Posts Tagged ‘‘Counterpunch’’

Counterpunch on America’s Long Racist Hatred of Haiti

January 17, 2018

I blogged earlier this week about how Haiti was the first Black republic, where its enslaved people threw off their chains under the Black revolutionary, Toussaint Louverture, and threw out their French colonial overlords at the time of the French Revolution. The country became an inspiration to slaves struggling for their freedom in America and the Caribbean, and created panic among the European masters. They feared that their slaves were in contact with the Haitian revolutionaries, and that the next Black revolt would succeed where the others had been suppressed. And from the late 18th through the early 19th century, there were a series of revolts in the Caribbean by slaves, impatient for their freedom.

Mark Schuller, the Associate Professor of Anthropology and NGO Leadership and Development at Northern Illinois University, and affiliate at the Faculte d’Anthroplogie, l’Universitat d’Etat d’Haiti, wrote a piece discussing Haiti and America’s obsessive hatred of the country. Put simply, it’s because the American plantation masters were terrified of the example the Black republic gave to their slaves, and so they did everything they could to limit discussion of it and ultimately to conquer and dominate it. And not just America, but also France, and the exploitation and class rule imposed by the Americans under neoliberalism after the overthrow of the last Haitian president. He writes

What is behind Trump – and white America’s – obsession with Haiti?

Haiti has been targeted for its decisive role in challenging what Southern planters – including eight U.S. Presidents – called a “peculiar institution.” The Haitian Revolution was the first time slaves were able to permanently end slavery and forge an independent nation. It also was a tipping point in U.S. history, leading to the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, paving the way for U.S. “Manifest Destiny” stretching from sea to shining sea and eventual dominance. Chicago, the country’s third largest city, was founded by a Haitian, Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, who Haitian historian Marc Rosier called an “agent” of the Haitian government to pursue a pro-freedom international policy.

Haiti’s contribution to U.S. “greatness” has long been unacknowledged. The pivotal Haitian Revolution was literally “unthinkable,” as Haitian anthropologist Michel-Rolph Trouillot argued. The demonization of Haiti was so strong, its inspiration to slaves so dangerous, that Congress imposed a gag order in 1824, preventing the word Haiti from being uttered in Congress, a year after the imperialist Monroe Doctrine.

White supremacy was not defeated in the Appatomox Court House in 1865, nor the 13th Amendment that allowed for a back-door legalization of slavery, nor in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling, nor in the 1965 Voting Rights Act following “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, nor in the 2008 election of the first African American President.

Through it all, as Haitian anthropologist Gina Athena Ulysse analyzed, Haiti has served as the “bête noir” in a deliberate smear campaign against the descendants of the people who said no to white supremacy.

These narratives of Haiti continued throughout the initial response to the 2010 earthquake, from the likes of televangelist Pat Robertson and the New York Times’ David Brooks. As New Yorker contributing writer Doreen St. Felix pointed out, this obsession with Haiti has to do with white society’s rejection of black self-determination.

These discourses have definite and powerful material consequences.

France, which in 2001 declared slavery a “crime against humanity,” extorted 150 million francs from Haiti as a condition of recognition of Haitian independence, plunging Haiti into a 120-year debt that consumed up to 80% of Haiti’s tax base. Socialist president Jacques Chirac scoffed at Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s demand for reparations before being the first to call for his resignation in 2004.

Calling Haiti “ungovernable” provided justification for U.S. intervention: The United States invaded Haiti twenty-six times from 1849 to 1915, when U.S. Marines landed and occupied the country for nineteen years. During the U.S. Occupation, the Marines set up the modern army, opened up land for foreign ownership, solidified class and racial inequality, laying the groundwork for the 1957-1971 Duvalier dictatorship.

Incorrectly blaming Haiti for its role in the AIDS epidemic killed the tourist industry, which, along with the deliberate destruction of Haiti’s pig population, sent the economy in a nosedive. Neoliberal capitalist interests seized the opportunity to take advantage of the massive rural exodus to build sweatshops, exploiting people’s misery by offering the lowest wages in the world. With poverty wages, and a crippling foreign debt that according to the IMF’s own recordkeeping went to the paramilitary tonton makout, Port-au-Prince’s shantytowns had no services and no government oversight. These foreign interventions were the main killer in the 2010 earthquake.

He also makes the point that the accusation that indigenous Haitians were ‘looters’, along with other racist claims, meant that the efforts of the Haitian people themselves in combating the disasters that beset their country were ignored. The Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission was chaired by Bill Clinton, and the humanitarian aid coordinated by the UN. Native Haitians were excluded from these meetings either by foreign soldiers, or by the simple fact that they were in English, while Haiti itself is a bilingual country, speaking French and a French-based creole. The NGOs themselves had a top down, hierarchical structure, excluding people in the refugee camps from their decisions. The result was the break-up of Haitian families, and increasing violence against women.

His article ends:

Calling the world’s beacon of freedom a “shithole” sullies not only Haiti’s ten million residents on the island and three million in the U.S., but is an affront to human freedom and equality.

As award-winning Haitian author Edwidge Danticat argued, “today we mourn. Tomorrow we fight.”

See: https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/01/16/what-is-a-shithole-country-and-why-is-trump-so-obsessed-with-haiti/

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The Feminist Arguments against the Metoo Activism at the Golden Globes

January 15, 2018

Last Sunday, 7th January 2018, was the Golden Globes. This got on the news around the world, not just because of the coverage of which actors and films were given awards, but because the female actors wore black in solidarity with all the women, who had suffered sexual abuse, harassment and exploitation. This culminated in one of the leading actors at the ceremony announcing that Hollywood’s ladies would stand in solidarity with every woman, who had suffered such sexual abuse and assault, and that they would be dedicating a special fund to help poor women sue their abusers.

Coming after the scandals about Harvey Weinstein, Roger Ailes and others at Fox News, including its long running host, Bill O’Reilly, such an announcement is clearly well meant, and for many women facing the cost of having to drag their abuser, who is probably their boss, through the courts, the prospect of being able to get some money from a charity dedicated to helping them would surely be welcome. But not all women, and not all feminists, saw it quite like that.

Roza Halibi in Counterpunch and the Sane Progressive on YouTube both put up pieces about it, criticising the move. Many women, including the French actress Catherine Deneuve, are critical of the #Metoo movement as they feel it demonises men. All men are now being viewed as sexual predators, real or potential. They also object to the way distasteful and unpleasant forms of sexual contact – like the boss with wandering hands – has been lumped in and conflated with far more serious forms of sexual abuse, like rape and women being told that if they don’t sleep with their boss, they’ll lose their jobs. Groping is unpleasant and humiliating, and it’s quite right that there should be a campaign to stop it. But it’s not at the same level as the other two.

They also found the stance of the individual actresses involved in the speech and this display of solidarity hypocritical. Weinstein’s behaviour was known for years by people within Hollywood, including Meryl Streep. And at the time they kept their mouths firmly shut. Some of this might have been because Weinstein was a powerful man, and no matter how respected and successful they were as ‘A’ list actors, he could have the power to destroy their careers, as he threatened numerous aspiring actresses if they wouldn’t sleep with him. But some of it no doubt was also the attitude of the time, to put up with it regardless.

But there’s also an attitude that the speeches against sexual harassment and exploitation were also a form of faux feminism, by rich, entitled women, who were trying to appropriate the protests by ordinary, middle and lower class women. Critics like the Sane Progressive and Halibi have argued that the successful protests always come from below. They are won by ordinary working people standing up for themselves and demanding further rights and change. They are not achieved by members of the upper classes deciding that they will charitably act as the saviours of the lower orders. The #Metoo activism at the Golden Globes represents very rich, entitled women trying to take control of a protest by their sisters lower down the social scale, and wrest it away from any meaningful challenge to a corrupt system as a whole.

The same critics have also made the point that the #Metoo activism has also acted as a diversion. Sexual abuse is only part of a whole series of problems corporate capitalism is inflicting on American society. This includes mass poverty and starvation, the further denial of rights to low paid workers, Trump’s attempts to repeal Obamacare and destroy Medicare, the destruction of the environment, and the political paralysis caused by a corrupt party system taking money and its orders from wealthy donors in big business, rather than acting in the interests of ordinary citizens. All of these issues need tackling, but the leadership of the Democrat party has become, under the Clintons and Obama, as thoroughly corporatist as the Republicans, and has no interest in tackling these issues. That would harm the interests of their donors in big business. So they make symbolic liberal gestures. Like Hillary Clinton’s bid for the presidency last year. Her policies were more neoliberalism, corporate greed, and aggressive militarism. For ordinary Americans she offered nothing but more poverty and exploitation. But she claimed that, because she was female, she was somehow an outsider, and that a victory for her would thus be a victory for women. Even though, as the lowest paid group, women would have suffered the most from a Clinton presidency. If you didn’t vote for Clinton, you were automatically a misogynist. And if you were a woman, and didn’t vote for her, she and her followers denied it was because you had opinions of your own. Rather, you were just doing what your husband or boyfriend told you. So much for Clinton believing in women’s independence and their agency as human beings.

But this experience of a very rich, entitled woman trying to make herself appear liberal when she was anything but, has clearly coloured some left-wing and feminist attitudes in America towards other attempts by the rich to embrace or promote left-wing causes. Clinton’s liberalism was a fraud, and so some people are suspicious that the actresses stressing their commitment to rooting out sexual abuse are less than wholehearted in their determination to ending the general poverty, exploitation and other issues plaguing American society. And just as the corporate Democrats are desperate to take power away from the real radical left, like Bernie Sanders, so these ladies are trying to take power away from ordinary women, determined to solve the problem their own way. Because this challenges their position in society and their political influence as arbiters and spokespeople of the nation’s conscience.

Now I think the #metoo speeches were well meant, regardless of the possible hypocrisy of some of the actresses involved, and hopefully some women will benefit from the money available to sue their abusers. But the Guardian’s Marina Hyde a few years ago wrote a book, Celebrity: How Entertainers Took Over the World And Why We Need an Exit Strategy, pointing out numerous instances where Hollywood celebs decided to take over a cause, only to make the situation worse. There’s a very good case to be made against such Hollywood activism. And this problem may well become more acute, as more celebs decide to promote symbolic issues, while leaving the other problems affecting ordinary people untouched.

Declassified Irish Documents: MI5 Tried to Get UVF to Assassinate Charles Haughey

January 3, 2018

There’s an interesting article in Counterpunch today by John Wight, which might add a new dimension to the government losing around 2,000 files from the National Archives last week. The files were supposed to have been taken out by Home Office civil servants, and covered a range of very sensitive incidents, from the notorious Zinoviev Letter, through to the assassination in the 1970s of the Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov, and the dirty war in Northern Ireland. Human Rights campaigners were alarmed in case this was an attempt to cover up human rights violations by the British state in Ulster in the long campaign against the IRA and related terror groups. The Zinoviev Letter, you will remember, was the forged letter by the British security services, which purported to be from Zinoviev, the head of Stalin’s Comintern, congratulating the Labour party on preparing to take over Britain in a revolution.

A number of Labour MPs have already made their feeling about the disappearance of the files clear, stating that this is another Orwellian attempt by the Tories to rewrite or obscure history.

It is, and this isn’t the first time the Tories have borrowed sensitive files to make sure they’re out of circulation. Anyone remember a similar incident a few years ago, when government documents similarly went missing from the archives, only for the minister responsible to claim that he had just ‘innocently’ taken them away to help him with a book he was writing? I didn’t believe that story then. The Tories have offered no excuse now, which does make you wonder what they’re trying to hide.

Some clue to this comes from Irish government documents from the 1980s that have been released under their 30-year rule. This includes a letter from the Protestant terrorist group, the UVF, to Charles Haughey, informing him that they were approached by an MI5 officer, who wished them to assassinate the Irish president. John Wight in his article about this in today’s Counterpunch writes

Said papers confirm that in 1987 the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), one of the oldest and most notorious of the various loyalist/Protestant paramilitary organizations that were engaged in sectarian violence in the province during the Troubles, wrote to the then Irish Prime Minister Charles Haughey in Dublin, informing him that in 1985 they were approached by Britain’s domestic intelligence service, MI5, with a request to assassinate him.

We learn that in the letter the UVF told Mr Haughey, “In 1985 we were approached by a MI5 officer attached to the NIO (Northern Ireland Office) and based in Lisburn, AlexJones was his supposed name. He asked us to execute you.” The letter subsequently goes on to allege that Britain’s MI5 supplied the group with information such as pictures of Haughey’s home, his private yacht, and details of the vehicles he travelled in.

The UVF refused follow through on MI5’s request, telling Mr Haughey, “We have no love for you but we are not going to carry out work for the Dirty Tricks Department of the British.”

https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/01/03/britains-dirty-war-in-ireland-revisited/

In fact, MI5 and the British government probably weren’t the only ones making covert plans to overthrow the opposite side. Way back in the 1980s or ’90s, Lobster covered a piece in the Irish Republican newspaper, An Phoblacht, which claimed that there had been a scheme during Haughey’s premiership to stir up sectarian violence in order to provide a pretext for an invasion of Ulster from the Republic. The plan was that after rioting and sectarian violence, armed forces from the south would enter the Six Countries as a peace-keeping force. If this is also true, then nobody, on either side of the Irish border, ends up looking good. Or anything other than deeply duplicitous and murderous.

In fact, there is plenty of evidence that the British state was supplying intelligence to the loyalist terror gangs, so that they could assassinate leading Republicans, as Wight’s article goes on to discuss. And there is also evidence that secret SAS units were being embedded within regular army units in Northern Ireland to act as death squads. All of which makes it very clear that there’s much in the files that this Tory government would very, very much want to hide.

Mike has already suggested that a way to stop files going missing in the future would be for the National Archives to be run like a proper library: those borrowing books have a ticket, and it is known who has borrowed what, and that they must return it on time. I completely agree, but this is too efficient, and would prevent the government from having a convenient pretext with which to lose files when their contents prove inconvenient.

And the government’s behaviour in this respect is very much like the Russian authorities during the old Communist system. Foreign researchers were at liberty to use files in the Soviet archives. However, if you wanted something sensitive or incriminating, you’d be told that those files were out. Which sounds exactly like what has been going on here.

The Western Myth of Buddhist Tolerance Blinding the World to Its Persecution of Muslims

December 17, 2017

The clip below is a grim report from The Young Turks about the methodical rape of Rohingya women in Myanmar by the Buddhist armed forces. This comes from a report from the Associated Press with 29 women and girls, who had fled to refugee camps in Bangladesh. Some of these testimonies are very disturbing. In one instance, a woman was nine months pregnant, when she was caught by the soldiers and raped. She couldn’t get away because of her condition. Nevertheless, her husband, who sounds like a scumbag himself, is blaming her. She didn’t run fast enough. He, however, had already scarpered. In another interview, one woman told of how she and her husband were both caught, and her other half was tied to a tree while the Myanmar storm troopers gang raped her in front of him. When he began to scream and cry at what was being done to his wife, they stabbed and killed him.

Savagery, brutality and violence are part of the human condition, and are found in people of every race, creed and political ideology. Buddhism is no different from any other religion or ideology in this regard. But M. Reza Pirbhai published an article in Counterpunch in September this year, 2017, arguing that the world’s failure to respond adequately to the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar was partly due to the western, liberal myth that Buddhism is uniquely tolerant. He begins his article by arguing that the silence and reluctance to condemn the atrocities is partly due to western imperialist perceptions of Islam as uniquely evil. He then goes on to argue that the positive image Buddhism has as a uniquely tolerant religion was created in the 19th century by disaffected western intellectuals. Alienated by the sectarianism and bigotry of their own Christian culture, they turned to the Buddhist east, and so created an entirely false image of the religion as uniquely peaceful and tolerant. He writes

Academia is in fact rife with examples of scholarship that touts the tolerance and inclusiveness of Buddhists and the general argument is nothing new. According to Thomas A. Tweed, Professor of History at Notre Dame University, increasing awareness of religious diversity due to colonial expansion and Christian missionizing led Euro-American Enlightenment intellectuals repelled by Christian sectarianism to consider Buddhism to fit the bill of the “natural religion” (or “perennial philosophy”) they sought, one that exuded “tolerance” toward people of different faiths and was amenable to scientific progress. So convinced were they that some, such as the nineteenth century German-American scholar Paul Carus, even chastised Asian Buddhists when they launched polemical assaults on Christian missionaries, accusing the Asians of using language the “Buddha certainly would not…” So was born the pervasive myth, characteristically articulated by the early twentieth century Swedish-American Theosophist Herman Vetterling, that Buddhism is “a religion of noble tolerance, of universal brotherhood, of righteousness and justice,” and that in its growth as the religion of a global community it had not “caused the spilling of a drop of blood.”

Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Michael Jerryson, picks up where Tweed signs off to show that the tendency to associate Buddhism with tolerance did not die in the early twentieth century or remain bound in an ivory tower. In the wake of World War II, it found its way into the writings of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, marching further forward in time with such works as Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and by the 1980s assumed political dimensions in the form of the Free Tibet Movement. And finally, who can forget (even if you want to) Keanu Reeves in Bernardo Bertolucci’s Little Buddha.

Social history, however, tells a different tale than Orientalists and popular culture. For every instance of forbearance, history also provides examples of violent intolerance legitimated by Buddhist doctrines and conducted by practitioners. As many ancient Jain and Brahmanical texts speak of persecution at the hands of Indian Buddhists, as Buddhists accuse their South Asian competitors of the same. And consider Jerryson’s examples of the sixth century Chinese Buddhist monk Faqing, who promised his 50,000 followers that every opponent they killed would take them to a higher stage in the bodhisattva’s path. Or recall that with the advent of nationalism, Buddhist monks rallied to the cause as with Japanese Rinzai support for the military campaign against the Russians in 1904-5, or Zen and Pureland Buddhist justifications of the Japanese invasions of China, Korea and Singapore during World War II. Buddhism has been corrupted in these places, they argued, and violence is necessary to insure that ‘true’ Buddhism is restored and preserved. The same rhetoric – of some fundamental Buddhism under threat – also underwrites the more recently nationalized bigotry and violence that Buddhist monks and laypersons have unleashed on non-Buddhists in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and, last but not least, Myanmar.

https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/09/13/rohingya-and-the-myth-of-buddhist-tolerance/

It isn’t just Muslims, who are in a perilous position in Myanmar. So too are the country’s Roman Catholics, who are also under the threat of Buddhist persecution. This explains why the Pope was very careful not to describe the Rohingya as indigenous Burmese when he decried the violence against them the other week. He was afraid of upsetting the authorities too much, and calling down persecution on the country’s Christian population. At least according to another article in Counterpunch.

Pirbhai’s article notes that Buddhist priests, laymen and armed forces have also carried out atrocities against those of rival or different religions elsewhere, including Sri Lanka. In May 2013 Tariq Ali also published a piece about rising Sri Lankan Buddhist fundamentalism. This was during the conflict between the Sinhalese majority and the Tamils, who wanted a separate state and union with India. The Sinhalese are Buddhists, while the Tamils are Hindu, although the Tamil Tigers, the revolutionary force fighting for independence, were Marxists and therefore atheists. The civil war resulted in horrific atrocities, for which the Sri Lankan army was condemned, but little action taken by the West. And Muslims there were also the victims of Buddhist intolerance. Ali wrote:

Four years after the brutal assault on the Tamil population and the killing of between 8—10,000 Tamils by the Sri Lankan army, there is trouble again. The saffron-robed fanatics, led by the BBS—Bodu Bala Sena: the most active and pernicious of Buddhist fundamentalist groups that have sprouted in Sinhala strongholds throughout the island— are on the rampage again. This time the target is the relatively small Muslim minority. Muslim abattoirs have been raided, butchers shops attacked, homes targeted. Terrified kids and adults in Muslim areas are living in fear. The police stand by watching passively while the Sri Lankan TV crews film the scenes as if it were a school picnic.

A few weeks ago, Buddhist monks led some hoodlums and attacked the car sales room of a Muslim-owned company (Emerald Trading) in Pepliyana. Reason? An employee was stepping out with a young Sinhala woman and her father had complained to a local monk. A journalist on The Sunday Leader (a courageous broadsheet whose editor Lasantha Wickramatunga had, four months ago, denounced President Rajapaksa for corruption, predicted in print that he would be killed as a result and was) reported on 2 April that, ‘Following the complaint, an eye-witness saw a monk leaving one of the temples in Pepiliyana followed by a group of youths, mostly under 25 years of age. The group carried stones and, people were later to discover, kerosene…’

As if the anti-Tamil pogroms were not enough to satisfy the blood-lust, a BBS blogger explained the ‘reasoning’ behind the targeting of Muslims in the Colombo Telegraph (6 March 2013):

“Muslims have been living in this country since 7th century and now only they want to have Halal food in Sri Lanka. Population wise they are only 5%. If we allow Halal, next time they will try to introduce circumcision on us. We have to nip these in the bud before it becomes a custom. We should never allow the Muslims and Christians to control anything in Sri Lanka. What is Halal to Muslims is Harem to Sinhala Buddhists. Slaughtering cow and eating beef should also be banned in Sri Lanka. Instead, we should promote pork. We are glad that the parliament has re-introduced pork in their menu. Hijab, burqa, niqab and purdah should be banned in Sri Lanka. The law and the legislature should always be under the control of the Sinhala-Buddhists and our Nationalist Patriotic president. After all, Sri Lanka is a gift from Buddha to the Sinhalese.”

Difficult to imagine how circumcision could be ‘nipped in the bud’ even by a buddhist, or how the percentage of the Muslim population could have decreased from 9.7 percent in 2011 to 5 percent today. It has undoubtedly gone down but demographers doubt it could have done so by more than one or two percent at the most. The decline is obviously a direct result of unchecked harassment and persecution. It has gone down over the last few decades. The Tamils did their bit. Muslims in Tamil-majority areas were harassed and effectively driven out by ethnic purists from both the communities. They regret what they did now because it has been done to them on a much larger scale.

If it were only the BBS mouthing this nonsense, it would be one thing. But many within Sinhala political-military mainstream pander to rhetoric of this sort. In Pottuvil in the Ampara district, for instance, where the Muslims are a majority, the uniformed soldiers have been collaborating with the local monks and monasteries to erect Buddhist statues and inflaming the region in noise pollution via loudspeakers which start early with Buddhist hymns and a nightly replay. Local women who own land are being driven off it: the monasteries steal as the army provides protection.

The 1911 consensus revealed, as has always been the case, that the Buddhists compose a huge majority (70.2 percent), followed by the Tamil Hindus (12.6), Muslims (9.7) and Christians (7.4). Nobody threatens the Buddha or his followers except fanatics from within.

https://www.counterpunch.org/2013/05/03/on-buddhist-fundamentalism/

Ali ends his article with a report of Buddhist sectarian attacks on Muslim fishermen in Myanmar.

And will talk of Burma joining the Commonwealth be nipped in the bud? Buddhists have clashed with a tiny Muslim minority and driven them out of their villages, though the cause in this case appears to be material rather than ethno-religious Puritanism. The Buddhists wanted the land for themselves. A macabre confrontation resulted in, of all places, an Indonesian refugee camp where the Burmese Muslims had been provided with shelter. Eight Burmese Buddhist fisherman whose vessel had foundered in nearby waters were also rescued by the Indonesians and taken to the same camp. That night the two sides battled and all the fishermen apart from one were killed. Muslim casualties were two dead, and seven wounded.

It was an ominous precursor of the mass violence against the Rohingya that broke out a few years later.

Pirbhai ends his article by noting no religion has the monopoly on violence. But the myth of Buddhism as uniquely peaceful and tolerant is blinding Americans to the savagery that Buddhists, as humans, are capable of committing.

“No religion has a monopoly on ‘violent people’,” Jerryson astutely concludes, “nor does any one religion have a greater propensity for violence.” All religions are vast complexes of thought and institutions and devotees of each can always find legitimacy for hostility or hospitality toward the other depending on mundane needs or wants. It is for this very reason that the apparent disconnect between historical Buddhism and the sustained Euro-American myth of its tolerance is as malignant as the perpetual dehumanization of Islam and Muslims is cancerous. These Buddhists have long been the good guys and those Muslims the bad in this lore. Each is a necessary fiber in the liberal fabric of Euro-American imagination that veils the gaze of international law when it comes to the murder and displacement of the Rohingya.

Ken Surin on How Privatisation Wrecked New Zealand’s Electricity Grid

December 14, 2017

Today’s Counterpunch has a very interesting piece by Ken Surin giving his selective impressions of New Zealand. Throughout the article he calls the country by its Maori name, Aotearoa, and part of the article is about the poverty and marginalisation that is particularly experienced by New Zealand’s indigenous people and Pacific Islanders. He begins the article with his reminiscences of on-pitch violence by the county police and county farmers’ teams when he played university rugby back in the ’60s. This has a tenuous connection to the rest of the article as two of his team mates came from the country. He then goes on to discuss the effects of neoliberalism on New Zealand. Reading his article, I got the impression that New Zealand did not suffer as much as other nations from the neoliberal agenda of privatisation, wage restraint, welfare cuts and rampant deregulation. But at the same time, he argues that it hasn’t done as much as it could either to stop and reverse it.

From this side of the Pacific, one of the most interesting pieces of the article is his description of the way privatisation wrecked the New Zealand electricity network when it was introduced, leading to a power outage, or outages, lasting five weeks.

Aucklanders of a certain age remember the Great Power Outage, symptomatic of their country’s dalliance with neoliberalism, that lasted for 5 weeks from late February 1998.

New Zealand’s electric industry had been deregulated, and the company running Auckland’s grid, Mercury Energy, had been formed in 1992. Mercury promptly downsized its workforce from 1,411 to 600, and skimped on cable maintenance to boost profits. At the time of the Great Power Outage, Mercury Energy was also busy trying to take over another electric utility, again to enhance revenues.

One of several assessments of the handling of the Outage by Mercury Energy and the city’s administration described their response, somewhat charitably, as “ad hoc”. They predicated their responses throughout the crisis on best-case scenarios, and were flummoxed when none materialized.

Practical preparation for worst-case scenarios costs money— duh! – and thus erodes profit margins.

Auckland’s electricity was/is supplied by 4 poorly maintained mega-cables (there have been five serious outages since the 1998 crisis), which failed in quick succession.

Traffic lights stopped working, ventilation systems broke down in the southern hemisphere summer, people were trapped for hours in elevators, food rotted in supermarkets, hospitals had to cancel operations, emergency services were put under extreme pressure, workers had to hike up 20 floors in high-rise buildings to get to their offices, and giant generators had to be flown in from Australia to tide the city over while the mega-cables were repaired over the course of the 5 weeks.

Harsh jokes were made about Auckland’s Third World electricity grid. One example: what did Aucklanders use before candles and oil lamps? Answer: electricity.

The mayor, whose city was becoming a laughing stock, and whose competence was questioned as the crisis dragged on, lost his bid for reelection soon afterwards, while Mercury’s CEO died of a heart attack at his desk.

Neoliberalism can be death-dealing, even for its beneficiaries and overseers.

See: https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/12/14/selective-impressions-of-the-new-zealand-aotearoa-conjuncture/

And other economists have pointed out that neoliberalism has been no more successful elsewhere. The American author of Zombie Economics, a Harvard economist, has pointed out that privatisation has not brought in the investment the electricity industry has needed, and resulted in worse performance than when they were state owned.

The Tories and corporate apologists for private industry like to go on about how terrible the British nationalised industries were in trying to put people off voting for Jeremy Corbyn and Labour, who have promised to renationalise electricity and the railway network. A few days ago the I newspaper in their selection of quotes from elsewhere in the press had a paragraph from the Spectator’s Karren Bradey banging on about this, before stating that Corbyn was a ‘Communist’ who was hanging on to an outmoded theory because of ‘weird beliefs’. Which I would say is, with the exception of the term ‘Communist’, a fair description of most Conservatives and other cultists for the free market. They are indeed continuing to support a grotty, failed ideology long past its sell-by date for their own weird reasons. This is an effective rebuttal to their claims.

He also describes how the introduction of neoliberalism into New Zealand wrecked the economy, and created more poverty while cutting taxes for the rich:

The New Zealand economy duly tanked– shrinking by 1% between 1985 and 1992, while productivity stagnated at below 1% between 1984 and 1993, and inflation remained at around 9% a year. Foreign debt quadrupled, and the country’s credit rating was downgraded twice. Taxes were cut for top earners (from 66% to 33%), while benefits were reduced by up to 30% for the poorest families. The number of poor grew by around 35% between 1989 and 1992.

This is exactly what we’ve experienced in this country during these seven years of Tory rule. And New Zealand and Britain aren’t going to be the only nations who’ve suffered these effects. They’re general, right across the globe. Neoliberalism is responsible for these problems. Except if you’re Theresa May and the Tories, who’ll bleat constantly about how all it’s all due to the last, ‘high-spending’ Labour government.

Rubbish. Neoliberalism is an utter and complete failure. It’s promoted by the Tories as it makes the rich even richer while keeping the rest of us poor and desperate. It’s time it was ended and a proper Labour government under Corbyn was elected.

Netanyahu Rejects Liberal American Jews for Christian Zionists

December 8, 2017

Yesterday, 7th December 2017, Jonathan Cook published a very revealing piece about Netanyahu’s attitude to towards liberal American Jews in Counterpunch. The Israeli butcher is basically turning his back on them. Cook begins his piece by noting that most American Jews are politically liberal domestically. But they support Israel, and have been prepared to overlook or support the atrocities it has committed as they believed they had the right to a strong state themselves following the Holocaust. But he goes on to argue that Netanyahu’s increasing intolerance towards liberal Judaism makes this position increasingly difficult, and that they will have to confront their hypocrisy.

Much of this centres around the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, the remains of Solomon’s Temple. At the moment it’s controlled by Orthodox rabbis, who do not want Reform Jews and women praying there. There was an attempt to set up a special space for them, but the Orthodox was resolutely against it and Netanyahu caved in. As a result there has been outrage amongst Jewish Americans. Avraham Infield, a liaison to the American Jewish community, told Haaretz that many Jewish Americans now believe that Israel doesn’t give a dam’ about them.

Matters have been made worse by Tzipi Hotovely, the deputy foreign minister. She criticised American Jews for not fighting in either the US or Israeli militaries. They were leading ‘convenient lives’. Cook notes that this echoes the views of Orthodox rabbis, who argue that Reform Jews aren’t real Jews, and may even be enemies of Judaism.

This has been accompanied by an increased intolerance of Israeli critics of the regime. Netanyahu’s government has for a long time denounced the Palestinian human rights group B’Tsalem and the veterans’ organisation Breaking the Silence as traitors. But now they have targeted the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, which is the Israeli equivalent of the American Civil Liberties Union. According to Netanyahu, the group supports ‘terrorists’. Recent decisions by the government allow pupils to give racist answers in exams, and expand gender segregation at the universities. The government is also trying criminalise boycotting the Israeli state. There are two bills to make advocating this illegal, punishable with seven years in jail or $150,000 fine. The Defence Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, wants stronger power to clamp down on protesters and critics, including the ability to detain without charge.

And Cook notes that for the first time, Jews are being asked at their airports what their political views are.

He also cites an article in the far-right Israeli newspaper, Makor Rishon, owned by the American casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. This apparently gave Netanyahu’s reasons for turning his back on liberal American Jews. Netanyahu is convinced that the low birth rate and high rate of intermarriage amongst American Reform Jews mean that they will die out within a couple of generations. So he’s abandoned them in favour of cultivating closer ties to Orthodox Jews and Christian evangelicals.

https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/12/07/netanyahu-ditches-us-jews-for-alliance-with-christian-evangelicals-and-the-alt-right/

I am not surprised at Netanyahu’s attitude towards Reform Jews. Orthodox Judaism very much is the religion of the Israeli state. And the pronouncements of leading Jews in this country have shown their intolerance towards Reform Jews. A few years ago, the Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, caused outrage when he declared that Reform Jews were ‘enemies of the faith’. There is indeed a very high rate of intermarriage amongst male secular and Reform Jews in the Diaspora. I think it’s about 80 per cent, though against that the rate of intermarriage for women is much lower. As a result, many Jews are worried that they’re people are disappearing. As for Christian Zionists, as Richard Coughlan pointed out in his video on this issue, they’re the largest Zionist group in America.

It is thus all too credible that Netanyahu is turning his back liberal, American Jews.

I don’t know whether it will force them to reconsider their support for Israel. It may well do so, as an increasing number of young Jewish Americans are coming to despise the country and the way it treats the Palestinians, even when they have been on the heritage tours organised by the Israeli authorities. This includes Jews, who have been victims of anti-Semitism. Other critics of Israel, like Norman Finkelstein, have pointed out that Israel was traditionally very peripheral to mainstream Judaism, and that by far the majority of American Jews wanted to live as equal citizens in America. They definitely did not want to go to Israel, and did not see Israel as having any potential to revive interest in their religion or community.

This all changed in the late 1960s, when Israel defeated the Arabs in the Six Day War. The American Right also seized on these victories as psychological compensation for American defeats in Vietnam. And the Neocon movement was launched by American Jewish Zionists as part of a campaign to drum up support for Israel. American support for Israel is therefore a relatively recent phenomenon.

Whatever happens, I think we can expect more screaming and shouts of anti-Semitism at Israel’s critics, including Jews, as Netanyahu’s government becomes increasingly intolerant. And this may, in turn, cause more people to turn away from supporting Israel, as they find themselves tarred as anti-Semites and supporters of terrorism simply for not being quite so enthusiastic in their support as Netanyahu demands.

Counterpunch Demolishes Some Churchillian Myths

December 8, 2017

There’s a very interesting piece by Louis Proyect over at this weekend’s Counterpunch, The Churchillian Myths of 1940, where he takes a well-observed aim at two of the recent films about the Second World War. One is Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, the other is the forthcoming biopic about Winston Churchill’s battle against the appeasers in the British cabinet in 1940, The Darkest Hour. This hasn’t been released yet, and is set to come out on December 21st (2017). It stars Gary Oldman as Churchill, and is directed by Joe Wright.

Dunkirk’s already attracted much criticism because of its historical inaccuracies. I think it’s been accused of racism, because it ignores the large numbers of the British forces, who were Black and Asian. But Proyect also draws on a critique of the film by Max Hastings of the Telegraph to show how the film presents a very mythical view of Dunkirk. The film has it that the British troops are under constant shooting and bombardment by the Germans, and that they are saved by the flotilla of small vessels that went over there to rescue them. In fact, according to Hastings, the Germans largely left the retreating British alone. As for being saved by the small ships, 2/3 of the troops were rescued by the fleet of big ships that were sent by the navy. There were 37 of these, but six were sunk. Proyect also criticises a scene where the sailors aboard a sinking ship discuss how they are going to get to the surface without being mown down by the Germans. He compares this unfavourably to the Poseidon Adventure, producing the quotes by the critics to show that this is actually a far superior film.

More serious is the way the film deliberately omits atrocities committed on the civilian population by the retreating British. Proyect states that at the time the British squaddies were under immense physical and psychological stress. They responded by shooting anyone that moved, including old women and nuns. This is historical fact. Proyect cites and describes one of these incidents. The trooper had been told to take no prisoners, except for interrogation, and so blazed away accordingly.

As for the Darkest Hour, Proyect draws on an article by Clive Ponting on the Churchill Myth. Older readers of this blog will remember that Ponting was the civil servant Maggie tried to prosecute under the Official Secrets Act because he leaked two documents about the sinking of the Belgrano to the Labour MP Tam Dalyell. Ponting was acquitted, because the jury weren’t about to be told what to do by Maggie.

He points out that in fact the difference of opinion between Churchill and the appeasers, like Lord Halifax and Neville Chamberlain, was actually much smaller than most people realised. At the time, Churchill was in favour of making peace with Germany, and had sent feelers out to see what their terms were. Where he differed from Halifax and Chamberlain was that they were in favour of making an immediate peace, while he wanted to fight on for a few more months.

The film does show Churchill hesitating at one point, and Proyect states that this would have been unthinkable a few years ago, as the official archives were still closed and the only source material available were Churchill’s own self-aggrandising writings. In which he portrayed himself as the resolute warrior.

But this ignores just how pro-Nazi Churchill had been, as well as anti-Semitic. What! Churchill pro-Nazi? The very idea! But he was. In 1937 Churchill wrote of Hitler

Those who have met Herr Hitler face to face in public business or on social terms,” he said, “have found a highly competent, cool, well-informed functionary with an agreeable manner, a disarming smile, and few have been unaffected by a subtle personal magnetism.” Despite the arming of Germany and the hounding of the Jews, “we may yet live to see Hitler a gentler figure in a happier age,” Churchill wrote. He was doubtful, though.

As for Leon Trotsky, Churchill reviled him with all manner abuse, not just because he was a Bolshevik, but also because Trotsky was Jewish. He quotes Nicholson Baker’s Human Smoke, a revision history attacking the notion of World War II as ‘the good war’, from which he also took the above quote about Hitler from Churchill. Baker writes

Churchill also included a short piece on Leon Trotsky, king in exile of international bolshevism. Trotsky was a usurper and tyrant, Churchill said. He was a cancer bacillus, he was a “skin of malice,” washed up on the shores of Mexico. Trotsky possessed, said Churchill, “the organizing command of a Carnot, the cold detached intelligence of a Machiavelli, the mob oratory of a Cleon, the ferocity of Jack the Ripper, the toughness of Titus Oates.”

And in the end what was Trotsky? Who was he? “He was a Jew,” wrote Churchill with finality. “He was still a Jew. Nothing could get over that.” He called his article “Leon Trotsky, Alias Bronstein.”

https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/12/08/the-churchillian-myths-of-1940/

I am not surprised by Proyect’s description of Churchill’s highly equivocal attitude to Nazi Germany. Churchill himself was very authoritarian. He had visited Mussolini’s Italy, though he had not been impressed when the Duce compared the Blackshirts to the Black and Tans, and privately remarked that Musso was ‘a swine’. But he did like General Franco. The historian Martin Pugh, in his book on British Fascism between the Wars, states that Churchill’s opposition to Nazi Germany did not come from any deep ideological view, but simply because he was bitterly suspicious of Germany and believed that it would block British interests in the North Sea. Pugh points out that he didn’t seem concerned that a bloc of Fascist states in southern Europe could do the same to British interests in the Mediterranean.

It would be interesting to know what Peter Hitchens thinks of all this. Hitchens is deeply Conservative, but he is a fierce critic of the Second World War as ‘the good war’, and has absolutely no love of Churchill. Indeed, in his book taking aim at New Atheism a few years ago, The Rage Against God, he attacked the cult of Churchill as a kind of ersatz religion, put in place of Christianity. It’s a bit of stretch, as it wasn’t quite an exercising in God-building that the Soviets tried. In the former USSR there was a brief movement after the Revolution to create a kind of atheistic religion, centred around great revolutionary heroes, to harness religious sentiments for the cause of Communism. The cult around Churchill isn’t quite like that. But nevertheless, to some Churchill is almost a sacrosanct figure, against whom you must not utter a single word. You can’t, after all, imagine Dan Snow on the One Show, striding around what remains of Churchill’s office and papers, telling the world how ‘Winnie’ at one time looked approvingly on Hitler and was very nearly ready to make peace. Or that, when it suited him, he was viciously anti-Semitic.

The Real News Network: CNN Kept Silent over Islamist Slaving Since 2011

November 29, 2017

Over the past few days I’ve put up pieces reporting and commenting on the demonstrations against the slave auctions in Libya in Paris, Rome and London. These auctions are being held by the Islamist savages, who were helped into power as Britain and America’s proxies in the West’s campaign to overthrow Colonel Gaddafi. Gaddafi was a brutal dictator, but under his rule Libya became the most prosperous country on the African continent, its people had free healthcare and education. And, as this report shows, Gaddafi was no racist and made great efforts to benefit the entire African continent.

And the Islamists not only despise him, but are doing their very best to destroy the modern, relatively tolerant nation he created.

And the situation has been made worse by the silence of the mainstream media over the massacres committed against Black Libyans and migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, and their enslavement. And as this report shows, the media, or at least CNN, has kept silent for a very long time.

In this piece from the Baltimore-based Real News Network, anchor Eddie Conway talks to Glen Ford, one of the editors of the Black Agenda Report. Ford tells how CNN was aware of the atrocities against Blacks in Libya as far back as 2011. The Islamists despised Blacks, and so lynched and massacred them. These atrocities included the destruction of whole towns, such as Tawergha. This was a Black town with a population of 40,000. The Islamists destroyed it, butchered its people, and those, who survived were either enslaved or dispersed elsewhere in Libya. And Ford makes it clear that this was not done in secret. The Islamists put up flyers and notices announcing what they intended to do.

CNN did not report on this, and the other horrors, because it had reporters embedded in the Islamist terror gangs that were responsible for the ethnic cleansing and enslavement. The news got out thanks to that beacon of capitalism, the Wall Street Journal.

Ford also gives the reasons why the Islamists are targeting Blacks. He states that the Islamists hated Gaddafi because he came out of Arab socialism, and like many Arab socialist leaders was influenced by Egypt’s Nasser. They also hated him because he was pro-African, and their attacks on Blacks from further south in the continent is part of their venomous rejection of Gaddafi and his policies.

Conway and Ford also talk about how another African dictator, the ruler of Rwanda, is also exploiting the humanitarian crisis in the Libya. He’s promised to take in refugees, if the UN will pay for them. However, Ford points out that Rwanda’s ruler is responsible for the deaths of 6 million people in one of the largest genocides, and thousands more have been forced to flee into exile. He also says that once the money is paid, the refugees are not allowed to settle in Rwanda, but are then moved somewhere else.

The programme concludes that the ultimate responsibility for this carnage lies with the Western powers, America, Britain and their allies in Libya, who supported the Islamists, and the French in Rwanda, who are supporting the dictator there as part of a policy of recolonization all over the Continent.

I’m not surprised that Gaddafi was part of the tradition of Arab Socialism. It explains how it is that Libya had free healthcare and education. And it also explains part of the sheer animosity towards him by America and the West. True, Gaddafi himself was confrontational, and was certainly not averse to using terror and assassination when it suited him. But American foreign policy has always been against secular, nationalist Arab governments, including socialist administrations, as the next thing to Communism. He was overthrown because his government, simply by its nature, defied American imperialism. Quite apart from the fact that he was planning to reject the petrodollar for the Gold Dinar, and thus undermine America’s economic dominance through control of the main currency used in the oil industry.

As for the use of Islamist rebels, the US has been doing that ever since Ronald Reagan and Thatcher sponsored the Mujahideen in the Afghan War against the Soviets. And the Americans were warned by the Russian ambassador that once the Islamists had finished with the Russians, they would come for America. Thus the Russians knew that America would suffer an attack like 9/11. But Reagan and Thatcher had already decided these monsters were the forces of good and freedom, and so didn’t bother listening. They even heaped praised on Osama bin Laden.

This piece is also important for showing up the lies, omissions and distortions in the western media. These barbarities have been going on for the past six years, but it is only now that a mainstream newspaper has covered them. Conway and Ford state that it was due to the fact that CNN had its reporters embedded with the Islamists. That’s certainly a powerful factor. And it’s not used by the Islamists to control the media. The editors of Counterpunch, in their book End Times: The Death of the Fourth Estate, have several chapters on the way the American military is manipulating the media to promote its version of events in the Middle East. And this includes embedding journalists within army units. Once inside, the journos share a common bond with the soldiers around them, who are also responsible for their lives. So there’s a bias, as well as a vested interested, in presenting them in a positive light.

This story shows how much we really need alternative news networks, like RT, the Real News, Al-Jazeera, and alternative news shows like The Young Turks, the David Pakman Show, the Jimmy Dore Show and Sam Seder’s Majority Report and Secular Talk. These are the only shows and networks that are reporting and discussing the horror committed by western imperialism abroad, and the poverty and exploitation of working people in the west itself. All to boost those big, big profits.

They’re reporting what you’re not going to see on CNN, Fox, MSNBC or the Beeb over here. And it shows. More people are becoming aware of this, which is why Google and Facebook are trying to close them down, and the republicans and Democrats are screaming ‘Fake news!’ and ‘Russian propaganda!’ at RT.

Counterpunch on Covert Israeli Influence in British Politics

November 26, 2017

Friday’s Counterpunch also carried an important article by Brian Cloughley on secret Israeli influence on the British government. He begins by discussing the massive influence of the Israeli lobbying organisation, AIPAC, on American foreign policy, citing two journals the Foreign Policy Journal and Global Research, before turning to Britain and Priti Patel’s meeting with high-level Israeli officials. All while she was on holiday, of course. As you do. She was accompanied on her visit by Lord Polak, a member of the House of Lords. Polak was there with her when she met Netanyahu and when she went to New York. His trip over the Pond was paid for by the Israeli consulting firm, ISHRA. and before she went, Patel also had a meeting with the Israeli Minister for Public Security in the House of Commons. Which went undisclosed.

Cloughley also criticises the House of Lords, which is unelected, and very definitely undemocratic, serving to cap social mobility. At over 800 members, it’s the biggest governmental assembly in the world, with the exception of China. But it lumbers on, because there’s a lot of money there, and it serves as a way to honour failed politicians and political donors. Before he joined the House of Lords, Polak was the head of the Conservative Friends of Israel. The CFI, according to the Financial Times, 80 per cent of the parliamentary Tory party are members. It has given £377,994 to the Tories since 2004. The CFI holds an annual dinner in London. At the last one in December, Theresa May spoke about how she was very pleased that there were 200 legislators present, and that the CFI had taken 34 of the 75 Conservative MPs elected in 2015 to Israel.

Polak is chair of TWC Associates, another lobbying firm, whose clients include Israeli defence companies, including Elbit Systems, which specialises in defence electronics. TWC and Elbit were caught in a political scandal in 2012 when Lieutenant-General Richard Applegate boasted to two undercover Sunday Times reporters of its enormous influence through the Conservative Friends of Israel. He also makes the point that Theresa May has jumped on Hillary Clinton’s tactic of attacking Russia as a way of deflecting attention away from her failures and scandals. In this case, it was the embarrassing revelations about Priti Patel and her visit to Israel.

The article concludes

The British public will never know what Patel, Polak and all the other agents of influence were scheming to achieve, or what sinister fandangos they may get up to in the future, but we can be certain that the Britain-Israel alliance will continue to prosper. The United States has “the best Congress AIPAC can buy,” and Britain’s legislators are right up there with their transatlantic colleagues. They have no scruples and no shame, but seem to have plenty of cash.

https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/11/24/the-influence-of-israel-on-britain/

Counterpunch on George Monbiot and Nuclear Experts Spreading Propaganda about Syrian Nuclear Weapons

November 26, 2017

Thursday’s Counterpunch carried a long piece by Jonathan Cook reporting on an important piece of investigative journalism by Gareth Porter. In 2007 Israel bombed a plant they claimed was a secret nuclear reactor, constructed by Assad. Recent evidence strongly suggests that the building was no such thing, and that the International Atomic Energy Agency knew it wasn’t at the time. Nevertheless, they went ahead with the lie as part of the strategy by the Americans and Israelis, who were hoping to use the incident to bring down Assad and draw Iran into the conflict, so they could conquer that nation too.

The article also goes on to criticise the Guardian’s George Monbiot. Monbiot has, according to Cook, taken it upon himself to be a ‘Witchfinder General’, attacking figures on the left, like Noam Chomsky and John Pilger, who are cautious about accepting claims of atrocities by Assad. Like the recent gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun, which appears to have been faked by al-Qaeda themselves. He also states that Human Rights Watch has also falsified information about the war between Israel and Hizbollah. Insiders lower down the organisation knew that what it said was untrue, but were silenced by their superiors.

He also states that now the attempt to unseat Assad has failed, or is failing, the Israelis and Saudis are trying to start a war in Lebanon -again- in order to draw Iran into a war they hope they can use to overthrow them.

https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/11/22/syria-experts-and-george-monbiot/

I’ve no doubt that this is true, and while I like much of what Monbiot says, it does show how far the Guardian has fallen as a supposedly ‘left-wing’ paper. Tony Greenstein has written several articles attacking the Groan for its blatant anti-Corbyn bias, and its willingness to spread the anti-Semitism smears on behalf of the Israel lobby. And I’m not surprised. The Groaniad backed the SDP and the Liberals in several elections, and its staff seems to be full of Blairites and Neocons. So no surprise that Monbiot is also uncritically spreading disinformation about non-existent nuclear reactors, and attacking anyone he thinks is too pro-Assad.