Sunday, February 25, 2024

Editorial: chaotic games in Parliament, while Gaza suffers

Editorial: chaotic games in Parliament, while Gaza suffers

This editorial is reprinted from the UK socialist website, Left Horizons

Two key lessons come out of the chaos in the House of Commons on Wednesday: that the Labour leadership is being dragged,  kicking and screaming, as a result of public pressure – and for no other reason – towards supporting a ceasefire in Gaza. But also, that Starmer will do anything to avoid a public display of how much he is out of touch, even with its own MPs.

While being pushed in the direction of a ceasefire, the Labour leadership is still hedging that with all kinds of qualifications, and is not prepared to acknowledge Israel’s savage collective punishment for what it is. Starmer is still desperate to keep Labour policy broadly in line with the US position. So the motion which Labour put to parliament was far weaker than that of the SNP, which it replaced on Wednesday. As suspended Labour MP, Diane Abbott, put it, “If Starmer really wanted a ceasefire he would table a simple amendment saying that. Instead he tables one full of weasel words.”

The revenge, which Israel has inflicted on the whole population of Gaza for the Hamas incursion, has resulted in over 30,000 deaths of non-combatants, including 10,000 children. The assault has reduced large areas of Gaza to uninhabitable rubble, including the destruction of social infrastructure that has no military value, something which in itself is a deliberate strategy.

Coming on top of the deaths and destruction, the surviving population of Gaza are facing an enormous humanitarian crisis, without sufficient food, water, medicines or shelter. The whole, monstrous Israeli campaign has created a wave of revulsion across the globe and has galvanised millions into protests and demonstrations, not least in the UK.

Western politicians have facilitated the slaughter in Gaza

One would find it hard to find an equivalent issue, in terms of the number and scale of demonstrations that have taken place in towns and cities up and down the country. Such is the scale of public abhorrence of the genocidal Israeli assault, on a largely defenceless population, that it has been acknowledged in the International Court of Justice.

Those who have facilitated the slaughter, by their continued support for Israel, people like Biden, Sunak and other Western politicians, are being forced to modify their stand on Gaza, not out of sympathy for suffering Palestinians, but for fear of the instability that Israel is creating in the Middle East and to some extent in their own countries.

The arcane rules and procedures of the House of Commons are like a foreign language to most ordinary workers, who are oblivious to them. Truth be told, the parliamentary rules are probably a mystery even to most MPs. But what is clear from the shambles in the House on Wednesday, when dozens of MPs walked out, is that the Speaker, Lyndsey Hoyle, buckled under Labour pressure to give priority to their amendment over the SNP motion on the need for a ceasefire.

Parliamentary does not have the same customs and procedures as typical labour movement conferences. In Parliament, even where there is an amendment, it is normal for the original motion to be voted on first, and only then to vote on amendments.  According to one report, it is “very, very rare” for an opposition party to have its amendment replace another opposition party’s motion. But that is what happened.

The Speaker, Lyndsey Hoyle, had his arm twisted by Keir Starmer

Hoyle was even warned beforehand by the Clerk of the Commons that to give priority to the Labour amendment would lead to the SNP’s original motion not being voted on at all, on one of the only three days in a year allocated to SNP motions. But he gave way to pressure from the Keir Starmer, (on the spurious pretext of MPs’ safety) who made it known to Hoyle that it will be Labour MPs who will determine whether or not he remains Speaker after the next election.

Having been given priority, therefore, and with other parties refusing to participate in the proceedings, the Labour amendment was passed unanimously, amid scenes of chaos and confusion and a cacophony of different shouts. The entire rationale for the Labour manoeuvre was to avoid the situation where – following the ‘normal’ practice – Labour MPs would have been obliged to vote first on the SNP motion. Pressurising Hoyle was Starmer’s only hope of avoiding a major rebellion by Labour MPs in support of the SNP motion, as well as the severe embarassment of those right-wing Labour MPs who would not support it.

The last time the SNP put a motion calling for a ceasefire, 56 Labour MPs defied the whip. This time, with tens of thousands more deaths in Gaza, a huge humanitarian catastrophe, and the threat of a new Israeli ground offensive, there could easily have been twice that number. In the end, denied a vote on the SNP motion, Labour MPs backed their own amendment without dissent, even though it was far weaker than that of the SNP.

Even Labour’s right wing are feeling the tide of public opposition to Israel

It is an indication of the growing scale of the global revulsion against Israel that even some the right wing of the Labour Party are coming under pressure to condemn Israel. It forms the background to the suspension of two parliamentary candidates, in Rochdale and Hyndburn, both from the right wing of the party, for their comments on Israel.

Wes Streeting, Shadow Health Minister and still a stalwart of Labour’s right wing (he is expected to considerably widen the scope for private health companies to leech off the NHS when he becomes Health Minister) has now suggested that Israel has gone way beyond self-defence.

Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary, David Lammy, has made similar comments. These people cannot argue that “things have changed”, because anyone with an understanding of Israeli politics could see what was coming a week, or even days, after the Hamas attack of October 7.

It is a disgrace that these politicians have taken so long to acknowledge, even with weasel words, the indiscriminate slaughter in Gaza, and then only because of growing public pressure. In Streeting’s own constituency in Ilford, he will face a well-supported and well-organised campaign by a supporter of Palestinian rights and he will fear that even his apparently ‘safe’ seat may not be secure at the next election.

The outlook for the people of Gaza is exceedingly bleak, to say the least. Western governments, including the USA, have explicitly said that they are opposed to a new Israeli ground offensive in Rafah where there are over a million half-starved refugees. A new IDF assault in that area risks incalculable casualties in top of those already inflicted.

The Israeli government is a monster its makers cannot control

The problem for Biden and the West however, is that their financial and military backing for Israeli over decades has created a monster that they cannot fully control. The government of Netanyahu is largely driven by the extreme right of his cabinet who want to pursue the ‘total’ destruction of Hamas – which is impossible – and for the population of Gaza to be pushed into Egypt.

Labour members will ask, why is a ceasefire more acceptable now, but it wasn’t when ‘only’ 15,000 civilians had been killed? The change of heart, if there is one, has nothing to do with a new found respect for Palestinian lives, and everything to do with the network of US and UK strategic and economic interests being potentially threatened by hundreds of thousands of refugees being forced into Egypt. Such a development would force the Egyptian regime to break its long-standing peace-treaty with Israel, and lead to widespread regional instability.

No-one can predict what will happen next. It is possible that a new ground offensive may begin in and around Rafah. It is also possible that Western pressure may stay the hand of the IDF, and a new ceasefire arranged, with an exchange of hostages, like last November.

Whatever does happen, the lives of the Gaza population have changed irrevocably. And parallel to that, Middle East politics will also be changed forever, including in Israel. The Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, but even more so the scale of the death and destruction carried out by Israel afterwards, have unleashed forces of social and political change way beyond the abilities of politicians to control.

War is the midwife of historical change and particularly, it is the midwife of revolution. The more bloody and vicious the war – and this one is completely one-sided and unprecedented in the intensity of civilian deaths – the greater the change. The political representatives of capitalism are juggling with fine words and fancy rhetoric in an effort to cope with a human catastrophe in Gaza of almost unimaginable proportions; yet the political and social aftershocks have only just begun.

In the long run, it will be the morality and the political framework of capitalism that will be questioned and challenged by events. History is running ahead of Keir Starmer, but with the same mindset as all pro-capitalist politicians, he completely is blind to it.

 

Chaos in the UK Parliament: Ceasefire vote exposes Labour corruption

I do not know too much about this show but I have been following it for some political news back in the UK that is not part of the mainstream or capitalist mass media. I do not know the political aprty or general political views of the presenter other than it is in opposition to the establishment line. 

Last week the House of Commons was expected to vote on a ceasefire motion introduced by the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP). There was a good chance of it passing as many Labor MP's were said to be supporting it as well. The Labor Party leader, Keir Starmer has gone from calling Israel an Apartheid state in 2015 and demanding it be kicked out of FIFA to refusing to support a cease fire in Gaza and promoting the view that Israel has the right to defend itself. Starmer is much akin to the war criminal Blair and just as sleazy. He is a complete opportunist.

Folks who are British immigrants here in the US or anyone who is interested in developments there might find the show interesting. This issue is about the failure of the motion to be voted on due to labor's treachery by introducing a much weaker amendment to the SNP motion. The unusual nature of this is explained in the video.

Friday, February 23, 2024

BLACK HISTORY MONTH/WHITE HISTORY MONTH

At the beginning of the month I  posted a piece about Black History I had written some time ago at work, after a few discussions with some of my co-workers. I distributed it in the lunch room and other places in the company where I had some contacts. In my own yard, a white worker asked me about white history month. He did it with good intention to provoke further argument, I knew him well. He was a good union guy. So I wrote and distributed the piece I am posting here. I have made a couple of minor changes and I suppose if I took some time to revisit both the pieces I might change much but it'll do for now.

 

Rev. Martin Luther King delivers his last speech at a union rally in Memphis in April 1968 Source

 

 

Richard

South Area Corporation Yard

2001

In response to my previous piece on Black History month a co- worker writes to me the question:  "When is White History Month?   My immediate answer to this co-worker was, "every month is white history month."  In fact every month since the foundation of the modern state of America has been white history month.

However, this co-worker raises an important question.  Clearly in any society, it is the ruling class that writes the history books.  In the case of the U.S., the ruling class has been male and white, and overwhelmingly Protestant.  So yes, white history has dominated the history books, but which whites?  The history of which sector of the white population?

How many of us know of the white workers that were shot by Rockefeller's goons at Ludlow? Thrown out of their company homes and forced in to a tent city then attacked.  What of the 1877 uprising?  The shooting of workers at the still existing River Rouge plant or in Minneapolis during the general strike there. The Seattle or San Francisco general strikes where workers were brutalized and murdered by police.  It is no accident that here in Oakland one can graduate the public school system and be completely unaware of the 1946 general strike. Why is the great 44-day Flint occupation not Labor's 4th of July? The point that has to be understood is that white working class history is also hidden from us.  Labor history in general is hidden from us.

What we've had is four hundred years of the history of white "capitalism" white capitalist history.  The emergence of Black History Month is a direct result of the dominance of this white capitalist history and as a concession to the civil rights movement.  In the main, Black History Month will steer clear of the militant history of the black working class and those black leaders like Malcolm X who criticized the system itself as opposed to whites in general. Unable to avoid individuals like Malcolm X or Martin Luther King, their ideas are sanitized and an almost carnival atmosphere surrounds them.  Streets and schools are named after them and careful attention is paid to keeping any class analysis they made a well-kept secret. 

Malcolm X said toward the end of his life that:

"I believe that there will ultimately be a clash between the oppressed and those that do the oppressing. I believe that there will be a clash between those that want freedom justice and equality for everyone and those who want to continue the systems of exploitation.  I believe that there will be that kind of clash, but I don't think it will be based on the color of the skin, as Elijah Muhammad had taught it."

and

...You can't operate a capitalistic system unless you are vulturistic; you have to have someone else's blood to suck to be a capitalist.  You show me a capitalist, I'll show you a bloodsucker."

Agree with this or not.  It is quite clear that the white capitalist class would much rather Malcolm X have continued his onslaught against the whites in general which includes this writer and all white workers, than what he was saying above. I can state from experience that I became much more open to reading Malcolm X’s writings and writings about him, during this period than when he was telling me I was a murderer and a devil. Statements like these also threaten the black capitalist class who have benefited from the doors that were forced open during the civil rights movement.  They are not concerned with eliminating the social causes of racism, just that part of it that prevents them from getting rich and exploiting working people like their white counterparts.

As white workers we have to recognize the complete denial of black history that has occurred in this country up until the civil rights movement.  U.S. history has been full of successful individuals, teachers, inventors, leaders of the state, all with white faces.  In order to maintain their privileges the white capitalist class had to make concessions to the white worker, particularly the white male worker. The role of other minorities and women, including white women, had been ignored.

Tragically, the capitalist class, that injects racism in to society as a means of dividing workers, have been very successful at it in this country to the detriment of all workers white, black or otherwise.  Much of the responsibility for their success must fall on the shoulders of the leaders of the labor movement who have failed historically to combat racism effectively and actually supported it in the trade unions.  Too often, racial minorities have been left alone to fight the forces of the state.

But once we accept this, the white worker that is.  What then?  Unlike the white liberal middle class, that is driven by guilt and self-hatred, most white workers recognize that our history is one of hard work, sacrifice and more often than not, poverty. Plus, in the last 25 years, white workers have come under increased attack also. The American Dream, which was an option for so many of us, has either been destroyed or is out of reach. Most people on welfare, and the majority of poor people in this country are white. And unlike the white liberals the white worker is not open to the guilt attacks that dominate the arsenals of the black and white middle class.  We are not responsible for what people that have the same skin color as us have done or continue to do. 

What we are responsible for is to recognize the fact that white skin has had its privileges, that this privilege has been used to attack non-white workers in the most vicious and brutal way.  White workers have suffered as workers, but for non-whites, there is a double whammy, they have been victimized as workers and on the basis of their color or race. But we all have to recognize that there has been a conscious and very successful attempt to portray the U.S. as a society without classes, that the issue is solely one of race. It would be a mistake also to approach the problem as if it was solely a matter of class. But it is the history of the working class in general that has been obscured and downright hidden.

As I walk past schools in my communities I see banners or signs announcing Black History Month, Pride, Hispanic Month (the term Latino is not used in “official” circles), or Asian Pacific Islander Month etc. and there’s a danger we will run out of months, yet the vast majority of these groups and indeed, the vast majority of us in the US are working class. But this is not a fashionable term by any means. It’s a term that tends to unity in a way that gender and race, or color do not.

Despite the success of racism in this country there have been many times when workers overcame it. The importance of discovering working class history and the history of the labor movement is that whenever workers transcended racial lines it was the employers, that stirred up racial antagonism particularly through the police and newspapers (the media) that they control.

During the Merryville strike against the lumber companies in Louisiana in 1912 to use one example, workers showed solidarity against all odds and provocation by the employers. Some white workers had been fired for testifying against the brutality of the employers in a recent murder trial.  The Union, the Brotherhood of Timber Workers, struck the lumber company.  Scabs, mostly Blacks and Mexicans were imported to break the strike, but refused to do so when appeals were made to them by the strikers.  Eventually this strike was broken by employer violence and deportations of both white and black workers.

Philip Foner comments in his History of the Labor Movement Vol. 4 that:

"The fact that the Union had allowed Negro and white members to meet and consult together in complete violation of the "traditions of the South" was cited as sufficient reason to seek its destruction."

As white workers we have to accept that historically the above was the exception rather than the rule. The lesson learned should be that racism is promoted and encouraged in all sorts of different ways in order to weaken the unity of working class people.  And most importantly, while we shouldn't feel responsible as individuals for events of the past, and while as individuals we may feel that a non-white worker is our equal, historically the white working class has not risen to the occasion when our brothers and sisters in the Black, Latino, Chinese and other minority communities have been attacked. 

It is easier for the state to kill these people and get away with it. It is easier for the state to send troops and occupy the black communities and get away with it.  The fact that Blacks were hung in this country in this writer’s lifetime for exercising the right to vote with very limited active protest from the heads of organized labor speaks volumes.  Some people have a reason for being a little cautious.


PALESTINE/ISRAEL: WHAT CAN SOCIALISTS DO NOW?


 This is an update of a previous article published in October 2023

Roger Silverman, London UK

Workers International Network

Israel justifies its slaughter of men, women and children in Gaza on the grounds that Hamas murdered civilians and took innocent hostages. Israel has in the last five months alone murdered some 30,000 civilians, and has for years kept thousands of Palestinians hostage in its own jails. Gaza has become Israel’s killing field. It is this sickening hypocrisy that has generated a worldwide mass protest movement comparable with those during the Vietnam and Iraq wars. We must act now to translate that revulsion and outrage into direct action, above all to demand divestment, a boycott of Israeli products, and mass trade-union activity to block arms supplies.

Israel was from its inception a racist regime; it is explicitly defined as a Jewish state. Jews the world over have an automatic right to settle there; Arabs who had lived there for generations were expelled. Inevitably, this led inexorably in the end to its logical conclusion: genocide.

Before the holocaust, Zionism had no mass base in the ghettoes. It was little more than an exotic fringe sect – something like the Marcus Garvey “back to Africa” movement in the USA or the Rastafarians in the Caribbean. The rich political and cultural life within the persecuted Jewish communities of Europe flourished in the socialist Bund. Their riposte to the Zionists, just as towards the fascist Black Hundreds, was: We’re going nowhere! This is our home!

Zionism was a handy tool seized on by British imperialism. With the Balfour Declaration in 1917, made during the First World War when the Ottoman Empire had crumbled, it cultivated Zionism as a strategic weapon – just as it promoted Wahhabism to divide and rule within the Arab world, of which Hamas is an offshoot. A Jewish homeland in Palestine would serve as an outpost to protect its control of the oilfields against the Arab revolution and, at that time, of Egypt, the Suez Canal and the sea route to India. In the words of the first British military governor of Jerusalem, it would be “a loyal little Jewish Ulster in a sea of potentially hostile Arabism”.

In all the territories administered by the British Empire, a calculated policy of “divide-and-rule” was set in motion. We still see the consequences of “British civilisation” in ethnic conflicts around the world today: in Northern Ireland, the Indian sub-continent, Sri Lanka, Cyprus, and the Middle East.

Their strategic aim was to plant a stable surrogate regime within the explosive powder-keg of the region. But at the end of the Second World War they also had a more immediate motive. There were hundreds of thousands of desperate holocaust survivors, refugees from the concentration camps now languishing in displaced persons’ camps. The creation of Israel would keep them out of Britain and America.

It was the holocaust which gave substance to Zionism. What had previously been a peripheral reactionary sect began to look like it could offer a credible lifeline. Jewish survivors of the concentration camps, desperately seeking refuge somewhere they could begin to build a new life risked their lives sailing rickety boats across the Mediterranean, where some of them were sunk by British colonial warships – just like their counterparts today, but in the opposite direction.

Zionism was an acknowledgement of despair, a capitulation to anti-semitism: a lasting triumph of Nazism. In that sense the genocide in Palestine today is an indirect aftershock of the failure of the German revolution of 1918-23.    

In the 1920s there had been 500,000 Arabs and 150,000 Jews living in Palestine, many of whom worked side by side. The heroic revolutionary Leopold Trepper, who was later to organise within Nazi Germany the underground communist spy network the Red Orchestra, had organised the Ichud/Itachak (Unity) movement, which brought Jewish and Arab workers under a single banner, organised joint strikes and challenged the Zionist Histadrut, which only admitted Jewish workers.

Now, like the apartheid regime in South Africa, Israel explicitly defines itself as a communal ethnic state.

The historic justification for Zionism was always that without a state of their own Jews would be condemned to constant persecution. Today we see the final proof of the opposite. Far from offering them protection, the Zionist state has placed Jews in even greater danger. In the last thirty years alone, at least 2,000 Israelis have been killed in attacks. Do the Jews of Israel feel safe today? The surge of support for Netanyahu’s war on Gaza, coming so soon after a wave of daily mass demonstrations against his regime up to October 7th, is a mark of how frightened they are of being overrun by the Arab masses.

And how about the security of Jews outside Israel? For Jews in the “diaspora”, an undercurrent of dormant anti-semitism was always lurking in the shadows. But today a new variant of anti-semitism has become rampant. The worldwide revulsion at the horrors in Gaza has breathed new life into it. I’ve seen comments on facebook like: “How can I ever feel comfortable now talking with a Jew?”, “Now I understand why ordinary Germans accepted the holocaust”, and even “How can anyone not be antisemitic when they are committing genocide?”

The bloodbath in Gaza is not unprecedented. Israel is acting just the same as any settler regime. Compare America, both North and South; or Australia and New Zealand; or Kenya, South-West Africa, the Congo, South Africa, etc. Terrible and genocidal crimes of extermination were committed against the indigenous populations of all these countries, and similar crimes are being inflicted today against the Palestinians. The difference is that the racial oppression in Israel has been wilfully abetted by world imperialism.

But history can’t be unwritten. We don’t call for the expulsion of the descendants of these migrant settlers. Generations have grown up in Israel in the last 75 years, and they have no other home. Where are they to go? Back to the concentration camps? Back to the ghettos? What we condemn is Israel’s identity as a racially-designated state in which non-Jews face discrimination and now mass slaughter. 

World imperialism wants a so-called “two-state” solution: in effect, the creation of a subjugated Palestinian Bantustan with just the formal trappings of statehood. Others, with the best intentions, have called for a single state with equal rights for both communities – a solution which could in any case only be achieved by the overthrow of the existing Israeli state. Socialist internationalists must stand neither for the two neighbouring hostile mini-states, nor for one single unviable common state within what is still just an artificially designated strip of land. So what is the only solution?

Not one of the states in the region is sustainable. Following the collapse of the Ottoman empire, British and French imperialists ruthlessly carved up the region by drawing arbitrary lines on the map – the Sykes/Picot plan. Communal strife has raged throughout the region ever since: with years of civil war in Lebanon, and Syria, and Yemen; full-scale massacres and endless sectarian atrocities in Jordan, Iraq, Iran…

All these states are artificial constructs imposed by imperialism. We should stand for a socialist federation in which all the communities could live in peace: the creation of a common homeland in a harmonious socialist federation of the Middle East. Yes, that may seem utopian – but how practical has any alternative solution turned out? As with all the nightmares convulsing civilisation today, the unity of all working people on a socialist foundation provides the only possible way out of catastrophe.


Lobby outside the High Court. Free Julian Assange!

Reprinted from the UK socialist website, Left Horizons

Lobby outside the High Court. Free Julian Assange!

Report from Dave Putson

Supporters of Julian Assange have been at the High Court two days running now, where he is fighting against extradition to the USA. When I arrived at the Royal Courts of Justice on the first morning, I was expecting to see a few dozen people, but by 8.30am, there were already easily 300 people carrying placards and banners, and that was in the rain (picture top).

Assange has been illegally incarcerated for years. He was first of all holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy for seven years up to 2019, and in prison after that. He is facing extradition to the USA on trumped up charges under their Espionage Act.

Most of the media that appeared to be there did not seem to be from the mainstream, but mostly independents. The one exception, Alan Rusbridger, former editor of The Guardian, who previously supported and accepted information to enable award-winning articles to be written, courtesy of Assange’s Wikileaks, only then to turn on him when he was threatened by the UK security services (and probably the USA ’s as well).

Incarcerated in Belmarsh for five years.

Among the supporters and campaigners for Assange, there were some with materials to purchase goods to enable funding the support Julian Assange campaign were there, as they are every Saturday at General Gordon Square in Woolwich SE18, unless there is an actual event outside Belmarsh Prison, where Assange has been held, for five years, such as for his birthdays.

There was a very limited window of opportunity for speeches at the Court lobby, so many people who spoke but were limited to just a few minutes. We heard from Julian’s father and brother, and the briefest of words from his wife Stella. A couple of members of the European Parliamentary spoke, as well as MPs Zarah Sultana, Apsana Begum, Richard Burgon and Jeremy Corbyn, who still gets waves of cheers when he gets up.

Among the speakers, there was also a journalist from Jacobin who had flown in from Washington DC specifically for this event. Craig Murray, a formed UK Ambassador, also had a minute or two, But by far and away the largest noise and cheering was when Andrew Feinstein was announced to speak. It appeared it was in equal measure for his personal approval, as well as the fact that he is standing against Keir Starmer in his seat in the coming the general election. It did not appear that the Labour Party’s alleged leader was very popular with this crowd!

Julian Assange has been held in HMP Belmarsh for five years, whilst having sustained no charges against him. The hypocrisy is of the  mainstream media and most establishment politicians is staggering. Western ‘journalists’ (using the term loosely) and politicians have been decrying the incarceration, and then the subsequent death of Alexei Navalny in Russia.

Meanwhile, here in the UK, for most politicians and the media, Assange is already guilty and condemned, even before his trial. Those politians like Tony Blair and George W Bush, who ‘justified’ the war on Iraq with lies and cover-ups, are allowed to go free. But Assange, who exposed war crimes during that war, is castigated andd condemned.

Among the crimes shown by Assange – which would never had seen the light of day, but for Wikileaks – was film of the wanton strafing and killing of men and youths in a street in Iraq, as they were simply hanging out and chatting. The war criminal goes unpunished, while his exposer is crucified for his actions.

Australian parliament voted for Assange to be released

Assange, if these journalists but knew it, follows in the tradition of other outspoken critics of the UK state, like John Lilburne (“Freeborn” John), who was also arrested many times for having the temerity to speak truth to power, and was eventually dumped in prison. Julian Assange’ real ‘crime’ is to expose the truth, to the great embarrassment of the US and UK states and it is for that reason and that reason alone he has  been imprisoned for years without a charge.

The UK government will have made sure that the Court as it is now in session is a “safe pair of hands”, to get the decision they want. I believe it will be a massive surprise if any decision is made that gives Julian Assange justice. The Court will doubtless disregard the vote of the Australian parliament – by a two thirds majority – to return to Julian to Australia his native country.

Unfortunately, many reports are suggesting that the judges involved in the extradition process, in both the UK and USA, are well ‘tied in’ to both countries’ establishments. So I am sceptical that they will be minded to, or even able to sustain any resistance to the perpetual behind the scenes lobbying that has gone on and is still going on, to have Assange demonised for revealing truths he was not supposed to reveal.

However, even if there is only a 1% chance of Julian’s release, the fight continues. After all, even the postmasters and postmistresses were found guilty in a court of law after Post Office Horizon IT debacle, and it is only now, after 20 years, that they have a chance of justice.

For Julian Assange’s wife and family and for Julian himself, this is a matter of life or death. His wife, Stella, has said that this might be his “final hearing” because he is so weak physically and mentally after so many years that she thinks he is unlikely to survive being extradited. The fight has to go on.

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Michael Roberts: Ukraine – two years on, no end in sight

by Michael Roberts

After almost two full years of war, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has caused staggering losses to Ukraine’s people and economy.  Ukraine’s GDP fell by 40% in 2022.  There was a small recovery in 2023, but an additional 7.1 million Ukrainians now live in poverty.

There are various estimates of the number of Ukrainian civilians and military casualties after two years of war.  The UN estimates about 10,400 civilian deaths with another 19,000 wounded.  The military casualties are even more difficult to estimate – but probably about 70,000 soldiers killed and another 100,000 wounded.  Russian military casualties are about the same.  Millions have fled abroad and many more millions have been displaced from their homes within Ukraine.

When I reviewed the economic and social state of Ukraine and Russia one year into war in 2023, I concluded that both sides would be able to continue this war for years, if necessary.  For Ukraine, that depended on getting aid (civil and military) from the West.  For Russia, it meant continuing to obtain sufficient export revenues from its energy and resources commodities. 

Russia could not rely on foreign financing to fund the war, but I reckoned that it could carry on in the face of economic sanctions from the West, as long as its energy revenues and its FX reserves were not depleted too much; or its domestic economy did not contract so much that it caused social unrest within Russia.   And so it has proved.  The Russian economy is stable, the war effort is being sustained and Putin will win a new presidential term next month (and would probably could have done so even without killing off all potential opponents).

Ukraine is still totally dependent on support from the West.  This year it needs at least $40bn in order to sustain government services, support its population and maintain production.  It is relying on the EU for such civil funding, while relying on the US for all its military funding – a straight ‘division of labour’.

In addition, the IMF and World Bank have offered monetary assistance but, in this case, Ukraine has to show it has ‘sustainability’, ie it is able at some point to pay back any loans.  So if the bilateral loans from the US and EU countries (and it is mainly loans, not outright aid) do not materialise, then the IMF cannot extend its lending programme. 

Moreover, Ukraine also needs to find a way to restructure about $20 billion in international debt this year with sovereign bondholders whose agreed two-year payment freeze made in August 2022 will be up soon. 

And it is a struggle. Despite some recovery in exports, Ukraine’s balance of trade deficit continues to worsen.

That means that the foreign exchange coffers to buy imports disappear nearly as fast as they are supplemented by Western aid.

Ukraine Finance Minister Serhiy Marchenko said the government hoped to secure foreign financing in full in 2024, but if the war lasted longer, he added ominously that “the scenario will include the need to adapt to new conditions.” 

Presumably that would mean either cuts in services or getting Ukraine’s central bank to just ‘print’ money.  The former would mean more poverty and a further contraction in living standards; the latter would mean a renewal of an inflationary spiral into double-digits (inflation had fallen back in 2023).  It seems that the Ukrainian government expects either the loans to come through or the war to end in 2024.  The former may happen, the latter is unlikely.

But will the aid to drip feed Ukraine’s economy in 2024 come through?  Europe is delivering funds for civilian activities, but it’s up to the US to deliver funds for military activities.  The last remaining funds for US military assistance were depleted by end-2023. In total the US has allocated around €43 billion in military aid since February 2022, which is about €2 billion per month.

US funding for the Ukraine military remains unclear as the US Congress is divided over providing further military aid.  The upcoming presidential election, with the possibility of the return of Trump in 2025, poses the major uncertainty.

That brings us back to what will happen to Ukraine’s economy, if and when the war with Russia comes to an end.  According to the latest estimate of the World Bank, Ukraine will need $486bn over the next ten years to recover and rebuild – assuming the war ends this year.  That’s nearly three times its current GDP.

Direct damages from the war have now reached almost $152 billion, with about 2 million housing units – about 10% of the total housing stock of Ukraine – either damaged or destroyed, as well as 8,400 km (5,220 miles) of motorways, highways, and other national roads, and nearly 300 bridges.  As of December 2023, about 5.9 million Ukrainians remained displaced outside of the country and internally displaced persons were around 3.7 million.

And as I explained in a previous post back in mid-2022, already what is left of Ukraine’s resources (those not annexed by Russia) are being sold off to Western companies.  For example, the sale of land to foreigners was approved in 2021 under IMF pressure and now the food monopolies Cargill, Monsanto and Dupont own 40% of Ukraine’s arable land.  GMA-Monsanto Corporation owns 78% of the land fund of Sumy region, 56% of Chernihiv, 59% of Kherson and 47% of Mykolaiv region.

Overall, 28% of Ukraine’s arable land is owned by a mixture of Ukrainian oligarchs, European and North American corporations, as well as the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia. Nestle has invested $46 million in a new facility in western Volyn region while German drugs-to-pesticides giant Bayer plans to invest 60 million euros in corn seed production in central Zhytomyr region.

MHP, Ukraine’s biggest poultry company, is owned by a former adviser to Ukrainian president Poroshenko.  MHP has received more than one-fifth of all the lending from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) in the past two years. MHP employs 28,000 people and controls about 360,000 hectares of land in Ukraine — an area bigger than EU member Luxembourg.  It had $2.64bn in revenues in 2022.

The Ukrainian government is committed  to a ‘free market’ solution for the post-war economy that would include further rounds of labour-market deregulation below even EU minimum labour standards i.e sweat shop conditions; and cuts in corporate and income taxes to the bone; along with full privatisation of remaining state assets.  However, the pressures of a war economy have forced the government to put these policies on the back burner for now, with military demands dominating.

What about Russia?  After two years since the invasion, it is clear that the sanctions introduced by Western governments to weaken Russia’s ability to continue the invasion have failed.  Russia’s economy is growing, even if that growth is mainly based on production for the military sector.  Energy prices and export revenues have remained strong with sales to third parties like China and India comfortably replacing export losses to Europe.  According to official figures, 49 percent of European exports to Russia and 58 percent of Russian imports are under sanctions, but the Russian economy still grew 5% in 2023 and will grow further this year. 

Yes, $330bn of Russia’s FX reserves have been seized by the West, but Russia’s FX coffers remain more than sufficient.  The cost of pursuing the war remains huge, with 40% of the government budget, but funding is still sufficient without resorting to money printing or to cutting civilian services.

In many areas, Russia is self-sufficient in critical commodities like oil, natural gas, and wheat, which has helped it weather the years of sanctions.  Russia can also supply itself with most of its defence needs, even for sophisticated weapons.  So it can continue this war for many more years, even if that damages the long-term potential of the economy.

In contrast to Ukraine, the Putin regime aims for a more state-controlled economy, where the big companies work in close coordination with Putin’s cronies.  But similar to Ukraine, corruption between oligarchs and government will continue. Meanwhile the war grinds on.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Seymour Hersh: IT'S BIBI'S WAR

But not only his war

21 Feb 2024
∙ Paid

Displaced Palestinian children receiving food at a donation point in a refugee camp in Deir al-Balah, central Gaza Strip, on February 8. / Photo by Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

As a longtime national security reporter, I’ve gone to Israel many times over the past five decades to report on issues ranging from its bombing the wrong targets to its political disputes with the White House. When it comes to digging out the truth, I’ve learned that newly retired Israeli Air Force generals are often the best place to begin. My American sources, some still on active duty, have had the highest praise for the ability and integrity of the officers running the Israeli Air Force, and they have been right. There is a lot of straight talk to be had at suburban homes outside of Tel Aviv—always on background, of course.

Last summer when the Israeli’s right-wing government sought to reduce the power of Israel’s Supreme Court, more than one thousand members of the Air Force reserve, including 235 fighter pilots, signed a letter saying they would not serve if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted on implementing the imminent plan. The New York Times quoted a reserve Air Force brigadier general, Ofer Lapidot, telling a radio interviewer: “When we are on the edge of an abyss—or losing the country we fought for—the contract has been broken.”

No such complaints have been publicly uttered by Israeli pilots since October 7. For the past four months they have been involved in what is known in military argot as a “turkey shoot”: the flying of thousands of sorties over Gaza with no anti-aircraft opposition and no capability of distinguishing military targets from civilian ones. The bombs have been primarily responsible for killing and injuring what is now close to 100,000 Palestinians, many of them children. It is impossible to know how many Hamas fighters are included in the toll.

There is no record of any Israeli Air Force pilot voicing public or private opposition to the unchallenged bombing attacks, which are continuing today. Israel and the United States have not recognized the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice in the Hague, which has been hearing testimony on the legality of the Israeli response. 

Israel, where widespread demonstrations in support of a strong Supreme Court won worldwide admiration, was represented during the UN debate this week by its ambassador, Gilad Eilan, who accused the UN’s relief and works agency (UNRWA), which is responsible for the delivery of food and other essential goods to the refugees in Gaza, of being “a terrorist organization.” In Gaza, he said, “Hamas is the UN, and the UN is Hamas.” 

There was a point in the weeks just after October 7 when, with the support of American advisers, war crimes trials for the Hamas leadership were considered in lieu of the all-out bombing of Gaza then being advocated by the right-wing leadership. Another proposal, modeled after the exile of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement to Tunis in 1982, would have led to the expulsion of the Hamas leadership in return for the release of all hostages. The Israeli government opted instead for all-out bombing, along with a Mossad commitment to assassinate all of the Hamas leadership living abroad within one year.

The ongoing air war in Gaza, with its implicit.notion of collective punishment, has been Bibi’s war from the start, and he remains its most strident spokesman. Air Force officers who cared enough about Israel’s constitution to protest in the spring and summer are now routinely bombing civilian targets with no voiced regrets and no questions—at least not in public. Netanyahu has made it clear he is no longer interested in prisoner exchanges or any end-of-war talks with Hamas: he wants Hamas dead, leaders and all, and gone. And he has the vast majority of Israelis, including the military and the once-derided extreme right wing, behind him. In Bibi’s view, President Joe Biden must keep the American bombs and other weaponry coming and continue to veto any ceasefire resolutions in the United Nations. So far Biden has complied on both counts. (A third such resolution in the Security Council was vetoed yesterday by US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, clearly acting under orders from Biden.) There has been some muddled language from White House surrogates, such as Secretary of State Antony Blinken, about the need for a ceasefire and prisoner exchange, but such negotiations are moribund. 

In the immediate aftermath of October 7, Netanyahu seemed to be written off as politically dead by most of those I spoke to. The issue was that the Hamas rampage took place on his watch. But that failure, traumatic as it was, is no longer an issue, and he is completely in charge and relishing it. In an interview on February 11 with ABC correspondent Jonathan Karl, Netanyahu blatantly ignored the worries of the Biden administration and the American people, including the younger generation of Jews, by insisting that Israel’s neighbors in the Middle East “don’t have to give…second thoughts” about having to deal with the humanitarian situation in Gaza. “We’ve been doing it and I’ve been directing it systematically. Victory is within reach [and] will be the best thing that will happen, not only for Israel but for the Palestinians themselves. I can’t see a future for the Palestinians or for peace in the Middle East if Hamas is victorious.”

Netanyahu claimed that Israel has “killed and wounded over twenty thousand Hamas terrorists . . . and we’re doing everything we can to minimize civilian casualties and continue to do so.” Sounding like an American general in the worst days of the Vietnam War, he said: “We drop thousands of fliers. We phone Palestinians in their homes. We ask them to leave. We give them safe corridors and safe zones . . . and let me tell you one other thing. We’re going to win this thing. Victory is within reach.”

Karl asked him: “Well, you can kill them [Hamas] as a military force, but how do you kill the idea of a resistance as long as there is occupation? At the end of this process . . . doesn’t there need to be a Palestinian state?”

Obviously annoyed, Netanyahu replied: “Everybody who talks about a two-state solution—well, I ask, what do you mean by that? Should the Palestinians have an army? . . . Can they sign a military pact with Iran? Can they import rockets from North Korea and other deadly weapons? Should they continue to educate their children for terrorism and annihilation? . . . Of course not.” 

He said that “in any future agreement, which everyone agrees is far off, I think the Palestinians should have the power to govern themselves.” He listed a series of limitations of such power: “none of the power should threaten Israel. . . . The most important power that has to remain in Israel's hands is overriding security control in the area west of Jordan [the West Bank]. That includes Gaza.

“Otherwise,” Netanyahu said, “History has shown terrorism comes back, and we don't want terrorism to come back.” His statement was ironic, given the increasing IDF-supported violence in the West Bank by Israeli settlers against Palestinian property owners.

The war has been marked by lots of what, sadly, is irrelevant talk from Biden and Blinken about the necessity of a two-state solution. Bibi is now unchallenged, and, if he gets his way—as he has in all recent policy decisions—Israel will emerge from the war with political and military control of land that he and his fellow conservative leaders have long sought. And Bibi will be the man who did it.

And this will happen on Joe Biden’s watch.

In my reporting I try as much as possible to avoid the day-to-day public statements of Biden’s foreign policy team and rely on sources I have known for decades who have access to intelligence and the inside policy disputes. I have had contacts in Washington and in Israel with firsthand information about Israel’s nuclear arsenal. It might be time for senior US officials to break the taboo and begin to talk about the capability of that arsenal and the implications of it being in Netanyahu’s hands. 

One mistake I and others made after October 7 was in misjudging Netanyahu’s ultimate goal. There is little question now that he saw the war from its first days as a vehicle for annihilating Hamas and opening up Israel to the possibility of reclaiming all of Gaza and the West Bank. There would be no more talk of the Oslo Accords and no longer a supposedly independent Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

An Israeli contact of mine of many decades with direct information about high-level Israeli thinking in the aftermath of October 7 supported the initial bombing in Gaza as targeted, so he claimed, solely at Hamas office and apartment buildings. He saw the early civilian casualties as an acceptable cost and opposed the international pressure by the end of last year for a ceasefire because “it would be a clear cut victory for Hamas.” He told me last December that there was a second reason: “Israel is sending a message to its neighbors. You attack Israel? Look at Gaza to see what you will get in return.”

But even then, amid his rage at Hamas as someone who fought and was seriously wounded in combat for his country, he told me that the “problem” was not Israel’s war with Hamas but “Bibi’s war on the Palestinian Authority and idea of an independent state.” By January, he was reduced to arguing that the American fire-bombings of Tokyo and Yokohama and Dresden and Leipzig and the dropping of two nuclear bombs was “seen as fully justified.” 

To his credit, he also expressed concern that “under Bibi, the war—and its destruction—are not wedded to any reasonable national postwar political plan which would lead to an independent Palestinian state.” His earlier support for the war on Gaza, he added, “may be futile” because of the international furor and condemnation that has resulted.  He continued , nonetheless, to praise Biden’s support for the war, but said the president “should try to limit the damage” that the war was inflicting on civilians. He thought Biden should “demand” that Israel should begin “a serious process of settling the conflict with the Palestinians.”

America’s immediate foreign policy goal, he told me, should be to reach some kind of “an understanding with Iran”—seen in Washington as supporting a number of anti-American proxies in the region—but that goal “cannot succeed as long as Israel continues to occupy and disenfranchise the Palestinians and deny them the right to self-determination.” The Bush administration’s post 9-11 “fantasies of regime change, democratization of traditional societies, and long-term occupation as was the case in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said, “should be firmly rejected.”

President Biden should make a speech now, he said, “about how, when the destruction of Hamas is achieved, his administration, together with friendly Arab regimes, will begin to advance and implement the two-state solution.”

If only.

A European long involved in sophisticated peace making efforts in the Middle East told me he has an intractable view of the situation today. Israel “is committing genocide and most of the world is aghast, and most Arabs and Muslims will never forgive this. How could any other Israeli leader [than Netanyahu] translate this into a strategic victory? The Palestinian Authority is discredited. . . . It is hated by the people of the West Bank because it oppresses them and does nothing to protect them or their land from Israeli murder and expansion and it has no support in Gaza.”

Such sentiments are widely known, if not always agreed with, in the journalistic, academic and diplomatic communities, and surely known to many in the White House. The important question, to which there is yet to be an answer, is does the president of the United States know? 

If only.