Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

One country, two sessions, multiple tweaks

Thursday, March 21st, 2019


PHOTO/The Yomiuri Shimbun/AFP

Contrary to Western doom and gloom interpretations, China’s two sessions now taking place in Beijing offer a fascinating mix of realpolitik and soft power. Every year, the two sessions involve the National People’s Congress (NPC) – the legislative body – and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) – the political advisory body – laying down the Chinese equivalent of the state of the union.   

Premier Li Keqiang’s report acknowledged that Beijing foresees “graver and more complex” risks and “both predictable and unpredictable” challenges, with the conclusion that  China must be “prepared to fight tough battles” in 2019. It was undiluted realpolitik.

An economic growth target in the range of 6.0% to 6.5% is still massive in terms of the expansion of global capitalism – irrespective of the usual suspects carping on about China “stalling” or mired “in deep crisis.”

A deficit-to-GDP ratio set at 2.8% – slightly higher than the 2.6% last year – is not exactly a problem for such a huge economy.

What’s quite intriguing is how “Made in China 2025” – the full designation – simply vanished from the 2019 Government Work Report.

Yet the policy remains – transmuted in the report on the expansion of “smart plus.” By extending tax cuts for manufacturers and small-business taxpayers, Beijing will keep driving no holds barred toward what Li defined as “building up a powerful manufacturing country” – from industrial development to tech innovation.

Prosperity, Sun Tzu-style

The Sun Tzu tweak is that Beijing will tone down promoting the Made in China 2025 drive in public. Yes, the Chinese are learning soft-power techniques – fast.

Beijing’s top targets remain, well, on target; to lift 30 million rural residents from poverty and to double per capita income by next year from a decade earlier, thus arriving at the cherished status of “moderately prosperous society.” By any measure, this is a groundbreaking achievement of historic proportions. 

It’s virtually impossible for the West to understand the intricacies of how decisions are made in China. First you consult – broadly, vertically and horizontally. Then you reach a – strategic – consensus. The results are firmly set in annual meetings such as the two sessions and in detailed five-year plans.

Asia Times for more

In Zimbabwe, capitalist crisis + ultra-neoliberal policy = ‘Mugabesque’ authoritarianism

Thursday, March 21st, 2019


Zimbabwean protesters block a major road leading into the city centre of Harare. PHOTO/ Aaron Ufumeli/EPA/The Guardian

PART ONE: Finance minister a ‘fraud’ and ‘political moron,’ as army represses protests

Once again, a formidable burst of state brutality against Zimbabwe’s citizenry has left at least a dozen corpses, scores of serious injuries, mass arrests, internet suspension and a furious citizenry. The January 14-17 nationwide protests were called by trade unions against an unprecedented fuel price hike, leading to repression reminiscent of former leader Robert Mugabe’s iron fist.

Most of the country’s economy ground to a halt. For more than a week, the cities remained ghost towns, as army troops continued attacking even ordinary civilians who are desperate to earn a living in what often seems to be the country’s main occupation these days: street vending of cheap imported commodities. A national strike of 500,000 civil service workers has been called. Most essential commodities are now vastly overpriced or in very short supply. This is what a full-on capitalist crisis looks like.

The stresses are obvious within elite politics, for as ever in Harare, rumors of political upheaval abound. But whatever happens to the ruling party’s leadership, a more brutal fiscal policy plus an even tighter state squeeze on hard currency appear to be the new constants. The stubbornness of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s leadership is partly due to the ideological fervor of his finance minister, Mthuli Ncube, an academic economist with a dubious practical track record and fast-fading international credibility (as CNN interviewers now openly laugh at answers to questions). Ncube argues that Zimbabwe’s problems boil down to loan repayment arrears to international creditors, a high state budget deficit and a trade deficit.

In addition to ultra-neoliberal macroeconomics, Mnangagwa depends on Vice President Constantino Chiwenga’s renewed authoritarian tendencies. The country’s crony-capitalist system is being shaken by its own contradictions, even more profoundly than in the darkest days: before Rhodesian colonizers finally gave up power in 1980, when the Third World debt crisis hit hard in 1984, when deindustrialization began with a ‘homegrown’ (i.e. World Bank-transmitted) structural adjustment program in 1991, when foreign debt defaults began in 1998, in the lead up to several hotly-contested elections (especially 2000, 2002, 2005 and 2008), and when the local currency crashed to its death in 2009.

Post-coup, return of the ‘IMF Riot’

The protest was sparked by a 150% overnight price increase in petrol announced on Saturday, January 12. At $3.31/litre, this makes it the world’s most expensive retail fuel, with Hong Kong second at $2.05/litre. The next day, Mnangagwa and a plane-load of colleagues departed for Russia, Belarus and Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan in search of mineral investors, energy deals and what the president called Moscow’s “state of the art” (albeit unaffordable) military equipment. Indeed, Mnangagwa was meant to continue to Davos for the World Economic Forum, but was persuaded that the country – and his own leadership – were in peril, so instead headed home.

Mnangagwa’s first tweet after arriving back in Harare was in defence of the fuel price hike, “not a decision we took lightly. But it was the right thing to do. What followed was regrettable and tragic.” He promised to look into army and police thuggery, but hopes for a reckoning are vain, since his own background is littered with the country’s most extreme post-liberation repression (he managed the 1980s ‘Gukhurahundi’ massacres of more than 20,000 Ndebele people), and since his own spokesman (inherited from Mugabe) told the press that the recent army attacks – which included numerous rapes – were “a foretaste of things to come.”

At this writing, army repression continues and leading activists remain behind bars, including five members of parliament. The term that veteran Zimbabwean social justice activist Elinor Sisulu uses to describe Mnangagwa’s dictatorial tendencies, ‘Mugabesque,’ is now very hard to refute, in spite of Ncube’s surreal whitewash attempts in Davos last week.

Recall that Mugabe had run Zimbabwe since 1980, after leading the armed liberation struggle against the white racist Rhodesian regime of Ian Smith. Twenty years on, he was threatened with probable electoral defeat. So his belated, urgent and chaotic land reform – against a few thousand mainly-reactionary white settlers who for a century had controlled nearly all Zimbabwe’s good farmland – gained him permanent hatred from the Western establishment. Though land redistribution was justifiably popular in some circles, Mnangagwa last year admitted that the acquisitions had “robbed the country of its breadbasket status,” given how much of the staple maize needed to be imported (even while tobacco production hit record highs). As a result, land acquisition was “now a thing of the past,” the new president promised.

Riddled with corruption and dictatorial tendencies, Mugabe’s ruling party – the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) – had meanwhile become widely hated in the cities, which were mainly governed by the liberal opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), whose constituents gave Mnangagwa’s 2017 coup their immediate, joyful approval. But the celebration was brief and the hangover long, for MDC founding leader Morgan Tsvangirai died of cancer early last year and the mid-2018 national election witnessed Mnangagwa victory’s, one that his MDC successor, Nelson Chamisa, considered to be rigged.

Z COMM for more

Columnist Thiessen, in calling AOC ‘economically illiterate,’ displays instead own economic ignorance

Thursday, March 21st, 2019


“Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez attends the SXSW premiere of the Netflix Original Documentary ‘Knock Down the House’ at The Paramount Theater on March 10, 2019, in Austin, Texas. Ocasio-Cortez called Fox News ‘AOC TMZ.'” PHOTO/Roger Kisby/Getty Images for Netflix/Newsweek

Listening to President Trump, you’d think the socialist barbarians were at the gates of America preparing to overrun the US with a Soviet-style state-run economy where every car would be the same make and color, everyone would be wearing Mao suits and freedom and social mobility, those great mythical assets that we supposedly have in unique abundance here in the land of the free and home of the brave, would vanish.

“Socialists” (that’s another discussion) like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez want the US to be like Venezuela, Trump warns in his whiney little voice. Speaking to an audience of wealthy Venezuelan self-exiles in Florida, he said, “The socialists have done in Venezuela all of the same things that socialists, communists, totalitarians have done everywhere that they have had a chance to rule…This will never happen to us.”

In most parts of the world, Trump’s over-the-top and wildly ignorant denunciation of socialism would be greeted with uproarious laughter, as would his cartoonish characterization of Venezuela’s current crisis (which is really the result mainly of the collapse in oil prices and economic sanctions by the US). But there’s little amusement here in America, where socialism is, for many, still a dirty word, akin to Stalinism.

That’s because almost uniquely in the world, Americans have been insulated and cut off from information about how in many very democratic nations, especially in Europe, socialist-influenced policies and programs, like free college education, generous unemployment benefits, highly progressive tax rates, retirement schemes that actually allow people to retire without falling into poverty, state-funded health systems that guarantee quality care to everyone, labor laws that guarantee generous vacations to all workers, and publicly funded, modern mass transit systems that make it so families don’t need to pay for and drive two cars can exist and thrive in societies that are often freer and that boast more social mobility than the US.

That’s why we can have people like Marc A. Thiessen, a right-wing columnist at the Washington Post, get away with publishing an inanity like the syndicated column he wrote last week headlined, “Why economic illiteracy is dangerous.” In it, he condemns AOC for her “dangerous economic illiteracy” in “celebrating the tanking of a deal negotiated by her fellow Democrats” that would have brought HQ2, a second headquarters for giant e-retailer Amazon to New York City, allegedly producing “25,000-40,000 new jobs.” In so doing, he displayed both his own ignorance of economics and taxes, and also a sterling example of the kind of pro-capitalist propaganda that passes for intelligent journalism in the US.

Thiessen, in condemning AOC’s success in helping to kill that humongous tax give-away deal by New York City to a mega-company that last year and in 2017 paid no corporate profit taxes to the IRS on total net earnings over those two years of $13 billion, and in calling the feisty new young Congresswoman “economically illiterate,” really is a suck-up offering a wet kiss to his boss, Jeff Bezos, not giving readers a reasoned lesson in economics. After all, while the brief bio at the end of his column doesn’t mention it, the newspaper he writes for is owned by Bezos, Amazon’s founder, CEO and world’s richest man — at least subject to whatever divorce settlement he manages to reach (with no pre-nup agreement) from the wife he recently got caught cheating on and to the fluctuating value of his Amazon’s stock.

Thiessen’s reasoning: In attacking the Amazon deal, AOC was claiming that the $3 billion tax holiday offered as a lure by New York’s politicians in return for Amazon building a second headquarters in the city, is money that could instead go towards the city’s hiring more teachers, fixing the crumbling subway, and putting people to work in other jobs at companies that pay their taxes.

Counterpunch for more

Assange in Room 101: The prisoner says no to Big Brother

Wednesday, March 20th, 2019


” John Pilger invokes George Orwell in calling on his compatriots to stand up for the freedom of ‘a distinguished Australian’, the founder and editor of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, and for ‘real journalism of a kind now considered exotic’.”

Whenever I visit Julian Assange, we meet in a room he knows too well. There is a bare table and pictures of Ecuador on the walls. There is a bookcase where the books never change. The curtains are always drawn and there is no natural light. The air is still and fetid.

This is Room 101.

Before I enter Room 101, I must surrender my passport and phone. My pockets and possessions are examined. The food I bring is inspected.

The man who guards Room 101 sits in what looks like an old-fashioned telephone box. He watches a screen, watching Julian. There are others unseen, agents of the state, watching and listening.

Cameras are everywhere in Room 101. To avoid them, Julian manoeuvres us both into a corner, side by side, flat up against the wall. This is how we catch up: whispering and writing to each other on a notepad, which he shields from the cameras. Sometimes we laugh.

I have my designated time slot. When that expires, the door in Room 101 bursts open and the guard says, “Time is up!” On New Year’s Eve, I was allowed an extra 30 minutes and the man in the phone box wished me a happy new year, but not Julian.

Of course, Room 101 is the room in George Orwell’s prophetic novel, 1984, where the thought police watched and tormented their prisoners, and worse, until people surrendered their humanity and principles and obeyed Big Brother.

Julian Assange will never obey Big Brother. His resilience and courage are astonishing, even though his physical health struggles to keep up.

Julian is a distinguished Australian, who has changed the way many people think about duplicitous governments. For this, he is a political refugee subjected to what the United Nations calls “arbitrary detention”.

The UN says he has the right of free passage to freedom, but this is denied. He has the right to medical treatment without fear of arrest, but this is denied. He has the right to compensation, but this is denied.

As founder and editor of WikiLeaks, his crime has been to make sense of dark times. WikiLeaks has an impeccable record of accuracy and authenticity which no newspaper, no TV channel, no radio station, no BBC, no New York Times, no Washington Post, no Guardian can equal. Indeed, it shames them.

That explains why he is being punished.

For example:

Last week, the International Court of Justice ruled that the British Government had no legal powers over the Chagos Islanders, who in the 1960s and 70s, were expelled in secret from their homeland on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean and sent into exile and poverty. Countless children died, many of them, from sadness. It was an epic crime few knew about.

For almost 50 years, the British have denied the islanders’ the right to return to their homeland, which they had given to the Americans for a major military base.

In 2009, the British Foreign Office concocted a “marine reserve” around the Chagos archipelago.

This touching concern for the environment was exposed as a fraud when WikiLeaks published a secret cable from the British Government reassuring the Americans that “the former inhabitants would find it difficult, if not impossible, to pursue their claim for resettlement on the islands if the entire Chagos Archipelago were a marine reserve.”

The truth of the conspiracy clearly influenced the momentous decision of the International Court of Justice.

WikiLeaks has also revealed how the United States spies on its allies; how the CIA can watch you through your iPhone; how Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton took vast sums of money from Wall Street for secret speeches that reassured the bankers that if she was elected, she would be their friend.

In 2016, WikiLeaks revealed a direct connection between Clinton and organised jihadism in the Middle East: terrorists, in other words. One email disclosed that when Clinton was US Secretary of State, she knew that Saudi Arabia and Qatar were funding Islamic State, yet she accepted huge donations for her foundation from both governments.

She then approved the world’s biggest ever arms sale to her Saudi benefactors: arms that are currently being used against the stricken people of Yemen.

That explains why he is being punished.

WikiLeaks has also published more than 800,000 secret files from Russia, including the Kremlin, telling us more about the machinations of power in that country than the specious hysterics of the Russiagate pantomime in Washington.

This is real journalism – journalism of a kind now considered exotic: the antithesis of Vichy journalism, which speaks for the enemy of the people and takes its sobriquet from the Vichy government that occupied France on behalf of the Nazis.

Vichy journalism is censorship by omission, such as the untold scandal of the collusion between Australian governments and the United States to deny Julian Assange his rights as an Australian citizen and to silence him.

In 2010, Prime Minister Julia Gillard went as far as ordering the Australian Federal Police to investigate and hopefully prosecute Assange and WikiLeaks – until she was informed by the AFP that no crime had been committed.

Last weekend, the Sydney Morning Herald published a lavish supplement promoting a celebration of “Me Too” at the Sydney Opera House on 10 March. Among the leading participants is the recently retired Minister of Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop.

Bishop has been on show in the local media lately, lauded as a loss to politics: an “icon”, someone called her, to be admired.

The elevation to celebrity feminism of one so politically primitive as Bishop tells us how much so-called identity politics have subverted an essential, objective truth: that what matters, above all, is not your gender but the class you serve.

Before she entered politics, Julie Bishop was a lawyer who served the notorious asbestos miner James Hardie which fought claims by men and their families dying horribly with black lung disease.

Lawyer Peter Gordon recalls Bishop “rhetorically asking the court why workers should be entitled to jump court queues just because they were dying.”

Bishop says she “acted on instructions… professionally and ethically”.

Perhaps she was merely “acting on instructions” when she flew to London and Washington last year with her ministerial chief of staff, who had indicated that the Australian Foreign Minister would raise Julian’s case and hopefully begin the diplomatic process of bringing him home.

Julian’s father had written a moving letter to the then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, asking the government to intervene diplomatically to free his son. He told Turnbull that he was worried Julian might not leave the embassy alive.

Julie Bishop had every opportunity in the UK and the US to present a diplomatic solution that would bring Julian home. But this required the courage of one proud to represent a sovereign, independent state, not a vassal.

Instead, she made no attempt to contradict the British Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, when he said outrageously that Julian “faced serious charges”. What charges? There were no charges.

Australia’s Foreign Minister abandoned her duty to speak up for an Australian citizen, prosecuted with nothing, charged with nothing, guilty of nothing.

Will those feminists who fawn over this false icon at the Opera House next Sunday be reminded of her role in colluding with foreign forces to punish an Australian journalist, one whose work has revealed that rapacious militarism has smashed the lives of millions of ordinary women in many countries: in Iraq alone, the US-led invasion of that country, in which Australia participated, left 700,000 widows.

So what can be done? An Australian government that was prepared to act in response to a public campaign to rescue the refugee football player, Hakeem al-Araibi, from torture and persecution in Bahrain, is capable of bringing Julian Assange home.

Yet the refusal by the Department of Foreign Affairs in Canberra to honour the United Nations’ declaration that Julian is the victim of “arbitrary detention” and has a fundamental right to his freedom, is a shameful breach of the spirit of international law.

Why has the Australian government made no serious attempt to free Assange? Why did Julie Bishop bow to the wishes of two foreign powers? Why is this democracy traduced by its servile relationships, and integrated with lawless foreign power?

The persecution of Julian Assange is the conquest of us all: of our independence, our self-respect, our intellect, our compassion, our politics, our culture.

So stop scrolling. Organise. Occupy. Insist. Persist. Make a noise. Take direct action. Be brave and stay brave. Defy the thought-police.

War is not peace, freedom is not slavery, ignorance is not strength. If Julian can stand up to Big Brother, so can you: so can all of us.

Signs of the Times for more

Age of the autosexual: The people sexually attracted to themselves

Wednesday, March 20th, 2019

Lots of people are saying ‘I do’ to themselves in special ceremonies.
PHOTO.gor Ustynskyy/Getty Images

Are you turned on when you look in the mirror, and enjoy nothing more than a steamy night at home alone? You could be an autosexual

Name: Autosexuality.

Age: Exactly as old as I am.

Appearance: Beautiful, fun, charming, attractive, sexy. Like me.

If you don’t mind me saying so, you seem pretty pleased with yourself. Yes, I am, thanks.

It’s like you think you’re all that. I certainly do.

Wow. You’re really quite full of yourself, aren’t you? I wish.

Look, I’m trying to insult you. Will you please just act wounded? No can do. I’m too happy.

Why? Because I’m head over heels in love.

With whom? With me.

Wait. Who’s in love with you? I am.

What? My orientation happens to be autosexual.

What do you mean? Like a sexy robot? No, not like a sexy robot.

Or does it mean you get aroused by cars, like Jeremy Clarkson? It means that I am sexually attracted to myself.

How does that even work? Well, I usually start by lighting a few candles and checking I’ve got fresh batteries. Then …

Stop. If you’re talking about masturbation, everybody does that. I hear. Autosexuality is different from autoeroticism. It’s more about masturbating to the idea of yourself.

I’m afraid the distinction is lost on me. You might, for example, be turned on by your own nudity. In my case I’m also autoromantic – I literally love myself.

What are you talking about? I mean I get butterflies in my stomach when I think about me.

No you don’t. Yes I do. I go on dates with myself and buy myself romantic gifts.

If you love yourself so much, why don’t you marry yourself? I may. The writer Ghia Vitale got engaged to herself in 2017, and plans a self-wedding at some point.

What’s stopping her? Cold feet? She’s just taking things slowly. “Although I will one day be my own wife, I am enjoying the feeling of being engaged.”

You are so having me on. I’m not, honestly. Sologamy is a real and growing phenomenon. Lots of people are saying “I do” to themselves in special ceremonies these days, although it is not legally recognised anywhere in the world.

Are you sure this isn’t more to do with the lonely resignation of people who can’t have relationships with others? Not all autosexual romances are monogamous, even if they are central to one’s love life. “I now realise that my relationship with myself is as valid as any other relationship,” says Vitale.

Do say: “Who’s the pretty girl in the mirror over there?”

Don’t say: “Look, this just isn’t working. It’s not me, it’s me.”

The Guardian for more

My Wise Country Cousin on de Dems Raymond

Wednesday, March 20th, 2019


team Pelosi

Whoa, son! Why de hell you axin’ me ‘bout de Dems—
‘Bout de Miss Nancys, Cap’n Stenys, an’ Unca Jims?
Tolt you, dey ‘bout as crookit as dat dawg’s hine leg—
Try dem all wit a lil Tenderness—at De Heg!
Dey stealin’ monee frum de workin’ people, de poor—
Fo’ de multibillionaires makin’ endless war…

De rich congriss gettin’ Socialized Medisun—
We, de Pay, or Die Systum, dats unda de gun
“Singul Payur” Miss Nancy smirk, “boy, you git on bak—
Nothin’ on de tabul but Affordabull Cair Ak!!”
Two Buk Chuk sneer, “An de same go fo’ de Green Nu Deel—
Lobbeeist drops off de green fo’ us keepin’ it real…”

Miss Nancy laff, “Monee de mutha’s milk ob politks!”
“It’s Godfatha,” Cap’n Steny say, “de durtee triks!”
He chukal, “Naw, politks de art ob compromize…”
“Pure lip servus,” Two Buk Chuk wax,“ we cut wit lies!”
Dat Bookur boy whispur, “A lot lak sawsich makin’—
Nobody outside de factree sees how we fakin’!”

“Gang,” Miss Nancy smile, “ahm holdin’ dis big ass gabul—
Fo’ poundin’ down lak nails, de yung, unrulee rabbul…
Go on, Cap’n Steny, Whip dey asses in jes’ de right shape—
Unca Jim, lok de chamburs’ do’ so dey caint escape!”
Miss Nancy sigh, “Crew, no job hardur den Unca Jim’s—
Brow-beatin’ de newbies, an’ pettin’ de Blue Dawg Dems…

Fus day ob Congriss, Unca Jim say, “Cap’n Steny de Whip—
Y’all Blue Wave whippersnappers, don’ gib him no lip!
Hey newbies lissen up, ‘cause de Whip don’ take no mess
Lak anti-semetik tomfoolery—BDS—
An de Motown gal, de Mooselum gal, an Ms. Cortez
Will lurn Lesson #1: Do Lak Miss Nancy Sez!”

Black Agenda Report for more

On the Basis of Sex and Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The manufacturing of a “living legend”

Tuesday, March 19th, 2019


Felicity Jones in
On the Basis of Sex

Directed by Mimi Leder, written by Daniel Stiepleman

The second feature-length film about US Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in less than a year came to theaters on Christmas day, titled On the Basis of Sex, a reference to gender-based discrimination. Mimi Leder’s two-hour biopic—a tedious cinematic effort—seeks to rally a core constituency of the Democratic Party: upper-middle-class women.

Last April, Ginsburg featured in the documentary RBG —her initials and a reference to her nickname in liberal circles, Notorious RBG—itself a reference to the prominent 1990s rapper Biggie Smalls (the Notorious B.I.G.).

The moniker “Notorious RBG” comes from a liberal blogger who commented on Ginsburg’s defense of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder in 2013. Offered in the spirit of respect and enthusiasm for the aging spokesperson for the high court’s ostensibly liberal bloc, the name found its way to a “Saturday Night Live” sketch. In the latter, a glib and defiant Ginsburg (played by Kate McKinnon) insists that, in the face of impending right-wing appointments to the Supreme Court by Donald Trump, she will never retire.

On the Basis of Sex follows this adulating path. It is a thoroughly artificial undertaking, whose screenplay—edited by Ginsburg herself no less than three times—was written by her own nephew, Daniel Stiepleman. It depicts Ginsburg’s legal education, early career as a professor and civil rights attorney, and her family life.

As a legal drama, On the Basis of Sex has some limited merit. One can sympathize with then (1972) civil rights attorney Ginsburg (Felicity Jones) eagerly representing Charles Moritz (Chris Mulkey), who was not allowed to claim a tax deduction for nursing expenses for his elderly mother. Under the tax code at the time, the deduction was available for women or for men whose wives were deceased or incapacitated, but not for men who simply had never been married. Even though the tax exemption ostensibly favored women—making it easier for them to join the workforce by hiring in-home care for an aging parent—Ginsburg and her colleagues took the case to the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit and earned a noteworthy victory.

World Socialist Web Site for more

CNN town hall with Bernie Sanders

Tuesday, March 19th, 2019


The crowd chanted “Bernie!” — and then he took selfies with the audience

CNN’s town hall with Sen. Bernie Sanders just wrapped up. As CNN’s Wolf Blitzer closed out the event, the audience chanted, “Bernie! Bernie!”

After the cameras stopped rolling, Sanders thanked the audience and said they asked good questions.

Sanders: The pharmaceutical industry is “the most greedy entity in this country today”

From CNN’s Tami Luhby

When asked about how he would lower drug prices, Sanders said, “Don’t get me going. We have a limited amount of time.”

One out of five Americans can???t afford their medicine, he said, noting that parents post to his social media sites after their children died because they couldn’t afford insulin.

He slammed his longtime foes, the pharmaceutical industry, which he called “the most greedy entity in this country today” that made $50 billion last year.

The senator outlined his plan to reduce drug costs, which would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices, permit the importation of medications from Canada and elsewhere and base prices on the cost of medications in other countries.

The pharma industry will be hard to defeat, especially because “they own the Congress. They have lobbyists all over the place,” he said.“The only way you beat the drug companies is when millions of people stand up and say ‘I’m not going to allow you to kill my wife or my kids’,” Sanders said. “We’re not going to pay outrageous prices.”9:21 p.m. ET, February 25, 2019

Sanders stops short of calling Maduro a “dictator,” warns against outside intervention in Venezuela

From CNN’s Greg Krieg

Sen. Bernie Sanders didn’t label Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro a “dictator” tonight, despite criticizing his government for failing to hold democratic elections.

CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked Sanders, “Why have you stopped short of calling Maduro of Venezuela a dictator?”“It’s fair to say the last election was undemocratic, but there are still democratic operations taking place in that country,” Sanders said. “What I am calling for right now is internationally supervised free elections.”

In a tweet on Saturday, Sanders called for a de-escalation of tensions on the country’s border with Colombia.

“The people of Venezuela are enduring a serious humanitarian crisis,” he tweeted. “The Maduro government must put the needs of its people first, allow humanitarian aid into the country, and refrain from violence against protesters.”

Sanders on Monday night again warned against the “unintended consequences” of foreign intervention, instead calling for “internationally supervised free elections.”

“I’m old enough to remember the war in Vietnam,” Sanders said, before ticking off past American political interference in Central and South America. “I am very fearful of the United States continuing to do what it has done in past — the United States overthrew a democratically elected government in Chile, and in Brazil, and in Guatemala.”

He then compared the “despotic regime” in Saudi Arabia with the leadership in Venezuela and said the US should do all it could to foster a “democratic climate.”

“But I do not believe,” he added, “in US military intervention in those countries.”

CNN for more

Islam after Salman

Tuesday, March 19th, 2019


Muslims burning copies of Salman Rushdie’s
The Satanic Verses in front of Bradford City Hall, Bradford, UK. PHOTO/Derek Hudson/Getty

The Satanic Verses would not be written or published today. What’s changed since Salman Rushdie’s notorious novel?

‘Nobody would have the balls today to write The Satanic Verses, let alone publish it,’ the writer Hanif Kureishi told a journalist in 2009. Salman Rushdie’s notorious novel, like Kureishi’s figure of speech, is indeed looking like a relic of a bygone time. When it was published 31 years ago, the global furore was unprecedented. There were protests, book-burnings and riots. Iran’s leader Ayatollah Khomeini called on Muslims to kill Rushdie, a bounty was placed on his head, and there were murders, attempted and successful, of supporters, publishers and translators. The author spent years in hiding. 

Three decades later, the novel remains in print, widely available, and the author walks about a largely free man. But if the skirmish over The Satanic Verses was won, a larger battle might have been lost. Who now would dare to write a provocative fiction exploring the origins of Islam? The social and political aspects of the Rushdie affair obscured one of the key ideas at stake: can someone from a Muslim background take material from the life of the prophet Muhammad to compose an innovative, irreverent and resolutely godless work of fiction?

Subsequent experience suggests not. The cases of the caricatures in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005 and the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo at various times between 2006 and 2015 will make anyone, Muslim or not, think twice about representing the prophet Muhammad in anything but a conventionally reverent manner, for fear of giving offence or of grievous bodily harm, or both. The Danish and French cartoons, however, were treading on terrain already fertilised by The Satanic Verses. They were deliberately testing the limits of free speech and self-censorship. Other cases, such as Innocence of Muslims, a short film posted to YouTube in 2012, were more clearly anti-Muslim provocations where it is difficult to discern any genuine concern for free speech. The Rushdie affair was the first in a series of conflicts over the portrayal of the prophet Muhammad. In hindsight, though, it looks more like the end of an era than a beginning.

Aeon for more

Israel playing big role in India’s conflict with Pakistan

Monday, March 18th, 2019


Israel has been lining itself up alongside India in an unspoken — and politically dangerous — “anti-Islamist” coalition. — PHOTO/AFP

WHEN I heard the first news report, I assumed it was an Israeli air raid on Gaza. Or Syria. Air strikes on a “terrorist camp” were the first words. A “command and control centre” destroyed, many “terrorists” killed. The military was retaliating for a “terrorist attack” on its troops, we were told.

An Islamist “jihadi” base had been eliminated. Then I heard the name Balakot and realised that it was neither in Gaza, nor in Syria — not even in Lebanon — but in Pakistan. Strange thing, that. How could anyone mix up Israel and India?

Well, don’t let the idea fade away. Two thousand five hundred miles separate the Israeli ministry of defence in Tel Aviv from the Indian ministry of defence in New Delhi, but there’s a reason why the usual cliché-stricken agency dispatches sound so similar.

For months, Israel has been assiduously lining itself up alongside India’s nationalist BJP government in an unspoken — and politically dangerous — “anti-Islamist” coalition, an unofficial, unacknowledged alliance, while India itself has now become the largest weapons market for the Israeli arms trade.

Not by chance, therefore, has the Indian press just trumpeted the fact that Israeli-made Rafael Spice-2000 “smart bombs” were used by the Indian air force in its strike against Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) “terrorists” inside Pakistan.

Like many Israeli boasts of hitting similar targets, the Indian adventure into Pakistan might owe more to the imagination than military success. The “300-400 terrorists” supposedly eliminated by the Israeli-manufactured and Israeli-supplied GPS-guided bombs may turn out to be little more than rocks and trees. But there was nothing unreal about the savage ambush of Indian troops in India-held Kashmir on February 14 which the JeM claimed, and which left over 40 Indian soldiers dead. Nor the shooting down of at least one Indian jet this week.

India was Israel’s largest arms client in 2017, paying £530 million for Israeli air defence, radar systems and ammunition, including air-to-ground missiles — most of them tested during Israel’s military offensives against Palestinians and targets in Syria.

Israel itself is trying to explain away its continued sales of tanks, weapons and boats to the Myanmar military dictatorship — while western nations impose sanctions on the government which has attempted to destroy its minority and largely Muslim Rohingya people. But Israel’s arms trade with India is legal, above-board and much advertised by both sides.

The Israelis have filmed joint exercises between their own “special commando” units and those sent by India to be trained in the Negev desert, again with all the expertise supposedly learned by Israel in Gaza and other civilian-thronged battlefronts.

At least 16 Indian “Garud” commandos — part of a 45-strong Indian military delegation — were for a time based at the Nevatim and Palmachim air bases in Israel. In his first visit to India last year — preceded by a trip to Israel by nationalist Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu recalled the 2008 Islamist attacks on Mumbai in which almost 170 civilians were killed. “Indians and Israelis know too well the pain of terrorist attacks,” he told Modi. “We remember the horrific savagery of Mumbai. We grit our teeth, we fight back, we never give in.” This was also BJP-speak.

Several Indian commentators, however, have warned that rightwing Zionism and rightwing nationalism under Modi should not become the foundation stone of the relationship between the two countries, both of which — in rather different ways — fought the British empire.

Brussels researcher Shairee Malhotra, whose work has appeared in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, has pointed out that India has the world’s third largest Muslim population after Indonesia and Pakistan — upward of 180 million people. “The India-Israel relationship is also commonly being framed in terms of a natural convergence of ideas between their ruling BJP and Likud parties,” she wrote last year.

Hindu nationalists had constructed “a narrative of Hindus as historical victims at the hands of Muslims”, an attractive idea to those Hindus who recall the partition and the continuing turbulent relationship with Pakistan.

In fact, as Malhotra pointed out in Haaretz, “Israel’s biggest fans in India appear to be the ‘internet Hindus’ who primarily love Israel for how it deals with Palestine and fights Muslims.”

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