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No Foreign Bases: Challenging the Footprint of US Empire

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

By Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers / Popular Resistance

The United States cannot be a moral or ethical country until it faces up to the realities of US empire and the destruction it causes around the world. The US undermines governments (including democracies), kills millions of people, causes mass migrations of people fleeing their homes, communities and countries and produces vast environmental damage.

A new coalition, The Coalition Against US Foreign Military Bases, held its inaugural event January 12-14, 2018 at the University of Baltimore in Maryland. The meeting was framed by a Unity Statement that brought together numerous peace and justice organizations. The basis for unity was:

“U.S. foreign military bases are the principal instruments of imperial global domination and environmental damage through wars of aggression and occupation, and that the closure of U.S. foreign military bases is one of the first necessary steps toward a just, peaceful and sustainable world.”

You can endorse the statement here.

US foreign military bases as of 2015. Source BaseNation.us

Responsibility to End Global Empire of Bases

Ajamu Baraka of the Black Alliance for Peace and the vice presidential candidate for the Green Party in 2016 opened the conference, describing the responsibility of the people of the United States (USians) to protect the world from US aggression. He argued:

“The only logical, principled and strategic response to this question is citizens of the empire must reject their imperial privileges and join in opposing ruling elites exploiting labor and plundering the Earth. To do that, however, requires breaking with the intoxicating allure of cross-class, bi-partisan ‘white identity politics.'”

This reality conflicts with one of the excuses the US uses to engage in war – so-called ‘humanitarian wars’, which are based on the dubious legal claim that the US has a “responsibility to protect.” The United States is viewed as “the greatest threat to peace in the world today” by people around the world.  Thus, USians need to organize to protect the world from the United States.

US empire is not only a threat to world peace and stability but also a threat to the United States. Chalmers Johnson, who wrote a series of books on empire, warned in his 2004 book, “The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic,” that there were four “sorrows” the United States would suffer. In the 14 years since they have all come true:

“If present trends continue, four sorrows, it seems to me, are certain to be visited on the United States. Their cumulative impact guarantees that the United States will cease to bear any resemblance to the country once outlined in our Constitution. First, there will be a state of perpetual war, leading to more terrorism against Americans wherever they may be and a growing reliance on weapons of mass destruction among smaller nations as they try to ward off the imperial juggernaut. Second, there will be a loss of democracy and constitutional rights as the presidency fully eclipses Congress and is itself transformed from an ‘executive branch’ of government into something more like a Pentagonized presidency. Third, an already well-shredded principle of truthfulness will increasingly be replaced by a system of propaganda, disinformation, and glorification of war, power, and the military legions. Lastly, there will be bankruptcy, as we pour our economic resources into ever more grandiose military projects and shortchange the education, health, and safety of our fellow citizens.”

The footprint of US empire are what Chalmers Johnson called an “empire of bases.” David Vine, the author of  Base Nation, put US empire in context by describing 800 US bases in 80 countries and US military personnel in more than 170 countries. Bases range from so-called Lily Pad Bases of hundreds of troops to town-sized bases of tens of thousands of troops and their families. He noted many bases have schools and they do not need to worry about heating or air conditioning, unlike schools in Baltimore where parents bought space heaters to keep children warm and where schools were closed due to lack of heat.

The contrast between Baltimore schools and military base schools is one example of many of the heavy price USians pay for the military. Vine reported that $150 billion is spent annually to keep US troops on bases abroad and that even a Lily Pad base could cost $1 billion. More is spent on foreign military bases than on any agency of the federal government, other than the Pentagon and Veterans Administration.

The Pentagon is not transparent about the number of US foreign bases it manages or their cost. They usually publish a Base Structure Report but have not done so in several years. The Pentagon only reports 701 bases, but researchers have found many, even significant bases, not included in their list of bases.

According to the No Foreign Bases Coalition:

“95% of all foreign military bases in the world are US bases. In addition, [there are] 19 Naval air carriers (and 15 more planned), each as part of a Carrier Strike Group, composed of roughly 7,500 personnel, and a carrier air wing of 65 to 70 aircraft — each of which can be considered a floating military base.”

The military footprint of the United States shows it is the largest empire in world history. In our interview with historian Alfred McCoy, author of “In The Shadows of the American Century,” he describes how some of the key characteristics of US empire are secrecy and covert actions. This are some of the reasons why it is rare to ever hear US empire discussed in the corporate media or by politicians. McCoy told us this was true for some other empires too, and that it is often not until the empire begins to falter that their existence becomes part of the political dialogue.

Strategies for Closing US Foreign Military Bases

David Vine described an unprecedented opportunity to close bases abroad, to do so we need to build a bigger movement. We also need to elevate the national dialogue about US Empire and develop a national consensus to end it.

Vine pointed to Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric about pulling back from US involvement abroad and focusing on the necessities at home as indicative of the mood of the country. In fact, a recent survey found that “78 percent of Democrats, 64.5 percent of Republicans, and 68.8 percent of independents supported restraining military action overseas.”

McCoy argued that after the globalization of President Barack Obama, which included the Asian Pivot and  efforts to pass major trade agreements, in particular the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), created a backlash desire to focus on “America First.” Both trade agreements, the TPP and TTIP, failed as a result of a political shift in the country, in part created by grassroots movements.

McCoy describes Obama as one of three “Grandmasters of the Great Game” (the other two being Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s National Security Adviser, and Elihu Root, former Secretary of War and Secretary of State at the beginning of the 20th Century) who excelled in being strategic on behalf of US empire. In addition to trade agreements and the Asian Pivot, Obama built on the intelligence apparatus of the George W. Bush era. Even though Obama was a “grandmaster,” he did not slow the weakening of US empire. McCoy sees the inability to account for the unpredictable complexities of US and global political developments as a common weakness of empire strategists.

The conference was divided into regions of the world (with the exception of one session on the impact of  military bases on the environment and health). There will be reports and videos published on each section of the conference on the No Foreign Bases webpage. One common denominator around the world is opposition to US military bases. According to the Unity Statement of the coalition:

“Many individual national coalitions — for example, Okinawa, Italy, Jeju Island Korea, Diego Garcia, Cyprus, Greece, and Germany — are demanding closure of bases on their territory. The base that the U.S. has illegally occupied the longest, for over a century, is Guantánamo Bay, whose existence constitutes an imposition of the empire and a violation of International Law. Since 1959 the government and people of Cuba have demanded that the government of the U.S. return the Guantánamo territory to Cuba.”

One important strategy for success is for US activists to work in cooperation with people around the world who want US military bases to be closed and for the US military to leave their country. Attendees at the conference had traveled to South Korea, Okinawa and other places to protest in solidarity with US activists.

Another strategy that many in the conference urged was the need for education about US imperialism and to tie US militarism abroad with militarized police at home. Similarly, the reality of the US military focusing on black and brown countries abroad highlights a white supremacy philosophy that  infects foreign policy and domestic policy. Members of the No US Foreign Bases coalition also engage in domestic efforts for racial and environmental justice.

Further, the no bases coalition highlights the environmental and health damage caused by foreign and domestic military bases. As the Unity Statement notes, “military bases are the largest users of fossil fuel in the world, heavily contributing to environmental degradation.” Pat Elder and David Swanson described the degradation in and around the Potomac River, writing:

“The Pentagon’s impact on the river on whose bank it sits is not simply the diffuse impact of global warming and rising oceans contributed to by the U.S. military’s massive oil consumption. The U.S. military also directly poisons the Potomac River in more ways than almost anyone would imagine.”

People can find information about the environmental damage being done by the military in their community on the Bombs in Your Backward webpage. World Beyond War held a conference on War and the Environment in 2017. You can view video and summaries from the conference on their site.

Next Steps

The conference attendees decided on some next steps. A national day of action against foreign military bases is being planned for February 23, the anniversary of the US seizing Guantanamo Bay, Cuba through a “perpetual lease” that began in 1903. Activists are encouraged to plan local actions. If you plan an event, contact info@popularresistance.org and we’ll post it on the events page. The demands will include closing the base and prison in Guantanamo, returning the land to Cuba and ending the US blockade.

The conference also decided to hold a conference outside of the United States in one of the countries where the US has a foreign military base within the next year. People from some countries were not allowed to attend the inaugural conference this weekend.

And, the coordinating committee will reach out to other peace and justice groups to select a date and place for a national mass action against US wars. This will be organized as quickly as possible because the threat of more wars is high.

This is a key moment for the antiwar movement in the US to make itself more visible and to demand the closure of US foreign bases. In this report on living in a post-primacy world, even the Pentagon recognizes what many commentators are seeing – the US empire is fading. One great risk as the empire ends is more wars as the US tries to hang on to global hegemony. We must oppose war and work for the least damaging end of empire.

Indeed, if the US becomes a cooperative member of the global community, rather than being a dominator, it would be a positive transition. Imagine how much better it would be for everyone in the world if the US collaborated on addressing the climate crisis in a serious way, obeyed international law and invested in positive programs to solve the many crises we face at home and abroad.

During the Baltimore conference, World Beyond War sponsored a billboard nearby that read, “3% of US military spending could end starvation on earth.” Imagine what a peace budget could look like. The US could invest in domestic necessities including rebuilding infrastructure, a cleaner and safer public transportation system, education, housing and health care. The US could provide aid to other countries to repair the damage it has caused. Members of the US military could transition into a civilian jobs program that applies their expertise to programs of social uplift.

It is imperative that as the US Empire falls, we organize for a smooth transition to a world that is better for everyone. The work of the new coalition to end US foreign military bases is a strong start.

Homeless encampment in the foreground of a Baltimore, MD billboard that read, “3% of US military spending could end starvation on earth.” Source World Beyond War.

Justice for Hassan Diab and the Unbearable Banality of Evil

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

By Judith Deutsch / Socialist Project.

Great joy and relief came with the news this January 12th that French investigative judges issued an “order of final release” for Dr. Hassan Diab from a French maximum security prison. Dr. Diab, a sociology professor and Canadian citizen, was charged with bombing the Rue Copernic Synagogue in 1980. His release follows eight previous orders for his conditional release by four French judges which were all reversed on appeal. But so far this ruling appears to be final and is hopefully a very belated vindication of Dr. Diab and for truth and justice. Since 2007 when France sought his extradition from Canada, credible and verifiable evidence testifying to his innocence was concealed or challenged by Canadian Crown and French anti-terrorism investigators. What followed was heartrending for Diab and for his family. His ten year ordeal warrants a study of the barriers to justice.

Early January also marks the anniversary of Zola’s J’Accuse, the eloquent denunciation of politicized racism a century ago in France when French-Jewish Alfred Dreyfus was framed for treason. Hassan Diab’s case in ways parallels the Dreyfus case. Jewish Dreyfus and Muslim Diab were arrested on the basis of flawed, fraudulent handwriting analysis at a time of politicized racism and nationalism.

Support for Diab

Diab has substantial public support in Canada, and there is absence of widespread public racism calling for ‘Death to Jews’ or ‘Death to Arabs’. Supporting Diab were his devoted wife and friends, excellent lawyers and journalists, the Canadian Association of University Teachers and several unions, Amnesty International and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, many prominent people, and progressive Jewish organizations in Canada and in France.

A careful review of Diab’s case suggests that perhaps even more relevant than Zola is Hannah Arendt’s “banality of evil” within the Canadian and French judicial process. During the entire investigation, the investigators seeking extradition and charges of terrorism opposed testimonies by experts and by Diab himself, concealed evidence, and made use of secret intelligence to falsify information. Among the factors that allowed for gross wrongdoing were Canada’s extradition laws, anti-terrorism measures in both countries, political opportunism that capitalized on fears of terrorism, and foreign interference.

There is also unclarity about who legitimately makes the enforceable decisions and this is where Arendt’s work is insightful. What stands out in Diab’s case is the interface between the personal and political, the individual and the institution. Arendt described the banality of evil in reporting the trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, a man focused exclusively on his own competence within his bureaucracy, a man so incapable of human relatedness and of self-criticism that he could not absorb the fact that he facilitated millions of deaths. Evil does not necessarily have a monstrous face. Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice also comes to mind in the excruciating exploration of legalistic cruelty and racism; in effect the accused Jew asks “can’t you see I’m a person?” whereas on a human level, it is the clever prosecutor who is pitiless and unjust.

Diab was never charged with a crime but lost ten years of his life. He spent six years under strict house arrest in Canada, lost his university job, and was in solitary confinement in France in a maximum security prison for just over three years. He was charged $30,000/year by the government for his monitoring device and had substantial legal fees. When he was finally extradited to France in November 2014, he was treated with gratuitous cruelty. Although the law allowed up to 45 days to carry out extradition, Diab was whisked away early the next day without being able to say goodbye to his pregnant wife and toddler daughter.

Between 2007 and 2014 Diab endured innumerable hearings in Canada that required constant challenges to Canadian extradition law and to the evidence presented by France and by an undisclosed foreign country. Robert J. Currie, an expert in extradition law at Dalhousie University, writes that Diab’s “deplorable situation” in France was a “direct, even logical, result of the current state of Canadian extradition law. Specifically, our law prevents individuals sought for extradition from making any meaningful challenge to a foreign state’s extradition request on the basis that the requesting state does not have sufficiently reliable evidence.” Canada automatically presumes that the requesting state has solid evidence and a sound judicial system. Problems with Canadian extradition law were presented on behalf of Diab by expert witnesses, but to little avail as the Supreme Court refused to hear his case and Diab was immediately extradited to France. Currie pointed out that Canadian extradition judges were in effect “rubber stamps” and that justice for defendants was “practically unattainable.”

Justice Robert Maranger, the Canadian investigative judge, maintained that he had to extradite Diab even though the evidence would not stand in a Canadian court and though the handwriting evidence was “illogical,” “very problematic” and that a fair trial in France was “unlikely.” The Canadian decision was questionably illegal because France had not even charged Dr. Diab; he was wanted for investigation which could lead to years in a French prison.

Cherry-Picked Evidence

In one extradition hearing, Diab’s lawyer Don Bayne pointed out that the assumption that foreign states could “omit, edit out, cherry-pick, or bury exonerating evidence.” For example, palm and finger prints connected with the synagogue bombing did not match those of Diab but this was not disclosed by the French for two years. There was already other questionable evidence: “The Crown prosecutors admitted that there was confusion about the colour of the suspect’s hair, which was variously described by witnesses as black, blond, brown, or dark with blond touches.” The prosecutor responded that the inconsistencies in the French case were “simple and innocent mistakes” as the French magistrate was a “busy man.”

Expert witnesses also pointed out the difference between evidence and intelligence. Intelligence is allowable in extradition and anti-terrorism cases and does not require verifiability. Intelligence can be obtained secretly and can plausibly be connected with torture. Government investigations found that Maher Arar, Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Abou-Elmaati, and Muayyed Nureddin were imprisoned and tortured in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights. Canadian expert witness Wesley Wark stated that intelligence does not meet the legal standard of evidence and that “to deprive an individual of his liberty on the basis of such material would be manifestly unjust.” Stephane Bonifassi, a leading member of the Paris bar and an expert witness in French extradition cases, confirmed that intelligence is regularly used as a basis for conviction in terrorism cases in France. “French law makes no distinction between evidence and intelligence, and it is particularly difficult for a defence lawyer to challenge such intelligence.” Expert witness Kent Roach further stated that in Diab’s case, intelligence appears to come from an unidentified foreign government.

The detailed record of the case that is available on the Justice for Hassan website reports that the Canadian extradition judge refused Dr. Diab the opportunity to meaningfully challenge the evidence, claiming that he would have this opportunity in France. A Human Rights Watch report criticizes France for running unfair trials. The report states that there is a low standard of proof in terrorism cases and that French counterterrorism laws “undermine the right of those facing charges of terrorism to a fair trial.” Diab’s French lawyer stated that he “is detained because of the judges’ fear to be accused of laxity in the context of today’s fight against terrorism in France. Such a situation would be inconceivable in an ordinary law procedure.” Canadian Minister of Justice Rob Nicholson stated that he interpreted Canada’s Extradition Act in a “flexible manner” in surrendering Diab to France. Remarkably, the main evidence against Diab was finally withdrawn by France when it was proven that the handwriting samples were not even written by Diab. In the last year it was confirmed that Diab was in Lebanon writing university exams at the time of the bombing.

Though there were a number of allusions to foreign involvement, it was not until September 2017 that Israeli interference was identified. In Canada and in France, two Jewish organizations that are unquestioningly supportive of Israel and particularly vocal about Islamic terrorism have relentlessly accused Diab of terrorism. B’nai Brith and Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre publicly demanded Diab’s extradition and his firing from Carleton University. Both organizations have members who have close ties with political leaders. As reported in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, Wiesenthal Centre CEO Avi Benlolo called Diab “an accused terrorist mass murderer.”

On his website, Benlolo lists his connections with G.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Shimon Peres, Tony Blair. He accompanied former Prime Minister Stephen Harper to Israel along with a member of the violent Jewish Defense League. In a startling passage from the 2017 book The End of Europe, published by Yale University press, the author James Kirchick appears to uncritically suggest that the Jewish Defense League was crucial in preventing a pogrom at a Parisian synagogue in 2014 which occurred during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge against Gaza. Kirchick writes that a crowd of several hundred people, chanting “death to the Jews” and wielding iron bars and axes, tried to break into the Don Isaac Abravanel synagogue in Paris. “Shimon Samuels, of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, reported seeing Socialist Party politicians in the crowd” and that one eyewitness reported that, had it not been for members of the vigilante Jewish Defense League, ‘the synagogue would have been destroyed, with all the people trapped inside.’” Kirchick does not check the accuracy of this report. It was not widely reported, but other sources indicated that there were perhaps 100 protesters and they were not carrying iron bars and axes. Kirchick further implies that the red-green coalition in Europe endangers European civilization by minimizing the Islamic threat. It will be important to investigate the involvement of Israel and Zionist groups in Diab’s case.

The next few weeks will hopefully see Dr. Diab home with his family and with the large number of people who have worked for his release and full exoneration. Understanding his ordeal should motivate fundamental change to Canada’s extradition law and yield insights about the sociology and politics of injustice. Questions arise about how and why the banality of a small number of people can wreak havoc on the justice system and cause torment to many. •

Judith Deutsch is a psychoanalyst and writes about a range of social justice issues.

Sovereign wealth funds: Investment vehicles or political operators?

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

By James M. Dorsey / Mid-East Soccer.

The $6.85 billion acquisition in 2006 of Peninsular & Oriental (P&O) Steam Navigation Company, a storied British shipping and logistics company, by Dubai’s state-owned DP World, one the world’s largest port management and terminal operators, sparked fears that governments could employ cash-rich sovereign wealth funds (SWFs) and state-run companies as political muscle.

Twelve years later, with the Middle East fighting multiple battles and external powers jockeying for influence, those fears have proven justified despite the adoption in the wake of the sale of non-binding guidelines for sovereign funds that manage hundreds of billions of dollars.

Concern that an Arab state would post 9/11 gain control of some of the busiest terminals in US ports, including New York, Newark, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New Orleans and Miami, forced DP World to exclude P&O’s American assets from the deal.

The worries prompted the creation of a multilateral international working group chaired by a senior UAE financial official alongside an International Monetary Fund executive that in 2008 adopted the Santiago Principles designed to “ensure that the SWF undertakes investments without any intention or obligation to fulfil, directly or indirectly, any geopolitical agenda of the government.”

Enforcing adherence to the principles has proven easier said than done. With the UAE, whose 1.4 million citizens account for a mere 15 percent of its population of 10 million, projecting itself as a regional military power in the war in Yemen and through the establishment of foreign military bases, DP World has since the US debacle been acquiring ports rights globally, including in countries where the UAE military is active.

To be sure, DP World’s expansion in the Horn of Africa and the Gulf of Aden often makes economic sense and may well have been initially commercially driven in cases like the agreement in 2008 to operate for a period of 30 years the Yemeni port of Aden, once the British empire’s busiest port. The company lost its contract four years later because of its failure to invest in the port.

The port has since taken on even greater geopolitical significance with the UAE military’s focus on Aden and alleged backing for a secessionist movement in southern Yemen in the almost three-year-old Saudi-led military intervention in the country that has allowed DP World to again enter into negotiations about assisting in rebuilding Yemen’s maritime and trade sector that would likely include the company’s return to the Aden port.

DP World’s involvement in Aden tallies in geopolitical terms with its own as well as the UAE’s expansion elsewhere in the Horn of Africa. The company won two years ago a 30-year concession, with an automatic 10-year extension, for the management and development of a multi-purpose deep seaport in Berbera in the breakaway region of Somaliland.

Berbera faces South Yemen across the strategic Bab al Mandab Strait, past which some 4 million barrels of oil flow daily. The UAE military is training Somaliland forces and creating an air and naval facility to protect shipping.

DP World was also developing the port of Bosaso in Puntland, another Somali breakaway region, and was discussing involvement in a third Somali port in Barawe. The Somali ports compliment a UAE military base in Eritrea’s Assab as well as various facilities in Yemen.

“Money and politics make a combustible mix: If you don’t get the formula right, it can blow up in your face,” analysts Adam Ereli and Theodore Karasik warned in a recent Foreign Policy article about the role of sovereign wealth funds in relations between Russia and the Gulf.

In one instance, Kirill Dmitriev, a close associate of President Vladimir Putin and the head of Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), met in early January 2017l in the Seychelles with Blackwater founder Erik Prince, a supporter of President Donald J. Trump and the brother of US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in an effort to create a US-Russian back channel. The meeting, days before Mr. Trump’s inauguration, was arranged by UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed.

The meeting occurred as UAE, Saudi and other Gulf sovereign funds as well as DP World earmarked $20 billion for investments in infrastructure, energy, transportation, and military production through RDIF as a way of strengthening relations with Russia. RDIF is one of several Russian entities sanctioned by the US Treasury.

“Even if allowances are made for sectorial and geographic diversification, the level of allocations to these markets is out of proportion to their size and viability,” Messrs. Ereli and Karasik said. In a separate article for The Jamestown Foundation, Mr. Karasik argued that “the Gulf states are using their economic strength to flex their political muscle, in order to invest in Russia at a time when Moscow’s embattled economy is struggling with low oil prices.”

Debate about the political role of sovereign wealth funds subsided with the adoption of the Santiago Principles. Those principles are currently being flaunted in an environment of greater economic nationalism, reduced US emphasis on transparency and democratic values, Russian and Chinese focus on economic benefit, and Gulf governments that have become more assertive in flexing their muscles and asserting themselves internationally.

Gulf sovereign wealth funds have learnt the lessons of DP World’s US experience and are likely to be more cautious in ensuring that potential future investments in the US do not challenge Mr. Trump’s America First principle as well as his emphasis on security.

Elsewhere, they operate in an environment in which the Santiago Principles fall by the wayside and governments face little criticism of their use of sovereign wealth funds as geopolitical tools.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and co-host of the New Books in Middle Eastern Studies podcast. James is the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title as well as Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa.

World Bank Unfairly Influenced Its Own Competitiveness Rankings

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

By Josh Zumbrun and Ian Talley / Wall Street Journal.

The World Bank’s chief economist said he would recalculate national rankings of business competitiveness going back at least four years

The World Bank repeatedly changed the methodology of one of its flagship economic reports over several years in ways it now says were unfair and misleading.

The World Bank’s chief economist, Paul Romer, told The Wall Street Journal on Friday he would correct and recalculate national rankings of business competitiveness in the report called “Doing Business” going back at least four years.

The revisions could be particularly relevant to Chile, whose standings in the rankings have been especially volatile in recent years and potentially tainted by the political motivations of World Bank staff, Mr. Romer said.

The report is one of the World Bank’s most visible initiatives, ranking countries around the world by the competitiveness of their business environment. Countries compete against each other to improve their standings, and the report draws extensive international media coverage.

The former director of the group responsible for the report, Augusto Lopez-Claros, didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment sent to personal and work email addresses listed on his personal website.

A former professor at the University of Chile, Mr. Lopez-Claros is on leave from the World Bank this year while serving as a senior fellow at Georgetown University. The World Bank and Georgetown didn’t immediately provide other contact details for Mr. Lopez-Claros.

A World Bank spokesman said the World Bank had no comment beyond Mr. Romer’s statements.

Over time, World Bank staff put a heavy thumb on the scales of its report by repeatedly changing the methodology that was used to calculate the country rankings, Mr. Romer said.

The focus of the World Bank’s corrections will be changes that had the effect of sharply penalizing the ranking of Chile under the most recent term of Chile’s outgoing president, Michelle Bachelet.

"I want to make a personal apology to Chile, and to any other country where we conveyed the wrong impression," Mr. Romer said. The problems with the report, he said, were “my fault because we did not make things clear enough.”

Chile’s overall ranking has fluctuated between 25th and 57th since 2006. During that period, the presidency of Chile has alternated between Ms. Bachelet, of Chile’s socialist party, and Sebastián Piñera, a conservative. Under Ms. Bachelet, Chile’s ranking consistently deteriorated, while it consistently climbed under Mr. Piñera.

Mr. Romer said the World Bank is beginning the process of correcting the past reports and republishing what the rankings would have been without the methodology changes. Mr. Romer said he couldn’t defend “the integrity” of the process that led to the methodology changes.

Recalculating the numbers could show significant changes to other countries as well.

“Doing Business” ranks nations on metrics like the number of days it takes to open a business, or the cost of getting construction permits. Countries that make their business environment worse, for instance by drawing out the permitting process, get penalized in the rankings.

The World Bank has updated the methodology over time. For example, in the years covered by Mr. Romer’s review, the World Bank added new components dealing with construction permits, new measures of electricity reliability and tariffs, new measures of the quality of judicial processes for shareholders and a new measure of tax filing, among others.

During Ms. Bachelet’s tenure since 2014, new components had the effect of lowering Chile’s ranking. For example, in the report published in 2015, Chile had been ranked 33rd for ease of paying taxes; in the report published in 2016, the World Bank added a new metric on the amount of time businesses must spend dealing with taxes after having filed them, such as via audits or obtaining refunds on value-added taxes. Chile scored exceptionally poorly on this new index, and once it had been added, its ranking for ease of paying taxes sank from 33rd in the world to 120th.

According to a preliminary analysis by Mr. Romer, over the past four years, Chile’s drop was driven almost entirely by adding new metrics to the index, and not by changes to standing measures of Chile’s business environment. He added that changes to the methodologies used in the rankings had the appearance of being politically motivated.

“Based on the things we were measuring before, business conditions did not get worse in Chile under the Bachelet administration,” Mr. Romer said. “I didn’t do enough due diligence and later realized that I didn’t have confidence in the integrity” of the report’s data.

Mr. Romer raised the concerns with World Bank leadership who supported his decision to correct and recalculate the figures.

Mr. Romer joined the World Bank in October 2016 from New York University. The changes to past reports will date back years before his arrival at the World Bank.

Mr. Romer has clashed with World Bank economic staff before. In May, he published an internal memo he’d written in which he told World Bank economists they should write more clearly and concisely.

“The problem with vague writing is that it lets an author convey a false impression yet retain plausible deniability when someone tries to verify the claim,” he wrote.

In the memo, Mr. Romer referenced critical research from Stanford University’s Literary Lab that had studied the writing in World Bank reports and concluded the reports were written in “almost another language, in both semantics and grammar” and were “becoming more abstract, more distant from concrete social life; a technical code detached from everyday communication.”

During that 2017 clash, Mr. Romer also published an earlier memo he had written about a budget document he received early in his tenure as chief economist. The budget memo said converting 90 contract workers to full-time workers would “have no impact on the Bank Budget,” but upon questioning the staff and investigating the issue, Mr. Romer determined that the full-time employees would cost considerably more than contractors.

Mr. Romer became alarmed, saying that a group in charge of economic data and empirical research shouldn’t be producing internal documents with misleading data. “If people in the Bank cannot believe everything [the Development Economics Group] writes, they can’t believe anything we write,” he wrote in that internal memo.

Appeared in the January 13, 2018, print edition as 'World Bank: Our Rankings Were Off.'

Trump After Bannon: What Next?

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

By Andrew Levine / Counterpunch.

Photo by Michael Vadon | CC BY 2.0

When Donald Trump became president, days became dog years – except that the changes have been more chaotic and less predictable.

What seems likely one day seems out of the question the next.  Lately, the pace and the level of chaos has actually picked up.  Predicting what will come next is therefore an even riskier business than it was a few months or even weeks ago.

Even so, Steve Bannon’s claim that there is roughly one chance in three that Trump will resign or that he will be impeached or that his Vice President and cabinet secretaries will depose him by activating the Twenty-fifth Amendment is as good a guess as any.

Bannon is, for the time being, persona non grata in Trumpland.  For this, everyone this side of the Tea Party is pleased.  They should savor the moment.

Trump’s deposed advisor is plainly a vile human being, but that is not why he stood out.  Everybody in Trumpland is vile.  The difference is that none of the others have functioning brains.   Because Bannon does, the chances are a lot better than one in three that, before long, he and the Donald will make up.  If Trump can use him, he will welcome him back.

Bannon is smarter than Trump and other Trumpians, but he is far from smart by normal standards, and he is anything but infallible.  His one chance in three prediction already seems a tad dated.

Looking ahead at a six to ten month time horizon, I’d give slightly better odds than Bannon did on resignation.  I say this because, at this point, if Trump is even minimally self-aware and capable of thinking a step ahead, his first order of business would be to cut his losses by salvaging what he can of his brand.  This would also enable him to resume the nouveau riche, super-crude, grope-any-woman-he-wants lifestyle he led before lightening struck.  It’s a no brainer.

Of course, anything could happen if grounds for major criminal indictments come down this spring or summer; or if, with the midterm elections approaching, it looks like the GOP is about to self-destruct to a degree that would cause its “donors” (ignoble, hyper-rich capitalist paymasters) to stop throwing good money after bad.

It has come to that!  A matter of enormous consequence for the whole world depends on the thoughts fleeting through what there is of the Donald’s mind and on the calculations of the leaders of the more odious of our two semi-established, neoliberal political parties.  With the rules of the game being what they are, and with Republican majorities in both the House and Senate, only Republicans can force Trump out.

It is not necessary to hold those Republican leaders in any higher regard than they deserve to be confident that they understand that were Trump gone, replaced by the Vice President as the Constitution requires, they could do a lot more for their donors and for themselves, in both the short and long term.

Why stick with a “stable genius” who is only good for rabble rousing and tweeting up a storm when Mike Pence, one of their own, could be in charge?  Being less scary – Pence was born without a personality — opposition to their machinations would diminish, enabling them to do more of the nefarious things they want done.

Add on a diminished likelihood of a nuclear Armageddon, and setting impeachment in motion or activating the Twenty-fifth amendment become no-brainers too.

But neither Trump nor Republican leaders are moved by right reason.  Trump is too firmly in thrall to delusions about his own wonderfulness, and the Republican leadership is comprised of shameless wusses, buffaloed by alt-right practitioners of white identity politics and the millions of hapless souls who still stand by the huckster who bamboozled them.

This, more than their own moral and intellectual shortcomings, is why Republican leaders have so far been too cowardly to do the right thing – even if only to save their own asses.  Pusillanimity is not just for Democrats any more; it has become a bipartisan affliction.

Thus getting from here to there in Trump’s case is psychologically difficult, while for Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and others of their ilk, it is, to put the point as kindly as I can, “complicated.”

And so, here we are.

But times and circumstances change.

If, as reported, Trump is mentally deteriorating at an alarming rate, the urgency of dispatching him becomes greater with each passing day; and the more the general public knows about it, the more political cover Republican leaders could muster if only they would dare.

With all the media attention now raging around Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, it is finally dawning on the general public not only that, with Trump in the White House, the situation is and always has been dire, but that it is rapidly becoming worse — not so much in kind as in intensity.

This is not just news to the general public.  We now know that the situation is worse even than diligent observers of Trump, his family and his close associates imagined.

***

Democrats and their media flunkies on MSNBC and elsewhere still get all hot and bothered about the Democratic National Committee’s leaked emails.  Anything to be able to tell fatuous stories that impugn the Russians and Wikileaks!

However, there was precious little in those emails that anybody who had been paying even casual attention didn’t already know.  The fix was in: the political machines and informal networks that the Clintons and their co-thinkers had been putting together since the eighties had been hard at work since even before the election season began.  The Sanders insurgency never had a chance.  The powers that be saw to it that their anointed one, Hillary Clinton, would be the Democratic nominee.

Similarly, Fire and Fury confirms much that was already known.  However, unlike John Podesta’s emails, Wolff’s reporting makes for a great read.  His journalism may be less than exemplary, as a number of commentators have pointed out, and his publishers evidently stinted on copy-editing.  But Fire and Fury is a first class page-turner.

Ever since Leopold von Ranke (1795-1886) proclaimed the goal, historians, some of them anyway, have endeavored to tell the story of the past wie es eigentlich gewesen (as it actually was).  Journalists are also supposed to follow this precept.

But this is not always the best advice.  Thucydides’ (460-400 BCE) History of the Peloponnesian War falls short of von Ranke’s standard.  He plainly made a great deal up.   But his way of making sense of the past, and putting the story he told in perspective, is as good as it gets.

Needless to say, Wolff is no Thucydides – not by any means.   No one will or should care what he wrote 2500 years or even days from now.

But I, for one, am struck by a noteworthy similarity between Wolff’s timely bestseller and Thucydides’ masterpiece.  While remaining more or less true to the facts, both aimed mainly at getting the general story right, even when that meant embellishing what actually happened with, for example, detailed accounts of orations (Thucydides) or conversations (Wolff) that they could not possibly have known about and therefore described in a way that accords with the standard von Ranke demanded.

And, in both cases, the stories the authors tell, however embellished, are spot on.

Part of the reason for Fire and Fury’s success is the fact that some two thirds of the American people, and nearly the entirety of the pre-Trump establishment’s power structure, are eager for anything, even scraps of dubiously reported anecdotal evidence, that impugns the character and competence of the Donald and his minions.

It is not just that Trump is hated that much, though he surely is.  A deeper reason is that he has so radically overthrown accepted norms of presidential behavior that the only way even to begin to make sense of the daily tumult he has unleashed is to strike back – using any cudgel at hand.

It doesn’t hurt either that Wolff’s take even on well-known aspects of the Trump phenomenon is fresh and insightful.

I, for example, have long been a fan of Mel Brooks’ The Producers, especially the movie version with Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder.  But it wasn’t until I read Fire and Fury that I appreciated the similarities between Trump’s story and Max Bialystock and Leo Blooms’.

Bialystock and Bloom set out to enrich themselves by producing a Broadway flop.  If Wolff is right (as he surely is), Trump ran for President not to win, but to enhance his brand.

Bialystock and Bloom went to great pains to make “Springtime for Hitler” the worst musical ever.  They thought that their plan was foolproof.

Trump never wanted to flop outright; there would be no percentage for him in that.  He wanted to almost win – positioning himself to take advantage of the business opportunities a near win would open up.

Thus he campaigned – in ways that would draw inordinate attention to himself, not with a view to becoming president, but to becoming the most famous man on earth.

Trump’s plan, like Bialystock and Blooms’, was eminently reasonable.

We Americans are capable of casting good judgment and common sense aside when we elect presidents – witness Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.   But, according to Wolff, the consensus view even in Trump’s innermost circle was that a sleazy real estate mogul and reality television star would be too much even for Reagan and Bush voters.  The very idea of a Trump presidency was ridiculous on its face.

Because he had a far better opinion of himself than anyone else, Trump had a somewhat different view.  But his expectations were much the same as those of the people around him.

Thus it hardly bothered him that his campaign was a disorganized mess, especially at first, before the iniquitous Mercers brought Steve Bannon and others like him onto the scene – accentuating the Trump campaign’s alt-right, “Springtime for Hitler” aspect.

But then, alas, just as in The Producers, the impossible happened.

On Wolff’s telling, Trump and his inner circle were as dumbfounded by their victory as Bialystock and Bloom were by their musical’s smash success.

Those two ended up in prison – where, in the final scene, they are shown working their ploy on fellow prisoners, prison guards and even the warden.   It is still not clear where Trump and the people formerly or still closest to him will end up.  What is clear is that, like Bialystock and Bloom, Trump is incorrigible.

I also hadn’t realized how victory ratcheted up Trump’s egotism and sense of invincibility.

Bialystock and Bloom understood right away what they would be in for, once they were found out.  But even before the dust had settled, Trump, Wolff reports, had the opposite reaction.  All of a sudden, he saw himself entitled and destined to rule.

I was also astonished to learn how fully and quickly the people Trump worked with, after he became president, became aware of the fact that their boss was not about to undergo a metamorphosis that would somehow make him presidential. Before he was elected, Trump was erratic, immature, crude, and mentally and morally unfit.  His election changed none of that, and the people around him figured that out right away.

Trump has effectively ceded power to the people he appointed to top government positions.  Many, probably most, of them are second-rate rightwing jackasses.

Some of them, though, seemed to be reasonably cognizant and, though reactionary, generally benign. They seemed to have signed on in order to minimize the harm Trump would do were they not there to restrain him.

Thanks to Wolff’s reporting – and therefore to Bannon’s blabbing – it is now clear that, with very few exceptions, the goals of those ostensibly public spirited plutocrats, military honchos and Republican bigwigs had less to do with serving their country by doing damage control than with feathering their own nests and furthering their own agendas.

That Trump’s mind, at its most lucid, is, at best, borderline delusional is not exactly news, and neither was it a secret that his Secretary of State was not alone in thinking that he is a “fucking moron.”  I had no idea, though, that the people around him were as aware of the extent and depth of Trump’s cognitive shortcomings as Wolff claims they are.

I also didn’t realize how rapidly his mental state has been deteriorating.

We are stuck with the results of the 2016 election for three more years – whether or not Trump craps out of his own accord, is impeached, or is removed from office in the way prescribed by the Twenty-Fifth Amendment.  The sad fact is that whether it is Trump or Pence warming the chair in the Oval Office, mean spirited self-aggrandizing troglodytes will be running the show for at least the next three years.

Thank the authors of our Constitution for that.  Deliberately or not, our founders, many of whom had been leading figures in the American Revolution, made it almost as difficult to remove a sitting president as to remove a king.

This being the case, but for that humongous (non-existent) button Trump claims to have on his desk, and for his evident desire to start a war against Iran, it is probably better that he remain in office – impotent and deteriorating – than that Pence replace him.

“Resisting” someone who makes the blood of every right thinking human being boil is one thing; resisting someone no more unsettling than a loaf of white bread takes a certain presence of mind.  Add on the sense of relief that would come were Trump sent packing and it is plain that Pence would stand a far better chance than Trump of reversing what remains of advances achieved decades ago.

Let’s face it too: it would be a delight to see the Donald decline (even more than he already has) and fall.  “Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.”  Let them have at it!

Let his children cut him loose as well — to save their fortunes and their wretched necks. And let Melania break free from her gilded captivity, renouncing the Faustian bargain that turned her into the trophy bride of a repellent creature with too much money and too little couth.

But caution is in order: Trump could take the whole world down with that button of his.

Before long — perhaps in just a few days time when his administration’s one year anniversary comes around – many a Trumpian will decide to spend more time with his or her family; rats are always on the ready to abandon a sinking ship.

But others will replace them; the swamp that Trump said he would drain but that he instead brought into the White House itself, is full of other rats waiting to take over.

***

What will all those anodyne “resisters,” soon to be, if not already, coopted into the Democratic Party, do about that?

The sad fact is that, in the up-coming midterm elections, wherever races are genuinely competitive, the only way to defeat a Republican will be to vote for a Democrat.   If that Democrat is anything like Democrats generally are and have been for as long as anyone not already on Social Security can remember, this will require making a “tragic choice.”

For the fact is that the Democratic Party, in its present form, is very nearly as much a part of the problem as the GOP.

Trump is as bad, or worse, than Democratic voters think; and Republicans of all stripes and factions are noxious sons of bitches or bitches of equal or greater perniciousness.

But it is Democrats, not Republicans or Trump, who are now promoting love for the pillars of the National Security State, especially the FBI and the CIA.

I would bet all I have that, if humankind survives, future historians will conclude that, in our time, the National Security State posed a greater danger to (small-d) democracy, at home and abroad, and to Americans’ basic rights and liberties, than any of our purported adversaries.

The Democratic Party, these days, speaks for those malefactors.

Also Democrats are way out ahead of Republicans in encouraging Russophobia, reviving Cold War animosities, and generally laying the groundwork for World War III.

Global warming is probably the greatest threat now facing humankind.  On that, Republicans are bad as can be, and Democrats are not much better.  But on the next threat in line, war with Russia, Democrats are worse.  Threat Number Three is, of course, war against Iran.  On that, because Israel wants it badly, as does Saudi Arabia, both parties are equally horrendous.

So, even when voting for mainstream Clintonite Democrats is the only way to counter the even clearer and more present dangers posed by the Greater Evil Party, remember that the idea that any good can come from a party led by the likes of Chuck Schumer, Ben Cardin, Nancy Pelosi, and others of their ilk, a party that fields media flacks like Rachel Maddow, is nothing more than a snare and a delusion.

Can the well-meaning but basically apolitical “beautiful souls” who suddenly got the idea, after watching her speak at the Golden Globe award ceremony a few days ago, that what the world needs now, to replace the Clown Prince of Darkness, is Oprah Winfrey, an over the hill but still uplifting, non-threatening African American, middle brow daytime TV personality with no more political experience than Trump could boast of, be counted on to keep that thought in mind?

Oprah might make Hillary Clinton look good, but otherwise, the question answers itself.

ANDREW LEVINE is the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

U.S. Regulators Reject Trump's 'Multi-Billion-Dollar Bailout' for Coal Plants

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

By John H. Cushman Jr. / Inside Climate News.

The plan would have given a big subsidy to the coal industry. FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, is asking power grid operators what's needed instead.

Coal piles sit outside the Hunter Power plant operated by PacifiCorp outside Castle Dale, Utah. The plan rejected by regulators would have paid coal-fired utilities extra to keep stock piles of coal on hand. Credit: George Frey/Getty Images

Coal piles sit outside a PacifiCorp power plant near Castle Dale, Utah. The plan rejected by regulators would have paid utilities extra to keep stockpiles of coal on hand. Credit: George Frey/Getty Images

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Monday unanimously rejected a Trump administration gambit that would have favored the coal industry by rewarding electric companies for keeping big stockpiles of fuel on hand, supposedly to improve the reliability of power supplies.

The commission, in one of its first significant actions since its membership was fleshed out with President Donald Trump's new appointees, said that it would do its own analysis of how the grid is coping and that it had solicited ideas from the nation's grid operators about how to proceed. The grid operators are the regional authorities who control power supplies, rather than the electric companies or their fuel suppliers.

The idea to bolster the coal and nuclear segments of the complex grid was pushed hard by Energy Secretary Rick Perry last year after extensive lobbying by influential fossil fuel companies, including Murray Coal and First Energy. The plan had been excoriated by diverse interest groups, including many environmental advocates, some public utility companies and natural gas suppliers.

Consumers would have paid billions in higher bills, and most of the benefits would have gone to a few big companies, studies showed.

Neil Chatterjee, a Trump appointee who was the commission's interim chairman until early December, praised what he called "Secretary Perry's bold leadership in jump-starting a national conversation on this urgent challenge."

But another new commissioner, Richard Glick, called the proposal, which also would have affected some nuclear plants, "a multi-billion-dollar bailout" that was not supported by the evidence. He was named to FERC by Trump to a Democratic seat on the politically apportioned commission.

Perry's Plan Relied on Emergency Powers

The FERC ruling was closely watched even though the action Perry proposed seemed legally frail, relying on emergency powers that are rarely invoked. This time, they were being pushed without any sign of an actual emergency, such as a foreign embargo or a crippling strike, that might have undermined the grid.

As Harvard expert Ari Pesko outlined in this Twitter thread, the proposal didn't even meet the threshold legal test that FERC had to consider: whether existing rate schedules, known as tariffs, were inherently unjust or unreasonable, and that the new approach would be fairer.

Perry's theory was that the rates that coal and nuclear utilities were allowed to charge did not reflect all the services they provide to grid stability, and that this was letting renewable energy sources unfairly elbow their way into the marketplace, along with natural gas.

The countervailing view is that a pro-coal thumb on the scales was an anachronism in an energy system that would be better served by market forces.

Unspoken in this debate—and not on Perry's radar—has been the imperative of making changes to the electric system to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas that is warming the planet.

"Energy regulators must follow the law and act on the best available science, and not pick winners and losers based on political alliances," said Mike Jacobs, senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Ask the Grid Operators

In all this, FERC has hardly been a household name, even though its decisions over gas pipelines, electric rates and the like affect consumers all over the country. Its role has been increasingly controversial as advocates of a clean energy revolution have lambasted it for pro-industry leanings, even showing up to protest disruptively at FERC hearings, normally the least theatrical of Washington's venues.

Environmental groups expressed relief.

"FERC's decision to ask the regional grid operators how they currently ensure a resilient grid is a reasonable first step," said John Moore, who runs a "Sustainable FERC" coalition from the Natural Resources Defense Council.

"A well-thought-out inquiry into resilience could help strengthen America's electric grid. But that will happen only if FERC abandons the Trump administration's inappropriate focus on aging and unneeded coal and nuclear plants, properly defines resilience and truly investigates how to build a 21st century electricity system," Moore said.

Uncompetitive Coal vs. Renewables and Gas

Glick was vehement in his criticism of Perry's plan.

"There is no evidence in the record," he wrote, "to suggest that temporarily delaying the retirement of uncompetitive coal and nuclear generators would meaningfully improve the resilience of the grid."

Indeed, he said, the Department of Energy's own staff study, performed at Perry's urging, had concluded that the retirement of coal-fired power plants in favor of cheaper, cleaner renewables and natural gas "have not diminished the grid's reliability or otherwise posed a significant and immediate threat to the resilience of the electric grid."

"To the contrary, the addition of a diverse array of generation resources, including natural gas, solar, wind, and geothermal, as well as maturing technologies, such as energy storage, distributed generation, and demand response, have in many respects contributed to the resilience of the bulk power system," he argued.

In a statement, Perry said that "a diverse fuel supply, especially with onsite fuel capability, plays an essential role in providing Americans with reliable, resilient and affordable electricity, particularly in times of weather-related stress like we are seeing now."

But Glick dismissed that argument, noting that "many coal and nuclear plants with significant on-site fuel supplies have failed to function during extreme weather events because those fuel supplies froze, flooded or were otherwise unavailable. In fact, initial reports indicate that coal-fired facilities accounted for nearly half of all forced outages in PJM during last week's period of extreme temperatures."

Covert wars: Iran and Saudi Arabia revisit their strategies

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

By James M. Dorsey / Mid-East Soccer.

Expressions of support by US President Donald J. Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu have provided the grist for Iranian claims that anti-government protests were instigated by foreign powers. The largely baseless assertions offer nonetheless insight into the very different strategies adopted by Iran and Saudi Arabia in their vicious struggle for regional dominance.

There is little doubt that the protests were fuelled by widespread economic grievances with Iran’s detractors resembling not always helpful fans on the side lines. In fact, Saudi Arabia, Iran’s nemesis, was the one opponent of the Islamic republic that refrained from joining the fans publicly in a bid to deprive the regime in Tehran from using it as a scapegoat. That did not stop Iranian leaders from pointing a finger at the kingdom in ways that reflected the dynamics of the Iranian-Saudi rivalry.

Both Iranian and Saudi approaches to their rivalry are in flux. Protesters in Iran challenged the government’s heavy expenditure on propping up allies like Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and funding proxies in Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine and Yemen, not to mention proselytization campaigns in West Africa.

The protests are unlikely to change Iranian policy that the country’s leaders view as the crux of their defense strategy in covert wars with the United States and Saudi Arabia that have been ongoing since the 1979 Islamic revolution that toppled the shah, a monarch and an icon of now waning US power in the region.

Nonetheless, Iranian leaders will have to take public grievances into account even if the protests peter out. Rather than toting its regional successes publicly, Iran going forward is likely to be more circumspect about its foreign involvements. While that will not change things on the ground, it may contribute over time to an environment more conducive to a lessening of tensions.

Despite the protests, Iran has little reason to change facts on the ground. With access to the world’s most advanced weapons systems severely restricted for decades because of sanctions and boycotts, some in response to provocative Iranian actions and policies, others part of regional power struggles, Iran has sought to fight its battles far from its borders. Many Iranians bought into the argument that the policy had largely shielded their country from instability and jihadism wracking the rest of the region.

Simultaneous Islamic State attacks last June on the Iranian parliament and the mausoleum of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic republic, that killed 12 people were viewed as the exception that proved the rule. That perception has changed in a significant segment of the population as protesters demanded that funds allocated to Iran’s defense doctrine and enhancement of its regional influence be invested in improving their deteriorating living standards.

“Our military doctrine is…based on historical experience: During the Iran-Iraq War, Saddam Hussein rained Soviet-made missiles on our cities, some of them carrying chemical components provided by the West. The world not only kept silent, but also no country would sell Iran weapons to enable us to at least deter the aggressor. We learned our lesson,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote in The New York Times weeks before the protests erupted.

Speaking this week at a Brookings Institution seminar in Washington, Iranian-American journalist Maziar Bahari described Iran’s doctrine as a more brutal and militarized version of the late Israeli prime minister David Ben Gurion’s policy of the periphery that in the absence of relations with Israel’s neighbours sought to forge ties with the neighbours of the Jewish state’s neighbours.

Mr. Zarif represents the view of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s pragmatic government, a view shared by conservatives as part of a far greater ambition that they have no compunction about articulating.

In a column in the conservative Tehran Times entitled ‘What makes Iran stronger than Saudi Arabia?’, sociologist and journalist Mohammad Mazhari argued that “the Saudi regime has no comprehension that money cannot replace ideological values.” By contrast, Mr. Mazhari wrote, “there are common ties between Iran and Hezbollah, however the crux of those ties is not monetary. What drives Iran is not a superficial goal, it is working hard to restore the empire, but this time culturally, while Saudi Arabia and its alliances have no clear vision nor project in the Middle East save for keeping their thrones.”

Prince Mohammed vowed months before Mr. Zarif articulated Iran’s defense doctrine, that the fight with Iran would take place “inside Iran, not in Saudi Arabia.” In doing so, the crown prince was playing on deep-seated Iranian fears rooted in a history of foreign intervention that stretches from ancient to modern times as well as highlighting the fundamentally different Saudi and Iranian strategies.

Since coming to power in 2015, Prince Mohammed has shifted the emphasis of Saudi strategy from long-term cultural and public diplomacy focused on promotion of Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism as an anti-dote to Iranian Shiite and revolutionary ideology, and passive reliance on the United States to defend the kingdom by containing Iran to a more assertive confrontation of the Islamic republic everywhere but in Iran itself.

Prince Mohammed’s approach is a power play based primarily on chequebook diplomacy, pressure tactics, and projection of the kingdom as the custodian of Islam’s holiest cities. It is an approach that is void of any ideology or worldview beyond the need to counter Iran and support autocratic or authoritarian rule in a bid to ensure the survival of his family’s rule.

Prince Mohammed’s approach has so far produced mixed results at best. His effort to force a political crisis in Lebanon by pressuring Prime Minister Saad Hariri to resign backfired. King Abdullah of Jordan and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas rejected the crown prince’s demand that they not attend an Islamic summit in Istanbul convened last month to condemn Mr. Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The prince’s one military adventure, intervention in Yemen, has produced a quagmire, severely tarnished the kingdom’s image, and even provoked criticism from one of his greatest fans, Mr. Trump. Egypt has adopted an independent foreign policy that is at times at odds with positions adopted by Saudi Arabia despite being financially dependent on the kingdom.

Hanging in the balance is the question whether Prince Mohammed’s declaration last year that he wants to return the kingdom to a yet undefined moderate form of Islam means that he will introduce an ideological element to his strategy that would replace the increasingly problematic propagation of Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism.

It’s a tall order in a country whose religious establishment and culture is steeped in ultra-conservatism despite support for more relaxed religious and social codes among a significant segment of a predominantly young population.

A successful redefinition of Islam would not only significantly enhance confidence in Prince Mohammed’s ability to change the nature of Saudi society and economy but also strengthen the kingdom in its struggle with Iran that despite being fought as a zero-sum game can only be resolved with an agreement that recognizes both Saudi Arabia and Iran as key regional players.

Economics rather than Iran’s rivalry with Saudi Arabia and hostility towards the United States and Israel is at the crux of anti-government protests in Iran. Nevertheless, the protests are likely to force Iranian leaders to repackage their foreign involvements at a time that Prince Mohammed is seeking to revamp his kingdom as part of an economic and political survival strategy. In the longer term, that could unintentionally create building blocks for the lowering of tensions in a dispute that has wracked havoc across the Middle East and the wider Muslim world.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and co-host of the New Books in Middle Eastern Studies podcast. James is the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title as well as Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa.

Trump's war on immigrants

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

By Shikha Dalmia / The Week.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
January 2, 2018

The Trump administration's malice toward immigrants isn't only evident in harsh deportation and other enforcement policies. You can also see it in the White House's acts of gratuitous pettiness. Case in point: the recent declaration that it plans to revoke the work authorization of spouses of foreign techies on H-1B visas.

Unlike almost every other visa category, spouses of H-1Bs, 90 percent of whom are women, receive H-4 visas that allow them to live in the country but, until recently, not work or start a business. Spouses of diplomats, investors on E visas, and intra-company transfers on L visas have never faced such restrictions.

This didn't make any sense. But it didn't matter all that much when transitioning from H-1Bs to green cards took only a couple of years. But in the last decade, average wait times have ballooned to six years. And for tech workers from China and India, wait times are now approaching two decades. This means that Chinese and Indian H-1B spouses are effectively frozen out of the U.S. labor market during their most productive years. Currently, about 1.5 million H-1B families are stuck in green card limbo land.

Former President Barack Obama partially fixed this perverse situation in the waning hours of his tenure, and handed work authorization to about 125,000 of these spouses if their husbands had jumped through all the bureaucratic hoops (like obtaining a labor certification from the feds attesting that there were no qualified American to do what they do) and filed a completed green card application. This brought U.S. practice somewhat in line with other industrialized countries such as Canada and Australia, which hand instant work authorization to spouses in order to attract high-tech talent.

But a group called Save Jobs USA, represented by lawyers from the nativist Center for Immigration Studies, sued the Obama administration, claiming that its reprieve to these spouses meant that for every one H-1B visa, America would now "import" two foreign workers — as if "importing" unproductive people were somehow economically preferable. A federal judge threw out the lawsuit, noting that the plaintiffs had failed to offer any convincing evidence of "irreparable harm" — which is not surprising given that these spouses make up a mere 0.001 of the total American workforce. Indeed, even if one accepts the false zero-sum economic math of nativists, in which every job gain by a foreigner means a job loss by an American, automation "destroys" more jobs in two months than all the H-4 spouses who have ever received work authorization.

The nativist group appealed and, instead of defending the rule in court, the Trump administration requested one delay after another until the court put its foot down and gave the administration until Jan. 2 to file its brief. But a couple of weeks ago the administration declared that to advance this president's protectionist "Buy American, Hire American" policies, it plans to rescind the rule. It is unclear whether it will do so retroactively and take away the work authorization of spouses who already have it, let it lapse, or just stop handing new authorization to future H-4s.

Regardless, this is a tragedy for women for whom jobs mean not only income and independence, but also a ticket out of loneliness and social isolation. They often have few friends or family in their new country and jobs are a way to enter mainstream society and assimilate. Incidentally, it is curious that the very restrictionists who relentlessly attack immigrants for not assimilating are also the ones most aggressively fighting to take away the most effective tool immigrants have for assimilation: jobs.

Many H-4 wives try to overcome their boredom by having children, which is why in techie circles H-4 visas are darkly referred to as "involuntary housewife" visas. But raising a family on a single income, especially in high-cost IT hubs like Silicon Valley where foreign tech workers tend to cluster, isn't easy, especially when they have obligations back home.

But the economic downside to America is also tremendous. Highly qualified professionals tend to marry similarly qualified mates. Many of them abandon successful careers back home to come to this "land of opportunity." Confining them to a life of household drudgery means squandering the most precious resource: human talent. Indeed, what has made America great is its particular genius in ferreting out this resource even among the "huddled masses" that have washed up on our shores. Forcing highly talented and ambitious spouses to sit at home instead of making economic contributions, especially when high-tech sectors are facing an exceedingly tight labor market with jobs waiting months to fill, makes zero economic sense.

So why is President Trump dong this?

It's simple. Trump's attack on foreign spouses is part of a general strategy to score political points with his nativist base by making life as miserable as possible for as many immigrants as possible. Indeed, in addition to going after spouses of H-1Bs, Trump has launched a war on H-1Bs themselves, despite these visas enjoying near sacrosanct status in pre-Trump conservative circles. For example, renewing their visas used to be a routine matter. Now, the administration has declared it will subject workers to the same onerous scrutiny as when they first applied in a naked bid to raise the compliance costs for companies that hire H-1Bs. So much for regulatory relief!

Immigrants will pay a price for Trump's wrong-headed views. And so will the rest of the country.

Social Media Madness: The Russia Canard

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

By Norman Solomon

For several months we’ve been hearing a crescendo of outcries that Russia used social media to sway the 2016 presidential election. The claim has now been debunked by an unlikely source -- one of the most Russiagate-frenzied big media outlets in the United States, the Washington Post.


Far away from the media echo chamber, the Post news story is headlined: “There’s Still Little Evidence That Russia’s 2016 Social Media Efforts Did Much of Anything.”


The article focuses on “what we actually know about the Russian activity on Facebook and Twitter: It was often modest, heavily dissociated from the campaign itself and minute in the context of election social media efforts.”


In fact, the ballyhooed Facebook ads were notably not targeted to be seen in swing states, the piece by Post journalist Philip Bump reports. As for the much-hyped tweets, they were smaller than miniscule in quantity compared to overall election-related tweets.

But don’t expect the fervent canard about Russian manipulation of social media to fade away anytime soon. At this point, the Russiagate atmosphere has become so toxic -- with incessant propaganda, credulity, fear-laced conformity and partisan opportunism -- that basic logic often disintegrates.


One of the weirdest aspects of claims that Russia undermined the election with social media has involved explaining away the fact that few of the ads and posts in question actually referred to Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump or the election. Instead, we’re told, the wily Russians tried to help Trump by inflaming social divisions such as racial tensions. It’s a rampant storyline (rendered here by NBC News political director Chuck Todd) that’s reminiscent of the common claim during the civil rights movement that “outside agitators,” such as Russian-directed reds, were inflaming and exploiting racial tensions in the South.


From there, it’s just a hop skip and jump to smearing Americans who dissent from U.S. orthodoxies as useful idiots who serve the interests of plotters in the Kremlin.


Of course history is not exactly repeating itself, but it’s rhyming an awful lot. There are real parallels between the McCarthy Era and today’s anti-Russia fervor in the United States.


Despite all the information and analysis that have strengthened progressive understanding in this country during the last few decades, fixating on Russia as culpable for the election of Trump has been widely irresistible. Perhaps that fixation is less upsetting than deeper realization of just how rotten the U.S. corporate system of injustice has become -- and how the forces that brought us the horrors of the Trump presidency are distinctly homegrown.


Narratives scapegoating Russia now have an extremely powerful grip on the USA. The consequences include heightened U.S.-Russia tensions that absolutely mean heightened risks of nuclear war -- and worsening threats to democratic discourse at home.


The conditioned reflex to label as somehow “pro-Putin” any opinion that overlaps with a Kremlin outlook is becoming part of the muscle memory of much of the American body politic. Countless journalists, pundits, activists and politicians have fallen under the Russiagate spell. They include the liberal primetime lineup on MSNBC, where -- as the media watchdog group FAIR pointed out last month -- Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes routinely bypass stories of great importance in order “to lead with minutiae from the ongoing Russia investigation that has consumed MSNBC‘s coverage like no other news event since the beginning of the Trump presidency.”


Across most of the media landscape, the meme that Russians attacked American democracy with social-media posts has been treated as self-evident.


In a typical exercise of the conformity that afflicts the national press corps, the Washington bureau chief for Mother Jones magazine, David Corn, wrote this fall that the House intelligence committee needed more staff to investigate, in his words, “how” -- not whether -- “a foreign adversary attacked American democracy.” His piece breathlessly declared that “the Trump-Russia scandal” was “expanding -- it now includes new revelations regarding Moscow’s use of social media in the United States to influence the 2016 campaign.”


That kind of stenography for powerful spin may snag cable TV appearances and lucrative book contracts, but it’s a notable disservice to journalism and democracy.


Meanwhile, most Democrats on Capitol Hill are eager to engage in such rhetoric. So, it was just another routine appearance when Senator Richard Blumenthal went on CNN a week before Christmas and declared “there is increasing evidence that the Russians are continuing their attack on our democracy.” He said: “The Russian attack on our elections in 2016 was endlessly ingenious and inventive, using all kinds of social media, all kinds of intermediaries, sources of information for them.”


To put it mildly, that sort of bombast gains vastly more airtime than discussing the urgent need for détente between the world’s two nuclear superpowers.


On MSNBC, Rachel Maddow has climbed with her ratings to great mass-media acclaim, while advancing herself from the outset of the Trump presidency as one of the most prominent and irresponsible Russia baiters in U.S. media. At this rate, when Maddow retires -- if she and the rest of us are lucky enough to avoid a nuclear holocaust -- she can look back on a career that deteriorated into an obsessive crusade against Russia that increased the chances of World War III.


In the poisonous media environment that keeps boosting her fame and fortune, it’s grotesquely fitting that Maddow -- time after time after time -- has devoted so much of her program to the illusory Russian assault on democracy via social media.

That’s the way it goes in the propaganda-polluted land of Russiagate.

______________________

Norman Solomon is the coordinator of the online activist group RootsAction.org. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He is the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.

Anti-Regime Protests in Iran

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

By Frieda Afary / Socialist Project

New Wave of Mass Protests in Iran

International Alliance in Support of Workers in Iran

Mass protests in over 50 cities across Iran have been taking place since December 28th amid heavy security to raise people’s voices against massive poverty, skyrocketing cost of living, vast corruption and embezzlement by officials on all levels as well as brutal political repression.

These protests are mostly unsystematically organized by the working and oppressed peoples in cities and towns all over Iran against the ever-increasing poverty, unemployment, cruelty and injustice imposed on the masses by the regime of the Islamic Republic and all its factions. At this time, the establishment seems to be in shock and unable to suppress and overcome mass protests while we know this can change at any time. As of today, we have received the news of direct shooting by security forces at protesters and scores have been injured, killed or arrested. The Islamic Republic of Iran has been in power for almost 40 years, and similar to the previous regime, relying heavily on imprisonment, executions and suppression of just demands of workers, women, youth and the deprived masses.

Iran is a country of 80 million people. Despite extensive natural resources, such as oil, gas, coal, copper … and considerable wealth, almost 70 per cent of people live in poverty. At the same time, we have growing upper classes and super rich that are mostly linked to different factions of the regime and children and relatives of the officials and various forces within the establishment. We have witnessed the most shameful theft of resources and financial embezzlement in the country’s history by these groups while workers and poor people have been continuously humiliated and their protests for their rights and accountability frequently crushed.

International Alliance in Support of Workers (IASWI) is standing in support of the just demands of oppressed workers and deprived people of Iran for equality, freedom and social and economic justice. The Islamic Republic of Iran is a brutal capitalist and neoliberal regime and ought to be condemned by workers, the left and progressive forces all over the world. We believe there is no justification amongst the left in other countries for being silent about the crimes and repressions conducted by this regime.

Over the years, IASWI and other Iranian workers’ and socialist organizations have been emphasizing that what has taken place between U.S. imperialism and its allies and the Islamic Republic regime in Iran and its allies has no progressive sides. A working class and progressive position defends a real peace and the independence of the workers’ movement: an anti-capitalist position not only opposes economic sanctions but also any attempts by the U.S. and its allies to pursue war against Iran, while, at the same time, supporting the ever-increasing workers’ struggles against the repressive Islamic regime and capitalists in Iran, that have been viciously implementing the most aggressive and ruthless anti-worker, totalitarian and neoliberal policies in this country’s contemporary history.

We strongly oppose and condemn any interference by Trump’s administration and its allies like the Israeli regime, and the Iranian right-wing and pro-monarchy opposition, in the protest movements in Iran. The working and poor people of Iran know well that Trump’s fascist and ultra-right politics would bring nothing but more disaster to the country. We need the workers’ and socialist organizations and progressive forces in the world to stand in solidarity with the working class and the poor oppressed people of Iran and help strengthen anti-capitalist, anti-poverty and social justice movements while increasing efforts in identifying and isolating the right wing, nationalist and pro-imperialist elements.

An injury to one is an injury to all! •

This statement published by the International Alliance in Support of Workers in Iran (IASWI) – January 1, 2018.

A game of chess: Gulf crisis expands into the Horn of Africa

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

By James M. Dorsey / Mid-East Soccer.

The six-month-old Gulf crisis has expanded to the Horn Africa, potentially fuelling simmering regional conflicts.

Renewed fears of heightened tension in the Horn, a region pockmarked by foreign military bases that straddles key Indian Ocean trade roots with its 4,000-kilometre coast line, was sparked by Sudan last month granting Turkey the right to rebuild a decaying Ottoman port city and construct a naval dock to maintain civilian and military vessels on the African country’s Red Sea coast.

The $650 million agreement was the latest indication that East Africa was being drawn into the Gulf dispute and associated conflicts in the Middle East. Concern heightened as the Saudi and United Arab Emirates-led diplomatic and economic boycott of Qatar appeared to have become the new normal.

Competition for influence between rival Gulf states stretches beyond the Horn that straddles the strategic Bab-el-Mandeb strait, links the Gulf of Aden with the Red Sea and is plagued by the nearby war in Yemen, into the Sahel as well as Central and West Africa. Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, toured six West African nations last month to shore up support for his country in its dispute with its Gulf brethren.

Africa is a battlefield not only in the Gulf crisis but also in the fierce rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran that is often fought in countries like Nigeria, Senegal, Cameroon and Mauritania primarily as a sectarian struggle between Sunni and Shiite Islam.
The Sudanese-Turkish agreement raised anxiety in capitals on both sides of the Red Sea. Saudi Arabia and the UAE both worry about Turkish military expansion because of its support for Qatar. Turkey has a military base in the Gulf state and has said it would beef up its presence to 3,000 troops in the coming months.

Turkey also has a training base in Somalia and is discussing the establishment of a base in Djibouti, the Horn’s rent-a-military base country par excellence with foreign military facilities operated by France, the United States, Saudi Arabia, China and Japan.

Hinting at a link between the Turkish presence in Sudan and Saudi Arabia, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on a visit to the African nation last month, the first by a Turkish head of state, that the ancient port of Suakin would boost tourism and serve as a transit point for pilgrims travelling to the kingdom’s holy city of Mecca.

Suakin was Sudan’s major port when it was ruled by the Ottomans, but fell into disuse over the last century after the construction of Port Sudan, 60 kilometres to the north. Suakin allowed the Ottomans to secure access to what is today the Hejaz province in Saudi Arabia and home to the Red Sea port of Jeddah.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which has bases in Berbera in the breakaway republic of Somaliland and in Eritrea, fear that the agreement will allow Turkey, with whom they have strained relations because of differences over Qatar, Iran and Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, to station troops close to Jeddah. Saudi Arabia and the UAE suspect Qatar of funding the development of Suakin. Adding to tension is the fact that Turkey suspects the UAE of having supported a failed military coup in July 2016.

The agreement is even more stinging because relations between Saudi Arabia and Sudan had significantly improved after the African country broke off diplomatic relations with Iran in early 2016, an early Saudi victory in its fight for Africa with the Islamic republic.
Sudan has since contributed 6,000 troops as well as fighters from the Janjaweed tribal militia to the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen. The Trump administration eased economic sanctions on Sudan in October at Saudi Arabia’s request.

Saudi Arabia this week agreed to re-establish banking ties with Sudan despite criticism in the Saudi press and on social media of the Sudanese-Turkish agreement. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has insisted that his country would keep its troops in Yemen irrespective of the agreement.

Concern about the agreement is not limited to Qatar’s detractors in the Gulf. Egypt suspects that the agreement will fuel a border conflict with Sudan over the region of Halayeeb. Sudan recently accused Egypt of deploying troops to the Sudanese side of the border and sending war planes to overfly the coastal area.

Sudan last month complained to the United Nations that a maritime demarcation agreement reached in 2016 by Egypt and Saudi Arabia infringed on what it claimed to be Sudanese waters off Halayeeb.

Egypt is further worried that mounting tensions will complicate already sharp differences with Sudan as well as Ethiopia over a massive demand that Ethiopia is building. Egypt believes the dam will reduce its vital share of Nile River waters that are the country’s lifeline. Negotiations over the dam are at an impasse, with Sudan appearing to tilt toward Ethiopia in the dispute.

"Sudanese President Omar Bashir is playing with fire in exchange for dollars. Sudan is violating the rules of history and geography and is conspiring against Egypt under the shadow of Turkish madness, Iranian conspiracy, an Ethiopian scheme to starve Egypt of water, and Qatar's financing of efforts to undermine Egypt," charged Emad Adeeb in a column entitled ‘Omar Bashir's political suicide.’

The Gulf crisis, even without Turkey joining the fray, was putting fragile peace arrangements in the Horn at risk.

Qatar, in response to Eritrea and Djibouti’s decision to downgrade relations with the Gulf state when the conflict erupted last June, withdrew its peacekeeping contingent of 400 troops from the Red Sea island of Doumeira.

Eritrea immediately seized the island that is also claimed by Djibouti in a move that could ultimately spark an armed conflict that may draw in Ethiopia.

While reaping the benefits of heightened interest, the Horn risks increased tension and violent conflict in what has become a high stakes chess game for both Middle Eastern and African adversaries.

“Post-Arab Spring…activism may unsurprisingly contribute to the militarisation of the Horn of Africa and, even more dangerously, alter the existing balance of power in this conflict-ridden region, warned Patrick Ferras, director of the Horn of Africa Observatory (CSBA).

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and co-host of the New Books in Middle Eastern Studies podcast. James is the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title as well as Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa.

Who Really Defeated ISIS?

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

By David William Pear / Originally Published by David William Pear at OpEdNew.com

Who defeated the Islamic State In Syria?

Before answering that question. What is the ISIS? Can the public overcome its chronic amnesia and think back to the sudden appearance of ISIS dressed in brand new black uniforms, gleaming white NIKE’s and driving Toyota trunks? They seemed to appear out of nowhere in 2014. ISIS looked as if it were a mirage when it appeared, or more likely a CIA staged scene from Hollywood.

No sooner had ISIS appeared than it went on a head chopping binge that repulsed and frightened the US public. Washington officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry rang the alarm that this hoard of Islamic crazies wanted to invade the US and “kill us all”. A well-compliant mainstream media swallowed Washington’s script and regurgitated it to frighten a US public. The public gave its silent consent for more war really aimed at Bashar al-Assad.

The next question is who created ISIS? ISIS “can trace its roots back to the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian. In 2004, a year after the US-led invasion of Iraq, Zarqawi pledged allegiance to Osama Bin Laden and formed al-Qaeda in Iraq” [ BBC News December 2, 2016 ]. Al-Qaeda in Iraq did not exist until after the US invasion by the Bush-Cheney administration.

The US invasion of Iraq was based on pure unadulterated lies that Saddam Hussein supported al-Qaeda, was involved in the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US and had weapons of mass destruction. Al-Qaeda in Iraq was predictable blowback, resistance against a US illegal invasion. Bush who admitted that he creates his own reality, had hallucinations of a grateful Iraqi people, who had just been bombed back to the Stone Age with Shock and Awe, throwing kisses and flowers at the US expeditionary force as liberators.

{iframe width="1000" height="600" }https://www.youtube.com/embed/5mHhJ9PTwK0?rel=0&showinfo=0" frameborder="0" gesture="media" allow="encrypted-media" allowfullscreeq“500,000 dead Iraqi children are worth it“.{/iframe}

Then came the failed Surge in 2007 [ The Nation], when the US allied with Sunnis to defeat the remnants of the Iraqi Ba’ath Party, which was an Arab Nationalist Party neither Sunni nor Shia. The cynical sponsoring and siding with radical Islam goes back to the British “Great Game” of the early 1900’s. It was the British double-dealing with both Sunnis and Shias to supplant the Ottoman Empire, and turn Sunni against Shia to divide and conquer Southwest Asia. It is the story of Lawrence of Arabia, Winston Churchill and World War One.

One could then pick up the story after World War Two when the US was opposing Arab anti-colonial nationalism and communism during the Cold War. It was the “Grand Chessboard” strategist Zbigniew Brzezinski who convinced Jimmy Carter in 1980’s to back the Islamic radical mujahideen mercenaries and destroy Afghanistan in order to lure the Soviet Union into a Vietnam-type trap. Brzezinski was so proud of his success that he would later rhetorically ask to his shame, which is more important “Some stirred-up Moslems” or winning the Cold War.

If Brzezinski was so clever he would have learned from the British early 1900’s Southwest Asia super spy Gertrude Bell. As she would later say, the British Empire encouraging and sponsoring of radical Islam backfired into a big failure. But the US does not know history, even its own history of repeated blunders of encouraging and sponsoring radical Islam against Arab anti-colonial nationalism.

So instead the US enlisted the most radical right-wing fascist regime in the history of the world, the Absolute Monarchy of Saudi Arabia to bankroll Sunnis against Arab nationalism. They gladly funded US regime change projects against secular Arab states. The US flush with cash from the Saudis went about encouraging, training and paying mercenaries from all over Southwest Asia to overthrow Bashar al-Assad. Assad did not share the US role as the world leader of capitalist globalization. Instead Assad was using Syria’s wealth for the benefit of the Syrian people, just as Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi. ” Assad must go“, chanted Obama, Clinton, Kerry and Saudi Wahhabis. To the US it did not matter how many Syrians, Libyan or Iraqis died. As Madeleine Albright had said, “500,000 dead Iraqi children are worth it“.

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It was the US and its allies the Absolute Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States that created ISIS. Mercenaries from all over the Muslim world were recruited and even supported with their own air force, the United States Airforce. The mainstream media gave the US the cover story the US was backing “well-vetted moderate [‘Jeffersonian democrats’ really] Islamists”. The mainstream media are criminal coconspirators for spreading war propaganda, the Guardian being one of the worst offenders, with a few rare exceptions, such as Trevor Timm’s reporting.

Now with the ringing in of the 2018 New Year, we can expect the US to be patting itself on the back for defeating ISIS in 2017 . The real story is that it was Assad, Russia, Hezbollah and Iran that defeated ISIS (so far). For those without amnesia they may remember back to when Russia released videos of endless convoys of black-market ISIS oil tankers heading into Turkey. ISIS was partially funding itself with stolen oil and enriching black marketeers of Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Somehow, the US with all of its technology and thousands of bombing missions in Syria never saw all those tankers. Nor could they find ISIS fighters, so instead they bombed the Syrian army. The US only saw what it wanted to see and what it wanted to bomb. It was not ISIS. Here are the videos of Russian jets taking out ISIS oil tankers:

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Some of the mainstream media grudgingly acknowledges that Russia had a hand in rolling back ISIS. Even then the mainstream media downplays the Russian contribution to a support roll, rather than the primary force. Instead the US mainstream media gives the credit to ” the US and 67 other nations from around the world”. It was, they say the US that “trained, supported and provided air support” to local Syrian rebel good-guys, the mythical democratic moderates, that the US was supporting that defeated ISIS. City after city, and village after village were destroyed by ISIS, US bombing and an invisible US moderate rebel force as it created hundreds of thousands of Syrian casualties and refugees.

According to the mainstream media, the Russians stepped in late “to provide air support for the Syrian government”backing the regime of President Bashar al-Assad against rebels threatening his rule, but also targeting some ISIS territory”. Unmentioned is that Russia was legally “invited” by the legitimate government of Syria, while the US and its coalition are committing a war crime of aggression against a fellow member country of the United Nations.

Now we are going to be hearing that one year of Trump did what 8 years of Obama could not do. We are going to be hearing more ofhow in just one year “ISIS went from attracting thousands of foreign fighters to its anti-Western cause and plotting devastating terror attacks all over the world, to surrendering en masse”. It was the “US-led bombing campaign and US-backed and trained forces” that defeated ISIS, supposedly.

Yes, after six plus years of the most powerful military force in the history of the world, with the most technologically advanced weapons ever invented, and an annual military budget of $1 Trillion the US finally defeated a rag-tag mercenary paramilitary of about 30,000 fighters .

The whole story of the US war on terrorism is an incredible and unbelievable tale of pabulum that Washington and its mainstream repeaters have been feeding to the US public since 9-11. It stinks.

----

David William Pear is a Senior Editor for OpEdNews.com and a Senior Contributing Editor for The Greanville Post. All of his articles and comments are his own, and are not the responsibility of, or speak for the editorial opinion of anyone but himself.

COP23: From the Gap to the Precipice

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

By Daniel Tanuro / Socialist Project.

The Twenty-Third Conference of the Parties Signatory to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate has just concluded in Bonn, Germany. It was an intermediate meeting between COP21 in Paris in 2015 and COP24 in Katowice (Poland) in 2018.

As we know, Paris resulted in a so-called ‘historic’ agreement concerning the level of global warming not to be exceeded at the end of the century (compared to the pre-industrial era): “stay well below 2°C and continue efforts not to exceed 1.5°C.”

Katowice (COP24) will be a more important step than Bonn: the signatory countries will have to say how and to what extent they will raise the level of their ambitions in order to bridge the gap between the greenhouse gas emission reductions at present planned in their national ‘climate plans’ on the one hand, and on the other the reductions that would be necessary overall to achieve the global objectives put down on paper in Paris. Belgium, for its part, does not have a climate plan worthy of the name.

Every year, the United Nations devotes a special report to the challenge of the ‘emissions gap’. According to the 2017 edition (Emissions Gap Report 2017), the gap is “alarmingly large.” That is putting it mildly: the climate plans (or Nationally Determined Contributions, NDCs) of countries represent only one third of the reductions in emissions that would have to be made to stay below a 2°C rise in temperature… and (but the report does not say so) less than a quarter of the reductions that would have to be made to stay below 1.5°C.

Time Running Out

Young activists send a message to delegates at the COP 23 climate conference in Bonn. [Photo: UNFCCC.]

Now, time is running out and the timetable is becoming tighter. The report says: “If the emissions gap is not filled in 2030, it is extremely unlikely that the target of not exceeding 2°C will be achieved. Even if the current NDCs were fully realized, the carbon budget for 2°C would be 80 per cent used up in 2030. Based on current estimates of the carbon budget, the carbon budget for 1.5°C will already be used up by 2030.”

As a reminder, the ‘carbon budget’ is the amount of carbon that can still be sent into the atmosphere with a probability X of not exceeding a rise of Y°C at the end of the century. The probability of 2°C and 1.5°C carbon budgets mentioned in the Emissions Gap Report is 65 per cent. (As a parenthesis: that’s not much: what do you do if you are told that the plane you are travelling in has a 65 per cent chance of not exploding in flight?)

Let’s go back to the question of deadlines. For the gap to be closed by 2030, measures must be taken by 2020 at the latest – in three years – and they must multiply by three emission reductions in the NDCs. The year 2020 is the first date scheduled in Paris for the adaptation of NDCs to bridge the gap.

To prepare for this crucial negotiation, the governments have planned a process called “facilitative dialogue” that begins in 2018. The UN report on the gap writes in black and white: “The facilitative dialogue and the 2020 revision of the NDCs are the last chance to close the emissions gap in 2030.”

“The last chance to bridge the gap” really does mean the last chance to stay below 2°C of global warming at the end of the century. As a reminder, global warming of 2°C will most likely – and irreversibly – involve an increase in the level of the oceans of about 4.5 metres at equilibrium…

Given the extent of the efforts needed to be in line with the Paris objectives and the extremely short time frame in which these efforts must be decided and effectively implemented, we should be talking not about a gap, but about a precipice.

Bridge the Gap?

Is it possible to bridge the gap – and not to fall over the precipice? Once again, the answer to this question is twofold: technically, yes. In the context of capitalist productivism, no.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, adopted in 1990 in Rio, set the goal of not exceeding a “dangerous level” of global warming. It took twenty-five years and twenty-one COPs to decide to quantify this dangerous level: not to exceed 2°C and “continue efforts (sic) not to exceed 1.5°C.”

Given this slowness, it is necessary to be naive or very optimistic to think that two years will be enough now for the governments of the world to agree on the measures to be taken to multiply their efforts by three in order to respect the objective of 2°C, and by four to respect that of 1.5°C (in fact, the one that should absolutely be reached). Twenty-five years after Rio, global emissions continue to rise.

Admittedly, they increase only slightly, (0.9 per cent, 0.2 per cent and 0.5 per cent respectively in 2014, 2015 and 2016)… but they increase… whereas they should decrease very strongly and very quickly! It is certainly positive that the United States is very politically isolated on the climate issue, on the one hand, and on the other that some states of the Union (California in the front line) openly challenge Trump and his clique of climate criminals. Nevertheless, the U.S. withdrawal weighs on the negotiations.

This withdrawal will make it even more difficult to bridge the gap. The Nationally Determined Contribution of the U.S. consisted of a promise to reduce emissions by 2 gigatonnes of CO2. These 2 Gt are equivalent to 20 per cent of the very insufficient effort made by the NDCs as a whole. They are therefore to be added to the measures to be taken within three years.

It should also be noted that the U.S. is withdrawing without really withdrawing: present in Bonn, they continued – as under Obama – to put the brakes on the green fund for the climate. As a reminder: $100-billion a year that the developed countries have pledged to make available to the South from 2020, for the adaptation and mitigation of climate change, for which the rich countries are mainly responsible and the poor countries the main victims.

This green fund was decided at COP16 in Cancun in 2010 but the goal of one hundred billion is very far from being reached (to put it mildly). Seizing the occasion, other countries – the European Union in particular – have used the pretext of the U.S. attitude to avoid answering the concrete questions of the countries of the South and NGOs: How much money? When? In what form (donations or loans)?

The truth is that, from COP to COP, world capitalism continues to bring humanity closer to the precipice. Faced with this alarming situation, they try to reassure us by picking out figures on the increasing share of renewable energy in the ‘energy mix’. This increase is indeed very fast, and it will accelerate in the coming years, because the electricity produced by renewables is globally less expensive than the energy produced by burning fossils.

However, these reassuring speeches mislead us, because the indicator to be taken into account is the decrease in emissions, not the rise in the share of renewables. But as long as we do not question growth, therefore the race for profit, the share of renewables can increase at the same time as increasing greenhouse gas emissions, and that’s exactly what has been happening for about fifteen years.

How will capitalism get out of this huge problem? For Trump and the criminal cretins of his kind, the question does not arise: the catastrophe that is coming is either natural or a punishment that God is inflicting on humanity for its depraved mores. Let us pray, my brothers… And in both cases, woe to the poor!

But the others, the spokespersons of capital who do not take refuge in climate-negationism, who know that the threat is real, terrible and that the catastrophe is already in progress, what will they do to try to meet the challenge? What will they do when they realize that it is impossible to bridge the gap because capitalism cannot do without growth? They will join in with the geo-engineering in the hope, all the same, of avoiding tipping over the precipice.

Significantly, for the first time, the UN report on the emissions gap includes a chapter on negative emissions technologies, i.e. technologies that would remove carbon from the atmosphere “just in case” emissions reductions continue to be insufficient to meet 2°C – 1.5°C. It is more and more obvious that the reservation “just in case” is a formula of style to avoid revealing the brutal truth: despite all its technical and scientific means, humanity is heading for disaster because of the race for profit imposed by a minority of the population.

But let us go back to the negative emissions technologies. Some of these technologies are worthy of sorcerers’ apprentices. This is particularly the case for bio-energy with carbon capture and sequestration (BECCS), in other words the production of electricity by combustion of biomass as a replacement for fossils, with capture of CO2 and geological storage of it.

For BECCS to have a significant climate impact, it would require huge amounts of water (3 per cent of fresh water used for human purposes today) and very large areas devoted to industrial energy crops. Clearly, we must choose between the plague and cholera: either competition with food production, or a terrible destruction of biodiversity (I mean: even more terrible). Or both at the same time.

We are told that other technologies are soft: afforestation, reforestation, soil management conducive to carbon storage, restoration of wetlands, mangroves, etc. That’s right, they are soft in themselves. But experience shows that soft technologies in themselves can have very harsh social effects when they are driven by the pursuit of maximum profit and market expansion. The capitalist logic already shows how indigenous peoples are cut off from the forest in the name of the climate (REDD, REDD+, etc…). This can only be accentuated within the framework of a generalization under capitalist management of ‘soft’ technologies with negative emissions.

It’s the System

However, within the capitalist framework, soft technologies will not be enough. They could be sufficient, but they will not be sufficient in this context because they are less interesting from the capitalist point of view than BECCS. In fact, BECCS offers markets to heavy industry and allows capital to perform a dual operation: sell electricity, on the one hand, and on the other be paid by the community to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.

Interesting in this respect: we learn from a paragraph of the Emissions Gap Report that it is still possible to stay below 2°C of global warming without resorting to bio-energy with carbon capture and sequestration. Why, then, do more than 90 per cent of the transition scenarios developed by scientists rely on the deployment of this technology? Because most scientists who work on scenarios consider that the law of profit is a natural law, as inevitable as the law of gravity.

There is nothing, absolutely nothing to expect from the COP negotiators. Their soothing and self-satisfied discourses are only meant to lull people to sleep. Rescuing the climate in a framework of solidarity depends solely on our ability to fight and, through our struggles, to lay the foundations of an alternative social logic to that of profit. •

This article first published by International Viewpoint.

Daniel Tanuro is a certified agriculturalist and eco-socialist environmentalist, writes for La gauche, (the monthly of the LCR-SAP, Belgian section of the Fourth International).

A Principle to Organize Around this Trumpian Winter: Plunder the Pentagon and Leave “Entitlements” Alone

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

By Andrew Levine / Counterpunch.

One has to hand it to Donald Trump.  Not just any repellent real estate mogul and reality television personality could become an even worse President than George W. Bush.

Bush set never-ending wars in motion effectively breaking the greater Middle East.   He is responsible for more murder and mayhem than any president since Richard Nixon.  This would include Trump — so far.  He was also no slouch when it came to undermining basic rights and liberties.

He helped precipitate the most disastrous economic crisis in eight decades; and, on global warming, along with nuclear war the greatest threat of all to humankind, the best he could do was kick the can down the road.

Nevertheless, Trump is worse.

Moving the Doomsday Clock closer to Midnight is one reason why.

This was a concern with Hillary Clinton too.  Not content with wars against enemies that couldn’t fight back, she and her liberal imperialist co-thinkers were itching to antagonize “adversaries” that, as it happened, actually were armed with weapons of mass destruction.

They can’t give up on that either.  Watch MSNBC or CNN and see them go at it.

Even so, Trump is a clearer and more present danger – notwithstanding whatever he has going with Russian mobsters, oligarchs and Vladimir Putin.  For all her many faults, Clinton’s hand is steady; Trump could end the world “as we know it” (as they say in Clintonese) in a fit of pique.

Another reason why Trump is worse is that there was more freedom from fear under Bush.  Everyone who is not insane, long in the tooth, white as snow, and Christian — or, if Jewish, not as ardent an ethnocrat as Sheldon Adelson or Trump’s in-laws, the Kushners – knows this well.

The vast majority of workers of all ages, faiths and hues are coming to realize it too. Hispanics and Muslims have so far born the brunt, along with Blacks whose lives don’t matter to the authorities.  But everyone who is not filthy rich or hopelessly benighted is, and surely must feel, less free from fear than before.

To cut taxes for himself and others of his class, Trump had the support of venal Republican legislators in the House and Senate.  For all the other ways he has made the world worse, he has had to rely on dunces who make even Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell look good — cartoon-character cabinet secretaries and troglodyte regulators.  So little to work with, and yet so much harm!  We have to hand it to him for that.

No other American president would have dared badmouth (or bad tweet) the pillars of the national security state to the extent that Trump has.  They all believed, quite reasonably, that if they did, their days would be numbered.  Yet, with no more wind in his sails than the mindless blowhards at Fox News and Breitbart can provide, the Donald tweets on.   For this too, he merits grudging admiration.

At first, the CIA was his main target.  Lately, though, with the law closing in on him for high crimes and misdemeanors and for who knows what financial shenanigans, he has ratcheted up attacks on the FBI.

What an odd enemy for a law and order president pushing a reactionary agenda; J. Edgar Hoover must be spinning in his grave.  Beyond its role as a national police force, the FBI’s mission has always been to stifle domestic dissent; its targets coming mainly from the left.  There are exceptions, of course, but, for the most part, reactionaries have been FBI cheerleaders, not adversaries.

Better them for an enemy, though, than the CIA.  The FBI goes after its victims’ livelihoods and does its best to drive them to despair.  The CIA kills – often in ways such that no one is the wiser.  Even presidents can fall into its crosshairs.  If Trump had any sense, he would never have antagonized them.  But, of course, he has proven definitively over the past eleven months that he doesn’t even have the sense he was born with.

So far, though, the Donald gets up every morning, in full possession of such faculties as he has, turns on Fox News, and tweets away to his heart’s content.  Has he beaten off the assassins?  Fidel Castro did, but the Donald is no Fidel.  Time will tell.

Trump is widely, deeply, and justifiably despised, but this hardly matters at least in the short run.    Because our institutions at the national level are less (small-d) democratic than their counterparts in other countries and, for that matter, in most American states, it is almost impossible to dispatch him in constitutionally prescribed ways.

There is the Twenty-Fifth Amendment, but for that to work, Trump’s cabinet and Vice President would have to declare him unable to serve.  And there is impeachment.  I wouldn’t hold my breath on either count.

Moreover, Trump’s removal from office would not be an unmixed blessing.  In some respects, his successor, Mike Pence, is worse.

Pence is a bona fide reactionary, where Trump is a rank opportunist; and he is a committed theocrat, where, on matters pertaining to the alleged divinity, Trump is just a garden-variety hypocrite. Worst of all, Pence is soporific, not scary.  An exhausted citizenry is therefore more likely to acquiesce in his efforts to reverse progress than in Trump’s.  This would be especially true if, as happened when Nixon removed himself from the scene, our “long national nightmare” would be considered over.

Not that there isn’t a lot of acquiescence already.  With a “resistance” like the one we now have, Trump could declare himself President-for-Life, and stand a good chance of getting away with it.

Must we therefore despair?  Maybe not.

Who knows what the CIA, or even the FBI, has in store for the Donald — or what will befall a man who exercises by parking his overweight septuagenarian carcass in a golf cart, and who doesn’t just think and act like a troubled adolescent boy, but also eats like one.

Also, if we are lucky, 2018 could bring charges of criminal activity too egregious even for co-dependent Republicans to ignore.  Or Trump could set off a constitutional crisis serious enough to cause Republican “donors” to cut and run.

It is even possible that the dullards who run the Republican Party will come to the conclusion that they would be better off jumping ship and turning to Pence, one of their own, than they would be standing by their man.

More likely than that, Trump could decide that he has had enough, and that he and his family (the part of it he cares about) would be happier if he were to resume his old life.  At least then he would be freer than he now is to assault and grope vulnerable women, and to “pal around” with mobsters (as Sarah Palin might say).  If he weren’t so blinded by vanity, he would have reached that conclusion long ago.

In short, while there is death – and life – there is at least some hope that events will cause the clear and present danger we now confront to subside.  What a relief that would be –even if, in other ways, it leaves us no better off.

Ideally, “we, the people” should rise up and kick the bastard out.   But the chances of that are worse than nil.  And so, the inevitable “what is to be done?” question comes down to asking how, if at all, the tribulations brought on by Trump’s presidency can be put to good use.

One way would be to expand the “conversation” on the left.  A good way to do that would to treat military spending, and the military itself, as the problem it is.

***

Transforming the Democratic Party for the better, turning it into a genuinely progressive and oppositional force, is almost certainly a hopeless task.

Democrats are generally less retrograde than Republicans, but they too do their donors’ bidding and are therefore basically on the same page.  They are not about to change their stripes or to get out of the way.

How much better it would be if we could leave that wretched party behind!  But this seems hopeless too, notwithstanding the fact that there is a perfectly serviceable alternative at hand.  The Green Party has an outstanding program, the Green New Deal, and an outstanding spokesperson, their 2016 presidential candidate, Jill Stein.

If ours were anything like what political philosophers have in mind when they speak of deliberative democracy – if, in other words, political influence were more equally distributed and if our lawmakers took it upon themselves to discover and then to do what is best for the whole community — the Greens would have won out over the duopoly’s neoliberal parties long ago.

But the Greens have been around seemingly forever, and gotten nowhere.  They couldn’t even break through into the mainstream in 2000, when they ran Ralph Nader.  In 2016, running against two god-awful candidates, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, they did even worse.

Democrats and Republicans have seen to it, over many years, that their duopoly power would be too deeply entrenched to be dislodged.  Even so, it would be different if corporate media wouldn’t shut them out so thoroughly.  By ignoring them or ridiculing them on the rare occasions when ignoring them is not an option, they render them invisible.  When Jill Stein’s name comes up, the response of most Americans is “Jill who?”

Ironically, though, in the past few weeks, Clinton-inspired Democratic Party overreach has cast some publicity Stein’s and the Green Party’s way.  In their efforts to blame Russia, not their standard-bearer or themselves, for Trump, they have gone after Stein for attending a dinner sponsored by RT television in Moscow, where she was photographed sitting, along with many others, at a table where Michael Flynn and Vladimir Putin were also seated.

To Democrats, it hardly matters that the Greens, not the Russians, paid her expenses, and that she has been utterly transparent about why she was there.  It was to encourage a peace initiative in the Middle East that included a weapons embargo and a freeze on funding to states that were sponsoring terrorism and civil war in Syria.

Neither does it matter that, at the time of her trip, the US and Russia were ostensibly allies in Syria, and RT had yet to be villainized in American media.   RT is funded by the Russian government, but compared to MSNBC or CNN or NPR it is a paragon of objectivity and journalistic integrity.  Whoever doubts this need only tune in to any of its programs.

The feckless leadership of the Democratic Party could care less.  Democrats got a lot of mileage out of blaming Ralph Nader, not themselves or Al Gore, for George W. Bush.   As they prepare to quash militant dissidents in their ranks in time for the 2018 midterms, they are itching to do that again with Stein.

Unfortunately, they will probably get away with it; and, to make matters worse, they are far more likely to hold onto their party than their Republican counterparts are likely to hold onto theirs.

Therefore, in the near and middle term, Trumpism, with or without Trump, will continue to haunt and degrade our politics.   The likelihood of an electoral way out is only slightly better than that lightening will strike the Donald down.

Even talk of impeachment is wishful thinking.  It could happen, but it is more likely that Trump will be done in by the Big Macs and overcooked steaks he stuffs into his capacious gullet than by ballots cast by the roughly two thirds of the electorate that despises him.

But even if we cannot now rid the body politic of Trump and Trumpism, we can do something nearly as useful: we can shatter taboos that stand in the way of developing real alternatives to the maladies afflicting our political scene.

The most debilitating taboo of all is the one that gives the military generally, and the Pentagon budget in particular, a get-out-of-jail-free card that never expires.

Ironically, the Trump-GOP tax scam makes this a lot easier than it would otherwise be.  Deep tax cuts for the rich will cause deficits to rise, leading Republicans and many Democrats to call for austerity, the way neoliberals do.

This will make the kind of anti-austerity politics promoted by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren even more appealing than it already is.   But it will also make the policies they favor harder to implement.  Deficit hawks took one for the Donald last week; they are not about to do it again.

In the Reagan days, rightwing economists would argue that tax cuts would stimulate economic growth to such an extent that budget deficits would disappear.  They have been saying much the same ever since; and they have never been right.  Now they are saying it again.

The fact is, though, that, even with the rich robbing everyone else blind, there is still money available for financing policy initiatives that actually do people good, and for leaving so-called “entitlements” (like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid) undisturbed.  It is hiding in plain view — in the Pentagon budget.

***

The conventional wisdom used to be that Social Security is the third rail of American politics; touch it and die.  There is still some truth in that contention, though not nearly as much as before Bill Clinton started laying the groundwork for doing a neoliberal number on the New Deal’s finest achievement.

Had he not been distracted by the brouhaha surrounding the exposure of his affair with Monica Lewinsky, he might actually have tried something along those lines.

Clinton was ahead of most Democrats in wanting to undo advances achieved eight decades ago, but, from Day One, there have been Republicans who have yearned to do precisely that.  Like Clinton, they don’t so much want to abolish as to privatize.  Their watchword seems to be: if you can’t beat them, then help capitalist donors make money off of them.

Trump’s victory in 2016 is a boon to privatizers everywhere.  If the Donald comes through with an infrastructure program, as he has said it would, count on it giving his capitalist buddies a license to mint money.

It is the same with Social Security and other entitlement programs.  Even before Trump, there was not nearly as much wariness of stepping onto the third rail as there used to be.  With Trump (or Pence) in office, Paul Ryan and others of is ilk are salivating at the prospect of bilking it and every other remaining New Deal – Great Society social program for all they are worth.

They are no longer afraid of stepping onto the third rail – not the old one, anyway.

“The old order changeth,” as Alfred Tennyson might say, but familiar ways of thinking die hard and the ambient political culture always exacts its toll.   Thus the Pentagon budget is, for all practical purposes, the third rail of American politics now.

The bought and paid for political class has long been on board, but public opinion is a different matter.  There was a time, still within living memory, when large swathes of the population identified more with slogans like “fuck the army” than “support the troops.”  That sense of things has never quite disappeared.

We can be grateful for that.

The conventional wisdom has it that the anti-war movement in the sixties and seventies disparaged GIs returning home from Vietnam.  Were any of them actually spat upon or is this an urban legend?  I have no idea.  What I can say, though, is that had there been a non-metaphorical way to spit upon the army itself  – and the navy, the air force and the marines – there were many who would have eagerly set about the task.

Needless to say, spitting on the army and the other services is not the same as spitting on the people in them.  They are victims too.

In the Vietnam era, troops were mostly conscripts – either directly or indirectly because potential draftees enlisted in one or another service to get a better (less onerous) deal.

Formal conscription ended during the Nixon administration.  Economic conscription never ended, however; there would be no “volunteer” army without it.

The military nowadays puts its conscripts in harm’s way – for reasons just as indefensible as in the Vietnam era.  It also hires mercenaries – partly because they come cheaper, but also because no political or military leader would dare restore the draft.

Technically, all service members now are volunteers, but this is not why, in some circles, not saying “thank you for your service” is considered poor etiquette.  That rankling nonsense has more to do with promoting positive attitudes towards the military than with treating soldiers and sailors with respect.

Our leaders are heavily invested in putting on a good public face.  They think that a high regard for the military is useful, perhaps even indispensable, for building and maintaining support for something they actually do care about deeply: American world domination.

Most Americans would be better off if the United States was not a global hegemon.  Most Americans don’t see it that way, however.  We Americans have “exceptionalism” drummed into our heads from the day we are born.

For breaking through that delusion, it would be useful, and perhaps indispensable, if opponents of Trump and Trumpism – and of the Clintonized Democratic Party – would make an issue of the connections between the Trump-GOP tax cuts, the bipartisan Pentagon budget, and the efforts of leading figures in both neoliberal parties to undermine our feeble, but vital, welfare state institutions.

To this end, the first order of business ought to be to expose how nonsensical the idea that our troops are fighting for our freedom or indeed doing anything worthwhile is.  This is a hoax, a cruel one.

Our leaders don’t put their troops in harm’s way for “us.”  They have them kill and maim, and be killed and maimed, death merchants and Pentagon grandees, and, lately, for Donald Trump.

They don’t even care about “winning.” When George Bush declared a global war on terror, that quaint twentieth century notion went out the window.

It would not be too far-fetched to say that the point now is not to win wars, but only to fight them – and not lose in ways that cannot be denied.

Indeed, we haven’t won a war in decades.  The elder Bush’s war against Iraq could be considered a victory, but only because its objectives – getting Iraq out of Kuwait – were limited.  A better way to think of it is as the first phase in a decade long war of attrition that took a fresh turn when Bush the younger and his éminence grise, Dick Cheney, contrived a pretext for letting loose all the furies of hell upon the Iraqi people.  That war then went on for years.  It would even be fair to say that it never really ended and that it effectively continues to this day.

America’s only clear victories since World War II came back in the Reagan-Bush days when the American juggernaut prevailed over the mighty armies of Granada and Panama.

And yet our military fights on, whenever and wherever our leaders are able to use terrorism as an excuse, and the Pentagon spends unimaginable sums – on military hardware that has little to do with the fighting that actually takes place.

Part of the reason why is that our late capitalist economic system is so irrational that a high level of not just wasteful but outright pointless military spending is necessary to keep it going.

A more important reason is the nature of our military itself.  On this, see here.

All the money that is squandered, money that could otherwise be put to some useful purpose, hardly makes Americans safer.  If anything, just the opposite is the case.

Ultimately, this is an untenable state of affairs that will come to an end, one way or another, some day.

But we cannot get from here to there as long as the current flows, as it were, through the new third rail.

To organize against that is not just to take on Trump and his minions, but Democrats too.  On this, as on so much else, they are birds of a feather – a point any resistance movement worthy of the name ignores at its peril.

Betting on the wrong horse? US and Iranian hardliners spin anti-government protests

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

By James M. Dorsey / Mid-East Soccer.

An Iranian woman disguises herself as a male soccer fan

In supporting recent anti-government protests in Iran, both Iranian hardliners and the US State Department may want to be careful what they wish for. Not only are the protests unlikely to spark the kind of change either of the two adversaries may be hoping for, they also are refusing to stick to the different scripts the Trump administration and opponents of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani read into them.

For Iranian hardliners, the joker in the pack is what US President Donald J. Trump decides in January to do with the 2015 international agreement that put curbs on Iran’s nuclear program. Mr. Trump will have to again choose whether to certify Iranian compliance as well as extend the temporary waiver of US sanctions on Iran. In October, Mr. Trump refused to certify and threatened to pull out of the agreement if Congress failed to address the agreement’s perceived shortcomings.

Members of Congress have been trying to draft legislation that would give Mr. Trump a face-saving way of maintaining the agreement by claiming that Iranian compliance ensures includes acceptance of restrictions on the country’s ballistic missile program and support of regional proxies. It was not clear whether Washington’s deeply polarized politics would allow for a meeting of the minds of Republicans and Democrats. Iranian hardliners would be strengthened if Mr. Trump failed to maintain US adherence to the agreement and would likely see it as a US breach of the accord.

In a statement condemning the arrests of protesters, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauer projected the demonstrations as a bid to change Iranian politics. She urged “all nations to support the Iranian people and their demands for basic rights and an end to corruption.” In a reflection of a strand of thinking in Washington that is looking for ways change the regime in Iran, Ms. Nauert quoted US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson as telling Congress that the Trump administration supports “those elements inside of Iran that would lead to a peaceful transition of the government.”

For his part, Mr. Trump tweeted that the “Iranian govt should respect their people's rights, including right to express themselves. The world is watching!”

Mr. Trump and Ms. Nauert appeared oblivious to the fact that unlike the 2009 mass protests against alleged fraud in presidential elections, the largest since the 1979 toppling of the Shah that were dubbed a Green revolution and brutally squashed, this month’s demonstrations may have been in part prompted by a hard-line effort to exploit widespread discontent to undermine Mr. Rouhani.

If so, Iranian hardliners may be overestimating their ability to ensure that the protesters in a host of Iranian towns and cities, whose numbers range from several hundred to a few thousand, restrict themselves to taking the government to task on economic policy, particularly price hikes and fraudulent financial schemes that have deprived victims of their savings.

Various of the protests have turned into opposition to the very system hard-liners are seeking to defend by demanding a release of political prisoners and the shouting of slogans some reminiscent of the 2009 demonstrations, like ‘Death to the Dictator,’ ‘Leave Syria Alone, Do Something for Us,’ ‘You Are Using Religion as a Tool, You Have Ruined the People,’ and ‘What a mistake we made, by taking part in the revolution,’ to ‘Reza Shah, Bless Your Soul,’ a reference to the founder of the toppled Pahlavi dynasty.

No doubt, the protests reflect widespread grievances, particularly among the Islamic republic’s working and lower middle classes. Expectations that the benefits of the lifting of crippling international sanctions as part of the nuclear agreement would trickle down have so far been dashed. Many criticized on social media a widely debated new government budget that cut social spending but maintained allocations for religious and revolutionary institutions. Many also objected to a hiking of the exit tax that Iranians pay to travel abroad.

The Iranian economy has since the lifting of sanctions emerged from recession, but businesses still suffer a lack of investment while the official unemployment rate has increased by 1.4 percent to 12.7 percent despite economic growth. The government’s policy of allowing Iran’s currency to devalue has fuelled inflation and driven up prices of basic goods like eggs that recently rose by 40 percent.

Nonetheless, the anti-systemic nature of some of the protesters’ slogans speaks to the fact that popular grievances are not purely economic. Many question the government’s investment of billions of dollars in struggles in places like Syria and Yemen as part of its bid to enhance the Islamic republic’s regional position and compete with Saudi Arabia for regional dominance – a policy supported by the hardliners. They feel that the funds could be better employed to improve the economy.

The first protests in the latest round of demonstrations erupted on Friday in Mashhad, Iran’s second largest city, that is home to conservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi, who was Mr. Rouhani’s main challenger in last May’s presidential election. Mashhad is also home to Mr. Raisi’s father-in-law, Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda, a hard-line Friday prayer leader and former prosecutor general and an opponent of Mr. Rouhani’s cautious loosening of strict social mores and encouragement of greater cultural space.

Mr. Alamolhoda charged that the anti-regime slogans came from a small group that was trying to disrupt the protest. The protests erupted almost to the day on the eighth anniversary of the Green Revolution. The latest round built on weeks of  smaller protests focused on issues ranging from unpaid wages to bank fraud and embezzlement to environmental issues that appeared to have no connection to any one political group in Iran.

Protesters in Mashhad took to the streets a day after the police chief in the capital Tehran announced that women would no longer be detained or prosecuted for failing to observe strict dress codes imposed immediately after the 1979 revolution. The police chief said violators of the code would receive counselling instead. Younger, more liberal women have long been pushing the envelope on rules that obliged them to cover their hair and wear long, loose garments.

It was not immediately clear what prompted the policy change. Domestic pressure was certainly one driver, but so may have been a desire to compete with Saudi Arabia whose crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has grabbed headlines with lifting social and cultural restrictions with measures like a lifting of the ban on women’s driving and creating an entertainment sector.

Iranian-American poet and journalist Roya Hakakian argued in a recent op-ed that Iranian and Saudi women had benefited from “competition between the two regimes to earn the mantle of the modern moderate Islamic alternative.”

A litmus test of Ms. Hakakian’s assertion may be whether Iran follows Saudi Arabia in lifting a ban on women attending male sporting events. An Iranian sports scholar said in a private exchange with this writer that individual women had slipped into soccer matches in Tehran in recent days dressed up as men. A female protester took off her hijab in one of the recent demonstrations in protest against the dress codes.

The Trump administration’s emphasis on the anti-systemic nature of some of the protests and the hardliners loss of control of demonstrations that they allegedly hoped would focus solely on squeezing Mr. Rouhani takes on added significance with the fate of the nuclear accord hanging in the balance. Hardliners have long opposed the deal because it restricts Iran’s military capability, threatens the vested interests of the Revolutionary Guards and other hardliners, and has not produced expected economic benefits.

The anti-government protests may well constitute a hard-line effort to set the stage for a potential confrontation with the US. If so, protesters have so far not followed the script. The protests, while spreading across the country, have failed to mushroom into truly mass demonstrations and could well turn as much on the hardliners as they target Mr. Rouhani.

By the same token, a US pull-out from the nuclear agreement could fuel increasing nationalist sentiment in Iran that could prove to be a double-edged sword, particularly for Iranian hardliners. Revolutionary Guard media personnel gathered in 2011 to discuss the waning appeal to Iranian youth of the hard-liners’ religious rhetoric and opted for nationalism as a way of bridging the gaps in society that had become evident in the 2009 protests.
“The youngest generation in our country doesn’t understand our religious language anymore. We’re wasting our time with the things we make. They don’t care about it. That’s why so many of them were in the streets protesting against our system,” a Guards captain told the gathering.

If the protests in recent days prove anything, it is that the nationalism fostered by the Guards and other arms of the government could well take off in unintended directions. That may unintentionally serve US policy goals. It could also spark a much harsher crackdown and a solidifying of hard-line power.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and co-host of the New Books in Middle Eastern Studies podcast. James is the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title as well as Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa.

The Trump Tax Scam: Corruption Rules

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

By Andrew Levine / Counterpunch.

At long last, Donald Trump and his Republican co-dependents have a major piece of legislation they can use to show their “donors” and their diehard supporters that they are able to “govern.”  This, anyway, is the story corporate media tell.

“Donor” is the media’s euphemism for “capitalist paymaster.”  Both duopoly parties have them.  They are a “bipartisan” bunch, loyal to their class, and therefore generally of one mind — though, of course, their first loyalties are to themselves.  They pay the piper; they call the tune.

“Governing” comes down to enforcing intraparty discipline.  This means riding herd on doctrinaire libertarians and later-day Tea Partiers.  There are also still a few Republican Senators and House members who, on rare occasions, are capable of surprising everybody, including themselves, by summoning up a shred of moral decency and common sense.  They need to be kept in line as well.  This is especially crucial in the Senate, where the Republican majority is razor thin.

Fortunately, governing, so understood, has turned out to be a lot harder than sensible people a year ago feared.  Immobility has been our salvation.  The more that Trump and the GOP “govern,” the worse off we become.

Governing does not involve making nice to Democrats.  If the members of the other duopoly party were a tad more obdurate, the way Republicans are, it might be different, but, as matters now stand, Democrats are irrelevant.  When it suits them, Trump and the Republicans will mouth off about “bipartisanship”; in fact, though, they could care less.  What matters is getting and keeping Republicans on board.

To that end, Republican legislators find it useful to pander to Trump’s diehard supporters.  They hardly have to, however.  Anyone who is still standing by the Donald must neither know nor care how dangerous he is, and how little he cares about matters of concern to them.  The more Fox News time they log, and the more they immerse themselves in other rightwing propaganda, the less they know.

On the off chance that a ray of light somehow penetrates through the miasma that engulfs their minds, Fox and the others are there to set them straight.  Fox is especially good for riling up “the darker angels of their nature.”

Therefore, there was never much need for a legislative victory to keep the Trump base on board.  They are there for the duration.

Had the GOP tax scam gone the way of GOP efforts “to repeal and replace Obamacare,” Trump’s stalwart supporters would be standing by their man with much the same intensity and in roughly the same numbers as they were before they rammed their tax cuts through, and as they will be when the dreadful new tax regime takes hold.

The donors are another story.   They are a demanding lot, and they expect some bang for their bucks.

Stacking the federal judiciary with rightwing judges and neutering regulatory protections is not enough for them.  They want tax breaks too.  And, before long, it will become even plainer than it already is that they want to privatize everything that they can milk for profit.

In short, their appetite for plunder is limitless.  For them, there is no such thing as being too rich.  Neither do they have time for, much less sympathy with, challenges, no matter how tepid, to the untrammeled power of their class.

Their flunkies in the House and Senate understand this perfectly.  They understand too that, to keep the money flowing in, they need to demonstrate that their services are worth the cost.  Thus they needed a win or at least something they could pass off for one.

Trump wanted a big win too – not so much to impress his class brothers and sisters, the ones who are already on board, as to impress himself.  He wanted a victory because he is a pathetically vainglorious creature who cannot celebrate himself too much.

He is therefore always on the lookout for ways to toot his own horn, and always on the verge of decomposing when reality frustrates his efforts.

In his little bubble, surrounded by the most nauseatingly obsequious cabinet officers ever to disgrace the republic, and by a Vice President eager to take over but adept at feigning an adoring gaze that puts even Nancy Reagan’s to shame, he can get away with it.

However, at some level, surely even he must know better.  External validation helps with that.  In this case, though, he will soon be ruing the day he won.

Trump may know even less about what is in his tax scam than the average Republican legislator, but he nevertheless owns it.  From now on, the tax scam rammed through Congress last week will be known as “the Trump tax cut.”  When the economy starts heading south, as it soon will, that name will become toxic.

The polling data is clear: even now, the Trump tax cut is less popular than any tax increase in living memory.  It can only go downhill from there.  The morning after euphoria of the miscreants responsible for it will be short-lived.  Before long, that stubborn, non-alternative fact may even penetrate the thick skull of the Commander-in-Chief.

Indeed, one can only wonder in disbelief at the sheer irrationality of the idea that led Trump and the Republicans to think that their scam would benefit them in next year’s midterm elections.  There are times when something is not better than nothing, and any idiot could see that this was one of those times.

What the likes of Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan cobbled together, under the watchful eyes of their donors’ nefarious lobbyists, is a ridiculous concoction that will benefit those donors and the larger donor class, and harm nearly everyone else.

The donors will make out like the bandits they are.  But unless Democrats fumble even more spectacularly than they normally do, the bounty they will acquire will be a nail in the coffin of their favorite political party.

McConnell and Ryan and the others did see to it that a few crumbs would go to some “middle class” taxpayers, especially those living in “red” states with low taxes, and low property values.  They seem to have taken their cue from their friends in the predatory lending business: lure the suckers in with teaser rates, and then milk them for all they are worth (or more).

Did they really think that tax cuts big enough to finance a family dinner at a fast food restaurant would cause “average” people – not all of them by any means, but more than a few — not to care about deficits that put the remnants of New Deal–Great Society programs that everyone who is not filthy rich depend upon in jeopardy?

It is already obvious that Ryan and others of his ilk are salivating at the prospect of using those deficits as a pretext for doing precisely that.  Could they really expect even viewers dumbed down by Fox News not to figure out that the only reason for creating those deficits is to make themselves and their donors richer still?

By now, it should be dawning even on Trump’s most gullible supporters that not only are they being played, but that their intelligence is being insulted — more blatantly even than when Hillary Clinton called them and others like them “deplorable.”

With Democrats for opponents, anything could happen.  But unless the less odious of our two semi-established neoliberal parties flubs again, the tax scam Republicans rammed through can hardly fail to deliver a mortal wound to the GOP.

Surely, Republicans would want to prevent that.

Or maybe not.  After all, their mind-boggling irrationality does make a kind of sense in a political universe as corrupt as ours has become.

With sufficient ingenuity, one could make a case for the Trump tax cut on ideological – specifically, libertarian – grounds.  There is not much ingenuity in Republican ranks, but there probably are libertarians in the House and Senate Republican caucuses who think – reflexively — that anything that “starves the beast” is worthy of support.

There are also Republicans, many of them with libertarian leanings, who consider themselves policy wonks and who think that there actually are sound public policy justifications for the ludicrous concoction they have just pushed through.

Paul Ryan is a case in point; he seems to have been thinking along these lines since the days when, as an adolescent, he discovered that Atlas Shrugged could be useful for more than just a stroke book.

In the final analysis, though, the Trump tax cut is not about ideology or policy or anything else that democratic theorists would claim it is or ought to be.  It is about money.  In American elections nowadays, money makes the world go round.

However, in the Age of Trump, this is the least of it.

The authors of our Constitution supported or at least tolerated slavery, and they packed all sorts of non- and anti-democratic features into the basic institutions of the republic they founded.

However, they also envisioned a political sphere in which enlightened representatives, assembled together to debate and collectively determine the common good, decided collectively what is to be done.  In line with the most advanced political theorists of seventeenth and eighteenth century Europe, they sought to establish a modern version of the Roman Senate or the Athenian agora.

But, almost from Day One, their best laid plans went mightily astray.  In American democracy, there has seldom been more than a pretense of rational deliberation and debate, and talk of the common good is hypocritical nonsense.  The parties and factions whose malign effects the republic’s founders sought to guard against run the show; and self-interest is all.

We do have generally free and fair competitive elections, especially now that restrictions on the franchise have been relaxed enough to accord the right to vote to nearly all adult citizens, regardless of class, race or gender.  But our elections are emphatically not about electing wise, disinterested rulers.   They are about “special interests” selling biddable candidates to the voting public.

Or rather that was how it was before Trump’s election magnified the prevailing level of corruption many times over.

Getting reelected is now no longer all that it is cracked up to be.  There isn’t as much percentage in it as there was even just a year ago.

Like Trump himself, many House and Senate Republicans have better, quicker ways to feather their own nests.

Trump has botched up so much, undermined so many norms, and delegitimized so many venerable understandings that, outside the shrinking precincts of the hopelessly benighted troglodytes who latched onto him even before his campaign got underway, he has come to be so despised that even Republicans now expect a Democratic landslide in 2018.

It is no sure thing, of course; not even with Trump stirring up fear and loathing in roughly two thirds of the population.  Democrats have a knack for defeating themselves – Hillary Clinton style, though electoral incompetence, and because they too do yeoman service for the rich and heinous.

Nevertheless, they are on track for an overwhelming victory in 2018, notwithstanding the gerrymandering rampage that Republicans undertook after their electoral victories in 2010.

For many a Republican legislator, a “shellacking” (Obama’s word) equal or greater than the one that Democrats got in 2010 could actually be a blessing in disguise.  Instead of spending years in Congress pretending to care about the public good while prepping to cash in eventually in the lobbying racket, they may soon be able to jump right in.

This is all the more reason for them to do all they can to stay on the donors’ good side.  This holds as much for those who won’t themselves get a direct windfall from the scam as for those, like the turncoat Senator Tom Corker of Tennessee and many of his similarly shameless colleagues, who will.

Genuine fascists, or rather their twenty-first century successors and moral equivalents, expressly oppose democracy.  Trump has empowered people who come perilously close to that — Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller are the best-known examples.

But that is not, or not yet, his administration’s main thrust.  Its effect has been not so much to underwrite opposition to democracy as to cause its level of corruption to increase – to a degree that is unprecedented in American history.

In the absence of a bona fide resistance — an organized, well-resourced countervailing force that is not and cannot be marginalized — this could be almost as bad.

 

ANDREW LEVINE is the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

Zelaya: Open Letter to the American People

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

By José Manuel Zelaya Rosales / Socialist Project.

People of the United States:

For the past century, the owners of the fruit companies called our country “Banana Republic” and characterized our politicians as “cheaper than a mule” (as in the infamous Rolston letter).

Honduras, a dignified nation, has had the misfortune of having a ruling class lacking in ethical principles that kowtows to U.S. transnational corporations, condemning our country to backwardness and extreme poverty.


We have been subject to horrible dictatorships that have enjoyed U.S. support, under the premise that an outlaw is good for us if he serves transnational interests well. We have reached the point that today we are treated as less than a colony to which the U.S. government does not even deign to appoint an ambassador. Your government has installed a dictatorship in the person of Mr. Hernández, who acts as a provincial governor–spineless and obedient toward transnational companies, but a tyrant who uses terror tactics to oppress his own people. Certain sectors of Honduran private industry have also suffered greatly from punitive taxes and persecution.

You, the people of the United States, have been sold the idea that your government defends democracy, transparency, freedom and human rights in Honduras. But the State Department and Heide Fulton, the U.S. Chargé d’Affaires who is serving as de facto Ambassador to Honduras, are supporting blatant electoral fraud favoring Mr. Hernández, who has repeatedly violated the Honduran Constitution and (as noted by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights) basic human rights. He is responsible for the scandalous looting of USD $350 million from the Honduran Social Security Institute and while he lies to you shamelessly that he is fighting drug cartels, he has destroyed the rule of law by stacking the Supreme Court with justices loyal to him.

The people of the United States have the right to know that in Honduras your taxes are used to finance, train and run institutions that oppress the people, such as the armed forces and the police, both of which are well known to run death squads (like those that grew out of Plan Colombia) and which are also deeply integrated with drug cartels.

People of the United States: the immoral support of your government has been so two-faced that for eight consecutive years the U.S. Millenium Challenge Corporation has determined that the Hernandez regime does not qualify for aid because of the government’s corruption, failing in all measures of transparency. With this record, the Honduran people ask: Why is the U.S. Government willing to recognize as president a man who the Honduran people voted against, and who they wish to see leave office immediately?

People of the United States: We ask you to spread the word, to stand up to your government’s lies about supporting democracy, freedom, human rights and justice, and to demand that your elected representatives immediately end U.S. support for the scandalous electoral fraud against the people of Honduras, who have taken to the streets to demand recognition of the victory of the Alliance Against the Dictatorship and of President-Elect Salvador Alejandro César Nasralla Salúm.

We can tolerate difference and conflict, seeking peaceful solutions as a sovereign people, but your government’s intervention in favor of the dictatorship only exacerbates our differences.

The electoral fraud supported by the U.S. State Department in favor of the dictatorship has forced our people to protest massively throughout the country, despite savage government repression that has taken the lives of more than 34 young people since the election, and in which hundreds of protestors have been criminalized and imprisoned.

We stand in solidarity with the North American people; we share much more with you than the fact that the one percent has bought off the political leaders of both our nations.

As descendents of the Independence hero Morazán, we want to live in peace, with justice and in democracy.

The Honduran people want to have good relations with the United States, but with respect and reciprocity. •

Tegucigalpa, December 21, 2017

José Manuel Zelaya Rosales
Consitutionally Legitimate President of Honduras 2005-2010
Chief Coordinator, Opposition Alliance Against the Dictatorship

José Manuel Zelaya Rosales is the Consitutionally Legitimate President of Honduras (2005-2010), and Chief Coordinator of the Opposition Alliance Against the Dictatorship.

Challenging the Saudi Crown Prince: Alwaleed bin Talal toughs it out

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

By James M. Dorsey / Mid-East Soccer.

Incarcerated for almost two months in a gilded cage in Riyadh’s luxurious Ritz Carlton Hotel, Saudi billionaire businessman Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal appears to be putting up a fight that could challenge Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s assertion that his two month-old purge of scores of members of the ruling family, senior officials, and businessmen constitutes a campaign against corruption.

Many of those detained in Prince Mohammed’s purge, dubbed by critics as a power and asset grab dressed up as an anti-corruption effort, have bought their release by agreeing to surrender significant assets. The government has said it hopes to recover up to $100 billion in allegedly illegitimately acquired funds and assets.

Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah, a favoured son of the late King Abdullah who was deposed as commander of the National Guard in a bid to neutralize the Saudi crown prince’s most potent rival, secured his release by agreeing to pay $1 billion and signing a document in which he confessed to charges of corruption.

In what appears to be the largest settlement demand, Prince Al-Waleed has, according to The Wall Street Journal, resisted pressure by the government to hand over $6 billion.

Instead, the prince has reportedly offered the government a significant stake in his Riyadh-listed Kingdom Holding that has invested in blue chips such as Citibank, Twitter, Four Seasons hotels, and Disney, and operates a media and entertainment empire. Kingdom Holding has lost 14 percent of its $8.7 billion market value since Prince Al-Waleed’s detention. The prince has also insisted that he retain a leadership position in his conglomerate.

With a fortune estimated by Forbes at $16.8 billion, Prince Al-Waleed reportedly believes that the cash settlement demanded by the government would put his empire at peril and amount to an admission of guilt.

That may indeed be the purpose of the exercise. A social reformer, who already years ago implemented within his own company changes of women’s status announced in recent months by Prince Mohammed, is Saudi Arabia’s most prominent entrepreneur who is continuously welcomed around the world by heads of state and government and business moguls.
The son of Prince Talal bin Abdulaziz, a liberal nicknamed the Red Prince, who in the 1960s and again in the first decade of the 21st century publicly criticized his family’s rule, Prince Al-Waleed is believed to have no political ambitions.

In resisting Prince Mohammed’s demands, Prince Al-Waleed is challenging an opaque and seemingly arbitrary process in which despite assertions by the government that it has conducted extensive investigations and collected substantial evidence of corruption, bribery, money laundering and extortion, there has been little, if any, discernible due process and no proof publicly presented.

Quoting sources close to Prince Al-Waleed, The Wall Street Journal reported that the businessman was demanding a proper investigation and was willing to fight it out in court. “He wants a proper investigation. It is expected that al-Waleed will give MBS a hard time,” the Journal quoted a person close to Prince Al-Waleed as saying. The person was referring to Prince Mohammed by his initials.

A court battle would put the government’s assertions of due process to the test and would also shine a spotlight on the integrity of Saudi Arabia’s judicial system. The risk involved in a legal battle is that the charges levelled against Prince Al-Waleed and others were common practice in a kingdom in which there were no well-defined rules governing relationships between members of the ruling family and the government as well as ties between princes and princesses who wielded influence and businessmen.

There is little doubt that Prince Mohammed’s purge is popular among significant segments of the population, half of which is classified as low- or middle-income families, that has long resented the elite’s seemingly unbridled perks.
Prince Mohammed has so far been shielded against questions of the source of his own wealth and that of his tack of the ruling family. Several immediate relatives of Prince Mohammed were last year identified in the Panama Papers leaked from the files of a law firm in the Central American nation that handled offshore business and transactions by the world’s mega-rich.

Media reports have since suggested that the prince had spent in recent years $1.25 billion on a $500 million yacht, a $300 million mansion in France, and a $450 million Leonardo da Vinci painting. Prince Mohammed has denied buying the art work that was acquired by a close associate of his allegedly on behalf of the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism.

Shining the spotlight on the anti-corruption campaign in a legal battle with Prince Al-Waleed would come at a time that the government is unilaterally rewriting the kingdom’s social contract that involved a cradle-to-grave-welfare state in exchange for surrender of political rights and acceptance of Sunni Muslim ultra-conservative and Bedouin moral codes.

The government this week paid $533 million into a newly established social welfare fund to help families offset the cost of the imminent introduction of a five-percent value-added tax on goods including food, and services, as well as subsidy cuts that would substantially raise the price of electricity and gasoline. The government was forced earlier this year to reverse a freeze on public sector wage increases and perks and slowdown its austerity program because of anger and frustration expressed on social media.

Labor and Social Development Minister Ali al-Ghafees told the state-run Saudi Press Agency that approximately three million families or 10.6 million beneficiaries had already been paid the maximum relief of 938 Saudi riyals ($250) out of the newly created fund.

The government, moreover, this month announced a $19bn stimulus package that includes subsidised loans for house buyers and developers, fee waivers for small businesses and financial support for distressed companies. It also presented its new budget involving record spending in which funding of defense outstrips that of education in a country with a 12.7 percent unemployment rate. A Bank of America Merrill Lynch report predicted last year that youth unemployment could jump from 33.5 to 42 percent by 2030.

Prince Mohammed is banking on continued public support for his economic and social reforms, and on the fact that once the dust has settled foreign investors will forget whatever misgivings they may have had about the lack of due process and absence of rule law in the anti-corruption crackdown. Foreign diplomats in the kingdom noted that the businesses of those detained or penalized continued to operate and that no foreign interests were caught up in the purge.

However, to maintain his popularity, Prince Mohammed will have to manage expectations, deliver jobs, continue to massage the pain of austerity and the introduction of a new social contract, and ensure that the public continues to perceive his purge as an anti-corruption campaign in which the high and mighty are no longer above the law.

A legal battle with Prince Al-Waleed that publicly puts to the test the government’s assertions could upset the apple cart. That may be the leverage Prince Al-Waleed hopes will work in his favour as he negotiates his settlement from the confines of the Ritz Carlton.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and co-host of the New Books in Middle Eastern Studies podcast. James is the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title as well as Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa.