Fear and justice in the battle for Mexico’s future

by Petar Stanchev on November 22, 2014

Post image for Fear and justice in the battle for Mexico’s futureAs in 1968, Mexico’s political elites are once again using fear to silence the millions of protesters who demand justice for the Ayotzinapa students.

I woke up in fear, and for the rest of the day it controlled my life the way fear tends to control people’s lives. It dominated my thoughts the way it dominates people’s thoughts and actions, paralyzes them until they are deprived from all hope and the very basic human capacity to change the world around them.

My fear was provoked by a nightmare, not one I saw in my dreams, but rather a nightmare I have been unfortunate enough to observe with my own eyes and come to know intimately. It was the fear of waking up and realizing my friends have disappeared at night; lifted from their beds by men in uniforms, leaving friends and family behind who from that day on can only guess after the fate of their loved ones.

This fear is not imaginary. This is the fear I struggled to understand when talking to my friends and fellow students when I lived and studied in Mexico. It is a fear that is incomprehensible for someone who has not lived in a country where more than 100,000 have been killed and disappeared in less than ten years.

Although I participated in social and political movements in the country and was actively involved in student activist groups, I was still incapable of comprehending the terror that my friends felt when they saw the police or the army on the streets. I used to think it was exaggerated and they should not let themselves be influenced by this strategy of control. One can only understand this feeling when it becomes personal, when you wake up and feel the need to call your friends in order to be sure they are alive and well.

Students under Attack

On Saturday, the night before I woke up in horror, an undercover policeman shot and injured two students on the campus of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), the biggest public university in Latin America. It is worth mentioning that the UNAM is an autonomous institution and as such it is a police-free territory. Exemptions to this rule can be made only if the police are asked to step in by the high administration of the institution.

This breach of autonomy is not without precedent: in 1968 the President at the time, Diaz Ordaz, ordered a military takeover of the university. The army moved in as journalists were ordered to move out. This happened in the context of the large-scale, countrywide student protests which actively opposed the Olympic Games. To show their opposition against the Games being held in a country characterized by increasing inequality the students took to the streets, shouting slogans like: “We don’t want games, we want revolution.”

After the shooting last week, students organized and attacked the aggressors. They burned their car and confiscated their documents, proving they were undercover police. The government then sent five hundred riot police to deal with the issue who subsequently clashed with autonomously organized groups of students at the doors of the institution.

These events do not happen in a social vacuum. The repression of the UNAM students comes at a moment when hundreds of protests, direct actions, marches, sit-ins and strikes organized by people from all walks of life and many different backgrounds are organized to demand social and political justice. This new wave of popular dissent was provoked by the disappearance of 43 students in the state of Guerrero on September 26 earlier this year.

The students of the rural school in Ayotzinapa protested to condemn the extremely poor conditions of their school and education in Mexico and to protest the neoliberal reforms in education. The police opened fire on them, killing six and arresting 43 of the student-activists. It is now months later and nobody is sure where they are, but the terrifying suspicion, confirmed by various sources, is that they have been brutally killed and some of them probably burned alive.

The political crisis that is shaking the country threatens to evolve into full-scale revolt with students, armed guerrillas, anarchists and indigenous groups raising legitimate demands for the President of the Republic to resign and for policies ensuring the basic social, human, political and ethnic rights of the population.

Bloody Past, Bloody Present

The Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto already has blood on his hands from previous atrocities, such as the one in Atenco in 2006, when he was Governor of the State of Mexico. In this event he ordered the police to take over the city during popular protests, resulting in 207 people subjected to brutal and degrading treatment, 145 arbitrary arrests, the sexual assault of 26 women, and the deportation of five foreigners.

Upon returning to Mexico after a tour of China and Australia, Peña Nieto openly threatened the popular movement that he is going to use of force, if necessary. Translated, this means sending in the army and the newly created national gendarme against the protesters. This, of course, is hardly the only example of extreme violence carried out by the security forces of Mexico during Peña Nieto’s presidency, but it illustrates how decisive he is on cracking down on popular protest with brute force and at any price.

Back in 1968, President Diaz Ordaz stood up in front of Congress and warned that he had been tolerant for too long and that he would have to resort to force to pacify the students. He, as the majority of Mexican Presidents, was a member of the PRI, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which ruled the country without interruption between 1920 and 2000. Peña Nieto is also a member of the same party which returned to power in 2012 after Nieto’s electoral victory that year.

Some of the party representatives shocked the country in the previous days with their public declarations. Luis Adrián Ramírez Ortiz, a militant of the PRI’s youth league, compared the protesters to “wild beasts who do not deserve to live” and invoked the spirit of Diaz Ordaz, stating that Mexico needs to be headed by someone like him in order to preserve its image to the world. The ex-Federal Deputy Marili Olguín Cuevas, also a member of the PRI, published a status on Facebook saying “kill them so they don’t reproduce.” Another member and syndicate leader loyal to the PRI stated after the clashes in Mexico City days ago: “And then they wonder why they are burning them. Rednecks.”

Apparently, a significant number of contemporary PRI officials would welcome a return to the days when Diaz Ordaz still ruled the country. Back in 1968 the President answered the popular call for “revolution instead of Games” by mobilizing the country’s security forces against the protesters. On October 2 that year, snipers attacked the mass demonstration at Tlatelolco square, causing an upheaval that legitimized sending army troops and tanks into the square. This day is remembered as the Tletelolco massacre, in which hundreds of students were either shot dead or simply disappeared.

The aftermath of the massacre saw a proliferation of policies that allowed for a total crackdown on social protests, eventually culminating in a dirty war in the state of Guerrero, not unlike the ones that characterized the military regimes in Argentina and Chile. Back then, the resistance in Guerrero was headed by two teachers from the very same school attended by the 43 disappeared students.

They were forced into clandestine resistance and the government could crush the popular support in the state only by leveling entire villages and attacking the civilian population with napalm. During this rebellion, hundreds of local peasants were murdered or disappeared. This is the scenario some PRI party members and officials evoke as desirable if the current protests continue.

Fearless Resistance

Commemorating the horrors of ’68 will not stop them from happening again, on the contrary: they are already happening. It would be an understatement to note that the repression is getting worse. Mass graves are being found all over the country, and evidence of more and more police and army brutality is being made public by victims and relatives who were until now too scared to step forward.

Indigenous groups rise up against five hundred years of genocide, challenging the neoliberal agenda that destroys their land and eradicates their culture. Parents of the disappeared are organizing to demand justice. Migrants march on the capital in order to stop the murders that have taken away the lives of more than 20.000 since 2006. Students and activists raise voices over the brutality and repression that were meant to silence their revolt against market-driven reforms in the education.

Anarchists and activist groups shout in solidarity with comrades who are condemned to life in prison. Women shout “not a single one more!” in reference to the devastating level of femicides in the country. Guerrillas in Guerrero declare their preparation for war against a state that condemns half of the Mexican people to live in poverty. The Zapatistas in Chiapas march in thousands to demand justice for Ayotzinapa and the indigenous groups around the country.

Meanwhile, the only answer all these different groups get from the corrupt and unscrupulous political elite is: “we do not care about you — and if you dare to resist, we will send in the army. We have done it before and got away with it, we will not hesitate to do it again.” These threats arise from a climate of fear which has taken shape in the years of the so-called “War on Drugs,” which was used as a pretext to militarize the society and crack down on any movement for change.

This fear is a weapon of control, stronger than any gun, tank or helicopter, stronger than bullets and executions. This fear is the one I woke up with. And I woke up with it, because my friends in Mexico stopped waking up in fear and flooded the streets, rejecting the fear that negates their humanity.

Fear and justice are and will be part of the battle of those fighting for their lives in the streets of Mexico. What is at stake is the question whether the government will be allowed to keep repeating the horrors of 1968. My fear is to wake up and discover that my friends have had the dignity not to accept the threat and sacrificed themselves in the face of a machine of death and destruction — or, as the Zapatistas say, that they have decided to “die in order to live.” Their fear, meanwhile, is that their children will have to repeat the tragedy they are witnessing now, if fear conquers the movement once again.

Petar Stanchev is finishing a degree in Latin American Studies and Human Rights at the University of Essex. He has previously lived and studied in Mexico and has been involved in the Zapatista solidarity movement for four years.

http://roarmag.org/2014/11/mexico-ayotzinapa-students-protest/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+roarmag+%28ROAR+Magazine%29

Amnesty International Releases Tool To Combat Government Spyware

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Human rights charity Amnesty International has released Detekt, a tool that finds and removes known government spyware programs. Describing the free software as the first of its kind, Amnesty commissioned the tool from prominent German computer security researcher and open source advocate Claudio Guarnieri, aka ‘nex’. While acknowledging that the only sure way to prevent government surveillance of huge dragnets of individuals is legislation, Marek Marczynski of Amnesty nevertheless called the tool (downloadable here) a useful countermeasure versus spooks. According to the app’s instructions, it operates similarly to popular malware or virus removal suites, though systems must be disconnected from the Internet prior to it scanning.

Obama announces right-wing immigration “reform” in national address

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By Patrick Martin
21 November 2014

US President Barack Obama delivered a nationally televised address on Thursday night, giving a preview of an executive order on immigration to be signed and made public on Friday.

As with most speeches by Obama, Thursday’s remarks exuded hypocrisy and cynicism. The proposal that Obama is implementing is thoroughly right-wing. His comments combined empty homilies describing the United States as a “nation of immigrants” with proclamations that the estimated 11-12 million undocumented immigrant workers must “play by the rules” and be held “accountable.”

The program outlined by Obama would cover less than half of the 11-12 million undocumented immigrant workers and children now in the US, with the remainder subject to immediate detention and deportation as “illegals.” In its six years in office, the Obama administration has already deported more immigrants than any government in US history.

Despite the howls of “amnesty” from sections of the Republican Party, and praise for the White House from its media backers and Democratic Party-affiliated Latino groups, Obama’s executive order is anything but a green light for immigrant workers seeking legal status, economic security and recognition of their human rights.

As Obama explained in his speech, the bulk of the 5 million or so immigrants who qualify for non-deportation and work permits must have lived in the United States more than five years and have children who are American citizens or legal residents. They must register with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), pass a criminal background check, and pay any back taxes. In return, they will “be able to stay temporarily,” Obama said.

Obama’s speech was entirely within the right-wing framework of official American politics, in which workers who come to the United States fleeing poverty and dictatorship—for which American imperialism is principally responsible—and take the hardest and worst-paid jobs are demonized as criminals who must be “held accountable.” Meanwhile, the true criminal class in America, the financial aristocracy that controls both the Democratic and Republican parties, amasses untold and unearned wealth.

Referring to immigrant workers, Obama said, “All of us take offense at anyone who reaps the rewards of living in America without taking on the responsibilities of living in America.” Who is he talking about? Who is reaping rewards without taking responsibility?

Such terms apply with much greater justice to the parasitic ruling elite that Obama and the congressional Republicans and Democrats represent. These gentlemen were bailed out to the tune of trillions following the 2008 financial crash. But no banker or hedge fund mogul has had to repay these infusions of taxpayers’ money or been held accountable for the financial manipulations and fraud that wiped out the jobs and living standards of tens of millions of working people.

“Undocumented workers broke our immigration laws, and I believe that they must be held accountable,” Obama declared. The Obama administration has refused to apply this standard to bankers and speculators who broke laws against swindling, or CIA agents who broke laws against torture, or top officials of the Bush administration who waged illegal wars and lied to the American people. And, of course, the Obama administration itself operates outside the law, trampling on the US constitution in its assertion of unlimited presidential powers to spy on, arrest, detain and even assassinate American citizens.

Under the Obama plan, the majority of workers who have entered the country without legal documents will still be treated as criminals, to be expelled from the country as soon as they are discovered. The four million to five million covered by the executive order will become a federally regimented cheap labor force. Those who register with the DHS will gain only temporary security, subject to the decisions of the next president—or Obama himself if circumstances change in the next two years—in which case the DHS database will become an invaluable resource for the resumption of mass roundups, detentions and deportations.

Obama hailed as a model the reactionary immigration bill passed last year by a bipartisan majority in the US Senate, while complaining that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives had refused to bring it to a vote. This bill placed its main emphasis on border security while establishing a draconian 17-year-long process through which some undocumented workers could gain citizenship.

The administration has already implemented many of the Senate bill’s border security measures. Obama boasted of the record number of federal agents, sensors and drones mobilized on the US-Mexico border and announced, as the first part of his executive order, even further militarization: “We’ll build on our progress at the border with additional resources for our law enforcement personnel so that they can stem the flow of illegal crossings, and speed the return of those who do cross over.”

White House officials said that some provisions of the Senate bill, such as the citizenship process and special provisions for temporary agricultural workers, were beyond the president’s legal authority to enact in an executive order. The immigration measure was drafted under the rubric of “prosecutorial discretion,” in which the president, as chief executive, can decide to prioritize enforcement of immigration laws against particular categories of immigrants, given that the federal government lacks the resources to immediately round up 12 million people.

Obama spent a considerable portion of his speech defining how narrow the executive order would be, including denying Medicaid, food stamps or other benefits to immigrants given work permits.

“This deal does not apply to anyone who has come to this country recently,” he said. “It does not apply to anyone who might come to America illegally in the future. It does not grant citizenship, or the right to stay here permanently, or offer the same benefits that citizens receive—only Congress can do that. All we’re saying is we’re not going to deport you.”

As in many of his policy statements, Obama sought to present his immigration order as a happy medium between two extremes. “Mass amnesty would be unfair,” he claimed. “Mass deportation would be both impossible and contrary to our character. What I’m describing is accountability—a commonsense, middle ground approach: If you meet the criteria, you can come out of the shadows and get right with the law.”

“Mass amnesty” is, in fact, the only policy compatible with democratic principles. All workers should have the right to live in whatever country they choose with full citizenship rights. But under the capitalist system, capital is globally mobile while the working class is imprisoned within the borders of the nation-state.

Obama’s claim that mass deportation is “contrary to our character” conceals a contradiction. Certainly, for the vast majority of working people, the police state measures that would be required to round up and deport 12 million people, ripping apart millions of families, would be abhorrent. (By one estimate, 13 percent of all school children in California and Texas have at least one undocumented parent).

But for the US ruling elite, and for the Obama administration in particular, “rounding up millions” is perfectly conceivable. In its six years in office, the Obama administration has rounded up nearly three million immigrants already. Large sections of the Republican Party advocate detention and expulsion of millions more.

The dispute between the parties, insofar as it exists, reflects divisions within the ruling elite over how politically explosive such an operation would be and how disruptive of the functioning of large sections of the US economy that depend on superexploited immigrant labor.

Sections of the Republican Party, particularly those linked to the ultra-right Tea Party groups, have long used demagogic attacks on immigrants as a political weapon. Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma suggested that any action by Obama perceived as pro-immigrant could touch off vigilante-style actions.

“The country’s going to go nuts, because they’re going to see it as a move outside the authority of the president, and it’s going to be a very serious situation,” he told USA Today. “You’re going to see—hopefully not—but you could see instances of anarchy. You could see violence.”

Obama made repeated appeals to ultra-right sentiment in the course of his television speech, pleading with Republicans that disagreement over immigration should not prevent collaboration in other policy areas once they take full control of Congress in January.

There is particular concern in Corporate America that the immigration issue could disrupt passage of a federal budget for the remainder of the current fiscal year, which began October 1. A continuing resolution to fund the government expires December 11, and House and Senate Republican leaders have been at pains to reassure Wall Street that there will be no repetition of the 2013 temporary shutdown of the government and no default on federal debt payments.

The Los Angeles Times, in one of the few press commentaries that cut through the pretense of huge disagreements between the two parties, noted Thursday that “the strong reaction by Republican leaders has less to do with opposition to the nuts and bolts of the president’s immigration policy and more to do with fear and anger that the issue will derail the agenda of the new Republican majority before the next Congress even convenes.” This includes making deals with Obama over pro-business measures on taxes, trade and energy policy.

 

 

US government, corporations preparing new offensive against workers’ pensions

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By Jerry White
20 November 2014

The release of the annual report of the US Pension Benefits Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) is being seized upon by the media and politicians of both parties to press for a new round of devastating cuts to pension benefits for tens of millions of retired industrial and other private-sector workers.

The PBGC is the government insurer for 24,000 defined benefit pension plans, which cover more than 41 million workers, retirees and their dependents. On Monday, the government-backed corporation released a report showing that the long-term projected deficit of its multiemployer program rose by $34 billion in fiscal year 2014 to a record $42 billion. This was largely due to potential losses from shoring up two large pension funds that could become insolvent in the next decade.

Although they were not named in the report, the two funds are reportedly the Teamsters Central States fund and the United Mine Workers fund, which together cover some 10 million current and retired workers. The precarious position of the funds, which are jointly administered by the two unions and trucking and mining companies, is due to the wiping out of hundreds of thousands of jobs, which has left many companies with more retirees than active workers. The pension funds were also hit by stock market losses.

The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal zeroed in on a single paragraph in the report warning that the PBGC could go broke over the next eight years if the current rate of premium payments from corporations continues. The “risk of insolvency” would rise over time, the report said, “exceeding 50 percent in 2022 and reaching 90 percent by 2025.” It added, “When the program becomes insolvent, PBGC will be unable to provide financial assistance to pay guaranteed benefits in insolvent plans.”

Nowhere in the media or political commentary on the report was there any suggestion that the government should carry out a Wall Street-style bailout of the pension insurer. The Post noted that that such a bailout was a “political non-starter” in Washington.

Nor was there any suggestion that Congress should mandate a major increase in contributions from the big corporations, which have extracted billions from the labor of workers while deliberately diverting funds from their pension plans and keeping them chronically underfunded.

Instead, in the name of “saving” the pensions, the capitalist media is demanding savage cuts in the workers’ benefits.

The Wall Street Journal wrote Tuesday that any solution to the agency’s “long-running problems” would likely include “sharp benefit cuts for the plans.” The Post concurred on the same day, saying, “Unless Congress makes changes, which could include raising insurance premiums for multiemployer plans or the controversial move of allowing for preemptive pension cuts in struggling plans,” the PBGC will go bankrupt.

One proposal, cited approvingly by the Wall Street Journal, came from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. A 30 percent benefit cut on average for current retirees, the report said, would allow the Teamsters plan “to remain solvent indefinitely and increase the aggregate welfare of plan participants.”

Leading Democrats and Republicans added their voices to the choir demanding action.

The annual report was “a sober reminder that time is running out” said Congressman John Kline (Republican from Minnesota), chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. The multiemployer pension system “is a ticking time bomb that will inflict a lot of pain on workers, employers, taxpayers and retirees if Congress fails to act,” he added.

Senate Finance Committee leaders Ron Wyden (Democrat from Oregon) and Orrin Hatch (Republican from Utah) issued a joint statement saying they remained “very concerned” about the multiemployer system.

As usual, the trade unions are willing accomplices in the crime being prepared against the working class. According to the Washington Post, “A coalition of unions and businesses has been pushing for reforms, including more flexible coverage structures and pension cuts in financially struggling plans.”

Last year, “a commission made up of representatives from employer and labor organizations,” the Wall Street Journal reported, issued a proposal “that would include the extreme step of cutting pension benefits for some current retirees in the most troubled plans.”

One such joint labor-management body is the National Coordinating Committee for Multiemployer Plans, which includes the presidents of the Teamsters, the AFL-CIO’s construction trades, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). It has called for congressional action, warning that employers planned to exit the system and “leave retirees behind.”

The union executives could care less about their retired members. These unions have spent decades collaborating in gutting pension benefits in order to boost the corporations’ profits. The threatened liquidation of multibillion-dollar pension investment funds, however, threatens the income and portfolios of the aspiring capitalists who control the unions.

There is an element of deliberate crisis mongering in the PBGC report. The shaky position of the agency has long been known and nothing has been done about it.

Over the last three decades, more and more corporations have jettisoned their employer-paid plans—one of the most important gains won by the working class in the mass industrial battles of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. All but a few have forced current workers onto employee-paid 401(K) plans subject to the vagaries of the stock market.

Earlier this year, aerospace and defense giant Boeing worked in tandem with the International Association of Machinists (IAM) to force 33,000 IAM workers onto 401 (K) plans. The company’s top executive, Jim McNerney, has a special retirement plan valued at $42 million, which will provide him with over $270,000 per month after he quits.

It has long been a standard business practice for American corporations to dump their pension obligations onto the PBGC through bankruptcy. Since Congress established the PBGC as part of the 1975 Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), the government-backed corporation has paid out billions to cover pension plans terminated by giant corporations, particularly in the steel and airline industries.

As millions of workers know through painful, first-hand experience, when the PBGC takes over an insolvent fund, the workers are hit with brutal benefit cuts. Congress limits the amount the agency can pay to retirees to less than $13,000 a year, effectively condemning the workers to poverty. A worker with a very modest annual pension of $20,000 after 30 years of labor stands to lose more than $7,000 a year—a cut of over 35 percent.

The decks are being cleared for the next stage in the relentless, bipartisan assault on the working class. Private-sector pensions will be targeted along with other supposed “ticking bombs” such as Social Security, Medicare and public-sector pensions.

The nationwide offensive against the pensions of state and municipal workers has already been launched with precedent-setting rulings by federal bankruptcy judges in Detroit and Stockton, California declaring null and void provisions of state constitutions guaranteeing the pension benefits of public employees.

Last week, a federal bankruptcy judge gave final approval to the Detroit bankruptcy settlement, which imposes huge cuts in the pensions and health benefits of retired city workers and imposes 401(k) plans on active workers. This week, the PBGC report has signaled the widening of the attack to include the private sector.

The official justification is the claim that society simply cannot afford to keep the “overgenerous promises” made to workers in an earlier, more prosperous period. The situation is supposedly made worse by the problem of workers living too long after retirement and imposing an unsustainable burden on the rest of the population.

These are self-serving lies pumped out by the ruling class through its political servants and media apologists. Since the financial crash of 2008, the Obama administration’s pro-business policies of bank bailouts, virtually free money for the banks from the Federal Reserve, wage and benefit cuts for auto workers, corporate tax cuts and deregulation have transferred trillions from the working class to the super-rich.

The share of the gross domestic product going to corporate profits is at the highest level since World War II, while the share going to workers’ wages is at the lowest. American corporations are sitting on an estimated cash hoard of $1.5 trillion and using it for stock buybacks, executive bonuses and mergers and acquisitions that are occurring at their most frenzied pace since 2007.

The total $60 billion deficit of the PGBC could be wiped out overnight by using only a portion of the $360 billion being hoarded by tech giants Google, Apple, Cisco and Microsoft, or employing one-tenth of the annual Pentagon budget.

Instead, the financial oligarchy that controls the economy and both big-business parties is determined to steal the pensions that tens of millions need to survive and return workers to the dark days when they labored without end until they died.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/11/20/pbgc-n20.html

The One Party Planet: an analysis of the world today

by James Wan on November 19, 2014

Post image for The One Party Planet: an analysis of the world todayHas the time come to revive the radical political pamphlet? /The Rules’ critique of neoliberalism as presented in The One Part Planet proves that it is.

Back when I was at university and feeling particularly idle one night, I had an idea to test my college magazine’s “we-publish-anything” policy and also have a bit of fun. I decided to make up a bunch of absurd ‘facts’ and submit them under the heading Did You Know?. Chuckling to myself, I made-up ‘facts’ such as: “Bhutan has two national flags: one for when it’s sunny, one for when it’s raining”, “In the Malay language, there are 4 words for ‘fridge magnet’ but none for ‘fridge“, and “There are no mice in Nicaragua”.

The whole thing was clearly silly and my intention was that readers might just about believe the first claim − that “pork is a mild aphrodisiac” − and maybe even the first few, but as the facts got increasingly ludicrous, they would realize the exercise had been a hoax all along.

Once the magazine was published the next week then, I was astonished to realize that barely anyone had got the joke. Everyone of course had instantly known that some of the facts were complete nonsense − the scientists, for example, knew full well that iguanas don’t have seven lungs, and I doubt any film buffs really believed the working title for Jaws had been ‘What a Big Shark!’ − but while they all discarded certain specific claims, very few questioned the validity of the list as a whole. The facts they knew to be false, they discarded; the rest they still took at face value.

 

 

 

 

 

I tell this story not just as a cautionary tale to any editors who receive submissions from me late at night, but to highlight one essential cognitive bias. Namely, that it is not particularly difficult to be skeptical towards individual details − the numbered ‘facts’ − but it is rare for that skepticism to broaden out into a questioning of underlying assumptions. In this case, the premise of the list as a whole. Sometimes all those trees just end up obscuring the wood.

It is this tendency that partly accounts for why so few people realized my list of made-up facts was complete bullshit, but which also helps explain one the conundrums of the progressive movement: that despite widespread acknowledgement of huge global injustices and inequalities, the underlying assumptions of the system tend to get an easy ride.

There is plenty of rightful outrage at corruption, endemic poverty and systemic exploitation, yet from most political discussions to mainstream media debates, and from well-meaning ethical consumerist actions to celebrity-sponsored charity campaigns, there appears to be an implicit acceptance that what we’re doing on a broad scale is basically fine. The problem, apparently, is that we need to do it a little better, tweak it here and there, or add something else on top.

It is well-known that workers’ rights in many places are systematically trampled on; that a billion people are chronically malnourished even though we produce enough food to feed the world one and a half times over; that the governments of developing countries lose at least $1 trillion each year through tax havens; that levels of greenhouse gas emissions are accelerating despite an apparent commitment from world leaders to decrease them; that the richest 1% of the world own half of all global wealth; and that, according to World Bank figures, 80% of the world’s population live on less than $10/day while 60% live on less than $5.

All this is acknowledged and provokes anger. But in the same way my college readers were skeptical of the claim that “Pope Benedict used to be a professional arm-wrestler” yet never questioned the integrity of the list as a whole, it is rare that outrage at global injustices translates into doubt at the efficacy of the system itself. It seems that no matter how extreme, numerous or engrained the inequality, poverty or oppression, the idea that large-scale change is necessary is still simply ‘too radical’ for most.

Of course, it is not just our cognitive biases that prevent a greater acceptance of progressive views. Advocates of market liberalism have been hugely successful in painting their ideology as non-ideological common sense. But the question remains: if knowledge of deep global problems is not enough to make people question the wisdom of the status quo, what can?

There are certainly many possible answers to this question, and any struggle of ideas has to be waged at several levels on several fronts. Some strategies will no doubt need to be smart and innovative, drawing on new forms of communication and technology. But at the same time, perhaps we also need to look back to older tried and tested tools: things like the humble political pamphlet for instance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is exactly what the activist organization /The Rules has done with The One Party Planet, a 60-page pamphlet that provides a detailed critique of neoliberalism and the unbridled power of the 1% (or rather 0.01%). We are essentially a “one party planet”, it argues, bringing together several different strands of reasoning and evidence, because the global political and economic elite all essentially hold the same worldview.

From American CEOs to Chinese party officials, and from African presidents to Russian oligarchs, there is an overwhelming consensus that unrestrained selfish competition is not only the best, but the only possible, way to organize society. This is not a conspiracy concocted in dark smoky rooms, and the individuals at the top don’t share some grand master plan. But the internal logic of their actions is one and the same, and this has contributed, the pamphlet argues, to a situation in which an unelected elite wield incredible influence over politics and inequality has reached outlandish levels.

In response to this, The One Party Planet culminates in a carefully argued call for a global uprising. This might seem like a contradiction − how can you carefully call for an uprising? − but that is perhaps where the power of the political pamphlet, and this one in particular, lies. Unlike books, which can be long and detached; newspaper articles, which can be brief and fleeting; and documentaries, which are received somewhat passively, the political pamphlet speaks directly to the reader with enough time and space to make a clear and detailed argument. It can make the apparently radical seem self-evident.

And perhaps this is one of the greatest weapons the progressive movement has right now. After all, the evidence and statistics about poverty, inequality and corruption are increasingly being understood and accepted − the facts have become mainstream. Maybe what we need first and foremost now then is fairly simple − something that will sit us down, talk us through it, and connect the dots. Something that can make the case that the foremost global problems of our age are not isolated but interconnected, not superficial but structural, and not inevitable but man-made. The One Party Planet does this with impressive depth, humility and conviction.

Download the pamphlet here

James Wan is the Senior Editor of Think Africa Press. His work has featured in a wide range of publications and in 2013 he was shortlisted for The Guardian’s International Development Journalism Competition. You can follow him on twitter at @jamesjwan

US Defense Department organizing covert operations against “the general public”

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By Thomas Gaist
19 November 2014

The US Defense Department (DOD) is developing domestic espionage and covert operations targeting “the general public” in coordination with the intelligence establishment and police agencies, according to a New York Times report.

“The Times analysis showed that the military and its investigative agencies have almost as many undercover agents working inside the United States as does the F.B.I,” the newspaper wrote.

“While most of them are involved in internal policing of service members and defense contractors, a growing number are focused, in part, on the general public as part of joint federal task forces that combine military, intelligence and law enforcement specialists,” the Times continued.

The report amounts to an acknowledgment by the leading media organ of the US ruling class that the American government is deploying a vast, forward-deployed counter-insurgency machine to target the US population at large.

Coming directly from the horse’s mouth, the Times report makes clear that espionage, deception, and covert operations are now primary instruments of the US government’s domestic policy. In preparation for a massive upsurge in the class struggle, the US ruling class is mobilizing the entire federal bureaucracy to carry out systematic and targeted political repression against the working class in the US and around the world.

These moves are in keeping with the latest US Army “Operating Concept” strategy document, published in October, which calls for “Army forces to extend efforts beyond the physical battleground to other contested spaces such as public perception, political subversion, and criminality.”

In addition to the DOD, at least 39 other federal security and civilian agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Department of Education and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), have developed increasingly ambitious forms of covert operations involving the use of undercover agents, which now inhabit “virtually every corner of the federal government,” according to unnamed government officials and documents cited by the New York Times.

New training programs to prepare agents to conduct Internet-based undercover sting operations have been developed by the DOD, Homeland Security (DHS) and the FBI, according to the report.

DHS alone spends at least $100 million per year on the development of undercover operations, an unnamed DHS intelligence official told the Times. Total costs for operations involving undercover government agents likely total at least several hundred millions of dollars per year, the Times reported.

The US Supreme Court trains its own security force in “undercover tactics,” which officers use to infiltrate and spy on demonstrators outside the high court’s facilities, the Times reported.

IRS agents frequently pose as professionals, including as medical doctors, in order to gain access to privileged information, according to a former agent cited by the report. IRS internal regulations cited in the report state that “an undercover employee or cooperating private individual may pose as an attorney, physician, clergyman or member of the news media.”

Teams of undercover agents deployed by the IRS operate in the US and internationally in a variety of guises, including as drug money launderers and expensive luxury goods buyers.

The Department of Agriculture (DOA) employs at least 100 of its own covert agents, who often pretend to be food stamp users while investigating “suspicious vendors and fraud,” according to the Times .

Covert agents employed by the Department of Education (DOE) have embedded themselves in federally funded education programs, unnamed sources cited by the report say.

Numerous other federal bureaucracies are running their own in-house espionage programs, including the Smithsonian, the Small Business Administration, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the report stated.

This sprawling apparatus of spying, disruption and manipulation implicates the state in a mind-boggling range of criminal and destructive activities. Covert operations using undercover agents are conducted entirely in secret, and are funded from secret budgets and slush funds that are replenished through the “churning” of funds seized during previous operations back into the agencies’ coffers to fund the further expansion of secret programs.

Secret operations orchestrated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) on this basis are increasingly indistinguishable from those of organized crime syndicates, and give a foretaste of what can be expected from the ongoing deployment of counter-revolutionary undercover agents by the military-intelligence apparatus throughout the US.

In 2010, the ATF launched a series of covert operations that used state-run front businesses to seize weapons, drugs, and cash, partly by manipulating mentally disabled and drug addicted individuals, many of them teenagers, according to investigations by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

While posing as owners of pawnshops and drug paraphernalia retail outlets, ATF agents induced cash-desperate and psychologically vulnerable individuals to carry out illegal activities including the purchase and sale of stolen weapons and banned substances.

A number of the ATF-run fake stores exposed by the Sentinel were run in “drug free” and “safe” zones near churches and schools. Youths were encouraged to smoke marijuana and play video games at these locations by ATF agents. In one instance reported by the Sentinel, a female agent wore revealing attire and flirted with teenage targets while inciting them to acquire weapons and illegal substances to sell to an ATF-run front business, the Sentinel found.

The ATF was notorious for its operations in the 1980s where it used agents provocateurs to frame up and jail militant workers involved in industrial strikes. In one infamous case in Milburn, West Virginia an ATF informer was exposed after he tried unsuccessfully to convince striking coal miners to blow up an abandoned processing facility.

The US government has steadily escalated its domestic clandestine operations in the years since the September 11, 2001, attacks. The New York Police Department (NYPD) intelligence section deployed hundreds of covert agents throughout New York City, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

As part of operations coordinated with the CIA and spanning more than a decade, the NYPD paid informants to spy on and “bait” Muslim residents into manufactured terror plots. The security and intelligence agencies refer to this method as “create and capture,” according to a former NYPD asset cited by the Associated Press.

It is now obvious these surveillance and infiltration programs, initially focusing on Muslim neighborhoods, were only the first stage in the implementation of a comprehensive espionage and counter-insurgency system targeting the entire population.

Large numbers of informers and FBI agents infiltrated the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011.

Historically, secret police groups targeted the political and class enemies of the capitalist state using the pretext of defending the nation from dangerous “foreign” elements.

Among the first covert police sections established by the imperialist powers were the British “Special Branch,” originally established as the “Special Irish Branch” in 1883 to target groups opposed to British domination of Ireland. “Special Branch” police intelligence forces were subsequently set up throughout the commonwealth to run cloak-and-dagger missions in service of British imperialism.

Similarly, in an early effort by the US ruling class to develop a secret police force, New York City police commissioner established “Italian Squad” in 1906 to carry out undercover activities against socialist-minded workers in the city’s immigrant and working class areas.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/11/19/unde-n19.html

Russia and China Are Teaming Up as the World’s New Power Elite

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If there were any remaining doubts about the unlimited stupidity Western corporate media is capable of dishing out, the highlight of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Beijing has been defined as Russian President Vladimir Putin supposedly “hitting” on Chinese President Xi Jinping’s wife – and the subsequent Chinese censoring of the moment when Putin draped a shawl over her shoulders in the cold air where the leaders were assembled. What next? Putin and Xi denounced as a gay couple?Let’s dump the clowns and get down to the serious business. Right at the start, President Xi urged APEC to “add firewood to the fire of the Asia-Pacific and world economy”. Two days later, China got what it wanted on all fronts.

1) Beijing had all 21 APEC member-nations endorsing the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) – the Chinese vision of an “all inclusive, all-win” trade deal capable of advancing Asia-Pacific cooperation – see South China Morning Post (paywall). The loser was the US-driven, corporate-redacted, fiercely opposed (especially by Japan and Malaysia) 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). [See also here].

2) Beijing advanced its blueprint for “all-round connectivity” (in Xi’s words) across Asia-Pacific – which implies a multi-pronged strategy. One of its key features is the implementation of the Beijing-based US$50 billion Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. That’s China’s response to Washington refusing to give it a more representative voice at the International Monetary Fund than the current, paltry 3.8% of votes (a smaller percentage than the 4.5% held by stagnated France).

3) Beijing and Moscow committed to a second gas mega-deal – this one through the Altai pipeline in Western Siberia – after the initial “Power of Siberia” mega-deal clinched last May.

4) Beijing announced the funneling of no less than US$40 billion to start building the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.

Predictably, once again, this vertiginous flurry of deals and investment had to converge towards the most spectacular, ambitious, wide-ranging plurinational infrastructure offensive ever attempted: the multiple New Silk Roads – that complex network of high-speed rail, pipelines, ports, fiber optic cables and state of the art telecom that China is already building across the Central Asian stans, linked to Russia, Iran, Turkey and the Indian Ocean, and branching out to Europe all the way to Venice, Rotterdam, Duisburg and Berlin.Now imagine the paralyzed terror of the Washington/Wall Street elites as they stare at Beijing interlinking Xi’s “Asia-Pacific Dream” way beyond East Asia towards all-out, pan-Eurasia trade – with the center being, what else, the Middle Kingdom; a near future Eurasia as a massive Chinese Silk Belt with, in selected latitudes, a sort of development condominium with Russia.Vlad doesn’t do stupid stuff

As for “Don Juan” Putin, everything one needs to know about Asia-Pacific as a Russian strategic/economic priority was distilled in his intervention at the APEC CEO summit.

This was in fact an economic update of his by now notorious speech at the Valdai Club meeting in Sochi in October, followed by a wide-ranging Q&A, which was also duly ignored by Western corporate media (or spun as yet more “aggression”).The Kremlin has conclusively established that Washington/Wall Street elites have absolutely no intention of allowing a minimum of multipolarity in international relations. What’s left is chaos.

There’s no question that Moscow pivoting away from the West and towards East Asia is a process directly influenced by President Barack Obama’s self-described “Don’t Do Stupid Stuff” foreign policy doctrine, a formula he came up with aboard Air Force One when coming back last April from a trip to – where else – Asia.

But the Russia-China symbiosis/strategic partnership is developing in multiple levels.

On energy, Russia is turning east because that’s where top demand is. On finance, Moscow ended the pegging of the rouble to the US dollar and euro; not surprisingly the US dollar instantly – if only briefly – dropped against the rouble. Russian bank VTB announced it may leave the London Stock Exchange for Shanghai’s – which is about to become directly linked to Hong Kong. And Hong Kong, for its part, is already  attracting Russian energy giants.

Now mix all these key developments with the massive yuan-rouble energy double deal, and the picture is clear; Russia is actively protecting itself from speculative/politically motivated Western attacks against its currency.

The Russia-China symbiosis/strategic partnership visibly expands on energy, finance and, also inevitably, on the military technology front. That includes, crucially, Moscow selling Beijing the S-400 air defense system and, in the future, the S-500 – against which the Americans are sitting ducks; and this while Beijing develops surface-to-ship missiles that can take out everything the US Navy can muster.

Anyway, at APEC, Xi and Obama at least agreed to establish a mutual reporting mechanism on major military operations. That might – and the operative word is “might” – prevent an East Asia replica of relentless NATO-style whining of the “Russia has invaded Ukraine!” kind.

Freak out, neo-cons

When Little Dubya Bush came to power in early 2001, the neo-cons were faced with a stark fact: it was just a matter of time before the US would irreversibly lose its global geopolitical and economic hegemony. So there were only two choices; either manage the decline, or bet the whole farm to consolidate global hegemony using – what else – war.We all know about the wishful thinking enveloping the “low-cost” war on Iraq – from Paul Wolfowitz’s “We are the new OPEC” to the fantasy of Washington being able to decisively intimidate all potential challengers, the EU, Russia and China.And we all know how it went spectacularly wrong. Even as that trillionaire adventure, as Minqi Li analyzed in The Rise of China and the Demise of the Capitalist World Economy, “has squandered US imperialism’s remaining space for strategic maneuver”, the humanitarian imperialists of the Obama administration still have not given up, refusing to admit the US has lost any ability to provide any meaningful solution to the current, as Immanuel Wallerstein would define it, world-system.

There are sporadic signs of intelligent geopolitical life in US academia, such as this at the Wilson Center website (although Russia and China are not a “challenge” to a supposed world “order”: their partnership is actually geared to create some order among the chaos.)

And yet this opinion piece at USNews is the kind of stuff passing for academic “analysis” in US media.

On top of it, Washington/Wall Street elites – through their myopic Think Tankland – still cling to mythical platitudes such as the “historical” US role as arbiter of modern Asia and key balancer of power.

So no wonder public opinion in the US – and Western Europe – cannot even imagine the earth-shattering impact the New Silk Roads will have in the geopolitics of the young 21st century.

Washington/Wall Street elites – talk about Cold War hubris – always took for granted that Beijing and Moscow would be totally apart. Now puzzlement prevails. Note how the Obama administration’s “pivoting to Asia” has been completely erased from the narrative – after Beijing identified it for what it is: a warlike provocation. The new meme is “rebalance”.

German businesses, for their part, are absolutely going bonkers with Xi’s New Silk Roads uniting Beijing to Berlin – crucially via Moscow. German politicians sooner rather than later will have to get the message.

All this will be discussed behind closed doors this weekend at key meetings on the sidelines of the Group of 20 in Australia. The Russia-China-Germany alliance-in-the-making will be there. The BRICS, crisis or no crisis, will be there. All the players in the G-20 actively working for a multipolar world will be there.

APEC once again has shown that the more geopolitics change, the more it won’t stay the same; as the exceptional dogs of war, inequality and divide and rule keep barking, the China-Russia pan-Eurasian caravan will keep going, going, going – further on down the (multipolar) road.

This essay originally appeared on Asia Times.

 

Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times. His latest book is “Obama Does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).” He may be reached at pepeasia@yahoo.com.

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