaging with the state. As a result, trade between North Korea and China increased and sanctions did not encourage Kim Jong-An to discuss de-nuclearization.

On September 21, 2017, President Donald Trump, as part of his administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign, allowed severing from its financial system and/or freezing assets of companies, businesses, organizations, and individuals who traded in goods, services, or technology with North Korea.

U.S. negotiations with North Korea have a built-in error; they request de-nuclearization in exchange for improved relations and reduction in sanctions. Not considered is that North Korea’s development of a nuclear arsenal was a response to its regard of U.S. actions in the Korean peninsula as a direct threat to its regime and the developments had no relation to sanctions. Therefore, the DPRK will not trade de-nuclearization for relief of sanctions, and that approach is a non-starter.

Sanctions, intended to collapse the North Korea regime, have not halted its development of nuclear weapons and guided missile delivery systems. They have collapsed the economy and harmed the North Korean people; starvation during droughts have occurred. Although some international assistance has been provided to North Korea, the intensive economic warfare waged against the “hermit kingdom” has exacerbated its problems, without any apparent benefit to its principal antagonist, the United States.

Iraq

If Iraq were Pompeii, then the US would be Mt. Vesuvius.

The sanctions against Iraq began August 6, 1990, four days after Hussein invaded Kuwait, and featured a near-total financial and trade embargo. Resultant suffering has been outlined in a UN Report on the Current Humanitarian Situation in Iraq, submitted to the Security Council, March 1999.  Due to the length of the report, only significant features are mentioned.

Before the Iraq War

  • before 1991 Iraq’s social and economic indicators were generally above the regional and developing country averages.
  • Up to 1990, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) cited Iraq as having one of the highest per capita food availability indicators in the region.
  • According to the World Health Organization (WHO), prior to 1991, health care reached approximately 97% of the urban population and 78% of rural residents. A major reduction of young child mortality took place from 1960 to 1990; with the infant mortality rate at 65 per 1,000 live births in 1989 (1991 Human Development Report average for developing countries was 76 per 1,000 live births). UNICEF indicates that a national welfare system assisted orphans and children with disabilities and supported the poorest families.
  • Before 1991, southern and central Iraq had well developed water and sanitation systems, composed with two hundred water treatment plants (“wtp’s”) for urban areas and 1200 compact wtp’s to serve rural areas, as well as an extensive distribution network. WHO estimates that 90% of the population had access to an abundant quantity of safe drinking water.

From Sanctions After the Gulf War

  • Economist Intelligence Unit estimates that Iraqi GDP may have fallen by nearly 67% in 1991, and the nation had “experienced a shift from relative affluence to massive poverty” and had infant mortality rates that were “among the highest in the world.”
  • The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimated the maternal mortality rate increased from 50/100,000 live births in 1989 to 117/100,000 in 1997. The under-five child mortality rate increased from 30.2/1000 live births to 97.2/1000 during the same period. The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) calculates that the infant mortality rate rose from 64/1000 births in 1990 to 129/1000 in 1995 (the Human Development Report set the average infant mortality rate for Least Developed Countries at 109/1000). Low birth weight babies (less than 2.5 kg) rose from 4% in 1990 to around a quarter of registered births in 1997, due mainly to maternal malnutrition.
  • Calorie intake fell from a pre-war 3120 to 1093 calories per capita/per day in 1994-95. The prevalence of malnutrition in Iraqi children under five almost doubled from 1991 to 1996 (from 12% to 23%). Acute malnutrition in Center/South rose from 3% to 11% for the same age bracket.
  • The World Food Program (WFP) estimated that access to potable water decreased to 50% of the 1990 level in urban areas and 33% in rural areas.
  • School enrollment for all ages (6-23) declined to 53%. According to a field survey conducted in 1993, as quoted by UNESCO, in Central and Southern governorates, 83% of school buildings needed rehabilitation, with 8613 out of 10,334 schools having suffered serious damages. The same source indicated that some schools with a planned capacity of 700 pupils actually have 4500 enrolled in them. Substantive progress in reducing adult and female illiteracy ceased and regressed to mid-1980 levels. More families are forced to rely on children to secure household incomes. Figures provided by UNESCO indicate that drop-outs in elementary schools increased from 95,692 in 1990 to 131,658 in 1999.

Sanctions, and its toll on the Iraqi people, continued until the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Excerpts from Invisible War: The United States and the Iraq Sanctions, Joy Gordon. Harvard University Press, 2010, describe the extent of irrational economic warfare conducted by the United states against a defenseless Iraq.

While the United States consistently justified its policies in terms of preventing Iraq from developing weapons or threatening its neighbors, the U.S. policy went well beyond any rational concern with security. There was an elaborate architecture of policies that found a dozen other ways to simply do gratuitous harm that had not the least relation to the threat Iraq might have posed to its neighbors or to anyone else.

For thirteen years the United States unilaterally prevented Iraq from importing nearly everything related to electricity, telecommunications, and transportation, blocked much of what was needed for agriculture and housing construction, and even prohibited some equipment and materials necessary for health care and food preparation.

As the criticism grew, there is no sign that anyone in the U.S. administration, and only a tiny handful within Congress, actually took it to heart– actually questioned the sanity and legality of reducing an entire civilization to a preindustrial state, of bankrupting an entire nation for the purpose of containing one tyrannical man.

On May 12, 1996, Madeleine Albright, then U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, appeared on the CBS program 60 Minutes. Commentator Lesley Stahl asked, “We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. Is the price worth it?” Madeleine Albright replied, “we think the price is worth it.”  Is that an expected response from a normal human being?

The U.S. 2003 invasion of Iraq accomplished what sanctions failed to accomplish —  push Iraq to total ruin. A question, “Why war, if had sanctions, or why sanctions if need to go to war?”

Conclusion

As shown, sanctions never accomplished their stated purposes and gravely harmed populations. The economic warfare had equivalents to military war. The country that took the offensive became the aggressor, as in any war, and the destruction to the defending state was equally brutal. In the one-sided engagement, the civilian population of the defending nation suffered greatly and the aggressor country suffered few losses. The economic wars never achieved the results that the offended party desired, and no peace treaties were signed. The struggles remained an open issue.

A limited form of economic warfare may, at times, have a legitimate purpose. A complete economic war, that invades all aspects of a country’s life and continues until it debilitates the population, cannot be accepted. In a military campaign, atrocities and human rights violations are often committed. Although no shots are fired and battlefields are not identifiable, economic warfare cannot camouflage its atrocities and disguise its human rights violations.

  1. Dollars and Sense, 2009, The Costs of the Embargo, by Margot Pepper
  2. From CBS News, May 11, 2019.

A Marriage of Conscience: Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning

“About suffering they were never wrong,” wrote W. H. Auden in the poem “Musée Des Beaux Arts.”

These lines occurred to me last week when all eyes were focused on the brutal British seizure of Julian Assange from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

No one should have been surprised by this despicable spectacle carried out in the noonday light for all to see, for the British government has not served as America’s jailer for the past seven years for no reason.  It doesn’t take x-ray eyes to see that the British and the Moreno government in Ecuador are twin poodles on the American leash.  After a phony display of judicial fairness, the British, as required by their American bosses, will dispatch Assange to the United States so he can be further punished for the crime of doing journalism and exposing war crimes.

Assange has suffered mightily for American sins.  The Anglo-American torturers know how to squeeze their victims to make old men out of the young.  Abu Ghraib was no aberration.  The overt is often covert; just a thin skin separates the sadists’ varied methods, but their message is obvious.  No one who saw Assange dragged to prison could fail to see what the war-mongers, who hate freedom of the press when it exposes their criminal activities, can do to a man.  Nor, however, could one fail to see the spirit of defiance that animates Assange, a man of courageous conscience cowards can’t begin to comprehend.

Bought and sold, compromised and corrupted to their depths, the American, British, and Ecuadorian governments and their media sycophants have no shame or allegiance to law or God, and have never learned that you can imprison, torture, and even kill a person of conscience, but that doing so is a risky business.  For even the corpses of those who say “No” keep whispering “No” forevermore.

While the media spotlight was on central London, Auden’s lines kept running through my mind:

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters, how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just
Walking dully along

His words transported me from London to a lonely jail cell in Virginia where Chelsea Manning sat brooding.  Chelsea hearing the news about Assange.  Chelsea realizing that now the screws would be further tightened and her ordeal as a prisoner of conscience would be extended indefinitely.  Chelsea summoning all her extraordinary courage to go on saying “No,” “No,” “No.”  Chelsea refusing the 30 pieces of silver that will be continually offered to her, as they have been for almost a decade, and that she has refused in her emphatic refusal to give the Judas kiss to Julian, to whom she is wed in this non-violent campaign to expose the truth about the war criminals.

Auden’s words reminded me not to turn away, to pay attention, to not walk dully along and ignore the lonely suffering of truth-tellers.  How can anyone who claims to oppose the American wars on Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, etc., turn away from defending Manning and Assange, two brave souls who have already spent nearly 15 years combined imprisoned for exposing the war crimes of the American and British governments, crimes committed in our name and therefore our crimes.

Who will have the bad faith to buy the torrent of lies that the propagandists will spew forth about Assange as they wage a media blitz to kill his reputation on the way to disposing of him?

The jackals in government and media, so-called liberals and conservatives, will be sadistically calling for blood as they count their blood money and wipe their lips.  Only cowards will join this bleating crowd and refuse to go to that lonely, empty place – that cell of conscience – where the truth resides.

All should remember that Chelsea Manning spent more than seven years in prison under the Obama administration for revealing a video about George W. Bush’s war crimes in Iraq; that Assange had to escape the Obama administration’s clutches by seeking asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy; and that now that Trump is in office, the reimprisonment of Manning and arrest of Assange are perfectly in accord with the evil deeds of his predecessors.  These men are titular heads of the warfare state.  They follow orders.

Who can sail calmly on and pretend they don’t see the gift of truth and hear the forsaken cries of two lonely caged heroes falling into the sea?  Who can fail to defend such voices of freedom?