East Asia
kurils

Podcast: 007 in the New Cold War

In Episode 97 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg dissects the geopolitics of the new James Bond movie, No Time to Die, and how the Daniel Craig reboot of the series has finessed the cultural icon’s role in the New Cold War. Famously, the film was produced pre-pandemic, with its release postponed a year due to the lockdown—and its key plot device is a mass biological warfare attack, anticipating the conspiranoid theories about COVID-19. Yet it could also be prescient in warning of a superpower confrontation over the Kuril Islands—disputed by Russia and Japan, and an all too likely flashpoint for global conflict. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon. (Map: International Kuril Island Project)

Planet Watch
United Nations

Treaty on prohibition of nuclear arms takes force

The first nuclear disarmament treaty in more than two decades has come into force, following its 50th ratification last October, which triggered the 90-day period required before the treaty entered into effect. The UN completed negotiations on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons at its New York headquarters in July 2017. The treaty constitutes “a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading to their total elimination.” However, the US and the world’s eight other nuclear powers—Russia, China, Britain, France, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel—have not signed the treaty. (Photo: Pixabay)

The Caribbean
havana

US returns Cuba to ‘state sponsors of terrorism’ list

The US Department of State has once again designated Cuba as a state that sponsors terrorism. In 2015, the Obama administration removed Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list, which currently includes North Korea, Iran and Syria. In a statement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the State Department accused Cuba of “repeatedly providing support for acts of international terrorism in granting safe harbor to terrorists.” Ironically, this is a reference to Havana’s hosting of peace delegations from Colombian guerilla groups in their efforts to broker an accord with Bogotá over the past six years. (Photo: Falkanpost/Pixabay)

Watching the Shadows
Xinjiang

China elected to UN rights council: Orwellian irony

In another one to file under #OrwellWouldShit, the UN General Assembly elected China to the Human Rights Council—despite the country holding some one million Uighur Muslims in concentration camps. The General Assembly also elected Russia, Cuba, Uzbekistan and Pakistan—all similarly accused of human rights violations, if not quite such ambitious ones. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized the election of countries with “abhorrent human rights records.” A week before the General Assembly vote, China’s UN ambassador Zhang Jun read a statement before the body, denouncing the US for “systematic racial discrimination and violence,” which was endorsed by 25 other nations—including Russia, Iran and North Korea. Of course the perverse irony of this is that Pompeo and Zhang are both correct. And therefore neither has any moral credibility to criticize the other. (Photo: Xinjiang Judicial Administration via The Diplomat)

Planet Watch
Ghana soldiers

Growing police-state measures in face of COVID-19

As nations across the globe remain under lockdown, more sweeping powers are being assumed by governments in the name of containing the COVID-19 pandemic. Facing demands for relief from poor barrios running out of resources under his lockdown orders, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to shoot protesters in the streets. Police have opened fire on lockdown violators in Nigeria, Ghana and Peru. In Tunisia, remote-controlled wheeled robots have been deployed to accost lockdown violators. States of emergency, including broad powers to restrict movements and control the media, have been declared from the Philippines to Serbia. Amnesty International warns that the restrictive measures could become a “new normal.” (Photo: Pulse, Ghana)

Planet Watch
#QuedeteEnCasa

Worldwide police-state measures in face of COVID-19

With whole nations under lockdown, sweeping powers are being assumed by governments across the world in the name of containing the COVID-19 pandemic. Hungary’s parliament voted to allow Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to rule by decree. The Russian parliament has approved an “anti-virus” package that includes up to seven years imprisonment for serious violations of quarantine rules. Israel has joined South Korea in authorizing use of personal cellphone data to track the virus. Chilean President Sebastian Piñera has declared a “state of catastrophe,” sending the military to public squares recently occupied by protesters. Military patrols are also enforcing the lockdown in Peru, Italy, Romania and South Africa. “We could have a parallel epidemic of authoritarian and repressive measures following close on the heels of a health epidemic,” said Fionnuala Ni Aolain, UN Special Rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights. (Photo: Peruvian army demonstration video, via YouTube)

North America
travel ban

Court hears arguments on Trump’s travel ban

The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit began hearing oral arguments in International Refugee Assistance Project v. Donald Trump, a case challenging the administration’s travel bans. The plaintiffs argue that, despite the Supreme Court ruling in Trump v. Hawaii, their case is not barred. They contend that the high court simply addressed the preliminary injunction, and not the merits of the overall travel ban, while the administration argues that Trump v. Hawaii settled the constitutionality of the proclamation. (Photo: Syria Solidarity NYC)

The Andes
lithium fields

Bolivia: lithium interests at play in Evo’s ouster?

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)

Central Asia
Uighurs

Uighurs as pawns in the Great Game

In a perverse spectacle, the Trump administration, which is establishing its own incipient concentration camp system for undocumented immigrants, makes a great show of feigning concern with the mass detention of the Uighurs in China’s “re-education camps.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called China’s treatment of the Uighurs the “stain of the century,” and accused Beijing of pressuring countries not to attend a US-hosted conference on religious freedom then opening in Washington. At the conference, Donald Trump actually met at the Oval Office with Jewher Ilham, daughter of the imprisoned Uighur scholar Ilham Tothi. It is hard to fault the Ughurs for being heartened by this international attention, but it is clear that they are being exploited for propaganda purposes. (Photo: Mvslim.com)

Iran
travel ban protest

Federal judge allows travel ban lawsuit to proceed

Judge Victoria Roberts of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan ruled that a lawsuit by the Arab American Civil Rights League against the Trump administration’s third iteration of his “travel ban,” which restricts travel from seven countries, can move forward. The administration sought to have the lawsuit dismissed based on the Supreme Court’s ruling in Trump v. Hawaii, in which the court held that the Immigration and Nationality Act grants the president broad discretion to decide “whether and when to suspend entry, whose entry to suspend, for how long, and on what conditions.” Roberts held in the present case that “although the Proclamation is facially neutral, its impact falls predominantly on Muslims.” (Photo: Wikimedia Commons via Jurist)

Watching the Shadows

Amnesty calls on UN to ban ‘killer robots’

Amnesty International called upon countries to ban fully autonomous weapons systems on  the first day of the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems meeting. Amnesty states that technology related to advanced weapons systems is outpacing international law. Future technologies may be able to replicate human responses, including "the ability to analyse the intentions behind people's actions, to assess and respond to often dynamic and unpredictable situations, or make complex decisions about the proportionality or necessity of an attack." A complete ban on fully autonomous weapons is necessary in order to avoid possible "dystopian" futures. Human interaction should be required by law to be involved in the identification, selection, and engagement of targets in advanced weapons. (Photo: Future of Life Institute)

North America

Podcast: What will it take to stop Trump?

In Episode 14 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg notes the national protest wave that brought down president Park Geun-Hye in South Korea last December, and asks why Americans can't similarly rise to the occassion and launch a mass militant movement to remove Donald Trump. Given this extreme emergency—the detention gulag now coming into place, with undocumented migrants the "test population" for domestic fascism—we should be mobilizing in our millions. Weinberg identifies two significant obstacles to unity: 1. The fundamental split in the left over the whole question of Russia and its electoral meddling; and 2. The phenomenon of party parasitism, with both the Democrats and sectarian-left factions seeking to exploit popular movements to advance their own power. He concludes by asking whether social media can empower us to sidestep the Dems and the alphabet-soup factions alike and work rapidly and efficiently to build a leaderless, broad-based, intransigent movement around the aim of removing Trump. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon. (Photo of protest at Foley Square, Manhattan, by Syria Solidarity NYC)