By Anne Williamson | LewRockwell | April 16, 2015
Having now had a year’s time to get better acquainted with their new Ukrainian friends and the neighborhood overall, Europeans are losing their taste for economic sanctions on Russia.
Contrary to American assurances, economic warfare against Russia meant to compel the return of Crimea to Ukraine hasn’t worked. Nor did the Ukrainian military’s campaign against the Donbas tame the Russian “aggression” mainstream media shouts about daily. All Europe has achieved to date is tens of billions in lost trade and Russia’s abandonment of the South Stream pipeline.
The Russians were building South Stream to insure the – politely put – “integrity” of gas flows to Europe while in transit across Ukraine, and put an end to the country’s 24-year racket of holding Russia’s energy commerce with Europe hostage by virtue of having inherited a key segment of the Soviet pipeline network. The loss of jobs and transit revenues their participation in the construction and operation of South Stream promised was keenly felt in Hungary, Bulgaria, Serbia, Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Austria, France, Italy, Cyprus, Luxembourg, the Czech Republic and Germany have all taken serious losses thanks to the trade sanctions as well.
Trade and employment losses coupled with some USD 40 billions more in IMF loans to Kiev, whose proceeds are most likely to be spent – at the US’s insistence – on yet more war, and the growing misery of all the Ukrainian people are typical of the now familiar results of US-organized sedition abroad. However, those results are usually observed in militarily weak, third world nations the US chooses to undermine for whatever reasons, and certainly not on the continent their most loyal and most capable allies occupy.
Besides which, the whole cockamamie story the US has been pushing vis a vis Crimea is falling apart. The fact that one year on there are no Crimean protests and no “Back to Kiev!” grass root committees has undermined the entire premise of the sanctions. Even year long multiple polling by western agencies has shown that large majorities of Crimeans have no regrets concerning the 2014 reunification with their motherland of some 300 years.
In truth, the world owes a debt of gratitude to the Russians. While US State Department operatives busied themselves in Kiev with constructing an interim, post-coup government of fascist stooges and native oligarchs, the Russians’ deft and lightening re-absorption of a willing Crimea took the meat right off the table. The American greenhorns in Kiev were left dumbfounded, and hopping mad.
With the Black Sea port of Sevastopol safely in Russian hands, and the country’s immediate strategic interests secure, there was no need for war. Given time, the Russians know Ukraine as presently constituted will defeat Ukraine, and that not even a Himalaya of dollars and the sacrifices of several generations of Ukrainians will put the country back together again. Default will be Ukraine’s only escape route.
But it is the antics of hyperbolic NATO operatives (Dragoon Ride, a Conga line of armored Stryker vehicles and troops rolling across Europe from the Baltics to central Europe in a “show of force,”) the bloviating of chest-beating US generals (the only way “to turn the tide” is “to start killing Russians”) and the dumb bellicosity of the US Congress for having authorized the export of lethal weaponry to Kiev that finally got the EU leadership looking sideways at one another. Just exactly what has the US gotten them into?
But it was the EU itself who bought, by bits and by pieces, into America’s scheme. The events in Ukraine have left the European Union naked before her own members’ populations, exposed as a highly-bureaucratized system of US vassalage so thoroughly in harness individual nations actually agreed to harm their own economies in pursuit of US policies. There’s a reason for the EU’s acquiescence: The EU and its leadership stands to gain should State Department neoconservatives deliver on their promises. The EU will get bigger and its artificial and suffocating institutions more deeply entrenched.
The only direction in which the EU can expand is to the East. Ukraine, Moldova, Transdniestr, Armenia and Georgia were all believed ripe for the taking, and each is or was being pursued with EU “association agreements,” which subvert each country to EU dictates while holding the prize of EU membership in abeyance.
Absorbing such contrarily-organized lands is the work of decades. No matter. Their capture alone will enable the ECB to go on an immediate super-binge of vendor financing, which it is believed will conjure up jobs, export profits, and, the ECB (European Central Bank) hopes, a new round of euro-based credit expansion and piratization that will, in the fullness of time, strip the newly “associated” lands and their citizens of their savings and property. Once the fiat money-engineered boom begins to fade, the expectation is that ongoing economic warfare against Russia, directed and policed by the US, will at last bear fruit. Only a small shove and a slight push will be needed to topple and then shatter Russia into bite-sized pieces for the west’s further consumption.
So set upon this course is the US that the White House’s recent offer of a slippery framework to Iran to conclude the Israeli-manufactured dispute over the country’s nuclear enrichment program has the look of arbitrage, indicating there are limits to just how much havoc Washington can create and oversee abroad. Besides, Iran is currently useful in the conflict with the US-created ISIS. With sanctions lifted, the flood of Iranian oil and gas coming to market would further harm Russia’s economic interests while supporting the building of new pipelines to Europe originating in the Middle East and North Africa (under indirect US control) and sparing any further need for US ally Saudi Arabia to continue pumping low-priced oil for which there is insufficient global demand.
As long as Angela Merkel keeps Germany on board, and Germany continues to fund the stagnant EU, the US’s high-tech version of a medieval siege of the Kremlin can proceed.
With new multilateral treaties agreed under cover of tax and banking transparency (FATCA) now in place, the US is well on its way to being able to track in real time every currency unit on the planet that is emitted, earned, deposited, withdrawn, spent, invested, loaned, and borrowed by means of the banks, long seen as a US-engineered globalism’s most effective police force. European governments’ war on cash is meant to insure all commerce will flow through the banks and therefore be recorded. These new surveillance capabilities will be exploited to the maximum in the case of both Russia and hesitant Europeans for the purposes of blackmail, extortion, and control.
In a digital battlescape staffed by the west’s soldiers of finance, winter will not save the Russians.
Another attack strategy the US is about to deploy, drawn not from history but from nature, is that of the wolf pack. Though NATO troops will bedevil Russia’s borders, no western troops will actually set foot on Russian territory prior to the country’s imminent collapse. That would be dangerous, but the more proxy wars and political upheavals the US can stir up along Russia’s periphery while the motherland suffers and declines under the west’s economic blockade, the better.
Necessary and experienced personnel are being appointed and NGOs beefed up in preparation for brewing new crises and rainbow revolutions along Russia’s “soft, underbelly”: the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, which both Armenia and Azerbaijan claim, in Kyrgyzstan where the south and the north are alienated from one another, in Uzbekistan where control of the Fergana Valley is in dispute with Kyrgyzstan, and in Georgia, which hopes for the return of Ossetia and Abkhazia. Carrots and sticks will miraculously set many a fire.
Keeping those flames under control will seriously tax Russia’s resources.
US objectives include busting up the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), whose members include Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), whose members include China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Russia, and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), whose members – to date – include Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia.
However, there are problems with the above scenarios unfolding as planned.
US foreign policy assumes everyone on the planet wants to be an American, or – second best – a recipient of American interest and munificence, a notion which the state has successfully sold only to movie-mad foreign teenagers and naive Americans. Rather than being an advertisement for the benefits of American intervention, the Ukraine America is building might better serve as one for the beneficial avoidance of same through membership in the EAEU.
Russia is hardly new to the protection game. Armenia and Georgia, the first Christian nations on earth, soon found themselves unmoored in a sea of Islam. Each petitioned the Kremlin for inclusion into the empire. They wanted and needed the protection of the “Third Rome,” and they got it. Today Armenia wisely continues to huddle close to Russia, eschewing the opportunity of becoming a battle station in any anti-Azeri US campaign, while a US-enamored Georgia still chafes at the protection the US provides their former proxy, the corrupt Saakashvili regime. Azerbaijan has but to look at Iran to see what misfortune the US is quite willing to hand round. Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan have the example of their war torn neighbor, US-occupied Afghanistan, to contemplate.
US foreign policy further assumes that targets will stand still and only stare into the blinding glare of America’s oncoming headlights.
Russia’s abrupt shut down of the South Stream gas pipeline’s construction and the rapid replacement of European entry points and participants with a single exit point in Turkey from which Russian gas will flow to the rest of Europe through Greece along pipes it is now the EU’s responsibility to finance and build has put paid to that assumption. It is not only Russia that has an exploitable “soft underbelly.”
Despite the mainstream media’s shameless dissemination of western governments’ fatuous propaganda, and of what is sure to be an exploding supply of tit for tat, sufficient information is available to anyone who cares to look to determine who is destroying and who is trying to build, who is seeking peaceful co-operation and increasing trade and commerce between nations and who is demanding obedience to its diktat while waving a mailed fist.
To paraphrase Mae West, “Democracy has nothin’ to do with it.”
It is certainly an irony of history, wild and raw, that Vladimir Putin, a man who once described himself as “a pure and utterly successful product of a Soviet patriotic education,” is today seen by an increasing number of alarmed citizens worldwide as liberty’s if not civilization’s best, if inadvertent and imperfect, hope. But those souls should have no illusions. Whatever the Russian president does, he will do for Russia’s sake, not ours.
But if Russia cannot stand, we will all sink together into tyranny or eternity.
Following months of protest, Congress has finally put forth bicameral Fast Track legislation today to rush trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) through Congress. Sens. Orrin Hatch and Ron Wyden, and Rep. Paul Ryan, respectively, introduced the bill titled the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015. With Fast Track, lawmakers will be shirking their constitutional authority over trade policy, letting the White House and the U.S. Trade Representative pass Internet rules in back room meetings with corporate industry groups. If this passes, lawmakers would only have a small window of time to conduct hearings over trade provisions and give a yea-or-nay vote on ratification of the agreement without any ability to amend it before they bind the United States to its terms.
The Fast Track bill contains some minor procedural improvements from the version of the bill introduced last year. However, these fixes will do little to nothing to address the threats of restrictive digital regulations on users rights in the TPP or TTIP. The biggest of these changes is language that would create a new position of Chief Transparency Officer that would supposedly have the authority to “consult with Congress on transparency policy, coordinate transparency in trade negotiations, engage and assist the public, and advise the United States Trade Representative on transparency policy.”
However, given the strict rules of confidentiality of existing, almost completed trade deals and those outlined in the Fast Track bill itself, we have no reason to believe that this officer would have much power to do anything meaningful to improve trade transparency, such as releasing the text of the agreement to the public prior to the completion of negotiations. As it stands, the text only has to be released to the public 60 days before it is signed, at which time the text is already locked down from any further amendments.
There is also a new “consultation and compliance” procedure, about which Public Citizen writes [pdf]:
The bill’s only new feature in this respect is a new “consultation and compliance” procedure that would only be usable after an agreement was already signed and entered into, at which point changes to the pact could be made only if all other negotiating parties agreed to reopen negotiations and then agreed to the changes (likely after extracting further concessions from the United States). That process would require approval by 60 Senators to take a pact off of Fast Track consideration, even though a simple majority “no” vote in the Senate would have the same effect on an agreement.
Thus, essentially the Fast Track bill does the same as it ever did—tying the hands of Congress so that it is unable to give meaningful input into the agreement during its drafting, or to thoroughly review the agreement once it is completed.
A main feature of the bill is its negotiation objectives, which set the parameters within which the President is authorized to negotiate the agreement. If Congress considers that the text ultimately deviates from these objectives, it can vote the agreement down. Some of these negotiation objectives have been added or changed since the previous Fast Track bill, but none of these provide any comfort to us on the troubling issues from the Intellectual Property, E-Commerce, and Investment chapters of the TPP. Indeed, some of the new text raise concerns. For example:
- Governments are to “refrain from implementing trade-related measures that impede digital trade in goods and services, restrict cross-border data flows, or require local storage or processing of data”. Data flows and the location of the processing of data aren’t solely or even primarily trade issues; they are human rights issues that can affect privacy, free expression and more. The discussion about whether laws that require local storage and processing of certain kinds of sensitive personal data are protective of user rights, for instance, cannot take place in the secret enclaves of a trade negotiation. The bill does allow for exceptions as required to further “legitimate policy objectives”, but only where these “are the least restrictive on trade” and “promote an open market environment”.
- Trade secrets collected by governments are to be protected against disclosure except in “exceptional circumstances to protect the public, or where such information is effectively protected against unfair competition”. But there are other cases in which there may be an important public interest in the disclosure of such trade secrets, such as where they reveal past misdeeds, or throw transparency onto the activities of corporations executing public functions.
But more troubling than what has been included in the negotiating objectives, is what has been excluded. There is literally nothing to require balance in copyright, such as the fair use right. On the contrary; if a country’s adoption of a fair use style right causes loss to a foreign investor, it could even be challenged as a breach of the agreement, under the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions. Further, the “Intellectual Property” section of today’s bill is virtually identical to the version introduced in 2002, and what minor changes there are do not change the previous text’s evident antipathy for fair use. So while the new bill has added, as an objective, “to ensure that trade agreements foster innovation and promote access to medicines,” an unchanged objective is “providing strong enforcement of intellectual property rights.” What happens if those two objectives are in conflict? For example, in many industries, thin copyright and patent restrictions have proven to be more conducive to innovation than the thick, “strong” measures the bill requires. Some of our most innovative industries have been built on fair use and other exceptions to copyright—and that’s even more obvious now than it was in 2002. The unchanged language suggests the underlying assumption of the drafters is that more IP restrictions mean more innovation and access, and that’s an assumption that’s plainly false.
All in all, we do not see anything in this bill that would truly remedy the secretive, undemocratic process of trade agreements. Therefore, EFF stands alongside the huge coalition public interest groups, professors, lawmakers, and individuals who are opposed to Fast Track legislation that would legitimize the White House’s corporate-captured, backroom trade negotiations. The Fast Track bill will likely come to a vote by next week—and stopping it is one sure-fire way to block the passage of these secret, anti-user deals.
If you’re on Twitter, help us call on influential members of Congress to come out against this bill.
Read the text of the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015 here.
Read about all of our concerns with the TPP agreement:
- Anti-Circumvention of Digital Rights Management (DRM)
- Criminalization of Investigative Journalism, Security Research, and Whistleblowing
- ISP Liability: Internet Intermediaries as Copyright Cops
- Criminal Copyright Enforcement
- Expansion of Copyright Terms
- “Investor-State” Provisions Could Undermine User Protections in Copyright
- Restrictions on Fair Use
Caracas – According to a new report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Venezuela reduced its military budget by 34 percent in 2014, leading the the region in arms spending cuts.
Venezuela is followed by Uruguay, which decreased its military spending by 11 percent over the past year.
In contrast, United States political allies Paraguay and Mexico led the region in upping military spending, raising their military budgets by 13 and 11 percent, respectively.
Brazil, which is the largest arms spender in Latin America and the tenth largest in the world, cut its military budget by 1.7 percent due to economic difficulties.
The Americas remains the region with the highest military spending, a fact undoubtedly attributable to the presence of the United States, which, despite a modest budget cut of 6.5 percent, retains its spot as the world’s top arms spender.
With an annual military budget of $610 billion, the US accounts for one-third of global spending, amounting to more than triple the budget of the second highest spender, China.
Nonetheless, this enormous disparity in spending has not prevented the US from branding Venezuela a menace to its neighbors, on numerous occasions.
In 2009, then US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton accused Venezuela of fomenting an “arms race” with its purchase of Russian weapons. That same year, Venezuela led the region in cutting military spending, slashing its arms budget by one-quarter.
Last month, President Barack Obama issued an Executive Order labeling Venezuela a “national security threat”, a move which has been vociferously condemned by a host of countries and multilateral blocs across the globe.
World Bank ventures in less developed countries are hurting the people the organization has sworn to protect, with almost four million people across the globe left homeless, forcefully evicted and relocated as a result of World Bank-funded projects.
A probe by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which examined World Bank’s records in 14 countries, discovered that some 3.4 million of the “most vulnerable people” were forced off their land in the last decade.
The World Bank “has regularly failed to live up to its own policies for protecting people harmed by projects it finances,” ICIJ states as one of its key findings.
The World Bank as well as the International Finance Corporation (IFC), which distributes the funds, have invested $455 billion in nearly 7,200 projects between 2004 and 2013 in the developing world, ICIJ says. More than 400 were confirmed to have caused the permanent displacement of local communities, while another 550 may have made locals homeless.
“An ICIJ analysis found that between 20 and 30 percent of all projects the bank funded from 2004 to 2013 were deemed likely to cause resettlement,” report’s summary reads.
The World Bank finances thousands of projects ranging from major oil pipelines and dams to small schools and clinics. In some countries the organization reportedly closed its eyes to numerous human rights violations. The ICIJ investigation was surprised to discover that in some instances, the World Bank continued to fund projects in “undemocratic” states even after evidence of abuses such as rape and torture emerged.
For instance in Ethiopia, former officials told journalists that the state used millions of dollars from health and education projects to fund a violent campaign of mass evictions of local populations. Yet despite numerous complaints from human rights groups and the indigenous Anuak population, the World Bank disputed claims that their money has been misused or misappropriated.
Kenyan forest conservation project using World Bank cash is claimed to be another example where funds were used to chase locals out of their ancestral homes.
The 11-month-long ICIJ investigation revealed that most of forced resettlement cases appear to take place in Asia and Africa. In Asia almost 3 million people were either left homeless or resettled, while in Africa that number stands at over 400,000.
The organization’s investment in China resulted in the resettlement of at least 1 million people, the investigation said.
In Vietnam alone some 1.2 million people were displaced during the construction of dams and power plants by the organization.
“Research has shown that millions of people have lost their livelihood and have been pushed into conditions of poverty because of large hydro-electric dams,” environmental and human rights activist and director of Right and Ecology, Annie Bird, told RT. “It is an investment which has not resulted in furthering the mandate of the World Bank, which is eliminating poverty.”
The full list of affected countries also include Albania, Brazil, China, Ethiopia, Honduras, Ghana, Guatemala, India, Kenya, Kosovo, Nigeria, Peru, Serbia, South Sudan and Uganda.
From 2009 to 2013, the study found, World Bank Group lenders “pumped $50 billion into projects graded highest risk for their “irreversible or unprecedented’” social or environmental impact. That numbers, the authors estimate, is twice as much as the previous five-year span.
ICIJ informed World Bank of their discoveries in March, warning of “systemic gaps”.
“We took a hard look at ourselves on resettlement and what we found caused me deep concern,” Jim Yong Kim, the World Bank’s president, said in a statement at the time. “One is that we haven’t done a good enough job in overseeing projects involving resettlement.”
The organization also compiled a five page “action plan” that it said would improve its programs.
“We must and will do better,” said David Theis, a World Bank spokesman, in response to the reporting team’s questions.
As the largest contributor to the Wold Bank, the US government is largely to blame for the organization’s shortcomings, Bird believes.
“The Bank could take measures to find alternatives for people who are losing their livelihoods to large infrastructure projects, it has just never been prioritized,” she says. “I think a lot of responsibility for that lies with the member nations, particularly with the United States government which has the largest share and voting power in the World Bank and therefore sets an important part of the Bank’s lending agenda.”
“Tax day” comes and goes each year, but unfortunately, the systemic issues that plague American taxpayers linger on without resolution well past the mid-April deadline.
The U.S. tax code has long been manipulated by corporate lobbyists and their corporate tax attorneys. (President Jimmy Carter once called the loophole-ridden tax laws “a disgrace to the human race.”) A primary purpose of these perforations is to arrange the law and regulations so that certain categories of profit-rich companies can avoid paying their fair share to Uncle Sam.
In many states, it is a literal race to the bottom for elected officials to offer corporations sweeter tax deals to keep jobs in their locality — see the 2013 Boeing controversy in the state of Washington, in which the aerospace industry, much of which is made up of Boeing, was awarded $8.7 billion in tax breaks over 16 years to produce the 777X jetliner in-state. Notably, Boeing paid zero in federal income tax that year — along with many other major U.S. corporations such as GE and Verizon. Some of these Fortune 500 companies even get a rebate check!
According to Citizens for Tax Justice, “American Fortune 500 corporations are avoiding up to $600 billion in U.S. federal income taxes by holding more than $2.1 trillion” of retained profits offshore, which they designate as “permanently reinvested” to avoid a tax liability.
And of course, millionaires and billionaires often pay less in taxes than middle-class Americans do, taking full advantage of tax loopholes, deductions, deferrals and other forms of creative accounting. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives now intends to pass legislation to repeal the estate tax, which would see that “vast amounts of money that has never been taxed will be passed tax-free to the heirs of today’s billionaires,” according to Scott Klinger of the Center for Effective Government.
The end result is that, through a myriad of tax avoidance schemes, the wealthy 1 percent continue to profit using public resources, subsidies and infrastructure while the 99 percent disproportionately pay the bills for it — all while struggling to pay their own bills, mortgages, student loans, and more. And when Wall Street runs amok, it’s the taxpayers who have paid the bills for the catastrophic damage as a result of regulatory surrender. Millions of these taxpayers also lost their jobs and pensions in the 2008-2009 Wall Street collapse of our economy.
This brings us to the Internal Revenue Service — which has been made into a dirty word to many Americans. Those Americans might be surprised to learn, however, that the current IRS enforcement budget is $10.9 billion, after a cut of $346 million from the previous year. To put that in perspective, Apple Inc. spent $14 billion just to buy back its own stock last year, a move that only serves to provide a meager benefit, if that, to its shareholders, while nourishing executive compensation packages.
The IRS loses an estimated $300 billion a year due to tax evasion. A budget proposal by the Obama administration claimed that the IRS could bring in an additional $6 for every dollar it adds to the enforcement budget. IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said that he pushes this very convincing point in Congress to little reception or reaction. “I say that and everybody shrugs and goes on about their business,” he told the AP in 2014. “I have not figured out either philosophically or psychologically why nobody seems to care whether we collect the revenue or not.”
The effects of these budgetary cuts are already being seen. Current staffing levels at the IRS are at 87,000 — the lowest since the early 1980s. The agency lost 13,000 employees from 2010 to 2014 and expects to lose another 3,000 this year. In the final stretch towards April 15, many taxpayers have experienced excruciatingly long waits on hold and long lines at local IRS offices as a result. Congress doesn’t care. (National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson, who operates independently within the IRS, detailed this degradation of service in her annual report to Congress. (See taxpayeradvocate.irs.gov.)
Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz has gone so far as to publicly state his intention to abolish the IRS entirely, calling that radical course of action the “simplest and best tax reform.” It’s not clear how Senator Cruz intends the federal government to collect revenue to pay for his presidential salary, the White House budget and expanding his giant military budget if he should be elected and not recover his senses.
It is clear, however, that significant rational tax reform is necessary. What remains unclear is who will benefit the most from such reform. Americans must seriously ask why individual U.S. taxpayers are fronting the money for hugely profitable corporations. These are funds that could potentially be used to repair critical public infrastructure, create decently paying jobs, or simply reduce the tax burden on middle-income individuals.
One solution to ensure that the interests of small taxpayers are accounted for and protected is to establish taxpayer watchdog associations across the country. These organizations would work full-time in each state to make sure that individual taxpayers get the best deal possible. After all, big corporations can afford to support an army of tax accountants and attorneys to continually update the playbook of tactics to avoid having to pay their fair share. Most taxpayers don’t have this luxury. What they do have, however, is sheer force of numbers. Organization of such watchdog organizations could be facilitated by including a notice on the 1040 tax return inviting people to pay a small due and join these advocacy and educational nonprofit groups. These associations would be supported by membership dues and would receive no tax money. The members would elect a board of directors that could hire researchers, organizers, accountants and lawyers.
Such pressure from united citizen bodies would provide the organizational mechanism to enhance the influence of individuals in the tax-collection and policy-making process — something that is much-needed in our current American plutocracy.
A simple motto to consider when asking what we choose to tax is: “Tax what they burn, not what we earn.” Before we place the largest burdens of taxation on workers, we should tax areas that have the greatest potential negative or damaging influence on our economy and our society. Tax the polluters, the Wall Street speculators, the junk-food peddlers, and the corporate criminals. Consider that just a fraction of a 1-percent sales tax on speculation in derivatives and trading in stocks could bring in $300 billion a year! (See robinhoodtax.org.)
If taxpayers really want to protect their interests, they must organize and fight for them. The corporations certainly have the money — but they can’t match the manpower or votes of an organized citizenry.
In the meantime, big corporations on welfare like Walmart, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Pfizer, General Electric, Weyerhaeuser, and ExxonMobile should declare April 15 to be Taxpayer Appreciation Day. The corporate welfare kings should have the decency to, at least, thank smaller taxpayers who pay for all the freeloading that the corporatists have rammed through Congress. (See goodjobsfirst.org for much more on this issue.)
Follow Ralph Nader on Twitter : www.twitter.com/RalphNader
Monday, April 13, was the 13th anniversary of the ruling of the Eritrea Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC), and the continued illegal occupation of sovereign Eritrean territories by Ethiopia since then. Also, it’s been well over five years since the US engineered unjust sanctions at the UN Security Council against Eritrea in late 2009.
In a “Global Action Day of Resistance,” Eritreans and their friends worldwide held rallies, online petitions, cycling tours, etc., to protest these injustices against Eritrea, a country in the Horn of Africa that many progressive analysts are recognizing as the “Cuba of Africa.” In the US, Eritreans in the Bay Area, California, held a protest rally in Oakland.
In Europe, more than twenty five cyclists from ten different countries (Canada, Denmark, Eritrea, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK), starting in Goteborg, Sweden, stopping in over ten German and three Swiss cities, rode over 1700 km, highlighting along the way the truth about Eritrea and its people and how, despite repeatedly being wronged by the west, the country is forging forward and has become an oasis of peace and harmony in the Horn of Africa.
The demands of this Eritrean Global Action Day of Resistance are:
An immediate and unconditional implementation of the 13-year old, final and binding, boundary decision and an end to Ethiopia’s illegal occupation of sovereign Eritrean territories, including the town of Badme; and
An end to the illegal UN sanctions imposed on Eritrea in December 2009, which have long been proven to be based on totally fabricated and falsified “evidence” by Ethiopia and its handlers.
Ethiopia’s Occupation: a Threat to Regional Peace
The Algiers Agreement was signed in December, 2000, in Algeria by President Isaias Afwerki for Eritrea and by the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi for Ethiopia and witnessed and guaranteed by Secretary General Kofi Annan on behalf of the United Nations, Senator Reno Serri (EU Special envoy for the Horn of Africa) on behalf of the European Union, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria, President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on behalf of the United States, Secretary General, Salim Ahmed Salim representing the Organization for African Unity (OAU), now the African Union.
The Algiers Agreements, brokered and authored by the US State Department, called for the delimitation and demarcation of the Eritrea Ethiopia border and that punitive actions would be taken against the party that did not abide by its treaty obligations.
The independent and neutral Eritrea Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC) delivered unanimously its final and binding delimitation decision on 13 April, 2002, and because of Ethiopia’s intransigence the Commission, which was ready to demarcate the border physically, was forced to publish its virtual demarcation decision on 30 November, 2007. Eritrea had fully accepted the decisions; Ethiopia, however, has rejected it calling it “totally illegal, unjust, and irresponsible” and has refused to abide by the EEBC’s demarcation directives. Ethiopia, in breach of international law and its obligations under the Algiers Agreement, continues to occupy sovereign Eritrean territories, including the town of Badme, the casus belli for the conflict. As the EEBC had stated it in its final report, “Ethiopia has so persistently maintained a position of non-compliance with its obligations in relation to the Commission.” Furthermore, Ethiopia has failed to comply with the Commission’s Order of 17 July, 2002, that required Ethiopia to “return to Ethiopian territory of those persons in Dembe Mengul who were moved from Ethiopia pursuant to an Ethiopian resettlement program since 13 April, 2002.”
UN Sanctions: a Travesty of Justice
Though the pretext for the unjust UN Security Council sanctions on Eritrea, first on December 23, 2009 (Resolution 1907) and the other one from December 5, 2011 (Resolution 2023), were to “serve” peace and security in Somalia, as the past five years have made clear, punishing innocent Eritrea based on false premises has neither brought peace to Somalia nor security to the Horn of Africa. The very forces that orchestrated lies against Eritrea are still wreaking havoc in the region. Former US Assistant Secretary for African Affairs and veteran Ambassador Herman Cohen said it well a year ago:
“Those of us who know Eritrea well, understand that the Eritrean leadership fears Islamic militancy as much as any other country in the Horn of Africa region. … In view of the absence of any intelligence, real or fabricated, linking Eritrea with Shabaab for over four years, the UN Security Council should terminate sanctions imposed in 2009 by UNSC resolution 1907.”
There is no, and there has never been “intelligence, real or fabricated,” that links Eritrea to any form of extremism in the Horn of Africa other than what the Ethiopians provided the Somalia-Eritrea Monitoring Group. All evidence indicates that most of the fabrication against Eritrea has been generated by Ethiopian operatives at home and abroad, its highly-paid lobbyists in Washington, D.C., and other capitals, as well as the Ethiopian minority regime’s Western enablers.
As for the Somalia-Eritrea Monitoring Group, this is a group that has lots of problems when it comes to credibility. This is a group that cannot “execute its responsibilities and mandate with professionalism, impartiality and objectivity.” It is a Group that is influenced left and right “by political considerations outside of its mandate.” The disgraceful exits of Dinesh Mahtani (its financial expert), in the fall of 2014, after he was caught red-handed advocating for “regime change” in Eritrea on behalf of the UN, and before that the firing of coordinator Matt Bryden for his dubious behavior as a monitor, are two latest cases that show this monitoring group has completely lost its legitimacy as an impartial UN investigative body.
In fact, the group has completely lost its credibility among many UN Security Council members, including some of its permanent members, Russia and China. In response to the Group’s 2013 report, the Russian Permanent Representative, Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, dismissed it as “dishonest and politically motivated.” Besides China and Russia, the Group’s report was also dismissed by Norway, Italy, and South Africa. Even the Somali Government itself has wholesale rejected the Monitoring Group’s report.
Both UNSC Resolutions 1907 (2009) and 2023 (2011) were incubated in the U.S. and hatched in Ethiopia. US Ambassador Donald Yamamoto is quoted by one of the Wikileaked cables admitting that the US had “advised the Prime Minister and his senior leadership … any case against Eritrea should be raised by other countries. Any charges levied by Ethiopia would be viewed only in the context of their border conflict.” The 2011 sanctions were also adopted under the false accusations orchestrated by the US using Ethiopia and Kenya as actors. On the absurd accusation from Ethiopia, Ambassador Vitaly Churkin of Russia said, “the Security Council was not presented with convincing proof of Eritrea’s involvement in that incident. We have not seen the results of any investigation of that incident, if indeed there was one.” On the accusations from Kenya, the UN Monitoring group itself admitted that it “has found no evidence to substantiate allegations that Eritrea supplied Al-Shabaab with arms and ammunition by air in October and November 2011. No evidence to substantiate the allegations that one or more aircraft landed at Baidoa International Airport between 29 October and 3 November 2011, or that Eritrea supplied Al-Shabaab in Baidoa by air with arms and ammunition during the same period.”
This US-Ethiopia conspiracy against Eritrea gets as far as the US giving an approving nod to Ethiopia to employ terrorist groups against Eritrea. One of the Wikileak cables says: “Meles said one option would be to directly support opposition groups that are capable of sending ‘armed propaganda units’ into Eritrea. Meles said that the groups with the most capability to operate inside Eritrea are those ‘that you don’t like from the lowlands, like the Keru’ who he said would be ‘much better able to survive in Eritrea.’” This is a jihadist terrorist group that had murdered a Canadian geologist in cold blood in western Eritrea and is responsible for the March 20, 2015 attempt to sabotage the Canadian owned Bisha gold mine in Eritrea in the vicinity of the area the Americans and Ethiopians were talking about 5 years ago.
All these US hostilities against Eritrea stem from the fact that Eritrea has refused to be subservient to misguided US policies for the region. As Professor Richard Reid, a history professor at SOAS, University of London, put it, US policy is biased in favor of Ethiopia and against Eritrea “for all sorts of reasons” one of them being:
“Eritrea was seen as a bunker state; they were less easy to control. Ethiopia had a more reliable military perhaps. Their policy was more directable and perhaps predictable. Whereas Eritrea, from the mid 1990s, it was clearly seen as unpredictable and couldn’t be relied upon to do certain things that Washington might want to do.”
Denial of Remittance: Violation of Eritrea’s Right to Development
The much talked about 2% Rehabilitation and Development fund that Eritreans in the Diaspora pay, also had nothing to do with Somalia; it has been a target of the US from as far back as 1999 (during the Eritrea-Ethiopia border war). A leaked US diplomatic cable from Asmara makes it clear that the Americans were bent on “disrupting the hard currency supply chain” so that they can “significantly and detrimentally impact the operations of the GSE [Government of the State of Eritrea]”.
We also read in the Wikileak cables that the Americans were strategizing with the Ethiopians on this very evil scheme. As the Late Ethiopian Prime Minister said then, “Isaias’ calculations would be shattered, if the U.S. and others imposed financial sanctions on him and particularly cut off Isaias’ funding from Qatar and other countries and the important funding from the Diaspora in the U.S.” Another Ethiopian official repeats in the Wikileak cables that “cutting off the flow of money to Eritrea was essential. Particularly, remittances from the U.S. were a major source of funding for Eritrea.” The Ethiopian officials were assured by US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Karl Wycoff “that the U.S. remains committed to achieving a UNSC sanctions regime against Asmara and continues to broaden the discussion beyond the P3 and Uganda with a hard push by USUN” and that “USG was also expanding efforts to undercut support for Asmara,” noting for example he had been sent on “a trip to Cairo, Riyadh, Jeddah and other cities both to promote efforts to undercut flows of support to Asmara.”
Despite all these conspiracies and hostilities, however, Eritreans believe a long-term and fruitful relationship between Eritrea and the other nations in the region is essential for maintaining peace and security, and fighting off poverty and extremism in the Horn of Africa. Therefore, Eritreans and their friends are demanding that all progressives urge members of the UN Security Council to do what is moral and ethical: to lift these unjust sanctions against Eritrea.
During the past decade and a half, the priorities of Eritrea have been to achieve food security, eradicate diseases such as malaria, decrease infant and maternal mortality rates and increase access to education to all sectors of the population. Based on its own and other independent evaluations, Eritrea has achieved modest successes in these efforts. However, Ethiopia’s continued occupation of Eritrean territories and a de facto state of war is violating Eritrean people’s right to development, dignity, security and peace. All this has been made possible because the USA and Europe are continuing to bankroll Ethiopia’s defiance and aggression.
Eritreans worldwide are therefore calling on all progressive peace- and justice-loving friends and organizations to support their demands for peace and urge their national governments to reign in the lawless minority regime in Ethiopia that continues to wreak havoc over the lives of the peoples in the Horn of Africa region in general, but the people of Eritrea in particular.
Elias Amare is a journalist/researcher and peace activist based in Asmara, Eritrea. To learn more about Eritrea’s struggle against unjust imperialist sanctions visit http://eritrean-smart.org/
Sixteenth Anniversary of the War Against Yugoslavia: Zastava
One of the main features of NATO’s bombing campaign against Yugoslavia in 1999 was the deliberate targeting of factories and manufacturing plants. As a member of a delegation travelling throughout Yugoslavia shortly after the end of the war, I could readily see that such targeting had been methodical and thorough. Wherever we went, there was no military value in the facilities that NATO chose to destroy. Indeed, the common criterion was that state-owned and worker cooperative factories and plants that supported many people were singled out. The apparent intent was to drive much of the population into destitution and make people more amenable to demands to install government eager to do the West’s bidding.
The largest and most significant factory complex in the Balkans was Zastava, producing over 95 percent of the automobiles operating in Yugoslavia. Centrally located in the city of Kragujevac, this diverse factory complex also manufactured tools and machinery.
Workers at Zastava recognized that it was far too tempting a target for NATO planners to ignore. Determined to save their factory, they decided to form a human shield by occupying the factory complex around the clock. Three days after NATO began its war, workers and management issued an open letter which was sent to trade unions abroad and U.S. President Clinton, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and other Western leaders. “We, the employees of Zastava and freedom-loving Kragujevac, made a live shield,” the statement proclaimed. “Even at the shift end, even at the alarm sound, the Zastava workers did not leave their workshops, but remained to protect with their bodies what provides for their families’ living, that in which they have built in years-long honest work in order to provide for their better future.” The letter warned NATO leaders, “We want you to know that the attack on our factory shall mean a direct death to thousands of men and women and an enormous spiritual and material loss to their families.”
Letters of support poured in from trade unions in Third World countries, while those in the West remained silent. As the days passed, it became increasingly evident that NATO was systematically destroying factories and work sites. NATO had also wasted little time in demonstrating its contempt for human life. Wisely, the workers at Zastava chose to modify their human shield by moving outdoors and forming a ring around the factory plants, rather than occupying them. Work inside the plants, however, continued.
Shortly after 1:00 AM on April 9, NATO responded to the workers’ letter by sending a volley of cruise missile flying into Kragujevac. Dragan Stankovich, export director for Zastava, was in his apartment when he felt the first detonations, which he likened to a strong earthquake. The sky turned red, and his first thought was to hope that the factory had not been hit. His apartment was close to Zastava, so he walked hurriedly over there. Ten minutes after the first attack, the next wave of missiles struck. “I was very close,” Stankovich told us, “but I couldn’t see the bombs. Only a series of mushroom clouds. You could see the explosion and big fires only. You couldn’t hear anything. Strong light and fire. Like an atomic bomb. Like mushrooms.” The power, assembly, and paint and forging plants were all demolished in the assault. In all, 124 workers were wounded, but miraculously, no one was killed. Ambulances and fire trucks arrived quickly at the scene and retrieved the injured. At the local hospital, a woman, her head bandaged, defiantly told a reporter, “I can only tell Clinton – we will build a new factory. He cannot destroy everything.”
Three nights later, another wave of missiles struck Zastava at 2:45 AM and then yet again ten minutes later. The factories were lightly staffed by this time, and only 16 workers were wounded. As a result of the two attacks, the six largest plants at Zastava lay in ruins. Interestingly, the one plant that manufactured assault rifles was untouched, underlining the fact that NATO’s motivation was the deindustrialization of Yugoslavia. One woman was quoted as saying: “When we saw it burning, we all wept. It was the same feeling as if someone had burned down your home.”
Stankovich told us that the factory complex in Kragujevac employed 28,000 workers, and another 8,000 in associated Zastava factories throughout Yugoslavia, most of which were also bombed. “Of all the catastrophes that befell us,” he said, “we consider the humanitarian catastrophe to be the biggest.” One of the salient aspects of the disaster, he felt, was that workers in many other factories depended on Zastava. There were many plants throughout the nation that supplied components to Zastava. With Zastava in ruins, workers and at these plants and their families, some 200,000 people in all, were left without a means of livelihood.
Zastava’s director, Milosav Djordjevich, ruefully observed, “For the workers, the factory is life. On the nights of the 9th and 12th of April, all our dreams were destroyed in a mere fifteen minutes of bombing.” He told us that he found it difficult to believe that there were people who could inflict death and destruction on others. After months of listening to the gloating of Western leaders over the slaughter they were carrying out, I had no such difficulty.
The power plant supplied electricity, compressed air, hot water and steam for production at Zastava. But its destruction had a wider impact as well, for the plant also provided heat and energy to a large sector of the city. “About 15,000 flats, schools, hospitals, and other institutions depended on the Zastava power plant for their heat,” Stankovich explained. One of the missiles exploded about 20 to 30 meters above the plant, ripping the roof from the building and destroying transformers, turbo-compressors, and the control room. “Smashed,” a worker told us. “Everything was smashed. We have removed everything to be repaired.” Resumption of production at the power plant was an urgent task. Workers had already removed the rubble in this plant by the time of our visit, and two of the eight turbo-compressors had already been repaired. But the destruction of the plant’s transformers sent two tons of highly toxic PCB pyralene pouring onto the ground and into a nearby river.
Offices at Zastava forging plant. Photo: Gregory Elich.
The forging plant was a ruin after being hit four times. When the plant was in operation, components were formed for automobiles, agricultural machinery, and railways. The roof was gone. Mounds of rubble, damaged machinery, and twisted girders confronted us. Scraps of metal debris hung in clumps from isolated and deformed steel bars. The three-story office section of the forging plant had taken a direct hit, and a large section of its façade was blown away. What remained of the upper floors sagged alarmingly. Adjacent to it, the older forging plant presented a stark appearance. The plant’s heavy concrete walls bore the scars from explosions, and its roof was mostly missing. When a missile exploded on the building, concrete columns fell on the heat treatment area, and large chunks of concrete were hurled about, injuring several workers. NATO “had drawings, coordinates, everything,” Djordjevich remarked, “as if they played us with joysticks.”
Djordjevich regarded the paint plant as the pride of Zastava, housing as it did modern robotic production lines. Here, the devastation was even more terrible than in the other plants. It was shocking. Four missiles had left the plant roofless and buried in a carpet of debris. Mountains of twisted and jumbled wreckage rose above the rubble, resembling in some sections abstract sculptures. Djordjevich lovingly described the advanced technology utilized by the plant. “They hit this directly, as you would hit a man in the heart.”
Damage to the automobile assembly line plant was also severe. Merely to clear away the rubble would be a daunting task. Fifty-four workers in this plant were injured when a blast caused the roof to collapse on them. The plant “was very beautiful to see when it was functioning,” Djordjevich told us. “Now look at it. It’s a sorrow to see.”
Zastava automotive paint plant. Photo: Gregory Elich.
It was nearing 9:00 PM, and it had become too dark to view the truck plant and tools factory, both of which had been completely demolished. We were instead taken to the computer center, where the headlights of our vehicles were projected onto the building. It was a ruin. The explosive force of two missiles was so strong that the building was lifted from its foundation before collapsing. Two IBM computers, costing a total of $10 million, were lost. Because the computer center was not operating on the night of the attack, only two people were inside, both hiding in the shelter after the air raid siren had sounded.
In all, destruction at Zastava was estimated to amount to $1 billion, straining the Yugoslav government’s ability to finance its reconstruction. But that did not deter efforts. By January 2000, eighty percent of the rubble had been cleared at Zastava, a monumental endeavor in itself. Before long, small-scale production resumed, which could only have been accomplished through efforts on a heroic scale.
Reconstruction continued, but after CIA-backed regime change in October 2000, the direction of Zastava’s future followed a different path. Hell-bent on privatizing the entire economy, the new government issued an ultimatum to workers at Zastava plants: accept a plan in which two-thirds of the workforce would be laid off, or Zastava would be closed down altogether. “We tried to sharpen our teeth on this one,” privatization minister Aleksandar Vlahovich explained.
Zastava power plant. Photo: Gregory Elich.
In a society where the loss of economic facilities, sanctions, and a privatization program had rendered much of the working population redundant, employees at Zastava worried about the prospects of ever finding employment again. Serbian finance minister Pavle Petrovich contemptuously dismissed their concerns: “It is high time that people learn there won’t be any life support systems anymore.” Workers were left with little choice and acceded to the government’s demands, and those who lost their jobs received a pittance for sustenance.
Zastava was privatized in 2008, and soon after became a subsidiary of Fiat. It eventually was fully owned by Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles. Once ownership passed to Fiat, the Italian firm ignored its pledge not to dismiss workers, and immediately cut the remaining workforce in half. Protesting workers occupied City Hall, to no avail. They were quickly defeated.
With workers mocked as lazy parasites, neoliberal propaganda was in full swing. The government, which had long derided state-owned Zastava for relying on state subsidies, saw no contradiction in offering Fiat monopoly status, subsidies of ten thousand Euros per worker, and subsidies to support sales over for the first year. Fiat was also granted an exemption from paying any taxes whatsoever for a period of ten years, and land was given gratis to Fiat’s foreign component partners. A duty-free industrial zone was created for Fiat, with the government providing cost-free infrastructure. In all, these gifts to Fiat dwarfed any subsidies that state-owned Zastava ever received.
Back in 2001, privatization minister Vlahovich observed, “Zastava became an example, I hope, of tomorrow’s successful restructuring of the whole country.” And so it did, as foreign corporations now dominate the economy, the nation’s workforce subsists on abysmally low wages, and unemployment is at depression levels. For those who once proudly worked at Zastava, their economic rape is complete.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (RIA Novosti – Aleksey Nikolskyi)
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, confirmed the oil-for-goods deal between Moscow and Tehran is “absolutely” a reality and has begun.
Russia has started supplying grain, equipment and construction materials to Iran in exchange for crude oil under the barter deal announced by Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“Absolutely! Of course,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said when asked by reporters on Tuesday if the statement the Ministry of Foreign Affairs made on Monday was accurate, and the exchange had indeed started. “Focus on the statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” Peskov said.
On Monday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov made the details of the trading partnership public.
Moscow and Tehran have been hashing out the deal’s small print since early 2014. A big step was taken in August when Russia’s Energy Minister Aleksey Miller and his Indian counterpart Bijan Namdar Zanganeh signed a five-year memorandum
According to Energy Minister Alexander Novak, Russia hasn’t yet received any Iranian oil.
Much of Iran’s oil reserves – the world’s fourth largest – remain untapped. Western sanctions put the brakes on discovery and exploration in the oil and gas industries.
Moscow may buy up to 500,000 barrels of Iranian oil per day, which would help Iran bring the 20-30 million barrels of crude oil they have in storage to market.
Iran, the third largest Russian grain customer, will ship wheat into the country. Russian state-run power utility Inter RAO and Inter RAO Export, as well as Technopromexport would supply equipment and help construct power stations in Iran, Russian Energy Minister Aleksandr Novak said previously.
On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia is lifting the ban on the delivery of S-300 missile rocket systems to Iran. The Kremlin canceled a 2010 self-imposed ban, suggested by the US and allies, not to sell Iran the artillery.
In April, Iran reached a nuclear agreement with the P5+1 countries to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear arms as long as the West lifted sanctions, which have been in place for nearly 40 years. By June 2015, a final agreement is expected to be reached, which will lift sanctions, including the oil embargo against Iran. After sanctions are loosened, Iran’s oil minister thinks the country can increase shipments by one million barrels a day.
The historic meeting between President Barack Obama and President Raúl Castro of Cuba at the Summit of the Americas in Panama over the weekend could be interpreted as a steppingstone toward the end of U.S. subversion and economic warfare relentlessly carried out since the success of the Cuban revolution 55 years ago. But it is questionable whether President Obama intends to transform relations, treating the government of Cuba as a sovereign equal and recognizing their right to choose different political and economic models, or merely to continue the same decades-old policy with a more palatable sales pitch – the way he has done with drones and extrajudicial surveillance. U.S. media, however, appear to have fully embraced the idea that Washington is acting in the best interests of the Cuban people to liberate them from political repression. The New York Times weighed in the day before the Summit by claiming that most Cubans identify not with the sociopolitical goals advanced by their country’s government, but rather with those supported by Washington.
In an editorial titled “Cuban Expectations in a New Era” (4/7/2015), the New York Times advances the proposition that engagement between the two governments will lead to Cuba’s integration (at least partially) into the global capitalist economy. This in turn will create increased financial prosperity as Cuba grows its private sector and turns away from the failed model the government has imposed since the start of the revolution.
The New York Times portrays the Cuban government as intransigent, stubbornly holding its citizens back from the inevitable progress that would result from aligning itself with Washington. The Times claims that the Cuban government maintains a “historically tight grip on Cuban society.” They may be alluding to a Cuban version of the U.S.’s political police, the FBI, who for decades spied on nonviolent activists representing African Americans, Puerto Rican nationalists, the anti-war movement, animal rights and environmental groups to prevent social change through political activities. Many of the activists illegally targeted by the FBI’s COINTELPRO program still remain incarcerated as political prisoners. But the Times doesn’t mention any such Cuban equivalent.
The fault of Cuba’s financial situation is placed squarely on the country’s government. The Times editorial only mentions the 51-year-old embargo by stating that “untangling the web of sanctions the United States imposes on Cuba will take years because many are codified into law.” Yet they then claim “the Obama administration’s gamble on engaging with Cuba has made it increasingly hard for [Cuba’s] leaders to blame their economic problems and isolation on the United States.”
They might have mentioned the embargo against Cuba cost the country $3.9 billion in foreign trade last year, bringing the inflation-adjusted total to $1.1 trillion since the policy was implemented. The embargo is still directly harming the Cuban economy and public health sector. The administrative measures implemented by Obama will provide, at most, minor relief. Extraterritorial provisions of the Helms-Burton Act that prevent Cuba from trading with 3rd countries remain firmly in place.
But the Times seems to believe the Cuban government is doing nothing more than making excuses when they complain about the devastating affects of the embargo on their economy and their population. They don’t mention that in October 187 other nations voted in the UN for the 23rd straight year to condemn the U.S. embargo against Cuba as illegal and demand that it end.
In her study “Unexpected Cuba,” economist Emily Morris rejects the argument that Cuba’s leaders have damaged their country’s economic performance and put its social progress at risk by failing to adopt capitalist reforms like privatization and liberalization.
“The problem with this account is that reality has conspicuously failed to comply with its predictions,” Morris writes. “Although Cuba faced exceptionally severe conditions – it suffered the worst exogenous shock of any of the Soviet-bloc members and, thanks to the long-standing US trade embargo, has confronted a uniquely hostile international environment – its economy has performed in line with the other ex-Comecon countries, ranking thirteenth out of the 27 for which the World Bank has full data.”
The New York Times then claims that the Cuban dissidents attending sideline events at the Panama Summit deserve to have regional leaders “amplify their voices.” They claim that such dissidents “have struggled for years to be heard in their own country, where those critical of the Communist system have faced repression.”
There is no evidence that the dissidents have struggled in Cuba because they have been repressed rather than that most of the population simply does not agree with their ideas or sympathize with them. In a presumptuous attempt to delegitimize the Cuban government, the Times claims it is actually the dissident contra-revolution that represents the majority of the Cuban people. “The government will have to reckon with the fact that many of the dissidents’ aspirations are shared by most Cubans,” the Times editorial states.
Again, there is no evidence that this is actually the case anywhere other than in Washington’s fantasies. The dissidents’ aspirations are not even stated. One assumes this refers to the objective of repealing socialism and instituting capitalism, which is also the official policy of the U.S. government. Mere changes to Cuba’s economy within the socialist structure is not a dissident position. Such changes and improvements are proposed and debated at all levels of Cuban politics, and have been openly embraced by Raúl Castro since he assumed the Presidency.
That the majority of the Cuban people share dissidents’ desire for capitalism is a bold claim. It infers that the Cuban government is not representative of its people, but rather forcibly imposes a socioeconomic system they oppose.
People familiar with Cuba have reached the opposite conclusion. Victor Rodriguez, a professor in the Ethnic Studies department of California State University Long Beach, recently returned from a visit to Cuba and had a different outlook.
“I spoke with at least 50 Cubans of all ages and walks of life,” he said. “Themes were that sovereignty, health care, and education are non-negotiable.” Rodriguez said that Cubans did have complaints about their system, with many stressing the need for higher salaries.
But the three areas he cites as resoundingly popular are the most basic hallmarks of the revolution. If Cuba were to abandon its socialist economic system – either willingly or under pressure from the United States – these would be the first areas to be sacrificed on the neoliberal altar. Dozens of countries in the global South from Africa, Latin America to Asia that now find themselves in the vice grip of suffocating debt can surely attest to this fact.
It is worth examining who are the voices that the New York Times claim deserve to be amplified. Among the “dissidents” are Guillermo Fariñas and Manuel Cuesta Morúa. Fariñas had fought in Angola against the racist South African apartheid regime and had supported Cuba’s revolutionary movement until a sudden change, notes Salim Lamrani, a French professor who specializes in Cuba-USA relations.
“It was only in 2003 that Fariñas made a 180 degree ideological switch and turned his back on the ideas he had defended in years past,” Lamrani writes. Contrary to representation in Western media, Fariñas had been sentenced to prison for crimes such as assaulting a colleague and an old man who had to have his spleen removed because of his injuries. Lamrani notes that Fariñas was admittedly financed by the US Interests Section in Havana. Perhaps not coincidentally, Fariñas became an outspoken critic of the Castro regime. Yet he was still permitted to speak freely with foreign media. His decision to express his political views, which happen to coincide with those of the interests that finance him, has paid handsomely.
“Guillermo Fariñas has chosen, as have those Cuban dissidents sensationalized by the western press, to live off his dissident activities, which offer undeniable financial opportunities and a standard of living much higher than other Cubans living in a context marked by economic difficulties and material scarcity,” Lamrani writes.
Cuesta Morúa is likewise a dissident who considers the Cuban revolution an abject failure, and who downplays any U.S. responsibility for the economic conditions Cuba faces.
Unlike dissidents in the United States, who cannot start a political organization or journalistic enterprise without concerning themselves with how it will impact their ability to pay for health care, a mortgage, food for their family or education, dissidents in Cuba do not have any of these worries. They enjoy a robust safety net that covers every single citizen, regardless of their view of the Cuban political system.
Many Cubans in attendance at the Summit in Panama had a different view of the dissidents than that espoused by the New York Times. They referred to the dissidents as mercenaries because of their financial links to a hostile foreign regime and coziness with anti-Castro exiles such as Luis Posada Carriles, the “Cuban bin Laden,” who has been implicated in numerous terrorist activities including the downing of a civilian airline and a string of hotel bombings in Havana.
The Cuban Web site Juventud Rebelde noted that the Cuban delegation, which represents more than 2,000 associations and Non-Governmental Organizations from the island, denounced the presence of people who are paid by interests seeking to destabilize Cuban society and the Cuban government.
Liaena Hernandez Martinez, of the National Committee of the Federation of Cuban Women, which represents more than 4 million Cubans said that: “For the Cuba dignified and sovereign that has resisted more than five decades of blockade it is inadmissible that people are here of such low moral character.”
The Times predictably aligns itself on the side of the U.S. government regarding their opinion of the true political aspirations of Cuban people. The idea that the U.S. is a disinterested observer nudging the Cuban government in the direction of greater democracy and human rights is nothing but pure propaganda, contradicted by more than half a century of history. The U.S. has always been the aggressor against Cuba, coercing it to become a neo-colony that could be exploited by the U.S. military and corporate interests from the time of the Platt amendment until the U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista was ousted in 1959.
It should be no surprise that the U.S. government and corporations like the New York Times still presumptuously attempt to delegitimize the Cuban revolution and pretend that the Cuban politics are best understood and articulated by those either outside Cuba or in their service as paid agents. The notion that a population can create a socioeconomic system representing the will of its people that starkly rejects the Washington Consensus is simply unthinkable. Anyone who agrees with the government’s official line, regardless of their questionable motives or failure to resonate inside the country, is seen as Cuba’s true political representative class. It may take another 55 years to realize this is simply not the case.
Militarism and military spending are everywhere on the rise, as the new Cold War propaganda seems to be paying off. The new “threats” that are being hyped bring big profits to military contractors and the network of think tanks they pay to produce pro-war propaganda.
Here are just a few examples:
The German government announced last week that it would purchase 100 more “Leopard” tanks – a 45 percent increase in the country’s inventory. Germany had greatly reduced its inventory of tanks as the end of the Cold War meant the end of any threat of a Soviet ground invasion of Europe. The German government now claims these 100 new tanks, which may cost nearly half a billion dollars, are necessary to respond to the new Russian assertiveness in the region. Never mind that Russia has neither invaded nor threatened any country in the region, much less a NATO member country.
The US Cold War-era nuclear bunker under Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, which was all but shut down in the 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, is being brought back to life. The Pentagon has committed nearly a billion dollars to upgrading the facility to its previous Cold War-level of operations. US defense contractor Raytheon will be the prime beneficiary of this contract. Raytheon is a major financial sponsor of think tanks like the Institute for the Study of War, which continuously churn out pro-war propaganda. I am sure these big contracts are a good return on that investment.
NATO, which I believe should have been shut down after the Cold War ended, is also getting its own massively expensive upgrade. The Alliance commissioned a new headquarters building in Brussels, Belgium, in 2010, which is supposed to be completed in 2016. The building looks like a hideous claw, and the final cost – if it is ever finished – will be well over one billion dollars. That is more than twice what was originally budgeted. What a boondoggle! Is it any surprise that NATO bureaucrats and generals continuously try to terrify us with tales of the new Russian threat? They need to justify their expansion plans!
So who is the real enemy? The Russians?
No, the real enemy is the taxpayer. The real enemy is the middle class and the productive sectors of the economy. We are the victims of this new runaway military spending. Every dollar or euro spent on a contrived threat is a dollar or euro taken out of the real economy and wasted on military Keynesianism. It is a dollar stolen from a small business owner that will not be invested in innovation, spent on research to combat disease, or even donated to charities that help the needy.
One of the most pervasive and dangerous myths of our time is that military spending benefits an economy. This could not be further from the truth. Such spending benefits a thin layer of well-connected and well-paid elites. It diverts scarce resources from meeting the needs and desires of a population and channels them into manufacturing tools of destruction. The costs may be hidden by the money-printing of the central banks, but they are eventually realized in the steady destruction of a currency.
The elites are terrified that peace may finally break out, which will be bad for their profits. That is why they are trying to scuttle the Iran deal, nix the Cuba thaw, and drum up a new “Red Scare” coming from Moscow. We must not be fooled into believing their lies.
China will reportedly finance the so-called ‘Peace Pipeline’ natural gas pipeline from Iran, home to the world’s second largest reserves, to energy-deprived Pakistan. The project was delayed due to US dissent.
The final deal is to be signed during the long-sought visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Islamabad in April, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.
“We’re building it. The process has started,” Pakistani Petroleum Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi told the WSJ.
First proposed over 20 years ago, the 1045 mile (1682km) pipeline will transfer gas from Iran’s south to the Pakistani cities of Gwadar and Nawabshah. Karachi, the country’s biggest city of 27.3 million, will also be connected via local energy distribution systems already in place.
Iran has said the 560-mile portion that runs to the Pakistan border is already complete, which only leaves $2 billion needed to build the Pakistani stretch.
The project could cost up to $2 billion if a Liquefied Natural Gas port is constructed at Gwadar. Otherwise, the project to complete the Pakistani pipeline will cost between $1.5 billion to $1.8 billion, the WSJ said. Pakistan is in negotiations with China Petroleum Pipeline Bureau, a subsidiary of Chinese energy major China National Petroleum Corporation, to finance 85 percent of the project. Pakistan will pay the rest.
The original plan envisioned the pipeline continuing to India, but Delhi dropped out due to US pressure in 2009, Tehran claims. Pakistan, a country of 199 million people faces intermittent blackouts in major cities, and Iran is looking for a place to export its soon-to-not-be-banned gas.
Iran has 33.7 trillion cubic meters of gas reserves according to the June 2014 BP Statistical Review of World Energy. According to BP estimates, it has the world’s fourth-largest oil reserves at 157 billion barrels.
US-led sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program have stunted Iran’s oil and gas industry.
Iran’s oil exports have dropped from 2.5 million barrels a day in 2011 to about one million barrels in 2014, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). In March, Iran produced 2.85 million barrels of oil per day, according to data from Bloomberg.
Boa Vista – US President Barack Obama arrived today in Jamaica as part of an ongoing effort to persuade the island and its neighbors to reduce dependency on Venezuela’s bilateral PetroCaribe program.
As the first active US president to visit Jamaica in 33 years, the primary goal of Mr. Obama’s trip will be to develop, in coordination with the World Bank, an investment plan in the Caribbean’s energy sector.
Vice-president Joe Biden has alleged that PetroCaribe, founded by Hugo Chavez in 2005, is being used as a “tool of coercion” against the region by the South American nation.
For almost a decade, Venezuela has shipped fuel to 18 nations in the Caribbean and Central America with favorable terms for payment, such as low-interest loans, while investing in community projects including hospitals, schools, highways, and homeless shelters.
In January, Biden gathered Caribbean heads of state in Washington as part of his Caribbean Energy Security Initiative, which he claims is seeking clean energy solutions for small island governments. However, the focus of the event was less about environmentalism and more about breaking away from Venezuelan trade.
“Whether it’s the Ukraine or the Caribbean, no country should be able to use natural resources as a tool of coercion against any other country,” he told the leaders in attendance.
Last month, US Secretary of State John Kerry warned of “strategic damage” on Venezuela’s part which could cause “a serious humanitarian crisis in our region.”
According to a Miami Herald report published on March 26th, Venezuela has halved subsidized shipments of crude oil to Cuba and other PetroCaribe member nations from 400,000 barrels per day in 2012, to 200,000 barrels per day.
The article, which claimed to cite a Barclay’s Bank report, has since been refuted by the Venezuelan government.
Venezuelan Foreign Affairs Minister Delcy Rodriguez insisted last week that the information was “not true,” and was being published in a concerted effort to discredit PetroCaribe.
Maintaining that the organization remains “pretty strong” despite sliding oil prices and a contracting economy, Rodriguez said a “war” is being waged against the socialist program, because it “brings solutions to poor people.”