Sunday, January 22, 2017

Narendra Modi paying lip-service to Mahatma Gandhi: Shashi Tharoor

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was paying “lip-service” to Mahatma Gandhi and the ruling party’s intellectuals, who had been “deep-rooted in hatred” for the Father of the Nation, were now “hailing him as a hero”, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor said on Sunday.
“It’s the easiest to pay lip-service to the Mahatma. BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj is an example who called for building of statues of Nathuram Godse even as the government is co-opting Gandhi as a symbol in most spheres of political and social life,” he said at a session at the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) here.
He said that the Ramayana and the Mahabharata should also be taught in schools.
“The Ramayana and the Mahabharata should also be taught like the way epics like the Iliad and the Odyssey are read in schools. But I’m not at all in favour of injecting a political ideology into our education.”
To a question on Britain’s legacy on India’s education, Tharoor said it was “unfortunate” that Shakespeare was taught in schools and colleges in India whereas there was not enough emphasis on the teaching of Kalidasa.
Tharoor was in conversation with historian John Wilson and publisher Michael Dwyer at a session on ‘Remembering the Raj’. The panel delved into Tharoor’s recent book, ‘An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India’.
To a rapturous applause, he said in his opening remarks that when the British came here, India was a prosperous country and over 200 years of British rules reduced it to the poorest country in the world.
He slammed Britons and those who cite the civilising mission of the colonials to justify imperialism, saying that “you don’t have to be colonised to get the railways”.
The British rule was not intended for benefiting Indians with railways, English language, cricket and political democracy, but it was brought here to serve British interests.
“During the British Raj, India was the easiest place in the world for an untalented Englishman to thrive.
“Over 35 million Indians died unnecessary deaths because of British policy and (Winston) Churchill, who is often held up as a democratic ideal by the apologists of the Empire, was on record denying financial assistance to starving Bengalis during the Great Bengal Famine. In fact, the famine camps were given less provision than those in the Buchenwald concentration camp,” he said. He, however, said that it was important to forgive “what we went through but equally important not to forget it”.

Beware Of Popular Leaders Who Promise Simplistic Solutions by Aakar Patel

America's presidential candidates usually talk of three things - changing Washington, putting America first and putting Americans to work.
The first never happens, because Washington is the capital of a great republic which is over 200 years old. It is the city which controls the largest economy of any nation in the world and controls the most powerful military of any nation in the world. It is not a city that is awaiting a saviour and any drastic change, even if possible, would likely be a change for the worse.
'Putting America first' is a meaningless slogan because it assumes previous presidents have put America second or third, which they have not. Henry Kissinger, the secretary of state to Richard Nixon, said that all foreign policy was actually domestic policy. What he meant was, America fought wars abroad in response to domestic demands. And so it is unlikely Donald Trump will be able to change much in that sense either. He will bring American troops back from wars that cannot be won but he will not be the first president to do that. 
The third promise is the most interesting one because we are often told that the real subject of elections in America is jobs and the economy. Trump's vote base is white men with blue collar jobs. This means those people who work with their hands. Henry Ford began the tradition of Americans with such jobs becoming a part of the middle class, with his affordable cars which even those who assembled them could buy.
I lived as a student in Janesville, Wisconsin 30 years ago and one of the families I stayed with, the Johnsons, belonged to a man who had been assembling wheels on cars for decades. That was the only skill he was trained in. He had built a nice house with the money he earned through labour and put his children through a good education. That plant had been started in 1919 and it had more than 5,000 employees. It shut down in 2009 because it is cheaper to assemble cars in China and South America because the labour costs are lower.
Today, China and South America and India have also begun losing such jobs because mechanisation and automation are becoming so efficient that it is cheaper to replace even the low cost labour in these countries with technology. Manufacturing is moving back to America but it is labour-less manufacturing.
In America, there has been plenty of time for those who have been in blue collar families to receive the benefits of high wage labour. To some extent this is also true of China, where the per capita income is about five times more than ours. The real problem of joblessness and democratic politics is happening here in India. And it is happening now, right before us. It was revealed a few days ago that Infosys had fired 8,000 workers because of automation.
This was an unusual piece of information because for two decades the software firms of India have been hiring aggressively. That trend has ended, according to the companies, and they have now begun to downsize and build a smaller, more skilled work force. They will no longer hire people in large numbers.
If this is the problem that even white collar and educated Indians face in the cities, what is going to happen of the hundreds of millions in the towns and villages? They are in trouble.
We must understand the nature of the protests across India on various issues as being born essentially of this unrest. Whether it is the Patidars in Gujarat, the Jats in Haryana, the Marathas in Maharashtra, the main demand is of blue collar work that gives a respectable living wage. This is impossible today and such jobs will never be available on a large enough scale in India or anywhere else in the world for that matter.
Economic growth happens when there is an increase in output either through the number of workers or an improvement in efficiency. The problem in India is that there are too many unskilled workers with little education and ability to produce anything. Merely low cost is not advantageous and no magic policy, slogan or logo will change that.
We must be wary of the populist leader who promises simplistic solutions. This is true as much in India as it is in America. The world is complex and its economy has evolved in a particular way that cannot be changed by a genius individual.
This is why, ultimately, the promise Trump makes of putting Americans to work will be an empty one.
That will of course not stop the next president from making the same noises about changing Washington, putting America first and jobs.

Foot Soldier of the Constitution: A Memoir by Teesta Setalvad

I was born in a family of Gujaratis, of Gujarati lawyers to be precise. Gujarat was always a part of me, though we were proud migrants to Bombay. My great grandfather left his government job in Ahmedabad within four days of taking his post to study law in Bombay. My mother, who was related to my father prior to their marriage, had a paternal uncle in Ahmedabad, who was the Advocate General of Gujarat for twenty-six years. Once or twice a year, we would visit Ma’s mama and mami.
Lawyers surrounded me during my childhood. My father – Atul – was also a lawyer. He would sometimes visit Gujarat for work at the High Court, flying down while we took the overnight Gujarat Mail train from Bombay Central to Ahmedabad. My mother would take us (my sister Amili and me) to the wholesale garment bazaar – Dhalgarwaad – within the old city. But my father would not ignore the delights of Ahmedabad while he was with us.
A keen and committed non-vegetarian, he would never return home to Juhu without a few dozen kuccha samosas from Famous in the old city. They are mutton mince samosas with minutely chopped green chillies, onions and mint leaves – delicious and memorable.
That Gujarat – of lawyers, garment bazaars and samosas – seemed distant when I came back to report for The Daily and later Indian Express and Business India. In July 1991, I did a statewide report on the surge of entrenched communal conflict in Gujarat. The BJP had, at that time, taken out the Rath Yatra – the chariot of LK Advani that threatened violence and desired votes. I visited six or seven cities within the state, taking the intra-city trains. One conversation on one of these train journeys has remained with me.

It was with a Gujarati Hindu businessman.

He was gleeful at the growing popularity of the aggressive and violent organisations that owed their allegiance to the ideology of Hindutva and the Hindu Rashtra. They have removed the fear within the Gujarati to fight and kill, to take to violence. “That is good’, he said. He was referring to the unashamed espousal of and use of arms and violence against the imputed “minority enemy”, the Other of Gujarat.
An incident from 1991, while reporting for Business India, remains sharply in my mind. Following my father Atul’s lead, I wanted to return to Bombay from my harrowing ten-day sojourn with some of Ahmedabad’s famous mutton samosas. I had a final interview with Rauf Waliullah in the old city. We talked at length about the challenges before the Muslim community, whose rich role included contributions to business, economic exchanges, artisan trades and other professions that had been crudely stereotyped as “criminal”.
For instance, Raufsaab explained how, despite the fact that there were Muslims among professionals, artists and academics in Gujarat, the fact that some political parties patronised the infamous smuggler-lord Abdul Latif (who won elections even while in prison) became an easy way to stigmatise an entire community. He was passionate about the need for a questioning, rational leadership from among Muslims who would demand their space as a matter of right, not patronage. It was a long and valuable conversation that helped me understand the details of life in urban Gujarat.
As I was leaving, I said that I wanted to get some of the famous Bera samosas. Raufsaab was thrilled: I had to be a real Ahmadavadi if I knew and loved those samosas, he said. He had an interview scheduled with the BBC just after mine. I left the old city and drove to the airport. It is merely a forty-minute flight to Bombay. I landed and reached home, just 20 minutes away. In the hour and twenty minutes that it took me to get from Ahmedabad to Bombay, from the interview with Raufsaab to my house in Juhu – a life ended. The phone rang and I was told that Raufsaab had been shot dead.

It seemed as though a sane and moderate voice who challenged the way things operated and who defied stereotypes could not be tolerated.

This wider understanding of what was happening in that state and its society, came from what Raufsaab told me and other experiences and conversations that focused my mind on the issues within Gujarat. Between the businessman’s words and Raufsaab’s death, I detected a strong undercurrent of anti-Muslim sentiment in Gujarat. It was far cruder in the state than anywhere else in the country at that time.
Gujarat is my heritage. And yet, because of our migratory history, my family was unashamedly Bombayite. A popular family narrative speaks of how the Setalvads preferred the cosmopolitanism of Bombay to the parochialism of Amdavad. I speak better Marathi than Gujarati, though thanks to my paternal grandmother, Vimla Setalvad – also a writer of short stories — I am familiar with the Gujarati script. This familiarity came in handy as I ploughed through First Information Reports (FIRs) and Charge Sheets related to the investigations into the massacres of 2002.

Part of the explanation for the palpable anti-Muslim sentiment in the 1990s can be found through the methodical work of the RSS and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad from the 1980s onwards.

The RSS and the VHP build on all kinds of false resentments to generate an anger of the Hindu middle-class and sections of the Hindu working-class. One of the issues they played on was the obvious business savoir-faire of the Bohras and the Khojas – only a fraction of the ten per cent-odd of the state’s Muslim population – because they had a visible hand in the commercial world. Their success made them objects of social and political envy. Such an explanation though is not sufficient to fully describe the growth in anti-Muslim sentiment.
In April 2000, I had published a story in Communalism Combat – the journal Javed and I began in 1993 – to offer a richer explanation for this cultural turn. We called that cover story – Face to Face with Fascism. The details of the abuse of state power and the linkage between the RSS-VHP thugs and elected officials tell the story. Here is an extract from my article:
The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) has cancelled most non-Hindu holidays. It was forced to restore the Good Friday holiday last year after an outcry from the Christian community. Muslim children studying in several schools in Ahmedabad city, (The Vishwabharati, Naujeevan, Karmasheela, JP High, BR Somani and Prakash High schools are some examples) have to routinely give examinations on the day of Ramzan Id or Bakri Id; Muslim teachers, too, are compelled to remain present for invigilation! At the Hindu-managed VR Somani and Bhakta Vallabh schools, where 95 per cent of students are Muslim but teachers are Hindu, the teachers have adopted a unique technique of getting at their students: they just do not teach.
Bakri Id on March 17 this year was used, as it has been over the past couple of years, by the BJP-RSS-VHP squads to provoke the Muslim minority by deliberate emphasis on the Cow Protection Act. The commissioner of police and the municipal commissioner issued a joint appeal to all citizens asking them to be mindful of the provisions of the act. The VHP and Bajrang Dal members decided to act as informants of the police.
Despite a clear message from the state government that the question of dealing with any violation of the law should be left entirely to the police, VHP men in Ahmedabad forced nakabandis on Muslims taking animals for slaughter. In one such incident on the night of March 15, a young Muslim narrowly escaped the swords and lathis of the VHP.
But another Muslim boy, Yasin Mohammad, was attacked by the VHP team with knives and swords, simply because his domestic servant, the pillion rider on the scooter, was carrying a bundle of grass. Yasin Mohammad collapsed on the spot. Policemen present did nothing to prevent the murder. It resulted in a Muslim and Hindu mob gathering at Dariapur and communal tension growing. Rajendra Vyas, a VHP worker, was present when the murder took place.
Now – since 2014 – we have entered the age of the Gau Rakshak or Cow Taliban. What is happening across India was pioneered in Gujarat sixteen years ago. It is where the Cow Taliban mastered its acts of targeted violence.
Excerpted from Foot Soldier of the Constitution: A Memoir, Teesta Setalvad, Leftword Books.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Dan Rather on Trump's inauguration

And so it begins.
Of the nearly 20 inaugurations I can remember, there has never been one that felt like today. Not even close. Never mind the question of the small size of the crowds, or the boycott by dozens of lawmakers, or even the protest marches slated for tomorrow across the country. Those are plays upon the stage. What is truly unprecedented in my mind is the sheer magnitude of quickening heartbeats in millions of Americans, a majority of our country if the polls are to be believed, that face today buffeted within and without by the simmering ache of dread.
I have never seen my country on an inauguration day so divided, so anxious, so fearful, so uncertain of its course.
I have never seen a transition so divisive with cabinet picks so encumbered by serious questions of qualifications and ethics.
I have never seen the specter of a foreign foe cast such a dark shadow over the workings of our democracy.
I have never seen an incoming president so preoccupied with responding to the understandable vagaries of dissent and seemingly unwilling to contend with the full weight and responsibilities of the most powerful job in the world.
I have never seen such a tangled web of conflicting interests.
Despite the pageantry of unity on display at the Capitol today, there is a piercing sense that we are entering a chapter in our nation's evolving story unlike one ever yet written. To be sure, there are millions of Donald Trump supporters who are euphoric with their candidate's rise. Other Trump voters have expressed reservations, having preferred his bluster to his rival's perceived shortcomings in the last election, but admitting more and more that they are not sure what kind of man they bestowed the keys to the presidency. The rest of America - the majority of voters - would not be - and indeed is not - hesitant in sharing its conclusions on the character and fitness of Donald Trump for the office he now holds.
The hope one hears from even some of Donald Trump's critics is that this moment might change him. Perhaps, as he stood there on a grey, drab, January day, reciting the solemn oath of office demanded by our Constitution, as he looked out across what Charles Dickens once called the "city of magnificent intentions", he would somehow grasp the importance of what he was undertaking. Perhaps he would understand that he must be the president of all the United States, in action as well as in word. Perhaps, but there has already been so much past that is prologue.
There is usually much fanfare around inaugural addresses. They are also usually forgotten - with some notable exceptions. I think today will be remembered, not so much for the rhetoric or the turns of phrase but for the man who delivered them and the era they usher us forth.
Mr. Trump's delivery was staccato and there was very little eye contact as he seemed to be reading carefully from a teleprompter. His words and tone were angry and defiant. He is still in campaign mode and nary a whiff of a unifying spirit. There was little or nothing of uplift - the rhetoric of Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Kennedy, or Reagan. We heard a cavalcade of slogans and one liners, of huge promises to "bring back" an America - whatever that really means to many who look at our history and see progress in our current society.
The speech started with a message of an establishment in Washington earning riches on the back of struggling families across the country. It was an odd note, considering the background of many of his cabinet picks. President Trump painted a very dark picture of the current state of our nation, beset by gangs and drugs and violence, regardless of what the data shows. His words swelled with his economic populism and the nationalism of "America first." The applause was sparse, and I imagine many more being turned off, even sickened, rather than inspired by what our new President had to say. President Obama looked on with an opaque poker face. One could only imagine what he was thinking.
It bears remembering that one never can predict the arc of a presidency. It is an office that is far too often shaped by circumstance well beyond its occupant's control. Those challenges, wherever and however they may rise, now will fall on the desk of President Trump. We can only see what will happen. We hope, for the security and sanctity of our Republic, that Mr. Trump will respond to the challenges with circumspection and wisdom. Today's rhetoric was not reassuring.
Our democracy demands debate and dissent - fierce, sustained, and unflinching when necessary. I sense that tide is rising amongst an opposition eager to toss aside passivity for action. We are already seeing a more emboldened Democratic party than I have witnessed in ages. It is being fueled by a fervent energy bubbling from the grassroots up, rather than the top down.
These are the swirling currents about our ship of state. We now have a new and untested captain. His power is immense, but it is not bestowed from a divinity on high. It is derived, as the saying goes, from the consent of the governed. That means President Trump now works for us - all of us. And if he forgets that, it will be our duty to remind him.

Trump sworn in as the 45th president

Donald J. Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the USA on Friday. It was a rainy day and the country remains divided because of a very nasty election campaign. So, the attendees for this momentous event were rather small compared to previous ones in the last couple of decades.
As expected, Franklin Graham, the hateful Christian bigot, was invited to pray for Trump and his administration.

Besides Graham, the other clergy giving prayers or readings on Friday were: Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York; Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles;, Bishop Wayne T. Jackson of Great Faith Ministries International in Detroit; the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference in Sacramento, Calif.; and Pastor and televangelist Paula White of New Destiny Christian Center in Apopka, Fla. Hier was the first rabbi from Orthodox Judaism to participate in a presidential inauguration, and Rodriguez was the first Hispanic evangelical leader.

Graham has last participated at a presidential inauguration in 2001, when then-President George W. Bush was sworn in for his first term. I have never liked evangelical missionaries like Graham who prey upon the destitute to sell the tablet of Christianity and Jesus as THE savior. In his speech, he again sold his brand of Christianity that is arrogant, exclusive and chauvinist, disregarding the message of his lord Jesus himself, as cited in the so-called New Testament. He condones mass murder using WMDs. He also considered former president Obama to be a secret Muslim. He is very hostile to Islam and Muslims, and has been in record condemning the faith of more than 1.7 billion Muslims for the hideous crimes of the few misguided adherents of the faith. In that he forgets that if such a selective criterion is used for condemning an entire faith, he need not go beyond his own faith to find out that the worst mass murderers in history since the days of Emperor Constantine have mostly been of Christian faith. Even a curious look into the last century is enough to make this case. But when it comes to such Christian crimes, evil pastors like Graham suffer from selective amnesia.

The fact that in spite of his hatemongering, Graham is invited to lead prayer service for a new president during the inauguration ceremony simply speaks volumes about the fundamentalist and fanatic orientation of these elected presidents who see themselves as the modern-day crusader kings of the Christian faith. Thus, behind the veneer of all those empty rhetoric of secularism no one should doubt the very Christian root of this country. It is there that many would see Bush Jr's invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan as an unfinished crusade against the Muslim world, thus, bolstering the claim of all those radical elements on all sides.

As we now move into the Trump-era too many things are uncertain about the direction the USA will head. Hundreds of thousands of concerned people all around the globe are rallying today (Saturday) protesting Trump's presidency. They are nervous and genuinely concerned about the world that we live in.

Will Trump bring peace or destruction, prosperity or misery? We can only hope for the former. But coming days and months would make things more clear for all of us to see where we are heading.

Read more here:

Eight People Own as Much as Half the World by Pete Dolack

Just when it seemed we might be running out of superlatives to demonstrate the monstrous inequality of today’s capitalism, Oxfam has provided the most dramatic example yet: Eight individuals, all men, possess as much wealth as the poorest 50 percent of humanity.
Eight people have as much as 3.7 billion people.
How could this be? Oxfam calculated that 85 people had as much wealth as the poorest half of humanity in 2014, a staggering finding that researchers with the anti-poverty organization discovered through crunching numbers provided by Forbes magazine in its rich list and by the investment bank Credit Suisse in its global wealth distribution report. Oxfam found wealth distribution to be even more unequal than did Credit Suisse, which calculated that the top one percent equaled the bottom 50 percent. Oxfam, in its report, “An Economy for the 99%,” released this month, explains:
“This year we find that the wealth of the bottom 50% of the global population was lower than previously estimated, and it takes just eight individuals to equal their total wealth holdings. Every year, Credit Suisse acquires new and better data sources with which to estimate the global wealth distribution: its latest report shows both that there is more debt in the very poorest group and fewer assets in the 30–50% percentiles of the global population. Last year it was estimated that the cumulative share of wealth of the poorest 50% was 0.7%; this year it is 0.2%.” [page 11]
Because Oxfam includes among the bottom 50 percent people in the advanced capitalist countries of the Global North who have a net worth of less than zero due to debt, some critics might argue that these people are nonetheless “income-rich” because they have credit available to them and thus distort the inequality outcome. Oxfam, however, says that almost three-quarters of those among the bottom 50 percent live in low-income countries, and excluding those from the North with negative wealth would make little difference in aggregate inequality. That total debt is equal to only 0.4 percent of overall global wealth. The Oxfam report says:
“At the very top, this year’s data finds that collectively the richest eight individuals have a net wealth of $426 bn, which is the same as the net wealth of the bottom half of humanity. …  [E]stimates from Credit Suisse find that collectively the poorest 50% of people have less than a quarter of 1% of global net wealth. Nine percent of the people in this group have negative wealth, and most of these people live in richer countries where student debt and other credit facilities are available. But even if we discount the debts of people living in Europe and North America, the total wealth of the bottom 50% is still less than 1%.” [page 10]
Profiting from cheap labor and forced labor
We are accustomed to hearing that chief executive officers in U.S.-based corporations earn hundreds of times more than their average employee, but this dynamic can be found in the developing world as well. No matter where the CEO lives, brutal and relenting exploitation of working people is the motor force of inequality. Oxfam reports:
“The CEO of India’s top information firm earns 416 times the salary of a typical employee in his company. In the 1980s, cocoa farmers received 18% of the value of a chocolate bar — today they get just 6%. In extreme cases, forced labour or slavery can be used to keep corporate costs down. The International Labour Organization estimates that 21 million people are forced labourers, generating an estimated $150 bn in profits each year. The world’s largest garment companies have all been linked to cotton-spinning mills in India, which routinely use the forced labour of girls.” [page 3]
People become sweatshop workers out of desperation; often these are men and women driven off the land their families had farmed for generations. Land, even small plots that provide only subsidence for those who work it, represents wealth taken away when those subsidence farmers are forced into migrating into urban slums. Displacement from global warming is also a factor.
“[M]any people experiencing poverty around the world are seeing an erosion of their main source of wealth — namely land, natural resources and homes — as a consequence of insecure land rights, land grabbing, land fragmentation and erosion, climate change, urban eviction and forced displacement. While total farmland has increased globally, small family farms operate a declining share of this land. Ownership of land among the poorest wealth quintile fell by 7.3% between the 1990s and 2000s. Change in land ownership in developing countries is commonly driven by large-scale acquisitions, which see the transfer of land from small-scale farmers to large investors and the conversion of land from subsistence to commercial use. Up to 59% of land deals cover communal lands claimed by indigenous peoples and small communities, which translates to the potential displacement of millions of people. Yet only 14% of deals have involved a proper process to obtain ‘free prior and informed consent.’ Distribution of land is most unequal in Latin America, where 64% of the total wealth is related to non-financial assets like land and housing and 1% of ‘super farms’ in Latin America now control more productive land than the other 99%.” [page 10]
As entire areas of the world like Latin America have been plundered for the benefit of multi-national corporations based in the Global North, with those benefits flowing to the executives and financiers who control those corporations, it is no surprise that most of the wealth remains concentrated in the advanced capitalist countries. Although steering well clear of so much as a hint of the imperial nature of uneven development, the Credit Suisse report that Oxfam drew upon does note that North America and Europe together account for 65% of total household wealth with only 18% of the world’s adult population.
The sociologist James Petras estimates that the corporations and banks of the North took US$950 billion of wealth out of Latin America for the period 1975 to 2005. Thus it is no surprise that global inequality, when measured by the standard statistical measure of income distribution, the gini coefficient, is greater than inequality in any single country.
More programs on the way to make inequality still worse
Few countries of the Global North are more unequal than the United States, the imperial center of the world capitalist system that seeks to impose its ways and culture on the rest of the world. The new Trump administration is determined to make U.S. inequality even more extreme. Not only through intentions of cutting taxes on the wealthy and corporations, but via many less obvious routes.
For example, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports that the repeal of Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, a process already in motion, would result in tax cuts of $2.8 billion per year for the country’s 400 highest-income taxpayers. Special Medicare taxes that fund subsidies for low-income United Statesians to buy insurance under the act are assessed only on those with annual incomes higher than $200,000. Conversely, the loss of tax credits to buy health insurance would lead to a tax increase for about seven million low- and moderate-income families.
Through the end of 2016, the central banks of Britain, the European Union, Japan and the United States have shoveled a colossal total of US$8 trillion (€7.4 trillion) into their “quantitative easing” programs — that is, programs that buy government bonds and other debt in an effort to boost the economy but in reality does little other than fuel stock-market bubbles and, secondarily, real estate bubbles. Vast rebuilding of crumbling infrastructure — a program that would actually put people to work — would have cost less.
Standard economic ideology insists that the real problem is that wages have not fallen enough! Consistent with that, the Federal Reserve released a paper in 2015 claiming that “rigidities” “prevent businesses from reducing wages as much as they would like” during economic downturns.
Oh yes, falling wages instead of stagnant wages will bring happy times! Never mind that productivity has soared over the past four decades, while wages have consistently not kept pace. The average Canadian and U.S. household would earn hundreds of dollars per week more if wages had kept up with rising productivity, while wages in Britain and many other countries are also lagging.
What to do? The Oxfam report, in its conclusions, advocates a switch to a “human economy,” one in which governments are “accountable to the 99%,” businesses would be oriented toward policies that “increase prosperity for all,” and sustainability and equality would be paramount.
“Oxfam firmly believes humanity can do better,” its report concludes. Surely we can do better. But not under capitalism. Does anyone believe that the world’s elites, who profit so enormously and believe they can build a wall high enough to keep the world’s environmental and social problems away, are going to suddenly accept business as usual can no longer go on and willingly give up their enormous privileges?

Israel’s shadowy role in Guatemala’s dirty war

Last year was a busy one for Guatemala’s criminal justice system.
January 2016 saw the arrests of 18 former military officers for their alleged part in the country’s dirty war of the 1980s. In February last year, two ex-soldiers were convicted in an unprecedented wartime sexual slavery case from the same era.
Such legal proceedings represent further openings in the judicial system following the 2013 trial and conviction of former head of state General Efraín Ríos Montt for genocide and crimes against humanity. Although the Guatemalan Constitutional Court very quickly annulled the trial (finally restarted in March after fitful stops and starts, but currently stalled again), a global precedent has been set for holding national leaders accountable in the country where their crimes took place.
And in November, a Guatemalan judge allowed a separate case against Ríos Montt to proceed. The case relates to the 1982 massacre in the village of Dos Erres.
Ríos Montt was president from 1982 to 1983, a period marked by intense state violence against the indigenous Mayan peoples. The violence included the destruction of entire villages, resulting in mass displacement.
Mayans were repeatedly targeted during the period of repression that lasted from 1954 – when the US engineered a military coup – to 1996. More than 200,000 people were killed in Guatemala during that period, 83 percent of whom were Mayans.
The crimes committed by the Guatemalan state were carried out with foreign – particularly US – assistance. One key party to these crimes has so far eluded any mention inside the courts: Israel.

Proxy for US

From the 1980s to today, Israel’s extensive military role in Guatemala remains an open secret that is well-documented but receives scant criticism.
Discussing the military coup which installed him as president in 1982, Ríos Montt told an ABC News reporter that his regime takeover went so smoothly “because many of our soldiers were trained by Israelis.” In Israel, the press reported that 300 Israeli advisers were on the ground training Ríos Montt’s soldiers.
One Israeli adviser in Guatemala at the time, Lieutenant Colonel Amatzia Shuali, said: “I don’t care what the Gentiles do with the arms. The main thing is that the Jews profit,” as recounted in Dangerous Liaison by Andrew and Leslie Cockburn.
Some years earlier, when Congressional restrictions under the Carter administration limited US military aid to Guatemala due to human rights violations, Israeli economic and military technology leaders saw a golden opportunity to enter the market.
Yaakov Meridor, then an Israeli minister of economy, indicated in the early 1980s that Israel wished to be a proxy for the US in countries where it had decided not to openly sell weapons. Meridor said: “We will say to the Americans: Don’t compete with us in Taiwan; don’t compete with us in South Africa; don’t compete with us in the Caribbean or in other places where you cannot sell arms directly. Let us do it … Israel will be your intermediary.”
The CBS Evening News with Dan Rather program attempted to explain the source of Israel’s global expertise by noting in 1983 that the advanced weaponry and methods Israel peddled in Guatemala had been successfully “tried and tested on the West Bank and Gaza, designed simply to beat the guerrilla.”
Israel’s selling points for its weapons relied not only on their use in the occupied West Bank and Gaza but also in the wider region. Journalist George Black reported that Guatemalan military circles admired the Israeli army’s performance during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Their overseas admiration was so unabashed that rightists in Guatemala “spoke openly of the ‘Palestinianization’ of the nation’s rebellious Mayan Indians,” according to Black.
Military cooperation between Israel and Guatemala has been traced back to the 1960s. By the time of Ríos Montt’s rule, Israel had become Guatemala’s main provider of weapons, military training, surveillance technology and other vital assistance in the state’s war on urban leftists and rural indigenous Mayans.
In turn, many Guatemalans suffered the results of this special relationship and have connected Israel to their national tragedy.

Man of integrity?

One of the most haunting massacres committed during this period was the destruction of the El Petén district village named Dos Erres. Ríos Montt’s Israeli-trained soldiers burned Dos Erres to the ground. First, however, its inhabitants were shot. Those who survived the initial attack on the village had their skulls smashed with sledgehammers. The bodies of the dead were stuffed down the village well.
During a court-ordered exhumation in the village, investigators working for the 1999 UN Truth Commission cited the following in their forensics report: “All the ballistic evidence recovered corresponded to bullet fragments from firearms and pods of Galil rifles, made in Israel.”
Then US President Ronald Reagan – whose administration would later be implicated in the “Iran-Contra” scandal for running guns to Iran through Israel, in part to fund a paramilitary force aiming to topple Nicaragua’s Marxist government – visited Ríos Montt just days before the massacre.
Reagan praised Ríos Montt as “a man of great personal integrity” who “wants to improve the quality of life for all Guatemalans and to promote social justice.” Reagan also assured the Guatemalan president that “the United States is committed to support his efforts to restore democracy and to address the root causes of this violent insurgency.” At one point in their conversation, Reagan is reported to have embraced Ríos Montt and told the Guatemalan president he was getting “a bum rap” on human rights.
In November 2016, however, judge Claudette Dominguez accepted the Guatemalan attorney general’s request to prosecute Ríos Montt as intellectual author of the Dos Erres massacre, pressing him with charges of aggravated homicide, crimes against humanity and genocide.
Among the 18 arrested this year was Benedicto Lucas García, former army chief of staff under his brother Romeo Lucas García’s military presidency. Benedicto, who was seen by some of his soldiers as an innovator of torture techniques for use on children, described “the Israeli soldier [as] a model and an example to us.”
In 1981, Benedicto headed the inauguration ceremony of an Israeli-designed and financed electronics school in Guatemala. Its purpose was to train the Guatemalan military on using so-called counterinsurgency technologies. Benedicto lauded the school’s establishment as a “positive step” in advancing the Guatemalan regime to world-class military efficiency “thanks to [Israel’s] advice and transfer of electronic technology.”
In its inaugural year alone, the school enabled the regime’s secret police, known as the G-2, to raid some 30 safe houses of the Revolutionary Organization of People in Arms (ORPA).
The G-2 coordinated the assassination, “disappearance” and torture of opponents to the Guatemalan government.
While Guatemalan governments frequently changed hands – through both coups and elections – during the 1980s, Israel remained Guatemala’s main source of weapons and military advice.

Belligerence at the border

The Israeli military-security complex casts a long, intercontinental shadow over Guatemalans who are still fleeing the consequences of the dirty war.
In some areas along the US-Mexico border, such as in Texas, the numbers of migrants hailing today from Central America (but only from the countries combusted by US intervention – Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras) – has begun to outpace the number coming from Mexico.
According to information provided to this author by the Pima County Medical Examiner’s office in Arizona, many Guatemalans who have perished while crossing these desert borderlands originated from among the indigenous Mayan areas hit hardest by the 1980s genocide: El Quiché, Huehuetenango, Chimaltenango.
Southern Arizona has also seen a spike in undocumented Guatemalan migration. US firms and institutions have been collaborating with Israeli security companies to up-armor Southern Arizona’s border zone.
The Israeli weapons firm Elbit won a major government contract to provide 52 surveillance towers in Southern Arizona’s desert borderlands, beginning with the pilot program of seven towers currently placed among the hills and valleys surrounding Nogales, a border town split by the wall.
More towers are slated to surround the Tohono O’odham Nation, the second largest Native American reservation in the US. Already the number of federal forces occupying permanent positions on Tohono O’odham lands is the largest in US history.
Alan Bersin, a senior figure in the US Department of Homeland Security, described Guatemala’s border with Chiapas, Mexico, as “now our southern border” in 2012. That “southern border” was heavily militarized during Barack Obama’s eight years as US president.
We can safely expect that militarization to continue during Donald Trump’s presidency. Trump’s anti-migrant rhetoric during the presidential election campaign suggests it is likely to be intensified.
During the dirty war, tens of thousands of Guatemalans fled over this border into Southern Mexico. Today, Israel assists the Mexican authorities in Chiapas with “counterinsurgency” activities largely targeting the indigenous Maya community.
Though media reporting on Guatemala’s connection with Israel has dissipated, Israel’s enterprising efforts in the country have never diminished. Today, Israel’s presence in Guatemala is especially pronounced in the private security industry which proliferated in the years following the so-called Guatemalan peace process of the mid-1990s.
Ohad Steinhart, an Israeli, relocated to Guatemala at this opportune moment, originally working as a weapons instructor. Roughly two years after his 1994 move to Guatemala, he founded his own security firm, Decision Ejecutiva.
Steinhart’s modest 300-employee company is small compared with the colossal Golan Group, Israel’s largest and oldest private security conglomerate in Guatemala.
Founded by ex-Israeli special forces officers, the Golan Group has also trained Department of Homeland Security immigration agents along the US-Mexico border. The Golan Group has employed thousands of agents in Guatemala, some of whom have been involved in repressing environmental and land rights protests against mining operations by Canadian firms. The company was named in a 2014 lawsuit by six Guatemalan farmers and a student who were all shot at close range by security agents during a protest the previous year.
Guatemala’s use of Israeli military trainers and advisers, just as in the 1980s, continues. Israeli advisers have, in recent years, been assisting the current “remilitarization” of Guatemala. Journalist Dawn Paley has reported that Israeli military trainers have shown up once again at an active military base in Coban, which is the site of mass graves from the 1980s. The remains of several hundred people have so far been uncovered there.
The mass graves at Coban serve as the legal basis for the January arrests of 14 former military officers. This past June a Guatemalan judge ruled that the evidence is sufficient for eight of those arrested to stand trial. Future arrests and trials are likely to follow.
Scholars Milton H. Jamail and Margo Gutierrez documented the Israeli arms trade in Central America, notably in Guatemala, in their 1986 book It’s No Secret: Israel’s Military Involvement in Latin America. They worded the title that way because the bulk of the information in the book came from mainstream media sources.
For now, Israel’s well-documented role in Guatemala’s dirty wars passes largely without comment. But Guatemalans know better than most that the long road to accountability begins with acknowledgment.
Yet it is unclear how long it will be before we hear of Israeli officials being called to Guatemala to be tried for the shadowy part they played in the country’s darkest hours.
Gabriel Schivone is writing a book on US policy towards Guatemala.