Archive | May 17th, 2020

House Passes $3 Trillion Relief Package, But Progressives Say More Must Be Done

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi walks past the Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol on May 15, 2020, in Washington, D.C.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi walks past the Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol on May 15, 2020, in Washington, D.C.

BYEoin Higgins

Common Dreams

The Democrat majority House of Representatives passed a massive, $3 trillion coronavirus relief stimulus package known as the HEROES Act roughly along party lines on Friday night despite progressive concerns over the bill’s provisions.

“The truth is that while a significant step in the right direction, the bill does not go far enough to provide urgently needed economic relief to the millions of people who lost their income and whose families are now standing in food lines,” Ana Maria Archila, co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy, said in a statement Friday. “We must fight for legislation that upholds their dignity and protects their lives.”

The relief package, which was a priority of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), was passed after hours of debate and amendments throughout Friday. The bill was the subject of intense back and forth among progressives, with the need for more economic relief being weighed against the legislation’s giveaways to big business and the rich.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal@RepJayapal · May 16, 2020Replying to @RepJayapal

The crisis Americans are facing will not end on its own. We must beat the virus. To beat the virus, we must keep people home. To keep people home, we must make sure they get their paycheck, can access their health care, and don’t feel pressured to return to work before it’s safe.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal@RepJayapal

While this legislation has some good elements, it ultimately does not achieve that. And it fails to match the scale of this crisis. We can and must do better.

We must give people real relief and certainty before this crisis gets worse—because if we fail to do so, it will.2573:10 AM – May 16, 2020Twitter Ads info and privacy59 people are talking about this

The final bill includes $1 trillion in relief aid to states and localities, extends unemployment benefit enhancements to the end of January, and provides another one-time $1,200 stimulus payment to every American. The package also includes legislation to stop overcharging prisoners for phone and internet as well as extending food stamp funding and protecting the Post Office.

But, as The Nation’s Robert Borosage reported, the bill was meant to send a clear message to the Democratic Party’s progressive wing:

The real message in the bill was sent not to Trump but to progressives inside and outside Congress. With Congress dispersed, Pelosi and her committee chairs maintained iron control of what went into the bill. And the message to progressives was clear: Not yet. No to recurring cash payments. No to guaranteed paychecks that would keep workers off unemployment, despite Representative Pramila Jayapal’s success in gaining widespread support for the proposal across the caucus. No to Medicare paying the health care costs of the unemployed. No to a jobs guarantee. No to a moratorium on rent and mortgage payments. No to student debt forgiveness. No public ownership stake in companies that are bailed out. No prohibition of corporate mergers or greater protection against private equity predators’ picking the bones of weakened companies. No major green infrastructure initiative.

Journalist Andrew Perez pointed to the bill’s bailout of lobbying firms as an example of the HEROES Act’s shortcomings and the priorities of Democratic leadership.

“There are some decent things in the stimulus bill,” Perez said, “but progressives should never accept voting for garbage like a special loan fund for the lobbying groups that fight every single piece of their agenda, from Medicare for All, to a Green New Deal, to any and all worker protections.”

Democratic Policy Center@DemPolicy

BREAKING: House Democrats voted tonight for a stimulus bill that would bail out huge lobbying groups, hours after we reported that lobbying group PACs have donated $191 million to current members of Congress. The fight isn’t over. (1/6)5262:40 AM – May 16, 2020Twitter Ads info and privacy285 people are talking about this

Jayapal (D-Wash.) was a “no” vote on the package, citing in a column for Common Dreams the bill’s lack of a paycheck protection guarantee, universal healthcare, and small business protections.

The congresswoman, the only progressive in the House to vote against the final package, wrote that the bill was ultimately insufficient to meet the needs of defeating the disease:

Congress must be honest with ourselves and with our constituents: The historic public health and economic crisis Americans are facing will not end on its own. We must beat the virus. To beat the virus, we must keep people home. To keep people home, we must make sure they get their paycheck, can access their health care and don’t feel pressured to return to work before it’s safe. That’s the only way that we can give the American people real relief and certainty before this crisis gets worse—because if we fail to do so, it will.

Progressive advocacy group Indivisible’s national policy director Angel Padilla acknowledged those shortcomings while generally praising the bill’s passage.

“We support this bill but admit it still contains major room for improvement, particularly in protecting paychecks and expansions to health care coverage,” said Padilla. “We will continue to fight for those improvements while working to ensure its strong provisions remain intact when the bill meets the Grim Reaper in the Senate.”

People’s Action echoed calls for more relief, saying in a statement that the package’s deficiencies made it clear Congress would need to return sooner rather than later to pass more relief for Americans in a “true People’s Bailout.”

“That would include cancelling rent and mortgage payments for the duration of the crisis; enrolling the uninsured into Medicare and ensuring everyone in the U.S. can access healthcare if needed; and direct cash payments lasting until the economy recovers,” the group said. “We will continue to push elected officials to include these priorities in this and future relief packages.”

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Exploiting Pandemic, Trump Admin Weighs Banning Immigration Indefinitely

A Customs and Border Protection agent is seen wearing a face mask as a preventive measure to avoid the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus, at San Ysidro crossing from Tijuana, Baja California state, Mexico, on April 23, 2020, on the U.S.-Mexico border.
A Customs and Border Protection agent is seen wearing a face mask as a preventive measure to avoid the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus, at San Ysidro crossing from Tijuana, Baja California state, Mexico, on April 23, 2020, on the U.S.-Mexico border.

BY: Sasha Abramsky

Truthout

Earlier this week, the Trump administration started hinting that the president’s “temporary” ban on immigration, rushed into effect in late April as a part of the pandemic response, was about to be extended indefinitely.

With the country entirely preoccupied by the public health and economic catastrophes, and with protest all but impossible given the dangers of congregating in large crowds, Trump’s team has, apparently, decided to seize the moment and lock down the country in a way that even the most restrictive, nativist policies of the 1920s and the quota era in immigration never did.

The rationale will apparently be a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declaration that immigration poses a public health risk during the pandemic — despite the fact that fully one third of the world’s cases now are within the U.S.; that an immigrant is far more likely to contract COVID-19 once he or she arrives in the country than to bring the disease into the country themselves. And once such a declaration is made, Trump will, if the reports are correct, then ban all immigration until such time as the CDC head declares the public health crisis over — a formula that will, in effect, give Trump unlimited power to shut the U.S. off from the rest of the world for so long as he remains in the White House.

It is an extraordinary power grab, the true emergence of rule by diktat rather than by legislation. In one fell swoop, while our attention is elsewhere, this action threatens to turn the U.S. into a closed society that not only shuns economic immigrants, that not only blocks family unification, but that also no longer pays even lip service to the notions of asylum and of refugee resettlement — ideas that are utterly central to the rules-based international system.

Now, it’s not as if we haven’t had fair warning that such vile policies were in the offing. After all, from his first day in office, from that ghastly “American carnage” inauguration speech that ushered in the Trump era in all its shattering, coarse brutalism, in all its racism and institutionalized cruelty, Trump has been steadily ratcheting up the anti-immigrant rhetoric. When the history books are written, Trump’s years in office will be seen as a Black Book of anti-immigrant atrocities, from the Muslim travel ban to family separation, from the imprisoning of children to the parading of unaccompanied toddlers before immigration judges, from the wanton assault on Temporary Protected Status and on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, to the decision to start deporting asylum seekers back to supposedly safe third countries — such as Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala — that have some of the highest murder rates in the world.

And that was all pre-pandemic. In the last few months, with the COVID-19 crisis spiraling out of control, Trump’s team seems to have hit on a strategy of relentless bashing-the-foreigner in lieu of a coherent and effective strategy to tame the pandemic stateside and to stanch the economic bleed that has come about from shelter-in-place measures intended to slow the disease’s spread.

Back in late January, when the world was hoping against hope that the coronavirus outbreak could be contained within China, the administration barred flights from China, and prohibited entry into the country of most Chinese nationals as well as others who had recently transited through China. In March, in a series of seemingly improvised responses as it became clear the virus was going global, the lockout and lockdown was ratcheted up. First, flights from Europe were banned. After that, the land borders with both Mexico and Canada were sealed. And finally, on April 21, at the urging of Stephen Miller, Trump’s Svengali of xenophobia, a “temporary” 60-day ban on all immigration was announced.

In reality the “total” ban was actually far less restrictive – allowing the spouses of green card holders to enter, as well as those with visas for skilled work and temporary employment in essential services such as agriculture. And, as a temporary measure, it was, in fact, largely symbolic, the throwing of red meat to Trump’s xenophobic base: With global air travel largely grounded, with consulates and embassies shuttered, and with most countries having locking down their own borders, it was highly unlikely there was going to be a rush of new immigration this spring.

Yet, even in its watered-down form, it remained an extraordinary moment: The U.S., at presidential behest, was closing itself off from the rest of the world.

Ostensibly, the rationale for this completely unprecedented move was a public health one. But Trump immediately telegraphed the real reason, tweeting out that he didn’t want immigrants competing with Americans for jobs – and implicitly attempting to shift the blame for the economic implosion from his administration’s startling mishandling of the crisis onto the backs of immigrants, of poor people, of people of color.

This was, clearly, xenophobic twaddle. It made no economic sense and no public health sense. But it did telegraph to Trump’s supporters that he was ramping up his nationalism to heights previously only dreamt of by small internet cadres of “accelerationists,” fascist groupings that have been strategizing online about using the crisis to push their nationalist, anti-democratic vision, and who believe the pandemic presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to mold the world to their white supremacist ideology.

Under cover of the public health emergency, at Trump’s orders, the Border Patrol began summarily throwing back into Mexico thousands of people, including at least 600 children in April, who had sought asylum after being apprehended north of the border without papers. The impact has been entirely catastrophic: Since the lockdown, only two people – yes, you read that correctly – have been granted refuge after crossing the southern border and claiming asylum. Human rights groups report that many hundreds of those returned to Mexico and to Central America have suffered everything from rape and kidnapping to murder.

Meanwhile, at the state level, the rule of law is under perhaps the gravest threat from white nationalists and militia groups that it has faced since the Civil War. For weeks now, Trump has been tweeting about “liberating” states like Michigan and Pennsylvania – states with Democratic governors but with GOP control of at least one of the legislative chambers. Now, armed militias are taking him at his word.Trump has been urging paramilitary groupings to “liberate” states from their duly elected leadership. And now those groupings are taking to the streets.

In Michigan, for two weeks in a row, heavily armed militias have entered the Capitol building, and the governor is reportedly receiving countless death threats. On Wednesday, the GOP-controlled legislature chose to adjourn so as not to antagonize the heavily armed thugs who had threatened to take over their chamber.

Let’s not mince words here: Trump has been urging paramilitary groupings to “liberate” states from their duly elected leadership. And now those groupings are taking to the streets. That’s how armed, fascist, putsches start. Where the Nazis had their Munich Beer Hall putsch, Trump apparently wants a Michigan Bowling Alley putsch. And, since Trump has all the power of the presidency at his disposal, when he eggs on armed insurrection against elected officials, he is quite literally flirting with civil war — or, at the very least, regional civil chaos.

From the southern border to Lansing, Michigan, at the urging of the president of the republic, the rule of law is breaking down at a startling pace. We ignore this at our peril. No matter how preoccupied we are with lost jobs and a deadly virus, we cannot afford to ignore what is happening. Trump is using the fog of the pandemic to replace constitutional governance with one-man rule; to replace the rule of law by the rule of brute force. His accelerationist minions believe this is their moment, that they can use the crisis to permanently shut out poor and non-white immigrants, and that, with the presidential seal of approval, they can use force of arms to get their political way in states led by governors with whom they disagree.

There is no turning back from this dark road. The president is siding with armed insurrectionists in their opposition to public health regulations and to Democratic governors. He is siding with white supremacists in their efforts to seal U.S. borders and wither the immigration system. It is up to us to oppose them with every fiber of our being. If we do not, we shall end up complicit in the wanton wrecking of democracy.

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US University Leading COVID Response Leaves Black Workers Behind

Food service workers lead a socially distanced protest at the campus of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, on May 1, 2020.
Food service workers lead a socially distanced protest at the campus of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, on May 1, 2020.

BY: Jaisal Noor

Truthout

Despair and Disparity: The Uneven Burdens of COVID-19

On May Day, food service workers led a socially distanced protest at the campus of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, taking part in the international day of action to defend workers and highlight the disparate impact COVID-19 is having across the country. Donning masks, the workers read the names of their 188 colleagues who have been laid off amid the pandemic, 98 percent of whom are Black, according to UNITE HERE Local 7.

The demonstration comes as Johns Hopkins, a world-renowned medical and research institution, has mobilized its resources to combat the pandemic. The university had an estimated $4.35 billion endowment in 2019. Johns Hopkins University and Hospital have been helping lead the international response to COVID-19, from mapping its spread and tracking testing data, to developing a vaccine. But its lowest-paid Black employees say they feel like they have been left behind.

The dozen or so demonstrating workers demanded the university honor a promise to give laid-off workers four weeks’ pay. They cite negotiations with officials that resulted in a deal, from which the university abruptly withdrew.

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Over 33 million — or one in five — U.S. workers have filed for unemployment during the pandemic. State unemployment websites have crashed under the volume of claims. Many are ineligible or have not received their $1,200 CARES Act stimulus checks or unemployment benefits. Black and Latinx workers are more likely to work jobs impacted by lockdown orders, and 98 percent of UNITE HERE’s over 300,000 members, who work in food service and hospitality, have lost their jobs.

“Honor your commitment, you got the money,” said Alberta Palmer, an organizer with UNITE HERE Local 7, which represents Johns Hopkins workers, who are subcontracted through Bon Appétit, a food service management company.

“I’m disappointed in Hopkins,” said Ganesha Rouse, who has served food at the school for eight years. “We are always being mistreated by this university.”

“[The pandemic] hit all of us hard, and it’s hit the Black community even harder,” said Palmer. “For a lot of us, this is an economic pandemic as well.”

Food service workers at Johns Hopkins University read the names of their 188 colleagues who have been laid off amid the pandemic, 98 percent of whom are Black, according to UNITE HERE Local 7.
Food service workers at Johns Hopkins University read the names of their 188 colleagues who have been laid off amid the pandemic, 98 percent of whom are Black, according to UNITE HERE Local 7.

COVID-19 has ravaged Black communities, and not just in terms of the disproportionate rate of illness and death. The virus’s health impact is amplified by a century of discriminatory housing policies like segregation and red-lining, which denied wealth building opportunities to Black families and contributed to the nation’s racial wealth gap.“It’s particularly unconscionable for Hopkins to leave their workers out to dry as it’s presenting itself to be a leader of the struggle against the pandemic.”

“Compared to non-Black communities, wealth is not a protective factor for many ailments which exacerbate COVID-19,” said Lawrence Grandpre, director of research for Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, a Baltimore-based think tank. “Across the socio-economic spectrum, Black people are subject to disproportionate risk for obesity, high blood pressure, and heart disease, all preexisting conditions which create higher risk of morbidity for COVID-19.”

One in three Black households in Baltimore have zero net worth, and two in three face liquid asset poverty, or lack the savings to cover basic expenses for three months if they lose their jobs, a 2017 study by the think tank Racial Justice Now found. In Baltimore, African American median income ($33,801) was 50 percent lower than their white ($62,751) counterparts, and 59 percent of Black renters are rent burdened, meaning they pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing, according to the study.

“A lot of us [workers], we’re from Baltimore, and we don’t have a lot of resources,” said cafeteria worker Latifah Pearson.

Pearson says she’s still working, but her hours have been cut, and she expects to lose her job in the coming weeks.

Johns Hopkins says its planning to reopen its campus in the fall, but it has slashed spending across the board, and students say low-wage workers bear the brunt of the cutbacks and are campaigning to have them rehired.

“Ron Daniels, the president of Johns Hopkins University, took a 20 percent pay cut to move him from an income of $2.7 million to $2.16 million,” said Barae Hirsch, a senior studying sociology and international studies at the university. “Meanwhile, low-wage service workers are being laid off.”

Johns Hopkins students have a long history of organizing in solidarity with campus workers.

“It’s important for educators to stand with janitorial and food workers because the university could not operate without either of our labor. And janitorial and food workers should be paid to reflect that fundamental service” said Steph Saxton, a Johns Hopkins graduate student who attended the rally.

“It’s particularly unconscionable for Hopkins to leave their workers out to dry as it’s presenting itself to be a leader of the struggle against the pandemic,” said Corey Payne, a graduate student and organizer who has been working to support campus workers for the past five years.

There are growing calls for universities, especially those with large endowments, to avoid projected mass layoffs. Over 100 universities in the U.S. had endowments over $1 billion in 2019.

“Layoffs should be the absolute last option for universities and colleges, particularly those with significant endowments,” said Paul Weinstein Jr., director of the MA in Public Management program at Johns Hopkins University and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. “Schools should look at other approaches first, including delaying capital expenditures, cutting salaries for the highest-paid employees, suspending retirement benefits for one year and tapping into endowment funds when they legally can.”

Universities often face restrictions in how they are able to spend their endowments. But Weinstein says Congress could provide legal protections from donor lawsuits.

Beyond not laying off its predominantly Black workers, Grandpre suggests institutions that want to help address COVID-19 health disparities in Black communities might start by examining their own role in fomenting such disparities.

In the early 1950s, Johns Hopkins harvested the genetic material of Henrietta Lacks, an African American woman, without her consent. These cells became invaluable to medical research (such as the development of the polio vaccine), because they continued to multiply instead of dying off. Lacks’s contribution to science was only recognized after the publication of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Sloot.

Hopkins has also come under fire for knowingly exposing children to lead poisoning. It’s also been accused of gentrifying east Baltimore and displacing Black residents to expand its medical campus, which earned it the nickname of “The Plantation” by its Black neighbors, according to the 2018 book, Ghost of Johns Hopkins, by Antero Pietila.

“Encouraging early interventions and screening in the Black community won’t be effective until the fundamental power imbalances between the Black community and the medical establishment are addressed,” says Grandpre. “The reality is COVID-19 is simply speeding up and revealing the slow-motion epidemic produced by racism/white supremacy.”

Standing in front of the sprawling campus of one the U.S.’s wealthiest universities, workers are worried about their future.

Jenica Hudson, a cook who has worked at Hopkins for the past six years and was laid off in mid-March, says she was already living paycheck to paycheck before the pandemic.

“I do have savings, but it’s been depleted,” Hudson said.

She relied on family for help to pay rent on May 1. “I fortunately have a loving mother,” she added.

Hudson has been searching for new employment, but she fears the available opportunities, like a job at an Amazon warehouse, could put her and her family at risk.Institutions that want to help address COVID-19 health disparities in Black communities might start by examining their own role in fomenting such disparities.

In a statement, Johns Hopkins said it “remains steadfast in our commitment to our workforce. We regret that the slow-down in university operations and the university’s losses due to COVID-19 are necessitating some furloughs and lay-offs.”

Johns Hopkins argues it is unable to pay laid off workers because it could jeopardize their eligibility for CARES Act stimulus payments.

“We have not reversed course but instead have been exploring the most beneficial options for these valued team members through their employer,” Johns Hopkins said in a statement.

But UNITE HERE Local 7 President Roxie Herbekian disputes this.

“We offered to them several different ways that the workers could be paid that would not have interfered with any of their other benefits. And then they just stopped communicating with us completely,” she said.

UNITE HERE Local 7 did acknowledge a $15,000 donation from the Baltimore-based Research Associates Foundation, which provides small grants to support local progressive organizing. The union, which is continuing to cover worker’s health insurance, has yet not decided how to distribute those funds.

Workers say they have yet to receive any of the promised support from Johns Hopkins.

“For [Hopkins] to deny what they promised is a stab in the back,” Hudson said.

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Cuba’s Resilience Through Economic Crisis Prepared It for COVID Health Crisis

A woman wearing a face mask walks past a wall with drawings in a street of Havana on May 13, 2020, amid the coronavirus pandemic.
A woman wearing a face mask walks past a wall with drawings in a street of Havana on May 13, 2020, amid the coronavirus pandemic.

BY: Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan

Truthout

Despair and Disparity: The Uneven Burdens of COVID-19

In times of crisis, who we are is revealed. That is true of people and of nations. What COVID-19 has exposed — not created — is a deeply flawed and inequitable society. The truths of how race and class intersect to shorten the existence of some in our society are now laid bare for all to see. The collapse of structures that were barely holding on have revealed how inadequate they were to begin with. The failure of many states to prevent, protect against and help contain an illness that was known about for months shows how concerns over loss of capital took priority over our lives. And it is this capitalist approach to administering government that is perpetuating the same harms and ensuring a continuous crisis for communities most devastated by the pandemic of our lifetime.

Take my home city, New York, for example. The majority of deaths in New York have been people of color, immigrant communities, frontline personnel and low-wage workers. We have deemed certain workers “essential,” and yet we can’t agree to give them a living wage. These workers who make, serve and deliver our food were intentionally excluded by Congress from health care, workplace and paid sick leave protections. Medical personnel — many of whom have hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans and who live paycheck to paycheck — have been put on the front lines without adequate protection or resources, turning hospitals into morgues.

And yet there is another way to address widespread pandemics that focuses on the health, well-being and safety of all citizens, without being consumed by disaster exploitation or consumer fears. As a human rights lawyer, I can’t help but look to how other countries that incorporate a human rights framework and approach to governance are handling the crisis. As it turns out, I have had a chance to witness just that up close, since I’ve been in Havana, Cuba, since early March, when the virus began to be taken seriously throughout the world.

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Cuba’s 60-Year Crisis Preparation

I have been to Cuba many times, leading delegations of lawyers and law students primarily with the National Lawyers Guild, the nation’s oldest and only human rights bar association, to engage in comparative legal courses and conferences. That is why I recently came down, until the virus exploded and the borders closed.

Despite the economic, financial and commercial blockade that the United States has maintained against Cuba for nearly 60 years, it is remarkable to see how this small island nation continues to defend itself and its citizens in the face of crisis after crisis. I recall stories of the “special period,” when the Cuban economy nearly collapsed after the withdrawal of Soviet support. Perhaps, in some ironic and twisted way, that is precisely what has helped Cuba prepare for a pandemic. Cuba has lived a perpetual economic crisis since the blockade was imposed, far worse in many ways than the one the U.S. is entering now. Being prepared for (and even accustomed to) crisis means that the country is able to galvanize itself into action quickly, taking stock of the most essential aspects of its society’s needs and implementing measures to address them as they can. That comprehensive coordination is on display nightly in the evening news with the roundtable of cabinet officials that report out to the citizenry on the dozens of measures each department is taking to respond to the crisis.

The transparency and sense of mutual accountability that permeates the multitude of press conferences given by Cuban health and government officials throughout the day is reflective of a more profound value in Cuban society: This is a country that deeply understands what collective struggle means and how it is critical to the survival of all. Being in dialogue with each other about the actions everyone needs to take to ensure mutual safety and well-being is a daily conversation in Cuba. People share everything with each other: information, food, housing and transportation. Sharing is built into the very fabric of society and the essence of being Cuban. As the saying goes, Cubans don’t share what is left over, they share what they have.Health policy forms an integral part of the island’s foreign policy as it shares not what is left over, but what it has with the rest of the world.

On March 21, when the government announced over 200 measures being taken to respond to COVID-19 — including closing schools, border closings and requiring people to begin wearing face masks in public — it didn’t take long to begin to see within a matter of days nearly every Cuban walking in the street with a homemade face mask. Around the same time, daily commercials aired on television explaining to the public how they could make them and keep their masks sanitized, so they didn’t contaminate others in their households or on the streets. People took out their forgotten pair of pants, kitchen towels or old curtains and turned them into masks, for themselves and anyone else who needed one. Overnight, everyone it seemed, had a mask, and if you didn’t have one, someone was bound to give you an extra. Notably, it was around this time that the official position of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was still that face masks were not necessary in the United States. That position didn’t change until two weeks later on April 3, after thousands of people had already died.

Collective Crisis Can Only Be Met With Collective Struggle

Social distancing, while necessary, is not easy in low-income communities or countries where multiple people (or multiple families) often have to live together in cramped conditions. While undoubtedly social, Cuba is not a country where distancing comes easy; both because entire families live together under one roof and because the island’s culture is so intricately tied with social bonding, not separation. Cuba’s economy is built on solidarity and people’s very livelihood is contingent upon intricate cooperation. Most of the face masks that were made overnight were instantly shared with family and neighbors. These extensive social networks and solidarity that form the fabric of Cuban lives is actually what enables social distancing here, because people fundamentally understand that the needs of the collective — especially in times of crisis — must be placed above the needs of one. So, while the same balcony conversations between neighbors continue to take place, you may see their children hanging out for a bit in front of the apartment, but with their face masks on and at least six feet between them. And yet, while I doubt Cuba will ever become subdued, even to an invisible invasion, it is quite eerie to hear Havana so quiet these days. It is the one place in the world that I could never imagine tamed.

Undoubtedly, sheltering in place and remaining at home is challenging for everyone, and certainly some more than others. However, when there is a shared sense of purpose and responsibility for each other, the sacrifice is put into perspective. The days before measures were taken to restrict the amount of people in the streets or taking public transportation, it was already not unheard of to see Cubans reminding people on the street not to touch their face, or to have bottles of diluted Clorox solution at the entry of office and residential buildings, facilities, restaurants and even public transportation. While catching a taxi one day, an elderly man watched me skeptically as I touched my hair and immediately scolded me that hair was part of the forbidden places near the face that needed to be hands-free.

As I connect daily with my loved ones back in the U.S., in Puerto Rico or Colombia, what I see and hear are different realities. Undoubtedly in most places, what is emerging is deep mutual aid and solidarity networks and people are reaching out in ways perhaps we never have (or have had to), and checking in and making sure others are safe and healthy. The overwhelming majority of us are hunkering down, mindful of our human reaction chain, which is perhaps the first very real reminder that survival is a collective act. We are trying desperately to put the needs and lives of others not necessarily above our own, but on par with our own.

As obvious as it may seem to be to us now that there is no other way to survive, our societies have not always operated this way. The rugged individualism that has often been touted as a virtue of the United States is leaking through in dangerous ways. People in Michigan, Virginia and Minnesota have gathered on the streets in groups and in front of their state capitals to “protest” their governors’ orders to remain at home. They are gathering in groups, armed with heavy weapons and without face masks. Trump has called on them to “liberate” their states, undermining the public safety and health recommendations of his own administration and health experts. The behavior being modeled by the White House and sold as “Americanism” is never more glaringly apparent than when juxtaposing how Cuba behaves and understands survival in an increasingly globalized world, where none of us is an isolated agent and our collective existence requires collaboration, cooperation and solidarity. That is how Cubans have survived the longest running and most extensive economic blockade (rejected by nearly every country) by the world’s richest country for so long.

Health Care Is a Human Right in Cuba

This is a global health pandemic, and health care is something Cuba intricately understands. The right to health is a fundamental human right and is also guaranteed by the Cuban Constitution. Despite being a poor country, health care is universal and free to every citizen, including optional or purely aesthetic procedures. The island’s medical missions abroad are famous, with countries the world over requesting doctors to come to poor and rural areas where finding medical personnel willing to be stationed is often difficult. I have visited remote areas of Nicaragua and Venezuela where Cuban doctors were the only doctors in those towns tending to residents there and were the town heroes. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, at least 18 countries have asked for medical brigades of Cuban doctors to be sent, including Italy and Spain. Even in New York, Cuban-trained U.S. doctors work at places like Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Brooklyn or in the South Bronx, working daily to prevent more loss of life.

Medical personnel are finally being revered, even while working in health care systems that are spectacularly failing them and their patients. Just like in New York, here every night at 9:00 pm sharp, Cubans across the country open their windows, come out to their balconies and patios and begin applauding loudly for the life-saving work of medical personnel both here and abroad. It is an uplifting celebration that reminds us both why we are in our homes and also that there is still, always, hope. While here people gather to cheer, a couple of islands away in Puerto Rico, the rich tradition of cacerolazos (banging on pots and pans) continues every night at 8:00 pm to denounce the criminally negligent manner in which the local government there has been handling the outbreak. While in colonial Puerto Rico, people continue the protests started in the summer of 2019 in response to abandonment and corruption, an hour later, their sister island and closest ally shows the world what a responsible and coordinated approach to crisis can look like.

The right to health is not just guaranteed to Cubans, but health policy forms an integral part of the island’s foreign policy as it shares not what is left over, but what it has with the rest of the world. Cuba currently has a drug called Interferon Alfa-2B that is being used to treat COVID-19 and has been sent already to places like China and Italy, with 72 countries in total requesting it. Interferon Alfa-2B has shown positive results already in China and is listed by the Chinese Pharmaceutical Association as one of the top drugs to treat respiratory difficulties associated with COVID-19. As we speak, the country is working on a vaccine for the virus — a vaccine that residents of the United States, the epicenter of the virus — most likely won’t be able to access due to sanctions, despite Obama-era changes that allow the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to work with the island on scientific collaborations.

Even the UN Commissioner on Human Rights recently called on sanctions to be lifted against countries like Cuba that are fighting COVID-19, otherwise the already dire global outlook on the human toll of the virus may be prolonged and worsened as countries living under sanctions face the possibility of collapsed health care systems.

Early detection of cases has also played a critical part of Cuba’s strategy, including employing the island’s famous medical students as surveyors, going from house to house checking on people to see who has exhibited conditions of the virus. Every day we see them arrive and be greeted by residents who report with relief that they have not shown any symptoms. I can’t help but think of the over 4,400 New Yorkers who were estimated to have died in their apartments or nursing homes because they never made it to a hospital, or perhaps they were afraid to go because they wouldn’t have gotten tested anyway. Had medical students from the over 15 medical schools in New York City alone had protective gear and been able to visit at-risk communities, perhaps we wouldn’t be seeing images of mass burials on Hart Island in the Bronx.

When I left the U.S., there weren’t any cases of COVID-19 yet in New York. Despite this, there was no alcohol, hand sanitizer, aloe vera gel, toilet paper or pantry supplies at any pharmacies or stores. Massive hoarding began, along with fights in lines over who got the last jar of peanut butter. It’s true that in Cuba there are often long lines for food or medicine, particularly when shipments of medical supplies being donated by Chinese citizens on a Colombian airline aren’t allowed to arrive because of U.S. sanctions. Or when boats full of diesel or gas for Cubans to use in cooking or for collective transportation to get them to work that are brought in by other nations are stopped at the port because they receive a call from the U.S. government threatening sanctions under the illegal and immoral blockade. It inevitably makes for longer lines and more suffering — which, as it happens, is the goal of the blockade. The U.S. State Department has acknowledged that since the beginning, the blockade’s goal is to “deny[] money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.” That’s what makes it all the more ironic that when Cuba calls attention to the blockade’s intended effect in restricting the purchase of needed medical supplies, the State Department counters that it’s the Cuban government’s mismanagement of its economy that is the reason Cubans are suffering. Cuba’s economy is intentionally obstructed and designed by U.S. policy to promote the suffering of its citizens.

Cuba’s Example on Leading With Human Rights

What rings truer than ever for me in observing what a human rights-centered approach to crisis management can be, is that we are just in time to envision, demand and enact the world that we deserve, with a government that responds to health disasters as though they were just that and not as a national security response or a pretext to masquerade white supremacy as health policy. The demands for universal and affordable health care, safe workplace protections for all workers, a living wage, a worker-centered economy and dignified housing where we can shelter in place safely have begun to resonate beyond the centers of political campaigns and into the households of the 33 million Americans who filed for unemployment or who lost a loved one while waiting to be tested for COVID-19. The systems that are collapsing under the weight of human demand show us that they were never built to sustain the actual needs of all, rather just a few. Two-thirds of Cuba’s national budget goes to fund three areas: education, health care and social security. If the half of the federal stimulus package that went to corporate subsidies and bailouts for large restaurant chains instead helped sustain low-income workers, immigrant workers and medical personnel, we would be halfway there.

I come back to human rights principles and demands, as I often do when injustices abound and government’s negligence or abuse runs rampant over our lives. I dread to think about the havoc this crisis can wreak in Puerto Rico, where residents are still recovering from the devastating loss of life of Hurricanes Maria and Irma in 2017, and the series of earthquakes that left thousands in the streets just a few months ago. Or to think of the immigrant communities in Washington Heights, Hunts Point or Jackson Heights in New York, who have already been intentionally excluded from federal health care, worker protections and economic assistance. When disaster capitalism runs rampant over the most vulnerable communities who are struggling to stay in survival mode, what does a crisis response look like that centers the health and well-being of the worker who is disposable while their work is deemed essential?

For me, Cuba, yet again, serves as a point of reference for what is possible — critical even — for our collective survival. It ultimately will not be a stimulus package or “reopening” only of cities and states that will ensure our well-being. It will come once we center the needs of those most marginalized and vulnerable among us, and ask what it will take to save them that we will all live more dignified lives. And that is the greatest lesson Cuba has reminded me of: We can’t give workers and citizens what is left over after we have given all the corporate bailouts we have; we must give them what we have.

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Posted in CUBA, Health0 Comments

Workers in the US and Britain fight for workplace safety

Wildcat strikes and a high-profile resignation are highlighting the anti-worker essence of capitalist accumulation.

Proletarian writers

Unrest amongst Amazon warehouse staff in the US, long simmering, has come to a head over the company’s cavalier response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Workers at a warehouse in Shakopee, Minnesota walked out at the end of April when the bosses fired a workmate who stayed at home to protect her two children from the illness. Faiza Osman had worked for Amazon for nearly three years, and was acting in accordance with official company guidelines, which told workers to stay at home if they needed time off.

Over 50 workers took part in the Shakopee strike. Alarmed, local bosses hurriedly rescinded Osman’s sacking and tried to pretend that it had never happened.

This lightning strike came hard on the heels of strikes at other Amazon warehouses in Staten Island, Chicago and Detroit, in a wave of militancy which does not bode well for Amazon’s president, Jeff Bezos – one of the six billionaires currently owning as much wealth as that possessed by half the world’s population.

Amazon warehouse workers are showing that they are prepared to fight to defend their own safety. Minnesota workers in particular have led many such strikes in recent months, and in November won some concessions over working conditions.

The militant workers, many of whom are migrants from Somalia, are also struggling against Amazon’s decision to end its unlimited paid leave policy – just at a time when confirmed Covid-19 cases are escalating.

The leading role being played by migrant workers has its echoes in the leading role played by Irish workers in the earlier US labour movement.

Amazon’s warehouses are clearly a toxic environment, with more than 75 cases of the virus already reported in over half of its 110 warehouses. Workers complain that social distancing is not enforced, gloves and masks are not provided, nor even basics like hand sanitisers.

And when someone gets ill, the victim’s workmates are often the last to know. It can be days before management drops fellow workers the bad news via a casual text message, meanwhile leaving workmates in the dark about the possible implications for their own safety.

Amazon’s palpable failure to take seriously the health and welfare of its own employees is becoming the spark for the development of a significant wave of militancy. (Amazon reinstates fired warehouse worker after employees strike by Lauren Kaori Gurley, Vice, 28 April 2020)

Top Amazon ‘vice-president’ resigns

There are signs that even some senior management circles are getting nervous about the growing anger and confidence of the workforce.

One straw in the wind was the abrupt resignation on 1 May of Tim Bray, one of two dozen or so of Amazon’s grandly titled ‘vice-presidents’, each of whom is tasked with representing the interests of Bezos on earth.

This privileged worker, a gifted software engineer, at first got cold feet over the failure of the company to take its environmental responsibilities seriously, last year adding his signature to a letter scripted by Amazon Employees for Climate Justice (AECJ), asking the company’s shareholders to vote on a resolution calling for Amazon to clean up its environmental act.

The shareholders, zealously defending their profit margins, voted down the resolution, but a few months later, under pressure from Amazon tech workers who joined the one-day global climate strike, Amazon went into PR overdrive, pledging to “make the company part of the climate-crisis solution”.

However, whilst privileged workers like Bray could with impunity dip a principled toe into environmental activism, the political climate suddenly grew colder when the AECJ group had the temerity to involve itself in defending the struggle of warehouse workers over the life and death issues that came to the fore with the advent of Covid-19.

Bray explained: “Warehouse workers reached out to AECJ for support. They responded by internally promoting a petition and organising a video call for Thursday 16 April, featuring warehouse workers from around the world, with guest activist Naomi Klein.

“An announcement sent to internal mailing lists on Friday 10 April was apparently the flashpoint. Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, two visible AECJ leaders, were fired on the spot that day. The justifications were laughable; it was clear to any reasonable observer that they were turfed for whistleblowing.”

Happily for him, it seems that Tim Bray will be landing on his feet, with China’s Huawei said to be joining a queue of potential headhunters. But as Bray himself correctly noted, the only way forward for Amazon’s many ‘associates’ (wage slaves) toiling in the warehouses is by “increasing their collective strength”. (Bye, Amazon by Tim Bray, 29 April 2020)

Croydon University hospital

Meanwhile, back in Britain, cleaners and porters working at Croydon University hospital are similarly finding themselves forced to choose between flouting government instructions not to go to work with Covid-19 symptoms, or staying at home and starving.

Employees who phone in sick are not getting the full occupational sick pay, but only the statutory minimum of just £94 a week.

Porters and cleaners are not employed directly by the hospital trust but by the notorious outsourcing privateers of G4S. The company has predictably also been dragging its feet over the supply of even the bare minimum of PPE, despite the fact that Croydon is one of the London boroughs with the highest rate of Covid-19 infection. (G4S workers ‘cannot’ self-isolate on statutory sick pay, GMB, 30 April 2020)

Whether it’s G4S porters in Croydon or warehouse workers in Minnesota, the message is the same. The departing ‘vice-president’ put it succinctly: “Amazon treats the humans in the warehouses as fungible [easily replaceable] units of pick-and-pack potential. Only that’s not just Amazon, it’s how 21st-century capitalism is done.”

Meanwhile, for their part, the warehouse workers of Minnesota are usefully demonstrating for the rest of us just how the class struggle against exploitation is done.

Posted in USA, UK0 Comments

Covid-19: What is the coronavirus and is it a real threat?

Dr Ranjeet Brar takes a look at the medical aspects of the present pandemic, comparing Covid-19 to other viruses such as influenza and Sars.

Ranjeet Brar

Total confirmed Covid-19 deaths per million people, as of 12 May 2020.

Given the general, rising (and totally justified) levels of distrust in the British and US media and governments, it is not surprising to see a strong current of discussion on alternative media questioning all aspects of the official narrative regarding the coronavirus pandemic.

In this article, we address the most fundamental of these: whether Covid-19 is indeed a real pandemic that threatens human life on a vast scale, or is really just another flu whose threat has been magnified by imperialist states in order to disguise the causes of the economic crisis, justify a bailout of big business, and provide cover for passing yet another raft of repressive anti-worker legislation.

What is coronavirus?

A virus is an infective agent that hijacks the metabolism of the host cell to reproduce itself, and in so doing produces its symptoms. It consists of a protein coat, containing a few proteins and the genetic material to code for its reproduction (DNA or RNA). Those new viral particles are then released from the cell and expelled into the environment (to infect others) or go on to infect adjacent cells of like kind within the same organic tissue of that host (worsening the condition of the same).

Coughs, colds and the common flu are all airborne viruses. The coronavirus affects the upper airway and the lungs, producing fever, cough, aching joints and headache. For young and fit people, it may cause no symptoms whatsoever, but one may nevertheless infect others before getting symptoms, so its spread is difficult to control.

It is more dangerous than the flu, but its effects vary. The elderly, especially those over the age of 80, are most severely affected. Those with other illnesses (diabetes, heart and lung problems, immune problems and chronic medical conditions) are most affected. Men are more severely affected than women.

The sparing of the young and the relative sparing of women is most likely due to their relative under-expression of the ACE-2 receptor, which in the case of Covid-19 is the surface receptor protein by means of which the virus gains access to the lung’s cells. Around 5 percent of the infected population seem to develop a severe viral pneumonia, requiring oxygen, and a proportion of these will need ventilation in hospital to survive.

The virus seems to have originated in Wuhan, China – or at least, it was first identified as a new disease there.

The Chinese people and government have done an amazing job of combating the infection. They recognised the new virus, decoded its genetic structure and shared it with the world, and developed anti-viral medical treatment that is effective.

They threw up hospitals for those requiring oxygen therapy and for those requiring ventilation. Frontline medical staff heroically battled the virus. Extraordinary public health measures were taken to contain the virus, including testing 1.6 million people a day, rigorous contact tracing and isolation of infected and potentially infected citizens, providing sufficient ventilatory support and ITU beds, and closing down inter-state transport and social functions.

First appreciation of a novel virus

“In December 2019, a local outbreak of pneumonia of initially unknown cause was detected in Wuhan (Hubei, China), and was quickly determined to be caused by a novel coronavirus, namely severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The outbreak has since spread to every province of mainland China…”, and subsequently has been identified throughout the nations of the world. (The Lancet, 19 February 2020)

Charting the spread of Covid-19

The World Health Organisation (WHO), after declaring Covid-19 a global health emergency on 30 January 2020, went on to declare it a world pandemic, with Europe as the global epicentre on 12 March.

The Chinese government, collaborating with international institutions, including the WHO and Johns Hopkins university in the USA, initiated a coordinated global effort to share information about the epidemiology of the evolving outbreak. These widely available and daily updated figures chart the relentless spread of the virus across the globe.

In a matter of a few short weeks, the novel coronavirus transformed from a worrying but apparently distant ‘Chinese’ phenomenon into a major pandemic affecting the whole world.

Graphical depictions of the number of people being diagnosed with Covid worldwide, having tested positive, alongside numbers of people who have died from the disease, show that we are still in the exponential growth phase of the pandemic, with ongoing propagation of the virus throughout the world’s population. (Coronavirus hub on Worldometers.info)

Thus, at the present moment, all the public health measures taken – on a world scale – have failed to check its spread. Even the limited data available makes it clear that there are, however, individual national success stories – most notably in China itself, where the total numbers of cases have remained static at around 82,000 (0.005 percent of the Chinese population) owing to the extraordinary and timely public health measures put in place to contain it.

Notable for having mitigated the impact of infection to varying degrees, with respect to comparable neighbours, are VietnamKorea, Singapore and Germany. Vietnam, in fact, has been among the first countries to begin to lift its lockdown restrictions (on 23 April) having reported zero deaths and less than 300 cases of coronavirus since the first one was identified in January. (Vietnam starts to lift lockdown measures after no deaths reported by Kate Ng, Independent, 23 April 2020)

Scale of the problem

At the time of publishing almost 3.5 million cases had been diagnosed by testing worldwide. Of these identified sufferers, 248,000 have died and 927,000 recovered, with the majority of the test-diagnosed patients still having active disease, although the majority of these are reported to be mild (97 percent) and a minority critical (3 percent).

Almost a third of all proven cases are in the United States of America, which has now declared 900,000 cases and 50,000 deaths from Covid-19, with the epicentre of the US outbreak being New York, which together with its environs accounts for half of the initial US death toll.

Sordid details of an increase in unmarked burials of New Yorkers on the mass burial grounds of Hart Island have starkly illustrated the point.

Low levels of testing outside China – where an impressive 1.6m tests were performed every week – with the exception of the relatively small nations of Korea and Singapore, and the larger central European state of Germany (which has managed to test 160,000 of its citizens a week) , means that we do not have accurate data for the true spread of the disease, which is likely to be at least ten times more widespread than test-diagnosed cases indicate.

The fact that testing is expensive and relies upon the existing health, industrial and scientific infrastructure will also mean that we will perhaps never know the extent of the infection throughout much of the oppressed world. Again, this fact highlights the egregiously uneven development of global monopoly capitalism in 2020, in what can only be described as its decaying imperialist stage.

Impact in the ‘third world’

The obscene levels of poverty throughout the exploited world are well illustrated by the fact that “for many children in the global south – 85 million in Latin America and the Caribbean alone – school closures mean no more school meals. Which in turn (in some African households in particular) means an end to the only hot meal anyone among family members would get in a day.

“Already before the coronavirus crisis, more than 820 million people went to bed hungry. This is an enormous number to grapple with, not just morally but from a policy perspective. The world has, after all, committed to ending all forms of hunger and malnutrition by 2030.” (Coronavirus could worsen hunger in the developing world, by Dongyu Qu, World Economic Forum, 10 April 2020)

It is clear that the global monopoly capitalist order has no such intention, however, and in the conditions of world economic depression would not be able to do so even if it did want to.

“After the economic crisis came the virus itself. Africa, which had practically no cases a month ago, now has more than 7,000, with clusters of infections in almost every one of its 54 countries. Cases in Brazil alone quadrupled in the past week to more than 8,000.

“While that is still behind Europe and the US, the numbers are rising rapidly and public health experts worry the pandemic could tear through tightly packed slums and informal settlements in some cities.

“Nor do poorer countries have robust health systems. Africa is the worst off. Governments on the continent spend an average per capita of $12 a year on health compared with $4,000 in the UK, according to the OECD. ‘Everybody is talking about ventilators,’ says Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former Nigerian finance minister. ‘I hear some countries have less than 100.’

“Some experts hope that generally younger populations will limit the number of fatalities. Africa has a median age of 19.4 against 40 in Europe. Of the continent’s 1.2 billion people, only about 50 million are over 60. In India, the median age is 27. In Latin America, 31.

“There is also speculation that the virus might spread more slowly in hot and humid climates, though evidence for this is patchy. Set against that are the number of people who are malnourished or whose immune systems are compromised by HIV and other conditions, especially in Africa.

“That could mean the death rate is actually higher. Bill Gates has warned that 10 million people could die in Africa if the virus is not contained, while Imperial College London have estimated the global death toll – which at the moment is under 60,000 – would have reached 40 million had the world not responded.” (Threat of catastrophe stalks developing world by David Pilling, Jonathan Wheatley, Andres Schipani and Amy Kazmin, Financial Times, 3 April 2020, our emphasis)

So it is not Covid in isolation that is causing the misery; it is simply compounding it. Nor is the criminal impoverishment of humanity a matter of chance. The wealth of the monopolists is built upon the systematic robbery of billions of workers across the globe, and, in turn, upon the colonial legacy of the wealthy imperialist nations.

Global finance capital and its so-called ‘development’ banks (the IMF and World Bank) enforce the national debt trap under guise of ‘relief’ and demand the further stripping of national assets in a process that endlessly compounds an already dire situation.

Keeping resource-rich nations in a subordinate position, maintaining their financial subordination and the ongoing plunder of their resources, was the reason for decades of war in Congo, for the wars on Libya, Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone, the stubborn sanctions enforced against Zimbabwe, the war on Yugoslavia, the Orange revolution and coup in Ukraine, and, of course, the wars and campaigns being waged throughout the middle east: in SyriaAfghanistanIraq and Iran.

This domination of the global capitalists is the essence of all injustice in our world today.

Covid-19 is extremely contagious.

Seasonal influenza – aka the flu – is about as infectious an agent as we are used to dealing with, and that spreads rapidly because every person who has it is likely to give it to just over one other person, hence it keeps rolling on through the population. It also mutates its surface markers, or antigens, so that it continues to be active against people who have previously contracted flu in a slightly different form.

The number of people to whom each infected individual passes on a virus is known to epidemiologists as the reproductive number – denoted R0.

Covid-19 has differing rates of infection dependent upon the societal conditions it experiences. Data from the period before the limiting of population movement, migration and intercourse – from before the lockdown – showed that each person with Covid-19 was likely to pass it on to as many as two to six others, with an average over differing studies of 3.3 +/-1. This, together with the fact that it is an entirely novel strain of virus, to which there is no pre-existing immunity in the world’s population, accounts for its rapid transmission. [1]

Moreover, there is a latent phase during the period after infection but before the appearance of any symptoms, during which one is still able to infect others, and which may last anywhere from 2 to 14 days.

The difference between these numbers is significant. If R0 = 1 then by the time ‘patient zero’ has passed the infection on, person to person, ten times, or to the tenth generation of infection, ten people have been infected. If R0=2, over a thousand are infected (210). If R0=3 then there are almost sixty thousand (310) who have been infected. If R0=4 the numbers infected by the tenth generation of spread will reach one million (410).

How severe is Covid-19 infection?

This question is still not decided; the picture is incomplete and continues to emerge. What is clear is that the spectrum of clinical severity of the novel coronavirus infection is broad.

Corona viruses, or coronaviridae, are not new. They circulate widely in human and animal populations and clinical consequences tend to be trivial. The common cold is caused by corona and rhino viruses, for example. Indeed, evolutionarily this is the case because a virus that kills its host will be less successful at reproduction and passing to another host than one that does not, and is therefore less likely to persist. That is why viral diseases like Ebola, for example, tend to have sporadic outbreaks and then die down.

The presenting symptoms of Covid-19 vary widely, from being almost asymptomatic to a mild disease causing cough, fever, sinusitis-like symptoms including headache and a feeling of pressure or being ‘blocked in the head’, often accompanied by lethargy, fatigue, muscle and joint aches, abdominal pain and diarrhoea, and even ‘anosmia’ (an inability to smell or taste food) in isolation.

Sars

What makes this virus different from other coughs, colds and the flu (an orthomyxovirus) is its ability to spread into the cells of the lung tissue – the lining or ‘endothelium’ of the broncheo-alveolar (airway) tree – and cause a severe lower respiratory tract infection – hence the prefix ‘Sars’, which stands for severe acute respiratory syndrome.

This pneumonia causes characteristic patchy, ground-glass shadowing on X-Rays and CT scans and can progress to affect the entirety of the lungs, causing what is known as ‘white-out’ – the lungs being filled with inflammatory exudate that severely decreases their ability to oxygenate the blood. A near equivalent non-infective condition termed ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome) is seen in a variety of other severe medical conditions, and is known to carry a very high mortality.

Dr Roberto Cosentini, an emergency physician at Papa Giovanni hospital in Bergamo, Lombardy, at the heart of Italy’s coronavirus outbreak, describes Covid-19 as a “viral pneumonia”, which is a useful way of thinking about it. When this pneumonia progresses, a proportion of patients – perhaps as many as 5-10 percent, will need hospital admission for oxygen therapy, and a subset of these may need ITU care and invasive ventilation, involving the use of an artificial mechanical ventilator.

The risk of developing severe infection is greatly increased in people over the age of 60 and mortality rates are markedly increased in the over-80s – rising to perhaps as high as 14 percent. But given that the median age of the UK population is 40.5 years, this still represents a high-risk population of tens of millions of Britons. Those with comorbidities including diabetes, obesity, hypertension and cardiovascular disease, cancer or other immunosuppressive conditions are also high-risk groups.

If one further considers that diabetes (4 million afflicted in the UK) and obesity (60 percent of women and 70 percent of men in the UK are overweight or obese) are themselves at epidemic proportions in our population, such are the poor nutritional standards of Britain’s food industry and our absence of preventative healthcare measures, it is not hard to see that the British population is at great risk of infection.

Conversely, children are virtually spared of morbidity (there are a few exceptions, but reported deaths have all been among children with chronic diseases), and a young 20- or 30-year old without any illness faces little risk of mortality (perhaps 0.2 percent or less), although as we have seen this is not zero, and they can certainly be severely enough affected to require hospitalisation and ventilation.

Previous severe outbreaks of coronaviridae – the 2002 Sars and 2014 Mers (middle east respiratory syndrome) outbreaks – were both zoonotic coronaviruses – that is, they had their origins in animal diseases to which humans proved susceptible. Both had a much higher propensity to cause this severe viral pneumonia (Sars) and a much higher death rate (10 percent and 34 percent respectively), but their saving grace was the fact that they did not spread easily from person to person, as we now know that Covid-19 does, principally in respiratory droplets and to a lesser degree aerosols. [23]

Of almost one million (947,317) diagnosed cases that had a recorded outcome at the time of writing (mid-April 2020), 755,526 recovered, while 191,791 had died. That means that currently on a world scale, the percentage of people who have been test-diagnosed and proven positive for Covid-19 but died rather than recovered is running at more than 20 percent. Deaths as a percentage of total test-positive diagnosed cases is lower at 7 percent.

Considering that the world influenza pandemic of 1918-19 is considered to have a case fatality rate of just 2 percent, and caused 50-100 million deaths worldwide, this is a hugely alarming figure, but is also likely to be wildly inaccurate.

The best estimates of true mortality rate remain those that came from Wuhan, the capital city of the Hubei province in China, where the novel coronavirus was first identified and brought under control.

True mortality rate of Covid-19

On the basis of figures from Wuhan, the WHO has used a crude estimate of mortality rate from China to be 3.4 percent. Chinese clinicians point out that with improved testing, care and public health measures, that rate fell to 0.7 percent.

It is widely believed by epidemiologists that the true case fatality rate is between 1 and 2 percent. If this is correct, an unchecked spread of the virus could cause massive death tolls in Britain and across the world – in excess of 150 million worldwide deaths if 80 percent of the world’s population were to be infected.

In Germany, a random sampling of 500 subjects from the population in one particularly hard-hit municipality (Gangelt, near the border with the Netherlands, which following a carnival had an increased number of cases), showed that 2 percent of residents were actively infected by the coronavirus and a total of 14 percent had antibodies, indicating current or previous infection.

“From the result of their survey, the German team estimated the death rate in the municipality at 0.37 percent overall, a figure significantly lower than the Johns Hopkins dashboard, where the death rate in Germany among reported cases has now reached 2 percent.” (Blood tests show 14 percent of people are now immune to Covid-19 in one town in Germany by Antonio Regalado, MIT Technology Review, 9 April 2020)

This is relatively reassuring – but it also shows that the vast majority of the population remains vulnerable.

The common flu has a mortality rate of around 0.1 percent and probably results in around a million deaths a year globally.

The lowest estimate of mortality from the Chinese experience – 0.7 percent, which relies on excellent health infrastructure and treatment protocols being in place for all patients – would lead to 7 million deaths if the infectivity rate were the same as the flu’s. But clearly not only is the infrastructure not in place in many countries (our own included), but Covid-19’s infectiousness is also far higher than the flu’s.

We cannot but conclude that Covid-19 is real and presents a serious danger to humanity if measures are not taken to stop its spread.

In the next article in this series, we will look at whether the threat posed by Covid-19 justifies the response.

______________________________

NOTES

1. The reproductive number of Covid-19 is higher than that of the SARS coronavirus, according to a study by Ying Liu et al published in the Journal of Travel Medicine, 13 February 2020.

2. Coronavirus Covid-19 has killed more people than Sars and Mers combined, despite a lower case fatality rate. BMJ 2020;368:m641.

3. We note that the virus is also detectible in other bodily fluids and secretions, including in faeces.

Posted in Health0 Comments

Right to repair: a threat to monopoly superprofits

Apple are using their monopoly to rob workers by designing their phones and laptops to break. It’s wasteful, anti-environment and anti-worker; it’s capitalism!

Proletarian writers

Technology repair engineers, hobbyists and farmers have joined together in an unlikely alliance to fight for the right to repair their own machines.

Original equipment manufacturers, including laptop and smartphone manufacturer Apple and agricultural machinery producer John Deere, have been making it more and more challenging for their products to be repaired by third parties.

These companies are moving to monopolise the repair market for their products. Under the pretence of protecting consumers from unlicensed repairs, they have been using law enforcement, asset seizure and obfuscation to prevent users from being able to get their products repaired anywhere other than certified outlets.

Monopolisation of the repair market allows these industries to control a network of ‘certified’ shops, which exist, without competition, as the only place users can get information, parts and repairs for their devices. This allows them to charge extremely high prices for even trivial repairs.

In the interest of maximising profits for the manufacturer, they encourage the wasteful practice of replacing entire components when a small fault occurs. They even stop supporting older machines, and completely refuse to service them. This gives users no option to repair the machine and instead forces them to buy whole new machines or components no matter how simple the repair would have been. 

John Deere v small farmers

For users of the latest iPhone this is an expensive inconvenience – but for farmers it is a threat to their livelihood. John Deere has attempted such practices for its tractor business. It has tried to force farmers into using only its own certified dealerships for repairs by locking end users out of the diagnostic software required to carry them out.

The result is that even minor repairs require a visit to the dealership. Taking large agricultural machinery to the nearest dealership isn’t always an easy task. In the USA, Nebraskan farmer Kyle Schwarting explained the challenge of taking a combine harvester to the dealer:

“Look at the size of this machine. If I had to haul this thing a hundred miles every time something went wrong with it, it would cost a fortune. Just to get it on a truck costs a thousand bucks.”

It’s not only the cost of the repairs that are a concern; taking key machinery out of action at critical times of the year could have very serious consequences to that year’s harvest, and is pay lost by contractors who can’t carry out their work. 

Even something as simple as replacing worn or broken parts becomes impossible because of the software restrictions. Tom Schwarz, a farmer accustomed to fixing his own machines, explained: “There are used parts for these tractors, but if I put them on, the tractor won’t run.” He also explained that John Deere could discontinue support for various parts, such as GPS modules, forcing users to buy new ones instead of repairing them. 

To overcome these hurdles, farmers are now making use of software produced by hackers in eastern Europe that allows them to plug a laptop into their tractors. They can use this to bypass restrictions put in place by John Deere, hack into the tractor’s diagnostics, and effect the repairs themselves.

Even the interface is proprietary; farmers had to make their own cables to connect the machine to their laptops. John Deere’s terms of service forbid accessing or modifying the tractor firmware or diagnostics.

Fighting in the courts

A Nebraskan farmer, Guy Mills, proposed a resolution supported in the state legislature by his local senator Lydia Brasch, to fight for access to these diagnostic tools. The hearing, LB67, took place at Nebraska State House.

It included statutory language allowing independent repair shops and owners to obtain diagnostic manuals and purchase diagnostic tools and equipment at a reasonable price, something Guy Mills couldn’t understand why anyone would oppose. But more was at stake than he realised: the right of monopoly capital to rig the market in its favour.

In the event, the ‘local’ hearing was joined by representatives from major multinational corporations such as Apple, Microsoft, and other big tech companies, who flew in from around the country. Also in that room was independent repair specialist Louis Rossman, who has been very critical of Apple’s anti-repair practices.

Kim Robak, from AT&T, threatened that tech companies would no longer sell their products in or to Nebraska if local governance required them to make diagnostic tools and equipment available. (Update on Nebraska LB67: Adopt the Fair Repair Act by Jon S Horneber, Suiter.com, 22 March 2017)

Representatives from tech giants took part in that ‘local’ dispute over farm machinery repair in Nebraska because they were very aware that legislation covering the right to repair would also affect their own practices.

If passed, the proposed legislation would set a precedent that jeopardised their actually existing policy of designed product obsolescence, and monopolisation of repairs, putting them in a position that threatened to decrease their profits and increase the longevity of their products. Of course, they want their products to break and be too expensive or difficult to fix; it is in their financial interest for users to ‘want’ to buy a new phone every two years.

Apple v laptop and phone users

In October 2018 CBC News published an in-depth report into Apple’s ‘Genius Bar’ (technical support station), in which a member of staff gave their undercover reporter a $1,200 price quotation for fixing a broken laptop. The reporter was told that there was no cheaper alternative – other than buying a brand new laptop.

This is a now a familiar experience across the technology sector, as our readers will recognise from personal experience. As Marx was fond of quoting in Capital: caveat emptor! (Buyer, beware!)

Louis Rossman examined the same laptop. He was able the repair it by straightening a bent pin on a cable inside the machine. It took him a few minutes, and he claimed that this repair was so trivial he usually did it for free, but would charge $75 to $150 for a new cable.

Rossman told the reporters he sees customers who have been told by Apple that their laptops can’t be fixed “somewhere between ten and thirty times a day”.

But Apple is not making Rossman’s job easy. Just a few days after the CBC News report aired, the company retaliated against this bad press by tipping off US customs to an import destined for Rossman’s repair business. They seized 20 laptop batteries worth $1,068 because Apple was claiming that they were counterfeit.

Since these are from older models, Apple no longer even sells these batteries itself and refuses to service the model of laptop that uses them. Apple has no interest in these batteries other than wanting to prevent any threat to its complete monopolisation of the lifecycle of its products, and therefore monopolisation of the market, to the detriment of the much-lauded ‘free competition’ we hear glorified as the guarantor of the superiority of free-market capitalism (and which has not existed for 120 years!)

In an even more disgusting act of anti-consumer and anti-competition (don’t laugh!) practices, Apple worked with the US government in 2013 to shut down phone repair shops. The shops were raided by immigration and customs enforcement agents, ICE; the same aggressive militarised police force that has recently been responsible for separating Latin American families and incarcerating their children in cages. (ICE starts raiding mobile phone repair shops to stop repairs with aftermarket parts by Mike Masnick, TechDirt, 30 April 2013)

It’s not just Rossman that Apple isn’t happy with. The company has been making repairs as difficult as possible for all independent servicing. It doesn’t sell spare parts, or release schematics; it even designs its own screws so that a special tool is required for disassembly – a tool that it doesn’t sell. Repair shops have to build their own tools and either reverse engineer the devices, or rely on digital schematics illegally leaked by workers in factories overseas.

Much like replacing spare parts on a John Deere tractor, the iPhone will stop working when parts are replaced. A common component to fail, the home button, used to be fixed by repair shops until Apple updated the software not to recognise replacement buttons. Again – what useful human purpose does this unparalleled meanness and wastefulness serve? Only the corporations’ profit margins!

Apple also started gluing the batteries inside the case, making them harder to replace. It even pushed updates to the operating system that slowed down older phones. The company has argued that this was done to prolong battery life, but if it was really concerned about battery life it wouldn’t have made it so difficult to replace batteries. Instead it has got its customers into the habit of thinking that electronics ‘slow down’ after a while and need to be replaced every few years. (Built to fail: Apple ‘forcing’ expensive upgrades, Plunc, 21 August 2019)

Waste and pollution; blood and sweat

This is all in the service of maximising profits. Apple doesn’t want people repairing their electronics because that would increases the longevity of devices. Devices that last longer mean fewer sales, and an increase in the resale market that further hurts primary sales. This should come as no surprise; every company wants to sell more products.

If the profits keep growing, everyone gets new devices, and the technology improves, what does it matter? Is it such a concern that better-off Americans are having to pay a little extra if the result is a strong economy and a growing tech sector? To answer this question we have to step back and examine the wider economic situation.

If all manufacturers have an economic incentive to encourage end users to discard their old machines and buy new ones as soon as possible then we end up with a never-ending cycle of manufacturing and then discarding vast quantities of goods – not just computers and phones but washing machines, fridges, televisions, gadgets, toys, etc. What is to be done with all this unnecessary waste?

A United Nations (UN) report calculated that 41 million tonnes of electronic waste was discarded in 2014. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has highlighted the health risk associated with exposure to “lead, cadmium, chromium, brominated flame retardants or polychlorinated biphenyls” from electronic waste.

The world’s rubbish dumps are rapidly filling, and the oceans are clogged with plastic that will take thousands of years to decompose. The air in Agbogbloshie, the nickname for a commercial district near to Ghana’s capital Accra that, having once been a wetland, has now become the world’s largest e-waste dump, is acrid with the smoke of burning electronics, dumped there by western ‘recycling’ firms, and incinerated in open air by impoverished local people trying to extract the metals.

A further consequence of this wastefulness is the labour and resources required to build a new product for every old one that breaks. There are 8-year-old children in the Democratic Republic of Congo who are mining the cobalt and coltan used to make lithium ion batteries and capacitors. These people are being exploited to make electronics that can be thrown away again just a year or two later. 

The huge ongoing war in the DR Congo (formerly Zaire), little reported in our media but having claimed well over 5 million lives, was itself ignited and sponsored by mining companies desperate to get their hands on coltan made scarce by the launch of the PS2 (Sony Playstation) back in 2000. (The Playstation war by Rodee, Conflict Mineral website)

There is a vast quantity of labour used to mine, transport and refine the materials used to make these devices, besides the complex and labour-intensive manufacturing process of the device itself. The labour and resources to do this often comes from so-called ‘developing countries’, which receive very little economic benefit at home from this exploitation. The devices they produce are then used, briefly, in the wealthy countries before they are discarded as toxic waste in other developing countries. All this labour to produce what are essentially disposable luxuries.

This process leaves behind two holes in the earth: one where the raw materials have been dug up, creating piles of tailings that leach toxic material into the waterways; and one where the finished product is eventually discarded, leaching yet more toxic chemicals into the environment. It leaves behind children who will never have the opportunity to get a good education. And it leaves behind a handful of billionaires who can control vast economic empires and direct government policy on a global scale.

Capital v humanity

This is the global economic planning of monopoly capitalism, that most ‘efficient’ system – so long as efficiency is measured solely in the exponential growth of financial dividends for the dwindling handful of billionaires.

And as long as there is profit to be made exploiting the developing world, there will be workers who never have the ability to improve themselves or their communities; the economic incentives to maintain the status quo are simply too great.

Better recycling, more environmentally responsible mining, encouraging consumers not to discard perfectly good hardware; production geared for the need of the masses instead of the overproduction of disposable luxuries for the wealthiest 5 percent of the earth’s inhabitants – all these things hurt profit margins, and they will always come second.

That’s why charities can never solve the problems they try to address (world hunger, child mortality, environmental destruction, saving forests and wildlife, etc), and why they ultimately degenerate into mere tokenism and conscience-salving, acting on behalf of and run in the manner of big-businesses.

The aim, therefore, must be to restructure society in such a way that profit is not the primary goal; where the goal instead is to work collectively towards social improvement. Only in this way can we prevent such wasteful practices.

Only in this way can we protect the environment, and ensure that those children who are presently victims of superexploitation can instead receive a good education, improve their prospects and communities, and live dignified, fulfilling lives.

And no matter how ‘unfashionable’ and ‘unpalatable’ bourgeois think tanks may find it, the only way to change production practices is to put ownership of production and productive wealth in the collective hands of the working people, whose interest it is to solve all these questions in their own favour.

Self-interest leads not to capitalism, but to socialism; real self-interest of the masses demands the rule of the working people – the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ to use the scientific Marxist term.

Posted in Health, Politics, World0 Comments

Cheap drones and the shifting strategic balance in west Asia

Prabir Purkayastha

Missiles and drone aircraft are displayed at a secret location in Yemen. Photo released on 17 September 2019.

Reproduced from People’s Democracy of 1 and 22 September 2019, with thanks.

*****

Saudi Arabia, which started the Yemen war with its own coalition of the willing, is now facing the blowback, with Houthis launching a series of drone and missile attacks on Saudi infrastructure.

Earlier Houthi missile attacks on Dubai and Abu Dhabi airports seem to have led to a rethink in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) leadership on the dangers of military interventions abroad, leading to their partial disengagement from Yemen. The US also has now announced direct talks with the Houthis.

It is clear that the Yemeni resistance’s drone and missile attacks are causing a fundamental shift in the strategic outlook of the friends of the Saudis as well.

Similarly, the strategic balance between Lebanese resistance movement Hezbollah and Israel has also shifted, with Hezbollah’s rocket arsenal now not only much larger than it was during Israel’s 2006 war on Lebanon, but also with an added precision guiding component.

It is not that Israel is still not far more powerful than Hezbollah; of course it is. But in a war with Israel, Hezbollah does not need to win. It has only to inflict unacceptable damage on Israel while being able to survive militarily at home. If it can continue its rocket attacks and prevent Israeli forces from overrunning it at home, it will have reached strategic parity.

It is this frustration that may be leading to Israel upping the stakes and launching limited attacks on Iraqi, Syrian and Hezbollah installations. If Hezbollah retaliates, Israel may then be able to secure direct US support for its war against the Lebanese resistance. Without this support, it cannot destroy Hezbollah, which is its goal.

In the cases of both Yemen and Lebanon, the Houthi and Hezbollah-led resistance movements are changing the way we look at military parity and strategic balance. They are showing that strategic balance is not parity or winning, but the ability to inflict damage while retaining the ability to fight.

In a larger sense, this is also Iran’s strategy against the US. If Iran can control the strait of Hormuz and the oil flow from the Persian Gulf, it is still in the game with the US. It doesn’t need a military balance anywhere else. Only in the strait of Hormuz.

Iran has only to implement the threat that if it can’t export oil through the strait, nobody else will be allowed to either. And to back this up, it has missiles, fast boats and submarines, which can stop any attempt to hold the strait for tanker and other traffic against Iranian forces.

So what has led to this change in the region’s military balance? Strangely enough, the impulse for this strategic shift over the last three decades has come from the US, followed by Israel. The US has a long history of ‘targeted killings’ – or in the UN’s language, ‘extra-judicial killings’ – using weaponised drones. These are estimated to have killed between 8,459 and 12,105 people. (Bureau of Investigative Journalism, 29 August 2019)

Though Israel is way behind the US in its numbers of targeted killings, it has also used drones, missiles and other means to kill people outside its borders. Both countries produce and export a large number of such drones abroad, India currently being the recipient of a large number of Israeli drones. Apart from their military use, these are also used for surveillance against insurgents in central India and Kashmir.

What has led to the shift in strategic parity using drones, missiles, and even explosive-packed boats being used as naval drones? It is the same shift that the world is seeing in many areas: the large-scale use of drones for everything from pizza delivery to delivering mail and transporting goods.

The Do-It-Yourself (DIY) movement has picked on drones as an ideal showpiece because all you need is a hobby aircraft model, which many of us have flown. Some of these even have miniature petrol engines for prolonged flights.

Previously, all models had to be tethered to the hobbyist in some way. Now, however, it is possible to add intelligence, GPS tracking devices, gyroscopes, cameras, processors and other chips to such hobby planes, converting them into autonomous vehicles capable of independent flight.

And if a communicating device is added, they can then be remotely guided a long way from their operators. In other words, they can easily be converted to the equivalent of a full-blown military drone, capable of flying to a target, delivering a payload and even flying back.

How is it possible to add all these elements to what is essentially a hobby toy aircraft? Well, it turns out that all the above components are featured in the basic chipset of a mobile phone. This is what has led to the huge growth of drone hobbyists and the toy manufacturing industry.

Chris Anderson wrote: “It’s safe to say that drones are the first technology in history where the toy industry and hobbyists are beating the military-industrial complex.” (How I accidentally kickstarted the domestic drone boom, Wired, 28 June 2012)

A pre-programmed drone today can be created by buying a commercial civilian drone used for crop spraying, surveying or commercial delivery at a cost of $1,000 to $5,000, depending on payload and range. Making one yourself from off-the-shelf components is equally easy and comes at an even lower cost.

This is the genesis of the drone revolution. Adding intelligence to a simple model airplane and converting it into an ‘autonomous aircraft’ is not a major technical achievement. The components are easily available, the chipset, communication and camera are standard components in any mobile phone. What is required is people with knowledge. Once that is added to the mix, we have intelligent devices not vastly dissimilar to the ones developed by the military-industrial complex.

Of course, the drones we are talking about – Qasef 2 – are not the equivalent of the Predators and Reapers that the US uses. Or of the US behemoth drone costing about $220m that Iran shot down. The drones that the Yemenis have used cost only a small fraction of the $5m price tag of the MQ-1 Predator drone, which of course is reusable.

But if the Houthis can manufacture their drones locally with components manufactured locally or procured from the international market, or from Iran, and copying Iranian designs, then their cost is small enough for use in large numbers against Saudi Arabia.

A number of reports have charged Iran of supplying either the components or the design to the Houthis. This, of course, is in contrast to what the US and Britain have done, which is to transfer not only the designs and components, but also a large number of missiles and bombs to the Saudis.

They also provide them with logistical support, including help in real-time targeting and maintaining the equipment in battle-ready conditions. Without this support, the Saudis would be incapable of fighting any war, let alone one against the battle-hardened Yemenis.

Why is Iran’s support to help the Yemeni people defend themselves ‘illegal’ and ‘destabilising’, while US/UK support to the Saudis is legitimate? And this despite having caused the largest humanitarian disaster in the 21st century?

To repeat some well-known (and well-ignored) facts: an estimated 100,000 people have died in the Saudi-led war in Yemen, one million are suffering from extreme starvation and 18 million more are in imminent threat of starvation.

The 100,000 cited are only the direct deaths. Medicines, water purifying chemicals and fuel, among other things, are all under Saudi embargo, meaning that water, power and sewage systems don’t work in Yemen. Schools are closed and so are hospitals.

The situation reminds us of Madeline Albright’s infamous comment that half a million Iraqi children dying as a result of US sanctions on Iraq was a “price worth paying”. (Punishing Saddam, Catherine Olian, 60 Minutes)

Yemen’s Houthis have not only used drones; they also have older missiles in their armoury, and have been retrofitting them with precision guidance of the same kind that goes into their drones. Unlike the drone payload, which is from 50 to 150kg, the missiles can take much larger payloads, in the range of 600kg.

While the Houthis total store of missiles is smaller, their capacity to inflict damage on the Saudis is much higher: they are used only against high-value targets. The drones, on the other hand, can be used in much larger numbers.

The problem that Israel faces in Lebanon is even worse. Hezbollah not only has a similar range of unarmed drones, but has a much larger number of rockets. It is estimated that Hezbollah has about 150,000 rockets of varying range in its arsenal today, as opposed to the 15,000 it had during the 2006 war.

Even if a small fraction of these have been fitted with precision guidance equipment, they represent a lethal threat to Israel’s infrastructure – power plants, refineries and even the Dimona nuclear reactor.

While Israel boasts of a three-tier aerial defence, no air defence is completely airtight. If a sufficient number of missiles are fired, some of them will get through. For how long would Israel be able to absorb an air barrage and still retain its ability to attack Lebanon and Hezbollah?

As stated earlier, Hezbollah has only to continue fighting while retaining enough missile capacity to inflict damage on Israel, whereas Israel would need a decisive victory and the destruction of Hezbollah.

The calculus of strategic parity has changed with the introduction of cheap mobile phones into the market. Not just for military communications, but in unexpected areas such as drones and missiles.

This is the nature of technology – its impact is sometimes much larger than anticipated. That the mobile phone would revolutionise drone war was a completely unforeseen consequence, which is changing the calculus of war.

This is what is unfolding in west Asia to the detriment of those who have spent huge amounts on their weaponry. Ironically, Goliath – in the form of the Saudis and Israel – is now faced with David – in the form of the Houthis and Hezbollah. And, unlike in the past, all that David has to do today is just continue to fight with his slingshots.

The days of US dominance in west Asia are over

The intricate war dance among the US, the Saudis and Iran following the Yemeni resistance attack on Aramco oil installations may still not spill over into a shooting war in west Asia.

Saudi’s defence ministry spokesman Col Turki al-Malki said the attack was unquestionably “sponsored” by Iran – but this is quite different from saying that Iran actually launched the attack. Even the US is now saying that Iran was “behind” the attack, and following up such statements with fresh sanctions on Iran – indicating that the “locked and loaded” gun that President Trump had tweeted in the aftermath of the attack may not be fired after all.

The Houthis have shown the Saudis that their mastery over drone technology has created new conditions. As I wrote previously, drones and missiles equipped with mobile launchers make it possible for weaker forces to inflict unacceptable damage on much stronger attacking countries.

This has created a new strategic balance in several theatres of war, which forces with much greater firepower have yet to register. This is the new strategic balance between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia; between Hezbollah and Israel; and, on a wider scale, between the Iran-Hezbollah-Houthi allianec and the US-Israel-Saudi one.

The weaker forces do not have to win: they only need to keep fighting while imposing unacceptable costs on their adversaries.

The Aramco facilities damaged by the Houthi attack were at Abaqaiq and Khurais, and took out nearly 50 percent of Saudi Arabia’s oil production. The Saudis currently produce 12 percent of the world’s oil, and any long-term damage to its oil installations has huge consequences for the world’s oil supply, as well as for oil prices.

In spite of the Saudis saying that they have enough stocks to meet the shortfall and the US releasing its strategic reserves onto the market, the oil price immediately jumped by $10, or nearly 20 percent, making clear how important Saudi oil production is to the global economy.

With continuing illegal US sanctions on Venezuela and Iran, the world is now critically dependent on oil from the Saudis, who have promised to increase production to meet any shortfall. Any hit on this supply will have global repercussions and drive the world into a new recession.

For India, the consequences are even more dire. India imports more than 80 percent of its crude oil. We have cravenly followed the US’s ‘orders’ on Iran and Venezuela sanctions, and are now even more dependent on the Saudis.

The US’s offer of shale oil is no solution to the Indian economy, since it is far more costly and will drive our balance of payments deep into the red. Unfortunately, jettisoning Iran under Trump’s diktat has had serious consequences for India.

Yemen’s Houthi resistance has shown that the days when the Saudis lorded it over Yemen’s airspace, bombing Houthi forces and civilian centres at will, have had consequences. Houthi drone strikes can now hit Saudi Arabia’s soft underbelly – its oil installations, power plants and desalination facilities.

Armed by the Nato powers, Saudi Arabia has overwhelming air dominance over the Houthis. Its defence spending is second only to that of the US and China, higher than India’s, which is in fourth place. (SIPRI Database)

The Saudis spent $70bn on defence, while Iran spends $6.3bn dollars, less than a tenth of Saudi expenditure. Certainly the Houthis cannot defend themselves from Saudi air attacks, but neither can Saudi Arabia defend itself against Yemeni drone or cruise missile attacks that hug the ground and defy radar detection.

Following on from the Iraq war and former US secretary of state Colin Powell’s Oscar winning performance regarding Iraq’s alleged ‘weapons of mass destruction’ (WMDs) at the UN, bible-thumping current secretary Pompeo’s claim that it was Iran what done it will carry very little weight with the rest of the world.

Coastal Iran is surrounded by a very dense set of radar networks, including that of the US’s Fifth Fleet headquarters in Bahrain and its Uded airbase in Qatar, as well as many Saudi installations. These would surely have detected any such a strike coming over the open waters of the Persian Gulf. That the US and the Saudis have produced no corroborating evidence for their assertion tells its own tale.

The Saudis are now claiming that Iran was “behind” the attack, a climb-down from their former position of blaming Iran directly. Saudi spokesperson Turki al-Malki said in a press conference that the drone and cruise missile attack had come from the north, meaning that the drone swarm that hit Aramco did not come from the direction of Yemen.

This is very thin evidence, since we know that drones do not need to fly in a straight line, and can hit a target from any direction, irrespective from where they originate. Neither does coming from the north prove that the strike must have come from Iran.

Even the BBC was forced to admit that assertion ducked the essential question: were the weapons used in the attacks against the Saudi oil installations actually fired from Iranian soil?

While the Saudis have presented various pieces of missile and drone debris, simply holding up a fallen wing of a missile and calling it Iranian, or calling the data inside its ‘computer’ Iranian, can at best prove that Iran may have transferred drone technology to Houthis.

To present this transfer of technology as an Iranian smoking gun is ludicrous. After all, it is not merely technology that the US, France and Britain have transferred to Saudi Arabia but any number of operational aircrafts, bombs and missiles, all of which have been used to devastate Yemen.

The attack by the Houthis on Aramco was not an isolated one. Yemen’s resistance forces have been carrying out a series of drone attacks against Saudi Arabia for the past few months, testing their capabilities and probing the Saudis’ defence.

Open source information on the type of radar, air-defence systems and centres protected by the Saudis show that while Saudi Arabia has some capability to defend itself against air attack by conventional means – bombers and other attack aircraft – it has very little defence against drone attacks.

Most of its air defence is based on the assumption that the only serious threat it faces is from Iran, using aircraft and conventional missiles. What the Houthis have shown is that, in the age of asymmetric warfare, there are cheaper attack options using unmanned air vehicles (UAVs, aka drones).

A number of people have written about open-source drones, their guidance systems, and their use of small piston or jet engines that are commercially available. It is eminently possible to create a viable drone that can do what Houthis claim to have done – and within a budget of $20,000.

The western media have extensively covered the part of the UN’s report that discusses Iran’s possible involvement in the Yemeni drone programme. What has had far less coverage is the part of the report that details how US and British laser-guided missile systems have been used in attacks on civilians that breach international humanitarian law.

These attacks were launched from aircraft that only the Saudis possess. It is Nato countries that have enabled the Saudi airforce to carry out more than 20,000 attacks on the Yemeni people. And this asymmetric media coverage shows that the western media is in the business of manufacturing consent on a worldwide scale for their security-state establishments.

The importance of Saudi Arabia to the US and its allies is that Saudi Arabia underwrites the dollar, and makes it possible for the US and the western financial institutions to control the global financial order.

But the days of US strategic dominance in west Asia are now over. Yes, the US can destroy Iran, but it cannot save the region and its oil infrastructure from destruction while it does so.

This is the new strategic balance that is emerging, and the sooner the US and its Nato partners accept that, the sooner we can hope for peace in the region.

We can either have collective security, or no security. That is the lesson of recent events in Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

Posted in Middle East, USA, ZIO-NAZI, C.I.A, Saudi Arabia, Yemen0 Comments

Saudi Arabia takes a flogging

The Saudi dog has been beaten in full view of the US lion; and if the lesson is lost on imperialism, it may find itself embroiled in a fight that will undermine its very foundations.

Proletarian writers

While imperialist politicians and media have been busy ratcheting up their war rhetoric against Iran, the news that is not being covered is that the Yemeni resistance is definitively winning the war against the Saudi aggressors.

In a series of events, the news of which was greeted with joy by progressive people around the world, Saudi Arabia, and its blood-soaked despot Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS), received a serious beating at the hands of Yemeni resistance (the so-called ‘Houthi rebels’) in September, making this a month to remember.

In a series of tumultuous events, Yemen’s indomitable resistance fighters walked right up to the cannon’s mouth and came off with all honours. Having first landed heavy blows on Saudi Arabia’s oil industry by destroying 50 percent of its production capacity in drone strikes, they followed up by announcing the successful prosecution of an earlier blistering attack in the border area near Najran, where theyhad taken thousands of Saudi soldiers prisoner, destroyed millions of dollars’ worth of military equipment, and seized even more.

These tremendous victories for the Yemeni people have been condemned by imperialism and widely seen as another blow landed by Iran and her allies on US imperialism and its stooges in the middle east.

Endless war

Since 2015, with the support of the US and Britain, Saudi Arabia and a handful of pathetic regional stooges have been engaged in an orgy of destruction against the Yemeni people, wiping out schools, hospitals, factories and bridges, and taking a dreadful toll in human lives, whether through bombing, starvation, or the spread of cholera initiated by the destruction of water purification plants – all in a desperate effort to intervene in Yemen’s internal affairs and reinstate a discredited regime that had fallen from power at the hands of the Yemeni people.

In committing these crimes against humanity, Saudi Arabia and her allies have received the full support of Britain and the US, both on the propaganda front and directly in the supply of fighter jets and bombs, logistical support and training. (Tempering Yemen’s resistance, cpgb-ml, 28 March 2019)

British imperialism makes big

The British state, a foremost exponent in the art of hypocrisy, has been paying out millions in ‘aid’ to the war-ravaged country whilst transacting billions of pounds’ worth of arms sales with the Saudi-led coalition responsible for Yemen’s devastation.

“Britain has earned eight times more from arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other members of the coalition fighting in Yemen than it has spent on aid to help civilians caught up in the conflict,” states a recently-published report by Oxfam.

The authors, well-meaning charitable types, consider this state of affairs to be “completely incoherent”. But is that so? Clearly not. In fact, it makes very good business sense, and has been a nice little earner for those whose stock-in-trade is human misery.

According to the report, whilst Britain has given £770m in food, medicines and other assistance to civilians in Yemen over the past half-decade, making the country the sixth largest recipient of British aid, it has made £6.2bn of arms sales to members of the coalition fighting there, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Under pressure from campaigners, the court of appeal in June ruled that arms sales to Saudi Arabia – which account for the vast majority of the total – were unlawful. The judgment also accused ministers of ignoring the question of whether airstrikes that killed civilians in Yemen broke international law.

Liam Fox, then international trade secretary, responded cynically by saying he was suspending new arms sales to Saudi Arabia, whilst in reality his department continued to approve further deals. (Money from arms sales dwarfs aid for Yemen by Emma Graham-Harrison, The Guardian, 7 September 2019)

By the end of September, the international trade secretary Liz Truss admitted that Britain had breached the court order for a third time.

Ms Truss told the Commons that officials had “discovered” a further violation, 10 days after she was forced to write to the court of appeal admitting that two previous export licences had been unlawfully granted.

According to the Guardian: “Officials from the Ministry of Defence recommended the latest unlawful licence be approved on 16 July, a month after the court of appeal ruling. It was signed off by Department of International Trade (DIT) on 13 August.”

Apparently, Truss offered ‘an unreserved apology’ for the breach … before putting the blame on a “lack of communication” between government departments.

As Keith Vaz, a Labour backbencher, put it: “The apology is welcome but the narrative is shameful … Last week a bomb fell on a mosque and on a family eating their dinner. What do they put on the death certificates? Is it death by administrative error?” (Truss admits UK broke ban on Saudi arms sales three times by Dan Sabbagh, The Guardian, 26 September 2019)

Oil strike

On 14 September, international media reported that Saudi Arabia was forced to shut down half its oil production after a series of drone strikes hit the world’s largest oil processing facility.

“First word of the assault came in online videos of giant fires at the Abqaiq facility, some 330km (205 miles) northeast of the Saudi capital, Riyadh. Machine-gun fire could be heard in several clips alongside the day’s first muslim call to prayers, suggesting security forces tried to bring down the drones just before dawn.

“In daylight, Saudi state television aired a segment with its local correspondent near a police checkpoint, a thick plume of smoke visible behind him …

“In a short address aired by the Houthis’ Almasirah satellite news channel, military spokesman Yahia Sarie said the rebels launched 10 drones in their coordinated attack after receiving ‘intelligence’ support from those inside the kingdom. He warned that attacks by the rebels would only get worse if the war continues.

“‘The only option for the Saudi government is to stop attacking us,’ Sarie said.” (Yemen’s Houthi rebels launch drones on two big Saudi oil sites, CNBC, 14 September 2019)

The closure was reported to have impacted daily crude production of almost 5.7m barrels – about 5 percent of the world’s daily oil production, according to processor Saudi Aramco. In August, Saudi Arabia produced 9.85m barrels per day in total, according to the latest figures from the US Energy Information Administration.

Saudi energy minister Abdulaziz bin Salman said the attacks had also led to a halt in gas production that reduced the supply of ethane and natural gas liquids by 50 percent.

“The attack on Saudi oil fields was an act of legitimate defence by the Houthis,” Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman said, adding that his country supports the Houthi forces through “spiritual and political” means. (Attack on Saudi oil fields ‘legitimate defence’ by Houthis, Iran says by Sanya Burgess, Sky news, 30 September 2019)

Princely interview

Soon after the Houthis announced their spectacular feat, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman appeared on US news show 60 Minutes to assert that Iran must be behind the attack.

Asked what Iran’s aim would have been in attacking Saudi’s oil fields, the Prince said: “I believe it’s stupidity, there is no strategic goal. Only a fool would strike five percent of global supplies.”

In a barely disguised appeal for further support from his imperialist masters, he said that failure to take “strong and firm action” would embolden Iran and lead to war, which he said would ruin the global economy.

“Oil supplies will be disrupted and oil prices will jump to unimaginably high numbers that we haven’t seen in our lifetimes.” (Sky news, ibid)

The offer of peace

In the days after the victorious attack by the Houthi rebel movement, Houthi spokesman Mahdi al-Mashat said his organisation would stop aiming missiles and drones at Saudi Arabia, adding that the movement expected the kingdom to reciprocate by stopping all attacks against Yemen and warning that a continuation of the war could lead to “dangerous developments”.

“We declare ceasing to target the Saudi Arabian territory with military drones, ballistic missiles and all other forms of weapons, and we wait for a reciprocal move from them,” Mr al-Mashat said on Almasirah TV.

“We reserve the right to respond if they fail to reciprocate positively to this initiative,” he said, adding that the continuation of the Yemen war “will not benefit any side”. (Yemen’s Houthis say will stop all attacks on Saudi Arabia, Al Jazeera, 20 September 2019)

Boris Johnson drags Britain closer to war

Falling into line with US policy, and relying upon no evidence whatsoever, Prime Minister Boris Johnson blamed Iran for the Yemeni attacks on Saudi oil facilities, just ahead of a meeting with the Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani.

Mr Johnson said there was a “very high degree of probability” that Iran was behind the drone and missile attacks.

The prime minister refused to rule out military intervention and said sanctions were a possibility.

But the Iranian foreign ministry’s Abbas Mousavi said they amounted to “fruitless efforts against the Islamic Republic of Iran”, and attacked the British government for “selling lethal weapons to Saudi Arabia”.

A Whitehall source said the Houthi rebels’ claim of responsibility was “implausible”, insisting that the “scale, sophistication and range” of the attack was “beyond their capabilities” – a position that can only be attributed to either bluster or wilful delusion on the part of British imperialism. (Johnson blames Iran for Saudi Arabia oil attacks, BBC News, 23 September 2019)

Yemen’s next devastating blow

A fitting response to the British, as well as to the continuing attacks of the Saudis, emerged over the weekend of 27-29 September.

Houthi rebels announced that they had earlier killed 500 Saudi soldiers and taken a further 2,000 hostage in a major assault near the Saudi Arabian border.

Resistance spokesman Yahya Saree said Yemeni forces had liberated 350 square km of territory in offensives near the town of Najran. (Houthi rebels claim to capture thousands of Saudi troops in major border offensive by Vincent Wood, Independent, 30 September 2019)

According to the Financial Times: “Yemen’s Houthi rebels claim to have launched a big offensive against Saudi-backed Yemeni forces and captured ‘thousands’ of prisoners.

“The Houthis broadcast footage of the attack on Sunday, describing it as the rebels’ largest military operation since Saudi Arabia intervened in Yemen’s civil war in 2015.

“The videos purported to show seized vehicles bearing Saudi military insignia, as well as interviews with two soldiers who identified themselves as Saudis to their captors. Most of those shown in the footage appeared to be Yemeni but it was not clear when the alleged attack took place.

“Saudi Arabia backs forces loyal to the exiled Yemeni government, which has been battling the rebels in a more than four-year civil war. While leading the coalition’s air strikes, Riyadh has deployed relatively limited numbers of ground troops in Yemen, concentrating most of its land forces along its southern border.

“The Houthis said the offensive took place near Saudi Arabia’s southern region of Najran, which borders Yemen.

“‘Only 72 hours after the start of the operation, our forces enforced a full siege on the enemy,’ Brigadier Yahya Saree, the Houthi military spokesman, told reporters on Saturday.

“Houthi-run Almasirah television quoted the spokesman as saying the movement had captured ‘thousands’ of enemy troops, including Saudi officers and soldiers.” (Houthis claim capture of thousands in Yemeni offensive by Simeon Kerr, 29 September 2019)

An article in the Jerusalem Post expressed the panic and shock of imperialism’s loyal servant in the middle east upon hearing of the Yemeni people’s startling victory:

“Videos published by pro-Houthi and pro-Iranian media appear to show hundreds of Saudi-backed fighters routed by the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

“This comes after a day in which rumours swirled that the Houthis had destroyed three brigades and captured thousands of troops, and two weeks after the drone and cruise missile attack on oil processing facilities at Abqaiq. The US has blamed Iran for that Abqaiq attack and it now appears Yemen’s real message is that Yemen will become Riyadh’s Vietnam …

“It looked like a scene from Afghanistan’s Panjshir valley where Soviet tanks were destroyed during the Afghan war. But it might as well be the Tet offensive in 1968 the way the Houthis and their allies are using it as bragging rights over their apparent defeat of what should be modern Saudi-equipped army fighting poor rebels … Looking more like the French at Dien Bien Phu surrendering to the Vietnamese, than a modern war.

“The idea is to humiliate. Video shows anti-tank guided missiles being used against Oshkosh armoured vehicles. People that follow open source videos are feasting on the details now, noting that the vehicles constitute US and Canadian-made vehicles among others …

“There is no reason the Houthis should have been able to accomplish this, but there was no reason the Vietminh should have outdone the French inn 1954. But they did.” (Iran’s goal: Turn Yemen into Saudi’s Vietnam by Seth J Frantzman, 2 October 2019)

Of course, the oppressed people of the world and communists know very well that there was every reason to be confident in the Vietnamese overcoming the French in 1954, as indeed there is every reason to believe that we shall live to see the Yemeni people overcome the Saudis. Perhaps sooner than we think, the world will also be celebrating the collapse of the Saudi dictatorship.

The struggle against imperialism is a struggle that will end, sooner or later, in the complete victory of the people.

As Ho Chi Minh himself explained: “We would rather sacrifice everything than lose our country. We are determined not to be enslaved …

“Those who have rifles will use their rifles; those who have swords will use their swords; those who have no swords will use spades, shoes and sticks. Everyone must endeavour to oppose the colonialists and save the country …

“Whatever hardships we may have to endure in the war of resistance, with our determination to face all sacrifices, victory will surely be ours!”

READ MORE: Communists and the struggle against imperialism

Posted in USA, ZIO-NAZI, C.I.A, Saudi Arabia, Yemen0 Comments

Burying bad news: corona-filled papers ignore Britain’s Yemen invasion

Unreported in British media, British troops have landed in Aden. All that awaits them is the graveyard of imperialist ambitions.

Proletarian writers

Another air strike in Sanaa on 30 March 2020. Officially by the Saudis, but many have been British bombs, dropped by British planes that are flown by British-trained pilots and maintained in Saudi Arabia by thousands of British contractors.

Five years into Riyadh’s imperialist-sponsored war against the Yemeni people, a war conducted with the maximum savagery and cowardice, the corrupt feudal sheikhdom of Saudi Arabia is further than ever from achieving any of its goals – or any of the war aims of its imperialist sponsors in the USA and Britain.

The much-loathed and deservedly ousted former president, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, continues to cool his heels in Riyadh, waiting in vain for his hosts to succeed in bludgeoning his fellow countrymen into having him back.

Meanwhile, the national resistance forces continue to hold their own, whilst the Saudi alliance is increasingly weak and divided – its mercenary forces being consistently hammered in the ground war, and only able to function at all thanks to the brutal air war conducted against the civilian population.

If the war could have been won simply by piling misery upon misery on the long-suffering Yemeni people, Hadi and his sponsors would long ago have prevailed.

It is impossible to overstate the horrors to which millions of Yemenis have been exposed through blockade, blitzkrieg, hunger and disease. The United Nations estimates that over 24 million Yemenis are in dire need of aid, 10 million of whom are suffering from extreme levels of hunger.

The Yemen Data Project calculates that the Saudi gang has carried out nearly 20,500 air raids, meaning that the spread of cholera and other diseases has been facilitated by the systematic destruction of hospitals, schools, bridges, roads and all manner of vital infrastructure, not least the specially targeted water purification plants. (Saudi-led coalition launches air raids in Yemen’s Hudaydah, PressTV, 8 March 2020)

As well as infrastructural destruction, they make a speciality of targeting weddings, funerals and refugee camps.

British imperialist war crimes

Britain’s role in this criminal enterprise has been substantial throughout. A Guardian article published last June demonstrated conclusively that British imperialism is up to its elbows in blood.

It reported: “Every day Yemen is hit by British bombs – dropped by British planes that are flown by British-trained pilots and maintained and prepared inside Saudi Arabia by thousands of British contractors.” The bombs are manufactured in Glenrothes, Stevenage and Harlow. (The Saudis couldn’t do it without us’: the UK’s true role in Yemen’s deadly war by Arron Merat, Guardian, 18 June 2019)

RAF engineers are sent to train Saudi pilots and targetters, whilst BAE Systems personnel work in the field, providing weapons, maintenance and engineers. One BAE worker told Channel 4’s Dispatches: “If we weren’t there, in seven to 14 days there wouldn’t be a jet in the sky.”

The Guardian article explained how BAE is contracted by the government to provide “in-country” services, with around 6,300 contractors “stationed at forward operating bases in Saudi Arabia. There, they train Saudi pilots and conduct essential maintenance night and day on planes worn out from flying thousands of miles across the Saudi desert to their targets in Yemen.

“They also supervise Saudi soldiers to load bombs on to planes and set their fuses for their intended targets.”

The RAF provides liaison officers to work inside the Saudi command-and-control centre, which decides who is to get targeted. Meanwhile, inside “Saudi forward operating bases, there are thousands of British contractors working to keep the war machine moving.

“British contractors coordinate the distribution of bombs and aircraft parts. They manage climate-controlled armouries and work in shifts to ensure bombs are dispatched in a timely manner for fresh raids.”

In short, in an impeccable public/private partnership, the RAF and BAE between them do everything short of pulling the trigger.

However, even that last caveat is of dubious validity. As the Guardian article also noted: “In May 2018, an unknown number of British troops were sent to Yemen to assist Saudi ground forces. Since then, multiple newspapers have published reports of British special forces wounded in gun battles inside Houthi-controlled territory.”

Three thousand British and US troops heading for Yemen?

And now, on 12 March, the Iranian news agency Press TV has reported a claim by the so-called Southern Transitional Council (STC, a breakaway separatist faction within the Saudi coalition that is sponsored by the UAE) that hundreds of US and British soldiers “have arrived in the port city of Aden as the first batch of a large military force that Washington and London seek to deploy to the Arab country’s resource-rich areas under the guise of fighting terrorism”. (US, British troops in Aden, more to arrive in Yemen strategic areas, PressTV, 12 March 2020)

According to Fadi al-Murshidi, media official of the STC, some 450 US and British soldiers had already arrived in Aden, the first batch of a planned 3,000-strong contingent which is aimed to directly occupy Aden, al-Anad base in Lahj province, Socotra Island in the Arabian Sea, Hadhramaut, Mahrah and Shabwah provinces.

In the same Press TV report, unspecified “southern local media” are said to have reported that a US force of 110 soldiers reinforced by ten Black Hawk aircraft, 30 Harvey armoured vehicles, four Patriot air defence systems and an integrated field operations room had reached the coast of Balhaf in the oil-producing Shabwa province, where are also docked two US warships.

Balhaf happens to be the main port for the export of Yemen’s liquified natural gas (LNG).

The significance of this report, so far uncorroborated by any other source seen by this writer, is not immediately clear. As is plain from the Guardian piece cited above, Saudi Arabia is already teeming with British contractors, engineers, special forces and RAF advisers. A few thousand more troops need not of itself necessarily radically alter the facts on the ground. An imperialist mercenary smells the same in or out of uniform.

However, if this development signals a qualitative shift in strategy, abandoning reliance on proxies to deliver the imperialist agenda in favour of a more blatant direct intervention by the puppet-masters themselves, then this suggests just how little confidence imperialism on either side of the pond has in the ability of Saudi Arabia and its partners-in-crime in the UAE to bring home the bacon.

The concentration of US and British forces in the oil-producing Shabwa province, complete with two US warships docked at the main LNG-exporting port, looks more like a clumsy smash-and-grab of the nation’s mineral wealth than a confident assertion of imperialist dominance – much like America’s blatant theft of Syria’s oil wealth.

In both cases, it looks more like a shoplifter stuffing his pockets whilst heading for the exit than a serious plan of settled domination.

Thieves fall out

The Southern Transitional Council (STC), from whose spokesman the Press TV story originates, is sponsored by the UAE, a key ally in the war against Yemen. The STC has previously been instrumental in the attempt to restore Hadi, which was in line with the imperialist attempt to force the Yemeni people to submit to being ruled by a Saudi stooge.

However, last year the STC turned against Hadi and seized Aden, the nominal ‘capital’ of Hadi’s shadow government, with the involvement of the UAE’s military. Faced with the prospect of a squabble amongst rival militias undermining the war effort and driving a wedge between the UAE and Saudi Arabia, a peace deal was brokered under which Saudi forces took control of most of south Yemen and UAE forces withdrew.

But the deal is not holding, tensions are escalating between Saudi-backed militias and STC fighters, and now the Saudi coalition is preventing STC leaders returning to Aden. It seems probable that the intention of sending in the imperialist soldiery is in part to shore up the Saudi-led fighters and refocus minds on the imperialist agenda.

These quarrels erupting within the ranks of the Saudi coalition, with even a danger that Saudi Arabia and the UAE could find themselves drawn into open collision, are clearly weakening and dividing the forces of oppression.

They are also making it harder for ‘allies’ to maintain a united propaganda front – as illustrated by the STC apparently letting the cat out of the bag about the influx of imperialist troops.

The struggle continues

And through it all, the forces of national liberation led by the Ansarullah movement (or ‘Houthi rebels’ as the imperialist media like to dismiss them) not only remain unbroken but have since last summer been making substantial military gains against the oppressor.

These are putting maximum pressure on Riyadh to put an end to the humanitarian disaster prolonged by its unwinnable war and come to the negotiating table. As Ansarullah leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi pointed out in a recent televised address, the US is humiliating Riyadh and Abu Dhabi to pursue its own agenda.

Al-Houthi noted: “Evaluation and studies confirm that economic losses inflicted on the Saudi regime have been huge and its ambitions have not been realised. The Saudi and UAE economies are suffering from economic crises, and continue to decline.” (US only humiliating, blackmailing Saudi Arabia, UAE: Ansarullah leader, Press TV, 26 March 2020)

Militarily, the reality is that Riyadh has never got over the massive humiliation of seeing 50 percent of its oil production shut down by drone attacks last September. Taken together with the pro-Hadi fighters’ dismal showing in the ongoing ground war, this has left the mercenaries demoralised and on the back foot.

In January, the Yemeni liberation forces recaptured key positions in the Nehm district of Sana’a province and also advanced into Serwah district, 40km west of Ma’arib city.

Then at the beginning of March it was reported that liberation forces had captured al-Hazm, capital of al-Jawf province, as Saudi-led mercenaries retreated into neighbouring Ma’arib province. The mercenaries lost at least 30 of their number over two days, including some high-ranking pro-Hadi officers.

Commenting on this development, Maged al-Madhaji, executive director of the Sana’a Center, a Yemeni think-tank, said: “Control of the capital of al-Jawf could totally change the course of the war. Houthis have made an exceptional advance and are changing the balance,” adding that the advance would enable the Ansarullah-backed forces to surround neighbouring oil-rich Ma’rib province, the most significant territory in the hands of the pro-Saudi mercenaries.

By taking al-Hazm, he suggested, “Houthi forces have cleared away the last obstacle in front of the vast, largely empty desert areas across the north of Marib. The Houthi movement, therefore, gains an easy military path to the vein of Marib’s wealth – its oil wells and a refinery – without having to capture Marib city, the governorate’s well-fortif

“The new achievement by Yemeni forces and the Houthi fighters also secures supply lines between Sana’a and the Houthi northern stronghold of Saada.” (Yemenis seize capital of strategic al-Jawf as Saudi-led mercenaries retreat, 1 March 2020)

The Saudi gang responded with the usual cowardly air strikes a week later, this time against the western province of Hudaydah. War planes raided the Salif area and targets in the Bab al-Mandeb strait.

Fierce fighting continued in Ma’arib province, and then at the end of March came news of the first strikes against targets in Saudi Arabia itself since last September. This latest bold attack mobilised a mix of home-made drones and ballistic missiles, demonstrating that Yemen is fully capable of bringing the war back home to Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia is in no fit condition to be acting as imperialist catspaw in the middle east; and if it is really the intention to send in thousands of US and British troops to do the job instead, all that awaits them is the graveyard of imperialist ambitions.

Posted in USA, ZIO-NAZI, C.I.A, Saudi Arabia, UK, Yemen0 Comments

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