Behind the opioid crisis: Republicans and Obama cleared the way for corporate murder

By Patrick Martin
16 October 2017

Leading Republican and Democratic members of Congress and top Obama administration officials collaborated to shut down efforts by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to stem the flow of prescription opioids that have killed 200,000 Americans over the past two decades, according to a devastating exposure published Sunday by the Washington Post and broadcast Sunday night on the CBS news magazine “60 Minutes.”

The joint investigation by the Post and “60 Minutes” made use of extensive whistleblower revelations by former officials of the DEA, which has the main responsibility for halting the flow of illegal narcotics, including prescription drugs like oxycodone and hydrocodone diverted into the black market.

Three major companies, all in the top 20 of the Fortune 500 and hugely profitable, dominate the distribution of these opioids: McKesson, Cardinal Health, and AmerisourceBergen, with combined revenues of more than $450 billion. McKesson chairman and CEO John Hammergren has the largest pension fund of any US corporate boss, a $160 million personal nest egg.

These gigantic revenues and huge personal fortunes were accumulated by means of what can only be termed a massive social crime: the flooding of impoverished working-class neighborhoods with high volumes of opioids, narcotics that were being prescribed in vast quantities by doctors and pharmacists and illegal “pain centers” and “pill mills” that were a constant presence in the affected areas.

The consequences have been felt in a historic reversal in the long-term rise of life expectancy in the United States. For middle-aged whites, particularly those living in rural areas, life expectancy is declining and death rates soaring, in large part because of the impact of opioid abuse and addiction.

Appalachia is a center of the opioid crisis. The figures presented in the Post/”60 Minutes” report are staggering—and damning. To Mingo County, West Virginia, an impoverished former mining area on the state border with Kentucky, population 25,000, the mid-sized Ohio-based drug distributor Miami-Luken shipped 11 million doses of oxycodone and hydrocodone in a five-year period: enough to give two pills a week to every man, woman and child in the county.

In the county seat, Williamson, population 2,938, Miami-Luken shipped 258,000 hydrocodone pills in one month to a single pharmacy. The city of Williamson has filed suit against the company and other drug distributors, charging them with deliberately flooding the city with pain pills to supply the black market. A document filed in the suit charges, “Like sharks circling their prey, multi-billion dollar companies descended upon Appalachia for the sole purpose of profiting off of the prescription drug-fueled feeding frenzy.”

Post reporters Scott Higham and Lenny Bernstein and “Sixty Minutes” reporter Bill Whitaker conducted dozens of interviews for their exposé, but the principal whistleblower is Joseph T. Rannazzisi, who headed the DEA’s Office of Diversion Control for a decade until he was forced out in 2015.

The Office of Diversion Control oversees the flow of prescription drugs produced by the major US pharmaceutical companies and shipped to hospitals and pharmacies and other prescribers by distributors, including the big three. By targeting unusually large and unexplained sales—for example, several Walgreen’s pharmacies in Florida sold more than one million opioid pills in a year, compared to a nationwide average of 74,000—the DEA unit could force companies to pay substantial fines.

These big three and smaller distributors paid more than $400 million in fines over the last decade as the result of the DEA, but this is a pittance compared to their gross revenues during that same period, well over $5 trillion. One former DEA official told the Post this sum simply represented “a cost of doing business.”

A more serious problem for the industry was the issuance of “freeze” orders, in which the DEA could use its authority to order a distributor to halt a shipment if there is “imminent danger” to the community. According to Rannazzisi, there was increasing resistance from top-level DEA officials, from 2011 on, to approving such “freeze” orders against opioid distributors. During this period, the drug distributors hired 46 DEA officials either directly or through law firms or lobbying groups representing them.

In 2014, industry lobbyists produced a bill, written by a former DEA lawyer, and introduced by Republican Representative Tom Marino, that substantially raised the threshold of proof for a DEA order to halt a shipment. Instead of “imminent danger,” such an order required proof of “a substantial likelihood of an immediate threat,” a standard so strict that, once adopted, there were no further DEA orders to halt drug distribution.

Marino’s bill was initially blocked by DEA opposition, but it was reintroduced with Democratic cosponsors and passed the House of Representatives by a voice vote, without opposition, in April 2015. In October 2015, Rannazzisi was pushed into retirement at the DEA, after previously being removed as head of the Office of Diversion Control by means of heavy pressure from congressional Republicans on the Obama Justice Department. In March 2016, the Senate passed a modified version of the Marino bill, and the House accepted the changes the following month. The DEA was now handcuffed, and the drug distributors could proceed without any concern about federal oversight.

As Rannazzisi told “60 Minutes”: “The drug industry—the manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors and chain drugstores—have an influence over Congress that has never been seen before. And these people came in with their influence and their money and got a whole statute changed because they didn’t like it.”

The protection of the giant drug distribution companies—amid a nationwide epidemic of drug overdose deaths caused by the products they were distributing—was a bipartisan affair. Congressional Democrats cosponsored the legislation, and a former top Clinton administration official, Jamie Gorelick, was a lead attorney and lobbyist for the distributors. Attorney General Loretta Lynch approved the legislation, and President Obama signed it into law, with the White House issuing a one-page press release to mark the occasion.

None of those involved, including Lynch and Obama, would comment to the Post or “60 Minutes.” According to the Post, “The DEA and Justice Department have denied or delayed more than a dozen requests filed by The Post and ‘60 Minutes’ under the Freedom of Information Act for public records that might shed additional light on the matter,” indicating that the Trump administration is continuing the stonewalling tactics begun under Obama.

When a “60 Minutes” camera crew came to Marino’s office, his aides called Capitol Hill police to have them removed.

Trump has rewarded the darling of the drug distributors, Representative Marino, by nominating him last month to become the next White House “drug czar,” in charge of coordinating federal efforts against the opioid crisis. Representative Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, the main cosponsor of the bill, is now favored to be the Republican nominee for US Senate in Tennessee in 2018. Both representatives come from districts ravaged by the opioid crisis. According to the Post account, 106 people have died in Lycoming County, Pennsylvania, the largest in Marino’s district, since he first introduced his anti-enforcement legislation.

The following exchange from the “60 Minutes” program sums up the reality of corporate domination of American life, and the catastrophic impact on working people:

BILL WHITAKER: You know the implication of what you’re saying, that these big companies knew that they were pumping drugs into American communities that were killing people.

JOE RANNAZZISI: That’s not an implication, that’s a fact. That’s exactly what they did.

… These weren’t kids slinging crack on the corner. These were professionals who were doing it. They were just drug dealers in lab coats.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/10/16/drug-o16.html

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Why is the US at war in West Africa?

By Eddie Haywood
14 October 2017

The October 4 killings of four US Green Berets in Niger has provided a rare glimpse into the far-reaching American military operations throughout the African continent which have been conducted almost entirely in secret.

Pentagon officials on Friday told reporters that the ambush was carried out by a self-radicalized group supposedly affiliated with ISIS. The Pentagon additionally admitted that at least 29 patrols similar to the one that was fatally ambushed have been carried out by American soldiers in Niger.

According to AFRICOM, the US military command based in Stuttgart, Germany, the US special forces deployed to Niger are tasked with providing training, logistics, and intelligence to assist the Nigerien military in fighting militants affiliated with Al-Qaeda in Mali and Boko Haram in neighboring Nigeria. AFRICOM has officially stated that its forces interact with the Nigerien army in a “non-combat advisory” capacity.

The circumstances surrounding the ambush which resulted in the deaths of the four Green Berets expose AFRICOM’s claim of non-engagement as a lie. The killings occurred during a joint patrol of elite American soldiers and Nigerien forces in a remote hostile region on the border with Mali known for frequent raids conducted by Islamist militants. Some 800 US commandos are deployed to bases in Niamey and Agadez making quite clear the offensive role that the American military is playing in Niger.

Underlining the incident is Niger’s configuration in Washington’s imperialist offensive across Africa. The expanding levels of US military forces arrayed across the continent have increasingly taken on the character of an occupying army. According to the Pentagon, there are a total of 1,000 American troops in the vicinity of the Chad River Basin which includes northern Niger, Chad, and the Central African Republic. An additional 300 troops are stationed to the south in Cameroon.

After its establishment in 2008 as an independent command, AFRICOM has significantly expanded American military influence and troop deployments on the African continent. Measuring the breadth of US military expansion is the construction of a $100 million base in Agadez in central Niger, from which the US Air Force conducts regular surveillance drone flights across the Sahel region.

Augmenting the special forces contingent in the region are military personnel stationed at several dozen bases and outposts including a US base in Garoua, Cameroon.

The special operations units in Africa have their genesis in 1980, after the Pentagon created Special Operations Command (SOCOM) to conduct a raid on the US embassy in Tehran, Iran to rescue American hostages. Over the years, SOCOM has vastly broadened its scope, and currently has forces stationed on every continent around the globe.

Made up of various units of the US military, including Green Berets, Delta Force, and Navy Seals, SOCOM carry out a broad spectrum of offensive operations including assassinations, counter-terrorism, reconnaissance, psychological operations, and foreign troop training. Under AFRICOM, these forces form a subgroup of SOCOM designated as Special Operations Command in Africa (SOCAFRICA).

Between 2006 and 2010 the deployment of US special forces troops in Africa increased 300 per cent. However, from 2010 to 2017 the numbers of deployed troops exploded by nearly 2000 per cent, occupying more than 60 outposts tasked with carrying out over 100 missions at any given moment across the continent.

The scale of the military expansion which began in earnest under the Obama administration is part of a renewed “scramble for Africa”, comprised of a reckless drive for economic dominance over Africa’s vast economic resources which threatens to transform the entire continent into a battlefield.

The immediate roots of the Niger ambush can be traced to the 2011 US/NATO war in Libya which resulted in the removal and assassination of Libya’s leader Muammar Gaddafi. Under the Obama administration, Washington cultivated and armed various Islamist militant groups with ties to Al-Qaeda as a proxy force to carry out its aim of regime change. The resulting US/NATO bombardment left Libyan society in shambles, and the Islamist fighters spilled forth and out across North Africa and south to the Sahel.

In 2012, as a consequence of a US and French backed coup against the government in Bamako, Tuareg rebels in Northern Mali took advantage of the chaos resulting from the coup to stage a rebellion. After the Tuareg militants began taking control over cities and territory as it cut deeper into southern Mali, France with the Obama administrations backing deployed 4,000 troops to the country to neutralize the Tuareg rebels, eventually stabilizing the government it placed in Bamako.

While the Tuareg rebellion may have been halted by the US-backed French offensive, Islamist fighters from Libya were pouring into Mali, with many taking up arms against the Western backed puppet government. The Islamist fighters largely united into one large group, declaring allegiance to Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM). The military forces of Niger and Chad which participated in the US/French intervention in Mali have become frequent targets by the Islamist militants who began conducting cross-border raids and launched attacks on patrols and garrisons.

The rise of these warring Islamist militias which have transformed West Africa into a battlefield is the end result of Washington’s decades-long strategy in cultivating these forces as a proxy army in its wars for regime change, at first, in the Middle East and Afghanistan, and subsequently in Africa.

Underscoring France’s military deployment are the French economic interests it seeks to protect not only Mali, but throughout West Africa, the region which was once part of its colonial empire. In Niger, the French energy giant Arven has established mining operations extracting the country’s rich uranium resources.

For its part, Washington has enlisted the participation of the military forces of Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Nigeria, Niger, Chad, and Mali in its drive for dominance of the Sahel and West Africa, with all of these countries featuring US outposts or bases.

A key element of Washington’s military expansion in the region are the significant economic resources that it aims to secure for American corporate interests. On behalf of these interests, and complimentary to its military operation, Washington has constructed a $300 million embassy in Niamey.

Washington’s military interventions in Africa must also be seen as an effort to offset China’s growing economic influence on the continent. Beijing in recent years has secured investment deals with African governments in nearly every sector of Africa’s economy.

China National Petroleum Company (CNPC) purchased the permit for oil drilling in Niger’s Agadem Basin, and CNPC also constructed and operates the Soraz refinery near Zinder, Niger’s second largest city. Deals by Beijing for the construction of pipelines traversing through Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Cameroon are currently in the development stage, causing no small amount of consternation in Washington.

WSWS

Ai Weiwei’s Harrowing Film on the Refugee Crisis Is a Must-See

A still from Ai Weiwei’s new documentary, “Human Flow.” (Screen shot via YouTube)

Once called the “contemporary art world’s most powerful player,” Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei has turned his focus onto the most urgent humanitarian issue of our time: the global refugee crisis. In a new documentary called “Human Flow,” the artist—who has made political statements the core of his art—explores how war, violence and climate change have made refugees of 65 million people.

Ai, who traveled with his camera crew to 23 countries over the course of a year, captured intimate moments of desperation that have driven refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea, Palestine, Myanmar and elsewhere, risking their lives to escape violence. The film is sweeping and vast, with drone-camera shots utilizing aerial views to showcase the extent of the crisis, combined with intimate iPhone footage taken by Ai.

“Human Flow” is essential viewing for Americans, whose government has not only had a hand in creating many of the crises that drive migration, but is also actively closing the door to refugees. “The U.S. does have a responsibility,” Ai told me in an interview about his film. “Very often people in the United States think that something happening in different continents doesn’t really affect the U.S.” But, he says, “Look at U.S. policy and what’s happening today: the travel ban, or the building of this ‘beautiful’ fence or wall between the U.S. and Mexico. It all shows that the leadership has a very, very questionable position in dealing with migration and refugees.”

Indeed, President Donald Trump—with the help of the Supreme Court—has kept in place a de facto blanket ban on refugees entering the country. It is perhaps easy for most Americans, who live so far from where this misery is unfolding, to ignore the global refugee crisis, especially given the near-daily assaults on the Constitution and good sense emanating from the White House these days.

But by embedding himself for months in the flow of refugee life while making his film, Ai developed an understanding of what it is like to flee violence and danger. Through “Human Flow,” he takes viewers into intimate spaces: the heart-rending decisions as families weigh whether to stay or leave, the pain they feel from losing their loved ones in the choppy seas of the Mediterranean, and the frustration and rage that emerges from being blocked from reaching their destinations by barbed wire and armed police.

One moment in “Human Flow” is seared in my memory—a moment no Hollywood studio could reproduce. Two young brothers are sitting on the muddy ground outside their meager tent in the semi-darkness of a refugee camp. One is crying, promising to follow his brother anywhere, no matter what. Ai added context to that remarkable scene, which he and his crew witnessed. “They had no idea where they would be accepted,” he told me. “They had been refused. They had been stopped at the border and had spent all their money on the dangerous journey to come to a place which will block them and maybe send them back.”

In another harrowing scene, an Afghan woman agrees to speak with Ai, but only if her face is not on screen. She sits with her back to the camera and begins answering questions about her family’s torturous journey from Afghanistan. Minutes later, she loses control and throws up.

One middle-aged man takes the film crew to a makeshift graveyard, where multiple members of his family were buried after they drowned while trying to flee. He breaks down in tears as he sifts through the identity cards of the dead—all he has left of his kin.

At a time when Europe and the U.S. are rewriting their rules for entry in direct response to the massive demand by people looking for safe haven, Ai’s film puts faces to the numbers. “You see people really feel betrayed,” Ai says. “They think [of] Europe as a land that protects basic humanity.” The cruelty of European anti-refugee policies emerges as a central theme, as Ai explores the abandonment of lofty ideals of humanity on a continent that promised never again to turn away refugees after World War II (ironically, tens of thousands of European refugees fled the violence of World War II and found refuge in camps in the Middle East, including in Syria). It was, perhaps, easy to make pronouncements like “Never Again” in hindsight, but when the opportunity arises to prevent another human disaster, all the familiar political reasons re-emerge, like zombies from the grave.

Not content to showcase the fleeing refugees from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Eritrea, the film also includes the stories of refugees who are less popular in mainstream media: Palestinians displaced from their homes and languishing under Israeli siege in Gaza, Rohingya Muslims fleeing Buddhist Myanmar’s persecution, climate refugees from various African countries, and even Latin American migrants desperate to enter the United States.

Bizarrely, it is the story of a wild animal that best expresses Europe and America’s abandonment of humans. A tiger, having entered Gaza through an underground tunnel, is housed and fed by a local organization. “Human Flow” shows the extraordinary lengths to which local, regional and state authorities cooperate with one another to ensure the safe passage and relocation of the tiger—a privilege not afforded to the refugees stranded on the same lands. Unlike the “flow” of humans seen throughout the film, Palestinians living in Gaza are “stuck,” according to Ai. “It’s like jail for millions of people living in such unbelievable conditions,” he says of the unending Israeli siege of Gaza.

The artist-turned-filmmaker has broken a number of barriers in his film by focusing on the humanity of tens of millions of people that the world would rather forget about. But he has also broken some rules of filmmaking. There are few talking heads in the film and little discussion of politics and policy. News headlines from media outlets scroll along the bottom of the screen, filling in the blanks in terse text. And really, do we need any more films about the well-documented causes of human suffering in the global refugee crisis?

What Ai’s film offers is what is missing most from our discussions of the refugee crisis: the fact that those who are fleeing are real people who bleed when they are injured, who cry when they are hurt, among whom are innocent children and tired elders, who are all being abandoned in a moment we will collectively look back on in shame.

“Human Flow” opens in theaters nationwide in October. Learn more online at www.humanflow.com.

Sonali Kolhatkar
Columnist
Sonali Kolhatkar is a columnist for Truthdig. She also is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV (Dish Network, DirecTV,…

Chomsky: Trump’s #1 Goal as President

Donald Trump’s policies will devastate future generations, but that’s of little concern to the Republicans.

Noam Chomsky discusses the recent climate agreement between the US and China, the rise of the Islamic State and the movement in Ferguson against racism and police violence. 
Photo Credit: screen grab via GRITtv

[This interview has been excerpted from Global Discontents: Conversations on the Rising Threats to Democracy, the new book by Noam Chomsky and David Barsamian to be published this December.] 

David Barsamian: You have spoken about the difference between Trump’s buffoonery, which gets endlessly covered by the media, and the actual policies he is striving to enact, which receive less attention. Do you think he has any coherent economic, political, or international policy goals? What has Trump actually managed to accomplish in his first months in office? 

Noam Chomsky: There is a diversionary process under way, perhaps just a natural result of the propensities of the figure at center stage and those doing the work behind the curtains.

At one level, Trump’s antics ensure that attention is focused on him, and it makes little difference how. Who even remembers the charge that millions of illegal immigrants voted for Clinton, depriving the pathetic little man of his Grand Victory? Or the accusation that Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower? The claims themselves don’t really matter. It’s enough that attention is diverted from what is happening in the background. There, out of the spotlight, the most savage fringe of the Republican Party is carefully advancing policies designed to enrich their true constituency: the Constituency of private power and wealth, “the masters of mankind,” to borrow Adam Smith’s phrase.

These policies will harm the irrelevant general population and devastate future generations, but that’s of little concern to the Republicans. They’ve been trying to push through similarly destructive legislation for years. Paul Ryan, for example, has long been advertising his ideal of virtually eliminating the federal government, apart from service to the Constituency — though in the past he’s wrapped his proposals in spreadsheets so they would look wonkish to commentators. Now, while attention is focused on Trump’s latest mad doings, the Ryan gang and the executive branch are ramming through legislation and orders that undermine workers’ rights, cripple consumer protections, and severely harm rural communities. They seek to devastate health programs, revoking the taxes that pay for them in order to further enrich their Constituency, and to eviscerate the Dodd-Frank Act, which imposed some much-needed constraints on the predatory financial system that grew during the neoliberal period.

That’s just a sample of how the wrecking ball is being wielded by the newly empowered Republican Party. Indeed, it is no longer a political party in the traditional sense. Conservative political analysts Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein have described it more accurately as a “radical insurgency,” one that has abandoned normal parliamentary politics.

Much of this is being carried out stealthily, in closed sessions, with as little public notice as possible. Other Republican policies are more open, such as pulling out of the Paris climate agreement, thereby isolating the U.S. as a pariah state that refuses to participate in international efforts to confront looming environmental disaster. Even worse, they are intent on maximizing the use of fossil fuels, including the most dangerous; dismantling regulations; and sharply cutting back on research and development of alternative energy sources, which will soon be necessary for decent survival.

The reasons behind the policies are a mix. Some are simply service to the Constituency. Others are of little concern to the “masters of mankind” but are designed to hold on to segments of the voting bloc that the Republicans have cobbled together, since Republican policies have shifted so far to the right that their actual proposals would not attract voters. For example, terminating support for family planning is not service to the Constituency. Indeed, that group may mostly support family planning. But terminating that support appeals to the evangelical Christian base — voters who close their eyes to the fact that they are effectively advocating more unwanted pregnancies and, therefore, increasing the frequency of resort to abortion, under harmful and even lethal conditions.

Not all of the damage can be blamed on the con man who is nominally in charge, on his outlandish appointments, or on the congressional forces he has unleashed. Some of the most dangerous developments under Trump trace back to Obama initiatives — initiatives passed, to be sure, under pressure from the Republican Congress.

The most dangerous of these has barely been reported. A very important study in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, published in March 2017, reveals that the Obama nuclear weapons modernization program has increased “the overall killing power of existing US ballistic missile forces by a factor of roughly three — and it creates exactly what one would expect to see, if a nuclear-armed state were planning to have the capacity to fight and win a nuclear war by disarming enemies with a surprise first strike.” As the analysts point out, this new capacity undermines the strategic stability on which human survival depends. And the chilling record of near disaster and reckless behavior of leaders in past years only shows how fragile our survival is. Now this program is being carried forward under Trump. These developments, along with the threat of environmental disaster, cast a dark shadow over everything else — and are barely discussed, while attention is claimed by the performances of the showman at center stage.

Whether Trump has any idea what he and his henchmen are up to is not clear. Perhaps he is completely authentic: an ignorant, thin-skinned megalomaniac whose only ideology is himself. But what is happening under the rule of the extremist wing of the Republican organization is all too plain.

DB: Do you see any encouraging activity on the Democrats’ side? Or is it time to begin thinking about a third party? 

NC: There is a lot to think about. The most remarkable feature of the 2016 election was the Bernie Sanders campaign, which broke the pattern set by over a century of U.S. political history. A substantial body of political science research convincingly establishes that elections are pretty much bought; campaign funding alone is a remarkably good predictor of electability, for Congress as well as for the presidency. It also predicts the decisions of elected officials. Correspondingly, a considerable majority of the electorate — those lower on the income scale — are effectively disenfranchised, in that their representatives disregard their preferences. In this light, there is little surprise in the victory of a billionaire TV star with substantial media backing: direct backing from the leading cable channel, Rupert Murdoch’s Fox, and from highly influential right-wing talk radio; indirect but lavish backing from the rest of the major media, which was entranced by Trump’s antics and the advertising revenue that poured in.

The Sanders campaign, on the other hand, broke sharply from the prevailing model. Sanders was barely known. He had virtually no support from the main funding sources, was ignored or derided by the media, and labeled himself with the scare word “socialist.” Yet he is now the most popular political figure in the country by a large margin.

At the very least, the success of the Sanders campaign shows that many options can be pursued even within the stultifying two-party framework, with all of the institutional barriers to breaking free of it. During the Obama years, the Democratic Party disintegrated at the local and state levels. The party had largely abandoned the working class years earlier, even more so with Clinton trade and fiscal policies that undermined U.S. manufacturing and the fairly stable employment it provided.

There is no dearth of progressive policy proposals. The program developed by Robert Pollin in his book Greening the Global Economy is one very promising approach. Gar Alperovitz’s work on building an authentic democracy based on worker self-management is another. Practical implementations of these approaches and related ideas are taking shape in many different ways. Popular organizations, some of them outgrowths of the Sanders campaign, are actively engaged in taking advantage of the many opportunities that are available.

At the same time, the established two-party framework, though venerable, is by no means graven in stone. It’s no secret that in recent years, traditional political institutions have been declining in the industrial democracies, under the impact of what is called “populism.” That term is used rather loosely to refer to the wave of discontent, anger, and contempt for institutions that has accompanied the neoliberal assault of the past generation, which led to stagnation for the majority alongside a spectacular concentration of wealth in the hands of a few.

Functioning democracy erodes as a natural effect of the concentration of economic power, which translates at once to political power by familiar means, but also for deeper and more principled reasons. The doctrinal pretense is that the transfer of decision-making from the public sector to the “market” contributes to individual freedom, but the reality is different. The transfer is from public institutions, in which voters have some say, insofar as democracy is functioning, to private tyrannies — the corporations that dominate the economy — in which voters have no say at all. In Europe, there is an even more direct method of undermining the threat of democracy: placing crucial decisions in the hands of the unelected troika — the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission — which heeds the northern banks and the creditor community, not the voting population.

These policies are dedicated to making sure that society no longer exists, Margaret Thatcher’s famous description of the world she perceived — or, more accurately, hoped to create: one where there is no society, only individuals. This was Thatcher’s unwitting paraphrase of Marx’s bitter condemnation of repression in France, which left society as a “sack of potatoes,” an amorphous mass that cannot function. In the contemporary case, the tyrant is not an autocratic ruler — in the West, at least — but concentrations of private power.

The collapse of centrist governing institutions has been evident in elections: in France in mid-2017 and in the United States a few months earlier, where the two candidates who mobilized popular forces were Sanders and Trump — though Trump wasted no time in demonstrating the fraudulence of his “populism” by quickly ensuring that the harshest elements of the old establishment would be firmly ensconced in power in the luxuriating “swamp.”

These processes might lead to a breakdown of the rigid American system of one-party business rule with two competing factions, with varying voting blocs over time. They might provide an opportunity for a genuine “people’s party” to emerge, a party where the voting bloc is the actual constituency, and the guiding values merit respect.

DB: Trump’s first foreign trip was to Saudi Arabia. What significance do you see in that, and what does it mean for broader Middle East policies? And what do you make of Trump’s animus toward Iran?

NC: Saudi Arabia is the kind of place where Trump feels right at home: a brutal dictatorship, miserably repressive (notoriously so for women’s rights, but in many other areas as well), the leading producer of oil (now being overtaken by the United States), and with plenty of money. The trip produced promises of massive weapons sales — greatly cheering the Constituency — and vague intimations of other Saudi gifts. One of the consequences was that Trump’s Saudi friends were given a green light to escalate their disgraceful atrocities in Yemen and to discipline Qatar, which has been a shade too independent of the Saudi masters. Iran is a factor there. Qatar shares a natural gas field with Iran and has commercial and cultural relations with it, frowned upon by the Saudis and their deeply reactionary associates.

Iran has long been regarded by U.S. leaders, and by U.S. media commentary, as extraordinarily dangerous, perhaps the most dangerous country on the planet. This goes back to well before Trump. In the doctrinal system, Iran is a dual menace: it is the leading supporter of terrorism, and its nuclear programs pose an existential threat to Israel, if not the whole world. It is so dangerous that Obama had to install an advanced air defense system near the Russian border to protect Europe from Iranian nuclear weapons — which don’t exist, and which, in any case, Iranian leaders would use only if possessed by a desire to be instantly incinerated in return.

That’s the doctrinal system. In the real world, Iranian support for terrorism translates to support for Hezbollah, whose major crime is that it is the sole deterrent to yet another destructive Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and for Hamas, which won a free election in the Gaza Strip — a crime that instantly elicited harsh sanctions and led the U.S. government to prepare a military coup. Both organizations, it is true, can be charged with terrorist acts, though not anywhere near the amount of terrorism that stems from Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the formation and actions of jihadi networks.

As for Iran’s nuclear weapons programs, U.S. intelligence has confirmed what anyone can easily figure out for themselves: if they exist, they are part of Iran’s deterrent strategy. There is also the unmentionable fact that any concern about Iranian weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) could be alleviated by the simple means of heeding Iran’s call to establish a WMD-free zone in the Middle East. Such a zone is strongly supported by the Arab states and most of the rest of the world and is blocked primarily by the United States, which wishes to protect Israel’s WMD capabilities.

Since the doctrinal system falls apart on inspection, we are left with the task of finding the true reasons for U.S. animus toward Iran. Possibilities readily come to mind. The United States and Israel cannot tolerate an independent force in a region that they take to be theirs by right. An Iran with a nuclear deterrent is unacceptable to rogue states that want to rampage however they wish throughout the Middle East. But there is more to it than that. Iran cannot be forgiven for overthrowing the dictator installed by Washington in a military coup in 1953, a coup that destroyed Iran’s parliamentary regime and its unconscionable belief that Iran might have some claim on its own natural resources. The world is too complex for any simple description, but this seems to me the core of the tale.

It also wouldn’t hurt to recall that in the past six decades, scarcely a day has passed when Washington was not tormenting Iranians. After the 1953 military coup came U.S. support for a dictator described by Amnesty International as a leading violator of fundamental human rights. Immediately after his overthrow came the U.S.-backed invasion of Iran by Saddam Hussein, no small matter. Hundreds of thousands of Iranians were killed, many by chemical weapons. Reagan’s support for his friend Saddam was so extreme that when Iraq attacked a U.S. ship, the USS Stark, killing 37 American sailors, it received only a light tap on the wrist in response. Reagan also sought to blame Iran for Saddam’s horrendous chemical warfare attacks on Iraqi Kurds.

Eventually, the United States intervened directly in the Iran-Iraq War, leading to Iran’s bitter capitulation. Afterward, George H. W. Bush invited Iraqi nuclear engineers to the United States for advanced training in nuclear weapons production — an extraordinary threat to Iran, quite apart from its other implications. And, of course, Washington has been the driving force behind harsh sanctions against Iran that continue to the present day.

Trump, for his part, has joined the harshest and most repressive dictators in shouting imprecations at Iran. As it happens, Iran held an election during his Middle East travel extravaganza — an election which, however flawed, would be unthinkable in the land of his Saudi hosts, who also happen to be the source of the radical Islamism that is poisoning the region. But U.S. animus against Iran goes far beyond Trump himself. It includes those regarded as the “adults” in the Trump administration, like James “Mad Dog” Mattis, the secretary of defense. And it stretches a long way into the past.

DB: What are the strategic issues where Korea is concerned? Can anything be done to defuse the growing conflict? 

NC: Korea has been a festering problem since the end of World War II, when the hopes of Koreans for unification of the peninsula were blocked by the intervention of the great powers, the United States bearing primary responsibility.

The North Korean dictatorship may well win the prize for brutality and repression, but it is seeking and to some extent carrying out economic development, despite the overwhelming burden of a huge military system. That system includes, of course, a growing arsenal of nuclear weapons and missiles, which pose a threat to the region and, in the longer term, to countries beyond — but its function is to be a deterrent, one that the North Korean regime is unlikely to abandon as long as it remains under threat of destruction.

Today, we are instructed that the great challenge faced by the world is how to compel North Korea to freeze these nuclear and missile programs. Perhaps we should resort to more sanctions, cyberwar, intimidation; to the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system, which China regards as a serious threat to its own interests; perhaps even to direct attack on North Korea — which, it is understood, would elicit retaliation by massed artillery, devastating Seoul and much of South Korea even without the use of nuclear weapons.

But there is another option, one that seems to be ignored: we could simply accept North Korea’s offer to do what we are demanding. China and North Korea have already proposed that North Korea freeze its nuclear and missile programs. The proposal, though, was rejected at once by Washington, just as it had been two years earlier, because it includes a quid pro quo: it calls on the United States to halt its threatening military exercises on North Korea’s borders, including simulated nuclear-bombing attacks by B-52s.

The Chinese-North Korean proposal is hardly unreasonable. North Koreans remember well that their country was literally flattened by U.S. bombing, and many may recall how U.S. forces bombed major dams when there were no other targets left. There were gleeful reports in American military publications about the exciting spectacle of a huge flood of water wiping out the rice crops on which “the Asian” depends for survival. They are very much worth reading, a useful part of historical memory.

The offer to freeze North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs in return for an end to highly provocative actions on North Korea’s border could be the basis for more far-reaching negotiations, which could radically reduce the nuclear threat and perhaps even bring the North Korea crisis to an end. Contrary to much inflamed commentary, there are good reasons to think such negotiations might succeed. Yet even though the North Korean programs are constantly described as perhaps the greatest threat we face, the Chinese-North Korean proposal is unacceptable to Washington, and is rejected by U.S. commentators with impressive unanimity. This is another entry in the shameful and depressing record of near-reflexive preference for force when peaceful options may well be available.

The 2017 South Korean elections may offer a ray of hope. Newly elected President Moon Jae-in seems intent on reversing the harsh confrontationist policies of his predecessor. He has called for exploring diplomatic options and taking steps toward reconciliation, which is surely an improvement over the angry fist-waving that might lead to real disaster.

DB: You have in the past expressed concern about the European Union. What do you think will happen as Europe becomes less tied to the U.S. and the U.K.? 

NC: The E.U. has fundamental problems, notably the single currency with no political union. It also has many positive features. There are some sensible ideas aimed at saving what is good and improving what is harmful. Yanis Varoufakis’s DiEM25 initiative for a democratic Europe is a promising approach.

The U.K. has often been a U.S. surrogate in European politics. Brexit might encourage Europe to take a more independent role in world affairs, a course that might be accelerated by Trump policies that increasingly isolate us from the world. While he is shouting loudly and waving an enormous stick, China could take the lead on global energy policies while extending its influence to the west and, ultimately, to Europe, based on the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the New Silk Road.

That Europe might become an independent “third force” has been a matter of concern to U.S. planners since World War II. There have long been discussions of something like a Gaullist conception of Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals or, in more recent years, Gorbachev’s vision of a common Europe from Brussels to Vladivostok.

Whatever happens, Germany is sure to retain a dominant role in European affairs. It is rather startling to hear a conservative German chancellor, Angela Merkel, lecturing her U.S. counterpart on human rights, and taking the lead, at least for a time, in confronting the refugee issue, Europe’s deep moral crisis. On the other hand, Germany’s insistence on austerity and paranoia about inflation and its policy of promoting exports by limiting domestic consumption have no slight responsibility for Europe’s economic distress, particularly the dire situation of the peripheral economies. In the best case, however, which is not beyond imagination, Germany could influence Europe to become a generally positive force in world affairs.

DB: What do you make of the conflict between the Trump administration and the U.S. intelligence communities? Do you believe in the “deep state”?

NC: There is a national security bureaucracy that has persisted since World War II. And national security analysts, in and out of government, have been appalled by many of Trump’s wild forays. Their concerns are shared by the highly credible experts who set the Doomsday Clock, advanced to two and a half minutes to midnight as soon as Trump took office — the closest it has been to terminal disaster since 1953, when the U.S. and USSR exploded thermonuclear weapons. But I see little sign that it goes beyond that, that there is any secret “deep state” conspiracy. 

DB: To conclude, as we look forward to your 89th birthday, I wonder: Do you have a theory of longevity? 

NC: Yes, it’s simple, really. If you’re riding a bicycle and you don’t want to fall off, you have to keep going — fast.

 

Noam Chomsky is institute professor emeritus in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His most recent books are Who Rules the World? (Metropolitan Books, 2016) and Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power (Seven Stories Press, 2017). His website is www.chomsky.info.

David Barsamian, the director of the award-winning and widely syndicated Alternative Radio, is the winner of the Lannan Foundation’s 2006 Cultural Freedom Fellowship and the ACLU’s Upton Sinclair Award for independent journalism. He lives in Boulder, Colorado.

https://www.alternet.org/chomsky-trumps-1-goal-president?akid=16203.265072.OpnD8g&rd=1&src=newsletter1083746&t=4

5 of the Most Regressive Laws in Practice in the South

NEWS & POLITICS
In some states, progress is clearly not the most important priority.

Photo Credit: James Scott/Flickr

There are a lot of dumb laws in states throughout the U.S. State constitutions can be centuries old, so silly and archaic laws like those forbidding horses and donkeys from sleeping in bathtubs tend to be disregarded or overwritten by federal laws. But there are plenty of outrageous policies being implemented today, in the name of religious protection, or common decency, or whatever else proponents come up with to justify revoking civil and human rights. Silly laws certainly aren’t limited to the Southern states alone, but the supremacy of Christianity and fear of people of color are culturally pervasive in this region, despite blue cities and liberal pockets that have become havens for more progressive Southerners and out-of-towners.

Today we may view laws like one in Kentucky that forbids attorneys and government workers from dueling, as backwards. But they were taken quite seriously when they were first written. Here’s hoping these five are seen as equally insane one day.

1. Sex toy purchases are illegal in Alabama.

This rule has been embarrassing Alabamians ever since the Anti-Obscenity Enforcement Act passed in 1998. You can receive a $10,000 fine and a year in jail if you’re caught buying or selling a vibrator the first time, and up to 10 years for a second offense. The ACLU tried to take the case up with the Supreme Court in 2005, but the court declined to hear the case.

2. Sharia law is officially condemned.

In Texas and Arkansas, where the Muslim population is 1% and 2% respectively, common sense suggests that Christian Southerners are not much in danger of being overtaken by hyper-conservative Islamic law. But both states recently approved legislation against it, and momentum seems to be building in other Southern states for similar policies. The declarations against Sharia law are based solely on fearmongering, meant to bully Muslims living in those states.

As the Southern Poverty Law Center explains, “the mass hysteria surrounding a so-called threat of Sharia law in the United States is largely the work of anti-Muslim groups such as the American Freedom Law Center and ACT for America, an SPLC-designated hate group.”

3. Voter ID laws across the region punish the poor for being poor.

States that require citizens to show ID at the poll station are rolling back the progress made on voting access since the end of Jim Crow. Obtaining an ID card can involve time, money, access, and mobility that many poor people of color lack, especially the elderly. “It’s all about the political will,” Anita Earls of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice told NBC. “If you look at a map where African-American populations are the largest, it’s basically all of the Southern states, and that’s where most of these new voting restrictions have been enacted.”

4. New anti-LGBT laws revoke the rights of gay, bi, trans citizens.

A breathtaking wave of over 100 bills slashing civil rights for gay, bi and trans people have been introduced to state legislatures since 2010 alone, as the Huffington Post rounds up, and many have passed. Here’s a small sample: “Mississippi lets any person or business deny services to same-sex couples because of religious objections. In North Carolina, the governor signed a law banning cities from passing LGBT anti-discrimination ordinances and barring transgender people from using bathrooms that match their gender identity. Tennessee also has a ‘bathroom bill,’ plus a bill that lets mental health professionals refuse to treat LGBT patients.”

There have been many more attempts at these kinds of laws throughout the region, catalogued by the ACLU.

5. Alabama tried to chase out undocumented immigrants.

HB-56, set into motion in September 2011, cracked down on illegal immigration in what many believed at the time was the harshest measure of its kind in any state. It required Alabama schools to track and report the legal status of children enrolled there. As a result, Alabama schools saw a mass exodus of Hispanic students, whose parents in many cases fled to other states in fear that their immigration status would be shared with ICE. And that was largely the point: the law’s chief sponsor, State Rep. Micky Hammon, promised undocumented immigrants in Alabama that he would “make it difficult for them to live here, so they will deport themselves.” Challenges from Eric Holder’s Justice Department thankfully nullified much of the law by 2013, but if another state tried to pass a similar bill in Trump’s America, Jeff Sessions might not be inclined to fight it.

Liz Posner is an associate editor at AlterNet. Her work has appeared on Forbes.com, Bust, Bustle, Refinery29, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter at @elizpos.

https://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/5-most-regressive-and-weird-laws-still-practice-south?akid=16181.265072.U7_1YY&rd=1&src=newsletter1083558&t=6

Puerto Rico is facing an historic crisis

Puerto Rico is facing one of the worst human disasters in its history following two powerful hurricanes that devastated the island. The scale and scope of the crisis are still not fully known. What is clear, however, is that Puerto Rico’s colonial overlords in Washington are determined to do as little as they can to help the victims. The federal response has been painfully slow and totally inadequate to meeting the island’s needs.

Donald Trump added insult to injury last weekend when he lashed out at the mayor of San Juan on Twitter for daring to appeal for more federal aid. Trump complained that Puerto Ricans “are not able to get their workers to help” and “want everything to be done for them.” Meanwhile, in cities like Chicago, Philadelphia and New York, protesters took to the streets to demand immediate emergency relief. In the midst of this developing situation, two Puerto Rican artists and activists, Jael Pimentel and Yara Liceaga-Rojas, talked with Dorian B.about the crisis–and about resistance on the island.

Families line up for water in Puerto Rico

Families line up for water in Puerto Rico

WHAT ARE conditions like on the ground in Puerto Rico? How severe is the humanitarian crisis?

Jael: There are many parts of the country outside the San Juan metro area that are completely without electricity, without any form of communication. Their roads are blocked and in many cases their situation is unknown.

Yara: There are massive infestations of mosquitos and rats because of the accumulation of rotting garbage. There were many animals killed during the storm, and they haven’t been removed. At several cemeteries that were badly flooded, bodies have been forced from their graves by the water and are now just lying out in the open. Conditions are seriously unsanitary.

Many people are ill. The lack of air conditioning in the hospitals is leading to the spread of bacteria and bacterial infections. There are many hospitals in really bad condition, so much so that family members of patients are no longer being let in because it’s unsafe.

Jael: Not only that, but people have no food. I have a cousin who waited in line for four hours. She was given three cans of spaghetti for five people.

Yara: Supermarkets are empty. Gas is being rationed out. You have to wait up to seven or eight hours in your car to get gas, only to be sold $10 to $15 of gas.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Several grassroots organizations are taking donations to support ongoing efforts to bring immediate relief in Puerto Rico, reach the most vulnerable populations and foster an equitable rebuilding of the island. SW urges its readers to prioritize these grassroots efforts over mainstream NGOs.

— Federación de Maestros de Puerto Rico

— Hurricane Maria Community Relief and Recovery Fund

— Comedores Sociales de Puerto Rico (donate via Paypal to cdpecpr@gmail.com).

— Feminist Solidarity Post-Hurricane Relief Fund organized by Colectiva Feminista

Jael: There are endless lines for everything. I really want to stress this because someone like my father, who is 85 years old, has tried to wait in lines twice already, but has had to leave because of his physical condition. He woke up at 3:30 a.m. one day to cue up for five hours to get gas. The elderly simply cannot stand in line for five hours. There are many people who are unable to access a lot of basic supplies.

HOW MUCH do we know about the loss of life so far?

Yara: The number of dead is far higher than the current official count, which as of this interview is 16. There are no mechanisms in place to actually locate and count the dead. So we really don’t know the number, and it could climb into the hundreds.

The Center for Investigative Journalism in Puerto Rico has written a report on the overwhelming number of critically ill people in Puerto Rico’s hospitals. But not only that–they spoke with hospital officials who informed them that there are dozens of deceased people in hospital morgues around the country, who are not yet included in the official count because no one has been able to register or identify them. With little or no air conditioning, these bodies are also quickly decomposing.

Jael: There are many people who have died in remote places. Their families and friends are burying them because there’s no way to transport them to hospitals in town. You know you’re supposed to register the bodies of the deceased, but in an emergency situation like this, you have to either bury the person or leave them on the ground.

This is a full-scale public health crisis. And the U.S. government is really not doing anything to address it. There are medical organizations that could be sent, helicoptered in, to different parts of the island to bring medical professionals who are trained to treat people and provide emergency relief. But that isn’t happening.

People with disabilities are also particularly vulnerable right now. They can’t go out and wait in these five-, six-, seven-hour lines for a couple of cans of spaghetti. What is happening to people in this situation? We don’t yet know. There is still so much we have to find out.

There’s also a shortage of medication. Puerto Rico has high rates of diabetes. There are also a lot of cancer and HIV patients who aren’t receiving medication or treatment. Often this is because the medication needs to be refrigerated, and there is no power for that. For people who depend on daily medication, the health consequences are frightening.

IN THE midst of this crisis, there have been many reports about relief supplies sitting in ports that aren’t getting to those in need. Why aren’t these materials being distributed?

Yara: The government authorities at the ports are refusing to distribute the donations, the food and the supplies arriving on the island. This is where the large military presence comes in.

The U.S. military and state national guards are supposedly being mobilized to distribute these supplies all across the archipelago. From what we know, this distribution hasn’t happened yet. What we are constantly hearing from everyone who can post online is that barely anything is being distributed.

Jael: When food arrives at the ports, instead of treating it as emergency supplies, the authorities are going through a long, bureaucratic process. They check every shipping container and make sure their contents meet requirements and regulations, which takes a very long time, especially now when much of that has to be done manually rather than electronically.

But this situation urgently demands a different approach. Officials at the ports must release these containers and distribute the goods because people are dying.

The other point is that the authorities and shipping companies claim that there are not enough drivers to distribute the goods. But we’ve heard multiple stories of people being turned away at the ports when they show up with their own trucks because they’re told they don’t have the right kind of license.

All of the reports that we’ve heard repeat the fact that people are extremely frustrated and angry with the government–the federal government as well as the government of Puerto Rico–and that people are taking matters into their own hands to organize relief themselves.

CAN YOU describe some of what ordinary Puerto Ricans are doing to organize relief?

Yara: People are getting very creative in organizing various kinds of solidarity. Some arts communities, like El Local or Casa Taller, have been making and distributing food. The infrastructure of gas and stoves has collapsed. So these organizations have been giving out meals for free.

People have been going to San Juan’s main financial district, the Milla de Oro, to find buildings with functioning electricity. They’re bringing power strips down there and helping people charge their phones. It’s also one of the few remaining spaces with Internet, where people can communicate with family and friends, both on and off the archipelago.

The initiative to bring power strips to the financial district is quite brilliant because people really don’t have any way to charge their phones, which is the only means of communication with the United States. Most of the information that we know has come through speaking with friends and family on the phone or looking at the things they’ve posted on social media.

Jael: It’s important to emphasize that people are forming many grassroots organizations. Those are the organizations that we’re trying to find ways to donate money to, because that’s what they need.

Yara: And, of course, we also have to recognize that many people are also trying to leave the island right now to escape to safety. But in response, the airlines have jacked up ticket prices to several times the normal cost. So it’s very hard for most people to leave.

And this brings up another issue, which is that, as you might imagine, the crisis unfolding right now is not touching everyone on the island. The rich and the big business owners are doing fine.

The owner of one of the island’s biggest malls, the Plaza las Américas, has electricity in their mall. But it’s closed to the public. The wealthy are hiring others to supply them with generators, water supplies and other materials, while people around them are suffering.

CAN YOU talk about this crisis is affecting the millions of Puerto Ricans who live in the diaspora in the continental U.S.?

Yara: Here in the U.S., we are working really hard to do what we can for our friends and family on the island. Doing this interview is an important part of that work, because people in Puerto Rico really want people here to know what is actually happening. The full story is not reaching the mainstream news.

There are many people who until this day do not know the status of their family members. Many people in Puerto Rico are actually asking those in the U.S. for information about what’s going on, because they can’t gain access to information themselves.

Jael: At the same time, many people on the island have taken it upon themselves to check on the family members of people in the diaspora. People have offered their help through social media and gone to the houses of friends and relatives, which those of us here in the U.S. are trying to reach. One man did this for me and assured me that my parents are okay, after several days of not hearing from them.

Those of us who live in the diaspora have more political rights. We can vote in presidential elections and impact state politics, and we can apply pressure through protests and other actions.

The main demands that I think we need to call for are the cancellation of Puerto Rico’s debt and the repeal of the Jones Act.

There is no way Puerto Rico can recover from this disaster without canceling the debt. Before the storm, people were already going through immense suffering because of the destruction of the social infrastructure due to the onerous debt and austerity measures. The situation was already so bad. Now it’s gone over the edge.

The second thing is that we must demand the repeal of the Jones Act. This law, which forces all incoming ships to first dock in the U.S., not only damages the recovery effort, it makes economic stabilization very difficult. Our taxes are higher, the prices of consumer are goods are higher, and our commercial relationships are restricted. We can’t be economically independent under these conditions.

THE ONGOING reality of U.S. colonialism in Puerto Rico doesn’t receive the attention it deserves. How do you think this colonial relationship is impacting the current disaster?

Jael: We have to recognize the connection with colonialism. This is why the Jones Act was passed into law–to deny Puerto Ricans access to anything that the U.S. doesn’t approve of. Trump has lifted the Jones Act for only 10 days. Ten days is nothing. It’s going to take a lot of time to get to and treat all of the people on the island who are starving and suffering. That’s not enough time.

We continue to feel like the United States wants to keep Puerto Rico trapped, wants to keep it locked in an imperialistic relationship and isn’t doing enough to help on the ground. Not nearly enough. The U.S. state can go to any country, invade it, find oil and all kinds of things. They organize and do it. And for Puerto Rico, they’re not doing anything.

Yara: I think that both the U.S. and Puerto Rican governments are scared that people on the island will soon begin to resist, to resist what is happening.

People on the ground are living in shock right now. This shock has different stages, from the initial shock to the mobilizations in the streets. People are protesting, because there is obviously no plan, no strategy by the authorities to resolve this crisis, and the situation is quickly deteriorating. Both the governments of the United States and Puerto Rico have failed miserably.

Jael: It’s incredible to watch Trump say that Puerto Rico is hard to reach because it’s in a “big ocean.” He has clearly shown that he has no respect or regard for the people of our country, and he couldn’t care less what happens to us. His response has been absolutely deplorable.

I also want to say that one of the main arguments we’ve heard so far is that Puerto Ricans deserve to be helped because we are American citizens. That may be true, but it’s a bad argument to lead with. We deserve to be helped not because we’re citizens, but because we’re human beings. We have fundamental rights that are being totally violated in this crisis.

https://socialistworker.org/2017/10/03/puerto-rico-is-facing-an-historic-crisis

Spain prepares military crackdown in Catalonia

By Alex Lantier
6 October 2017

With Spanish military and police units already being deployed, Madrid has signaled that it is preparing a brutal crackdown in Catalonia.

Spain’s Constitutional Court yesterday said that Monday’s planned session of the Catalan regional parliament, at which it was expected that the separatist parties would make a unilateral declaration of independence, must not take place. Coming after failing in a brutal attempt to halt the October 1 Catalan independence referendum, and with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy rejecting calls for mediation led by the Podemos party and the union bureaucracy, the move lays the basis for bringing in the army against what is now declared an unconstitutional meeting.

The Constitutional Court acted based on a complaint brought by the Socialist Party of Catalonia (PSC)—the Catalan wing of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE), which is now working openly with the PP to prepare a military clampdown. Calling the PSC’s complaint “relevant and of general social and economic interest,” the Court ruled that any act decided by the Catalan parliament would infringe the rights of PSC MPs and be “totally void, without the least value or effect. It warned that defying this order could mean arrests and criminal prosecutions.

On Sunday, the world was shocked and stunned as videos filled the Internet of 16,000 police assaulting polling places and peaceful voters, including women and the elderly, across Catalonia. Furious that its initial crackdown failed, Madrid is now preparing an even bloodier assault, using the military. As the Spanish press debates imposing a state of emergency, as in neighboring France, it is clear that this is bound up with well-advanced plans for military rule and the abrogation of basic democratic rights across Europe.

Rajoy’s minority Popular Party (PP) government is relying on the support of the major European imperialist powers. After official German, UK, and French sources signaled their support for Madrid following Sunday’s crackdown, the European Union (EU) again formally endorsed the Spanish crackdown on Wednesday.

Opening debate on the Catalan crisis at the European Parliament, Frans Timmermans, the first vice president of the EU Commission, unequivocally endorsed Madrid’s use of force against the population of Catalonia. “The regional government of Catalonia has chosen to ignore the law in organizing the referendum of last Sunday,” Timmermans declared, adding: “it is the duty for any government to uphold the law, and this sometimes does require the proportionate use of force.”

Yesterday, Spanish Defense Minister María Dolores de Cospedal made clear that Madrid views an army intervention to be a legitimate response in Catalonia. At a meeting at the School for Higher Defense Studies, she insisted that Spain’s army is tasked with “defending its territorial integrity and constitutional order.” After King Felipe VI declared in a bellicose speech Tuesday that Catalan nationalists had placed themselves outside the law and democracy, Cospedal added, “Everything that is located outside of democracy is a threat to our nation.”

Spanish army units are already providing logistical support to police deployed in Catalonia. And after Catalan regional premier Carles Puigdemont indicated after Sunday’s crackdown that he could declare independence on Monday, a measure that Madrid has stated for months is illegal, political maneuvers by Madrid to seize the Catalan government are underway.

There are also moves underway by the Spanish judiciary to prosecute Catalan judges and Catalan police, the Mossos dEsquadra, for failing to crack down on voters and demonstrating sympathy for separatists. The head of the Mossos, Josep Lluis Trapero, is to appear today before a court on the unprecedented charge of sedition, facing a 15-year prison sentence.

The courts are also removing legal restrictions to decisions by banks and corporations to move their headquarters away from Catalonia, amid reports that CaixaBank could soon move to Mallorca.

On Thursday, Rajoy also rejected appeals for mediation from Podemos General Secretary Pablo Iglesias and Puigdemont, supported by the Stalinist Workers Commissions (CCOO) and social-democratic General Union of Labor (UGT) union bureaucracies. When Iglesias phoned Rajoy to discuss the plan, Rajoy thanked Iglesias but declared he had no intention of negotiating with anyone who “is blackmailing the state so brutally.”

This was a direct repudiation of the Podemos leader’s comments the previous evening. Iglesias had told reporters, “A group of trusted people should sit down at a table to discuss as a team for dialog. This is what I told the premier of Catalonia and the prime minister of Spain. I spoke to Puigdemont and Rajoy, and they didn’t say no.” Iglesias added that his conversation with Rajoy had been “cordial,” and that Rajoy had “taken note” of the proposal.

While the leader of Podemos held “cordial” talks with Spain’s right-wing prime minister, far-right forces are organizing anti-Catalan protests across Spain and singing hymns of the 1939-1978 fascist regime of Generalissimo Francisco Franco.

Well aware that a new crackdown could provoke explosive social opposition among workers in the entire country, the Spanish press is agitating for moving to a police-state dictatorship. They are discussing the application not only of Article 155 of Spain’s Constitution, a so-called “nuclear option” that suspends Catalan self-government, but Article 116. This suspends basic democratic rights—including freedom of thought and expression, the right to strike, and elections—and allows for press censorship.

After a quarter century of imperialist war and EU austerity since the Stalinist bureaucracy’s dissolution of the Soviet Union, European democracy is at the breaking point. A decade of deep austerity since the 2008 Wall Street crash, which brought Spanish unemployment to 20 percent, has shattered Spain’s economy and discredited its ruling elite. Amid a deep crisis of the post-Francoite regime in Spain, and as the ruling class savagely attacks democratic rights across Europe, the Spanish bourgeoisie is using the Catalan crisis to return to an authoritarian regime.

Madrid’s plans for a bloodbath in Catalonia must be opposed. The critical question is the politically independent, revolutionary mobilization of the working class, not only in Catalonia but in all of Spain and across Europe, in struggle against the threat of civil war and police-state dictatorship and for socialism.

This requires a conscious break with Podemos and the Catalan nationalists, who have worked over the entire past period to confuse and disarm working class opposition, despite explosive social discontent. While masses of youth and workers participated in a one-day protest strike on Tuesday in Catalonia, the CCOO and UGT, close to Podemos and the PSOE respectively, were careful not to mobilize any Spanish workers outside of Catalonia.

The Catalan crisis has in particular exposed the bankruptcy of Podemos. It ceaselessly promoted illusions in the PSOE, which is rapidly moving to endorse a crackdown in Catalonia since the king’s speech, calling on the PSOE to form a joint government to oust Rajoy. Faced with the PSOE’s capitulation to Rajoy, Podemos is now stimulating illusions in the PP itself—even as a bloody military crackdown looms, and Rajoy indicates that he has no intention of negotiating with Barcelona.

As for the Catalan nationalists, who have run a series of austerity governments in Catalonia that smashed several strikes of transit and airport workers, their reactionary plans to develop ties with the EU and negotiate with Madrid the formation of a Catalan capitalist state are in ruins.

Faced with the prospect of a military crackdown, panic is reportedly spreading among Puigdemont’s supporters. Among Catalan nationalists in Barcelona, the city’s daily La Vanguardia wrote, “A strong feeling of vertigo runs through everyone—undermining militant enthusiasms, revolutionary visions, indignation in capital letters, patriotic ardors.” It added that King Felipe VI’s speech “has accentuated this feeling of vertigo. There is fear that the current escalation will end in catastrophe.”

Incapable of and hostile to mobilizing broader opposition to Madrid’s crackdown in the Spanish working class, the Catalan nationalists’ pro-capitalist politics only serves to divide the workers while a bloody onslaught from Madrid looms.

WSWS