Aletho News


Major Political Donors Have Access to TPP Documents. Everyone Else? Not So Much

By Mike Masnick | Techdirt | January 17, 2014

The good folks over at MapLight have taken a look at the members of the Industry Trade Advisory Committee on Intellectual Property Rights (ITAC-15). As we’ve discussed in the past ITAC 15 is a committee of high powered corporate representatives who are basically the only ones with full access to the text of the intellectual property chapter of the TPP. Those on ITAC 15 are allowed to see the latest text by logging into a system from the comfort of their desks. If Congress wants to see it? No luck. Members of Congress are allowed only to visit the USTR offices, where they’ll be shown a copy of the document in a sealed room. They’re not allowed to bring staff (such as the experts who would understand this stuff). They’re not allowed to take notes or make any copies. Basically, the corporate interests have a lot more oversight over the whole process than Congress does.

So how does one get onto ITAC 15? It’s not easy. Lawyer Andrew Bridges (whose name you might recognize) sought to get onto ITAC 15 as one of the country’s foremost experts on copyright law and its impact on innovation and startups. He was nominated… but denied. But who does get on there? According to MapLight’s analysis, it helps to be a major corporate donor to political campaigns:

  • The 18 organizations represented by ITAC-15 gave nearly $24 million to current members of Congress from Jan. 1, 2003 – Dec. 31, 2012.
  • AT&T has given more than $8 million to current members of Congress, more than any other organization represented by ITAC-15.
  • House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has received $433,350 from organizations represented by ITAC-15, more than any other member of Congress.
  • Democrats in Congress have received $11.4 million from organizations represented by ITAC-15, while Republicans in Congress have received $12.6 million.
  • The members of Congress sponsoring fast-track legislation, which would allow the President to block Congress from submitting amendments to the TPP, have received a combined $758,295 from organizations represented by ITAC-15. They include Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus ($140,601), Senate Finance Committee Ranking Members Orrin Hatch ($178,850), House Ways and Means Committee Chairman David Camp ($216,250), House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade Chairman Devin Nunes ($86,000), and House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions ($136,594).

I’m sure that’s all just a coincidence, right? If the USTR was really seeking to convince the world that the TPP isn’t just a corporatist power grab to give political crony’s a leg up against innovators, it’s doing a piss poor job of convincing anyone that’s the case.

January 17, 2014 Posted by | Corruption, Progressive Hypocrite | , , , , | 1 Comment

STL defense dismisses prosecution’s “circumstantial” evidence

Al-Akhbar | January 17, 2014

The defense counsel of four Hezbollah members accused of planning the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri dismissed evidence presented by the prosecution over Thursday and Friday as unverifiable “observations.”

Prosecutors offered nothing new during their opening arguments, the defense team said at a press conference Friday evening after the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) went to recess.

“There is nothing new in the presentation the prosecutor presented at the beginning of the trial,” Antoine Korkmaz, one of the defense lawyers for the suspects being tried in absentia, told reporters.

“We have not heard anything about the content of the conversations that the prosecutor claims were made between the defendants,” he added.

“The burden of proof lies with the prosecution,” and so far it has only provided circumstantial evidence that does not prove the suspects were behind the bombing that killed Hariri and 21 others on February 14, 2005.

Nor did the prosecutor explain the motive behind the killing of Rafik Hariri, he added, saying that the billionaire maintained good relations with Hezbollah before his assassination.

“The evidence presented by the prosecutor is only theoretical,” defense lawyer Yasser Hassan added. “We have not seen anything new, and there is no court that could issue convictions on the basis of speculation.”

The defense will present their counter arguments when The Hague-based court resumes on Monday.

January 17, 2014 Posted by | Aletho News | , , | Comments Off on STL defense dismisses prosecution’s “circumstantial” evidence

Elections in Venezuela and Chile Advance Left Agenda and Latin American Economic Integration

By Roger Burbach | alai | January 7, 2014 

The elections in Venezuela and Chile in December provided new momentum for the left-leaning governments in Latin America and the ascent of post-neoliberal policies. Over the past decade and a half, the rise of the left has been inextricably tied to the electoral process. In Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador, under the governments of Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales, and Rafael Correa, the electorate has gone to the polls on an average of once a year, voting on referendums, constituent assemblies as well as elections for national offices.

In late November, it appeared the right might be taking the initiative, as the oligarchy and the conservative political parties in Honduras backed by the United States used repression and the manipulation of balloting to keep control of the presidency. And in Venezuela, it was feared the right would come out on top in the December 8 municipal elections. After Maduro’s narrow victory margin of 1.5% in the presidential elections in April, the opposition went on the offensive, declaring fraud and waging economic war. If the opposition coalition had won in the municipal elections, or even come close in the popular vote, it was poised to mount militant demonstrations to destabilize and topple the Maduro government. But the decisive victory of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) in the municipal elections gave a boost to the presidency of Nicolas Maduro, enabling him to advance the twenty-first century socialism of his predecessor, Hugo Chavez. The PSUV and allied parties won control of 72% of the municipalities and bested the opposition in the popular vote by 54% to 44%.

A class war is going on that is focused on the economy, particularly over who will control the revenue coming from its large petroleum resources that account for over 95% of the country’s exports. With no new electoral challenge until the parliamentary elections in late 2015, Maduro now has the political space to take the initiative in dealing with the country’s economic problems and to pursue a socialist agenda. As Maduro said on the night of the elections, “we are going to deepen the economic offensive to help the working class and protect the middle class….We’re going in with guns blazing, keep an eye out.”

At the other end of the continent, Michele Bachelet one week later won a resounding victory in the Chilean presidential race with 62% of the vote. She has put forth an ambitious package of proposals that would increase corporate taxes from 20% to 25%, dramatically expand access to higher education, improve public health care and overhaul the 1980 Constitution imposed by the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Chile has the highest level of income inequality among the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s 34 member countries. Within her first hundred days, Bachelet has promised to draft legislation to increase tax revenues by about 3 percent of gross domestic product. On election night Bachelet proclaimed: “Chile has looked at itself, has looked at its path, its recent history, its wounds, its feats, its unfinished business and thus Chile has decided it is the time to start deep transformations,” Bachelet proclaimed on election night.” There is no question about it: profits can’t be the motor behind education because education isn’t merchandise and because dreams aren’t a consumer good.”

If these policies are implemented, they would shake the neoliberal paradigm that has been followed by every government since the Pinochet dictatorship, including Bachelet’s during her first presidential term from 2006 to 2010. Like most presidential candidates before they take office, the actual changes may fall far short of what she is promising. But the student uprising and the resurgence of the social movements over the past four years has led to a popular movement in the streets that is unprecedented since the days of Pinochet. Militants on the left have already made it clear they will challenge her from the first day she takes office. According to Reuters, right after the election, hackers posted a message on the education ministry’s website saying: “Ms. President we will take it upon ourselves to make things difficult for you. Next year will be a time of protests.”

The elections in Venezuela and Chile also set the stage for a challenge to the latest U.S.-backed trade initiative, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which includes a dozen Pacific rim nations. Ever since Chavez became president, Venezuela has led the way in opposing U.S. efforts to dominate hemispheric trade starting with the Free Trade Area of the Americas that George W. Bush launched in April, 2001. The FTAA was dealt a fatal blow at the 4th Summit of the Americas in Argentina in 2005 under the leadership of Chavez, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil, and Nestor Kirchner of Argentina, who advocated Latin American integration without the United States.

With the victory in the municipal elections behind him, Maduro was in a position to play a central roll ten days later in the second summit of ALBA, the Bolivarian Alliance for Our America (ALBA) and PetroCaribe, a bloc of 18 nations receiving oil at concessionary prices. (Five of the members are overlapping.) ALBA, founded in 2004 by Venezuela and Cuba, is based on the principal of “Fair Trade, not Free Trade.” Now including Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua as well as five more Caribbean nations, they met with the nations of PetroCaribe, a concessionary oil trading arrangement, to put forth a program to create a “special complementary economic zone” between the member countries of both groups to eradicate poverty in the region. Maduro proclaimed the economic zone “is a special plan…in order to continue advancing the food security and sovereignty of our peoples, and to share investments, experiences, and actions that promote [agricultural] development.” The action plan to implement the proposal includes cooperation with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. An executive committee to coordinate the regional plan is being set up in Ecuador.

Maduro will take the document for the creation of a complementary economic zone to the January 31 meeting of Mercosur in Caracas “to advance in the great zone Mercosur-PetroCaribe-ALBA.” In all these economic and trade endeavors Venezuela plays a strategic geo-economic role. It is Latin America’s largest oil producer, and it is located on the southern flank of the Caribbean Basin and on the northern end of South American continent. Venezuela is already a member of MercoSur along with Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay, while Chile, Bolivia, Colombia, Guyana, Ecuador, Peru, and Suriname are associate members. As Bolivian president Evo Morales said at the conclusion of the ALBA-PetroCaribe summit, “We should never stop strengthening our integration, the integration of anti-imperialist countries.”

A key question is around the role that Chile, led by Bachelet, will play in the growing movement for Latin American integration. Under Bachelet’s billionaire predecessor, Sebastian Pinera, Chile has been involved in setting up the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and is a founding member of the Pacific Alliance, a trade and investment group that includes Columbia, Peru, and Mexico. The United States has observer status.

Bachelet has given signs that a pursuit of these trade groupings alone is not in Chile’s interest, and that she intends to breach the Pacific versus the Atlantic/Caribbean divide. Her campaign manifesto stated: “Chile has lost presence in the region, its relations with its neighbors are problematic, a commercial vision has been imposed on our Latin American links.” She is particularly interested in closer relations with Brazil, where she identities with Dilma Rousseff, who also fo­rged her political identity as a young clandestine activist jailed and tortured under a repressive dictatorship. It is notable that in 2008 during her last presidential term, Bachelet convened an emergency session of UNASUR (the Union of South American Nations), to support Evo Morales against a right wing “civic coup” attempt that received direct material support from the U.S. embassy.

It is of course impossible to predict where Bachelet will wind up in the growing continental divide. Her commitment to the Pacific Alliance and to TPP may undermine domestic and international challenges to neoliberalism. The militancy of internal mobilizations to pressure her at every turn is critical. In Venezuela, Maduro faces daunting economic problems as he tries to bring inflation and the black market under control, while dealing with serious corruption problems in and outside of the government. However, the December municipal elections have opened up a space for Maduro to deal with these issues in the coming year, while playing a leadership role in advancing Latin American integration in opposition to U.S. initiatives.

Roger Burbach is the director of the Center for the Study of the Americas, and co-author with Michael Fox and Federico Fuentes of Latin America’s Turbulent Tran

January 17, 2014 Posted by | Economics | , , , | Comments Off on Elections in Venezuela and Chile Advance Left Agenda and Latin American Economic Integration

Theses on Zionism

A Response to Joseph Massad’s “Theses on Zionism”

By HARRY CLARK | CounterPunch | January 17, 2014

This is a response to Joseph Massad’s  “Theses on Zionism” in Electronic Intifada on December 9, 2013.


In pre-modern times, Jews lived in separate communities, governed by their religious authorities, with corporate rights and obligations, determined by royal or aristocratic authority. The Enlightenment and emancipation ended the subjugation of west European Jews to Judaic authorities, and to gentile regulation. Jews were admitted, gradually but inevitably, to full citizenship in their states of residence, equal to their fellow citizens. The US was created on a modern, liberal basis, with no trace of pre-modern Jewish status. Anti-semitism existed but liberalism was the prevailing trend before World War I. In modern terms, Jews became a religious minority, or secular citizens. Jews embraced  modernity wholeheartedly. Western Jews became some of its leading proponents; east European Jews emigrated by the million from oppressed, traditional societies to the US.


Zionism was a response not only to anti-Semitism but to liberal modernity. Zionism opposed the assimilation and integration of Jews, and held that anti-Semitism was irrevocable and natural. “The Jews comprise a distinctive element among the nations under which they dwell, and as such can neither assimilate nor be readily digested by any nation.” We “must give up contending against these hostile impulses [anti-Semitism].” Resistance is “a waste of time and energy.” “The civil and political emancipation of the Jews is not sufficient to raise them in the estimation of the peoples.” “The proper, the only solution, is in the creation of a Jewish nationality, of a people living upon its own soil, the auto-emancipation of the Jews; their return to the ranks of the nations by the acquisition of a Jewish homeland.” (Leon Pinsker, Auto-emancipation)


Zionism adopted anti-Semitic ideas and tactics and cooperated with anti-Semites practically. Herzl frequented anti-Semitic salons in Paris, and sought Russian czarist support for Zionism with Ottoman Turkey in return for silencing Russian Jewish protest. After the October, 1917 Russian revolution Zionism presented itself to the western powers as Jewish anti-Bolshevism. In the Russian civil war Zionists allied with anti-Semitic White forces who committed pogroms when they lost to the Bolsheviks. In 1933 the Zionist movement broke the promising Jewish-led boycott of Nazi Germany with the Transfer Agreement, which sold German exports through Palestine. Zionism opposed relief for Jews on humanitarian grounds because it detracted from Zionist national aims in Palestine. Zionism was an elite project of national renewal, concerned with “the problems of Judaism, not the problems of Jewry,”  in Ahad Ha’am’s words.


The Zionist claims of a historical Jewish people,  attached to the “land of Israel,” and of modern “secular Jewish identity” are utterly untenable. Zionist racialism dates to the proto-Zionism of Moses Hess; the chauvinism of Heinrich Graetz contributed to German anti-Semitism; German Zionism was Jewish Romantic nationalism, embracing Jewish Blut und Boden. Theodor Herzl was steeped in the racism of European colonialism. Nazi and Zionist “race experts” consulted each other in the 1930s. Elmer Berger, an anti-Zionist rabbi, co-authored the 1977 UN resolution on Zionism as a form of racism.  “Jewish genetics” tries to build a biological basis for Zionism. Zionism’s fundamental opposition is not Jewish settler vs  Arab indigene in Palestine, but Jew vs gentile everywhere. Historian Noel Ignatiev called  Zionism Jewish race doctrine.


There is no “progressive Zionism.” The leaders of “cultural Zionism” supported immigration and a Jewish majority. Zionist “culture” is founded on irreducible Jewish difference, separatism, alienation, and anti-gentilism, the counterpart of racialist anti-Semitism. The bi-nationalists wanted Jewish immigration leading to demographic parity and eventually majority, when Jews were a minority. The kibbutz was an instrument of exclusive Ashkenazi Jewish settlement in Palestine, and was inspired by 19th c. German  plans to counter a Polish “demographic threat” in the eastern Reich. Hitler might have conquered the Near East; the Judeocide happened because of Nazi Germany, not because there was no Jewish state. Israeli Hebrew ethnicity or nationality, secular and open to all, is the liberal replacement for Zionist Jewish nationality,


The classical left and liberal traditions descended from the Enlightenment and emancipation rejected Zionism categorically. American Reform Judaism once stated: “We consider ourselves no longer a nation, but a religious community, and, therefore expect neither a return to Palestine, nor… the restoration of any of the laws concerning the Jewish state.” Marxism upheld the international solidarity of the working class, viewed nationalism as reactionary, and Zionism as a colonial movement and tool of imperialism. The Yiddish labor movements in the Russian Empire and their immigrant offshoots also opposed Zionism. The late Israel Shahak referred to the “modern, secular Jewish tradition,” which he traced from Spinoza, who began the remarkable Jewish contribution to  modernity. Shahak viewed Zionism as a reaction against emancipation, and a longing for the ghetto.


Zionism was a marginal cult among western Jews until World War I. The Balfour Declaration and the British conquest of Palestine raised interest but it subsided, reviving only with the advent of Nazism. US Jews supported overwhelmingly the establishment of Israel in 1948, but liberal attitudes prevailed into the early 1960s. The success of liberalism and assimilation led to a “continuity crisis,” an effort to maintain separatism that was fatally supercharged by the June, 1967 war. Organized Jewry became and remains fanatically chauvinist, insular and pro-Israel. “The Holocaust” became an institution and part of Jewish identity, including classic Zionist dogma about irrevocable, murderous anti-Semitism. The organized Jewish communities and the Jewish state have constituted the Zionist Jewish people. The Volk has replaced liberalism as the Jewish social principle; the modern period of Jewish history has ended.


The organized Jewish community is the core of US support for Israel, the “Zionocracy,” after the 19th c. “Slaveocracy” that wielded immense power until the Civil War. The Zionocracy has exercised quasi-sovereign influence on US foreign policy since the 1940s, when it secured US support for partition of Palestine and the Jewish state, against overwhelming military and diplomatic opposition. Israel’s “strategic value” during the later Cold War is mostly Zionist public relations. In the 1960s the Zionocracy concealed Israel’s nuclear weapons program, secured arms sales, and US support for Israel in 1967, against warnings by many US officials. The October, 1973 war and resulting oil price increases were the biggest shock to the world economy since 1945. The Carter Administration sought  a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict but the Zionocracy limited Carter’s diplomacy to a separate Egypt-Israel peace. Israel and the Zionocracy then opposed Iraq and supported Iran during their war in 1980s.


Zionism has been the chief ideological driver of US militarism since the end of the Cold War. The congressional vote for the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq was the closest since the War of 1812,  and the Zionocracy may have tipped the scales. The “dual containment” of Iran and Iraq in the 1990s was by and for the Zionocracy, over substantial business opposition. The 9/11 attacks, which led to the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the destruction of civil liberties, were directed mainly against US patronage of Israel. The Zionocracy is the main source of Islamophobia in the US. The Jewish neoconservatives were the prime movers in the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. This greatly increased Iranian influence and escalated its antagonism with Saudi Arabia, and led to the present dissolution of Syria. The US has restarted diplomacy with Iran but the Zionocracy has passed overwhelmingly in the House and has majority sponsorship in the Senate for legislation that will destroy the opening and restore the war drive.


Left and liberal Jewish opinion since 1967 has been as völkisch as the mainstream. Israel was not an issue for the Jewish members of the American New Left in the early 1960s, who sought to build a universalist movement. The New Left shattered in the late 1960s over internal differences, including attitudes toward Israel, after the June 1967 war.  A “Jewish left” arose, which purported to combine Jewish commitment with social justice, including some criticism of Israel. Today a loose school of  Jewish identity politics centered on Noam Chomsky imposes on the left terms of “anti-occupation”, “law and rights,” “solutions,” “progressive Zionism,” “Israel as US strategic asset,” and “anti-anti-Semitism”. This circumscribed critique conceals the US Zionocracy and Zionism itself, in contrast to the classical liberalism of the Enlightenment and emancipation, which rejected Zionism categorically. The modern period of Jewish history has ended on the left also.


A universalist critique would oppose Zionism, not “the occupation”; recognize Zionism as Jewish racialism, opposing Jew and gentile everywhere; acknowledge Zionism as the ideological driver of genocide and destruction in western Asia, and the source of Jewish chauvinism and separatism

in the US; reject the Zionist idea of “the Jewish people” in whose name the state of Israel and organized Jewry act; condemn the role of US organized Jewry and the Zionocracy as a quasi-sovereign, radicalizing force in US Middle East policy; and defend a secular realm in which we think and act together. It would do this in the name of the people of Jewish background who contributed so much to modernity, from Spinoza onward, whose legacy towers over Zionism. The failure to do this is catastrophic, comparable to the German Communist Party’s disastrous misreading of Hitler and Nazism, which  weakened the left and assisted their rise to power, and all that followed.

Harry Clark’s article “The End of Modern Jewish History,” which expands on these issues, will appear in Left Curve,  No. 38, forthcoming in April. He may be reached at his web site

January 17, 2014 Posted by | Deception, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Solidarity and Activism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , | Comments Off on Theses on Zionism

Elections in Chile: Confronting the Enduring Legacy of Dictatorship

By Emily Achtenberg | Rebel Currents | January 16, 2014

On Election Day in Chile, students occupied and hung a banner outside front-runner Michelle Bachelet’s campaign headquarters, proclaiming: “Change is not in the Presidential Palace, but in the ‘wide avenues.’” It was a powerful reminder of how student mobilizations have transformed Chile’s political agenda during this election year, at once invoking the past (through the final words of martyred socialist President Salvador Allende), and laying down the gauntlet for an anticipated future when the country might finally move beyond its 20-plus year “transition to democracy.”

The promise of structural reforms to address the deep divide between rich and poor in Chilean society propelled Bachelet and her center-left New Majority coalition to a landslide victory in December over Evelyn Matthei, candidate of the center-right Alliance. While Chile has the highest rate of economic growth among 34 developed countries, it is also the most unequal. Bachelet campaigned on a radical platform of educational, tax, and constitutional reform to redress the injustices of a political and economic system inherited from the dictatorship era, that largely favors the wealthy.

After failing to gain a majority on the first ballot in November (in a field of nine candidates, including seven to the left of center), Bachelet handily won the run-off election with 62% of the vote, the biggest presidential victory in eight decades.  Despite this seemingly broad mandate, she now faces formidable obstacles in seeking to deliver on her campaign promises, as Chile’s undemocratic institutions and alienated electorate—both enduring legacies of dictatorship—conspire to discourage change.

Electoral Context

Most of Chile’s problems today have their origin in the anti-democratic structures established by the 17-year dictatorship of Augosto Pinochet and left largely intact by successive democratic governments (of the center-left and center-right) since Chile’s “return to democracy” in 1990. These include a constitution (imposed after a fraudulent referendum conducted under a state of siege) and a set of organic laws that enshrine the power of conservative elite minorities, an electoral system that perpetuates their disproportionate representation, and a deregulated economy affording wide latitude and subsidies to the private sector.

As the intense electoral campaign converged this past fall with the 40th anniversary of the military coup that overthrew Allende, the election seemed to be as much a referendum on Chile’s tormented past as on its future direction. The dramatically contrasting but intertwined family histories of the two presidential candidates—Bachelet’s father, an Allende loyalist general, died under torture in a military school run by Matthei’s father, a member of Pinochet’s junta—kept the past front and center despite the candidates’ efforts to refocus on the future.

In the run-up to the 40th anniversary, Chileans were bombarded with graphic images of the coup, repression, and resistance though previously unseen documentary footage, dramatizations, and debates widely broadcast through the mainstream media. The avalanche appears to have captured the popular imagination, especially among the 60% of Chileans born after the coup (and others who “saw but did not see”). Polls show that only 16% of Chileans now think the coup was justified, down from 36% a decade ago.

Even the most conservative institutions have recently offered at least symbolic gestures of remorse, such as the official closing of a luxury prison resort for high-ranking officials convicted of human rights offenses, the public apology issued by the National Association of Judges, and the National Education Council’s recommendation to substitute the term “dictatorship” for “military government” in school textbooks.

But it is the highly mobilized Chilean student movement that has genuinely challenged Pinochet’s legacy by catalyzing popular demands for institutional reform. Through massive protests and school takeovers beginning in 2011, and continuing to this day (with widespread public support), students have highlighted the inequities of a dictatorship-era educational system that features private sector subsidization, vast discrepancies in the quality of municipally-controlled primary and secondary schools based on social class, and the highest university student cost burden of any developed country. Joined by trade unions and other popular sectors, they have articulated transformative demands that governing political elites (including Bachelet herself, in her first term) have not dared to address during 20 years of democratic transition. These include a return to universal, free, high-quality public education (which students had under Allende), a revival of the public pension and healthcare systems, progressive tax reform to finance social spending, and a refounding of the Chilean state through a new constitutional assembly.

While the student organizations did not endorse a presidential candidate, Bachelet sought and won the support of several prominent ex-student leaders running for Congress on the Communist Party and other splinter left tickets, including popular activist Camila Vallejo. In exchange, the New Majority partially incorporated the students’ demands in its platform, pushing the electoral agenda substantially to the left. For the first time since the return to democracy, the Communist Party joined the center-left political coalition, giving Bachelet the opportunity for a sufficient Congressional mandate to push through her promised reforms.

Electoral Outcomes

The campaign raised high expectations for systemic change, as well as the political cost of failing to deliver. In the end, the New Majority picked up slim majorities in both houses—55% in the Senate and 56% in the House—thanks in part to the election of Vallejo and other student and activist candidates. But the coalition did not achieve the super-majorities required by Pinochet-era laws to reform the educational system (57%), the electoral system (60%), or the constitution (67%).

One reason is the binomial electoral system itself, which awards the losing coalition half the seats in each Congressional district unless the winning one secures more than two-thirds of the votes. This may explain why both the New Majority and the Alliance ended up with similar numbers of deputies despite the lopsided presidential results (in November’s first-round presidential race, when the Congress was also elected, Bachelet nearly doubled her conservative rival’s vote).

A record-low voter turnout, in the first presidential election since a 2012 rule change made voting voluntary, also likely worked against the New Majority’s Congressional aspirations.[1] Only 51% of the voting age population cast ballots in November, with the highest abstention levels reported in the economically-depressed northern and southern regions and among youth. An estimated 60% of those in the 18-34 age group, arguably among the most likely progressive voters, stayed home.


Four student leaders elected to the Chamber of Deputies. Credit: @paula_benedit, Twitter; Santiago Times.

While the voter abstention phenomenon—especially among youth—is certainly not unique to Chile, the sustained level of participation achieved in recent student mobilizations suggests that it is more a function of alienation from traditional politics than apathy. Surely, an electoral system that distorts votes by design and furthers minority vetoes is not conducive to voluntary participation. Melissa Sepulveda, newly elected leader of the University of Chile’s student federation, explained that she would not vote because “the possibility for change isn’t in the Congress.” Chileans, she argues, are disillusioned by the manner of conducting politics since the return to democracy.

With this mixed electoral outcome, New Majority initiatives such as tax, pension, and healthcare reform, which require only a majority vote, should be achievable. Radical educational reform may also be within reach, if independent delegates can provide the critical swing votes. But political and constitutional reforms, if attainable at all, will require bargaining, negotiation, and compromise with more conservative factions, at the risk of alienating progressive popular constituencies.

In a sense, this represents a political victory for the Alliance, which has succeeded in preventing the institutional left from carrying out its proposed reform program unobstructed. The low voter turnout, used by conservatives to question the legitimacy of Bachelet’s reform mandate, may make these issues even more contested. (Bachelet actually received fewer votes in the run-off election than any of her predecessors since 1990, including herself in 2006.)

Within the New Majority coalition itself, there are diverse party factions ranging from Christian Democrats (many of whom originally supported Pinochet) to Communists, with significantly different visions, strategies, and timetables for reform. Internal conflicts are intensified by continuing pressure from the social movements. In the area of education, Bachelet (a member of the Socialist Party) has promised to institute tuition-free public higher education and end state subsidies to for-profit institutions within six years. But students and their elected representatives want to abolish private schools completely, and are impatient for quick results.

A Constitutional Assembly?

A key split has also arisen over the issue of how constitutional reform might be accomplished. While the Christian Democrats and Bachelet support the institutional strategy of “change from within,” relying on the undemocratically-elected Congress to produce a new constitution, students and other popular sectors, supported by the Communist Party, are calling for a constitutional assembly to be convoked by referendum.

Under a grassroots initiative called “Mark Your Vote,” more than 10% of Chilean voters voluntarily marked their ballots “AC” in the December election, to evidence support for this strategy. Given the initial confusion as to whether the marked ballots would be accepted as valid, the difficulties in tallying them, and the requirement that only ballots clearly designated for a presidential candidate would be considered, organizers believe that the results significantly understate the proposal’s appeal. In a recent national opinion poll, 45% of those surveyed expressed support for a constitutional assembly.

As a strategy that offers the possibility of re-engaging a civil society that is profoundly alienated from the consensus model of post-dictatorship duopoly politics, the constitutional assembly is an intriguing option. It could provide an opportunity for Chileans to reconnect with their own deeply democratic traditions, illustrated by the unprecedented levels of political and social awareness and participation achieved through  poder popular (popular power), the touchstone of Allende’s Popular Unity government.

Despite the new discourse of remorse evidenced during the 40-year coup anniversary, many Chileans feel that this aspect of their past has been largely excised from official historical memory. Even in the otherwise outstanding Museum of Memory and Human Rights developed by Bachelet in her first term, there is little reference to the participatory institutions of the Allende era (such as workers’ councils and collective neighborhood organizations) that Pinochet systematically destroyed. A revival of this deeply democratic tradition through the constitutional assembly could be an important step in genuinely challenging the legacy of dictatorship.

[1] The same rule change also made voter registration, which had previously been voluntary, automatic. For this reason, it is preferable to measure voter turnout over time as a percentage of the voting age population rather than as a percentage of registered voters, which is distorted by the rule change.

January 17, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Economics | , , | Comments Off on Elections in Chile: Confronting the Enduring Legacy of Dictatorship

US to Expand Military, Intelligence Presence in Bahrain


Al-Manar | January 17, 2014

The US military plans to establish an intelligence center in Bahrain in a bid to compensate for its dwindling presence in Afghanistan.

A senior US military official told a Senate hearing that the planned espionage center in the Arab state, home to the US Navy’s 5th Fleet, will be an “integral part” of the Pentagon’s post-2014 strategy in Afghanistan, the Washington Post reported on Thursday.

The official, Erin Logan, who oversees the Pentagon’s “counter-narcotics efforts,” claimed during a US Senate hearing on narcotics on Wednesday that the plan is part of Washington’s efforts to “continue fighting” Afghanistan’s “booming drug industry.”

“The center,” she added, “will help fill the gap where space for personnel on the ground in Afghanistan is no longer available.”

The US move to expand its military and intelligence presence in Bahrain comes, however, despite the grave human rights record of the ruling Al Khalifa regime for its brutal crackdown on a popular uprising that has left scores shot and tortured to death and many more injured and prosecuted for taking part and even sympathizing with the continuing anti-regime protests in the country.

The United States has long been suspected by regional countries, particularly Iran and Russia, of promoting the growth of the narcotics trade in Afghanistan ever since American and NATO military forces invaded the country in 2001 under the pretext of fighting terror and bringing stability to Afghanistan.

There have been numerous press accounts over the past years pointing to the involvement of US troops and CIA operatives in Afghanistan’s expanding drug trade that largely finances the al-Qaeda-linked Taliban militants in the country.

The US military aims to establish an intelligence center in the Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain in a bid to compensate for its dwindling presence in the war-torn Afghanistan.

January 17, 2014 Posted by | Corruption, Deception, Militarism, Progressive Hypocrite | , , , | Comments Off on US to Expand Military, Intelligence Presence in Bahrain

Syria hands over plan for Aleppo ceasefire, readies for prisoner exchange

RT | January 17, 2014

The Syrian government is ready to negotiate a ceasefire agreement with opposition forces in the flashpoint city of Aleppo, Foreign Minister Walid Moallem has said. A list of rebel prisoners has also been drawn up in preparation for a proposed exchange.

Damascus has handed Moscow a plan for a ceasefire in the city of Aleppo, Moallem announced at a news conference with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, in Moscow on Friday.

“Taking into account the role of the Russian Federation in halting the bloodshed in Syria and our relationship of trust, today I have given Minister Lavrov a ceasefire plan for the city of Aleppo,” he said. Moallem asked Lavrov to coordinate with his contacts in the Syrian opposition in order to ensure the execution of the new plan, adding that if it is successful it could be implemented in other areas of the war-torn country.

“I really hope all sides will keep to the terms of the agreement. If this happens, then we can implement this plan in other cities.”

Moallem asked Lavrov to coordinate with his contacts in the Syria opposition in order to ensure the successful execution of the new plan.

Addressing the issue of the humanitarian crisis in Syria, Moallem said the Syrian government is already working with the UN to deliver aid to “a number of regions.” However, the success of the humanitarian program depends on rebel fighters keeping to their pledge not to open fire on humanitarian convoys, he said.

The UN estimates that over 100,000 people have died since the violence broke out three years ago.

‘Government forces do not target civilians’

Refuting claims the Syrian Army is bombing its own citizens, Moallem said that such allegations “do not reflect the reality of the current situation.” He laid the blame at the feet of terrorist organizations that are being supported by international players.

“According to the constitution, the Syrian government is obligated to protect its citizens and public institutions in Syria. Terrorists and terrorist groups are responsible for these acts of destruction,” said Moallem, adding that “these groups are growing in number because of outside support from known states.”

Lavrov echoed this opinion, calling accusations that Damascus is carrying out strikes on its own citizens “irresponsible.”

“In Syria, civilians are suffering on both sides, but it is totally irresponsible to accuse the government of purposely targeting civilians,” said Lavrov. “To make such accusations, serious proof is required.”

Both foreign ministers said that opposition representation is absolutely essential for the success of the Geneva-2 talks, which are set to kick off next Monday. They believe the conference will pave the way for the creation of a transitional government to bring an end to the three-year conflict.

The Syrian National Coordination Committee, a faction in the domestic Syrian political opposition, decided to boycott this month’s peace conference in Switzerland, UN envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi has said. The Syrian National Coalition – the main political opposition group – is meeting in Istanbul on Friday to decide whether it will attend the Geneva talks.

January 17, 2014 Posted by | Aletho News | , | Comments Off on Syria hands over plan for Aleppo ceasefire, readies for prisoner exchange