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Whither Catalonia?

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

Josep María Antentas interviewed by Dan La Botz / Socialist Project.

Dan La Botz, a co-editor of New Politics, interviewed Josep María Antentas, teacher of Sociology at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) and anticapitalist activist. First published on New Politics website.

Dan La Botz (DL): The Catalan independence movement and its suppression by the Spanish state have garnered the attention of the world. What has been your attitude toward the question of Catalonia?

Catalonia's Drive for Independence

Josep María Antentas (JMA): My traditional position is the defense of the right to self-determination, with the idea that when a group rises to exercise this right its position must be made specific. In the current situation and since the independence movement began in 2012, the defense of a “Yes” vote has a more democratic content than the “No” vote, which is associated exclusively with the reactionary defense of the Constitution and the political regime.

DL: So you called for voting yes on the referendum recently organized by the Catalonia government?

JMA: My position is that a “Yes” in the referendum now is the position that makes it possible to break with the post-Franco political framework. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that independence has to be the endpoint; an eventual Catalan Republic could confederate or federate with Spain afterwards, or could at least ask to do so. And there might be other options.

DL: What has been the impact of this process on the Spanish state?

JMA: The impact of the independence process on Spain as a whole is complex because, in the short term, the Spanish right uses it to cohere its social base and in the last weeks we are experiencing a shift toward the right in the Spanish political and social life. But at the same time, it is the principal threat to the political regime created in 1978.[1] If Catalonia became independent, it is unlikely that the political regime of 1978 could survive. Such a crisis could open the opportunity for change in the Spanish state as well. The strategic, decisive question is how to link the independence movement – without dissolving its demand, with a perspective of breaking with the 1978 regime within the state as a whole. This requires combining unilateral action from Catalonia with the struggle within the Spanish state as a whole in favor of a new majority politics of the left. But this center-periphery dialectic is complex and neither Catalan independence movement, nor the forces of the Spanish left such as Podemos know how to do it.

DL: What is the social base of the independence movement?

JMA: The independence movement is principally based in the middle class, public employees, and youth. The Catalan government is an alliance between the neoliberal right party PDeCAT (Partit Demòcrata Europeu Català or Catalan European Democratic Party) and the center-left ERC (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya,Republican Left of Catalonia). But since the movement began the relation of forces between these two groups has been displaced toward the ERC, while the PDeCAT has lost support. If there are elections on December 21, and the two parties renew their alliance, the ERC will take control. Or, to put it another way, on the one hand, the Catalan right is playing a central role, but, on the other hand, it has been overwhelmed in a process that benefits the center-left independence forces.

DL: What has been the role in all of this of the CUP (Candidatura d'Unitat Popular or Popular Unity Candidacy) the farther left political party? And can you explain what has happened to Together We Can (En Comú Podem)?

JMA: CUP is an independence party and the principal force of the Catalan anti-capitalist movement. It went from 3 per cent to nine per cent of the vote in the last five years. It’s independence project goes beyond official “independence pure and simple” and links the national question with the social issues and defends an explicit anti-capitalist and anti-1978 regime position. It is a militant, combative force with a participatory and anti-bureaucratic culture. But it remains excessively trapped in the role of honest guarantor that the independence process will be carried out to the end, of pressure on the government so that there is no step backwards, and it had no strategy whatsoever for attracting the social base of the left that remains outside of the movement.

DL: And what are the obstacles that the left faces?

JMA: The principal problem is that Catalonia’s radical left is divided: a part, CUP, is totally inside the movement; the other part (led by Ada Colau, the mayor of Barcelona and leader of En Comú Podem) is outside and maintains a passive wait-and-see attitude. I think that one has to be both within and outside of the movement, to support it insofar as it has democratic demands that would break with the old regime, but without necessarily sharing its strategy and its objective. The fact is that a part of the left has been totally outside, and that has given the right greater maneuvering room.

En Comú Podem supports the right to self-determination but it is not pro-independence. It has an anti-austerity program though not anti-capitalist. It defended the necessity of having a referendum on independence in agreement with the Spanish government, but it did not support the holding of the unilateral referendum on October 1, even though it considered the “mobilization” to be legitimate. But, as I said, it’s passive and wait-and-see attitude has prevented it from intervening.

DL: And where are the working class in all of this? My understanding is that the Catalan working class is diverse, multinational. How does that affect things?

JMA: Yes, a central part of the Catalan working class, in particular the traditional industrial working class, has its origins in immigration from the South of the Spanish state in the 1970s. We should also point out that in Catalan society there is a generalized use of both Catalan and Spanish and that the population in general is bilingual, even though part of the population prefers to use either Catalan or Spanish in their daily activities.

At the same time, Catalonia as well as the Spanish state has in the last two decades experienced a strong immigration coming from Latin America, Eastern Europe, Africa, and also Asia, so the society has become multiethnic and multilingual. But both Catalan and Spanish politics, including the social movements, nevertheless remain quite “white” and “indigenous” [meaning the native-born people of the region].

The part of the working class that participate in the movement are the public employees (education and health) and young college graduates who can’t find decent, full-time jobs. The traditional industrial working class and the working class youth with less education have kept their distance from the movement. There are two reasons for that: First, they have less identification with the Catalan national question, since the bulk of Catalonia’s industrial working class is made up of immigrant workers who came form the South of Spain in the 1970s. Second, the disintegration of working class society and politics has led to a general crisis of the labor movement.

During the Franco dictatorship, the national question and the social question tended to become coordinated because they had a common enemy: the dictatorship. It was a period of working class hegemony within the Catalan nationalist movement. This situation began to change in the 1980s when the conservative nationalism of Jordi Pujol, the leader of the CDC (Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya or Catalonian Democratic Convergence) from 1974 to 2003, became hegemonic, while the working class lost its central social and political position in Catalan political life. The fact the independence movement, which erupted as a mass movement in 2012, only defended independence and disassociated itself from “other” demands, in particular from the concrete criticism of the politics of austerity, has been an important strategic error and has made it more difficult to involve the working class and the left’s social base.

DL: So, given all that you have told us, how does this movement move forward?

JMA: Since the Spanish Republic’s proclamation on October 27, the Catalonian government was totally paralyzed. It never thought that things would go so far and didn’t foresee going beyond a symbolic declaration. Since October 27 there has been an absolute vacuum of leadership and an absence of guidance. All of the strategic limits of the catalan government and the social organizations that drive the movement were suddenly exposed. The dissolution of the Catalan government by the Spanish state through the application of Article 155 of the Constitution, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s government’s announcement of Catalonian election on December 21, and the jailing of part of the Catalan government (the other part is in exile in Brussels), which put the independence movement in defensive position.

DL: What then are the priorities of the left in this context?

JMA: It is necessary to defend unity of action in the street (demonstrations, etc.) but to remain politically independent of PDeCAT and ERC, with our own slogans within the movement (in particular emphasizing the idea of the need to open the process toward a constituent assembly in Catalonia, as a way of putting the social and democratic aspects at the center of the discussion, and not only debating “independence.”

DL: So what is the strategy and what are the prospects as the Spanish state now plans to hold elections in Catalonia on December 21?

JMA: The Spanish government called for elections immediately after the dissolution of the Catalan government (on December 21). They have been imposed by force. But all of these Catalan parties are going to participate in them, since there is no other realistic alternative. All of the forces against the bloc representing the regime of 1978 are going to state in their programs opposition to the dissolution of the Catalan government and the demand for freedom and amnesty for those who have been arrested. But beyond this shared defensive element, the fundamental strategic question is to establish a democratic roadmap of rupture with the regime of 1978 that unites the independence forces and those that are not pro-independence but defend the right to self-determination. •

Endnotes

1. The “regime of 1978” refers to the political and institutional framework of the establishment by the approval of the Constitution of 1978 which resulted from the agreement reached between the anti-Franco forces and a section of reformers within the Franco regime and which marginalized those who rejected the agreement and favored a “break.” This gave rise to a kind of democratic state that conserved important aspects of the Franco regime and which didn’t change substantially the dominant power block.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s return to Lebanon: A moment of truth

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

By James M. Dorsey / Mid-East Soccer.

The proof will be in the pudding when Prime Minister Saad Hariri returns home in the coming days to a country in which friend and foe have rallied around him and he clarifies whether he intends to follow through on his controversial decision to resign.

Few in Lebanon and beyond believe that Mr. Hariri, a dual Lebanese-Saudi citizen whose family company in the kingdom declared bankruptcy earlier this year in one of the first casualties of Saudi Arabia’s fiscal crisis, voluntarily stepped down on November 4 while on a visit to Riyadh.

Mr. Hariri’s subsequent interview on his own Lebanese television station did little to erase suspicion that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman forced him to resign in an opening bid to counter Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shiite militia that constitutes one of Lebanon’s most formidable political forces. Mr. Hariri warned that Saudi Arabia and its allies could ride roughshod on Lebanon’s economy by imposing sanctions and expelling hundreds of thousands of Lebanese employed in the kingdom.

The fact that Mr. Hariri announced that he would leave his wife and children in the kingdom when he returns to Beirut will reinforce suspicion of Saudi arm twisting should he, once back in the Lebanese capital, move forward with his resignation.

Further calling into question Mr. Hariri’s independence, were reports that Khalid al-Tuwaijri, the head of late King Abdullah’s court, who was among scores of princes, officials and businessmen arrested earlier this month on corruption charges in a sweeping purge, had illicitly paid the Hariri family company $9 billion.

Rumours that Prince Mohammed’s leverage over Mr. Hariri involves the prime minister potentially been sucked into the crown prince’s power grab, executed under the mum of an anti-corruption campaign, were reinforced by the fact that the fate of one of Mr. Hariri’s closest Saudi business associates, Prince Abdul Aziz bin Fahd, remains unclear.

A son of late King Fahd, whose immediate relatives were one target group in this month’s selective of purge of members of the ruling family, senior officials and prominent businessmen, Prince Abdul Aziz was first reported to have been put under house arrest during a crackdown in September when scores of Islamic scholars, judges and activists were arrested. It remains unclear whether he is still under house arrest or has been transferred to Riyadh’s gilded prison in the Ritz Carlton Hotel.

Lebanon’s foremost Sunni politician, Mr. Hariri was widely credited with keeping the government. in which Hezbollah is represented, together, and ensuring that the country remained on the side lines of the Syrian war despite Hezbollah fighting alongside Syrian government forces and more than a million Syrian refugees spilling into the country.

Mr. Hariri announced his resignation a day after meeting in Beirut with Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior advisor to Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Mr. Hariri’s office said the prime minister had urged Iran to halt its support of the Houthis as a first step towards ending the war in Yemen. Mr. Hariri denied Mr. Velayati’s assertion that the prime minister had offered to mediate between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

In his resignation speech on Saudi television, Mr. Hariri uncharacteristically dropped his effort to maintain a modicum of unity in Lebanon by echoing Saudi allegations that Iran and its surrogate, Hezbollah, were attempting sow unrest and instability in the Arab world.

Mr. Hariri may well have been caught in a Catch-22 with Saudi Arabia and more hard-line Lebanese Sunnis demanding that he take a firmer stand towards Hezbollah and the militia and other Shiite groups insisting that Lebanon normalize relations with the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Lebanon minimized contact with Mr. Al-Assad as part of its effort to disassociate itself from the conflict in Syria.

Reporting from the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, one of the country’s poorest urban centres that is home to both Sunnis and Shiites, journalist Sunniva Rose described how some hard liners, supporters of former justice minister Ashraf Rifi, who resigned earlier this year in protest against Hezbollah’s domination of politics, were putting up posters with portraits of Mr. Rifi and Prince Mohammed.

The risks for the Lebanese is that they will pay the price for Saudi efforts to counter Iranian influence in the Middle East that is being fought on their backs. Saudi Arabia exploited Mr. Hariri’s resignation with Gulf affairs minister Thamer al-Sabhan declaring two days later that the Lebanese government would “be dealt with as a government declaring war on Saudi Arabia” because of Hezbollah.

Mr. Al-Sabhan warned that “there are those who will stop (Hezbollah) and make it return to the caves of South Lebanon”, the heartland of Lebanon’s Shia community. “Lebanese must all know these risks and work to fix matters before they reach the point of no return,” Mr. Al-Sabhan went on to say.

Prince Mohammed, in a gesture, towards Lebanese Christians and an effort to project the kingdom’s transition to what he described as an undefined form of moderate Islam, received Lebanon’s Maronite Christian Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai this week. The patriarch met separately with Mr. Hariri.

Sporting a big cross on his chest in a country that bans expressions of non-Muslim religions, Patriarch Al Rai’s visit constituted a rare occasion on which the kingdom welcomed a non-Muslim religious dignitary. He was the first Lebanese public figure to visit Saudi Arabia since Mr. Hariri’s resignation.

Lebanon’s political elite, including the prime minister’s Future Movement and Hezbollah, beyond rallying around Mr. Hariri, has called for calm and sought to ensure that the political crisis does not destabilize the country further, or even worse, constitute a prelude to its descent into renewed sectarian strife.

The elite as well as many ordinary Lebanese fear that their country has become the latest pawn in a Saudi-Iranian proxy war that has primarily been at the expense of others. Saudi efforts to counter Iran’s expanding influence in the Middle sparked the kingdom’s ill-fated military intervention in Yemen with devastating humanitarian consequences. Iranian and Saudi intervention in Syria alongside many others aggravated the bloodshed in a brutal six-year long civil war.

Mr. Hariri’s risky resignation constitutes a Saudi-inspired bid to deprive Iranian influence of the legitimacy conveyed upon it by being part of the Lebanese government.

Speaking in Paris, Lebanese foreign minister Gebran Bassil insisted that “Lebanon would like for its decisions to be taken freely. Lebanon creates its internal and foreign policy with the will of its people and its leaders who are elected by the people…. Once Hariri is back in Lebanon he can take any decision he sees as right and possible.”

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

Is Peak Permian Only 3 Years Away?

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

By Tsvetana Paraskova / Oilprice.com

The world's hottest shale basin, the Permian, is leading the second U.S. wave of tight oil production growth and will continue to do so for years to come, all analysts say.

However, signs have started to emerge that the relentless intensification of drilling leads to diminishing returns, Simon Flowers, Chairman and Chief Analyst at Wood Mackenzie, said in an article this week. Pumping twice as much sand as usual into Permian wells and drilling longer laterals doesn't deliver commensurate volumes of oil, Flowers notes.

"Drilling costs rise exponentially with depth, and there's a suspicion that longer wells are hitting a cost efficiency ceiling," WoodMac's chief analyst writes.

Moreover, after the early production-exuberance stage, drillers are now much more focused on delivering profits and higher profit margins. They now favor quality over quantity, and value over volumes.

"Might the Permian be reaching the limits of well size and design? Maybe—as Star Trek's Scotty might observe of an underwhelming high intensity completion ‘you cannae change the laws of physics, Jim'," Flowers says. But WoodMac suggests that drillers could ‘change the laws of physics' and that these signs of setbacks may actually be growing pains.

The energy consultancy's Director of L48 Research, Rob Clarke, argues that there are two basic and very sound reasons that the fading lateral drilling and proppant metrics might be just growing pains. One is much more advanced proppant placement, and the other is the oil majors' move into the Permian, set to change things.

"Now, pinpoint frac technology can place the proppant exactly where it's wanted. Science is also being applied to identify the most effective proppant grain size and shape as well as drill bit design and fluid chemistry, all with the aim of boosting EUR," according to WoodMac.

In addition, ExxonMobil significantly boosted its Permian position earlier this year, and Exxon has "global expertise in extra-long laterals—including a 39,000 footer in Russia," WoodMac says.

ExxonMobil has already drilled a 12,500-foot well in the Permian and "will no doubt ramp up longer still to test the diminishing returns theory," Clarke noted.

Now the next challenge will be to deliver an effective completion of such a long well.

"The application of the Majors' capital and industrial approach will test whether the thousands of wells to be drilled in the future enable the Permian to deliver on the bold growth targets," WoodMac said.

Two months ago, Wood Mackenzie warned that as drillers are set to continuously develop the hottest U.S. shale play, they may soon start to test the region's geological limits. And if E&P companies can't overcome the geological constraints with tech breakthroughs, Permian production could peak in 2021, putting more than 1.5 million bpd of future production in question, and potentially significantly influencing oil prices.

Apart from geological constraints, other factors that could affect Permian growth are increasing service costs and potentially persistently low oil prices.

While oil service margins have increased for oil field service providers such Schlumberger and Halliburton, oil producers, on the other hand, face cost pressure, and "higher well costs may force additional discussion on capital discipline going into 2018, which could be a good thing for the overall supply and demand balance," BTU Analytics said earlier this month.

At the end of September, Moody's warned that even if average drilling and completion costs have declined significantly in the past two years, "drillers will be hard pressed to further reduce drill-bit finding and development costs, since drilling efficiencies may be offset by higher service costs." North American oil producers will need WTI at over $50 a barrel in order to achieve "meaningful capital efficiency", Moody's said.

Pioneer Natural Resources, for example, continues to believe in the Permian, but it thinks that the U.S. shale patch is heading toward hitting the ceiling of efficiency gains from larger frackings.

"In the U.S., we are essentially using a sledgehammer approach. We are using larger volumes or sand and fluids and pumping at higher rates," Pioneer's CEO Tim Dove said at the Oil & Money conference in London, as quoted by Platts.

"At some point you reach a peak on logistics, limits on sand, water volumes... that's where we are getting to, [although] we're not quite there as an industry," Dove noted.

Still, the expertise of the majors, as well as science and tech breakthroughs in proppant use, may help the Permian outgrow its growing pains faster than expected.

A Just Transition From Climate Change and Unemployment

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

By Joseph Mathunjwa / Socialist Project.

The global economy is facing numerous structural challenges. With the looming fourth economic revolution characterized by even more technological development and mechanization, the future of productive labour is bleak. Most unskilled and semi-skilled workers are likely to lose their jobs. Even some skilled workers are not spared from this emerging catastrophe, as numerous job categories – such as brick-layers – are increasingly becoming redundant.

South African miners

This points to the urgent need for planning, for conscious investment in job-rich, growth opportunities that enable economies to build productive capacity in labour intensive sectors. One way of achieving this is to strengthen wage led growth, which, in turn, stimulates aggregate demand through enlarged household incomes. Without a dramatic increase in the wages of mine workers, farm workers and all employed people in our country, we will never be able to deal with South Africa’s most urgent problems: inequality, mass unemployment and poverty.

Since unemployment is the greatest determinant of poverty and income inequality, we can expect these, too, to worsen. Already, in 2015, 30.4 million people, that is, 55.5 per cent of the population live on less than R441 per month, or less than R15 per day. The fact that 10% of South Africa’s population earn around 60% of all income, points to South Africa’s widening inequality. Even more alarming is that the richest 10% of the population own at least 90–95% of all assets.

With these terrible statistics in mind, it becomes redundant to repeat what we have been saying as a trade union for a long time, namely, South Africa urgently requires the redistribution of wealth.

Wage-Led Development?

When the millions of working people in our country can afford what the few take for granted – a television set, a washing machine, dining room table, etc – we create the conditions for developing the economies of scale that can sustain local industries from the intense competition coming from a globalized economy. In this way, we will be able to make in-roads into the almost 10 million people who are out of work, out of income and out of dignity.

The importance of the climate jobs work the Alternative Information and Development Centre (AIDC) has been leading is that it identifies where the jobs can be created. As AIDC’s latest research – One Million Climate Jobs, subtitled Moving South Africa forward on a low-carbon, wage-led and sustainable path – makes clear, there are potentially hundreds of thousands of jobs in championing low carbon development, as the complimentary strategy to a wage-led development path.

The AIDC’s solidarity with AMCU (the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union) is greatly appreciated. It is a solidarity based on a shared approach and conviction of the urgent need to confront the numerous challenges facing our economy, the people whose needs the economy is supposed to meet and the sustainability of human life on a planet heating to unsustainable levels.

Global Warming and Union's Role

However, AMCU is a trade union representing mine workers and construction workers. These workers are embedded in the very industrial processes that are at the centre of contributing to global warming and other environmental problems. It is inescapable that, if we are going to move decisively to a low carbon less polluting economy, it is going to be at the cost of coal mining, coal fired energy plants, coal to liquid gas, etc. Unless jobs are offered to our members in clean industries, they would never voluntarily agree to the shutting down of mining and energy industries. It would be like asking them to commit suicide.

We are, of course, aware that doing nothing about global warming also represents a long road to destruction. However, as you must be aware, many of our members would prefer to take the long road, based on the illusion that we can postpone the inevitable.

Yet AMCU cannot be expected to bear the costs of dealing with the climate crisis. This is why we need a just transition to a wage-led, low carbon economy; a negotiated transition that is the outcome of careful planning by government, business and labour; a transition that guarantees affected workers a decent, alternative job and wage. It is only on this basis that you can reasonably expect any worker to be won to the fight against global warming and of doing something to halt the climate crisis.

Since many of our members have a close relationship to the land, many have first-hand experience of the impact of climate change. The recent drought we have experienced in the northern parts of the country has exposed many workers to the reality of climate change. We must use this as a basis to deepen the consciousness of workers on the nature and scale of the climate crisis we are facing and will face in even more extreme forms in the future.

Regrettably, there are still no discussions between government and labour on mitigating the climate crisis and negotiating a just transition to a sustainable climate and less unequal society.

Indeed, the current actions of government – or should I say non-action of government with respect to the impact of the economic crisis – where thousands of mine workers are losing their jobs, sets a very bad precedent for managing such a just transition. The government is not even mitigating the economic crisis, as far as workers are concerned. Many companies are embarking on retrenchment processes and additional thousands of workers face job losses.

Hence, as AMCU, we need to link with other trade unions and social movements to force government to deal with the current economic and climate crises. In the first instance, we need to fight for a moratorium on retrenchments. To this end, we have applied to NEDLAC for a Section 77 notice to undertake mass action. We await the certificate for protected protest action in order to elevate this issue and expose the threats that it poses for our economy.

One Million Climate Jobs

Recently, the corrupt bosses of Eskom tried to manipulate the trade unions to support nuclear and coal fired energy by announcing the closure of five coal fired power plants. This was a cynical manoeuvre to use the fear of job losses to keep alive plans for the expansion of coal and nuclear energy, as opportunities for further looting. The renewable energy industry was blamed for the resulting job losses in coal fired energy. Heavy propaganda is being directed at trade unions to get them to endorse nuclear energy, in the belief that this will create jobs.

Government's Role

We will not allow ourselves to be manipulated into supporting the looting ambitions of the predatory elite. We believe South Africa has great potential to build a significant renewable energy industry, as indicated in AIDC’s Million Climate Jobs research.

We need to pressure government urgently to implement just transition strategies. A state-driven renewable energy programme, prioritizing job creation in manufacturing all the inputs and infrastructure for wind and solar plants, is required. Government must incentivize investment in the manufacturing of renewable energy inputs, such as wind masts, solar cells, not to mention solar water geysers

We must demand that government invests in creating jobs in areas that also meet the immediate needs of our people. One such need is housing. The Reconstruction and Development Programme proposed that government invests 5 per cent of GDP in a massive housing programme. If government were to build houses instead of outsourcing them to profiteers (so-called developers) we could strengthen the resilience of working people in dealing with the deepening climate crisis. How much better if those houses are built in an energy efficient, environmental and climate conscious way. Not only would they be built with solar water geysers but could have embedded solar panels providing most of the electricity needs of the household and then some. This could lay the basis for energy co-operatives that could sell surplus energy to local government.

As AIDC has indicated, there are many things that can and should be done to deal with both the economic and climate crises. In this regard, I would be amiss if I did not mention the importance of forcing mining companies to invest in rehabilitating the environmental damage they have created and left everyone else to fix. This long-neglected rehabilitation could create many decent jobs and help absorb miners currently being thrown out of work. Rehabilitation would restore the quality of our soil, water and air, which by themselves are important interventions to address the climate crisis.

Comrades, we are facing a deepening political crisis. Unless we address this and get rid of the gangsters who run our country, we will not be able to do anything to address the climate crisis. As AMCU, we are prepared to collaborate with all progressive forces in undertaking these urgent life and death tasks together.

We look forward to further collaboration with AIDC and all involved in the Million Climate Jobs Campaign. •

This is an edited version of the speech delivered at the formal launch of the research report: One Million Climate Jobs, in Cape Town on 1 November 2017.

Joseph Mathunjwa is the President of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU). He was expelled from the National Union of Mineworkers in 1999. Three thousand workers, at the Douglas Colliery where he worked, went on a 10-day underground strike in solidarity with him. AMCU was formed, shortly afterward, when these workers resigned from NUM.

The Super Wealthy Oxycontin Family Supports School Privatization With Tactics Similar to Those That Fueled the Opioid Epidemic

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

By Sarah Darer Littman / AlterNet

A fortune derived from the relentless marketing of painkillers is now being used to expand charter schools.

Photo Credit: By Prazis Images / Shutterstock.com

The notoriously secretive Sackler family, also known as the OxyContin Clan, has been the subject of much scrutiny of late, including lengthy exposés in the New Yorker and Esquireshining a harsh light on the connection between the drug that made the Sacklers wealthy and their philanthropic giving. But there is another troubling beneficiary of Sackler largesse that has escaped public scrutiny: charter schools. OxyContin heir and Purdue Pharma director Jonathan Sackler is a major funder of charters and an extensive network of pro-charter advocacy groups.

Figuring out who is funding the latest charter school-promoting front group often feels like a game of whack-a-mole. That's why reading Patrick Radden Keefe’s recent New Yorkerpiece, “The Family That Built an Empire of Pain,” made so much fall into place. Keefe writes, “Purdue and other pharmaceutical companies have long funded ostensibly neutral nonprofit groups that advocate for pain patients.”

The same influence techniques Purdue used to promote painkillers are now being used by Jonathan Sackler to expand charter schools.

Promotional power

The late Arthur Sackler, the eldest of three brothers who bought the company in 1952, was posthumously inducted into the Medical Advertising Hall of Fame, and cited for his achievement in “bringing the full power of advertising and promotion to pharmaceutical marketing.” Yet Allen Frances, former chair of psychiatry at Duke University School of Medicine, quoted in the New Yorker piece, highlighted the darker side of that power: “Most of the questionable practices that propelled the pharmaceutical industry into the scourge it is today can be attributed to Arthur Sackler.” As a copywriter at a medical advertising agency, Arthur Sackler devised strategies to promote drugs like Librium and Valium. Now, some of those same strategies are now being used with the aim of promoting charter schools.

Jonathan Sackler, Arthur’s nephew, is a well-known name in the education reform movement. He founded the charter school advocacy group ConnCan, progenitor of the nationwide group 50CAN, of which he is a director. He is on the Board of Directors of the Achievement First charter school network. Until recently, Sackler served on the board of the New Schools Venture Fund, which invests in charter schools and advocates for their expansion. He was also on the board of the pro-charter advocacy group Students for Education Reform.

Through his personal charity, the  Bouncer Foundation, Sackler donates to the abovementioned organizations, and an ecosystem of other charter school promoting entities, such as Families for Excellent Schools ($1,083,333 in 2014, $300,000 in 2015 according to the Foundation’s Form 990s) Northeast Charter School Network ($150,000 per year in 2013, 2014 and 2015) and $275,000 to Education Reform Now (2015) and $200,000 (2015) to the Partnership for Educational Justice, the group founded by Campbell Brown which uses “impact litigation” to go after teacher tenure laws. Earlier this year, the Partnership for Educational Justice joined 50CAN, which Sackler also funds ($300,000 in 2014 and 2015), giving him a leadership role in the controversial—and so far failing cause—of weakening worker protections for teachers via the courts.

Just as Arthur Sackler founded the weekly Medical Tribune, to promote Purdue products to the medical professional who would prescribe them, Jon Sackler helps to fund the74million.org, the “nonpartisan” education news website founded by Campbell Brown. The site, which received startup funding from Betsy DeVos, decries the fact that “the education debate is dominated by misinformation and political spin,” yet is uniformly upbeat about charter schools while remarkably devoid of anything positive to say about district schools or teachers unions.

Vertical integration

The Sackler “special sauce” is vertical integration. As far back as the early 1960’s, staffers for Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver prepared a memo for a subcommittee he chaired that was looking into the rapidly growing pharmaceutical industry.

“The Sackler empire is a completely integrated operation in that it can devise a new drug in its drug development enterprise, have the drug clinically tested and secure favorable reports on the drug from various hospitals with which they have connections, conceive the advertising approach and prepare the actual advertising copy with which to promote the drug, have the clinical articles as well as advertising copy published in their own medical journals, [and] prepare and plant articles in newspapers and magazines.”

This was used to great effect in promoting OxyContin. Art Van Zee MD looked at the Marketing and Promotion of OxyContin and found that in 2001 alone, the company spent over $200 million to market and promote the drug through a variety of methods. In the settlement in the US District Court of Western Virginia, the company admitted to misbranding the drug with the intent to defraud and mislead the public.

The company was lavish with branded swag for health care practitioners. According to a GAO report, these included, “OxyContin fishing hats, stuffed plush toys, coffee mugs with heat-activated messages, music compact discs, luggage tags, and pens containing a pullout conversion chart showing physicians how to  calculate the dosage to convert a patient to OxyContin from other opioid pain relievers.”

The GAO report went on to quote the DEA as saying the Purdue’s use of branded promotional items in the marketing of OxyContin was “was unprecedented among schedule II opioids, and was an indicator of Purdue's aggressive and inappropriate marketing of OxyContin.”

The description of “lavish swag” will sound familiar to anyone who has witnessed one of the no-expenses-spared charter school rallies that are a specialty of Sackler-funded organizations like Families for Excellent schools. Then there is the dizzying array of astroturf front groups all created for the purpose of demanding more charter schools. Just in Connecticut, we’ve had the Coalition for Every Child, A Better Connecticut, Fight for Fairness CT, Excel Bridgeport, and the Real Reform Now Network. All of these groups ostensibly claim to be fighting for better public schools for all children. In reality, they have been lobbying to promote charter schools, often running afoul of ethics laws in the process.

Take Families for Excellent Schools, a “grassroots” group that claims to be about parent engagement, yet was founded by major Wall Street players. In Connecticut, the group failed to register its Coalition for Every Child as a lobbying entity and report a multimillion-dollar ad buy expenditure and the costs of a rally in New Haven.

In Massachusetts, Families for Excellent Schools-Advocacy (FESA) recently had to cough up more than $425,000 to the Massachusetts general fund as part of a legal settlement with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, the largest civil forfeiture in the agency’s 44-year history. Massachusetts officials concluded that FESA violated the campaign finance law by receiving contributions from individuals and then contributing those funds to the Great Schools Massachusetts Ballot Question Committee, which sought to lift the cap on the number of charter schools in the state, in a manner intended to disguise the true source of the money. As part of the settlement, the group was ordered to reveal the names of its secret donors. Jonathan Sackler was one of them.

Patrick Riccards, a former CEO of ConnCan, the pro-charter group that Sackler founded in 2005, told me, “Jon went to Berkeley and in many ways fits into that idealistic mold. But at the same time it was he who made it clear to me that one of the reasons ConnCan existed was to leverage the investment in the charter community, in Achievement First, which is still the dominant charter school network in the state. [CT] The venture capital community ... has put tons of money into seeing Achievement First grow, first in Connecticut, then in New York, then in Rhode Island.”

It’s all part of the model, concluded Riccards. “While you have a public vision of great public schools for all, ConnCan’s focus was: how does the charter industry continue to grow? Every year, ConnCan’s fight was how do we increase the number of seats, and how do we increase the per pupil expenditure?”

Staggering toll

OxyContin was approved for use in treating moderate to severe pain in 1995. Purdue was determined to make the drug a hit, and funded doctors like Russell Portenoy, who said in a 1993 interview with the New York Times: "There is a growing literature showing that these drugs can be used for a long time, with few side effects and that addiction and abuse are not a problem.”

Except that the literature was based on short-term usage, not on long-acting opioids taken over extended periods of time. By 2003, Portenoy admitted to the Times that he had misgivings about how he and other pain specialists had used the research. Although he had not intended to mischaracterize it or to mislead fellow doctors, he had tried to counter claims that overplayed the risk of addiction. But if not for such mischaracterizations, the Sacklers wouldn’t be as wealthy, and America might not be suffering from a public health crisis that is costing the country an estimated $78.5 billion a year.

Even as the scope and scale of the opioid epidemic unfolds, the fortune OxyContin built continues to grow. In the case of OxyContin heir Jonathan Sackler, part of that fortune is being devoted to expanding charter schools and weakening protections for teachers in traditional public schools. Patrick Keefe’s New Yorker feature ends with a stunning statistic: “An addicted baby is now born every half hour.” He asks whether such devastation should give pause to organizations that benefit from the Sacklers' extensive philanthropy. In the case of the charter schools and education reform advocacy groups that Jonathan Sackler funds, the answer to that question should be obvious.

Sarah Darer Littman is the author of middle-grade and young adult novels, and has previously written for Hearst Newspapers and CTNewsJunkie.com. She teaches writing in the MFA program at Western CT State University and at the Yale Summer Writers’ Workshop. Follow her on Twitter @realsamerica.

Canada’s Pro-Israel Lobby Uses Fake News and Specious Assumptions to ‘Demonize and Delegitimize’ the BDS Movement

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

By Dimitri Lascaris / dimitrilascaris.org.

On November 8, 2017, the Canadian Jewish News (CJN) reported that Dr. David Kattenburg had commenced an application for judicial review in the Federal Court of Canada.

In his application, Dr. Kattenburg impugns a decision by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to allow the importation and sale of wines produced in Israel’s illegal West Bank settlements.

In his original complaint to the CFIA, Dr. Kattenburg correctly noted that wines produced in Israel’s illegal settlements are labelled as “Product of Israel” even though they are produced in Occupied Palestinian Territory, and that no state – not even the state of Israel – claims that the West Bank forms part of Israel’s sovereign territory.

CJN’s article also reported that Avi Benlolo of the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC) purports to be “confident” that the Federal Court of Canada will dismiss Dr. Kattenburg’s application for judicial review. In explaining his confidence, Benlolo offered to the CJN no analysis whatsoever of the Canada Israel Free Trade Agreement (CIFTA) even though the CFIA explicitly based its decision on CIFTA.

Rather, according to Benlolo, Dr. Kattenburg’s application is “one more attempt to promote the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, which has been recognized by provincial and federal governments as anti-Semitic.”

Whatever Dr. Kattenburg’s view of the BDS movement may be, Dr. Kattenburg has never argued that the CFIA has the authority to impose a boycott of settlement wines. On the contrary, his position before the CFIA and in his application for judicial review has consistently been that, for these wines to be sold to Canadian consumers, their true country of origin must be disclosed, and that Canadians are entitled to have accurate information when deciding whether to purchase these wines. This is a proposition with which we should all be able to agree – including Avi Benlolo.

Even more misleading is Benlolo’s claim that the BDS movement “has been recognized by provincial and federal governments as anti-Semitic.”

On February 22, 2016, Canada’s Parliament adopted a resolution rejecting the BDS movement. Although the resolution was supported by the leadership of the Liberals and Conservatives, the resolution received no support from three of the five parties having representation in Parliament – namely, the NDP, the Green Party of Canada and the Bloc Québécois. In addition, three Liberal MPs distinguished themselves by voting against this unconscionable resolution. For the record, those principled Liberal MPS were Nick Whalen of St. John’s East, Larry Bagnell of Yukon and René Arseneault of Madawaska—Restigouche.

Despite Benlolo’s claim that the federal government has “recognized” the BDS movement as anti-Semitic, Parliament’s anti-BDS resolution contains no reference at all to anti-Semitism. The resolution simply declares that:

given Canada and Israel share a long history of friendship as well as economic and diplomatic relations, the House reject the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which promotes the demonization and delegitimization of the State of Israel, and call upon the government to condemn any and all attempts by Canadian organizations, groups or individuals to promote the BDS movement, both here at home and abroad.

The only way to construe this resolution as a “recognition” that BDS is anti-Semitic is to assume that the State of Israel is synonymous with the Jewish people, and that those who ‘demonize and delegitimize’ the State of Israel are necessarily demonizing and delegitimizing the Jewish people.

But that assumption is patently false. One need look no further than the comments of Dr. Kattenburg himself to appreciate the falsity of Benlolo’s unstated assumption. As explained by Dr. Kattenburg:

I am the child of Holocaust survivors and I grew up being taught that justice is everything, that the rule of law counted for more than anything else in the world. I don’t feel that 250 members of my family died in Sobibor and Auschwitz concentration camps so that some self-professed ‘Jewish state’ can deny 4 million people their fundamental rights in the name of Judaism. And I don’t believe the State of Israel represents me or represents Judaism.

Moreover, when it comes to disavowing Israel’s misconduct, Dr. Kattenburg is no outlier in Canada’s Jewish community. In an EKOS poll conducted in early 2017, 51% of respondents who declared their ethnicity to be Jewish agreed that it would be “reasonable” for the Canadian government to impose sanctions on Israel in order to ensure its compliance with international law, while 82% of such respondents agreed that the Palestinian call for a boycott was “reasonable”.

Avi Benlolo’s claim that provincial governments have recognized the BDS movement as anti-Semitic is equally disingenuous.

In 2016, Mr. Benlolo and two MPPs, one Conservative and the other Liberal, drafted a bill entitled the “Standing Up Against Anti-Semitism in Ontario Act”. Their bill would have called on the province to stop doing business with companies that support BDS. It also described the BDS movement as “one of the main vehicles for spreading anti-Semitism and the delegitimization of Israel globally…”

On May 19, 2016, however, Benlolo’s bill was decisively defeated in the Ontario legislature, by a vote of 39-18.

At the time, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne was on a trade mission to Israel. The timing of the vote thus seemed calculated to bring maximum pressure on Premier Wynne to support the measure, but the tactic failed. Although she was then travelling in Israel, Ms. Wynne declared that she opposed the BDS movement, but added that freedom of speech is “something that all Canadians value and we must vigorously defend.”

Six months later, Conservative MPP Gila Martow introduced a less aggressive and non-binding motion in Ontario’s legislature. Her motion passed with the support of Liberal and Conservative MPPs, but was opposed by NDP lawmakers. The motion called on Ontario’s legislature to stand “firmly against any position or movement that promotes or encourages any form of hatred, hostility, prejudice, racism and intolerance in any way; recognizes the longstanding, vibrant and mutually beneficial political, economic and cultural ties between Ontario and Israel, built on a foundation of shared liberal democratic values; endorses the Ottawa Protocol on Combating Anti-Semitism; and rejects the differential treatment of Israel, including the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.”

Thus, like Parliament’s anti-BDS resolution, Ms. Martow’s motion did not describe the BDS movement as anti-Semitic.

It is nonetheless true that Parliament and the Ontario legislature have now adopted resolutions condemning the BDS movement. Avi Benlolo and other advocates for Israel never tire of pointing this out to the media. By constantly invoking these anti-BDS resolutions, Israel’s advocates are clearly implying that Canadians should be guided by the moral judgment of the Conservatives and Liberals who supported these resolutions. That unspoken premise cannot be reconciled, however, with Canada’s inglorious foreign policy record.

A few examples will suffice to make the point abundantly clear.

Exhibit 1: Both Liberal and Conservative governments supported arms sales to Saudi Arabia, arguably the worst human rights violator on the planet. According to Amnesty International’s 2016/2017 report on Saudi Arabia:

The [Saudi] authorities severely curtailed the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, detaining and imprisoning critics, human rights defenders and minority rights activists on vaguely worded charges. Torture and other ill-treatment of detainees remained common, particularly during interrogation, and courts continued to accept torture-tainted “confessions” to convict defendants in unfair trials. Women faced discrimination in both law and practice and were inadequately protected against sexual and other violence. The authorities continued to arrest, detain and deport irregular migrants. Courts imposed many death sentences, including for non-violent crimes and against juvenile offenders; scores of executions were carried out. Coalition forces led by Saudi Arabia committed serious violations of international law, including war crimes, in Yemen.

Even worse, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government has continued to allow arms to flow to the Saudi autocracy despite mounting evidence that those arms are being used to oppress Saudi Arabia’s Shia minority.

Exhibit 2: Both Liberal and Conservative governments have supported the dictatorship of Egyptian strong-man Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Virtually from the time that Sisi assumed power, reputable human rights organizations have meticulously documented his regime’s astonishing savagery.

In August 2014, U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a 188-page report detailing “the systematic and widespread killing of at least 1,150 demonstrators by Egyptian security forces in July and August 2013.” According to HRW’s Executive Director, “This wasn’t merely a case of excessive force or poor training. It was a violent crackdown planned at the highest levels of the Egyptian government. Many of the same officials are still in power in Egypt, and have a lot to answer for.”

Less than six months after the issuance of HRW’s shocking report, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government declared its “strong support” for Sisi, claiming — with a straight face — that Sisi’s regime was pursuing a “transition to democracy and the inclusion of human rights and the rule of law.” Harper’s government also announced a $2 million contribution to Egypt’s counterterrorism and border security efforts, as well as increased police collaboration between Canada and Egypt.

At around the same time, Harper’s grinning Foreign Minister John Baird posed for the cameras at Davos while shaking hands with the Egyptian mass murderer:

Baird-Sisi

Less than two years later, by which time Justin Trudeau had replaced Harper, Canadians learned just how Egypt’s “transition to democracy” was unfolding. In September 2017, HRW again accused Sisi’s regime of crimes against humanity, but this time for operating a torture “assembly line.” According to HRW, the Sisi regime’s torture techniques include electric shocks, beatings, “excruciating” stress positions that consist of treating detainees like “a chicken on a rotisserie spit”, rape and threats to torture family members of detainees.

How has the Trudeau government responded to Sisi’s well-documented barbarism? Within weeks of the Liberals’ 2015 electoral victory, Trudeau’s Defence Minister Harjit Sajan travelled to Egypt to discuss military cooperation with his Egyptian counterpart. Although Trudeau’s government is less inclined than Harper’s to publicize its cooperation with Sisi’s regime, the Egyptian press dutifully reported that Egypt’s Defence Minister “stressed on [sic] the deep and friendly relations between both countries and expressed hopes for increased cooperation in different fields.”

Exhibit 3: To grasp the extent to which Liberal and Conservative governments have exhibited contempt for human rights, one need look no further than their dealings with the State of Israel itself.

In the 2015 election campaign, Harper proclaimed that “we recognize, unequivocally, the right of Israel to be a Jewish state.” Trudeau responded by assuring Canadians that “all three of us support Israel and any Canadian government will.”

Yet neither Harper nor Trudeau has deigned to address the vexing question of how a state that privileges one ethnicity over another could possibly constitute a democracy. Nor have the Liberals or Conservatives ever explained why they refuse to contemplate any sanction on Israel despite the Canadian government’s long-standing acknowledgement – which enjoys near universal support — that Israel’s settlements in the West Bank violate the Fourth Geneva Convention, and notwithstanding Israel’s torture of Palestinian children, collective punishment, extrajudicial assassination, and its imposition of an apartheid regime on the Palestinian people.

The Canadian government’s record of support for egregious human rights abusers is prodigious and is by no means limited to the cases of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel.

The Conservative and Liberal Parties have thus forfeited any claim to be the moral conscience of our nation. Their human rights pronouncements are bereft of credibility and carry no weight.

Indeed, were it not for the countless victims of the heinous regimes Canada’s Liberals and Conservatives have coddled, Avi Benlolo’s suggestion that Canadians should care about Parliament’s anti-BDS resolution would be comical.

People Act Where US Fails On Climate

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

By Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese, / www.popularresistance.org

Protesters march during a demonstration against the Dakota Access Pipeline on March 10, 2017 in Washington D.C. Thousands of protesters and members of Native nations marched in Washington D.C. to oppose the construction of the proposed 1,172 Dakota Access Pipeline that runs within a half-mile of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota.  Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The climate crisis is upon us. It seems that every report on climate conditions has one thing in common: things are worse than predicted. The World Meteorological Report from the end of October shows that Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) are rising at a rapid rate and have passed 400 parts per million. According to Dr. Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, “the changes we’re making today are occurring in 100 years, whereas in nature they occur in 10,000 years.”

The United States is experiencing a wide range of climate impacts from major hurricanes in the South to unprecedented numbers of wildfires in the West to crop-destroying drought in the Mid-West. In October, the General Accounting Office reported that the US has spent over $350 billion in the last decade on disaster relief and crop insurance, not counting this year’s hurricanes. These costs will continue and rise.

We are past the time to make a major commitment to the transformation we need to mitigate and adapt to the climate crisis. Imagine the benefits that such a commitment would have in creating a cleaner environment, better health and more jobs and, if structured in a way that is democratized and benefits the public, in ending environmental racism and economic injustice.

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Climate talks in Germany

The 23rd session of climate talks is taking place right now in Bonn, Germany. The United States formally withdrew from its commitment to the Paris climate treaty, but delegations of people from the US are in attendance to show their commitment to addressing the climate crisis. A group of organizations, such as 350.org and Indigenous Environmental Network, presented their climate platform as “the people’s delegation.” They are calling for a just transition to a fossil-free future and an end to market schemes to offset carbon use.

The people are expressing their demands for more action on the climate in multiple protests around the COP23. Ahead of the climate talks, on Saturday, November 4, tens of thousands of people marched in Bonn to demand an end to fossil fuels. The march kicked off a series of direct actions and alternative events to take place during the talks. On November 8, the one year anniversary of the election of Donald Trump, activists organized a “Climate Genocide” day of action in Bonn and around the world. On Saturday, November 11, thousands marched in Bonn again to protest the use of nuclear energy. The talks conclude on November 17.

The Trump Administration sent a delegation to the climate talks with the goal of protecting the fossil fuel industry. John Cushman of Inside Climate News writes, “the U.S. is straddling a climate credibility gap, with the Trump administration’s policies on one side of an abyss and what the government’s own scientists know about climate change with increasing certainty on the other.”

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100% renewable energy is necessary and possible

If there is to be any possibility of mitigating the climate crisis, then action must be taken immediately to end the use of dirty energy, otherwise lower carbon emissions and sequester carbon. While some are saying that we have 18 years before we hit the limits of our “carbon budget,” scientists Stephen Davis and Robert Socolow report that when all sources of carbon and carbon commitments are taken into account, we will hit the limit in 2018.

Organizations and government agencies have pointed out that the Paris climate treaty goals are not enough to mitigate the climate crisis. On Tuesday, the United Nations Environment Program released a report calling for faster and more rapid cuts in emissions than are outlined in the treaty. This can be achieved by closing coal plants and moving to renewable sources, improving energy efficiency, protecting and planting more forests and changing agricultural practices to sequester carbon in soil.

The good news is that it is possible to reduce carbon quickly, and it will lower energy costs, improve health and create jobs. A study released at the COP23 shows that we can move to  zero carbon energy worldwide by 2050. This would be largely based on solar energy with additional energy from wind, water and a small percentage from biomass, although biomass is not considered to be a sustainable source of energy.

David Schwartzman reminds us that although we have the knowledge and resources to move quickly to 100% renewable energy, two major obstacles are the Military Industrial Complex and capitalism. He writes, “All is contingent on the growing strength of multi-dimensional, transnational class struggle, [and] on the convergence of movements for climate, energy, environmental justice and for peace and demilitarization.”

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Reaching our goal

Just as is necessary for other struggles, achieving our goals of mitigating the climate crisis in a way that is sustainable and equitable will require the dual track approach of resistance and constructive programs. There are signs that this work is being done in the North America.

Resistance to new fossil fuel infrastructure is working. This summer, Enbridge stopped its North East Direct gas pipeline project in New England. This fall, TransCanada withdrew its Energy East Pipeline project, which would have transported “1.1 million barrels of oil per day from Alberta, Saskatchewan and North Dakota across the country through a 4,500-kilometre route that would end at a terminal in Saint John, New Brunswick.”

There is strong opposition to pipelines throughout the United States, from the ongoing fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline to the Bayou Pipeline to multiple pipelines in MichiganPennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina. And efforts continue to stop the first fracked gas refinery and export terminal on the East Coast as it nears completion. The terminal being built by Virginia-based Dominion Energy in the Cove Point neighborhood of Maryland (the first to be built in such a densely-populated area) will drive fracking in the Utica and Marcellus shales and raise gas prices in the US.

Pipeline companies report that their biggest problem is opposition to their projects. It should come as no surprise that the industry is fighting back. This was very obvious in the #NoDAPL protests at Standing Rock. Chase Iron Eyes, who is being prosecuted for inciting a riot against the Dakota Access Pipeline, will be using a necessity defense to demonstrate that he was acting out of necessity to protect water his family relies on.

This week, pipeline protesters in Massachusetts were met with police dogs and stun guns. Mark Hand recently discovered that the industry is “in the ‘early stages’ of putting together a campaign to counter opposition to fracking and pipelines,” including creating grassroots groups.

Some communities are protecting themselves by banning projects. South Portland, Maine has spent over $1 million to defend its pipeline ban. Ohio activists recently won a court victory allowing them to vote on local fracking bans. Others are taking on the banks that fund the projects. On Monday, more than 200 people painted a giant mural on the street in front of Wells Fargo, creating an effective street blockade in the process.

Food is a large contributor to carbon emissions through animal cultivation for meat, destroying forests for crops and transportation of food over long distances. The UN urged this week that we move to a meat-free and dairy-free diet for the climate (and it would also be good for our health).

Our food system could contribute to the solution. Organic farming practices can sequester large amounts of carbon in the soil. On top of that, the large food co-operative, Organic Valley, announced this week that it is committed to using 100% renewable energy by 2019, starting with community solar projects. Rooftop solar is “creating well-paying jobs at a rate that’s 17 times faster than the total U.S. economy.”

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Our climate imperative

If we are to have a livable future, we must act rapidly. Failure to act will have devastating impacts. Studies suggest that there may be as many as one billion climate refugees by 2050. Climate change is contributing to migration into cities and poverty, causing food insecurity. People in North America are not immune to this, as recent hurricanes, wildfires and droughts reveal.

The climate crisis is also bad for our health and will cause an additional 250,000 deaths per year.  In addition to direct effects, such as heat stroke, injuries from catastrophes and longer allergy seasons and mental health impacts from stress, the climate crisis is also increasing vector-borne diseases.

Every crisis offers an opportunity for radical positive transformation. As we act to address the climate crisis, let’s do it in ways that change systems so they are equitable, just and non-discriminatory. Our actions to mitigate and adapt to climate change can work to democratize the economy through cooperatives, energy creation by individuals on their rooftops and land, public banks and gift economies, to improve our health through clean water, air, organic foods and low cost public transit, and to bring peace to the world by ending US imperialism.

It can be so, if we act with intention to make it that way.

 

 

Arab media: Saudi purge promises tighter control

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

By James M. Dorsey / Mid-East Soccer.

Long-standing Saudi efforts to dominate the pan-Arab media landscape appear to have moved into high gear with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s purge that targeted members of the ruling Al Saud family as well as prominent businessmen, including at least two media moguls. The purge could also signal an escalation of the Saudi-Qatari media war.

Among those detained was Waleed al-Ibrahim, a founder of Middle East Broadcasting Company (MBC) that operates the Al Arabiya television network, established to counter Qatar’s state-owned Al Jazeera, and Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, whose Rotana Group has partnered with media baron Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.

Saudi Arabia’s quest for media dominance dates back to the founding of MBC in 1991 as well as two pan-Arab newspapers, As Sharq Al Awsat and Al Hayat. Qatar not only challenged Saudi dominance with the creation of Al Jazeera in 1996, but also revolutionized the region’s media landscape with its freewheeling, often highly opinionated reporting and programming.

Al Jazeera’s success was one reason why a UAE-Saudi alliance that in June declared a diplomatic and economic boycott of the Gulf state included the shuttering of the network among its core demands. Al Jazeera English that in contrast to Al Jazeera Arabic largely adheres to standards of independent reporting, stands out in a tightly state-controlled media landscape in which many outlets have lost a degree of credibility by projecting themselves as partisans in a media war rather than purveyors of the truth.

The detentions of Mr. Al-Ibrahim, a brother-in-law of late King Fahd, and Prince Alwaleed, a nephew of King Salman, have sparked speculation that Prince Mohammed wants control of all the kingdom’s major media assets even though those that were held by individuals rather than the state toed the government line in their news broadcasting.

“The prospect of bringing the giants of Saudi and Arab media under unified government control is worrying. It raises concern that the diversity of opinion and coverage will be further curtailed. Mohammed bin Salman is clearly intent on controlling the message as he conducts a dramatic restructuring of the Saudi state and economy,” Kristin Diwan, senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, told the Financial Times.
Mr. Al-Ibrahim and Prince Alwaleed’s media outlets could well change hands as part of Prince Mohammed’s intention to confiscate assets worth $800 billion under the mum of his anti-corruption campaign. With a large portion of the assets of those detained in the purge difficult to access because they are parked outside of the kingdom, media assets take on added significance.
An anti-corruption commission established hours before the purge was empowered by decree with “returning funds to the state’s public treasury (and) registering the assets and funds as state property.” The fact that the two moguls’ major media assets are based in Dubai may make a possible takeover easier. Regulators in the United Arab Emirates have asked UAE banks for information about those detained in Prince Mohammed’s purge in what bankers said was a likely prelude to freezing their accounts.

Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy, noted that Prince Mohammed "needs cash to fund the government's investment plans" formulated in Vision 2030 and designed to diversify and rationalize the Saudi economy. "It was becoming increasingly clear that additional revenue is needed to improve the economy's performance. The government will also strike deals with businessmen and royals to avoid arrest, but only as part of a greater commitment to the local economy,” Eurasia said in a note to clients.

The apparent move to tighten state control of media strokes with the crown prince’s crackdown on any form of criticism and/or dissent that manifested itself with an earlier wave of arrests of Islamic scholars, judges, intellectuals and activists as well as his quest to centralize power. The crackdown and potential takeover of media assets comes at a time of unprecedented, more freewheeling public debate on social media about Prince Mohammed’s reforms and policy changes as well as the kingdom’s foreign policy and national security challenges.

Prince Alwaleed, in what appeared to be a naïve attempt to establish a pan-Arab television station that would to some degree divert from official government policy, launched Al Arab in 2015 in Bahrain, another Gulf state in which media censorship is pervasive. In a statement by Kingdom Holding, Prince Alwaleed promised that “Al Arab will break the mould of news presentation, becoming a platform for transparent presentation and discussion of the region’s most intractable issues.”

Al Arab was headed by Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent and at times controversial Saudi journalist, who since going into exile in the United States earlier this year has become more vocal in his criticism of the government. It was taken off the air by Bahraini authorities a day after it went live for broadcasting an interview with Bahraini opposition leader Khalil al-Marzooq.

In the interview, Mr. Al-Marzooq, who resigned his seat in parliament in 2011 in protest against the government’s brutal crackdown on protesters, took issue with the regime’s revocation of the citizenship of 72 Bahrainis, including Turki al-Binali, one of the leading ideologues of the Islamic State, Shiite and human rights activists, journalists, and medical personnel.

It was not clear whether Al Arab was suspended because of differences within Bahrain’s ruling family or in response to pressure from Saudi Arabia whose troops helped Bahrain squash the 2011 popular revolt.

Prince Alwaleed announced earlier this year that he was closing the station, which had not returned to the air since its suspension two years earlier, but had last year decided to move operations to Qatar.

Had Al Arab relaunched in Qatar, it would have put Prince Alwaleed in an awkward position with the eruption in June of the Gulf crisis. With or without Al Arab, Prince Mohammed’s probable media grab will, however, likely escalate what is already a media war that often has little to do with journalism.

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

Four Viral Claims Spread by Journalists on Twitter in the Last Week Alone That Are False

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

By Glenn Greenwald / The Intercept.
Photo: Joe Raedle/AP

There is ample talk, particularly of late, about the threats posed by social media to democracy and political discourse. Yet one of the primary ways that democracy is degraded by platforms such as Facebook and Twitter is, for obvious reasons, typically ignored in such discussions: the way they are used by American journalists to endorse factually false claims that quickly spread and become viral, entrenched into narratives, and thus, can never be adequately corrected.

The design of Twitter, where many political journalists spend their time, is in large part responsible for this damage. Its space constraints mean that tweeted headlines or tiny summaries of reporting are often assumed to be true with no critical analysis of their accuracy and are easily spread. Claims from journalists that people want to believe are shared like wildfire, while less popular subsequent corrections or nuanced debunking are easily ignored. Whatever one’s views are on the actual impact of Twitter Russian bots, surely the propensity of journalistic falsehoods to spread far and wide is at least as significant.

Just in the last week alone, there have been four major factually false claims that have gone viral because journalists on Twitter endorsed and spread them: three about the controversy involving Donna Brazile and the Democratic National Committee, and one about documents and emails published by WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign. It’s well worth examining them, both to document what the actual truth is, as well as to understand how often and easily this online journalistic misleading occurs.

Viral Falsehood #1

The Clinton/DNC agreement cited by Brazile only applied to the general election, not the primary.

On Wednesday, Politico published a blockbuster accusation from Brazile’s new book: that the DNC had “rigged” the 2016 primary election for Hillary Clinton through an agreement that gave Clinton control over key aspects of the DNC, a claim that Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., endorsed on CNN. The Clinton camp refused to comment publicly but instead contacted their favorite reporters to publish their response as news.

The following day, NBC published an article by Alex Seitz-Wald that recited and endorsed the Clinton camp’s primary defense: Brazile was wrong because the agreement in question (a copy of which they provided to Seitz-Wald) applied “only to preparations for the general election” and had nothing to do with the primary season. That defense, if true, would be fatal to Brazile’s claims, and so DNC-loyal journalists all over Twitter instantly declared it to be true, thus pronouncing Brazile’s accusation to have been fully debunked. This post documents how quickly this claim was endorsed on Twitter by journalists and Democratic operatives, and how far and wide it therefore spread.

The problem with this claim is that it is blatantly and obviously false. All one has to do to know this is read the agreement. Unlike the journalists spreading this DNC defense, Campaign Legal Center’s Brendan Fischer bothered to read it, and immediately saw and documented how obviously false this claim is:

The NBC article that was originally used to spread this claim now includes what amounts to a serious walk-back, if not outright retraction, of the DNC’s principal defense:

DNC and Clinton allies pointed to the fact that the agreement contained self-justifying lawyer language claiming that it is “focused exclusively on preparations for the General,” but, as Fischer noted, that passage “is contradicted by the rest of the agreement.” This would be like creating a contract to explicitly bribe an elected official (“A will pay Politician B to vote YES on Bill X”), then adding a throwaway paragraph with a legalistic disclaimer that “nothing in this agreement is intended to constitute a bribe,” and then have journalists cite that paragraph to proclaim that no bribe happened even though the agreement on its face explicitly says the opposite.

The Clinton/DNC agreement explicitly vested the Clinton campaign with control over key matters during the primary season: the exact opposite of what journalists on Twitter caused hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people to believe. Nonetheless, DNC-loyal commentators continue to cite headlines and tweets citing the legalistic language to convince huge numbers of people that the truth is the exact opposite of what it actually is:

Viral Falsehood #2

Sanders signed the same agreement with the DNC that Clinton did.

To make the Clinton/DNC agreement appear benign and normal, the claim was quickly and widely circulated that Bernie Sanders had also signed the same agreement with the DNC as Clinton had. This, too, was false — in the most fundamental way possible.

Simply put, the agreement Sanders signed with the DNC — which the Sanders camp appears to have provided ABC News in order to debunk the claim — did not contain any of the provisions vesting control over the DNC that made the Clinton agreement cited by Brazile so controversial. As ABC News put it (emphasis added):

A joint fundraising agreement between the Bernie Sanders campaign and the Democratic National Committee — obtained Friday by ABC News and signed at the start of the primary campaign for the 2016 presidential election — does not include any language about coordinating on strategic decisions over hiring or budget, unlike a fundraising memo between the Hillary Clinton team and the DNC.

It’s possible that had Sanders wanted to invoke his funding arrangement with the DNC, and then signed a second agreement, it might have included similar control provisions. But it’s also possible that it would not have. We’ll never know, because it never happened. What we actually know for certain — what exists in reality — is that Sanders never signed any agreement with the DNC that contained the control provisions that were given in 2015 to the Clinton campaign. In other words, the provisions cited by Brazile in her “rigging” allegation did not exist in any contract signed with the DNC by the Sanders campaign.

Needless to say, a tiny fraction of those who were exposed to the original falsehood (Sanders signed the same agreement as Clinton) ended up seeing this fundamental reversal, because the journalists who promoted the original falsehood felt no compunction, as usual, to provide the less pleasing correction.

Viral Falsehood #3

Brazile stupidly thought she could unilaterally remove Clinton as the nominee.

Yesterday, the Washington Post published an article reporting on various claims made in Brazile’s new book. The headline, which was widely tweeted, made it seem as though Brazile delusionally believed she had a power which, obviously, she did not in fact possess: “Donna Brazile: I considered replacing Clinton with Biden as 2016 Democratic nominee.” The article said Brazile considered exercising this power after Clinton’s fainting spell made her worry that Clinton was physically debilitated, and her campaign was “anemic” and had taken on “the odor of failure.”

Brazile — as a result of her stinging criticisms and accusations of Clinton, Obama, and the DNC — is currently Public Enemy No. 1 among Democrats in the media. So they seized on this headline to pretend that she claimed the power to unilaterally remove Clinton on a whim and then used this claim to mercilessly vilify her — the chair of Al Gore’s 2000 campaign, last year’s interim head of the DNC, and a long-time Democratic Party operative — as a deluded, insane, dishonest, profiteering, ignorant fabulist who lacks all credibility.

But the entire attack on Brazile was false. She did not claim, at least according to the Post article being cited, that she had the power to unilaterally remove Clinton. The original Post article, buried deep down in the article, well after the headline, made clear that she was referencing a complicated process in the DNC charter that allowed for removal of a nominee who had become incapacitated.

The Post then amended its story to reflect that she made no such absurd claim in her book, but rather noted that “the DNC charter empowered her to initiate replacement of the nominee” and that “if a nominee became disabled, she explains, the party chair would oversee a complicated process of filling the vacancy that would include a meeting of the full DNC.” The Post then added this note to the top of the article:

Journalists on Twitter spent hours yesterday mocking, maligning, and attacking the reputation of Brazile for a claim that she simply never made — all because a tweeted headline, which they never bothered to read past or evaluate, made them think they were justified in doing so in order to malign someone who has, quickly and bizarrely, become one of the Democrats’ primary enemies.

Viral Falsehood #4

Evidence has emerged proving that the content of WikiLeaks documents and emails was doctored.

Last year, from the time WikiLeaks began publishing emails and documents from the DNC and John Podesta’s email inbox, Clinton officials and their media supporters have constantly insinuated, and sometimes outright stated, that the WikiLeaks documents were frauds because they had been altered. What was most notable about this accusation was how easily it would have been proven had it really been true. All anyone had to do was show the actual, original email that they sent or received, and then compare it to the altered WikiLeaks version, and that would have been proof that the WikiLeaks archive was unreliable.

But that never happened. Never once did any of the dozens of Democratic Party operatives who sent or received the emails published by WikiLeaks point to a single specific case of an alteration — something that, obviously, they would have eagerly done had they been able to. As Politico noted last year (emphasis added):

Clinton’s team hasn’t challenged the accuracy of even the most salacious emails released in the past four days, including those featuring aides making snarky references to Catholicism or a Bill Clinton protégé describing Chelsea Clinton as a “spoiled brat.” And numerous digital forensic firms told POLITICO that they haven’t seen any proof of tampering in the emails they’ve examined — adding that only the hacked Democrats themselves could offer that kind of conclusive evidence.

Similarly, when PolitiFact tried last year to fact-check the Clinton campaign’s claims that the documents were doctored, they noted: “The Clinton campaign, however, has yet to produce any evidence that any specific emails in the latest leak were fraudulent.”

Nonetheless, the desire to believe this persisted. And this week, Associated Press published a report that countless journalists seized upon to claim that proof finally had emerged that the WikiLeaks documents had been altered. The claim in the AP report is incredibly simple and limited. It does not involve any claim that WikiLeaks altered any documents, or that any of the emails it published were frauds; rather, the claim is that Guccifer, on one of the documents that he published, placed a “confidential” watermark that did not appear on another version:

The first document Guccifer 2.0 published on June 15 came not from the DNC as advertised but from Podesta’s inbox, according to a former DNC official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

The official said the word “CONFIDENTIAL” was not in the original document .

Guccifer 2.0 had airbrushed it to catch reporters’ attention.

There are so many reasons to question whether this actually happened. To begin with, the fact that one version of the document is without a “confidential” watermark doesn’t mean no version has one; it’s common to add watermarks of that sort for different purposes and different recipients. Moreover, AP’s only basis is an anonymous source claiming the document had been altered, along with the version that lacks the watermark. This is very far from proof that Guccifer “airbrushed it to catch reporters’ attention.”

But let’s assume for the sake of argument that Guccifer did, in fact, add a “confidential” watermark to this document to entice journalists to view the document as more appetizing. This does not remotely justify the claim that any of the documents and emails published by WikiLeaks were materially altered and were thus unreliable.

First, Guccifer adding a watermark to a document he circulated does not mean that any of the emails published by WikiLeaks in its archive was altered. It’s long been known that Guccifer altered the documents’ metadata to hide its path, but nobody ever tried to cite that as proof that anything published by WikiLeaks was fraudulent (indeed, PolitiFact cited Guccifer’s alteration of metadata when concluding there was no evidence that the WikiLeaks documents themselves had been altered).

Second, this has no bearing on the content of the emails or documents themselves published by WikiLeaks, which, to date, nobody has demonstrated have been altered in the slightest. Third, if it were the case that any of the emails or documents published by WikiLeaks were fraudulent, it would still be incredibly easy to prove: All anyone would have to do is produce the original and show how the WikiLeaks version was altered. Why — a full year after WikiLeaks began publishing these documents — has nobody done this, despite the overwhelming incentive that exists to expose this?

In sum, evidence that the content of any of the WikiLeaks emails was altered is nonexistent, while there is overwhelming reason to believe none has been (beginning with the fact that, as easy it would be to do so, no proof has been provided after all this time). Nonetheless, as a result of journalists’ conduct on Twitter this week, the false claim that emails and documents in the WikiLeaks archive were proven to be altered is now viral and will remain fixed in people’s belief system forever:

There’s no way to prove the negative, that no emails or documents published by WikiLeaks were altered. But one should demand actual evidence before affirming this claim. And despite the ease of providing that proof, and the long period of time that has elapsed, none has been provided. But, unsurprisingly, that did not stop the claim that it had been proven from going viral this week on Twitter — all based on the tenuous claim that Guccifer added a “confidential” watermark to one of the documents he circulated.

It can certainly be menacing for Russian bots to disseminate divisive messaging on Twitter. But it’s at least equally menacing if journalists with the loudest claim to authoritative credibility are using that platform constantly to entrench falsehoods in the public’s mind.

New Mass Resistance as Spanish State Jails Catalan Ministers

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

By Dick Nichols / Socialist Project.

Judge Carmen Lamela of Spain's National High Court – direct descendant of the fascist Franco-era Court of Public Order – took the war of the Spanish state against the Catalan pro-independence government to a new level of judicial violence on November 2.

50,000 march in Bilbao, Basque country.

50,000 march in Bilbao, Basque country, in solidarity with Catalonia and political prisoners.

It was not enough that the two leaders of the Catalan mass pro-independence organizations the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Catalan cultural and language association Omnium Cultural, were already in jail. It was not enough that the Catalan government had been sacked on October 27 under article 155 of the Spanish constitution. Now the deposed ministers had to be humiliated.

Facing charges of rebellion (up to 30 years jail), sedition (up to 15 years jail) and misuse of public money, eight of the ministers were sent into preventive detention, supposedly to prevent them destroying evidence and fleeing the Spanish state.

The decision immediately provoked a new huge storm of protest across Catalonia. There were demonstrations outside town halls and the country's parliament and a deafening evening cassolada (banging of pots and pans). A planned November 12 demonstration in Barcelona looks set to be oceanic.

The minority, but rapidly growing, Intersindical-CSC trade union confederation has already called a general strike in the coming days.

The judge's action was immediately denounced by Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, who is in Belgium with his remaining four ministers. It is expected they will soon be subject to a European arrest warrant, but it is far from certain that the Belgian legal system will return them to the Spanish state.

December 21 Poll

The detentions will also impact the debate within Catalonia's pro-independence and pro-sovereignty parties over the snap December 21 elections. The new elections were called by Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy as part of his plan to marginalize the Catalan independence movement.

Rajoy announced his intervention under article 155 of the Spanish constitution on the same day the Catalan parliament officially declared an independent republic. In the aftermath, a war of position was almost universally expected: Rajoy and Co would move to behead the Catalan government, sack its senior executives, purge the Catalan police, public broadcasting and education systems, offer election bribes to parts of the population and then – and only then – risk regional elections.

No other strategy seemed possible in a country where unionism (“constitutionalism” to its supporters) had won less than 40 per cent of the vote at the September 2015 “plebiscitary” Catalan elections that put pro-independence forces into government. So it was a surprise for all sides when Rajoy moved with lightning speed – for the first time in his political life – to call Catalan elections for December 21.

Three main factors determined this decision to go early. Firstly, confidence that the considerable body of pro-Spanish voters who traditionally don't vote in Catalan elections could be mobilized by a hysterical campaign against secessionism. Secondly, hope that the pro-independence camp will split between those favouring a boycott of December 21 and those who support standing. The third and most pressing need was to end, once and for all, the international debate about the legitimacy of recent Spanish state actions (such as sacking an elected government).

The biggest risk with Rajoy's move is that it could create unity among the often fractious pro-independence and pro-sovereignty forces. This could occur behind an election campaign to validate the Catalan Republic declared by parliament on October 27, or behind a broader campaign to oppose Madrid's 155 coup and build support for a Catalan right to decide.

At the time of writing, the Spanish People's Party (PP) government's hope of provoking a split between pro-independence forces in favour of a boycott and those who will stand on December 21 looks to be failing. This seems especially so after Puigdemont announced at an October 31 Brussels media conference that the Catalan independence movement was not afraid of the ballot box.

The November 2 jailing of the ministers only makes a more united approach by forces deciding to stand more likely. The conservative nationalist Catalan European Democratic Party (PDECat) and the centre-left nationalist Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), partners in the outgoing Together for the Yes (JxSi) ruling coalition, had previously both announced they would “meet Rajoy at the polls.” Media reports suggest opinion within the anti-capitalist pro-independence People's Unity List (CUP) was also swinging that way.

Boycott?

The initial gut response of many pro-independence activists on hearing about Rajoy's election announcement was to say the independence movement should boycott. This reaction did not just come from the CUP (whose MP Mireia Boya tweeted that it would be an ideal day for a community paella).

Members of PDECat and the ERC also condemned Rajoy's elections as ‘illegitimate’. David Font, PDECat mayor of Gironella, said: “Let's see if these elections Rajoy wants to have on December 21 he doesn't have to have in the streets, because the councils aren't going to provide halls.”

Joan Manuel Tresserras, close to the ERC and a former Catalan culture minister, told the daily Ara on October 30 that pro-independence forces should “certainly not” run on December 21.

He added: “Another thing would be if it wouldn't be right to call the constituent elections [envisaged in the Catalan Law of Jurisdictional Transition] and, if necessary, even have them on the same day as those called by the Spanish government.

“It is important that the government make a proposal and that this be discussed and agreed with the CUP and the other components of the pro-independence bloc. If The Commons [Catalunya en Comu, the left-wing party of Barcelona mayor Adu Colau that supports the right to decide but not necessarily independence] are there too, all the better.”

Impact of Madrid's Coup

However, these sorts of projections were quickly invalidated by the real state of play in Catalonia resulting from Madrid's coup. That brought the Catalan independence advance, and all the future projections arising from the October 27 independence declaration, to a halt.

The declaration of the independent Catalan Republic was, without doubt, an inspiring and proud moment for hundreds of thousands of Catalans. It was the result of a decade of struggle culminating in the extraordinary David-over-Goliath achievement of holding the October 1 referendum under assault from 10,000 Spanish state police.

It was also something that older generations of militants thought they would never live to see. Now the Catalan Republic lives in the hearts and minds of millions, and the Catalan struggle exists as never before as a spectre haunting European, and even world, politics.

Yet, just one week after the Spanish state takeover, most of the institutional structures of the Catalan Republic have been demolished:

  • The Catalan police have been brought under the control of the Spanish interior ministry and their previous chief sacked;
  • Police protection was withdrawn from Puigdemont and his ministers;
  • All Catalan diplomatic missions have been terminated, with the exception of Brussels, where the Catalan representative to the European Union has been sacked;
  • All Catalan agencies associated with the transition to independence have been closed down;
  • The parliament has been suspended, a state of affairs accepted by speaker Carme Forcadell; and
  • Puigdemont, his ministers, Forcadell and the other members of the speakership panel who allowed debate and the vote on independence face charges of rebellion and sedition.

In this situation, calling for the Puigdemont government to implement the resolutions attached to the declaration of independence is not realistic. His cabinet is in no condition to make them operative.

The impossibility of building and defending the institutions of the fledgling Catalan Republic after the Rajoy coup has made taking part in the December 21 poll inevitable: the thought of what the PP and Citizens would do with Catalonia's institutions if they got their hands on them ultimately makes a boycott unthinkable.

Resistance

However, the political force of the Puigdemont government has not vanished. The president's October 31 Brussels media conference with five of his ministers, attended by 300 journalists, was proof of that.

Puigdemont appealed to the world about the basic questions at stake in the Catalan struggle: Do the Catalans have a right to self-determination? Is the Spanish constitution and legal system democratic? Was the October 1 referendum binding?

The goal of the conference was to appeal to the ordinary citizens of Europe over the heads of the European institutions that have lined up with the Rajoy government. This aimed at raising pressure for negotiations and dialogue, which several European leaders have talked about.

Puigdemont said he would accept the result of the December 21 election and challenged Rajoy to do the same. He also challenged the European Union and the international community to support Catalonia's right to self-determination.

He denounced the legal action taken against his government for doing what it promised to do, and repeated the commitment of the government, pro-independence parties and mass movement to non-violent methods – even while calling on Catalans to resist Madrid's assault on Catalonia's institutions.

Puigdemont was also explaining to independence supporters in Catalonia thrown by the Madrid coup how the strategic position had changed, as well as putting the Spanish political and legal system on trial.

The beheading of the Catalan government in no way means popular resistance has ended, as the November 2 protests showed.

If the managers imposed from Madrid move against Catalonia's firefighters, railway workers, teachers, health workers and other public servants, they will likely run into a wall of non-cooperation. They will face resistance organized through the most active trade union confederation and the Committees to Defend the Republic.

The country's 750-plus pro-independence councils (out of a total of 947) will also continue to project the symbols of the Catalan Republic and organize what disobedience they deem possible in their “liberated zones.”

Approaches to December 21

This reality has led all pro-independence and pro-sovereignty forces in Catalonia – with the possible exception of the CUP that will decide its approach on November 12 – to accept the need to stand in Rajoy's “illegitimate” December 21 election.

Before November 2, it seemed unlikely this campaign would see a new edition of the JxSi alliance between PDECat and ERC. This was despite ANC and Omnium Cultural pressing for a single pro-independence ticket, potentially headed by Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart, the jailed leaders of these mass organizations.

The right nationalist PDECat has been the big loser from the independence process (and is now down to 10% in the latest polls compared to 31% for its once junior partner the ERC). The mood in PDECat has been one of wanting to recover conservative Catalan voters unnerved by the independence process's leftward shift.

Former business minister Santi Vila, who publicly opposed the October 27 independence declaration, has put himself forward as the leader of this “moderate independentism.” He will, however, be opposed by other PDECat leaders who remain loyal to Puigdemont and the independence process.

The ERC scheme for December 21 has been that of a “republican front” that excludes PDECat, while trying to attract unaffiliated independence activists and, in particular, Podemos Catalonia. Led by Albano Dante Fachin, Podemos Catalonia has fallen out with the Podemos leadership in the Spanish state over the latter's refusal to ally with any pro-independence forces for December 21.

As for the campaign of Catalunya en Comu, it will be led by Xavier Domenech (presently leader of En Como Podem in the Spanish parliament). Its central theme will be defence of Catalonia's institutions against Madrid's intervention.

Podemos Catalonia, which is not part of Catalunya en Comu, has raised the possibility of a united campaign by all forces – pro-independence or not – that support a Catalan right to decide and oppose Rajoy's planned destruction of Catalan autonomy.

However, Podemos Spanish-wide general secretary Pablo Iglesias publicly opposes an alliance with pro-independence forces. He judges it would destroy any chance of Catalonia en Comu winning support from working-class unionist voters – in Catalonia and across the Spanish state. Their vote would go to the PSC or even the new-right Citizens.

On October 29, the Podemos’ Spanish-state leadership instructed Podemos Catalonia to hold a membership poll with the question: “Do you support Podemos standing in the December 21 elections in coalition with Catalunya en Comu and related political forces that do not approve either the declaration of independence or the application of article 155, with the word Podemos in the name of the coalition and on the voting paper?”

The Iglesias leadership is almost certain to win this ballot – which Fachin is boycotting – but that result won't solve the challenge that the November 2 arrests have dramatized.

That challenge is how to maximise support for pro-independence and pro-sovereignty forces in the face of what is certain to be a brutal campaign aimed at scaring every last doubter about Catalan independence to vote for the unionist parties.

To stand a chance of defeating it, Catalunya en Comu will have to do more than just saying, as it has to date, “neither 155 nor the unilateral declaration of independence.” •

Dick Nichols is Green Left Weekly's European correspondent, based in Barcelona. He is running a live blog on the Catalan struggle for independence.

Postscriptum

As a contribution to the debate on electoral strategy in Catalonia, I recommend the following comment by Borja de Rique, an eminent Catalan historian, which I have extracted from his article in Viento SurPoner los pies en el suelo.” My translation from the Spanish version published in Viento Sur on November 1, 2017. (Richard Fidler)

It is quite clear that we must participate in the elections of December 21 although they have been called by the government in Madrid. Not to participate would be an act of folly. We would run the risk that Ms. Arrimadas [leader of the Catalan Citizens party] would become president of the Generalitat [the Catalan government] and that this institution would then be converted into a type of provincial office subject to the directives of the Spanish government. In my opinion, we have to run in the elections defending anti-repression and pro-sovereignty approaches. Today the political dividing line is situated – as has been sufficiently clear since the Sunday demonstration – between those who support the application of article 155 and those who are opposed; between those who think it is fundamental to demand the democratic right of the Catalan people to decide their future and those who argue that the citizens of Catalonia do not have that right.

A few days ago I was defending the formation of a unitary candidacy, similar to Solidaritat Catalana, including persons from the political formations and the citizens’ organizations that for more than seven years have declared themselves in favour of the right to decide. Faced with the difficulties that this can involve, and taking into account the recent statements by the party leaders, I think that at a minimum it will be necessary to ask them to include the following three demands as common and priority elements of their programs. First, the release of those detained and the stay of proceedings in all of the criminal charges, fines and sanctions of a political character. Second, the demand for immediate repeal of the application of article 155 to the Generalitat. And finally, the demand for a binding referendum with guarantees concerning the future of Catalonia.

If it can be demonstrated with real votes that more than two thirds of the citizens of Catalonia wish to be consulted in a binding referendum, reject the application of 155 and demand amnesty, that will demonstrate to international opinion the intransigence and political blindness of the Rajoy government and favour the possibilities for mediation to attain a referendum.

It may also be necessary to think about a program for government with broad parliamentary support that after the electoral victory will rigorously ensure that this program is carried out. We have to be realistic: even after a hypothetical victory, we will face a long period of tensions with the government in Madrid and their international counterparts. Nor should we discount the need for a unitary Catalan strategy of intervention in Spanish politics to try to get Mariano Rajoy and the PP out of the government in Madrid and create a political scenario more favourable to negotiation.

Things being what they are, it is necessary to avoid the political confrontation being centered on the Catalan Republic, the proclamation of which was questionable. That is not the dilemma that must be put to citizens in the forthcoming elections. The pro-sovereignty movement must go on increasing its strength and not risk losing it. There are social sectors that until very recently were in an expectant position, with doubts about the process, but who were not hostile to it and who were angered by the police brutality of October 1. We must not lose that social layer, which may be electorally decisive at a time when the forces defending article 155 are mobilizing people who until recently were fairly passive and indifferent. I think that the political alternative to the unionist sectors should be clearly centered, combined with the aforementioned anti-repression demands, on the demand for a democratic consultation on the future of Catalonia that is fully guaranteed. •

Democrats Win, Yippee

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

By Andrew Levine / Counterpunch.

Photo by Steve Bott | CC BY 2.0

Election Day 2017 went spectacularly well for Democrats.  Usually, not much is at stake off-year elections; outside Virginia and New Jersey, the election this year was no exception.  But Democrats did win by a landslide.  Yippee!

“Yippee,” that is, more in the sense of “so what?” than “hooray.”

The problem is not that the election could have turned out better. It turned out as well as it could have; in almost all cases, the better candidates won.  More importantly, Trump lost.  He lost because the consensus view within the chattering classes was that the vote, in Virginia especially, was a referendum on him.  Saying so made it so.

The danger now is that saying so will also vindicate an idea that might as well be hard-wired into the minds of leading Democrats: that the way forward in 2018 and beyond is to reconstitute the Democratic Party as it was before its 2016 defeat, allowing only for cosmetic changes in the party bureaucracy

With Trump being Trump, it is possible, even likely, that, by going that route, Democrats will do as well next year.  They might even do well enough to regain control of the House and Senate, and of many State Houses.  If that happens, it will be a victory of sorts; a victory that will warrant a cynical so what?, not a heartfelt hooray.

Genuinely progressive down ticket victories could change the calculus somewhat.  At this point, it is difficult to determine how much of that there was last Tuesday.  It is clear as can be, however, that as long as the Democratic Party exists in anything like its present state, the chances that progressive insurgencies will be coopted by the “center” are greater than that they will capture the center and move the party in a better direction.

This being so, the task now is damage control.  Flipping seats matters, of course; but less for putting better people in office than for constraining Trump and keeping him hamstrung.

It is the same with efforts to remove him from office.  They can do a world of good – by keeping him from doing as much harm as he otherwise would.  How much good they would do if they were to succeed is another question.

If and when Trump goes, a soporific but bona fide reactionary, Mike Pence, will take his place — effectively demobilizing the groundswell of opposition Trump generates just by being there.  Pence is less likely than Trump to do irrevocably awful things with the nuclear codes that accompany presidents wherever they go.  But, unlike Trump’s, his “conservatism” is heartfelt.  For that reason alone, he is as bad or worse.

Were Pence not less likely than Trump to unleash Armageddon, it would plainly be better to keep the threat of impeachment alive and growing than actually to see it through.

Having made it through the past year, my view still is that, all things considered, going slowly, subjecting the Trump presidency to a painful death by a thousand cuts, would be better than getting rid of him more quickly.  There is a case to be made, however, for the other side.  It all depends on what one thinks the probabilities are, and on one’s degree of aversion to risk.

If there were thriving social movements demanding political representation or third party or independent electoral forces working to reconfigure the political landscape, the consequences of one or another course of action on these movements and parties would have to be taken into account.

Unfortunately, at the present time, that is not necessary.  We do not have a genuine left of any political significance; and, though creating one is, or ought to be, Job Number One, this is not going to happen in time for 2018.

For the time being, therefore, a hamstrung Trump is as good as it gets.

Helping Democrats flip House and Senate seats can sometimes be worth doing.  But, with Democrats there is the possibility, even the likelihood, that the cure will be worse, or not much better, than the disease.

The last thing the country needs is a refurbished, but fundamentally unchanged, Democratic Party, back to its old ways — serving Wall Street, stewarding the empire, and maintaining the ruinous perpetual war regime that generations of Democrats have helped to fashion.

Neither do we need Democrats who take from, but give little back, to organized labor; and who, following the lead of the Clintons and Barack Obama, consign the working class — black, brown and white — to the malign neglect of self-righteous do-gooders.

If we must have Democrats, then at least let them only be ones who do not raise questions about which party actually is worse.  Being a greater evil than the GOP, or even coming close, is no mean feat.  But a revived Democratic Party in the Clinton-Obama mold just might be up to the task.  A genuine left opposition would hardly want to encourage that — even to discomfit Trump and the party he leads.

*          *         *

Even now, it is far from obvious that Democrats are less noxious than their rivals in all pertinent respects.

For one thing, unlike their Democratic counterparts, the House and Senate leaders of the Republican Party are not as stupid or cowardly as they seem.  This is far from obvious, however.

Republican honchos despise Donald Trump, just as normal people do; they don’t trust him either.  Nobody does, except perhaps his children, the fruit of the poison tree.  Who knows but, at this point, maybe even the fashionista entrepreneur is wavering as Robert Mueller’s noose closes in on the father of her children and, please God, on her and her feckless brothers as well.

They understand too that they would be better off with one of their own in the White House.

They could hardly have failed to notice that someone who fits that description is next in line for the job.

Mike Pence was born without a personality, but it would take a first-rate talent scout to find someone who looks more like a president.  No doubt, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell would prefer a more formidable personage, but they have him, and he will do.

He is easily as odious as they are, and as retrograde as they come.  With Pence in charge, the party leaders’ chances of getting their agendas through would be a lot better than they are with the opportunistic, self-aggrandizing chameleon they are stuck with now.

But when they do the reckoning, they figure that, unless Trump’s legal circumstances change dramatically for the worse, or unless his incompetence and dangerousness become so palpable that even the morons who still stand by him catch on, they are better off keeping him than they would be letting him go.

They fear that the Sturm und Drang that impeachment would bring would benefit Democrats, and they expect, not unreasonably, that Trump may still be able to get them some of what they want.

Inasmuch as it doesn’t faze them that he is gung ho for fossil fuels – after all, they are too – or that he could start a nuclear war in a fit of pique, or that he demeans his office and embarrasses the human race, their calculations make sense.  Therefore, as long as the plutocrats they work for can live with the Donald, so can they.

A bleak but inescapable conclusion follows: that, unless Trump “self-impeaches” or has a heart attack or stroke, we are stuck with the man for at least the next year, and maybe until Inauguration Day 2021.

Uncoerced “retirement,” self-impeachment, would make excellent sense for the Donald, but the chances that Trump will go that route are slim.  This is not because quitting is beneath him.  Quite to the contrary, Trump is an inveterate quitter.  Quitting was the cornerstone of his business model in Atlantic City, where he would buy and build hotels and casinos on leveraged credit, milk his properties dry, and then use bankruptcy laws to walk away from them, leaving workers and creditors in the lurch, as he enriched himself.

The presidency is different.  Trump’s capacious vanity prevents him from displaying his failures and inadequacies as plainly as he would have to if he bowed out of the presidency before his time.  Also, there is the incontrovertible fact that, as his Secretary of State so aptly said, he is a “fucking moron.”

And although he exercises by sitting in a golf cart and his tastes run to fast food which he consumes in copious quantities, his health will probably hold too.  God or the gods will see to it that he stays alive and functional; that’s how malevolent they are.

If the menace is to be removed from the scene, it is therefore up to the likes of Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and others of their ilk to do the job.  With our less than (small-d) democratic Constitution, and the House and Senate in Republican hands, there is no other way.

Therefore, for now, Trump is safe.  Nervous House and Senate Republicans could still force their leaders to turn against him.  But, even after last Tuesday, we are a long way from that, and we are not likely to get much closer soon.

Most House and Senate Republicans no doubt figure, with good reason, that, thanks to gerrymandering, their seats are safe.  This may be wishful thinking, but it is how they think.

And even the ones who do fear losing to Democrats, challenges in next year’s primaries from Republicans more odious than themselves scare them more.

House and Senate leaders may also fear that the worst of the worst who crawled out from under the rocks Trump turned over would turn on them, Second Amendment rights in hand, were they to initiate efforts to dump the Orange Menace.  There are already plenty of vulnerable communities living in fear of Trump besotted lowlifes and maniacs.  The last thing comparatively levelheaded Republicans want is to join their ranks.

Their fears are rational and their calculations make sense.  To make the world safe for the vileness they favor, Trump may indeed be the Republicans’ best bet.

This is why it would be fair to say that insofar as prudence and shrewdness are relevant metrics, Republicans are better than Democrats.  Their party is the more noxious of the two; there is no doubt about that.  But, in the ways that matter in electoral politics, they are not nearly as dumb.

Republicans are less hypocritical too.  Hypocrisy flows through the veins of House and Senate Democrats and their media flacks to a degree that Republicans could never hope to match.

Does this make the Democratic Party the greater evil?  I would say No, but, by making Democrats worthy of contempt, it does bring them down almost to the Republican level.

See a Republican and despair for the human race.  But what William Blake wrote some two and a quarter centuries ago applies more to the Democratic Party than to the GOP: “as the air [is] to a bird and the sea to a fish, so is contempt to the contemptible.”

*     *    *

“Insanity,” it is said, “is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  This adage has been repeated so many times that it has, by now, become a cliché.

It is widely, but probably incorrectly, attributed to Albert Einstein.  If he did indeed say it first, his mind must have been distracted at the time, because it plainly applies less to insanity, in any of that term’s colloquial senses, than to the kind of stupidity that Democrats exhibit as they market their brand by tracking the GOP’s rightward drift, taking care always to remain never more than a tad to their rival’s left.

To be sure, if everything pertinent to voters’ choices could be laid out unambiguously on a left-right spectrum, Democrats would have a point; there would be a defensible method underwriting their madness or, should we say, their pusillanimity.

Years ago, there were political scientists and economists who would take it upon themselves to spell out the simple-minded, intuitively plausible, but empirically hollow idea behind that method.  They would concoct stylized models, replete with mathematical embellishments, purporting to justify the rationality of aiming for the dead center.

It would be misleading, though, to say that any of this trickled down from the Halls of Ivy into the national committees of our political parties.  If anything, the causal arrow pointed the other way.  For Democrats especially, pusillanimity comes naturally.

A penchant for centrism is unavoidable in officially non-ideological, broad tent political parties, but there can be different degrees of commitment to the ideal.  Democrats have always been more ardent centrists than Republicans.  It is as if they feel driven to be wherever the center is.

The high (or low?) point came in the mid-nineties, when the Clintons deployed the “triangulation” strategy, contrived by the villainous Dick Morris, to launch a full-scale assault on what remained of the Democratic left.  The goal was not just to diffuse opposition to Clintonism (neoliberalism, “humanitarian” imperialism, unflinching deference to the military-industrial complex), but also to insure that a genuine left would never rise again within that wretched party’s ranks.

The party’s leaders are still at it.  They must think that, this time around, the same old same old will produce a different result.

Even before the nomination process got underway last year, it was plain that the fix was in; 2016 would be Clinton’s year.  Nevertheless, for a few springtime months, it did look like Bernie Sanders had a chance.  He was doing much better than expected in the primaries and caucuses, and he was drawing enormous crowds of enthusiastic supporters everywhere he went.  In in the end, though, the Clinton juggernaut held its ground; and Sanders, along with many of his supporters, acquiesced in defeat.

A few did strike out on their own, neutering words like “resistance” and “revolution” in the process. This did keep a sliver of hope alive in some circles, but it left the party’s leaders unperturbed.  For them, milquetoast opposition from Sanders supporters is nothing more than a tolerable nuisance.

Had Sanders taken the lead in “resisting” the Clintonites last year – either by running on the Green Party ticket, as he could have, or by setting up an independent political organization on his own — events might have taken a different and better course.  But Sanders did neither.  This came as no surprise to anyone who had been paying attention.

Someday somebody will write a tell-all book that will clarify what the Sanders campaign was about – not so much to those who were swept up into it, that is already clear, but to Sanders himself and the people closest to him.  To what extent, if any, had he been working for Clinton all along?

Thanks to Donna Brazile, we know a little more than we used to about how “rigged” the 2016 primaries and caucuses were.  Her book, Hacks, does more than just offer confirmation from an authoritative source of what was already obvious.  It also lays out why the rigging was so devastating for down ticket Democrats.

Sanders’ loss and Democratic losses down the line had a common cause; the perfidy of Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s DNC and the Clinton campaign with which it colluded.  Long before the campaign season got underway, the DNC effectively put itself and its resources at the service of Hillary Clinton.  Everything and everybody else be damned.

Thus the Democrats betrayed Sanders and his supporters.  I would venture, though, that, their party’s losses in state and local elections will seem, in time, to have been an even more deleterious consequence of the DNC’s shenanigans.  By giving their all to Hillary, they deprived voters of opportunities to elect palatable candidates.  Had they done otherwise, the Democratic Party would be in a better place than it now is.

There is no reason to think that this is about to change.  Quite to the contrary, the DNC has lately gone back to purging itself and the party it leads of an emerging progressive wing comprised of militants who believe, not without reason, that, at least in the short run, they have nowhere else to go.

“Our Revolution” notwithstanding, the ancien régime is once again as firmly in place as it was when the 2016 election season was getting underway.

This will only change when what many voters intuitively understand finally penetrates the thick skulls of Democratic Party bigwigs and their media flacks: that given a choice between two neoliberal, pro-imperialist, war mongering corporate ass-kissers, the mere fact that the one that corporate assholes love less is nicer than the other is not a compelling reason for voters to bother to support it.

* * *

The party’s leaders are too invested in the past to grasp that simple point; being under the sway of Clintonites for so long has made them stupid.

However their stupidity pales in comparison with their hypocrisy – or, rather, their hypocrisy cum chutzpah cum their penchant for concocting silly narratives that they then believe.  There is no single word that captures all of it, so “hypocrisy” will have to do.

Ever since Clinton and her people decided to blame Vladimir Putin for the shortcomings of her campaign, and ultimately for her ignominious loss to a seventy-something adolescent bully with the skills of a confidence man and the gravitas of a carnival buffoon, they have given themselves over completely to their Jeffersonian side.  In his day, opponents of our venerated third president justifiably deemed him “the patron saint of hypocrisy.”

Democratic hypocrisy is in full display in what pundits nowadays call “Russiagate.”

Aided by Republicans of the John McCain variety, Democrats have turned what they would not have deigned even to mention, had Clinton not flubbed so badly, into a tempest in a teapot, distinguished only for its recklessness and for the self-righteousness it has brought out in its proponents.

Before Russiagate, who would have thought that Democrats would outdo Republicans in their support for the institutions of the National Security State!

Republican Russophobia may be milder than the Democrats’ because they are still standing by their man, a man whose Russian connections may ultimately lead to his downfall.

But even if they are doing the right thing for bad reasons, at least they have not entirely thrown common sense and their own sense of proportion aside.  That is precisely what DNC propagandists at ostensibly progressive media outlets have done.  To hear them tell it, whatever the CIA and the other intelligence agencies tell us is gospel truth.

To anyone who knows anything about the CIA, this is preposterous on its face.

Even so, it doesn’t follow that everything they tell us is wrong.  For a long time, they have been saying that Russia interfered with the 2016 election in order to get Donald Trump elected.  For most of that time, they offered no evidence.  But they repeated the claim so often that it became hard not to think that it must be at least partly true.

Thanks to what journalists and Congressional investigators have learned, it turns out that it is.  It seems that some Russians did do some hacking into servers used by the DNC and the Clinton campaign.  Russians also posted ads on social media sites.

What, if anything, any of this accomplished remains a mystery.  But to Democratic propagandists, that hardly matters.  If anything, the fact that it all seems harmless only testifies to how fiendishly clever those Russians are.

It also remains unclear what the degree, if any, of involvement of the Russian intelligence services was or what Vladimir Putin, the devil incarnate, had to do with any of it.

What is clear is that when it comes to interfering with the political affairs of other countries, the USA really is Number One.  The Russians don’t even come close.

It is also clear that even if interfering in one way or another with American elections has become something of an international pastime, the efforts of foreigners, Russian and otherwise, pale in comparison with our homegrown hucksters.

Democracy in America these days is about marketing candidates and policies to voters.  Political campaigns are sales campaigns.   The reasoned deliberation and debate that democratic theorists talk about is of little or no consequence.

This, not actual or imagined Russian interference, is the real scandal.

It is scandalous that the public, or rather the manufacturers of public opinion, don’t care when the hucksters are capitalists throwing their money around.  Neither do they mind when, for example, “non-adversarial” states — Israel is the most flagrant example, Saudi Arabia is another – join in the fray.  Meddling and colluding, it seems, are only problems when those pesky Ruskies do it.

And even then, it only becomes a problem when it suits the purposes of one or another mainstream political party or media outlet to make it one.

When that happens, the hypocrisy (cum chutzpah and silliness) is flagrant enough to defy credulity.

Witness the Democratic Party and its media flacks today!  Do they ever bother to mention American meddling in the political affairs of Russia and other former Soviet republics, or how the CIA and the others try never to miss an opportunity to collude with dissidents and otherwise to manipulate public opinion in any way they can?

For that matter, is there anywhere in the world where elections showed any signs of resulting in outcomes disfavored by the stewards of the American empire where American meddlers and colluders have not been johnnys-on-the-spot?

The short answer is: No; not since the end of World War II in Europe and Asia, and in Latin America not since even before that.

“Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”  Bipartisan American left that behind long ago.

Even if we stipulate that everything Democratic propagandists are now insinuating is true, how much better off the world would have been, even back in the day when “America First” was nothing more than a slogan of pre-war proto-fascists, had we only done unto others what the Russians last year did unto us.

The elections Democrats won last Tuesday had nothing directly to do with this hypocrisy; in that sense, it played no role in the night’s events.  And it looks like at least some of the victors down ticket were Democrats only because there is nothing else they could have been.  Charges of hypocrisy therefore do not apply to them.

It is their party that is culpable, their party that merits contempt.  Unless and until it changes beyond recognition, there will be no reason to celebrate its victories with more than just a cynical “yippee.”

More articles by:Andrew Levine

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).

Getting the Saudi fight against corruption right

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

By James M. Dorsey / Mid-East Soccer.

Kuwaiti billionaire Maan al-Sanea should have seen it coming after Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman vowed to root out corruption.

Embroiled in one of the kingdom’s largest financial scandals and collapses that involved a bitter $22 billion battle with a prominent Saudi merchant family, cost some of the world’s biggest banks billions of dollars, and is being slugged out in courts across the globe, Mr. Al-Sanea was low hanging fruit. He was arrested in October when police raided his Saudi mansion two weeks before Prince Mohammed’s frontal assault on the kingdom’s political and economic elite.

Mr. Al-Sanea’s arrest failed to set off alarm bells. Members of the ruling family and business community as well as senior officials likely saw it as a one-off incident. Together with Mr. Al-Sanea, they also grossly underestimated Prince Mohammed’s brashness and ruthlessness and ignored his warning in June that “no one who got involved in a corruption case will escape, regardless if he was a minister or a prince."

Mr. Al-Sanea, the ruling family and business community had good reason to be complacent: they, like the crown prince and the Salman branch of the family, were all part of a system and a way of doing business that went back to the founding of Saudi Arabia.

That is why rather than creating a large number of enemies and opening himself up to accusations of selectively targeting people in a bold move that appeared to be more about grabbing power than rooting out corruption, Prince Mohammed may have been well-advised to make his anti-corruption stand differently.

The crown prince’s anti-corruption committee, established hours before the first arrests and announcement of dismissals of prominent princes, officials and businessmen were made, has projected itself as an enforcement agency with the powers to arrest, freeze assets and impose travel bans rather than a regulatory body that would introduce legislation designed to fundamentally alter an ingrained system.
Rooted in a system that until the late 1950s made no distinction between the budgets of the state and the ruling family, Saudi laws still only barely delineate the dividing lines between them nor do they contain anything that would amount to a code to prevent conflict of interest or regulate the way members of the ruling family do business with the state. In fact, business deals often amount to insider baseball in a country in which the family’s finances and sources of revenue are a closely held secret. In fact, if revealed, the Fortune 500 billionaire’s list could well look very different.

Members of the ruling family and associated businessmen initially often made their money by representing foreign companies and receiving huge commissions on government contracts. They often took loans from banks which they failed to pay back. National Commercial Bank, where numbered accounts of princes were managed by senior management, nearly collapsed at the beginning of this century because of unpaid loans.

Life magazine editor Noel F. Bush on a visit in 1943 during which he travelled in the country with its first king, Ibn Saud, portrayed a ruler who operated on the principle of ‘the state is mine’ and doled out welfare to his subjects. It is a system that has since repeatedly been upgraded but whose fundaments remain in place.

“Our unemployment rate would drop rather significantly if the billions we squandered on kickbacks and lavish personal enrichment schemes dressed up as public-works projects were spent instead on the development of small to medium enterprises, vocational training and 21st-century education reforms… In Saudi Arabia, senior officials and princes become billionaires as contracts are either enormously inflated or, at worst, a complete mirage,” wrote Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist who recently moved to the United States in anticipation of the crown prince’s crackdowns.

Mr. Khashoggi cited the example of an airport built “in the wrong location simply to benefit the princes who own the land. They received the land for free from the government and then got extravagant compensation for the property.”

Prince Mohammed’s plans to diversify and streamline the economy, loosen strict social codes to further his economic reforms, and, in a world in which autocracies can no longer primarily rely on repression, cater to social and job aspirations of an in majority young population while avoiding political change and tightening his grip on power, may well be the most far-reaching upgrade of the system.
No doubt, Prince Mohammed’s tackling of corruption and targeting of prominent people strikes a popular cord with many Saudis who have long been unhappy with arbitrary privileges members of the ruling family were able to accrue to further their business and financial interests.

Nonetheless, the impression that the most recent wave of arrests constituted a power grab rather than a systemic tackling of corruption is reinforced by the fact that the crown prince’s dealings as well as that of his tack of the ruling family remain beyond scrutiny.

The $500 million purchase by Prince Mohammed of the Serena, the world’s 15th largest yacht, raised eyebrows when it was disclosed in 2016 by The New York Times at a time that the crown prince had imposed austerity measures as a result of which many in the kingdom were struggling to make ends meet. The 32-year old crown prince never clarified how he had amassed his wealth.

Nor is it clear how his father, King Salman, funded the use of two offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands to take out mortgages on his London homes worth $34 million and manage a yacht. Similarly,  this week’s publication by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) of the Paradise Papers disclosed offshore holdings by several other members of the monarch’s branch of the family.

The New York Times moreover reported that a major Saudi investment firm founded by one of the king’s sons, and now chaired by another, owned a significant stake in a conglomerate that does extensive government business, including in a shipbuilding partnership with a French defense contractor. A smaller firm founded by another of King Salman’s sons operated in sectors regulated and/or funded by the state such as health care, telecommunications and education.

To be clear, offshore assets are not illegal nor are members of the ruling family barred under Saudi law from benefitting from doing business with a state that was named after the family. Equally clear, however, is that Saudi Arabia may benefit more from a reformer who exudes transparency, lives up to his vow that all are equal under the law, and tackles corruption structurally rather than punitively.

To achieve that, Prince Mohammed may be better served by an anti-corruption committee that is less vindictive and more focused on developing and enforcing a set of laws, rules and regulations that ensures rule of law by institutionalizing anti-corruption norms, policing conflict of interest, and introducing transparency into the finances of the state as well as the ruling elite.

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

AFL-CIO Must Shine Light on Past Foreign Policy, Activists Say

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

By Larry Sillanpa / Portside.
Delegates to the Duluth AFL-CIO Central Labor Body passed a resolution calling on the national AFL-CIO to release sealed documents on its history with AIFLD, the American Institute for Free Labor Development. In 1992, workers at a Ford assembly plant in Mexico were attacked after a strike, leaving 12 workers wounded and one dead. Questions remain that have not been answered about AIFLD's role in what happened.
In 1992, U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone met with Mexican auto workers speaking out against repression against unions in their country.

 

As the AFL-CIO held its national convention this week in St. Louis, passing resolutions in support of worker rights and condemning fascism, union members in Minnesota called on the labor federation to shine a light on its past foreign policy practices.

Specifically, they want the federation to open up the files on AIFLD, a branch of the AFL-CIO founded in the Cold War era that often worked against workers’ interests in other countries.

On Sept. 14, following a presentation by Rob McKenzie, delegates to the Duluth AFL-CIO Central Labor Body passed a resolution calling on the national AFL-CIO to release sealed documents on its history with AIFLD, the American Institute for Free Labor Development.

McKenzie, a retired St. Paul Ford plant worker who became a United Auto Workers International Representative, is slated to address the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation in November on the same issue.

After retiring early last year, “I began researching something that has bothered me for 20 years,” McKenzie said. “In January 1990, a group of about 300 armed thugs attacked and shot workers in the Mexico City Ford Assembly Plant who had engaged in a work stoppage a few days earlier. When they returned to work, the thugs were inside the plant, a confrontation occurred and 12 workers were wounded and one died. Our UAW local did support work for them and brought a couple of the fired union officials to St. Paul.”

In 1996, an AFL-CIO staff person told McKenzie that AIFLD had been involved in the case.

AIFLD was created in the early 1960s by the AFL-CIO supposedly for labor solidarity work in the Western hemisphere. Many U.S. union leaders in that Cold War era were hard-core anti-communists. AIFLD accepted a lot of its funding from the U.S. State Dept.’s United States Agency for International Development and later the National Endowment for Democracy.

In her 1992 book Workers of the World Undermined: American Labor’s Role in U.S. Foreign Policy, Beth Sims’ main thesis was that AFL-CIO foreign policy sided with pro-business unions abroad rather than helping exploited Third World workers. She revealed over 60 departments and institutes in global labor and government organizations that she said were undermining workers’ organizing. Yet President Ronald Reagan drew great praise for his support of Poland’s Lech Walesa and the Solidarnosc movement as he was leading the charge against unions in America.

“AIFLD had a bad reputation in the UAW(link is external),” McKenzie said. One of the union’s founders, Victor Reuther, “had criticized AIFLD in the 1960s for working closely with the CIA in Latin America.”

There were a number of published stories about the AFL-CIO’s complicity with the State Department in the 1990s into the early 2000s, but you are hard pressed to find anything about it in an Internet search today.

In 1995, Service Employees International Union President John Sweeney was elected president of the AFL-CIO in the first contested election for the position in federation history.

Shortly after taking office, he merged three federation departments into the American Center for International Labor Solidarity, eliminating AIFLD. Labor’s fight against communism had cooled — but its history is sealed at the University of Maryland archives.

McKenzie has made numerous requests to the AFL-CIO and the University of Maryland to have the archives made available with no success.

“I was told in June 2016 that my request was being processed but it never happened and now I get no response to my requests,” said McKenzie. “It has turned into a long and complicated story that started with my desire to seek some justice and resolution on the story about those Mexican Ford workers.”

A few weeks ago, he contacted the university again and learned that the AFL-CIO had refused the university permission to open the AIFLD records he had requested. He hopes pressure from labor bodies will change their mind.

Central Body delegates were grim faced in hearing and discussing McKenzie’s story. Some expressed concern over a bad light that could be shed on the AFL-CIO at a time when labor is struggling. But when the resolution came to a vote, it passed without opposition on the premise that truth needs to have light shed on it.

The delay tactics he has experienced have been frustrating for McKenzie, who has been working tirelessly on the project, even taking Spanish lessons in hopes of finally getting and reading a 1992 Mexican Human Rights Commission Report on the incident. He is also auditing a Modern Mexican History class at the University of Minnesota.

“I have not been able to contact any of the officers or activists in Mexico who were involved in this,” he said. “They had no idea of AIFLD involvement at the time.”

While seeking support from local labor councils, McKenzie will keep looking for the answers.

“I have had a Freedom of Information Act Request in now for over a year and hope to get State Department documents in a few weeks,” he said. “I know there are some because I have a fax [U.S. Senator Paul] Wellstone sent on it.” In 1992, Wellstone met with Mexican union officials when they visited UAW Local 879 in St. Paul.

McKenzie’s work on the incident is occurring as U.S., Canadian and Mexican trade representatives are renegotiating NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement. NAFTA has proven to be a job killer in all three countries. Many U.S. and foreign automakers have moved production to Mexico because it is close to American consumers. Mexican auto workers have seen their wages cut to just over $2 an hour as they assemble vehicles they could never hope to own.

While its demise cannot be directly linked to free trade deals such as NAFTA, the St. Paul Ford plant closed in 2011 after 86 years of operation. The assembly plant, training center and other buildings have been torn down.

Larry Sillanpa is editor of Labor World and a frequent contributor to Workday Minnesota.

Dem Pundits Spent Yesterday Lying About DNC Primary Rigging Document

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

By Caitlin Johnstone / medium.com.

The establishment liberal spin machine has been working overtime the last 24 hours to make it seem as though former acting DNC chair Donna Brazile had not admitted what she’d admitted in an excerpt from her book published by Politico on Thursday.

Their argument, if you can call it that, rests on the claim that a document which unquestionably shows inappropriate bias and collusion does not show inappropriate bias and collusion because it contains a paragraph which says the document should not be construed as containing inappropriate bias and collusion. This is really boring and stupid, but since the Clinton cult is circulating this nonsense all over social media I figure I should probably write something for people to refute it with.

It makes sense that they’d want to lie about such a thing. A top-level DNC insider admitting to something that Sanders voters have been screaming for over a year, and admitting it to a large mainstream audience, is a very big deal. Admitting wrongdoing means having to make changes, and having to make changes could mean no longer being able to effectively sabotage the agendas of their progressive base, which would make the donors who control the Democratic party and the plutocrats who own the mainstream media unhappy.

It makes sense, then, that when NBC published the Hillary Victory Fund agreement between the DNC and Hillary For America, they and their acolytes spent yesterday running around screaming “Great news, everyone! Turns out we’re perfect after all, no need to change anything!” when they saw the following paragraph:

Nothing in this agreement shall be construed to violate the DNC’s obligation of impartiality and neutrality through the Nominating process. All activities performed under this agreement will be focused exclusively on preparations for the General Election and not the Democratic Primary. Further we understand you may enter into similar agreements with other candidates.

The only problem with that is that by no stretch of the imagination does it nullify the blatant power advantage Clinton was given by the rest of the agreement, which does indeed violate the DNC’s obligation of impartiality and neutrality through the nominating process. Scribbling the equivalent of “Oh hey, to anyone reading this in the future, we agree with each other that we’re not breaking any rules here” does not mean that rules were not broken. Scribbling “this is not a rule violation” on a rule violation, René Magritte style, doesn’t stop it from being a rule violation.

We’ve seen no indication that any similar agreement was entered into with any other candidate besides Hillary Clinton. Not from Sanders, nor from Brazile, nor from the DNC, nor from any former Clinton campaign staffers, nor from WikiLeaks. Nor could the same agreement have been made with any other candidate, since the Clinton campaign was giving itself authorities over DNC functioning which would be nonsensical if two parties had them, like that it would share authority with the DNC “over strategic decisions over the staffing, budget, expenditures, and general election related communications, data, technology, analytics, and research.”

Regarding the claim by plutocracy teat sucklings like Howard Dean that that the agreement applied only to the general election (which would make the Clinton campaign’s added control of DNC operations standard practice) and not to the primary (which would make it a violation of the DNC’s Impartiality Clause), this is pure hogwash. Firstly, the dates on the document plainly contradict this assertion, as they were set during the primary contest and scheduled to end long before Clinton became the nominee, beginning September 1, 2015 and ending March 31, 2016. The DNC convention in which Clinton became the nominee wasn’t until July 2016.

Secondly, as the Campaign Legal Center’s FEC reform specialist Brendan Fischer notes, the claim that the document is intended to focus on the general election and not the primary is directly contradicted by the rest of the document, which explicitly gave Hillary For America control of every communication which mentioned a primary candidate. The agreement was very clearly and specifically geared toward giving Clinton an advantage in the primary elections.

Journalist Mike Sainato points out that with the agreement the Hillary campaign gave itself the authority to pre-approve DNC hires, an authority it then used to wave through the hiring of DNC Communications Director Luis Miranda. Miranda, one of only two candidates Hillary For America allowed the DNC to choose from per the agreement, would later resign from his position in disgrace after the DNC leaks revealed he’d participated in a discussion about how to construct a narrative against Sanders.

Perhaps far more impactful, Tim Tagaris, former Digital Fundraising Director for the Sanders campaign, said after Brazile’s admission that without the joint fundraising agreement Clinton would have been “majorly out-raised by Bernie Sanders in the primary”.

This joint fundraising scheme was why we saw things like Clinton inviting her donor class friends to dine with her and George Clooney for a whopping $353,400 a couple in April of 2016. Such large individual donations were permitted by campaign finance law via a loophole because the money was meant to be distributed throughout state party races across the country, but according to Donna Brazile virtually all of it got funneled to the Clinton campaign.

Right around the time of the convention, the leaked emails revealed Hillary’s campaign was grabbing money from the state parties for its own purposes, leaving the states with very little to support down-ballot races. A Politico story published on May 2, 2016, described the big fund-raising vehicle she had launched through the states the summer before, quoting a vow she had made to rebuild “the party from the ground up … when our state parties are strong, we win. That’s what will happen.”
Yet the states kept less than half of 1 percent of the $82 million they had amassed from the extravagant fund-raisers Hillary’s campaign was holding, just as Gary had described to me when he and I talked in August.

This was all happening long before Clinton became Democratic presidential nominee in July of 2016.

So yeah. Don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining, corporate liberal pundits. Don’t tell me the public admission of last year’s acting DNC chair confirming what we’ve been saying about the Democratic primary isn’t a big deal because some lawyer tacked a “we’re not doing the thing we’re doing” disclaimer onto the agreement. This is real. This is happening. Things are shaking up. Your days are numbered. Try to spend them in a more dignified manner going forward.

Saudi Crown Prince’s unprecedented power grab could come to haunt him

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

By James M. Dorsey / Mid-East Soccer.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has won the first round of what could prove to be an unprecedented power grab that comes to haunt him. The prince’s frontal assault on significant segments of the kingdom’s elite; assertions of unrest in the military and the national guard, and a flood of rumours, including allegations that a prominent member of the ruling family, Prince Abdul Aziz bin Fahd, died under mysterious circumstances suggest however that the struggle may be far from over.

There is little doubt that Prince Mohammed is in firm control for now. However, there is also little doubt that many in the kingdom’s elite are licking their wounds and that the crown prince believes that bold action, crackdowns and repression is his best way of ensuring that he retains increasingly absolute power.

Criticism and potential opposition ranges from those that feel shut out of the corridors of power to those who see their vested interests threatened by Prince Mohammed’s reforms and actions and/or are critical of the war in Yemen, his putting limits on ultra-conservative social codes, and his power-hungry, autocratic style.

As a result, the rumours about Prince Abdul Aziz, even if they may well prove to be incorrect, take on added significance. Prince Abdul Aziz is a son of late King Fahd, a major shareholder in Middle East Broadcasting Company (MBC) that operates the Al Arabiya television network, whose other major shareholder, Waleed bin Ibrahim al-Ibrahim, a brother-in-law of the king, was among those detained this weekend.

Prince Abdul Aziz was known to be a supporter of the former crown prince, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who was forced out of office earlier this year after rumours were floated that he had a drug addiction. Prince Mohammed is believed to have been under house arrest since.

Prince Abdul Aziz was also a partner in Saudi Oger, the troubled company of the family of former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who resigned this weekend in a seemingly Saudi-engineered move to destabilize Lebanon and confront Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shiite Muslim militia.

Prince Abdul Aziz has an alleged track record of going to the extreme in confronting his opponents. In an unprecedented move, Prince Turki bin Sultan, another member of the ruling family, filed a court case in Geneva in 2015 accusing Prince Abdul Aziz of orchestrating his abduction, sedation and forcible repatriation from Switzerland in 2003. A reformist, Prince Turki said he was kidnapped after he had accused the defence and interior ministries of corruption and planned to organize a seminar to detail the misconduct.

Sifting through the rumours and assessing the balance of power in Saudi Arabia amounts to the equivalent of Kremlinology, the phrase used at the time of the Soviet Union to try to decipher the inner workings of the Kremlin.

Nonetheless, what is confirmed as fact as well as the rumours appear to bolster suggestions that Prince Mohammed’s crackdown and power grab targeted among others factions of the ruling family related to late kings Abdullah and Fahd as well as the family of the powerful late interior minister and crown prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef’s father.

What is certainly also true is that Prince Mohamed bin Salman’s crackdown on corruption strikes a popular cord among many in the kingdom who have long resented the awarding of often inflated mega contracts to members of the family as well as alleged land grabs by princes. Countering corruption beyond targeting potential critics and opponents has however a darker side in a country in which until the late 1950s members of the ruling families could access public funds for private use.

This week’s publication by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) of the Paradise Papers, exposing the secret dealings and offshore interests of the global elite, potentially puts another member of ruling family in Prince Mohammed’s firing line.

Former deputy defense minister Prince Khalid bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz, known as the father of Saudi missiles for his secret procurement in the late 1980s of Chinese missiles for the kingdom, and command alongside US General Norman Schwarzkopf of the US-led alliance that forced Iraq in 1991 to retreat from its occupation of Kuwait, was the only Saudi whose offshore dealings were revealed by the massive leak of documents of the Bermudan branch of offshore law firm Appleby.

The documents showed that Prince Khalid was a beneficiary of two trusts and registered at least eight companies in Bermuda between 1989 and 2014, some of which were used to own yachts and aircraft. Several of those dismissed or detained in Prince Mohammed’s most recent crackdown were last year named in a similar leak known as the Panama Papers because they came from a law firm in the country.
They include former Riyadh governor Prince Turki bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, whose oil-services company PetroSaudi was linked to Malaysia’s multi-billion dollar 1MDB scandal; Prince Turki bin Nasser bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, a former military commander and head of the kingdom’s meteorological and environmental authority; former deputy defense minister Prince Fahad bin Abdullah bin Mohammed; and former Saudi Telecom chief Saoud al-Daweesh.

The Panama Papers identified tens of Saudi nationals, including several members of the Bin Salman branch of the ruling family. The leaks included wealthy persons from across the globe with offshore assets, a legal practice that implies no wrongdoing.

The military and the national guard, a 100,000-man praetorian guard that was the long-standing preserve of King Abdullah and his closest associates, have remained silent in the wake of this weekend’s arrest of guard commander Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah, a son of King Abdullah, and dismissal of navy commander Vice Admiral Abdullah bin Sultan bin Mohammed Al-Sultan, believed to be a son the late former defense minister and crown prince, Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

The changes in command nonetheless have reverberated through the ranks. “Things may well quiet down but many in the guard and the navy don’t like the way things were managed,” said a well-placed source.

The source’s assessment was echoed by former CIA official and Saudi expert Bruce Riedel. Following a tweet by US President Donald J. Trump in support of Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s crackdown, Mr. Riedel noted that “the Trump administration has tied the United States to the impetuous young crown prince of Saudi Arabia and seems to be quite oblivious to the dangers. But they are growing every day.”

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

Newsletter - From Neoliberal Injustice To Economic Democracy

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

By Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers / Popular Resistance.

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The work to transform society involves two parallel paths: resisting harmful systems and institutions and creating new systems and institutions to replace them. Our focus in this article is on positive work that people are doing to change current systems in ways that reduce the wealth divide, meet basic needs, ensure sustainability, create economic and racial justice and provide people with greater control over their lives.

When we and others organized the Occupation of Washington, DC in 2011, we subtitled the encampment ‘Stop the Machine, Create a New World’, to highlight both aspects of movement tasks — resistance and creation. One Popular Resistance project, It’s Our Economy, reports on economic democracy and new forms of ownership and economic development.

Throughout US history, resistance movements have coincided with the growth of economic democracy alternatives such as worker cooperatives, mutual aid and credit unions. John Curl writes about this parallel path in “For All the People,” which we summarized in “Cooperatives and Community Work are Part of American DNA.”

Mahatma Gandhi’s program of nonviolent resistance, satyagraha, had two components: obstructive resistance and constructive programs. Gandhi promoted Swaraj, a form of “self-rule” that would bring independence not just from the British Empire but also from the state through building community-based systems of self-sufficiency. He envisioned economic democracy at the village level. With his approach, economics is tied to ethics and justice — an economy that hurts the moral well-being of an individual or nation is immoral and business and industry should be measured not by shareholder profit but by their impact on people and community.

Today, we suffer from an Empire Economy. We can use Swaraj to break free from it. Many people are working to build a new economy and many cities are putting in place examples of economic democracy. One city attempting an overall transformation is Cooperation Jackson in Jackson, Mississippi.

Economic Democracy

Economic Democracy in response to neoliberalism

In his new book, “Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis,” George Monbiot argues that a toxic ideology of greed and self–interest resulting in extreme competition and individualism rules the current economic and political culture. It is built on a misrepresentation of human nature. Evolutionary biology and psychology show that humans are actually supreme altruists and cooperators.  Monbiot argues that the economy and government can be radically reorganized from the bottom up, enabling people to take back control and overthrow the forces that have thwarted human ambitions for a more just and equal society.

In an interview with Mark Karlin, Monbiot describes how neolibealism arose over decades, beginning in the 1930s and 40s with John Maynard Keynes, Friedrich Hayek and others, and is now losing steam, as ideologies do. Monbiot says we need a new “Restoration Story.”

We are in the midst of writing that new story as people experience the injustice of the current system with economic and racial inequality, destruction of the environment and never ending wars. Indeed, we are further ahead in creating the new Restoration Story than we realize.

Cooperatives

New research from the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Center for Cooperatives (UWCC) has found there are 39,594 cooperatives in the United States, excluding the housing sector, and there are 7 million employer businesses that remain “potential co-op candidates.” These cooperatives account for more than $3 trillion in assets, more than $500 billion in annual revenue and sustain nearly two million jobs. This May, the Office of Management and Budget approved including coop questions in the Economic Census so that next year the US should have more accurate figures. The massive growth of cooperatives impacts many segments of the economy including banking, food, energy, transit and housing among others.

In cooperatives, workers or consumers decide directly how their business operate and work together to achieve their goals; it is a culture change from the competitive extreme capitalist view dominated by self-interest.

In Energy Democracy: Advancing Equity in Clean Energy Solutions, editors Denise Fairchild and Al Weinrub describe energy cooperatives that are creating a new model for how we organize the production and distribution of energy, which is decentralized, multi-racial and multi-class.

Lyn Benander of Co-op Power, a network of many cooperatives in New England and New York, writes that they transform not just energy but also their communities:

“First, people come together across class and race to make change in their community by using their power as investors, workers, consumers, and citizens ready to take action together. Then, they work together to build community-owned enterprises with local capital and local jobs to serve local energy needs. It’s a proven strategy for making a real difference.”

In Lancaster, CA, the mayor has turned the town into a solar energy capital where they produce power not just for themselves, but also to sell to other cities. They are also moving to create manufacturing jobs in electric buses, which more cities are buying, and energy storage. Research finds that rooftop solar and net-metering programs reduce electricity prices for all utility customers, not just those with solar panels. The rapid growth of rooftop solar is creating well-paying jobs at a rate that’s 17 times faster than the total U.S. economy. Rooftop solar, built on existing structures, such as homes and schools, puts energy choices in the hands of customers rather than centralized monopolies, thereby democratizing energy.

Including housing cooperatives would greatly increase the number of cooperatives. According to the National Association of Housing Cooperatives“Housing cooperatives offer the more than one million families who live in them several benefits such as: a collective and democratic ownership structure, limited liability, lower costs and non-profit status.”  Residents of a mobile home park in Massachusetts decided to create a housing cooperative to put the residents in charge of the community when the owner planned to sell it.

Related to this are community land trusts. A section of land is owned in a trust run as a non-profit that represents the interests of local residents and businesses. Although the land is owned by the trust, buildings can be bought and sold. The trust lowers prices and can prevent gentrification.

Sharing Economy

Universal Basic Income

Another tool gaining greater traction is a universal basic income.  James King writes in People’s Policy Project that “. . . a universal basic income (UBI) – a cash payment made to every person in the country with no strings attached – is becoming increasingly popular in experimental policy circles. . . payments  [would be] large enough to guarantee a minimum standard of living to every person independent of work. In the US, that would be roughly $12,000 per person based on the poverty line.”

The wealth divide has become so extreme in the United States that nearly half of all people are living in poverty. A small UBI would provide peace of mind, financial security and the possibility of saving money and building some wealth. A report by the Roosevelt Institute, this week, found that a conservative analysis of the impact of a UBI of $1,000 per month would grow the economy by 12.56 percent after an eight-year implementation, this translates to a total growth of $2.48 trillion.

Public Finance

Another major area of economic democracy is the finance sector. At the end of 2016 there were 2,479 credit unions with assets under 20 million dollars in the United States. Members who bank in credit unions are part of a cooperative bank where the members vote for the board and participate in other decisions.

Another economic democracy approach is a public bank where a city, state or even the national government creates a bank using public dollars such as taxes and fee revenues. Public banks save millions of dollars that are usually paid in fees to Wall Street banks, and the savings can be used to fund projects such as infrastructure, transit, housing, healthcare and education, among other social needs. Public banks can also partner with community banks or credit unions to fund local projects. This could help to offset one of the negative impacts of Dodd-Frank, which has been a reduction in community banks. In testimony, the Secretary of Treasury, Stephen Munchin, said we could “end up in a world where we have four big banks in this country.”

North Dakota is the only state with a public bank, and it has the most diverse, locally-owned banking system in the country. Stacey Mitchell writes thatNorth Dakota has six times as many locally owned financial institutions per person as the rest of the nation. And these local banks and credit unions control a resounding 83 percent of deposits in the state, more than twice the 30 percent market share such banks have nationally.” Public banking campaigns are making progress in many parts of the country, among them are Oakland, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Santa Fe, and other areas.

Common Good trumps self interest

Mutual Aid

When crises occur, no matter what their cause, people can work together cooperatively and outside of slow and unresponsive state systems to meet their needs. This is happening in Athens, Greece, which has been wracked by financial crisis and austerity for years. People have formed “networks of resistance” that meet in community assemblies organized around needs of the community, such as health care and food. They started with time banks as a base for a new non-consumer society.

Similar efforts are underway in Puerto Rico following the devastation of Hurricane Maria. A group called El Llamado is coordinating more than 20 mutual aid efforts, and providing political education and support for self-organizing at the same time.

As George Monbiot describes it, this is consistent with the truth about what human beings are:

We survived despite being weaker and slower than both our potential predators and most of our prey. We did so through developing, to an extraordinary degree, a capacity for mutual aid. As it was essential to our survival, this urge to cooperate was hard-wired into our brains through natural selection.

As we face more crises, whether in lack of access to health care, education, housing, food or economic and climate disasters, let’s remember that we have the capacity to meet our needs collectively.  In fact, every day, people are putting in place a new economic democracy that allows people to participate based on economic and racial justice as well as real democracy. As these alternatives are put in place, they may become dominant in our economy, communities and politics and bring real democracy and security to our lives.

Saudi crackdown raises spectre of wider spread dissent

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

By James M. Dorsey / Mid-East Soccer.

Few paid attention to a rare protest in Saudi Arabia in late January 2011 as a wave of popular uprisings swept the Middle East and North Africa, toppling the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. Yet, the protests and criticism of the government’s handling of floods in the Red Sea port of Jeddah in 2009 and 2011 play an important role in Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s extension to members of the ruling family and the military of his crackdown on any form of opposition to his mercurial rise, economic and social reform plans, and conduct of the Yemen war.

In announcing the creation of an anti-corruption committee headed by Prince Mohammed as well as the dismissals and/or detention of eleven princes, senior government officials. an unidentified number of prominent businessmen largely linked to different factions within the ruling family, and top military officers, the government said the new body would be looking into the handling of the floods.

Torrential rain in Jeddah that caused death and destruction as well as prolonged power outages in the city prompted dozens to protest Jeddah’s poor infrastructure. The 2009 floods killed 120 people and triggered a rare public debate about the management of public funds and infrastructure defects. The 2011 torrents prompted dozens to protest the port city’s poor infrastructure that Saudis said was the reason why floods had such a devastating effect.

The 2011 protest erupted in response to a mass Blackberry message campaign, calling on residents to gather on the city’s main shopping street. Up to 50 protestors were believed to have been arrested.

The government, in a bid to address widespread frustration in Jeddah, this year contracted China’s state-owned Chinese Communication Construction Group (CCCG) to build a 37-kilometre-long channel to catch rain and flood water. "It might be an ordinary channel in another area, but it isn't the same in Saudi Arabia and it has special importance and came after painful lessons," said Ma Chifeng, the director of CCCG’s Jeddah City Project for Flood Drainage.

The crackdown is of course about much more than the Jeddah floods, even if making them one of the anti-corruption committee’s first focal points is significant. Among those dismissed and/or detained were National Guard head Prince Meteb bin Abdullah; economy minister and former Jeddah mayor Adel bin Mohammad Fakeih; and navy commander Abdullah al-Sultan, as well as reportedly businessmen such as multi-billionaire Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz, a major shareholder in some of the world’s best-known blue chips and media mogul, who is widely seen as a liberal; Waleed bin Ibrahim al-Ibrahim, a brother-in-law of King Fahd and together with Abdulaziz bin Fahd, the late king’s son, owner of the Middle East Broadcasting Company (MBC) that operates the Al Arabiya television network; and Saleh Kamel, head of one of the Middle East’s largest conglomerates, who in the past had close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Prince Meteb, a son of the late King Abdullah, was the last senior member of the ruling family unconnected to King Salman’s tack of the family, who was in a position of power. The tribally-rooted guard, a military unit founded alongside the military to protect the ruling family rather than the country, was long seen as a stronghold of King Abdullah and his closest associates.

The crackdown on national guard and military commanders coincided with Houthi rebels signalling with a missile firing that the Saudi capital of Riyadh was within their range. The firing suggested that Saudi Arabia’s strategy in the 2.5-year long Yemen war, based on an air campaign rather than the commitment of Saudi ground troops, has so far failed to achieve its declared goal of ensuring the kingdom’s security.

The crackdown also follows the disappearance and alleged kidnapping of three of four known dissident members of the Saudi ruling family who had gone into exile in Europe. Among the four was Prince Turki bin Bandar, a former senior police officer responsible for policing the ruling family, and Prince Sultan bin Turki, the husband of a late daughter of King Abdullah.

It also follows a wave of earlier arrests of scores of Islamic scholars, judges and intellectuals, whose views run the gamut from ultra-conservative to liberal. Among those arrested were scholars Salman al-Odah, Aaidh al-Qarni and Ali al-Omari, poet Ziyad bin Naheet and economist Essam al-Zamil, some of whom have more than 17 million followers on Twitter.

The detentions were designed to silence alleged support in the kingdom for an end to the almost four-month old Gulf crisis that has pitted Saudi Arabia and its allies against Qatar, mounting criticism of the conduct of the Yemen war, and Prince Mohammed’s reforms.


Beyond grandiose plans, Prince Mohammed has yet to deliver on the economic aspects of his reform plans articulated in his Vision 2030. Prince Mohammed has so far delivered on limited, headline-grabbing social changes such as lifting the ban on women’s driving and access to sports stadia needed for his economic reforms as well the encouragement of greater entertainment opportunities that contribute to economic growth and address grievances among youth who account for a majority of the kingdom’s population. He has yet to deliver on jobs in a country that has high un- and under-employment and whose population has been weaned on cradle-to-grave welfare.

The most recent crackdown breaks with the tradition of consensus within the ruling family whose secretive inner workings are equivalent to those of the Kremlin at the time of the Soviet Union. Nonetheless, the dismissals and detentions suggest that Prince Mohammed rather than forging alliances is extending his iron grip to the ruling family, the military, and the national guard to counter what appears to be more widespread opposition within the family as well as the military to his reforms and the Yemen war.

It raises questions about the reform process that increasingly is based on a unilateral rather than a consensual rewriting of the kingdom's social contract. “It is hard to envisage MBS succeeding in his ambitious plans by royal decree. He needs to garner more consent. To obtain it, he must learn to tolerate debate and disagreement,” quipped The Economist, recently referring to Prince Mohammed by his initials.

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