Noam Chomsky on the Trump presidency, the defeat of the U.S. in Afghanistan, Syria’s civil war, Yemen, Venezuela, and the agenda of Vladimir Putin and Russia

October 18th, 2018


PHOTO/ILLUSTRATION/Elise Swain/The Intercept PHOTO/Heuler Andrey/AFP/Getty Images

The world laughed at U.S. President Donald Trump at the United Nations, but the imperial declarations he issued are no laughing matter. Trump may come off as a buffoon, but his global agenda is consistent with the bipartisan empire machine that runs the United States.

JS: Today on the show, we have a special guest for an extended conversation on a wide range of issues, from the war in Afghanistan to North Korea, Syria, Iran, Russia and the election, big tech companies and the role they play in our lives, propaganda, and beyond. Our guest is the legendary American dissident and scholar, Noam Chomsky. I’m sure that pretty much every single one of our listeners is familiar with Chomsky, but you will almost never see him on major TV networks in the United States. Globally, yes. Chomsky is on TV all the time around the world. But here in his home country, nope. And if I am not mistaken, he has never been on NBC, ABC, CBS, or Fox. He did a few interviews over the years on PBS, on the Charlie Rose show. And I believe he was on CNN for a couple of minutes once. Such is the fate of dissidents in the home of the brave. Here is one of the few times that Noam Chomsky was actually allowed on U.S. TV. It was way back on April 3, 1969, where Chomsky debated the famed conservative William F. Buckley. The show was broadcast under the title “Vietnam and the Intellectuals,” and it was part of Buckley’s show, “Firing Line.”

Noam Chomsky (1969): What seems to me a very, in a sense, terrifying aspect of our society and other societies is the equanimity and the detachment with which sane, reasonable, sensible people can observe such events. I think that’s more terrifying than the occasional Hitler, or LeMay, or other that crops up. These people would not be able to operate were it not for the this apathy and equanimity and; therefore, I think that it’s in some sense the sane, and reasonable, and tolerant people who should share a very serious burden of guilt that they very easily throw on the shoulders of others who seem more extreme and more violent.

William F. Buckley: Oh, I agree but, but —

JS: Noam Chomsky is one of the most popular and influential political thinkers in the world, yet in the United States you will only find him on independent, alternative media outlets. Look at all of the pundits and well, criminals who are constantly on TV today. The people with long public career in mass killing or mass lying. This is part of the problem. It’s a big part of the problem in this country. How different would this country be, would the world be, if Noam Chomsky and other principled dissidents were regularly featured on major news broadcasts?

Chomsky is currently a laureate professor in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Arizona. He is professor emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he taught for more than half a century. Chomsky’s recent books include, “Global Discontents: Conversations on the Rising Threats to Democracy” and “Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power.” He is also the co-author, with the late Ed Herman, of the classic book, “Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media.

JS: Noam Chomsky, welcome Intercepted.

NC: Very glad to be with you.

JS: If you watch, and I know you are not a fan of television news, but if you watch particularly MSNBC or CNN right now or you read the major newspapers in the United States, you can come away with the impression that Donald Trump and his administration, his presidency, represent this grand departure from the way things are done in the United States historically.

How much of a departure is the Trump presidency from the bipartisan Washington empire consensus — the way that the U.S. has been governed throughout its history?

NC: There are some differences and many continuities. On the domestic scene, Trump is, very effectively, managing both of his constituencies.

There’s an authentic constituency of corporate power and private wealth and they’re being served magnificently by the executive orders, legislative programs that are being pushed through which represent the more savage wing of the traditional Republican policies — catering to private interests, private wealth, and dismissing the rest as irrelevant and easily disposed of.

At the same time, he’s managing to maintain the voting constituency by pretending, very effectively, to be the one person in the world who stands up for them against the hated elites. And this is quite an impressive con job. How long he can carry it off? I don’t know. On the international scene, it’s actually more interesting.

He’s being lambasted for taking positions which, in my view, are pretty reasonable. So, for example, in the case of Korea: The two Koreas, last April 27th came out with a historic declaration, in which they laid out fairly explicit plans for moving towards reconciliation, integration, and denuclearization of the peninsula.

Newscaster: Kim Jong-un made history today becoming the first North Korean leader to set foot in the South since the Korean War began in 1950. He promised a new beginning as he met with South Korea’s Moon Jae-in in the demilitarized zone between the two countries. The meeting marks the first summit between the Koreas in more than a decade.

NC: They pretty much pleaded with outsiders, that means the United States to permit them to proceed, as they put it, on their own accord. And so far Trump has not interfered with this very much, calling off temporarily at least the military exercises, which has he correctly said are highly provocative. He’s been lambasted for that, but it’s exactly the right position I think. Right now, the president Moon is in North Korea if they can make positive moves on their own accord as they’ve requested that should be beneficial.

In the case of Russia, it’s more complexes. His policies have, in fact, been two-fold his administration has continued the policies of building up military forces on the Russian border, carrying out military maneuvers, increasing the tensions in extremely dangerous parts of the world.

On the other hand, he has also taken somewhat conciliatory steps towards reducing tensions. And for that again, he’s been lambasted. Though, I think it’s the right thing to do. On other issue matters, he’s torn up important international agreements, the most significant was the Iran nuclear agreement.

The Intercept for more

NYT exposé: “Self-made billionaire” Donald Trump built empire on father’s money, tax dodging & fraud

October 18th, 2018


“Donald Trump stands with then-wife Ivana Trump and parents Mary and Fred Trump in 1987. Fred Trump arranged millions of dollars in loans and lines of credit during his son’s early career, according to a new report.” PHOTO/Sonia Moskowitz/Getty Images/U.S. News & World Report

President Donald Trump built his personal brand and presidential candidacy on the claim that he was a self-made billionaire whose only head start was a “small loan of a million dollars” from his father. But a New York Times exposé has revealed that Trump inherited much of his family’s wealth through tax dodging and outright fraud, receiving at least $413 million in inflation-adjusted dollars from his father’s real estate empire. We speak with David Barstow, three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter for The New York Times and the lead author on the new investigation, “Trump Engaged in Suspect Tax Schemes as He Reaped Riches from His Father.” Barstow shares a byline with Susanne Craig and Russ Buettner.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: The New York State Department of Taxation and Finance has opened an investigation of President Trump for fraud and tax evasion, following a major exposé by The New York Times. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has also called for a city probe, and Democratic Senator Ron Wyden has urged the IRS to investigate the president.

The Times revealed Trump inherited much of his family’s wealth through tax dodges and outright fraud, receiving at least $413 million—in inflation-adjusted dollars, that is—from his father’s real estate empire. The _Times_’ 13,000-word investigative report found the late Fred and Mary Trump transferred more than $1 billion in wealth to their children, and much of it to Donald Trump, paying less than 5 percent of the $550 million in taxes they should have under inheritance tax rates. As part of a scheme to reduce taxes, Donald Trump also helped his parents undervalue real estate holdings by hundreds of millions of dollars in IRS tax returns.

AMY GOODMAN: The New York Times also reports Trump earned $200,000 a year in today’s dollars from his father’s companies beginning at the age of 3, with a salary that increased to $1 million a year after Trump graduated college and to $5 million a year when Trump was in his forties. Over the years, Trump has repeatedly portrayed himself as a self-made billionaire whose only head start was a “small loan of a million dollars,” he would say, from his father.

DONALD TRUMP: It has not been easy for me. It has not been easy for me. And, you know, I started off in Brooklyn. My father gave me a small loan of a million dollars. I came into Manhattan. And I had to pay him back, and I had to pay him back with interest. … He used to say, “Donald, don’t go into Manhattan. That’s the big leagues. We don’t know anything about that. Don’t do it.” I said, “Dad, I gotta go into Manhattan. I gotta build those big buildings.” … I built what I built myself, and I did it by working long hours and working hard and working smart. More importantly than anything else is by using my own brain. And there was a point where I was making so much so fast, and it was so easy, that I almost got bored. And it’s true. … I got a very, very small loan from my father many years ago. I built that into a massive empire. And I paid my father back that loan.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: On Wednesday, President Trump attacked The New York Times. He tweeted, quote, “The Failing New York Times did something I have never seen done before. They used the concept of ‘time value of money’ in doing a very old, boring and often told hit piece on me. Added up, this means that 97% of their stories on me are bad. Never recovered from bad election call!” he tweeted.

AMY GOODMAN: The Times article was based on public records as well as tens of thousands of confidential documents, including bank statements, financial audits, accounting ledgers, cash disbursement reports, invoices, canceled checks. The documents include more than 200 tax returns of the late Fred Trump, but do include the president’s personal—they don’t include the president’s personal tax returns, which he has refused to release. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded to the article during Wednesday’s press briefing.

PRESS SECRETARY SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: I’m not going to sit and go through every single line of a very boring 14,000-word story. The only thing—I will say one thing the article did get right was that it showed that the president’s father actually had a great deal of confidence in him. In fact, the president brought his father into a lot of deals, and they made a lot of money together, so much so that his father went on to say that everything he touched turned to gold. The president’s lawyer addressed some of the specific claims and walked through how the allegations of fraud and tax evasion are 100 percent false and highly defamatory. There was no fraud or tax evasion by anyone. He went on much further, and I would encourage you to read every word of his statement, which completely undercuts the accusations made by The New York Times.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined right now by David Barstow, the three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter for The New York Times, lead author on this new investigation revealing the original source of President Trump’s wealth. David Barstow shares a byline with Susanne Craig and Russ Buettner on The New York Times exclusive, “Trump Engaged in Suspect Tax Schemes as He Reaped Riches from His Father.”

Welcome to Democracy Now! So, you have been attacked by the White House for what you’ve done, the piece they call old and boring. Tell us first—I mean, this is a massive piece, which is being reissued on Sunday, is that right, by The New York Times?


AMY GOODMAN: Many-page piece headlined “Trump Took Part in Suspect Schemes to Evade Tax Bills.” Talk about how you found this information, and what were your key findings, David?

DAVID BARSTOW: Well, first, how we found it was kind of the old-fashioned way. It was going to courthouses, scouring public records, knocking on a lot of doors and, gradually, over many months, piecing together, building this trove of documents, over 100,000 pages, by the time we were ready to publish. And I think, most significantly, in terms of for people to be able to assess this story, it’s important to know that this includes literally tens of thousands of pages of never-before-seen documentation of the actual inner workings of Fred Trump’s real estate empire.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: But those documents—if I could just interrupt briefly—those were confidential records.


NERMEEN SHAIKH: So you couldn’t have gotten those from the public records.

DAVID BARSTOW: Yeah, you only get those by knocking on a lot of doors.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: What doors did you knock on?

DAVID BARSTOW: I’m not going to talk about that, but good try.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about your major findings, particularly what you say is this illegal transfer of wealth.

DAVID BARSTOW: So, I think there’s two core findings. One is simply that the narrative that Donald Trump has sold to the public for many decades now, the thing that made him famous, that gave him political power and that, ultimately, I think, was the central focus of his presidential campaign, is this narrative that he is a self-made billionaire. And what this story really reveals is the extent to which that just simply doesn’t square with the facts that are uncovered and that we show in this story. So that’s sort of, I think, point number one.

Point number two is, not only did he receive $413 million from his father, not only did he receive another $140 million in today’s dollars in loans from his father, but that that amount, the amount of money, was significantly increased by a series of tax schemes that the tax experts that we consulted with in our reporting, laying this out to them, said these things go way beyond the normal tax avoidance strategies that wealthy, sophisticated people will employ in any event to lower their tax bill. This was a set of maneuvers that were actually intended to deceive the IRS about the value of things that were being given from Fred and Mary Trump to Donald Trump and his siblings.

Democracy Now for more

In Yemen and beyond, U.S. arms manufacturers are abetting crimes against humanity

October 18th, 2018


The ruins of a school in Taiz, Yemen. PHOTO/Shutterstock

Our leading weapons dealers have developed a business model that feeds on war, terrorism, chaos, political instability, and human rights violations.

The Saudi bombing of a school bus in Yemen on August 9, 2018 killed 44 children and wounded many more. The attack struck a nerve in the U.S., confronting the American public with the wanton brutality of the Saudi-led war on Yemen. When CNN revealed that the bomb used in the airstrike was made by U.S. weapons manufacturer Lockheed Martin, the horror of the atrocity hit even closer to home for many Americans.

But the killing and maiming of civilians with U.S.-made weapons in war zones around the world is an all too regular occurrence. U.S. forces are directly responsible for largely uncounted civilian casualties in all America’s wars, and the United States is also the world’s leading arms exporter.

Pope Francis has publicly blamed the “industry of death” for fueling a “piecemeal World War III.” The U.S. military-industrial complex wields precisely the “unwarranted influence” over U.S. foreign policy that President Eisenhower warned Americans against in his farewell address in 1961.

The U.S. wars on Afghanistan and Iraq and the “global war on terror” served as cover for a huge increase in U.S. military spending. Between 1998 and 2010, the U.S. spent $1.3 trillion on its wars, but even more, $1.8 trillion, to buy new warplanes, warships, and weapons, most of which were unrelated to the wars it was fighting.

Five U.S. companies — Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and General Dynamics — dominate the global arms business, raking in $140 billion in weapons sales in 2017, and export sales make up a growing share of their business, about $35 billion in 2017.

In a new report for Code Pink and the Divest from the War Machine campaign, we have documented how Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Egypt have systematically used weapons produced by these five U.S. companies to massacre civilians, destroy civilian infrastructure, and commit other war crimes. The bombing of the school bus was only the latest in a consistent pattern of Saudi massacres and air strikes on civilian targets, from hospitals to marketplaces, and U.S. arms sales to Israel and Egypt follow a similar pattern.

U.S. laws require the suspension of arms sales to countries that use them in such illegal ways, but the U.S. State Department has an appalling record on enforcing these laws. Under the influence of Acting Assistant Secretary of State Charles Faulkner, a former lobbyist for Raytheon, Secretary Pompeo falsely certified to Congress that Saudi Arabia and the UAE are complying with U.S. law in their use of American weapons.

The U.S. sells weapons to Saudi Arabia and other allies to project U.S. military power by proxy without the U.S. military casualties, domestic political backlash, and international resistance that result from direct uses of U.S. military force, while U.S. military-industrial interests are well-served by ever-growing arms sales to allied governments.

These policies are driven by the very combination of military-industrial interests that Eisenhower warned Americans against, now represented by Secretary Pompeo, Acting Assistant Secretary Faulkner, and a cabal of hawkish Democrats who consistently vote with Republicans on war and peace issues. They ensure that the “war party” always wins its battles in Congress no matter how catastrophically its policies fail in the real world.

Republicans derided President Obama’s doctrine of covert and proxy war as “leading from behind.” But the Trump administration has doubled down on Obama’s failed strategy, surrendering even more power over U.S. policy to foreign clients like Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Egypt, and to the “unwarranted influence” of the U.S. military-industrial complex.

Lockheed Martin is earning $29.1 billion in sales from the $110 billion Saudi arms package announced in May 2017, a deal struck as the war on Yemen was already killing thousands of civilians. Yet no conflict of interest is too glaring for Lockheed executives like Ronald Perrilloux Jr., who has taken part in public events to promote the war and defend Saudi Arabia and its allies, arguing that the U.S. should “help them finish the job” in Yemen.

Foreign Policy in Focus for more

How an ancient Islamic holiday became uniquely Caribbean

October 17th, 2018


Trinidad’s Hosay brings in a more carnival-like joy to a somber remembrance. PHOTO/Nicholas Laughlin/CC BY-NC-SA

A throng of Trinidadians line up along the streets of St. James and Cedros to admire the vibrant floats with beautifully bedecked models of mausoleums. Their destination is the waters of the Caribbean, where the crowds will push them out to float.

This is part of the Hosay commemorations, a religious ritual performed by Trinidadian Muslims, that I have observed as part of the research for my forthcoming book on Islam in Latin America and the Caribbean.

What fascinates me is how a practice from India has been transformed into something uniquely Caribbean.

Re-enacting tragedy

During the 10 days of the Islamic month of Muharram, Shiite Muslims around the world remember the martyrdom of Hussein, Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, who was killed in a battle in Karbala, today’s Iraq, some 1,338 years ago. For Shiite Muslims Hussein is the rightful successor to Prophet Muhammad.

Ashura, the 10th day of Muharram, is marked by public mourning and a re-enactment of the tragedy. Shiite Muslims put on passion plays that include inflicting suffering, as a way to remember Hussein. In Iraq, Shiite are known to beat themselves with swords. In India, mourners whip themselves with sharp blades. Some Shiite also visit Hussein’s shrine in Iraq.

The commemoration has also become a symbol for the broader Shiite struggle for justice as a minority in the global Muslim community.

Early history

In Trinidad, the 100,000 Muslims who make up 5 percent of the island’s total population, celebrate the day of Ashura, as Hosay – the name derived from “Hussein.”

The first Hosay festival was held in 1854, just over a decade after the first Indian Muslims began to arrive from India to work on the island’s sugar plantations.

But Trinidad at the time was under British colonial rule and large public gatherings were not permitted. In 1884, the British authorities issued a prohibition against Hosay commemorations. Approximately 30,000 people took to the streets, in Mon Repos, in the south, to protest against the ordinance. Shots fired to disperse the crowd killed 22 and injured over 100. The ordinance was later overturned.

The “Hosay Massacre” or “Muharram Massacre,” however, lives in people’s memories.

Colorful floats of Trinidad

These days, Hosay celebrations in St. James and Cedros not only recall Hussein, but also those killed during the 1884 Hosay riots. Rather than recreate the events through self-flagellation or other forms of suffering, however, people in Trinidad create bright and beautiful floats, called “tadjahs,” that parade through the streets to the sea.

A bit carnival, a bit Ashura

While the festival is certainly a somber one in terms of its tribute, it is also a joyous occasion where families celebrate with loud music and don festive attire. This has led some to compare Hosay to Trinidad’s world-famous carnival with its accompanying “joie de vivre.”

The Conversation for more

What should we do with them?

October 17th, 2018


Atif Mian

A number of politicians, ulema of various kind and tajzia nigars have concluded that Qadianis are not a minority. What can be worse than being a minority? What happens when a minority is declared a non-minority?

We are fast running out of things that we can do to Qadianis. Most readers of this newspaper are educated enough to know that Qadianis don’t like to be called Qadianis, they refer to themselves as Ahmadis. But events of the last few weeks have proved that we are finally past that point where we had to pretend to care what they think or feel.

Forty five years ago we asked our elected parliament the same question: what should we do about the Qadianis? Our first elected parliament decided “let’s declare them kafirs!” because, for more than a century, a certain brand of ulema had been demanding that they should be declared kafir. Since then we have asked the ulema over and over, not that they wait to be asked, and they have told us that not only are Qadianis kafir but they are the worst kind of kafir — worse than Hindus, definitely much worse than Christians and even more sinister than Yahoodis. Almost all the anti-Qadiani literature, banners and slogans declare them the bud-tareen kafirs in the world.

Pakistani liberals keep saying, in weak, apologetic voices that Ahmadis are actually a minority. But the debate that emerged around Atif Mian’s appointment proved that Qadianis can’t be treated as a minority. A number of ruling and opposition party politicians, ulema of various kind and tajzia nigars have concluded that Qadianis are not a minority. May be the constitution declared them a minority, and later set out rules about how they should behave as a minority, but no sorry they are not. What can be worse than being a minority? What happens when a minority is declared a non-minority?

When Imran Khan’s government announced Atif Mian’s name as a member of the Economic Advisory Council (EAC), they probably thought it’s only a consultative role; they probably can get away with it. When Imran Khan had announced his name as his pick for finance minister at a public rally, he had to lean back to confirm his name. There was more noise in PTI’s own ranks than outside. If the nominee had been a Christian or Parsi or Hindu, there would still be opposition but probably there wouldn’t be the kind of menace that emerged around Atif Mian’s name. Even those most loyal to Khan were shaking their heads and shouting: what were you thinking?The discourse around Qadianis, their faith and how they practice has always been fierce when not outright murderous but Khan’s backtracking has raised it to a bizarre new level. You can’t even consult an Ahmadi on some technical issues, surely you can’t go to an Ahmadi surgeon, and God forbid if there is an Ahmadi school teacher out there. I am sure Atif Mian wouldn’t have said, first of all you all need to abandon your religion, and follow my khalifa, only then I’ll tell you how to fix your budget deficit.

Let’s not blame Imran Khan though; let’s look at ourselves.

The News on Sunday for more

By land and by sea: Salvini’s war on immigration

October 17th, 2018


African immigrants at Piazza duca d’Aosta, Milan (2016). PHOTO/Wiki Commons

The decree recently approved by the Italian government restricting the right to asylum is the terrestrial counterpart to the criminalization of NGOs operating in the Mediterranean. The climax to Matteo Salvini’s ongoing campaign against humanitarianism, it will have a fundamental impact on the management of migration within the country.

Salvini’s war against immigration is being waged by land and by sea. It is a war against a section of society that makes up over eight per cent of the country’s population. By sea, the war is being waged through a criminalization of humanitarian rescue operations. This not only pertains to operations carried out by foreign NGOs, which are accused of failing to observe the sovereignty of national borders, but also to operations carried out by the Italian Coast Guard itself. This is a schizophrenia typical of authoritarianism and amounts to a call on the state authorities to close ranks.

No less spectacularly, the war by land has been formalized through a decree approved by the Italian government on 24 September. The process began last July, with a circular that unlawfully obliged the Territorial Commissions for the Recognition of the Right of Asylum to tighten up on granting humanitarian protection. The report justifies the decree as a ‘necessary and urgent’ regulatory intervention in order to reorganize the system of international protection. The report emphasizes the disproportionality between the number of protections regulated at the European level and granted by the Territorial Committees – refugee status and subsidiary protection – and permits granted on humanitarian grounds, which vary between 25 per cent and 28 per cent.

The logic of the interior ministry’s legal departments reverses what ought to be common-sense: instead of asking why international protection is granted so much less in Italy than in many other European countries, and why denials by the Territorial Commissions oblige courts to take on so many cases, the report suggests that the problem is the instrumental use of the application for protection and the exercise of the rights of appeal, with the latter having already severely limited by the regulatory interventions of the previous government.

The decree does not go so far as to reorganize international protection. But it repeals humanitarian protection as a general institution. Current regulations premise protections on ‘serious humanitarian grounds’ or ‘constitutional or international obligations’. In its place, a series of typified permits are to be introduced, based on a predetermined case history. The objective is to eliminate the discretionary power of the asylum authorities: legal certainty is pitted against humanitarian reasonableness.

The constitutional right to asylum, one of the more fruitful products of recent jurisprudence, derives from Article 10 of the Italian Constitution. This is not a case of courts overstepping their democratic mandate. Rather, it concerns the functioning of the rule of law, in which power is not concentrated in a single place and in which judicial assertion of rights represents a route by which even those excluded from representative democracy can assert their rights. Once again, the war against humanitarianism resembles an admonition to close ranks around a hierarchical and authoritarian power.

Eurozine for more

How Moscow lost Riyadh in 1938

October 16th, 2018


Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Arabi”s King Salman attend a welcoming ceremony before their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on October 5 PHOTO/Reuters/Yuri Kadobnov

Russian-Saudi relations could be very different today, if Stalin hadn’t killed the Soviet ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

Last week, Saudi King Salman was greeted in Moscow with a lot of pomp and media attention. The 81-year-old monarch arrived with a 1,500-strong delegation amid high expectations for major political and trade deals.

The first visit of a Saudi king to Russia was rich in diplomatic courtesies, but it lacked in substance. What came out of the three days of meetings was much more modest than expected.

The two countries signed only a handful of agreements, most of which were memoranda of understanding. An agreement was reached to establish a $1bn energy investment fund and a $1bn hi-tech investment fund. The two sides also negotiated the sale of S-400 defence systems. But against the backdrop of the $15bn-worth of arms contracts the US recently approved for Saudi Arabia, the Moscow-Riyadh agreement seems quite modest. It very much seems like the high-level meetings in the Kremlin failed to create an appearance of a political and economic breakthrough in relations.

This shouldn’t be all that surprising given that Russia and Saudi Arabia had a 54-year break in relations, during which the US became Riyadh’s dominant partner and security guarantor. Perhaps the outcome of King Salman’s visit could have been very different, if it weren’t for an incident that spoiled Russian-Saudi relations 80 years ago and caused the break.

It is a little-known fact that Riyadh and Moscow used to enjoy remarkably warm relations in the 1920s and 30s. The Soviet Union was, in fact, a diplomatic pioneer in Saudi Arabia: It was the first state to recognise Abdulaziz Al Saud (King Salman’s father) as the King of the Hijaz and the Sultan of Nejd in February 1926.

The Soviet charm offensive in the Arabian Peninsula in the 1920s was the culmination of numerous attempts by Moscow to gain a foothold in the region prior to that. As early as 1900, Russian imperial military vessels started frequenting the Gulf and making port calls in Kuwait among other destinations. The famous Russian Varyag cruiser visited Kuwait in December 1901 and its captain was greeted by Emir Mubarak Al Sabah despite his agreement with Great Britain not to receive foreign military guests. It was during this visit that the Russians were first introduced to Abdul Rahman Al Saud who was exiled in Kuwait at that time, along with his elder son Abdulaziz, who a year later retook Riaydh from their rivals, the House of Rashid.

As the House of Al Saud was seeking international backing, London looked at young Abdulaziz with a lot of scepticism, which is why he came in contact with the Russian consul in the Persian city of Bushehr inviting him for a visit. The consul visited Kuwait in 1903 accompanied by a Russian military vessel, which caused an outcry in London.

But it wasn’t until after the Bolshevik revolution that Moscow decided to seriously focus on the Gulf. Just like the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union saw the value of diplomatic presence in the region as a way to stand up to Britain.

Al Jazeera for more

What Syria continues to teach us

October 16th, 2018


Leftists should turn their attention to the New Guard Fascists — the enemies of the people at the top of the class structure and the armed body, the state, that protects the class structure.

“New guard fascism controls the levers of the economy, media, and military within the imperialist orbit.”

Syria continues to make gains against the jihadist mercenaries that flooded the country beginning 2011 with the help of US imperialism and its allies. The imperial ruling classes did not expect Idlib to be the last gasp of air for their efforts to destroy Syria and balkanize the region. It is this province where Turkey and its imperialist friends, including the United States, have lent critical support to jihadist proxies. It is also where the future of a thirty-plus year imperialist strategymay experience its greatest failure to date. The Syrian people have survived the imperial onslaught with much to teach us.

US imperialism and its allies have two choices in Syria. Either continue their current ineffectual attempt to hold back the liberation of Syria or escalate militarily. Both options come at great risk. The former ends all ambitions of overthrowing the Syrian government and further spreading the chaos of imperial domination throughout the region. The latter probably won’t lead to the overthrow of the Syrian government but willlead to dangerous military confrontations with the Russian Federation. This may be too risky for even the most blood thirsty war-hawks in Washington, Riyadh, Tel Aviv, Ankara, and the rest of the NATO-aligned countries. However, the left shouldn’t count on the good intentions of the imperialists when the profits of Wall Street and the war economy are at stake.

“The prison, police, and deportation regimes exercise enormous power over the lives of oppressed people.”

The high stakes of the imperialist war in Syria appear to be lost on most people in the US, albeit for a variety for reasons. Economic collapse looms over the heads of millions of workers who are struggling to survive under the constant siege of automation, austerity, and corporate theft. The state apparatus has escalated militarily on the home front to the point where civil liberties are a thing of the past and the prison, police, and deportation regimes exercise enormous power over the lives of oppressed people. White supremacy and racism continue to inhibit class unity. The corporate media and the Black misleadership class, in collusion with a fake, CIA-led “resistance” movement against Donald Trump, have moved further to the right to ensure that a movement for Black self-determination finds no room to breathe in the era of contending fascisms.

As Glen Ford put it in a recent issue of Black Agenda Report, fascism lives in the United States in two forms. The White Man’s foot soldiers dream of reviving the era of “Jim Crow” and 20thcentury fascism where white majorities exploited and dominated the darker nations. These old guard fascists are so arrogant that they often dismiss or are outright ignorant to the existence of a more effective type of fascism. This form of fascism is dedicated to igniting global warfare in service of monopoly and finance capital. The primary aim of the more effective form of fascism is to annihilate any nation or movement capable of bringing the era of US hegemony to a close.

“A movement for Black self-determination finds no room to breathe in the era of contending fascisms.”

Black Agenda Report for more

History of betrayals

October 16th, 2018


Ajit Doval, National Security Advisor, at a function to release a book on Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, in New Delhi on September 4. PHOTO/Kamal Kishore/PTI

The National Security Adviser’s rants against Jammu and Kashmir’s Constitution stem from not only ignorance of history but also the fascist mindset of the RSS and the BJP.

This was not the first time that Ajit Doval, the National Security Adviser, rushed to pronounce judgment rashly. His remarks on September 4 at the right-wing think tank Vivekananda International Foundation, of which he is one of the founders, have evoked varying reactions from disdain to ridicule. He let forth a fusillade of judgments—each manifestly, demonstrably wrong—and he did this with utter disdain for relevance.

The event was organised in Mumbai for the launch of a book on Vallabhbhai Patel. Mark the orator’s gems: 1. Patel could see the plan “of the British to sow the seeds of disintegration in the country”. In fact, the British emphatically ruled out any relations with the princes after Independence. It was a Brit who, assisted by V.P. Menon, was largely responsible for their accession to India. Patel imagined that after Independence the people would rise in revolt. Mountbatten warned him that the rulers had armies and volunteered his help. Patel said: “I am prepared to accept your offer provided you give me a full basket of apples.” Mountbatten offered a basket of 500. (H.V. Hodson; The Great Divide, pages 367-68; “Patel the non-Bismarck”, Frontline, May 1, 2015.) Patel would not have been so friendly with him if he thought that the British were out to sow seeds of disintegration in India; nor did he lay the foundations of a nation state. He was a divisive figure. That credit goes to Jawaharlal Nehru, whom the likes of Doval dislike because he was secular.

2. “In a nation state, there was one state one law.” Britain has two different sets of criminal law in Scotland and England. Quebec has a distinct identity in Canada.

3. “Sovereignty can never be divided.” The United States of America is a nation state. Three respected American scholars recall that the Founding Fathers opted for “divided sovereignty” in the American federation. “Regarding the people as sovereign, the Convention (at Philadelphia) denied sovereignty to both State and Federal government. This denial of sovereignty was implicit in the very act of framing a Government of defined and hence limited powers”—as all federations do (Alfred H. Kelley, Winfred A. Harrison, and Herman Belz; The American Constitution: Its Origins and Development, page 105).

4. “560 States which had different laws were merged and had one Constitution”. The Instrument of Accession of 1947 signed by each ruler explicitly stated in paragraph 7: “Nothing in this instrument shall be deemed to commit me in any way to acceptance of any future Constitution of India or to fetter my discretion to enter into arrangements with the Government of India under any such future Constitution.”

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Brazil’s Bolsonaro-led far right wins a victory far more sweeping and dangerous than anyone predicted. Its lessons are global.

October 15th, 2018


Jair Bolsonaro (L), ultra-right candidate for the post of Brazilian president, laughs after casting his vote at a polling station in the city school Rosa da Fonseca, in Vila Militar, west of the city. In the background is his son Flavio Bolsonaro. In the midst of a severe crisis, the presidential election has begun in Brazil. PHOTO/Fabio Teixeira/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

For the past thirty years, Congressman Jair Bolsonaro was a fringe extremist in Brazilian politics, known mostly for outlandish, deliberately inflammatory quotes in which he paid homage to the most notorious torturers of the 1964-1985 military regime, constantly heralded the 1964 coup as a “defense of democracy,” told a female socialist colleague in Congress that she was too ugly to “deserve” his rape, announced that he’d rather learn that his son died in a car accident than was gay, and said he conceived a daughter after having four sons only due to a “moment of weakness.” (Last September, he used Google to translate a Brazilian epithet for LGBTs to, in essence, call me a faggot on Twitter).

His policy prescriptions were even more deranged. Western media has often referred to him as “Brazil’s Trump” but that is wildly inaccurate, understating the case by many magnitudes. In temperament, ideology, and personal history, Bolsonaro – a former Army Captain during Brazil’s notorious 21-year military dictatorship – is far closer to Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte or Egyptian dictator General Abdel El-Sisi than Trump.

His primary solution to the nation’s crime epidemic is to unleash the military and police into the nation’s slums and give them what he calls “carte blanche” to indiscriminately murder anyone they suspect to be criminals, acknowledging many innocents will die in the process. He has criticized monsters such as Chile’s Pinochet and Peru’s Fujimori – for not slaughtering more domestic opponents. He has advocated that mainstream Brazilian politicians be killed. He wants to chemically castrate sex offenders. In all respects, the hideous Brazilian military dictatorship that took over Brazil and ruled it for 21 years – torturing and summarily executing dissidents, with the support of the US and UK in the name of fighting Communists – is his model of governance.

As a result of last night’s truly stunning national election in Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro has been instantly transformed from marginalized clown into the overwhelmingly dominant force in the country’s political life. Bolsonaro himself fell just short of winning the 50% needed to win the presidency without a run-off.

But given the margin of victory, he is the overwhelming favorite to win on October 28 against the second-place candidate, ex-São Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad. Haddad is the previously unknown, hand-picked successor anointed by Lula, the ex-two-term President who had been leading all polls until he was convicted on dubious corruption charges and quickly imprisoned so as to bar his candidacy, then silenced by Brazil’s right-wing judiciary with a series of remarkable prior restraint censorship orders barring all media outlets from interviewing him.

Bolsonaro won with most demographic groups. In the state of Rio de Janeiro, Bolsonaro won a shocking 60% of all votes cast, winning every neighborhood and district, most with more than 50% of the votes cast.

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