President Obama is racing forward to establish his imperial legacy throughout Russia, Asia and Latin America. In the last two years he has accelerated the buildup of his military nuclear arsenal on the frontiers of Russia. The Pentagon has designed a high tech anti-missile system to undermine Russian defenses.
In Latin America, Obama has shed his shallow pretense of tolerating the center–left electoral regimes. Instead he is has joined with rabid authoritarian neo-liberals in Argentina; met with the judges and politicians engineering the overthrow of the current Brazilian government; and encouraged the emerging far-rightwing regimes in Peru under Keiko Fujimori and Colombia under President Santos.
In Asia, Obama has clearly escalated a military build-up threatening China’s principle waterways in the South China Sea. Obama encouraged aggressive and violent separatist groupings in Hong Kong, Tibet, Xinjian and Taiwan. Obama invites Beijing billionaires to relocate a trillion dollars in assets to the ‘laundry machines’ of North America, Europe and Asia. Meanwhile he has actively blocked China’s long-planned commercial ’silk route’ across Myanmar and west Asia.
In the Middle East, President Obama joined with Saudi Arabia as Riyadh escalated its brutal war and blockade in Yemen. He directed Kenya and other African predator states to attack Somalia. He has continued to back mercenary armies invading Syria while collaborating with the Turkish dictator, Erdogan, as Turkish troops bomb Kurdish, Syrian and Iraqi fighters who are engaged on the front lines against Islamist terrorism.
President Obama and his minions have consistently groveled before the Jewish State and its US Fifth Column, massively increasing US ‘tribute’ to Tel Aviv. Meanwhile, Israel continues to seize thousands of acres of Palestinian land murdering and arresting thousands of Palestinians, from young children to aged grandparents.
The Obama regime is desperate to overcome the consequences of his political, military and economic failures of the past six years and establish the US as the uncontested global economic and military power.
At this stage, Obama’s supreme goal is to leave an enduring legacy, where he will have: (1) surrounded and weakened Russia and China; (2) re-converted Latin America into an authoritarian free-trade backyard for US plunder; (3) turned the Middle East and North Africa into a bloody playpen for Arab and Jewish dictators bent on brutalizing whole nations and turning millions into refugees to flood Europe and elsewhere.
Once this ‘legacy’ is established, our ‘Historic Black President’ can boast that he has dragged our ‘great nation’ into more wars for longer periods of time, costing more diverse human lives and creating more desperate refugees than any previous US President, all the while polarizing and impoverishing the great mass of working Americans. He will, indeed, set a ‘high bar’ for his incumbent replacement, Madame Hilary Clinton to leap over and even expand.
To examine the promise of an Obama legacy and avoid premature judgements, it is best to briefly recall the failures of his first 6 years and reflect on his current inspired quest for a ‘place in history’.
Fear, Loathing and Retreat
Obama’s shameless bailout of Wall Street contrasted sharply with the desires and sentiments of the vast majority of Americans who had elected him. This was a historic moment of great fear and loathing where scores of millions of Americans demanded the federal government reign in the financial criminals, stop the downward spiral of household bankruptcies and home foreclosures and recover America’s working economy. After a brief honeymoon following his ‘historic election’, the ‘historic’ President Obama turned his back on the wishes of the people and transferred trillions of public money to ‘bailout’ the banks and financial centers on Wall Street.
Not satisfied with betraying the American workers and the beleaguered middle class, Obama reneged on his campaign promises to end the war(s) in the Middle East by increasing the US troop presence and expanding his drone-assassination warfare against Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and Syria.
US troops re-invaded Afghanistan, fought and retreated in defeat. The Taliban advanced. The US expanded its training of the puppet Iraqi army, which collapsed on its first encounters with the Islamic State. Washington retreated again. Regime change in Libya, Egypt and Somalia created predator-mercenary states without any semblance of US control and dominance.
Obama had become both a master of military defeats and financial swindles.
In the Western Hemisphere, a continent of independent Latin American governments had emerged to challenge US supremacy. The ‘Historic President’ Obama was dismissed as a clueless hack of the US Empire who lacked any rapport with governments south of the Panama Canal. While trade and investment flourished between Latin America and Asia; Washington fell behind. Regional political and economic agreements expanded, but Obama was left without allies.
Obama’s clumsy attempts at US-backed ‘regime change’ were defeated in Venezuela and elsewhere. Only the small, corrupt narco-state of Honduras fell into Obama’s orbit with the Hillary Clinton-engineered overthrow of its elected populist-nationalist president.
China and Russia expanded and flourished as commodities boomed, wealth expanded and demand for Chinese manufactures exploded.
By 2013 Obama had no legacy.
The Recovery: Obama’s Lost Legacy
Obama began the road to establishing his ‘legacy’ with the US-financed coup in Ukraine, spearheaded by the first bona fide Nazi militia since WWII. After celebrating the violent ‘regime change’ against Ukraine’s elected government, Obama’s new oligarch-puppet regime and its ethno-nationalist army have been a disaster, losing control of the industrialized Donbas region to ethnic Russian rebels and completely losing the strategic Crimea when the population overwhelmingly voted to re-join Russia after 50 years. Meanwhile, the oligarch-’president’ Poroshenko and his fellow puppets have pilfered several billion dollars in ‘aid’ from the EU… all in pursuit of the Obama legacy’.
Obama then slapped devastating economic sanctions against Russia for its role in the Crimean referendum and its support for the millions of Russian speakers in Donbas, and in the process forced the European Union to make major trade sacrifices. For their role in creating a real “American legacy” for Mr. Obama, the Germans, French and the other twenty-eight countries have sacrificed billions of Euros in trade and investments – alienating large sectors of their own agricultural and manufacturing economy.
The Obama regime placed nuclear weapons on the Polish border with Russia, pointed at the Russian heartland. Estonians, Lithuanians and Latvians joined Obama’s military exercises stationing US ships and attack aircraft in the Baltic Sea threatening Russia’s security.
Obama’s Legacy in Latin America
The Obama regime intensified its efforts to re-establish supremacy with the demise of the center-left regimes following elections in late 2013 to the present.
Obama’s ‘legacy’ in Latin America is based on the return to power of neo-liberal elites in the region. Their successful elections were the result of several factors, including: (1) the rise of rightwing economic power in Latin America; (2) the decay and corruption of political power within the Left; 3) incapacity of the Left to develop its own independent mass media to challenge the media monopoly of the right; and (4) the failure of center-left regimes to diversify their economy and develop growth outside the boundaries defined by the dominant capitalist sectors.
The Obama regime worked closely with the political-business elite, organizing the political campaigns and controlling key economic policies even during the center-Left governments. The Left regimes had financed, subsidized and rewarded right-wing business interests in agro-mineral industries, banking, and the media as well as in manufacturing and imports.
As long as worldwide demand for primary materials was strong, the Center-Left governments had plenty of room to adjust their social spending for workers while accommodating business interests. When demand and prices fell, budget deficits forced the Center-Left to cut back on social spending for the masses as well as subsidies for the business elite. In response, the business sector organized a full-scale attack on the government – in defense of elite power. The Center-Left failed to counter the growing power and position of their business elite adversaries.
The business elite launched a full-scale propaganda war via its captive mass media – focusing on real or imagined corruption scandals discrediting Center-Left politicians. The Left lacked its own effective mass media to answer the Right’s accusations, having failed to democratize the corporate media monopolies.
The Center-Left parties adopted the elite’s technique of financing political campaigns – namely, through bribes, contract concessions, patronage other deal making with billionaire private and state contractors. The center-Left imagined it could compete with the free-market rightwing in financing campaigns and candidates via swindlers – and not through class struggle. This was a game they could never master.
The Right, however, mobilized their allies within police, judicial and public institutions to prosecute and disqualify the Center-Left for committing the same crimes the Right had evaded.
The Center-Left did not mobilize the workers and employees to establish even minimal controls over the elite and assume some managerial power. They thought they could compete with the Right on its own terms, through shady business and chicanery.
The Center-Left relied on financing its administration and policies through the commodity boom in demand for its natural resources – overlooking the fundamental instability and volatility of the global commodity market. While the Right openly condemned the ‘weakness of the Center-Left’ – in private, it pursued policies even more dependent on overseas speculators and narrow elites.
In Argentina, as the economy declined, the leadership of the rightwing, led by Mauricio Marci, launched a successful presidential campaign involving the mass media, banks, middle class voters and agro-mining elites. Immediately upon taking power, the Macri regime cut social services for workers and the lower middle class, slashing their living standards and lay off thousands of government employees. Obama saw Macri as his kind of legacy savior and viewed Argentina as the new center of US power in Latin America – with plans for more regime change in Brazil, Venezuela and throughout the region.
In Brazil, the Center-Left Workers’ Party (PT) faced a massive attack on its power base by the extreme rightwing parties. Corruption scandals rocked the entire spectrum of the political class, but the PT was most heavily implicated by massive fraud in Brazil’s huge national oil company, Petrobras. The PT regime’s troubles intensified as the country entered a recession with the drop in demand for its agro-mining exports. Growing fiscal deficits compounded the regime’s problems. The Brazilian hard Right mobilized its entire apparatus of elite power – the courts, judges, police and intelligence agencies – in a bid to overthrow the PT government and impose an authoritarian neo-liberal regime seizing all financial, business and productive assets.
The Center-Left had never been very left, if at all. Under Presidents Lula and Rousseff (2003-2016), the powerful mining and agricultural elites flourished; banking, investment and multi-national enterprises prospered. The Center-Left made some paternalistic concessions to the lowest income classes, and increased wages for labor and farm workers. But the PT relegated labor to the background while it signed business agreements and granted tax concessions to capital. It failed to engage Brazilian workers in class struggle.
The Right was never engaged in any struggle with a genuine leftist government pressing business for structural changes. Nevertheless, the Right sought to eliminate even the most superficial reforms. It would accept nothing short of total control, including: the privatization of the major national oil company, the reduction of wages, pensions and transport subsidies and a slashing of social programs. The Brazilian Rightwing coup – a fake impeachment organized by indicted crooks – is designed to vastly re-concentrate wealth, and re-establish the power of business, while plunging millions into poverty and repressing the principal organized mass movements. In Brazil, the elite-controlled media, courts and politicians act as judge, jury and jailers – against a center-left regime which had never taken control over the major institutions of elite power.
Obama and the Axis of his Legacy
Political rightists join police to control the multitudes and seize power, re-establishing deep ties among Brazil, Washington and Argentina. They will then move toward the neo-liberal re-conquest of all Latin America. Against this new wave, it must be understood that Obama’s Latin American legacy is too recent, too hasty and too disjointed – the new Right exhibits the same or even worse features of the recently deceased Left.
Argentina’s Marci borrows $15 billion at 8% interest, when the economy is fracturing, employment is collapsing, exports and worldwide demand is declining. At the same time, President Mauricio Marci’s cabinet is plagued by major financial scandals ‘a la Panama Papers’. The entire political party-trade union-employed working class is profoundly disenchanted with Marci’s minority rule.
Argentina may not turn out to be Obama’s enduring Latin Legacy: While Macri may open the door for a brief Washington take-over, the results will be catastrophic and the future, given Argentina’s recent history of popular street uprisings, is uncertain.
Likewise in Brazil, the impeachment/coup will result in new and more numerous investigations with trials of post-impeachment politicians and a deepening economic crisis. Brazil’s Vice-President, who turned against Rouseff, now faces corruption charges, as do his supporters. The prolonged confrontation precludes any basic continuity. The rightwing regime’s policy of slashing wages, pensions and poverty ‘baskets’ will detonate large-scale confrontations with the polarized population. Obama’s ‘legacy’ will be a brief episode – celebrating the ouster of the Workers’ Party President followed by a long period of instability and disorder.
Rightist regimes in Venezuela, Colombia and Peru will be part of Obama’s ‘legacy’ but to what lasting end?
The Venezuelan rightwing congress – dubbed the MUD – seeks to overthrow the elected president. It demands the release of several right-wing assassins from prison, the privatization of the oil industry, and a deep cut in social programs (health and education). They would reduce employees’ wages and eliminate food subsidies. The MUD has no competent plan or capacity to grow the oil economy and overcome chronic food shortages. The MUD would merely replace the Left’s subsidized economy with massive price increases for basic commodities — reducing domestic consumption to a fraction of its current level. In other words, the right-wing offensive may defeat the Chavista left but it will not stabilize Venezuela or develop a viable neo-liberal alternative. Any new rightwing regime will deteriorate rapidly and the chronic problem of criminal violence will exceed the current levels. The alliance between Washington and Venezuela’s far right will hardly support Obama’s claim to a historic legacy. More likely, it will serve as another example of a failed right wing state unable to replace a weakening left regime.
Similar circumstances can be found among other ‘emerging’ rightist regimes.
In Colombia, the current rightwing President Santos talks to the FARC guerrillas, but also accommodates the paramilitary death squads. His talks of peace settlements and social reform are linked to the genocidal right, led by the former President Uribe. Meanwhile, the economy stagnates with oil and metal prices collapsing on the world market. Colombian living standards have declined and the promise of a rightwing revival grows dim. The US-Colombian alliance may undercut the FARC but the rightwing does not offer any prospect for modernizing the economy or stabilizing the society.
Similarly in Peru, the rightwing wins votes and embraces free markets, but growth declines, investments and profits dry up and mass disenchantment grows among the poor promising street conflicts.
The Obama ‘legacy’ in Latin America has followed a series of brutal victories, which have no capacity to re-impose a stable ‘new order’ of free markets and free elections. The initial wave of favorable investments and lucrative concessions will fail to revive and recalibrate a new growth dynamics.
More ominously, Obama relied on mass murder to replace an elected leftist-nationalist president in Honduras and imposed a regime of terror against the poor and indigenous population. Meanwhile, illicit offshore handouts reward speculators in Argentina.
Obama’s legacy in Latin America reflects an entire spectrum from illicit-rightwing coups to oust the elected governments in Brazil and Venezuela, to elected authoritarian presidents in Peru and Colombia with historic links to death squads and multi-million dollar overseas accounts.
Obama’s contemporary ‘Latin American legacy’ reeks of gross electoral manipulation preparing the ground for bloody class wars.
Obama’s Legacy in the Ukraine, Yemen and Syria
The Obama regime thought it could manage widespread conflicts, uprisings and wars to advance its global supremacy.
To that end, Obama spent billions of dollars in weapons and propaganda arming Neo-Nazi para-military troops to seize power in Ukraine. A grotesque, brutal gang of oligarchs (and disgraced, foreign fugitives – like the ousted Georgian leader, Mikhail Saakashvili) served Washington in the puppet Kiev regime. Critics, journalists, jurists and citizens are being assassinated. The economy has collapsed; prices skyrocket; incomes declined by half; unemployment tripled and millions have sought refuge abroad. Wars raged between Russian ethnic citizen armies in the Donbas and the puppet Kiev regime. The people of Crimea voted to rejoin Russia. Meanwhile, economic sanctions against trade with Russia have exacerbated shortages for the people of Ukraine.
Under Obama’s stewardship the Ukraine became a world-class… basket case: so much for his European legacy. He can rightly claim credit for imposing a thoroughly retrograde regime of Klepto-capitalism with no redeeming feature.
Obama embraced Saudi Arabia’s war against Yemen – destroying the life and cities of the poorest nation in the Middle East. Obama’s ‘legacy’ in Yemen stands for the systematic obliteration of a sovereign people: Obama performs his tricks for billionaire Saudi despots while savaging the innocent. To the Israelis in Palestine and the Saudis in Yemen, Obama pays homage to the criminals responsible for millions of shattered lives.
What of the Obama ‘legacy’ in Syria and Libya? How many million Africans and Arabs have been murdered or fled on rotten boats in destitution. Only the rankest gang of corrupt media pundits in the US media can pretend this gangster President should evade a war crimes tribunal.
The Obama regime has pursued wars of unremitting destruction. It has forged partnerships with terrorists and death squads as it seeks short-term imperial victories, which end in dismal failures.
The imperial legacy of this ‘historic’ president is a mirage of pillage, squalor and destruction. The effect of his political lies has even begun register here among the American public: Who trusts the US Congress and the President? And in Europe, who trusts Obama’s European partners as they eagerly pushed for wars in the Middle East and North Africa and now fear and loathe the millions of their victims–refugees fleeing to the cities of Europe, with the drowned corpses of uprooted communities spoiling their beaches?
Obama pushed for wars and the Europeans receive the victims – with fear and disgust.
Obama’s victories are temporary, blighted and reversed.
Obama bombed Afghanistan yesterday and now flees renewed resistance.
Obama’s allies are again plundering Latin America but face imminent ouster via popular uprisings.
Obama terrorized and fragmented Syria yesterday but lost elections the day after.
Obama threatens China’s economy while eagerly buying China’s products.
The Obama legacy began as a failed military and economic offensive accompanying a profound social crisis. During his final year in office, Obama tries to forge alliances with the dregs of the hard right to save his legacy. His brief advance into this sordid world of neo-liberals, neo-Nazis and Saudi despots is a prelude to more retreat and chaos.
Obama’s public celebration of the right turn in Asia, Latin America, Europe and the Middle East applauds the most retrograde alignment of forces in modern times: Saudis and Israelis; Egyptian generals and Libyan jihadis; neo-Ottoman Turks with Ukrainian gangster-oligarchs. Regime changes in Argentina and Brazil encourage Obama to claim vindication of his imperial legacy.
His ‘moment’ of imperial truth is brief, all too brief. Everywhere, we witness the rapid rise of imperial success followed by a series of debacles.
Throughout Latin America capitalist profiteers plunge into wild financial adventures, theft and chaos. In the Middle East, the US stands on the crumbling palaces of a moribund Saudi regime. The much-proclaimed imperial advances are based on grand theft everywhere, from Egypt and Turkey to the Ukraine.
Simply stated: the US formula for a successful legacy is failing at the precise moment that it claims success! Obama and the Right have created a world of chaos and disintegration. Obama and his legions, the US and Europe have no future in peace or war, election or defeats.
There is no imperial legacy for the ‘historic’ President Obama!
The media-as-public-relations-machine was in full swing last week, abuzz over Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan’s public letter to their daughter that contained a $45 billion pledge to establish the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.
The mainstream media produced an avalanche of praise. “Mark Zuckerberg Philanthropy Pledge Sets New Giving Standard,” announced Bloomberg Business, who declared that Zuckerberg and Chan were “setting a new philanthropic benchmark by committing their massive fortune to charitable causes while still in their early thirties.” From the Wall Street Journal came more praise: “Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan to Give 99% of Facebook Shares to Charity.”
But when BuzzFeed revealed the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative was not a nonprofit, but a for-profit Limited Liability Corporation (LLC), which has no obligation to actually engage in charitable activity, the tenor of some of the commentary became more negative. Was the donation to a Delaware-based LLC nothing more than a way to duck California taxes?
The truth is that both nonprofit and for-profit charities can and do serve as tax shelters for the obscenely wealthy. Non-profits themselves have few restrictions around them, and only require that 5 percent of a foundation’s assets each year be spent towards its stated charitable goals, including expenses and lobbying.
Still, in the last few years we’ve seen the growth of ventures like Google.org, the charitable but largely for-profit division of Google created in 2006 with $900 million worth of Google stock. Freed from the even the limited guidelines to which nonprofits are held, some of the projects Google.org has poured money into have happened to also generate mountainous profits for Google.
For example, the One Laptop Per Child initiative’s stated mission to get $100 computers into the hands of “each and every one” of the world’s poorest children also captures lucrative data from millions of new computer users in almost entirely untapped markets.
Similar to Google.org, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative chose a form that would allow them to invest in profit-making initiatives, including ones that could bring new profits to Facebook. Chan and Zuckerberg’s pledge to give everyone on earth access to the Internet, like the One Laptop Per Child initiative, will both provide real services for a great many people while simultaneously creating millions of new potential Facebook users (although they do perhaps overstate with the claim, “If our generation connects them, we can lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty”).
At the same time, Chan Zuckerberg can take advantage of their status as a tax-qualified charity to save huge sums of money. As Forbes observed:
This generosity is also incredibly tax efficient . . . Donating appreciated stock is a much better tax move than selling it and donating the sales proceeds. After all, by donating the stock, the gain he would have experienced on selling it is never taxed . . . since [Chan Zuckerberg] is a tax-qualified charity, if it sells the stock it pays no tax regardless of how big the gain. And since Mr Zuckerberg will get credit on his tax return for the market value of what he donates, he can use that to shelter billions of other income.
Of course, sizable donations to charity frequently receive glowing press coverage which is also quite valuable. The transformation of Bill Gates’s reputation — Zuckerberg’s childhood hero — after creating the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is instructive.
Throughout the 1990s Microsoft’s hyperaggressive business practices resulted in a 2000 Justice Department verdict that Microsoft was a monopoly. Several billion dollars in fines from myriad US and European regulatory bodies followed and Bill Gates was widely painted as a bully in the popular press.
The PR turnaround afforded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation might be the most effective — and expensive — in history. Today Bill Gates is treated by the media as an important thinker in the fight against disease and the debates around education reform. He is regarded as a humanitarian with something to say about making the world a better place, a regard that stands in contrast to his actual commitments.
Since the early days of Microsoft, Gates has ardently supported patent law and its enforcement, which puts medicines out of reach for most, particularly in the Global South. He has also thrown millions at a host of education initiatives that are so anti-teacher that the American Federation of Teachers recently announced they would no longer take money from the Gates Foundation.
Zuckerberg has already attempted to use a big donation to improve his reputation and that of Facebook, which has repeatedly been caught capturing private information with the intention to monetize it. His $100 million donation to charter schools in Newark was timed just weeks after the release of the Zuckerberg biopic The Social Network, and right before the release of charter school booster documentary Waiting for Superman. Time will tell what this latest attempt at reputation management does for Zuckerberg’s public standing.
Everyone has ideas about how the world should be different and those with vast fortunes have an inordinate amount of power to realize those visions. Sometimes the vision is for a cause like fighting malaria or providing homeless shelters. Other times it’s more self-interested, like when Bill and Melinda Gates put Windows computers in high schools, keeping Macs out and training a generation to use Windows machines.
More importantly, the concentration of so much power and reach in the hands of billionaire philanthropists presents real problems for democracy. Every dollar a billionaire realizes in “tax savings” is a dollar starved from the public coffers. The tens of billions Zuckerberg would pay in taxes could go a very long way to, say, enhancing the $69 billion budget allocated for public education this year.
While the US government is certainly not a bastion of democracy, there are at least formal mechanisms that put tax-based, public funding in the realm of democratic decision-making. There are public budget proposals, hearings, and votes, and elections through which we can attempt to hold politicians accountable for their actions. We’ll most likely only have a vague idea what is happening with the money controlled by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative; their LLC status will allow them to avoid making many tax documents public.
These sorts of charitable enterprises give even more control to capitalists — who already have outsized influence in our society — putting them in positions to make decisions that increasingly shape public life for all of us. People like Zuckerberg and Gates are unelected and unaccountable to anyone and face few, if any, repercussions for the negative consequences of their social experiments.
Zuckerberg’s education initiative exemplifies this outsized and damaging role. Despite his limited personal experience with public school — he attended the elite Phillips Exeter Academy and then Harvard — Zuckerberg has begun to commit serious sums of money to reforming public education. His signature donation was $100 million to replace Newark’s public schools with charters. Working with former Newark mayor Corey Booker and Republican Governor Chris Christie, the goal was to completely transform Newark’s schools in five years, and turn them into a model for restructuring other districts across the country.
In order to achieve reforms quickly, they had to bypass the process of public engagement. Free from the constraints of government deliberation, the plans of the nonprofit foundation were not made public until after key decisions had been made. Newark residents first learned about the program the afternoon Booker, Christie, and Zuckerberg announced it on Oprah.
Once the foundation was established, seats on its board were awarded to those who contributed more than $5 million. “A local philanthropist offered $1 million,” reported Diane Ravitch, “but he was turned away because the amount was too small.”
The Newark experiment was a resounding failure and did little more than line the pockets of consultants. Test scores didn’t rise considerably, teachers resisted merit pay, and the woman hired to run the district refuses to attend School Board Advisory meetings because they are still too hostile. The debacle still follows Zuckerberg. Last week, many of the most glowing reports of his $45 billion donation had to mention his previous philanthropic endeavor.
Zuckerberg has continued to make investments in education since Newark, claiming he’s learned from the experience and wants to improve. Still, he’s just one relatively new player in the education reform movement.
The Gates Foundation has spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to restructure the US public school system, with $200 million going to Common Core — a curriculum initiative opposed by educators and parents across the country. Eli Broad Foundation has also spent lavishly — including a nearly $500 million plan to put half of Los Angeles students into 260 new charter schools. The Walton Foundation has spent over $1 billion supporting charters and vouchers.
The war on public education by the ultra wealthy — using tax-sheltered dollars which otherwise might have gone to improve public education — reveals a deep hostility to democracy.
We should demand better: Instead of waiting to see how his charity will impact our lives, Zuckerberg’s wealth should be put under democratic control, so we can collectively decide how it can be used to improve society.
On April 23, a New York Times article by Nicholas Casey quoted a businessman in the earthquake-ravaged city of Portoviejo complaining about temporary tax increases that Rafael Correa’s government announced to pay for reconstruction which is presently estimated to cost US$2 to US$3 billion. Casey didn’t tell his readers that the areas impacted by the earthquake would be exempt from the new taxes and also given tax cuts.
The article inaccurately reported there would be “a one-time garnishing of government wages for those earning more than US$1,000 a month.” The measure would apply to all wages outside the disaster areas, not just “government wages.” Casey neglected to mention that most Ecuadorians earn less than US$1,000 per month. The average monthly salary is US$574 per month, not exactly a fact that would be common knowledge to the vast majority of NYT readers.
The biggest howler in the article is the assertion that the IMF has been “long shunned” in Ecuador “for its demands to cut government spending”. That’s like saying people avoid dealing with the Mafia because “they‘ve been known to be unpleasant”: true but wildly misleading. By the beginning of the 21st century, the IMF lost a tremendous amount of influence in Latin America because from 1980 to 2000 it had bullied governments into adopting disastrous policies which are known as “neoliberalism.”
Ecuador’s real GDP per capita grew by a pitiful 5 percent from 1980 to 1998 compared to over 100 percent in the previous two decades. Then, in 1999, Ecuador’s banking sector collapsed under the weight of corruption and a neoliberal obsession with “central bank independence” and financial deregulation. By 2000, real GDP per capita fell below what it had been in 1980.
Casey quotes Jose Hidalgo, an economist who has praised Ecuadorian governments of the neoliberal era for having “saved” money. Those governments certainly “saved” for various huge bailouts of Ecuador’s super rich like the infamous “secretization” of 1983 and the bank bailouts in 1999. Those governments also “saved” in order to make interest payments to foreign investors for debt that had often been illegally contracted.
By the time Correa took office in 2007, decades of neoliberalism had left Ecuador’s roads, public hospitals, schools and other basic infrastructure in shambles. The World Economic Forum ranked Ecuador’s roads tenth among 18 countries in the region in 2006. By 2015 they were ranked as the best. The efficiency of Ecuador’s public services, as ranked by the Inter-American Development Bank, rose from next to last among the 16 countries it evaluated to sixth best in the region. Comparative studies by the U.N. found that the quality of Ecuador’s educational system is one of the most improved in the region since 2006.
Economists like Hidalgo don’t generally try to deny the vast improvements in Ecuador’s infrastructure under Correa’s government. Instead they vaguely decry “excessive public spending.” Presumably, Ecuador’s infrastructure and public services should have been left in a deplorable state. Imagine Ecuador’s government refusing to rebuild the damage from the recent earthquake and then bragging about how much money it “saved.”
That sums up the warped logic behind Hidalgo’s view, one that was tragically put into practice during the neoliberal era. Is a country better equipped to confront natural disasters when traveling through the country is badly hampered by dilapidated roads; when hospitals are in short supply and are under equipped and understaffed; when rescue workers and other public servants are poorly paid, inadequately trained and do not have proper equipment?
Casey wrote that oil prices “once fueled a government spending bonanza.” The “bonanza” actually had more to do with clamping down on tax avoidance by the rich and sensibly regulating its financial sector. Real per capita tax revenues doubled between 2006 (the year Correa was first elected) and 2012. At their highest point during Correa’s time in office, inflation-adjusted oil revenues per capita, accounting for costs of extraction, were lower than they were during much of the 1970s and 1980s.
Moreover, early on in Correa’s presidency, Ecuador’s economy suffered a massive external shock due to the global recession of 2009 which drove oil prices down. So even before oil prices collapsed in 2014, Correa’s government did not have exceptionally high oil revenues compared to previous governments.
Another blow from the 2009 global recession was a drop in remittances from Ecuadorians living abroad. One legacy of the neoliberal era is that remittances from Ecuadorians who fled their country during those years became very important to Ecuador’s economy. The fact that Ecuador has reduced poverty by about half during Correa’s time in office cannot be rationally attributed to luck.
Based on resilience to external shocks, there is also no credible argument for returning to economic policies endorsed by Casey’s article. In 2015, Ecuador avoided recession despite losing 7 percent of its GDP to the oil price collapse. In 1987, under the neoliberal government of Febres Cordero, Ecuador went into recession when export revenues dropped by only 1.84 percent of GDP.
Casey never seemed to consider that there were facts and counterarguments to the views expressed by his sources. In the United States, newspapers like the New York Times present Paul Ryan, who wants to eliminate the entire federal government (with the exception of the military) from the U.S. economy, as a serious policy expert. So it isn’t surprising that successful public investment in Ecuador is eagerly presented as wasteful. If you can’t identify extremists and charlatans at home, you probably won’t do so abroad either.
Former economy minister Axel Kicillof warned Friday that the decision would lead to harsh austerity in the country.
Argentina repaid its holdout creditors on Friday, ending a 15-year dispute with vulture fund holders who rejected debt restructuring that followed Argentina’s US$100 billion debt default in 2001.
“The republic has made full payment in accordance with the specific terms of each such agreement,” Argentina’s chief lawyer working on the case said in a statement to a U.S. court on Friday.
Argentina handed over US$6.2 billion to settle disputes with 20 creditors. It is due to pay another US$3.1 billion in the coming days to settle lingering claims, the finance ministry explained in a statement.
The move follows a decision handed down earlier this month by a U.S. court that cleared the way for Argentina to start borrowing again, which had been excluded from international markets after breakdown in talks with the country’s the holdout creditors.
Argentina has since raised US$16.5 billion in funds from international lenders in order to payback the creditors that have been holding out for more than a decade.
However, the decision by the government of President Mauricio Macri to reopen negotiations with vulture funds has been met with sharp criticism within Argentina.
Former economy minister Axel Kicillof told Argentine media on Friday that the new debts would be followed by further painful public spending cuts that will affect the poorest Argentines most.
The case also raised crucial questions about contracts and the rights of both borrowers and lenders in the massive and largely unregulated global sovereign debt markets.
Last September, the U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favor of a sovereign debt restructuring proposal, which would grant countries the right to design their own macro economic policy, including restructuring its own sovereign debt.
Whether one supports or opposes raising the minimum wage, there are any number of studies with which to reinforce either position. There is an old adage which states that while figures will not lie, liars will figure. Consequently, the issue continues to provide ample fodder for those operating in our hyper-partisan political arena.
While Republicans have created an echo chamber with the soundbite that raising the minimum wage inevitably results in job losses, most studies representing that point of view are tailored to fit a particular industry or class of workers.
The federal minimum wage was last increased on July 24, 2009, when it rose from $6.55 to $7.25per hour. It was approved by Congress in 2007 and was raised incrementally over a period of three years. Before 2007, the minimum wage had been stuck at $5.15per hour for ten years. Given the intransigence of Republicans in Congress, the Democrats have recently adopted a strategy of framing the minimum wage in terms of a “living wage”. No one in their right mind would consider $7.25 per hour a living wage, but there still exists valid arguments on multiple fronts against raising the minimum.
Teen employment and voluntary part-time employment as a convenience for the employee provide instances where a living wage may not be paramount in one’s decision to seek employment. However, shouldn’t a low-skilled employee, necessary for a business’ operations, deserve a wage sufficient to provide a minimum standard of living? My libertarian friends would argue that the government has no proper role in determining such things but, given our network of subsidies for the working poor, doesn’t the current minimum wage in fact equate to a taxpayer-funded subsidy to some in the business sector?
There are few certainties in life, but one is that raising the minimum wage would affect individual businesses differently and they could/would respond differently. Soundbites will never adequately explain the ramifications of such a decision.
To complicate matters, states and localities have adopted minimum wage laws exceeding the federal mandate. Most recently, cities such as Seattle and states such as New York and California have passed laws to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour over time. While I certainly support such efforts, these changes can put these early adopters at a competitive disadvantage.
In an era where the domestic supply of labor has outstripped demand, due to businesses shipping jobs overseas and importing lower-wage foreign workers, an artificial imbalance has occurred. The result of these developments has created downward pressure on wages and states and communities with lower minimum wage laws will continue to cannibalize those with higher wage mandates. While I believe other actions must be taken to reverse the trend of offshoring jobs and importing foreign labor, an increase in the federal minimum wage would provide much needed consistency nationwide.
If and when the federal minimum wage is raised, not only should it be raised to an agreed upon rate adjusted for inflation, it should also be raised in the future as a function of inflation instead of Congressional whim. The practice would achieve a dual benefit for both employees and employers. Employees working for minimum wage could rely on increases to offset inflation and employers would have more certainty when preparing future budgets and profit projections.
Other countries, not the U.S., have oligarchs apparently.
I’d submitted several questions, but first a word on the choreography of the event: Virtually every “news maker” event I recall seeing at the Press Club had the speaker at the head table which is on a stage a few feet up, speaking at a podium. This event, it was just her and the moderator, Press Club President Thomas Burr on two cushy chairs on the stage, with the “head table” below them. Whether this was to elevate the two of them, save her the trouble of having prepared remarks, a new thing, an attempt to cast the billionaire in a more casual light — inspired by Davos type events — I don’t know. But it was weird.
Speaking of choreography, on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue around the same time, several hundred people were arrested at the Capitol Building as part of the “Democracy Spring” and “Democracy Awakening” actions. It seemed odd to me, protests happening, with “arrests” as part of a very planned action, aimed in part against money in politics, while the very personification of big business advocacy in government received virtually no scrutiny.
It’s not just her job, or that she and her family is incredibly rich. It’s that Pritzker enriched herself by crashing a bank with sub-prime loans, causing 1,400 people to lose their savings. In addition, a relation of hers was mentioned in the Panama Papers. So while so many were breathlessly reporting on associates of official bad guys like Putin being mentioned in the Panama Papers, hardly a soul noted the Pritzker connection. Finally, and perhaps most incredibly, Forbes several years ago did an investigation in to the Pritzker family and found that they set up shell companies decades ago in ways that would be illegal now. It’s in a sense not just oligarchy, it’s aristocracy. A newly rich person can’t do what they’ve done, according to Forbes. [See a summery off each of these issues, based on investigations by Tim Anderson, Dennis Bernstein, Stephane Fitch and McClatchy.]
And off shore shell companies were in the news of late. Oxfam just released a report claiming: “Tax dodging by multinational corporations costs the U.S. approximately $111 billion each year and saps an estimated $100 billion every year from poor countries” [PDF]. A prior report from the Tax Justice Network would seem to indicate that this was a severe under estimate. That found that as of 2010, the super-rich are hiding at least $21 trillion in accounts outside their home countries [PDF].
I’d at least expected a mild question about off shore activity — and figured she’d talk about how the Obama administration is allegedly now making moves to stop tax inversions.
But there was nothing about any of this. At the news maker event, the question I wrote on a card on the nub of the issues at play, was something like this: “A relation of yours — Liesel Pritzker Simmons — is mentioned in the recently released Panama Papers. Do you have comment on the extent of off shore shell companies — especially given your family uses them through grandfather clauses in ways that would not be legal for anyone new now?”
That didn’t get asked, nor did several I’d submitted in an email prior to the to the Press Club president by email:
The Pope — and Bernie Sanders — talk about a “moral economy” — that it’s inherently unjust if a very few individuals and families have enormous wealth while billions on the planet have virtually nothing. Your family of course is enormously wealthy — What do you think of that? (for overview, “Panama Papers: Pritzkers, American Oligarchs“.)
You have been charged with crashing Superior Bank in Chicago with a subprime mortgage scheme, resulting in 1,400 people losing their savings. How do you respond to these charges? (“Obama’s Subprime Conflit” and Bloomberg “Pritzker’s Superior Bank Subprime Losses Blemish Resume“)
Do you argue that your massive fundraising efforts for Obama in 2008 and 2012 had nothing to do with him appointing you as Sec of Commerce? (See from Public Campaign “Penny Pritzker, Not Just an Obama Donor.”)
The name of Liesel Pritzker Simmons appears in the recently released Panama Papers, a relative who sued much of the rest of the family for allegedly trying to cheat her. But what’s perhaps notable about your family, as Forbes has written, is that you set up shell companies decades ago and thus can do things because of grandfather clauses that are not legal any more. Is that moral?
Forbes — which estimates your net worth at 2.3 billion — had specific questions for you for —
* ‘Tell us from the very, very beginning: What led to your being paid $53.6 million in “consultant” income by your family’s offshore trusts in 2012?
* ‘Did your family’s carve-up finally produce significant tax payments?
* ‘Why are you your own biggest debtor?
* ‘Why is even your house in an LLC?
* ‘How do you rack up $250,000 on an American Express card?’
On trade issues and the TPP — how do you respond to —
Zahara Heckscher, a breast cancer patient and writer: “If ratified, the TPP would lock in monopolies for certain new medicines, biological medicines that help people like me stay alive. Monopolies allow drug companies to increase prices dramatically, and high prices decrease access.”
Lori Wallach of Public Citizen: “The aggregate U.S. goods trade deficit with Free Trade Agreement (FTA) partners is more than five times as high as before the deals went into effect, while the aggregate trade deficit with non-FTA countries has actually fallen.”
Manuel Pérez-Rocha of the Institute for Policy Studies — who has argued that NAFTA has pushed many Mexicans to migrate to the US since it has become an “engine of poverty in Mexico” since it has gutted family farming in Mexico, as wells as mom and pop stores, and indigenous industry.
The questions that did get asked were fairly pedestrian and quite friendly: “Can you give us your perspective on the trade and trade agreements, in particular, and any fears about possible trade wars that have been talked about? … What is the Commerce Department doing with the U.S. and international partners to combat the cyber threat to the United States businesses? … Intellectual property of U.S. businesses in many forms; music, movies, have been stolen and stolen frequently. How much does this cost American businesses? [Prizker: ‘I don’t have the exact number in front of me.’] … Do you believe that China is manipulating its currency to gain a trade advantage, and do you see any other countries doing that?” The toughest question was probably “We’ve added nearly $10 trillion to the U.S. debt in the last seven, eight years. Is this a ticking time bomb for the U.S. and the global economy?” See video and PDF.
The last question was: “I understand you are a marathon runner. I would like to know, and our audience, I think, would like to know, what is the secret for training for a marathon?”
It turned out Pritzker didn’t have to run from much in her appearance at the Press Club.
Most progressive governments in Latin America find themselves under intense attack in what is evidently a well synchronized and well financed continental plan of destabilization.
Riots, street demonstrations, anti-corruption campaigns, protests about the domestic negative impact of the world economic crisis, general strikes, impeachment efforts, economic sabotage, and the like, have become the battle horses on which oligarchic forces in cahoots with Washington are riding to carry out “regime change.”
So far, conservative forces in Latin America have been successful in overthrowing President Manuel Zelaya in Honduras in 2009 and President Fernando Lugo in 2012 in Paraguay. Both presidents were ousted by oligarchic parliamentary majorities with mass support from middle class “civic associations”, in complicity with the judiciary, with the latter providing a veneer of legality.
The preconditions for “regime change” take, in some cases, years of careful preparation. This normally involves intoxicating media campaigns of demonization aimed to exacerbate political polarization to the maximum, through the instilling of fear, the staging of aggressive and sometimes violent, middle class mobilizations, the activating of many associations of civil society, and the setting up of, sometimes hundreds, of externally funded NGOs.
The aim is to question the legitimacy of the “target government” which usually involves the systematic discrediting of existing political institutions so as to foster chaos as the most conducive context for “regime change”. This strategy has been “theorized” in manuals that are mass-produced and get heavily promoted free of charge by establishment outfits.(1)
Despite the fastidiousness with which Washington and domestic perpetrators seek to enshrine their efforts at “regime change” in any one nation with the veil of legality, constitutionality, democracy promotion, regional autonomy, and virtuous legitimacy, always a powerful media apparatus is activated the world over, unleashing a barrage of negative reporting and demonization of the “target government” with one overriding message: the solution to created crisis is the ousting of the government.
The favorite demonization is to label the “target government” as a totalitarian dictatorship or in the process of becoming so, unless stopped. This is coupled with regular official condemnatory statements of the “target government” from the U.S. State Dept. and a barrage of U.S. official bodies.
In this “regime change” narrative, the ousting of the target government, being the cause of “civil society’s rebellion”, is fully justified. Thus for example the highly illustrative New York Times editorial of April13, 2002, on occasion of the brief ousting of Hugo Chavez: “Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator.”
The NYT explained that Chavez had been ousted “after the military intervened and handed power to a respected business leader.” The key, therefore, is to portray the “ruler” of the target government as a threat to democratic civilization, thus the NYT editorial justifies the 2002 coup in Venezuela because Chavez “battled the media and alienated virtually every constituency from middle-class professionals, academics and business leaders to union members and the Roman Catholic Church.(2)
So, 21st century “regime change”, different from the more traditional 20th century U.S.-orchestrated coup d’état, involves an intense “battle for hearts and minds”, an essential component of the strategy.(3) Thus, huge financial, political and cultural resources are mobilized to bring about hegemony for “regime change” in society and in all state and civil society institutions, going as far, in some cases, as even co-opting sections of the downtrodden. Most of this is “facilitated” with generous NED and USAID grants awarded over many years.
Faced with its own steady decline and the rise of radical governments in the post-Soviet era, the U.S. seeks to destabilize and oust governments through “color revolutions” as in Georgia, 2003 and the Ukraine, 2004 and 2014. Consequently the U.S. has substantially reorganized its architecture for intervention with the CIA becoming a mere appendix but with USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy and their many associated bodies taking center stage and receiving the lion’s share of the resources. The modality may have changed but U.S. foreign policy remains pretty much what it was: to remove governments it does not like. U.S. State Dept. and USAID budget is bigger than the GPD of many states, in 2016 it was US$50.3 billion.
Among the key U.S. institutions involved in “regime change” is the U.S. State Department, the body with the biggest authority, but there is also the United States Southern Command, the Congress and Senate Foreign Affairs Committees, and the CIA. Then further down the food chain, there are USAID, NED, Office for Transition Initiatives, American Center for International Labor Solidarity and American Institute for Free Labor Development, among the most important ones.
They work closely together and in the pursuance of the same aims, with the International Republican Institute, chaired by John McCain of CHECK; the National Democratic Institute, chaired by Madeline Albright; Transparency International; and Centre for International Private Enterprise. They all channel huge sums to support civil (and when possible) military subversion to create the conditions for “regime change”. They also channel huge sums to fund “civil society” associations, political parties, media outfits, NGOs, professional bodies, trades unions, think tanks, business, student groups and so forth.(4)
These institutions are the field commanders that coordinate the national detachments in every target country around a regional perspective so as to maximize the results of every push for “regime change” in any individual Latin American nation. We are increasingly seeing former right-wing Latin American presidents acting jointly to contribute to the destabilization of Bolivarian Venezuela, for instance.
Additionally there is a raft of “private” or “independent” bodies concerned chiefly with Latin America, the most important of which are Inter-American Press Association; Fundacion para el Analisis y los Estudios Sociales – led by Jose Maria Aznar; the Instituto Prensa y Sociedad; hundreds of Think Tanks; and possibly thousands of NGOs that share the “regime change” aim but that do it from a specialist angle. To all of this architecture of U.S. intervention, the overwhelming majority of the world corporate media play a decisive role, making any U.S. led intervention, a lethal political threat to the survival of any “target government”.
Most progressive governments in Latin America have been or are subjected to systematic levels of traumatic and deliberately created social, economic and political chaos, politics and culture, which in many cases it can go on for years. In Cuba for five decades, in Nicaragua (on and off) nearly four decades and in Venezuela for 17 years thus far, with no end in sight.
Venezuela’s Bolivarian government is currently in the crosshairs of U.S. destabilization plans and “regime change” efforts through an economic war that has the Bolivarian process on the ropes. In Argentina, three years of an intense dirty war against Cristina Fernandez’s government, aspects of which had sinister overtones, paid off when at the November 2015 presidential election, the Right’s candidate, Mauricio Macri, won the election by a small margin of 1 percent. In Ecuador, a police mutiny in September 2010, obviously instigated from abroad and with huge U.S. support, nearly succeeded in ousting the government with with President Rafael Correa miraculously escaping with life.
The destabilization against Ecuador continues with the “revolt” of civil society and very violent street protests. And in Brazil, through a very intense and thoroughly intoxicating media campaign, a “regime change” push seeking to oust the democratically elected and legitimate president Dilma Rousseff is underway, as we write it is not clear whether the effort to oust Dilma will be successful or not.
By substantially reducing export revenues that fund progressive social programs, the persistent world economic crisis significantly helps the “regime change” efforts by the U.S. and its allies. It may be just coincidence but the U.S. ambassador in Paraguay when elected president Fernando Lugo was ousted by a right-wing parliamentary coup, was Liliana Ayalde. The current U.S. ambassador in Brazil, where a right-wing parliamentary coup against elected president Dilma Rousseff is in progress, is Liliana Ayalde.
Bolivar once said that the United States appears to be destined by Providence to plague America with misery in the name of liberty. Exactly, through the NED, USAID and others, the United States must stop destabilizing elected governments in the name of “democracy,” “good governance” and “national security.”
Francisco Dominguez is a senior lecturer at Middlesex University, where he is head of the Centre for Brazilian and Latin American Studies.
(1) See Gene Sharp, “From Dictatorship to Democracy,” Serpent’s Tail, 2011, first published in 2002.
(2) “Hugo Chavez Departs,” New York Times, April 13th, 2002
(3) The overthrow of Honduras President Manuel Zelaya, in June 2009, has led to the book with the very suggestive title “The Good Coup” (Mario Caceres di Iorio, CCB, Canada, 2010).
(4) See “Evolution of USAID and NED in Dominguez,” Lievesley and Ludlam, Right-Wing Politics in the New Latin America, Zed, 2011.
Yesterday Philip Hammond, UK foreign secretary, visited a naval base in Tripoli to be shown docking facilities for British military vessels. The authoritative Jane’s Defence Weekly published that the 150 strong amphibious Special Purpose Task Group of commandos and special forces is in the Mediterranean on the amphibious warfare vessel Mounts Bay. Obviously purely a coincidence with Hammond’s visit!
Just as in Syria and in Yemen it will not be admitted that British forces are in combat. In classic Cold War fashion, they are “military advisers and trainers.” There is a specific development which disconcerts me in Yemen, where the SAS operatives supporting the devastating Saudi bombings of the Houthi population have been seconded to MI6. There is a convention that military operations are reported to Parliament and MI6 operations are not, so the sole purpose of screening the SAS as MI6 is to deceive the UK’s own parliament.
That of course only adds to the utter immorality of British support of the appalling Saudi bombing campaign. Britain’s supplying the arms to the Saudis and lending direct military assistance amounts to complicity in war crime.
Saudi Arabia pursued the overproduction of oil initially to force out high cost US fracking producers. That objective has largely been achieved with a substantive fall in US production. But Saudi strategists have now been struck by the potential for continued low oil prices to cause pressure for the Russian budget. This was a key factor in the Saudi decision to block any moves towards OPEC production curbs. The Saudis are now obsessed with the notion of full Sunni control over Syria, and aim to pile economic pressure on Russia to achieve this. But it is by no means clear that the level of pain which would be required to force Putin to end military support for Assad, would not also put so much strain on the Saudi budget that it would risk destabilising the Saudi regime itself.
Just what could cause western elites to acknowledge that Saudi Arabia is the largest single problem in the Middle East, and that continued support of the House of Saud is entirely counterproductive, it is difficult to envisage. The problem of course is that what is bad for the world can be very profitable for the 1%.
WASHINGTON – The US government has sent Special Envoy Amos Hochstein to Kuwait, Qatar, Egypt and Israel to discuss falling oil prices after the failure of the Doha energy talks, the US Department of State announced in a media note on Monday.
“Special Envoy and Coordinator for International Energy Affairs Amos J. Hochstein will be travelling to the region to meet with key interlocutors in Jerusalem, Cairo, Kuwait City and Doha,” the note stated.
As global oil prices remain near record lows, and the United States emerges as a global exporter of liquefied natural gas, Hochstein will be seeking to strengthen US relationships with partners in the region as well as discuss strategies for addressing the market realities of the energy sector, the note explained.
Hochstein will discuss energy security issues in Israel, power generation issues in Egypt and plans to investment in developing new oil fields and build additional oil refineries in Kuwait, the State Department pointed out.
In Qatar, Hochstein will give a speech emphasizing US support for liquefied natural gas development and its role in reducing global carbon emissions, the note said.
(*What Anne Applebaum really meant but couldn’t say in her Washington Post column.)
The Washington Post’s foreign affairs columnist seems to believe that Dutch people are stupid and, as a result, they shouldn’t be allowed to vote. Of course, she can’t write it directly. So, instead, she blames RT, and other Russian media, for a democratic choice that delivered a result she doesn’t like.
In the legendary 1976 movie, Network, Peter Finch, as Howard Beale, famously bellowed: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” The film was loaded with preachy rants and self-righteous contempt for ordinary folk watching the television channel in question.
Anne Applebaum is a pro-establishment Howard Beale. Given to similar hubris from her various soapboxes. Yet, her visceral hatred of Russia helps makes her position even more entrenched than the fictional anti-hero. As a result, Applebaum seems incapable of reviewing a situation without seeing Russia’s hand somewhere.
Take last week’s Dutch Referendum on the proposed association agreement between Ukraine and the EU.
Numerous analysts, actual EU officials, the Dutch Prime Minister and voters themselves, have given reasons why the scheme was rejected. They have, most prominently, cited anger with the EU’s lack of transparency, Ukrainian corruption, fear of eventual EU membership for another large, poor eastern state and internal Dutch disillusion with the country’s elite.
Over in Kiev, locals have blamed “their (own) political leaders for not doing enough to tackle corruption and improve the country’s image,” according to Reuters correspondents on the ground. Here’s a sample reaction: “People there in Europe understand the level of corruption, that the authorities are now simply incapable of doing anything better for their own citizens,” said Ilya Zhyzhyyan, a 29-year-old Kiev resident. “So the Dutch probably think – why do they need a country that can’t do any good for its own people?”
The head of the Ukrainian parliament’s own committee on European integration MP, Iryna Herashchenko, blasted the fallout from the Panama Papers. The massive data leak contained information that Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko was probably evading taxes while his impoverished country endured a brutal civil war.
As you can see, people directly affected by the Netherlands ballot are capable of offering reasonable explanations for the negative verdict. They make grown up, measured arguments. Yet, Applebaum can only see Russia, Russia, Russia!
In her latest Washington Post column, her primary argument is that “the Dutch just showed the world how Russia influences Western European elections.” You can translate that to mean that Applebaum refuses to accept any other reason for failure aside from dastardly Russian meddling. This is utterly bizarre.
She takes issue with 59 percent of Dutch ‘no’ voters stating that Ukrainian corruption motivated their unfavorable ballots. Applebaum derides their, quite understandable, worries as “hardly a rational argument.” Yet, two years ago, she wrote: “The West has let Russian corruption destabilize Europe. It’s time to stop it.” It’s beyond reasonable logic that anybody could believe that Russian corruption is a grave threat to Europe, but extortion in Ukraine is totally harmless.
Even Ukrainians admit that bribery in their nation is endemic. In fact, Transparency International reports that it’s the “most corrupt country in Europe.” Indeed, many experts believe that graft has actually worsened since the Maidan coup in 2014. Even the Wall Street Journal has acknowledged the fact. Without question, this situation is depressing, considering that corruption was ostensibly the motivation for the initial, peaceful, marches against Viktor Yanukovich’s government. Nevertheless, remaining in denial about it isn’t going to help matters.
A European Dream
She also argues that Dutch voters are wrong to blame Ukraine for the MH17 disaster. However, families of the victims are suing Kiev for not closing its airspace during a time of war. Even if, as investigators believe, the Donbass rebels were responsible, they didn’t have control of civilian aviation.
Applebaum further rails against the belief “that the treaty would (eventually) guarantee Ukraine’s membership in the European Union.” The problem is that it’s not Russians scaring people with this notion. It’s Ukrainians. President Poroshenko has stated that Ukraine will be “ready to join the EU in five years.” Meanwhile, outgoing Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk recently said that he is “sure that Ukraine will become a European Union member state despite all the challenges and hardships.”
Applebaum has written extensively about her support for democracy. Indeed, she’s warned that we “shouldn’t take it for granted.” Now, because of a verdict she objects to, she backtracks. “A treaty already approved by 27 countries can’t be renegotiated from scratch,” our hero writes.
The problem here is that these countries didn’t vote on the Ukrainian question. Their governments merely nodded through the agreement, as is the norm on EU issues. Yet, when one country actually let the people decide, the verdict was an overwhelming ‘no.’ Now, Applebaum, a self-styled champion of democracy, suggests we ignore that choice. This is amazing hypocrisy.
Applebaum is blinkered by her association with a Eurocrat elite, who are doing their best to suppress suffrage within the EU. Despite platitudes about “liberation” and “freedom,” these people are vigorously anti-populist and are determined to deny people the right to choose their own fate. It’s revealing that Carl Bildt, a close political ally of Applebaum’s husband Radoslaw Sikorski, expressed almost identical sentiments on Twitter after the results became known.
Utterly convinced that their Atlanticist, neoliberal outlook is the only possible future for Europe, they are unwilling to accept their own inadequacies or admit their own failures. Thus, whenever something puts a brake on their plans, they need to blame a third-party. Russia, as the only major European nation outside the EU/NATO blocs, is their favorite whipping boy.
If something doesn’t go the way Brussels/Washington establishments want, the Kremlin is always behind it. This denies ordinary EU citizens any kind of respect for their own concerns and interests.
Nobody, with any grip on reality, could honestly believe that 2.5 million Dutch voters rejected closer cooperation with Ukraine because Russia, and its media services, told them to. So why does the Washington Post’s star foreign affairs columnist, and, presumably, the editorial board who appointed her, think people will swallow this nonsense?
A Dutch petition demanding another referendum – this time on the controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations between the European Union and the United State – has gone past the 100,000 mark and is rapidly gaining support.
People in the Netherlands delivered a blow to the European Union last week in a referendum over Ukraine’s accession to the EU, which developed into a vote of confidence in the EU. On a turnout of about 33 percent, 61 percent voted against the Approval Act.
Both petitions use the Dutch system, whereby 300,000 signatures are needed to force a referendum and, although the Ukraine one was started as a joke by a satirical magazine, the TTIP vote could prove more damaging and controversial.
The TTIP negotiations are due to create the biggest trade pact in the world, between the European Union and the United States. However, the talks have been beset by controversy — not least over the massive lobbying by multinational companies and worries that they are likely to be able to sue governments for loss of trade.
Critics of the TTIP deal point to the fact the European food regulations are different from — and some say more stringent than — those in the US.
They also fear strict European environmental regulations will be flouted under the proposed deal, which critics say has been dominated by big business lobbying. Concerns have also been raised that EU regulations in every sector will be rendered powerless, because multinational companies will hold more powers under TTIP.
Crucially, at the heart of the TTIP is a controversial proposal for an investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism, which would allow companies to sue governments if their regulations or laws affected their profits. Thus, if a US multinational company lost profits because their product or service was banned by law for health or other reasons, they would be able to sue a government — or the EU — for loss of earnings.
Under ISDS, in April 1997 the Canadian parliament banned the import and transport of MMT, a gasoline additive, over concerns that it poses a significant public health risk. Ethyl Corporation, the additive’s manufacturer, sued the Canadian Government for US$251 million, to cover losses resulting from the “expropriation” of both its MMT production plant and its “good reputation.”
Tobacco giant Philip Morris is currently suing Uruguay and Australia over tobacco packaging and the Dutch insurance company, Achmea, is suing the Slovakia for trying to reverse health privatization.
The Dutch petitioners say:
“Large companies can sue governments in special tribunal. Europe will have to accept the often poorer American standards for consumer protection, social rights and environmental protection. Then we will see the introduction of US legislation in Europe without citizens or parliaments having any say over it.”
America’s history shows trustworthiness isn’t its long suit, treaties and other deals agreed to systematically violated – culpability ignored or counterparties wrongfully blamed for its breaches.
After last year’s nuclear deal was consummated, Obama lied, saying “(h)istory shows that America must lead not just with our might, but with our principles. It shows we are stronger not when we are alone, but when we bring the world together.”
According to a complaint filed last August with the IAEA, Iran said Washington breached nuclear deal principles straightaway – three days after the deal was reached.
At the time, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said “(t)he military option… remain(s) on the table…enhanced because we’ve been spending (past) years gathering significantly more (intelligence) about Iran’s nuclear program.”
Tehran said this threat to use military force preemptively without just cause constitutes a “material breach of the commitments just undertaken.”
The agreement was never meant to be a vehicle to facilitate US spying on the Islamic Republic.
Iran “(r)ecall(ed) past instances, in which highly confidential information provided by the Islamic Republic of Iran to the Agency inspectors had been leaked, posing a grave threat to the national security of Iran… it is absolutely essential and imperative for the Agency to take immediate and urgent action to reject such flagrant abuses,” a statement said.
Washington used the nuclear deal to justify expanding its regional military footprint, increase aid to Israel and sell billions of dollars more weapons to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.
On Friday, Iranian central bank head Valiollah Seif accused US-led Western countries of locking Tehran out of the international financial system, another flagrant deal breach with likely more coming.
According to Seif, Western nuclear deal counterparties have done “almost nothing” to live up to provisions agreed on.
“(W)e are not able to use our frozen funds abroad.” Unless resolved, the deal “breaks up on its own terms,” he said without further elaboration.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest lied, claiming “(t)he United States, along with the rest of the international community, is committed to living up to our end of the bargain” – at the same time saying Washington has no intention of giving Tehran access to America’s financial system.
State Department spokesman admiral John Kirby compounded the Big Lie, claiming Washington fulfilled its part of the deal.
“There is no need to do more when we have met all of our commitments,” he disingenuously claimed.
It’s well known Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful with no military component and no known intention to have one.
Washington’s concerns otherwise were and remain red herring cover for its real aim – regime change, replacing Iran’s sovereign independence with puppet governance it controls.
Longstanding US hostility persists. Normalization remains unattainable as long as neocons infesting Washington, Israel and AIPAC reject it.
Stephen Lendman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
His new book as editor and contributor is titled Flashpoint in Ukraine: US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.