Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

From a great writer to a great a leader: How Manto came to terms with Jinnah’s passing

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2019


Manto perhaps wrote the piece to show not only his love for Pakistan but also his affection for the founder of Pakistan.

On the 142nd birth anniversary of Muhammad Ali Jinnah today, a little-known piece by the great Urdu writer Saadat Hasan Manto is being presented for the time in its original English translation.

This piece is part of Manto’s published but uncollected writings that are only recently seeing the light of day. Though there is little or no evidence that the great writer ever met the great leader, this piece – originally published in the Daily ‘Imroz’ just three days after Jinnah’s death in September 1948 – crystallises the raw emotions of a writer in the aftermath of a national tragedy in a uniquely restrained manner. Manto perhaps wrote the piece to show not only his love for Pakistan – a state he reluctantly adopted despite his personal opposition to the Partition – but also his affection for the founder of Pakistan.

The sentiment of the people evoked in the piece just a few hours after Jinnah’s death is perhaps the best translation of how Jinnah would have himself liked his nation to soldier on after and without him: not only his oft-repeated motto of ‘Unity, Faith and Discipline’, but also ‘Work, work and work’! In fact, the piece is remarkable also because towards the end of the piece, the writer reminds the reader of the real meaning of Islam, social justice, something Jinnah never tired of reminding us in his various speeches and public pronouncements.

The piece will also be of interest to readers as a unique, unvarnished documentation of social history of Pakistan from the perspective of its people immediately after the founder of the nation passed away. As such, it is a timely reminder that great leaders are only great so far as their people make them so, and even after them, the hard work of glorifying the flag must go on unabated!

“This is no time to vanquish flags, but to glorify them.” These are the plain words which I heard from the mouth of a passerby and I began to think.

Not a long time had passed now since the news of the passing away of Quaid-e-Azam spread in the city. The screams of newspaper hawkers were still resounding in the sad space of the afflicted streets. Sorrow and grief was spread on the face of every person. People were walking about as if walking behind an invisible funerary procession; they were whispering slowly. The unexpected demise of Quaid-e-Azam was being mentioned silently. Every person had become this question-incarnate, “Who do we have now?”

I too thought, “Who do we have now?” But these words of that passerby resounded in my ears, “This is no time to vanquish flags, but to glorify them” – I straightened my neck bent with excessive sorrow and began an attempt to see the other side beyond this mist which had overcome my heart and mind, but like the complete strike by the shops, the thoughts in the mind too were on complete strike.

Men were crying. Women were sobbing. Every eye was wet. Who do we have now – who do we have now?

The Express Tribune for more

March of the right

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2019


A Likud election campaign billboard depicting U.S. President Donald Trump shaking hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in Jerusalem on February 4. PHOTO/Ammar Awad/Reuters

Benjamin Netanyahu’s win for a fourth consecutive term in office could accelerate the process of turning Israel into a full-fledged Jewish state in which Palestinians may have no rights at all.

The victory of the extreme right-wing coalition led by Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party in the Israeli general election held in the second week of April is bad news not only for Palestinians but for the entire region. Netanyahu has won an unprecedented fourth consecutive term in office. In all, he has held the Prime Minister’s post for a record five times and is set to emerge as the longest-serving Prime Minister in Israel’s history. Netanyahu’s election could accelerate the process of turning Israel into a full-fledged Jewish state in which its Palestinians citizens are legally deprived of their rights. More and more countries are now of the view that Israel’s policies in the West Bank bear comparison to apartheid, which was practised in South Africa.

In fact, the African National Congress-run South African government has downgraded relations with Israel because of its racist policies towards Palestinians. The South African ambassador was recalled after the Israeli army fired on peaceful protesters along the Gaza-Israel border in 2018. The South African government has indicated that it will ask the Israeli ambassador in Pretoria to leave. “When South Africa says ‘No’ to Israel, it is doing so in the name of Nelson Mandela, who supported the Palestinians in their struggle and felt a moral obligation to assist them,” the perceptive Israeli commentator Gideon Levy wrote in a recent article. “There is no doubt that Mandela too would have supported the severing of relations.”

In his column in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz written after the election results, Levy said that Israel was the last colonial regime left in the world. “The next government will be a continuation of the previous one, but stronger, more ultranationalist and racist, less legitimate and democratic,” Levy said. Gerard Araud, the outgoing French ambassador to the United States, in an interview with The Atlantic magazine, categorically stated that Israel had become an “apartheid state”.

Netanyahu had pledged to build more settlements on Palestinian land. Under his watch, Gaza will continue to remain an overcrowded open-air prison with no end in sight for the suffering of the people. According to a United Nations estimate, 183 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces last year. Many of them were children who were protesting along with their parents for an end to the occupation. The military invasions by Israel have totally devastated the infrastructure of Gaza. More than 97 per cent of Gaza’s water supply is severely polluted. It has adversely affected the health and lives of the residents of Gaza, especially children.

One of Netanyahu’s coalition partners this time was the racist “Jewish Power” party, which wants to annex all of the West Bank and encourage all non-Jewish citizens to leave the state of Israel. The ultimate goal of the right wing in Israel is to expand its borders to achieve the goal of “Eretz Israel” (Greater Israel) extending from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea. The U.S.-led peace process, a perennial non-starter, has now been completely sabotaged by the Trump administration. President Donald Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, are threatening to unveil the so-called “deal of the century” to end the Israel-Palestine dispute, but only Netanyahu is looking forward to it.

The victory of the corruption-tainted Netanyahu did not come as much of a surprise to the observers of the region. His campaign was similar in style to that of his friend and ideological soulmate, Narendra Modi. The majority of the populace lapped up his xenophobic and jingoist speeches on the campaign trail scapegoating his enemies and Palestinians. As the results of the last few elections have revealed, the Jewish majority has sharply veered to the right. Like Modi, Netanyahu ran on a platform extolling patriotism and vilifying the minorities. Netanyahu presented himself as the only candidate who could protect Israel from its enemies.

Saeeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said that the election results showed that the Israeli voter had said “no” to peace and “yes” to occupation. Only a handful of Israeli legislators elected in the April election support the “two-state” solution. The Labour Party, which once monopolised power in Israel, has been routed in the election. It now has only six members in the Knesset. The overwhelming majority of Israel is quite happy with the creeping colonisation of the West Bank.

Frontline for more

United Nations: US sanctions on Cuba, Venezuela violate human rights

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2019


Expressing deep concern over the recent imposition by the United States of unilateral coercive measures against Cuba, Venezuela and Iran, a UN rights expert has said that the use of economic sanctions for political purposes violates human rights and the norms of international behaviour.

In a statement issued on 6 May, Mr Idriss Jazairy, the UN Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of the unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights, cautioned that such action may precipitate man-made humanitarian catastrophes of unprecedented proportions.

“Regime change through economic measures, likely to lead to the denial of basic human rights and indeed possibly to starvation, has never been an accepted practice of international relations,” said the rights expert.

“Real concerns and serious political differences between governments must never be resolved by precipitating economic and humanitarian disasters, making ordinary people pawns and hostages thereof,” he added.

According to the statement by the rights expert, the recent implementation of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act (by the Trump administration), which allows US citizens to file lawsuits against Cuban entities and foreign companies over property seized and used following Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution, ignored protests by the European Union and Canada.

It was a direct attack on European and Canadian companies in Cuba, where they are the top foreign investors.

“The resort by a major power of its dominant position in the international financial arena against its own allies to cause economic hardship to the economy of sovereign States is contrary to international law, and inevitably undermines the human rights of their citizens,” said Mr Jazairy.

The statement noted that on 17 April, the United States banned the Central Bank of Venezuela from conducting transactions in US dollars after 17 May 2019, and will cut off access to US personal remittances and credit cards by March 20 20.

“It is hard to figure out how measures which have the effect of destroying Venezuela’s economy, and preventing Venezuelans from sending home money, can be aimed at “helping the Venezuelan people”, as claimed by the US Treasury,” said the independent expert.

The statement cited a recent report published by the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) that claimed that 40,000 people may have died in Venezuela since 2017 due to the US sanctions.

[The CEPR report on “Economic sanctions as collective punishment: The case of Venezuela” was authored by Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director at CEPR, and Jeffrey Sachs, Professor of Economics and Director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University.

[In examining some of the most important impacts of the economic sanctions imposed by the US government on Venezuela since August 2017, the authors found that most of the impact of these sanctions has not been on the government but on the civilian population.

[According to the CEPR report, the sanctions reduced the public’s caloric intake, increased disease and mortality (for both adults and infants), and displaced millions of Venezuelans who fled the country as a result of the worsening economic depression and hyperinflation.

[The sanctions also exacerbated Venezuela’s economic crisis and made it nearly impossible to stabilize the economy, contributing further to excess deaths.

[The impact of all of these disproportionately harmed the poorest and most vulnerable Venezuelans.

[According to the authors of the report, even more severe and destructive than the broad economic sanctions of August 2017 were the sanctions imposed by executive order on 28 January 2019 and subsequent executive orders this year.

[They also said the recognition of a parallel government created a whole new set of financial and trade sanctions that are even more constricting than the executive orders themselves.

[The authors found that the sanctions have inflicted, and increasingly inflict, very serious harm to human life and health, including an estimated more than 40, 000 deaths from 2017-2018.

[They argued that these sanctions would fit the definition of collective punishment of the civilian population as described in both the Geneva and Hague international conventions, to which the US is a signatory.

[They are also illegal under international law and treaties which the US ha s signed, and would appear to violate US law as well, the authors of the CEPR report said.]

Turning to Iran, Mr Jazairy also expressed concern that the US would not renew waivers for international buyers of Iranian oil, despite protests from NATO ally Turkey, among others.

Washington has demanded that all remaining States which benefited from waivers stop purchases on 1 May, or face sanctions.

“The extraterritorial application of unilateral sanctions is clearly contrary to international law,” the rights expert underlined.

“I am deeply concerned that one State can use its dominant position in international finance to harm not only the Iranian people, who have followed their obligations under the UN-approved nuclear deal to this day, but also everyone in the world who trades with them.”

“The international community must come together to challenge what amounts to blockades ignoring a country’s sovereignty, the human rights of its people, and the rights of third countries trading with sanctioned States, all while constituting a threat to world peace and security,” said Mr Jazairy.

The rights expert called on the international community to engage in constructive dialogue with Venezuela, Cuba, Iran and the United States to find a peaceful resolution in compliance with the spirit and letter of the Charter of the United Nations before the arbitrary use of economic starvation becomes the new “normal”.

Third World Network for more

When Nixon told us invading Cambodia would save civilization

Tuesday, May 21st, 2019


Nixon makes the case for a U.S. invasion of Cambodia, April 29, 1970. PHOTO/USAF

Inflammatory and hysterical language was used then, as it is now, to camouflage reality.

Forty-nine years ago, on the evening of April 30, 1970, President Richard Nixon appeared on television to address the nation. Although his administration was in the process of withdrawing U.S. forces from Vietnam, the purpose of Nixon’s presentation was to announce an expansion of the ongoing conflict. As he spoke, American and South Vietnamese (ARVN) combat units were crossing into Cambodia, a nominally neutral country that had long served as a de facto sanctuary and logistics base for the North Vietnamese Army (NVA).

Nixon framed his decision to invade Cambodia as an essential response to an existential threat. “My fellow Americans,” he announced, “we live in an age of anarchy, both abroad and at home.” The situation was dire, not simply (or even especially) in Southeast Asia, but domestically and globally. “We see mindless attacks,” he continued, “on all the great institutions which have been created by free civilizations in the last 500 years.” Within the United States itself, “great universities are being systematically destroyed” even as “small nations all over the world find themselves under attack from within and from without.”

Then came Nixon’s nut graf, in which the president scaled the Mount Everest of hyperbole: “If, when the chips are down, the world’s most powerful nation, the United States of America, acts like a pitiful, helpless giant, the forces of totalitarianism and anarchy will threaten free nations and free institutions throughout the world.” Take Nixon’s words at face value and the real mission of the troops entering Cambodia was to avert the collapse of civilization itself.

Most of this was nonsense, of course. By putting a big enough hurt on the NVA, the invasion of Cambodia might buy a bit more time for ARVN to prepare itself to fight without the assistance of U.S. ground troops. That was about the most that could be hoped for. Sadly, however, the operation failed to accomplish even that. After a few weeks, U.S. and ARVN forces withdrew back into South Vietnam. The NVA repaired the damage it had sustained. Overall, the Cambodia campaign proved irrelevant to the war’s ultimate outcome.

At home, meanwhile, Nixon’s decision touched off a wave of protests on campuses across the nation, culminating in the shooting of unarmed student protestors at Kent State University and Jackson State College. Offended at not having been consulted in advance about Nixon’s intentions, the Congress retaliated by rescinding the 1964 Tonkin Gulf Resolution that had first given the previous administration a green light to initiate combat operations in Vietnam. This was an empty gesture, however, which had no practical effect on the events unfolding on the ground.

Except perhaps among those former G.Is who participated, the Cambodian invasion has long since disappeared down the American memory hole. Yet even today in the so-called Age of Trump, I believe that it retains at least modest significance. If nothing else, it offers an instructive example of how wildly inflammatory language serves to camouflage reality and to incite and divide rather than to inform and unify.

The nation is today awash with inflammatory language that might make Nixon himself blush. Some of that language comes from President Trump and his supporters. As much or more emanates from the anti-Trump camp. On both sides, reason has seemingly taken flight. The hysterical tone of public discourse might suggest that totalitarianism, anarchy, and the collapse of Western civilization are lurking right around the corner.

The American Conservative for more

Economist Jeffrey Sachs: U.S. sanctions have devastated Venezuela & killed over 40,000 since 2017

Tuesday, May 21st, 2019


US Hands off Venezuela rally in Brisbane. PHOTO/Green Left

More than 40,000 people have died in Venezuela since 2017 as a result of U.S. sanctions, according to a new report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research co-authored by economists Jeffrey Sachs and Mark Weisbrot. The report examines how U.S. sanctions have reduced the availability of food and medicine in Venezuela and increased disease and mortality. We speak with Jeffrey Sachs in our New York studio. In the report, he writes, “American sanctions are deliberately aiming to wreck Venezuela’s economy and thereby lead to regime change. It’s a fruitless, heartless, illegal, and failed policy, causing grave harm to the Venezuelan people.”

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. Our guests are Miguel Tinker Salas, a Venezuelan professor at Pomona College in California; Jeffrey Sachs is with us here in New York, leading economist and director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University. He’s recently co-authored a report for the Center for Economic and Policy Research headlined “Economic Sanctions as Collective Punishment: The Case of Venezuela.”

So much is being used against the presidency of Maduro, saying he’s brought the country to an economic standstill. You make a different case, Jeffrey Sachs.

JEFFREY SACHS: Well, it’s not an economic standstill. It’s a complete economic collapse, a catastrophe, in Venezuela. There was a crisis, for sure, before Trump came to office, but the idea of the Trump administration, from the start, has been to overthrow Maduro. That’s not a hypothesis. Trump was very explicit in discussions with presidents of Latin America, where he asked them, “Why shouldn’t the U.S. just invade?” He said that already in 2017. So the idea of the Trump administration has been to overthrow Maduro from the start. Well, the Latin leaders said, “No, no, that’s not a good idea. We don’t want military action.” So the U.S. government has been trying to strangle the Venezuelan economy.

It started with sanctions in 2017 that prevented, essentially, the country from accessing international capital markets and the oil company from restructuring its loans. That put Venezuela into a hyperinflation. That was the utter collapse. Oil earnings plummeted. The earnings that are used to buy food and medicine collapsed. That’s when the social, humanitarian crisis went spiraling out of control. And then, in this year, with this idea, very naive, very stupid, in my view, that there would be this self-proclaimed president, which was all choreographed with the United States very, very closely, another round of even tighter sanctions, essentially confiscating the earnings and the assets of the Venezuelan government, took place.

Now Venezuela is in complete, utter catastrophe, a lot of it brought on by the United States deliberately, creating massive, massive suffering. We know there’s hunger. We know there’s a incredible shortage of medical supplies. We can only imagine, because we won’t know really until the dust settles and careful studies are done, how much excess mortality there is, but, surely, in a context like this, this is a catastrophe largely created by the U.S., because, as was said earlier, this is an all-or-nothing strategy. What the U.S.—what Trump just doesn’t understand and what Bolton, of all, of course, never agrees to, is the idea of negotiations. This is an attempt at an overthrow. It’s very crude. It’s not working. And it’s very cruel, because it’s punishing 30 million people.

AMY GOODMAN: How did you come up with the number 40,000 dead as a result of these crippling U.S. sanctions?

JEFFREY SACHS: Let me be clear: Nobody knows. This was a very basic, simple calculation based on estimates of universities in Venezuela that mortality had increased by a certain proportion after the sanctions. I don’t want anyone to think that there is precision in these numbers. What is certain, though, staring us in the face, is that there is a humanitarian catastrophe, deliberately caused by the United States, by what I would say are illegal sanctions, because they are deliberately trying to bring down a government and trying to create chaos for the purpose of an overthrow of a government.


JEFFREY SACHS: Why are they doing that? This is normal U.S. right-wing foreign policy, nothing different. This is the same foreign policy that we saw throughout Latin America in the 20th century. It’s the same foreign policy that we saw catastrophically in the Middle East. This is Mr. Bolton. This is Mr. Bolton’s idea of diplomacy. This is Trump’s idea of diplomacy. You punch someone in the face. You crush your opponent. You try whatever way you can to get your way. It’s very simpleminded. It’s very crude. And, Amy, it never works. It just leads to catastrophe.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring Miguel Tinker Salas back into this conversation, professor at Pomona College. As these protests were taking place in—or this coup attempt was taking place in Venezuela, in Honduras there were massive protests against privatization, also huge demonstrations in Paris. You certainly don’t get the same kind of coverage.

Democracy Now for more

Eating someone

Tuesday, May 21st, 2019


Lizzie #1
. PHOTO/© 2009 from the series Chattel

Farmed animals have personalities, smarts, even a sense of agency. Why then do we saddle them with lives of utter despair?

We’ve all heard them and used them – the common references to farmed animals that appeal to the worst part of human nature: ‘pearls before swine’, ‘what a pig’, ‘like lambs to the slaughter’, ‘bird brain’. These phrases represent our species’ view of farmed animals as not particularly bright, uncaring about their treatment or fate, and generally bland and monolithic in their identities. My team of researchers asked: ‘What is there to really know about them?’ Our answer: plenty.  

I’ve had the privilege of being the lead scientist for the Someone Project, a joint venture of two US nonprofit organisations, the Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy, and Farm Sanctuary. The Someone Project is an exploration of our scientific knowledge of the minds of farmed animals. My co-authors and I have explored the peer-reviewed literature on intelligence, personality, emotions and social complexity in pigs, chickens, cows and sheep, and the journey ‘inward’ into the minds of these animals has been nothing short of revelatory.

While most people accept that farmed animals possess simple emotions such as fear, they are less open to the idea that the animals’ emotions can be familiar and complex. One example is cognitive judgment bias, also known as optimism and pessimism. We all know the feeling of being able to take on the world when bolstered by good experiences and praise. And, unfortunately, we also know what it feels like to give up when we are pummelled by bad experiences. Cognitive bias is a deviation in judgment as a result of emotional experiences. How we interpret ambiguous stimuli or situations depends upon whether we are depressed or anxious, or feeling on top of the world. Pigs, chickens, sheep and cows feel it too. Just treat cows, sheep or chickens roughly through exposure to loud noise or the presence of a predator, or any other uncontrollable negative condition, and assess how they perform on a typical discrimination task differentiating between two stimuli to get a reward. Just like you, all that stress biases their brains and ability to do well.

In one study, sheep had to learn to discriminate between two buckets marked with different visual patterns (horizontal versus vertical stripes) and respond by walking over to either end of the room to the bucket associated with food. Sheep who experienced prior aversive events were compared with an unexposed group. When confronted with this simple task, the stressed-out sheep were more reluctant to approach the buckets and made more errors than their unexposed counterparts. After a tough life, they view the world through the opposite of rose-coloured glasses. Sound familiar?

If farmed animals are so vulnerable to bad treatment, how can we maintain the illusion that having one’s tails, ears and horns cut off makes no difference to them? The fact is that several scientific studies show sheep in despair, with physiological signs of stress and depression when subject to unpredictable and uncontrollable conditions such as the sudden appearance of a new object while they are eating. They are experiencing the well-known psychological phenomenon of learned helplessness, in which learning that one cannot control one’s environment or life leads to depression and lack of motivation to even try. Learned helplessness is seen in sheep, in other farmed animals, in many animals in zoos and marine parks, in lab animals, and, yes, in humans who experience continued hard knocks throughout life, especially as children.

Aeon for more

Sanctions are murder

Monday, May 20th, 2019


A view of Caracas, Venezuela. PHOTO/Aaron Anton/Flickr

As media and political figures cheer on regime change for the sake of the Venezuelan people, they say nothing about the sanctions that are killing ordinary Venezuelans.

CNN correspondent Frida Ghitis had some advice for the Trump administration on Venezuela as she stated her agreement with the president’s policy in the country: “The United States should refrain from intervening militarily,” she affirmed, “but should continue providing decisive diplomatic, and even logistical, support.” Who can argue with that?

Well, for one, the many Venezuelans who have already died from such “diplomatic support.” What Ghitis doesn’t say out loud is that she, like the rest of the political and media establishment, is backing the administration’s economic sanctions, that time-honored tool of diplomacy viewed in the political circles of DC as a “limited,” non-violent alternative to war.

Except as a new study reveals, the sanctions against Venezuela have been devastating for the very people Ghitis claims to “root for,” causing the deaths of tens of thousands while plunging millions into precarity. Unfortunately, Venezuela is no aberration: far from being the kind of non-violent method of diplomacy they’re portrayed as, the sanctions programs launched by Western policymakers can crush humanity as viciously as a bombing campaign.

What Rooting for the People Looks Like

The study in question, produced by economists Mark Weisbrot and Jeffrey Sachs, provides a virtual tour through the ravages brought on ordinary Venezuelans by Trump’s sanctions. The authors determine the country experienced around forty thousand more deaths from 2017 to 2018, as well as 300,000 people put at risk through lack of access to medicine and health care, including eighty thousand HIV-positive Venezuelans who have gone without antiretroviral drugs for two years now and sixteen thousand people on dialysis. There are four million people with diabetes and hypertension, many of whom can’t access the drugs they need.

Weisbrot and Sachs also confirm what has long been obvious: that while Venezuela’s economy had hit troubled waters due to its over-reliance on oil, corruption, and other factors — a key part of the argument made by regime change cheerleaders like Ghitis — it was the administration’s sanctions that turned a sorry situation into a full-fledged humanitarian crisis. The numbers make for grim reading.

The August 2017 sanctions sent oil production plummeting at more than three times the rate of the preceding twenty months, for a loss of around $6 billion in revenue. To put that into perspective, the authors note food and medicine imports in 2018 cost less than a third of that number. Virtually every basic necessity of Venezuelans’ daily life — food medicine, clean water, electricity, transportation — is funded through oil export revenue.

The round of sanctions imposed this past January further turned the screws. US imports for the first time fell to zero for a full three weeks. Oil revenues for this year, they write, are pegged to drop by “a cataclysmic and unprecedented” 67 percent from last year.

The study explains how the sanctions and other forms of pressure have painted the country into a corner. Trump pressured other countries not to buy Venezuela oil, sending production dropping by 130,000 barrels per day this year, more than six times the average rate of decline seen in the final six months of last year. Sanctions have frozen more than $17 billion worth of the country’s assets, barred the sale of billions of dollars in trade credits, and prevented the country from restructuring its foreign debt. It can’t even get the payments sent by countries participating in its program of preferential payment for oil.

In other words, not only have sanctions driven the country’s economy off a cliff, Trump has worked to close off any possible avenue the government could use to stabilize the economy and prevent the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe. And much of it was due to the August 2017 sanctions that outlets like the New York Times and Forbes characterized at the time as “limited” and not going to “have much effect beyond the simply political.”

This is important, because this economic and humanitarian crisis engineered by the Trump administration is typically blamed on Maduro alone, perversely then becoming a plank in arguments for regime change.

Ghitis writes that “the Maduro regime … devastated [Venezuela’s] economy and much of its social order,” blaming him for the country’s suddenly widespread poverty and lack of medicine. “The United States has been calling Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro to step down for months amidst an economic collapse and a humanitarian crisis,” said MSNBC’s Ali Velshi, shortly before a guest claimed that “the vast majority” of the crisis was due to Maduro and falling oil prices (US sanctions only “probably contributed to its exacerbating”).

Most recently, the Washington Post, in a piece of straight reporting, casually asserted that “corruption, mismanagement. and failed policies have brought Venezuela to its knees.” If you read only establishment media, Trump’s sanctions simply do not exist.

While the study lays all this out in stark and comprehensive fashion, it’s not as if we were unaware. The United Nations has been particularly ardent in condemning the sanctions.

Back in March 2018, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution criticizing their use, arguing they would disproportionately impact “the poor and most vulnerable classes” of Venezuela. UN agencies have actually been sending aid to mitigate their impact. Its human rights chief has charged the sanctions have “exacerbated” the country’s crisis, while one of its human rights experts warned the “use of sanctions by outside powers to overthrow an elected government is in violation of all norms of international law.” Particularly critical was Alfred de Zayas, the first UN rapporteur to visit the country in decades, who called the sanctions “economic warfare” and compared them to “medieval sieges of towns” that are now an attempt to bring “sovereign countries to their knees.”

This is what DC-speak like “root for the people” means in reality: plunge them into such misery and suffering in the hope that they might install your favored leader out of despair.

Not the First Siege

But Venezuela is not unique in this. Sanctions, while marketed as a softer, kinder tool of coercion, have led to appalling humanitarian outcomes in country after country.

Obama’s sanctions against Iran — “The Toughest Sanctions Ever Faced by the Iranian Government” — were devastating for ordinary Iranians. A year in, the Stanford Journal of International Relations determined they were “having a strangling effect on Iran’s economy,” with unemployment somewhere between 13 and 20 percent, the cost of food and drink jumping 20 percent since the previous year, and the consumer price index (CPI) shooting up 12.9 percent (by contrast, the CPI had gone up only 1.4 percent for the US in this period). As one Democrat responded to critics who charged sanctions would “hurt the Iranian people”: “we need to do just that,” and possibly even “tighten the screws further.”

Eventually, Iran’s currency collapsed, there was a Venezuela-like shortage of food and medicine, and the government was closed out from international markets, forced into barter deals to get access to basic commodities. International aid agencies and Iranian expats couldn’t even send donations when an earthquake ripped apart the country in August 2012.

The cost of energy and staple foods skyrocketed, with food riots regularly breaking out. Iranians were forced into heartbreaking situations, unable to pay or even travel for medical treatment, like one four-year-old girl who needed life-saving surgery on her oesophagus in the UK. By 2015, then-Treasury secretary Jacob Lew estimated the sanctions had slashed Iran’s GDP by 15-20 percent.

Trump’s policies have taken an already cruel situation and made it crueler. By March 2019, Iranian oil exports had fallen from the 3.8 million barriers per day they were at the start of 2018 to 1.1 million, with Trump pledging to “bring Iran’s oil exports to zero.” GDP, the Iranian currency the rial, the cost of food: after stabilizing with the easing of sanctions, all have spun out of control once more. Medicine for certain diseases is again hard to find. After falling nearly 4 percent last year, the IMF expects GDP to contract another 6 percent this year. And while certain countries were allowed waivers to keep importing Iran’s oil, those waives expired last week.

It’s a similar situation when it comes to the administration’s other nemesis, North Korea. Decades of sanctions have failed to produce their desired outcome, but have made life even more hellish for its people, combining with the collapse of the Soviet Union (the country’s former chief trading partner) and a string of natural disasters to send the country’s economy spiraling downward in the post-Cold War world.

Jacobin for more

Amid mass beheadings, Wall Street scrambles for Saudi profits

Monday, May 20th, 2019


IMAGE/Human Rights Watch

The hideous public beheadings of 37 men in a single day in Saudi Arabia last Tuesday have provoked scant protest from Western governments or the corporate media.

The same newspapers and broadcast networks that have summoned up their moral outrage over abuses, both manufactured and real, by governments in Russia, China, Iran, Syria and Venezuela are clearly unmoved by these criminal executions. They maintain their stony silence even though those who were decapitated with swords included three young men who were arrested as minors, tortured into signing confessions and convicted of “terrorism” for daring to join protests against the country’s monarchical dictatorship.

One of those beheaded was Abdulkarem al-Hawaj, arrested when he was just 16 by Saudi security forces for attending a protest in the country’s Eastern Province, home to most of Saudi Arabia’s Shia minority population. Beginning in 2011, the oil-rich province has seen protests over the systematic discrimination and oppression against Shias at the hands of a monarchy whose rule is bound up with the official state-sponsored religious doctrine of Wahhabism, an ultra-conservative Sunni sect.

Abdulkarem’s real “crime” was apparently the fact that he used social media to encourage participation in a demonstration. He was held in solitary confinement, beaten, tortured with electric cables and hung in chains by his wrists until he submitted to signing a false confession.

Also murdered in the barbaric execution spree was Mujtaba al-Sweikat, who was 17 when he was arrested at an airport as he was about to board a plane to the United States, where he was to become a student at Western Michigan University. His crime was also daring to demonstrate against the Saudi royal dictatorship.

His father, who represented him at his sham trial, accused the state of creating the “illusion” of a “terrorist cell” where none existed. “He was subjected to psychological and physical abuse which drained his strength,” Sweikat’s father told the court. “The interrogator dictated the confession to Sweikat and forced him to sign it so that the torture would stop. He signed it.”

As in all the other cases, the court ignored the evidence of torture and forced confessions and imposed the sentence of death by decapitation already dictated by the House of Saud.

The US government has said next to nothing about these atrocities. A State Department spokesman issued a boilerplate statement allowing that “We have seen these reports. We urge the government of Saudi Arabia, and all governments, to ensure trial guarantees, freedom from arbitrary and extrajudicial detention, transparency, rule of law, and freedom of religion and belief.”

During the same two days after the Saudi public beheadings, which included the crucifixion of one of the victims and the display of a severed head on a pike to intimidate anyone thinking of opposing the kingdom’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the US State Department managed to churn out statements condemning Russia for “gross human rights violations” in Chechnya; Venezuela for use of “intimidation and imprisonment” against the US-funded right-wing opposition; and Havana for acting to “suppress the human rights of the Cuban people.”

Washington’s patent indifference to the mass executions in Saudi Arabia exposes the cynicism and hypocrisy of all of US imperialism’s “human rights” pretensions and its feigned outrage over alleged crimes carried out by governments it views as strategic rivals or ones it is seeking to overthrow. The United States has long counted Saudi Arabia as a pillar of imperialist domination and reaction in the Middle East, and the Obama administration exhibited a similar reaction to the mass execution of 47 men in January 2016.

But just as blatant as the complicity of the US government with the crimes of the Saudi regime is the embrace of the bloody monarchical dictatorship by Wall Street and global finance capital.

WSWS for more

Peace is the sole option

Monday, May 20th, 2019


As the tension between India and Pakistan eases, it is time to reflect on the great folly and the horrible catastrophe even a short war between them would have been. It is also necessary to realise that peace cannot be taken for granted; it will have to be secured through a properly planned campaign.

When the two South Asian neighbours embarked on a collision course, the international community became afraid of a nuclear conflict perhaps to a greater extent than the people of the two countries, especially their rulers. This was because the danger of nuclear weapons being used is greater in South Asia than anywhere else in the world.

The reason is, firstly, that unlike older nuclear powers, who could fight with conventional weapons for considerably long periods, the South Asian rivals might exhaust their conventional war capacity soon after the beginning of hostilities and come under pressure to use the ultimate weapon in their respective arsenals.

Secondly, old scenarios of nuclear war involved countries situated long distances away from each other and neither side was likely to be affected by the fallout from its use of nuclear devices. But in South Asia, whoever uses a nuclear bomb against its next-door neighbour will cause its own people almost as much loss and suffering as it might inflict on the rival party. Thus, while extolling the value of nuclear weapons as a deterrent to external aggression, the hazards of possessing them must not be ignored. That the acquisition of nuclear weapons increases a state’s responsibility to contribute towards the maintenance of peace is the first lesson of the recent confrontation.

The world cannot ignore the verdict of history that wars do not solve any problem.

Further, the world cannot ignore the verdict of history that wars do not solve any problem. Instead, they often create problems more intractable than the ones they are supposed to solve.

Fortunately, both countries realise not only the unaffordable cost of a full-scale war but also the fact that neither side is in a position to obliterate the other. This is a more effective insurance against war than anything else. Therefore, the present Indian government is relying on the theory of ‘surgical strikes’ to force Pakistan into submission. An extension of the doctrine of hot pursuit that has considerably subverted the laws of warfare, this theory keeps the danger of war alive, because Pakistan is likely to respond to any Indian intrusion in the same coin.

Even if surgical strikes do not escalate into a wider conflict, they ought to be rejected on moral grounds because of the possible harm to innocent human beings. Further, a surgical strike imposes no additional costs on the aggressor while the cost of the preparedness the victim country must maintain is quite substantial.

The one positive result of the latest spell of tension in relations with India is the beginning of action against the already proscribed militant outfits that should have accompanied the launch of the National Action Plan in 2014, if not earlier. This should reduce Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ability to act on the surgical strike theory because he derives strength for his bellicose posturing from the international community’s uneasiness with Islamabad’s reluctance to deal firmly with militant organisations.

This is particularly true about groups that defy restrictions on them by operating under new banners and continue their anti-Pakistan activities without too much effort at camouflage. The policy of taking the initiative for building peace without wailing for reciprocity by India that the Pakistani prime minister has adopted must be vigorously supported.

The campaign against all organisations suspected of any links with terrorist activities will need to be carried to its logical conclusion. In this regard, it is wrong to attribute the international community’s criticism of Pakistan’s odd relationship with jihadist outfits wholly to Indian instigation. Above all, the people of this country must satisfy their own conscience that they are firmly opposed to every form of terrorism.

DAWN for more

Weekend Edition

Friday, May 17th, 2019