Monday, September 29, 2008

Bill Maher's Religulous **1/2 (2008)

Bill Maher's Religulous is directed by Larry Charles who directed "Borat." In terms of filmmaking and aesthetics, it's just fine. It's fast paced, funny and informative. Bill travels the world, talking to various religious representatives, about the contradictions, and unprovable aspects of their religion, in a humorous style. The subjects seem unclear as to what Maher's agenda is, and react to him at times as if they are being hijacked by Michael Moore. They were not told Bill Maher would be interviewing and what they would be talking about. They were not allowed inside The Vatican or anywhere in Salt Lake City.

We see the gamut of religulous; a rabbi who calls for the abolition of Israel, Muslims in a gay bar, an inventor of items to make observing the Jewish sabbath easier, a leader of a marajuana based religion (Raëlian Movement), truck driving ministry etc.

I didn't like it as much as others will. I'm a political person, who takes analysis seriously. Maher is saying religion is the main cause of tragic world events. He points to Bush's God wants everyone to have freedom to Ahmadinejad's anti-Israel statements. When Bush invaded Iraq or whatever statements come out of Iran, it's realpolitik that rules. The problem is capitalism and nationalism. I outgrew Christopher Hitchens.

In addition Bill Maher portrayed himself as agnostic, someone with no answers. It's disappointing he didn't have the nerve to say atheist.

Religulous Official Site

Renegade Eye

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Damien Hirst Struck Gold on Black Monday

By Joan Collins

I couldn't help but appreciate the irony in the contrast between last week's "Black Monday" and the massive amount of money collected by Damien Hirst in his historic solo auction at Sotheby's.

On the very same day that one of the most venerable banks of America went bankrupt, axing thousands of workers in London (and God knows how many more in NY) and causing a tsunami-like wave of shock across the financial markets, a gaggle of oligarchs and billionaires shelled out over £70 million in one night.

Not that I begrudge Damien's fees (by the end of the two-day auction he had made £111 million), nor do I disagree that investing in his work is a wise move - much better to buy a derivation of Bacon than a derivative from Merrill Lynch.

Percy and I attended the glittering party at the auction house and oohed and aahed at his work, which was impressive and witty. When we saw Damien he was extremely friendly - lots of hugs and kisses - but, again, this was before the sale so I'm sure he was doing a lot of it, lest someone turn out to be a potential buyer.

He was certainly putting himself on a limb as the first artist (Picasso aside) to gamble all or nothing by selling his work without the help of a dealer.

It was crowded not only with attractive people but with an astonishing display of art. I don't think it matters one jot that Damien employs a staff of 120 to create his works - so did many of the greats, and the staggering originality and beauty is all

My particular favourite, although often derided as commercial, was his butterfly series, particularly the impressively realistic replica of the Rose Window made entirely of butterfly wings.

But it's his more controversial and satirical pieces that distinguish Damien. His "Golden Calf" and "Diamond Skull" are essentially condemnations of how overheated and mad the art market can be. Yet seeing the "Golden Calf" I marvelled about how truly beautiful a work it is, regardless of whether it has made its point convincingly, and it sold at £10.3 million.

With world markets in crisis, house prices will plummet further and even more billions will be wiped off the pensions and savings of those who can least afford it. Yet fat cats like Richard Fuld, the CEO of Lehman who earned more than $20 million plus bonuses last year, presumably can afford to be careless with other people's money.

Last Monday proves to me that in mega-rich circles, the credit crunch amounts to a slight hiccup, while the majority of people are left gasping for breath.

Even though governments and institutions keep trying to reassure us that they are looking out for our best interests, the fact is that you can only depend on yourself.

My parents taught me always to pay cash, never get into debt and never speculate - really the only financial knowledge I possess - but it's stood me in pretty good stead.


Friday, September 19, 2008

Is Barack Obama an Alternative for US Workers?

I don't expect this post will change the minds of my left liberal friends, who read this blog, not to vote for Obama. The challenge to them is after Obama is office, and there is no fundamental "change," would you consider leaving the Democratic Party? I think the time is right, for the US to have its own labor party. I will post later about the possibilities of such a formation. From the first day Obama is inaugerated, to 100 days later, the 100th day is Mayday. It can be called the 100 day trial. I added a video of Cynthia McKinny's VP Rosa Clemente, taken at the RNC, by blog team member John Peterson. Her message is different than Obama and Ralph Nader's. Rosa is not afraid to directly attack capitalism. That differentiates her from Nader. RENEGADE EYE

By Shane Jones
Friday, 19 September 2008

After years of Bush’s open-ended war on working people at home and abroad, many on the “left” are desperate for an alternative. For many, that alternative is Barack Obama, a Democratic Senator from Illinois. Obama, who is very careful with his words and actions, has done a good job so far of portraying himself as a “sensible progressive”. However, far from being a “progressive” alternative, Obama is at his core a typical representative of the bosses’ political parties. Despite presenting himself as a candidate of “change”, Obama is a defender of capitalism and imperialism, and hence of exploitation and oppression. On all fundamentals, he is far closer to Bush than he is to being a genuine alternative for working people.

Far from seeking the end of class exploitation, Obama is a true believer in the capitalist system. Along with the likes of Joe Lieberman, a political and financial supporter of Obama whom Barack considers to be his “mentor”, he makes it clear that the Democratic Party is a party of the bosses: “The last I checked John Kerry believes in the superiority of the U.S. military, Hillary Clinton believes in the virtues of capitalism…”

Obama even criticizes the Democratic party from the right: “…Democrats are confused. There are those who still champion the old-time religion, defending every New-Deal and Great-Society program from Republican encroachment, achieving ratings of 100 percent from liberal interest groups. But these efforts seem exhausted, a constant game of defense bereft of energy and new ideas needed to address the changing circumstances of globalization or a stubbornly isolated inner city.”

Obama, who earned just under $1million last year, is a supporter of the Hamilton Project, a group founded by Robert Rubin, former Secretary of the Treasury and current chair of Citigroup (the world’s largest company, with total assets of $2.02 trillion). As a Senator, Obama opposed a bill that would place a 30 percent interest rate cap on credit cards, which would help relieve high interest payments for many U.S. working families. Yet he voted for a “tort reform” bill that rolls back workers’ ability to seek redress and compensation if they are wronged by their employer.

On the question of health care, Obama is opposed to national single-payer health care, on the grounds that it would leave workers in the private health care industry, such as Kaiser and BlueCross BlueShield, unemployed! This is a smoke screen of the worst kind. He is attempting to appear pro-worker, while he is really defending the interests of big business against working people. Instead, he is in favor of “voluntary solutions” as opposed to “government mandates”. Yet as every worker knows, the bosses never “volunteer” to give us raises or benefits. The super-profitable health care industry is not going to sacrifice its profits. Obama is merely evading the question. He might as well state the truth: he is not for any fundamental change.

Like all good big business politicians, when the capitalists come with money and gifts, Obama becomes their political guardian angel. For example, he is a loyal defender of the leading U.S. nuclear power company Exelon, which has given more than $74,000 to his campaign. Exelon is the parent company of ComEd, the energy company currently price gouging Illinois consumers. Agro-capitalists Archer Daniels Midland have reportedly lent him the use of private jets for his campaigns. A few months after entering the Senate, Obama bought more than $50,000 worth of stock in AVI BioPharma, a pharmaceutical company that would have benefited from legislation that he backed. George Soros, the prominent billionaire and master of capital speculation, supports Obama, although he said he would support Hillary Clinton, if she won the Democratic nomination. In either case, he feels confident that his billions of dollars will be safe.

It is on his “opposition” to the war that Obama has garnered much support, and understandably so, as the war is every day seen by more and more U.S. workers as a complete disaster. Many are seeking a real political opposition against the war, but what exactly does Obama mean when he “speaks out against the war”? Far from opposing the war on the basis that it is a war on workers and the poor at home and abroad, he would have preferred that the war had been better presented and more carefully planned. He is in favor of U.S. imperialism winning, but adds a pinch of semi-populist rhetoric, as many Democratic politicians have been doing as of late. He was simply quicker to jump on the bandwagon.

Obama is in fact a vigorous supporter of the wider “war on terror”. As he stated in a so-called anti-war speech in October 2002: “You want a fight, President Bush? Let’s finish the fight with Bin Laden and al-Qaeda, through effective, coordinated intelligence, and a shutting down of the financial networks that support terrorism, and a homeland security program that involves more than color-coded warnings.” Obama voted to re-authorize the USA PATRIOT Act, which has been heavily criticized by civil rights layers as curtailing civil liberties. He opposed moves to censure Bush for illegal wiretapping, and voted to approve Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State.

Obama has called for a “phased withdrawal” of U.S. troops and an opening of diplomatic dialogue with Iraq’s neighbors, Syria and Iran. In other words, he understands that the best U.S. imperialism can do is soften the blow of a defeat; outright victory is now an impossibility. Like other slightly more far-sighted leaders of the ruling class, he approaches this from the perspective of preserving the cohesion and readiness of the military – so it can be used in other imperialist adventures such as Afghanistan and beyond. Far from calling for an immediate withdrawal of occupying forces in Iraq, Obama has the perspective of further interventions in the region, with one possible scenario involving U.S. forces remaining in an occupied Iraq for an “extended period of time”, acting as a launching pad. This would call for “a reduced but active U.S. military presence” that “protects logistical supply points” and “American enclaves like the Green Zone,” which would send “a clear message to hostile countries Iran and Syria that we plan to remain a key player in the region.” U.S. troops “remaining in Iraq” will “act as rapid reaction forces to respond to emergencies and to go after terrorists.” Above all, Obama wants a “pragmatic solution to the real war we’re facing in Iraq,” and to “defeat the insurgency.” These, of course, are mutually exclusive aims. The insurgency is the popular uprising of an occupied people. The only solution is the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. and “coalition” troops from Iraq.

In March, Obama called Iran’s government “a threat to all of us ... [The U.S.] should take no option, including military action, off the table.” He added that the U.S.’ “primary means” of relating to Iran should be “sustained and aggressive diplomacy combined with tough sanctions.”

In short, Obama is trying to be everything to everyone, both for the continuation of the war for one sector of the ruling class, and posturing against the war for another sector, all while demagogically trying to win votes from genuinely anti-war working people.

Obama, who could well be the first black U.S. president, has attempted to make benign the malignancy that is racism in the United States. American capitalism relies heavily on the oppression of minorities as a means of exploiting and dividing the working class. But Obama believes that “cultural issues” are at the core of black poverty – an argument also embraced by many right-wing racists. Even a cursory look at the history of oppression that black workers and communities have been faced with shows that this has little to do with “cultural issues”, but rather, has everything to do with the social structure of U.S. capitalism.

Are police brutality, the de-funding of inner city schools, and the gutting of public housing a “cultural issue”? Should the brutal repression and liquidation of an entire generation of black leadership, including MLK Jr. and Malcolm X, be considered a “cultural issue”? Is the fact that one in three black men in their twenties are in prison, out on bail, on probation, court supervision, community service, or parole a “cultural issue”? And yet Obama sees the discrepancy between blacks and whites in the U.S. as a question of personal drive or the lack thereof. He has claimed that blacks can’t progress, “If we don’t start instilling in our young children that there is nothing to be ashamed about in educational achievement. I don’t know who told them that reading and writing and conjugating your verbs was something ‘white.’ ”

Certainly, there are those who are critical of Obama due to the color of his skin. We soundly reject this racist point of view. Black workers in the U.S., along with their class sisters and brothers of all races and ethnicities, run the world’s most advanced economy every day. There is no reason why black men or women cannot not play a leading role in the political shaping of society. However, for Marxists, it is a question of which class interests someone defends. It must be made clear that anyone who wants to seriously tackle racism must be prepared to tackle capitalism. As a representative of the capitalist class, Obama is neither willing nor able to tackle either.

When it comes to immigration, Obama has sought to lump immigrant workers with terrorists in the drive to militarize the border. Obama took an active role in the Senate’s drive for further border security linked to new immigration laws. Beginning in 2005, he co-sponsored the “Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act” introduced by Sen. John McCain. He also supported the “Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act” sponsored by Sen. Arlen Specter, which did not pass the House. In 2006, Obama supported another related bill, the $7 billion dollar “Secure Fence Act”, which authorized the construction of 700 miles of fences, walls and other security measures to be built up along the U.S.-Mexico border. President Bush signed it into law in October 2006, calling it, “an important step toward immigration reform.” Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, whose appointment Obama approved, said the bill would “make substantial progress towards preventing terrorists and others from exploiting our borders,” directly implying immigrants and terrorists are one and the same.

He is also a strong supporter of “guest worker programs” and gave glowing praise to the May 18th proposal in the Senate that includes provisions to detain up to 27,500 immigrants per day, to hire 18,000 new border guards, and to construct an additional 370 miles of border walls.

Bush and his circle are certainly an extremely hawkish section of the ruling class, with plans for imperialist conquest based on their specific economic interests: oil and other energy holdings, armaments, construction, and other contract companies that benefit from military interventions, such as Halliburton. But the distinction between Bush and Obama is not principled. Obama, along with the more far-sighted strategists of the ruling class, seek only to curtail the excesses of the Bush clique, which are a threat to the stability of U.S. capitalism as a whole. In this sense, Barrack Obama actually more faithfully represents the interests of the capitalist class at this point in history than Bush. So is Obama really an alternative for working people? The facts speak for themselves.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Stratfor: The Russian Resurgence and the New-Old Front

Stratfor is an intelligence group, made up of people formerly from government intelligence, who still have contacts. This piece is interesting, because it identifies the motivations of all the players, particularly in the Americas, and their relationship with Russia. I didn't know before reading this, why US imperialism, continues with the "War On Drugs." I have disagreements with this post in details as Chavez's relation to FARC, and not mentioning Colombia in this analysis. The writer is not Marxist, and this isn't a Marxist analysis. That is not Stratfor's job. Still this is a valuable analysis.

By Peter ZeihanK
September 15, 2008

Russia is attempting to reforge its Cold War-era influence in its near abroad. This is not simply an issue of nostalgia, but a perfectly logical and predictable reaction to the Russian environment. Russia lacks easily definable, easily defendable borders. There is no redoubt to which the Russians can withdraw, and the only security they know comes from establishing buffers — buffers which tend to be lost in times of crisis. The alternative is for Russia to simply trust other states to leave it alone. Considering Russia’s history of occupations, from the Mongol horde to Napoleonic France to Hitler’s Germany, it is not difficult to surmise why the Russians tend to choose a more activist set of policies.

As such, the country tends to expand and contract like a beating heart — gobbling up nearby territories in times of strength, and then contracting and losing those territories in times of weakness. Rather than what Westerners think of as a traditional nation-state, Russia has always been a multiethnic empire, heavily stocked with non-Russian (and even non-Orthodox) minorities. Keeping those minorities from damaging central control requires a strong internal security and intelligence arm, and hence we get the Cheka, the KGB, and now the FSB.

Nature of the Budding Conflict

Combine a security policy thoroughly wedded to expansion with an internal stabilization policy that institutionalizes terror, and it is understandable why most of Russia’s neighbors do not like Moscow very much. A fair portion of Western history revolves around the formation and shifting of coalitions to manage Russian insecurities.

In the American case specifically, the issue is one of continental control. The United States is the only country in the world that effectively controls an entire continent. Mexico and Canada have been sufficiently intimidated so that they can operate independently only in a very limited sense. (Technically, Australia controls a continent, but with the some 85 percent of its territory unusable, it is more accurate in geopolitical terms to think of it as a small archipelago with some very long bridges.) This grants the United States not only a potentially massive internal market, but also the ability to project power without the fear of facing rearguard security threats. U.S. forces can be focused almost entirely on offensive operations, whereas potential competitors in Eurasia must constantly be on their guard about the neighbors.

The only thing that could threaten U.S. security would be the rise of a Eurasian continental hegemon. For the past 60 years, Russia (or the Soviet Union) has been the only entity that has had a chance of achieving that, largely due to its geographic reach. U.S. strategy for coping with this is simple: containment, or the creation of a network of allies to hedge in Russian political, economic and military expansion. NATO is the most obvious manifestation of this policy imperative, while the Sino-Soviet split is the most dramatic one.

Containment requires that United States counter Russian expansionism at every turn, crafting a new coalition wherever Russia attempts to break out of the strategic ring, and if necessary committing direct U.S. forces to the effort. The Korean and Vietnam wars — both traumatic periods in American history — were manifestations of this effort, as were the Berlin airlift and the backing of Islamist militants in Afghanistan (who incidentally went on to form al Qaeda).

The Georgian war in August was simply the first effort by a resurging Russia to pulse out, expand its security buffer and, ideally, in the Kremlin’s plans, break out of the post-Cold War noose that other powers have tied. The Americans (and others) will react as they did during the Cold War: by building coalitions to constrain Russian expansion. In Europe, the challenges will be to keep the Germans on board and to keep NATO cohesive. In the Caucasus, the United States will need to deftly manage its Turkish alliance and find a means of engaging Iran. In China and Japan, economic conflicts will undoubtedly take a backseat to security cooperation.

Russia and the United States will struggle in all of these areas, consisting as they do the Russian borderlands. Most of the locations will feel familiar, as Russia’s near abroad has been Russia’s near abroad for nearly 300 years. Those locations — the Baltics, Austria, Ukraine, Serbia, Turkey, Central Asia and Mongolia — that defined Russia’s conflicts in times gone by will surface again. Such is the tapestry of history: the major powers seeking advantage in the same places over and over again.

The New Old-Front

But not all of those fronts are in Eurasia. So long as U.S. power projection puts the Russians on the defensive, it is only a matter of time before something along the cordon cracks and the Russians are either fighting a land war or facing a local insurrection. Russia must keep U.S. efforts dispersed and captured by events as far away from the Russian periphery as possible — preferably where Russian strengths can exploit American weakness.

So where is that?

Geography dictates that U.S. strength involves coalition building based on mutual interest and long-range force projection, and internal U.S. harmony is such that America’s intelligence and security agencies have no need to shine. Unlike Russia, the United States does not have large, unruly, resentful, conquered populations to keep in line. In contrast, recall that the multiethnic nature of the Russian state requires a powerful security and intelligence apparatus. No place better reflects Russia’s intelligence strengths and America’s intelligence weakness than Latin America.

The United States faces no traditional security threats in its backyard. South America is in essence a hollow continent, populated only on the edges and thus lacking a deep enough hinterland to ever coalesce into a single hegemonic power. Central America and southern Mexico are similarly fractured, primarily due to rugged terrain. Northern Mexico (like Canada) is too economically dependent upon the United States to seriously consider anything more vibrant than ideological hostility toward Washington. Faced with this kind of local competition, the United States simply does not worry too much about the rest of the Western Hemisphere — except when someone comes to visit.

Stretching back to the time of the Monroe Doctrine, Washington’s Latin American policy has been very simple. The United States does not feel threatened by any local power, but it feels inordinately threatened by any Eastern Hemispheric power that could ally with a local entity. Latin American entities cannot greatly harm American interests themselves, but they can be used as fulcrums by hostile states further abroad to strike at the core of the United States’ power: its undisputed command of North America.

It is a fairly straightforward exercise to predict where Russian activity will reach its deepest. One only needs to revisit Cold War history. Future Russian efforts can be broken down into three broad categories: naval interdiction, drug facilitation and direct territorial challenge.

Naval Interdiction

Naval interdiction represents the longest sustained fear of American policymakers. Among the earliest U.S. foreign efforts after securing the mainland was asserting control over the various waterways used for approaching North America. Key in this American geopolitical imperative is the neutralization of Cuba. All the naval power-projection capabilities in the world mean very little if Cuba is both hostile and serving as a basing ground for an extra-hemispheric power.

The U.S. Gulf Coast is not only the heart of the country’s energy industry, but the body of water that allows the United States to function as a unified polity and economy. The Ohio, Missouri, and Mississippi river basins all drain to New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico. The economic strength of these basins depends upon access to oceanic shipping. A hostile power in Cuba could fairly easily seal both the Straits of Florida and the Yucatan Channel, reducing the Gulf of Mexico to little more than a lake.

Building on the idea of naval interdiction, there is another key asset the Soviets targeted at which the Russians are sure to attempt a reprise: the Panama Canal. For both economic and military reasons, it is enormously convenient to not have to sail around the Americas, especially because U.S. economic and military power is based on maritime power and access. In the Cold War, the Soviets established friendly relations with Nicaragua and arranged for a favorable political evolution on the Caribbean island of Grenada. Like Cuba, these two locations are of dubious importance by themselves. But take them together — and add in a Soviet air base at each location as well as in Cuba — and there is a triangle of Soviet airpower that can threaten access to the Panama Canal.

Drug Facilitation

The next stage — drug facilitation — is somewhat trickier. South America is a wide and varying land with very little to offer Russian interests. Most of the states are commodity providers, much like the Soviet Union was and Russia is today, so they are seen as economic competitors. Politically, they are useful as anti-American bastions, so the Kremlin encourages such behavior whenever possible. But even if every country in South America were run by anti-American governments, it would not overly concern Washington; these states, alone or en masse, lack the ability to threaten American interests … in all ways but one.

The drug trade undermines American society from within, generating massive costs for social stability, law enforcement, the health system and trade. During the Cold War, the Soviets dabbled with narcotics producers and smugglers, from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to the highland coca farmers of Bolivia. It is not so much that the Soviets encouraged the drug trade directly, but that they encouraged any group they saw as ideologically useful.

Stratfor expects future Russian involvement in such activities to eclipse those of the past. After the Soviet fall, many FSB agents were forced to find new means to financially support themselves. (Remember it was not until 1999 that Vladimir Putin took over the Russian government and began treating Russian intelligence like a bona fide state asset again.) The Soviet fall led many FSB agents, who already possessed more than a passing familiarity with things such as smuggling and organized crime, directly into the heart of such activities. Most of those agents are — formally or not — back in the service of the Russian government, now with a decade of gritty experience on the less savory side of intelligence under their belts. And they now have a deeply personal financial interest in the outcome of future operations.

Drug groups do not need cash from the Russians, but they do need weaponry and a touch of training — needs which dovetail perfectly with the Russians’ strengths. Obviously, Russian state involvement in such areas will be far from overt; it just does not do to ship weapons to the FARC or to one side of the brewing Bolivian civil war with CNN watching. But this is a challenge the Russians are good at meeting. One of Russia’s current deputy prime ministers, Igor Sechin, was the USSR’s point man for weapons smuggling to much of Latin America and the Middle East. This really is old hat for them.

U.S. Stability

Finally, there is the issue of direct threats to U.S. stability, and this point rests solely on Mexico. With more than 100 million people, a growing economy and Atlantic and Pacific ports, Mexico is the only country in the Western Hemisphere that could theoretically (which is hardly to say inevitably) threaten U.S. dominance in North America. During the Cold War, Russian intelligence gave Mexico more than its share of jolts in efforts to cause chronic problems for the United States. In fact, the Mexico City KGB station was, and remains today, the biggest in the world. The Mexico City riots of 1968 were in part Soviet-inspired, and while ultimately unsuccessful at overthrowing the Mexican government, they remain a testament to the reach of Soviet intelligence. The security problems that would be created by the presence of a hostile state the size of Mexico on the southern U.S. border are as obvious as they would be dangerous.

As with involvement in drug activities, which incidentally are likely to overlap in Mexico, Stratfor expects Russia to be particularly active in destabilizing Mexico in the years ahead. But while an anti-American state is still a Russian goal, it is not their only option. The Mexican drug cartels have reached such strength that the Mexican government’s control over large portions of the country is an open question. Failure of the Mexican state is something that must be considered even before the Russians get involved. And simply doing with the Mexican cartels what the Soviets once did with anti-American militant groups the world over could suffice to tip the balance.

In many regards, Mexico as a failed state would be a worse result for Washington than a hostile united Mexico. A hostile Mexico could be intimidated, sanctioned or even invaded, effectively browbeaten into submission. But a failed Mexico would not restrict the drug trade at all. The border would be chaos, and the implications of that go well beyond drugs. One of the United States’ largest trading partners could well devolve into a seething anarchy that could not help but leak into the U.S. proper.

Whether Mexico becomes staunchly anti-American or devolves into the violent chaos of a failed state does not matter much to the Russians. Either one would threaten the United States with a staggering problem that no amount of resources could quickly or easily fix. And the Russians right now are shopping around for staggering problems with which to threaten the United States.

In terms of cost-benefit analysis, all of these options are no-brainers. Threatening naval interdiction simply requires a few jets. Encouraging the drug trade can be done with a few weapons shipments. Destabilizing a country just requires some creativity. However, countering such activities requires a massive outlay of intelligence and military assets — often into areas that are politically and militarily hostile, if not outright inaccessible. In many ways, this is containment in reverse.

Old Opportunities, New Twists

In Nicaragua, President Daniel Ortega has proven so enthusiastic in his nostalgia for Cold War alignments that Nicaragua has already recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the two territories in the former Soviet state (and U.S. ally) of Georgia that Russia went to war to protect. That makes Nicaragua the only country in the world other than Russia to recognize the breakaway regions. Moscow is quite obviously pleased — and was undoubtedly working the system behind the scenes.

In Bolivia, President Evo Morales is attempting to rewrite the laws that govern his country’s wealth distribution in favor of his poor supporters in the indigenous highlands. Now, a belt of conflict separates those highlands, which are roughly centered at the pro-Morales city of Cochabamba, from the wealthier, more Europeanized lowlands. A civil war is brewing — a conflict that is just screaming for outside interference, as similar fights did during the Cold War. It is likely only a matter of time before the headlines become splattered with pictures of Kalashnikov-wielding Cochabambinos decrying American imperialism.

Yet while the winds of history are blowing in the same old channels, there certainly are variations on the theme. The Mexican cartels, for one, were radically weaker beasts the last time around, and their current strength and disruptive capabilities present the Russians with new options.

So does Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a man so anti-American he seems to be even a few steps ahead of Kremlin propagandists. In recent days, Chavez has already hosted long-range Russian strategic bombers and evicted the U.S. ambassador. A glance at a map indicates that Venezuela is a far superior basing point than Grenada for threatening the Panama Canal. Additionally, Chavez’s Venezuela has already indicated both its willingness to get militarily involved in the Bolivian conflict and its willingness to act as a weapons smuggler via links to the FARC — and that without any heretofore detected Russian involvement. The opportunities for smuggling networks — both old and new — using Venezuela as a base are robust.

Not all changes since the Cold War are good for Russia, however. Cuba is not as blindly pro-Russian as it once was. While Russian hurricane aid to Cuba is a bid to reopen old doors, the Cubans are noticeably hesitant. Between the ailing of Fidel Castro and the presence of the world’s largest market within spitting distance, the emerging Cuban regime is not going to reflexively side with the Russians for peanuts. In Soviet times, Cuba traded massive Soviet subsidies in exchange for its allegiance. A few planeloads of hurricane aid simply won’t pay the bills in Havana, and it is still unclear how much money the Russians are willing to come up with.

There is also the question of Brazil. Long gone is the dysfunctional state; Brazil is now an emerging industrial powerhouse with an energy company, Petroleo Brasileiro, of skill levels that outshine anything the Russians have yet conquered in that sphere. While Brazilian rhetoric has always claimed that Brazil was just about to come of age, it now happens to be true. A rising Brazil is feeling its strength and tentatively pushing its influence into the border states of Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia, as well as into regional rivals Venezuela and Argentina. Russian intervention tends to appeal to those who do not feel they have meaningful control over their own neighborhoods. Brazil no longer fits into that category, and it will not appreciate Russia’s mucking around in its neighborhood.

A few weeks ago, Stratfor published a piece detailing how U.S. involvement in the Iraq war was winding to a close. We received many comments from readers applauding our optimism. We are afraid that we were misinterpreted. “New” does not mean “bright” or “better,” but simply different. And the dawning struggle in Latin America is an example of the sort of “different” that the United States can look forward to in the years ahead. Buckle up.


Monday, September 15, 2008

Peasants Massacred in Pando – Bolivian Government Declares State of Emergency

By Jorge Martin
Monday, 15 September 2008

On Friday, September 12, we reported on the attack on pro-MAS peasants in the department of Pando, in the East of Bolivia. We said at the time that 9 people had been killed by the hired thugs of the opposition regional prefect (governor), Leopoldo Fernández. But only later was the full scale of the massacre revealed, with the death toll currently at 30, and many more still missing.

On Thursday, September 11, some 1,000 peasants from the rural communities of Puerto Rico, Madre de Diós and El Palmar, were marching on Cobija, the capital of Pando. They were going to take part in a mass meeting of peasants to oppose the fascist violence orchestrated by the reactionary governor. Gangs of heavily armed employees of the prefect's office had been taking over government buildings and the airport, creating a climate of terror in the streets of Cobija, as part of a general offensive of the oligarchy which Evo Morales correctly described as a "civic business coup".

Employees of the Departmental Roads Service, which in the last few months have been trained and armed and become a de facto paramilitary group, tried to stop them, but without success. They then set up a more effective road block near the city of Porvenir: a 10 metre-wide, 2 metre-deep trench to prevent anybody from getting through.

As the peasants arrived, armed men were already waiting for them and, coming out of tipper trucks (volquetas) of the Servicio de Caminos (Road Service) of the Department, opened fire on the peasants. "Suddenly we heard gun fire and some people fell, wounded. Men, women and children, we all ran to save our lives, but many were killed and wounded, and some were taken by force and then tortured", said Roberto Tito, an eyewitness.

"They killed us like pigs, with machine guns, rifles, hand guns. The peasants were only carrying sticks and slingshots, we did not have guns. After the first shots, some ran to the Tahuamanu river, but they followed them and shot at them". This, according to Shirley Segovia, a peasant leader in Porvenir (reports from Bolpress)

One hundred people had to cross the border into Brazil, fearing for their lives. Eyewitness reports say that some of the hired thugs were Brazilians from across the border. Some of those who were assassinated had been executed with a single shot in the back. Relatives and comrades who tried to retrieve the bodies were also shot at, some of them were captured and tortured. The same treatment applied to those who were visiting the wounded in the local hospitals.

The violence continued throughout Thursday and into Friday. The hired thugs of the departmental prefect Leopoldo Fernández continued killing unarmed peasants, singling out leading activists. The prefect's version of events is that there was an armed clashed between two groups of armed people. This is completely ludicrous if one takes into account that 95% of those who died or were injured were part of the peasant march or other peasants.

Karina Escalante Guerra, a local teacher from the Filadelfia rural council, expressed the anger which most Bolivian workers and peasants must have felt last week: "We appeal to the government to act; we have been threatened, they say they are coming to burn down the town hall, they want to get the mayor, I do not know know what the government is doing, why are they not sending the Armed Forces? ... We are those who have given him [Evo Morales] the strongest support in the recall referendum, now he has to show that he is on our side, otherwise we will have to rise up against the government, because up until now we have shown that we are fighting for the change that he is promoting, but not so that our people get killed", she said in a phone interview to Red Erbol.

The situation was such that even the government representative in Pando, Nancy Texeira, was in tears as she criticised the government and demanded immediate action to save the people who were being killed.

Finally, at 7pm on Friday, the Evo Morales government stepped in, declared a state of emergency in Pando and sent the army to retake control of the airport in Cobija.

But even then, the first reaction of the prefect was to defy the state of emergency and curfew. Groups of right wing thugs assaulted two firearms shops to further arm themselves. In the clashes between the army and the right wing for the control of the airport, two people were killed, a civilian and a 17 year-old conscript.

By Saturday night, the Army had still not taken control of the airport, and the minister of the presidency Juan Ramón Quintana, arrived with more troops. Only on Sunday, September 14, did the army manage to take back the airport and start moving into the city of Cobija itself. According to reports from the government and the peasant organisations, some of the hired guns involved in the massacre then fled to Brazil.

A number of demonstrations called by the prefect and the "civic committee" took place on the same day, in defiance of the curfew, under the cynical slogan of "peace".

The military and other government officials have not yet reached the area of the massacre to fully ascertain the extent of it, so the number of dead could increase even further. While the army was fighting for the control of the airport, the threat of burning down the humble wooden house which serves as town hall in Filadelfia was carried out by right wing gangs.

Army Inaction?

None of this had to happen. For three days, from Tuesday, September 8 to Thursday, September 11, the oligarchy launched an offensive aimed at overthrowing the Morales government. They violently and illegally took over government buildings in the departments where they control the prefects, they closed down media outlets that did not follow their political line, they defied the power of the national government, attacked the offices of peasant organisations, threatened and fire-bombed workers' leaders, took over airports, gas fields and pipelines etc.

In some cases, workers and peasants resisted. The fascist gangs were prevented from entering Plan 3000, the heavily populated working class and poor neighbourhood in Santa Cruz. Road blockades were set up in San Julián, also in the departnment of Santa Cruz. In Tarija, the peasants managed to fight back and expel the fascist gangs which had taken over the local market.

But the government still did not take action. Soldiers and police were under strict orders not to open fire and not to fight back. As a result, they were overrun by small groups of well-organised and well-equipped fascists. The government ministers denounced that what was going on was a "civic business coup" and appealed for the law to be respected. But these were just words. The State Prosecutor, Uribe, replied that he was being called to act as both the police and the army at the same time, that this was not his job, and that he was "washing his hands" of any responsibility.

When the people of San Julian wanted to march to Santa Cruz to put an end to fascist attacks and help their brothers and sisters in Plan 3000, they were advised not to do so by local MAS leaders. The argument was that "we should not fall for provocations ... We must prevent clashes that lead to people being killed which can then be used by the opposition".

It took the massacre of Porvenir to push the government to take action.

Was it a surprise that the prefect of Pando acted in the way he did? It was not. Leonel Fernández was a functionary in two dictatorial governments in the 1980s. He is a well-connected representative of the local oligarchy in Pando which has ruled this sparsely populated department in an almost feudal way for many decades.

He represents the interests of landowners, timer industry and ranch owners, and is linked to the narco-traffic that takes place over the border with Brazil. In 2006, the then government minister Alicia Muñoz, already warned that the prefect was arming and training paramilitary groups through the Servicio de Caminos (the Departmental Road Service). Last year he had the house of a regional senator who had voted in favour of land reform burned down.

And then, on August 10th, in the recall referendum, Evo Morales won in Pando with 52% of the vote. This, Fernández could not tolerate. The provinces where these peasants were coming from were those which voted massive for Evo. Fernández feared losing his seat as prefect, which he used to dominate the department for the oligarchy.

So why didn't the army act sooner? A big public polemic has opened in Bolivia and in Venezuela over this matter. On Sunday, Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez accused the Bolivian Army High Command of declaring themselves "on strike" during those days, and specifically mentioned Bolivian commander in chief general Trigo, as having been responsible for this. "I know that this general, and other generals are conducting a kind of ‘strike'. They have allowed the fascists, paramilitaries, to massacre the people of Bolivia". Some well-informed Argentinean journalists have reported that the Army High Command met with Evo Morales last week and told him that if he wanted to Army to stop the fascist gangs they wanted a written and signed order allowing them to use force.

Chávez had already warned the Bolivian military that if there was a coup, or Evo Morales was killed, he would intervene to support any armed movement of the people in Bolivia. Trigo replied that Bolivia was a sovereign country and rejected "any foreign intervention". On Sunday, Chávez insisted that, if there was a coup in Bolivia, he would not remain with his "arms folded" and while conceding that Trigo was correct in rejecting foreign intervention, challenged him to make a public statement against the meddling of the U.S. in the internal affairs of Boliva.

Chávez was even more specific in his accusations against general Trigo when he said that he had information that, "instead of implementing the presidential decree of state of emergency, he ordered the troops to remain in their barracks and abandon the airport" in Cobija. This, if true, might explain why it took the army nearly 24 hours to retake the airport and why the Minister of the Presidency had to go personally to supervise the operation.

Despite the reassurances of the Defence Minister that the Army remains united and loyal to the government, everything points in the opposite direction. There are none so blind as those who will not see.

More Negotiations?

Last week, we saw the oligarchy launch an attempt to overthrow the government. That attempt has failed, for now. They did not manage to take power and were starting to provoke a massive response on behalf of the workers and peasants. They have therefore now taken half a step back. In Santa Cruz, the leader of the civic committee, Marinkovic, declared an end to road blockades, but insisted they would keep all public buildings they had taken by force.

On Friday, a meeting took place between the government and the governor of Tarija, Cossio, representing the prefects of the Eastern departments. Why would the government want to talk with the leaders of a movement which they have themselves described as a "coup"? A follow up meeting took place on Monday, at the end of which Cossio said that "we have set 80% of the basis for meaningful agreement".

Meanwhile, Evo Morales and other government ministers insisted that there had to be punishment for Pando prefect Fernández and that he was not a legitimate party to negotiations. However, the other prefects have come out in defence of Fernández. And how is he different from Ruben Costas, the prefect of Santa Cruz, who is responsible for the organisation of the violent assaults on public buildings over the last few days, and who earlier in August called for a military coup?

Today, a meeting of the UNASUR (Union of South American Nations) has been called in Chile, and amongst those attending will be Evo Morales, Argentinean president Kirchner, Brazilian president Lula and Venezuelan president Chávez. The likely outcome of this meeting will be a statement in defence of Bolivia's national unity and sovereignty, the repudiation of all illegal and violent acts and ... the need for a negotiated solution to the conflict.

Whatever the immediate outcome of the present episode of this confrontation in Bolivia, it is clear that the interests of the oligarchy and those of the Bolivian workers and peasants cannot be reconciled. If Evo Morales pushes ahead with the referendum for the new political constitution (which includes agrarian reform), then sooner or later, the oligarchy will attempt another coup.

On the other hand, the mass organisations of workers and peasants are also under intense pressure to take action. Fidel Surco, president of the National Coordination of Organisations for Change (CONALCAM) announced that "if the prefects do not give up the buildings they have taken, we are going to take over their land". The powerful Miners' Federation (FSTMB) declared a state of emergency of all their members, and announced mobilisations. "We are not going to allow another massacre", they said. The COB national meeting on Friday announced nation-wide mobilisations for tomorrow, Tuesday and raised the idea of a national march on Santa Cruz by "workers, peasants and the poor people in general".

This conflict can only be settled in one of two ways: either the oligarchy, with the help of U.S. imperialism is victorious and Bolivia sees another bloody military dictatorship, or the workers and peasants finally complete the revolution by expropriating the oligarchy's political and economic power.

On Saturday night, Evo Morales, addressing a gathering of workers and peasants in Cochabamba, declared that this was a struggle for national liberation and national unity and that the process of change "will not be reversed". It is time to draw the necessary conclusions from these correct words. There will inevitably be a new offensive of the ruling class. But the people must not be caught unaware; the slogans of the day are: the formation of action committees (Popular Assemblies, cabildos abiertos, etc.) and the arming of the people.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Bolivia: Renewed Offensive of the Oligarchy – Time to Strike Back!

By Jorge Martin
Thursday, 11 September 2008

On Tuesday, September 9th, the offensive of the Bolivian oligarchy reached a new high point. In Santa Cruz, the shock troops of the fascist gangs of the Union Juvenil Cruceñista (UJC) took over by force a whole series of public buildings. First they sacked and looted the offices of the Servicio Nacional de Impuestos (Tax Revenue Office), then they went to the offices of the recently nationalised telecommunications company ENTEL which was also looted, as were the offices of the National Agrarian Reform Institute (INRA). In doing so they had to fight running battles against the police and the army which was under strict orders not to use fire arms and were over-run by the violent demonstrators.

Departments of Bolivia

In Tarija, a group of 50 employees of the regional prefecto (governor) attacked the offices of the Superintendencia de Hidrocarburos (Office of the Ministry for Hydrocarbons) and took it over. These actions were repeated in Tarija, Beni and Pando, were gangs of thugs led by officials of the regional prefectos and leading opposition parlamentarians took over Agrarian Reform Institute (INRA) offices, highway toll boths, border customs offices, airports, etc.

Having taken over a number of government offices they then moved on to those media outlets which are not controlled by the right-wing opposition. They looted and destroyed equipment at the offices of Radio Patria Nueva (which were set on fire), and Televisión Boliviana Canal 7. They also forced the community radio station, Radio Alternativa off the air. A few days earlier four radio stations in Cobija, Pando, were also forced to stop broadcasting.

Apart from taking over public buildings and the media, the offensive of the oligarchy has also targeted the mass organisations of the workers and peasants. On Thursday, September 4th, the house of the executive secretary of the Departmental Workers' Union (COD) in Santa Cruz, was set on fire in the middle of the night, while he was sleeping and his wife and five children were also in the house. The offices of Indigenous rights NGO CIJES in Santa Cruz were also looted and set on fire and so were the offices of the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of Bolivia (CIDOB). Finally, in Santa Cruz, a number of public squares and street markets in areas of strong support for the MAS, were also occupied by groups of armed thugs.

As part of this offensive there was also an attack on an oil pipeline on the border with Argentina and the occupation of a gas field in Chuquisaca, which according to some sources threatened to cut off gas exports to Brazil and Argentina, causing serious damage to the Bolivian economy.

This was not a series of "spontaneous actions", but rather part of a well prepared and coordinated challenge to the power of Evo Morales' government. These actions were discussed and decided at the meeting of CONALDE (a coalition of opposition governors and so-called "civic" committees, in effect, the high command of the oligarchy) on September 4th. The cattle rancher, land owner and head of the group of opposition party Podemos in Parliament, Antonio Franco, publicly applauded the taking over of official buildings in Santa Cruz.

The dark hand of the United States was also involved. Breaking all diplomatic protocol, the US ambassador Goldberg had a closed door meeting with one of the main organisers of the opposition, Santa Cruz prefect Ruben Costas, on August 25. A week later he also met with the opposition governor of Chuquisaca, Sabina Cuellar. According to reports in the Bolivian media, he also met with the prefects of Tarija, Beni and Pando. The wealthy landowner Branko Marinkovic, head of the Santa Cruz Civic Committee and one of the main representatives of the oligarchy, also paid a visit to the US last week. One does not need to be a rocket scientist to see how this is a repetition of the story of the coup in Venezuela in April 2002 and of the coup against Allende in Chile 35 years ago today.

Quite correctly, on Wednesday, September 10th, Evo Morales declared US ambassador Goldberg persona non grata and instructed foreign affairs minister Choquehuanca to ask him to leave the country. However, expelling the US ambassador, will not stop the coup conspiracy.

The Position of Brazil

According to some reports, the closing of a gas valve in Tarija on Wednesday, September 10th, provocked a surge in pressure which ruptured the gas pipeline. The state gas company president Ramirez, declared that as a result, gas exports to Brazil were cut by 10% to 27 million cubic tonnes a day. Bolivia supplies Brazil with 50% of its gas.

In a scandalous statement, Brazil's foreign affairs minister Celso Amorim, declared that if the Evo Morales government is not able to guarantee gas supplies to Brazil, then they would be prepared to enter into direct negotiations with the opposition regional prefects.

This would amount to Brazil recognising de facto independence to these Eastern regions and de-recognising the Bolivian government. The so-called "left-wing" government of Lula, once again, is playing the dirty role of agent of US imperialism.

The Response of the Government

Evo Morales and other ministers in his government have quite correctly described these moves as a coup. Unfortunately, they have responded by appealing to bourgeois legality. Thus, the minister of the presidency, Juan Ramón Quintana, declared that the "prosecutor must take action against those responsible and bring them to court". The little problem is that the state prosecutor in Santa Cruz responds to the interests of the oligarchy.

Reports we have received from Santa Cruz say that the government has called on mass organisations to stop their plans to set up road blockades in Santa Cruz against the oligarchy, and that local MAS leaders are nowhere to be seen. The mood of the MAS supporters is angry. Even large sections of the middle class in Santa Cruz are complaining in radio phone-in shows about the goverment's lack of action faced with these illegal violent actions.

This is a very dangerous situation. The offensive of the oligarchy cannot be fought off within the limits of the bourgeois democratic institutions, because the oligarchy has already shown it has no intention of respecting them. They know they are in a minority, as was clearly demonstrated in the recall referendum on August 10th. Evo Morales won with more than 67% of the vote and winning in 95 out of the country's 112 provinces. This is why they have resorted to violent and illegal means, using all their economic and political power (in the regional governorships) to undermine and eventually overthrow the government of Evo Morales.

The opposition in Bolivia represents the interests of the big business groups, the banking sector and the agro-capitalist groups in an alliance with the foreign multinationals and US imperialism. They fear losing important parts of their economic and political power. They feel they have already lost control over the central government and realise that the passing of the new constitution (for which the government has called a referendum on December 7th) could mean the beginning of an agrarian reform which would seriously affect their property. From their point of view what is at stake is very important and they have not hesistated in using all means at their disposal, legal and illegal.

The problem is that the MAS leaders and the government seem to only want to use strictly legal and institutional means. The class struggle is not like a game of chess, in which your opponent will abide by the rules of the game. It is more like a boxing match in which your opponent is using all sorts of dirty tricks and controls the referee as well. If the MAS government wants to continue playing chess while the oligarchy is fighting a dirty boxing match, it is clear who is going to win.

Time to Strike Back

As we said in a previous article:

"Now is the time to take decisive measures against the oligarchy. If they sabotage the distribution of food against the democratic will of the people, then their land, ranches, food processing plants and transport companies should be occupied by the peasants and workers and be expropriated by the government. If they take over oil and gas fields, as they have threatened, then workers and peasants must retake them (as in Venezuela) and put them to work under workers' control. If they blockade roads, workers and peasants must organise to keep them open." (Bolivia: a new offensive of the oligarchy, the masses respond in the streets, August 23)

Faced with the inaction of the government representatives, the mass organisations must take the initiative. The meeting of the National Coordination of Organisations for Change (Conalcam) last week in Santa Cruz decided to call for road blockades in Santa Cruz and a national march on Parliament. These plans must now be brought forward.

In Santa Cruz, the Marcelo Quiroga Santa Cruz Movement has made an appeal to the Departmental Workers' Union (COD), peasant and neighbourhood organisations to call a cabildo abierto (mass meeting) in the Plan 3000 neighbourhood to start to organise the response of the masses against the fascist gangs. In Potosí, the comrades of the Corriente Marxista Internacional - El Militante are attempting to organise an emergency meeting of the COD with the presence of all the mass organisations to coordinate an effective response.

The oligarchy is a minority, but it is well armed, funded and is on the offensive. The government on the other hand, is seen as acting in a weak way, not responding to these attacks. This can have a demoralising effect on the masses of workers and peasants who support the MAS and the government. The only way to counter the oligarchy's coup which we can see unfolding before our very eyes is through the mass mobilisation of the people on the streets.

The National Workers' Union (COB) and the peasant and indigenous organisations should organise cabildos abiertos (mass meetings) in all cities and rural areas to discuss the developing coup. At these meetings Popular Assemblies and self-defence committees should be organised to defend the workers' and peasants' organisations and to clear the fascist gangs from the streets. They should demand the immediate passing of a decree of expropriation of the properties and wealth of all those collaborating, participating and funding the coup of the oligarchy. The implementation of such a decree should not be left to the prosecutors, judges and police officers, most of whom cannot be trusted, but rather should be carried out directly by the workers' and peasants' organisations under the authority of mass Popular Assemblies.

The masses of workers and peasants in Bolivia have demonstrated their revolutionary courage and determination in the last few years and throghout history. They could sweep aside the ruling class in a matter of days, if they were armed with a clear programme and organised with a clear plan of struggle. In 1952, the miners alone smashed the bourgeois army and took power. That feat can be repeated. The threat is very serious. Now is not the time for vacillations, now is the time to strike back and smash the economic and political power of the oligarchy.



Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Stradfor: Israeli Strategy After the Russo-Georgian War

I enjoy reading the geopolitical analysis at Stratfor. The reports are pure geopolitical analysis, seperated from point of view. The method of Stratfor, is not the same as a Marxist analysis, but it provides a framework, to compliment it. This article about Israel, shatters both the left and right's views. The idea that Israel's existence is in danger is shown to be untrue, as is the left's view of Palestine resistance as a threat to Israel. The narrative that Israel supported Georgia against Russia is shown as incorrect.

By George Friedman
September 08, 2008

The Russo-Georgian war continues to resonate, and it is time to expand our view of it. The primary players in Georgia, apart from the Georgians, were the Russians and Americans. On the margins were the Europeans, providing advice and admonitions but carrying little weight. Another player, carrying out a murkier role, was Israel. Israeli advisers were present in Georgia alongside American advisers, and Israeli businessmen were doing business there. The Israelis had a degree of influence but were minor players compared to the Americans.

More interesting, perhaps, was the decision, publicly announced by the Israelis, to end weapons sales to Georgia the week before the Georgians attacked South Ossetia. Clearly the Israelis knew what was coming and wanted no part of it. Afterward, unlike the Americans, the Israelis did everything they could to placate the Russians, including having Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert travel to Moscow to offer reassurances. Whatever the Israelis were doing in Georgia, they did not want a confrontation with the Russians.

It is impossible to explain the Israeli reasoning for being in Georgia outside the context of a careful review of Israeli strategy in general. From that, we can begin to understand why the Israelis are involved in affairs far outside their immediate area of responsibility, and why they responded the way they did in Georgia.

We need to divide Israeli strategic interests into four separate but interacting pieces:

The Palestinians living inside Israel’s post-1967 borders.
The so-called “confrontation states” that border Israel, including Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and especially Egypt.
The Muslim world beyond this region.
The great powers able to influence and project power into these first three regions.

The Palestinian Issue

The most important thing to understand about the first interest, the Palestinian issue, is that the Palestinians do not represent a strategic threat to the Israelis. Their ability to inflict casualties is an irritant to the Israelis (if a tragedy to the victims and their families), but they cannot threaten the existence of the Israeli state. The Palestinians can impose a level of irritation that can affect Israeli morale, inducing the Israelis to make concessions based on the realistic assessment that the Palestinians by themselves cannot in any conceivable time frame threaten Israel’s core interests, regardless of political arrangements. At the same time, the argument goes, given that the Palestinians cannot threaten Israeli interests, what is the value of making concessions that will not change the threat of terrorist attacks? Given the structure of Israeli politics, this matter is both substrategic and gridlocked.

The matter is compounded by the fact that the Palestinians are deeply divided among themselves. For Israel, this is a benefit, as it creates a de facto civil war among Palestinians and reduces the threat from them. But it also reduces pressure and opportunities to negotiate. There is no one on the Palestinian side who speaks authoritatively for all Palestinians. Any agreement reached with the Palestinians would, from the Israeli point of view, have to include guarantees on the cessation of terrorism. No one has ever been in a position to guarantee that — and certainly Fatah does not today speak for Hamas. Therefore, a settlement on a Palestinian state remains gridlocked because it does not deliver any meaningful advantages to the Israelis.

The Confrontation States

The second area involves the confrontation states. Israel has formal peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan. It has had informal understandings with Damascus on things like Lebanon, but Israel has no permanent understanding with Syria. The Lebanese are too deeply divided to allow state-to-state understandings, but Israel has had understandings with different Lebanese factions at different times (and particularly close relations with some of the Christian factions).

Jordan is effectively an ally of Israel. It has been hostile to the Palestinians at least since 1970, when the Palestine Liberation Organization attempted to overthrow the Hashemite regime, and the Jordanians regard the Israelis and Americans as guarantors of their national security. Israel’s relationship with Egypt is publicly cooler but quite cooperative. The only group that poses any serious challenge to the Egyptian state is The Muslim Brotherhood, and hence Cairo views Hamas — a derivative of that organization — as a potential threat. The Egyptians and Israelis have maintained peaceful relations for more than 30 years, regardless of the state of Israeli-Palestinian relations. The Syrians by themselves cannot go to war with Israel and survive. Their primary interest lies in Lebanon, and when they work against Israel, they work with surrogates like Hezbollah. But their own view on an independent Palestinian state is murky, since they claim all of Palestine as part of a greater Syria — a view not particularly relevant at the moment. Therefore, Israel’s only threat on its border comes from Syria via surrogates in Lebanon and the possibility of Syria’s acquiring weaponry that would threaten Israel, such as chemical or nuclear weapons.

The Wider Muslim World

As to the third area, Israel’s position in the Muslim world beyond the confrontation states is much more secure than either it or its enemies would like to admit. Israel has close, formal strategic relations with Turkey as well as with Morocco. Turkey and Egypt are the giants of the region, and being aligned with them provides Israel with the foundations of regional security. But Israel also has excellent relations with countries where formal relations do not exist, particularly in the Arabian Peninsula.

The conservative monarchies of the region deeply distrust the Palestinians, particularly Fatah. As part of the Nasserite Pan-Arab socialist movement, Fatah on several occasions directly threatened these monarchies. Several times in the 1970s and 1980s, Israeli intelligence provided these monarchies with information that prevented assassinations or uprisings.

Saudi Arabia, for one, has never engaged in anti-Israeli activities beyond rhetoric. In the aftermath of the 2006 Israeli-Hezbollah conflict, Saudi Arabia and Israel forged close behind-the-scenes relations, especially because of an assertive Iran — a common foe of both the Saudis and the Israelis. Saudi Arabia has close relations with Hamas, but these have as much to do with maintaining a defensive position — keeping Hamas and its Saudi backers off Riyadh’s back — as they do with government policy. The Saudis are cautious regarding Hamas, and the other monarchies are even more so.

More to the point, Israel does extensive business with these regimes, particularly in the defense area. Israeli companies, working formally through American or European subsidiaries, carry out extensive business throughout the Arabian Peninsula. The nature of these subsidiaries is well-known on all sides, though no one is eager to trumpet this. The governments of both Israel and the Arabian Peninsula would have internal political problems if they publicized it, but a visit to Dubai, the business capital of the region, would find many Israelis doing extensive business under third-party passports. Add to this that the states of the Arabian Peninsula are afraid of Iran, and the relationship becomes even more important to all sides.

There is an interesting idea that if Israel were to withdraw from the occupied territories and create an independent Palestinian state, then perceptions of Israel in the Islamic world would shift. This is a commonplace view in Europe. The fact is that we can divide the Muslim world into three groups.

First, there are those countries that already have formal ties to Israel. Second are those that have close working relations with Israel and where formal ties would complicate rather than deepen relations. Pakistan and Indonesia, among others, fit into this class. Third are those that are absolutely hostile to Israel, such as Iran. It is very difficult to identify a state that has no informal or formal relations with Israel but would adopt these relations if there were a Palestinian state. Those states that are hostile to Israel would remain hostile after a withdrawal from the Palestinian territories, since their issue is with the existence of Israel, not its borders.

The point of all this is that Israeli security is much better than it might appear if one listened only to the rhetoric. The Palestinians are divided and at war with each other. Under the best of circumstances, they cannot threaten Israel’s survival. The only bordering countries with which the Israelis have no formal agreements are Syria and Lebanon, and neither can threaten Israel’s security. Israel has close ties to Turkey, the most powerful Muslim country in the region. It also has much closer commercial and intelligence ties with the Arabian Peninsula than is generally acknowledged, although the degree of cooperation is well-known in the region. From a security standpoint, Israel is doing well.

The Broader World

Israel is also doing extremely well in the broader world, the fourth and final area. Israel always has needed a foreign source of weapons and technology, since its national security needs outstrip its domestic industrial capacity. Its first patron was the Soviet Union, which hoped to gain a foothold in the Middle East. This was quickly followed by France, which saw Israel as an ally in Algeria and against Egypt. Finally, after 1967, the United States came to support Israel. Washington saw Israel as a threat to Syria, which could threaten Turkey from the rear at a time when the Soviets were threatening Turkey from the north. Turkey was the doorway to the Mediterranean, and Syria was a threat to Turkey. Egypt was also aligned with the Soviets from 1956 onward, long before the United States had developed a close working relationship with Israel.

That relationship has declined in importance for the Israelis. Over the years the amount of U.S. aid — roughly $2.5 billion annually — has remained relatively constant. It was never adjusted upward for inflation, and so shrunk as a percentage of Israeli gross domestic product from roughly 20 percent in 1974 to under 2 percent today. Israel’s dependence on the United States has plummeted. The dependence that once existed has become a marginal convenience. Israel holds onto the aid less for economic reasons than to maintain the concept in the United States of Israeli dependence and U.S. responsibility for Israeli security. In other words, it is more psychological and political from Israel’s point of view than an economic or security requirement.

Israel therefore has no threats or serious dependencies, save two. The first is the acquisition of nuclear weapons by a power that cannot be deterred — in other words, a nation prepared to commit suicide to destroy Israel. Given Iranian rhetoric, Iran would appear at times to be such a nation. But given that the Iranians are far from having a deliverable weapon, and that in the Middle East no one’s rhetoric should be taken all that seriously, the Iranian threat is not one the Israelis are compelled to deal with right now.

The second threat would come from the emergence of a major power prepared to intervene overtly or covertly in the region for its own interests, and in the course of doing so, redefine the regional threat to Israel. The major candidate for this role is Russia.

During the Cold War, the Soviets pursued a strategy to undermine American interests in the region. In the course of this, the Soviets activated states and groups that could directly threaten Israel. There is no significant conventional military threat to Israel on its borders unless Egypt is willing and well-armed. Since the mid-1970s, Egypt has been neither. Even if Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak were to die and be replaced by a regime hostile to Israel, Cairo could do nothing unless it had a patron capable of training and arming its military. The same is true of Syria and Iran to a great extent. Without access to outside military technology, Iran is a nation merely of frightening press conferences. With access, the entire regional equation shifts.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, no one was prepared to intervene in the Middle East the way the Soviets had. The Chinese have absolutely no interest in struggling with the United States in the Middle East, which accounts for a similar percentage of Chinese and U.S. oil consumption. It is far cheaper to buy oil in the Middle East than to engage in a geopolitical struggle with China’s major trade partner, the United States. Even if there was interest, no European powers can play this role given their individual military weakness, and Europe as a whole is a geopolitical myth. The only country that can threaten the balance of power in the Israeli geopolitical firmament is Russia.

Israel fears that if Russia gets involved in a struggle with the United States, Moscow will aid Middle Eastern regimes that are hostile to the United States as one of its levers, beginning with Syria and Iran. Far more frightening to the Israelis is the idea of the Russians once again playing a covert role in Egypt, toppling the tired Mubarak regime, installing one friendlier to their own interests, and arming it. Israel’s fundamental fear is not Iran. It is a rearmed, motivated and hostile Egypt backed by a great power.

The Russians are not after Israel, which is a sideshow for them. But in the course of finding ways to threaten American interests in the Middle East — seeking to force the Americans out of their desired sphere of influence in the former Soviet region — the Russians could undermine what at the moment is a quite secure position in the Middle East for the United States.

This brings us back to what the Israelis were doing in Georgia. They were not trying to acquire airbases from which to bomb Iran. That would take thousands of Israeli personnel in Georgia for maintenance, munitions management, air traffic control and so on. And it would take Ankara allowing the use of Turkish airspace, which isn’t very likely. Plus, if that were the plan, then stopping the Georgians from attacking South Ossetia would have been a logical move.

The Israelis were in Georgia in an attempt, in parallel with the United States, to prevent Russia’s re-emergence as a great power. The nuts and bolts of that effort involves shoring up states in the former Soviet region that are hostile to Russia, as well as supporting individuals in Russia who oppose Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s direction. The Israeli presence in Georgia, like the American one, was designed to block the re-emergence of Russia.

As soon as the Israelis got wind of a coming clash in South Ossetia, they — unlike the United States — switched policies dramatically. Where the United States increased its hostility toward Russia, the Israelis ended weapons sales to Georgia before the war. After the war, the Israelis initiated diplomacy designed to calm Russian fears. Indeed, at the moment the Israelis have a greater interest in keeping the Russians from seeing Israel as an enemy than they have in keeping the Americans happy. U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney may be uttering vague threats to the Russians. But Olmert was reassuring Moscow it has nothing to fear from Israel, and therefore should not sell weapons to Syria, Iran, Hezbollah or anyone else hostile to Israel.

Interestingly, the Americans have started pumping out information that the Russians are selling weapons to Hezbollah and Syria. The Israelis have avoided that issue carefully. They can live with some weapons in Hezbollah’s hands a lot more easily than they can live with a coup in Egypt followed by the introduction of Russian military advisers. One is a nuisance; the other is an existential threat. Russia may not be in a position to act yet, but the Israelis aren’t waiting for the situation to get out of hand.

Israel is in control of the Palestinian situation and relations with the countries along its borders. Its position in the wider Muslim world is much better than it might appear. Its only enemy there is Iran, and that threat is much less clear than the Israelis say publicly. But the threat of Russia intervening in the Muslim world — particularly in Syria and Egypt — is terrifying to the Israelis. It is a risk they won’t live with if they don’t have to. So the Israelis switched their policy in Georgia with lightning speed. This could create frictions with the United States, but the Israeli-American relationship isn’t what it used to be.


The Pakastan Spectator: Bloggers Wanted for Interviews

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Monday, September 08, 2008

Celia Hart Santamaría (1962 – 2008)

By Alan Woods
Monday, 08 September 2008

We have just heard the tragic news of the death in a traffic accident, of Celia Hart Santamaría, 45, and Abel Hart Santamaría, 48, the daughter and son of Armando Hart Dávalos and Haydée Santamaría.

The accident occurred on the afternoon of Sunday, 7 September in the Miramar district of Havana. We do not know the details, but it appears that the car hit a tree. It may be that the bad conditions caused by the recent hurricane had something to do with this.

The bodies of Celia and Abel were taken to the Funeral Rivero, Calzada and K, from where the funeral procession set out for the Columbus Necropolis, where they were buried today at 10:00 am local time.

Celia Hart came from a family of veteran Cuban revolutionaries who fought against the Batista dictatorship together with Fidel Castro. Celia Hart has been an outspoken defender of the political and revolutionary heritage of Leon Trotsky. Her articles on this subject, which have been published by the Spanish Marxist website El Militante and also on provoked an intense debate on the question of Trotsky both in Cuba and internationally.

Celia Hart was born in January 1962, just a few months after the Cuban missile crisis. Her mother, Haydée Santamaría, ("the most extraordinary person I have ever known") was a revolutionary from the very early days, and participated together with Fidel Castro in the famous storming of the Moncada barracks, where she lost both her brother and her boyfriend.

Armando Hart, her father, began his political activities by a different route: In the dark days of the Batista dictatorship, when, as a young lawyer, he commenced his political agitation and became a student leader in the University. He was a member of the National Revolutionary Movement (Movimiento Nacional Revolucionario) led by García Barcena, a university professor who opposed Batista and was imprisoned even before the assault on the Moncada barracks.

Armando Hart and Haydée Santamaría were dedicated to the revolutionary cause and fought together with Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. When Batista was finally overthrown, Armando was made the first Minister of Education of the Revolution and Haydée Santamaría was made President of the Casa de las Américas (the House of the Americas), which she in effect founded.

Haydée was always opposed to ‘sovietization' - that is to the attempt to impose rigid Stalinist bureaucracy and dogmatic thought and methodology on Cuba. In Casa de las Américas there was no room for either dogmatism or so-called socialist realism. She ran it together with a real galaxy of talent: Benedetti, Galich, Mariano Rodríguez and others. Tragically, she committed suicide in 1980. For his part, Armando Hart had a brilliant intellectual career, and at the present time, after more than twenty years as Cuban Minister of Culture, is in charge of the Oficina del Programa Martiano.

In Celia's own words: "I therefore grew up in the eye of the hurricane, between the tremendous passion of my mother and the intelligence and devotion to study of my father - both of them firmly inserted in the political life of Cuba." In 1980, one month before her mother's suicide, Celia decided to study physics in Havana University. Two years later she was sent to finish her studies in the University of Dresden in the German Democratic Republic.

Celia continued my studies until graduating in 1987 - the first foreign female to graduate in this Faculty. She then returned to Havana, where she worked until one year ago in the University, publishing approximately 15 specialist works on magnetism and superconductivity. She also participated in about half a dozen congresses in Italy, Brazil and Argentina.

Talking about this period in her life, Celia told me:

"In 2004 I was supposed to have finished my Doctorate in Physics, but as I was putting the final touches to a work on Philosophy, as part of my Doctorate I realized that my great love for physics was not an end in itself, but only a means to an end."

She continued:

"During my stay in the German Democratic Republic, I realized that there was a contradiction between the inevitability of Socialism to fight for a better world and the bureaucracy, the suffocating of all initiative and the apathy that I found in that country, in spite of the good living conditions. I was repelled by the excessive images of Honecker that one found in every shop window."

In this way, slowly but surely, the ground was being prepared for Celia's transition to Trotskyism, which she described in the following words:

"In 1985 I returned to Cuba on holidays and confessed to my father my feelings of utter desperation. In response, my father opened a cupboard and got out four books: the three-volume Life of Trotsky by Isaac Deutscher and Trotsky's The Revolution Betrayed. I devoured these books, but until a few months ago had no opportunity of reading the rest of Trotsky's works."

"From that time," continues Celia, "everything began to fall into place like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. I understood how the Russian Revolution - and not only the Russian Revolution - had been betrayed and millions of comrades had been deceived."

However, none of Celia's works were published in Cuba, except a prologue to a book written by her mother entitled Haydée Speaks about the Moncada (Haydée habla del Moncada). Her writings were first published in the website of El Militante and (see The Flag over Coyoacán) and the Spanish magazine Marxismo Hoy. Later we published a book of her writings in Spanish with the title Apuntos Revolucionarios (Revolutionary Notes), which was introduced to the public in Spain and Cuba by the Frederick Engels Foundation.

It was the comrades of the IMT who first contacted Celia Hart and gave her the opportunity to enter into contact with international Trotskyism. She attended our world congress in 2004 and had intensive discussions with the leading comrades. Shortly afterwards she wrote:

"I have just returned after attending the International Conference of the Marxist tendency. It was a very important experience for me. I met some marvellous comrades from Pakistan, Israel, Spain, the United States... And I see that I am not alone, that the same ideas I defend are spreading all over the world. These are the ideas of the future. I thank all the comrades for the happiest summer of my life.

"A new and exciting chapter is opening for me. It is a very strange feeling. Less than a year ago I was a researcher in Physics in the University of Havana. Now I do not know what the future holds. But I do understand that science, and the scientific method, is the best method with which to carry out this passionate revolutionary struggle."

Since then Celia has been in regular contact with the IMT and has spoken at our meetings in various countries. In February of this year she spoke at the first public book launch in Cuba of Trotsky's Revolution Betrayed, organized by the Frederick Engels Foundation with more than 100 people present at the Havana Book Fair.

Celia Hart was always very passionate about her ideas and the struggle for socialism. We had many discussions with her, often ending in agreement, sometimes not, but in all our dealings with her, there was always a warm sense of comradeship and friendship and she always spoke very warmly about El Militante and the IMT.

Most recently she spoke at a very successful meeting of 200 people in Montreal on 28 May this year, which we jointly organized. The next day there was a meeting on the Permanent Revolution organized by the IMT at which she also spoke. As far as I know this was the last public meeting she ever spoke at, although we had planned to invite her to speak at the launch of my new book Reformism or Revolution at the Havana Book fair next February.

Unfortunately, this was not to be. A cruel accident has robbed us of a valuable and much-loved friend and comrade. But her memory lives on in the hearts and minds of those of us who knew her. And above all, the ideas we defended together live on and grow stronger by the day. That is the best memorial Celia Hart would have desired.

Farewell, comrade Celia! We shall continue the struggle!

Hasta la Victoria Siempre!

Alan Woods, London, September 8th


Monday, September 01, 2008

Republican National Convention 2008 Open Thread

This blog is based in Minneapolis, MN, near where the Republican Party is having its convention. I attended the legal demonstration the first day.

**I didn't know until I returned home, that Amy Goodman was arrested and several others. Most who attended and took part in the legal route, were unaware of arrests. I saw the police shoot some type of ammunition on a side street. From my viewpoint I didn't see demonstrators.

**My comrades disagreed with the organizers vague slogans that fronted for support for the Democratic Party. Tactically they made an agreement with the anarchist organizers to respect "diversity of tactics." In addition they agreed to not to make public criticism.

I think everyone involved should have been allowed to discuss tactics, and come to consensus. Once the consensus is agreed to, anybody who violates the agreement is on their own. The anarchists seem to think unified slogans and tactics is authoritarian.

**I stayed with the agreed to route, like most involved, didn't know of arrests.

**Private homes and one anarchist meeting place was raided this weekend by the sheriff's department. Some of the arrests were viewed by journalists. They had the effect of lowering turnout. Those arrested feel they'll be vindicated in court. There is a case of a warrant with an incorrect address. I'm sure it scared some from attending.

**There were arrests the weekend before the march. The sheriff's office raided anarchist headquarters and various private homes. Some of the raids were observed by journalists as Amy Goodman.

**If you are dressed in all black, wearing a mask or bandana to cover your face, and go away from the legal route, what can you expect to happen? They had no speaker on the platform to explain what they were about. They were irresponsible and made no political point. Somebody said, "The anarchists don't recognize the state, but the state recognizes them."

**Obama coopted the slogans as from the immigrant rights movement as Sí Se Puede (Yes We Can), and "Power To The People."

**The police allowed rightist protesters to get too close for my comfort, to the main demo. They obviously wanted rightist martyrs. The rightists would be the martyrs, by numbers alone.

**Most of the groups fronted for Obama and the Democratic Party. Most of the speakers only attacked Republicans. Another category is the adventurous groups who mistake militant tactics for principled politics. In addition there was supporters of narrow nationalism (insert country here) and even Islamism. This mess can be straightened out with a movement led by revolutionary socialists, armed with theory and practice, so as to create history and react to it. When the RNC is over, and the delegates and protesters go home. The question is what do you do next?