Southeast Asia
detention

Malaysia: calls to end mass detention of refugees

Rights groups in Malaysia are calling for the release of thousands of detained refugees and asylum-seekers, after a deadly incident in the northern state of Penang. Six Rohingya refugees were struck by vehicles and killed when hundreds fled a detention center after breaking through barriers and attempted to escape across an adjacent highway. “There is no discernible reason as to why so many of them were cramped into a makeshift depot in the first place,” stated advocacy group Lawyers for Liberty. Malaysia has long been a destinationfor Rohingya fleeing persecution in Burma, but the government has cracked down on asylum-seekers during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: Hasnoor Hussain/TNH)

Europe
Donbass

Ukraine’s already existing humanitarian crisis

Amid the ongoing Russian military build-up and apparently faltering diplomatic efforts to prevent an invasion of Ukraine, one thing is clear: any incursion will worsen the dire humanitarian situation in the country. The latest overview from the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, makes for sobering reading: 2.9 million in need, 13% children. This includes almost 300,000 people still displaced by an eight-year war that has claimed more than 13,000 lives. Particularly affected are the elderly in the separatist-occupied east. Since March 2020, when COVID-19 effectively rendered the so-called “contact line” impassable, they’ve been unable to cross to access their pensions and social services. Last week, eight trucks delivered the latest crossline international aid—COVID-19 prevention equipment, medicines, and construction materials. But how long these humanitarian convoys will be able to continue remains to be seen. (Photo: The New Humanitarian)

North Africa
Tunis

Tunisia: president dissolves Supreme Judicial Council

Tunisian President Kais Saied officially dissolved the Supreme Judicial Council, sending police to seal the chamber where the body meets. The Council’s head, Youssef Bouzakher, called the dissolution “illegal,” and said it is aimed at bringing Tunisia’s jurists under control of the executive. Established in 2016, the Council is a constitutional body entrusted with ensuring the independence of the judiciary, responsible for appointing judges and taking disciplinary action. Bouzakher said the Council intends to continue working in defiance of the president’s announcement. The move is a further consolidation of Saied’s power following his “self-coup” last year, in which Tunisia’s parliament was suspended. (Photo: XLR Media via Twitter)

Planet Watch
Verizon

Podcast: against ‘normalcy’ III

In Episode 107 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg continues his rant against the ubiquitous propaganda that normalizes the oppressive and dystopian pre-pandemic normality—or, as it is now incorrectly rendered, “normalcy” (sic). The opportunity for a crash conversion from fossil fuels that was posed by 2020’s pandemic-induced economic paralysis is now being squandered. The fashionable COVID denialism of the anti-vaxxers is ironically complicit in the actual crimes of the pharmaceutical industry, such as the instating of a “vaccine apartheid“—failing to make the vaccine available to Africa and the much of the Global South. Just at the moment that socialist ideas are being legitimized in mainstream discourse again, the drum-beat for “normalcy” (sic) means less pressure for an urgently mandated public expropriation of corporate cyber-overlords such as Verizon, as well as Big Pharma and Big Oil. Meanwhile, consumerist and technocratic pseudo-solutions, such as the bogus notion of reducing one’s personal “carbon footprint,” obscure the systemic nature of the problem. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon. (Photo: IBEW)

Iran
Baktash Abtin

Iran: political prisoners on hunger strike

Six political prisoners began a hunger strike at Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison after poet and filmmaker Baktash Abtin died of COVID-19 at the facility. Abtin, who expired after being put into an induced coma during temporary transfer to a hospital, had been serving a five-year sentence on the charge of “assembly and collusion against national security.” Ardeshir Zarezadeh, director of the Toronto-based International Centre for Human Rights (ICHR), said in a statement: “The government of Iran must immediately and unconditionally release the political prisoners, and prisoners of conscience, specially due to the serious concern over the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) in Iran’s overcrowded jails.” Abtin was the second known political prisoner to die in Iran in the first week of 2022. On New Years Day, writer Kian Adelpour died at Sheiban Prison in Ahvaz province after going on hunger strike a week earlier to protest being imprisoned without a fair trial. (Photo: Center for Human Rights in Iran)

Planet Watch
anthropocene

Podcast: against ‘normalcy’ II

In Episode 106 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg continues his rant against the ubiquitous propaganda that normalizes the oppressive and dystopian pre-pandemic normality—or, as it is now incorrectly rendered, “normalcy” (sic). The opportunity for a crash conversion from fossil fuels that was posed by 2020’s pandemic-induced economic paralysis is now being squandered. As fossil-fuel prices soar, the Biden administration is continuing a Trump-era policy to aggressively open public lands to coal mining, refusing to return to an Obama-era moratorium on new leases. US greenhouse gas emissions dramatically bounced back in 2021—one of the hottest years on record. The global mean sea level is rapidly rising, and will keep rising for centuries even if the Paris Agreement goals are met, as seems less likely each day. And all this as hospitals remain overwhelmed coast to coast, and the National Guard is being mobilized to keep them functioning. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon. (Photo: CounterVortex)

Planet Watch
freeway

Podcast: against ‘normalcy’

In Episode 105 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg rants against the ubiquitous propaganda that normalizes the oppressive and dystopian pre-pandemic normality. Amid the relentless COVID-19 denialism, even mainstream voices are calling for a return to “normalcy” (sic)—which is not even a word. The opportunity for a crash conversion from fossil fuels that was posed by 2020’s pandemic-induced economic paralysis, when already depressed oil prices actually went negative, is now being squandered. President Biden just released oil from the Strategic Reserves to control soaring prices. Simultaneously, the administration is moving ahead with the largest offshore oil lease sale in US history. While during the 2020 lockdown. the usually smog-obscured Himalayas became visible from northern India for first time in decades, Delhi is now choked with emergency levels of toxic smog. During the 2020 lockdown, the total US death rate actually dropped because people were staying off the roads; US traffic deaths are now soaring. New York’s new Mayor Eric Adams wants to stake the city’s economic future to the cryptocurrency industry, even as China is cracking down on Bitcoin “mining” (sic) because of its “extremely harmful” carbon footprint. And amid all the empty hand-wringing about climate change, airlines are flying thousands of empty “ghost flights” in order to keep their slots at congested airports. The “return to normalcy” must be urgently resisted. As Bruce Cockburn observed long ago, the trouble with normal is it always gets worse. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon. (Photo: malingering via The Source Metro)

Watching the Shadows
antivax

Podcast: antivax is fascist II

In Episode 103 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg, still suffering from possible COVID-19 symptoms, again notes how the radical right, including neo-Nazi elements, is in the vanguard of anti-vax protests, from Germany to Romania to England to Brooklyn. A virtual industry churns out relentless online disinformation that is easily refuted by anyone who makes the effort to break out of the confirmation-bias bubble. Contrary to the conspiranoid propaganda, COVID-19 deaths are actually being underestimated. The juvenile Nazi-baiting of the anti-vax machine is another example of the propaganda device of fascist pseudo-anti-fascism. Meanwhile, Tuskegee experiment survivors are encouraging vaccinations, and the Peoples Vaccine Alliance protests the actual crimes of Big Pharma—failing to make the vaccine available to Africa and the much of the Global South, in what has been decried as “vaccine apartheid.” Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon. (Photo via Twitter)

North Africa
tunisia

Tunisia: political crisis deepens

Tunisia’s former president Moncef Marzouki was sentenced in absentia to four years in prison, convicted of “undermining the external security of the State.” The charge is evidently a reference to his calls on social media for protest against current President Kaïs Saied, and for an end to French support of Saied’s regime. Marzouki calls Saied a “dictator,” and accuses him of having conducted a coup when he suspended parliament and fired the prime minister amid a wave of national unrest in July. (Image: Pixabay)

Watching the Shadows
antivax

Podcast: antivax is fascist

In Episode 103 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg, suffering from possible COVID-19 symptoms, rants against the mask and vaccine refusers who are not only threatening public health amid the worst pandemic in over a century, but also enabling the worldwide rise of the authoritarian radical right. As they relentlessly bait mask-wearers and vax-rationalists as succumbing to state propaganda, they themselves have swallowed the saturation propaganda from Fox News and the Trump campaign. Last year’s militia kidnapping plotagainst Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer just had a reprise in an assassination conspiracy against the president of the German state of Saxony, similarly motivated by COVID-denialist reaction. Even Robert F. Kennedy Jr openly joined with German neo-Nazis at an anti-vax rally in Berlin. None of this is coincidental. The politics of the anti-vaxxers is actually redolent of Hitler’s “euthanasia” program, in which “useless eaters” (the disabled) were exterminated—the first step toward the Final Solution. Their juvenile Nazi-baiting is another example of the propaganda device of fascist pseudo-anti-fascism. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon. (Photo: Wikipedia)

East Asia
Tiananmen

‘Great Leap Backward’ for press freedom in China

Reporters Without Borders issued a new report, The Great Leap Backwards of Journalism in China, revealing the extent of the regime’s campaign of repression against the right to information. At least 127 journalists (professional and non-professional) are currently detained by the regime. Simply reporting on a “sensitive” topic or publishing censored information can result in years of detention. The report especially examines the deterioration of press freedom in Hong Kong, which was once a world model but has now seen an increasing number of journalists arrested and prosecuted in the name of “national security.” (Photo: chinaworker.info)

East Asia

Podcast: China Unbound with Joanna Chiu

In Episode 102 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg interviews Joanna Chiu, author of China Unbound: A New World Disorder, on the precipitous rise of the People’s Republic as a world power, and the dilemmas this poses for human rights and democracy around the planet. How can we reconcile the imperatives to resist the globalization of China’s police state and to oppose the ugly Sinophobia which is rising in the West, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic? Some Chinese dissidents living in exile in the US have even been co-opted by Trumpism. Chiu argues that stigmatization and misinterpretation of Chinese, whether in the People’s Republic or the diaspora, plays into the hands of Beijing’s propaganda. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon. (Image: House of Anansi)