Friday, June 24, 2022

Drought, NYT covers for empire again and more

 Here's Graham Elwood.

Drought, drought, it's becoming so common.  I don't know how people can have their heads in the sand and not see climate change right in front of them.

We're going to wait, I guess, until the planet burns down to get serious about trying to save it.  

But the world is full of lies and liars.  Alex Johnson (WSWS) calls out the liars at THE NEW YORK TIMES:

On May 20, the New York Times published a lengthy multipart, multimedia series entitled The Ransom, documenting the colonial oppression and pillaging of Haiti at the hands of France and the United States over the course of more than a century and a half following the Caribbean nation’s slave uprising in 1791 and its declaration of independence in 1804—the only successful slave revolt in history and the formation of the second republic of the New World. 

The Times attributes Haiti’s deep poverty to the debt peonage that began the day French warships sailed into the country’s ports in 1825, demanding restitution for the loss of property and wealth in the slave revolution. A French loan issued that year was predicated on reparations to the former French masters. Haiti then had to pay back both the former slaveowners and the French loan, in what the authors call a “Double Debt.”

As the series reviews, Haiti’s indebtedness was subsequently reinforced at the hands of American bankers during the violent US military occupation of the island between 1915 and 1934—though the Times politely ignores more recent American predations on the island. Finally, the authors also indict the Haitian politicians and officials who, over the years, enriched themselves through these perfidious financial operations with investors in New York and Paris. 

The Ransom authors argue that all the social ills that continue to plague the former colony and poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, whether abysmal incomes for its workers and peasants or dilapidated roads, schools and social infrastructure, can ultimately be traced to the malfeasance and criminality of domestic and foreign actors. “Every franc shipped across the Atlantic,” according to the investigation, “to an overseas bank vault was a franc not circulating” within the Haitian economy, stunting the sort of developments “that help nations become nations, that enable them to prosper.”

The authors of The Ransom, in other words, wish readers to believe that Haiti’s oppression is the outcome of a series of historical mistakes and cruel actions. Haiti might have had a different history, if only these bad things had not happened. As the authors ask in the series’ introduction, “What if the nation had not been looted by outside powers, foreign banks and its own leaders almost since birth? How much more money might it have had to build a nation?”

But the fact is that this country was looted by foreign governments, banks and comprador leaders since its birth. The real question is why? This question the Times cannot even pose, let alone answer, because it leads in revolutionary directions. Haiti’s history, from its days as Saint-Domingue, the richest of all slave colonies, to its present degraded status as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, is the outcome not just of the immoral actions of individuals. It is the outcome of these actions taken within the broader context of the development of global capitalism from its mercantile phase of “primitive accumulation” to the present epoch of imperialism.  

A number of us did TV posts last night:

  • Here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

     Thursday, June 23, 2022.  Joe Biden works harder as his fake assery, the world watches as Joe continues to persecute Julian Assange, Moqtada al-Sadr denies Iran forces his hand, and much more.

    The persecution of Julian Assange continues.  SCHEERPOST notes:

    After British Home Secretary Priti Patel signed Julian Assange’s extradition order on Friday the authorities in Belmarsh prison stripped Julian Assange and threw him into a completely empty cell in an attempt to prevent his suicide, Assange’s father has said. 

    It was just one more instance in which the prison humiliated his son, Shipton told  a rally on Tuesday night at the offices of the Junge Welt newspaper in Berlin. About 300 people attended, with an overflow crowd watching on closed circuit TV in the courtyard. 

    Testimony was heard from expert defense witnesses during Assange’s extradition hearing that he might try to end his life in prison once he learned he was going to the United States. 

    Alan Jones (THE SCOTSMAN) adds:

    John Rees, a leading member of the campaign for Mr Assange to be freed, told the PA news agency: “This is simply extrajudicial punishment.

    “It’s unacceptable and it’s surely illegal. But it shows how much pressure the authorities are under to free Assange that they behave this vindictively.

    “We need to redouble our efforts to stop the extradition, for Julian Assange’s sake and for the defence of a free press.”

    This persecution of Julian is about silencing the press.  Monday April 5, 2010, WIKILEAKS released US military video of a July 12, 2007 assault in Iraq. 12 people were killed in the assault including two Reuters journalists Namie Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh.  That is when the persecution begins.  It was an intimidation carried out by multiple presidents starting with Barack Obama, continuing with Donald Trump and now the baton for killing the press has been handed off to Joe Biden. This has had the effect of scaring off many traditional news outlets.  They once partnered with Julian to report and now they act as though they've never heard of him.  Saving their own asses?  They may think that.  If they do, they're dead wrong.  An attack on Julian is an attack on all.  And if the attack on Julian is not loudly and publicly rebuked, you can be sure that next up will be THE WASHINGTON POST or THE MIAMI HERALD or some other institution -- despite the US Constitution -- the same one that's being ignored in this attack on Julian.   Michael S. Robinson Sr. (SALT LAKE CITY WEEKLY) observes:

    His dives into the depths of national and international corruption have shown us that the U.S. and its close allies fall short of their choir-boy claims.

    Free speech and an unmuzzled press are sacrosanct tenets of our country. And yet, for all the clamor over free speech issues and the long-heralded proclamations on how essential the press is in protecting our democracy, Americans seem to be forgetting the sacred essentials of just what it is that keeps our nation free. Historically, those who have used their journalistic fervor to nail our country's misdeeds and duplicity have become symbols of America's greatness.

    Take Daniel Ellsberg, for instance, whose exposure of the Pentagon Papers helped to end the horror of our involvement in Vietnam. His expository efforts made it clear that almost everything the government had told us about Vietnam was a lie—that the Gulf of Tonkin attack was a provocation based on falsity, and that the U.S. was denying truth to its citizens, reporting the opposite of what was fact and hiding the grisly horrors of a fruitless and costly war.

    Around the world, Joe /Biden is determined to prove that the US is as bad as all the other countries it so often criticizes, that the government will go after those in the press who do their job if it produces content critical of the government.  The US government is looking worse and worse on the world stage thanks to Joe.  

    As THE NEW ARAB notes, the world is watching:

    An international coalition of journalists, editors and publishers demanded on Wednesday that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange be immediately released from a UK jail and that all charges against him be dropped.

    Fifteen representatives of international journalist and publishers' unions and organisations gathered in Geneva for the "call to free Julian Assange in the name of press freedom".

    "We are demanding that Julian Assange be freed, returned to his family, and finally permitted to live a normal life," said Dominique Pradalie, head of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), which counts some 600,000 members across 140 countries.

    "If Julian Assange is freed today, they will still have stolen 10 years of his life," she told the event.

    This is not a good look for Joe.

    Azeezah Kanji (TRUTHOUT) points out: 

    Previously, U.S. officials discussed “options” for kidnapping Assange and assassinating him by poison — tactics ultimately dismissed as “something we’d do in Afghanistan,” Egypt or Pakistan, but not the U.K. Therefore, they’ve opted for the more “civilized” alternative. Instead of kidnapping, extradition. And instead of assassination, entombment in the torturous U.S. carceral system, where Assange faces a death-in-prison sentence of 175 years for exposing U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    How is this, in essence and effect, anything but the “legal” equivalent of an extraordinary rendition — defined by the American Civil Liberties Union as “the practice of capturing people and sending them to countries that use torture or abuse in interrogations”?

    While the U.S.’s infamous extraordinary rendition program has (now) been officially condemned and supposedly ceased, rendition to torture via legalized means is enduringly embraced.

    As John Stauber notes, "[O]ne of the world's best and most important journalists is being tortured to death by #Biden for exposing bipartisan US war crimes.  History will praise Assange and piss on Biden."

     Staying with the topic of Joe-Joe Fake Ass, Kevin Reed (WSWS) notes:

    On Wednesday afternoon, President Biden announced a series of measures that he claimed would reduce gasoline prices for consumers heading into the busy summer season. Prominent among his proposals was an appeal to Congress to “suspend the federal gas tax for the next 90 days.”

    Speaking in front of large digital displays at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at 2:00 p.m., Biden noted that 18 cents of every gallon purchased goes to the federal Highway Trust Fund which is used to “keep our highways going.” By suspending the tax for three months, he said, “we can bring down the price of gas and give families just a little bit of relief.”

    The other elements of Biden’s plan were a call for states to suspend their gas taxes, an appeal for the oil companies to refine more gas and a request that gas station owners not artificially inflate prices. The president clearly has no means or even any interest in realizing such empty promises.

    Some aspects of the proposal are worth examining, and we will do so below. But the real purpose of the plan and the speech has nothing to do with the price of gas, and it was demonstrated in Biden’s concluding remarks, after which he walked away from the podium and took no questions from the press.

    The president said, “This is a time of war, global peril, Ukraine. These are not normal times. … Let’s remember how we got here: Putin invaded Ukraine. Putin invaded Ukraine with 100,000 forces.”

    Biden’s claim that Putin is responsible for skyrocketing gas prices is a lie, aimed at legitimizing his undeclared war against Russia, covering up the causes of the inflation sweeping through all sectors of the US economy and protecting the interests of the oil monopolies. His pathetic appeal to the corporations for price reductions will fall on deaf ears.

    “This is a time of war,” Biden proclaims. Who declared this war? Who brought the United States into it? This statement blows apart the fiction that the US and NATO are not at war with Russia. And the assertion contradicts the claim that the US concern in Ukraine is to “defend democracy and freedom.” When were the American people ever consulted about this war? The very decision to intervene was taken undemocratically and behind closed doors, as the result of a protracted imperialist build-up against Russia.

    Both the Democrats and the Republicans serve and defend the profit system and the oil monopolies. Both parties support the imperialist intervention in Ukraine against Russia. Biden only objects to Republican efforts to score points off the gas price rise in the 2022 elections, by putting the sole blame on his supposedly “green” policies (which are nothing of the kind).

    Joe Biden has destroyed the economy with his war of choice and yet a lot of idiots will continue to defend him. He is not your friend, he is not on your side.  Matthew Cunningham-Cook (JACOBIN) points out:

    Last month, President Joe Biden nominated a longtime advocate of Social Security privatization and benefit cuts to a key board overseeing the Social Security system. The move comes as Republicans get ready to push cuts to Social Security and Medicare, if they end up winning control of Congress during the November’s midterms, as expected.

    The development suggests that there could soon be a coordinated push in Washington to cut the Social Security program, which provides retirement, disability, and survivor benefits to 66 million Americans.

    On May 13, Biden chose to nominate Andrew Biggs, a fellow at the right-wing American Enterprise Institute think tank, for a Republican seat on the bipartisan Social Security Advisory Board, which was created in 1994 to consult the president and Congress about the Social Security system.

    For years, Biggs has been a vocal critic of expanded Social Security and workers’ right to a secure, stable retirement free from the vagaries of the stock market. He has dismissed the retirement crisis as a nonissue and as recently as 2020 blamed problems with the Social Security system on “older Americans’ game of chicken.” And two decades ago, Biggs worked on a George W. Bush administration commission that pushed to privatize Social Security.

    The fake assery of Joe Biden.  That included, please remember, backing Moqtada al-Sadr in Iraq.  Joe loves to trot out Beau Biden and Beau's service in Iraq.  Didn't stop him from siding with Moqtada who is responsible for the deaths of many US troops.  Didn't stop him from channeling the bribe through the US State Dept last August to get Moqtada to reverse his position on the Iraqi elections and instead announce that he now supported them.  

    Those elections took place October 10th.  Over eight months later, still no prime minister, still no president.  Moqtada had a hissy fit recently and took his toys and went home.  He demanded that his MPs resign from the Parliament.  And they did.  

    His usual sycophants in the media tried to spin this.  Just a bluff. Or some great move that he's going twist around and . . .

    Iraq Parliament swears in new lawmakers to replace 73 members of Sadrist bloc who resigned – Reuters


    They're gone.  They're replaced (by the next highest vote getters from the October 10th elections).

    Now he's said to be hoping to return as a protest leader.  Forgetting apparently that Shi;ite youths connected to The October Revolution rejected him three years ago.  But that's what cult leader Moqtada has in his future, a return to being the 'angry, young man' and at the age of 47.  He's now twice the median age of the people of Iraq (21 years old) and he'll try to inspire.

    In yesterday's snapshot, we noted that the Iranian government had peeled away the Barzani-KDP support for Moqtada which was why he took his toys and went home.  Truth must hurt because yesterday evening and this morning's new cycle saw headlines about how the Iranian government, per Moqtda, did not force his decision or break with him or pass a note in study hall saying he was a big, stinky ass and that the turban made him look 20 pounds fatter.

    At The Atlantic Council, Andrew Peek notes:

    The June 12 decision by Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to renounce his electoral victory and collapse the government formation process is a gift to Iran. It is a blow to average Iraqis—who demonstrated in 2019 for the end of the sectarian political system and were killed for it—and a blow to the United States, which had a chance to help expunge much of the malign Iranian influence that has seeped into Iraq since the 2003 US invasion.

    Sadr had won a significant seventy-three out of 329 seats in Iraq’s parliamentary elections in October 2021, outperforming all his Iraqi competitors, but especially the Iranian-backed parties and their militias. He then attempted to do something unprecedented: hold out for a majoritarian coalition and shut those same Shia parties out of government entirely, rather than divide up the spoils.

    If Sadr cut Iran-aligned parties out of the Iraqi government, including Iraq’s internal policy forces, it would have been a major blow to Iran’s growing regional influence in the Middle East. Iran values a pliable Iraq more than anything else: the prospect of an unfriendly Iraqi government—or even a nationalistic Iraqi government—would have reoriented Tehran’s political and security efforts in the region. Some of the funds and the attention of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which flows to Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, and even the Gaza Strip, would then have to be redirected in an epic effort to negotiate a new relationship with Baghdad.

    It would also have revolutionized Iraqi politics, where certain militias and their political allies in the government intimidate politicians who stray too far from the line. As it happens, Sadr is one of the very few Iraqi political leaders who is difficult to intimidate. His brand is that of the eternal outsider and opponent of the US invasion, Iran, corruption, and Iraqi elites. However, his real power is that he has had a militia of his own. Saraya al-Salam forms part of the Hashd al-Shaabi—until recently, it almost had the strength to match the Iran-backed portions of the group. Sadr, thus, has the muscle to force a decisive confrontation if he wants.

    Sadr’s steadfastness these past eight months since the October 2021 elections was shocking, particularly for a man whose political oscillations are an Iraqi watchword. He was being leaned on very heavily. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had urged Sadr to drop his project, to join with the Iran-aligned parties, and return to the rule of the great Shia political glob. His coalition partners, particularly the Kurdish Democratic Party’s (KDP) Masoud Barzani, were also under immense pressure. The forces opposing Sadr—primarily former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki—had focused on stopping the nomination of the presidency, rigging a series of court decisions: raising the threshold for his election and then disqualifying the KDP’s candidate, Hoshyar Zebari.

    To what precise extent Iran controls Iraq is one of the great policy questions of the region and the answer is, broadly, not as much as Iraq’s critics claim, with Sadr’s election being proof of that. But also proof of Iran’s influence is his order for the resignation of loyalist members of parliament. Iran has the most influence in behaviors that hamper the region, such as militias and ballistic missiles. The trouble for Iraqis is that these behaviors are precisely the ones that make Iraq impossible to change, whether to attract greater foreign investment, encourage its bourgeoning private sector, or simply reduce corruption from the top down. The Iranians and their political henchmen have private armies and courts and their government will, thus, elect a new people if they are pressed too far.

    A vote for Sadr was a vote for change in Iraq—undisciplined, highly erratic change, certainly, but change, nonetheless. His victory was not a full endorsement of the October 2019 demonstrators, but also due to a reordering of the electoral system and thus ephemeral. His bloc gamed the elections best.  But he had seized the mantle of the protestors even with partial consent.

    His current strategy is risky: he will almost certainly be making a play for early elections, though it’s unclear how much better he could do than in October 2021. Sadr may be feeling stronger after some action in this parliamentary session, including passing a food security law that will appeal to the poor and an anti-normalization law to fend off critics from the Iran-backed parties. He may also want to bait Maliki and the opposition into forming a government, instead, and be saddled during a hot and underemployed summer in Iraq with sandstorms and power outages. But the opposition isn’t foolish and will likely accede to early elections after a period under the current government—if they are asked.

    It was a mistake for the Joe Biden administration to keep Iraq at arm’s length these past months. The administration has deployed minor US officials and made anodyne statements about the will of the Iraqi people. That reflects conventional wisdom: that a more visible US presence can only arouse Shia opposition and harm those nationalistic Iraqis whose victory would help net-US interests. It isn’t popular for Sadr, after all, to have US Secretary of State Antony Blinken touring Baghdad and advocating on his behalf. But there is still room to compete with Iran, which now has the outcome it wants.

    For example, the Biden administration should have done more to condemn the series of attacks on Iraqi Kurdistan this spring, including a barrage of a dozen missiles on March 13. This could have included at least sending a senior American official to the Iraqi Kurdistan region. They should also have expressed privately, at a high level, American unhappiness with the Iraqi courts stonewalling the choice of president on February 6. It is possible this happened, though, given the lack of high-level involvement or attention to this process, it is unlikely. Of course this would be portrayed as interference in Iraqi sovereignty, but compared to, for example, Iranian and Turkish violations of sovereignty, the bar is low. Many Iraqis understand this.

    Above all, the Biden administration should have been down in the mud of Baghdad politics, just as the Iranians and the IRGC were, cajoling and demanding from political leaders to do more. Iran treats Iraq as a zero-sum political battleground of immense stakes, and so must America if it wants to help—Iraqi leaders can seem bemused when it doesn’t.

    The difference between America’s strategic tools—its foreign and military aid to Iraq—and its tactical influence—the ability to sway decision-makers—is the greatest challenge to US policy In Iraq. Iran has poor strategic tools and its economic aid is negligible, though there is plenty of licit and illicit trade. Nevertheless, Iran’s tactical tools are immense, since its agents can and will threaten to kill individuals if they vote the wrong way—or say the wrong thing.

    America’s profile is precisely in reverse. There is precious little personal incentive for individual ministers and politicians to accede to an American demand, especially if it infuriates the Iranians. America is resource-rich in strategic incentives for the nation, but very poor in its ability to make a single person’s life better. That leads to a collective-action problem, where it is better for the Iraqi state to cooperate with the US but for individual political leaders to help Iran—and, usually, the latter outweighs the former.

    In any case, the United States was absent from the latest Iraqi political drama again, leaving its Arab allies adrift. That was a loss for Washington, but even more so a loss for Iraqis and the majority who voted for change. 

    The following sites updated: