The Deserted Cities – XIII

Image: Cyrus Saurius


Comments on recent events in international politics

Almost 65 million cases, 1,5 million deaths worldwide as a result of Covid-19. Nearly 275 deaths in the United States alone. Brazil, with more than 173 thousand, and India, with almost 140 thousand, continue to lead this macabre count. The United States registered more than 100 daily cases for nearly a month, and for three weeks saw the number of people hospitalized due to the virus grow until reaching, on Thanksgiving Day, last Thursday, almost 9.500 people. With more than a million air trips on the eve of the celebration, experts warn that the number of sick and dead will increase in the coming days. In Europe, the pandemic eased a bit last week. But the death toll continues to rise everywhere, especially in Italy, Spain and England. Germany has surpassed one million cases. Mexico too, but with almost 105 dead, well above Germany's 16.

Everyone is preparing for Christmas. Europe is discussing what to do with its ski fields ready for the winter season. Macron is optimistic, saying France has overcome the worst of this second wave of the pandemic and will start to reopen shops, theaters and cinemas, but cafes and restaurants will have to wait until January 20. It ensures that people will be able to spend their holidays with the rest of their families. But, he warns, a third wave must be avoided. Merkel faces a more negative trend, with new daily contagion records. After the initial wave in mid-April, the curve dropped sharply, before starting to rise again in October and surpassing previous weekly averages. But the restrictions will be regulated, so that people can spend the holidays without family, said the German chancellor. In Russia, winter makes the situation more complicated, with more than 25 cases a day.

In England, Chief Cabinet Minister Michael Gove warned on Saturday that hospitals were at risk of saturation if restrictions were not renewed across the country. With around 16 people hospitalized, the minister asked parliamentarians to renew the restrictions to avoid the situation experienced in April, when 20 sick people put the country's health system to the test. England's decision to allow up to three family groups to reunite has drawn criticism from experts: there will be an inevitable rise in cases, they say. Internal travel will be facilitated between the 23rd and 27th of December. After that, the restrictions come back.

“Kochtopus” or the bases of democracy

Amid the pandemic and a tense transition, the United States is grappling with its political system. The campaign finance debate sheds light on this system. Sheldon Adelson may have contributed $250 million to the Trump campaign and conservative candidates for Congress and the Senate. Owner of one of the largest casino chains in the world and an ardent supporter of the State of Israel, he welcomed the move of the US embassy to Jerusalem, the rupture of the nuclear agreement with Iran and the role of the US government in the recognition of Israel by the United Arab Emirates. United States and other Arab states, said Peter Stone, Washington correspondent for the The Guardian. With an estimated fortune of 32 billion dollars, Adelson chairs the pro-Israeli Jewish Coalition.

In the recent election campaign, his role was to help ensure that Conservative candidates, especially those who appeared to be at risk of losing office, had sufficient resources for their campaign. To that end, he channeled $50 million into the Senate Leadership Fund, a fund managed by allies of ultraconservative Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. Behind him, Stone said, is New York billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who spent $107 million, but to support the Democratic campaign in Florida, a state considered key to Trump's eventual victory. Finally, Florida went to the Republicans, with a more comfortable victory than expected, but not enough to offset the Republicans' losses in the rest of the country.

Other particularly prominent billionaires in the US conservative political scene were the Koch brothers. With a fortune estimated at around 45 billion dollars, Charles and David Koch inherited from their father the business of refineries and the fossil industry, which have since expanded into other sectors. They have always opposed initiatives to tackle climate change. They have funded conservative groups linked to the Republicans, including the Tea Party. David, who died in August last year, was a candidate for vice president in 1980 on the Libertarian Party, rejecting limitations on corporate contributions to election campaigns that were in effect at the time, and laws that criminalized drug use or homosexuality. . Together they founded, in 2004, the organization American for Prosperity, today one of the most influential conservative political organizations in the country, according to economic journalist Joseph Zeballos-Roig, in an article published in Business Insider. Today it has more than 700 wealthy donors and representation in 36 states, with an influence whose only rival is the Republican Party itself, he says.

The Kochs “created an important network of donors aligned with their liberal ideals, low taxes and reduced federal government. As they put money into the recent election campaign, critics called them 'Kochtopus,'” Zeballos-Roig said. Charles announced last week, in an interview with the Wall St Journal,publishing a book lamenting the deep political divisions they have fostered by funding these groups. “Boy, did we screw up!” “What a mess!”(“Bloody hell, we screwed up!” “What a mess!”) said Charles. He claims that they did not create the Tea Party. They shared his concern about unsustainable public spending, but “it seems that, in the long term, the Tea Party it totally failed because we are ending a Republican administration with the highest public spending in history,” he said.

In keeping with his proposed change of tone, he congratulated Biden and his vice president, Kamala Harris, on their victory, hinting at the possibility of working together on issues such as the economy, criminal justice or migration. Other oil companies, led by Energy Transfer Equity, Chevron, but also the Koch Industries, allocated around 80% of their political donations to Republicans and conservative candidates, recalled the environmental editor of the The Guardian, Jonathan Watts. The biggest beneficiary was Trump, with more than two million dollars, not counting the money funneled through secret political action committees. Also particularly funded were those who supported Trump's efforts to overturn the election outcome in the courts. Among them was Senator Mitch McConnell, to whom, according to Watts, $490 was donated.

But Biden also received resources from the oil industry: one million dollars. “Less than half of what was donated to Trump, but a clear indication that the industry thinks it is possible to work with him, as it did with Obama,” he added. Watts notes that, in recent years, millions of lives have been threatened or destroyed by the climate crisis, while campaigns to combat it are increasingly linked to the demand for social justice. The more connected, the more powerful they are, and this was, in his opinion, the alliance that led Biden to victory.

"I will, I certainly will."

This is how democracy works in practice, although of course this is a topic of endless debate. As it does not match everyone's definition of their own "democracy", many believe that it is not "democratic". Like Noam Chomsky, for whom the success of Trump's political strategy and his proposals are examples of the "extreme fragility of American democracy". Seeing the enormous sums that big millionaires are willing to invest in it, one might think the opposite: that the system enjoys good health. For Chomsky, it is surprising that someone whose perverse decisions about handling the pandemic caused the deaths of tens of thousands of people can still aspire to the presidency, that many people still support him, and that “a party that virtually wipes its shoes can achieve a resounding victory at every level except the White House.” What is certain is that, according to polls released in the United States, more than three-quarters of Trump supporters believe that Biden's victory was the result of fraud, and their anger is fueled by the notion that the election was a robbery.

Not recognizing his opponent's triumph to this day is in any case not a folly of Trump. It's just a way to keep your supporters enraged and lined up behind someone who didn't lose, but was robbed. That's why he keeps insisting that "the election was a fraud". Despite this, Trump has already set a date for accepting defeat: December 14, when the electoral college will officially decide on the results and the winner. “I certainly will. No doubt I will. And you know it, ”he said. But – he warned – “I think a lot will happen until January 20th”, the date of the transfer of power. “Many things,” he added.

Venezuela or Iran

Venezuela, which at one point seemed to offer a ready-made scenario for intervention, will go to the polls next Sunday to elect a new legislative assembly. An election that Trump and his allies do not recognize. Venezuela goes to the polls subject to US economic sanctions that have reduced its economy to dramatic conditions. The economy could shrink another 30% this year and reach 20% of what it was seven years ago, when its recession began, he said. France 24in a note on the elections.

The effects of sanctions cannot be underestimated. In May 2019, Mark Weisbrot and Jeffrey Sachs published a study entitled “Economic sanctions as collective punishment: the case of Venezuela”: “sanctions reduced the population’s caloric intake, increased disease and mortality (both for adults and children ) and displaced millions of Venezuelans who left the country as a result of the worsening economic depression and hyperinflation. The sanctions exacerbated Venezuela's economic crisis and made it nearly impossible to stabilize the economy, further contributing to a higher death toll. All of these impacts have disproportionately affected the poorest and most vulnerable Venezuelans.” But another scenario in which there could be intervention is Iran. A scenario that is more explosive and poses greater international political risks than an attack on Venezuela. Last Friday, the Iranian “architect of the nuclear program”, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, was assassinated on the outskirts of Tehran.

The assassination appears to be an attempt to implode the possible renegotiation of the nuclear deal that the Obama administration had signed with the Iranian government, said the correspondent of the The Guardian in Washington, Julian Borger. Trump denounced the deal and renewed sanctions against Tehran, despite opposition from his European allies and certification from the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran was complying with the deal. With Biden's victory, there is speculation that Washington could come back to the deal.

There is a widespread view that Israel is responsible for the assassination, Borger said. Information also circulates in the international media that the Israeli armed forces are prepared for a virtual US attack against Iran. Last January, Washington ordered the assassination of General Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Revolutionary Guard Corps and one of the most important military leaders in the country, which represented a new step in the confrontation between the two governments. Israel may be trying to provoke Iran in the final days of the Trump administration to create conditions that would make any rapprochement between the Biden administration and the Tehran government impossible, journalists Patrick Wintour and Oliver Holmes have claimed.

The murder policy

Iran has complained about the international community's double standard. It condemns some attacks, while silencing others. For example, the attacks against the Russians Alexei Navalny and Sergei Skripal. Skripal, a Russian double agent working for British services, was found unconscious in a park in the English city of Salisbury in March 2018. British Prime Minister Theresa May then declared before parliament that Russia was "very likely" responsible by the attack. This could never be proven and Moscow has rejected any responsibility for this crime, but two dozen Western countries have joined the UK in adopting sanctions against Russia. More recently, Alexei Navalny, a Putin opponent, was urgently taken to a hospital after feeling unwell on a flight that took just over four hours on his way back from Tomsk to Moscow. The plane made an emergency stop in Omsk, where Navalny was treated, before being transferred to Germany, where he was offered medical attention.

It was then that it was alleged that Navalny had been poisoned. If the poisoning is confirmed, further cases could come to public attention, the BBC said. Neither Skripal nor Navalny died. It seems difficult to imagine Russian authorities allowing Navalny to be taken to Germany for treatment if they were responsible for the attack. But the case has led to new tensions between the West and Moscow, particularly against plans to complete the pipeline. Nord Stream 2 from Russia, which would supply most of Europe's energy needs. This is a project that Washington strongly opposes. “Europe really needs the Russian gas pipeline Nord Stream 2?” he asked Deutsche Wellein a note dated September 9th. Amy Mackinnon, in charge of national security and intelligence issues at the magazine Foreign Policy, wrote an article in August last year explaining why Russia was using this method to poison its opponents. One possible explanation, said Mark Galeotti, an associate member of the Royal United Services Institute, cited by Mackinnon, is that the method leaves the Kremlin with a plausible possibility of denying its responsibility, even if it has a great effect on public sensibilities.

“The Kremlin has a long and horrific history of intimidating and killing those they perceive as a threat to the state,” said John Sipher, whom Mackinnon introduces as a man who worked for 28 years with the CIA and was responsible for the agency's operations in Russia. in the 90s. Fakhrizadeh's assassination is not the first against Iranian scientists and the Tehran government has said it is time to put an end to such attacks. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's recent visit to Saudi Arabia shows how the confrontation with Iran is realigning Middle East politics as the end of the Trump administration approaches and fears grow in both Israel and the Saudi Arabia, that Biden will resume agreements negotiated during the Obama administration. Last Sunday, the 29th, Jared Kushner, the husband of Trump's daughter and a White House adviser, traveled to Saudi Arabia and Qatar, in yet another step towards rearranging positions in the region, amid the tensions caused by the murder of the nuclear scientist. Iranian that the West has not condemned.

*Gilberto Lopes is a journalist, PhD in Society and Cultural Studies from the Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR).

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves.


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