Saturday, June 22, 2013

Hamas' Pragmatic Side Shows on Syria

Hezbollah’s Palestinian Problem

by Franklin Lamb

Many Lebanese and Syrian supporters of this regions Resistance culture, increasingly led by Hezbollah, are chastising, for a number of reasons, their former Islamist ally Hamas. Pillorying them with accusations that the latter are ingrates who are creating a host of problems for Hezbollah and its support for the Syrian regime, during the continuing crisis. Unnecessary problems, it is frequently asserted, that inure to the benefit of their mutual arch enemies, the Zionist colonizers of Palestine and their American and Arab enablers.

An outsider living near the center of the Hezbollah security zone in Dahiyeh, South Beirut, including this observer, hears from friends and neighbors both sides of this rancorous ‘domestic argument’. Having respect for, and being a supporter of both, one feels a bit awkward– rather like a good friend of a married couple, who are engaged in an increasingly acrimonious marital spat.

While sympathetic to each friends seemingly legitimate complaints with the other, one does not want to take sides for a few reasons with one being the risk of appearing disloyal to mutual friends and alienating perhaps both while being labeled a weak charactered “friend betrayer.”

Yet one cannot disagree with the Palestinian community in both Syria and Lebanon who repeatedly assert that they want to stay neutral in the Syrian crisis, which appears unlikely to end anytime soon. Palestinian refugees, who have manifold problems in Palestine as well as Syria and Lebanon, want to stay sidelined from internecine conflicts and focus on trying to survive and staying focused on confronting their only enemies, those being the ones who stole and are still living on their land and villages.

Some supporters of Hezbollah and the Palestine Resistance seek to avoid exhibiting dirty laundry to public view, but given the voracious craving of media outlets linked to various local parties and foreign sponsors, there is much pressure and opportunity to condemn each side by broadcasting, some real but many illusory, Hezbollah-Palestinian cross border conflicts. This mutually destructive phenomenon is becoming commonplace and appears to be spreading.

Hezbollah’s local Palestinian problem started to form in the spring of 2011 as the Syrian crisis quickly gained momentum. Some Palestinians joined the rebels and nearly 28 months into the maelstrom, unknown numbers continue fighting the Assad government. But the numbers do appear to this observer to be a tiny fraction of the unemployed, discouraged Palestinian youth, facing a bleak future because they are bared by Lebanese law from even the most elementary civil rights to work or to own a home. Some have succumbed to the allure of $ 200 per month, free cigarettes, and an AK-47 and have joined one the literally hundreds of militias operating in Syria with affiliated jihadists currently scoping out and probing Lebanon.

Some point out those Palestinian refugees in Syria should not be seen as betraying those who have helped them most. This includes the undeniable fact that Palestinian refugees in Syria have been granted by its government, for more than six decades, rights to education, medical care, housing, employment, even with the government, as well as preferential treatment in many instances. In addition, Syria has granted them identity and travel documents, on a basis that no other Arab League country has ever granted them. This despite decades of Arab potentates blathering interminably about supporting the ‘bloodstream and sacred cause of Palestine.”

So there is festering resentment among some when certain media blare that Palestinian groups such as Hamas, are with the rebels and are insisting that Hezbollah fighters not enter Syria under any pretext. Hamas stands accused of closing their Damascus offices, accepting a $ 400 million grant from Syria’s nemesis Qatar, and of joining the US-Israel axis by harming their own people as well as undermining the Resistance to the Zionist regime in the process. Certain other Palestinians in camps such as Yarmouk in Syria and Shatila in Lebanon tacitly accuse Hamas of abandoning the Palestinian cause and misguidedly sparking sectarian strife with Hezbollah. Others argue just the opposite and blame Hezbollah.

Some Palestinians are also said to be carrying guns for the Saida, Lebanon based, Salafist cleric Sheikh Ahmed al-Asir, the imam of Sidon’s Bilal bin Rabah Mosque, while supporting his anti-Hezbollah-Assad regime movement which is trying to unite Sunnis, who make up roughly 85% of the world’s Muslim population, to eliminate Shia Muslims.

Syrian government forces claim that Hamas has even trained Syrian rebels in the manufacture and use of home-made rockets. Some Hezbollah fighters go further and complain that they taught Hamas many of their battlefield skills and they turned around and used their fighting skills and IED’s against Hezbollah forces in al-Qusayr and are preparing to do the same, with larger numbers, in the coming battle for Aleppo, Syria’s largest city.

Many supporters of Hezbollah believe Hamas and some other Palestinian factions were being needlessly provocative when a few officials issued an unusual admonishment of Hezbollah on 6/17/13, calling on their ally and mentor of more than 20 years to direct its firepower at Israel and demanding that it withdraw from Syria. “We demand of Hezbollah to withdraw its forces from Syria and call on it to leave its weapons directed only at the Zionist enemy,” read a statement allegedly from Hamas, posted on the Facebook page of its deputy political leader Moussa Abu Marzouq.

Despite its withdrawal from Syria in early 2012, Hamas, as an Islamic organization as opposed to some of its individual members and a few officials, has been wary of publicly criticizing Hezbollah for its military support of the Assad regime. On 6/5/13, the London-based daily Al-Quds Al-Araby reported that a schism existed within Hamas regarding its attitude toward Hezbollah. Hamas’s military wing, the Izz Ad-Din Al-Qassam Brigades, reportedly endorsed the alliance with the Syria-Hezbollah axis, while its political leadership opposed it. Some have questioned the accuracy of this report.

Other more petty accusations have been made by some Hezbollah supporters, for example that Hamas and perhaps others had prevented some Palestinian camp residents in Ein el Helwe and Jalil camp near Baalbek, from burning refugee aid packages provided by Hezbollah for Syrian and Palestinians forced to flee Syria. The reasons cited were that the Palestinians felt they could not, given moral Islamic values, accept “blood” gifts, even of much needed food.

This observer met with some Palestinian leaders from different factions and is satisfied by their explanations that this was not the case. Hezbollah has given emergency aid to all the Palestinian camps. What happened with the symbolic burning of a few parcels was entirely politically motivated and organized by certain salafists in Saida and a few troublemakers from the pro-Saudi/US factions, including rump elements from the so-called pro-western March 14 alliance. That issue has now been resolved by Palestinian popular committees and the Hezbollah donors and hopefully will not recur.

Some Hezbollah partisans complain that certain Palestinian factions have circulated rumors in the media accusing the Resistance of wrongdoing and thereby are in effect collaborating with the US and Israel to divide and weaken the National Lebanese Resistance.

Yet additional criticism of certain Palestinian factions, specifically Hamas, relates to the nature and future of the movement’s relationship with the state of Qatar which is accused of essentially appointed itself godfather of all the Islamist and Muslim Brotherhood movements in the region. According to some criticism, Hamas’s change of stands has caused the movement to lose the credibility and popularity that it once enjoyed from diaspora Palestinians and the Arabs.

The Palestinians’ Hezbollah Problem

Revisiting the “marital spat” analogy, some of the accusations against certain Palestinians mirror those made against Hezbollah.

Some Lebanese analysts and some camp Palestinians have warned that Hezbollah’s foray into Syria is fueling a Sunni-Shiite polarization that threatens to feed extremism on both sides and catapult the conflict to the wider region

Syrian opposition groups reported on 5/30/13 that Hezbollah had ordered Hamas’s representative in Beirut, Ali Baraka, to leave the country immediately over Hamas’s public support for Syrian rebels fighting Assad. Baraka denied the report, telling Lebanese media and his neighbors there was no change in the relationship between the two organizations. Baraka’s assessment may be a bit understating the reality, but it is not too late to fix this problem. As of today, this observer’s kitchen balcony overlooks over the Hamas office in central Haret Hreik and it is clear that the Hamas office is still functioning.

The Hamas disagreement with Hezbollah still stands but both parties have agreed to discuss it by holding a series of meetings. In response to a question on this subject, former Foreign Ministry undersecretary in the ousted government in Gaza Ahmad Youssef, pointed out that Hamas needs and very much wants the support of all the powers and sides in the region to face the colonial Zionist implantation, what some refer to as “the 9th Crusade.” Youssef explained: “We needed and still need Iran and Hezbollah. However, the movement’s position is that this behavior had damaged the relations which we wanted to be close and strong with the party.” Next month, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abass will reportedly visit Lebanon to meet with Palestinians who fled Syria for Lebanon as is expected to attempt a Hamas-Hezbollah Musalaha or reconciliation.

The Resistance to the Zionist colony has multiple pillars two key ones of which are Hezbollah and the Palestine National Movement, which itself is becoming international, given that world opinion increasingly opposes the illegitimate apartheid regime still clinging to occupy Palestine. Both of these powerful forces as well as a growing number of others, including hundreds of militia now fighting in Syria, share one, if not other, common objective which must not be squandered by relatively soluble problems. And that bond is the shared reason d’etre to liberate every inch of occupied Palestine from the river to the sea and to return-by all means necessary. They share a moral, religious duty to struggle until victory in achieving the full right to return for the rightful indigenous inhabitants and their off-spring, from the 531 Palestinian villages that were ethnically cleansed 65 years ago. It is latter who, post liberation, who will decide, based on one person one vote without religious preferences, for all Jews and Arabs who choose to live in peace, how best to rebuild and administer Palestine on the basis of absolute equality before the law.

Neither Hezbollah or certain Palestinians now fighting each other in Syria, and god-forbid soon in Lebanon if the US-Israeli is successful in achieving this project which both are investing in, need the 2-cents worth of advice from this foreign observer.

But surely most from each camp will agree that this is not the time for Hezbollah and the Palestinians to use their over stretched resources to right perceived wrongs claimed to have been inflicted by the other. There will be time enough to discuss that, if either group is still feeling unjustly wronged, after Palestine is freed from its racist colonial yoke.

Franklin Lamb is doing research in Syria and Lebanon
and can be reached c/o

Friday, June 21, 2013

Not So Superland: Israeli Apartheid's Seams Showing

How Israeli Apartheid is Coming Unstuck

by Jonathan Cook

One incident of racism, though small in relation to the decades of massive, institutionalised discrimination exercised by Israel against its Palestinian Arab citizens, has triggered an uncharacteristic bout of Israeli soul-searching.

Superland, a large amusement park near Tel Aviv, refused to accept a booking from an Arab school on its preferred date in late May. When a staff member called back impersonating a Jew, Superland approved the booking immediately.

As the story went viral on social media, the park’s managers hurriedly offered an excuse: they provided separate days for Jewish and Arab children to keep them apart and prevent friction.

Government ministers led an outpouring of revulsion. Tzipi Livni, the justice minister, called the incident a “symptom of a sick democracy”. Defence minister Moshe Yaalon was “ashamed”. Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanded that the “racist” policy be halted immediately.

Such sensitivity appears to be a reaction to an explosion of popular racism over the past few months against the one in five Israelis who belong to the country’s Palestinian Arab minority. Some Israeli Jews have started to find the endless parade of bigotry disturbing.

Israeli TV recently revealed, for example, that a group of children with cancer who had been offered a free day at a swimming pool were refused entry once managers discovered that they were Bedouin.

According to another TV investigation, Israel’s banks have a secret policy of rejecting Arab customers who try to transfer their accounts to a branch in a Jewish community, even though this violates banking regulations.

The settlers, whose violence was once restricted to setting fire to the crops of Palestinians or rampaging through their villages in the West Bank, are now as likely to attack Arab communities inside Israel. Torched mosques, offensive graffiti on churches and cars set ablaze in so-called “price-tag” attacks have become commonplace.

Similarly, reports of vicious attacks on Arab citizens are rapidly becoming a news staple. Recent incidents have included the near-fatal beating of a street cleaner, and a bus driver who held his gun to an Arab passenger’s head, threatening to pull the trigger unless the man showed his ID.

Also going viral were troubling mobile-phone photos of a young Arab woman surrounded by a mob of respectable-looking commuters and shoppers while she waited for a train. As they hit her and pulled off her hijab, station guards looked on impassively.

However welcome official denunciations of these events are, the government’s professed outrage does not wash.

While Netanyahu and his allies on the far right were castigating Superland for its racism, they were busy backing a grossly discriminatory piece of legislation the Haaretz newspaper called “one of the most dangerous” measures ever to come before the parliament.

The bill will give Israelis who have served in the army a whole raft of extra rights in land and housing, employment, salaries, and the provision of public and private services. The catch is that almost all of the country’s 1.5 million Palestinian citizens are excluded from military service. In practice, the benefits will be reserved for Jews only.

Superland’s offence pales to insignificance when compared to that, or to the decades of state-planned and officially sanctioned discrimination against the country’s Palestinian minority.

An editorial in Haaretz this month observed that Israel was really “two separate states, one Arab and one Jewish. … This is the gap between the Jewish state of Israel, which is a developed Western nation, and the Arab state of Israel, which is no more than a Third World country.”

Segregation is enforced in all the main spheres of life: land allocation and housing, citizenship rights, education, and employment.

None of this is accidental. It was intended this way to guarantee Israel’s future as a Jewish state. Legal groups have identified 57 laws that overtly discriminate between Jewish and Palestinian citizens, with a dozen more heading towards the statute books.

Less visible but just as damaging is the covert discrimination Palestinian citizens face every day when dealing with state institutions, whose administrative practices find their rationale in the entrenchment of Jewish privilege.

This week a report identified precisely this kind of institutional racism when it found that students from the country’s Palestinian minority were confronted by a series of 14 obstacles not faced by their Jewish compatriots that contributed to denying them places in higher education.

The wave of popular prejudice and racist violence is no accident either. Paradoxically, it has been unleashed by the increasingly inflammatory rhetoric of rightwing politicians like Netanyahu, whose constant fearmongering casts Palestinian citizens as disloyal, a fifth column and a demographic threat to the state’s Jewishness.

So why if the state is so committed to subjugating and excluding Palestinian citizens, and Netanyahu and his ministers so determined to increase the weight of discriminatory legislation, are they decrying the racism of Superland?

To make sense of this, one has to understand how desperately Israel has sought to distinguish itself from apartheid South Africa.

Israel cultivates, as South Africa once did, what scholars term “grand apartheid”. This is segregation, largely covert and often often justified by security or cultural differences, to ensure that control of resources remains exclusively in the hands of the privileged community.

At the same time, Israel long shied away from what some call South Africa’s model of “petty apartheid” – the overt, symbolic, but far less significant segregation of park benches, buses and toilets.

The avoidance of petty apartheid has been the key to Israel’s success in obscuring from the world’s view its grand apartheid, most obviously in the occupied territories but also inside Israel itself.

This month South Africa’s departing ambassador to Israel, Ismail Coovadia, warned that Israel was a “replication of apartheid”. The idea that the world may soon wake up to this comparison deeply unnerves Netanyahu and the right, all the more so as they risk being identified as the party refusing to make concessions towards peace.

The threat posed by what happened at Superland is that such incidents of unofficial and improvised racism may one day unmask the much more sinister and organised campaign of “grand apartheid” that Israel’s leaders have overseen for decades.

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His new website is

A version of this article first appeared in The National, Abu Dhabi

A Moment of Clarity on Whistleblowers and America's Dark Turn

The TRUTH About Whistleblowers Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning

by Lee Camp -

As the trial of Bradley Manning continues, Edward Snowden comes out as the NSA whistleblower who revealed the secret massive surveillance state.


1) Learn more about Edward Snowden here -
2) Watch the music video by Schemata Theory here -
3) Help support MOC, become a member at

Life After Hugo

Voices of Divided Venezuela

by Andre Vltchek - CounterPunch

Red color, red paint splashed over white background, against which is a photo of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. Underneath it says: “Chavez from his heart.”

“Chavez died, had fallen…” A man, an acquaintance, who is driving me around Caracas, tells me. “But this is not the end. Maduro was his adopted son… Not his real son, but his ideological child, his hare. This red color symbolizes blood. Chavez spilled his blood for his people. Foreign imperialists murdered him, maybe with the help of local elites. And now Maduro will carry on.”

There is an Argentinean food festival at the hotel where I am staying. A steak that would cost some 10 dollars in Buenos Aires goes here for US$100 at official exchange rate, or at US$20 if the money is changed on the black market.

Bolivar and Chavez.

“Son of a bitch!” swears elegantly dressed and moderately pissed-drunk local businessman. “May he drop dead, shitty faggot”. That’s regarding Maduro. Then comes long tirade, this time pointed at deceased President Hugo Chavez. The speech is full of colorful variations on defecation, elaborate sexual acts (some involving farm and domestic animals) and homosexuality. Two ladies, elegantly dressed, wearing high heels and skin color stockings despite the heat, are laughing loudly. They are nodding enthusiastically, in full agreement with their red-faced caballeros.

I try not to listen, but the words are shouted so loudly, they are hard to ignore. I can hear expressions like ‘bus driver’, ‘imbecile’ and ‘nigger’; that’s as they go back to discussing current President of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro.

It all suddenly reminds me of Guatemala, many years ago, when Rigoberta Manchu had been awarded Nobel Peace Price, instantly becoming a target of the most outrages ridicule and racism, being described by the Central American elites as ‘that indigenous, fat and dumb bitch’, publicly, repeatedly, and loudly.


Venezuela is deeply divided. It seems to be at the edge, uncertain, angry and most obviously not at peace with itself.

One of the executives of pan-American television channel TeleSur, based in Caracas, Andreina Perez, explained to me: “I can say that Chavez survived his death and converted himself into an ideological concept. Now it became inevitable that whichever leader of Venezuela will be compared to him, and it will be very difficult to find a match. Therefore, there is this huge vacuum left after he departed, as well as great disorder inside the country. I feel that we were left as orphans; like children who lost their father.”

Healthy public life.

But Andreina is what could be described as ‘cautious’ optimist:

“I believe that at some point the country will settle on a course that will be less progressive and less radical, but acceptable to the majority. I continue to be positive, thinking that we will be able to join forces, between the left and the right, between what is public and what is private, that we would all manage to cooperate. But I fear that would only happen after some enormous social turmoil… You have to understand: political climate here is presently very tense…”

It surely is. As I am walking from a local shopping mall to my hotel, a mighty SUV stops at the curb, and the door flies open. A man wrapped in bright colors of Venezuelan flag is sitting at the wheel.

“Are you lost, sir?” He screams at me, huge smile on his face. He does not wait for the answer: “Please hop in, I will be happy to give you a lift!”

As he tells me just a few seconds later, he is an air force captain. “I fly fighter jets, defending my country.”

I nod and thank him.

“Are you American?” he continues smiling.

I quickly think what to say. There is my US passport resting in an equipment bag. I was born in Russia. And I live in Japan, among several other places. ‘It is always good to have choices’, I think.

I return his smile and say neutrally: “I was born in Russia”.

He stops the car. He gives me big hug. “Welcome to my country, brother”, he shouts. “Thank you for coming.” His eyes slide to my big professional camera. “And thank you for searching for the truth!”

Here Nobody Surrenders!

He really drives me to my hotel, all the way to the roundabout in front of the entrance. He offers me some chocolates. He is genuine, he reminds me of some medieval knight. He is determined and very patriotic, all that, in some old-fashioned, beautiful way.

Hotel porters are grimacing in mocking and unfriendly fashion, noticing the license plate and the flag. They are black marketers and pimps, buying US dollars and selling local girls. They hate Chavez and they hate the military. They are self-proclaimed ‘businessmen’.

As I am about to leave, the pilot winks at me:

“I thought you were a North American. And I was going to give you a lift, in order to demonstrate that we have nothing against the people of the United States. If they come here as visitors, as friends, we will treat them like brothers. There are many good people living in the United States, and I met several of them… But if they come to kill us again, to stage another coup, or to attack Venezuela, that very moment I will get into my cockpit and fight them… I will be ready to die defending my country.”


At the University, at the Engineering Department, a girl, a student, begins to cry when I ask her to talk about Chavez and about Venezuela after his death.

I only showed her my press card, and I asked her whether she thought that the death of Chavez was really a big loss for her country.

Made in Socialism.

She could not utter one single word. She thought for some time how to answer my question, but then she lowered her eyes and I saw tears rolling down her cheeks. Her body began shaking. It was genuine, absolutely real. I put my arm around her shoulder, and she, instinctively, buried her face in my chest, making my shirt wet.

“Read from my tears”, she said much later. “I cannot talk about this. Please forgive me… I simply can’t!”

After we parted, I bought several Cuban and Venezuelan films, including ‘Memories of Underdevelopment’ and ‘I am Cuba’. I decided not to ask anybody about Chavez, at least not right away, for some time.

Things were getting raw, exposed, and powerful. But often they were also unsettling. It all felt like an hour before decisive battle.

At the gate, not far from the university metro station, a crowd of student protesters was marching past the police cordon. Demands to end corruption among professorial staff and the university administration were shouted loudly.

But then one of the students I began talking to on the street showed much greater spite for the West than for the university administration:

“Gringos keep talking about opening up Venezuela. But what they mean by ‘opening’ is actually what they were doing in the past, before Chavez – they want to steal all that our land is holding under its surface, especially all those riches hiding in the jungle. Remember, our country is one of the wealthiest places on earth! And I am not talking about crude oil only.”

Ministry of People’s Power.

I boarded the modern, fast, heavily subsidized, and well-organized metro and traveled to one of the new cable car stations, by metrocable system, now connecting main avenues and metro stations with several needy neighborhoods. Red gondolas suspended from the rope were going every few seconds, making several stops on the hills, transporting thousands of poor people. Such ropeways are usually carrying tourists in Europe, United States, or Japan, and they are extremely expensive. Here, the government turned them into public transportation, with only symbolic prices.

And free or almost free were also books, classical music concerts, medical care, and education. Heavily subsidized was housing for the poor, and public transportation, as well as food. In fact entire chains of supermarkets are selling great variety of foodstuff made in Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina and other ‘friendly nations’. The great classical music orchestras are performing in public places for tens of thousands, and for free.

I sat on the hill of San Agustín del Sur, with two aging people: one locksmith, Senor Carlos, and a seller of flowers, Senora Clara.

Public transportation – Caracas metro.

Senor Carlos was angry, agitated:

“Look, here, we are having a real war; a war that has been already taking place for many years. Local capitalists do not just want to make profits; they want to make enormous earnings, by stripping poor people alive. They were doing it freely and shamelessly before Chavez, and then, for years, they had been full of hate for him, because he was on our side, defending us. Capitalists here are bandits, they are thieves!”

“Even now, there are all those private companies, like Polar, that are plotting against us, against the poor. They buy things for 2 and sell for 16. The state sells cooking oil for 4, rice for 2. So what do our capitalists do? The same shit as they did to Chile, to Allende, before 1973 coup. They began creating ‘deficit’! They control transportation and distribution and their goal is to make sure that there is no food in the villages and towns, so people get angry, tired, and consequently vote this government out. And the United States is fully behind all this!”

“But they will not be allowed to come back!” shouts Senora Clara. She is looking at me, straight into my eyes, smiling. “Because we will fight for this government, which is the government of the poor, of the real people. Chavez gave me back my own country, ‘mi patria’. He also gave me hope. I was homeless, desperate before. Now I am alive!”

Some neighborhoods are tough, but definitely not hopeless. It is not like those slums in Manila, Jakarta or Nairobi – the capitals of countries that devour their own people and consequently become darlings of the Western regime. There is electricity and there is water, schools and medical posts, above mentioned ropeways and social centers. There is no hunger here, and no malnutrition.

Senor Carlos arrives at the punch line:

“Do you know why they – the rich – hate us so much? Because now we can read, we understand what is really happening around us. We vote for and we read and understand our own Constitution. And Chavez? They detested his determination to allow us to vote for the real candidates, for the candidates who were really ready to represent us. And they hated him for teaching us how to read and how to understand, and how to think! He gave his life for us! They killed him. And now they are trying to destroy Maduro.”

Special commission that includes doctors and scientists is investigating the possibility that President Hugo Chaves Frias had been murdered.

Still much to do.

As I move through the city, I see more and more posters that I noticed before, some with the face of Chavez, some with Maduro’s images. Those with red paint, like blood, splashed on white sheet: ‘From the heart of Chavez’. What does it mean? Chavez supporting Maduro, with his own blood! Dying, knowing that he was dying, spilling his own blood for the nation. His blood is now Maduro, his blood is the revolution, El Proceso, and Venezuela.

It is powerful, emotional, beautiful and extremely dangerous.

‘We are all Chavez!’ reads another poster.

Chavez became a martyr, a hero. He was always a hero, loved or hated. But if he was murdered, if it would be proven that he was killed, then Venezuela might experience the most violent period in the modern history of Latin America.

It could become one long and terrible conflict, not unlike that in the neighboring Colombia, which is living as a fully divided nation for endless decades, practically since the period called La Violencia.

That is why so many people are calling for calm. But if the President of Venezuela was killed, then calm could only arrive in the footsteps of justice.


Margot Urdaneta, a teacher, one of the translators of my work to Spanish and a friend, wrote to me in an email:

“I must say that Maduro, our new President, in spite of what many people criticize about him, including some Chavistas – things like that his curriculum includes no university studies, that he used to be a bus driver and an ordinary worker – used to actually be a very successful union leader, and an excellent Vice President and Foreign Minister. In my opinion he will be a good President. First of all, I do not underestimate the wisdom of Chavez; he must have had good reasons for choosing Maduro as his successor. He was at his side even before Chavez was locked in jail, more than 14 years ago. Chavez trained and taught him – and we should never forget that Chavez was a teacher of history at the Military Academy. Maduro is clever, has a fantastic memory and he is utterly loyal to the Commander and his programs and ideals.”

Student protest.

Ms Urdaneta, like so many supporters of El Proceso feels saddened about the outcome of the latest elections:

“We were greatly disappointed with the results. I was expecting we were going to win by millions of votes and we only got about 250 thousand more than Capriles. Of course this fact gave Capriles an opportunity to agitate people. First, he demanded a recount, then cancelled it… On April 15th, one day after the elections, Capriles, during one TV conference, encouraged his supporters to express their “anger” – he used a very obscene expression – tocando cacerolas (‘to touch the pants’). This was a direct signal to his violent supporters, specially those youngsters calling themselves JAVU, who are inspired by the right-wing Serbian OTPOR to attack CDI’s (Centros de Diagnóstico Integral), PSUV’s houses, or simply people who were celebrating Maduro’s triumph. Also, there was a Twitter of a Venezuelan journalist “informing” that the Cuban doctors in the CDI’s were hiding boxes with electoral materials… After putting this incendiary and wrong information on the net, the journalist fled to Miami.“

The violence is increasing, according to Ms Urdaneta’s account, written to me at the end of May 2013:

“More than 20 CDI’s and some houses of the PSUV party were burned down; a guy driving a truck hit a group of people that was celebrating the victory in Maracaibo, killing two children. Well… there is no end to the violence; as of today we have 11 people who lost their lives, and more than 70 injured. The leaders of the opposition are mostly from the rich families; many of them have never worked one single day, and never thought about the poor, except when they considered to hiring them as servants.”

I wanted to know how trustworthy are the claims that the opposition is now using the same tactics as those in Chile, before 9-11-1973. She elaborated:

“The opposition is hiding food, sabotaging distribution of electricity, and indeed doing the very same things that led to Allende’s ousting. I know, because my brother was in Chile in 1973, and he fled only a few days before the hell erupted.”

“Our opposition is being grossly manipulated by the Empire’s powerful tools – like you recently said in your wonderful article. Now some Venezuelans, who used to be such kind, friendly, and generous people, are often turning violent and aggressive, hating everything that smells of chavismo.

We are Chavez.

“You turn on the TV, which is mainly owned by the elites, and all you see now is the violence. I used to enjoy channels such as Film& Arts. Well… some disappeared, as people are only allowed to consume what the Empire is promoting. The opposition with the help of the Empire, the media and money from the rich businesspeople, are trying to make us to lose this war. I want to cry when I am writing this, but even though our present government is working very hard, right now we desperately need more: shrewdness and sense of strategy of Chavez, that none of our leaders seems to have. But it’s understandable; it’s like you told me: impossible that two leaders of the size of Chavez could be born during the same year, in the same country or even in the world. And the words of Goebbels, about repeated lies that become truth, are now relevant more than ever before. Our opposition is repeating lies, over and over again; it feeds the planet with them. Lies about Venezuela, but also about Cuba, because Cuba is one of the countries they hate the most; their doctors are surely going to be thrown out or killed if the opposition grabs the power. And Capriles said that if he becomes President, Cuba would not get one single drop of oil from us.”


Departing from Simon Bolivar Airport is a little bit like an attempt to escape from a well-guarded castle that is continuously under siege. Long lines are everywhere, those for check-in, for meticulous searches, for passport control.

Even before one is actually allowed to check in at an airline counter, all luggage has to be put on the table, where military personnel searches painstakingly through each and every piece of garment, electronics, books. Nothing is left to chance. There is no trust remaining. There was already at least one attempt from the North to overthrow the legitimate government of Venezuela, and many here are convinced that President Hugo Chavez was cynically murdered, that his cancer was caused by biological warfare, part of the merciless drive of the Empire to liquidate all Communist, socialist and progressive leaders now determinately transforming Latin America by resisting imperialism and neo-colonialism.

For centuries, this continent has been enduring all kind of acts of terror inflicted by the Europeans and North Americans: from genocides against its indigenous population to systematic destruction of its culture and identity. Popular governments have been overthrown, trusted and beloved leaders murdered, while the majority of the citizens forced into unimaginable misery. ‘The veins of the continent’, as metaphorically described by great Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano, ‘were opened’. Now those who are trying to treat the wounds, to heal entire nations often find themselves on the hit list of the Empire.

Jose, a young soldier, is turning my entire suitcase up side down and inside out. It is of course annoying, and those who would want to convert such situations into yet another set of arguments against the present government, would certainly find some inspiration here.

But it is well-known fact that Western intelligence agencies have no scruples blowing up passenger planes in mid air. One can never be too cautious.

“You say you brought your documentary films about Africa to our Venezuelan television channel?” the soldier asks. “Could you show me DVDs of some of your films?”

I do what I am asked to. He searches for my name on the DVD cover, and then compares it with the name inside my passport. They match. But I am beginning to worry about missing my flight.

Then it is over, everything checked, and the young soldier gives me broad smile. “Done!” he says. “Listo… You can go now.”

“Where are you from?” I ask.

“Ciudad Bolivar”.

I am ready to go. I take few steps towards the door, but then I stop and turn back. I cannot resist asking him one simple question:

“What do you think will happen to Venezuela?”

He does not seem to be surprised. He thinks for a few seconds, and then replies:

“We will be here, don’t worry. And Venezuela will be here.”

“They will not come back, will they?”

He smiles, unexpectedly.

“They…” He says. “They are here from the beginning. They are all around you, all around us…” He nods towards the next table, where a woman in her 60’s wearing heavy make-up argues with another young soldier. He nods at the queue, where several upper class men and women look contemptuously all around, or just staring at their Blackberries and iPhones.

“They never left. But this time, we will not go away either. It is our country. It belongs to the people, to the majority. And if we have to, we will defend it against all enemies…”

He fell silent, probably fearing he could have said too much.

I nod and then I go. Airbus 340 of Air France is waiting at the gate. I don’t want to leave but I have to.

I am certain the soldier wants to go home, to return to his city, to Ciudad Bolivar. But he may have to stay in the capital, and he may have to fight for his country.

Andre Vltchek is a novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. His critically acclaimed political revolutionary novel Point of No Return is now re-edited and available. Oceania is his book on Western imperialism in South Pacific. His provocative book about post-Suharto Indonesia and market-fundamentalist model is called “Indonesia – The Archipelago of Fear” (Pluto). He just completed feature documentary “Rwanda Gambit” about Rwandan history and the plunder of DR Congo. After living for many years in Latin America and Oceania, Vltchek presently resides and works in East Asia and Africa. He can be reached through his website.

Finding a Progressive Path in the Great White North

Reinventing Progressive Politics in Canada

by Murray Dobbin - CounterPunch

We are so accustomed to the connection between political parties and democracy that to question the relationship between the two might seem absurd. But for those who recognize the multiple crises faced by humanity — the destruction of our environment, climate change, the ravages of unfettered finance capital, the undeniable limits to growth — the failure of our liberal, multi-party democracies seems increasingly obvious.

To many people, the millions who can’t even be bothered to vote, they are simply irrelevant.

Of course for the elites and the corporations that feed off it, the current system is working fine. Deregulation, privatization, high-end tax cuts and the Orwellian security state now being exposed in the U.S. all contribute to wealth and political power of the One Per Cent (actually more like the Ten Per Cent). While they still have to breathe the same polluted air as the rest of us, the elites believe they can somehow achieve immunity from the global forces now in play. Of course they are wrong. But so long as they believe they are right, the crises will continue to worsen and the rest of us will continue to suffer.

The tragic irony in all this is that in most democracies the majority of people actually share values that, if they drove government policy, would begin to address the crises. But there is a persistent disconnect between what people want and what the system can deliver. The multi-party system is designed to be dominated by money and increasingly sophisticated marketing, micro-targeting and data-mining. Disengaged citizens haven’t a prayer in dealing with the modern election machine.

Left wing parties try to play this game but inevitably come up short. The “game” has been designed not to represent the needs of people or communities but to manage capitalism in the interests of the elites. As soon as you accept the rules of this game, that is what you end up doing. The electoral contest is inherently corrupting of genuine democracy.

Reflective of this decay of democracy is the recent British Columbia election in which a totally bankrupt Liberal government won re-election against an NDP which thought it could stroll to power using the conventional machine approach to elections. But to truly draw upon people’s progressive instincts you have to engage them at the community level year round. Just think of the odds against winning in the conventional B.C. contest: a totally hostile media which effectively operates like the propaganda arm of the Liberal Party, live-streaming neo-liberal ideology into every home every day of every year.

Elections as we experience them are themselves apolitical. People are supposed to suddenly become informed citizens — for one month every four years. There is no substantive dialogue with the citizenry. The parties are like alien entities that suddenly arrive in your living room, not to engage you but to somehow coax you into voting for them. Even working in elections is apolitical. The NDP insists that its callers and door knockers not talk to people off script — because they fear their own members are so ill-informed about its policies that they might say something to harm the campaign.

The inevitable result of a progressive party adopting the election tactics and operating principles of its right-wing opponents is that it has to move to the right to be competitive. If you don’t trust your support base or even your members to be progressive you have little choice. At the federal level a single policy area fatally reduces the NDP’s capacity for progressive positions. The NDP refuses to seriously address the revenue/tax issue. Conservative and Liberal tax cuts have lopped off between $50 and $80 billion a year in revenue without which the NDP can do virtually nothing to reverse the dismantling of the social democratic features of the federal state.

To be fair to the NDP the other missing element in national politics are robust, grassroots social and labour movements whose role it is to move the ideological and political goal posts to the left. With the aforementioned media ready and willing to trash any policy or party that steps outside the bounds of what is acceptable to Bay Street, it is not difficult to understand the NDP’s reluctance to provide bold leadership on critical issues. Without social movements creating the political space an electoral machine party is vulnerable when it comes to taking bold positions.

Two recent examples of the NDP taking advantage of political space created by social movement organizations demonstrate how it should work. Last year the NDP alarmed social activists with statements suggesting broad acceptance of corporate rights (“free trade”) deals, including the odious CETA deal with the EU. But recently, both Don Davies the NDP trade critic and Mulcair himself have come out clearly against the investor-state provisions of these deals — provisions that neutralize government’s capacity for legislation by allowing corporations to sue governments directly for laws that affect their profitability. That change followed effective grassroots campaigns against CETA and FIPA, the 31-year deal with China.

On the tax front the NDP has taken a strong position on the issue of tax havens. While this is an easy one to lead on (not even the Taxpayers Federation can find a way to defend crooks), the party’s position is strongly reinforced by an effective campaign by the group Canadians for Tax Fairness. It remains to be seen if the party will take on tougher tax issues like increasing personal and corporate income taxes and whether the fair tax movement is there to back it up.

While these are positive signs for progressive politics, they are rearguard actions aimed primarily at stopping things from getting even worse. There is another political world out there that is the elephant in the room — the need for a steady state, low growth economy, bringing finance capital to heel and dealing with the rapidly unfolding climate crisis. The formal political scene still operates as if it is business as usual, incapable in its current state of seriously addressing the most important issues facing humanity. At some point progressive forces are going to have to come to grips with the need to change the way they do politics both at the party level and the civil society level. Both branches of progressive politics are in desperate need of fundamental change though at this point there is little appreciation of this fact.

It will require an enormous effort in both camps which have institutionalized their approaches to politics to such an extent they cannot see the need for change. It is difficult to imagine the NDP suddenly returning to its CCF roots and once again becoming a movement rooted in community. History does not move backwards and there is no grassroots push within the NDP membership for developing a movement/party that actually engages ordinary citizens on a year round basis.

Similarly, the remnants of what were once robust and effective social movements are (with some important exceptions) increasingly weak, demoralized and isolated. Small wonder. The context for the creation of these single-issue movements was the early Trudeau era when governments actually listened to citizens’ groups while expanding the social and economic role of governments. The efficacy of this kind of civil society organizing has however been in a steady decline since the signing of the FTA with the U.S. What is now needed is a broad social movement which incorporates all of the issues now dealt with by hundreds of disconnected organizations.

It all has to do with recovering community and the commons. The destruction of community has been the great success of the right. When Margaret Thatcher stated there was “no such thing as society” she was not describing current reality — she was describing her goal. It has been largely achieved in English-speaking developed countries. If we are to even begin to address our share of the global crises we will have to do it by creating a political culture that reinvents the commons and ends people’s isolation from each other.

It’s a difficult and long-term task — likely as long as the right has been dominant. There is at least one reason for optimism on this front — the recent coming together the CAW and CEP unions to launch Unifor, billed as a reinvention of unionism “for the unemployed and self-employed, a union for women and young workers — a union for everyone.” That sounds a lot like a union rooted not just in the workplace but in the community. It will, we can hope, be a challenge to the rest of the labour movement which finds itself in a state of embattled relevance in the struggle for a better world.

But, how, in the next five to ten years, can civil society organize in such a way as to reverse the decline of community and transition from “silo” politics? A key to this goal is to be found at the level of civic politics. It is the level of government closest to people in their daily lives and presents a scale of politics with the most potential for community building. There are scattered efforts across the country to elect progressive councils but the left needs to focus serious resources and planning if civic politics is to become the battleground for changing the political culture.

The right has already thrown down the gauntlet. Preston Manning’s Centre for Building Democracy announced this spring that it is putting major resources into civic politics to help conservative candidates take over city and town councils across the country. It’s the last field of battle for the hearts and minds of Canadians. We had better show up.

, now living in Powell River, BC has been a journalist, broadcaster, author and social activist for over forty years. He now writes a bi-weekly column for the on-line journals the Tyee and He can be reached at

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Setting Sun: What Stiglitz Misses About "Abenomics"

Why Stiglitz is Wrong About Abenomics

by Mike Whitney - CounterPunch

Liberal economists in the US are absolutely ga-ga about Abenomics, and for good reason. Under Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s leadership the Bank of Japan (BoJ) has flooded financial markets with money pushing stocks up nearly 80 percent in a matter of months, while $116 billion in fiscal stimulus has turbo-charged the real economy lifting First Quarter GDP to an eye-watering 4.1 percent. Naturally, this astonishing performance has attracted the attention of pundits in the US who have lavished praise on Abe for his three-pronged approach to revitalizing the moribund Japanese economy and for his commitment to beating two decades of entrenched deflation.

Nobel prize winning economist, Paul Krugman recently devoted an entire column to the topic in the New York Times where he congratulated Abe for his “sharp turn towards monetary and fiscal stimulus” noting that “stocks have soared, while the yen has fallen (which is) very good news for Japan because it makes the country’s export industries more competitive.” Here’s more from the Krugman piece:

“So the overall verdict on Japan’s effort to turn its economy around is so far, so good. And let’s hope that this verdict both stands and strengthens over time. For if Abenomics works, it will serve a dual purpose, giving Japan itself a much-needed boost and the rest of us an even more-needed antidote to policy lethargy.” (“Japan the Model”, Paul Krugman, New York Times)

While Krugman is somewhat cautious in his praise for Abe’s gigantic Quantitative and Qualitative Easing (QQE) program—which is on track to double the money supply in just two years– fellow Nobel prize winner, Joseph Stiglitz, shows no such restraint. In a breathless editorial in the New York Times, Stiglitz goes on and on about the virtues of Abe’s monetary and fiscal policies opining that “Abe… has done what America should have done long ago.” Here’s more from the same article:

“Mr. Abe’s plan also reflects an understanding that monetary policy can only go so far. One needs to have coordinated monetary, fiscal and structural policies.

Those who see Japan’s performance over the last decades as an unmitigated failure have too narrow a conception of economic success. Along many dimensions — greater income equality, longer life expectancy, lower unemployment, greater investments in children’s education and health, and even greater productivity relative to the size of the labor force — Japan has done better than the United States. It may have quite a lot to teach us. If Abenomics is even half as successful as its advocates hope, it will have still more to teach us….

Abenomics is, without a doubt, a huge step in the right direction.” —(“Japan Is a Model, Not a Cautionary Tale”, Joseph Stiglitz, New York Times)

Stiglitz is not only a top-notch economist, he’s also a really good guy. Still, I think he’s wrong about Abenomics, in fact, I think that if Krugman or Stiglitz read a little more about Abe’s so called structural reforms, they’d see that all the monetary and fiscal hullaballoo is just a smokescreen to conceal the same old trickle down, Voodoo reforms that have increased poverty, widened inequality, and fueled social unrest everywhere they’ve been implemented. The truth is, Abenomics is just a cover for plain old class warfare. (like QE in the US.) Now take a look at this excerpt from an article in the Economist: ”One area that reformers hoped the committees would tackle is Japan’s labour market. Unless they are going out of business, firms are barred from firing staff employees…….”

This provision to fire-workers-at-will is at the very top of Abe’s list of reforms. So how does handing out pink slips fight deflation? How does it fix the tax code so capital is taxed at a higher rate than labor so personal consumption rebounds and real wages increase? (Wages have been drifting lower in Japan for 20 years.) How does that increase labor’s share of productivity gains so workers can spend more at the grocery store, shopping malls or car lots?

It doesn’t help anything, does it? It’s just another giveaway to big business. And, remember, kicking employees to the curb, (“labor flexibility”) is at the top of Abe’s list of “reforms”.

And what other reforms does Abe have in mind? Here’s more from the Economist:

“Agriculture is in urgent need of reform as Japan enters negotiations for the Trans Pacific Partnership, a free-trade agreement, in July. Most farmers, tending tiny plots on a part-time basis, are uncompetitive. Companies should be allowed to buy farmland, said private-sector members of the ICC; at present they may only rent, and are bound by tight regulations.” (Economist)

Great. So Abe wants to sock-it-to the smalltime farmers who are busting their ass just to make ends meet so he can give a bigger share of the profits to the corporate cutthroats in Big Ag. That ought to fix the economy, don’t you think?

Then he plans to sign the sovereignty-eviscerating TPP which will give unprecedented legal powers to corrupt multinationals and thieving financial institutions. How does that improve the economy? And when has “free trade” ever benefited ordinary working people? Never, that’s when.

Abe also wants to create “a series of deregulated and lightly taxed zones around the country, to be overseen by a new minister.” (“Misfire: The Third Arrow of Abenomics”, The Economist)

That’s how you fight deflation; by creating tax free hideaways where slave-wage workers toil under prison camp conditions to boost profits for obscenely wealthy mega corporations? And–according to the Economist–this the “centerpiece” of Abe’s reforms. Some centerpiece, eh? Can you feel the love?

This is why I think Abenomics is a fraud that will fail miserably, because all the Keynesian claptrap surrounding the fiscal and monetary stimulus is just a fig leaf to conceal the real policy objectives, which are (as always) the privatization of public assets, the dismantling of vital market-stabilizing regulations, tax breaks for the wealthy, and a full-blown assault on working people.

Shinzo Abe is a fanatical, right-wing, militarist crackpot who is trying desperately to spark an economic revival so his rapacious pig-friends can enjoy another looting spree. Liberals like Stiglitz and Krugman would be well advised not to support that effort.

MIKE WHITNEY lives in Washington state. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press). Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. Whitney’s story on how the banks targeted blacks for toxic subprime mortgages appears in the May issue of CounterPunch magazine. He can be reached at

Fascist Repression and Understanding the Whistleblower's Threat

Understanding the Latest Leaks Is Understanding the Rise of a New Fascism

by John Pilger - Information Clearing House 

In his book, Propaganda, published in 1928, Edward Bernays wrote:

"The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country."

The American nephew of Sigmund Freud, Bernays invented the term "public relations" as a euphemism for state propaganda. He warned that an enduring threat to the invisible government was the truth-teller and an enlightened public.

In 1971, whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg leaked US government files known as The Pentagon Papers, revealing that the invasion of Vietnam was based on systematic lying. Four years later, Frank Church conducted sensational hearings in the US Senate: one of the last flickers of American democracy. These laid bare the full extent of the invisible government: the domestic spying and subversion and warmongering by intelligence and "security" agencies and the backing they received from big business and the media, both conservative and liberal.

Speaking about the National Security Agency (NSA), Senator Church said:

"I know that the capacity that there is to make tyranny in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law … so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return."

On 11 June, following the revelations in the Guardian by NSA contractor Edward Snowden, Daniel Ellsberg wrote that the US had now crossed "that abyss".

Snowden’s revelation that Washington has used Google, Facebook, Apple and other giants of consumer technology to spy on almost everyone, is further evidence of modern form of fascism – that is the "abyss". Having nurtured old-fashioned fascists around the world – from Latin America to Africa and Indonesia – the genie has risen at home. Understanding this is as important as understanding the criminal abuse of technology.

Fred Branfman, who exposed the "secret" destruction of tiny Laos by the US Air Force in the 1960s and 70s, provides an answer to those who still wonder how a liberal African-American president, a professor of constitutional law, can command such lawlessness. "Under Mr. Obama," he wrote, "no president has done more to create the infrastructure for a possible future police state." Why? Because Obama, like George W Bush, understands that his role is not to indulge those who voted for him but to expand "the most powerful institution in the history of the world, one that has killed, wounded or made homeless well over 20 million human beings, mostly civilians, since 1962."

In the new American cyber-power, only the revolving doors have changed. The director of Google Ideas, Jared Cohen, was adviser to Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state in the Bush administration who lied that Saddam Hussein could attack the US with nuclear weapons. Cohen and Google’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt – they met in the ruins of Iraq – have co-authored a book, The New Digital Age, endorsed as visionary by the former CIA director Michael Hayden and the war criminals Henry Kissinger and Tony Blair. The authors make no mention of the Prism spying program, revealed by Edward Snowden, that provides the NSA access to all of us who use Google.

Control and dominance are the two words that make sense of this. These are exercised by political, economic and military designs, of which mass surveillance is an essential part, but also by insinuating propaganda in the public consciousness. This was Edward Bernays’s point. His two most successful PR campaigns were convincing Americans they should go to war in 1917 and persuading women to smoke in public; cigarettes were "torches of freedom" that would hasten women’s liberation.

It is in popular culture that the fraudulent "ideal" of America as morally superior, a "leader of the free world", has been most effective. Yet, even during Hollywood’s most jingoistic periods there were exceptional films, like those of the exile Stanley Kubrick, and adventurous European films would have US distributors. These days, there is no Kubrick, no Strangelove, and the US market is almost closed to foreign films.

When I showed my own film, The War on Democracy, to a major, liberally-minded US distributor, I was handed a laundry list of changes required, to "ensure the movie is acceptable". His memorable sop to me was: "OK, maybe we could drop in Sean Penn as narrator. Would that satisfy you?" Lately, Katherine Bigelow’s torture-apologizing Zero Dark Thirty and Alex Gibney’s We Steal Secrets, a cinematic hatchet job on Julian Assange, were made with generous backing by Universal Studios, whose parent company until recently was General Electric. GE manufactures weapons, components for fighter aircraft and advance surveillance technology. The company also has lucrative interests in "liberated" Iraq.

The power of truth-tellers like Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, and Edward Snowden is that they dispel a whole mythology carefully constructed by the corporate cinema, the corporate academy and the corporate media. WikiLeaks is especially dangerous because it provides truth-tellers with a means to get the truth out. This was achieved by Collateral Damage, the cockpit video of an US Apache helicopter allegedly leaked by Bradley Manning. The impact of this one video marked Manning and Assange for state vengeance. Here were US airmen murdering journalists and maiming children in a Baghdad street, clearly enjoying it, and describing their atrocity as "nice". Yet, in one vital sense, they did not get away with it; we are witnesses now, and the rest is up to us.


America's Hacker Horde Meets China Somewhere in Cyberspace

The Chimerica Dream: Two Nations, Two Dreams, One Pacific

by Pepe Escobar - TomDispatch

Sun Tzu, the ancient author of The Art of War, must be throwing a rice wine party in his heavenly tomb in the wake of the shirtsleeves California love-in between President Obama and President Xi Jinping. "Know your enemy" was, it seems, the theme of the meeting. Beijing was very much aware of -- and had furiously protested -- Washington’s deep plunge into China’s computer networks over the past 15 years via a secretive NSA unit, the Office of Tailored Access Operations (with the apt acronym TAO). Yet Xi merrily allowed Obama to pontificate on hacking and cyber-theft as if China were alone on such a stage.

Enter -- with perfect timing -- Edward Snowden, the spy who came in from Hawaii and who has been holed up in Hong Kong since May 20th. And cut to the wickedly straight-faced, no-commentary-needed take on Obama’s hacker army by Xinhua, the Chinese Communist Party’s official press service. With America’s dark-side-of-the-moon surveillance programs like Prism suddenly in the global spotlight, the Chinese, long blistered by Washington’s charges about hacking American corporate and military websites, were polite enough. They didn’t even bother to mention that Prism was just another node in the Pentagon’s Joint Vision 2020 dream of “full spectrum dominance.”

By revealing the existence of Prism (and other related surveillance programs), Snowden handed Beijing a roast duck banquet of a motive for sticking with cyber-surveillance. Especially after Snowden, a few days later, doubled down by unveiling what Xi, of course, already knew -- that the National Security Agency had for years been relentlessly hacking both Hong Kong and mainland Chinese computer networks.

But the ultimate shark fin’s soup on China’s recent banquet card was an editorial in the Communist Party-controlled Global Times. “Snowden,” it acknowledged, “is a ‘card’ that China never expected,” adding that “China is neither adept at nor used to playing it.” Its recommendation: use the recent leaks “as evidence to negotiate with the U.S.” It also offered a warning that “public opinion will turn against China’s central government and the Hong Kong SAR [Special Administrative Region] government if they choose to send [Snowden] back.”

With a set of cyber-campaigns -- from cyber-enabled economic theft and espionage to the possibility of future state-sanctioned cyber-attacks -- evolving in the shadows, it’s hard to spin the sunny “new type of great power relationship” President Xi suggested for the U.S. and China at the recent summit.
Tomgram: Pepe Escobar, The Tao of Containing China

Tomgram: Pepe Escobar, The Tao of Containing China
Yes, the predictions are in. By 2016 (or 2030?), China will have economically outpaced the U.S. So say the economic soothsayers. And behind them lie all those, in the Pentagon and elsewhere in Washington, who secretly fear that, if nothing is done to contain it, China will within decades be dominant in the Pacific, the overlord of Asia, and perhaps later in the century the -- to steal a phrase -- “sole superpower” of planet Earth.

The first signs of things to come, it’s believed, are already there, including the way China has been building up its military and has started nudging its neighbors about a set of largely uninhabited islands in energy-rich areas of the Pacific, not to speak of recent more informal claims to a large, heavily inhabited, very militarized island in the region -- Okinawa. Like the previous global superpower, China, it is believed, has designs on turning the Pacific into its own “lake” and possibly even setting up military and other bases (“a string of pearls”) through the Indian Ocean all the way to Africa.
It’s a great story, but hold your horses! As that peripatetic reporter for Asia Times and TomDispatch regular Pepe Escobar indicates in today’s vivid plunge into China’s roiled waters, that country faces potentially staggering problems. After all, contradictions -- to use a classic Marxist word -- abound: a Communist Party leading a capitalist revolution with its own stability as a ruling elite dependent, above all, upon ever greater economic growth. And yet this isn’t the nineteenth century. China is on an imperiled planet. Every economic move it makes has potentially long-term negative consequences. For all we know, there may be no twenty-second-century superpower on planet Earth and if there is, don’t necessarily count on China.

As Escobar explains, to spur the staggering levels of growth that keep the country and the Party afloat, the Chinese leadership is embarking on a kind of forced urbanization program that may have no historical precedent. It is guaranteed to destabilize the countryside, while yet more peasants flood into the cities. It’s seldom acknowledged here (though the Chinese leadership is well aware of it) but China has a unique, almost two-thousand-year-long record of massive peasant uprisings (often religiously tinged) sweeping out of the countryside and upsetting established rule. The last of them was Mao Zedong’s peasant revolution that established the present People’s Republic.

Mass protest in China has been on the rise. Environmental conditions are disastrous. Let the Chinese economy falter and who knows what you’ll see. This is not a formula for an expansive imperial power, no less the next master of planet Earth, whatever Washington’s fears and militarized fantasies may be. Tom

The Chimerica Dream: Two Nations, 

Two Dreams, One Pacific

by Pepe Escobar

It’s the (State) Economy, Stupid

The unfolding Snowden cyber-saga effectively drowned out the Obama administration’s interest in learning more about Xi’s immensely ambitious plans for reconfiguring the Chinese economy -- and how to capture a piece of that future economic pie for American business. Essential to those plans is an astonishing investment of $6.4 trillion by China’s leadership in a drive to “urbanize” the economy yet further by 2020.

That will be the dragon’s share of a reconfigured development model emphasizing heightened productivity, moving the country up the international manufacturing quality ladder and digital pecking order, and encouraging ever more domestic consumption by an ever-expanding middle class. This will be joined to a massive ongoing investment in scientific and technological research. China has adopted the U.S. model of public-private sector academic integration with the aim of producing dual-use technologies and so boosting not only the military but also the civilian economy.

Beijing may, in the end, spend up to 30% of its budget on defense-related research and development. This has certainly been a key vector in the country’s recent breakneck expansion of information technology, microelectronics, telecommunications, nuclear energy, biotechnology, and the aerospace industry. Crucially, none of this has happened thanks to the good graces of the Goddess of the Market.

The pace in China remains frantic -- from the building of supercomputers and an explosion of innovation to massive urban development. This would include, for example, the development of the southwestern hinterland city of Chongqin into arguably the biggest urban conglomeration in the world, with an estimated population of more than 33 million and still growing. A typical savory side story in the China boom of recent years would be the way that energy-gobbling country “won” the war in Iraq. The New York Times recently reported that it is now buying nearly 50% of all the oil Iraq produces. (If that doesn’t hit Dick Cheney right in the heart, what will?)

Dreaming of What?

As soon as he was confirmed as general secretary at the Chinese Communist Party’s 18th Party Congress in November 2012, Xi Jinping started to weave a “China dream” (zhongguo meng) for public consumption. Think of his new game plan as a Roy Orbison song with Chinese characteristics. It boils down to what Xi has termed “fulfilling the great renaissance of the Chinese race.” And the dreaming isn’t supposed to stop until the 20th Party Congress convenes in 2022, if then.

The $6.4 trillion question is whether any dream competition involving the Chinese and American ruling elites could yield a “win-win” relationship between the planet’s “sole superpower” and the emerging power in Asia. What’s certain is that to increase the dream’s appeal to distinctly standoffish, if not hostile neighbors, China’s diplomats would have to embark on a blockbuster soft-power charm offensive.

Xi's two predecessors could not come up with anything better than the vague concept of a “harmonious society” (Hu Jintao) or an abstruse “theory of the Three Represents” (Jiang Zemin), as corruption ran wild among the Chinese elite, the country’s economy began to slow, and environmental conditions went over a cliff.

Xi’s dream comes with a roadmap for what a powerful future China would be like. In the shorthand language of the moment, it goes like this: strong China (economically, politically, diplomatically, scientifically, militarily), civilized China (equity and fairness, rich culture, high morals), harmonious China (among social classes), and finally beautiful China (healthy environment, low pollution).

The Holy Grail of the moment is the “Two 100s” -- the achievement of a “moderately prosperous society” by the Chinese Communist Party’s 100th birthday in 2021, one year before Xi’s retirement; and a “rich, strong, democratic, civilized, and harmonious socialist modern country” by 2049, the 100th birthday of the founding of the People’s Republic.

Wang Yiming, senior economist at the National Development and Reform Commission, has asserted that China's gross domestic product (GDP) will reach 90 trillion yuan ($14.6 trillion) by 2020, when annual per capita GDP will, theoretically at least, hit the psychologically groundbreaking level of $10,000. By 2050, according to him, the country’s GDP could reach 350 trillion yuan ($56.6 trillion), and annual per capita GDP could pass the 260,000 yuan ($42,000) mark.

Built into such projections is a powerful belief in the economic motor that a relentless urbanization drive will provide -- the goal being to put 70% of China’s population, or a staggering one billion people, in its cities by 2030.

Chinese academics are already enthusing about Xi’s dreamscape. For Xin Ming from the Central Party School (CPS) -- an establishment pillar -- what’s being promised is “a sufficient level of democracy, well-developed rule of law, sacrosanct human rights, and the free and full development of every citizen."

Don’t confuse “democracy,” however, with the Western multiparty system or imagine this having anything to do with political “westernization.” Renmin University political scientist Wang Yiwei typically describes it as “the Sinocization of Marxism… opening up the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics."

Hail the Model Urban Citizen (aka Migrant Worker)

Of course, the real question isn’t how sweet China’s party supporters and rhapsodists can make Xi’s dream sound, but how such plans will fare when facing an increasingly complex and anxiety-producing reality.

Just take a stroll through Hong Kong’s mega-malls like the IFC or Harbour City and you don't need to be Li Chunling, from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, to observe that China’s middle class is definitely dreaming about achieving one kind of westernization -- living the full consumer life of their (now embattled) American middle-class counterparts.

The real question remains: On a planet at the edge and in a country with plenty of looming problems, how can such a dream possibly be sustainable?

A number of Chinese academics are, in fact, worrying about what an emphasis on building up the country’s urban environment at a breakneck pace might actually mean. Peking University economist Li Yining, a mentor of Premier Li Keqiang, has, for instance, pointed out that when “everyone swarmed like bees” to invest in urban projects, the result was a near bubble-bursting financial crisis. “The biggest risk for China is in the financial sector. If growth comes without efficiency, how can debt be repaid after a boom in credit supply?” he asks.

Chen Xiwen, director of the Party’s Central Rural Work Leading Group, prefers to stress the obvious ills of hardcore urbanization: the possible depletion of energy, resources, and water supplies, the occupation of striking amounts of land that previously produced crops, massive environmental pollution, and overwhelming traffic congestion.

Among the most pressing questions raised by Xi’s dream is what it will take to turn yet more millions of rural workers into urban citizens, which often turns out to mean migrant workers living in shanty towns at the edge of a monster city. In 2011 alone, a staggering 253 million workers left the countryside for the big city. Rural per capita income is three times less than urban disposable income, which is still only an annual 21,800 yuan, or a little over $3,500 (a reminder that “middle class China” is still a somewhat limited reality).

A 2012 report by the National Population and Family Planning Commission revealed that 25.8% of the population is “self-employed,” which is a fancy way of describing the degraded state of migrant workers in a booming informal economy. Three-quarters of them are employed by private or family-owned businesses in an off-the-books fashion. Fewer than 40% of business owners sign labor contracts. In turn, only 51% of all migrant workers sign fixed-term labor contracts, and only 24% have medical insurance.

As working citizens, they should -- in theory -- have access to local health care. But plenty of local governments deny them because their hukou -- household registrations -- are from other cities. In this way, slums swell everywhere and urban “citizens” drown in debt and misery. In the meantime, top urban management in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Chongqin is working to eliminate such slums in order to clear the way for the wildest kinds of financial speculation and real estate madness. Something, of course, will have to give.

When former World Bank chief economist Justin Lin Yifu warned that China should avoid “over-urbanization,” he nailed it. On the ground, President Xi’s big dream looks suspiciously like a formula for meltdown. If too many migrants flood the big cities and the country fails to upgrade productivity, China will be stuck in the dreaded middle-income trap.

If, however, it succeeds in such a crash way, it can only do so by further devastating the national environment with long-term consequences that are hard to calculate but potentially devastating.

We Don’t Want No Historical Nihilism

Xi, the dreamer, may simply be a master modernist PR tactician hiding an old school outlook. Hong Kong-based political analyst Willy Lam, for instance, is convinced that “ideologically Xi is a Maoist” who wants to maintain “tight control over the party and the military.”

Consider the political landscape. Xi must act as the ideological guide for 80 million Communist Party members. The first thing he did after becoming general secretary was to launch an “inspection tour” of the major southern city of Shenzhen, which in the early 1980s was made China’s initial “special economic zone.” In this, he was emulating China’s first “capitalist roader,” the Little Helmsman Deng Xiaoping’s landmark 1992 turbo-reform tour of the same area. It was undoubtedly his way of promising to lead the next capitalist surge in the country.

However, a fascinating academic and Internet debate in China now revolves around Xi’s push to restore the authority and legitimacy of the ur-Communist leader Mao Zedong. Otherwise, the president claims, there would be nothing left but “historical nihilism.” As his example of the road not to take, Xi points to the Soviet Union; that is, he is signaling that whatever he will be, it won’t be the Chinese equivalent of the USSR’s last leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, nor by implication will he lose control over China’s military.

Xi is indeed meticulous in his interactions with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), always stressing "the dream of a strong China" and "the dream of a strong military." At the same time, his attitude perfectly embodies the Communist Party’s grand narrative about its own grandness. Only the Party, they claim, is capable of ensuring that living standards continue to improve and the country’s ever-widening inequality gap is kept in check. Only it can ensure a stable, unified country and a “happy,” “harmonious” society. Only it can guarantee the continuing “rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” defend “core interests” (especially what it refers to as “territorial sovereignty”), and ensure China, kicked around by other great powers in much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, global respect.

A Sinophile Western cynic would be excused for thinking that this is just a more elaborate way of stressing, as the Chinese do, that the might of the pen (bi gan zi) and the barrel of a gun (qiang gan zi) are the two pillars of the People’s Republic.

All of this was essentially sketched out by senior PLA colonel Liu Mingfu in his recently republished 2010 book, China Dream: Great Power Thinking and Strategic Posture in the Post-American Era. On one thing Liu and Xi (along with all China’s recent leaders and PLA commanders) agree: China is “back as the most powerful nation where it’s been for a thousand years before the ‘century of humiliation.’” The bottom line: when the problems start, Xi’s dream will feed on nationalism. And nationalism -- that ultimate social glue -- will be the essential precondition for any reforms to come.

In April, one month after the National People’s Congress, Xi repeated that his dream would be fulfilled by 2050, while the Party’s propaganda chief Liu Yunshan ordered that the dream be written into all school textbooks. But repeating something hardly makes it so.

Xi’s father, former vice premier Xi Zhongxun, was a man who thought outside the box. In many ways, Xi is clearly trying to do the same, already promising to tackle everything from massive corruption (“fighting tigers and flies at the same time”) to government rackets. (Forget lavish banquets; from now on, it’s only supposed to be “four dishes and a soup.”)

But one thing is certain: Xi won't even make a gesture towards changing the essential model. He’ll basically only tweak it.

Fear and Loathing in the South China Sea

Everyone wants to know how Xi’s dream will translate into foreign policy. Three months ago, talking to journalists from the emerging BRICS group (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), the Chinese president emphasized that “the China Dream also will bring opportunities to the world.”

Enter the charm offensive: in Xi’s new world, “peaceful development” is always in and “the China threat” is always out. In Beijing’s terms, it’s called “all-dimensional diplomacy” and has been reflected in the incessant global travel schedule of Xi and Prime Minister Li Keqiang in their first months in office.

Still, as with the dream at home, so abroad. Facts on the ground -- or more specifically in the waters of the South China Sea -- once again threaten to turn Xi’s dream into a future nightmare. Nationalism has unsurprisingly proven a crucial factor and there’s been nothing dreamy about the continuing clash of claims to various energy-rich islands and waters in the region.

Warships have recently been maneuvering as China faces off against, among other countries, Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines. This unsettling development has played well in Washington as the Obama administration announced a “pivot” to or “rebalancing” in Asia and a new strategy that visibly involves playing China’s neighbors off against the Middle Kingdom in what could only be considered a twenty-first century containment policy.

From Washington’s point of view, there have, however, been more ominous aspects to China’s new moves in the world. In bilateral trade with Japan, Russia, Iran, India, and Brazil, China has been working to bypass the U.S. dollar. Similarly, China and Britain have established a currency swap line, linking the yuan to the pound, and France plans to do the same thing with regard to the euro in an attempt to turn Paris into a major offshore trading hub for the yuan.

Nor was it an accident that Xi’s first trip abroad took him to Moscow. There is no more crucial economic and strategic relationship for the Chinese leadership. As much as Moscow won’t accept NATO’s infinite eastward expansion, Beijing won’t accept the U.S. pivot strategy in the Pacific, and Moscow will back it in that.

I was in Singapore recently when Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel dropped in at the Shangri-La Dialogue, an Asian defense and security forum, to sell the new U.S. focus on creating what would essentially be an anti-Chinese alliance in South and Southeast Asia, as well as the Pacific. Major General Qi Jianguo, deputy chief of the general staff of the PLA, was there as well listening attentively to Hagel, ready to outline a Chinese counter-strategy that would highlight Beijing’s respect for international law, its interest in turbo-charging trade with Southeast Asia, but most of all its unwillingness to yield on any of the escalating territorial disputes in the region. As he said, "The reason China constantly patrols the South China Sea and East Sea is because China considers this to be sovereign territory."

In this way, the dream and nationalism are proving uncomfortable bedfellows abroad as well as at home. Beijing sees the U.S. pivot as a not-so-veiled declaration of the coming of a new Cold War in the Asia-Pacific region, and a dangerous add-on to the Pentagon’s Air-Sea Battle concept, a militarized approach to China’s Pacific ambitions as the (presumed) next rising power on the planet.

At the Shangri-La, Hagel did call for “a positive and constructive relationship with China” as an “essential part of America's rebalance to Asia." That’s where the new U.S.-driven Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) -- essentially the economic arm of the pivot -- would fit in. China’s Ministry of Commerce is reportedly even studying the possibility of being part of it.

There is, however, no way a resurgent Beijing would accept unfettered U.S. economic control across the region, nor is there any guarantee that TPP will become the dominant trading group in the Asia-Pacific. After all, with its economic muscle China is already leading the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership that includes all 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) plus Australia, India, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea.

In April, after visiting Beijing, Secretary of State John Kerry began spinning his own “Pacific dream” during a stopover in Tokyo. Yet Beijing will remain wary of Washington’s dreaming, as the Chinese leadership inevitably equates any dream that involves moves everywhere in Asia as synonymous with a desire to maintain perpetual American dominance in the region and so stunt China’s rise.

However nationalism comes into play in the disputed, energy-rich islands of the South China Sea, the notion that China wants to rule even the Asian world, no less the world, is nonsense. At the same time, the roadmap promoted at the recent Obama-Xi summit remains at best a fragile dream, especially given the American pivot and Edward Snowden’s recent revelations about the way Washington has been hacking Chinese computer systems. Perhaps the question in the region is simply whose dream will vanish first when faced with economic and military realities.

At least theoretically, a strategic adjustment by both sides could ensure that the dream of cooperation, of Chimerica, might prove less them chimerical. That, however, would imply that Washington was capable of acknowledging “core” Chinese national interests -- on this Xi’s dream is explicit indeed. Whatever the confusions and difficulties the Chinese leadership faces, Beijing seems to understand the realities behind Washington’s strategic intentions. One wonders whether the reverse applies.

Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times, an analyst for the Russian network RT and al-Jazeera English, as well as a TomDispatch regular. His most recent book is Obama Does Globalistan. Follow him on Facebook.

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Copyright 2013 Pepe Escobar