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Chris Hedges: The Politics of Cultural Despair

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 20/10/2020 - 1:28am in

Princeton, New Jersey (Scheerpost) — The physical and moral decay of the United States and the malaise it has spawned have predictable results. We have seen in varying forms the consequences of social and political collapse during the twilight of the Greek and Roman empires, the Ottoman and Hapsburg empires, Tsarist Russia, Weimar Germany and the former Yugoslavia. Voices from the past, Aristotle, Cicero, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Joseph Roth and Milovan Djilas, warned us. But blinded by self-delusion and hubris, as if we are somehow exempt from human experience and human nature, we refuse to listen.

The United States is a shadow of itself. It squanders its resources in futile military adventurism, a symptom of all empires in decay as they attempt to restore a lost hegemony by force. Vietnam. Afghanistan. Iraq. Syria. Libya. Tens of millions of lives wrecked. Failed states. Enraged fanatics. There are 1.8 billion Muslims in the world, 24 percent of the global population, and we have turned virtually all of them into our enemies.

 
We are piling up massive deficits and neglecting our basic infrastructure, including electrical grids, roads, bridges and public transportation, to spend more on our military that all the other major powers on Earth combined. We are the world’s largest producer and exporter of arms and munitions. The virtues we argue we have a right to impose by force on others — human rights, democracy, the free market, the rule of law and personal freedoms — are mocked at home where grotesque levels of social inequality and austerity programs have impoverished most of the public, destroyed democratic institutions, including Congress, the courts and the press, and created militarized forces of internal occupation that carry out wholesale surveillance of the public, run the largest prison system in the world and gun down unarmed citizens in the streets with impunity.

The American burlesque, darkly humorous with its absurdities of Donald Trump, fake ballot boxes, conspiracy theorists who believe the deep state and Hollywood run a massive child sex trafficking ring, Christian fascists that place their faith in magic Jesus and teach creationism as science in our schools, ten hour long voting lines in states such as Georgia, militia members planning to kidnap the governors of Michigan and Virginia and start a civil war, is also ominous, especially as we ignore the accelerating ecocide.

All of our activism, protests, lobbying, petitions, appeals to the United Nations, the work of NGOs and misguided trust in liberal politicians such as Barack Obama have been accompanied by a 60 percent rise in global carbon emissions since 1990. Estimates predict another 40 percent rise in global emissions in the next decade. We are less than a decade away from carbon dioxide levels reaching 450 parts per million, the equivalent to a 2 degree Celsius average temperature rise, a global catastrophe that will make parts of the earth uninhabitable, flood coastal cities, dramatically reduce crop yields and result in suffering and death for billions of people. This is what is coming, and we can’t wish it away.

I speak to you in Troy, New York, once the second largest producer of iron in the country after Pittsburgh. It was an industrial hub for the garment industry, a center for the production of shirts, shirtwaists, collars, and cuffs, and was once home to foundries that made bells to firms that crafted precision instruments. All that is gone, of course, leaving behind the post-industrial decay, the urban blight and the shattered lives and despair that are sadly familiar in most cities in the United States.
It is this despair that is killing us. It eats into the social fabric, rupturing social bonds, and manifests itself in an array of self-destructive and aggressive pathologies. It fosters what the anthropologist Roger Lancaster calls “poisoned solidarity,” the communal intoxication forged from the negative energies of fear, suspicion, envy and the lust for vengeance and violence. Nations in terminal decline embrace, as Sigmund Freud understood, the death instinct. No longer sustained by the comforting illusion of inevitable human progress, they lose the only antidote to nihilism. No longer able to build, they confuse destruction with creation. They descend into an atavistic savagery, something not only Freud but Joseph Conrad and Primo Levi knew lurks beneath the thin veneer of civilized society. Reason does not guide our lives. Reason, as Schopenhauer puts it, echoing Hume, is the hard-pressed servant of the will.

“Men are not gentle creatures who want to be loved, and who at the most can defend themselves if they are attacked,” Freud wrote. “They are, on the contrary, creatures among whose instinctual endowments is to be reckoned a powerful share of aggressiveness. As a result, their neighbor is for them not only a potential helper or sexual object, but also someone who tempts them to satisfy their aggressiveness on him, to exploit his capacity for work without compensation, to use him sexually without his consent, to seize his possessions, to humiliate him, to cause him pain, to torture and to kill him. Homo homini lupus. Who, in the face of all his experience of life and history, will have the courage to dispute this assertion? As a rule, this cruel aggressiveness waits for some provocation or puts itself at the service of some other purpose, whose goal might also have been reached by milder measures. In circumstances that are favorable to it, when the mental counter-forces which ordinarily inhibit it are out of action, it also manifests itself spontaneously and reveals man as a savage beast to whom consideration towards his own kind is something alien.”

Freud, like Primo Levi, got it. The moral life is a matter of circumstances. Moral consideration, as I saw in the wars I covered, largely disappears in moments of extremity. It is the luxury of the privileged. “Ten percent of any population is cruel, no matter what, and 10 percent is merciful, no matter what, and the remaining 80 percent can be moved in either direction,” Susan Sontag said.

To survive, it was necessary, Levi wrote of life in the death camps, “to throttle all dignity and kill all conscience, to climb down into the arena as a beast against other beasts, to let oneself be guided by those unsuspected subterranean forces which sustain families and individuals in cruel times. “It was, he wrote, “a Hobbesian life,” “a continuous war of everyone against everyone.” Varlam Shalamov, imprisoned for 25 years in Stalin’s gulags, was equally pessimistic: “All human emotions–of love, friendship, envy, concern for one’s fellowman, compassion, a longing for fame, honesty–had left us with the flesh that had melted from our bodies during our long fasts. The camp was a great test of our moral strength, of our everyday morality, and 99% of us failed it…Conditions in the camps do not permit men to remain men; that is not what camps were created for.”

Social collapse will bring these latent pathologies to the surface.

But the fact that circumstances can reduce us to savagery does not negate the moral life. As our empire implodes, and with it social cohesion, as the earth increasingly punishes us for our refusal to honor and protect the systems that give us life, triggering a scramble for diminishing natural resources and huge climate migrations, we must face this darkness, not only around us, but within us.

The dance macabre is already underway. Hundreds of thousands of Americans die each year from opioid overdoes, alcoholism and suicide, what sociologists calls deaths of despair. This despair fuels high rates of morbid obesity, some 40 percent of the public, gambling addictions, the pornification of the society with the ubiquitous of images of sexual sadism along with the proliferation of armed right-wing militias and nihilistic mass shootings. As despair mounts, so will these acts of self-immolation.
Those overwhelmed by despair seek magical salvations, whether in crisis cults, such as the Christian Right, or demagogues such as Trump, or rage-filled militias that see violence as a cleansing agent. As long as these dark pathologies are allowed to fester and grow–and the Democratic Party has made it clear it will not enact the kinds of radical social reforms that will curb these pathologies–the United States will continue its march towards disintegration and social upheaval. Removing Trump will neither halt nor slow the descent.

An estimated 300,000 American will be dead from the pandemic in December, a figure that is expected to rise to 400,000 in January. Chronic underemployment and unemployment, close to 20 percent when those who have stopped looking for work, those furloughed with no prospect of being rehired and those who work part-time but are still below the poverty line, are included in the official statistic instead of being magically erased from the unemployment rolls. Our privatized health care system, which is making record profits during the pandemic, is not designed to cope with a public health emergency. It is designed to maximize profit for its owners. There are fewer than 1 million hospital beds nationally, a result of the decades-long trend of hospital mergers and closures that have reduced access to care in communities across the nation. Cities such as Milwaukee have been forced to erect field hospitals. In states such as Mississippi there are no longer any ICU beds available. The for-profit health service did not stockpile the ventilators, masks, tests or drugs to deal with COVID-19. Why should it? That is not a route to increased revenue. And there is no substantial difference between Trump and Biden’s response to the health crisis, where 1,000 people a day are dying.

Forty-eight percent of front line workers remain ineligible for sick pay. Some 43 million Americans have lost their employee-sponsored health insurance. There are ten thousand bankruptcies a day, with perhaps two-thirds of them tied to exorbitant medial costs. Food banks are overrun with tens of thousands of desperate families. Roughly 10 to 14 million renter households, or 23 to 34 million people, were behind on their rent in September. That amounts to $12 to $17 billion in unpaid rent. And that figure is expected to rise to $34 billion in past due rent in January. The lifting of the moratorium on evictions and forecloses will mean that millions of families, many destitute, will be tossed onto the street. Hunger in U.S. households almost tripled between 2019 and August of this year, according to the Census Bureau and the Department of Agriculture. The proportion of American children who do not have enough to eat, the study found, is 14 times higher than it was last year. A study by Columbia University, found that since May there are eight million more Americans who can be classified as poor. Meanwhile, the 50 richest Americans hold as much wealth as half of the United States. Millennials, some 72 million people, have 4.6 percent of U.S. wealth.

Only one thing matters to the corporate state. It is not democracy. It is not truth. It is not the consent of the governed. It is not income inequality. It is not the surveillance state. It is not endless war. It is not jobs. It is not the climate crisis. It is the primacy of corporate power — which has extinguished our democracy, taken from us our most basic civil liberties and left most of the working class in misery — and the increase and consolidation of its wealth and power.
Trump and Biden are repugnant figures, doddering into old age with cognitive lapses and no moral cores. Is Trump more dangerous than Biden? Yes. Is Trump inepter and more dishonest? Yes. Is Trump more of a threat to the open society? Yes. Is Biden the solution? No.

Biden cannot plausibly offer change. He can only offer more of the same. And most Americans do not want more of the same. The country’s largest voting-age bloc, the 100 million-plus citizens who out of apathy or disgust do not vote, will once again stay home. This demoralization of the electorate is by design.

In America we are only permitted to vote against what we hate. Partisan media outlets set one group against another, a consumer version of what George Orwell in his novel 1984 called the “Two minutes of Hate.” Our opinions and prejudices are skillfully catered to and reinforced, with the aid of a detailed digital analysis of our proclivities and habits, and then sold back to us. The result, as Matt Taibbi writes, is “packaged anger just for you.” The public is unable to speak across the manufactured divide. Politics, under the assault, has atrophied into a tawdry reality show centered on manufactured political personalities. Civic discourse has been poisoned by invective and lies. Power, meanwhile, is left unexamined and unchallenged.

Political coverage is modeled, as Taibbi points out, on sports coverage. The sets look like the sets on Sunday NFL Countdown. The anchor is on one side. There are four commentators, two from each team. Graphics keep us updated on the score. Political identities are reduced to easily digestible stereotypes. Tactics, strategy, image, the monthly tallies of campaign contributions and polling are endlessly examined, while real political issues are ignored. It is the language and imagery of war.

This coverage masks the fact that on nearly all the major issues the two major political parties are in complete agreement. The deregulation of the financial industry, trade agreements, the militarization of police — the Pentagon has transferred more than $ 7.4 billion in excess military gear and hardware to nearly 8,000 federal and state law enforcement agencies since 1990 — the explosion in the prison population, deindustrialization, austerity, support for fracking and the fossil fuel industry, the endless wars in the Middle East, the bloated military budget, the control of elections and mass media by corporations and the wholesale government surveillance of the population–and when the government watches you 24 hours a day you cannot use the word liberty, this is the relationship of a master and a slave — all have bipartisan support. And for this reason, these issues are almost never discussed.
This goal is to set demographic against demographic. This stoking of antagonism is not news. It is entertainment, driven not by journalism but marketing strategies to increase viewership and corporate sponsors. News divisions are corporate revenue streams competing against other corporate revenue streams. The template for news, as Taibbi writes in his book Hate Inc., the cover of which has Sean Hannity on one side and Rachel Maddow on the other, is the simplified morality play used in professional wrestling. There are only two real political positions in the United States. You love Trump or you hate him, which comes from the playbook of professional wrestling.

By voting for Biden and the Democratic Party you vote for something.

You vote to endorse the humiliation of courageous women such as Anita Hill who confronted their abusers. You vote for the architects of the endless wars in the Middle East. You vote for the apartheid state in Israel. You vote for wholesale surveillance of the public by government intelligence agencies and the abolition of due process and habeas corpus. You vote for austerity programs, including the destruction of welfare and cuts to Social Security. You vote for NAFTA, free trade deals, de-industrialization, a real decline in wages, the loss of hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs and the offshoring of jobs to underpaid workers who toil in sweatshops in Mexico, China or Vietnam. You vote for the assault on teachers and public education and the transfer of federal funds to for-profit and Christian charter schools. You vote for the doubling of our prison population, the tripling and quadrupling of sentences and huge expansion of crimes meriting the death penalty. You vote for militarized police who gun down poor people of color with impunity.  You vote against the Green New Deal and immigration reform. You vote for the fracking industry. You vote for limiting a woman’s right to abortion and reproductive rights. You vote for a segregated public-school system in which the wealthy receive educational opportunities and poor people of color are denied a chance. You vote for punitive levels of student debt and the inability to free yourself of those debt obligations even if file for bankruptcy. You vote for deregulating the banking industry and the abolition of Glass-Steagall. You vote for the for-profit insurance and pharmaceutical corporations and against universal health care. You vote for defense budgets that consume more than half of all discretionary spending. You vote for the use of unlimited oligarchic and corporate money to buy our elections. You vote for a politician who during his time in the Senate abjectly served the interests of MBNA, the largest independent credit card company headquartered in Delaware, which also employed Biden’s son Hunter.

Biden was one of the principle architects of the wars in the Middle East, where we have squandered upwards of $7 trillion and destroyed or extinguished the lives of millions of people. He is responsible for far more suffering and death at home and abroad than Trump. If we had a functioning judicial and legislative system, Biden, along with the other architects of our disastrous imperial wars, corporate plundering of the country and betrayal of the American working class, would be put on trial, not offered up as a solution to our political and economic debacle.

The Democrats and their liberal apologists adopt tolerant positions on issues regarding race, religion, immigration, women’s rights and sexual identity and pretend this is politics. These issues are societal or ethical issues. They are important. But they are not social or political issues. The seizure of control of the economy by a class of global speculators and corporations has ruined the lives of the very groups the Democrats pretend to lift up. When Bill Clinton and the Democratic Party, for example, destroyed the old welfare system, 70 percent of the recipients were children. Those on the right of the political spectrum — and we must never forget that the positions of the Democratic Party would make it a far-right party in Europe — demonize those on the margins of society as scapegoats. The culture wars mask the reality. Both parties are full partners in the destruction of our democratic institutions. Both parties have reconfigured American society into a mafia state. It only depends on how you want it dressed up.
The power of politicians such as Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer or Mitch McConnell comes from being able funnel corporate money to anointed candidates. In a functioning political system, one not saturated with corporate cash, they would not hold power. They have transformed what the Roman philosopher Cicero called a commonwealth, a res publica, a “public thing” or the “property of a people,” into an instrument of pillage and repression on behalf of a global corporate oligarchy. We are serfs ruled by the obscenely rich, omnipotent masters who loot the U.S. Treasury, pay little or no taxes and have perverted the judiciary, the media and the legislative branches of government to strip us of civil liberties and give them the freedom to engage in tax boycotts, financial fraud and theft.

In the midst of the pandemic crisis what did our ruling kleptocratic rulers do?

They looted $4 trillion on a scale unseen since the 2008 bailout overseen by Barack Obama and Biden. They gorged and enriched themselves at our expense, while tossing crumbs out of the windows of their private jets, yachts, penthouses and palatial estates to the suffering and despised masses.

The CARES Act handed trillions in funds or tax breaks to oil companies, the airline industry, which alone got $50 billion in stimulus money, the cruise ship industry, a $170 billion windfall for the real estate industry. It handed subsidies to private equity firmslobbying groups, whose political action committees have given $191 million in campaign contributions to politicians in the last two decades, the meat industry and corporations that have moved offshore to avoid U.S. taxes. The act allowed the largest corporations to gobble up money that was supposed to keep small businesses solvent to pay workers. It gave 80 percent of tax breaks under the stimulus package to millionaires and allowed the wealthiest to get stimulus checks that average $1.7 million. The CARES Act also authorized $454 billion for the Treasury Department’s Exchange Stabilization Fund, a massive slush fund doled out by Trump cronies to corporations that, when leveraged 10 to 1, can be used to create a staggering $4.5 trillion in assets. The act authorized the Fed to give $1.5 trillion in loans to Wall Street, which no one expects will ever be paid back. American billionaires have gotten $434 billion richer since the pandemic. Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world, whose corporation Amazon paid no federal taxes last year, alone added nearly $72 billion to his personal wealth since the pandemic started. During this same time period 55 million Americans lost their jobs.

The molding of the public into warring factions works commercially. It works politically. It destroys, as it is designed to do, class solidarity. But it is a recipe for social disintegration. It propels us towards the kind of Hobbesian world Primo Levi and Sigmund Freud warned us about. I watched competing ethnic groups in the former Yugoslavia retreat into antagonistic tribes. They seized rival mass media outlets and used them to spew lies, mythological narratives exalting themselves, along with vitriol and hate against the ethnicities they demonized. This poisoned solidarity, which we are replicating, pumped out month after month in Yugoslavia, destroyed the capacity for empathy, perhaps the best definition of evil, and led to a savage fratricide.
The United States, awash in military-grade weaponry, is already plagued by an epidemic of mass shootings. There are death threats against critics of Trump, including Rep. Ilhan Omar. There was an aborted plot by 13 members of a right-wing militia group to kidnap and perhaps assassinate the governors of Michigan and Virginian and start a civil war. A Trump supporter mailed pipe bombs to prominent Democrats and CNN, an effort to decapitate the hierarchy of the Democratic Party, as well as terrorize the media outlet that is the party’s principal propaganda platform.

The spark that usually sets such tinder ablaze is martyrdom. Aaron “Jay” Danielson, a supporter of the right-wing group Patriot Prayer, was wearing a loaded Glock pistol in a holster and had bear spray and an expandable metal baton when he was shot dead on August 29, allegedly by Michael Forest Reinoehl, a supporter of antifa, in the streets of Portland. A woman in the crowd can be heard shouting after the shooting: “I am not sad that a fucking fascist died tonight.” Reinoehl was ambushed and killed by federal agents in Washington state in what appears to be an act of extra-judicial murder. Once people start being sacrificed for the cause, it takes little for demagogues to insist that self-preservation necessitates violence.

Political stagnation and corruption, along with economic and social misery, spawn what anthropologists call crisis cults–movements led by demagogues that prey on an unbearable psychological and financial distress and champion violence as a form of moral purification. These crisis cults, already well established among followers of the Christian Right, right-wing militia groups and many followers of Donald Trump, who look at him not a politician but as a cult leader, peddle magical thinking and an infantilism that promises–if you surrender all autonomy–prosperity, restored national glory, a return to a mythical past, order and security. Trump is a symptom. He is not the disease. And if he leaves office far more competent and dangerous demagogues will rise, if the social conditions are not radically improved, to take his place.

I fear we are headed towards a Christianized fascism.

The greatest moral failing of the liberal Christian church was its refusal, justified in the name of tolerance and dialogue, to denounce the followers of the Christian right as heretics. By tolerating the intolerant, it ceded religious legitimacy to an array of con artists, charlatans and demagogues and their cultish supporters. It stood by as the core Gospel message–concern for the poor and the oppressed–was perverted into a magical world where God and Jesus showered believers with material wealth and power. The white race became God’s chosen agent. Imperialism and war became divine instruments for purging the world of infidels and barbarians, evil itself. Capitalism, because God blessed the righteous with wealth and power and condemned the immoral to poverty and suffering, became shorn of its inherent cruelty and exploitation. The iconography and symbols of American nationalism became intertwined with the iconography and symbols of the Christian faith.
The mega-pastors, narcissists who rule despotic, cult-like fiefdoms, make millions of dollars by using this heretical belief system to prey on the despair and desperation of their congregations, victims of neoliberalism and deindustrialization. These believers find in Trump, who preyed on this despair in his casinos and through his sham university, and these mega-pastors, champions of the unfettered greed, cult of masculinity, lust for violence, white supremacy, bigotry, American chauvinism, religious intolerance, anger, racism and conspiracy theories that are the core beliefs of the Christian Right.

When I wrote American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America I was quite serious about the term “fascists.”

Tens of millions of Americans live hermetically sealed inside the vast media and educational edifice erected by the Christian Right. In this world, miracles are real, Satan, allied with liberal secular humanists and the deep state, along with Muslims, immigrants, feminists, intellectuals, artists and a host of other internal enemies, is seeking to destroy America. Trump is God’s anointed vessel to build the Christian nation and cement into place a government that instills “biblical values.” These “biblical values” include banning abortion, protecting the traditional family, turning the Ten Commandments into secular law, crushing “infidels,” especially Muslims, indoctrinating children in schools with “biblical” teachings and thwarting sexual license, which includes any sexual relationship other than marriage between a man and a woman. Trump is routinely compared by evangelical leaders to the biblical king Cyrus, who rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem and restored the Jews to the city.

Trump has filled his ideological void with Christian fascism. He has elevated members of the Christian right to prominent positions, including Mike Pence to the vice presidency, Mike Pompeo to secretary of state, Betsy DeVos to secretary of education, Ben Carson to secretary of housing and urban development, William Barr to attorney general, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and the televangelist Paula White to his Faith and Opportunities Initiative. More importantly, Trump has handed the Christian right veto and appointment power over key positions in government, especially in the federal courts. He has installed 133 district court judges out of 677 total, 50 appeals court judges out of 179 total, and two U.S. Supreme Court justices, and with Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination most likely three, out of nine. This is nineteen percent of the federal trial judges currently in service. Nearly all of the extremists who make up the judicial appointees have been rated as unqualified by the American Bar Association, the country’s largest nonpartisan coalition of lawyers.
Trump has adopted the Islamophobia of the Christian fascists. He has banned Muslim immigrants and rolled back civil rights legislation. He has made war on reproductive rights by restricting abortion and defunding Planned Parenthood. He has stripped away LGBTQ rights. He has ripped down the firewall between church and state by revoking the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits churches, which are tax-exempt, from endorsing political candidates. His appointees, including Pence, Pompeo and DeVos, throughout the government routinely use biblical strictures to justify an array of policy decisions including environmental deregulation, war, tax cuts and the replacement of public schools with charter schools, an action that permits the transfer of federal education funds to private “Christian” schools. At the same time, they are building paramilitary organizations, not only through ad hoc militias but through mercenary groups of private contractors controlled by figures such as Erik Prince, the brother of Betsy DeVos and the former CEO of Blackwater now called Xe.

I studied ethics at Harvard Divinity School with James Luther Adams who had been in Germany in 1935 and 1936. Adams witnessed the rise there of the so-called German Christian Church which was pro-Nazi. He warned us about the disturbing parallels between the German Christian Church and the Christian right. Adolf Hitler was in the eyes of the German Christian Church a volk messiah and an instrument of God—a view similar to the one held today about Trump by many of his white evangelical supporters. Those demonized for Germany’s economic collapse, especially Jews and communists, were agents of Satan. Fascism, Adams told us, always cloaked itself in a nation’s most cherished symbols and rhetoric. Fascism would come to America not in the guise of stiff-armed, marching brownshirts and Nazi swastikas but in mass recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance, the biblical sanctification of the state and the sacralization of American militarism. Adams was the first person I heard label the extremists of the Christian right as fascists. Liberals, he warned, as in Nazi Germany, were blind to the tragic dimension of history and radical evil. They would not react until it was too late.

Trump’s legacy will, I fear, be the empowerment of the Christian fascists. They are what comes next. Noam Chomsky, for this reason, is right when he warns that Pence is more dangerous than Trump. For decades the Christian fascists have been organizing to take power. They have built infrastructures and organizations, including lobbying groups, schools, colleges and law schools as well as media platforms, to prepare. They have seeded their cadre into positions of power. We on the left, meanwhile, have seen our institutions and organizations destroyed or corrupted by corporate power and been seduced by the boutique activism of identity politics. FRC Action, the legislative affiliate of the Family Research Council, already gives 245 members of Congress a 100 percent approval rating for supporting legislation that is backed by the Christian Right.

Christian fascism is an emotional life raft for tens of millions of Americans. It is impervious to science and verifiable fact. The Christian fascists, by choice, have severed themselves from rational thought and the secular society that almost destroyed them and their families and thrust them into deep despair. We will not placate or disarm this movement, bent on our destruction, by attempting to claim that we, too, have Christian “values.” This appeal only strengthens the legitimacy of the Christian fascists and weakens our own. These dispossessed people will either be reintegrated into the economy and the society and their shattered social bonds mended, or the movement will grow more virulent and more powerful.

The Christian Right is determined to keep the public focus on societal or ethical as opposed to economic issues. The corporate media, whether it supports or opposes the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, almost exclusively discusses her opposition to abortion and membership in People of Praise, a far-right Catholic sect that practices “speaking in tongues.” What our corporate masters, along with the Christian fascists, do not want examined is Barrett’s subservience to corporate power, her hostility to workers, civil liberties, unions and environmental regulations. Since the Democratic Party is beholden to the same donor class as the Republican Party, and since the media long ago substituted the culture wars for politics, the most ominous threat posed by Barrett and the Christian Right is ignored.

The road to despotism is always paved with righteousness.

All fascist movements paper over their squalid belief systems with the veneer of morality. They mouth pieties about restoring law and order, right and wrong, the sanctity of life, civic and family virtues, patriotism and tradition to mask their dismantling of the open society and silencing and persecution of those who dissent. The Christian Right, awash in money from corporations that understand their political intent, will use any tool, no matter how devious, from right-wing armed militias to the invalidation of ballots, to block Biden and Democratic candidates from assuming office.

Capitalism, driven by the obsession to maximizing profit and reduce the cost of production by slashing worker’s rights and wages, is antithetical to the Christian Gospel, as well as the Enlightenment ethic of Immanuel Kant. But capitalism, in the hands of the Christian fascists, has become sacralized in the form of the Prosperity Gospel, the belief that Jesus came to minister to our material needs, blessing believers with wealth and power. The Prosperity Gospel is an ideological cover for the slow-motion corporate coup d’état. This is why large corporations such as Tyson Foods, which places Christian Right chaplains in its plants, Purdue, Wal-Mart, and Sam’s Warehouse, along with many other corporations, pour money into the movement and its institutions such as Liberty University and Patrick Henry Law School. This is why corporations have given millions to groups such as the Judicial Crisis Network and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to campaign for Barrett’s appointment to the court. Barrett has ruled to cheat gig workers out of overtime, green light fossil fuel extraction and pollution, gut Obamacare and strip consumers of protection from corporate fraud. Barrett, as a circuit court judge, heard at least 55 cases in which citizens challenged corporate abuse and fraud. She ruled in favor of corporations 76 percent of the time.

Our corporate masters do not care about abortion, gun rights or the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman. But like the German industrialists who backed the Nazi Party, they know that the Christian Right will give an ideological veneer to ruthless corporate tyranny. These oligarchs view the Christian fascists the same way the German industrialists viewed the Nazis, as buffoons. They are aware that the Christian fascists will trash what is left of our anemic democracy and the natural ecosystem. But they also know they will make huge profits in the process and the rights of workers and citizens will be ruthlessly suppressed.

If you are poor, if you lack proper medical care, if you are paid substandard wages, if you are trapped in the lower class, if you are a victim of police violence, this is because, according to the Prosperity Gospel, you are not a good Christian. In this belief system you deserve what you get. There is nothing wrong, these homegrown fascists preach, with the structures or systems of power. Like all totalitarian movements, followers are seduced into calling for their own enslavement.

As the Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels understood: “The best propaganda is that which, as it were, works invisibly, penetrates the whole of life without the public having any knowledge of the propagandistic initiative.”

The tinder that could ignite violent conflagrations lies ominously stacked around us. It may be triggered by Trump’s defeat in the election. Millions of disenfranchised white Americans, who see no way out of their economic and social misery, struggling with an emotional void, are seething with rage against a corrupt ruling class and bankrupt liberal elite that betrayed them. They are tired of the political stagnation, grotesque, mounting social inequality and the punishing fallout from the pandemic. Millions more alienated young men and women, also locked out of the economy and with no realistic prospect for advancement or integration, gripped by the same emotional void, have harnessed their fury in the name of tearing down the governing structures and anti-fascism. These polarized extremes are inching closer and closer to violence.
There are three options: reform, which, given the decay in the American body politic, is impossible, revolution, or tyranny.

If the corporate state is not overthrown, then America will soon become a naked police state where any opposition, however tepid, will be silenced with draconian censorship or force. Police in cities around the country have already thwarted the reporting by dozens of journalists covering the protests through physical force, arrests, tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper spray.  This will become normalized. The huge social divides, often built around race, will be used by the Christian fascists to set neighbor against neighbor. Armed Christian patriots will attack those groups blamed for social collapse. Dissent, even nonviolent dissent, will become treason.

Peter Drucker observed that Nazism succeeded not because people believed in its fantastic promises, but in spite of them. Nazi absurdities, he pointed out, had been “witnessed by a hostile press, a hostile radio, a hostile cinema, a hostile church, and a hostile government which untiringly pointed out the Nazi lies, the Nazi inconsistency, the unattainability of their promises, and the dangers and folly of their course.” Nobody, he noted, “would have been a Nazi if rational belief in the Nazi promises had been a prerequisite.” The poet, playwright and socialist revolutionary Ernst Toller, who was forced into exile and stripped of his citizenship when the Nazis took power in 1933, wrote in his autobiography: “The people are tired of reason, tired of thought and reflection. They ask, what has reason done in the last few years, what good have insights and knowledge done us.” After Toller committed suicide in 1939, W.H. Auden in his poem “In Memory of Ernst Toller” wrote:

We are lived by powers we pretend to understand:
They arrange our loves; it is they who direct at the end
The enemy bullet, the sickness, or even our hand.

Once the internal enemies are purged from the nation, we are promised, America will recover its lost glory, except that once one enemy is obliterated another takes its place. Crisis cults require a steady escalation of conflict and a steady stream of victims. Every new crisis becomes more urgent and more extreme than the last. This is what made the war in the former Yugoslavia inevitable. Once one stage of conflict reaches a crescendo it loses its efficacy. It must be replaced by ever more brutal and deadly confrontations. It is what Ernst Jünger called a “feast of death.”

These crisis cults are, as Drucker understood, irrational and schizophrenic. They have no coherent ideology. They turn morality upside down. They appeal exclusively to emotions. Burlesque and spectacle become politics. Depravity becomes morality. Atrocities and murder, as the federal marshals who wantonly gunned down the antifia activist Michael Forest Reinoehl in Washington State illustrated, becomes heroism. Crime and fraud become justice. Greed and nepotism become civic virtues.

What these crisis cults stand for today, they condemn tomorrow. There is no ideological consistency. There is only emotional consistency. At the height of the reign of terror on May 6, 1794 during the French Revolution, Maximilien Robespierre announced that the Committee for Public Safety now recognized the existence of God. The French revolutionaries, fanatical atheists who had desecrated churches and confiscated church property, murdered hundreds of priests and forced another 30,000 into exile, instantly reversed themselves to send to the guillotine those who disparaged religion. In the end, exhausted by the moral confusion and internal contradictions, these crisis cults yearn for self-annihilation.

The ruling elites will no more restore these ruptured social bonds and address the deep despair that grips America than they will respond to the climate emergency. As the country unravels, they will reach for the familiar tools of state repression and the ideological prop provided by Christian fascism.

It is up to us to carry out sustained acts of nonviolent, mass resistance. If we mobilize in large and small ways to fight for an open society, to create communities that, as Vaclav Havel wrote “live in truth,” we hold out the possibility of pushing back against these crisis cults, holding at bay the brutality that accompanies social upheaval, as well as slowing and disrupting the march towards ecocide. This requires us to acknowledge that our systems of governance are incapable of being reformed. No one in power will save us. No one but us will stand up for the vulnerable, the demonized and the earth itself. All we do must have the single aim of crippling the power of the ruling elites in the hopes of new systems of governance that can implement the radical reforms to save us and our world.

The most difficult existential dilemma we face is to at once acknowledge the bleakness before us and act, to refuse to succumb to cynicism and despair. And we will only do this through faith, the faith that the good draws to it the good, that all acts that nurture and protect life have an intrinsic power, even if the empirical evidence shows that things are getting worse. We will find our freedom, our autonomy, our meaning and our social bonds among those who also resist, and this will allow us to endure, and maybe even triumph.

Feature photo | Art by Mr. Fish / Original to Scheerpost

Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who was a foreign correspondent for fifteen years for The New York Times, where he served as the Middle East Bureau Chief and Balkan Bureau Chief for the paper. He previously worked overseas for The Dallas Morning News, The Christian Science Monitor, and NPR. He is the host of the Emmy Award-nominated RT America show On Contact. 

The post Chris Hedges: The Politics of Cultural Despair appeared first on MintPress News.

Bolivia: First Election Since US-Backed Coup Pits Right against Left, Rich Against Poor and White against Everyone Else

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 17/10/2020 - 6:22am in

Eleven months after a U.S-backed military coup overthrew the democratically elected Evo Morales and his Movement to Socialism (MAS) party, Bolivians will go to the polls on Sunday, offering them a chance to repudiate the coup government of Jeanine Añez, who has ruled the country since last November.

The last year has been a period of constant political struggle, as the self-described “interim government” has fought to impose its rule on a rebellious population, attempting to bring sweeping changes to the Andean state. Yet despite the arrest, exile, and repression of his colleagues, polls show MAS candidate Luis Arce as the clear frontrunner among many, with some suggesting he could win the election outright in the first round of voting.

Although the conflict is a political one, it is impossible to deny the clear and overt racial dynamic at play. While the country’s right-wing parties draw their support from rich, upper-class white Bolivians, many of whom live in eastern areas, the MAS is inordinately backed by the country’s indigenous or mixed lower-class majority.

MintPress has been speaking with a number of major MAS actors in this weekend’s election. Most of them see the event as an opportunity to reassert racial equality and reject an older model of white domination that ruled the country since the Spanish Conquest until Morales’ election in 2006.

“On October 18th we have to bury the fascist right…look at who the candidates for the right are, they’re people descendants from the Spanish, from Croatians, from all those empires. They don’t believe in our sovereignty or our culture,” said Juan Vilca of the Unified Syndical Confederation of Rural Workers of Bolivia.

What we’re excited about is that we have a winning formula, Luis Arce for president, he represents economic stability and can reach the middle class, and for vice president, we have an indigenous campesino, our brother David Choquehuanca, he’ll make sure that our culture and identity are respected, he’ll make sure our poncho, our chicote [whip], our chuspa [traditional bag], our sombrero, our dress, is respected.”

Bolivia Elections

A woman walks past a wall full of electoral posters in El Alto, Bolivia, Oct. 15, 2020. Juan Karita | AP

Morales, who escaped persecution in November by fleeing to Mexico, and later Argentina, was the country’s first indigenous leader since the Spanish conquest. Coming from the Aymara nation, he was a poor peasant farmer before becoming politically active in trade unions. Morales, with his strong indigenous features, made racial equality a central focus of his administration. The 2009 constitution officially changed the country’s name to the “Plurinational State of Bolivia” to recognize its multi-ethnic nature, with the indigenous Wiphala flag granted equal status to the more traditional tricolor design seen internationally. This did not please Bolivia’s wealthy, mostly white, westernized elite.

Addressing a crowd, Eva Copa, president of the Bolivian senate and herself an Aymara from the city of El Alto, said of her political opponents, “They call us Indians as if it’s an insult, but I’m proud to be an Indian!” later adding at a MAS rally that,

In this election we’ll vote against racism. October 18 is where we recover the dignity of our indigenous cultures, where we say no to hate and division. We’ll say no to violence, because we come from the culture of peace. We’ll destroy the whole idea of ‘fraud’ [referring to Morales’ disputed electoral victory last year] which they used to steal the election from Bolivia’s indigenous peoples. The city of El Alto has always been a tomb for tyrants and we’ll prove that again on October 18.”

Part of indigenous identity in Bolivia is a respect, even reverence, for the natural environment, which they call “Pachamama” (Mother Earth). Leonardo Loza, a leader of the Chimore Union Federation and MAS candidate for senate in the city of Cochabamba explained why so many inside the country see this election as a turning point in the country’s history.

Our identity and culture is at play in this election, our lives are at play, our way of life is at play, our harmony with Pachamama is at play, our coexistence between Bolivians is at play, and of course, democracy is at play. That’s why the October 18 elections are so important.”

A little known senator from a party that received only four percent of the vote in last October’s election that Morales won (before being ejected by the military on spurious vote rigging charges), Jeanine Añez was an unlikely choice for president. A strongly conservative Christian, she arrived at the presidential palace brandishing a massive, leather bound bible, proclaiming that God was returning to government. Much of Bolivia’s Christian right see indigenous people as lesser citizens. Añez herself had previously described the country’s indigenous majority as “satanic” and suggested they should not be allowed to live in cities but should be relegated to the highlands or the deserts. In this election, Bolivia’s far-right have campaigned on the slogan “creemos” (we believe), presenting themselves, the true believers, against the satanic non-believers who still worship Mother Earth.

During the November coup, leaders burned the Wiphala flag in the streets, while security forces ripped off and burned the Wiphala patch that was added to their uniforms, a gesture symbolizing a return to a country with a strict racial hierarchy. “The burning of our Wiphala was what hurt the most, absolutely,” said Franklin Flores, an Aymara MAS lawmaker. “The way our mothers, our sisters, our daughters were beaten with sticks and gassed by the police, just for being indigenous. That hurt our soul and it always will, we’ll never forget those moments. With our vote now we can overcome all that and give back dignity to our people.”

In order to force the recently re-elected Morales from office in November, the country’s right-wing relied on a campaign of violence against MAS officials. Patricia Arce, mayor of the town of Vinto, for example, was captured, had her hair shaved off, and her body painted red before she was publicly dragged through the streets barefoot, her captors abusing her forcing her to agree to leave office. Morales made clear that he was only leaving to avert a bloodbath.

Once in power, Añez certainly did not have it all her own way, and was met with stiff but mostly uncoordinated resistance to the coup from the country’s indigenous and working-class. She quickly signed an official order pre-exonerating all security services from any crimes committed during the “re-establishment of order,” effectively giving the army and the police a license to kill anyone who opposed her. This they immediately used, carrying out a number of massacres against MAS supporters.

“During this coup, we, as indigenous women, have been treated worse than animals, I think to them we don’t exist, but that pain hasn’t been for nothing,” said Juanita Ancieta, Secretary of International Relations for the MAS, and an indigenous Quechua woman.

Our children have risen up with enormous strength in defense of indigenous women, that brings us huge joy, huge pride. These elections are the chance to end that discrimination, that racism, and we’ll do it with our vote, we don’t need violence because we want to build a government of peace. I want to say to the right, that we are Bolivians too, even if we have ideological differences, we’re all humans in our Pachamama,” she added.

Since the European conquest, much of Latin America has been exploited as a vast mineral resource, enriching Europeans, and later, North Americans. Bolivia was no exception. From its discovery in 1545, the vast silver mountain of Potosí (which, for centuries, produced more than half the world’s supply of silver) enriched the Spanish king and funded Madrid’s escapades around Europe and the world. Just 50 years after its founding, the city of Potosí had a population equal to that of London or Paris. Today, the silver is mostly gone. But Bolivia is still rich in tin, hydrocarbons, and lithium. Morales attempted to redress the balance by nationalizing the country’s mineral wealth, using the proceeds to fund ambitious anti-poverty projects. This may have sealed his fate; Morales contends that the events of November constituted a “lithium coup,” a notion backed up by Tesla CEO Elon Musk. When challenged on his role in the coup, the billionaire (whose electric vehicles require vast amounts of lithium for batteries) responded, “We will coup whoever we want! Deal with it.”

During his time in office, Morales emerged as one of the world’s foremost critics of the international system, continually asserting that unfettered capitalism was the root cause of human suffering. Internationally, he opposed U.S. imperialism and attempted to build far reaching networks with other independently-minded Latin American countries, all while promoting Palestinian rights and Boycott Divestment and Sanctions against Israel. In 2015, his presidential plane was grounded in Europe after it was alleged that American dissident Edward Snowden might be on board en route to a new life of asylum in Bolivia. Diego Pary, an indigenous Quechua and Morales’ Foreign Minister until the 2019 coup, said that,

The diplomacy of Bolivia’s indigenous peoples reached the world during the last government. From the foreign ministry we showed the world what Bolivia really is, we showed the world our indigenous cultures, but sadly that indigenous diplomacy, that values unity and integration, has been abandoned. With this election we can rebuild Bolivia’s standing in the world, the values of our indigenous cultures have so much to contribute internationally.”

Bolivia Elections

A Queen Elizabeth I monument is covered in an Indigenous “Chola” outfit during a protest against colonization in La Paz, Oct. 12, 2020. Juan Karita | AP

As they wrap up their election campaign, the Movement to Socialism appears in a confident mood. A recent poll shows Luis Arce at 42 percent nationally, more than 9 points ahead of his nearest challenger Carlos Mesa (who was president between 2003 and 2005). Under the Bolivian system, if any candidate wins over 40 percent of the vote in the first round and is 10 points clear of second place, there is no second round runoff election. The Bolivian right obviously sees the danger, with Añez herself recently dropping out of the race to rally support around one candidate. Thus, unless projections are wildly inaccurate, a fair vote on Sunday will have the MAS in a strong position.

Yet there are serious concerns the election (which has already been postponed multiple times) will be far from fair. “Citizen observers” are being directly paid by U.S. government organizations USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy, groups expelled from Bolivia under Morales’ premiership for interference in domestic affairs. In the wake of the coup, the U.S. expressed its delight at what it called the “preservation of democracy,” releasing a statement that all but said, “we did it.” Since then, it has continued to back Añez.

Añez’s government is also trying to impose a 48-hour lockdown straight after the election, claiming it is an anti-COVID-19 measure. However, critics allege it could be an attempt to stop protests against upcoming electoral fraud.

Henry Nina, the president of the Intercultural Confederation, the country’s largest indigenous organization, was confident that justice would be achieved.

We’re going to win back our identity, as the 36 indigenous and Afro nations of Bolivia, recognized by the constitution that we fought for. They’ve discriminated against us, they’ve dismantled our institutions such as the Ministry of Culture, a people without origin and without culture is not a people. This is why we have to rebuild democracy on October 18, so as to be able to rebuild our culture and our identity.”

Sunday represents Bolivia’s best chance to secure lasting peace, with a resounding MAS victory being a repudiation of the right’s military coup in November. Already, through constant struggle, the country’s indigenous groups and trade unions have forced the government to concede to an election. The question remains, however, if it loses, how will the government react?

Feature photo | An opponent of former President Evo Morales fights a supporter of the Movement Towards Socialism Party in La Paz, Bolivia, Oct. 5, 2020. Juan Karita | AP

Oliver Vargas is a British-Bolivian journalist covering the ongoing coup in Bolivia for MintPress News. His writing has appeared in teleSUR, Redfish and The Grayzone among others.

Alan MacLeod is a 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. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post Bolivia: First Election Since US-Backed Coup Pits Right against Left, Rich Against Poor and White against Everyone Else appeared first on MintPress News.

Polanyi’s Prescience: Covid-19, Market Utopianism, and the Reality of Society

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 17/10/2020 - 4:48am in

by Margaret Somers and Fred Block * One of Karl Polanyi’s fundamental concepts is ‘the reality of society’, a term he uses in The Great Transformation (TGT) (Polanyi 1944/2001) to contest the idealised model of the autonomous self-regulating market. Modern … Continue reading →

Western Anger as China, Russia Elected to UN Human Rights Council and Saudi Arabia Rejected

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 15/10/2020 - 3:32am in

In a secret ballot at the United Nations yesterday, Saudi Arabia was rejected for a position on the body’s 47-country Human Rights Council (HRC). The only country that did not receive the required number of votes from member states, the failure has been seen as a repudiation of the Kingdom’s abysmal human rights record and its decreasing international support.

15 positions were filled yesterday, although most of them were pre-selected. Only the Asia-Pacific region faced an open vote from UN member states. Pakistan received 169 “yes” votes out of a possible 193, Uzbekistan 164, Nepal 150, and China 139. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, received just 90.

Saudi Arabia’s allies in the West had actually been campaigning to halt the election of states that draw Washington’s ire, including China, Russia, and Cuba, trying to organize opposition against those nations, but were ultimately unsuccessful. China received 41 fewer votes than it did in 2016, amid increased global concern over the alleged treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang Province, but ultimately comfortably surpassed the 50 percent threshold for admission.

U.N. Watch, a western NGO that has a history of attacking Washington’s enemies and has condemned the UN for its supposed antisemitic bias over its criticism of Israeli human rights abuses, claimed that “electing these dictatorships as UN judges on human rights is like making a gang of arsonists into the fire brigade.”

The reaction from the U.S. government, which left the HRC in 2018 over its perceived bias against Israel, was similarly angry. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released a statement claiming that the election of countries like China, Russia, Cuba (and Venezuela in 2019) has shown that the institution is now broken beyond repair.

“The United States’ commitment to human rights consists of far more than just words,” Pompeo said, as he boasted of employing sanctions against all those nations. “Our commitments are spelled out clearly in the UN’s Declaration, and in our record of action. The United States is a force for good in the world, and always will be,” he added. Yet earlier this year Pompeo himself said that the U.S. should abandon most of the rights enshrined in the UN Declaration and focus only on property rights and religious freedoms.

 

The spin war

Much of the media today has been in a furor that the “world’s worst abusers” (The Times) like China, Russia, and Cuba are set to join or rejoin the council. The Guardian suggested that the institution’s credibility is at stake. Yet in the talk of human rights violators joining the council, the election of other states with questionable records was never discussed. Bolivia, whose murderous far-right government came to power in a U.S.-backed military coup in November, was also elected, but with no fanfare or condemnation. As was Cameroon, whose dictatorial head of state Paul Biya has been in charge of the country since Gerald Ford was president of the United States. Other states with contentious records included were Narendra Modi’s India, Rodrigo Duterte’s Philippines, and the Qatari dictatorship.

UN Media coverage

Both the Guardian, left, and the Times, right, failed to report on other human rights violators being elected to the council

Saudi Arabia was elected twice to the HRC between 2014-2016 and 2017-2019. Its new failure to secure more than 90 votes is a sign of increasing discontent with its policies in Yemen, declared the world’s worst humanitarian disaster by the United Nations, where 24 million people (80 percent of the country) need some form of humanitarian assistance. Yet under pressure from the U.S. government, aid has been cut to just 25 cents per person, per day. The kingdom has played a key role in stymying any international action to deal with the humanitarian catastrophe, using its position at the HRC to block UN inquiries into its own abuses in Yemen.

Internally, the country is often described as the most repressive regime on the planet, with millions of people suffering under slave-like conditions, according to Human Rights Watch. While on the council, it attempted to block a resolution that condemned the use of torture by law enforcement and reaffirms the human rights of LGBT people. Inside Saudi Arabia, homosexuality is still punishable with the death penalty.

Ultimately, while yesterday’s election is the sign of a slightly more multipolar world, the results are unlikely to seriously change the direction of the organization, with the United Nations constantly blocked from taking action unless all of the world’s superpowers allow it.

Feature photo | Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, right, listens to Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud speaks during their meeting at the State Department, Oct. 14, 2020, in Washington. Manuel Balce Ceneta | AP

Alan MacLeod is a 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. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post Western Anger as China, Russia Elected to UN Human Rights Council and Saudi Arabia Rejected appeared first on MintPress News.

Critics Say New Iran Sanctions Designed To “Choke off Humanitarian Exports” Amid Pandemic

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 10/10/2020 - 5:36am in

Yesterday the State Department announced the beginnings of yet more sanctions on Iran, this time targeting the country’s financial industry. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed the move was necessary to “further deprive the Islamic Republic of Iran of funds to carry out its support for terrorist activities and nuclear extortion that threatens the world,” adding that his actions were part of a “maximum economic pressure campaign” that will continue until Iran ceases its “malign behavior.”

Pompeo insisted that the sanctions “do not affect existing authorizations and exceptions for humanitarian exports to Iran, which remain in full force and effect.” Yet existing sanctions have already wreaked havoc on the Islamic Republic, killing thousands. Earlier this year, Human Rights Watch condemned the Trump administration for “drastically constraining the ability of the country to finance humanitarian imports, including medicines and medical equipment,” its executive director Kenneth Roth describing Washington as “compounding Iranians’ misery by depriving them of access to the critical medical resources they urgently need.”

Iran was one of the first countries to be hit badly by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the U.S. used the opportunity to cause maximum devastation by intimidating other nations into refusing to sell or donate them medical supplies, lest they be hit with secondary sanctions. As a result, Iran was woefully under equipped to deal with the problem. In the end, the World Health Organization stepped in, sending supplies themselves — part of the reason the Trump administration was so keen to leave the organization. Washington insiders openly discussed using the pandemic to force the Iranian government out of office and implement a regime more suited to their needs.

While the government claims that the sanctions are “directed at the regime and its corrupt officials that have used the wealth of the Iranian people to fuel a radical, revolutionary cause that has brought untold suffering across the Middle East and beyond,” it is widely understood that the attack on the banking center will affect Iran’s ability to function and even purchase basics like food from abroad.

The National Iranian American Council (no lovers of the current administration in Tehran) condemned the action as “heartless and sadistic,” claiming the sanctions were explicitly designed to “choke off humanitarian exports to Iran” and displayed the cruelty of the Trump administration. “It is critical that the American people and our elected representatives put an end to this cruel, inhumane, and strategically catastrophic suffering and humiliation that is being imposed on innocent Iranians in our names,” they concluded.

“I don’t know how many times I have to read a headline about #Iran that breaks my heart. Why are the lives of Iranians disposable? Do we not have compassion for the hurt, the pains, the struggles of the people of Iran? Why must we be so callous?” asked Leila Gharagozlou, a producer at MSNBC.

“Contrary to the US claims, humanitarian goods and services are affected by the cruel sanctions. Financial institutions fear the US vengeance, which is why the financial channels created to facilitate transactions for humanitarian commodities, have had no tangible results,” said Mohammad Zareyian, an Iranian representative at the United Nations General Assembly.

The sanctions have already caused serious hardship on Iran, sending the prices of consumer goods soaring and the value of its currency, the rial, plummeting. Like in Venezuela, oil production has sputtered, as the Islamic Republic can find few buyers for its main national export. The price of food has also become a serious issue for many. “The sanctions deliberately target ordinary Iranians, women and children,” Seyed Mohammad Marandi, Professor of English Literature at the University of Tehran told MintPress last week. “They are designed to kill hospital patients and to create poverty. They have had partial success.”

The U.S. has dreamed of a change of government in Tehran since the Iranian Revolution in 1979 overthrew the American-backed Shah and installed Ayatollah Khomeini as leader. To that end, it has propped up dictators like Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, fomented protest movements, supported virtual shadow governments like the MEK, and imposed suffocating sanctions on the nation.

Earlier this year, Trump assassinated top general Qassem Soleimani as he was attending regional peace talks in Baghdad. In the summer it imposed new “snapback” sanctions on Iran for its refusal to comply with the nuclear deal, despite the fact that the U.S. had already walked away from the same deal. In August, Trump appointed disgraced Iran-Contra hawk and regime change specialist Elliott Abrams as his chief advisor on Iran, a signal to all those paying attention that increased hostilities were in the offing.

There is speculation that Trump will attempt to increase hostilities with Iran before the election, provoking an international incident. If that is the case, these sanctions are merely a prelude to something bigger.

Feature photo | A member of the Iranian army walks past rows of beds at a temporary 2,000-bed hospital for coronavirus patients set up by the army at the international exhibition center in northern Tehran, Iran, March 26, 2020. Ebrahim Noroozi | AP

Alan MacLeod is a 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. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post Critics Say New Iran Sanctions Designed To “Choke off Humanitarian Exports” Amid Pandemic appeared first on MintPress News.

Four Years Ago, US Bombs Killed Hundreds at a Yemeni Funeral. Those Bombs Are Still Used Today

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 10/10/2020 - 2:35am in

Ten-year-old Ahmed Radwan al-Khazan holds his father’s photo in one hand and a wilted rose in the other. He sits on a chair surrounded by rubble and ash in what is left of Mourning Square. Dozens of children, along with their young widowed mothers, are perched on dozens of rows of chairs under a very long tent, its shadow cast across the wreckage of the Al Kubra Grand Hall building. There, family members of 240 people killed gathered yesterday to mark the fourth anniversary of the attack that saw Saudi warplanes drop an MK82 guided bomb on a funeral hall. There were at least 1,000 mourners inside Al Kubra, located in Yemen’s capital city of Sanaa, when the bombs struck on October 8, 2016.

 
Many of the children that survived the horrific event are still too young to fully grasp the gravity of the moment. Some carried red roses or white flowers, while the others carried posters emblazoned with images of their lost relatives. “American bombs killed my father. We will never forget that” Ahmed said angrily, his eyes brimming with tears. His mother pulled him away protectingly, tugging at his hand and saying, “your dad has gone to heaven.”

Images of the charred and mutilated remains of funeral-goers are still fresh in the minds of survivors and witnesses who spoke to MintPress. Sami Abdullah, who is now wearing newly fitted prosthesis to replace his missing left leg lost in the attack, said “We arrived early, at noon, and shook hands with the family members of al-Ruwayshan, after a while, we heard the loud screaming sound of a jet and then a bombing with big pressure… shrapnel… fire… and intense black smoke.  Everything turned upside down, then, I stood up and ran and realized I had lost my leg. When I was a few steps from the gate, a second bomb hit the tent.”

Al Kubra Yemen

Mourners hold photos of loved ones during an event commemorating the attack on Al Kubra. Photo | Ahmed AbdulKareem

A UN panel of experts would later find that the timing of the attack “coincided with a time when the funeral was expected to receive the highest number of mourners.”

 

US arms sales fuel the carnage

The bombing of the funeral was the deadliest single attack in Yemen’s six-year war, but was not the first Saudi attack on a civilian target, nor was it the last. But what made it different was its sheer scale, the fact it occurred in broad daylight, and that the Saudi military used by a double-tap airstrike to assure maximum carnage. Like the Saudi attack on a school bus that took place in August of 201  that killed more than 40 children and also used a U.S.-made MK82 guided bomb, justice for the victims of the Al Kubra attack has not been served. The United States still supplies weapons to Saudi Arabia and all attempts to put limits on those sales have been ignored.


MK82 bomb fragments found in the rubble of Al Kubra are seen at a crime lab in Sanaa, Yemen, Oct. 8, 2016. Hani Mohammed | AP

Since 2015, UN investigators have repeatedly warned of the heavy civilian death toll from the Saudi-led Coalition’s bombing campaigns, which almost exclusively use U.S.-made munitions. Yet the U.S. has continued selling arms to the Kingdom resulting in numerous massacres and the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians like those lost in the Al Kubra Hall attack. The catastrophic impact that western weapons, particularly American weapons, have had on Yemen is clear not only in terms of loss of life but in the creation of refugees, mental turmoil, and the destruction of vital infrastructure, especially the country’s healthcare system.

The United States claims that it does not make targeting decisions for the Saudi Coalition. But it does support Coalition operations through training, arms sales, the refueling of Saudi combat aircraft, and the sharing of intelligence. Those arms sales include precision-guided missiles as well as precision guidance parts used on the same warplanes responsible for civilian casualties in the Saudi-UAE’s military campaign in Yemen.

According to mourners gathered to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the funeral hall bombing, the carnage will continue until Saudi Arabia and the UAE, who are still using U.S. and British weapons, are held accountable. Until that happens, they say, they will continue to gather and mourn bombing victims until justice is served.

The anniversary of the Al Kubra Massacre must serve as a reminder of the need for justice to be served, but also as a remember that death in Yemen’s war comes in many forms. Thousands are dying without shedding a drop of blood as a direct result of the war. Hunger, COVID-19, and a deadly cocktail of diseases have set upon the country. In a message to the United Nations on Thursday, the Presidium of Yemen’s Parliament warned that thousands of children in Yemeni hospitals now face death along with thousands of kidney failure patients as the country’s store of petroleum withers amid a U.S.-backed Saudi blockade.

Feature photo | A forensic expert displays glasses and other personal items of a victim as he inspects the destroyed funeral hall, two days after a Saudi-led airstrike targeted it, in Sanaa, Yemen, Oct. 10, 2016. Hani Mohammed | AP

Ahmed AbdulKareem is a Yemeni journalist. He covers the war in Yemen for MintPress News as well as local Yemeni media.

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Despite Trump’s Boast, Insulin in America Among the Most Expensive Liquids on Earth

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 03/10/2020 - 2:26am in

One of Trump’s more questionable claims he made at the now infamous first presidential debate was that he was driving down medical costs for ordinary Americans. Under his presidency, the 74-year-old New Yorker claimed, diabetes medicine insulin had gone from so expensive that it was “destroying families” to “so cheap it’s like water.” “This is big stuff,” he added.

Trump had indeed signed an executive order on insulin in July. But the scope of the new legislation was extremely limited, targeting only a small group of health care providers and benefitting only two percent of the relevant outlets for insulin. In reality, insulin prices have tripled in the last decade, rising to new exorbitant highs not seen anywhere else in the world. A 10ml vial of insulin from Novo Nordisk or Eli Lilly, for example, costs Americans $290, ranking them alongside the likes of Chanel No. 5 and scorpion venom as among the most expensive liquids in the world.

Over 10 percent of the American population is diabetic, including over a quarter of all senior citizens, and the disease is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States. The condition is particularly prevalent among people of color. Once insulin is injected into the body, a patient is on the medicine for life, as we lose the ability to naturally produce the protein hormone ourselves. Thus, big pharmaceutical companies have the perfect captive market: millions of repeat customers whose lives literally depend on accessing their product. And in a profit-driven healthcare market, they have taken advantage of their customers’ desperation, hence the price (something which is not seen in virtually any other country, given the United States’ unique approach to healthcare in the developed world). Thus, American diabetics must find thousands of dollars monthly to pay for the liquid.

This is not an easy, or even possible, task for many Americans. Research shows that one in four ration their insulin due to its cost, risking entering a diabetic coma and dying. Reusing costly needles is also commonplace. Turning 26 (the age where you are no longer eligible on your parents’ health plans) is a grizzly right of passage for young diabetics, and the milestone can literally be a death sentence. Last year 27-year-old Josh Wilkerson died on the job at a Virginian dog kennel, his blood sugar level 17 times higher than normal. He had stopped using his prescribed insulin at 26, switching to an inferior generic.

So common and normalized is the practice of dangerous self medication that an ESPN feature on a champion MMA fighter casually noted — in the 17th paragraph — that he could not afford insulin when fighting as an amateur, so he injected himself with dog insulin as a substitute. A similar phenomenon occurs whereby Americans forego costly antibiotics in favor of consuming those meant for fish instead, sold at a much cheaper price. Amazon reviews for the product made clear in an oblique way that users are ingesting them themselves. So goes the dysfunctional American healthcare system.

https://twitter.com/WrrrdNrrrdGrrrl/status/891643397009805312

Americans spend two to three times more on healthcare than other comparable countries, with some of the worst outcomes in the developed world. Tens of millions have no access to any form of healthcare at all. Medicare-for-All is a popular solution to the problem, with one 2018 poll finding 70 percent of the country is in favor of implementing it. Yet it will simply not be on the political agenda in the next four years, regardless of which party wins in November. Despite the idea being championed by Bernie Sanders and many on the Democratic left, Joe Biden promised that he would veto any Medicare-for-All bill, even one that was passed by both the House and the Senate. And with the Republicans opposing and gutting the Affordable Care Act, the number of uninsured Americans has begun to rise again.

Therefore, while Trump may claim that he has been revolutionizing the U.S. healthcare system, diabetics know better. The disease is still needlessly destroying their lives. And they continue to die in droves.

Feature photo | President Donald Trump gestures to people in the audience after an event on insulin costs and diabetes in the Rose Garden White House, May 26, 2020, in Washington. Evan Vucci | AP

Alan MacLeod is a 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. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

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UN Venezuela Report Omits US Human Rights Violations

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 02/10/2020 - 11:05pm in

On September 23, María Eugenia Russián, president of Fundalatin, Venezuela’s oldest human rights organization, testified to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and decried an attempt by a UNHRC fact-finding mission to erase people who were “lynched, burned alive, decapitated and murdered by extremist sectors of the Venezuelan opposition.” This fact-finding mission had published a report a week earlier that generated sensationalist headlines of “crimes against humanity” and painted a bleak picture of the situation in Venezuela.

However, the 400+ page report has been found to contain serious flaws and omissions, leading to charges that it politicizes human rights – a position backed by the Venezuelan government. But it’s not just Venezuela that has taken issue with the report: Argentina’s ambassador to the Organization of American States denounced it as “biased” and noted that “human rights are not an instrument for taking political positions.”

 

A parallel mission and attack on multilateralism

Moreover, even the formation of the fact-finding mission is suspect. Since 2017, Venezuela has been working with a different UN institution, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), to strengthen its capacity to guarantee human rights. This cooperation has led to technical agreements and to visits by the OHCHR to Venezuela.

Yet despite – or perhaps because – of this cooperation, the Lima Group, an ad hoc group of nations dedicated to regime change in Venezuela, maneuvered in the UN Human Rights Council to establish a parallel mission outside of the purview of the OHCHR. In the September 2019 debate prior to the founding of this mission, Russián said that it “seeks to thwart the advances between the Office of the High Commissioner and the Venezuelan state, hindering and duplicating its efforts.” She also made a prescient comment: “[the mission] will generate major headlines but will not contribute to resolving the situation.”

Several Venezuelan human rights organizations, including the Venezuelan Association of Jurists (AVJ), denounced the formation of the mission and the subsequent report as an attack on multilateralism. The AVJ notes that according to UN General Assembly Resolution 60/251, “the promotion and protection of human rights should be based on the principles of cooperation and genuine dialogue and aimed at strengthening the capacity of Member States.”

Neither of these principles were adhered to in the report, which means that the fact-finding mission violated the United Nation’s own guidelines. This contrasts severely with the latest update on Venezuela from the OHCHR, which notes that technical cooperation between Venezuela and the UN has led to progress in investigating 93 alleged cases of extrajudicial killings or excessive use of force, as well as the pardoning of 110 prisoners.

 

Flawed methodology, biased sources and egregious omissions

The first thing to note about the report is that the authors are all from countries that support Guaidó. One of them, Francisco Cox, has close ties to the Chilean Foreign Minister (Chile is one of the Latin American countries leading the charge against Venezuela). In an interview with journalist Anya Parampil, Chilean analyst Esteban Silva noted that Cox “is part of an operation against the government of Venezuela.”

Venezuelan human rights organization Sures considers that the report “lacks academic rigor” as the mission did not step foot in Venezuela “and as such never had direct access to the sources it consulted, including the victims, government officials and official records.” Lending credence to the claim of a lack of rigor is the fact that more than 50% of the report’s sources were links to social and digital media, while just 5% were NGOs.

Misión Verdad, an independent group of Venezuelan investigative journalists and analysts, wrote an exposé of the sources used in the report and found that one of these NGOs, COFAVIC (Committee of Relatives of Victims of the Caracazo), receives USAID funds and has ties to Human Rights Watch, which supports regime change and the brutal US sanctions. None of the NGOs the fact-finding mission contacted even mentioned the case of Orlando Figuera, a young Black man burned alive by anti-government protestors, which has arguably been the most infamous violation of human rights in Venezuela in recent years.

If the report were interested in balance, it would have cited or contacted Venezuelan human rights groups that document right-wing violence at protests and the devastating effects of U.S. sanctions. Five such organizations were contacted for this article: Fundalatin, AJV, Sures, Género con Clase (Gender with Class), and the Committee of Victims of the Guarimba and Ongoing Coup (guarimba is the term used for violent opposition protests in 2013, 2014 and 2017). None of them ever heard from the “independent” mission.

While victims like Figuera are ignored, another detailed critique by Misión Verdad documents the repeated “whitewashing” of political actors linked to violence by presenting them as victims. As analyst Joe Emersberger notes, the report’s treatment of opposition figure Leopoldo López ignores the leading role he has played in destabilizing Venezuela since 2002. López’s regime change strategy in 2014, ‘La Salida’, sparked opposition violence that resulted in the decapitation of Elvis Durán; he was riding a motorcycle down a street booby trapped by protestors with barbed wire. López’s name appears 61 times in the report; Durán’s does not appear at all.

As tragic as it is that a UN mission would engage in the erasure of victims of human rights violations perpetrated by government opponents, these are not even the most glaring omissions in the report. There are two ongoing mass violations of the human rights of all Venezuelans: the violent destabilization of the country by foreign and domestic actors, and the brutal U.S. sanctions. For Gisela Jiménez of Género con Clase, an organization that focuses on the rights of women and sexual diversity, currently the biggest challenge to the rights of Venezuelans is “the threat to the right to live in peace.” Russián of Fundalatin dates the biggest violation of human rights to March 2015, when then-President Obama characterized Venezuela as an “unusual and extraordinary threat” to the United States. Since then, she notes, ”the Venezuelan people have been subjected to violations of their right to health and even the right to life, due to the embargo and the obstruction of imports of medicine, food and supplies.”

 

The report in the context of a hybrid war

Beyond the bias and politicization of the report, what perhaps damns it most is how it is being used. The omissions on the impact of coups and sanctions enable regime change operatives such as Elliott Abrams, U.S. special representative for Iran and Venezuela, to cite the report as evidence of crimes against humanity while, in the same breath, threatening to cut off Venezuela’s diesel supplies, which has drawn widespread condemnation from NGOs across the political spectrum for the devastating effect it would have on the Venezuelan people.

The report was similarly used by Senators Marco Rubio and Ben Cardin, who referenced it in a letter to the European Union in which they expressed “deep concern” over EU talks with the Maduro government and urged the EU to not monitor Venezuela’s parliamentary elections. This blatant attempt at interfering in and attempting to delegitimize Venezuela’s elections went uncovered by mainstream media, which focused all of their attention on the UNHCR report.

Furthermore, the timing of the report was also suspect, coming just a week before the 2020 UN General Assembly. Its purpose in this regard is clear: to add fuel to the fire in Venezuela and to shift the spotlight from U.S. allies with their own human rights issues. The timely release allowed Colombian president Duque and Chilean president Piñera to cite it and Venezuela in their general assembly speeches. In Colombia, 64 massacres have taken place this year alone, while the Piñera government in Chile was almost brought down by his government’s excessive use of force against peaceful protestors. Yet it was Venezuelan opposition figure Juan Guaidó who made the headlines, invoking the report while calling on the international community to exercise its “responsibility to protect” in a YouTube webinar on the sidelines of the General Assembly. The responsibility to protect is a doctrine used as the justification for military aggressions against Libya and Syria, among others.

The fact-finding mission has produced a document that is currently being employed in the furtherance of sanctions, electoral interference and threats of war. To put it another way, the UNHCR report on the human rights of Venezuelans will likely lead to even more suffering for Venezuelans. In the words of Fundalatin President Russián, the threat to the human rights of Venezuelans “becomes graver because of the behavior by powerful states, who in the name of human rights, seek a foreign military intervention in Venezuela.”

Feature photo | Elliot Abrams, special representative for Iran and Venezuela at the State Department, attends a Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing, Sept. 24, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington. Erin Schaff | The New York Times via AP

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Trump Admin Poised To Gift Israel $11 Billion In Bid to Secure Another Arab-Israeli “Peace” Treaty

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 29/09/2020 - 5:56am in

The United States continues to use the American taxpayers’ expense account to prioritize Israel’s aspirations. Close on the heels of the so-called Abraham Accords earlier this month, which normalized relations between Israel and the Arab states of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the Trump administration is formulating plans to essentially purchase another Arab-Israeli “peace” treaty.

In addition, the U.S. is likely to hand Israel billions of dollars in free military equipment.

 

Regional domination

Trump’s post-Abraham Accords arrangement to sell F-35 warplanes to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has prompted Israel to issue a list of demands – must-have advanced aircraft and other accouterments that would enable Israel to maintain its Qualitative Military Edge (QME) in the region.

Israel’s QME, the commitment by the U.S. to assure Israel’s ability to overcome any and all military threats with minimal casualties, has been enshrined in U.S. law since 2008 and is expressed today as $3.8 billion in military aid, about a quarter of the $15 billion distributed worldwide.

Israel’s wish list, as reported by AntiWar, includes a squadron of F-35s, reportedly worth some $850 million apiece, and other cutting-edge products.

These “gifts” would be in addition to the $3.8 billion a year Israel already receives in military aid from the U.S. – money that ought to be withheld according to the Leahy Laws, legislation that seeks to put a paywall between American aid and military groups that perpetrate gross human rights violations.

Trump’s plan to sell warplanes, and Israel’s demands, reportedly came up just hours before the Foreign Ministers of Bahrain and the UAE were to sign the Abraham Accords, although some sources report that Israel’s Netanyahu knew about the U.S. plan to sell to the UAE much earlier.

 

Treaty in the works

The Trump administration is also scurrying to assemble a treaty between Israel and Sudan ahead of U.S. elections, again at great benefit to Israel and expense to the American taxpayer.

According to Sudanese political analyst Khalil Abdul Jabbar, the Sudanese people typically would stand with the Palestinians rather than accepting normalization with Israel – but they need the help that Washington could offer to improve their economic situation.

Abdul Jabbar indicated that Trump hoped to capitalize on Sudan’s dire economic situation ahead of the 2020 election.

Sudan is struggling under $62 billion in foreign debt, brought about in large part because of its designation as a state sponsor of terrorism (SST) – a label that goes back to 1993 and has resulted in punishing global sanctions.

Sudan hopes to receive an initial infusion of $3 billion in U.S. aid, plus removal from the SST list, in exchange for normalized relations with Israel. Additional aid would likely follow.

 

Terror attack compensation

There is concern that Capitol Hill would block the removal of Sudan from the SST list: some members of Congress want first to see the country pay more than $300 million to American victims of terror attacks in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, as well as the attack on the USS Cole in 2000. The now-ousted Omar al-Bashir allowed al-Qaeda terrorists to reside in Sudan and carry out attacks in the region.

It is noteworthy that Israel is also responsible for an attack on a Navy ship, the USS Liberty, aggression that killed thirty-four Americans and has been systematically covered up ever since.

 

What about the Palestinians?

UAE leaders were apparently under the impression that their treaty with Israel would benefit the Palestinians: its foreign minister, Abdullah bin Zayed declared at the September 15th signing ceremony:

Your Excellency Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of the State of Israel, thank you for choosing peace and for halting the annexation of Palestinian territories, a decision that reinforces our shared will to achieve a better future for generations to come…

And as for us in the United Arab Emirates, this accord will enable us to continue to stand by the Palestinian people and realize their hopes for an independent state within a stable and prosperous region.”

But Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu had already made clear a month or earlier that “There is no change in my plan to apply sovereignty, our sovereignty, in Judea and Samaria [the Palestinian West Bank], in full coordination with the US. I’m committed to it, this hasn’t changed…This issue remains on the table.”

Some analysts conclude that the Palestinians’ aspiration for freedom from occupation and oppression has been out of the picture all along because their interests are irrelevant – that the Arab world has begun to exchange solidarity with Palestine for economic advantage. One commentator opined, “The UAE-Israel accord said nothing about the Palestinians because the issue was never the Palestinians. Indeed, they are the down payment.”

Rumors abound and have been confirmed by American Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft, that another Arab country – Oman – may follow the growing crowd of states exchanging Palestine for economic advantage.

Feature photo | Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks as President Donald Trump looks on, during the Abraham Accords signing ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House, Sept. 15, 2020, in Washington. Alex Brandon | AP

Kathryn Shihadah writes for MintPress News and If Americans Knew. She speaks regularly about the injustice and demonization Palestinians face at the hands of Israel with complicity from the United States, especially to Christian audiences. Kathryn has lived in the Middle East for ten years and has traveled extensively. She blogs at PalestineHome.org.

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Hoping to Force an Outcome, US Sanctions Opposition Parties in Venezuela Ahead of Elections

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 24/09/2020 - 4:43am in

Elections for Venezuela’s National Assembly are fast approaching. But the United States does not want them to go ahead at all. Sanctions on Venezuela are nothing new. But yesterday Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took the unusual step of sanctioning leaders of local opposition parties in an attempt to pressure them to pull out of the contest in December.

Remarkably, considering the well-documented flaws with the same problems in the U.S., Pompeo’s statement dubiously claimed that Venezuelan voting machines are unreliable, that millions of voters remain unregistered, and that the country’s supreme electoral council is politicized and hand-picked by the executive branch.

That many parties are contesting the upcoming December elections to the National Assembly (that the opposition already controls) seems to undermine Pompeo’s claim that Nicolas Maduro is a “desperate and illegitimate dictator.” The 56-year-old former CIA Director, however, explained that they are merely “puppet parties” participating in an “electoral charade.” The National Assembly is roughly akin to the French Assemblée Nationale or the U.S. House of Representatives.

Last week Pompeo toured Venezuela’s neighbors to discuss regime change. “Maduro has to go,” Pompeo said while in Guyana. “We know that the Maduro regime has decimated the people of Venezuela and that Maduro himself is an indicted narcotics trafficker. That means he has to leave.” The United States and Guyana announced that they would subsequently be carrying out joint military border patrols along the country’s sparsely populated bur disputed frontier with Venezuela.

The Venezuela-Guyana border dispute is an extremely old one, going back to unresolved disagreements between the Spanish and British empires, long before either’s establishment as a state. The large, heavily forested region claimed by both countries is largely untouched and thought to be home to uncontacted tribes. Because of this, the dispute has never spilled over into a serious conflict. Pompeo claimed that the operation is purely an anti-drugs operation, but in the same speech described as a “narco-trafficker,” muddying the waters further.

Earlier this month an American ex-C.I.A. agent was arrested outside the country’s largest oil refinery complex in possession of C4 explosives, a grenade launcher, and other weapons.

The United States already tried the tactic of sanctioning Maduro’s opponents during the 2018 presidential elections, when it demanded opposition leader Henri Falcon drop out, threatening him with sanctions. Falcon remained in to contest the election, but with many of his coalition heeding American advice and boycotting it, he was resoundingly beaten. In the end, Maduro won with 68 percent of the vote. The process was watched over by 150 international observers and foreign dignitaries, who attested to its veracity. Maduro has asked teams from the United Nations and European Union to oversee the December vote, something the U.S. does not want to happen.

Since coming to power in 2013, Maduro has presided over an increasingly dysfunctional economy and falling standards of living. Inflation has racked the country, there have been acute shortages of certain goods, oil production has collapsed, and many have left the country as a result. Much of the mayhem, however, is due to the impact of American sanctions, formally condemned by the U.N., and estimated to have killed at least 100,000 people. Earlier this week, the State Department announced sweeping new “humanitarian support” for Venezuelans, although, given its history in the country, it is highly likely to be politicized. Much of it is actually earmarked for the neighboring countries Pompeo visited.

Maduro’s public approval rating is very low. Yet his party still stands a decent chance in the National Assembly elections. This is partly due to the equally unpopular opposition coalition, which is fractured and unsure what to do. Some favor a boycott of the vote like in 2018, others to compete and win.

Historically, when eschewing violence and pursuing purely electoral means, the opposition has fared relatively well at the ballot box, winning the National Assembly in 2015. Two years earlier, their candidate Henrique Capriles received 49 percent of the vote for the presidency. However, they are beset with infighting, with the United States propping up self-declared president Juan Guaidó as the legitimate ruler of the country, even though he wields no power. Earlier this month Capriles called on him to stop “playing at government on the internet.”

Guaidó rose to prominence in January 2019 when, as it was his party’s turn to lead the institution, he was appointed head of the National Assembly for one year. He immediately declared himself president, however, shocking the world, and would go on to launch five unsuccessful coup attempts since, all with U.S. backing.

While Guaidó enjoys virtually unanimous support among Democrats and Republicans (he was a guest of honor at Trump’s State of the Union, where he was given a standing ovation by both parties), a number of embarrassing financial and alcohol-related scandals have made him a deeply unpopular figure inside the country. Recent polls put his public support at three percent. In January he “resigned” from his party, meaning he has no formal political office at all.

Despite this, the U.S. continues to bankroll his stunts, even supplying him with money it stole from the Venezuelan government so he could give a large stipend to the country’s 62,000 health workers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Trying to explain Latin America to an international audience, the great Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano described his region as an “upside down world,” where everything is turned on its head. Thus, Venezuela is an autocracy with upcoming elections, presided over by a dictator who was elected twice, with a larger share of the electorate than Trump in 2016 or Obama in 2012, holding sham votes watched over by impressed international observers. The land of the free, however, attacks anyone who participates in elections or the 97 percent who do not support their own self-declared president, a man who has never even run for the office he claims he holds. The U.S. helps forces for democracy launch coup d’etats, assassination attempts, or terror plots in order to bring about relief from the suffering it is causing through its own actions. No wonder so many people are confused.

Feature photo | A man passes a mural of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, July 22, 2020. Ariana Cubillos | AP

Alan MacLeod is a 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. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

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