Category Archives: United Nations

The UN “Sheriff”: Nikki Haley Elevated Israel, Damaged US Standing

US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, has made her post a “more glamorous” position than her predecessors – as President Donald Trump described Haley’s 2-year term at the UN, following her resignation announcement.

We may never know the nature of Haley’s purported ‘glamour’ at the UN, but we certainly know that, during her relatively brief stint, Haley has further diminished her country’s struggling reputation, entrenching US isolation in the world’s most vital international political body.

In her own words, Haley concluded that her mission at the UN was accomplished, commending herself on three achievements: the US has become more respected; it saved a lot of money and strongly defended Israel against UN ‘bias.’

“All of those things have made a huge difference in the US standing,” she said. “The US is strong again. And the US is strong in a way that should make all Americans very proud.”

Nothing could be further from the truth and Haley, who is suspected of engineering a run for the White House in the future, has no evidence to back up her claim of new-found ‘strength’ and ‘respect’.

During his speech before the General Assembly on September 25, Trump’s preposterous claims were not met with thundering applause but humiliating laughter. So much for respect.

However, there is no question that Haley was a good fit to be Trump’s representative to the international community. Her aggressive and self-aggrandizing language tallies with the political discourse emanating from the White House.

That aside, considering the violations of human rights committed by Israel during Haley’s time at the UN, her relentless defense of Israel is no laughing matter.

Haley’s supposed ‘achievements’ of saving money and supporting Israel are intrinsically linked. Indeed, the US saved $1.3 billion dollars – by cutting off funds to organizations that were critical of Israel or supportive of the Palestinian people.

Haley’s political outlook is not influenced by true conviction.  In his bestselling book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, Michael Wolff describes Haley as an “opportunist” who is as “ambitious as Lucifer.”

In fact, there can be no rational explanation for Haley’s palpable hatred of Palestinians and Arab and love of Israel, other than sheer opportunism.

The US-Israel pact at the UN is as old as Israel itself, but the last two decades have taken this relationship to new heights. The already slanted US position on Israel’s Occupation of Palestine, and its brazen use of the ‘veto’ power to shield Israel from international criticism, reached its zenith during the term of George W. Bush’s ambassador to the UN, John Negroponte (2001-04).

The ‘Negroponte doctrine’ – the instant rejection and, if necessary, vetoing of any UN Security Council resolution critical of Israel – remained a staple in US foreign policy until today, with the notable exception of Resolution 2334.

On December 23, 2016, the Obama Administration abstained from voting on a resolution that condemned Israel’s construction of illegal Jewish settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Obama’s final act violated the main tenet of US diplomacy at the UN.

Soon after, Haley arrived in New York with a clear and urgent mandate: to do everything in her power to recover the traditional US position in support of Israel.

Eager to reassure Israel that it has not been abandoned, Haley launched her pro-Israel campaign at the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in March 2017, using bizarre, tactless language.

“There’s a new sheriff in town,” she announced before nearly 18,000 conference attendees, intoxicated with excitement. “I wear heels. It’s not for a fashion statement,” she declared. “It’s because if I see something wrong, we’re going to kick ’em every single time.”

Haley was true to her words. The ‘Haley doctrine’ went even further than Negroponte’s, as the latter was largely confined to blocking resolutions critical of Israel. Haley, on the other hand, supported Israel at every possible opportunity, and, along with Israeli Ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, she conspired to punish countries and UN agencies, such as UNESCO, UNRWA and others for recognizing Palestinian rights or providing aid to Palestinian refugees.

Haley, therefore, tried to manage the UN from within – rewarding and punishing as she saw fit – to end what she wrongly perceived the organization’s systematic targeting of Israel.

On a visit to Israel in June 2017, she accused the UN in a press conference held jointly with Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, of ‘bullying’ Israel. “If there’s anything I have no patience for, its bullies – and the UN was being such a bully to Israel because they could,” she said.

The notion, that of the UN’s supposed unfairness to Israel, was at the heart of Haley skewed discourse.

In December 2017, the self-proclaimed anti-bullying diplomat, threatened those who voted in favor of an Egypt-sponsored draft resolution that expressed “deep regret at recent decisions concerning the status of Jerusalem.” She vetoed the draft, which was supported by all other members of the Security Council, calling the vote an ‘insult’ that would not be forgotten.

On May 14, Israeli snipers opened fire at unarmed protesters at the fence separating besieged Gaza from Israel, killing more than 60 and injuring thousands. Haley was the only member of the Security Council who could not comprehend the international outrage over one of the worst Israeli massacres in years.

“No country in this chamber would act with more restraint than Israel has,” she lectured the other ambassadors.

While Haley was duly criticized by Palestinians for impeding international law, she was enthusiastically celebrated by Israel and its friends in Washington for being a ‘true friend of Israel.’

Soon after her resignation was announced, Danon spoke fondly of Haley for challenging ‘anti-Israel bias’ in the UN.

For Palestinians, however, Haley was a stumbling block in their efforts to finally achieve the justice and rights they need and deserve.

The US-Israeli love affair at the UN, and their ongoing war on Palestinian rights, are likely to remain unchanged, long after Haley’s departure.

Bearing in mind the irreparable damage created by the “new sheriff in town”, Haley certainly will not be missed in Palestine.

Before the Law

The limited formal and negative generality of law under liberalism not only makes possible capitalist calculability but also guarantees a minimum of liberty since formal liberty has two aspects and makes available at least legal chances to the weak. For this reason there develops a conflict between the law and the liberties based thereon on the one side, and the requirements of a monopolistic economy on the other side. Under monopolistic capitalism private property in the means of production as the characteristic institution of the entire bourgeois epoch is preserved but general law and contract disappear and are replaced by individual measures on the part of the sovereign.
— Franz Neumann, The Change in the Function of Law in Modern Society, 1937

Large Capitalist firms — banks as well as monopoly concerns — long ago ceased to depend on court proceedings to conduct their affairs with members of other social groups.
— Otto Kircheimer, State Structure and Law in the Third Reich, 1935 pamphlet

What is legalism? It is the ethical attitude that holds moral conduct to be a matter of rule following, and moral relationships to consist of duties and rights determined by rules.
— Judith N. Shklar, Legalism: Law, Morals, and Political Trials, Harvard University Press, 1964

Do not the bourgeois assert that the present-day distribution is ‘fair’? And is it not, in fact, the only ‘fair’ distribution on the basis of the present-day mode of production? Are economic relations regulated by legal conceptions or do not, on the contrary, legal relations arise from economic ones?
— Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha Program

Watching the Kavanaugh circus the last few weeks I kept thinking about the way in which the general public now views law and justice. I suspect most Americans think of law and legality in terms they have learned from Hollywood TV. Perhaps there is no other area in which the general public relies so extensively on assumptions and cliche as the judicial system. But it also raises questions about the law that I suspect even relatively well educated people never ask themselves.

The entire narrative that is manufactured each time a justice is nominated to the Supreme Court is among the more overblown and hysterical versions of political theatre we are granted but also the most opaque. For the vast majority of people have no real legal knowledge, nor do they understand the intricacies of the entire appellate courts system. Like most things that pass for politics in America, the nomination is treated as a form of American Idol or a beauty pageant.

But there is another issue attached to the spectacle that accompanies Supreme Court nominations and that has to do with a more philosophical set of questions about both class, and about psychology. And the most obvious and most forgotten (and intentionally obscured) truth about the rule of law is that it is not impartial or in any way democratic.

Mass incarceration shows no sign of slowing down despite the very tireless and relentless work of prison critics and death penalty activists. ICE continues to round up people and separate children from their parents. All legal, of course. Children are sentenced as adults. Men are given life terms for drug offenses. The criminalization of life continues to expand. Criminal codes increase. And that increase and expansion mirrors the German criminal law system under National Socialism.

The first period after the downfall of the Weimar Republic was marked by the rise of authoritarian ideology. An authoritarian criminal theory mingled with elements of the old classical school, dominated the academic field. In the criminal courts the transition was immediately reflected by the imposition of harsher punishments, and by a weakening of the status of the defendant.
— Otto Kircheimer, Criminal Law in National Socialist Germany, 1939

The second shift Kircheimer notes was a shift from the objective facts of the case to the subjective. It was the Nietzschian theory being appropriated. The subjective took the form of a focus on intent, and served thereby to obscure the distinction between act and intention. I’d argue one sees a version of this logic today in the valorizing of remorse. It has become a singularly elevated component in evaluating the appropriate punishment, and more, in how to *feel* about the criminal. The unrepentant are the lowest rung on the ladder of guilt. Remorse and confession eclipse the actual commissioned criminal act. In the Germany of the thirties the law allowed for vagueness in the service of expansion. And in a sense today, victim’s rights and a new subjectivity of remorse and confession are in the service of widening the definition of crime itself. And all correctives (#metoo, for example) are quickly absorbed within a trend that strips away presumptions of innocence and the rights of the accused. For denying accusations sounds perilously close to unapologetic and lacking in the qualities of penitence.

Another instance of professional attitudes may be seen in the way in which such a citadel of conservative lawyerdom as the American Bar Association addresses itself to social issues. Matters are taken up one by one, in isolation from the social context and without discussion of the basic issue. Precisely because the A.B.A. regards itself as the official spokesman of the bar it must present its views in a formal manner that gives the appearance of being supra-political and almost without concrete content. It is the independence of the judiciary, the separation of powers, the preservation of fundamental rights, or just fairness, the policy of justice-never the specific social interests or purposes of policies-that is discussed.
— Judith Shklar, Legalism: Law, Morals, and Political Trials, Harvard University Press, 1964

Shklar wrote Legalism in 1964. She presciently articulated the front edges of that neo Nietzschian fascist sensibility at work in the intentional vagueness that allowed for its use in traversing any theoretical problems with mass warehousing of the poor, cruel and unusual punishments, torture, and executions.

The men who reach candidacy for appointments to positions of authority in the legal apparatus are, these days certainly, uniformly guided by a belief in retaining the status quo, and a devotion to the societal direction of control and oppressive social forms. There are no radicals available even if a President, in a fit of madness, wanted to appoint one.

On balance and over the span of American history, the court has, in fact, done far more to retard progress than to advance it. Most horribly, the court upheld in its decision in Dred Scott the sanctity of slavers’ property interest in other humans. The court likewise approved in its Korematsu decision the World War II–era imprisonment of Japanese Americans based on nothing more than fear and paranoia. The court recently claimed to overturn Korematsu, but in the context of the Trump v. Hawaii decision in which the court upheld the constitutionality of Trump’s Muslim travel ban. In the Citizens United case, meanwhile, the court turned back legislative efforts to rein in the corruption of our politics that follows inevitably from our First Amendment–sponsored orgy of special interest contributions.
— Christopher Jon Sprigman, “The Supreme Court is a Historically Regressive and Presently Expendable Institution“, October 11, 2018

In fact, through most of its history the Supreme Court has engaged in the wildest conservative judicial activism in defense of privileged groups. Right-wing judicial activism reached a frenzy point in George W. Bush v. Al Gore. In a 5-to-4 decision, the conservatives overruled the Florida Supreme Court’s order for a recount in the 2000 presidential election. The justices argued with breathtaking contrivance that since different Florida counties might use different modes of tabulating ballots, a hand recount would violate the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. By preventing a recount, the Supreme Court gave the presidency to Bush.

In recent years these same conservative justices have held that the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause could not be used to stop violence against women, or provide a more equitable mode of property taxes, or a more equitable distribution of funds between rich and poor school districts.
— Michael Parenti, “Right-wing Judicial Activism”, Democracy for the Few, 2010, p. 266

Michael Mandel pointed out that When dealing in their writings with legality, Marx and Engels sought to discredit completely any notion of an autonomous or egalitarian legal realm capable of transcending or resolving the discord, unfulfillment and subjugation of everyday life or (most importantly) of restraining the oppressive social power of class society.” And it was Marx who formulated the concept of base/superstructure. For the total reality (base) of life is found in the total of its relations of production — on top of which a superstructure of political and legal institutions is built.

Here again, however, one sees the overall dumbing down of the American public. And I’m honestly not sure how much of a journey that was. The TV staple ‘lawyer show’ is almost always prosecutorial, and rarely about defense lawyers. There was one, The Divide, but it was cancelled after one season due to low ratings. This is the culture (and here I’m speaking of the white bourgeoisie) that thrives on and embraces racist rhetoric like ‘super predator’ and who fail to see the dogged xenophobia and racism of all lawyer shows. In fact, the single most predominant theme or plot is that of white saviour; the idealistic DA (sic) working to help the “good” black or hispanic kid from the clutches of gangs and drug dealers (the vast majority of the residents of the *ghetto*). White paternalism has always been a hallmark of Hollywood drama. But I digress.

These are difficulties which the man from the country has not expected to meet, the Law, he thinks, should be accessible to every man and at all times, but when he looks more closely at the doorkeeper in his furred robe, with his huge pointed nose and long, thin, Tartar beard, he decides that he had better wait until he gets permission to enter. The doorkeeper gives him a stool and lets him sit down at the side of the door. There he sits waiting for days and years.

— Franz Kafka, “Before the Law”, from The Trial

What is important to recognize is the hegemonic nature of the legal system, and of laws. There is a consensus which grows out of an atmosphere or backdrop that is society wide, and which is manufactured and presented by media and entertainment over and over again. And today these assumptions and consensus travel across various economic trans-national blocs. The paradox, if that is what it is, of a growing nationalist frenzy in Europe and the U.S. serves to mask the greater cooperation of these global economic blocs. And such blocs are also rather fluid, though not completely. And while cynical regarding Nationalistic interests, they also often fall prey themselves to such jingoism. This is the global reality and it shadows domestic institutions, and that most certainly includes the courts. For these economic blocs are immune to judicial or legal interference or sanction.

The idea that the law plays a central role in the American imagination and political imagination is well- trodden ground; noticed early on by Tocqueville and today provocatively framed by some as a form of religious observance for the foundational document that is the U.S. Constitution, the idea of law looms large in the American liberal imagination. One is hard pressed to find an account of liberalism — be it by its proponents or by its critics — that does not feature the rule of law as one of its main tenets, if not as its central normative feature.
— Tiphaine Dickson, “On the Poverty, Rise, and Demise of International Criminal Law“, (2016), Dissertations and Theses, Paper 2707, Portland State University

The courts are reflective, on several levels, of life in the U.S. It is racist firstly. Profoundly so. In death penalty cases, 97% of DA’s were white. And not just that…

[A]n investigation of all murder cases prosecuted . . . from 1973 to 1990 revealed that in cases involving the murder of a white person, prosecutors often met with the victim’s family and discussed whether to seek the death penalty. In a case involving the murder of the daughter of a prominent white contractor, the prosecutor contacted the contractor and asked him if he wanted to seek the death penalty. When the contractor replied in the affirmative, the prosecutor said that was all he needed to know. He obtained the death penalty at trial. He was rewarded with a contribution of $5,000 from the contractor when he successfully ran for judge in the next election. The contribution was the largest received by the District Attorney. There were other cases in which the District Attorney issued press releases announcing that he was seeking the death penalty after meeting with the family of a white victim. But prosecutors failed to meet with African-Americans whose family members had been murdered to determine what sentence they wanted. Most were not even notified that the case had been resolved. As a result of these practices, although African-Americans were the victims of 65% of the homicides in the Chattahoochee Judicial District, 85% of the capital cases were white victim cases.
— S. Bright, Santa Clara Law Review, Death and Denial: The Tolerance of Racial Discrimination in Infliction of the Death Penalty, 1995

One could continue citing statistics for a few hundred pages. The courts express American intolerance and inequality as if under a magnifying glass. And remember that that religious adulation reserved for the *Founding Fathers* (sic) usually conveniently omits that most of them owned slaves. Judith Shklar wrote of the Supreme Court: “this is an institution obviously irreconcilable with democracy, but results from the conjunction of the three following facts: legal traditions inherited from the colonial and Revolutionary period, distrust of any government, and a democracy which had little confidence in itself”.

The courts are factories to process surplus humanity, in the eyes of the ruling class anyway.
— Antonio Gramsci, The Conquest of the State

So, returning to the Brett Kavanaugh circus. (side bar note: Brett boy is a Catholic, which may account for his deficiencies as a public weeper. Evangelicals are far superior at crying. See: Swaggert, Jimmy. Weber, Rep. Randy. Baker, Jim.) The fact is that Obama’s last nominee Merrick Garland was almost a cookie cutter cutout ideologically from Kavanaugh, and John Roberts seems of no interest to most liberals. And it again is a part of this ‘American Idolization’ of the political that no major media outlet ever addresses the fact that even Ginsburg, the erstwhile liberal on the court, is eons removed from William O. Douglas or Brennan. In fact, per the New York Times (circa 1997 it should be noted):

A recent survey by the libertarian Institute for Justice examined Supreme Court opinions between 1993 and 1996. The survey lamented the fact that the Justices least likely to strike down laws infringing civil and economic liberties were President Clinton’s appointees, Justices Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, who voted to uphold Government power in two-thirds of the cases examined.

Ginsburg is also tight with Antonin Scalia. Go figure, huh.

So it is hard to muster much outrage over another uptight white guy becoming a supreme court justice. The higher courts are the expression of an illusory coherence and imaginary neutrality that it is alleged, stands above the merely political. But, in fact, it is at its core political. The courts adaptation of a rarified positivist grammar, one that carries with it a kind of scientific precision (and it is precise, if one allows it to frame itself. Precise and even beautiful) are, in fact, neither neutral nor precise. But this distance, this hermetic emotionless rationality is really in the service of removing social trauma and human suffering from the rulings, and to hide the class mediated selectivity at work.

In the arena of international law, the first problem has to do with tribunals created by members of the U.N. security council. For such tribunals (The ICTY, at the Hague and the ICTR at Arusha, et al) are trying individuals whose countries of origin are not members of the security council and hence cannot create ad hoc tribunals. Nor can these individuals refuse to participate. Milosevic, who was kidnapped by the U.S. and taken to the Hague, opened his defense by declaring the tribunal illegitimate. Of course, the trial went ahead and he died in custody. A decade later he was acquitted.

It is interesting to note that nobody involved in the killing of Osama bin Ladin was ever thought to be put on trial. Nor whatever drone pilot hit the sixteen year old American Anwar al-Awlaki. The father did bring a suit but it was dismissed out of hand. Or is it possible for the nation of Honduras to form an ad hoc tribunal to consider the role of the U.S. in the recent coup that unleashed massive violence. Could Venezuela form an ad hoc tribunal? No.

Tiphaine Dickson, in her remarkably comprehensive examination of the evolution of international criminal law, notes, the ascendency of human rights as a foreign policy principle took place as an arm of neoliberalism, and came out of a variety of factors that included corporatism, Vietnam and American shame, and in theory the failure of political utopias — this last was really the argument of Samuel Moyn. And failure is certainly a relative term.

By all accounts, human rights organizations made the conscious choice to scuttle socio-economic rights in order to streamline and mainstream their message; in today’s cynical marketing parlance, we would speak of clarifying their brand. This certainly contradicts the idea that these movements stood like deer in the headlights before an unexpected neoliberal ten-ton truck: they had already known it best to dash away to the safe-haven of the atrocity and the war crime.
— Tiphaine Dickson, “On the Poverty, Rise, and Demise of International Criminal Law“, (2016), Dissertations and Theses, Paper 2707, Portland State University

Moyn described the *spectacular atrocity as the organizational fulcrum* of international moral conscience. Now there was also a decided colonial flavor to this marketing parlance. And to its choices. The *dark continent* was the perfect backdrop for the association of primitive bestial violence. A violence that far exceeded what was possible in the advanced West. It is that super predator theme again. And it is again white paternalism. There was another factor in the rise of this specific human rights consciousness and that was what is termed “Holocaust Memory”. The Holocaust industry. So neoliberalism, inequality, and the Holocaust memory idea roughly came to prominence at the same time. And it is interesting, perhaps, to observe the rise of ‘victim’s rights’ in domestic criminal law and practice, a short while later. The role of American guilt, then, is tied into this, or at least the shaping of and control of how guilt is viewed and experienced.

After its defeat in Vietnam, and Richard Nixon’s normalization of relations with China, the United States engaged in a major ideological shift. In the early 1970s, the United States used the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe to redefine its enemy. Under the cover of détente with Moscow, this East-West conference agreed on measures supposedly designed to promote lasting peace. The Helsinki Final Act, signed in 1975, endorsed the inviolability of frontiers, territorial integrity of states, and non-intervention in internal affairs of other states (measures designed to reassure Moscow, still fearful of German revanchism). However, that last principle was subtly challenged by Washington’s new cherished “value”: respect for human rights. While seemingly affirming the status quo, this initiated a new phase of indirect U.S. interference in the internal affairs of other nations, no longer in the name of anti-communism, but rather as defense of human rights. In 1978, the Helsinki Watch group was founded to monitor human rights in Soviet bloc countries. Ten years later, Helsinki Watch evolved into Human Rights Watch, whose watchfulness continues to focus on countries where the United States is likely to favor regime change.
— Diana Johnstone, Monthly Review, 2017

I am writing an almost short hand simplified overview here of what is a complex history. But there is enough material, I think, to arrive at a few conclusions. The US court system is not going to ever do other than it always has. It is going to protect those who own the wealth and property of the country, and the Supreme Court is the final voice of the Imperialist ruling elite and its role is to tidy up matters in a way that protects the status quo.

Michael Mandel (in How America Gets Away with Murder) summarizes international criminal courts thus…

So here is the problem with international criminal law: it lets the Americans get away, not only with murder, but with the supreme international crime, and it punishes only the individual evils of the Americans’ enemies – even though these are but the inevitable result of this supreme crime that ‘contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.’ It does this so regularly that it cannot be regarded as some minor kink that has to be worked out of the system. Despite international criminal law’s banner commitment to ‘ending impunity,’ its operating principle is really one of ‘selective impunity.

The supreme international crime is, of course, a reference to Robert Jackson’s opening speech at Nuremberg, where he described aggressive war, not in self defense, as the supreme international crime. Which, by my reckoning, means the U.S. is guilty of that crime about 7 or 8 times in just the last twenty years

This is an era of massive organized disinformation, historical revisionism, and outright propaganda. Massive. One of the problems associated with pointing this out is that one is liable to be called a conspiracy theorist. It’s the definitive fear inducing appellation. And even when obvious campaigns of disinformation are being implemented, there is a reluctance on the part of many to point it out. Hollywood, let alone the media news giants and telecoms, are directly tied to the US government, to the Pentagon, CIA, and state department. In Hollywood today CIA advisors sit in on story meetings for any show or film that even indirectly touches on the subject of the military or government or law enforcement. The result has been twenty five years of direct propaganda. Most Americans learn of the court system from TV. Dick Wolf, as an example, as several hugely successful franchises that have legal and courtroom, or law enforcement backdrops and locations. In fact, his latest show is titled FBI. But there are a dozen other show runners and show creators who peddle the same kitsch versions of a cartoon legal world. Most Americans learn most everything from mass corporate entertainment and news. The normalizing of outright executions and coups is experienced as nothing out of the ordinary, and far away anyway. The public is told when to be outraged and when not to be. And they are instructed that class doesn’t exist and that military service is the most noble form or patriotism. And never ever is American exceptionalism to be questioned.

In the legal system there are only ‘individual’ stories, de-linked from social reality and from history. Liberal pieties about the ‘rule of law’ and the reactionaries devotion to morality (others, not their own) again speaks to parallels with National Socialism in the thirties. Kircheimer ends his essay on law under the Third Reich this way:

In effect it is difficult to see how the goal of improving public morality could be obtained by a state that not only operates at such a low level satisfaction of needs, but rests on a supervision and direction of all spheres of life by an oppressive political organization.

So, I’d say the Supreme Court is actually pretty much as it’s always been. Founded by slavers and the rich colonial proprietorial class, it has served the interests of the wealthy, of business and privilege, and has done it without interruption since its inception. There is the additional psychological conditioning today that encourages agreement, encourages consensus and a valorizing of the familiar. Words such as *revolutionary* or *dissent* are considered bad, lumped into an amorphous category labeled *fake news*. *Radical* is a bad word, too. And the business of the courts, all courts, really, is too conform to, and reinforce the values of, a class system and a privileged wealthy elite.

A Global People’s Bailout for the Coming Crash

When the global financial crisis resurfaces, we the people will have to fill the vacuum in political leadership. It will call for a monumental mobilisation of citizens from below, focused on a single and unifying demand for a people’s bailout across the world.

*****

A full decade since the great crash of 2008, many progressive thinkers have recently reflected on the consequences of that fateful day when the investment bank Lehman Brothers collapsed, foreshadowing the worst international financial crisis of the post-war period. What seems obvious to everyone is that lessons have not been learnt, the financial sector is now larger and more dominant than ever, and an even greater crisis is set to happen anytime soon. But the real question is when it strikes, what are the chances of achieving a bailout for ordinary people and the planet this time?

In the aftermath of the last global financial meltdown, there was a constant stream of analysis about its proximate causes. This centred on the bursting of the US housing bubble, fuelled in large part by reckless sub-prime lending and an under-regulated shadow banking system. Media commentaries fixated on the implosion of collateralised debt obligations, credit default swaps and other financial innovations—all evidence of the speculative greed and lax government oversight which led to the housing and credit booms.

The term ‘financialisation’ has become a buzzword to explain the factors which precipitated these events, referring to the vastly expanded role of financial markets in the operation of domestic and global economies. It is not only about the growth of big banks and hedge funds, but the radical transformation of our entire society that has taken place as a result of the increasing dominance of the financial sector with its short-termist, profitmaking logic.

The origins of the problem are rooted in the early 1970s, when the US government decided to end the fixed convertibility of dollars into gold, formally ending the Bretton Woods monetary system. It marked the beginning of a new regime of floating exchange rates, free trade in goods and the free movement of capital across borders. The sweeping reforms brought in under the Thatcher and Reagan governments accelerated a wave of deregulation and privatisation, with minimum protective barriers against the ‘self-regulating market’.

The agenda was pushed aggressively by most national governments in the Global North, while being imposed on many Southern countries through the International Monetary Fund and World Bank’s infamous ‘structural adjustment programmes’. A legion of books have examined the disastrous consequences of this market-led approach to monetary and fiscal policy, derisorily labelled the neoliberal Washington Consensus. As governments increasingly focused on maintaining low inflation and removing regulations on capital and corporations, the world of finance boomed—and the foundations were laid for a dramatic dénouement in 2008.

Missed opportunities

What’s extraordinary to recall about the immediate aftermath of the great crash is the temporary reversal of those policies that had dominated the previous two decades. At the G20 summit in April 2009 hosted by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, heads of state envisaged a return to Keynesian macroeconomic prescriptions, including a large-scale fiscal stimulus in both developed and developing countries. It appeared that the Washington Consensus had suddenly lost all legitimacy. The liberalised global financial system had clearly failed to provide for a net transfer of resources to the developing world, or prevent instability and recurrent crisis without effective state regulation and democratic public oversight.

Many civil society organisations saw the moment to call for fundamental reform of the Bretton Woods institutions, as well as a complete rethink of the role of the state in the economy. There was even talk of negotiating a new Bretton Woods agreement that re-regulates international capital flows, and supports policy diversity and multilateralism as a core principle (in direct contrast to the IMF’s discredited approach).

The United Nations played a staunch role in upholding such demands, particularly through a commission set up by the then-President of the UN General Assembly, Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann. Led by Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, the ‘UN Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and its Impact on Development’ proposed a number of sensible measures to protect the least privileged citizens from the effects of the crisis, while giving developing countries greater influence in reforming the global economy.

Around the same time, the UN Secretary-General endorsed a Global Green New Deal that could stimulate an economic recovery, combat poverty and avert dangerous climate change simultaneously. It envisioned a massive programme of direct public investments and other internationally-coordinated interventions, arguing that the time had come to transform the global economy for the greater benefit of people everywhere, including the millions living in poverty in developing and emerging industrial economies.

This wasn’t the first time that nations were called upon to enact a full-scale reordering of global priorities in response to financial turmoil. At the onset of the ‘third world’ debt crisis in 1980, an Independent Commission on International Development Issues convened by the former West German Chancellor, Willy Brandt, also proposed far-reaching emergency measures to reform the global economic system and effectively bail out the world’s poor.

Yet the Brandt Commission proposals were widely ignored by Western governments at the time, which marked the rise of the neoliberal counterrevolution in macroeconomic policy—and all the conditions that led to financial breakdown three decades later. Then once again, governments responded in precisely the opposite direction for bringing about a sustainable economic recovery based on principles of equity, justice, sharing and human rights.

A world falling apart

We are all familiar with the course of action taken from 2008-9: colossal bank bailouts enacted (without public consultation) that favoured creditors, not debtors, despite using taxpayer money. Quantitative easing (QE) programmes that have pumped trillions of dollars into the global financial system, unleashing a fresh wave of speculative investment and further widening income and wealth gaps. And the perceived blame for the crisis deflected towards excessive public spending, leading to fiscal austerity measures being rolled out across most countries—a ‘decade of adjustment’ that is projected to affect nearly 80 percent of the global population by 2020.

To be sure, the ensuing policy responses across Europe were often compared to structural adjustment programmes imposed on developing countries in the 1980s and 1990s, when repayments to creditors of commercial banks similarly took precedence over measures to ensure social and economic recovery. The same pattern has repeated in every crisis-hit region, where the poorest in society pay the price through extreme austerity and the privatisation of public assets and services, despite being the least to blame for causing the crisis in the first place.

After ten years of these policies a new billionaire is created every second day, banks are still paying out billions of dollars in bonuses each year, and the top 1% of the world population are far wealthier than before the crisis happened. At the same time, global income inequality has returned to 1820 levels, and indicators suggest progress is now reversing on the prevention of extreme poverty and multiple forms of malnutrition.

Indeed the United Nations continues to face the worst humanitarian situation since the second world war, in large part due to conflict-driven crises that are rooted in the economic fallout of the 2008 crash—most dramatically in Syria, Libya, and Yemen. Countries of both the Global North and South remain in the grip of a record upsurge of forced human displacement, to which governments are predictably failing to respond to in the direction of cooperative burden sharing through agreements and institutions at the international level.

Not to mention the rise of fascism and divisive populism that is escalating in almost every society, often as a misguided response to pervasive inequality and a widespread sense of unfairness among ordinary workers. It is surely reasonable to suggest that all these trends would not be deteriorating if the community of nations had seized the opportunity a decade ago, and acted in accordance with calls for a just transition to a more equitable world order.

The worst is yet to come

We now live in a strange era of political limbo. Neoclassical economics may have failed to predict the great crash or provide answers for a sustained recovery, yet it still retains its hold on conventional academic thought. Neoliberalism may also be discredited as the dominant political and economic paradigm, yet mainstream institutions like the IMF and OECD still embrace the fundamentals of free market orthodoxy and countenance no meaningful alternative. Consequently, the new regulatory initiatives agreed at the global level are largely voluntary and inadequate, and governments have done little to counter the power of oligopolistic banks or prevent reckless speculative behaviour.

Banks may be relatively safer and possess a bigger crisis toolkit, but the risk has moved to the largely unregulated shadow banking system which has massively increased in size, growing from $28 trillion in 2010 to $45 trillion in 2018. Even major banks like JP Morgan are forewarning an imminent crisis, which may be caused by a digital ‘flash crash’ in which high frequency investments (measuring trades in millionths of a second) lead to a sudden downfall of global stock markets.

Another probable cause is the precipitous rise in global debt, which has soared from $142 to $250 trillion since 2008, three times the combined income of every nation. Global markets are running on easy money and credit, leading to a debt build-up which economists from across the political spectrum agree cannot last indefinitely without catastrophic results. The problem is most acute in emerging and developing economies, where short-term capital flowed in response to low interest rates and QE policies in the West. As the US and other rich countries begin to steadily raise interest rates again, there is a risk of a mass exodus of capital from emerging markets that could trigger a renewed debt crisis in the world’s poorest countries.

Of most concern is China, however, whose credit-fuelled expansion in the post-crash years has led to massive over-investment and national debt. With an overheating real-estate sector, volatile stock market and uncontrolled shadow banking system, it is a prime candidate to be the site for the next financial implosion.

However it originates, all the evidence suggests that an economic collapse could be far worse this time around. The ‘too-big-to-fail’ problem remains critical, with the biggest US banks owning more deposits, assets and cash than ever before. And with interest rates at historic lows for many G-10 central banks while the QE taps are still turned on, both developed and developing countries have less policy and fiscal space to respond to another shock.

Above all, China and the US are not in a position to take the same decisive central bank action that helped avert a world depression in 2008. And then there are all the contemporary political factors that mitigate against a coordinated international response—the retreat from multilateralism, the disintegration of established geopolitical structures and relationships, the fragmentation and polarisation of political systems throughout the world.

After two years of a US presidency that recklessly scraps global agreements and instigates trade wars, it is hard to imagine a repeat of the G20 gathering in 2009 when assembled leaders pledged never to go down the road of protectionist tariff policies again, fearing a return to the dire economic conditions that led to a world war in the 1930s. The domestic policies of the Trump administration are also especially perturbing, considering its current push for greater deregulation of the financial sector—rolling back the Dodd-Frank and consumer protection acts, increasing the speed of the revolving door between Wall Street and Washington, D.C., and more.

Mobilising from below

None of this is a reason to despair or lose hope. The great crash has opened up a new awareness and energy for a better society that brings finance under popular control, as a servant to the public and no longer its master. Many different movements and campaigns have sprung up in the post-crash years that focus on addressing the problems wrought by financialisation, which more and more people realise is the underlying source of most of the world’s interlinking crises. All of these developments are hugely important, although the true test of this rising political consciousness will come when the next crash happens.

After the worldwide bank bailouts of 2008-9—estimated in excess of $29 trillion by the US Federal Reserve alone—it is no longer possible to argue that governments cannot afford to provide for the basic necessities of everyone. Just a fraction of that sum would be enough to end income poverty for the 10% of the global population who live on less than $1.90 a day. Not to mention the trillions of dollars, euros, pounds and yen that have been directly pumped into financial markets by central banks of the major developed economies, constituting a regressive form of distribution in favour of the already wealthy that could have been converted into some form of ‘quantitative easing for the people’.

A reversal of government priorities on this scale is clearly not going to be led by the political class. They have already missed the opportunity, and are largely beholden to vested interests that are unduly concerned with short-term profit maximisation, not the rebuilding of the public realm or the universal provision of essential goods and services. The great crash and its aftermath was a global phenomenon that called for a cooperative global response, yet the necessary vision from within the ranks of our governments was woefully lacking. If the financial crisis resurfaces in a different and severer manifestation, we the people will have to fill the vacuum in political leadership. It will call for a monumental mobilisation of citizens from below, focused on a single and unifying demand for a people’s bailout across the world.

Much inspiration can be drawn from the popular uprisings throughout 2011 and 2012, although the Arab Spring and Occupy movements were unable to sustain the momentum for change without a clear agenda that is truly international in scope, and attentive to the needs of the world’s majority poor. That is why we should coalesce our voices around Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which proclaims the right of everyone to the minimal requirements for a dignified life—adequate food, housing, medical care, access to social services and financial security.

Through ceaseless demonstrations in all countries that continue day and night, a united call for implementing Article 25 worldwide may finally impel governments to cooperate at the highest level, and rewrite the rules of the international economic system on the basis of shared mutual interests. In the wake of a breakdown of the entire international financial and economic order, such a grassroots mobilisation of numberless people may be the last chance we have of resurrecting long-forgotten proposals in the UN archives, as notably embodied in the aforementioned Brandt Report or Stiglitz Commission.

The case of Iceland is widely remembered as an example of how a people’s bailout can be achieved, following the ‘Pots and Pans Revolution’ that swept the country in 2009—the largest protests in the country’s history to date. As a result of the public’s demands, a new coalition government was able to buck all trends by avoiding austerity measures, actively intervening in capital markets and strengthening social programs for the less privileged. The results were remarkable for Iceland’s economic recovery, which was achieved without forcing society as a whole to pay for the blunders of corrupt banks. But it still wasn’t enough to prevent the old establishment political parties from eventually returning to power, and resuming their support for the same neoliberal policies that generated the crisis.

So what must happen if another systemic banking collapse occurs of even greater magnitude, not only in Iceland but in every country of the world? That is the moment when we’ll need a global Pots and Pans Revolution that is replicated by citizens of all nationalities and political persuasions, on and on until the entire planet is engulfed in a wave of peaceful demonstrations with a common cause. It will require a huge resurgence of the goodwill and staying power that once animated Occupy encampments, although this time focused on a more inclusive and universal demand for implementing Article 25 and sharing the world’s resources.

It may seem far-fetched to presume such an unprecedented awakening of a disillusioned populace, as if we can expect a visionary leader of Christ-like stature to point out the path towards resurrecting the UN’s founding ideals of “better standards of life for everyone in the world”. Unfortunately, nothing less may suffice in this age of economic chaos and confusion, so let us all be prepared for the climactic events about to take place.

End of Hegemony: UN Must Reflect Changing World Order

There is a rational explanation of why India and Brazil, two countries with vast populations and large and growing economies, are not permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

The Council – made up of 5 permanent and ten rotating members – was designed to reflect a world order that was birthed from the horrific violence of World War II. It was as simple as this: Those who emerged on the side of the victors were granted permanent membership and a ‘veto’ power that would allow a single country to defy the will of the entire international community.

This unfair system, which has perpetually weakened the moral foundation of the UN, remains in effect to this day.

The 73rd session of the UN General Assembly just held in New York reflected both the impotence of the UN’s ability as a global platform to address pressing problems, and also the chaotic political scene resulting from the organization’s lack of unity.

The misuse of the veto, the lack of accountability and the unfair representation at the UNSC – for example, not a single African or Latin American country is a permanent member – have all emasculated an organization that is meant, at least on paper, to uphold international law and achieve peace and global security.

While Richard Falk, the former UN Special Rapporteur, advocates the “need for a stronger UN,” he argues that “from the perspective of current geopolitical trends (the UN) seems to have declined almost to the vanishing point with respect to overarching challenges that states acting on their own cannot hope to overcome.”

Some of these problems are interconnected and cannot be redeemed through short-term or provisional solutions. For instance, climate change often leads to food shortages and hunger, which, in turn, contribute to the rising levels of migration and, consequently, to racism and violence.

Late last year, the UN’s World Food Program reported that global hunger is, in fact, increasing, despite all attempts to curb it and to, ultimately, achieve the declared goal of ‘zero hunger.’ According to the WFP, 815 million people suffered from hunger in 2016, an increase of nearly 40 million from the previous year. The UN body called the latest figure an ‘indictment to humanity.’

The failing fight against climate change is another ‘indictment to humanity’. The UN-sponsored Paris Agreement of 2016 was a rare shining moment for the UN, as leaders from 195 countries consented to reduce their carbon dioxide emission through the lowering of their reliance on fossil fuel. The excitement, however, soon died out. In June 2017, the United States government pulled out of the global accord, putting the world, once more, in peril of global warming with its devastating impact on humanity.

This decision by the US Donald Trump Administration exemplifies the foundational problem within the UN – where one country can dominate or derail the whole international agenda, rendering the UN practically irrelevant.

Interestingly, the UN was established in 1945 to replace a body that, too, was rendered irrelevant and ineffective: The League of Nations.

But if the League of Nations lost its credibility because of its inability to prevent war, why has the UN survived all these years?

Perhaps, then, the UN was never established to tackle the problems of war or global security in the first place, but rather to reflect the new power paradigm that caters to those most invested in the existence of the UN in its current form.

As soon as the UN was established, the US and its allies rose to dominate the global agenda.

As experience has shown, the US is committed to the UN when the international organization serves the US agenda but is uncommitted whenever the organization fails to meet Washington’s expectations.

For example, the former US President, George W. Bush, repeatedly censured the UN for failing to support his unlawful war efforts against Iraq. In a speech before the General Assembly, in 2002, Bush asked: “Will the United Nations serve the purpose of its founding or will it be irrelevant?”

“The purpose of its founding” here, of course, refers to the US agenda that has remained a top UN priority for decades.

US ambassadors to the UN have worked ceaselessly to undermine various UN institutions that refuse to toe the American line. The current US ambassador, Nikki Haley, is far more aggressive than her predecessors, as her antagonistic language and undiplomatic tactics – especially in the context of the illegal Israeli Occupation and Apartheid in Palestine – further highlight the deteriorating relationship between Washington and the UN.

Indeed, the UN is not a monolithic institution. It is a supranational body that simply reflects the nature of global power. In post-WWII, the UN became divided around political and ideological lines resulting from the Cold War. At the end of the Cold War era, in the early 1990s, the UN became an American tool reflecting the US quest for global domination.

Starting from 2003, the UN has entered a new era in which the US is no longer the only hegemonic power; the rise of China and Russia as economic hubs and military actors, in addition to the rise of regional and economic blocs elsewhere, are causing a greater and growing challenge to the US at the UNSC and various other UN institutions.

Although the General Assembly remains largely impotent, it is still able to, occasionally, challenge the dominance of great powers through its support of other UN bodies, such as UNESCO, the International Court of Justice, the World Health Organization and so on.

The world is vastly changing, yet the UN continues its operations based on an archaic and faulty formula that crowned the winners of WWII as the world’s leaders. There can be no hope for the UN if it continues to operate on the basis of such erroneous assumptions, and it should not take another global war for the UN to be reformed to reflect this new and irreversible reality.

Security, Safety, Security! Dictatorship by Democracy

The other day, checking in at a European airport for an international flight, within about an hour it took to deposit my luggage, going through airport security, the metal detectors, body screening machines, the automatic passport reading procedure, waiting at the gate and finally boarding, I have heard or read the words security and safety, honestly speaking, more than a hundred times. There are now countless primitive videos – in fact, insultingly primitive videos – that show you the precise procedures to follow to keep you safe and secure. All you have to do is follow them to keep your life safe and in secure hands. It is a constant indoctrination that we are in danger and that the democracy around us keeps us safe.

Some paper in my shirt pocket and a handkerchief I didn’t remove from my pocket had to go through a special ‘dust reader’; my hands were also ‘dusted off’ and the special tissue used for it also went through the ‘reader’ only then, when indeed the result was negative, was I free to collect my things and get redressed. I wondered aloud how many valuable items, like cell phones, laptops, cameras and so on – ‘disappear’ – or get ‘lost’ in the hassle, and I could not shut up making my comments about the nonsense – the George Bush invented 9/11 endless war on terror, that itself was based on a false flag; i.e., the  self-imposed 9/11 – and that prompted this forced submission to an ever-more degrading and harassing security procedure. About three security agents descended on me – this time politely, I must say, assuring me that all this was for my own safety. Naturally. How could it be different. We want you to be safe and secure, Sir. Bingo. It’s difficult to protest against so much protective kindness.

Does anybody have an idea on what this security and safety industry – the machines and apparatuses, and ever newly invented security gadgets – cost?  And the profit they bring to the war and security industry and their shareholders, many of whom are former high-ranking US and other western government officials?  The airport security business alone is estimated at between US$ 25 and 30 billion per year. What can I say? These airport security employees have jobs; they have been trained to use these billions-worth devices to intimidate and harass people into fear, into obeying, into blindly, no questions asked, following the dictate of democracy. Most of these security agents don’t know much about what they are doing. They have a noble job: protecting the world from terrorists, a job that keeps them proudly off an ever-growing mass of unemployed, or underemployed, lowly-paid workers. Free thinking is not allowed, lest you are pushed out into the cold, to join the ranks of beggars, of the socially unfit, who depend on government handouts.

Once on the plane, I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was a flight attendant by the name of “security and safety”. Well, that was her title, instead of a real name. Lovely, I thought. It doesn’t stop. Security and safety brainwashing permeate every fiber 24/7 of our lives.

Security and safety über alles! – Heil to the neocons, heil to the neonazis that have taken over the reins of our every-day life. And I’m not talking about the political parties of the extreme ‘right’ in France or Germany, they are just puppets for the invisible elite, for those ‘deepstaters’ that pull the strings behind the Trumps, Macrons, Merkels and Mays of this world. – Of course, it’s all for your security, my security, at best, for national security – not theirs, the ones who impose these nonsensical rules, rules that serve strictly for no other purpose than to oppress the common citizen, to brainwash the populace into believing that they are under a constant threat of attack.

Back to the airport. At the hand baggage x-ray control, where everybody has to put their cosmetics in a transparent plastic bag, pull out their laptops, tablets and cameras, and are being told what items are not allowed on board, ridiculous stuff, absolutely hilariously ridiculous – if it wasn’t that serious – and all for your own safety, naturally – I was being pushed aside for a service man who delivered a case of bananas to the restaurant in the waiting hall. His bananas had to be cleared by the x-ray machine. Imagine!  They could be objects of terror, maybe even weapons of mass destruction – WMDs.

The real WMDs that kill millions on an every-day basis, in Yemen, in Syria, in Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan – and the list goes on – nobody talks about. They have become common staple of our “secure” and “safe” world. The UN, during the ongoing Annual Meeting in New York, declared Yemen a country governed by terror – yes, the Yemenis, who are starved to death like no other nation in recent history, with – also according to the same UN – 5 million children at high risk of death by famine. Not the Saudis, or the United States of America, or the UK, the French, the Spaniards, who feed the Saudis with war planes and bombs, with real weapons of mass destructions are the terror nations. No, it’s Yemen. What world have we ended up with?

We are governed by a bunch of criminals and crooks, who benefit from our ignorance and mentally challenged brains. In the submissive west, the utterly brainwashed and by now almost brainless populace is reminded that we are screened for security purposes, for our own security. Every time the screws of security are tightened a little more, the arms are twisted a bit further, just a tiny bit – never forget, it’s only for our security and safety. By the time, my dear fellow citizens, we realize that our arms are broken and our skulls and brains smashed beyond repair, it’s too late.

As we are reminded by our masters that keep us secure and safe, we are also reminded that we are living in the only democracy that exists on the planet, namely western style democracy. Never mind, this democracy is often, most often, in fact, imposed to the rest of the world by sledgehammer, or even by WMDs. We, of course, don’t know that; we are made believe that all those countries that are being ‘regime-changed’, or destroyed for the sake of democracy are being destroyed for the betterment of their citizens living conditions. That’s what we are made believe. There is no other set of nations – with a thousand years of horrific history of exploitation, killing, raping, looting, lying – than the west. And the west, to this day, continues lying and manipulating peoples’ minds in a more sophisticated way than even Goebbels could have dreamed of.

Can you imagine – the “Peru Six”, the neocons – very close to neonazis – of the Americas – (Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, Perú and Canada), of course, all in the pockets of Washington, have had the unbelievable audacity to file a lawsuit at the International Court of Justice of The Hague against Venezuela for torturing and oppressing her people to the point that 2 million had to leave the country. This is such a flagrant multiple lie – it is actually a crime against humanity, against the only – yes, the very only real democracy left in the west, Venezuela – to make one’s stomach churn.

The maximum 500,000 to 700,000 Venezuelans, who, according to UNHCR and the International Organization of Migration, have migrated to neighboring countries, because of the foreign imposed – yes, totally foreign imposed, sanctions of the US and the EU – plus shamefully neutral Switzerland – horrendous economic conditions of the country. The Maduro Government is struggling to reverse that situation by de-linking Venezuela’s economy from the dollar economy, by creating new alliances with the east, in particular China and Russia. And as there are signs that the wheel may be turning favorably for Venezuela, some of the migrants are already returning.

But can you imagine what these six Latin American Washington bootlickers do to the reputation of Venezuela? And they may actually be welcome in The Hague, especially after John Bolton, Trump’s neocon “Security Adviser” – again Heil-Heil Security! – has warned the judges of this once-upon-a-time noble-intentioned international court, to beware and behave, and never pursue (war) crimes committed by the United States and Israel, meaning in clear text – obey and do what is in the interest of the exceptional nation(s), or else. So, the ICJ may actually be compelled to consider the malicious and totally fake and deceitful complaint of the Peru Six seriously.

And all that under the name of democracy.

Wake up, dear co-citizens! Its high time. We are living in an abject Security Dictatorship, called Democracy. It imposes an ever-increasing militarization, becomes an ever more brutal police state, or better, an association of brutal police states, to be sure, that if and when you wake up, your awakening will be smashed with visceral power of a legalized, totally legitimate Security Dictatorship. If we don’t act now – and acting starts at these dreadful, humiliating and harassing security stupidities we accept every day at airports around the world – we will be fried for good. Stand up, folks! Stand up for your rights and against the day-in-day-out brainwashing of keeping you secure. Let’s take back our security sovereignty. We, and only we, as citizens, colleagues and comrades, are responsible for our own security. Let not security and safety be imposed by criminal, warmongering, children-killing Security Democracies, namely our western governments.

Where is the Hope?

Situated on a coastal location on the outskirts of Tripoli, with golden sands and an expansive view of the Mediterranean Sea, the Palestinian Refugee Camp of Nahr al-Bared could be a beautiful environment in which to raise a child… It isn’t.

Nahr al-Bared Beach location

The sense of despair is as dark as I have known it during these past three years of visiting and listening to camp residents. The US Government, under the Trump administration, has cut all UNWRA funding to Palestinian Refugee Camps. Palestinian refugees living in refugee camps in Lebanon are not allowed to work, own property or have Lebanese citizenship. It is only from being recognized as refugees and the international law of ‘right of return’ (resolution-194) that prevents them from being stateless. Although UNWRA funding keeps them trapped in a state of dependancy, it is also what keeps them alive. UNWRA heavily supports the funding required for medical, educational and social care. Without the contribution of the US, the over strained resources in the camps will reach breaking point. (We are already witnessing a slow, calculated genocide taking place in Gaza.) Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States have offered to pick up the short fall left by the loss of the US contribution, but there are conditions…. conditions that are impossible for Palestinians to accept.

Youngsters in the Nahr al-Bared Refugee Camp in Lebanon

Netanyahu is claiming that there are no longer any Palestinian refugees. It’s been stated by Israeli officials that only those Palestinians who were born and fled the 1948 NAKBA (Catastrophe) qualify as refugees. Under this edict the five generations of descendants born in dismal, impoverished refugee camps, would not, therefore, qualify as refugees. Trump, no doubt persuaded by deep state policy directives, would appear to agree.

‘Right of Return’ is enshrined in human rights law. This contrived political move to try to take the ’Right of Return’ away is not only a violation of international law, it makes a mockery of all that is decent and human. Although UNWRA is mandated to support refugees, without proper funding its services are calculated to collapse.

Nahr al-Bared Refugee Camp in Lebanon

Already medical services have been cut so that besides the limited availability of drugs and medical supplies, a single doctor is responsible for around 5,000 patients. In the UK the ratio is less than 400, and in other European countries the ratio is significantly lower. With poor nutrition and salty, undrinkable tap water the strain on doctors is likely to be even more demanding in Palestinian refugee camps.

As was stated by one of the Palestinian elders at Nahr al-Bared:

All this flies in the face of human rights. This is a fake deal made to bring about our destruction. They keep us busy just trying to survive so there is no time to plan around the crucial matters. Are we to become a non-people, who, by no fault of our own, are to be cast out of the human race without rights or the means to protect the lives of our children?

Rubble remaining from the 2007 attack by the terrorist group Fatah al Islam

UNWRA was never set up to be a permanent source of funding but with political intransigency with regard to the recognition of human rights law, Palestinians have been trapped in limbo for over seventy years. It’s only been the hope of returning to their homeland that has sustained them – (Awad Sumud – steadfastness). ‘Right of return’ is the corner stone of the Palestinian Struggle. The US in alliance with the UK and France, along with (Saudi Arabia aka Israel) and the Gulf States, are likely to herald any refusal on the part of Palestinians to give up ‘hope of return’ as a refusal to negotiate peace. The authors of this Machiavellian manoeuvre will know this to be a lie. With truth thrown into the  trash bin of fake news, the message of ‘the fault’ being placed on the Palestinians may ‘yet again’ be widely believed. The convenient label of Palestinian terrorists by subservient – cut and paste ‘mainstream’ journalism, allow those who actually do initiate terror to act with an impunity that defies credible belief. Any criticism by right thinking people that Israel is actually the aggressor here, is labelled as anti-semitic.

Palestinian leaders fear for the youth in the camp. Deprived of a future they are vulnerable to outside corruption or worse. “We are trapped by circumstances. We don’t want to be used to support anyone’s terrorism.”

Youngsters in Nahr al-Bared Refugee Camp

The elders’ fears are fully justified. In 2007 the terrorist group Fatah Al Islam fled into Nahr al-Bared after robbing a bank and were pursued by the Lebanese Army. The resulting conflict resulted in a number of deaths and forced Palestinians to flee the camp. Their homes and what little they did possess were bombed to rubble. The evidence of the widespread bombing is still present today. At the time Seymour Hersh reported that the funding for the group had originated from the US through Saudi Arabia and had Lebanese connections through Saad Hariri.

Rubble from the 2007 terrorist attack

However, other sources consider that funding came from groups in Syria or Al Qaeda. Why they chose to flee to Nahr al-Bared does raise interesting questions. Nahr al-Bared was the refugee camp where the PLO financial centre was located. Whether the camp being situated on prime real estate has any relevance, one can only speculate. Whatever the truth behind Fatah Al Islam, Palestinians remain anxious about such groups ever gaining any kind of foothold in the camps among their dispossessed youth.

Today the camp is slowly being re-built and around two-thirds of the population have been able to return. Compared to many of the other camps the roads are wide, the sky is visible and fresh air is able to enter. However it was pointed out that the roads are wide so that tanks can enter. Not withstanding the impact of visual space there is in reality little room for family expansion. Families are not permitted to built beyond four floors and moving out horizontally is also prohibited. Some of the bombed buildings of 2007 have yet to be cleared. With families moving into their fifth and sometimes the sixth generation, crowding is a serious problem. This has been compounded in part by a section of the camp being allocated to Palestinian refugees fleeing terror groups in Syria.

Section of Nahr al-Bared where Palestinian refugees from Syria are housed

Security around entry into the camp is high. For foreigners, passports have to be submitted well in advance so that the intelligence services can check out anyone who wishes to enter. Does this make Palestinians safer? It’s debatable. While it might keep the likes of terror groups like ‘Fatah Al Islam’ out, it also keeps  Palestinians in a ‘prison camp’  like environment. One only has to remember how Israeli forces surrounded the entrances to Sabra and Shatilla in September 1982 and sanctioned the Christian Phalange massacre of over 3,000 undefended Palestinians to feel a chill at the thought of not being totally free to pass though the entrance unchecked

Nahr al-Bared Refugee Camp in Lebanon

Palestinians cannot achieve justice alone. It will require a huge awakening on the part of all people everywhere to recognize that injustice for one is injustice for all. To be silent is to be complicit.

• All photos by Heather Stroud

Where is the Hope?

Situated on a coastal location on the outskirts of Tripoli, with golden sands and an expansive view of the Mediterranean Sea, the Palestinian Refugee Camp of Nahr al-Bared could be a beautiful environment in which to raise a child… It isn’t.

Nahr al-Bared Beach location

The sense of despair is as dark as I have known it during these past three years of visiting and listening to camp residents. The US Government, under the Trump administration, has cut all UNWRA funding to Palestinian Refugee Camps. Palestinian refugees living in refugee camps in Lebanon are not allowed to work, own property or have Lebanese citizenship. It is only from being recognized as refugees and the international law of ‘right of return’ (resolution-194) that prevents them from being stateless. Although UNWRA funding keeps them trapped in a state of dependancy, it is also what keeps them alive. UNWRA heavily supports the funding required for medical, educational and social care. Without the contribution of the US, the over strained resources in the camps will reach breaking point. (We are already witnessing a slow, calculated genocide taking place in Gaza.) Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States have offered to pick up the short fall left by the loss of the US contribution, but there are conditions…. conditions that are impossible for Palestinians to accept.

Youngsters in the Nahr al-Bared Refugee Camp in Lebanon

Netanyahu is claiming that there are no longer any Palestinian refugees. It’s been stated by Israeli officials that only those Palestinians who were born and fled the 1948 NAKBA (Catastrophe) qualify as refugees. Under this edict the five generations of descendants born in dismal, impoverished refugee camps, would not, therefore, qualify as refugees. Trump, no doubt persuaded by deep state policy directives, would appear to agree.

‘Right of Return’ is enshrined in human rights law. This contrived political move to try to take the ’Right of Return’ away is not only a violation of international law, it makes a mockery of all that is decent and human. Although UNWRA is mandated to support refugees, without proper funding its services are calculated to collapse.

Nahr al-Bared Refugee Camp in Lebanon

Already medical services have been cut so that besides the limited availability of drugs and medical supplies, a single doctor is responsible for around 5,000 patients. In the UK the ratio is less than 400, and in other European countries the ratio is significantly lower. With poor nutrition and salty, undrinkable tap water the strain on doctors is likely to be even more demanding in Palestinian refugee camps.

As was stated by one of the Palestinian elders at Nahr al-Bared:

All this flies in the face of human rights. This is a fake deal made to bring about our destruction. They keep us busy just trying to survive so there is no time to plan around the crucial matters. Are we to become a non-people, who, by no fault of our own, are to be cast out of the human race without rights or the means to protect the lives of our children?

Rubble remaining from the 2007 attack by the terrorist group Fatah al Islam

UNWRA was never set up to be a permanent source of funding but with political intransigency with regard to the recognition of human rights law, Palestinians have been trapped in limbo for over seventy years. It’s only been the hope of returning to their homeland that has sustained them – (Awad Sumud – steadfastness). ‘Right of return’ is the corner stone of the Palestinian Struggle. The US in alliance with the UK and France, along with (Saudi Arabia aka Israel) and the Gulf States, are likely to herald any refusal on the part of Palestinians to give up ‘hope of return’ as a refusal to negotiate peace. The authors of this Machiavellian manoeuvre will know this to be a lie. With truth thrown into the  trash bin of fake news, the message of ‘the fault’ being placed on the Palestinians may ‘yet again’ be widely believed. The convenient label of Palestinian terrorists by subservient – cut and paste ‘mainstream’ journalism, allow those who actually do initiate terror to act with an impunity that defies credible belief. Any criticism by right thinking people that Israel is actually the aggressor here, is labelled as anti-semitic.

Palestinian leaders fear for the youth in the camp. Deprived of a future they are vulnerable to outside corruption or worse. “We are trapped by circumstances. We don’t want to be used to support anyone’s terrorism.”

Youngsters in Nahr al-Bared Refugee Camp

The elders’ fears are fully justified. In 2007 the terrorist group Fatah Al Islam fled into Nahr al-Bared after robbing a bank and were pursued by the Lebanese Army. The resulting conflict resulted in a number of deaths and forced Palestinians to flee the camp. Their homes and what little they did possess were bombed to rubble. The evidence of the widespread bombing is still present today. At the time Seymour Hersh reported that the funding for the group had originated from the US through Saudi Arabia and had Lebanese connections through Saad Hariri.

Rubble from the 2007 terrorist attack

However, other sources consider that funding came from groups in Syria or Al Qaeda. Why they chose to flee to Nahr al-Bared does raise interesting questions. Nahr al-Bared was the refugee camp where the PLO financial centre was located. Whether the camp being situated on prime real estate has any relevance, one can only speculate. Whatever the truth behind Fatah Al Islam, Palestinians remain anxious about such groups ever gaining any kind of foothold in the camps among their dispossessed youth.

Today the camp is slowly being re-built and around two-thirds of the population have been able to return. Compared to many of the other camps the roads are wide, the sky is visible and fresh air is able to enter. However it was pointed out that the roads are wide so that tanks can enter. Not withstanding the impact of visual space there is in reality little room for family expansion. Families are not permitted to built beyond four floors and moving out horizontally is also prohibited. Some of the bombed buildings of 2007 have yet to be cleared. With families moving into their fifth and sometimes the sixth generation, crowding is a serious problem. This has been compounded in part by a section of the camp being allocated to Palestinian refugees fleeing terror groups in Syria.

Section of Nahr al-Bared where Palestinian refugees from Syria are housed

Security around entry into the camp is high. For foreigners, passports have to be submitted well in advance so that the intelligence services can check out anyone who wishes to enter. Does this make Palestinians safer? It’s debatable. While it might keep the likes of terror groups like ‘Fatah Al Islam’ out, it also keeps  Palestinians in a ‘prison camp’  like environment. One only has to remember how Israeli forces surrounded the entrances to Sabra and Shatilla in September 1982 and sanctioned the Christian Phalange massacre of over 3,000 undefended Palestinians to feel a chill at the thought of not being totally free to pass though the entrance unchecked

Nahr al-Bared Refugee Camp in Lebanon

Palestinians cannot achieve justice alone. It will require a huge awakening on the part of all people everywhere to recognize that injustice for one is injustice for all. To be silent is to be complicit.

• All photos by Heather Stroud

As Gaza’s economy collapses, so does any hope of peace

The moment long feared is fast approaching in Gaza, according to a new report by the World Bank. After a decade-long Israeli blockade and a series of large-scale military assaults, the economy of the tiny coastal enclave is in “freefall”.

At a meeting of international donors in New York on Thursday, coinciding with the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, the World Bank painted an alarming picture of Gaza’s crisis. Unemployment now stands at close to 70 per cent and the economy is contracting at an ever faster rate.

While the West Bank’s plight is not yet as severe, it is not far behind. Countries attending the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee were told. Gaza’s collapse could bring down the entire Palestinian banking sector.

In response, Europe hurriedly put together a €40 million aid package, but that will chiefly address Gaza’s separate humanitarian crisis – not the economic one – by improving supplies of electricity and potable water.

No one doubts the inevitable fallout from the economic and humanitarian crises gripping Gaza. The four parties to the Quartet charged with overseeing negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians – the United States, Russia, the European Union and the UN – issued a statement warning that it was vital to prevent what they termed “further escalation” in Gaza.

The Israeli military shares these concerns. It has reported growing unrest among the enclave’s two million inhabitants and believes Hamas will be forced into a confrontation to break out of the straight jacket imposed by the blockade.

In recent weeks, mass protests along Gaza’s perimeter fence have been revived and expanded after a summer lull. On Friday, seven Palestinian demonstrators, including two children, were killed by Israeli sniper fire. Hundreds more were wounded.

Nonetheless, the political will to remedy the situation looks as atrophied as ever. No one is prepared to take meaningful responsibility for the time-bomb that is Gaza.

In fact, the main parties that could make a difference appear intent on allowing the deterioration to continue.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ignored repeated warnings of a threatened explosion in Gaza from his own military.

Instead, Israel is upholding the blockade as tightly as ever, preventing the flow of goods in and out of the enclave. Fishing is limited to three miles off the coast rather than the 20-mile zone agreed in the Oslo accords. Hundreds of companies are reported to have folded over the summer.

Intensifying the enclave’s troubles is the Trump administration’s recent decision to cut aid to the Palestinians, including to the United Nation’s refugee agency, UNRWA. It plays a critical role in Gaza, providing food, education and health services to nearly two-thirds of the population.

The food budget is due to run out in December, and the schools budget by the end of October. Hundreds of thousands of hungry children with nowhere to spend their days can only fuel the protests – and the deaths.

The Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas, headquartered in the West Bank, has no incentive to help. Gaza’s slowly unfolding catastrophe is his leverage to make Hamas submit to his rule. That is why the Palestinian Authority has cut transfers to Gaza by $30 million a month.

But even if Mr Abbas wished to help, he largely lacks the means. The US cuts were imposed primarily to punish him for refusing to play ball with US President Donald Trump’s supposed “deal of the century” peace plan.

Israel, the World Bank notes, has added to Mr Abbas’s difficulties by refusing to transfer taxes and customs duties it collects on the PA’s behalf.

And the final implicated party, Egypt, is reticent to loosen its own chokehold on its short border with Gaza. President Abdel Fattah El Sisi opposes giving any succour either to his domestic Islamist opponents or to Hamas.

The impasse is possible only because none of the parties is prepared to make a priority of Gaza’s welfare.

That was starkly illustrated earlier in the summer when Cairo, supported by the UN, opened a back channel between Israel and Hamas in the hope of ending their mounting friction.

Hamas wanted the blockade lifted to reverse Gaza’s economic decline, while Israel wanted an end to the weekly protests and the damaging images of snipers killing unarmed demonstrators.

In addition, Mr Netanyahu has an interest in keeping Hamas in power in Gaza, if barely, as a way to cement the geographic split with the West Bank and an ideological one with Mr Abbas.

The talks, however, collapsed quietly in early September after Mr Abbas objected to the Egyptians. He insisted that the Palestinian Authority be the only address for discussions of Gaza’s future. So, Cairo is yet again channelling its energies into a futile attempt at reconciling Mr Abbas and Hamas.

At the UN General Assembly, Mr Trump promised his peace plan would be unveiled in the next two to three months, and made explicit for the first time his support for a two-state solution, saying it would “work best”.

Mr Netanyahu vaguely concurred, while pointing out: “Everyone defines the term ‘state’ differently.” His definition, he added, required that not one of the illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank be removed and that any future Palestinian state be under complete Israeli security control.

Mr Abbas is widely reported to have conceded over the summer that a Palestinian state – should it ever come into being – would be demilitarised. In other words, it would not be recognisable as a sovereign state.

Hamas has made notable compromises to its original doctrine of military resistance to secure all of historic Palestine. But it is hard to imagine it agreeing to peace on those terms. This makes a reconciliation between Hamas and Mr Abbas currently inconceivable – and respite for the people of Gaza as far off as ever.

• First published in The National

The Real Reasons behind Washington’s War on UNRWA

The US government’s decision to slash funds provided to the United Nations agency that cares for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, is part of a new American-Israeli strategy aimed at redefining the rules of the game altogether.

As a result, UNRWA is experiencing its worst financial crisis. The gap in its budget is estimated at around $217 million, and is rapidly increasing. Aside from future catastrophic events that would result in discontinuing services and urgent humanitarian aid to five million refugees registered with UNRWA, the impact of the US callous decision is already reverberating in many refugee camps across the region. Currently, UNRWA has downgraded many of its services: laying off many teachers, reducing staff and working hours at various clinics.

Nearly 40 percent of all Palestinian refugees live in Jordan, a country that is already overwhelmed by a million Syrian refugees who sought shelter there because of the grinding and deadly war in their own country.

Aware of Jordan’s vulnerability, American emissaries attempted to barter with the country to heed the US demand of revoking the status of the two million Palestinian refugees. Instead of funding UNRWA, Washington offered to re-channel the funds directly to the Jordanian government. Thus, the US hopes that the Palestinian refugee status would no longer be applicable. Unsurprisingly, Jordan refused the American offer.

News of this failed barter resurfaced last August. It was reported that US President Donald Trump’s special envoy, Jared Kushner, tried to sway the Jordanian government during his visit to Amman in June.

Washington and Israel are seeking to simply remove the ‘Right of Return’ for Palestinian refugees, as enshrined in international law, from the political agenda altogether.

Coupled with Washington’s strategy to “remove Jerusalem from the table,” the American strategy is neither random nor impulsive.

“It is important to have an honest and sincere effort to disrupt UNRWA,” Kushner wrote to the US Middle East envoy, Jason Greenblatt, in an email last January. The email, among others, was later leaked to Foreign Policy magazine. “This (agency) perpetuates a status quo,” he also wrote, referring to UNRWA as “corrupt, inefficient and doesn’t help peace.”

This notion that UNRWA sustains the status quo – meaning the political rights of Palestinians refugees – is the main reason behind the American war on the Organization, a fact that is confirmed through statements made by top Israeli officials, too.

Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, echoed the American sentiment. UNRWA “has proven itself an impediment to resolving the conflict by keeping the Palestinians in perpetual refugee status,” he said.

Certainly, the US cutting of funds to UNRWA coincides with the defunding of all programs that provide any kind of aid to the Palestinian people. But the targeting of UNRWA is mostly concerned with the status of Palestinian refugees, a status that has irked Tel Aviv for 70 years.

Why does Israel want to place Palestinian refugees in a status-less category?

The refugee status is already a precarious one. To be a Palestinian refugee means living perpetually in limbo – unable to reclaim what has been lost, and unable to fashion an alternative future and a life of freedom and dignity.

How are Palestinians to reconstruct their identity that has been shattered by decades of exile, when Israel has constantly hinged its own existence as a ‘Jewish state’ on opposing the return and repatriation of Palestinian refugees? Per Israel’s logic, the mere Palestinian demand for the implementation of the internationally-sanctioned Right of Return is equivalent to a call for “genocide”. According to that same faulty logic, the fact that the Palestinian people live and multiply is a “demographic threat” to Israel.

Much can be said about the circumstances behind the creation of UNRWA by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1949 – its operations, efficiency and the effectiveness of its work. But for most Palestinians, UNRWA is not a relief organization, per se; being registered as a refugee with UNRWA provides Palestinians with a temporary identity, the same identity that allowed four generations of refugees to navigate decades of exile.

UNRWA’s stamp of “refugee” on every certificate that millions of Palestinians possess – birth, death and everything else in between – has served as a compass, pointing back to the places those refugees come from – not the refugee camps scattered in Palestine and across the region, but the 600 towns and villages that were destroyed during the Zionist assault on Palestine.

These villages may have been erased, as a whole new country was established upon their ruins, but the Palestinian refugee remained – subsisted, resisted and plotted her return home. The UNRWA refugee status is the international recognition of this inalienable right.

Therefore, the current US-Israeli war does not target UNRWA as a UN body, but as an organization that allows millions of Palestinians to maintain their identity as refugees with non-negotiable rights until their return to their ancestral homeland. Nearly 70 years after its founding, UNRWA remains essential and irreplaceable.

The founders of Israel envisioned a future where Palestinian refugees would eventually disappear into the larger population of the Middle East. Seventy years on, the Israelis still entertain that same illusion.

Now, with the help of the Trump administration, they are orchestrating yet more sinister campaigns to make Palestinian refugees vanish, wished away through the destruction of UNRWA and the redefining of the refugee status of millions of Palestinians.

The fate of Palestinian refugees seems to be of no relevance to Trump, Kushner and other US officials. The Americans are now hoping that their strategy will finally bring Palestinians to their knees so that they will ultimately submit to the Israeli government’s dictates.

The latest US-Israeli folly will prove futile. Successive US administrations have done everything in their power to support Israel and to punish the supposedly intransigent Palestinians. The Right of Return, however, remained the driving force behind Palestinian resistance, as the Gaza Great March of Return, ongoing since March, continues to demonstrate.

The truth is that all the money in Washington’s coffers will not reverse what is now a deeply embedded belief in the hearts and minds of millions of refugees throughout Palestine, the Middle East and the world.

President Trump’s Disturbing Speech at the UN: This Is Not the Time to Just Laugh!

Last year I wrote that Trump’s speech at the UN General Assembly was perhaps the worst speech ever delivered from that podium, certainly by a Western leader. This year he surpassed himself.

Why is there no rule to say that someone who openly

  • violates the basic norms of the United Nations
  • continuously threatens other countries in contravention of the UN Charter’s Article 2.4
  • condemns internationalism and multilateralism
  • advocates a narrow nationalism/patriotism (to make America great again)
  • stops funding the UNESCO
  • condemns the International Criminal Court (ICC) and threatens its officials
  • withdraws from UNRWA
  • withdraws from the Paris Climate Accord
  • withdraws from the UN Human Rights Commission
  • withdraws from the UN Security Council-based nuclear deal with Iran (JCPOA) etc.

– can not automatically expect to remain a member of the UN world body that is in charge of those organisations and advocates those principles on behalf of the world’s peoples?

His two favourite countries that he singled out as examples for other countries to follow are Saudi Arabia and Israel (if you think I am joking please listen to the speech again, see below), while he attacks Germany, Sweden, China, Iran, Syria and many other countries.

People laughed at his initial remarks when he said that his administration had achieved more than perhaps any other US administration, but they should have left the hall when he started to attack the UN and its organisations in the way he did, and openly declared war against two sovereign states, Iran and Syria, and economic war against China, Russia and others.

Jan Oberg’s comments

1. And the German delegates shook their heads when he talked about total energy dependence on Russia.

2. President Trump also violates the UN Charter Article 2.4 which stipulates that “All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”

3. In this – disturbing – speech Trump also said: “The United States will not tell you how to live or work or worship. We only ask that you honor our sovereignty in return.”
So how then shall we interpret the US Empire’s policies for war and regime change, intervention, CIA and other foreign presence, blatant interference in other countries’ domestic affairs and elections, coup d’etats in dozens of countries since 1945. And who has threatened the sovereignty of the US?

4. If there is a speech that illustrates how the President – and thereby the US Administration at present – ca not possibly be trusted and is the singularly most dangerous to the world, this is it.

Here the full speech and here the highlight from the New York Times.