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Parliamentary lobby in Mexico to support Israeli settlement activities

Mexican MPs with leaders of settlers in the Occupied West Bank
Palestine Information Center – September 15, 2107

NAZARETH – A lobby group advocating Israel’s settlement activities has been formed in the Mexican parliament, according to Israel’s Channel 7.

The Palestinian Information Center (PIC) quoted the channel as saying that this lobby group would work on promoting the trade relations between Mexico and Israel’s industrial settlements and outposts [in the West Bank].

According to the channel, head of the West Bank regional council Yossi Dagan said the lobby was officially announced during the current week in the Mexican parliament, describing it as “very important for Israel.”

The channel affirmed that this lobby would also influence Mexico’s positions at the UN and its institutions in favor of Israel.

September 15, 2017 Posted by | Economics, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation | , , | 1 Comment

House blocks aircraft sales to Iran

Mehr News Agency | September 14, 2017

TEHRAN – The House adopted measures on Wednesday to prevent sales of commercial aircraft to Iran, despite warnings from some Democrats that it would undermine the JCPOA.

Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) offered two amendments to a 2018 government spending package that would specifically prohibit the use of funds to authorize financial transactions for the sales and prevent the Office of Foreign Assets Control from clearing licenses to allow aircraft sales, The Hill reported.

The House additionally passed separate legislation last November to block the licenses to finance aircraft sales with Iran, but it never got a vote in the Senate.

Airbus, a European aircraft manufacturer, and Boeing, an American company, have struck multibillion-dollar deals with Iran in the last year to sell planes.

President Trump has railed against the Iran deal, but his administration has not taken steps to block the aircraft sales. Forcing a stop to the transactions could be at odds with Trump’s promotion of manufacturing jobs in the US, despite his vow to be tougher on Iran.

Roskam and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) urged President Trump in April to suspend aircraft sales to Iran.

September 14, 2017 Posted by | Economics, Wars for Israel | , , | 1 Comment

Iran nuclear deal becomes an atomic cocktail

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | September 14, 2017

The unscheduled trip to Russia by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as the special envoy of President Hassan Rouhani and his meeting with President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday can be seen as indicative of an inflection point arising in regional and international security. There is growing concern that the Trump administration could be moving in the direction of reopening the US-Iran nuclear deal of July 2015.

During the campaign for the November election, candidate Trump disdainfully threatened to tear up the Iran accord. But as president, he has twice already certified to the US Congress that Iran is implementing its part of the deal. He is obliged to do it a third time by mid-October. Of course, Trump is not a stickler for consistency. He promised to wind up the Afghan war, but approved a strategy for open-ended war. Increasingly, he has exposed himself to be a man of straw.

All indications are that he doesn’t have the courage to upfront abandon the deal. So long as Tehran continues to observe the terms of the deal, Trump lacks an alibi to jettison it. Yet, he wants to resuscitate the sanctions regime of the past era so that Iran is deprived of the tangible benefits accruing to it legitimately under the nuclear deal, especially, as regards its integration with the world economy. This is one thing. Besides, the nuclear deal enjoys the overwhelming support of the world community. On the other hand, Trump is surrounded by “hawks” on Iran. The Israeli lobby also keeps him on a tight leash.

Hence Plan B. The White House recently deputed Nikki Haley, envoy to the UN, to Vienna to sound out the International Atomic Energy Agency about renegotiating the terms of the 2015 deal. Specifically, the White House would like to extend the scope of the IAEA inspection to also include, apart from Iran’s nuclear establishments, that country’s military bases.

Interestingly, the White House’ choice fell on Haley to undertake the mission to Vienna (rather than Secretary of State Rex Tillerson). It speaks of the backstage role of Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law. Clearly, Israel is manipulating the Trump administration. Israel is paranoid that for the first time since the 1967 War, it has lost its pre-eminence militarily in the Middle East. The US and Israel’s defeat in the Syrian conflict brings about a historic shift in the military balance. Simply put, Israel lacks the capability to stop Iran’s inexorable surge as regional power. What is unfolding is a high-stakes game for Israel.

Tehran has made it clear that it is not open to renegotiation of the deal. Specifically, it rejects the notion that its military bases should be opened to allow foreigners to “inspect”. Simply put, Iran is unlikely to allow the US and Israeli spies masquerading as IAEA inspectors into its sensitive military installations.

Now, all indications are that the US is softening up the resistance of its European allies to the idea of reopening the 2015 nuclear deal. If past history is any evidence, it is a matter of time before the UK, France and Germany (who were part of the P5+1 negotiating with Iran) fall in line. Tillerson has called a meeting of his counterparts from the P5+1 and Iran for a meeting in New York on September 20 to broach the subject. A defining moment is approaching – least of all that Tillerson for the first time comes face to face with Zarif.

For Iran, the role of Russia and China will be of crucial importance. China may become wobbly when its self-interest is likely to be affected. The point is, all this ultimately would go into the alchemy of the ‘new type of relationship’ China hopes to work out with Trump. Also, Kushner happens to be Beijing’s point person in the White House. (China’s State Councilor Yang Jiechi met him Wednesday to discuss father-in-law’s state visit in November.)

After meeting Putin in Sochi, Zarif said that the discussion was “substantial and positive.” Zarif hinted that Russia also would agree that the 2015 nuclear deal is “non-negotiable and that all sides to the agreement must fulfil their obligations.” The situation developing around Iran will throw light on the ground realities as regards Iran’s integration into the Eurasian space. The Kremlin readout gave no details, but it stands to reason that given Russia’s quasi-alliance with Iran in regional politics, Zarif’s optimism is justified. Above all, Russia and Iran are working together as “guarantors” to stabilize the situation in Syria, as the latest development in regard of the de-escalation zone in Idlib in northern Syria highlights once again. To be sure, “multipolarity” in the world order is facing the litmus test.

September 14, 2017 Posted by | Economics, Wars for Israel | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

America’s Fragile Future

By Gilbert Doctorow | Consortium News | September 14, 2017

Does the United States have a future as a great power?

Twenty years ago posing this question would have seemed absurd. The United States was fully self- confident about its position as the sole surviving superpower in the world. It faced virtually no obstacles or objections to its performance on behalf of the “public good,” a process that supposedly brought order to the world either through the liberal international institutions that it helped to create after World War Two and dominated, or through unilateral action when necessary via “coalitions of the willing” aimed at bringing down one or another disruptive malefactor on a regional stage.

From many voices abroad it heard “amen” to its claims of exceptionalism and farther-seeing vision that came from its standing taller, as Secretary of State Madeleine Albright put it. The “indispensable nation.”

Fourteen years ago, when America prepared for its ill-conceived invasion of Iraq and encountered loud resistance from France and Germany, backed up by Russia, it became possible to wonder whether U.S. global hegemony could last. The disaster that the Iraqi adventure quickly became within a year of George W. Bush declaring “mission accomplished” rolled on and progressively diminished the enthusiasm of allies and others hitherto on the U.S. bandwagon for each new project to re-engineer troublesome nations, to overthrow autocrats and usher in an age of “liberal democracy” across the globe.

Still, the doubts were discussed sotto voce. Governments tended to conform to what the Russians colorfully call “giving someone the finger in your pocket.” Observers spoke their piece privately against the violations of international law and simple decency that the United States was perpetrating — and against the swathe of chaos that followed American intervention across the Greater Middle East. But such persons were on the fringes of political life and drew little attention.

What has happened over the past couple of years is that doubts about the competence of the United States to lead the world have been compounded by doubts about the ability of the United States to govern itself. The dysfunction of the federal government has come out of the closet as an issue and is talked about fairly regularly even by commentators and publications that are quintessentially representative of the Establishment.

In this connection, it is remarkable to note that the September-October issue of Foreign Affairs magazine carries an essay entitled “Kleptocracy in America” by Sarah Chayes. This takes us entirely away from the personality peculiarities of the 45th President into the broader and more important realm of the systemic flaws of governance, namely the extraordinary political power wielded by the very wealthy and the self-serving policies that they succeed in enacting, all at the expense of the general public that has stagnated economically for decades now, setting the stage for the voter revolt that brought Trump to power.

And in an op-ed essay in The Washington Post on Sept. 1, which was remarkable precisely for its identification of the failing political culture in Washington, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, says the following:

“Congress will return from recess next week facing continued gridlock as we lurch from one self-created crisis to another. We are proving inadequate not only to our most difficult problems but also to routine duties. Our national political campaigns never stop. We seem convinced that majorities exist to impose their will with few concessions and that minorities exist to prevent the party in power from doing anything important.”

McCain himself was until now a major contributor to the poisonous political climate in Washington, to partisanship that tramples patriotism under foot. One thinks of his unprecedented attack on fellow Republican Sen. Rand Paul several months ago whom he accused of “working for Putin” because the senator from Kentucky refused to vote for the accession of Montenegro to NATO.

Permanent Gridlock

Gridlock in the federal government is nothing new. In the past decade, work of the federal government came to a standstill when Congress and the President could not agree to the conditions under which the federal debt ceiling would be raised. Such an eventuality was just narrowly averted in the past few days.

Public exposure and ridicule of a sitting president for personal failings, such as the case of Bill Clinton’s sexual transgressions, have been exploited for political gain by his opponents whatever the cost to national prestige. We have lived through that crisis of the political elites and the Republic survived.

What is new and must be called out is the loss of civility in public discourse at all levels, from the President, from the Congress and down to the average citizen. The widely decried unsubstantiated personal attacks that otherwise would be called defamation during the 2016 presidential electoral campaign were symptomatic of this all-encompassing phenomenon. It signifies a dramatic decline in American political culture that the whole world sees and is beginning to act upon in self-defense.

Let us start with President Donald Trump, who is attacked daily by the liberal media that represents the lion’s share of all television programming and print publications, media that vehemently opposes Trump’s domestic and foreign policy positions. In their determination to ensure either his impeachment or effectively to strip him of powers, they speak of Trump the way cheaply printed caricatures for the masses lampooned Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette before the French Revolution.

The President is publicly described by his compatriots as an imbecile, a rabid racist, a misogynist, a volatile and impulsive narcissist whose finger on the nuclear button gives us all goose pimples: this cannot be ignored by the wider world outside U.S. borders and it is not ignored.

To be sure, Donald Trump has brought a good deal of this ignominy on himself by his intemperate comments on daily events, particularly at home but also abroad, where silence or a nod to conventional verities would be the better part of valor. He keeps his own counsel on foreign affairs and erroneously believes that his instincts are superior to the advice of experts.

In his kitchen cabinet, there are no experts. In the official cabinet, he has for his own reasons assembled a group consisting mostly of neoconservatives and liberal interventionists, who made it easy for him to get their confirmations in the Senate but who are all pulling in the direction opposite to the America First concepts of nonintervention in the affairs of other states that he set out in his electoral campaign.

Trump changes direction daily, even on matters as critical as the likely U.S. response to the ongoing crisis on the Korean peninsula. The tactic of unpredictability was an approach he said in the campaign he would use against enemies, in particular against terrorist groups, not to tip them off about U.S. intentions in advance and weaken the effect of eventual U.S. military strikes. But it makes no sense when applied to all other current business, which requires a firm hand on the tiller and sense of continuity and predictability, not constant disruption.

Undoing Bonds

The net result of Donald Trump’s first six months in office has been to undo the bonds of mutual confidence with America’s allies and friends, and to put America’s competitors on notice that America’s role in the world is up for grabs.

Foreign policy has opened up as a topic for discussion here in Europe ever since Donald scattered the chickens by his loose talk about NATO and America’s commitment or non-commitment to the Article 5 provision of “all for one and one for all.” This has given impetus to the long-spluttering plans to create a European Union army as an alternative to NATO, and as a rallying point for federalists in what will be a two-speed Europe.

During the two terms of Obama, meddling in the internal politics of China and Russia, repeated hectoring over their alleged human rights and rule of law violations, but still more importantly the wrong-headed policy of simultaneous containment of these two giants through construction of military alliances and bases at their borders put in motion a strategic partnership between them that was once improbable but is now flourishing. The Russia-China axis is underpinned by vast joint investments and promises to remake the global power balance in the decades to come.

Now, with Trump, the damage to American power in the Pacific region is spreading. His ripping up free trade accords and his incautious rhetoric regarding possible military strikes against North Korea have pushed both Japan and South Korea to explore actively and urgently how Russia can be befriended, at a minimum, for the sake of greater leverage against the big ally in North America. This has been demonstrated with perfect clarity by the meetings of Vladimir Putin with Japanese premier Shinzo Abe and South Korean president Moon Jae-in at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok over the past couple of days.

Russia’s evolving political entente with both South Korea and Japan is providing support for the launch of ambitious foreign investment projects in its Far East as announced at the Forum. These include one which has the potential to re-shape the imagination of regional populations for a generation to come: revival of plans to build a $50 billion rail-auto bridge linking Hokkaido with the Russian island of Sakhalin, thus uniting Japan with the continent and facilitating freight shipments across Russia to Europe.

For its part, South Korea announced infrastructure investments for the Northern sea route linking South Korea with European markets through sea lanes kept open by Russian icebreakers. Like the Chinese One Belt One Road, these plans all dramatically reduce the importance to world trade of the long-standing U.S.-policed sea lanes off Southeast Asia up to and through the Suez Canal.

Of course, the low point in America’s image in the world today under Trump is not entirely new. By the end of his two terms in office, George W. Bush had driven American prestige to what were then all time lows even among Europeans. There was a brief resurgence of American popularity at the start of Barack Obama’s tenure in office. But that was quickly dissipated by his failure to deliver on the pledges of his campaign and inaugural address, as the Guantanamo Bay prison remained open, as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continued, and as drone strikes proliferated.

Opening a Void

But Donald Trump has shaken up the world order by repeatedly questioning the public good that the United States claimed to be delivering these past decades, opening a void without projecting a new vision of global governance. In the meantime, the unique value of America’s commitment to the public good is being eroded as other countries step forward with infrastructure and other plans that provide practical improvements in the public sphere.

It is commonplace today within the United States to put all blame for the shocking decline in political culture at the door of President Trump with his boorish language and behavior. However, as we noted from the outset in citing Senator John McCain’s recent op-ed, Congress has contributed mightily to the erosion of civic values by its vicious and counterproductive partisanship.

And yet a still greater threat to American democracy and to the sustainability of America’s great power status has come from the inverse phenomenon, namely the truly bipartisan management of foreign policy in Congress. The Republican and Democratic leaderships have maintained strict discipline in promotion of what are nearly identical neoconservative (Republican) and liberal interventionist positions on virtually every foreign policy issue before Congress.

Committees on security and foreign affairs invite to testify before them only those experts who can be counted on to support the official Washington narrative. Debate on the floor of the houses is nonexistent. And the votes are so lopsided as to be shocking, none more so that the votes in August on the “Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act.” This measure moved sanctions on Iran, North Korea and Russia from the category of Executive Order to federal law. In the Senate, the bill passed 98 to 2. In the House, the vote was 419 for, 3 against. Such results remind us of the rubber-stamp legislature of the USSR, the Supreme Soviet, in its heyday.

That particular vote was still more scandalous for its being drafted and passed without any consultation with U.S. allies and friends, though its intent is to control their commercial and credit policies with respect to the target countries under sanction.

For Europeans, in particular, this puts into question their ability to pursue what they see as great economic benefits from trade and investment with Russia and Iran. In this sense, Congress demonstrated that it is pursuing a still more radical program of America First than the President. This in-your-face unilateralism works directly to the detriment of America’s standing in global forums.

The New McCarthyism

It would be comforting if the problems of our political culture began and ended with the elites operating in Washington, D.C. However, that is patently not the case. The problem exists across the country in the form of stultifying conformism, or groupthink that is destroying the open marketplace for ideas essential for any vital democracy.

Senator Joseph McCarthy

Some of us have called this the new McCarthyism, because the most salient aspect of groupthink is the ongoing hysteria over alleged Russian “meddling” in U.S. domestic politics. The denunciations of “stooges of Putin” and the blacklisting from both mass and professional media of those known to deliver unconventional, heterodox views on Russia and other issues of international affairs is reminiscent of what went on during the witch hunt for Communists in government and in the media during the early 1950s.

However, no one is being hounded from office today. There are no show trials, as yet, for treasonous collusion with Russia. So, it would be safer to speak of an atmosphere of intimidation that stifles free debate on the key security issues facing the American public. Absence of debate equates to a dumbing-down of our political elites as intellectual skills atrophy and results in poor formulation of policy. The whole necessarily undermines America’s soft power and standing in the world.

Groupthink in America today did not come from nowhere. Debilitating conformism was always part of our DNA, as is the case in a great many countries, though its emergence has been episodic and in varying degrees of severity. The present acute manifestation in the United States goes back to the mass paranoia which followed the 9/11 terrorist attacks when the George W. Bush administration introduced the Patriot Act, gutting our civil rights in exchange for the promise of security.

Though the revelations of Edward Snowden have shown the extent and potency of the instruments of surveillance over the general population that were introduced by the Bush administration after 9/11, there was enough of state control exposed in the Patriot Act text to silence anyone with doubts about U.S. government policies at home and abroad. When the harsh personalities of President Bush’s immediate entourage were replaced by the liberal-talking officials of Barack Obama, people breathed easier, but the instruments of surveillance remained in place, as did the neocon middle and senior officials in the State Department, in the Pentagon, and in the intelligence agencies.

Thus, for a whole generation the Washington narrative remained unchanged, giving encouragement in communities across the land to neocon-minded administrators and professors of American universities, publishers and owners of our mainstream newspapers, and other arbiters of public taste. That is quite sufficient to explain the current atmosphere of intimidation and groupthink.

It is improbable that any Humpty-Dumpty successor to Donald Trump can put the pieces back together again and restore American dominance to where it was at the close of Bill Clinton’s first term as president. Given American hubris, will our political class accept an equal seat at the global board of governors or just walk away from the table?


Gilbert Doctorow is an independent political analyst based in Brussels. His latest book Does Russia Have a Future? was published in August 2015. His forthcoming book Does the United States Have a Future? will be published in September 2017.

September 14, 2017 Posted by | Book Review, Economics, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Militarism, Timeless or most popular | | 2 Comments

The Fall Offensive: the US, France and Brazil

By James Petras | The People’s Voice | September 13, 2017

The fall of 2017 will witness the most brutal assault on working and middle class living standards since the end of World War II. Three presidents and their congressional allies will ‘revise’ labor legislation, progressive income tax laws and regulations and effectively end the mixed economy in France, the US and Brazil.

Throughout the summer, public opinion has been diverted by US threats to launch new overseas wars, France’s rhetoric about forming a post-Brexit, Berlin-Paris pact, which will remake the European Union, and Brazil’s President Michel Temer’s corruption and crime scandals. These superficial controversies will be overwhelmed by fundamental class conflicts, which promise to alter the present and future structural relations within Western capitalism.

President Trump’s Fall Offensive: Profits, Wars and Epidemics

President Trump proposes to enrich capitalists and intensify class inequalities via his radical transformation of the tax system. Corporate taxes will be cut in half; overseas corporate taxes will be abolished; and wage and salaried workers will pay more for fewer social benefits.

Trump can count on the support of the Republican leadership, business and banking elite and sectors of the Democratic Party in his plans to roll out a massive tax giveaway for the billionaires.

Trump’s cabinet, led by the Goldman Sachs trio and his troika of generals will ensure that the budget will include slashing the funds for education and health in order to increase military spending, expand wars and cut taxes for the rich.

Even more aggressive threats against North Korea, Russia, Iran, Venezuela and China, greater overseas war spending and troop levels in Afghanistan and the overt militarization of policing, immigration control and domestic intelligence will result in drastic cutbacks on federal programs for the poor and working classes. Declining access to quality health care for workers and deterioration in workplace safety conditions will fuel the opioid addiction epidemic leading to hundreds of thousands more premature worker deaths by overdose, injury and inadequate, incompetent care.

President Emmanuel Macron: The Capitalist Offensive in France

In France, the workers and middle class face the most comprehensive attack on their employment rights and progressive social legislation in modern history.

President Emmanuel Macron has declared his goal of completely transferring socio-economic power from French workers to capital by gutting all pro-labor laws and protections. Employees will have to negotiate with their bosses, one plant and one office at a time, thereby undermining the collective bargaining power of a united working class. Employers will be free to hire and fire workers with virtually no restrictions or consequences. Temporary and short-term ‘garbage’ contracts will proliferate, destroying long-term worker stability. Macron will eliminate the jobs of over 100,000 public employees while slashing corporate taxes by over $50 billion euros.

In contrast to massive tax cuts for the bourgeoisie, Macron proposes to increase taxes on French pensioners, hitting millions of retirees. Once in place, Macron’s legislative agenda will concentrate power, profits and wealth of capital while increasing inequalities and class polarization. Responding to the economic interests of the bankers, Macron promises to lower the deficit to 3% of GDP through massive cuts in health and education.

Under the pretext of ‘reducing unemployment’, Macron will promote part-time and temporary employment for French youth and immigrant workers, stripping all French workers of their hard-fought gains in job security and labor rights. Macron justifies his assault on labor by dismissing workers as ‘lazy’.

Brazil: The Great Fire Sale

Michel Temer, Brazil’s ‘unelected’ President plans to privatize 57 public enterprises – the crown jewels of Brazil’s economy. This will amount to the biggest capitalist asset grab in two centuries!

Included in the sell-off are: oil fields, energy transmission lines, highways, airports, as well as Brazil’s mint and lottery. Electrobas, Latin America’s biggest electricity generator, is up for grabs. In addition, Temer plans to raise interest rates charged by the state-owned development bank BNDES to increase the private bankers’ share of lending and profits.

This naked grab of profitable state enterprises by private domestic and foreign investors will lead to the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs and the lowering of wages, salaries and pension payments. Temer started to slash state pension liabilities by increasing the age of retirement by several years. Wages and social benefits have been frozen for the foreseeable future. Presidential decrees, which dictate the terms of labor contracts, threaten collective bargaining.

The Capitalist Offensive: Results and Perspectives

These presidents have declared their intention to launch full-scale ‘class war from above’ – the consequences of which remain to be seen. The presidents, who rule by fiat, are treading fragile terrain. Each is facing major political, economic and social challenges.

All three presidents have lost public support since taking power, especially among their lower middle and working class-class voters.

Macron’s approval dropped from 65% to 40%; Trump from 49% to 35%; and Temer (who was not elected) barely retains 5% (and falling) public approval.

Brazil: Facing the Abyss

Despite uncertainties over the regime’s stability and future, foreign investors and the financial press supports Temer.

President Temer’s isolation from Brazil’s voting public has weakened his power in the Congress, and among the domestic banking elite and oil and power corporations. However, if the trade unions call for widespread militant strikes by manufacturing workers, public employees and the landless rural workers’ movement (MST) is effective and paralyzes the economy, Temer may be forced to resign before his program is implemented. Meanwhile, President Temer faces numerous judicial investigations for corruption.

Strategically, Temer can count on international support, especially from the US State Department, Treasury, Pentagon and the European Union. The neo-liberal regimes in Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Paraguay, Peru, Colombia and Mexico have voiced strong support for Temer, especially since they have also received bribes from the same Brazilian corporate oligarchs! Under Temer, the Brazilian economy has declined by over 5% since he took power in a ‘legislative coup d’état’. His budget deficit exceeds 9% and unemployment has doubled to over 11%.

Despite support from foreign and domestic elite, Temer’s presidency will not survive. Under mass pressure and with looming elections, Brazil’s Congress may decide to allow the courts to prosecute Temer and block his proposed sellout of public assets.

Credit rating agencies are going to downgrade the Brazil’s economy to ‘junk’ status, undercutting new investments. With new elections on the horizon in 2018, it is clear that Temer will not even run for the presidency and his proposals to privatize Brazil’s major firms may not succeed. The economic recession has sharply reduced tax revenues and the possibility of receiving any significant boost from privatization is dubious. Even Temer’s initial regressive measure – the slashing of public pensions- has bogged down in bureaucratic infighting. However, the opposition to Temer’s capitalist offensive has yet to strike a decisive, organized blow.

The Congressional opposition, led by the center-left Workers Party (PT), is a distinct minority with many of its leaders facing their own corruption trials. The PT is incapable of blocking, let alone ousting, Temer. The rightwing opposition in Congress is divided between those who back Temer – based on party patronage – and those who want to replace Temer while pushing for his anti-labor agenda. The trade unions, led by the CUT, have mounted sporadic protests and made rhetorical gestures, while the MST (the landless rural workers) and associated ecological and homeless movements, which lack militant mass urban support, would be unable to topple Temer.

Ex-President Lula Da Silva has regained some degree of mass voter support but faces corruption charges, which may ban him from political office – unless there is a major mass mobilization.

In sum, the rightwing, pro-capitalist offensive in Brazil is comprehensive — offering public assets and private profits– but weak in institutional support and economic fundamentals.

A big-push from the Left could undermine the political base for Temer’s economic team, however, it is not clear which party or leaders would replace him.

France: Bonaparte in the Palace, Workers on the Streets

When President Emmanuel Macron was elected President of the Fifth Republic, he carried a mass electoral base as well as the support of France’s leading business and banking organizations. However, in the run-up to the launching of his capitalist offensive the mass base has evaporated. Voter disapproval is rising rapidly. The militant wing of the trade unions (CGT) prepares to launch general strike. His regressive tax agenda has alienated wide sectors of the petit bourgeois, especially public-sector employees.

Macron’s concentration of executive power (his Bonapartist complex) has turned his allies on the right against him.

The outcome of Macron’s offensive is both likely and uncertain.

For one thing Macron enjoys a majority in the French Congress. The economy is growing and investors are exuberant. Tax-conscious small business groups are happy. Labor is divided with the class collaborationist CFDT and FO refusing to join with the trade union opposition.

The European Union is united, up to a point, in its support for Macron. Equally important, Macron is determined to crush street protests and sporadic, partial strikes with demagogic appeals through the corporate mass media, coercion and outright state repression.

The political party opposition, led by the left socialists and the nationalists, is divided. The Socialist Party barely exists. Pensioners and students are opposed to Macron, but have not taken to the streets. Few among the professional class and liberal academia retain any illusions about the ‘new centrist President’ but few are willing to actively confront the ‘the new Bonaparte’.

Macron has fashioned a formidable alliance between the state apparatus and the business ruling class to crush worker opposition. But popular opposition is growing and is furious at his agenda and insults: ‘They (French workers) have had it too good…’ To defeat Macron, they must unite the opposition and build a strategy of prolonged class warfare.

Macron will not give in to transitory strikes. If Macron’s capitalist offensive succeeds, it will have enormous implications for the French working class, especially the rights of workers and salaried employees to organize and struggle. A victory for Macron will profoundly undermine the structure and membership of popular organizations, now and in the future. Moreover, a defeat for French workers will reverberate throughout the EU and beyond. Conversely, a victory for labor could trigger mass struggles across Europe.

The United States

A powerful opposition could confront President Trump’s capitalist offensive, but it will not be led by the highly bureaucratized trade unions representing less than 8% of the private sector labor force. Trump’s enemies among the Democratic and Republican Party elite have dismissed Trump’s ‘working class’ supporters as ‘white supremacist and neo-Nazis’. American workers’ concerns have been trivialized and marginalized by the divisive politics of ‘identity’, so blatantly used by both parties. Trump’s capitalist offensive in favor of a regressive pro-corporate tax cuts and the gutting of social welfare (health, education, housing, environment and worker safety) has failed to provoke sustained, unified social opposition. In the US, the pro-business elites dominate and dictate the agendas of both the incumbent Trump regime and the ‘elite opposition forces’.

The official ‘anti-Trump opposition’, which terms itself a ‘resistance’, promotes ‘identity’ interests linked to elite political representation. It works hard to undermine any possibility of working class unity based on common socio-economic interests by focusing on marginal and divisive issues. In the midst of mass poverty, declining life expectancy and an epidemic of suicide and drug overdose deaths, the ‘resistance’ forces of the elite opposition concentrate on manufactured foreign (‘Russia-gate’) conspiracies and life style issues (trans-genders in the US Special Forces) to overthrow the Trump regime. They have no intention to forge any class alliances that might threaten Trump’s regressive capitalist agenda.

The struggle this fall in the US will not be between labor and capital: It will spotlight the contradiction between what remains of Trump’s business protectionist agenda and the Democrats’ neo-liberal free trade policies. The capitalist offensive against labor in the USA was already determined by default. US trade union officials are marginal and inconsequential actors, incapable and unwilling to politicize, educate and mobilize workers.

Trump’s capitalist offensive appeals to investors and boosts the stock market. The majority of his economic team is tied to Wall Street bankers against so-called economic nationalists. Trump’s mindless chauvinist rhetoric to the populace is openly dismissed by the plutocrats within his own cabinet, who complain they have been targeted by ‘fascists and anti-Semites’ (meaning Trump’s deplorable and angry voter base).

The United States is the only country in the industrial world launching a massive, sustained capitalist offensive without an anti-capitalist opposition. The American working class is openly ‘deplored’ by the major elements of the elite opposition and blatantly manipulated by its fake ‘champion’, Trump.

The consequences are pre-determined. The capitalist offensive cannot lose; both capitalist sides ‘win’. Under the Businessman-President Trump, multi-national corporations will secure lower taxes and degrade working class living standards and social benefits. Bi-partisan agreements will ensure that banks are completely deregulated. The elite anti-Trump opposition will ensure that ‘their’ capitalists get favorable neo-liberal trade agreements, guaranteeing their access to cheap immigrant labor and a non-unionized workforce denied workplace safety and environmental regulations.

While France and Brazil face real class war, the ‘classless’ US slouches toward nuclear war. Macron confronts militant trade unions, Temer faces the fury of broad social alliances, and Donald Trump marches after ‘his Generals’ to nuclear conflagration. He invades Russian diplomatic properties; points nuclear weapons at Moscow and Beijing; holds massive offensive exercises and stations THAAD missiles on the border of North Korea; and escalates US air and ground force operations in a 16-year losing war in Afghanistan.

Workers in Europe and Latin America choose to fight capitalists in defense of their class interests, while US workers have become passive spectators to the looming possibility of nuclear war, when they are not in a prescription-induced opioid stupor. Defeating the capitalist offensive in France and Brazil can advance the cause of social justice and ensure concrete benefits for workers and masses of people; Trump’s unopposed capitalist military offensive will send clouds of nuclear ashes across the world.

September 13, 2017 Posted by | Economics | , , | Leave a comment

Anti-Russian sanctions cost Europe $100bn – UN Special Rapporteur

RT | September 13, 2017

Over the last three years, the European Union has been losing at least $3.2 billion every month due to the anti-Russian penalties, according to a report by a UN Special Rapporteur Idriss Jazairy.

“The most credible approximation is of $3.2 billion a month,” says the report on the negative impact of the unilateral coercive measures, as quoted by Sputnik.

Jazairy stressed that Russia had sustained a direct loss of nearly $15 billion a year or a total of $55 billion so far.

“The resulting overall income loss of $155 billion is shared by source and target countries,” he added.

EU sanctions against Russia were introduced in 2014 over the country’s alleged involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine and Crimea. The penalties targeted Russia’s financial, energy, and defense sectors, along with some government officials, businessmen, and public figures.

Moscow responded by imposing an embargo on agricultural produce, food and raw materials on countries that joined the anti-Russian sanctions. Since then the sides have repeatedly broadened and extended the restrictive measures.

Russia is the EU’s fourth-largest trading partner after the US, China and Switzerland. The country is also Europe’s biggest natural gas supplier, as well as one of its biggest oil suppliers.

The penalties have been severely criticized by European politicians and businessmen as both politically ineffective and economically harmful for both Russia and Europe.

September 13, 2017 Posted by | Economics, Russophobia | , | 1 Comment

US Comes to Russia With ‘Absurd’ Request for More Sanctions Against North Korea

Sputnik | September 11, 2107

Given the US approach to its relations with Russia, it is “absurd” for Washington to expect Moscow’s support for its sanctions plan for North Korea, Georgiy Toloraya of the Russian Academy of Sciences told Sputnik.

On Monday, the UN Security Council is to vote on a US-drafted resolution that would strengthen sanctions against North Korea in the aftermath of a reported sixth nuclear test.

The original version of the text called for a trade embargo on oil and textiles and a financial and travel ban for leader Kim Jong-un. China and Russia oppose sanctions that could lead to a humanitarian catastrophe in the country, which was already put under more sanctions in August. With that in view, the US has watered down the text in order to win the approval of the Security Council, although it still proposes a ban on North Korean textiles.

Georgiy Toloraya, Director of the Center for Russian Strategy in Asia at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Economics, told Sputnik that the US position, which expects Russia to support sanctions against North Korea while at the same time sanctioning Russia, is “absurd.”

“The Americans want to deprive the North Koreans of heat, to expel all their guest workers who are needed by Russia in the Far East, and also to stop the export of textiles from the DPRK. What does that have to do with the nuclear missile program?” Toloraya asked.

“In addition, the Russian president said correctly that it is quite absurd to include Russia along with the DPRK on the sanctions list, and then ask us to take joint actions on sanctions. Moreover, we consider this unnecessary because sanctions simply don’t work.”

In July, the US Congress approved a sanctions bill targeting Russia, Iran and North Korea. Speaking at the BRICS conference last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin said, “It’s ridiculous to put us on the same sanctions list as North Korea and then ask for our help in imposing sanctions on North Korea.”

Zhou Yongsheng of the Center for International Relations Studies at the Diplomatic Academy told Sputnik China that as far as sanctions are concerned, it’s either all or nothing.

“I think that if we really apply a full package of sanctions to the DPRK, then this will also help solve the nuclear problem. Since right now the supply of energy resources and grain to the DPRK has not been completely stopped, this means that the DPRK has the means for a confrontation with the international community. In the event that some kind of supply to the DPRK is interrupted completely, then the country won’t last too long and it is very possible that it will make some concessions,” Zhou declared.

At a meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok on Wednesday, Putin remarked on the importance of deescalating the tense situation in the Korean peninsula.

“There is no point in giving in to emotions and driving North Korea into a corner. Now, more than ever, everybody needs to stay calm and avoid steps that lead to an escalation of tension,” Putin said.

Moon Jae-in and Putin signed a host of deals to boost bilateral cooperation in the areas of joint financial and investment platforms, healthcare and IT. Putin also reiterated Russia’s readiness to develop trilateral projects in the Far East with both North and South Korea, which would open the country up economically and politically.

“Development of the Far East will not only contribute to the prosperity of the two states but also to changes in North Korea, which will become a basis for trilateral relations,” the South Korean president said.

September 11, 2017 Posted by | Economics | , , | 1 Comment

Senate Debates Billions for Insurers while Public Demands Medicare for All

By Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese | Health Over Profit | September 8, 2017

This week we attended a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee where there was broad bi-partisan support for giving billions more to the insurance industry to “stabilize the market.” The government already gives for-profit insurance $300 billion annually and their stock values have risen dramatically since passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), so the rush to give them more was disheartening.

That was contrasted with a meeting with the staff of Senator Bernie Sanders about the improved Medicare for all bill he plans to introduce on September 13. Sanders, along with other Senators, is seriously trying to figure out how to transform health care from being a profit center for big business to being a public good that serves the people. That means doing away with the health insurance industry, not giving them billions of public dollars.

The contrast reinforced the need to advocate for improved Medicare for all and push for the best healthcare system we can create.

Healthcare a Commodity or a Human Right?

Senators are back from their long summer recess, and they started off with health care back at the top of the agenda. The Senate HELP committee held its first of four hearings on September 6, and Senator Bernie Sanders is preparing to introduce a Medicare for All bill on September 13. The two efforts are a clear example of the underlying dilemma that we have faced in the United States for the past 100 years: Is health care a commodity or a public good? It can’t be both.

The failed efforts to repeal and replace the ACA took up a lot of time and energy this year and left the country in no better position to deal with the ongoing healthcare crisis. Now, time is really short because private health insurers are announcing their rates for 2018, and they are, not surprisingly, screaming for more money because they have to (*gasp*) pay for health care.

A group of us attended the first Senate HELP committee hearing to convey the message that the people are ready to undertake the serious work of creating a National Improved Medicare for All. Typically, before and sometimes during a hearing, attendees are allowed to hold signs as long as they are not disruptive. On that day, the committee chair, Senator Lamar Alexander, ordered that signs be put away before the hearing even began. He told Dr. Carol Paris, a steering committee member of the Health Over Profit for Everyone campaign, that “we are not talking about improved Medicare for All now.”

Instead, the entire hearing focused on “stabilizing the insurance market,” even though their stock values have quadrupled since 2010. Five health insurance commissioners from different states testified before the senators and answered questions. It appeared that all had been well-prepped by the health insurance industry. The committee members patted each other on the back for being bi-partisan, unfortunately they were working together for the insurance industry, not for the people.

The bi-partisan hearing discussed three main points: making sure that public dollars were available to subsidize insurance costs, reinsuring private health insurers so they would be protected if they had to spend ‘too much’ money on health care and incentives to entice private insurers back into areas that are not profitable. Coincidentally, these were the same points raised in the bi-partisan proposal published this year by the Center for American Progress, a Democratic Party think tank financed in part by health insurance lobbyists. Both parties are clearly on the side of health care as a commodity.

Not one person participating in the hearing questioned whether health care belonged in the market. At least one Senator, Rand Paul, complained about Big Insurance coming to Washington with their hands out and said he would rather pay directly for health care than give the money to Big Insurance. His ideology is far from supporting Improved Medicare for All, but he did call out the corruption.

Perhaps the most disappointing of the day was Senator Al Franken, who has completely bought into the ‘health care is a commodity’ camp. Not only did he advocate for subsidizing and reinsuring private insurers, but he called for a federal reinsurance program to cover the costs of people who need health care, at least after Big Insurance takes their cut. And Franken, who tried to make jokes about the hearing, called for more money to advertise and lure youth into the insurance market, which is about as unethical as pushing cigarettes or candy, and wants heavier enforcement of mandates to purchase health insurance. Franken touted a ‘virtuous cycle’ of giving more money to health insurers so that they lower premiums and more people buy insurance. The problem is that there is nothing very virtuous about spending billions to subsidize an industry that has a greater responsibility to pay its Wall Street investors than to pay for necessary health care. The insurance industry has shown itself to be insatiable, and ready to use their power to extort Congress because they hold people’s lives in their hands.

It was a difficult hearing to attend. The whole time we wanted to stand up and ask whether they could possibly see how ridiculous this all appeared and whether they thought private health insurers added any benefit. But, the Capitol Police made it clear from the start that they would arrest anyone who disrupted without warning, and we had a meeting scheduled with Senator Sanders’ staff after the hearing. We did manage to squeeze out a few “Medicare for All’s” during the hearing.

Healthcare Without the For-Profit Insurance Industry

The meeting with Senator Sanders’ staff was like night and day. We began from the premise that health care is a human right and had a frank discussion of how that could be achieved. The text of his upcoming bill was not available, but for 90 minutes we discussed many of the details of the bill. This meeting was scheduled because of a letter that the Health Over Profit for Everyone steering committee sent to the Senator’s health staffers raising concerns about what was reported to be in the bill. An initial response was lacking, but once the letter was widely circulated in progressive blogs, the staff were ready to meet.

There has been a movement for National Improved Medicare for All in the United States for a long time. People in the movement have debated and reached consensus about how an improved Medicare for all system ought to be structured. Much of that is embodied in John Conyers’ legislation, HR 676: The Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act, which has 118 co-sponsors. Senator Sanders and his group, Our Revolution, are raising funds and working to build more support for Improved Medicare for All, but they still need to cooperate with those who have been advocating for this if they want full support.

Fortunately, Senator Sanders has demonstrated that he is responsive to public pressure. He started the year off not intending to introduce Medicare for all legislation, but he received push back and changed his mind. Then he started talking about fixing the ACA and introducing a public option, and there was pushback against that. There has also been pressure about the contents of the bill. When it was learned that there would be co-pays, many organizations, including Physicians for a National Health Program, contacted his office to say that co-pays add more complexity to the system and cause people to delay or avoid necessary health care. His staff reported that co-pays have been removed in the bill except for purchasing drugs, in order to encourage the use of generic drugs.

In the process of winning a single payer healthcare system, the movement for National Improved Medicare for All has the role of being the watchdog to make sure that we create the best system we can. We want this system to work for everyone and to be a system that improves health, a system that the United States can be proud of. This is a role that will be ongoing even after we win because we will have to improve the system and constantly guard against those who would try to privatize it so they can profit.

After meeting with Senator Sanders’ staff, we felt more reassured that his intention is to ultimately create a strong National Improved Medicare for All system. There are many provisions in the bill that are to be applauded – providing care to every person in the United States and offering fairly comprehensive coverage – and a few that we will have to work on – such as including long term care, abolishing investor-owned health facilities and a more rapid transition period. On September 13, if all goes well, the text of the bill will be released and we will assess it.

The People Can Win Improved Medicare for All

All in all, we are in a strong position. The Senate HELP committee hearing showed how out of touch many of our legislators are with the people, who favor Improved Medicare for All or are just yearning for affordable health care no matter what form that takes.

And, we know members of Congress can be moved, some more easily than others. This week the architect of the ACA in Congress, former Senator Max Baucus, who had us arrested with six others in 2009 when we stood up and called for single payer to be included in the debate, joined the choir. Baucus said single payer is the answer, commenting “we’re getting there, it’s going to happen.” We were arrested demanding that he put single payer on the table and he refused, calling for more police instead. Now, more than 100,000 preventable deaths later, he supports it. The ACA was born out of the corruption by healthcare profiteers and everyone involved from Obama to Baucus knew it, and everyone from Alexander to Franken knows that remains true today.

The tide is shifting in the United States. After a century of what Professor David Barton Smith, a health historian calls, “more palatable approaches” that have each “self-destructed,” we are clear that health care is a public service, not a financial profit center. We are ready to do the work to make what was once considered impossible, National Improved Medicare for All, become inevitable. Each week, new support for single payer arises. The other surprise this week was the support of centrist Democrat, Senator Jon Tester of Montana, who explained that his farmer parents never had insurance until they were old enough for Medicare.

Hopefully, more legislators will arrive at the wisdom that, as Professor Smith describes: “The practical mechanics of how to make such a universal health insurance system work are a lot easier than patching together the existing hopelessly fragmented private-public health insurance system. The Medicare program actually does this quite well and the cry of Medicare for all has never been silenced. Indeed, no one has ever objected to their ‘mandated’ coverage under Medicare.”

The people have the power to finally make the government do the right thing. No more compromises. No more false solutions. Onward to National Improved Medicare for All.

September 9, 2017 Posted by | Corruption, Economics | | 2 Comments

Venezuelan State Reopens Investigations into Hundreds of Suspected Rural Activist Assassinations

By RACHAEL BOOTHROYD ROJAS | Venezuelanalysis | September 7, 2017

Bogota – Three hundred unresolved cases of rural land activists allegedly murdered at the hands of hired assassins will be re-opened by Venezuela’s Public Prosecution service in an effort to root out impunity for politically motivated crimes.

The measure was agreed in a high level meeting between the National Ombudsman’s office, the Public Prosecution service, the Public Defense, the Ministry of Eco-socialism and Water, the National Land Institute, and the Foundation for Victims of Politically Motivated and Rural Assassinations.

More than three hundred rural activists are estimated to have been killed at the hands of rightwing paramilitaries since 1999, when many land activists began to take collective action following the election of leftist president Hugo Chavez.

Most of the victims have been government supporters allegedly targeted for organizing in favor of the Land and Agrarian Development Law, passed by Chavez in November 2001. The legislation is aimed at breaking up the country’s centuries-old, privately-owned landed estates and allows rural workers to occupy unused land. While popular with rural communities, it has been strongly opposed by the country’s landowners.

Justice for murdered campesinos and activists has long been a demand of rural social movements such as the the Revolutionary Bolivar and Zamora Current. Despite the government’s official support for land reform, movements have strongly criticized state institutions for their lack of teeth in protecting social movement leaders from reprisals, as well as for failing to prosecute those responsible for political assassinations. To date, only a handful of cases have resulted in the successful prosecution of hired killers, while not a single landowner has been brought to trial.

The latest decision to reopen the cases means that some families will now have a second chance to win justice for their loved ones, after the majority of the cases were initially abandoned by the state prosecution, due to alleged lack of evidence.

Mate Garcia, a spokesperson for the Foundation for Victims of Politically Motivated and Rural Assassinations and daughter of murdered activist Armando Garcia, who was killed in 2002, welcomed the initiative as positive step.

“We are very hopeful about this work-group, where all of the cases of violence in our countryside are being taken up,” she said.

Garcia also confirmed that her organization had presented a series of recommendations to the National Constituent Assembly (ANC), which is currently holding session to draft up a new Constitution for the country.

Since being nominated as new Attorney General in August, Tarek William Saab has vowed to rid the state prosecution of impunity and combat classism in the Venezuelan justice service. He has accused his predecessor, Luisa Ortega, of having covered up violent political crimes and corruption during her ten year stint in office.

Ortega fled into self-imposed exile in August after an investigation was brought against her by the Supreme Court for “grave misconduct”. Ortega says she is the victim of political persecution due to her public break with the government of Nicolas Maduro earlier in March.

September 8, 2017 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Economics | , , | 1 Comment

While Trump tweets, Putin steals a march on North Korea

By M.K. Bhadrakumar | Asia Times | September 8, 2017

The message from the two-day Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) conference, which concluded in Vladivostok on Thursday, is that Russia’s “pivot to Asia” in recent years, in the downstream of Western sanctions against it, has become a core vector of its foreign policies.

The EEF began modestly in 2015 with the agenda of showcasing the “new reality” of a role for the Russian Far East in the economic integration of the Asia-Pacific region. But this year’s EEF waded into the critical regional security issue of North Korea.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov revealed, inter alia, that a North Korean delegation would attend the EEF event. He said, “As I understand, the DPRK’s delegation to the EEF consists of representatives of the economic bloc. We (Russia) also have representatives of our economic ministries and departments here. So I think, meetings within the profile structures of the two countries will take place.”

This comes at a time when administration of US President Donald Trump is stepping up its rhetoric and demanding more sanctions against North Korea. Curiously, South Korean President Moon Jae-In also attended the EEF conference, taking time off to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Vladivostok on Wednesday.

Moon may well be quietly admiring of Putin for saying things upfront about North Korea which he is unable to do himself. When talking to the media in Xiamen on Tuesday following the BRICS summit, Putin had done some plain speaking regarding North Korea. Notably, he said:

“Everyone remembers well what happened to Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Hussein abandoned the production of weapons of mass destruction. Nonetheless… Saddam Hussein himself and his family were killed… Even children died back then. His grandson, I believe, was shot to death. The country was destroyed… North Koreans are also aware of it and remember it. Do you think that following the adoption of some sanctions, North Korea will abandon its course on creating weapons of mass destruction? “Certainly, the North Koreans will not forget it. Sanctions of any kind are useless and ineffective in this case. As I said to one of my colleagues yesterday, they will eat grass, but they will not abandon this program unless they feel safe.”

After meeting Moon, Putin again urged that dialogue is the only way out of the crisis. Putin is well aware that Moon has a pivotal role in preventing US President Donald Trump from taking military risks, and he cannot be unaware that some fractures have appeared lately in the US-South Korea alliance. Significantly, Moon said at his press conference with Putin on Wednesday:

“Mr. President and I have also agreed to build up the basis for the implementation of trilateral projects with participation of the two Koreas and Russia, which will connect the Korean Peninsula and the Russian Far East… We have decided to give priority to the projects that can be implemented in the near future, primarily in the Far East. The development of the Far East will promote the prosperity of our two countries and will also help change North Korea and create the basis for the implementation of the trilateral agreements. We will be working hard on this.”

To jog memories, Moscow has, in the past, mooted certain infrastructural projects involving North Korea that might hold the potential to stabilize the region: an extension of the Trans-Siberian railway system into South Korea via North Korea; a gas pipeline connecting South and North Korea with the vast Russian oil and gas fields in the Far East; and transmission lines to take surplus electricity from the Russian Far East to the Korean Peninsula.

South Korean companies are involved in Sakhalin-1 and Sakhalin-2 energy projects and are currently discussing with Russia the delivery of liquefied natural gas. South Korean shipyards are hoping to build 15 tankers to transport gas from the Yamal LNG plant in the Russian Far East.

Putin stated at the press conference with Moon that “Russia is still willing to implement trilateral projects with the participation of North Korea.” He flagged the above three projects specifically and added, “The implementation of these initiatives will be not only economically beneficial, but will also help build up trust and stability on the Korean Peninsula.”

The big question is whether there was some form of contact between the delegations of North and South Korea on the sidelines of the EEF conference in Vladivostok. Russia, the host country, is uniquely placed to play the role of facilitator.

At any rate, Moscow is willing to undertake a mediatory role between the two Koreas, which no other world capital today can perform. It can talk to Pyongyang to raise its comfort level and integrate North Korea in regional cooperation, while also easing South Korea’s existential angst. Moscow’s trump card is its privileged communication channels to Pyongyang and its common interests with Seoul (and Beijing, and Tokyo) in avoiding a catastrophic war.

In the given situation, Russian diplomacy becomes optimal. While bringing about peace, it also holds the potential to create wealth and shared prosperity, which provides the bedrock for regional stability and helps the development of the Russian Far East. Incidentally, Chinese Vice-Premier Wang Yang, the point person for China’s Belt and Road Initiative, also attended the EEF meet.

Putin arrived in Vladivostok from China where he held detailed discussions with President Xi Jinping on Monday regarding the situation on the Korean Peninsula. A high degree of Sino-Russian coordination on North Korea is already evident.

Any Russian peace initiative on North Korea will be a reflection on the failure of leadership in Washington. The Trump administration is unlikely to view such a scenario with equanimity, given its far-reaching implications for the US-led system of alliances in the Far East.

September 8, 2017 Posted by | Economics | , , | Leave a comment

Who Rules America?

The Power Elite in the Time of Trump

By James Petras | Axis of Logic | September 6, 2017

Introduction

In the last few months, several competing political, economic and military sectors – linked to distinct ideological and ethnic groups – have clearly emerged at the centers of power.

We can identify some of the key competing and interlocking directorates of the power elite:

  1. Free marketers, with the ubiquitous presence of the ‘Israel First’ crowd.
  2. National capitalists, linked to rightwing ideologues.
  3. Generals, linked to the national security and the Pentagon apparatus, as well as defense industry.
  4. Business elites, linked to global capital.

This essay attempts to define the power wielders and evaluate their range of power and its impact.

The Economic Power Elite: Israel-Firsters and Wall Street CEO’s

‘Israel Firsters’ dominate the top economic and political positions within the Trump regime and, interestingly, are among the Administration’s most vociferous opponents. These include: the Federal Reserve Chairwoman, Janet Yellen, as well as her Vice-Chair, Stanley Fischer, an Israeli citizen and former (sic) Governor of the Bank of Israel.

Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and an Orthodox Jew, acts as his top adviser on Middle East Affairs. Kushner, a New Jersey real estate mogul, set himself up as the archenemy of the economic nationalists in the Trump inner circle. He supports every Israeli power and land grab in the Middle East and works closely with David Friedman, US Ambassador to Israel (and fanatical supporter of the illegal Jewish settlements) and Jason Greenblatt, Special Representative for International negotiations. With three Israel-Firsters determining Middle East policy, there is not even a fig leaf of balance.

The Treasury Secretary is Steven Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs executive, who leads the neo-liberal free market wing of the Wall Street sector within the Trump regime. Gary Cohn, a longtime Wall Street influential, heads the National Economic Council. They form the core business advisers and lead the neo-liberal anti-nationalist Trump coalition committed to undermining economic nationalist policies.

An influential voice in the Attorney General’s office is Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Robert Mueller the chief investigator, which led to the removal of nationalists from the Trump Administration.

The fairy godfather of the anti-nationalist Mnuchin-Cohn team is Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman Sach’s Chairman.  The ‘Three Israel First bankerteers’ are spearheading the fight to deregulate the banking sector, which had ravaged the economy, leading to the 2008 collapse and foreclosure of millions of American homeowners and businesses.

The ‘Israel-First’ free market elite is spread across the entire ruling political spectrum, including ranking Democrats in Congress, led by Senate Minority leader Charles Schumer and the Democratic Head of the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff. The Democratic Party Israel Firsters have allied with their free market brethren in pushing for investigations and mass media campaigns against Trump’s economic nationalist supporters and their eventual purge from the administration.

The Military Power Elite: The Generals

The military power elite has successfully taken over from the elected president in major decision-making. Where once the war powers rested with the President and the Congress, today a collection of fanatical militarists make and execute military policy, decide war zones and push for greater militarization of domestic policing. Trump has turned crucial decisions over to those he fondly calls ‘my Generals’ as he continues to dodge accusations of corruption and racism.

Trump appointed Four-Star General James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis (retired USMC) – a general who led the war in Afghanistan and Iraq – as Secretary of Defense. Mattis (whose military ‘glories’ included bombing a large wedding party in Iraq) is leading the campaign to escalate US military intervention in Afghanistan – a war and occupation that Trump had openly condemned during his campaign. As Defense Secretary, General ‘Mad Dog’ pushed the under-enthusiastic Trump to announce an increase in US ground troops and air attacks throughout Afghanistan. True to his much-publicized nom-de-guerre, the general is a rabid advocate for a nuclear attack against North Korea.

Lieutenant General H. R. McMaster (an active duty Three Star General and long time proponent of expanding the wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan) became National Security Adviser after the purge of Trump’s ally Lt. General Michael Flynn, who opposed the campaign of confrontation and sanctions against Russia and China. McMaster has been instrumental in removing ‘nationalists’ from Trumps administration and joins General ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis in pushing for a greater build-up of US troops in Afghanistan.

Lt. General John Kelly (Retired USMC), another Iraq war veteran and Middle East regime change enthusiast, was appointed White House Chief of Staff after the ouster of Reince Priebus.

The Administration’s Troika of three generals share with the neoliberal Israel First Senior Advisors to Trump, Stephen Miller and Jared Kushner, a deep hostility toward Iran and fully endorse Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s demand that the 2015 Nuclear Accord with Tehran be scrapped.

Trump’s military directorate guarantees that spending for overseas wars will not be affected by budget cuts, recessions or even national disasters.

The ‘Generals’, the Israel First free marketers and the Democratic Party elite lead the fight against the economic nationalists and have succeeded in ensuring that Obama Era military and economic empire building would remain in place and even expand.

The Economic Nationalist Elite

The leading strategist and ideologue of Trump’s economic nationalist allies in the White House was Steve Bannon. He had been chief political architect and Trump adviser during the electoral campaign. Bannon devised an election campaign favoring domestic manufacturers and American workers against the Wall Street and multinational corporate free marketers. He developed Trump’s attack on the global trade agreements, which had led to the export of capital and the devastation of US manufacturing labor.

Equally significant, Bannon crafted Trumps early public opposition to the generals’ 15-year trillion-dollar intervention in Afghanistan and the even more costly series of wars in the Middle East favored by the Israel-Firsters, including the ongoing proxy-mercenary war to overthrow the secular nationalist government of Syria.

Within 8 months of Trump’s administration, the combined forces of the free market economic and military elite, the Democratic Party leaders, overt militarists in the Republican Party and their allies in the mass media succeeded in purging Bannon – and marginalizing the mass support base for his ‘America First’ economic nationalist and anti-‘regime change’ agenda.

The anti-Trump ‘alliance’ will now target the remaining few economic nationalists in the administration. These include: the CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who favors protectionism by weakening the Asian and NAFTA trade agreements and Peter Navarro, Chairman of the White House Trade Council. Pompeo and Navarro face strong opposition from the ascendant neoliberal Zionist troika now dominating the Trump regime.

In addition, there is Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, a billionaire and former director of Rothschild Inc., who allied with Bannon in threatening import quotas to address the massive US trade deficit with China and the European Union.

Another Bannon ally is US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer a former military and intelligence analyst with ties to the newsletter Breitbart. He is a strong opponent of the neoliberal, globalizers in and out of the Trump regime.

‘Senior Adviser’ and Trump speechwriter, Stephen Miller actively promotes the travel ban on Muslims and stricter restrictions on immigration. Miller represents the Bannon wing of Trump’s zealously pro-Israel cohort.

Sebastian Gorka, Trump’s Deputy Assistant in military and intelligence affairs, was more an ideologue than analyst, who wrote for Breitbart and rode to office on Bannon’s coat tails. Right after removing Bannon, the ‘Generals’ purged Gorka in early August on accusations of ‘anti-Semitism’.

Whoever remains among Trump’s economic nationalists are significantly handicapped by the loss of Steve Bannon who had provided leadership and direction. However, most have social and economic backgrounds, which also link them to the military power elite on some issues and with the pro-Israel free marketers on others. However, their core beliefs had been shaped and defined by Bannon.

The Business Power Elite

Exon Mobile CEO Rex Tillerson, Trump’s Secretary of State and former Texas Governor Rick Perry, Energy Secretary lead the business elite. Meanwhile, the business elite associated with US manufacturing and industry have little direct influence on domestic or foreign policy. While they follow the Wall Street free marketers on domestic policy, they are subordinated to the military elite on foreign policy and are not allied with Steve Bannon’s ideological core.

Trump’s business elite, which has no link to the economic nationalists in the Trump regime, provides a friendlier face to overseas economic allies and adversaries.

Analysis and Conclusion

The power elite cuts across party affiliations, branches of government and economic strategies. It is not restricted to either political party, Republican or Democratic. It includes free marketers, some economic nationalists, Wall Street power brokers and militarists. All compete and fight for power, wealth and dominance within this administration. The correlation of forces is volatile, changing rapidly in short periods of time – reflecting the lack of cohesion and coherence in the Trump regime.

Never has the US power elite been subject to such monumental changes in composition and direction during the first year of a new regime.

During the Obama Presidency, Wall Street and the Pentagon comfortably shared power with Silicon Valley billionaires and the mass media elite. They were united in pursuing an imperial ‘globalist’ strategy, emphasizing multiple theaters of war and multi-lateral free trade treaties, which was in the process of reducing millions of American workers to permanent helotry.

With the inauguration of President Trump, this power elite faced challenges and the emergence of a new strategic configuration, which sought drastic changes in US political economic and military policy.

The architect of the Trump’s campaign and strategy, Steve Bannon, sought to displace the global economic and military elite with his alliance of economic nationalists, manufacturing workers and protectionist business elites. Bannon pushed for a major break from Obama’s policy of multiple permanent wars to expanding the domestic market. He proposed troop withdrawal and the end of US military operations in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, while increasing a combination of economic, political and military pressure on China. He sought to end sanctions and confrontation against Moscow and fashion economic ties between the giant energy producers in the US and Russia.

While Bannon was initially the chief strategist in the White House, he quickly found himself faced with powerful rivals inside the regime, and ardent opponents among Democratic and Republican globalists and especially from the Zionist – neoliberals who systematically maneuvered to win strategic economic and policy positions within the regime. Instead of being a coherent platform from which to formulate a new radical economic strategy, the Trump Administration was turned into a chaotic and vicious ‘terrain for struggle’. Bannon’s economic strategy barely got off the ground.

The mass media and operatives within the state apparatus, linked to Obama’s permanent war strategy, first attacked Trump’s proposed economic reconciliation with Russia. To undermine any ‘de-escalation’, they fabricated the Russian spy and election manipulation conspiracy. Their first successful shots were fired at Lt. General Michael Flynn, Bannon’s ally and key proponent for reversing the Obama/Clinton policy of military confrontation with Russia. Flynn was quickly destroyed and openly threatened with prosecution as a ‘Russian agent’ in whipped-up hysteria that resembled the heydays of Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Key economic posts in the Trump regime were split between the Israel-Firster neoliberals and the economic nationalists. The ‘Deal Maker’ President Trump attempted to harness Wall Street-affiliated neoliberal Zionists to the economic nationalists, linked to Trump’s working class electoral base, in formulating new trade relations with the EU and China, which would favor US manufacturers. Given the irreconcilable differences between these forces, Trump’s naïve ‘deal’ weakened Bannon, undermined his leadership and wrecked his nationalist economic strategy.

While Bannon had secured several important economic appointees, the Zionist neoliberals undercut their authority. The Fischer-Mnuchin-Cohn cohort successfully set a competing agenda.

The entire Congressional elite from both parties united to paralyze the Trump-Bannon agenda. The giant corporate mass media served as a hysterical and rumor-laden megaphone for zealous Congressional and FBI investigators magnifying every nuance of Trump’s US Russia relations in search of conspiracy. The combined state-Congressional and Media apparatus overwhelmed the unorganized and unprepared mass base of the Bannon electoral coalition which had elected Trump.

Thoroughly defeated, the toothless President Trump retreated in desperate search for a new power configuration, turning his day-to-day operations over to ‘his generals’. The elected civilian President of the United States embraced his generals’ pursuit of a new military-globalist alliance and escalation of military threats foremost against North Korea, but including Russia and China. Afghanistan was immediately targeted for an expanded intervention.

Trump effectively replaced Bannon’s economic nationalist strategy with a revival Obama’s multi-war military approach.

The Trump regime re-launched the US attacks on Afghanistan and Syria –exceeding Obama’s use of drone attacks on suspected Muslim militants. He intensified sanctions against Russia and Iran, embraced Saudi Arabia’s war against the people of Yemen and turned the entire Middle East policy over to his ultra-Zionist Political Advisor (Real Estate mogul and son-in-law) Jared Kushner and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.

Trump’s retreat turned into a grotesque rout. The Generals embraced the neoliberal Zionists in Treasury and the Congressional global militarists. Communication Directory Anthony Scaramucci was fired.  Trump’s Chief of Staff General Joe Kelly purged Steve Bannon. Sebastian Gorka was kicked out.

The eight months of internal struggle between the economic nationalists and the neoliberals has ended: The Zionist-globalist alliance with Trump’s Generals now dominate the Power Elite.

Trump is desperate to adapt to the new configuration, allied to his own Congressional adversaries and the rabidly anti-Trump mass media.

Having all but decimated Trump’s economic nationalists and their program, the Power Elite then mounted a series of media-magnified events centering around a local punch-out in Charlottesville, Virginia between ‘white supremacists’ and ‘anti-fascists’. After the confrontation led to death and injury, the media used Trump’s inept attempt to blame both ‘baseball bat’-wielding sides, as proof of the President’s links to neo-Nazis and the KKK. Neoliberal and Zionists, within the Trump administration and his business councils, all joined in the attack on the President, denouncing his failure to immediately and unilaterally blame rightwing extremists for the mayhem.

Trump is turning to sectors of the business and Congressional elite in a desperate attempt to hold onto waning support via promises to enact massive tax cuts and deregulate the entire private sector.

The decisive issue was no longer over one policy or another or even strategy. Trump had already lost on all accounts. The ‘final solution’ to the problem of the election of Donald Trump is moving foreword step-by-step – his impeachment and possible arrest by any and all means.

What the rise and destruction of economic nationalism in the ‘person’ of Donald Trump tells us is that the American political system cannot tolerate any capitalist reforms that might threaten the imperial globalist power elite.

Writers and activists used to think that only democratically elected socialist regimes would be the target of systematic coup d’état. Today the political boundaries are far more restrictive. To call for ‘economic nationalism’, completely within the capitalist system, and seek reciprocal trade agreements is to invite savage political attacks, trumped up conspiracies and internal military take-overs ending in ‘regime change’.

The global-militarist elite purge of economic nationalists and anti-militarists was supported by the entire US left with a few notable exceptions. For the first time in history the left became an organizational weapon of the pro-war, pro-Wall Street, pro-Zionist Right in the campaign to oust President Trump. Local movements and leaders, notwithstanding, trade union functionaries, civil rights and immigration politicians, liberals and social democrats have joined in the fight for restoring the worst of all worlds: the Clinton-Bush-Obama/Clinton policy of permanent multiple wars, escalating confrontations with Russia, China, Iran and Venezuela and Trump’s deregulation of the US economy and massive tax-cuts for big business.

We have gone a long-way backwards: from elections to purges and from peace agreements to police state investigations. Today’s economic nationalists are labeled ‘fascists’; and displaced workers are ‘the deplorables’!

Americans have a lot to learn and unlearn. Our strategic advantage may reside in the fact that political life in the United States cannot get worse – we really have touched bottom and (barring a nuclear war) we can only look up.


Please note James Petras’s most recent book:  
THE END OF THE REPUBLIC AND THE DELUSION OF EMPIRE

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September 6, 2017 Posted by | Corruption, Deception, Economics, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Militarism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Iran, India seem to be parting ways on long coveted giant gas field

Indian PM Narendra Modi
Press TV – September 5, 2017

Iran’s Ministry of Petroleum says it has started preliminary talks with Russians to develop Farzad B but negotiations also continue with the Indians who have long coveted the giant gas field.

“For the development of the Farzad B field, we are pursuing three separate paths in parallel, but none of the options is definite yet,” director of the integrated planning at the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) Karim Zobeidi said on Monday.

The third path is the implementation of a development study plan in cooperation with a foreign consultant and Iran’s Petropars company, the official explained.

Zobeidi said negotiations with the Indians have not achieved satisfactory results but they have not stopped either and that Iran was pursuing preliminary talks with a Russian company as the second path.

“Along these two routes, the study of the development of Farzad A and B and the feasibility of the injection of gas from these fields into Aghajari (oil field) in cooperation with a foreign consultant and Petropars company is in progress,” he added.

Indian companies discovered the Farzad B gas field in Iran in 2008 and have bid several times for the development rights.

The Indians were supposed to develop the field after its exploration, but they stopped their activities after the West intensified sanctions on the Islamic Republic in 2012.

With the lifting of the sanctions, India once again called for the development of Farzad B by ONGC Videsh which is the overseas investment arm of the country’s biggest energy exploration firm.

According to an agreement, the Indians were first to submit a technical plan and then a financial proposal for the development of the field, but Iran did not agree with the other side’s financial proposals.

In the absence of an agreement between Iran and India, the development plan for Farzad B will be put to international tender.

In May, Minister of Petroleum Bijan Zangeneh announced that Iran had signed a basic agreement with Russia’s energy giant Gazprom over the development of Farzad B.

Indians shift attention to Israel

On Monday, Reuters cited India’s Oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan as saying that state-run Oil and Natural Gas Corp planned to bid for disputed Israeli offshore oil-and-gas exploration blocks.

A high-ranking Indian delegation visited Israel last month to discuss taking part in the tender for blocks in the Mediterranean Sea, the news agency reported.

“We will definitely bid for Israel’s oil-and-gas blocks,” Reuters quoted Pradhan as saying.

New Delhi has deep military ties with Tel Aviv but they reportedly seek to expand their relationship to other sectors such as energy and technology following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Israel in July.

According to Reuters, Israeli officials were pleased with the visit by the Indian economic team, while many oil majors have been hesitant to enter the Israeli market, fearing a backlash from oil-rich Arab states.

Lebanon has a long-standing dispute with Israel which stands accused of stealing Arab resources.

Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri has said Israel was overtly stealing Lebanon’s underwater oil and gas reserves off the coast of south Lebanon. Hezbollah has warned that it would use force to protect Lebanon’s resources.

The gas discoveries have created a new source of friction between Lebanon and Israel, which have clashed repeatedly.

Lacking in natural resources, Israel has said it had discovered two fields thought to contain about 24 trillion cubic meters of natural gas, enough to make it energy self-sufficient for decades. Lebanese leaders have said the reserves were a “golden opportunity” for Lebanon to service its huge debt and rebuild its economy.

September 5, 2017 Posted by | Economics, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation | , , , , , | 2 Comments