Category Archives: United States

Glossip v. Gross: the Eighth Amendment and the Torture Court of the United States

On June 29, 2015 the United States Supreme Court argued in Glossip v. Gross that executions may continue with the use of lethal drug cocktails including the use of midazolam, an extremely painful drug, which in effect, burns to death the condemned by scorching internal organs. The use of midazolam, according to the Court, does not constitute “cruel and unusual punishment” under the Eighth Amendment. The Court found that condemned prisoners can only challenge their method of execution after providing a known and available alternative method.

In dissenting views justices opened the legal door for future challenges to the death penalty. In a meticulously crafted dissent Justice Stephen G. Breyer joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg initiated a timely counterargument to capital punishment. This was joined by Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor in diverging dissents of their own. The dissents were significant in that they outline the legal framework for the abolition of the death penalty based on the Eighth Amendment. Nevertheless, Sotomayor and Kagan argued in separate opinions that the use of lethal chemicals in executions was intolerably painful.

In turn this begged the question, for many, as to whether or not executions could ever be legitimized since executions must necessarily involve physical or mental pain. In all democratic societies, intentionally inflicting pain on another human being is torture.

This article addresses the Court’s concerns, expressed in Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion, that protests against Glossip’s anticipated execution was a “guerilla war” against the death penalty and that inflicting physical or mental pain intentionally on a human being is an acceptable component of execution and consistent with the U.S. Constitution.

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In Gregg v. Gerogia (1976) the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in a 7-2 decision that capital punishment did not violate the Eighth Amendment. This, in effect, reversed Furman v. Georgia (1972) which placed a moratorium on capital punishment in the United States. Robert Bork argued the case for the United States, that capital punishment and judicious use of the death penalty may be appropriate if carefully used. The Supreme Court argued that the Court was not prepared to overrule the Georgia legislature who has by law defined capital punishment an effective tool in the deterrence of future capital crimes and as an appropriate means of social retribution (retributive justice) against the most serious offenders

On April 29, 2015, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Glossip v. Gross, a case which challenged the use of the anti-anxiety drug midazolam in lethal injection executions. Petitioners argued in their brief to the Court that there is “undisputed evidence . . . that midazolam cannot reliably ensure the ‘deep, coma-like unconsciousness’ required where a State intends to cause death with painful drugs” (Brief for Petitioner at p. 29). Use of this drug to carry out executions by lethal injection does not comport with the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual suffering. In the last year alone, midazolam was used in several botched executions. Then on June 29, 2015, in a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Glossip v. Gross, ruling that the anti-anxiety medication midazolam is constitutional for use as the first drug in a three-drug lethal injection formula. The case was brought by death row prisoners in Oklahoma, who argued that the state’s use of midazolam in this manner creates an “objectively intolerable risk of harm.”

The Glossip ruling evidenced two Justices directly challenging the legal foundation of capital punishment based on the Eighth Amendment which prohibits “cruel and unusual punishment.” Indeed, states such as Nebraska have recently abolished the death penalty based on the Eighth Amendment, making it the nineteenth state to do so, and the seventh to abolish capital punishment since 2007. Nonetheless, a majority of justices on the Supreme Court at the time – John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito – still maintain the constitutionality of the death penalty, as argued in Glossip.

In Baze v. Rees (2008), the Supreme Court reviewed the three-drug protocol then used for lethal injection by at least thirty states, in which the first drug, an short-acting barbiturate, rendered the prisoner unconscious, and the second and third drugs, a paralytic and potassium chloride, paralyzed the prisoner and stopped the heart. The Court noted that the first drug, the barbiturate, causes a “deep, coma-like unconsciousness” and therefore “ensures that the prisoner does not experience any pain associated with the paralysis and cardiac arrest caused by the second and third drugs.” The Oklahoma drug protocol challenged in Glossip was also a three-drug protocol that uses a paralytic and potassium chloride as the second and third drugs, but it substitutes the benzodiazepine midazolam for the first drug, creating risk of “severe pain, needless suffering and a lingering death.”

As the Brief for Petitioner states:

In Baze, there was consensus that sodium thiopental, if properly administered, would produce deep coma-like unconsciousness. With midazolam, the opposite is true. Midazolam is not approved for use as the sole anesthetic for painful surgery. Clinical studies showed that midazolam does not reliably induce deep unconsciousness; when used in surgery, patients felt pain. The medical consensus is that midazolam cannot generate deep, coma-like unconsciousness. There is also no substantial practice among the states of using midazolam for lethal injections. Although sodium thiopental was widely used in lethal injections for years, only four states have used midazolam in an execution, and only two have tried to use it as anesthesia. On these undisputed facts, the use of midazolam to create deep coma-like unconsciousness presents an “objectively intolerable risk of harm” (Baze, 553 U.S.).

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Midazolam is not a barbiturate, but a benzodiazepine commonly used in pre-operative settings to alleviate anxiety. It is the shortest-acting drug in the same class of anti-anxiety drugs as Xanax, Atavan and Valium. All of the experts who testified in a three-day hearing in Oklahoma in December 2014, including the state’s expert, agree that midazolam has a ceiling effect, above which additional dosing has no additional effect, and no analgesic (pain-relieving) qualities (Joint Appendix to Brief for Petitioner, medical testimony from three-day hearing at pp. 199, 256, 274). The four states which have used midazolam in lethal injection executions are Arizona, Florida, Ohio and Oklahoma. Three executions that used midazolam triggered formal state investigations into why they did not go as planned (Brief for Petitioner at p. 31). In all of these botched executions, the prisoners initially appeared to lose consciousness, but then started moving and demonstrating signs of struggle and suffering.

Glossip v. Gross originated in federal court in Oklahoma as a response to the botched execution of Clayton Lockett on April 29, 2014. Charles Warner was originally one of the Petitioners, but the Court denied a stay of execution in his case, and he was executed using midazolam in a three-drug formula on January 15, 2015, just eight days before the Court accepted this case for review. On January 28, 2015, the Court stayed the executions of the three Petitioners, Richard Glossip, John Grant and Benjamin Cole, who are Oklahoma death row prisoners. In their Petition for Certiorari, Petitioners asked the Court to “provide urgently needed guidance” to prisoners and courts addressing new, experimental lethal injection protocols.

In her dissent from the denial of a stay for Charles Warner, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by three other justices, recognized that the district court relied on a “single purported expert” who testified from suspect sources and in a manner that contradicts empirical data. Justice Sotomayor explained, “In contending that midazolam will work as the State intends, Dr. Evans cited no studies, but instead appeared to rely primarily on the Web site www.drugs.com. Here, given the evidence before the District Court, I struggle to see how its decision to credit the testimony of a single purported expert can be supported given the substantial body of conflicting empirical and anecdotal evidence.”

Justice Breyer, who has served twenty years on the Supreme Court, never argued that the death penalty was unconstitutional. What both Breyer and Ginsburg argued was that new evidence over the past two decades had convinced them that the death penalty is costly, ineffective, and unreliable, not that it was necessarily inhumane. Their argument was based on cost-effectiveness, efficiency, and the real possibility of wrongful execution. More than one hundred death row inmates had their convictions or sentences dismissed in the last decade.

Nevertheless, in the majority opinion Justice Alito countered Sotomayor and Kagen’s view arguing that pain is simply part of what constitutes an execution. He states, “Because some risk of pain is inherent in any method of execution, we have held that the Constitution does not require the avoidance of all risk of pain. After all, while most humans wish to die a painless death, many do not have that good fortune. Holding that the Eighth Amendment demands the elimination of essentially all risk of pain would effectively outlaw the death penalty altogether.”1 Breyer, nevertheless argued, that the broader issue of wrongful convictions takes greater precedence since executing innocent people can never be remediated. Moreover, Breyer and Ginsburg argued that “increasingly lengthy delays” of several decades between convictions and executions undermined the deterrence argument that executions deter crimes.2

Prior to Glossip, Justices Breyer and Ginsburg, in essence, echoed the opinion of Justice Harry Blackmun who, in 1994, argued that the death penalty in the United States was unable to be impartial toward minorities, specifically African Americans. Likewise, in 2008, Justice John Paul Stevens concluded that the death penalty was arbitrary and unreliable as a deterrent and ineffective in terms of punishment. However, in Glossip, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagen, while not joining in Breyer and Ginsburg’s dissent, nevertheless wrote what could arguably be the strongest dissent. The two justices claimed that the majority on the court allowed a “method of execution that is intolerably painful – even to the point of being the chemical equivalent of burning alive.”

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Alito’s position is one in which the inflicting of pain on others, as torture, is a necessary component of execution. This is a plausible position to hold. However, in that Alito and the majority argue that torture does not contradict the U.S. Constitution and the Eighth Amendment is subject to serious question.

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As stated earlier, torture is the act of deliberately inflicting severe physical or psychological pain on a human being by another as a punishment or in order to fulfill some desire of the torturer or force some action from the victim. Torture, by definition, is a knowing and intentional act; deeds which unknowingly or negligently inflict suffering or pain, without a specific intent to do so, are not typically considered torture. But under U.S. law, ignorance of the law is no excuse.

Torture has been carried out or sanctioned by individuals, groups, and states throughout history from ancient times to modern day, and forms of torture can vary greatly in duration from only a few minutes to several days or longer. Reasons for torture can include punishment, revenge, political re-education, deterrence and even coercion.

Alternatively, some forms of torture are designed to inflict psychological pain or leave as little physical injury or evidence as possible while achieving the same psychological devastation. The torturer may or may not kill or injure the victim, but torture may result in a deliberate death and serves as a form of capital punishment. Depending on the aim, even a form of torture that is intentionally fatal may be prolonged to allow the victim to suffer as long as possible, such as half-hanging or even inadvertently seizing in pain from lethal injections.

In other cases, the torturer may be indifferent to the condition of the victim or simply take delight in the sadistic gratification of torture in whatever form.

This indifference best fits the Alito majority. On one hand, indifference may be its most compassionate form of torture, while on the other it very well could mean that sociopaths exist on the highest court in the land. And in Glossip the Eighth Amendment is once again desecrated and Alito’s majority decision exalts the deviant status of the Torture Court of the United States.

  1. Glossip v. Gross, June 29, 2015, No. 14-7955, SCOTUS, I, A, Majority Opinion, Justice Alito, Roberts, Thomas, Kennedy, Scalia, Oyez, ITT Chicago-Kent College of Law, Illinois Institute of Technology.
  2. Death Penalty Focus, Working for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, May 31, 2013.

The Moral Travesty of Israel Seeking Arab, Iranian Money for its Alleged Nakba

The game is afoot. Israel, believe it or not, is demanding that seven Arab countries and Iran pay $250 billion as compensation for what it claims was the forceful exodus of Jews from Arab countries during the late 1940s.

The events that Israel is citing allegedly occurred at a time when Zionist Jewish militias were actively uprooting nearly one million Palestinian Arabs and systematically destroying their homes, villages and towns throughout Palestine.

The Israeli announcement, which reportedly followed “18 months of secret research” conducted by the Israeli government’s Ministry of Social Equality, should not be filed under the ever-expanding folder of shameless Israeli misrepresentations of history.

It is part of a calculated effort by the Israeli government, and namely by Minister Gila Gamliel, to create a counter-narrative to the rightful demand for the ‘Right of Return’ for Palestinian refugees ethnically cleansed by Jewish militias between 1947-1948.

But there is a reason behind the Israeli urgency to reveal such questionable research: the relentless US-Israeli attempt in the last two years to dismiss the rights of Palestinian refugee rights, to question their numbers and to marginalize their grievances. It is all part and parcel of the ongoing plot disguised as the ‘Deal of the Century’, with the clear aim of removing from the table all major issues that are central to the Palestinian struggle for freedom.

“The time has come to correct the historic injustice of the pogroms (against Jews) in seven Arab countries and Iran, and to restore, to hundreds of thousands of Jews who lost their property, what is rightfully theirs,” said Gamliel.

The language – “.. to correct the historic injustice” – is no different from language used by Palestinians who have for 70 years and counting been demanding the restoration of their rights per United Nations Resolution 194.

The deliberate conflating between the Palestinian narrative and the Zionist narrative is aimed at creating parallels, with the hope that a future political agreement would resolve to having both grievances cancel each other out.

Contrary to what Israeli historians want us to believe, there was no mass exodus of Jews from Arab countries and Iran, but rather a massive campaign orchestrated by Zionist leaders at the time to replace the Palestine Arab population with Jewish immigrants from all over the world. The ways through which such a mission was achieved often involved violent Zionist plots – especially in Iraq.

In fact, the call on Jews to gather in Israel from all corners of the world remains the rally cry for Israeli leaders and their Christian Evangelical supporters – the former wants to ensure a Jewish majority in the state, while the latter is seeking to fulfill a biblical condition for their long-awaited Armageddon.

To hold Arabs and Iran responsible for this bizarre and irresponsible behavior is a transgression on the true history in which neither Gamliel nor her ministry are interested.

On the other hand, and unlike what Israeli military historians often claim, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1947- 48 (and the subsequent purges of the native population that followed in 1967) was a premeditated act of ethnic cleansing and genocide. It has been part of a long-drawn and carefully calculated campaign that, from the very start, served as the main strategy at the heart of the Zionist movement’s ‘vision’ for the Palestinian people.

“We must expel the Arabs and take their place,” wrote Israel’s founder, military leader and first prime minister, David Ben Gurion in a letter to his son, Amos in October 5, 1937. That was over a decade before Plan D – which saw the destruction of the Palestinian homeland at the hands of Ben Gurion’s militias – went into effect.

Palestine “contains vast colonization potential,” he also wrote, “which the Arabs neither need nor are qualified to exploit.”

This clear declaration of a colonial project in Palestine, communicated with the same kind of unmistakable racist insinuations and language that accompanied all western colonial experiences throughout the centuries was not unique to Ben Gurion. He was merely paraphrasing what was, by then, understood to be the crux of the Zionist enterprise in Palestine at the time.

As Palestinian professor Nur Masalha concluded in his book, the ‘Expulsion of the Palestinians’, the idea of the ‘transfer’ – the Zionist term for “ethnic cleansing’ of the Palestinian people – was, and remains, fundamental in the realization of Zionist ambitions in Palestine.

Palestinian Arab “villages inside the Jewish state that resist ‘should be destroyed .. and their inhabitants expelled beyond the borders of the Jewish state,” Masalha wrote quoting the ‘History of the Haganah’ by Yehuda Slutsky. .

What this meant in practice, as delineated by Palestinian historian, Walid Khalidi was the joint targeting by various Jewish militias to systematically attack all population centers in Palestine, without exception.

“By the end of April (1948), the combined Haganah-Irgun offensive had completely encircled (the Palestinian city of) Jaffa, forcing most of the remaining civilians to flee by sea to Gaza or Egypt; many drowned in the process, ” Khalidi wrote in Before Their Diaspora.

This tragedy has eventually grown to affect all Palestinians, everywhere within the borders of their historic homeland. Tens of thousands of refugees joined up with hundreds of thousands more at various dusty trails throughout the country, growing in numbers as they walked further, to finally pitch their tents in areas that, then were meant to be ‘temporary’ refugee encampments. Alas, these became the Palestinian refugee camps of today, starting some 70 years ago.

None of this was accidental. The determination of the early Zionists to establish a ‘national home’ for Jews at the expense of the country’s Palestinian Arab nation was communicated, openly, clearly and repeatedly throughout the formation of early Zionist thoughts, and the translation of those well-articulated ideas into physical reality.

70 years have passed since the Nakba’ – the ‘Catastrophe’ of 1948 – and neither Israel took responsibility for its action, nor Palestinian refugees received any measure of justice, however small or symbolic.

For Israel to be seeking compensation from Arab countries and Iran is a moral travesty, especially as Palestinian refugees continue to languish in refugee camps across Palestine and the Middle East.

Yes, indeed “the time has come to correct the historic injustice,” not of Israel’s alleged ‘pogroms’ carried out by Arabs and Iranians, but the real and most tragic destruction of Palestine and its people.

Why is Japan So Bitter About Unstoppable Rise of China

There used to be a pair of beautiful swings for children, not far from an old rural temple in Mie Prefecture, where I used to frequently power walk, when searching for inspiration for my novels. Two years ago, I noticed that the swings had gotten rusty, abandoned, and unkempt. Yesterday, I spotted a yellow ribbon, encircling and therefore closing the structure down. It appears that the decision had already been made to get rid of the playground, irreversibly.

Abandoned swings Mie Perfecture

One day earlier, I observed an old homeless man sleeping right under a big sign which was advertising a cluster of luxury eateries at the lavish Nagoya train station.

Homeless man at Nagoya Station

And in the city of Yokkaichi, which counts some 350,000 inhabitants, almost all but very few bus lines had disappeared. What had also disappeared was an elegant and unique, shining zodiac, which used to be engraved into the marble promenade right in front of the Kintetsu Line train station, the very center of the city. The fast ferry across the bay, connecting Yokkaichi with Centrair International Airport that serves Nagoya and in fact almost the entire area of Central Japan, stopped operating, as the municipal subsidies dried up. Now people have to drive some seventy kilometers, all around the bay, burning fuel and paying exuberant highway tolls and airport parking fees, to make it to their flight. What used to constitute public spaces, or even just rice fields, is rapidly being converted into depressing parking lots. It is happening in Central Japan, but also as far southwest as the city of Nagasaki, and as north as Nemuro.

No more public spaces just parking lots

Homeless people are everywhere. Cars (Japan now has more cars per capita than the United States) are rotting in the middle of rice fields and at the edges of once pristine forests, as they lose value rapidly, and it costs a lot of money to get rid of them properly. Entire rural villages are being depopulated, in fact turning into ghost towns. There is rust, bad planning and an acute lack of anything public, all over the country.

Abandoned houses South Mie

Japan is in decay. For many years, it was possible, with half-closed eyes, to ignore it, as the country was due to inertia hanging on to the top spot of the richest nations on Earth. But not anymore: the deterioration is now just too visible.

Oma , Aomori Prefecture

The decay is not as drastic as one can observe in some parts of France, the United States, or the UK. But decay it is. The optimistic, heady days of nation-building are over. The Automobile industry and other corporations are literally cannibalizing the country, dictating its lifestyle. In smaller cities, motorists do not yield on pedestrian crossings anymore. Cars are prioritized by urban planners, and some urban planners are paid, bribery by the car industry. Many areas can now only be reached by cars. There are hardly any public exercise machines, and almost no new parks. Japan, which prides itself on producing some of the most refined food, is now fully overwhelmed by several chains of convenience stores, which are full of unhealthy foodstuff.

Suburban decay all over Japan

For generations, people were sacrificing their lives in order to build a prosperous, powerful and socially balanced Japan. Now, there is no doubt that the citizens are there mainly to support powerful corporations or in short: big business. Japanese used to have its own and distinct model, but now the lifestyle is not too different from one that could be observed in North America or Europe. For the second time in its history, Japan has been forced to ‘open to the world’ (read: to Western interests and to the global capitalist economy), and to accept the concepts that used to be thoroughly alien to the Asian culture. The consequences were quick to arrive, and in summary, they have been thoroughly disastrous.

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After WWII, Japan had to accept occupation. The Constitution was written by the US. Defeated but determined to rebuild and join the ranks of the richest countries on earth, Japan began collaborating with the West, first supporting the brutal invasion to Korea (the so-called “Korean War”). It totally gave up on its independence, fully surrendering its foreign policy, which gradually became indistinct from that of the United States in particular, and the West in general. The mass media has been, since the end of the war to now, controlled and censored by the regime in Tokyo. Major Japanese newspapers, as well as the Japanese national broadcaster NHK, would never dare to broadcast or publish any important international news, unless at least one major US or British mainstream media outlet had set the tone and example of how the story should be covered by the mass media in the ‘client’ states. In this respect, the Japanese media is not different from its counterparts in countries such as Indonesia or Kenya. Japan is also definitely not a ‘democracy’, if ‘democracy’ simply means the rule of the people. Traditionally, Japanese people used to live mainly in order to serve the nation, which was perhaps not such a bad concept. It used to work, at least for the majority. However, now, they are expected to sacrifice their lives solely for the profits of corporations.

People in Japan do not rebel, even when they are robbed by their rulers. They are shockingly submissive.

Japan is not only in decay. It tries to spread its failure like an epidemic. It is actually spreading, and glorifying its submissive, subservient foreign and domestic policies. Through scholarships, it is continuously indoctrinating, and effectively intellectually castrating tens of thousands of willing students from the poor Southeast Asian nations, and other parts of the world.

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In the meantime, China, which is literally ‘next door’, is leading in scientific research, in urban planning, and in social policies. With ‘Ecological Civilization’ now part of its Constitution, it is way ahead of Japan in developing alternative sources of energy, public transportation, as well as organic food production. By 2020, there will be no more pockets of extreme poverty on the entire huge territory of China.

And in China, it is all done under the red Communist banners, which the Japanese public has been taught to despise and reject.

Tremendous Chinese determination, zeal, genius and socialist spirit are evidently superior, compared to the sclerotic, conservative and revanchist spirit of modern Japan and of its handlers in the West.The contrast is truly shocking and very clearly detectable even with unarmed eyes.

And on the international stage: while Japanese corporations are plundering countries, and corrupting governments1, China is helping to put entire continents back on their feet, using good old Communist internationalist ideals. The West does its best to smear China and its great efforts, and Japan is doing the same, even inventing new insults, but the truth is more and more difficult to hide. One speaks to Africans, and he or she finds out quickly what goes on. One travels to China, and everything becomes even clearer. Unless one is paid very well not to see.

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Instead of learning and deciding to totally change its economic and social system, Japan is turning into a sore loser. It hates China for succeeding under its independent policies, and under its Communist placards. It hates China for building new and beautiful cities designed for the people. It hates China even for doing its best to save the environment, as well as the countryside. And it hates China for being fully independent, politically and socially, even academically.

China tried ‘playing’ footsies with the Western academia, but the game almost turned deadly, leading to ideological infiltration and the near collapse of China’s intellectual independence. But at least the danger was identified, and the Western subversion was quickly stopped, just 5 minutes to midnight so to speak — before it was too late.

In Japan, submission and collaboration with the Western global imperialist regime is worn as some code of honor. Japanese graduates of various US and UK universities frame their university diplomas and hang them on the wall, as if they’d symbolize great proof of their success, instead of collaboration with the system which is ruining almost entire planet.

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I remember, some fifteen years ago, Chinese tourists would stand on the bullet train platforms all over Japan, with their cameras ready, dreaming. When train would pass, they’d sigh.

Now, China has the most extensive and the fastest bullet train network in the world. Their trains are also more comfortable and incomparably cheaper than the Japanese or French ones; priced so everyone can afford to travel.

Chinese women used to eye, sadly, the offerings of Japanese department stores. iPhones were what the middle class was dreaming of possessing. Now Chinese visitors to Japan are dressed as elegantly as the locals, iPhones are not considered a luxury, and actually, Huawei and other Chinese manufacturers are now producing better phones than Apple.

I also remember how impressed Chinese tourists to Japan were with the modern architecture, international concert halls, and elegant cafes and boutiques.

Now, the cultural life of Beijing and Shanghai is incomparably richer than that of Tokyo or Osaka. Modern architecture in China is much more impressive, and there are innovations in both the urban and rural life of China, that are still far from being implemented in Japan.

While public playgrounds in Japan are being abandoned or converted into parking lots, China is building new parks, huge and small, recovering river and lake areas, turning them into public spaces.

Instead of omnipresent Japanese advertisements, China is placing witty and educative cartoons speaking about socialist virtues, solidarity, compassion and equality, at many arteries, even at the metro trains. Ecological civilization is ‘advertised’ basically everywhere.

Japanese people are increasingly gloomy, but in China, confident smiles are seen at each and every step.

China is rising. It is unstoppable. Not because its economic growth (government is actually not interested in it, too much, anymore), but because the quality of life of the Chinese citizens is going steadily up.

And that is all that really matters, isn’t it? We can clearly improve the life of people under a tolerant, modern Communist system. As long as people smile, as long they are educated, healthy and happy, we are clearly winning!

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Some individuals are still chasing those magic images of pristine Japanese forests and lakes. Yes, they are still there, if you search very hard. Tea rooms and trees, lovely creeks. But you have to work very hard, you have to edit and search for the perfect shots, as Japanese cities and countryside are dotted with rotten cars and weird metal beams, with unkempt public spaces, with ugly electric wires hanging everywhere. As long as money can be saved, as long as there is profit, anything goes.

Japanese people find it hard to formulate their feelings on the subject. But in summary: they feel frustrated that the country they used to occupy and torture, is doing much better than their own. To Japanese imperialists, the Chinese were simply ‘sub-humans’. It is never pronounced, but Japan has only been respecting Western culture and Western power. And now, the Chinese ‘sub-humans’ are exploring the bottoms of the oceans, building airplanes, running the fastest trains on earth, and making wonderful art films. And they are set on liberating the oppressed world, through its ‘Belt and Road Initiative’, and through other incredible ideas.

And what is Japan doing? Selfies and video games, idiotic meaningless nihilist cartoons, brainless social media, an enormous avalanche of uninventive pornography, of decorative ‘arts’, pop music and mass-produced cars. Its people are depressed. I have three decades of history with Japan, I know it intimately, still love it; love many things about it, but I also clearly see that it is changing, in fact collapsing. And it is refusing to admit it, and to change.

I work with China, because I love where it is going. I like its modern Communist model (I was never a great supporter of the “Gang of Four”and their cult and glorification of poverty) – let all Chinese people be rich soon, and let the entire oppressed world be wealthy as well!

But that is not what Japan wants. For some time, it felt ‘unique’. It was the only rich Asian country. The only Asian country allowed to be rich, by the West. During apartheid, in South Africa, the Japanese people were defined as “honorary whites”. It is because they had embraced Western culture. Because they opted to plunder the world, together with the Europeans and North Americans, instead of helping the subjugated nations. In many ways, it was a form of political and moral prostitution, but it paid well — extremely well, so its morality was simply not discussed.

Now China is getting ahead simply because of its courage, hard work, the genius of its people, and all this, under the wise leadership of the Communist Party and its central planning. Precisely under things that the Japanese people were brainwashed into hating.

This is frustrating. It is scary. So, all that submission, humiliation and bowing to the empire was for nothing? In the end, it is China, it is Communism which will win, and which will be doing the greatest service to humanity.

Yes, Japan is frustrated. These days, polls speak of some 80% of the Japanese disliking the Chinese.

As I interact with people from all corners of Japan, I am getting convinced that the Japanese public subconsciously feels that, for decades, it has been betting on the ‘wrong horse’. It is too proud to verbalize it. It is too scared to fully reflect on it. But life in Japan, at least for many, is clearly becoming meaningless, gloomy and depressing. And there is no revolution on the horizon, as the country was successfully de-politicized.

China is building, inventing, struggling and marching forward, confidently, surrounded by friends, but independently.

Japan is tied up and restrained. It cannot move. It doesn’t even know how to move, how to resist, anymore.

And that is why Japan hates China!

  1. For instance, the big car industry of Japan (Honda, Toyota, mainly), that managed to corrupt governments of Southeast Asian countries (like Indonesia, Thailand), ‘convincing them’ not to build any sound public transportation systems in their cities, consequently reducing Jakarta, Bandung, Surabaya, Chiang Mai, Hat Yai etc to urban hell.

The Government Shutdown Makes You Think About Socialism

Many people are cynical about government, with good reason. They see leaders who don’t care about getting a job done, who just maneuver and finger-point and yell to puff themselves up and put someone else down. They read about tunnels and transportation terminals that cost three times what they were supposed to, are opened for business years behind schedule, and need endless fixes.

These realities are not enough for the rich and the reactionaries. They drown us in propaganda attacks on government and demands to get it off our back (actually, their back). Of course, the huge corporations they own keep the lid on the destructive politics in their executive suites, about investments that turn out to be waste, about their screw-ups.

Sometimes, though, the rot in corporations cannot be covered over, like when Pacific Gas and Electric in northern California let gas pipelines decay, did not inspect them per federal law, and actually phonied up safety checks – until the explosion of a 30-inch gas pipeline under residential San Bruno tossed homes into the air, injured dozens of people, and killed eight. That’s what happens when a complicated gas network is run for the benefit of stockholders.

The shutdown of the federal government has done at least one good thing. It showed us that 800,000 rank-and-file workers who make the federal government go every day do a vital job. They do it so well that we forget their service – until half these people are locked out and the other half must work without a paycheck.

* Prospective buyers cannot purchase the home they chose because they cannot get federal mortgage paperwork.

* Mothers cannot feed their children. More than 2,500 grocery stores had to stop taking food stamps because the shutdown put their renewal applications in limbo. In March the reserve fund that backs the food stamp program runs out and families will not get their allotment of coupons.

* Long-planned weekends and vacations in our glorious national parks are canceled – or taken amid garbage, locked restrooms, and roads closed by unplowed snow.

* Travelers waiting for a passport do not know whether they will get it before their scheduled departure.

* Air traffic controllers worry about their next house payment while they keep planes from colliding with each other. Meat inspectors try to juggle family finances in their head while they go to packing plants and make sure our meat is not going to make us sick.

Federal workers are dedicated folks like the clerks at Social Security, and they are highly skilled professionals like the meteorologists who make weather reports more accurate every year.

They don’t have profit-sharing. They are not graded on a curve with ten percent of them tossed out every year as Jack Welch did to the salaried staff at General Electric.

The workers of the federal government have fairly good job security, except when the President locks them out. They get regular raises based on seniority.  Their working years earn them pensions and retirement health coverage.

In return, the people of the United States get all the services that keep a modern economy humming.

Basically, socialism means that we will run our economy in institutions that work for society, not for the profit of rich owners. Basically, socialism means no rich and no poor, a good wage for every job, full employment, and common prosperity for all.

That sounds a lot like an expansion of the bulk of the federal government – the government that the President’s shutdown has snatched from us for weeks.

The United States is capitalist. The shutdown teaches us that capitalism today cannot get along without a good dose of socialism.

The shutdown demonstrates that the American system of government is crumbling. It served business well for more than 200 years while it kept the population from considering alternatives. No longer.

By the way, it turns out that every big innovation by Apple, for example, as well as the Internet itself, was developed in federal research labs or in university and other labs funded by the federal government. Apple makes the phones look sleek and manages their production in sweatshops in China.

The government shutdown has been a terrible thing. But it makes you think about socialism.

The Illusion of the Rich: an Island of Prosperity surrounded by Misery and Suffering

Frei Betto spoke with the author at the Dominican convent in São Paulo, Brazil.

Frei Betto (Carlos Alberto Libânio Christo) was born in 1944 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. He began his political engagement as Catholic student and was imprisoned by the military regime that seized power in 1964 and ruled until 1985. I interviewed him first in 1986 after the publication of his book of interviews Fidel and Religion. This is the first of two interviews given in December after the election of Jair Bolsonaro as president of Brazil.1

*****

Dr. T.P. Wilkinson: When we met in 1986, the Brazilian military regime was considered at an end and elected government was to be restored. 32 years later a man has been elected who claims allegiance to the military regime. He is quoted saying the military should have tortured less and killed more. You were imprisoned under that regime. Could you briefly sketch the developments in Brazil since 1986 as you saw them? Has Brazil returned to military-style rule, if not actual dictatorship?

Frei Betto: The Brazilian military dictatorship began in 1964 and ended in 1985. The civil society of our country has made important accomplishments since then: a new constitution approved in 1988, called the “Civilian Constitution”; social movements of national scale, like the CUT (Unique Workers Central), the MST (Landless Workers Movement), the CMP (Popular Movements Central) and the MTST (Homeless Movement Workers).

We elect five and a half presidential terms, led by progressive politicians: Fernando Henrique Cardoso (two terms, 1995-1998 and 1999-2002), Lula (2003-2006 and 2007-2010) and Dilma Rousseff (2011-2014 and 2015-2016, when it was ended in a leadership coup by vice president Michel Temer). In this period, from 1995 until 2016, Brazil made significant advances in the social sphere, with a reduction of inequality and the inclusion of thousands of families that previously lived in misery and poverty. Only under the Lula government, 36 million people found social inclusion.

TPW: In the 1980s there were several prominent people in the Church who were identified with democratic ideals, peace and justice, for example, Cardinal Arns in Sao Paulo — and as whom I met later Archbishop Dennis Hurley in Durban. There were also ecumenical movements pursuing justice in Brazil and South Africa. However, it seems that once the military dictatorship was ended and the apartheid government replaced by the ANC, the Church lost its profile and many of those people associated with the struggles left the stage. Is there still an active Church-based movement in Brazil and where is it now? What challenges does it face?

FB:  It is necessary to understand that the end of the dictatorship in Brazil coincided with the election of John Paul II, followed by Benedict XVI. There were 34 years of conservative pontificates that did not support the line of the CEB (basic church communities) and the theology of liberation. This opened space for the evangelical churches with their conservative profile.

There still exists at the base a church that is alive and combative, but without prominent figures like Cardinal Arns and Dom Pedro Casaldáliga. Fortunately with Pope Francis this progressive pastoral work resumes. The canonisation of Monsignor Oscar Romero was very important for the recognition of the Church of liberation and the poor. And it is very active in Brazil and Latin America with feminist theology, indigenous theology, black theology and eco-theology.

TPW:  In 1986, there was still a Soviet Union, a GDR, and “competition” in Europe to demonstrate the “best” social-economic system for the majority of citizens. By 1990, all that was gone. Two years ago Fidel Castro died. It is putting it mildly to say the world has changed since 1986. It has been argued that the Soviet Union actually contributed little to social-economic justice in the rest of the world, despite claims to the contrary. However, since its demise there appears to be no limit to the expansion and aggressivity of the “Western” system. Unrestricted capitalism has “won”. It would appear that there is no longer a vision of what a just world could look like capable of providing orientation, especially on a global scale. You are certainly critical but not a pessimist. Where do you see the potential for social justice in future? What obstacles do you consider most important to overcome?

FB: Socialism had the merit of forcing the rich world to concede more rights to workers. Without the communist “threat”, there would have been no welfare state in Western Europe. Now, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, capitalism no longer needs rings because it does not lose its fingers… It has changed its productive phase for one of speculation and, as Piketty demonstrates, concentrates ever more profits into fewer hands.2

This gaping inequality has a limit, which is the desperation of the poor, like the waves of refugees flooding into the world of the rich and the demonstrations in France, the yellow vests. It is an illusion of the rich to think that they can have an island of prosperity surrounded by misery and suffering.

Seven centuries before Christ, the prophet Isaíah already preached that peace can only exist with the fruits of justice. And we can add today: there will never be peace as a simple balance of weapons.

TPW: Your interviews with Castro revealed a remarkable man quite different from the personality depicted or caricatured since the Cuban Revolution succeeded in 1959. Anyone who followed his writing and speeches, even after retirement, could see that your portrait was accurate and sincere. The survival of the Cuban Revolution after the fall of the Soviet Union could be seen as proof that it was not a “Soviet creation” but a genuinely Cuban phenomenon, like Castro himself. In fact, Cuba managed, despite US policy, to support social-economic change in Latin America, especially in cooperation with Chavez in Venezuela. How do you see Cuba today, especially in relation to its Latin American neighbours?

FB: Cuba resists despite all pressure from the White House. Today, all Latin American countries support Cuban sovereignty and vote in the UN, with the support of more than 170 countries, for the suspension of the blockade. For Cuba’s economy, so damaged by the isolation the country has been condemned to, relations with the progressive governments of Latin America and the world are very important. However, Venezuela faces a serious economic crisis. And Brazil—starting in January—will be governed by a fascist party allied with the US policy of preserving the blockade. Fortunately Mexico now has a progressive government that can strengthen ties of solidarity with Cuba, especially by absorbing Cuban doctors who have been expelled from Brazil.3

TPW: Venezuela has been under a kind of siege since Chavez became president that is at least as challenging as the US embargo of Cuba. Now Brazil has a president who has announced a very aggressive attitude toward the government in Caracas. Venezuela is not as radical as Cuba was. Chavez and Castro were sometimes presented as if they were a pair, both with very personalistic leadership styles. Have you formed a view of the situation in Venezuela, a direct neighbour of Brazil? Sometime around 1962 the US initiated activities that culminated in the 1964 military coup in Brazil under the pretext that Goulart would align Brazil with Cuba and the Soviet Union — something to prevent. Do you see an international context to the recent presidential election results — especially given the vitriolic statements made about Venezuela by the new president and the intense conflict between the US and both Russia and China — part of the so-called BRICS group?

FB:  I think tensions between US and both China and Russia will worsen. The Cold War is back. And Latin America is the target of this conflict. The countries of the Continent know that they cannot go on without the import of their products by China. And they fear Trump’s protectionist measures. So my assessment is that this reheating of the Cold War will be favorable to the Latin American economy.

TPW:  You are described among other places on the website of the Dominican Order in Germany as a “political activist“. One could say that the Dominican order, the OP, was founded as an “activist” order. Not everyone would agree that the order’s history of activism has been very positive — especially those familiar with the history of the Inquisition. Did your activism grow out of your vocation or do you believe your choice to become a Dominican was shaped by an at least latent desire to “preach”, to be an activist? How do you see your activism as a Dominican and the contradictions of the order’s role in history?

FB:  The Dominican Order, like our families, has its side of light and its side of darkness. There is no chemically pure institution. In 800 years of history, the Order had the sad page of the Inquisition, but is also proud to have had among its friars Thomas Aquinas, Savonarola, Giordano Bruno, Fra Angelico, Master Eckhart, Vitoria, Tomaso de Campanella, Bartolomé de las Casas and Father Lebret.

I entered the Dominicans because of my admiration for their presence in Brazil, along with the indigenous movement, the student movement and popular movements. I did not know that I am inscribed in the annals of the German Dominicans as a “political activist.” This honors me very much, because it puts me next to another political activist, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus did not die of hepatitis in bed, but like so many political prisoners in Latin America: he was arrested, tortured, tried by two political powers and sentenced to death on the cross. I thank God for being a disciple of this political prisoner who, within Caesar’s reign, announced another possible kingdom, that of God.

  1. Translation assisted by Prof Dr Francisco Topa, Universidade de Porto.
  2. Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2013).
  3. In the wake of his election, Jair Bolsonaro demanded that several thousand Cuban physicians employed in parts of the Brazil with little or no medical care would have to leave the country if the Cuban government did not comply with his demands that full wages be paid in Brazil and that families be permitted to move to Brazil with the seconded medical personnel. The Cuban government rejected this attempt by Brazil to extract Cuban medical professionals and deprive Cuba of the income agreed under the Dilmar (PT) government in return for Cuba’s medical mission. See “Cuba to pull doctors out of Brazil after President-elect Bolsonaro comments”, The Guardian, 14 November 2018.

Americans Need a Congress that Represents Americans

US Senator Marco Rubio poses as a representative of Florida Republicans, but in truth he represents the interests of Israel. He is sponsor of legislation that punishes Americans who boycott Israel as their way of protesting Israel’s genocide of the Palestinian people. That Rubio is doing his best to dismantle what little is left of the First Amendment doesn’t seem to bother Florida voters or the presstitute media, who are no longer protective of the First Amendment.

Yesterday (January 9, 2019) the legislation failed to pass the Senate, because Democrats blocked it. But not really. The Democrats are not opposed to the bill. Indeed, the senators of both parties are too well paid in campaign contributions by the Israel Lobby to vote against anything that Israel wants. Moreover, they know that if they do, the money and the media support in their next election will flow to their opponent. The reason the Democrats blocked the passage of the bill is that they are making a point that no legislation will pass until President Trump gives in on the issue of The Wall and signs the necessary money bill to reopen the government.

Every 18 months the US government hands over to Israel enough money to build Trump’s wall. Israel had no hesitation in using Americans’ money to build its wall, which keeps Palestinians out of Palestine. It is OK with the US Congress for Americans to finance Israel’s construction of a wall that keeps a people out of their own country, but it is not OK for Trump to use American money to keep illegal immigrants out of the United States.

How much more plain can it be? The US Congress represents Israel, not Americans. The US Congress will even destroy the US Constitution for Israel. And the United States is called a democracy?

Justin Trudeau’s High-mindedness

Justin Trudeau likes making high-minded sounding statements that make him seem progressive but change little. The Prime Minister’s declaration marking “Haiti’s Independence Day” was an attempt of the sort, which actually demonstrates incredible ignorance, even antipathy, towards the struggle against slavery.

In his statement commemorating 215 years of Haitian Independence, the Prime Minister failed to mention slavery, Haiti’s revolution and how that country was born of maybe the greatest example of liberation in the history of humanity. From the grips of the most barbaric form of plantation economy, the largely African-born slaves delivered a massive blow to slavery, colonialism and white supremacy.

Before the 1791 revolt the French colony of Saint Domingue was home to 450,000 people in bondage. At its peak in the 1750s the ‘Pearl of the Antilles’ provided as much as 50 per cent of France’s GNP. Super profits were made from using African slaves to produce sugar, cocoa, coffee, cotton, tobacco, indigo and other commodities.

The slaves put a stop to that with a merciless struggle that took advantage of divisions between ‘big white’ land/slave owners, racially empowered though poorer ‘small whites’ and a substantial ‘mulatto’ land/slave owning class. The revolt rippled through the region and compelled the post-French Revolution government in Paris to abolish slavery in its Caribbean colonies. Between 1791 and 1804 ‘Haitians’ would defeat tens of thousands of French, British and Spanish troops (Washington backed France financially), leading to the world’s first and only successful large-scale slave revolution. The first nation of free people in the Americas, Haiti established a slave-free state 60 years before the USA’s emancipation proclamation. (It wasn’t until after this proclamation ending slavery that the US recognized Haiti’s independence.)

The Haitian Revolution’s geopolitical effects were immense. It stimulated the Louisiana Purchase and London’s 1807 Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. The revolutionary state also provided important support to South American independence movements.

Canada’s rulers at the time opposed the slave revolt. In a bid to crush the ex-slaves before their example spread to the English colonies, British forces invaded Haiti in 1793. Halifax, which housed Britain’s primary naval base in North America, played its part in London’s efforts to capture one of the world’s richest colonies (for the slave owners). Much of the Halifax-based squadron arrived on the shores of the West Indies in 1793, and many of the ships that set sail to the Caribbean at this time were assembled in the town’s naval yard. Additionally, a dozen Nova Scotia privateers captured at least 57 enemy vessels in the West Indies between 1793 and 1805. “Essential tools of war until the rise of large steam navies”, the privateers also wanted to protect the British Atlantic colonies’ lucrative Caribbean market decimated by French privateers. For a half-century Nova Scotia and Newfoundland generated great wealth selling cheap, high-protein cod to keep millions of “enslaved people working 16 hours a day”.

A number of prominent Canadian-born (or based) individuals fought to capture and re-establish slavery in the French colonies. Dubbed the “Father of the Canadian Crown”, Prince Edward Duke of Kent departed for the West Indies aboard a Halifax gunboat in 1793. As a Major General, he led forces that captured Guadalupe, St. Lucia and Martinique. Today, many streets and monuments across the country honour a man understood to have first applied the term “Canadian” to both the English and French inhabitants of Upper and Lower Canada.

Other “Canadians” played a part in Britain’s effort to corner the lucrative Caribbean slave plantations. Born into a prominent Québec military family, Charles Michel Salaberry “was part of successful invasions of Saint-Dominique [Haiti], Guadeloupe and Martinique.” A number of monuments commemorate Salaberry, including the city in Québec named Salaberry-de-Valleyfield.

To commemorate Haitian independence the Secretary General of the Caribbean Community, Irwin LaRocque, also released a statement. Unlike Trudeau, LaRocque “congratulated” Haiti and described the day as “a timely reminder of the historic importance of the Haitian Revolution and its continued significance as a symbol of triumph over adversity in the quest for liberty, equality and control of national destiny.”

Trudeau should have said something similar and acknowledged Canadians’ role in the slave trade and crimes against the free people of Haiti.

Multifaceted Attack Against Venezuela on Eve of Maduro Inauguration

Venezuelan President Nicholás Maduro’s inauguration for his second term on January 10 is targeted by the US, the allied Lima Group, and the hardline Venezuelan opposition.  They have demanded that Maduro refuse inauguration. A multifaceted attack aimed at regime change is underway using sanctions, military threats, and a campaign of delegitimization to replace the democratically elected president.

Since President Hugo Chávez began his first term as president in 1999, the Bolivarian Republic has promoted regional integration and independence, resisted neoliberalism, opposed “free trade” agreements that would compromise national autonomy, and supported the emergence of a multipolar world. On account of these policies, Chávez (1999-2013) and now Maduro, have faced relentless attacks by the colossus to the north. Today the Maduro administration faces the challenges of defending national sovereignty from imperial domination and overcoming crippling US sanctions that have exacerbated a severe economic crisis.

The US has brazenly announced its consideration of a “military option” against Caracas and has assembled a coalition of the willing in Colombia and Brazil to prepare for an eventual “humanitarian” intervention. Most alarming is that the US seems indifferent to the consequences of such an invasion, which could easily become a regional and global conflagration involving Colombia, Brazil, and even Russia and China.

What the US finds particularly infuriating is that Maduro had the temerity to run for re-election in May 2018 after the US demanded he resign. The US State Department had issued warnings four months prior to the election that the process “will be illegitimate” and the results “will not be recognized.” US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley insisted that Maduro abdicate and presidential elections be postponed.

The Venezuelan National Electoral Commission rejected this diktat from Washington. On May 20, 2018, the Venezuelan electorate had the audacity to re-elect Maduro by a 67.84% majority with a participation rate of 46.07% (representing 9,389,056 voters). Two opposition candidates ran for office, Henri Falcón and Javier Bertucci, despite a boycott orchestrated by opposition hardliners and the US.

New Phase in the Campaign Against Venezuela

The campaign to bring about regime change enters a new phase with the inauguration of President Maduro for a second term. With no legal standing or representation inside Venezuela, the Lima Group has now become a major protagonist of  a soft coup in Venezuela.

Just five days before the inauguration, at a meeting held in the capital of Peru, 13 out of 14 members of the Lima Group issued a declaration urging Maduro “not to assume the presidency on January 10… and to temporarily transfer the executive power to the National Assembly until a new, democratic presidential poll is held.”

The following day, Andres Pastrana, former president of Colombia, a member nation of the Lima Group, tweeted that the new president of Venezuela’s National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, should “now assume the presidency of the government of transition as established in the constitution beginning the 10th of January and as requested by the Lima Group.”

In a speech delivered before the Venezuelan National Assembly on January 5, Guaidó stopped short of claiming executive power, but declared that starting January 10, Maduro ought to be considered an “usurper” and “dictator.” Guaidó also urged convening a transitional government that would hold new elections and “authorize” intervention from abroad.

Although the US is not a formal member of the Lima Group, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, participated in the meeting by teleconference. Pompeo had returned earlier in the week from a visit to Brazil and Colombia, during which, according to a senior State Department official, Maduro’s inauguration was on the agenda:

There’s a very important date that is coming up, which is the 10th of January, where Maduro will hand over power to himself based on an election that many governments in the region and globally have condemned, including the United States, . . . as illegitimate. So we will be discussing, I’m sure, our joint efforts with Colombia and with the region to address this new era beginning on the 10th of January in Venezuela.

The US Imperial Project

US policy towards Venezuela has three strategic objectives: privileged access to Venezuela’s natural resources (e.g., the world’s largest petroleum reserves and second largest gold deposits), restoration of a neoliberal regime obedient to Washington, and limitation of any movement towards regional independence.

These US objectives are conditioned by a continuing adherence to the Monroe Doctrine for Latin America and the Caribbean, the so-called “backyard” of the US empire. The contemporary mutation of the 1823 imperial doctrine entails a new Cold War against Russia and China and hostility to any regional integration independent of US hegemony.

Back in the 1980s-90s during Venezuela’s Fourth Republic, local elites afforded Washington preferential access to Venezuela’s rich natural resources and dutifully imposed a neoliberal economic model on the country. Currently, US policy appears aimed at re-establishing such a client state.

However, to bring about such a return, the US imperial project would have to change not only the Venezuelan leadership but dismantle the institutions and even the symbols of the Bolivarian revolution. The devastating US economic sanctions are designed to increase economic hardship in order to ultimately break the will of the chavista base and fracture the Venezuelan military as well as the civic-military alliance. This breakdown would presumably pave the way for installation of a provisional government.

It is time once again to give peace a chance. But Washington has opted for the collision course set by the Lima Group as well as the Secretary General of the Washington-based Organization of American States (OAS) over efforts of the Vatican and former prime minister of Spain, Luis Zapatero, to broker dialogue between the government and the opposition. The imperial project is abetted by the conservative restoration in Brazil and Argentina and the electoral victory of uribistas in Colombia.

Multifaceted War Against Venezuela and the Bolivarian Response

Washington is engaging in a multifaceted war against Venezuela by deploying economic sanctions, backing a campaign to install a transitional government, and preparing proxy military and paramilitary forces for an eventual intervention.

On August 4, 2018, a failed assassination attempt against President Maduro did not draw condemnation from either Washington or the Lima Group. On November 4, according to Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino, three Bolivarian National Guard were killed and ten wounded in an attack by Colombian paramilitary forces in the frontier region of Amazonas. On December 5, the Brazilian vice president-elect Hamilton Mourão declared: “there will be a coup in Venezuela . . . And the United Nations will have to intervene through a peace force . . . and there is Brazil’s role: to lead this peace force.”

On December 12, 2018, President Maduro reported that “734 members of a paramilitary  group called G8 was training [in the city of Tona, Colombia] for attacks against military units in the frontier states of Zulia, Tachira, Apure and Amazonas.” This report ought to be taken seriously given the presence of eight US military bases in Colombia,  the recent association of Bogotá with NATO, Colombia’s rejection of direct communication with Venezuelan authorities, and its participation in US-led military exercises over the past two years. Last week, US Secretary of State Pompeo visited Colombia and Brazil to shore up joint efforts to “restore of democracy” in Venezuela.

In response, Venezuela has been fortifying the civic-military alliance built up over the past two decades. The National Guard, military, and militias (now over 1,600,000 strong) have been able so far to fend off several terrorist attacks against public institutions and government leaders as well as an assassination attempt against President Maduro in August.

Caracas has also been developing close military cooperation with Russia and consolidating ties with China. With the recent visit of a pair of its TU 160 heavy bombers to Venezuela, Russia has demonstrated its ability to transport armaments more than 10,000 kilometers at supersonic speeds should the Caribbean nation come under attack by a foreign power.  China has entered into agreements for massive economic cooperation with Venezuela, partially offsetting the punishing US sanctions. Also, the visit of a Chinese navy hospital ship in September subtly signaled Chinese military support of Venezuela.

Shifting Geopolitical Environment

Although the Lima Group now backs a soft coup in Venezuela, with the inauguration of Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) as President of Mexico in December, the group has lost the support of one of its key members. Mexico declined to sign on to the latest Lima Group declaration and warned against “measures that obstruct a dialogue to face the crisis in Venezuela.” Maximiliano Reyes, Mexico’s deputy foreign minister, said: “We call for reflection in the Lima Group about the consequences for Venezuelans of measures that seek to interfere in [their] internal affairs.”

The extreme partisanship of Secretary General of the OAS Luis Almagro against Venezuela has undermined his standing. In September 2018, Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez declared that Uruguay would not support Almagro for a second term as Secretary General of the OAS.  Almagro was finally expelled from his own political party in Uruguay, the Frente Amplio, in December 2018, largely for his statements in Colombia about the need to retain a military option against Venezuela.

In December 2018, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America  (ALBA-TCP) held its 16th meeting in Cuba, declaring its “concern for the aggression and actions against regional peace and security, especially the threats of the use of force against the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.” ALBA was founded by Venezuela and Cuba and is now comprised of ten nations.

No Other Choice but Resistance

The Venezuelan people have a long history of resistance to foreign domination and are not likely to view a US-backed “humanitarian intervention” as a liberating force. Nor are the popular sectors likely to support an unelected “transitional government” with a self-appointed Supreme Court in exile which is currently based in Bogotá, Colombia. And if the coalition of the willing includes Colombian paramilitary forces who are notorious for their role in the murder of community activists inside Colombia, their deployment in the event of a “humanitarian” mission would be abhorrent inside Venezuela.

The 1973 US-backed coup in Chile, followed by a lethal cleansing of that nation of leftists, is a cautionary lesson. Add to this the historic memory of the political repression during Venezuela’s discredited Fourth Republic and the Caracazo of 1989, in which the most marginalized and poor were the main victims, and it would be no surprise should the popular sectors have only one thing to offer a provisional government bent on inviting imperial intervention: resistance.

• Note: All translations from the Spanish to English are unofficial.

Multifaceted Attack Against Venezuela on Eve of Maduro Inauguration

Venezuelan President Nicholás Maduro’s inauguration for his second term on January 10 is targeted by the US, the allied Lima Group, and the hardline Venezuelan opposition.  They have demanded that Maduro refuse inauguration. A multifaceted attack aimed at regime change is underway using sanctions, military threats, and a campaign of delegitimization to replace the democratically elected president.

Since President Hugo Chávez began his first term as president in 1999, the Bolivarian Republic has promoted regional integration and independence, resisted neoliberalism, opposed “free trade” agreements that would compromise national autonomy, and supported the emergence of a multipolar world. On account of these policies, Chávez (1999-2013) and now Maduro, have faced relentless attacks by the colossus to the north. Today the Maduro administration faces the challenges of defending national sovereignty from imperial domination and overcoming crippling US sanctions that have exacerbated a severe economic crisis.

The US has brazenly announced its consideration of a “military option” against Caracas and has assembled a coalition of the willing in Colombia and Brazil to prepare for an eventual “humanitarian” intervention. Most alarming is that the US seems indifferent to the consequences of such an invasion, which could easily become a regional and global conflagration involving Colombia, Brazil, and even Russia and China.

What the US finds particularly infuriating is that Maduro had the temerity to run for re-election in May 2018 after the US demanded he resign. The US State Department had issued warnings four months prior to the election that the process “will be illegitimate” and the results “will not be recognized.” US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley insisted that Maduro abdicate and presidential elections be postponed.

The Venezuelan National Electoral Commission rejected this diktat from Washington. On May 20, 2018, the Venezuelan electorate had the audacity to re-elect Maduro by a 67.84% majority with a participation rate of 46.07% (representing 9,389,056 voters). Two opposition candidates ran for office, Henri Falcón and Javier Bertucci, despite a boycott orchestrated by opposition hardliners and the US.

New Phase in the Campaign Against Venezuela

The campaign to bring about regime change enters a new phase with the inauguration of President Maduro for a second term. With no legal standing or representation inside Venezuela, the Lima Group has now become a major protagonist of  a soft coup in Venezuela.

Just five days before the inauguration, at a meeting held in the capital of Peru, 13 out of 14 members of the Lima Group issued a declaration urging Maduro “not to assume the presidency on January 10… and to temporarily transfer the executive power to the National Assembly until a new, democratic presidential poll is held.”

The following day, Andres Pastrana, former president of Colombia, a member nation of the Lima Group, tweeted that the new president of Venezuela’s National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, should “now assume the presidency of the government of transition as established in the constitution beginning the 10th of January and as requested by the Lima Group.”

In a speech delivered before the Venezuelan National Assembly on January 5, Guaidó stopped short of claiming executive power, but declared that starting January 10, Maduro ought to be considered an “usurper” and “dictator.” Guaidó also urged convening a transitional government that would hold new elections and “authorize” intervention from abroad.

Although the US is not a formal member of the Lima Group, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, participated in the meeting by teleconference. Pompeo had returned earlier in the week from a visit to Brazil and Colombia, during which, according to a senior State Department official, Maduro’s inauguration was on the agenda:

There’s a very important date that is coming up, which is the 10th of January, where Maduro will hand over power to himself based on an election that many governments in the region and globally have condemned, including the United States, . . . as illegitimate. So we will be discussing, I’m sure, our joint efforts with Colombia and with the region to address this new era beginning on the 10th of January in Venezuela.

The US Imperial Project

US policy towards Venezuela has three strategic objectives: privileged access to Venezuela’s natural resources (e.g., the world’s largest petroleum reserves and second largest gold deposits), restoration of a neoliberal regime obedient to Washington, and limitation of any movement towards regional independence.

These US objectives are conditioned by a continuing adherence to the Monroe Doctrine for Latin America and the Caribbean, the so-called “backyard” of the US empire. The contemporary mutation of the 1823 imperial doctrine entails a new Cold War against Russia and China and hostility to any regional integration independent of US hegemony.

Back in the 1980s-90s during Venezuela’s Fourth Republic, local elites afforded Washington preferential access to Venezuela’s rich natural resources and dutifully imposed a neoliberal economic model on the country. Currently, US policy appears aimed at re-establishing such a client state.

However, to bring about such a return, the US imperial project would have to change not only the Venezuelan leadership but dismantle the institutions and even the symbols of the Bolivarian revolution. The devastating US economic sanctions are designed to increase economic hardship in order to ultimately break the will of the chavista base and fracture the Venezuelan military as well as the civic-military alliance. This breakdown would presumably pave the way for installation of a provisional government.

It is time once again to give peace a chance. But Washington has opted for the collision course set by the Lima Group as well as the Secretary General of the Washington-based Organization of American States (OAS) over efforts of the Vatican and former prime minister of Spain, Luis Zapatero, to broker dialogue between the government and the opposition. The imperial project is abetted by the conservative restoration in Brazil and Argentina and the electoral victory of uribistas in Colombia.

Multifaceted War Against Venezuela and the Bolivarian Response

Washington is engaging in a multifaceted war against Venezuela by deploying economic sanctions, backing a campaign to install a transitional government, and preparing proxy military and paramilitary forces for an eventual intervention.

On August 4, 2018, a failed assassination attempt against President Maduro did not draw condemnation from either Washington or the Lima Group. On November 4, according to Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino, three Bolivarian National Guard were killed and ten wounded in an attack by Colombian paramilitary forces in the frontier region of Amazonas. On December 5, the Brazilian vice president-elect Hamilton Mourão declared: “there will be a coup in Venezuela . . . And the United Nations will have to intervene through a peace force . . . and there is Brazil’s role: to lead this peace force.”

On December 12, 2018, President Maduro reported that “734 members of a paramilitary  group called G8 was training [in the city of Tona, Colombia] for attacks against military units in the frontier states of Zulia, Tachira, Apure and Amazonas.” This report ought to be taken seriously given the presence of eight US military bases in Colombia,  the recent association of Bogotá with NATO, Colombia’s rejection of direct communication with Venezuelan authorities, and its participation in US-led military exercises over the past two years. Last week, US Secretary of State Pompeo visited Colombia and Brazil to shore up joint efforts to “restore of democracy” in Venezuela.

In response, Venezuela has been fortifying the civic-military alliance built up over the past two decades. The National Guard, military, and militias (now over 1,600,000 strong) have been able so far to fend off several terrorist attacks against public institutions and government leaders as well as an assassination attempt against President Maduro in August.

Caracas has also been developing close military cooperation with Russia and consolidating ties with China. With the recent visit of a pair of its TU 160 heavy bombers to Venezuela, Russia has demonstrated its ability to transport armaments more than 10,000 kilometers at supersonic speeds should the Caribbean nation come under attack by a foreign power.  China has entered into agreements for massive economic cooperation with Venezuela, partially offsetting the punishing US sanctions. Also, the visit of a Chinese navy hospital ship in September subtly signaled Chinese military support of Venezuela.

Shifting Geopolitical Environment

Although the Lima Group now backs a soft coup in Venezuela, with the inauguration of Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) as President of Mexico in December, the group has lost the support of one of its key members. Mexico declined to sign on to the latest Lima Group declaration and warned against “measures that obstruct a dialogue to face the crisis in Venezuela.” Maximiliano Reyes, Mexico’s deputy foreign minister, said: “We call for reflection in the Lima Group about the consequences for Venezuelans of measures that seek to interfere in [their] internal affairs.”

The extreme partisanship of Secretary General of the OAS Luis Almagro against Venezuela has undermined his standing. In September 2018, Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez declared that Uruguay would not support Almagro for a second term as Secretary General of the OAS.  Almagro was finally expelled from his own political party in Uruguay, the Frente Amplio, in December 2018, largely for his statements in Colombia about the need to retain a military option against Venezuela.

In December 2018, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America  (ALBA-TCP) held its 16th meeting in Cuba, declaring its “concern for the aggression and actions against regional peace and security, especially the threats of the use of force against the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.” ALBA was founded by Venezuela and Cuba and is now comprised of ten nations.

No Other Choice but Resistance

The Venezuelan people have a long history of resistance to foreign domination and are not likely to view a US-backed “humanitarian intervention” as a liberating force. Nor are the popular sectors likely to support an unelected “transitional government” with a self-appointed Supreme Court in exile which is currently based in Bogotá, Colombia. And if the coalition of the willing includes Colombian paramilitary forces who are notorious for their role in the murder of community activists inside Colombia, their deployment in the event of a “humanitarian” mission would be abhorrent inside Venezuela.

The 1973 US-backed coup in Chile, followed by a lethal cleansing of that nation of leftists, is a cautionary lesson. Add to this the historic memory of the political repression during Venezuela’s discredited Fourth Republic and the Caracazo of 1989, in which the most marginalized and poor were the main victims, and it would be no surprise should the popular sectors have only one thing to offer a provisional government bent on inviting imperial intervention: resistance.

• Note: All translations from the Spanish to English are unofficial.

Are We Fascist Yet?

To characterize modern day America as a fascist state is at one and the same time both ahistorical and close to the present truth.

In order to resolve this apparent contradiction we must understand that modern day fascism displays certain rough, jagged continuities as well as discontinuities with its interwar past.

Operationally, fascism was, at least initially, an alliance between ancien regime conservatives, socially and economically insecure elements of the middle classes, and a significant fragment of alienated, radicalized workers. Ideologically what united these disparate groups was a utopian belief in the nation as a higher structural unit uniquely suited to the aims of both internal corporatist social organization and external expansive force as expressed in high stakes international conflict.

Looked at from this historical perspective, modern day American fascism is a completely different beast.

Firstly, its general, overall class organization is vastly different. Secondly, fascism in America is not primarily about specific categories of class support at all, as it was for historical fascism. Rather, the sources of American fascism are broadly structural, class cutting, organizational, and have their ideological basis in a faux or unserious, artificial belief in the nation.

Today’s American governing elites (Trump included) do not possess a messianic or utopian belief in the nation or white race. Here, as Marx once famously remarked, history first plays itself out as tragedy then once again as farce. Indeed, one would be hard pressed to imagine a more hyper-farcical character than the current president.

For the elites, nationalism is long dead. It has no content. It is an emotively reflexive phantom that haunts the financial flows of present day capital. However, it must be, from time to time, managed and utilized for their (global elites) benefit much as an advertisement campaign is used to sell a particular brand. Thus, nationalism is, at best, a nostalgic brand name, not a fervent faith. Hence, the comic-surreal quality surrounding its reappearance.

Also, unlike past Fascisms there is no current, specific group that is marked out for total chiliastic destruction, rather certain groups are administratively, if not always systematically, excluded from national borders. The flows of immigration become the main ideological target rather than the immigrants themselves. It is not that the immigrant is consistently held to be “intrinsically evil” (despite some famous Trumpian comments about Mexicans) but that his entrance to the national community must be regulated and controlled.

This much is relatively uncontroversial. Modern day Fascism does not overtly offer up a national elite whose mission it is to violently eradicate a national, ethnic, or class “other” nor does it embody a rabid expansionist foreign policy (on the contrary it purports to look and turn inward). At most there are weak echoes of the past here; modern civil society is, after all, not as racist, xenophobic, or generally intolerant as it was during the inter-war years and there is the internationally tempering factor of atomic weapons to consider as well. Thus, if we are to look for current fascistic elements in society we must look elsewhere.

Where modern day fascism does intersect with its past image and practice is in the strict maintenance of absolutized hierarchy and total surreptitious systems of domination.

By this we mean, that the US is an ingeniously hermetically sealed vessel of elite control that expertly gives the appearance of freedom, equality, and justice.

To be sure though, there is indeed a certain level of all three of those highly desirable social and political goods in the society; far more than in classical fascism. However, the steerage of the system is in the hands of hidden actors who are the de facto elites but have no need or desire to be identified as such, since they too look primarily to enjoy the fruits of a dynamically regulated civil society which nevertheless, and crucially, does not, in the slightest, threaten their actual dominance and elite status since it is unseen and thus publicly unquantifiable.

Thus our fascism tends to lurk in the shadows; in the unseen spaces where our well trained/conditioned eyes cannot see the markings of hidden power, privilege, and control. The trappings of democracy hang loosely over hardened structures of domination that we can but dimly see.