Archive for category: Imperialism
A Justice Department trial attorney repeatedly contacted Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers asking, eventually under threat of subpoena, about research they had conducted on the 2019 Bolivian presidential election, according to emails obtained by The Intercept. Sent between October 2020 and January 2021, the emails point to the existence of the Justice Department inquiry and add new evidence to support Bolivian allegations that the United States was implicated in its 2019 coup.
The emails reveal the Justice Department’s involvement in the Bolivian coup regime’s criminal investigation into alleged voter fraud, which has not previously been reported. The inquiry targeted a pair of respected MIT researchers about their work for the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in which they broadly refuted suspicions that Bolivia’s socialist party had rigged the election.
The short-lived coup regime reached power following a clear script: In the weeks leading up to the Bolivian presidential election in October 2019, the opposition pumped endless propaganda through social media and television networks, warning that incumbent President Evo Morales would exploit widespread fraud to win reelection. Morales had become the first Indigenous president elected in Bolivia in 2005, at the head of his party Movement Toward Socialism, or MAS, and by 2019, he was running for his fourth term. He faced intense opposition, often framed in explicitly racist terms, from a Frankenstein coalition of right-wing Bolivians of European descent and supporters of former President Carlos Mesa, once a member of Bolivia’s left revolutionary party who had become hostile to Morales’s social democratic government.
As the votes were counted on election night, Morales was ahead as expected. The question was whether he would win by enough to avoid a runoff, which in Bolivia is triggered when a candidate wins by a margin of fewer than 10 points. In an unofficial tally, Morales led Mesa by 7.9 points, giving the opposition hope for a second round. But when the official count was released, Morales had won by 10.6 points. There would be no runoff.
Without evidence, the opposition immediately leveled fraud charges. It was backed up the next day by the Organization of American States, the powerful hemispheric cooperation organization based in Washington, D.C.
“The OAS Mission expresses its deep concern and surprise at the drastic and hard-to-explain change in the trend of the preliminary results revealed after the closing of the polls,” read the OAS’s incendiary statement. Protesters took to the streets; the military called for Morales to step down; and the opposition installed a new leader, Jeanine Áñez, after three weeks of unrest. Far to Mesa’s right, Áñez assumed office and swiftly attempted to eliminate the sense of enfranchisement for Indigenous people that the Morales government had brought. While 14 out of 16 members of Morales’ first Cabinet were Indigenous, Áñez did not appoint a single Indigenous person to her first Cabinet. In the two months before assuming office, she had tweeted that Morales was a “poor Indian” and implied that Indigenous people cannot wear shoes. When she reached the presidency, she declared that “the Bible has returned to the palace.”
Former interim Bolivian President Jeanine Áñez is escorted by members of the Special Force to Fight Against Crime after being arrested in La Paz, Bolivia, on March 13, 2021.
Photo: Aizar Raldes/AFP via Getty Images
The coup, roughly the same play President Donald Trump would attempt a year later, was complete.
But the U.S. press refused to call it that, instead accepting the allegations of fraud at face value.
“The line between coups and revolts can be blurry, even nonexistent,” wrote Max Fisher for the New York Times. He cited what political scientist Jay Ulfelder calls “Schrödinger’s coup”— those cases which “exist in a perpetual state of ambiguity, simultaneously coup and not-coup”— and dismissed the distinction as “old binaries” now considered “outdated” by scholars.
The Times did not undergo such hand-wringing over allegations that Morales’s party had rigged the election. Its October 2019 coverage reproduced the opposition’s promises for a “damning” unreleased OAS report, raising “the prospect that a victory by Mr. Morales would be regarded by the international community as illegitimate.” The Trump administration’s top diplomat for Latin America, Michael Kozak, condemned the Morales government and vowed that the U.S. “will work with the international community to hold accountable anyone who undermines Bolivia’s democratic institutions.”
Even a surface-level look at the vote-counting process suggested that the surge for Morales was utterly predictable.
But even a surface-level look at the vote-counting process suggested that the surge for Morales was utterly predictable. The bulk of the votes that were left to be counted on election night in 2019 had been cast deep in the country’s rural areas, where Indigenous miners, coca growers, and other working-class people overwhelmingly favored Morales. (The former president hails from the Chapare and was previously the head of the coca growers’ union.) It should have seemed obvious that their votes had put him over the top.
Just over a year later, in November 2020, late-counted Democratic votes put Joe Biden over Donald Trump in the U.S. presidential election, and Trump called foul. “We were winning everything, and all of a sudden it was just called off,” Trump said on election night. “We’ll be going to the U.S. Supreme Court, we want all voting to stop. We don’t want them to find any ballots at 4 o’clock in the morning and add them to the list.” The U.S. media had no difficulty explaining why the surge for Biden was legitimate. But when reporting on Bolivia, all of the American election expertise evaporated.
The OAS followed its October statement with a more in-depth analysis in November 2019, this time finding perhaps as many as a few hundred cases of apparent vote-tampering. But the data in the report did not sufficiently support the organization’s allegations of widespread fraud. In a letter to the OAS later that month, Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., asked if the organization was “aware that this steady increase in Evo Morales’ margin was the result of precincts that were, on average, more pro-Morales reporting their results later than precincts that were, on average, less pro-Morales? Why is this apparently obvious conclusion — from the publicly available data — never mentioned in the EOM [Election Observation Mission] press statements or reports?”
The New York Times did not exercise the same scrutiny. “After the Organization of American States declared on Sunday that there was ‘clear manipulation’ of the voting in October,” the paper editorialized, “Mr. Morales was left with no choice but to resign, bitterly tweeting from an unknown location that ‘The world and patriotic Bolivians will repudiate this coup.”
In fact, it would be statisticians who repudiated the coup. Researchers at MIT, commissioned by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, took a closer look at the data and evidence behind the allegations and concluded what many other independent observers had already found: The fraud claims were bogus, according to a statistical analysis conducted by Jack R. Williams and John Curiel of MIT’s Election Data and Science Lab.
The fallout from the MIT researchers’ analysis, which was published by the Washington Post in February 2020, was considerable. In a stunning reversal, the New York Times published an article on the findings, saying that it “cast doubt on Bolivian election fraud.”
The prestigious release was a major blow to the coup regime, leading to references in many of the same major media outlets that had peddled the coup government’s election fraud narrative. The new insight sapped the coup government’s international credibility, which was further degraded as it repeatedly delayed a new election. With La Paz shut down by protesters — this time the crowds were on the side of MAS — the regime was finally forced to hold an election on October 18, 2020.
Three days before the vote, the researchers received the first of the Justice Department’s requests. Trial attorney Angela George identified herself as an attorney at the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs, or OIA, and said she had “received a formal request from Paraguay” for assistance in an ongoing criminal investigation. Curiel told her she had the wrong researcher, as he had not worked on any Paraguayan election study, and she told him that Bolivia was the one she had meant.
George never provided details about the nature of the criminal investigation, the existence of which has not been previously reported. Attempts to reach the coup government’s minister of justice, Álvaro Coimbra, were unsuccessful, as he is in prison facing charges of sedition related to the coup.
“We have a few questions about the data report, and we would appreciate if you could let us know when you are available to speak with us via telephone before or by November 6, 2020,” George wrote to the researchers. When Williams explained that his research was based on publicly available information, she replied threatening “a subpoena being served on you and the lab” but also dialed down her demand, saying that an interview might not be necessary. “I am simply trying to find out if the report, Analysis of the 2019 Bolivia Election, that is embedded in the Washington Post article referenced below includes your research and is an authentic copy of the report that was produced … and includes the comprehensive research you and Mr. Curiel conducted,” the prosecutor wrote.
The Justice Department inquiry frightened election researchers in the academic community and may have had a chilling effect on subsequent research.
The threat of subpoena was an extraordinary move, as the Justice Department has strict protocols to protect the freedom of the press and prevent government intimidation. According to a source familiar with the investigation, who was not authorized to speak publicly, the Justice Department inquiry frightened election researchers in the academic community and may have had a chilling effect on subsequent research.
A former Department of Justice trial attorney who also worked at the OIA told The Intercept that the correspondence was unusual for several reasons. Requesting anonymity to avoid professional reprisal, they said that professional investigators trained in interview techniques usually contact subjects, and there are stiff rules governing any interactions with the media.
“Generally, OIA would enlist the FBI or other investigative agency to execute an incoming MLA request such as a voluntary witness interview or inquiry like this one. It’s unusual for an OIA attorney to handle it,” the former trial attorney explained.
They also said that interactions with the media require authorization from senior Justice Department leadership.
“There is a whole set of onerous protocols in place for trial attorneys seeking information from a media organization, and the decision to move forward would be made at high levels at the DOJ. This particular request is not your run-of-the-mill criminal investigation, so you can be fairly sure that it received very high-level exposure,” the source said.
Justice Department spokesperson Joshua Stueve declined to comment.
Earlier in 2020, the U.S. government-funded media organization Voz de América, the Spanish-language complement to Voice of America, singled out the same two researchers by name in an article. The story implied that they could be taken to court over their study.
“Bolivia roundly rejected the supposed study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT, by its English initials), which assured that there had been no electoral fraud in Bolivia,” begins the story dated March 5, 2020, by Yuvinka Gozalvez Avilés.
Avilés writes that Karen Longaric, then Bolivia’s minister of foreign affairs, “dismissed the idea of pressing charges against the two people who published the article,” and warned that there are harsher sanctions than a judicial investigation, namely to be professionally discredited.
“Both experts belong to MIT; however the institution denied any participation or authority in said document, clarifying that both people ‘saw the project through as independent contractors of the Center for Economic Policy and Research,’” Avilés continues. The Center for Economic Policy and Research told The Intercept that they had not received any communication from Voz de América for the article, nor did they hear from the Justice Department about the investigation. MIT’s press team did not respond to The Intercept’s requests for comment.
The article also echoes a baseless allegation from Longaric that the MIT researchers’ report “is linked to people connected to the disputed president of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, an ally of former president Evo Morales.” Avilés does not provide any evidence for this claim but quotes Longaric saying of the researchers: “We can assert that once again those enemies of democracy tried under false pretenses to disrupt the rule of law in Bolivia and obstruct the elections.” (Trump allies also claimed that Venezuela had a hand in stealing his own election.)
Leading up to the second Election Day, the right-wing media ecosystem was once again rife with claims that the vote would be rigged, but the effort failed the second time, as MAS won in a landslide. Morales, then still in exile, did not run, but his protégé Luis Arce won 55 percent of the vote. Once again, there would be no runoff.
Áñez had dropped out of contention a month before the new election, leaving Mesa again as the leading opposition candidate. Morales has since returned to Bolivia from exile, and Áñez has been arrested, charged by the new government with terrorism, sedition, and conspiracy.
The post DOJ Threatened MIT Researchers With Subpoena in Collaboration With Bolivian Coup Regime appeared first on The Intercept.
A social media campaign featuring a self-described cisgender millennial Latin intelligence officer drew ire from right and left
In its long and colourful history, US intelligence has come in for a lot of criticism, for engineering coups, drug trafficking and torture, but just over 100 days into the Biden administration it faces a new charge no one saw coming: is the CIA just too woke?
A social media campaign, Humans of CIA, aimed at boosting diversity at the agency has united critics on the right and left in a moment of shared derision, albeit for different reasons.
The CIA is making some changes. Not changes like ending their support of dictatorships or attempts to overthrow democratically elected governments. Rather, they are updating the packaging of their imperialism to seem more “woke.” An ad that was posted online showcases one of their “employees,” a first generation Ecuadorian child of immigrants. In a bizarre “woke” recruitment ad, the CIA uses the language of the movement to try to recruit people of color to their organization, a central pillar of U.S. imperialism.
The CIA agent featured in the video is wearing a T-shirt with a raised fist inside the symbol for female emblazoned above the word “Mija.” The video shows her laughing, walking confidently down the hall, and speaking in the rhythm and cadence of a spoken word poem.
“I am a woman of color”
“I am a cisgender millennial”
“I have been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder”
“I am intersectional”
“I am unapologetically me. I want you to be unapologetically you, whoever you are. Whether you work at CIA, or anywhere else in the world. Command your space. Mija, you are worth it.”
This video is the ultimate expression of neoliberal identity politics, of degraded institutions draping themselves in progressive language to keep the system entirely intact. And it highlights the complete bankruptcy of the language of individual empowerment — we need internationalist, socialist feminism.
“I Am Not Tragically Colored”
This ad starts off with a voiceover quoting Zora Neal Hurston: “I am not tragically colored. There is no sorrow damned up in my soul.” And she’s right; being a woman of color is not a tragedy — it is a source of joy, community, and empowerment. And indeed, Hurston’s own writing has been a source of empowerment. But there is sorrow damned up in our souls — the sorrow of enslaved ancestors or the sorrow of imperialist violence. What imperialism and capitalism have done to our families and our communities is a tragedy — not an accident, but a product of imperialism and capitalism. Hurston’s own political views called on people of color to pull themselves up from their bootstraps — an oppressive ideology used by capitalism to ignore, repress, and stifle dissent, blaming oppressed people for our own oppression.
Mentioning Hurston, a prolific Black woman writer, is meant to suggest that the CIA can be a vehicle for personal empowerment for people of color. This is of course what the CIA wants: that immigrants, Black folks, and women overcome the numerous and violent obstacles that the U.S. capitalist state has put in their way to become reinforcers of that system. There is nothing transgressive about working for the CIA. The CIA tours the world murdering and torturing the young activists who dare defy U.S. imperialism. This ad is resistance culture without the resistance.
Throughout the unbelievably cringeworthy commercial, the CIA agent proudly refers to herself being a “child of immigrants” — speaking about how she can belt “Guayaquil de mis amores” and also “wax eloquent” about “complex legal issues.”
This characterization for the intent of propaganda — for the ad is objectively U.S. state propaganda — omits why immigrants come to the U.S. from Latin America in the first place. A large reason is U.S. imperialism held up by the CIA. The CIA has played a role in supporting death squads and dictatorships throughout Latin America for decades — from Nicaragua and Guatemala to Chile and Argentina. This led to people to flee their homes and the threat of death to come to the United States.
Furthermore, the CIA also participated indirectly in the distribution of cocaine throughout the United States as part of a deal to help fund the counterrevolutionary “contras” in Central America. This infusion of crack cocaine into poor communities of color and the resulting “war on drugs” meant the devastation Black and Latinx communities in the United States and the imperialist devastation of Latin America. This is the legacy of the CIA that they are trying to re-brand.
In fact, it is reported that the CIA infiltrated governments, police, and non-profits to advance U.S. interests in Ecuador, where the ad’s alleged CIA agent is from, for the past 50 years. As part of Operación Condor, the CIA spearheaded the establishment of bloody dictatorships across Latin America, including in Ecuador, to quell any “communist threat” in Latin America.
In 1963, the United States. led a coup to oust the democratically elected president of Ecuador, Carlos Julio Arosemena Monroy, who refused to condemn the Cuban Revolution. In 1981, Jaime Roldós Aguilera, elected President of Ecuador in 1979, was mysteriously killed in a plane crash. Evidence points to his murder by the CIA. John Perkins, in his book Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, says that Roldós was assassinated, because he planned to reorganize the hydrocarbon sector of the Ecuadorian economy, which would have threatened U.S. interests.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. The CIA hasn’t changed — it’s just been repackaged.
Imperialist domination of Ecuador continues. Just last year, a mass uprising in Ecuador erupted against austerity measures imposed by the IMF — another tool of U.S. imperialism.
Representation Ain’t Liberation
With the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, capitalists have raced to adjust their rhetoric and act as though they are on the side of oppressed people. Amazon, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo have all donated to the Black Lives Matter Global Network. They want you to believe that racism is about individual bigots and individual bad cops — and similarly, that liberation comes from individuals breaking the glass ceiling. But while the money was flowing, the banks also targeted Black homeowners. Amazon fired Black worker Chris Smalls for demanding PPE at the height of the pandemic and crushed the unionization attempt by a majority Black workforce in Bessemer, Alabama. And so corporations and the CIA have dressed themselves literally and figuratively in radical language, all the while holding up the systemic racism and imperialism that are inherent to the capitalist system.
The CIA clearly needs to improve its public perception. After all, BLM and Trump both took aim at the institutions of the “deep state,” and the public listened. With young people paying attention to the systemic problems of bigotry in the United States, the cheap pandering by the CIA is an attempt to let people of color know they are welcome to assist in imperialism and quelling uprisings around the world. This CIA agent is free to assist in oppression and to feel empowered for having reached one of the most powerful institutions in the world. Perhaps the CIA realizes that the old image of white guys in suits isn’t going to work. Perhaps an Ecuadorian child of immigrants with a disability using “woke” verbiage will be more convincing?
The CIA’s cheap pandering to identity is intended to take the husk of a social movement and turn it a tool for murder. They are counting on young people not knowing or remembering the CIA killing socialists. This is the height of what Nancy Fraser dubbed progressive neoliberalism — a “perverse, political alignment” made up of an “alliance of mainstream currents of new social movements (feminism, anti-racism, multiculturalism, and LGBTQ rights), on the one side, and high-end ‘symbolic’ and service-based business sectors (Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and Hollywood), on the other.” Progressive neoliberalism is meant to put working-class and oppressed people to sleep. It’s meant to give us empty words and symbols while at the same time governing for the capitalist class.
And that’s what the Biden administration is all about — representation and half-measures to try to restore faith in the system. The Biden administration boasts having the most diverse cabinet in U.S. history, including the first female, Black, and Asian vice president in US history. This representation is significant because of all the centuries of undemocratic violent bigotry that attacked Black people, women, and Asians. But having a Black Indian-American in the White House hasn’t made the Biden-Harris administration waive patents, which would save hundreds of thousands of Indian lives, decimated by the pandemic. Having a diverse cabinet and crocodile tears over “kids in cages” under Trump hasn’t stopped Biden from keeping Latinx kids in cages — kids who likely look just like our CIA agent’s children, who can also sing “Guayaquil de mis amores” but are currently being kept in overcrowded camps overseen by the Biden administration.
As Jamal Jones said, “Representation Ain’t Liberation.” A child of Ecuadorian immigrants turned CIA agent won’t change the system because the system itself can accommodate tokenism. The CIA, the Biden administration, and the entire sociopolitical system will maintain racism, imperialism, and sexism, regardless of their “woke” language and token representatives. Oppression is inherent to and profitable for the functions of capitalism.
Internationalist Socialist Feminism
This CIA ad is in some ways a cautionary tale; even movements meant to empower and liberate can be co-opted and used by our oppressors if the
y are not firmly and deeply rooted in anti-capitalism and anti-imperialism. That’s why we have to fight for internationalist, anti-imperialist, socialist feminism — a feminism that knows that pant suit #GirlBoss empowerment is a tool to strengthen the oppressive capitalist system, not to fight against it. Real liberation means fighting head on against the CIA, U.S. imperialism, and the capitalist state.
It means siding not with a CIA agent — even if they are the child of immigrants and mentally ill — but with the victims of the CIA all over the world. It means siding with the kids in cages at the U.S. border and the kids who lost their parents because the United States won’t release Covid patents. It means siding with the brave Ecuadorian — indigenous folks and youth — who fought the police, the government, and the IMF two years ago. It means fighting against all institutions of U.S. imperialism, from the IMF to the CIA.
More than an eighth of the world’s population live in rich countries—the United States, Canada, the UK, and the EU—and have access to more than 50% of the world’s vaccine doses. According to Our World in Data, about 112 million people in the United States alone received at least a single vaccine jab by April 8th.
This is more than 12 times higher than the total number of people vaccinated in the entire continent of Africa—which has four times the population of the United States. On April 8th, the World Health Organization (WHO) said that “nearly 13 million of the 31.6 million doses delivered so far [to 45 African countries] have been administered.”
And if we do not count the vaccine doses that have been administered in Morocco—truly an outlier in Africa—as of April 8th, the United States has received almost 35 times the vaccine doses that Africa has. No wonder Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director-general, called the distribution of vaccines “grotesque” and “a catastrophic moral failure.”
Vaccine apartheid and support for Big Pharma drive rich country policies, and that only perpetuates the global pandemic and economic crisis.
Moderna’s vaccine production has mostly been used to inoculate the population in the United States, besides supplying it to some countries in Europe and Canada. Pfizer has supplied its vaccines to the United States from its U.S. facilities, and to Europe and the UK from its European plants. It has also supplied vaccines to Israel, the Gulf monarchies and (begrudgingly) parts of Latin America, but that makes up a small fraction of its total production.
The rich countries have had some squabbles with each other over vaccine supplies—an example of this is the clash between the EU and the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and the UK. Perhaps this is why they have had no time to think about the rest of the world.
A comparison of the number of doses manufactured by the rich countries with the number of doses used by them in their own countries provides a clear picture of the extent of vaccine apartheid practiced by these countries. An article in the New York Times in late March reveals how “Residents of wealthy and middle-income countries have received about 90% of the nearly 400 million vaccines delivered so far.”
Where has the rest of the world gotten its vaccines from?
It appears that the only other sources of vaccines for low- and middle-income countries are the ones being produced by China and India, with Russia providing smaller amounts of vaccines. This is substantiated by various press sources that recount how countries in Latin America, Eastern Europe, Africa, and Southeast Asia are receiving supplies from China, India, or Russia.
How much of the vaccine supplies from Sinovac, a Beijing-based biopharmaceutical company, and Sinopharm, a Chinese state-owned company, was administered locally in China, and how much has been provided to the rest of the world?
About 115 million doses have been used in China, and the same amount has gone to the rest of the world, according to an April 5th article in Nikkei Asia, which relied on data provided by Airfinity, an analytics company. Similarly, based on the figures released by India’s Ministry of External Affairs website on April 15th, 2021, more than 65 million doses of the Serum Institute’s Covishield vaccine—licensed from AstraZeneca—have been exported to other countries.
With the surge in the rate of infection in India recently, the doses exported from India have fallen in comparison to the number of doses it has administered to its own population. According to an April 13th article in Deutsche Welle, “more than 104.5 million people in the country have received at least one dose of the inoculation,” while “India has shipped more than 60 million doses to 76 nations.”
China and India are the only two major countries that have been willing to export vaccines while also vaccinating their own people.
To curtail the sharp rise of COVID-19 cases in India, the country is currently prioritizing its supplies and has temporarily halted exports of vaccines from India. This has slowed down vaccine supplies to other countries significantly in March and April and will impact the COVAX program, particularly in Africa, which is heavily dependent on the WHO’s Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT)-Accelerator program and its vaccines pillar of COVAX.
Sputnik V, developed by the highly respected Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiologyin Moscow, has shown its efficacy in clinical trials. Ramping up its production, however, has been slow. Russia’s production capacity of vaccines is not on the same scale of Indian and Chinese manufacturers.
While many Indian and South Korean companies have expressed interest in manufacturing Sputnik V, they have yet to start doing so. Only one South Korean company—Hankook Korus Pharm—has started production of Sputnik V, and a large consortium of South Korean companies have signed up to manufacture 500 million doses. Five Indian companies—Hetero Biopharma, Gland Pharma, Stelis Biopharma, Virchow Biotech, and Panacea Biotec—have inked deals with the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) for setting up a combined production capacity of 850 million doses.
Meanwhile, even as India looks to ramp up its current vaccine production to meet the worldwide demand for vaccines, it has not been able to do so. The Serum Institute of India, the largest vaccine manufacturer in the world, can produce up to 100 million Covishield doses per month and can add to that capacity with additional investments.
Similarly, Biological E—which is expected to produce 600 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s single jab vaccine after recent approvals by the United States Food and Drug Administration—has not been able to begin production. This raises questions about what is preventing these companies from expanding and producing vaccines.
This is where the global media—read: the dominant Western media—fails to inform the people about the bottlenecks in ramping up production globally. Apart from the intellectual property rights issue, the major roadblock to quickly ramping up global vaccine production is that the rich countries—the United States, the EU, and the UK—have been refusing to export not only vaccines but also the supplies of intermediate products and raw materials required for vaccine production in other countries.
The United States is using a 1950 Korean War-vintage Defense Production Act to curb exports of vaccines as well as raw materials and other inputs vital for vaccine production elsewhere. In a letter to India’s commerce secretary Anup Wadhawan and foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Prakash Kumar Singh of the Serum Institute wrote that by invoking the Defense Production Act, the United States is making it difficult to “[import] necessary products like cell culture medias, raw material, single-use tubing assemblies and some specialty chemicals” to India, according to an article in Mint.
The U.S. restrictions, which prioritize Moderna and Pfizer’s vaccine production, harm not only the Serum Institute’s Covishield production but also its efforts to produce another 1 billion doses of Novavax vaccine. Adar Poonawalla, the chief executive of the Serum Institute of India, told a World Bank panel recently:
“The Novavax vaccine, which we’re a major manufacturer for, needs these items from the U.S. We are talking about having free global access to vaccines but if we can’t get the raw materials out of the U.S.—that’s going to be a serious limiting factor.”
Similarly, Mahima Datla, managing director of Biological E, which is committed to making Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine in India, voiced her concern about the U.S. embargo on vital intermediate products and supplies. In an interview with the Financial Times, she said that materials that are a vital part of vaccine production are made only by a limited number of companies that are under the U.S. embargo.
Unless the global supply chain is viewed in its entirety, and not with the me-first approach of the United States and the rich countries, we will not be able to control the pandemic.
The Indian government, which looked quite willing to be the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue’s COVID-19 vaccine supplier—as also seen from the joint statement by Quad leaders, “The Spirit of the Quad”—seems to have backed off from any public engagement with the U.S. government on this count. There has been no public response by the government of India relating to the plea of the Indian big generic manufacturers on how to facilitate both capital and the much-needed supplies for rapidly increasing production. Instead, the Indian government has slowed down its export of vaccines to other countries, worsening the global crisis.
The other part of the ugly picture of vaccine apartheid is the vicious campaign mounted against the Chinese and Russian vaccines. It is bad enough that the United States and its allies are not willing to share the vaccine they produce with the rest of the world. Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are not available to most low- and middle-income countries, and even if they were available there, these countries would not be able to provide the ultra-cold chain infrastructure required by these mRNA vaccines.
An anti-China and anti-Russia campaign by Western media means that they are willing to deny the global population of any vaccine—even if this means taking on the risk of new variants emerging and the permanent threat of COVID-19 looming large across the world.
The latest in this anti-China campaign is twisting the statement of Gao Fu, the head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, who suggested improving the efficacy of the vaccines being produced by China by mixing them. This is being touted as a “rare admission of weakness” and proof of the poor quality of Chinese vaccines. How are similar statements by AstraZeneca of using Sputnik V as the second dose along with a first dose of AstraZeneca not viewed in the same light?
The figures to show more than 90% efficacy for Moderna and Pfizer, and above 62% for Oxford-AstraZeneca, compared to supposedly only about 50% efficacy for the Sinovac vaccine do not reflect a true comparison. In clinical trials in Turkey and Indonesia, the figures for Sinovac’s vaccine were 83.5% and 65.3%, respectively.
The low figure of 50.4% in the Brazilian trial was the result of counting very mild symptoms as positive cases, which other vaccine trials did not count. Data of Brazil’s Sinovac’s CoronaVac trials showed that it provided 78% protection in mild cases and 100% protection in moderate and severe cases, according to an article in Bloomberg. Esper Kallas from the School of Medicine, University of São Paulo, Brazil, pointed out in an article in Science Magazine:
“If you can prevent someone being seen by a doctor by 78% and prevent hospital admissions by 100%, let’s give a toast and celebrate.”
The good news is that Sinovac’s vaccine is maintaining its efficacy against the more transmissible and dangerous Brazilian P1 variant at more than 50%. AstraZeneca’s vaccine has low efficacy (10.4%) against the B.1.351 prevalent currently in South Africa, although it was more effective against the B.1.1.7 variant, otherwise known as the UK variant.
I have earlier reported about the World Trade Organization rules and the rich countries’ unwillingness to temporarily suspend intellectual property rights rules so that all the vaccine producers can re-engineer their facilities very quickly to produce COVID-19 vaccines. In the books of the rich countries, the tens of billions of dollars to be earned as profits in the vaccine market by Big Pharma far outweigh the benefits of saving millions of lives.
This also explains the vicious campaign against Chinese and Russian vaccines. For Big Pharma and the rich countries, it is profit over lives every time, whether it was during the AIDS epidemic before or with the COVID-19 pandemic now.
Vaccine apartheid and support for Big Pharma are driving the policies of the rich countries.
It does not matter that these policies will perpetuate the continuation of the global pandemic and the emergence of new variants along with the economic crisis being faced by most nations. Only a powerful movement for people’s health and universal vaccines can beat back the offensive of Big Pharma coupled with the ongoing vaccine apartheid by the rich countries.
Independent Media Institute
Sector-wide bull market gathers momentum
The Intercept series on Biden is marred by omissions and even State Department disinformation. Known for his exposés of Blackwater and the U.S. dirty wars in the Middle East, The Intercept reporter Jeremy Scahill’s latest blockbuster is a series on Joe Biden’s history as an “empire politician.” The series is impressive and informative, however, it […]
America has a serious infrastructure problem.
Maybe when I say that what comes to mind are all the potholes on your street. Or the dismal state of public transportation in your city. Or crumbling bridges all over the country. But that’s so twentieth century of you.
America’s most urgent infrastructure vulnerability is largely invisible and unlikely to be fixed by the Biden administration’s $2 trillion American Jobs Plan.
I’m thinking about vulnerabilities that lurk in your garage (your car), your house (your computer), and even your pocket (your phone). Like those devices of yours, all connected to the Internet and so hackable, American businesses, hospitals, and public utilities can also be hijacked from a distance thanks to the software that helps run their systems. And don’t think that the U.S. military and even cybersecurity agencies and firms aren’t seriously at risk, too.
Such vulnerabilities stem from bugs in the programs — and sometimes even the hardware — that run our increasingly wired society. Beware “zero-day” exploits — so named because you have zero days to fix them once they’re discovered — that can attract top-dollar investments from corporations, governments, and even black-market operators. Zero days allow backdoor access to iPhones, personal email programs, corporate personnel files, even the computers that run dams, voting systems, and nuclear power plants.
It’s as if all of America were now protected by nothing but a few old padlocks, the keys to which have been made available to anyone with enough money to buy them (or enough ingenuity to make a set for themselves). And as if that weren’t bad enough, it was America that inadvertently made these keys available to allies, adversaries, and potential blackmailers alike.
The recent SolarWinds hack of federal agencies, as well as companies like Microsoft, for which the Biden administration recently sanctioned Russia and expelled several of its embassy staff, is only the latest example of how other countries have been able to hack basic U.S. infrastructure. Such intrusions, which actually date back to the early 2000s, are often still little more than tests, ways of getting a sense of how easy it might be to break into that infrastructure in more serious ways later. Occasionally, however, the intruders do damage by vacuuming up data or wiping out systems, especially if the targets fail to pay cyber-ransoms. More insidiously, hackers can also plant “timebombs” capable of going off at some future moment.
Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran have all hacked into this country’s infrastructure to steal corporate secrets, pilfer personal information, embarrass federal agencies, make money, or influence elections. For its part, the American government is anything but an innocent victim of such acts. In fact, it was an early pioneer in the field and continues to lead the way in cyberoperations overseas.
This country has a long history of making weapons that have later been used against it. When allies suddenly turn into adversaries like the Iranian government after the Shah was ousted in the 1979 revolution or the mujahideen in Afghanistan after their war against the Red Army ended in 1989, the weapons switch sides, too. In other cases, like the atomic bomb or unmanned aerial vehicles, the know-how behind the latest technological advances inevitably leaks out, triggering an arms race.
In all these years, however, none of those weapons has been used with such devastating effect against the U.S. homeland as the technology of cyberwarfare.
The Worm That Turned
In 2009, the centrifuges capable of refining Iranian uranium to weapons-grade level began to malfunction. At first, the engineers there didn’t pay much attention to the problem. Notoriously finicky, such high-speed centrifuges were subject to frequent breakdowns. The Iranians regularly had to replace as many as one of every 10 of them. This time, however, the number of malfunctions began to multiply and then multiply again, while the computers that controlled the centrifuges started to behave strangely, too.
It was deep into 2010, however, before computer security specialists from Belarus examined the Iranian computers and discovered the explanation for all the malfunctioning. The culprit responsible was a virus, a worm that had managed to burrow deep into the innards of those computers through an astonishing series of zero-day exploits.
That worm, nicknamed Stuxnet, was the first of its kind. Admittedly, computer viruses had been creating havoc almost since the dawn of the information age, but this was something different. Stuxnet could damage not only computers but the machines that they controlled, in this case destroying about 1,000 centrifuges. Developed by U.S. intelligence agencies in cooperation with their Israeli counterparts, Stuxnet would prove to be but the first salvo in a cyberwar that continues to this day.
It didn’t take long before other countries developed their own versions of Stuxnet to exploit the same kind of zero-day vulnerabilities. In her book This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends, New York Times reporter Nicole Perlroth describes in horrifying detail how the new cyber arms race has escalated. It took Iran only three years to retaliate for Stuxnet by introducing malware into Aramco, the Saudi oil company, destroying 30,000 of its computers. In 2014, North Korea executed a similar attack against Sony Pictures in response to a film that imagined the assassination of that country’s leader, Kim Jong-un. Meanwhile, Pelroth reports, Chinese hackers have targeted U.S. firms to harvest intellectual property, ranging from laser technology and high-efficiency gas turbines to the plans for “the next F-35 fighter” and “the formulas for Coca-Cola and Benjamin Moore paint.”
Over the years, Russia has become especially adept at the new technology. Kremlin-directed hackers interfered in Ukraine’s presidential election in 2014 in an effort to advance a far-right fringe candidate. The next year, they shut down Ukraine’s power grid for six hours. In the freezing cold of December 2016, they turned off the heat and power in Kyiv, that country’s capital. And it wasn’t just Ukraine either. Russian hackers paralyzed Estonia, interfered in England’s Brexit referendum, and nearly shut down the safety controls of a Saudi oil company.
Then Russia started to apply everything it learned from these efforts to the task of penetrating U.S. networks. In the lead-up to the 2016 elections, Russian hackers weaponized information stolen from Democratic Party operative John Podesta and wormed their way into state-level electoral systems. Later, they launched ransomware attacks against U.S. towns and cities, hacked into American hospitals, and even got inside the Wolf Creek nuclear power plant in Kansas. “The Russians,” Pelroth writes, “were mapping out the plant’s networks for a future attack.”
The United States did not sit idly by watching such incursions. The National Security Agency (NSA) broke into Chinese companies like Huawei, as well as their customers in countries like Cuba and Syria. With a plan nicknamed Nitro Zeus, the U.S. was prepared to take down key elements of Iran’s infrastructure if the negotiations around a nuclear deal failed. In response to the Sony hack, Washington orchestrated a 10-hour Internet outage in North Korea.
As the leaks from whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed in 2013, the NSA had set up full-spectrum surveillance through various communications networks, even hacking into the private phones of leaders around the world like Germany’s Angela Merkel. By 2019, having boosted its annual budget to nearly $10 billion and created 133 Cyber Mission teams with a staff of 6,000, the Pentagon’s Cyber Command was planting malware in Russia’s energy grid and plotting other mischief.
Unbeknownst to Snowden or anyone else at the time, the NSA was also stockpiling a treasure trove of zero-day exploits for potential use against a range of targets. At first glance, this might seem like the cyber-equivalent of setting up a network of silos filled with ICBMs to maintain a rough system of deterrence. The best defense, according to the hawk’s catechism, is always an arsenal of offensive weapons.
But then the NSA got hacked.
In 2017, an outfit called the Shadow Brokers leaked 20 of the agency’s most powerful zero-day exploits. That May, WannaCry ransomware attacks suddenly began to strike targets as varied as British hospitals, Indian airlines, Chinese gas stations, and electrical utilities around the United States. The perpetrators were likely North Korean, but the code, as it happened, originated with the NSA, and the bill for the damages came to $4 billion.
Not to be outdone, Russian hackers turned two of the NSA zero-day exploits into a virus called NotPetya, which caused even more damage. Initially intended to devastate Ukraine, that malware spread quickly around the world, causing at least $10 billion in damages by briefly shutting down companies like Merck, Maersk, FedEx, and in an example of second-order blowback, the Russian oil giant Rosneft as well.
Sadly enough, in 2021, as Kim Zetter has written in Countdown to Zero Day, “[C]yberweapons can be easily obtained on underground markets or, depending on the complexity of the system being targeted, custom-built from scratch by a skilled teenage coder.” Such weapons then ricochet around the world before, more often than not, they return to sender.
Sooner or later, cyber-chickens always come home to roost.
Trump Makes Things Worse
Donald Trump notoriously dismissed Russian interference in the 2016 elections. His aides didn’t even bother bringing up additional examples of Russian cyber-meddling because the president just wasn’t interested. In 2018, he even eliminated the position of national cybersecurity coordinator, which helped National Security Advisor John Bolton consolidate his own power within the administration. Later, Trump would fire Christopher Krebs, who was in charge of protecting elections from cyberattacks, for validating the integrity of the 2020 presidential elections.
The SolarWinds attack at the end of last year highlighted the continued weakness of this country’s cybersecurity policy and Trump’s own denialism. Confronted with evidence from his intelligence agencies of Russian involvement, the president continued to insist that the perpetrators were Chinese.
The far right, for partisan reasons, abetted his denialism. Strangely enough, commentators on the left similarly attempted to debunk the idea that Russians were involved in the Podesta hack, 2016 election interference, and other intrusions, despite overwhelming evidence presented in the Mueller report, the Senate Intelligence Committee findings, and even from Russian sources.
But this denialism of the right and the left obscures a more important Trump administration failure. It made no attempt to work with Russia and China to orchestrate a truce in escalating global cyber-tensions.
Chastened by the original Stuxnet attack on Iran, the Putin government had actually proposed on several occasions that the international community should draw up a treaty to ban computer warfare and that Moscow and Washington should also sort out something similar bilaterally. The Obama administration ignored such overtures, not wanting to constrain the national security state’s ability to launch offensive cyber-operations, which the Pentagon euphemistically likes to label a “defend forward” strategy.
In the Trump years, even as he was pulling the U.S. out of one arms control deal after another with the Russians, The Donald was emphasizing his superb rapport with Putin. Instead of repeatedly covering for the Russian president — whatever his mix of personal, financial, and political reasons for doing so — Trump could have deployed his over-hyped art-of-the-deal skills to revive Putin’s own proposals for a cyber-truce.
With China, the Trump administration committed a more serious error.
Stung by a series of Chinese cyber-thefts, not just of intellectual property but of millions of the security-clearance files of federal employees, the Obama administration reached an agreement with Beijing in 2015 to stop mutual espionage in cyberspace. “We have agreed that neither the U.S. [n]or the Chinese government will conduct or knowingly support cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property, including trade secrets or other confidential business information for commercial advantage,” Obama said then. “We’ll work together and with other nations to promote other rules of the road.”
In the wake of that agreement, Chinese intrusions in U.S. infrastructure dropped by an astonishing 90%. Then Trump took office and began to impose tariffs on Chinese goods. That trade war with Beijing would devastate American farmers and manufacturers, while padding the bills of American consumers, even as the president made it ever more difficult for Chinese firms to buy American products and technology. Not surprisingly, China once again turned to its hackers to acquire the know-how it could no longer get legitimately. In 2017, those hackers also siphoned off the personal information of nearly half of all Americans through a breach in the Equifax credit reporting agency.
As part of his determination to destroy everything that Obama achieved, of course, Trump completely ignored that administration’s 2015 agreement with Beijing.
Head for the Bunkers?
Larry Hall once worked for the Defense Department. Now, he’s selling luxury apartments in a former nuclear missile silo in the middle of Kansas. It burrows 15 stories into the ground and he calls it Survival Condo. The smallest units go for $1.5 million and the complex features a gym, swimming pool, and shooting range in its deep underground communal space.
When asked why he’d built Survival Condo, Hall replied, “You don’t want to know.”
Perhaps he was worried about a future nuclear exchange, another even more devastating pandemic, or the steady ratcheting up of the climate crisis. Those, however, are well-known doomsday scenarios and he was evidently alluding to a threat to which most Americans remain oblivious. What the Survival Condo website emphasizes is living through five years “completely off-grid,” suggesting a fear that the whole U.S. infrastructure could be taken down via a massive hack.
And it’s true that modern life as most of us know it has become increasingly tied up with the so-called Internet of Things, or IoT. By 2023, it’s estimated that every person on Earth will have, on average, 3.6 networked devices. Short of moving to a big hole in the ground in Kansas and living completely off the grid, it will be difficult indeed to extricate yourself from the consequences of a truly coordinated attack on such an IoT.
A mixture of short-sighted government action — as well as inaction — and a laissez-faire approach to markets have led to the present impasse. The U.S. government has refused to put anything but the most minimal controls on the development of spyware, has done little to engage the rest of the world in regulating hostile activities in cyberspace, and continues to believe that its “defend forward” strategy will be capable of protecting U.S. assets. (Dream on, national security state!)
Plugging the holes in the IoT dike is guaranteed to be an inadequate solution. Building a better dike might be a marginally better approach, but a truly more sensible option would be to address the underlying problem of the surging threat. Like the current efforts to control the spread of nuclear material, a non-proliferation approach to cyberweapons requires international cooperation across ideological lines.
It’s not too late. But to prevent a rush to the bunkers will take a concerted effort by the major players — the United States, Russia, and China — to recognize that cyberwar would, at best, produce the most pyrrhic of victories. If they don’t work together to protect the cyber-commons, the digital highway will, at the very least, continue to be plagued by potholes, broken guardrails, and improvised explosive devices whose detonations threaten to disrupt all our lives.
Published in October of last year, at the height of the second wave in Britain, Grace Blakeley’s The Corona Crash provides an illuminating perspective on how the pandemic will change global capitalism in the years ahead.
To understand the capitalist system’s potential future, however, Blakeley correctly looks to the past. After all, as the author notes, and as the Marxists have pointed out previously, COVID-19 is not the ultimate cause of the current crisis. Capitalism was in a quagmire before the pandemic. And it will continue to stagnate and decline even after (if) the virus is vanquished.
“The severity of the pandemic-induced recession is at least in part a result of the pre-existing vulnerabilities of the global economy,” Blakeley asserts, highlighting the slow growth, ballooning debts, and increasing inequality seen worldwide in years prior to the coronavirus crisis.
Blakeley, a prominent economic commentator on the Left, draws attention to the “unprecedented economic interventions” by governments and central banks seen over the last year – “not to help the most vulnerable through the crisis, but to save capitalism from itself.”
This is exactly the purpose of Keynesian policies, as we have explained elsewhere. Keynesianism is an economic doctrine designed to defend the interests of the capitalist class, not the working class; a (futile) attempt to manage the system and “save capitalism” from its own contradictions.
State monopoly capitalism
Blakeley astutely notes, however, that such life support from the state is nothing new. This was already present before the ‘corona crash’, in the form of quantitative easing and other ultra-loose monetary policies.
And throughout history, despite their supposed admiration of the ‘free market’, the capitalists have always looked to the state at the first sign of trouble – as was seen in 2008, when the major financial corporations, deemed ‘too big to fail’, were bailed out by governments across the world.
The result today, the author asserts, is that we in fact live in a system of “state monopoly capitalism”: one in which the boundaries between governments, the banks, and big business have become increasingly blurred; where wealth and production is ever-more concentrated; and where the capitalists, Blakeley remarks, “have collapsed into the arms of the state, and appear set to become wholly and permanently reliant on it”.
Planning – in whose interest?
As we have also discussed previously, Blakeley highlights how this modern form of capitalism is essentially a planned economy, “except that the planning that is taking place is neither democratic nor rational”; planning not by-and-for the working class, but by “central bankers, senior politicians, and their advisors in big business and finance”.
The writer continues with a pertinent warning to the Left:
“We cannot fall into the trap…of believing that a quantitative increase in state activity somehow affects a qualitative shift from capitalism to socialism. Instead, we must concern ourselves with how state power is being used – and who is wielding it.”
Blakeley follows this with an extremely apt quotation from Lenin, in State and Revolution:
“The bourgeois reformist view that monopoly capitalism or state-monopoly capitalism is no longer capitalism, but can already be termed ‘state socialism’ or something of that sort, is a very widespread error…
“But however much of a plan they may create…we still remain under capitalism – capitalism, it is true, in its new stage, but still, unquestionably, capitalism.”
This reformist “error” is indeed “very widespread” – particularly so today in the left milieu that Blakeley and similar ‘trendy’ commentators inhabit.
Throughout her new book (in reality, an extended essay), Blakeley does a commendable job of largely avoiding the superficial reformist analysis that typically permeates such circles.
At the same time, she steers clear of the postmodernist view of history, as epitomised by the recent documentaries of Adam Curtis, which presents a disjointed ‘narrative’ of isolated events, ‘great’ individuals, and random historical ‘accidents’.
Instead, Blakeley connects the dots and draws out the economic and political processes that have led from the postwar boom, to the world crisis of the 1970s, to the financialisation of the 80s, to the globalisation of the 90s, to the 2008 slump, to the current ‘corona crash’.
Quoting Marx, for example, Blakeley explains how both concentration and crisis are inherent tendencies within capitalism; phenomena that result from the “immanent laws of capitalist production itself”; processes that logically arise from an economic system based on private ownership, competition, and production for profit.
Falling into the trap
Having come so far, however, the author unfortunately slips at the final – most important – hurdle, when it comes to outlining the way forward.
Blakeley rightly points the finger at capitalism as a whole, and openly calls for socialism, asserting that:
“Socialism does not simply mean expanding the size of the capitalist state. Socialism means taking power away from the ruling classes – senior politicians, business owners, and financiers – and handing it back to the people.”
“In order to achieve this goal,” Blakeley continues, “it is not enough to demand a bigger state – the nature of the state, and of all our economic and political institutions, must be fundamentally transformed…”
But exactly what this goal looks like – and, most importantly, how we are to achieve it – is left hanging. Instead, the writer slips into vague formulations about “democratic public planning of economic activity” and “the people”, blaming “neoliberalism” and calling for a “Green New Deal”.
This latter demand, however, is an allusion to precisely the same Keynesian state-regulated capitalism that Blakeley earlier warns is a reformist “trap” that the Left must avoid.
Need for revolution
Instead of this woolly reformism, the Left needs to fight for clear and bold socialist policies. We must demand nationalisation of the ‘commanding heights of the economy’, to be run under workers’ control and management.
Above all, we must not be afraid to say the words that Blakeley and her self-conscious, vogue peers dare not utter: We must organise to overthrow capitalism. We need a revolution.