Category Archives: Elections

Is Russia an Adversary?

The question is finally being asked, by the president himself: what’s wrong with collusion? Or at least his lawyer asks the question, while Trumps tweets:

Collusion is not a crime, but that doesn’t matter because there was No Collusion.

The problem, of course, is that of collusion with an alleged adversary. Russia, we are constantly informed, is one such adversary, indeed the main state adversary, with Putin is its head.

Adversary is a very strong term. The Hebrew word for adversary is Satan. Satan is the ultimate symbol of evil in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Satan tempted Eve at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, causing her to eat the fruit, and so evil entered the world.

Just like some want you to think that evil entered the (good, pristine) U.S. electoral process due to this Russian adversary in 2016.

(Sometimes listening to TV pundits vilifying Putin I find Luther’s famous hymn floating through my head:

For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe.
His craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate, on earth is not his equal.

Luther’s referring to Satan, of course. But the current mythology around Putin — as someone who still, like Lenin and Stalin before him, and the tsars of old, wishes us harm; is an unbridled dictator with a powerful great nuclear arsenal; is the wealthiest man on earth; and hates democracy — resembles the mythology around the Adversary in the Bible.)

But let us problematize this vilification. When did Russia become a U.S. adversary? Some might say 1917 when in the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution Moscow became the center of the global communist movement. But surely that period ended in 1991 with the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and the USSR.

Throughout the 1990s the U.S. cultivated Boris Yeltsin’s Russia as a friend and even aided the drunken buffoon in winning the 1996 election. Bill Clinton and Yeltsin signed the Start II treaty. Harvard professors advised Moscow on economic reform.

The Russians were not pleased by U.S.-NATO involvements in the former Yugoslavia, a traditional Russian ally, in 1995 and 1999, and the expansion of NATO in the latter year (to include Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary) in violation of the agreement between Ronald Reagan and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1989 that in return for Russia’s acceptance of German reunification NATO would not spread “one inch” towards Russia. They protested meekly. But Russia was not an adversary then.

Nor was it an adversary when, in 2001, under its new president Vladimir Putin, it offered NATO a route through Russia to provision forces in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks. The real change only came in 2004, when NATO suddenly expanded to include Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. This brought alliances forces right to the Russian border.

It was a clear statement by the U.S. to a friendly country: We are your adversary. But, of course, the Pentagon and State Department always pooh-poohed Russian concerns, denying that NATO targeted any particular country.

Four years later (2008) NATO announced intentions to draw Ukraine and Georgia into the alliance. Meanwhile the U.S. recognized Kosovo as an independent state. Kosovo, the historical heart of Serbian civilization, had been wrenched from Serbia in 1999 under the pretext of a “humanitarian” intervention that included the first bombing (by NATO) of a European capital city since 1945. The province had been converted into a vast NATO base.

Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili, emboldened by the prospect of NATO membership and western backing, attacked the capital of the separatist republic of South Ossetia, provoking (as the Russians explain it) a proper punitive response: the Russo-Georgian War of August 7-16. After this Moscow recognized South Ossetia and a second breakaway republic, Abkhazia, in a tit-for-tat response to Washington’s recognition of Kosovo.

Now Russia was labelled an aggressive power—by the power that had carved up Yugoslavia, and invaded and occupied Iraq on the basis of lies and killed half a million in the process. Plans to include Georgia in NATO had to be put on hold, in large part due to European allies’ opposition (why provoke Russia?) but the U.S. intensified efforts to draw in Ukraine. That meant toppling the anti-NATO elected president Viktor Yanukovych.

The U.S. State Department devoted enormous resources to the Maidan coup in Kiev on February 23, 2014. Its agents helped topple the government, ostensibly for its failure to negotiate an agreement for Ukrainian associate membership in the EU, but really to bring pro-NATO forces to power and expel the Russian Fleet from the Crimean Peninsula where it has been based since 1783. Moscow’s limited support for the Donbass ethnic-Russian separatists and re-annexation of Crimea were, of course, depicted by the U.S. as more aggression, more mischievous opposition to “U.S. global interests.”

But from Moscow’s point of view these moves have surely been defensive. The main problem is (obviously) NATO and its dangerous, unnecessary and provocative expansion. Throughout his presidential campaign Trump questioned the continued “relevance” of NATO. Characteristically he focused on budget issues and allies’ failure to meet the goal figure of 2% if GDP for military expenses (misleadingly depicting investment shortfalls as a betrayal and rip-off of the victimized U.S.). But he did—to the alarm of many, and probably to Moscow’s delight—express little enthusiasm for the alliance’s historical purpose.

The most rational proposition Trump voiced before his election that the U.S. should “get along” with Russia. That is, get along with the so-called adversary. Trump as we all know had been in Russia on business, hosting the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in 2013, and maintains interest in building a Trump Tower in the city. He has met and befriended Russian oligarchs. He quite possibly sees Russia as just another country, like Germany or France.

If “the French” had had dirt on Hillary, would it have been okay to “collude” with them to influence the election result? France is, of course, a NATO ally. Would that make it different? Now that the president and his layers are openly questioning whether “collusion”, per se, is even illegal, the specific nature of the colluder becomes more relevant.

Russia is an adversary.

Russia is an adversary.

Putin in Helsinki acknowledged to a reporter that he had hoped Trump could win, because he had expressed hope for better relations. He might have added that he dreaded the prospect of a Hillary victory because of her warmongering and characterization of him as a Hitler. Naturally the Russian media favored Trump over Clinton at a certain point when he emerged as a credible candidate. So when Trump on July 27, 2016 called on Russia to release Hillary’s missing emails (“if you’ve got ’em”) the Russians probably felt invited to make contact through channels. And when informed that they had dirt, Don Jr. wrote: “If that’s what you say, I love it.” (Who can blame him?)

Let’s say there was some collusion after the June 6 Trump Tower meeting. Trump has suddenly acknowledged that the meeting with the Russians was indeed to “seek political dirt.” He adds that this is “totally legal,” and this may be true. Some are now saying that Don Jr. may have violated a federal statute (52 USC 30121, 36 USC 5210) forbidding any foreign person to  “make a contribution or a donation of money or other thing of value, or expressly or impliedly promise to make a contribution or a donation, in connection with any Federal, State, or local election.’ and for anyone to knowingly solicit, accept, or receive from a foreign national any contribution or donation prohibited by [this law].” But the language is vague. If a Canadian speechwriter works gratis for a U.S. political candidate, in order to help him or her win, is this not “a thing of value” intended to affect an election?

If Paul Manafort, Don Jr. and Jared Kushner had met with Canadian agents in Trump Tower I doubt there would have been any controversy. The fact is, Trump won the election and many of those stunned by that wish to undermine him using revived Cold War-type Russophobia. They insist:  He worked with our adversary to undermine our election. And now they hope they’ve got him on this charge.

*****

Five years ago a young man named Edward Snowden (now living in forced exile in Russia) revealed to the world the extent of the U.S.’s global surveillance. He showed us how the NSA wiretaps EU meetings, popes’ conversations, Angela Merkel’s cell phone and maintains metadata on virtually all U.S. residents. He showed us what the contemporary advanced state can do in this respect. We should suppose that Moscow has, if not similar capacity, at least enough expertise to hack into the DNC emails or John Podesta’s g-mail account. Is that surprising?

What none of the TV anchors is allowed to say needs to be said again: The U.S. interferes in foreign elections all the time, including Russian ones. It should surprise no one if Russian intelligence responds in kind. The point is not the provenance of the leaked emails but their content.

Those horrified by the leaked material complain that their release was designed to “undermine faith in our democratic system.” Really? Don’t the workings of the system itself undermine one’s faith in it, once they are exposed? Was it adversarial of the leaker to inform us that the DNC had no intention of allowing Bernie Sanders to win the Democratic nomination, and thus that the process was rigged? Was it unfriendly to reveal that Podesta was hoping the media would hype Trump, as an easy target for his candidate?

The question that will no doubt be debated in the coming days is whether seeking dirt on a political opponent from any foreigner is indeed illegal, or whether there are specific legal ramifications of meeting with someone from an “adversary” country. But it seems to me that Russia has not been defined as such officially. So we may have a discussion less about legality than the politics of Russophobia.

I am happy to see Trump besieged, rattled, possibly facing impeachment. But to bring him down on the basis of “Russian collusion,” on the assumption that Russia is an adversary, would only advantage the warmongers who want no-fly zones over Syria and military support for the Kiev regime against the Donbas separatists. Vice President Pence I believe favors both.

Trump has said that he cannot host Putin in Washington this year, or until the Russian Hoax witch hunt is over. But Putin has invited him to Moscow. One senses he wants some agreements with Trump before he is ousted by his gathering adversaries, including the press, courts, Democrats, select Republicans, turncoat aides and he himself sometimes in his unguarded tweets.

Dark Foreboding: Is the American Democratic Experiment Over

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

— William Butler Yeats, The Second Coming, 1919

Apocalyptic thinking has been with us for a long time, and it sometimes ushers in actual apocalypses, albeit at human scale, without biblical finality. For a century now, the Yeats poem above has served as an increasingly common reference point for those who fear apocalyptic events approaching. Today such fears are varied, the threats are real, and reactions range from crisis-mongering to self-serving denial, making any rational, coherent societal response almost impossible.

We’ve been heading this way for decades. We finally got here in 2016. It’s taken awhile, but the forces of chaos and greed seem to be cohering, tightening their grip on power, on government and culture, facing little or no effective opposition. An election is coming. It will matter. But how?

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world

Worse, things are under attack, the center is the enemy. The US president veers toward dictatorial powers and seeks out new targets to disrupt or destroy. The US wages war around the world in at least 7 countries (with combat forces in 146 according to Seymour Hersh). The US Environmental Protection Agency wages war on the environment along with public health and safety. The US Education Department wages war on public education. The US Justice Department wages war on Justice, turning law enforcement into a profit-making, human-trafficking criminal enterprise. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development wages war on the poor, as do other agencies. The US Labor Department wages war on labor. The US Supreme Court wages war on pretty much 99% of the population. And so it goes: almost everywhere one looks, there is almost no center left to hold. Resistance is scattered, ineffective, inconsistent, fragmented – mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

This is our country that has loosed a blood-dimmed tide across the globe for decades. This is American exceptionalism that has flooded countries from Iran to Guatemala with its citizens’ blood for American ends. This endless flow of American violence and death has drowned our innocence, and still so many of us pretend there is no blood on our hands, no blood up to our eyeballs, no blood vengeance haunting our future.

That’s not the way we see the border, but that’s the way the border is. American-sponsored dictatorships and genocides are sending the children of their victims to our borders where we victimize them again and again and again. And finally, at least more than just a few people notice who and what we are, and who and what we have been for so long, and there is horror, at least for some. No border guards are yet showing signs of conscience as they carry out unlawful orders, but at least one immigration judge has expressed embarrassment at asking a one-year-old if he understood the proceedings the US was putting him through.

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

And so we head for another election on November 6, bitterly divided as a country. It’s a so-called off-year election (no presidential race), but it may be darkly viewed as the last stand for the American democratic republic. Some say that 242-year-old experiment has already failed, and there’s logic to that opinion. The decline has been long, slow, relentless and the end will not likely be apocalyptic.

When did we lose the possibility of a country of freedom, tolerance, and honesty? OK, the Constitution allowed slavery. More recently, was it our willingness to incinerate Japanese civilians with atomic weapons? Was it our willingness to accept Reagan as president despite his dealing with Iran to rig the election? Was it our willingness to let the Supreme Court choose Bush for president? Was it our willingness to let Bush lie us into wars that haven’t ended yet? Was it our willingness to accept yet another blood dictatorship in Honduras (after all the others over so many years)? Was it our willingness to accept a Supreme Court decision (Citizens United) that turned democratic elections into plutocratic power auctions? Was it our acceptance of Republicans stealing a Supreme Court seat? Was it our election of minority-president Trump? Any of these points (and no doubt others) were turning points where the best lacked all conviction, while the worst rode their passionate intensity to the verge of total control of the US government. From there, it could be but a short distance to totalitarian control.

We’re heading into the 2018 election with polling that shows only a slight majority of Americans – around 53% – opposed to the direction of the country, opposed to Republicans, opposed to Trump. Republicans currently control the presidency, both houses of Congress, and the Supreme Court (with another justice online). The election can’t change the presidency. The election can’t change the Supreme Court directly (especially if Kavanaugh is approved beforehand). The election can change either house of Congress, neither of which is anything like a sure thing. If the House gets a Democratic majority, that puts all legislation on the negotiating table and raises the possibility of articles of impeachment for which this president has qualified since day one of his presidency. If the Senate gets a Democratic majority, that also makes all legislation negotiable and makes it harder for Republicans to pack the courts. If both houses of Congress get Democratic majorities, that gives the American experiment a chance to continue, dependent on Democratic courage long in short supply.

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,   
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?  

So ends The Second Coming by Yeats, inconclusively, suggestively. There’s no knowing what may happen to head off our own rough beast slouching toward November. Perhaps Mueller will go public on Trump crimes. Perhaps the trade war will implode the US economy. Perhaps Trump will sack Mueller (or some other critical figure). Perhaps enough people will recognize – and reject – the already functional police state created by ICE jurisdiction. Perhaps Republican Senator Richard Burr, already on record as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee that Russian collusion in 2016 happened, will seize the moment to hold hearings to learn “What did the President know and when did he know it?”

Or perhaps the fascist coup, the totalitarian American state, is already upon us and we’re only waiting for massive popular passivity to confirm it. There are those, after all, millions who seem to believe that Donald Trump really is the Second Coming.

Trump Era: “There Is Great Disorder Under The Sky, So The Situation Is Excellent!”

The quote in the headline comes from Mao Tse Tung. It was aptly used by Professor Slavoj Žižek to describe the situation we find ourselves in during the Trump era. There are many things to dislike about President Trump, but he is shaking up the establishment and raising mishandled issues that would not otherwise be discussed. He is causing chaos and his policy prescriptions are rarely correct, but he is unintentionally creating opportunities for positive change, if people can rise to the occasion in an informed and strategic way.

Žižek writes an interesting review of Trump’s recent European trip but falls short in his conclusion that the election of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez shows a path forward within the Democratic Party. While we were pleased to see ten-term Congressman Joe Crowley defeated, as he epitomizes the corporate-corruption of the Democratic Party, the reality is that movements for peace and justice lose power when they enter the Democratic Party. Ocasio-Cortez’ election occurred in a low-turnout primary in a solidly-blue congressional district where the ethnic makeup has moved from white middle class to Latinx working class and Crowley was focused on taking Pelosi’s place rather than his re-election.

Democrats Not Turning Left, More Likely Deepening Their Role as a Wall Street and War Party

The democratic socialism of the Bernie Sanders type that Ocascio-Cortez stands for could be popular across the country where workers are struggling after decades of neoliberal economics that increase the wealth at the top in the false claim it will trickle down. Most people in the United States are worse off; tens of millions are in poverty and all but the wealthiest are economically insecure. This is one reason the anti-establishment campaign of Trump defeated the elitist establishment candidate Clinton. Trump also played on the reality that most people are ready to end the never-ending wars and cut the obscene spending on militarism when necessities at home are not being realized. President Obama also campaigned as a peace president, even though he did not govern that way, showing the public has been ready to end 21st Century wars for a long time. While the population is ready for transformative change, the Democratic Party is successfully resisting it.

Ocasio-Cortez’ victory was a rare progressive victory in the primaries. Joe Crowley is the only House incumbent to have lost a primary, and thanks to the fake third party, the Working Families Party, which is really the Democrats in disguise, Crowley will still be on the ballot in November.

Just 22 percent of self-defined progressive candidates have won, with many of them coming from seats where Democrats have little chance of winning in November, so they will not change the makeup of House Democrats. And, progressive candidates who lost their races are supporting establishment Democrats. More likely than a progressive takeover among House Democrats is the deepening of the military-intelligence policies of the party as many new Democratic candidates are veterans of military and intelligence agencies. In the Senate, there was not even one progressive challenge in the primaries even though many of the Democrats running for re-election are in the right-wing mainstream of the Democratic Party.

While there is a lot of left-progressive energy in the Democratic Party base, the establishment is containing it. The leadership wants just enough energy to win back the House in November, and a less-likely takeover of the Senate, but not a progressive takeover of the Democratic Party. Thus far 2018 indicates the Democrats will remain a corporate Democrat-dominated party consistent with their Wall Street and war agenda.

The real path to transformation is to break free of the duopoly and build a political alternative, such as the Green Party, into a national force that can win elections and be the party that puts people and planet before the donor-militarist class that dominates the political duopoly. This will require progressives beaten down by the Democratic establishment to break their abusive relationship with the Democratic Party. It will require workers who have gone downhill since the 1930s, when unions allied with the Democratic Party, to say — “Enough, we will build our own political power.” And, it will require African Americans who in every measurement from lack of wealth and income, to high levels of incarceration, lack of investment in their communities and poor education to say — “Enough, we will not fall for black Democratic Party misleadership and build our own power outside of the Democratic Party.”

The Contradictions of Trump’s Trip to Europe

Trump’s recent trip to Europe was filled with inconsistencies and contradictions. The reaction of the establishment from both parties and the corporate media showed they favor conflict with Russia over a working relationship.

President Trump told NATO countries they need to spend even more on militarism, avoiding the real issue with NATO. They have already increased their spending due to Trump’s bullying; now he says, even more, is needed, demanding four percent of their GDP. This is absurd when the truth is NATO should be disbanded, as its purpose no longer exists. The threat of the Warsaw Pact is gone and NATO should follow their lead.  The fear-mongering of Russia is a fraudulent mirage. There is no need for bases along the Russian border with Europe; doing so only provides profits to the militarists while decreasing security in Russia and Europe.

After Trump jawboned Europe to spend money to defend themselves against Russia, he contradicted that fearmongering with a friendly meeting in Helsinki with President Putin. His display of friendship, which we view as a positive step by Trump, showed that NATO is no longer needed. What is needed are more meetings between Trump and Putin. These “Treason Summits” have the potential to de-escalate threats of military conflict and solve crisis problems that the world is facing.

Trump also attacked the Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, at the NATO summit claiming that “Germany is totally controlled by Russia because they’re getting between 60% to 70% of their energy from Russia and a new pipeline.” This was an exaggeration, but was this really about “control” by Russia or about selling US oil and gas? Shortly after the NATO meeting, Trump met with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Washington, DC. One of the results of their meeting was increased purchases of carbon energy by Europe from the United States.

The real energy news in Germany is that it is breaking from carbon energy and leading the way on clean energy. Germany is setting new records in the use of clean, renewable energy by providing more than 40 percent of the country’s power supply in the first half of 2018. In July, renewables overtook coal for the first time and the country is seeking to transition to clean energy. The market for oil and gas may be short-term.

The recent Trump trip to Europe also once again highlighted the declining role of the US in the world.  There are escalating signs in the Trump era of the decline of US empire. The move from a unipolar world to a multi-polar world is underway. Just one year ago, the US War College published a report, At Our Own Peril: DoD Risk Assessment In A Post-Primacy World, which recognized the decline of US global influence as both a military and corporate power. Their recommendation was more militarism, but the chaos of the Trump era shows an opportunity and responsibility of the people of the United States. We must find a justice-based way to a multi-polar world and an end to US empire where the US becomes a member of the community of nations, not a dominator of the world.

Electing the Cornered Tiger: Imran Khan in Pakistani Politics

Tariq Ali, whilst having a lunch in Knightsbridge with the Pakistani cricket colossus, Imran Khan, suggested that retirement should not be too problematic for him.  (Khan had seemed gloomy, deep in thought about post-retirement prospects at the age of 30.)  Consider, posed Ali, film, or at the very least funding for a film institute.  “You could be an enabler or you could act.  A film with you in it would be a surefire hit and help fund more avant-garde productions.”

Khan did not bite.  He preferred politics, an area which has its fair share of thespians staking their wares.  His stewardship of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice) has been years in the making, a gradual yet relentless push into the limelight since its establishment in 1996. When first assuming the mantle of politician, he was a clear target of ridicule.  “Since he foreswore sport and sex for politics and piety about a decade ago,” went The Guardian in August 2005, “Khan’s form has been highly erratic.”  After his divorce from Jemima Goldsmith after a nine-year marriage “he has edged his views ever closer to the fringes of Pakistan’s radicalised political spectrum.”

This Pakistani election is being seen as epochal and singular.  As with others, there have been deaths, disruptions and accusations, the cries of an ill patient.  Some 31 perished in a suicide bombing attack in Balochistan, predictably against a polling centre.  But as the night chugged and throbbed with anticipation, the PTI began to lead at the half-way mark of counting with 113 seats.

As is seemingly genetic in the nature of Pakistani elections, slow counting and technical hurdles have supplied the disgruntled grounds for grievance.  Allegations of rigging have been met by promises from Khan to investigate them.  In the same breath, he has essentially put them to one side, the lamentations of the rightfully defeated. “If you think there has been rigging, we will assist you in the investigation if you have any doubts.  We will stand by you.  I feel that this election has been the fairest in Pakistan’s history.”

Despite his alluring sophistication (the ease with which this is described as “modern” has marked previous assessments of his bearing), those keen to see an enlightened leader gorged with the political principles of Western value stand to be baffled.  Rafia Zakaria of Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper contends that “Khan’s ascent bodes poorly for Pakistani women”, given his promise in making Pakistan an Islamic state and his rejection of “Western feminism as an impediment to motherhood.”

In one sense, he is practical, keen on pursuing matters of governance rather than issues of ideology: Do not, for instance, remove blasphemy laws because doing so would release the lynch mobs.  Those misusing such statutes would be punished.  The orderly function of institutions is paramount.

He is far from keen to box the Taliban from diplomatic engagement and shackle the mullahs.  “For sixteen years,” he explained to Peter Oborne in an interview last year, the United States had “been trying to use [the military] to crush the Taliban movement and it has failed.  And it will fail again.”  Sentiments of sympathy have been expressed for Afghanistan, a country with which he wishes to have open borders.

In a speech in Bani Gala, Khan declared victory, claiming that he had been vested with “a mandate”.  It was one focused on the decay of the Pakistani state, a rotten entity that would only be healed by the vision of Madina, “where widows and the poor were taken care of”. Vast disparities between the indigent and the wealthy had to be overcome.  “A country is not recognised by the lifestyle of the rich, but by the lifestyle of the poor.”

There have been bread-and-butter promises served with a populist crust.  Institutions will be held accountable in an effort to fire lagging trust; farmers and the business community will be assisted; tax revenue will be “safeguarded” (always comforting); youth employment shall be encouraged, and government expenditure will be reduced.

In terms of foreign policy, Khan’s views are a bit of a mash that is bound to excite and disconcert a range of foreign capitals.  To the US, he has expressed a view that drone strikes will be prohibited.  Conciliatory approaches will be sought with both Iran and Saudi Arabia. “Saudi Arabia has stood by us in our toughest times.  We would like to be a reconciliatory state and help them resolve their inner tensions.”  Then comes the India-Pakistan relationship, one characterised by the normality of strife and discord.  “The blame game that whatever goes wrong in Pakistan is because of India and vice versa bring us back to square one.”

A lingering, if crippling wisdom suggests how careful Khan will have to be.  He has been – and in an era that spawns the likes of Donald Trump, this should hardly be surprising – injudicious with his opponents, berating those supporting former prime minister Nawaz Sharif as “donkeys”.  A coalition will probably have to be sought; the sagacious manner displayed by him whilst cricket captain may well have to apply.

Overseeing the process of politicking and any effort at reform will be Pakistan’s meddling army, that self-proclaimed agent of stability that has done its fair share to ignore elected representatives when it wanted to.  That particular institution, argues Hamid Hussain in the Defence Journal (July 31), “views itself as a doctor that needs to administer medicine to the sick patient from time to time for the good of the patient even if he does not like the taste of medicine.”  The new leader will just have to be mindful such medicine doesn’t have the effect of finishing off a patient of such ill-health. For the moment, it seems, Khan is in the good books of Dr Military.

A Journey to Iran: Elections, Ramadan and Couchsurfing

In the current media build-up against Iran it is easy to get lost in the confusion and hype about the Iranian government and miss out on an understanding of the problems facing the Iranian people and how they are coping with them. The current economic situation is worsening as the UN Security Council, the United States and the European Union imposed sanctions on Iran begin to bite. Major sectors of the Iranian economy have been affected such as the energy/petroleum industry, banking, the Central Bank of Iran, shipping, insurance, international trade and foreign firms dealing with Iran. In addition to these problems there is a shortage of fresh water, a problem associated with climate change as drought and rising temperatures put stress on existing reserves. Other environmental issues include vehicle emissions, refinery operations, and industrial effluents which have made Tehran one of the most polluted cities in the world.

Even under so much pressure from so many different economic, environmental and international stresses the Iranian people have managed to maintain their dignity and famous hospitality as I found out traveling there last year. I was invited over for a conference for five days but ended up staying for five weeks, traveling north, west, and then south of Tehran. I took a train north to Tabriz and then on through the mountains to the border of Armenia and similarly west through plains to the mountains on the Turkish border. But it was in Tehran and in the south to Isfahan and Shiraz that I had most of my experiences meeting Iranian people. Everywhere I went – restaurants, cafes, galleries and on the streets – people approached me to practice their English and make friends.

There are many interesting places to see in Tehran; e.g., the 435-meter-high Milad Tower which was completed in 2007, the more recent 270-meter pedestrian overpass of Tabiat Bridge (2014) and the Azadi Tower, the 45-meter-high marble-clad monument commissioned by Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran, to mark the 2,500th year of the foundation of the Imperial State of Iran in 1971. The latter is surrounded by about 4 or 5 lanes of traffic but can be negotiated like most streets in Tehran by raising one’s hand Moses-like and parting the traffic.

Elections in Tehran (Photo: Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin)

​I happened to arrive on 19 May 2017 during the presidential election campaigning between incumbent president Hassan Rouhani (MDP – Moderation and Development Party – a pragmatic-centrist political party) and Ebrahim Raisi (CCA – Combatant Clergy Association – a conservative organisation). Out on the streets of Tehran campaigning between opposing groups with posters of their respective candidates was generally by young people and mainly good-natured. While I was advised not to go out on the streets at night, I found the street campaigners to be very friendly and they in turn advised me to be careful with my camera and not to take photos of police and soldiers which could result in confiscation (especially as I did not have a journalist visa). During the polling I visited two polling stations and was offered tea and invited in to sit down and observe the electors queuing and voting. Outside I made some conversation with the armed soldiers guarding the station who were also friendly and quite relaxed. After the voting took place, the twelfth such election in Iran, Rouhani was re-elected for a second term. Again the streets filled up with people and cars coming to a standstill for the celebrations. He received 23.5 of 41 million votes counted and was inaugurated on 5 August 2017.

Azadi Tower, Tehran (Photo: Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin)

Soon after I visited various historical and cultural sites in Tehran. In terms of recent history it is interesting to visit the former Embassy of the United States, the site of the Iran hostage crisis in 1979 and which is now a museum. One of the best known historical sites in Tehran is the Saadabad complex that covers an area of 110 hectares and is located at the northernmost part of Tehran. It has 18 palaces which belonged to the royal families of Qajar and Pahlavi in a beautiful garden. Reza Shah of the Pahlavi Dynasty lived there in the 1920s, and his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, moved there in the 1970s. After the 1979 Revolution, the complex became a museum. I also visited the National Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art and Honarmandan Park (Artists Park) learning about a wide range of past and present Iranian culture. Honarmandan Park has the Iranian Artists Forum which is a set of galleries located inside the park along with a vegetarian restaurant, a theatre and outdoor sculptures. Here I met 2 Iranian artist sisters who discussed with me the difficulties they encountered trying to show work abroad. Both are now in Canada, at least temporarily.

Naqsh-e Jahan Square (Imam Square), Isfahan (Photo: Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin)

During the day the streets were quiet as it was the Holy Month of Ramadan (May 27 to June 25, 2017) but in the evening, after sundown, the city came alive as people went out to the cafes and restaurants or to picnic in the parks. I got to know a regular taxi driver, Ahmed, and his English-speaking son, Mojtaba, who brought me to Mount Tochal, a mountain and ski resort located on the Alborz mountain range, close to the metropolitan area of Tehran. Mountain climbing is very popular in Iran (another Iranian acquaintance of mine from Mashhad lost 9 friends in an avalanche last December). Life is tough for a taxi driver in Tehran with so much air pollution and traffic, one of the downsides of having cheap petrol. Ahmed and his wife lived in an apartment in Tehran along with Mojtaba, a languages student who hopes to continue his studies in Germany. On one taxi journey to the National Museum, Ahmed passed me back a dinner his wife had made for me as he knew it was difficult to get food during the day during Ramadan. When I decided to go south, Mojtaba helped me to get train tickets to Isfahan. Iranian trains are slow but comfortable and are a great way to see the countryside. Mojtaba came down to Isfahan with me for the day and we were met in the train station early in the morning by Atefah (just graduated from art college) and her sister (medical student) and their mother who had invited me to stay with them through the Couchsurfing website.

During the day we went to  visit Chehel Sotoun (“Forty Columns”), a pavilion in the middle of a park at the far end of a long pool. It was built by Shah Abbas II to be used for his entertainment and receptions and beautiful paintings of such scenes adorn the walls of the pavilion. Later we went for a picnic at night in Naqsh-e Jahan Square (Imam Square), the jewel in the crown of Isfahan architecture (constructed between 1598 and 1629) and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The square is surrounded by buildings from the Safavid dynasty, one of the most significant ruling dynasties of Iran, often considered the beginning of modern Iranian history. Around a thousand people sat around with their families on rugs and enjoyed picnics. Atefah’s mother also laid out a picnic while Atefah rushed over to two foreigners whom she had spotted to ask them to join us. Turned out to be an Australian mother and son who were traveling around Iran together. We were all taken off to see some of the famous Isfahan bridges over the Zayandeh River which was completely dried up at this time of the year. We visited the Si-o-se Pol pedestrian bridge which was built in 1632, the Joui pedestrian bridge built in the 17th century, the Khajou pedestrian bridge (1650), and the Marnan pedestrian bridge (1599).

In conversation with Atefah, she told me that the water shortages have become so serious that they have water only 4 days a week at home now. Iranian meteorological services say that 97% of the country is affected by drought but it is particularly bad around Isfahan where demonstrations have broken out over water in the  past. She also said that foreign goods are becoming more and expensive and the inflation rate is around 10%. She is trying to go to Germany for further study and says that the decreasing grants and the worsening exchange rate is making it increasingly harder for her to get the visas necessary.

Si-o-se Pol Bridge, Isfahan (Photo: Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin)

The next night I was brought to hospital by Atefah’s family due to dehydration as I had not been drinking enough water. I dreaded going in as I was used to very long waits at home. However, I was seen very quickly and was soon moved to a cubicle and put on a drip. After about three hours I was released and brought to an overnight bus I had booked to Shiraz. Couchsurfing again I stayed with Mohammed and his family. Over the next couple of days he showed me around Shiraz and then drove me to Persepolis, the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire (ca. 550–330 BC). It is situated 60 km northeast of the city of Shiraz and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Persepolis is believed to have been a grand ceremonial complex but only occupied seasonally. Mohammed also talked about similar problems regarding water, inflation and food prices. At this time in June the temperatures in Shiraz were nearing 40 degrees. That same week the temperature in the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz (between Isfahan and Shiraz) soared to 53.7 degrees (29/6/2017), Iran’s highest temperature ever recorded and the highest June temperature in Asia on record.

Persepolis (Photo: Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin)

I decided to fly back to Tehran and stay in a hostel for the last night. I arranged to meet Ahmed and Mojtaba in a cafe to drive me to the hostel. Upon inquiring if they knew where the hostel was they answered in the affirmative but that they had already decided that I was going to be staying with them instead. And so I was taken off to their apartment to meet Ahmed’s wife, have dinner, a last walk around Tehran streets and then given Mojtaba’s bed while he slept on the couch. In the morning we arose and they brought me the 40 kms to Imam Khomeini International Airport for my flight home.

Glimmers of Hope: The Death of the Old and Arrival of the Young

If there is a silver lining in Donald Trump’s sadistic presidency, we saw it on vivid display on June 26. The victories of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ben Jealous against establishment candidates confirm what many have been saying since last year, that Trump is one of the greatest recruiting tools the left has ever had. He is, as it were, a personification and distillation of all the evils of neoliberal capitalism, all the decadence, the corruption, the awe-inspiring greed and misanthropy, the savage disregard for humanity and all things living in the cause of a debased and orgiastic self-glorification whose telos is the self-immolation of civilization itself. Combined with the success of Bernie Sanders’ campaign, the barbarity of the Trump administration is inspiring a new generation of leftists.

Let’s just take a moment to revel in and reflect on the victories of June 26. In themselves they might not seem like much, at least in light of the enormity of the crises we’re facing, but it’s clear, at any rate, that Nancy Pelosi is wrong: it isn’t just one or a few districts we’re talking about, it’s a nationwide groundswell of activism against the kind of politics she symbolizes; namely, obedient service to the corporate sector. She and her elderly colleagues at the summit of the centrist power-hierarchy are on their way out, both politically and even existentially.

The ‘age’ factor is of interest and importance. On one side there are the old representatives of business, corrupted from decades at the center of power: Pelosi, 78; Steny Hoyer, 79; Jim Clyburn, 77; Maxine Waters, 79; Diane Feinstein, 85; Chuck Schumer, an impressively young 67; Patrick Leahy, 78; Dick Durbin, 73; Bill Nelson, 75; Richard Blumenthal, 72. You get the point. The 115th Congress is among the oldest in history, with an average age in the House of 58 years and an average age in the Senate of 62. (The Republican House leadership is over two decades younger than the Democratic House leadership. Fascism is a youthful, virile creed.) Given the senescence of the Democrats, the stillborn quality of their leadership is hardly a surprise.

On the other side, with the notable exception of Bernie Sanders, is relative youth. Ocasio-Cortez is 28; Jealous is 45; Kshama Sawant in Seattle is 44; Keith Ellison is 54; Dana Balter, who defeated the DCCC-supported Juanita Perez Williams in a race in New York, is 42; Chokwe Antar Lumumba, left-wing mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, is 35; and in general, a tidal wave of millennials is poised to engulf local and state politics. National organizations have sprung up to help young progressives run and win, and groups like Indivisible and the Democratic Socialists of America are proving effective in their advocacy of candidates. Young women are running in record numbers.

However fatuous it sounds, I can’t help remarking that leaders of past revolutions have tended to be quite young. Robespierre, Danton, Mirabeau, Desmoulins, Saint-Just, Brissot, and their colleagues were between their twenties and (in one case) early forties; so were Jefferson, Madison, the two Adamses, Hancock, Hamilton, and most of the other “Founding Fathers” during the American Revolution. Trotsky and most Bolsheviks were not yet 40 in 1917. Such has always been the pattern, from Thomas Müntzer in the German Peasants’ War to Castro and Che Guevara in the Cuban Revolution. America, of course, is nowhere near a revolution—in fact, some such seizure of power is likely hopeless in conditions of advanced capitalism—but with the mass entrance onto the political stage of a younger generation not jaded from a lifetime of disappointment or brainwashed from old propaganda about socialism or the virtues of centrism, U.S. politics may be at the beginning of a long march to the left. Or at least away from the center, to both the semi-fascist right and, on a broader scale among the sane majority, the left.

The Democratic Party’s leadership for the last generation has served its heinous historic function of overseeing, in partnership with Republicans, the shredding of the postwar social contract, the decimation of organized labor, the global triumph of the capitalist mode of production, and the inauguration of a new Gilded Age. That was the service rendered by the likes of the Clintons, Obama, Biden, Pelosi, Schumer, Harry Reid, Tom Daschle, the whole rotten lot of them. It was an almost wholly negative service, except in that—as Marx might see it—the class struggle has been brought to a screaming pitch of intensity and the door to radical change has once again been opened. At the nadir of the neoliberal era, with a buffoonish man-child capitalist-poster-boy at the helm of the ship of state, popular movements are beginning—one hopes—to point the way to a new political economy. Leaders can, it seems, be elected even without funding from the corporate sector, which makes them beholden only to their popular constituency. The worse things get under Trump and afterwards, the more people will be radicalized, and the better things may get in the long run.

Again, it’s worth pausing at this moment of the changing of the guard—a moment that will, of course, last years, as we wait for the old guard to die off or lose elections—to consider just how abject the leadership of the Democratic Party is. Insofar as it was ever even nominally committed to helping the poor, the working class, and minorities, it has failed abysmally. It gave us Bush and it gave us Trump, and it gave us the Bush-lite and the Trump-lite administrations of Bill Clinton and Obama. Obama wanted to be a transformative figure, and in a sense he succeeded: he transformed millions of hopeful idealists into disillusioned cynics.

But in substance the Democrats were never committed to anything like genuine populism, so their “failures” are in reality a reflection of their priorities. By their fruits ye shall know them. (It’s also true, though, that there is a remarkable amount of incompetence at the top of the Democratic Party. Hillary Clinton’s campaign, for instance, was stunningly incompetent.)

Whether the Party can, even on local or state levels, be transformed from an agent of reaction to one of democracy remains to be seen. The strategy of “boring from within” has, historically, yielded disappointment after disappointment, from the Populists of the 1890s to countless attempts by organized labor to push the Party left. On the other hand, one cannot simply extrapolate the future from the past. History is not a science; with changed circumstances can come changed outcomes. In all likelihood, left-wing leaders will emerge in the context both of third parties and of the Democratic Party, which in the long run will itself become more leftist—while at the same time full of internal conflict (much as the Labour Party of Jeremy Corbyn has been—and the Republican Party, for that matter).

But for now, I think we’re entitled to some savoring of Joe Crowley’s defeat and some cautious optimism about the future. God knows we could use a bit of hope, after decades of defeat.

How the “Bernie of Mexico” Won the Presidency

This is Trump’s nightmare.I’m writing minutes after the victory of the Bernie Sanders of Mexico, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. Everyone calls him, “AMLO.” This is actually AMLO’s re-election: He first won the presidency in 2006. But back then the thieving, scheming, blood-stained criminal gang that rules Mexico (and I’m being polite), declared AMLO’s dissolute opponent the winner.

In 2006, rather than concede to vote thievery, lick his wounds and toddle off on a book tour, AMLO took his supporters into the streets, raised hell, blocked the capital’s central square for months, held a People’s Inaugural, and vowed to never, ever concede.

And tonight, twelve years later, AMLO has won a crushing, too-big-to-steal victory in Mexico’s presidential election.

And while the Good and Great told him he’d be finished if he kept protesting the stolen election, he made counting every vote the very first of his five-point campaign platform. He understands that even those with empty stomachs also hunger for democracy.

And there’s a lesson here. Are you listening, Al Gore? Mr. Kerry and Mrs. Clinton?

Bernie or Hugo?

And AMLO gave the people something to vote for. The rest of his platform included expanding free college education, raising the minimum wage, fighting income inequality and creating a massive infrastructure-fixing jobs program.

If that sounds like Bernie Sanders, that’s no accident. AMLO, like Bernie, said he is taking his program from that great Mexican hero, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Nevertheless, Mexican media blared apoplectic prophesies that AMLO would be the Second Coming of Hugo Chavez, with mass nationalizations to follow. (The hysteria was parroted in the New York Times, not coincidentally, owned by Mexico’s richest man.)

I can tell you, AMLO is way more Bernie Sanders than Hugo Chavez (and I’ve known all three).

Both AMLO and Sanders were mayors who ran their cities as what I’d call, “Pothole Populists.” It’s get-the-job-done socialism with the emphasis on social not –ism.

AMLO proved he could tamp down corruption, keep a stingy hold on budgets while increasing pensions and providing education grants. Mayor AMLO, unlike a certain Mr. Trump, completed major city infrastructure projects—all out of the savings from cutting waste and corruption.

But unlike Bernie, who did his good works in the mean streets of Burlington, Vermont, AMLO worked nothing less than a miracle in Mexico City, which is bigger than New York and ten times as ungovernable.

(And like Bernie, AMLO is a working class kid who worked in the social movement trenches: Sanders as a SNCC organizer in Chicago, while Lopez Obrador spent six years living with, sharing the lives of and fighting for the poorest Mayan families.)

But they are stealing it right now

Let’s not get carried away with our democracy high. This election is being stolen as I write.

Not the presidency. AMLO’s poll lead of 52% to 25% for his nearest competitor, is just too much to steal. But every seat of the Mexican Congress is up for grabs, and the Powers that Be, the laughably named Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the right-wing National Action Party (PAN) are fighting for their lives – and sometimes they fight with bullets.

So, far, 132 officials and candidates have been murdered in this election cycle. I spoke with voting rights activist (and movie star) Yareli Arizmendi in Mexico City, who told me that the old guard politicians were tied up with the Zetas and other drug gangs.

In all fairness, I should note that many victims were not just AMLO allies but also PRI, Green Party and independents who challenged the control of their cities and states by narco-traficantes.

Indeed, AMLO’s campaign gained fuel when, in 2014, the public learned of the disappearance of 43 students (and 3 investigating journalists). Evidence now indicates they were hacked to pieces and dissolved in acid by the Guerreros Unidos gang – on orders from a politician connected to the ruling party.

Arizmendi reports that ballots have been burnt in gang- and ruling-party controlled districts. She sent me a video of a woman pre-marking a stack of ballots.

I saw this game up close in 2006 when I was sent by the Guardian and Democracy Now to investigate AMLO’s shock loss by just half a percent of the vote.

On election night, AMLO was way ahead when the official count was halted—then resumed with a massive reversal in the final count. Our investigators found massive ballot-box stuffing, ballot box dumping and intimidation of voters at gunpoint. There were games with electoral rolls apparently orchestrated by the Bush Administration which, I found, had used the same company that helped Katherine Harris rig the 2000 election in Florida, ChoicePoint, to steal Mexico’s entire voter roll! (Watch this Democracy Now! report, “Florida con Salsa,” from Mexico City.)

And this time, the incumbent PRI hired Cambridge Analytica. Trump’s social-media manipulators and data thieves were paid $7.2 million on their promise—I can’t make this up—to repeat a Mexican variant of their “Corrupt Hillary” campaign to smear AMLO.

It was a hard sell, especially as the wife of the current President, PRI man Enrique Peña Nieto, was caught taking a $7 million condo from a government contractor.

As I write, it looks like AMLO has crushed the second-highest candidate vote two-to-one and swept the House of Deputies. However, his coalition of parties is, as of the moment, showing poorly in the Senate race, way below pre-election polling data.

AMLO: Arrest Trump
Mexicans have had enough of the Trump-ito grifters who have held the Mexican presidency, usually by theft, for decades.

President Peña Nieto made his nation cringe with his invitation to Trump during the US Presidential campaign, boosting Trump’s candidacy. And he’s not had much to say about the caging of children on the border.

Although Trump’s child prisoners and their families detained at the border are not Mexican citizens (most come from Central America), AMLO has called for Trump’s arrest for the kidnappings as violating international law.

That’s just one indication AMLO’s victory is Trump’s nightmare. AMLO has shown he is not afraid of privileged pricks, even if they try to make themselves look fierce by staining themselves orange.

NAFTA
Weirdly, Lopez Obrador has also been called “The Trump of Mexico,” simply because they both speak to the desperation of their nation’s working classes. And both have few good words for NAFTA.

But Trump’s act, the billionaire turned class warrior, was always a fake. AMLO is for real.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has demanded that Mexico raise the wages of all auto workers so that the US can better compete within NAFTA.

AMLO is calling Trump’s bluff: he said, “yes” – which may come as a shock to Secretary Ross… Ross owns eight of those auto factories.

Hope and Danger

The slogan of AMLO’s coalition is, Juntos Haremos Historia. Together, we’ll make history. But history has a way of bleeding to death in Mexico.

In March 1994, Luis Donaldo Colosio was on the cusp of winning Mexico’s presidency. But his political turn to the Left infuriated his PRI bosses. At a public rally where he supposedly had government protection, one assassin, and possibly a second, put two bullets in his head.

I hope AMLO’s story will have a happier ending.

What does Doug Ford’s Election as Premier of Ontario mean for the Palestinian Solidarity Movement?

How will the election of Doug Ford as premier of Ontario effect the pro-Palestinian movement?

In one of his first post-election moves Ford announced that he would seek to ban an annual Palestinian solidarity event. After the recent Al Quds (Jerusalem) Day protest brought over 500 people out in Toronto, Ford tweeted, “our government will take action to ensure that events like Al Quds Day, which calls for the killing of an entire civilian population in Israel, are no longer part of the landscape in Ontario.” Ignoring how Israel has been killing large numbers of Palestinian civilians — 124 to 0 in the latest round in Gaza — the premier-elect added in a subsequent tweet: “Blatantly racist or anti-Semitic ideology should never be permitted on the grounds of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, or anywhere else in our province.”

Ford’s move isn’t surprising since he’s previously campaigned against Palestinian solidarity activism. During his stint on city council Ford sought to defund Toronto’s Pride Parade because Queers Against Israeli Apartheid was allowed to march alongside hundreds of other groups. “We don’t support hate groups, that’s our view. If they want to march in the parade, then we won’t fund them,” said the Councillor.

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, Jewish Defence League and B’nai B’rith immediately applauded or re-tweeted Ford’s call to ban Jerusalem Day protests (as did Canada’s leading Christian Zionist activist and noted opponent of sexual education, Charles McVety, who celebrated Ford’s election by tweeting, “praise God who heard our prayers and delivered victory for the sake of our children.”) During the election campaign B’nai B’rith, JDL and CIJA — to differing degrees — sought to undermine Ford’s main rivals by weaponizing claims of “anti-Semitism” against the NDP. The JDL’s Twitter account repeatedly alleged the NDP was anti-Semitic while B’nai B’rith’s Twitter did the same and its officials participated in a Conservative Party press conference to denounce the NDP’s candidate in Scarborough-Agincourt, Tasleem Riaz, for allegedly posting an Adolf Hitler meme on Facebook five years earlier. More circumspect, CIJA-organized election debates that highlighted NDP candidates’ criticism of Israel and the influential lobby group stayed mum while the Conservatives and right-wing press repeatedly claimed the NDP were anti-Semitic.

Uber Israeli nationalist Toronto Sun columnist Sue Ann Levy wrote a handful of columns criticizing NDP candidates’ purported anti-Israel views and accusing them of being anti-Jewish. So did far right Rebel Media and the Canadian Jewish News repeatedly mentioned NDP candidates’ support for Palestinian rights in its election coverage. A CJN response to a column detailing Ford’s bigotry called  “the NDP, a party rife with anti-Israel, anti-Jewish candidates who promote the BDS [Boycott Divestment and Sanctions] narrative.”

But, it was obvious to anyone familiar with Ford’s history or who followed the election closely that he was the flag bearer for racist sentiment. In the CJN Bernie Farber wrote a piece titled “The depth of Doug Ford’s bigotry”, which highlighted his stereotyping of Jews. For its part, Ricochet ran a story titled “Why Canada’s white supremacists want Doug Ford to win” and Press Progress published stories titled “This White Nationalist Says Doug Ford is Sending Him Anti-Immigrant ‘Dog Whistle’ Messages”, “Pastors Who Preached Homophobic and Anti-Semitic Views Endorse Doug Ford”, “Ontario PC candidate Andrew Lawton: gender and racial discrimination should be legal”, etc.

Softer in tone, a number of corporate media outlets published stories making similar points. “Among Doug Ford’s PCs, yet another candidate with bigoted views emerges”, noted a Toronto Star headline.

Despite associating with racists and stereotyping Jews, Ford was backed (at least implicitly) by the dominant Israeli nationalist Jewish organizations. He also appears to have won the bulk of Toronto’s sizable Jewish vote. A CJN headline noted, “Ontario Tories win big in ridings with large Jewish populations.” In Thornhill, the riding with the highest concentration of Jews in Ontario, Conservative candidate Gila Martow defeated her nearest rival by an astounding 29,000 to 9,000 votes.

Unfortunately a sizable portion of Ontario’s Jewish community, particularly its main lobby groups, has shifted to the right. This could be due to a decline in real anti-Semitism, a rise in the average Jews’ socio-economic standing, or ties to an increasingly racist and right-wing Israeli public (in recent days hundreds protested against an Arab family moving into a Jewish neighborhood in Afula, an Israeli pool admitted to maintaining separate swim times for Bedouin and Jews and a Likud member of the Knesset claimed “the whole Jewish race is the greatest human capital, and the smartest”). Whatever the reason, every person, including Jews, who believe in justice for all, must confront this reality.

So, how will all this play out for the Palestinian solidarity movement?

The election of Doug Ford has already highlighted the Jewish establishment’s preference for a Conservative ‘populist’ over social democrats associated with Palestinian rights. It should also strengthen the link between Israel campaigning and bigoted, right-wing, politics. This will ultimately be a good thing for the Palestinian solidarity movement.

Coherence in Trump’s Iran and North Korea Policy?

What’s at work in Donald Trump’s reneging on the Iran Deal and his cancelling/tentative rescheduling of the June Singapore summit to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un? Is there any coherence in these policies? Does his blunderous waffling on the Singapore summit reflect the spinelessness of an empty corpse that’s been infested with parasites? Or, simply put, does it reflect someone who is morbidly indecisive and gutless, and is unduly influenced by the new war-loving National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo?

In a Truthout interview with Noam Chomsky, Chomsky maintains that both cancelling the summit (though its status is now up in the air) and leaving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) benefits Trump’s “actual constituency,” consisting of  “corporate power” and “private wealth.”

Prior to canceling the Singapore summit, Lawrence Wilkerson cited internal U.S. politics as the motivator for Trump’s “Libya model” threat against the Kim Jong-Un regime and for pulling out of the JCPOA. He argues that, since World War II, no other U.S. president has been driven so significantly by domestic politics.

These are both interesting, albeit, unsurprising conclusions. The mid-terms are coming up and Trump seems to be too lazy to go on the campaign trail for Republicans. An easier way to campaign is to manufacture news that rallies the base and, consequently, gets them to turn out in large numbers for his Republican allies…as most of Trump’s base salivates on a ‘tough’, hardline policy towards perceived foreign adversaries.

The corporate power and wealth that Chomsky cites are certainly part of the equation. The stocks of military industrial companies have soared to record highs under Trump. The perpetual threat of war drives the military industry to continuously fill new orders, thus satisfying stockholders. One slight anomaly occurred when the summit with North Korea was planned in early May; this briefly had caused military industrial stocks to plummet. Perhaps, as a response to Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and Boeing’s fears of a long-term peace with North Korea, Trump and his team reacted appropriately: with belligerent U.S.-South Korea military drills and warning that Kim Jong-Un’s overthrow would be something akin to the disastrous regime change of Gaddafi if the talks don’t work out. And who to help ensure military industrial stocks would rise back up, other than pro-war advocate John Bolton?

This was all after North Korea dismantled its nuclear weapons testing site. Such a major concession, prior to an important diplomatic conference, was met with antagonism from the Trump administration. Reacting to intense hostility, a North Korean government statement was issued critical of Mike Pence. And then, unsurprisingly, Trump cancelled the meeting.

We can only assume that if the Singapore conference ever happens, Trump’s complete lack of diplomatic skills will prevent the U.S. from successfully negotiating a peace agreement with North Korea. Even if the parasitic moneyed interests in Trump’s empty corpse, now dominated by neoconservatives, pushed him towards diplomacy, he lacks the ability, patience and intelligence that is necessary to broker a complex peace treaty.

Canceling the North Korea summit, reneging on the JCPOA and threatening the ‘strongest sanctions in history’ against Iran has crystalized the Trump administration’s overall strategy: provocation.

On a school bus, the bigger kid taunts and pushes the smaller one around every day. Eventually, the bullied child finds an opportunity to retaliate.

In the sphere of international relations, this equates with pushing an adversary towards first strike, whether on U.S. forces in Syria, Guam or South Korea, or a strong retaliatory strike against Israel by Iran. When this happens, the mainstream media will play along, as it usually does. Their framing will implicitly go something like: ‘Innocent’ U.S. forces in Syria were attacked or ‘irreproachable’ Israel was attacked by Iranian forces. This occurred a couple weeks ago when Iranian forces struck Israel after over 250 Israeli attacks on Iran’s forces in Syria. In short, the Trumpian goal may be to push the adversary to take ‘preemptive’ military action and, thereby, contrive justification for commencing full-scale war and regime change.

If Trump’s belligerence towards Iran and North Korea is largely theatrics for a domestic audience, then the war-potential consequence may come as a rude awakening. But, if the Trump administration has a more coherent policy of conning either North Korea or Iran into war, then it appears of Machiavellian design.

Yet, we should not really blame Niccolò Machiavelli for superpower machinations of goading smaller states into war. Not only was Machiavelli a tireless advocate for warding off the Florentine city state’s behemoth neighbors, including the Holy Roman Empire, France and Spain, from subjugation, but he sought to preserve Florence’s autonomy to develop a more democratic republic. According to German historian Friedrich Meinecke, Machiavelli’s ragione di stato or raison d’état helped implement the power of the state (which inevitability has its own problems) against the “corporate state of Ancient Régime” to change the law on behalf of the public good (p. 126-127). Ultimately, this allowed for creation of the modern state, which, in theory, holds the state to be responsible to its citizens, rather than the other way around.

It is difficult to discern to what degree there is coherence in Trump’s bellicose policies towards Iran and North Korea. Both policies serve military industrial stocks, as did April’s airstrikes on Syria – in this, there is clear consistency. However, what is not clear, is if the Trump administration is trying to goad North Korea and/or Iran into ‘preemptive’ attack, so it can justify an all-out war. For John Bolton and Mike Pompeo, it would seem that the sooner war occurs, the better. But for Trump, a war now may be too early – it may only benefit his Republican allies up for reelection in November. Meanwhile, any increased popularity Trump would gain from a war now would invariably diminish by the time he’s up for reelection. Thus, for Trump, commencing war two years later, just before the presidential election, would make far more sense. Republicans, independents and even some Democrats would rally to the flag and be more likely to vote him back into office.

This may be why we see Trump floundering, like a befuddled invertebrate, on the Singapore summit. He may have acquiesced to Bolton and Pompeo on cancelling the summit and leaving the JCPOA, but realizes that the timing is not right for the acquisition of political capital that would derive from a new war. However, as Wilkerson noted, Trump’s hostile actions play to domestic politics by firing up his base – but perhaps Trump fears that this could go too far, at least right now. Hence, the summit with Kim Jong-Un still remains up in the air.

Ultimately, a search for full coherence and intelligent life in Trump’s foreign policy may simply be an act of futility. Instead, Trump’s Iran and North Korea policy is reminiscent of a scene from the 1990 movie Ghost. In this scene, various spirits struggle within Whoopi Goldberg’s psychic character ‘Old Mae Brown’ to gain control of the character’s body and will.

In Trump’s case, his reality tv star empty corpse is where moneyed interests fight it out. Inevitably, the result will be antithetical to the public good. And, consequently, war with Iran and/or North Korea looms as a future likelihood.

Venezuela: Vanguard of a New World

Venezuela is a champion in democracy, in democratic elections, as proven twice within the last twelve months and more than a dozen times since 1999. Never mind that the lunatic west doesn’t want to accept it simply because the west – the US and her handlers – and her European vassals, cannot tolerate a socialist country prospering, one that is so close to the empire’s border and on top of it, loaded with natural riches, like oil and minerals. Venezuela’s economic success could send intellectual “left-wing” shock waves to the dumbed and numbed American populace, with shrapnel ricocheting all the way to blindfolded Europe.

That would be terrible. That’s why Venezuela must be economically strangled, literally, by illegal sanctions, by totally unlawful outside interventions within sovereign Venezuela, by corrupting internal food and medicine distribution, literally buying off bus drivers to stay home rather than driving their assigned routes to take people from home to work and vice-versa; and corrupting truck drivers not to deliver the merchandise, so that supermarket shelves are empty. They can be photographed, to make the world believe that Venezuela is at the brink of collapse. Those who are not too young may recall exactly the same pattern of outside (CIA) interference on the Chilean system in 1973, leading up to the CIA instigated coup that killed the democratically elected President, Salvador Allende and put hard-core neonazi Augusto Pinochet in power. Outside interference, CIA and other State Department funded secret services, was also widely responsible for trying boycotting and influencing the Venezuelan democratic election process. To no avail. They did not succeed.

A similar situation exists with Iran, a mighty powerful nation with a high level of intellect, research, industrial and agricultural potential and – foremost – with a collective mindset that does not want to be trampled by the west, let alone by Washington. Iran is the leader in the Middle East and eventually will be the pillar of stability of the region. No Israel Government would dare to mess with Iran. Netanyahu’s threats are just empty saber-rattling. Iran has also strong and reliable allies, like China and Russia. China is buying the bulk of Iran’s hydrocarbon production and would not stand idle in an Israel-US confrontation with Iran. Hence, Iran doesn’t need to submit to the dictate of Washington. Iran is a sovereign nation, having already embarked on a path of ‘Resistance Economy’, meaning, a gradual decoupling from the western fraudulent dollar-based monetary system. Iran is considering launching a government-owned and managed cryptocurrency which would be immune from western sanctions – same as is the Venezuelan oil-backed Petro.

If Venezuela was allowed by the west to prosper, the people of North America could wake up. And, for example, demand explanations why their government is actually so undemocratic as to interfering in other countries affairs around the world, overthrowing other sovereign governments – killing millions, who do not want to bend to the rules of the US dictator; and at home planting fear through false flags and staged terror acts; i.e., multiple school shootings, sidewalk car rampages (Manhattan) and Marathon bomb attacks (Boston).

Never mind whether the US Presidents behind such terror are called Trump, Obama, Bush, or Clinton – and the list doesn’t end there. One could go way back to find the same pattern of attempted submission through fear, propaganda, acts of terror. They are all pursuing the same sinister agenda, world hegemony at any price.

Venezuela – and Iran for that matter – are in a totally different league. Venezuela voted on 29 July 2017 for the National Constituent Assembly, an elaborate, transparent process to establish a true People’s Parliament. The idea is brilliant, but was, of course, condemned by the west as fraud – because the reigning elite of the west could and will not allow the people to be in power.

When Iran’s President Rouhani was re-elected in May 2017, Washington was happy, believing Rouhani would bend to the rules of the west. He didn’t. In fact, he stood his course, though trying to maintain friendly – and business – relations with the west, but at Iran’s terms. As this doesn’t seem to be possible, specially after Trump’s unilateral stepping out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also called the Nuclear Deal, and re-imposing “the strongest sanctions the world has ever seen”, what is there left, other than decisively detaching from the west and joining the eastern alliances, the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). This is precisely what Venezuela is doing, calling her losses, but moving on to more friendly pastures – and to certainly a more prosperous future.

Western parliaments have become smoke screens for hiding financial dictatorships, and lately worse, police and military oppression for fear people might stand up — which they actually do, right now in France against Macron’s new labor law, intent of stripping workers of their benefits acquired through decades of hard work. Basically, since last February, people take to the streets of Paris, fearless, despite France being the most militarized country of Europe. They are exposed to tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets, but do not give up defending not only their labor rights but also defending theirs and the peoples of France’s democratic right of freedom of expression which in most EU countries has died a silent death.

On 20 May 2018 Venezuela held another peaceful and absolutely democratic Presidential Elections, witnessed by international observers from more than 40 countries, including former President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, and former President of Spain, José Luis Zapatero. They all have confirmed the transparency of the Venezuelan electoral system and called upon the international community to respect the election results. Indeed, the United States as well as Europe could learn a lot from the Venezuelan electoral process and from Venezuelan democracy.

Washington, its European Union vassals and the Organization of American States (OAS), again – what else – condemned the elections as a fraud before they actually took place, urging President Maduro to cancel them (what an abject arrogance!). Similarly, the so-called Lima Group – a collective of 14 Latin American nations – has accused the Maduro Administration of manipulating the elections, declaring the results “illegitimate, also before the ballots were cast. But former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, founder of the Carter Center, said: “Of the 92 elections that we’ve monitored, I would say that the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world.”

Zapatero said at a press conference that the EU, who was invited directly by President Nicolas Maduro to join international election observers, didn’t send delegations because of “prejudice”. Zapatero said, “There is prejudice, and life and political experience consists of banishing prejudices and getting to know the truth firsthand.” He also pointed to the OAS’s double standards against Venezuela: “What are they saying about what’s happening in Brazil and Honduras?” – And allow me to add, “and currently in Nicaragua”?

Correa doubled up, saying, “No one can question the Venezuelan elections… in the world there is no election as monitored as Venezuelan elections.” – The absolute correctness of the Venezuelan election was further confirmed by CEELA, the Latin American Council on Electoral Experts. Mr. Moscoso, the head of CEELA, stated that the CEELA delegation has met with experts and candidates ahead of last Sunday’s [20 May 2018] elections and confirmed “harmony in the electoral process.”

There is no doubt by any member of the high-powered and professional electoral observation delegations that the Venezuelan elections were correct and that Nicolas Maduro has legitimately been re-elected with 68% of the votes for the next 6 years – 2019 to 2025. The “low” turn-out of 54% is blamed by the west on Venezuela for barring the opposition candidates and opposition parties from voting. In fact, the turn-out is “low”, because of the west (EU and US) instigating the opposition to boycotting the elections. Under these circumstances, 54% is a great turnout, especially when compared to the only slightly higher numbers – 55.7% – of   Americans who went to the polls in 2016, when Trump was elected; and 58% in 2012, for Obama’s second term.

It is actually a horrendous shame that we, independent journalists and geopolitical analysts, have to spend time defending the transparency and correctness of the Venezuelan elections and democratic system – the best in the world – in the face of governments where fraud and lies are on their every-day menu and where initiation of conflict and wars – mass killings – is their bread and butter. Yes, bread and butter, because the economy of the United States could not survive without war, and the elite puppets in Europe might be trampled to mulch, if they had not become militarized oppressive police states.

That’s the state of the neoliberal/neofascist world of the 21st Century – defending the honest and correct from accusations by the criminal lying hooligans – is what the west has become, a bunch of mafia states without ethics, where laws are made by white collard criminals for their corporate dominated governments.

There are other reasons why Venezuela has become a vanguard of a new emerging world – a world that is separating itself gradually from the west. Other than China and Russia, Venezuela is among the first countries to abandon the US dollar as trading currency. Caracas has been selling its hydrocarbons to China for gold-convertible Yuan. Venezuela is also the world’s first country to introduce a government controlled, petrol backed cryptocurrency, the Petro which will soon be enhanced by the Petro-Oro, another government-controlled cryptocurrency, based on gold and other minerals.

None of the other privately launched block chain currencies, like Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, Monero, Ripplel, and literally more than 3,000 digital blockchain currencies, have any backing. They can be considered similar to fiat money, highly speculative, lending themselves to money-laundering and other fraud.

When the Petro was launched in March 2018 it attracted presale interests from 133 countries of US$ 5 billion equivalent. The first day presale raised US$ 735 equivalent; impressive record figures indicating a huge interest of the world at large to find an alternative to the US currency dominated western monetary system – the one and only tailored to hand out sanctions, block international monetary transfers and confiscate foreign funds abroad. And this is because all international dollar transactions have to transit through a US bank either in London or in New York.

Without divulging many details about the Petro – for good reasons – President Maduro has praised the Petro as a key weapon in his fight against what he describes as an “economic war” led by the United States. The oil-backed digital cryptocurrency is convertible into: yuan, rubles, Turkish liras and euro – all of which is indicative that the world wants an alternative – and Venezuela has initiated this alternative.

In the meantime, Russia and Iran have also announced the introduction of a government-owned cryptocurrency. They are formidable shields against US-dollar intrusion and interference. Government-owned and managed cryptocurrencies are, in fact, master tools for an approach of “Economic Resistance” against economic sanctions. Russia is way ahead of the pack. As President Putin said already two years ago, the sanctions were the best thing that could have happened to Russia, which was economically devastated after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Sanctions allowed Russia to promote self-sufficiency, rebuild agriculture and her outdated industrial park, put new energy and savvy into research and development, and actually become in the last three years the world’s first wheat exporter.

Similar approaches are already happening large-scale by other nations, subject to Washington’s sanctions regime; i.e., Iran, Cuba, North Korea and, of course, China. Independence from the western economy also means moving away from globalization and especially the globalized US-dollar hegemony. Venezuela is the vanguard of a slowly growing movement of countries that have already abandoned the use of the US-dollar for international trade, like India, Pakistan, Iran. This growing trend may become a groundswell of independent nations, that may bring the US economy to its knees. It is a war without aggression, but with alternatives for circumventing economic hostilities from Washington, from the US led attempts to subjugate the world to the dollar dictate; i.e., to US-dollar hegemony. The resistance movement shall overcome.

First published in New Eastern Outlook (NEO)