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Disillusion With the Euro and Europe

French Elections: Cracks in the Neoliberal Consensus

By DIANA JOHNSTONE | CounterPunch | April 24, 2012

Democratic elections in the NATO member states serve one clear purpose. They contribute to the self-satisfaction concerning “our values” needed to justify military intervention in the imperfect internal affairs of other countries.  But do the citizens really decide policy through their votes, or is electoral democracy fatally corrupted by the power of money?

At least in its form, the French presidential election is a model of resistance to the power of money that so blatantly dominates presidential elections in the United States.

While the United States is locked in a two-party system where both parties depend on millions of dollars from rich donors, the French two-round system allows as many candidates as can gather the required number (500) of mayors’ signatures to run in the first round.  Then voters can decide between the two front-runners in the second round.

For the final phase of the first round campaign, which ended with the election this Sunday, April 22, all candidates receive equal television time to get across their message, without having to pay for it.

This time around, there were ten candidates, five of whom had at least a chance at the start to make it into the second round, even though polls showed the incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy and the Socialist Party candidate François Hollande leading the pack.  But an upset was at least theoretically possible, as happened in 2002, when the National Front candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen knocked out the Socialist Party candidate Lionel Jospin in the first round, handing Jacques Chirac a landslide victory in the run-off.

The most suspenseful aspect of the first round turned out to be the duel for third place between Jean-Marie’s daughter and political successor Marine Le Pen and the Left Front candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon.  Marine set out to beat her father’s score ten years ago, while Mélenchon set himself the goal of beating her.  The two adversaries were the most charismatic of the ten candidates.  As candidate of the Left Front, Mélenchon lost his bid to come in third, but thanks to his extraordinary verbal skills has succeeded in reviving a political force to the left of the Socialist Party.

Percentage results of candidates in April 22 first round of French Persidential election     

François Hollande, Socialist Party                                             29 %

Nicolas Sarkozy, outgoing President                                          26 %

Marine Le Pen, National Front                                                    18 %

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Left Front                                                 11 %

François Bayrou, centrist                                                                9 %

Eva Joly, Greens                                                                                2 %

Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, Social Gaullist                                  1.8%

Philippe Poutou, New Anti-Capitalist Party (Trotskyist)     1.2%

Nathalie Arthaud, communist (Lutte Ouvrière, Trotskyist) 0.7%

Jacques Cheminade, progressist (Lyndon Larouche influence)   0.2%

Participation was high, at around 80%.  The first round is altogether more entertaining and interesting than the second round. It provides more information about the real preferences of voters than the second round, which, like U.S. presidential elections, is often decided on the “lesser evil” principle, with increasing numbers of voters aware that whoever wins, the policies will be much the same.

A few observations:

Every candidate except Sarkozy, the self-styled centrist Bayrou and the Green candidate Eva Joly singled out the world of finance as the main adversary.  Hollande did so quite explicitly in his main campaign speech, although shortly afterwards he watered his wine considerably during a visit to London, the City oblige.  This hostility toward banks has horrified Anglo-American commentators, from The Economist to John Vinocur of the International Herald Tribune, for whom realism consists in docile obedience to the demands of “the markets”. Acting uppity toward finance capital is close to insanity. If “the right” is defined first of all by subservience to finance capital, then aside from Sarkozy, Bayrou and perhaps Joly, all the other candidates were basically on the left.  And all of them except Sarkozy would be considered far to the left of any leading politician in the United States. 

This applies notably to Marine Le Pen, whose social program was designed to win working class and youth votes.  Her “far right” label is due primarily to her criticism of Muslim practices in France and demands to reduce immigration quotas, but her position on these issues would be considered moderate in the Netherlands or in much of the United States. Even she stressed that the immigration problem, as she saw it, was not the fault of the immigrants themselves but of the politicians and the elite who brought them here.  The main tone of her political message was resolutely populist, attacking the “Paris elite”.  Demagogic, yes, often vague and playing fast and loose with statistics, but a model of reason compared to the utterances of the “Tea Party”.  Her political challenge was to hold onto her father’s ultra-conservative constituency while wooing discontented low income voters.  She apparently won more working class votes than Mélenchon.

Mélenchon left the Socialist party to found the Left Party in 2008.  As candidate for the broader Left Front, he has raised the spirits of the demoralized French Communist Party, which fell below 2% in the 2007 election and gave up running a candidate of its own.  Its militants have responded enthusiastically to Mélenchon’s revival of red flags and fiery rhetoric. He would put lower and upper limits on wages and salaries. His program, including calls for constitutional revision that would guarantee such progressive measures as gay marriage, assisted suicide and the right to abortion, surely goes far beyond the demands of his constituency, more concerned with jobs and wages, and reflects his personal adherence to the progressive philosophy of French Free Masonry.  It is certainly his quick witted debating skill that appeals to voters more than the details of his ambitious program.

Disillusion with the euro and Europe

The two leading candidates remain faithful to the dogma of “European construction”.  But elsewhere splits are beginning to show.  Marine Le Pen condemns the euro as a failure which had wrecked European economies and is doomed to disappear.

Certainly, François Asselineau, who has founded his own party, the Union Populaire Républicaine, with the sole object of leaving the European Union, has been totally deprived of any media coverage, and was unable to gather the necessary signatures for candidacy. But the social Gaullist Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, who is only beginning to be known to the French public, is adamant that France should return to the franc, retaining the euro only as a reserve currency around which EU member state currencies should be allowed to fluctuate.  Dupont-Aignan calls the euro a “racket” and a “poison” for EU economies, which are too diverse for a single currency.  To the objection that leaving the euro would cause huge inflation, he accuses present EU leaders of creating inflation by allowing private banks to borrow at 1% and then ruin member States by lending to them at higher and higher rates.  After France recovers its sovereignty by leaving the euro, Dupont-Aignan would have the Bank of France finance the state at zero interest, which would allow the government to reduce its debt and hire more teachers, policemen and researchers, instead of reducing their number.  He would also take measures to protect French industry from cheap imports.

In contrast, Mélenchon advocates strongly interventionist economic policies without accounting for the fact that they would go against European Union directives as well as the monetarist policy governing the euro. Mélenchon speaks of using the economic weight of France to persuade Germany to change its deflationist policies.  This raises the problem of the clear contradiction between social policies to which the French are attached and the European Union’s control of economic policy that is fatal to those social policies.

Foreign policy confusion 

Foreign policy has been almost entirely absent from this campaign. This could be because voters are not thought to be interested, or because there is no strong opposition between the candidates.  François Hollande conforms to the mainstream consensus, saying he would support military intervention in Syria if based on a UN resolution.  Much of the French left has swallowed the “Responsibility to Protect” ideology.

Already last year, Mélenchon dismayed a certain number of his admirers by supporting the war in Libya, on the grounds that it was based on a UN Resolution.  He now calls for withdrawal from NATO and construction of an independent United Nations intervention force.

Not surprisingly, the Gaullist Dupont-Aignan opposes arming the Syrian opposition, pointing to the fact that arms provided to Libyan rebels ended up in the hands of militias who are destabilizing the whole region.  He maintains that France should have acted differently in Libya and with Russia, instead of following the anti-Russian policy of the United States.

Among the leading candidates, the only clear anti-war policy is that of Marine Le Pen, who favors immediate withdrawal from both Afghanistan and the NATO command, describes the current French government policy of supporting the Syrian opposition as “totally irresponsible”, calls for recognition of a Palestinian State and opposes threats to bomb Iranian nuclear sites, which have not been proven to be military. And she adds: “As far as I know, no nation which has atomic weapons has ever asked for permission from anyone, neither the United States, nor France, nor Israel, nor Pakistan… Must we then plunge the world into a war whose extent we will not control because certain foreign counties ask us to?”

Marine Le Pen is regularly stigmatized as “racist” for her desire to reduce immigration.  But which is worse: refusing entry to Muslim immigrants, or bombing them in their home countries?

The worst is yet to come

Even before the vote, John Vinocur raged against the “miserable precedent” represented by the fact that what he dubbed the “Rejection Front” made up of Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon was almost sure to beat the first round score of either mainstream candidate. Thus, he said, France would have “legitimatized two political currents that spurn serious solutions for France’s economic grief, reject civility and common sense and variously propose regression through loony yet authoritarian economics, class warfare, class or racial prejudices, anti-Western instincts, and the politics of endless rage.”

Wow, take that you frogs.  Look to the calm, intelligent debate of  U.S. Republican primaries for guidance, and remember that whatever foolish things you want, like jobs, medical care or a roof over your head, it’s the markets that have the last word.

Exit polls pointed to a solid victory for Hollande in the second round.  The standard description of Marine Le Pen as “the far right” could suggest that her voters would turn to the right wing candidate, Sarkozy, in the runoff.  But this is far from the case.  The social and foreign policy positions of Marine Le Pen have won over a number of voters disenchanted with the left. Her voters may split fifty-fifty in the second round.  She herself clearly looks forward to the defeat of Sarkozy in order to become the undisputed leader of a recomposed right-wing opposition, which could make life difficult for the future President Hollande.   Perhaps the only thing that could save Sarkozy would be massive abstention, but that does not look likely.

Actually, the timing of this election is favorable to a fairly limp, ill-defined candidate like Hollande, because the future is as unclear as he is.  The Greek disaster, the financial woes of Portugal, Spain and Italy are ominous for France, and the French are worried.  But most French people are still too well off to be seriously alarmed.  The critics like Vinocur or The Economist seem to think that a French candidate for president should run on a campaign of telling people that they should happily prepare to give up all the comforts they enjoy, because that is what the financial markets demand.  If things are as bad as these champions of financial globalization are predicting, then this first round may provide better hints to the French future than the final round of the Hollande-Sarkozy election in two weeks time.

DIANA JOHNSTONE is the author of Fools Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO and Western Delusions. She can be reached at  diana.josto@yahoo.fr

April 24, 2012 Posted by | Economics, Militarism, Wars for Israel | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Why Do Venezuelan Women Vote for Chavez?

Improving the Lives of the Poor and the Disadvantaged

By MARIA PAEZ VICTOR | CounterPunch | April 24, 2012

If the the international press is to be believed, President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela is a dictator, a menace to the region and is driving his country to the ground. If that is so, why do his people vote for him in landslide numbers? Why does he have an enormous following of the women of his country? Are they all deluded? Are they all paid or coerced to vote? It would seem so to the casual reader of headlines because the achievements of the Chávez government are treated like a top secret: Venezuela’s new participatory democracy should not be advertised. A new form of economic and social development that does not pay homage to global capital should be shunned. Nevertheless, a new world is being formed in a Latin America that has refused to be any power’s “back yard”. These developments are not ignored in Latin America where the Venezuela revolution has had a deep impact. The women of Venezuela have especially embraced the Bolivarian Revolution of Venezuela, not because they are “followers” but because actually, they have become protagonists of a social, economic and, cultural revolution that has transformed Venezuela and the region.

It all started with the Constitution of 2000, written by an elected assembly in clear and inclusive language, which contained legislation that would transform the lives of Venezuelans and particularly, of women. It gave women the right of equal pay for equal work, (Article 91); the right to a life without violence, according to International Convention against Discrimination against Women (Article 21): the right to protection and public assistance during maternity in all its phases (Article 76); and the now world famous Article 88 that recognizes women’s domestic work as productive economic activity entitled to public pensions. The constitution also adheres to the International UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child.

When the Constitution was only two years old and by no means was its mandate entirely implemented in law, in April of 2002, President Chávez was deposed and kidnapped in a coup d’etat orchestrated by the financial elites and abetted by the United States. It lasted 48 hours. The catalyst for its end was the tens of thousands of ordinary people who took to the streets to demand the return of their democratically elected president. They faced sharpshooters who were shooting indiscriminately at the crowds to create chaos. Masses of these people were women – women who realized that this government that they had elected now had been taken from them. The loyal armed forces then chose to side with the people and not the elites, and President Chávez was returned to his rightful position, becoming the first president in modern history to be deposed only to brought back due to widespread popular protest.[i]

There have been many accounts of heroic interventions during this critical time in which women figured prominently. Such as the older women of the slum area of El Valle who assumed leadership of the multitude that surrounded the country’s largest military headquarters, Fuerte Tiuna, and diffused a potentially deadly situation by shaming soldiers to put down their guns. Or the girl who gathered together her friends with motorbikes and actually took back the government’s TV station that had been ransacked and shut down by the coup supporters. President Chávez has often paid tribute to the extraordinary role women assumed in fighting the coup.

Today, 13 years after President Chavez’s first election, the lives of Venezuelan women have dramatically changed. The constitutional promises have been implemented in regulation and policy concerning gender equality and for the prevention violence against women. Laws have outlawed discrimination and have categorized 19 types of violence against women and created the institutions necessary to make the rights of women a reality.[ii] Granted, these issues all call for cultural and attitudinal changes in the relationships between men and women, which take time and education, but a clear legal basis is a strong impulse for such changes.

One of the main factors for the popularity of the Chávez Government is the reduction of poverty. This was largely attained because the government took back control of the national petroleum company PDVSA, and has used the abundant oil revenues, not for benefit of the rich as previous governments had done, but to build needed infrastructure and invest in the social services that Venezuelans so sorely needed. During the last ten years, the government has increased social spending by 60.6%, a total of $772 billion. [iii]

Women tend to be the majority among the poor all over the world due to their economic and social disadvantages and Venezuela has not been an exception. The Chavez government has significantly reduced general poverty from 49% in 1998 to 27% in 2011 and extreme poverty has been reduced from 27.4% (5.5 m) in 1998 to 7.3% (2.5m) today. [iv] The Organization of American States and the UN Development Program have both stated that Venezuela is at the head of the list of countries of the region that have reduced poverty the most.[v]

Economic milestones these last ten years include a reduction in unemployment from 11.3% to 7.7%; doubling the amount of people receiving social insurance benefits, and the public debt has been reduced from 20.7% to 14.3% of GNP. [vi] In general, the Venezuelan economy has grown 47.4% in ten years (4.3% per annum).

Among the many initiatives to promote popular economic enterprises, BAN MUJER was established in 2001, a bank solely for women. A very successful instrument helping women create their own businesses, it has given out 150,000 micro-credits to 2.5 million women, along with technical expertise and support for cooperatives.[vii] The substantive land reform also favours women, as women head of households are given priority when it comes to land redistribution. Furthermore, Venezuela is the country in the region with the least inequality (0.389 Gini index) and best redistribution of wealth between social classes.[viii]

Women in Venezuela have become not only the majority of the users but also the majority of providers of social services and anti-poverty programs[ix]. They are the majority in the election units of the governing party (PSUV) and very impressively, 70% of the members of the approximately 30,000 Communal Councils in the country are women. These Communal Councils play a pivotal role in decision making at the grass roots level to satisfy community social and economic needs and are the basis of participatory democracy.

Women hold some key and powerful positions in the government: as several ministers, President of the Supreme Court, Attorney General, National Ombudsman, National Elections Council, and Vice-presidency of the governing party PSUV are all women. Indeed, Venezuela is the country in the region with the highest inclusion of women in education and professional fields, according to the UN Human Development Program.

Health is an issue very dear to women’s hearts. In the new Venezuela, it is considered a human right, which the government is obliged to promote. Perhaps the most important, anti-poverty program that has galvanized women’s support is the government’s health care services and policies.

In 1998, access to medical care was abysmal and expensive, with only 20 physicians per 100,000 inhabitants. A creative arrangement with Cuba whereby in exchange for 100,000 barrels of petroleum, Cuba sends to Venezuela 45,000 health care workers, mostly physicians, [x]has made possible the health delivery program Barrio Adentro that places experienced physicians throughout urban poor neighborhoods, rural villages, and indigenous settlements. The huge majority of Cuban physicians in Venezuela are women. This program since its inception in 2003 has saved 302,171 lives and reduced maternal mortality as 99.3% of women giving birth attended by the Barrio Adentro physicians survive. [xi]

Today there are 59 physicians per 100,000 inhabitants, new clinics, and renovated and new hospitals throughout the country. There are now hundreds of emergency clinics, primary health clinics, and rehabilitation centres where a decade ago they were scarce. There is a new medical curriculum with the help of Cuban medical professors that emphasizes health as a human right and medical services grounded in the community. And, 70% of the new physicians graduating in the country are women.

One of the most important indicators of the welfare of a nation is the infant mortality rate. In 1998, that rate in Venezuela was 21 baby deaths per 1000 births. In 2011, the rate is 13.7 per 1000 births, the third lowest in Latin America, and an astounding achievement. [xii] Infant malnutrition went from 7.7% in 1998 to 3.2% in 2011, that is a 58.5% reduction, the 5th lowest in the region. [xiii] There are five laws that protect and promote breastfeeding, which is considered the very first act of food sovereignty. Breastfeeding increased from 7% a decade ago to 40% in 2010, and there are breast milk banks for babies at risk. In 70% of public schools, 4 million children are provided with free quality hot breakfast, hot lunch, and a nutritious snack before they leave school. There are 6,000 food dispensaries that feed 900.000 people in dire need– in total, about 5 million Venezuelans are provided with free food. [xiv] Thirteen years ago, there were approximately 8,000 children living on urban streets, and today they are practically negligible due to the programs to support street children.

Malnutrition in general has decreased due to these government food security measures plus others such as a real land reform, investment in agriculture, and promotion of cooperatives among rural workers and fishermen, and breaking up food distribution monopolies with a public food distribution network.

The better health of the population is not entirely due to medical services, but to the combined action on the social determinants of health: better nutrition, clean water and sanitation, more jobs and income per families, greater educational and training facilities, and greater social support and networking at the local levels, a literate and politically active and conscious population. And the government has had environmental initiatives and policies like no other previous administration, including, environmental assessments and protection, tree planting, water protection, energy efficiency and educational campaigns.

The government’s educational policies have rendered sterling results. Backed by UNESCO, Venezuela can claim to have eliminated illiteracy using the Cuban method of adult education with which 2 million people learned to read in less than 2 years. There are programs to help students finish High School, adult education to help people go to university, and a number of new universities in the country. The rate of students in primary school has increased from 85% to 93.6% and students in high school has increased even more, a 14% increase equivalent to 400,000 adolescents who are now continuing their studies.[xv] There are 20% more women than men continuing their studies.[xvi] And in the military field, which was a decade ago an exclusively masculine domain, today the majority of students at the military university UNEFA, are women. It is estimated that about 1/5 to 1/3 of the population of the country is enrolled in some educational program. Venezuela has met its educational Millennium Goals.

The United Nations has rated Venezuela among the countries with high level of human development, ranked #69 in its Human Development Index having advanced six places in ten years. [xvii]This indicator is supported by the Gallup Poll measuring happiness published by the Washington Post this year, that ranks Venezuela as the 5th most happy county tied with Finland.[xviii] This in itself should have made headlines around the world, but unfortunately, the international campaign to discount and denigrate everything related to the present Venezuelan government, denies the public knowledge of its considerable achievements.

While problems inherent to developing countries still persist in Venezuela, the progress that its government has made to satisfy its people’s real needs is impressive, and it is the reason that it has overwhelming support of women because it has improved their lives and those of their families. It is an indictment of the sorry state of the media in the northern developed countries, supposedly “independent” but prisoners of their political biases, that those achievements are not better known. On October 7 of this year, when President Chávez is elected with a handsome majority, those who have been fed by the mainstream media distorted views of the situation in Venezuela will be shaking their heads, not understanding that there are pivotal reasons why people in Venezuela vote for him, especially the women.

Maria Páez Victor, Ph.D., lives in Toronto.

Notes.

[i] Se video: The Revolution will Not be Televised” http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=5832390545689805144

[ii] George Gabriel, Gender Advance in Venezuela: a two-pronged affair, 13 March 2009, http://www.opendemocracy.net/article/gender-advance-in-venezuela-a-two-pronged-affair

[iii] National Institute of Statistics, AVN March 4, 2012

[iv] AVN Prensa, 27 March 2012; National Institute of Statistics, AVN November 14, 2011

[v] Adrián Carmona, Algunos datos sobre Venezuela, Rebelión, marzo 2012

[vi] Adrián Carmona, Algunos datos sobre Venezuela, Rebelión, marzo 2012

[vii] Alba Carosio, Banmujer: 10 años impulsando la economía popular con igualdad, Rebelion, Feb. 4, 2011

[viii] National Institute of Statistics, AVN/ November 17/2010

[ix] The Guardian, Women Back Chávez, Feb. 25, 2005,

[x] http://www.aporrea.org/misiones/n199049.html

[xi] AVN Prensa 26 August 2010; YVKE Mundial/AVN/18 April 2011

[xii] Adrián Carmona, Algunos datos sobre Venezuela, Rebelión, marzo 2012

[xiii] YVKE/ 1 April 2011

[xiv] Statement by the Vice-President Elías Jaua, AVN April 23, 2012

[xv] Adrián Carmona, Algunos datos sobre Venezuela, Rebelión, marzo 2012

[xvi] UNESCO report, 2012

[xvii] AVN , January 13, 2009

[xviii] http://www.gallup.com/poll/147167/High-Wellbeing-Eludes-Masses-Countries-Worldwide.aspx#1

April 24, 2012 Posted by | Economics, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Solidarity and Activism, Timeless or most popular | , | Comments Off on Why Do Venezuelan Women Vote for Chavez?

Why Fukushima Is a Greater Disaster than Chernobyl and a Warning Sign for the U.S.

The radioactive inventory of all the irradiated nuclear fuel stored in spent fuel pools at Fukushima is far greater and even more problematic than the molten cores.

By Robert Alvarez · Institute for Policy Studies · April 20, 2012

In the aftermath of the world’s worst nuclear power disaster, the news media is just beginning to grasp that the dangers to Japan and the rest of the world posed by the Fukushima-Dai-Ichi site are far from over.   After repeated warnings by former senior Japanese officials, nuclear experts, and now a U.S. Senator, it is sinking in that the irradiated nuclear fuel stored in spent fuel pools amidst the reactor ruins may have far greater potential offsite consequences  than the molten cores.

After visiting the site recently, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) wrote to Japan’s ambassador to the U.S. stating that, “loss of containment in any of these pools could result in an even greater release than the initial accident.”

This is why:

  • Each pool contains irradiated fuel from several years of operation, making for an extremely large radioactive inventory without a strong containment structure that encloses the  reactor cores;
  • Several  pools are now completely open to the atmosphere because the reactor buildings were  demolished by explosions; they are about 100 feet above ground and could possibly topple or collapse from structural damage coupled with another powerful earthquake;
  • The loss of water exposing the spent fuel will result in overheating [which] can cause melting and ignite its zirconium metal cladding – resulting in a fire that could deposit large amounts of radioactive materials over hundreds of miles.

Irradiated nuclear fuel, also called “spent fuel,” is extraordinarily radioactive.  In a matter of seconds, an unprotected human one foot away from a single freshly removed spent fuel assembly would receive a lethal dose of radiation within seconds. As one of the most dangerous materials in the world, spent reactor fuel poses significant long-term risks, requiring isolation in a geological disposal site that can protect the human environment for tens of thousands of years.

It’s almost 26 years since the Chernobyl reactor exploded and caught fire releasing enormous amounts of radioactive debris. The Chernobyl accident revealed the folly of not having an extra barrier of thick concrete and steel surrounding the reactor core that is required for modern plants in the U.S., Japan and elsewhere. The Fukushima Dai-Ichi accident revealed the folly of storing huge amounts of highly radioactive spent fuel in vulnerable pools, high above the ground.

What both accidents have in common is widespread environmental contamination from cesium-137.  With a half-life of 30, years, Cs-137 gives off penetrating radiation, as it decays.  Once in the environment, it mimics potassium as it accumulates in biota and the human food chain for many decades.  When it enters the human body, about 75 percent lodges in muscle tissue, with perhaps the most important muscle being the heart.  Studies of chronic exposure  to Cs-137 among  the people living near Chernobyl show an alarming rate of heart problems, particularly among children. As more information is made available, we now know that the Fukushima Dai-Ichi site is storing 10,833 spent fuel assemblies (SNF) containing roughly 327 million curies of long-lived radioactivity About 132 million curies is cesium-137 or nearly  85 times the amount estimated to have been released at Chernobyl.

The overall problem we face is that nearly all of the spent fuel at the Dai-Ichi site is in vulnerable pools in a high risk/consequence earthquake zone. The urgency of the situation is underscored by the ongoing seismic activity around NE Japan in which 13 earthquakes of magnitude 4.0 – 5.7 have occurred off the NE coast of Honshu in the last 4 days between 4/14 and 4/17.  This has been the norm since the first quake and tsunami hit the site on March 11th of last year. Larger quakes are expected closer to the power plant.

Last week, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) revealed plans to remove 2,274 spent fuel assemblies from the damaged reactors that will probably take at least a decade to accomplish. The first priority will be removal of the contents in Pool No. 4. This pool is structurally damaged and contains about 10 times more cesium-137 than released at Chernobyl. Removal of SNF from the No. 4 reactor is optimistically expected to begin at the end of 2013. A significant amount of construction to remove debris and reinforce the structurally-damaged reactor buildings, especially the fuel- handling areas, will be required.

Also, it is not safe to keep 1,882 spent fuel assemblies containing ~57 million curies of long-lived radioactivity, including nearly 15 times more cs-137 than released at Chernobyl  in the elevated pools at reactors 5, 6, and 7, which did not experience melt-downs and explosions.

The main reason why there is so much spent fuel at the Da-Ichi site, is that it was supposed to be sent to the Rokkasho reprocessing plant, which has experienced 18 lengthy delays throughout its construction history.  Plutonium and uranium was to be extracted from the spent fuel there, with the plutonium to be used as fuel at the Monju fast reactor.

After several decades and billions of dollars, the United States effectively abandoned the “closed” nuclear fuel cycle 30 years ago for cost and nuclear non-proliferation reasons. Over the past 60 years, the history of fast reactors using plutonium is littered with failures the most recent being the Monju project in Japan. Monju was cancelled in November of last year, dealing a fatal blow to the dream of a “closed” nuclear fuel cycle in Japan.

The stark reality, if TEPCO’s plan is realized, is that nearly all of the spent fuel at the Da-Ichi containing some of the largest concentrations of radioactivity on the planet will remain indefinitely in vulnerable pools. TEPCO wants to store the spent fuel from the damaged reactors in the common pool, and only to resort to dry, cask storage when the common pool’s capacity is exceeded. At this time, the common pool is at 80 percent storage capacity and will require removal of  SNF to make room. TEPCO’s plan is to minimize dry cask storage as much as possible and to rely indefinitely on vulnerable pool storage.  Senator Wyden finds that TEPCO’s plan for remediation carries extraordinary and continuing risk. He sensibly recommends that retrieval of spent fuel in existing on-site spent fuel pools to safer storage in dry casks should be a priority.

Given these circumstances, a key goal for the stabilization of the Fukushima-Daichi site is to place all of its spent reactor fuel into dry, hardened storage casks. This will require about 244 additional casks at a cost of about $1 mllion per cask. To accomplish this goal, an international effort is required – something that Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) has called for. As we have learned, despite the enormous destruction from the earthquake and tsunami at the Dai-Ich Site, the nine dry casks and their contents were unscathed.  This is an important lesson we should not ignore.

April 24, 2012 Posted by | Nuclear Power | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Palestinians: The Forgotten People

By William James Martin | Palestine Chronicle | April 24th, 2012

It is impossible to understand the present Palestinian/Israeli conflict without understanding the past, in particular, the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine by Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe, who are not Semitic people, but indigenous to Eastern Europe.

In 1900, there were no Ashkenazi Jews living in Palestine; essentially none, that is, but a few, small mostly temporary Russian Jewish settlers, not totally unusual for various cults in the Holy Land at that time. Theodore Herzl, frequently designated ‘The Father of Modern Zionism’, because of the publication of his book, The Jewish State, in 1996, and because of the founding of the World Zionist Congress a year later,  stated in 1897:

[We shall] spirit the penniless population across the frontier by denying it employment. Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly.

Thus the concept of ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians was introduced.

By the 1930s, the ‘transfer’ of Arabs was the unanimous opinion of the founders of Israel. So-called transfer committees, headed by Joseph Weitz, Director of Land Management for the Jewish Agency, were set up explicitly for the purpose of studying ways of transferring Arabs out of Palestine.

At the beginning of 1948, despite 50 years of land purchases, Jews only owned 6% of the land of Palestine. By the year’s end, the Israeli army controlled 78% of Palestine in a process of ethnic cleansing that saw the destruction of 531 Arab cities or villages and 11 Arab urban areas, with massacres at almost all of those towns or villages, the almost complete looting of Palestinian property and wealth, including looting of banks, confiscation of Palestinian homes and property, businesses, fields and orchards.

The Palestinian people lost everything. Those who survived the massacres lost their careers, their means of livelihood, only to find refuge in tent cities set up by the United Nations which were later to become squalid refugee camps of cinder block buildings dotted around the Middle East.

By just checking the time line, one quickly disposes of the 60 year old Israeli propaganda myth that the state of Israel was innocently minding its own business when it was attacked by five armies of surrounding Arab states.

The ethnic cleansing of Palestinians began on November 30, 1947 in Haifa when the Jewish army under David Ben Gurion, along with the Jewish terrorist group, the Irgun, under Manachem Begin, began shelling the Arab sections of that city. In March of 1948, David Ben Gurion finalized and distributed Plan D to his officers, which was a program for destroying and depopulating Arab villages and eliminating any resistance. The massacre at the Arab village of Deir Yassin, only one of many, but possibly the most famous, occurred on April 9, 1948. Israel declared itself a state on May 14, 1948, and it was the next day, May 15, that the first regular soldier of an Arab army set foot in Palestine. By then, about half of the 800,000 Palestinian refugees had been generated and all of Palestine’s urban centers and been depopulated of Arabs.

One cannot understand the natural anger and resentment of the Arab people, and particularly the Palestinian people, toward Israel, and also to the West, for supporting their oppressors and for being blind to their own suffering, without coming to a full understanding of the catastrophe, which they call the Nakbah, that befell the Palestinian people in 1948.

Nor can one understand the futility of the exalted ‘peace process’, ongoing now for the last 22 years, concurrent with the further erosion of Palestinian rights and freedom, and migration of new Jewish settlers into the West Bank and East Jerusalem, without understanding that Israel acquired its present status as a state, not by negotiation with Palestinians, but by brute force and very much against the will of the indigenous people.

For the Arab people, Israel is an alien implant, imposed by western powers, in the heart of the Arab world against the will of the Arab people.

The Palestinians living under occupation have been living in that situation for 40 years, deprived of natural human rights, abused and, more often than not, humiliated, suffering degradation and humiliation on a daily basis, as their land and property and resources are daily confiscated by the state of Israel, who also winks at settler violence and looks the other way as settlers, who have built their settlement so hilltops, dump their sewage onto Palestinian farmland, as they also cut down their olive trees, burn their fields and poison or otherwise kill their livestock, in order to make way for more settlers and settlements as well as to make life as miserable as possible for the Palestinians.

Zionism is a political program of clearing Palestine of Palestinian Arabs in order to create the space for an exclusive Jewish state. As such, its goal is to destroy the Palestinians as a people with an identity as a people and with an attachment to the land of their births and the births of their ancestry. Such a project meets the definition of genocide in international law. Genocide is a crime against humanity as well as against its immediate victims. Genocide is a crime in which all of humanity is degraded.

William James Martin teaches in the Department of Mathematics at the University of New Orleans. He can be reached at: wjm20@caa.columbia.edu.

April 24, 2012 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , | Comments Off on Palestinians: The Forgotten People

Capitalism in the Second Decade of the 21st Century: From the “Golden” to the Dark Ages of Capitalism

By James Petras :: 04.23.2012

Introduction

The economic, political and social outlook for the second decade of the 21st century is profoundly negative. The almost universal consensus, even among mainstream orthodox economists, is pessimistic regarding the world economy.

Although, even here, their predictions understate the scope and depth of the crises, there are powerful reasons to believe that beginning in the second decade of this century, we are heading toward a steeper decline than what was experienced during the Great Recession of 2008 – 2009. With fewer resources, greater debt and increasing popular resistance to shouldering the burden of saving the capitalist system, the governments cannot revive the economic system.

Many of the major institutions and economic relations which were cause and consequence of world and regional capitalist expansion over the past three decades are in the process of disintegration and disarray. The previous economic engines of global expansion, the US and the European Union, have exhausted their potentialities and are in open decline. The new centers of growth, China, India, Brazil, Russia, which provided a new impetus for world growth during the first decade are de-accelerating rapidly and will continue to do so throughout the new decade.

The political and military outlook is equally bleak, especially in the Middle East and South Asia where the US and the EU are engaged in prolonged colonial wars, either directly or through proxies. Imperial wars are deepening the economic crises, draining resources, rather than extracting wealth, and in particular with regard to US-Israeli war preparations against Iran threatening to provoke a major economic depression.

We will proceed with an overview of the principal regions of the world political economy beginning with the ongoing crises in the European Union and follow with a discussion of the causes and consequences of the decay of the US Empire. We will then analyze the negative impact of the US proxy wars for Israel in the Middle East before turning to the dynamic growth, conflicts and reforms in the BRICs: China as it emerges as a major world economic power; Russia under the dynamic leadership of President Putin and Brazil as an emerging hegemon in Latin America. We will conclude by examining the social and political consequences of prolonged crises, especially the effects of prolonged class based austerity programs and new colonial wars on the class struggle and the reshaping of the global configuration of power in a world without a dominant hegemon.

The Crises of the European Union

The Eurozone faces a triple economic crises: an economy immersed in an ongoing recession including a depressed manufacturing sector; a severe decline in trade; and a precarious financial sector in which bankers in Greece, Italy, Spain, and Portugal are on the verge of bankruptcy [1].

A crisis is developing in the empire resulting from sequential costly colonial wars and economic sanctions toward the Arab-Islamic world – Syria, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran.

A constitutional crises as rising mass protests have led to the extension of police state measures including the suspension of constitutional guarantees and the criminalization of social protests in Spain, Greece and England.

Throughout 2012 unemployment rose to the highest levels since the introduction of the single currency in 1999. Annual trade with the EU’s main-commercial partners in Asia fell precipitously – over 18% with China, 14% with South Korea and a similar downturn with Japan [2].

Specifically, the crises wracked European Union is on the verge of a break up and the de facto multi-tiered structure is turning into a series of bilateral/multi-lateral trade and investment agreements. Germany-France the Low and Nordic countries are best placed to attempt to weather the downturn. England, namely the City of London – in splendid isolation – is sinking into negative growth, its financiers scrambling to find new speculative opportunities among the Gulf petrol-states and other ‘niches’. Eastern and central Europe, particularly Poland and the Czech Republic, have deepened their ties to Germany but are suffering the consequences of the general decline of world markets. Southern Europe (Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy) are in a deep depression suffering double digit negative growth over the period 2009-2013 while unemployment skyrockets to over 20% as the massive debt payments fueled by savage assaults on wages and social benefits and the decline of public investments, severely reduce consumer demand [3].

Depression level unemployment and under-employment, running to one-third of the labor force and youth (17-24) unemployment of nearly 50% in southern Europe, detonates prolonged social conflicts, repeated general strikes in Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy intensifying into popular uprisings. A break-up of the European Union is almost inevitable. The euro as a currency of choice may be replaced followed by a return to national currencies, accompanied by devaluations and protectionism. Nationalism and class struggle are the order of the day. Banks in Germany, France and Switzerland are preparing to suffer “haircuts” – huge losses on their loans to the South. Major bailouts have become necessary, polarizing German and French societies, between the tax-paying majorities and the bankers. Trade union militancy and rightwing pseudo ‘populism’ (neo-fascism) are challenging incumbent rightist (Spain, Portugal), social democratic and “technocratic” regimes (Greece, Italy).

In response to crises and mass protest, police state measures have increased in Spain. The neo-Franco regime of Mariano Rajoy has implemented new repressive laws, which penalize social movements for engaging in passive or active resistance to public authority, with jail terms ranging from one to three years [4]. In Britain, Prime Minister Cameron has approved measures allowing police to intervene in any and all personal e-mails or other correspondence without any judicial authorization.

A depressed, fragmented and polarized Europe is less likely to join in any Zionist inspired US-Israeli military interventions. Already economic sanctions against Libya, Iran and even Syria, have caused a crippling 20% increase in the price of oil in 2012, undermining any chances of economic recovery. If crises ridden Europe follows Washington’s confrontationalist approach to Russia and China it will limit access to two of the most dynamic markets for its exports.

Wars and economic crises, each mutually reinforce the other in a downward spiral. As costly imperial wars multiply, the Eurozone domestic economy decays.

The US Crisis Continues

The US crisis has several inter-related dimensions: a decline in world market shares and hegemony especially in Asia and Latin America; rising class based inequalities and differential economic ‘recovery’ between capital and labor; and a increasingly repressive police state designed to forestall domestic opposition to new overseas wars (especially with Iran) and a long term decline in living standards.

Nothing illustrates the decline of the US empire as clearly as its shrinking share of world trade and manufacturing, in the latter case by China’s forceful entry as the “workplace of the world” [5]. Even in traditional US “spheres of influence”. Latin America and the Caribbean the US no longer is the dominant trader and financier [6].

Between 2005-2010 Chinese state banks lent more than $75 billion to Latin America more than the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and the Ex-Imp Bank combined. The US has been displaced by China as the leading trading partner of Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru and Ecuador – specializing in agro-mineral exports [7]. US de-facto devaluation of its currency and state subsidized interest rates has prejudiced Brazilian exports and created what its Finance Minister describes as a “currency war” – setting the US on a collision course with the biggest and most important economy in the region [8]. The US came up with no major economic initiatives to recast US relations with Brazil in recent meetings with President Rouseff. Nor did the US succeed in imposing its oil sanctions policy toward Iran in Latin America and Asia. India and China have rejected US policy and have continued to purchase Iranian oil [9].

Despite a slight and tenuous decline in unemployment, mainly a result of the shrinking o the labor force due to the fact that many long term unemployed workers have given up looking for jobs, the US economy has been incapable of dealing with a ballooning $1.6 trillion fiscal deficit. Because of cumulative public and household debt, Washington is finding it difficult to spend its way toward a robust recovery. Nor can it count on ‘exporting’ its way out of stagnation by turning to Asia, as China, India and the rest of Asia are losing economic steam. China’s growth for 2012 is likely to be 7.5% far below its 9% average and India will decline from 8% to 5% or lower [10].

The US economic crisis has hit the working and middle class the hardest They received nothing similar to the trillion dollar Wall Street bailout to ameliorate their socio-economic plight [11].

According to one report “about 12 million borrowers, or one in five of US homeowners with mortgages, owe more than their property is worth” depressing the housing market and reducing the net worth of US households by several trillion dollars [12].

The “decline in unemployment” claimed by the Obama regime is largely a result of the decline of the labor force from 146 million in 2007 to 140 million in 2011. In 2008 62.7% of the population was employed by 2012 it had dropped to 58.5%, thus accounting for the decline in unemployment from 9.3% to 8.3%. If the same number of workers were seeking work in 2012 as there were in 2007, unemployment [13] would be over 11%. The decline of the median income is cause and consequence of the sharp decline in the “middle class”. Well paid manufacturing jobs are replaced by low paid “service jobs”: over 90% of the 27.3 million new jobs added over the last two decades are in the service sector [14].

Exploitation of labor is evidenced in the growing productivity of labor even as the number of workers decreases: all the gains from technological innovations accrues to capital, as robots replace line workers. As efficiency rises, jobs dissolve and profits increase. Labor’s share of national income has fallen from 63% to 58% over the past 20 years. While median wages declined 2.7% since the recession of 2008-2010, profits have increased nearly 30%. While the domestic market shrinks, the Standard and Poor 400 draw 33% of their profits from exploiting cheap labor overseas. Globalization has clearly prejudiced US labor and benefited the multinational corporations (MNC). A case in point is General Motors which in 2011 recorded $7.6 billion, its largest profit ever in 2011 [15]

The Obama 2013 budget plan proposes to deepen the social divide by cutting health care and social security by $364 billion while only increasing taxes on the rich by less than one-third that amount. [16]

Faced with growing discontent with the economic crisis, overseas imperial wars, rising oil prices and declining living standards, the US has vastly increased police state legislation allowing the state to assassinate citizens suspected of fraternizing with ill-defined terrorists, suspending judicial oversight (habeas corpus) on the use of police intervention in homes and offices and cyber sites.

A presidential decree on March 16, 2012, authorized the state seizure of all major work sites and the militarization of labor in time of “emergency” – including in peace time. [17]

The US and England are the biggest losers from the Iraqi post war economic reconstruction. Of $1.86 trillion dollars in infrastructure projects, US and UK corporations will gain less than 5% [18]. A similar outcome is likely in Libya and elsewhere. US imperial militarism destroys an adversary, plunging into debt to do so, and non-belligerents reap the lucrative post-war economic reconstruction contracts. In fact empire building drains trillions in military spending without any commensurate extraction of economic wealth. In fact the domestic economy is drained to fund the military empire of 700 military bases. As the wars multiply, domestic consumption shrinks.

US economic stagnation and jobless recovery is evident in the rising number of Americans dependent on food kitchens, the epidemic in home foreclosure – over 10 million are 3 months or more behind in mortgage payments – and 30% of school children dependent on free lunches and breakfasts.

Labor exploitation (“productivity”) has intensified as capitalists force workers to produce more, for less pay, thus widening the income gap between wages and profits. [19] Several decades ago the average US CEO to worker salary differential was 70 to 1. Today it is 350 to 1. Inequalities have reached unprecedented levels and are increasing: over the past 10 years the top 1% of the class structure received 90% of the growth of income, leading to a real decline in median income of over 5%.

The economic downturn and growth of unemployment is accompanied by savage cuts in social programs to pay for the bailout of financially troubled banks, Wall Street investment houses and the automobile industry. The debates among the Democratic and Republican parties are over how much to cut the public health programs for retirees (Medicare) and for the poor (Medicare) and how to proceed in privatizing Social Security in order to secure the ‘confidence’ of the bondholders. Faced with limited political choices, the electorate is reacting by voting out incumbents, abstaining in large numbers – over 60% in congressional elections and 50% in presidential elections – or via spontaneous and organized mass movements, such as the “occupy Wall Street” protest. Dissatisfaction, hostility and frustration pervade the North American political culture. Both major parties attempt to deflect criticism and distract discontented voters by demonizing Islamic citizens and countries as “threats to national security” and augmenting the police powers of the state at the expense of constitutional freedoms. Democratic Party demagogues blame unfair trading practices of China rather than the massive flight of US MNC to mainland China. The Republican Party demagogues blame largely Latin American immigrant workers for “stealing American jobs” for Wall Street’s financial destruction of US manufacturing sector. Both, following the lead of the “Israeli Lobby, fulminate against Iran’s Islamo-fascists.

New Wars in the Midst of Crises: Zionists Pull the Trigger

In what is likely a first in world history, a global imperial power the US is subject to the dictates and pays tribute (in the form of military and economic aid to the tune of over a hundred billion dollars over the past half century) to a marginal state, Israel, with little significance to the world economy and few allies. [20] Never in past empires, has a tiny minority, US Zionists forcefully acted on behalf of the tributary state, and had such a powerful influence in harnessing an imperial state to serve the military interests of a foreign power. Never in history has a prosperous elite, educated in the most prestigious schools and occupying strategic economic, cultural and political positions of power, driven an empire into a series of prolonged colonial wars which prejudice major private institutions (oil) industry, drain the public treasury, impoverish the vast majority of taxpayers and consumers of energy in pursuit of the goal of a “Greater Israel”.

Finally never in the history of modern social analysis has the public and blatant display of elite power and political manipulation on behalf of a foreign regime been so deliberately slighted and obfuscated, by complicit or intimidated scholars and journalists, another instance of the pervasive power of intimidation of the Zionist power configuration [21].

It is precisely this elite exercise of power on behalf of a foreign regime that explains the repeated costly imperial wars against Arab and Islamic countries, even in the midst of a major prolonged economic crisis. Since the Israeli Lobby’s first and abiding loyalty is to Israel, they have no qualms about deepening the US fiscal deficit based on trillion dollar military expenditures for wars to advance Israeli domination in the Middle East.

The 52 Presidents of the Major American Jewish Organizations and their “Israel First” followers in Congress, State, Treasury and the Pentagon have escalated economic sanctions and military preparations for war with Iran despite the loss of a major market for US exports and the sidetracking of scarce economic resources to unproductive military expenditures. As a result of war threats emanating from Washington and Tel Aviv, speculators have pushed up the price of oil by 20% in the first 6 months of 2012, further undercutting any hope of an economic recovery. A US-Israeli attack on Iran will not result in a short localized war: it will result in a regional conflagration, sharply reducing the flow of oil, sending prices skyrocketing and in short order lead to a world depression. [22] Given the extremist Israeli regime’s success in securing blind obedience to its war polices from the US Congress and White House, with regard to Iraq (2003), Libya (2011), Lebanon (2006) any doubts about the real possibility of an attack on Iran, with a major catastrophic outcome, can be set aside.

China: Neo-Liberalism and the Compensatory Mechanisms in 2012

China’s dynamic growth over the past 30 years owes as much to the socialist revolution in 1949 as it does to capitalist investment from 1980 to the present. The revolution created the modern state and defeated the Japanese imperial army, local warlords and corrupt political rulers of the Kuo Ming tan and ended Euro-US foreign coastal enclaves.  The revolution laid the bases for a unified country. By mobilizing labor, it created the essential infrastructure linking economic sectors; via an agrarian reform liberated the peasantry from semi-feudal constraints and created a domestic market; via universal free public education and health programs it created a modern healthy, educated labor force and an army of scientists, engineers and technicians, producing innovations and spurring double digit growth. The capitalist transition began in 1980 and accelerated thereafter via the de-collectivization of agriculture, privatization of industry, trade and urban land and the large scale, long-term entry of major MNCs.

The transition and consolidation of capitalist China had a dual effect: it unleashed the forces of production leading to double digit growth and it polarized class relations between a super-rich ruling class, a privileged ‘new petty bourgeois’ and a vast army of poorly paid exploited factory workers and migrant construction and domestic service workers.

As China became the ‘workplace of the world’ it also became the locus of the world’s worst social inequalities. Chinese capital in partnership with foreign capital turned it into the world’s second biggest economy. But China’s second and third generation of post-socialist working class increasingly has engaged in mass action demanding a greater share of the wealth, a return to free public health and education and low cost housing[23]. China’s elite is faced with dual pressures: on one side from private capital demanding greater financial de-regulation to allow for overseas investment and on the other side from labor’s clamor for greater political freedom and social spending on housing and an end to vast networks of corruption between Party officials and business elites[24]. As China’s economy matured it turned to greater investments in basic research and advanced engineering, moving China up the value chain toward complex and innovat6ive manufacturing[25]. Faced with shrinking trade surpluses due to declining demand from the crises ridden Euro zone and the US an increasingly sharp inter-elite struggle emerged, pitting neo-liberals against populists. The core leadership around premier Wen Jiabao embraced the opening of financial markets, the entry of foreign finance capital, the liberalization of the political system to allow for competing elites and the repression of advocates of neo-populist policies such as those proposed by former mayor of Chongging and ex- politburo member Bo Xilai. Bo promoted greater social insurance, environmental protection and social housing, greater social equality and robust prosecution of corrupt business-Party mafias [26]. The defeat of the symbolic head of the “populist faction”, with the arrest of BoXilai, heralded by the western financial press as a victory over “neo-Maoist demagogy”, signals the deepening and open embrace of neo-liberalism and the gradual discarding of the public regulatory regime over foreign financial flows [27]. This in turn increases China’s vulnerability to financial turmoil and opens opportunities for outward flows of capital by China’s new rich billionaires. The announced growth of domestic social spending has yet to ameliorate the class inequalities: China and its elite have become a mecca for luxury goods manufacturers and fashion designers both domestically and overseas in Paris, London, Milan and New York.

Faced with intensifying pressures from below and especially in light of the deepening of the neo-liberal option [28], the Chinese elite also has to deal with the crises in its principal export markets in the Euro zone.

China faces the US-EU crises of the new decade with several possibilities for ameliorating its impact. Beijing is shifting toward producing goods and services for the 700 million domestic consumers currently out of the economic loop. By increasing wages, social services and environmental safety, China is compensating for the loss of overseas markets. China is vastly increasing public spending on expanding public health coverage, increasing wages, and plowing billions into basic research and technology. China’s economic growth, which depended on real estate speculation, has shifted gears, as the regime has tightened lending and demanded greater municipal investment in low cost social housing for the middle and working class. To avoid a sharp downturn, leading to job losses, municipal bankruptcies and increased social and class conflicts, China is prepared to launch a massive stimulus package as it did in 2008/9. Faced with rising demands for greater economic and political liberalization from the new economic elite and working class demands for social equality and higher wages, the different factions in the Communist Party debate over greater liberalization and gradual democratization [29]. The outcome will profoundly affect China’s class structure, political institutions as well as the relative strength of market – state relations. A turn toward greater liberalization and deregulation of financial markets, as appears most likely could heighten class conflicts and provoke an economic crisis which will likely strengthen opposition to the market.

Russia Faces the Crises

The post-Soviet decade (1990-1999) witnessed the greatest peacetime human catastrophe: life expectancy fell from 66 years to 58 years in the course of three years, with over 3 million Russians dying prematurely, as newly minted capitalist oligarchs plundered the economy and public treasury [30]. Incumbent dictator Yeltsin literally bombarded the opposition led parliament in buttressing his regime. He was elected President in 1996 thanks to oligarchical media manipulation, gangster dominated regional electoral processes and massive State and private funding. Over a trillion dollars of public resources, from diverse sectors including oil, gas ,banks and transport, were seized by thugs and oligarchs for a fraction of their value [31]. Living standards plunged, pensioners suffered extreme hardships and many were evicted from public housing in choice locations.

At the height of the neo-liberal onslaught over 60% of the Russian population fell below the poverty life – the greatest decline since the end of WW II. Russia fell from co-equal world superpower to a vassal state of the Euro-US Empire.

With the advent of the Putin era, at the onset of the new century, Russia began a rapid and steep recovery. During the first decade of the 21st century poverty was reduced to less than 20% of the population. Wages and salaries were paid on time and increased by over 90%. The Russian economy grew by nearly 8% per annum and its trade surpluses led to foreign reserves exceeding 300 billion dollars, Russia regained its status as a respected power in the international political arena, forming part of the rising BRIC quartet (Brazil, Russia, India and China).

Putin, while not reversing the privatization or prosecuting the oligarchic elites for illicit enrichment, did limit their stranglehold over public policy. For his pursuit of Russian national interests and opposition to US missile encroachment on its borders, he was targeted by the western media as “hardline” [32]. For winning elections and imposing some restraints on the western funded and influenced propaganda – think tanks, NGOs and media outlets – he was dubbed “authoritarian” by the imperial mass media. Nevertheless, Putin’s stabilization and state promoted prosperity marginalized the western backed opposition and received the popular backing of close to two-thirds of the electorate.

The election of President Putin with over 60% of the vote in 2012 was a major blow to the western backed opposition intent on turning the clock back to the Yeltsin era … Putin promised a more independent policy and less collaboration in backing US promoted uprisings and sanctions against Russian allies like Syria and trading partners like Iran. Putin has turned toward greater trade and diplomatic ties with China. Russia benefits from the rise in oil prices, exceeding $120 a barrel. The crisis of the EU and weakening of NATO makes Obama’s planned missile placements pointed at Russia less palatable and more a provocation.

The western media backed opposition, despite its financial clout failed to degrade Putin’s image: its investment boycotts went nowhere and they were thoroughly beaten in the Presidential elections by a big margin. The recession has not weakened the Russian economy. Putin continues to rely on public ownership and greater dependency on overseas oil giants and oligarchs to sustain growth, an unstable and contradictory coalition.

The Transition 2011 – 2012: From Regional Stagnation and Recession to World Crises

The year 2011 laid the groundwork for deepening the crisis of the European Union. The crisis began with the recession in the Eurozone, stagnation in the US and the outbreak of mass protests against the brutal austerity programs that slashed living standards on a continent wide scale. The events of 2011 were a dress rehearsal for a new year of popular rebellions and general strikes. Moreover, the escalation of Zionist orchestrated war fever against Iran in 2011 led to brutal sanctions and the greater likelihood of the biggest regional war since the US-Indo-Chinese conflict. The electoral campaigns and outcomes of Presidential elections in the US and France offer no relief or alternatives – neither of the leading candidates offers an alternative to the deepening global conflicts and economic crises.

During 2011 the Obama regime announced a policy of military confrontation with Russia and military encirclement of China. His policies are designed to undermine Russia’s strategic defense and degrade China’s rise as a world economic power. In the face of a deepening economic recession and with the decline of overseas markets, especially in Europe, Washington perversely and aggressively pursues policies limiting lucrative export to the China market and the inflow of its investments. The White House effort to disrupt China’s trade and investments in Asia, Africa and elsewhere has been a dismal failure. In fact China has replaced the US as the principal aid beneficiary in Latin America and even the Caribbean. US efforts to exploit China’s internal ethnic and popular conflicts and to increase its military presence off China’s coastline has only encouraged China to increase its defense budget by 12% annually and to increase its investments in domestic security and social programs. A major provocation or fabricated offshore incident in this context is not to be excluded. US failed efforts to stem the rise of China has led to rabid chauvinist calls by right-wing pundits for a costly new ‘Cold War’. Obama’s Far East military build-up has provided the framework and justification for a large-scale, long-term costly confrontation with China. This is a desperate effort to prop up declining US influence and strategic positions in Asia. However, the US military “quadrangle of power” – US-Japan-Australia-South Korea – with satellite support from the Philippines is no match to China’s deepening trade, investment and currency ties with regional partners in Asia, and its growing financial links with Latin America and Africa. Washington’s military build-up exists in an economic vacuum, devoid of any new economic initiatives. It only serves to exacerbate the domestic fiscal deficit, while its military bases, troop emplacements, and arms spending add to the balance of payments deficit.

The austerity programs imposed in Europe, from England to Latvia to southern Europe took hold with a vengeance in 2012. Massive public sector firings and reduced private sector salaries and job opportunities, led to a year of permanent class warfare and regime challenges. The ‘austerity policies’ in Southern Europe were accompanied by debt defaults resulting in substantial bank losses in France, Germany and England. The British financial ruling class successfully pressured the Conservative/Liberal coalition regime to increase regressive taxes, reduce corporate taxes, privatize public health and education and repress popular unrest. A new tough neo-Thatcherite style of autocratic rule based on greater police powers over private communications has been legislated. The opposition Labor-trade union alliance has relied on vacuous verbal protest while tightening the leash on the rebellious rank and file. The regressive socio-economic policies put in place from 2008 to 2012 throughout Europe have set the stage for new non-elected technocratic and police-state regimes which in turn lead to more acute social confrontations. The second decade looms as a “lost decade” for workers and unemployed youth with no future.

The Coming Wars that End America “As We Know It”

The impossible demands that the Israeli regime dictated when the P-5 plus one announced the opening of a new round of negotiations with Iran have become the bases for Washington’s ‘non-negotiable demands’. Israel, via Washington, demands that Iran dismantle its newly built multi-billion dollar modern nuclear research center at Fordo, stop all uranium enrichment, destroy what they call “military grade enriched material”, (uranium enrichment to 20%) and allow permanent and pervasive International Atomic Energy Agency monitoring of all Iranian defense facilities [33]. No country among the over one hundred engaged in nuclear research is subject to these conditions. In fact, Iran is well within the parameters of international law and the non-proliferation agreement – while Israel rejects any international inspection of its nuclear weapons stockpile and never signed the non-proliferation agreement.

The Iranians propose to negotiate the terms of enrichment limiting the quantity, level of enrichment and inspection. But certainly and justifiably they will not destroy their advanced research facilities, nor end all enrichment. In other words the Israeli-Zionist-Washington position is devised specifically to sabotage a reasonable compromise that assures the peaceful usage of Iran’s nuclear program. The purpose is to create a pretext for claiming that “negotiations” were “tried” but failed and that a military attack is “justified”. [34]

Under Obama, as with his predecessor, the US has demonstrated its unyielding embrace of the doctrine of foreign policy by unilateral fiat in pursuit of a unipolar world.

Washington rejected a negotiated settlement of the Libyan crisis: it backed an all-out air and maritime war, marked by military success and the total destruction of its economy, society and political order. [35]

The US and its NATO satraps and Gulf state clients demand that the Syrian government unilaterally curtail its military defense of the country while they continue to provide arms, financial aid and mercenaries to the armed opposition. In effect the US backs a unilateral cease fire to facilitate the advance of their client mercenary “rebels”. [36]

The US, alone and without a single supporting country, insisted that Cuba be excluded from the “summit of the Americas” in Cartagena, Colombia on April 14-15, 2012 [37]. The attending countries made it clear to Obama that this will be that last summit in which Cuba will be excluded [38]. A unilateral US veto over Latin America’s progressive policies is dead and buried. In contrast the US, the Euro zone and Israel ally with the most retrograde regimes, like the Gulf petrol-dictators in pursuit of their colonial wars. Policies rejected by the major power in Asia (China, India) Latin America (Brazil, Argentina) Africa (South Africa) and Russia. In other words, despite growing international isolation and the tremendous chaos and destruction which colonial wars bring in their wake, the Zionist-militarist-Wall Street complex that rules the US and therefore NATO, refuses to reflect and reconsider the realities of the 21st century. Washington fails to recognize a multi-polar world, that colonial wars destroy empires and that an imperial policy dictated by a minority elite aligned to a racist-military-colonial regime can only lead to disasters.

Obama has laid the groundwork for a new and bigger war in the Middle East by relocating troops from Iraq and Afghanistan and concentrating them against Iran. To undermine Iran, Washington is expanding clandestine military and civilian operations against Iranian allies in Syria, Pakistan, Venezuela and China. The key to the US and Israeli bellicose strategy toward Iran is a series of wars in neighboring states, world- wide economic sanctions , cyber-attacks aimed at disabling vital industries and clandestine terrorist assassinations of scientists and military officials. The entire push, planning and execution of the US policies leading up to war with Iran can be attributed to the Zionist power configuration occupying strategic positions in the US Administration, mass media and ‘civil society’. Even the financial press highlights the political influence of Jewish money in the election and selection of presidential candidates and policy makers: The Financial Times highlights the role of the 1% Jewish power elite in its tittle article “The Jewish Vote: Small segment but a big role in raising funds” [39]. Equally important, it is public knowledge that leading Israeli backed and Zionist run foundations play a deciding role in designing US and Euro- zone sanctions policy toward Iran, which prejudices their economies. According to the Financial Times “Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies (sic) who helped write the latest sanctions bill admits that there is a risk oil prices could rise even further” [40]. A systematic analysis of policymakers designing and implementing economic sanctions policy in Congress finds prominent roles for leading Zionists such as Waxman, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Levin, Cantor, Berman and their numerous camp followers. Dennis Ross in [concert with] the White House, Jeffrey Feltman in the State Department and David Cohen in the Treasury, ensure that the White House toes the Israeli line. The Obama regime, in the midst of the presidential re-election campaign, is especially beholden to multi-millionaire Zionist fund raisers and takes its cue from the ‘52 Presidents of the Major American Jewish Organization. Combined they raise over 50% of the Democratic party campaign funds. The Israeli-US Zionist strategy is to encircle Iran, weaken it economically and attack its military. The Iraq war is the US “model” for its current build up for an attack on Iran. Israel is the principal political and military beneficiary of the Iraq and Libyan wars as is the case in the current proxy war against Syria. These wars have destroyed Israel’s adversaries or are in the process of doing so. But the economic, political and human cost to the US has been enormous: trillions of dollars in war debts have bled the US treasury, without any economic returns, as US oil profits have been sacrificed in Iraq and Iran.

Economic sanctions, which were designed to create domestic discontent in Iran, are the principal weapon of choice. This policy has backfired as it boosted the price of oil by 20% in 2012, undermining any economic recovery in the EU and the US. The global sanctions campaign which engaged the energies of the major Jewish-Zionist lobbies succeeded as the Obama regime followed with an escalation of financial sanctions. The US-NATO- Israeli regimes have faced no opposition from the mass media, Congress or the White Office. The Zionist power configuration (ZPC) is even virtually exempt from criticism by most progressive writers, peace movements and leftist grouplets – with a few notable exceptions. The past year’s re-positioning of US troops from Iraq, the dispatch of aircraft carriers off the coast of Iran, the economic sanctions and the rising pressure from Israel’s “lobby” in the US increases the likelihood of war in the Middle East. This likely means a “surprise” aerial and maritime missile attack by US-Israel forces. Israel’s pretext of an “imminent nuclear attack” and White House claims that the “failure” of Iran to negotiate in good faith will be faithfully transmitted by the Israel lobby to their lackeys in the US Congress and to the western public for consumption and transmission to the rest of the western world. Contrary to Israeli leaders this will not be a limited war: Iran is capable of sustaining a prolonged war, extending across the Gulf region. Iran is capable of crossing borders into Iraq aided by its Shi’a allies. It can paralyze the flow of oil in the Hormuz Straits. It can send missiles into the Saudi oilfields. A US-Israeli war on Iran will be a destructive, bloody, prolonged war which could provoke a global depression. The US will bear the direct military cost by itself and the rest of the world will pay a dear economic price. The Zionist promoted US war will convert the recession of 2008- 2012 into a major depression and probably provoke mass upheavals.

Conclusion

The world configuration of power in the new decade is far more complex than the designation concocted by the leading banking houses[41]. For example, the “BRICs” includes a truly global power, China, a center of manufacturing, science and growth; Russia a military power highly dependent on energy exports and lacking a competitive manufacturing sector; Brazil is a commodity-dependent export economy suffering economic stagnation; and India where three quarters of the populace live at a or below $3 a day. The decline of the US-EU axis is not accompanied by a new multi-polar global power configuration. The crises engendered by neo-liberalism in the West is accompanied by its growth in Asia, especially China, India, South Korea and Indonesia. The decline of neo-liberalism is not accompanied by the rise of socialism: in Southern Europe, authoritarian rightist regimes buttress the crises-racked neo-liberal order by imposing policies by fiat and by criminalizing the social movements and civil disobedience and by centralizing executive power. By ignoring financial speculation as the detonator of the crises and the state bailout of the banks for the high indebtedness, the regimes perversely blame popular social program for the crises and impose harsh anti-popular austerity programs which lower living standards and increase profits. The debate between neo-liberals and neo-keynesians focuses on ‘austerity’ versus ‘spending’ – neither of which faces the class bases of state policy and the class relations which define economic costs and benefits. What is clear throughout the prolonged socio-economic crises is the impermeability of the state: despite mass disaffection, repeated general strikes and multitudinous and demonstrations, the capitalist state ignores majoritarian interests and persists in imposing savage retrograde reductions in living standards. Capitalist rule in the West is based on a reversal of seventy years of social gains. The reality of growing immiseration replaces the idea of social progress. We have passed from the so-called “golden age” of post-World War II capitalism to the long night of the “dark ages” of capitalism, an epoch of decay and descent into barbarism.

All indications point to the second decade of the 21st century being an epoch of unrelenting economic crises spreading outward from Europe and the US to Asia and its dependencies in Africa and Latin America. Catastrophic imperial and proxy wars accelerate the continued decay of the US empire and facilitate the rise of Asia as the epicenter of world capitalism and as the site for rising class conflict. The crisis in capitalist class rule is truly global and is spilling over into sharpening inter-imperialist trade confrontations. Colonial wars are undermining any efforts to ameliorate this crisis. Prolonged economic crises and a never ending downward spiral in living standards, fueled by class based austerity programs designed to reduce wages and social benefit and increase profits. In response emerging mass social movements are playing a dominant role within the anti-capitalist opposition. Direct action is gradually overshadowing electoral politics, moving over time from protests and rebellions, toward overt struggles for state power.

[1] On the continuing recession in the euro zone especially in Greece, see Financial Times, 2/16/12, p.2.

[2] Financial Times, 12/15/11, p. 3.

[3] BBC Business News, 4/2/12.

[4] LaJornada, 4/12/12.

[5] Edward Luce, Time to Start Thinking: America and the Spectre of Decline (Little, Brown: 2012)

[6] Financial Times, 2/16/12.

[7] ibid

[8] LaJornada, 4/10/12, and Financial Tines 1/11/12, p.7.

[9] Financial Times 3/2/12

[10] International Monetary Fund “Projections for Growth 2012”, March 2012.

[11] Financial Times, 4/11/12, p. 6.

[12] ibid

[13] Financial Times, 12/12/11, p. 1.

[14] Financial Times, 12/15/11, p. 1

[15] Earthlink news 2/6/2012

[16] BBC News 2/13/2012

[17] Executive Order – National Defense Resource Preparedness, March 16, 2012; Stephen Lendman, “Police State America”, http://www.FreedomsPhoenix.com

[18] Financial Times 12/16/2011 p 3

[19] Financial Times 12/16/2011 p6

[20] James Petras, The Power of Israel in the United States (Clarity Press, Atlanta 2006).

[21] James Petras, “On Bended Knee: Zionist Power in American Politics” in James Petras War Crimes in Gaza (Clarity: Atlanta 2010) pp. 69 -104

[22] James Petras, “US-Israeli War on Iran: The Myth of Limited Warfare”, Axis of Logic, 4/15/2012; New York Times, 3/21/2012; Financial Times, 3/24/2012 p 7. http://petras.lahaine.org/?p=1894

[23] Chinaworker.info 3/18/12.

[24] Financial Times 2/29/12, p. 13.

[25] “A Bumper Year for Chinese Science” Science Vol. 335, March 9, 2012, p. 1156.

[26] Dexter Roberts “Chinese Premier Wen Jialao Talks Like a Bold Reformer”, Bloomberg Business Week, 4/4/12.

[27] Editorial Financial Times, 4/13/12, p. 8.

[28] Martin Hart-Landsberg, “China and Neoliberalism” http://media.1clark.edu

[29] Martin Wolf, “China is Right to Open Slowly”. Financial Times, 2/29/12, p. 13.

[30] David Hoffman, The Oligarchs (Public Affairs: New York 2002).

[31] Hoffman op. cit. Part Two, pp. 177 – 324.

[32] The entire western press including the New York Times: the Financial Times, to the Washington Post and El País, Le Monde have waged a savage propaganda campaign against Putin and in defense of the Yeltsin era, overlooking the enormous differences in quality of life.

[33] BBC News, 4/5/12.

[34] Financial Times, 3/6/12, p. 9.

[35] BBC News, 4/15/12.

[36] BBC News, 4/16/12.

[37] LaJornada 4/16/12.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Financial Times 3/6/12, p. 9.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Claudio Katz “El ajedrez global de la crisis” http://www.lahaine.org/index.php?p=27426, p. 7.

April 24, 2012 Posted by | Economics, Timeless or most popular, Wars for Israel | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

U.S.’s Post-Afghanistan Counterinsurgency War: Colombia

By Rick Rozoff | Stop NATO | April 23, 2012

The Pentagon announced on April 23 that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has begun a trip to South America, arriving in Colombia as part of a three-nation tour that will also take him to Brazil and Chile.

It is his first visit to the continent as Pentagon chief, though he has visited often in other capacities, including as director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Panetta’s meetings with top government and military officials in the three nations will follow those of America’s top military officer, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, to Colombia and Brazil late last month.

Panetta’s mission also occurs two weeks after U.S. and Brazilian presidents Barack Obama and Dilma Rousseff met in the White House on April 9 and agreed on the establishment of the U.S.-Brazil Defense Cooperation Dialogue, announcing that Defense Secretary Panetta and Brazil’s Defence Minister Celso Amorim will hold the first meeting in that format on April 24.

Colombia is the largest recipient of U.S. military aid in Latin America, though its population is less than a quarter of Brazil’s, and the third largest in the world after Israel and Egypt.

After the passage by Congress of the Clinton administration’s Plan Colombia in 2000, the military in Bogota has received approximately $7 billion in U.S. assistance, up from $50 million in 1998 when it was already the biggest beneficiary of American military aid in Latin America.

On October 30, 2009 the Obama administration and that of then-Colombian President Alvaro Uribe agreed on the U.S.-Colombia Defense Cooperation Agreement, which opened up three Colombian air bases, two naval bases, two army installations “and other Colombian military facilities if mutually agreed” to the Pentagon.

One of the bases obtained by the United States, the Larandia Military Fort in Florencia, is within easy striking distance of Ecuador, as the Alberto Pawells Rodriguez Air Base in Malambo is of Venezuela.

Colombia launched a deadly attack against rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) inside neighboring Ecuador in 2008, which the Ecuadorian government accused U.S. special forces personnel inside its country of having assisted. The following year the Colombian armed forces conducted an incursion inside Venezuela, seizing four border guards.

Panetta is in Colombia to coordinate a final offensive against FARC fighters, who have been battling the country’s narco-autocracy and its political minions in Bogota since 1964.

According to Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs and Pentagon Press Secretary George Little, the defense secretary is to meet with Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon Bueno and General Alejandro Navas, General Commander of the Military Forces of Colombia.

On April 23 Panetta praised his military ally, stating, “Colombia, to its credit, has done a tremendous job in going after the FARC.” He failed to mention with, in addition to $7 billion dollars of Washington aid, U.S. helicopter gunships, planes, trainers and special forces troops.

Pentagon spokesman Little added, “Clearly we still have plenty to talk about in continuing to support the Colombians in their efforts against [the FARC]…”

When chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Dempsey was in Colombia on March 27-28, the Defense Department website reported that he visited Joint Task Force Vulcano, “a new interagency force aimed at defeating the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia…The strategy calls for Colombia to cut the FARC forces in half in two years.”

In Dempsey’s words, “They selected 2014 as a key moment for them, They want to accelerate their effects against the FARC.” With the Pentagon’s active connivance and assistance, which why is Dempsey was and Panetta is in the country.

Dempsey was explicit about the American role in the “final solution” of the Colombian civil war: “We’re getting ready to send some brigade commanders who have been in Iraq and Afghanistan down here to partner with their Joint Task Force commanders in a leader developmental function. The challenges they face are not unlike the challenges we’ve faced in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

The Pentagon’s website reported the following on March 27, worth quoting in detail.

Dempsey “joined virtually the entire Colombian defense leadership to visit Joint Task Force Vulcano,” just outside the town of Tibu, only three kilometers from the Venezuela border.

“The Colombian government established the task force in December. It is the latest effort to defeat the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia…

“Dempsey arrived at the base in a Colombian Air Force Mi-17 helicopter along with Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon Bueno and Gen. Alejandro Navas, commander of the Colombian Armed Forces.

“Following his comments, Dempsey discussed strategy with the minister and the chief of defense and also Army chief Maj. Gen. Sergio Mantilla Sanmiguel, Navy chief Vice Adm. Roberto Garcia Marquez and Air Force chief Maj. Gen. Tito Saul Pinilla-Pinilla.

“Before Joint Task Force Vulcano stood up, there were a small number of troops in the region. Now there are more than 10,000, [spokesman for the task force, Colombian army Captain Jose Mojica] said. The forces are composed of three mobile brigades and a geographic brigade. A fourth brigade is getting ready to deploy to the area.

“This is all part of an ambitious Colombian strategy to cut the FARC by half in two years. U.S. Embassy officials said there are about 8,000 FARC members now. Colombian officials spoke of the plan as the end game for the rebellion against the government after 48 years of intermittent war.”

Immediately before Dempsey’s visit to Colombia, U.S. Army South held talks with the Colombian armed forces in Bogota from March 19-23.

Three years ago CBS News quoted an unnamed Pentagon official stating, “The more Afghanistan can look like Colombia, the better.” The equation is now being reversed.

Other top U.S. defense and military officials have for years spoken of “coming back home” to the Western Hemisphere as the war in Afghanistan winds down.

Panetta’s and Dempsey’s visits to Colombia and their statements regarding the purpose of them leave no doubt as to where America’s new, at any rate expanded, counterinsurgency war is occurring.

April 24, 2012 Posted by | Militarism | , , , , , , , | Comments Off on U.S.’s Post-Afghanistan Counterinsurgency War: Colombia