Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Brazil’s Neo-Liberal Fascist Road to Power


The decisive electoral victory of far-right Brazilian presidential candidate, Jair Bolsonaro startled politicians and analysts of the traditional parties of the left and right. The possible implications for the present and near future raises a number of fundamental questions whether it represents a ‘model’ for other countries or is the result of the specific circumstances of Brazil.

We shall proceed by outlining the socio-economic events and policies of Brazil which led up to rise of the highly authoritarian, neo-liberal Bolsonaro regime. We will then discuss if similar circumstances are emerging elsewhere and whether antiauthoritarian popular-democratic politics challenge the threat. We will conclude by evaluating the future of far-right regimes and their enemies.

Brazil :Two Decades of Military Rule and the Legacy of Impunity

Brazil was ruled by a military dictatorship between April 1964 and March 15, 1985. Though the military formally withdrew from the regime it retained many powers and prerogatives, including impunity for the thousands of cases of arbitrary violations of human rights including torture and assassinations.

However, during the height of the so-called ‘economic miracle’ during the 1970’s, sectors of the middle class supported the rule by the triple alliance of private business, state enterprise elites and the military. Only when the regime faced a major crisis in the early 1980’s did the military give way to electoral politics. The authoritarian legacy remained embedded in the political culture of the military and its followers. With the deepening economic crises of neo-liberalism, the corruption of civic culture and the increase of crime during the second decade of the 21st century, a militarized political movement headed by Jair Bolsonaro came to the fore.

The Social Bases of the Authoritarian regime

Most commentators have emphasized the amorphous mass of voters’ discontent with political corruption as the basis for the rise of the right. Moralism and insecurity with street crime were cited as the driving force of rightwing extremism.

Yet powerful economic power elites played a decisive role in propelling Bolsonaro to power. While masses were in the street, the Brazilian National Agricultural Confederation, the Federation of Banks and other prominent elite associations provided the funds, the legitimacy and legislative muscle. Over 40% of the Senate and Congress was controlled by the ‘ruralist bloc’, which came out in favor of Bolsonaro. Many of the voters who previously supported ex-President Cardoso’s center-right candidate Geraldo Alickman defected to the authoritarian right reducing his estimated vote by half.

The judiciary, under the influence of the agro-business and banking elite exploited political corruption to discredit and prosecute the center-left and the traditional political parties, leading to the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff and the arrest and prosecution of the leading left candidate Lula Da Silva.

From Authoritarianism to Fascism

Bolsonaro’s appeal to the elite is grounded in his program of savaging the working class: he promises to freeze public salaries for twenty years; lower pensions and increase retirement age up to twenty years; increase the role of the military and police in repressing strikes and land reform movements; end all restraints on pillaging the Amazon forest; lower taxes for the rich, deregulate the private economy and privatize the public sector.

In effect the Bolsonaro’s policies follow the script of a corporatist – neoliberal state: fascism with ‘free markets’. The pro-military policies are code words for mass repression; his pro-business strategy is disguised by an embrace of ‘family values’ and virulent hostility to working women, Afro-Brazilians, gays and indigenous people. His crusade against crime excludes bankers, landowners and industrialists who bribed politicians and congress- people – only the latter were prosecuted.

The Future of Neo-Liberal Fascism; Wave of the Future?

Will Bolsonaro’s version of neo-liberal fascism set the mark for other Latin American countries? Will his regime intervene and overthrow progressive countries? Will his victory in Brazil spur similar developments throughout the world?

Read it all, essay by James Petras.

Monday, 29 October 2018

Jair Bolsonaro in quotes

If you think Trump can be outrageous, try Bolsonaro. In his own words:

“I am in favor of a dictatorship, a regime of exception.” – Open session of the Câmara dos Deputados, 1993
Interviewer: If you were the President of the Republic today, would you close the National Congress? “There’s no doubt about it. I’d do a coup on the same day! It [the Congress] doesn’t work! And I’m sure at least 90 percent of the population would throw a party, would applaud, because it does not work. Congress today is good for nothing, brother, it just votes for what the president wants. If he is the person who decides, who rules, who trumps the Congress, then let’s have a coup quickly, go straight to a dictatorship.” – Câmara Aberta TV program, May 23, 1999
“The pau-de-arara [a torture technique] works. I’m in favor of torture, you know that. And the people are in favor as well.” – Câmara Aberta TV program, May 23, 1999
“Through the vote you will not change anything in this country, nothing, absolutely nothing! It will only change, unfortunately, when, one day, we start a civil war here and do the work that the military regime did not do. Killing some 30,000, starting with FHC [then-president Fernando Henrique Cardoso], not kicking them out, killing! If some innocent people are going to die, fine, in any war innocents die.” – Câmara Aberta TV program, May 23, 1999
“I will not fight nor discriminate, but if I see two men kissing in the street, I’ll hit them.” – Folha de São Paulo newspaper, May 19, 2002
“I’m a rapist now. I would never rape you, because you do not deserve it… slut!” – Rede TV, speaking to Congresswoman Maria do Rosário, November 11, 2003
“I would be incapable of loving a homosexual child. I’m not going to act like a hypocrite here: I’d rather have my son die in an accident than show up with some mustachioed guy. For me, he would have died. … “If your son starts acting a little gay, hit him with some leather, and he’ll change his behavior.” – Participação Popular, TV Câmara, October 17, 2010
Preta Gil, actress and singer: If your son fell in love with a black woman, what would you do? “Oh, Preta, I’m not going to discuss promiscuity with whoever it is. I do not run this risk and my children were very well raised and did not live in the type of environment that, unfortunately, you do.” – CQC, TV Bandeirantes, March 28, 2011
“If a homosexual couple comes to live next to me it will devalue my home! If they walk around holding hands and kissing, that devalues it.” – Playboy Magazine, June 7, 2011
Interviewer: Are you proud of the story of Hitler’s life? “No, pride, I don’t have, right?” Interviewer: Do you like him? “No. What you have to understand is the following: war is war. He was a great strategist.” – CQC, TV Bandeirantes, March 26, 2012
Interviewer: Have you ever hit a woman before? “Yes. I was a boy in Eldorado, a girl was getting in my face…” Interviewer: Put her against the wall, a few taps? Pah! “No, well, no… [laughs] I’m married. My wife isn’t going to like this response.” – CQC, TV Bandeirantes, March 26, 2012
“[Homosexuals] will not find peace. And I have [congressional] immunity to say that I’m homophobic, yes, and very proud of it if it is to defend children in schools.” – TWTV, June 5, 2013
“I would not employ [a woman] with the same salary [of a man]. But there are many women who are competent.” – SuperPop, RedeTV!, February 15, 2016
“Beyond Brazil above all, since we are a Christian country, God above everyone! It is not this story, this little story of secular state. It is a Christian state, and if a minority is against it, then move! Let’s make a Brazil for the majorities. Minorities have to bow to the majorities! The Law must exist to defend the majorities. Minorities must fit in or simply disappear!” – Event in Campina Grande, Paraíba, February 8, 2017
“Violence is combated with violence.” – The Noite with Danilo Gentili, SBT, March 20, 2017
“I went with my three sons. Oh the other one went too, there were four. I have a fifth also. I had four men and on the fifth I had a moment of weakness and a woman came out.” – Speech at the Hebraica Club, Rio de Janeiro, April 3, 2017
“If I [become president], there won’t be any money for NGOs. These worthless [people] will have to work. If I get there, as far as I’m concerned, every citizen will have a firearm in their home. You will not have a centimeter demarcated for indigenous reserves or quilombolas [settlements of the descendants of escaped and freed slaves that have protected status.]” – Speech at the Hebraica Club, Rio de Janeiro, April 3, 2017
“Has anyone ever seen a Japanese begging for charity? Because it’s a race that has shame. It’s not like this race that’s down there, or like a minority ruminating here on the side.” – Speech at the Hebraica Club, Rio de Janeiro, April 3, 2017
“The big problem in Brazil is that the government is at the jugular of businessmen. […] The worker will have to decide: less rights and employment or all the rights and unemployment.” – Event in Deerfield Beach, FL , October 8, 2017
“I’ll give carte blanche for the police to kill.” – Event in Deerfield Beach, FL, October 8, 2017
“Since I was single at the time, I used the money from my [congressional] housing stipend to get laid.” – TV Folha, January 11, 2018
“This group, if they want to stay here, will have to put itself under the law of all of us. Leave or go to jail. These red marginals will be banished from our homeland.” – Live video address to a rally in São Paulo, October 21, 2018
“You will not have any more NGOs to quench your leftist hunger. It will be a cleansing never before seen in the history of Brazil.” – Live video address to a rally in São Paulo, October 21, 2018
“You will see a proud Armed Forces which will be collaborating with the future of Brazil. You, petralhada [a derogatory term for Workers’ Party supporters] will see a civilian and military police with a judicial rearguard to enforce the law on your backs.” – Live video address to a rally in São Paulo, October 21, 2018

Corroborating links @TI.

Sunday, 28 October 2018

The (NOT) Silencing of Tommy Robinson


That said, it would have denied us the mirthless irony of Robinson literally being given a platform. At this point in his manically overexposed career, Robinson enjoys the sort of “silencing” that most international movie stars can only dream of. He makes so many head-to-head media appearances that he can barely replace the gaffer tape of martyrdom across his mouth between them. It’s an eye-catching look, the tape – although I prefer to think of it as a backstreet gastric band.

To any Robinson supporters still wetting their pants over his being “silenced”, meanwhile, I can only say: do you live off-grid in some remote crofter’s hut with no electricity in the outermost Hebrides? If not, would you like me to come round to your house and show you how to work your telly and your computer? Robinson is like a relentless barrage of viral pop-up windows. The only way to stop seeing him is to pull the plug, ultimately on the national grid. (Incidentally, although his real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, this article will refer to him by his chosen moniker, “Tommy Robinson”. To get your own EDL name, take your favourite rock opera and your favourite Neighbours family. His is Tommy Robinson. Mine is Jesus Christ Superstar Mangel. Cop that, antifa.)

Anyway, back to Robinson’s LIVE! FROM! THE! OLD! BAILEY! PAVEMENT! personal appearance on Tuesday, at which his contempt case was referred to the attorney general. It can never be overstated quite how little of a toss Robinson has given about the victims of grooming gangs, but those who doubt the fact should consider that he is serially willing to collapse their trials by acting in a manner that he knows is in contempt of court. Sorry, girls – you don’t mind going through the whole horror show again, do you? Only I’ve got some pissy look-at-me point to prove that risks you having to do just that.

As befits a man who is being silenced, there was a soundsystem and microphone and speech outside the Old Bailey, for the assembled throng and all the media organisations in attendance. “I shouldn’t have to face another trial,” whined Robinson. “I’ve been here three times with a prison bag. I’ve kissed my kids goodbye three times.”

Ah yes, the much-referenced Robinson kids. Of all the distasteful aspects of his most recent prison release (the one over the bungled contempt of court conviction, not the one for mortgage fraud), for me the worst element was the setting up of a camera to film Robinson’s reunion with two of his children in their own home. What you would have imagined should have been the day’s most intensely private moment was carefully staged and filmed by someone or other in his entourage. It is almost unwatchably intrusive. Robinson’s young son in particular is absolutely beside himself with emotion, yet the camera coolly continues to film. And why wouldn’t it? It’s business. Within hours, this moment had been packaged and released for political purposes, with the #prouddad apparently keen to put it to work for him.

But as Robinson very much wanted the world to know on Tuesday: “I’ve kissed my kids goodbye three times.” Well, quite. And, given everything you have said, you will surely be wanting to rush back to them, to give them the good news of your non-incarceration and at least temporarily relieve the unquantifiable emotional stress your entirely voluntary antics put them under. No? What’s that you say? A two-and-a-half hour lunch date? But Tommy – it’s half-term! What could possibly be preferable to a day with your children that you thought you might not have?

What turned out to be the priority for Robinson was a long lunch in the House of Lords with the former Ukip leader Lord Pearson of Rannoch, the current Ukip leader, Gerard Batten (hair by Lego), and various hangers-on, including Katie Hopkins’s organ-grinder, Rebel Media founder Ezra Levant. He is Canadian, so picture the usual Islamophobe, but mounted.


More by Marina Hyde.

Fun with the Chump

Many more...

Friday, 26 October 2018

Hiding in plain sight: the US veteran suicide problem

As of June 29, 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Defense casualty website, there were 4,424 total deaths (including both killed in action and non-hostile) and 31,952 wounded in action (WIA) as a result of the Iraq War.
United States military veteran suicide is an ongoing phenomenon regarding a reportedly high rate of suicide among U.S. military veterans, in comparison to the general public. According to the most recent report published by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in 2016, which analyzed 55 million veterans' records from 1979 to 2014, the current analysis indicates that an average of 20 veterans a day die from suicide.

That means that since the Iraq war debacle in 2003, approximately 110,000 vets have died by their own hands, about 25 five times the casualty number in the war itself. As they say: 'go figure!'

Monday, 22 October 2018

Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners

David Olusoga’s two-part documentary Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners (BBC2) concluded last night by following the money. The money in question was that paid to the slave owners to compensate them for the loss of their human property when slavery was finally officially abolished in 1834. A 10-man committee divvied up nearly £17bn in today’s money among 46,000 claimants stretching across the entire British empire, from £800 or so to a country vicar for his single servant to £80m for John Gladstone’s (father of prime minister William) loss of thousands of unpaid workers on his plantations in Guyana. Not a penny, of course, was paid to the slaves themselves.

The compensation money was drawn largely from consumption taxes, as income tax didn’t exist at the time, which effectively meant the poor paid for it. The disproportionate extra whack they paid for basic goods set those who had already grown fat on the profits of slave labour nicely ever after. They were able to diversify, investing in industry, insurance and institutions whose income streams would balance each others’ fluctuations out and keep flowing nicely down the generations. This useful injection of taxpayer cash enabled its recipients to avoid any hardship once their indefensibly exploitative bubble burst and freed them to concentrate on other things, like building country piles, grooming their sons for government and ensuring that no more than seven families actually matter in Britain at any one time. It’s a good thing history never repeats itself.

Olusoga was able to provide us with a detailed and vivid picture of the spread of slavery profits through the British economy largely thanks to research done by a team of historians at University College London. They have been combing through the 46,000 entries in the Slavery Compensation Commissions accounts books and following the paper trails thereafter. The collated results are free to all at

More pernicious still, and as instrumental in shaping our cultural and imaginative landscapes as the money was in our physical and institutional landscapes, were the ideas unleashed and promulgated during the propaganda war between the abolitionists and their opponents. Black people, the latter argued desperately but influentially, were childlike savages who needed the firm, white, paternal hand of discipline to save them from themselves and their innate inferiority. Slavery was abolished (officially – the end of it in practice would take years) but the underlying ideas, theories and attitudes endure. Programmes like this, and thoughtful, thorough, unswerving guides like Olusoga bring them into the light. Because it would be a good thing if history stopped repeating itself.


Tuesday, 16 October 2018

How Frank Gaffney was Reinstated and anti-Muslim feeling became Mainstream on the Right again

Since President Trump chose John Bolton as national-security adviser, the media has focused largely on Bolton’s calls for war with North Korea and Iran. And for good reason. But there’s another element of Bolton’s record that’s received less scrutiny but may also illuminate how he’ll approach his new role, and the compromises he may be prepared to make.

In 2016, Bolton played a crucial role in Frank Gaffney’s rehabilitation inside the conservative movement. For close to two decades, Gaffney has been Washington’s most dogged peddler of anti-Muslim conspiracy theories. He’s traveled the country testifying against the construction of mosques, arguing that since Islam is a totalitarian political ideology, not a religion, American Muslims don’t deserve the protections of the First Amendment. Bolton’s intervention on his behalf is particularly intriguing because, in his own writing and remarks, he’s largely avoided anti-Muslim bigotry. But in today’s conservative movement, anti-Muslim activists are a legitimate constituency group, like people who support gun rights or oppose abortion. And Bolton has proved, in this case and others, all too willing to empower them.

Gaffney believes in the existence of a vast, secret network, run by the Muslim Brotherhood, to infiltrate the United States government and replace it with Sharia law. At various times, he’s suggested that figures as mainstream as former CIA Director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence Jim Clapper, and former Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano are dupes of—if not active agents in—this plot. And in the late Bush and early Obama years, Gaffney repeatedly insisted that the conspiracy had infiltrated the conservative movement via two men: anti-tax activist Grover Norquist and former Bush administration official Suhail Khan, both board members of the American Conservative Union (ACU). Norquist and Khan, Gaffney claimed in 2011, were running “an influence operation [that] is contributing materially to the defeat of our country, supporting a stealthy effort to bring Shariah here.”

But in 2011, anti-Muslim sentiment was less mainstream on the American right than it is now. And where Gaffney saw secret agents of jihad, the leaders of the ACU saw longtime conservative activists who simply wanted to bring Muslims into the GOP. So that year, the ACU’s board publicly repudiated Gaffney’s charges. It declared his claims that Norquist and Khan “harbor sympathy with Islamic extremists” to be “false and unfounded” and said the ACU “profoundly regrets and rejects as unwarranted the past and ongoing attacks upon their patriotism and character.” Four people who then served on the board told me that the ACU’s then-chairman, David Keene, also made an informal decision to bar Gaffney from speaking on the main stage at the ACU’s signature event, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). In both 2011 and 2012, the Pledge of Allegiance at CPAC was delivered by Suhail Khan.

But by early 2016, the climate in the conservative movement had changed. Donald Trump—having already called for banning Muslims from entering the U.S.—was leading the Republican presidential field. The ACU had a new chairman, Matt Schlapp. And in this more permissive climate, John Bolton moved to overturn the Gaffney ban. At a February 3, 2016, ACU board meeting, according to notes shared with me by someone in the room—the substance of which has been confirmed by someone else in attendance—“Bolton proposed a motion to rescind and repeal the 2011 resolution, and put the decision of whether to allow Gaffney to speak at CPAC back in the hands of ACU management.” After a contentious debate, Bolton prevailed. The board voted to declare that, “No one has been banned from speaking at CPAC.” (When I asked the ACU about Bolton’s role, the organization emailed a statement from its executive director, Dan Schneider, that said: “It is unfortunate that there has been a breach of board protocol about disclosing confidential discussions. But there was no difference of opinion on the board. All agreed that Frank Gaffney and other conservative voices are allowed to speak at CPAC.”)

A month after the board meeting, CPAC rolled around and, sure enough, Gaffney was on the agenda. He moderated a panel that included the Danish activist Lars Hedegaard, who has claimed that Muslims “rape their own children” and that “as a totalitarian system of thought, Islam has remained unchanged for at least 1,200 years.” Gaffney spoke again at CPAC in 2017. In 2018, he began his remarks at the conference by joking that, “everybody says it’s great to be back at CPAC. But nobody means it like I do.”

The striking thing about Bolton’s push for Gaffney’s reinstatement is that Bolton hasn’t generally echoed Gaffney’s conspiracy theories. In fact, Bolton has largely avoided anti-Muslim bigotry in his own public statements. He even publicly opposed Trump’s 2015 proposal to ban Muslim immigration.

What Bolton has done, again and again, is to elevate the anti-Muslim bigotry of others. In 2010, he wrote the foreword to Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer’s book, The Post-American Presidency: The Obama Administration’s War on America. Bolton’s foreword begins with the words, “Barack Obama is our first post-American president.” But he leaves the meaning of those words vague. It is Geller and Spencer who declare that “Barack Hussein Obama” is pursuing the “implementation of a soft sharia: the quiet and piecemeal implementation of Islamic laws that subjugate non-Muslims.”

In 2010 and 2011, Bolton spoke at rallies against the “Ground Zero” mosque sponsored by Geller and Spencer’s organization, Stop Islamization of America. But Bolton has not echoed Geller’s wilder and uglier theories: among them that Obama is Malcolm X’s love child or that Muslims practice bestiality. He’s never said, as Spencer has, that “there is no distinction in the American Muslim community between peaceful Muslims and jihadists.”

Similarly, Bolton in 2012 defended Michelle Bachmann’s inquiry into whether former Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin was an agent of the Muslim Brotherhood. “What is wrong with raising the question?” he declared on Gaffney’s radio show. (John McCain, by contrast, called Bachmann’s inquiries “specious and degrading.”) But, as far as I know, Bolton never questioned Abedin’s loyalty himself. As in his push for Gaffney’s reinstatement at CPAC, Bolton doesn’t preach hatred of Muslims. He just aids those who do.

Once upon a time, the American right made room for conservative Muslims. Now it makes room for people who want to deny them equal rights. And John Bolton, America’s next national-security adviser, is part of the reason why.

Peter Beinart.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

On Brexit, the Tories are gaslighting half the country

An attempt is being made to write Britain’s pro-European tradition out of history. But the 48% are still very much here

It is not yet 28 months since the referendum, but it feels longer. The Britain that had not yet decided to leave the European Union feels eerily remote for a place we lived in so recently.

Political intensity can do that. The weeks after the vote were crammed with enough drama to fill months. Then Theresa May squeezed a self-sabotaging general election into the tight Brexit negotiating window. The era when governments understood the value of EU membership lies buried beneath a landslide of events. Recent history has become political archaeology.

But it isn’t only the volume of news that has done this. The past is being chased out of view more aggressively than it might naturally recede. In the autumn of 2015, Tory MPs were still celebrating victory in an election won by David Cameron on a manifesto promising to “preserve the integrity of the single market”. How many MPs currently serving in Theresa May’s cabinet rejected that view? How many said that the single market was disposable because escape from the EU was a more valuable prize? The answer is none. Not one of May’s ministers – including those who speak of Brexit now as if they had yearned for it since childhood – saw fit to mention that feeling in public just three years ago.

Even on the back benches, “Eurosceptic” recently meant resistance to further European integration and a demand that powers exercised in Brussels be “repatriated”. The view that such a goal could only be achieved by quitting the club was explicitly held by about a dozen Tory MPs – including two who defected to Ukip in 2014. By referendum polling day, there was still not a majority of Conservative parliamentarians prepared to say that Brexit was a good idea.

People are allowed to change their minds, and the referendum result was pretty persuasive. It is normal for a seismic electoral event to reshape the political landscape. But it doesn’t have to eliminate memories of the way things stood before. Yet that is what the Brexiters seem determined to achieve.

A clique of Tory ultras have lately told Downing Street they might tolerate the UK staying in a shared customs space with the EU until 2022, two years beyond the transition period envisaged at present. This has been reported as a formal concession by the Brexiteers, although they have no official role in the process. The position of chair of the European Research Group, occupied by Jacob Rees-Mogg, has no constitutional value. It meant nothing two years ago. Somehow it has become the pulpit from which permissible boundaries of thought and deed are dictated to the prime minister.

The “concession” on a temporary customs union is meant to give May leeway to negotiate a Canada-style free trade agreement, and thereby to abandon her Chequers blueprint. Tory MPs are feeding out rope to be sure that any prospect of a softer Brexit is hanged. It is a proven system. Even the terminology has changed meaning since the referendum. A “hard” Brexit was once any deal that surrendered benefits of the single market. Now “hard” is used interchangeably with the idea of total rupture with no deal at all. “Soft” Brexit is used by many Tories to mean a deal unworthy of consideration by patriots.

That spectrum places the Canadian model as a middle way. But in 2016, the official leave campaign would not endorse such an obvious economic downgrade, ripping the UK out of frictionless commerce with its neighbours to borrow instead a template cut to suit a country 3,600 miles away.

Brexit hardliners are not really interested in the Canadian model, anyway. Their current position is just another twist of the ratchet, taking the whole conversation a notch further away from European integration. That has been the game all along: bullying by incremental demands, grinding away at Cameron until he offered a referendum, then the pantomime of waiting for his renegotiation, then the verdict that, alas, it was not good enough. Now it is the same with May: chivvying her towards the edge of a cliff while pretending to be interested in bridges.

It happens so insidiously that it can be hard to keep one’s bearings. Not long ago, comparisons of the EU to the Soviet Union were the stuff of sweaty diatribes on Ukip web forums. Now they appear in speeches by a foreign secretary who voted remain. That is not an ordinary conversion to Brexit. It is symptomatic of a project to pretend that Britain never had pro-EU Conservatives or a pro-European political tradition. It is the systematic erasure of remain from the national story. The new Tory orthodoxy casts EU membership as an aberration, an alien thing imposed by a few “citizens of nowhere” on a captive people who prayed in secret for deliverance, then rose up to take back control.

That isn’t how 48% of voters, 16.1 million people, saw it. But it takes an effort to keep hold of the memory. The past two years have felt like a vast exercise in gaslighting – the method of psychological coercion that involves subtly undermining people’s confidence in what is real until they begin to question their own judgment. Thus have the parameters of sanity in the debate shifted. The norms have moved so far that any deal starts to look like a victory for common sense over extremism. But that is only because today’s political maps don’t even mark the spot where realistic accounts of Britain’s European interests used to appear.

May is relying on that disorientation when urging MPs to back her in the Commons. She will offer something she calls moderate and declare its adoption vital for the national interest, measured on a scale that only shows degrees of folly and national self-harm. And then the idea is that we put the whole sorry business behind us, let EU membership fade from our minds. Let the wind and dust erode our memories until the past is barely recognisable: a ruin, somewhere the forgotten tribe of Remainia once lived. But the problem is, prime minister, we’re still here.

Rafael Behr is a Guardian columnist.

H/T Elly

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Is Trump's "I'm a self-made billionaire shtick"... well... a myth?

In an extraordinary and very lengthy piece of investigative journalism, the NYT does a lot to suggest that. Far too long to be reprinted here, below's just the opening salvo:

President Trump participated in dubious tax schemes during the 1990s, including instances of outright fraud, that greatly increased the fortune he received from his parents, an investigation by The New York Times has found.
Mr. Trump won the presidency proclaiming himself a self-made billionaire, and he has long insisted that his father, the legendary New York City builder Fred C. Trump, provided almost no financial help.
But The Times’s investigation, based on a vast trove of confidential tax returns and financial records, reveals that Mr. Trump received the equivalent today of at least $413 million from his father’s real estate empire, starting when he was a toddler and continuing to this day.
Much of this money came to Mr. Trump because he helped his parents dodge taxes. He and his siblings set up a sham corporation to disguise millions of dollars in gifts from their parents, records and interviews show. Records indicate that Mr. Trump helped his father take improper tax deductions worth millions more. He also helped formulate a strategy to undervalue his parents’ real estate holdings by hundreds of millions of dollars on tax returns, sharply reducing the tax bill when those properties were transferred to him and his siblings.
Around the time of the 2016 election PBS broadcastet a Trump documentary biopic that suggested the same (but with less depth) but unfortunately I can't find it.

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Roosh "Da Douche" Valizadeh of RoK infamy takes Hiatus

Ultra-misogynyst Douchebag Daryush V, who rose to notoriety with his "sarcastic" [cough!] proposal to decriminalise rape, is taking an indefinite break from his flagship site, Return of Kings (RoK). In his own words (I'm not linking):

After six years of continuous operation and 5,800 articles published, I’m putting ROK on an indefinite hiatus so I can take a break from the daily grind of maintaining the site. I don’t know when the hiatus will end.
The first factor for this hiatus is that site revenues are too low. We’ve been banned from Paypal and countless ad partners, which forced me to lay off the site editor last year and also lower payments to regular contributors. This started a negative spiral of declining content quality, site traffic, and revenues. Even the beloved comments section, which many see as the highlight of ROK, was badly hit when Disqus banned us. Currently, ROK receives half the traffic of its peak and less than one-fifth of the income.

Don't rush Roosh, you won't be missed, lad!

Friday, 5 October 2018

Mark Judge, alleged attempted rape assistant and... Gamergater!

How creepy is it that in the light of Dr Ford's allegations, Mark Judge turns out to have written in 2015 two articles attacking Anita Sarkeesian and praising her Gamergate critics? In view of the toxic misogyny pervading the Gamergate community, I'd say "Very!"

Shadow War in the Sahara

'War on terror' or competition for natural resources? A look at the US and French military presence in Africa.

Africa remains a key territory on the global chessboard of the 21st century. Rich in oil and natural resources, the continent holds a strategic position.

Sub-Saharan Africa is home to six of the world's 10 fastest growing economies. North Africa counts with vast oil and natural gas deposits, the Sahara holds the most strategic nuclear ore, and resources such as coltan, gold, and copper, among many others, are abundant in the continent. But despite its position and resources, conflict and chaos have spread throughout the continent. At the heart of this turmoil is a strategic territory: the Sahel.

The region that straddles the Sahara to the north and the savannas in the south has become an important new front in the so-called war against terrorism.

But is the official narrative, the fight against terrorism, masking a larger battle? Have the resource wars of the 21st century already begun?

"What we are currently experiencing can be described as 'a new scramble for Africa'," says Jean Batou, Professor of History at Lausanne University.

'Whoever controls Mali, controls West Africa'

At the centre of the troubled region of the Sahel is the nation of Mali, which is among the world's poorest. Unemployment is rampant and most people survive hand to mouth.

Yet, back in the 13th century, the Mali empire extended over much of West Africa and was extraordinarily wealthy and powerful. Ivory and gold made it a major crossroads for global trade at the time. But inevitably, these resources lead to conquests.

"We are the transition between North Africa and Africa that reaches the ocean and the forests. This gives us an important strategic position: whoever controls Mali, controls West Africa - if not the whole of Africa ... That's why this region became so coveted," says Doulaye Konate from the Association of African Historians.

The imperial European powers unveiled their plans to colonise Mali and the rest of Africa at the Berlin Conference in 1885. Britain, Belgium, Portugal, Spain, Germany, Italy and France, each got their share.

"The arrival of colonisation tore us apart. It felt like a cut, almost like a surgical operation," Konate says.

The French colonial empire extended over much of western and northern Africa, but in the late 1950s the winds of freedom started blowing across Africa, and France was to lose all its colonies.

However, the euphoria of independence was short. France retained troops, bases and political influence over its former colonies: the policy of "France-Afrique" was born.

"France was Africa's watchdog, defending the West in the region," says Antoine Glaser, author of France-Afrique.

The US and the threat of 'terrorism'

In the 1960s, the discovery of huge oil reserves in the Gulf of Guinea attracted a new player: the United States.

The US made military as well as economic investments on the African continent and Africa became a battleground in the Cold War.

In 1992, the US launched a so-called humanitarian intervention in the strategic Horn of Africa. The US sent 28,000 soldiers to Somalia to help to put an end to a civil war. The operation ended in disaster two years later after American soldiers were captured and killed, images of their mutilated bodies broadcast around the world. They decided to withdraw.

In 2001, the attack on the World Trade Center reconfigured the geopolitics of the world. The US launched a war in Afghanistan - a war that would soon spread far beyond.

A few months after September 11, the US military returned to the Horn of Africa with plans to stay. They established their first military base in Djibouti.

"The Sahel played a key role in looking at the movement of weapons, the movement of potential foreign fighters, and organised crime ...," says Rudolph Atallah, the former Director of Africa Counter-Terrorism, US Department of Defense.

The US Africa Command (AFRICOM)

The United States is the only country to have divided the world into separate military sectors to monitor and patrol, NORTHCOM, PACOM, SOUTHCOM, EUCOM, CENTCOM and now AFRICOM.

Under the stated goals of fighting terrorism and providing humanitarian assistance, AFRICOM implanted itself on the continent, conducting military exercises with a growing number of African countries.

The establishment of AFRICOM was key for the consolidation of US interests in Africa.

The Americans sought to establish the headquarters of AFRICOM as well as a headquarters for the CIA in Mali. The problem was that the Africans had a common position of refusing the establishment of new military bases.

This opposition forced the US to set up the command of AFRICOM thousands of miles away, in Stuttgart, Germany.

Muammar Gaddafi: The 'mad dog of the Middle East'

African resistance to AFRICOM was spearheaded by Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader.

President Ronald Reagan had labelled him the "mad dog of the Middle East" and had tried to assassinate him in 1986 by bombing his palace.

The Libyan leader's independence and influence flowed from the vast petroleum reserves, the largest in Africa, which he had nationalised when he took power.

Gaddafi wanted to demonstrate that Africa could develop without depending on the Western banking system or the International Monetary Fund.

"From the beginning of his political career as a leader, Muammar Gaddafi was opposed to a foreign military presence in Africa. One of the first things he did after coming to power in 1969 was to expel the British and US military bases in Libya itself," Maximilian Forte, the author of Slouching Towards Sirte: Nato's war on Libya and Africa, explains.

But in March 2011, as the Arab's Spring spread through North Africa, France and the United States decided to act. This was AFRICOM'S first war and its commander-in-chief was the first African-­American president.

The fall of Gaddafi produced a shockwave that would be felt far beyond Libya.

"Unfortunately there was not a very good handle on the 40,000-plus weapons that Gaddafi had, so quickly, over 35,000 disappeared," Atallah says.

Some of the weapons fell into the hands of the Libyan rebels. Others, including anti-­tank and anti-­aircraft missiles, fell into the hands of Tuareg fighters who fought alongside Gaddafi.

The heavily armed Tuaregs formed a new fighting force, the MNLA, and launched an offensive against the government in Bamako in January 2012.

Tuareg and other rebel forces invaded the major cities of northern Mali. Despite years of training and millions spent, the West's greatest fear became a reality: a so-called Islamic state was established in northern Mali.

"Nobody believed that a few hundred 'Jihadist fighters' would take over [Bamako] a city of three million people where they had no significant presence," says Batou.

But soon the French armed forces lent their support to the Malian units. The rebel advance was stopped and in just two weeks, the French regained the north. The French army claimed to have killed hundreds of so-called terrorists. The former colonial power had become the saviour of the country.

'The El Dorado of the Sahel'

Despite the chaos, wars and revolutions, the interest of Europeans, Americans and the Chinese remains high in what may be the largest untapped oil reserves on the continent, "the El Dorado of the Sahel", which extends from Mauritania to Algeria across north Mali.

The interest of major US energy companies in Africa has not decreased. The needs of Asia and Europe will not stop growing. Nearly $2 trillion of investments in African oil and gas are expected in the next two decades.

"We all know oil resources are becoming increasingly rare. The last major reserves of oil in Africa will become increasingly important. Pre-positioning oneself with a view to exploiting these resources is vital," says Batou.

In May 2014, US President Barack Obama announced that he would allocate an additional $5bn to the fight against global terrorism.

An increasing number of African governments have signed on to the AFRICOM programme, like in Niger, where the US military brought together African forces comprising 1,000 soldiers from 17 countries for military exercises.

The US have also established drone bases in Djibouti, Niger, Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan, Burkina Faso and the Seychelles, and sent troops to Liberia during the Ebola crisis in 2014.

Not to be outdone, France also announced plans to increase its presence in the Sahel with a redeployment of 3,000 troops.

The increasing militarisation of Africa is a new profit centre, coveted by the military-industrial complex with millions of dollars of contracts for arms manufacturers and private contractors.

More than 130 years after the Berlin Conference, a new division of the African continent is underway as new powers seek to ensure oil supplies, strategic minerals, arable land and even the water under the desert sands.

"In reality, the big issues are not being addressed. It is as though the West lives off wars, as though wars need to be created, for them to justify their power," says Imam Mahmoud Dicko, president of the Islamic High Council of Mali.

Source with some really useful links.

Thursday, 4 October 2018

Mr Flipflop and the Presumption of Innocence

Barely had trump finished praising Mrs Ford, or he released his large inner child to attack her at a rally. Turns out that Mr Flipflop's respect for innocent until proved guilty was in any case quite selective:

Tuesday night, at a rally in Mississippi, President Donald Trump expressed concern about what precedent a failure to confirm Kavanaugh would set. He lamented what it would mean if a stranger could cause a person to lose their job by merely making an accusation. “Guilty until proven innocent, that’s very dangerous for our country. That’s very dangerous for our country,” he repeated, emphasizing that in America, due process comes first.

Of course, he used to feel differently.

ON APRIL 19, 1989, Trisha Meili was assaulted, raped, and nearly beaten to death while jogging in Central Park. Subsequently, five boys, then ages 14 to 16, were arrested and jailed for the assault. On May 1, 11 days later, and before the conclusion of any investigation, much less a trial, Trump spent $85,000 on a full-page ad in all four of New York’s major newspapers, including the New York Times, calling on New York to “BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY. BRING BACK OUR POLICE!”

Even if you remember the ad from when it ran, it’s worth taking another look at the small print today. “They must serve as examples so that others will think long and hard before committing a crime or an act of violence,” Trump inveighed. “I am not looking to psychoanalyze or understand them, I am looking to punish them. If the punishment is strong, the attacks on innocent people will stop.”

All five convictions were vacated in 2002, after Matias Reyes, a serial rapist and convicted murderer, confessed to raping Meili, and DNA evidence confirmed his guilt. To date, Trump has never apologized for calling for the deaths of these innocent children.

“At what point did we cross the line from the fine and noble pursuit of genuine civil liberties,” asked Trump in his 1989 ad, “to the reckless and dangerously permissive atmosphere which allows criminals of every age to beat and rape a helpless woman and then laugh her family’s anguish. And why do they laugh? They laugh because they know that soon, very soon, they will be returned to the streets to rape and maim and kill once again — and yet face no great personal risk to themselves.” They laugh, in other words, with impunity.

This week, in Mississippi, Trump was the one laughing. With an enthusiastic crowd behind him, Trump joked about Ford’s inability to remember certain details about the night of her alleged assault, 36 years ago: “How did you get home? ‘I don’t remember.’ What neighborhood was it? ‘I don’t know.’ Where’s the house? ‘I don’t know.’ Upstairs, downstairs, where was it? ‘I don’t know. But I had one beer.’” As the crowd behind him jeered, it was difficult not to recall Ford’s fragile testimony, during which she said one thing she could never forget was the laughter of her attackers, “indelible in the hippocampus,” still echoing 36 years later.

At last Tuesday’s rally, Trump seemed to consider, for a moment, that the claims against Kavanaugh might have merit. But it didn’t seem to matter. “People are saying, ‘well maybe it’s true.’ And because of the fact that maybe it’s true, he should not become a United States Supreme Court Justice,” he said. “How horrible is this? How horrible is this?” It wasn’t a denial. It was a rejection of the premise that anything, even a credible assault claim, should stand between Kavanaugh and his destiny.

@ TI.

Flawed reporting on antisemitism claims against the Labour party

Open letter to the Guardian.

We have long had serious concerns about the lack of due impartiality and accuracy in the reporting of allegations of antisemitism against Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party. The recent report by the Media Reform Coalition examining coverage of Labour’s revised code of conduct on antisemitism shows that we are right to be concerned.

The research examined over 250 articles and broadcast news segments and found over 90 examples of misleading or inaccurate reporting. In relation to the IHRA definition of antisemitism that was at the heart of the dispute, the research found evidence of “overwhelming source imbalance” in which critics of Labour’s code of conduct dominated coverage, with nearly 50% of Guardian reports, for example, failing to include any quotes from those defending the code or critiquing the IHRA definition. Moreover, key contextual facts about the IHRA definition – for example that it has only been formally adopted by eight countries (and only six of the IHRA member states) – were consistently excluded.

The researchers conclude these were not occasional lapses in judgment but “systematic reporting failures” that served to weaken the Labour leadership and to bolster its opponents within and outside of the party.

It is of course entirely appropriate and necessary for our major news outlets to report on the horrors of antisemitism, but wrong to present it as an issue specific to the Labour party.

In covering the allegations that Labour is now “institutionally antisemitic”, there have been inaccuracies, clear distortions and revealing omissions across our most popular media platforms. We believe that significant parts of the UK media have failed their audiences by producing flawed reports that have contributed to an undeserved witch-hunt against the Labour leader and misdirected public attention away from antisemitism elsewhere, including on the far right, which is ascendant in much of Europe.

Signed: Prof Noam Chomsky Brian Eno Francesca Martinez Yanis Varoufakis Ken Loach Raoul Martinez Justin Schlosberg Birkbeck, University of London Prof Des Freedman Goldsmiths, University of London Prof Imogen Tyler Lancaster University Prof Aeron Davis Goldsmiths, University of London Prof Annabelle Sreberny Soas, University of London Prof Greg Philo University of Glasgow Prof Natalie Fenton Goldsmiths, University of London Prof David Miller Bristol University Prof David Hesmondhalgh University of Leeds Prof James Curran Goldsmiths, University of London Prof Julian Petley Brunel University Stephen Cushion Cardiff University Jason Hickel Goldsmiths, University of London Einar Thorsen Bournemouth University Mike Berry Cardiff University Tom Mills Aston University Jenny Manson Jewish Voice for Labour Leah Levane Jewish Voice for Labour Lindsey German Stop the War Coalition Mike Cushman Free Speech on Israel Glyn Secker Jewish Voice for Labour

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Chomsky on Lula, Corruption and Neoliberalism

PRISONS ARE REMINISCENT of Tolstoy’s famous observation about unhappy families: Each “is unhappy in its own way,” though there are some common features — for prisons, the grim and stifling recognition that someone else has total authority over your life.

My wife Valeria and I have just visited a prison to see arguably the most prominent political prisoner of today, a person of unusual significance in contemporary global politics.

By the standards of U.S. prisons I’ve seen, the Federal Prison in Curitiba, Brazil, is not formidable or oppressive — though that is a rather low bar. It is nothing like the few I’ve visited abroad — not remotely like Israel’s Khiyam torture chamber in southern Lebanon, later bombed to dust to efface the crime, and a very long way from the unspeakable horrors of Pinochet’s Villa Grimaldi, where the few who survived the exquisitely designed series of tortures were tossed into a tower to rot — one of the means to ensure that the first neoliberal experiment, under the supervision of leading Chicago economists, could proceed without disruptive voices.

Nonetheless, it is a prison.

The prisoner we visited, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva – “Lula,” as he is universally known — has been sentenced to virtual life imprisonment, in solitary confinement, with no access to press or journals and with limited visits one day a week.

The day after our visit, one judge, citing press freedoms, granted the request of the nation’s largest newspaper, Folha of São Paulo, to interview Lula, but another judge quickly intervened and reversed that decision, notwithstanding the fact that the country’s most violent criminals — its militia leaders and drug traffickers — are routinely interviewed in prison.

To Brazil’s power structure, imprisoning Lula is not enough: They want to ensure that the population, as it prepares to vote, cannot hear from him at all, and are apparently willing to use any means to accomplish that goal.

The judge who reversed the permission wasn’t breaking any new ground. One predecessor was the prosecutor at the 1926 sentencing of Antonio Gramsci by Mussolini’s Fascist government, who declared, “We must stop his brain from working for 20 years.”

“History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes,” as Mark Twain observed.

We were encouraged, but not surprised, to find that despite the onerous conditions and shocking miscarriage of justice, Lula remains his energetic self, optimistic about the future and full of ideas about how to turn Brazil from its current disastrous course.

There are always pretexts for imprisonment — maybe valid, maybe not — but often it makes sense to seek what may be the actual reasons. That is so in this case. The primary charge against Lula, based on plea bargains by businessmen sentenced for corruption, is that he was offered an apartment in which he never lived. Hardly overwhelming.

The alleged crime is almost undetectable by Brazilian standards — and there is more to say about that concept, to which I’ll return. That aside, the sentence is so totally disproportionate to the alleged crime that it is quite appropriate to seek reasons. Candidates are not hard to unearth. Brazil is facing an election that is of critical importance for its future. Lula is by far the most popular candidate and would easily win a fair election, not the outcome preferred by the plutocracy.

Although his policies while in office were designed to accommodate the concerns of domestic and international finance, he is despised by elites, in part no doubt because of his policies of social inclusion and benefits for the dispossessed, though other factors seem to intervene: primarily simple class hatred. How can a poor worker with no higher education who doesn’t even speak proper Portuguese be allowed to lead our country?

In office, Lula was tolerated by Western power, but with reservations. There was little enthusiasm for his success, with his Foreign Minister Celso Amorim, in propelling Brazil to the center of the world stage, beginning to fulfill the predictions of a century ago that Brazil would become “the colossus of the South.” Some of their initiatives were sharply condemned, notably their steps toward resolving the conflict over Iran’s nuclear programs in coordination with Turkey in 2010, undercutting U.S. insistence on running the show. More generally, Brazil’s leading role in promoting forces independent of Western power, in Latin America and beyond, was hardly welcome to those accustomed to dominating the world.

With Lula barred from running, there is a good chance that the right-wing favorite, Jair Bolsonaro, can gain the presidency and seriously escalate the harshly regressive policies of President Michel Temer, who replaced Dilma Rousseff after she was impeached in ludicrous proceedings in an earlier stage of the “soft coup” now underway in Latin America’s most important country.

BOLSONARO PRESENTS HIMSELF as a harsh and brutal authoritarian and an admirer of the military dictatorship, who will restore “order.” Part of his appeal is his pose as an outsider who will dismantle the corrupt political establishment, which many Brazilians despise for good reasons, the local analogue to the bitter reaction in much of the world to the effects of the neoliberal assault of the past generation. Bolsonaro affirms that he knows nothing about economics, leaving that domain to economist Paulo Guedes, an ultraliberal Chicago product.

Guedes is clear and explicit about his solution to Brazil’s problems: “privatize everything,” the whole national infrastructure (Veja, August 22), in order to pay off the debt to the predators who are robbing the country blind. Literally everything, ensuring that the country will decline to insignificance as a plaything of the very rich and the dominant financial institutions. Guedes worked for a time in Chile under the Pinochet dictatorship, so it may be useful to recall the results of the first experiment in Chicago neoliberalism.

The experiment, initiated after 1973 military coup had prepared the ground by terror and torture, was conducted under near optimal conditions. There could be no dissent — the array of Villa Grimaldis and the like took care of that. It was supervised by the superstars of Chicago economics. It had enormous support from the U.S., the corporate world, and the international financial institutions. The economic planners were also wise enough not to interfere with the highly efficient nationalized copper mining company Codelco, the world’s largest, which provided a solid base for the economy.

For a few years, the experiment was highly praised, and then silence reigned. Despite the almost-perfect conditions, by 1982, the “Chicago boys” had succeeded in crashing the economy. The state had to take over more of the economy than under the Allende years. Wags called it “the Chicago road to socialism.” The economy was largely handed back to the traditional managers and struggled back, though not without lingering residues of the disaster in educational and social welfare systems and elsewhere.

Returning to the Bolsonaro-Guedes prescriptions for undermining Brazil, it is important to bear in mind the overwhelming power of finance in the Brazilian political economy. Brazilian economist Ladislau Dowbor reports that as the Brazilian economy sank into recession in 2014, major banks increased profits by 25 to 30 percent, “a dynamic in which the more banks profit, the more the economy is stalled” since the “financial intermediaries do not finance production, but drain it” (“The Era of Unproductive Capital”).

Read more @TI.

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

D Jr. Suggested Women Who Can't Take Harassment “Don’t Belong In The Workforce"

Donald Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., dismissed workplace sexual harassment in a 2013 radio interview — and suggested that women who couldn’t take it should become kindergarten teachers.

The comments came in a March 2013 episode of The Opie and Anthony Show, during a discussion of whether women should be allowed in all-male golf clubs. And they offer a glimpse of the family’s perspective on workplace sexual harassment at a moment when the elder Trump’s conduct toward women inside the workplace and out has become the center of the presidential campaign.

“If you have a guys' place you have a guys' place,” Trump Jr., the candidate’s eldest son and executive vice president at the Trump Organization, said, describing himself as a “guy’s guy.”

A host interjected that women “complain, ‘it’s harassment’ — that’s why we hate having them around. They stop us from doing what we want to do.”

“I’m of that mindset — and I’ll get into trouble, I’m sure I’ll get myself in trouble one of these days,” Trump began. “If you can’t handle some of the basic stuff that’s become a problem in the workforce today, then you don’t belong in the workforce. Like, you should go maybe teach kindergarten. I think it’s a respectable position.
“You can’t be negotiating billion-dollar deals if you can’t handle, like, you know,” Trump said, without elaborating. “But listen — there’s a place where you have to draw the line — but today the stuff you get in trouble for…”

The hosts then joked about pulling up pictures of naked women on the computer screen in their recording studio.

“Wouldn’t it be funny if we showed tits and then Donald sued?” one asked.
“I’d feel harassed!” Trump Jr. joked. “This is my get-rich-quick scheme. I’m now suing you guys because I feel uncomfortable.
“And by the way, that’s what happens in the world. I can play along, I can be fine, and then I can decide randomly — ‘Uh oh, you now have crossed the line, even though I’ve been going with it.’”

Source and links.