Archive | August 2nd, 2017

As US Sanctions Maduro and Hints at Regime Change, a Debate on Resolving the Crisis in Venezuela

NOVANEWS

The Trump administration has issued sanctions against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro as tensions escalate in the country following a controversial vote to elect a new National Constituent Assembly — which will have the authority to rewrite Venezuela’s constitution. According to the official tally, at least 8 million people — or 40 percent of eligible voters — cast ballots Sunday, despite an opposition boycott. The right-wing opposition has accused Maduro of attempting to consolidate his power. Two prominent leaders of the right-wing opposition — Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma — were taken from their homes by security forces early this morning. Meanwhile, the director of the CIA hints that the agency is working to push regime change. We host a debate with political science expert George Ciccariello-Maher and economist Francisco Rodríguez.

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to Venezuela, where two prominent leaders of the right-wing opposition, Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma, were reportedly taken from their homes early this morning by security forces. Both men were already under house arrest. This comes as tension is escalating in Venezuela after voters went to the polls Sunday to elect a new National Constituent Assembly, which will have the power to rewrite Venezuela’s constitution. The right-wing opposition accused President Nicolás Maduro of attempting to consolidate his power. According to the official tally, at least 8 million people, or 40 percent of eligible voters, cast ballots Sunday, despite an opposition boycott. On the same day as the vote, at least 10 people, including a candidate, died during widespread violence and protest.

On Monday, the Trump administration placed sanctions on Maduro, barring all US individuals and firms from doing business with him. This is National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.

H.R. McMASTER: Maduro is not just a bad leader, he is now a dictator. The United States stands with the people of Venezuela in the face of this oppression. We will work with our partners to hold accountable all those responsible for the escalating violence and ongoing human rights violations. The president promised strong and swift actions if the regime went forward with imposing the National Constituent Assembly on the Venezuelan people.

AMY GOODMAN: On Monday night, Venezuelan President Maduro criticized the new US sanctions.

PRESIDENT NICOLÁS MADURO: [translated] Why am I being sanctioned? For facing fascism, hatred and intolerance. For not letting Venezuelan oil and our natural wealth fall into the hands of the magnates who finance Mr. Emperor Donald Trump. That is why I’m being punished, to defend the resources of Venezuelan land, which will never again fall into the hands of the US imperialism. That is why I am being punished.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, to talk more about the situation in Venezuela, we’re joined by two guests.

In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, we’re going to George Ciccariello-Maher. He’s the author of Building the Commune: Radical Democracy in Venezuela as well as We Created Chávez: A People’s History of the Venezuelan Revolution. He teaches at Drexel University in Philadelphia, previously taught at the Venezuelan School of Planning in Caracas.

And here in New York, we’re joined by Francisco Rodríguez, chief economist of Torino Capital. He’s the co-author of Venezuela Before Chávez: Anatomy of an Economic Collapse. Under Hugo Chávez, he headed the National Assembly’s Economic and Financial Advisory Office.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let’s begin with our guest here in New York. Francisco Rodríguez, can you describe what’s happening right now in Venezuela?

FRANCISCO RODRÍGUEZ: All right. Well, right now in Venezuela, we have a political crisis, essentially. The government is deeply unpopular. The country has been hit by an economic crisis. Maduro’s approval ratings have fallen; in the latest poll surveys, they come out below 20 percent. So, he still has the support of about a fifth of the population, but, however, most Venezuelans want him out, as typically happens when you have such economic deterioration.

So, there are several constitutional procedures in the Venezuelan constitution whereby you could have, for example, early elections, a recall referendum. And the opposition tried to push for a recall referendum and was unable to do so. Some courts, controlled by the government, basically stopped the recall referendum last year. So the opposition has been calling for early elections or another way out of this.

Instead of doing that, the government actually decided to press ahead with the Constituent Assembly. And the problem with the Constituent Assembly is that the government actually designed its own rules to elect the candidates, and designed rules that were very biased in its favor. These rules, for example, gave an urban municipality with many voters the same type of — the same number of representatives as rural municipalities, where the government controls a majority of votes. It also allowed about a third of the delegates to be elected from lists of sectoral representatives, and it wasn’t very clear where those lists were coming from. So the opposition decided to boycott the elections.

And, in fact, the people — so, turnout in this election turned out to be basically an indicator of the government’s strength. The government claims that 8 million persons — the Electoral Council claims that 8 million persons came out to vote. That’s not a very credible claim. We did some independent polling, exit polling, and we actually estimate it was about 3.6 million persons. The last election that you had, the last uncontested election, in terms of the results that you had, Maduro got about 5.5 million votes. It would be very difficult to believe that he’s actually regained two-and-a-half million votes in the context of one of the deepest economic contractions in world history. Venezuelan GDP is now set to shrink by about 35, 40 percent by the end of this year. That is the deepest economic contraction in Latin America, and it’s the type of contraction that is typically seen only in countries that are undergoing wars.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, when you say that the 40 percent figure is questionable, I mean, were there — is there an actual vote tally? Isn’t there a way to tell for sure whether that many people voted or not?

FRANCISCO RODRÍGUEZ: Well, no. No, there’s no way to tell for sure, in the sense that the Electoral Council is controlled by the government. And there are four government representatives, one from the opposition. He actually was not present in the announcement. So, we really have an announcement of a number of — well, there was a decision, by the way, by the opposition to boycott these elections, and that — that gives us an additional problem, because the opposition didn’t have witnesses. Typically, when you participate in an election, you have witnesses, and you can contest the vote. The opposition didn’t have that. So, all that we have is an announcement of turnout by the government. And we really don’t know how credible it is.

What I can tell you is that we carried out some independent exit polling in order to try to assess what the turnout was, and we got a turnout figure of about 19 percent. And, you know, if you think about it statistically, as with any polling, there is a confidence interval, so that number could have been 22, could have been 23, maybe it could have been 25. It couldn’t have been 42. That’s, essentially, statistically impossible.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, George Ciccariello, I’m wondering your assessment of what’s been happening in the last few days, especially with this vote over the weekend.

GEORGE CICCARIELLOMAHER: So, I think it’s undeniable that Venezuela is in a deep and sustained economic and social and political crisis, which has more recently become an institutional crisis. Since the Venezuelan opposition took control of the National Assembly, you’ve really had this kind of deadlock within the institutions and a tit for tat between the executive, judiciary and the National Assembly controlled by the opposition. And then, this has been coupled with these sort of really violent street protests, periodically through the last few years, and over the past few months taking more than 100 lives.

And so we’re talking about a situation in which the government was being asked to do something to help break out of this crisis. And this was one of the solutions that was put forward, or one of the possible solutions — in other words, to try to bring people to the table, to get people together to work on a revision of the constitution in a way that might help to break out of this crisis. And I think that’s a very difficult prospect, because the causes of the crisis are deep and are grounded in deep economic realities. But the goal of the government was to put forward a kind of legitimate process.

And, unfortunately, the refusal of the opposition to participate in this election, to boycott it, this is a strategy that has hurt them in the past, as with the 2005 National Assembly elections. And this time, what they’re trying to do is to delegitimize the process entirely, in other words, an electoral process that they could have participated in, rather than attempting to move forward with more destabilization in the streets, which seems to be the chosen strategy of the opposition running up — in the run-up to the next presidential elections next year.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I wanted to ask you about that opposition, because we — the reports that most of the commercial press here in the United States are showing of what’s going on in Venezuela is of people protesting in the streets and scores of people being killed. But there’s very little reporting on who is being killed and who is doing the killing. There are some reports out of Venezuela that as many as 20 people have been burned — have been publicly burned by opposition figures. I think the last one was Orlando Figuera on May 20th, was burned in the streets, as thought to be a Chávez supporter. What do you know about who is actually involved in this violence? Is it the government against the protesters, or is it, in some cases, the protesters against the chavistas?

GEORGE CICCARIELLOMAHER: It’s certainly both. Of these more than 100 deaths, those — you know, those that we know the causes of, they’re pretty evenly split. Some are dying at the hands of security forces. Others are being killed in and around the protest by protesters. These are often violent blockades in which people are not even able to get to work, and when they try to get to work, they’re often attacked. And if you look too much like a chavista, which is to say you look poor or you look dark-skinned, you’re much more likely to be attacked, and, in these really brutal cases recently, to be — you know, to be burned publicly, to be lynched. And you’ve also had these — you know, this constant campaign of sniper attacks, which have cost several lives. You’ve had people attacked. Police recently attacked with bombs.

And so we’re talking about really a battle in the streets. It’s not a question of protesters simply being repressed by the government. It’s a real battle in the streets, in which the government is actually very hesitant often to use force, because it know it will be tarred as repressive. And so, that’s why these protests have gone on for so long. And if you ask many people, and particularly in poor neighborhoods, they want the protests gone. And yet the government does not want to be too heavy-handed with these protests. So it’s really been this long sort of political war of attrition in the streets. And it’s something that requires a solution urgently, so that we can get to discussing the real economic causes of the crisis and moving forward.

AMY GOODMAN: Would you agree with that assessment, Francisco?

FRANCISCO RODRÍGUEZ: Oh, I definitely think that there’s a confrontation, and I agree that the violence is not only one-sided. I agree that there’s violence coming from the opposition. It’s very difficult here to come up with tallies. And even, you know, in the cases the other speaker was pointing out, there are snipers. I mean, what do we know about who these snipers are? Are they — the opposition says that they’re government snipers; the government says that they’re opposition snipers. The reality is that when there is political violence of this type, you’re not going to be able to find out what really happened until you have a truth commission, you have investigations, you kind of can understand the process that led to it. So, I don’t disagree with that characterization.

I probably would disagree with the idea that the government has not been heavy-handed. I mean, the government has been — you know, there are a lot of — well, there are allegations, of course, or even very kind of serious allegations about torture. But there are things that the government has definitely not allowed which would be allowed in a normal democratic society. The whole district of Libertador, which is a district of central Caracas, is a district in which opposition demonstrations cannot occur. So, the government does not allow — it allows the demonstrations to occur in the region of Miranda, because there’s an opposition governor there, so they have less authority. But once they get into Caracas, which is where the government buildings are, they don’t allow them to come — to go into the city. Is it — is it true that sometimes the protests have turned violent? Yes. It’s also true that, generally, in a democracy and in any well-functioning — in a society with some type of rights of expression, people should be able to demonstrate before government buildings. They should be able to demonstrate that they are against the government. People in Venezuela don’t have the right to do that. And I think that the concern is not just a concern of security. I think that there are very serious limitations that are being put on Venezuelans’ political rights.

But I would get back to the basic issue, which is that the basic limitations come on Venezuelans’ electoral rights. The fact is that Venezuelans had the right to decide whether they wanted to revoke their president, according to the Venezuelan constitution. When President Hugo Chávez faced that type of contest in 2004, he said, “I’ll go to the referendum,” and he won the referendum. So people voted in favor of Chávez. But in the case of Maduro, he has not allowed the referendum to go through. And all of the pretexts that have been put for that are really very poor. There was just nothing even resembling a normally coherent argument about why it was that the referendum was stopped. The government alleges that there was fraud in the collection of signatures, but they point to signatures which were allegedly fraudulent which had already been excepted from the tally. And there were enough signatures, even excluding the fraud — the presumed fraudulent signatures, in order to get the process to go forward. But nevertheless the government stopped it, because there’s a reality, and, you know, this is something that I don’t think anybody would contest right now: Maduro would lose a presidential election. The government would lose an election right now, according to every single poll. I mean, the polls that in the past said that Chávez would win now are saying that Maduro would lose, by a three-to-one margin, by even a four-to-one margin. And the government knows that. And that’s why the government doesn’t want to hold elections. But once we get to restrictions on the ability to elect your leaders, we’re really talking abandonment of what we understand is democracy.

AMY GOODMAN: George Ciccariello, would you agree with what Francisco Rodríguez is saying?

GEORGE CICCARIELLOMAHER: Well, it’s a very quick slide between the ability to recall your leaders, which I agree is actually one of the hallmarks of the Bolivarian process and one — sort of a rare phenomenon in the world — a slide from that and the ability to elect your leaders. There’s never been any kind of restriction on the ability to elect the Venezuelan leader. What there has been is an expansion of electoral rights and electoral freedoms and the ability to participate in more direct ways in recalling leaders. And I would like to have seen a recall referendum. The opposition was very half-hearted when it put forward the — you know, the proposal, and has not pushed it entirely. And the Supreme Court — of course, not Maduro, but the Supreme Court — stopped that process on the basis of these claims of fraud.

But the reality is, you don’t slide from that into saying that you’ve got some kind of dictatorship, when I can’t recall President Trump, when you’ve got several leaders in Latin America who are less popular than Nicolás Maduro. And no one is asking when we can recall Enrique Peña Nieto in Mexico. No one is asking — or, referring to the leaders of various other countries as dictators simply because their term has not been completed. And Maduro’s term is completed next year. There will be elections. Any constitution — any constitutional reform that comes out of this assembly will go to a public vote. And so, we’re talking about a country that’s had more elections, more verified clean elections, than really anywhere else on Earth in the past 15 to 20 years. And it’s really — it’s really difficult to hear anyone, and much less the Trump regime, refer to this as a dictatorship.

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Trump and Sessions Just Jump-Started the War on Drugs That’s Also a War on Immigrants

NOVANEWS

By Mike LudwigTruthout 

President Donald Trump speaks at Suffolk Community College on July 28, 2017 in Brentwood, New York. Trump and his attorney general are escalating the war on drugs by tying it to their ongoing war on immigrants. (Photo: Spencer Platt / Getty Images)

President Donald Trump speaks at Suffolk Community College on July 28, 2017, in Brentwood, New York. Trump and his attorney general are escalating the war on drugs by tying it to their ongoing war on immigrants. (Photo: Spencer Platt / Getty Images)

Speaking before a large crowd of law enforcement officers on Long Island on Friday, President Trump invoked the MS-13 gang in yet another attempt to paint his administration’s crackdown on immigrants as an effort to control gang violence. MS-13 is notorious for using brutal intimidation tactics to maintain control of illegal drug and smuggling markets from Long Island to Central America, and Trump seemed to know that the gang’s sensational reputation could be used to scare people.

“They’re animals,” Trump said of MS-13. He also urged police not to be “too nice” when arresting suspects and boasted about deporting immigrants.

In 2016, violent crime rates remained near the bottom of a 30-year downward trend, with spikes in violence sequestered to a few individual cities. However, in the world according to Trump, violent crime is on the rise across the country, and gangs made up of immigrants and drug dealers are to blame. Never one to be deterred by hard data, Trump said on Friday that “American towns” must be “liberated” from the grips of criminals “one by one.”

“Can you believe that I’m saying that?” Trump said. “I’m talking about liberating our towns. This is like I’d see in a movie: They’re liberating the town, like in the old Wild West, right?”

Angie Junck, the supervising attorney at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, told Truthout that Trump continues to exploit tragedy in furthering his political agenda. Murders and disappearances do occur at the hands of gangs such as MS-13, but Trump’s heavy-handed response does nothing to promote local solutions to the problem. Instead, it makes communities less safe: Many victims are the same people authorities want to deport.

“People are fearful to come out and speak with police, and that’s what MS-13 and other gangs capitalize on,” Junck said. “People want to get out of MS-13, but what are they going to do — go to local law enforcement, who will turn them over and expose them so they can die in El Salvador?”

For years, the war on drugs and the cartels that traffic in them has been criticized for filling US prisons to the brim and fueling horrific violence in Latin America, all while failing to reduce drug consumption at home. By criminalizing immigrants and framing its “law and order” agenda around the specter of violent international gangs, the Trump administration is threatening to repeat the same mistakes drug warriors have made for decades.

For example, Trump supports legislation in Congress known as Kate’s Law, which enhances penalties for immigrants who illegally cross the border and have a criminal record in the US, even if that record is simply prior attempts to enter the country without permission. Critics say the legislation would cause the population of people held in privately run immigration jails to explode.

“The war on immigrants grew out of the war on drugs,” Junck said.

Meanwhile, last week, the new Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety created by Trump and answering to Attorney General Jeff Sessions was expected to release recommendations for addressing violent crime. Civil rights and immigration reform groups, along with the growing legal marijuana industry, hoped the recommendations would provide insight into just how deep the Trump administration will dig into the war on drugs.

The recommendations never materialized, at least in public. Instead, Sessions said in a statement on Wednesday that the task force was providing him recommendations on a rolling basis, and that he would continue to review and act on them, suggesting that the task force has already shaped recent moves to reverse Obama-era policies that made moderate progress towards de-escalating the drug war.

The Justice Department did not respond to an inquiry from Truthout. Still, it’s becoming increasingly clear in what direction the administration is heading.

Crafting a Crackdown Behind Closed Doors

Despite the president’s angry outbursts over Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties with Russia, Sessions and the president are in lockstep when it comes to the war on drugs. Sessions traveled to El Salvador last week to congratulate his counterpart for arresting hundreds of alleged MS-13 members. Back at home, he has shown interest in sending federal officers to states where marijuana is legal, in search of violent, transnational crime rings that he suspects are diverting legal cannabis into the black market.

Again, there is no hard evidence that marijuana legalization drives violent crime rates; in fact, it may have the opposite effect in some areas. A recent study in The Economic Journal shows that crime rates near the southern border dropped after southwestern states legalized medical marijuana — a sign that legalizing weed may actually hamper the same international cartel operations Trump and Sessions have pledged to fight.

Unfortunately for cannabis fans and the many thousands of people who are criminalized for using the drug, the attorney general has seriously outdated views on cannabis, which remains illegal under federal law. The legal marijuana industry has every reason to worry about a crackdown, and lawmakers from legal states are already taking action.

Last week, lawmakers in the Senate Appropriations Committee approved legislation that would prohibit federal funds from being used to prevent states from implementing their own medical marijuana laws, effectively barring the Justice Department from intervening unless there is a clear violation of state law.

The same legislation has passed as an annual budget rider since 2014, but Sessions recently asked his former colleagues in the Senate to ditch it. However, many senators hail from one of the 29 states that has legalized medical weed, and advocates expect the legislation to pass. The vast majority of voters supports access to medical marijuana and oppose federal intervention in states where marijuana is legal.

Junck said advocates are pushing for similar legislation that would protect immigrants and citizens alike from being harassed and arrested by the Department of Homeland Security for using state-legal medical marijuana. Immigrants and their family members have reported that border patrol and immigration officers will use lawful marijuana use as an excuse to detain and interrogate them.

“In regards to marijuana, Sessions said in April that he was surprised the people didn’t like the idea of him cracking down on the states that have chosen to legalize,” said Justin Strekal, the political director at the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), in an email. “In response, Sessions now chooses to operate in secrecy. This is not how our system is supposed to work.”

Sessions’ plans for addressing states where medical and recreational pot are legally regulated have been somewhat unclear due to the glaring discrepancy between state and federal laws. The task force’s as-yet-unreleased recommendations — along with analysis of apparent links between legal markets to violent crime (if any such links existed) — were expected to shape the Justice Department’s policies going forward.

In addition, immigration activists hoped to learn from the recommendations just how far Sessions would go to crack down on so-called sanctuary cities that refuse to participate in federal deportation efforts. The Justice Department began to answer that question last week with a memo informing city governments that they would not receive certain federal grants unless they give immigration agents access to their jails and notify them before releasing undocumented immigrants. Immigrant rights groups are expected to challenge the policy in court.

Jump-Starting the War on Drugs

The Trump administration’s moves toward revving up the drug war have alarmed advocates across the political spectrum.

“Many of the [Justice] Department’s recent policy changes have been solutions in search of a problem, and are only going to make our crime and mass incarceration problems worse,” said Inimai Chettiar, director of the Brennan Center’s Justice Program, which is calling on Sessions to publicly release the task force recommendations.

In recent weeks, Sessions has instructed prosecutors to pursue the harshest charges and sentences for drug offenses, reversing an Obama-era policy aimed at reducing incarceration rates. Sessions also reinstated a policy making it easer for local and state law enforcement to benefit from civil asset forfeiture, where officers seize property suspected of being connected to criminal activity, even if the owner has not been charged with a crime. The practice has been criticized on both the right and left, and there has been a bipartisan push for asset forfeiture reform in Congress and states across the country.

Strekal said Sessions’s decision to receive the Task Force’s recommendations behind closed doors only plays into the public’s “growing anxiety” over his ability to run the Justice Department.

“We have already seen the Justice Department issue new guidelines to rev up charges against those suspected of drug-related crimes, pursue maximum sentences for those charges, and an escalation in the department’s ability to utilize civil asset forfeiture to deprive those charged of their possessions,” Strekal said. “Justice is not one sided. Unfortunately, this department is.”

First launched by President Nixon 40 years ago, the war on drugs has failed to deliver on its promises, and instead has destroyed millions of lives. In recent years, a growing number of global leaders have called for an end to the drug war, and drug decriminalization is gaining ground in local jurisdictions at home and around the world. By tying the war on drugs to their ongoing war on immigrants, Trump and Sessions have made it clear that they are headed in the opposite direction.

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Is Capitalism in Crisis? Latest Trends of a System Run Amok

NOVANEWS

By C.J. PolychroniouTruthout | Interview

Capitalism has always been a highly irrational socio-economic system, but the constant drive for accumulation has especially run amok in the age of high finance, privatization and globalization.

Capitalism has always been a highly irrational socioeconomic system, but the constant drive for accumulation has especially run amok in the age of high finance, privatization and globalization. (Image: Pixabay; Edited: JR / TO)

Having survived the financial meltdown of 2008, corporate capitalism and the financial masters of the universe have made a triumphant return to their “business as usual” approach: They are now savoring a new era of wealth, even as the rest of the population continues to struggle with income stagnation, job insecurity and unemployment.

This travesty was made possible in large part by the massive US government bailout plan that essentially rescued major banks and financial institutions from bankruptcy with taxpayer money (the total commitment on the part of the government to the bank bailout plan was over $16 trillion). In the meantime, corporate capitalism has continued running recklessly to the precipice with regard to the environment, as profits take precedence not only over people but over the sustainability of the planet itself.

Capitalism has always been a highly irrational socioeconomic system, but the constant drive for accumulation has especially run amok in the age of high finance, privatization and globalization.

Today, the question that should haunt progressive-minded and radical scholars and activists alike is whether capitalism itself is in crisis, given that the latest trends in the system are working perfectly well for global corporations and the rich, producing new levels of wealth and increasing inequality. For insights into the above questions, I interviewed David M. Kotz, professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and author of The Rise and Fall of Neoliberal Capitalism (Harvard University Press, 2015).

C.J. Polychroniou: David, corporate capitalism and the masters of the universe have bounced back quite nicely from the global financial crisis of 2008. Is this an indication of the system’s resilience, or do we need to think about larger considerations, such as the trajectory of the class struggle in the contemporary world, the role of ideology and the power of the state?

David M. Kotz: The severe phase of the economic and financial crisis ended in the summer of 2009. By then the banks had been bailed out and the Great Recession ended, as production stopped falling and began to rise in North America and Europe. As you say, since then profits have recovered quite well. However, normal capitalist economic expansion has not resumed, but instead, global capitalism has been stuck in stagnation.

Stagnation means no economic growth or very slow economic growth. Stagnation has afflicted most of the developed countries since 2010, with some countries, such as Greece, still in a severe depression. US GDP growth has averaged only 2.1 percent per year since the bottom of the Great Recession in 2009. That is by far the slowest expansion following a recession since the end of World War II. Even mainstream economists, such as Lawrence Summers and Paul Krugman, have recognized that the economy is stuck in a severe stagnation.

In the US, the official unemployment rate has fallen to a low level, but that is due to millions of people being dropped from the official labor force as a result of giving up looking for work after finding none for a long period. Most of the new jobs pay low wages and provide little or no job security. Meanwhile, the rich continue to get still richer.

The long-lasting stagnation has brought stagnating wages and worsening job opportunities. This creates a severe problem for capitalism, even with rising corporate profits and growing wealth for the top 1 percent. This problem has an ideological and a political dimension. While capitalism always brings a high degree of inequality, it is tolerable for those holding the short end of the stick as long as living standards are rising and job opportunities are good for most people. A long period of stagnation delegitimizes the existing system. As growing numbers of people turn against “the system” and the elites who run it, a political crisis develops. The bourgeois democracy that normally acts to stabilize capitalism turns into a source of instability, as anti-establishment parties and candidates start winning elections.

What do you consider to be the latest and most critical trends in the workings of capitalism in the 21st century?

Not only has capitalism failed to bring economic progress in this century, it has brought worsening conditions for the majority. The reason for this is rooted in the transformation of capitalism around 1980, when the post-World War II “regulated capitalism” was rapidly replaced by “neoliberal capitalism.” Regulated capitalism arose mainly because of the serious challenge to capitalism from socialist and communist movements around the world and from the Communist Party-ruled states after World War II. The new regulated capitalism was based on capital-labor compromise. It led to the construction of welfare states, state regulation of business, and trade union-led rising wages and more stable jobs for working people.

In the 1970s, regulated capitalism entered a period of economic crisis indicated by a long decline in the rate of profit in the US and Western Europe. The capitalist classes of the developed countries responded by abandoning the capital-labor compromise, attacking the trade union movement, lifting state regulation of business and banking, and making drastic cuts in the welfare state and in the various forms of social provision. This gave us the neoliberal form of capitalism.

The neoliberal transformation resolved the economic crisis of the 1970s from the viewpoint of capital, as profits began to rise again. That transformation freed the banks from state regulation, setting off the process of financialization. It rewrote the rules of the global system, promoting an increasingly globally integrated world economy.

Every form of capitalism eventually enters a phase of structural crisis, and in 2008 the superficial stability of neoliberal capitalism gave way to severe economic and financial crisis.

Neoliberal capitalism gave rise to some 25 years of relatively stable economic conditions after 1980, although economic growth was slower than it had been in the preceding period. Capitalists became much richer, but the promised benefits for the majority never emerged. After 1980, working people’s wages and job conditions steadily worsened through 2007. However, as long as the economy expanded at a reasonable rate, it was difficult to challenge neoliberalism. Every form of capitalism eventually enters a phase of structural crisis, and in 2008 the superficial stability of neoliberal capitalism gave way to severe economic and financial crisis, followed by stagnation.

We live in the age of the financialization of the planet, in which financial institutions and markets are expanding. In what ways does financialization increase capitalism’s inherent tendencies toward economic dependence, inequality and exploitation?

Starting in the late 1980s, a trend of financialization began, meaning a growing role for financial markets, financial institutions and financial motives in the economy. This is not the first period of financialization in capitalist history — financialization also developed in the late 19th century and in the 1920s. It is an inherent tendency in capitalism, which is released in periods of loose regulation of the financial sector, but it has been halted and even reversed when the state or other institutions have intervened to block or reverse it, as occurred after 1900 and again after the 1930s. Contemporary financialization is a product of deregulation of the financial sector along with the effects of neoliberal ideology and other features of neoliberalism.

Since 2008 the trend in financialization has been mixed. There is an ongoing political struggle over financial regulation in the US. The giant banks have so far faced some restrictions on their ability to engage in highly risky and predatory activities, although other financial institutions continue to pursue such activities. Some major nonfinancial corporations, such as General Electric, have abandoned their financial divisions to concentrate on manufacturing and other non-financial activities.

Whether financialized or not, capitalism itself brings rising exploitation and worsening inequality, unless it is restrained by states, trade unions and other institutions. The financialization of capitalism accentuates the tendency toward rising inequality by promoting new forms of profit-making and generating huge fortunes for unproductive actors, as we have seen in recent decades. The most important determinant of the trend in inequality is the relative power of capital versus labor. The neoliberal transformation of capitalism empowered capital and weakened labor, which has enabled employers to drive down wages while CEO salaries skyrocketed.

If the degree of financialization stops growing or even declines, inequality would not decline as long as capitalism retains its neoliberal form. Only in a closely regulated form of capitalism, based on capital-labor compromise, has inequality actually declined, as in the post-World War II decades.

Do you think that income and wealth inequality levels pose a legitimization crisis for capitalism in the 21st century? I ask this question in light of the rise and decline of the Occupy movement and other recent efforts to steer contemporary societies toward a more rational and humane social order.

Growing oppression and suffering has made millions of people receptive to the socialist critique of capitalism.

There is indeed a legitimization crisis for the dominant world system at this time, as discussed above. However, there is a political and ideological struggle over how to define the dominant system and the direction of change that is needed. Leftists and socialists understand that the dominant world system is capitalism, and they have targeted the 1 percent, that is, the capitalists. This was evident in the Occupy Movement and other left-wing upsurges around the world since 2010-2011. The growing oppression and suffering has made millions of people, especially the young, receptive to the socialist critique of capitalism.

However, various extreme right-wing groups have also ridden the wave of anger at the discredited ruling class, with greater success than the left at this time. The right-wing response has taken the form of right-wing repressive nationalism, which targets an ill-defined “elite,” which it promises to replace. Right-wing nationalism blames the problems of ordinary people on religious, ethnic and national minorities…. It portrays the ruling elite as weak-kneed “liberals” who are afraid to confront the scapegoated groups. It offers a strongman ruler who will vanquish the scapegoated groups and restore an imagined past glory of the nation.

The recent trend of political polarization is not surprising in a period of long-lasting structural crisis of capitalism that takes the form of stagnation. Such a crisis can be resolved in only three ways: One, the emergence of a right-wing nationalist statist regime; two, a period of progressive reform of capitalism based on capital-labor compromise; three, a transition beyond capitalism to socialism.

The last stagnation of capitalism, in the 1920s, gave rise to all three directions of change. Right wing nationalist regimes in the form of fascism arose in Germany, Italy, Spain and Japan. Progressive reform of capitalism took place in France, Scandinavia and the US — and after World War II throughout Western Europe. And a state socialist regime was consolidated in the USSR and new ones arose in East-Central Europe and Asia.

Today, the labor and socialist movements are historically weak. This increases the likelihood of the rise of right-wing nationalist regimes. The Trump presidency is an example. Some view the Trump presidency as one more neoliberal, finance-backed regime, but in my view, this is not the case….

If the labor and socialist movements can grow sufficiently — which is possible under the current conditions of delegitimized capitalism — then the other two directions of change become possible. The growing mass support for Jeremy Corbyn in Britain and for Bernie Sanders in the US illustrates the possibility of a shift toward at least progressive reform of capitalism in the short run and, in the longer run, for socialist transition to eventually move onto the political agenda. Thus, this period holds great dangers, as well as great opportunities, for the left and for social and economic progress.

In discussions among economists today, the economic and social devastation experienced by so many communities here and around the world is attributed either to automation or trade policy and their impact on employment. Is automation or trade policy the real issue, or capitalism itself?

Neither automation nor trade policy is by itself the root of the trends that have wreaked so much destruction on working people and their communities. Capitalism always brings technological change, and the long-run trend in capitalism has been toward increasing global economic interactions. However, in some periods the regulation of capitalism has held the most destructive tendencies at bay by limiting inequality and creating new good jobs that replace those lost to automation and trade. Labor productivity rose faster under postwar regulated capitalism and global trade and investment grew rapidly, but at the same time, a large part of the working class held stable jobs with rising wages in that period, resulting from the power of labor in that form of capitalism.

Under neoliberal capitalism, so far technological change has been slower than it was under regulated capitalism, measured by the growth in labor productivity, while global economic integration has accelerated. The negative results for working people come from the overwhelming power of capital in this period, which has enabled the capitalists to seize all of the benefits of increased labor productivity, while the largely unregulated global marketplace forces workers of all countries to compete with one another.

Thus, the real cause of the current high level of suffering is neoliberal capitalism. While regulated capitalism is less oppressive to working people, it is a highly contradictory form of capitalism that is bound to be eventually dismantled by the capitalists. Like every form of capitalism, it is based on exploitation of labor, as well as generating many related problems, such as imperialism and the destruction of the natural environment.

Do you foresee capitalism’s unquestionable ingenuity eventually providing a solution to climate change, or is the planet doomed without a transition to an economic system that is based on sustainable growth and socialist economics?

There is a sharp debate on the left about whether irreversible global climate change can be averted within capitalism or only through a transition to a post-capitalist system. Those arguing for the former position stress the likelihood that capitalism will not be superseded in time to avert disastrous consequences from rising temperatures, while claiming that strong state action based on popular mobilization can do the job through some combination of incentives and penalties for corporations. They further argue that the promotion of investment in sustainable technologies within capitalism can provide a path to economic progress for working people while containing the rise in global temperatures.

Those who believe climate disaster cannot be averted under capitalism argue that the profitability of the very technologies that are causing global climate change is bound to prevent timely action, as capital uses its power to protect its profits. They claim that neither incentives nor penalties can be effective when confronted with the huge profits to be made by capitalist firms from the use of the atmosphere as a free waste disposal system.

The advantages of a socialist planned economy for overcoming the threat of disastrous global climate change are undeniable. Socially owned enterprises operating in a planned economy could be instructed to pursue climate sustainability as the number one priority, which would be far more effective than trying to restrain profit-seeking enterprises from doing what is most profitable for them.

Stopping the rise in temperatures short of a tipping point requires a rapid restructuring of the transportation, power and productions systems of the world economy, and economic planning is the best way, and possibly the only way, to carry out such a task. Few economists remember that after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, the US government, facing the need to rapidly restructure the peace-time economy to a war economy, suspended the market for the duration and set up a system of central planning. The results were highly successful, soon producing the ships, planes, tanks and other weapons — and food and clothing — needed to win the war, while incidentally finally bringing the Great Depression to an end.

The serious threat to civilization from looming global climate change gives one more reason for the need to replace capitalism with socialism.

Socialism has many advantages over any form of capitalism. I believe the serious threat to civilization from looming global climate change gives one more reason for the need to replace capitalism with socialism. The building of a strong socialist movement, in this time of opportunity for the left, is an urgent priority. It is essential if we are to defeat the threat of right wing nationalism. It is the only way to build a sustainable economy for the long run.

At the same time, socialists are obligated to contribute to the solution of urgent social problems while we are working for the replacement of capitalism. It is primarily through the process of mass struggles for reform that people are radicalized and come to realize the need for system change. We should support all reforms that can slow the rise in global temperatures, even if only for a time. It is possible to build a movement to replace capitalism and at the same time engage in the struggle to pull capitalism away from the global temperature tipping point.

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Anti-Semitism Is Not the Issue; Palestine Is

NOVANEWS
 

Anti-Semitism should not be used as an issue in discussions and debates over the struggle for the liberation of Palestine. Ever since the establishment of the Jewish state in Palestine and all throughout the unfolding of Zionist policy, Jews like Chaim Weizmann have expressed the idea that Zionist crimes in Palestine are to be deplored, not so much because of their nature as acts of butchery against a largely unarmed Palestinian Arab population, 80% of whom were agrarian, but because of the negative impact such crimes, once broadcast, would have on the well-being of Jews worldwide. In his autobiography Trial and Error, he writes:

I have said that the terrorist groups in Palestine represented a grave danger to the whole future of the Jewish state. Actually their behavior has been next door to anarchy. The analogy which is usually drawn between these groups and what happened in Ireland or South Africa presents only a half truth. It leaves out of account that one fundamental fact with which the Jews have to reckon primarily; namely that they have many hostages all over the world. And although Palestine is the primary consideration, it must not, it has no right to, endanger the situation of Jews outside of Palestine. Apart from which it must be remembered that after all the building of Palestine will depend to a large extent on the good will of the Jews outside.

As is well known by now, the building of Palestine in the form of Israel did, in fact, depend, and continues to depend in large part, on the good will of the Jews “outside,” many as Norman H. Finkelstein writes in American Jewish History, deriving renewed pride in their religion and their connections to Israel with each Israeli military victory.

The irony/tragedy is that Israeli governments throughout history, including now with the Trump/Bannon merger, work with anti-Semites to promote Jewish immigration to Israel. Zionist collaboration with Nazis is also documented. Nevertheless, anti-Semitism should not be taking center stage either in arguments against Palestinians or in pro-Palestine arguments.

Anti-Semitism is a fake issue when it is used by Israel in its PR arsenal against Palestinian Arabs. Tony Greenstein, for example, has published statistics on his blog with the headline: “More Fake News – Zionist Claims that Anti-Semitism has increased by 30% in one year: Despite the headlines – Anti-Semitism in Britain is DECLINING not increasing;  a decline in anti-Semitism doesn’t serve Zionist interests”. This is his attempt to counter Israel’s fierce campaigns in the UK and elsewhere to conflate anti-Semitism with criticism of anti-Zionist policy.

And we are still seeing approaches that use the same argument against Israel’s oppression as that used by Weizmann.  In Haaretz, Tony Klug has an opinion piece titled: If Israel’s Occupation Doesn’t End, anti-Semitism Worldwide Will Rise to Sinister Heights. By “occupation”, he means, not the totality of the Zionist project in Palestine, but the following, as expressed in the sub-heading: “50 years of occupation have reawakened latent prejudices and old stereotypes not only against Jews, but also against Arabs and Muslims. But many still deny Israel’s increasingly oppressive control is a crucial factor”.

Tony Klug, through Haaretz and Mondoweiss, is addressing other Jews. He blames Israel, correctly in my view, not only for a potential rise in anti-Semitism worldwide, but also for the rising Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism which Jewish organizations foster in Israel’s name. Arab and Muslim violence, he implies, is connected to denial of the cause of the violence. In a way, he wants to scare Jews into awareness and action against the occupation of 50 years, though not necessarily against the occupation of 70 years.

Appealing to people’s rational self-interest in making an argument is effective. But there is a problem for Palestinians in this approach, because not appealing to someone’s altruism obfuscates people’s sense of justice and fairness. And it is ultimately the interest of Palestinians rather than Jews that is at stake here.

But the heart of Klug’s argument is this: he is worried that, “the moral appeal of Israel’s case will consequently [as a result of the denial of the oppression of the occupation] suffer and this will further erode her level of international support, although probably not among organized opinion within the Jewish diaspora.”

Contrary to what Klug says above, this is an argument that might work only with “organized opinion [by which I understand organized by Zionists] within the Jewish diaspora”. Such opinion is organized to safeguard the existence of the Jewish state at any cost – even the cost of a smaller Israel. In his autobiography commenting on Great Britain’s White Paper regarding the partitioning of Palestine, Weizmann remarks

“that God promised Palestine to the children of Israel, but I do not know what boundaries He set.”

In other words, boundaries may be vague, but the “moral” claim (here expressed in religious terms) to Palestine is unquestionable.

Klug speaks for Palestinians as “yearning for independence” without truly understanding himself what Palestinian fundamental human rights are and how these rights are trampled, not only by the occupation, but also by the existence of Israel as a Jewish state.

In making an appeal to Jews or anybody, Palestinians must certainly not frame their appeal the way Klug, a consultant to the Palestine Strategy Group and the Israel Strategic Forum, does. Rather, they must frame their appeal on the litmus test of principles of justice, human rights and equality – i.e., principles that that the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement embodies.

Yes, what we need in Jewish communities and public opinion generally are “transformations”, but not ones, as Nada Elis says, based on exclusivity.

I am grateful both for the activism of [Jewish Voice for Peace] JVP, and for [Jewish liberation theologian Marc] Ellis’ prodding of his religious community to acknowledge Israel’s violations of the human rights of the Palestinian people beginning in 1948. Yes, there is an urgent need for accountability and transformation.  But maintaining claims to exclusivity is a hindrance, not a contribution to a solution that hinges on co-resistance to racism. As Israel openly embraces Jewish supremacy and the ongoing ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people, a hushed denunciation of “the occupation” falls short of the necessary “transformation,” and cannot be considered progressive.  And as we seek to co-exist, after successfully co-resisting apartheid and genocide, we cannot attribute a deeply-engrained commitment to justice to one community over another.

Klug writes about “denial” when he himself is in denial of the Nakba of 1948, if not the 1967 occupation. Palestinians badly need Jews to advocate for them. But I envision such activism along the lines that K Sheshu Babu does in a comment on my article Jews Worldwide Must Support the Palestinian Cause:

“Jews round the world must unite to pressurise Israeli government to liberate Palestinians and free their lands. But more than that, Jews in Israel must rebel against their own government and fight for justice to Palestinians. They must organise mass movements in solidarity with Palestinians.”

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Gaza, this “poor desperate place”: Waiting for the end?

NOVANEWS
Misery in the Gaza Strip

How it looks to an anxious family on the inside

By Stuart Littlewood

Every Palestinian I met on my visits to the Holy Land urged me to tell their story when I got home. Some have written to me with very moving accounts of misery and excruciating hardship under Israel’s brutal occupation, reinforcing the appalling truths I’d seen for myself.

Two years ago a young woman, a war-weary mother of three in a Gaza refugee camp, wrote to tell me that schools in Gaza were working in two or three shifts a day, “especially in areas where displaced people of the last war still shelter in UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency] schools – they don’t have any other place to go.”

She also said it’s “difficult for us to live or to leave” and “We just dream of leading a decent life.”

Let’s call her Amal, which means Hope in Arabic. The pseudonym is her idea. She has a university degree and her English is remarkably good. Palestinians, especially the women, are very keen on education and determined to pursue it as best they can. Her message powerfully described her little family’s situation in the aftermath of Israel’s seven-week genocidal assault (Operation Protective Edge) the previous year which killed 2,250, mostly civilians, did massive damage to homes and infrastructure, and brought Gaza almost to its knees. She told how she and her neighbours were overwhelmed by death, destruction, grief and chronic deprivation.

I relayed her words in an article titled How on earth do they survive in that ‘hell called Gaza’“? in May 2014.

Amal’s latest email is again in three instalments because of severe power disruption and internet transmission problems. She tells me to edit or rewrite as I think fit, but I’ve hardly touched it. Only a word here and there has been changed for clarity.

Bazaar of bad dreams

  • ”I have nothing new to tell you about except that things are getting a lot worse, so it is frustrating. My grandmother passed away a few months ago and that left me depressed. She was so dear and pretty. She was the last member of my family who witnessed Al-Nakba(1948 Palestinian “catastrophe”) and used to tell us stories about how they were happy there, living peacefully in their homeland, and how they fled or were expelled from their homes.
  • “She told us about massacres, the destruction of Arab villages, years of displacement and oppression, and how we became refugees as a result; and how what is called the state of Israel was declared. My grandmother told us stories like a bazaar of bad dreams about losing everything, and how the members of each family were displaced into the refugee camps in Palestine, refugee camps in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, refugee camps in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, and in other parts of the earth, enduring the worst kinds of pain, discrimination and suffering but with hope and faith that we will return one day.
  • ”In the aftermath of the hostilities of June 1967 and the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, more refugee camps are established to include new waves of displaced persons. My grandmother is not here to tell us more stories; however, I can’t forget. I’m a refugee by origin and I still live in a refugee camp that lacks adequate facilities and services.
  • ”People in the refugee camps keeps good social relationships but endure extreme poverty, frustration and insecurity. UNRWA barely takes the responsibility to provide the basic services of education, health and social services. May your soul rest in peace, my grandmother, in a place where you no longer suffer the injustice of being a Palestinian from Gaza.

Punished by the Palestinian Authority, their own people

  • ”In the besieged enclave of the Gaza Strip you don’t know where to begin when talking about humanitarian crises. Electricity is still a luxury and we receive up to two hours in 24 hours as a recent agreement between the Palestinian Authority and Israel reduces Gaza’s electricity by another 40 per cent. It is one of several punitive measures by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank against Hamas’s de facto government in Gaza. These measures included a 30 per cent cut in the wages of employees of public sector in Gaza, which means that more households are falling under the poverty line.
  • ”Due to the horrible rates of poverty and unemployment an employee has to provide for his own family and some of his relatives’ households as well. Those employees were told by the PA to stop attending their workplaces following the military coup in 2007 and they stay at home with severe social and psychological strains. Some of them committed suicide or crimes.
  • ”Another punitive measure includes the very poor families which benefit from the social safety net as thousands of them have their humble benefits cut. The worst one is the cutting of medical supplies and medications, threatening the lives of thousands of persons who suffer serious illnesses. The referral system to West Bank hospitals is cancelled too.
  • ”The acute shortage in power has become a water catastrophe as it affects the availability of water for household use, with supply being dangerously low resulting in even poorer quality of water. The inability to treat the wastewater in Gaza due to the lack of electricity is threatening to contaminate the water supplies. The pumping of untreated wastewater into the sea poses a major risk of environmental and health hazards and deprives people of the only entertainment place. Fuel reserves for hospital generators will run out soon with obvious threats to the wellbeing of patients.
  • ”Weather is unexceptionally hot this summer which increases the suffering of people whose utmost wish becomes to drink cold water or to run the fan. It is really a dilemma!

Hamas chiefs living it up

  • ”The Rafah crossing [to Egypt] is closed. It has been opened for very few days only in 2017. More than 30,000 persons are registered to get out Gaza for critical reasons. Those who have no pressing reasons to get out Gaza may include me and the rest of Gaza’s residents. It is like a joke – I don’t own a passport as I can’t dream to use it.
  • ”Egypt uses the military instability in Sinai as an excuse for not opening the crossing. I really can’t describe in words the suffering of people who need to leave Gaza for medical treatment and educational scholarship abroad, and people with residential and business or professional dealings. You can simply imagine yourself as a prisoner.
  • ”I don’t mean to disturb you with all this amount of bad circumstances with no prospect of detente or even easing of strains. I don’t know how much we can really bear this. The most important thing which we all think about is why the Hamas regime is determined to stick to governing this poor, desperate place called Gaza.
  • ”It’s simply because Hamas members are leading luxurious lives in Gaza. They own money and power to solve their problems. They live in palaces, drive 4×4 vehicles, have their electricity generators and free fuel to run them, got jobs for themselves and their wives and sons, run their own businesses and collect as much as taxes for themselves. They implement an external agenda and receive support from several countries, mainly Qatar and Iran.
  • ”On the other side, President Abbas in the West Bank punishes only Gazan people and his measures don’t hit the internal or external interests of Hamas. Also, Egypt punishes our people by closing the borders. The international community doesn’t care, especially in view of the many other hot-spots in the Middle East that attract attention and support. In such a context, holding out hope (Amal) that conditions will improve is against all logic. It is the same like holding out hope of returning to historic Palestine.”

So hope is dwindling for Amal and her family, and for all the others trapped in Gaza with nowhere to run and no means to escape. They can only pray the almost daily Israeli air-strikes miss them as they await with dread the next major blitz, which will surely reduce Gaza to an uninhabitable ruin.

Posted in Palestine Affairs, GazaComments Off on Gaza, this “poor desperate place”: Waiting for the end?

Russian envoy: Hamas national movement

NOVANEWS
Image result

Hamas is a national liberation movement and Moscow does not consider it a terrorist organization, Russian Ambassador to Tehran Levan Dzhagaryan said Tuesday.

Reporting from Tehran, a PIC news correspondent said Dzhagaryan told Hamas representative in Iran, Khaled al-Kaddoumi, that Hamas is a national resistance movement and one of the Palestinians’ main legitimate representatives.

The Russian ambassador reiterated his country’s support for the Palestinian cause and people.

Al-Kaddoumi briefed the Russian envoy on the Israeli violations in Occupied Jerusalem and the crimes committed against the Palestinian people and holy sites.

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Cuba Has Treated Over 26,000 Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster Victims

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Image result for Chernobyl CARTOON
teleSUR 

Since 1990, Cuban medics have treated over 26,000 victims of the 1986 nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, Ukraine, scientific network Scielo reported in a recent study.

The areas of treatment, according to Scielo, were primarily focused on dermatology, endocrinology and gastroenterology.

The report detailed that 84 percent of the total number of patients treated were children from Ukraine, Russia and Belarus. The majority of people were treated in 1991, when Cuban medics attended to 1,415 patients.

Over 1,000 children received medical treatment annually from 1990 to 1995.

With its main treatment area located on Tarara beach, east of Havana, the main objective of the program was to provide comfortable lodging facilities and an overall healthy environment, where patients could be treated and partake in a rehabilitation plan.

Apart from medical facilities, the locale included schools, a cooking center, a theater, parks and recreation areas.

After 21 years of solidarity treatment, all free of charge, the medical program came to an end in 2011.

In the early hours of April 26, 1986, a botched test at the nuclear plant in then-Soviet Ukraine triggered a meltdown that spewed deadly clouds of atomic material into the atmosphere, forcing the evacuation of tens of thousands of people.

More than 600,000 Soviet civilian and military personnel were drafted from across the country as liquidators to clean-up and contain the nuclear fallout.

Over 30 plant workers and firemen died in the immediate aftermath of the accident, most from acute radiation sickness.

Over the past three decades, thousands more have succumbed to radiation-related illnesses such as cancer, although the total death toll and long-term health effects remain a subject of intense debate.

Posted in CUBA, UkraineComments Off on Cuba Has Treated Over 26,000 Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster Victims

Enlargement’s Return From the Dead?

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Adelina Marini

Over the past two to three months, a major change is observed in the dynamics of the enlargement process, putting an end to the rather bleak forecasts regarding the European prospects and the stability of the turbulent region of the Western Balkans … for now. What is new? Macedonia is returning with enormous ambition and high speed on the European path, Serbia is changing the record, Montenegro is breaking from Russia’s grasp, the European Commission is stepping up, member states are starting to pay more attention to the region and to participate actively in the processes that drive it. Although the process remains frozen for Turkey, and there are still problems in the Balkans, the largest of which is Bosnia and Herzegovina, it can be said that the European integration is back in the game.

A second chance for Macedonia

The most radical one is the change in Macedonia, which had begun to become a black hole in the Balkans after VMRO-DPMNE’s prolonged authoritarian rule and the severe political crisis in the country that had been running for more than two years and reached its climax at the end of April with the bloody attack on the parliament in Skopje. Much has changed since then. The country has a new government that was met with scepticism, but has already made giant steps compared to the past 12 years. The first task of Prime Minister Zoran Zaev’s government was to return Macedonia onto its European path, which required winning the two neighbouring countries – Greece and Bulgaria – to its side.

With Greece solution is needed to the dispute about the name of the former Yugoslav Republic – a process which was moving under the auspices of the United Nations, but has been virtually frozen. The government in Skopje is pursuing an active policy of restoring the confidence of Athens with full awareness that it will be a very difficult task. The second challenge was the negotiation of a friendship agreement with Bulgaria, which has for years been a hindrance in the relations between Skopje and Sofia. The agreement is now a fact after the announcement on Wednesday (July 26th) that the two countries have concluded the negotiations and the text of the treaty has been published [in Bulgarian]. The signing ceremony will take place on 1 August in Skopje. The text of the treaty will be signed in two languages ​​- Macedonian and Bulgarian, which is part of the compromises that the Bulgarian side did.

In the words of Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, with this agreement both sides have made compromises and are equally satisfied or dissatisfied. After signing, the next step is the ratification process, which will hardly go without problems in both countries, yet the treaty is a huge step forward for both states. With it, one of the barriers to Macedonia’s EU integration will be removed. Prime Minister Zaev hastened to open the European perspective of his country as soon as possible in order to be able to take on internal reforms that would be much more difficult and heavier, having an opposition that was prepared to do anything, even at the cost of an ethnic conflict, in order to preserve its power.

In June, EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn (Austria, EPP) kicked off regular monthly press conferences to account for the work in his portfolio, which, besides enlargement, also includes policy towards the EU’s neighbouring countries. The first press conference at the end of June was devoted namely on enlargement. At that time he was quite reserved, stressing that elections and formation of a new government are not enough for the Commission to renew its recommendation to start negotiations with Macedonia, which have been blocked for more than a decade because of Greece’s veto.

The Commission began issuing recommendations in 2009, but ceased in 2015 because of the crisis in the country. Since then, the condition was set to fully implement the Pržino agreement and to make significant progress on the reform agenda. Johannes Hahn said in June that he hoped that what was going on in Skopje was really a change of mindset, and that if Macedonia were to fulfil its share of the deal, Europeans should respond. He then admitted that 12 years ago Macedonia was the best pupil in the class, but it is no longer, and the responsibility for this to some extent lies outside the country. “The fact that there was a lack of concrete perspective has certainly influenced the situation inside the country and this is simply the point I have raised, and therefore I think, in particular, neighbours should have an interest to contribute in their own interest in stability and inclusion of this country at least in the future to the EU”, were Hahn’s words on June 12th.

Only a month later (July 18) the first Stabilisation and Association Council with Macedonia in a long time took place. The last one was in 2015. The atmosphere was completely different. EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Federica Mogherini (Italy, Socialists and Democrats) said there was a new sense of optimism and a new beginning for the country. She praised the government for the steps it has taken towards its neighbours. Johannes Hahn took on the role of the bad cop reminding that Macedonia is expected to work on the implementation of the Pržino agreement and the urgent reforms, stressing that this “is not an invitation for rushing legislative proposals through the Parliament”. It is important to have proper consultations.

Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov said this was the second chance the country receives after “a long, severe, moral and political, and institutional crisis”. The main priority of the government, he said, is the establishment of independent and functional institutions that will guarantee the rule of law. “We are determined to use this second chance we get as a country”. If the government continues at the same pace and ambition it is very likely that the Commission will make an exception and come up with an special report to recommend to the Council to start negotiations. Last year, the EC announced that progress reports will now be published in spring, so this year will be the first when there will be no reports of enlargement in the autumn.

“We are very flexible on this issue, but in a positive way: if things are mature enough, we will certainly come forward with a special report before April, but I think things need to be well prepared inside the country, while working on the reform priorities, on the action plan, on everything which is related to this”, said Mr Hahn on July 18th. Still, he also agreed that there is optimism in the air, brought about by the agreement reached with Bulgaria. “I would like to underline how positively we assess the fact that the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Bulgaria manage bilaterally without any mediation or facilitation to find an important agreement that we welcome. So, the optimism is in the air”, he said.

Serbia – from the monastery-train provocation to recognition of Kosovo?

Significant change is also noted with regard to Serbia, which is the key to stability in the region and is a guarantee for its European integration. A lot of water has gone under the bridge since the government sent provocatively the monastery-train to Kosovo, raising the tension to its highest point in the last two decades. Pro-Russian Tomislav Nikolić, who had Milošević views on Kosovo, is no longer a political factor. The president is Aleksandar Vučić, who, when elected, pledged to hold an intra-national dialogue on Kosovo, which will be a preparation for finding a durable solution that includes something close enough to recognition that would allow the Commission to close negotiating chapter 35, which is presumed to be closed last.

Although three months have passed since his election, the talk about this dialogue only came after the EU put away the carrot and pulled out the stick. This happened on July 14th during Mr Vučić’s visit to Brussels. At that time European Council President Donald Tusk (Poland, EPP) explained to the Serbian president that it is time to make real choices, stop talking and take action. A few days later, Alexander Vučić gave an official invitation to all sections of society for a dialogue on the future of Kosovo. In a op-ed text [in Serbian], published in the semi-tabloid Blic, Vučić changed the record. Until recently, with his words and actions, he set the Serbian public against Kosovo, but in his text of this week he calls for realism.

“It is my wish, as President of the Republic, to try and resolve our conflicts once and for all if possible, if it is not, that is fine”, writes Mr Vučić. “It is time for Serbia to work, think, get and win without conflicts. I am sure we are able to do this even today. Just imagine what could happen! And do not be silent about it! All the roads for political co-operation and economic progress will open to Serbia, the door to the EU – as well”, continues the text of the Serbian president, which is already provoking serious controversy. It is not yet clear which political forces will be involved in the discussion and how exactly. According to Serbian media, the president himself is not yet clear what will follow after this dialogue.

The conversation about the future of Serbia-Kosovo relations will not be easy at all and may take a lot of political energy and time. The big risk is that this could happen at the expense of key reforms, especially in the rule of law, the lack of which is again to be credited to Aleksandar Vučić himself and the rule of his party over the last five years. Technically, Serbia is progressing in the negotiation process. The sixth meeting of the Serbia Accession Conference was held in June with no celebrations and high-level presence, as well as zero media interest, during which two new chapters were opened – 7 (Intellectual Property Law) and 29 (Customs Union). So far, 10 out of 35 chapters have been opened with Serbia. Two of them are now closed. More chapters are expected to be opened by the end of the year.

Montenegro – an illusion of progress

This has, however, not been a benchmark for progress for a long time now, as exemplified by Montenegro. The country has also made a significant contribution to changing the dynamics of the enlargement process after it has managed to break away from the deadlock with Russia and become a full member of NATO. The country is considered to be the most advanced one, because it has begun negotiations on 28 out of 35 chapters, including the opening on 20 June of Chapter 22 (Regional Policy and Coordination of Structural Instruments) and Chapter 1 (Free Movement of Goods). At that time the negotiations on Chapter 30 (External Relations) were concluded and it was officially closed. Indeed, aligning of Montenegro’s foreign policy with that of the EU is the country’s biggest progress, same as last year, when euinside published an analysis of the state of enlargement.

Regarding the most important chapters – 23 and 24 – which concern the rule of law and media independence, Montenegro has made zero progress, and these are chapters that, if not closed, the country will not enter the EU. This system was first introduced precisely for Montenegro, because of the bitter experience with Bulgaria and Romania, which came with a special  mechanism to monitor progress towards establishing an independent judiciary and rule of law, but after the serious problems that the EU currently has with Poland and Hungary it is more than certain that the candidates will be examined under a magnifying glass and long-term guarantees will be sought.

The statement, which was published after the Montenegrin accession conference on June 20, explicitly states that the work on chapters 23 and 24 is central to the overall pace of the negotiation process. Montenegro is praised for making progress from a legislative and institutional point of view, but there is no sufficient track record in the fight against corruption, organised crime, money laundering and violence against journalists. Special emphasis is placed on the importance of media freedom for the EU. The Montenegrin authorities are urged to step up their efforts to create a favourable environment for the development of investigative journalism and media freedom in general. In this sense, it was significant that after the conference no question was asked by the journalists present. Similar was the situation after the conference with Serbia.

Bosnia and Herzegovina – the Gordian Knot of enlargement

Will the Dayton creation start on the path of European integration is a question of great difficulty in the enlargement process. The country applied for membership last year and this year it received the mandatory questionnaire from the European Commission. However, filling it in is a very serious problem. The government’s hopes are that by the end of August the questionnaire will be completed and can be given for translation, but according to the sceptics, BiH will not be ready with the questionnaire by the end of the year. Meanwhile, the country is also faced with a political crisis, with the possibility of a vote of no confidence in the government.

The EU’s approach towards Serbia and Macedonia has become quite political, whereas towards BiH it is completely technical. This is a common mistake in the expansion process over the last decade. However, this mistake is costly when it comes to the most difficult and problematic countries in the queue for European membership. A signal of the complexity of the BiH case was the country’s inability to sign the transport treaty in Trieste during the summit with the Western Balkan countries. The EU is currently in a position of waiting for the questionnaire answers, but it does not have a plan for what to do if it does not receive it within a reasonable timeframe. Shrugging in a “no questionnaire – no candidate status” style is not an option in this case.

Turkey remains in the freezer

This is the country that has virtually fallen out of the enlargement process, but no one dares to admit it out loud. With its current leadership and policy, Turkey cannot continue its European path. This week (July 25th), a political dialogue between the EU and Turkey was held, which reinforced the stalemate. The two sides failed to reconcile their positions on the most controversial issues of the rule of law, arrests of journalists and human rights defenders. The press conference after the long hours of dialogue was a continuation of it, as Mrs Mogherini said. For the EU, the rule of law, the right to a fair trial, freedom of expression and assembly, good relations with neighbours are the key to opening new chapters with Turkey. Until there is no progress on these points, there will be no opening of new chapters but the dialogue on topics of common interest will continue, which are mainly in the fields of foreign policy, energy and migration.

Turkey insists that the only way to solve the problem with the rule of law is by opening chapters 23 and 24. EU Commissioner for Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn also agrees with this, but did remind, however, that it is the member states who insist on no new negotiation chapters being opened. “For the moment further opening is not possible”, Han said in a flat tone of voice, while Turkish representatives – Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and Chief Negotiator with the EU Ömer Çelik – spoke heatedly, trying to explain that nothing done so far is against democracy and the rule of law. The political dialogue with Turkey fully reveals the completely opposite perceptions of what rule of law, democracy, freedom of media and civil society are.

The change in the climate of enlargement is undeniable, but it is quite fragile. A twist may still come quite easily. Macedonian success depends greatly on the behaviour of the opposition inside the country and on how the situation with its name will be played. It is very important that the EU does not allow the name dispute to remain a bilateral issue, because no matter how much it is assumed that Serbia is the key to stability in the region, changes in Macedonia are those that have significantly changed the dynamics of the European integration process. In Serbia, the situation is even more fragile, as there is no genuine change there, but rather a change of a wolf in sheep’s skin.

So far, the EU is not pulling out the carrot of a date for accession, as Vučić wants, and it is good not to pull it out until it sees clear results – what follows after the dialogue on Kosovo, progress on chapters 23 and 24, changes regarding the media and a clear separation of powers. Montenegro should cease to be treated as the most advanced country only because it has opened the most chapters and because it has passed entirely to the Western camp. The domestic political situation is still uncertain and may be a source of problems in the future, the smallest of which will be continued lack of progress on the most important reforms.

While BiH is trying to fill in the questionnaire, it would be good for the EU to come up with a back-up plan that includes finding a solution to domestic tensions among ethnic groups in the country. The EU is currently burying its head in the sand, but this can not last long. If Serbia, not just in words, further approaches the EU and starts its detachment from Russia, BiH would remain the only instrument in Moscow’s hands to destabilise the region through Miroslav Dodik. That is why Brussels must abandon the technical approach to the country and develop a long-term strategy.

Kosovo is still trying to form a government, but if Serbia starts transforming, it will also affect Kosovo, and it will be a catalyst for accelerating reforms in Albania too. Then Turkey will remain the most difficult task to solve. The EU has to answer the question of how long it can hold the talks with Turkey in the freezer and what are the possible options for the future. Doing nothing and waiting is not a solution, especially when the stake is millions of refugees and migrants and the EU’s foreign policy interests in the Middle East region.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

Posted in EuropeComments Off on Enlargement’s Return From the Dead?

Fateh al-Sham terrorist group releases three Hezbollah captives

NOVANEWS
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Three members of the Lebanon’s Hezbollah resistance movement have been set free by the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham Takfiri terrorist group in exchange of three of its members.

The Hezbollah fighters arrived in Lebanon late on Tuesday as part of a ceasefire agreement between both parties last week.

The first stage of the ceasefire, brokered by the national police and security force of Lebanon – Internal Security Forces Directorate, took effect on Sunday as both sides exchanged the bodies of fighters killed in clashes between them.

The truce was agreed after Hezbollah fighters dealt a heavy blow to the militants in Lebanon’s rugged Arsal region bordering Syria. At least 150 militants of the Takfiri group were killed in the Hezbollah operation aimed at preventing the spillover of the Syria war.

The ceasefire agreement involves the departure of all militants of the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham group from the region around Arsal along with any of the civilians, living in Arsal’s refugee camps, who wish to leave the border zone with them.

Hezbollah launched a major push on July 21 to clear both sides of Lebanon’s border with Syria of armed terrorists.

In August 2014, the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and Daesh terrorist groups overran Lebanon’s northeastern border town of Arsal , killing a number of Lebanese forces. They took 30 soldiers hostage, most of whom have been released.

Since then, Hezbollah and the Lebanese military have been defending Lebanon on the country’s northeastern border.

Posted in LebanonComments Off on Fateh al-Sham terrorist group releases three Hezbollah captives

Groupthink at the CIA

NOVANEWS

Hating Russia and Trump is de rigueur

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By Philip Giraldi 

Long ago, when I was a spear carrying middle ranker at CIA, a colleague took me aside and said that he had something to tell me “as a friend,” that was very important. He told me that his wife had worked for years in the Agency’s Administrative Directorate, as it was then called, where she had noticed that some new officers coming out of the Career Trainee program had red tags on their personnel files. She eventually learned from her boss that the tags represented assessments that those officers had exceptional potential as senior managers. He added, however, that the reverse appeared to be true in practice as they were generally speaking serial failures as they ascended the bureaucratic ladder, even though their careers continued to be onward and upward on paper. My friend’s wife concluded, not unreasonably, that only genuine a-holes had what it took to get promoted to the most senior ranks.

I was admittedly skeptical but some recent activity by former and current Directors and Acting Directors of CIA has me wondering if something like my friend’s wife’s observation about senior management might indeed be true. But it would have to be something other than tagging files, as many of the directors and their deputies did not come up through the ranks and there seems to be a similar strain of lunacy at other U.S. government intelligence agencies. It might be time to check the water supply in the Washington area as there is very definitely something in the kool-aid that is producing odd behavior.

Now I should pause for a moment and accept that the role of intelligence services is to identify potential threats before they become active, so a certain level of acute paranoia goes with the job. But at the same time, one would expect a level of professionalism which would mandate accuracy rather than emotion in assessments coupled with an eschewing of any involvement in the politics of foreign and national security policy formulation. The enthusiasm with which a number of senior CIA personnel have waded into the Trump swamp and have staked out positions that contradict genuine national interests suggests that little has been learned since CIA Director George Tenet sat behind Secretary of State Colin Powell in the UN and nodded sagaciously as Saddam Hussein’s high crimes and misdemeanors were falsely enumerated.

Indeed, one can start with Tenet if one wants to create a roster of recent CIA Directors who have lied to permit the White House to engage in a war crime. Tenet and his staff knew better than anyone that the case against Saddam did not hold water, but President George W. Bush wanted his war and, by gum, he was going to get it if the CIA had any say in the matter.

Back then as now, international Islamic terrorism was the name of the game. It kept the money flowing to the national security establishment in the false belief that America was somehow being made “safe.” But today the terror narrative has been somewhat supplanted by Russia, which is headed by a contemporary Saddam Hussein in the form of Vladimir Putin. If one believes the media and a majority of congressmen, evil manifest lurks in the gilded halls of the Kremlin. Russia has recently been sanctioned (again) for crimes that are more alleged than demonstrated and President Putin has been selected by the Establishment as the wedge issue that will be used to end President Donald Trump’s defiance of the Deep State and all that pertains to it. The intelligence community at its top level would appear to be fully on board with that effort.

The most recent inexplicable comments come from the current CIA Director Mike Pompeo, speaking at the Aspen Institute Security Forum. He began by asserting that Russia had interfered in the U.S. election before saying that the logic behind Russia’s Middle Eastern strategy is to stay in place in Syria so Moscow can “stick it to America.” He didn’t define the “it” so one must assume that “it” stands for any utensil available, ranging from cruise missiles to dinner forks. He then elaborated, somewhat obscurely, that “I think they find anyplace that they can make our lives more difficult, I think they find that something that’s useful.”

Remarkably, he also said that there is only “minimal evidence” that Russia is even fighting ISIS. The statement is astonishing as Moscow has most definitely been seriously and directly engaged in support of the Syrian Arab Army. Is it possible that the head of the CIA is unaware of that? It just might be that Pompeo is disparaging the effort because the Russians and Syrians have also been fighting against the U.S. backed “moderate rebels.” That the moderate rebels are hardly moderate has been known for years and they are also renowned for their ineffectiveness combined with a tendency to defect to more radical groups taking their U.S. provided weapons with them, a combination of factors which led to their being denied any further American support by a presidential decision that was revealed in the press two weeks ago.

Pompeo’s predecessor John Brennan is, however, my favorite Agency leader in the category of totally bereft of his senses. In testimony before the House Intelligence Committee back in May, he suggested that some Trump associates might have been recruited by the Russian intelligence service. He testified that “I encountered and am aware of information and intelligence that revealed contacts and interactions between Russian officials and US persons involved in the Trump campaign that I was concerned about because of known Russian efforts to suborn such individuals. It raised questions in my mind whether or not Russia was able to gain the co-operation of those individuals.”

In his testimony, Brennan apparently forgot to mention that the CIA is not supposed to keep tabs on American citizens. Nor did he explain how he had come upon the information in the first place as it had been handed over by foreign intelligence services, including the British, Dutch and Estonians, and at least some of it had been sought or possibly inspired by Brennan unofficially in the first place. Brennan then used that information to request an FBI investigation into a possible Russian operation directed against potential key advisers if Trump were to somehow get nominated and elected, which admittedly was a longshot at the time. That is how Russiagate started.

Brennan is certainly loyal to his cause, whatever that might be. At the same Aspen meeting attended by Pompeo, he told Wolf Blitzer that if Trump were to fire special counsel Robert Mueller government officials should “refuse to carry out” his orders. In other words, they should begin a coup, admittedly non-violent (one presumes), but nevertheless including federal employees uniting to shut the government down.

A lesser known former CIA senior official is John McLaughlin, who briefly served as acting Director in 2004. McLaughlin was particularly outraged by Trump’s recent speech to the Boy Scouts, which he described as having the feel “of a third world authoritarian’s youth rally.” He added that “It gave me the creeps… it was like watching the late Venezuelan [President Hugo] Chavez.”

And finally, there is Michael Morell, also a former Acting Director, who was closely tied to the Hillary Clinton campaign, apparently driven by ambition to become Director in her administration. Morell currently provides commentary for CBS television and is a frequent guest on the Charlie Rose show. Morell considerably raised the ante on Brennan’s pre-electoral speculation that there had been some Russian recruitment of Trump people. He observed in August that Putin, a wily ex-career intelligence officer, …“trained to identify vulnerabilities in an individual and to exploit them [did exactly that] early in the primaries. Mr. Putin played upon Mr. Trump’s vulnerabilities… In the intelligence business, we would say that Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.”

I and others noted at the time that Putin and Trump had never met, not even through proxies, while we also wondered how one could be both unwitting and a recruited agent as intelligence recruitment implies control and taking direction. Morell was non-plussed, unflinching and just a tad sanctimonious in affirming that his own intelligence training (as an analyst who never recruited a spy in his life) meant that “[I] call it as I see it.”

One could also cite Michael Hayden and James Clapper, though the latter was not CIA. They all basically hew to the same line about Russia, often in more-or-less the same words, even though no actual evidence has been produced to support their claims. That unanimity of thinking is what is peculiar while academics like Stephen Cohen, Stephen Walt, Andrew Bacevich, and John Mearsheimer, who have studied Russia in some depth and understand the country and its leadership far better than a senior CIA officer, detect considerable nuance in what is taking place. They all believe that the hardline policies current in Washington are based on an eagerness to go with the flow on the comforting inside-the- beltway narrative that paints Russia as a threat to vital interests. That unanimity of viewpoint should surprise no one as this is more or less the same government with many of the same people that led the U.S. into Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. They all have a vested interested in the health and well-being of a fully funded national security state.

And the other groupthink that seems to prevail among the senior managers except Pompeo is that they all hate Donald Trump and have done so since long before he won the election. That is somewhat odd, but it perhaps reflects a fear that Trump would interfere with the richly rewarding establishment politics that had enabled their careers. But it does not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of CIA employees. Though it is admittedly unscientific analysis on my part, I know a lot of former and some current CIA employees but do not know a single one who voted for Hillary Clinton. Nearly all voted for Trump.

Beyond that exhibition of tunnel vision and sheer ignorance, the involvement of former senior intelligence officials in politics is itself deplorable and is perhaps symptomatic of the breakdown in the comfortable bipartisan national security consensus that has characterized the past fifty years. Once upon time former CIA officers would retire to the Blue Ridge mountains and raise Labradors, but we are now into something much more dangerous if the intelligence community, which has been responsible for most of the recent leaks, begins to feel free to assert itself from behind the scenes. As Senator Chuck Schumer recently warned “Let me tell you: You take on the intelligence community — they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you.”

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