Archive | January 11th, 2020

While Americans Slept in 2019, Uprisings Reshaped Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan, and Algeria

All four of these popular revolts caused a sitting prime minister or president to step down.

by: Juan Cole

As 2019 began, Saad Hariri was prime minister of Lebanon. On 17 October small street protests broke out against corruption, gridlock, lack of services, failure to collect garbage, lack of electricity, sectarianism and new taxes on the Whatsapp messaging program. (Photo: Javier Barrera/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

As 2019 began, Saad Hariri was prime minister of Lebanon. On 17 October small street protests broke out against corruption, gridlock, lack of services, failure to collect garbage, lack of electricity, sectarianism and new taxes on the Whatsapp messaging program. (Photo: Javier Barrera/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

In 2019, the Middle East was shaken by a new round of street revolts. As the year began, Abdelaziz Bouteflika had announced a fifth run for the presidency of Algeria. Then the peaceful “revolution of Smiles” broke out and by April he had resigned. A small elite has for decades monopolized Algeria’s oil resources and has rewarded its supporters while marginalizing everyone else. On December 12, Abdelmadjid Tebboune was elected president, amid continued massive demonstrations in major cities and a protester boycott of the election itself. The crowds are clearly unconvinced that switching out one president for another, when both are lackeys of the small Oil elite, will actually change things.

As 2019 began, Omar al-Bashir was president of the Sudan, as he had been for 30 years. A brutal dictator implicated in genocide in Darfur he was widely considered a war criminal after an International Criminal Court ruling. By April 11, continued urban unrest and strategic rallies led by the leftist Sudanese Professionals Association and, behind the scenes, by mystical Sufi orders, had pressured the officer corps into making a coup against al-Bashir. Not satisfied with replacing one general with another, the crowds continued to pressure the military to step down in favor of a civilian government. Saudi Arabia and the UAE appear to have backed the military junta against the people, but could not forestall a compromise. In the end a form of cohabitation developed, with a new civilian government but continued military oversight and a promise of transition to pure civilian rule. Sudan lost the revenue for South Sudan’s oil in 2013 when that region became an independent country, and its elite floundered in finding a new business model. Inflation was running at 75%, hurting people on fixed incomes or who depended on imports.

All the air in American politics seems to have been sucked up by Trump and his Power Tweets, so that cable television seemed to have little energy to spare for the big developments in the world that had the potential to affect the United States.

In ordinary times, the fall of al-Bashir should have been a huge story in the US, where at least lip service has been paid to caring about his Darfur genocide.

As 2019 began, Adel Abdulmahdi was prime minister of Iraq. Although voters had indicated in the 2018 election that they were fed up with the handful of parties that has dominated Iraq since the Bush era, Abdulmahdi was nevertheless chosen as PM. He came out of the pro-Iranian Islamic Supreme Council. Massive protests broke out at the beginning of October in Shiite cities like Nasiriya and in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square. The Iraqi security forces and Shiite paramilitaries replied with deadly force, killing over 500 in October, November and December. Abdulmahdi was forced to resign. The crowds had demanded an end to corruption and to the party spoils system whereby the bigger parties in parliament were rewarded with government jobs for their supporters. They also wanted electoral reforms to block the dominance of the parties that keep winning the elections. Just last week, the Iraqi parliament moved away from the list system, in which you vote for a party list, and toward a system were voters can vote for individual politicians. Although Iraq is pumping 3.5 million barrels a day of petroleum, the billions in receipts that go to the government have not been invested in Iraqi jobs or infrastructure. Corruption runs so rife that the Iraqi treasury is said to be dry. All the $500 billion earned from oil sales since the Bush era seems to have just disappeared into the pockets of politicians. Crowds wanted more services and a share in the national oil wealth. Yesterday, Assad al-Eidani was nominated as prime minister. A member of the 2005- elite from the pro-Iran Islamic Supreme Council and the governor of Basra, his nomination holds out little hope of improvement of the sort the crowds demand.

As 2019 began, Saad Hariri was prime minister of Lebanon. On 17 October small street protests broke out against corruption, gridlock, lack of services, failure to collect garbage, lack of electricity, sectarianism and new taxes on the Whatsapp messaging program. By 18 December, Hariri had bowed out of consideration for another term as prime minister. The crowds are not mollified by simply switching out the prime minister for someone equally bad, and clearly intend to keep the government’s feet to the fire. Trump all this fall withheld military aid from Lebanon.

All four of these popular revolts caused a sitting prime minister or president to step down. All four demanded an end to corruption and an end to government inaction on providing jobs and infrastructure. Many wanted more and better jobs. All were nationalistic rather than fundamentalist in character. Sudan’s Association of Sudanese Journalists is a leftist organization.

Algeria, Sudan, and Iraq are all oil states where the distribution of oil proceeds was closely held by the state.

All the air in American politics seems to have been sucked up by Trump and his Power Tweets, so that cable television seemed to have little energy to spare for the big developments in the world that had the potential to affect the United States.

In 2011 the American public was mesmerized by the youth street revolts that overturned governments in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, and which plunged Bahrain into a further authoritarian miasma and kicked off an 8-year civil war in Syria. Yet they showed little interest in the similar movements this year.

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Evo Morales Says He Is ‘Absolutely Convinced’ US Led Coup in Bolivia to Exploit Lithium Reserves

“It was a national and international coup d’etat… it’s a coup against lithium.”

by: Jake Johnson,

Bolivia’s ex-President Evo Morales speaks during an interview with AFP in Buenos Aires on December 24, 2019. (Photo: Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP via Getty Images)

Former Bolivian President Evo Morales said in an interview Tuesday that he is “absolutely convinced” the United States orchestrated the military coup that removed him from power last month with the goal of exploiting Bolivia’s enormous lithium reserves.

Morales told AFP that he believes the U.S. had not “forgiven” him for pursuing lithium partnerships with China and Russia over Washington.

“Transnational companies are behind the coup. The United States, too, because of the lithium issue.”
—Evo Morales

“It was a national and international coup d’etat,” said Morales. “I’m absolutely convinced it’s a coup against lithium. We as a state had begun industrializing lithium… As a small country of 10 million inhabitants, we were soon going to set the price of lithium. They know we have the greatest lithium reserves in the world of 16,000 square kilometers (over 6,100 square miles).”

U.S. President Donald Trump and officials in his administration have openly and enthusiastically celebrated the coup in Bolivia, but it is not yet clear whether the White House played a direct or indirect role in Morales’ ouster, which brought to power a right-wing anti-indigenous government.

Morales was initially granted asylum by Mexico following the coup, but earlier this month he moved to Argentina after that country’s leftist leaders granted him refugee status.

The former Bolivian president has been outspoken about the coup and its aftermath since his ouster last month. On Twitter and in interviews, Morales has condemned the interim government of Jeanine Añez for giving the Bolivian military and security forces a blank check to gun down peaceful indigenous protesters.

Morales has also accused the U.S.-dominated Organization of American States (OAS) of deliberately misleading the public about the results of the November presidential election.

“Luis Almagro deserves to be put on trial for being responsible for so many massacres and deaths in Bolivia,” Morales told AFP, referring to the OAS secretary general.

The Tuesday interview with AFP was not the first time Morales has alleged that Bolivia’s lithium reserves were a key factor in last month’s coup.

“Transnational companies are behind the coup,” Morales told The Intercept‘s Glenn Greenwald in an interview earlier this month. “The United States, too, because of the lithium issue.”

Watch the full interview:

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Top Syrian Official Says US Has ‘Absolutely No Right’ to Occupy or Plunder Nation’s Oil Fields

“He’s talking about stealing it,” Bouthaina Shaaban said of U.S. President Donald Trump, who has kept troops in Syria to guard that country’s oil fields.

by: Jake Johnson,

U.S. military armored vehicles and soldiers on patrol near an oil well in Syria’s northeastern Hasakeh province on November 6, 2019. (Photo: Delil Souleiman/AFP via Getty Images)

Citing U.S. President Donald Trump’s openly stated plan to maintain a troop presence in Syria with the sole purpose of plundering the country’s oil reserves, a top Syrian government official said America has “absolutely no right” to the nation’s natural resources and warned of “popular opposition and operations” against foreign occupiers.

“It is our oil,” Bouthaina Shaaban, a political and media adviser to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, told NBC News in an interview Tuesday.

“He’s talking about stealing it,” Shaaban said of Trump. “Our land should be totally and completely liberated from foreign occupiers, whether they are terrorists, or the Turks, or the Americans.”

In early October, Trump abruptly ordered the withdrawal of U.S. troops from northeastern Syria, paving the way for a deadly Turkish assault on Kurdish forces in the region. Later that same month, Trump announced that a contingent of U.S. troops would remain in Syria to “secure the oil”—a plan critics decried as a flagrant violation of international law and a war crime.

“The oil is, you know, so valuable,” Trump said at the time. “It can help us, because we should be able to take some also. And what I intend to do, perhaps, is make a deal with an ExxonMobil or one of our great companies to go in there and do it properly…and spread out the wealth.”

As Common Dreams reported last month, Pentagon officials have asserted the authority to shoot any Syrian government official who attempts to retake control of their nation’s natural resources.

“Everyone in the region knows where American forces are,” Pentagon spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman said in a November press briefing. “We’re very clear with anyone in the region in working to deconflict where our forces are. If anyone—we work to ensure that… no one approaches or has—shows hostile intent to our forces, and if they do, our commanders maintain the right of self-defense.”

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Enough Absurdity: Time To Get Smart

by ANDREW LEVINE

Photograph Source: General Artists Corporation-GAC-management – Public Domain

There are places and seasons in which the old quip about how, if you don’t like the weather, just wait a few hours, is good advice.

Fixed points in the political landscape can be like that too.

Not long ago, “red” and “Commie” were practically interchangeable; nowadays “red” and “Republican” are.

Back then, Russia (or the Soviet Union) was America’s number one bogeyman. This was taken for granted across the political spectrum, but with varying degrees of intensity.

On the Right, anti-Communism, which was more or less the same phenomenon, was an almost pathological obsession. With a zeal rarely seen since the heyday of the Spanish Inquisition, rightwing politicians and newspaper columnists would accuse liberals of being “soft on Communism.” They ruined many peoples’ lives this way.

Anti-Communism was an obsession in liberal circles too. The idea that liberals were not anti-Communist enough, that at least some of them, the more progressive ones, were “pinkos” — not quite red, but reddish –was widely believed.

Nowadays, of course, talk of reds and pinkos has gone nearly extinct, and Democrats are blue. To some extent, this reflects the demise of Communism and the more general decline of vestiges of the old Left. It also reflects the fact that we live, as Gore Vidal put it, in the United States of Amnesia.

These days, no one calls Republicans “reds,” though Republican liberals have all but gone extinct, yet somehow the states they live can be, or be said to be, redder than, say, Red China ever was. Go figure!

Neither does anyone call purple, a combination of Republican red and Democratic blue, “the new pink.” Perhaps this is because no one thinks that voters who could go either way ought to be investigated.

The idea instead is that they ought to be targeted in campaign ads, especially if they happen to live in “battleground” states. For the hucksters, pollsters, bloviators, and scribblers who run our electoral circuses, and who therefore shape and deform public opinion, selling candidates to voters is what democracy is all about.

Meanwhile, on the far Right, Russophilia has largely replaced Russophobia.

Thus we have rightwing “intellectuals” promoting the idea that Russia has become the last best hope of those who despise Western decadence, godlessness, “political correctness,” and, of course, multiculturalism, the root cause, in their view, of much of what has put America’s “greatness” – and whiteness — in jeopardy.

On the other side, there are Cold War revivalists in the Democratic Party and in corporate media who miss no opportunity to point out how besotted Republicans have become with Vladimir Putin and the political regime he leads. Demonizing Putin has been their obsession since even before Hillary Clinton’s failed 2016 presidential campaign got underway. I am still waiting, however, for Democrats to fault Republicans – or their cult leader, Donald Trump – for being soft on “Putinism.”

The political “weather” has done other about faces as well.

The conventional wisdom nowadays is that “white ethnics” and poorly off, less educated descendants of immigrants from the British isles and northern Europe have deserted the Democratic Party en masse, leaving it to “persons of color” and to white “elites,” clustered along the two coasts and in urban areas and college towns in between. These would be the kinds of people that the late Spiro Agnew called “effete intellectual snobs.”

This is a misleading exaggeration, at best. There have been defections galore, but the party’s base is still largely intact. Low turnout from what we now call “persons of color” was probably a more significant factor than white flight in the 2016 electoral fiasco that put Trump in office. Nevertheless, there is more than a little truth in the idea that it would not have happened but for the many “white” voters who crossed over to the dark(er) side.

Old school Republicans have either gone Trumpian or, repelled by Trump and his minions, gravitated over into the Democratic fold. Thus, the GOP, formerly home to the country-club set and to pillars of commerce, industry, and finance, is now becoming the party of those who shower after, not before, going to work.

In the process, a little light has shown through into mainstream public discourse.

It used to be said that, unlike everywhere else, America has no class divisions – that regardless of wealth, social standing, and occupation, everyone who is not lumpen is “middleclass.” This is not said so much anymore, largely because it is more plainly out of line with reality than it used to be.

Meanwhile, the realization that contemporary rightwing “populism” is a creature of neoliberal globalization – and therefore of declining working-class influence — is gaining ground everywhere. With Trump in the White House, America is no longer seen as quite the “exception” that thoughtful, but willfully blind, people used to think it was.

All this did not happen just because, for the second time this century, the Electoral College elected the candidate who lost the election.

The Electoral College is arguably the most undemocratic of the many undemocratic institutions our founding fathers inflicted upon us. This time, the loser “won” with some three million fewer votes than his main rival. Yet, he won fair and square in the “greatest democracy on earth.”

What a miserable insult to the democratic idea! And what a misfortune, inasmuch as the “winner,” this time, is a miserable excuse of a man whom a substantial majority of Americans loathe, and whom an appallingly large minority seem determined to stand by come what may!

Those same founding fathers made it all but impossible too to get rid of him, regardless of the majority’s will. Even impeachment, longed for by so many for so long, is seemingly of no avail. How pathetic is that! And how absurd!

Trump makes everything worse, typically by many orders of magnitude; the general air of absurdity that currently engulfs the political scene is no exception. But he didn’t invent it; he hasn’t even done much to shape it.

We got into this fix because our political and economic elites never quite figured out how to execute a soft landing in a world in which “the American century” was becoming undone by demographic changes, geopolitical exigencies, and the increasingly evident dysfunctionality of our overripe capitalist system.

Neoliberal globalization and Third Way politics are plainly not up to the task, and the historical Left has, for the most part, gone missing. Thus, a large segment of the general population is left without constructive means for addressing a host of justifiable grievances.

A reconstructed Left is the solution, but its first intimations are still in their infancy. This could change quickly, for better or worse, but for the time being, there is just not enough there there.

And so, all over the world, “populists,” rightwing nationalists essentially, have rushed in to fill the void, just as their counterparts did nearly a century ago, after the revolutionary upsurge that followed the Bolshevik revolution sputtered out, only to be swamped before long by forces of darkness even more odious than the ones now on the rise.

This process has been in the works at least since the dark days of the Reagan administration; it has taken its toll in both the Republican and Democratic parties, causing them to drift, or, in the Republican case, to gallop to the right.

The idea that, in America, there is only a middleclass has been another casualty of these on-going transformations. Thus, it has become harder than it used to be to deny the existence of a ruling class, or to deny that, at least in some quarters, working-class politics has revived.

As they say, “what goes around comes around.” There are two reasons, though, why the stakes are a little different this time around, and a lot more urgent.

The first, the increasing likelihood of nuclear annihilation, has been a fact of life for so long that the public has become numb to it. There have been a few close calls over the seven decades since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but, humankind has so far been lucky. So much good fortune is enough to make anyone cocky. Even so, the situation is increasingly dire.

With Trump calling the shots, the chances of remaining lucky have become more precarious than they have been since the dawn of the Cold War. This is one of the many reasons why it is urgent to get rid of him as soon as possible; or, failing that, to assure that he is hobbled and effectively restrained by sensible “adults” willing, if need be, to disobey their Commander-in-Chief.

Trump’s impeachment should help with that. Two and a half cheers, therefore, for the Democrats who saw it through.

Had they impeached him for more of his dozens or hundreds of impeachable offenses – had Nancy Pelosi been less wedded, in other words, to the get-Al-Capone-for-taxes model – and had they not taken every opportunity themselves to revive the Cold War politics that their still unreconstructed Clintonite party promotes, they would deserve a full three cheers.

But Democrats will be Democrats.

The second is that there is now a new real time constraint that was only theoretical before or that seemed too far off to cause immediate concern.

This would be the impending, irreversible ecological catastrophes brought on by the wanton and unrestrained use of fossil fuels that began with the rise of modern industry and that has accelerated mightily in recent decades. The United States is not by any means uniquely culpable for this, but it has done more than its fair share.

If humankind has a future after Trump, and if there are historians in it, they may well find that the crimes of commission and omission that followed from his and his party’s pernicious climate change skepticism did the most harm.

The clock is running, but there is still time to get onto a better track. To that end, the next general election – now less than eleven months away – is critical. It will be our best and perhaps our last chance to deal Trumpism a decisive blow.

If Trump himself is still around, it will also be our best chance to rid ourselves of him once and for all, and to mete out to him, and to everyone who collaborates with him, the justice they deserve.

It will also be our best chance in the foreseeable future to make radical change happen, to make life better for the vast majority, and to undo the conditions that made Trump or someone like him all but inevitable.

When he became president at the dawn of the Great Recession in 2009, Barack Obama could have changed the world for the better, but he muffed a rare historical opportunity, and the consequences continue to resound.

Were it not for Obama et. al., we would not now have Trump et. al. Ironically, though, thanks to Trump and his kakistocratic minions, the next president will inherit an even greater historical opportunity than Obama did.

He or she can expect fierce “bipartisan” opposition, but there is good reason to think that a President Sanders would be able to avoid following Obama’s example, and at least some reason to think that a President Warren would as well. At least, unlike Obama, neither of them would be on the wrong side, Wall Street’s side, from Day One.

However, for anything good to come of the opportunities ahead, supporters of “a return to normalcy” must be resoundingly defeated, and illusions about how “moderation” would bring on bipartisan comity must be nipped in the bud.

Pelosi can go to hell too — and she can take her solemn black dresses, her prayerful demeanor, and her theatrical posturing with her, along with the rest of the Democratic Party’s leaders.

What is needed now, as the impeachment crisis unfolds, is not solemnity but joy over the prospect of moving Trump out of the White House and, before long, into one or another Club Fed. And, in the electoral arena, as the Democratic Party selects candidates for 2020, what is needed is emphatically not the same old, same old but the insurgent spirit of “the squad” and of those who think like them. We could do with some action in the streets as well.

***

Greed runs rampant in ruling class circles, as do other character flaws; ignorance and stupidity, for example. Trump and his children are hardly outliers.

But there are also many in the ruling class or close to it who, like some fifty to sixty percent of the general public, hate Trump and Trumpism with all their heart, soul, and might.

Good for them! However, when it comes to wanting to keep the Democratic Party on the wrong side of the class struggle, the vast majority of them, including many of the most vehement Trump-haters, are standing at the head of the line.

Meanwhile, the pundits are hard at it, pulling out all the stops — trying to convince potential Democratic voters that, notwithstanding an abundance of polling data suggesting the opposite conclusion, only a moderate can defeat Trump.

That the gods keep holding back the next, long overdue recession is not helping matters. What kind of “deal” did Trump make with them for that “quid pro quo?” Did he agree to sacrifice his last-born son? Or Tiffany?

But corporate media are worse even than gods “making playthings of us all.”

According to the story they tell, Democrats who oppose Sanders and Warren are not exactly against universal healthcare, the green New Deal, student loan forgiveness, free tuition at public colleges, universities, and vocational schools, taxes that diminish income and wealth inequality, and so on. They are just not for such radical departures from the old, familiar ways because, they assure us, they have to be to send Trump packing.

For progressives to get anything useful done, they have to be what Hillary Clinton called “pragmatic progressives.” They are as sure of that as they are that the sun will rise tomorrow. The trouble with that way of thinking, though, is the trouble with pragmatism generally, according to a quip of the late Sidney Morgenbesser, the John Dewey Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University: “that while it may be true in theory, in practice it just doesn’t work.”

Dewey was the greatest, or one of the greatest, pragmatists ever; I would imagine that, if she took it, Clinton had trouble in Philosophy 101.

No doubt, many, maybe most, Democrats do sincerely believe that defeating Trump is what their support for Biden or Buttigieg or whomever is about. They may think, as a pundit on CNN put it, that, in America, a sociopath will beat a socialist every time.

The truth, though, is that for them, deep down, whether they realize it or not, someone, anyone, who supports the continuation of the role the Democratic Party has always played in sustaining the old regime, trumps pretty much anyone who does not.

Even as they would prefer a Biden or a Buttigieg, they would, if it came down to it, prefer even someone as odious and unfit as Trump himself to someone who, if elected would make a serious dent in the wealth and power of the ruling class.

Support for the old regime is what the moderation they champion is all about. Moderates will accede to cosmetic changes, of course; if need be, they will even go beyond that. But only, in the end, to keep everything the same.

Thus, their media have effectively lowered a “cone of silence” over Sanders and, to a lesser degree, Warren, while militating against progressive challengers to retrograde Democratic incumbents in the House and Senate.

Not wanting in any way to follow the lead of the very worst of the moderates corporate media are currently cheering on, the one once known as “Plagiarism Joe,” I note that I owe the cone of silence reference to one of my favorite TV shows of all time, “Get Smart.”

Sticking with that theme, I would also confess that, of all the moderates who met the DNC’s criteria for participating in the last televised debate, the one held at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, the only one I find significantly more bearable than Jim Jordan or Devin Nunes or Ted Cruz or, for that matter, anyone despicable enough to run on the Republican line, is Amy Klobuchar.

I say this despite the fact that she advertises her moderation more shamelessly than the others, and that her politics generally is the worst of the lot – except Plagiarism Joe’s.

I used to think that I must have a weakness for “Minnesota nice,” or maybe just for Minnesota –since, it seems, she may not actually be all that nice. There have been press reports to that effect, and nothing I could see in the debates suggested otherwise.

But then, having “Get Smart” in mind, I realized that I like her best because she reminds me of Simon the Likeable, the KAOS agent who was so sweet and unassuming that he could get away with anything, no matter how heinous, because no court would convict him, even for the most grievous crimes.

**

So there we have it.

After almost three years of Trumpian rule, it has come to this. The worst American president ever, along with a bunch of embarrassingly servile flunkies, are calling the shots; while the opposition party’s establishment is working overtime to stifle changes that would undo the conditions that made Trumpism all but inevitable.

How surprising is it, then, that a TV classic from half a century ago would shed more light on the 24/7 reality TV show we are now living through than the feckless columnists and pundits corporate media inflict upon us.

Under Trump, absurdity reigns; not just the ordinary garden variety, but an absurdity of unprecedented intensity and scope. We are positively awash in it.

Unless this changes before the Democrats again make a major mistake in their choice of a nominee, then while we may get rid of Trump in a years’ time, true de-Trumpification will be indefinitely postponed – with consequences potentially as calamitous as any that would follow from another Trump victory.

The time finally to break free, to get smart again, is, since it cannot be yesterday, not even in the anything goes world that America has become in the Age of Trump, is ASAP, as soon as possible.

That would be when, as they say in Bidenese, the “malarkey” churned up by proponents of moderation is rejected and definitively laid to rest. We have had enough of it already, just as surely as we have had more than enough of the miscreant everyone whose head is screwed on right cannot wait to dispatch.

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Lennon in Havana

by: SUSAN BABBITT

Photograph Source: Joost Evers / Anefo – CC0

The anniversary of John Lennon’s death (December 8) was marked in Cuba. Criticism followed on social media: Cuba repressed Beatles music forcing kids under the covers. Abel Prieto and Guille Vilar, youth in Cuba at the time, say it’s not true. [1] But that’s not the point.

More useful, Prieto argues, is what happened to Lennon’s message in the US. One result, celebrated this past August, was the “existential explosion” of Woodstock. Prieto wonders why such a powerful experience did not end in effective resistance to hatred.

Cuba had no “existential explosion”, although Eusebio Leal uses such language. Leal has been city historian for Havana since 1967. When appointed, he had grade five education. He’s directed the restoration of Old Havana, world heritage site since 1982, celebrated at Havana’s 500th birthday.

Asked how he did it, Leal says the revolution “exploded” into his impoverished life. He and his single mom were Christians and he still practises. He is philosopher, although never trained, formally. He’s received awards and recognition from around the world.

The Cuban Revolution didn’t exactly “explode”. Leal was awarded his PhD in History for work on Carlos Manuel de Cespedes.[2] Cespedes freed his slaves in 1868, initiating a war. The 1959 revolution started there, even before. Cespedes was a philosopher, a fascinating one, as Leal explains.

Many such revolutionaries were philosophers. They discovered ideas explaining actions that couldn’t be explained within existing theory. If you act, and can’t explain, at least to yourself, you feel crazy. You can’t sustain direction.

At a Party Congress in 1997, Fidel Castro said direction was everything. He didn’t say getting it right was everything, although it matters. Charles Darwin didn’t get it all right, but he defined direction. He raised questions that led to explanation of what previously had not been explained, and that needed to be explained, to understand what needs to be understood to move forward: in a direction.

“Existential explosion” needed explanation, to define direction. Martha Ackman’s wonderful new book on Emily Dickinson shows a way.[3] We meet an engaged, active Dickinson whose home was the “wild terrain of the mind”. She wanted her poems to be true, so that a poem does indeed convey the sense of the bird. That her poems were called true was praise she valued most.

Early on, as a student, “Emily wanted to stare [the unknown} down and walk straight into the abyss”: truth. She never shied away from “looking anguish in the eye“. It was her “dominion over misery“. She saw in the dark, that is, she saw things in the dark: life.

Today the only “dominion over misery” is “light at the end of the tunnel”. In an early poem, Dickinson writes, “We grow accustomed to the Dark – Either the darkness alters – Or something in the sight adjusts itself to Midnight.” And so, we see life.

It links her to Cespedes. He saw in the dark. Dickinson thought there could be truth, not just about birds, but about the sense of a bird. Thus, she applies a criterion connected to the world. Some feelings are true as regards what is lived and can be lived. Some are not so true.

It’s mind/body connection. Feelings, sometimes, are from the world, indicative of how it is, or might be. But many want “light at the end of the tunnel” and only that.

I was reminded of this by Javier Cercas’ Lord of all the Dead. [4] Cercas writes about his great uncle who died for Franco. His death was “seared into my mother’s imagination in childhood as what the Greeks called kalos thanatos: a beautiful death.” Like Achilles, he lives on.

By the end of Cercas’ compassionate story, the great uncle is no longer a symbol of shame but rather a “self-respecting muchacho“ lost in someone else’s war. But Cercas tells the story for the sake of telling the story. That’s what he says. The story must be told because it’s better than to “leave it rotting”.

It can’t, for instance, be a story explaining what needs to be explained , such as the “silent wake of hatred, resentment and violence”, left behind by the war. Cercas can’t make this claim. “Silent wake” is a metaphor. It can’t be fact. Cercas sets these in opposition, repeating it, four times: Legend is unreliable, dependent on people, “volatile.” Facts are something different: “safe” and “brutal”.

Mercifully Dickinson didn’t have this view. Otherwise, her poems couldn’t be true. Cercas is in the sordid grasp of an old story, separating the personal from the objective, as if the latter is achievable only if freed of the former. “Beautiful death” is the same story: human beings apart from nature.

It makes freedom from decrepitude worth speculation. And speculate Cercas does. He ends with immortality. Nobody dies, we learn; we’re just transformed, physically, living in an “eternal present”.

It’s better to see in the dark, not with silly views about “hope” but by finding stories that explain direction. To say science and art are connected is not to say they are the same thing. Unless you imagine how the world might be, even if it can’t be that way, you don’t ask why it is the way it really is.

John Lennon sang about this. Europeans pulled apart art and science, in a false view of truth and knowledge, linked to a false view of human beings in nature.

Cuba tells a different story. So does Dickinson.

Cuba didn’t repress Lennon’s message. It explains it, in art and philosophy. Eusebio Leal is part. The beauty of Old Havana is the beauty of the ideas that explain its stunning restoration. Ideas explaining what needs to be known, for a direction that can be lived, with dignity, have claim to truth.

They’re not stories for the sake of stories: European liberalism’s hidden recipe for despair.

Notes.

1) http://www.cubadebate.cu/opinion/2019/09/27/la-cebra-que-le-hemos-hecho-a-lennon/#.Xf4JnUdKiM8 

2) Carlos Manuel de Céspedes : el diario perdido (Havana: Ediciones Boloña, 1998). 

3) These Fevered Days W.W. Norton & Company, 2020. Review forthcoming https://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/ 

4) Translated by Anne McLean, Alfred A Knopf, 2020. Review forthcoming https://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/ 

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The Early Warning Signs of Boris

by JOSH WHITE

There is a new day in British politics, or so we’re told. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has just got his Brexit deal through the House of Commons. He has revealed part of his agenda for government after winning a historic election.

The Conservative campaign was devoid of content beyond ‘Get Brexit done’. However, Johnson has pledged to reform the bloated civil service and expand the powers of the executive at the cost of the judiciary and Parliament. Outside these changes, Johnson has promised to raise health-care funding and infrastructure investment.

The Johnson era will likely be more One Nation Tory than full-blooded Thatcherite since it has to satisfy a new chunk of voters. The Conservative government is now in the unusual position of holding sway over much of the English North and the Midlands.

The so-called ‘red wall’ of Labour seats – including many constituencies that had been Labour for as long as they have existed – was bulldozed in one cold December night. But there is no guarantee these seats will stay blue forever.

“You may only have lent us your vote, you may not think of yourself as a natural Tory,” Johnson said in his victory speech. “Your hand may have quivered over the ballot paper before you put your cross in the Conservative box, and you may return to Labour next time round.”

“If that is the case, I am humbled that you have put your trust in me and you have put your trust in us,” the PM added.

It’s not impossible to imagine these seats returning to Labour once Brexit is ‘done’. Johnson knows he has a small window to rush through legislation to lock-in Northern support. This is why Johnson was quick to announce an £80 billion ($104 billion) investment plan for infrastructure in the North and the Midlands.

The most radical part of Johnson’s agenda remains Brexit, but he can’t run on this alone. So the National Health Service was a key focus in the Queen’s Speech, where Johnson sought to cull the threat of the Labour Party in the North once and for all.

This is also because the right-wing Brexit deal will fail to deliver national renewal. The fantasy is that the European Union stands in the way of much greater prosperity and free trade, even a free-market utopia where individuals rise and fall according to merit.

In reality, the UK will take a hit in its growth rate and the capitalist class will face the loss of business-friendly European directives. The era of British finance is living on borrowed time and Brexit will only make its demise more likely.

The good news is that Tory Brexit will fail on its own terms. The bad news is that the UK will pay the price for it, not the British ruling class and its favourite jester Boris. The future looks bleak, but the future is still to be fought over and won.

The shapeshifter

All of these policy announcements suit the Boris style. The man is anything but a conviction politician and much more of a shapeshifter than his predecessors. He went from free-market libertarian to metropolitan liberal Tory to populist Brexiteer in the space of 15 years.

Johnson started out as a journalist and was fired for making up a quote. He would later edit The Spectator and commission such esteemed writers as Taki Theodoracopulos – a defender of the Wehrmacht and Holocaust deniers like Ernst Nolte.

Max Hastings, who used to edit Johnson’s work at The Daily Telegraph, put it succinctly: “I would not trust him with my wife nor – from painful experience – my wallet.”

“It is unnecessary to take any moral view about his almost crazed infidelities, but it is hard to believe that any man so conspicuously incapable of controlling his own libido is fit to be trusted with controlling the country,” Hastings said.

During the Blair years, Johnson was a critic of the New Labour government and its infringements on civil liberties. This was after he was fired from the Conservative shadow cabinet for lying about an affair. Fortunately, his schoolyard friend-cum-rival David Cameron found a job for him to do – London Mayor.

Naturally, Johnson ran as a liberal Tory and frequently praised multiculturalism and open borders. He would heap praise on bankers one minute and embarrass David Cameron the next by decrying the housing crisis as ‘Kosovo-style social cleansing’.

When it came to Brexit, Johnson dawdled and wrote two articles before coming out for Leave. Tory grandee Ken Clarke was filmed bad-mouthing the candidates during the 2016 Conservative leadership election. He singled out the phony Leave candidates in particular.

“I don’t think either Andrea Leadsom or Boris Johnson are actually in favour of leaving the European Union,” said Clarke. “It was the obvious thing that the voters, i.e. Conservative Party members, were going to vote Leave.”

Today, Johnson is often compared to Donald Trump despite his past efforts to distance himself from the billionaire. It’s now an open secret that the Tory government is looking to cut a trade deal with the Trump administration – putting the NHS on a plate for US multinationals to gouge for fat profits.

Yet the lack of a coherent worldview is exactly what Johnson has in common with Trump. If there is a core to Johnson’s worldview, it’s a streak of ruthlessness and nastiness that runs through his life story. The same can be said of ‘The Donald’.

The Tory establishment has good reasons to distrust Boris Johnson. As traditionalist conservative Peter Hitchens said of Johnson: “I have always quite liked him, but I wouldn’t ask him to look after my cat for a weekend, let alone put him in charge of a medium-sized nuclear power.”

The British establishment has overcome its trust issues with Boris. The man has won a huge majority and the Tory Party will never cease thanking him for it. He will be seen as the man who saved the party and returned it to the glory days of the Iron Lady, but only if he can hold it together for the next five years.

The new regime

The Johnson era has only just started, but it’s increasingly clear what will define the years ahead. The new regime favours a slight relief from austerity, new constraints on democratic freedoms and greater executive powers.

The UK can expect voter ID checks to become compulsory and a round of boundary changes to cut down the number of constituencies. Both of these changes will help reinforce the Conservative majority. Meanwhile Parliament will lose the power to hold the executive accountable in trade talks with the EU.

Although capitalism is leaner and meaner than it was in 2010, the British ruling class can afford to cash in on cheap debt and shore up support for the system. However, this does not mean the UK will see an economic boom. The engine of growth is running on fumes. This is why the NHS will be on the platter for US businesses to pick over.

Sadly, the Leave voters don’t care as much about these issues as they do about national sovereignty and strong border controls. Some people are so disillusioned they don’t believe it’s possible to reverse decades of deregulation and privatisation. This is the state of nature for many voters. The system should work, if it weren’t for those foreigners.

This is why Johnson has pledged to ‘create’ an Australian-style points based immigration system. This will effectively impose skill tiers on EU migrants coming to the UK. It’s worth mentioning that Gordon Brown introduced the points system for non-EU nationals in 2008. So this is merely the extension of the same immigration system.

Nevertheless, the popular narrative around UK immigration policy is that the country has seen wave after wave of uncontrolled immigration for decades. These border controls have discriminated in favour of certain migrants (particularly wealthy, highly educated migrants) for more than 10 years and the numbers have not fallen.

The purpose of the points-based system was never to reduce immigration, but to create tiers of disciplined labour and privilege the rich over the poor. The flow of cheap labour will have to keep going because the UK economy is still stagnant and will be for many years to come.

The British economy is defined by low taxes for the rich and low wages for the poor. Finance and services are the two biggest sectors, while the country suffers from low productivity and remains dependent on imports from the EU and elsewhere.

The only way to get through Brexit would be to implement radical social democratic policies and reconstruct the industrial base of the country. A weak pound could have been an opportunity for an export boom, but the UK destroyed its industrial base long ago.

There is no chance of the UK’s fortunes being reversed with Boris Johnson in power. He has managed to consolidate support for Brexit and use it to keep his class in power over the population for another term at least. All we can do now is look for ways to fight back – whether in Parliament or in the streets.

Posted in UK0 Comments

The Early Warning Signs of Boris

by JOSH WHITE

There is a new day in British politics, or so we’re told. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has just got his Brexit deal through the House of Commons. He has revealed part of his agenda for government after winning a historic election.

The Conservative campaign was devoid of content beyond ‘Get Brexit done’. However, Johnson has pledged to reform the bloated civil service and expand the powers of the executive at the cost of the judiciary and Parliament. Outside these changes, Johnson has promised to raise health-care funding and infrastructure investment.

The Johnson era will likely be more One Nation Tory than full-blooded Thatcherite since it has to satisfy a new chunk of voters. The Conservative government is now in the unusual position of holding sway over much of the English North and the Midlands.

The so-called ‘red wall’ of Labour seats – including many constituencies that had been Labour for as long as they have existed – was bulldozed in one cold December night. But there is no guarantee these seats will stay blue forever.

“You may only have lent us your vote, you may not think of yourself as a natural Tory,” Johnson said in his victory speech. “Your hand may have quivered over the ballot paper before you put your cross in the Conservative box, and you may return to Labour next time round.”

“If that is the case, I am humbled that you have put your trust in me and you have put your trust in us,” the PM added.

It’s not impossible to imagine these seats returning to Labour once Brexit is ‘done’. Johnson knows he has a small window to rush through legislation to lock-in Northern support. This is why Johnson was quick to announce an £80 billion ($104 billion) investment plan for infrastructure in the North and the Midlands.

The most radical part of Johnson’s agenda remains Brexit, but he can’t run on this alone. So the National Health Service was a key focus in the Queen’s Speech, where Johnson sought to cull the threat of the Labour Party in the North once and for all.

This is also because the right-wing Brexit deal will fail to deliver national renewal. The fantasy is that the European Union stands in the way of much greater prosperity and free trade, even a free-market utopia where individuals rise and fall according to merit.

In reality, the UK will take a hit in its growth rate and the capitalist class will face the loss of business-friendly European directives. The era of British finance is living on borrowed time and Brexit will only make its demise more likely.

The good news is that Tory Brexit will fail on its own terms. The bad news is that the UK will pay the price for it, not the British ruling class and its favourite jester Boris. The future looks bleak, but the future is still to be fought over and won.

The shapeshifter

All of these policy announcements suit the Boris style. The man is anything but a conviction politician and much more of a shapeshifter than his predecessors. He went from free-market libertarian to metropolitan liberal Tory to populist Brexiteer in the space of 15 years.

Johnson started out as a journalist and was fired for making up a quote. He would later edit The Spectator and commission such esteemed writers as Taki Theodoracopulos – a defender of the Wehrmacht and Holocaust deniers like Ernst Nolte.

Max Hastings, who used to edit Johnson’s work at The Daily Telegraph, put it succinctly: “I would not trust him with my wife nor – from painful experience – my wallet.”

“It is unnecessary to take any moral view about his almost crazed infidelities, but it is hard to believe that any man so conspicuously incapable of controlling his own libido is fit to be trusted with controlling the country,” Hastings said.

During the Blair years, Johnson was a critic of the New Labour government and its infringements on civil liberties. This was after he was fired from the Conservative shadow cabinet for lying about an affair. Fortunately, his schoolyard friend-cum-rival David Cameron found a job for him to do – London Mayor.

Naturally, Johnson ran as a liberal Tory and frequently praised multiculturalism and open borders. He would heap praise on bankers one minute and embarrass David Cameron the next by decrying the housing crisis as ‘Kosovo-style social cleansing’.

When it came to Brexit, Johnson dawdled and wrote two articles before coming out for Leave. Tory grandee Ken Clarke was filmed bad-mouthing the candidates during the 2016 Conservative leadership election. He singled out the phony Leave candidates in particular.

“I don’t think either Andrea Leadsom or Boris Johnson are actually in favour of leaving the European Union,” said Clarke. “It was the obvious thing that the voters, i.e. Conservative Party members, were going to vote Leave.”

Today, Johnson is often compared to Donald Trump despite his past efforts to distance himself from the billionaire. It’s now an open secret that the Tory government is looking to cut a trade deal with the Trump administration – putting the NHS on a plate for US multinationals to gouge for fat profits.

Yet the lack of a coherent worldview is exactly what Johnson has in common with Trump. If there is a core to Johnson’s worldview, it’s a streak of ruthlessness and nastiness that runs through his life story. The same can be said of ‘The Donald’.

The Tory establishment has good reasons to distrust Boris Johnson. As traditionalist conservative Peter Hitchens said of Johnson: “I have always quite liked him, but I wouldn’t ask him to look after my cat for a weekend, let alone put him in charge of a medium-sized nuclear power.”

The British establishment has overcome its trust issues with Boris. The man has won a huge majority and the Tory Party will never cease thanking him for it. He will be seen as the man who saved the party and returned it to the glory days of the Iron Lady, but only if he can hold it together for the next five years.

The new regime

The Johnson era has only just started, but it’s increasingly clear what will define the years ahead. The new regime favours a slight relief from austerity, new constraints on democratic freedoms and greater executive powers.

The UK can expect voter ID checks to become compulsory and a round of boundary changes to cut down the number of constituencies. Both of these changes will help reinforce the Conservative majority. Meanwhile Parliament will lose the power to hold the executive accountable in trade talks with the EU.

Although capitalism is leaner and meaner than it was in 2010, the British ruling class can afford to cash in on cheap debt and shore up support for the system. However, this does not mean the UK will see an economic boom. The engine of growth is running on fumes. This is why the NHS will be on the platter for US businesses to pick over.

Sadly, the Leave voters don’t care as much about these issues as they do about national sovereignty and strong border controls. Some people are so disillusioned they don’t believe it’s possible to reverse decades of deregulation and privatisation. This is the state of nature for many voters. The system should work, if it weren’t for those foreigners.

This is why Johnson has pledged to ‘create’ an Australian-style points based immigration system. This will effectively impose skill tiers on EU migrants coming to the UK. It’s worth mentioning that Gordon Brown introduced the points system for non-EU nationals in 2008. So this is merely the extension of the same immigration system.

Nevertheless, the popular narrative around UK immigration policy is that the country has seen wave after wave of uncontrolled immigration for decades. These border controls have discriminated in favour of certain migrants (particularly wealthy, highly educated migrants) for more than 10 years and the numbers have not fallen.

The purpose of the points-based system was never to reduce immigration, but to create tiers of disciplined labour and privilege the rich over the poor. The flow of cheap labour will have to keep going because the UK economy is still stagnant and will be for many years to come.

The British economy is defined by low taxes for the rich and low wages for the poor. Finance and services are the two biggest sectors, while the country suffers from low productivity and remains dependent on imports from the EU and elsewhere.

The only way to get through Brexit would be to implement radical social democratic policies and reconstruct the industrial base of the country. A weak pound could have been an opportunity for an export boom, but the UK destroyed its industrial base long ago.

There is no chance of the UK’s fortunes being reversed with Boris Johnson in power. He has managed to consolidate support for Brexit and use it to keep his class in power over the population for another term at least. All we can do now is look for ways to fight back – whether in Parliament or in the streets.

Posted in USA, ZIO-NAZI0 Comments

Trump’s Executive Order on Anti-Semitism: A Category Mistake

by:  LAWRENCE DAVIDSON

Photograph Source: Master Steve Rapport – CC BY 2.0


Trump and the Constitution

It is a pretty sure thing that President Donald Trump is ignorant of what is in the U.S. Constitution and, in any case, does not care much about what the document says. Take the idea of freedom of speech as set down in the First Amendment. Does he understand the importance of this amendment? Actually, it would seem that the only freedom of speech he finds sacrosanct is his own, expressed almost daily in angry, often rambling “tweets.” Those frequent missives hardly make the man a model of critical thinking and, as it turns out, for the price of some special interest’s political support, President Trump is willing to tell us all that we must believe the opposite of what is true. If we don’t, he will take away some federal benefit. Trump is by nature both authoritarian and simple-minded—not an unusual combination.

Confusing Categories

It was in this simplistic frame of mind that, on 12 December, President Trump issued an executive order directing the federal government to deny funds to universities and colleges that allow alleged anti-Semitic speech on campus. Well, the reader might respond, such an order is understandable because we know that anti-Semitism is a particularly vicious form of racism. And so it is. The mistake here is to assume that President Trump actually knows how to recognize genuine anti-Semitism, so as not to confuse this expression of bigotry with its opposite: the support of human, civil and political rights—in this case, those of the Palestinians. Now, the reader might ask, how could anyone confuse these two categories: on the one hand, the support of an oppressed people’s rights and, on the other, racist anti-Semitism? It helps if you are ignorant, amoral and opportunistic.

And so, with the encouragement of the Zionist lobby, a particularly powerful lobby dedicated solely to the interests of the Israeli state, President Trump, who is in fact ignorant, amoral and opportunistic, based this executive order on a logical fallacy—a category mistake. He identified protests against Israeli state behavior with anti-Semitic racism and declared that any university or college that allows the former (say, by permitting criticism of Israel for its violent suppression of Palestinian rights) is to be found guilty of the latter (anti-Semitism), and therefore is not to receive federal funds.

A Zionist Project 

Working for the purposeful confusion of anti-Semitism and the support for Palestinian rights is a Zionist project. It should be emphasized that the Zionists who carry this project forward are not, like the president, ignorant or confused. They know what they are doing. And that is why this effort constitutes a tragedy of the highest order not only for the Palestinians, but for the Jewish people as well.

After World War II every sane individual knew that racism, particularly racism expressed through state power, was bad news. The consequences of such empowered bigotry was there to see across the world: Japanese behavior in China, Korea and Southeast Asia generally, along with German behavior throughout occupied Europe, constituted the worst examples. They resulted in the deaths of tens of millions—among them six million Jews. That is why as early as the late 1940s, an expansion of international law and the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights sought to make such behavior criminal, particularly when carried out as the policy of governments.

As it turned out, those resolutions constituted direct obstacles to the Zionist goal of a “Jewish state” in Palestine. The Zionist conquest of Palestine in the military campaigns of   1948 and 1967, was followed by the systematic narrowing or outright denial of the human, civil and political rights for Palestinians. In the case of Palestinians residing in Israel proper, the racist policies and practices were often obscured behind a facade of benign-sounding declarations that, more often than not, had little impact on minority rights. No such facade was adopted within the Occupied Territories. In this way racism became an essential tool for achieving Zionism’s goal of ethnic exclusivity.

So how do you rationalize this behavior? Even though Ashkenasi (that is, European) Jews have been one of the most persecuted groups in Western history, it was not hard for the Zionists to see their own racist behavior as necessary. Founding a state first and foremost for one group, in a territory already occupied by hundreds of thousands of “others,” easily led to discriminatory policies and practices. It also led to indoctrination of Israeli Jews and their diaspora supporters through the distortion of the history of conquest and colonial occupation. The inevitable resistance of the Palestinians, even when non-violent, became labeled as lawlessness at best and terrorism at worst. In this sense, Israeli society has mimicked not only the apartheid sentiments of South Africa, but also the culture that prevailed in the United States before the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

Exporting the Fallacy

Yet it was not enough for the Israelis to convince their own Jewish citizens that Zionist racism was righteous self-defense and support of Palestinian rights the equivalent of anti-Semitism. This logical fallacy had to be pushed on Israel’s primary ally, the United States. And, at least in the halls of power, this effort has been remarkably successful, probably because the Zionist lobby has a lot of money to help or hinder ambitious American politicians.

However, outside of those halls, the effort has been exposed for what it is: a dangerous reversal of categories that threatens to turn the clock back on much of the post-World War II progress in political, civil and human rights. As the growing popularity of the boycott Israel movement (BDS) has shown, American citizens, both Jewish and non-Jewish, have an increasing ability to see the reality of the situation. A survey released in mid June 2017 by an organization known as the Brand Israel Group, “a coalition of volunteer advertising and marketing specialists” who consult for pro-Israel organizations, indicated that “approval of Israel among American college students dropped 27% between the group’s 2010 and 2016 surveys” while “Israel’s approval among all Americans dropped 14 points.” Brand Israel’s conclusion: in the future, the U.S. may “no longer believe that Israel shares their values.” This is the case not because of any big increase in anti-Semitism, but due to ever-growing evidence of Israeli racism.

One reaction to this increasing popular clarity of vision is President Trump’s executive order. If, in this case, colleges and universities do not enforce the Zionist logical fallacy, they loose federal money.

Conclusion

Governments do not have a very good reputation for telling their citizens the truth. For instance, just this month it was made known that the U.S. government and military misled the American people about the ability to achieve victory in the Afghan war—a conflict that has been going on for 18 years. The same thing occurred during the Vietnam War. However, it is one thing to withhold information, or downright lie about a situation, and another to urge a population to swallow the category contradictions Trump and the Zionists are peddling. There is something Orwellian about that. It is no mistake that it is the brightest of college students, those who are actually overcoming ignorance and practicing the art of thinking straight, who are most put off by this propagandistic tactic.

As for those Zionist students who claim that protests against Israeli policy and behavior on their campus make them feel uncomfortable, or even unsafe, they might try to learn something from those feelings. After all, it’s the closest they will ever come to the much more profound feelings of anxiety and danger that Palestinians feel every day, in their own homes, neighborhoods and campuses as well. So which category do all of us want to defend—the category of state-sponsored racism or the category of human, civil and political rights? Just be sure not to confuse one for the other.

Posted in USA, ZIO-NAZI0 Comments

The Afghan War: A Failure Made in the USA

The US-made mess in Afghanistan has much to do with its failed policies and shoot-first-ask-questions-later attitude.

by: Ahsan I Butt

Such a cavalier approach to the use of deadly force permeates American behaviour among citizens, between citizens and the police, as well as between the military and other states, raising questions about US society beyond the ambit of foreign policy. (Photo: Veronique de Viguerie/Edit by Getty Images)

Such a cavalier approach to the use of deadly force permeates American behaviour among citizens, between citizens and the police, as well as between the military and other states, raising questions about US society beyond the ambit of foreign policy. (Photo: Veronique de Viguerie/Edit by Getty Images)

Last week, the Washington Post published a six-part investigative series on the United States‘ war in Afghanistan, based on thousands of government documents the newspaper procured.

The paper has shone a light on the disjuncture between what has been occurring on the ground in Afghanistan and what successive American governments have been saying about it. It has highlighted the strategic drift that has marked the US engagement with what was once considered the “good war” but is now the war that just will not end.

Most of all, these documents reveal that the failure of Afghanistan is mostly made in the US—something those who have closely observed the conflict knew all along.

Pakistani perfidy, Afghan avarice

Officials quoted in the Washington Post investigation repeatedly blame Pakistan and its partners in Afghanistan for undermining their war effort.

In taking Washington’s dollars but supporting its opponents, Pakistan certainly played a double-game, one whose effects were especially felt in the mid-2000s, when the Taliban was on the defensive. Pakistani aid and sanctuary ensured that the Taliban would have the space to regroup physically, politically, militarily, and organisationally.

Washington insiders, while correct in their descriptions of Pakistan’s policies as duplicitous, are prone to exaggerating their implications as the most important factor in the war. Even if Islamabad had done exactly what Washington wanted, US forces would still have strained to pacify a rural-based insurgency with as few troops as the Bush administration had in Afghanistan.

For most of Bush’s presidency, the US had 10,000-20,000 troops in Afghanistan. This was a paltry commitment when juxtaposed with the administration’s stated goals. After all, the US had roughly 150,000 troops in Iraq during Bush’s second term and, in more direct comparison, the Soviets had more than 100,000 soldiers occupying Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Furthermore, this relatively light American presence in Afghanistan was aimed not just at fighting but also building hospitals and schools, digging irrigation canals, directing traffic, and cooking.

What about the lack of a credible, popular, and competent ally on the ground? From the perspective of many officials, the roots of US failure in Afghanistan lie exactly there—within Afghan society. There are two main variants of this argument.

First, the corruption of Hamid Karzai, the warlordism of his governor allies, and the wider kleptocratic system that Americans found themselves against never gave the occupation a chance. Widespread corruption undoubtedly played an important role in delegitimising the governments the US set up in Kabul – first Karzai’s and then Ghani’s.

But Washington made its own bed on this score: it chose to centralise power in Kabul despite Afghanistan’s political history being marked by relatively autonomous regions and provinces, and it chose to do so in the person of Hamid Karzai. It also chose to solve problems in Afghanistan by throwing money at it.

As the New York Times sensationally reported in 2013, American fingerprints could be found all over Karzai’s behaviour. The CIA, invoking B-grade action movies, was delivering duffel bags of cash to Karzai’s office for distribution to his allies. The Obama administration also looked the other way as Karzai ballot-stuffed his way to re-election in 2009.

Second, alongside the major problem of corruption, US officials considered Afghans too uneducated, too undisciplined, and essentially too backward to mould into a fighting force worthy of a sovereign state. According to the Washington Post, interviewed sources “depicted the Afghan security forces as incompetent, unmotivated, poorly trained, corrupt and riddled with deserters and infiltrators”.

It is true that the Afghan rank and file suffered from illiteracy and observed cultural mores very different from what GI Joes and Janes were accustomed to. Nonetheless, it hardly seems fair to blame Afghan recruits if they could not read aircraft repair manuals or if they confused urinals for drinking fountains, as some American officers have claimed.

The Afghan forces’ petty corruption or their attacks on coalition troops were admittedly a much bigger problem. But even here, it stretches credulity that smuggled fuel and around 150 casualties can defeat a hegemonic superpower. Rather, there were bigger forces at play. 

American failure

Pakistan may have been an unhelpful ally and Afghanistan may have been an unruly client – pesky foreigners with their own world views, agendas, and customs – but the central causes of American failure in Afghanistan were located in the US. Most importantly, the George W Bush administration, whose neoconservative foreign policy was dictated by the triumvirate of Vice President Dick Cheney, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary of Defence Paul Wolfowitz, made two fateful choices that doomed the US effort.

First, the decision to invade Afghanistan was more an emotional response aimed at satisfying the collective psychological need for revenge for the 9/11 attacks than a result of careful strategic consideration. As one writer puts it, American decision-making in the aftermath of 9/11 seemed rooted in “a kind of irrational, all-encompassing, post-traumatic breakdown”.

Understandably, the US leadership felt it needed to engineer a military response to the gruesome attacks of 9/11. But in the autumn of 2001, the Bush administration did not adequately think through the precise aims of military action in Afghanistan.

Officially, the war that began in October 2001 was aimed at eliminating al-Qaeda as a threat. As a corollary, this meant a government in Kabul that would deny that terrorist organisation sanctuary. Could the Taliban be such a government? The US seemed to believe that because Taliban leader Mullah Omar had not taken a sterner line against al-Qaeda during the late 1990s, that he could not be relied upon to do so post-2001.

This was a reasonable but tragically flawed line of thinking. It was reasonable because the US had made several overtures to the Taliban before 9/11 to abandon Osama bin Laden and force him out of the country, most likely back to Saudi Arabia, where he would face that regime’s particular form of justice.

On the other hand, it is instructive that the Washington Post series quotes national security leaders like Jeffrey Eggers, diplomatic officials like Zalmay Khalilzad, and academic experts like Barnett Rubin to exactly that effect: the US could indeed have reached a deal with the Taliban had it adopted a more accommodationist course.

And while it was one thing to avoid talks with the Taliban, the Bush administration went much further, rejecting agreements that the Afghan government itself struck with the Taliban in 2001 and 2004 that conceivably could have ended major combat 15 years ago.

Simply put, the Bush administration failed to weld negotiations to its military strategy. About five years later, President Barack Obama’s administration would repeat the same mistake of not contemplating negotiations seriously enough.

Rubin, who worked under Secretary Hillary Clinton at the State Department, argues that the Obama administration’s reluctance to reach out to the Taliban was a product of her impending presidential run, and the attendant need to demonstrate her militaristic bona fides to an electorate suspicious of women’s perceived “softness” on national security.

In addition, Obama’s timeline for withdrawal of US forces, almost universally panned in the documents, was similarly born of domestic political calculations, since he wanted his 2012 re-election campaign to be inoculated against any backlash to his 2009 troop “surge”.

Aside from these major errors, Obama’s exclusive focus on al-Qaeda was also anachronistic – such a strategy might have worked in 2001, but by the 2010s, the Americans were facing a different war than the one they started with.

The ‘side war’

Just as fateful as the confusion over the mission in Afghanistan, and the degree to which the Taliban was to be designated an enemy with whom negotiation was possible, was the decision to invade Iraq.

In general, the Beltway does not like to talk much about the Iraq war when it comes to its failures in Afghanistan because it was an entirely unforced error that cannot be laid at the feet of conniving Pakistani generals, corrupt Afghan elites, thuggish warlords, Islamist extremists, backstabbing soldiers, or buffoonish police.

The Washington Post’s series only briefly delves into the question of Iraq, but the tranche of documents it released paint a bigger, and uniform, picture: Iraq represented a severe diversion.

In the documents it released, James Dobbins, a diplomat and special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan during 2013-14, is quoted as saying. “First, you know, sort of just invade one country at a time.” He explains that until roughly 2005, Iraq took attention away from Afghanistan; after that point, it began to take resources too.

Echoing Dobbins, Douglas Lute, the White House “Czar” for Afghanistan between 2007 and 2013, said that the Bush administration’s “attention would break down to about 85 percent on Iraq and 15 percent on Afghanistan, or maybe even 90 percent attention on Iraq and 10 percent attention on Afghanistan”.

David Richards, a British general who led NATO in 2006 and 2007, stated plainly: “The US was sending the best minds and resources to Iraq.” Most ominously, at the time that the Taliban was militarily resurgent in the mid-2000s, the Bush administration was pushing NATO to take the lead because “the US had too much on their plates”.

The idea that the US should have fought one war at a time is well-taken, and the level of self-criticism displayed in these documents is laudable. Nevertheless, the critiques of the Iraq war are striking for not going nearly far enough.

The basic premise seems to be that the biggest problem with invading Iraq was that it diverted resources for war-fighting. Conspicuous by its absence, at least in these documents, is any sense of the regional and global implications of an aggressive war where the US invaded a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 and that had not threatened it.

These included the loss in sympathy, soft power, and political capital the world over, in many cases most sharply in NATO countries. In addition, the slogan that the US is at war with Islam – popular with both Islamists and Trumpist Republicans – became much harder to debunk.

Most significantly, the documents betray no collective reckoning with why the Iraq war was fought. The Bush administration attacked Iraq because it believed that merely attacking Afghanistan would not sufficiently demonstrate the might of its military and the toughness of its resolve to the rest of the world.

Indeed, rather than the “good war” monicker the Afghanistan conflict has been cloaked with since its inception, it was ironically the “not good enough” war. A bigger bang was needed to show the US meant business.

Both the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq stemmed from a shoot-first-ask-questions-later attitude, one especially prevalent among neocons but shared by a significant cross-section of the “respectable” foreign policy establishment. Such a cavalier approach to the use of deadly force permeates American behaviour among citizens, between citizens and the police, as well as between the military and other states, raising questions about US society beyond the ambit of foreign policy.

Posted in Afghanistan0 Comments

Rudy Giuliani Asks Not To Be Called Anti-Semitic Right Before Saying, “I’m More of a Jew Than [George] Soros”

“This is, uh, extremely anti-Semitic.”

by: Eoin Higgins,

Rudy Giuliani, former New York City mayor and current personal lawyer for U.S. President Donald Trump, speaks to members of the media during a White House Sports and Fitness Day at the South Lawn of the White House May 30, 2018 in Washington, D.C.

Rudy Giuliani, former New York City mayor and current personal lawyer for U.S. President Donald Trump, speaks to members of the media during a White House Sports and Fitness Day at the South Lawn of the White House May 30, 2018 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani told New York Magazine reporter Olivia Nuzzi in an interview published Monday that he was more Jewish than billionaire George Soros—who lost family in the Holocaust—and that Soros was a “horrible human being.”

“Don’t tell me I’m anti-Semitic if I oppose him,” Giuliani said. “Soros is hardly a Jew. I’m more of a Jew than Soros is.”

Giuliani, currently the personal attorney of President Donald Trump, made the comments during an afternoon with Nuzzi on Sunday, December 8. The pair drove around New York City, stopping at the Mark Hotel on the Upper East Side for Bloody Marys, and discussed a number of issues including the former mayor’s business dealings in Ukraine, which are under investigation. 

“If they think I committed a crime, they’re out of their minds,” said Giuliani. “I’ve been doing this for 50 years. I know how not to commit crimes.”

It was the topic of Soros, however, that got the mayor talking. 

According to Nuzzi:

As we sped uptown, he spoke in monologue about the scandal he co-created, weaving one made-up talking point into another and another. He said former ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, whom he calls Santa Maria Yovanovitch, is “controlled by” George Soros. “He put all four ambassadors there. And he’s employing the FBI agents.” I told him he sounded crazy, but he insisted he wasn’t.

“Don’t tell me I’m anti-Semitic if I oppose him,” he said. “Soros is hardly a Jew. I’m more of a Jew than Soros is. I probably know more about—he doesn’t go to church, he doesn’t go to religion—synagogue. He doesn’t belong to a synagogue, he doesn’t support Israel, he’s an enemy of Israel. He’s elected eight anarchist DAs in the United States. He’s a horrible human being.”

That remarkable passage spurred a number of observers to note Giuliani’s comments were overtly anti-Semitic.

View image on Twitter

“Giuliani arguing that he is ‘more of a Jew’ than a literal Holocaust survivor is the logical conclusion of Trumpist Jews’ argument that liberal and left wing Jews (the majority of American Jews!) are not really Jewish,” tweeted Atlantic writer Adam Serwer.

Other critics wondered what kind of media coverage Giuliani’s comments would receive.

Mehdi Hasan@mehdirhasan

I predict the latest anti-Semitic comments from inside of Trumpworld – Giuliani saying he’s more of a Jew than Soros, as Soros isn’t really Jewish! – will get 1-tenth of 1% of the coverage that Ilhan Omar’s remarks about AIPAC (which didn’t mention Jews at all, remember!) got.4,0806:43 PM – Dec 23, 2019

“Has Rudy Giuliani lost his mind?” wondered former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti.

Miram Elder, reporter for BuzzFeed Newssummed up the mayor’s comments by citing the reason for the season. 

“Happy Hanukkah!” Elder tweeted.

Posted in USA0 Comments

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