Category Archives: United States

The Rocky Road to Helsinki

This is written July 14, two days before the Helsinki summit between Presidents Trump and Putin, and everything is on schedule in very predictable fashion – according to script.

In the US, Rod Rosenstein has released “indictments” of 12 Russians who are accused of “hacking” Democratic National Committee servers other Democratic Party associated computers.  These mysterious hackers are allegedly associated with the Russian government, for which there is not a shred of evidence.  Right on cue, Schumer, Pelosi and other leading Democrats called on Trump to cancel his meeting with Putin.  How lucky for them that these indictments came down precisely at this moment.  It does not take a genius to understand that Rosenstein could have withheld them for a week so as not to undermine the President as he pursues Détente 2.0.

Likewise the discredited Skripal case has been thrust into the headlines again in good time for the summit.  Even Greece, normally very friendly with Russia, expelled a few diplomats several days back due to the resurrection of l’affaire Skripal, thus jeopardizing an upcoming visit by Russian FM Lavrov.

Finally, Trump attended the NATO meetings to assure the “allies” that Putin of the taiga that they so fear would not frighten him.  He even promised to hold fast to “obsolete” NATO if the Europeans provided more Euros for the Cold War behemoth now lumbering about from Afghanistan to Libya and beyond tearing up the place and killing innocents far and wide.  In this way did Trump armor himself against the hawks.

And, of course, the pundits have been shrieking at the top of their lungs that Trump is disrupting the Cold War order.  The air is thick with such emanations as Russian expert Stephen F. Cohen reminds us thus:

As a rule, American presidents have departed for summits with bipartisan support and well-wishes. Trump’s upcoming meeting with Russian President Putin, in Helsinki on July 16, is profoundly different in two respects. US-Russian relations have rarely, if ever, been more dangerous. And never before has a president’s departure—in Trump’s case, first for a NATO summit and then the one with Putin—been accompanied by allegations that he is disloyal to the United States and thus cannot be trusted, defamations once issued only by extremist fringe elements in American politics. Now, however, we are told this daily by mainstream publications, broadcasts, and “think tanks.” According to a representative of the Clintons’ Center for American Progress, “Trump is going to sell out America and its allies.” The New York Times and The Washington Post also feature “experts”—they are chosen accordingly—who “worry” and “fear”that Trump and Putin “will get along.” The Times of London, a bastion of Russophobic Cold War advocacy, captures the mainstream perspective in a single headline: “Fears Grow Over Prospect of Trump ‘Peace Deal’ with Putin.

An anti-“peace” Washington establishment is, of course, what still-unproven Russiagate allegations have wrought, as summed up by a New Yorkmagazine writer who advises us that the Trump-Putin summit may well be “less a negotiation between two heads of state than a meeting between a Russian-intelligence asset and his handler.””

The roots and ramifications of this hysteria are explored by CJ Hopkins in the fashion they richly deserve in his essay “Hardcore Hitler on Hitler in Helsinki” here.  And on it goes.

Amidst all this perfervid consternation Trump is enjoying a few rounds of golf in Scotland.  He has also declared that Putin is a “competitor” but not an “enemy,” a distinction the politically anencephalic Cold War set cannot grasp.   But Trump continues to insist that it is a “good thing not a bad thing” for the US “to get along with Russia” – and China and North Korea and others. So Trump continues to stick with this motif from the 2016 campaign even though it eats up a lot of political capital and exposes him to the barrage of hysterical attacks outlined above.  That is a sound sign that his declared intent is genuine.

The Russiagate witch hunt makes it nearly impossible for Trump to make concessions to Russia in return for concessions to us.  Absent that, there is no way forward, no deals, no Détente 2.0.  So the witch hunters are willing to risk nuclear confrontation to preserve the old Cold World Order or to indulge a blanket hatred for all things Trump.  Such monsters do not deserve the time of day, let alone a vote, no matter whether they call themselves conservatives or liberals – and more of them seem to bear the liberal label these days.

This summit will present far more difficult political problems than did the Singapore meeting with Kim Jong-un.  In Singapore all the interested parties wanted denuclearization of the Korean peninsula – Kim, Moon, the people of Korea, Trump, Xi and Putin, and even Abe.  So to begin this deal was a no-brainer, and it is quite astonishing in retrospect that the previous administration failed to do so.

But the Summit poses great problems, because of the political pressures brought to bear on Putin and Trump.  Each leader has hawks in his country opposing Détente 2.0.  Trump’s are headquartered in the “Think” Tanks, the Dem Party Elite, the Main Stream Media, the Military Industrial Congressional Complex and the punditry associated with them all.  Just as important is Israel which does not want peace with Iran, an ally of Russia.  And unfortunately the space between the ears of virtually every US politician, with the exception of a few libertarians, is Israeli occupied territory, and its US Amen Corner stands careful watch over this prized conquest.  The issue of Iran is therefore the Achilles heel of the struggle for Détente 2.0.

But in the midst of all the commotion let us not forget the stakes. According to the Stockholm International Peace and Research Institute, the US and Russia each have about 6500 – 7000 nuclear warheads with over 1600 on each side “deployed,” that is placed on missiles or located on bases with operational forces.  These are ready to go at a moment’s notice and cause suffering of a sort never before seen in human history, with the death of billions and perhaps the end of all human life, as Daniel Ellsberg informs us in chilling detail in The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner.  The carpings of our hawks are as nothing compared to the opportunity to move out from under this nuclear cloud.

If this essay serves any purpose, it is to call more attention to the dangerous atmosphere being created by our media, the Dem pols and our “opinion shapers” in the lead up to the summit.  A plan of action is in order.  Complain like hell to every media outlet guilty of this disgraceful behavior.  It only takes an email and the lords of the media, ever concerned about their bottom line, count them.  Same with our hawkish pols.

And afterwards if the Summit does not take us in the direction of peace, complain like hell to the White House.  But if the outcome of the Summit inches us away from Armageddon and toward Detente, as did the Singapore summit, have at the naysayers – they are standing in the way of our survival.  And likewise praise to the skies a positive outcome.  It is this attitude that the press is trying to prevent.  Let them not instill in the populace a hatred of Trump that is stronger than the hatred of war.

• First published at Anti-war.com

Bolton, MEK and Trump Iran Strategy

There are growing indications that the Trump administration plans to use the Mojahedin-e Khalq (People’s Mojahedin of Iran, or MEK) as a key element in its strategy to destabilize Iran preparatory to regime change.

On June 30 Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph Giuliani told the group in Paris: “We are now realistically being able to see an end to the regime in Iran. Trump doesn’t turn his back on freedom fighters.”

On July 1, 2017 John Bolton, former State Department official and Trump supporter, addressed a large gathering of MEK supporters in Paris.

There is a viable opposition to the rule of the ayatollahs,” he told the enraptured crowd, “and that opposition is centered in this room today…I have said for over 10 years since coming to these events that the declared policy of the United States should be the overthrow of the regime in Tehran. The behavior and the objectives of the regime are not going to change. And therefore the only solution is to change the regime itself. And that’s why before 2019 we here will celebrate in Tehran!

Yes, the man who has been U.S. National Security Advisor since April 9 predicted to MEK that he would celebrate with them the downfall of the Iranian regime by next year. On May 8 of this year Bolton’s boss withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

So it’s virtually official. MEK freedom fighters will be chief U.S. proxy in the coming confrontation, or rather the ongoing confrontation renewed when Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Iran deal, threatening all countries with sanctions if they so much as buy Iranian oil. They are comparable to the peshmerga of Syria, or the Northern Alliance warlords in Afghanistan, or the motley array of militia that overthrew Gaddafi in Libya with U.S.-NATO support—willing accomplices in a regime-change effort directed from Washington.

Who are these people? MEK was founded in Iran in 1965 as a revolutionary anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist organization dedicated to the violent overthrow of the U.S.-backed regime of the Shah. It sought to produce a synthesis of Shiite Islam and Marxism, an inherently problematic project that has been more or less abandoned, especially as MEK has in recent years courted U.S. officials like Bolton. (A huge number of prominent U.S. officials and former officials have spoken in recent years, often for large fees, at MEK events. They include Howard Dean. Gen. Wesley Clark, Rudolph Giuliani, Porter Goss, Gen. Michael Hayden, Gen. Richard Myers, Bill Richardson, and Gen. Anthony Zinni.)

Embracing urban guerrilla warfare tactics in the 1970s, MEK targeted the regime and the U.S. military presence, conducting many attacks on U.S. personnel and gunning down Lt. Col. Louis Lee Hawkins, a U.S. Army comptroller, in 1973. Its members trained with the PLO and al-Fateh and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman.

During the revolution of 1979 that toppled the Shah, MEK was the largest of the radical left parties (if we exclude the Tudeh or Communist Party founded in 1941, dismissed by MEK as “revisionist”). It worked with smaller communist groups, notably Sardedaran (Union of Iranian Communists) founded in the U.S. by Iranian students in 1976 under the strong influence of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA.

Initially, MEK aligned itself with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, whose triumphant return from French exile had met with a rapturous response. They perceived him as a popular nationalist leader. But when he denied its leaders input into the writing of a constitution, and forbade them from running for political office, they revolted. Results of their uprising were disastrous; about 10,000 perished and thousands of its members including the leadership fled to Iraq or France. Hosted by Saddam Hussein, they fought alongside the Iraqi Army against their countrymen throughout the 1980s. This is one reason they are generally, according to plausible reports, despised in Iran even by those who chafe under the mullah’s rule.

Camp Ashraf in Iraq was created by the MEK to accommodate its 3500 soldiers in the country. This camp was taken over by the U.S. following the 2003 invasion. Indeed the U.S. protected MEK from the Iraqis’ intention to deport them and indeed housed them at Camp Fallujah and arranged for some to be relocated to Albania.

In 1975 MEK split into its component parts; that is, a faction arguing rather simply that Marxism, not Islam, is the revolutionary path, and the dominant faction arguing the opposite. This is the MEK that hosts the most reactionary U.S. officials and—after inveighing against Zionism for decades—now cultivates ties with Israeli intelligence. In 1997 it was listed as a “terrorist” organization by the U.S. State Department. The UK and EU soon followed suite. But MEK was delisted as terrorist by Britain in 2008, the EU in 2009, and the U.S. in 2012.

Why? Hillary Clinton determined that MEK had changed its ways and given up terrorism. Plus, MEK was so useful, cooperating as it was and is with U.S. and Israeli intelligence, smuggling intelligence out of Iran, abetting U.S.-Israeli disinformation schemes, maintaining an underground presence in Iran that will be useful (some suppose) when the regime-change moment comes.

Analysts agree that MEK is a very unusual organization. Led by a married couple, Massoud Rajavi and his wife Maryam Rajavi, it imposes strict discipline including life-long celibacy on its members. It forbids them to entertain sexual thoughts. It punishes rules infractions with public shaming and sleep deprivation. It is often termed a cult.

That this group should become a key U.S. ally—as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo virtually declares war on Iran—is truly perplexing. Surely U.S. officials know that MEK is hated in Iran, and that its tactics in Iran have not produced mass support. Other underground opposition parties, such as the National Front of Iran, founded by Mohammed Mossadegh (toppled by the CIA in 1953), will not likely cooperate with them in producing a second regime change. The idea is as wild as Bolton’s idea that Cuba’s pharmaceutical plants are producing biological weapons.

Can it be that Pompeo does not understand the enduring outrage felt among Iranians about that 1953 coup? The U.S. didn’t just “interfere” in somebody else’s election, it toppled a democratically elected prime minister because he had the temerity to try to nationalize the nation’s petroleum industry. The world knows the U.S. interferes in other nations’ politics and electoral processes habitually, and that the “bi-partisan” National Endowment for Democracy “NGO” funnels billions into pro-U.S. forces in countries targeted for “color revolutions.” Only the cable anchors on CNN, MSNBC and Fox seem clueless, wide-eyed, indignant and outraged at the thought that “Russia interfered in OUR election!” As though we, as a people, ever had a real election in 2016.)

Bolton resembles his boss in that he cares nothing for the truth; lies boldly with angry, smug confidence, daring his audience to differ; is a loud bully with an ego and an agenda to which he hopes to commit the president. His main project is the Iranian regime change, much as Iraqi regime was Paul Wolfowitz’s preoccupation from 9/11/2001 to March 2003 when the plot to conduct a war-based-on-lies was finally consummated. (Bolton continues to say: “I still think the decision to overthrow Saddam was correct,” and that the U.S. has the right to overthrow sovereign states at will.)

Bolton has told reporters (who note his changing stance on war with North Korea) that anything he may have said in print or on television in the past is irrelevant now since he is in the service of the president and committed to his policies. But he happily realizes his boss is an air-head, ignorant and impressionable, generally Islamophobic, committed to a hawkish anti-Iran policy because (1) he wants to reverse any Obama policy; (2) he made a campaign promise; (3) he’s slavishly deferential to Binyamin Netanyahu, who wants the U.S. to bomb Iran; and (4) hostility towards Iran invites little opposition in Netanyahu’s fan club, Congress. Bolton has lots to work with there.

Congressional attitudes could change if U.S. secondary sanctions applied on European allied nations further strain the Atlantic Alliance already stressed by the trade wars Trump has unleashed. The EU, Russia and China all need to unite in demanding that the U.S. not only end its threats to attack Iran but respect other nations’ rights to trade with that great, large, relatively wealthy nation. (The IMF ranks Iran as 27th of 191 nations in terms of GDP; that is, it’s among the world’s top 15%. China, UAE, Germany and India are main trade partners.)

As U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo provokes Iran with his arrogant demands—“preconditions” for a U.S. return to the deal, which essentially demand that it grovel at America’s feet—the U.S. provokes the rest of the world too, for multiple reasons. Its demand for allies’ cooperation in its efforts to undermine Tehran conflict with their efforts to improve both diplomatic and trade relations, to say nothing of their hopes for more stability in the region flooding Europe with refugees.

Thus Trump chooses the re-designated terrorist group MEK over Paris; Israel over Europe; Saudi Arabia and its anti-Iran Arab coalition against Russia and China. It demands that Japan (once Iran’s largest oil purchaser, now the sixth largest) and South Korea (currently the third largest, after China and India) end imports to abet regime-change efforts. These demands are outrageous, especially spouted by mouths that the whole world knows routinely spew lies without shame.

So it’s Trump, Bolton, Pompeo, Netanyahu, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and the Rajavis—-versus Iran and the world which, while it may not be terribly fond of Iran, are becoming even less fond of Trump’s U.S.A.

Oh, and now Pompeo comes back from Pyongyang boasting of “progress” while the Koreans call the visit “regrettable.” The whole world is hoping that the U.S. work methodically with the DPRK to achieve the denuclearization goal. That will take time and require a schedule of coordinated steps, like the Iran deal that Pompeo has been trying to sabotage since 2015, as Kansas congressman, CIA director, and in his present post, required.

One should not suppose Pompeo more predisposed to promote peace with North Korea than peace with Iran. Imagine the DPRK rapprochement collapsing just as the joint U.S.-Saudi-U.S. missile barrage strikes Iran. There are sober people in Washington thinking carefully about multiple scenarios, amorally planning for all contingencies.

One of these might be a general Manichaean apocalypse in which the issue is not Good versus Evil (which would have been the case under George W. Bush) but Trump and His Base versus the World.

The latter he attacks by trade policy, a diplomacy of irrational insults, an almost impish desire to undermine existing international agreements and institutions (not so much to the objective advantage of U.S. imperialism so much as the advantage of his own frozen prepubescent ego), missile strikes at his generals’ discretion, and shameless voicing of racist, bigoted, uneducated views. The former he pleases by such policies and bombast. The U.S. mainstream media and the bulk of the political class deplore Trump in favor of the world, or at least criticize Trump’s “America First” populist nationalism as threatening to the postwar international order which has hitherto been very good to the imperialist U.S.A. They look askance at MEK and, to the extent they engage the issue, they question the wisdom an alliance with it.

Still, Trump proceeds on a confrontational course with Iran, and with any having deals with Iran, joining in the process with the most unsavory henchmen from the Saudis to the Likudists to these Iranian cultists. One hopes this strategy will only further isolate the U.S. from its allies and unintentionally help produce a more multi-polar world.

How Israel helped to revive Europe’s Ugly Ethnic Nationalism

Polarisation within western societies on issues relating to migration and human rights has been intensifying over recent weeks and months. To many observers, it looks suspiciously as if an international order in place since the end of the second world war – one that emphasised universal rights as a way to prevent dehumanisation and conflict – is rapidly unravelling in Europe and the United States.

In the past few weeks in Donald Trump’s America, it has emerged that thousands of migrant children have been snatched from their parents while trying to enter at the southern border, with some held in cages; the US Supreme Court has upheld the right of border officials to bar entry to Muslims from proscribed countries; and the Trump administration has quit the United Nations’ Human Rights Council, a key institution for monitoring human rights violations.

Meanwhile, far-right parties across Europe have ridden to electoral success on the back of mounting fears at a wave of migrants displaced from North Africa and the Middle East by wars and famines. Joining the trenchant anti-immigration stances of governments in Hungary and Poland, Italy’s interior minister Matteo Salvini has turned away boatloads of migrants from his country’s ports. He called last month for the European Union to “defend its border” and deny access to human rights groups, while also threatening to cut his country’s budget to Europe unless action was taken against migrants. Salvini is among the Italian politicians demanding the expulsion of the Roma minority.

Other European governments led by Germany, fearful of internal political instability that might undermine their continuing rule, called a hasty summit to consider options for dealing with the “migrant crisis”.

And casting a long shadow over the proceedings is Britain’s efforts to negotiate its exit from the EU, a blow that might eventually lead to the whole edifice of the European project crumbling.

Two ideas of citizenship

These are not random events. They are part of a quickening trend, and one that signals how an international order built up over the past 70 years and represented by pan-national institutions like the United Nations and the EU is gradually breaking down.

While the evidence suggests that there is no particular migration crisis at the moment, there are long-term factors that readily provoke populist fears and can be readily exploited, especially over the depletion of key global resources like oil, and environmental changes caused by climate breakdown. Together they have stoked resource conflicts and begun to shrink world economies. The effects are ideological and political shockwaves that have put a system of long-standing international agreements and norms under unprecedented strain.

The emerging struggle faced today is one that was fought out a century ago in western Europe, and relates to differing conceptions of citizenship. In the early 20th century, Europe was riven by ethnic nationalisms: each state was seen as representing a separate biological people – or in the terminology of the time, a race or Volk. And each believed it needed territory in which to express its distinct heritage, identity, language and culture. In the space of a few decades, these antagonistic nationalisms tore Europe apart in two “world wars”.

At the time, ethnic nationalism was pitted against an alternative vision of citizenship: civic nationalism. It is worth briefly outlining how the two differed.

Civic nationalists draw on long-standing liberal ideas that prioritise a shared political identity based on citizenship inside the stable territorial unit of a democratic state. The state should aspire – at least in theory – to be neutral towards ethnic minorities, and their languages and cultures.

Civic nationalism is premised on individual rights, social equality and tolerance. Its downside is an inherent tendency to atomise societies into individuals, and cultivate consumption over other social values. That has made it easier for powerful corporations to capture the political system, leading to the emergence of neoliberal capitalist economies.

Minorities scapegoated

Ethnic nationalists, by contrast, believe in distinct peoples, with a shared heritage and ancestry. Such nationalists not only resist the idea that other groups can integrate or assimilate, but fear that they might weaken or dissolve the ties binding the nation together.

Ethnic nationalists therefore accentuate an imagined collective will belonging to the dominant ethnic group that guides its destiny; emphasise threats from external enemies and subversion from within by those opposed to the values of the core group; encourage the militarisation of the society to cope with such threats; and anxiously guard existing territory and aggressively seek to expand borders to increase the nation’s resilience.

Even before Europe’s two great wars, most western states were a hybrid of civic and ethnic nationalist impulses. But in a political climate of competition over resources and paranoid vigilance against rivals that prevailed before the second world war, especially fears among western elites about how best to counter the growing threat of Soviet Communism, ideas associated with ethnic nationalism tended to dominate.

It was for this reason that ethnic minorities – especially those such as Jews and Roma whose loyalties to the core nation were considered suspect – found themselves scapegoated and faced rampant discrimination. This took different forms.

In Britain, ethnic nationalism contributed to the Balfour Declaration of 1917, a document proposing that British Jews be transplanted to the Middle East. In part this was a colonial project to create an outpost of Jews in the Middle East dependent on British favour for their security. But as noted by Edwin Montagu, the only Jew in the British cabinet at the time, the Balfour Declaration had strong anti-semitic overtones, reinforcing the idea that Jews did not belong and should be relocated elsewhere.

Ethnic nationalism in France was evidenced by the notorious Dreyfus Affair. A Jewish captain in the French army, Alfred Dreyfus, was convicted of treason in 1894 for leaking military secrets to Germany. In fact, as it later emerged, another French officer was responsible for the leak, but the military preferred to falsify documents to ensure that blame rested with Dreyfus.

And in Germany, racism towards minorities like Jews and Roma culminated in the Nazi concentration camps of the 1930s and a short time later a policy of mass extermination that claimed the lives of many millions.

Rebuilding a post-war Europe

After the devastation of the second world war, western Europe had to be rebuilt, both physically and ideologically. With the dangers of ethnic nationalisms now apparent, greater emphasis was placed on civic nationalism.

This trend was encouraged by the US through its Marshall Plan, an economic recovery programme to reconstruct western Europe. The US wanted a united, peaceful Europe – its ethnic antagonisms a thing of the past – so that a culture of individualism and consumerism could be fostered, guaranteeing an export market for American goods. A US-dependent Europe could also be relied on as a bulwark against Washington’s chief ideological rival, Soviet communism.

By the end of the 20th century, these developments would lead to the emergence of a common market, later the European Union, a single currency and the dropping of border controls.

At the same time, in the immediate post-war period, it was decided to put safeguards in place against the recent slaughter. The Nuremberg Trials helped to define the rules of war, and classed their violations as war crimes, while the UN’s 1948 Declaration of Human Rights and the Geneva Conventions began the process of formalising international law and the concept of universal human rights.

All of that post-war order is now unravelling.

Bucking the trend

Israel was established in 1948, the year of the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights, which was itself intended to prevent any return to the horrors of the Holocaust. Israel was presented as a sanctuary for Jews from a depraved Europe that had been overrun by aggressive racial ideologies. And Israel was extolled as a “light unto the nations”, the political fruit of the new international legal order to promote the rights of minorities.

But paradoxically, the “western” state that most visibly bucked the trend towards civic nationalism in the post-war period was Israel. It stuck rigidly with a political model of ethnic nationalism that had just been discredited in Europe. Today Israel embodies a political alternative to civic nationalism – one that is slowly and increasingly helping to rehabilitate ethnic nationalism.

From the outset, Israel was not what it appeared to most outsiders. It had been sponsored as a colonial settler project by western patrons that variously included Britain, the Soviet Union, France and, latterly, the US. Set up to be an explicitly “Jewish state”, it was built on the ruins of the native Palestinian people’s homeland after a campaign of expulsions historians have characterised as “ethnic cleansing”.

Israel was not the liberal democracy claimed in its campaigns of self-promotion, known as hasbara. In fact, far from being an antidote to ethnic nationalism, Israel was decisively a product – or more specifically, a mirroring – of this form of nationalism.

Israel’s tribal ideology

Its founding ideology, Zionism, was deeply opposed to civic nationalism and attendant ideas of a common political identity. Rather, it was a tribal ideology – one based on blood ties and religious heritage – that spoke the same language as Europe’s earlier ethnic nationalisms. It agreed with the racists of Europe that “the Jews” could not be assimilated or integrated because they were a people apart.

It was this shared ground with the ethnic nationalists that made the Zionist movement deeply unpopular among the vast majority of European Jews until the rise of Hitler in the 1930s. After the horrors of the Nazis, however, growing numbers of Jews concluded that, if you could not beat the ethnic nationalists, it was better to join them. A highly militarised, nuclear-armed Israel – sponsored by Europe and belligerent towards its new, relatively weak Arab neighbours – appeared the best solution available.

It is that shared ground that today makes Israel an ally and friend to Trump and his political constituency in the US and to Europe’s far-right parties.

In fact, Israel is revered by a new breed of white supremacists and anti-semites in the US known as the alt-right. Their leader, Richard Spencer, has termed himself a “white Zionist”, saying he wants the US to become a “secure homeland” to prevent “the demographic dispossession of white people in the United States and around the world” in the same way Israel achieved for Jews.

Making racism respectable

Israel preserved the model of ethnic nationalism and is now seeking to help make it respectable again among sections of western public opinion.

Just as historically there were different varieties of ethnic nationalisms in Europe, so there are among the popular and political movements in Israel.

At the most disturbing extreme of the spectrum are the religious settlers who have actively taken up the task of once again uprooting the native Palestinian population, this time in the occupied territories. Such settlers now dominate the middle ranks of the Israeli army.

In a handbook for further dispossession known as the King’s Torah, influential settler rabbis have justified the pre-emptive killing of Palestinians as terrorists, and their babies as “future terrorists”. This worldview explains why settlers massed outside a court in Israel last month taunting a Palestinian, Hussein Dawabshe, whose 18-month-old grandson, Ali, was among family members burnt alive by settlers in 2015. As the grandfather arrived, the settlers jeered “Where is Ali, Ali’s dead” and “Ali’s on the grill.”

Even more common, to the extent that it passes almost unnoticed in Israel, is the structural racism that keeps the fifth of the population belonging to a Palestinian minority apart from the Jewish majority. For decades, for example, Israeli hospitals have been separating women in maternity wards based on their ethnicity.  Last month, in a familiar pattern, it was revealed that a municipal swimming pool in the Negev was quietly segregating Jewish and Palestinian bathers – all citizens of the same state – by offering different hours.

At least the pool accepted Palestinian citizens. Almost all communities in Israel are segregated, with many hundreds using admissions committees to ensure they bar Palestinian citizens and remain exclusively Jewish.

There have been weeks of angry protests among Jewish residents of the northern city of Afula, after the first Palestinian family managed to buy a home in a neighbourhood. Deputy mayor Shlomo Malihi observed: “I hope that the house sale will be cancelled so that this city won’t begin to be mixed.”

The ‘danger’ of intermarriage

Last month Miki Zohar, a legislator in the ruling Likud party, observed not only that there is a “Jewish race”, but that it represents “the highest human capital, the smartest, the most comprehending”.

At the same time, the government’s education minister, Naftali Bennett, noted that the future of the Jewish people in countries like the US kept him awake at night. “If we don’t act urgently, we’re going to be losing millions of Jews to assimilation,” he told a conference in Jerusalem.

This is a common refrain on the Israeli left too. Isaac Herzog, the former leader of the supposedly socialist Labour party and the new chair of the Jewish Agency, shares Bennett’s tribal impulse. Last month he warned that Jews outside Israel were falling victim to a “plague” of intermarriage with non-Jews. He bewailed that on a visit to the US last year: “I saw the children of my friends marrying or living with non-Jewish partners”. He concluded: “We have to rack our brains over how to solve this great challenge.”

An ethnic fortress

But the problem is not restricted to the prejudices of individuals and communities. It has state sanction, just as in Europe a century ago.

That can be seen not only in rampant institutional racism in Israel – some 70 laws that explicitly discriminate based on ethnic belonging – but in Israel’s obsession with wall-building. There are walls sealing off Gaza, and the densely Palestinian-populated parts of occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

In another indication of the ethnic fortress mentality, Israel has built a wall to block the entry of African asylum seekers through the Sinai peninsula as they flee wars. Israel has been deporting these refugees back to Africa – in violation of international conventions it has ratified – putting their lives in danger.

And while western liberals have grown exercised at the separation of children from their parents by the Trump administration, they have ignored decades of similarly brutal Israeli policies. In that time, thousands of Palestinian children have been seized from their homes, often in night-time raids, and jailed in trials with a near-100 per cent conviction rate.

Extrajudicial violence

Throughout its history, Israel has glorified in its military prowess and brazenly celebrated a tradition of extrajudicial violence against opponents. That has included practices such as torture and political assassinations that international law seeks to prohibit. The sophistry used by Israel to defend these actions has been enthusiastically taken up in Washington – in particular, when the US began its own programmes of torture and extrajudicial murder after the Iraq invasion of 2003.

Israel has ready-made rationalisations and specious soundbites that have made it much easier to sell to western publics the dismantling of international norms.

The upending of international law – and, with it, a reversal of the trend towards civic nationalism – has intensified with Israel’s repeated attacks on Gaza over the past decade. Israel has subverted the key principles of international law – proportionality, distinction and necessity – by hugely widening the circle of potential targets of military action to include swaths of civilians, and using massive force beyond any possible justification.

That has been graphically illustrated of late in its maiming and killing of thousands of unarmed Palestinian protesters for being supposedly too close to the perimeter fence Israel has built to encage Gaza. That fence simply delimits the Palestinian land occupied by Israel. But in another success for Israeli hasbara, western reporting has almost universally suggested that the fence is a border Israel is entitled to defend.

Israeli expertise in demand

Israel’s expertise is increasingly in demand in a west where ethnic nationalisms are again taking root. Israel’s weapons have been tested on the battlefield, against Palestinians. Its homeland security systems have proven they can surveill and control Palestinian populations, just as western elites think about their own protection inside gated communities.

Israel’s paramilitary police train and militarise western police forces needed to repress internal dissent. Israel has developed sophisticated cyberwarfare techniques based on its efforts to remain a regional superpower that now satisfy the west’s politically paranoid atmosphere.

With an abiding aversion to the Communist ideology of their former Soviet rulers, central and east European states have led the move towards a renewal of ethnic nationalism. Civic nationalism, by contrast, is seen as dangerously exposing the nation to outside influences.

Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, is among the new brand of eastern European leader brazenly stoking an ethnic politics at home through anti-semitism. He has targeted the Hungarian Jewish billionaire and philanthropist George Soros for promoting a civic nationalism, suggesting Soros represents a wider Jewish threat to Hungary. Under a recent law, popularly known as “STOP Soros”, anyone helping migrants enter Hungary risks a prison sentence. Orban has lauded Miklos Horthy, a long-time Hungarian leader, who was a close ally of Hitler’s.

Nonetheless, Orban is being feted by Benjamin Netanyahu, in the same way the Israeli prime minister has closely identified with Trump. Netanyahu called to congratulate Orban shortly after he was re-elected in April, and will welcome him in a state visit this month. Ultimately, Netanyahu is angling to host the next meeting of the Visegrad group, four central European countries in the grip of far-right ethnic politics Israel wishes to develop closer ties with.

For leaders like Orban, Israel has led the way. It has shown that ethnic politics is not discredited after all, that it can work. For Europe and America’s new ethnic nationalists, Israel has proven that some peoples are destined for greatness, if they are allowed to triumph over those who stand in their way.

It will be a darker, far more divided and frightening world if this logic prevails. It is time to recognise what Israel represents, and how it does not offer solutions – only far greater problems.

• First published in Middle East Eye

Other Revolving Doors

It’s more than doors between government and the businesses that they supposedly regulate that go round and round.  One of the other swinging doors is between the Democratic and Republican Parties.

A second door

Perhaps the best known case is when Al Gore ran for president in 2000, he picked Joe Lieberman as his running mate.  Then, in 2008, Lieberman showed up at the Republican national convention to endorse John McCain for president.  Between those two campaigns, John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, was rumored to be leaning to ask Republican John McCain to be his running mate.

Had Al Gore won, Lieberman would most likely have been the subsequent Democratic nominee for president.  Had John Kerry won with McCain on the ticket, McCain would have been the heir apparent to the “Democratic Party” crown.  Whether Lieberman or McCain, Democrats across the country would have been told to bow in reverence to their party’s red-blue nominee for president.

This was hardly the first time such a switcheroo blossomed in American politics.  In 1864, Republican Abraham Lincoln dumped his sitting vice-president to ask Democrat Andrew Johnson to be his running mate.  After Lincoln’s murder, US voters, who had selected a Republican to be their president, found him replaced by a Democrat.

Though such examples at the presidential level may be enshrined in history books, they happen all the time at the local level.  In 1963, the Texas Young Democrats allowed high school chapters for the first time.  I was 15 years old then and organized the state’s first Young Democrats chapter at Lamar High School in Houston.  We invited a teacher who had been elected to the Texas Legislature to speak to our chapter on “Why Am I a Democrat?”  His answer was simple.  He was a Democrat because that was the only way to get elected in Texas of the early 1960s.

The next year, he came out as a Republican.  That was the time of the exodus of southern Dixiecrats from the Democratic to the Republican Party.

Fast forward half a century and I was the 2016 Green Party nominee for governor of Missouri.  I participated in the debate with Democrat Chris Koster and Republican Eric Greitens.  Greitens, riding the election on Trump’s wave, has since become internationally infamous for an affair in which he allegedly tied his victim to his basement exercise equipment, hit her, took nude photos of her, threatened to publicize the photos if she ever told anyone what he did, and continued various sex acts without her consent.

During the campaign, both the Democrat and Repubican made TV ads showing themselves with automatic weapons.  Besides being partial to gun violence, they had something else in common.  Both had switched parties.  The Republican Greitens was a former Democrat and the Democrat Koster was a former Republican.  Like most others greedy for power, they decided which way the winds were blowing, calculated where they could most effectively hustle votes, and adjusted their public images and party affiliation accordingly.  (Greitens resigned as governor in May 2018.)

Flip-flops between the corporate parties are hardly peculiar to Missouri.  Evan Jenkins was the runner-up in the May 2018 Republican primary for the West Virginia US senate seat.  Jenkins had been elected as a Democrat to the West Virginia legislature, but hopped to the Republican side to win the third district US house seat in 2014. During the 2018 race, the former Democrat boasted a perfect rating from the National Rifle Association as well as a 100% “pro-life” record saying, “I am a West Virginia conservative who is working with President Trump each and every day for our shared conservative values.”

That was nothing new for the state.  Its billionaire governor Jim Justice started out as a Republican, became a Democrat in 2015 to win the governor’s race and switched again to the Republicans in 2017 to bask in Trump’s glow.  These people are as dedicated to the colors of their party as a chameleon is to staying green when it’s opportune to turn yellow.

The original door

Do you remember when the “revolving door” was first noticed?  It was due to people like Michael R. Taylor who rotated between regulatory agencies and the corporations they were supposedly regulating.  Taylor began as a Monsanto lawyer.  Then he became a staff lawyer for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and helped it to hassle Amish farmers for selling whole milk while giving companies like Monsanto the green light to sell genetically contaminated products without labeling them.  Then, he cycled back to Monsanto, becoming its Vice President for Public Policy.  In 2010, he flipped back to being the FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods.

The scenario was quite a bit different for Richard Gephardt, former speaker of the US House and darling child of business unions and anti-NAFTA coalitions in the early 1990s.  When I was working with Public Citizen to oppose NAFTA, a friend who had just been to Mexico told me that Gephardt had spoken in Monterrey promising to get NAFTA through the US House.  So I spent several afternoons at the Washington University library until I found the Mexican paper Excelsior recording his comments.

I documented Gephardt’s statements in an Op-Ed piece in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of June 1, 1993 and reported his two faces during the next Public Citizen conference call.  There was stony silence for several seconds.  Then Lori Wallach let everyone know “Dick Gephardt is the best ally in Washington that we have.”

Though Gephardt gave clear warnings of his true colors, leftists paid to lobby politicians had a devout faith that an ally scheming to stab you in the back is better than no ally at all.  A few years later, the left did turn on Gephardt – but only after he publicly displayed his contempt for progressives.  In 2005, he abandoned his distinguished career as public servant and formed Gephardt Government Affairs which allowed him to pocket almost $7 million lobbying on behalf of clients such as Goldman Sachs, Boeing, Visa Inc and Waste Management Inc.

Of course, Gephardt was not the typical revolving door guy.  Instead of being an agency bureaucrat      he was elected to public office.  And he did not wait to resign from his governmental post to serve industry because he was apparently working both sides regarding NAFTA at the same time.

A third door

This brings us to a third way the door revolves  – the way that policies and practices get tossed from one corporate party to the other.  When I was a kid, the saying went “The Democrats bring war and the Republicans bring recession.”  But no more.  With rapacious Wall Street increasing its appetite for expansion as its human host decays, the Democrats and Republicans shadow box to see which can simultaneously be more violent and make the quality of life deteriorate faster.

Perhaps the old saying stemmed from the way Woodrow Wilson won the presidency with the slogan “He kept us out of war” and then proceeded to take the US into WWI.  A few decades later Lyndon Johnson ridiculed Barry Goldwater’s threat to bomb Viet Nam back into the stone age.  After LBJ won the election, he did his best to carry out Goldwater’s plan.

For about half a century, the Republicans won the reputation of being the most anti-Communist.  Yet, it was John and Bobby Kennedy who tried to invade Cuba, went off their chain to pit bull Fidel Castro, and began the very long series of attempts to assassinate him.

Years later, the rapidly anti-Communist Richard Nixon ascended the throne, recognized China, and visited Beijing.  In case you missed it, the right-wing Nixon reversed course and realized a progressive idea.  It was hardly the only positive event that happened during the reign of one of the most degenerate presidents of all time.  The following occurred during his presidency: end to the Viet Nam war, beginning of the Food Stamp Program, creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, passage of the Freedom of Information Act, formal dismantling of the FBI’s COINTEL program, decriminalization of abortion, creation of Earned Income Tax Credits, a format ban on biological weapons, and passage of the Clean Water Act.

One of the crowning achievements during the Nixon era was the April 28, 1971 founding of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).  Shaun Richman describes in The Unionist how OSHA “has the authority to promulgate industry-specific workplace safety rules and to fine companies that violate them. The law also provides for workplace safety inspectors, whistleblower protections for workers who report potentially unsafe conditions and legal protections for workers who go on wildcat strikes to put an end to a dangerous situation.”

Do Democrats in power provide some sort of assurance because they “call for” more environmental protection than do Republicans?  During the 1990s, St. Louis environmentalists were trying to block the construction of a dioxin incinerator.  There was a Democrat in the White House, a Democratic Governor of Missouri, and a Democratic County Executive.   We persuaded the Democratic majority on the County Council to pass an ordinance requiring dioxin incinerators to operate according to EPA standards, which seemed like a victory since no incinerator can meet those standards.

We stopped going to County Council meetings because we thought we had “won.”  Then the Council repealed the ordinance we had lobbied for.  Bill Clinton got his Missouri dioxin incinerator.  When do Democrats stab you in the back?  Whenever your back is turned.

In 2018, Donald Trump is justly despised because of his racist hate campaign against people of color, especially his ripping immigrant children apart from their parents and putting them in cages.  But let’s not forget the continuity between Obama and Trump.  As Tina Vasquez writes in Rewire News:

When he first announced DACA in 2012, President Obama boasted of ‘putting more boots on the southern border than at any time in our history.’ Obama sought to ‘centralize border security’ on the pretext of deporting violent criminals and gang members—now Trump’s cause … The anti-immigrant zeal that Trump used to get elected is in many ways closely aligned with the history of America’s immigration system, which gave priority to white immigrants and sought to limit entry by other groups. Every administration, Republican or Democrat, has maintained this system’s injustices.

A major difference between the two presidents is that press outlets like MSNBC tended to ignore actions by Obama but shrieked in horror when Trump followed suit.  Clearly, the outrage against Trump positively lessens the attacks, but it makes one wonder: If a Democrat replaces Trump and commits the same atrocities against immigrant children, will media again muffle its anger?

These examples of Democrats and Republicans swapping platforms and policies do not even scratch the surface.  Their views are so interchangeable that one could write a 10 volume collection of the way they imitate each other and still barely cover the tip of all the stories out there.

Progressive Democrats?

Does this mean that there is no one running for office as a Democrat who sincerely wishes to move in a more progressive direction?  Of course not.  There are many, many candidates who start out running for local office as a Democrat and stay at the bottom of the Party’s hierarchy because it is structured to keep them there and use them as bait to lure and defang other progressives.

Progressive Democrats at the base level do not script the Party’s major directions, which is as firmly controlled by big business as is the direction of the Republican Party.  While they may propose reforms in their communities, they must march in line with candidates for national office if they are to get funding to run at a higher level.  Those higher-up Dems are the ones most skilled at collaborating with Repubs, echoing their policies, and even fluttering over to the GOP side if the time is right.

While the Republicans and Democrats are able to twist and turn on any dime lying in the street, there is at least one item for which they have a mind-meld.  The top concern of their corporate benefactors is “How do we reverse the gains of the New Deal?”  Bosses of both parties seek to undo the New Deal – the biggest difference between them is how to pull it off.

The Dems generally use finesse with a stiletto, carving out gains one-by-one, weeping and sobbing as they do so.  The public face of the Repubs screams in delight as it whacks off gains with a meat cleaver.  The difference in rhetoric is vastly greater than any difference in the end result.  So many politicians can alternate policies and, at times, party affiliation because they see elections as a thermometer measuring if it is the hour for the delicate blade or the butcher knife.

The great virtue of the Democrats is creating hope.  The great virtue of the Republicans is being a bit more honest about their long term goals.  The perception of vice or virtue in either depends on the mood of the observer.

Do Democrats and Republicans quarrel with each other in front of TV cameras?  Obviously yes – but it’s merely a mock lovers’ spat crafted for public consumption.  Once the cameras are off, they embrace in excited passion while collapsing onto the bed of cash provided by corporate donations to both parties.

In our darkest hour

Understanding that the unified goal of both parties is to turn back New Deal gains leads us to ask how those victories were won.  It was because of the massive strikes, exploding labor movement, and unprecedented growth of the Socialist and Communist Parties that made a New Deal necessary.  Key corporate players decided that it was more discreet to allow some demanded changes than to suppress mushrooming mass movements.

Hop forward to the Nixon years.  The many accomplishments won during his term were not because that vicious anti-communist fell on his knees, beheld a shining light, and vowed to tread the path of righteousness.  It was due to a strong labor movement, a massive anti-war movement following on the heels of the civil rights movement, and a growing women’s movement demanding reproductive freedom (along with many other more radical movements).

Hop forward again to the depravity of the Trump administration.  As humanity faces extermination from increased production of fossil fuels, opposition bubbles up at an equal rate.  Even though Republican state legislatures agreed to continue undermining public schools, in Spring 2018 teachers decided that they had had enough.

West Virginia had a Republican governor and a Republican majority in both houses of the legislature.  But West Virginia teachers went on strike anyway and were followed by teachers from Oklahoma and other states likewise dominated by anti-labor Republicans.  Even though illegal, the strike won because teachers stood together with janitors, bus drivers, food service workers and other state employees.

As Bruce Dixon laid it out in Black Agenda Report:

…successful strikes are possible wherever an overwhelming majority of the workforce is committed to it, whether or not those workers are in a ‘right to work’ state, and whether or not the strike is endorsed by their union if they have a union at all. Neither of West Virginia’s two teachers unions endorsed the strike, and the leaders of both unions initially and repeatedly attempted to ‘settle’ it for far less than the striking workers demanded.

The three revolving doors are just other ways that big business manages government while pulling the wool over people’s eyes.  Corporate flunkies transfer between their bosses and agencies to ensure agencies do their bidding.  Professional politicians go back and forth between parties according to their career opportunities.  Parties grab policies from each other to see who can hoodwink the most voters.

The Democrats and Republicans are parts of a single gestalt that creates the illusion of meaningful difference when there is none.  If you are part of an organization that gets caught up in the revolving door, don’t keep going around in circles – find another way out.  In times of the darkest despair, solidarity is still the road to victory.

The Media’s Brazen Dishonesty About North Korean Nuclear Violations

President Trump and North Korean President Kim Jong Un shake hands in summit room, June 12, 2018. (Office of the President of the United States/Public Domain)

In late June and early July, NBC News, CNN, and The Wall Street Journal published stories that appeared at first glance to shed a lurid light on Donald Trump’s flirtation with Kim Jong-un. They contained satellite imagery showing that North Korea was making rapid upgrades to its nuclear weapons complex at Yongbyon and expanding its missile production program just as Trump and Kim were getting chummy at their Singapore summit.

In fact, those media outlets were selling journalistic snake oil. By misrepresenting the diplomatic context of the images they were hyping, the press launched a false narrative around the Trump-Kim summit and the negotiations therein.

The headline of the June 27 NBC News story revealed the network’s political agenda on the Trump-Kim negotiations. “If North Korea is denuclearizing,” it asked, “why is it expanding a nuclear research center?” The piece warned that North Korea “continues to make improvements to a major nuclear facility, raising questions about President Donald Trump’s claim that Kim Jong Un has agreed to disarm, independent experts tell NBC News.”

CNN’s coverage of the same story was even more sensationalist, declaring that there were “troubling signs” that North Korea was making “improvements” to its nuclear facilities, some of which it said had been carried out after the Trump-Kim summit. It pointed to a facility that had produced plutonium in the past and recently undergone an upgrade, despite Kim’s alleged promise to Trump to draw down his nuclear arsenal. CNN commentator Max Boot cleverly spelled out the supposed implication: “If you were about to demolish your house, would you be remodeling the kitchen?”

But in their determination to push hardline opposition to the negotiations, these stories either ignored or sought to discredit the careful caveat accompanying the original source on which they were based—the analysis of satellite images published on the website 38 North on June 21. The three analysts who had written that the satellite images “indicated that improvements to the infrastructure at North Korea’s Yongbyon Nuclear Research Center are continuing at a rapid pace” also cautioned that this work “should not be seen as having any relationship to North Korea’s pledge to denuclearize.”

If the authors’ point was not clear enough, Joel Wit, the founder of 38 North, who helped negotiate the 1994 Agreed Framework with North Korea and then worked on its implementation for several years, explained to NBC News: “What you have is a commitment to denuclearize—we don’t have the deal yet, we just have a general commitment.” Wit added that he didn’t “find it surprising at all” that work at Yongbyon was continuing.

In a briefing for journalists by telephone on Monday, Wit was even more vigorous in denouncing the stories that had hyped the article on 38 North. “I really disagree with the media narrative,” Wit said. “The Singapore summit declaration didn’t mean North Korea would stop its activities in the nuclear and missile area right away.” He recalled the fact that, during negotiations between the U.S. and the Soviets over arms control, “both sides continued to build weapons until the agreement was completed.”

Determined to salvage its political line on the Trump-Kim talks, NBC News turned to Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, who has insisted all along that North Korea won’t give up its nuclear weapons. “We have never had a deal,” Lewis said. “The North Koreans never offered to give up their nuclear weapons. Never. Not once.” Lewis had apparently forgotten that the October 2005 Six Party joint statement included language that the DPRK had “committed to abandoning all nuclear weapons….”

Another witness NBC found to support its view was James Acton, co-director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who declared, “If [the North Koreans] were serious about unilaterally disarming, of course they would have stopped work at Yongbyon.” That was true but misleading, because North Korea has always been unambiguously clear that its offer of denuclearization is conditional on reciprocal steps by the United States.

On July 1, a few days after those stories appeared, the Wall Street Journal headlined, “New satellite imagery indicates Pyongyang is pushing ahead with weapons programs even as it pursues dialogue with Washington.” The lead paragraph called it a “major expansion of a key missile-manufacturing plant.”

But the shock effect of the story itself was hardly seismic. It turns out that the images of a North Korean solid-fuel missile manufacturing facility at Hamhung showed that new buildings had been added beginning in the early spring, after Kim Jong-un had called for more production of solid-fuel rocket engines and warhead tips last August. The construction of the exterior of some buildings was completed “around the time” of the Trump-Kim summit meeting, according to the analysts at the James Martin Center of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.

So the most Pyongyang could be accused of was going ahead with a previously planned expansion while it was just beginning to hold talks with the United States.

The satellite images were analyzed by Jeffrey Lewis, the director whom had just been quoted by NBC in support of its viewpoint that North Korea had no intention of giving up its nuclear weapons. So it is no surprise that the Martin Center’s David Schmerler, who also participated in the analysis of the images, told the Journal, “The expansion of production infrastructure for North Korea’s solid missile infrastructure probably suggests that Kim Jong Un does not intend to abandon his nuclear and missile programs.”

But when this writer spoke with Schmerler last week, he admitted that the evidence of Kim’s intentions regarding nuclear and missile programs is much less clear. I asked him if he was sure that North Korea would refuse to give up its ICBM program as part of a broader agreement with the Trump administration. “I’m not sure,” Schmerler responded, adding, “They haven’t really said they’re willing to give up ICBM program.” That is true, but they haven’t rejected that possibility either—presumably because the answer will depend on what commitments Trump is willing to make to the DPRK.

These stories of supposed North Korean betrayal by NBC, CNN, and the Wall Street Journal are egregious cases of distorting news by pushing a predetermined policy line. But those news outlets, far from being outliers, are merely reflecting the norms of the entire corporate news system.

The stories of how North Korea is now violating an imaginary pledge by Kim to Trump in Singapore are even more outrageous, because big media had previously peddled the opposite line: that Kim at the Singapore Summit made no firm commitment to give up his nuclear weapons and that the “agreement” in Singapore was the weakest of any thus far.

That claim, which blithely ignored the fundamental distinction between a brief summit meeting statement and past formal agreements with North Korea that took months to reach, was a media maneuver of unparalleled brazenness. And big media have since topped that feat of journalistic legerdemain by claiming that North Korea has demonstrated bad faith by failing to halt all nuclear and missile-related activities.

A media complex so determined to discredit negotiations with North Korea and so unfettered by political-diplomatic reality seriously threatens the ability of the United States to deliver on any agreement with Pyongyang. That means alternative media must make more aggressive efforts to challenge the corporate press’s coverage.

• First published in The American Conservative

Trump, Trade Wars, and the Class Struggle

All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and [humans are] at last compelled to face with sober senses [our] real conditions of life, and [our] relations with [our] kind.

— Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto

An unfolding trade war pitting the United States simultaneously against China, the European Union, Canada, and Mexico has begun. The economic and political consequences – intended and unintended – are now unfolding.  How this trade war develops and “ends” is a political question that cannot be predicted concretely. But the framework to foresee what is coming down the road is coming into focus.

There is no letup in the continued erosion and breakdown of the post-World War II, post-“Cold War” eras characterized at their core by the predominance of US capital in the institutions of world capitalism and in world politics.

China

On June 15, 2018 the Donald Trump Administration announced it will be adding a 25% tariff-tax on some $50 billion worth of Chinese goods imported into the United States. On June 18 Trump then threatened another 10% tariff-tax on $200 billion worth of additional Chinese commodities, raised to $500 billion on July 5, affecting virtually every Chinese product throughout the US-China production-to-exchange chain.

The first-round of tariffs, $34 billion worth, took effect on July 6, applying to 818 commodities and products. The second round, $16 billion on an additional 284 items, await “reviews,” that is vetting by the major industrial and financial oligopolies whose profits may be more or less directly affected. They are lobbying Trump and his enforcers for exemptions, waivers, and dilutions individually and collectively.

Trump’s threats to escalate were presented as being contingent on any Chinese government and state counter-tariffs on US goods and services. These, of course, were bound to happen; there could be no other political choice for the Xi Jinping government. The Chinese Ministry of Commerce immediately announced counter-measures “of the same scale and the same strength.” The statement further announced as “invalid” the recently reported “progress” on a deal that would have led to an additional $70 billion in US imports to China, based on a negotiated reduction of Chinese tariffs and other legal barriers to selected US commodities and services, including energy, agricultural, and high-tech products. Agricultural commodities were an initial focus of Chinese counter-tariffs, since China is a major market for US agricultural products, especially soy beans.

Trump’s announcement was rolled out with provocative and jingoistic rationalizations. Uncle Sam as bumbling sucker, the victim of nefarious Chinese practices. They are stealing our technology. They carry out “state subsidies” of industries and dump surplus production stealing the jobs of American workers. And so on…as if the entire system of world capitalist production, finance, and exchange were not lubricated and dependent as a whole on such practices. Practices by which the most advanced capitalist states and industrialized economies – the United States, the former colonial powers of western Europe, and Japan – are the historic masters and mentors.

At a July 5 campaign rally in Montana which drew thousands, Trump thundered:

We are bringing back our wealth from foreign countries that have been ripping us off for years…For too long we watched and we waited and we saw as other countries stole our jobs, cheated our workers, and gutted our industry.

With his trademark national chauvinism and demagogy, Trump continued:

The United States of America was the piggy bank that everybody else was robbing. Our allies in many cases were worse than our enemies. We opened our country to their goods, but they put up massive barriers to keep our products and our goods the hell out of their country because they didn’t want that competition.

Trump is upending the decades-long, highly profitable arrangements between the US capitalist class, its various governments in Washington, and the Chinese state. US capital would invest in commodity production inside China for sales to the US and other developed capitalist markets. It has been an arrangement that has been crucial in the formation and accumulation of state and private capital in China by Chinese business owners and government officials.

While it is very difficult to calculate precisely balance-of-trade surpluses and deficits of nation-states within globalized production chains, as well as calculating so-called “services” onto the balance sheets, China’s trade “surplus” in finished goods with the United States has been in the low-to-mid 100s of billions of dollars range for many years. A good slice of which is recycled and parked in US Treasuries. This greatly cushions the impact for US debt markets, making it easier for US federal and private banking institutions to obscure, dilute, and hide dollar-denominated debt. It also helps the US Federal Reserve suppress higher interest rates, and keeps low or non-existent tax rates and outlays for billionaires, millionaires, and US-style oligarchs.

China today owns nearly $2 trillion in US Treasury securities, which makes it the largest US “foreign creditor” and the second largest owner of US bonds, after the Federal Reserve itself. No one can know for sure what the impact of the unfolding trade war will be on Chinese purchases of US Treasuries, insofar as the US-China balance of trade numbers and those of China’s purchases of US government debt have become the intertwined sine qua non of the entire economic and financial relationship. China’s vast holdings register both leverage and vulnerable dependency. China’s decades-long massive economic expansion and growth (high single-digit to low double-digit GDP rises every year since 1991!) has been strongly predicated on maintaining China’s access to US markets for the wholesale and retail sales of these commodities.

Over the decades US-China economic ties and exchange led to the massive expansion of Chinese factory manufacturing and industrial development, as well as huge profits for US capitalists and their Chinese state and private partners.

This process also contributed mightily to the large expansion of the Chinese industrial proletariat, including a super-exploited sector of migrant workers, and urban petty bourgeoisie, with the concurrent reduction in the size of China’s peasant population. All of this has led to the massive production and reproduction of surplus value in the country based on the application of labor power to produce commodities to be exchanged, that is, sold in the US and world markets.

This massive production and reproduction of real value, real social wealth, and real capital was certainly siphoned off disproportionately and corruptly by Chinese bureaucrats and capitalists. But it has also been massively invested in infrastructure and urban development projects, led by high-speed rail production and construction.

Two giant Chinese initiatives in the past period highlight these historical developments. First, the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative which promotes regional “connectivity” through infrastructure and other economic projects, and second, the China-initiated Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) which finances infrastructure and other economic projects in the Asian-Pacific region. AIIB is headquartered in Shanghai and has 86 members, including a number of US NATO “allies.”  Washington, from Barack Obama to Trump, has so far declined to be any part of it. Moreover, China has publicly issued its Made in China 2025 plan to be world leaders in future industrial applications in artificial intelligence, robotics, and chip manufacturing, which is viewed with hostility in Washington.

Looming Recession?

Washington – and this is a largely bipartisan cry – gets particularly worked up over so-called state aid and subsidies to Chinese industries and companies that are themselves state or quasi-state-owned or nominally private. China also attempts to get around efforts led by Washington to pressure companies to restrict Chinese access to some technologies by making such access a condition for sales and commercial exchanges in the vast Chinese markets themselves.

A June 29 column in the Financial Times (“Bond markets send signals of a looming recession”) by University of Chicago “Professor of Finance” Raghuram Rajan states:

[E]conomic metric estimates of the effects of one or two rounds of tariff rises are small. But the models do not capture the intertwined nature of global supply chains. Moreover, the effect on business sentiment, as well as the pall of uncertainty cast over investment will be considerable, A trade war will be costly.

Rajan points to the political difficulties for any governments and national leaderships today “to be seen [as] giving in to threats, making trade conflicts more likely.” He then continues with:

… a final reason for concern. China is cleaning up its financial system, an immensely complicated task given the debt that has built up. Growth has slowed, the cost of riskier loans has been rising, as have defaults. The Chinese authorities are working to spread losses across the system, but this needs to be managed carefully to avoid panic. If China is caught in a trade war while it is still restructuring its financial system, its difficulties could spread abroad.

If the dynamic of a large-scale US-China trade war is unleashed, then it will have critical economic and commercial – and therefore political — consequences for the trade and diplomatic regime that has been built up and stabilized over many decades between Beijing and Washington – and Wall Street and China.1

The EU, Canada, and Mexico

The tariffs on China set in motion by Trump and his Executive Branch team of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, White House National Trade Council Director Peter Navarro, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin came on top of tariffs on steel and aluminum exports carried out against Canada, the European Union, and Mexico, announced with great hoopla, earlier in the June month. These ostensibly aim at boosting US domestic steel and aluminum production, but also led to immediate retaliatory measures of equal reach and value by all. So far, every dollar-value of US tariff-taxes have been met with an equal value in counter-tariffs. Can that be sustained?

On June 29, 2018 Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freedland defiantly announced Canada’s response to the Trump tariffs on steel and aluminum. “We will not escalate — and we will not back down,” said Freeland. (Before her current gig as Foreign Minister for the Justin Trudeau government, Freedland was a leading editor of the Financial Times, the quintessential organ of British and world capital.)

She unveiled counter-tariffs on US goods entering Canada, including whiskey, toilet paper, washing machines, and motorboats. Altogether, Canada will tax $12.6 billion worth of American goods, which matched the value of the US tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum.

“I cannot emphasize enough the regret with which we take these countermeasures,” Freedland added. She emphasized that the only way Canada might reverse them would be if the Trump White House rescinded first. There are always political dangers when many faces need saving at once.

Trump’s Executive Orders were invoked under the cover of “national security.” This provoked umbrage from Canadian, EU, and other US post-World War II era NATO “allies.” They pointed to the various imperialist wars they fought over the years hand-in-glove with Washington.

The current framework and regime for the regulation of tariffs and the resolution of trade disputes is the World Trade Organization (WTO). The US tariffs are already being contested in WTO bodies in a likely bruising battle. The WTO as an “objective” arbiter and judge, is clearly in danger of losing authority and fraying under great pressure. Trump’s back-to-back measures are bound to accelerate a breaking down of world capitalist trading norms and stability.

Allies and Competitors

The EU bloc, most of its individual nation-state components, and Canada are military allies of Washington — still by far the predominant military power with the most firepower and global reach on Earth – through the NATO alliance. But, at the same time, all are home bases for some of the fiercest competitors of US based multinationals and other capitalist firms in world markets. In a time of intensifying, cutthroat global competition, with financial volatility and turbulent waters ahead, the “competitors” side is being more sharply expressed and rising to the fore. The political fallout from policy choices and decisions on trade, tariffs, currency manipulations, debt and capital flows are, at the very least, posed more sharply in today’s world. Old trading blocs and ties come under pressure and weaken, rebooting political policies and alliances.

Consequences, Intended and Unintended

While Trump’s public utterances – “Trade wars are good and easy to win” – exude typical flippant political confidence on his part, these policies are highly contentious within the broader US capitalist class. Within these circles there is growing anxiety and dread that Washington will not be able to drive things through without serious political consequences in the world arena.

The shift that Trump looks to realize registers the political erosion internationally of the “neoliberal globalization” regime which greatly benefited many US-based giant corporations, banks, and businesses – and the mounds of capital behind their brands – as they set up shop in China, Mexico, and elsewhere with greatly increased profit rates. The major benefit of this inside the United States for US capitalists was the lowering of the value of labor and the evisceration of industrial jobs and industrial unions. The decisive factor involved is relatively cheaper (usually very much so) labor costs, which outweigh other disadvantages and extra costs for US-based capital in production outside the US, such as in transport costs, management training, and so on.

Of course, US capitalists couldn’t care less about the social devastation in working-class communities in the US.2

US Capital is Divided

Opposition to Trump’s measures is strongest among business groups and elected officials from both the Republican and Democratic parties who have been identified with the general “free trade” neoliberal policies worldwide that have dominated trade pacts and mainstream bourgeois economics for decades. These anti-working-class policies have increased in unpopularity since the so-called Great Recession and financial crisis of 2007-08 and are now widely discredited and hated in the US and around the world, especially among working people. But the opposition to them takes varied “populist” forms – left and right — that have done and can do little to effectively counter them or provide any program and perspective of mobilization and independent working-class political action and power. In the face of popular hostility and battered credibility, almost by inertia, the “neoliberal model” limps on.

What will be the impact on world economic developments of Trump’s tariffs? Does it give a push to the next – inevitable – financial jolts and economic downturn-recession? Will the EU, Canada, and Mexico have the political will and strength to counter them? Is there space for increasing domestic US assembly and manufacture of commodities, finished products, and capital goods (machinery, etc.) that have been “farmed out” for decades now that US labor value and costs has been driven down in recent decades? Can increased US domestic manufacturing (up 36,000 in June 2018 according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics) sustain sales volume and profit rates?

Diminished US Political Power

There are wide layers in top US business, financial, and social circles who do worry that Trump is accelerating and deepening the deterioration in US political influence worldwide. They are anxious that Trump’s course, rather that restoring the post-World War II full-spectrum dominance of US capital – capsulized in his campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” – will do the opposite and actually accelerate US decline.

There is considerable substance to this anxiety. Under Trump there has been a striking US political isolation in world political forums on one major international political question after another: Washington’s withdrawal from the (fairly toothless, in any case) Paris climate change accords; Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear production and activity, an agreement which was ratified by China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK, and the EU as a body; Washington’s humiliating isolation every year in the UN over its criminal and hated blockade of revolutionary Cuba; and issues around Israel and Palestine that might ameliorate Palestinian conditions and advance a two-state solution.

Korea is Hardly a Trump Triumph

Trump’s escalating moves on US trade and exchange with China were announced when the ink was hardly dry on the document issued, amid great world attention and hoopla, after the June 12 Summit between Donald Trump and the Kim Jong-un government in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

While the Trump White House has been eager to spin the Summit results as a feather in its cap, his ability to do so was necessarily predicated on the US suspension of “war games” and other joint US-South Korean military maneuvers off the North Korean coasts. Maintaining Washington’s “right” and political will to do so became politically untenable following the Kim government’s ending of missile launches, atmospheric and underground tests, and even the verified destruction of one nuclear site while at the same time the two Korean governments deepened relations through friendly encounters amid popular enthusiasm. No one can seriously doubt that the Moon Jae-in government in South Korea favored and pushed for the US suspension of the “joint” war games.

It seems apparent that China and South Korea forcefully intervened behind the scenes to keep the US-DPRK talks on track. In reality, Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (with National Security Advisor John Bolton kept in the shadows) found themselves in an isolated diplomatic and political corner and risked a politically unwinnable confrontation with both China, South Korea and the United Nations large majority. This became even more dangerous politically for Washington on the heels of the US withdrawal from JCPOA treaty with Iran.

As this article was being finished, the US-DPRK negotiations had a negative public eruption after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with top North Korean authorities in Pyongyang. The DPRK Foreign Ministry issued a detailed statement on July 7, calling the meetings “regretful” and Pompeo’s apparent sole focus on unilateral DPRK denuclearization “gangster-like.” The DPRK statement promoted, “in the spirit of” the Singapore Summit and its written statement signed by Trump and Kim, an interconnected focus on issues like a formal peace treaty replacing the “Armistice” ending military combat in 1953; improved US-DPRK bilateral relations; and building a “peace regime on the Korean Peninsula,” that is, building on the momentum of improving relations between the two Korean governments and states. Pompeo and Trump have both downplayed the DPRK statement, with Trump on July 9 spinning that China “may be exerting pressure on a deal because of our posture on Chinese Trade – Hope Not!”

Of course, as the DPRK statement said, “suspension of one action called exercises is a highly reversible step which can be resumed at any time or any moment as all of its military force remains intact in its previously held positions without scraping even a rifle.” Nevertheless, for the Trump Administration to revert to a “maximum pressure” policy while demanding North Korean capitulation and permanently subordinating all other political issues, starting with formal and actual bilateral and multilateral peace, is not politically tenable, starting with South Korea and China and, overwhelmingly, world public opinion.

Mexico

The July 1 landslide election in Mexico of left-wing “populist”Andres Manuel Lopez Abrador (AMLO) is also setting Washington’s nerves on edge. It is not Lopez Obrador’s political orientation and program, per se, that is setting off (mostly muted) alarms. While he is solidly progressive with anti-imperialist instincts flowing from Mexican and Latin American historical experience, AMLO has sent out clear signals that he is loath to directly promote anti-capitalist measures and policies. His campaign focused on the corruption of private capital and the Mexican capitalist state and the intertwined, massive violence and death associated with the illegal capitalist drug cartels.3

What is worrying for the US (and Mexican) ruling classes is the tremendous enthusiasm and mobilizations around AMLO’s campaign, which points to the rising expectations among Mexican working people and youth who want action and who are saying Enough is Enough! Rather than channel mass political combativity into harmless electoralism and parliamentary wrangling, it is more likely that any significant progressive measures promoted by the Lopez Obrador government and its clear majority in both houses of Mexico’s legislature, will spur on the class struggle. This is particularly worrisome for the guardians of US imperialism, given the remarkable history of gratuitous, patronizing insults and anti-Mexican demagogy employed by Donald Trump since the beginning of his campaign for US president. And his reactionary and brutal anti-migrant policies once in office.

In any case, a window into the arrogance of the US ruling rich came with a short editorial in the July 3 Wall Street Journal, titled “The Peso Federales.” Acknowledging Lopez Obrador’s “landslide” and “mandate,” the Journal’s editors warn of the pressure coming from a “different sort of election – the one that takes place daily in financial markets.” Pointing to a 1% drop in the Mexican peso (that “recovered” the next day) following the election, the editorial continued “the president-elect now has to worry what the markets think if he wants to improve the lives of Mexicans.”

One of the biggest concerns for the academic, journalist, and big-business monitors of world economic developments today, prior to the next sharp economic crisis and recession-depression, is that there has been a significant and growing outflow of capital from so-called “emerging” countries into the capital markets of the most advanced capitalist economies, especially the US. This is reversing a mild trend otherwise in recent years.

Sharp turns down for the Argentine peso is the starkest expression of this tendency. In June 2018 the IMF came up with a $50 billion “loan,” a bail out for austerity package, that has already provoked the biggest labor mobilizations in that country for over a decade.

The Class Struggle Will Ratchet Up

When you enter a period like the current one, within the transition from one era-epoch to another, old truisms become stale, alliances and allies can and do change, traditional state-to-state relations become strained and even boil over. No one can doubt that class struggle, social polarization, and political volatility is likely to be ratcheted up considerably in the context of the coming global economic downturn. This will happen everywhere and anywhere. In the United States itself we can expect more massive working class and popular eruptions – seemingly coming out of nowhere – like the wave of solid, disciplined, and victorious teacher’s strikes in the US states of West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona in early 2018.

The unfolding trade wars unleashed by Donald Trump are now facts on the ground. To cite the great socialist pioneer Frederick Engels:

Those who unleash controlled forces, also unleash uncontrolled forces.

  1. The origins of the contemporary US-China relationship and the deeply intertwined  economic ties between both came during the final period of the Vietnam War. US President Richard Nixon and his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger carried out a secret diplomacy with the Mao Zedong-Zhou Enlai Chinese government in the early 1970s to establish mutually beneficial ties. The context was the sharp crisis and looming defeat of the US war effort in Vietnam and Indochina. Nixon and Kissinger were under tremendous pressure to end all US military operations and withdraw US troops from Vietnam and Southeast Asia. They were keen to preserve the “South” Vietnamese neo-colonial state and hoped to manipulate China (and China’s fierce political antagonist, the Soviet Union) to pressure the Vietnamese revolutionaries – who they both gave crucial military aid to — to make concessions to Nixon. This failed and Washington went down to final military defeat in 1975. Nevertheless a de facto political alliance and the foundations for the massive expansion of economic exchange between the United States and China was consolidated over four decades under both Republican and Democratic White Houses and Congresses.
  2. Before retiring in 2016, I was a Locomotive Engineer for Amtrak and member of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and the teamsters Union. I operated the high-speed Acela and other passenger trains between New York city and Washington, DC. For some 25 years, I would see, along the main line tracks from the locomotive cab, on the Northeast Corridor tracks, especially along the stretches between Wilmington, Delaware and Philadelphia towards Trenton, New Jersey, mile after mile of rotted out and abandoned industrial facilities, factories, plants, mills, metal shop, giant behemoths and myriad smaller ones in what were once, in the world War 2 era and subsequent decades, I imagined thriving working-class communities employing many tens and hundreds of thousands of workers. Today they really look like documentary films from the Battle of Stalingrad on the World War 2 Eastern Front. The authorities, decade after decade, never even bothered to tear them down. I would joke to younger workers in my cab qualifying on the physical characteristics of the territory – track speeds, interlocking rules, industrial sidings, and so on – when we would pass these areas, that the state should put a giant bubble over it all and open up “The Museum of American Industrial Glory.”
  3. The stunning failure of Mexico’s “war on drugs” has left hundreds of thousands dead and mutilated without making a dent in the production, consumption, or the profits of the cartels, and the corrupt wealth of officials up and down the supply chain. The production, marketing, and commercial exchange of cannabis, cocaine, methamphetamine, cocaine, opium, and heroin is a major component of the Mexican capitalist economy as a whole, counting for perhaps up to 10% of GDP, as well as propping up Mexican banking.

The Wisdom Of Serpents

Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.
— Mathew 10:16

While there is a lower class, I am in it, while there is a criminal element, I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.
— Eugene Debs, Statement to the Court upon being convicted of violating the Sedition Act, September 18, 1918

Last month I called Bernie Sanders’ Democratic party primary run “sheepdogging” my term for a move the national Democratic party seems to execute every presidential primary season when there’s no incumbent White House Democrat. The job of the sheepdog candidate is to herd leftish voters and activists back into the Democratic party one more time by giving perhaps sincere but limited and ineffectual voice to some of their issues.
— Bruce A. Dixon.  “This is what happens when we follow the Democrat sheepdog.  And what can happen if we don’t”, Black Agenda Report, June 3, 2015

I keep watching the ways in which people, left leaning liberals anyway, and even some I thought were leftists, fall over themselves to believe in the Alexandria Ocasio Cortez victory. Now, I don’t believe, I should make clear. But I find what is interesting is the ways in which this story became a kind of fairy tale and found traction. First, it’s New York. If this occurs in Port Huron or Tampa or Bakersfield — there is no story. Secondly, this woman came out of the Democratic Party machine, out of Ted Kennedy’s office and Bernie Sanders campaign. Does that not tell you something? But third, there is something curious about her whole story. And her web page says her father was a small business owner and other places it says he is an architect. None of this matters, mind you, except that she is certainly not well known in the Bronx by activists or anyone else. She strikes me, personally, as culturally a Westchester County product, not the Bronx. And I guess I find her a bit too telegenic, too perfect an image. Not to mention she is already parroting DNC rhetoric about Russiagate and already making friendly with the fascist opposition against Venezuela. One would think a Latina would know better, no? The U.S. is, after all, on the verge of possible military intervention in Venezuela — and house and senate Democrats are perfectly aligned with this thinking. When did anyone last hear a Democrat voice support for the Bolivarian revolution? Then there is the fact that her most intense support came from white affluent gentrifiers in her district. So a radical she is not.

Now this is not about Ocasio-Cortez. I think soon enough the reality will set in. Or maybe it is. I will return to that. But my question has to do with why anyone wants to believe in a Democrat in the first place? Now, the very first presidential election I ever voted in, yay those many year ago, was 1972. I voted for Democrat George McGovern of South Dakota. That was the last time I voted Democrat as well. And it is an interesting side bar note here that current Democratic Party shills like Maddow and Jonathan Chait love to compare all left leaning democrats to McGovern. And the truth is, Goldwater lost just as badly but the Republicans responded by doubling down on the extreme paleo conservatism of Barry and got themselves 8 years of The Gipper. But I digress.

Let’s take a look at what the Democratic Party has been up to lately…

Here, from Forbes magazine…:

…the Senate on Monday voted in favor of a $716 billion military spending bill for the 2019 federal fiscal year. The House had already passed it last month. This is $82 billion higher than the current budget, which itself was more than the Trump administration requested. Who says those in the Beltway can’t pull together for a common cause?  This year, 67.5% of House Democrats and 85% of Senate Democrats voted in favor.

Ponder that a moment. Over 700 billion. I mean that is getting close to double what it was under Bush or Obama. And yet people are living under freeway overpasses, in packing crates, and in make shift encampments on the edge of every city in America, literally. Over 42 million Americans, as of 2016, were listed as food insecure. 13 million children. Now the Democrats also defeated a proposal put forth by Sanders’ surrogates that looked for very tepid limited restrictions on fracking and an also mild statement on Palestinian rights. Both were shot down by the Dems.. (per Lauren McCauley):

Former U.S. Representative Howard Berman, American Federation of State, County, and Muncipal Employees executive assistant to the president, Paul Booth, former White House Energy and Climate Change Policy director Carol Browner, Ohio State Representative Alicia Reece, former State Department official Wendy Sherman, and Center for American Progress President Neera Tanden…

In other words the Democrats want no change.

Meanwhile the drinking water in Flint Michigan is no better than it ever was. Then we have the Democrats whole-hearted support of arms sales to Saudi Arabia, who, with U.S. approval and help and support have destroyed Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab world. Dan Glazebrook wrote last year (it’s worse now):

And on 23rd January, the UN reported that there are now 22.2 million Yemenis in need of humanitarian assistance – 3.4 million more than the previous year – with eight million on the brink of famine, an increase of one million since 2017.

The United States is directly helping a mass genocide of the Yemeni people. And very few Americans care. No Democrats care. Well, let me clarify, for this is a perfect example of the Democratic Party and its record. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Bernie Sanders introduced a bill to limit (sort of) U.S. involvement in the aforementioned genocide. It was soft stuff. But 15 Democrats helped Republicans table the bill. Little discussion came out of that. And it was bullshit legislation anyway.

Now, this is all sort of tweezing apart stuff that is so horrific and nightmarish that it’s hard to know how to describe it. The war against defenseless Yemen began under Obama. You remember him? That Democratic President. Trump, of course, intensified support for the genocide. And Democrats are not complaining. Children are starving and dying from famine and cholera…but there is no coverage of this, really. Why is there no outrage about Israel shooting down unarmed protestors? Well, Chuck Schumer signed a bill with other Democrats to make criticism of Israel a crime. Killing OK, criticizing NOT OK.

Now, ahead of Mike Pence’s (the Dominionist bat shit nuts VP) visit to Ecuador, a number of Democrats signed a bill to bring Julian Assange back to stand trial. James Cogan writes…

The signatories are a roll-call of leading congressional Democrats: Robert Menendez, Dick Durbin, Richard Blumenthal, Edward J. Markey, Michael Bennet, Christopher Coons, Joe Manchin, Jeanne Shaheen, Diane Feinstein and Mark Warner.

They went out of their way to get behind shutting up Assange and throwing him in a dark cell in Leavenworth and then just forgetting about him.

Cogan adds…:

…in a sweeping conspiracy theory, the CIA, FBI and NSA portrayed the 2016 publication by WikiLeaks of emails and documents from the Democratic National Committee (DNC), and then emails sent by top Democratic Party figure John Podesta, as the product of a nefarious Russian plot to undermine Hillary Clinton and assist the victory of Donald Trump.

Many liberals, if not most, and certainly the majority of Democrats are all on board to prosecute Assange. Trump very usefully serves that purpose, you see. The hatred of Trump (who seems to work very hard to be hated) allows for the Democrats (and their liberal enablers) to escalate the new Russophobic propaganda and divert attention from things like the increased defense budget, the private prison complex that profits hugely from the ICE raids and illegal deportations, and the continuing (even growing) crimes of mass incarceration. No, people are given to partisan fighting over issues like gay marriage, or flag desecration, or gender neutral pronouns or whatever. They do not have public fights about foreign policy because both major parties are in total agreement. Trump is only carrying out policy that Obama started, largely, and that Hillary would have continued as well (only likely worse). For foreign policy is the black hole in American consciousness.

The US has been in Afghanistan for sixteen years. Why do people not talk about this? Sixteen years. That’s a permanent occupation. The U.S. under Democratic leadership and under the direction of Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, destroyed Libya and assassinated its leader Muammar Gaddafi. Clinton then famously laughed about it on TV. Libya is now holding outdoor slave sales. It is a failed state where once it was one of the most advanced and stable countries in the region. Or Syria. The targeting of the Assad government was a unanimous decision of both parties. Or sanctions against Iran…again both parties. Or militarizing Africa (or support for war criminal Paul Kagame), both parties. In fact, Democratic presidents Obama and Clinton were far worse than Republicans in terms of protecting western Capital in Africa and building up AFRICOM.

Or take the recent Democratic Party attack on the Trump/Kim Jong-Un summit. Ajamu Baraka wrote:

If more proof was needed to persuade anyone that the Democrats are indeed a war party, it was provided when Senator Chuck Schumer and other Democrat leaders in the Senate engaged in a cynical stunt to stake out a position to the right of John Bolton on the summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un.

Schumer demanded terms that no nation anywhere on earth at any time in history, could accept. Ergo, he wanted this summit to fail. And that failure then would make it easier to justify an invasion of the DPRK.

You see, the Democratic Party is the party of finance capital, of Wall Street, and the only difference from Republicans is that Democrats tend to express themselves in the terms of identity politics. Trump’s presidency expresses itself in the terms of nativist xenophobic racists. But honestly, they all vote mostly the same.

Obama’s electoral coalition was driven by the professional class that had arisen to manage the various segments of the financialized economy. Since they derive significant benefits from late capitalism, the professionals eschew class-struggle based politics.
— Peter Lavenia. “The Revenge of Class and the Death of the Democratic Party“, Counterpunch, November 16, 2016

Never mention class. Things that have some importance, such as marijuana legalization were decidedly better under Democrats. And that certainly matters. But remember, all those small incremental gains by Democrats did little or nothing to change the staggering inequality of the system itself. But people are terrorized. That is why Ocasio-Cortez is embraced so uncritically. People are genuinely terrified. They are without protection at work, and they are unprotected by any sort of comprehensive medical program. They are unprotected from the militarized racist police forces of every American city and town. A militarization, it should be noted, that began in ernest under Obama.

But perhaps most important in any discussion of the Democratic Party are their ties to the CIA.

Patrick Martin writes:

An extraordinary number of former intelligence and military operatives from the CIA, Pentagon, National Security Council and State Department are seeking nomination as Democratic candidates for Congress in the 2018 midterm elections. The potential influx of military-intelligence personnel into the legislature has no precedent in US political history.

If the Democrats capture a majority in the House of Representatives on November 6, as widely predicted, candidates drawn from the military-intelligence apparatus will comprise as many as half of the new Democratic members of Congress.”

This is interesting for a variety of reasons, not least of which is that the DNC does nothing to hide this but rather sees it a sure fire vote getter.

Martin again:

The total of such candidates for the Democratic nomination in the 102 districts is 221. Each has a website that gives biographical details, which we have collected and reviewed for this report. It is notable that those candidates with a record in the military-intelligence apparatus, as well as civilian work for the State Department, Pentagon or National Security Council, do not hide their involvement, particularly in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They clearly regard working as a CIA agent in Baghdad, an Army special ops assassin in Afghanistan, or a planner for drone missile warfare in the White House or Pentagon as a star on their résumé, rather than something to conceal.

Among these new candidates running as Democrats are former CIA operatives (Abigail Spanberger), a military intelligence officer with two tours in Iraq (Patrick Ryan), a naval intelligence officer, who also served in the US European Command in Stuttgart, Germany (Jonathan Ebel), a deep cover op for the CIA in Latin America ( helly Chauncey), a twenty three year Navy Seal veteran with several tours in Iraq (Joel Butner), a Pentagon advisor to David Petraeus (Andy Kim), a former member of the 82nd Airborne and part of a Joint Special Operations Task Force on counter-terrorism in Afghanistan (Jason Crow). This is just a sampling. There are also a host of former State Department candidates, too.

One example (quoting Martin again…) is:

Sara Jacobs is another State Department official turned Clinton campaign aide, working on “conflict zones in East and West Africa,” particularly the campaign against Boko Haram in Nigeria, and helping to “spearhead President Obama’s efforts to improve governance in the security sector of our counterterrorism partners,” according to her campaign website. She was a foreign policy adviser to the Clinton campaign and is now seeking the Democratic nomination in California’s 49th District …

But, in fact, there are forty some others. The Democratic Party is now the party of the CIA and Pentagon, and in both cases with a heavy emphasis on intelligence. Career military and CIA veterans make up the best financed of Democratic Party candidates. Again, these bios are seen as a plus for the DNC — and this in no small measure is the result of Hollywood film and TV. The infiltration of Hollywood by the Pentagon, CIA, and FBI is now hardly even a secret. Almost every show with anything to do with the military has CIA advisors right there in the writers’ room. And if the story has to do with cops, you can count on veteran law enforcement advisors, too.

The anti-Trump fervor is understandable, and justified, but the Democrats are not the opposition. They are better spoken version of the same Imperialist state. And domestically, these veteran CIA operatives and military intel veterans are hardly going to embrace progressive causes. They are hardly going to look to dismantle the racist militarized police apparatus or challenge the racist judicial system. They are not going to seek reforms for mass incarceration. Most of them have experience with black sites and torture, with the pacification of entire populations, and with all manner of counter insurgency tactics.

The Democratic Party is the party of affluence. And these candidates reflect a growing hostility to the working class and a growing embrace of conservative law and order values. And in that sense Ocasio-Cortez fits right in.

Nick Pemberton wrote:

The Democrats have engaged in the deregulation of the economy. They have attacked unions. They have cut funding for public schools and replaced them with prisons. They have promoted pipelines and wars for oil. They have supported vicious trade deals that hurt workers and destroy the environment. If the world was to run as is with Democrats in place of Republicans we would still become extinct in the near future. If not by nuclear annihilation, then by climate change.

So, back to Ocasio-Cortez for a moment. Teodrose Fikre wrote:

Year after year, election after election, we keep falling for the latest fresh faces who promise to go to DC and drain the swamp of corruption and nepotism. The results always end up the same way, hope being paid back with hopelessness as the politicians we put our faith in sell their souls in order to retain power and celebrity. This is how the establishment remains fixed no matter who gets elected; the people in charge are not the politicians we elect but the donors who fund their campaigns and the insiders who determine rank and privileges within the party infrastructure. ( ) No more voting for the lesser of two evils and no more listening to people who try to convince you that supporting ideas outside of the Democrat/Republican divide is wasted energy. Don’t fall for the merry-go-round of personalities who keep being unleashed to sheepdog voters back to this two-party racket.

PS. More than 90% of mainstream media is owned by six corporations (read six people), they don’t allow true change agents to have access to the airwaves. Be cautious and twice skeptical when unknown candidates are given millions in free advertisement by the same interests they’re supposedly fighting.

Ocasio-Cortez was on Colbert, she was given a feature in Vogue. (Cynthia McKinney, who has a good deal more integrity than almost anyone else in her rotten party, was never invited on Cobert when she stood alone to call out President Bush on his Carlyle Group links, Saudi connections, and illegal invasion of Iraq. Why? Not telegenic or perky enough?).

So let me summarize…..The Democratic Party is now drawing heavily from military intelligence, the CIA, Pentagon and State Department (with specific emphasis on those with intelligence experience). These sorts of backgrounds suggest most of these candidates have knowledge of propaganda and psy-ops, as well as a basic value system that is consonant with American exceptionalism. They know a lot, we presume, about marketing strategies and about disinformation. So, is it not peculiar to anyone that this new face of pseudo socialism pops up right now — literally out of nowhere? See, to me it feels very Obama like. It’s perception management meets electoral long game strategic thinking. Honestly, all the talk of keeping an eye on her (Ocasio-Cortez) and making sure she honors her principles, etc…all of this feels wildly naive and almost delusional, frankly. One has to learn to read the codes. And since it is a proven fact that the Democrat Party is utterly corrupt, in bed with Wall Street and big corporate entities in agriculture, telecoms, and pharmaceuticals, as well as the military itself — why would one want to give a candidate FOR this utterly corrupt party the benefit of the doubt?

Now on my bullshit meter (a term I don’t really like but whatever) the needle went directly to red. In fact it broke and stuck in the red zone. So, the subjective side is I just found everything about her fake. I recoiled with that awful feeling of being faced with a fraud. Apparently many did not have that response. But I did. Bernie was called a *sheepdog*. The political slang for a left leaning candidate who cant and doesn’t want to win but who will draw disaffected voters back into the party. Bernie eventually endorsing Hillary Clinton, of course. I’m wondering why Ocasio-Cortez is not so perceived? Except I suspect she does want to win and to keep on winning. OC in 2024!!! That is what I think might well happen. She ticks off all the boxes. She has to wait until she turns 35 if I’m not mistaken, but this feels every bit a trial balloon. We shall see.

Meanwhile….here is something to support and make known: Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee

Correcting The Record: What Is Really Happening In Nicaragua?

There is a great deal of false and inaccurate information about Nicaragua in the media. Even on the left, some have simply repeated the dubious claims of CNN and Nicaragua’s oligarchic media to support the removal of President Ortega. The narrative of nonviolent protesters versus anti-riot squads and pro-government paramilitaries has not been questioned by international media.

This article seeks to correct the record, describe what is happening in Nicaragua and why. As we write this, the coup seems to be failing, people have rallied for peace (as this massive march for peace held Saturday, July 7 showed) and the truth is coming out (e.g., the weapons cache discovered in a Catholic Church on July 9th). It is important to understand what is occurring because Nicaragua is an example of the types of violent coups the US and the wealthy use to put in place business dominated, neoliberal governments. If people understand these tactics, they will become less effective.

Sandinistas and followers of President Daniel Ortega wave their Sandinista flags in a march for peace, in Managua, Nicaragua, Saturday (The UK Morning Sun)

Mixing up the Class Interests

In part, US pundits are getting their information from media outlets, such as Jaime Chamorro-Cardenal’s La Prensa, and the same oligarchical family’s Confidencial, that are the most active elements of the pro-coup media. Repeating and amplifying their narrative delegitimizes the Sandinista government and presents unconditional surrender by Daniel Ortega as the only acceptable option. These pundits provide cover for nefarious internal and external interests who have set their sights on controlling Central America’s poorest and yet resource-rich country.

The coup attempt brought the class divisions in Nicaragua into the open. Piero Coen, the richest man in Nicaragua, owner of all national Western Union operations and an agrochemical company, personally arrived on the first day of protests at the Polytechnical University in Managua, to encourage students to keep protesting, promising his continued support.

The traditional landed oligarchy of Nicaragua, politically led by the Chamorro family, publishes constant ultimatums to the government through its media outlets and finances the roadblocks that have paralyzed the country for the last eight weeks.

The Catholic Church, long allied with the oligarchs, has put its full weight behind creating and sustaining anti-government actions, including its universities, high schools, churches, bank accounts, vehicles, tweets, Sunday sermons, and a one-sided effort to mediate the National Dialogue. Bishops have made death threats against the President and his family, and a priest has been filmed supervising the torture of Sandinistas. Pope Francis has called for a peace dialogue, and even called Cardinal Leonaldo Brenes and Bishop Rolando Alvarez to a private meeting in the Vatican, setting off rumors that the Nicaraguan monseñores were being scolded for their obvious involvement in the conflict they are officially mediating.  The church remains one of the few pillars keeping the coup alive.

A common claim is Ortega has cozied up to the traditional oligarchy, but the opposite is true. This is the first government since Nicaraguan independence that does not include the oligarchy. Since the 1830s through the 1990s, all Nicaraguan governments– even during the Sandinista Revolution– included people from the elite “last names,” of Chamorro, Cardenal, Belli, Pellas, Lacayo, Montealegre, Gurdián. The government since 2007 does not, which is why these families are supporting the coup.

Ortega detractors claim his three-part dialogue including labor unions, capitalists, and the State is an alliance with big business. In fact, that process has yielded the highest growth rate in Central America and annual minimum wage increases 5-7% above inflation, improving workers’ living conditions and lifting people out of poverty. The anti-poverty Borgen project reports poverty fell by 30 percent between 2005 and 2014.

The FSLN-led government has put into place an economic model based on public investment and strengthening the safety net for the poor. The government invests in infrastructure, transit, maintains water and electricity within the public sector and moved privatized services; e.g., health care and primary education into the public sector. This has ensured a stable economic structure that favors the real economy over the speculative economy. The lion’s share of infrastructure in Nicaragua has been built in the last 11 years, something comparable to the New Deal-era in the US, including renewable electricity plants across the country.

What liberal and even leftists commentators overlook is that unlike the Lula government in Brazil, which reduced poverty through cash payouts to poor families, Nicaragua has redistributed productive capital in order to develop a self-sufficient popular economy. The FSLN model is better understood as an emphasis on the popular economy over the State or capitalist spheres.

While the private sector employs about 15% of Nicaraguan workers, the informal sector employs over 60%. The informal sector has benefited from $400 million in public investments, much of it coming from the ALBA alliance funds to finance micro loans for small and medium-sized agricultural enterprises. Policies to facilitate credit, equipment, training, animals, seeds and subsidized fuel further support these enterprises. The small and medium producers of Nicaragua have led the country to produce 80-90% of its food and end its dependence on IMF loans.

As such, workers and peasants– many of whom are self-employed and who accessed productive capital through the Sandinista Revolution and ensuing struggles– represent an important political subject of the stable, postwar social development of the last decade, including the hundreds of thousands of peasant farmers who have received land title and the nearly one-quarter of the national territory that has been given collective title as territory of indigenous nations. The social movements of workers, peasants, and indigenous groups were the base of popular support that brought the FSLN back into power.

Land titling and assistance to small businesses have also emphasized equality for women, resulting in Nicaragua having the lowest level of gender inequality in Latin America and ranked 12 out of 145 countries in the world, just behind Germany.

Over time, the FSLN government has incorporated this massive self-employed sector, as well as maquiladora workers (i.e. textile workers in foreign-owned plants located in free trade zones created by previous neoliberal governments), into the health care and pension system, causing the financial commitments to grow which required a new formula to ensure fiscal stability. The proposed reforms to Social Security were the trigger for the private sector and student protests on April 18th. The business lobby called for the protests when Ortega proposed increasing employer contributions by 3.5% to pension and health funds, while only slightly increasing worker contributions by 0.75% and shifting 5% of pensioners’ cash transfer into their health care fund. The reform also ended a loophole which allowed high-income individuals to claim a low income in order to access health benefits.

This was a counter-proposal to the IMF proposal to raise the retirement age and more than double the number of weeks that workers would need to pay into the pension fund in order to access benefits. The fact the government felt strong enough to deny the IMF and business lobby’s austerity demands was a sign that the bargaining strength of private capital has declined, as Nicaragua’s impressive economic growth, a 38% increase in GDP from 2006-2017, has been led by small-scale producers and public spending. However, the opposition used manipulative Facebook ads presenting the reform as an austerity measure, plus fake news of a student death on April 18th, to generate protests across the country on April 19th. Immediately, the regime change machine lurched into motion.

The National Dialogue shows the class interests in conflict. The opposition’s Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy has as its key figures: José Adan Aguirre, leader of the private business lobby; Maria Nelly Rivas, director of Cargill in Nicaragua and head of the US-Nicaragua Chamber of Commerce; the private university students of the April 19th Movement; Michael Healy, manager of a Colombian sugar corporation and head of the agribusiness lobby; Juan Sebastian Chamorro, who represents the oligarchy dressed as civil society; Carlos Tunnermann, 85-year-old ex-Sandinista minister and ex-chancellor of the National University; Azalea Solis, head of a US government-funded feminist organization; and Medardo Mairena, a “peasant leader” funded by the US government, who lived 17 years in Costa Rica before being deported in 2017 for human trafficking. Tunnermann, Solis and the April 19th students are all associated with the Movement for Renovation of Sandinismo (MRS), a tiny Sandinista offshoot party that nonetheless merits special attention.

In the 1980s, many of the Sandinista Front’s top-level cadre were, in fact, the children of some of the famous oligarchic families, such as the Cardenal brothers and part of the Chamorro family, in charge of the revolutionary government’s ministries of Culture and Education and its media, respectively. After FSLN’s election loss in 1990, the children of the oligarchy staged an exodus from the party. Along with them, some of the most notable intellectual, military and intelligence cadre left and formed, over time, the MRS. The new party renounced socialism, blamed all of the mistakes of the Revolution on Daniel Ortega and over time took over the sphere of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Nicaragua, including feminist, environmentalist, youth, media and human rights organizations.

Since 2007, the MRS has become increasingly close with the extreme right-wing of the US Republican Party. Since the outbreak of violence in April, many if not most of the sources cited by Western media (including, disturbingly, Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now!), come from this party, which has the support of less than 2% of the Nicaraguan electorate. This allows the oligarchs to couch their violent attempt to reinstall neoliberalism in a leftist-sounding discourse of former Sandinistas critical of the Ortega government.

It is a farce to claim that workers and peasants are behind the unrest. La Vía Campesina, the National Union of Farmers and Ranchers, the Association of Rural Workers, the National Workers’ Front, the indigenous Mayangna Nation and other movements and organizations have been unequivocal in their demands for an end to the violence and their support for the Ortega government. This unrest is a full-scale regime change operation carried out by media oligarchs, a network of NGOs funded by the US government, armed elements of elite landholding families and the Catholic Church, and has opened the window for drug cartels and organized crime to gain a foothold in Nicaragua.

Nicargua meeting of the National Dialogue for Peace (Óscar Sánchez)

The Elephant in the Room

Which brings us to US government involvement in the violent coup.

As Tom Ricker reported early in this political crisis, several years ago the US government decided that rather than finance opposition political parties, which have lost enormous legitimacy in Nicaragua, it would finance the NGO civil society sector. National Endowment for Democracy (NED) gave more than $700,000 to build the opposition to the government in 2017, and has granted more than $4.4 million since 2014. The overarching purpose of this funding was to “provide a coordinated strategy and media voice for opposition groups in Nicaragua.” Ricker continues:

The result of this consistent building and funding of opposition resources has been to create an echo chamber that is amplified by commentators in the international media – most of whom have no presence in Nicaragua and rely on these secondary sources.

NED founding father, Allen Weinstein, described NED as the overt CIA saying, “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.” In Nicaragua, rather than the traditional right-wing, NED funds the MRS-affiliated organizations which pose left-sounding critiques of the Sandinista government. The regime change activists use Sandinista slogans, songs, and symbols even as they burn historic monuments, paint over the red-and-black markers of fallen martyrs, and physically attack members of the Sandinista party.

Of the opposition groups in the National Dialogue, the feminist organization of Azalea Solis and the peasant organization of Medardo Mairena are financed through NED grants, while the April 19th students stay in hotels and make trips paid for by Freedom House, another regime change organ funded by NED and USAID. NED also finances Confidencial, the Chamorro media organization. Grants from NED finance the Institute of Strategic Studies and Public Policy (IEEPP), whose Executive Director, Felix Maradiaga, is another MRS cadre very close to the US Embassy. In June, Maradiaga was accused of leading a criminal network called Viper which, from the occupied UPOLI campus, organized carjackings, arsons and murders in order to create chaos and panic during the months of April and May.

Maradiaga grew up in the United States and became a fellow of the Aspen Leadership Institute, before studying public policy at Harvard. He was a secretary in the Ministry of Defense for the last liberal president, Enrique Bolaños. He is a Young Global Leader at the World Economic Forum and in 2015, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs gave him the Gus Hart Fellowship, past recipients of which include Cuban dissident Yoani Sánchez and Henrique Capriles Radonski, the Venezuelan opposition leader who attacked the Cuban embassy during the coup attempt of 2002.

Remarkably, Maradiaga is not the only leader of the coup attempt who is part of the Aspen World Leadership Network. Maria Nelly Rivas, director in Nicaragua of US corporate giant Cargill, is one of the main spokespersons for the opposition Civic Alliance. Rivas, who currently also heads the US-Nicaragua Chamber of Commerce, is being groomed as a possible presidential candidate in the next elections. Beneath these US-groomed leaders, there is a network of over 2,000 young people who have received training with NED funds on topics such as social media skills for democracy defense. This battalion of social media warriors was able to immediately shape and control public opinion in Facebook in the five days from April 18th to 22nd, leading to spontaneous violent protests across the country.

Protesters yell from behind the roadblock they erected as they face off with security forces near the University Politecnica de Nicaragua in Managua, Nicaragua, April 21, 2018 (Voice of America)

On the Violence

One of the ways in which reporting on Nicaragua has ventured farthest from the truth is calling the opposition “nonviolent.” The violence script, modeled on the 2014 and 2017 guarimba protests in Venezuela, is to organize armed attacks on government buildings, entice the police to send in anti-riot squads, engage in filmed confrontations and publish edited footage online claiming that the government is being violent against nonviolent protesters.

Over 60 government buildings have been burned down, schools, hospitals, health centers attacked, 55 ambulances damaged, at least $112 million in infrastructure damage, small businesses have been closed, and 200,000 jobs lost causing devastating economic impact during the protests. Violence has included, in addition to thousands of injuries, 15 students and 16 police officers killed, as well as over 200 Sandinistas kidnapped, many of them publicly tortured. Violent opposition atrocities were misreported as government repression. While it is important to defend the right of the public to protest, regardless of its political opinions, it is disingenuous to ignore that the opposition’s strategy requires and feeds upon violence and deaths.

National and international news claim deaths and injuries due to “repression” without explaining the context. The Molotov cocktails, mortar-launchers, pistols, and assault rifles used by opposition groups are ignored by the media, and when Sandinista sympathizers, police or passers-by are killed, they are falsely counted as victims of state repression. Explosive opposition claims like massacres of children and murders of women have been shown to be false, and the cases of torture, disappearances and extrajudicial executions by police forces have not been corroborated by evidence or due process.

While there is evidence to support the opposition claim of sniper fire killing protesters, there is no logical explanation for the State using snipers to add to the death toll, and counter-protesters have also been victims of sniper fire, suggesting a “third party” provocateur role in the destabilizing violence. When an entire Sandinista family was burned to death in Managua, the opposition media all cited a witness who claimed that the police had set fire to the home, despite the house being in a neighborhood barricaded off from police access.

The National Police of Nicaragua has been long-recognized for its model of community policing (in contrast to militarized police in most Central American countries), its relative lack of corruption, and its mostly female top brass. The coup strategy has sought to destroy public trust in the police through the egregious use of fake news, such as the many false claims of assassinations, beatings, torture, and disappearances in the week from April 17th to 23rd. Several young people whose photos were carried in opposition rallies as victims of police violence have turned out to be alive and well.

The police have been wholly inadequate and underprepared for armed confrontations. Attacks on several public buildings on the same night and the first major arson attacks led government workers to hold vigils with barrels of water and, often, sticks and stones, to fend off attackers. The opposition, frustrated at not achieving more police conflicts, began to build roadblocks across the country and burning the homes of Sandinistas, even shooting and burning Sandinista families in atrocious hate crimes. In contrast to La Prensa’s version of events, Nicaraguans have felt the distinct lack of police presence, and the loss of safety in their neighborhoods, while many were targeted by violence.

Since May, the strategy of the opposition has been to build armed roadblocks across the country, closing off transport and trapping people. The roadblocks, usually built with large paving stones, are manned by between 5 and 100 armed men with bandannas or masks. While the media reports on idealistic young people running roadblocks, the vast majority of roadblocks are maintained by paid men who come from a background of petty crime. Where large areas of cities and towns are blocked off from government and police forces, drug-related activities intensify, and drug gangs now control many of the roadblocks and pay the salaries.

These roadblocks have been the centers of violence, workers who need to pass through roadblocks are often robbed, punched, insulted, and, if suspected of being Sandinistas, tied up, stripped naked, tortured, painted in blue-and-white, and sometimes killed. There are three cases of people dying in ambulances unable to pass roadblocks, and one case of a 10-year-old girl being kidnapped and raped at the roadblock in Las Maderas. When organized neighbors or the police clear roadblocks, the armed groups run away and regroup to burn buildings, kidnap or injure people in revenge. All of the victims that this violence produces are counted by the mainstream media as victims of repression, a total falsehood.

The Nicaraguan government has confronted this situation by largely keeping police off the streets, to prevent encounters and accusations of repression. At the same time, rather than simply arrest violent protestors, which certainly would have given the opposition the battle deaths it craves, the government called for a National Dialogue, mediated by the Catholic Church, in which the opposition can bring forward any proposal for human rights and political reform. The government created a parliamentary Truth and Peace Commission and launched an independent Public Ministry query.

With the police out of the streets, opposition violence intensified throughout May and June. As a result, a process of neighborhood self-defense developed. Families who have been displaced, young people who have been beaten, robbed or tortured, and veterans of the 1979 insurrection and/or the Contra War, hold vigil round the Sandinista Front headquarters in each town. In many places, they built barricades against opposition attacks and have been falsely labeled paramilitary forces in the media. In the towns that do not have such community-organized barricades, the human toll from opposition violence is much greater. The National Union of Nicaraguan Students has been particularly targeted by opposition violence. A student delegate of the National Dialogue, Leonel Morales, was kidnapped, shot in the abdomen and thrown into a ditch to die in June, to sabotage the dialogue and punish him for challenging the April 19th students’ right to speak on behalf of all Nicaraguan students.

There have been four major opposition rallies since April, directed toward mobilizing the upper-middle class Nicaraguans who live in the suburbs between Managua and Masaya. These rallies featured a whos-who of high society, including beauty queens, business owners, and oligarchs, as well as university students of the April 19th Movement, the moral high-ground for the opposition.

Three months into the conflict, none of the mortal victims have been bourgeois. All have come from the popular classes of Nicaragua. Despite claims of total repression, the bourgeois feels perfectly safe to participate in public protests by day — although the last daytime rally ended in a chaotic attack by protesters against squatters on a property of, curiously enough, Piero Coen, Nicaragua’s richest man. The nighttime armed attacks have generally been carried out by people who come from poor neighborhoods, many of whom are paid two to four times the minimum daily wage for each night of destruction.

Unfortunately, most Nicaraguan human rights organizations are funded by NED and controlled by the Movement for Sandinista Renovation. These organizations have accused the Nicaraguan government of dictatorship and genocide throughout Ortega’s presidency. International human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, have been criticized for their one-sided reports, which include none of the information provided by the government or individuals who identify as Sandinistas.

The government invited the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the OAS, a Washington-based entity notoriously unfriendly to leftist governments, to investigate the violent events of April and determine whether repression had occurred. The night of a controversial skirmish in the highway outside the Agrarian University in Managua ended a negotiated 48-hour truce, IACHR Director Paulo Abrao visited the site to declare his support for the opposition. The IACHR ignored the opposition’s widespread violence and only reported on the defensive violence of the government. Not only was it categorically rejected by Nicaraguan chancellor Denis Moncada as an “insult to the dignity of the Nicaraguan people,” a resolution approving the IACHR report was supported by only ten out of 34 countries.

Meanwhile, the April 19th Movement, made up of current or former university students in favor of regime change, sent a delegation to Washington and managed to alienate much of Nicaraguan society by grinning into the camera with far-right interventionist members of the US Congress, including Rep. Ileana Ros Lehtinen, Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. Ted Cruz. M19 leaders also cheered Vice-President Mike Pence’s bellicose warnings that Nicaragua is on the short list of countries that will soon know the Trump Administration’s meaning of freedom, and met with the ARENA party of El Salvador, known for its links to the death squads that murdered liberation theologist Archbishop Oscar Romero. Within Nicaragua, the critical mass of students stopped demonstrating weeks ago, the large civic protests of April and May have dwindled, and the same-old familiar faces of Nicaraguan right-wing politics are left holding the bill for massive material damage and loss of life.

Nicaraguan students meet with right-wing Republicans, Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Ileana Ros Lehtinen  in Washington, DC (Twitter Truthdig)

Why Nicaragua?

Ortega won his third term in 2016 with 72.4 percent of the vote with 66 percent turnout, very high compared to US elections. Not only has Nicaragua put in place an economy that treats the poor as producers, with remarkable results raising their standard of living in 10 years, but it also has a government that consistently rejects US imperialism, allying with Cuba, Venezuela, and Palestine, and voices support for Puerto Rican independence and a peaceful solution to Korean crisis. Nicaragua is a member of the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, a Latin American alternative to the OAS, neither include the US or Canada. It has also allied with China for a proposed canal project and Russia for security cooperation. For all of these reasons, the US wants to install a US-friendly Nicaraguan government.

More important is the example Nicaragua has set for a successful social and economic model outside the US sphere of domination. Generating over 75% of its energy from renewable sources, Nicaragua was the only country with the moral authority to oppose the Paris Climate Agreement as being too weak  (it later joined the treaty one day after Trump pulled the US out, stating “we opposed the Paris agreement out of responsibility, the US opposes it out of irresponsibility”). The FMLN government of El Salvador, while less politically dominant than the Sandinista Front, has taken the example of good governance from Nicaragua, recently prohibiting mining and the privatization of water. Even Honduras, the eternal bastion of US power in Central America, showed signs of a leftward shift until the US-supported military coup in 2009. Since then, there has been massive repression of social activists, a clearly stolen 2017 election, and Honduras has permitted the expansion of US military bases near the Nicaraguan border.

In 2017, the US House of Representatives unanimously passed the Nicaraguan Investment Conditionality Act (NICA Act), which if passed by the Senate will force the US government to veto loans from international institutions to the Nicaraguan government. This US imperialism will cripple Nicaragua’s ability to build roads, update hospitals, construct renewable energy plants, and transition from extensive livestock raising to integrated animal-forestry systems, among other consequences. It may also signify the end of many popular social programs, such as subsidized electricity, stable bus fares, and free medical treatment of chronic diseases.

The US Executive Branch has used the Global Magnitsky Act to target the finances of leaders of the Electoral Supreme Court, the National Police, the city government of Managua and the ALBA corporation in Nicaragua. Police officers and public health bureaucrats have been told their US visas have been revoked. The point, of course, is not whether these officials have or have not committed acts that merit their reprimand in Nicaragua, but whether the US government should have the jurisdiction to intimidate and corner public officials of Nicaragua.

While the sadistic violence continues, the strategy of the coup-mongers to force out the government has failed. The resolution of the political crisis will come through elections, and the FSLN is likely to win those elections, barring a dramatic and unlikely new offensive by the right-wing opposition.

Latin American Presidents Zelaya (Honduras), Correa (Ecuador), Chavez (Venezuela), Ortega (Nicaragua), and Morales (Bolivia) celebrate Correa’s inauguration for a second term, in Quito, Ecuador. (Prensa Presidencial)

An Upside Down Class War

It is important to understand the nature of US and oligarch coups in this era and the role of media and NGO deception because it is repeated in multiple Latin American and other countries. We can expect a similar attack on recently elected Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico if he seeks the changes he has promised.

The US has sought to dominate Nicaragua since the mid-1800s. The wealthy in Nicaragua have sought the return of US-allied governance since the Sandinistas rose to power. This failing coup does not mean the end of their efforts or the end of corporate media misinformation. Knowing what is really occurring and sharing that information is the antidote to defeating them in Nicaragua and around the world.

Nicaragua is a class war turned upside down. The government has raised the living standards of the impoverished majority through wealth redistribution. Oligarchs and the United States, unable to install neoliberalism through elections, created a political crisis, highlighted by false media coverage to force Ortega to resign. The coup is failing, the truth is coming out, and should not be forgotten.

• First published at Popular Resistance

A New World Order: Brought to You by the Global-Industrial Deep State

There are no nations. There are no peoples … There is only IBM and ITT and AT&T, and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today. The world is a college of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable by-laws of business.

Network (1976)

There are those who will tell you that any mention of a New World Order government—a power elite conspiring to rule the world—is the stuff of conspiracy theories.

I am not one of those skeptics.

What’s more, I wholeheartedly believe that one should always mistrust those in power, take alarm at the first encroachment on one’s liberties, and establish powerful constitutional checks against government mischief and abuse.

I can also attest to the fact that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

I have studied enough of this country’s history—and world history—to know that governments (the U.S. government being no exception) are at times indistinguishable from the evil they claim to be fighting, whether that evil takes the form of terrorism, torture, drug trafficking, sex trafficking, murder, violence, theft, pornography, scientific experimentations or some other diabolical means of inflicting pain, suffering and servitude on humanity.

And I have lived long enough to see many so-called conspiracy theories turn into cold, hard fact.

Remember, people used to scoff at the notion of a Deep State (a.k.a. Shadow Government), doubt that fascism could ever take hold in America, and sneer at any suggestion that the United States was starting to resemble Nazi Germany in the years leading up to Hitler’s rise to power.

We’re beginning to know better, aren’t we?

The Deep State (“a national-security apparatus that holds sway even over the elected leaders notionally in charge of it”) is real.

We are already experiencing fascism, American-style.

Not with jackboots and salutes, as Robert Kagan of the Brookings Institution notes, “but with a television huckster, a phony billionaire, a textbook egomaniac ‘tapping into’ popular resentments and insecurities, and with an entire national political party — out of ambition or blind party loyalty, or simply out of fear — falling into line behind him.”

And the United States is increasingly following in Nazi Germany’s footsteps, at least in the years leading up to Hitler’s rise to power.

Given all that we know about the U.S. government—that it treats its citizens like faceless statistics and economic units to be bought, sold, bartered, traded, and tracked; that it repeatedly lies, cheats, steals, spies, kills, maims, enslaves, breaks the laws, overreaches its authority, and abuses its power at almost every turn; and that it wages wars for profit, jails its own people for profit, and has no qualms about spreading its reign of terror abroad—it is not a stretch to suggest that the government has been overtaken by global industrialists, a new world order, that do not have our best interests at heart.

Indeed, to anyone who’s been paying attention to the goings-on in the world, it is increasingly obvious that we’re already under a new world order, and it is being brought to you by the Global-Industrial Deep State, a powerful cabal made up of international government agencies and corporations.

It is as yet unclear whether the American Police State answers to the Global-Industrial Deep State, or whether the Global-Industrial Deep State merely empowers the American Police State. However, there is no denying the extent to which they are intricately and symbiotically enmeshed and interlocked.

This marriage of governmental and corporate interests is the very definition of fascism.

Where we go wrong is in underestimating the threat of fascism: it is no longer a national threat but has instead become a global menace.

Consider the extent to which our lives and liberties are impacted by this international convergence of governmental and profit-driven interests in the surveillance state, the military industrial complex, the private prison industry, the intelligence sector, the technology sector, the telecommunications sector, the transportation sector, and the pharmaceutical industry.

All of these sectors are dominated by mega-corporations operating on a global scale and working through government channels to increase their profit margins: Walmart, Alphabet (formerly Google), AT&T, Toyota, Apple, Exxon Mobil, Facebook, Lockheed Martin, Berkshire Hathaway, UnitedHealth Group, Samsung, Amazon, Verizon, Nissan, Boeing, Microsoft, Northrop Grumman, Citigroup… these are just a few of the global corporate giants whose profit-driven policies influence everything from legislative policies to economics to environmental issues to medical care.

The U.S. government’s deep-seated and, in many cases, top secret alliances with foreign nations and global corporations are redrawing the boundaries of our world (and our freedoms) and altering the playing field faster than we can keep up.

Global Surveillance

Spearheaded by the National Security Agency (NSA), which has shown itself to care little for constitutional limits or privacy, the surveillance state has come to dominate our government and our lives.

Yet the government does not operate alone.

It cannot.

It requires an accomplice.

Thus, the increasingly complex security needs of our massive federal government, especially in the areas of defense, surveillance and data management, have been met within the corporate sector, which has shown itself to be a powerful ally that both depends on and feeds the growth of governmental bureaucracy.

Take AT&T, for instance. Through its vast telecommunications network that crisscrosses the globe, AT&T provides the U.S. government with the complex infrastructure it needs for its mass surveillance programs. According to The Intercept:

The NSA considers AT&T to be one of its most trusted partners and has lauded the company’s ‘extreme willingness to help.’  It is a collaboration that dates back decades. Little known, however, is that its scope is not restricted to AT&T’s customers. According to the NSA’s documents, it values AT&T not only because it ‘has access to information that transits the nation,’ but also because it maintains unique relationships with other phone and internet providers. The NSA exploits these relationships for surveillance purposes, commandeering AT&T’s massive infrastructure and using it as a platform to covertly tap into communications processed by other companies.

Now magnify what the U.S. government is doing through AT&T on a global scale, and you have the “14 Eyes Program,” also referred to as the “SIGINT Seniors.” This global spy agency is made up of members from around the world (United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Denmark, France, Netherlands, Norway, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Sweden, Spain, Israel, Singapore, South Korea, Japan, India and all British Overseas Territories).

Surveillance is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to these global alliances, however.

Global War Profiteering

War has become a huge money-making venture, and America, with its vast military empire and its incestuous relationship with a host of international defense contractors, is one of its best buyers and sellers. In fact, as Reuters reports, “[President] Trump has gone further than any of his predecessors to act as a salesman for the U.S. defense industry.”

The American military-industrial complex has erected an empire unsurpassed in history in its breadth and scope, one dedicated to conducting perpetual warfare throughout the earth. For example, while erecting a security surveillance state in the U.S., the military-industrial complex has perpetuated a worldwide military empire with American troops stationed in 177 countries (over 70% of the countries worldwide).

Although the federal government obscures so much about its defense spending that accurate figures are difficult to procure, we do know that since 2001, the U.S. government has spent more than $1.8 trillion in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (that’s $8.3 million per hour). That doesn’t include wars and military exercises waged around the globe, which are expected to push the total bill upwards of $12 trillion by 2053.

The illicit merger of the global armaments industry and the Pentagon that President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us against more than 50 years ago has come to represent perhaps the greatest threat to the nation’s fragile infrastructure today. America’s expanding military empire is bleeding the country dry at a rate of more than $15 billion a month (or $20 million an hour)—and that’s just what the government spends on foreign wars. That does not include the cost of maintaining and staffing the 1000-plus U.S. military bases spread around the globe.

Incredibly, although the U.S. constitutes only 5% of the world’s population, America boasts almost 50% of the world’s total military expenditure, spending more on the military than the next 19 biggest spending nations combined. In fact, the Pentagon spends more on war than all 50 states combined spend on health, education, welfare, and safety. There’s a good reason why “bloated,” “corrupt” and “inefficient” are among the words most commonly applied to the government, especially the Department of Defense and its contractors. Price gouging has become an accepted form of corruption within the American military empire.

It’s not just the American economy that is being gouged, unfortunately.

Driven by a greedy defense sector, the American homeland has been transformed into a battlefield with militarized police and weapons better suited to a war zone. Trump, no different from his predecessors, has continued to expand America’s military empire abroad and domestically, calling on Congress to approve billions more to hire cops, build more prisons and wage more profit-driven war-on-drugs/war-on-terrorism/war-on-crime programs that pander to the powerful money interests (military, corporate and security) that run the Deep State and hold the government in its clutches.

Global Policing

Glance at pictures of international police forces and you will have a hard time distinguishing between American police and those belonging to other nations. There’s a reason they all look alike, garbed in the militarized, weaponized uniform of a standing army.

There’s a reason why they act alike, too, and speak a common language of force.

For example, Israel—one of America’s closest international allies and one of the primary yearly recipients of more than $3 billion in U.S. foreign military aid—has been at the forefront of a little-publicized exchange program aimed at training American police to act as occupying forces in their communities. As The Intercept sums it up, American police are “essentially taking lessons from agencies that enforce military rule rather than civil law.”

Then you have the Strong Cities Network program.  Funded by the State Department, the U.S. government has partnered with the United Nations to fight violent extremism “in all of its forms and manifestations” in cities and communities across the world. Working with the UN, the federal government rolled out programs to train local police agencies across America in how to identify, fight and prevent extremism, as well as address intolerance within their communities, using all of the resources at their disposal. The cities included in the global network include New York City, Atlanta, Denver, Minneapolis, Paris, London, Montreal, Beirut and Oslo.

What this program is really all about, however, is community policing on a global scale.

Community policing, which relies on a “broken windows” theory of policing, calls for police to engage with the community in order to prevent local crime by interrupting or preventing minor offenses before they could snowball into bigger, more serious and perhaps violent crime.

It sounds like a good idea on paper, but the problem with the broken windows approach is that it has led to zero tolerance policing and stop-and-frisk practices among other harsh police tactics.

When applied to the Strong Cities Network program, the objective is ostensibly to prevent violent extremism by targeting its source: racism, bigotry, hatred, intolerance, etc. In other words, police—acting ostensibly as extensions of the United Nations—will identify, monitor and deter individuals who exhibit, express or engage in anything that could be construed as extremist.

Of course, the concern with the government’s anti-extremism program is that it will, in many cases, be utilized to render otherwise lawful, nonviolent activities as potentially extremist. Keep in mind that the government agencies involved in ferreting out American “extremists” will carry out their objectives—to identify and deter potential extremists—in concert with fusion centers (of which there are 78 nationwide, with partners in the private sector and globally), data collection agencies, behavioral scientists, corporations, social media, and community organizers and by relying on cutting-edge technology for surveillance, facial recognition, predictive policing, biometrics, and behavioral epigenetics (in which life experiences alter one’s genetic makeup).

This is pre-crime on an ideological scale and it’s been a long time coming.

Are you starting to get the picture now?

We’re the sitting ducks in the government’s crosshairs.

On almost every front, whether it’s the war on drugs, or the sale of weapons, or regulating immigration, or establishing prisons, or advancing technology, if there is a profit to be made and power to be amassed, you can bet that the government and its global partners have already struck a deal that puts the American people on the losing end of the bargain.

Unless we can put the brakes on this dramatic expansion, globalization and merger of governmental and corporate powers, we’re not going to recognize this country 20 years from now.

It’s taken less than a generation for our freedoms to be eroded and the police state structure to be erected, expanded and entrenched.

Rest assured that the U.S. government will not save us from the chains of the global police state.

The current or future occupant of the White House will not save us.

For that matter, anarchy, violence and incivility will not save us.

Unfortunately, the government’s divide and conquer tactics are working like a charm.

Despite the laundry list of grievances that should unite “we the people” in common cause against the government, the nation is more divided than ever by politics, by socio-economics, by race, by religion, and by every other distinction that serves to highlight our differences.

The real and manufactured events of recent years—the invasive surveillance, the extremism reports, the civil unrest, the protests, the shootings, the bombings, the military exercises and active shooter drills, the color-coded alerts and threat assessments, the fusion centers, the transformation of local police into extensions of the military, the distribution of military equipment and weapons to local police forces, the government databases containing the names of dissidents and potential troublemakers—have all conjoined to create an environment in which “we the people” are more divided, more distrustful, and fearful of each other.

What we have failed to realize is that in the eyes of the government, we’re all the same.

In other words, when it’s time for the government to crack down—and that time is coming—it won’t matter whether we voted Republican or Democrat, whether we marched on Washington or stayed home, or whether we spoke out against government misconduct and injustice or remained silent.

When the government and its Global-Industrial Deep State partners in the New World Order crack down, we’ll all suffer.

If there is to be any hope of freeing ourselves, it rests—as it always has—at the local level, with you and your fellow citizens taking part in grassroots activism, which takes a trickle-up approach to governmental reform by implementing change at the local level.

One of the most important contributions an individual citizen can make is to become actively involved in local community affairs, politics and legal battles. As the adage goes, “Think globally, act locally.”

America was meant to be primarily a system of local governments, which is a far cry from the colossal federal bureaucracy we have today. Yet if our freedoms are to be restored, understanding what is transpiring practically in your own backyard—in one’s home, neighborhood, school district, town council—and taking action at that local level must be the starting point.

Responding to unmet local needs and reacting to injustices is what grassroots activism is all about. Attend local city council meetings, speak up at town hall meetings, organize protests and letter-writing campaigns, employ “militant nonviolent resistance” and civil disobedience, which Martin Luther King Jr. used to great effect through the use of sit-ins, boycotts and marches.

And then, as I make clear in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, if there is any means left to us for thwarting the government in its relentless march towards outright dictatorship, it may rest with the power of communities and local governments to invalidate governmental laws, tactics and policies that are illegitimate, egregious or blatantly unconstitutional.

Nullification works.

Nullify the court cases. Nullify the laws. Nullify everything the government does that flies in the face of the principles on which this nation was founded.

We could transform this nation if only Americans would work together to harness the power of their discontent.

Agrarian Crisis and Climate Catastrophe: Forged in India, Made in Washington

India is under siege from international capital. It is on course not only to be permanently beholden to US state-corporate interests but is heading towards environmental catastrophe much faster than many may think.

According to the World Bank’s lending report, based on data compiled up to 2015, India was easily the largest recipient of its loans in the history of the institution. Unsurprisingly, therefore, the World Bank exerts a certain hold over India. In the 1990s, the IMF and World Bank wanted India to shift hundreds of millions out of agriculture. In return for up to £90 billion in loans, India was directed to dismantle its state-owned seed supply system, reduce subsidies, run down public agriculture institutions and offer incentives for the growing of cash crops to earn foreign exchange.

The plan for India involves the mass displacement of people to restructure agriculture for the benefit of powerful corporations. This involves shifting at least 400 million from the countryside into cities. A 2016 UN report said that by 2030, Delhi’s population will be 37 million.

Quoted in The Guardian, one of the report’s principal authors, Felix Creutzig, says:

The emerging mega-cities will rely increasingly on industrial-scale agricultural and supermarket chains, crowding out local food chains.

The drive is to entrench industrial farming, commercialise the countryside and to replace small-scale farming, the backbone of food production in India. It could mean hundreds of millions of former rural dwellers without any work given that India is heading (or has already reached) ‘jobless growth’. Given the trajectory the country seems to be on, it does not take much to imagine a countryside with vast swathes of chemically-drenched monocrop fields containing genetically modified plants or soils rapidly turning into a chemical cocktail of proprietary biocides, dirt and dust.

The WTO and the US-India Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture are facilitating the process. To push the plan along, there is a deliberate strategy to make agriculture financially non-viable for India’s small farms and to get most farmers out of farming. As Felix Creutig suggests, the aim is to replace current structures with a system of industrial (GM) agriculture suited to the needs of Western agribusiness, food processing and retail concerns.

Hundreds of thousands of farmers in India have taken their lives since 1997 and many more are experiencing economic distress or have left farming as a result of debt, a shift to (GM) cash crops and economic liberalisation. The number of cultivators in India declined from 166 million to 146 million between 2004 and 2011. Some 6,700 left farming each day. Between 2015 and 2022 the number of cultivators is likely to decrease to around 127 million.

For all the discussion in India about loan waivers for farmers and raising income levels, this does not address the core of the problem affecting agriculture: the running down of the sector for decades, spiralling input costs, lack of government assistance and the impacts of cheap, subsidised imports which depress farmers’ incomes.

Take the cultivation of pulses, for instance. According to a report in the Indian Express (September 2017), pulses production increased by 40% during the previous 12 months (a year of record production). At the same time, however, imports also rose resulting in black gram selling at 4,000 rupees per quintal (much less than during the previous 12 months). This has effectively driven down prices thereby reducing farmers already meagre incomes. We have already witnessed a running down of the indigenous edible oils sector thanks to Indonesian palm oil imports on the back of World Bank pressure to reduce tariffs (India was virtually self-sufficient in edible oils in the 1990s but now faces increasing import costs).

On the one hand, there is talk of India becoming food secure and self-sufficient; on the other, there is pressure from the richer nations for the Indian government to further reduce support given to farmers and open up to imports and ‘free’ trade. But this is based on hypocrisy.

Writing on the ‘Down to Earth’ website in late 2017, Sachin Kumar Jain states some 3.2 million people were engaged in agriculture in the US in 2015. The US govt provided them each with a subsidy of $7,860 on average. Japan provides a subsidy of $14,136 and New Zealand $2,623 to its farmers. In 2015, a British farmer earned $2,800 and $37,000 was added through subsidies. The Indian government provides on average a subsidy of $873 to farmers. However, between 2012 and 2014, India reduced the subsidy on agriculture and food security by $3 billion.

According to policy analyst Devinder Sharma subsidies provided to US wheat and rice farmers are more than the market worth of these two crops. He also notes that, per day, each cow in Europe receives subsidy worth more than an Indian farmer’s daily income.

How can the Indian farmer compete with an influx of artificially cheap imports? The simple answer is that s/he cannot and is not meant to.

The opening up of India to foreign capital is supported by rhetoric about increasing agricultural productivity, creating jobs and boosting GDP growth. But India is already self-sufficient in key staples and even where productivity is among the best in the world, farmers still face massive financial distress. Given that jobs are being destroyed, relatively few are being created and that as a measure of development GDP growth is unsustainable and has actually come at the expense of deliberately impoverished farmers in India (low food prices), what we are hearing is mere rhetoric to try to convince the public that an increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of a relative few corporations – via deregulations, privatisations and lower labour and environmental protection standards – constitutes progress.

We can already see the outcome of these policies across the world: the increasing power of unaccountable financial institutions, record profits and massive increases in wealth for elite interests and, for the rest, disempowerment, mass surveillance, austerity, job losses, the erosion of rights, weak unions, cuts to public services, environmental degradation, spiraling national debt and opaque, corrupt trade deals, such as TTIP, CETA, RCEP (affecting India) and TPA.

Making India ‘business friendly’

PM Modi is on record as saying that India is now one of the most business-friendly countries in the world. The code for being ‘business friendly’ translates into a willingness by the government to facilitate much of the above, while reducing taxes and tariffs and allowing the acquisition of public assets via privatisation as well as instituting policy frameworks that work to the advantage of foreign corporations.

When the World Bank rates countries on their level of ‘ease of doing business’, it means national states facilitating policies that force working people to take part in a race to the bottom based on free market fundamentalism. The more ‘compliant’ national governments make their populations and regulations, the more ‘business friendly’ a country is.

In the realm of agriculture, the World Bank’s ‘Enabling the Business of Agriculture’ entails opening up markets to Western agribusiness and their fertilisers, pesticides, weedicides and patented seeds. Rather than work to eradicate corruption, improve poor management, build storage facilities and deal with inept bureaucracies and deficiencies in food logistics, the mantra is to let ‘the market’ intervene: a euphemism for letting powerful corporations take control; the very transnational corporations that receive massive taxpayer subsidies, manipulate markets, write trade agreements and institute a regime of intellectual property rights thereby indicating that the ‘free’ market only exists in the warped delusions of those who churn out clichés about letting the market decide.

According to the neoliberal ideologues, foreign investment is good for jobs and good for business. But just how many actually get created is another matter – as is the amount of jobs destroyed in the first place to pave the way for the entry of foreign corporations. For example, Cargill sets up a food or seed processing plant that employs a few hundred people; but what about the agricultural jobs that were deliberately eradicated in the first place or the village-level processors who were cynically put out of business via bogus health and safety measures so Cargill could gain a financially lucrative foothold?

The process resembles what Michel Chossudovsky notes in his 1997 book about the ‘structural adjustment’ of African countries. In The Globalization of Poverty, he says that economies are:

opened up through the concurrent displacement of a pre-existing productive system. Small and medium-sized enterprises are pushed into bankruptcy or obliged to produce for a global distributor, state enterprises are privatised or closed down, independent agricultural producers are impoverished. (p.16)

If people are inclined to think farmers would be better off as foreign firms enter the supply chain, we need only look at the plight of farmers in India who were tied into contracts with Pepsico. Farmers were pushed into debt, reliance on one company and were paid a pittance

India is looking to US corporations to ‘develop’ its food and agriculture sector. With regard to what this could mean for India, we only have to look at how the industrialised US system of food and agriculture relies on massive taxpayer subsidies and has destroyed farmers’ livelihoods. The fact that US agriculture now employs a tiny fraction of the population serves as a stark reminder for what is in store for Indian farmers. Agribusiness companies (whose business model in the US is based on overproduction and dependent on taxpayer subsidies) rake in huge returns, while depressed farmer incomes and massive profits for food retailers is the norm.

The long-term plan is for an overwhelmingly urbanised India with a fraction of the population left in farming working on contracts for large suppliers and Walmart-type supermarkets that offer a largely monoculture diet of highly processed, denutrified, genetically altered food based on crops soaked with chemicals and grown in increasingly degraded soils according to an unsustainable model of agriculture that is less climate/drought resistant, less diverse and unable to achieve food security.

The alternative would be to protect indigenous agriculture from rigged global trade and trade deals and to implement a shift to sustainable, localised agriculture which grows a diverse range of crops and offers a healthy diet to the public.

Instead, we see the push for bogus ‘solutions’ like GMOs and an adherence to neoliberal ideology that ultimately privileges profit and control of the food supply by powerful private interests, which have no concern whatsoever for the health of the public.

Taxpayer-subsidised agriculture in the US ultimately promotes obesity and disease by supporting the health damaging practices of the food industry. Is this what Indians want to see happen in India to their food and health?

Unfortunately, the process is already well on track as ‘Western diseases’ take hold in the country’s urban centres. For instance, there are massive spikes in the rates of obesity and diabetes. Although around 40 per cent of the nation’s under-5s are underweight, the prevalence of underweight children in India is among the highest in the world; at the same time, the country is fast becoming the diabetes and heart disease capital of the world.

Devinder Sharma has highlighted where Indian policy makers’ priorities lie when he says that agriculture has been systematically killed over the last few decades. He adds that 60% of the population lives in the villages or in the rural areas and is involved in agriculture but less than two percent of the annual budget goes to agriculture: when you are not investing in agriculture, you are not wanting it to perform.

Support given to agriculture is portrayed as a drain on the economy and is reduced and farmers suffer yet it still manages to deliver bumper harvests year after year. On the other hand, corporate-industrial India has failed to deliver in terms of boosting exports or creating jobs, despite the hand outs and tax exemptions given to it.

The number of jobs created in India between 2005 and 2010 was 2.7 million (the years of high GDP growth). According to International Business Times, 15 million enter the workforce every year. And data released by the Labour Bureau shows that in 2015, jobless ‘growth’ had finally arrived in India.

So where are the jobs going to come from to cater for hundreds of millions of agricultural workers who are to be displaced from the land or those whose livelihoods will be destroyed as transnational corporations move in and seek to capitalise small-scale village-level industries that currently employ tens of millions?

Development used to be about breaking with colonial exploitation and radically redefining power structures. Now we have dogma masquerading as economic theory that compels developing countries to adopt neo-liberal policies. The notion of ‘development’ has become hijacked by rich corporations and the concept of poverty depoliticised and separated from structurally embedded power relations, not least US-driven neoliberal globalisation policies resulting in the deregulation of international capital that ensures giant transnational conglomerates have too often been able to ride roughshod over national sovereignty.

Across the world we are seeing treaties and agreements over breeders’ rights and intellectual property have been enacted to prevent peasant farmers from freely improving, sharing or replanting their traditional seeds. Large corporations with their proprietary seeds and synthetic chemical inputs have eradicated traditional systems of seed exchange. They have effectively hijacked seeds, pirated germ plasm that farmers developed over millennia and have ‘rented’ the seeds back to farmers. As a result, genetic diversity among food crops has been drastically reduced, and we have bad food and diets, degraded soils, water pollution and scarcity and spiralling rates of poor health.

Corporate-dominated agriculture is not only an attack on the integrity of ‘the commons’, soil, water, food, diets and health but is also an attack on the integrity of international institutions, governments and officials which have too often been corrupted by powerful transnational entities.

Whereas some want to bring about a fairer, more equitable system of production and distribution to improve people’s quality of lives (particularly pertinent in India with its unimaginable inequalities which have spiraled since India adopted neoliberal policies), Washington regards ‘development’ as a way to further US interests globally.

As economics professor Michael Hudson said during a 2014 interview (published on prosper.org under the title ‘Think Tank Times’):

American foreign policy has almost always been based on agricultural exports, not on industrial exports as people might think. It’s by agriculture and control of the food supply that American diplomacy has been able to control most of the Third World. The World Bank’s geopolitical lending strategy has been to turn countries into food deficit areas by convincing them to grow cash crops – plantation export crops – not to feed themselves with their own food crops.

Of course, many others such as Walden Bello, Raj Patel and Eric Holtz-Gimenez have written on how a geopolitical ‘stuffed and starved’ strategy has fuelled this process over the decades.

Capitalism and environmental catastrophe joined at the hip

In India, an industrialised chemical-intensive model of agriculture is being facilitated that brings with it the numerous now well-documented externalised social, environmental and health costs. We need look no further than the current situation in South India and the drying up of the Cauvery river in places to see the impact that this model has contributed to: an ecological crisis fuelled by environmental devastation due to mining, deforestation and unsustainable agriculture based on big dams, water-intensive crops and Green Revolution ideology imported from the West.

But we have known for a long time now that India faces major environmental problems rooted in agriculture. For example, in an open letter written to officials in 2006, the late campaigner and farmer Bhaskar Save noted that India, next to South America, receives the highest rainfall in the world. Where thick vegetation covers the ground, and the soil is alive and porous, at least half of this rain is soaked and stored in the soil and sub-soil strata. A good amount then percolates deeper to recharge aquifers, or ‘groundwater tables’. Save argued that the living soil and its underlying aquifers thus serve as gigantic, ready-made reservoirs gifted free by nature.

Half a century ago, most parts of India had enough fresh water all year round, long after the rains had stopped and gone. But clear the forests, and the capacity of the earth to soak the rain, drops drastically. Streams and wells run dry.

Save went on to note that while the recharge of groundwater has greatly reduced, its extraction has been mounting. India is presently mining over 20 times more groundwater each day than it did in 1950. Much of this is mindless wastage by a minority. But most of India’s people – living on hand-drawn or hand-pumped water in villages and practising only rain-fed farming – continue to use the same amount of ground water per person, as they did generations ago.

According to Save, more than 80% of India’s water consumption is for irrigation, with the largest share hogged by chemically cultivated cash crops. Maharashtra, for example, has the maximum number of big and medium dams in the country. But sugarcane alone, grown on barely 3-4% of its cultivable land, guzzles about 70% of its irrigation waters.

One acre of chemically grown sugarcane requires as much water as would suffice 25 acres of jowar, bajra or maize. The sugar factories too consume huge quantities. From cultivation to processing, each kilo of refined sugar needs two to three tonnes of water. This could be used to grow, by the traditional, organic way, about 150 to 200 kg of nutritious jowar or bajra (native millets).

While rice is suitable for rain-fed farming, its extensive multiple cropping with irrigation in winter and summer as well is similarly hogging water resources and depleting aquifers. As with sugarcane, it is also irreversibly ruining the land through salinization.

Save argued that soil salinization is the greatest scourge of irrigation-intensive agriculture, as a progressively thicker crust of salts is formed on the land. Many million hectares of cropland have been ruined by it. The most serious problems are caused where water-guzzling crops like sugarcane or basmati rice are grown round the year, abandoning the traditional mixed-cropping and rotation systems of the past, which required minimal or no watering.

Salinization aside, looking at the issue of soil more generally, Stuart Newton, a researcher and botanist living in India, says that India must restore and nurture its depleted, abused soils and not harm them any further with chemical overload. Through his analyses of Indian soils, he has offered detailed insights into their mineral compositions and links their depletion to the Green Revolution. In turn, these depleted soils in the long-term cannot help but lead to mass malnourishment. This is quite revealing given that proponents of the Green Revolution claim it helped reduced malnutrition.

Various high-level official reports, not least the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge and Science for Development Report, state that smallholder, traditional farming can deliver food security in low-income countries through sustainable agroecological systems. Moreover, given India’s huge range of biodiversity (India is one of Nikolai Vavilov’s strategically globally important centres of plant diversity) that has been developed over millennia to cope with diverse soil and climate conditions, the country should on its own be more than capable of addressing challenges that lie ahead due to climate change.

Instead, policy makers continue to look towards the likes of Monsanto-Bayer for ‘solutions’. Such companies merely seed to break farmers’ environmental learning ‘pathways’ based on centuries of indigenous knowledge, learning and practices with the aim of getting farmers hooked on chemical treadmills for corporate profit (see Glenn Stone and Andrew Flach’s 2017 paper in the Journal of Peasant Studies, ‘The ox fall down: path-breaking and technology treadmills in Indian cotton agriculture’).

Wrong-headed policies in agriculture have already resulted in drought, expensive dam-building projects, population displacement and degraded soils. The rivers are drying, farmers are dying and the cities are creaking as a result of the unbridled push towards urbanisation.

In terms of managing water resources, regenerating soils, and cultivating climate resilient crops, agroecology as a solution is there for all to see. Andhra Pradesh is now making a concerted effort to roll-out zero budget agroecological agriculture across the state. However, in the absence of this elsewhere across India, agroecological approaches will be marginalised.

India faces huge problems in terms of securing access to water. As Bhaskar Save noted, the shift to Green Revolution thinking and practices (underpinned by geopolitical and commercial interests: World Bank loans; export-oriented monocropping, commodity crop trade and dependency on the US dollar; seed sovereignty issues and costly proprietary inputs, etc) has placed enormous strain on water resources.

From glacial melt in the Himalayas that will contribute to the drying up of important rivers to the effects of temperature rises across the Indo Gangetic plain, which will adversely impact wheat productivity, India has more than its fair share of problems. But despite this, high-level policy makers are pushing for a certain model of ‘development’ that will only exacerbate the problems.

This model is being driven by some of the world’s largest corporate players: a model that by its very nature leads to environment catastrophe:

… our economic system demands ever-increasing levels of extraction, production and consumption. Our politicians tell us that we need to keep the global economy growing at more than 3% each year – the minimum necessary for large firms to make aggregate profits. That means every 20 years we need to double the size of the global economy – double the cars, double the fishing, double the mining, double the McFlurries and double the iPads. And then double them again over the next 20 years from their already doubled state.1

Politicians and bureaucrats in Delhi might be facilitating this model and the system of agriculture it is tied to, but it is ultimately stamped with the logo ‘made in Washington’.

  1. Jason Hickel, writing in The Guardian (July 2016.