Thursday, April 28, 2016

To See the Real Story in Brazil, Look at Who Is Being Installed as President — and Finance Chiefs

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It’s not easy for outsiders to sort through all the competing claims about Brazil’s political crisis and the ongoing effort to oust its president, Dilma Rousseff, who won re-election a mere 18 months ago with 54 million votes. But the most important means for understanding the truly anti-democratic nature of what’s taking place is to look at the person whom Brazilian oligarchs and their media organs are trying to install as president: the corruption-tainted, deeply unpopular, oligarch-serving Vice President Michel Temer (above). Doing so shines a bright light on what’s really going on, and why the world should be deeply disturbed.

The New York Times’s Brazil bureau chief, Simon Romero, interviewed Temer this week, and this is how his excellent article begins:

RIO DE JANEIRO — One recent poll found that only 2 percent of Brazilians would vote for him. He is under scrutiny over testimony linking him to a colossal graft scandal. And a high court justice ruled that Congress should consider impeachment proceedings against him.

Michel Temer, Brazil’s vice president, is preparing to take the helm of Brazil next month if the Senate decides to put President Dilma Rousseff on trial.

How can anyone rational believe that anti-corruption anger is driving the elite effort to remove Dilma when they are now installing someone as president who is accused of corruption far more serious than she is? It’s an obvious farce. But there’s something even worse.

The person who is third in line to the presidency, right behind Temer, has been exposed as shamelessly corrupt: the evangelical zealot and House speaker Eduardo Cunha. He’s the one who spearheaded the impeachment proceedings even though he got caught last year squirreling away millions of dollars in bribes in Swiss bank accounts, after having lied to Congress when falsely denying that he had any accounts in foreign banks. When Romero asked Temer about his posture toward Cunha once he takes power, this is how Temer responded:
Mr. Temer defended himself and top allies who are under a cloud of accusations in the scheme. He expressed support for Eduardo Cunha, the scandal-plagued speaker of the lower house who is leading the impeachment effort in Congress, saying he would not ask Mr. Cunha to resign. Mr. Cunha will be the next in line for the presidency if Mr. Temer takes over.
By itself, this demonstrates the massive scam taking place here. As my partner, David Miranda, wrote this morning in his Guardian op-ed: “It has now become clear that corruption is not the cause of the effort to oust Brazil’s twice-elected president; rather, corruption is merely the pretext.” In response, Brazil’s media elites will claim (as Temer did) that once Dilma is impeached, then the other corrupt politicians will most certainly be held accountable, but they know this is false, and Temer’s shocking support for Cunha makes that clear. Indeed, press reports show that Temer is planning to install as attorney general — the key government contact for the corruption investigation — a politician specifically urged for that position by Cunha. As Miranda’s op-ed explains, “The real plan behind Rousseff’s impeachment is to put an end to the ongoing investigation, thus protecting corruption, not punishing it.”

But there’s one more vital motive driving all of this. Look at who is going to take over Brazil’s economy and finances once Dilma’s election victory is nullified. Two weeks ago, Reutersreported that Temer’s leading choice to run the central bank is the chair of Goldman Sachs in Brazil, Paulo Leme. Today, Reuters reported that “Murilo Portugal, the head of Brazil’s most powerful banking industry lobby” — and a long-time IMF official — “has emerged as a strong candidate to become finance minister if Temer takes power.” Temer also vowed that hewould embrace austerity for Brazil’s already-suffering population: He “intends to downsize the government” and “slash spending.”




In an earning calls last Friday with JP Morgan, the celebratory CEO of Banco Latinoamericano de Comercio Exterior SA, Rubens Amaral, explicitly described Dilma’s impeachment as “one of the first steps to normalization in Brazil,” and said that if Temer’s new government implements the “structural reforms” that the financial community desires, then “definitely there will be opportunities.” News of Temer’s preferred appointees strongly suggests Mr. Amaral — and his fellow plutocrats — will be pleased.

Meanwhile, the dominant Brazilian media organs of Globo, Abril (Veja), Estadão — which Miranda’s op-ed discusses at length — are virtually unified in support of impeachment, as in No Dissent Allowed, and have been inciting the street protests from the start. Why is that revealing? Reporters Without Borders just yesterday released its 2016 Press Freedom Rankings, and ranked Brazil 103 in the world because of violence against journalists but also because of this key fact: “Media ownership continues to be very concentrated, especially in the hands of big industrial families that are often close to the political class.” Is it not crystal clear what’s going on here?

So to summarize: Brazilian financial and media elites are pretending that corruption is the reason for removing the twice-elected president of the country as they conspire to install and empower the country’s most corrupted political figures. Brazilian oligarchs will have succeeded in removing from power a moderately left-wing government that won four straight elections in the name of representing the country’s poor, and are literally handing control over the Brazilian economy (the world’s seventh largest) to Goldman Sachs and bank industry lobbyists.

This fraud being perpetrated here is as blatant as it is devastating. But it’s the same pattern that has been repeatedly seen around the world, particularly in Latin America, when a tiny elite wages a self-protective, self-serving war on the fundamentals of democracy. Brazil, the world’s fifth most populous country, has been an inspiring example of how a young democracy can mature and thrive. But now, those democratic institutions and principles are being fully assaulted by the very same financial and media factions that suppressed democracy and imposed tyranny in that country for decades.

The Return of the Coup in Latin America

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Venezuela and Brazil are the scenes of a new form of coup d’état that would set the continent’s political calendar back to its worst times. Meanwhile, in Argentina, the brutal model for the demolition of democracy is set forward by the continental oligarchic right and the hegemonic forces of US imperialism who wish to impose their model in the region.

As we can see in the previews that test the memory of the peoples in the continent, it is difficult to accept that the new types of coups are actually softer and more covert than those which Latin America suffered for so long.

What has been shown so far in Argentina is no less cruel, in terms of contempt for the masses, than the coups carried out by the bloodthirsty dictatorships that sprouted in time of Operation Condor.

In Venezuela the president of the opposition majority in the National Assembly, Henry Ramos, openly declares that in view of the severity of the economic crisis, he fails to see Maduro concluding his term and adds they should put an end to Nicolas Maduro’s legitimate government within six months. Such statements did not compel the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, to formulate even the mildest rejection to such a coup-like declaration. This indicates they are returning to the era of open and brutal coups in the backyard of the United States of America.

Meanwhile, in Argentina, the newly-elected president, Mauricio Macri, moves forward the implementation of his “democratic model” with a brutal demolition of all the advances the nation had made after the collapse it suffered as a result of the neo-liberal economic and political crisis from which it had been rescued by the consecutive popular governments of Nestor Kirchner and Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.

Argentinean writer, journalist, and researcher Stella Calloni, explains that the current coup in Argentina began the same day Macri took office. He is an extreme right businessman who, since 2007 (according to Wikileaks) offered his services to the US embassy in Buenos Aires.

“The coup offensive began with decrees that allowed for the intervention of institutions and absolutely illegal measures, such as the appointment by decree of two judges to the Supreme Court. All economic measures favor the powerful and mark a path of exclusion for the common people,” says Calloni.

Violating the constitution and the laws, and ruling by Necessity and Urgency Decrees(NUDs) since December 2015, Macri took a road that evidently seeks to deliver the country to the global hegemonic power and the destruction of a work that had earned Argentina worldwide admiration and respect. He is delivering the country to the sinister designs of the International Monetary Fund and other agencies, banks and foreign institutions. All his economic actions favor the powerful and mark a path of exclusion for the population”.

“The negative opposition in Congress is part of the ongoing coup the US and its local puppets are carrying out against Venezuela,” Calloni says.

While the United States and its network of partners and local employees –with applause from the hegemonic power– support Macri’s unconstitutional decrees, in Venezuela, the decree of “economic emergency” signed by President Nicolas Maduro, was rejected by the legislative opposition with the acquiescence of the same power.

Never before was the right more willing to violate the Constitution and call to sedition, warned former Venezuelan Vice-President and journalist Jose Vicente Rangel. “Seldom in our country had a coup been announced so clearly and at the same time so elusively; the option would be the presidential recall, but this option –within our constitution– is only tangentially alluded to.”

According to Rangel, the opposition sails in two rivers by affirming, on the one hand, that within six months Nicolas Maduro will leave –by peaceful and constitutional means–Miraflores Palace (seat of government) and, on the other, that they will not even wait that long to oust the Venezuelan president.

“The right has grown presumptuous after its legislative victory of last December 6. But they still remember the failed coup of 2002: a resounding failure that made them switch to peaceful methods –as the ones they are apparently trying to use now– to overthrow the socialist power, But neither the soft blows, the carnival costumes used to confuse, or the violent coups can occur with impunity,” concludes José Vicente Rangel.

How Capitalism and Racism Support Each Other

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"Racism" is so often applied to US prison statistics and policing; to data on differences in employment, housing, wealth and income distributions, college enrollments, film awards, and so much more; and to hardening hostilities toward immigration. At the same time, racism is so often condemned -- at least in mainstream media, dominant political circles and most intellectual and academic institutions. Racism's persistence where the capitalist economic system prevails raises the question of the connection between capitalism and racism.        
Many societies are structured and operate to subordinate one or more portions of their population -- politically, culturally, economically or in combinations of these ways -- while privileging others. Among the successive generations born into societies with such subordinations, some will challenge and seek to change their condition. Force can try to maintain subordination, but it is costly, dangerous and often unsuccessful. The preferred method has rather been (a) to develop an idea that justifies the subordination and (b) to install that idea as deeply as possible into the thinking of both the subordinated and the privileged.
One such idea is "race," the notion that sets of inherent (often deemed "natural") qualities differentiate groups of people from one another in fundamental ways. This idea of race can then be used to explain the subordination of some and the privileges of others as effects of their racial differences. The concept of race thus accomplishes a reversal: Instead of being a produced idea, an ex-post justification of structures of social subordination, race morphs instead into some pre-existing "reality" thatcaused or enabled the subordination.
We know how and why racism worked often to support slavery around the world and especially in the early United States. Masters endorsed and promoted ideas that justified slaves as subordinated because they were an inferior race. Racist ideology also sometimes supported feudalism by dividing lords and serfs into different races. Indeed, some early capitalist systems likewise racially distinguished employers from employees.

Racism persists in no small part because its benefits to capitalism outweigh its costs.

However, capitalism presents a more complex case, because it often made "individual freedom" central to its supportive ideologies. Opponents of slavery could use that ideology to fight for slavery's abolition. Yet capitalism's history nonetheless keeps exhibiting both the idea of race and racism. And the evidence marshaled by, among others, Manning Marable in How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America (1983) certainly documents capitalism's subordination of many African Americans. Do racism and capitalism then support one another as per Malcolm X's famous statement, "You can't have capitalism without racism"? Should we follow Adolph Reed Jr.'s perspective (in his 2013 New Labor Forum article "Marx, Race and Neoliberalism") that sees racism as a "historically specific ideology that emerged, took shape, and has evolved as a constituent element within" capitalism?
Answers to these questions emerge from patterns exhibited by capitalism's inequality and instability. Capitalists never could end their system's tendency to generate gross inequality (in wealth and income distributions) nor its instability (in cycles of depression and recession). Both those features of capitalism have contributed to ongoing social injustice and oppositional social movements. Had the heavy burdens of recurring business cycles (periodic unemployment and its multiple consequences) been distributed roughly equally or randomly across societies where capitalism prevailed -- threatening and frightening everyone -- those oppositional movements might well have gathered the broad support needed to consign capitalism to an early demise.
However, those burdens were never distributed equally or randomly. Some suffered them disproportionally and repeatedly, resulting in social subordination. Others were relatively privileged, exempted from those burdens partially or totally. Yet, in their struggles to displace slavery and feudalism as societies' prevalent pre-capitalist economic systems, supporters of capitalism had often promised that it would differ from those systems by guaranteeing everyone liberty, equality and brotherhood or solidarity. What capitalism achieved contradicted that promise.
The burdens of capitalism's instability fell much harder on employees than employers, and much harder upon some employees than others. Capitalism thus always faced a basic legitimation problem. How could it justify its unequal distributions of income, wealth and the burdens of its systemic instability among the people whose condition of being "free and equal" capitalism was supposed to guarantee?
One of the major means of managing this legitimation problem has been an ideology of race (alongside other ideologies centered around concepts such as "productivity" and "meritocracy"). Capitalism repurposed race and racism. By dividing human beings, conceptually and practically, into intrinsically different subgroups, capitalism's defenders could explain and justify why its economic benefits (e.g. the status of employer rather than employee) and burdens (unemployment, poverty etc.) were so unequally distributed (both within countries and globally). Employers, politicians, academics and journalists reinforced the notion that the cause, fault or blame for that unequal distribution lay with racially differentiated characteristics, not with the capitalist system.
Certain population groups -- conceived as races -- were deemed underdeveloped, incapable, irrational and/or psychologically disqualified in relation to capitalism's productive rigors. Such presumed inferiority was then offered as an explanation for why people of some races were rarely employers and, among employees, were those last hired and first fired, poorly paid, ghettoized etc.
Such races -- often non-whites -- were, in effect, assigned to play the role of shock absorbers in and for capitalist business cycles. They still are: A 2016 report from the University of Illinois, using the racialized differentiations, documents how young people of color in the United States continue to face significantly higher rates of unemployment and lower employment per population ratios than young white people do.
In the United States, most white employees have been spared constantly fearing and periodically suffering unemployment and its consequences. A minority of white employees shares the fate of a huge portion of the "shock absorber" races. That fate comprises job insecurity, recurring unemployment and its consequences: loss of skills, job connections and promotions; descent into hopelessness and desperation; turning toward illegal revenue-generating activities; policed into disproportionate incarceration; etc. By concentrating both poverty and the business cycle shock absorber role in certain subgroups of their populations and by using racism to explain that concentration, capitalist societies "manage" the risks attending their tendencies to gross inequality and instability.
Some conservatives and right-wingers further legitimate capitalism by reframing their racism. For them "the problem" is that capitalism has not been allowed to work its healing magic -- market discipline -- upon those inferior groups. Misguided social protections, minimum wages, safety nets, welfare etc. have kept them inside a "culture of poverty" defined as recurring unemployment, poverty, social isolation, family instability, incarceration etc. By correcting (i.e. removing) those misguided and counterproductive social protections, capitalism's disciplines would integrate them into prosperity and growth. That this has not happened for most subordinate groups is blamed on the depth of their racialized inferiority and/or the legacy of liberals' imposition of a culture of poverty.
In contrast, liberals and social democrats who accept the concept of race have mostly sought to ameliorate the sufferings of the unemployed and poor by policies such as education, welfare and training. Such policies likewise rarely succeeded either generally or enduringly. They could not overcome the system's reproduction of poverty and unemployment and the imposition of them disproportionally on the shock absorber "races." Both conservatives and liberals have enforced a shared denial of the mechanisms of mutual support between capitalism and racism.
Of course, capitalism is not the only cause or source of racism, but ignoring or minimizing its role only perpetuates racism. By designating some members of society to be shock absorbers of recurring business cycles, the capitalist system creates legacies of trauma and inequality that can accumulate into dysfunctional qualities for its victims. There is neither need nor warrant to take those qualities as givens, nor to transform them into racialized attributes. The solution is rather to treat those legacies as among the profoundly unacceptable consequences and costs of capitalism's profoundly divisive inequality and instability.
A capitalism that perpetuates itself via racism incurs huge self-protection costs: to police and imprison or to provide some safety nets for its shock absorber "races" or varying combinations of both. When capitalists shift some or all of those costs onto the tax obligations of workers, more social tensions emerge. Workers are then told their tax payments must compensate for the "deficiencies" attributed to the shock absorber "races" rather than to the structural irrationalities of capitalism. Racial conflicts then preclude or tear apart working-class political unity. Racism persists in no small part because its benefits to capitalism outweigh its costs, or at least those costs capitalists have to bear.
When capitalists and their ideological supporters disavow racism, they carefully ignore capitalism as a key part of the problem. They point instead to the intolerance of "some people who lack compassion for the less fortunate." Thereby they further divide the working class, in effect, into one race that cannot or will not work hard (and is therefore unemployed and poor) and another race that lacks compassion. In comparison, capitalists and their supporters congratulate themselves for their superior morality.
Capitalism thus comes full circle. Its supporters use and benefit from a racism whose practice and consequences they blame exclusively on others but never on capitalism itself.

World War III Has Begun

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The Third World War is currently being fought. How long before it moves into its hot stage?
Washington is currently conducting economic and propaganda warfare against four members of the five bloc group of countries known as BRICS—Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. Brazil and South Africa are being destabilized with fabricated political scandals. Both countries are rife with Washington-financed politicians and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). Washington concocts a scandal, sends its political agents into action demanding action against the government and its NGOs into the streets in protests.
Washington tried this against China with the orchestrated Hong Kong “student protest.” Washington hoped that the protest would spread into China, but the scheme failed. Washington tried this against Russia with the orchestrated protests against Putin’s reelection and failed again.
To destablilze Russia, Washington needs a firmer hold inside Russia. In order to gain a firmer hold, Washington worked with the New York mega-banks and the Saudis to drive down the oil price from over $100 per barrel to $30. This has put pressure on Russian finances and the ruble. In response to Russia’s budgetary needs, Washington’s allies inside Russia are pushing President Putin to privatize important Russian economic sectors in order to raise foreign capital to cover the budget deficit and support the ruble. If Putin gives in, important Russian assets will move from Russian control to Washington’s control.
In my opinion, those who are pushing privatization are either traitors or completely stupid. Whichever it is, they are a danger to Russia’s independence.
For my column on Washington’s attack on Latin American independence, see:http://www.paulcraigroberts.org/2016/04/22/washington-launches-its-attack-against-brics-paul-craig-roberts/ [4]
As I have often pointed out, the neoconservatives have been driven insane by their arrogance and hubris. In their pursuit of American hegemony over the world, they have cast aside all caution in their determination to destabilize Russia and China.
By implementing neoliberal economic policies urged on them by their economists trained in the Western neoliberal tradition, the Russian and Chinese governments are setting themselves up for Washington. By swallowing the “globalism” line, using the US dollar, participating in the Western payments system, opening themselves to destabilization by foreign capital inflows and outflows, hosting American banks, and permitting foreign ownership, the Russian and Chinese governments have made themselves ripe for destabilization.
If Russia and China do not disengage from the Western system and exile their neoliberal economists, they will have to go to war in order to defend their sovereignty.

Washington Launches Its Attack Against BRICS

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Having removed the reformist President of Argentina, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Washington is now disposing of the reformist President of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff.
Washington used a federal judge to order Argentina to sacrifice its debt restructuring program in order to pay US vulture funds the full value of defaulted Argentine bonds that the vulture funds had bought for a few pennies on the dollar. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/27/us-vulture-funds-argentina-bankruptcy [1] These vultures were called “creditors” who had made “loans” regardless of the fact that they were not creditors and had made no loans. They were opportunists after easy money and were used by Washington to get rid of a reformist government.
President Kirchner resisted and, thus, she had to go. Washington concocted a story that Kirchner covered up an alleged Iranian bombing in Buenos Aires in 1994. This implausible fantasy, for which there is no evidence of Iranian involvement, was fed to one of Washington’s agents in the state prosecutor’s office, and a dubious event of 22 years ago was used to clear Kirchner out of the way of the American looting of Argentina.
In Brazil, Washington has used corruption insinuations to get President Rousseff impeached by the lower house. Evidence is not necessary, just allegations. It is no different from “Iranian nukes,” Saddam Hussein’s “weapons of mass destruction,” Assad’s “use of chemical weapons,” or in Rousseff’s case merely insinuations. The Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, notes that Rousseff “hasn’t been accused of anything.” The American-backed elites are simply using impeachment to remove a president who they cannot defeat electorally.
In short, this is Washington’s move against the BRICS. Washington is moving to put into political power a rightwing party that Washington controls in order to terminate Brazil’s growing relationships with China and Russia.
The great irony is that the impeachment bill was presided over by the corrupt lower house speaker, Eduardo Cunha, who was recently discovered to have stashed millions of dollars in secret Swiss bank accounts (perhaps his pay-off from Washington) and who lied under oath when he denied having foreign bank accounts. You can read the sordid story here:
http://www.globalresearch.ca/us-complicity-after-vote-to-remove-brazils-president-key-opposition-figure-holds-meetings-in-washington/5521059 [2]
Kirchner and Rousseff’s “crimes” are their efforts to have the governments of Argentina and Brazil represent the Argentine and Brazilian peoples rather than the elites and Wall Street. In Washington these are serious offenses as Washington uses the elites to control South American countries. Whenever Latin Americans elect a government that represents them, Washington overthrows the government or assassinates the president.
Washington is close to returning Venezuela to the control of the Spanish elite allied with Washington.http://sjlendman.blogspot.com/2016/04/new-coup-plot-hatched-in-venezuela.html [3] The presidents of Ecuador and Bolivia are also targeted. One reason Washington will not permit its British lapdog to honor the asylum Ecuador granted to Julian Assange is that Washington expects to have its own agent back in as President of Ecuador, at which time Assange’s asylum will be repealed.
Washington has always blocked reform in Latin America. Latin American peoples will remain American serfs until they elect governments by such large majorities that the governments can exile the traitorous elites, close the US embassies, and expel all US corporations. Every Latin American country that has an American presence has no future other than serfdom.

US authorizes intensified air strikes against civilians in Iraq and Syria

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Since last fall, without any public acknowledgment by the US government and military, US warplanes have been bombing civilian areas in Iraq and Syria under loosened rules of engagement, the US Defense Department announced Wednesday.
Under the new rules, US forces may attack any area considered to have a “non-combatant value” of 10, that is, a likely fallout of fewer than 10 civilian deaths.
Given the current volume of airstrikes, the expanded rules of engagement imply that the Pentagon may murder thousands of civilians every month.
This March alone, US warplanes dropped nearly 2,000 bombs on Iraq and Syria, an increase over the 1,700 bombs dropped by US forces during the previous March. Last November, the US-led coalition set a new record for a single month, dropping nearly 3,300 bombs.
Since the beginning of “Operation Inherent Resolve” in August 2014, Iraq and Syria have been pummeled by a combined total of more than 40,000 bombs, the vast majority of them made by American companies and delivered by American planes.
“The gradualistic, painfully slow, incremental efforts of the current administration undercut the principals of modern warfare, and harken back to the approach followed by the Johnson administration,” retired US Air Force general David Deptula, now with the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, said Tuesday, defending the expanded air strikes in comments to USA Today .
The revelation comes amid numerous signs that Washington is preparing even greater military violence against the Middle Eastern working class and oppressed masses, as part of a general expansion of military operations throughout the region, coordinated with the Saudi monarchy and Gulf sheikdoms.
During a visit to Abu Dhabi Wednesday, US defense secretary Ashton Carter demanded increased involvement by the Gulf Cooperation Council governments of Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and UAE in the US war against Iraq and Syria.
The US defense chief called for the Arab monarchies to adopt new measures to counter Iranian power, including joint US-GCC patrols along Yemen’s coastlines in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, and adoption of US-sponsored plans to develop the cyberwarfare, special operations, naval and missile defense capabilities of the Arab states.
“The U.S. military remains committed and capable of responding to Iranian malign and destabilizing activities and deterring aggression against our regional friends and allies,” Carter said.
In the coming months, the American military will continuously “accelerate” its Iraq-Syria war, Carter said Monday. In remarks from Baghdad, Carter unveiled plans to deploy more than 200 additional US troops to Iraq, along with Apache helicopter gunships and High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS).
The reinforcements will be deployed in support of large-scale assaults aimed at recapturing Mosul and other Iraqi cities currently held by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Carter said.
The flurry of announcements of new US military projects has underscored the fact that, notwithstanding the Obama administration’s diplomatic overtures to Tehran, Washington remains committed to armed aggression throughout the region and to countering Iranian influence by military means.
“Despite all the differences, Saudi Arabia and America are not getting divorced. We need each other,” former Central Intelligence Agency official and Brookings Institution intelligence analyst Bruce Riedel told CNN.
Despite the emergence of real divisions within the US-Saudi camp, the Kingdom remains the central pillar of US domination over the region.
In a Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) report Wednesday, titled “The Saudi and Gulf Perspective on President Obama’s Visit,” leading US ruling class strategist Anthony Cordesman explains the indispensable role of the US-Saudi alliance within the US-dominated world order established at the end of the Second World War.
“America’s strategic ties to Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states—which in practice include Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the UAE—have been critical to U.S. strategic interests ever since Britain withdrew from the Gulf,” Cordesman notes. “The strategic partnership between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia has been progressively more important ever since President Roosevelt met with King Ibn Saud on the deck of the USS Quincy in the Suez Canal on February 14, 1945.”
US political and military domination over the Arabian Peninsula and Persian Gulf remains necessary to what Cordesman identifies as the central priority of American policy in the region, namely: “Ensuring the stable flow of some 17 to 18 million barrels of petroleum exports per day out of the Gulf, and steadily increasing the flow of oil, gas and product exports to meet the demands of the global economy.”
US control over these resources requires continued funding to the Gulf States in support of “weapons systems tailored to supporting joint action against Iran.” The US must work closely with its regional partners to “deal with the full range of complex threats posed by Iran” and counter “the steady expansion of Iranian influence and arming of non-state actors and proxy forces in areas ranging from Lebanon and Gaza, to Syria and Iraq, which threatens states like Kuwait, Bahrain, and Yemen,” Cordesman warns.
Waged under the banner of “the war against ISIS,” the US wars in Iraq and Syria, are driven in large measure by Washington’s determination to thwart the emergence of Iran as a regional hegemon, the threat of which has become more acute as Iranian influence in both Iraq and Syria has grown amid the wreckage produced by US-led wars against both countries.
US imperialism is desperately seeking to defend its position through further support for and massive arms sales to the Saudi and Gulf militaries, which are stoking sectarian conflicts throughout the region, moving toward ever greater confrontation with Iran and pushing the entire region toward an all-out conflagration.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

US Counterinsurgency Policing Tactics Ravage Honduras

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Honduran media is ablaze with the latest in the constant stream of police corruption crises.
This time the Honduran newspaper El Heraldo published a leaked police investigation into the November 2009 murder of the chief of the anti-narcotics unit Julian Aristides Gonzales, and the related December 2011 murder of his advisor, Alfredo Landaverde.
The investigation indisputably shows that high level police commanders planned, and police officers carried out, the assassinations. The public is not surprised: this was common knowledge and is just the latest scandal involving top level police commanders in murder and organized crime.
In scandal after scandal, all that seems to change are the acronyms. This time ski mask clad agents from the one-year-old new unit of the Public Prosecutor's Office, the Criminal Investigation Technical Agency (ATIC), swooped in to take the files on 136 investigations from the archives of the Directorate for Investigation and Evaluation of Police Careers (DIECP), amid calls to shut down the DIECP. The DIECP was created in 2011 to replace the Direction of Internal Affairs of the National Police after the October 2011 murder of the son of the rector of the national university, Julieta Castellanos, by police officers.
Each scandal spurs the reconfiguration of police, the public prosecutor's office, and military security agencies, but the pattern of criminal activity by the police continues. Three days after the scandal broke, on April 7, President Juan Orlando Hernandez presented a law giving his administration the capacity to fire police officers at will with no formal process. The same measure had been taken in 2012 in the wake of the Castellanos police murder scandal. While press reported hundreds of police officers fired, the reality was that it was just a handful, and the credibility of the whole process fell apart when the man with the power to fire at will, then director of the national police Juan Carlos Bonilla, was accused of sending gang members to kidnap the son of a former National Police Director. Police reforms look like nothing more than redistributing power between organized crime networks.
The question this latest scandal provoked was: why now? The leaked report is seven years old. Renowned police reform advocate Maria Luisa Borjas commented that she believed the US Embassy had leaked the reports to open up the political space for another reconfiguration of security forces. Others comment that the crisis helps distract from the ongoing international outrage over the March 2, 2016, murder of indigenous rights activist Berta Caceres.
On April 5 President Hernandez stated that the National Police could be eliminated, provoking concern that the April 7 law facilitating the dismissal of police officers was the first step in a process intended to disband the National Police and replace it with the Military Police for Public Order (PMOP).
In January, the Security Ministry had announced it intended to give a renewed push to police reform, promoting a military-civilian joint task force, the Interinstitutional Security Force (FUSINA), and along with it promote the principal forces that participate in FUSINA, including the controversial PMOP which began operation in April 2014, and the TIGRES elite police unit that began operation in June 2014, along with the 2015 agencies of ATIC and the Directorate of Police Intelligence, likely in reference to its dependency, the Strategic Information Collection, Collation, Analysis and Archiving System, SERCAA.
In May 2015 the US Embassy announced FUSINA received training from the US Marines. While the US State Department has maintained that the controversial PMOP does not receive US training, on the ground reports claim it does, and given that PMOP forms part of FUSINA, the Marine training of FUSINA would seem to lend credence to local sources. In April 2015 it was announced that 300 specialists were arriving in Honduras to train FUSINA, including FBI agents.
ATIC's public profile is quickly growing. In addition to the DIECP raids, along with its twin National Police intelligence agency SERCAA, it is leading the investigation into Berta Caceres' murder. Both are known for their close relationship to the US Embassy in Tegucigalpa, and Department of Justice advisors accompany the agencies in their investigations.
TIGRES, PMOP, ATIC, SERCAA are all elements of a counterinsurgency policing model the US implemented in Iraq and Afghanistan and is trying to apply to Central America. The problem is there is no insurgency, and the criminal networks that run the state make Indigenous and campesinos who defend land and resource rights into enemies of the state.
Even the scandal following Berta Caceres' murder has built up the figure of ATIC and SERCAA, as the State Department prioritizes making space for this as its newest project, over lending support to her family and her organization COPINH's demands that the Honduran government allow the Inter American Commission for Human Rights to support and independent group of international experts to investigate the crime, following the model established for the investigation into the disappearance of 43 Ayotzinapa students in Mexico.
There is no doubt that this latest police scandal marks another surge in the militarized counterinsurgency policing model promoted by the US, in the guise of police reform. The question is what impact will it have on security in Honduras. Violence in security forces, not just the police but also the military, is chronic, and the public sees the security forces as a principal source of violence against the population. State involvement in Berta Caceres' murder, and the murder of other human rights advocates, is widely suspected.
The public is tired of the dizzying parade of changing acronyms that only reconfigure power relations between organized crime networks. Police reform is meaningless, no more than a reconfiguration of criminal structures, without changes in the political structure. Yet, the US has always prioritized stable relations with the corrupt network of political and economic elites over real security for the Honduran population, wasting public money on lucrative contracts for security firms in an endless cycle corruption and violence.
The kind of investigation demanded by COPINH and Berta's family could begin to uncover the political economic structures that manage violence in Honduras, but Honduran politicians, long the beneficiaries and participants in criminal actions, are refusing to allow independent investigators into the country. But the US Embassy is more interested in using the scandals to push through the counterinsurgency policing model than challenging the criminal networks that run Honduras.

US corporate tax cheats hiding $1.4 trillion in profits in offshore accounts

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A report issued Thursday by the British charity Oxfam found that the 50 largest US corporations are hiding $1.4 trillion in profits in overseas accounts to avoid US income taxes, much of it in tax havens like Bermuda and the Cayman Islands.
The biggest tax dodger is technology giant Apple, with $181 billion held offshore. General Electric had the second-largest stash, at $119 billion, enough to repay four times over the $28 billion GE received in federal guarantees during the 2008 Wall Street crash. Microsoft had $108 billion in overseas accounts, with companies like Exxon Mobil, Pfizer, IBM, Cisco Systems, Google, Merck, and Johnson & Johnson rounding out the top ten.
Overseas tax havens have been the focus of recent revelations about tax scams by wealthy individuals, based on the leak of the “Panama Papers,” documents from a single Panama-based law firm, Mossack Fonseca, involving 214,000 offshore shell companies. The firm’s clients included 29 billionaires and 140 top politicians worldwide, among them a dozen heads of government.
But the sums involved in corporate tax scams dwarf those hidden away by individuals. According to the Oxfam report, the offshore manipulations by the 50 largest US corporations cost the US taxpayer $111 billion each year, while robbing another $100 billion annually from countries overseas, many of them desperately poor.
The $111 billion a year in US taxes evaded would be sufficient to eliminate 90 percent of child poverty in America, effectively wiping out that social scourge. It is more than the annual cost of the food stamp program, or unemployment benefits, or the total budget of the Department of Education.
Oxfam timed the release of its report for the April 15 income tax deadline in the United States (actually Monday, April 18 this year), when tens of millions of working people must file their income tax returns or face federal penalties. Working people could face additional tax penalties of up to 2 percent of household income, to a maximum of $975, under the Obamacare “individual mandate,” if they have not purchased private health insurance.
There is a stark contrast between the IRS hounding of working people for relatively small amounts of money—but difficult or impossible to pay for those on low incomes—and the green light given to corporate tax cheats who evade taxation on trillions in income.
“As Americans rush to finalize tax returns, multinational corporations that benefit from trillions in taxpayer-funded support are dodging billions in taxes,” said Raymond C. Offenheiser, President of Oxfam America. “The vast sums large companies stash in tax havens should be fighting poverty and rebuilding America’s infrastructure, not hidden offshore in Panama, Bahamas, or the Cayman Islands.”
The Oxfam report, titled “Broken at the Top,” expresses concern that “tax dodging by multinational corporations…contributes to dangerous inequality that is undermining our social fabric and hindering economic growth.”
It continues: “This inequality is fueled by an economic and political system that benefits the rich and powerful at the expense of the rest, causing the gains of economic growth over the last several decades to go disproportionately to the already wealthy. Among the most damning examples of this rigged system is the way large, profitable companies use offshore tax havens, and other aggressive and secretive methods, to dramatically lower their corporate tax rates in the United States and developing countries alike.”
Oxfam collected figures available from the 10-K reports and other financial documents issued by the 50 largest US companies, covering the period since the Wall Street crash, 2008 through 2014, and presented them in an interactive table. The figures included total profits, federal taxes paid, total US taxes paid (including state and local), lobbying expenses, tax breaks, money held in offshore accounts, and benefits received from the federal government, including loans, loan guarantees and bailouts.
Among the most important findings:
* The top 50 companies made nearly $4 trillion in profits globally, but paid only $412 billion in federal income tax, for an effective tax rate of barely 10 percent, compared to the statutory rate of 35 percent.
* The 50 companies spent $2.6 billion to influence the federal government, while reaping nearly $11.2 trillion in federal support, for an effective return of 400,000 percent on their lobbying expenses.
* The overseas cash stashed by the 50 companies, nearly $1.4 trillion, is larger than the Gross Domestic Product of Russia, Mexico, Spain or South Korea.
* US multinationals reported 43 percent of their foreign earnings from five tax havens, countries that accounted for only 4 percent of their foreign workforce and 7 percent of foreign investment. All told, US companies shifted between $500 billion and $700 billion in profits from countries where economic activity actually took place to countries where tax rates were low.
* In the year 2012 alone, US firms reported $80 billion in profits in Bermuda, more than their combined reported profits in the four largest economies (after the US itself): China, Japan, Germany and France. This figure was nearly 20 times the total GDP of the tiny island country.
The Oxfam report also pointed to an estimated $100 billion in taxes evaded in foreign countries, many of them rich in natural resources extracted by such global giants as Exxon, Chevron and Dow Chemical. According to the report, “Taxes paid, or unpaid, by multinational companies in poor countries can be the difference between life and death, poverty or opportunity. $100 billion is four times what the 47 least developed countries in the world spend on education for their 932 million citizens. $100 billion is equivalent to what it would cost to provide basic life-saving health services or safe water and sanitation to more than 2.2 billion people.”
The report cited former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s assessment that “Africa loses more money each year to tax dodging than it receives in international development assistance.”
Oxfam offered no solution to the growth of inequality and the systematic looting by big corporations that its report documents, except to urge governments around the world to close tax loopholes. The group also pleads with the corporate bosses themselves not to be quite so greedy. Neither capitalist governments nor the CEOs will pay the slightest attention. But the working class should take note of these figures, which provide ample evidence of the bankrupt and reactionary nature of capitalism, and the urgent necessity of building a mass movement, on a global scale, to put an end to the profit system.