Archive | March 29th, 2014

Obama Pushes for Regime Change in Venezuela

Once Again, South America Says No


When is it considered legitimate to try and overthrow a democratically-elected government? In Washington, the answer has always been simple: when the U.S. government says it is. Not surprisingly, that’s not the way Latin American governments generally see it.

On Sunday, the Mercosur governments (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Venezuela) released a statement on the past week’s demonstrations in Venezuela. They described “the recent violent acts” in Venezuela as “attempts to destabilize the democratic order.” They made it abundantly clear where they stood.

The governments stated “their firm commitment to the full observance of democratic institutions and , in this context, [they] reject the criminal actions of violent groups that want to spread intolerance and hatred in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela as a political tool.”

We may recall that when much larger demonstrations rocked Brazil last year, there were no statements from Mercosur or neighboring governments. That’s not because they didn’t love Dilma; it’s because these demonstrations did not seek to topple Brazil’s democratically-elected government.

The Obama administration was a bit more subtle, but also made it clear where it stood. When Secretary of State John Kerry states that “We are particularly alarmed by reports that the Venezuelan government has arrested or detained scores of anti-government protestors,” he is taking a political position. Because there were many protestors who committed crimes: they attacked and injured police with chunks of concrete and Molotov cocktails; they burned cars, trashed and sometimes set fire to government buildings; and committed other acts of violence and vandalism.

An anonymous State Department spokesman was even clearer, earlier in the week, when he responded to the protests by expressing concern about the government’s “weakening of democratic institutions in Venezuela,” and said that there was an obligation for “government institutions [to] respond effectively to the legitimate economic and social needs of its citizens.” He was joining the opposition’s efforts to de-legitimize the government, a vital part of any “regime change” strategy.

Of course we all know who the U.S. government supports in Venezuela. They don’t really try to hide it: there’s $5 million dollars in the 2014 U.S. federal budget for funding opposition activities inside Venezuela, and this is almost certainly the tip of the iceberg — adding to the hundreds of millions of dollars of overt support over the past 15 years.

But what makes these current U.S. statements important, and angers governments in the region, is that they are telling the Venezuelan opposition that Washington is once again backing regime change. Kerry did the same thing in April of last year when Maduro was elected president and opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles claimed that the election was stolen. Kerry refused to recognize the election results. Kerry’s aggressive, anti-democratic posture brought such a strong rebuke from South American governments that he was forced to reverse course and tacitly recognize the Maduro government. (For those who did not follow these events, there was no doubt about the election results.)

Kerry’s recognition of the election results put an end to the opposition’s attempt to de-legitimize the elected government. After Maduro’s party won municipal elections by a wide margin in December, the opposition was pretty well defeated. Inflation was running at 56 percent and there were widespread shortages of consumer goods, yet a solid majority had still voted for the government. Their choice could not be attributed to the personal charisma of Chávez, who died nearly a year ago; nor was it irrational. Although the past year or so has been rough, the past 11 years – since the government got control over the oil industry — have brought large gains in living standards to the majority of Venezuelans who were previously marginalized and excluded. There were plenty of complaints about the government and the economy, but the rich, right-wing politicians who led the opposition did not reflect their values nor inspire their trust.

Opposition leader Leopoldo López – competing with Capriles for leadership — has portrayed the current demonstrations as something that could force Maduro from office. It was obvious that there was, and remains, no peaceful way that this could happen. As political scientist David Smilde has argued, the government has everything to lose from violence in the demonstrations, and the opposition has something to gain.

By the past weekend Capriles, who was initially wary of a potentially violent “regime change” strategy – was apparently down with program. According to Bloomberg News, he accused the government of “infiltrating the peaceful protests ‘to convert them into centers of violence and suppression.’”

Meanwhile, López is taunting Maduro on Twitter after the government made the mistake of threatening to arrest him: “Don’t you have the guts to arrest me?” he tweets. Hopefully the government will not take the bait.

U.S. support for regime change undoubtedly inflames the situation, since Washington has so much influence within the opposition and of course in the hemispheric media. It took a long time for the opposition to accept the results of democratic elections in Venezuela. They tried a military coup, backed by the U.S. in 2002; when that failed they tried to topple the government with an oil strike. They lost an attempt to recall the president in 2004 and cried foul; then they boycotted National Assembly elections for no reason the following year. The failed attempt to de-legitimize last April’s presidential election was a return to this dark but not-so-distant past. It remains to be seen how far they will go this time to win by other means what they have not been able to win at the ballot box, and how long they will have Washington’s support for regime change in Venezuela.

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Masking Tragedy in Ukraine

Sinister Illusions

It is no secret that Barack Obama is one of the supreme illusionists of modern times. The disconnect between his words and his deeds is so profound as to be almost sublime, far surpassing the crude obfuscations of the Bush-Cheney gang. Their projections of unreality were more transparent, and in any case were merely designed to put a little lipstick on the pig of policies they were openly pushing (militarism, tax cuts for the rich, etc.). Indeed, the Bushists delivered their lines like bored performers at the end of a long run, not caring whether they were believed or not — just as long as they got what they wanted.

But Obama has taken all this to another level. He is a consummate performer, striving to “inhabit” the role and mouthing his lines as if they make sense and convey emotional truth. He is not just gilding his open agenda with some slap-dash lies; posing as a compassionate, progressive, anti-elitist peacemaker, he is masking a hidden agenda with a vast array of artifice, expending enormous effort to generate an alternate world that does not exist.

Take his astonishing attack on Vladimir Putin for “interfering” in Ukraine. That Obama could make this charge with a straight face — days after his own agents had been exposed (in the infamous “Fuck the EU” tape) nakedly interfering in Ukraine, trying to overthrow a democratically elected government and place their own favorites in charge — was brazen enough. But in accusing Putin of doing exactly what the Americans were doing in Ukraine, Obama also fabricated yet another alternate world.

Obama unilaterally declared that Ukraine should overturn the results of the 2010 election (which most observers said was generally “fair and free” — more so than elections in, say, the US, where losing candidates are sometimes wont to take power anyway, and where whole states dispossess or actively discourage millions of free citizens from voting). Instead, the Ukrainians should install an unelected “transitional government” in Kiev. Why? Because, says Obama, now channeling all Ukrainians in his own person, “the people obviously have a very different view and vision for their country” from the government they democratically elected.” And what is their vision, according to Obama the Ukrainian Avatar? To enjoy “freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, fair and free elections.” Something you might think they had enjoyed by having free elections 2010, and exercising freedom of speech and assembly to such a degree that a vast opposition force has occupied much of the central government district for months.

Now, this is not a defense of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s government. It is, by all accounts, a highly corrupt enterprise given to insider deals for well-connected elites who influence government policy for their own benefit. (I guess this might be a reason for overthrowing a democratically elected government with an armed uprising supported by foreign countries, but I would be careful about espousing this as a general rule if I were an American president.) But the reality in Ukraine is complex. Opposition forces have a legitimate beef against a corrupt and heavy-handed government. The Kremlin is obviously trying to manipulate events in Ukraine, just as the US is doing. Ukraine is polarized along several different lines — political, ethnic, historical, religious, linguistic — but these lines are not clear-cut, and often intersect, intermingle, are in flux. Many look to the West as a model, even a saviour, although the EU deal that Yanukovych turned down, precipitating the uprising, actually offered Ukraine little other than Greek-style financial servitude, while the Kremlin, at least, proffered cash on the barrelhead. The opposition itself is not a monolith of moral rectitude; one of its driving forces is an ultra-nationalist faction that spouts vile anti-Semitic rhetoric.

And the fact is, not a single one of the Western governments now denouncing Ukraine for its repression would have tolerated a similar situation. Try to imagine thousands of Tea Partiers, say, having declared that the elected government of Barack Obama was too corrupt and illegitimate to stand, setting up an armed camp in the middle of Washington, occupying the Treasury Building and Justice Department for months on end, while meeting with Chinese and Russian leaders, who then begin demanding a ‘transitional government’ be installed in the White House. What would be the government’s reaction? There is no doubt that it would make even Yanukovych’s brutal assault this week look like a Sunday School picnic.

So the situation in Ukraine is many-sided, complex, filled with ambiguity, change, nuance and chaos. But one thing that is not happening in Ukraine is Barack Obama’s fantasy that the entire Ukrainian people is rising to rid themselves of a tyrant so they can hold fair and free elections. They had such elections in 2010; and if the entire Ukrainian people now want to get rid of their president, there are free elections scheduled for 2015. It is likely that Yanukovych’s corrupt and maladroit performance in office — not least his reaction to the protest movement — would have guaranteed his peaceful defeat at the ballot box next year. But it is also likely that these elections will not be held now. One way or another,  Yanukovych will be forced from office by the violent chaos that he, and some opposition factions, and the machinations of Moscow and Washington have together produced. In any case, there is almost certainly more needless suffering in store for ordinary Ukrainians.

This is the reality, and tragedy, of the situation. But in the artfully hallucinated world of Barack Obama – a fantasy-land in which the entire American political and media elite also live – none of this matters. All that matters is the real agenda: advancing the dominance of a brutal ruling class through manipulation, militarism, and deception, whenever the opportunity arises.

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Rise of the Anti-Government Flash Mobs: First Ukraine, Now Venezuela

Global Research

The US-supported opposition in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is taking its cue from the anti-government protests taking place across the Atlantic Ocean in Ukraine. Failing to win any of Venezuela’s elections by earning a popular mandate from the majority of the population in the last few years, the leaders of the mainstream opposition are now resorting to colour revolution tactics and a Ukraine-style disruption strategy. The aim of these opposition leaders in Venezuela is to manipulate the galvanized anti-government protesters into creating a political crisis in Caracas. Mainstream opposition leaders are doing this by instigating the protesters into taking steps that are geared at toppling the Venezuelan government.

The same opposition leaders and their foreign supporters are using the cover of the undeniable misgivings about rising crime rates, political corruption, and economic turmoil in Venezuela as a disguise for what is essentially looking like an attempted coup. The socio-economic misgivings of a segment of the population are being used as a pretext to legitimize street action and violence aimed at toppling the government

It is ironic that many of those opposing the Venezuelan government in the name of democracy, equality, and security were once supporters of autocratic and openly corrupt governments before the Chavez era. Memory loss or outright hypocrisy is at play. When the same oligarch’s that form and finance the Venezuelan opposition that is supporting and instigating the current anti-government protests were in charge of Venezuela, corruption was widespread, poverty rates were much higher, inequality was greater, and there was much higher inflation. Nor was Venezuela even a functioning democracy.

Despite the Venezuelan governing party’s democratic mandate, which includes winning most the municipal seats during the country’s December 2013 elections, the US-supported Venezuelan opposition wants to use flash mobs to oust the government and to take over the country. Of the 337 mayors elected in December 2013, the final vote counts awarded 256 mayor positions to the ruling party and its coalition of pro-government forces. This amounted to a win of seventy-six percent of the mayoralties in the South American country’s municipal elections, which confirms that the majority of the population supports the current Venezuelan governing party and its political allies.

Despite their short comings, the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela and its political allies have one of the most democratic mandates in the world. In relative terms of fair voting, the government in Caracas has much more democratic legitimacy than the governments in countries like Britain, Canada, France, and the United States, which portray themselves as champions and models of democracy. The governing United Socialist Party and its coalitions, including the Great Patriotic Pole (GPP) coalition, have gone to the poles more times and for more issues than any of the current governments in Britain, Canada, France, or the US. On any occasion where constitutional issues or major issues involving Venezuela’s political structures were being contemplated, the government and governing party let the Venezuelan voters make the decisions through popular referendums.

From 1999, the period that the Chavez era started in Venezuela, until 2014 there has been six referendums dealing with the country’s national constitution, union structures, and even an opposition motion to have President Hugo Chavez removed from office through an electoral recall at the polls. Four presidential elections, four parliamentary elections for the National Assembly, and four regional-level elections for state governors and legislatures have all taken place too. Nicolas Maduro’s election as president in April 2013, just a few months after Hugo Chavez had won the presidential elections in October 2012, reconfirmed the support and confidence that over half of the population had for the government. Moreover, not only has there been four municipal-level elections, but municipal leaders began to be democratically selected by election ballots instead of being appointed; it was the leaders of the US-supported opposition that preferred to appoint municipal leaders outside of electoral mechanisms instead of letting the people decide themselves through voting.

The Mainstream Venezuelan Opposition is Anti-Democratic

What the US-supported opposition has been trying to do is to take over Venezuela outside of electoral mechanisms. It does not care about democracy or what the majority of Venezuelan citizens want. Where the mainstream opposition leaders have failed to get popular support or to win via the ballot box, they have used trickery and every option available to them for taking over the South American country. This includes the use of force, instigation of violence, attempted coups, intense propaganda campaigns, continuous collusion with the US government, and deliberate price hikes.

The leaders of the 2014 anti-government protests are the same Venezuelan mainstream opposition leaders that supported and collaborated in the 2002 coup, executed by a small circle of military officers, that was coordinated with the US Embassy in Caracas and US Ambassador Charles Shapiro. Although the USA falsely claims any involvement, Ambassador Shapiro would quickly run to meet the coup leaders and even joyously take photographs with them after they had their soldiers kidnap President Chavez. Through access to US federal government documents under the Freedom of Information Act, it has been indisputably proven that the CIA was even given the coup’s conspiracy plans five days before the Venezuelan opposition launched their illegal and short-lived takeover of Venezuela.

The leaders of the mainstream opposition have continued to lie shamelessly since that day. Paradoxically, they have also been major benefactors of many of the democratic mechanisms of political and legal recourse that Hugo Chavez created for Venezuela as a means of increasing democratic participation and the channels of empowering people and any form of democratic opposition against the government. Mainstream opposition leaders used one of these avenues of recourse against the government in 2004 by petitioning for the removal of President Chavez, which resulted in a national referendum. The mainstream opposition leadership, however, refused to recognize the electoral results of the very same 2004 referendum that it had initiated to remove Chavez through an electoral recall by voters, just because the results were not what it wanted.

During the same 2004 referendum, the mainstream opposition leaders even tried to manipulate the Venezuelan voters and create a political crisis through a doctored recording intended to discredit the government by alleging fraud by Chavez. Their argument was fallacious, because the recording was a parody that was being circulated for months before the election. The opposition leadership merely decided to use it as an excuse to allege fraud and to delegitimize the whole referendum and the Venezuelan government.

Members of the same opposition later boycotted the parliamentary elections in 2005 after they had created an electoral crisis prior to the voting. Originally, the National Electoral Council of Venezuela wanted to use fingerprint scanners to securely register voters, but the Venezuelan opposition refused to participate if this took place. One of the reasons for the move to use fingerprint scanners was to reduce fraud or attempted fraud during elections. After the National Electoral Council backed down on its decision to install fingerprint scanners, the main opposition parties still boycotted the 2005 parliamentary elections and nevertheless tried to delegitimize the Venezuelan government.

These same opposition leaders have tried to utilize technicalities, in attempts to manipulate the law, to also take over and divide the government and its allies. When President Chavez got sick and then eventually died, the mainstream opposition forces tried to use constitutional pretexts under Article 233 of the Venezuelan Constitution to push National Assembly President/Speaker Diosdado Cabello to assume the interim presidency, hoping it would create a rift between him and Vice-President Maduro that would divide and ultimately weaken the Chavistas and the United Socialist Party.

After Nicolas Maduro won the April 2014 presidential elections, Maduro’s opposition rival from the Coalition for Democratic Unity (MUD), Governor Henrique Capriles Radonski, refused to even recognize the electoral results and unceremoniously declared fraud. With the initial support of the US government, Governor Capriles refused to accept the results even after an audit of more than half the votes was conducted through his insistence. Capriles then demanded that all the votes be recounted, which was accepted by the National Electoral Council. Capriles, however, made additional demands including a call for the full audit of the voter registry and essentially a retracing of all the votes cast (not merely a vote count). Even when the National Electoral Council with great hardship tried to meet his increasing demands and did verify that Maduro won the election fairly, Governor Capriles refused to admit defeat and said that the election was a hoax. Even the US government was forced to back down from supporting him.

After his defeat, Governor Capriles instead instigated his followers into igniting violence in the streets. US-based organizations like Human Rights Watch (HRW) totally ignored the role that Capriles and the opposition played in igniting the violence, instead taking the opportunity to criticize the Venezuelan government. HRW actually had this to say about the street violence that MUD leaders had started: “Under the leadership of President Chavez and now President Maduro, the accumulation of power in the executive branch and the erosion of human rights guarantees have enabled the government to intimidate, censor, and prosecute its critics.” Not once were the violent actions taken by the mainstream opposition or the corruption of their leaders in the states or municipalities that they administer ever mentioned by HRW.

Governor Capriles and the leaders of the mainstream Venezuelan opposition have deliberately been trying to instigate violence and a loss of human life as a tactic to delegitimize the Venezuelan government and to justify the mainstream opposition’s strategy to work outside of any democratic framework. It cannot be emphasized enough that their aims are to increase political chaos and to disrupt Venezuela’s political stability with the goal of creating a vacuum to justify acting outside of the democratic framework of elections.

The objectives of the Venezuelan oligarchs controlling the mainstream opposition are not to establish a just society or to weed out corruption and crime in Venezuela. Their objectives are to reassert and entrench their privileged positions in Venezuelan society and to undo the reforms that Hugo Chavez enacted to help the poor in Venezuela. They want the law to cater to their needs and to merely serve as a tool of enforcing their dominance. Through the major private corporations that they own they have been increasing prices. Moreover, in many cases organized crime is tied to Latin America’s oligarchs themselves.

When asked about Chavez’s legacy, many of the supporters of the mainstream opposition parties will admit that Chavez helped the poor, but emphasize that Chavez “did nothing for the country (Venezuela).” In what has the possibility of being cataloged in the psychological research on class, privilege, and perceptions of entitlement by Paul Piff of the University of California in Berkeley, this attitude exposes the psychology of entitlement that is the motivation for the mainstream Venezuelan opposition: many of these individuals (who are clearly “individuals” in the sense of being individualistic) see themselves as “the country” and exclude the Venezuelan poor from being part of the country. Thus, bridging the gap between poor and rich or improving the quality of life for the underclass citizens of Venezuela means nothing to these supporters of the mainstream opposition and does not even psychologically register as doing anything worthy to improve Venezuelan society. Only service to them and their interests can be categorized as legitimate and noteworthy.

Students Are People, They Should Not be Romanticized

The imagery of student activists has been a key characteristic of the anti-government protests in Caracas. It is worth quoting the February 14, 2014 statement of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) about the opposition protests in Venezuela. The COHA declared that it viewed “with great alarm the violence perpetrated against the democratically elected government and civilians in Venezuela that has resulted, as of February 12, 2014, in three confirmed deaths, 61 persons wounded and 69 detained.” The COHA also noted in the same statement that the bloodshed in Caracas came “on the heels of generally peaceful marches held on the 200th anniversary of the battle of La Victoria, a battle in which students played a critical role in a victory against royalist forces during Venezuela’s war of independence.”

Students should not be romanticized as the exclusive defenders or proponents of civil liberties or democracy. Perceptions that view students this way without any assessment are romantic, wrong, and disconnected from the reality on the ground. Student groups can also represent various class and group interests that clearly contradict equality and justice in their societies or the broader world. The romanticization of students and student movements as justice-seekers merely gives these groups blank cheques and moral credit, when students and student movements should be supported on the basis of their motives and the understood causes they are promoting.

In Venezuela’s fellow Latin American country of El Salvador, medical school students from private universities doing their residencies refused to allow those Salvadorian medical school students doing their residencies that were trained in Cuba to do the same examinations as them. They fallaciously argued that the Cuban medical school standards were lower and equated the standards of education and training with the costs of the universities and medical schools. What they demanded was that the Cuban-trained doctors do an additional year of residency.

While the Salvadorian government argued that the examination results would declare who was qualified and who was disqualified, the non-Cuban medical school students resorted to protests and political tactics by blockading the examination halls and trying to disrupt the Salvadorian healthcare system instead of letting the test scores speak for themselves. These Salvadorian medical school doctors, mostly from private universities, wanted to merely eliminate their better trained Salvadorian rivals by imposing additional restrictions on their Cuban-trained counterparts by forcing them to do an extra year of residency.

The medical school protest in El Salvador was clearly a question of economic competition and personal interests and not one of justice, fairness, professionalism, or standards. If it was a question of standards, the Cuban-educated doctors were their superiors. The medical school students ultimately forced the Salvadorian government to put restrictions on the Cuban-trained medical school doctors instead of fairly settling the matter through the universal examination that all medical school graduates must do, which means they used pressure to bypass the most logical and fair means of deciding the matter. Moreover, it is worth noting that whenever the Salvadorian government has asked for doctors to volunteer their services to help in community health initiatives it has always been these Cuban-educated doctors and residents at the forefront that have offered their services and not their counterparts.

Looking back at Venezuela, it is important to identify the nature of the student involvement in the anti-government protests and to note that the students are actually divided into pro-government and anti-government camps. It is also critical to point out that the opposition leaders of the anti-government protest are hiding behind the images of the student activists to gain wider support for their objective of delegitimizing the Venezuelan government. In the words of the COHA: “While some groups of students marched in celebration of the Day of the Student, anti-government demonstrators used the occasion to protest episodic shortages of some basic goods, persistent crime, and to demand the release of students who had been arrested in earlier demonstrations.”

It is also important to point out that the faction of students that the mainstream opposition leaders are hiding behind generally comes from privileged families that can afford to send their children to private universities and post-secondary institutes of higher education. The perceptions of students in these private universities and schools can be radically different from their public university counterparts about subjects like neoliberal economics, privilege, and governing. Although proper survey work and research is needed on the matter, the students in private post-secondary institutions in Venezuela and other polarized parts of Latin America are more prone to support coups, holding different perceptions about the military being used to bring the groups that they support into power by overthrowing legitimate governments, and the unequal distribution of wealth. These types of views have been psychologically conditioned through group-think that has been hammered in by propaganda, peers, families, and the media that caters to their class and lifestyles.

Constructing False Narratives About the Anti-Government Protests and Hiding the Riots

A distorted narrative about the anti-government protests and riots is being constructed. Many of the anti-government protesters with legitimate grievances about crime and inflation themselves are being mislead by the protest leaders. As mentioned earlier, there is no denying that there is a crime problem or inflation in Venezuela, but, again, it cannot be overemphasized that the motivations of the mainstream opposition are not socio-economic grievances. These grievances are merely being used as pretexts by the opposition leaders to manipulating the protesters.

Furthermore, it must be understood that the Venezuelan opposition, in the first instance, owns almost all the mainstream media in Venezuela. The Venezuelan opposition literally has a choke-hold on most the news whereas the government only owns public television, receives support from community-based radio stations, and is allowed by law to get all the networks in Venezuela to release important public messages. In this context, the opposition leadership has used its control over the media to paint a false image of the events on the ground and to heavily distort the image of the Venezuelan anti-government protests in the minds of its grassroots followers and to whitewash the riots and acts of vandalism that have also taken place in parallel to the protests. Communication and Information Minister Delcy Rodriguez has also commented on this, saying that the government will prosecute those that are knowingly providing a cover for the violence in the streets through media distortions.

The Venezuelan opposition has been fighting a continuous propaganda war. The distortion of the anti-government protests is merely its newest chapter. The mainstream opposition is now involved in a propaganda campaign similar to the one launched in front of the Miraflores Palace in 2002 that led to the attempted coup against President Chavez. Opposition leaders pushed for violence and then when blood was spilled because of their deliberate instigation, they used the carnage to justify undemocratically removing the democratically-elected Hugo Chavez by force.

The opposition leadership has engaged in a dishonest campaign. Doctored images and false stories are being used by mainstream opposition supporters to depict the Venezuelan government as an authoritarian regime that is using brutal violence against unarmed civilian protesters. Unflattering pictures of Argentine, Brazilian, Bulgarian, Chilean, Egyptian, Greek, and Singaporean police and military forces in crowd control mode and anti-protest operations have been circulated and passed around through mass communication and social media by Venezuelan opposition forces as actions taking place in Venezuela during February 2014. This even includes pictures of government supporters that were hurt by opposition supporters and an edited photograph from a homosexual pornography video where the police are forcing a civilian to give them fellatio or oral sex which was circulated by the anti-Chavez actress Amanda Gutierrez as the brutal group raping of an unarmed anti-government protester in Caracas by the government’s riot police.


Who is Leopoldo Lopez Mendoza?

The leader of the current anti-government protests in Venezuela is also worth talking about. Leopoldo Lopez Mendoza is a former employee of Petroleum of Venezuela (Petróleos de Venezuela), S.A. (PDVSA) and the former mayor of Chacao. He comes from one of Venezuela’s wealthiest families. Lopez’s family is part of the anti-Chavez oligarchy which once ruled Venezuela like it was some sort of personal estate.

His family background or wealth alone should not be held against him, but his individual actions should. Lopez himself has no qualifications as a proponent of democracy. Lopez’s actual record says the opposite; he openly supported the suspension of democracy in Venezuela and was involved in propping the short-lived 2002 coup government in Caracas. Not only did he sign the Carmona Decree to dissolve all the democratic institutions of the country and to dismiss the judiciary and all elected officials in the executive and legislative branches of government, he was also a key figure in instigating the anti-government protests and violence in front of the Miraflores Palace that was used as a pretext to declare Chavez illegitimate.

Several years later, in 2007, Lopez and Alejandro Pena Esclusa were taped openly planning to create a political crisis in Venezuela by creating instability. Since Esclusa did most the talking, Lopez distanced himself from being Esclusa’s co-conspirator. Lopez never directly says anything in the tapes about the destabilization strategy, but his track record from 2002 and 2014 show that he has utilized it.

Lopez additionally has a record for dishonesty and corruption, which he says is fabricated by Chavez. The facts, however, speak for themselves. While Lopez was a state employee working for Venezuela’s national petroleum company, PDVSA, he had his mother, who also worked for PDVSA, divert at least $160,000 worth of PDVSA funds to him in 1998. Lopez has claimed that he did nothing wrong and merely used the money to create Primero Justicia, an opposition group. Venezuelan law, however, clearly prohibits donations from being made by the state or any of its bodies to its employees or public officials. Venezuelan law also prohibits the employees of state institutions from giving donations directly to their family members or any organizations involving family members, because of the clear conflicts of interest and risks that such acts entail.

The new Venezuelan government did not become aware of how Lopez and his mother diverted states funds during the pre-Chavez era of unaccountability until Lopez was investigated for corruption and found guilty of misusing public funds while he was the mayor of Chacao. Albeit Lopez was allowed to continue his term as mayor with intense monitoring until it finished in 2008, he was banned from running for public office until 2014 as a result of the corruption charges.

Who Perpetrated the Violence in Caracas?

2014 has arrived and now Leopoldo Lopez is up to his old tricks of instigation. Again it has to be mentioned that to justify the 2002 coup the leadership of the Venezuelan mainstream opposition made sure that there would be bloodshed and a loss of life. Lopez and his cohorts made sure that people would die by planting armed gunmen among the protesters that would start firing at the security forces. Once nineteen people died, the opposition-controlled mainstream media constructed a false narrative to sell the military coup to the Venezuelan people and the international community as a noble reaction against a government that had lost all legitimacy by killing its own people.

In this context, it is important to ask the question of who is perpetrated the violence in Caracas? Violence was instigated by armed gunmen among the US-supported opposition to justify the coup in 2002 through bloodshed. The same methodology of instigating violence has been used again in 2014. Video evidenceshows at least one armed gunman instigating violence during the protests. Footage from Caracas also clearly shows that thuggery is taking place while segments of the anti-government forces are clearly instigating violence and chaos. Unarmed bystanders and civil servants have been attacked by them, including vehicles belonging to the public transportation system and their passengers. This is the same ilk that attacked public hospitals and clinics in 2013 as a means of disrupting daily life in Venezuela after Maduro took over. Moreover, Lopez’s supporters have attacked government officials and offices with baseball bats and Molotov cocktails and done everything possible to instigate fighting with the clear aim, as Lopez himself describes, of making the Venezuelan government collapse.


The same oligarchs that control most the mainstream media in Venezuela have been waging an economic war to cripple their own government and country with the aim of getting enough ordinary citizens to support their takeover of the state. Even though they are trying to portray Lopez as a maverick leader acting on his own, the oligarchs view President Nicolas Maduro as a weak leader and are seeking to use the crisis to both get concessions, either secret or public, and to amplify the internal tensions in the United Socialist Party with the aim of breaking it.

A good and bad cop strategy has been applied in Venezuela. While one faction of the opposition exerts force, the other opens a negotiating front with the government. While pressure has been exerted from the street by Lopez, Capriles begun a dialogue with Maduro. In this regard the anti-government protests in Venezuela, specifically the violent riots, have been used by the opposition as a tool to try to make the political gains that the mainstream opposition could never earn through democratic means in the last few years. In addition to demonizing a democratically-elected government, this same strategy has also been applied through the anti-government protests and riots in Ukraine.

The Geo-Strategic Challenge to the US from the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela

The US has a major role to play in supporting all this too. There should be no mistake about this. The US government has its hands involved in the anti-government protests and riots in Venezuela, just like it has played a role in the anti-government protests and violence in both Ukraine and Syria. The US Embassy has continuously been coordinating with the mainstream opposition for the overthrow of the government in Caracas. Just like in the case of Ukraine, the US government has promoted the opposition leadership and made biased statements in their favour. Over the years, the US government has also repeatedly lied by referring to Venezuela as a dictatorship and to the mainstream opposition there as disenfranchised democrats.

Venezuela and the organizations that it has created in the Western Hemisphere are seen as major political, economic, and strategic regional threats by Washington. The Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) are viewed as threats to the domination of the United States and competitors to the Organization of American States (OAS) and any US economic regional plans, such as the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA/ALCA), for Latin America and the Caribbean. Regime change in Caracas would be the prerequisite to dismantling the Bolivarian Bloc consisting of Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador, the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) in El Salvador, and several other actors in Latin America.

Despite the media misinformation and all the pressure on the Venezuelan economy, a large numbers of Venezuelans still continue to support the government and to vote for the United Socialist Party and its political allies. The majority of the Venezuelan population supports their government, because of the significant improvements that the Chavez era brought to their lives by increasing the quality of life for a significant amount of Venezuelans. There should be no illusions, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is a deeply polarized country and still has many problems, but it became a substantially better place in the Chavez era. The Venezuelan autocrats of the past are now masquerading as democrats with the aim of just getting all their old privileges back.

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US, EU are ‘neck deep’ in Ukraine plan


to see pro-Western regime change

Kiev, Feb. 18

Though the Ukrainian conflict is complex, with “its own dynamic,” protesters are certainly emboldened by support from Western powers, Brian Becker, director of the anti-war ANSWER Coalition, told RT in an interview.

“The United States and NATO and the EU are together using their combined forces to signal to these demonstrators that ‘We are with you,'” he said. The EU, NATO leadership and the Obama administration “are neck deep now in a plan to carry out regime change in this extremely important part of Europe, trying to integrate a former Soviet republic into the EU and, of course, into NATO ultimately.”

In the cheerleading for protesters coming from Washington, Becker believes the US is fomenting discontent to further its reach into Russia’s backyard.

“I think the United States government is playing another dirty game. They’re trying to do what they have tried to do for the last 20 years, which is to incorporate all of the former socialist countries in the eastern and central European bloc – those that were aligned with the Soviet Union – into an American-Western-NATO sphere of influence,” he said.

RT: Some are saying that extremists among the demonstrators are now emboldened to be violent after such strong support from abroad. Are the EU and the US really to blame for this?

Brian Becker: I think there’s an inter-tangling here, of course. The internal struggle within Ukraine is complex, it is complicated, it has its own dynamic. And there is a very far-right fascist and semi-fascist force that is opting for violence and really armed struggle to overthrow the government, as a tactic to integrate Ukraine into the EU and into the Western powers. But behind that, the wind in their sails right now – and we can see it from the upsurge of violence – does come from the most important military powers in the Western world: the United States and NATO and the EU together are using their combined forces to signal to these demonstrators that ‘We are with you.’ And of course that emboldens them. [US Secretary of State] John Kerry and the EU, NATO leadership, and the Obama administration are neck deep now in a plan to carry out regime change in this extremely important part of Europe, trying to integrate a former Soviet republic into the EU and, of course, into NATO ultimately.

RT: But Brussels and Washington don’t want to see people dying over this, do they?

BB: I think the United States government is involved in invasion after invasion, occupation of countries, bombing of countries. I don’t know if the loss of human life is really the ultimate criteria. I really don’t believe so. I think the United States government is playing another dirty game. They’re trying to do what they’ve been doing for the last 20 years, which is to incorporate all of the former socialist countries in the eastern and central European bloc – those that were aligned with the Soviet Union – into an American-Western-NATO sphere of influence. And Ukraine is a big prize, with a very big military and it is right on Russia’s border. It’s part of a new Cold War against Russia, as well.

RT: There’s even been talk of sanctions against Kiev. Why do Western officials insist on blaming the government for the violence?

BB: Can you imagine in the United States – where police forces arrested 7,000 people in the Occupy movement, which was a completely peaceful movement that [the US] broke because they feared any rising discontent against inequality – they’re now telling this sovereign government of Ukraine, confronted with armed mobs and people carrying Molotov cocktails and guns, that if they use police force, that it is a violation of [protesters’] right of dissent. The hypocrisy here is dripping. I mean, the United States government has no right – when they foment opposition, arm opposition groups from Syria to Libya, and now in Ukraine – and then say when a government responds to it, ‘See, you’re violating people’s constitutional rights or free speech rights.’ That’s just a propaganda game.

RT: Is there really a serious riff forming between Russia and the EU about this?

BB: The EU triggered this whole protest movement. They signaled their pro-European forces inside Ukraine when they gave an ultimatum to the Ukrainian government back in November. ‘Which side are you on? Are you going to maintain your economic and political and diplomatic ties with Russia, or are you going to come into the EU?’ And under the condition of that ultimatum, these protests began and great pressure was brought to bear on the Ukrainian government. This is a destabilization campaign. It’s a coordinated economic, political, and ultimately military destabilization campaign against an important country, a country that’s historically linked first to the Soviet Union and to Russia. They want to bring it over into the camp of the American government, which has expansionist designs. They want to encircle Russia in order to conquer what was formally an independent part of the world. And subjugate it, dominate it, and of course the Russians perceive it as a threat. This was an EU-provoked crisis, not a Russian-provoked crisis.

RT: What about people in Ukraine who do want to see a change in the government? They’re fed up with corruption and a poor standard of living.

BB: Indeed, there are many different forces that are struggling against the Yanukovich government. There are some to the right, some to the left. It’s very complex. Many have legitimate grievances. There’s high unemployment. The breakup of the Soviet Union led to an evisceration of the people in Ukraine. That’s not the issue, though, for the United States and the EU countries, which are using valid grievances against the Ukrainian government for a larger, geostrategic purpose, which is to integrate Ukraine into the Western bloc.

RT: Ukraine is divided by east and west, loyalties to Russia and the EU. Are we seeing a country split in half?

BB: Yes, there’s eastern Ukraine with historic ties to Russia, and the west is more oriented towards the EU. But there’s also a class divide; there’s rich and poor. And of course the upper classes, those who have been courted by Western powers, are being told, ‘Look, if you come with us, you will become very, very rich.’ They have nothing in common with the Ukrainians, who are poor and who have been suffering for the last 20 years. There’s a class divide in addition to a geographic divide.

RT: There’s talk of a civil war. If so, should there be a neutral moderator? Who would it be?

BB: What needs to happen is the EU countries and, I would say as an American, we have to tell our government, ‘stop trying to foment civil disruption Ukraine,’ maybe possibly fomenting civil war as they did in the case of Syria, for instance, or Libya. ‘Stop doing that.’ The Ukrainian people, and only they, should be the determiners of their destiny. They should have real self-determination, which means the Western powers need to get out and leave them alone.

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The illuminati Exposed By Muammar Gaddafi

Posted in Middle East, USA1 Comment

The Surveillance of WikiLeaks

Targeting the Muckrakers


It was the worst kept secret in the novella of espionage delights, but the discussion in Glenn Greewald’s the Intercept was anticipated. The article suggested its imminent newsworthiness: “Top-secret documents from the National Security Agency and its British counterpart reveal for the first time how the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom targeted WikiLeaks and other activist groups with tactics ranging from covert intelligence to prosecution” (Feb 18).

If only we could say it was the first time. Julian Assange and WikiLeaks have become the bread and butter of a good many staff in the National Security Agency and their British equivalent, GCQH. The outfit is also providing rich fare for a range of agencies keen to mark out WikiLeaks in some capacity as an illegal organisation. The effort has so far failed because the implications – at least for now – are simply too terrifying, especially for those with even a shade of interest in publishing and reporting. Criminalise WikiLeaks, and you criminalise us all.

In the hawkish eyes of the security establishment that keeps watch on WikiLeaks, the turn from reporter activist to perfidious criminal may be a short one. The language of the US government targeting “the human network that supports WikiLeaks” is chilling. A classified document from August 2010 outlines the Obama administration’s effort to collectivise the targeting of WikiLeaks, urging “foreign allies to file criminal charges against Assange over the group’s publication of the Afghanistan war logs.”

As the Electronic Frontier Foundation correctly observes, such an act is blatant forum shopping on the part of an administration hamstrung by the constitution. The dirty work, in short, can be done elsewhere. “Publishing classified documents is not illegal in the United States, and the US has not charged WikiLeaks with any crime for publishing the Afghanistan war logs or any other classified documents.”

Another document, from July 2011, details discussions between NSA offices as to whether WikiLeaks might be designated a “malicious foreign actor” for reasons of surveillance (the language in the document is “targeting with no defeats”). Such a designation would simply broaden the scope of activities available to the agency. “No defeats are needed when querying against a known foreign malicious actor.” The response from the agency’s general counsel on the subject of WikiLeaks’ status is tentative – “Let us get back to you.”

Anonymous also features in a question about whether it is “okay to target the foreign actors of a loosely coupled group of hackers… such as with Anonymous?” The reply from the counsel: “As long as they are foreign individuals outside of the US and do not hold dual citizenship…then you are okay”.

According to a GCHQ4 document, the British agency monitored the reader traffic to WikiLeaks in 2012, using tapping capabilities of the Internet’s fibre-optic cables. This is hardly earthshattering copy, but it is important in terms revealing scope. Importantly, it also took note of US readers as part of its ANTICRISIS GIRL initiative. Much of the document is otherwise pyscho babble, a tedious watered down attempt to “understand and shape the Human Terrain”. The interesting part, rather, lies in the “real-time monitoring of online activity”.

Greenwald’s discussion, building on Snowden’s documentation, further shapes the picture created by the Electronic Privacy Information Centre through documents obtained through Freedom of Information. In June 2011, the US Department of Justice and the FBI were the subject of claims seeking, “All records regarding any individuals targeted for surveillance for support for or interest in WikiLeaks.” Records with lists of names of individuals who had shown interest in WikiLeaks were also sought, in addition to agency communications with social media companies demonstrating an interest in WikiLeaks.

The DOJ were in no mood to divulge their trophies, and cited a mysterious, unnamed statute that prevented them from doing so. “All three units at DOJ – a reflected in declarations from FBI’s David Hardy, National Security Division’s Mark Bradley, and Criminal Division’s John Cunningham – claimed the files at issue were protected by statute.” The statute would only be named in classified declarations – to have done otherwise, in Cunningham’s terms, “would undermine interests protected by Exemption 7(A)”. To release the documentation requested by EPIC “could reasonably be expected to interfere with an ongoing law enforcement investigation.”

As the note at Empty Wheel (Feb 19) explains, the DOJ seemed pensive that the Court could be trusted to keep a secret declaration under lock and key. In its motion, it submitted that the, “Defendants respectfully request that the Court not identify the Exemption 3 statute(s) at issue, or reveal any of the other information provided in Defendants’ ex parte and in camera submissions.”

Obfuscation and rejection can often be a form of confession. The documents then made it clear, if only by sleight of hand, that WikiLeaks was the subject of ongoing investigations about potential criminality.

WikiLeaks associate and journalist Jacob Appelbaum was also the subject of DOJ surveillance, as is made clear in two court orders released by Alexa O’Brien (Feb 17). The department was proving hungry for intelligence on the organisation. Prosecutors obtained court order in April 2011 directing, a US-based internet service provider, to turn over the Internet Protocol and email addresses of people who had been in touch with Applebaum. The attachment is detailed in terms of listing “subscriber names, user names, screen names, or other identities” including, among others, “mailing addresses, residential addresses, business addresses, e-mail addresses, and other contact information.”

This range of actions show the determination to box WikiLeaks into a category that is refuses to fit. A publishing organisation that also acts as a militant discloser of secrets – the operatic spy of the people – is a fundamentally dangerous challenge. Even as far back as 2008, the Pentagon would call WikiLeaks, in the clunky jargon of a report, “a potential force protection, counterintelligence, OPSEC and INFOSEC threat to the US Army.” One almost senses the anxiousness in the otherwise dull disclosures that WikiLeaks is on to something, and the emperor’s guards don’t like it. As the colourful Slavoj Žižek claimed in The Guardian in September last year, the Snowden disclosures showed that “whistleblowing is now an essential art. It is our means of keeping ‘public reason’ alive.”

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Iran’s Real Nuclear Revolution

A Manufactured Crisis


The nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) are back this Tuesday in Vienna. The stakes couldn’t be higher. It will be a long and winding road. Hidden agendas on both sides badly want the talks to fail – and will spare no effort towards that goal.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei could be interpreted as a stony realist, when he said that the talks will go nowhere. It’s as if the Supreme Leader had read Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare, a crucial book by Martha Gellhorn Prize winner Gareth Porter, which is being launched this week in New York. In the book, Porter thoroughly debunks the whole narrative of the Iran nuclear dossier as sold to the world by the George W Bush administration, assorted neo-cons and the Israeli Likud.

And it gets much worse, in terms of prospects for a final deal to be reached this year. According to Porter, “the Obama administration has introduced the subject of ‘possible military dimensions’ into the nuclear negotiations. That means that the United States will be demanding an explanation for ‘evidence’ that the book shows was fabricated. That is a decision that could threaten the conclusion of a final agreement with Iran.”

Meanwhile, on Tuesday last week, millions of people hit the streets in Tehran in a massive rally celebrating the 35 years of the Islamic revolution. How come?

For all its economic mismanagement, Iran’s illiteracy rate has been reduced to near zero. Women are active, participative voters (try even raising the issue in the House of Saud’s paradise). There has been remarkable scientific progress, even under harsh sanctions. Pursuing a civilian nuclear program is a matter of national consensus.

This piece – significantly, published by al-Arabiya, which is controlled by the House of Saud – at least tries not to sound entirely as cheap Arab propaganda, making a valid point about the real threat for the Islamic revolution coming from disaffected youth across Iran.

Yet this is not the key point. The Islamic republic won’t disintegrate tomorrow. What’s much more crucial is to revisit the key reasons why the revolution happened 35 years ago, and why, when it comes to Iranian geopolitical independence, it remains somewhat popular.

That may also shed light on why the West – and especially the United States – still refuses to normalize its relations with Iran. After all, what happened 35 years ago in Iran was never properly understood in the US in the first place. In geopolitical terms, this was the real “nuclear” revolution – one of the most far-reaching developments of what Eric Hobsbawm defined as “the short 20th century”.

And perhaps this is what the Supreme Leader meant about the talks going nowhere; certainly the case as long as Washington, especially, refuses to abandon the reductionism of Iran as a bunch of fanatics.

That Kissinger oil shock

As early as the presidency of Harry Truman, the US supported the Shah of Iran’s dictatorship, no holds barred. No wonder those days are sorely missed.

In 1953, after the CIA coup against Mohammad Mossadegh, the Shah – who lived mostly in the French Riviera – was “invited” to rule as a CIA puppet (John F Kennedy had met him in wild parties in the French Riviera and found him to be a dangerous megalomaniac). In return for re-establishing British “rights” to Persian oil, Washington self-attributed 55% for the concessions and the Brits got the rest.

The CIA trained the Savak – the Shah’s secret police. It was the best of times. The Shah not only excelled in his role of gendarme of political/economic US interests in the Persian Gulf; as he did not share Arab


hatred of Israel, Tel Aviv had access to Persian oil (that ended after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini seized power).

The Shah ruthlessly suppressed and persecuted every political party in Iran and even massacred Kurds (Saddam Hussein was taking notes.) He started to take his own propaganda seriously, including believing in the myth of being a new King of Kings. He became the number one cheerleader of the 1973 OPEC oil shock, to which he got the green light from none other than Henry Kissinger.

In a nutshell, this was a follow-up of the 1972 “Nixon doctrine”, when it became clear the US defeat in Vietnam was all but a done deal. That’s when Tricky Dicky started to promote gatekeepers all over the “free world”. And no region was more crucial than the Persian Gulf.

The Shah loved it. But he was always complaining that he didn’t have enough dough to buy all those weapons the industrial-military complex was offering him. So Kissinger – a David Rockefeller errand boy – squared the circle, with the rise of oil prices by Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC.

With this move, Kissinger instantly inflated the profits of US Big Oil – which at the time accounted for five of the Seven Sisters, and crucially boasted three that were Rockefeller-owned (Exxon, Mobil and Socal). At the same time, since Japan and then West Germany and the rest of Western Europe depended on Persian Gulf oil much more than the US did, Kissinger devised the perfect way to torpedo the devastating Japanese and German industrial and trade competition.

You won’t find any of this on Kissinger’s turgidly ambitious tomes, or on any US corporate media files for that matter. But that explains much of the world born out of the “oil shock”.

Like most US puppets – talk about hubris – the Shah never understood that he was just a puppet. His corporate multinational economic model as applied to Iran had the predictable effects; much like today (even in Europe and the US), a tiny minority consuming like there’s no tomorrow and a huge majority increasingly miserable, as the Shah bet on cash crops instead of an agrarian reform to guarantee the subsistence of millions of peasants – many of them illiterate, pious Shi’ites – who had been booted out of the countryside by American agribusiness, which dismissed them as a superfluous workforce.

These miserable masses inflated Tehran and other Iranian big cities, turning into the mass base for Khomeini’s revolution. And the rest is history.

Nothing is inaccessible

Then Jimmy Carter – that hick Hamlet – when still campaigning for the presidency against Gerald Ford in 1976, admitted in a debate that the Shah was a torturer. Two years later, as president, Carter now considered him “an island of stability” and “a friend”.

During the 1970s, it was “just” for Iran to carry out a nuclear program, among other motives to intimidate revolutionary Arab nationalism. Yet now, under an Islamic republic, a civilian nuclear program is an “existential threat”.

The Shah’s banker was David Rockefeller, never tired of extolling the “patriotism” and “tolerance” of his client, not to mention his modernizing drive – everything duly parroted by US corporate media even as Amnesty International and the State Department itself had Himalayas of documents proving the Shah was one of the top torturers of modern history. What mattered is that he brought excellent dividends for then Chase Manhattan.

One never lost money underestimating the cluelessness of US corporate media. When the Islamic revolution started, US media as a whole told the world that the Shah was undefeatable; that Khomeini and his followers were a minority of religious fanatics; and that the real motive for the revolution was that the Shah was a Great Modernizer (the Rockefeller script), rejected by those same Muslim fanatics. It’s fair to say this script is still being peddled today.

When the Shah fled Iran, the whole US media bought the fallacy of “going for a holiday”. When Khomeini boarded that Air France flight from Paris and arrived in Tehran in absolute triumph, no wonder no one in the US had a clue what was going on. US media preferred to mock Khomeini’s “fanaticism” – which at the time paled compared with Pope John Paul II, who considered women to be an inferior species.

The Iranian bourgeoisie – modern, social democrat, inheriting the political line of Mossadegh – managed to drive a lot of support from progressives in Europe. At a time when Le Monde was still a very good newspaper and not the sub-American trash it is today, one just needed to read the dispatches by ace correspondent Eric Rouleau to confirm it.

Khomeini, for his part, had the charisma (and that spectral voice on cassette tapes), supported by the only political organization tolerated by the Shah, the roughly 160,000 mullahs, who duly mobilized those wretched masses rendered useless by American agribusiness interests.

Yet, from the beginning, Khomeini negotiated with the bourgeoisie – as when he named Mehdi Bazargan as prime minister and Bani Sadr as president (a socialist and a Western-style modernizer). Only when the Shah system was totally eradicated did Khomeini go into overdrive to purge everyone but his religious followers – recreating, on a smaller scale, the Shah’s inferno, but in the name of Allah. Well, as Mao said, no revolution is a dinner party.

As for Jimmy “Hamlet” Carter, he never officially recognized Khomeini as the Iranian leader. Washington didn’t even try to talk to him. A whiff of geopolitical intelligence would have the Americans trying to share some tea when he was still exiled in Paris. But David Rockefeller and his parrot Kissinger would scream, so a cowed Carter retreated into his shell. After the Islamic revolution, Washington never returned the estimated US$60 billion the Shah, family and cronies stole from Iran.

This catalogue of disinformation during the 1970s and 1980s is now mirrored by the disinformation of all these past few years about the Iranian nuclear program. No wonder most Americans – and plenty of Europeans – remain clueless.

When Khomeini died – and I vividly remember every newspaper in Europe on June 5, 1989, sharing the front page between that and Deng Xiaoping ordering the Tiananmen massacre – the great philosopher Daryush Shayegan, a former professor at the University of Tehran, published a superb article in Liberation explaining the Big Picture, from the Shah’s “legacy” to Khomeini.

Shayegan wrote that both men, the Shah and the Imam, committed the same fatal mistakes and “incarnated, each their own way, two typically Iranian traits: cultural schizophrenia and the dream of grandeur”. So the whole drama was about two juxtaposed Irans: Imperial Iran and “the suffering Iran of the blood of the Martyr”. Both expressed an impossible dream and, “like the 12th century mystical poet Ruzbehan from Shiraz would say, the same ‘dementia of the inaccessible’.”

Today, 35 years after the Islamic revolution, what Iranians seek is hardly inaccessible: the end of Western sanctions and the end of sections of the West perennially treating the country as a bunch of religious “fanatics”.

Russia, China, Turkey, Pakistan, other Asian nations, all Latin American nations, all African nations, all treat Iran as normal. Beyond the clash of “heroic flexibility” against American exceptionalism, if only the US establishment would finally get over it, and deal – realistically – with what happened in Tehran 35 years ago. Only then these talks in Vienna will go somewhere, and we may have a final nuclear deal in 2014.

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Venezuela Beyond the Protests

The Revolution is Here to Stay


For those of you unfamiliar with Venezuelan issues, don’t let the title of this article fool you. The revolution referred to is not what most media outlets are showing taking place today in Caracas, with protestors calling for the ouster of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The revolution that is here to stay is the Bolivarian Revolution, which began in 1998 when Hugo Chavez was first elected president and has subsequently transformed the mega oil producing nation into a socially-focused, progressive country with a grassroots government. Demonstrations taking place over the past few days in Venezuela are attempts to undermine and destroy that transformation in order to return power to the hands of the elite who ruled the nation previously for over 40 years.

Those protesting do not represent Venezuela’s vast working class majority that struggled to overcome the oppressive exclusion they were subjected to during administrations before Chavez. The youth taking to the streets today in Caracas and other cities throughout the country, hiding their faces behind masks and balaclavas, destroying public buildings, vehicles, burning garbage, violently blocking transit and throwing rocks and molotov cocktails at security forces are being driven by extremist right-wing interests from Venezuela’s wealthiest sector. Led by hardline neoconservatives, Leopoldo Lopez, Henrique Capriles and Maria Corina Machado – who come from three of the wealthiest families in Venezuela, the 1% of the 1% – the protesters seek not to revindicate their basic fundamental rights, or gain access to free healthcare or education, all of which are guaranteed by the state, thanks to Chavez, but rather are attempting to spiral the country into a state of ungovernability that would justify an international intervention leading to regime change.

Before Chavez was elected in 1998, Venezuela was in a very dark, difficult period with a dangerously eroded democracy. During the early 1990s, poverty swelled at around 80%, the economy was in a sinkhole, the nation’s vast middle class was disappearing with millions falling into economic dispair, constitutional rights were suspended, a national curfew was imposed and corruption was rampant. Those who protested the actions of the government were brutally repressed and often killed. In fact, during the period of so-called “representative democracy” in Venezuela from 1958-1998, before the nation’s transformation into a participatory democracy under Chavez, thousands of Venezuelans were disappeared, tortured, persecuted and assassinated by state security forces. None of their rights were guaranteed and no one, except the majority excluded poor, seemed to care. International Human Rights organizations showed little interest in Venezuela during that time, despite clear and systematic violations taking place against the people.

Those in power during that period, also referred to in Venezuela as the “Fourth Republic”, represented an elite minority – families that held the nation’s wealth and profited heavily from the lucrative oil reserves. Millions of dollars from oil profits belonging to the state (oil was nationalized in Venezuela in 1976) were embezzled out of


the country into the bloated bank accounts of wealthy Venezuelans and corrupt public officials who had homes in Miami, New York and the Dominican Republic and lived the high life off the backs of an impoverished majority.

Hugo Chavez’s electoral victory in 1998 shattered the opulent banquet the Venezuelan elite had enjoyed for decades, while they ran the country into the ground. He was elected precisely to break the hold on power those groups had harnessed for so many years, and Chavez’s promise was revolution – complete transformation of the economic, social and political system in the country. His electoral victories were solid, year after year, each time rising in popularity as more and more Venezuelans became motivated to participate in their governance and the construction of a new, inclusive, nation with social justice as its banner.

Chavez’s election was a huge blow to Washington and the powerful interests in the United States that wanted control over Venezuela’s oil reserves – the largest on the planet. In April 2002, the Bush administration backed a coup d’etat to overthrow Chavez, led by the very same elite that had been in power before. The coup involved mass marches in the streets of Caracas, composed of the wealthy and middle classes, calling for Chavez’s ouster. Snipers were used to shoot on those in the marches, creating violence and chaos that was immediately blamed on Chavez. Television, radio and newspapers in Venezuela all joined in the coup efforts, manipulating images and distorting facts to justify Chavez’s overthrow. He became the villian, the evil dictator, the brutal murderer in the eyes of international media, though in reality those overthrowing him and their backers in Washington were responsible for the death and destruction caused. After Chavez was kidnapped on April 11, 2002 and set to be assassinated, the wealthy businessmen behind the coup took power and imposed a dictatorship. All democratic institutions were dissolved, including the legistature and the supreme court.

The majority who had voted for Chavez and had finally become protagonists in their own governance were determined to defend their democracy and took to the streets demanding return of their president. Forty-eight hours later, Chavez was rescued by millions of supporters and loyal armed forces. The coup was defeated and the revolution survived, but the threats continued.

A subsequent economic sabotage attemped to bring down the oil industry. 18,000 high level technical and managerial workers at the state-owned company, PDVSA, walked off the job, sabotaging equipment and causing nearly $20 billion in damages to the Venezuelan economy. After 64 days of strikes, barren supermarket shelves due to intentional hoarding to create panic, and a brutal media war in which every private station broadcast opposition propaganda 24/7, Venezuelans were fed up with the opposition. Chavez’s popularity soared. A year and a half later, when the opposition tried to oust him through a recall referendum, he won a 60-40 landslide victory.

Leading efforts to overthrow Chavez were the very same three who today call for their supporters to take to the streets to force current President Nicolas Maduro from power. Leopoldo Lopez and Henrique Capriles were both mayors of two of Caracas’ wealthiest municipalities during the 2002 coup – Chacao and Baruta, while Maria Corina Machado was a close ally of Pedro Carmona, the wealthy businessman who proclaimed himself dictator during Chavez’s brief ouster. Lopez and Machado signed the infamous “Carmona Decree” dissolving Venezuela’s democratic institutions, trashing the constitution. Both Capriles and Lopez were also responsible for persecuting and violently detaining members of Chavez’s government during the coup, including allowing some of them to be publicly beaten, such as Ramon Rodriguez Chacin, former Minister of Interior in 2002.

All three have been major recipients of US funding and political support for their endeavors to overthrow Chavez, and now Maduro. The US National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and its offshoots, the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) provided start-up funds for Machado’s NGO Sumate, and Capriles’ and Lopez’s right-wing party Primero Justicia. When Lopez split from Primero Justicia in 2010 to form his own party, Voluntad Popular, it was bankrolled by US dollars.

Over the ten year period, from 2000-2010, US agencies, including the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and its Office for Transition Initiatives (OTI), set up in Caracas in 2002, channeled more than $100 million dollars to opposition groups in Venezuela. The overall objective was regime change.

When Chavez was reelected in 2006 with an even larger margen of victory, nearly 64% of the vote, the US shifted its support from the traditional opposition political parties and NGOs in order to create new ones with youthful, fresh faces. Over one third of US funding, nearly $15 million annually by 2007, was directed towards youth and student groups, including training in the use of social networks to mobilize political activism. Student leaders were sent to the US for workshops and conferences on Internet activism and media networking. They were formed in tactics to promote regime change via street riots and strategic use of media to portray the government as repressive.

In 2007, these student groups, funded and trained by US agencies, took to the streets of Caracas to demand Chavez’s ouster after the government chose not to renew the public concession of RCTV, a popular private television station known for its seedy soap operas. The protests were composed of mainly middle and upper class youth and opposition politicians, defending corporate media and a station also known for its direct involvement in the April 2002 coup. Though their protests failed to achieve their objective, the “students” had earn their credentials as a solid fixture in the opposition. Later that year, their organizing helped to narrowly defeat a constitutional reform package Chavez had proposed in a national referendum.

After President Chavez passed away in March 2013 following a brutal battle with cancer, the opposition saw an opportunity to snatch power back from his supporters. Elections were held on April 14, 2013 in an extremely tense and volatile environment. Nicolas Maduro, Chavez’s chosen successor, ran against Henrique Capriles, who months earlier in October 2012 had lost the presidential election to Chavez by 11 points. This time, however, the results were much narrower with Maduro winning by a slim margen of just under 2 points. Capriles refused to accept the results and called his supporters to take to the streets in protest, to “get all their rage out”. During the two days after the elections, 11 government supporters were killed by Capriles’ followers. It was a bloodbath that received no attention in international media, the victims just weren’t glamorous enough, and were on the wrong side.

As 2013 wore on, the economic crisis in the country intensified and the old strategy of hoarding products to provoke shortages and panic amongst the population was back again. Basic consumer products disappeared from the shelves – toilet paper, cooking oil, powdered milk, corn flour – staples needed for everyday life in Venezuela. Inflation began to rise and speculation, price hikes, were rampant. While some of this was related to government controls on foreign currency exchange to prevent capital flight, a lot had to do with sabotage. A full economic war was underway against Maduro’s government.

Problems persisted throughout the year and discontent grew. But as the electoral period came around again in December, for mayors, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) had sweeping victories. 242 out of 317 mayoralties were won by the PSUV, showing a solid majority of the country still supported the government’s party.

Maduro called opposition governors and newly-elected mayors to a meeting at the presidential palace in late December in an attempt to dialogue and create a space to work together to improve the situation in country. The meeting was generously received by a majority of Venezuelans. Nevertheless, extremists, such as Machado and Lopez, saw the meeting as a threat to their goal of ousting Maduro well before his term ended in 2019. Once again they began to call for street protests and other actions against his government.

In January 2014, as Venezuelans arrived back from their Christmas vacations, economic difficulties continued. Maduro began cracking down on businesses violating newly-enacted laws on price controls and speculation. Towards the end of January, new measures were announced regarding access to foreign exchange that many perceived as a devaluing of the national currency, the bolivar. Sentiment built amongst opposition groups rejecting the new measures and calls for Maduro’s resignation increased. By February, small pockets of protests popped up around the country, mainly confined to middle and upper class neighborhoods.

During the celebration of National Youth Day on February 12, while thousands marched peacefully to commemorate the historic achievements of youth in the nation’s independence, another group sought a different agenda. Opposition youth, “students”, led an agressive march calling for Maduro’s resignation that ended in a violent confrontation with authorities after the protestors destroyed building façades, including the Attorney General’s office, threw objects at police and national guard and used molotov cocktails to burn property and block transit. The clashes caused three deaths and multiple injuries.

The leader of the violent protest, Leopoldo Lopez, went into hiding following the confrontation and a warrant was issued for his arrest due to his role in the deadly events and his public calls to oust the president. Days later, after a lengthy show including videos from a “clandestine” location, Lopez convened another march and used the event to publicly turn himself over to authorities. He was taken into custody and held for questioning, all his rights guaranteed by the state.

Lopez became the rallying point for the violent protests, which have continued to date, causing several additional deaths, dozens of injuries and the destruction of public property. Relatively small, violent groups of protestors have blocked transit in wealthier zones of Caracas, causing traffic delays and terrorizing residents. Several deaths have resulted because protestors refused to let ambulences through to take patients to the emergency room.

Ironically, international media has been portraying these protestors as peaceful victims of state repression. Even celebrities, such as Cher and Paris Hilton have been drawn into a false hysteria, calling for freedom for Venezuelans from a “brutal dictatorship”. The reality is quite different. While there is no doubt that a significant number of protestors in the larger marches that have taken place have demonstrated peacefully their legitimate concerns, the driving force behind those protests is a violent plan to overthrow a democratic government. Lopez, who has publicly stated his pride for his role in the April 2002 coup against Hugo Chavez, continues to call on his supporters to rally against the Venezuelan “dictatorship”.

While dozens of governments and international organizations, including UNASUR and Mercosur have expressed their clear support and solidarity for the Venezuelan government and President Maduro, Washington was quick to back the opposition protestors and demand the government release all those detained during the demonstrations. The Obama administration went so far as to threaten President Maduro with international consequences if Leopoldo Lopez were to be detained. In the aftermath of the first wave of violent protests, Maduro expelled three US diplomats from the US Embassy in Caracas, accusing them of conspiring to recruit students in Venezuela to engage in destabilization.

As the violence continues in some areas around the country, Maduro has made widespread calls for peace. A movement for peace was launched last week, led by artists, athletes and cultural figures, together with organized communities seeking to end not just the current chaotic situation, but also the high crime levels that have plagued the country over the past few years.

Most Venezuelans want peace in their country and a majority continue to support the current government. The opposition has failed to present an alternative platform or agenda beyond regime change, and their continued dependence on US funding and support – even this year Obama included $5 million in the 2014 Foreign Operations Budget for opposition groups in Venezuela – is a ongoing sign of their weakness. As a State Department cable from the US Embassy in Caracas, published by Wikileaks, explained in March 2009, “Without our continued assistance, it is possible that the organizations we helped create…could be forced to close…Our funding will provide those organizations a much-needed lifeline”.

During the past decade in Venezuela, poverty has been reduced by over 50%, healthcare has become free and accessible to all, as has quality education from primary through graduate school. State subsidies provide affordable food and housing for those who need it, as well as job training programs and worker placement. Media outlets, especially community media, have expanded nationwide, giving more space for the expression of diverse voices. Internet access has increased significantly and the state also built hundreds of public infocenters with free computer and Internet access throughout the country. Students are given free laptops and tablets to use for their studies. The government has raised minimum wage by 10-20% each year leading Venezuela to have one of the highest minimum wages in Latin America. Pensions are guaranteed after only 25 years of work and those who work in the informal economy are still guaranteed a pension from the state.

While problems persist in the country, as they do every where, most Venezuelans are wary of giving up the immense social and political gains they have made in the past fourteen years.  An opposition with nothing to offer except foreign intervention and uncertainty does not appeal to the majority. Unfortunately, media fail to see this reality, or chose not to portray it in order to advance a political agenda. In Venezuela, the revolution is here to stay and the interests of the 1% are not going to overcome those of the 99% already in power.

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Venezuela and the Imperial Script, 2004 Edition

The Coup Last Time



This essay was written during the ill-fated 2004 campaign to recall Hugo Chavez.

You can set your watch by it. The minute some halfway decent government in Latin America begins to reverse the order of things and give the have-nots a break from the grind of poverty and wretchedness, the usual suspects in El Norte rouse themselves from the slumber of indifference and start barking furiously about democratic norms. It happened in 1973 in Chile; we saw it again in Nicaragua in the 1980s; and here’s the same show on summer rerun in Venezuela, pending the August 15 recall referendum of President Hugo Chávez.

Chávez is the best thing that has happened to Venezuela’s poor in a very long time. His government has actually delivered on some of its promises, with improved literacy rates and more students getting school meals. Public spending has quadrupled on education and tripled on healthcare, and infant mortality has declined. The government is promoting one of the most ambitious land-reform programs seen in Latin America in decades.

Most of this has been done under conditions of economic sabotage. Oil strikes, a coup attempt and capital flight have resulted in about a 4 percent decline in GDP for the five years that Chávez has been in office. But the economy is growing at close to 12 percent this year, and with world oil prices near $40 a barrel, the government has extra billions that it’s using for social programs. So naturally the United States wants him out, just as the rich in Venezuela do. Chávez was re-elected in 2000 for a six-year term. A US-backed coup against him was badly botched in 2002.

The imperial script calls for a human rights organization to start braying about irregularities by their intended victim. And yes, here’s José Miguel Vivanco of Human Rights Watch. We last met him in CounterPunchhelping to ease a $1.7 billion US aid package for Colombia’s military apparatus. This time he’s holding a press conference in Caracas, hollering about the brazen way Chávez is trying to expand membership of Venezuela’s Supreme Court, the same way FDR did, and for the same reason: that the Venezuelan court has been effectively packed the other way for decades, with judicial flunkies of the rich. We don’t recall Vivanco holding too many press conferences to protest that perennial iniquity.

The “international observers” recruited to save the rich traditionally include the Organization of American States and the Carter Center; in the case of the Venezuelan recall they have mustered dead on schedule. On behalf of the opposition, they exerted enormous pressure on the country’s independent National Electoral Council during the signature-gathering and verification process. Eventually the head of the OAS mission had to be replaced by the OAS secretary general because of his unacceptable public statements.

The Carter Center’s team is headed by Jennifer McCoy, whose forthcoming book, The Unraveling of Representative Democracy in Venezuela, leans heavily against the government. One of its contributors is José Antonio Gil of the Datanalysis Polling Firm, most often cited for US media analysis. The Los Angeles Times quoted Gil on what to do: “And he can see only one way out of the political crisis surrounding President Hugo Chávez. ‘He has to be killed,’ he said, using his finger to stab the table in his office far above this capital’s filthy streets. ‘He has to be killed.’”

Media manipulation is an essential part of the script, and here, right on cue, comes Bill Clinton’s erstwhile pollster, Stan Greenberg, still a leading Democratic Party strategist. Greenberg is under contract to RCTV, one of the right-wing media companies leading the Venezuelan opposition and recall effort. It’s a pollster’s dream job. Not only does he have enormous resources against an old-fashioned, politically unsophisticated poor people’s movement, but his firm has something comrades back home can only fantasize about: control over the Venezuelan media. Imagine if the right wing controlled almost the entire media during Clinton’s impeachment.

That’s the situation in Venezuela. Just think what Greenberg’s associate, Mark Feierstein-a veteran of similar NED efforts in ousting the Sandinistas in the 1990 elections-can do with this kind of totalitarian media control. NED? That’s the National Endowment for Democracy, praised not so long ago by John Kerry, who, like Bush, publicly craves the ouster of Chávez.

The NED is coming over the hill arm in arm with the CIA and CIA-backed institutions in the AFL-CIO, where John Sweeney’s team has dismally failed to clean house. The NED has helped fund the opposition to Chávez to the tune of more than $1 million a year. Among the recipients are organizations whose leaders actually supported the April 2002 coup-they signed the decree that overthrew the elected president and vice president and abolished the country’s democratic institutions, including the Constitution, Supreme Court and National Assembly. The coup was thwarted only because millions of Venezuelans rallied for Chávez.

Left out of the coup government, despite his support for it, was Carlos Ortega, head of the CTV (Central Labor Federation). The AFL’s Solidarity Center, successor to the CIA-linked AIFLD, gets more than 80 percent of its funding from the NED and USAID and has funneled NED money to Ortega and his collaborators. The Solidarity Center has been up to its ears in opposition plotting, a reprise of the Allende years, when the AFL helped destroy Chilean democracy. The AFL has denied any role, but Rob Collier, an excellent San Francisco Chronicle reporter, recently gave a detailed refutation of AFL apologetics in an exchange in the current New Labor Forum. “In Venezuela,” he writes, “the AFL-CIO has blindly supported a reactionary union establishment as it tried repeatedly to overthrow President Hugo Chávez-and, in the process, wrecked the country’s economy.

The CTV worked in lockstep with FEDECAMARAS, the nation’s business association, to carry out the three general strikes/lockouts” of 2001, 2002 and 2003. The CTV, Collier says, was directly involved in coup organizing, and its leader was scheduled to be part of the new junta.

The end of this particular drama has yet to be written. The left here in the United States could make a difference if it got off its haunches and threw itself into the fray.

This essay is adapted from a piece that appeared in the June 2004 print issue of CounterPunch.

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Whatever Happened to Democracy in America?



What is the state of the union?

The empire, though led by bumblers, is still functioning, thanks mainly to a military that continues to hang on, along with the merchants of death it supports.

Thanks to Edward Snowden, we know too that our intelligence agencies are thriving, along with their counterparts in the UK and its former white dominions, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

With the help of compliant telecommunications giants and internet moguls, the work these denizens of the dark side do has metastasized throughout the body politic – to such an extent that our formerly robust private sphere is now all but gone.

It is remarkable how little indignation this arouses.

On the other hand, the state of our domestic politics is on every good citizen’s mind. Nothing worth doing is getting done. The government has become dysfunctional.

Inasmuch as paralysis at home is so widely bemoaned, and since it is key to the rest, it is well to reflect on the phenomenon and to examine its causes.

How did it come about?

Republicans blame Democrats – Barack Obama, most of all. This explanation is plainly ludicrous. Ideologically, Democrats today are what Republicans used to be. But like the liberals of old, they make a virtue of spinelessness. They call it “pragmatism.”

Indeed, it would be hard to imagine anyone in public life more inclined to compromise away everything he claims to stand for than Barack Obama. The man is pathologically “bipartisan.”

And, on this, his party stands behind him. As Robert Frost said of the more resolute liberals of his day, they won’t take their own side in an argument.

Whom do Democrats blame? That is not an easy question because, unlike Republicans, they are not, and never have been, of one mind.

But there are still alarmingly many of them who think that Obama would actually be a force for good if only national and state politicians were more cooperative and less uncivil. Those Democrats have no doubt where the fault lies: they blame Republicans.

They have an entire cable network, MSNBC, devoted to driving this point home by putting Republican obstinacy, stupidity and mean-spiritedness on display. Rachel Maddow and the others have an inexhaustible supply of examples.

Their take on Republicans is tiresome but unassailable: Republicans have moving the political center rightward and generally debasing our politics for decades.

However the Republican Party is not a force of nature. It only seems that way thanks to the peculiarities of our political culture.

Competition between Republicans and Democrats is its be-all and end-all. These two like-minded electoral operations are joined “dialectically” and, for all practical purposes, inextricably. They are what they are and do what they do in virtue of the ways they interact with each other.

Therefore, to account for the awfulness of our domestic politics, those of us who are not deluded about Obama and the party he leads might just as well blame Democrats.

Indeed, that might be the wiser course since, unlike their rivals, Democrats are, for the most part, somewhat susceptible to reason. Perhaps a few of them could be persuaded to change their ways for the better or at least to mitigate the harm that they do.

If enough of them would, it would make it easier for genuine progressives to break free from the Republican-Democratic dialectic, making everyone who is not wedded to one or the other party better off.

However, as matters now stand, our politics is about seeing to it that one or the other party wins; that is what Republican and Democratic politicians do. How they govern and how they operate when they are in the opposition only makes sense in light of their focus on up-coming electoral contests.

Their “ideological” commitments, such as they are, operate more like electoral props than guiding visions of a better world. There are exceptions, of course, but they are few and far between.

Electoral competition even shapes the American style of political corruption. Republicans and Democrats need money to run their campaigns, and public money is scarce and insufficient. It is therefore no surprise that politicians put themselves up for sale.

But except for a few unusually mercenary specimens, their focus still remains the next election.

In poorer countries, where levels of economic inequality are similar to or worse than our own, political officials typically turn their offices into cash cows. This is rare in the United States, just as it is in most countries with relatively free media and mature political systems.

Our politicians want and need money to buy votes; that comes first. Of course, they also want money for themselves, and they do take their share. But, for the most part, they wait to cash in later — after their stint in “public service” is over.

Politicians seek votes, and to get them, they go where the money is; not where the voters are. This is one reason why public opinion only barely registers in public policy, and why the disinterested deliberations democratic theorists envision almost never actually take place. It is also why no one even speaks about the public interest – except as an accompaniment to electoral posturing.

However the sorry state of the political scene in the United States today is not the fault of America’s duopoly party system alone. To think that would be to mistake an effect for a cause.

To arrive at a deeper understanding of why our domestic politics is as awful as it has become, we have to look beneath the surface – to the structure of the political system itself and to the economic order it superintends.

When we do, it becomes apparent that part of the problem is the U.S. Constitution itself, the justly venerated basic law of the land. The irony is staggering.

On the one hand, our Constitution guarantees our basic rights and liberties; it is what keeps police state tyranny at bay. Without it, all semblance of democracy would probably have vanished long ago; and, on the off chance that anything worth preserving remained, post-9/11Washington would surely have done it in.

But our Constitution also keeps democracy in bounds, enabling economic elites to turn the institutions of representative government into instruments for advancing their own ends.

How can it be so two-sided? The answer lies with its history.

The U.S. Constitution was a compromise reached by the economic elites of the thirteen colonies that, having won independence from Great Britain, became loosely confederated, quasi-independent states.

In the period leading up to its adoption, these states were roughly equal in most relevant respects, including population size; and while there was plainly a need to regulate inter-state commerce and other affairs, and to advance American interests abroad, there was not much for a federal government to do. Politics back then was indeed local.

However there was one monumental exception: slavery.

Opposition to slavery was mounting in all the northern states and also in the European countries involved in the Atlantic slave trade.

The practice was still legal in all the states. But it was economically important only in the planter economies of the South. The abolitionist sentiments emerging in the North were morally driven of course, but economic considerations mattered too.

Southern elites were therefore worried about what their counterparts in the North would do to their “peculiar institution.”

Had a malicious Divinity caused an incarnation of Benjamin Netanyahu to be born into, say, a great Christian family in Virginia in time for him to become a presence at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, “existential threat” might have entered the political lexicon some two and a half centuries before it did.

That is precisely what southerners thought northerners were – even before the international slave trade officially ended early in the nineteenth century, forcing some of the great merchants of New England and the Middle Atlantic states to find new sources of income.

The South therefore made “states’ rights” its cause from the outset, and the Constitution they helped negotiate reflected their concern. It did establish a stronger federal government than had existed under the Articles of Confederation, but it also vested considerable power in the states themselves.

This accounts for the system of representative government it established. It was democratic for its time. But, though it did mandate periodic competitive elections, it was not democratic at all by today’s standards or by the more exacting standards of late eighteenth-century Enlightened political theory.

It allowed for the franchise to be severely restricted – at first, just to property-owning free men. It also permitted slavery and even proposed a way for slaves to be counted in determining the size of a state’s Congressional delegation; a slave was to count for 3/5 of a full-fledged (white) person.

It took a Civil War for slavery to be abolished. That advance is registered in the Constitution’s Thirteenth Amendment, enacted and ratified in 1865.

Most restrictions on the franchise are long gone too. Nowadays convicted felons are the only American citizens without a federally guaranteed right to vote; whether they vote or not depends on the state in which they reside.

But the not very democratic system the founders established still bears the mark of its origins.

The Senate is perhaps the clearest case in point.

Before the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment in 1913, U.S. Senators were selected by state legislatures; now they are elected directly. But each state still gets the same number of Senators – two.

Therefore a voter in California, with a population of more than thirty-eight million people, has the same level of representation in the upper house as a voter in Wyoming, which has little more than half a million. So much for one person, one vote!

And because the shape of Congressional districts within states is left to the states themselves, gerrymandering makes yet more of a mockery of the idea of representative government – especially when the same party controls both the legislature and the Governorship.

Our Constitution was never more than minimally democratic in intent, and it was fashioned to accommodate exigencies that no longer exist or that have become transformed beyond recognition. Therefore one could hardly expect it to accommodate twenty-first century democratic aspirations. It is therefore no surprise that it does not.

Almost anyone who gives the matter a little thought could easily come up with ways to make governance more responsive to the peoples’ will. An obvious way would be to revise the idea of united states – with a view to overcoming the consequences of population disparities and diminishing the power of state governments to determine the party coloration of electoral districts.

We have, in effect, a system of weighted voting, according to which some votes count more than others. Unequal political influence is therefore built into our system of representative government, even before inequalities in income and wealth take their toll.

It would probably not be feasible to address this problem by redrawing state boundaries, though there is no longer any reason why these boundaries should continue to matter in the way they did in the 1780s.

But it plainly would make sense to superimpose a more equitable map of electoral districts over the map of states. It might even make sense to do away with some or all winner-take-all elections, and perhaps with the idea of geographical districting altogether.

Were serious consideration now being given to fundamental institutional arrangements –were Federalist Papers for the twenty-first century being devised – many aspects of our system of representative government would doubtless fail to pass muster.

But no one wants to rewrite the Constitution. The fear is that, if anything like that were attempted, the rights and liberties the Constitution protects would be put in jeopardy. This is a legitimate concern; those rights and liberties are even now hanging by a thread.

However it is not hard to imagine improvements even to the Bill of Rights and to the Reconstruction Amendments instituted after the Civil War. For example, an equal rights amendment, like the one that failed three decades ago, would be welcome. And would we not be better off if the Second Amendment’s “right to bear arms” were indeed “infringed?”

But the prospect of realizing these and other improvements is probably not worth taking on the risks inherent in casting the Constitution off its pedestal, opening up a Pandora’s box of possible changes.

It is therefore, on balance, probably a good thing that more is involved in the widespread reluctance to do so than simple caution.

The way many Americans view their Constitution reflects America’s Protestant origins. The document’s word are treated like inerrant holy Writ. This is silly on its face, and it makes changing the problems the Constitution underwrites more difficult. But it also makes its positive achievements easier to secure.

Easier, but not easy. There is, first of all, the imperial presidency. For most of the last century, the executive branch has been hell bent on usurping much of the authority the Constitution assigns to Congress. The power to lead the country into war is only the most conspicuous example.

And since 9/11, the Bush and Obama administrations have set their sights on diminishing the Constitutional protections established by the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments. National security has been their excuse; social control is their objective.

The Supreme Court is guilty too; indeed, it has done grave harm to the Constitution it is supposed only to interpret.

Since the 1970s, but with particular vehemence in recent years, right-wing Supreme Court Justices have used the protections the founders accorded free expression through the First Amendment as a basis for expanding the already prodigious ability of corporate “persons” and wealthy meddlers to buy the political outcomes they desire.

This is especially ironic inasmuch as the First Amendment is perhaps the founders’ crowning achievement. How strange therefore that it is now being used to justify channeling money, virtually without limit, into the political process.

Rightwing legal theorists call this “free speech.” The Supreme Court now accords it Constitutional protection.

When the President, backed by his legal advisors’ sophistry, assumes the role of prosecutor, judge and executioner – killing American citizens as well as foreigners without even a semblance of due process — he is ignoring the Constitution. But when the Supreme Court interprets the First Amendment in a way that facilitates political corruption, it is not just ignoring the document’s intent; it is changing its provisions.

Thanks to their machinations, the only way now to stop the insanity they defend is by amending the Constitution itself – deploying language that not even they could misconstrue.

But amending the Constitution has never been easy: it requires a two-thirds majority vote in both the House and the Senate, and ratification by two-thirds of the state legislatures. Efforts to do this are currently underway. But for just the reason why a Constitutional amendment is needed, the hurdles are now especially difficult to overcome.

Capitalism is no friend of democracy either, if only because it contracts the political sphere; where markets rule, democratic collective choice has no place. And, of course, the inequalities in income and wealth that capitalist markets generate are profoundly detrimental to democracy.

But there is no need for these inequalities, awful as they are, to spill over into the political realm to the extent that they do. In principle, popular aspirations can be realized, not entirely but to some extent, without doing away with capitalism itself.

The world is full of capitalist societies that do better than we now do; we used to do better ourselves.

In short, we labor under a political system that suffers from fundamental flaws and that operates against the background of an economic structure that militates against the system’s democratic potential. This makes radical transformation an urgent need.

But unlike in the late eighteenth century, the prospects for building a new, more rational world on the ashes of the old nowadays seem nil. The prevailing situation is not experienced as dire enough; and “we, the people” have become accustomed to letting it be.

Nevertheless our condition is far from hopeless because there is ample space to democratize within the constraints we face. We already have democratic forms; the task is to supply them with content.

Along with most of the rest of the world, but to an extent that is unprecedented in our history, we suffer from a democracy deficit; no matter what happens or fails to happen in the electoral realm, the outcome remains more or less the same.

This – not legislative gridlock or other symptoms of dysfunctionality – is the basic problem with our politics today.

It is only by identifying this problem that we will have any chance of getting beyond it.

For a democracy deficit, the solution is democratization, the more radical the better. This is not an arcane theoretical point; it is perfectly obvious.

But how can we democratize? This would once have been called “the sixty-four dollar question.” Lets call it “the sixty-four trillion dollar question” now. That amount is big enough to impress even the billionaires who are leading us to ruin.

There is no question more urgent, but, astonishingly, it is seldom addressed – even on the left, where the question now just is how to find Democrats less noxious than the usual bunch.

With the 2016 primary season already beginning to focus liberal minds, that question becomes how to block Hillary Clinton or at least how to move her leftward.

Hastening the fall of the House of Clinton, like consigning the ignominious Bush family to oblivion, is a worthy objective. But it will not do much to democratize the regime. Clinton was blocked in 2008; and we all know how that worked out.

Democrats, even Democrats far better than Clinton or Obama, are not the answer; democracy is.

With that thought in mind, I would venture the following suggestion: that since the primaries cannot be avoided – indeed, since even the Democratic Party cannot be avoided — the idea this time around should be to form organizations run democratically from the bottom up.

Let those organizations coalesce around a candidate, but in a way where activists, not the candidate or the candidate’s operatives, call the shots.

The Obama campaigns in 2008 and 2012 were run top-down. The first one especially aroused enthusiasm, but it did nothing to empower those who participated in it. Quite the contrary, it used people as foot soldiers who, when Obama finally showed his colors, realized that they had been duped.

It is remarkable that more people weren’t turned off politics altogether.

The alternative is for the candidate to be accountable to his or her committed supporters; and for them to be calling the shots.

Something like this has worked in social movements in Latin America and other less developed countries. Also, party systems in parliamentary democracies sometimes approximate the idea.

The way forward is therefore not entirely uncharted; and it is fair to say that, even in our system, in some form or other, it is doable. It is a way, among others, to bring as much power to the people as circumstances allow. It is certainly worth trying.

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