Bulletin N° 876
Wag the Dog
Wag the Dog is a 1997 American political satire black comedy film produced and directed by Barry Levinson and starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro. The screenplay, based on the book, American Hero, by Larry Beinhart, concerns a spin doctor and a Hollywood producer who fabricate a war in Albania to distract voters from a presidential sex scandal.
Subject : Casino Capitalism: While Sitting at the Russian Roulette Table.
January 15, 2020
Dear Colleagues and Friends of CEIMSA,
On New Year’s Eve, I was talking to the young son of a friend of mine. I told him the well-known story of the boy who cried wolf.
- “You’ve probably heard this story of the boy who cried wolf,” I began. “When the villagers heard him yell, they all dropped what they were doing to run to the rescue of the village, only to find that the boy had played a trick on them. He did this many times until the villagers no longer believed him. When he cried wolf the last time, the villagers continued to work. Nobody believed his warning was true. When they came home that evening they found that the wolf had devastated the village; this time the boy had told the truth, but no one believed him.”
- “They must have been on the gold standard,” the kid replied.
- “What do you mean?” I asked.
- “Well,” he replied, “crises are profitable, today; even imaginary ones. Do you think that that excrescence in the White House has anything better to do than to threaten more wars, just to pump up the price of gold and enrich his cronies?”*
Later, after the stroke of midnight, each of us made a wish for the Year 2020.
- When it was his turn, the young boy proclaimed: “I wish Trump would return to the planet he came from.”
- His mother responded: “The farthest away from earth, I hope.”
- His father then stated his wish for the New Year: “And I hope the world will never forget how capitalism has brought hell to earth for billions of people.”
*(Note: My friend’s son had been reading Thomas Picketty, “HISTORICAL GOLD PRICES- 1833 to Present” and had developed new monetarist views of the political economy.)
The 17 + items below include articles and essays which bring attention to the matrix in which we are now living. The complexity of our situation makes it difficult to find the necessary leverage to capture control of the institutions that govern our lives, removing them from the hands of that alienated power elite who have been left to their own devices for too long. It’s time to create a new political genus, informed participatory democracy, and learn to govern democratically from within our institutions according to our perceived collective self-interests.
Professeur honoraire de l'Université
Ancien Directeur de Researches
Université de Paris-Nanterre
Director of The Center for the Advanced Study
of American Institutions and Social Movements
The University of California-San Diego
UkraineGate - Inconvenient Facts
Joe Biden, Friend or Foe of Corruption?
We ‘slaughtered’ Jeremy Corbyn, says Israel lobbyist
by Asa Winstanley
Iran, And Other Notes From The Edge Of The Narrative Matrix
by Caitlin Johnstone
Assange and Manning are Being Persecuted for Speaking Truth to Power
by Leonard C. Goodman
The international witch-hunt of Julian Assange
by Eric London and Thomas Scripps
Top 10 Ways Trump’s Actions against Iran Hurt the US, the Mideast,
and the World
by Medea Benjamin and Nicolas J S Davies
“America Exists Today to Make War”: Lawrence Wilkerson on Endless War & American Empire
Lawrence Wilkerson on Trump's Iran aggression: same neocon lies, new target
Trump defends killing of Soleimani regardless of ‘imminent’ threat, says he had a ‘horrible past’
Merkel meeting Putin amid US-Iran tension
Anti-Russia hysteria emerges after Iran plane crash
with George Galloway
Iran admits shooting down Ukrainian flight over Tehran in 'unintentional' missile launch
The Ukrainian passenger jet that crashed after takeoff from Tehran was downed due to "human error" after it flew too close to a military site and triggered a missile launch amid a standoff with the US, the Iranian Army said.
The Army General Staff stressed that the tragic mistake was made amid the flare-up of tensions with Washington. The nation's air defenses were placed on alert and ready to "respond to possible threats of the highest level," after US President Donald Trump warned that the Pentagon would strike targets on Iranian soil if US citizens or assets were attacked by Iran.
On Wednesday, the Iranian Army fired a volley of ballistic missiles at two bases in Iraq that house American troops. It was a retaliation in response to a US drone strike, which killed top Iranian military chief Qassem Soleimani at Baghdad's airport.
‘I wish I was dead’: Senior IRGC commander accepts responsibility for downing Ukrainian jet, says it was mistaken for missile
Iran Jet Disaster A Setup?
by Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich, Finian Cunningham
[mailto:email@example.com] On Behalf Of Mark Crispin
Sent: Tuesday, January 14, 2020 5:33 PM
Subject: [MCM] Some oddities about the "human error" that caused the crash of that Ukrainian airliner
According to Russian Experts: The US Bears “Partial Responsibility” for the “Human Error” Which Caused the Ukrainian plane crash
Global Research, January 12, 2020
A Russian military site Avia.pro has addressed the issue of “human error” relating to the crash of Ukraine’s Boeing 737 [departing from Tehran] on January 8, minutes after takeoff,
which resulted in the death of 179 passengers and members of the crew.
Relying on military experts, the report intimates that the incident bears a canny (point by point) resemblance to the destruction of a Russian IL-20 in Latakia, Syria in September 2018.
Israeli fighters, followed by Syrian missiles, used the Russian plane as a shield, even if it meant its destruction and the death of 15 passengers.
The Russian military website refers to an independent investigation that concluded the US is “at least partial US responsibility” in the January 8 tragedy:
Putin Accuses Obama of Leaking Flight Details to Turkey after Russia Releases Video of S-400 SAM Deployment in Syria
“According to experts, the US military had deliberately changed the information on the Ukrainian Boeing 737 flight, making it a real target for the Iranian air defense systems.”
According to data from Pentagon-related sources, several U.S. military planes were observed in the sky in the vicinity of Iran’s airspace, just at the time of the Boeing’s flight departure.
Anomalies were observed on Iran’s radar system, probably due to a cyber attack.
The civilian plane was therefore confused with a fighter plane heading directly for a military target.
“Since the pilot made a U-turn, it is very likely that the US cyber attack had also focused on the navigation system of the Ukrainian Boeing. This is not the first time that Americans have done this type of action, ” said Avia.pro.
In addition, a member of the Security and Defense Committee of the Russian Duma accused the provocative US measures against Iran of having been the cause of the Ukrainian plane crash.
Original article Corriere PL (Italian) Translation by Global Research
Iranian Flight Crash Facts Not Adding Up
by Russell Bentley
The Primordial Urge to Slay a Hero
by Renee Parsons
The assassination of Major General Qaseem Soleimani, who was already a national hero in Iran, has now achieved the stature of a world class martyr. Carrying a diplomatic passport on his flight into Baghdad, Soleimani was also carrying the Iranian response to a Saudi initiative for peace.
In contrast, President Donald Trump has revealed more about his own inner angst than he ever intended – or perhaps, being a non-introspective type, what has been revealed may be more than he himself has ever acknowledged.
As events and more of the back story unfold, Trump’s frequently problematic sense of reality may be questioned in view of his astonishing suggestion that he is ‘ready to make a new nuclear deal with Iran, even as he ordered additional sanctions against the country. Prior to Soleimani’s assassination, Trump threatened to kill Iraq Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi.
There is no denying that the nature of the act is right out of the Israel playbook of quick and dirty overkill and extermination of humanity as seen in Gaza and Jerusalem on a daily basis.
During a session of the Iraq legislature immediately after the assassination, Mahdi reported that the Americans had “ruined his country” and were now unwilling to repair Iraq’s electric grid and other infrastructure needs. Mahdi did what any self respecting leader would do; he signed a contract with Trump’s favorite trading partner to make the repairs. China already had an international reputation for providing necessary community infrastructure in Africa and elsewhere – wonder if they might visit Detroit and solve their water quality crisis.
Trump has vehemently opposed Iraq’s deal with China unless Mahdi would guarantee that 50% of Iraq’s oil revenue would go to the US. Mahdi refused and when he refused to reject the contract, he said that Trump “threatened to unleash huge demonstrations against me that would end my premiership”.
Israeli Intel Helped the United States to Kill Soleimani, Report Says
NY private school fires Jewish teacher for anti-Zionist statements
Unidentified Planes Hit Iraqi Militiamen in Syria, Killing 8 - The New York Times
by The Associated Press - Beirut
Eight killed in strike attributed to Israel on Iranian-backed militia in Syria
by Jack Khoury
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirms the attack, saying it targeted an Iranian-backed militia
World War 3: Missile strike kills eight pro-Iranian militia members on Syria border
by Bill McLoughlin
The two-state solution is dead, and now the scaffolding that held it up
is falling apart too
by Adam Horowitz and Philip Weiss
"US-Iran Relations: Past, Present and Future"
From: Mark Crispin Miller
Sent: Sunday, January 12, 2020
Subject: [MCM] On all those times when Soleimani was a US ally
"Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia."
(Correction to the below: Throughout the Iran/Iraq war, the US backed both sides, not just Iraq.)
All the Times the US allied with Gen. Soleimani against Common Enemies, giving him Air Support at Tikrit
Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Since the US political establishment and press has been demonizing Gen. Qasem Soleimani since he was rubbed out by Trump, it is perhaps worth complicating the story– especially now that Trump is accusing him of having targeted not one but four US embassies. Trump is a notorious and compulsive liar, and there is no reason to think that charge is true. The prime minister of Iraq says he invited Soleimani to Baghdad for peace negotiations with Saudi Arabia and then Trump just suddenly blew his guest away. Soleimani came openly on a commercial flight and went through passport control with his diplomatic passport. His arrival in Baghdad was not part of a covert operation to hit Americans. Nor did Soleimani, as Wolf Blitzer breathlessly reported on CNN kill “millions” (when? where?).
Nor was he a terrorist; terrorists are non-state actors. He was a general in the Iranian military. Soleimani fought in the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-88, which was a defensive war on Iran’s part, since Iraq aggressively invaded under Saddam Hussein. The United States supported Saddam to the hilt in his aggression. So you’d have to say that in the 1980s Soleimani was doing something heroic, whereas the Reagan administration was doing something shameful. Reagan even ran interference for Saddam at the UN when Iran brought a complaint about the Iraqi use of chemical weapons.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Soleimani trained the Badr Corps, the Iraqi paramilitary of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which is now the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq.
When George W. Bush invaded Iraq in 2003, his viceroy, Paul Bremer, appointed a Transitional Governing Council made up of Iraqis who were glad that the US had overthrown Saddam Hussein. Bremer appointed Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim as a member of the council, who were sort of his cabinet. Al-Hakim led SCIRI, of which Badr was the military arm. Bush and Bremer were indirectly hand in glove with Soleimani’s main proxy in Iraq. When al-Hakim was killed by a bombing on Aug. 29, 2003, Bremer appointed his brother Abdul Aziz al-Hakim as a governing council member. Abdul Aziz had been the head of the Badr Corps, and was reporting back to Soleimani.
In Syria, Soleimani fought ISIL and al-Qaeda linked groups, making him a de facto ally of the US, though his hard line pro-Shiite policies also did alienate Sunni Syrians. But many Syrian opposition groups had hooked up with al-Qaeda or ISIL well before 2015, when Soleimani began intervening directly in Syria at the request of the government of Bashar al-Assad. Sunni Syrians don’t forgive him for his role in the taking of, say, East Aleppo. But it is also true that his forces helped defeat groups that praised al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and even took orders from him.
Then there was Soleimani’s key role in helping defeat ISIL in Iraq, where, again, he was a de facto and even tactical US ally (see below).
Soleimani was a complicated man, a man of the religious far right, an authoritarian. Although I think it is nonsense to speak of him committing terrorism, he did commit war crimes. I am not sure he is responsible for nearly as many deaths as George W. Bush, though. In this essay I’m not defending Soleimani, I’m only trying to complicate the glib story being pushed at us by the Trump administration, which can’t speak two sentences without telling four lies. The best antidote to black and white authoritarian views of the world is an attention to irony and ambiguity.
Additional reporting by Reuters.
GEORGE GALLOWAY ON OUR MAN IN TEHRAN: "IMAGINE IF A IRANIAN/RUSSIAN DIPLOMAT DID THAT?"
Western intervention in Iran, Syria and Venezuala
with George Galloway
From: Mark Crispin Miller
Sent: Monday, January 13, 2020
Subject: [MCM] How Iran has (so far) foiled the US plan to bring Hong Kong to Teheran (MUST-READ)
Via Eve Karene Bartlett:
Thread on Iran protests, very worth reading. **"There are videos circulating of the protesters wearing body armour, acting in teams to draw in riot police, shining lasers from tops of buildings, etc - in short, Maidan/Hong Kong tactics."**
Ibn Riad - ابن رياض
"A thread regarding the anti-government protests that sprung up today in Iran, and the failed imperial plot that they point towards.
So as we know, Iran announced the Ukrainian airliner was accidentally shot down by an anti-air unit. There are lots of open questions in this regard, which I leave to another time.
My focus for now is on the timing of this announcement.
On the day of the Iranian announcement, small anti-government protests popped up, primarily by university students (so often the empire's favourite subjects), numbering at most in the hundreds.
One initial thing to note is just how organised they seemed to be. There are videos circulating of the protesters wearing body armour, acting in teams to draw in riot police, shining lasers from tops of buildings, etc - in short, Maidan/Hong Kong tactics.
This indicates, of course, a high level of training and preparedness among these protesters. This was not some spur-of-the-moment uprising, but rather an organised event, with elements trained with the usual CIA textbook.
The highly unusual personal presence of the British ambassador at the site also points to this, and perhaps also to the degree of importance that these protests hold for the regime-change camp.
But the most interesting thing here is the slogans the protesters used.
There were some dumb "Khamenei resign!" chants, clearly from an auto-cue written by Americans with no idea how Spiritual Leadership works - but the main tagline for these protests was:
"Death to Liars".
Now, this doesn't make much sense to me.
For protests that took place AFTER the government had just told the truth in the most honest & candid way any government ever has, how does "Death to Liars" figure? In no world does delaying the truth for a few days warrant such a chant.
But there *is* a context in which it would make much more sense. Given the clearly prepared and artificial nature of these protests, it is incredibly easy to imagine what the actual intention of this whole charade was.
Iran had been set up in more ways than one. In addition to being somehow tricked into downing the plane (may do a separate thread on this - many signs point to this, & I find it quite convincing), it is likely that the US had evidence that would expose Iran's responsibility.
The US had been relying on Iran denying the allegations or at least withholding the truth for longer, allowing it to come out with the evidence and "outing" Iran as liars. (Either directly or via someone like Trudeau, who seemed disappointed when Iran came out with the truth).
This would then be swiftly followed by the prepared and coordinated student protests, which in context of the planned scenario, would likely have drawn in much more support, and would have had a far more detrimental effect on Iran's integrity both domestically and abroad.
Perhaps this was planned all along as an American "response" to Iran's, or at least as an alternative to open war: trick Iran into downing the airliner, let them keep the secret, then expose them and set trained anti-government dogs loose in the streets, to be joined by masses.
It was a devious and ruthlessly effective plan- or it would have been. Except Iran came out with the truth only days after the event, and upset the entire plot.
Now, the student protesters had slogans that no longer made sense ("Death to Liars") and no support whatsoever from the actual population at large, who had witnessed a great show of integrity from their government on the global stage.
This is the first way in which Iran scuppered the plan. Indeed, depending on how long ago this plan had been concocted, it might even be reasonable to say that the millions upon millions of people that came out to martyr Soleimani's funeral also dented the plan well in advance.
The second (or third) way in which this plan has been foiled comes from Fars News's report on these protests. Some slow-witted western analysts have taken Fars reporting on the story as a sign of division within Iranian ranks, and drew up wild fantasy stories on that basis.
But the reality
is a lot different. This is what Fars News reported.
"...the demonstrators on the street also ripped up pictures of Qassem Soleimani, the prominent commander of the Guard’s Quds Force who was killed in a U.S. drone strike.
The agency, widely seen as close to the Guards, carried pictures of the gathering and a torn banner of Soleimani. It said the protesters numbered about 700 to 1,000 people."
Far from a sign of division in political/military ranks, anyone with half a brain can understand what this report is about. Considering the outpouring of emotion over Soleimani's martyrdom, anyone hearing of people ripping his posters down will quickly hate those people. A lot.
Thus even if there had been any potential left for normal Iranians to join these protests, the moment it's revealed that they're ripping down Soleimani's poster, people are 100% more likely to try and punch these protesters in the head than they are to join them.
Thus, US plan seems to have been:
1. Trick Iran into downing airliner (will make the case for this tomorrow, & still possible to follow narrative even if you believe no US hand in the downing).
2. Presume Iran will hold guilt secret.
3. Expose them,
incite large-scale protests
1. Maidan/HK-style coordinated actions of 'protesters'
2. unconvincing reasons for demonstration
3. the out of place slogans ("Death to Liars") given the ne reality Iran imposed upon the context
4. the presence of UK ambassador at the site
So, what could have been a dangerous ploy, and the latest desperate attempt to get rid of the "Iran problem" without going to war, was defeated in three stages:
1. Millions mourning Soleimani
2. Iran's clever quick admission of guilt
3. The isolation & exposition of 'protesters'
The final blow to this plan could come tomorrow or in coming days, if pro-government rallies form, insisting on further avenging Soleimani's blood and insisting the focus not be shifted away from the crime that lead to his martyrdom.
To me, at least, this seems like a very feasible sequence of events, but is based on nothing but my own analysis for the time being.
As usual, the Americans are still trying to play chess with the Persians - and can win at neither that nor war.
Qatar to offer Iran $3 billion for Ukrainian plane victims
Qatari Emir makes surprise visit to Tehran to offer compensation for 176 passengers killed after plane is unintentionally shot down by Iranian missiles.
Who Profits when Iran and America Fight?
U.S. Threatens Iraq
Iraq warned to keep US troops or risk financial
by Al Jazeera
US warns Baghdad Iraq could lose access to critical US-based
bank account where oil revenues are held-WSJ.
U.S. Mercenaries For Hire
Trump is 'selling troops' : Saudi Arabia has paid $1billion
to have U.S.
soldiers protect the kingdom
by Ariel Zilber
The second occupation of Iraq
by Abdel Bari Atwan
If the US refuses to withdraw its troops they will eventually be forced out as they were in 2011
by Paul Edwards
Clausewitz said, “War is the continuation of politics by other means”, but American Presidents have modified his apothegm. No one knows when it was first judged--How to put it? Not legal, no; not moral, no, surely not. Conceiveable..? Permissible..?--politically safe, for a nation to assassinate a human being, a foreign enemy. There is no record of that meeting of our government’s most powerful men--only such a group could plan so radical an action--when one of them first dared to say, “Suppose we kill him?”
Those souls shocked and wounded by our latest murder, need to know that meeting was not recent: didn’t happen under the Suppurating Pustule that infects the White House today, nor the charming Grand Bullshitter who preceded him, nor the aphasic buffoon before him. It was a century ago. There’s no dating it to a particular hit but it was certainly held before our deviously arranged murder of Sandino in Nicaragua in 1934.
For the last century the US government has made it its regular business to execute, or to buy the execution of, men it deemed geopolitically damned. There isn’t space here to review the long roster of America’s secret victims, nor any need for that. The uninformed need to take their own education in hand or continue mooing meekly down the chute toward who knows what end? Perhaps even their own date with the stungun.
by Moon Of Alabama
From: Medea Benjamin, CODEPINK
Sent: Sunday, January 12, 2020
Subject: To the people of Iran…
We join the world in mourning the horrific loss of lives from downed flight 752, and we hold Trump at least partially responsible for this accident since he provoked the dangerous crisis that led up to the crash. Unfortunately, Trump's manufactured crisis is far from over—he has announced even more brutal sanctions against Iran, deepening the suffering of millions of ordinary Iranians. We could be back at the brink of war at any moment.
Trump and his war-loving cronies are continuing to escalate with hateful threats and new forms of aggression. But, we have a plan: if we bring our call for peace directly inside Iran, we can show their people that ordinary Americans are not like Donald Trump, and that he does NOT represent us. Rather than war, we want PEACE!
The bigger we can make our call for peace through an open letter, the greater our chance of showing Iranians that Americans don’t stand with Trump. Add your name, and share it with EVERYONE. We will publish it in Iran and blast it all over social media on January 25, the International No War WIth Iran Day of Action.
Click to tell the people of Iran: Trump does not represent us!
Dear people of Iran,
We, the American people, are horrified by the actions of our government to provoke a war with you. From President Trump’s dangerous decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear agreement, to the crippling sanctions his administration has imposed, to the assassination of General Qasem Soleimani—President Trump and his administration have pushed our two nations to the brink of war.
Unlike our president, we do not want to provoke a war with your country—we want to live in peace and harmony with the people of Iran. We pledge to do everything in our power to stop the U.S. from carrying out further attacks on Iran and to end the brutal sanctions which have already caused immense suffering to millions of ordinary Iranian citizens.
Please accept our hand in friendship. May the peacemakers prevail over those who sow hatred and discord.
Last week the House voted for and passed a war powers resolution stating that without congressional approval, Trump cannot carry out a military strike on Iran. The Senate will vote on a companion resolution soon, but even though this is a necessary first step, it is far from enough. As Trump beats the drums of war, our voices are crucially needed to show to the people of Iran—and the world— our desires for peace!
While Trump, Mike Pompeo, Brian Hook, and others are demanding Iran “behave like a normal nation,” they are continuing to support and sell arms to the terrorist country of Saudi Arabia, a country that has created the largest humanitarian crisis on the planet in Yemen. What hypocrisy!
If we come together now, we can help make sure every Iranian citizen who hears Trump’s hateful rhetoric will also hear from us too. Add your name to CODEPINK’s open letter, and choose 10 friends to share it with. Let’s make our message of peace impossible to ignore!
Like we did when our government dragged us into war with Iraq, we at CODEPINK will stand up to the massive institutions that seek more wars for more profits. We will not back down. We have humanity, justice and the majority of people all over the world on our side. Join us in stopping the next war!
Les Mutins de Pangée
The Indian general strike and the global fight against communalism and war
Workers shout slogans during the general strike in Ahmadabad, India, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020 [Credit: AP Photo/Ajit Solanki]
by Keith Jones
Tens of millions of workers, youth and rural toilers participated in Wednesday’s all-India one-day general strike. They did so to voice their anger and opposition to the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, its pro-investor, pro-market policies—austerity, privatization, the promotion of “hire and fire” contract jobs, and massive corporate tax cuts—and its relentless promotion of Hindu communal reaction.
Broad sections of the working class joined the strike. They included workers in India’s globally connected auto industry, coal miners, jute plantation workers, and bus, truck and rickshaw drivers; bank and power
workers, and much of the extremely poorly paid, largely female workforce of the state-funded rural child care network (Anganwadi Services).
The strike’s strength, as would be expected in a diverse country of more than 1.3 billion people, varied across states and economic sectors. However, its overall impact was massive and demonstrated, albeit only in embryonic form, the immense social power of the working class.
Under conditions where the Modi government and its Hindu supremacist allies have been mounting one communal provocation after another, whipping up bellicose nationalism with war threats against Pakistan, and stoking all forms of reaction, the strike demonstrably united workers across all communal, caste and ethno-linguistic divides.
The strike underscored that when workers enter into struggle they do so as a class, cutting across the racial, ethnic, gender, and sexual “identities” promoted by the bourgeoisie and other privileged layers of the affluent upper-middle class.
The strikers specifically demanded the repeal of the BJP’s anti-Muslim Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the rescinding of the government’s plan to force all of India’s residents to “prove” their citizenship, which is transparently aimed at intimidating and harassing India’s Muslim minority.
Mass protests against the CAA have convulsed India since it was rushed through parliament last month. Pushed onto its backfoot, with its corporate media-cultivated image of invincibility shattered, the Modi regime has responded to the anti-CAA agitation with lethal violence. Across large swathes of India, it has repeatedly imposed blanket bans on all public gatherings of more than four people and suspensions of internet service.
Last Sunday, in an action clearly orchestrated by the BJP and its RSS allies, masked vigilantes brutally attacked students at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University while police stood down.
Reconciling Dr. King’s 1968 dream and our 2020 nightmare
by Bob Hennelly
Debt servitude, endless wars, and our economic turmoil was all prophesied by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
This upcoming Martin Luther King Jr. Day promises to be an especially sad one. As evinced by the deteriorating social circumstances both at home and around the world, we have done a poor job living up to his legacy.
And while we still have Dr. King’s prophetic voice as a beacon, it feels like we somehow went into reverse, deep into a dystopian wilderness since he died. By my calculation, we are about as far from the clearing of his “promised land” as we have been at any point in my 64 years.
From: David Segal, DemandProgress.org [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Saturday, January 11, 2020
Subject: Remembering Aaron
Today we remember Aaron Swartz
Tear gas vs. rocks: Anti-pension reform & Yellow Vests protests
get heated in France
Macron Scraps Proposal to Raise Retirement Age in France
by Adam Nossiter
From: Richard Greeman
Sent: Tuesday, January 14, 2020
Subject: French General Strike
FRANCE AT THE CROSSROADS
by Richard Greeman
(Montpellier, France. Jan. 13)
The nationwide general strike in France, now entering its record seventh week, seems to be approaching its crisis point. Despite savage police repression, over a million people are in the streets protesting President Macron’s proposed neo-liberal “reform” of France’s retirement system, established at the end of World War II and considered one of the best in the world. At bottom, what is at stake is a whole vision of what kind of society people want to live in – one based on cold market calculation or one based on human solidarity – and neither side shows any sign of willingness to compromise.
Now or Never?
On one side, the Macron government has staked its legitimacy on pushing through this key “reform” intact as a matter of principle, however unpopular. On the other side stand the striking railroad and transit workers, who are bearing the brunt of this conflict and have already sacrificed thousands of Euros in lost pay since the strike began last Dec. 5. After six weeks, they cannot accept the prospect of returning to work empty-handed, and they have set their sights high: withdrawal of the whole government project.
This looks like a “now or never” situation. Moreover, it seems clear that the transport workers mean business. When the government (and the union leaders) proposed a “truce” in the transport strike during the sacred Christmas/New Year vacation period, the rank and file voted to continue the struggle, and their leaders were obliged to eat their words.
Nor are the transport workers isolated, despite the inconvenience to commuters and other travelers. They have been joined by emergency-room nurses and doctors (who have been on strike for months over lack of beds, personnel and materials), public school teachers (protesting undemocratic and incomprehensible “reforms” to the national curriculum), lawyers and judges (visible in their judicial robes), and the dancers at the Paris Opera (visible in their tutus) among the other professions joining the strike.
Strikers and “Yellow Vests” Together
Along side the strikers, and quite visible among them, the so-called Yellow Vests are a crucial element. For over a year, they have been setting a “bad example” of self-organized, largely leaderless, social protest which captured the public imagination and through direct action in the streets won some real concessions from Macron in December 2018. This victory impressed the rank-and-file of the French organized labor movement, which after three months of disciplined, but limited, stop-and-go strikes in the Spring of 2018, failed utterly to wring any concessions and went back to work poor and empty-handed while Macron pushed through a series of neo-liberal privatizations and cuts in unemployment compensation. 
Although their numbers diminished, the Yellow Vests continued their spontaneous protests throughout 2019 despite savage government repression, distorted media coverage stressing Black Block violence, and snubbing on the part of the union leadership; but their “bad example” was not lost on the union rank and file. Today’s general strike was originally sparked last September by a spontaneous walkout by Paris subway workers, who, contrary to custom, spontaneously shut down the system without asking permission from their leaders and management.
Meanwhile, the Yellow Vests, initially suspicious of the unions but isolated in their struggle with Macron, had begun to seek “convergence” with the French labor movement. Finally, at the Yellow Vest national “Assembly of Assemblies” last November, their delegates voted near-unanimously to join the “unlimited general strike” proposed for Dec. 5 by the unions. Reversing his previous standoffishness, Philippe Martinez, head of the CGT labor federation, immediately welcomed their participation.
Today’s intractable nationwide confrontation over retirement – a sacred cow, like Social Security in the U.S. – is best understood as a deliberate provocation on the part of Macron, both in its form and its substance. There was no urgent reason for pension reform, nor for abolishing the venerable system outright and hastily replacing it from above with an abstract neo-liberal plan based on “universality.” The pension program was not in debt, and the alleged need to replace the twenty-odd “special” retirement funds –negotiated over the years with the representatives of different trades and professions –with a single “point system” in the name of fairness, efficiency and rationality was only a smokescreen.
In fact, these “special funds” cover only about one percent of retirees – a million or so miners, railroad workers, transit workers, sailors, ballet dancers and such – who get to retire early because of the physically or mentally taxing nature of their specific labors. (Even if you include the four million public employees as “special,” the figure rises to under 25%). Moreover, Macron has himself recently violated this principle of “universality” by giving special exceptions to the police and army (whom he cannot afford to alienate) and the ballerinas of the Opera (whom no one can imagine toe-dancing at the age of sixty).
Behind this confusing smokescreen of “fairness to all” is an old con: equalize benefits by reducing them to the lowest common denominator. Indeed, according to independent calculations, under Macron’s point system the average pension would be reduced by about 30%. And since these “points” would be calculated over the total lifetime number of years worked before retirement, rather than on the current criterion of 75% of the worker’ best or final years, Macron’s point system would particularly penalize those whose careers were irregular – for example women who took off years for child-care. Yet the government brazenly claims that women will be “the big winners” in this so-called reform!
A Pig in a Poke
However, the biggest con embodied in this point system is that the actual cash value of each accumulated point would only be calculated at the time of retirement. The sum in Euros would then be determined by the government then in power on the basis of the economic situation at that moment (for example in 2037 when the plan goes into full effect). Thus, under the present system, every school-teacher, railroad worker and clerk can calculate how much s/he will received when s/he retires at 62 and plan accordingly (for example opting for early retirement). Macron’s point system would leave her in total darkness until it is too late. His system resembles a gambling casino where you buy 10 chips for a certain amount (say 10 Euros each), place your bets, and later take your winning chips to the cashier’s window only to discover that your chips are now worth only 5 Euros each. Surprise! The house wins!
Today, thanks to their existing pension system, French people live on the average five years longer than other Europeans. Moreover, according to the N.Y. Times: “In France the poverty rate among those older than 65 is less than 5 percent, largely because of the pension system, while in the United States it approaches 20 percent, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. In France, life expectancy is increasing, while in the United States it is diminishing in significant sectors of the population.” And although the pro-government French media have presented Macron’s confused and confusing reform in the best possible light, it is a hard sell. So why change it?
Not an Ordinary President
When Emmanuel Macron took power in 2017, he vowed he would not be “an ordinary president.” From the beginning he has openly proclaimed his iron determination to revolutionize French society in order to bring it into line with the neo-liberal Thatcher/Reagan revolution of the 1980’s, and his methods have been authoritarian. He has imposed his program of privatizations and counter-reforms from above, mainly by decree, deliberately circumventing negotiations with “intermediate bodies” like the parliament, the political parties, the local authorities and above all the labor unions, who have traditionally been the “social partners” (official designation) of government along with the employers’ associations (who are Macron’s main base of support).
Backed by the mainstream media (controlled by the government and three big corporations) Macron has been so far largely successful in steam-rolling through his neo-liberal program, openly designed to improve French “competitivity” (i.e. corporate profits) by lowering living standards (thus increasing inequality). If successful, his proposed “reform” of pensions would open the gates to his ultimate goal, the “reform” of France’s socialized healthcare system (Medicare for all), already on the road to privatization. In taking on the railroad workers, Macron is following the 1980’s tactic of Iron Lady Thatcher, who inflicted an historic defeat on the Britishworking class by provoking a prolonged miners strike that exhausted their resources.
Naturally, all these moves have been unpopular, but until now Macron, whose executive style has been characterized as “imperial,” has been successful in dividing and destabilizing his opposition – if necessary through massive use of police violence. This has been the fate of the spontaneous movement of Yellow Vests, who have been subjected to routine beatings and tear-gas attacks as well as hundreds of serious injuries (including blindings, torn-off hands and several deaths) – all with police impunity and media cover-ups. Now the government’s savage repressive methods – condemned by the U.N. and the European Union – are being applied to strikers and union demonstrators traditionally tolerated by the forces of order in France.
This repression may turn out to be like throwing oil on the flames of conflict. On January 9, at the end of the peaceful, legal, mass marches (estimated half-million demonstrators nationwide), members of the particularly brutal BAC (Anti-Criminal Brigade) in Paris, Rouen and Lille were ordered to break off sections of the marches, surround them, inundate them with teargas, and then charge in among them with truncheons and flash-ball launchers fired at close range, resulting in 124 injuries (25 of them serious), and 980 sickened by gas.
These brutal attacks, which focused particularly on journalists and females (nurses and teachers) were captured on shocking videos, viewed millions of times on YouTube, but pooh-poohed by government spokesmen. Far from discouraging the strikers, this deliberate violence may only enrage them. And, what with the “bad example” of the Yellow Vests,” the labor leaders may not be able to reign them in.
The Center Cannot Hold
Why is Macron risking his prestige and his Presidency on this precarious face-off with the labor leadership, traditionally viewed as the compliant hand-maidens of the government on such occasions? Historians here recall that in 1936 Maurice Thorez, leader of Communist-affiliated CGT (General Confederation of Workers), brought the general strike and factory occupations to an end with the slogan “We must learn how to end a strike” and that at the Liberation of France in 1945 the same Thorez, fresh from Moscow, told the workers to “roll up your sleeves” and rebuild French capitalism before striking for socialism. Similarly in 1968, during the spontaneous student-worker uprising, the CGT negotiated a settlement with De Gaulle and literally dragged reluctant strikers back to work.
Not for nothing are today’s government-subsidized French unions officially designated as “social partners” (along with government and business), yet Macron, loyal to neo-liberal, Thatcherite doctrine, has consistently humiliated the CGT’s Martinez and the other union leaders and excluded them – along with the other “intermediary bodies – from the policy-making process.
Something’s Got to Give
France’s “not-an-ordinary-President” has from the beginning remained consistent with his vision of an imperial presidency. Although seen by many abroad as a “progressive,” Macron, like Trump, Putin, and other contemporary heads of state, adheres to the neo-liberal doctrine of “authoritarian democracy,” and he is apparently willing to stake his future, and the future of France, on subduing his popular opposition, particularly the unions, once and for all.
Thus, what is at stake today is not just a quarrel over pension rights, which would normally be negotiated and adjudicated through a political process including political parties, elected representatives, parliamentary coalitions and collective bargaining with labor, but a question of what kind of future society French people are going to live in: social-democratic or neo-liberal authoritarian. The seasoned Paris bureau chief of the NY Times Adam Nossiter put it simply in his revealing Jan. 9 article: “A fight between the rich and the poor amplified by 200 years of French history.”
A technocrat and former Rothschild banker, Macron rose to power unexpectedly in 2017 when the traditional Left and Right parties fell apart during the first round of the Presidential Election, leaving him alone as the lesser of two evils candidate in a face-off with the proto-fascist National Front of LePen. Considered “the President of the rich” by most French people, Macron must remain inflexible because he has nothing behind him but the Bourse (Stock Exchange), the MEDEF (Manufacturers’ Association), and the police.
On the other hand, as the struggle enters its seventh week, it occurs to me that if this were true general strike, if all the organized workers had walked out on December 5, if the railroads, the subways, the buses, the schools and the hospitals – not to mention the refineries and the electrical generators – had been shut down, it would all have been over in a few days.
But this is not the U.S. where in Sept-Oct. 2019, 48,000 members of the United Auto Workers recently shut down 50 General Motors plants for more than six weeks, and where not a single worker, not a single delivery of parts, not a single finished car crossed the picket lines until the strike was settled.
In France, there are no “union shops” much less closed shops, few if any strike funds, and as many as five different union federations competing for representation in a given industry. Here picket lines, where they exist, are purely informational, and anywhere from 10% to 90% of the workers may show up on the job on any given day during a strike. Today, for example, seven out of ten TGV high-speed bullet-trains were running as many railroad workers returned to the job to pay their bills while planning to go back on strike and join the demonstrations later in the week. How long can this go on?
“When in irresistible force meets an immovable object, something’s got to give,” goes the old saying, and a show-down seems to be in the offing. With his arrogant intransigence over the retirement issue, Macron is apparently risking his presidency on one throw of the dice. Only time will tell. And Macron may be betting that time is on his side, waiting for the movement to slowly peter out so as to push through his reforms later in the Spring.
Update: French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe’s much ballyhooed Jan. 12 declaration of a “provisionary” withdrawal of his proposal to extend the “pivotal” age of retirement from 62 to 64 is yet another smokescreen designed to divide the opposition and further prolong the struggle, as suggested above.
Although denounced as such by the CGT and other striking unions, the government’s promise was immediately accepted by the openly class-collaborationist (“moderate”) CFDT union, to their mutual advantage. The CFDT will now be included in the negotiations over the financing of the proposed point system, which the CFDT, having collaborated with previous governments in earlier neo-liberal reforms, supports.
Philippe’s declaration is obviously an empty promise, as there are only two ways of increasing the retirement fund: either by extending the number of years paid in or by increasing the amount annual contributions, which are shared by labor and management. And although labor has signaled its willingness to raise its dues, the MEDEF (manufacturers’ association) has adamantly refused to pay its share, ruling out the obvious solution to this manufactured crisis. Even if the official “pivotal” retirement age is retained, if the value of their pensions is reduced, employees will be obliged to continue working past age 62 in order to live.
 For details on 2018 strikes, please see my http://divergences.be/spip.php?article3348
 Please see https://newpol.org/french-unions-yellow-vests-converge-launch-general-strike-today/ by Richard Greeman.
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