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The Hawks Who Want War With Iran Are Working Overtime

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 16/04/2021 - 2:01am in

WASHINGTON (Jacobin) Just as talks between the United States and Iran were taking place last week in Vienna, a cyberattack was carried out on Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility. Reports are that the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, was behind the attack that blacked out the facility just one day after Tehran launched new advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges, and as US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was in Israel speaking about the United States’ “enduring and ironclad” commitment to the Jewish state.

This is the latest in a series of Israeli attacks on Iran designed to scuttle negotiations. Last summer, a number of explosions attributed to Israel broke out across Iran, including a fire at the Natanz site. These took place while US elections were in full swing and Biden was promising that if elected, he would return the United States to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal (formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA) that Trump withdrew from in 2018. In November 2020, Israeli operatives assassinated Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Iran’s top nuclear scientist in the city of Absard outside Tehran. Had Iran responded, the United States might have been dragged into an all-out war.

Israeli officials have also directly lobbied the US Congress to quash the deal. In 2015, Netanyahu traveled to Washington, DC in 2015 to address a joint session of Congress in an attempt to uncut Obama’s original negotiations. This time, Mossad chief Yossi Cohen will be traveling to Washington to meet with top White House and US intelligence officials, and he hopes with Biden directly, to convince the administration that Iran has been concealing details about its nuclear program and therefore can’t be trusted. This is indeed ironic coming from a country that, unlike Iran, actually has nuclear weapons and refuses to disclose any information about its program.

Like Israel, the powerful US lobby American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is trying to convince Biden not to go back into the JCPOA. Last month, they organized bipartisan letters in the House and Senate, urging the Biden administration to insist on an expanded deal that included missiles, human rights, and Iran’s activities in the region. Since Tehran has been clear that an expanded or amended deal is a nonstarter, such “advice” was an attempt to quash talks.

The neoconservative think tank Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), which worked inside the Trump administration during and after Trump pulled out of the JCPOA, has been relentlessly pushing for war with Iran. After the United States recklessly assassinated Iran’s top general, Qassem Soleimani, FDD CEO Mark Dubowitz gloated, tweeting that the death of Soleimani was “more consequential than the killing of [Osama] #BinLaden”; and on April 11, the same day as the Natanz blackout, former CIA officer and FDD fellow Reuel Marc Gerecht, speaking on CNN, voiced disappointment that Trump hadn’t taken the United States and Iran into an all-out war.

Another group against a deal with Iran is Christians United for Israel (CUFI), one of the most powerful pro-Israel voices in the United States. In March 2021, CUFI urged the Senate not to confirm Colin Kahl for a top policy position at the Pentagon, claiming, “Kahl is a serial Iran appeaser” who “helped advance the disastrous Iran nuclear accord.” In response to the blackout at Natanz, they cheered Netanyahu, tweeting “‘Battling Iran is a colossal mission,’ Netanyahu says following blackout at Iranian nuclear plant.”

The People’s Mujahedin of Iran, or MEK, which the United States had previously designated as a terrorist organization and is known for assassinations and bombings it has carried out, is virulently opposed to US-Iran diplomacy. In March 2021, a number of US Senators attended a virtual event organized by the MEK-aligned Organization of Iranian American Communities (OIAC) calling for continued US sanctions and “bringing down the regime.” Senator Bob Menendez, the powerful chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was among several Democrats in attendance.

The opponents of the Iran deal are trying to keep in place the draconian wall of sanctions that the Trump administration imposed precisely to make it more difficult for a future US administration to rejoin the JCPOA. But these sanctions are causing immense suffering for ordinary Iranians, including runaway inflation and skyrocketing food and medicine prices. According to the UN, they contributed to the government’s “inadequate and opaque” response to the COVID-19 pandemic that has hit Iran particularly hard.

While “successful” in inflicting harm on the Iranian people, the sanctions have failed to broaden the terms of the talks, led the nation to increase its uranium enrichment, negatively impacted the human rights situation, and put the United States and Iran on the brink of an all-out war on multiple occasions.

That’s why so many people in Iran, and those who care about them, have been encouraged by this new round of diplomatic engagement. But Israel, AIPAC, CUFI, FDD, MEK, Menendez, and the like are probably instead hoping that Iran carries out the revenge that Iranian officials have called for in response to the Natanz blackout. But as the saboteurs of diplomacy hope for a violent escalation, let’s keep in mind — and hope Iran agrees — that the best revenge would be a revived JCPOA.

Feature photo | Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech during the opening ceremony of the Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day, April 7, 2021. Heidi Levine | Pool via AP

Ariel Gold is the national codirector and senior Middle East policy analyst with CODEPINK for Peace.

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace and author of several books, including Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The post The Hawks Who Want War With Iran Are Working Overtime appeared first on MintPress News.

After Trump?: Cancel culture and the new authoritarianism

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 01/04/2021 - 3:02am in

After the failed insurrection at the US Capitol building, an event irreconcilably both absurd and frightening, Donald Trump, for so long a master of the attention economy, finally got ‘cancelled’. While many of his Republican colleagues made a last-minute decision (motivated by self-interest) to dump him, the real blow for Trump was the response by corporate America. Facebook and Twitter blocked the president’s social-media accounts, Shopify terminated stores affiliated with him, YouTube removed channels questioning the election, the PGA ended relations with Trump’s National Golf Course in New Jersey and so on. If the short-term opportunism of corporate America was transparent, the final days of Trump nevertheless forced the United States to register the disturbing connections between white supremacists and the police and the influence of largely unregulated social media. There were calls to create new laws for ‘domestic terrorism’, for increased media censorship and further surveillance of citizens so as to prevent a repeat of the Capitol events—in short, a transfer of 9/11 foreign policy into a domestic context. The shutting down of Trump’s media and corporate connections rapidly led to a desire to expel everything associated with him, suggesting that the practice of ‘cancelling’ could be a quick fix for saving democracy. 

This push for censorship and surveillance comes primarily from Democrats and others connected with progressive politics, though there are also some troubling alliances with figures from the former Bush-Cheney administration. Why is it that progressives are so keen to push for laws normally associated with the Right and state authoritarianism? While fears of racist violence and domestic terrorism are an obvious motivator, the intertwining of progressive culture with state and corporate power reflects larger shifts in the relationship between culture and politics. These changes bear examination. Superficially, the alliance between progressive politics and established power could forestall the threats that spectacularly manifested in the final days of Trump. At another level it entrenches the conditions that created them. The violent, reactionary impulses found in the United States (but also in parts of Europe) cannot be addressed by intervening to restore ‘normality’, as it is precisely normality—an adherence to neoliberal capitalism—that catalysed them. To understand this contradiction, we need to recognise the changed environment of cultural politics in the twenty-first century. 

*          *          *

Trump’s presidency reinvigorated the culture wars. Through a continuous Twitter feed attacking the liberal media and political correctness, and a barely tacit encouragement of extremist elements, he created polarisation on just about every issue. Yet the way these wars played out in terms of ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ were markedly different to previous generations. In the late 1960s culture increasingly became a means of engaging in political struggle. Strategies of creative chaos, subversive mythmaking, improvisation and moral transgression were the tools of the cultural left and counterculture movements, and succeeded in changing attitudes towards race, gender, sexuality, religion and the family. Legally, the institutionalisation of pro-choice legislation, affirmative-action policies, laws against discrimination, same-sex marriage and so on reinforced this liberalising trajectory. Within this frame the autonomy of the creative artist was celebrated; their capacity to transgress social and cultural norms was regarded as an inherent good, as either an exercise of freedom or a disruption of older assumptions and values. 

However, this disruption of norms and values was not achieved by culture alone. It was underpinned by larger processes, particularly the development of new media technologies together with the globalised economy. The emergence of digital media expanded choices around cultural consumption and meant that consumers encountered, at least in theory, a wider array of images and representation that in themselves contributed to social liberalisation. However, the sheer proliferation of culture and communication was beyond the scope of any individual, resulting in the customisation of content and the media ‘bubbles’ that now speak to larger divisions. As digital and media culture acquired an increasing prominence in work and social life, subjects were turned ever more into self-active/autonomous individuals via the very structure of network life. The public sphere became more diverse but more atomised. At the same time the rise of the global economy expanded the numbers of intellectually trained (or ‘knowledge’) workers, and simultaneously led to a decline in manufacturing and agriculture in the industrialised West. The disruption, flexibility and mobility created via the global market complemented the cultural disruptions initiated by the new Left—overturning old hierarchies and ways of life. Global capitalism provided the basis for cultural pluralism. It helped enshrine the value system of the new Left and progressive liberals, one that prioritised ‘liquid’ identities, social relations, and a general process of cultural flattening. The increased reliance on digital media and communication was due not merely to the enhanced capacity to make and distribute it but the need to compensate for the hollowing out of work and social environments. 

Those left out of or marginalised by this process have come screaming back into the world of politics and culture—a repressed energy that ‘Trumpism’ was able to harness. Significantly, the reactionary forces of the twenty-first century embrace the strategies of subversion and disruption that had once been the mainstay of the cultural Left, while progressives have become more ‘conservative’ regarding culture and communication, seeing them less as catalysts for disruption and transgression than as potential vehicles for harm. There are numerous reasons (as we shall see) that progressives increasingly shed their older libertarian politics and favour strategies to control communication and representation—one simply being that they ‘won’ the culture war and now occupy large sections of the media, public institutions and universities—and are engaged in the preservation of liberalised values. However, these attempts to protect the social and cultural gains of previous decades threaten to enhance the surveillance-carceral state that marks the United States and elsewhere.

*          *          *

If the outlandish costumes of the QAnon insurrectionists and the proliferation of conspiracy theories signal the end of the public sphere and the authoritative hold of reason, they also reveal how transgressive cultural politics is increasingly the province of alt-right provocateurs. What are conspiracy theories if not a celebration of the unfettered play of the signifier and the détournement of images that the left counterculture celebrated for so long? The trending conspiracy after the Capitol insurrection, that Trump and Biden had received face transplants and Trump would remain, disguised as Biden, in the White House, is both compensatory and completely unhinged, but it reveals how imaginative possibilities found in the free flow of media and information now exhaust the liberal Left but energise the new Right. What’s more, the latter have fused these appropriated tactics with elements of conservative politics so that the new theatre of the Right has become integral with support for religion, gun ownership and fossil-fuel industries—these carnivalesque energies are no longer directed against the military-industrial complex but work to support it. The dominant images of the reactionary Right, such as skinheads and the KKK, have been replaced by anarchists and new intellectual leaders well versed in cynical manipulations of media and pop culture and spouting a loose philosophy around the ‘dark enlightenment’. If Trump was ill-suited to take full advantage of this alliance, a more competent figure may yet emerge to channel these new configurations. 

This reversal in the political use of culture and information is also evident in academia with the dethronement of postmodern/deconstructive modes of interpretation. The cultural-studies/literary-theory mode of reading that dominated the humanities for three decades, emphasizing irony, critical distance, multiple and contradictory modes of textual engagement and so on, has largely been supplanted by a more ‘fundamentalist’ mode of judging a text according to a binary logic that classifies culture as either progressive or harmful. The rise of ‘trigger warnings’ that alert students to potentially disturbing content is part of this larger shift, envisioning texts as sources of trauma rather than complex iterations of material and social forces. The recent (partly successful) call to remove Homer, Hawthorne, Conrad and the like from school curricula in parts of the United States is indicative of the trickle-down effect of this change in academia. General theories of ideology that dominated left and progressive wings of academia for decades—where speech and representation were related to a material base—have largely been replaced by the idea that representation is in and of itself material. The once hegemonic notion of the ‘death of the author’ has been flipped so that creative works are judged for authorial behaviour as much as for the content of their creations. These changes merely respond to the new framework of privatised and individualised consumption (and individual fragility) rather than represent any sort of theoretical or political advance. 

This new frame reveals a tension in the identity politics that goes hand in hand with this polarising approach to culture, texts and authors. On the one hand, the changes wrought though the media/information revolution have generated an environment of continual flow and ‘liberated’ subjects from narrow and hierarchical ways of knowing and being in the world. Yet the emphasis on ‘safe spaces’, now in the digital as well as the physical world, and the idea that harmful speech is a palpable threat to one’s identity indicates a fragility in the contemporary subject. It reveals that the impact of an expanded field of media and culture, the disembedding of subjects from more concrete settings though the workings of global capital—the very things that underpinned the hegemony of ‘theory’—are no longer simply enablers of freedom but of fragility, even for the groups that initially profited from them. The judging of texts as potential vehicles of harmful speech or trauma is more than simply the replacement of one mode of reading with another, one theory with another, but a response to the baleful effects of the information/culture revolution that underpinned the cultural victories of the new Left in the first place.

While this reductive mode of cultural consumption remains connected to traditions of radical politics (identifying and rejecting racist or sexist content, for example), it ultimately negates the possibility of politics altogether. What gets called ‘cancel culture’—digital activism aimed at removing power from political enemies, whether though ‘deplatforming’, online shaming or petitioning for an individual’s removal from their institutional speaking position—is indicative of this narrow frame of activism. Unlike older political boycotts, cancel culture focuses on individuals rather than institutions or structures. And while some argue that cancel culture does not really exist or, if it does, it fails to do anything, pointing out that Germaine Greer, J. K. Rowling and Stephen Pinker are all doing fine, such reassurances overlook its impact on those with less cultural power—witness the degree of online harassment and cancellation practices in Young Adult fiction (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/08/opinion/teen-fiction-and-the-perils-o...). Even in universities, academics are less confident in engaging in public communication, fearful that students or colleagues will demand their removal. The recent cases of Mark Crispin Miller over comments made about mask-wearing during COVID-19 and Kathleen Stock for criticism of some elements of trans-activism, reveal the divisive politics of cancel culture. That the former is a long-time critic of media concentration and right-wing propaganda and the latter a materialist feminist makes no difference. Even those sharing broadly similar politics face cancellation and intimidation, sometimes because of a single point of difference. Instead of the university being a site for the exchange of ideas and theories, it has become increasingly partisan—those holding ‘unacceptable views’ are not debated in the classroom or at conferences but undermined though social-media campaigns and online petitioning of campus administrators. US students are calling for an end to the practice of tenure, regarding tenured academics as holders of privilege, able to utter harmful speech without consequence, a demand that undoubtedly resonates in the ears of neoliberal university managers. 

If, generously, we regard cancel culture as an attempt to hold the ‘powerful’ to account, we should be concerned about the legitimisation of surveillance practices—practices often used historically against the less powerful—that track the speech and actions of the ‘problematic’ individual. Cancel culture appropriates the state’s traditional surveillance power and intervenes into digital civil society, itself now captured by surveillance capitalism, transforming it into a free market of shaming. If digital activists profit by cancelling individuals whose views they find offensive or harmful (ignoring any collateral damage), they uncritically accept the centrality of surveillance culture in order to do so, a practice that can easily be turned against those holding positions they might endorse.  

*          *          *

Such destructive alliances notwithstanding, it would be wrong to simply dismiss cancel culture as instances of ‘woke’ keyboard warriors spruiking the latest version of political correctness. Indeed, much of the criticism of cancel culture from the Right is shallow and hypocritical, considering its long history of censorship and harassment. And the standard argument for free speech by liberal elites (evident in last year’s Harper’s letter) ignores the reality of entrenched hierarchies that undermine communicative freedom. So while we might see something in the negative energy of cancel culture—a sweeping away of the illusions of liberalism, perhaps a long-awaited reaction against the naive celebration of transgression and subversion as an end in itself (do we really need more boundary pushing in terms of violence, sex, taboo breaking without considering who loses in the exchange?)—its potential to seriously tackle oppression is limited, and not simply because of the tendency to create division rather than solidarity but due to the conditions though which its politics and practices arise. The values of contemporary progressive culture (pluralism, diversity, difference) align with older political struggles, such as the fight against colonial and patriarchal structures, but in crucial ways they are different. Often oriented more towards the ethical than the political, the values that frame cancel culture and related forms of activism are derived from a historical setting that is more complicated than many of its proponents realise. Such values reflect the habitus of the intellectually trained, whose formative conditions in the techno-sciences and media/culture industries make the world of heterogeneous association and fluid sociality appear natural (if also a source of continual threat). However, knowledge-work is a form of abstract labour and abstract sociality, whose methods—synthesising from disparate sources—inevitably privilege pluralism and difference over sameness and groundedness. The methods frame the world view. From the perspective of progressive politics, critiques of the destruction of older ways of knowing and being are dismissed as nostalgic or reactionary privilege, rather than potential sources of resistance against the ungrounding and nihilistic trajectory of the market.

The attraction of surveillance and state control to contemporary progressives, whether in the call for new laws against harmful speech or the curtailing of reactionary activity, is at some level a projection of power of this grouping, whose values, derived though intellectual work, are extrapolated to the rest of the populace. This is not the cynical power of the opportunist Right but the experience of customised media/information environments mistaken for a universal condition, where the robust exchange of views is no longer regarded as central to the democratic public sphere but potentially dangerous. Technological filtering reinforces this process: alternative views are kept at bay, so when they do surface their otherness is amplified. Moreover, the post-9/11 environment, with its continual reminders about threats of terror, and the fetishisation of security and safety, reinforces this political logic. 

*          *          *

What we have seen in the past few years is the expansion of the desire for safe spaces and harm reduction from a small group of activists to that which frames left-liberal culture and politics more generally. Within this frame, state and corporate power is regarded as an ally, evident in the renewed demands to control social-media platforms and the alacrity with which new laws against domestic terrorism are proposed by liberal and progressive politicians, activists and commentators—and this in the most carceral state in the industrialised West. Since the 6 January riots, Facebook and Twitter have removed not only right-wing groups from their platforms but also a host of socialist groups, Palestinian-rights organisations, student human rights bodies, Antifa activists and the like. Already the Biden administration has used federal troops and chemical agents to suppress a protest outside an ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) facility in Portland. While many progressives now ask state and corporate actors to intervene against extreme speech, they forget the extent to which any substantial challenge to institutionalised inequality and oppression will be seen in the same light by those actors. Here it is worth remembering Biden’s promise to donors before the election—‘Nobody has to be punished. No one’s standard of living would change. Nothing would fundamentally change’—and consider whose interests any expanded laws against political dissidence would serve.

Indeed, the contempt by many progressives for figures such as Julian Assange, whose fate at the hands of the security state ought to trouble anyone concerned about abuses of state and corporate power, is indicative of how little the expansion of surveillance and control troubles those who wish to utilise it in the struggle against oppression. Since WikiLeaks and Snowden, we have seen an even cosier relationship between liberal/progressive media outlets and state intelligence and security services. In the United States ex-intelligence officers and ‘war on terror’ advisers from the CIA and the Pentagon now appear regularly as experts on CNNBC or in the New York Times—rehabilitated in the light of Trump’s sheer awfulness, but with agendas that are rarely questioned. The number of critical stories about intelligence agencies in the Guardian has substantially shrunk in recent years, as opinion pieces concentrate on smearing those who pose a threat to state power, such as Assange and Jeremy Corbyn. As Matt Kennard and Mark Curtis note in the wake of Snowdon’s revelations about surveillance, the Guardian ‘had gone in six short years from being the natural outlet to place stories exposing wrongdoing by the security state to a platform trusted by the security state to amplify its information operations’.  

If placing more power in the hands of the state and corporations is likely to undermine the capacity to combat racist, patriarchal and environmentally destructive forces in the longer term, there remains an equally important question about the nature of speech and communication itself with the frame of digital media. Are forms of online communication and exchange merely extensions of the ‘organic’ speech we have always used? Obviously not, and yet both progressives (with their emphasis on harm and trauma) and the Right (with its empty avocation of ‘freedom’) often act as if this is the case. If the modern public sphere (with all its faults, hierarchies and exclusions) is aimed at rational debate and exchange, the contemporary communicative sphere is dominated by affect, where friends and enemies are decided by emotional affinities. This transformation arises though carefully constructed algorithms that privilege extreme views or reactions, and that generate symbolic recognition via an increase in followers, likes and so on. The pathologies that infect social media are a direct result of the corporate business model that surveils the user, keeps them online as long as possible though targeted content (thus individualising them) and rewards incendiary speech acts that keep others using the platform. The largely indiscriminate targeting of extreme content conveniently masks how the very form of social media cultivates extremity to make a profit. Here, the post-Trump elimination of ‘networking service’ Parler might appear to be a blow to extreme speech, but it was equally motivated by the desire to protect the Facebook, Twitter, Apple and Amazon monopolies, whose generous donations to the Biden campaign make it unlikely that any serious attempt to break up such arrangements will occur, nor is it likely that the conditions that promote extremism on social-media platforms will be altered, as this is the very condition of their profitability.

Will a post-Trump world simply see the culture wars continue, escalating into sporadic violence? These conflicts might be ameliorated by new laws limiting the expressive capacities of a reenergised Right, but they will most probably be used against ‘dissidence’ more generally to prevent any serious challenge to the exercise of state and corporate power. Must we be forced to choose between Trump’s proto-fascist legacy and Biden’s ‘neoliberalism as usual’, buttressed by a domestic war on terror that traps us within the terms of this choice? Undoubtedly Trump energised white nationalists and proto-fascist groups, but the 70 million people who voted for him cannot be encompassed entirely within this description. Instead we might think of the divisions between those excluded by decades of global capitalism and those whose progressive culture and politics arose off the back of the same process of exclusion. These are not simply the ageing white working class but everyone marginalised though the disruptive forces of global capital, including the fragile subjects on campuses and in the knowledge economy, whose investment in ever more strident forms of identity politics provides a meagre bulwark against more profound destabilisations. When the forces of ‘Trumpism’ and the new Right appropriate the strategies of disruption it’s time for a rethink. Progressive identity politics has reacted, but it has generally not rethought the conditions of its own emergence: the forces of global capitalism that liberalised the West, and now make it unsafe. 

US Sinks to New Low in Rankings of World’s Democracies

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 30/03/2021 - 5:22am in

The US has slipped 11 points in a decade – below Argentina and Mongolia – according the latest report by a democracy watchdog. Continue reading

The post US Sinks to New Low in Rankings of World’s Democracies appeared first on BillMoyers.com.

Will Lula Make a Comeback? Global Imperialists and Resource Extractors Shudder at the Prospect

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 27/03/2021 - 6:40am in

BRASILIA, BRAZIL — Will the world’s sixth most populous country move away from fascism and towards a social democracy putting economic justice and anti-imperialism first once more?

That is the question on Brazilian minds right now, as earlier this month the Supreme Court dismissed all charges against former President Luis Inácio “Lula” da Silva. A colossal figure in domestic and world politics, Lula was falsely convicted of fraud in 2017, and spent more than 18 months in prison, becoming, in the words of renowned academic Noam Chomsky, “the world’s most prominent political prisoner.”

Yesterday, the Supreme Court also ruled that the judge who sentenced Lula, Sergio Moro, made a biased decision. Secret documents show that Moro was actually working with the prosecution to ensure Lula was convicted, paving the way for fascist candidate Jair Bolsonaro to assume the presidency. In a staggering display of quid pro quo, Moro then accepted the job of Bolsonaro’s Minister of Justice.

 

A massive turnaround

“There is a sense of elation for [Lula’s] supporters and those that stood by him for so many years,” said Michael Fox, a filmmaker based in the southern city of Florianopolis, who likened following Brazilian politics to a ride on a rollercoaster:

In just a few weeks, Lula’s charges have been annulled and now the once super-star judge Sergio Moro is under formal investigation for judicial bias, a felony charge. It’s a massive turnaround and it can’t be understated.”

“This is victory for democracy. We again have hope of a better Brazil with Lula free,” one jubilant supporter of the former president told Fox.

Brazil Lula

A support of Lula demonstrates outside the Supreme Court in Brasilia, Brazil, March 9, 2021. Eraldo Peres | AP

Lula was the runaway favorite to be re-elected in 2018; just six weeks before the election, polls showed that more than twice as many people intended to vote for him as for Bolsonaro. But the courts ruled that he was barred from running, even from the prison cell Moro put him in, a decision that virtually ensured a Bolsonaro victory. A recent poll found that more than half of Brazil said they would definitely or possibly vote for him in next year’s presidential election, despite the fact he has not yet even made a decision about standing.

“The chances of Lula’s re-election are huge,” Brazilian journalist Nathália Urban told MintPress. “He is still tremendously popular, and is being especially favored in the face of this polarized scenario, which places him as the only one capable of beating Bolsonaro.”

“Bolsonaro is scared. His approval rating is dropping,” Fox noted. “If Lula decides to run, and he is not somehow again blocked from running, like in 2018, he has every chance of winning in 2022.” Fox added that, after a year of Bolsonaro’s downplaying or outright denying the virus that has killed over 300,000 Brazilians, Lula’s freedom has spurred the current president to act more responsibly. Things got so bad at one point last year, armed, criminal gangs chastised Bolsonaro’s recklessness, unilaterally imposing a lockdown in areas under their control. “We want the best for the population. If the government won’t do the right thing, organized crime will,” read an official communique from a group of drug dealers in Rio de Janeiro.

 

A towering figure

Despite being coy about next year, Lula is behaving as if he is already president, releasing statements urging his countryfolk to wear masks and inviting U.S. President Joe Biden to an emergency coronavirus summit on vaccine equity.

A towering figure in his homeland, the former street urchin and shoe-shine boy turned union leader was elected president in 2002 and served until 2011, leaving office with an 83% approval rating. The economy grew steadily and poverty was halved under his stewardship. While the U.S. was invading Afghanistan and Iraq, Lula declared his own domestic war — against hunger. His signature policy was the Bolsa Família package; a deal whereby mothers were given cash transfers of up to $150 per month if they enrolled their children in school and ensured they were immunized against yellow fever and other deadly diseases. An estimated 50 million people benefited from it. It was policies like these, Urban noted, that built his support among the country’s popular classes.

“Lula’s impact on Brazil and on Latin America cannot be overstated. He dominated politics in both from being first elected as president in 2002, and he continues to dominate Brazilian politics,” said Dr. Barry Cannon, a sociologist from the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, who also noted that, under Lula’s rule, Brazil was “remarkably stable socially and economically.”

Lula

Lula is carried by supporters a day after he was released from prison in Sao Bernardo do Campo, Brazil. Nelson Antoine | AP

Needing the support of liberals and more centrist forces, Lula was not as radical as many social movements that helped him into power would have liked, and did not challenge U.S. power as directly as other governments like those in Venezuela or Bolivia. But — as Steve Ellner, a retired political scientist from the Universidad de Oriente in Venezuela, explained to MintPress — activists saw his government as a “friendly” administration; one that would listen to them and certainly not repress them in the ways previous governments had done.

Perhaps his most important impact, however, was on international affairs. Lula was one of the leaders of the so-called “Pink Tide” — a wave of Latin American countries that began electing leftist, pro-poor, anti-imperialist governments in the 2000s. By 2011, a large majority of the region was ruled by these forces. Leaders like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Ecuador’s Rafael Correa rankled officials in Washington by nationalizing key resources and denouncing capitalism and inequality. Lula was not as radical, but, as leader of the world’s fifth-largest country by area and population, he was arguably the most important.

 

Resisting efforts to divide the Pink Tide

Using the “divide and rule” tactic, U.S. officials tried to separate “good” leftist leaders (like Lula), who refrained from expropriating resources from Western corporations and pursued more reformist measures from the “bad left” of Chavez, Morales, Correa and Cuba’s Fidel Castro. But Lula would have none of it, openly campaigning for Chavez’s re-election in 2012. “Chavez, count on me, count on the Brazilian Worker’s Party, count on the solidarity and support of each…democrat and each Latin American. Your victory will be ours…and thanks, comrade, for everything you have done for Latin America,” he said in an endorsement speech. Thus, many Pink Tide leaders saw themselves as part of the same struggle against the American-dominated economic and political system, with differences in their policies less about ideology and more about domestic realities.

While not denouncing imperialism openly like the “bad” left, Lula was still a huge check on American ambitions in Latin America, blocking attempts to isolate other states and rejecting a U.S.-supported secessionist movement in Bolivia. Brazil was also a key participant in a number of new regional organizations aimed at replacing discredited, U.S.-dominated ones.

Lula also traveled to Iran independently and convinced president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to sign a nuclear deal based on commitments the Obama administration had written up. He naively expected President Barack Obama, who had previously endorsed him as “the most popular politician on Earth,” to be delighted. But, instead, Obama tried to stop Ahmadinejad from signing the deal the U.S. had agreed to, shattering the pretense that Washington cared about securing peace in the region. In response to the deal, Obama increased sanctions on Iran and treated Lula, in the Brazilian’s words, as a “persona non grata on the international political stage.”

In Cannon’s view:

Globally [Lula] symbolized hope for the left — here was a phenomenally successful leftist politician that everyone seemed to like. It is hard to conceive of the Pink Tide of leftist politics, which dominated Latin America from the turn of the millennium until the coup against Dilma Rousseff, Lula’s successor, in 2016, without Lula. He was its undisputed leader.”

After having secretly wiretapped the Brazilian government for years, the United States government was deeply involved in the phony anti-corruption drive that saw Dilma impeached and Lula jailed. The U.S. Department of Justice secretly attempted to pay the “anti-corruption” taskforce $682 million in kickbacks for its work. Recorded conversations show that Lula’s lead prosecutor described his arrest as a “gift from the CIA,” while FBI agents boasted about their work “toppling governments” in Brazil. President Joe Biden’s advisors told The New York Times that his administration “would seek to revive” the “anti-corruption campaign” pioneered in Brazil and extend it across the region.

 

impact, political and economic

If Lula and the Workers’ Party do come back to power, it seems likely that they will stymie many U.S. foreign policy goals, including isolating Venezuela, China and Russia. Yet Bolsonaro has proven so incompetent a leader and manager that both Ellner and Cannon believe that many in Washington will at least attempt to work with Lula, trying to move him to a more moderate position. However, the currently deeply divided political climate in Brazil does not bode well for centrists, as Ellner explained:

Most likely, the 2022 elections will be polarizing, which means that more ‘moderate’ candidates will be shunted aside. In that case, it is unlikely that the Washington establishment will distance itself much from Bolsonaro or manifest any sympathy for the Workers’ Party candidate.

Danny DanonLuiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Hugo Chavez, Rafael Correa, Evo Morales

Lula, second from right, poses with (left to right) Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales and Rafael Correa at a 2008 summit in Brazil. Eraldo Peres | AP

Certainly, the investor class is not happy at the prospect of a return to the rule of the Workers’ Party: on the news of the annulment of Lula’s charges, the Brazilian stock exchange plunged by 4%; Reuters told its business readers that his release would have “dire consequences.” Presumably not for Brazilians, but for asset prices, as Bolsonaro’s “market-friendly economic reform agenda” (a euphemism for the firesale of state assets, huge cuts to public sector wages and pensions, and tax breaks for the wealthy) would come to an end.

However, the news that Lula is finally free has many across the region hoping for a better future. While Lula led the rebel alliance in the 2000s, the empire struck back in the 2010s, with many conservative or reactionary governments coming to power, often with the help of U.S-backed coups, dark money or lawfare tactics, as seen in Brazil. However, with the election of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in Mexico and Alberto Fernandez in Argentina, the defeat of the Bolivian coup, and the likely imminent return of progressive forces in Ecuador, there is a new hope across Latin America and beyond.

“If Brazil turns left again, especially with Lula in power, it will galvanize the left in the region once again,” Cannon stated, noting that a friendly Brazil would give its neighbors breathing space to grow independently while warning that the country desperately needs to find new political leaders younger than the 75-year-old former steelworker and that the region has to look beyond extractivism as the basis of the economy. “[Lula’s] election will be a godsend for the multipolar world” Ellner added.

Feature photo | Brazil’s former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is carried by supporters in front of the metal workers union headquarters in Sao Bernardo do Campo, Brazil, Nov. 9, 2019. Nelson Antoine | AP

Alan MacLeod is Senior Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent, as well as a number of academic articles. He has also contributed to FAIR.orgThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin Magazine, and Common Dreams.

The post Will Lula Make a Comeback? Global Imperialists and Resource Extractors Shudder at the Prospect appeared first on MintPress News.

US Gins Up a “Credible” Iranian Nuclear Menace Befitting Its Own Stockpile

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 25/03/2021 - 12:32am in

WASHINGTON — According to The Telegraph, “new revelations” from an unnamed senior Western intelligence source show “that Iran is trying to conceal vital elements of its nuclear programme from the outside world [and] has no intention of complying with its international obligations under the terms of the nuclear deal.”

Led by Israel and the United States, the narrative of a nuclear-armed Iran wreaking havoc on the Middle East and the world has been unrelenting and co-signed by the broader Western media establishment, which has been complicit in a long-running campaign that goes back to the early 2000s.

Relegated to a secondary news item since the Covid crisis took over, the story is now resurfacing as the Biden administration revisits the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a.k.a. the Iran Nuclear Deal, which was famously shelved by Donald Trump in 2018. Despite promises made during his campaign to restore the treaty, Biden has stopped short of doing so and has conditioned the re-implementation of the agreement on vague “changes from Tehran.”

Manufacturing a “credible” nuclear menace is vital to the interests of the most heavily nuclear-armed country in the world, after all, and the smoke and mirrors used to place Iran in that role serves to justify the Pentagon’s ballooning nuclear budget and projects like the $100 billion nuclear bomb currently in development.

In addition, the political circus surrounding Trump’s scrapping of the nuclear deal and its aftermath has helped to conceal an ongoing redeployment of the U.S.’s nuclear arsenal stationed in Europe since the Cold War, as America and its NATO allies upgrade their nuclear warhead technology.

 

Moving pieces around

The Congressional Research Service, an independent policy advisory organization known as “Congress’ Think Tank,” recently issued a report in which it disclosed to lawmakers that a third of the United States’ nuclear warheads scattered throughout the old continent have been redeployed from their warehouses in Europe and Turkey.

According to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists published in January, the redeployments were carried out because of a “reduction of operational storage capacity” at several bases. The Bulletin also reported that, per Sputnik, approximately 130 B61 thermonuclear bombs are now being “stored at bases in the U.S. and kept ready for operations in Asia or other locations outside Europe.”

Nuclear Weapons

The Los Alamos Study Group takes aim at plans to ramp up the nation’s nuclear arsenal near Bernalillo, N.M., Feb. 17, 2021. Susan Montoya Bryan | AP

Continued violations of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons by Atlanticist powers since its signing in 1968 have only garnered skepticism over the stated motives of the redeployment. Russian government officials believe the movement of the nuclear weapons probably has more to do with their modernization, as opposed to any efforts to actually reduce the number of atomic bombs in the region, a belief buttressed by the UK’s recent increase of its own nuclear stockpile.

The removal and redeployment is likely due to the development of smaller nuclear weapon technology — such as the B61-12, tested last year in the Nevada desert, which can carry in the bay of an F-35 jet a payload three times larger than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Russian Armed Forces Lt. Gen. Evgeny Buzhinsky, interviewed by local Russian media, does not believe a reduction in the American nuclear arsenal is actually taking place and, moreover, U.S. officials have not announced any changes to their nuclear arsenal in Europe.

 

Twisted logic

A topic that seemed to be lost in the dustbin of history is being revived by the last remaining members of the generation that grew up in the midst of Cold War hysteria and foisted upon a new generation, which is expected to adopt the same fears and suspicions that fueled the exponential growth of the military industrial complex and established America’s war economy as the world’s preeminent economic paradigm.

Vinton Cerf and Martin Hellman, two individuals who’ve had a role in keeping the specter of nuclear annihilation alive in the 21st century, recently published a dual opinion piece detailing the reasons they believe that the “risk of a nuclear war is unacceptably high” and why “risk reduction measures are urgently needed” from a qualitative and quantitative approach respectively.

Hellman, a cryptographer involved with nuclear deterrence in the waning years of the Cold War with the Reagan administration, and Cerf — one of the developers of a military communication protocol designed to withstand a nuclear attack, the precursor to the internet called ARPAnet — both harbor alarmist viewpoints that were so common during the post-war years.

Banal comparisons between marriage and nuclear war, such as Hellman employs as a thesis for his book “A New Map for Relationships,” are coupled with hyperbolic statements like “a child born today may well have less-than-even odds of living out his or her natural life without experiencing the destruction of civilization in a nuclear war,” to propagate the idea that the threat of a nuclear conflagration is as terrifying as it is a fact of life.

Cerf and Hellman are among several scientists and deterrence policy experts participating in a series of workshops organized by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), which began in February and is scheduled to have its fourth meeting in April. The ad hoc committee project, titled “Risk Analysis Methods for Nuclear War and Nuclear Terrorism,” will issue a report at the project’s conclusion to deliver assessments informing the development of a new nuclear security strategy for the United States.

 

The real enemy

In Hellman’s mathematical calculations, the probability of nuclear war is extrapolated from what “we would expect on the order of ten major crises comparable to Cuba 1962; 100 lesser crises comparable to the 1995-1996 Taiwan Straits Crisis, the 2008 Russo-Georgian War, or the ongoing conflict in Ukraine that started in 2014.” Cerf’s quantitative analysis likewise focuses on the Cuban missile crisis, but opts for the 1999 war in Kosovo and a false incoming ballistic missile alert in Hawaii three years ago as examples.

While taking different routes, both arrive at the same basic conclusion that the only way to avoid a nuclear holocaust is to raise the level of perceived risk so high that it, in turn, spurs a concerted effort to reduce said risks.

Given the languishing Cold War narratives decades after that war’s denouement, the creation of a new nuclear threat in Iran and North Korea becomes vital to the reestablishment of America’s teetering war economy, which has spent the last few decades since Gorbachev dissolved the Soviet Union looking for ways to quash its real enemy – peace.

Feature photo | Iranian troops participate in a military drill, the latest in a series of exercises amid escalating tensions over Washington’s so-called maximum pressure campaign against Tehran. Photo | Iranian Army via AP

Raul Diego is a MintPress News Staff Writer, independent photojournalist, researcher, writer and documentary filmmaker.

The post US Gins Up a “Credible” Iranian Nuclear Menace Befitting Its Own Stockpile appeared first on MintPress News.

How China Won the Middle East Without Firing a Single Bullet

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 20/03/2021 - 1:11am in

A much anticipated American foreign policy move under the Biden Administration on how to counter China’s unhindered economic growth and political ambitions came in the form of a virtual summit on March 12, linking, aside from the United States, India, Australia and Japan.

Although the so-called ‘Quad’ revealed nothing new in their joint statement, the leaders of these four countries spoke about the ‘historic’ meeting, described by ‘The Diplomat’ website as “a significant milestone in the evolution of the grouping”.

Actually, the joint statement has little substance and certainly nothing new by way of a blueprint on how to reverse – or even slow down – Beijing’s geopolitical successes, growing military confidence and increasing presence in or around strategic global waterways.

For years, the ‘Quad’ has been busy formulating a unified China strategy but it has failed to devise anything of practical significance. ‘Historic’ meetings aside, China is the world’s only major economy that is predicted to yield significant economic growth this year – and imminently. International Monetary Fund’s projections show that the Chinese economy is expected to expand by 8.1 percent in 2021 while, on the other hand, according to data from the US Bureau of Economic Analysis, the US’ GDP has declined by around 3.5 percent in 2020.

The ‘Quad’ – which stands for Quadrilateral Security Dialogue – began in 2007, and was revived in 2017, with the obvious aim of repulsing China’s advancement in all fields. Like most American alliances, the ‘Quad’ is the political manifestation of a military alliance, namely the Malabar Naval Exercises. The latter started in 1992 and soon expanded to include all four countries.

Since Washington’s ‘pivot to Asia’, i.e., the reversal of established US foreign policy that was predicated on placing greater focus on the Middle East, there is little evidence that Washington’s confrontational policies have weakened Beijing’s presence, trade or diplomacy throughout the continent. Aside from close encounters between the American and Chinese navies in the South China Sea, there is very little else to report.

While much media coverage has focused on the US’ pivot to Asia, little has been said about China’s pivot to the Middle East, which has been far more successful as an economic and political endeavor than the American geostrategic shift.

The US’ seismic change in its foreign policy priorities stemmed from its failure to translate the Iraq war and invasion of 2003 into a decipherable geo-economic success as a result of seizing control of Iraq’s oil largesse – the world’s second-largest proven oil reserves. The US strategy proved to be a complete blunder.

In an article published in the Financial Times in September 2020, Jamil Anderlini raises a fascinating point. “If oil and influence were the prizes, then it seems China, not America, has ultimately won the Iraq war and its aftermath – without ever firing a shot,” he wrote.

Not only is China now Iraq’s biggest trading partner, but Beijing’s massive economic and political influence in the Middle East is also a triumph. China is now, according to the Financial Times, the Middle East’s biggest foreign investor and a strategic partnership with all Gulf States – save Bahrain. Compare this with Washington’s confused foreign policy agenda in the region, its unprecedented indecisiveness, absence of a definable political doctrine and the systematic breakdown of its regional alliances.

This paradigm becomes clearer and more convincing when understood on a global scale. By the end of 2019, China became the world’s leader in terms of diplomacy, as it then boasted 276 diplomatic posts, many of which are consulates. Unlike embassies, consulates play a more significant role in terms of trade and economic exchanges. According to 2019 figures which were published in ‘Foreign Affairs’ magazine, China has 96 consulates compared with the US’ 88. Till 2012, Beijing lagged significantly behind Washington’s diplomatic representation, precisely by 23 posts.

Wherever China is diplomatically present, economic development follows. Unlike the US’ disjointed global strategy, China’s global ambitions are articulated through a massive network, known as the Belt and Road Initiative, estimated at trillions of dollars. When completed, BRI is set to unify more than sixty countries around Chinese-led economic strategies and trade routes. For this to materialize, China quickly moved to establish closer physical proximity to the world’s most strategic waterways, heavily investing in some and, as in the case of Bab al-Mandab Strait, establishing its first-ever overseas military base in Djibouti, located in the Horn of Africa.

At a time when the US economy is shrinking and its European allies are politically fractured, it is difficult to imagine that any American plan to counter China’s influence, whether in the Middle East, Asia or anywhere else, will have much success.

The biggest hindrance to Washington’s China strategy is that there can never be an outcome in which the US achieves a clear and precise victory. Economically, China is now driving global growth, thus balancing out the US-international crisis resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Hurting China economically would weaken the US as well as the global markets.

The same is true politically and strategically. In the case of the Middle East, the pivot to Asia has backfired on multiple fronts. On the one hand, it registered no palpable success in Asia while, on the other, it created a massive vacuum for China to refocus its own strategy in the Middle East.

Some wrongly argue that China’s entire political strategy is predicated on its desire to merely ‘do business’. While economic dominance is historically the main drive of all superpowers, Beijing’s quest for global supremacy is hardly confined to finance. On many fronts, China has either already taken the lead or is approaching there. For example, on March 9, China and Russia signed an agreement to construct the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS). Considering Russia’s long legacy in space exploration and China’s recent achievements in the field – including the first-ever spacecraft landing on the South Pole-Aitken Basin area of the moon – both countries are set to take the lead in the resurrected space race.

Certainly, the US-led ‘Quad’ meeting was neither historic nor a game-changer, as all indicators attest that China’s global leadership will continue unhindered, a consequential event that is already reordering the world’s geopolitical paradigms which have been in place for over a century.

Feature photo | Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi, left, is shown the way by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on stage during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Sept. 23, 2019. Andy Wong | AP

Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of five books. His latest is “These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons” (Clarity Press). Dr. Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA) and also at the Afro-Middle East Center (AMEC). His website is www.ramzybaroud.net

The post How China Won the Middle East Without Firing a Single Bullet appeared first on MintPress News.

Twitter Deletes QAnon to Protect US from Upheaval; Russia May Delete Twitter for the Same Reason

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 18/03/2021 - 6:21am in

SAN FRANCISCO — Twitter has taken action against the QAnon movement, deleting more than 150,000 accounts that promoted the conspiracy theory. This follows a similar crackdown by YouTube. The impetus for the decision was the storming of the Capitol Building on January 6, led by many adherents who believe Donald Trump was leading a fightback against a satanic cult of cannibalistic pedophiles in the Democratic Party and the national security state.

“That was a moment of reckoning where we realized that the approach that we had put in place the previous fall, of attempting to reduce the influence of this movement, wasn’t sufficient,” a Twitter spokesperson told CBS News.

At the same time, Vladimir Putin’s administration is threatening to block American social media giants like Twitter and YouTube completely, accusing the two of illegally fomenting anti-government protests inside Russia.

 

Change Washington can believe in

These two developments are linked in many ways. Since its inception, social media has been key in organizing and encouraging protest movements worldwide. The Arab Spring — which dominated global headlines for months and led to revolutions, wars, and regime change across the region — was said to have been planned and boosted by Facebook and Twitter, which were keen for their platforms to be seen as a revolutionary force.

The U.S. government has long understood the power of social networks to bring about change. In 2009, it instructed Twitter to postpone a temporary maintenance shutdown of its site in order to help leaders of ongoing anti-government protests in Iran communicate and coordinate. That same year, USAID, a front group for the CIA, secretly released a Twitter-like app for Cuba that purported to be an independent platform. The plan was to provide a free high-quality service aimed at the country’s youth that would, once it gained traction, slowly be turned into an anti-government propaganda network used to incite an uprising.

Since then, the U.S. government appears to have decided on a more hands-on approach to social media, working to convince Twitter to delete hundreds of thousands of accounts it claims were linked to the governments of Iran, China, Russia, Venezuela, or Cuba. While a new social media influencing operation from a U.S. enemy is uncovered every few weeks, these platforms never seem to be able to find the American government doing the same thing, even though the existence of such U.S. networks has been known about for at least 10 years.

 

An info-control Gov-Tech complex

Washington seems to have found many willing partners in Silicon Valley. “What Lockheed Martin was to the twentieth century, technology and cyber-security companies will be to the twenty-first,” wrote Google executives Eric Schmidt and Larry Cohen. Along with Amazon, Microsoft and other tech giants, Google, YouTube’s parent company, signed a massive intelligence deal with the CIA in November, worth tens of billions of dollars. One month earlier, Twitter announced publicly that it had been working with the FBI in order to identify and delete Iranian accounts.

Fast forward to February, and the social media giant was removing Russian-based accounts because they were “undermining faith in the NATO alliance and its stability” — a decision that sparked consternation online from users worried about its implications.

A report released earlier this month from the influential D.C.-based think tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), called for even more covert U.S. government control over social media, arguing that Washington should work with platforms like YouTube and Twitter so as to ensure that protest movements around the world result in an outcome more conducive to American interests.

Russia YouTube Feature photo

Navalny, right, speaks to his video operations chief after a live YouTube broadcast in Moscow. Pavel Golovkin | AP

The report singled out protests in Russia over the treatment of anti-Putin activist Alexey Navalny and the long running Hong Kong demonstrations as two prime examples where the power of “authoritarian states” could be weakened or undermined if the U.S. worked with social media companies to boost the anti-government message to billions of internet users. As the CSIS wrote:

The U.S. government should think creatively about public-private partnerships that can expand its toolkit to defend the legitimate rights of political protestors globally, including preserving the digital rights of peaceful democratic activists while muting harmful mis- and dis-information from violent state and nonstate actors seeking to tip the balance in various countries.”

 

Platform fencing

This plan might already be in action, if Russia’s suspicions are correct. Moscow is considering an all-out ban on Twitter after the company repeatedly failed to respond to its requests to remove thousands of messages encouraging citizens, including children, to attend illegal pro-Navalny demonstrations across the country. It also accused Twitter of failing to act to delete content relating to drug use, encouraging self-harm, and sexual abuse of children. As a punitive measure, it has already significantly slowed down the speed of the app across all mobile devices.

Moscow is also mulling over a ban of YouTube in a row over the platform’s censoring of Russian state media content. The government has accused the Silicon Valley video sharing platform of suppressing content sympathetic to it and promoting anti-Putin messages. Many pro-Russian content creators have noticed their viewership rapidly nose diving while, at the same time, pro-West, anti-Putin content is constantly promoted. RT filmmaker Anton Krasovsky, for example, claims he has been effectively shadowbanned, while Alexey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation is suggested to Russians — even alongside content, such as children’s cartoons, that bears no relation to his messaging.

“Our videos started showing up less and less in search results and recommendations, until finally they stopped appearing at all,” Krasovsky wrote in an open letter addressed to Andrey Lipov, head of Russian media regulator Roskomnadzor; “For a year now, they’ve been trying to silence us, and there’s nothing more we can do. We can’t fight back, and we can’t retaliate – we can’t even go underground.”

It seems hard to argue that this is not at least partially true. In the early to mid-2010s, when there was a more level playing field online, RT was perhaps the most popular news network on the internet. The Director of National Intelligence Report into Russian influence in the 2016 elections showed RT easily defeating its competition on YouTube, generating around eight times as many views as CNN. However, after extensive algorithm changes in the wake of the report’s publication, RT was demoted and establishment American outlets elevated. All RT content on YouTube and Twitter now comes with a warning label cautioning consumers that this is Russian-affiliated content. Independent, alternative news outlets have also been hit hard by the algorithm changes.

Meanwhile, Navalny has enormous influence online. His Russian-only YouTube channel has more than 6.5 million subscribers (50% more than English-language RT), while his Russian-language documentary (with English subtitles), exposing what he claims is Putin’s secret palace on the Black Sea, has amassed an extraordinary 115 million views. It is estimated that there are only around 258 million Russian speakers worldwide.

With social media companies increasingly intertwined with and controlled by the U.S. national security state, it might be that Russia decides the only way to level the playing field is to cut itself off from the West online, as China has done with its so-called Great Firewall. If the roles were reversed, there appears little doubt that the U.S. would consider doing the same. Last year, there was something close to pandemonium in the U.S. government as Chinese-owned TikTok became a viral social media app, with then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warning that the video-sharing platform was essentially a front for the Chinese Communist Party. The U.S. attempted to force through a sale to Microsoft or another American company. Chinese company Huawei installing a modern 5G network across the world and Xiaomi’s dominance in the global smartphone and semiconductor market have sparked similar concerns in the West.

Big-tech platforms like YouTube and Twitter tolerated the proliferation of the QAnon conspiracy theory. That was until the movement directly threatened the integrity of the U.S. state. After adherents began to question the validity of the elections and even organize what many commentators called a botched coup attempt, action was swift and extensive. It is perhaps unsurprising, therefore, that Russia is considering retaliating against the networks that are threatening its legitimacy.

Feature photo | Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny speaks during a live YouTube broadcast in Moscow. Pavel Golovkin | AP

Alan MacLeod is Senior Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent, as well as a number of academic articles. He has also contributed to FAIR.orgThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin Magazine, and Common Dreams.

The post Twitter Deletes QAnon to Protect US from Upheaval; Russia May Delete Twitter for the Same Reason appeared first on MintPress News.

Intersectional Imperialism: A Wholesome Menace

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 17/03/2021 - 1:21am in

WASHINGTON (Substack // Alex Rubinstein) — With Trump-style nationalism out the door, a new era of imperial ideology is upon us. This mutation of the empire’s dominant dogma is manifesting throughout global institutions of economic, political and social control and is materializing in a myriad of conflict theatres.

In order to identify where woke imperialism exists, we have to define it first. So what is it? It’s certainly not the first iteration of hegemonic domination buttressed by moralism.

The doctrine of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) was officialized by the United Nations in 2005, but its roots really trace back to the NATO bombing campaign of Yugoslavia. During the Obama years, the term “humanitarian intervention” caught on as the main moniker for such actions.

Woke imperialism should be understood as a maturation of these concepts. As corporations have increasingly embraced “rainbow capitalism” to keep up with the sensibilities of an increasingly liberal US public, so too have institutions of United States imperialism refined their pitches to reflect the increasing popularity of identity politics.

This phenomenon has not gone unnoticed. As with everything on the internet, it has become the subject of memes, with an image of two US B-52 Stratofortress bombers having gone particularly viral. The image shows one B-52, labelled “Republicans,” dropping bombs. Another B-52, labelled “Democrats,” is also dropping bombs, but this time with a giant Black Lives Matter sticker and a rainbow flag emblazoned on its exterior.

imperialism

What both of the above memes can’t express, given their limited format, is the variety of methods of exerting imperial control, as it takes many forms beyond bombings. And not all of this can be chalked up to the presidential transition. We know that the State Department and three-letter agencies were hardly on-board with President Trump’s approach to foreign policy, nor his cultural proclivities.

So while a lot of the trends identified in this article existed during the Trump administration, they are undeniably being ramped up by Biden’s. For example, in the first 10 days of this March, Women’s History Month, the State Department tweeted 26 times about “women,” compared to 10 times during the same period of the 2020.

 

The Noble Anti-Triggering Organization (NATO)

Earlier this month, NATO tweeted a flashy video claiming “diversity is our strength.”

In light of NATO’s virtue signalling, it’s important to remember that many of the early leaders of NATO were Nazis who dreamed of a Germany that was anything but diverse and inclusive. To this day, NATO has continued to support neo-Nazis in countries like Ukraine, while NATO states that hold permitted rallies honoring Nazi collaborators are only just now cancelling the marches because of the coronavirus, rather than stopping the glorification of Nazism.

https://twitter.com/NATO/status/1366355680681209859

As I reported following the launch of Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, as he railed against neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia, Biden worked with neo-Nazi leader Oleh Tahnybok, with the man who is now White House National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, serving as their go-between. Leaked audio from 2014 has Victoria Nuland, Biden’s nominee for Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs under Blinken, admitting as much.

israel's support for ukraine

A photo of the Azov Battalion – a regiment of the National Guard of Ukraine

In terms of NATO’s championing of inclusion for people of color, its crowning achievement in this regard came following its bombing of Libya, which gave cover for jihadist militias to sodomize Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to death with a bayonet and paved the way for the reintroduction of slavery on the African continent.

Outside of its halls of power in Brussels, this is what NATO-sponsored opportunity initiatives for people of color looks like.

As the kids say, “big yikes.”

 

The State Department Becomes an HR Department

The slogan used by NATO, “Diversity is our strength,” reproduces, verbatim, a major campaign theme from Kamala Harris and Joe Biden himself. The talking point was also used last year by the Central Intelligence Agency.

Perhaps the one to make the most use out of the theme is Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, who has said the following:

  • “Diversity and inclusion make us stronger, smarter, more creative, and more innovative. And our diversity gives us a significant competitive advantage on the world stage.
  • Diversity makes any organization stronger – and for the State Department, it’s mission-critical.
  • We’ve invested in diversity and inclusion to have a diplomatic workforce that reflects the diversity of our country.”

Recently, the State Department promoted Blinken’s appearance on Hillary Clinton’s podcast, advertising that the two discussed “diversity and inclusion at the Department, American engagement, Russia, China and more.”

The State Department, under Blinken, is so married to the concept that he created at the department a Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer position which “will report directly to him,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said, adding, you guessed it, “Diversity and inclusion make us stronger, smarter, more creative, and more innovative.”

 

The DoD Seeks “Force Multipliers”

The Department of Defense is another leading institution in this trend.

Last week, conservative Fox News host Tucker Carlson attacked the Pentagon. It started with Joe Biden announcing that, under his and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s leadership, the military would be taking steps towards making itself more inclusive to women with policies including an overhaul of hair style restrictions and “maternity flight suits for women.”

While pregnant women are generally banned from riding roller coasters, a policy of allowing them to fly fighter jets does not seem to me to have their best interests in mind, nor those of their children.

https://twitter.com/DeptofDefense/status/1359185522841833474

While Carlson blasted these policies, his criticism missed the crux of the issue as he argued that they made the US military weaker. The real goal of these policies, however, is to freshen the military’s face for a liberal citizenry. As the Airforce put it in January, “diversity” is a “force multiplier.”

In response to the Fox segment, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby — formerly the spokesperson for the State Department under Obama — clapped back at Carlson in a press release entitled “Press Secretary Smites Fox Host That Dissed Diversity in U.S. Military.”

“The United States military is the greatest the world has ever seen because of its diversity,” the press release began.

Kirby went on to note that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (a black man whom the media celebrated for breaking a “brass ceiling,”) had said earlier in the week that the “lived experience” of a diverse fighting force factors “into our decision making.”

That same speech was featured on the Defense Department’s website under the headline “Biden Showcases the Strength, Excellence of American Military Diversity.”

In other news on Secretary Austin, according to another Pentagon press release, he “welcomed the expanded role for NATO Mission Iraq” last month. That “expanded role” means beefing up the number of NATO troops occupying the country from 500 to “4,000 or 5,000,” according to Reuters.

 

The Central Idpol Agency

Not to be outdone by the State Department or Defense Department, following the inauguration of Joe Biden, the CIA has begun conducting a “digital facelift” to appeal to Generation Z in light of their politics leaning more towards radical liberalism than previous generations.

“We had to go where the talent is,” Sheronda Dorsey, the CIA’s deputy associate director for talent, told the Wall Street Journal. She added that the CIA is looking to “increase racial, cultural, disability, sexual orientation and gender diversity so that its workforce is ‘reflective of America.'”

The Wall Street Journal goes on to write that “Today, the CIA’s digital face-lift coincides with a new presidential administration. [John] Brennan, whose directorship ended in 2017, says the Biden administration has sent out a ‘very strong signal on diversity’ with its intelligence appointees, including the first-ever female director of national intelligence, Avril Haines.”

Brennan, who was CIA director under Obama, with Haines sitting under him at number two at the agency, has more recently told MSNBC that he is “increasingly embarrassed to be a white male these days, when I see what other white males are saying.”

Brennan’s comments came in a discussion of congressional Republicans’ handling of the protests at the capitol in January. “They’ll continue to gaslight the country,” Brennan said.

While heading up the agency, Brennan oversaw the CIA as it illegally spied on Congress through hacking as they were investigating torture by the agency — and lied about it. Now he’s complaining about “gaslighting” by Congress. The whole episode has been largely forgotten by the US public as media were “stanning” the agency throughout the Trump era. Trump enemy number one, Nancy Pelosi, recently established a “diversity office” in the House of Representatives. Years ago, she helped the CIA coverup torture in addition to heavily backing the war in Iraq.

 

Finance Feminism

While technically “independent,” globally muscular financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank are functionally a part of the US government, and like other institutions referenced in this article, are adopting identity politics as a means of whitewashing their anti-human agenda.

The DC-based World Bank’s president is chosen by the President of the US, with even their own website admitting “Traditionally, the World Bank President has always been been [sic] a U.S. citizen nominated by the United States.”

The U.S. is also the largest shareholder at both the World Bank and IMF, which is also based in DC. One leaked manual published by Wikileaks entitled “Army Special Operations Forces Unconventional Warfare” cites the World Bank and IMF as US “weapons in times of conflict up to and including large-scale general war.”

“Army Special Operation Forces understand that properly integrated manipulation of economic power can and should be a component of unconventional warfare,” the document continues.

“As major decisions require an 85 percent super majority, the United States can block any major changes” at the World Bank, according to the Army document.

For International Women’s Day, the IMF hosted a discussion with Biden’s Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen entitled “The Age of Womenomics.”

“We have chosen this theme ‘the age of womenomics’ consciously,” Kristalina Georgieva, IMF Managing Director, said.

“Never in my life I have seen so many women in key positions where core economics and finance matter: you, as the minister of finance of the United States; Chrystia Freeland in Canada; Christine Lagarde my predecessor at the [European Central Bank]; Ngozi [Okonjo-Iweala] at the World Trade Organization; the very first woman president of a multilateral development bank, Odile [Renaud-Basso] at the [European Bank for Reconstruction and Development]…”

 

Wokeism Goes Global

Beyond promoting themselves as bastions of tolerance, imperialist institutions are also using wokeness to justify foreign resource extraction, violations of sovereignty and international law, military occupation and even coup d’etats.

In Syria, where the United States, European governments, Gulf state patriarchal petromonarchies and NATO ally Turkey have waged 10 years of proxy warfare via al-Qaeda-type sectarian insurgents, a champion of distinctly American identity politics has arisen: the YPG. For years, you’d have been hard pressed to find a leftist in the United States that did not give unquestioning support for the “Rojava women’s revolution.” The ostensible political project of Kurdish fighters in Northeastern Syria was even dubbed by Vice News the “Most Feminist Revolution the World Has Ever Witnessed.”

American anarchists, propagandized with pro-YPG literature and the ideology of “democratic confederalism” popularized by the late Zionist academic Murray Bookchin, and promoted by his daughter, Debbie Bookchin of the New York City-based “Emergency Committee For Rojava,” made names for themselves in leftist circles and on Twitter by joining up with the Kurdish fighting force called the People’s Protection Units (YPG).

While the Kurdish fighters in Syria were first backed by Obama, Trump continued to support them to “protect the oil.” In other words, so that the United States could profit from the extraction of assets rightfully belonging to the sovereign government of Syria. Now that Biden is in office, Kurdish fighters are once again becoming the subject of renewed media attention and adoration by the Western left.

Glorification of the conquests by Kurdish forces in Syria reached a fever pitch during the Raqqa campaign. One group was established, which now has its own Wikipedia page despite it’s actual existence being dubious, by foreign queer anarchists called the “The Queer Insurrection and Liberation Army.” While the historic city of Raqqa was being destroyed to the tune of 70 percent, these feel-good headlines about a supposedly revolutionary and inclusive alternative to statism that the Kurdish fighters and their allies represented dominated the narrative on the left.

Before we move away from Syria, it would be irresponsible not to mention the story of Amina Abdallah Araf al Omari, the “Gay Girl in Damascus.” The fake persona was created in order to stir up anti-Assad sentiment from Western LGBTQ communities, but it was exposed as the charade of a white American man named Tom MacMaster by Palestinian journalist Ali Abunimah after the “gay girl” was “kidnapped.”

Now that Biden is in office, these kinds of dirty tricks to promote the dirty war on Syria are making a comeback. Based on an article in Jacobin, a new movie is in the works entitled “Stefan Vs. ISIS.” It is billed as a “Story Of Non-Binary Millennial Who Joined The Kurdish Freedom Fighters” by Deadline in a March 5 article. While the Jacobin writer of the original story, Connor Kilpatrick, has co-writing credits, Jacobin editor Bhaskar Sunkara is set to co-executive produce the film.

One Middle East-based reporter complained to me that these journalists are now poised to profit from a war they helped sell in the first place, and are placing the identity issues of a Westerner at the center of the conversation around the battle against ISIS rather than the scores of Syrians and Iraqis who lost their lives fighting them. “The Syrian war,” they said, isn’t for a bunch of foreign leftists “to turn into a romantic ballad to identity issues. Kurds are super traditional, no way is even the YPG into this gender fluidity stuff.”

In a similar vein, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton’s production company was reported in late January to be working on a TV series adapting the book “The Daughters of Kobani: A Story of Rebellion, Courage, and Justice” by Gayle Lemmon for the screen. Following an intense bidding war over the rights to adapt the book, Deadline reported that “For the Clintons, the property feels like the perfect IP to help launch their banner given the subject matter and strong women that helped Lemmon write it.”

Last week, Lemmon joined Meghan McCain on The View to talk about her book. McCain’s father, the late John McCain, was the most militaristic senator in modern US history and a major promoter of the proxy war in Syria, the Senator even meeting with so-called “moderate rebels” with the Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army and the Syrian National Army who turned out to be responsible for the kidnapping of 11 Shia Muslims.


My suggested cover image for Hillary and Chelsea Clinton’s TV series.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, where the United States maintains its longest-running regime change fail, or “L,” I recently noted how Biden plans to keep “residual forces” there to continue occupying the country despite the agreement reached between the Taliban and the Trump administration to have a full withdrawal.

German state broadcaster Deutsche Welle is warning that “Afghan women risk losing their rights in a new political setup.” Now, the Biden administration is looking to negotiate the deal wherein “all options remain on the table.”

Earlier this month, Vox News reported on “internal debates” within the White House over a withdrawal from Afghanistan. Reportedly, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley made the “impassioned — and at times ‘emotional’” argument that should US forces withdraw,  women’s rights in the country “will go back to the Stone Age.”

Yet while there is no doubt that the Taliban has little respect for the rights of women, that was hardly a concern of Joe Biden when he promised in October 2012 that “We are leaving in 2014. Period.”

But speaking of the Stone Age; the US has dropped around 25,500 bombs on Afghanistan since Biden’s promise if you add up the monthly figures published by the US Airforce.

And those bombs don’t come cheap, so it should come as no surprise that Milley went on to argue that since the US has spent so much “blood and treasure” in the country in the past decades, it is not worth it to leave.

To put it in the parlance of Zoomers, General Milley wants America to “secure that bag.”

Somebody should tell the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman that “this ain’t it, chief.”

Wokeism isn’t just a useful tool of empire in the ostensible fight against terrorism, but also in the fight against socialism. In Ecuador, where the US is backing a faux left candidate as an alternative to the socialist frontrunner in the country’s presidential elections, identity politics have been deployed to drum up support for a neo-liberal.

Journalist Ben Norton exposed Yaku Pérez, billed as an indigenous eco-socialist, for his ties to the US government. After Pérez came in third place in the first round of Ecuador’s presidential election, disqualifying him from the runoff, the US embassy called him to reassure that he would be a part of it. Since then, Pérez has called for a military coup and for his socialist opponent, Andrés Arauz, to be criminally prosecuted.

Norton also points out that Pérez’s wife Manuela Picq, is an adviser to him and is helping to manage his campaign. Picq’s background is as an academic focused on sexuality and gender studies.

As we proceed into the Biden years, identity politics, intersectionality — in a word, wokeness — will be increasingly used to justify the exploits of a racist empire. That is, unless the left is able to adopt a doctrine to counter the empire’s dogma instead of continuing to play into its hands.

The Roman historian Tacitus said “Great empires are not maintained by timidity.” This may be true, but today, the maintenance of empire is justified by its inclusivity. The ability of the US to “flex” on the world stage is contingent on its ability to reference the diversity of it’s ruling class.

There’s the tea.

Feature photo | Alex Rubinstein

Alex Rubinstein is an independent reporter on Substack. You can subscribe to get free articles from him delivered to your inbox here, and if you want to support his journalism, which is never put behind a paywall, you can give a one-time donation to him through PayPal here or sustain his reporting through Patreon here.

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Mexico’s Imminent Marijuana Legalization Law Leaves US Lawmakers Holding the Joint

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 16/03/2021 - 6:37am in

MEXICO CITY — For years now, dozens of pro-marijuana activists have gathered in front of Mexico’s Congressional building on Reforma Avenue in the largest city in the Americas to spark up and tacitly remind lawmakers of a landmark 2012 ruling by the country’s Supreme Court, that declared a ban on recreational marijuana to be unconstitutional.

Just shy of a decade later, the precedent created by that historic decision is on the brink of a full flowering as the lower house of the Mexican Congress approved the federal regulation of cannabis by a 316 to 129 vote on Wednesday. The legislation is expected to pass easily in the Senate and be signed into law by President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in short order.

Nearly four years after Mexico’s legalization of medical marijuana, extending legal status to recreational use will make it the principal marijuana market in North America and, possibly, the world. The implications for commercial interests on both sides of the border are considerable and American businesses, in particular, are keeping a close eye on developments south of the border

While dispensaries might not start popping up next to the neighborhood convenience store just yet, hemp – ganja’s less psychedelic cousin – could represent an immediate and lucrative market opportunity after the law is officially on the books, according to Raul Elizalde, CEO of HempMeds.

Hemp’s many industrial and biodegradable uses have been largely proscribed throughout the global supply chain of industrial goods in the twentieth century and remain so as a result of several factors that encompass everything from the emergence of synthetic fibers like Nylon, competing interests from paper production monopolies, to the persistence of racist, colonialist attitudes among wealthy elites, who have used the prohibition of marijuana and other natural substances to target the indigenous cultures that stand in the way of their global resource extraction projects.

 

A medieval approach

Mexico has been at the heart of exact hat that type of neocolonialist war for the past several decades as the epicenter of America’s Drug War, which continues to claim the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and has brought the nation to the edge of collapse.

The move to legalize marijuana by Obrador, who has been a strong proponent of decriminalization, is a significant step in the administration’s efforts to find a way out of a tragedy that has engulfed his country as the wildly profitable market for illicit drugs north of the border fuels the power of the Cartels.

Obrador’s recent clashes with the U.S. Department of Justice over the never-mentioned American cartels who facilitate the flow of narcotics inside the United States reveal a growing resistance among Mexico’s power structures to the broader drug war narrative and a desire to escape the vicious downward spiral the country finds itself in.

Regardless of the vested interests that inevitably surround such a potentially lucrative endeavor, such as the legislation’s obvious tilt in favor of large corporations over smaller investors and other regulatory inconsistencies that fail to fully address issues surrounding civil liberties and police corruption in Mexico, the law nevertheless represents a sea change that will shine a harsh light on the United States’ own medieval approach to the matter.

 

The numbers don’t add up

It wouldn’t be the first time Mexico exposed its powerful neighbor’s unenlightened ways. While the plantation economy was in full swing in the United States, an underground railroad departing from South Texas was carrying runaway African slaves into Mexico, which had abolished slavery in 1829. For decades, irregular and informal forces like the Texas Rangers hunted down the men and women who sought their freedom across the border until the medieval practice was finally brought to an end after the Civil War.

The economic incentive to keep a system of forced labor afloat had to be forcibly removed through the efforts of abolitionists and those who placed moral principles over profits. A similar dynamic is at play in the case of marijuana in the United States and the insistence on maintaining its classification as a Schedule 1 drug, in accordance with the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.

NYPD marijuana

NYPD cops with what they thought was 106 pounds of confiscated pot but turned out to be 100% legal hemp. Photo | NYPD Facebook

At around $66 Billion, the illegal cannabis market in the United States comprises well over half of the legal marijuana markets in the country, including California and New York. Given the paucity of permitted marijuana businesses presently operating at a state level, there is little doubt that full federal legalization along the lines of Mexico’s would easily surpass that figure.

From this vantage point, it would seem like a no-brainer to remove all the barriers and allow a legal marijuana market to flourish all across the United States. However, such a move would entail a serious problem for another industry altogether, not to mention a basic tenet of the war on drugs, which has expressed itself as a war against minorities at a domestic level and has been described as “the new Jim Crow.”

 

58 Seconds

The United States has the largest prison population in the world in both real numbers and per capita. At 2.3 million people behind bars, the value of the correctional facilities industry in America has been calculated at $5 Billion, according to a recent market research report. But, this is only a sliver of an enormous prison and judicial complex, that includes private security firms, police departments, lawyers, and federal and state court systems that rely on marijuana arrests and convictions for a significant portion of their business.

A 2020 study published by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) spanning several years, reveals that in 2010, 52% of all drug arrests were for marijuana, while between 2001 and 2010, 7 million people were processed through the justice system for some kind of marijuana offense.

The racial disparity between black offenders and white offenders was also made patently clear with black people shown to be four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession, despite that black and white people use pot at practically the same rate.

According to Prisonpolicy.org, 10.6 million people go to jail each year. Known as “jail churn”, this staggering turnover rate is comprised of are people who, for the most part, have not been convicted of any crime and will either make bail or remain incarcerated for the jail term if they’re too poor to procure the means for release. Most who are convicted are usually serving time for misdemeanors, such as possession of marijuana.

In 2019, marijuana arrests surpassed arrests for all violent crimes put together, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting statistics. Of those arrests, 92% were for misdemeanor possession. Erik Altieri of the cannabis advocacy group NORML decries the fact that “at a time when the overwhelming majority of Americans want cannabis to be legal and regulated”, police departments across the country are making a “marijuana-related arrest every 58 seconds.”

Mexico’s decision to ‘legalize it’ will put pressure on American lawmakers to make a choice. They can either side with the majority of Americans who want an end to legal restrictions on a plant or they can continue to side with a growing police state and prison industrial complex by demonizing their neighbor to the south and shave a few seconds off the 58.

Feature photo | Marijuana plants grow at a camp outside of the country’s Senate building in Mexico City, July 16, 2020. Fernando Llano | AP

Raul Diego is a MintPress News Staff Writer, independent photojournalist, researcher, writer and documentary filmmaker.

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Human Rights Watch Watches Out for US’ Bolivian Friends, Condemns Amnesty for Political Prisoners

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 13/03/2021 - 6:59am in

NEW YORK — Human Rights Watch (HRW) has condemned a general amnesty for over a thousand Bolivians persecuted under the one-year dictatorship of Jeanine Añez. Yesterday, the Washington-based human rights organization decried the plan to drop all charges against people resisting the government as “opening the door to impunity.” Its Americas director, Jose Miguel Vivanco, said that the new law “undermines victims’ access to justice and violates the fundamental principle of equality before the law.” HRW alleges that a handful of anti-coup demonstrators carried out serious crimes, such as arson or kidnapping, while opposing the regime, thus making general amnesty seriously problematic.

New President Luis Arce won an overwhelming electoral victory in October after a citizens’ revolt paralyzed the country and forced Añez to hold an election. Human Rights Watch notes with concern that this new decree “suggests that anyone prosecuted by the Áñez government for actions during social protests had their rights violated,” something that many consider to be obvious and uncontroversial.

“Human Rights Watch is criticizing the Bolivian government for lifting the charges against leftists who were persecuted by the former coup regime (seriously). This is why Bolivians are suspicious of these U.S. NGOs,” reacted Bolivian journalist Ollie Vargas.

 

An odd position for a human rights org

A layperson might expect one of the best known human rights organizations in the world to celebrate the acquittal of over a thousand innocent people charged with “crimes” such as reporting on massacres in a way that displeased the government, hospital workers treating the regime’s victims, or calling Añez a “dictator” in WhatsApp conversations. Yet HRW strongly supported the coup as it was taking place, insisting that President Evo Morales was actually “resigning” of his own accord, and merely “traveling to Mexico” rather than fleeing at the barrel of a gun.

HRW’s executive director, Ken Roth, made a series of public statements on social media expressing his delight, even as security forces took over La Paz, massacring civilians and overthrowing a democratically-elected president. Roth also described the coup approvingly as an “uprising” and a “transitional moment” for Bolivia, while presenting Morales as an out-of-touch “strongman.” For Roth, Morales was “the casualty of a counter-revolution aimed at defending democracy…against electoral fraud and his own illegal candidacy,” falsely alleging that Morales had ordered the army to shoot protesters.

As Roth was making his pronouncements, Añez was signing a new law that gave security forces complete immunity for killing dissenters. HRW described this as a “problematic decree,” as if Añez had merely used insensitive language. The organization also attempted to hide who were the perpetrators of the ensuing massacres, telling readers that “nine people died and 122 were wounded” during a Cochabamba demonstration, but refusing to fill them in on who was dying and who was shooting.

Even in yesterday’s 2,800-word report, published 16 months after the incident, the word “coup” is completely absent. Instead, HRW states (emphasis added) that Morales “was forced to resign on November 10, 2019, after the commanders of the armed forces and the police asked him to step down.” Morales, however, made it clear at the time that he was leaving only to avoid a bloodbath.

HRW also continues to describe Añez as the “interim president” — her own, propagandistic word for her role — rather than “dictator,” and maintains that Morales’s election was “controversial” because of “allegations of electoral fraud.” This is despite the fact that the allegations were immediately debunked by independent statisticians. Last month, HRW demanded that Donald Trump be prosecuted because he promoted false theories of a “stolen election” in the U.S. Yet, in Bolivia, HRW itself is doing exactly the same thing — and based on just as shaky evidence.

 

A brief and brutal fascist interlude

Elected in 2005, Morales was the first leader in the country’s history to come from its indigenous majority. During his 14 years in office, his administration reduced poverty by 42% and extreme poverty by 60%, halving unemployment and increasing real GDP per capita by 50%. Taking the country down a more socialist path, he fostered links to like-minded neighboring countries such as Ecuador, Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela, and was sharply critical of U.S. actions abroad. In October 2019, he won an unprecedented and controversial fourth term by over 10 points. However, sectors of the U.S.-backed Bolivian right-wing cried foul, alleging fraud, with the military and the police using the ensuing chaos to justify overthrowing him.

The military handpicked Morales’s successor, Añez, a little known senator from a far-right party that received 4% of the vote. A hardline Christian conservative, Añez sparked controversy by declaring the country’s indigenous majority as “satanic” and arguing that they should not be allowed to live in cities. She immediately started crushing dissent, targeting followers of Morales, media outlets, and human rights observers.

Añez also began privatizing the economy and reoriented the country’s foreign policy away from an independent path and towards the United States. Despite calling herself an “interim president,” she repeatedly canceled elections, leading many to believe she was attempting to stay in power indefinitely with help from the military, which ruled the country directly for much of the 20th century. However, a nationwide general strike in August shut the country down, forcing her to agree to an October election.

Morales was banned from running. But Luis Arce, his former economy minister, was elected in a 27-point landslide, gaining almost twice the votes of his nearest challenger.

 

Highly Reactionary Worldview

Unfortunately, this sort of behavior from Human Rights Watch is far from unusual. Headquartered in NYC, with a branch on D.C.’s Pennsylvania Avenue, the organization was originally established in 1978 as Helsinki Watch, an American group dedicated to exposing the crimes of Eastern Bloc countries and monitoring their compliance with the Helsinki Accords.

Its founder, Aryeh Neier, is a libertarian fundamentalist who equates the very idea of economic or labor rights with oppression, writing that they are “profoundly undemocratic.” “Authoritarian power is probably a prerequisite for giving meaning to economic and social rights,” he added. Thus, under this interpretation of rights, the Morales administration’s actions in reducing poverty, hunger and labor insecurity are not achievements, but black marks against it.

Since its establishment, HRW has consistently been criticized for being an agent of U.S. foreign policy, employing former U.S. government officials in key positions and displaying bias against leftist governments unfriendly to the United States. Vivanco himself penned a much-derided report on human rights in Venezuela, which, in an open letter, over 100 Latin American experts claimed “did not meet even the most minimal standards of scholarship, impartiality, accuracy, or credibility.” And while constantly describing Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro as a “dictator,” in May, Vivanco called Bolivia under Añez’s rule a democracy.

HRW worked hard to legitimize the U.S.-, British-, and Brazilian-backed coup. With this new report, it appears as if it is still trying to turn the clock back, showing that it all too often places Western imperial interests over liberty for oppressed peoples.

Feature photo | Masked police detain a supporter of Evo Morales after they launched tear gas at a massive funeral procession that was marching into La Paz, Bolivia, Nov. 21, 2019. Photo | AP

Alan MacLeod is Senior Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent, as well as a number of academic articles. He has also contributed to FAIR.orgThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin Magazine, and Common Dreams.

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