Saturday, November 19, 2016

Silencing the Call to Prayer: "Sound Pollution" and Unsound Reasoning in Occupied Palestine

Praying for Freedom: Why Is Israel Silencing the Call for Prayer in Jerusalem?

by Ramzy Baroud


November 17, 2016 

As I was growing up, I was always reassured by the sound of the ‘Muadhin’ making the call for prayer in our refugee camp’s main mosque in Gaza.

Whenever I heard the call very early in the morning, announcing in a melodic voice that the time for the ‘Fajr’ (dawn) prayer was upon us, I knew it was safe to go to sleep.

Of course, the call for prayer in Islam, like the sound of church bells ringing, carries a deep religious and spiritual meaning, as it has, five times a day, for the last 15 centuries, uninterrupted. But, in Palestine, such religious traditions also carry a deep, symbolic meaning.

For the refugees in my camp, the dawn prayer meant that the Israeli army had departed the camp, ending their terrifying and violent nightly raids, leaving the refugees behind, either mourning their dead, wounded or detained, and freeing the ‘Muadhin’ to open the mosque’s old, rusty doors, and announce to the faithful that a new day had arrived.

It was almost impossible to go to sleep during those days of the First Palestinian Uprising, when collective punishment of Palestinian communities throughout the Occupied Territories crossed every tolerable line.

That was before the mosque in our camp - the Nuseirat Refugee Camp in central Gaza Strip - was raided, along with other mosques, and the Imam was arrested. When the mosque’s doors were sealed shut by orders from the army, ordinary people climbed to the roofs of their homes during the military curfew and announced the call for prayer, anyway.

Even our ‘communist’ neighbor did - a man, we were told, who had never stepped foot inside a mosque all of his life!

It was no longer just a religious matter but an act of collective defiance, proving that even orders from the army would not silence the voice of the people.

The call for prayer meant continuity; survival; rebirth; hope and layer-upon-layer of meanings that was never truly understood, but always feared by the Israeli army.

The onslaught on the mosques never ended.

According to government and media reports, a third of Gaza's mosques were destroyed in the 2014 Israeli war on the Strip. 73 mosques were entirely destroyed by missiles and bombs and 205 were partially demolished. This includes Al-Omari Mosque in Gaza, which dates back to 649 AD.

It also includes the main mosque of Nuseirat, where the call for prayer throughout my childhood gave me enough peace and calm to go to sleep.

Now, Israel is trying to ban the call for prayer in various Palestinian communities, starting in Occupied East Jerusalem.

The ban came only a few weeks after the United Nations culture and education organization, UNESCO, had passed two resolutions condemning Israel's illegal practices in the occupied Arab city.
UNESCO demanded that Israel ceases such practices, which violate international law and attempt to alter the status quo of a city that is central to all monotheistic religions.

After staging an unsuccessful campaign to counter the UN’s effort, going as far as accusing the international institution of anti-Semitism, Israeli officials are now carrying out punitive measures: collectively punishing the non-Jewish residents of Jerusalem for UNESCO's verdicts.

This includes the construction of yet more illegal Jewish homes, the threat to demolish thousands of Arab homes, and, as of late, restricting the call for prayer in various mosques.

It all began on November 3, when a small crowd of settlers from the illegal settlement of Pisgat Zeev gathered in front of the home of Israeli Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barakat. They demanded that the government ends the 'noise pollution', emanating from the city's mosques.

The ‘noise pollution’- referred to as such by mostly European settlers who arrived in Palestine only recently - are the calls for prayer that have been made in that city since 637 AD, when Caliph Umar entered the city and ordered the respect of all of its inhabitants, regardless of their religious beliefs.

The Israeli mayor readily and immediately obliged. Wasting no time, Israeli soldiers began raiding mosques, including al-Rahman, al-Taybeh and al-Jamia Mosques in the Jerusalem town of Abu Dis.

"Military officials arrived before dawn to inform the muezzins, the men responsible for the call to prayer through the mosques’ public announcement speakers, of the ban and barred local Muslims from reaching the places of worship," reported International Business Times, citing Ma’an and other media.

Praying five times a day is the second of the five main pillar in Islam, and the call for prayer is the summoning of Muslims to fulfill such a duty. It is also an essential part of Jerusalem’s intrinsic identity where church bells and mosques’ call to prayer often interweave into a harmonic reminder that coexistence is a real possibility.

But no such coexistence is possible with the Israeli army, government and mayor of the city treating Occupied Jerusalem as a platform for political vengeance and collective punishment.

Banning the call for prayer is merely a reminder of Israel's domination over the wounded Holy City, and a message that Israel's control exceeds that of tangible existence, into every other sphere.

Israel’s version of settler colonialism is almost unprecedented. It does not simply seek control, but complete supremacy.

When the mosque in my former refugee camp was destroyed, and soon after a few bodies were pulled out from underneath the wreckage to be buried, the camp’s residents prayed atop and around the rubble. This practice was replicated elsewhere in Gaza, not just during the last war, but the previous ones as well.

In Jerusalem, when Palestinians are prevented from reaching their holy places, they often amass behind Israeli army checkpoints and pray. That, too, has been a practice witnessed for nearly fifty years, since Jerusalem fell to the Israeli army.

No amount of coercion and court orders is likely to ever reverse this.

While Israel has the power to detain imams, demolish mosques and prevent calls for prayer, Palestinian faith has displayed far more impressive strength, for, somehow, Jerusalem never ceased calling upon its faithful, and the latter never ceased praying. For freedom, and for peace.

- Dr. Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His books include “Searching Jenin”, “The Second Palestinian Intifada” and his latest “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story”. His website is www.ramzybaroud.net.

Donald and the Pivot

The Ghost at the Abe-Trump Banquet: Nobusuke Kishi

by Peter Lee - China Matters


November 17, 2016  

Understandably, a lot of the coverage analyzing the impact of Trump on Japan has emphasized the negative: Trump is a trade-war guy, he wants Japan to pay more for bases, he’d be happy to stand aside as Japan slugged it out in some military encounter with North Korea, he’s pulled the plug on TPP…

Ooh baby...

Quite a long list. And Prime Minister Abe hurried to New York to reaffirm the relationship and hopefully mitigate some of the awful things Donald Trump has promised to do to Japan.

Abe's takeaway from the November 17 meeting with Trump was "as an outcome of today’s discussion I am convinced Mr. Trump is a leader with whom I can have great confidence in."

In my most recent piece for Asia Times, And the Winner of the US Election is…Shinzo Abe? I take a contrarian view: that Trumpismo--and the virtual demise of the TPP (in its present form, maybe! but never say never! Read the piece!) is a long-expected and, in some fundamental way, welcome development for Japan when it comes to Japan edging aside the United States as the indispensable nation in Asian trade diplomacy.

Here I'll focus on the military dimension of the U.S.-Japan relationship, illustrated by the parallel experiences of Prime Minister Abe and his grandfather, Prime Minister Nobosuke Kishi.

Japan—and Abe—have been preparing for the moment that the United States would kick Japan to the curb since at least 1971-72, when Nixon screwed Japan royally with the Plaza Accord and PRC recognition.

And Abe’s been anticipating that moment, since his stated ambition is to re-establish Japan as a “normal” nation, freed from the shackles of the peace constitution imposed by the United States and one that completely controls its national and global destiny.

Trump's stated disdain for the structures of the post-war US-Japanese alliance gives Abe the space, indeed the imperative to pursue that dream.

Japan isn’t quite “normal” yet, but via the Cabinet’s reinterpretation of the Peace Constitution and the passage of legislation redefining and enabling collective self defense in 2015, the road to Japanese power projection outside its borders and territorial waters, though winding and narrow, has been blazed.

Well, maybe not too winding and narrow. The very fact that the legislation was a hopeless farrago of amendments (heroic attempt to explain the law here, thanks to the US Naval War College) to existing policies probably created holes big enough for a Komatsu bulldozer to drive through, if the political will exists.

Most of the debate related to “collective self defense” i.e. incrementally enhancing Japan’s ability to join U.S. military operations not directly involved in defense of the Japanese homeland. Though much lusted for by US pivoteers, this revision carefully avoided permitting Japan’s front line military participation in whatever mischief the US cooked up.

However, the “Peace and Security Preservation Legislation” also redefined unilateral Japanese use of force through military action outside its borders “when an armed attack against a foreign country that is in a close relationship with Japan occurs and as a result threatens Japan’s survival and poses a clear danger to fundamentally overturn people’s right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” according to a ‘splainer provided by Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Enabling unilateral Japanese overseas military operations is the permanent takeaway from constitutional re-interpretation, no matter what the US does or doesn’t do in Asia.

For Abe, there’s a personal element in his struggle to redefine Japan’s military role, thanks to his bloodlines in the right wing Japanese elite, specifically his grandfather, Nobosuke Kishi, illustrated by the striking parallels between Abe's quest to push through the security legislation in 2015 and his grandfather's epic struggle to renew the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty in 1960.

There’s even some pop-psych mumbo-jumbo involved, as this fascinating piece on the timing of the votes on the security legislation from Nikkei indicates:

July 15 [2015; the date the Diet House of Representatives approved Abe’s security bills] was an important date for Nobusuke Kishi, Abe's grandfather and a former Japanese prime minister. Fifty-five years ago to the day, Kishi's cabinet was forced to resign amid mounting public opposition over the renewal of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty.

There's more than LDP astrology at work. Kishi's experiences are cited by Abe himself as a shaping influence. Here's a family snap of the two:







 
In his autobiography, Abe claims that, despite being only six years old, he remembered the traumatic days of 1960:

Abe, in his book, "Utsukushii Kuni-e" ("Toward a Beautiful Country"), recounts his childhood memory of June 18, 1960, the day before the new security pact was passed. Protesters surrounded the parliament building, and Kishi was trapped inside the prime minister's official residence. According to Abe's recollection, Kishi was drinking wine with Eisaku Sato, Kishi's younger brother who later became a prime minister himself, when he said, "I know I am not wrong. If I am going to be killed over this, so be it."

Renewing the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty over massive popular opposition was a transformative moment in Japanese history and for Kishi himself. It represented a major step in the restoration of the prestige and power of the pre-war conservative elite after it had been broken and discredited by the war and the occupation.

Similar, in fact, that the breakthrough Abe achieved in 2015.

Abe now finds himself in the same circumstances as his grandfather did 55 years ago: pushing his vision of Japanese transformation within the context of an overbearing U.S. presence that is at the same time welcomed and resented.

Fortunately for Abe, though beset with demonstrators inside and outside the Diet, he was not driven to the extremity of calling in the police to literally carry incensed opposition lawmakers out of the chamber, four cops per legislator, as his grandfather did to force through the vote, thereby earning Kishi the profound hatred and contempt of a generation of Japanese leftists as a Showa militarist retread.

Indeed in 1960 the outrage in Japan at the treaty was so great and the demonstrations so massive that Eisenhower’s envoy trying to make it into town from Haneda was trapped in his limo and had to be rescued by a Marine helicopter.





 

Understandably, Ike’s visit to Japan to celebrate ratification of the treaty was canceled.

Also fortunately for Abe, he also did not have to endure a subsequent assassination attempt by a disgruntled right-winger, as Kishi did. For historical/morbid interest, here is the archival raw Pathe footage of Kishi being rushed to the hospital as his assailant is detained. Also bloodsplatter. Pathe camerapeople were really on the ball:







The parallels between Abe and Kishi--their circumstances, their outlooks, and their challenges--are striking and significant and go beyond their shared experiences in enacting unpopular security legislation. Kishi’s special relationship with the United States—and his pivotal role in shaping the Japan-US military partnership—offer other interesting perspectives on the actions of his grandson.

Kishi was more than the postwar shepherd of the LDP’s alliance with the United States. He had been a key cog in the Imperial war machine and became a vital pillar of American policy in Japan after the war.

Kishi averted prosecution as a war criminal because…well, I will outsource this part of the discussion to a lengthy quote from Sterling and Peggy Seagraves’ Gold Warriors.

In 1956…the Eisenhower administration labored long and hard to install Kishi as head of the…Liberal-Democratic Party and as Japan’s new prime minister. This was the same Kishi who had been a member of the hard core ruling clique in Manchuria with General Tojo Hideki…Kishi had also signed Japan’s Declaration of War against America in December 1941…During World War II he was vice minister of munitions and minister of commerce and industry, actively involved in slave labor…Following Japan’s surrender, he was one of the most prominent indicted war criminals…[pg. 122. Seagraves wrong on a point here: Kishi was accused and detained as a Class A war criminal for “crimes against peace” i.e. plotting war, but never formally indicted]

The Seagraves stipulate that Kishi was sprung from prison thanks to a deal brokered by the Japanese underworld to hand over looted war gold to the U.S. as a massive off-the-books slush fund in return for gentle treatment of Japan’s elite by the occupation. I’m not going to dismiss that allegation. Dig up a copy of Gold Warriors and judge for yourself.

Anyway, Kishi somehow did avoid prosecution and became the core of America’s preferred ruling party in Japan, the LDP. Continuing with the Seagraves’ account (which draws heavily on the writings of Michael Schaller):

For ten years, Kishi was groomed as America’s boy…[The American Council for Japan] worked tirelessly to improve Kishi’s mousy image, tutored him in English, and taught him to love Scotch. To them, Kishi was America’s ‘only bet left in Japan’ [Schaller attributes this quote to John Foster Dulles].

Kishi’s key attraction to the U.S. was, of course, his pro-U.S. tilt. In a piece posted on Chalmers Johnson's JPRI website, Schaller writes:

Kishi reasserted his loyalty to America's Cold War strategy, pledging to limit contact with China and, instead, to focus Japanese economic attention on exports to the United States and mutual development of Southeast Asia.

Hmm. Sounds rather...Abe-esque, doesn't it? Pivoty, perhaps?

Finally, after much struggle and expense, Kishi became Prime Minister in 1957. According to the Seagraves, during his term the CIA paid the LDP $10 million a year from the slush fund, known as the M-Fund, to help it secure its political fortunes.

Then, in order to gain Kishi’s support for the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty—the one referred to above, the one that was so unpopular Kishi was eventually forced to resign—the Seagraves allege that the U.S. government transferred control of the M-Fund to Kishi—personally.

The Seagraves, apparently working off an investigative memorandum by Norbert Schlei (long story) allege Richard Nixon, charged with the task of negotiating the new treaty, gave up the fund in return for unspecified assistance in his unsuccessful presidential run in 1960. I have a hard time wrapping my head around that, but in any case, for whatever reason, it appears that the M-Fund a) did exist and b) control over it did pass from the CIA and into the hands of Kishi and the LDP, kicking off a spectacular and perhaps ongoing carnival of corruption at the highest level of Japanese politics.

The Seagraves allege that Kishi helped himself to 10% of the fund, a not inconsiderable $3 billion in 1960s dollars, and established himself as the LDP’s kingmaker for the rest of his life.

Writing in 1991, Schlei further alleged that, thanks primarily to the energetic activities of bag man & subsequent Prime Minister and trafficker in Lockheed peanuts Kakuei Tanaka (who helped himself to $10 billion dollars from the fund, according to Schlei), the M-Fund had grown to $500 billion.

The links between the United States and the LDP--which Abe now, of course, heads--are long, deep, and dark, and designed to survive the vagaries of national elections. Abe is a key custodian of that relationship.

Again, Kishi was rather Abe-esque in ramming through an unpopular security bill that above all else pleased the United States enormously.

As to the geopolitical implications of the 1960 security treaty, it permitted the US a massive and permanent military presence in a state that, along other political axes, was increasingly a “normal” sovereign state i.e. a state that was in danger of wandering off in pursuit of an independent or non-aligned foreign policy. This was not a trivial concern in the 1950s, when Japanese public opinion was largely pacifist, leaning toward a non-aligned foreign policy, and not particularly interested in signing on as America's Cold War partner in Asia.

Per Schaller, Uncle Sam was pretty pleased with Kishi's work, and his determination to push the massively unpopular treaty through the Diet:

During the next 18 months Kishi collaborated closely with Ambassador MacArthur in revising the security treat. The U.S. agreed to scrap many of the most unpopular elements of the 1951 pact in return for the right to retain air, naval, repair, and logistic facilities in Japan--along with a secret protocol preserving the right to move nuclear weapons "through" Japan. The importance of these bases, and those in Okinawa, became abundantly clear during the Vietnam war.

Given the current rumpus over media "normalization" of Donald Trump, it is interesting to consider how the U.S. press treated a guy who had literally signed a declaration of war against the United States:

In January 1960, Prime Minister Kishi flew to Washington to sign a revised mutual security treaty. President Eisenhower welcomed him warmly and the America press lavished effusive praise on the visitor, barely mentioning the demonstrations against him and the treaty when he left Tokyo. Time magazine graced its January 25, 1960 cover with a portrait of a smiling Kishi against a background of humming industry. The prime minister's "134 pound body,", Time noted, "packed pride, power and passion--a perfect embodiment of his country's amazing resurgence." Newsweek trumpeted the arrival of a "Friendly, Savy [sic], Salemsan from Japan." The revised treaty, along with the ubiquitous Sony transistor radios shipped to America, Newsweek explained, symbolized the U.S. alliance with the "economic powerhouse of Asia."

Here's that Time cover:







America was on hand to encourage Japanese re-militarization even to levels that were then, and have remained for half a century, politically unattainable. A fascinating webpage at MIT commemorating Hamaya Hiroshi's photojournalism of the “Anpo” opposition movement to the Treaty tells us:

[T]he preamble to the treaty voiced the “expectation” that Japan would assume more responsibility for its own defense, meaning in effect that article nine of the constitution would have to be amended or worked around. At the time of the signing, American officials foresaw Japan creating an army of 325,000 to 350,000 within three years. [emphasis added]

For perspective, 50 years later, the JSF still has not gotten there. As of 2015, JSF claimed 247,000 active and 56,000 reserve personnel.

Here's another family portrait that's too good to pass up: Kishi in 1957 with his two grandchildren in American rootin' tootin' Injun garb he brought back from his trip to Washington. Shinzo Abe's on the right.







 
Abe recapitulated his grandfather's close ties to the United States, specifically to the yippy-ki-yay neo-con anti-China wing of the Republican Party. It is little remembered except, I suppose, by me, Dick Cheney, and the Hudson Institute (where Cheney major-domo Scooter Libby still holds a sinecure and Abe speaks on occasion) that Abe, in his first, doomed prime ministership, endorsed Cheney's strategy of a "Asia Democratic Security Diamond" (Japan, India, Australia, and the United States) a.k.a. China containment structure at the time it (and Vice President Cheney) were very unpopular inside the Bush White House.

Now, of course, Abe's Japan is a mainstay of the U.S. pivot to Asia and, as I discuss in my Asia Times article, the keeper of the TPP flame even though it's been doused for now in the United States and many of the other signatory countries.

It is, however, simplistic to characterize Kishi (or Abe) simply as a collaborator doing America’s bidding in Japan. Understanding, appreciating, and exploiting the undeniable reality of American power after it has crushed his nation doesn’t necessarily imply a repudiation of national dreams, nationalism, or for that matter even anti-American national ideology.

Kishi was a defiant scion of a samurai family and Japanese imperialist who rejected the idea of Japan as a pacifist ward of the United States. In Kishi’s eyes, the 1960 treaty was a blow against American occupation. In his own words:

Under the old security treaty, America was the overwhelmingly dominant party. Since Japan did nothing for its own defense, the US military was essentially occupying the whole of Japan, even though the Allied occupation was officially over. As long as that situation persisted, Japan-US relations could not be said to rest on a rational foundation. That’s why a change was absolutely necessary.

With this perspective, Kishi's success in winning control over the M-Fund looks like another step in his quest for Japanese national and military self-determination.

Presumably President Eisenhower needed to be told something to explain the alienation of the M-Fund billions and the official reason, interestingly enough, according to Schlei was the need for Japan to have direct and expeditious access to black funding to evade constitutional restrictions “in case of war”:

[T]he ostensible reason for ceding control of the Fund to Japan was Japan's need for an emergency source of funds in the event that war should break out. In such an eventuality, Japan would be especially vulnerable because its constitutional prohibition on military force would severely hamper financial preparation for defense. In order to make the Fund and even better source of defense funds in time of need, the Japanese negotiatiors agreed that after the Fund was released to Japanese control, they would add substantially to the amount of the Fund.

In other words, it seems that with Japan not ready to revise the constitution as a reciprocal treaty and become a formal full-fledged security partner, Kishi sold the United States on the idea of obtaining control over a huge pile of black money (which he may have regarded as rightfully Japan's in the first place) so he would be able to develop Japan’s military capabilities “off the books”.

By his lights, then, Kishi was fighting a two-front war against domestic pacifism and American hegemony, and restoring Japanese independence as a nation and, potentially, as a security power in the process.

Abe sees himself as heir to that struggle, according to an article in Japan Times:

Amending the Constitution was Kishi’s long-standing political aim. His grandson, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, now views it as his to complete...Kishi believed that early Allied Occupation policy was aimed at snuffing out the patriotism of the Japanese people...Abe appears to bear similar resentment toward the Constitution, although as prime minister he is unlikely to express this publicly.

In this context, it’s good to understand Abe's core political and personal identity as a historical revisionist, i.e. a member of the robust right-wing contingent in Japanese politics that believes the key precipitating factor in the Pacific War was a US act of aggression, the economic blockade, and that Japan subsequently was unfairly subjected to “victor’s justice” and imposition of the onerous pacifist constitution…and unjust persecution of patriots like his grandfather.

I wrote at length about Japanese historical revisionism concerning World War II over at Japan Focus, particularly in the context of revisionists’ love for Indian jurist Radhabinod Pal, who wrote a massive dissent to the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal decision—the Tribunal that would have tried and sentenced Kishi if he had not been somehow plucked from Sugamo Prison.

The Pal dissent is a cornerstone of the Abe’s narrative of the injustice meted out to Japan’s leaders, as can be seen from this Telegraph report of the aftermath of the LDP’s victory at the polls in 2012:

"The view of that great war was not formed by the Japanese themselves, but rather by the victorious Allies, and it is by their judgment only that [Japanese] were condemned," Mr Abe told a meeting of the House of Representatives Budget Committee on Tuesday.

In his previous short-lived spell as prime minister, for 12 months from September 2006, Mr Abe said that the 28 Japanese military and political leaders charged with Class-A war crimes are "not war criminals under the laws of Japan."

Prime Minister Abe made a pilgrimage to Kolkata in 2007 to meet with Pal’s son and receive two pictures of Pal with Kishi. The photos were taken in 1966, when Pal journeyed to Tokyo to receive Japan’s highest civilian order, ‘The First Order of Sacred Treasure’.




 

According to The Hindu:

“The people of Japan love Radhabinod Pal [1886-1967] and still hold him in the highest esteem,” Mr. Abe reportedly told the son of the lone member of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East to have found not guilty all those accused in the famous Tokyo War Crimes Trial (1946-48).

In an interesting sidebar concerning the theme of Abe’s apparent fetish with anniversaries that kicked off this piece, there’s this:

“The Prime Minister told me that the new generation in Japan knew little about my father but they might have got to learn of him after a documentary on him shot by a government agency was telecast in that country on August 14,” Mr. Pal said.

“The day of the telecast marked the 62nd anniversary of the Japanese Army deciding that far too many innocent lives had been lost on the two occasions atom bombs were dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9 [in 1945] to fight on in the Second World War. A day later the Japanese surrendered,” Mr. Pal recalled.

Finally, to understand Abe’s relationship with his American patron, consider this concluding remark by Schaller:

In 1960, as soon as the new treaty became effective, the United States withdrew its support from Kishi--who now seemed like damaged goods.

I would think that Abe has internalized the lessons of how to please the United States through an anti-China tilt and cooperation with the US military.

But he probably also remembers that the United States, though it protected, promoted, and enriched his grandfather, ultimately abandoned him.

When America turns away, Japan has to be ready to stand up.

With the election of Donald Trump, that day has approached with alarming speed. But Abe has devoted his political life to preparing for it.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Hillary Haunting Yet Across the Styx

Dirges for the Living Dead

by David Yearsley - CounterPunch


November 18, 2016

At any political funeral, especially one as sorrowful and grandiose as Hillary’s ongoing obsequies, there will inevitably be abundant tears and cathartic sighs, long faces and stiff upper lips, doleful homilies and respectful postmortems.

As Martin Luther observed five hundred years ago when he abolished Purgatory and with it a crucial fundraising source of the Catholic church, such posthumous rituals are for the living not for the dead.

This past week Hillary’s shade did emerge briefly from the coffin prepared for her by the DNC to haunt a Children’s Defense Fund event in Washington, DC. That ethereal presence in blue, did not cry or gnash teeth, nor show any signs of transfiguration. The terror of political death had not changed her. She promised to fight on for the kids from the far side of the Styx and the Potomac.

Even if somber disbelief mixed with anger continues to oppress her mourners, there will be some, at virtually every burial, who rejoice. In the past ten days there has been plenty weeping and wailing, countless bungled autopsies, and, on Fox News and in Trump Tower, abundant gloating.

One thing you don’t get at political funerals, however, is music. The city protests and college walkouts of recent days have been mostly muted affairs, tuneless and dour. Nowhere to be heard was a fitting funeral march like that from Beethoven’s third or seventh symphony; no one went to the piano to rehearse Chopin’s famed dirge. The widower Bill Clinton did not unsheath his saxophone, the instrument that had marked the beginning of Clinton Time back in 1992 and by rights should have intoned its expiry.

In search of a musical eulogy for Hillary, I had to hearken back to March of this year. Mrs. Clinton was then in robust fighting form, dirty-tricking her way to victory over Bernie Sanders. She bluffed and bulldozed her way to a Super Tuesday win on March 1st, though, ominously, hers was not as big as that of her ultimate political mortician, Donald Trump. Bernie took Vermont and Minnesota, but Hillary trousered the big prizes. The following Saturday two out of the three caucuses, those in Maine and Kansas, went to Bernie. Hillary won Louisiana, a state that would never go Democratic; in the shrouded retrospect of political mourning that success had more the flavor of a poisoned chalice, or perhaps a bowl of rancid jambalaya.

The next day, Sunday, March 6, 2016, Nancy Reagan died at the age of ninety-four.

I thought of Alexander Cockburn’s unforgettable description of Ronald (and Nancy) at the Republican National Convention in New Orleans in 1988:

“The President’s body sat there, not at all like a human frame reposing in the moments before public oratory, but as Reagan-at-rest extruding not a tincture of emotion until impelled by some unseen spasm of synapses into Reagan-amused, the briefest of smiles soon being dismissed in favour of the sombre passivity one associates with the shrouded figure in some newly-opened tomb before oxygen commences its mission of decay…”

Two days later Bernie swept to victory in the Michigan primary while Mississippi went to the eventual Democratic nominee. In those flagging vitals signs were to be seen still more symptoms of Hillary’s accelerating political decay.

Nancy’s funeral took place that Thursday, March 10th, and according to the protocols of recently concocted tradition, Hillary left the campaign trail for the afternoon to join the other surviving first ladies at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California. There they were: the regal Rosalynn Carter, the stylish Michelle Obama, and alongside the fetching Laura Bush, the candidate herself—the onetime White House figurehead repurposed as senator and secretary of state, and now journeying to the Reagan tribute not from the post-White House twilight but from the real political fray, poised to become the first female nominee of a major party in American history.

All but one the remaining president’s wives was a Democrat paying homage before the Republican casket. That too must have been a sign of something, at the very least that in death the political differences disappear. The problem with American politics is that they disappear in life, too.

The living first ladies were placed in the front row, almost close enough to touch their dead colleague’s casket. Visible through the plate glass of the Reagan Presidential Library were lush hills spotted with McMansions and maybe even graced by a few beleaguered California poppies not blotted out by the trophy lawns. The green of spring had come to the Golden State in whose endless growing season it is always time both to sow and to reap.

As eight burly servicemen in dress uniforms carried in Nancy’s dark coffin the size of an aircraft carrier and placed it directly in front of the first ladies a mixed choir from Simi Valley’s St. Susanna’s High School broke into a tepid, mincing version of The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

In a way it was a fitting choice, this onetime anthem of the Party of Lincoln—and of Reagan. During the Civil War and after, it was a hymn more of the Republicans than of the Republic. The text was penned in 1862 by the abolitionist and suffragist Julia Ward Howe and, like so many nineteenth-century hits, was then fitted to a popular tune, one previously sung most frequently to the words of “John Brown’s Body.”

The Simi Valley kids were prepared and sang well, but what they sang was bleached out, blinding white and almost unendurable. The piano intro showed the way to what was to come: a low G octave tremolo with modal chords above, blunting the evangelical fervor of the song before it had even begun. The choir entered in hushed diction, tiptoeing with Nancy towards the Promised Land: in place of the bloody armies of righteousness we got Sugarfree Plum fairies. Several AM Radio key changes ensued over an excruciating three minutes. Instead of the “grapes of wrath” there were sweet wine spritzers; rather than “His terrible swift sword” those assembled were offered the sonic equivalent of a comforting hot towel to wipe away the tears. It would have been unendurable stuff had it not simultaneously been the perfect milquetoast fare for the place and the person being memorialized.

The mourners were meant to chime in on the choruses, and Hillary appears gamely ready to sing along, too, but she, like many others in the congregation, can’t find her way through the god-awful arrangement, one so intent on confusing participation rather than welcoming it.

You can also see that Hillary is embracing the event as a State Funeral, and it is touching to see her so ready to bust the precious mold of the First Lady into which her three colleagues had poured themselves. Hillary is ready to command from the Oval Office rather than be forced into behind-the-scenes astrologizing and puppeteering that Nancy had practiced during her White House years.

How could Hillary know the kids were singing about her?—

“He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword: His truth is marching on.”
 
DAVID YEARSLEY is a long-time contributor to CounterPunch and the Anderson Valley Advertiser. His recording of J. S. Bach’s organ trio sonatas is available from Musica Omnia. He can be reached at dgyearsley@gmail.com
More articles by:David Yearsley

President T: Picking Up Where Hope Left Off

Trump’s Fascism Picks Up Where Obama’s Leaves Off 

by Ted Rall 



November 17, 2016

Donald Trump wants to deport three million illegal immigrants, and he’s willing to split up families to do it. Expect resistance: street protests, networks of safe houses, American citizens willing to risk prison to hide undocumented workers.

Barack Obama deported two million — more than any other president. Thousands of kids lost their parents. Yet demonstrations were few. Anglo solidarity was nowhere to be found. Same action, different reaction. Why? As we’ve seen under Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, progressives go to sleep when Democrats are in the White House.

Trump will be deplorable. But as the unrest that followed his victory signals, he’ll have a salutary effect on American politics: Liberals will resist the same fascist horrors for which they’ve been making excuses under Obama (and would have continued to tolerate under Hillary Clinton).

Ironically, their struggle will be made all the more challenging due to the fascist moves promulgated by Barack Obama, a president revered by liberals — but whose administration has been characterized by a stream of fascist policies.

Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA and other government agencies are spying on all of our communications: phone calls, email, texts, video, even snail mail. But the fiercest reactions came from people outside the U.S. It was 2013 and Obama was president. For the most part liberals — the political faction you’d expect to raise hell — trusted their charming first black president not to abuse his powers.

Trump will inherit Obama’s Orwellian surveillance apparatus. During the campaign, he said “I wish I had that power.”

When Obama took over from Bush in 2009, he issued a symbolic denunciation of the torture his predecessor had legitimized and institutionalized. In practice, however, nothing changed. Sending a clear message that he approved of their actions, Obama ordered his Justice Department not to prosecute anyone for waterboarding or other “enhanced interrogation techniques,” saying infamously that it was time to “look forward, as opposed to looking backwards.” He went to Langley to tell CIA agents he’d watch their backs. He refused to issue a presidential executive order banning torture by the CIA.

Trump will take over that bureaucratic infrastructure of torture, including the legal opinions issued by Bush’s White House counsel that Obama failed to annul. During the campaign, Trump pledged to bring back waterboarding and “a hell of a lot worse,” whatever that means.

Upon taking office Obama tepidly attempted to follow up on his campaign promise to close Guantánamo concentration camp. But he caved in the face of congressional opposition. Though Obama has managed to winnow down the number of inmates in America’s Cuban gulag to double digits, his lackadaisical unwillingness to expend political capital on the issue has left the camp open. It has also legitimized the formerly unthinkable practice of holding prisoners indefinitely without charging them with a crime or putting them on trial.

Trump says he’ll keep the camp open, expand it, and “load it up with some bad dudes,” including American citizens whose politics he doesn’t care for.

Part of the justification given for indefinite detention is the Bush-era Military Commissions Act of 2006, which eliminated the right of habeas corpus, the right to a speedy and fair trial enshrined in Anglo-American law for eight centuries. Under the MCA, the U.S. government can throw you into a concentration camp where you’ll never see your family or a lawyer. As far as we know, Obama never availed himself of this power.

Do you trust Trump to exercise similar restraint? Thanks to Obama’s failure to get rid of the MCA, Trump may make good on his promise to disappear U.S. citizens.

Obama has vastly expanded Bush’s program of drone assassinations of political opponents to nasty American client states like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia. His Tuesday “kill list” star chamber has issued hits against thousands of people; 98% of the victims have been hapless bystanders.

Could President Trump deploy drones against American citizens (or non-citizens) on American soil? Yes, he could, says Obama’s attorney general Eric Holder. Obama could have declared that he — and future presidents — did not have that power. Better still, he could have asked Congress to pass a law banning domestic drone killings. Instead, he went golfing.

From what we know of Trump’s likely cabinet appointments, the next few years promise to devolve into a dystopian nightmare of authoritarian repression the likes of which few Americans ever imagined possible. As we head into the maelstrom, it will be tempting to look back fondly upon the Obama years as a period of relative calm and liberalism.

But don’t forget the truth. Fascism under Trump will merely continue Obama’s fascism with a smiley face — a fascism that we let him get away with for far too long.

Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.

Saying No to Liberal Internvention and Its Western Leftist Apologists

No to Western Intervention in Syria and Ukraine, No to Its Left-Wing Apologists

by Roger Annis - A Socialist in Canada


Nov 12, 2016

Odd and downright dangerous commentary concerning the war and humanitarian disaster in Syria is being voiced in alternative media for some time now by groups recognized as left-wing.

Refugees in Syria on the move


Their argument is that it is Russia which is responsible for the carnage in Syria, not the imperialist countries that have dominated the Middle East for the past century and, in the recent history, have wrecked Iraq and Libya and backed the dictatorships in Saudi Arabia and the Arabian Gulf states.


Three recent examples of articles making this argument are:


Red Flag is published by the Socialist Alternative group in Australia (not related to the groups in Canada and U.S. of the same name). Socialist Worker is published by the International Socialist Organization in the United States. The two were once leading constituents of an international association called the ‘International Socialists’. It has splintered into pieces in the past decade.

The authors make three arguments:

1. There is no imperialist regime-change agenda in Syria. The U.S. has “no clear strategic orientation” in Syria and is content to see the government of President Bashar Al-Assad remain in power. It is “imperialist” Russia and its allies Iran and the Hezbollah movement in Lebanon who are responsible for much of the death and destruction in Syria. Russia is engaged in a high-stakes contest against “competing” imperialists to take control of Syria, part of a plan to expand its economic presence throughout the Middle East.

2. The Syrian conflict arises from the efforts of the Syrian government to suppress a “popular revolution” that began in 2011. This “revolution” continues to this day. Although the organizations, leaders, program and governing institutions of the claimed revolution are never named or described, we are assured that these exist.

3. Finally, there is lament that the imperialists have not done more to assist the overthrow of the Syrian government. For example, we read in the aforementioned Red Flag article:

Despite expressing, at various times, sympathy for rebels and hostility to Assad, the U.S. has at almost every stage hindered efforts to overthrow the regime.

CIA officers in Turkey, nominally in place to assist arms supply, in many cases in fact prevented the flow of weapons, particularly heavy weapons, to rebel forces. U.S. and Israeli pressure has been key to the ongoing refusal of U.S. ally Saudi Arabia to provide crucial anti-aircraft weapons to the opposition. [Emphasis added.]

Or in the words of the article by Ashley Smith: “But contrary to the claims of some on the left, the U.S. withheld critical military support, for example blocking a shipment of anti-aircraft weapons that could have undermined the regime’s military advantage.” [Emphasis added.]


There is accompanying silence by the authors and their affiliated organizations over the grim civil war and political repression being waged by NATO-member Turkey against the Kurdish people of Turkey, Syria and Iraq and against democratic society as a whole.

Kurdish city in eastern Turkey wrecked by Turkish army attacks (photo on Kurdish Question)



Silence also prevails over the criminal sanctions against Syria by the U.S., EU and UN. These sanctions have killed countless Syrians, including children, and have made life much harsher for millions.

The reason for the gaping silences is that the sanctions regime as well as Turkey’s longstanding goal of overthrowing the government in Damascus are inconvenient facts amidst the fantasy claims that Western imperialism has no wish to overthrow the Syrian government and subjugate the Syrian people.

Similar obfuscation has been evidenced over events in Ukraine beginning three years ago, where a movement known as ‘Maidan’ culminated in a coup d’etat that overthrew the elected president of the country in February 2014. An extreme-right government came into power and unleashed a civil war in the east of the country where the population rejected the coup. The same leftist groups denied the character of the Maidan movement as it evolved rightward. They identified with the anti-Russia prejudices underlying Maidan.

Eight months before the Ukraine coup, many if not most of the same groups welcomed a military-fascist coup in Egypt that overthrew the elected President Mohamed Morsi. They said not to worry about the military regime that replaced Morsi—it, too, would soon be swept away by the same “revolution” that overthrew Morsi.

In all three cases—Syria, Ukraine and Egypt—we see a willful turning a blind eye to the machinations of imperialism and to the extreme-right movements acting on imperialism’s behalf.[1] In Syria, this degenerated further into outright support to the extreme-right forces that are waging a “revolution” against the Syrian government and its president. The focus of that clash today is in and around the city of Aleppo.

In all three countries, the movements aiming to overthrow the existing governments were either right-wing from their origin or they became so over the course of events as right-wing forces (along with the ‘deep state’ in the case of Egypt) muscled their way onto the streets and took control of events. This is not to deny that genuine social and political concerns motivated protesters in all three countries. Concerns were especially pronounced in Ukraine, which is today one of the poorest countries in Europe and where membership in the European Union offered a tangible outlet for workers to improve their conditions by working in another EU country. But it is right-wing, not left-wing, solutions which ultimately predominated.

The self-proclaimed leftists have been oblivious to facts, going so far as to join the imperialist propaganda bandwagon that blames Russia and its president for destabilizing Ukraine and Syria and for violating those countries’ sovereignty.

“Revolution” in Syria?


The facts of what has taken place in Syria since street protests erupted in early 2011 are contested across the political spectrum. They are very much misrepresented. Here are some sources which readers can consult to gain a balanced overview:

* Stephen Kinzer of the Boston Globe summed up U.S. media misrepresentations in an article in February 2016: ‘The media are misleading the public on Syria‘.

* Tim Anderson of the University of Sydney, Australia has published a book (January 2016) titled The Dirty War on Syria: Washington, Regime Change and Resistance. The introduction is here and provides a good summary overview of what has taken place in Syria during the past five years. (The book has since been published in Arabic, German and Swedish.)

You can view a recent, 70-minute interview with Anderson on KenFM, a widely viewed freelance news program in Germany. This article by Tim Anderson from October 2015 and this radio interview with him in May 2016 are similarly informative.

* Another new book on Syria, The Battle for Syria: International Rivalry in the New Middle East, is briefly reviewed here by Charles Glass in The Intercept on Oct 29. Glass is a veteran reporter on Syria. He is no friend to the Russian intervention in Syria, nor is the author of the book Glass reviews. All the more noteworthy, then, are Glass’ description in his review: “By mid-2012, [author Christopher] Phillips writes, the [Syrian] opposition was divided into no fewer than 3,250 armed companies. All attempts at unifying them failed, in part because local warlords sought loot rather than national victory and the outsiders [Saudi Arabia, other Gulf states] refused to coordinate their policies.”

* Speaking of stepped-up intervention by the U.S., this lengthy article in The Washington Post from April 2011 is a reminder of the longstanding U.S. efforts to foment regime-change ‘opposition’ in Syria. These are the very regime-change efforts that the ‘leftists’ argue did not and do not exist.

* Robert Parry, editor of Consortium News, reminds readers in a recent article of the support which U.S. government agencies have been providing to Al Quaeda affiliates in Syria. He explains in the article introduction: “A curious aspect of the Syrian conflict – a rebellion sponsored largely by the United States and its Gulf state allies – is the disappearance in much of the American mainstream news media of references to the prominent role played by Al Qaeda in seeking to overthrow the secular Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad.” Parry’s critique of U.S. mainstream media could apply to certain alternative media as well.

* John Wight explains in a Nov 2 article, ‘Understanding Aleppo‘, that the drawn-out fighting in Aleppo perfectly serves U.S. designs on establishing a permanent occupation in eastern Syria. He says a U.S. drive to take the city of Raqqa, the ‘capital’ of ISIS, can be expected once Mosul falls to a U.S.-led coalition in northern Iraq.

Russian imperialism?


The leftist authors’ interpretation of the situation in Syria amounts to a cover-up of the imperialist, regime-change intervention. It is coupled with a claim that Russia is an “imperialist” power intent on controlling Syria or destroying the country in attempting to do so. But ‘Russian imperialism’ is merely a phrase employed the leftists with no attempt to substantiate it.

Superficially, the phrase may seem to have substance. After all, Russia is the largest country by territory in the world. It has a powerful military (albeit one whose size and reach is dwarfed by that of the United States).

As well, the portrayal of Russia and the Soviet Union history by Western propaganda lends itself to the ‘imperialist’ descriptor. We are bombarded interpretations of the Soviet Union-become Russia as a threatening, expansionist and totalitarian entity. Yes there were periods of authoritarian rule during Soviet times and also in Russia during the 1990s. These lend credibility to images of ‘Russian imperialism’.

But the ‘Russia as imperialist’ argument doesn’t correspond to fact. The leftist authors and their respective publications never make the slightest effort to document their claim. ‘Russian imperialism’ is used, quite simply, as epithet. Nothing more.

As a phraseology gimmick, the claim of ‘Russian imperialism’ meets some success because there is huge default across the political spectrum in analyzing what, exactly, became of the constituent republics (including Russia) of the Soviet Union following its collapse in the late 1980s. In place of serious analysis, however, indifference or crude anti-Soviet and anti-Russia prejudice has reigned in much of academia and across much of the political spectrum, from left to right.

In the past two years, I have written or co-authored four articles arguing why it is wrong to describe the Russian economy as imperialist. The most substantive of those articles was published in March 2016, co-authored with my colleague Renfrey Clarke; you can read that here. You can also view a presentation I made on the subject in May of this year.

Our argument, in a nutshell, is that Russia’ economy is fundamentally different than the imperialist economies of Europe, North America, Japan and Australasia. Yes, it is, indeed, a capitalist economy and it is therefore marked by a deep divide between rich and poor citizens. But at this stage of its development, it is not driven to export vast sums of capital abroad to exploit labour and natural resources. Many other characteristics of Russia also belie the label—the tiny size of its finance capital (compared to imperialist countries), the relative underdevelopment of many of Russia’s economic sectors, its defensive foreign policy, and so on.

Why does this specific controversy matter? Because we can easily become lost by looking vainly for some ‘imperialist’ economic and geopolitical ambitions driving Russia’s political and military intervention in Syria and its stance towards events in Ukraine. U.S. writer and activist Phyllis Bennis, for example, writes in a lengthy statement on Syria published on October 31 that “the United States and Russia are fighting for global and regional positioning, military bases, and control of resources” in Syria. She says Russia is fighting alongside the U.S. and EU countries “to the last Syrian”, as though Syrians are oblivious to the sovereignty of their country and are unaware of who is (Russia) and who is not (U.S. et al) upholding it.

As a matter of fact, amidst the horror of the fighting in Aleppo today including the use of car bombs and chemical weapons by the right-wing (‘jihadist’) militias, Russia and the Syrian government continue to observe a halt to their aerial bombings and continue to insist on all-party talks to arrive at a political settlement to the conflict. A promising start to a settlement was made in February 2016 but that was scuttled by the U.S. proxies (see my article ‘Ceasefire is an opportunity for Syria and for the world‘, March 8, 2016).

Once pre-conceived prejudices against Russia are cleared away, it becomes glaringly evident that Russia’s and Iran’s interventions in Syria are aimed at preventing imperialist, regime-change chaos from striking down yet another sovereign country in the Middle East (Syria) and then moving on to threaten others.

Political decline


It is beyond the scope of this commentary to analyze how matters have come to this over Syria, Ukraine and Russia among the left organizations in disarray. In the case of the ‘Fourth International’ Trotskyists, their decline is decades in the making. It is rooted in the ultraleftism which marked Trotskyist doctrine at its inception and then deepened in the decades that followed.[2]

In the case of the fractured International Socialist current, the decline goes back to its founding, anti-Marxist doctrine following WW2. That doctrine held that the Soviet Union had become something called ‘state capitalism’. The IS world outlook was summarized in its slogan “Neither Washington nor Moscow but international socialism”. This was a utopian construct, divorced from the actually existing class struggle in all its complexity, contradictions and ofttimes disappointments.[3]

The right-wing inclined founding doctrine of the International Socialists was further laid bare by its hostility to the Cuban Revolution of 1959 [4] and to the other anti-colonial revolutions that shook the world following World War Two. A string of revolutions broke the chains of imperialist domination—in China and Korea during the 1950s; Algeria and Vietnam during the 1960s and 1970s; and Central America and the Caribbean in the later 1970s.

Today, very hopeful revolutionary processes are continuing in three countries of Latin America–Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador. Other countries such as Nicaragua have benefited from this, winning unprecedented national sovereignty. But in keeping with its traditions, the latter-day IS current is remarkably uniform in refusing to welcome these developments.

During the 20th century, in the developed capitalist countries and in many countries in Latin America (not including Cuba and its closest allies), ultraleftism and related ideological disarray became dominant in Marxism. This has continued into the 21st century. Meanwhile, in Russia and eastern Europe, Marxism emerged greatly weakened from the Soviet experience. (I leave a description of Asia to those more knowledgeable than I on that part of the world.) These weaknesses are bequeathed to Marxists today and oblige us to undertake a thorough renewal of Marxist doctrine if it is to remain relevant.

The stakes in Syrian events


The dispute among leftists over events in Syria may resemble a doctrinal dispute of little consequence. But the confusion, disarray and right-wing impulses is not limited to small left-wing groups. A recently published essay in the Los Angeles Review of Books, for example, is a confused ramble resembling the articles of our aforementioned leftists, attacking what is called a “pro-Assad left” and offering precisely zero by way of solutions to the Syrian conflict.

Appalling mayhem would follow any victory of the imperialist regime-change drive in Syria. Ethnic and religious minorities would be threatened with slaughter. Prospects for peace in Israel-Palestine would be further dimmed. There would be grave implications for the security and national sovereignty of the people of Russia and Iran because imperialism would be emboldened to expand its regime-change ambitions.

A defeat in Syria would encourage the threats by NATO against Russia in eastern Europe as well as NATO’s trampling of the sovereignty of Ukraine, Romania, Poland and the Baltic states. NATO’s presence in those countries is already a grave affront. The significant expansions of military spending underway in all the NATO countries (and also in Japan and Australasia) are the gravest threat of all to the needed responses to the global warming emergency.

Unfortunately, the militarism drive of the imperialist countries meets too little resistance. That’s why progressive forces need to be crystal clear on what is taking place in Syria and then act accordingly.

We also need to raise alarms about the threat of nuclear war. Incredibly, the world is being dragged down the path of nuclear confrontation against Russia as the United States embarks on a trillion dollar-plus renewal of its nuclear arsenal. On October 27, the U.S. and its closest allies voted against a resolution at the United Nations general assembly setting out a path of negotiations for nuclear disarmament. The resolution passed, by a vote of 123 in favour, 38 against and 16 abstentions, but in Canada and other aggressor countries, the vote was barely reported, or not reported at all, in lamestream media.

Some very good examples of ‘what to do’ in response to all this have occurred in Britain. Antiwar and anti-nuclear weapons movements have scored important achievements in limiting British intervention into Syria, lifting the lid of secrecy surrounding the disastrous regime-change intervention in Libya, challenging the plan to build a new generation of nuclear-armed ‘Trident’ submarines, and so on. Even in the United States, the Obama presidency is obliged to take account of antiwar opinion thanks to hard work by antiwar activists. The new president inherits this difficult (for him) circumstance. Much more needs to be done along these lines.

So let’s get on with building broad-based, political and antiwar movements. Let’s mobilize like never before to:

* Stop the war and foreign intervention in Syria. End the sanctions against the Syrian government and people. All-party talks are needed to arrive at a political settlement for the country’s future, including recognition of national rights (autonomy) for the Kurdish people. The broad statement issued by the U.S.-based Hands Off Syria Coalition should be supported and popularized.

* Stop the repression and rise of fascism in NATO-member Turkey. Mobilize in solidarity with the Kurdish people under attack, in particular solidarity with the People’s Democratic Party (HDP). It is the third largest party in the Turkish national assembly and is effectively being banned by the authoritarian regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

* Stop the war in eastern Ukraine. Demand that Ukraine and its Western backers implement the 13-point Minsk-2 peace agreement of Feb 12, 2015.

* End economic and political sanctions against Russia and Crimea. The sanctions are based on a false premise and they heighten the danger of a NATO military attack against Russia.

* End the arms race. Direct arms spending to social needs and to meeting the global warming emergency head-on.

* Abolish nuclear weapons. Support the roadmap to nuclear disarmament projected by the resolution of the ‘First Committee’ of the United Nations as approved by the UN General Assembly on October 27.

To win a world without war, working class people—workers, farmers, youth, oppressed nations and Aboriginal peoples–need to organize to win political power. On that foundation, we can begin to build a new society, step by step, founded on principles of social justice and ecological harmony.


Notes:

[1] My extensive writings on the July 2013 military-fascist coup in Egypt and its aftermath can be read here. Concerning Ukraine, I have written extensively on the subject and I co-edit the most extensive source of news and analysis in English–the website The New Cold War: Ukraine and beyond, which was founded in October 2014. 

[2] Trotksyism is a branch of Marxist thought which arose in response to the political isolation and bureaucratization of the Soviet Union and its allied, communist parties around the world during the 1920s and 1930s. This was a world of terrible setbacks suffered by the working class and peasant movements internationally, including the decline of the revolutionary impulse of Soviet Union (notwithstanding the immense economic and social transformation taking place in the Soviet Union during the Depression years); the defeat of the Chinese Revolution of 1925-27; the triumph of fascism in Italy, Germany and Spain and the rise of military-fascism in Japan; and ongoing aggression by the U.S.-Britain imperialist axis against their competitors. That aggression was a major contributor to the cataclysm of World War Two. This world of setback was the primary reason why Trotksyism was born as a small political current and why much of it succumbed to a sect-like existence in the decades following. Trotskyism’s ultraleftism was codified in its founding doctrine called the ‘theory of permanent revolution’. 

[3] One of the great post-WW2 Marxists economists was Ernest Mandel, a Belgian internationalist and Trotskyist who fought in the anti-Nazi resistance during the War. In 1969, he published a lengthy essay responding to the ‘state capitalist’ pseudo-theory being promulgated by the ‘International Socialists’ of the day: ‘The Inconsistencies of State Capitalism‘. 

[4] A recent book review (and book itself) by two IS theorists argues that Cuban leader Ernesto Che Guevara was “irremediably undemocratic” and played a destructive role as a theorist of a “one party state” created in Cuba following 1959.

Roger Annis is a retired aerospace worker in Vancouver BC. He compiles his writings on a ‘A Socialist in Canada’. He is an editor of the website The New Cold War: Ukraine and beyond. He can be reached at rogerannis@hotmail.com.

Publishing note: The above article was submitted for consideration to four online, left-wing publications in Canada and the United States. All four declined to publish it. That is unfortunate because the article will likely have a smaller circulation than it deserves.

My thanks go to three colleagues who provided invaluable editing suggestions for this article as well as to the editors of Rabble.ca. who, while not necessarily agreeing with what I write on Ukraine, Russia and Syria, have declined pressure to silence my blog there.

—Roger Annis

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Auctioning Health and Life: The Senseless Death of Tobeka Daki

The Senseless Death of Tobeka Daki: Auctioning Health and Life to the Highest Bidders

by Fran Quigley - CounterPunch


November 17, 2016

Tobeka Daki died this week. And she shouldn’t have.

Tobeka lived in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, and was the mother of two sons. Her youngest son, Khanya, is 11 years old. In 2013, she was diagnosed with a strain of breast cancer known as HER2. There is a medicine called Trastuzumab, marketed under the name Herceptin, that is very effective at treating Tobeka’s form of breast cancer.

The groundbreaking research that led to the discovery of Herceptin was funded by U.S. taxpayers. A year’s dose can be manufactured for about $176. But Tobeka was never treated with Herceptin. The corporation that controls the medicine charges about $34,000 in South Africa for a year’s worth of doses. That cost is five times more than Tobeka’s income, which is right around the per capita average in her country. But the corporation enjoys a monopoly patent on the drug, which means they can charge whatever they wish, with no fear of a generic alternative being made available.

That company made $11.6 billion profit in 2015.

Tobeka was enrolled in her country’s medical insurance program. But many physicians in South Africa and other locations don’t even tell their patients with HER2 breast cancer about the existence of Herceptin. No point getting their hopes up about a medicine they and their nation’s health program can never afford.

In her last months of life, Tobeka devoted many precious, dwindling hours to telling her story. Ten million people die each year due to not having access to the medicines that would save them—a number higher than the population of New York City. But those victims usually suffer and die in anonymity. So Tobeka allowed her own face and name to be used to break through the abstraction of statistics.

When I last spoke with Tobeka, things were not good. Her cancer had spread to her spine, her sons were getting scared, and she had recently lost a fellow patient with whom she had grown close. But Tobeka kept fighting for change, even as it became clear she was fighting only for those who would outlive her. As recently as two months ago, she participated in a demonstration outside a government health office, joining the call for better drug access.

Tobeka’s courage reminded us that cancer has become what HIV/AIDS was at the turn of the century: a disease often survivable by those who can afford the artificially-inflated price tags of essential medicines, but a certain death sentence for millions of others.

That grim HIV/AIDS landscape was upended by the morally-charged outrage led by patients, persons of faith, caregivers, and health activists. Together, they broke the corporate monopolies on AIDS medicines discovered with taxpayer dollars. When those profit-soaked barriers fell away, it was revealed that the lifesaving drugs could be provided for less than $1 a day.

Today, those who struggle with untreated cancer deserve that same level of urgent, passionate support. So do the millions of children who die each year due to lack of unaffordable vaccines, and the seniors and others who can’t afford to fill their prescriptions even in the comparatively wealthy U.S.

It is too late for Tobeka Daki. But we owe it to her memory to stop allowing life and health to be auctioned off to only the lucky few who can afford it.
 
Fran Quigley is a professor at Indiana University McKinney School of Law, where he directs the Health and Human Rights Clinic. He is the author of How Human Rights Can Build Haiti (Vanderbilt University Press).
More articles by:Fran Quigley

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Making a Tar Sands Highway of the Salish Sea

Millions of barrels of tar sands oil barged within the Salish Sea since 2010

by Friends of the Earth


Apr. 21, 2016

Proposed expansion of Trans Mountain Pipeline exceeds the capacity of defunct KXL pipeline proposal; will result in 7x more tar sands traffic by tanker


SEATTLE, WASH. — A new report details an alarming increase in barge traffic transporting tar sands oil for refining and export between an oil port near Vancouver, BC and the U.S. Oil refinery in Tacoma, Washington. The Westridge marine oil terminal located in Burnaby, BC is the terminus of the Trans Mountain pipeline that currently carries 300,000 barrels per day of diluted bitumen or tar sands oil -- or dilbit -- from Alberta, Canada for export.

This investigation was prompted by the proposed expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline and the sevenfold increase in tanker traffic exporting tar sands oil through the critical habitat of the endangered community of Southern Resident Killer Whales. The inability to recover spills of tar sands oil with current technology, as reported by the National Academy of Sciences in 2016, led Friends of the Earth to evaluate how much tar sands oil Washington refineries receive by vessel.

“Trans Mountain is the one of the biggest threats to U.S. waters that few people have ever heard of,” said Fred Felleman, Northwest consultant for Friends of the Earth and author of the report.

“The expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline poses the greatest risk of a catastrophic oil spill in the Salish Sea as compared with the numerous other marine terminal proposals in the region. This project would be the final harpoon in the population of endangered southern resident killer whales.”

The report, released today by Friends of the Earth with the title “Tar Sands/Dilbit Crude Oil Movements Within the Salish Sea,” details the shipments of tar sands within Washington State waters as well as the export of crude oil from the state. Specifically, it focuses on the barge movements of tar sands crude oil between Burnaby, BC and Tacoma, Washington within the Salish Sea.

“Many people may think that the battle over tar sands exports ended with the rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline by the Obama administration,” said Marcie Keever, oceans and vessels program director at Friends of the Earth, “however, this report details that tar sands oil is currently moving over the waters of the Salish Sea, being refined at Washington refineries, and will increase sevenfold if the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion is approved. The threats from this dirty, climate disrupting oil are already apparent in the Northwest.”

Key findings from the report:

  • Washington State is a major refining center where five refineries received 2,117 deliveries of crude oil totaling more than 695,000,000 million barrels over the waters of the Salish Sea between 2010 and 2014. Refineries receive an additional 180,000 bbls/day of crude oil from the Trans Mountain Pipeline as well as lesser amounts by rail that fluctuates with the price of crude.
  • Between 2010 and 2014 more than 10 million barrels of tar sands oil were barged on 132 occasions within the Salish Sea between the terminus of the Trans Mountain Pipeline in Burnaby, BC and the U.S. Oil refinery in Tacoma, WA.
  • The oil barges Commencement Bay and Drakes Bay -- each with a capacity of 80,000 barrels -- towed by the tug Henry Sause and owned by the Sause Brothers made this day-long trip three times per month during the 5-year study period.
  • The route taken by the Henry Sause was from the Trans Mountain oil terminal south across Georgia Strait and Rosario Strait into Commencement Bay in Puget Sound. Numerous tugs and tows have run into trouble along this route due to the swift currents through Rosario Strait and the lack of maneuverability of tugs with tows leading the U.S. Coast Guard to issue a voluntary Marine Safety Advisory in 2015.
  • The Trans Mountain Pipeline moves approximately 300,000 barrels of tar sands oil per day from the oil fields in Alberta to British Columbia. The proposed expansion would increase the pipeline’s capacity to 890,000 barrels per day of tar sands oil and increase the number of tankers exporting crude oil through the Salish Sea from one per week to one per day. 
  • Washington’s refineries exported 9,810,200 barrels of crude oil on 80 occasions between 2010 and 2014. All five of Washington refineries have used their docks as crude oil transshipment terminals enabling crude oil tankers to leave their docks bypassing the refinery. This demonstrates the oil industry’s ability to export crude oil without dock modifications.

Recommendations:
  • Establish tug escort requirements for oil barges, as required in California, especially those transporting dilbit crude oil.
  • Station an Emergency Response Towing Vessel (ERTV) in the San Juan Islands to prevent and respond to oil spills.
  • Update Washington State contingency plans to address the challenges of responding to a dilbit crude oil spill.
  • Oppose the proposed expansion of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline due to its 7-fold increase in dilbit crude oil tanker traffic.

The report and action page can be found at www.foe.org/tarsandsreport.

###

Expert contacts:
Fred Felleman, NW consultant, (206) 595-3825, felleman@comcast.netMarcie Keever, oceans and vessels program director, (510) 900-3144, (415) 999-3992, mkeever@foe.org

Communications contact: Kate Colwell, (202) 222-0744, kcolwell@foe.org

No Lincoln: Trump Trillion Dollar Infrastructure Plan

Trump’s $1 Trillion Infrastructure Plan: Lincoln Had a Bolder Solution

by Ellen Brown - CounterPunch


November 16, 2016

In Donald Trump’s victory speech after the presidential election, he vowed:

We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals.

We’re going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none. And we will put millions of our people to work as we rebuild it.

It sounds great; but as usual, the devil is in the details. Both parties in Congress agree that infrastructure is desperately needed. The roadblock is in where to find the money. Raising taxes and going further into debt are both evidently off the table. The Trump solution is touted as avoiding those options, but according to his economic advisors, it does this by privatizing public goods, imposing high user fees on the citizenry for assets that should have been public utilities.

Raise taxes, add to the federal debt, privatize – there is nothing new here. The president-elect needs another alternative; and there is one, something he is evidently open to. In May 2016, when challenged over the risk of default from the mounting federal debt, he said, “You never have to default, because you print the money.” The Federal Reserve has already created trillions of dollars for the 1% by just printing the money. The new president could create another trillion for the majority of the 99% who elected him.

Another Privatization Firesale?


The infrastructure plan of the Trump team was detailed in a report released by his economic advisors Wilbur Ross and Peter Navarro in October 2016. It calls for $1 trillion of spending over 10 years, funded largely by private sources. The authors say the report is straightforward, but this writer found it hard to follow, so here the focus will be on secondary sources. According to Jordan Weismann on Slate:

Under Trump’s plan … the federal government would offer tax credits to private investors interested in funding large infrastructure projects, who would put down some of their own money up front, then borrow the rest on the private bond markets. They would eventually earn their profits on the back end from usage fees, such as highway and bridge tolls (if they built a highway or bridge) or higher water rates (if they fixed up some water mains). So instead of paying for their new roads at tax time, Americans would pay for them during their daily commute. And of course, all these private developers would earn a nice return at the end of the day.
The federal government already offers credit programs designed to help states and cities team up with private-sector investors to finance new infrastructure. Trump’s plan is unusual because, as written, it seems to be targeted at fully private projects, which are less common.

David Dayen, writing in The New Republic , interprets the plan to mean the government’s public assets will be “passed off in a privatization firesale.” He writes:

It’s the common justification for privatization, and it’s been a disaster virtually everywhere it’s been tried. First of all, this specifically ties infrastructure—designed for the common good—to a grab for profits. Private operators will only undertake projects if they promise a revenue stream. . . .

So the only way to entice private-sector actors into rebuilding Flint, Michigan’s water system, for example, is to give them a cut of the profits in perpetuity. That’s what Chicago did when it sold off 36,000 parking meters to a Wall Street-led investor group. Users now pay exorbitant fees to park in Chicago, and city government is helpless to alter the rates.

You also end up with contractors skimping on costs to maximize profits.

Time for Some Outside-the-box Thinking


That is the plan as set forth by Trump’s economic policy advisors; but he has also talked about the very low interest rates at which the government could borrow to fund infrastructure today, so perhaps he is open to other options. Since financing is estimated to be 50% of the cost of infrastructure, funding infrastructure through a publicly-owned bank could cut costs nearly in half, as shown here.

Better yet, however, might be an option that is gaining traction in Europe: simply issue the money. Alternatively, borrow it from a central bank that issues it, which amounts to the same thing as long as the bank holds the bonds to maturity. Economists call this “helicopter money” – money issued by the central bank and dropped directly into the economy. As observed in The Economist in May 2016:

Advocates of helicopter money . . . argue for fiscal stimulus—in the form of government spending, tax cuts or direct payments to citizens—financed with newly printed money rather than through borrowing or taxation. Quantitative easing (QE) qualifies, so long as the central bank buying the government bonds promises to hold them to maturity, with interest payments and principal remitted back to the government like most central-bank profits.

Helicopter money is a new and rather pejorative term for an old and venerable solution. The American colonies asserted their independence from the Motherland by issuing their own money; and Abraham Lincoln, our first Republican president, boldly revived that system during the Civil War. To avoid locking the government into debt with exorbitant interest rates, he instructed the Treasury to print $450 million in US Notes or “greenbacks.” In 2016 dollars, that sum would be equivalent to about $10 billion, yet runaway inflation did not result. Lincoln’s greenbacks were the key to funding not only the North’s victory in the war but an array of pivotal infrastructure projects, including a transcontinental railway system; and GDP reached heights never before seen, jumping from $1 billion in 1830 to about $10 billion in 1865.

Indeed, this “radical” solution is what the Founding Fathers evidently intended for their new government. The Constitution provides, “Congress shall have the power to coin money [and] regulate the value thereof.” The Constitution was written at a time when coins were the only recognized legal tender; so the Constitutional Congress effectively gave Congress the power to create the national money supply, taking that role over from the colonies (now the states).

Outside the Civil War period, however, Congress failed to exercise its dominion over paper money, and private banks stepped in to fill the breach. First the banks printed their own banknotes, multiplied on the “fractional reserve” system. When those notes were heavily taxed, they resorted to creating money simply by writing it into deposit accounts. As the Bank of England acknowledged in its spring 2014 quarterly report, banks create deposits whenever they make loans; and this is the source of 97% of the UK money supply today. Contrary to popular belief, money is not a commodity like gold that is in fixed supply and must be borrowed before it can be lent. Money is being created and destroyed all day every day by banks across the country. By reclaiming the power to issue money, the federal government would simply be returning to the publicly-issued money of our forebears, a system they fought the British to preserve.

Countering the Inflation Myth


The invariable objection to this solution is that it would cause runaway price inflation; but that monetarist theory is flawed, for several reasons.

First, there is the multiplier effect: one dollar invested in infrastructure increases gross domestic product by at least two dollars. The Confederation of British Industry has calculated that every £1 of such expenditure would increase GDP by £2.80. And that means an increase in tax revenue. According to the New York Fed, in 2012 total tax revenue as a percentage of GDP was 24.3%. Thus one new dollar of GDP results in about 24 cents in increased tax revenue; and $2 in GDP increases tax revenue by about fifty cents. One dollar out pulls fifty cents or more back in the form of taxes. The remainder can be recovered from the income stream from those infrastructure projects that generate user fees: trains, buses, airports, bridges, toll roads, hospitals, and the like.

Further, adding money to the economy does not drive up prices until demand exceeds supply; and we’re a long way from that now. The US output gap – the difference between actual output and potential output – is estimated at close to $1 trillion today. That means the money supply could be increased by close to $1 trillion annually without driving up prices. Before that, increasing demand will trigger a corresponding increase in supply, so that both rise together and prices remain stable.

In any case, today we are in a deflationary spiral. The economy needs an injection of new money just to bring it to former levels. In July 2010, the New York Fed posted a staff report showing that the money supply had shrunk by about $3 trillion since 2008, due to the collapse of the shadow banking system. The goal of the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing was to return inflation to target levels by increasing private sector borrowing. But rather than taking out new loans, individuals and businesses are paying off old loans, shrinking the money supply. They are doing this although credit is very cheap, because they need to rectify their debt-ridden balance sheets just to stay afloat. They are also hoarding money, taking it out of the circulating money supply. Economist Richard Koo calls it a “balance sheet recession.”

The Federal Reserve has already bought $3.6 trillion in assets simply by “printing the money” through QE. When that program was initiated, critics called it recklessly hyperinflationary; but it did not create even the modest 2% inflation the Fed was aiming for. Combined with ZIRP – zero interest rates for banks – it encouraged borrowing for speculation, driving up the stock market and real estate; but the Consumer Price Index, productivity and wages barely budged. As noted on CNBC in February:

Central banks have been pumping money into the global economy without a whole lot to show for it . . . . Growth remains anemic, and worries are escalating that the U.S. and the rest of the world are on the brink of a recession, despite bargain-basement interest rates and trillions in liquidity.

Boldness Has Genius in It


In a January 2015 op-ed in the UK Guardian, Tony Pugh observed:

Quantitative easing, as practised by the Bank of England and the US Federal Reserve, merely flooded the financial sector with money to the benefit of bondholders. This did not create a so-called wealth affect, with a trickle-down to the real producing economy.

. . . If the EU were bold enough, it could fund infrastructure or renewables projects directly through the electronic creation of money, without having to borrow. Our government has that authority, but lacks the political will.

In 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt boldly solved the problem of a chronic shortage of gold by taking the dollar off the gold standard domestically. President-elect Trump, who is nothing if not bold, can solve the nation’s funding problems by tapping the sovereign right of government to issue money for its infrastructure needs.
 
Ellen Brown is an attorney, founder of the Public Banking Institute, and author of twelve books including the best-selling Web of Debt. Her latest book, The Public Bank Solution, explores successful public banking models historically and globally. Her 300+ blog articles are at EllenBrown.com.
More articles by: Ellen Brown

Top image: RT