International Politics

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Drones Come From the Sky, But Leave the Heavy Footprint of War on the Communities that they Target

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Barack Obama was seen by many of the liberals of the world as the only hope for a just and ethical American government. He was seen as the archetypal liberal; educated, young, and more importantly, not a Republican. Not long after his election however, we quickly came to learn that it would be business as usual for the White House, and more. Under the Obama administration we have seen a disastrous foreign policy in which any person deemed a terrorist or a threat to the national security of the United States, or their interests, can be summarily and extrajudically assassinated. One of the predominant methods of carrying out these assassinations is via drone strike. With what has been essentially an onslaught of drone strikes, especially in Pakistan and Yemen, the UN has begun to investigate the legality of these strikes. This investigation has thus far been part of the basis of two reports which were issued in September of last year.

The first report, Extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, dealt with the issue of drone strikes within the framework of international law. The Special Rapporteur noted that, “drones are here to stay”, and that they are not necessarily illegal weapons. However, the Rapporteur also took note of the fact that drones make it far easier to kill a suspect as opposed to trying to capture them. He also noted that the sheer proliferation of the use of armed drones “may lower social barriers in society against the deployment of lethal force and result in attempts to weaken the relevant legal standards”. Added to this is the lack of transparency regarding the legal framework being used by the White House to target suspects for assassination. When combined with the relative safety with which a drone can be operated, the report states that domestic or political constraints on their use can easily be “reduce[d] or eliminated”. This is precisely how the Obama administration has promoted the use of drones; that they are surgical in their precision, clean, and more importantly, keep American lives out of harm’s way. When we dig a little deeper, the truth is much more frightful and perilous.

The exact determination of the criteria needed to target someone for assassination is not shared with the public. Nonetheless, certain details are known. According to Jeremy Scahill, in the closing days of the Bush administration, the CIA began targeting suspects for assassination on the basis of “patterns of life rather than specific intelligence”. If a person adhered to a certain list of “signatures” that the agency had devised, this was enough to make them a target. One of these “signatures” could be as little as being a military aged male in a particular region of the globe. Being an imminent threat or being involved in plotting against the United States was also not a prerequisite for being targeted. The mere potential to commit acts of terrorism against the United States or its interests became enough to warrant death. The Obama administration embraced this method of warmongering with gusto. In the first 10 months of taking office, Obama launched more drone strikes than Bush Jr. had in the previous 8 years. Obama personally signs off on each assassination on what is called “Terror Tuesdays”, where he and his advisors go over a list of suspects and decide who is to live and who is to die.

In spite of what the White House and the Pentagon may think about the effectiveness of drone strikes, it is clear that they do two things: They violate international law and they encourage terrorism. That both of these statements are truisms is unimportant. It is important though to examine them in greater detail.  As to the latter, in an interview with the journal Foreign Affairs early last year, General Stanley McChrystal made the same point that is made above; that drones strikes seem to carry little risk with maximum benefits. But this does not give the wider view of the larger consequences of such actions, pointing out that, “at the receiving end, it feels like war”.  He further stated that if drones were “used carelessly”, which he believes isn’t the case, “then we should not be upset when someone responds with their equivalent, which is a suicide bomb in Central Park, because that’s what they can respond with”. Similarly, in an appearance in front of a United States Senate committee in April of last year, Yemeni native Farea Al-Muslimi related the story of how six days previous to his appearance in front of the committee, his village had been the victim of a drone strike. Ominously, but not unsurprisingly, he stated that, “What radicals had previously failed to achieve in my village, one drone strike accomplished in an instant: there is now an intense anger and growing hatred of America”. The UN report already mentioned also makes this point. The Special Rapporteur writes that, “drones come from the sky, but leave the heavy footprint of war on the communities that they target”.

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A Dialogue on Democracy and the Republic, Part 2

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Here is the second part of a dialogue with philosopher Juan Domingo Sánchez Estop on the idea of the republic. This is a continuation of the discussion started here on the 29th of October last.

Juan Domingo Sánchez Estop taught modern philosophy in the Universidad Complutense de Madrid from 1981 to 1986. He translated Spinoza’s correspondence into Spanish and, as a member of the Association des Amis de Spinoza, has taken part in seminars and congresses in France and Italy. He is currently working as a senior translator in the Council of the European Union and is specialized in foreign policy matters. He is an advisory editor of the review Décalages (on Althusserian studies). He writes in European and Latin-American publications on Spinoza, Althusser, modern philosophy and political philosophy. His latest book is La dominación liberal (Liberal Domination. Essay on liberalism as a power apparatus) (Tierra de Nadie, Madrid, 2010). He is currently linked to the Philosophy Center of the Université libre de Bruxelles, where he is preparing a PhD on Spinoza in Althusser. His blog, in Spanish, is Iohannes Maurus.

RMcA: I’d like to relate what you’ve been saying here to the present situation in Europe. Before I do, a couple of comments. I think you -and the rest of the line of the damned!- are right about the common-wealth as an originary reality underlying capitalism itself. Indeed, the legal architecture of a capitalist State rests, at a very basic level, upon a conception of something that is common to all. And it’s also true about the way neoliberalism puts knowledge of this originary reality to its own ends.

 

JDSE: There is much to say on common-wealth or even on communism as the very fabric of any society, even of the one which most utterly denies it, capitalism. What we, on the “line of the damned” construe as the commons, has in bourgeois legal terms, an equivalent: the “public” as synonymous with State-owned and/or -managed. This is, of course, a mystification of the common ground of society, placed as a transcendent One above the multitude. This is exactly the way Hobbes thinks of the union of a Commonwealth in his political works. Against this we consider the multitude as rooted in the common, as an ever open set of incomplete singular individualizations as the French philosopher Simondon put it, in a very Spinozist way (even if he never was aware of this connection). From this point of view, the common is always-already political, and the relevant question is not the one about the origin of the political or the common, but the one about individualization and its modes.

Neoliberalism is an effort -possibly the last effort- by capitalism to get asymptotically as close as possible to the communist fabric of society, and even of the human species, in order to exploit it. That’s why it has been identified by Michel Foucault as “biopolitics”. Life and the reproduction of capital are getting ever closer to each other. The very span of labour time or space is nowadays indefinite and becomes identical to human individual and social life. There is no longer a closed space and a definite time for labour, as was the case in the classical Fordist or even pre-Fordist (Dickensian) factory. Today, life reproduction and labour are the same: Marx would say that we have entirely completed the “real subsumption” of labour under capital.

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Latvia Doesn’t Offer Europe a Success Story

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The Council of Europe has confirmed that Latvia will be accepted into the Eurozone from 1 January 2014. Commission Vice-President Olli Rehn has called the Baltic nation “a success story” and said that its “shows that a country can successfully overcome macroeconomic imbalances, however severe, and emerge stronger.” 

At a time when calls for a change in policy direction grow stronger every day, when the Eurozone heads towards recession with the European youth unemployment rate at 23%, pro-austerity officials badly need a success story. Latvia would seem to fit the bill; having weathered its fiscal crisis to return to modest growth, it could be the model student for the indebted European periphery. But those looking to the Baltic for proof that 'austerity works' should look a little closer. 

Much like Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Greece, Latvia experienced a short period of intense growth, with a property market bubble fuelled, in the Latvian case, by cheap credit from Swedish and German banks. When the credit stopped, the economy did too and the Government nationalised Parex, the country’s second largest bank, taking on its Euro-denominated debt. Private debts were transformed into public liabilities, creating a fiscal crisis. So far, so familiar. 

After the dissolution of the incumbent administration, the newly-elected coalition government responded with an aggressive austerity strategy. They targeted healthcare, education and public administration, with 30% cuts to public sector numbers and wage-reductions of 40%. Unlike in many other public-debt troubled countries, Latvia also squeezed old-age pensions, causing significant hardship for retired citizens. Despite IMF suggestions, currency devaluation was ruled out of the question and corporation tax remained unchanged at 15%. GDP shrank by a quarter over two years, leaving one in five workers unemployed. 

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OURmedia Dublin 2013 Conference, June 24-25th, Civic Offices Dublin and DCU

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OURmedia Dublin 2013 Conference

“Dealing With Crisis: Community, Alternative, Citizens', and Social Media in Times of Change”

On June 24-25th

Wood Quay Venue, Dublin City Council Civic Offices (24th, 9.30am – 9pm) and DCU (25th, 9.30am – 4pm)

The opening event, “What News Does Dublin need? An Exploration of Models of News and Information That We Should Build for Our City”, is organised by the Dublin City Community Media Forum in conjunction with the Community Forum and will examine the news media in Dublin City. Speakers at this session include, Donal Higgins (DCTV), James Redmond (Rabble), and Jack Byrne (NearFM).

The two-day Alternative and Community Media Conference will examine different avenues of media used throughout the world as the pre-conference to IAMCR 2013 and will feature panels on 'Community Media in the Arab World' & 'Community Media for Peace and Development in Cyprus'.

These events are open to the public.

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/OuRmediaDublin2013

Event Page: https://www.facebook.com/events/333175390146507/

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Samantha Power – another ‘Good’ Imperialist

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Barack Obama’s nomination of Irish-born academic and writer Samantha Power to the post of US Ambassador to the UN is yet another example of the increasing trend toward ‘humanitarian’ war by the US government’s hawks in sheep’s clothing.

Samantha Power is, at first glance, a poster-girl for the image the Obama administration has sought to convey since 2009: a caring, liberal woman with a deep passion for human rights and a no-nonsense approach to the evil dictators and tyrants of this world. Born in Ireland in 1970, Power emigrated with her parents to the US in 1979. She subsequently lived the quintessential American Dream, an immigrant girl who worked hard in the Land of the Free to rise to the very top of US academic and political life. She was a journalist from 1993 to 1996, working for various US papers, known chiefly for covering the Yugoslav Wars, during which she saw all the horrors of that conflict that instilled in her a lifelong commitment to the cause of human rights and freedoms. America’s liberal intelligentsia rejoiced when she was appointed to the US National Security Council in 2009 – here at last was someone who would bring a morality, a conscience, nay, even a heart to US foreign policy. That’s the well-polished image, anyway. But as so often with such facades, it hides an ugly reality.

Power rose to prominence in 2002 with the release of her book A Problem from Hell, in which she chided the US for its supposed indifference to genocides that took place from Yugoslavia to Rwanda; she asks “why does the US stand so idly by?”. No mention in the book’s 600-odd pages, of course, of the myriad atrocities perpetrated at the behest of the US government and the CIA since the end of World War Two – the mass slaughter of communists in Indonesia in 1965 and 66 by the US-backed Suharto regime, or that country’s savage invasion of East Timor, readily approved by US president Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, one of history’s worst war criminals. No mention of the disastrous UN sanctions against Iraq in the 1990s that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children. In fact, not much mention at all of any horrific war crimes and mass killings that were committed with the intention of furthering America’s goals for global hegemony. But of course, one could hardly rise to the top of the US political pyramid by telling the truth.

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Syrian forces and Hezbollah retake Al-Qusayr; the worried West pushes for war

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Syrian government forces, reinforced by fighters of the Lebanese resistance movement Hezbollah, have today made a major breakthrough in their fight against foreign-backed militants holding the strategic town of Al-Qusayr, which lies on the road from Damascus in the south of the country to the north-western coastal cities of Tartus and Latakia. Syrian state television and the Lebanese Al-Manar channel, run by Hezbollah, stated this morning that Syrian troops and Hezbollah fighters had re-taken the town after a decisive two-week battle with rebels.

A Hezbollah fighter reportedly told news agency Reuters: “We did a sudden surprise attack in the early hours and entered the town. They escaped”, ‘they’ referring to the insurgents. Sources for the various rebel groups fighting the government in Syria confirmed that their militias had abandoned the town and retreated north to the area of Debaa, not far from Qusayr; like most rebel sources this claim is unverified. What is certain is that after two weeks of intense fighting and many casualties on both sides, the town of Al-Qusayr, a vitally important waypoint on the main arterial roads linking the north and south of the country, is back in Syrian hands. For the rebels, it is a major defeat.

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‘Self-Hating Jews’, ‘Ideological Criminals of the Worst Kind’

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Book Review of three recent books by Jewish writers, Shlomo Sand, Jacqueline Rose and Judith Butler on Israel.

Ideological Criminals

This rose is red

Red is a colour

Therefore this rose is coloured

There is an initial plausibility to such syllogizing but Hegel uses this example to show where such thinking goes awry. It associates a universal (red) with a particular (rose) but, because different universals can be associated with a particular, the form of inference being employed here allows for more than one conclusion to be drawn. Red can also be a representation of communism or, as the crowds recently celebrating Alex Ferguson demonstrated, of Manchester United but we cannot infer that this rose is communist or a Manchester United rose. A plurality of conclusions can be drawn, though, because the presence of one universal does not preclude the possibility of there being others. The rose is not just red. It has a certain aroma, shape and so on but these various features do not have any necessary connection to one another.

A similar kind of understanding applies to the kind of dodgy syllogizing that goes along the lines of:

Hostility towards Jews is anti-Semitism

Israel is a Jewish state

Therefore hostility towards Israel is anti-Semitic

It might be thought to be a problem when Jews are hostile to Israel because an anti-Semitic Jew sounds a little odd – but, no, this is not a problem because they are just self-hating Jews and as such they deserve a place on the Jewish S.H.I.T. list (‘Self-Hating and/or Israeli-Threatening’). Not surprising, then, to find Shlomo Sand, Jacqueline Rose and Judith Butler on this list.

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Framing “The Gatekeepers”

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This was originally published on Raymond Deane’s blog, the Deanery on the 16th of May.

As everyone knows by now, The Gatekeepers is a 2012 Academy award-nominated documentary film made by the Israeli director Dror Moreh. Moreh succeeded in interviewing the last six heads of Israel’s General Security Services, better known by its Hebrew acronym Shin Bet. These gentlemen display considerable frankness about the nature of their past activities, their belated advocacy of a two-state solution to the Palestine issue and their negative views of successive Israeli governments.

It’s not my purpose here to write another review of this much talked-about but surprisingly uncontroversial film. Interesting articles, both of which discuss it in conjunction with the Israeli/Palestinian film 5 Broken Cameras, may be read here and here. Instead, I wish to reflect on some worrisome aspects of the film’s framing and reception in public discourse, and to suggest that its propagandistic effect is dependent on such framing.

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Continuing Fallout from Venezuelan Election

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As indicated before the elections, the right-wing opposition are engaging in activities similar to those that laid the ground for the short-lived coup in 2002. In brief the main points are:

  1. Venezuela’s right-wing groups engage in extreme violence after rejecting official election results
  2. Leaders from across Latin America congratulate President Maduro & call for official results to be respected
  3. Venezuelan Embassy in the UK Statement on the Election
  4. Union of South American Nations & Election Observers Calls for Respect for Venezuela Election Results
  5. National Electoral Council (CNE) explains that 54% of votes have been audited & the result is valid, as Nicolas Maduro becomes President

1. Venezuela’s right-wing groups engage in extreme violence after rejecting official election results

Groups linked to the Venezuelan right-wing opposition have unleashed a wave of violence across Venezuela following their loss at Sunday’s presidential elections and their refusal to accept the official results, again (as in many times in the past) alleging fraud without providing any proof, in order to undermine the will of the people.

Henrique Capriles, the losing candidate, called his supporters onto the streets and this was quickly followed on Monday by violence.

The situation has particularly worsened after right-wing national newspapers published a doctored photo claiming to show the government burning ballot papers and an opposition-aligned journalist falsely claimed that ballot boxes were being held by Cuban doctors – the first false accusation leading to attacks on buildings of the country’s independent national electoral council, the second on widespread attacks on the nation’s health services.

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April Edition of the Socialist Voice is Out Now

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April addition of Socialist Voice is now out. It can be viewed online here

  1. Time for a radical departure [EMC]
  2. Cypriots paying the price [EMC]
  3. Growing threat of NATO membership
  4. The state of bourgeois political economy [NL]
  5. William Thompson: political economy and co-operative communism [NL]
  6. The new pope [MA]
  7. The question remains: when are we going to talk about class? [PD]
  8. Can we learn from Cuba? (or where to go from here?) [TMS]
  9. Financialisation, the euro, and the crisis [NC]
  10. A modest exposure
  11. The family, private property, and the state [SOD]

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“It does matter to us.” – Hugo Chávez responds to Rory Carroll

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What follows further down is a transcript of an exchange between Guardian reporter Rory Carroll and the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, from Chávez’s TV programme Aló Presidente, broadcast 26th August 2007.

I was prompted to look up the transcript when it was referred to by Carroll himself, who has a new book out titled Comandante: Inside The Revolutionary Court of Hugo Chávez, in an interview on Today with Pat Kenny on Friday March 1st 2013. First of all, here is the excerpt from the Pat Kenny show.

Transcript: Excerpt from Today with Pat Kenny on Friday March 1st 2013

PAT KENNY: Now, the kind of weapons that he did use, besides the occasional imprisonment of somebody – humiliation. Heaping humiliation upon people’s heads. I mean, denouncing them on television. And I suggested to you when you came in, like what would it be like if you had Enda Kenny or Bertie Ahern on television for three hours, just mouthing away, commandeering the airwaves, and you said, what are you talking about, three hours? Nine hours. Non-stop.

RORY CARROLL: Yes, yeah. And em, well, speaking of humiliation, my own, I can give you a personal anecdote about that. I was on his TV show, he has a weekly TV show called Aló Presidente, Hello President, and I think I was on episode no. 294. I went in as a journalist, I had lobbied them to let me attend, and he invited me to ask a question. And I did, I asked him about the centralisation of power and risk of creeping authoritarianism, and boy did he let me have it. He proceeded to denounce me and it seemed eternal to me, this was all on live television.

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Irish Troops in Mali

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The government proposes to send eight Irish soldiers to Mali as part of a French-led EU intervention force in that country. According to Irish Times opinion writer Fintan O’Toole, this is all to the good – in a column entitled ‘This time it really is a war to save civilisation’, he writes that while the West has often got it wrong in the past, “Western powers… happen to be on the right side in a war in which the cultural stakes are very high”, citing alleged Malian rebel attacks on art and music. Nobody much will argue that these attacks are good things, or that there is not a pressing humanitarian crisis in Mali – the question is whether Western military intervention is an appropriate response to either.

For others, this latest Irish army deployment is seen as particularly positive because it will, for the first time, be carried out in conjunction with British forces (the Royal Irish Regiment). Justice and Defence Minister Alan Shatter has commented as follows:

“I believe that the provision of a joint UK/Ireland contingent is another step in the normalisation of relations between our two countries… In that sense it is a historic step and provides a tangible manifestation of the very positive relationship and the mutual respect that now exists between our countries.”

So what will this manifestation of mutual respect be doing, exactly? It will be providing military training and advice to an army that Human Rights Watch reports to be guilty of torture and summary executions, with the minority Tuareg group particularly targeted for abuses. This is the military that Irish and other European soldiers will be bolstering, though defenders of the deployment claim they will be training them in human rights (as well as map reading and marksmanship). What could possibly go wrong? After all, the leader of the 2012 coup that sparked the most recent crisis had been trained in the US, and look how well that worked out. (A Malian newspaper editor was recently arrested for criticising the salary of said coup leader). For once, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy had it right when he said that the French intervention was “supporting putschists”. When the fluff of ‘human rights training’ is brushed aside, the fact will remain that Ireland and its EU partners are enhancing the capacity of an army that is predisposed to carrying out coups, torture and executions.

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FIRST COMMUNIQUÉ FROM ‘CAMP DIGNITY’ (#Acampadamérida)

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FIRST COMMUNIQUÉ FROM ‘CAMP DIGNITY’ (#Acampadamérida)

1.

Extremadura can bear no more. There are more than 160,000 people (more than 30% of the active population) who are unemployed, and 70,000 of them no longer have any form of income. Extremadura is currently the most impoverished area of Western Europe: more than 40% of Extremadurans live beneath or on the threshold of poverty. The brutal cutbacks imposed by the neoliberal executives in Brussels, Madrid and Mérida are destroying our region’s public systems of health and education. Men and women, young and old, workers and unemployed, are all suffering the neoliberal attack and debt blackmail in the form of unemployment, exploitation, misery, eviction, exclusion and criminalisation.

2.

We demand a basic income now. For months, thousands of people have mobilised throughout the whole of Extremadura seeking the implementation of a Basic Citizen Income, in successive street demonstrations and by signing up to the Popular Legislative Initiative. The Extremaduran Platform for a Basic Income and the dozens of social collectives that have supported its demands do not and will not accept the so-called ‘basic income’ -which is nothing but a very limited selective charity- proposed by the Extremaduran Government in response to the social mobilisation. We demand the implementation of a Basic Income that covers 100% of people in our region without an income, one that is high enough to guarantee the minimum of dignity that every human life deserves above and beyond the rules of the market: we are people, not commodities.

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Government resignation – and then what?

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Translation of an article by sociologist Jorge Moruno and philosopher Juan Domingo Sánchez Estop, published today in Público, analysing the present conjuncture in the Spanish state in light of major corruption scandals and the crumbling of the current regime’s legitimacy.

Government resignation – and then what?

The Bárcenas papers are not a simple case of political corruption in which a boss puts his hand in the till and all can be simplified by talking about rotten apples. Beyond the final denoument, what we are faced with is an entire process of putrefaction of the party system that arose from the 1978 assembly (cortes), in which the Partido Popular is the main -but not the only- political exponent of the Spanish real estate-financial bloc which has benefitted so much from these decades of bubble. Some of us have taken to referring to this ruling layer from the political-speculative tandem, which draws together the worst of our society, as a lumpen-oligarchy, thereby highlighting the nature of its policies and the way it puts them into practice.

This modus operandi functions by democratising the idea of the speculating property owner, turning every citizen into a potential entrepreneur with regard to his home or the one she aspires to obtain. The spreading of this idea and its practice brought about a situation in which, for a time, the possibility of social ascent was associated with the negotiating ability of the individual and not with the extension of collective rights and the development of a democratic culture that placed value on what is public. This operation of moving society to the right, based on the ideology of the property owner, always works as long as one can speculate a little bit more. Corruption, then, is not a mere consequence of casino-capitalism; it is also the necessary lubricant for putting it into practice. The common thread between regime politicans, speculators and builders is reflected perfectly in the Bárcenas papers, where many of the donors are now receiving contracts for Madrid hospitals up for privatisation. Corruption -of the systemic kind- is also seen in the way the vice-president of the CEOE (Spanish employers’ body) receives a discount in the cafeterias of public institutions such as universities and ministries, whilst at the very same time he rails against anything that sounds public, even when this sector is his biggest source of payment.

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