politics of cyberspace
As in the Venezuela crisis, Donald Trump, the great enthusiast for dictators, is making a cynical pretense of concern for democracy in Iran. Fortunately, his latest bit of exploitation of the Iranian protesters has blown up in his face. Noting the anniversary of the 1979 revolution, he issued a tweet yesterday featuring a meme with an image of a student protester from the 2017 anti-austerity uprising and the words: "40 years of corruption. 40 years of repression. 40 years of terror. The regime in Iran has produced only #40YearsofFailure. The long-suffering Iranian people deserve a much brighter future." He also tweeted the same message in the Persian language. Today, the courageous photographer who snapped the image at the University of Tehran in December 2017, Yalda Moayeri, comes forward to express her outrage at its co-optation by Trump, telling the New York Times: "I felt cheated and abused, it causes me great sorrow to see the man who is inflicting so much pain upon me and my compatriots to use my image for his own agenda. I did not take this risk to have someone using it to pressure us Iranians even further." She added: "His sanctions are devastating our lives. Our money became worthless. People are becoming poor. Because of his travel ban, many Iranians cannot visit their family members in the United States. My father lives there and I can’t go either. I just don't want to be any part of his agenda against Iran."
World oil prices remain depressed, now hovering at around $60 per barrel, although they did experience an uptick this month, probably driven by the escalating crisis in Venezuela and fears of a US-China trade war. (Xinhua, Jan. 27; OilPrice, Jan. 18) Yet this month also saw Zimbabwe explode into angry protests over fuel prices. A three-day nationwide strike was declared by the trade unions, and the government responded with bullets and a total Internet shut-down. At least 12 were killed and hundreds arbitrarily arrested. The unrest was sparked when the government doubled fuel prices, making gasoline sold in Zimbabwe the most expensive in the world. President Emmerson Mnangagwa said the price rise was aimed at tackling shortages caused by an increase in fuel use and "rampant" illegal trading. (FT, Jan. 18; Amnesty International, Jan. 15; BBC News, OilPrice, Jan. 14)
In Episode 25 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg protests that he has now been deprived of phone and Internet access by Verizon for more than two months, and discusses the greater social implications of this dilemma. Donald Trump, who is a fascist by any reasonable definition, has now shut down the federal government and is threatening to declare a national emergency in order to build his border wall. Lack of other net access at this critical moment has forced Weinberg to use a cell phone in order to have any voice as a writer and activist—while cellular technology is itself inherently abetting the descent into fascism. Not only does it create a totalizing propaganda environment, but it is degrading our attention spans, literacy and critical thinking skills. It also creates a totalizing surveillance environment that can ultimately be exploited by government as well as private interests. But we accept it in the name of "convenience" and the illusion of consumer "choice," and few even recognize technological "progress" (note: propaganda word) as something that needs to be resisted. This emerging dystopia combines the worst aspects of George Orwell's 1984 and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World: we are complicit in the extinguishing of our own freedom because we have been conditioned. Weinberg calls for practical action to slow (at least) the totalizing aspect of this dystopia: keeping alive space for the print world and the meat world, and demanding that Verizon and other service providers maintain landline infrastructure. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
A UN expert called Jan. 7 for the restoration of telecommunication services in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The internet continues to be shut down across the DRC in the wake of the Dec. 30 general elections. Authorities ordered closure of Internet and SMS services the day after the vote due to "fictitious results" circulating on social media. The results of the election have now been postponed and the shutdown extends past its original Jan. 6 end date. On that day, the head of the elections commission stated that just over half of the ballots have been counted. Both the opposition and ruling coalition said they were on track to win the election. Many citizens were not able to vote due to an Ebola outbreak, and the delay led to protests in the east of the country. The opposition has alleged irregularities and fraud, and there have been reports of militias forcing voters to vote for the ruling coalition. The election commission dismissed any problems as minor.
Protests have been mounting across Sudan in response to the nation’s acute economic crisis. Inflation reached 70% in November and many have been forced to spend significant portions of their income on bread, leading to local media designating the demonstrations as "bread protests." Protesters have repeatedly called for President Omar al-Bashir, who has been in power since 1993, to step down. President Bashir promised reforms on Dec. 25 after police blocked protesters who marched on his presidential palace. The protests have been organized by professional organizations and trade unions as well as Sudan's principal opposition group, the Umma Party. Sudan's government on Dec. 20 shut off internet access to prevent the protesters from organizing via social media. According to an Amnesty International report released Dec. 24, at least 37 protesters have been killed so far as Sudanese authorities attempt to quell the demonstrations by releasing tear-gas and firing live ammunition, sparking international criticism.
The UN Committee against Torture posted a letter online Dec. 11 that calls on Saudi Arabia to release over a dozen imprisoned activists and cites credible claims of improper treatment, sexual assault and torture. The UN group charged with overseeing compliance with the Convention Against Torture claims that seven activists have been held without official charges since May 2018 and subjected to inhumane treatment. The monitoring group also called for another six peaceful activists to be released, including Raif Badawi, a blogger who has been publicly lashed and is currently serving a 10-year sentence for expressing dissenting opinions. The statement calls for a review of cases of corporal punishment to ensure that Saudi Arabia is upholding its obligations under the Convention Against Torture.
The Yellow Vest movement in France scored a victory, as the government of 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 protest 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."
CounterVortex will be on hiatus through mid-December, as your editor Bill Weinberg will be traveling in Italy, networking with squatters and migrant rights activists. He may post some material from the road. But we will resume regular updates to the Daily Report and our weekly headline e-mails upon his return. This, of course, is contingent upon Verizon actually making net access available—sporadic outages have considerably slowed our work over the past two weeks. Help CounterVortex win its fight against Verizon, and make them provide the services they are required to supply under New York state law. For further details, listen to our latest podcast. Your continued support is more urgent than ever. Please give what you can to sustain our efforts. No donation is too small. (Hell, five bucks is a cup of coffee in New York City. It's also about 5% of our annual operating costs. Every little bit helps.)