Archive | March 12th, 2018

Syria: Zionist propaganda

NOVANEWS

Syria: the war is far from over

 

Socialistresistance.org

Eastern Ghouta (Courtesy of Enab Baladi)

Gilbert Achcar met with Syrian Corner during Syria Awareness Week in February 2018 at SOAS. Achcar posits that the Syrian conflict is far from over and that for Bashar al-Assad to establish a new political framework, an accord between the US and Russia is necessary. Achcar says the role of Iran in a future Syria is one of the key issues at stake, and discusses the Turkish war against the PYD, the regional role of Saudi Arabia, the international peace conferences for Syria, the recent demonstrations in Iran, and the new US foreign policy for the Middle East in the interview below.


Assad and Putin recently declared that they have “won the war.” Is the Syrian war over? What will happen to Bashar al-Assad?

There is a lot of wishful thinking in such proclamations: battles are still raging in the Idlib region and in East Ghouta. It is true, though, that the regime, backed by Iran and Russia, has now been consolidated and is no longer facing an existential threat. Twice before, it was on the verge of a massive defeat, rescued each time by foreign intervention, first by Iran, then by Russia. As a result, the regime has now the upper hand militarily. But when I say ‘regime,’ I am actually referring to the Russia-Iran-Assad axis, as the Assad regime alone would not have been able to accomplish any of this. Far from it, it would have been defeated a long time ago.

Besides, there is still a very large area of Syria out of regime control in the North-East, dominated by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The Syrian-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) led by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) are the SDF’s backbone. They control a huge part of Syria, comprising the whole area east of the Euphrates to the Turkish and Iraqi borders — and this is where US troops are actually involved on the ground. Two more areas are under control of the YPG and their allies: Manbij, west of the Euphrates, and Afrin where the present Turkish offensive is taking place.

Specifically addressing the issue of the YPG: Turkey has started an attack on the YPG-controlled area of Afrin. Does this represent a new escalation of the conflict?

London, 18 Feb 2018. Photo: Steve Eason

Here lies a major contradiction. For many years, Western powers have been following their Turkish ally, a key member of NATO, in labelling the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) as a terrorist organisation. The Turkish army has engaged in several offensives against the Kurds in Turkey over the years with the support of NATO countries.

However, when the United States decided to combat ISIS in both Syria and Iraq in 2014, it did not want to involve US troops on the ground directly in the battle but provided instead air and material support to local forces. Thus, it found that the best possible ally in this battle in Syria from a military perspective would be the Kurdish forces. Washington encouraged the creation of the SDF, with the inclusion of Syrian Arabs mostly belonging to the region now under SDF control, so that the US does not appear as involved in an ethnic fight on the side of the Kurdish minority. Since everybody knows that the PYD/YPG are closely tied to the PKK, this alliance created a political paradox. In fighting ISIS, the US relied on a force that is tied to a political movement officially labelled as ‘terrorist’ by Turkey and its NATO allies, including Washington. Unsurprisingly, this has hugely irritated the Turkish state, outraged at seeing the US cooperating with its public enemy number one.

This was made even more acute by the fact that Erdogan had undergone a sharp nationalist shift in 2015 when his party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost the parliamentary majority. This was due to an increase in the votes garnered by a left-wing coalition in which the Kurdish movement played a central role, but it was also due, most importantly, to losing votes to the far-right Turkish nationalists. Faced with this, Erdogan resumed the war on the Kurds after years of making peace with the Kurdish movement, resorting to whipping up Turkish nationalism. The Islamic conservative stance of his discourse did not change, but a new shift occurred in the direction of Turkish nationalism and renewed onslaught on the Kurds. Erdogan organised a second election five months later, in which his party regained a parliamentary majority. Currently the AKP is in alliance with the major far-right Turkish nationalist party.

Basically, this stance of Erdogan put him increasingly on a collision course with the US. Tensions with the Obama administration surged. Erdogan bet for a while on the Trump administration — Donald Trump promised to stop supporting the Kurdish forces in Syria. However, the Pentagon contradicted him, for the Kurdish forces have proven that they are excellent fighters and have been instrumental in defeating ISIS.

The Pentagon regards the SDF as the main card they hold today in Syria. They know that if they cut ties with the SDF, the Assad regime and Iran-led forces will inevitably try to recover the vast strategic area to the east of the Euphrates. Since the US is determined to contain Iran’s expansion in the region, the Pentagon sees no other option than to provide the Syrian-Kurdish forces and the SDF continued support. This is where the friction lies.

Erdogan is currently attacking the Kurdish-majority region of Afrin in North-West Syria. This region did play no role in the fight against ISIS and was thus no concern for the US. No US troops are present there. But Erdogan threatened to turn against Manbij — where the SDF is backed by direct US presence on the ground. Russia greenlighted the Turkish intervention in the Afrin region, withdrawing its own troops from there. Its aim is to thus exacerbate the Turkish-US rift.

This whole situation is getting even more complicated, and this is where we can reconnect to the original question: it is far from being over in Syria. Any “mission accomplished,” as Bush announced very carelessly and unwisely soon after the occupation of Iraq and as Putin has proclaimed twice about Syria, is merely wishful thinking. Nothing is solved in Syria. The Assad regime, even with Russia’s support, does not have the capacity to control the country. It needs Iran. Yet, Iran’s presence in Syria is unacceptable for both the US and Israel.

Would Turkey, if it defeats the Kurdish forces, be willing to go as far as to occupy Manbij?

It is a very tough nut to crack indeed, and what is happening now is quite telling. It would be quite difficult for Turkish forces to remain in the Afrin region for a long time even if they manage to occupy it, as they would fall under permanent attacks. Moreover, they would be engaged in war on a foreign territory, without the excuse of being invited by the official government unlike Iran’s and Russia’s forces.

Erdogan is playing with fire. He has taken a great risk with this operation. Facing discontent even within his own party, he is using this nationalist drive to consolidate his power. But a military setback could cost him a lot.

Under what circumstances would Iran leave Syria?

Iran would need to be compelled to leave. This could happen if there is a Russian-American agreement, in the form of a United Nations Security Council resolution stipulating that, on the basis of a political agreement that would be reached in Geneva, all foreign troops that entered Syria after 2011 (excluding the Russians who were already in Syria long before that year) should leave the country.

It would be difficult for Iran to say “no,” especially if the Syrian regime is part of this deal. Assad would not side with Iran over Moscow if he had to choose. Moscow relies on his regime’s forces on the ground, while Iran is occupying the ground. Tehran would not allow the Syrian regime the same margin of autonomy as Moscow would. Add to that that the Iranian regime is ideologically quite different from the Syrian regime. The Syrian regime has been portrayed by many as a bulwark against Islamic fundamentalism even though it is propped on the ground by Iran-led Islamic fundamentalist forces. That’s also part of the complexity of this situation.

There have been some important demonstrations in Iran since the 28th of December last year. What influence on Iran’s intervention in Syria can they have?

Had the movement carried on and continued to expand, it may have created a situation compelling the regime to reconsider its intervention in Syria, which was condemned by the demonstrators. But the movement subsided and was quelled, and the regime is back in control. We see, however, a surge in the tension between the two wings of the regime. The reformist wing represented by Iranian President Rouhani is trying to curtail the hard-line wing of the Revolutionary Guard (Pasdaran), arguing that the latter and its foreign interventions are a burden on the Iranian economy.

If the social turmoil resumes, things may change, but for now the regime is in full control. Moreover, Syria is an important card in Tehran’s confrontation with the Trump administration, which threatens to cancel the nuclear agreement. Such a move would play into the hands of the hardliners and therefore encourage a continuation of Iran’s expansion as a counter movement to US pressure.

Do you think the European Union (EU) should have a bigger role in criticising Turkey for the attack on the Kurds?

London 24 Feb 2018. Photo: Steve Eason

The EU has failed to act independently of the United States on the global level with regard to political and military issues. It has mostly behaved until now as an auxiliary of the United States. This has become a problem for Europe with the Trump administration because it is the first time that there is a US president who is so much in contrast politically with Europe’s mainstream and so close to Europe’s far right. The Bush administration did have problems with some European governments, such as France’s and Germany’s that stood against the invasion of Iraq due to differing interests. But Tony Blair’s UK government, for instance, was fully involved on the side of Bush.

On the Palestine issue, there has been a crystallisation of a different EU opinion, which is why the President of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Mahmoud Abbas, is now attempting to get the Europeans to recognize the Palestinian state. On Iran too, there are open divergences between the Europeans and the Trump administration. The European governments were quite happy with Obama’s policy leading to the nuclear deal with Iran, which Trump considers to be the worst agreement ever concluded by the US. If he does rescind the nuclear agreement, this will create an open crisis in US-European relations. Thus, Palestine and Iran, for the time being, are two contentious issues on which there is a sharp contrast between the US and the EU. The Syrian issue though is not one on which Europe holds views opposed to that of the US. On Syria, the EU has displayed no independent stance to this day.

Considering that the conflict is not over, do you think there is any possibility of reconstruction, as Assad is calling for?

Again, that is wishful thinking. Russia itself has on several occasions called upon the EU to fund the reconstruction of Syria. They have a lot of nerve because Russia has secured a position whereby, if there were to be a reconstruction of Syria, it would play a key role in it. Moscow would like the Europeans to fund Syria’s reconstruction with Russian companies pocketing the lion’s share of contracts. But this will not happen because the Europeans will not disburse any money without a US green light, which will not be given until Washington is convinced that Iran won’t take advantage of the situation. Under the present conditions, Iran too would necessarily secure a major part of the market. So, reconstruction won’t really be on the agenda until this whole political puzzle is solved.

Russia is trying to set a post-war political framework for Syria. They’ve started doing it at the end of 2016, shortly before Trump inaugurated his presidency. They were expecting him to deliver on his promise of new relations with Russia, but for the time being this is not happening as the establishment in Washington reacted with a strongly anti-Russian position. In any event, Trump won’t reach any deal with the Russians unless they agree to stop cooperating with Iran in Syria and push its forces out of the country.

For Trump the ideal scenario would be to reach a deal with Putin, entrust the Russians to take care of Syria on the condition that they push Iran out. In exchange for that, the United States could remove sanctions on Russia and give it some concessions in Europe. But this is clearly not on the horizon for now.

Do you think any of the talks in Sochi and Geneva will change anything in Syria?

Rouhani, Putin and Erdogan shaking hands in Sochi (November 2017) / Photo: Kremlin (Creative Commons)

These talks are about the conditions of a political settlement. We know more or less what this will look like — a transitional period, a new constitution, new elections, all this with Assad remaining in power and running in a new presidential election — so there’s not much new to be expected in that regard. Moscow and Assad proclaim that they are willing to have international observers monitoring new elections. They may be betting on Assad’s victory in free presidential elections today in Syria, because the Assad regime is one bloc whereas the opposition is very much divided. The fact that the opposition is in shambles may give the Assad regime enough confidence to undergo such a scenario.

However, for such a settlement to happen, an international agreement is necessary first. In the Moscow-sponsored Sochi talks, only Russia, Turkey, Iran, the Syrian regime, and a discredited part of the Syrian opposition did participate. In the UN-sponsored talks in Geneva, the United States and Europe are involved. I can’t see the US accepting an agreement that does not stipulate the withdrawal of all foreign troops that entered Syria after 2011. In other words, the US would say, “We are willing to leave Syria provided that Iranian forces leave it as well.” That’s why the US is currently sticking to the region east of the Euphrates. Washington’s message to the Russians is: “We will leave Syria to you if you get it rid of the Iranians, otherwise we won’t.”

Trump’s view of the conflict is different from Obama’s. He is trying to isolate Iran and has recognised Jerusalem as capital of the Israeli state. Why are their policies different and what implication will Trump’s policy have for the region?

There are different issues here. When it comes to Israel, Trump is catering to a specific audience: the Evangelicals and other Christian Zionists, who constituted a large part of the Republican’s constituency under Bush and are still a major part of Trump’s voter base. Mike Pence, the US Vice President, is representative of this segment. He is outbidding even his own boss in pro-Israeli discourse. Conversely, there is no consensus on this issue within the wider US establishment. Even some people in Trump’s entourage were not happy with his stance on Jerusalem, which is very ideological. The only issue on which there is a consensus in the administration is a tough attitude towards Iran, but this does not even include scrapping the nuclear agreement.

Does the Saudi regime still play any decisive role in the Syrian conflict, especially with regard to Iran?

Trump very much encouraged the Saudi rulers to escalate hostilities against Iran. They have been very clumsy in the handling of episodes such as that of putting pressure on Qatar or that of the forced resignation of Lebanon’s Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, which both ended up in fiasco. The Saudi rulers have no strategy of their own regarding Syria, they align behind the United States. The remnants of the Syrian opposition that are linked to them have been very much weakened. Thus Riyadh’s overall leverage in Syria is much weakened. Its main concern is to contain Iran and roll it back, and for that they can only rely on Washington.

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The Constitution, Human Rights and Pluralism in Japan: Alternative Visions of Constitutions Past and Future

NOVANEWS

Recent moves by the Abe administration to change the Japanese constitution may result in the most fundamental change to Japanese political life since the 1940s. Although there has been widespread debate on the possible revision of Article 9 – the constitution’s Peace Clause – other profound implications of the push for constitutional change have received scant attention. This special issue aims to take a broad view of constitutional debates in Japan today by posing two key questions: “What is the purpose of the constitution?” and “What does the constitution mean for a culturally plural and diverse society?”

A New Constitution for Japan?

Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized (Article 9 of the Constitution of Japan, 1947)

In May 2017, as Japan commemorated the 70th anniversary of the enactment of its postwar constitution, Prime Minister Abe announced a proposal to alter the constitution’s most famous and controversial section, Article 9, which renounces the nation’s right to wage war and to maintain armed forces. Abe suggested a revision that would not remove any of the wording of the article’s existing two paragraphs (quoted above) but would add a third paragraph formally legitimizing the existence of Japan’s existing military force, which today boasts the world’s eighth largest military budget.1 More surprisingly, perhaps, while directly mentioning only this modest change to the wording of the document, Abe simultaneously proclaimed his intention to give Japan a “new constitution” (not just a modified version of the old one) by the time of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.2 At the start of 2018, he returned to the theme, urging government and opposition politicians to reach a “broad based consensus” on constitutional change to be put to a national referendum.3 If Prime Minister Abe’s proposal is put into effect, this will mark the first revision of a constitution which has remained unchanged for longer than any other in the contemporary world.

The debate about constitutional change in Japan has been a long one. Indeed, the ink was barely dry on the postwar constitution before various political figures, mostly on the right of the spectrum, were debating reinterpretations of Article 9 and planning for its revision. During the Korean War, the US pressed Japan to rearm by creating the National Police Reserve, which soon evolved into the Self-Defence Force [Jietai], and by the late 1950s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) figures including Prime Minister Kishi Nobusuke had defined constitutional revision as a top priority for their party.4

In practice, though, strong popular support for the postwar constitution ensured that the 1947 constitution survived unchanged into the twenty-first century. Meanwhile, the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the Asia Pacific War evoked a renewed upsurge of constitutional debate in the mid-1990s, with several media organizations and other groups putting forward proposals either to change the constitution or to protect the existing document and implement it more effectively.5 In January 2000, both houses of the Japanese parliament established constitutional review committees, and by 2005 both the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the major opposition party – the Democratic Party of Japan (DJP) had published proposals for constitutional change.6 By 2012, though, the political climate was changing rapidly, and in April of that year (some nine months before the party returned to power) the LDP published a new proposal for constitutional reform which was much more far reaching than its 2005 draft. Some sense of the difference in tone between the 2005 and 2012 LDP drafts can be seen by comparing their preambles (Appendix 1 of this article). The 2012 draft (discussed in further detail in the essays by Lummis, Okano, and Uemura and Gayman in this special issue) also includes many more revisions to the body of the constitution than the 2005 draft had done.

Prime Minister Abe (like his grandfather Kishi) has been a particularly vocal proponent of constitutional revision, but after coming to power for the second time in 2012, and even after securing the parliamentary majority needed to win Diet approval for revision in July 2016, he remained relatively cautious on the subject, preferring to place emphasis on “re-interpretation” of Article 9. This changed, though, with his statement in May 2017. An LDP Headquarters for the Promotion of Revision to the Constitution (Jiyū Minshutō Kenpō Kaisei Suishin Honbu) was promptly created to draft a new constitution, although the task (as we shall see) seems to be proving a challenging one.

In October 2017, against the background of intense security anxieties about North Korea’s nuclear weapons development, Prime Minister Abe called a snap election, with constitutional revision listed as one of the items on his party’s manifesto, though the party’s campaign rhetoric focused more on economic policy and the North Korean missile issue. The ruling LDP and its ally Kōmeitō predictably won a very large majority (313 of the 465 contested seats), but in other respects the election failed to follow the expected course. Tokyo Governor Koike Yuriko’s Hope Party (Kibō no Tō), which also favours constitutional revision, was expected to emerge as a leading opposition force. Its chances seemed to have been boosted when – in the midst of the campaign – the existing main opposition group, the Democratic Party, dissolved its lower house caucus, and the party leader urged party members to join forces with Koike’s grouping. But in fact, the Hope Party failed to make the expected impact. Instead, another newly-formed force, the Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP – Rikken Minshutō), consisting largely of former DPJ members who disagreed with Koike’s hawkish policies, put in a better performance, winning 55 seats in the new parliament compared with the Hope Party’s 50. A key feature of the CDPs policies, as the party’s name suggests, is respect for the existing constitution, and particularly for its emphasis on democracy, human rights and peace.7

The political mood surrounding the election has left Abe’s government in a rather curious position. It has the two-thirds supermajority in both houses of parliament needed for constitutional change, but all the signs suggest that most of the Japanese public – who would have the final say on the matter through a referendum – are unenthusiastic about Abe’s constitutional ambitions. A Kyodo opinion poll conducted soon after the 2017 election showed that, although the Abe cabinet enjoyed a healthy approval rating, just over 50% of people opposed Abe’s plans for constitutional reform, while just under 40% supported them.Even within the government itself, opinions on the subject are divided. The constitutional review committee created in May 2017 intended to produce a full draft of its proposed revisions by the end of the year, but was in fact only able to come up with a summary of four key points, and even on two of these (the content of the revision to Article 9 and proposed state of emergency provisions) the committee had failed to reach a consensus.9

morrissuzuki_140514adelsteinprotestsjapantease_zqnzrq.jpg

Protesters opposing constitutional revision gather outside the National Diet Building.

The committee’s four-point summary echoes the brief statement on constitutional change made in the LDPs election manifesto, and gives some sense of the direction in which the government plans to take the debate from here. The four points are: that Article 9 should be revised in some way (either by leaving the existing wording as it is and adding an extra paragraph, or by deleting and replacing part of its second paragraph); that new emergency powers of should be given to the government (though there are divided views on what those powers should be); that the constitution should be revised to prohibit the creation of electoral districts larger than a single prefecture, and to “clarify” the status of local government; and that Article 89 of the constitution should be revised as part of a policy of “enriching education” for all Japanese citizens.10

The last two points need some explanation. The proposal on electoral districts aims to reverse recent revisions of electoral boundaries, which were undertaken to prevent a rural gerrymander from which the Liberal Democratic Party has traditionally benefitted. These revisions have created some Upper House electorates which combine two prefectures (e.g. an electorate of “Tottori and Shimane”), a situation which is fiercely opposed by a number of regional-based LDP politicians. The meaning of “clarifying the status of local government” remains obscure, but it is worth noting that the 2012 LDP draft constitution includes a proposal to explicitly ensure that residents who are not Japanese citizens would be constitutionally prohibited from voting in local elections.11 The proposed revision of Article 89 also has potentially far-reaching implications. It is presented by its proponents as being a move to improve the quality of Japanese education by removing restrictions on the funding of private schools. But Article 89 not only prohibits state funding to any educational enterprise “not under the control of public authority” but also, more importantly, prohibits payments from the state to religious organizations. Revision of this article could therefore become a major step away from the separation of state and religion enshrined in Japan’s postwar constitution.

What is a Constitution?

Proposals for constitutional revision have for decades generated intense debate in Japan and beyond. Most of the debate, though, has focused on specific clauses – most notably on Article 9, and recently also on Article 96, which sets out the processes for constitutional revision. These are important matters, and they are addressed in essays in this special issue: Douglas Lummis’ essay presents a fresh perspective on Article 9, while Okano Yayo highlights the significance of Article 96. But here we also aim to take a broader view of constitutional debates by posing two key questions: “What is the purpose of the constitution?” and “What does the constitution mean for a culturally plural and diverse society?”

Protesters rally to save Article 9.

Debates about constitutional change tend to be based on an assumption that participants have a shared understanding of what the constitution is and why it exists. The discussion then generally focuses on the content and wording of the constitutional document, rather than its essential nature. But as Judith Pryor and others have pointed out, the meaning of the word “constitution” is not as simple as it may appear.12 In the broadest sense, the term “national constitution” refers to the way in which a nation is made up or operates: how the nation is constituted. More often, we understand the word as referring to a set of foundational rules or principles on which subsequent law-making or policy-making must rest: even though (as in the case of Britain’s famously “unwritten constitution”) these principles may not necessarily be set out in a single written text. More commonly still, though, when we speak of a nation’s constitution, we are referring to a single written document which is understood as containing those fundamental principles of national political life.

Constitutions which emerge from revolutions or independence struggles, or which (like Japan’s) are products of a radical political transformation following military defeat, are often ringing statements about the values and vision of the nation. The opening words of Japan’s postwar constitution (see Appendix 1) are a resonant example. But many constitutions are much longer, more arcane and more unreadable documents, because they have been created over centuries of accretion, or have emerged through compromise and negotiation out of older political arrangements whose residues still cling like moss to the surface of the political edifice.

A key issue is the relationship between the constitution as a foundational written document and the way that a nation is actually constituted and operates in practice. If there is virtually no correspondence between the two, then a written constitutional document clearly does not mean very much at all. The Constitution of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), for example, states: “Citizens are guaranteed freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, demonstration and association” (Article 67); “Citizens have freedom of religious beliefs” (Article 68); and “The citizens shall have freedom to reside in and travel to any place” (Article 75); none of which has any real bearing on the realities of life in North Korea.13

At the same time, though, the relationship between written text and lived practice is fluid and dynamic. Written constitutions are constantly reinterpreted, and parts of the constitutional text that are not perfectly reflected in the everyday life of the nation may still be important as statements of aspiration or future goals. In the Japanese context, it is sometimes argued that Article 9 serves to limit pressures for Japan to become engaged in military action, even though everyone knows that the promise that “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained” has in practice been violated for decades. A recent book by Arthur Stockwin and Kweku Ampiah argues that “Article 9 has helped to shape a post-war Japanese mind-set and character – passed on from one generation to the next – in a population that is constantly reminded, through formal and informal education, of the dangers of war. As such, there is a consciousness in Japan about peace as a national value that should be protected”.14 This is an appealing argument, but there is a counter-argument: that it may be dangerous to maintain a significant constitutional clause which is persistently violated in practice. For, if it comes to be taken for granted that the second paragraph of the peace clause can be reinterpreted to mean the opposite of what it says, what is to stop politicians from deciding (for example) to reinterpret the constitution’s guarantees of free speech to mean the opposite of what they say?

The Constitution in a Diverse Japan

There are no simple answers to this dilemma, and the essays in this special issue neither present simple answers nor speak with one voice. But they do suggest a range of ways of reconsidering the meaning of the constitution, and of re-examining the relationship between (on the one hand) the Japanese constitution as embodied in the 1947 constitutional document, and (on the other) the way in which the Japanese state is constituted in practice. Douglas Lummis’ essay highlights the role of constitutions as “seizures of power”. If we see constitutions in this way – as radical moments in which power is transferred from one set of hands to another – the central question becomes “just who is wresting what power from whom?” In this light, the grammar of the constitution becomes particularly important: who is the subject and who is the object of the constitution’s clauses? Lummis shows how current government proposals for constitutional change radically alter that grammar, with far reaching implications. But his examination of Article 9 also reminds us that postwar Japan has been shaped, not simply by its formal constitution, but also by the interaction between the constitution and other documents, most notably the security treaty with the United States. The refractory relationship between Article 9 and the security treaty may be relatively easy to ignore from the perspective of Tokyo, but becomes glaringly obvious from the perspective of Okinawa, from where Lummis writes.

Okano Yayo also focuses attention on the meaning of constitutions. The key danger in current schemes for constitutional change, she argues, is that they obscure and undermine the core function of a democratic constitution, which is to place limits on the power of the state. The Abe government’s approach treats the constitution as though it were any normal law which the state has the power to change at will. Okano’s analysis also highlights the cultural underpinnings of the Abe government’s vision of a new constitution. A crucial element, she suggests, is a denial of the individuality of citizens. Rather than emphasising individual rights, the LDP’s version of a new constitution treats nationals – kokumin – as possessing citizenship only by virtue of being embedded in the communal ties of family and nation. In this sense, current proposals for constitutional revision are inextricably connected to historical revisionism, and to efforts to entrench that revisionism in the school curriculum. This approach is particularly alarming for Japanese citizens or residents whose ancestral background lies outside the historical bounds of the Japanese state (for example, descendants of twentieth century Korean or Chinese immigrants).

Noah McCormack’s essay “Affirmative Action Policies Under the Postwar Japanese Constitution” focuses on an instance where the visions of equality in the postwar Japanese constitution empowered a movement that has transformed sections of Japanese society. Although the constitution makes no specific mention of so-called Dōwa or Buraku15 areas, the clauses enshrining the right to equal treatment under the law, free choice of marriage partner and the right to a reasonable standard of “wholesome and culture living” gave new impetus to the long struggle for Buraku rights. This was reflected in a series of affirmative action measures which aimed to overcome the discrimination and disadvantage faced by residents of Buraku/Dōwa areas. McCormack’s study highlights the magnitude of the changes that resulted. But at the same time, important problems remain. The reduced gap in living standards and life styles between Dōwa and non-Dōwa areas has not meant an end to cultural discrimination and stereotyping, and has in some ways intensified controversy around notions of Dōwa identity. As declining relative deprivation weakens the sense of distinct Dōwa identity, the people of Dōwa areas are increasingly confronted by a dilemma: whether (in McCormack’s words) “to achieve liberation in Japanese society from Buraku discrimination while remaining Burakumin, or to seek the erasure of the categories of Buraku and Burakumin from Japanese society in the process of achieving liberation and becoming ‘regular Japanese’”. As the debate continues, the Japanese Diet in 2016 passed a new law for the “Promotion of the Elimination of Buraku Discrimination”. Whether this should be seen as a welcome step to protect human rights or as an assimilationist measure which re-inscribes the borders of “Japaneseness” remains debatable. But the relatively neglected history of postwar Dōwa policy and its consequences forms a crucial part of the constitution of Japan in its broad sense, and offers an important example of the implications which constitutional principles can have for the shaping of social diversity.

Uemura Hideaki and Jeff Gayman, focusing on the question of indigenous rights, present a starker picture of repeated constitutional refusals to recognise Japan’s diversity. Uemura and Gayman take the story of constitutionalism and pluralism back to the Meiji Constitution of 1889, observing that, throughout Japan’s modern history, the nation has been constituted in a way that failed to address the distinctive rights and histories of Japan’s indigenous people. Critical debates on the constitution, they argue, have not yet adequately addressed this crucial lacuna. Uemura and Gayman’s careful analysis shows how the interaction between the constitution and other decrees and laws has negated the rights of Ainu and Okinawans. In the prewar era, this denial of rights was reinforced by imperial decrees imposed on the colonies as well as on “Japan proper” (naichi). But even the democratic constitution of the postwar era contained no recognition of the distinctive history and status of Ainu and Okinawans, while the constitutional interpretations of liberal scholars often dismissed the problems of these groups as a mere matter of “small numbers”.

Despite this, Uemura and Gayman show how Ainu and Okinawan activists have used the fundamental notions of human rights and equality enshrined in the 1947 constitution as a basis for asserting their claims to recognition and justice. These efforts have achieved some important results, including (in the Ainu case) the 1997 Nibutani Dam judgement, which recognised Ainu as an indigenous people, and a 2008 resolution of both houses of the Diet reaffirming that recognition. But the current LDP proposals for constitutional change, rather than accepting and embodying this development, fly in the face of recent achievements by re-asserting the myths of emperor-centred cultural homogeneity. The response from critics, Uemura and Gayman suggest, should be, not simply to defend the existing constitution, but to aim for a more far reaching and imaginative rethinking of the constitution of a multicultural Japan.

The need for such radical rethinking seems particularly important in the twenty-first century context, when a growing share of Japan’s population are long term foreign residents who do not possess formal Japanese nationality. It is often pointed out that the democratic reforms of the occupation period, which extended the franchise to women, simultaneously excluded Korean and Taiwanese former colonial subjects living in Japan from voting rights. Okinawan citizens – as residents of a region now occupied by the United States – were also excluded from voting rights at this time, though these were restored with the reversion of Okinawa to Japan. In the Japanese version of the 1947 constitution, the words which are rendered in English as “the Japanese people” become “Nihon kokumin” (literally “Japanese nationals”), excluding those without formal Japanese citizenship from the scope of constitutional protections. The LDPs 2012 constitutional draft hardens that exclusion by explicitly denying local government voting rights to foreigners.16 In this context, Uemura’s and Gayman’s proposal to “involve citizens in wide-reaching discussions” to challenge the government on questions of constitutional pluralism has particular importance for the intensifying debate on the constitution.

Constituting the Constitution

The essays in this special issue remind us of the central role of ordinary citizens in shaping and reinterpreting constitutional debates. Okano Yayo’s article, for example, explores the rise of new forms of activism to resist the Abe government’s plans for constitutional change, while McCormack, Uemura and Gayman remind us how minority rights activists have mobilised constitutional principles to advance their cause. Ever since the 1880s, when Ueki Emori, Nishi Amane and others put forward their own personal proposals for a Japanese constitution, Japan has had a history of imaginative engagement with the constitution.

In the current debate, what matters is not only the proposed changes to the wording of the constitutional document, but also the way in which the debate itself is conducted. The structure of the constitutional debate taking place in Japan today speaks volumes about the way in which contemporary Japanese democracy is constituted. On the one hand, there is lively and generally unfettered grassroots debate about the constitution. But on the other, this debate seems almost entirely disconnected to the deliberations of government, and channels to link the two are signally lacking.

In addition to the “Civil Alliance for Peace and Constitutionalism” discussed by Okano, one of the most interesting current examples of grassroots constitutional debate has been the emergence of the phenomenon of “constitution cafés” [kenpō café] which have popped up all over the country over the past decade. The first of these appeared in the town of Hakodate in Hokkaido in July 2005, when local teachers, lawyers and others gathered to talk about constitutional issues in a relaxed and informal setting over cups of coffee.17 During and after the first Abe prime ministership from 2006-2007, as debate on constitutional change intensified, the concept spread to other places, drawing in members of the public who would be unlikely to attend more formal lectures or classes on constitutional issues. As the organizer of one group in Kyoto put it, the idea was “to lower the hurdle [to participation] by meeting in a different sort of space for relaxed conversation, and first of all to spread a move to get to know the constitution”.18 According to one recent estimate, there have been over one thousand “constitution café” meetings in various parts of Japan since the idea was initiated.19

The phenomenon is an intriguing one, not least because it replicates the process through which the modern notion of democracy itself grew out of debates in the coffee houses of Europe in the eighteenth century. But what is also striking is how completely the constitution café movement is divorced from the formal process of constitutional change currently being pursued at the national government level. Indeed, in the whole recent discussion of the issue there has been remarkably little official interest in public consultation or listening to the voices of the public (other than in the most restrictive sense of conducting occasional opinion polls to gauge responses to proposals handed down from on high). The current formal debate about constitutional change is taking shape within the relatively narrow spheres of the parliamentary constitutional review committees and in closed negotiations between the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its political partner Kōmeitō. Rather than constitutional change being seen as a process which must be driven by citizens themselves, as the possessors of sovereign power, it almost seems as though the proposed new constitution is a gift to be bestowed upon the people by the Prime Minister, in much the same way as the Meiji Constitution was presented to the Japanese people as a gift bestowed by the Emperor.

Japan’s constitutional debates are taking place at a moment of pivotal change in the East Asian political order. The rise of China, heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula and uncertainties surrounding the US role in the region reflect a shifting of the region’s political tectonic plates. The decisions taken about Japan’s constitution over the coming year or two could either heighten regional tensions and mark a radical weakening of the democratic underpinnings of the Japanese system, or provide an opportunity to put forward new visions of a diverse, dynamic and democratic Japan. The crucial test will be whether the debate can be broadened and deepened to engage all sections of Japanese society, and whether the voices of society can reach the ears of those in power, and not merely the other way around. The essays in this special issue seek to make a small contribution to that process of broadening and deepening.


Appendix I

Three Preambles

1. Preamble to the existing (1947) Constitution of Japan

Official Translation

We, the Japanese people, acting through our duly elected representatives in the National Diet, determined that we shall secure for ourselves and our posterity the fruits of peaceful cooperation with all nations and the blessings of liberty throughout this land, and resolved that never again shall we be visited with the horrors of war through the action of government, do proclaim that sovereign power resides with the people and do firmly establish this Constitution. Government is a sacred trust of the people, the authority for which is derived from the people, the powers of which are exercised by the representatives of the people, and the benefits of which are enjoyed by the people. This is a universal principle of mankind upon which this Constitution is founded. We reject and revoke all constitutions, laws, ordinances, and rescripts in conflict herewith.

We, the Japanese people, desire peace for all time and are deeply conscious of the high ideals controlling human relationship, and we have determined to preserve our security and existence, trusting in the justice and faith of the peace-loving peoples of the world. We desire to occupy an honored place in an international society striving for the preservation of peace, and the banishment of tyranny and slavery, oppression and intolerance for all time from the earth. We recognize that all peoples of the world have the right to live in peace, free from fear and want.

We believe that no nation is responsible to itself alone, but that laws of political morality are universal; and that obedience to such laws is incumbent upon all nations who would sustain their own sovereignty and justify their sovereign relationship with other nations.

We, the Japanese people, pledge our national honor to accomplish these high ideals and purposes with all our resources.

2. Preamble to the 2005 Liberal Democratic Draft for a Proposed Revised Constitution –

(author’s translation)

We, the Japanese people, on the basis of our own will and decision and as sovereign subjects, establish this new constitution.

The symbolic emperor system will sustain this. Moreover, the sovereignty of the people, democracy, respect for freedom and fundamental human rights, as well as the fundamental principles of pacifism and international cooperation, will be maintained as unchanging principles.

The Japanese people share a duty to support and protect the country and society to which they belong with love, responsibility and strong spirit, and to work towards the development of a free, just and dynamic society and towards the enhancement of the welfare of the nation’s people, while also placing emphasis on the advancement of education, the generation of culture and the development of local government.

The Japanese people, truly desiring international peace based on justice and order, will work together with other countries to realise these aims, and while recognising diversity of values, will constantly strive to eradicate oppression and violations of human rights.

The Japanese people, believing in symbiosis with nature, will make every effort to protect the environment, not only of our own country but also of the globe.

3. Preamble to the 2012 Liberal Democratic Draft for a Proposed Revised Constitution

The version given below is the author’s translation, which references the translation made by the NGO “Voyce

Japan is a nation with a long history and unique culture, having the Emperor as the symbol of the unity of the people and governed, under the sovereign power of the people, on the basis the separation of legislative, administrative and judicial powers.

Our nation has overcome and developed from the ruins of the last war and of many great disasters, and now occupies an important position in the international society, promotes amicable relations with foreign countries and contributes to the peace and prosperity of the world under a doctrine of peace.

The Japanese people will defend the nation and homeland with pride and strong spirit, and respecting fundamental human rightsvalue harmony and form a nation state where families and the whole society assist one another.

We esteem freedom and discipline, and while defending our beautiful territory and natural environment, promote the development of education, science and technology and the growth of the country through vigorous economic activity.

The Japanese people, in order to pass on our good traditions and our nation state to our descendants in perpetuity, hereby establish this Constitution.

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Tessa Morris-Suzuki is Professor of Japanese History at the Australian National University. She is currently engaged in an Australian Research Council project entitled “Informal Life Politics in East Asia: From Cold War to post Cold War”. 

Notes

Nan Tian, Aude Fleurant, Peter D. Wezeman and Siemon T. Wezeman, Trends in World Military Expenditure, 2016, SIPRI Fact Sheet, April 2017, p. 2., accessed 10 October 2017.

See, for example, “Kurōzappu 2017 – Abe Shūshō, Kaiken Hatsugen: Aete 9-jō, Yotō mo Konwaku”, Mainichi Shinbun, 4 May 2017, p. 3; Kimura Kyōko, “2020-nen Kaiken: Shiji to Fushiji no Kikkō”, Nihon Keizai Shinbun, online edition, 18 May 2017.

Sithanka Siripala, “Japan’s Prime Minister Seeks ‘Broad-Based Agreement’ on Constitutional Revision”, The Diplomat, January 31, 2018, (accessed February 5, 2018).

Axel Berkofsky, A Pacific Constitution for an Armed Empire: Past and Present of Japan’s Security and Defence Policies, Milan: FrancoAngeli, 2012, p. 331.

See Glenn D. Hook and Gavan McCormack eds., Japan’s Contested Constitution: Documents and Analysis, London and New York, Routledge, 2001.

Michael T. Segal, “Questioning the Rationale for Changing Japan’s Peace Constitution”, in Joseph A, Camilleri et al. eds., Asia-Pacific Geopolitics: Hegemony vs. Human Security, London, Edward Elgar, 2007, pp. 75-92.

See the Party’s platform, published on 26 December 2017 (accessed 28 December 2017)

Kyodo, “Abe’s Cabinet Approval Rating Improves, but Constitutional Reform still Unpopular, Survey Says”, Japan Times, 3 November 2017, (accessed 28 December 2017).

“Consensus Needed on Revising the Constitution”, Japan Times, 27 December 2017.

10 Jiyū Minshutō Kenpō Kaiei Suishin Iinkai, “Kenpō Kaisei ni kansuru Ronten Torimatome”, 20 December 2017, (accessed 28 December 2017).

11 See the Japanese and English versions of the LDP 2012 “Draft for the Amendment of the Constitution of Japan” on the website of the NGO “Voice” (accessed 29 December 2017).

Some 40 countries around the world (including Japan’s neighbour South Korea) allow permanent residents who are not citizens to vote in local elections, and New Zealand also allows permanent resident non-citizens to vote in national elections. In Japan, Korean and Taiwanese male colonial subjects who lived in Japan had voting rights until Japan’s defeat in the Pacific War. These rights were then rescinded, and any the descendants of these colonial subjects who have not acquired Japanese citizenship are still unable to vote, even though they may be 3rd or 4th generation residents in Japan. For this reason in particular, civil society groups have campaigned for local voting rights for permanent resident non-citizens, but this is vehemently opposed by many LDP politicians.

12 Judith Pryor, Constitutions: Writing Nations, Reading Difference, London: Birkbeck Law Press, 2008.

13 See “Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s Constitution of 1972 with Amendments through 1998”.

14 Arthur Stockwin and Kweku Ampiah, Rethinking Japan: The Politics of Contested Nationalism, Lanham NJ: Lexington Books, 2017, p. 196.

15 This refers to areas inhabited by groups identified as descendants of so-called “outcaste” groups as defined by the social status systems of Japan before the Meiji Era.

16 A small number of Japanese municipalities have allowed non-citizen residents to vote in local referendums, and over 1,400 have passed resolutions urging that foreign permanent residents should have the right to vote in regular local elections. However, controversy surrounds the question of whether or not the postwar constitution allows non-Japanese nationals to vote in elections for local officials, and so far the normal local franchise remains restricted to people with Japanese nationality.

17 “Hakodate ni ‘Kenpō Kafe’, Raigetsu Kaikan – Kyōkai Isshitsu Riyō: Shimin Dantai ga Kikaku”, Asahi Shinbun, 30 July 2005, p. 30.

18 “Marūku Kenpō Shirou: Wakate Bengoshira Kōza – Ocha Tsuide Shitashinde”, Asahi Shinbun, 15 April 2014, p. 39.

19 “Kenpō – Giron no mae ni Shirou: Kafe Tegaru ni 1000-kai – Bengoshi no Kōshiyaku”, Mainichi Shinbun, 4 May 2017, p. 23.

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Southeast Asia Getting Killed by Logging and Mining

NOVANEWS

When an airplane is approaching Singapore Changi Airport, it makes the final approach either from the direction of Peninsular Malaysia, or from the Indonesian island of Batam.

Either way, the scope for natural disaster under the wings is of monumental proportions.

All the primary forest of the Malaysian state bordering Singapore –Johor – is now gone and the tremendous sprawl of scarred land, mostly covered by palm oil plantations, is expanding far towards the horizon. The predictable plantation grid pattern is only interrupted by motorways, contained human settlements, and by few, mostly palm oil-related industrial structures.

On the Indonesian side, the Island of Batam resembles a horror apocalyptic movie: there is always some thick smoke rising towards the sky, and there are clearly visible, badly planned and terribly constructed towns and villages. Water around the island is of a dubious, frightening color. The environmental destruction is absolute. Batam was supposed to be the Indonesian answer to Singapore. Indonesia was dreaming about a modern mega city with a super airport and port, dotted with factories, research centers and shopping facilities. But the turbo-capitalist country hoped that all this would be created by the private sector. That was of course, unrealistic. What followed was an absolute disaster.

As it is now, Batam is nothing more than a series of ‘Potemkin Villages’, complete with several potholed four-lane roads that lead nowhere. As for the research: there is hardly any science even in Jakarta or Bandung, let alone here. After several attempts to ‘save face’ and to cover up this massive failure, the island has been allowed to ‘sink’ back to where it had already been for several decades:a huge whorehouse for predominantly Singaporean and Malaysian sex tourists;a cheap shopping district selling mainly counterfeit goods, a place notorious for lacking even the most basic public services.

No heads were made to roll for this monumental and thoroughly stupid set of failures. The obedient business-owned media is hardly ever critical of the Indonesian regime and its business ‘elites’. But the impact of the ‘Batam experiment’ is enormous – there is no intact nature left on the entire island.

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What goes on in the Southern Part of Southeast Asia?

Is nature of absolutely no concern to the Malaysian and especially Indonesian governments, business conglomerates and society?

The problem here is that everything above and below the ground has been, for years and decades, viewed as a source of potential profit. It is only valued if it can be exploited, if there can be a price tag attached to it. No sentimentality, no thoughts about beauty! Here, greed has already reached insane proportions.

Like in the West, big companies in several Southeast Asian countries are now running and selecting the governments. They are also controlling the mass media, infiltrating social networks. To criticize great logging and palm oil companies in Malaysia is lethal, literally suicidal, and almost no one dares to do it.In the past, some did, and died. The same can be said about ‘illegal’ gold mining, logging and other extraction ventures in Indonesia, where much of the unsavory mining and logging enterprises are in the hands of the police, military or of government officials (the interests of all three branches are also often intertwined).

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Places like Borneo and Sumatra are finished; almost all of their legendary wildlife habitats are devastated. Hundreds of species are gone or almost extinct. The once mighty, primary forests are squeezed into a few national parks, and even those are often being used for commercial farming, and also for palm oil plantations.

It is not just an issue of ‘disappearing beauty’ and biodiversity. Borneo (known as Kalimantan in Indonesia) used to be on par with Amazonia, functioning as the lungs of the Earth. It is the third largest island on our planet (and the largest one in Asia), and it is fully and some would now say irreversibly plundered. In Indonesia, deadly chemicals used on the palm oil plantations are killing tens of thousands of people with cancer, although you’d have to work deep in the villages to figure out the truth, as no reliable statistics exist and the issue is highly ‘sensitive’, as is everything that is horrible and sinister in this part of the world. Many rivers, including Kapuas, contain ridiculously high levels of mercury, the result of illegal but openly practiced gold mining.

To see some parts of Borneo from the air is like observing an enormous, nightmarish and rotting wreck of a ship: black scars, brown scars, and dark zigzagging open veins of what used to be, a long time ago, tremendous and proud, as well as pristine, waterways.

What has been done to Indonesian-controlled Papua by Indonesian companies and by Western multi-national mining conglomerates is indescribable. Apart from committing genocide against the local population, the entire half of this tremendous island, which used to be inhabited by hundreds of local tribes, is now being ‘exposed’, forced open, and literally raped. Of course, as an anti-Communist warrior and obedient pro-business client state, Indonesia is almost never criticized by the West.The genocides it has been committing since 1965 are either sponsored or at least supported from Washington, London and Canberra.

Malaysian and Indonesian logging and mining companies do not stop at committing crimes at home – they go far, to other Asian countries, but also deep into Oceania, places like the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea (PNG), where I witnessed on several occasions the full destruction of both nature and human cultures; a nightmare which I described in detail in my book Oceania.

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I am relentlessly documenting what is happening to Southeast Asia in the books that I am writing (alone and with local authors), as well as in my upcoming films. I’m in the middle of producing a film about the fate of Borneo island, a place which is becoming dearer and dearer to me, the more devastated it gets.

primary image

The more I witness and the more I document, the more hopeless I often feel. It is because there seems to be almost no place which is capable of resisting the onslaught.

I am writing this essay on board Malaysian Airlines flights. The first one took me from the city of Miri (a state of Sarawak in Borneo, Malaysia) to Kuala Lumpur, the second from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok.

After filming on several occasions in the totally violated Indonesian Kalimantan, I hoped to see something optimistic in Malaysian Sarawak; something that could be used as an inspiration for the future of the incomparably poorer and much more corrupt Indonesian part of the island. This time I drove all around the city of Miri, and then I crossed the border and drove further into Brunei. I flew inside tiny propeller planes over the jungle, or what is still left of it. I took a narrow motorized makeshift canoe.

Yes, I saw few beautiful national parks and traditional longhouses. And I was surprised to find out that the filthy rich but politically and religiously oppressive sultanate of Brunei Darussalam, with its brutal and extreme implementation of Sharia Law, unbridled consumerism and worshipped oil industry, is actually doing incomparably better job than Indonesia and even Malaysia, at least environmentally. It is at least protecting its nature, including the rainforest. Brunei’s untouched, pristine native forest begins just a few miles from the coast,from its oil wells and refineries.

But when I rented a narrow shabby longboat, deep in the interior of Sarawak, I encountered total misery and devastation. The road was great, most likely constructed precisely for moving quickly and efficiently, both timber and palm oil fruit. Several schools and medical facilities looked modern. But most of the locals do not live near the roads – they dwell, traditionally, along the rivers. And there, the situation is totally different: people residing in poor, primitive shacks, children and adults swimming in desperately polluted waterways, while stumps of trees ‘decorating’ stinking, muddy shores.

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Some would say that Southeast Asia is not alone. In many ways, the West already ‘rearranged’ its nature decades and centuries ago. In densely populated countries like Italy or Netherlands, very little of the original nature is left today. In the United States, the original meadows and pristine grasslands gave way to commercial fields; to agricultural mass production.

What shocks in Southeast Asia is not the fact that people want to make a living out of their land. It is the brutality of the systematic destruction of majestic mountains and hills, of mighty rivers, lakes, shores as well as the irreversibility of the changes that come with cutting down almost all native rainforest, replacing it with chemically-boosted palm oil and rubber plantations.

gallery image

Most of those who would be allowed to see those monstrous coal mines dotting Indonesian Borneo would be terrified. Endless sprawls of palm oil (and literally imprisoned villages, squeezed by it as in a straight jacket) could perhaps outrage even the most hardened pro-market fundamentalists, who would bother to visit from other parts of the world.

Or maybe not… The multi-national ‘mining horrors’ that are being described to me by my friends and colleagues,who are presently working in Peru, are somehow comparable. What I saw in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) shows the same spite that many Western companies and governments have for the local people.

What I find truly ‘unique’ in Southeast Asia, is the totality of destruction. The number of animal and bird species that are already gone, or are disappearing or have been simply hunted down, or the number of hopelessly polluted rivers; the forests and jungles that are stolen from the native inhabitants.

The speed is yet another shocking factor. It is all happening extremely fast. No wonder that Green Peace put Indonesia on the list of the Guinness Book of Records as the fastest destroyer of the tropical forests on Earth.

What is left of the Indonesian forests is being either logged out or is systematically burning. Thick smog travels, periodically, from Sumatra to Singapore and peninsula Malaysia, creating a health hazard, shutting down schools and tormenting people suffering from asthma and other respiratory problems.

But Indonesia is big, the fourth most populous country on Earth. It does what it wants, and it appears that it cannot be stopped. Or more precisely, its rulers and business elites are doing what they want. And, as long as it fits into the agenda of their Western handlers (and it usually does), the country is enjoying almost total impunity.

Of course, those who are suffering the most are the local people themselves, as well as countless defenseless species, be they animals, birds, fish, trees, or plants.

Soon, nothing original will be left here. Billions of dollars will be made by those very few rich, and the poor majority will be stuck with the coolie’s jobs. The plundering of the environment is creating dependency syndrome and very little advancement for the society. The money flows, but not where it is supposed to flow.

Like in the Gulf, almost nothing or very little is being invested into science, technology, the arts and creative sectors.

Ruined islands and peninsulas will keep producing ‘blood fruits’. Land owners, corrupt politicians, middlemen and traders will keep getting outrageously rich. But the great majority of people will have to get used to living with a polluted and totally unnatural environment. They’d be stuck, in fact most of them are already stuck, in some sort of depressing concentration camps surrounded by unnatural, hostile crops, and by the chemically-contaminated land.

All this will continue until who knows what terrifying and bitter end, unless, of course, the people of Southeast Asia will finally wake up, and instead of accepting this present turbo-capitalist model, begin to think and dream about the “Ecological Civilization” and other marvelous cutting-edge philosophies that are flowing out from China and other non-conformist parts of the world.

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India: Historic Victory for Farmers of Maharashtra

NOVANEWS

The farmers in Maharashtra won a historic victory after 50,000 farmers threatened to siege the state assembly. The Devendra Fadnavisgovernment of Maharashtra has agreed to the demands of protesting farmers.

A committee has been set up, which will consider all aspects of their demands, which includes loan waiver, free electricity and a higher price for their produce.The government has given its acceptance in writing, said state minister Chandrakant Patil, after a delegation of farmers met government representatives this afternoon. Mr Fadnavis said the Chief Secretary will do the follow up.

The Fadnavis Government has decided to table a bill in the Monsoon session of Maharashtra Legislative Assembly, which will assure minimum price for agricultural products. If traders offer lower price below minimum price then it will be considered as a criminal act.

The Maharashtra Government is also planning to revise milk prices and appoint an independent observer for dairy business to help farmers. The decision on hiking milk prices would be taken by June 20.

The Government has also agreed to waive off penalty and interest on pending power bills and also look to set up more cold storages and agro-processing units in the state.

Nearly 50,000 farmers assembled in Mumbai after a grueling 180-km, six-day march from Nashik, with plans to gherao the assembly. The protest was called off after the government’s acceptance.

The Left-affiliated All India Kisan Sabha or AIKS, which spearheaded the march, wants the implementation of recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission that mandates farmers be paid one-and-a-half times the cost of production and the Minimum Support Price be fixed for their produce.

The adivasis or tribal cultivators, who joined the march in huge numbers, want the land they have been tilling for years to be transferred to their names and implementation of the Forest Rights Act, which they say will benefit them.

The farmers want the state government to stop forceful acquisition of farm lands for projects such as super highways and bullet trains. Inter-linking of rivers and to discontinue sharing of waters with Gujarat was another concern that they wanted to discuss.

They also want a compensation of Rs. 40,000 per acre for farmers whose crops were hit by hailstorm and pink bollworm.

Source: Countercurrents

Even though the farmers planned to begin their march towards the Vidhan Sabha after 11 am, they chose to walk at night so that the students appearing for their Board exams weren’t affected and the traffic ran smoothly.

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Afghanistan: US Supported Trade in Heroin

NOVANEWS

US Supported Trade in Heroin: One Million Women, 100,000 Children Drug Addicts in Afghanistan

“Thanks to the U.S. invasion, Afghanistan is a narco-state today,” says Friba, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan’s representative

At least one million women and 100,000 children are drug addicts in Afghanistan, said on Sunday (March 11) the head of the anti-drug department at the public health ministry of the Central Asian nation, Shahpor Yusuf, at an event at a drug rehabilitation center in Kabul to mark International Women’s Day (March 8).

“There are between 900,000 and million women and around 100,000 children who have turned to drugs,” said the Afghan official according to TOLO News. Yusuf added that the children were all below the age of 10.

According to Kabul, the rehabilitation centers in Afghanistan have the capacity to help only a small percentage of addicts. But the problem seems to be far from the number of drug rehabilitation centers in the country, which provides 93% of the world’s opium.

Marwa Musavi, an Afghan woman for treatment at the center, said that it is useless being there.

“When we leave here, again we will turn to drug as long as there are smugglers [and dealers]. They should be stopped. It is the reality.”

These numbers much likely indicate that last year’s statistics released by the Afghan government is underestimated, which reported that the total of addicts in the country is over three million.

At the same time, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) published a letter in Persian, denouncing that more than sixteen years after US-led invasion promising making the Afghan women free, they continue to be killed “in a hell of Afghanistan, which is being set up by the United States and its Taliban, ISIL, Jihadists, and technocrats.”

RAWA stated that the Taliban and ISIS are not the only groups in Afghanistan hurting women. “US and NATO troops, and their armed forces in military operations, especially through air strikes in several provinces,” destroy homes, hospitals, schools killing civilians, including children.

C.I.A.’s Drug Smuggling Big Business

Friba, RAWA’s representative who does not mention her real name as the revolutionary women of Afghanistan work underground, says that the C.I.A. continues trafficking drug from her country. “Drugs were seen as the quickest and easiest way to earn money to fund C.I.A. proxies and paramilitary forces, in different countries.”

The C.I.A.’s direct involvement in drug smuggling goes back a long time, not only in Afghanistan but also all over the world as in the Iran-Contras scandal. The now dead governor of Kandahar province, Wali Karzai, one of Afghanistan’s biggest drug smugglers, had been for a long time on the C.I.A.’s payroll. Wali was Hamid Karzai’s brother, the former president of Afghanistan picked by the U.S. shortly after the occupation, in 2001.

This figure indicates the meteoric increasing of opium production in Afghanistan since the Washington regime invaded the Central Asian country:

Source: UN

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the total area under opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan was estimated at 328,000 hectares in 2017. it is worth remembering that United States’ society remains the world’s largest consumer of drugs.

“Thanks to its Goebbels-like lying machine of propaganda, the U.S. has been able to get away with much of its criminal activities, not just in the Afghan war, but in wars in Iraq, Libya and Syria, by lying to its people,” says Friba.

In May 2009 Malalaï Joya, a human rights activist, writer and former Parliamentary expelled from office for denouncing warlords in Afghanistan, granted an interview to the Brazilian paper O Tempo (Minas Gerais state), in which she denounced that the C.I.A. sponsors drug trade and exert direct control over the routes of the annual global drug industry.

The interview by Brazilian reporter Renata Medeiros was  sent in full to this author.

Below, the passage in which Joya quotes the opium matter in Afghanistan, reinforcing Friba’s denunciations including those related to the international media:

Malalaï Joya: “The only sector in which Afghanistan has progressed beyond imagination in the recent years is drugs cultivation and trafficking, and now Afghanistan produces 93% of world opium which shows a 4,500% increase since 2001.

One of the hidden objectives of the war in Afghanistan was specifically to restore the CIA sponsored drug trade and exert direct control over the routes of the U$ 600 billion annual global drug industry. The Afghan narcotics economy is a designed project of the CIA, supported by US foreign policy. So it is very understandable to see that since October 2001, opium poppy cultivation has skyrocketed and there are reports that even US army is engaged in the drugs trafficking.

Drug mafia is in the hold of power and supported by the West. Recently even Western media reported that Wali Karzai, brother of Hamid Karzai, runs the largest network of drugs in eastern Afghanistan and it is a fact that high ranking officials are engaged in the dirty business.

The counter-narcotics efforts are also mere lies and dramas. A former warlord called Gen. Khodiedad is a minister of counter-narcotics and another former warlord and known drug trafficker called Gen. Daud is head of the anti-narcotics drive!!

These days Afghanistan is not the only top producer of opium in the world but also the largest producer of cannabis, another illegal crop from which marijuana is derived.

Opium poses one of the biggest dangers for future of Afghanistan.”

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Greece and the Syriza Government

NOVANEWS

Greece and the Syriza Government: Varoufakis Surrounded Himself with Defenders of the Establishment

Critical Review of Yanis Varoufakis’ Book, “Adults in the Room: My Battle With Europe’s Deep Establishment”

 

If you haven’t yet read Adults in the Room by Yanis Varoufakis, |1| order it from your bookseller. It has all the ingredients of a political thriller – suspense, plot twists and turns, betrayals and more. But what is interesting about the book is that it gives the author’s version of events that have influenced and are still having repercussions on the international situation – in particular in Europe, but also beyond, because the disappointment caused by the capitulation of Greece’s radical-Left government has left its mark on everyone’s mind.

The series of articles I am devoting to Varoufakis’s book is meant as a guide for readers on the Left who are not satisfied with the dominant narrative put forward by the mainstream media and the governments of the Troika… and who are not satisfied by the former Greek Finance Minister’s version either. In counterpoint to Varoufakis’s narrative, I point out events that he keeps silent about and I express an opinion that differs from his as to what should have been done and what he in fact did. My narrative does not substitute for his, but should be read in parallel.

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It’s essential to take the time to analyze the policies put in practice by Varoufakis and the Syriza government, because it was the first government of the radical Left to be elected in Europe in the 21st century. Understanding its weaknesses and learning from the way its members handled the problems it faced is vitally important if there is to be any chance of avoiding another fiasco. In other European countries, a majority of voters could put a government of the Left into power with the promise of emerging from the long night of neoliberalism. They are admittedly not numerous, but those countries do exist. Even where the chances of being elected are very limited, it is fundamental that a coherent set of measures be taken by a government that is as faithful to the people as the politicians currently in office are to big capital.

My criticism of Varoufakis’s choices is specific and uncompromising. Still, Varoufakis has made the effort to tell us what he considers to be the truth. And he took risks in doing so. Had he not written the book, many important facts would have remained unknown. Alexis Tsipras cannot be expected to give a serious account of his version of events. It would be impossible for him to give an account of his actions and to justify them. If ever he writes a book of his own, it will doubtless be the work of a ghost writer and be full of clichés and platitudes.

And a distinction needs to be made between Tsipras and Varoufakis: the former signed the Third Memorandum of Understanding and had it adopted by the Greek Parliament, whereas the latter opposed the MoU, resigned from the government on 6 July 2015 and as an MP voted against it on 15 July.

The main purpose of our critique of the policies implemented by Greece’s government in 2015 is not to determine the respective responsibilities of Tsipras or Varoufakis as individuals. What is fundamental is to conduct an analysis of the politico-economic orientation that was put into practice in order to determine the causes of its failure, to see what could have been attempted in its place and to draw conclusions as to what a government of the radical Left can do in a country in the periphery of the Euro Zone.

In this part, we will discuss the advisers Yanis Varoufakis brought in to make up his team. It must be acknowledged that, from the time he selected his principal advisers, Varoufakis called on people who were not at all disposed to see to it that Syriza’s promises were kept (and that is an understatement) and to implement alternative policies in order to free Greece from the grip of the Troika.

Yanis Varoufakis’s advisers as Minister

In his book, Varoufakis describes his team of direct advisers and the ones he called in from farther afield. The choices made in putting the team together were fatally flawed. The thinking that influenced them partly explains the failure that was ahead. It was not the determining factor, but it played a role.

In appointing the Alternate Minister of Finance in charge of treasury supervision, a vitally important position, Varoufakis tells us that he consulted Alekos Papadopoulos, who had been Finance Minister in the 1990s and was a PASOK member. Varoufakis explains that he had worked with Papadopoulos in writing the economic platform presented by George Papandreou in the 2004 election, won by the conservative New Democracy party. Syriza, who were running in an election for the first time, won six PM seats with 3.3% of the vote. Karamanlis’s New Democracy had 45.4% of the vote and PASOK, led by Papandreou, had 40.5%.

Varoufakis writes: “While Alekos remained an opponent of Syriza, he was personally supportive and promised to come up with a name. The same night he texted me the name of Dimitris Mardas.” |2| Varoufakis contacted Mardas directly and offered him the position of Alternate Minister of Finance.

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Dimitris Mardas

What needs to be known is that on 17 January 2015, eight days before Syriza’s election victory, Mardas published a particularly aggressive article against Syriza MP Rachel Makri under the title “Rachel Makri vs. Kim Jong Un and Amin Dada.” The article ended with the very eloquent question (underlined by the author) “Are these the people we want to be governing us?” Ten days later Mardas, thanks to Varoufakis, had become Alternate Finance Minister. Varoufakis explains in his book that after one month as Minister, he realised that he had made the wrong choice. Note that Mardas, who supported the capitulation in July of 2015, was elected Syriza MP in September 2015. Papadopoulos also backed the third Memorandum of Understanding of July 2015. |3|

Varoufakis explains that the second choice he had to make involved who would be president of the Council of Economic Advisers. He realised that the position had been filled on his behalf by the vice-Prime Minister, Dragasakis. The latter had chosen George Chouliarakis, an economist around thirty years old who had taught at the University of Manchester before being seconded to the Central Bank of Greece. Chouliarakis played a damaging role from the start of Varoufakis’s tenure, and yet Varoufakis kept him in place to the end. His name will come up several times in the narrative of events.

Then Varoufakis added Elena Panaritis (image below) to his team, because she was familiar with the language and modus operandi of the Troika. Panaritis, as a PASOK MP, had voted in favour of the first Memorandum of Understanding in 2010. Before that, she had worked in Washington, mostly at the World Bank – where, Varoufakis tells us, she built up an excellent network of connections with the Washington-based institutions. That included former US Treasury secretary Larry Summers, whom she introduced to Varoufakis. Panaritis, in the 1990s, worked for the World Bank in Peru, where she collaborated with the corrupt and dictatorial neoliberal regime of Alberto Fujimori. As Varoufakis tells it, “[…] when I met her again a few days before the election I did not hesitate for a moment to ask her to join my team, for there is no better person to fight the devil than one who has served him and, through that experience, become his sworn enemy.” |4| Later events would show that not only had she not become his sworn enemy, she continued to collaborate with him.

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From the start, Panaritis’s appointment as Economic Adviser to the Finance Minister provoked reactions from Syriza members, and Alexis Tsipras tried to convince Varoufakis to get rid of her. But he eventually became quite comfortable with her. Later, in May 2015, when Varoufakis, with Tsipras’s approval, had Panaritis appointed as Greece’s representative to the IMF, there was so much resistance within Syriza and in the Parliament that she finally gave up the post on 1 June 2015. |5|

Varoufakis also appointed Glenn Kim, a specialist in financial markets and in particular the sovereign-debt market, to his team. In 2012, Kim had taken part in implementing the restructuring of Greece’s debt, notably as a consultant to the German authorities. When Varoufakis got in touch with Kim, he told him he was working as a consultant for the government of Iceland, helping end the capital controls that had been in force since 2008. That was quite acceptable to Varoufakis, who wrongly wanted to avoid resorting to controls on movements of capital at all costs, when in fact he would have done well to learn from the positive results the measure had produced in Iceland.

Varoufakis writes: “A cynic might say that professionals like Glenn were in it for the money and for their own career purposes. Possibly. But having people such as Glenn on my side, who knew where all the skeletons were buried, was a priceless weapon.” We should point out that Glenn Kim continued to advise Tsipras after the capitulation of July 2015. |6|

Varoufakis seems proud of having accepted the services of the Lazard bank and of its director, Frenchman Matthieu Pigasse. |7| In exchange for tens of million of euros in commissions, Banque Lazard had collaborated in the Troika’s restructuring of Greece’s debt in 2012. According to Varoufakis, Matthieu Pigasse and Daniel Cohen (a professor at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris and an adviser to Lazard |8|) “won me over with a frank account of their complicity, an equally frank apology and an offer to help get Greece back on its feet by providing their considerable services pro bono. With these illustrious defectors on our side, our technical strength was bolstered no end.” |9|

Among the members of the international team Varoufakis brought in was James Galbraith, who provided constant support and spent several periods in Athens during the first six months of 2015. Among the people Varoufakis mentions as having worked closely with him, James Galbraith is the only one worthy of trust, even if he did go along with the far too conciliatory attitude taken towards the creditors. James Galbraith is an American neo-Keynesian economist, close to the Democratic Party and familiar with international politics. In 2009, he was in close contact with the George Papandreou government. Galbraith worked mainly on a Plan B, in great secrecy. He tells the story himself in his book Welcome to the Poisoned Chalice: The Destruction of Greece and the Future of Europe. |10| Of all the team members Varoufakis mentions, Galbraith is the only one of whom it can be said that he could actually provide constructive aid to the Greek authorities. Yet, along with Varoufakis, he defended an approach that was excessively moderate and not commensurate with the challenges that needed to be met – a fact he himself admits in part. |11| Daniel Munevar, a collaborator of Galbraith, actively supported Varoufakis in the negotiations with the creditors beginning in March 2015, but Varoufakis does not mention his name. |12|

Image on the right below is James Galbraith

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Varoufakis prefers to talk about the foreign personalities who are directly connected to the establishment: “Besides Norman [Lamont], my overseas supporters included Columbia University economist Jeff Sachs, who played a central role as adviser and advocate, the aforementioned Thomas Mayer of Deutsche Bank fame, Larry Summers and Jamie Galbraith[…].” |13|

…in other words, with the exception of Galbraith, exactly the type of personalities alliances should not have been made with if a solution favourable to the people of Greece was to be promoted. Here are a few examples.

Larry Summers, Jeffrey Sachs et al: Varoufakis continued making choices that were incompatible with Syriza’s platform

There are certain stains on the career of Lawrence “Larry” Summers that by rights should be indelible… and should have ruled out any collaboration. Yet Varoufakis systematically favoured that collaboration and expresses satisfaction with it. He declares in the introduction to his book that “Things were proceeding better than I had hoped, with broad agreement on everything that mattered. It was no mean feat to secure the support of the formidable Larry Summers […]” |14|

Certain major aspects of Summers’s past deserve to be discussed.

In December 1991, while chief economist of the World Bank, Summers wrote in an internal memo: “The under-populated countries of Africa are largely under-polluted. Their air quality is unnecessarily good compared to Los Angeles or Mexico (…) There needs to be greater migration of pollutant industries towards the least developed countries (…) and greater concern about a factor increasing the risk of prostate cancer in a country where people live long enough to get the disease, than in a country where 200 children per thousand die before the age of five.” |15| He even went so far as to add, still in 1991: “There are no limits on the planet’s capacity for absorption likely to hold us back in the foreseeable future. The danger of an apocalypse due to global warming or anything else is non-existent. The idea that the world is heading into the abyss is profoundly wrong. The idea that we should place limits on growth because of natural limitations is a serious error; indeed, the social cost of such an error would be enormous if ever it were to be acted upon.” |16|
Later, having become Undersecretary of the US Treasury under Clinton in 1995, Summers used all his influence with his mentor, then Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, toward repealing the law that separated commercial banks from investment banks in 1999 and replacing it by a law that was dictated by the bankers. |17|

In 1998, with Alan Greenspan, Executive Director of the Federal Reserve Bank, and Robert Rubin, Summers had also succeeded in convincing the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) to remove all controls on the Over-the-Counter (OTCderivatives market. The door was then wide open for the acceleration of the banking and financial deregulation that led to the crisis in 2007-2008 in the US, which had repercussions in Greece in 2009-2010.

We should add that in 2000, as Secretary of the Treasury, Summers pressured the president of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn, to remove Joseph Stiglitz, who had succeeded him as chief economist and who was highly critical of the neoliberal policies Summers and Rubin were putting into practice all over the planet, wherever financial fires were breaking out. After the arrival of the Republican president George W. Bush he continued his career, becoming president of Harvard University in 2001. But put himself in a particularly uncomfortable position in February 2005 when he provoked the ire of the academic community following a discussion at the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). |18| Questioned about the reasons why few women hold high positions in science and engineering, he said that women intrinsically have a lower aptitude for sciences than men, ruling out social and family origin and discrimination as possible explanations. The result was a huge controversy, |19| both within and outside the university. Summers apologised, but pressure from a majority of professors and students of Harvard forced him to resign in 2006.

In 2009, Summers became a member of president-elect Barack Obama’s transition team and served as Director of the National Economic Council. In September 2010, Summers left Obama’s team and resumed his career at Harvard, but continued to play a backstage role in politics in Washington and elsewhere. Varoufakis tells how he asked Elena Panaritis to put him in touch with Summers in 2015 in order to gain influence with Obama and the IMF.

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Varoufakis asked Jeffrey Sachs (image on the left), also a specialist in dealing influence in the back rooms of Washington, to collaborate closely, which Sachs agreed to do, travelling to Athens, Brussels, London, and Washington several times in 2015 to reinforce Varoufakis’s team. Sachs, like Lawrence Summers, is linked to the US Democratic Party and is presented by the dominant media as being favourable to a “soft” solution to debt crises, taking the interests of the poor into account. |20| Yet Sachs has been an adviser to neoliberal governments that have applied Shock Therapy policies in their countries: Bolivia (1985), Poland (1989) and Russia (1991). In her book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, |21| Naomi Klein makes an implacable denunciation of Jeffrey Sachs and the policies he recommended in collaboration with the IMF, the World Bank and the local ruling classes.

Varoufakis also mentions the unfailing support he received from Lord Norman Lamont, who had been Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Conservative government of John Major between 1990 and 1993. “My friendship with true-blue Tory and Eurosceptic Lord Lamont of Lerwick, the chancellor who had ensured that Britain dropped out of the European Monetary System, thus guaranteeing that the UK would not join the euro, was at odds with my image as a loony-left extremist.” Varoufakis makes much of the importance of his collaboration with Norman Lamont: “Throughout my 162 days in office Norman proved a pillar of strength, advising me on the final draft of my reform, debt and fiscal proposals to the EU and the IMF.” |22|

Among the other foreign experts Varoufakis called on and who took part in working out the proposals he made to the creditors were Willem Buiter, who joined the Citigroup bank in 2010 as chief economist, and Thomas Mayer, ex-chief economist of Deutsche Bank.

According to Varoufakis’s narrative, these individuals played more than a trivial role. Referring to the nth plan he proposed to the creditors in May 2015, he writes: “By the time I landed in Athens, the Plan of Greece had been finalized. Jeff Sachs had beautifully edited the draft I had sent him a couple of days before; Norman Lamont had added some important vignettes; the people from Lazard had refined the debt-swap proposal, and Larry Summers had provided his endorsement.” |23|


Spyros Sagias, another example of a defender of the dominant order who was a member of the close circle around Tsipras and Varoufakis

Varoufakis explains that he had a close relationship with Spyros Sagias, who became legal adviser to Prime Minister Tsipras and whom he had met a few days before the elections. Tsipras’s choice of Sagias says a great deal about his priorities in choosing his entourage as head of government. He wanted, as much as possible, to secure the services of individuals who could build bridges with the establishment, with corporate leaders, and with the creditors. Sagias had advised the government of the Socialist Simitis in the 1990s at a time when it was undertaking a major program of privatisations.

Varoufakis describes Sagias as follows: “Sagias was not a politician but, as he introduced himself half-jokingly, a systemic lawyer. […] There was hardly a large-scale business deal involving private interests and the public sector that Sagias and his successful practice had not been involved in: privatizations, large-scale construction projects, mergers, all were within his ambit. He had even provided legal counsel to Cosco, the Chinese conglomerate that had acquired part of the port of Piraeus and was eager to take over the whole of it, a privatization that Syriza vehemently opposed.” He adds: “When Pappas informed me that Sagias was destined to become our cabinet secretary, I was surprised but also pleased: at least we would have a legal eagle on the team, a counsellor who knew how to author legislation and moreover where all the skeletons of the ancien régime were buried. […] I decided I liked Sagias. He knew that he was tainted by decades of consorting with the oligarchy and did not care to hide it […].” |24|

Sagias, as Varoufakis shows later in the book, supported the successive choices that led to the final capitulation.

We should add that under the Tsipras I government, he also assisted Cosco in acquiring the parts of the port of Piraeus that the Chinese company still did not own. |25| As a matter of fact it was Sagias’s law firm that had drawn up the first agreement with Cosco in 2008. After leaving his position as cabinet secretary, Sagias returned to actively running his commercial law firm, |26| serving as official counsel to major foreign interests and promoting further privatisations. In 2016 he represented the Emir of Qatar, who wished to acquire the Greek island of Oxeia in the Zakynthos region, which is part of a Natura nature protection area. Sagias also counselled Cosco in 2016-2017 during a dispute with workers at the port of Piraeus when an early-retirement (or disguised firing) plan for more than a hundred workers nearing retirement age was being concocted.

In Part Five we will discuss the events of January-February 2015: the days leading up to Syriza’s expected victory on 25 January, the creation of the Tsipras government, Syriza’s platform, Yanis Varoufakis’s becoming Finance Minister and the negotiations that led to the disastrous agreement of 20 February 2015.

*

Translated by Snake Arbusto in collaboration with Christine Pagnoulle.

This article was originally published on CADTM.

Dr. Eric Toussaint is a historian and political scientist who completed his Ph.D. at the universities of Paris VIII and Liège, is the spokesperson of the CADTM International, and sits on the Scientific Council of ATTAC France. Eric Toussaint is a frequent contributor to Global Research.

Notes

|1| Yanis Varoufakis, Adults in the Room: My Battle With Europe’s Deep Establishment (London: The Bodley Head, 2017)

|2| Yanis Varoufakis, Adults in the Room, Chapter 5

|3| See Vice, “The Former Finance Minister Who Tried to Warn Greece About the Crisis”, 15 July, 2015, consulted 12 November 2017

|4| Varoufakis, op.cit., Chapter 5

|5| Adea Guillot, “Grèce : l’ex-députée socialiste Elena Panaritis renonce au FMI,” (Greece: Former socialist MP Elena Panaritis Gives Up the IMF), Le Monde, 1 June, 2015 (in French)

|6| Whereas under Varoufakis Kim received modest compensation, in August 2015 he presented an invoice for €375,000 for the period prior to July 2015. That made waves and provided fodder for the campaign to discredit Varoufakis launched by Greece’s mainstream press. GRReporter, “A Korean adviser of Varoufakis claims a fee of €375,000,” 9 August 2015, consulted 12 November 2017

|7| Lazard is a worldwide financial counselling and asset-management firm. Created as a French-American house in 1848, Lazard is now listed on the New York Stock Exchange and is present in 43 cities in 27 countries. One of its directors who is well known in France is Matthieu Pigasse. Under his leadership the bank has advised several governments in the areas of debt and asset management (read privatisations): Ecuador in 2008-2009 foe debt, Greece in 2012 and 2015, and Venezuela in 2012-2013. Pigasse has direct interests in the Paris daily Le Monde, the Huffington Post and the magazine Les Inrockuptibles. In late 2017, Matthieu Pigasse and Lazard allied with the corrupt and repressive regime of Congo’s president Denis Sassou-Nguesso to provide aid in its dealing with creditors (in French).

|8| A specialist in sovereign debt, Daniel Cohen is an adviser to Lazard, in which capacity he advised Greece’s Prime Minister George Papandreou and Ecuador’s president Rafael Correa in renegotiating their countries’ debt. He participated with the World Bank in the Heavily Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) Initiative. He is an editorialist for the daily Le Monde. Cohen has also been an adviser to François Fillon, who was Prime Minister under Nicolas Sarkoy from 2010 to 2012. He then threw his support to François Hollande, president of France from 2012 to 2017.

|9| Varoufakis, op.cit., Chapter 5

|10| James K. Galbraith, Welcome to the Poisoned Chalice: The Destruction of Greece and the Future of Europe (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016)

|11| See the article (in French) by Martine Orange, “L’économiste James Galbraith raconte les coulisses du plan B grec” (Economist James Galbraith: the Inside Story of Greece’s Plan B)

|12| Daniel Munevar is a post-Keynesian economist originally from Bogotá, Colombia. Between March and July of 2015, he worked as Yanis Varoufakis’s assistant while the latter was Finance Minister, advising him on budget policy and debt sustainability. Before that, he was an adviser to Colombia’s Ministry of Finance. In 2009-2010, he was a CADTM staff member in Belgium, then, after returning to Latin America, he co-ordinated the CADTM network in Latin America from 2011 to 2014. He is an important figure in the study of public debt in Latin America. He has published a number of articles and studies. He participated with Éric Toussaint, Pierre Gottiniaux and Antonio Sanabria in compiling World Debt Figures 2015. Since 2017 he had worked for the UNCTAD in Geneva.
Daniel Munevar refers to his participation in Varoufakis’s team in “Why I’ve Changed My Mind About Grexit,” CADTM, 24 July 2015. In the book mentioned earlier, James Galbraith stresses the importance of the assistance he received from Daniel Munevar.

|13| Varoufakis, op.cit., Chapter 5

|14| Varoufakis, op.cit., Introduction

|15| Excerpts were published in The Economist (8 February 1992) and the Financial Times (10 February 1992) under the title “Save the Planet from the Economists.”

|16| Lawrence Summers, interview with Kirsten Garrett on the occasion of the annual assembly of the World Bank and IMF in Bangkok in 1991, “Background Briefing,” Australian Broadcasting Company, second programme.

|17| The law adopted under the leadership of Robert Rubin and Lawrence Summers is known as the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999. This law was adopted by the US Congress, dominated by a Republican majority, and promulgated by the Clinton administration on 12 November 1999. It allows commercial banks and investment banks to merge and establish universal banking services, that is, those of a retail bank, an investment bank and an insurance company. The adoption of this law came after an intensive lobbying campaign by banks to allow the merger of Citibank and the insurance firm Travelers Group to form the conglomerate Citigroup, one of the world’s largest financial services groups. The new law in essence abrogated the Glass Steagall Act or Banking Act, in place since 1933, which declared that the professions of commercial banking and investment banking are incompatible and avoided major banking crises in the USA until the one that broke out in 2007-2008.

|18| Financial Times, 26-27 February 2005.

|19| The controversy was also fed by disapproval of Summers’s attack on Cornel West, a progressive black academician, professor of Religion and African-American Studies at Princeton University. Summers, an outspoken pro-Zionist, called West an anti-Semite because of his support for students who demanded a boycott of Israel for its denial of Palestinians’ rights. See the Financial Times of 26-27 February 2005. Cornel West had been an enthusiastic supporter of Obama and was critical of the latter’s association with Summers and Rubin. See www.democracynow.org/2008/11…

|20| In 2005 Sachs published a book entitled The End of Poverty: How We Can Make it Happen in Our Lifetime, which was very well received by the establishment. In 2007-2008 the CADTM participated in the making and distribution of the documentary film The End of Poverty? (See in French), which makes the opposite demonstration from Sachs’s. The film, by Philippe Diaz, was selected for the Critics’ Week at the Cannes Festival in 2008 (it features interviews with Joseph Stiglitz, Susan George, Amartya Sen, Éric Toussaint and John Perkins). Sachs published a new, mainstream book in 2015 on sustainable development. An example of the sort of promotional comment that can be found in the press: “Economist Jeffrey Sachs, Special Adviser to the UN Secretary General, is among the most influential figures in the field of sustainable development. An inspirer of the eight Millennium Development Goals in place from 2000 to 2015, Sachs’s brilliance is respected in all milieux.” (Les Echos, 11 June 2015, trans. CADTM)

|21| Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (New York: Picador Press 2007)

|22| Varoufakis, op.cit., Chapter 5

|23| Varoufakis, op.cit., Chapter 15

|24| Adéa Guillot and Cécile Ducourtieux of the daily Le Monde wrote of Sagias “Long close to the PASOK, he took part in many negotiations of public contracts and regularly advises foreign investors looking to establish themselves in Greece.” Le Monde, 21 May 2015, “Qui sont les protagonistes de la crise de la dette grecque” (Who are the Protagonists of the Greek Debt Crisis?), trans. CADTM

|25| I will return to the subject of the role Varoufakis himself played in pursuing the privatisation of the port of Piraeus and his relations with Cosco.

|26| See the official site of Sagias’s firm

Posted in GreeceComments Off on Greece and the Syriza Government

Skripal Poisoning – British Provocation

NOVANEWS

The Novichok nerver agent [allegedly used in the poisoning of former Russian military intelligence Colonel Sergei Skripal and his daughter] most likely originates from “countries, which have been extensively working on such substances since the late 1990s, including the United Kingdom,” Russia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Vasily Nebenzya said during a United Security Council meeting on March 14.

Nebenzya recalled that Russia had stopped all chemical weapons program as far back as 1992 and had destroyed all of its chemical arsenals by 2017, which fact had been attested by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

“No research and development projects code named Novichok have ever been carried out in Russia,” the diplomat said adding that in the mid-1990s intelligence services of some Western states including the United Kingdom and the United States, took some specialists and “certain documentation” from Russia to continue development of nerve agents.

“Results reached by these countries in the area of new toxic agents that, due to some unknown reasons, are generally referred to in the West as Novichok, can be seen in more than 200 open sources in NATO countries,” Nebenzya noted.

He further added that the identification of the nerve agent allegedly used in the Skripal incident had been carried out at the British Ministry of Defense’s Defense Science and Technology Laboratory in Porton Down. This organization has conducted research and production of chemical weapons, including agents of that type.

Nebenzya drew attention that such rapid analysis and verification of the nerve agent by British authorities might itself prove damning to their claims.

“For the British specialists to be perfectly confident that this was a Novichok agent and not any other kind, they would need a control standard for proof. It must be compared to a control substance,” the diplomat stated. “They have a collection and they have the formula. In other words, if the UK is so firmly convinced this is Novichok, they have samples and formula and are capable of formulating it themselves.”

“It is no longer necessary to show the Council test tubes with white substances. It is enough to send letters with egregious accusations.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry also commented on the British accusations in an official statement (source):

The March 14 statement made by British Prime Minister Theresa May in Parliament on measures to “punish” Russia, under the false pretext of its alleged involvement in the poisoning of Sergey Skripal and his daughter, constitutes an unprecedented, flagrant provocation that undermines the foundations of normal dialogue between our countries.

We believe it is absolutely unacceptable and unworthy of the British Government to seek to further seriously aggravate relations in pursuit of its unseemly political ends, having announced a whole series of hostile measures, including the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats from the country.

Instead of completing its own investigation and using established international formats and instruments, including within the framework of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons – in which we were prepared to cooperate – the British Government opted for confrontation with Russia. Obviously, by investigating this incident in a unilateral, non-transparent way, the British Government is again seeking to launch a groundless anti-Russian campaign.

Needless to say, our response measures will not be long in coming.

Posted in Russia, UKComments Off on Skripal Poisoning – British Provocation

Militantly Russophobic UK Extremists

NOVANEWS
Image result for UK Extremists CARTOON
By Stephen Lendman

Sergey Skripal’s nerve agent poisoning has Britain in an uproar.

Russophobes are having a field day, Russia bashing at a fever pitch – despite no evidence suggesting Kremlin involvement in what happened.

Irresponsible media reports claim access to nerve agents isn’t possible without state support, Russia alone mentioned.

Nothing was said about possible CIA and/or MI6 responsibility for Skripal’s poisoning, a way perhaps to blame Putin ahead of Russia’s March 18 presidential election – despite no chance of preventing his reelection by an overwhelming majority.

UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told parliamentarians “(w)e don’t know exactly what has taken place in Salisbury, but if it’s as bad as it looks, it is another crime in the litany of crimes that we can lay at Russia’s door,” adding:

“It is clear that Russia, I’m afraid, is now in many respects a malign and disruptive force, and the UK is in the lead across the world in trying to counteract that activity.”

Last November, Theresa May said “It is clear that Russia, I’m afraid, is now in many respects a malign and disruptive force, and the UK is in the lead across the world in trying to counteract that activity.”

Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson sounded buffoon-like earlier, warning of possible Russian attacks on UK infrastructure, causing “thousands and thousands and thousands” of deaths.

In response to Skripal’s poisoning, he shamefully accused Moscow of “push(ing) around” Britain, adding:

“Russia’s being assertive. Russia’s being more aggressive, and we have to change the we change the way we deal with it.”

Former minister Edward Leigh claimed circumstantial evidence against Russia is “very strong,” adding if the Kremlin “is behind this, this is a brazen act of war, of humiliating our country.”

On Saturday, Home Secretary Amber Rudd convened a COBRA crisis committee hearing to discuss what happened, involving UK intelligence, security and other officials.

Around 200 soldiers were sent to Salisbury to help police investigate the Skripal poisoning incident. Included are bomb disposal specialists, chemical warfare experts, marines and RAF personnel.

Russia’s embassy in London tweeted the following: “Investigation of Sergei Skripal case follows the Litvinenko script: most info to be classified, Russia to get no access to investigation files and no opportunity to assess its credibility.”

Alexander Litvinenko died from polonium-210 poisoning in 2006, Russia automatically blamed at the time for what happened to its former Federal Security Service/KGB official in Britain.

No evidence suggests Kremlin involvement in either poisoning incident. They may have been false flags, wrongfully pointing fingers at Russia.

Posted in Russia, UKComments Off on Militantly Russophobic UK Extremists

Syrian Army Reportedly Finds Cache of French Weapons in Liberated Eastern Ghouta

NOVANEWS
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Syrian forces involved in a mopping-up operation in recently-freed areas of Eastern Ghouta have come across a large arms depot including weapons made in France, Fars News Agency has reported, citing field sources.

The French-made weapons and ammunition were found during the military’s operations to sweep the towns of Modira and Mesraba of militants, the sources said.

The discovery of a cache of French-made weapons comes following a report by the Syrian Army Monday that the military had found a clandestine workshop used for the manufacture chemical weapons in the village of Aftris.

Paris has made no secret of its weapons deliveries to Syrian ‘rebels’, with illicit deliveries continuing in 2012 despite a European embargo. In a 2015 interview, then-President Francois Hollande admitted that France had delivered the weapons, saying that he was “certain that they would end up in the right hands.” France provided the militants with small arms, rocket launchers, and anti-tank missiles. In addition to weapons, France has also provided rebel groups with other forms of support, including cash and military advisors. In 2014, Hollande justified the supply of weapons, saying that France “cannot leave the only Syrians who are preparing a democracy… without weapons.”

France has been at the front of the line of Western powers accusing Damascus of using chemical weapons in its struggle against militants in Eastern Ghouta. Last month, French President Emmanuel Macron warned that France “will strike” if reports about the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons against civilians were confirmed.

“On chemical weapons, I set a red line and I reaffirm that red line,” Macron said, referring to a telephone conversation he had with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Syrian government has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons, pointing out that their chemical weapons stocks were destroyed in 2014 as part of a deal brokered by Russia and the US.

The Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta has been under the control of a motley collection of Islamist militants, including the al-Nusra Front* since 2012, with an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 militants estimated to be holed up in the area. The Syrian Army began a major military operation, code-named ‘Damascus Steel’, last month in a bid to liberate the territory. According to the latest estimates, the Syrian Army has now liberated well over half of the area, dividing the area under terrorist control into three pockets.

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FARA Registration for AIPAC and Congress Is Washington’s Interest

NOVANEWS

By Philip Giraldi 

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, has just completed its annual conference in Washington. There were reportedly 18,000 attendees speakers including the Vice President, United Nations Ambassador, as well as numerous senators and congressmen. The organization is better known by its acronym AIPAC, and it has been fixture on Capitol Hill for more than sixty years. Its website proclaims  “The mission of AIPAC is to strengthen, protect and promote the U.S.-Israel relationship in ways that enhance the security of the United States and Israel” because “… it is in America’s best interest to help ensure that the Jewish state is safe, strong and secure.”

In reality, the security of the U.S. part is a bit of a sham as AIPAC in no way works to strengthen the United States or benefit the American people. Quite the contrary. The bilateral “special” relationship is a one-way street that has done considerable damage to the United States in terms of its international standing and national security. AIPAC is all about Israel and always has been. Its hundreds of staffers lobby Congress and the White House daily to support legislation and policies favorable to Israel and damaging to its enemies and critics. It works closely with the Israeli government to obtain maximum benefit from the U.S. Treasury and Pentagon, to the detriment of American citizens and genuine national interests.

So why isn’t AIPAC forced to register as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) of 1938? There has been only one serious attempt to register AIPAC, undertaken by President John F. Kennedy in 1963, shortly before he was assassinated. Since that time growing Jewish political and financial power in the United States has meant that no chief executive has dared to make any demands on Israel and its Lobby. On the contrary, Israel has significantly benefited materially over that time period, commensurate with its ability to manipulate or coerce the media and Congress while also intimidating a series of presidents.

FARA registration of AIPAC, currently a tax exempt 501(c)4, would require the organization to open its books to make transparent its sources of revenue. It would also be unable to contribute to political campaigns, reducing its leverage over Congress. So it is Washington’s interest to have AIPAC register, if only to limit interference in government and elections by a foreign country.

FARA should rightly be understood as a tool to punish the activities of governments that Washington does not like. In 1938, it was originally directed against the German, Italian and Japanese governments, whose front organizations were forced to register. The British, who were in fact lobbying much more heavily, were ignored. In today’s environment, Russian news outlets RT America and Sputnik were forced to register while the actions of the Israel lobby have been basically protected by its powerful advocates within the government.

So yes, AIPAC should be registered under FARA. I would even suggest that FARA be further extended to include public figures like congressmen and journalists, who basically lobby for Israel. That extension of FARA might seem overreach, but there is really no difference, legally speaking, between organizations like AIPAC that promote Israeli interests and individuals who do the same.

The recent AIPAC conference included prominent Israel-firsters, who place Israel’s interests ahead of those of the United States. Let’s start with Christian Zionist Vice President Mike Pence, who said last year  that “Every freedom loving American stands with Israel because her cause is our cause, her values are our values and her fight is our fight.” Wrong Mike. Israel is a foreign theocracy that has embraced deliberate policies inclusive of war crimes and crimes against humanity. It is manifestly un-American.

And then there is UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, whose speech at AIPAC this year was, uh, memorable. It is no surprise that she is being touted by neocon commander-in-chief Bill Kristol as the future GOP candidate for president. Haley, who received twelve standing ovations from the audience plus two shout-outs of “We love you Nikki!” seemingly forgot that she represents the U.S. at the U.N. She said that “There are lots of other things that we do, big and small, week after week, to fight back against the U.N.’s Israel bullying.”

Senators Ben Cardin and Chuck Schumer also received standing ovations from the audience. Schumer, who has described himself as Israel’s “shomer” or defender in the Senate, was particularly bizarre, saying “”The fact of the matter is that too many Palestinians and too many Arabs do not want any Jewish state in the Middle East. Of course, we say it’s our land, the Torah says it, but they don’t believe in the Torah. So that’s the reason there is not peace… that is why we, in America, must stand strong with Israel through thick and thin.”

So they are all promoting Israeli policies and should be compelled to register under FARA. And if you want to know what an Israeli recruited agent of influence sounds like you need go no farther than House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, who addressed the AIPAC Political Leadership Conference on December 15, 2003 and said:

“I had the privilege of leading the largest congressional delegation in history to Israel in August. This was my sixth trip to Israel, and my fifth as a member of Congress… Let me say very clearly: as a member of the Democratic leadership and a long-time supporter of Israel, it is absolutely imperative that Members of Congress… recognize the moral and strategic significance of the U.S.-Israel partnership… Israel’s safety and security is not a Jewish/non-Jewish issue. It is an American national security issue.”

Steny is flat out wrong about Israel aiding U.S. national security. It is a liability and always has been, but don’t expect him to be convinced otherwise. Maybe it’s somehow related to the $304,000 in pro-Israel PAC money he has received. One thing that is undoubtedly true is that American politics will be measurably less corrupt if AIPAC, Hoyer and the rest of the congress critters are forced to register under FARA and become responsible for the damage they continue to do to the United States and the American people.

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