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The Diseased, Lying, Condition, of America’s ‘News’ Media

Eric Zuesse

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Both President Trump and former President Obama are commonly said in America’s ‘news’ media to be or to have been “ceding Syria to Russia” or “ceding Syria to Russia and Iran,” or similar allegations. They imply that ‘we’ own (or have some right to control) Syria. That’s not only a lie; it is a very evil and harmful one, dangerously goading the U.S. President to go even more against Russia (and Iran) (and, of course, against Syria) than has yet been done — but the ‘news’media don’t care about that evil, and that falsehood, and that dangerousness — they do it anyway, and none of them attacks the others for perpetrating this vicious war-mongering lie, that lying provocation to yet more and worse war than already exists there. And the fact that none is exposing the fraudulence of the others on this important matter, is a yet-bigger additional scandal, beyond and amplifying the media’s common lying itself. Because they all function here like a mob, goading to more and worse invasions, and doing it on the the basis of dangerous lies — that America, and not the Syrians themselves, own Syria.

These lies simply assume that America (probably referring to the U.S. Government, but whatever) somehow “has” or else “had” Syria (so that America can now ‘cede’ it, to anyone); and this assumption (that the U.S. somehow owns Syria) is not only an imperialistic one (which is bad, and wrong, in itself), but it reduces to nothingness the rights (in the minds of the American public) of the Syrian people, to control their own land. That lie is what America’s ‘news’media won’t expose, but instead they all cooperate with it, when they’re not actually participating, themselves, in spreading these lies.

What they are doing is also to slur Russia, and to slur Iran, for having accepted the request from Syria’s Government, for assistance in protecting Syria’s Government, against the tens of thousands of jihadists who had been recruited throughout the world by the Saudi-American alliance, to overthrow and replace Syria’s Government, to replace it with one that would be appointed by the Saud family (’America’s ally’), the fundamentalist-Sunni royal family who (as the absolute monarchy there) do actually own Saudi Arabia — a monarchical dictatorship, which the U.S. Government calls an ‘ally’.

The evilness of this imperialistic assumption, which is being constantly spread by the U.S.-and-allied ‘news’media, is as bad as is its falseness, because “America” (however one wishes to use that term) never had, never possessed, any right whatsoever to control Syria. Of course, neither does Russia possess such a right, nor does Iran, but neither Russia nor Iran is asserting any such right; both instead are there to protect Syria’s national sovereignty, against the invaders (including the U.S., and the Sauds’ regime). But the U.S.-and-allied ‘news’media don’t present it that way — the honest way — not at all. Such truths are instead suppressed.

I was immediately struck by this false and evil assumption that the U.S. owns Syria, when reading the June 15th issue of The Week magazine. It contained, under its “Best Columns” section, a piece by Matthew Continetti (“Obama Too Good for America”), which says, among other falsehoods, “Obama was wrong about a lot of other things, too, like … ceding Syria to Russia.” That phrase, “ceding Syria to Russia” rose straight out from the page to me as being remarkable, stunning, and not only because it suggests that America owns that sovereign nation, Syria. I was especially struck by it because the CIA has several times attempted Syrian coups and once did briefly, in 1949, overthrow and replace Syria’s democratically elected President. But is that really something which today’s America’s ‘news’media should encourage the American public to be demanding today’s American politicians to be demanding from today’s American President? How bizarre, even evil, an idea is that? But it is so normal that it’s a fair indication of how evil and untrustworthy today’s American ‘news’media actually are. I just hadn’t noticed it before.

Publishing such a false and evil idea, without any accompanying commentary that truthfully presents its context and that doesn’t simply let the false and evil allegation stand unchallenged — that instead lets it be unchallenged both factually and morally — is not acceptable either factually or morally, but then I checked and found that it’s the almost universal norm, in today’s U.S. ‘news’media. For examples:

On 17 April 2018, CBS News headlined “Lindsey Graham ‘unnerved’ after Syria briefing: ‘Everything in that briefing made me more worried’” and presented that U.S. Senator saying, “It seems to me we are willing to give Syria to Assad, Russia, and Iran.” He was criticizing President Trump as being “all tweet and no action.” He wanted more war, and more threat of war. But when President Obama had repeatedly denied in public that only the Syrian people should have any say-so over whom Syria’s leaders ought to be, U.N. Secretary General Ban ki-Moon repeatedly contradicted the U.S. President’s viewpoint on this, and he said, “The future of Assad must be determined by the Syrian people.” If the American people have become so dismissive of international law as this, then is it because the U.S. ‘news’media start with the ridiculously false presumption that “America” (whatever that refers to) is the arbiter of international law, and therefore has the right to dictate to the entire world what that law is, and what it means? Is America, as being the dictator over the whole planet, supposed to be something that Americans’ tax-dollars ought to be funding — that objective: global dictatorship? How does that viewpoint differ, then, from perpetual war for perpetual ‘peace’ — a dictum that’s enormously profitable for America’s big ‘Defense’ contractors, such as Lockheed Martin, but that impoverishes the general public, both in America, and especially in the countries (such as Syria) where ‘our’ Government drops bombs in order to enforce its own will and demand, that: “Assad must go!”

In fact, as any journalist who writes or speaks about the Syrian situation and who isn’t a complete ignoramus knows, Bashar al-Assad would easily win any free and fair Presidential election in Syria, against any contender. His public support, as shown not only in the 2014 Syrian Presidential election, but also in the many Western-sponsored opinion-polls in Syria (since the CIA is always eager to find potential candidates to support against him), show this.

On 17 December 2016, Eric Chenoweth, a typical neocon Democratic Party hack, headlined “Let Hamilton Speak: Recapturing American Democracy”, and he wrote: “Trump’s statements and appointments make clear he intends to tilt American policy to serve Russian interests: ceding Syria to Russia by ending support to pro-Western rebels; possibly lifting economic sanctions and recognizing the annexation of Crimea; proposing an alliance with Russia in the war on terror while remaining uncommitted to the defense of NATO allies, in particular the Baltic countries vulnerable to Russian aggression. Restoring American Democracy When they meet on December 19, Republican Electors who reflect on their constitutional duty should not then affirm Trump’s election.” Those “pro-Western rebels” in Syria were actually led by Al Qaeda’s Syrian branch. Without them, the U.S. regime wouldn’t have had any “boots on the ground” forces to speak of there. In fact, the U.S. regime has actually been fronting for the Saud family to take over control of Syria if and when Syria’s Government falls.

The Saud family even selected the people who in the U.N. peace talks on Syria represent ‘the rebels’ — the Sauds, who have been Syria’s enemy ever since 1950, selected ‘Syria’s opposition’, who were now seeking to take over Syria if and when ‘America’s moderate rebels’ succeed. Both Al Qaeda and ISIS are actually fundamentalist-Sunnis, like the Saud family are, and Assad’s Government is resolutely non-sectarian. Assad himself is a non-Islamist Alawite Shiite secularist, which virtually all fundamentalist Sunnis (such as the Sauds are) are taught to despise and to hate — especially because he’s Shiite. The U.S. regime knows that neither it, which is considered Christian, nor Israel, which is theocratically Jewish, could practically succeed at imposing rule in Syria, but that maybe the Sauds could — so, they are the actual leaders of the ‘pro-Western’ forces, seeking to replace Syria’s secularist Government. Overthrowing Syria’s Government would be their victory. It would be the Saud family’s victory. But this fact is kept a secret from the American public, by the U.S.’news’media.

Back on 17 September 2016, shortly before the change in U.S. Administrations, Obama bombed the Syrian Government’s garrison in Der Zor, or Deir Ezzor, which is the capital of Syria’s oil-producing region. He did it in order to enable ISIS forces, which surrounded the city, to rush in and conquer it. Obama did this only eight days after his Secretary of State, John Kerry, had conceded to the demand by Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Minister, Russia’s demand that in a cease fire, Russia be allowed to continue bombing not only ISIS there, which Kerry agreed should continue to be bombed by both the U.S. and Russia, but also Al Qaeda’s forces — which until 9 September 2016, Obama refused to allow to be bombed during a cease-fire. But, finally, after a year of deadlock between Russia and the United States on that crucial issue, Kerry and Lavrov both signed a cease-fire agreement, and it allowed both ISIS and Al Qaeda-led forces to continue being bombed. (Russia had been bombing both, ever since 30 September 2015, when Russia began its bombing campaign in Syria.) That cease-fire went into effect on September 12th. Then Obama, unannounced — and a great disappointment to his Secretary of State, who wasn’t informed of this in advance — broke the agreement, by bombing the Syrian outpost in Deir Ezzor — and that’s the moment when Vladimir Putin quit his efforts to get agreements from Obama, because Putin now recognized that Obama was totally untrustworthy.

Already by late September of 2015, even prior to Russia’s having been requested by President Assad to enter the war in order to speed up the defeat of what Washington still calls ‘the rebels’, it was clear that Washington (actually Riyadh) wasn’t going to take over Syria; and Americans were — and are — being taught by the ‘news’media, that this was because Obama was ‘weak’ and didn’t care enough about ‘human rights’ in Syria, and about ‘democracy’ in Syria. So, on 28 September 2015, Matt Purple at the libertarian “Rare Politics” site, headlined “Pentagon admits that the Syrian rebels it trained handed over weapons to al Qaeda”, and he wrote “Neoconservatives wail that President Obama is ceding Syria to Russia — but the reason the Russians are taking the lead is precisely because America has sidelined itself.” But the U.S. regime hadn’t at all “sidelined itself”; it continued — and it continues to this day — its invasion and occupation of that land. Trump’s policy on Syria is basically a continuation of Obama’s — and it’s not at all “ceding Syria to Russia,” or “ceding Syria to Russia and Iran.”

Because of America’s ‘news’media, it still isn’t “ceding Syria to the Syrians” — as Ban ki-Moon and international law would. That wouldn’t be profitable for Lockheed Martin etc. (whose biggest customers other than the U.S. Government are the Sauds, and Trump alone sold $400 billion of U.S. weapons to them); so, it’s not done.

Syria’s sovereignty is utterly denied by the U.S. regime, but if the U.S. regime were to succeed, the big winners would actually be the Saud family.

Do the American people have sovereignty, over ‘their’ (our) Government? U.S. ‘news’media effectively ban that question. Perhaps what controls the U.S. Government is the Saudi-Israeli alliance: the Sauds have the money, and the Israelis have the lobbyists. Of course, the U.S. ‘news’media are obsessed whether Russia controls the U.S. Government. That diversionary tactic is extremely profitable to companies such as General Dynamics, and America’s other weapons-manufacturers, which thrive on wars — especially by selling to the Sauds, and to their allies (and, obviously, not at all to Russia).

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010

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The Meaning of a Multi-Polar World

Eric Zuesse

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Right now, we live in a mono-polar world. Here is how U.S. President Barack Obama proudly, even imperially, described it when delivering the Commencement address to America’s future generals, at West Point Military Academy, on 28 May 2014:

The United States is and remains the one indispensable nation. [Every other nation is therefore ‘dispensable’; we therefore now have “Amerika, Amerika über alles, über alles in der Welt”.] That has been true for the century passed and it will be true for the century to come. … America must always lead on the world stage. If we don’t, no one else will. … Russia’s aggression toward former Soviet states unnerves capitals in Europe, while China’s economic rise and military reach worries its neighbors. From Brazil to India, rising middle classes compete with us. [He was here telling these future U.S. military leaders that they are to fight for the U.S. aristocracy, to help them defeat any nation that resists.] … In Ukraine, Russia’s recent actions recall the days when Soviet tanks rolled into Eastern Europe. But this isn’t the Cold War. Our ability to shape world opinion helped isolate Russia right away. [He was proud of the U.S. Government’s effectiveness at propaganda, just as Hitler was proud of the German Government’s propaganda-effectiveness under Joseph Goebbels.] Because of American leadership, the world immediately condemned Russian actions; Europe and the G7 joined us to impose sanctions; NATO reinforced our commitment to Eastern European allies; the IMF is helping to stabilize Ukraine’s economy; OSCE monitors brought the eyes of the world to unstable parts of Ukraine.

Actually, his — Obama’s — regime, had conquered Ukraine in February 2014 by a very bloody coup, and installed a racist-fascist anti-Russian Government there next door to Russia, a stooge-regime to this day, which instituted a racial-cleansing campaign to eliminate enough pro-Russia voters so as to be able to hold onto power there. It has destroyed Ukraine and so alienated the regions of Ukraine that had voted more than 75% for the democratically elected Ukrainian President whom Obama overthrew, so that those pro-Russia regions quit Ukraine. What remains of Ukraine after the U.S. conquest is a nazi mess and a destroyed nation in hock to Western taxpayers and banks.

Furthermore, Obama insisted upon (to use Bush’s term about Saddam Hussein) “regime-change” in Syria. Twice in one day the Secretary General of the U.N. asserted that only the Syrian people have any right to do that, no outside nation has any right to impose it. Obama ignored him and kept on trying. Obama actually protected Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate against bombing by Syria’s Government and by Syria’s ally Russia, while the U.S. bombed Syria’s army, which was trying to prevent those jihadists from overthrowing the Government. Obama bombed Libya in order to “regime-change” Muammar Gaddafi, and he bombed Syria in order to “regime-change” Bashar al-Assad; and, so, while the “U.S. Drops Bombs; EU Gets Refugees & Blame. This Is Insane.” And Obama’s successor Trump continues Obama’s policies in this regard. And, of course, the U.S. and its ally UK invaded Iraq in 2003, likewise on the basis of lies to the effect that Iraq was the aggressor. (Even Germany called Poland the aggressor when invading Poland in 1939.)

No other nation regularly invades other nations that never had invaded it. This is international aggression. It is the international crime of “War of Aggression”; and the only nations which do it nowadays are America and its allies, such as the Sauds, Israel, France, and UK, which often join in America’s aggressions (or, in the case of the Sauds’ invasion of Yemen, the ally initiates an invasion, which the U.S. then joins). America’s generals are taught this aggression, and not only by Obama. Ever since at least George W. Bush, it has been solid U.S. policy. (Bush even kicked out the U.N.’s weapons-inspectors, so as to bomb Iraq in 2003.)

In other words: a mono-polar world is a world in which one nation stands above international law, and that nation’s participation in an invasion immunizes also each of its allies who join in the invasion, protecting it too from prosecution, so that a mono-polar world is one in which the United Nations can’t even possibly impose international law impartially, but can impose it only against nations that aren’t allied with the mono-polar power, which in this case is the United States. Furthermore, because the U.S. regime reigns supreme over the entire world, as it does, any nations — such as Russia, China, Syria, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, and Ecuador — that the U.S. regime (which has itself been scientifically proven to be a dictatorship) chooses to treat as an enemy, is especially disadvantaged internationally. Russia and China, however, are among the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and therefore possess a degree of international protection that America’s other chosen enemies do not. And the people who choose which nations to identify as America’s ‘enemies’ are America’s super-rich and not the entire American population, because the U.S. Government is controlled by the super-rich and not by the public.

So, that’s the existing mono-polar world: it is a world that’s controlled by one nation, and this one nation is, in turn, controlled by its aristocracy, its super-rich.

If one of the five permanent members of the Security Council would present at the U.N. a proposal to eliminate the immunity that the U.S. regime has, from investigation and prosecution for any future War of Aggression that it might perpetrate, then, of course, the U.S. and any of its allies on the Security Council would veto that, but if the proposing nation would then constantly call to the international public’s attention that the U.S. and its allies had blocked passage of such a crucially needed “procedure to amend the UN charter”, and that this fact means that the U.S. and its allies constitute fascist regimes as was understood and applied against Germany’s fascist regime, at the Nuremberg Tribunal in 1945, then possibly some members of the U.S.-led gang (of the NATO portion of it, at least) would quit that gang, and the U.S. global dictatorship might end, so that there would then become a multi-polar world, in which democracy could actually thrive.

Democracy can only shrivel in a mono-polar world, because all other nations then are simply vassal nations, which accept Obama’s often-repeated dictum that all other nations are “dispensable” and that only the U.S. is not. Even the UK would actually gain in freedom, and in democracy, by breaking away from the U.S., because it would no longer be under the U.S. thumb — the thumb of the global aggressor-nation.

Only one global poll has ever been taken of the question “Which country do you think is the greatest threat to peace in the world today?” and it found that, overwhelmingly, by a three-to-one ratio above the second-most-often named country, the United States was identified as being precisely that, the top threat to world-peace. But then, a few years later, another (though less-comprehensive) poll was taken on a similar question, and it produced similar results. Apparently, despite the effectiveness of America’s propagandists, people in other lands recognize quite well that today’s America is a more successful and longer-reigning version of Hitler’s Germany. Although modern America’s propaganda-operation is far more sophisticated than Nazi Germany’s was, it’s not entirely successful. America’s invasions are now too common, all based on lies, just like Hitler’s were.

On November 9th, Russian Television headlined “‘Very insulting’: Trump bashes Macron’s idea of European army for protection from Russia, China & US” and reported that “US President Donald Trump has unloaded on his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, calling the French president’s idea of a ‘real European army,’ independent from Washington, an insult.” On the one hand, Trump constantly criticizes France and other European nations for allegedly not paying enough for America’s NATO military alliance, but he now is denigrating France for proposing to other NATO members a decreasing reliance upon NATO, and increasing reliance, instead, upon the Permanent Structured Cooperation (or PESCO) European military alliance, which was begun on 11 December 2017, and which currently has “25 EU Member States participating: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Croatia, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Spain and Sweden.” Those are the European nations that are now on the path to eventually quitting NATO.

Once NATO is ended, the U.S. regime will find far more difficult any invasions such as of Iraq 2003, Libya 2011, Syria 2012-, Yemen 2016-, and maybe even such as America’s bloody coup that overthrew the democratically elected Government of Ukraine and installed a racist-fascist or nazi anti-Russian regime there in 2014. All of these U.S. invasions (and coup) brought to Europe millions of refugees and enormously increased burdens upon European taxpayers. Plus, America’s economic sanctions against both Russia and Iran have hurt European companies (and the U.S. does almost no business with either country, so is immune to that, also). Consequently, today’s America is clearly Europe’s actual main enemy. The continuation of NATO is actually toxic to the peoples of Europe. Communism and the Soviet Union and its NATO-mirroring Warsaw Pact military alliance, all ended peacefully in 1991, but the U.S. regime has secretly continued the Cold War, now against Russia, and is increasingly focusing its “regime-change” propaganda against Russia’s popular democratic leader, Vladimir Putin, even though this U.S. aggression against Russia could mean a world-annihilating nuclear war.

On November 11th, RT bannered “‘Good for multipolar world’: Putin positive on Macron’s ‘European army’ plan bashed by Trump (VIDEO)”, and opened: Europe’s desire to create its own army and stop relying on Washington for defense is not only understandable, but would be “positive” for the multipolar world, Vladimir Putin said days after Donald Trump ripped into it.

“Europe is … a powerful economic union and it is only natural that they want to be independent and … sovereign in the field of defense and security,” Putin told RT in Paris where world leader gathered to mark the centenary of the end of WWI.

He also described the potential creation of a European army “a positive process,” adding that it would “strengthen the multipolar world.” The Russian leader even expressed his support to French President Emmanuel Macron, who recently championed this idea by saying that Russia’s stance on the issue “is aligned with that of France” to some extent.

Macron recently revived the ambitious plans of creating a combined EU military force by saying that it is essential for the security of Europe. He also said that the EU must become independent from its key ally on the other side of the Atlantic, provoking an angry reaction from Washington.

Once NATO has shrunk to include only the pro-aggression and outright nazi European nations, such as Ukraine (after the U.S. gang accepts Ukraine into NATO, as it almost certainly then would do), the EU will have a degree of freedom and of democracy that it can only dream of today, and there will then be a multi-polar world, in which the leaders of the U.S. will no longer enjoy the type of immunity from investigation and possible prosecution, for their invasions, that they do today. The result of this will, however, be catastrophic for the top 100 U.S. ‘defense’ contractors, such as Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, and Raytheon, because then all of those firms’ foreign sales except to the Sauds, Israel and a few other feudal and fascist regimes, will greatly decline. Donald Trump is doing everything he can to keep the Sauds to the agreements he reached with them back in 2017 to buy $404 billion of U.S. weaponry over the following 10 years. If, in addition, those firms lose some of their European sales, then the U.S. economic boom thus far in Trump’s Presidency will be seriously endangered. So, the U.S. regime, which is run by the owners of its ‘defense’-contractors, will do all it can to prevent this from happening.

However, right now, Chris Hedges reports that Ecuador is in the process of killing Julian Assange, who is a major and well-known bane of America’s sellers to the U.S. ‘Defense’ Department. Hedges wants to keep his American aristocratic funder (the owner of Truthdig), and so he doesn’t say that — nor how — the U.S. regime itself is actually forcing Ecuador’s Government to do this. Hedges seems not even to care much about the ultimate perpetrator of this slow murder that he describes as being in process. Hedges instead focuses only against what Ecuador’s President, Lenín Moreno, is doing, that’s slowly murdering Assange. He also implicates Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, the U.K. government, and U.S. V.P. Mike Pence. But actually, the top decision-maker, who ordered this crime, this murder, is Donald Trump, who won the U.S. Presidency with Assange’s investigative-journalism help. That’s the kingpin, and all the others are merely soldiers in the U.S. President’s organized crime. They all represent the U.S. aristocracy, but only Trump is the commander here. The U.S. regime — first under Obama, and now under Trump — is 100% of what’s forcing Ecuador’s Government to kill Julian Assange inside its London Embassy. Ecuador is doing this job, for the U.S. regime, so excruciatingly that Assange will either soon be committing suicide, or else he will die more slowly, from the ever-increasing “torture” that Ecuador’s Government is applying, and which is also destroying Assange’s health. Or else, he will give himself up to the American ‘justice’ system (which Assange’s mother, Christine Ann Hawkins, explained on November 3rd would likely mean either to charge him with ‘espionage’, or else to apply indefinite detention at Guantanamo, without charge, trial or any access to the public). There will then be ‘news’-coverage by the American propaganda-media, to demonize him. Ecuador’s President wants to do his job for his U.S. masters (the U.S. aristocracy) but not to get blame for the inevitable result. All along the line, the aristocracy know how to preserve deniability, and advise their agents so as to shift blame downward, whenever they can’t succeed in shifting it to the victim that they’re destroying. However, the ultimate blame belongs truly to the owners of the U.S. regime. Even most ‘alternative news’ media might not (and they, in fact, do not) report this fact (because most of even the ‘alternative’ media are owned by aristocrats), but it’s clearly the case. And most of the public don’t care much about it, anyway, and continue to subscribe to those ‘news’ media, which the aristocrats are actually controlling, and to buy the products they advertise, producing yet more income for the aristocracy. The public thus helps the aristocracy to fund the aristocracy’s propaganda-vehicles, to control the public, to vote for the aristocrats’ candidates, and so control the government.

A multi-polar world could enable this to change. But it can’t change in a mono-polar world. Julian Assange has been trapped by, and in, this fascist mono-polar world. He is its enemy, and they are murdering him; but, above all, Donald Trump is murdering him.

But this is not a partisan operation on behalf of only a faction of the U.S. aristocracy. The Hedges article links through to an important June 29th news-report in the Washington Times, titled “Mike Pence raises Julian Assange case with Ecuadorean president, White House confirms”. It makes clear that Moreno is doing the bidding of the White House, and that the White House is “heeding calls from Democrats wary of Mr. Assange.” America, after all, is a two-party dictatorship: both parties represent the same aristocracy, and murdering Assange is in the agenda of both of its factions, not of just one of the two parties. The U.S. aristocracy are united on this matter. And that’s how this mono-polar world is being run.

Author’s note: This piece first posted at The Saker

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Trust: Lessons from my Brazilian driver

Jennifer Richmond

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Trust takes years to build, seconds to break, and forever to repair– Anonymous

Be safe. That’s what we’re always told when we travel. It could be a short drive to another city or a flight to another state. Just be safe.

It’s usually said with about the same emotion as, “good morning”. It’s almost obligatory and carries little meaning. A courtesy. It’s said with a little more sincerity when you’re traveling overseas. The unknown could be dangerous – pay attention, be aware…be safe.

I nod and smile, because what else do you say? What does it really mean to “be safe”? Of course, some things are obvious – don’t go running down the street naked waving a flaming Molotov cocktail in your hand. Check. Keeping your clothes on in public is probably always a good idea. You’re pretty much always safer with clothes.

Don’t hitchhike drunk. Check. Although I did do that once with a friend in Nanjing, China and the friendly (and confused) garbage truck driver picked us up and dropped us off at the foreign student dorms, per our request in broken Chinese. But still, in general, not a good idea.

I generally stifle a giggle at the well-meaning “be safe” when I’m traveling to Asia. For sure, there are incidents against foreigners in Asia; the Abu Sayyaf terrorist incident in the Philippines was shocking. But typically, Americans are much safer in Asia than many large American cities (I’m looking at you Detroit, Chicago and New Orleans). If you accidentally leave your wallet on the table, or your cell phone in the bathroom, most likely a “good samaritan” is not going to turn it into a manager. Being safe means being aware of your belongings, not your actual being.

The urgency to “be safe” was greatly intensified when I told my family, I’m going to Brazil. Be really safe. Like, this time, I mean it.

My dad is a test pilot. When he gets nervous on a plane, I freak: not safe, not safe my brain screams. My husband is in law enforcement, with quite a bit of international experience. Contrary to what you may think, he infrequently tells me to be safe. When he worries, I pay attention. Brazil worried him.

Despite a lifetime of traveling and living abroad, namely in Asia, this is my first time to Brazil. Brazil, more than anywhere I’ve been, including Europe, “looks” like America. Like America, Brazil is an immigrant country. A Multicultural Mecca.

In my attempt to “be safe” I hired a car and a bilingual driver to take me around São Paulo. I hit the jackpot. Before turning 10 years old, Ricardo picked up an English dictionary and taught himself the language. And he didn’t stop there. Given that his Protestant family didn’t believe in TVs he became a voracious reader and spent hours in the library reading political philosophers such as John Locke and Antonio Gramsci. And so it happens that my driver was also a political philosopher of sorts, with a view from the streets (literally) of the Brazilian socio-political landscape.

Everything I learned from my Brazilian driver shed light on the challenges not only in Brazil but also in America and around the world: we have a trust deficit.

There are many similarities between Brazil and the United States, especially in their multicultural heritage, but its geography and history put it on a completely different trajectory.

Brazil’s rugged terrain and lack of viable ports make economic development difficult. As a result, the development necessary to take advantage of Brazil’s agriculture and commodity opportunities needs massive capital expenditures. This higher cost of development meant only the wealthy were involved in setting up towns and plantations. Low-skilled labor was imperative for working plantations, and slavery was the norm.

When slavery was abolished (Brazil was the last country in the Western Hemisphere to abolish slavery in 1888), low-skilled immigration was encouraged and flourished. Brazil’s Gino Coefficient highlights the income inequality and stark division between the rich and poor that continues to define Brazilian demographics, even into the modern era. It is also visible in its high crime rate, giving Brazil the title of Murder Capital of the World. Brazil has the most cities (17) in the top 50 dangerous cities in the world.

Brazil’s geography shaped its economy and in turn, its politics. The wealth disparity and need to develop the interior were components that eventually led to the rise of a military regime in the 1960s. The regime kept order and was able to command the resources for development through force, if necessary. As the interior developed, there were more opportunities for smaller landholders and a rise in the middle-class – the classic underpinnings for political liberalization.

Under these circumstances, in 1985 the military handed over control to the people in an election. In 1988 a new constitution was written. Thirty years of democratically elected governments later, and many of Brazil’s problems remain. The oligarchs – the powerful and wealthy – prevail. Justice usually reflects who you know and is unevenly applied. A string of politicians, including the current President Temer and past Presidents Lula and Rousseff, among others, have recently been implicated in the huge “car wash” scandal.

People are fed up with the corruption. And now, many are looking for a political “outsider” to shake up the establishment.

In this fraught landscape emerged Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro started his career in the military while the military still held power. He is neither a land-owner nor a peasant, and to many, is seen as a “vote for change”, outside of the elite power structure. Sound familiar?

He is the Brazilian Trump.

His fame is growing, and people show up en masse to hear him speak. His focus is a return to law and order in a country that seems out of control. Bolsonaro’s message resonates at a time when there are an increasing number of people nostalgic for the order under the former military government.

Rounding out the similarities, Bolsonaro, like Trump, has been called out for scandalous behavior, which hasn’t dampened his support. In 2014 he told a Congresswoman that he wouldn’t rape her because “she didn’t deserve it”. This is the little quip seen here in the anti-Bolsonaro propaganda picture. Note the cartoonish Hitler‘s tache too.

The allure of more right-wing traditionalists, nationalists and populists is a global trend in a world rapidly changing. Whether due to the growing individualism leading to the breakdown of social cohesion in the United States, the growing anti-immigrant sentiment and the resulting Brexit in England, or the ubiquitous corruption in Brazil, wistful notions of stability and order are endemic.

As these and other like forces continue to restructure the global order–politically, economically and socially – no one gets out unscathed. Perhaps the United States is best able to weather the storm, given its unique mix of geography, strong institutions and resources. The Brazilian economy, however, is largely dependent on high commodity prices and Chinese demand. As structural demand trends downward, and the Chinese face their own internal and external struggles, a variety of crises threaten multiple countries, like Brazil.

Further, a Brazilian characteristic – lack of trust – creates its own challenges. The lack of trust in American institutions is also at an all-time low, but as Ricardo reminds me, the American government was formed by the people to serve the people. In contrast, in the Brazilian system, the people are there to serve the state.

In the current climate, despite disparate trajectories, America and Brazil now share some of the same trust issues. As we explored this idea of trust and our distinct cultural experiences further, we came up with a rough theory. America’s free market capitalist economy generates trust. Although there are many currently disillusioned with capitalism and growing income inequalities, which in part is what is generating momentum in the more “right-wing” camps worldwide, consider the aspect of competition. When there is competition, the markets hold corporations accountable. If a company makes a poor product, it loses market share. In an economy like Brazil, based more on elite relationships than competition for gaining market share, this built-in accountability is lost. Trust never has a chance to develop.

By contrast, trust in America did develop, but to a certain degree, has been lost. However, there is a foundation for trust. The question is, can it be regained?

Despite many factors portending some rough patches ahead, Ricardo is hopeful. He doesn’t have any affection for Bolsonaro, but believes corrective measures are necessary to address inherent corruption – after all, the pendulum must swing in the opposite direction before slowing its cadence to a more sustainable groove in the middle.

The “Trump Trend” (and its European predecessors) is not an isolated event, but rather a reaction to global disorder, similarly affecting countries with diverse geopolitical histories; it is a symptom of our trust deficit and truth decay. Further, different political parties worldwide hold their own claims on the truth, making trust more elusive. Confusing the issue, in an internet era replete with fake news, truth and trust alike have become valuable commodities. Hold onto them.

Finally, levels of trust are generally inversely correlated to crime statistics, so… be safe!

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Americas

The U.S. Election and its Aftermath

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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The midterm elections are over, the result … a split-decision.  The Democrats will control the House, raising the possibility of an impeachment attempt.  The Senate remains under Republican control with their majority increased by one seat.  The president reminded us at a post-election press conference that while he could not help in the all too numerous House elections, he did campaign in some of the marginal Senate races with almost universal success.  The prospect of a second Trump term now looms large, especially as a Democrat star failed to emerge.

Among the winners for House seats were a record number of women, including New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who at 29 is the youngest woman Representative ever elected.  Also two Muslim women:  Ilhan Omar, a Somali from Minnesota, who will be the first hijab-wearing woman to sit in the House, and Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian, who does not cover her head.  It should help clarify for people that hijabs are cultural not religious and often a personal choice.  Ms. Tlaib a Detroit native has extended family on the West Bank, who were shown celebrating in some news reports.

For those who expect any serious change in social or foreign policy, a reminder.  Ten years ago, Barack Obama was elected and handed a House and Senate also under his party’s control.  Did we get a decent health care-for-all bill?  Were the banks reined in after causing a world economic crisis by peddling baskets of high-risk mortgage-backed securities and gambling on derivatives?  Did we have peace?  The answer to all the questions is in effect a negative.

The Glass-Steagall Act repealed by Bill Clinton that led to the disaster, was never reintroduced.  We got an anemic version.  It had kept us safe for over six decades from the greed of bankers by separating investment banking activities from commercial banking, and therefore preventing banks from gambling with our money.

Instead of peace, Mr. Obama called Afghanistan the good war and sent another 100,000 troops there causing more loss of life and more Afghan refugees.  That was not all.  He attacked Libya and destroyed the country including a complex water system bringing water from the south to Tripoli.

Libya is in chaos and has recently abandoned any pretext of national government by canceling the December election supposed to have been agreed upon by major factions in the country.  Once a magnet for migrant African labor, Libya’s major export has become refugees, its own and the Africans.  Europe is inundated as refugees stream in from all of America’s wars:  Libya, Somalia, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and others.  It’s worth noting also that the Taliban now control most of the Afghan countryside.

What will the young and newly elected do in Congress?  Not much as it takes years to have the seniority to accumulate power.  In the meantime, there is the pressure of elections every two years for a House seat, donors and lobbyists chipping away at any idealism, while the relative impotence of a freshman in this new university of intricate rules and procedures becomes apparent.

There is only one way to survive …

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