Le Monde diplomatique

How the Radical Right Takeover in Brazil Has Parallels With Trumpism

There was victory in the air at the opening of the Liberty Forum in Porto Alegre this April. The city is known outside Brazil as the first municipality to come under the control of the leftwing Workers’ Party (PT) in 1998 and as birthplace of the World Social Forum, but has also hosted this annual meeting of Brazil’s ultra-liberal right for 30 years; the forum used to be restricted to insiders, but has now turned into a jamboree.

With the 2,600-seat auditorium full throughout the event, the speakers were happy: ‘Neoliberal thought has never figured so prominently in public debate,’ said Helio Beltrão, president of the Mises Institute Brazil, a thinktank that is officially apolitical but follows economist Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973), a major figure in the Austrian School. ‘We got thousands of young people out into the streets to demonstrate against the PT, and drove the left out of power. For the first time, I feel we can win the 2018 presidential election.’

This may not be an idle boast. After 13 years of PT hegemony, a hard right is governing Brazil without being elected. Former vice-president Michel Temer, who became president after Dilma Rousseff was impeached last August, is following the forum’s neoliberal map, with an amendment to the constitution that limits public spending growth to the rate of inflation in the previous year; privatisations; greater flexibility in labour legislation; plans to reform pensions that will deprive many of a pension; and a narrower definition of slave labour, still widespread in Brazil.

This year’s forum was opened by the new mayor of São Paulo, businessman João Doria of the rightwing Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB). Doria presented himself as an entrepreneur who works 15 hours a day. His plans included ‘lower taxes, less market regulation and zero restrictions on free enterprise.’ He also promised to privatise as soon as possible those areas of public services still under public management (including parks and sports stadiums), so as to eliminate ‘slowness and bureaucracy in public administration … I am changing the habits of the political world by using Uber instead of official cars,’ he declared to loud applause.

Doria is a favourite of Brazil’s new right, which sociologist Laurent Delcourt calls a ‘tropical Tea Party’, after the anti-tax movement in the US. He embodies the myth of the self-made man from a humble background, and has won support from the working class in São Paulo’s suburbs and privileged residents of its smarter neighbourhoods by describing himself as an ‘honest worker’. Doria ended every rally of his 2016 election campaign with a message to his PT opponent, Fernando Haddad: ‘Let him go and show himself in Cuba.’

Cold war rhetoric Rhetoric that recalls the cold war is characteristic of this new right. As in the past, the enemy is communism, trying to take control of Brazil through the PT. Rodrigo Tellechea Silva, a former director of the Entrepreneurial Studies Institute (IEE) said, quite seriously: ‘The Bolivarian ideology of the PT has infiltrated culture, education, NGOs and a large section of our youth. If we had not managed to impeach President Rousseff, Brazil would be communist today.’ He seems to have forgotten that former PT leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (‘Lula’, president 2003-10) charmed both the stock market and the favelas.

Many of the young who attended the forum were wearing clothes from Vista Direita (Look Right), a brand that offers an anti-communist range, including t-shirts with slogans such as ‘Be cool, not communist’ and ‘Communism has been killing since 1917’. Most were members of the Brazilian branch of Students for Liberty, a global neoliberal organisation present in Brazilian universities since 2010. In 2014 it gave rise to the Free Brazil Movement (MBL), which led the calls for Rousseff’s impeachment from the moment she was re-elected that year. The MBL’s young leaders are setting a new trend in Brazilian politics. They are known for sarcasm, insulting their opponents and violent rhetoric. In April 2015 a key figure, Kim Kataguiri, said: ‘We must not stop at wounding the PT, we need to put a bullet through its head.’

Brazil’s radical right is surfing a wave of polarisation and anti-PT sentiment that has been growing since June 2013. That year saw the biggest demonstrations since the end of the military dictatorship in 1985. The demands were initially for greater investment in public transport, healthcare and education. Delcourt said: ‘Unexpectedly, the right demonstrating at the time brought together two major currents: one extreme, in other words identitarian and racist, the other neoliberal. Together they managed to take over the protest movement, and turn it into opposition to the PT, especially by harnessing the theme of the fight against corruption.’ Just 10 days after the movement was launched, the demonstrators’ targets were no longer just budget cuts and the lack of public services, but also public buildings in Brasília (the seat of the federal government) and any symbol of the PT or of a political world they denounced as corrupt.

In 2015 the inquiry into corruption at the state oil company, Petrobras, revealed a system of illegal financing of political parties that involved major construction and public works enterprises. Every party in Brazil was mentioned as Petrobras senior executives began their testimony, but media and the prosecutors conducting the inquiry initially focused only on the accusations concerning the PT, which had been in government since 2003; they claimed it had invented the system.

Privileged and white The demonstrators were less and less representative of the average Brazilian: according to surveys by sociologists from the Federal University São Paulo (Unifesp), they were white, urban and from privileged backgrounds. Esther Solano, in charge of the surveys, said: ‘The aim for 90% of these demonstrators was to bring down the PT. They were opposed to its social programmes: the flagship family allowance, the reservation of university places for black, Amerindian or mixed-race Brazilians, and even the More Doctors programme, which recruited medical practitioners from Cuba. Their rhetoric called for meritocracy rather than welfare dependency, which they said was the mark of the PT.’

Hatred of the PT and what it represents can be seen on social networks in the mockery of people from Brazil’s Northeast region. They are portrayed as retarded, lazy or scroungers, in a mix of racism (northern Brazil is blacker than the south) and classism that is sometimes expressed openly. In the eyes of its well-born detractors, the PT is guilty of having given certain rights to people historically discriminated against, and so eroding the privileges of the more affluent.

Besides allowing these former social outcasts to travel by air (many of Brazil’s wealthy did not like sharing the same plane), the PT made an irreparable error in 2015 when it got legislation passed requiring employers to declare their domestic employees, pay them a minimum wage and observe legal limits on their hours. Delcourt said that anti-PT feeling binds the privileged together ‘like cement, just as anti-communism was the uniting factor for opposition to the leftwing government of President João Goulart, deposed by the military coup of 1964. It’s the same social class, white and privileged, who demonstrated against Goulart in the 60s and more recently against Rousseff.’

Though far-right activists calling for the military to return to power were a minority in 2015, most demonstrators favoured a more repressive policy. According to Solano, ‘70-80% of survey respondents supported harsher sentences for criminal offences, and a reduction of the age of criminal responsibility to 16. They also expressed great admiration for prominent figures in the justice system, and for the federal police, who were leading an inquiry into corruption that seemed to be focused on the PT alone.’

Camozzato ‘knew nothing about politics’ The data confirmed the results of polls conducted between 2010 and 2016 by Ibope (Brazilian Institute of Public Opinion and Statistics), to measure conservative values in Brazilian society. Support for lowering the age of criminal responsibility rose from 63% to 78%; support for the death penalty from 31% to 49%; and the ratio of respondents who considered themselves strongly conservative from 49% to 59%. Political scientist Maurício Santoro of Rio de Janeiro State University said: ‘Under these conditions, it was to be expected. Since the end of the dictatorship, there has never been a time when conservative parliamentary groups, those defending the interests of the big landowners, evangelical Christians and the army have been so strongly represented in the National Congress.’

The popular demonstrations began to infiltrate Brazil’s institutions. At the municipal elections of October 2016, the MBL, which until then described itself as civic and apolitical, presented 45 candidates on a range of tickets. Ten were elected as municipal councillors, and one as mayor of Monte Sião (population 25,000) in Minas Gerais state. At Porto Alegre, Felipe Camozzato was elected councillor for the New Party (PN), which has links to the MBL: ‘Until 2015 I knew nothing about politics. I had no interest in it,’ he said, laughing. Camozzato joined the opposition to the PT when he and friends formed a batucada band they called The Crazy Liberal Gang. They took the tune from a football chant and gave it new words: ‘Weep, Bolivarian PT-ist’; it was sung at demonstrations in 2015. Camozzato said: ‘When [Rousseff] came to Porto Alegre, we used to stand under her window and sing all night to prevent her from sleeping.’

The notoriety Camozzato gained from this kind of provocation helped his election campaign, which was based on a single issue: to stop public funding for political parties. In 2015 the Supreme Court banned private financing of political organisations after the Petrobras corruption scandal broke. Until then, 70% of funding had come from the private sector; now the amount allocated to a public fund to finance campaigns is decided by the congress before elections. Next year, when Brazil will hold elections for president, state governors and members of national and local assemblies, the fund will be $350m. ‘It’s not right,’ said Camozzato. ‘Parties should find their own funding, like businesses.’

Camozzato, now 29, admits he understands nothing about his city’s problems, but he does claim to have searched the municipal regulations for anything that might hinder free enterprise. He has defended the right of ‘righteous citizens’ to bear arms, and attacked ‘judges motivated by Marxist ideology’ for granting bail to defendants. In August he called activists of the Homeless Workers’ Movement (MTST) ‘bandits’ and ‘good-for-nothings’. Raúl Pont, 73, a co-founder of the PT and former mayor of Porto Alegre, said: ‘MBL supporters are very good at spreading hate. And people follow them. Last year, for the first time in my life, I was attacked by a group of angry youths, who called me a communist and a Bolshevik.’

Attacks linked to the MBL happen mostly on social networks, where the organisation claims to have more than 2.5 million followers, and where it repeats the propaganda published on its ‘news’ websites. Brazil is familiar with ideological bias in major media, and has many websites where aggression triumphs over journalistic rigour. Conservative sites outdo the rest. The sociologists from Unifesp found that 71% of respondents believed former president Lula’s eldest son was the owner of JBS-Friboi, one of the biggest meat processing multinationals, while 53% thought that Brazil’s largest criminal gang, First Capital Command (PCC), acted as the armed wing of the PT.

Attacks on media In July Brazil’s investigative journalism association, Abraji, reacted to these sites’ repeated attacks on journalists. For example, the MBL had attacked Agência Publica, an investigative journalism site, because it had exposed the errors in an MBL video on crime, and the MBL had accused Agência Pública of being ‘far-left activists disguised as journalists’.

One of the political leaders most successful with this rhetoric is Federal Deputy Jair Bolsonaro, a major figure of Brazil’s far right who is running second in opinion polls as a presidential candidate, though he has only 16% of voting intentions, according to a September poll. Bolsonaro, a former army captain, has been in public office since 1990. He has yet to distinguish himself in his parliamentary career, but has acquired a high media profile.

During the congress vote on Rousseff’s impeachment in April 2016, broadcast live on television, Bolsonaro justified his vote for impeachment as being a stand ‘against communism, for the armed forces and for the memory of Colonel Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra, Dilma Rousseff’s worst nightmare.’ Brilhante Ustra tortured Rousseff (then a member of a far-left organisation) for 22 days in 1970, when she was arrested for her political activities. The courts condemned Bolsonaro for derogatory statements on women, black people and homosexuals, but ‘today he is the most popular politician on Facebook, with more than 4 million followers,’ said sociologist Pablo Ortellano.

Bolsonaro welcomed recent statements by General Antônio Hamilton Martins Mourão that terrified Brazil’s population, and not just the victims of the military dictatorship (1964-85): ‘Either the institutions solve the political problem through the courts, removing those elements involved in illegal acts from public life, or we will have to impose the solution.’ He said that all his high command colleagues agreed with him. A few days later, army commander General Eduardo Villas Bôas, claimed that the constitution allowed the military to intervene in the event of chaos.

Historian Maud Chirio wrote: ‘Of course the 1988 constitution, drafted after the end of the dictatorship, doesn’t permit the armed forces to intervene in politics autonomously. But President Michel Temer is so weakened by an approval rating near zero that he no longer has the authority to impose his will on the army’.

Dreams of the new lower middle class The rightwing movements (far right, neoliberal right, classic right) are fighting over the PT’s traditional voter base, especially in the outskirts of cities, where the standard of living has risen over the past decade — thanks to the left. Sociologist William Nozaki said: ‘The new lower middle class dream of being entrepreneurs and consumers.’ He coordinated a study by the Perseu Abramo Foundation (linked to the PT) to understand why the party had lost ground in the São Paulo suburbs when Doria was elected. ‘They are very sensitive to the meritocracy rhetoric of the right and the evangelical churches, and less affected by the PT message, which is still aimed at the poor.’ A majority in the outer suburbs of Rio de Janeiro voted for Bolsonaro and new mayor Marcelo Crivella (Brazilian Republican Party, right), a bishop in the evangelical Universal Church of the Kingdom of God.

The evangelical churches are far better established in poor areas than the Catholic Church, and promote a largely conservative and individualist worldview. To win over these voters, the liberal right has widened its targets to include contemporary art. In September the MBL forced the closure of the Queermuseuexhibition: out of 264 works, three were, according to the young liberals, ‘apologies for paedophilia, zoophilia and blasphemy against Christian culture.’ The MBL also attacked the São Paulo Museum of Modern Art over a performance featuring male nudity. Ortellano said: ‘It’s a strategy that looks forward to the coming elections. They have realised that cultural warfare is an excellent vector for mobilisation, and that a rhetoric which is hostile to the feminist, black and LGBT movements can be a way to win conservatives over to the liberal cause.’

According to the Unifesp sociologists, who repeated their survey during São Paulo’s traditional March for Jesus, which attracted nearly a million participants, the evangelicals are not susceptible to liberal ideas. Solano said: ‘The faithful don’t know where they stand, right or left. Those are concepts that don’t mean anything to them. They describe themselves as conservative, but that doesn’t mean they approve of Michel Temer’s economic programme.’ Yet this may not be peculiar to evangelicals.

There is no guarantee that the radicalisation of the right will bring electoral success. Opinion polls show that the people of Brazil are opposed to the government’s proposed labour and pension reforms. Solano said: ‘We also observed this during the demonstrations in favour of Rousseff’s impeachment. The vast majority are not in favour of small government. They want better education and healthcare.’ This should temper the confidence of the Liberty Forum’s ultra-liberals. Though the far right, military and civilian, now speaks its mind freely, though the classic and neoliberal right is in government, and though the right that wants to regenerate the government promises to be even more radical, Lula still leads the polls for the presidential election, with more than 35% of voting intentions.

The Dark Side: Seattle, Capital of the Hipster Boom

Many houses and shops in Seattle display signs, some in Arabic, Spanish or Korean, with welcoming messages: ‘Hate has no home here’; ‘No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbour’; ‘All customers welcome regardless of race, religion, nationality or sexual orientation.’ The rainbow flag was everywhere when I visited during LGBTQ Pride month, on every street corner, and in the window of the Doc Martens shop, which was selling a higher-priced rainbow-coloured range. It flew over the Starbucks headquarters and on the Space Needle, a tower built for the 1962 Universal Exhibition, topped with a flying saucer. It flew at City Hall, just below the stars and stripes.

Seattle wears its openness, tolerance and diversity like a municipal badge of honour. It voted overwhelmingly (87%) for Hillary Clinton last November and has led the legal challenge to Donald Trump’s migration policies. Besides being imperatives, these are also commercial arguments, levers of growth and competitive advantages.

‘We have a spirit of diversity and encourage talent, regardless of where it’s from,’ said Brian Surratt, head of the city’s Office of Economic Development. ‘We want every talent. Having that melange of people coming together really helps to stimulate a kind of economic vitality. I think it’s critical to our economic success.’ Samuel Assefa, originally from Ethiopia and a town planning graduate from MIT, is Seattle’s director of planning and community development. He said: ‘Historically in the US, you go where the jobs are. Ford builds a plant in Detroit, you go to Detroit. You work there for 30 years, 40 years, 50 years. Now, a 25-year-old creative would go to the place where they want to live. And the things that attract creative young people are quality places like Seattle with nature, creativity, tolerance about culture, outdoors activities, night life.’ Both Surratt and Assefa mentioned the same economist, Richard Florida, in support of their position.

Attracting talent

Keep reading... Show less

Universal, Government-Sponsored Health Care Is What Americans Really Want

Enthusiasm for socialised healthcare is suddenly sweeping through the American political landscape, which means the lack of universal care (something that has long made the US an outlier among wealthy nations) may be ending.

Healthcare is a matter of right in every other wealthy industrialised nation, although guaranteed and administered in different ways. In Germany, the state sets prices with heavily regulated private providers for standard treatments and medications and citizens must pay according to their income level, often with state support. In Canada, each province is the ‘single payer’ of health services, contracting with independent providers, although with laws that discourage or prohibit private health insurance. In the UK, the National Health Service is fully socialised and its employees are civil servants, a true single payer system. The care provided by these systems is universal, heavily regulated and funded by the state. In all, medical care is far cheaper than in the US.

The US spends more on medical care, per person and as a percentage of gross domestic product, than any other nation: Costs are expected to hit 18% of American GDP next year, compared to an Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) nation average of around 11%. Despite this enormous expenditure, roughly 10% of American adults have no health insurance and millions more are underinsured, with medical debt the leading cause of personal bankruptcy. Nor is American healthcare yielding especially impressive results on a national scale, with life expectancy and infant mortality rates markedly worse than in peer nations.

Given the cost in the US, it is no surprise that politicians and pundits have viewed universal, state-run healthcare as something the country cannot afford, an inefficient government takeover that would result in higher taxes, lower standards of care and worsening costs. That the evidence from every other industrialised nation with universal care belies this has made little impact. Only 36% of Americans hold valid passports, and relate no more to the example of Danish healthcare than they would to reports of bacterial life on Mars. Yet the idea is suddenly catching on.

Socialising all healthcare was not part of the official debate on Obama’s Affordable Care Act of 2010 (Obamacare), his signature domestic legislation that reformed private health insurance markets, extended coverage to the previously uninsured without universalising it, and left the system more deeply entrenched.

The leading legislative reaction to Obamacare is not expansion but destruction. The Republican Party, with control of the executive branch and both branches of the federal legislature, is developing a massive tax cut for the wealthy, paid for by revoking healthcare coverage and heavily cutting Medicaid, the federal programme for the poor. According to the Congressional Budget Office, a federal body that runs cost-benefit analysis on proposed legislation, the version of the American Health Care Act 2017 (AHCA) passed by the House but not, at the time of writing, by the Senate would immediately strip 14 million Americans of their health insurance, and by 2026, 26 million would be without coverage.

The sudden prospect of millions losing medical coverage has energised Democrats (and some Republicans) who have packed local town hall meetings with their elected members of Congress, and have been raucous, even confrontational, about healthcare. (This focus contrasts with the Democratic Party elites’ fixation on the Trump circle’s alleged collusion with the Russian government, an issue more important to centrist pundits than constituents’ wallets and health.)

This popular response to Obamacare’s potential destruction has gone far beyond defence of the status quo and become radical by American standards, with demands for government-run universal healthcare, often called single payer but increasingly known as Medicare For All. ‘Single payer has become the most important policy issue because people have a dramatic fear of losing their healthcare now — and we have a solution,’ says RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United and the California Nurses Association, powerful unions leading the charge for universal healthcare. A bill to establish single payer — the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act, HR 676 — is floating around the House of Representatives though it is far from summoning a majority.

At state level, enthusiasm for universal healthcare, long on the progressive back burner, is suddenly boiling over. New York state assemblyman Dick Gottfried has proposed a bill for years; the measure suddenly has a majority in the state’s lower legislative chamber. It will probably take several attempts to get this or similar bills signed into law: In 2014 a watered-down universal healthcare bill stalled out in Vermont; a Colorado ballot initiative for single payer tanked last November, and the governor of Nevada has just vetoed a massive expansion of Medicaid.

Yet these setbacks have only stimulated the appetite for change and legislation is moving in the state governments of Washington, Oregon and (probably soon) Illinois. New chapters of Physicians for a National Health Programme are springing up; and that group’s detailed proposals are being published in prestigious medical journals, while more physicians, fed up with fighting insurance companies to get reimbursed, are turning to single payer.

Although universalising healthcare is a matter of fairness and social justice, it is also, counter-intuitively, the only proven way to control healthcare costs. Savvy plutocrats, such as Berkshire Hathaway investment gurus Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger, have come to support state-run universal care, given that soaring healthcare costs drag down the competitiveness of American firms.

The chief savings are in reducing the administrative costs of private insurers, which add no medical value. A June 2016 study in the American Journal of Public Health by Adam Gaffney, Steffie Woolhandler, Marcia Angell and David U Himmelstein, all members of Physicians for a National Health Program, estimates that $500bn a year would be saved by this market restructuring.

Independently, the US government could follow multi-payer systems like Germany and flex its buying power to negotiate down prices of healthcare procedures, prescription drugs and medical technology, given that with Medicare and Medicaid it is overwhelmingly the largest purchaser. Intellectual property law, properly revised, could also push down prices by limiting patents on medicines (often partly developed with publicly funded research) and allowing low-cost generic equivalents to enter the market more quickly. Big Pharma’s profit margins are enormous, roughly twice the Fortune 500 average, evidence of cartel privileges at the expense of patients.

Development of new drugs should ultimately pass out of the private sector with its inefficiencies and profit-seeking conflicts of interest. As economist Dean Baker has proposed, a state-managed research institute could easily develop new drugs and sell them at cost with enormous savings: Contrary to capitalist folklore, many of the 20th century’s important breakthroughs, from penicillin to the polio vaccine, were developed by state and non-profit academic researchers.

The barriers to socialising medicine in the US are more political than economic, and are considerable. Many Republican elected officials have spoken out against the idea of health insurance as collectivist and morally wrong. Republican Scott Perry of Pennsylvania has declared that he shouldn’t be asked to pay towards maternity care since his family does not plan on any more children, while Republican Mo Brooks of Alabama has said he would make the AHCA require the sick to pay more than the healthy ‘who lead good lives’.

Despite such market Calvinism, it’s not clear how deep or enduring is this opposition to socialised medicine among Republican voters. In the early 1960s, Republicans and most of the medical profession militantly opposed Medicare (the American Medical Association hired Ronald Reagan to denounce the programme as communism in radio advertisements), before the programme was signed into law in 1965. Now Medicare is popular across the political spectrum and politically impregnable. And with both parties realigning their social bases, all bets are off. As DeMoro notes, ‘We’re a little perplexed by Donald Trump because he’s spoken favourably about Australia’s single payer system but now he’s got this draconian plan that takes a lot of people’s healthcare away.’

The first step will be convincing enough Democrats: no easy task. While Bernie Sanders campaigned on single-payer healthcare, his victorious rival Hillary Clinton condemned it as ‘utopian’, an odd choice of words for a system that works smoothly in many nations. The close ties between donors and lobbyists from the biomedical industry and the Democratic Party can be seen in the family of Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and his daughter Heather Bresch, CEO of Mylan, a firm which has jacked up the price of its EpiPen (an emergency device for allergic reactions) from $100 to $600 since 2009. Manchin defended his daughter’s decision.

But even if Washington Democrats remain opposed to universal care, activity at the state level is going ahead. For now, the big battleground for universal healthcare is California, where the upper legislative chamber on 1 June passed a non-committal Senate bill (562) calling for a single-payer state system without a specific plan to fund it. This is the result of much activist prodding: At the state’s most recent Democratic Party convention, members of National Nurses United chanted outside the event. Although the bill was just killed off by the Democratic state assembly speaker Anthony Rendon, it had support from both lieutenant governor Gavin Newsom, likely the state’s next governor, state attorney general Xavier Becerra and many other elected officials.

Is California’s single-payer plan financially feasible in the near term? The programme’s cost is estimated at $400bn, only half of which could be covered by the state’s general fund without raising the additional revenue necessary until money-saving reforms can be passed at state and federal level. Advocates are optimistic. ‘California is the sixth-largest economy in the world and passing single payer there will have a large ripple effect,’ says DeMoro. ‘We’re hoping California will lead the US in joining the rest of the industrialised world in providing healthcare for its people.’

California’s path to single payer will not be smooth. Even if such a measure eventually does get signed into law and state funds are found, Obama’s Affordable Care Act requires the federal government to grant a waiver for any state to set up its own publicly funded system. Conservative commitments to federalism aside, it is far from certain that the ultraconservative director of the federal Department of Health and Human Services, former Georgia Republican congressman Tom Price, would give California a waiver.

No one expects socialised medicine to happen all at once and without political resistance at every level of government. But even if it takes several election cycles, what was recently a dream is suddenly a defining issue in US domestic politics, and may soon be legislated into reality.

Can Football Players Help Break Stereotypes About Islam?

Paul Pogba is the world’s most expensive footballer and now possibly the sport’s most famous Muslim. He shared pictures of his umrah from Mecca with millions of people around the world, even tweeting “Ramadan Kareem.”

His social media offerings highlighted the role that sports personalities, particularly footballers, can play in breaking down barriers and helping deliver religious literacy at a time when it is needed most.

Across the football leagues of Europe, hundreds of Muslim players ply their trade, exciting fans of all faiths. Their involvement in the English Premier League has arguably changed it forever as the influx of players mixed with worldwide commercial growth means a fan of Chelsea is as likely to come from Lahore as he or she is to be from London.

Premier teams such as Arsenal send out messages wishing their fans “Eid Mubarak” and its Muslim star players such as Mesut Ozil start each game with a Muslim prayer. Fans are even joining in.

When Newcastle United signed striker Demba Ba, he couldn’t score a goal for love or money and his fasting during Ramadan became an issue. He then went on a fantastic run, eventually scoring 16 goals. There’s not a huge Muslim population in Newcastle but the fans of the team soon had a terrace chant in Ba’s honour. To the tune of Depeche Mode’s 1980s-era pop classic “Just Can’t Get Enough,” they shoehorned Ramadan and fasting into an homage to their star striker.

Ba would go into the sajda prayer position after scoring a goal, something many Muslim players do. Gary Lineker, the former England player and commentator, on seeing two other players do this, commented that they were “eating grass.” He apologised for not knowing what they were actually doing but such is the effect of Muslim players on the sport that most commentators and fans know that the act is religious and Muslim.

This is also seen in sports such as athletics. Mo Farrah, arguably the best athlete in the world, is famous not just for his Mobot pose but also for prostrating in the sajda position after each race. Boxer Amir Khan regularly thanks God in his post-match interviews and who can forget the iconic image of sabre fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad becoming the first hijab-wearing athlete to compete for the United States in the Olympics and the first female American Muslim to win an Olympic medal.

These sports personalities are important in breaking down stereotypes and normalising Muslims to fans, commentators and their colleagues.

It’s in the relationship with their teammates and club colleagues, however, that they show the rest of us we can learn from sport, particularly football, about how religious literacy can change how we think and help us better understand the “other” in our midst.

After several Muslim English Premier League players declined to accept their “Man of the Match” champagne bottles, the sponsors decided to replace champagne with a trophy so each player was equally rewarded.

This awareness also permeates throughout many of the clubs with Muslims on their books. From prayer spaces, halal food and faith awareness classes, clubs have embraced the needs of the growing number of Muslims players. As former England Manager Sam Allardyce said, it’s important that everyone is integrated in the club.

This understanding of creating a respectful and integrated workplace is key to delivering better results on the pitch as a happy player will be a more productive one but it’s more than that.

If you embark on this journey of understanding and tweaking your environment and practices to embrace difference, then it permeates throughout and before long becomes second nature.

Zafar Iqbal, the club doctor at Crystal Palace, was formerly in the same role at Liverpool football club. When the team won the English football league trophy at Wembley Stadium, the players approached the practising Muslim with a question. They told him that they would be celebrating the win in the dressing room and asked whether spraying champagne around would make him uncomfortable. He was told it would be over in 20 minutes.

He returned to the changing room after the champagne celebrations to find his suit, shoes and bag hanging outside the room so that they wouldn’t be covered in champagne.

What better example of religious literacy and social cohesion is there than this? Football players with enough knowledge to know that alcohol would be an issue for their Muslim colleague and enough common sense to come to an amicable solution that allows an age-old celebratory tradition to continue and their colleague to feel respected.

It’s a strange thought but, yes, we can look to football to learn how we can live together and understand each other a bit better to make our societies more religiously literate and by nature more tolerant.

Shadier Side to Trudeau's Sunny Ways

The media love Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, leader of the Liberal Party of Canada (LPC), who won the federal election in October 2015. He is young and handsome, with the emblem of an Indigenous tribe, the Haida, tattooed on his upper arm, and 3.5 million followers on Facebook. The Economist has described him as an ‘example to the world’, E! Online as a ‘smoking-hot syrupy fox’. He features prominently in targeted online advertising for the New York Times which suddenly wants special coverage of Canada.

He combines movie-star appeal with the charisma of Barack Obama and the folksiness of his father, Pierre Trudeau, prime minister 1968-79 and 1980-4. He has posed for photos with Syrian refugees and told an Ottawa mosque audience that Canada is ‘stronger because of the contributions of its Muslim community’. He claims to be a feminist, and committed to the cause of Indigenous Canadians; he is seen as cool, because he is in favour of legalising the recreational use of marijuana, and his name and face feature on packets of Zig-Zag cigarette rolling papers. As with Italy’s former prime minister Matteo Renzi or French presidential hopeful Emmanuel Macron, his admirers see him as a 21st-century liberal, the antithesis of his conservative predecessor Stephen Harper, Theresa May or Donald Trump.

As xenophobia sweeps the US and Europe, he declares his love of multiculturalism and diversity. Social media users and regular media have lauded his cabinet, which has gender parity and includes four Sikhs, two Indigenous Canadians, one Muslim and one Jew, though it is also 45% career politicians, 19% private and public sector administrators and 13% lawyers. Trudeau is proud of his team, especially defence minister, Harjkit Sajjan, whom he presented as an example of Canada’s ‘magnificent diversity’.

Sajjan is a Sikh Canadian and a former Vancouver police officer (in 1996 he patented a beard-friendly gas mask) turned intelligence agent. While working with the intelligence services in Afghanistan in the 2000s, he was responsible for handing over Canadian-captured prisoners of war to the Afghan authorities, who tortured them. He also assisted in the US’s extraordinary rendition programme. But the media focuses on his beard and moustache: His Sikh identity is part of Canada’s new ideology of ‘sunny ways’.

Trudeau also got elected by seeming to denounce austerity, economic inequality and lack of concrete action on climate change. He advocates what he calls ‘positive politics’ in contrast to the prevailing gloom, and in his victory speech told supporters: ‘We beat fear with hope. We beat cynicism with hard work. We beat negative, divisive politics with a positive vision that brings Canadians together ... Sunny ways, my friends, sunny ways. That is what positive politics can do.’ His plans for infrastructure investment and a break with austerity made him appear further left than the New Democratic Party (NDP), the labour movement’s traditional party, which had seemed to move to the right after the death of its beloved leader Jack Layton, which hastened the move of trade unionists to the LPC. (Layton was replaced by a former member of the Liberal Party of Quebec, Tom Mulcair.)

Hassan Yussuf, leader of the Canadian Labour Congress and member of Unifor, said last September, a few days after the (temporary) resolution of the dispute between Canada Post and the powerful and combative Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), that there was a ‘sense of optimism’ in the labour movement. This shows the low expectations of the working class more than Trudeau’s commitment to their cause: The government had merely given its word that it would allow collective bargaining and not use the law to force them back to work — the opposite approach to the Harper government. Yussuf’s stance contrasts with that of the CUPW, which has vowed to continue to fight the restructuring of public services. At the same time, Unifor was making concessionary deals on pay and pensions with Ford, General Motors and Chrysler-Fiat, in exchange for vague promises of investment.

Many private sector union leaders, who have largely bought into ‘progressive competitiveness’, support Trudeau, convinced that he is best qualified to attract investors. He recently declared that ‘Canada, with its economic, fiscal, political, social stability is an extremely attractive place to do business’. Yet many rank-and-file activists oppose his policy. Last October he was invited to a youth forum organised by the Canadian Labour Congress. Members of the audience criticised his support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and booed when he suggested that precarious work was ‘a fact of life’. Trudeau is committed to TPP and the Canada-Europe Trade Agreement (CETA). While many political leaders and economists are rethinking free trade dogma, he remains an apologist for free trade, using arguments straight out of the 1990s: that freedom to trade promotes openness and friendship between nations. No wonder he is the darling of liberal publications such as The Economist.

Trudeau separates words and actions, presenting himself as a defender of human rights while his country sells unprecedented quantities of arms to dictatorships. Canada has become the second largest exporter of arms to the Middle East (from sixth in 2014) after massive deals with Saudi Arabia. These improved trade links, which then foreign minister Stéphane Dion presented as a lever with which to exercise benevolent influence over the kingdom, were made possible by rewriting Canada’s arms export legislation. This previously made sales conditional on ‘wide-ranging consultations’ to evaluate their implications for international security and human rights; the new wording states that consultations ‘may be’ carried out. As John Bell of the Socialist Worker points out, the law originally stated that Canadian arms exports must not be ‘diverted to ends that could threaten the security of Canada, its allies, or other countries or people’; the Trudeau-approved wording drops the crucial reference to ‘other countries or people’ and replaces it with ‘civilians’.

During the cold war, Pierre Trudeau took an original approach to diplomacy, balancing major powers — Canada had the US as its neighbour but was on good terms with Cuba and China — while building a strong welfare state and not hesitating to intervene in the economy, for example by nationalising oil production, with the support of the social-democratic NDP. Justin Trudeau has also chosen rapprochement with China, ending the tension that prevailed under Harper, who refused to attend the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Trudeau and his brothers admire Chinese society, in particular some of its anti-democratic qualities, such as efficiency. Last August Trudeau was warmly welcomed in China, where Jack Ma, CEO of Alibaba, the world’s largest e-commerce company, called him the ‘future of Canada’. Three weeks after this visit, which led to $1.2bn in new contracts, Chinese prime minister Li Keqiang visited Ottawa. The heads of government announced that they would be starting negotiations on a free trade agreement, delighting Canada’s mining, agrifood and finance multinationals, as well as the Chinese-Canadian business community, which donates generously to the LPC.

Though this rapprochement goes against Trump’s talk of a trade war with China, there are points on which Canadian and US policies converge. Trudeau approves of the intensive exploitation of oil sands, and the Keystone XL project, opposed by environmental activists and Indigenous communities. He also boasts of his special relationship with Argentina’s conservative president Mauricio Macri, whose father did business with Trump in the 1980s.

Despite implying that he would be even-handed, Trudeau has not discontinued the pro-Israel policy of Harper’s government, and has even strengthened it. Last February he supported a Conservative Party motion condemning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, on the grounds that ‘demonisation and delegitimatisation’ of the state of Israel promoted antisemitism. In August, a schoolteacher in Mississauga, Ontario, was suspended over her involvement in Palestine solidarity campaigns.

How is Trudeau able to get away with this, when he was elected as the ‘progressive’ candidate? He skilfully separates geopolitics and the economy from governance at home. There is an anti-racist tinge to some in his government, which is well-meaning if paternalistic. Trudeau claims to be concerned about colonialism in Canada. At a meeting with students at New York University last April, he said: ‘We have consistently marginalised [Indigenous peoples], engaged in colonial behaviour ... that has left a legacy of challenges.’ After Harper’s denial of the existence of colonialism, a government that claims to want to help Indigenous peoples seems an improvement.

Yet Trudeau has in fact intensified colonisation of Indigenous territories. His ambiguous formulation reveals this: He talks about ‘people who live in Canada’, negating the colonisation of what Indigenous peoples and many progressive Canadians see as nations that overlap with Canada — a modern version of what Perry Anderson called ‘parcellised sovereignty’Indigenous peoples are not ‘people who live in Canada’ or ‘minorities’ (like Jews or Koreans). The earliest agreements with European settlers in the 17th century recognise them as ‘nations’, dealing with the Canadian state as such. Last Canada Day, 1 July, Trudeau also upset many Québécois by referring to Canada as ‘one nation’. He was later forced to recognise that ‘Québécois form a nation within a united Canada’, in line with the House of Commons resolution of 2006.

There is much talk of ‘helping the people up north’ among liberal Canadians concerned about Indigenous people who retain their ‘authenticity’. But apart from his terminology — which goes against his promise of establishing a new ‘nation-to-nation relationship’ — Trudeau is no more concerned for the wellbeing of Indigenous peoples than Harper. In October 2015, during a broadcast on the Aboriginal People’s Television Network, Trudeau said that Indigenous peoples should have a right to veto mining developments on their land. This conforms to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of 2007, which requires states to ‘consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples ... to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.’

But Trudeau eventually approved environmentally damaging oil pipeline projects and seismic surveys that the Tsleil-Waututh nation of Vancouver Island, in British Columbia, and the Inuit of Clyde River on Baffin Island, in the northern territory of Nunavut, have opposed for years. To justify this, natural resources minister Jim Carr has claimed that the government seeks to develop a ‘Canadian definition’ of the UN declaration, which neither Harper nor Trudeau signed. Long-term Indigenous activist Russ Diablo says this is part of the long history of liberal governments saying ‘nice things in public’, but doing business-as-usual colonialism. As noted by Indigenous affairs specialist Warren Bernauer, Canada’s National Energy Board itself has found that the surveys (now being challenged before the courts) do not satisfy the requirement for free, prior and informed consent.

Trudeau is one of the last national leaders to defend migrants, minority rights and openness. Canadians may look at Trump, May, Vladimir Putin, Viktor Orbán or Narendra Modi, at the possibility of Marine Le Pen, and breathe a sigh of relief. Yet this is where the danger lies. Trudeau’s ‘progressivism’ is part of a mutation of political divides. The left/centre/right system is being replaced by opposition between the proponents of economic and identity nationalism, and the defenders of capitalist globalisation. Trump and Trudeau are two sides of the same coin: time to change currencies?

For Fear of Finding Something Worse

‘Why is Hillary Clinton so unpopular?’ David Brooks, a columnist at the New York Times, asked in May. Rather than looking at her political record, he examined her psyche: ‘Can you tell me what Hillary Clinton does for fun?’ If Hillary lacks appeal, he suggested, it is because of her temperament: She is completely absorbed in her career. Her unpopularity ‘is akin to the unpopularity of a workaholic,’ and her ‘formal, career-oriented persona puts her in direct contrast with the mores of the social media age, which is intimate, personal, revealing, trusting and vulnerable.’ This goodwill is surprising in a columnist who is usually close to the Republican Party. But rejection of Donald Trump is such that strange alliances are being formed.

According to Brooks, Hillary seems like a new arrival on the political scene, though she has been first lady, a US senator and secretary of state. Have people forgotten her support for the invasion of Iraq in 2003, her three speeches to bankers at Goldman Sachs (for each of which she was paid $225,000), her backing of free trade agreements, and her support for the overthrow of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi? What of her conflict of interest with the Clinton Foundation — a family-owned philanthropic multinational — when she was part of the Obama administration? According to the New York Times, Foundation directors managed, after lobbying secretary of state Clinton, to have money earmarked for a US federal programme to combat AIDS in Rwanda transferred to a training programme set up by the Foundation.

Then there are Hillary’s links to Wall Street, which finances both her campaign and the Foundation. Even Trump has donated to the Foundation: more than $100,000 in 2009. Trump was friendly with Bill and Hillary for many years, and invited them to his third wedding, in 2005. They sat in the front row, and their broad smiles suggested they were enjoying the evening. That’s what Hillary does for fun.

Voting for Hillary in November in fact means voting for a couple, each the other’s closest adviser. Hillary has already shown her hand. If she wins, Bill will be ‘in charge of revitalizing the economy, because, you know, he knows how to do it.’

According to the image she promotes, Hillary has been a keen defender of children’s interests for more than 30 years; when Bill was governor of Arkansas, she allied herself with charitable organisations such as the Children’s Defense Fund, with a view to establishing a reputation as a caring person. But most of her time in the South was devoted to the Rose Law Firm, where she worked from 1977 to 1992, specialising in patent law and intellectual property. Rose, which embodies the collusion between politics and business in Arkansas, had among its clients Walmart, known for its hatred of trade unions and love of low-cost goods made in countries where the labour force can be exploited.

Hillary’s track record as a lawyer gained her a place on Walmart’s board, where she served from 1986 to 1992, receiving a salary of $18,000 a year ($31,000 today, allowing for inflation). She has always avoided mentioning in public anything that might upset Walmart, especially its policy of wage compression. (It’s hard to raise children on $19,427 a year, today’s average pay for a Walmart sales associate.) After travelling through the Deep South in 2013-4, Paul Theroux wrote that he had ‘found towns in South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas that looked like towns in Zimbabwe, just as overlooked and beleaguered’. He mocked the Clinton Foundation for running a ‘Partnership to Save Africa’s Elephants’ — a flagship programme — while ignoring poor black families in Arkansas.

From the start of his first term as president, Bill was keen to improve the financing of Democratic election campaigns, which had depended too much on major industrial trade unions, and set about shifting his party to the right. He promoted the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), as popular with multinationals as it was unpopular with Democrat voters. Hillary never opposed the agreement. In September 1992 she attended a crucial meeting in Arlington, Virginia, when Bill decided to support the agreement, which had been negotiated by President George H W Bush. She then helped define the strategy for getting recalcitrant Democratic Representatives on board. According to Tom Nides, a former member of the Clinton team, ‘this was member by member — figuring out what was in their district, figuring out who we could influence, how we could work it’. In November 1993 NAFTA was ratified with the help of Newt Gingrich, then Republican number two in the House of Representatives. In March 1996, she said: ‘I think NAFTA is proving its worth.’

Emboldened by his free-trade success, Bill began to go back on some principles of the US welfare state, created in the 1930s with Roosevelt’s New Deal. With the help of Gingrich, who had become speaker of the House of Representatives after the Democrats’ defeat in the 1994 midterm elections, he imposed a ‘reform’ of the US welfare system, depriving more than 11 million poor families of aid. In protest, Peter Edelman — husband of the founder of the Children’s Defense Fund — resigned as assistant secretary for planning. He wrote: ‘[The new law] does not promote work effectively, and it will hurt millions of poor children by the time it is fully implemented.’ Hillary was silent about the fact that children (notably black and Latino) were being penalised by Bill’s policies.

Bill later deregulated Wall Street with the help of his Republican ‘rivals’: In November 1999 he signed the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which since 1933 had separated commercial and investment banking, to discourage banks from speculating with small depositors’ money. Republican John McCain, and others, are now proposing a new Glass-Steagall Act. Not Hillary: her economic adviser Alan Blinder said last year: ‘You’re not going to see Glass-Steagall.’

Hillary’s political career really started in 2000, when she stood in the election for US senator for New York, parachuted into a state where she had never resided by her husband and his powerful allies in the Democratic Party. Once elected, she got on well with the Bush administration. In a speech to the Senate in October 2002, she confirmed her support for the invasion of Iraq, repeating the White House’s lies about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. She defended a ‘preventive’ war, drawing a parallel with the bombing of Yugoslavia, which Bill had decided in 1999, to ‘stop the dislocation and ethnic cleansing of more than a million Kosovar Albanians ... And perhaps my decision is influenced by my eight years of experience on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, in the White House, watching my husband deal with serious challenges to our nation’. Not the words of a feminist, but unsurprising from a candidate whose Twitter profile begins ‘wife, mom, grandma’.

Hillary’s 2002 speech was remarkable for its banality of language, but it would be unfair to suggest that she wrote it herself. She frequently uses ghostwriters, who are rarely credited; Professor Barbara Feinman Todd complained that she was not mentioned in It Takes a Village (1996), Hillary’s bestseller about ‘lessons children teach us’. It is not even certain Hillary wrote her own memoirs: to tell the story of her time as secretary of state, she used a ‘book team’, whom she barely mentions.

The record of Hillary’s four years in charge of US foreign policy does not inspire confidence. In 2011, when the Libyan rebellion was growing, she was cautious: ‘I’m one of those who believes that absent international authorisation, the United States acting alone, would be stepping into a situation whose consequences are unforeseeable.’ Then she changed her mind: ‘I got an earful about military intervention from Sarkozy. He is a dynamic figure, always full of ebullient energy, who loves being at the center of the action ... Sarkozy was also influenced by the French public intellectual Bernard-Henri Lévy ... They were both genuinely moved by the plight of the Libyan people, suffering at the hands of a brutal dictator.’ Seduced by the Frenchmen, and to avoid a ‘humanitarian disaster’, she joined the interventionist camp and, with President Obama, led the US into a new war without seeking congressional approval, though the constitution requires it. Fortunately, it all ended well: ‘Over the next 72 hours, Libya’s air defences were successfully destroyed and the people of Benghazi were saved from imminent devastation.’ The rest of the book is in the same vein.

Hillary knows that her rightwing image is the final obstacle to winning over the supporters of Bernie Sanders. Drawn to the left by her ‘socialist’ rival’s success in the primaries, she has recently put forward progressive measures: taxing banks that have too much debt, increasing the minimum wage to $12 an hour, regulating university tuition fees according to family income. Her U-turn on free trade has been spectacular. In November 2012 she praised the Trans-Pacific Partnership: ‘This TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements to open free, transparent, fair trade.’ But the criticism by Trump and Sanders of free trade seem to be convincing voters, and in October 2015 Hillary said: ‘As of today, I am not in favor of what I have learned about it. I don’t believe it’s going to meet the high bar I have set.’ On 7 July her allies blocked an effort by the Sanders campaign to have the Democratic Party officially oppose a congressional vote on TTP.

Hillary seems more predictable than Trump, who has increased his verbal attacks on ‘radical Islamists’ and ‘immigrants’. Her calm and sense of proportion have even won over some Republicans. Meg Whitman, CEO of Hewlett Packard, who was finance co-chair of presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s exploratory committee, has openly declared her support, as has neoconservative Robert Kagan, a former Romney adviser. The Bush family have said they will abstain in the election.

Hillary also has the unfailing support of the media establishment, which presents her as the last line of defence against barbarism. David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker, asked: ‘Has a presidential election ever suggested more vividly divergent candidates than Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump? ... Clinton will have to campaign with unwavering poise against the most dangerous and unpredictable variety of opponent — a demagogue who is willing to trespass every boundary of decency to win power.’

This recalls the confrontation between President Jacques Chirac and Front National leader Jean-Marie Le Pen in 2002, when the French left was obliged to support a rightwing candidate to protect the country from the ‘fascist danger’. But Chirac was more progressive than Hillary, especially on foreign policy. The US presidential campaign is more like a contest between Angela Merkel and Silvio Berlusconi, in which the US left has decided to support Merkel.

Turkey’s New Dirty War

Sunlight flooded the main square of Silopi, a town in the southeast of Turkey, less than 15km from the borders with Iraq and Syria. Between December 2015 and January 2016, Turkish security forces heavily assaulted its 80,000 inhabitants, and fighters of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is calling for democratic confederalism and demanding autonomy for areas with a Kurdish majority. The fighting was out of public view: Silopi, like other towns, was isolated for 37 days by curfews.

Throughout Turkey, including Istanbul and Ankara, the police are regularly targeted in attacks; this leads to greater suppression, which provokes reprisals. On 10 June the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons, a radical splinter group of the PKK, claimed responsibility for a car bomb attack on police in Istanbul. A few days earlier, the government had voted in a law lifting the immunity of some parliamentary members, to silence 59 MPs of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).

The atmosphere in Silopi back on that spring morning was tense. The regular appearance of police armoured vehicles, and the helicopter circling overhead, were a reminder that war was never far away. Queues formed in front of two public scribes who had set up their tables and typewriters. They had more work than usual, with people wanting a form filled in because their house had been destroyed, a letter to the prison director or a death certificate.

Riskyie Seflek, 60, lives in the middle of the combat zone. She said: ‘The tank behind the house was aiming for the mosque. But the shell went through the living room.’ Under her headscarf, which Kurdish women wear drawn back, she looked tired. We were in her garden with her husband, daughters and grandchildren. One of the boys had brought new clothes, which the family were inspecting. ‘They’re for Temer, my grandson,’ Seflek said. ‘He’s 16 and in jail. Before that, he was in hospital for three weeks after being shot in the hip.’ Temerwas not a militiaman; he was caught in the middle of the fighting, like everyone in Silopi, confined in a town that has become a prison.

Many people told me similar things in the towns of Turkish Kurdistan that I visited. They draw the same conclusions everywhere: The peace process between the authorities and the PKK, initiated in 2009 to end a conflict that started in 1984 and has killed more than 40,000, is over. For President ErdoÄŸan and his new prime minister, Binali Yıldırım, ‘there can no longer be any dialogue with the PKK.’ The vocabulary is unambiguous: ‘cleansing’, ‘purge’, ‘total victory’.

In spring 2013, talks led to the withdrawal of Kurdish fighters towards Iraq, but they were unable to avoid involvement in the Syrian civil war. Tensions rose during the battle for Kobane, in which Syrian Kurdish forces close to the PKK fought ISIS (Islamic State). In Kurdish towns, there were demonstrations condemning the Turkish government’s passivity, and it was accused of colluding with ISIS. On 20 July 2015 a suicide attack attributed to ISIS killed 33 and injured 100 young Turkish and Kurdish socialists in Suruç, close to the Syrian border: They were on their way to help reconstruct Kobane. The demonstrations intensified and two days later the PKK, accusing Ankara of complicity with the jihadists, killed two police officers in Ceylanpınar, close to the Syrian border. That act was the pretext for the Turkish authorities to declare a ‘war on terror’, supposed to target both ISIS and the PKK but mostly directed against the Kurdish forces.

Urban insurgencies

Keep reading... Show less

Frappuccino Society: How Starbucks and Subway Exploit Their Staff and Suppliers to Feed Corporate Profits

The Subway sandwich shop at Porte d’Orléans in Paris, squeezed between a bank and a boutique, was crowded when I visited one day in July, with maybe ten people in line, a man in a hurry, a group of teens, a mother with children. A young woman ordered a Sub30 (a 30cm-long sandwich) with turkey, cheese, tomato, gherkins and barbecue sauce; her companion opted for a Subway Melt, a brand special. People finished their meal in under 15 minutes, as there was little encouragement to linger: the neon-lit shop was stifling in the hot weather and there was a din of techno music.

Keep reading... Show less

Is Trump the American Berlusconi?

For a long time Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi appeared as an impenetrable phenomenon to foreign observers. He was routinely dismissed as an exotic anomaly tied to the idiosyncrasies of Italian political culture.

Keep reading... Show less

How the Banks Are Undermining Greece's Elected Government

Like the traditional Greek song, in Athens “everything changes and everything stays the same”. Four months after Syriza’s victory, the parties that had governed since the overthrow of the military dictatorship — the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok) and New Democracy (rightwing) — have been completely discredited. The first radical leftist government since the “mountain government” at the time of the German occupation is very popular.
Although the “troika”, hated because of its responsibility for the current economic disaster, is no longer mentioned, its three “institutions” — the European Commission, European Central Bank (ECB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) — continue their policies. With threats, blackmail and ultimatums, a new “troika” is imposing the same austerity on the government of Alexis Tsipras.
With wealth generation down by 25% since 2010 and an unemployment rate of 27% (more than 50% for those under 25), Greece has an unprecedented social and humanitarian crisis. But despite the results of the January elections, which gave Tsipras a clear mandate to end austerity, the European Union continues to treat Greece as a naughty pupil who must be punished by the stern teachers in Brussels, to discourage daydreaming voters in Spain and elsewhere who still believe in the possibility of governments opposed to the German dogma.
This situation is like Chile in the 1970s, when US president Richard Nixon was determined to topple Salvador Allende to prevent leftwing contagion in America’s backyard. “Make the economy scream,” said Nixon, and when it did, General Augusto Pinochet took over.
The silent coup under way in Greece is using more modern tools, including credit rating agencies, the media and the ECB. Two options will remain for Tsipras’s government: to be strangled financially if it keeps trying to implement its programme, or to renege on its promises and fall, abandoned by its voters.
The hope disease ECB president Mario Draghi announced three days before the Greek election that the bank’s intervention programme (the ECB buys €60bn in sovereign bonds issued by eurozone countries each month) would be open to Greece under certain conditions: this was to avoid spreading the Syriza virus, the hope disease, to the rest of Europe. The eurozone’s weak link, which needs help the most, would not get support until it submitted to Brussels.
Greeks are hard-headed. They voted for Syriza, compelling the Eurogroup’s president Jeroen Dijsselbloem to call them to order: “The Greek people have to realise that the major problems in the Greek economy have not disappeared and haven’t even changed overnight because of the simple fact that an election took place.” Christine Lagarde, managing director of the IMF, said: “We cannot make special exceptions for specific countries,” while Benoît CÅ“uré, member of the ECB executive board, went further: “Greece has to pay, those are the rules of the European game.”
Draghi soon demonstrated that the eurozone knew how to “make the economy scream” too: without any explanation, he shut off the Greek banks’ primary source of funding, which was replaced by Emergency Liquidity Assistance (ELA), a more costly measure that has to be renewed weekly. The rating agency Moody’s announced that Syriza’s victory “has an adverse effect on [Greece’s] economic growth prospects.”
Grexit — Greece’s exit from the eurozone — and a payment default were back on the agenda. Only two days after the elections, Marcel Fratzscher, president of the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) and former economist at the ECB, said Tsipras was playing a dangerous game: “If people start to believe that he is really serious, you could have massive capital flight and a bank run. You are quickly at a point where a euro exit becomes more possible” — a perfect example of a self-fulfilling prophecy that worsened Greece’s economic plight.
Syriza had little room to manoeuvre. Tsipras was elected to renegotiate the terms and conditions attached to the “aid”. But the idea of an exit from the eurozone is not supported by most Greeks, who have been persuaded by the Greek and international media that Grexit would be a disaster. And participation in the single currency strikes other very sensitive chords.
Grexit is still taboo Since independence in 1822, Greece has swung between a past as part of the Ottoman empire, and “Europeanisation”. Both its elites and ordinary people have always seen being part of Europe as signifying modernity and an end to underdevelopment. Participation in Europe’s “hard core” was supposed to make this national dream happen. So, during the election campaign, Syriza candidates felt obliged to treat Grexit as taboo.
At the heart of the negotiations between Tsipras’s government and the “institutions” are the conditions set by the lenders, the “memorandums” that have forced Athens since 2010 to implement devastating austerity and overtaxation. More than 90% of the lenders’ payments are returned to them directly — sometimes the next day — because they are used to repay the debt. As finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, who wants a new agreement with the lenders, said: “Greece has spent the last five years living for the next loan tranche like drug addicts craving the next dose.” Since non-repayment of the debt is equivalent to a “credit event” (a kind of bankruptcy), releasing the dose becomes a very powerful blackmail weapon for the lenders. In theory, since the lenders need repaying, the Greek government has considerable bargaining power, but using this leverage would have prompted the ECB to stop lending to Greek banks, meaning a return to the drachma.
It was not surprising then that within three weeks of the Syriza win, the finance ministers of the other 18 eurozone countries sent an ultimatum to Greece — its government must implement the austerity programme it had inherited, or meet its obligations by finding the money elsewhere. The New York Times concluded this was “a prospect that many in the financial markets think would leave Greece little option but to leave the euro.”
Four-month truce To escape, the Greek government requested a four-month truce. It did not ask for disbursement of the €7.2bn but hoped that both sides would reach an agreement incorporating measures to develop the economy and resolve the debt problem. It would have been tactless to bring the government down immediately, so the lenders accepted the request.
The Greek government thought it could count, at least temporarily, on certain sums. It hoped for €1.2bn from the European Financial Stability Facility’s reserves — a sum not used in the process of recapitalising Greece’s banks — as well as €1.9bn that the ECB had earned on Greek bonds and promised to give back to Athens. In March, the ECB announced that it would not return these earnings; and the Eurogroup ministers decided to transfer this money to Luxembourg, as if they feared the Greeks would steal it. The Tsipras team, inexperienced and not expecting such manoeuvres, assented without demanding any guarantees. In an interview with the TV channel Star, Tsipras admitted that not asking for a written agreement had been an error.
The Greek government remained popular despite the concessions it had agreed to — no reversals of the privatisations of the previous government, a postponement of the increase in the minimum wage, and increased value-added tax (VAT). So Germany launched a campaign to discredit the government. Der Spiegel published an article on the “tortured relationship” between Varoufakis and German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble, written by, among others, Nikolaus Blome, recently transferred from Bild, where he was the hero of its campaign in 2010 against the “lazy Greeks.” Schäuble publicly mocked Varoufakis as being “stupidly naïve”, a rare occurrence in the history of the EU and in international diplomacy. Der Spiegel presented Schäuble as a benevolent Sisyphus, sorry that Greece would be condemned to fail and leave the eurozone unless Varoufakis was removed from his post.
With capital flight, grim predictions and threats worsening, Dijsselbloem declared in the New York Times that the Eurogroup was considering whether to apply the Cyprus model to Greece, limiting capital flows and reducing deposits. This could only be seen as an unsuccessful attempt to provoke a banking panic. While the ECB and Draghi were further restricting Greek banks’ options for finance, Bild published a pseudo-story about a panic in Athens, misrepresenting a banal scene of pensioners queuing outside a bank on pension day.
First German fruits At the end of April, Varoufakis was replaced by his assistant Euclid Tsakalotos for negotiations with the lenders, and said: “The government today faces a new kind of coup, one that is not carried out with tanks, as in 1967, but through banks.” For now, the silent coup has affected only him. But time is on the side of the lenders, who are demanding neoliberal “remedies”. Each has its own obsession. The IMF ideologues insist on the deregulation of the labour market as well as legalisation of mass redundancies, which it promised to the Greek oligarchs who own the banks. The EC (or rather, the German government) demands further low-cost privatisations that may interest German companies. One scandalous example that stands out from the long list is that of 28 buildings sold by the Greek state in 2013 — it still uses them and must pay the new owners €600m in rent over the next 20 years, almost triple their sale price.
The Greek government, in a weak position and abandoned by those whom it had hoped would support it, such as France, can’t resolve the country’s main problem: an unsustainable debt. The proposal for an international conference similar to the 1953 event where Germany was forgiven most of its war reparations, opening the way to its economic miracle, has been lost amid threats and ultimatums (including a warning of Greek default this month). Tsipras wants a better agreement, but any deal reached would be a long way from the programme voted for by Greeks. Jyrki Katainen, the EC vice-president, was clear on this the day after the election: “We don’t change our policy according to elections.”
So do elections have any meaning when a country which respects its major commitments is allowed no rights to modify its policies? The Greek party Golden Dawn, and its neo-Nazis, have an answer to that, and it may be that they will benefit more from the failure of Tsipras’s government than will Schäuble’s supporters in Athens.


Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Alternet All Access and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.