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Seizing Kirkuk

Counterpunch - 18 hours 52 min ago

Photo by Kenny Cole | CC by 2.0

Elite Iraqi security forces have captured the Kurdish government headquarters buildings in the centre of Kirkuk with the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordering the Iraqi flag to be raised over Kirkuk and other disputed territories. An Iraqi Oil Ministry official said that it would be “a very short time” before the Iraqi military seized all the oilfields in Kirkuk province.

The century-old movement for Kurdish independence has suffered a calamitous defeat as Iraqi military forces retake the Kirkuk oil province, facing little resistance so far from the Peshmerga fighters. Kurdish officials accuse part of the forces belonging to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the two main Kurdish parties, of “treason” in not resisting the Iraqi assault.

Iraqi Kurdish dreams of achieving real independence depended on controlling the oil wealth of Kirkuk which is now lost to them, probably forever. Such autonomy as they did have will be curtailed, with Turkey announcing that it will hand over control of the border gate between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan to the central government in Baghdad.

The Iraqi government operation began early on Monday morning as troops swiftly seized two major oilfields and the headquarters of the North Oil Company. A convoy of armoured vehicles from Baghdad’s highly-trained and experienced Counter-Terrorism Force, which led the attack in the battle for Mosul, drove unopposed to the quarter of Kirkuk occupied by the governor’s office and other administration buildings.

Iraqi oil officials in Baghdad say that the Kurdish authorities of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) had tried to close down oil production by evacuating oil workers  but that output would soon be resumed. The Kurds seized Kirkuk city in 2003 at the time of the US invasion and expanded their area of control in 2014 when the Iraqi army in northern was defeated by Isis.

The streets in Kirkuk city were deserted in the morning as people stayed in their houses or fled to KRG territory further north. So far there has been little shooting as the Peshmerga abandoned their positions in what appears to have been a prearranged withdrawal. The city has a population of one million made up of Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen, the latter two communities hostile to Kurdish rule. A resident of Kirkuk said today that ethnic Turkmen were firing guns into the air in celebration of the takeover by government forces.

Mr Abadi told his security forces in a statement read on state television “to impose security in Kirkuk in cooperation with the population of the city and the Peshmerga”. He called on the Peshmerga to serve under federal authority as part of the Iraqi armed forces. Coming after the recapture of Mosul from Isis in July after a nine-month siege, Mr Abadi will be politically strengthened by his victory over the Kurds whose commanders had promised to defend Kirkuk to the end.

The speed and success of the Iraqi military advance against negligible resistance so far is a blow to President Masoud Barzani who ignited the present crisis. He did so by holding a referendum on Kurdish independence on 25 September that was greeted with enthusiasm by Iraqi Kurds. But it was adamantly opposed by the Iraqi central government, Iran, Turkey as well as traditional Kurdish allies such as the US and Europeans, leaving Mr Barzani isolated in the face of superior forces.

The referendum is seen, even by many of those who originally supported it, as a disastrous miscalculation by Mr Barzani. Kamran Kardaghi, a Kurdish commentator and former chief of staff to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who died last week says that “the Kurdish leadership never expected that there would be such consequences to the referendum.” Omar Sheikhmous, a veteran Kurdish leader, warned before the referendum that it might turn out to be one of the classic misjudgements in Iraqi history, comparing it to Saddam Hussein’s decision to invade Iran in 1980 and Kuwait in 1990. He feared the referendum, guaranteed to alienate all the Kurds’allies, would turn out to a political error with similar calamitous consequences.

The withdrawal of part of the Kurdish forces is ultimately a reflection of deep divisions between the Kurdish leaders and their parties, whose rivalry has always been intense. The two main political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) led by Masoud Barzani and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), founded and led for decades by Jalal Talabani, have always had separate armed forces, intelligence and political management. The KDP, strongest in west Kurdistan, fought a savage civil war with the PUK, based in the east, in the 1990s. Kirkuk was always considered PUK territory, though its PUK governor, Najmaldin Karim, has recently inclined towards support for Mr Barzani’s policies.

Part of the PUK, much divided since its leader Jalal Talabani suffered a stroke and sank into a coma, opposed the independence referendum as a manoeuvre by Mr Barzani to present himself as the great Kurdish nationalist leader. Ala Talabani, leader of the PUK parliamentary delegation in Baghdad, was shocked at the funeral of her uncle,  former Iraq president Jalal Talabani last Friday, to find that the Iraqi flag had been removed from the coffin and there was only a Kurdish flag.

The US has been closely allied to the Kurds in Iraq and Syria, but strongly opposed the independence referendum which it saw as provocative and divisive. Washington has called for “all parties to immediately cease military action and restore calm,” adding that Isis remained the true enemy of all parties in Iraq and they should focus on its elimination.

President Trump’s denunciation of Iran when he decertified the deal over its nuclear programme last Friday could have energised Iran, traditionally a supporter of the PUK, to back an Iraqi government offensive in Kirkuk. The Iranians have always been worried about Iraqi Kurdistan becoming a base for US forces that could be used against us.

A simpler explanation for what happened is that the Kurdish leadership was more divided than expected and the Iraqi armed forces stronger, while Mr Barzani had alienated his traditional allies. A meeting of Kurdish leaders attended by Kurdish leaders on Sunday called for mediation and a non-military solution to the crisis, but by then it was too late.

Weinstein as Symptom: Notes From Hollywood

Counterpunch - 18 hours 53 min ago

Photo by www.GlynLowe.com | CC by 2.0

The only surprise concerning the exposure of Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein as a serial abuser of women is that anybody could possibly be surprised. We are after all talking about a town, industry and culture which not only produces monsters it goes out of its way to cultivate and worship them.

Sympathy for Mr Weinstein is notably in exceedingly short supply among family members, former friends, associates, and fellow studio execs in Hollywood – not to mention high profile political figures within the US liberal political community whose ‘loyalty’ and friendship he’d cultivated over the years with the judicious use of campaign donations. All of them have scrambled for cover, treating a man they once revered as a veritable sun king as something akin to radioactive waste overnight. Even his wife and brother have thrown him under the bus.

It describes an astounding and vertiginous fall from grace to befall a man who for decades was so synonymous with Hollywood and the movie industry he was considered infallible, one of the very few movie executives with the ability to make and ruin careers with a phone call.

But lost in what has now become a feeding frenzy of condemnation – to the point where it is hard to escape the whiff of opportunism on the part of those who’ve jumped on a bandwagon that has reached warp speed – is that Weinstein’s contemptible abuse of women, far from the exception or an aberration has long been the norm in Tinsel Town.

“Hollywood is a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul,” Marilyn Monroe famously averred – and who can argue with a woman whose star once shone brighter than any other in that rarefied world, only for it to fall under the crushing weight of the brutal exploitation she suffered, feeding inner demons that ultimately destroyed her?

In my 2013 book, Dreams That Die, I recount my own experience of living and working in Hollywood between 2000 and 2005. I arrived determined to establish a career as a screenwriter and would up spending over three years sleeping on the mattress on the floor of a tiny studio apartment just off Hollywood Boulevard, scraping a living as a nightclub doorman, extra in TV shows and movies, including on one movie where I was Ben Affleck’s double/stand in, working and hoping to catch a break in my own chosen career.

It’s the same existence lived by countless thousands of young men and women who arrive in Hollywood from all over the US and
beyond determined to ‘make it’ and see their dream come true. The toll it takes – the loss of dignity that comes with subjecting yourself to abuse from those higher up the food chain – is impossible to properly quantify, but take a toll it most certainly does unless you are able to stop yourself drowning in the culture of vomit which is the reality that belies the image of fame, glamor, and untrammelled wealth commonly associated with this part of the world and industry.

If I had been under the naïve belief that I could write movies that would make a difference it was soon knocked out of me by the manager I had. From his wrist dangled a Rolex bigger than the jalopy I used to roll up outside his office in every week to be told that my latest script was a “piece of shit” and that I needed to start writing movies that weren’t so “anti-American”.

Working on TV shows and movies as an extra you are provided with an understanding of how a caste system works. In my time I saw extras in tears as they were being escorted off the set of the sitcom Friends by security guards for turning up five minutes late after taking three buses to get there, begging to be allowed to stay because they needed the paltry fifty bucks (the daily rate back then for a non-union extra) to pay the rent. I saw extras so poor they stole food from the catering truck to take home, and I witnessed old men and women being yelled at by production assistants in their early twenties for missing their marks during a scene.

And, yes, the legions of young women were ripe for other kinds of abuse too.

Bowe Bergdahl: Traitor to American Exceptionalism and White Supremacy

Counterpunch - 18 hours 53 min ago

Photo by United States Army | CC by 2.0

Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl’s guilty plea begins the end of this phase of an embarrassing, sad and morally absurd saga of American history. Sergeant Bergdahl, who was dismissed from the Coast Guard because of mental illness, recruited into the Army in spite of such issues, and then sent to the frontlines of Afghanistan where he walked away from his base and was captured, kept as a prisoner, and tortured by the Taliban for nearly five years, has been offered almost no compassion, sympathy or forgiveness by large swaths of the American public, political classes, veterans and the media.

The shameful blood-crazed calls for vengeance against Sergeant Bergdahl, screamed across Fox News, talk radio and Twitter, by millions of Right Wing Americans have begun again today with Sergeant Bergdahl’s guilty plea. Despite an army investigation finding no Americans were killed by Sergeant Bergdahl’s departure of his unit; despite the Pentagon admitting it was known that Sergeant Bergdahl was in Pakistan within a few days of his capture, thus negating the validity of the Right Wing talking points of continuous search missions for Sergeant Bergdahl that jeopardized American lives; despite the general who led the investigation of Sergeant Bergdahl’s disappearance stating Sergeant Bergdahl should not be punished and the colonel who led the Army’s version of a grand jury trial recommending the same; despite the United States military’s top prisoner of war expert testifying that Sergeant Bergdahl endured more torture at the hands of the Taliban than any American prisoner of war has endured since the Vietnam War, undoubtedly due to his multiple escape attempts and unwillingness to cooperate with his kidnappers; and despite repeated calls made by President Trump for Sergeant Bergdahl to be executed, as well as calls for retaliation against the military if Sergeant Bergdahl is not sent to jail by Senator John McCain, clear and blatant forms of wrongful and illegal command influence prohibited by military law against a defendant, Sergeant Bergdahl finds himself today having entered a guilty plea and putting himself at the mercy of a US Army judge.

In time, Sergeant Bergdahl may become just a footnote to America’s wars in the Muslim world, wars that have killed well over a million people since 2001, but his individual story relays the fundamental truths of these American wars against Sunnis and Shias, and Arabs, Africans and Pashtuns, (nearly all the people we have killed, maimed and made homeless have been Muslim and dark skinned) that there is no logic to our violence, only the unending and insatiable requirement for more war and more destruction, and there is no forgiveness in this loudly and righteously proclaimed Christian nation, only the scapegoating of a young man and his family for the failures of immoral and unwinnable wars on the murderous altar of the twin godheads of American Exceptionalism and White Supremacy. Sergeant Berghdal’s story does not just inform us of the madness of our wars overseas, but highlights our wars here at home; for our wars abroad come from the same root causes as our wars at home.

It was Sergeant Bergdahl’s parents standing outside the White House with President Obama that began the rage against him and his family. This was the treason that so angered and upset the white conservative audiences of Megyn Kelly and Rush Limbaugh. Sergeant Bergdahl’s white parents standing at the White House with that black president and thanking him for freeing their son began the scorn, the vitriol and the outrage against Sergeant Bergdahl, his mother and his father. The audacity of Jani and Bob Bergdahl, released themselves from the captivity of the unimaginable nightmare of the imprisonment and torture of their son for five years by the Taliban, to stand with Barack Hussein Obama and to give him thanks was a betrayal to the usurped, rightful and white structures that underlie so many white Americans understanding of United States history and society.

The grand mythology of American militarism, a key pillar of both American Exceptionalism and White Supremacy, does not allow for figures such as Sergeant Bergdahl. The greatest military in the history of the world is a required statement of faith for all American politicians and public persons, even though the American military has not achieved victory in war in over seventy years, so an explanation of collusion and cooperation with anti-American and anti-white forces is necessary to provide the causation of such an undermining. Of course, once Bob and Jani Bergdahl stood with President Obama, the racially fueled reactionary political anger appeared in Facebook posts and twitter rants and the lies needed to sustain that anger and turn it into a useful political tool arrived: Sergeant Bergdahl attempted to join the Taliban, Sergeant Bergdahl gave information to the enemy, Sergeant Bergdahl got Americans killed, Sergeant Bergdahl had anti-American beliefs, Sergeant Bergdahl’s father is a Muslim…all claims that were untrue and disproved over time, but such a straightening of facts is almost always inconsequential to those whose identity is an abominable mix of race, right wing politics and nationalism. People of such a type as those who believe Jesus is ok with them carrying handguns into church, demand that Santa Claus can only be white, and that the Confederate flag is a symbol of a proud heritage, have little time or consideration for the particulars of anything that triggers the base tribalism that dominates and informs their lives.

The fundamental aspects of Sergeant Bergdahl’s disappearance were well known and documented years prior to that White House announcement of his release. Veterans organizations called for his rescue and return at rallies and Republican senators enacted legislation to help release him. “Bring Him Home” and “No Man Left Behind” were echoed repeatedly by Republican politicians and pundits, and even Ronald Reagan’s most famed acolyte and Fox News hero, Oliver North, wore a Bowe Bergdahl POW bracelet. However, to be white and to stand tearfully and gratefully alongside that black president is unconscionable and unforgivable to many “true Americans” and so the parents’ sins became the son’s and Sergeant Bergdahl’s treason was a dog whistle to those who believe anti-whiteness and anti-Americanism are inseparable.

For the man who used race so overtly and effectively to become President of the United States, calling during his campaign for a traitor like Sergeant Bergdahl to face the firing squad, or be thrown out of a plane without a parachute, was a rudimentary requirement in order to Make America Great Again. Even General James Mattis, who hung outside his office a horseshoe that had belonged to Sergeant Bergdahl and had been given to the general by the sergeant’s father, understands the political importance of Bergdahl’s treason. General Mattis who previously had supported the soldier and given great comfort to the family, now, as Secretary of Defense, is silent. I believe Secretary Mattis to have higher ambitions than simply running the Pentagon and keeping that white base of support in his favor is not anything such a savvy and cunning careerist, such as James Mattis, would imperil.

We will soon know what, if any punishment Sergeant Bergdahl is to receive. Hopefully, he and his family will be spared further pain and they can begin rebuilding lives that were shattered by the unending war in Afghanistan and then shattered again by the race-fueled partisan politics of the unending war against people of color in the United States. For Bowe Bergdahl, a young man who never should have been inducted into the Army to begin with, his suffering is testament to the viciousness, callousness and hate that dominates American actions both at home and abroad. We deserve no forgiveness for what has been done, and may still be done, to him and his family.


Funding for War vs. Natural Disasters

Counterpunch - 18 hours 54 min ago

Photo by Glenn Beltz | CC by 2.0

I have an aunt who lives in paradise – Paradise, California, that is.  But in 2017 it has been anything but, as the communities surrounding Paradise have been evacuated on two separate occasions due to natural disasters and crumbling infrastructure. In February, torrential downpours caused the Oroville Dam to fail, washing out homes, businesses, memories and lives.  And now they are dealing with devastating wildfires that have killed dozens, displaced thousands, and are being fought by firefighters, some of whom are only making minimum wage and working 70 straight hours.

The fires in California are just the latest natural disaster to inflict suffering on Americans, as the people in Puerto Rico, Florida and Texas can attest, following massive hurricanes over the summer.

Nearly one month after being crushed by Hurricane Maria, 85% of Puerto Ricans still do not have electricity, and 40% do not have running water, and people from the Southwest and the Southeast US continue to struggle with the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Harvey.

The destructive California wildfires are predicted to cost the US economy $85 billion.  The costs of recovery post-Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria are estimated to be a minimum of $65 billion, $25 billion and $45 billion, respectively.  The combined estimated cost of the recent natural disasters is $220 billion which is just a fraction of the $700 billion the US will spend on the military in 2017.

In fact, Congress appropriates more than 70 times the amount of money for the military as it does for the Federal Emergency Management Administration’s (FEMA) Disaster Relief Fund:

If the US allocated disaster relief funds to its own citizens as religiously as it allocated tax payer dollars to US wars abroad, everyone in affected areas could easily be provided the help they need to get back on their feet.

For example, instead of spending $1.25 trillion dollars to modernize the US nuclear arsenal, and $566 billion to build the Navy a 308-ship fleet, wouldn’t Americans prefer to have that money available to rebuild Southeast Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and California?

Wouldn’t this military allocation be better utilized by modernizing our infrastructure, building more disaster relief centers, and hiring more firefighters and first responders?  Or earmarked to groups like Team Rubicon, a veteran-led organization that trains disaster relief volunteers?

Instead of spending money on war, which leads to destruction, we should spend money in the US to help Americans whose lives are destroyed by natural disasters.

We can’t prevent natural disasters but we as a country can fund the improvement of infrastructure and services so that after a natural disaster hits, the outcome is less devastating to the American people.

Where’s Duterte From and Where’s He Going To?

Counterpunch - 18 hours 54 min ago

Photo by Bold Content | CC by 2.0

History may have come to an embarrassing end in the centres of the Empire but not in it’s remote regions. As the great Egyptian analyst Samir Amin points out in a recent Monthly Review essay: it is in the periphery of the global system where the great political and social storms occur.

Why? Because history is still fluid there. The battle for and against the transformation of the system still resonates there. Whereas the stagnant centres of the system are dealing with the pathetic aftermath of modernity – on the edges: modernity is still being born and still being strangled.

In other words, the weakest links in the global chain of capitalism best reveal what the hell is going on. And what’s going to happen next. Therefore if you want to gauge the system forget about New York or London or Paris and head to places like the Philippines.

Before Rodrigo Duterte was elected Filipino President last year no one gave a damn about the country. It was just assumed to be an American puppet. Another one that is full of poverty. But overnight this perception changed. A significant political storm emerged from within the Filipino archipelago that forced the world to adjust its vision.

Within days of Duterte’s election the Empire was forced on the back foot, as he insisted on Filipino sovereignty. Ironically he did this by acknowledging China’s position in the South China Sea. Refusing to take the American bait (war on China) the new President of the Philippines quickly defused one of the world’s most dangerous confrontations.

For this diplomacy alone, Duterte deserved the Nobel Peace Prize. However the Empire and even some Filipino progressives, like Walden Bello, were frustrated by this outbreak of peace in the South China Sea.

For committing “the crime of peace” on the international stage Duterte became a figure of hate for liberal imperialists everywhere. And on cue, liberals suddenly cared about life in the Philippines. From being an ignored entity before the advent of Duterte – Filipino life became front page news in New York, London and Paris. Liberal cynicism went into overdrive and felt the need, for geopolitical reasons, to demonise yet another Third World leader.

Whereas “before Duterte”, tens of thousands or even millions of Filipino lives were lost every year due to poverty, with no liberal word of protest. Now, “during Duterte” every life lost in the Philippines, or so it seems – according to the Western media – is Duterte’s fault.

Duterte’s election wiped out in one blow one hundred years of American style politics in the Philippines. Both the extremely liberal pro-business consensus that dominates Manila today and the anti-communist Yankee obsessed dictatorship that dominated Manila yesterday were overthrown (for the moment, anyway) by the politics of a provincial city: Davao – Duterte’s hometown. A place he governed for decades.

Davao – a humble third rate urban sprawl on the large island of Mindanao – transformed overnight the politics not only of the Philippines but also of Asia. An ordinary city with ordinary people broke the mould.

So what’s so special about Davao? Compared to Manila there are no skyscrapers in Davao. Life is lived at ground level. And that’s the key. There’s no bubble architecture spawning a metaphysical oligarchy. It’s a tropical port grinding out a living that leaves most of its people behind. There’s no easy escape route from social reality.

Ground level not only refers to the skyline but also to the historical line. Davao, whether it likes it or not, has its face in the dirt of history. It is distant from power. However it’s nose is right up against real Filipino time. Distance from the Manila metropolis gives it realism.

In the 1980s the communists were fighting in the streets of Davao. The capitalists won. And now the communists (The New People’s Army) are up in the mountains and armed private security guards protect every business in the city.

And just up the road on the western side of Mindanao, a Moro National Liberation Front is a key player in an autonomous Muslim region. And within that region a proxy imperial army (ISIS) has just torn apart the city of Marawi.

Communism, Capitalism, Catholicism, Imperialism and Islam crisscross Davao and it’s hinterland. Multiple “Nationalisms” overlap (Filipino, Muslim and Protestant – the born again Christians behave like a new “nation”). And policing all of this ideological volcano is a recently installed (in Mindanao only) martial law.

The prime mover beneath this political hotspot is plunder. Peripheral capitalism is all about raping real resources for the benefit of the global centres. And it is the resistance to this and the maintenance of this which generates the above ideologies in one way or the other.

Plantations and slums line the broken road between Davao and General Santos (the most southerly city in the Philippines). Bananas, Pineapples, rubber and Sugar Cane are the priority. And people the fodder. Even the sea must give a pound of it’s flesh: yellow fin tuna.

In fact, the general living conditions and economy of Davao and Mindanao resemble, for example, the Chiapas in southern Mexico. Mining companies and agribusiness conquer and the natives scatter along the roadside.

In 2015 it was believed that 12% of Mindanao (500,000 hectares) was covered in “for export” plantations.

And according to Wikileaks, the US embassy in Manila, a few years ago, “described Mindanao in particular as “a treasure trove” of mineral resources, including gold, copper, nickel, manganese, chromite, silver, lead, zinc, and iron ore. According to data from the GRP Mines and Geosciences Bureau, up to 70 per cent of the Philippines’ mineral resources may be in Mindanao”.

Duterte, of course, isn’t Subcommandante Marcos (spokesman of the Zapatistas – the rebels of the Chiapas) but he does represent a political challenge to the liberal forces that viciously exploit Mindanao and the Philippines.

He echoes the streets and slums of Davao and Mindanao, the same way Subcommandante Marcos echoes the jungles of the Chiapas. The unconventional Duterte must be taken seriously – just as the unconventional Mexican in the balaclava must be taken seriously.

And – considering the other unconventional extreme – Duterte isn’t Donald Trump. There’s no comparison. Whereas Trump hails from the reality TV of the First World, Duterte is embedded in the social reality of the Third World. Both may embrace “law and order”. But Trump’s “walls and wars” bear no resemblance to reality. Duterte’s diatribes, on the other hand, do.

The people living at ground level in the Philippines understand Duterte. The same way the people living at ground level in Venezuela understood Hugo Chavez. Duterte is not a “21st Century socialist” but his presence subverts, for the better, the political consensus that dominated the end of the 20th century and spilled over into this 21st.

The point is that the conservative way is unraveling on the obscure edge of the world. And this energy can feedback into the global centres. On the global periphery “the shock of the new” is still wanted. Even if it’s vulgar. Especially if it’s vulgar.

And you can’t get as vulgar as Duterte’s current critique of the “human rights” crowd. He asks if their obsession with children is a sign of pedophilia? If we can get around the bizarreness of this question: Duterte has a point.

Not wanting to challenge the structure of social and political life – the “human rights” fanatics end up exploiting the vulnerability of children so as to emotionally blackmail their audience. It’s a classic NGO trick that is used to sell the NGO product: bourgeois mendacity.

The question though is wether Duterte wants to challenge the structure of social and political life in the Philippines? Is he using, for example, the issue of drugs the same way the “humanitarians” are using children? Is he dodging the deep problems of the Philippines by focusing on secondary issues?

Duterte says the aim of his infamous “war on drugs” is to eradicate a serious national drug problem and as a consequence promote economic investment and growth. The barbaric ownership of the Philippines, however, is left alone amidst all this war talk.

The problem is that the few families and foreigners that own the Philippines can easily consume whatever economic growth there is in the archipelago (around 6% – if you believe the IMF – the IMF also says that the Filipino unemployment rate is around 5% – and if you believe that – you’ll believe anything). If trickle down economics is a myth in the first world – it is pure fantasy in the third.

Duterte, though, carries on with what is – in the context of Filipino poverty -a shockingly brutal economic regime. Allowing neoliberalism (the free market) to run amok among a people that can’t walk in the global economy is the ultimate crime (not drugs). And Duterte perpetuates it.

So where’s he going? He has upset the local and international bosses. But they continue to plunder the Philippines with impunity.

Duterte walks a tightrope above a sea of contradictions. He’s exposing liberal economics to post-liberal politics. He represents the vulgar classes (us) – yet he still follows economic elites. He courts communists (the homegrown rebels) and fascists (the US trained military). He wants sovereignty in the age of globalisation. He’s a sign of our fractured times.

He’s nonetheless positive because he points towards a popular dynamic that’s anathema to polite political society everywhere – the liberal part of society that wants to kill history and the people who feed it’s progressive spirit (the wretched of the earth).

The dynamic in question, however, is independent of Duterte. It’s the Filipino people. The ones living on the side of the street. And outside the plantation gates. The ones who travel the world in search of work. That which is responsible for “DU30” isn’t Duterte’s own crude political skills but the crude political realism of the Filipino people. They voted him in. And they’ll decide the next step. And the constitutional way isn’t necessarily their way.

In and around Davao the people on the periphery of the periphery brood and bide their time. In their shacks they observe their shackles. They’re the majority. And they form a vast human reservoir that can flood and subvert “normal politics” whenever they choose.

Communism was once their alternative. Now it’s Duterte. As he exposes his limits,  the people will act. People Power after all was born in the Philippines (1986). The important thing to note, however, is that the liberal levees have been breached. And where the Filipinos go we shall follow.

Mental Health and Neoliberalism: an Interview with William Davies

Counterpunch - 18 hours 55 min ago

Photo by City of Minneapolis Archives | CC by 2.0

Mental health and wellbeing are now major concerns for government and big business, as stress, depression and anxiety become widespread in modern societies. But their focus is often solely on the attitude of the individual, which ignores the particular social and economic causes behind such conditions. Here, I discuss with William Davies the psychological demands and effects of neoliberalism and the science of happiness.

William Davies is a Reader in Political Economy at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is author of The Limits of Neoliberalism: Authority, Sovereignty & the Logic of Competition (Sage, 2016) and The Happiness Industry: How the Government & Big Business Sold Us Wellbeing (Verso, 2015). His writing is at www.williamdavies.blog

Jon Bailes: Historically, most social formations have involved widespread inequality and poverty, and have placed many people under mental stress. It may therefore seem likely that people would experience anxieties and depressive feelings less now, given the relative ease of modern life. So, what is it that makes mental well-being such a prominent matter today? Is it simply that we understand and diagnose mental health issues much more clearly and efficiently now, or are these issues actually more prevalent?

William Davies: Clearly diagnostics techniques exert an influence over the thing they diagnose, meaning that symptoms present themselves differently in different eras, especially where there is a psychological dimension. It is true that the vocabulary and techniques for diagnosing and experiencing depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder in particular have grown since the 1970s, and that this must be considered a factor in their current levels in Western societies. There isn’t some underlying ‘truth’ about distress, that exists entirely independently of the concepts and metrics society introduces for representing and managing it.

On the other hand, the question of why there is so much distress, represented in this way, must still be asked. This distress is not ‘fake’, even if it is conditioned by its historical and cultural context. I think two things are worth focusing on. Firstly, there is the meritocratic ethos of contemporary capitalism, which states that social class is no longer relevant, and therefore everybody ends up with the socio-economic position they deserve. This produces a chronic sense of self-blame, unease, anxiety and self-recrimination, with individuals having nobody to blame but themselves for not being famous, very rich or more attractive. Combine with digital tools that allow all time and space to be used productively, and you have a society without any sanctuaries from economic competition. This, incidentally, is partly why the phenomenon of ‘safe spaces’ is necessary, providing the possibility of being somewhere where vulnerability is accepted, and also why such a phenomenon attracts so much rage from those of an older generation not privy to them.

Secondly, we live in a time of psycho-somatic confusion, no longer knowing what to attribute to the ‘mind’ and what to the ‘body’, with the ‘brain’ serving as a medium between the two. A great deal of mental illness, as discussed and encountered today, hovers in a psycho-somatic space which is existential but also medical at the same time. The medical dimension stems partly from the fact that psychiatry has become increasingly medicalised since the 1970s, and more dependent on pharmaceuticals, but also from the fact that the medical doctor is one of the last experts that we truly trust, and – in Britain – the NHS is one of the last public institutions of all-round care and sympathy. So we turn in these directions in search of those things, as much as because of physical ailments.

JB: Mental well-being is often presented in terms of blocking out negative influences, learning to accept life problems, and seeing unhappiness as an issue of attitude, or medically as an imbalance in brain chemistry to be treated with drugs. What are some of the political and ideological effects of such understanding?

WD: There’s been a rising sense, since the 1960s, that health is the opposite of pain and unhappiness, which is a very strange philosophy. It is entirely at odds with the psychoanalytic tradition, which views unhappiness as a normal feature of being human, and with the history of medicine which has viewed pain as a healthy therapeutic property of the body. One effect of this shift is to pass responsibility for mental wellbeing towards the individual, giving them techniques and drugs to address their own unhappiness, which is also a way to avoid hearing about it (whether in a psychoanalytic or political setting).

Another is to produce a model of mind and body more suited to the post-industrial workplace, in which positivity and energy are viewed as the source of economic value. Amongst the most worrying practical effects in the UK has been the incorporation of positive thinking into workfare programs, with benefit claimants being told that their negative attitude is the reason they are unemployed, and they must therefore overcome that using various cognitive and behavioural techniques. This, and other examples, produce an ideology in which the social world is a fixed set of institutions, no matter how unjust, but the psychic-emotional world is sufficiently malleable as to compensate for that. Problems and solutions are therefore all within the individual but also within the power of the individual, producing a curious form of optimism that is all about learning to think, feel and behave differently.

JB: In The Happiness Industry, you are concerned with how scientific methods to measure happiness treat people purely as biological bodies, rather than subjects whose desires and interpretations should be factored in to analysis. You say that, “Maybe this scientific view of the mind, as a mechanical or organic object, with its own behaviours and sicknesses to be monitored and measured, is not so much the solution to our ills, but among the deeper cultural causes.” Is this a criticism of science itself, in the way its logic inevitably aims to interpret phenomena in terms of measurable features, or more a criticism of a particular use of science for certain interests? Could such scientific methods be repurposed to treat happiness as a more social issue?

WD: My argument is certainly not with ‘science’ as such! There have been various scientific traditions over the past 150 years which support and endorse a more social and political approach to mental distress and human flourishing (or with a broader understanding of ‘science’, you could go back to Aristotle). I think that cognitivist and behaviourist traditions, both of which have a tendency to rely on mechanistic metaphors of simple cause and effect, have attained the power they do because they are more compatible with dominant economic notions of risk, productivity, customer satisfaction, health and so on. They are very useful, for those seeking to improve workplaces, communities and fiscal balances (because they offer cheap policy solutions, in comparison to more engaged forms of care and therapy).

But there are rival traditions, such as social epidemiology, which shows how inequality, economic institutions and public institutions generate distinctive forms of distress; psychoanalysis, which rests on an assumption of inevitable psychic and social conflict, rather than of optimisation; some clinical psychology and anti-psychiatry, which push back against the medical model, and show how even quite severe mental illness can be understood and treated in terms of social and environmental factors. So, yes, we need knowledge of wellbeing, but this doesn’t have to mean an emphasis on brain, behaviour and ‘attitude’ as the explanation.

JB: Given the huge financial costs of absenteeism and demotivation in the workplace, businesses often place importance on improving the happiness of their employees. Of course, the primary motivation here is productivity and profit, but do the kinds of interventions businesses use (from creating relaxing working environments to promoting more positive attitudes or healthy lifestyle adjustments) actually have anything to do with happiness at all? Do such measures not rather aim at a kind of pressure to outwardly express the right attitude and keep working, regardless of inner feelings?

WD: I think it depends on the type of workplace and work. There are situations where the employer’s main objective is to manufacture a form of outward positivity, for purposes of customer service. Examples of this are found in coffee chains and call centres, where employees are quite closely trained and supervised to adopt positive behaviours, such as smiles, generosity and happy tone of voice, but where there is relatively little interest in their broader wellbeing. The landmark study of this was Arlie Russell Hochschild’s The Managed Heart, which studied airline stewards in the late 1970s, giving a glimpse of the post-Fordist workplace that was emerging at the time. At the other end of the spectrum there are employers such as Google, which provide a remarkable range of benefits, luxuries and free services, to support the employee physically, emotionally and socially, with benefits for their families and pets as well. This is partly to attract the best employees from the global ‘talent pool’, but especially to retain them and attain their complete commitment. It is hard to be unhappy or alienated in such an environment, but it can also be hard to ever leave, as the ‘campus’ model of the Silicon Valley workplaces deliberately encourages. This penetrates much further into the inner psychic and physiological world of the employee. Many workplaces are somewhere between the poles of call centre and Google campus, while there are of course plenty which simply don’t care about the emotional side of work because work is primarily physical and mechanistic.

Is any of this ‘real’ happiness? Of course it has to involve aspects of happiness in order to succeed. I don’t believe it’s false or inauthentic in itself, but it is limited and it does involve power relations. It can produce its own feeling of ennui, as the monochrome, repetitive and somewhat obligatory nature of the happiness starts to become more apparent. But it’s also important not to romanticise Taylorist work practices, which left people alone emotionally, but also cause(d) physical exhaustion, sickness and fatal accidents. 

JB: Neoliberal philosophy places self-interest at the centre of human nature, and connects freedom to competitive self-actualisation, which seems to create two contradictory ideas – that the strongest win at the expense of others, and that anybody is free to compete and ‘make it’, if they have the correct attitude and application. To what extent is this contradiction central to mental health issues in today’s societies? 

WD: There is an obvious flaw in neoliberalism, which doesn’t just appear at the level of the individual, but also the city, nation, school or university, namely that it views ‘excellence’ and ‘winning’ as the mark of value. But this implies that being normal, average (let alone below average or ‘sub-normal’) is to be without value. The majority of people, institutions and spaces are eliminated via competition, and found to be too weak to excel. Moreover, because it was a competition that revealed this – and not, say, tradition or the power of class stratification – they have only themselves to blame.

This problem becomes more acute over time, as winner-take-all effects take over, and – as Thomas Piketty’s work shows – the returns to capital allow for ‘winners’ to accumulate advantages at an exponential rate. Spatially this is apparent in how places such as London become more and more separate from the rest of their surrounding national territory.

This culture is disastrous for mental health, producing dynamics of depression and anxiety, that every moment of time and every spare resource should be exploited for purposes of greater self-actualisation. The mentality that is pushed towards benefit claimants, that they could be more responsible for themselves if they simply aimed higher – pervades other tiers of social advantage as well, including people who are comparatively well-off. There is a still-rising mental health crisis amongst students, manifest in widespread chronic anxiety, brought on by a sense that time is ticking away too quickly, and one is about to be left behind at any moment. The fact that neoliberalism has in fact acquired intergenerational oligarchic economic structures, in which personal effort is not typically enough to make it or to flourish, isn’t enough to alleviate this vicious circle of self-blame and anxiety.   

JB: It seems that modern technology puts a lot of control over people in the hands of the wealthy elite. State institutions can treat deficiencies in happiness as ‘faults’ in individuals that should be treated, while corporations can gather large amounts of data on individuals and groups so as to target their desires or direct them towards certain kinds of information. Does the sheer scope and invisibility of this technology itself produce a kind of inferiority complex among us, so it is even a form of relief to resign ourselves to its demands, rather than confront the task of changing power structures? What kind of individual and collective adjustments may be necessary to help us to escape some of this control? 

WD: Individually, we of course need to learn how to disconnect better. Unfortunately this is often through other forms of self-discipline, many of which are also co-opted by digital capitalism, such as sleeping, digital detoxing, meditating and so on. Smart phones will surely go down as a historic moment in the expansion of digital surveillance and tracking, vastly expanding the range of activities and thoughts that are digitally captured and mediated, all within two or three years.

Institutionally, we would probably be better if certain services and products were simply switched off. We should be honest about the fact that, if ever Facebook were under democratic control, the best thing to do with it would probably be to close it down. This is true for psychological, social and political reasons. We should defend and expand non-surveilled spaces and periods of time, although unfortunately that agenda tends to be a somewhat hipster and/or bourgeois one, of hippy parents wanting their children free from screens and theatre goers tutting phones going off. But the principle is right, and could be pushed further for people’s mental health benefit.

On the broader point, clearly the capacity to monitor and influence our feelings is very great indeed. But it isn’t absolute. There’s still something relatively stupid about much of how Silicon Valley and managerial infrastructures seek to deal with emotions, and we should avoid exaggerating their power. There are plenty of utopian propositions out there, of socialising ownership of platforms to creating new platforms and co-operative governance systems, but we also need to challenge the quasi-military emphasis on control itself, not only the political economy that underlies it. I’m not optimistic about any of this, but on the other hand, we shouldn’t underestimate people’s capacity to adapt and achieve new spaces and activities that can’t be very well captured or understood by managerial control systems.

JB: The rise in political alternatives to the ‘centrist’ neoliberal orthodoxy since the economic crisis of 2008 suggests that people do not merely absorb its scientific rationalisation of politics and society. Yet in many cases the result has been more a turn to the right – traditionalism, nationalism, xenophobia – than to the left, which often continues to valorise concepts of self-actualisation through hard work. You also highlight how, rather than viewing people in terms of ideology based on ‘false consciousness’, “it may now be more radical to highlight precisely the ways in which ordinary people do know what they’re doing, can make sense of their lives, are clear about their interests.” But again it seems that these interests are heavily influenced by consumerist ideals promoted by businesses and institutions. So, for example, “Advertising is among the most powerful techniques of mass behavioural manipulation, since it first became ‘scientific’ at the dawn of the twentieth century.” Does it not seem then that people’s conscious desires are still framed by the individualistic, consumerist, narcissistic goals of neoliberalism? If not, is the implication that people are not so heavily manipulated after all, and that they conform to social expectations for other reasons?

WD: The neoliberal paradigm is obviously in great trouble, but I think the turn to the right is accelerating this crisis. The rise of nationalism is really an appeal to solidarity, albeit of an exclusive, often racist variety. But it is an appeal to something that neoliberal rationality cannot compute, namely forms of belonging, meaning and collectivity that endure and aren’t reducible to individual gain. The vote for Brexit, for example, was anti-utilitarian and, in some ways, anti-individualistic. It was an expression of political desire for something more than economics, though sadly resuscitating unpleasant imperialistic cultural politics, and no doubt delivering serious economic self-harm at the same time. I’m not convinced that the consumerist, optimising, utilitarian mind-set is in great health right now, even if people still view certain aspects of their lives through that lens. The absurdity of the situation is that you can play the neoliberal game to perfection, and still end up with very little in return, especially if you were born in the 1990s. So there is a growing mass of people who view competition as punitive, even if they also view it as unavoidable. But that is a major problem for the legitimacy of the system.

Change will come, whether for better or worse, primarily for generational reasons, as we are seeing in various elections at the moment. I don’t doubt that the forms of narcissism and consumerism are still there, but their negative side-effects and moral emptiness seems more apparent than at any point since the 1970s. So there is a cultural crisis as much as an economic one. The problem is that this is also the context that fascism thrives in, with its own seductive promise of solidarity.

Jon Bailes is a social theorist. He has a PhD in European Studies from University College London, and is co-author of Weapon of the Strong: Conversations on US State Terrorism (Pluto, 2013). He also writes at stateofnatureblog.com.

The Real Reason Behind Trump’s Angry Diplomacy in North Korea

Counterpunch - 18 hours 56 min ago

To understand the United States’ stratagem in the Pacific, and against North Korea in particular, one has to understand the fundamental changes that are under way in that region. China’s clout as an Asian superpower and as a global economic powerhouse has been growing at a rapid speed. The US’ belated ‘pivot to Asia’ to counter China’s rise has been, thus far, quite ineffectual.

The angry diplomacy of President Donald Trump is Washington’s way to scare off North Korea’s traditional ally, China, and disrupt what has been, till now, quite a smooth Chinese economic, political and military ascendency in Asia that has pushed against US regional influence, especially in the East and South China Seas.

Despite the fact that China has reevaluated its once strong ties with North Korea, in recent years, it views with great alarm any military build-up by the US and its allies. A stronger US military in that region will be a direct challenge to China’s inevitable trade and political hegemony.

The US understands that its share of the world’s economic pie chart is constantly being reduced, and that China is gaining ground, and fast.

The United States’ economy is the world’s largest, but not for long. Statistics show that China is blazing the trail and will, by 2030 – or even sooner – win the coveted spot. In fact, according to an International Monetary Fund report in 2014, China is already the world’s largest economy when the method of measurement is adjusted by purchasing power.

This is not an anomaly and is not reversible, at least any time soon.

The growth rate of the US economy over the past 30 years has averaged 2.4 percent, while China soared at 9.3 percent.

Citing these numbers, Paul Ormerod, an economist and a visiting professor at University College, London, argued in a recent article that “if we project these rates forward, the Chinese economy will be as big as the American by 2024. By 2037, it will be more than twice the size.”

It is no wonder why Trump obsessively referenced ‘China’ in his many campaigning speeches prior to his election to the White House, and why he continues to blame China for North Korea’s nuclear weapons program to this day.

As a business mogul, Trump understands how real power works, and that his country’s nuclear arsenal, estimated at nearly 7,000 nuclear weapons, is simply not enough to reverse his country’s economic misfortunes.

In fact, China’s nuclear arsenal is quite miniscule compared to the US. Military power alone is not a sufficient measurement of actual power that can be translated into economic stability, sustainable wealth and financial security of a nation.

It is ironic that, while the US threatens to ‘totally destroy North Korea,’ it is the Chinese government that is using sensible language, calling for de-escalation and citing international law. Not only did fortunes change, but roles as well. China, which for many years was depicted as a rogue state, now seems like the cornerstone of stability in Asia.

Prudent US leaders, like former President Jimmy Carter understand well the need to involve China in resolving the US-North Korean standoff.

In an article in the Washington Post, Carter, 93, called for immediate and direct diplomatic engagement with North Korea that involves China as well.

He wrote on October 4, the US should “offer to send a high-level delegation to Pyongyang for peace talks or to support an international conference including North and South Korea, the United States and China, at a mutually acceptable site.”

A few days leader, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, quoted Carter’s article, and reasserted her country’s position that only a diplomatic solution could bring the crisis to an end.

In a recent tweet, Trump claimed that “Presidents and their administrations have been talking to North Korea for 25 years, agreements made and massive amounts of money paid … hasn’t worked.”

He alleged that North Korea has violated these agreements even “before the ink was dry”, finishing with the ominous warning that “only one thing will work!”, alluding to war.

Trump is a bad student of history. The ‘agreements’ he was referring to is the ‘Agreed Framework’ of 1994, signed between President Bill Clinton and Kim Jong-il – the father of the current leader Kim Jong-un. In fact, the crisis was averted, when Pyongyang respected its side of the agreement. The US, however, reneged, argued Fred Kaplan in ‘Slate’.

“North Korea kept its side of the bargain, the United States did not,” Kaplan wrote. “No light-water reactors were provided. (South Korea and Japan were supposed to pay for the reactors; they didn’t, and the U.S. Congress didn’t step in.) Nor was any progress made on diplomatic recognition.”

It took North Korea years to react to the US and its partners’ violation of the terms of the deal.

In 2001, the US invaded and destroyed Afghanistan. In 2003, it invaded Iraq, and actively began threatening a regime change in Iran. Iraq, Iran and North Korea were already blacklisted as the “axis of evil” in George W. Bush’s infamous speech in 2002.

More military interventions followed, especially as the Middle East fell into unprecedented chaos resulting from the so-called Arab Spring in 2011. Regime change, as became the case in Libya, remained the defining doctrine of US foreign policy.

This is the actual reality that terrifies North Korea. For 15 years they have been waiting for their turn on the US regime change path, and their nuclear weapons program is their only deterring strategy in the face of US military interventions. The more the North Korean leadership felt isolated regionally and internationally, the more determined it became in obtaining nuclear devices.

This is the context that Trump does not want to understand. US mainstream media, which seems to loathe Trump in every way except when he threatens war or defends Israel, is following blindly.

Current news reports of North Korea’s supposed ability to kill “90% of all Americans” within one year is the kind of ignorance and fear-mongering that has dragged the US into multiple wars, costing the economy trillions of dollars, while continuing to make bad situations far worse.

Indeed, a recent Brown University Study showed that, between 2001 and 2016, the cost of wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Pakistan has cost the US $3.6 trillion.

Perhaps, a better way of fending against the rise of China is investing in the US economy instead of wasting money on protracted wars.

But if a Trump war in North Korea takes place, what would it look like?

US Newsweek magazine took on this very disturbing question, only to provide equally worrying answers.

“If combat broke out between the two countries, American commanders in the Pacific would very quickly exhaust their stockpiles of smart bombs and missiles, possibly within a week,” military sources revealed.

It will take a year for the US military to replenish their stockpile, thus leaving them with the option of “dropping crude gravity bombs on their targets, guaranteeing a longer and bloodier conflict for both sides.”

Expectedly, North Korea would strike, at will, all of the US allies in the region, starting with South Korea. Even if the conflict does not escalate to the use of nuclear weapons, the death toll from such a war “could reach 1 million.”

Both Trump and Kim Jong-un are unsavory figures, driven by fragile egos and unsound judgement. Yet, they are both in a position that, if not reigned in soon, could threaten global security and the lives of millions.

Calls for diplomatic solutions made by Carter and China must be heeded, before it is too late.

Washington, Not China, is the Biggest Threat to American Power

Counterpunch - 18 hours 56 min ago

Photo by Tom Thai | CC BY 2.0

Readers at home and around the world want to know what to make of the announcement that China henceforth will conduct oil purchases and sales in gold-backed Chinese currency.

Is this an attack by Russia and China on the US dollar? Will the dollar weaken and collapse from being discarded as the currency in which oil is transacted? These and other questions are on readers’ minds.

Below is my opinion:

The US dollar’s value depends on whether central banks, corporations, and individuals are content to hold their assets or wealth in dollars. If they are, it does not matter what currency is used to transact oil. If they are not, it does not matter if all oil is transacted in dollars. Why?

Because if they don’t want to hold dollars, they will dump the dollars as soon as the transaction is completed and move into other currencies or gold. What China is doing is creating a currency that might be a more attractive currency to hold.

It is possible that the gold-backed Chinese currency is a move against US power, but I see it differently. I see it as a protection against US power. China and Russia are disassociating from the dollar system, because Washington, in its abuse of the world currency role, uses the dollar payments mechanism to impose sanctions on other countries and to threaten them with exclusion from the payments clearing system.

In other words, Washington, instead of operating a fair system, uses its world currency role to dominate other countries. Russia and China are too strong to be dominated, and, thus, are throwing off the dollar system. If other countries follow, the dollar will cease to be an instrument of US control over the rest of the world.

To put it in different words, Bretton Woods gave Washington the responsibility for the world financial system. Washington abused the power entrusted to it by using the dollar system to destabilize other countries, such as Venezuela currently. Washington’s abuse of the world currency role in order to advance American financial and business interests and Washington’s power over the foreign and domestic policies of other countries has set in motion forces that will eliminate the dollar’s role as world reserve currency.

The hubris and arrogance of Washington are destroying American power.

El Diablo in Wine Country

Counterpunch - 18 hours 56 min ago

In 1942 Alfred Hitchcock recruited the author of Our Town, Thornton Wilder, to write the screenplay for Shadow of a Doubt, an innocence-versus-evil thriller set in an ‘idyllic American town’. After considering various candidates, Hitchcock and Wilder selected Santa Rosa, a picturesque agricultural community of 13,000 people, 55 miles north of San Francisco in Sonoma County. The following year, Santa Rosa was introduced to millions of filmgoers in a series of establishing shots that began with aerial views of its pretty countryside and ‘all-American’ downtown. Wartime restrictions had precluded set-building and the exterior locations were all real, but it was difficult to believe that sunny Santa Rosa hadn’t been confected by Norman Rockwell on a Hollywood back lot.

Seventy-five years later, we contemplate another aerial view, this time of Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park neighbourhood. The scene, a thousand homes incinerated to their foundations, resembles the apocalypse Kim Jong-un keeps promising to bring to America. Especially shocking to Californians, these were not homes in the combustible foothills or mountains where fire danger traditionally lurks, but on the plain, next to a freeway, schools, fast-food outlets – the kind of landscape where most of us live. Altogether, in one terrible night, Santa Rosa (population 165,000) lost more than 2800 homes and businesses to what is officially known as the Tubbs Fire. But it’s premature to cite losses or add up body counts since, as I write, twenty fires still writhe across the Wine Country, and an army of exhausted firefighters fearfully awaits the return of the Diablo winds.

Although the explosive development of this firestorm complex caught county and municipal officials off guard, fire alarms had been going off for months. Two years ago, at the height of California’s worst drought in five hundred years, the Valley Fire, ignited by faulty wiring in a hot tub, burned 76,000 acres and destroyed 1350 homes in Lake, northern Sonoma, and Napa counties. Last winter’s record precipitation, meanwhile, did not so much bust the drought as prepare its second and more dangerous reincarnation. The spring’s unforgettable profusion of wildflowers and verdant grasses was punctually followed by a scorching summer that culminated in September with pavement-melting temperatures of 41ºC in San Francisco and 43ºC on the coast at Santa Cruz. Luxuriant green vegetation quickly turned into parched brown fire-starter.

The final ingredient in this ‘perfect fire’ scenario – as in past fire catastrophes in Northern California – was the arrival of the hot, dry offshore winds, with gusts between 50 and 70 mph, that scourge the California coast every year in the weeks before Halloween, sometimes continuing into December. The Diablos are the Bay Area’s upscale version of Southern California’s autumn mini-hurricanes, the Santa Anas. In October 1991, they turned a small grass fire near the Caldecott Tunnel in the Oakland Hills into an inferno that killed 25 people and destroyed almost 4000 homes and apartments.

In a post-mortem on the Tunnel Fire, the historian Stephen Pyne, whose case studies are required reading in every fire science curriculum, emphasised that the Oakland Fire Department was not only poorly trained but also epistemologically unequipped to deal with wind-driven fires at the urban-wildland interface:

It did not appreciate how a city, full of internal firewalls, might be breached from the perimeter and find itself assaulted not from the streets but from the air … There was no single flaming perimeter or high-rise to focus the action, only hundreds of individual fires – the firefight as melee.

The current fires also disseminate as a wind-driven hail of burning debris. It remains to be seen whether Santa Rosa’s fire services had tried to apply any of the lessons of 1991.

Californians are notoriously solipsistic about their disasters and tend to save their sympathy for themselves. Yet even here we are so narrowly focused that the worst fire disaster since San Francisco in 1906 has probably generated fewer bytes than serial celebrity molester Harvey Weinstein. And who in the media has connected the dots between the burning wineries, the evacuation of Montana and the fires in Greenland?

Like California, which has an estimated 100 million dead trees, the forests of the Northern Rockies have been massacred by those unstoppable harbingers of global warming, pine beetles. White pines, the cornerstone of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, have been the hardest hit by the drought-induced infestation, which now affects perhaps 95 per cent of the iconic trees. With two-thirds of Montana experiencing the most extreme drought in a century of record-keeping, fire was the inevitable outcome. The authorities searched for the usual suspects (arsonists, idiot campers, terrorists and so on) to blame for the resulting 1.2 million acres of charcoal, but abundant dry lightning would have sufficed. The firestorms started in July (with parallel outbreaks in Washington, British Columbia and Alberta), led to mass evacuations, and their smouldering remnants still pose a threat.

A satellite first detected the blaze in Greenland at the end of July in reindeer-grazed tundra 90 miles north-east of the town of Sisimiut, not far from the Arctic Circle. The largest fire ever recorded on the great ice island, it was smaller than most of the 6400 wildfires that California experienced this year between New Year’s and Labor Day. Yet for science it will be more memorable. As the far north warms and permafrost begins to melt, peat is exposed and becomes combustible. Peat fires can be almost inextinguishable; in remote polar regions, they could potentially burn for years. (Los Angeles spent two years futilely fighting an underground peat fire in the La Cienega – Spanish for ‘bog’ – area in the late 1920s.) Along with the release of methane from thawing tundra and continental shelves, the carbon dioxide emitted by a burning Arctic is the wild card of global warming.

The big picture, then, is the violent reorganisation of regional fire regimes across North America, and as pyrogeography changes, biogeography soon follows. Some forests and ‘sky island’ ecosystems will face extinction; most will see dramatic shifts in species composition. Changing land cover, together with shorter rainy seasons, will destabilise the snowpack-based water-storage systems that irrigate the West. The Pacific Northwest, according to most researchers, will become even wetter, yet drought years will be more extreme, making great fires more common. In California, on the other hand, a drier, hotter climate will be punctuated by extreme rainfall events, reproducing the drought-fuel accumulation-firestorm cycle that we have seen over the last year. In the desert Southwest, studies point to the weakening of the North American monsoon that slakes Arizona’s thirst in late summer; as Phoenix becomes more like Death Valley, condo sales soar in San Diego.

Jerry Brown’s California enters this new age with a halo over its head. We ‘get’ climate change and thumb our noses at the mad denialist in the White House. Our governor advocates the Paris standards with rare passion and sends our anti-carbon missionaries to the far corners of the earth. We await impatiently that great day when the entire Mojave Desert will be covered with Chinese-made solar panels, and silent Teslas rule the freeways. And we continue to send urban sprawl into our fire-dependent ecosystems with the expectation that firefighters will risk their lives to defend each new McMansion, and an insurance system that spreads costs across all homeowners will promptly replace whatever is lost.

This is the deadly conceit behind mainstream environmental politics in California: you say fire, I say climate change, and we both ignore the financial and real-estate juggernaut that drives the suburbanisation of our increasingly inflammable wildlands. Land use patterns in California have long been insane but, with negligible opposition, they reproduce themselves like a flesh-eating virus. After the Tunnel Fire in Oakland and the 2003 and 2007 firestorms in San Diego County, paradise was quickly restored; in fact, the replacement homes were larger and grander than the originals. The East Bay implemented some sensible reforms but in rural San Diego County, the Republican majority voted down a modest tax increase to hire more firefighters. The learning curve has a negative slope.

I’ve found that the easiest way to explain California fire politics to students or visitors from the other blue coast is to take them to see the small community of Carveacre in the rugged mountains east of San Diego. After less than a mile, a narrow paved road splays into rutted dirt tracks leading to thirty or forty impressive homes. The attractions are obvious: families with broods can afford large homes as well as dirt bikes, horses, dogs, and the occasional emu or llama. At night, stars twinkle that haven’t been visible in San Diego, 35 miles away, for almost a century. The vistas are magnificent and the mild winters usually mantle the mountain chaparral with a magical coating of light snow.

But Carveacre on a hot, high fire-danger day scares the shit out of me. A mountainside cul-de-sac at the end of a one-lane road with scattered houses surrounded by ripe-to-burn vegetation – the ‘fuel load’ of chaparral in California is calculated in equivalent barrels of crude oil – the place confounds human intelligence. It’s a rustic version of death row. Much as I would like for once to be a bearer of good news rather than an elderly prophet of doom, Carveacre demonstrates the hopelessness of rational planning in a society based on real-estate capitalism. Unnecessarily, our children, and theirs, will continue to face the flames.

This essay originally appeared in the London Review of Books.

Trump’s Iran Deal

Counterpunch - 19 hours 56 sec ago

Bad deals. Very bad – unless, of course, they are minted in the United States, with Make America Great Again credentials.  Hardly the stuff of presidential clout and oratorical flair, but the US president is making good his word to rain on the Iran nuclear deal, otherwise known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with an overbearing enthusiasm.

In doing so, the JCPOA joins a growing cupboard of potentially obsolete and endangered agreements of varying benefit and quality, be it the Paris climate accord, the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, or the North American Free Trade Agreement.  Nationalists, populists, and activists of all creeds are floundering to find meaning in such gestures.

The Friday speech was filled with customary Trumpist goodies, including the ultimate point that certification of Iranian compliance and general all round good behaviour would not be forthcoming.  Instead, President Donald Trump gave a speech shot through with rhetorical punches, ignoring such positions as that taken by Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic agency.  Iran, claimed Amano, actually had one of the world’s “most robust nuclear verification regime.”[1]

Central to the Trump barrage were various claims.  Among them was the padding of the al-Qaeda link, suggesting that Iran had its share of blame for the September 11, 2001 attacks, irrespective of what ideological underpinnings and differences might have existed.

“The regime remains the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism and provides assistance to al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Hezbollah, Hamas and other terrorist networks.”  All of these show neat compression, with political interests and differences avoided before the all driving monolithic force of Teheran, the designated supreme bogeyman in regional Middle Eastern politics.

The Trump speech was also insistent that softening the moves on Iran had been a mistake.  The regime, he insisted, was starving of oxygen when President Barack Obama went soft.  (It was not, but that hardly ruffles feathers in Trumpland.)  “The previous administration lifted these sanctions, just before what would have been the total collapse of the Iranian regime, through the deeply controversial 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.”

Figures receive their fictive gloss; amounts are given a curious dressing.  The deal, argues Trump, saw a “massive cash settlement of $1.7 billion from the United States, a large portion of which was physically loaded onto an airplane and flown into Iran.”  Other monies also supposedly fell into Iranian coffers: the “immediate financial boost and over $100 billion its government could use to fund terrorism.”

Considering that much of this involved simply thawing and ultimately releasing Iranian assets frozen by the US to begin with, the point is a moot one.  The fact-checking wizards have also made the point that the $1.7 billion cash claim involved a decades old claim between Washington and Teheran that was ultimately settled.[2]

The tables are being turned from the Iranian capital.  Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif argued that the speech itself violated the agreement, in spirit if not the letter. If there was a breaker of rules and engagements, it was the US, lauding over what had been agonising negotiations.

“I have,” claimed Zarif, “already written nine letters (to EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini) listing the cases where the United States has failed to act on or delayed in its commitments under the JCPOA.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani retorted that Trump’s views were formed on “baseless accusations and swear words.”  New sanctions directed at Teheran’s missile programme were also deemed unconscionable.  “Our achievements in the field of ballistics,” claimed a disapproving Zarif, “are in no way negotiable.”

Other powers are left in a bind.  With decertification happening from Washington, what are allies and other negotiating partners to do?  The UK’s foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, was bound to be unpredictable, but insisted that his country needed “to keep that deal going – it’s been a great success for UK diplomacy.”  Whatever Trump’s ramblings, the deal lived “to fight another day, and that’s a good thing.”[3]

In the final analysis, it may well turn out that Trump is simply firing the first blows against an arrangement that ultimately conceals legitimate Iranian ambitions to acquire a nuclear option. In the current climate, where North Korea is rubbing US noses in the dirt of desperation with each ballistic missile test and defiant nuclear run, officials might be biding their time.

Trump, interestingly enough, seems to want it, to push the incentive rather than drive any disincentive.  “We will not continue down a path whose predictable conclusion is more violence, more terror and the very real threat of Iran’s nuclear breakout.”

No surprise, then, on Trump’s reference in the speech about an alleged, if unsubstantiated claim of collusion between the DPRK and Iran.  “There are also many people who believe that Iran is dealing with North Korea.”  Belief, for some, is truly all that matters.


[1] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-nuclear-usa/trump-strikes-blow-at-iran-nuclear-deal-in-major-u-s-policy-shift-idUSKBN1CI24I

[2] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2017/10/14/fact-checking-president-trumps-speech-on-the-iran-deal/?utm_term=.605222b35865

[3] http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-41622903

Britain broke its promise to the Palestinian people - on Balfour's centenary it should make amends

MiddleEasteye - 19 hours 3 min ago

After Palestinian anti-Balfour posters were banned from London's transport network in accordance with TFL rules, an honest debate on the Palestinian question is needed more than ever

Remember Puerto Rico Needs Fair Medicaid Funding Too

Counterpunch - 19 hours 5 min ago

Weeks have passed since Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria and there is still little indication that the unincorporated US territory is on the road to recovery. Thousands remain homeless, the vast majority of residents still have no power, and the economy has ground to a halt. Perhaps most worryingly, the island’s health care system, which has never been so critically needed, is barely functioning.

Battered by the storm and running on unreliable power generators, hospitals are incapable of keeping up with the influx of patients. To make matters worse, doctors are running out of medical supplies.

But this dire picture is on the verge of growing darker. Barring immediate action by the US Congress, funding for Medicaid, a program that at least 40 percent of Puerto Ricans rely on, is about to run out. The storm has already taken a huge toll on the health of an untold number of Puerto Ricans who require urgent access to affordable health care. If Washington policymakers don’t act soon, the growing public health emergency in Puerto Rico could reach catastrophic proportions.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, many Puerto Ricans have felt that they have been treated like second-class citizens. Compared to the rapid response and massive mobilization to respond to hurricanes in Texas and Florida just weeks prior, it seems that the suffering of Puerto Ricans is a low priority for the US government.

The response has been so slow that the Oxfam charitable organization, which normally offers disaster assistance in developing countries, took therare step of stepping in to also support struggling Puerto Rican communities. As outrage and protests have mounted, US government relief efforts have been stepped up. But the critical situation in Puerto Rico is also in part the product of many years of neglect, of a sort that is highly uncommon in so-called developed nations. The island’s brewing Medicaid crisis is a clear example of this.

Ever since the US took control of Puerto Rico in 1898, all of the key political decisions concerning the island’s future have been taken in the US Congress, where the lone Puerto Rican representative is denied the ability to vote. Most recently, prior to the hurricane, Puerto Rico was dealing with a massive fiscal crisis, in part a product of economic policies decided in Washington. The island was already being plagued by a massive debt burden of about $74 billion that it could no longer repay, and was sentencedto debilitating austerity through a plan designed by a fiscal board appointed in Washington, DC.

While it is common for US politicians to blame Puerto Rico’s debt crisis on mismanagement and corruption, it is rare to see any acknowledgement of the role played by US policies. For example, while states receive generous reimbursements and support from the US federal government for their Medicaid programs, the US citizens living in Puerto Rico do not enjoy the same support.

As a result of an arbitrary funding cap set by the US Congress decades ago, Puerto Rico effectively receives less than 20 percent in reimbursements for Medicaid. If it were treated as a state, its reimbursement rate would be 83 percent. This difference is significant: just for 2016, the cap set for Puerto Rico meant that it received $700 million less in Medicaid reimbursement than what other US territories qualify for, and $1.7 billion less than if it received the same treatment as states.

For many years, Puerto Rico’s government covered the shortfall in funding by borrowing money ― one of the main factors behind its massive debt. After the Affordable Care Act was passed, in 2012, Puerto Rico received a one-time $6 billion grant to help cover Medicaid costs. However, those funds are about to run out at the end of this year. Without the grant, and locked out of capital markets, Puerto Rico can no longer fund the program without assistance from the US Congress.

A recent report that I co-authored for the Center for Economic and Policy Research shows that allowing Medicaid in Puerto Rico to collapse could also be a very costly move for the rest of the country. Puerto Ricans who no longer have access to affordable health care are more likely to migrate to US states with functioning Medicaid programs. We calculate that, by not funding Medicaid in Puerto Rico, the federal government, along with state governments, could end up spending $24 billion more over the next 10 years to provide Medicaid services for Puerto Ricans who relocate to states. This estimate assumes out-migration from the island to the mainland will double compared to the last five years, an estimate that given the current situation is, if anything, probably too optimistic.

In this time of hardship for Puerto Ricans, Congress needs to act and show support for the island’s welfare not only through relief efforts and a major reconstruction program, but also by granting Puerto Ricans fair funding for Medicaid. After all, if Congress refuses to fund Medicaid in Puerto Rico, as US citizens, its residents can and will seek care in US states, where the additional expense of providing them with health care assistance will have to be picked up by all US taxpayers.

Lara Merling is a researcher at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC.

This article originally appeared in The Hill.

Pakistani Taliban suicide bomber rams police truck, kills seven

Top Reuters News - 19 hours 11 min ago
QUETTA, Pakistan (Reuters) - A Pakistani Taliban suicide bomber rammed a car into a police truck in the southwestern city of Quetta on Wednesday, killing at least seven people, police said.

China's Xi lays out vision for 'new era' led by 'still stronger' Communist Party

Top Reuters News - 19 hours 15 min ago
BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese President Xi Jinping opened a critical Communist Party Congress on Wednesday with a pledge to build a "modern socialist country" for a "new era" that will be proudly Chinese, steadfastly ruled by the party but open to the world.

2 or 3 Things I Know About Capitalism

Counterpunch - 19 hours 17 min ago

 (with apologies to Jean-Luc Godard) 

A number of recent, press articles, including an over 8000 word feature piece in the New York Times have asked, to quote the The NYT’s headline, “Why Are More American Teenagers Than Ever Suffering From Severe Anxiety?”

Although the question was proffered, the reporters and editors responsible for the articles remain resolutely obtuse to the obvious: The bughouse crazy environment of late stage capitalist culture evokes classic flight or flight responses attendant to episodes of severe anxiety and panic attacks.

The word panic has its derivation in reference to the Greek god of wilderness and wildness, of pastural repose, of the animal body encoded within human beings and its attendant animalistic imperatives, Pan. To wit, deracinate an animal from its natural habitat and it will evince, on an instinctual basis, a flight or flight response. If caged, the unfortunate creature will pace the confines of its imprisonment, chew and tear at its fur and flesh, become irritable, enervated, languish and even die from the deprivation of the environment it was born to inhabit. A caged animal, even if the unfortunate creature endures captivity, is not the entity nature conceived; the living being has been reduced to A Thing That Waits For Lunch.

Human beings, animals that we are, respond in a similar fashion. Experiencing anxiety is among the ways our innate animal spirits react to the capitalist cage. Inundate a teenager with the soul-defying criteria of the corporate/consumer state, with its overbearing, pre-careerist pressures, its paucity of communal eros, its demands, overt and implicit, to conform to a shallow, manic, nebulously defined yet oppressive societal order, and insist that those who cannot adapt, much less excel, are losers who are fated to become “basement dwellers” in their parent’s homes or, for those who lack the privilege, be cast into homelessness then the minds of the young or old alike are apt to be inundated with feelings of angst and dread.

Worse, if teenagers are culturally conditioned to believe said feelings and responses are exclusively experienced by weaklings, parasites, and losers then their suffering might fester to the point of emotional paralysis and suicidal inclinations.

What does the capitalist state offer as remedy? Obscenely profitable, corporately manufactured and widely prescribed psychoactive medications. Treatment, which, at best, merely masks symptoms and bestows the illusion of recovery.

As R. D. Laing observed: “What we call ‘normal’ is a product of repression, denial, splitting, projection, introjection and other forms of destructive action on experience. It is radically estranged from the structure of being.”

In short, it is insanity to be expected to adapt to socially acceptable insanity. Yet we are pressured to adapt to, thus internalise odious, groupthink concepts and tenets. To cite one example, homelessness is natural to the human condition and is a communally acceptable situation.

Closer to fact: The problem of homelessness is the result of a societal-wide perception problem — the phenomenon is the very emblem of the scrambling, twisting, dissociating, and displacing of perception that capitalist propagandists specialize in. Homelessness would be considered a relic of a barbaric past if this very simple principle was applied: Having access to permanent shelter is a human right and not a privilege.

What kind of a vile, vicious people would deny the simple proposition? Those conditioned by a lingering Puritan/Calvinist mindset to believe: Punishment for resisting the usurpation of the fleeting hours of one’s finite life must be severe. If the overclass can no longer get away with, as was once common practice in the Puritan/Calvinist tradition, public floggings to whip the labor force into line, then those who will not or cannot comply will be cast onto the cold, unforgiving concrete of a soulless cityscape.

It comes down to this, societies that are ridden with vast wealth inequity, due to the machinations of a rapacious overclass, create the obscenity known as homelessness. Moreover, the situation is only one of the numerous obscenities inherent to state capitalism. Obscenities that include, events that are dominating the present news cycle e.g., the predations of a lecherous movie mogul, to the sub-cretinous doings and pronouncements of a Chief of State who is a bloated, bloviating, two legged toxic waste dump.

How is it then, liberals fail to grasp the fact the Trump presidency is not an aberration; rather, his ascension to power should be regarded as being among the high probability variables of late stage capitalism and empire building? The psychopathic, tangerine-tinged clown Trump is the embodiment of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, a development that is concomitant to over-expanded empires. Thus he will continue to flounce deeper into the quagmire of crash-engendering, economic legerdemain and perpetual war.

Empires are death cults, and death cults, on a subliminal bases, long for their own demise. Paradoxically, the collective mindset of imperium, even as it thrusts across the expanse of the world, renders itself insular, cut off from culturally enhancing novelty, as all the while, the homeland descends into a psychical swamp of churning madness.

A draining of the swamp of the collective mind cannot come to pass, for the swamp and citizenry are one. Withal, the likes of leaders such as Trump rise from and are made manifest by the morass of the culture itself. In a swamp, the gospel of rebirth and redemption is heard in the song of humus. New life rises from its compost.

In the presence of Trump’s debased mind and tumefied carcass, one is privy to arias of rot. While Hillary Clinton’s monotonous tempo was the dirge of a taxidermist — cold, desiccated of heart, and devoid of life’s numinous spark — Trump’s voice carries the depraved cacophony of a Célinean fool’s parade…its trajectory trudging towards the end of empire.

As liberals new BFFL George W. Bush might ask, “Is our liberals learning.”

In a word, no. For example, the collective psyche of US culture as been enflamed by the revelations that actresses were coerced into sexual encounters with a movie mogul whose power in the industry was only matched, even enhanced, by his sadistic nature. The staff of his company assisted, were complicit in, or remained silent about his lechery, as did the whole of the movie industry and the entertainment press. All as NFL athletes are being threatened with expulsion from the League if they kneel during the national anthem.

Yet the great unspoken remains: The enabling of and submission to the degradation, exploitation and tyranny, and the lack of resistance thereof share a common and singular factor: The careerism of all concerned. The cultural milieu concomitant to capitalism is at the rotten root and noxious blossoming of the situation.

Jean-Luc Godard’s 1967, cinematic barnburner 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her should be required viewing for those unaware or in denial of the acuity of the film’s theme i.e., becoming enmeshed within the psychical landscape of dominance, degradation, and submission inherent to and inseparable from capitalist/consumer culture will cause one to become party to societal sanctioned prostitution. When life is negotiated within a collective value system that devalues and deadens the individual’s inner life thus warps every human transaction, anomie descends, the worst among a people ascend to positions of power.

“Panic is the sudden realization that everything around you is alive.”

— William S. Burroughs, from Ghost of Chance

When friends visited me in New York, where I lived for decades, I would take them on walking tours through the city. We would cross the Westside Highway and stroll the pedestrian walk along the Hudson River, or cross the East River by walking across the Brooklyn Bridge.

The effect of these excursions on people was often profound…the combined elements of the elemental beauty of the rivers and vastness of the city’s architecture and scope, clamour, and the dense interweaving of traditional ethnic customs and ad hoc social codes of New Yorkers often would heighten the visitors’ senses and open them to larger, more intricate awareness of themselves and extant reality…the freeways of the contemporary mind (conditioned to be constantly engaged in manic motion, with one’s mind either frenzied by an obsession with performing (ultimately futile) manoeuvres directed to saving time — or stalled at a frustration inducing standstill) were replaced by the exigencies of life at street level, i.e., novel situations that had to be apprehended and negotiated.

The possibilities of life seemed greater. The crimped eros of insular suburban thought became loosened before the city’s intricacies and expansiveness. Although: Not all, or even a scant few, New Yorkers can maintain the state of being. Few of us can live by Rilke’s resolve to “make every moment holy.” Life, in the city, becomes grotesquely distorted…High rents, inflicted by hyper-gentrification, in combination with the deification of success and its cult of careerism overwhelm one’s psyche…There is so far to fall.

Angst (the word originally can be traced to the ancient Greek deity Ananke, the immovable by prayer and offering bitch Goddess of Necessity and the root word of anxiety) clamps down one’s sense of awareness. Ananke dominates the lives of the non-privileged citizenry while Narcissus, Trump’s, the Clinton’s et.al. and their financial and cultural elitists’ patron God rules the day. The pantheon of possibility has been decimated, a cultural cleansing has been perpetrated, by the egoist caprice of the beneficiaries of the late capitalist dictatorship of money.

Hence, we arrive at the primal wisdom tacitly conveyed by anxiety-borne states of fight or flight. Due to the reality that capitalism, on both an individual and collective basis, drives individuals into madness, all as the system destroys forest and field, ocean and sea and the soulscape of all who live under its rapacious dominion, our plight comes down to this: We either struggle and strive, by and any and all means, to end the system — or it will end us.

Phil Rockstroh is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living, now, in Munich, Germany. He may be contacted: philrockstroh.scribe@gmail.com and at FaceBook: http://www.facebook.com/phil.rockstroh



Rambo Wept: Our Commandos Good, Your Terrorists Bad

Counterpunch - 19 hours 28 min ago

Each subsequent Rambo release is worse than its predecessor.

— Michael Parenti, “Rambo and the Swarthy Hordes”

Just when you thought British movies about Ireland couldn’t get any worse than “Ryan’s Daughter”, here comes “The Foreigner” with Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan as the neo-Leo McKern character playing the PIRA wife cheating scotch gulping Irish sellout informer torturer killer whose paid for treasonous lifestyle of British vassal state luxury in Ireland is repeatedly interrupted by a righteous bombing vendetta seeking ersatz Charlie Chan-cum-Rambo with the most unlikely CV as an American Special Forces Vietnam War Vet sans ear collection of course or at least they don’t show you it.

In short it’s all bullshit.

Now how, according to the movie’s narrative, this 61 year old mercenary grows up in Red China to joining the American Army Special Forces (instead of ARVN) in Vietnam (rather than the USA)  where of course he learned all the technological fine arts of killing native people, aka “terrorists”, struggling for national liberation whom he then (rightly) flees from across the sea to Singapore, instead of just taking an American plane out (since only some of ARVN got left behind), losing everything along the way and then somehow making it to high priced central London where like a Robert Kline joke he-has-no-money-but-he-buys-a-restaurant, are all just Hollywood story line blanks you won’t ever be able to fill in and nor should you even try.

Not surprisingly it’s just enough for this movie to infer that Jackie Chan’s U.S. commando character, like draft dodging Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo character, was fighting “terrorists” in Vietnam as he now has to do in Northern Ireland.  After all the National Liberation Front of Vietnam actually studied and emulated IRA tactics. Tom Barry’s book “Guerilla Days” was their Bible.  Too bad more Irish people didn’t take it to heart, because what few still do according to this movie must continue to be killed off once their “Names please!” are given up by this pathetic portrayal of GFA IRA betrayal.

So you get to watch in the meantime the amazingly unbelievable super geriatric Jackie Chan man flashback to murderous non-political Thai pirates who intentionally killed his wife and two daughters. Sure, just like the present day “authentic” (movie’s word) IRA cell based in London that has now recklessly killed Chan’s only remaining daughter with a store planted bomb while she innocently shopped for her wedding dress.  Hence this film’s spurious and all too predictable revenge plot in obvious service to the British state’s theme of our-commandos-good-you’re-terrorists-bad since we all know only imperialists do collateral damage in the fog of war.

The only thing missing in this stupid Tory flick was the IRA’s mass conversion to Islam and their solidarity marches with ISIS.

Dishonest political conflation like this never makes any sense but when I say “bad imitation” Charlie Chan-cum-Rambo commando know Jesus and Rambo wept.  Because this was an awful movie played by terrible actors!  The only thing more insulting than all this MI6 spin were all the Irish actors who knowingly took the soup to get roles in it to say nothing about the other actors of colonial color who obviously never read Franz Fanon.

And to save you all your time and money know that this new age Charlie Chan as Mighty Mouse saves the day by helping the Brits muzzle the rogue IRA cell via electric tortured tits and summary executions of unarmed British subjects while a bomb is ticking of course in an unfair effort to blow up, of all people, members of the imperial British government.

This is all in keeping of course with the British government policy of Ulsterisation (let the locals do the killing), Normalization (act like there is nothing abnormal going on here) and Criminalisation (always insists that there is nothing political about Irish people trying to end Brit occupation and rule).  After all, those uppity Chuckies are (ahem) just like those non-political Thai pirates out to get your money, wives and daughters.

Maybe if the IRA dropped their bombs from planes, like the Brits do, and droned from afar like the Americans do, they’d be held to the same civilian mass murder as policy standard the Brits and Yanks have held themselves to in among other places the Philippines, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Tokyo, Dresden, Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Honduras, Guatemala, Panama, Cuba, Chile, El Salvador, Haiti, East Timor, etc.

Instead as per usual there’ll be no such thinking or commentary about Bomber Harris or murderous Brits in Bagdad except for the Irish nephew of Brosnan’s character in this movie, playing a Brit Rambo Commando, explaining to Mr. Chan in their male bonding scene that he did what he did in Iraq for his Irish Regiment not Queen and country.

A distinction without a difference but it’s the apt latent homosexual excuse that gets him off so he can later execute Brosnan’s wife who [spoiler alert] was the god mother all along of this rogue “authentic” IRA cell who understandably hated her quisling husband.  So of course she has to be killed by him to…err….save the British peace in Northern Ireland.  Yeah, that’s the ticket!   You say peace and I say pacification.

That way Brosnan’s ex-IRA character can continue sleeping with his girlfriend who [another spoiler alert] is also part of this “authentic” IRA cell and for what it’s worth a British subject so understandably is killed with extreme Brit prejudice while lying on her back unarmed, tortured and injured.  Now to borrow a phrase there really are “…no loose ends” to worry about seeing here.  LOL!

In fact, the only cream in this crap was the movie’s portrayal of Peirce Brosnan as the obviously fused and confused Adams/McGuinnes character, replete with salt and pepper beard, being effectively choke-chained like the imperial poodle he is on MI6’s leash.

As such the best line in the movie was by some non-descript Brit babe playing the Overlord of Ireland Minister telling Brosnan’s Ex-IRA character: “When I say jump you’ll say how high.”

Kind of says it all really.

The unwitting moral of this story from Whitehall: take it up the ass like Vadkar paying off British bonds because that’s what you get when you give to Caesar what is Caesar’s since imperial gerrymandering (and any agreement to same) is no stepping stone to national liberation and unification never has been and never will be.

Just ask any Ex-Viet Cong or (ahem) American Minuteman.

So don’t waste your time and money on this pernicious little pro-Brit anti-Irish national liberation film unless like Peirce Brosnan you’re a self-loathing Irish dumb ass or a lying Tory or quasi-Tory who believes their own Orwellian discourse.  And lest you think I am anti-English, know that I am just anti-England in Ireland like I am anti-Belgium in the Congo.  Hate the sin, love the sinner.  And any film by the Englishman Ken Loach, especially “The Wind that Shakes the Barley”, is light years better than this pack of Jackie Chan lies and distortions. My guess is he’d still prefer the Brits in Hong Kong.

Eoghan O’Suilleabhain is an American lawyer and Army veteran. 

On Catalonia: Debates in the Greek Left

Counterpunch - 19 hours 29 min ago

The  subject of the Catalonian  secession  is an extremely  serious one,  at  a national, a European  and an international level . Overlooking this obvious reality, many members of the  Greek Left discuss it without well-founded  positions, typically raising their voices and resorting to stereotypic slogans.   On 1st October  the people of Catalonia  faced repulsive, antidemocratic and rather bloody  repression  from the police and the  security forces of Spain, under the leadership of prime minister Mariano Rajoy.  Nobody should remain  indifferent to these practices.  The violation of the  public  and democratic rights of Catalan-Spanish  citizens,   which we all should  condemn unequivocally, tends to create an emotional situation that blocks  free and rational discussion. Although we express our solidarity with the victims of political repression, we are not obliged to support  the secession tendency without critical analysis of what that entails.

So, without the burden of self-censorship  or “political correctness”  on our backs, let us examine what the possible secession of Catalonia actually  means and where it could potentially lead.

The right to self determination and to secession in the classical Marxist discussion    

The right to self –determination and political independence  of a people or a nation is always contingent on the autonomy of its specific historical trajectory, its culture and the strength of its national identity[1].  A specific national language  is a typical  dimension  of national culture – albeit not always.   It would be quite  impossible to deny that Catalans possess the above-mentioned characteristics. Nevertheless, national self-determination is not in all cases to be equated with the right of secession.  Secession is a necessary option in the event  that  cultural and political rights of a people  within a multinational state (political rights in  a possible  form  initially of  regional autonomy) are not being respected and cannot be respected. That is to say, in the event that they are continuously  repressed and violated.

The Leninist contribution to the notion of  self-determination of nations  is not a simplistic one, as many  friends and comrades  suppose it to be.  It does not give a metaphysical and pure  answer, a “yes” or no”,  for all possible cases. It examines the specific  characteristics and forms of every single case, and in particular the impacts  of the form of self-determination and of secession on the national and international class struggle[2].  Although Lenin defends the right to secession against the opinion of Rosa Luxemburg , for cases when it  is really needed for the oppressed nation,  he  also indicates the possibility of a chasm existing between the national interest  in secession and the  interests of the proletariat, national or international.  In fact, in the Balkans in particular,  we have a recent  example of that chasm and contradiction : the Kossovo case. The secession of Kossovo from Yugoslavia in 1999  was  the catalyst for a massive  imperialist intervention in the place of the former (then still existing)  Federation of Yugoslavia, giving rise to a totally dependent  horror state. We should also take it into account that the Serbian minority that lived in Kossovo has been to all intents and purposes expelled from it by force. On the other hand the secessionist movement of the Kossovars corresponded entirely to the profile of  a majority political movement, an armed political movement.  To ignore this would lead us to a  false “conspiracy theory” (that it was “constructed” only from above, from  the practices of American imperialism: that the secessionists were  just Albanian/Kossovar   mercenaries of NATO ).  Moreover  the mass-supported cases of Slovenia and Croatia in 1991, triggered by a number of factors  including  the authoritarian practices of  Serbia, led to a catastrophic war that  could have been averted.   So the “majority of the people” consideration,  if we assume that there is a clear majority for independence in Catalonia despite the electoral abstention of half the population on October 1st , implies that one should respect the majority’s right to secede  and deplore the unleashing of state  repression against a majority movement. But do we as Marxists necessarily have to agree with the  political aims of the secession movement  ? And  should we refrain from  our right to criticize  politically it and moderate its propably negative consequences if they  exist?

Catalonia is a historical nation, an absolutely distinct nation from Castille and –to some degree- from the federal Spanish identity. We mean this in a twofold sense.  In the sense of  a modern “bourgeois” nation, associated with the rise of capitalism and the development of modern  industrialism in Catalonia:  Catalans  fought for their political  independence  from Spain during the War of Spanish Succession   (1702-1714) as allies of France,  and again in the 19th Century in order to construct a separate  nation-state or unite with France. The second sense  has to do with  the formation of a pre-capitalist national community (the one  which merged with Castille in the 1490s) prior to the modern era,  as we do not accept the theory that  the nation is something constructed  from scratch by the bourgeois state in modern times without there being a preexisting national community. The modern state of Spain was formed  through the unification of the Kingdom of Castille and  the Kingdom of Aragon (including, then, the modern Catalonia).  For historical reasons (the Francoist dictatorship being one of the most important), the renewal of the Catalan national  identity in the 18th, 19th and the 20th centuries did not lead to  the formation of a separate  national state. Catalonia remained in a status of semi-autonomy,  severely repressed  in periods of clear reaction such as the Francoist dictatorship.

In spite of these factors,  and the Catalan attempts to enlarge the frame of autonomy in the last decades , Catalonia has been  an important , if not decisive, economic and political  partner of the  state of Spain throughout  the last decades of bourgeois democracy. The 1978 constitution has been indeed relatively  centralist constitution, without at the same time excluding  a frame of autonomy for the districts/nationalities.  Although the Catalans’ attempts to minimize the difference between autonomy and independence  have continued (First, Second and Third Statute for Autonomy) , they were rejected by the Constitutional Court of Spain in 2010. Our assessment, when we compare Catalonia to the  case of the Basques (Euskadi), is that the political and even more so the cultural repression by Spain of Catalonia, up until the crisis of the last months, has been  relatively minor.  This is a region where the Catalonian, and only the Catalonian, flag is raised on public buildings, where the Catalonian  language is spoken,  excluding the “federal” language, where there is broad regional autonomy, excepting only financial and fiscal  policies and burdens, and where economic prosperity –in capitalist terms- is by no means negligible. Catalonia accounts for one quarter of  Spanish GDP , and its population is proportionally much  smaller  (16 %).

Real causes and  causes put forward by the supporters of secession   

Given all the above, why is it so vital that Catalonia should secede from Spain and  constitute a separate state ? It is a secession that will possibly be followed by other regional  secessions in Spain and lead to the crippling and possible destruction of the modern Spanish state.  The following is a presentation of the arguments and suggested causes put forward first  and foremost by supporters of independence:

1 Spain,” the existing Spanish State”, as it is characteristically named by the supporters of secession, is a monarchist, antidemocratic, reactionary   post-Francoist state, whereas the future Catalonia will be a totally democratic state. Wrong, and  an arbitrary argument in our opinion. It is an argument supported by conservative liberals, left liberals and anti-capitalist leftists alike. Comparing  contemporary Spain to the other bourgeois democratic  EU states or western democracies in toto, we conclude that it shares with them  the oligarchic decay/degeneration  of capitalist democracies and their transformation into a form of postmodern parliamentary totalitarianism of capital. Saying this does not amount to equating  the state form  with the open  military dictatorship of General Franco, as if it has never been abolished, or with fascism generally. Besides this, exactly what guarantee is there that an independent Catalonia will correspond to any democratic ideal, or to a bourgeois democracy better than that of Spain.  As for the “anti-monarchy”  argument : who really believes that the puppet role of the King in Spain or in Sweden or in the Netherlands  is politically essential to the functioning of a modern  post-industrial capitalist state?

2 Spain, or  ”the Spanish State” is “a Prison of the Peoples”.  This argument, as we perceive it, leads to the destruction of Spain as a whole and not just to the secession of Catalonia. The famous phrase derives from Karl Marx and refers to the role of   Great Russia in the 19th  century vis à vis its “imprisoned” nations (Poland, Finland, Ukraine, etc), guarded by force by the Tsarist police and army.  There is a nation or nationality in Spain for which such designations of oppression might aptly be applied but it is not Catalonia, it is Euskadi.  Before the escalation into the current crisis,  Catalonia was not ruled by  Madrid through any Tsarist-style whip, with tanks and secret police. The picture  created through application of such language to this particular secessionism encourages an emotional identification that evades critical thinking.

3 Buanaventura Durruti, POUM, CNT, the  revolutionary  movement of collectivization in  1936-1937, all the rich experience of the Spanish social revolution, were a Catalan and not a Spanish phenomenon. All this is evidently being  revived by the   contemporary independence movement.   The Catalonia of  George Orwell (“Homage to Catalonia”) or of Franz Borkenau  (“The Spanish Cockpit”)  is said to be the ancestor of the contemporary Catalan movement.  This is a pure myth, to be added to all the others. Contemporary Catalonia  is socially very different from  the revolutionary Catalonia of the 1930s, in terms of  class composition and attitudes to class struggle and as a culture.  Francoist  repression steamrollered that radical  Catalonia for half a century and –to a large extent – crushed   To begin with, the revolution of 1936-1947 did indeed have Catalonia as its center, but it extended over all of Spain. Secondly,  the Catalan capitalist class has always been repressive, not “democratic-liberal”, towards the strong anarcho-syndicalist and Marxist  labor movement  in Catalonia. They  suppressed    the 1909  anarchist workers’ rebellion in Barcelona by force, whereas at the same time  the central  Madrid  government was supporting the anarchists to undermine the Catalan capitalists , its financial  competitors, and their political  demands  for  autonomy or independence [3].   In the period  between 1918 and 1921 , the  rising anarcho-syndicalist  movement  of the CNT  was met by the Catalan industrialists not only with the force of the police and army but also with the force of armed gangs hired by capital (as is eloquently described in the novel  of Paco Ignacio Taibo II “Leonardo’s Bicycle” , 1995, whose subject is the historical  personage Anjel  Pestania).   In the revolutionary period between July 1936 and May 1937, the  Catalan capitalist class, represented by Esquerra  party  president  Luis Companys (of the local Generalitat government) tried to manipulate the CNT and POUM to strengthen the independence perspective, which seemed to be enjoying a period of favor.  Later Companys   allied  himself  with Madrid and the counter-revolutionary bourgeois-democratic- Stalinist  bloc  ( Madrid Democrats-Right Socialists- Stalinist PCE-PSUC Communists ) in order to crush the revolutionary movement, as happened in the 1937 May Days  in Barcelona[4]. It is ridiculous to take advantage of a butchered revolutionary tradition (butchered by Castilian  and Catalan bourgeois forces and by the Stalinist USSR )  to legitimize an entirely different political cause today. It is not only ridiculous but also manipulative. Without the misuse and usurpation of that  radical Catalan tradition of the past how different and how much more radical  would the Catalan independence cause look than the cause of the Lega Lombarda’s “free Lombardy” in Italy or the cause of “free Flanders”  in Belgium?  How much  more supportable?  Isn’ t it a case of the living wearing the dresses of the dead, as Marx formulated  it in his classic work  “The 18th Brumaire of  Louis  Bonaparte ”?

4 There is a strong and possibly majoritarian popular movement in Catalonia  for the cause of independence. It won 92% support in the Memorandum. This is the only true point and cannot be denied. Nobody is entitled to try to face this  popular movement down by force, though the massive abstention in the referendum indicates that the Catalan nation is divided. This existing cruel reality  undoubtedly strengthens the cause of secession at a moral and political level. But does it amount to complete  political legitimation for this movement ? Not in our view.  Not all majoritarian popular  movements are progressive or  work, in reality, towards emancipation.  Let us recall some facts from the  quite recent political    The collapse of “Really Existing Socialism” was also marked  by huge popular movements against  those regimes. We do not believe that those movements were directly  backed or created by western capitalism,  as the Greek Communist Party or other Stalinist organizations typically suggest in the manner of conspiracy theorists.  Nevertheless, the movements of 1988-1991  did not work  in the direction of socialist renovation but in the direction of restoration of classical capitalism. Does it mean that we must condemn the people who protested out of despair due to the authoritarian options of those “non socialist”  societies  or out of illusory faith in the West? No, not at all,  but the people were politically  wrong, even if they weren’t manipulated. Another example :  the  rebellions of the Arab  Spring of 2011-2012 against the old regimes of Arab nationalism. We do not overlook the fact that there were some positive dimensions to these movements and their motives. They were  resisting the authority of non-democratic regimes. Nevertheless, the final  outcome of the Arab Spring was absolute geopolitical chaos and  deep destruction/demolition  of the social and political structures in the whole area,  destruction that was symmetrical to some Western imperialist interests,  more or less.   Unfortunately,  facing a  really difficult situation of social and, partly, ideological defeat in their countries, some organizations and parties of the Left in Europe have tended to seek an  imaginary refuge, an illusory refuge, or even to “construct” it  from the ground up. Such a refuge was once  the “red Moscow” or the more interesting Third World revolutionary movements.  They do not exist anymore ,  with the possible exception of Cuba and Venezuela.   Nowadays, we search for a substitute  for the “lost Paradise”. Radical Catalonia seems to be a “revolutionary refuge” once more.

Let us attempt an approach to the real causes of the Catalonia case, the hidden and material ones.

The first  has to do with the  significant financial and industrial power of  capitalist Catalonia, its important  contribution to the Spanish GDP and other indicators.  It produces more than 20 % of the Spanish GDP.  The exports from Catalonia  amount to one quarter of the total for Spain as a whole. Foreign investments in Catalonia are more than one quarter of the investments in all of Spain.  It is also linked to regional inequalities and conflicts and to forms of uneven development in Spain. Catalonia contributes  €11.8 billion more to the overall   Spanish budget than it receives from it ( source : ” Washington Post”, 10.2017). So, it is obvious that the Catalan capitalist class will be  trying to negotiate a niche for itself, above all a financial niche, inside or outside of the Spanish framework.  The present position of the EU leadership vis à vis membership of an independent Catalonia in the EU  is not favourable. The EU has for the moment   other problems to solve. It  does not exclude the possibility of later negotiation if the Catalan  experiment proceeds successfully. One deeper factor behind the relation of Catalan  independence to the EU lies in the EU’s so-called “regionalization” policies,  which amount to an attempt to connect  the central apparatus of the EU with regions in the member states, bypassing existing national or multinational state structures.  In our assessment the position of the Catalan ruling class is similar in many ways to that of the élites in federal  or  multinational states who do not like to share their privileged status with other poorer nations or regions within the same state structure.  Scotland might be another case in the future. This  behavior is not essentially different from the Slovenian or Croatian position in the period between 1988 and 1995. The bloodless Slovenian secession in particular is said to have had an   important influence on the Catalans.   The demand for more economic  power is thus dressed up and legitimated through the respectable notion of democratic  self-determination.

The second  factor has to do with the more or less arbitrary reconstruction of cultural or historical  identities in the postmodern era.   Struggles and situations of the past are revived  in order to disguise modern needs and strategies. People whose mentality is in no way different from that of the everyday petty bourgeois may imagine themselves to be the heirs of Durruti or Che Guevara.  This illusion does not exclude the possibility that many of the demonstrating Catalans may really feel that they are continuing –in one way or the other -the radical and democratic  traditions and experiences  of  past ages.  The political  élite of the country has an interest in fostering this imaginary association, as it provides practical support for its aims.   One might imagine that even this form of consciousness (of “remembering” and acting) could have radical consequences.  This  –unfortunately- is not the case. The radicalism of the past is not transmuted into a radicalism of the present. The coalition for independence  neither has a “progressive” or left radical social and economic programme, nor does it present an alternative agenda on major democratic issues  (abolition of the authoritarian anti-terrorism legislation of Spain, different policies towards refugees, etc.) The basic  social and economic effect of independence   on the class struggle will be the weakening  and division of the Spanish-Catalan  working class and its henceforth weaker resistance to capitalist aggression (this a correct assumption of the Communist Party of the Peoples of Spain).

Our Left, the Greek Left, is divided on the subject of the national and anti-imperialist  questions. For example, some organizations (of the “internationalist tendency”) believe that Memoranda policies are merely an internal  class matter and have nothing to do with national  sovereignty or  national independence. The term ”national” is thought simply to imply  nationalism.  Other organizations (of the “left patriotic tendency”) believe that Greece has an outstanding  national problem in the face of EU imperialism  interacting with class-motivated austerity.  As regards the Catalonia problem,  there is a certain logical contradiction. The Trotskyist organizations (which of course are part of the first-mentioned tendency) reject all  arguments mentioning  national oppression when it comes to Greece. But they are all against national oppression and for  national liberation when the subject is Catalonia. So, the national identity of Catalonia is by definition radical whereas  the national identity of Greece is by definition reactionary. The inconsistency is obvious.

Geopolitical effects of possible Catalan secession         

The  Left in Greece[5] continues  a tradition of neglecting or ignoring geopolitical problems : they are thought to be “bourgeois” or simply to reflect  intercapitalist contradictions.  We do not share this view. Although the Merkel-Macron coalition is trying to slow it down,  the financial and institutional crisis of the EU appears to be deepening.  It is not impossible that it will lead to destabilization  of member states , whether  encouraged from ”below” or from ”above”.

Already, Britain’s exit from the EU is making the  EU territorially and financially  weaker.  On the other hand, under the failing German hegemony of the EU, regional contradictions and conflicts within the architecture of the EU or inside the member states  are growing sharper.  Given these conditions it is probable that existing  member states will either leave the EU (which, counterfactually, might prove  to be positive if the exit is combined with an alternative social and economic program) or that existing states of the EU will break up  as the regions try to change the equilibrium of profits and losses  inside the formerly united state ( a negative counterfactual that could lead  to  aggressive nationalisms  and divisions within the laboring classes and the popular classes  of every divided state).

The subject of political violence should also not be underestimated.  Is has already appeared and it can escalate. If the Catalan government does not back down and finally declares  independence , it will have to establish its own monopoly of legal power (to employ the  terminology of Max Weber) and overthrow the Spanish monopoly  of violence on its own soil.  If Madrid  accepts this fact, it is possible that other regions will attempt to leave Spain, so that Spain will soon be abolished as a state, as the former USSR or Yugoslavia were. If Madrid  continues to reject  Catalan independence, citing article 155  of its Constitution and dissolving  Catalonia as an autonomous region,   this  may lead to a violent outcome.   So we cannot exclude an evolution of civil unrest and war and international intervention by major states , which  will or not recognize the formation of  new state in Europe. Independence would then be the prelude to  a major European crisis. The supporters of independence do not appear to be taking such possible developments into account.

There is one other Left position that favors Catalonian independence. The EU, as  we all agree, is a reactionary neoliberal union. Secessions from member states  of the EU are conducive to the destruction of the EU as a system. They  constitute, in Leninist terminology, “breaks of the weaker  links in the imperialist chain”. This school of thought , which sees the breakup of existing  states as a way of breaking up the EU could, logically, lead to monstrous results. A world war could also bring about the destruction of the EU but we would not favor it for that reason. We are currently living through the potential first acts of an international war crisis, and even of a world war (starting in Korea?). Should we encourage developments that might accelerate the course to war?  Unfortunately, we, who belong to the  political tradition of the Greek and the international Left, do not lack only correct understanding of the present developments. We also lack historical imagination, even as it may pertain to the immediate future.

Dimitris Bellantis, an ex-member of the Central Committee of SYRIZA, is a lawyer and political theorist.


[1] Among many  contributions:  Otto Bauer “Social Democracy and the Nationalities’ Question”, 1907.

[2] . V.I. Lenin “The Right of Nations to  Self-Determination” (1916), Chapter 4. “Practicality” in the National Question, in www.marxists.org, Lenin Archive.  “In either case ( secession or equality with the other nation) the important thing for the proletariat  is to ensure the development of its class.” Also see footnote 1 to Chapter 10 ( Conclusion) : “Recognition of the right to divorce does not preclude agitation against a particular case of  divorce”.

[3] Gerald Brennan “The Spanish Labyrinth“, Cambridge  1943, Reprint 1988, pp. 117-136.   

[4]  P.Broue, E. Temime “Revolution and Civil War in Spain 1936-1939” (1971) , 2006. Haymarket Books, pp 265-280, 281-295, concerning the violent break-up of the democratic coalition in Barcelona in May 1937. 

[5] We do not include  the governing SYRIZA  party in the Greek Left  after its total  neoliberal and “neocolonial”  turn of summer 2015. 

The Calm Before the Storm

Counterpunch - 19 hours 30 min ago

Every time Donald Trump blurts or tweets a shocker — “maybe it’s the calm before the storm,” for instance — questions flood the media.

Is he serious? What did he mean? Yes, of course, but beyond these, larger questions hover half-asked, cutting into the soul of who we are. This is painful, but not necessarily a bad thing. For me, one question that keeps emerging is: What is the relationship between Trump and the military-political system he stepped into?

That is to say, is he furthering its covert agenda (creating the conditions for more war) or, contrarily, exposing it for what it is?

Or both?

Back in February, for instance, Trump the pugnacious 14-year-old told a Reuters reporter:  “I am the first one that would like to see . . . nobody have nukes, but we’re never going to fall behind any country even if it’s a friendly country, we’re never going to fall behind on nuclear power. It would be wonderful, a dream would be that no country would have nukes, but if countries are going to have nukes, we’re going to be at the top of the pack.”

America, America! It’s at the top of the pack, man. Trump puts what’s really going on into the language of the playground, delighting his base (a third of the country) and convulsing pretty much everyone else. Of course, what’s really going on is more than just bully blather. With Trump at the helm, the United States of America, the planet’s premier superpower, is putting the planet, in the words of Republican Sen. Bob Corker, “on the path to World War Three.”

We were on that path anyway, just with more dignity and decorum. And more ambivalence. As the U.S. prepared for war it also negotiated peace: in particular, the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, which Trump wants to decertify. Most security experts have hailed the agreement as a remarkable achievement, halting Iran’s nuclear weapons development, curtailing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, easing tensions with the U.S. and helping establish an international framework for creating peace.

The foreign policy establishment remains wary of Iran and considers the agreement flawed, but nonetheless crucial. Which Iran, former CIA analyst Paul Pillar asked recently, is most likely to act with destabilizing aggressiveness?

“Is it an Iran,” he wrote, “that is being reintegrated into the community of nations, that sees material benefit from negotiating restrictions on itself and then scrupulously observing those restrictions, and sees the opportunity for gaining more respectability and influence as long as it plays by the international community’s rules? Or is it an Iran that is kept isolated and punished, sees any significant agreement that it does negotiate get destroyed or reneged upon by other parties, that is the target of unending confrontation and hostility, and that is treated forever as a pariah? The answer should be obvious.”

Creating peace is a complex process — and this, unfortunately, is not always obvious. The point Pillar and others are making in support of the 2015 agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, is that trying to punish and dominate our enemies tends to create results that are the opposite of what we want, or claim to want.

The idea that enemies are permanent, which is how a segment of the U.S. foreign policy establishment regards Iran, hardens our national commitment to militarism. Listening to countries with whom we are at odds — working with them, finding power in solidarity with them rather than threatening to annihilate them — calls militarism into question.

We live with and build national policy around the compromise between these two ways of being in the world. Thus, even in an agreement as mutually beneficial as the JCPOA, the U.S. maintains a state of assumed dominance: Iran has to stop its nuclear weapons development. But the nuclear arsenals of the United States and the agreement’s other signatories, which include China, France, Russia and the United Kingdom, are not under discussion. The unspoken assumption, it seems, is that some nukes are necessary, and some countries must remain in possession of them.

All of which brings Trump’s “top of the nuclear pack” comment back into the conversation. Dominating the world, especially by possessing the most weapons of mass destruction, is by far the simplest way to understand power, and there are enormous interests in the U.S. that revere — and most importantly, benefit from — the domination outlook. Trump both promotes this agenda and exposes it to the world.

Indeed: “. . . recently we hear (an) alarming announcement by a nuclear-weapon state that it intends to continuously strengthen and expand its nuclear arsenal to ensure its place ‘at the top of the pack.’”

The words are those of Abbas Araghchi, Iran’s deputy foreign minister, speaking at the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 26, the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, who warned that the United States — which he referred to as “a certain nuclear-weapon state” — was not only modernizing its nuclear arsenal but developing low-yield, which means, my God, ‘usable’ nuclear weapons, and thus launching a new, global nuclear arms race.

This project, part of a trillion-dollar planned ‘upgrade’ of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, began during the Obama, not the Trump, administration.

But now the world has President Trump, commander-by-impulse and reckless reality-TV host with the power to launch war. He wants to decertify the Iran deal and declare it not to be in the country’s interests. Is he exposing the final phase of an international politics based on military dominance?

Here’s another question he forces us to ask: How is universal nuclear disarmament possible without a nuclear-armed, external force imposing it? This is not just a question to be pondered by the 122 nations that recently voted in favor of the U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Those who boycotted the vote hold the answer.

Smugglers offer new routes to Europe for jobless Tunisians

Top Reuters News - 19 hours 34 min ago
OFF THE TUNISIAN COAST (Reuters) - Tunisian smugglers are offering migrants seeking a fresh start in Europe a new route from Africa to Italy.

U.S. wants evidence over detained staff to end Turkey visa dispute

Top Reuters News - 19 hours 40 min ago
ANKARA (Reuters) - A U.S. delegation has asked Turkey for information and evidence regarding consular staff whose detention has led to a diplomatic rift and suspension of visa services, private HaberTurk television channel reported on Wednesday.