Saturday, June 24, 2017
June 23, 2017
Mexico Uses Israeli Spyware to Target Lawyers, Journalists, and Activists
June 24, 2017
"We have an alliance between the Mexican government and the Trump administration against the Mexican people," says John Ackerman, editor-in-chief of the Mexican Law Review.
"We're being massacred and spied on systematically in Mexico."
Shir Hever is an Economist working at The Real News Network. His economic research focuses on Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory; international aid to the Palestinians and to Israel; the effects of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories on the Israeli economy; and the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns against Israel. His first book: Political Economy of Israel's Occupation: Repression Beyond Exploitation, was published by Pluto Press.
John M. Ackerman is a professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), Editor-in-Chief of the Mexican Law Review and a columnist with both La Jornada newspaper and Proceso magazine. Blog: www.johnackerman.blogspot.com Twitter: @JohnMAckerman
The Democratic Party is beyond hope: We Need a Mass Movement to Demand Radical Progressive Change
by Dave Lindorff - This Can't Be Happening
June 23, 2017
The failure of Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff to capture the vacant House seat left in a suburban Atlanta district by the Trump nomination of Republican Rep. Tom Price as Secretary of Health and Human Services shows the disastrous state of the Democratic Party. So beholden is that party to corporate interests that it cannot put up or support any candidate who is willing to challenge its neoliberal paradigm.
With the Democratic Party in the hands of
Neoliberals and third parties kept off ballots,
progressives need a mass movement strategy.
The 30-year-old Ossoff tried to win by appealing to the so called “moderate middle” of voters, offering vague promises of economic growth and challenges to President Trump’s policies — for example his attack on the Obama administration’s so-called Affordable Care Act.
It was a stupid campaign approach, especially for a special election, when voter turnouts are typically very low and voter enthusiasm is the key. No matter: despite polls showing overwhelming American support for a Canadian-style single-payer “Medicare for All” health care system, Ossoff did not call for such a change. Nor did he mention at all the need to slash US military spending — the single biggest reason, because it lays claim to some 54% of all federal tax dollars each year, why the US is approaching Third World status by most measures such as life-expectancy, infant mortality, infrastructure, education, etc.
The question now for progressives is: What is to be done?
Clearly to be a viable and genuine opposition party to the ruling Republicans, the Democratic Party would have to be thoroughly deconstructed and rebuilt. The millionaire-packed Democratic National Committee leadership — the lobbyists, the elected officials and the well-heeled donors — would have to be tossed out entirely, and replaced by genuine progressives, labor activists, environmentalists, representatives of various minority groups and (gasp!) socialists. It would need a platform that was unequivocal and unflinching in its call for expanded and more generous Social Security benefits, for a well funded Medicare for All program, for a new National Labor Relations Act that routinizes the forming of labor unions and that safeguards, through severe penalties on recalcitrant employers, the right to bargain for contracts. It would have to stand foursquare for an emergency mobilization against climate change, and it would have to renounce the debunked neoliberal approach of coddling the rich and tossing crumbs to the poor, by standing for much higher taxes on the former and well-funded programs to help the latter. And finally, it would have to call for dramatic cuts in the military (not defense!) budget, and an end to US imperialism and militarism abroad.
This is essentially what Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters in the British Labour Party have done, but I have hard time, particularly after watching the overt and underhanded subversion of the Bernie Sanders primary campaign last year, and the inability of progressive Democrats to challenge and replace an the ossified and thoroughly discredited party leadership, imagining that this can happen here in the US with the Democratic Party, which internally is clearly anything but democratic.
An alternative would be to construct a new opposition party that could quickly move beyond just serving as convenient haven for protest votes to becoming a genuine opposition force. But as the Green Party and various socialist parties over the years have painfully learned, restrictive ballot and media access laws at the federal, state and local level, and a total lack of rules limiting corporate funding of campaigns, put in place by the two big parties, effectively give those two parties a lock on national elections, consigning third parties to the sidelines.
The only alternative then, it seems to me, is the one that the Civil Rights and the subsequent anti-Vietnam War movements used when confronted similarly with a Democratic Party that had no interest in supporting their interests and demands. That alternative is to build a movement on the streets and in local communities that presents the political establishment with the untenable prospect of ongoing mass militant opposition to which it has to respond. I would argue that the demands of such a movement this time could and must be broad and inclusive — not single-issue based as in the past. It needs to be built around demands that virtually all Americans, or at least a solid majority, can agree with. As a first pass, I would suggest the following:
* A Medicare for All health care system modeled on what they have in Canada
* An end to US militarism abroad and at home, the closing of most if not all foreign bases, an end to all US wars and arms sales to conflict zones, and a reduction in the US military budget by 50%. As well, a call for the US to return to negotiations with all nuclear nations to eliminate these weapons of mass destruction.
* A fair, non-racist immigration policy that is generous in accepting political refugees, that doesn’t threaten with deportation those young people brought illegally into the US not by their own choice, that, while securing borders to prevent illegal crossings, is humane and follows constitutional norms in dealing with those who sneak into the country seeking work, and that, finally, recognizes and works to end the role that US economic and foreign policy plays in creating economic problems in neighboring countries that compel people to try and enter the US seeking work.
* A crash program to reduce US carbon emissions, and to help other countries do so, particularly those developing countries that have limited resources and that are being most impacted already by global warming.
* A program to shift funding for education away from its current reliance on local property taxes to federal funding on a per-student basis in order to equalize access to good public schools — an approach taken by most European countries -- and a program of free college education to all who qualify for admission at public institutions of higher education.
* A jobs program modeled on the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration, to create jobs for the jobless in needed areas like infrastructure repair, parks maintenance, environmental clean-up, school safety monitoring and the like.
* A living federal minimum wage.
* A break-up of the too-big-to-fail banks, re-passage of the Glass-Steagal Act separating banks and investment banks, and a reinvigoration of anti-trust law to prevent the creation of monopolies or oligopolies, and undo those that already exist.
* Elimination of the cap on income subject to the Social Security (FICA) payroll tax, and addition of a 0.25% transaction tax on all stock and bond trades except in tax-advantaged retirement plans, a much higher capital gains tax and a restoration of the inheritance tax to apply to all inherited wealth above $100,000. All these new revenues would be used to raise Social Security benefits sufficiently to ensure for the first time a decent income for all Americans in retirement.
I believe that a such national movement, which must be grass-roots, democratic and locally based, if it organized frequent mass actions both in Washington and in the states and municipalities, swarming of Congressional offices both in the capital and in home districts, and pressing candidates during election years, would compel at least the Democratic Party, and perhaps even many Republican office-holders, to act, even if they hold antithetical political views.
The key is to avoid being co-opted by the Democratic Party, and to remain an independent movement.
Wilderness Committee mourns the passing of Gwen Barlee
June 23 2017
VANCOUVER – The Wilderness Committee is deeply saddened by the passing of Gwen Barlee, one of Canada’s leading environmental advocates. Barlee worked as the Wilderness Committee National Policy Director since 2001. She was an invaluable member of the organization’s executive leadership from early on, guiding the organization through many hard-fought environmental campaigns.
Gwen was a strong leader, and a tireless activist for social change. Over the past 16 years, Gwen distinguished herself as an extraordinarily talented and determined defender of Canadian wild nature – especially in her home province of BC.
She showed a passion beyond compare for the defence of the land and the species that call it home. She was a YWCA Women of Distinction nominee in 2016.
“Gwen was a hero and a mentor. She was one of the most compassionate people you’ll ever meet – when it came to wildlife, animals, creatures of all kind,” said Joe Foy, Campaign Director for the Wilderness Committee.
She was a fierce defender of species at risk. Gwen laboured for years to push the case for standalone endangered species legislation for British Columbia. She was instrumental in convincing the BC government to set aside tens of thousands of hectares of land for the protection of the northern spotted owl – one of Canada’s most endangered species. She continued to call for an even greater amount of protected forest habitat, not just for the spotted owl but for other species at risk including BC’s southern mountain caribou, marbled murrelet and goshawk.
“Gwen was a fearless defender of the public good and that was reflected in the environmental policies she advocated for,” said Foy.
Gwen fought for the establishment and protection of provincial and national parks. She helped stop government plans to put large private resorts in provincial parks. She was a ferocious defender of wild rivers since the mid-2000s against the government's policy of giving them away for private power projects. She helped mobilize thousands of BC residents to protect the Upper Pitt Watershed, Bute Inlet rivers and Glacier and Howser Creeks from industrial power projects.
What distinguished Gwen as an environmental advocate was her research ability and her commitment to enhancing government accountability, upholding the right for British Columbians to scrutinize government activities and promoting transparent, fair and inclusive decision-making through filing freedom of information (FOI) requests.
She worked hard to create unique alliances of people and facilitate a common vision for coming together on an environmental issues – whether working with union leaders, park rangers, First Nations communities, beekeepers or kayakers, she was committed to working with people who loved BC’s spectacular wilderness and wildlife.
“Gwen shaped the place that we live in today. She was born and raised here, surrounded by nature in the South Okanagan-Similkameen, her father was an NDP MLA so she was raised around politics,” said Foy.
“She believed we as British Columbians had the right – and the responsibility – to stand up for this place and say what was needed. And she did just that.”
The Wilderness Committee will announce a celebration of Gwen’s life and achievements soon.
For Immediate Release
Contact: Joe Foy | National Campaign Director,
Friday, June 23, 2017
Why I Reject Western Courts and Justice
by Andre Vltchek - Dissident Voice
June 22nd, 2017
There is a small courthouse from the ‘British era’, standing right in the center of Hong Kong. It is neat, well-built, remarkably organized and some would even say – elegant.
Earlier this year I visited there with an Afghan-British lawyer, who had been touring East Asia for several months. Hong Kong was her last destination; afterwards she was planning to return home to London.
The Orient clearly confused and overwhelmed her, and no matter how ‘anti-imperialist’ she tried to look, most of her references were clearly going back to the adoptive homeland – the United Kingdom.
“It looks like England,” she exclaimed when standing in the middle of Hong Kong. There was clearly excitement and nostalgia in her voice.
To cheer her up even more, I took her to the courthouse. My good intentions backfired: as we were leaving, she uttered words that I expected but also feared for quite some time:
You know, there are actually many good things that can be said about the British legal system.
I thought about that short episode in Hong Kong now, as I drove all around her devastated country of childhood, Afghanistan. As always, I worked without protection, with no bulletproof vests, armored vehicles or military escorts, just with my Afghan driver who doubled as my interpreter and also as my friend.
It was Ramadan and to let him rest, I periodically got behind the wheel. We were facing countless detentions, arrests and interrogations by police, military and who knows what security forces, but we were moving forward, always forward, despite all obstacles.
From that great distance, from the heights of the mountains of Afghanistan, the courthouse in Hong Kong kept falling into proportion and meaningful perspective.
It was surrounded by an enormous city, once usurped and sodomized by the British Crown. A city where ‘unruly locals’ were being killed, tortured, flogged and regularly imprisoned.
And it was not only Hong Kong that has suffered: the entire enormous country of China with one of the oldest and greatest cultures on Earth had been brutally ransacked, including its splendid capital – Beijing – that was invaded and almost totally destroyed by the French and British troops. For a long period, China was divided, humiliated, impoverished and tormented.
But the courthouse, a little neat temple of colonialist justice, now stood in the middle of the once occupied city, whispering about the days when it offered certainty and pride to all those who came to Hong Kong as colonizers, as well as to all those who served and licked the boots of their British masters.
The courthouse was providing confidence to people who were longing for one, just as they did during the grotesque and perverse days, as well as now.
Behind its walls ruled clearly defined and meticulously obeyed spirit of fairness: if one’s chicken got slaughtered, or if one’s tricycle got smashed by a hammer of a mad shopkeeper, the legendary British justice was administered promptly and properly.
Some people would argue, of course, that the entire colonialism was unjust, that the killing of tens of millions of people in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere was much more noteworthy than settling fairly and justly some domestic or real estate dispute. Such voices, however, have been always quickly silenced, or bought (with money, diplomas, or other means).
Certainly, the British Crown has been busy subjugating entire countries and continents, murdering innocent people, freely plundering and enslaving men, women and children. Tens of millions died in the British-triggered famines alone, on the Sub-Continent and elsewhere. But that was done “outside” the legal framework, and it was never fit to be discussed publicly in a ‘polite society’, by both the English people as well as by the émigré elites.
Now the UK has been absorbed by the ‘great’ Western Empire, governed by its offspring. Global genocides continue to murder millions. For those, no one gets punished, while the fines for speeding or not wearing seat belts are getting transparently dispersed among the servile citizens of the British Isles.
You kick your dog in public, and you could get arrested, then fined, or perhaps even thrown into jail. You shout at your girlfriend, she runs to police, and they open a ‘criminal investigation’ against you.
You shoot a few missiles at some independent country, killing dozens of innocent people, and it is business as usual. You overthrow some ‘unruly’ African government, and no court of justice, local or international, would even bother to hear the case against you, properly and seriously.
Alexander Thomson from UK Column News in the UK, commented for this essay:
British justice is fine for peer-to-peer disputes such as breakages and traffic accidents. You’ll most likely get a fair hearing. But at the macro level? The British and their offspring have pillaged entire continents. Where’s the justice there? If there’s none but “victors’ justice”, should that legal system be honoured by the nations of the world?
I often wonder whether even the British citizens themselves should honor such a charade?
The renowned Canadian international lawyer, Christopher Black, has doubts about the entire international legal system which is literally dictated by Western countries, predominantly by the US and UK. He wrote for this essay:
Instead of peaceful and mutually respectful relations between nations, adherence to the fundamental principles of the peaceful resolution of conflicts and disagreements between nations set out in the UN Charter, of the principles of the Non-Aligned Movement, the world is faced with ultimatums, bribes, threats and assault. Their brutality would be unimaginable if it was not so routine.
The question is: should the legal system, which coerces dozens of countries all over the world, be taken seriously, even respected? Isn’t it ridiculous, even debauched, to honor the US and British courts, considering that they are serving the most aggressive and morally defunct system in the world?
Christopher Black continues:
The most important question that arises from the discussion of how to establish a just world in which every nation has equal rights and status, in which national sovereignty is respected and the peaceful resolution of international issues as a matter of course is what type of legal mechanisms and structures need to be established in order to achieve and maintain this equilibrium.
It is not a simple matter since laws and legal structures reflect the socio-economic structure of a society. This necessarily creates a conflict between different socio-economic and legal systems that is difficult to resolve. The legal systems of socialist societies with their emphasis on socio-economic protection and support of the workers, are completely different from those of the capitalist societies, in which the central role of law is to protect private property and ease the flow of capital, in opposition to the interests of the workers. This creates conflict between nations with different socio-economic systems…
It is a well known fact that those systems that are antagonistic to the Western dictates get routinely attacked, even destroyed. Right now several countries are under direct attack from the West: from Venezuela to Syria, to name just two victims out of dozens.
On closer examination, it is all nothing more than a ‘mafia justice’, or call it a terror.
I refuse to respect such a system, including its courts and its entire farce called ‘justice’. To me, it is all ‘illegal’ and corrupt. If confronted, I’d refuse to accept the authority of the Western legal system; I’d just laugh in the faces of its judges.
Lawyers serving such a system are, at least from my personal point of view, nothing more than collaborators or at least – spineless gold-diggers.
During the Nazi era in Germany, family or real estate disputes were resolved fairly and briskly. However, that doesn’t mean that Slavs, Roma, Jews, or non-white people should have had any respect for the German ‘justice’ of these years.
Certainly, your goat could be avenged if slaughtered illegally, but the next day, no one would save you from going up in smoke from the chimney of a concentration camp crematorium.
From the heights of totally destroyed and miserable mountain villages in Afghanistan, all this is suddenly clear and ‘obvious’.
It is also very clear when observed from Syria or Latin America, or the Democratic Republic of Congo, where, of course, almost no Westerner would bother to travel.
Christopher Black concludes:
Attempts to establish a world order in which a dialogue of civilizations is the norm instead of conflict between civilizations are foundering on a crude return to a “might makes right” attitude against which any attempt to insist on adherence to international law and norms, even common morality, is viewed as a weakness to be exploited.
The question therefore arises as to how nations and peoples can establish the necessary legal mechanisms to survive and flourish when there exist those who oppose any such mechanisms being established and act to destroy the mechanisms that do exist. The answer is to take the power from those who want this unjust world order, this world for the criminals. We know what is to be done. But that is not good enough. We have to determine how it is to be done.
The first step is, surely, to refuse this criminal ‘justice’ system, even to mock it, and ridicule it.
To serve criminals is a crime itself. To legitimize this illegitimate system by pretending that justice could be served inside its frame is itself immoral.
A courthouse in Hong Kong is not a temple of fairness. To pretend that it is would be a cynical mockery, a ‘spit in the face’ to millions of those who lost their lives in China and all over the world, at the hands of the British and Western colonizers.
And one more comment about Western justice: if just slightly exaggerating, one could easily arrive to the conclusion that in a world ruled by brutal and unbridled imperialism, the only honorable place to dwell in is jail!
Kabul – New Delhi, June 2017
Andre Vltchek is a philosopher, novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He has covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. Three of his latest books are the revolutionary novel Aurora and two bestselling works of political non-fiction: Exposing Lies Of The Empire and Fighting Against Western Imperialism. View his other books here. Watch his Rwanda Gambit, a documentary about Rwanda and DRCongo. He continues to work around the world and can be reached through his website and Twitter. Read other articles by Andre.
Generating Solar Jobs For City Residents
June 23, 2017
There is no question whether energy and the environment are inextricably linked. After all, the term 'fossil fuel' is literally defined as a natural fuel such as coal or gas, formed in the geological past from the remains of living organisms. But, in the midst of comprehensive data that appears to signal that the planet is warming and the poles are melting at a record pace hastened by humans burning huge amounts of greenhouse gases, how will we manage energy production without sacrificing the health and habitat and job opportunities?
Have a criminal record and no high school diploma? No problem. The Baltimore Center for Green Careers trains some of the city's most disenfranchised residents to thrive in 21st century renewable energy jobs. Kim Brown reports
The US escalation in Syria and the threat of world war
by Bill Van Auken - WSWS
21 June 2017
In the wake of Sunday’s US shoot-down of a Syrian fighter plane and the following day’s warning from Russia that it will treat all American warplanes flying west of the Euphrates River as targets for its surface-to-air missiles, the threat of an armed confrontation between the world’s two largest nuclear powers is now greater than at any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis nearly 55 years ago.
This threat, which carries with it the grim prospect of the annihilation of humanity, is the product of a calculated escalation on the part of US imperialism.
The downing of the Syrian fighter marked the first time in this century that a US warplane has shot down the plane of another country. The last instance of such aerial combat took place in 1999 during the US-NATO war against Serbia, when an American fighter plane shot down a Serbian MiG.
The gravity of the event was underscored Tuesday with Australia’s announcement that it is grounding its planes that have been flying over Syria. Australia was one of the few members of the US-led “anti-ISIS coalition” that made any significant contribution to the increasingly murderous US air campaign against both Iraq and Syria. While the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, responded to the Russian threat with bravado, extolling the ability of US pilots to “take care of themselves,” the Australian military clearly believes that one of its planes could be brought down.
The escalation of the conflict continued Tuesday with a US warplane shooting down an Iranian drone in southeastern Syria.
What will be the consequences if a Russian surface-to-air missile battery fires on a US plane seen as posing an imminent threat to Moscow’s forces on the ground in Syria, or, for that matter, if a US warplane “painted” with the radar of a Russian SAM site takes preemptive action?
No one knows. Complacent US foreign policy “experts” insist that the last thing either Washington or Moscow wants is a nuclear conflagration, and, therefore, it will not happen. This fallacious argument is then employed to justify unbridled US aggression.
The supposed rationality of capitalist ruling classes has again and again proven no deterrent to the outbreak of catastrophic wars. As former defense secretary Robert McNamara recalled in the documentary “Fog of War,” during the Cuban missile crisis, “Rational individuals”—Kennedy, Khrushchev and Castro—“came that close to total destruction of their societies.”
In a number of ways, the current situation is even more combustible than that in 1962. At that time, the demand of the fascistic Air Force chief of staff, Gen. Curtis LeMay, that he be allowed to bomb Russian missile sites in Cuba was overruled by President Kennedy. Today, US military policy in Syria, and for that matter in Iraq, Afghanistan and across the globe, has been delegated by Trump to a cabal of active-duty and recently retired generals, headed by Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis, as well as to area commanders, whose outlook, in most cases, does not differ from that of LeMay.
A glimpse of their attitude toward the Syrian crisis was provided by a recent forum of the Council on Foreign Affairs featuring the longtime Pentagon advisor on both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, Kimberly Kagan.
Kagan, who now heads the Institute of the Study of War, first invoked the tired pretext of the “war on terror” as the justification for the US intervention. Syria, she asserted, represented a “vital national security threat” because it was “exporting terror and terror groups from its borders.” She acknowledged that ISIS posed a threat, but went on to insist that Al Qaeda posed an even greater danger because it had been allowed to carve out “its own safe haven in Idlib province.”
The hypocrisy is staggering. Syria is not an “exporter” of terror, but rather the victim of the Al Qaeda-linked militias that were unleashed upon the country by the CIA and Washington’s regional allies in a war for regime change. As for Al Qaeda’s “safe haven,” it has been defended by the US, which has repeatedly denounced the Syrian government and Russia for bombing these so-called “rebels” and insisted that only ISIS can be targeted.
Kagan dispensed with her twisted arguments about terrorism to concentrate on the real concerns within the US military and intelligence apparatus. Iran and Russia posed a “long-term strategic threat” to the US, she argued, because of their military presence in Syria, challenging American dominance of the Middle East and the Mediterranean.
The threat was to be dealt with by the US military seizing for itself “a base of operations in what is eastern Syria, along the Euphrates,” from Raqqa in the north to the Iraqi and Jordanian borders to the south. One of the aims of the American intervention, she stated, would be to “energize Sunni populations in the Euphrates River zone, which has been a hotbed of ISIS support, but before it, Al Qaida support.” In other words, Washington will seek to reignite the sectarian war for regime change based on Sunni Islamist militias, but this time with American “boots on the ground.”
How many US troops will this operation require?
“I don’t know,” Kagan said.
“It’s not 150,000 guys. But it’s got to be enough to be present and to extend presence forward.”
Key to this military adventure, she added, was to “prepare for what the Russians and the Iranians will try to do to respond.”
In other words, what is being prepared—behind the backs of the American people and without any debate, much less a shred of legality—is another full-scale Middle East war directed not just at Syrian regime change, but at confronting Iran and nuclear-armed Russia.
Nor is this conflict confined to the Middle East. Also reported on Tuesday was a Russian jet armed with air-to-air missiles intercepting a US RC-135 spy plane over the Baltic Sea near the strategic Russian military base at Kaliningrad, with the two planes reportedly coming within five feet of each other. Each side accused the other of operating dangerously.
Meanwhile, NATO held a ceremony in the former Soviet Baltic republic of Latvia to mark what it said was the full deployment of a 4,500-strong “deterrent force” on Russia’s border. The Pentagon recently deployed B-2 stealth bombers and other aircraft as well as Army units to the region for “exercises.” Russia has reportedly countered with a buildup of its own on its western border.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said he didn’t see any “imminent threat” of an armed confrontation in the Baltic region, but Russia’s ambassador to NATO, Alexander Grushko, described the “military dynamic” as “dangerous.”
The American media has treated the escalating confrontation in the Middle East and the heightened tensions in the Baltics as virtual nonissues. At the first White House press briefing held in over a week, press secretary Sean Spicer made no statement regarding recent US military actions in Syria and the assembled poodles of the press corps didn’t ask him a single question on the growing war danger.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Party, working in close sync with the Pentagon and the CIA, has conducted an unrelenting campaign of anti-Russian hysteria aimed at creating a new, ostensibly liberal, constituency for war among privileged layers of the middle class. Democrats have endorsed every new act of military escalation in Syria, demanding only that the Trump administration present a “comprehensive” plan for war and, in some cases, calling for the passage of a new authorization for use of military force to legitimize military aggression.
The efforts of the Democratic Party and the pseudo-left organizations that orbit it notwithstanding, the same crisis of US and world capitalism that gives rise to war also produces its opposite, the growth of the class struggle and ripening of the objective conditions for socialist revolution. The most urgent task is the development of a mass political movement of the working class in opposition to war and its source, the capitalist system.
Thursday, June 22, 2017
Summer Solstice 2017: Reflections on Free Festivals and the Pagan Year 33 Years After the Last Stonehenge Festival
Back in 1983, as a 20-year old student, I had a life-changing experience when a friend of mine initiated a visit to the Stonehenge Free Festival, an anarchic experiment in leaderless living that occupied the fields opposite Stonehenge for the whole of June every year.
The festival had grown from a small occupation in 1974, and by 1984 (when I visited again) became a monster — one with a darkness that reflected the darkness that gripped the whole of the UK that year, as Margaret Thatcher crushed the miners and, metaphorically, razed the country to the ground like a medieval conqueror.
Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist and commentator.
My books Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield are still in print, and please also feel free to check out the music of my band The Four Fathers.
I remember the 1983 festival with a great fondness — the elven people selling magic mushrooms from a barrel for next to nothing, the wailing of acid rock bands, the festivals’ thoroughfares, like ancient tracks of baked earth, where the cries of “acid, speed, hot knives” rang though the sultry air. Off the beaten track, travellers set up impromptu cafes beside their colourfully-painted trucks and coaches, unaware that, just two years later, on June 1, 1985, some of those same vehicles would be violently decommissioned at the Battle of the Beanfield, when Thatcher, following her destruction of Britain’s mining industry, set about destroying Britain’s traveller community, which, during her tenure as Prime Minister, had grown as unemployment mushroomed, and life on the road seemed to provide an appealing alternative.
A festival circuit, running from May to October, had grown up with this new movement, with Stonehenge at its centre. Michael Eavis’s Glastonbury Festival was also connected to it, as were numerous smaller festivals, as well as other events focused on environmental protest, especially against nuclear weapons and nuclear power. The travellers’ most prominent manifestation, the Peace Convoy, had visited Greenham Common, site of the famous women’s peace camp opposed to the establishment of US-owned and -controlled cruise missiles, in 1982, and in the summer of 1984 established a second peace camp at Molesworth in Cambridgeshire, the intended second cruise missile base after Greenham Common.
That camp was violently evicted in February 1985 by the largest peacetime mobilisation of troops in British history, and for the next four months the travellers were harried until the Beanfield, when 1,400 police from six counties and the MoD violently decommissioned the advance convoy of vehicles trying to make it to Stonehenge to set up what would have been the 12th Stonehenge Free Festival.
In the years that followed, the Thatcher government set up an military exclusion zone around Stonehenge every summer solstice that was maintained under John Major and Tony Blair, and at various times under Thatcher there were other episodes of state violence against travellers, some of whom sought shelter with Michael Eavis in Pilton. The differences between Stonehenge and Glastonbury were not immense back then, when the travelling festival community was at the heart of Britain’s nascent festival scene. Stonehenge may have been the wild younger sibling, but Glastonbury was pretty out of it as well.
Nowadays, it’s hard to imagine. Glastonbury Festival has become a corporate mega-city, with only traces remaining of its alternative heart, and Stonehenge, reopened to the public on the summer solstice in 2000, after the Law Lords ruled that the exclusion zone was illegal, has become a raucous one-night party for the youth of the West Country, attended by a smaller contingent of pagans and anarchists (which I visited every summer solstice from 2001 to 2005 with a variety of interesting companions). Last night, apparently, 13,000 people attended ‘Managed Open Access’ at the stones, witnessing a spectacular sunrise.
With supreme irony, the founders of the festival movement in the 1970s — some visionary, some hedonistic — created a concept that was so appealing that it has become a part of the fabric of Britain. Every summer, millions of people attend festivals, for the music, the hedonism, and, often, the establishment at some level of a tribal communality in contrast to the atomisation of our everyday civilian lives in cities and towns.
Of course, that transition from outsider status to establishment fixture has not happened without massive change that, at worst, means that the monster festival culture created in the last two decades only looks superficially like the offspring of the festival scene of the 70s and 80s when, in fact, it bears almost no resemblance to it.
This is certainly true in many profound ways. To begin with, those radicalised in the 1960s often brought with them a commitment to breaking down the structure of an oppressive society that, for example, saw them seeking to dispense with money. This was by no means always the case. Free festivals were often free at the point of entry only because of a lack of organisation, and many travellers worked hard to try to ensure that their efforts would generate a necessary income stream.
However, others were driven to try to tear down the materialistic culture — and their efforts were often inspiring. Bill ‘Ubi’ Dwyer, a renegade bureaucrat, set up the Windsor Free Festival in the Queen’s backyard in the summer of 1972, a provocative gesture against the monarchy and all it stood for, which returned in 1973 and 1974, when it was violently crushed. The Stonehenge festival was set up by another visionary, Wally Hope, who spread a quasi-communist sun-worshipping message, and intended his festival to colonise Salisbury Plain, and another sign of the intent to tear down materialism was through the free food kitchens that were part of the early festival culture. One favourite anecdote of mine concerns Sid Rawle, a key festival organiser, at the first Glastonbury Festival in 1971.
After a man turned up from Bath with a stall selling bacon, eggs and sausages, Sid apparently had a whip-round, sent someone off site to buy bacon, eggs and sausages, and then set up a free food kitchen next to him to drive him out of business.
Today, free food kitchens are only to be seen when the Hare Krishnas turn up at events, but whenever I see them their generosity cuts through the relentless materialistic fog that shrouds almost every aspect of our lives.
The festival culture of the 70s and 80s may not always have been intentionally free, but those who played a part in it and have now passed on would I think, be shocked if they were able to see what the culture has become in the last 20 years, as almost every aspect of our lives has become monetised. The giant capitalist machine that is modern society now defines almost everything by its perceived value, has encouraged us to see everything through a prism of money, used as the sole reference point of success or failure, and its stranglehold on our lives is such that we are encouraged to believe that our waking lives are nothing more than a succession of financial transactions. Repeat the mantra: “Breathe in. Breathe out. Buy something. Breathe in. Breathe out. Buy something.”
It generally costs hundreds and hundreds of pounds to attend a festival, as festival-goers are constantly required to drip-feed the capitalist machine in which most of of us are trapped, like hamsters in a wheel — well-branded wheels, no doubt, and well-designed, but hamster wheels nonetheless.
Back in the 70s and 80s, the free festivals’ advocates prevailed on artists to give something back for free to their fans during the festival season — and artists often took that stance themselves. Now everyone pays for everything endlessly — the hyped-up bands and solo artists endlessly treated as royalty or as exceptional creative geniuses, the endless food stalls, the endless booze, the endless craft stalls. We have, to some extent, created a modern-day fulfilment of Napoleon’s comment about Britain being a nation of shopkeepers, although now we are a nation of shopkeepers endlessly servicing itself, with most people trapped somewhere in this cycle while the rich and the super-rich float above it all, exploiting or having exploited others to such an extent that they alone have endless liquidity.
The festivals of the 70s and 80s were also more than capable of getting messy, but often there was an awareness that we should leave places as we found them. In this respect, modern festival culture is a disgrace, a shocking manifestation of our throwaway culture, as anyone seeing photos of the aftermath of a modern festival can see. Consumerist hedonism without a shred of responsibility dictates that tents should be abandoned along with the detritus of the corporate world — clothes, bottles, packaging, leftover food. Someone else will clean it up, and no one is encouraged to think about how we are turning the earth into a giant landfill site.
As well as losing the anti-materialist heart of the early festival culture, the modern festival scene also only tangentially connects to the paganism that also ran through the pioneering decades of the counter-culture, from the 60s to the 90s; primarily, it seems to me, though an embrace of the cycles of the seasons, and the festivals of the pagan year — the solstices on June and December 21, the equinoxes at a similar time in March and September , and between them the quarters days of a year that tends to be associated with the Celts, with festivals on the 1st days of February (Imbolc), May (Beltane, associated with May Day) August (Lughnasa) and November (Samhain, associated with Hallowe’en and All Saints’ Day).
After the travelling festival culture was crushed at the Beanfield, an unexpected new movement — the road protest movement — arose. Unable to travel freely, those drawn to the earth and her cycles seized on the Tories’ road expansion programme as a development to be resisted, and set up fixed camps in places threatened with destruction, living in trees, and, eventually, though many battles were lost, pushing road expansion down the government agenda.
With the tsunami of materialism that defines modern life, and the clampdown by the benefits system on the freedom of the unemployed to do what they want in exchange for living off a small provision of government money (which was how so many of us lived in the 80s, and is actually the heart of the basic universal income that is currently being widely discussed), it is unimaginable now that such a movement could take place, but back in the mid-90s it was part of a kind of a cultural civil war that also involved the hedonism of the rave scene, movements like Reclaim the Streets and, eventually, the anti-globalisation movement, which became a world movement and was only halted by the “war on terror” after 9/11, the clampdown on benefits, the elevation of greed as the driver of existence, and the fetishisation of products and services.
Throughout this period in the 90s, the pagan year became a anti-establishment statement, and although it has not gone away, my fear is that, as with so much else in modern life, the growing pagan movement in the UK that, of course, embraces it, is often doing so in a superficial manner, seduced by the outward appearances and the opportunities to buy into it through the usual avalanche of materialism and more of those same entrepreneurial service industries that accompany us almost everywhere we turn.
I don’t seek to blame anyone for getting caught up in the all-consuming materialistic world in which we find ourselves, but I do, on this summer solstice, as I look back on my past through what appears to be the wrong end of a telescope, urge anyone reading this to reflect on how the most important things in life — our love, our joy, our children, our creativity — are not actually part of the endlessly churning consumerist machine, and that, for us to have a future at all, and for us to tackle the endlessly growing gulf between the rich and the poor, we have to find ways to step off the treadmill, to get out of what used to be called the rat race, to find space, time and nature and to begin to create a culture more in tune with itself — with ourselves — and the natural world in which we are a part.
For my previous reflections on Stonehenge and the summer solstice from 2008 to 2015, see Stonehenge and the summer solstice: past and present, It’s 25 Years Since The Last Stonehenge Free Festival, Stonehenge Summer Solstice 2010: Remembering the Battle of the Beanfield, RIP Sid Rawle, Land Reformer, Free Festival Pioneer, Stonehenge Stalwart, Happy Summer Solstice to the Revellers at Stonehenge — Is it Really 27 Years Since the Last Free Festival?, Stonehenge and the Summer Solstice: On the 28th Anniversary of the Last Free Festival, Check Out “Festivals Britannia”, Memories of Youth and the Need for Dissent on the 29th Anniversary of the last Stonehenge Free Festival, 30 Years On from the Last Stonehenge Free Festival, Where is the Spirit of Dissent? and Stonehenge and the Summer Solstice, 30 Years After the Battle of the Beanfield.
For more on the Beanfield, see my 2009 article for the Guardian, Remember the Battle of the Beanfield, and my accompanying article, In the Guardian: Remembering the Battle of the Beanfield, which provides excerpts from The Battle of the Beanfield. Also see The Battle of the Beanfield 25th Anniversary: An Interview with Phil Shakesby, aka Phil the Beer, a prominent traveller who died six years ago, Remember the Battle of the Beanfield: It’s the 27th Anniversary Today of Thatcher’s Brutal Suppression of Traveller Society, Radio: On Eve of Summer Solstice at Stonehenge, Andy Worthington Discusses the Battle of the Beanfield and Dissent in the UK, It’s 28 Years Since Margaret Thatcher Crushed Travellers at the Battle of the Beanfield, Back in Print: The Battle of the Beanfield, Marking Margaret Thatcher’s Destruction of Britain’s Travellers, It’s 29 Years Since the Battle of the Beanfield, and the World Has Changed Immeasurably, It’s 30 Years Since Margaret Thatcher Trashed the Travellers’ Movement at the Battle of the Beanfield, It’s Now 31 Years Since the Battle of the Beanfield: Where is the Spirit of Dissent in the UK Today? and, most recently, Never Trust the Tories: It’s 32 Years Today Since the Intolerable Brutality of the Battle of the Beanfield.
Also see my article on Margaret Thatcher’s death, “Kindness is Better than Greed”: Photos, and a Response to Margaret Thatcher on the Day of Her Funeral.
Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album ‘Love and War’ and EP ‘Fighting Injustice’ are available here to download or on CD via Bandcamp).
He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).
To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.
Wednesday, June 21, 2017
The Canadian Establishment and Prime Minister Trudeau Aim at Ousting Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland
by John Helmer - Dances with Bears
June 21, 2017
Moscow - Since Julius Caesar, Shakespeare’s version, expressed mortal surprise that his best friend Brutus would put in the knife, there have been no end of political surprises at whose hand turns out to be on the assassin’s knife.
In the case of the hit in January on then-Canadian Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion, it is clear to the Canadian foreign policy establishment, members acknowledge, that it was Chrystia Freeland’s hand. Before, she was a junior trade minister; after, she took Dion’s portfolio as foreign minister.
Eight weeks later, it’s becoming clear to Canadian sources that the hand on the knife that is now sticking in Freeland is not the Russian one she is reporting to the Canadian press. That is sticking into her full frontally, and it is less than mortal. Her screams for help have brought a great many screamers to her side.
It’s the knife in Freeland’s back that is more lethal. That, it is now revealed in Ottawa, is coming from a quiet group of foreign policy advisors around Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. They aren’t motivated by revenge on Dion’s behalf as much as concern for their Canada — the policy-making and money-making apparatus on which their future livelihoods depend.
In that Canada they don’t want Freeland to remain foreign minister or become prime minister. For one thing, they say, she’s a liar and cannot be trusted by anyone.In December 2014, as he prepared his run at toppling Stephen Harper, then the Conservative Party Prime Minister, Trudeau assembled a council of advisors on foreign policy. Some were former military officers; some ex-diplomats; others were academics, think-tankers, lawyers. Some were what are known in the Berlin Chancellery, in the German language, as “shoes”. That’s individuals who are so far up the fundaments of their patrons, all you can see of them is their shoes.
Here is the original list of Trudeau’s advisors. Freeland wasn’t one of them. Ten months after Catherine McKenna’s (below, left) appointment to this council, when Trudeau defeated Harper in the election, she was promoted to the cabinet as Minister of the Environment and Climate Change. She remains a backer of Freeland, and has been promoting her through media columns bylined by her husband, Scott Gilmore; he is a one-time Canadian government agent in the Indonesian war against East Timor.
Left: Minister McKenna with Prime Minister Trudeau; right,
Ambassador Kinsman speaking for Trudeau.
Jeremy Kinsman (above, right) was the senior diplomat in the group; he has served as a counselor in the Canadian Embassy in Washington; then as ambassador in Moscow, Rome, London, and Brussels (European Union). Few Canadian foreign policy analysts are as acute as Kinsman at detecting political conspiracies aimed at Canada’s national interests from so many corners of the hostile world; nor at distinguishing the genuine conspiracies from the fakes.
Last week he said:
“If the unearthing of a conspiracy reveals evidence of one, it is great investigative stuff. But if it doesn’t convince, it remains a theory.”
Last week too, Kinsman was keeping an open book on Freeland’s future. He acknowledged that she is now under attack.
“I’m not a hysteric about Russia’s alleged threat. But I think their [expletive deleted] has to be called out as vigorously as anybody else’s.”
Kinsman also acknowledges there is a higher goal than looking for evidence of conspiracy theories in the press, and that’s getting to the truth of what Freeland is doing with Canada’s foreign policy.
“On a deeper and more important level [this] is an issue of vast importance today, the search for truth — which for many reasons is running into purpose-built obstacles in an increasingly adversarial political climate between Russia and other countries. The deteriorated climate especially affects comment and reporting these days between Ukraine and Russia and between the US and Russia. It is aggravated by kompromat operations being levelled with gathering animosity.”
Last week Kinsman was ready to give Freeland the benefit of the doubt. “I consider that the evidence is not supportive.”
This week Kinsman went public in Ottawa with more conviction. On the surface he and other sources from the Canadian foreign affairs ministry are charging someone with a mistake in ousting Dion, and then giving him a dual post that is unprecedented – ambassador to both the European Union and Germany at the same time. Read the report from The Hill Times, a management owned, small circulation publication for Ottawa insiders, which on March 15 published this account of the “really unnecessary mistake” Trudeau and Freeland have made.
The phrase and the judgement came from Kinsman to the Hill Times reporter. But Kinsman carefully avoided mentioning Freeland’s role in Dion’s ouster, and her role in consigning him to the empty space between Brussels and Berlin. “How can you have two ambassadors? You can’t,” Kinsman was quoted as adding.
One of his friends, a former ambassador, sought anonymity in order to say the Dion appointment was “foolish” and “bad judgement”. Whose bad judgement do these men mean? And is the bad judgement limited to jobs for the boy, or does it extend to policy for the country?
“Wacko” is the assessment of what is happening, as reported by The Hill Times from Ferry de Kerckhove (right), who has been a Canadian diplomat in Iran and NATO, as well as Canada’s ambassador to three of the most important Muslim states – Pakistan (1998-2001), Indonesia (2001-2003) and Egypt (2008-2011).
So far it isn’t clear whether wacko was the judgement of these veterans for the performance of the first foreign policy advisor Trudeau appointed to his inner office. That was Roland Paris, an academic hawk on war with Russia, whose engagement was announced in January 2016. Paris turned out to be a lightning rod; he lasted six months before he announced he was “honoured to have helped out. Now back to my day job.” Canadian media coverage of the judgement on Paris was limited to the remark in a Toronto newspaper that “Mr. Paris did not give a reason for leaving.”
Paris continues to tweet in support of Freeland, and for Canadian war against Russia.
To offset Paris’s excesses and replace a retiring Canadian spymaster turned national security advisor, Trudeau’s staff decided in May of last year to pick Daniel Jean, a foreign ministry veteran to be the new national security advisor. Daniel is still at his post, and has made almost no news. He appeared publicly after Freeland was sworn in, but only to explain what he and the rest of the Canadian government didn’t know about US President Donald Trump’s travel ban from Muslim countries.
According to more than one Canadian source, in putting wasps in the beehive Trudeau has created policy confusion and vulnerability for the policy-making regulars in the ministries and uniformed forces, as well as the veterans, establishment men, and power brokers like Kinsman. For them Freeland has been a rival they lacked the resources and the conviction to fight. They also calculated that for as long as Hillary Clinton looked likely to win the US presidential election, it was foolhardy for them to challenge Freeland directly. For details of the opportunity Freeland expected from Clinton last November, read this.
Then came the cold wind for Trudeau in January. A Toronto Star poll showed the worst numbers for Trudeau since his election day in October 2015. His approval rating was 48%, down 3 points from December 2016; down 10 points from November. His disapproval rating jumped over the same interval from 32% to 42%.
THE RISE AND FALL OF PRIME MINISTER TRUDEAU’S POLITICAL RATINGS, DECEMBER 2016 TO MARCH 2017
KEY: red=approval, black=disapproval
Canadian politicians and analysts, as well as US observers south of the border, are asking whether Freeland is biding her time to challenge Trudeau for the prime ministry? The answer is in the political wind, Canadian sources say. They point to Wednesday’s opinion piece in the Toronto Star, the country’s largest circulation newspaper, in which national affairs columnist Thomas Walkom assesses which way the wind is blowing for Freeland.
Walkom (left) isn’t sure, so he reports that the Russian version of Freeland may be true, and Freeland’s version may be a lie.
“Not all news that seems to favour Russia is false. The world is a complicated place… Nothing illustrates this as neatly as the Freeland affair. The foreign affairs minister, a former journalist, is widely respected. She is smart and capable.
By contrast, Putin is viewed as a villain controlling an army of evil minions. Anything that supports the villain by casting aspersions on this nice woman’s treasured grandfather couldn’t possibly be true. Except, of course, when it is. This time, the minions weren’t lying. That too can happen.”
In the British and American constitutional democracies the issue which obliges members of parliament and ministers to resign their office is an act of public turpitude, like lying. Canadian sources believe there is an active Ottawa faction which aims to oust Freeland for just that. For them, as well as for the personal advisors of Trudeau seeking to conserve his power against the dwindling polls, this is the value of the story of Freeland’s grandfather; his wartime involvement in the ethnic cleansing (mass murder) of Jews, Poles and Russians from the Ukraine; in Freeland’s involvement in the current war against the Russian-speakers of eastern Ukraine; and in her lying.
Freeland’s small lie about meeting President Vladimir Putin last November, and talking to him at length in Russian, attracted no attention when Freeland said it publicly last January. “I’ve spoken with the top guy in Russia quite recently,” Freeland claimed on Canadian state radio on January 13. “We spoke in Russian and we had quite a long conversation.” The Kremlin records no such conversation took place; a spokesman for the president added: “Vladimir Putin did not have a meeting with Freeland.” For more details, click to open.
The lie about Grandfather Michael Chomiak is much bigger. The telltale delay between Freeland’s appointment on January 10; first reports of her lying about Chomiak which started on January 19; and Freeland’s press conference statement on March 6 reflects an Ottawa operation to cut Freeland down. Freeland says the operation is a covert Russian one. “There were efforts on the Russian side,” she said in a scripted remark, “to destabilize Western democracies, and I think it shouldn’t come as a surprise if these same efforts were used against Canada,”
There are Canadians in a position to know who believe there is an operation against Freeland; that it started in Trudeau’s office; and that it is picking up momentum in the foreign policy establishment.
These sources believe Freeland got wind of the operation, and decided her best defence was a counterattack on Russia. If her defence fails, she goes. If she survives, her Ukrainian story will be a disqualification for higher office. Either way, Trudeau can calculate he wins.
America’s Oligarchs Will Control 70% Of National Wealth by 2021
by Whitney Webb - MintPress News
June 20, 2017
A new study by the Boston Consulting Group has found that while wealth inequality is growing on a global scale, it has kicked into overdrive in the United States – where America’s 1% are expected to control 70 percent of the nation’s private wealth by the year 2021.
America’s oligarchs set to maintain grip on majority of country’s wealth,
with a new study claiming they will control 70 percent of it by 2021.
America’s rich just won’t quit getting richer, according to a new study released in mid-June by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), a global management consulting firm. The study, which seeks to analyze the global wealth management industry, as well as the evolution of private wealth, uncovered some startling statistics that suggest that global financial inequality will grow significantly by the year 2021.
The firm found that the already massive gap between the world’s wealthy elite – the approximately 18 million households that hold at least than $1 million in assets – and everyone else is continuing to widen at a remarkable rate. The estimated 70 million people who make up these households were found to control 45 percent of the world’s $166.5 trillion in wealth. And in just four more years, it is estimated that they will control more than half of the world’s wealth, despite representing less than 1 percent of the world’s current population.
However, while rising inequality is a global phenomenon, it is especially pronounced in the United States. While wealth inequality in the U.S. is by no means an unknown phenomenon, the U.S. is significantly more unequal than most other countries, with the nation’s elite currently holding 63 percent of the private wealth. The U.S. elite’s share of national wealth is also growing much faster than the global average, with millionaires and billionaires expected to control an estimated 70 percent of the nation’s wealth by 2021.
The U.S.’ high wealth inequality largely owes to post-World War II government policies that have seen almost a quarter of all national income go to its wealthiest residents. Meanwhile, wages for the majority of Americans have remained stagnant for decades – in contrast to the richest Americans, their future economic outlook is incredibly bleak by comparison.
The U.S. is also home to more billionaires and millionaires than anywhere else in the world, which partly explains how U.S. policy has come to favor them over the years. According to Bloomberg, two out of five millionaires and billionaires live in the United States – and their ranks are growing.
While the world’s richest citizens may be pleased by the results of BCG’s recent study, there is plenty for them to be worried about if history is any indicator. Indeed, history shows that societies with drastic wealth inequality are much more unstable and more likely to experience drastic economic failure or outright societal collapse.
For instance, a 2014 study conducted by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center noted that over-consumption and wealth inequality have occurred in the collapse of every civilization over the last 5,000 years. That same study also warned that rising inequality could easily lead to an unsustainable use of resources and the “irreversible collapse” of global industrial civilization.
This warning seems particularly prescient, given that wealth inequality in the U.S. is well above that of past civilizations that eventually collapsed as a result of these factors. For example, at the time of the collapse of the Roman Empire, the top 1 percent of the Roman elite controlled just 16 percent of the society’s wealth, a measly figure compared to the percentage commanded by the 1-percenters of the U.S.
While the BCG study paints a rosy picture for the world’s millionaires and billionaires, particularly in the United States, they should be gravely concerned that their growing accumulation of wealth could have drastic consequences – not just for those poorer than them, but for everyone.
Whitney Webb is a MintPress contributor who has written for several news organizations in both English and Spanish; her stories have been featured on ZeroHedge, the Anti-Media, 21st Century Wire, and True Activist among others - she currently resides in Southern Chile.
Truth-free, Fact-free Foreign Policy
by Yves Engler - Dissident Voice
June 16th, 2017
Lies, distortions and self-serving obfuscations are to be expected when political and business leaders discuss far away places.
In a recent Toronto Star column Rick Salutin observed that “foreign policy is a truth-free, fact-free zone. When leaders speak on domestic issues, citizens at least have points of reference to check them against. On foreign affairs they blather freely.”
Salutin vividly captures an important dynamic of political life. What do most Canadians know about our government’s actions in Afghanistan or Haiti? Most of us have never been to those countries and don’t know anyone living there, from there or even who’ve been there.
We are heavily dependent on media and politicians’ portrayals. But, as I detail in A Propaganda System: How Canada’s Government, Corporations, Media and Academia Sell War and Exploitation, international correspondents generally take their cue from the foreign policy establishment or diplomats in the field.
Journalists are prepared to criticize governments and corporations to a certain extent on “domestic” issues, but the spirit of “challenging power” largely disappears regarding foreign policy. One reason is that nationalism remains an important media frame and the dominant media often promotes an “our team” worldview.
Another explanation is the web of state and corporate generated ideas institutes, which I review in A Propaganda System, that shape the international discussion. In a forthcoming second volume I look at the Canadian Left’s contribution to confusing the public about international policies.
The state/corporate nexus operates largely unchallenged in the Global South because there is little in terms of a countervailing force. Instead of criticizing the geo-strategic and corporate interests overwhelmingly driving foreign policy decisions, the social democratic NDP has often supported them and contributed to Canadians’ confusion about this country’s international affairs.
The NDP endorsed bombing Serbia and Libya and in recent years they’ve supported military spending, Western policy in the Ukraine and the dispossession of Palestinians. The NDP has largely aligned with the foreign policy establishment or those, as long time NDP MP Libby Davies put it, who believe a “Time Magazine version” of international affairs.
Closely tied to the NDP, labour unions’ relative indifference to challenging foreign policy is another reason why politicians can “blather freely” on international affairs. On many domestic issues organized labour represents a countervailing force to the corporate agenda or state policies. While dwarfed by corporate Canada, unions have significant capacities.
They generate hundreds of millions of dollars in annual dues and fund or participate in a wide range of socially progressive initiatives such as the Canadian Health Coalition, Canadian Council for Refugees and Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. But, unions rarely extend their broader (class) vision of society to international affairs. In fact, sometimes they endorse unjust international policies.
To the extent that politicians’ “blathering” is restrained it is largely by other countries. The recent political conflict in the Ukraine provides an example. Canadian politicians have aggressively promoted a simplistic, self-serving, narrative that has dominated the media-sphere. But, there is a source of power countering this perspective. Moscow financed/controlled media such as RT, Sputnik and others have offered a corrective to the Western line. A comparatively wealthy and powerful state, Russia’s diplomats have also publicly challenged the Canadian media’s one-sided portrayal.
An important, if rarely mentioned, rule of foreign policy is the more impoverished a nation, the greater the gap is likely to be between what Canadian officials say and do.
The primary explanation for the gap between what’s said and done is that power generally defines what is considered reality. So, the bigger the power imbalance between Canada and another country the greater Ottawa’s ability to distort their activities.
Haiti provides a stark example. In 2004 Ottawa helped overthrow Haiti’s elected government and then supported an installed regime that killed thousands. Officially, however, Ottawa was “helping” the beleaguered country as part of the “Friends of Haiti” group. And the bill for undermining Haitian democracy, including the salaries of top coup government officials and the training of repressive cops, was largely paid out of Canada’s “aid” to the country.
A stark power imbalance between Ottawa and Port-au-Prince helps explain the gulf between Canadian government claims and reality in Haiti. Describing the country at the time of Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s ouster, former Globe and Mail foreign editor Paul Knox observed, “obviously, in the poorest country of the Americas, the government is going to have fewer resources at its disposal to mount a PR exercise or offensive if it feels itself besieged.”
With a $300 US million total budget for a country of eight million, the Haitian government had limited means to explain their perspective to the world either directly or through international journalists. On the other hand, the Washington-Paris-Ottawa coup triumvirate had great capacity to propagate their perspective (at the time the Canadian International Development Agency and Foreign Affairs each spent 10 times the entire Haitian budget and the Department of National Defence 60 times). The large Canadian embassy in Port-au-Prince worked to influence Canadian reporters in the country and their efforts were supplanted by the Haiti desks at CIDA and Foreign Affairs as well as the two ministries’ communications departments and Canadian military officials.
While an imbalance in communications resources partly explains the coverage, there is also a powerful ideological component. The media’s biased coverage of Haiti cannot be divorced from ‘righteous Canada’ assumptions widely held among the intelligentsia. As quoted in an MA thesis titled “Covering the coup: Canadian news reporting, journalists, and sources in the 2004 Haiti crisis”, CBC reporter Neil McDonald told researcher Isabel McDonald the Canadian government was “one of the most authoritative sources on conflict resolution in the world.”
According to Isabel McDonald’s summary, the prominent correspondent also said, “it was crazy to imagine Canada would be involved in a coup” and that “Canadian values were incompatible with extreme inequality or race-based hegemony”, which Ottawa’s policies clearly exacerbated in Haiti. (Neil Macdonald also said his most trusted sources for background information in Haiti came from Canadian diplomatic circles, notably CIDA where his cousins worked.
The CBC reporter also said he consulted the Canadian ambassador in Port-au-Prince to determine the most credible human rights advocate in Haiti. Ambassador Kenneth Cook directed him to Pierre Espérance, a coup backer who fabricated a “massacre” used to justify imprisoning the constitutional prime minister and interior minister. When pressed for physical evidence Espérance actually said the 50 bodies “might have been eaten by wild dogs.”)
Canadian Council on Africa provides another example of the rhetoric that results from vast power imbalances and paternalist assumptions. Run by Canadian corporations operating on the continent, the council said it “focuses on the future of the African economy and the positive role that Canada can play meeting some of the challenges in Africa.”
Similar to the Canadian Council on Africa, the Canadian American Business Council, Canada China Business Council and Canada-UK Chamber of Commerce also seek to advance members’ profit-making potential. But, the other lobby groups don’t claim humanitarian objectives. The primary difference between the Canadian Council on Africa and the other regional lobby organizations is the power imbalance between Canada/the West and African countries, as well as the anti-African paternalism that dominates Canadian political culture.
A group of Canadian corporations claiming their aim was to meet the social challenges of the US or UK would sound bizarre and if they said as much about China they would be considered seditious. (Ironically the US-, Britain- and China-focused lobby groups can better claim the aid mantle since foreign investment generally has greater social spinoffs in more independent/better regulated countries.)
But, paternalist assumptions are so strong — and Africans’ capacity to assert themselves within Canadian political culture so limited — that a lobby group largely representing corporations that displace impoverished communities to extract natural resources is, according to the Canadian Council on Africa’s previous mission statement, “committed to the economic development of a modern and competitive Africa.”
To counter the “fact-free zone” individuals need to educate themselves on international issues, by seeking alternative sources of information. More important, we should strengthen internationalist social movements and left media consciously seeking to restrict politicians’ ability to “blather freely”.
Yves Engler is the author of A Propaganda System: How Canada’s Government, Corporations, Media and Academia Sell War and Canada in Africa: 300 years of aid and exploitation.