Category Archives: United Nations

A World Federation

With law shall our land be built up, but with lawlessness laid waste.

— Njal’s Saga, Iceland, c 1270 AD

The present United Nations Charter

After the unspeakable horrors of World War II, delegates from 50 Allied nations met in San Francisco California. The purpose of the conference, which took place between 25 April and 26 June, 1945, was to set up an international organization that would be able to abolish the institution of war. However, the Charter which the delegates produced was too weak to achieve this goal.

In many respects the United Nations has been highly successful. During the 73 years that have passed since its establishment, a world war has been avoided. The agencies of the United Nations, such as the World Health Organization, the Food and Agricultural Organization, UNESCO and the IPCC, have provided urgently-needed services to the international community. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Millennium Development Goals have set up norms towards which we can and should aim. Further-more, the UN has provided a place where representatives from many nations can meet for informal diplomacy, through which many dangerous conflicts have been avoided.

Nevertheless, the United Nations, with its present Charter, has proved to be too weak to achieve the purpose for which it was established – the complete abolition of the institution of war. If civil wars are included, there are, on any given day, an average of 12 wars somewhere in the world. The task of abolishing war has become extremely urgent since the advent of thermonuclear weapons. The danger that these weapons will be used, through accident, technical or human error, or through uncontrollable escalation of a war with conventional weapons, poses an existential threat to human civilization and the biosphere.

The Russell-Einstein Manifesto of 1955 described our present situation in the following words:

Here then is the problem that we present to you, stark and dreadful and inescapable: Shall we put an end to the human race, or shall mankind renounce war?… There lies before us, if we choose, continual progress in happiness, knowledge and wisdom. Shall we, instead, choose death because we cannot forget our quarrels? We appeal as human beings to human beings: Remember your humanity, and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way lies open to a new Paradise; if you cannot, there lies before you the risk of universal death.

Why call war an “institution”?

Because the world spends almost two thousand billion dollars each year on armaments, it follows that very many people make their living from war. This is the reason why it is correct to speak of war as a social institution, and also the reason why war persists, although everyone realizes that it is the cause of much of the suffering that inflicts humanity. We know that war is madness, but it persists. We know that it threatens the future survival of our species, but it persists, entrenched in the attitudes of historians, newspaper editors and television producers, entrenched in the methods by which politicians finance their campaigns, and entrenched in the financial power of arms manufacturers, entrenched also in the ponderous and costly hardware of war, the fleets of warships, bombers, tanks, nuclear missiles and so on.

Military-industrial complexes, throughout the world, drive and perpetuate the institution of war. Each military-industrial complex involves a circular flow of money. The money flows like the electrical current in a dynamo, driving a diabolical machine. Money from immensely rich corporate oligarchs buys the votes of politicians and the propaganda of the mainstream media. Numbed by the propaganda, citizens allow the politicians to vote for obscenely bloated military budgets, which further enrich the corporate oligarchs, and the circular flow continues.

A World Federation

In order to save the world from destruction in a thermonuclear World War III, the United Nations Charter must be reformed and strengthened. At present, the UN is a confederation of absolutely sovereign nation-states. But in a world of all-destroying modern weapons, instantaneous global communication, and economic interdependence, the absolutely sovereign nation-state has become a dangerous anachronism.

Furthermore, history has shown confederations to be fatally weak. For example, the original United States Constitution was a confederation; but it soon became apparent that this form of governance was too weak. Instead, a federation was needed. In his Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton wrote:

To coerce the states is one of the maddest projects that was ever devised… Can any reasonable man be well disposed towards a government which makes war and carnage the only means of supporting itself, a government that can exist only by the sword? Every such war must involve the innocent with the guilty. The single consideration should be enough to dispose every peaceable citizen against such government… What is the cure for this great evil? Nothing, but to enable the… laws to operate on individuals, in the same manner as those of states do.

George Mason, one of the drafters of the Federal Constitution, believed that “such a government was necessary as could directly operate on individuals, and would punish those only whose guilt required it”, while another drafter, James Madison, wrote that the more he reflected on the use of force, the more he doubted “the practicality, the justice and the efficacy of it when applied to people collectively, and not individually.”

At present, the United Nations attempts to coerce states through sanctions; but sanctions are a form of collective punishment, and collective punishment is expressly forbidden by the Geneva Conventions. The worst effects of sanctions are usually felt by the weakest and least guilty of the citizens, while the guilty leaders are usually unaffected. Besides being a violation of the Geneva Conventions, sanctions are ineffective, their only effect being to unite the people of a country behind its guilty leaders.

The success of federations

A federation is a union of organizations to which specific powers are granted, all other powers being retained by the sub-units. Historically, federations have proved to be highly successful and durable.

Besides political federations, many other kinds exist, examples being Universal Postal Union, established by the Treaty of Bern in 1874, and the International Tennis Federation (ITF), founded in 1913.

Examples of political federations include the European Union, the Federal Republic of Germany, the Swiss Federation, the Russian Federation, the Federal Government of the United States, and the governments of Australia and Brazil.

Laws binding on individuals

In general, political federations have the power to make laws which are binding on individuals, thus avoiding the need to coerce their member states. An effective World Federation would need to have the power to make laws that act on individuals. The International Criminal Court is an important step towards the establishment of a system of international law that acts on individuals rather than on states, and the ICC deserves our wholehearted support.

Greatly increased financial support for the UN

A very important step towards strengthening the United Nations would be to give it at least 50 times the financial support that it has today. At present the entire yearly budget of the UN is only 2.7 billion US dollars, a ridiculously low figure, considering the organization’s duty to ensure peace, law. human rights, social justice, respect for the environment, human health, and a safe food supply for the entire world. If the financial support of the United Nations could be greatly increased, its agencies could perform their vitally important duties much more effectively. This would give the UN increased prestige and authority, and the UN would thus be better able to resolve political disputes.

Various methods for increasing the money available to the UN have been proposed. For example, James Tobin, who was Sterling Professor of Eco-nomics at Yale University, and Nobel Laureate in Economics, proposed that international currency transactions be taxed at a small fraction of a percent. He believed that even this extremely small tax would make exchange rates much more stable. When asked what should be done with the proceeds of the tax, Tobin added, almost as an afterthought, “Give it to the United Nations”. In fact, the volume of international currency transactions is so enormous that even the tiny tax proposed by Tobin would be sufficient to solve all the UN’s financial problems.

A standing UN Emergency Force

The United Nations is often called on to act quickly in emergency situations, an example being the call for the UN to stop the Rwandan genocide. It would be helpful if the UN had a standing armed force which could act quickly in such emergency situations. The force could consist of volunteers from around the world, pledged to loyalty to humanity as a whole, rather than loyalty to any nation.

A reformed voting system

In the present UN General Assembly, each nation is given one vote regardless of size. This means that Monaco, Liechtenstein, Malta and Andorra have as much voting power as China, India, the United States and Russia combined. For this reason, UN resolutions are often ignored.

The voting system of the General Assembly should be reformed. One possible plan would be for final votes to be cast by regional blocks, each block having one vote. The blocks might be. 1) Latin America 2) Africa 3) Europe 4) North America 5) Russia and Central Asia 6) China 7) India and Southeast Asia 8) The Middle East and 9) Japan, Korea and Oceania.

In a reformed, democratized and possibly renamed Security Council, the veto power would be absent, and final votes would be taken between regions of roughly equal populations.

Hope for the future

Can we abolish the institution of war? Can we hope and work for a time when the terrible suffering inflicted by wars will exist only as a dark memory fading into the past? I believe that this is really possible. The problem of achieving internal peace over a large geographical area is not insoluble. It has already been solved. There exist today many nations or regions within each of which there is internal peace, and some of these are so large that they are almost worlds in themselves. One thinks of China, India, Brazil, the Russian Federation, the United States, and the European Union. Many of these enormous societies contain a variety of ethnic groups, a variety of religions and a variety of languages, as well as striking contrasts between wealth and poverty. If these great land areas have been forged into peaceful and cooperative societies, cannot the same methods of government be applied globally?

Today, there is a pressing need to enlarge the size of the political unit from the nation-state to the entire world. The need to do so results from the terrible dangers of modern weapons and from global economic interdependence. The progress of science has created this need, but science has also given us the means to enlarge the political unit: Our almost miraculous modern communications media, if properly used, have the power to weld all of humankind into a single supportive and cooperative society.

We live at a critical time for human civilization, a time of crisis. Each of us must accept his or her individual responsibility for solving the problems that are facing the world today. We cannot leave this to the politicians. That is what we have been doing until now, and the results have been disastrous. Nor can we trust the mass media to give us adequate public discussion of the challenges that we are facing. We have a responsibility towards future generations to take matters into our own hands, to join hands and make our own alternative media, to work actively and fearlessly for better government and for a better society.

We, the people of the world, not only have the facts on our side; we also have numbers on our side. The vast majority of the world’s peoples long for peace. The vast majority long for abolition of nuclear weapons, and for a world of kindness and cooperation, a world of respect for the environment.

No one can make these changes alone, but together we can do it. Together, we have the power to choose a future where international anarchy, chronic war and institutionalized injustice will be replaced by democratic and humane global governance, a future where the madness and immorality of war will be replaced by the rule of law.

We need a sense of the unity of all mankind to save the future, a new global ethic for a united world. We need politeness and kindness to save the future, politeness and kindness not only within nations but also between nations.

To save the future, we need a just and democratic system of international law; for with law shall our land be built up, but with lawlessness laid waste.

A freely downloadable book

A new 418-page book entitled A World Federation may be downloaded and circulated gratis from the following link

Cornered: Trump Gets Thumped on Cuba at the UN

On November 1, 2018, for the twenty-seventh straight year, the full United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) voted by a near-unanimous 189-2 for “the necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba.” The Israeli government, as usual, voted automatically with the US without saying a word on the floor. There were no abstentions, but Moldova and the Ukraine chose not to vote at all.1

“Clever” Tactic Fizzles Fast

The final vote had been delayed a day as the Donald Trump White House wheeled out what they apparently thought was a very clever tactic aimed at diverting attention away from Washington’s annual political isolation and defeat. The tactic was to propose a series of no less than eight “amendments” to the anti-blockade Resolution with bogus attacks against Cuba over “human rights” and political freedoms inside Cuba.

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, in her last hurrah before resigning the post by year’s end, presented the “amendments” as being formulated by directly using the past words from Washington’s NATO allies in the European Union and Canada. This year, as usual, the EU and Canadian representatives made perfunctory statements after the vote with implicit criticisms of Cuba along the lines of restrictions on democratic rights, freedom of speech and assembly, and so on, which are sometimes put in the context of the US blockade.2

Both EU and Canadian diplomatic spokespeople quickly disabused Haley of any hope that Washington’s maneuvers would gain traction this year and bottle up the works. An Austrian diplomat speaking for the EU and the Canadian representative both made forceful statements rejecting all the “amendments.” They reiterated that the “amendments” had “no place in the current Resolution” and that the question of the “extraterritorial” US economic, commercial, and financial embargo against Cuba should not be “mixed up” with the issues raised through the “amendments.”

The General Assembly was required to vote on each Amendment separately. Haley and her boss Trump were isolated and cornered with no political way out. Each “amendment” went down in flames with 3 votes in favor (the US, Israel, and the Ukraine, which managed this time to press a button, 114 against, with 66 abstentions.

The common denominator in the near-unanimous votes, year after year in the UNGA, is the question of “extraterritoriality,” whereby the United States government gives itself the right to impose its economic, political, and travel blockading of Cuba on other countries and commercial entities who have normal or friendly relations with the Cuban workers’ state. It is this US posture, long before Trump’s regime came into power, that determined the votes of the European Union – a major capitalist trading and economic bloc with its own great political pretensions – with Cuba against US policy. Trump and Haley’s amendments ploy fizzled fast and was labeled correctly by EU and Canadian representatives as a “diversion” from the real issue, for them, of “extraterritoriality.”

The General Secretary’s Report

Most speakers from the floor referred positively to the report issued by UN General Secretary Antonio Guterres, the former Portuguese President and former President of the Socialist International, on the UNGA Resolution against the US blockade. It is a 168-page long comprehensive document.  Virtually every member-state plainly gives their opposition to the US blockade in their own words, as well as statements from 36 “organs and agencies of the United Nations system” from the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization to the United Nations Children’s Fund to the World Trade Organization, all attacking from their own angle and perspective the US blockade and solidarizing to some degree, mostly strongly, with Cuba.

From Obama to Trump

The Trump Administration has re-tightened aspects of the US economic and travel sanctions that had been marginally loosened during the last two years of the second Barack Obama White House. Full diplomatic relations were restored between Washington and Havana in July 2015 and Trump has stopped short of moving to abrogate them. He has, however, virtually frozen US embassy functions in Havana, making it very difficult for Cuban citizens to travel to the United States. This includes family members, trade unionists, doctors and scientists, and artists and musicians. “People-to-people” licensed travel to Cuba by US citizens is still possible and Cuban-American citizens remain able to travel back and forth to the island with no special requirements.

Trump has consciously ratcheted up bellicose and provocative anti-Cuba rhetoric. This plays badly with the “public opinion” of the peoples and governments of the world, including inside the United States and among Cuban-Americans. The fusillades of hostile demagogy against the Cuban government by Trump, Nikki Haley, and National Security Advisor John Bolton only produces disdain and contempt across the political and ideological fissures in world politics. This is because the Cuban state and government practice of international solidarity – including Cuba’s vanguard role in medical internationalism and worldwide emergency disaster relief efforts – and its political principles is universally admired. It is universally recognized that Cuba’s quick action and dispatch of medical personnel was the decisive factor in containing and conquering the 2014 outbreak of Ebola in West Africa on the ground. Also very clear factually are the example of Cuba’s great human indices for the health and education of the Cuban population as a whole despite the terrible impact of decades of US economic and political aggression, and recurrent military and terrorist threats. These are all settled questions around the world. And all the huffing and puffing of Trump and his lackeys cannot change that.

For many years before Trump, the UNGA annual vote around Cuba has registered an accumulating political problem for Washington in the world, particularly across the Americas. This was the case under both Republican and Democratic White Houses and Congresses. Considerable political damage was absorbed by the US government. Well into his second term, President Barack Obama, backed by his former-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the bulk of the Democratic Party, and some Republicans, decided that a political retreat was necessary.3

Months and years of serious diplomatic talks preceded the December 2014 “breakthrough” announcements by Presidents Obama and Raul Castro. The political retreat and shift by Obama required him to order the release of the Cuban Five and for the US State Department to formally remove Cuba – an historic recipient of US-sponsored terrorism in the actual world – from its “State Sponsors of Terrorism” list. But the US economic, financial, and commercial embargo – which openly aims to use US power to universally blockade Cuba – remained in place and was barely tinkered with by Obama even in areas he could have. 4

John Bolton Whips it Up

John Bolton, who replaced the harried Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster as Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor in April 2018, has a history of ranting and railing hard against Cuba. In 2002 he ran up the propaganda flagpole the idea that Cuba was involved in production of chemical and biological weapons. Inside the George W. Bush Administration, Bolton pushed for international inspectors to monitor Cuba’s biological facilities. This clear attempt to frame Cuba was not, and could not, gain any political traction, insofar as it was: 1) made up out of whole cloth; and 2) then-President Fidel Castro responded quickly, forcefully, and with full political impact. Bolton crawled back in his hole.5

On November 1, 2018 in Miami, at a campaign rally in support of Florida Republican candidates in Miami, Bolton conjured up a “troika of tyranny” with Venezuela and Nicaragua as US-anointed members and Cuba the communist mastermind. The crowd of hundreds was populated with veteran Cuban counterrevolutionaries and mercenaries from Washington’s wars and terrorism against the Cuban Revolution since the 1960s.

The Last Ordeal of Nikki Haley at the UN

If I were a talented cartoonist, I would portray Nikki Haley up there at the UNGA podium, and John Bolton among the defeated, aging counterrevolutionaries, as caricatures with steam coming out of their ears. The cornered Haley could only strike the pose of relishing in her government’s isolation and pathetically trying to make a virtue out of political humiliation. Haley pouted: We. Are. Alone. We are proud of it! We are defiant!! (And we are screwed.)

The most revealing statement of all from Haley was her labeling of the proceedings as a “a total waste of time.” To begin with, the annual vote and previous votes represents a particularly powerful marker that acts as a restraint on US aggression. It is part of the world political atmosphere that creates space for the international political defiance of US policy and solidarity with Cuba. It is this solidarity that has eroded the blockade politically and economically, objectively helping revolutionary, socialist Cuba survive the economic cataclysm of the 1990s following the near-overnight collapse of its then-extensive economy ties with the former Soviet Union and the so-called “socialist camp in Eastern Europe.”

The reality is that the accumulation of political defeat for Washington year-after-year, in forum after forum, has become a material factor in world politics. Haley’s arrogance barely veils the accumulated political damage that Washington continues to endure on the “Cuba Question” in Latin American and world politics.

Haley engaged, on the stage of world politics, in what in psychology is called “minimization,” that is “a type of deception coupled with rationalization in situations where complete denial is implausible,” as defined in Wikipedia. Practitioners such as Haley are engaged in “downplaying their misdemeanors when confronted with irrefutable facts.” Haley’s bleating went so far as to portray the world body gathering as ganging up and bullying poor old Uncle Sam. Here we have Goliath turned into David. Here the schoolyard bully finds the entire school united against him and the bully cries foul. But with no allies and collaborators, the bully’s aura and the fear he counts on evaporates.

Haley and Bolton’s Bombast is Not Politically Sustainable

All the bluster in the world cannot hide the political weakness in the Trump Administration’s policy. After the latest thumping for US policy at the UN can Trump move to implement new anti-Cuba actions beyond what he has already done? Will legal travel between the US and Cuba, including for Cuban-Americans, be closed even more, or altogether? Will diplomatic relations be unilaterally abrogated by Trump? Are subversive US “regime change” programs being reactivated and stepped up? 

US embarrassment and political isolation at the UN would likely become a political disaster and crisis for Washington at home as well as worldwide if US anti-Cuba moves sharply to escalate with interventionist threats and deeds. Such moves would be far more likely to increase demands to defy Washington and back up the UNGA Resolutions with concrete deeds, despite the US veto in the UN Security Council (UNSC). Bullying in full view is rarely a winning tactic in the long run, especially when the bully is up against a politically savvy opponent full of principle and dignity such as the Cuban revolutionaries.

In any case, Trump and his team are nowhere near creating the political conditions for a US-backed military coup in Venezuela, let alone direct US military aggression.

The interventions from the General Assembly floor began with the “geopolitical” and other groupings that claim to speak as one, from time to time, on issue by issue. On the Cuba-sponsored Resolution, top diplomats from one country lined up to denounce US policy for the bloc or group: Ethiopia for the African Group, Egypt for the Group of 77 Plus China; Venezuela for the Non-Aligned Movement; El Salvador for the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC); Singapore for the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN); the Bahamas for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM); and Bangladesh for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

Solidarity with Cuba was most pronounced by the representatives of countries that have benefited directly from Cuba’s socialist internationalism. The representative from the Bahamas, who spoke for the Caribbean Community gave a heartfelt tribute to Cuban medical assistance, including the free medical training of Bahamian and Caribbean doctors. These were echoed by strong language from the representatives of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Jamaica. Jamaica’s representative called the US blockade “an affront to the world.” He was echoed by many speakers when he expressed “profound disappointment that we are still meeting on this question, that this is still happening” following the steps taken under Obama’s last years which raised hopes (and illusions) worldwide and in the United States.

Part of the campus of the Latin America School of Medicine (ELAM).

(Since 2005 ELAM. has graduated tens of thousands of physicians from oppressed and exploited populations in Africa, Asia and the Americas, including working-class and impoverished communities in the US, with full scholarships offered by Cuba. These new young doctors make a commitment to work in underserved areas upon graduation.)

South African and Namibian representatives spoke with sharp emotion of Cuba’s decisive part in the defeat of the apartheid South African state and the “democratic dispensation” in South Africa, and the winning of the independence of Namibia.

The Bolivian representative gave a militant defense of the Cuban Revolution – “the enormous island of dignity.” He called US aggression against Cuba “one of the most important issues facing the UN system…One of the most powerful countries – the host country – refuses to comply with General Assembly resolutions year after year…Cuba is an example for all humankind [with its] selfless assistance to the rest of the world. Cuba was there in Africa! Cuba was there!” He ended his rousing remarks by quoting the legendary Ernesto Che Guevara, who said “the people of Cuba are stirred when any injustice occurs in the world.”

Cuba Speaks for Itself

Before the final vote on November 1, 2019, after Haley’s amendments were defeated, Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez took the floor in a powerful presentation.

Rodriguez spoke in the tradition of Cuban revolutionary diplomacy around the world and at the UN going back to the work of the legendary Cuban UN Ambassador Raul Roa and the speeches of Fidel Castro and Ernesto Che Guevara before the General Assembly. In those early decades of the Revolution, when the US blockade was at its tightest, and when the military threats and interventions of Washington and the militarized counterrevolutionary exiles was at its height, Cuba boldly made its case and defended itself politically from the platform of the UN.6

 Fidel Castro and Raul Roa at the United Nations General Assembly, September 22, 1960 (UN Photo)

Rodriguez spoke not only as Cuba’s top diplomat in making a comprehensive presentation of the human impact of the US blockade, including in Cuba’s exclusion from US-based life-saving or life-enhancing medical products, medications, technologies, and devices. Much of Rodriguez’s presentation took this up in moving detail. But he also spoke as a representative of the Cuban socialist revolution, which holds up the banner of international solidarity with the oppressed and exploited overwhelming majority of humanity in opposition to the world of capitalist exploitation and imperialist war.

Rodriguez began his speech with an expression of solidarity with the Jewish community of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where a Jew-hater inspired by Nazi ideology and anti-immigrant hatred gunned down eleven Jewish people in their Tree of Life Synagogue on October 27.  The Temple congregation was prominent in aiding war and other refugees migrating to the US. This evidently sparked the carnage. Rodriguez also expressed solidarity with the victims of floods and landslides in Indonesia which killed dozens.

Most powerfully the Cuban Foreign Minister was not about to listen to any lectures from Donald Trump, Nikki Haley or the United States government on Human Rights:

The US government does not have the least moral authority for criticizing Cuba or anyone else with regards to human rights.  We reject the repeated manipulation of human rights with political purposes as well as the double standards that characterize it… The US government is the author of human rights violations against its own citizens, particularly Afro-Americans and Hispanics, minorities, refugees and migrants. In the midst of the opulence of that country, 40 million of its citizens live in conditions of poverty and 52 million live in impoverished communities.  More than half a million sleep in the streets. Twelve per cent lack medical insurance and millions of low-income persons will be left without it. Quality education is not accessible to the majority. Equal opportunities are a pipedream. It is a government of millionaires imposing savage policies…There is a different racial pattern with regards to the inmate population, the length of imprisonment terms, the application of the death penalty -which is also applicable to minors and the mentally disabled; and the number of persons being shot dead by the police. The US government builds walls and separate children -even young children- from their migrant parents and put them in cages. The United States is party to only 30 per cent of human rights instruments and does not recognize the right to life, peace, development, security, food or the human rights of boys and girls.

Rodriguez’s speech included a strong socialist critique of the “democratic” pretensions and highfalutin words of Washington’s mouthpieces vs. the realities of capitalist politics in the United States:

The ‘special interests,’ that is, the corporate interests, have kidnapped the US political system, which is corrupt by definition…Words and political statements do matter. While demonizing and turning political opponents, institutions, social groups and nations into enemies through the use of propaganda, division, violence, hatred, [then] crimes and wars thrive and take root…Dirty politics, indecency, amorality, lies, the redesigning of electoral districts out of political convenience and the manipulation of voters are all exacerbated. Six million low-income US voters are prevented from voting.  In Florida, 21 per cent of Afro-American voters are not entitled to cast their vote. [There is] [f]ake information [and] the monopoly over communication…The US government unscrupulously interferes in the electoral processes and internal affairs of most States in this planet.7

A Post-World War II, Post-Cold War World is Emerging

This year the UN vote highlighting the US economic war against Cuba converges with Washington’s – which is now Trump’s Washington – tendentiousness and political isolation on other burning issues and existing and looming crises worldwide:  Trump’s unilateral pulling out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that was reached between Iran and the United States, the UK, Russia, France, China, Germany and the EU in July 2015 and confrontations he is pushing with the EU and other powers over US “extraterritorial” pressures to tow the US line; unfolding political developments on the Korean Peninsula; Saudi Arabia’s US and UK-backed murderous war on Yemen and the mounting political crisis in the Saudi bastion of reaction in the entire Middle East region; the political aftershocks of the brutal Syrian war; prospects for a two-state settlement in Israel-Palestine; and Trump’s pulling out of the (already weak) UN “Framework Convention on Climate Change” after 2020, an issue where Washington is even more isolated than on Cuba.

Trump, in his crude branded way, blurts out US imperial arrogance in a world today that is marked by an emerging post-World War II, post-Cold War era where the full-spectrum economic, financial, and political dominance of the American Colossus is receding more and more from sight in history’s rear-view mirror. Recently, South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in floated the idea of lifting some of his country’s sanctions against the North, Trump said, “They won’t do it without our approval. They do nothing without our approval.” (Both “South” and “North” Korea voted with Cuba at the UN.)

The relative decline of US capitalist power in the world of today means that the still-overwhelming military dominance Washington holds – in terms of nuclear arsenal and other unmatched firepower capability; the worldwide reach and projection of US naval and air power, with hundreds of military bases in operation worldwide – still finds great pressures and limits on the political ability to use it, particularly since the unintended consequences of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. I think this is particularly true across the Americas, even with the recent electoral advances of conservative and reactionary forces on the South American continent.

Brazil’s Election and Potential New Alignments

With the election on October 28, 2018 of Jair Bolsonaro, a rightist demagogue, Trump and Bolton quickly saw a potential weighty ally in Latin America for the perspective of putting together a political bloc against Cuba and to breach the wall of continental solidarity with it against the US blockade. Bolton welcomed Bolsonaro’s election saying:

The recent elections of like-minded leaders in key countries, including Ivan Duque in Colombia, and last weekend Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, are positive signs for the future of the region, and demonstrate a growing regional commitment to free-market principles, and open, transparent, and accountable governance… today, in this hemisphere, we are also confronted once again with the destructive forces of oppression, socialism and totalitarianism…Under this administration, we will no longer appease dictators and despots near our shores in this hemisphere. We will not reward firing squads, torturers, and murderers … The troika of tyranny in this hemisphere – Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua – has finally met its match.

Bolton shameless demagogy, as with Haley, correlates to another classic scientific category called “psychological projection.” This is, in Wikipedia’s definition, “a theory in psychology in which the human ego defends itself against unconscious impulses or qualities (both positive and negative) by denying their existence in themselves while attributing them to others. For example, a person who is habitually rude may constantly accuse other people of being rude. It incorporates blame shifting.” Insofar as the United States government has a crystal-clear history and legacy of supporting, sustaining, or directly installing virtually every blood-soaked military or rightist family or oligarchical dictatorship in Central America, Latin America, and the Caribbean in modern times, this is “projection” of the highest order.8

And let us underline that Bolton is praising a political and military figure, Bolsonaro, who came out of and defends wholeheartedly the right-wing military regime in Brazil from 1964-1986, with its documented history of death-squads, murder, and torture on a mass-scale. Bolsonaro has publicly said that the military dictatorship did not murder and torture those who resisted and fought it enough.9

Bolsonaro was elected with a ten-point margin, culminating, for now, a deepening political crisis in Brazil that was set in motion by the sharpest economic retraction and recession in modern Brazilian history that kicked in starting in 2014. This drawn-out political earthquake saw the 2016 impeachment and removal from office of Workers Party (PT) President Dilma Rousseff on dubious charges of manipulating budget statistics followed by the 2018 imprisonment and barring from running for President of PT leader and former president Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva on the relatively petty charges of receiving access to an apartment on the beach. Denied strongly by da Silva, the charges rose to the level of the absurd given the massive corruption that marks capitalist politicking in Brazil with its rampant wheeler-dealerism, kickbacks, and bribe-taking. This was the case before, during, and after Lula da Silva and the PT won the Presidency in January 2003, starting with the political forces that moved against Rousseff and Lula da Silva.

Among the aftershocks over time from the 2007-08 world economic crisis and depression was the collapse in raw materials, energy, and other commodity prices in world capitalist markets. This expedited the economic crisis in Brazil, the eighth largest capitalist economy in the world. Brazil has built up giant export platforms for oil and other raw materials to markets in advanced capitalist countries such as the US and the EU, as well as to China, over many decades. Huge capitalist farms in Brazil export products such as soy beans, sugar, and meat that brought in large sums in foreign exchange. It is an example of how even the most developed (semi-industrialized) capitalist economies in “Third World” nation-states like Brazil are dependent on the advanced capitalist economies of the United States, western Europe, and Japan and the international institutions they control like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) for markets and credits (that is, debt).

In that cyclical period of expansion driven by high commodity-raw material prices, the successive PT governments funded social-welfare programs that created real – but tenuous and ephemeral as it turned out – alleviation of extreme poverty, of which there is a tremendous amount in Brazil. These policies marginally advanced working-class access to education and health care and fueled Lula’s high levels of political support and popularity. This popularity was apparently the decisive factor in banning him from being on the ballot in the Presidential election, where most surveys had placed him in the lead.

Politically, the PT policies delivered relative class and political stability, without any disruption of the financial, economic, and social dominance of the Brazilian bourgeoisie and landowning ruling classes. The Workers Party in the October 2018 elections paid the political price for the sharp economic recession that unfolded from 2014-16, with a stagnant “recovery” today. Bolsonaro was able to exploit other issues such as the miserable living conditions in the favelas, controlled by criminal gangs running organized drug rackets that are tangled up with corrupt and murderous police forces. The Brazilian ruling classes and media oligopolies swung behind Bolsonaro decisively in the elections, burying previous derisions of him when he was “on the fringe” of bourgeois politics in Brazil.

It remains to be seen if Bolsonaro is prepared to – or is politically able to – unite with Trump in an anti-Cuba, anti-Venezuela crusade. In a November 7, 2018 Financial Times article titled “Brazil version of Trump to play hardball with Bolivian autocrat,” writer Gideon Long relishes a coming confrontation between Bolsanaro and Bolivian President Evo Morales (“one of the last survivors of the leftist ‘pink tide’”) over a natural gas deal that is up for renewal. Long further asserts the ascendancy of “a new regional order” in a Latin America that he says has “shifted rightward.”

Bolsonaro Forces Out Cuban Doctors

On November 14, 2018, the press office of the Cuban UN Mission in New York issued a Declaration from the Ministry of Public Health announcing the withdrawal of Cuban doctors from Brazil following Bolsonaro’s attacks and threats on them and the Program More Doctors organization the Cuban volunteers work through. The Declaration states:

Jair Bolsonaro, president-elect of Brazil, who has made direct, contemptuous, and threatening comments against the presence of our doctors, has declared and reiterated that he will modify the terms and conditions of the Program More Doctors…he has questioned the qualification of our doctors and has conditioned their permanence in the program to a process of validation of their titles and established that contracts will only be signed on an individual basis…These unacceptable conditions make it impossible to maintain the presence of Cuban professionals in the Program…The decision to bring into question the dignity, professionalism and altruism of Cuban cooperation workers who, with the support of their families, are currently offering their services in 67 countries is unacceptable. During the last 55 years, a total of 600,000 internationalist missions have been accomplished in 164 nations, with the participation of 400,000 health workers who, in quite a few cases, have fulfilled this honorable task more than once. Their feats in the struggle against the Ebola virus in Africa, blindness in Latin America and the Caribbean and cholera in Haiti as well as the participation of 26 brigades of the International Contingent of Doctors Specialized in Disaster Situations and Great Epidemics “Henry Reeve” in Pakistan, Indonesia, Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Venezuela, among other countries, are worthy of praise…Likewise, 35,613 health professionals from 138 countries have been trained in Cuba at absolutely no cost as an expression of our solidarity and internationalist vocation. The peoples from Our America and from all over the world know that they will always be able to count on the solidarity and humanistic vocation of our professionals.

Cuban Doctors in Brazil

“Pinochetism” Without Pinochet?

Bolsonaro is gearing up to carry out a “neoliberal” austerity program of attacks on industrial workers, agricultural workers, landless peasants, and small and medium farmers. He looks to the “model” of the policies carried out with extreme violence by the US-backed military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, which overthrew the elected, constitutional President Salvador Allende in a 1973 US-backed military coup.

At each step of the consolidation of his brutal dictatorship Pinochet consulted with and was advised by various US government and academic figures. These included, famously, a group of University of Chicago (UC) conservative and reactionary economists, spawns of Milton Friedman and Frederick von Hayek. These “Chicago Boys” found themselves dominating the Economics Department at UC and were available for the cause of crushing the workers and peasants of Chile into the dirt.

Survivors and would-be revivers of that “Chicago School” are very enthusiastic backers of Bolsonaro, starting with incoming Finance Minister Paulo Guedes. In an interview with the November 2, 2018 Financial Times Guedes said Bolsonaro’s election presents a “Pinochet” moment for Brazil. “The Chicago boys saved Chile, fixed Chile. Fixed the mess.”

Of course, when class and political polarization reaches the intensity of the last years of the Allende government, the room for “parliamentary democratic” resolution diminishes. Washington and the Chilean bourgeoisie and oligarchy, including in the officer corps of the Chilean armed forces, were baying for blood and carried out economic sabotage, covert subversion, and terrorism against Allende’s Popular Unity (UP) coalition, whose mass and electoral support was increasing at the time of the coup. Nevertheless, the UP government and Chilean revolutionists were unable to counterattack effectively and derail the more-and-more open coup plotting, US covert action, and right-wing mobilizations.10

It would have been impossible to carry out “the fix” Guedes crows about for Chile without the destruction of democratic rights and political space and murdering thousands of trade unionists and revolutionary-minded working-class and student youth, and anyone who stood in their way. Gruesome torture was institutionalized by the “fixers” on a mass, industrial scale after the initial bloodbath. This was a pre-condition for smashing trade union legality and driving the workers movement underground. Suppressing wages and worker’s rights laid the basis for renewed “confidence” and profitability for Chilean and foreign capital. Cyclical economic expansion primarily benefited a super-affluent minority.

The workers and mass struggles that pried open political space and trade-union legality in the 1980s, leading to Pinochet’s demise, used that space to fight to raise their living standards.

Can there be an updated Pinochetism against Brazil’s highly organized working-class movement, including mass trade unions and landless peasant organizations that Bolsonaro has made a career of making harsh attacks on? Bolsonaro spoke openly during and after the election of going after “delinquent Reds,” and organizations of landless peasants and homeless people, in addition to going after pension systems for organized workers, a centerpiece of Pinochet’s “reforms” in Chile.

While many on the Brazilian “left,” including PT activists, are no doubt shaken by the election of Bolsonaro, who obviously won the votes of many disillusioned and desperate working people, it should be said that the Brazilian workers and peasant class organizations and the mass, social movements, including for Afro-Brazilian rights, women’s rights, and LGBT rights, have not been defeated in struggle and combat, as was the case in Chile. Bolsonaro’s “electoral mandate” will be tested in the actual class and political struggles ahead.

Operation Condor II?

With Pinochet’s triumph in 1973 there was increased collaboration and coordination of the Latin American military regimes (joined by Argentina in 1976) under Chilean leadership (and that of the US CIA in the shadows) in the so-called “Operation Condor,” which operated death squads and organized terrorist acts on a continental scale.

The Condor Years: How Pinochet And His Allies Brought Terrorism to Three Continents by John Dinges

Trump’s team, to the degree that they have a coherent political focus on Latin America, certainly see opportunities to advance US policies through alignments with the series of more conservative and reactionary governments that won elections in Argentina, Chile, Columbia, and Peru in recent years. Economic conditions in all these states compel them, and they all are preparing, to take on the working-class and popular movements and to use the economic crisis to reverse the advances made in the period of the “pink tide” ascent. The Mauricio Macri government in Argentina, in particular, is in a real-time crisis after a disastrous decline in the value of the Argentine peso and consequent huge rise in the country’s dollar-denominated debt, topped off with a humiliating $57 billion “bailout” loan from the hated International Monetary Fund.

It should be noted that the election of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in Mexico will replace a conservative “neoliberal” regime with an Administration and legislature that campaigned as progressive, anti-establishment, anti-corruption, and opposed to US interventionist policies in the Hemisphere.

Venezuela

Trump and the Latin American forces he looks to bloc with certainly would like to pounce on Venezuela, which they portray as descending into ungovernability and endless economic cataclysm, and therefore is viewed as politically vulnerable. They dream and devise plans to sweep in a pro-imperialist government in an orchestrated “regime change.” There has leaked for public consumption US discussions and collaboration with pro-coup forces inside Venezuela’s military and other state institutions. These discussions were over the viability of a US-backed coup or a direct US military intervention to overthrow the Nicolas Maduro government. Nikki Haley has spoken openly to street actions calling for Maduro’s overthrow.

The Trump White House has spent over $20 million in “humanitarian refugee assistance” under the pretext of dealing with the some 2-3 million Venezuelan refugees who have been generated from the still-deepening economic crisis, crash in production, and runaway inflation in the country. These refugees have poured mainly into Colombia, with many transiting from there to Ecuador and other Latin American countries.

It is certain that the class struggle across the Americas will intensify and deepen in period at hand and coming. And that the political alignments of today may not be the realignments of tomorrow. The “Cuba Question” is bound to be at the center of all of this. The 2018 UN vote against the US blockade strengthens Cuba’s position in this volatile and explosive period in world and Western Hemispheric politics, and in the international class and national liberation struggles, that are now unfolding.

  1. The Benjamin Netanyahu Israeli government generally jerks its knee behind the US position on the Cuba anti-US blockade votes, abstaining in the last vote in 2016 when Barack Obama was in the White House. Netanyahu’s UN representatives reverted to a No vote this time under Trump. While diplomatic relations between Israel and Cuba have not been restored since being broken in the aftermath of the 1973 Middle Eastern War, which saw major combat between Israeli forces and the armies of Egypt and Syria, Israel and Cuba carry out significant two-way economic trade and commercial relations. There is important Israeli-based capital investment in several Cuban projects and industries including irrigation technology, office towers, and agricultural production. There is also fully legal travel from each country to the other. The many thousands of Israeli travelers to Cuba, and the travel agencies that work with them, have found no anti-Semitism in Cuba and no personal hostility towards Israelis even though the Cuban government is a strong supporter of Palestinian self-determination and has normal or friendly diplomatic relations with all the Arab countries as well as Iran. Cuba promotes a two-state solution for Israel-Palestine based on UN Resolution 242, with East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital.
  2. See my Submission to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, Geneva, Switzerland, The Case of Cuba: “Human Rights” as a Club.”
  3. Ike Nahem. “Obama and Cuba: End of an Illusion“, Dissident Voice, March 16, 2010.
  4. In the 1990s, Cuba’s economy contracted sharply, and virtually overnight, following the evaporation of the island’s exchange and commercial ties with the former Soviet Union and allied Eastern European governments during the “Cold War.” Long-defeated counter-revolutionary Cuban-American organizations, with histories of violence and terrorism against Cuba, felt wind in their political sails. They illegally organized from US territory, stepping up subversive provocations against Cuba. These groups particularly targeted the rapidly expanding Cuban tourism industry which was generating much-needed foreign exchange. A terrorist bomb killed an Italian tourist. After repeated attempts to get the US government to act against all of this, a team of trained Cuban revolutionaries were dispatched to South Florida to infiltrate and monitor these groups clandestinely. Until they were arrested and convicted in a rigged Miami Courthouse in 1998, the Cuban Five – Fernando Gonzalez, Rene Gonzalez, Antonio Guerrero, Gerardo Hernandez, and Ramon Labanino – preempted a number of planned attacks. A major international campaign organized over many years demanded freedom for the Cuban Five. The last three incarcerated Cuban heroes were released in December 2014, as part of the agreement between Cuban President Raul Castro and US President Barack Obama to restore US-Cuban diplomatic relations.
  5. At the time Bolton thundered, “The United States believes that Cuba has at least a limited offensive biological warfare research and development effort. Cuba has provided dual-use biotechnology to other rogue states. We are concerned that such technology could support [biological weapons] programs in those states. We call on Cuba to cease all [biological weapons]-applicable cooperation with rogue states and to fully comply with all of its obligations under the Biological Weapons Convention.”
  6. It was a time when a Cuban diplomat was assassinated in the streets of Queens, New York. It was a time when terrorist bombs were set off at the offices of the 1199 Health Care Workers Union, which courageously opposed the US blockade of Cuba, in the heart of Manhattan, the offices of Casa de las Americas, Cuban-Americans who defended the Revolution, and elsewhere. The Cuban Mission to the United Nations made networks of friends and supporters of revolutionary and socialist Cuba in the 25-mile-radius New York City-area where Washington, as the host country of the UN, could not prevent a Cuban presence or Cuban revolutionary freedom of speech at the UN. These friendships and solidarity have become deeply rooted over many decades. This was recently exemplified when newly elected President of the Cuban Council of State, Miguel Diaz-Canel, came to the United Nations for the Fall 2018 opening of the General Assembly and spoke to some 2300 people from New York, New Jersey and many other cities, who packed into the historic Riverside Church in Manhattan, for a rousing evening of solidarity.
  7. See Isaac Saney’s Submission to the UN Human Rights Council.Cuba, Human Rights and Self-Determination for a clear look at Cuba’s highly participatory electoral procedures.
  8. Check out this US interventionist history here.
  9. It should be noted that the democratically elected government of João Goulart, which attempted to carry out progressive measures in education, voting rights, taxes, and land reform infuriated the Brazilian capitalists and large landowners. It also enraged bipartisan Washington, in this case under the liberal Democratic White Houses of John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. This was mainly because Goulart opposed the US blockade of Cuba and refused to break diplomatic relations as demanded by Kennedy and Johnson. Between 1961 and 1964, the CIA performed so-called psyops, or “psychological operations” against Goulart, poured money into opposition groups, and was essentially the architect of the coup.
  10. See Fidel Castro on Chile, Pathfinder Press, New York, 1982 with an introduction by Elizabeth Stone, a comprehensive compilation of speeches, interviews, press conferences, and interactions with Chilean workers and trade unionists, peasants, and students from November 10 to December 4, 1971 when the Cuban revolutionary and President visited the country. In speech after speech, Castro foresees – in a cumulative master class in the Marxist method – the gathering, impossible-to-be-avoided political, social, and class showdown. Castro did everything in his power to prevent a historic defeat and slaughter of working people in Chile similar to what Ernesto Che Guevara had witnessed in 1954 Guatemala. The classic documentary The Battle of Chile, shot during the Allende years and during the coup, smuggled out of Chile, and finished in Cuba, shows how workers and peasants, ready to defend their gains, arms in hand, waited, Godot-style, to be mobilized, armed, trained, and organized as the defense of democratic space and constitutional legality was being abandoned by the Chilean ruling classes and was, in fact, collapsing.

Canada: Preferring Military Might over Peaceful Discussion in Korea

Who prefers military might over peaceful discussion to settle a long festering international dispute? Canada, it seems.

It may surprise some that a Canadian general is undercutting inter-Korean rapprochement while Global Affairs Canada seeks to maintain its 70-year old war footing, but that is what the Liberal government is doing.

At the start of the month Canadian Lieutenant General Wayne Eyre told a Washington audience that the North Koreans were “experts at separating allies” and that a bid for a formal end to the Korean war represented a “slippery slope” for the 28,500 US troops there. “So what could an end-of-war declaration mean? Even if there is no legal basis for it, emotionally people would start to question the presence and the continued existence of the United Nations Command,” said Eyre at the Carnegie Institute for International Peace. “And it’s a slippery slope then to question the presence of U.S. forces on the peninsula.”

The first non-US general to hold the post since the command was created to fight the Korean War in 1950, Eyre became deputy commander of the UNC at the end of July. He joined 14 other Canadian officers with UNC.

Responsible for overseeing the 1953 armistice agreement, UNC has undercut Korean rapprochement. At the start of the month the Financial Times reported, “the US-spearheaded United Nations Command has in recent weeks sparked controversy in host nation South Korea with a series of moves that have highlighted the chasm between Seoul’s pro-engagement attitude to Pyongyang and Washington’s hard line.”  In August, for instance, the UN force blocked a train carrying South Korean officials from crossing the Demilitarized Zone as part of an initiative to improve relations by modernizing cross-border railways.

As it prepares to concede operational control over its forces to Seoul in coming years, Washington is pushing to “revitalize” UNC, which is led by a US General who simultaneously commands US troops in Korea. According to the Financial Times, the UN force “serves to bolster and enhance the US’s position in north-east Asia at a time when China is rising.” To “revitalize” UNC the US is pressing the 16 countries that deployed soldiers during the Korean War to increase their military contribution going forward, a position argued at a Vancouver gathering in January on promoting sanctions against the North.

In other words, Ottawa and Washington would prefer the existing state of affairs in Korea because it offers an excuse for keeping tens of thousands of troops near China.

As part of reducing tensions, ridding the peninsula of nuclear weapons and possibly reunifying their country, the two Korean governments have sought a formal end to the Korean War. It’s an initial step in an agreement the Korean leaders signed in April and last month they asked the UN to circulate a peace declaration calling for an official end to hostilities. But, Canadian foreign minister Chrystia Freeland has responded gingerly to these efforts. In response to Seoul and Pyongyang’s joint announcement to seek a formal end to the Korean War in April Freeland said, “we all need to be careful and not assume anything.”

Two Global Affairs Canada statements released last month on the “North Korea nuclear crisis” studiously ignored the Koreas’ push for an official end to hostilities. Instead they called for “sanctions that exert pressure on North Korea to abandon its weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs completely, verifiably and irreversibly.” The second statement said UN Security Council sanctions “must … remain in place until Pyongyang takes concrete actions in respect of its international obligations.”

Global Affairs’ position flies in the face of South Korea, Russia, China and other nations that have brought up easing UN sanctions on North Korea. Washington, on the other hand, is seeking to tighten sanctions.

Partly to bolster the campaign to isolate North Korea a Vancouver Island based submarine was sent across the big pond at the start of the year. In April Ottawa also sent a CP-140 Aurora surveillance aircraft and 40 military personnel to a US base in Japan from which British, Australian and US forces monitor the North’s efforts to evade UN sanctions. A September Global Affairs Canada statement titled “Canada renews deployment in support of multinational initiative to enforce UN Security Council sanctions on North Korea” noted: “A Canadian Armed Forces maritime patrol aircraft will return to the region to help counter North Korea’s maritime smuggling, in particular its use of ship-to-ship transfers of refined petroleum products. In addition, Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Calgary, on operations in the area as part of Canada’s continued presence in the region, was named to contribute to this effort.”

Rather than undermine Korean rapprochement, Ottawa should call for an official end to the 70-year old war and direct the Canadians in UNC to support said position. Canada should welcome peace in Korea even if it may trouble those seeking to maintain 30,000 US troops to “contain” China.

Canada: Preferring Military Might over Peaceful Discussion in Korea

Who prefers military might over peaceful discussion to settle a long festering international dispute? Canada, it seems.

It may surprise some that a Canadian general is undercutting inter-Korean rapprochement while Global Affairs Canada seeks to maintain its 70-year old war footing, but that is what the Liberal government is doing.

At the start of the month Canadian Lieutenant General Wayne Eyre told a Washington audience that the North Koreans were “experts at separating allies” and that a bid for a formal end to the Korean war represented a “slippery slope” for the 28,500 US troops there. “So what could an end-of-war declaration mean? Even if there is no legal basis for it, emotionally people would start to question the presence and the continued existence of the United Nations Command,” said Eyre at the Carnegie Institute for International Peace. “And it’s a slippery slope then to question the presence of U.S. forces on the peninsula.”

The first non-US general to hold the post since the command was created to fight the Korean War in 1950, Eyre became deputy commander of the UNC at the end of July. He joined 14 other Canadian officers with UNC.

Responsible for overseeing the 1953 armistice agreement, UNC has undercut Korean rapprochement. At the start of the month the Financial Times reported, “the US-spearheaded United Nations Command has in recent weeks sparked controversy in host nation South Korea with a series of moves that have highlighted the chasm between Seoul’s pro-engagement attitude to Pyongyang and Washington’s hard line.”  In August, for instance, the UN force blocked a train carrying South Korean officials from crossing the Demilitarized Zone as part of an initiative to improve relations by modernizing cross-border railways.

As it prepares to concede operational control over its forces to Seoul in coming years, Washington is pushing to “revitalize” UNC, which is led by a US General who simultaneously commands US troops in Korea. According to the Financial Times, the UN force “serves to bolster and enhance the US’s position in north-east Asia at a time when China is rising.” To “revitalize” UNC the US is pressing the 16 countries that deployed soldiers during the Korean War to increase their military contribution going forward, a position argued at a Vancouver gathering in January on promoting sanctions against the North.

In other words, Ottawa and Washington would prefer the existing state of affairs in Korea because it offers an excuse for keeping tens of thousands of troops near China.

As part of reducing tensions, ridding the peninsula of nuclear weapons and possibly reunifying their country, the two Korean governments have sought a formal end to the Korean War. It’s an initial step in an agreement the Korean leaders signed in April and last month they asked the UN to circulate a peace declaration calling for an official end to hostilities. But, Canadian foreign minister Chrystia Freeland has responded gingerly to these efforts. In response to Seoul and Pyongyang’s joint announcement to seek a formal end to the Korean War in April Freeland said, “we all need to be careful and not assume anything.”

Two Global Affairs Canada statements released last month on the “North Korea nuclear crisis” studiously ignored the Koreas’ push for an official end to hostilities. Instead they called for “sanctions that exert pressure on North Korea to abandon its weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs completely, verifiably and irreversibly.” The second statement said UN Security Council sanctions “must … remain in place until Pyongyang takes concrete actions in respect of its international obligations.”

Global Affairs’ position flies in the face of South Korea, Russia, China and other nations that have brought up easing UN sanctions on North Korea. Washington, on the other hand, is seeking to tighten sanctions.

Partly to bolster the campaign to isolate North Korea a Vancouver Island based submarine was sent across the big pond at the start of the year. In April Ottawa also sent a CP-140 Aurora surveillance aircraft and 40 military personnel to a US base in Japan from which British, Australian and US forces monitor the North’s efforts to evade UN sanctions. A September Global Affairs Canada statement titled “Canada renews deployment in support of multinational initiative to enforce UN Security Council sanctions on North Korea” noted: “A Canadian Armed Forces maritime patrol aircraft will return to the region to help counter North Korea’s maritime smuggling, in particular its use of ship-to-ship transfers of refined petroleum products. In addition, Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Calgary, on operations in the area as part of Canada’s continued presence in the region, was named to contribute to this effort.”

Rather than undermine Korean rapprochement, Ottawa should call for an official end to the 70-year old war and direct the Canadians in UNC to support said position. Canada should welcome peace in Korea even if it may trouble those seeking to maintain 30,000 US troops to “contain” China.

500 years is long enough! Human Depravity in the Congo

I would like to tell you something about human depravity and illustrate just how widespread it is among those we often regard as ‘responsible’. I am going to use the Democratic Republic of the Congo as my example.

As I illustrate and explain what has happened to the Congo and its people during the past 500 years, I invite you to consider my essential point: Human depravity has no limit unless people like you (hopefully) and me take some responsibility for ending it. Depravity, barbarity and violent exploitation will not end otherwise because major international organizations (such as the UN), national governments and corporations all benefit from it and are almost invariably led by individuals too cowardly to act on the truth.

The Congo

Prior to 1482, the area of central Africa now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo was part of the Kingdom of the Kongo. It was populated by some of the greatest civilizations in human history.

Slavery

However, in that fateful year of 1482, the mouth of the Congo River, which flows into the Atlantic Ocean, became known to Europeans when the Portuguese explorer Diogo Cao claimed he ‘discovered’ it. By the 1530s, more than five thousand slaves a year (many from inland regions of the Kongo) were being transported to distant lands, mostly in the Americas. Hence, as documented by Adam Hochschild in King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa, the Congo was first exploited by Europeans during the Atlantic slave trade.

Despite the horrific depredations of the militarized slave trade and all of its ancillary activities, including Christian priests spreading ‘Christianity’ while raping their captive slave girls, the Kingdoms of the Kongo were able to defend and maintain themselves to a large degree for another 400 years by virtue of their long-standing systems of effective governance. As noted by Chancellor Williams’ in his epic study The Destruction of Black Civilization: Great Issues of a Race from 4500 B.C. to 2000 A.D. the Kingdoms of the Congo prior to 1885 – including Kuba under Shyaam the Great and the Matamba Kingdom under Ngola Kambolo – were a cradle of culture, democracy and exceptional achievement with none more effective than the remarkable Queen (of Ndongo and Matamba), warrior and diplomat Nzinga in the 17th century.

But the ruthless military onslaught of the Europeans never abated. In fact, it continually expanded with ever-greater military firepower applied to the task of conquering Africa. In 1884 European powers met in Germany to finally divide ‘this magnificent African cake’, precipitating what is sometimes called ‘the scramble for Africa’ but is more accurately described as ‘the scramble to finally control and exploit Africa and Africans completely’.

Colonization

One outcome of the Berlin Conference was that the great perpetrator of genocide – King Leopold II of Belgium – with the active and critical support of the United States, seized violent control of a vast swathe of central Africa in the Congo Basin and turned it into a Belgian colony. In Leopold’s rapacious pursuit of rubber, gold, diamonds, mahogany and ivory, 10 million African men, women and children had been slaughtered and many Africans mutilated (by limb amputation, for example) by the time he died in 1909. His brutality and savagery have been documented by Adam Hochschild in the book King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa which reveals the magnitude of human suffering that this one man, unopposed in any significant way by his fellow Belgians or anyone else, was responsible for inflicting on Africa.

If you want to spend a few moments in touch with the horror of what some human beings do to other human beings, then I invite you to look at the sample photos of what Leopold did in ‘his’ colony in the Congo. See A Nightmare In Heaven – Why Nobody Is Talking About The Holocaust in Congo.

Now if you were hoping that the situation in the Congo improved with the death of the monster Leopold, your hope is in vain.

The shocking reality is that the unmitigated horror inflicted on the Congolese people has barely improved since Leopold’s time. The Congo remained under Belgian control during World War I during which more than 300,000 Congolese were forced to fight against other Africans from the neighboring German colony of Ruanda-Urundi. During World War II when Nazi Germany captured Belgium, the Congo financed the Belgian government in exile.

Throughout these decades, the Belgian government forced millions of Congolese into mines and fields using a system of ‘mandatory cultivation’ that forced people to grow cash crops for export, even as they starved on their own land.

It was also during the colonial period that the United States acquired a strategic stake in the enormous natural wealth of the Congo without, of course, any benefit to the Congolese people. This included its use of uranium from a Congolese mine (subsequently closed in 1960) to manufacture the first nuclear weapons: those used to destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Independence then Dictatorship

By 1960, the Congolese people had risen up to overthrow nearly a century of slavery and Belgian rule. Patrice Lumumba became the first Prime Minister of the new nation and he quickly set about breaking the yoke of Belgian influence and allied the Congo with Russia at the height of the Cold War.

But the victory of the Congolese people over their European and US overlords was shortlived: Patrice Lumumba was assassinated in a United States-sponsored coup in 1961 with the US and other western imperial powers (and a compliant United Nations) repeating a long-standing and ongoing historical pattern of preventing an incredibly wealthy country from determining its own future and using its resources for the benefit of its own people.

So, following a well-worn modus operandi, an agent in the form of (Army Chief of Staff, Colonel) Mobutu Sese Seko was used to overthrow Lumumba’s government. Lumumba himself was captured and tortured for three weeks before being assassinated by firing squad. The new dictator Mobutu, compliant to western interests, then waged all-out war in the country, publicly executing members of the pro-Lumumba revolution in spectacles witnessed by tens of thousands of people. By 1970 nearly all potential threats to his authority had been smashed.

Mobutu would rape the Congo (renamed Zaire for some time) with the blessing of the west  – robbing the nation of around $2billion – from 1965 to 1997. During this period, the Congo got more than $1.5 billion in US economic and military aid in return for which US multinational corporations increased their share of the Congo’s abundant minerals.  Washington justified its hold on the Congo with the pretext of anti-Communism but its real interests were strategic and economic.

Invasion

Eventually, however, Mobutu’s increasingly hostile rhetoric toward his white overlords caused the west to seek another proxy. So, ostensibly in retaliation against Hutu rebels from the Rwandan genocide of 1994 – who fled into eastern Congo after Paul Kagame’s (Tutsi) Rwanda Patriotic Army invaded Rwanda from Uganda to end the genocide – in October 1996 Rwanda’s now-dictator Kagame, ‘who was trained in intelligence at Fort Leavenworth in the United States, invaded the Congo with the help of the Clinton Administration and Uganda. By May 1997 the invading forces had removed Mobutu and installed the new (more compliant) choice for dictator, Laurent Kabila.

Relations between Kabila and Kagame quickly soured, however, and Kabila expelled the Rwandans and Ugandans from the Congo in July 1998. However, the Rwandans and Ugandans reinvaded in August establishing an occupation force in eastern Congo. Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia sent their armies to support Kabila and Burundi joined the Rwandans and Ugandans. Thus began ‘Africa’s First World War‘ involving seven armies and lasting until 2003. It eventually killed six million people – most of them civilians – and further devastated a country crushed by more than a century of Western domination, with Rwanda and Uganda establishing themselves as conduits for illegally taking strategic minerals out of the Congo.

During the periods under Mobutu and Kabila, the Congo became the concentration camp capital of the world and the rape capital as well. ‘No woman in the path of the violence was spared. 7 year olds were raped by government troops in public. Pregnant women were disemboweled. Genital mutilation was commonplace, as was forced incest and cannibalism. The crimes were never punished, and never will be.’

Laurent Kabila maintained the status quo until he was killed by his bodyguard in 2001. Since then, his son and the current dictator Joseph Kabila has held power in violation of the Constitution. ‘He has murdered protesters and opposition party members, and has continued to obey the will of the west while his people endure unspeakable hells.’

Corporate and State Exploitation

While countries such as Belgium, Canada, China, France, Germany, the Netherlands, South Korea, Switzerland and the UK are heavily involved one way or another (with other countries, such as Australia, somewhat less so), US corporations make a vast range of hitech products including microchips, cell phones and semiconductors using conflict minerals taken from the Congo . This makes companies like Intel, Apple, HP, and IBM culpable for funding the militias that control the mines.

But many companies are benefitting. For example,a 2002 report by the United Nations listed a ‘sample’ of 34 companies based in Europe and Asia that are importing minerals from the Congo via, in this case, Rwanda. The UN Report commented: ‘Illegal exploitation of the mineral and forest resources of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is taking place at an alarming rate. Two phases can be distinguished: mass-scale looting and the systematic and systemic exploitation of resources’. The mass-scale looting occurred during the initial phase of the invasion of the Congo by Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi when stockpiles of minerals, coffee, wood, livestock and money in the conquered territory were either taken to the invading countries or exported to international markets by their military forces or nationals. The subsequent systematic and systemic exploitation required planning and organization involving key military commanders, businessmen and government structures; it was clearly illegal.

For some insight into other issues making exploitation of the Congo possible but which are usually paid less attention – such as the roles of mercenaries, weapons dealers, US military training of particular rebel groups and the secret airline flights among key locations in the smuggling operations of conflict minerals – see the research of Keith Harmon Snow and David Barouski.

Has there been any official attempt to rein in this corporate exploitation?

A little. For example, the Obama-era US Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Act of 2010 shone a spotlight on supply chains, pressuring companies to determine the origin of minerals used in their products and invest in removing conflict minerals from their supply chain. This resulted in some US corporations, conscious of the public relations implications of being linked to murderous warlords and child labor, complying with the Act. So, a small step in the right direction it seemed.

In 2011, given that legally-binding human rights provisions, if applied, should have offered adequate protections already, the United Nations rather powerlessly formulated the non-bindingGuiding Principles on Business and Human Rights‘.

And in 2015, the European Union also made a half-hearted attempt when it decided that smelters and refiners based in the 28-nation bloc be asked to certify that their imports were conflict-free on a voluntary basis!

However, following the election of Donald Trump as US President, in April 2017 ‘the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission suspended key provisions of its “conflict minerals” rule’. Trump is also seeking to undo the Obama-era financial regulations, once again opening the door to the unimpeded trade in blood minerals by US corporations.

Today

Despite its corrupt exploitation for more than 500 years, the Congo still has vast natural resources (including rainforests) and mineral wealth. Its untapped deposits of minerals are estimated to be worth in excess of $US24 trillion. Yes, that’s right: $US24trillion. With a host of rare strategic minerals – including cobalt, coltan, gold and diamonds – as well as copper, zinc, tin and tungsten critical to the manufacture of hi-tech electronic products ranging from aircraft and vehicles to computers and mobile phones, violent and morally destitute western governments and corporations are not about to let the Congo decide its own future and devote its resources to the people of this African country. This, of course, despite the international community paying lip service to a plethora of ‘human rights’ treaties.

Hence, violent conflict, including ongoing war, over the exploitation of these resources, including the smuggling of ‘conflict minerals’ – such as gold, coltan and cassiterite (the latter two ores of tantalum and tin, respectively), and diamonds – will ensure that the people of the Congo continue to be denied what many of those in western countries take for granted: the right to life benefiting from the exploitation of ‘their’ natural resources.

In essence then, since 1885 European and US governments, together with their corporations and African collaborators, have inflicted phenomenal ongoing atrocities on the peoples of the Congo as they exploit the vast resources of the country for the benefit of non-Congolese people.

But, you might wonder, European colonizers inflicted phenomenal violence on the indigenous peoples in all of their colonies – whether in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, the Caribbean or Oceania – so is their legacy in the Congo any worse?

Well, according to the The Pan-African Alliance, just since colonization in 1885, at least 25 million Congolese men, women and children have been slaughtered by white slave traders, missionaries, colonists, corporations and governments (both the governments of foreign-installed Congolese dictators and imperial powers). ‘Yet barely a mention is made of the holocaust that rages in the heart of Africa.’ Why? Because the economy of the entire world rests on the back of the Congo.

So what is happening now?

In a sentence: The latest manifestation of the violence and exploitation that has been happening since 1482 when that Portuguese explorer ‘discovered’ the mouth of the Congo River. The latest generation of European and American genocidal exploiters, and their latter-day cronies, is busy stealing what they can from the Congo. Of course, as illustrated above, having installed the ruthless dictator of their choosing to ensure that foreign interests are protected, the weapon of choice is the corporation and non-existent legal or other effective controls in the era of ‘free trade’.

The provinces of North and South Kivu in the eastern Congo are filled with mines of cassiterite, wolframite, coltan and gold. Much mining is done by locals eking out a living using Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining (ASM); that is, mining by hand, sometimes with rudimentary tools. Some of these miners sell their product via local agents to Congolese military commanders who smuggle it out of the country, usually via Rwanda, Uganda or Burundi, and use the proceeds to enrich themselves.

Another report on South Kivu by Global Witness in 2016 documented evidence of the corrupt links between government authorities, foreign corporations (in this case, Kun Hou Mining of China) and the military, which results in the gold dredged from the Ulindi River in South Kivu being illegally smuggled out of the country, with much of it ending up with Alfa Gold Corp in Dubai. The unconcealed nature of this corruption and the obvious lack of enforcement of weak Congolese law is a powerful disincentive for corporations to engage in ‘due diligence’ when conducting their own mining operations in the Congo.

In contrast, in the south of the Congo in the former province of Katanga, Amnesty International and Afrewatch researchers tracked sacks of cobalt ore that had been mined by artisanal miners in Kolwezi to the local market where the mineral ore is sold. From this point, the material was smelted by one of the large companies in Kolwezi, such as Congo Dongfang Mining International SARL (CDM), which is a smelter and fully-owned subsidiary of Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt Company Ltd (Huayou Cobalt) in China, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of cobalt products. Once smelted, the material is typically exported from the Congo to China via a port in South Africa.

In its 2009 report ‘“Faced with a gun, what can you do?” War and the Militarisation of Mining in Eastern Congo’ examining the link between foreign corporate activity in the Congo and the military violence, Global Witness raised questions about the involvement of nearly 240 companies spanning the mineral, metal and technology industries. It specifically identified four main European companies as open buyers in this illegal trade: Thailand Smelting and Refining Corp. (owned by British Amalgamated Metal Corp.), British Afrimex, Belgian Trademet and Traxys. It also questioned the role of other companies further down the manufacturing chain, including prominent electronics companies Hewlett-Packard, Nokia, Dell and Motorola (a list to which Microsoft and Samsung should have been added as well). Even though they may be acting ‘legally’, Global Witness criticized their lack of due diligence and transparency standards at every level of their supply chain.

Of course, as you no doubt expect, some of the world’s largest corporate miners are in the Congo. These include Glencore (Switzerland) and Freeport-McMoRan (USA). But there are another 20 or more mining corporations in the Congo too, including Mawson West Limited (Australia), Forrest Group International (Belgium),  Anvil Mining (Canada), Randgold Resources (UK) and AngloGold Ashanti (South Africa).

Needless to say, despite beautifully worded ‘corporate responsibility statements’ by whatever name, the record rarely goes even remotely close to resembling the rhetoric. Take Glencore’s lovely statement on ‘safety’ in the Congo: ‘Ask Glencore: Democratic Republic of the Congo’. Unfortunately, this didn’t prevent the 2016 accident at a Congolese mine that one newspaper reported in the following terms: ‘Glencore’s efforts to reduce fatalities among its staff have suffered a setback with the announcement that the death toll from an accident at a Congolese mine has risen to seven.’

Or consider the Belgian Forrest Group International’s wonderful ‘Community Services’  program, supposedly developing projects ‘in the areas of education, health, early childhood care, culture, sport, infrastructure and the environment. The Forrest Group has been investing on the African continent since 1922. Its longevity is the fruit of a vision of the role a company should have, namely the duty to be a positive player in the society in which it operates. The investments of the Group share a common core of values which include, as a priority, objectives of stability and long-term prospects.’

Regrettably, the Forrest Group website and public relations documents make no mention of the company’s illegal demolition, without notice, of hundreds of homes of people who lived in the long-standing village of Kawama, inconveniently close to the Forrest Group’s Luiswishi Mine, on 24 and 25 November 2009. People were left homeless and many lost their livelihoods as a direct consequence. Of course, the demolitions constitute forced evictions, which are illegal under international human rights law.

Fortunately, given the obvious oversight of the Forrest Group in failing to mention it, the demolitions have been thoroughly documented by Amnesty International in its report ‘Bulldozed – How a Mining Company Buried the Truth about Forced Evictions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’  and the satellite photographs acquired by the American Academy for the Advancement of Science have been published as well.

Needless to say, it is difficult for Congolese villagers to feel they have any ‘stability and long-term prospects’, as the Forrest Group’s ‘Community Services’ statement puts it, when their homes and livelihoods have been destroyed. Are company chairman George A. Forrest and its CEO Malta David Forrest and their family delusional? Or just so familiar with being violently ruthless in their exploitation of the Congo and its people, that it doesn’t even occur to them that there might be less violent ways of resolving any local conflicts?

Tragically, of course, fatal industrial accidents and housing demolition are only two of the many abuses inflicted on mining labourers, including (illegal) child labourers, and families in the Congo where workers are not even provided with the most basic ‘safety equipment’ – work clothes, helmets, gloves, boots and face masks – let alone a safe working environment (including guidance on the safe handling of toxic substances) or a fair wage, reasonable working hours, holidays, sick leave or superannuation.

Even where laws exist, such as the Congo’s Child Protection Code (2009) which provides for ‘free and compulsory primary education for all children’, laws are often simply ignored (without legal consequence). Although, it should also be noted, in the Congo there is no such thing as ‘free education’ despite the law. Consequently, plenty of children do not attend school and work full time, others attend school but work out of school hours. There is no effective system to remove children from child labour (which is well documented). Even for adults, there is no effective labour inspection system. Most artisanal mining takes places in unauthorized mining areas where the government is doing next to nothing to regulate the safety and labour conditions in which the miners work.

In addition, as noted above, given its need for minerals to manufacture the hi-tech products it makes, including those for western corporations, China is deeply engaged in mining strategic minerals in the Congo too.

Based on the Chinese notion of ‘respect’ – which includes the ‘principle’ of noninterference in each other’s internal affairs – the Chinese dictatorship is content to ignore the dictatorship of the Congo and its many corrupt and violent practices, even if its investment often has more beneficial outcomes for ordinary Congolese than does western ‘investment’. Moreover, China is not going to disrupt and destabilize the Congo in the way that the United States and European countries have done for so long.

Having noted the above, however, there is plenty of evidence of corrupt Chinese business practice in the extraction and sale of strategic minerals in the Congo, including that documented in the above-mentioned Global Witness report.

Moreover, Chinese involvement is not limited to its direct engagement in mining such as gold dredging of the Ulindi River. A vital source of the mineral cobalt is that which is mined by artisanal miners. As part of a recent detailed investigation, Amnesty International had researchers follow cobalt mined by artisanal miners from where it was mined to a market at Musompo, where minerals are traded. The report summarised what happens:

Independent traders at Musompo – most of them Chinese – buy the ore, regardless of where it has come from or how it has been mined. In turn, these traders sell the ore on to larger companies in the DRC which process and export it. One of the largest companies at the centre of this trade is Congo Dongfang Mining International (CDM). CDM is a 100% owned subsidiary of China-based Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt Company Ltd (Huayou Cobalt), one of the world’s largest manufacturers of cobalt products. Operating in the DRC since 2006, CDM buys cobalt from traders, who buy directly from the miners. CDM then smelts the ore at its plant in the DRC before exporting it to China. There, Huayou Cobalt further smelts and sells the processed cobalt to battery component manufacturers in China and South Korea. In turn, these companies sell to battery manufacturers, which then sell on to well-known consumer brands.

Using public records, including investor documents and statements published on company websites, researchers identified battery component manufacturers who were listed as sourcing processed ore from Huayou Cobalt. They then went on to trace companies who were listed as customers of the battery component manufacturers, in order to establish how the cobalt ends up in consumer products. In seeking to understand how this international supply chain works, as well as to ask questions about each company’s due diligence policy, Amnesty International wrote to Huayou Cobalt and 25 other companies in China, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, UK, and the USA. These companies include some of the world’s largest and best known consumer electronics companies, including Apple Inc., Dell, HP Inc. (formerly Hewlett-Packard Company), Huawei, Lenovo (Motorola), LG, Microsoft Corporation, Samsung, Sony and Vodafone, as well as vehicle manufacturers like Daimler AG, Volkswagen and Chinese firm BYD. Their replies are detailed in the report’s Annex.

As backdrop to the problems mentioned above, it is worth pointing out that keeping the country under military siege is useful to many parties, internal and foreign. Over the past 20 years of violent conflict, control of these valuable mineral resources has been a lucrative way for warring parties to finance their violence – that is, buying the products of western weapons corporations – and to promote the chaotic circumstances that make minimal accountability and maximum profit easiest. The Global Witness report ‘Faced with a gun, what can you do?’ cited above followed the supply chain of these minerals from warring parties to middlemen to international buyers: people happy to profit from the sale of ‘blood minerals’ to corporations which, in turn, are happy to buy them cheaply to manufacture their highly profitable hi-tech products.

Moreover, according to the Global Witness report, although the Congolese army and rebel groups – such as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a rebel force opposed to the Rwandan government that has taken refuge in the Congo since the 1994 Rwanda genocide – have been warring on opposite sides for years. They are collaborators in the mining effort, at times providing each other with road and airport access and even sharing their spoils. Researchers say they found evidence that the mineral trade is much more extensive and profitable than previously suspected: one Congolese government official reported that at least 90% of all gold exports from the country were undeclared. And the report charges that the failure of foreign governments to crack down on illicit mining and trade has undercut development endeavors supposedly undertaken by the international community in the war-torn region.

Social and Environmental Costs

Of course, against this background of preoccupation with the militarized exploitation of mineral resources for vast profit, ordinary Congolese people suffer extraordinary ongoing violence. Apart from the abuses mentioned above, four women are raped every five minutes in the Congo, according to a study done in May 2011. ‘These nationwide estimates of the incidence of rape are 26 times higher than the 15,000 conflict-related cases confirmed by the United Nations for the DRC in 2010’. Despite the country having the highest number of UN peacekeeping forces in the world – where the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) has operated since the turn of the century – the level of sexual violence soldiers have perpetrated against women is staggering. Currently, there is still much violence in the region, as well as an overwhelming amount of highly strategic mass rape.

Unsurprisingly, given the international community’s complete indifference, despite rhetoric to the contrary, to the plight of Congolese people, it is not just Congolese soldiers who are responsible for the rapes. UN ‘peacekeepers’ are perpetrators too.

And the Congo is a violently dangerous place for children as well with, for example, Child Soldiers International reporting that with a variety of national and foreign armed groups and forces operating in the country for over 20 years, the majority of fighting forces have recruited and used children, and most still exploit boys and girls today with girls forced to become girl soldiers but to perform a variety of other sexual and ‘domestic’ roles too. Of course, child labour is completely out of control with many impoverished families utterly dependent on it for survival.

In addition, many Congolese also end up as refugees in neighbouring countries or as internally displaced people in their own country.

As you would expect, it is not just human beings who suffer. With rebel soldiers (such as the Rwanda-backed M23), miners and poachers endlessly plundering inadequately protected national parks and other wild places for their resources, illegal mining is rampant, over-fishing a chronic problem, illegal logging (and other destruction such as charcoal burning for cooking) of rain forests is completely out of control in some places, poaching of hippopotamuses, elephants, chimpanzees and okapi for ivory and bushmeat is unrelenting (often despite laws against hunting with guns), and wildlife trafficking of iconic species (including the increasingly rare mountain gorilla) simply beyond the concern of most people.

The Congolese natural environment – including the UNESCO World Heritage sites at Virunga National Park and the Okapi Wildlife Reserve, together with their park rangers – and the indigenous peoples such as the Mbuti (‘pygmies’) who live in them, are under siege. In addition to the ongoing mining, smaller corporations that can’t compete with the majors, such as Soco, want to explore and drill for oil. For a taste of the reading on all this, see ‘Virunga National Park Ranger Killed in DRC Ambush‘, ‘The struggle to save the “Congolese unicorn“‘, ‘Meet the First Female Rangers to Guard One of World’s Deadliest Parks‘ and ‘The Battle for Africa’s Oldest National Park‘.

If you would like to watch a video about some of what is happening in the Congo, either of these videos will give you an unpleasant taste: ‘Crisis In The Congo: Uncovering The Truth‘ and ‘Conflict Minerals, Rebels and Child Soldiers in Congo‘.

Resisting the Violence

So what is happening to resist this violence and exploitation? Despite the horror, as always, some incredible people are working to end it.

Some Congolese activists resist the military dictatorship of Joseph Kabila, despite the enormous risks of doing so.

Some visionary Congolese continue devoting their efforts, in phenomenally difficult circumstances including lack of funding, to building a society where ordinary Congolese people have the chance to create a meaningful life for themselves. Two individuals and organizations who particularly inspire me are based in Goma in eastern Congo where the fighting is worst.

The Association de Jeunes Visionnaires pour le Développement du Congo, headed by Leon Simweragi, is a youth peace group that works to rehabilitate child soldiers as well as offer meaningful opportunities for the sustainable involvement of young people in matters that affect their lives and those of their community.

And Christophe Nyambatsi Mutaka is the key figure at the Groupe Martin Luther King that promotes active nonviolence, human rights and peace. Christophe’s group particularly works on reducing sexual and other violence against women.

There are also solidarity groups, based in the West, that work to draw attention to the nightmare happening in the Congo. These include Friends of the Congo that works to inform people and agitate for change and groups like Child Soldiers International mentioned above.

If you would like to better understand the depravity of those individuals in the Congo (starting with the dictator Joseph Kabila but including all those officials, bureaucrats and soldiers) who enable, participate in or ignore the violence and exploitation; the presidents and prime ministers of western governments who ignore exploitation, by their locally-based corporations, of the Congo; the heads of multinational corporations that exploit the Congo – such as Anthony Hayward (Chair of Glencore), Richard Adkerson (CEO of Freeport-McMoRan), George A. Forrest and Malta David Forrest (Chair and CEO respectively of Forrest Group International), Christopher L Coleman (Chair of Randgold Resources) and Srinivasan Venkatakrishnan (CEO of AngloGold Ashanti) – as well as those individuals in international organizations such as the UN (starting with Secretary-General António Guterres) and the EU (headed by Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission), who ignore, provoke, support and/or profit from this violence and exploitation, you will find the document ‘Why Violence?‘ and the website ‘Feelings First‘ instructive.

Whether passively or actively complicit, each of these depraved individuals (along with other individuals within the global elite) does little or nothing to draw attention to, let alone work to profoundly change, the situation in the Congo which denies most Congolese the right to a meaningful life in any enlightened sense of these words.

If you would like to help, you can do so by supporting the efforts of the individual activists and solidarity organizations indicated above or those like them.

You might also like to sign the online pledge of ‘The People’s Charter to Create a Nonviolent World‘ which references the Congo among many other examples of violence around the world.

And if you would like to support efforts to remove the dictatorship of Joseph Kabila and/or get corrupt foreign governments, corporations and organizations out of the Congo, you can do so by planning and implementing or supporting a nonviolent strategy that is designed to achieve one or more of these objectives.

If you are still reading this article and you feel the way I do about this ongoing atrocity, then I invite you to participate, one way or another, in ending it.

For more than 500 years, the Congo has been brutalized by the extraordinary violence inflicted by those who have treated the country as a resource – for slaves, rubber, timber, wildlife and minerals – to be exploited.

This will only end when enough of us commit ourselves to acting on the basis that 500 years is long enough. Liberate the Congo!

Western Media Attacks Critics of the White Helmets

Introduction

The October 16 issue of NY Review of Books has an article by Janine di Giovani titled “Why Assad and Russia Target the White Helmets“. The article exemplifies how western media promotes the White Helmets uncritically and attacks those who challenge the myth.

Crude and Disingenuous Attack

Giovani’s article attacks several journalists by name. She singles out Vanessa Beeley and echoes the Guardian’s characterization of Beeley as the “high priestess of Syria propaganda”. She does this without challenging a single article or claim by the journalist. She might have acknowledged that Vanessa Beeley has some familiarity with the Middle East; she is the daughter of one of the foremost British Arabists and diplomats including British Ambassador to Egypt. Giovanni might have explored Beeley’s research in Syria that revealed the White Helmets founder (British military contractor James LeMesurier) assigned the name Syria Civil Defence despite the fact there is a real Syrian organization by that name that has existed since the 1950’s. For the past several years, Beeley has done many on-the-ground reports and investigations in Syria. None of these are challenged by Giovanni. Just days ago Beeley published a report on her visit to the White Helmets headquarters in Deraa.

Giovanni similarly dismisses another alternative journalist, Eva Bartlett. Again, Giovanni ignores the fact that Bartlett has substantial Middle East experience including having lived in Gaza for years. Instead of objectively evaluating the journalistic work of these independent journalists, Giovanni smears their work as “disinformation”. Presumably that is because their work is published at alternative sites such as 21st Century Wire and Russian media such as RT and Sputnik. Beeley and Bartlett surely would have been happy to have their reports published at the New York Review of Books, Newsweek or other mainstream outlets. But it’s evident that such reporting is not welcome there. Even Seymour Hersh had to go abroad to have his investigations on Syria published.

The New McCarthyism

Max Blumenthal is another journalist singled out by Giovanni. Blumenthal is the author of three books, including a New York Times bestseller and the highly acclaimed “Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel”. Giovanni describes his transition from “anti-Assad” to “pro-Assad” and suggests his change of perspective was due to Russian influence. She says, “Blumenthal went to Moscow on a junket to celebrate RT’s tenth anniversary. We don’t know what happened during that visit, but afterwards, Blumenthal’s views completely flipped.” Instead of examining the facts presented by Blumenthal in articles such as “Inside the Shadowy PR Firm that’s Lobyying for Regime Change in Syria“, Giovanni engages in fact-free McCarthyism. Blumenthal explained the transition in his thinking in a public interview. He also described the threats he experienced when he started to criticize the White Helmets and their public relations firm, but this is ignored by Giovanni.

Contrary to Giovanni’s assumptions, some western journalists and activists were exposing the White Helmets long before the story was publicized on Russian media. In spring 2015 the basic facts about the White Helmets including their origins, funding and role in the information war on Syria were exposed in my article “Seven Steps of Highly Effective Manipulators“. The article showed how the White Helmets were a key component in a campaign pushing for a “No Fly Zone” in Syria. It confirmed that the White Helmets is a political lobby force.

In spring 2016, Vanessa Beeley launched a petition “Do NOT give the Nobel Peace Prize to the White Helmets“. That petition garnered more support than a contrary petition urging the Nobel Prize committee to give the award to the White Helmets. Perhaps because of that, the petition was abruptly removed without explanation from the Change.org website. It was only at this time, with publicity around the heavily promoted nomination of the White Helmets for a Nobel Peace Prize that RT and other Russian media started to publicize and expose the White Helmets. That is one-and-a-half years after they were first exposed in western alternative media.

White Helmets and Chemical Weapons Accusations 

Giovanni ignores the investigations and conclusions of some of the most esteemed American journalists regarding the White Helmets and chemical weapons incidents in Syria.

The late Robert Parry published many articles exposing the White Helmets, for example “The White Helmets Controversy” and “Syria War Propaganda at the Oscars“. Parry wrote and published numerous investigations of the August 2013 chemical weapons attack and concluded the attacks were carried out by an opposition faction with the goal of pressuring the US to intervene militarily. Parry also challenged western conclusions regarding incidents such as April 4, 2017 at Khan Shaykhun. Giovanni breathlessly opens her article with this story while Parry revealed the impossibility of it being as described.

Buried deep inside a new U.N. report is evidence that could exonerate the Syrian government in the April 4 sarin atrocity and make President Trump look like an Al Qaeda dupe.

Legendary American journalist, Seymour Hersh, researched and refuted the assumptions of Giovanni and the media establishment regarding the August 2013 chemical weapons attacks near Damascus. Hersh’s investigation, titled “The Red Line and Rat Line“, provided evidence the atrocity was carried out by an armed opposition group with active support from Turkey. A Turkish member of parliament provided additional evidence. The fact that Hersh had to go across the Atlantic to have his investigation published suggests American not Russian disinformation and censorship.

In addition to ignoring the findings of widely esteemed journalists with proven track records, Giovanni plays loose with the truth. In her article she implies that a UN investigation blamed the Syrian government for the August 2013 attack. On the contrary, the head of the UN investigation team, Ake Sellstrom, said they did not determine who was responsible.

We do not have the evidence to say who did what ….The conflict in Syria is surrounded by a lot of rumors and a lot of propaganda, particularly when comes to the sensitive issue of chemical weapons.

First Responders or Western Funded Propagandists?

Giovanni says, “But the White Helmets’ financial backing is not the real reason why the pro-Assad camp is so bent on defaming them. Since 2015, the year the Russians began fighting in Syria, the White Helmets have been filming attacks on opposition-held areas with GoPro cameras affixed to their helmets.”

In reality, the ‘White Helmets” have a sophisticated media production and distribution operation. They have much more than GoPro cameras. In many of their movie segments one can see numerous people with video and still cameras. Sometimes the same incident will be shown with one segment with an Al Qaeda logo blending into the same scene with a White Helmets logo.

Giovanni claims “The Assad regime and the Russians are trying to neutralize the White Helmets because they are potential witnesses to war crimes.” However, the claims of White Helmet “witnesses” have little credibility. The White Helmet “volunteers” are paid three times as much as Syrian soldiers. They are trained, supplied and promoted by the same western states which have sought to regime change in Syria since 2011. An example of misleading and false claims by a White Helmets leader is exposed in Gareth Porter’s investigation titled “How a Syrian White Helmets Leader Played Western Media” . His conclusion could be directed to Giovanni and the NYReview of Books:

The uncritical reliance on claims by the White Helmets without any effort to investigate their credibility is yet another telling example of journalistic malpractice by media outlets with a long record of skewing coverage of conflicts toward an interventionist narrative.

When the militants (mostly Nusra/al Qaeda) were expelled from East Aleppo, civilians reported that the White Helmets were mostly concerned with saving their own and performing publicity stunts. For example, the photo of the little boy in east Aleppo looking dazed and confused in the back of a brand new White Helmet ambulance was essentially a White Helmet media stunt eagerly promoted in the West. It was later revealed the boy was not injured, he was grabbed without his parent’s consent. Eva Bartlett interviewed and photographed the father and family for her story “Mintpress Meets the Father of Iconic Aleppo Boy and says Media Lied About his Son“.

A Brilliant Marketing Success

The media and political impact of the White Helmets shows what money and marketing can do. An organization that was founded by a military contractor with funding from western governments was awarded the Rights Livelihood Award. The organization was seriously considered to receive the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize just three years after its formation.

The Netflix infomercial “The White Helmets” is an example of the propaganda. The scripted propaganda piece, where the producers did not set foot in Syria, won the Oscar award for best short documentary. It’s clear that lots of money and professional marketing can fool a lot of people. At $30 million per year, the White Helmets budget for one year is more than a decade of funding for the real Syrian Civil Defence which covers all of Syria not just pockets controlled by armed insurgents.

Unsurprisingly, it has been announced that White Helmets will receive the 2019 “Elie Wiesel” award from the heavily politicized and pro-Israel Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. This, plus the recent “rescue” of White Helmets by the Israeli government, is more proof of the true colors of the White Helmets. Vanessa Beeley’s recent interview with a White Helmet leader in Deraa revealed that ISIS and Nusra terrorists were part of the group “rescued” through Israel.

The Collapsing White Helmets Fraud

Giovanni is outraged that some journalists have successfully challenged and put a big dent in the White Helmets aura. She complains, “The damage the bloggers do is immense.”

Giovanni and western propagandists are upset because the myth is deflating. Increasing numbers of people – from a famous rock musician to a former UK Ambassador – see and acknowledge the reality.

As described in Blumenthal’s article, “How the White Helmets Tried to Recruit Roger Waters with Saudi Money“, rock legend Roger Waters says:

If we were to listen to the propaganda of the White Helmets and others, we would encourage our governments to start dropping bombs on people in Syria. This would be a mistake of monumental proportions…

Peter Ford, the former UK Ambassador to Syria, sums it up like this:

The White Helmets are jihadi auxiliaries… They are not, as claimed by themselves and by their supporters… simple rescuers. They are not volunteers. They are paid professionals of disinformation.

Giovanni claims her article is a “forensic take down of the Russian disinformation campaign to distort the truth in Syria.” In reality, Giovanni’s article is an example of western disinformation using subjective attacks on critics and evidence-free assertions aligned with the regime change goals of the West.

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.