“What is Inexcusable is Venezuela’s Political independence”

“What is Inexcusable is Venezuela’s Political independence”
An interview with John Pilger, conducted by Michael Albert

By John Pilger
teleSUR
February 16, 2015

Why would the U.S. want Venezuela’s government overthrown?

There are straightforward principles and dynamics at work here. Washington wants to get rid of the Venezuelan government because it is independent of U.S. designs for the region and because Venezuela has the greatest proven oil reserves in the world and uses its oil revenue to improve the quality of ordinary lives. Venezuela remains a source of inspiration for social reform in a continent ravaged by an historically rapacious U.S. An Oxfam report once famously described the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua as ‘the threat of a good example’. That has been true in Venezuela since Hugo Chavez won his first election. The ‘threat’ of Venezuela is greater, of course, because it is not tiny and weak; it is rich and influential and regarded as such by China. The remarkable change in fortunes for millions of people in Latin America is at the heart of U.S. hostility. The U.S. has been the undeclared enemy of social progress in Latin America for two centuries. It doesn’t matter who has been in the White House: Barack Obama or Teddy Roosevelt; the U.S. will not tolerate countries with governments and cultures that put the needs of their own people first and refuse to promote or succumb to U.S. demands and pressures. A reformist social democracy with a capitalist base – such as Venezuela – is not excused by the rulers of the world. What is inexcusable is Venezuela’s political independence; only complete deference is acceptable. The ‘survival’ of Chavista Venezuela is a testament to the support of ordinary Venezuelans for their elected government – that was clear to me when I was last there.  Venezuela’s weakness is that the political ‘opposition’ — those I would call the ‘East Caracas Mob’ – represent powerful interests who have been allowed to retain critical economic power. Only when that power is diminished will Venezuela shake off the constant menace of foreign-backed, often criminal subversion. No society should have to deal with that, year in, year out.

What methods has the U.S. already used and would you anticipate their using to unseat the Bolivarian Revolution?

There are the usual crop of quislings and spies; they come and go with their media theatre of fake revelations, but the principal enemy is the media. You may recall the Venezuelan admiral who was one of the coup-plotters against Chavez in 2002, boasting during his brief tenure in power, ‘Our secret weapon was the media’. The Venezuelan media, especially television, were active participants in that coup, lying that supporters of the government were firing into a crowd of protestors from a bridge. False images and headlines went around the world. The New York Times joined in, welcoming the overthrow of a democratic ‘anti-American’ government; it usually does. Something similar happened in Caracas last year when vicious right-wing mobs were lauded as ‘peaceful protestors’ who were being ‘repressed’. This was undoubtedly the start of a Washington-backed ‘colour revolution’ openly backed by the likes of the National Endowment for Democracy – a user-friendly CIA clone. It was uncannily like the coup that Washington successfully staged in Ukraine last year.  As in Kiev, in Venezuela the ‘peaceful protestors’ set fire to government buildings and deployed snipers and were lauded by western politicians and the western media. The strategy is almost certainly to push the Maduro government to the right and so alienate its popular base. Depicting the government as dictatorial and incompetent has long been an article of bad faith among journalists and broadcasters in Venezuela and in the U.S., the U.K. and Europe. One recent U.S. ‘story’ was that of a ‘U.S. scientist jailed for trying to help Venezuela build bombs’. The implication was that Venezuela was harbouring ‘nuclear terrorists’. In fact, the disgruntled nuclear physicist had no connection whatsoever with Venezuela.

All this is reminiscent of the unrelenting attacks on Chávez, each with that peculiar malice reserved for dissenters from the west’s ‘one true way’. In 2006, Britain’s Channel 4 News effectively accused the Venezuelan president of plotting to make nuclear weapons with Iran, an absurd fantasy. The Washington correspondent, Jonathan Rugman, sneered at policies to eradicate poverty and presented Chávez as a sinister buffoon, while allowing Donald Rumsfeld, a war criminal, to liken Chavez to Hitler, unchallenged. The BBC is no different. Researchers at the University of the West of England in the UK studied the BBC’s systematic bias in reporting Venezuela over a ten-year period. They looked at 304 BBC reports and found that only three of these referred to any of the positive policies of the government. For the BBC, Venezuela’s democratic initiatives, human rights legislation, food programmes, healthcare initiatives and poverty reduction programmes did not exist. Mission Robinson, the greatest literacy programme in human history, received barely a passing mention. This virulent censorship by omission complements outright fabrications such as accusations that the Venezuelan government are a bunch of drug-dealers.  None of this is new; look at the way Cuba has been misrepresented – and assaulted – over the years. Reporters Without Borders has just issued its worldwide ranking of nations based on their claims to a free press. The US is ranked 49th, behind Malta, Niger, Burkino Faso and El Salvador.

Why might now be a prime time, internationally, for pushing toward a coup? If the primary problem is Venezuela being an example that could spread, is the emergence of a receptive audience for that example in Europe adding to the U.S. response?

It’s important to understand that Washington is ruled by true extremists, once known inside the Beltway as ‘the crazies’. This has been true since before 9/11. A few are outright fascists. Asserting U.S. dominance is their undisguised game and, as the events in Ukraine demonstrate, they are prepared to risk a nuclear war with Russia. These people should be the common enemy of all sane human beings. In Venezuela, they want a coup so that they can roll-back of some of the world’s most important social reforms – such as in Bolivia and Ecuador. They’ve already crushed the hopes of ordinary people in Honduras. The current conspiracy between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia to lower the price of oil is meant to achieve something more spectacular in Venezuela, and Russia.

What do you think the best approach might be to warding off U.S. machinations, and those of domestic Venezuelan elites as well, for the Bolivarians?

The majority people of Venezuela, and their government, need to tell the world the truth about the attacks on their country. There is a stirring across the world, and many people are listening. They don’t want perpetual instability, perpetual poverty, perpetual war, perpetual rule by the few. And they identify the principal enemy; look at the international polling surveys that ask which country presents the greatest danger to humanity. The majority of people overwhelmingly point to the U.S., and to its numerous campaigns of terror and subversion.

What do you think is the immediate responsibility of leftists outside Venezuela, and particularly in the U.S. 

That begs a question: who are these ‘leftists’? Are they the millions of liberal North Americans seduced by the specious rise of Obama and silenced by his criminalising of freedom of information and dissent? Are they those who believe what they are told by the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian, the BBC? It’s an important question. ‘Leftist’ has never been a more disputed and misappropriated term. My sense is that people who live on the edge and struggle against US-backed forces in Latin America understood the true meaning of the word, just as they identify a common enemy.  If we share their principles, and a modicum of their courage, we should take direct action in our own countries, starting, I would suggest, with the propagandists in the media. Yes, it’s our responsibility, and it has never been more urgent.

http://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/What-is-Inexcusable-is-Venezuelas-Political-independence-20150216-0011.html

 

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On the way to war on Russia

On the way to war on Russia

By Brian Cloughley
Asia Times
February 18, 2015

Since the Soviet collapse – as Moscow had feared – [the NATO] alliance has spread eastward, expanding along a line from Estonia in the north to Romania and Bulgaria in the south. The Kremlin claims it had Western assurances that would not happen. Now, Moscow’s only buffers to a complete NATO encirclement on its western border are Finland, Belarus and Ukraine. The Kremlin would not have to be paranoid to look at that map with concern. Stars and Stripes (US Armed Forces newspaper), February 13, 2015.

The Minsk Agreement of February 12, 2015, was arranged by the leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine and contained important provisions concerning future treatment of citizens in the Russian-speaking, Russia-cultured eastern districts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts in Ukraine where there has been vicious fighting between separatist forces and government troops supported by militias.

Most Western media did not report that the accord was signed by the leaders of the provinces (oblasts) of Donetsk and Luhansk as well as representatives of Russia and Ukraine, but the former two matter greatly in implementation of its provisions.

To the disappointment of much of the West, and especially the United States, it appears that the great majority of the inhabitants of these regions are to be granted much of what they have been seeking (with robust support by Russia), which includes the right to speak and receive education in their birth-language; restitution of pension payments and other central revenue moneys that were stopped by the Kiev government; constitutional reform of Ukraine including “approval of permanent legislation on the special status of particular districts of Donetsk and Luhansk”; and free local elections in the oblasts.

The way to peace will not be easy but the substance of the accord will go far to convincing the people of the eastern oblasts that they will not in future be treated as second-class citizens. They will be permitted an appropriate degree of decision-making in their regions, and if there is goodwill on the part of the Kiev government there is reason to believe that fair governance could apply. A major problem, however, is the attitude of the United States and Britain concerning Russia and Ukraine.

Neither the US nor the UK was privy to discussions between participants in the Minsk talks except through technical intercept by their intelligence agencies and more intimate but necessarily partial description by Kiev’s President Petro Poroshenko, whose subordinates reported through US and British conduits.

London and Washington were excluded from negotiations because neither wishes a solution that could be agreeable to Russia and the Russian-cultured regions of east Ukraine.

Both are uncompromisingly intent on humiliating Moscow, and although Britain is verging on irrelevance in world affairs except as a decayed and limited associate of the US in whatever martial venture may be embarked upon by Washington, the US Congress and White House are for once in agreement and are determined to destroy Russia’s economy and topple its president and are being provocatively challenging in pursuit of that aim.

There hasn’t been such deliberate squaring-up politically and militarily since the height of the last Cold War. President Barack Obama’s speeches about Russia and President Vladimir Putin have been bellicose, abusive and personally insolent to the point of immature mindlessness. He does not realize that his contempt and threats will not be forgiven by the Russian people who, it is only too often overlooked, are proud of being Russian and understandably resent being insulted.

Obama claimed last year that the US “is and will remain the one indispensable nation in the world”, which was regarded with mild derision by many nations; but now Russians are realizing what he meant by his chest-pounding, because America has fostered the Ukraine mess in attempting to justify its stance of uncompromising aggression against them.

But Ukraine has nothing to do with the United States. It is on the border of Russia, not the US. It is not a member of NATO. It is not a member of the European Union. It has no defense or political treaty of any sort with the US. It is 5,000 miles – 8,000 kilometers – from Washington to Kiev and it is doubtful if more than a handful of members of Congress could find Ukraine on a map.

In March 2014, the province of Crimea declared itself to be separate from Ukraine. There was a referendum on sovereignty by its 2.4 million inhabitants. The Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe was asked to monitor and report on the referendum, but refused to do so. Both referendum and declaration were strongly condemned by the United States.

Some 60% of the inhabitants of Crimea are Russian-speaking, Russian-cultured and Russian-educated, and they voted to rejoin Russia from which they had been separated by the diktat of Soviet chairman Nikita Khrushchev – a Ukrainian. It would be strange if they did not wish to accede to a country that welcomes their kinship and is economically benevolent concerning their future.

Russia’s support for the people of eastern Ukraine – and there is indubitably a great deal of assistance, both political and military, similar to that of the US-NATO alliance for the people of the breakaway Kosovo region of Serbia in 2008 – is based on the fact that the great majority of people there are Russian-speaking, Russian-cultured and discriminated against by the Ukrainian government, just as Kosovans were persecuted by Serbs.

So it is not surprising that the majority of inhabitants of the eastern areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts want to “dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another” and be granted a large degree of autonomy – or even join Russia. The US refuses to admit that they might have even the slightest justification for their case.

There has been a US-led media campaign attempting to persuade the public, in the words of John Herbst, former US ambassador to Ukraine, that President Putin’s “provocations against the Baltic states, against Kazakhstan, indicate his goals are greater than Ukraine. If we don’t stop Mr Putin in Ukraine we may be dealing with him in Estonia.”

This is nonsense, because there is no economic, political or military point in Russia trying to invade the Baltic States or any other country on its borders. There has been no indication of any such move – other than in bizarre statements by such as Mr Herbst and twisted reports in Western news media. It is absurd and intellectually demeaning and deceitful to suggest otherwise, and it is regrettable that someone of the superior intelligence of Mr Herbst could lower himself to say such a thing.

But it makes good propaganda.

In similar vein, President Putin’s statement to Ukraine’s President Poroshenko that “If I wanted, in two days I could have Russian troops not only in Kiev, but also in Riga, Vilnius, Tallinn, Warsaw and Bucharest” was reported by Britain’s Daily Telegraph as “President Vladimir Putin privately threatened to invade Poland, Romania and the Baltic states” – which was malicious misrepresentation of what he said.

Putin was making the point that Russia’s armed forces could easily have taken successful military action against neighboring countries had they been ordered to do so – but he has no intention of doing anything so rash and stupid. What he and the Russian people want is justice and political choice for the ethnically Russian people in eastern Ukraine, as well as increasing bilaterally lucrative trade arrangements with adjoining countries. It would be insane for Moscow to hazard commercial links with any of its neighbors. Washington, on the other hand, is trying to break them.

Continue reading at:   Asia Times

 

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Israel’s Obsession for Monopoly on Middle East Nuclear Power

Israel’s Obsession for Monopoly on Middle East Nuclear Power

By Thalif Deen
IPS – Inter Press Service News Agency
February 15, 2015

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 13 2015 (IPS) - As the Iranian nuclear talks hurtle towards a Mar. 24 deadline, there is renewed debate among activists about the blatant Western double standards underlying the politically-heated issue, and more importantly, the resurrection of a longstanding proposal for a Middle East free from weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Asked about the Israeli obsession to prevent neighbours – first and foremost Iran, but also Saudi Arabia and Egypt – from going nuclear, Hillel Schenker, co-editor of the Jerusalem-based Palestine-Israel Journal, told IPS, “This is primarily the work of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has built his political career on fanning the flames of fear, and saying that Israel has to stand pat, with a strong leader [him] to withstand the challenges.”

And this is the primary motivation for his upcoming and very controversial partisan speech before the U.S. Congress on the eve of the Israeli elections, which has aroused a tremendous amount of opposition in Israel, in the American Jewish community and in the U.S. in general, he pointed out.

Iran, which has consistently denied any plans to acquire nuclear weapons, will continue its final round of talks involving Germany and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council: the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia (collectively known as P-5, plus one).

Last week, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani asked the United States and Israel, both armed with nuclear weapons, a rhetorical question tinged with sarcasm: “Have you managed to bring about security for yourselves with your atomic bombs?”

The New York Times quoted the Washington-based Arms Control Association as saying Israel is believed to have 100 to 200 nuclear warheads.

The Israelis, as a longstanding policy, have neither confirmed nor denied the nuclear arsenal. But both the United States and Israel have been dragging their feet over the proposal for a nuclear-free Middle East.

Bob Rigg, a former senior editor with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), told IPS the U.S. government conveniently ignores its own successive National Intelligence Estimates, which represent the consensus views of all 13 or so U.S. intelligence agencies, that there has been no evidence, in the period since 2004, of any Iranian intention to acquire nuclear weapons.

“If Israel is the only nuclear possessor in the Middle East, this combined with the U.S nuclear and conventional capability, gives the U.S. and Israel an enormously powerful strategic lever in the region,” Rigg said.

He said this is even more realistic, especially now that Syria’s chemical weapons (CW) have been destroyed. They were the only real threat to Israel in the region.

“This dimension of the destruction of Syria’s CW has gone strangely unnoticed. Syria had Russian-made missiles that could have targeted population centres right throughout Israel,” said Rigg, a former chair of the New Zealand Consultative Committee on Disarmament.

A question being asked by military analysts is: why is Israel, armed with both nuclear weapons and also some of the most sophisticated conventional arms from the United States, fearful of any neighbour with WMDs?

Will a possibly nuclear-armed Iran, or for that matter Saudi Arabia or Egypt, risk using nuclear weapons against Israel since it would also exterminate the Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied territories? ask nuclear activists.

Schenker told IPS: “I believe that if Iran were to opt for nuclear weapons, the primary motivation would be to defend the regime, not to attack Israel. Still, it is preferable that they not gain nuclear weapons.”

Of course, he said, the fundamental solution to this danger would be the creation of a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone in the Middle East.

That will require a two-track parallel process: One track moving towards a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the other track moving towards the creation of a regional regime of peace and security, with the aid of the Arab Peace Initiative (API), within which a WMD Free Zone would be a major component, said Schenker, a strong advocate of nuclear disarmament.

As for the international conference on a nuclear and WMD free zone before the next NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) Review Conference, scheduled to begin at the end of April in New York, he said, the proposal is still alive.

In mid-March, the Academic Peace Orchestra Middle East initiative will convene a conference in Berlin, whose theme is “Fulfilling the Mandate of the Helsinki Conference in View of the 2015 NPT Review Conference”.

It will include a session on the topic featuring Finnish Ambassador Jaakko Laajava, the facilitator of the conference, together with governmental representatives from Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Germany.

There will also be an Iranian participant at the conference, said Schenker.

Rigg told IPS Israel’s first Prime Minister Ben Gurion wanted nuclear weapons from the outset. Israel was approved by the new United Nations, which then had only 55 or so members. Most of the developing world was still recovering from World War II and many new states had yet to emerge.

He said the United States and the Western powers played the key role in setting up the U.N.

“They wanted an Israel, even though Israeli terrorists murdered Count Folke Berdadotte of Sweden, the U.N. representative who was suspected of being favourable to the Palestinians,” Rigg said.

The Palestinians were consulted, and said no, but were ignored, he said. Only two Arab states were then U.N. members. They were also ignored. Most of today’s Muslim states either did not exist or were also ignored.

“When the U.N. approved Israel, Arab states attacked, but were beaten off. They did not want an Israel to be transplanted into their midst. They still don’t. Nothing has changed. ”

Given the unrelenting hostility of the Arab states to the Western creation of Israel, he said, Israel developed nuclear weapons to give itself a greater sense of security.

“If Israel lost its regional monopoly on nuclear weapons, it would be vulnerable. So the U.S. goes all out to block nuclear weapons – except for Israel,” he added.

Not even Israel argues that Iran has nuclear weapons now.

“A NW free zone in the Middle East is simply a joke. If Israel joined the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), it would have to declare and destroy its nuclear arsenal.”

The U.S. finds excuses to avoid prodding Israel into joining the NPT. The U.S. is effectively for nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, but successive U.S. presidents have refused to publicly say that Israel has nuclear weapons, he added.

Because of all this, a NWF zone in the ME is not a real possibility, even if U.S. President Barack Obama and Netanyahu are at each other’s throats, said Rigg.

Schenker said Netanyahu’s comments come at a time when the 22-member League of Arab States, backed by the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) have, since 2002, presented Israel an Arab Peace Initiative (API).

Continue reading at:  IPS – Inter Press Service News Agency

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Israeli Arrest Campaign Targets Palestinian Children

Israeli Arrest Campaign Targets Palestinian Children

By Mel Frykberg
IPS – Inter Press Service News Agency
February 15, 2015

RAMALLAH, West Bank, Feb 15 2015 (IPS) - Fourteen-year-old Malak al Khatib, one of the youngest Palestinian detainees and one of only a handful of girls, was released from an Israeli prison on Feb. 13 into the arms of emotional family members and supporters after being incarcerated in an Israeli prison for two months on “security offences”.

Details of what happened to the Palestinian minor were made public only after an Israeli gag order on the case was lifted on appeal after a global campaign for her release.

The slightly built, dark-haired girl, from the town of Beitin near Ramallah, was arrested in December last year and later charged with stone-throwing and possession of a knife. However, al Khatib says the confessions were coerced under duress during interrogation.

Al Khatib was sentenced to two months’ imprisonment, a suspended sentence of three months and fined 6,000 shekels (approximately 1,500 dollars).

According to volunteer organisation Military Court Watch, 151 Palestinian children are currently being held in Israeli detention for “security offences” in the Occupied Territories and within Israel.

The group added that 47 percent of these children were being held in jails inside Israel in contravention of the Geneva Convention because this limits the ability of family and legal representatives from the West Bank and Gaza to visit them.

Defence for Children International Palestine (DCIP) says that in December last year 10 Palestinian children aged between 10 and 15 were incarcerated. However, children as young as eight have also been arrested by Israeli soldiers or police. According to DCIP, Israeli forces arrest about 1,000 children every year in the occupied West Bank.

However, it is not only the large numbers of Palestinian children arrested which is of concern to human rights organisations but also their treatment during incarceration.

In 2013, the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) was attacked by Israeli critics after releasing a report title ‘Children in Israeli Military Detention’, which slammed the Israeli authorities for using “intimidation, threats and physical violence to coerce confessions out of Palestinian children.”

“Children have been threatened with death, physical violence, solitary confinement and sexual assault, against themselves or a family member,” the report said.

IPS spoke to two Palestinian boys from the Jelazon refugee camp, near Ramallah, who were beaten, abused during interrogation and jailed on allegations of throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at Israeli security forces and settlers.

One hundred heavily armed Israeli soldiers, their faces masked, broke down the door and stormed the home of Khalil Khaled Nakhli, 17, in the early hours of Aug. 11 last year, terrifying his six younger brothers and sisters.

“My arm was broken after the soldiers beat me as they arrested me. They accused me of throwing stones at Israeli settlers from the Beit El settlement near Jelazon camp,” Nakhli told IPS.

Nakhli was taken to an Israeli prison where he was roughed up during interrogation and eventually sentenced to six months’ imprisonment, despite refusing to admit to the charges against him.

The home of Nakhli’s friend Ahmed Othman Safi, 17, was similarly stormed in the early hours of Sep. 7 last year. This time the soldiers used explosives to blow the door open.

Safi was left bloody and his skull fractured when the arresting soldiers used the back of their guns to club him on the head. An inch-wide indentation, where the hair refuses to grow, remains on Safi’s skull to this day.

“I was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment even though they failed to force me to confess to anything,” said Safi.

Their treatment has only further angered the boys. “We all feel bitter at the way we were treated and this exacerbates our anger at living under occupation,” Safi told IPS.

Palestinian minors are treated harshly in comparison with how Israeli minors are treated following arrest.

Continue reading at:   IPS – Inter Press Service News Agency

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Podemos: Threat or Promise? Shaking the Two-Party System in Spain

Podemos:  Threat or Promise?  Shaking the Two-Party System in Spain

by GEOFFREY FOX
CounterPunch
February 13-15, 2015

The eruption of Podemos onto the political scene in Spain is unbalancing the power structures, not just in Spain but across the European Community, on at least two fronts. First, its rapid rise has already obliged the older parties to change tactics drastically or be overwhelmed — and is thus presenting a model to insurgent parties across Europe. And secondly, if this new party in Europe’s fourth largest economy should come to power and stick to its program, it will present a far more formidable challenge than tiny Greece’s Syriza to the “troika,” the linking of the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund to protect creditors at no matter what cost to debtor nations and their people. Thus it is both a threat and a promise.

Podemos has grown at a dizzying pace. Born as a pressure group only in January of last year, registered as a political party in March, and on its first trip to the urns on May 25 won over a million and a quarter votes from all parts of Spain, electing its entire slate of five to the European Parliament, astounding competitors and even themselves. Since then, as parties prepare for municipal and then national parliamentary elections — by law, to be held no later than December 20 — support for Podemos has continued to soar.

How could all this happen so fast? Two quick answers: First, it hasn’t been as sudden as it seems, to those who haven’t been paying close attention to alternative politics in Spain. And second, the whiz kids of Podemos are, so far, the savviest communications mavens in Spanish politics.

Protest movements have a very long history in Spain, and memories of the Spanish Republic (1931-1939), resistance to Franco, and subsequent union and political rallying are all part of the tradition. The Socialist Party (Partido Socialista Obrero, PSOE) and Izquierda Unida (IU, United Left), a coalition of radical groups including the Communist Party both trace their history to those struggles. But the clearest antecedent to Podemos goes back only four years, to the summer of protest that began with the occupation of Madrid’s Puerta del Sol on 15 May 2011 — and is thus called “15-M.” With this spark, more and more people from all parts of Spain and all walks of life, young and old, pronounced themselves equally indignados (“indignant”) — with the economic crisis that had begun just three years earlier. It was a life-affirming choice for many of them, indignation against the negativity of depression. And more and more of people flowed into other public spaces, not just in Madrid but in all the major cities, creating live-in political discussion camps that lasted throughout the summer.

Thus 15-M became a laboratory for radical change and political self-education, where people of different backgrounds and specific problems in the economic turndown encountered one another and broadened their outlook and their demands. No party or union organized or controlled it, and neither IU activists nor Socialists nor union officials who participated enjoyed any special influence — discussion groups were entirely open to anyone who wanted to speak up. They developed scores of action plans to confront joblessness, the wave of evictions of people unable to pay their mortgages, the cutbacks in public education and health services, and — a special cause of indignation — the flagrant self-enrichment of bankers and their allies blamed for bringing on this disaster. And on a national level, they called for a more responsive and participative politics, with the unifying, if rather vague, demand for “Real democracy now!” (Democracia Real Ya).

After the summer, many of those actions were carried out in the neighborhoods, including quick-strike massing of protesters to prevent evictions. Veterans of 15-M also participated in many other actions, such as the massive “tides” (mareas) of demonstrators filling the streets in protest against budget cuts — a “green tide” in green T-shirts, against cuts in education, a “white tide” in white T-shirts to keep the hospitals and health services funded — and in the frequent protests by various unions. There were also more whimsical and even hilarious actions, for example where flamenco singers, dancers and musicians would slip into a crowded bank and burst out in rhymed and rhythmical denunciations of bank practices — often to the applause of customers and even bank employees.

But it was not until the weekend of January 12-13, 2014, that a group of activists drafted and signed a manifesto titled Mover ficha — “To make a move,” as on a chessboard “to transform indignation into political change.” The 30 signers included university professors, writers, a well-known actor, and several union activists, mostly veterans of Izquierda Unida and one of its constituent organizations, Izquierda Abierta (“Open Left”), which had called the meeting. And all felt frustrated by the internal bickering and pointless posturing that had impeded left unity for more decisive action. They concluded their manifesto with these words: “In the streets we hear the constant cry, ‘Yes, it’s possible.’ We say, ‘We can.’” Or, in the Spanish original: En las calles se repite insistentemente “Sí se puede”. Nosotras y nosotros decimos: “Podemos”.

To “make the move,” they decided that Podemos would need a unifying symbol and ways to get its message out widely and effectively. To solve both problems, they turned to a young political science professor and local TV host, Pablo Iglesias, to be their spokesperson. His pony-tail and quick wit were becoming known beyond the university community through his appearances on a right-wing talk show as the lone defender of leftist positions. And it didn’t hurt that he bore the same name as that other Pablo Iglesias, the revered founder of the Socialist Party in 1879.[1]

With the young Pablo Iglesias, they got not just an animated face, but also an expert in political communications, especially television. He was and is one of a group or leftwing faculty at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid (UCM) who had been meeting for years, several of whom had practical experience of communications and organization as advisors to left parties — Iglesias himself and political scientist Juan Carlos Monedero as advisors to both IU in Spain and Hugo Chávez’s party in Venezuela, sociologist Carolina Bescansa with left politics in Galicia, and political scientist Iñigo Errejón with Evo Morales’ movement in Bolivia. But they were also familiar with movements in other parts of the world, and had been especially impressed by Barack Obama’s effective use of Internet to gather support and donations in his 2008 campaign, with its similar slogan, “Yes, we can!”

At a huge assembly in Madrid, Iglesias was eventually voted general secretary of Podemos, but only after considerable debate with a faction that wanted collective leadership. What many Podemos supporters prefer is a kind of “crowd leading,” like the “crowd funding” preferred for financing their campaigns. And even as a registered political party with elected officials, Podemos seems to be trying to be the “15-M” summer camp of constant debate and good spirits, and bottom-up decision-making and a constant open mike or speaker’s stand, turned into a national movement. Although the tight-knit group of professors at the UCM continues to be the principle strategists, competing voices within Podemos can make themselves heard.

This approach has had enormous advantages in gathering, as a snowball effect, more and more supporters, none of them feeling rejected because of disagreements on any particular issue — because everything can be discussed and we are all supposed to be solidary and hear everyone out. That no doubt helps explain the brand new party’s success in the European Parliament elections. Podemos’ very broadly stated proposals — to “end corruption” and “combat austerity” — were refreshing compared to the other parties’ laments that they “could not” — no podemos — do more than follow the dictates of the European Union and its Central Bank. But it leaves us wondering what they would do if they should actually come to power.

Pablo Iglesias and others in the leadership have also been careful to avoid describing their program as “left,” despite their own well-known personal histories in IU and radical organizations, so as not to alienate any potential supporter. Instead of presenting a class analysis, they continually denounce “the caste” — la casta —, a vague category for anybody thought to have privilege, as against “the people” — la gente — which means everybody else. One wonders: Is not a full-time professor at the UCM thus part of the casta? And leaders in the Socialist Party and in IU ask, if you’re not “left,” then what do you stand for? The answer is simply, “for the people, against the caste” — or even more vaguely, as the title of Monedero’s most recent book puts it, for “la gente decente,” the “decent” people. So you see what that makes you, if you don’t support Podemos.

Continue reading at:  CounterPunch

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What Next for Europe? The Greeks Have Shaken the Pillars of the Temple

What Next for Europe?  The Greeks Have Shaken the Pillars of the Temple

by CONN HALLINAN
CounterPunch
February 13-15, 2015

In the aftermath of last month’s Greek election that vaulted the left anti-austerity party Syriza into power, armies of supporters and detractors—from Barcelona to Berlin—are on the move. While Germany’s Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schaueble, was making it clear that Berlin would brook no change in the European Union’s (EU) debt strategy that has impoverished countries like Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Ireland, left organizations from all over Europe met in Barcelona to draw up a plan of battle.

As Schaueble was stonewalling Greek Finance Minister Yanis Karoufakis, the Party of the European Left (PEL), along with assorted Green parties, gathered for the “1st European South Forum” in Catalonia’s capital to sketch out a 10-point “Declaration of Barcelona” aimed at ending “austerity and inequality,” and promoting “democracy and solidarity.”

At first glance, the past two weeks look ominously like September 1914, with opposing forces digging in for a massive bloodletting.

On one hand, the European Central Bank (ECB) — one of the “Troika” members that includes the European Commission (EC) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) — brusquely denied Greece the right to sell government bonds to raise money. Representatives of the Greek government also got little support from other leaders of EU member countries to reduce Athens’ unsustainable $360 billion debt. Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Osborne, grimly opined that “The standoff” between the Eurozone and Greece was “endangering the global economy.”

On the other hand, the Syriza government made it clear that Greece was finished with the austerity policies that crashed its economy, made more than a quarter of the population jobless, and shredded essential social services. And the Barcelona Declaration is a direct challenge to the economic formulas of the Troika and German Chancellor Andrea Merkel: “Merkelism is not invincible. Austerity can stop. Europe can change”, reads the document.

Behind the trenches, however, the situation was far more complex than two sides bunkered down in a winner-take-all battle, and the politics around economic policy more fluid than one might initially conclude.

While Greece will certainly not go back to the failed formula of selling off state-owned enterprises, huge budget cuts, layoffs and onerous taxes, neither is it eager to exit the Eurozone. The latter is composed of 18 out of the 28 EU members that use a common currency, the euro.

For all the sturm und drang coming from Berlin and EU headquarters in Brussels, Syriza’s program is anything but radical, more social democratic than Bolshevik. And a growing number of economists and Europeans are concluding that taking a hard line on Greece might, in the end, endanger the entire EU endeavor.

As a strategy for getting out of debt, austerity has an almost unbroken track record of failure, starting with Latin America in the late 1980s. It has certainly been catastrophic for Greece and, to a lesser extent, Ireland, Portugal, and Spain, and virtually no European country has dodged its impact on employment and social services.

“Austerity” is not just about cutbacks and budget tightening. By increasing unemployment, and introducing “temporary” labor contracts, it severely weakens unions and the ability of workers to bargain for higher wages and improved benefits. Indeed, according to the International Labor Organization, since 2007 wages have either stalled or fallen in most EU countries.

Austerity also accelerates economic inequality. According to the credit Suisse Research Institute, the top 1 percent now control 48.2 percent of the world’s wealth, and inequality in Europe is the highest it has been in a half century. More people are poorer than they were a decade ago, while a few are richer than ever. The latter will be reluctant to moderate the policies that have given them a half-decade of unalloyed profit making.

The Greek election was a shot across the bow for this strategy, and a warning that, while wealth and political power may be related, they are not the same thing:  Governments can be overturned.

But compromise on the Troika’s side will be difficult, in part, because the austerity strategy has been so lucrative for the EU’s elites, in part, because the intransigence of many EU leaders is driven by multiple devils.

There is the “why not us?” devil. The ruling parties in Ireland, Portugal and Spain are spooked, because if Syriza gets a deal on the Greek debt that doesn’t involve crucifying most its population, their own impoverished constituents are going to be asking some hard questions and demanding something similar.

Spain’s right-wing Popular Party is nervously looking over its shoulder at the growing strength of the anti-austerity Podemos party. It was no accident that the ELP chose Spain for its conference:  Podemos is drawing 24 percent in national polls and is the only party in the country currently growing. It is now the second largest in Spain.  With local and national elections coming up this year — the former in May, the latter in December — Spain’s two mainstream parties are running scared.

So, too, are the governments in Portugal and Ireland that went along with the austerity demands of the troika and now face expanding anti-austerity parties on their left.

Another devil is the right, although last May’s European parliamentary elections demonstrated that when the left clearly articulated an anti-austerity program, voters picked it over the right. What those elections also showed, however, is that when the center-left went along with austerity — as it did in Britain and France — the right made gains.

German Chancellor Andrea Merkel is apprehensive about losing votes to the right-wing, anti-EU Alternate Party for Germany. British Prime Minister David Cameron is trying to fend off the rightist United Kingdom Independence Party, and French President Francois Hollande is running behind Marine Le Pen of the anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic National Front Party.

There are strong right-wing parties in Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands, although, in the latter two, their poll numbers fell in the European parliamentary elections.

What those last May elections suggest is that any effort to co-opt the right’s politics or base by moving in its direction does little more than feed the beast. Greece’s experiences are instructive. The neo-Nazi New Dawn Party is also anti-austerity, but Syriza trounced them in last month’s election. At the same time, Syriza’s warning that austerity fuels the politics of the right is almost certainly true. In an economic crisis, there are always those who turn to the dark side and its simplistic explanations for their condition:  immigrants, Roma, Jews, and “slackers.”

While the European right is worrisome, it has generally lost head-on battles with the left, because the right has little to offer besides the politics of racism and xenophobia.

And Europe needs answers. The Greek crisis is a crisis of the entire EU. To one extent or other, every country — even Germany, the EU’s engine — is characterized by falling or anemic wage growth, increasing economic inequality, spreading deflation, and an overall decline in living standards. It is this general malaise that the Barcelona Declaration is taking aim at.

Continue reading at:  CounterPunch

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The Casino Republic – The Real Ruler of Israel: Sheldon Adelson

The Casino Republic – The Real Ruler of Israel:  Sheldon Adelson

by URI AVNERY
CounterPunch
February 13-15, 2015

Who is the ruler of Israel?

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, of course.

WRONG.

The real ruler of Israel is one Sheldon Adelson, 81, American Jew, Casino king, who was rated as the world’s tenth richest person, worth 37.2 billion dollars at the latest count. But who is counting?

Besides his casinos in Las Vegas, Pennsylvania, Macao and Singapore, he owns the US Republican party and, lately, both Houses of the US Congress.

He also owns Binyamin Netanyahu.

Adelson’s connection with Israel is personal. On a blind date, he fell in love with an Israeli woman.

Miriam Farbstein was born in Haifa, attended a prestigious high school, completed her army service in the Israeli institute, which deals with bacteriological warfare, and is a multifaceted scientist. After one of her sons (from her first marriage) died of an overdose, she is devoted to the fight against drugs, especially cannabis.

Both Adelsons are fanatical supporters of Israel. Not just any Israel, but a rightist, supremacist, arrogant, violent, expansionist, annexationist, non-compromising, colonialist Israel.

In “Bibi” Netanyahu they found their man. Through Netanyahu they hope to rule Israel as their private fief.

To assure this, they did an extraordinary thing:  they founded an Israeli newspaper solely devoted to the furthering of the interests of Binyamin Netanyahu. Not of the Likud, not of a specific policy, but of Netanyahu personally.

Years ago I invented a Hebrew word for papers which are distributed for nothing. “Hinamon” translates, roughly, into “ragratis” or “gratissue”, and was intended to denigrate. But I did not dream of a monster like “Israel Hayom” (“Israel Today”) – a paper with unlimited funds and distributed every day for nothing in the streets and malls all over the country by hundreds, perhaps thousands of paid young persons.

Israelis love getting something for nothing. Israel Hayom is now the daily paper with the widest distribution in Israel. It drains readers and advertising revenue from its only competitor, Yedioth Ahronoth (“Latest News”), which held this title until then.

Yedioth reacted furiously. It became a ferocious enemy of Netanyahu. Yossi Werter, a commentator of the center-left Haaretz (which has a far lower circulation), even believes that the present election boils down to a contest between the two papers.

That is vastly exaggerated. Judged by political and social content, there is little to differentiate the two. Both are super-patriotic, war-mongering and rightist. That is the journalistic recipe for attracting the masses anywhere in the world.

Yedioth is owned by the Moses family, a business-minded clan. The present, third-generation publisher is Arnon (“Noni”) Moses, the publicity-shy boss of a large economic empire based on the paper. The paper serves his business interests, but he has no special political interests.

Adelson is unique.

In Israel, betting is forbidden by law. We have no casinos, and secret gambling dens are raided by the police. In our early youth we were taught that casino moguls are bad people, almost like arms merchants. They take the money off poor addicted people, throwing them into despair, even suicide. See Dostoyevsky.

Israelis read Israel Hayom (it’s something for nothing, after all), but they don’t necessarily like the man and his methods. So some members of the Knesset were encouraged to enter a bill forbidding gratis newspapers altogether.

Netanyahu and the Likud party did everything to obstruct this bill. But in the preliminary vote (necessary for private members’ bills), they were beaten in an amazing way. Even members of Netanyahu’s governing coalition voted for it. The cameras caught Netanyahu literally running in the Knesset plenum hall to gain his seat before the voting started.

The vote was 43 to 23. Almost half the Likud members absented themselves. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and his party voted for the bill. So did ministers Ya’ir Lapid and Tzipi Livni.

From the preliminary vote to the final adoption, such a bill has to pass several stages. There was plenty of time to bury it in one of the committees. But Netanyahu was furious. A few days after the vote, he dismissed Lapid and Livni from the cabinet, causing the government coalition to break up and the Knesset to disperse.

Why did Netanyahu do such a foolish thing less then halfway through his (third) term of office? There can be only one logical explanation:  he was ordered to do so by Adelson, in order to prevent the adoption of the law.

If so, Adelson is now our chief lawmaker. Perhaps he is also our chief government-maker.

Money plays an ever-increasing role in politics. Election propaganda is made on television, which is very expensive. Both in Israel and the US, legal and illegal funds pour into the campaign, directly and indirectly. Corruption is abetted or tolerated by the courts. The very rich (known euphemistically in America as the “wealthy”) exercise undue influence.

In the last US presidential elections, Adelson poured rivers of dollars into the contest. He supported Newt Gingrich, then Mitt Romney, with huge sums of money. In vain. Perhaps Americans don’t like to be ruled by captains of casinos.

For the next US presidential elections, Adelson has started early. He has summoned to his Las Vegas casino HQ all leading Republican candidates to grill them on their allegiance to him – and to Netanyahu. Nobody dared to refuse the summons. Would a Roman senator refuse the summons of Caesar?

In Israel, such rituals are superfluous. The Adelsons – both Miri and Sheldon – know who their man is.

The Israel Hayom newspaper is, of course, a big propaganda machine, totally devoted to the re-election of Netanyahu. All quite legal. In a democracy, who can tell a newspaper whom to support? We are still a democracy, for God’s sake!

It seems to be strange for a country to allow a foreigner, who never lived in the country, to have such enormous power over its future, indeed, over its very existence.

That’s where Zionism comes in. According to the Zionist creed, Israel is the state of the Jews, all the Jews. Every Jew in the world belongs to Israel, even if temporarily residing somewhere else. A few days ago, Netanyahu publicly claimed to represent not just the State of Israel but also the entire “Jewish People”. No need to ask them.

Accordingly, Adelson is not really a foreigner. He is one of us. True, he cannot vote in Israel, though his wife probably can. But many people, including himself, believe that he, being a Jew, has a perfect right to interfere in our affairs and dominate our lives.

Continue reading at:  CounterPunch

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