In Episode 50 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg notes frightening advances toward a fascist world order amid the COVID-19 crisis. With police-state measures being imposed worldwide, Donald Trump is claiming “total” executive power and threatening to “adjourn” Congress. That he is doing so in the name of lifting rather than enforcing the lockdown is certainly an irony, but either way it represents exploitation of the crisis for a power-grab. Even under a best-case scenario of a post-pandemic return to “normality,” it will be in the context of an unprecedented totalizing surveillance state. Yet at this grim moment for humanity, there are utopian as well as apocalyptic potentialities. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon. (Photo: Peruvian Ministry of Defense via Flickr)
Following a bitter campaign dominated by “fake news” generated from China and punctuated by sexist personal attacks on President Tsai Ing-wen, the incumbent was re-elected, overwhelmingly defeating Han Kuo-yu of the Kuomintang (KMT). Tsai, of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), received the highest total ever recorded for any candidate in a presidential election in Taiwan. With Han and the KMT calling for closer integration with China, the repression in Hong Kong was an inevitable and pressing context in the vote. The populist Han, described as Taiwan’s Donald Trump, cultivated an “everyman” image despite his own lavish lifestyle. But his closeness to Beijing led to fears that the KMT was willing to accept a “one country, two systems” solution for Taiwan—just as this model was collapsing in Hong Kong. (Photo of Workers’ Struggle demonstration in Taipei via New Bloom)
Chilean company Sociedad Quimica y Minera (SQM), under pressure from the government amid falling prices and rising protests, committed to define by year’s end the destination for lithium from its lease area at the Salar de Maricunga. SQM, one of the world’s top producers, already has a larger lithium mine in production at another area of salt-flats, the Salar de Atacama—but operations there were suspended for several days as campesinos blocked roads to the site as part of the popular uprising in Chile. Leaders of the Consejo de Pueblos Atacameños, representing 18 indigenous communities, pledged to resist any expansion of lithium operations in the area, citing threats to local water sources. (Photo via El Ciudadano)
Bolivia’s government issued a decree cancelling a massive joint lithium project with German multinational ACI Systems Alemania—just days before the ouster of President Evo Morales. The move came in response to protests by residents in the southern department of Potosí, where the lithium-rich salt-flats are located. Potosí governor Juan Carlos Cejas reacted to the cancellation by blaming the protests on “agitators” seeking to undermine development in the region. Plans for lithium exploitation were first announced over a decade ago, but have seen little progress—in large part due to the opposition of local communities, who fear the region’s scarce water resources will be threatened by mining. (Photo: Wikipedia)
Employees at Hubei Meiyang Automobile Industry Co staged a demonstration to protest “illegal dismissals, wage arrears and compensation payments.” Meiyang Auto, a “new energy” start-up based in the central city of Xiangyang, had been in production for less than two years before halting operations. Workers at Eastone Automotive in Shanghai’s Pudong district also staged a protest claiming they were owed around 40 million yuan in wages in arrears stretching back to the beginning of the year. Employees claimed they were being forced to leave without any compensation, and appealed to the local government for help. So far this year, China Labour Bulletin’s Strike Map has recorded 25 collective protests by workers in the automotive sector, up from just five in the same period last year. The protests, mostly related to layoffs and wage arrears, have occurred in car plants, components factories, dealerships and service centers, and even car rental agencies. (Photo via China Labor Bulletin)
Hundreds of bicyclists staged a “die-in” in New York’s Washington Square Park, expressing outrage over the spate of killings of cyclists on the city’s streets. Three deaths came in a one-week period, finally prompting demands for public action: Robyn Hightman, a 20-year-old bicycle messenger and track racer, was killed by a truck driver in Manhattan. Ernest Askew, 57, riding an e-bike in Brooklyn, was hit and killed by a teen driver. And Devra Freelander, 28, an artist, was killed by a cement truck driver, also in Brooklyn. Hightman was the 12th cyclist killed on New York City streets in 2019; 10 were killed in all of 2018. (Photo: Streetsblog)
World oil prices remain depressed despite an uptick this month, driven by the Venezuela crisis and fear of US-China trade war. Yet this month also saw Zimbabwe explode into angry protests over fuel prices. The unrest was sparked when the government doubled prices, in an effort to crack down on “rampant” illegal trading. Simultaneously, long lines at gas stations are reported across Mexico—again due to a crackdown on illegal petrol trafficking. Despite all the talk in recent years about how low oil prices are now permanent (mirrored, of course, in the similar talk 10 years ago about how high prices were permanent), the crises in Zimbabwe and Mexico may be harbingers of a coming global shock. (Photo via Amnesty International)
In the biggest demonstrations since the fall of communism, thousands have repeatedly taken to the streets in Hungary to oppose Prime Minister Viktor Orba''s controversial "slave law." The square outside the parliament building in Budapest was massively occupied Dec. 12 as the law was approved. It was subsequently signed by President Janos Ader. Orban said the law scraps "silly rules," and will help those who want to earn more by working more. In fact, the law will allow employers to demand workers put in up to 400 extra hours per year of overtime, compared with the current limit of 250. Meanwhile, payment for this overtime may be delayed by up to three years. Local media in Hungary report that Orban pushed through the law in a bid to lure German auto-maker BMW to invest a billion euros in a new plant in Debrecen, Hungary's second city, situated in the poorest region of the country, the northeast. The move is portrayed as intended to undercut labor costs in Slovakia, where BMW was initially considering investment. (Photo: KaosEnLaRed)
The Yellow Vest movement in France scored a victory, as President Emmanuel Macron agreed to suspend a controversial fuel tax after weeks of increasingly violent protests. This may be concretely a win for the working class, but the fact that Macron imposed the tax in the name of reducing carbon emissions has provided fodder for anti-environmental content to the movement. Exploiting this moment, Donald Trump blamed the uprising on the Paris climate accord, tweeting: "The Paris Agreement isn't working out so well for Paris. Protests and riots all over France. People do not want to pay large sums of money, much to third world countries (that are questionably run), in order to maybe protect the environment. Chanting 'We Want Trump!' Love France." (Photo via CrimethInc)
Bangladesh has seen huge demonstrations over the past week, as tens of thousands of university students and schoolchildren protest lax traffic enforcement after two young students were killed by a speeding bus. The protests have for days paralyzed Dhaka, with roadblocks erected on major thoroughfares. Meanwhile, in southern Italy's Puglia region, hundreds of African farmworkers downed tools and marched from the fields after 16 migrant workers were killed when their vans were hit by trucks hauling produce. Authorities pledge a crackdown on the "mafia" that controls agribusiness in Puglia, but the farmworkers have continued to press their protests. (Photo: Dinamopress via El Salto)
In Episode Four of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg makes the case that the Second Amendment is a non-grammatical muddle of obfuscation—because the issue was just as contentious in 1789 as it is today, and the Framers fudged it. That’s why both the “gun control” and “gun rights” advocates can claim they have the correct interpretation—as they each advocate solutions that, in their own way, escalate the police state. In the wake of the latest school massacre, youth activists are pressing the issue, and this is long overdue. But the discussion that needs to be had would explore the social and cultural roots of this peculiarly American pathology. Listen on SoundCloud, and support us via Patreon.
Trump's disparate reactions to the similar attacks in Charlottesville and Barcelona provide a study not only in double standards, but (worse) the president's actual embrace of racist terror. While saying there were "good people" on the side that was flying the Nazi flag and committed an act of terror in Virginia, he used the attack in Spain as an opportunity to unabashedly call for war crimes against Muslims.