Saturday, March 16, 2013

Chavez - 21st Century Renaissance Man

President Chavez: A 21st Century Renaissance Man

by James Petras

President Hugo Chavez was unique in multiple areas of political, social and economic life. He made significant contributions to the advancement of humanity. The depth, scope and popularity of his accomplishments mark President Chavez as the ‘Renaissance President of the 21st Century’.

Many writers have noted one or another of his historic contributions highlighting his anti-poverty legislation, his success in winning popular elections with resounding majorities and his promotion of universal free public education and health coverage for all Venezuelans.

In this essay we will highlight the unique world-historic contributions that President Chavez made in the spheres of political economy, ethics and international law and in redefining relations between political leaders and citizens. We shall start with his enduring contribution to the development of civic culture in Venezuela and beyond.

Hugo Chavez: The Great Teacher of Civic Values

From his first days in office, Chavez was engaged in transforming the constitutional order so that political leaders and institutions would be more responsive to the popular electorate. Through his speeches Chavez clearly and carefully informed the electorate of the measures and legislation to improve their livelihood. He invited comments and criticism – his style was to engage in constant dialogue, especially with the poor, the unemployed and the workers. Chavez was so successful in teaching civic responsibilities to the Venezuelan electorate that millions of citizens from the slums of Caracas rose up spontaneously to oust the US backed business-military junta which had kidnapped their president and closed the legislature. Within seventy-two hours – record time – the civic-minded citizens restored the democratic order and the rule of law in Venezuela, thoroughly rejecting the mass media’s defense of the coup-plotters and their brief authoritarian regime.

Chavez, as all great educators, learned from this democratic intervention of the mass of citizens, that democracy’s most effective defenders were to be found among the working people – and that its worst enemies were found in the business elites and military officials linked to Miami and Washington.

Chavez civic pedagogy emphasized the importance of the historical teachings and examples of founding fathers, like Simon Bolivar, in establishing a national and Latin American identity. His speeches raised the cultural level of millions of Venezuelans who had been raised in the alienating and servile culture of imperial Washington and the consumerist obsessions of Miami shopping malls.

Chavez succeeded in instilling a culture of solidarity and mutual support among the exploited, emphasizing ‘horizontal’ ties over vertical clientelistic dependency on the rich and powerful. His success in creating collective consciousness decisively shifted the balance of political power away from the wealthy rulers and corrupt political party and trade union leaders toward new socialist movements and class oriented trade unions. More than anything else Chavez’ political education of the popular majority regarding their social rights to free health care and higher education, living wages and full employment drew the hysterical ire of the wealthy Venezuelans and their undying hatred of a president who had created a sense of autonomy, dignity and ‘class empowerment’ through public education ending centuries of elite privilege and omnipotence.

Above all Chavez speeches, drawing as much from Bolivar as from Karl Marx, created a deep, generous sense of patriotism and nationalism and a profound rejection of a prostrate elite groveling before their Washington overlord, Wall Street bankers and oil company executives. Chavez’ anti-imperial speeches resonated because he spoke in the language of the people and expanded their national consciousness to identification with Latin America, especially Cuba’s fight against imperial interventions and wars.

International Relations: The Chavez Doctrine

At the beginning of the previous decade, after 9/11/01, Washington declared a ‘War on Terror.’ This was a public declaration of unilateral military intervention and wars against sovereign nations, movements and individuals deemed as adversaries, in violation of international law.

Almost all countries submitted to this flagrant violation of the Geneva Accords, except President Chavez, who made the most profound and simple refutation against Washington: ‘You don’t fight terrorism with state terrorism’. In his defense of the sovereignty of nations and international jurisprudence, Chavez underlined the importance of political and economic solutions to social problems and conflicts – repudiating the use of bombs, torture and mayhem. The Chavez Doctrine emphasized south-south trade and investments and diplomatic over military resolution of disputes. He upheld the Geneva Accords against colonial and imperial aggression while rejecting the imperial doctrine of ‘the war on terror’, defining western state terrorism as a pernicious equivalent to Al Qaeda terrorism.

Political Theory and Practice: The Grand Synthesizer

One of the most profound and influential aspects of Chavez’ legacy is his original synthesis of three grand strands of political thought: popular Christianity, Bolivarian nationalist and regional integration and Marxist political, social and economic thought. Chavez’ Christianity informed his deep belief in justice and the equality of people, as well as his generosity and forgiveness of adversaries even as they engaged in a violent coup, a crippling lockout, or openly collaborated and received financing from enemy intelligence agencies. Whereas anywhere else in the world, armed assaults against the state and coup d’états would result in long prison sentences or even executions, under Chavez most of his violent adversaries escaped prosecution and even rejoined their subversive organizations. Chavez demonstrated a deep belief in redemption and forgiveness. Chavez’s Christianity informed his ‘option for the poor’, the depth and breadth of his commitment to eradicating poverty and his solidarity with the poor against the rich.

Chavez deep-seated aversion and effective opposition to US and European imperialism and brutal Israeli colonialism were profoundly rooted in his reading of the writings and history of Simon Bolivar, the founding father of the Venezuelan nation. Bolivarian ideas on national liberation long preceded any exposure to Marx, Lenin or more contemporary leftist writings on imperialism. His powerful and unwavering support for regional integration and internationalism was deeply influenced by Simon Bolivar’s proposed ‘United States of Latin America’ and his internationalist activity in support of anti-colonial movements.

Chavez’ incorporation of Marxist ideas into his world view was adapted to his longstanding popular Christian and Bolivarian internationalist philosophy. Chavez’ option for the poor was deepened by his recognition of the centrality of the class struggle and the reconstruction of the Bolivarian nation through the socialization of the ‘commanding heights of the economy’. The socialist concept of self-managed factories and popular empowerment via community councils was given moral legitimacy by Chavez’ Christian faith in an egalitarian moral order.

While Chavez was respectful and carefully listened to the views of visiting leftist academics and frequently praised their writings, many failed to recognize or, worse, deliberately ignored the President’s own more original synthesis of history, religion and Marxism. Unfortunately, as is frequently the case, some leftist academics have, in their self-indulgent posturing, presumed to be Chavez’ ‘teacher’ and advisor on all matters of ‘Marxist theory’: This represents a style of leftist cultural colonialism, which snidely criticized Chavez for not following their ready-made prescriptions, published in their political literary journals in London, New York and Paris.

Fortunately, Chavez took what was useful from the overseas academics and NGO-funded political strategists while discarding ideas that failed to take account of the cultural-historical, class and rentier specificities of Venezuela.

Chavez has bequeathed to the intellectuals and activists of the world a method of thinking which is global and specific, historical and theoretical, material and ethical and which encompasses class analysis, democracy and a spiritual transcendence resonating with the great mass of humanity in a language every person can understand. Chavez’ philosophy and practice (more than any ‘discourse’ narrated by the social forum-hopping experts) demonstrated that the art of formulating complex ideas in simple language can move millions of people to ‘make history, and not only to study it’..

Toward Practical Alternatives to Neoliberalism and Imperialism

Perhaps Chavez greatest contribution in the contemporary period was to demonstrate, through practical measures and political initiatives, that many of the most challenging contemporary political and economic problems can be successfully resolved.

Radical Reform of a Rentier State

Nothing is more difficult than changing the social structure, institutions and attitudes of a rentier petro-state, with deeply entrenched clientelistic politics, endemic party-state corruption and a deeply-rooted mass psychology based on consumerism. Yet Chavez largely succeeded where other petro-regimes failed. The Chavez Administration first began with constitutional and institutional changes to create a new political framework; then he implemented social impact programs, which deepened political commitments among an active majority, which, in turn, bravely defended the regime from a violent US backed business-military coup d’état. Mass mobilization and popular support, in turn, radicalized the Chavez government and made way for a deeper socialization of the economy and the implementation of radical agrarian reform. The petrol industry was socialized; royalty and tax payments were raised to provide funds for massively expanded social expenditures benefiting the majority of Venezuelans.

Almost every day Chavez prepared clearly understandable educational speeches on social, ethical and political topics related to his regime’s redistributive policies by emphasizing social solidarity over individualistic acquisitive consumerism. Mass organizations and community and trade union movements flourished – a new social consciousness emerged ready and willing to advance social change and confront the wealthy and powerful. Chavez’ defeat of the US-backed coup and bosses’ lockout and his affirmation of the Bolivarian tradition and sovereign identity of Venezuela created a powerful nationalist consciousness which eroded the rentier mentality and strengthened the pursuit of a diversified ‘balanced economy’. This new political will and national productive consciousness was a great leap forward, even as the main features of a rentier-oil dependent economy persist. This extremely difficult transition has begun and is an ongoing process. Overseas leftist theorists, who criticize Venezuela (‘corruption’, ‘bureaucracy’) have profoundly ignored the enormous difficulties of transitioning from a rentier state to a socialized economy and the enormous progress achieved by Chavez.

Economic Crisis Without Capitalist Austerity

Throughout the crisis-wracked capitalist world, ruling labor, social democratic, liberal and conservative regimes have imposed regressive ‘austerity programs’ involving brutal reductions of social welfare, health and education expenditures and mass layoffs of workers and employees while handing our generous state subsidies and bailouts to failing banks and capitalist enterprises. Chanting their Thacherite slogan, ‘there is no alternative’, capitalist economists justify imposing the burden of ‘capitalist recovery’ onto the working class while allowing capital to recover its profits in order to invest.

Chavez’ policy was the direct opposite: In the midst of crisis, he retained all the social programs, rejected mass firings and increased social spending. The Venezuelan economy rode out of the worldwide crisis and recovered with a healthy 5.8% growth rate in 2012. In other words, Chavez demonstrated that mass impoverishment was a product of the specific capitalist ‘formula’ for recovery. He showed another, positive alternative approach to economic crisis, which taxed the rich, promoted public investments and maintained social expenditures.

Social Transformation in a ‘Globalized Economy’

Many commentators, left, right and center, have argued that the advent of a ‘globalized economy’ ruled out a radical social transformation. Yet Venezuela, which is profoundly globalized and integrated into the world market via trade and investments, has made major advances in social reform. What really matters in relation to a globalized economy is the nature of the political economic regime and its policies, which dictate how the gains and costs of international trade and investment are distributed. In a word, what is decisive is the ‘class character of the regime’ managing its place in the world economy. Chavez certainly did not ‘de-link’ from the world economy; rather he has re-linked Venezuela in a new way. He shifted Venezuelan trade and investment toward Latin America, Asia and the Middle East — especially to countries which do not intervene or impose reactionary conditions on economic transactions.

Anti-Imperialism in a Time of an Imperialist Offensive

In a time of a virulent US—EU imperialist offensive involving ‘pre-emptive’ military invasions, mercenary interventions, torture, assassinations and drone warfare in Iraq, Mali, Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Afghanistan and brutal economic sanctions and sabotage against Iran; Israeli colonial expulsions of thousands of Palestinians financed by the US; US-backed military coups in Honduras and Paraguay and aborted revolutions via puppets in Egypt and Tunisia, President Chavez, alone, stood as the principled defender of anti-imperialist politics. Chavez deep commitment to anti-imperialism stands in marked contrast to the capitulation of Western self-styled ‘Marxist’ intellectuals who mouthed crude justifications for their support of NATO bombing Yugoslavia and Libya, the French invasion of Mali and the Saudi-French (‘Monarcho-Socialist’) funding and arming of Islamist mercenaries against Syria. These same London, New York and Paris-based ‘intellectuals’ who patronized Chavez as a mere ‘populist’ or ‘nationalist’ and claimed he should have listened to their lectures and read their books, had crassly capitulated under the pressure of the capitalist state and mass media into supporting ‘humanitarian interventions’ (aka NATO bombing)… and justified their opportunism in the language of obscure leftists sects. Chavez confronted NATO pressures and threats, as well as the destabilizing subversion of his domestic opponents and courageously articulated the most profound and significant principles of 20th and 21st Marxism: the inviolate right to self-determination of oppressed nations and unconditional opposition to imperial wars. While Chavez spoke and acted in defense of anti-imperialist principles, many in the European and US left acquiesced in imperial wars: There were virtually no mass protests, the ‘anti-war’ movements were co-opted or moribund, the British ‘Socialist’ Workers Party defended the massive NATO bombing of Libya, the French ‘Socialists’ invaded Mali- with the support of the ‘Anti-Capitalist’ Party. Meanwhile, the ‘populist’ Chavez had articulated a far more profound and principled understanding of Marxist practice, certainly than his self-appointed overseas Marxist ‘tutors’.

No other political leader or for that matter, leftist academic, developed, deepened and extended the central tenets of anti-imperialist politics in the era of global imperialist warfare with greater acuity than Hugo Chavez.

Transition from a Failed Neo-Liberal to a Dynamic Welfare State

Chavez’ programmatic and comprehensive reconfiguration of Venezuela from a disastrous and failed neo-liberal regime to a dynamic welfare state stands as a landmark in 20th and 21st century political economy. Chavez’ successful reversal of neo-liberal institutions and policies, as well as his re-nationalization of the ‘commanding heights of the economy’ demolished the reigning neo-liberal dogma derived from the Thatcher-Reagan era enshrined in the slogan: ‘There is no alternative’ to brutal neo-liberal policies, or TINA.

Chavez rejected privatization – he re-nationalized key oil related industries, socialized hundreds of capitalist firms and carried out a vast agrarian reform program, including land distribution to 300,000 families. He encouraged trade union organizations and worker control of factories – even bucking public managers and even his own cabinet ministers. In Latin America, Chavez led the way in defining with greater depth and with more comprehensive social changes, the post neo-liberal era. Chavez envisioned the transition from neo-liberalism to a new socialized welfare state as an international process and provided financing and political support for new regional organizations like ALBA, PetroCaribe, and UNASUR. He rejected the idea of building a welfare state in one country and formulated a theory of post-neo-liberal transitions based on international solidarity. Chavez’ original ideas and policies regarding the post-neo-liberal transition escaped the armchair Marxists and the globetrotting Social Forum NGO pundits whose inconsequential ‘global alternatives’ succeeded primarily in securing imperial foundation funding.

Chavez demonstrated through theory and practice that neo-liberalism was indeed reversible – a major political breakthrough of the 21st century.

Beyond Social Liberalism: The Radical Definition of Post-Neo-Liberalism

The US-EU promoted neo-liberal regimes have collapsed under the weight of the deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression. Massive unemployment led to popular uprisings, new elections and the advent of center-left regimes in most of Latin America, which rejected or at least claimed to repudiate ‘neo-liberalism’. Most of these regimes promulgated legislation and executive directives to fund poverty programs, implement financial controls and make productive investments, while raising minimum wages and stimulating employment. However few lucrative enterprises were actually re-nationalized. Addressing inequalities and the concentration of wealth were not part of their agenda. They formulated their strategy of working with Wall Street investors, local agro-mineral exporters and co-opted trade unions.

Chavez posed a profoundly different alternative to this form of ‘post-neoliberalism’. He nationalized resource industries, excluded Wall Street speculators and limited the role of the agro-mineral elites. He posed a socialized welfare state as an alternative to the reigning social-liberal orthodoxy of the center-left regimes, even as he worked with these regimes in promoting Latin American integration and opposing US backed coups.

Chavez was both a leader defining a more socialized alternative to social liberation and the conscience pressuring his allies to advance further.

Socialism and Democracy

Chavez opened a new and extraordinarily original and complex path to socialism based on free elections, re-educating the military to uphold democratic and constitutional principals, and the development of mass and community media. He ended the capitalist mass media monopolies and strengthened civil society as a counter-weight to US-sponsored para-military and fifth column elites intent on destabilizing the democratic state.

No other democratic-socialist president had successfully resisted imperial destabilization campaigns – neither Jagan in Guyana, Manley in Jamaica, nor Allende in Chile. From the very outset Chavez saw the importance of creating a solid legal-political framework to facilitate executive leadership, promote popular civil society organizations and end US penetration of the state apparatus (military and police). Chavez implemented radical social impact programs that ensured the loyalty and active allegiance of popular majorities and weakened the economic levers of political power long held by the capitalist class. As a result Venezuela’s political leaders, soldiers and officers loyal to its constitution and the popular masses crushed a bloody right-wing coup, a crippling bosses’ lockout and a US-financed referendum and proceeded to implement further radical socio-economic reforms in a prolonged process of cumulative socialization.

Chavez’s originality, in part the result of trial and error, was his ‘experimental method’: His profound understanding and response to popular attitudes and behavior was deeply rooted in Venezuela’s history of racial and class injustice and popular rebelliousness. More than any previous socialist leader, Chavez traveled, spoke and listened to Venezuela’s popular classes on questions of everyday life. His ‘method’ was to translate micro based knowledge into macro programed changes. In practice he was the anti-thesis of the overseas and local intellectual know-it-alls who literally spoke down to the people and who saw themselves as the ‘masters of the world’ …at least, in the micro-world of left academia, ingrown socialist conferences and self-centered monologues. The death of Hugo Chavez was profoundly mourned by millions in Venezuela and hundreds of million around the world because his transition to socialism was their path; he listened to their demands and he acted upon them effectively.

Social Democracy and National Security

Chavez was a socialist president for over 13 years in the face of large-scale, long-term violent opposition and financial sabotage from Washington, the local economic elite and mass media moguls. Chavez created the political consciousness that motivated millions of workers and secured the constitutional loyalty of the military to defeat a bloody US-backed business-military coup in 2002. Chavez tempered social changes in accordance with a realistic assessment of what the political and legal order could support. First and foremost, Chavez secured the loyalty of the military by ending US ‘advisory’ missions and overseas imperial indoctrination while substituting intensive courses on Venezuelan history, civic responsibility and the critical link between the popular classes and the military in a common national mission..

Chavez’ national security policies were based on democratic principles as well as a clear recognition of the serious threats to Venezuelan sovereignty. He successfully safeguarded both national security and the democratic rights and political freedoms of its citizens, a feat which has earned Venezuela the admiration and envy of constitutional lawyers and citizens of the US and the EU.

In stark contrast, US President Obama has assumed the power to assassinate US citizens based on secret information and without trial both in and out of the US. His Administration has murdered ‘targeted’ US citizens and their children, jailed others without trial and maintains secret ‘files’ on over 40 million Americans. Chavez never assumed those powers and never assassinated or tortured a single Venezuelan. In Venezuela, the dozen or so prisoners convicted of violent acts of subversion after open trials in Venezuelan courts, stand in sharp contrast to the tens of thousands of jailed and secretly framed Muslims and Latin American immigrants in the US. Chavez rejected state terror; while Obama has special assassination teams on the ground in over 70 countries. Obama supports arbitrary police invasions of ‘suspect’ homes and workplaces based on ‘secret evidence’ while. Chavez even tolerated the activities of known foreign (CIA)-funded opposition parties. In a word, Obama uses ‘national security’ to destroy democratic freedoms while Chavez upheld democratic freedoms and imposed constitutional limits on the national security apparatus.

Chavez sought peaceful diplomatic resolution of conflicts with hostile neighbors, such as Colombia which hosts seven US military bases – potential springboards for US intervention. On the other hand, Obama has engaged in open war with at least seven countries and has been pursuing covert hostile action against dozens of others.


Chavez’s legacy is multi-faceted. His contributions are original, theoretical and practical and universally relevant. He demonstrated in ‘theory and practice’ how a small country can defend itself against imperialism, maintain democratic principles and implement advanced social programs. His pursuit of regional integration and promotion of ethical standards in the governance of a nation – provide examples profoundly relevant in a capitalist world awash in corrupt politicians slashing living standards while enriching the plutocrats.

Chavez’ rejection of the Bush-Obama doctrine of using ‘state terror to fight terror’, his affirmation that the roots of violence are social injustice, economic pillage and political oppression and his belief that resolving these underlying issues is the road to peace, stands as the ethical-political guide for humanity’s survival.

Faced with a violent world of imperial counter-revolution, and resolved to stand with the oppressed of the world, Hugo Chavez enters world history as a complete political leader, with the stature of the most humane and multi-faceted leader of our epoch: the Renaissance figure for the 21st century.


James Petras, a former Professor of Sociology at Binghamton University, New York, owns a 50-year membership in the class struggle, is an adviser to the landless and jobless in Brazil and Argentina, and is co-author of Globalization Unmasked (Zed Books). Petras’ most recent book is The Arab Revolt and the Imperialist Counterattack. He can be reached at: Read other articles by James, or visit James's website.

Guatemalan High Court legitimizes Mining Co. Atrocity Against Indigenous

Guatemala’s Highest Court Denies Justice to Indigenous Peoples Affected by Mining

by Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) - Western People's Council (CPO) - MiningWatch Canada

(Washington, D.C./Guatemala City/Ottawa) On March 1, Guatemalan national press reported that the country's highest court upheld the 1997 Mining Law against a constitutional challenge brought by the Western Peoples’ Council (CPO) for lack of prior consultation with indigenous peoples. The ruling, coming a year after the complaint was filed, contradicts Guatemala’s international human rights obligations, and represents a set back from a 2011 Constitutional Court decision that ruled in favor of the right of Guatemala’s indigenous majority to consultation on legislative proposals that could affect their lands and natural resources.

Guatemala’s mining sector has been the source of continual conflict, which, in recent months, has seen an increase in threats, criminalization and violence. With over 400 mining licenses issued and more than 700 pending, lack of respect for free, prior and informed consent is at the root of much of the tension.

Under Guatemala’s Peace Accords, the American Convention on Human Rights, and as a signatory to the International Labour Organization Convention No. 169 on the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples, as well as having endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Guatemala is obliged to respect the right of indigenous peoples to free, prior and informed consent for any project that could adversely impact them, and to consult with them before passing laws or administrative initiatives that would affect their rights.

“This ruling is a contravention of Guatemala’s international obligations to respect indigenous rights and an unwelcome reminder of how the Guatemalan legal system continues to deny justice to the country's Mayan population,” said Kris Genovese, senior attorney at the Center for International Environmental Law.

In December 2011, in a step toward respect for such rights, the Constitutional Court overturned the government’s attempt to regulate prior consultation on the basis that it had not been consulted with indigenous peoples first. This month’s ruling is a disappointing reverse.

“Not only is this ruling a negation of justice, it is a negation of the existence of indigenous peoples' right to participate as political actors,” said Francisco Mateo Rocael, representative of the Western Peoples' Council. “We knew the odds of winning were against us in this case. Despite our strong legal arguments, economic and political powers continue to influence how justice is carried out in Guatemala.”

Notably, in August 2012, just over a month following a hearing on the constitutional challenge against the mining law, a group of Canadian parliamentarians and one Canadian senator traveled on a company-paid trip to Guatemala with the Chairman of the Board of Goldcorp. Goldcorp is one of the largest gold producers in the world and has one of its most profitable mines in Guatemala’s northwestern highlands. During the three-day junket, the Canadian group met with the Guatemalan legislative commission charged with mining legislation in the country.

“We don’t know what took place behind closed doors, but the timing was crucial given that the Constitutional Court decision was due,” says Jen Moore, Latin America Program Coordinator at MiningWatch Canada. “While it is Guatemala’s obligation to respect the rights of indigenous peoples living there, we also need to ask what role Canadian interests might have played behind the scenes that run contrary to Canada's responsibilities to promote respect for indigenous rights as well.”

The Western People’s Council, or CPO, will now bring this case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The CPO, a coalition of indigenous authorities and institutions from seven departments of Guatemala, has already organized nearly 60 community referenda, in which indigenous communities vote to decide whether or not to accept development projects on their lands. To date, over one million have voted against mining. A recent public opinion poll estimates that 66% of Guatemalans at large are opposed to mining.

Center for International Environmental Law is committed to strengthening and using international law and institutions to protect the environment, promote human health, and ensure a just and sustainable society. CIEL is a non-profit organization dedicated to advocacy in the global public interest, including through legal counsel, policy research, analysis, education, training and capacity building.

MiningWatch Canada is a pan-Canadian initiative supported by environmental, social justice, Aboriginal and labour organizations from across the country. It addresses the urgent need for a coordinated public interest response to the threats to public health, water and air quality, fish and wildlife habitat and community interests posed by irresponsible mineral policies and practices in Canada and around the world.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Into the Breach with Christy!

Charge of the Christy Clark Light Brigade

by Peter Ewart - 250 News

Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
- Alfred Lord Tennyson, 1854

BC Liberal MLAs can be forgiven for feeling that they, too, like the British army’s doomed Light Brigade during the Crimean war (1853-56), are marching into their own “valley of Death” on election day on May 14th. Leading the charge, of course, is Premier Christy Clark, smile frozen on her face, teeth flashing in the sun.

The grand coalition of the so-called “centre-right” welded together under the BC Liberal banner by former Premier Gordon Campbell has been unravelling for some time now. Part of that unravelling can be attributed to Campbell and his policies, especially the HST fiasco, but a substantial part has to do with current leader Christy Clark and her government.

In the last 60 years or so, the traditional leader of the “centre-right coalition” (whether it was called Social Credit or, more recently, BC Liberal) has been either a conservative-populist, such as W.A.C. Bennett and Bill Vander Zalm or more outright conservative, such as Bill Bennett and Gordon Campbell. During this period of time, Liberals of the federal Liberal type, have been a minority faction within the grand coalition, or, if outside during the Social Credit time in power, held minority party status. That is, until Christy Clark came along.

Tellingly, Clark ran for the leadership of the BC Liberals in 2010-11 with almost no support from the legislative caucus. Yet she still won the race over a number of high-profile “conservative” contenders. How did she do it? It was not as if the BC Liberal Party underwent a sea change towards federal Liberalism. Rather, at least in part, it was because of a cunning delegate-gathering manoeuvre apparently devised by one of her key advisers, Patrick Kinsella (who also played a key role in the sleight-of-hand associated with the sale of BC Rail).

It is a fact of the party system in BC that riding associations that do not have MLAs in the Legislature tend to languish in a kind of electoral Siberia, their membership ignored and inconsequential, even more so than riding associations with sitting members. Realizing that she would have great difficulty in obtaining votes in the ridings of sitting MLAs (who were almost all supporting rival candidates), Clark’s team actively courted the ignored membership in these other “Siberian” ridings. These member sign-ups, which were conducted under the radar, helped catapult Clark over the top to the great surprise and dismay of the rival leadership camps.

And so it is that someone of a federal liberal persuasion, i.e. Christy Clark, was crowned leader of the BC “centre-right coalition,” with almost no support from sitting Liberal MLAs (except grudgingly near the end of the campaign). But Clark is an anomaly. Like the disastrous charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War, she and her government were doomed from the very start. Not because her main policies were different in any substantive way from those of the coalition, but rather because of the factional divisions within it.

As a result, barring some unforeseen disaster on the part of the NDP opposition, Clark will most likely suffer a triple whammy, i.e. lose her seat, lose the general election, and, in the aftermath, be toppled off her horse as leader of the BC Liberals.

Why? One reason is that she is, indeed, an anomaly, an accident of sorts, a federal Liberal-tainted leader of an essentially conservative party. Another reason is the unravelling of the grand centre-right coalition, which actually began under Premier Gordon Campbell, especially with his handling of the HST fiasco. Driving it all, of course, has been the growing opposition of the people of British Columbia to Liberal Party rule.

By attempting to impose the HST, the BC Liberal government alienated a broad section of the population, including some of its core supporters. In addition, by failing in this endeavour, it ultimately disappointed its big business backers, especially the resource-exporting monopolies. After Premier Campbell resigned, Clark could have distanced herself from the hated HST but instead championed it all the way to its humiliating defeat in the referendum.

Since then, the speed at which the BC Liberal centre-right coalition is unravelling has accelerated dramatically, helped along by Clark’s fickle and capricious style of leadership, as well as unfolding scandals. As in Tennyson’s poem, the Clark government faces cannons on all sides as it marches onward into the “valley of death.” Of course, it is under withering fire from its traditional political opponents such as the NDP and others. But increasingly vicious opposition is actually coming from within the centre-right coalition, whether in rural areas such as Prince George, or in the Lower Mainland, as well as from high level civil servants deep within the bureaucracy.

Some of this fracturing is out in the open, such as the bitter, acrimonious fight between Clark supporters and the newly resuscitated BC Conservatives, but much has been just below the surface at least until now. And so it is that, in place of flags of victory for the BC Liberals fluttering in the wind, we see dirty laundry and leaked emails being hoisted by former supporters both inside and outside of government.

The centre-right coalition will, of course, be rebuilt. But the main obstacle now is Christy Clark herself. Thus, a temporary commonality of interest exists between the traditional opponents of the BC Liberals (like the NDP) and growing factions within the centre-right coalition, to bring Clark crashing down. From the ashes of the May election, so the thinking goes, a new coalition will emerge and a new leader. And not a few potential leaders are waiting in the hills overlooking the impending battle scene of May 14th.

To be successful, the new leader, riding down from the hills afterwards, will need the dictatorial will of a Bennett or Campbell to shoot the weak and wounded still groaning on the battlefield, and weld together the disparate parts of a new coalition. Not an easy task given its fractured state.

In the meantime, ever pragmatic, the big business establishment of the province will focus on getting what it can out of a BC NDP government, and there are already signs of this happening.

In his jingoistic poem, “The Charge of the Light Brigade”, Alfred Lord Tennyson, poet laureate of England, tried to put a patriotic gloss on what was actually a colossal blunder and failure of military leadership. Thus, in regards to an epitaph for Christy Clark and her Light Brigade, perhaps it is fitting to end with the high-sounding, but hollow, last lines of that poem:

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wonder’d.
Honor the charge they made!

Peter Ewart is a columnist and writer based in Prince George, British Columbia. He can be reached at:

Home and Home Sick: Returning from Gaza

Home Sick...for Gaza

by Kevin Neish

Well after 20 hours in the air I’m back home in Victoria and dealing with the jet lag and the culture shock.  Less friendly people here and I’m not constantly scanning the skies for F18s and drones.  The trip went very well, and I made some very good connections for future work and projects,  As such I expect I’ll be returning to Gaza some time soon.   Later this year hopefully, depending on the situation in Egypt.  So one last entry of random photos and minimal commentary.


In desperately poor Gaza they found the funds to build a stadium just for disabled athletes.


Which the Israelis shot a missile at in November 2012


And a few more missiles.


And a few more…

And a few more missiles.

I’m sure the Israelis will say that they only attacked this civilian target because of Hamas rockets supposedly coming from it.  But they rocketed the sewer and water plants, the electrical plants, the main bridges, the universities, high schools, UN elementary schools (all war crimes) and they used white phosphorous against many civilian targets (a serious war crime).  I say they are lying again and that this attack on a disabled athletes sports stadium was an intentional collective punishment attack, a war crime.


This is the rocketed municipal police station where several men had died, which I had photographed for an earlier blog.  Now, by hand, they are hammering the concrete debris back into gravel and then straightening the savaged re-bar, all for reuse.  Nothing in Gaza can be  wasted behind Israel’s blockade.


Another bit of recycling involves the massive concrete apartheid walls which the Israelis left behind when the Zionist settlers left Gaza in 2005.  These ones at the Rafah border crossing are the last of them and the Palestinians have decorated them with children’s paintings.

The rest of these hated Israeli apartheid walls were put to better use, as a breakwater for the port to protect  the Palestinian fishermen and women.

ImageSo to end on a mundane but important point, this is a model of a new sewer  plant which Gaza is building, the first of three.

As I said in my first blog entry, the Israelis blow things apart, like the previous sewer plant, and the Palestinians just carry on and build  a new one.  They are sumud in Arabic or steadfast in English.  They are not going to be defeated.
Thank you for my readers time, consideration and patience.

Saudi Fuel for Syrian Tumult

Sunni Rollback: the Second Front

by Peter Lee - China Matters

“If Syria falls, we are liberated; if we are liberated, Syria will be liberated. We have the same battle with Iran – by defeating them we break the Shia crescent of Iran, Syria and Lebanon."

Readers of this blog know I have been promoting the idea that Saudi Arabia, in particular, will not be interested in negotiating an end to the bloodshed in Syria that involves anything less than an overthrow of Assad and a triumph by the largely Sunni rebels.
That’s because I believe Saudi Arabia has its eyes on the prize: a Sunni resurgence that captures Iraq as well as Syria and isolates Iran.  And it isn’t going to endanger the regional Sunni insurgency by letting peace break out in Syria and standing idly by as Western and non-Sunni governments mop up the extremist foot soldiers (as happened in the “Sunni Awakening” a.k.a. the violent suppression of Al Qaeda in Iraq coordinated by the US military with more moderate Sunni sheiks).
So the pot is going to stay boiling, in my opinion, with Saudi fuel thoughtfully provided via western Iraq as well as directly to Syria.
On the subject of Iraq—the second Sunni front, by my formulation--two data points torn from the headlines.
First, from the Guardian’s Ghaith Abdul-Ahad on the apparently snowballing (if such a simile is apt for the torrid deserts of western Iraq) Sunni insurgency against the Maliki regime and the major buy-in it has received from the Gulf:
In Mosul and Falluja, tent cities have sprung up in public squares. Some have even demonstrated in Sunni areas of Baghdad, braving the draconian Friday security measures imposed on them.

But perhaps more remarkable is the scene inside the tent. Among the tribal sheikhs and activists around Abu Saleh are former enemies and victims, men who feared him and men who hunted him on behalf of the Americans. Sensing an opportunity, Sunni factions have put aside their differences to mount a common front against Baghdad.

Abu Saleh, rotund and balding, explains how a week after the first demonstrations in Sunni cities, he and other fighters commanding the remnants of Sunni insurgent groups held a series of meetings to form a pact and use the momentum in Sunni cities.

"Call us the honourable nationalistic factions – people here are still sensitive to using words like mujahideen or resistance. We decided to sign a truce with the tribal sheikhs, other factions and even moderate elements in al-Qaida," he said.

"The Sunnis were never united like this from the fall of Baghdad until now. This is a new stage we are going through: first came the American occupation, then the resistance, then al-Qaida dominated us, and then came internal fighting and the awakening ... now there is a truce even with the tribal sheikhs who fought and killed our cousins and brothers.

"The politicians have joined us and we have the legitimacy of the street. To be honest, we had reached a point when people hated us, only your brother would support you."

One of the things that transformed the reputation of men such as Abu Saleh in the eyes of their fellow Sunnis has been their involvement in the Syrian conflict, a few hundred miles west along the highway.

The conflict pitted Sunni rebels against government forces and Alawites, backed by Iran, also patrons of Iraq's Shia leadership. Weapons flowed to the rebels from the Iraqi tribes – sold for a comfortable profit – while the Iraqi Shia prime minister toed the Iranian line and lent his support to the Syrian regime. With both sides using the same sectarian rhetoric, it was easy to join the dots between the two conflicts.

Abu Saleh found himself fighting his old war in a new field. He lent a hand to the novice Syrian rebels and joined the fight, commanding a unit of his own operating in the city of Aleppo and the countryside north of it.

"We taught them how to cook phosphate and make IEDs. Our struggle here is the same is in Syria. If Syria falls, we are liberated; if we are liberated, Syria will be liberated. We have the same battle with Iran – by defeating them we break the Shia crescent of Iran, Syria and Lebanon."

Abu Saleh claims that once he and his men had been accepted back in Ramadi, they formed three battalions that had hit convoys carrying supplies to Syria as well as an Iraqi army helicopter.

In another echo of recent Arab uprisings, Abu Saleh says he and other Sunni leaders have now secured support from wealthy Gulf state figures who funded them during the early years of their insurgency against the Americans.

After the truce between Sunni groups, he says, a meeting was set up in the Jordanian capital, Amman, between a united front of Iraqi factions and representatives of "charities" from the Gulf.

The Iraqis asked for money and weapons; after a decade of war their arsenals were almost depleted. What didn't get destroyed by US or Iraqi forces was sold to the Syrians. They needed money to train and recruit new fighters but more importantly a religious sanction from the religious authorities for a new round of fighting.

The Gulf figures asked for more time and a second meeting was held in Amman, this time attended by a higher-ranking group of officials from the both sides. The answer was yes: the "charities" would offer support as long as the Iraqi Sunnis were united and used their weapons only after Iraqi government units used force against them. Another Sunni leader confirmed to the Guardian that the Amman meetings had taken place.

"There is a new plan, a grand plan not like the last time when we worked individually," another commander told me. "This time we are organised. We have co-ordinated with countries like Qatar and Saudi and Jordan. We are organising, training and equipping ourselves but we will start peacefully until the right moment arrives. We won't be making the same mistakes. Baghdad will be destroyed this time."

And, at LobeLog, ex-US diplomat Wayne White describes the Iraq/Syria synergies and writes about the somewhat desperate (and in his view deluded and self-defeating) US efforts to assist the Maliki government in putting a lid on Sunni extremism inside Iraq—as a parallel to the well-publicized US efforts to funnel arms preferentially to more friendly or, at least, more tractable elements of the Free Syrian Army as a counterweight to Islamist groups:
With a long history of misguided, damaging American intervention and meddling in the Middle East, the reported CIA effort to target the al-Nusra Front in Syria by helping Iraqi anti-terrorism units to attack its roots in Iraq seems to be the former and possibly destined to be the latter.

Resentment over Maliki’s disinterest in anything that would re-integrate Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority into much of the country’s core activities has done a lot to sustain a drumfire of AQI bombings inside Iraq and, since late 2011, sent gaggles of Islamic fighters from Iraq’s Sunni Arab northwest into the raging battle for Syria.

Al-Nusra probably is to a large extent an arm of AQI, as the US alleges, but also could be the recipient of many Iraqi fighters simply enraged over the plight of Sunni Arabs in their own country more generally. Additionally, there are quite a few historic tribal and family connections that extend far beyond the Syrian-Iraqi border, making events in Syria that much more palpably personal for quite a few Sunni Arabs inside Iraq.
 I have a feeling that the United States, when it opportunistically encouraged the bedraggled Syrian opposition not to negotiate with Bashar al Assad, did not realize that what it would get in return was not an admirable but weak and easily led democracy in Syria but a near-total loss of control of the Middle East agenda to the Gulf autocracies and a narrative of trans-national sectarian aggression.
Not the Obama administration's finest hour, perhaps.

Progressive Back Channels for Democrat Billions

The Progressive Movement is a PR Front for Rich Democrats

by John Stauber - CounterPunch

There is good news in the Boston Globe today for the managers, development directors, visionaries, political hacks and propaganda flacks who run the “the Progressive Movement.” More easy-to-earn and easy-to-hide soft money, millions of dollars, will be flowing to them from super rich Democrats and business corporations. It will come clean, pressed and laundered through Organizing for Action, the latest incarnation of the Obama Money Machine which has recently morphed into a “nonpartisan non-profit corporation” that will ‘‘strengthen the progressive movement and train our next generation of leaders.’’

Does this information concern you? If not, you need to get out of the propaganda bubble of your Progressive Movement echo chamber and think. Think hard. Think about fundamental, radical, democratic, social and economic change, who might bring it about and how. Ask yourself if the the rich elite, the 1%, are going to fund that. Leave The Nation and Mother Jones on the shelf; turn off Ed Schultz, Rachel Madow and Chris Hayes; don’t open that barrage of email missives from Alternet, Media Matters, MoveOn, and the other think tanks; and get your head out of the liberal blogosphere for a couple days. Clear your mind and consider this:

The self-labeled Progressive Movement that has arisen over the past decade is primarily one big propaganda campaign serving the political interests of the the Democratic Party’s richest one-percent who created it. The funders and owners of the Progressive Movement get richer and richer off Wall Street and the corporate system. But they happen to be Democrats, cultural and social liberals who can’t stomach Republican policies, and so after bruising electoral defeats a decade ago they decided to buy a movement, one just like the Republicans, a copy.

The Progressive Movement that exists today is their success story. The Democratic elite created a mirror image of the type of astroturf front groups and think tanks long ago invented, funded and promoted by the Reaganites and the Koch brothers. The liberal elite own the Progressive Movement. Organizing for Action, the “non-partisan” slush fund to train the new leaders of the Progressive Movement is just the latest big money ploy to consolidate their control and keep the feed flowing into the trough.

The professional Progressive Movement that we see reflected in the pages of The Nation magazine, in the online marketing and campaigning of MoveOn and in the speeches of Van Jones, is primarily a political public relations creation of America’s richest corporate elite, the so-called 1%, who happen to bleed Blue because they have some degree of social and environmental consciousness, and don’t bleed Red. But they are just as committed as the right to the overall corporate status quo, the maintenance of the American Empire, and the monopoly of the rich over the political process that serves their economic interests.


After the 2000 presidential election, the Al Gore Hanging Chad Debacle, rich liberal Democratic elite began discussing, conspiring and networking together to try and make sure that no scruffy, radical political insurgency like the Nader 2000 campaign would again raise its political head. They generally loved Al Gore, the millionaire technocrat, and they put in play actions which led to the creation a movement of their own that aped the right wing’s institutions. They reached out to the well-paid professionals who ran the big environmental groups they already funded and owned, and to other corporate reform and liberal media operations. They followed plans drawn up by Democratic Party insiders who wanted nothing more than to win elections, and who saw the need for the tools and groups and campaigns the Right wielded. They made it clear there would be wonderful financial rewards and career advancements for progressive leaders and their organizations who lined up with them.

The Progressive Movement we see today was created by a small group including Democratic political operatives and foundations including TIDES (formed in 1976), the millionaires and billionaires of the Democracy Alliance, (formed in 2005) and eventually the Obama machine.

After Al Gore’s 2000 debacle, the rich liberal Democrats in the East and the West began to talk and meet. The green elite funders and millionaires of the Bay Area solidified relationships with the Beltway think tanks, political consultants and and PR flacks. Liberal Democratic Party players like MoveOn’s co-founder Wes Boyd and TIDES Drummond Pike drew closer with others including the George Soros, John Podesta and Stanley Greenberg crowd. The Democratic Party defeats in 2002 and 2004 fueled further despair and solidified plans for the elite to build a new Progressive Movement that would serve their agenda.

This became very visible with the arrival of the Democracy Alliance. A summer 2005 article in the Washington Post made clear their intent to pour millions into creating and owning a Progressive Movement. Looking back, someone needs to give these folks an award because the wealthy elitists in the Democracy Alliance succeeded wildly, mission accomplished!

As the Washington Post reported, “at least 80 wealthy liberals have pledged to contribute $1 million or more apiece to fund a network of think tanks and advocacy groups to compete with the potent conservative infrastructure built up over the past three decades. … The goal of the alliance, according to organizers, is to foster the growth of liberal or left-leaning institutions equipped to take on prominent think tanks on the right, including the Heritage Foundation, the Hoover Institution, the American Enterprise Institute and the Cato Institute, as well as such training centers as the Leadership Institute and the Young America’s Foundation.”

The Washington Post explained, “There has been a flourishing of new, pro-Democratic think tanks and advocacy groups in recent years. Clinton administration chief of staff John D. Podesta established the Center for American Progress … and author David Brock helped create Media Matters for America last year, among others. All these groups are potential recipients of money from alliance partners. In addition, the number of liberal bloggers on the Web has been growing at a fast pace … . Jockeying for cash among possible recipient organizations has already begun. Robert L. Borosage, director of the liberal Campaign for America’s Future, said the alliance will fund a ‘set of institutions in this city to be in the national debate, and we would like to be one of them.’ ”

For almost a decade now the funders of the Progressive Movement, the rich Democrats of the Democracy Alliance and their cliques, networks and organizations, have employed and funded political hacks, fundraisers, pollsters, organizers and PR flacks. Over the past ten years they have dumped more and more money into the big feeding trough shared by the major players of the Progressive movement. The overall goal and result has always been to bring withering rhetorical fire and PR attacks upon the Republican Right, while creating a tremendous fear of the Right to increase the vote for Democrats. This has become Job #1 for the Progressive Movement. No one quite remembers Job #2.

Real movements are not the creation of and beholden to millionaires. The Progressive Movement is astroturf beholden to the rich elite, just as the Democratic millionaires and operatives of the Democracy Alliance intended. The “movement’s” funding is in the hands of a small number of super rich Democrats and union bureaucrats and advisors who run with them. Its talking points, strategies, tactics and PR campaigns are all at the service of the Democratic elite. There is no grassroots organized progressive movement with power in the United States, and none is being built. Indeed, if anything threatens to emerge, the cry “Remember Nader!” arises and the budding insurgency is marginalized or coopted, as in the case of the Occupy Wall Street events. Meanwhile, the rich elite who fund the Progressive Movement, and their candidates such as Barack Obama, are completely wedded to maintaining the existing status quo on Wall Street and in the corporate boardroom. Their well-kept Progressive Movement is adept at PR, propaganda, marketing and fundraising necessary in the service of the Democratic Party and the corporate elite who rule it.

One of the Progressive Movement’s key new movers and shakers is Ilyse Hogue. Her rise out of the green movement and into the highest echelons of Democratic power encapsulates how it all works. In 2006 Hogue was recruited out of Rainforest Action Network by Wes Boyd of MoveOn to run their national campaigns. Since then she has accumulated hats and desks at The Nation, Media Matters, the Soros-funded Super PAC Public Campaign Action Fund, and most recently the feminist lobby NARAL. Hogue is an articulate and well-rewarded spokesperson, fundraiser and mobilizer for the new Progressive Movement. Her network of recent employers all benefited nicely from the successful work of the Democracy Alliance, TIDES, MoveOn, and Soros. Anyone who wonders if there are good careers in the Progressive Movement can look at her and others and see the answer is clearly ‘yes’.

Every well-funded movement needs an echo-chamber to pump up its propaganda and messages, and for the Progressive Movement the Netroots Nation bloggers, The Nation, Alternet, Mother Jones, and scores of other journalists and pundits have filled the bill. The development of the messages and talking points of the Progressive Movement is the realm of DC think tanks and organizations such as Media Matters, and a small army of flacks is also utilized including PR maven David Fenton, pollster Stanley Greenberg and messaging guru George Lakoff.


After the 2004 flop of the Kerry/Edwards campaign, luck shone the Democrats. The over-reach of the neoconservatives, the failure to find those weapons of mass deception (sic), the endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, turned American public opinion, especially among the young, against the Republicans. Growing anti-war sentiment, which had little to do with the organized anti-war movement, delivered to the Democrats what Governor Mario Cuomo called “The Gift.” The horrific Iraq war, he explained to a Democracy Alliance gathering, was the gift that allowed the Democrats to take control of the US Congress.

It was at this point in early 2007 that the truly dark and cynical agenda of the professional Progressive Movement and the Democratic Party revealed itself. Under Pelosi the Democrats could have cut off funding for Bush’s unpopular wars and foreign policy. Instead, with PR cover provided by MoveOn and their lobbyist Tom Matzzie, the Democratic Congress gave George Bush all the money he wanted to continue his wars. For the previous five years MoveOn had branded itself as the leader of the anti-war movement, building lists of millions of liberals, raising millions of dollars, and establishing itself in the eyes of the corporate media as leaders of the US peace movement. Now they helped the Democrats fund the war, both betting that the same public opposition to the wars that helped them win control of the House in 2006 could win the Presidency in 2008.

Their bet paid off with a young, charismatic black candidate backed from his beginnings by Wall Street, and thus able to out-raise even the Clinton Machine for the big money provided by the Democratic elite. Obama hired top online organizers and combined MoveOn’s “clicktivist” style and expertise to both raise money and build an effective political machine. The stock market collapse of 2008 was again like a gift for the Democrats, showing Obama’s cool contrasted with old John McCain’s panic.

Just before the Obama victory in 2008, Alternet’s Don Hazen interviewed Drummond Pike, the millionaire who founded the TIDES Foundation in 1976 and a founding member of the Democracy Alliance. The topic was TIDES upcoming “Momentum” conference at a fancy San Francisco hotel. The exclusive confab was described as “an invitational gathering of progressive donors and advocates” where “some of the most creative minds in the progressive community come together to challenge, inspire and energize each other.” Pike said it was “where we bring funders, leaders of key nonprofits, think tanks and activist organizations together… We are engaged in philanthropy. We granted $93 million dollars last year and manage grant-making for more than 400 individual and institutional donors.” The wedding of the rich elite Democrats and the Progressive Movement just got better and better.


After Obama’s 2008 victory the Progressive Movement celebrated itself and continued to solidify with ongoing funding from the Dem elite, playing a significant role in delivering the White House again to the Democrats in 2012. One of their 2012 PR front stunts to benefit the Democrats was launched in early 2012, the “99% Spring.”

In the Fall of 2011, the spontaneous street action known as Occupy Wall Street withstood media derision long enough to earn its respect. It’s images struck a chord during the recession. Overnight protests in major urban areas might not have appealed to the typical Democratic voter, but bashing the rich did. Occupy might have even threatened the Democratic Party had it ever been able to overcome its anarchistic roots and in some way produced a strategy and organization. But its slogan “we are the 99%” resonated widely.

Nothing succeeds like success, and imitation is the most sincere flattery. The Progressive Movement has plenty of bright marketers and messengers who saw the writing on Wall Street. They decided to launch and hype an election year PR campaign to co-opt the message and theme of Occupy Wall Street. They called it the 99% Spring, “Spring” as in the time of year but also as in Arab Spring of 2011. When you don’t have a real Movement of your own, at least cop good language from some others!

What amused me most about the 99% Spring was its simultaneous audacity and vacuousness, and how obviously it was a front for MoveOn, Van Jones, and the messaging agenda of the Democratic Party. And now it’s all gone, just a flash across the webpages of The Nation and Mother Jones, not even a website left behind with its web address up for sale to the highest bidder. The Progressive Movement lives from PR campaign and to PR campaign. When the money’s spent, the movement just pivots to the next bit of funding and a new campaign is launched.

I first heard of the 99% Spring in a February, 2012 email from the group formerly known as SmartMeme, activists who work with the Progressive Movement and develop “stories” that can be used to get everyone thinking alike in a positive way. They wrote: “This spring is our opportunity to take the the emerging movement for the 99% to next level by following in the foot steps of previous successful movements and prepare for organized campaigns of sustained nonviolent direct action. SmartMeme is one of the initiating organizations of 99% spring because we believe the best way to challenge the corporate stranglehold on our economy and political system is with organized people power!”

Propaganda is my beat, so I was not impressed by this revolutionary development. It sounded exactly as it was, a big flow of money into key Progressive Movement organizations to co-opt the brand of Occupy Wall Street movement for the Progressive Movement and the Democrats. In my email from SmartMeme there was a hotlink to the “the99%Spring” website. Today that link and URL goes to NameJet, a company that auctions off unwanted web addresses. How appropriate.

The site on 99% Spring is still up as of this writing: MoveOn pushed 99% Spring hard, and emails from their staffers employed revolutionary hyperbole that might have made Abbie Hoffman proud. MoveOn wrote, “groups from every corner of our movement are joining forces to do something that’s never been tried before. During the week of April 9-15, across America, we will bring 100,000 people together for an unprecedented national movement-wide training on what happened to our economy, on the history of peaceful direct action, and how — following in the footsteps of Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — we can take direct action this spring to challenge corporate power, end tax giveaways to the 1%, fight the influence of money in politics, and more.”

99% Spring organizers Liz Butler and Joy Cushman extolled similarly in their emails: “Imagine if the 99% of us for whom this country is supposed to work came together as a unified movement for democracy and justice? What could happen if hundreds of thousands of us were willing to take nonviolent direct action to reclaim the America we love from the banks and lobbyists who’ve stolen it from us? Let’s find out.”

The SourceWatch website: lists the groups promoting 99% Spring: “Jobs With Justice, United Auto Workers,National Peoples Action, National Domestic Workers Alliance,, New Organizing Institute, Movement Strategy Center, The Other 98%, Service Employees International Union, AFL-CIO, Rebuild the Dream, Color of Change, UNITE-HERE, Greenpeace, Institute for Policy Studies, PICO National Network, New Bottom Line, Veterans of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement, SNCC Legacy Project, United Steel Workers, National Education Association, Working Families Party, Communications Workers of America, United States Student Association, Rainforest Action Network, American Federation of Teachers, Leadership Center for the Common Good, UNITY, National Guestworker Alliance,, The Ruckus Society, Citizen Engagement Lab, smartMeme Strategy & Training Project, Right to the City Alliance, Pushback Network, Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, Progressive Democrats of America, Change to Win, Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, Campaign for America’s Future, Public Campaign Action Fund, Fuse Washington, Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment, Citizen Action of New York, Engage, United Electrical Workers Union, National Day Laborers Organizing Network, Alliance for a Just Society, The Partnership for Working Families, United Students Against Sweatshops,, Get Equal, American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Corporate Accountability International, American Federation of Government Employees, Training for Change, People Organized for Westside Renewal (POWER), Student Labor Action Project, Colorado Progressive Coalition, Green for All, DC Jobs with Justice, Midwest Academy, The Coffee Party, International Forum on Globalization, UFCW International Union, Sunflower Community Action, Illinois People’s Action, Lakeview Action Coalition, Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, International Brotherhood of the Teamsters, Resource Generation, Highlander Research and Education Center, TakeAction Minnesota, Energy Action Coalition,”

In any good front group campaign lists like this serve a few purposes. One is to give the impression that this is a really powerful and diverse effort with scores of leading organizations actively involved, rather than a well-funded PR effort run by a small group at the top, which it was. Another purpose is to demonstrate that there is money behind this effort and that the major Progressive Movement hitters are involved. When I saw the list I sent some emails to Progressive Movement activists asking why they were lending their names to a MoveOn-driven effort to co-opt the Occupy Wall Street for the Democrats.

Greenpeace’s Executive Director wrote back, clearly not sharing my view. He said “something funny is happening here. In a fascinating, good, confusing way.” He believed that MoveOn and the public employee union SEIU were “focused on scaling civil disobedience. That’s different. You can look at it in many ways. … Friends asked us to sign on, we do that a lot.”

An employee of Campaign for America’s Future also gave 99% Spring a big left-handed thumbs up, writing me, “this is a ton of progressive groups trying to get a national movement going, organized, working together,” and “anything that drives the 99% versus 1% perspective advances everything we are trying to achieve.”

No one identified with the Progressive Movement would in any way question or criticize the 99% Spring, at least no one I could find. And then my inquiries uncovered someone new who has a paid position in one of the groups. She agreed generally with my perspective, and was disgusted by what she saw daily from her “movement”: pandering to the rich elite; shallow public relations campaigns substituting for organizing; Democratic Party agendas; six figure salaries and consulting fees for the Progressive executives and consultants, and so on. She saw the Progressive Movement a convenient way for the Democratic rich to control the rabble, manage dissent, and deflect attention from the need for fundamental, radical structural change in the United States.

Eventually she wrote an article under the pen-name Insider for CounterPunch exposing the 99% Spring as a front group for the agenda of the Democrats, organized largely by MoveOn. The Insider’s piece hit a nerve or two and gathered quite a bit of attention and clumsy efforts at rebuttal.

I bounced the piece around and became its defender and promoter. She quoted me in her article. I told her that the 99% Spring reminded me of the AAEI coalition, another MoveOn front that worked with Nancy Pelosi in 2007 to see to it that the Iraq war was funded and used as a political stick to beat Republicans in 2008. Or the massively funded Health Care for America Now coalition backed by MoveOn in 2009 which made sure that single payer health care was ignored while the White House pushed its pro-insurance industry legislation derided as ‘Obamacare’.”


Predictably the echo chamber of the Progressive Media – bloggers, columnists and editors at The Nation, Mother Jones and Alternet and elsewhere who get funding from the Democratic Elite — defended the honor of 99% Spring. The Nation produced a special issue promoting it. A Mother Jones writer claimed that it was an indication that Occupy Wall Street had co-opted MoveOn.

Some of the idealistic young green activists employed by bought heavily into 99%. That inspired Insider to take a critical look at as a tool for Obama’s re-election.

Eventually, like all PR campaigns when the funding runs dry, the 99% Spring simply dried up and blew away. It was nothing real, just election year pageantry from a Progressive Movement that — as the rich of the Democracy Alliance planned — would be a way to breathe some life into the morbid Democratic Party. The 99% Spring showed again that the Progressive Movement primarily exists to stick it to the Republicans the a mirror image of their think tanks, echo chamber media, and PR fronts that rich Democrats have created or funded.

RIP 99% Spring. It was what we thought it was, all theater, and co-optation, all about getting Van Jones more publicity to promote Obama.

Will any of the paid professional Progressives ever admit so? Not as long as their careers and funding depend upon it; they can’t afford to take off their rose-hued glasses.

More importantly, how do people who aren’t the kept, professional Progressives go about asking the right questions, organizing the right ways, and making the fundamental, radical structural changes that will topple the institutional control of the 1% over our lives, communities, politics and biosphere?

I posed that question to someone not fooled by the foibles and feints of the Progressive Movement, my colleague Patrick Barrett, a University of Wisconsin academic who studies social and political movements. A veteran of the 1960s civil rights and anti-war movements, Patrick has never swooned to the spell of the Progressive Democrats. Patrick is one of the few truly wise people I know.

“What gets lost in all this faux movement politics,” said Barrett, “is any real challenge to the growing imbalance of social, political and economic power. Quite the contrary, the ultimate impact of their actions is to reproduce if not aggravate that imbalance. What we’ve got here is a deeply symbiotic relationship between a pseudo-movement that derives its raison d’etre and financial vitality from a vilification of the right, which it has helped to create and without which it would have no reason for existence. Indeed, the more extreme the right becomes, the better it is for them, since they live off of fear-mongering. To oppose the right in a meaningful sense would put them out of business. That isn’t to say that there is nothing to be feared in the right or that some of these folks don’t think they’re fighting the good fight, but rather that the two work in tandem, much like a good-cop-bad-cop team. As the right becomes ever more extreme, this Democratic Party cum non-profit industrial complex moves further and further to the right itself, thereby giving the Republicans and their ilk ever greater leash and making it easier to frighten the “progressive” masses.”

Barrett concluded, “Lest anyone think that this is some kind of conspiracy theory, it’s important to emphasize that this is primarily a function of social and economic structures and political institutions that create a market for these sorts of pseudo-movement leaders, who will flourish if the conditions are right. That’s why we need to focus our attention on altering those conditions, something these people have little or no interest in doing.”

John Stauber is an independent writer, activist and author. His books include Toxic Sludge Is Good for You, Mad Cow USA and Weapons of Mass Deception. In 1993 he founded the Center for Media and Democracy to exposed corporate, political and media propaganda campaigns. He retired from the Center in 2008.

Men of Steele: America's Death Squad War in Iraq

Documentary Exposes US Role in Iraq Sectarian Conflict


Documentary Exposes US Role in Iraq Sectarian Conflict Maggie O'Kane, Executive Producer, tells the story revealed by the Guardian documentary about the role of Col. James Steele in supporting torture, death squads and brutal sectarian conflict during the height of the Iraq war. Steel's reports went directly to Rumsfeld and Cheney.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Wrench in the Works: Why Chavez Had to Go

Hugo Chavez and the Global Poverty Conspiracy

Greg Palast's Column  - Vice Magazine

London, February 2002. A tiny, dark and intense woman waited at the end of a lecture until I was alone, brought her face strangely close to mine and whispered, “President Chavez needs you. Right now. To Caracas. Right now. You must come to see him.”

President Who? All I knew about this Hugo Chavez guy was that he was an Latin-American jefe, led a bungled coup and was filled with a lot of populist bullshit and a lot of oil.

And I also knew that no one at BBC Newsnight was going to blow the budget for me to fly to South America to talk about a nation that 92 percent of our viewers couldn’t find on a map and wouldn’t want to.

“Send me an email.”

“There will be a coup. March 15.”

“The Ides of March. I like that. Aren’t there always coups down there?”

“They’ll kill him, undo everything. He needs you to stop it, he wants to explain it to you because he knows you understand.”

Actually, you’d be surprised at the amount I don’t understand at all. “So talk.”

She did – for four hours – and wore me down into submission. But back at Newsnight I looked like an idiot when March 15 came and went with just a little gunfire in Caracas.

Three weeks later, the President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, was kidnapped and held hostage by the head of Venezuela’s Chamber of Commerce. Suddenly the BBC had to get me on a plane.

When I got to the Presidential Palace, Chavez was already back at his desk, though the bullet holes in the palace’s walls weren’t yet filled in.

Chavez told me that he'd agreed to be taken hostage by gunmen on the condition that his staff and their trapped children would be allowed to escape. He was bundled into a helicopter, and when it swerved out to sea he assumed he would be pushed out: “I was calm. I was ready.”

So who was behind it?

Chavez gave me information on US military attachés who had met with the plotters. While I couldn’t verify any specific US directive to seize him, I didn’t have to: I had grinning photos of George W Bush’s new US Ambassador, Charles Shapiro, congratulating Chavez’ kidnappers.

The question was, why? Why the need to eliminate Chavez, by coup, by bullet, by propaganda, embargo, or, as we later discovered, by screwing with Venezuela’s vote count?

No doubt that for Bush’s oil-o-crats, Chavez’ doubling the royalties paid by Exxon and Chevron was worth the price of a bullet; but it was no more than the amount that Sarah Palin would seize from the oil companies when she ruled Alaska. So what was it?

The answer was in the movie Network.

“AM I GETTING THROUGH TO YOU, MR. BEALE? The Arabs have taken billions of dollars out of this country, and now THEY MUST GIVE IT BACK!

“It is ebb and flow, tidal gravity. You are an old man who thinks in terms of national and peoples. THERE ARE NO NATIONS. There are no peoples. There is only ONE HOLISTIC SYSTEM OF SYSTEM, one vast and immense, interwoven, interacting, multi-variate, multi-national dominion of dollars. Petro-dollars. Electro-dollars. Multi-dollars. IT IS THE INTERNATIONAL SYSTEM OF CURRENCY which determines the totality of life on this planet. Am I getting through to you?”

Chavez had defied gravity, overpowered the tide. Venezuela earned billions in petro-dollars from the USA – but then, Chavez refused to “give it back”.

Third World nations are not supposed to keep the dollars paid to suck out their oil and mineral blood. For every dollar US consumers pay the Saudis for their oil, about $1.24 is given back as Saudis return the funds by purchasing US Treasury debt or hunks of US banks, CitiCorp for one.

Above: World Capital Flow 2005, from Armed Madhouse by Greg Palast

In 2005, the US spent $227 billion in Latin America, sapping its properties and resources. But the money turned right around and, added to the funds sent to Miami by Latin America’s elite, immediately became a $379 million loan to the US Treasury and financiers.

Argentina leant the US at 4 percent interest, then had to borrow its own money back at 16 percent – the whirring wheel, this grinder, left school teachers in Buenos Aires hunting in garbage cans for food. Riots followed and – in Peru, Ecuador, Argentina and elsewhere – this led to tanks in the street, currency collapse, crisis and the “rescue” by the IMF. Rescue meant forcing the mass sell-off of state industries, from oil to water systems, to the crushing of labour unions and to swallowing the whole bottle of poisons kept by the elite of the Northern Hemisphere for just such occasions.

And that was the plan. Literally. I've held the proof in my hands, about five thousand pages of financial agreements, all labelled “confidential” and “not to be distributed except by authorised persons”, which bore benign titles like “World Bank Poverty Reduction Strategy, Argentina.”

Why would the IMF, World Bank and the bankers not want to make their wonderful plans for reducing poverty public? It was for the same reason the finance ministers who signed the documents didn’t even tell their own presidents: they were in fact “reduce-to-poverty” plans, complete resource surrender.

For these deliberately bankrupted nations, it was sign or starve. Until Hugo Chavez came along. Early on, Chavez withdrew $20 billion of Venezuela’s money leant to the US Federal Reserve, to create a giant micro-lending programme for his citizens. Then he went a step too far, establishing what the Wall Street Journal called, “a tropical IMF”.

In 2000 and after, when the IMF and banks moved to financially strangle these nations by making their debts unsalable, Hugo Chavez would roll up in his oil-gilded chariot. He effectively underwrote Argentina’s debt, providing 250million dollars worth of loans, and assistance to Ecuador. After Enron seized Argentina’s water system and Occidental seized Ecuador’s oil fields, Argentina’s President Nestor Kirchner, followed by Ecuador’s Correa, told US banks to go fuck themselves. And the IMF, too.

Then there was the big one: Brazil. The World Bank/IMF “Poverty Reduction Strategy” for Brazil required the nation to close its publicly-owned banks, to sell off its vast oil properties, to give away its power industry and, to please the new foreign owners, slash wages and pensions. But with Chavez prepared to back up its new President, Lula Ignacio de Silva, the mighty little man from the Socialist Workers Party could tell the IMF to stick it where the free market don’t shine.

The late Hugo Chavez wearing the author's hat

For the first time in contemporary history, resource states refused to give back the money received for their resource. At Chavez’ funeral, Lula, former President Ignacio de Silva of Brazil, praised this as Chavez’ most revolutionary act.

Now, instead of billions flowing North, Latin American capital was staying in Latin America. It is delicious irony that the European and American financiers, fleeing from the economic conflagration they’d ignited in their home countries, are loading their loot onto planes for Brazil. And that Venezuela’s central bank made a mint on its intra-continental loans.

And so, a coup was called for.

In 2002, Chavez’ oil company chief, Ali Rodriguez, told me: “America can’t let us stay in power. We are the exception to the New Globalisation Order. If we succeed, we are an example to all the Americas.”

That you were, Hugo Chavez. That you are, Venezuela. And all the Americas are ready.

Follow Greg on Twitter: @Greg_Palast

As a purgative for the crappola fed to Americans about Chavez, my foundation, The Palast Investigative Fund, is offering the film, The Assassination of Hugo Chavez, as a FREE download. Based on Palast's several meetings with Chavez, his kidnappers and his would-be assassins, filmed for BBC Television. DVDs also available.


Vaya Con Dios, Hugo

Too Fat to Vote

Murkier Than Oil

Greg Palast is a New York Times bestselling author and fearless investigative journalist whose reports appear on BBC Television Newsnight and in The Guardian

Palast eats the rich and spits them out. Catch his reports and films at, where you can also securely send him your documents marked, "confidential".