Friday, August 18, 2017

Richard Spencer Might Be The Worst Person In America. But He Might Also Be Right About Israel

From the Forward

Naomi DannAugust 17, 2017

The images of Nazis and white supremacists marching in the streets of Charlottesville with torches chanting “blood and soil” shook me to my core. But so did something else that happened this week. In the aftermath of these acts of blatant racism and anti-Semitism, one of the march’s leaders, Richard Spencer, was invited onto Israeli TV. His words were chilling, but not for the reason I expected.

The Israeli TV host asked Spencer how he, a Jew, should feel about Spencer’s platform. What Spencer said was shocking:

“As an Israeli citizen, someone who understands your identity, who has a sense of nationhood and peoplehood and history and experience of the Jewish people, you should respect someone like me,” Spencer said. “I care about my people. I want us to have a secure homeland for us and ourselves, just like you want a secure homeland in Israel.” He told the Israeli host that he sees himself as “a white Zionist.”

This isn’t the first time Spencer has compared his disturbing white nationalist vision to the Zionist project. A few months ago, Spencer stunned a rabbi at an event in Texas when he said: “Do you really want radical inclusion into the State of Israel? And by that I mean radical inclusion. Maybe all of the Middle East could go move into Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. Would you really want that?”

The rabbi didn’t have an answer and he’s not the only one. This is what’s so chilling about Spencer’s comparison of white supremacy to Israel – not its anti-Semitism but the kernel of truth at its core. Richard Spencer, whose racist views are rightfully abhorred by the majority of the Jewish community, is holding a mirror up to Zionism and the reflection isn’t pretty.

Now, of course, the comparison is not literally true. For starters, we Jews have a recent history in which we really could have used a country willing to stand up for us. That’s the historical rationale for establishing a Jewish state and that distinguishes us fundamentally from white nationalists. White nationalists in the U.S. are not facing any kind of discrimination whatsoever, despite their belief that they are.

But still, there are ways in which Spencer’s description of Israel hits a little too close to home.

Looking at Israel today, we can see a state premised on the privileging of one group, and all too often perpetuating the erasure and displacement of another. We also see an obsession with demographics and the maintenance of an ethnic majority.

Then you have the demolition of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, the state sanctioning of Jewish settlers who seize Palestinian homes in Hebron, and the policy of seizing the property of “present absentees” after Palestinians were displaced during the war to establish the state of Israel are just some examples.

Then there’s the discrimination faced by Palestinian citizens of Israel (who should ostensibly have the same rights as Jewish Israelis), Mizrahi and Ethiopian Jews, and African refugees seeking asylum.

Many of us see these policies as alarming violations of human and civil rights, indeed, of our Jewish values. And the proof is in the pudding: Richard Spencer sees this as inspiration for his white nationalist vision.

But we don’t have to rely on Richard Spencer to tell us that there are other disturbing places of intersection. There is a disturbing alliance between Zionists and white nationalists in the White House these days, and it doesn’t come from nowhere. There is a shared bedrock of anxiety about demographics and racist and Islamophobic fear of “Arabs” that goes hand in hand with both worldviews.

And just like there are fascists marching the streets of America, there are fascists marching the streets of Israel beating up leftists. The alt-right are not the only ones being vile online, either. My friends report that they regularly receive death threats as a consequence of their activism. During the Israeli assault on Gaza in the summer of 2014, leftist Israeli friends who opposed the war reported being chased by fascist mobs on the streets of Jerusalem.

Even ex-prime minister Ehud Barak said this week that the events in Charlottesville reminded him of fascism in Israel. He cited the example of Lehava, an anti-miscegenation gang that frequently attacks Palestinians.

Let’s not let Richard Spencer be our mirror. Let’s work instead to challenge ethnic supremacy and right-wing violence, both here and in Israel.

That means taking active steps to oppose Israel’s occupation, working for human and civil rights in Israel, and joining the movement for racial justice in the U.S. as full partners, and challenging the ways our own institutions uphold discrimination.

For too long, Jewish institutions have focused on branding advocates for Palestinian rights, and critics of the state of Israel and Zionism itself, as anti-Semitic – to the detriment of the fights against both antisemitism and racism. The reactionary response from Jewish institutions to the Movement for Black Lives platform is a prime example of how this misguided reaction to criticism of Israel has prevented American Jewish communities from working alongside Black organizers to challenge both anti-Jewish oppression and systematic anti-Black racism.

The most promising solution to anti-Semitism lies in building relationships and coalitions, recognizing how our freedoms are bound up together with those of people who have fewer rights than us, and having those difficult conversations when conflicts arise. It requires challenging the institutions that uphold supremacy, together.

That is the work, and that will, at times, require us to hold up that mirror to ourselves and to our communities. Let’s do it together.

Naomi Dann is media manager at Jewish Voice for Peace.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.
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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Zionist-white supremacist alliance in Trump’s White House

Ali Abunimah Lobby Watch 15 August 2017

Pro-Israel billionaire Sheldon Adelson, center, and his wife Miriam speak with Trump advisor Steve Bannon at the president’s inauguration on 20 January 2017. Brian Snyder Reuters
A much-discussed article in The New York Times about pressure on President Donald Trump to fire his advisor Steve Bannon contains this intriguing sentence:

Mr. Bannon’s ability to hang on as Mr. Trump’s in-house populist is in part because of his connections to a handful of ultrarich political patrons, including Sheldon G. Adelson, the pro-Israel casino magnate who is based in Las Vegas.

As executive chairman of Breitbart News before joining the Trump campaign, Bannon transformed the right-wing outlet into what he described as the “the platform for the alt-right” – the collection of neo-Nazis, white supremacists and racists who have been the renewed focus of outrage since their violent rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday.

Israel’s silence
Bannon is widely viewed as the champion of the white supremacists – some of whom were openly parading with Nazi flags – and the reason why Trump did not explicitly condemn them immediately after one of their number, allegedly James Alex Fields, 20, rammed his car into counterdemonstrators killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring more than a dozen others.

Hence the renewed pressure on Trump to fire Bannon. But if Bannon supports the white supremacist and clearly anti-Semitic far-right, why does he enjoy the backing of Adelson?

The Las Vegas billionaire, as is well known, is a major financier of the US Republican Party and one of the biggest donors to pro-Israel organizations in the United States. Adelson has said he regrets serving in the US army, instead of Israel’s.

He is also a close ally of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – and that’s where the answer can be found.

Israeli leaders, including Netanyahu, have been conspicuously silent about Nazis rampaging in Charlottesville – all the more strange since Israel is usually quick to exploit international events to its advantage. (After three days of silence, Netanyahu finally, on Tuesday, tweeted a general condemnation of “anti-Semitism, neo-Nazism and racism” without specifically mentioning Charlottesville.)

Why is the “Jewish state” apparently so reluctant to speak out against Nazis?

Israel’s anti-Semitic alliances
While Israel purports to be the protector of Jews all over the world, Zionists historically made alliances with the world’s most lethal anti-Semites. Zionists and anti-Semites, after all, shared the analysis that Jews do not belong in Europe, so why not cooperate to transport them somewhere else – Palestine.

This odious alliance continues in updated form, as journalist Max Blumenthal observed:

A cornerstone of Israel’s policy today is to cement ties with other ultra-nationalist, racist and Islamophobic forces around the world – even if they are also anti-Semitic.

A striking example is Netanyahu’s own embrace of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, despite the latter’s recent praise for Viktor Horthy, the wartime ally of Hitler who oversaw the murder of 500,000 Holocaust victims.

Israel’s interests took precedence over the safety concerns of Hungarian Jews, as Netanyahu ordered his foreign ministry to tamp down criticism of Orban’s anti-Semitic dog whistles.

Notably, Richard Spencer, the neo-Nazi ideologue who wants to create an Aryan homeland in North America, has called his mission a “sort of white Zionism.” Spencer has ties to another senior White House advisor, Stephen Miller.

A similar ideological alliance prevails inside the White House. And Israel has guarded it: Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador in Washington, publicly defended Bannon in the days following last November’s election, after American Jewish groups strongly criticized Bannon’s appointment to a top position.

Ideology and convenience
But the Adelson-Bannon partnership is also one of convenience. The Adelson-backed Zionist Organization of America is waging a campaign against Trump’s National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, which aims to portray the army general as “hostile to Israel.”

McMaster also happens to be one of Bannon’s key opponents inside the White House.

Establishment Israel lobby figures, such as the Obama administration’s ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro, have leapt to McMaster’s defense:

Choose your war
There are substantive issue at stake. Part of Bannon’s ultra-nationalist “America First” agenda is opposing some US military interventions, particularly a renewed “surge” in Afghanistan that is supported by McMaster and US defense secretary James Mattis.

That is not Adelson’s – or Netanyahu’s interest – however. Bannon and other ultra-right figures including White House advisor Sebastian Gorka – have been key opponents of the international deal with Iran over its nuclear energy program. Blocking or undermining the Iran deal has been Netanyahu’s preoccupation for years.

Bannon and Gorka furiously opposed the State Department’s recent certification that Iran is in compliance with the terms of the agreement.

The Zionist Organization of America’s key allegation against McMaster is that he is too sympathetic towards Iran.

Reporting by The Forward revealed that Gorka is a member of a Hungarian far-right group that was controlled by the Nazis during the war, and has given backing to an anti-Semitic militia.

For those who support justice and oppose war and racism, there is no “side” to choose in this battle. On one side, you have the Bannon-Adelson faction pushing extreme Zionism, anti-Semitism, white supremacy and possible war with Iran. On the other, you have have the McMaster faction, backed by the DC establishment, which wants to perpetuate America’s existing imperial wars, starting with escalation in Afghanistan.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Democratic socialists give joyous thumbs up to BDS

Ali Abunimah Activism and BDS Beat 7 August 2017

The Democratic Socialists of America overwhelmingly voted to endorse the call for boycott, divestment and sanctions on Israel in support of the Palestinian liberation struggle.

This video shows delegates at the DSA conference in Chicago this weekend voting almost unanimously for the measure:

Demand what’s right
“Those who struggle against oppression and for equality will always have our support,” DSA deputy national director David Duhalde said in a press release.

“Just as we answered the call to boycott South Africa during apartheid, we stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people.”

“Democratic socialists aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo and demand what’s right,” Rawan Tayoon, a Palestinian activist with Young Democratic Socialists, said.

“We stand against imperialism, we stand against racism, and so we must stand against Israeli apartheid and occupation.”

Tayoon told The Electronic Intifada that the vote came after months of organizing by members.

She said she was moved by the celebratory spirit in the room when the moment came.

“I knew that it would pass because I had been working on it,” she said. “But people were not just voting for it, they were so happy to be voting for it and that was a surprise.”

DSA describes itself as the largest democratic socialist organization in the United States. With more than 25,000 members, it has seen its membership quadruple with the resurgence of left-wing politics in the US and Europe, particularly since the 2016 presidential campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders.

Old guard
The big vote for BDS is another mark of the ongoing generational change in views about Palestine.

The Democratic Socialists of America has traditionally been a bastion of left-wing Zionism and support for Israel.

One of the old guard expressed his dismay at the change. Eric Lee wrote in a blog post that he is resigning over the BDS vote after being involved with the group over 40 years, including a stint on DSA’s national board.

Echoing talking points from Israel and its lobby groups, Lee wrote that he considers the BDS movement to be “anti-Semitic and racist.”

Lee complained that in a video he saw of the conference some delegates were chanting “Palestine will be free, from the river to the sea.”

“I also saw at least one Palestinian flag being waved in celebration,” he wrote.

Born in the US, Lee previously lived in Israel. Now based in the UK, he helped organize American supporters of Bernie Sanders there during last year’s election. Lee has also worked to try to thwart support for BDS in the British trade union movement.

Other smears from Israel’s surrogates included a claim in The Jerusalem Post that the vote was held on Saturday as a deliberate “tactic” to exclude Jews who observe Shabbat.

The right-wing, pro-Israel blog Legal Insurrection claimed that young socialists support Palestinian liberation because they are motivated by anti-Semitism and by the “now-fashionable doctrine of intersectionality” in which “Israel is held out as the unique connecting force among capitalist and American-imperialist evils.”

Lobby groups have previously complained that intersectionality – a perspective that links struggles for liberation among oppressed peoples – is a threat to support for Israel.

Challenge to censorship
The DSA vote comes after recent decisions by several churches to endorse boycott and divestment and other measures in support of Palestinian rights.

The vote also sends a strong message to lawmakers that efforts at censorship, backed by the Israel lobby, are not slowing the growth of the movement.

Friday, August 11, 2017

A New Report Raises Big Questions About Last Year’s DNC Hack

Former NSA experts say it wasn’t a hack at all, but a leak—an inside job by someone with access to the DNC’s system.
By Patrick LawrenceTwitter AUGUST 9, 2017
The Democratic National Committee headquarters, October 27, 2016. (Sipa via AP Images)

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Editor’s note: After publication, the Democratic National Committee contacted The Nation with a response, writing, “U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded the Russian government hacked the DNC in an attempt to interfere in the election. Any suggestion otherwise is false and is just another conspiracy theory like those pushed by Trump and his administration. It’s unfortunate that The Nation has decided to join the conspiracy theorists to push this narrative.”

It is now a year since the Democratic National Committee’s mail system was compromised—a year since events in the spring and early summer of 2016 were identified as remote hacks and, in short order, attributed to Russians acting in behalf of Donald Trump. A great edifice has been erected during this time. President Trump, members of his family, and numerous people around him stand accused of various corruptions and extensive collusion with Russians. Half a dozen simultaneous investigations proceed into these matters. Last week news broke that Special Counsel Robert Mueller had convened a grand jury, which issued its first subpoenas on August 3. Allegations of treason are common; prominent political figures and many media cultivate a case for impeachment.

The president’s ability to conduct foreign policy, notably but not only with regard to Russia, is now crippled. Forced into a corner and having no choice, Trump just signed legislation imposing severe new sanctions on Russia and European companies working with it on pipeline projects vital to Russia’s energy sector. Striking this close to the core of another nation’s economy is customarily considered an act of war, we must not forget. In retaliation, Moscow has announced that the United States must cut its embassy staff by roughly two-thirds. All sides agree that relations between the United States and Russia are now as fragile as they were during some of the Cold War’s worst moments. To suggest that military conflict between two nuclear powers inches ever closer can no longer be dismissed as hyperbole.


We are urged to accept the word of institutions and senior officials with long records of deception.
All this was set in motion when the DNC’s mail server was first violated in the spring of 2016 and by subsequent assertions that Russians were behind that “hack” and another such operation, also described as a Russian hack, on July 5. These are the foundation stones of the edifice just outlined. The evolution of public discourse in the year since is worthy of scholarly study: Possibilities became allegations, and these became probabilities. Then the probabilities turned into certainties, and these evolved into what are now taken to be established truths. By my reckoning, it required a few days to a few weeks to advance from each of these stages to the next. This was accomplished via the indefensibly corrupt manipulations of language repeated incessantly in our leading media.

Lost in a year that often appeared to veer into our peculiarly American kind of hysteria is the absence of any credible evidence of what happened last year and who was responsible for it. It is tiresome to note, but none has been made available. Instead, we are urged to accept the word of institutions and senior officials with long records of deception. These officials profess “high confidence” in their “assessment” as to what happened in the spring and summer of last year—this standing as their authoritative judgment. Few have noticed since these evasive terms first appeared that an assessment is an opinion, nothing more, and to express high confidence is an upside-down way of admitting the absence of certain knowledge. This is how officials avoid putting their names on the assertions we are so strongly urged to accept—as the record shows many of them have done.

We come now to a moment of great gravity.

There has been a long effort to counter the official narrative we now call “Russiagate.” This effort has so far focused on the key events noted above, leaving numerous others still to be addressed. Until recently, researchers undertaking this work faced critical shortcomings, and these are to be explained. But they have achieved significant new momentum in the past several weeks, and what they have done now yields very consequential fruit. Forensic investigators, intelligence analysts, system designers, program architects, and computer scientists of long experience and strongly credentialed are now producing evidence disproving the official version of key events last year. Their work is intricate and continues at a kinetic pace as we speak. But its certain results so far are two, simply stated, and freighted with implications:


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There was no hack of the Democratic National Committee’s system on July 5 last year—not by the Russians, not by anyone else. Hard science now demonstrates it was a leak—a download executed locally with a memory key or a similarly portable data-storage device. In short, it was an inside job by someone with access to the DNC’s system. This casts serious doubt on the initial “hack,” as alleged, that led to the very consequential publication of a large store of documents on WikiLeaks last summer.
Forensic investigations of documents made public two weeks prior to the July 5 leak by the person or entity known as Guccifer 2.0 show that they were fraudulent: Before Guccifer posted them they were adulterated by cutting and pasting them into a blank template that had Russian as its default language. Guccifer took responsibility on June 15 for an intrusion the DNC reported on June 14 and professed to be a WikiLeaks source—claims essential to the official narrative implicating Russia in what was soon cast as an extensive hacking operation. To put the point simply, forensic science now devastates this narrative.
This article is based on an examination of the documents these forensic experts and intelligence analysts have produced, notably the key papers written over the past several weeks, as well as detailed interviews with many of those conducting investigations and now drawing conclusions from them. Before proceeding into this material, several points bear noting.

One, there are many other allegations implicating Russians in the 2016 political process. The work I will now report upon does not purport to prove or disprove any of them. Who delivered documents to WikiLeaks? Who was responsible for the “phishing” operation penetrating John Podesta’s e-mail in March 2016? We do not know the answers to such questions. It is entirely possible, indeed, that the answers we deserve and must demand could turn out to be multiple: One thing happened in one case, another thing in another. The new work done on the mid-June and July 5 events bears upon all else in only one respect. We are now on notice: Given that we now stand face to face with very considerable cases of duplicity, it is imperative that all official accounts of these many events be subject to rigorously skeptical questioning. Do we even know that John Podesta’s e-mail address was in fact “phished”? What evidence of this has been produced? Such rock-bottom questions as these must now be posed in all other cases.

Forensic investigators, prominent among them people with decades’ experience at high levels in our national-security institutions, have put a body of evidence on a table previously left empty.
Two, houses built on sand and made of cards are bound to collapse, and there can be no surprise that the one resting atop the “hack theory,” as we can call the prevailing wisdom on the DNC events, appears to be in the process of doing so. Neither is there anything far-fetched in a reversal of the truth of this magnitude. American history is replete with similar cases. The Spanish sank the Maine in Havana harbor in February 1898. Iran’s Mossadegh was a Communist. Guatemala’s Árbenz represented a Communist threat to the United States. Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh was a Soviet puppet. The Sandinistas were Communists. The truth of the Maine, a war and a revolution in between, took a century to find the light of day, whereupon the official story disintegrated. We can do better now. It is an odd sensation to live through one of these episodes, especially one as big as Russiagate. But its place atop a long line of precedents can no longer be disputed.

Three, regardless of what one may think about the investigations and conclusions I will now outline—and, as noted, these investigations continue—there is a bottom line attaching to them. We can even call it a red line. Under no circumstance can it be acceptable that the relevant authorities—the National Security Agency, the Justice Department (via the Federal Bureau of Investigation), and the Central Intelligence Agency—leave these new findings without reply. Not credibly, in any case. Forensic investigators, prominent among them people with decades’ experience at high levels in these very institutions, have put a body of evidence on a table previously left empty. Silence now, should it ensue, cannot be written down as an admission of duplicity, but it will come very close to one.

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It requires no elaboration to apply the above point to the corporate media, which have been flaccidly satisfied with official explanations of the DNC matter from the start.

Qualified experts working independently of one another began to examine the DNC case immediately after the July 2016 events. Prominent among these is a group comprising former intelligence officers, almost all of whom previously occupied senior positions. Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), founded in 2003, now has 30 members, including a few associates with backgrounds in national-security fields other than intelligence. The chief researchers active on the DNC case are four: William Binney, formerly the NSA’s technical director for world geopolitical and military analysis and designer of many agency programs now in use; Kirk Wiebe, formerly a senior analyst at the NSA’s SIGINT Automation Research Center; Edward Loomis, formerly technical director in the NSA’s Office of Signal Processing; and Ray McGovern, an intelligence analyst for nearly three decades and formerly chief of the CIA’s Soviet Foreign Policy Branch. Most of these men have decades of experience in matters concerning Russian intelligence and the related technologies. This article reflects numerous interviews with all of them conducted in person, via Skype, or by telephone.

The customary VIPS format is an open letter, typically addressed to the president. The group has written three such letters on the DNC incident, all of which were first published by Robert Parry at Here is the latest, dated July 24; it blueprints the forensic work this article explores in detail. They have all argued that the hack theory is wrong and that a locally executed leak is the far more likely explanation. In a letter to Barack Obama dated January 17, three days before he left office, the group explained that the NSA’s known programs are fully capable of capturing all electronic transfers of data. “We strongly suggest that you ask NSA for any evidence it may have indicating that the results of Russian hacking were given to WikiLeaks,” the letter said. “If NSA cannot produce such evidence—and quickly—this would probably mean it does not have any.”

The day after Parry published this letter, Obama gave his last press conference as president, at which he delivered one of the great gems among the official statements on the DNC e-mail question. “The conclusions of the intelligence community with respect to the Russian hacking,” the legacy-minded Obama said, “were not conclusive.” There is little to suggest the VIPS letter prompted this remark, but it is typical of the linguistic tap-dancing many officials connected to the case have indulged so as to avoid putting their names on the hack theory and all that derives from it.

Until recently there was a serious hindrance to the VIPS’s work, and I have just suggested it. The group lacked access to positive data. It had no lump of cyber-material to place on its lab table and analyze, because no official agency had provided any.

Donald Rumsfeld famously argued with regard to the WMD question in Iraq, “The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” In essence, Binney and others at VIPS say this logic turns upside down in the DNC case: Based on the knowledge of former officials such as Binney, the group knew that (1) if there was a hack and (2) if Russia was responsible for it, the NSA would have to have evidence of both. Binney and others surmised that the agency and associated institutions were hiding the absence of evidence behind the claim that they had to maintain secrecy to protect NSA programs. “Everything that they say must remain classified is already well-known,” Binney said in an interview. “They’re playing the Wizard of Oz game.”

Research into the DNC case took a fateful turn in early July, when forensic investigators who had been working independently began to share findings and form loose collaborations.
New findings indicate this is perfectly true, but until recently the VIPS experts could produce only “negative evidence,” as they put it: The absence of evidence supporting the hack theory demonstrates that it cannot be so. That is all VIPS had. They could allege and assert, but they could not conclude: They were stuck demanding evidence they did not have—if only to prove there was none.

Research into the DNC case took a fateful turn in early July, when forensic investigators who had been working independently began to share findings and form loose collaborations wherein each could build on the work of others. In this a small, new website called proved an important catalyst. Two independent researchers selected it, Snowden-like, as the medium through which to disclose their findings. One of these is known as Forensicator and the other as Adam Carter. On July 9, Adam Carter sent Elizabeth Vos, a co-founder of Disobedient Media, a paper by the Forensicator that split the DNC case open like a coconut.

By this time Binney and the other technical-side people at VIPS had begun working with a man named Skip Folden. Folden was an IT executive at IBM for 33 years, serving 25 years as the IT program manager in the United States. He has also consulted for Pentagon officials, the FBI, and the Justice Department. Folden is effectively the VIPS group’s liaison to Forensicator, Adam Carter, and other investigators, but neither Folden nor anyone else knows the identity of either Forensicator or Adam Carter. This bears brief explanation.

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The Forensicator’s July 9 document indicates he lives in the Pacific Time Zone, which puts him on the West Coast. His notes describing his investigative procedures support this. But little else is known of him. Adam Carter, in turn, is located in England, but the name is a coy pseudonym: It derives from a character in a BBC espionage series called Spooks. It is protocol in this community, Elizabeth Vos told me in a telephone conversation this week, to respect this degree of anonymity. Kirk Wiebe, the former SIGINT analyst at the NSA, thinks Forensicator could be “someone very good with the FBI,” but there is no certainty. Unanimously, however, all the analysts and forensics investigators interviewed for this column say Forensicator’s advanced expertise, evident in the work he has done, is unassailable. They hold a similarly high opinion of Adam Carter’s work.

Forensicator is working with the documents published by Guccifer 2.0, focusing for now on the July 5 intrusion into the DNC server. The contents of Guccifer’s files are known—they were published last September—and are not Forensicator’s concern. His work is with the metadata on those files. These data did not come to him via any clandestine means. Forensicator simply has access to them that others did not have. It is this access that prompts Kirk Wiebe and others to suggest that Forensicator may be someone with exceptional talent and training inside an agency such as the FBI. “Forensicator unlocked and then analyzed what had been the locked files Guccifer supposedly took from the DNC server,” Skip Folden explained in an interview. “To do this he would have to have ‘access privilege,’ meaning a key.”

Forensicator’s first decisive findings, made public on July 9, concerned the volume of the supposedly hacked material and what is called the transfer rate.
What has Forensicator proven since he turned his key? How? What has work done atop Forensicator’s findings proven? How?

Forensicator’s first decisive findings, made public in the paper dated July 9, concerned the volume of the supposedly hacked material and what is called the transfer rate—the time a remote hack would require. The metadata established several facts in this regard with granular precision: On the evening of July 5, 2016, 1,976 megabytes of data were downloaded from the DNC’s server. The operation took 87 seconds. This yields a transfer rate of 22.7 megabytes per second.

Time stamps in the metadata indicate the download occurred somewhere on the East Coast of the United States—not Russia, Romania, or anywhere else outside the EDT zone.
These statistics are matters of record and essential to disproving the hack theory. No Internet service provider, such as a hacker would have had to use in mid-2016, was capable of downloading data at this speed. Compounding this contradiction, Guccifer claimed to have run his hack from Romania, which, for numerous reasons technically called delivery overheads, would slow down the speed of a hack even further from maximum achievable speeds.

What is the maximum achievable speed? Forensicator recently ran a test download of a comparable data volume (and using a server speed not available in 2016) 40 miles from his computer via a server 20 miles away and came up with a speed of 11.8 megabytes per second—half what the DNC operation would need were it a hack. Other investigators have built on this finding. Folden and Edward Loomis say a survey published August 3, 2016, by is highly reliable and use it as their thumbnail index. It indicated that the highest average ISP speeds of first-half 2016 were achieved by Xfinity and Cox Communications. These speeds averaged 15.6 megabytes per second and 14.7 megabytes per second, respectively. Peak speeds at higher rates were recorded intermittently but still did not reach the required 22.7 megabytes per second.

“A speed of 22.7 megabytes is simply unobtainable, especially if we are talking about a transoceanic data transfer,” Folden said. “Based on the data we now have, what we’ve been calling a hack is impossible.” Last week Forensicator reported on a speed test he conducted more recently. It tightens the case considerably. “Transfer rates of 23 MB/s (Mega Bytes per second) are not just highly unlikely, but effectively impossible to accomplish when communicating over the Internet at any significant distance,” he wrote. “Further, local copy speeds are measured, demonstrating that 23 MB/s is a typical transfer rate when using a USB–2 flash device (thumb drive).”

“It’s clear,” another forensics investigator wrote, “that metadata was deliberately altered and documents were deliberately pasted into a Russianified [W]ord document with Russian language settings and style headings.”
Time stamps in the metadata provide further evidence of what happened on July 5. The stamps recording the download indicate that it occurred in the Eastern Daylight Time Zone at approximately 6:45 pm. This confirms that the person entering the DNC system was working somewhere on the East Coast of the United States. In theory the operation could have been conducted from Bangor or Miami or anywhere in between—but not Russia, Romania, or anywhere else outside the EDT zone. Combined with Forensicator’s findings on the transfer rate, the time stamps constitute more evidence that the download was conducted locally, since delivery overheads—conversion of data into packets, addressing, sequencing times, error checks, and the like—degrade all data transfers conducted via the Internet, more or less according to the distance involved.

In addition, there is the adulteration of the documents Guccifer 2.0 posted on June 15, when he made his first appearance. This came to light when researchers penetrated what Folden calls Guccifer’s top layer of metadata and analyzed what was in the layers beneath. They found that the first five files Guccifer made public had each been run, via ordinary cut-and-paste, through a single template that effectively immersed them in what could plausibly be cast as Russian fingerprints. They were not: The Russian markings were artificially inserted prior to posting. “It’s clear,” another forensics investigator self-identified as HET, wrote in a report on this question, “that metadata was deliberately altered and documents were deliberately pasted into a Russianified [W]ord document with Russian language settings and style headings.”

To be noted in this connection: The list of the CIA’s cyber-tools WikiLeaks began to release in March and labeled Vault 7 includes one called Marble that is capable of obfuscating the origin of documents in false-flag operations and leaving markings that point to whatever the CIA wants to point to. (The tool can also “de-obfuscate” what it has obfuscated.) It is not known whether this tool was deployed in the Guccifer case, but it is there for such a use.

It is not yet clear whether documents now shown to have been leaked locally on July 5 were tainted to suggest Russian hacking in the same way the June 15 Guccifer release was. This is among several outstanding questions awaiting answers, and the forensic scientists active on the DNC case are now investigating it. In a note Adam Carter sent to Folden and McGovern last week and copied to me, he reconfirmed the corruption of the June 15 documents, while indicating that his initial work on the July 5 documents—of which much more is to be done—had not yet turned up evidence of doctoring.

In the meantime, VIPS has assembled a chronology that imposes a persuasive logic on the complex succession of events just reviewed. It is this:

On June 12 last year, Julian Assange announced that WikiLeaks had and would publish documents pertinent to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
On June 14, CrowdStrike, a cyber-security firm hired by the DNC, announced, without providing evidence, that it had found malware on DNC servers and had evidence that Russians were responsible for planting it.
On June 15, Guccifer 2.0 first appeared, took responsibility for the “hack” reported on June 14 and claimed to be a WikiLeaks source. It then posted the adulterated documents just described.
On July 5, Guccifer again claimed he had remotely hacked DNC servers, and the operation was instantly described as another intrusion attributable to Russia. Virtually no media questioned this account.
It does not require too much thought to read into this sequence. With his June 12 announcement, Assange effectively put the DNC on notice that it had a little time, probably not much, to act preemptively against the imminent publication of damaging documents. Did the DNC quickly conjure Guccifer from thin air to create a cyber-saboteur whose fingers point to Russia? There is no evidence of this one way or the other, but emphatically it is legitimate to pose the question in the context of the VIPS chronology. WikiLeaks began publishing on July 22. By that time, the case alleging Russian interference in the 2016 elections process was taking firm root. In short order Assange would be written down as a “Russian agent.”

By any balanced reckoning, the official case purporting to assign a systematic hacking effort to Russia, the events of mid-June and July 5 last year being the foundation of this case, is shabby to the point taxpayers should ask for their money back. The Intelligence Community Assessment, the supposedly definitive report featuring the “high confidence” dodge, was greeted as farcically flimsy when issued January 6. Ray McGovern calls it a disgrace to the intelligence profession. It is spotlessly free of evidence, front to back, pertaining to any events in which Russia is implicated. James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, admitted in May that “hand-picked” analysts from three agencies (not the 17 previously reported) drafted the ICA. There is a way to understand “hand-picked” that is less obvious than meets the eye: The report was sequestered from rigorous agency-wide reviews. This is the way these people have spoken to us for the past year.

Behind the ICA lie other indefensible realities. The FBI has never examined the DNC’s computer servers—an omission that is beyond preposterous. It has instead relied on the reports produced by Crowdstrike, a firm that drips with conflicting interests well beyond the fact that it is in the DNC’s employ. Dmitri Alperovitch, its co-founder and chief technology officer, is on the record as vigorously anti-Russian. He is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, which suffers the same prejudice. Problems such as this are many.

“We continue to stand by our report,” CrowdStrike said, upon seeing the VIPS blueprint of the investigation. CrowdStrike argues that by July 5 all malware had been removed from the DNC’s computers. But the presence or absence of malware by that time is entirely immaterial, because the event of July 5 is proven to have been a leak and not a hack. Given that malware has nothing to do with leaks, CrowdStrike’s logic appears to be circular.

In effect, the new forensic evidence considered here lands in a vacuum. We now enter a period when an official reply should be forthcoming. What the forensic people are now producing constitutes evidence, however one may view it, and it is the first scientifically derived evidence we have into any of the events in which Russia has been implicated. The investigators deserve a response, the betrayed professionals who formed VIPS as the WMD scandal unfolded in 2003 deserve it, and so do the rest of us. The cost of duplicity has rarely been so high.

I concluded each of the interviews conducted for this column by asking for a degree of confidence in the new findings. These are careful, exacting people as a matter of professional training and standards, and I got careful, exacting replies.

All those interviewed came in between 90 percent and 100 percent certain that the forensics prove out. I have already quoted Skip Folden’s answer: impossible based on the data. “The laws of physics don’t lie,” Ray McGovern volunteered at one point. “It’s QED, theorem demonstrated,” William Binney said in response to my question. “There’s no evidence out there to get me to change my mind.” When I asked Edward Loomis, a 90 percent man, about the 10 percent he held out, he replied, “I’ve looked at the work and it shows there was no Russian hack. But I didn’t do the work. That’s the 10 percent. I’m a scientist.”

Editor’s note: In its chronology, VIPS mistakenly gave the wrong date for CrowdStrike’s announcement of its claim to have found malware on DNC servers. It said June 15, when it should have said June 14. VIPS has acknowledged the error, and we have made the correction.

Patrick LawrenceTWITTERPatrick Lawrence is a longtime columnist, essayist, critic, and lecturer, whose most recent books are Somebody Else’s Century: East and West in a Post-Western World and Time No Longer: America After the American Century. His website is

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Tomgram: Andrew Bacevich, The Great Hysteria

Posted by Andrew Bacevich at 6:10am, August 8, 2017.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch.

“Through the National Revolution its people were purged of alien diseases and America became American again.” So ends A Cool Million, Nathanael West’s now largely forgotten skewering of classic American rags-to-riches stories. Beginning like a pluck-and-luck Horatio Alger tale, West’s very own “Ragged Dick” -- Lemuel Pitkin -- is mercilessly brutalized over the course of 100 pages, losing his money, his mother’s home, his teeth, an eye, a thumb, a leg, his scalp, and by the end of the absurdist novella his life. My yellowed 1976 paperback of The Collected Works of Nathanael West calls it a “Candide-like satire,” but on recently rereading it, I was struck by how much of the story -- including that near-last line -- had age-of-Trump overtones to it.

So you can add A Cool Million to a list of older works, including George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here, and Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism, that might have something to offer in grasping the nature of our present moment. “Obviously, no book is a perfect analogy for the complex events playing out in American politics and around the world,” Sophie Gilbert wrote in a January roundup of such books for The Atlantic. “But for readers, historical works can offer insight into recurring societal trends, as well as reassurance that this moment isn’t unprecedented.”

In his article today, TomDispatch regular Andrew Bacevich suggests another author worth revisiting -- novelist John Updike -- and a caution against worrying too much about President Trump and not nearly enough about the culture, the society, the country, and the people who put him in the White House. “Trump is not cause, but consequence,” writes Bacevich tellingly.

Toward the end of A Cool Million, Lemuel Pitkin scores a vaudeville gig in which he buys newspapers each day and fashions them into clubs. With them, nightly, two comedians “beat him violently over the head and body” while telling jokes, before finally employing a huge mallet (labeled “The Works”) to “demolish” him and bring down the house. “His toupee flew off, his eye and teeth popped out, and his wooden leg was knocked into the audience” to a chorus of guffaws, writes West of this sick form of entertainment for a deeply sick society.

Called upon to aid a rebellion he had helped foster in an earlier stage, Pitkin is soon publicly felled by an assassin’s bullet, becoming a martyr and so ushering the National Revolutionary Party, a fascist-style group, to power in America. Trump’s path to the presidency may have been slightly less absurd but, as Bacevich suggests, it also stems from an increasingly sick society. Luckily, Bacevich offers a possible remedy to the current age, although it’s one he’s not certain you’ll like. Read his piece -- and prescriptions -- at your own risk! Nick Turse

Slouching Toward Mar-a-Lago
The Post-Cold-War Consensus Collapses
By Andrew J. Bacevich

Like it or not, the president of the United States embodies America itself. The individual inhabiting the White House has become the preeminent symbol of who we are and what we represent as a nation and a people. In a fundamental sense, he is us.

It was not always so. Millard Fillmore, the 13th president (1850-1853), presided over but did not personify the American republic. He was merely the federal chief executive. Contemporary observers did not refer to his term in office as the Age of Fillmore. With occasional exceptions, Abraham Lincoln in particular, much the same could be said of Fillmore’s successors. They brought to office low expectations, which they rarely exceeded. So when Chester A. Arthur (1881-1885) or William Howard Taft (1909-1913) left the White House, there was no rush to immortalize them by erecting gaudy shrines -- now known as “presidential libraries” -- to the glory of their presidencies. In those distant days, ex-presidents went back home or somewhere else where they could find work.

Over the course of the past century, all that has changed. Ours is a republic that has long since taken on the trappings of a monarchy, with the president inhabiting rarified space as our king-emperor. The Brits have their woman in Buckingham Palace. We have our man in the White House.

Nominally, the Constitution assigns responsibilities and allocates prerogatives to three co-equal branches of government. In practice, the executive branch enjoys primacy. Prompted by a seemingly endless series of crises since the Great Depression and World War II, presidents have accumulated ever-greater authority, partly through usurpation, but more often than not through forfeiture.

At the same time, they also took on various extra-constitutional responsibilities. By the beginning of the present century, Americans took it for granted that the occupant of the Oval Office should function as prophet, moral philosopher, style-setter, interpreter of the prevailing zeitgeist, and -- last but hardly least -- celebrity-in-chief. In short, POTUS was the bright star at the center of the American solar system.

As recently as a year ago, few saw in this cult of the presidency cause for complaint. On odd occasions, some particularly egregious bit of executive tomfoolery might trigger grumbling about an “imperial presidency.” Yet rarely did such complaints lead to effective remedial action. The War Powers Resolution of 1973 might be considered the exception that proves the rule. Inspired by the disaster of the Vietnam War and intended to constrain presidents from using force without congressional buy-in and support, that particular piece of legislation ranks alongside the Volstead Act of 1919 (enacted to enforce Prohibition) as among the least effective ever to become law.

In truth, influential American institutions -- investment banks and multinational corporations, churches and universities, big city newspapers and TV networks, the bloated national security apparatus and both major political parties -- have found reason aplenty to endorse a system that elevates the president to the status of demigod. By and large, it’s been good for business, whatever that business happens to be.

Furthermore, it’s our president -- not some foreign dude -- who is, by common consent, the most powerful person in the universe. For inhabitants of a nation that considers itself both “exceptional” and “indispensable,” this seems only right and proper. So Americans generally like it that their president is the acknowledged Leader of the Free World rather than some fresh-faced pretender from France or Canada.

Then came the Great Hysteria. Arriving with a Pearl Harbor-like shock, it erupted on the night of November 8, 2016, just as the news that Hillary Clinton was losing Florida and appeared certain to lose much else besides became apparent.

Suddenly, all the habits and precedents that had contributed to empowering the modern American presidency no longer made sense. That a single deeply flawed individual along with a handful of unelected associates and family members should be entrusted with determining the fate of the planet suddenly seemed the very definition of madness.

Emotion-laden upheavals producing behavior that is not entirely rational are hardly unknown in the American experience. Indeed, they recur with some frequency. The Great Awakenings of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries are examples of the phenomenon. So also are the two Red Scares of the twentieth century, the first in the early 1920s and the second, commonly known as “McCarthyism,” coinciding with the onset of the Cold War.

Yet the response to Donald Trump’s election, combining as it has fear, anger, bewilderment, disgust, and something akin to despair, qualifies as an upheaval without precedent. History itself had seemingly gone off the rails. The crude Andrew Jackson’s 1828 ousting of an impeccably pedigreed president, John Quincy Adams, was nothing compared to the vulgar Donald Trump’s defeat of an impeccably credentialed graduate of Wellesley and Yale who had served as first lady, United States senator, and secretary of state. A self-evidently inconceivable outcome -- all the smart people agreed on that point -- had somehow happened anyway.

A vulgar, bombastic, thrice-married real-estate tycoon and reality TV host as prophet, moral philosopher, style-setter, interpreter of the prevailing zeitgeist, and chief celebrity? The very idea seemed both absurd and intolerable.

If we have, as innumerable commentators assert, embarked upon the Age of Trump, the defining feature of that age might well be the single-minded determination of those horrified and intent on ensuring its prompt termination. In 2016, TIME magazine chose Trump as its person of the year. In 2017, when it comes to dominating the news, that “person” might turn out to be a group -- all those fixated on cleansing the White House of Trump’s defiling presence.

Egged on and abetted in every way by Trump himself, the anti-Trump resistance has made itself the Big Story. Lies, hate, collusion, conspiracy, fascism: rarely has the everyday vocabulary of American politics been as ominous and forbidding as over the past six months. Take resistance rhetoric at face value and you might conclude that Donald Trump is indeed the fifth horseman of the Apocalypse, his presence in the presidential saddle eclipsing all other concerns. Pestilence, War, Famine, and Death will just have to wait.

The unspoken assumption of those most determined to banish him from public life appears to be this: once he’s gone, history will be returned to its intended path, humankind will breathe a collective sigh of relief, and all will be well again. Yet such an assumption strikes me as remarkably wrongheaded -- and not merely because, should Trump prematurely depart from office, Mike Pence will succeed him. Expectations that Trump’s ouster will restore normalcy ignore the very factors that first handed him the Republican nomination (with a slew of competitors wondering what hit them) and then put him in the Oval Office (with a vastly more seasoned and disciplined, if uninspiring, opponent left to bemoan the injustice of it all).

Not all, but many of Trump’s supporters voted for him for the same reason that people buy lottery tickets: Why not? In their estimation, they had little to lose. Their loathing of the status quo is such that they may well stick with Trump even as it becomes increasingly obvious that his promise of salvation -- an America made “great again” -- is not going to materialize.

Yet those who imagine that Trump’s removal will put things right are likewise deluding themselves. To persist in thinking that he defines the problem is to commit an error of the first order. Trump is not cause, but consequence.

For too long, the cult of the presidency has provided an excuse for treating politics as a melodrama staged at four-year intervals and centering on hopes of another Roosevelt or Kennedy or Reagan appearing as the agent of American deliverance. Donald Trump’s ascent to the office once inhabited by those worthies should demolish such fantasies once and for all.

How is it that someone like Trump could become president in the first place? Blame sexism, Fox News, James Comey, Russian meddling, and Hillary’s failure to visit Wisconsin all you want, but a more fundamental explanation is this: the election of 2016 constituted a de facto referendum on the course of recent American history. That referendum rendered a definitive judgment: the underlying consensus informing U.S. policy since the end of the Cold War has collapsed. Precepts that members of the policy elite have long treated as self-evident no longer command the backing or assent of the American people. Put simply: it’s the ideas, stupid.

Rabbit Poses a Question

“Without the Cold War, what’s the point of being an American?” As the long twilight struggle was finally winding down, Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, novelist John Updike’s late-twentieth-century Everyman, pondered that question. In short order, Rabbit got his answer. So, too, after only perfunctory consultation, did his fellow citizens.

The passing of the Cold War offered cause for celebration. On that point all agreed. Yet, as it turned out, it did not require reflection from the public at large. Policy elites professed to have matters well in hand. The dawning era, they believed, summoned Americans not to think anew, but to keep doing precisely what they were accustomed to doing, albeit without fretting further about Communist takeovers or the risks of nuclear Armageddon. In a world where a “single superpower” was calling the shots, utopia was right around the corner. All that was needed was for the United States to demonstrate the requisite confidence and resolve.

Three specific propositions made up the elite consensus that coalesced during the initial decade of the post-Cold-War era. According to the first, the globalization of corporate capitalism held the key to wealth creation on a hitherto unimaginable scale. According to the second, jettisoning norms derived from Judeo-Christian religious traditions held the key to the further expansion of personal freedom. According to the third, muscular global leadership exercised by the United States held the key to promoting a stable and humane international order.

Unfettered neoliberalism plus the unencumbered self plus unabashed American assertiveness: these defined the elements of the post-Cold-War consensus that formed during the first half of the 1990s -- plus what enthusiasts called the information revolution. The miracle of that “revolution,” gathering momentum just as the Soviet Union was going down for the count, provided the secret sauce that infused the emerging consensus with a sense of historical inevitability.

The Cold War itself had fostered notable improvements in computational speed and capacity, new modes of communication, and techniques for storing, accessing, and manipulating information. Yet, however impressive, such developments remained subsidiary to the larger East-West competition. Only as the Cold War receded did they move from background to forefront. For true believers, information technology came to serve a quasi-theological function, promising answers to life’s ultimate questions. Although God might be dead, Americans found in Bill Gates and Steve Jobs nerdy but compelling idols.

More immediately, in the eyes of the policy elite, the information revolution meshed with and reinforced the policy consensus. For those focused on the political economy, it greased the wheels of globalized capitalism, creating vast new opportunities for trade and investment. For those looking to shed constraints on personal freedom, information promised empowerment, making identity itself something to choose, discard, or modify. For members of the national security apparatus, the information revolution seemed certain to endow the United States with seemingly unassailable military capabilities. That these various enhancements would combine to improve the human condition was taken for granted; that they would, in due course, align everybody -- from Afghans to Zimbabweans -- with American values and the American way of life seemed more or less inevitable.

The three presidents of the post-Cold-War era -- Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama -- put these several propositions to the test. Politics-as-theater requires us to pretend that our 42nd, 43rd, and 44th presidents differed in fundamental ways. In practice, however, their similarities greatly outweighed any of those differences. Taken together, the administrations over which they presided collaborated in pursuing a common agenda, each intent on proving that the post-Cold-War consensus could work in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary.

To be fair, it did work for some. “Globalization” made some people very rich indeed. In doing so, however, it greatly exacerbated inequality, while doing nothing to alleviate the condition of the American working class and underclass.

The emphasis on diversity and multiculturalism improved the status of groups long subjected to discrimination. Yet these advances have done remarkably little to reduce the alienation and despair pervading a society suffering from epidemics of chronic substance abuse, morbid obesity, teen suicide, and similar afflictions. Throw in the world’s highest incarceration rate, a seemingly endless appetite for porn, urban school systems mired in permanent crisis, and mass shootings that occur with metronomic regularity, and what you have is something other than the profile of a healthy society.

As for militarized American global leadership, it has indeed resulted in various bad actors meeting richly deserved fates. Goodbye, Saddam. Good riddance, Osama. Yet it has also embroiled the United States in a series of costly, senseless, unsuccessful, and ultimately counterproductive wars. As for the vaunted information revolution, its impact has been ambiguous at best, even if those with eyeballs glued to their personal electronic devices can’t tolerate being offline long enough to assess the actual costs of being perpetually connected.

In November 2016, Americans who consider themselves ill served by the post-Cold-War consensus signaled that they had had enough. Voters not persuaded that neoliberal economic policies, a culture taking its motto from the Outback steakhouse chain, and a national security strategy that employs the U.S. military as a global police force were working to their benefit provided a crucial margin in the election of Donald Trump.

The response of the political establishment to this extraordinary repudiation testifies to the extent of its bankruptcy. The Republican Party still clings to the notion that reducing taxes, cutting government red tape, restricting abortion, curbing immigration, prohibiting flag-burning, and increasing military spending will alleviate all that ails the country. Meanwhile, to judge by the promises contained in their recently unveiled (and instantly forgotten) program for a “Better Deal,” Democrats believe that raising the minimum wage, capping the cost of prescription drugs, and creating apprenticeship programs for the unemployed will return their party to the good graces of the American electorate.

In both parties embarrassingly small-bore thinking prevails, with Republicans and Democrats equally bereft of fresh ideas. Each party is led by aging hacks. Neither has devised an antidote to the crisis in American politics signified by the nomination and election of Donald Trump.

While our emperor tweets, Rome itself fiddles.

Starting Over

I am by temperament a conservative and a traditionalist, wary of revolutionary movements that more often than not end up being hijacked by nefarious plotters more interested in satisfying their own ambitions than in pursuing high ideals. Yet even I am prepared to admit that the status quo appears increasingly untenable. Incremental change will not suffice. The challenge of the moment is to embrace radicalism without succumbing to irresponsibility.

The one good thing we can say about the election of Donald Trump -- to borrow an image from Thomas Jefferson -- is this: it ought to serve as a fire bell in the night. If Americans have an ounce of sense, the Trump presidency will cure them once and for all of the illusion that from the White House comes redemption. By now we ought to have had enough of de facto monarchy.

By extension, Americans should come to see as intolerable the meanness, corruption, and partisan dysfunction so much in evidence at the opposite end of Pennsylvania Avenue. We need not wax sentimental over the days when Lyndon Johnson and Everett Dirksen presided over the Senate to conclude that Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer represent something other than progress. If Congress continues to behave as contemptibly as it has in recent years (and in recent weeks), it will, by default, allow the conditions that have produced Trump and his cronies to prevail.

So it’s time to take another stab at an approach to governance worthy of a democratic republic. Where to begin? I submit that Rabbit Angstrom’s question offers a place to start: What’s the point of being an American?

Authentic progressives and principled conservatives will offer different answers to Rabbit’s query. My own answer is rooted in an abiding conviction that our problems are less quantitative than qualitative. Rather than simply more -- yet more wealth, more freedom, more attempts at global leadership -- the times call for different. In my view, the point of being an American is to participate in creating a society that strikes a balance between wants and needs, that exists in harmony with nature and the rest of humankind, and that is rooted in an agreed upon conception of the common good.

My own prescription for how to act upon that statement of purpose is unlikely to find favor with most readers of TomDispatch. But therein lies the basis for an interesting debate, one that is essential to prospects for stemming the accelerating decay of American civic life.

Initiating such a debate, and so bringing into focus core issues, will remain next to impossible, however, without first clearing away the accumulated debris of the post-Cold-War era. Preliminary steps in that direction, listed in no particular order, ought to include the following:

First, abolish the Electoral College. Doing so will preclude any further occurrence of the circumstances that twice in recent decades cast doubt on the outcome of national elections and thereby did far more than any foreign interference to undermine the legitimacy of American politics.

Second, rollback gerrymandering. Doing so will help restore competitive elections and make incumbency more tenuous.

Third, limit the impact of corporate money on elections at all levels, if need be by amending the Constitution.

Fourth, mandate a balanced federal budget, thereby demolishing the pretense that Americans need not choose between guns and butter.

Fifth, implement a program of national service, thereby eliminating the All-Volunteer military and restoring the tradition of the citizen-soldier. Doing so will help close the gap between the military and society and enrich the prevailing conception of citizenship. It might even encourage members of Congress to think twice before signing off on wars that the commander-in-chief wants to fight.

Sixth, enact tax policies that will promote greater income equality.

Seventh, increase public funding for public higher education, thereby ensuring that college remains an option for those who are not well-to-do.

Eighth, beyond mere “job” creation, attend to the growing challenges of providing meaningful work -- employment that is both rewarding and reasonably remunerative -- for those without advanced STEM degrees.

Ninth, end the thumb-twiddling on climate change and start treating it as the first-order national security priority that it is.

Tenth, absent evident progress on the above, create a new party system, breaking the current duopoly in which Republicans and Democrats tacitly collaborate to dictate the policy agenda and restrict the range of policy options deemed permissible.

These are not particularly original proposals and I do not offer them as a panacea. They may, however, represent preliminary steps toward devising some new paradigm to replace a post-Cold-War consensus that, in promoting transnational corporate greed, mistaking libertinism for liberty, and embracing militarized neo-imperialism as the essence of statecraft, has paved the way for the presidency of Donald Trump.

We can and must do better. But doing so will require that we come up with better and truer ideas to serve as a foundation for American politics.

Andrew J. Bacevich, a TomDispatch regular, is the author of America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History, now out in paperback. His next book will be an interpretive history of the United States from the end of the Cold War to the election of Donald Trump.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

from Al-Monitor
Author Daoud Kuttab Posted August 1, 2017

Archives belie Israel's narrative of Palestinian conflict
It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. In the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, an image can also be as dangerous as a cannon. This appears to be the conclusion reached by two women, one Israeli and the other Palestinian, who have dedicated most of their lives to researching images related to the conflict and their use and fate.

Summary⎙ Print Early members of the Zionist movement and later Israelis have consistently attempted to control the narrative of the conflict with the Palestinians, including by seizing photographic evidence of Palestine and the Palestinians' history.

Rona Sela, a curator and lecturer at Tel Aviv University, recounted to Al-Monitor how she first became involved with these images 20 years ago. “I was doing research in the mid-1990s,” she began. “My focus was an analysis of Zionist photography in the early stages of the state of Israel. I researched the way institutional Zionist propaganda departments from the 1920s to 1948 used visual images to construct a national identity to build people’s consciousness about national issues. As the Palestinian narrative was, in most cases, missing from the Zionist one, I started searching for Palestinian images.”

Early on in her research, Sela found a large group of images by the photographer Khallil Rasas, whose work was not known but had been looted from his studio in Jerusalem. Rasas’ images of Palestinian life during the first half of the 20th century, never made public, often contradicted the official Israeli narrative. Sela published a few texts about Rasas and his work as well as other Palestinian photographers active in Palestine in the 1930s and 1940s.

Sela explained, “In the beginning, it was accidental that I came across traces of the looting, but then I started deliberating trying to find more material that was plundered and to understand what the meaning of these images was and how they fit into the larger narrative of the conflict.”

Another Sela discovery was a pre-state Zionist project called Village Files, Aerial Photos and Surveys. Sela went public with her research in 2009 and later published it in the Jerusalem Quarterly in 2013.

The project involved detailed documentation of pre-1948 Palestinian villages in which the Jewish underground was interested. The Village Files included photographs and surveys of most of the 418 Palestinian villages that have since been demolished or repopulated by Zionists after the Nakba. According to Sela’s published research, many of the images were taken from the air by young Jewish couples often posing as tourists taking romantic flights over the villages. In fact, they were documenting the area and providing the photos to the Jewish underground.

The images were to have been kept secret to prevent the possibility of comparisons between before and after photos. Sela believes that the secrecy behind Israeli efforts to hide the images is part of an attempt to protect the monopoly enjoyed by the Israeli narrative. She remarked, “From my experience, correspondents, talks and processes, it is very clear that Israel is interested in one narrative prevailing.”

Sela has published numerous articles on the subject, held exhibits and produced films detailing what she has unearthed. Sela’s publications and exhibits, as per her website, include “Photography in Palestine/Eretz-Israel in the 30s and 40s” (2000), “Six Days and Forty Years” (2007), “The Absent-Present Palestinian Villages" (2009), “Made Public — Palestinian Photographs in Military Archives in Israel” (2009), “Chalil Raad, Photographs, 1891-1948” (2010), “Effervescence (Unrest) — Housing, Language, History — A New Generation in Jewish-Arab Cities” (2013) and “Rethinking National Archives in Colonial Countries and Zones of Conflict” (2015).

Sela’s most recent essay, “The Genealogy of Colonial Plunder and Erasure — Israel's Control over Palestinian Archives,” focuses on two archives: those of the Palestinian Research Center and the Film Center of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) Media Department, both of which were stolen by the Israeli army after invading Beirut in 1982. Published in March 2017 in the “Journal of Social Semiotics,” Sela’s article reflects on what she calls a “characteristic of colonial archives,” describing “how the ruling state plunders/loots the colonized’ archives and treasures and controls them in its colonial archives — erasing them from the public sphere by repressive means, censor.”

According to Sela, she has a forthcoming article on the looting of the films in Beirut in the academic journal “Anthropology of the Middle East,” and an essay about Rasas is also in the works.

Researching and attempting to publicize looted Palestinian imagery has also been a passion of Azza el-Hassan. When the Israeli army looted the Palestinian film archive, Hassan, a Palestinian documentary filmmaker born into a PLO family, was 11. She recalled that Hiba Jawharia, daughter of the Jerusalem-born Hani Jawharia, who filmed much of the material for the PLO’s film unit, had been a childhood friend of hers in Beirut. Hani was killed on April 11, 1976, while filming in south Lebanon, leaving Hassan and her friend forever shaken.

Hassan went on to study at the University of Glasgow, where she obtained a BA in film in 1994, and a year later obtained an MA in television documentary from the University of London. After concluding her studies, she was able to move to Palestine with the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accord. She related to Al-Monitor how the story of the missing archives — including the footage shot by her childhood friend’s father — never left her. Hassan ultimately decided to trace what had happened to the films.

Before the Israelis arrived in Beirut, some of the films had been collected at the last moment and hidden in different homes and locations. Most, however, were seized by Israel and are now in its army's archives. Hassan decided to embark on a journey that would eventually take her to Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine and Israel in search of the missing material. She documented her adventure and search in “Kings and Extras,” a 2004 German-Palestinian production.

A 2006 review of the film by the author Maymanah Farhat published by the Electronic Intifada touches on the historical and cultural importance of the search in Palestinian history. “'Kings and Extras' begins to gain importance not only with the documentation of a missing piece of history, but also as a portrait of a people resolved to maintain their community, culture and political struggle,” wrote Farhat.

The efforts by Sela, Hassan and others to search, document and present the public with hidden images of Palestine and the Palestinians flies in the face of the prevailing Israeli narrative, which aims to negate the Palestinians and therefore justify the continued occupation and colonization of the land and the people. Ongoing attempts to muzzle information and keep the truth hidden from a curious public will not succeed in erasing the memories and images that show what Palestine was before the Zionists and Israelis attempted to erase its history and with it the Palestinians' presence and rights in Palestine.

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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Crisis in Venezuela The Left and Venezuela

The situation in Venezuela is dramatic but this does not explain the centrality of the country in all the news reports. Situations of greater seriousness in other countries are totally ignored by the same media. In Colombia, since the beginning of the year, 46 social movement leaders have been assassinated and in the last 14 months 120 have perished. More terrifying is the scene in Mexico. Every day some journalist is added to the long list of students, teachers . . .
Claudio Katz
The Bullet
August 29, 2017

Supporters of President Nicolás Maduro participate in a rally in Caracas in support of the national Constituent Assembly.

During the last two months Venezuela has been faced with a terrible wave of violence. It has already resulted in more than 60 deaths along with looted schools, burned public buildings, destroyed public transportation and emptied hospitals. The major media, however, simply engage in a running stream of gruesome denunciations of the government. They have installed the image of a dictator in conflict with the opposition democrats.

But the statistics do not corroborate that narrative, especially when it comes to those who have fallen. When the number had risen to 39, an initial report pointed to only four who were victims of the security forces. The remainder had died in looting or shoot-outs within the opposition mobilizations.[1] Another assessment noted that 60 per cent of those killed had absolutely nothing to do with the clashes.[2]

These characterizations are consistent with the estimates that attribute most of the murders to snipers linked with the opposition. More recent inquiries report that most of the victims lost their lives through vandalism or settlements of accounts.[3]

There are numerous denunciations as well of incursions by paramilitary groups linked to the Right. And there are indications that much of the violence enjoys local protection from municipalities governed by the opposition.[4]

Those death tolls are consistent with the fascist brutality that led to setting afire persons associated with Chavismo.[5] Burning alive a partisan of the government is a practice more closely linked to the Colombian paramilitaries or the criminal underworld than it is to the traditional political organizations. Some analysts even estimate that out of a total of 60 deaths, 27 were of sympathizers of Chavismo.[6]

Others say that within the opposition marches there are some 15,000 persons trained as shock groups. They are using balaclavas, shields and home-made weapons to create a chaotic climate and establish “liberated territories.”[7]

Assessing the Violence
The assessments presented by the opposition are diametrically opposite, but have been refuted by detailed reports on the victims.[8] Since no one acknowledges the existence of “independent” assessments, it is appropriate to judge what is happening, bearing in mind the antecedents. In the guarimba of February 2014, 43 persons died, the great majority of them unrelated to the political clashes or police repression.

Similarly, we need to assess how the opposition reacted when faced with an equivalent challenge. Its governments finished off the “Caracazo” of 1989 with hundreds of deaths and thousands of wounded.

The situation in Venezuela is dramatic but this does not explain the centrality of the country in all the news reports. Situations of greater seriousness in other countries are totally ignored by the same media.

In Colombia, since the beginning of the year, 46 social movement leaders have been assassinated and in the last 14 months 120 have perished. Between 2002 and 2016 the paramilitary forces massacred 558 mass leaders, and in the last two decades up to 2,500 tradeunionists have been murdered.[9] Why no mention by any broadcaster of repute of this ongoing bloodshed in Venezuela’s nearest neighbour?

More terrifying is the scene in Mexico. Every day some journalist is added to the long list of students, teachers and social fighters who are assassinated. In the climate of social warfare imposed by the “anti-drug trafficking actions,” 29,917 people have disappeared.[10] Should not this level of killings attract more journalistic attention than Venezuela?

Honduras is another hair-raising case. Along with Berta Cáceres 15 other militants have been murdered. Between 2002 and 2014 the number of assassinated environmental defenders has risen to 111.[11] The list of victims of the horror who are ignored by the hegemonic press could be extended to Peru’s political prisoners. Moreover, very few know of the suffering confronted by the Puerto Rican independence leader Oscar López Rivera during his 35 years of imprisonment.

The majority of the Latin American population simply does not know of the tragedies prevailing in the countries governed by the Right. The media’s double standard confirms that Venezuela’s prominence on the television screens is not due to humanitarian concerns.

Forms of a Coup
The media coverage shores up the opposition’s promotion of a coup. Since they cannot carry out classic disturbances like those that led to Pinochet’s coup, they try to remove President Maduro through the dislocation of society. They repeat what was attempted in February 2014 in order to commit an institutional coup similar to the ones carried out in Honduras (2009), Paraguay (2014) or Brazil (2016). They hope to impose through force what they will later validate in the ballot boxes.

The Right lacks the military force used in the past to return to government. But it is trying to recreate such intervention by staging skirmishes at military barracks, setting fire to police stations or marching on military headquarters.

Its plan combines sabotage of the economy with riots by armed groups which, in contrast to Colombia, act anonymously. These actions are mingled with the criminal underworld and they terrorize merchants.[12]

The actions include fascist methods sponsored by the most violent currents of anti-Chavismo. They appropriate the insurgent symbolism forged by the popular movements and present their pillage as a heroic gesture. Their leader Leopoldo López is not some innocent politician. Any court operating under the rule of law would have sentenced him to life imprisonment for his criminal liability.

The Right promotes a climate of civil war in order to demoralize the Chavista bases, affected by the lack of food and medicine. It is explicit in its call for foreign intervention and negotiates with the creditor banks an interruption in the country’s access to credit.

The opposition hopes to lynch Maduro in order to bury Chavismo. It takes its battle to the streets, in the conquest of public opinion and the collapse of the economy. It considers elections as nothing more than a simple coronation of this offensive.

But it is confronting growing obstacles. The predominance of the violence in its marches alienates the majority of those who are discontented and wears down its own demonstrators. As it did in 2014 the rebuff of the fascists undermines the entire opposition. Maduro’s steadfastness, moreover, deters attendance in the marches. They have not managed to penetrate the popular neighborhoods where they still confront the risk of an adverse armed conflict.[13]

The big bourgeoisie in Venezuela incites the coup with the regional support of Macri, Temer, Santos and Peña Nieto. For months it has been promoting a destabilizing plan in the OAS. But it has failed to get results in that area. Proposed sanctions against Venezuela have been unsuccessful because of the opposition of various foreign ministries; they have failed to achieve the unanimity with which Cuba was expelled from the OAS in the 1960s.

Notorious, as well, is the United States’ promotion of coups with the aim of regaining control over the major crude oil reserve on the continent. The State Department wants to repeat the operations it used in Iraq or Libya, in the knowledge that after overthrowing Maduro no one will remember where Venezuela is. It suffices to see how the media omit any mention in the news of the countries where the Pentagon has already intervened. Once the adversary is liquidated, the news turns to other issues.

The strategic goals of imperialism are not registered by those who highlight the flirtation of some U.S. newspaper with the Venezuelan president or the verbal ambiguities of Trump.[14] They imagine that those irrelevant facts illustrate the absence of any conflict between the United States and Chavismo. But it does not register with them that the immense majority of the press is maliciously attacking Maduro and that the multimillionaire in the White House denies each day what he said the previous day.

Trump is not indifferent or neutral. He simply delegates to the CIA and the Pentagon the implementation of a conspiracy that is designed through the Sharp and Venezuela Freedom 2plans. Those operations include espionage, troop deployment and cover for terrorism.[15] They develop in a stealthy way while the major media outlets discredit any condemnation of those preparations. They question especially the “exaggerations of the left” so that no one will disturb the conspirators.

Some analysts think the presence of Chevron in Venezuela – or PDVSA’s continued business in the United States – illustrate a tight association between the two governments.[16] They conclude from this relationship that there is no coup scenario. But those connections do not alter in the least the Empire’s decision to overthrow the Bolivarian government.

The activities of U.S. corporations in Venezuela (and of their counterparts in the United States) have persisted from the outset of the Chavista process. But Bush, Obama and Trump have sought to recover direct imperial control over the oil. They cannot get this through a strained relationship between partners or clients. They want to install the model of privatization that prevails in Mexico and to expel Russia and China from their backyard.

Attitude of the Left
If the diagnosis of a reactionary coup is correct, the position of the left should not give rise to disagreements. Our main enemies are the Right and imperialism, and to crush them is always a priority. This elementary principle must be reaffirmed at critical times when what is obvious can become confused.

Whatever our criticisms were of Salvador Allende, our central battle was against Pinochet. Similarly, we adopted a corresponding line of conduct toward the Argentine gorillas of 1955 or the saboteurs of Arbenz, Torrijos and the various anti-imperialist governments of the region. This position in Venezuela today points to the need for common action against the rightist escalation.

When a coup is on the horizon, it is indispensable to single out those who are responsible for the crisis. Those who cause a disaster are not the same as those who are powerless to resolve it.

This distinction applies in the economic field. The errors committed by Maduro are both numerous and unjustifiable, but those guilty of the present damage are the capitalists. The government is tolerant or incapable, but it does not belong on the same plane. Those who commit the monumental error of drawing a line of identity between both sectors[17] confuse responsibilities of a different nature.

The government’s mistakes have been demonstrated in the inoperative system of currency exchange rates, the unacceptable external debt, or in the lack of control over prices and smuggling. But the collapse of the economy has been caused by the affluent who manipulate the currencies, trigger inflation, handle imported goods and limit supplies of basic goods.

The Executive is unresponsive or acts mistakenly for many reasons: inefficiency, tolerance of corruption, protection of the bolibourgeoisie, connivance with millionaires disguised as Chavistas. That’s why it does not cut support to the private groups that receive cheap dollars in order to import dear. But the collapse of production has been carried out by the ruling class in order to overthrow Maduro. Not to recognize that conflict is to display an unwonted level of myopia.

This blindness prevents recognition of another key fact at this time: the resistance of Chavismo to the rightist onslaught. Albeit with methods and attitudes that are highly questionable, Maduro is not surrendering. He maintains the vertical structure of the PSUV, he favours the banning of the critical currents, and he preserves a bureaucracy that strangles responses from below. But unlike Dilma or Lugo he does not give in. His conduct is the exact opposite of the capitulation carried out by Syriza in Greece.

This stance explains the hatred of the powerful. The government has made the excellent decision to withdraw from the OAS. It has abandoned the Ministry of Colonies and carried out the rupture that the left has always demanded. This decision should arouse the overwhelming support that very few have expressed.

Like any administration under attack from the Right, the government has resorted to force in its self-defence. The establishment media denounce that reaction with unusual hysteria. Forgotten are the justifications habitually made by governments of another character when they face similar situations. But Maduro has also been challenged conversely for his relative indulgence toward the fascists. He has simply adopted guarded measures in response to the opposition savagery.

In its response the government has of course committed injustices. That’s the regrettable cost of any significant confrontation with the counter-revolution. These mishaps have been present in all battles with the reaction, from Bolívar to Fidel. There is a need to avoid self-indulgence in this delicate terrain, but without repeating the slanders propagated by the opposition.

Maduro is directing his fire against the Rightist brutality and not against the people. So it makes no sense to compare him with Gaddafi or Saddam Hussein. He has not carried out any massacre of left-wing activists or participated in war-mongering adventures instigated by the United States. The analogy with Stalin is more ridiculous, but it reminds us that the spectre of Hitler hovers over many of the opposition leaders associated with Uribe or nostalgic for a Pinochet.

Social-Democratic Positions
In recent months, as well, among the adversaries of the Right there has been an increase in views that blame Maduro for Venezuela’s agony. These opinions repeat the old social- democratic posture of joining with the reaction at critical moments.

They question the legitimacy of the government, using the same arguments as the opposition. Instead of accusing the CIA, the escuálidos [the squalid ones, a Venezuelan phrase for the filthy rich], or the OAS, they concentrate their objections against Chavismo. They do this in the name of a democratic ideal that is as abstract as it is divorced from the battle to determine who will prevail in the running of the state.

This position has affected various “critical left” thinkers [pensadores del post-progresismo] linked to autonomism. Not only do they accuse Maduro for the present situation, they say he has reinforced an authoritarian leadership in order to maintain the model based on hydrocarbon rents.[18]

This characterization is very similar to the liberal thesis that attributes all of Venezuela’s problems to populist politics, implemented by tyrants who are squandering the resources of the state. Only they use language that is more diplomatic in its diagnosis.

Other views of the same order point more categorically to the responsibility of the Chavista leader. They call on us as well to avoid “the conspiratorial over-simplification of blaming the Right or imperialism” for the country’s troubles.[19] But are the conspirators of the reaction imaginary? Are the murdered, the paramilitaries and the plans of the Pentagon paranoiac Bolivarian inventions?

Without answering this elementary question, that position also dismisses any comparison with what happened in Chile in 1973. However, it does not explain why that analogy is inapplicable. It takes for granted that the two situations differ without noting the huge similarities in respect to the shortages, the conservative irritation of the middle class or the intervention of the CIA.

The disputed parallels with Allende are, however, accepted in the case of the first Peronist government, which is viewed as a direct antecedent of Chavismo. But is the resemblance located in the years of stability or in the moments prior to the coup of 1955? The preoccupation with the escalation of violence suggests that the similarity is in relation to that latter period. And in a situation of that type what was the priority? Confront Perón’s authoritarianism or resist the gorillas?

The social-democrats and “critical left” point to the authoritarian Maduro as the main cause of the current situation.[20] That’s why they downplay the danger of a coup and reject the need to prepare some defense against the Right’s provocations.

But the consequences of this attitude are demonstrated whenever the oligarchs and their bandits return to government. The recent events in Honduras, Paraguay or Brazil do not even arouse alarm among those who demonize Chavismo.

They object as well to the extractivism, indebtedness and contracts with oil companies. But they do not explain if they are demanding anticapitalist and socialist alternatives to these obvious failings of Maduro. The same applies to the shortages and the speculation. Are they urging him to act with greater firmness against the bankers and the big commercial cartels? Do they propose confiscations, nationalizations, or direct popular control?

By adopting these initiatives one could imagine building bridges with the government, but never with the opposition. The detractors of Chavismo sidestep this difference.

‘Critical Left’ Appeals
The social-democratic viewpoint characterizes the urgent call for peace signed by numerous intellectuals. This statement promotes a peace process, rejecting both the authoritarian turn of Chavismo and the violent attitude of right-wing sectors.[21]

The call favours equilibrium to overcome the polarization and resorts to a language closer to that of the foreign ministries than to the popular activists. The tone is in conformity with the implicit attachment to a theory of two evils. Against both extremes it proposes to take the middle road.

But this equidistance was immediately belied by the fundamental responsibility it assigned to the government. And not only does it overlook the harassment of the Right, but imperialism is barely mentioned in passing.

The text was met with a powerful reply sponsored by the REDH [Network of Intellectuals, Artists and Social Movements in Defense of Humanity] and signed by many intellectuals. This criticism rightly objected to the fascination with conventional republicanism and noted the pre-eminent gravitation of extra-constitutional forces in critical situations.[22]

The liberal relapse of the post-progressive or “critical left” thinkers recreates what happened with the social-democratic Gramcians in the 1980s. The animosity of that group toward Leninism and the Cuban revolution is comparable to the present hostility to Chavismo. A number of those who signed the call have passed through both periods.

But the present social-democratic variant is late and lacks the political reference once contributed by the Spanish PSOE. The social-liberal turn of that party has completely demolished its initial progressive imaginary. That it is now orphaned explains, perhaps, the present re-encounter with the old liberalism.

In some cases this evolution is the culmination of the division that has affected distinct variants of autonomism. The positions taken toward the Bolivarian process have triggered this fracture. Those who chose to line up with the opposition are suspicious of those who “cling to Chavismo.”[23]

But this latter sector has thought through the previous insufficiencies and has come to understand the need to fight for the state power with socialist perspectives related to Latin American Marxism.

In contrast, the other segment continues navigating in the ambiguity of generalities about anti-patriarchism and anti-extractivism without offering any concrete example of what is proposed. Absorbed by the liberal universe, their enigmatic vagaries no longer enrich left-wing thinking. Between their forgetfulness of the class struggle and their fascination with bourgeois institutionality, their denunciations of extractivism are becoming a picturesque curiosity.

Absent-Minded Dogmatism
A discourse that is convergent with social democracy is also disseminated using sectarian arguments. In this case Maduro’s is portrayed as a corrupt government, submissive and adaptable, that is consolidating a dictatorial regime.[24] On other occasions that same illegitimacy is described with more indirect or sophisticated categories (de facto president, Bonapartist chief).

But all the variants coincide in underscoring the fundamental responsibility of an authoritarian government that is tearing apart the country. The harmony of this focus with the media narrative is striking. The main problem, however, is not in the rhetoric but in the practice.

Every day there are marches of the Right and of the government. The champions of socialist rigour have to ask themselves: Which of the two mobilizations will we join? With whom will we identify? If they think the government is the main enemy they will have to make common cause with the escuálidos of the guarimbas.

In Buenos Aires, for example, they called last May for a mobilization demanding the ouster of Maduro.[25] All the passers-by who observed this march understood clearly who would immediately occupy Venezuela’s presidency if the present head of state were overthrown. And they noted the total coincidence between this demand and the messages issued daily by the news media.

This is not the first time that sectors of the left have so clearly converged with the Right. An antecedent in Argentina under the Kirchner governments was the presence of red flags in the soy farmers’ marches and the demonstrations of the caceroleros [middle- and upper-class opponents of the government banging pots and pans]. But what was pathetic in Buenos Aires can turn to tragedy in Caracas.

Other visions compare Maduro with the opposition, arguing that under the masquerade of an apparent contraposition hide huge coincidences. So they speculate about the moment when this convergence will become explicit.[26]

This curious interpretation contrasts with the pitched battles between both sectors that everyone else sees. So it is a bit difficult to interpret the guarimbas, assassinations and Pentagon threats as a fictitious quarrel between two relatives.

The sole logic of this presentation is to downplay the seriousness of the current conflict, to interpret it as a mere inter-bourgeois fight over the appropriation of the rent. That is why Maduro’s totalitarianism is seen as a danger equivalent to (or worse than) the opposition.

The major problem in this focus is not its absent-mindedness but the implicit neutrality that it promotes. Since everyone is equal, the self-coup attributed to the government is compared with the coup promoted by the Right.

That equivalence is obviously false, however. In Venezuela there are not two reactionary variants in contention like, for example, jihadism and the dictatorships in the Middle East. Nor is it the type of competition between troglodytes that in Argentina opposed Videla to Isabel Perón.

The clash between Capriles-López and Maduro resembles the confrontation of Pinochet with Allende, of Lonardi with Perón or more recently of Temer with Dilma. Similarly the triumph of the Right over Maduro, far from an engagement between equals, would entail a terrible political regression.

Confronted with this alternative, neutrality is a synonym for passivity and represents a huge degree of impotence in the face of great events. It means renouncing participation and commitment to genuine causes.

Since this attitude takes for granted that Chavismo is finished, it limits its entire horizon to writing a balance sheet of that experience. But the biggest failure in political action never affects unfinished or frustrated processes. The worst thing is narrow-mindedness in the face of major epic events.

Whatever one’s questions about Maduro, the outcome in Venezuela will define the immediate destiny of the entire region. If the reactionaries triumph, the result will be a scenario of defeat and a feeling of impotence in the face of the Empire. The end of the progressive cycle will be a fact and not a subject for evaluation among social science thinkers.

The Right knows this and for that reason is stepping up the campaigns against the intellectuals who defend Chavismo. The recent broadside attack in Clarín is a foretaste of the assault that is being prepared for a post-Maduro regional setting.[27] The sectarians do not register that danger.

Spurious Elections
In the immediate future there are two political options at play: the Right demands that the general elections be moved forward, and the government has called a Constituent Assembly. The opposition is only willing to participate in elections that will ensure it first place.

Of the 19 elections carried out under Chavismo, the Bolivarians won 17 and immediately recognized the two that they lost. In contrast, the Right never accepted their adverse results. They always claimed there was some fraud or resorted to a boycott. When they won in by-elections they demanded the immediate fall of the government.

In December 2015 they obtained a majority in the National Assembly and proclaimed the overthrow of Maduro. Then they attempted in various ways to disregard the constitution, even by swearing in deputies illegally elected and falsifying signatures on petitions to recall Maduro.

Capriles, Borges and López are now calling for spurious elections amidst the economic war and provocation in the streets. They want elections like those in Colombia where, in one election after another, hundreds of popular activists are murdered. They hope to gain at the ballot boxes as in Honduras under the pressure of the murder of Berta. They want the kind of elections that are held in Mexico over the dead bodies of journalists, students and teachers.

It would be a terrible error to join in elections designed to prepare a Chavista cemetery. Maduro is being asked to carry out elections in a climate of civil war that would be unacceptable to any government.

Venezuela is going through a situation that bears some resemblance to the scene in Nicaragua at the end of the first Sandinista electoral term in office. The military siege and shortages wore out an exhausted population who voted for the Right out of simple fatigue. In those conditions elections have a pre-established winner.

On the other hand, comparison with the scenario that led to the fall of the Soviet Union makes no sense. Venezuela is not a big power imploding internally at the end of a lengthy divorce between the regime and the population. It is a vulnerable Latin American country under attack from the United States.

Some thinkers take for granted the oppressive role of imperialism and suggest that this is not a decisive factor in the present crisis.[28] They assume that the persistent denunciations of that domination constitute “a fact already known” or a mere ritual of the Left. But they forget that it is never pointless to emphasize the devastating impact of aggression from the North on governments that have become enemies of Washington.

The entire spectrum of ex-Chavistas who are joining in the call for general elections confuse democracy with liberal republicanism. They have lost sight of the way in which the right to self-government is systematically blocked by bourgeois institutionality.

This impediment is why the great majority of constitutional regimes have lost legitimacy. It becomes more and more evident that the ruling class uses voting systems to consolidate its power. It uses this control to run the economy, the justice system, the news media and the repressive apparatus. Real democracy can only emerge in a socialist process of transformation of society.

It is true that Maduro cancelled the recall referendum, suspended regional elections and proscribed some opposition politicians. These measures are part of a blind reaction to the harassment. But the Chavista leader is confronting the hypocrisy of greater import exhibited by the defenders of the present electoral regimes.

It suffices to see how in Brazil the impeachment was carried out by a group of outlaws with the cover of the judges and parliamentarians who manipulate the system of indirect presidential selection. It never occurred to the OAS to intervene against that vulgar violation of democratic principles.

Nor did the establishment get indignant when the Electoral College anointed Trump after he had received a few million votes less than Hilary Clinton. A ruling monarchy in Spain or England seems natural to them, as do the clumsy schemes that are used to manipulate each election in Mexico. The sacrosanct democracy they ask of Venezuela is completely absent in all capitalist countries.

Possibilities of the Constituent Assembly
Obviously, the best opportunity for a transformative Constituent Assembly was lost several years ago. The present call is purely defensive and is an attempt to contend with an exasperating situation.

But it is useless to discuss only what has not been done. There is still time left for those balance-sheets. The important thing now is to determine how this call can reopen a road for popular initiative.

Before the call for the Constituent Assembly the government was limiting itself to developing a purely bureaucratic confrontation between one state power and another. It relied on a struggle from above by the Executive or the Supreme Court against the National Assembly. Now it is finally calling on the communal power and we will have to see whether this idea translates into a real mobilization.

There are numerous signs of weariness and skepticism within Chavismo. But no one chooses the conditions in which to fight and the main dilemma turns on whether to continue or abandon the struggle. Those who have resolved to dig in their heels are calling for a revival of the popular project.

Some left currents that are very critical of Maduro’s management think this convening of a Constituent Assembly could unleash a dynamic of communes against the bureaucratic operations.[29] They see the Constituent Assembly as an imperfect instrument to disentangle the dispute with corrupt bourgeoisified and bolibourgeois Chavismo.

The Constituent Assembly could also help to break the stalemate in recent months between guarimbas and pro-government mobilizations. If it is adequately tasked it could break down the opposition front, separating the discontented from the fascists.

But it is obvious that without drastic measures on the economic and social front the Constituent Assembly will be an empty shell. If the disaster in production is not attacked through nationalization of the banks, foreign trade and the expropriation of the saboteurs, there will be no recovery in popular support.

The palliative measures attempted in order to increase participation of the base organisms in the distribution of food are insufficient. Radical measures cannot be postponed.

Whatever the alternative, it will not be easy to redirect the economy after so many mistakes in regard to the debt, the creation of special investment zones or the tolerance of capital flight.

Chávez achieved a big redistribution of the rent through new methods of popular politicization, but he never managed to lay the foundations for a process of industrialization. He clashed with the opposition capitalists but not with the internal bolibourgeoisie and he was unable to deactivate the rentist culture that undermined all attempts to build up a productive economy. The hesitation to break with the capitalist structure explains the adverse results.

The present context is more difficult because of the sharp drop in oil prices and the blockage of regional integration projects under the conservative restoration. But it should also be noted that all revolutionary processes take off in adversity and the Constituent Assembly can provide a framework for regaining the initiative.

Some critics of this call object to the sectoral and communal form of election. They say that with this format the “assembly will be tricky, corporatist or illegitimate.”[30] And here they repeat the endorsement the Right makes (when it suits them) of conventional constitutionalism. That demand is not surprising when it comes from establishment commentators but it is disturbing when it comes from enthusiasts of the Russian revolution.

After three decades of post-dictatorial regimes, many have forgotten the duplicities of bourgeois democracy. It might be remembered how Lenin and Trotsky defended in 1917 the legitimacy of the soviets and withdrew recognition of a Constituent Assembly that rivalled the revolutionary power.

The context in Venezuela today is very different. However, the Bolshevik revolution not only taught us to note the social background, the class conflicts and the interests at stake, it also indicated a path by which to go beyond the hypocrisy of bourgeois liberalism and it confirmed that acts of force against the reaction form part of the confrontation with rightist barbarism.

The Left will have to determine whether it converges with the opposition in the boycott or participates in the Constituent Assembly. There is also a third option, with a very small audience: “yes, no and the very opposite.”

In the rest of the region the need is for solidarity. As in Cuba’s special period, we have to put our shoulders to the wheel in difficult situations. Let us hope that many compañeros adopt this approach before it is too late.

Intellectual Regroupment
Venezuela is not only giving rise to intense debates. It has also brought about significant regroupments of intellectuals that endorse counterposed appeals. This positioning has been more relevant than the controversial details of the distinct declarations. It has resulted in a great division between camps.

The REDH text refuting the social-democratic call was complemented by other compelling responses.[31] The political demarcation has been very rapid.

Despite the tension created by the manifestos, a number of signatories ask that the fraternal dialogue be maintained. That respect is indispensable but the indignant reactions are explained by what is at stake. If the Right prevails, there will be plenty of time for the lamentations and the seminars investigating what happened.

Since the social-democratic statement contains an appeal for peace, many thinkers rallied to it in the spontaneous hope of slowing down the violence. Taking a closer look at the contents of the document, some withdrew their support and others maintained it with defensive arguments. They highlight their continuing solidarity with the Bolivarian process or point out their differences with other signatories.

But most significant has been the rapid and generalized reaction that the anti-Chavista document aroused and the great rejection the social-democratic statement generated. That instinctive reaction led to a sudden convergence between left-wing intellectuals and radical nationalism. If this interface were to be consolidated, Venezuela will have awakened a re-encounter of critical thinking with the revolutionary traditions of Latin America. •

Claudio Katz is an economist, researcher with Argentina’s National Council of Scientific and Technical Research (CONICET), professor at the University of Buenos Aires and a member of the Economists of the Left (EDI). His web page, where this article first appeared, is at

Translated from the original article by Richard Fidler (with assistance from Federico Fuentes) and first published in Life on the Left.


1. Marco Teruggi, “Radiografía de la violencia en Venezuela,” El Telégrafo 14-5-2017.

2. Pablo Siris Seade, “Las nuevas víctimas de las guarimbas en Venezuela,” Rebelion, 20-5-2017.

3. Guillermo Cieza, “La derrota política de la derecha venezolana,” Resumen, 7-6-2017.

4. Atilio Boron, “Venezuela sumida en la guerra civil,” Jornada, 26-5-2017; “La ‘oposición democrática’ en Venezuela: peor que el fascismo,” Cuba Debate, 25-4-2017.

5. Carlos Aznárez, “La cuestión es impedir que el fascismo se adueñe de Venezuela,” Resumen, 22-5-2017.

6. Manu Pineda, “La mentira como herramienta de guerra en Venezuela,” El Diario, 29-5-2017.

7. Marco Teruggi, “Análisis del esquema de la ofensiva paramilitar,” Hastaelnocau, 24-5-2017.

8. Luigino Bracci Roa, Lista de fallecidos por las protestas violentas de la oposición venezolana, abril a junio de 2017,” Alba Ciudad, 9-6-2017.

9. Manuel Humberto Restrepo Domínguez, “46 líderes asesinados evidencian una política del horror,” America Latina en Movimiento, 22-5-2017.

10. TRIAL International, “Informe de seguimiento presentado al Comité contra la Desaparición Forzada,” 2-2-2017.

11. TelsurTV “Asesinan a Berta Cáceres, líder indígena de Honduras,” 3-3-2016.

12. Marco Teruggi, “Llegó la hora Venezuela,” Resumen, 28-5-2017.

13. Guillermo Cieza, La derrota política de la derecha venezolana,” Resumen 7-6-2017.

14. Simón Rodríguez Porras, “Nueve errores de Claudio Katz sobre Venezuela,” La Clase, 11-5-2017.

15. Ángel Guerra Cabrera, “Venezuela, situación de peligro,” La Pupila Insomne, 25-5-2017. Also Telma Luzzani, “El plan destituyente del Pentágono y el secretario de la OEA,” Tiempoar, 30-3-2017.

16. Simón Rodríguez Porras, “Nueve errores de Claudio Katz sobre Venezuela,” La Clase, 11-5-2017.

17. Simón Rodríguez Porras, “Nueve errores de Claudio Katz sobre Venezuela,” La Clase, 11-5-2017.

18. Edgardo Lander, “Sociólogo venezolano cuestiona la ‘solidaridad incondicional’de la izquierda latinoamericana con el chavismo,” La Diaria, 23-3-2017.

19. Maristella Svampa, “Carta Abierta al Campo Militante Prochavista de la Argentina,” La Tecla Ene, 5-6-2017.

20. Maristella Svampa and Roberto Gargarella, “El desafío de la izquierda, no callar,” Pagina 12, 8-5-2017.

21. VVAA, “Llamado Internacional Urgente a detener la escalada de violencia en Venezuela,” CETRI, 30-5-2017.

22. VVAA, “¿Quién acusará a los acusadores?,” REDH, 5-6-2017.

23. Maristella Svampa, “Carta Abierta al Campo Militante Prochavista de la Argentina,” La Tecla Ene, 5-6-2017.

24. Simón Rodríguez Porras, “Nueve errores de Claudio Katz sobre Venezuela,” La Clase, 11-5-2017.

25. Nuevo MAS, “Bajo la consigna “Fuera Maduro” escandaloso acto en Buenos Aires de un sector del FIT en apoyola derecha golpista venezolana.”

26. Jorge Altamira, “Constituyente ‘a la Maduro’,” 18-5-2017.

27. Gustavo Bazzan, “El reclamo de Atilio Borón a Nicolás Maduro para "aplastar" a la oposición en Venezuela,” Clarin Mundo, 30-5-2017.

28. Carlos Carcione, “Las “lecciones” de algunos intelectuales de la izquierda: ¿Quiénes son los sepultureros del proceso bolivariano?,” Question Digital, 16-5-2017.

29. Stalin Pérez Borges, “Movimiento EN LUCHAS: la convocatoria a la Asamblea Nacional Constituyente es un reto que debemos asumir,” Aporrea, 9-5-2017.

30. Gustavo Giménez, “Venezuela: una Constituyente trucha,” MST, 11-5-2017.

31. VVAA, “Declaración sobre Venezuela: Intelectuales en solidaridad con el pueblo bolivariano,” 5-6-2017. Also, “LUCHAS y otras organizaciones se pronuncian por una salida democrática, revolucionaria y socialista a la crisis venezolana.”

Posted by Portside on August 1, 2017