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Monday, 17 July 2017

That time Putin walked out on a speech - in Hamburg

Tallinn, Estonia

This speech that Paul Goble has dug out retains all of its power and all of its relevance - a quarter of a century on - it's just astonishing.

Reblogged with permission.


By Paul Goble

Even Western leaders who are distinguished by the boldness of their statements on other issues appear reluctant to speak directly to Vladimir Putin about his lies and crimes, apparently fearful that he will turn the tables on them, use their words to reinforce his power at home, and attack them for undermining the possibility of reasonable relations.

But there have been some happy exceptions when Western leaders have not been afraid to speak the truth to Putin directly even though the Russian’s bad behavior only underscores how right they are to do so. One such event is now attracting a great deal of attention in both Russia and Germany. It deserves to be known even more widely.

Because the G-20 summit took place in Hamburg this year and because it featured a meeting between Putin and Donald Trump, German and Russian commentators have recalled an earlier meeting in Hamburg, in 1994, when Estonian President Lennart Meri delivered a remarkable address that caused Vladimir Putin to stomp out of the hall.

Hanseatic Leage cities and trade routes.
Source: Doc Brown
That action, as German officials have pointed out, was unprecedented in the centuries during which this dinner has been held and raises questions to this day about Putin and more generally about Russia and its relationship to Europe.

That event occurred on February 25, 1994, at the Mathia-Dinner of Hansa cities and their representatives. Among the honored guests that day were Meri and a relatively junior Russian official, the deputy mayor of St. Petersburg, Vladimir Putin, who shocked those in attendance by his boorish behavior.

Russian outlets have published excerpts from Lennart Meri’s speech, which are remarkable not only in their description of what was taking place in Europe and Eurasia in the mid-1990s but also in their predictions about the ways in which Moscow even then was threatening the West (,, and

Below is the full text of President Meri’s remarks from the portal of the Office of the Estonian President. They merit the closest attention both for their analysis of the situation and for the guidance they should be providing other leaders who have to interact with Putin now and in the future.

Address by H.E. Lennart Meri, President of the Republic of Estonia, at the Matthiae-Supper in Hamburg on February 25, 1994

Monday, 5 June 2017

Venezuela: Proof Corbyn's no 'Man of Peace'

Picture of Maikol Mendoza by Cristian Hernandez

Maikol Mendoza is a 17 year old Venezuelan who finally got a chance of life with a rare kidney transplant. The rat infested, medicine deprived state of his country's health care system has now deprived him of that second chance.
Then, Maikol became infected with a highly resistant bacteria borne out of the hospital’s poorly maintained water pipes.
Karla Zabludovsky piece for Buzzfeed on Mendoza and others suffering under a collapsing health care system is but one of many.
Stories like Maikol's are everywhere in Venezuela, where the health care system is on the brink of total collapse and patients who thought they were in the clear are back to fighting a harsh reality. Hospitals have left patients’ families to fend for themselves, scurrying to purchase everything from syringes to anesthesia, often at exuberant black market rates, and forcing doctors to perform surgery with antiquated equipment in operating rooms cleaned with dirty water.
Many of those reading this will have read similar reporting from Venezuela. What escapes me is why the leadership of the UK Labour party, who have so publicly identified themselves with the 'Bolivarian revolution', has not been asked about it.

The great cut off

June 2015 is that last time Jeremy Corbyn said anything on the record about Venezuela. Eight months later he scrubbed his website of any mention of the country.

To my knowledge Diane Abbott, Ken Livingstone, Richard Burgon, Owen Jones, Neil Findlay, and Seumas Milne have also all said nothing since this time. Bar a single reference discovered by Jack Staples-Butler:
As of this writing, Owen Jones has not used the word ‘Venezuela’ in print or online in the English language since 31st May 2015, over 580 days, mentioning it only when interviewed for a Spanish newspaper in June 2016, admitting “Venezuela is in a horrible state”[17] while making no reference to Chávez, socialism or his own involvement.
Since Corbyn's election as the leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition the Venezuelan Solidarity Campaign most prominent public backer has been a Gandalf impersonator from a rail union.

Venezuela? Where's that?

This January Corbyn was in Mexico, on holiday, discussing his "dream of realizing a world government based on justice and fraternity,” with Mexico's Lopez Obrador, Venezuelan state TV channel Telesur reported.

The same month I imagine that Maikol Mendoza was wondering whether his transplant was happening.

A year ago on the day of Theresa May's election and to, presumably, cock a snoot at the Parliamentary Labour Party's meeting, Corbyn instead chose to not comment on May and to attend a Cuba Solidarity event in Parliament.

In the time since he stopped talking about Venezuela the Organisation of American States, Spain and the Vatican have all ramped up their efforts at a peace process President Maduro has trashed.

At the end of April the Pope, in his weekly address, said: "I make a heartfelt appeal to the government and all components of Venezuelan society to avoid any more forms of violence, respect human rights and seek a negotiated solution."

People are starving

Francisco Toro, executive editor of the excellent English language website Caracas Chronicles, spoke to a worker for the Catholic charity Caritas last week:
Caritas constructed a sample of more than two dozen at-risk areas in the poorest parishes of four Venezuelan states and started weighing children under 5 years old. This allows Caritas to measure “global acute malnutrition” — the key mechanism humanitarians use to assign numbers to the severity of hunger. In October, 8.9 percent of the children they measured faced either moderate or severe acute malnutrition. The number was high, and it has kept rising. By April, 11.4 percent of of children in vulnerable areas were experiencing acute malnutrition — well above the 10 percent threshold humanitarian agencies use to declare a food crisis.
Maduro refuses to declare a food crisis, which would trigger international support, and refuses to allow humanitarian aid agencies to properly do their work or to bring in food and medicines. Instead he has publicly joked about starvation and putting the nation on the 'Maduro diet'. The military is now starving the populace for profit.

Chavistas will blame the situation on the fall in the price of oil and the sulfurous Yankees, but malnutrition in children was already reversing from last decade's gains five years ago, before that price fell. The BBC World Service's 'The Inquiry' showed that Venezuela's economy has long had structural problems - and Chavista policies have only made them worse and led to today's situation.

The Maduro regime is now relying on financing from, amongst others, Goldman Sachs. Yes that Goldman Sachs.

Why are they doing this? Because they still believe they are creating a socialist paradise.

Writing for Caracas Chronicles César Crespo explained how Chavez' long game "was always establishing an “alternative” to capitalism." Spanish Marxist Professor Alfredo Serrano Mancilla, the main economic advisor to the government, has been described by Maduro as the "Jesus Christ of the economy." His prescriptions include:
Expropriations, the seizure of businesses, “urban agriculture” on balconies, the soviet supply system and forced employment in the public agriculture sector.
Mancilla wants any crisis hidden and no aid allowed in. According to the Spanish newspaper El Nacional, Mancilla has "solidified the idea that the socialist economic model of the 21st century is unquestionable, and that any failure is the result of attacks from the opposition."

Corbyn could have acted - he chose not to

When his visit to the region he professes to love was reported by Telesur at the beginning of this year Corbyn could have spoken out on Venezuela. When he spoke to the Cuban Solidarity crowd last June he could have spoken out.

He could have demanded:
  1. That the Venezuelan government rejoin the peace process
  2. That the Venezuelan government declare a food crisis
  3. That the Venezuelan government allow humanitarian aid agencies and NGOs to freely operate and to bring in aid
He could have repeated the words, practically word-for-word, of the Pope.

Here's the thing. Even within the worldview of supporters, like him, of Chavismo the country is deemed under attack from the evil behemoth to the North - yet still Corbyn (and all the others) has stayed silent and refused to come to the aid of the 'revolution'.

Never mind what happened 35 years ago or even 14 years ago (see an 'Exclusive!' piece today about Corbyn and North Korea) - what about now? Right now?

Venezuela is Corbyn's opportunity to not just play a 'Man of Peace' but to actually be one. He failed.

I have no doubt that even if I had published this weeks ago it would have had little impact, it is clear that such issues are largely irrelevant in this election. But it remains important that people know - Venezuela is the proof everyone has missed in this election, that Corbyn is no 'Man of Peace'.

Edited to add: Corbyn could have taken a lead from Spain's left wing party Podemos. They realised back in 2014 that they had to distance themselves from Chavismo, something they had previously been entwined with. This has caused the Maduro regime a lot of pain and demonstrates how someone like Corbyn similarly reversing could have a positive impact. See Caracas Chronicles from last May.

Do also read:


Thursday, 25 May 2017

The left and Manchester: Some good news

British comedian Rufus Hound* toying with conspiracy theories

Since the Manchester bombings there has been an understandable need to point and either laugh or yell at some of the 'hot takes' circulating online.

Whether they're coming from a comedian or some random woman with a Corbyn backback yelling 'conspiracy!' at soldiers outside Downing Street. Whether its some Texas redneck Sheriff seemingly arguing that British teenage girls should be armed or, in the case of a tweet of mine which went viral, some FoxNews commentator ignorant of the IRA bombing of Manchester 21 years ago.

There's mountains of them and they're nigh-on impossible to resist (I should know). They're especially difficult to resist if you can use them to make a bigger political point, as Tom Harris did in a Telegraph piece headlined 'The Left has lost the plot if it thinks the Manchester attack was a Tory conspiracy'.

The thing is that 'the Left' is not, enmasse, conspiracising over Manchester, and that's significant.

The well respected Canadian writer Terry Glavin has noticed this too. He says that "a tectonic shift in the way the “debates” around terrorism [has] lately evolved."

In the NATO capitals, something has finally shifted in the way Islamist terror is understood. It is as though the public tolerance for claptrap and prevarication of both the leftish and rightist type has at last been reached, and a new consensus, of the kind expressed so beautifully by Mancunians this week – Muslim and otherwise – is beginning to take hold.

At the time of the London bombings, Jeremy Corbyn, then just a boring, offside Labour MP, joined with London Mayor Ken Livingstone (recently suspended from the Labur Party for his dalliances with anti-Semitism) and the disgraced former Labour MP George Galloway (a fancier of Syrian genocidaire Bashar Assad and a Hezbollah enthusiast) in blaming the London attack on Western foreign policy.

Corbyn is now the leader of a bitterly divided and vastly diminished Labour Party that is expected to be trounced by Prime Minister Theresa May in the June 8 parliamentary elections. You won’t hear Corbyn blaming the wicked former U.S. president George W. Bush for Monday night’s outrage in Manchester. It would be suicidal. Things have changed.

The Manchester massacre occurred four years to the day after Lee Rigby of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers was butchered by “lone wolf” jihadists in the streets of Woolwich. Rigby’s throat was opened with a crude knife and he was nearly decapitated, with a meat cleaver. As recently as 2013, it was still fashionable to utter imbecilities lightening such murderers’ burden of guilt by resort to the “blowback” defence.

At the time, the famous American fantasist/documentarian Michael Moore declared that Rigby’s slaughter was understandable, because Westerners “kill people in other countries.”

This sort of vulgar “analysis” has been largely excised from respectable conversation and appears now to be confined to the sewers of public debate, where it belongs. On Tuesday, the Kremlin propaganda channel RT News found some “experts” who took up the line. So did the viciously homophobic and anti-Semitic British Hizb ut-Tahrir group, which is about as popular among British Muslims as Galloway is among Britain’s Labour Party MPs.
The leading proponents of blowback, Tariq Ali and John Pilger, have, post-Manchester, been confined to, respectively, Democracy Now! and Russia Today with their micro-audiences. It also seems that Stop The War Coalition (StWC) have STFU. They must be chafing at the bit.

Of course there are people online connecting Corbyn's Iraq War opposition to somehow being 'prescient' because that War caused ISIS or something (and here is a brilliant meme from Andrew Spooner which nails down that canard).

But these are fringe voices.

As I write what 'blowback' argument there is is coming not just from the left but from everywhere on the political spectrum and it's about Theresa May's stint as Home Secretary and her cuts to the police.

As Glavin notes:
The people of Manchester are not unfamiliar with the horrible implications of “radicalization” among young Muslim men. The Muslim leadership in that city has been acutely concerned with the implications of jihadist recruitment and grooming for some long while.
As is so often the case, it seems the bomber was indeed reported to authorities. Whether police cuts really did play a role, given how expanded the security services have been, I don't know, but citing them is entirely legitimate and that's what the Corbynistas are doing along with a whole lot of other people.

What the biggest (with one exception) Corbyn supporting websites are not doing is indulging conspiracy theories, such as that the bombing was a false flag connected to the election or that the army deployment is to somehow win the election.

These websites, as Jim Waterson documented for Buzzfeed, have truly huge audiences and are consequently extremely influential but fly pretty much under the radar of Tweetminster.

Thomas G Clark (Another Angry Voice (AAV)), writes Waterson, is "measured by Facebook shares per article in the first week of the election campaign, the most viral political journalist in the entire country. "

None of AAV, The Canary, Evolve Politics, and Skwawkbox have indulged conspiracism. (The Canary even had, I swear this is true, an editorial the day after the bombing that would not have been out of place in The Guardian)

The exception is Mike Sivier's hysterical VoxPolitical, with Sivier writing that "Mrs May’s deployment of the army indicates she is quite happy to use terror tactics on her own people."

I wrote a comment to Sivier, which of course he won't publish:

Clark for AAV wrote last night against the conspiracy theorists, saying that "conspiracy theorising about "false flags" is deeply unhelpful".
The evidence-free assertions that the Tories plotted this attack themselves are damaging to the fabric of British political debate. The Tories might well be an incredibly callous party, but in my view they're also far too incompetent to pull something like that off without leaving incriminating evidence all over the place.

The important issues at the moment are that they deserve intense scrutiny about the extreme cuts they imposed on the armed forces, police, emergency services, hospitals and border agency. Also serious questions need to be asked about the emerging accusations that the bomber had been shopped to the police several times for having links to Islamist extremism.

Of course they have sailed right up to the line and there's a lot of stuff here I think is idiotic, particularly the stuff around the bombing halting a 'Corbyn surge' when its clear May's time as Home Secretary is coming back to haunt her over the issue of, of all things, security. Daniel Sugarman pointed me at this from Skwawkbox's Steve Walker, but I don't think its conspiracism because Walker's not saying the troop deployment was in order to win the election (i.e. there's a conspiracy).

And of course they have all sailed right over the line into conspiracism elsewhere. The Canary is right now doing that over the 'Evil Hillary murdered Seth Rich who dun the Wikileaks not the Russkies' conspiracy theory, as promoted by Fox New's Shaun Hannity. All of them have done it over antisemitism, with Sivier being a particularly stupid example. Also, as Andrew Coates has documented, conspiracism is growing within the European left. And, as Nick Cohen and others have suggested, they may well blame the Manchester bombings June 9 for Corbyn's defeat.

But over the Manchester bombing, as of now, most of them aren't pushing conspiracies, and it was also notable to see Corbyn sidekick Baroness Chakrabati, the bete-noire of many reading this regarding her role around Labour and antisemitism, going out of her way to speak out against conspiracism on BBC Newnight.

Terry Glavin thinks Manchester signals that something might have changed for the better and I think the evidence suggests that it has.

What if the non-Corbynistas, the 'sensible left', the fans of Nick Cohen - us - have actually had an impact?

What if we were so caught up in our own bubble that we failed to notice when we've actually won ourselves a little victory?


*Before someone cites Rufus Hound having 1.2 million followers on Twitter the way that works is that only a tiny fraction of that number will have actually seen the Tweet. Far more will have now, of course, because it's been amplified by the outrage to it.


Also by me, for Little Green Footballs, 'Manchester: Defiant and Proud'

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Two inaugurations: Two realities: Dakar vs DC

America does not take kindly to the world telling it stuff but there is an opera in this.

As the world watched - same time, same planet - its greatest power crowned a man who lost the vote to a woman. Same time, same planet, Africa peacefully forced our a man who lost power by the same majority vote to another man. Peacefully.

As the West hands nuclear codes to a man who lost the vote to a woman West Africa peacefully removes a man voted out by a majority.


The Gambia ('the' because of the river)  is a tiny, tiny country in West Africa you have probably never heard of. Its gay hating (a thing) dictator, Jammeh, won a coup. He lost 22 years later to someone, Adam Barrow, who once worked in a UK big box.

Jammeh conceded then he retracted. The region - ECOWAS - told Jammeh to give in. They had done this before, told losers to concede. This is what they do.

West Africa, ECOWAS, is bigger than the United States mainland. Thanks to a Belgian this rarely crosses our collective mind.

The UK big box guy was inaugurated in the neighboring state. All the neighbors said we will back you, with force.

In contrast to the rest of Africa this region had stood up for democracy. The dictator was forced from power. The same time as you inaugurated Trump.

Same time as the Trump inaugural was happening this was happening.

An African region was telling a member to uphold democracy.  It rolled out troops.

Another contrast

The US has a President who has a minority of votes. His election is predicated on a 200yr+ system designed to boost states with small populations in a system that this country has never tried to change. There is V strong evidence he was elected because of the intervention of a police chief, never mind the foreigners alleged to have interfered. There are electors calling him illegitimate.

How hard is it for this white Londoner to see this through African eyes? Not very.

As I mentioned, opera. Western tourists watched Trump's speech in The Gambia's capital's, Banjuy, airport as this all happened. Include that.

Make art from this.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Venezuela: A Corbynvista warning

“Negative campaigning works against other candidates but not against Corbyn,” one Smith aide said. “For a lot of people he embodies something about themselves. It’s a statement of intent about your personal identity, a personality marker to like Corbyn. So attack that and people take it personally.”
Jim Waterson signalling how a Corbyn identifying left will gladly sell out the likes of Venezuela's starving. Watch them - If/and you help this go viral.

Even before they fell silent on Venezuela's food crisis Jeremy Corbyn and others had failed to support Labour's cousins in that country. 

They cheered Chavismo but run away like cowards as it falls. And their acolytes say nothing.

In Venezuela there are four political parties that are sister parties to the UK's Labour Party, fellow members of the Socialist International (the "worldwide organisation of social democratic, socialist and labour parties."):
A member of the Democratic Action party and past vice president of the Socialist International, Henry Ramos Allup, was elected Speaker of the opposition controlled Venezuelan National Assembly in January this year.

The Venezuela Solidarity Campaign, which Corbyn and others are aligned with, have repeatedly said that these Social Democrats are 'right wing'.  Here's them describing Ramos Allup as 'right wing'.

They are no more 'right wing' than Owen Smith, Harriet Harman or Wes Streeting is but in Venezuela this label dumped on them by the Western likes of the VSC carries far more serious weight.

Herein lies a Lenin-echo tale

All four parties have been persecuted under, first, Hugo Chavez and now Nicholas Maduro.

Leopoldo López, of Popular Will, is the most well known persecution subject. He was jailed in February 2014 on charges of public incitement to violence through supposed subliminal messages and criminal association. He had previously been subjected to corruption charges, and banned from running for office. Those charges were declared false by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Chilean José Antonio Viera-Gallo tried to visit López in 2014 in a mission from the Socialist International and was denied access. Viera-Gallo said:
In a dictatorship, there are no rights whatsoever, and one is left at the mercy of power. Yesterday, we confirmed human right violations against a political leader.
In June this year the socialist former Spanish Prime minister Zapatero finally met López.

Amnesty International have deemed López a Prisoner of Conscience and have said that:
"The charges brought against Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López," was a “smack of a politically motivated attempt to silence dissent in the country.”
Guadalupe Marengo, Amnesty International Americas Program Deputy Director, called on Venezuelan authorities to:
Either present solid evidence to substantiate the charges against López or release him immediately and unconditionally ... Amnesty International has not seen evidence to substantiate these charges. This is an affront to justice and free assembly.
The (UK) Venezuela Solidarity Campaign (VSC, whose prominent left-wing British supporters I called out) have called López "right wing" - have called any opposition 'right wing' - and has disseminated Venezuelan government propaganda against him.

The group have said about protests against food shortages and repression:
The calls for street action from the opposition, [amounts] to destabilizing the country.
This is the language of Putin, of Lukashenko. This is Stalinism. To underline that Kremlinesque 2013 post, the VSC specifically tied the social democrat López to "fascists".

In this they echo the Venezuela government who just called the Chilean Foreign Minister, who served under Allende, a 'Pinochetista' for daring to inquire about the arrest of one of its citizens, the lawyer Braulio Jatar.

Jatar's imprisonment brings the number of political prisoners in Venezuela to 95.

'Man of peace'

I have looked and cannot find any contacts between Corbyn, or Ken Livingstone (for that matter), with Social Democrats in Venezuela.

Corbyn has never, no instance I can find, defended López.

Nor Manuel Rosales, another prominent (ran for President, exiled) Social Democrat persecuted by Chavismo.

Neither had he any comment on the massive corruption called out by Chavistas themselves.

Jack Staples-Butler's masterful, long-form complete demolition of Corbyn et al demonstrates how none of them - Corbyn, Jones et al - payed any heed, none. to even Venezuelan civil society, NGOs or trade unionists.

All of them were so bewitched, and, as Jack demonstrates, the 1930s, Orwell-Spain, parallels are so exact.


That they did not know is impossible

In a 2013 encounter on Al-Jazeera Corbyn was called out on his Chavismo support with critics citing corruption, manipulation of elections, and alliances with dictatorships like Iran and Syria.

His answer - noteworthy angry - was to point to 'what Venezuela was like before Chavez' and the fact that Chavez had won elections. He denied that Chavez has clamped down on the media and described opposition criticism of Chavez in the media as "libelous"

Since 2003, Freedom House has ranked Venezuela as "not free" concerning press freedom. Concerns about freedom of the press in Venezuela have been raised by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Inter American Press Association, the International Press Institute, Reporters without Borders, representatives of the Catholic Church, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and others.
"[Chavez] was not a very efficient dictator because he allowed so much opposition to carry on," Corbyn said.
I refer you again to Jack Staples-Butler's surgical demolition of Corbyn et al on this point. Jack takes apart every talking point from Corbyn, Owen Jones etc from this period and shines sunlight on it.

Corbyn knew. Of course he knew.  He knows now. Ask him and watch the 'man of peace' dissolve before your eyes. Ask.
In his last recorded comments on Venezuela in June 2015 Corbyn did not include anything - not one word - on the grim situation with hunger in Venezuela, never mind the international outcry from fellow Social Democrats over the imprisonment of López. Almost the entire focus was on supposed American imperialism.

Now he deletes all comment on Venezuela from his website.

Do not tell me they did not know. Owen Jones, Burgon, Abbott - FFS Milne. They all knew.

Damn any unheard Venezuelan Social Democrat who complained. Shiraz Socialist:
Essential to any Bonapartist regime is the role of the army. Chávez was a career soldier and this conditions his outlook and politics. This is not simply because he tried to seize power in 1992 through a military coup. It is widely recognised that Chávez militarised politics in Venezuela.

Chávezs made it clear in interviews with sympathetic journalists such as Marta Harnecker and the hero-worshipping Richard Gott  that a reconstructed “civilian-military alliance” was the key to his politics. His organisation, the MBR-200, formed in the early 1980s, was made up largely of middle level officers, with others in a secondary role.

The armed forces have been central from the beginning of Chávez’s rule.
The military in now running the economy. The military is now starving the populace for profit.

Let me underline that again. Maduro has let the military run food and they are profiting from it while people starve.

One assumes this is fine by Corbyn et al but who knows? No journalist has asked them about it.

Serious people say this will come to a financial head in April. Jack Staples-Butler has ideas on who the Chavista apologists' fall guy will be

Will they get away with this?

As Caracas Chronicles noted when Nick Cohen demolished the remaining left support for Chavismo earlier this year:
It’s been years since there was a serious argument to be had about the Bolivarian Revolution. The symbolic bookend to the debate, for me, came when Noam Chomsky broke with Chávez over his treatment of judge Afiuni
This is true except in the deaf/dumb left organised by the VSC in the UK, and exemplified by the Labour leader and still backed by big unions and still left alone by UK media, even unto the Mail ...

This is from last August.

They sold out fellow Venezuelan socialists.  Corbyn stood by and watched. Let this be a lesson to UK Labour.

He failed to defend Social Democrats in the face of kleptocratic so-called Leninists. They cheered an experiment that failed.

You got the point from all this?

See also: