Americas (South & North)

Just How Powerful Is Russia Internationally?

After the 2016 U.S. election, Barack Obama provided some perspective on the U.S.'s growing fear of Russia; fear that has only grown in the year since.

“Russia can't change us,” Obama said. “They are a smaller country, they are a weaker country, their economy doesn't produce anything that anybody wants to buy except oil, and gas and arms.”

 

Obama was appealing to an analysis students are taught in first-year undergraduate international relations class: the idea, espoused in Yale history professor Paul Kennedy's textbook The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, that military power is determined ultimately by industrial power. Kennedy's work is full of tables showing the relative industrial power of countries in armed conflict. The winner in each case is the one with more industrial power.

Table 33, Tank Production in 1944, shows Germany producing 17,800 tanks, Russia producing 29,000 tanks, Britain producing 5,000, and the US producing 17,500. Germany produced less than Russia alone, in other words, and far less than the Allies combined.

Table 34, Aircraft Production of the Powers, shows how year after year, the allies out-produced the Axis, by the end, by more than four times or five times. Table 35 shows combined military production: The Allies produced $62.5 billion in arms in 1943, compared to $18.3 billion from the Axis.

Based on the tables, the allied victory was inevitable. The tables don't lie. Look at hundreds of years of war and in each conflict, the side that brings the most economic power to bear almost always wins.

Trying to estimate Russia's relative power has been a Western preoccupation for centuries. One quote, “Russia is neither as strong nor as weak as it appears,” has been attributed to Western statesmen from Metternich to Talleyrand to Churchill.

Lessons from Ed Herman's Lifelong War against Lies

The story goes that Einstein's theory of relativity began with a simple question: What if a person could sit on a beam of light? A single inquiry led to an entire field of study, and perhaps the world's most famous scientific breakthrough.

The late Ed Herman's questions were less playful. They were about war and death, lies and power politics, but they too created entire areas of study. If properly considered, they can even guide us through the perilous age in which we're living.

Herman is best known for co-authoring Noam Chomsky's iconic Manufacturing Consent, which explores how U.S. corporate media operates as a system of disinformation. Written during the Cold War, the book challenged readers who understood propaganda to be a tool of the Soviet Union. How could a diverse industry without official censors to monitor what it published or aired, that was neither owned nor controlled by the state, be used for social control? Quite easily, as it turns out.

The world offers an almost infinite array of events that can be covered, and media insitutions must decide what's most relevant to their audiences. In other words, they operate as an information filter. But how do they provide their viewers, listeners and readers with the best possible understanding of the world? Ideally, these institutions produce the kind of coverage necessary to make informed decisions about public policy. In reality, Chomsky and Herman discovered, they serve the interests of the rich and powerful.

In their propaganda model, the pair identified five distinct filters: Media ownership, which is concentrated in the hands of a few spectacularly wealthy corporations; ideology, specifically anti-communism, which “helps mobilize the populace against... anybody advocating policies that threaten property interests or support accommodation with Communist states and radicalism"; advertising, or the selling of audiences to advertisers, which can lead to any number of distortions and misconceptions; official sourcing, which often leads to self-censorship as media outlets become dependent on their access to members of the government; and finally organized flak, which allows lobbies to lean on journalists and outlets who deviate from the status quo.

The Ossington Circle Episode 29: Media and Empire with... Justin Podur

The Ossington Circle Episode 29: Media and Empire with Justin Podur

In this episode Justin Podur is the guest and guest interviewer Dan Freeman-Maloy asks the questions. We talk about media, Herman and Chomsky's propaganda model, activism in a time of social media monopolies, and empires. The first of a series.

The propaganda model. Source: Monthly Review.

The Ossington Circle Episode 27: Science and Academic Publishing with Bjoern Brembs

The Ossington Circle Episode 27: Science and Academic Publishing with Bjoern Brembs

In this episode I talk to scientist Bjoern Brembs about the problems with proprietary journal companies control over scientific publishing. We imagine a better world of open science that is technologically feasible, discuss the German consortium negotiation with the journal companies, and think about what academics could start to do in this world about the problem.

 

Why Won't American Media Tell the Truth About What's Happening in Venezuela?

Earlier this week, Donald Trump stood before the U.N. and called for the restoration of "political freedoms" to a South American nation in the thoes of an economic crisis. The country in question was Venezuela, but he could have just as easily been describing Argentina, whose right-wing government imprisoned indigenous politician Milagro Sala, has run inflation into the double digits and is in the process of re-imposing the sort of austerity policies that triggered a popular revolt and debt default in 2001.

The description also fits Brazil, where President Michel Temer has been caught on tape discussing bribes, his former cabinet member's apartment recently raided to the tune of 51 million reais ($16 million). Temer, who assumed office only after leading the impeachment of his predecessor, Dilma Rousseff, has also run an aggressive program of austerity, dissolving the programs that lifted tens of millions of Brazilians out of poverty and into the middle class.

In both countries, right-wing forces have taken power and undermined fragile democratic norms with the objective of reversing the modest redistribution of wealth achieved under left-wing administrations over the past 15 years. Backed by a United States government with a long history of subverting leftist movements in the region, and a mainstream media that's all too eager to carry its water, the right is now attempting the same feat in Venezuela.

How the opposition fights a popular government

Unlike Brazil and Argentina, Venezuela has been victimized by a number of factors outside of its control, but especially a precipitous drop in the price of oil, the country's main source of revenue.

The Ossington Circle Episode 26: Free Milagro Sala! With Jorge Garcia-Orgales

The Ossington Circle Episode 26: Free Milagro Sala! With Jorge Garcia-Orgales

In this episode I talk to Argentinian-Canadian union activist Jorge Garcia-Orgales about Milagro Sala, an Indigenous politician and activist who is currently a political prisoner of Argentina's right-wing government.

The Ossington Circle Episode 25: The Venezuela Crisis with Greg Wilpert

The Ossington Circle Episode 25: The Venezuela Crisis with Greg Wilpert

In this episode, I talk to Greg Wilpert, founder of venezuelanalysis and author of Changing Venezuela by Taking Power, about the Venezuela Crisis, the Constitutional Assembly, and possible ways out of the crisis. We started with a detailed discussion of the economic crisis in Venezuela that I think will be of great interest.

peaceful protesters?

The Ossington Circle Episode 24: How the World Breaks with Stan Cox and Paul Cox

The Ossington Circle Episode 24: How the World Breaks with Stan Cox and Paul Cox

In this episode I talk to Stan Cox and Paul Cox, authors of How the World Breaks: Life in Castastrophe's Path from the Caribbean to Siberia. We discuss how we think and talk about disasters, the aid industry, and the uses and excuses associated with the concept of 'resilience'.

locations in how the world breaks

Canadian Extraction in Colombia: The Case of Parex

The following is the English translation of episode 23 of The Ossington Circle. The discussion featured the host Justin Podur, Professor Anna Zalik from York University, activist Manuel Rozental from Pueblos en Camino, and activist Oscar Sampayo from the Environmental and Extractive Studies Group in Magdalena Medio. The discussion focused on the activities of Parex, a Canadian mining company operating in the Colombian region of Magdalena Medio.

Justin: Welcome to the Ossington Circle. This is a special episode, because, well, first it's in Spanish and second, we have three guests instead of the usual one. The topic today is Colombia and the extractive industry, focusing on the Parex corporation, Parex is a very interesting corporation, with an interesting role in Colombia – I will give the floor to the participants to delve into this topic, We have here Oscar Sampayo, member of the group of extractive and environmental studies of Magdalena Medio. We also have Professor Anna Zalik, professor at York University whose research on extractive industry focuses on the global South. And we have Manuel Rozental, activist with the Pueblos en Camino collective. Manuel has been a guest on this program twice already and probably will return many times in the future. Well, guests, thank you for being here in the circle.

Manuel: Thank you so much Justin, Anna hello, and hello Oscar.

Justin: Okay. Let's start with Oscar. You are in a research group, investigating the role of extractive industries in Colombia, in Magdalena Medio, tell us a little about the context, the current situation and the role of this company called Parex.

Oscar: Greetings Justin, greetings Manuel, Anna, listeners of the world and America. We are here located in the Magdalena Medio region, in Barrancabermeja, the main port within the coast in Colombia, which recently a multinational upgraded through its auxiliary called Impala, so Barrancabermeja is now largest port that exists today in Latin America. It's a port of 1.5 km and a half on the river and a depth of 1km.

La Extraccion Canadiense en Colombia: el Caso de Parex

Aqui esta la transcripcion de la discusion que se realizo en The Ossington Circle Episode 23, entre:

  • Justin Podur, anfitreon.
  • Prof. Anna Zalik, York University.
  • Manuel Rozental, Pueblos en Camino.
  • Oscar Sampayo, grupo de estudios ambientales.

En la discusion tratamos el caso de la compania Canadiense Parex y cuyas actividades de fracking en el Magdalena Medio en Colombia.

Justin: Bienvenido al círculo Ossington, este es un episodio especial, porque, bueno, primero está en español y segundo tenemos tres invitados, y vamos a hacerlo. El tema de hoy es Colombia y la industria extractiva, sobre todo vamos a hacer una investigación de la corporación Parex, Parex es una corporación muy interesante, con un papel en Colombia interesante, voy a dar a los invitados la palabra para profundizar en este tema, tenemos aquí Oscar Sampayo integrante del grupo de estudios extractivos y ambientales del magdalena medio, tenemos también la profesora Anna Zalik, profesora en Nueva York University investigadora de industria extractiva con un enfoque en el sur global, Manuel Rozental también activista con el grupo “Pueblos en camino tejiendo autonomías”, Manuel ha sido invitado en este programa dos veces ya y probablemente muchas veces en el futuro.

Bueno invitados gracias por estar aquí en el círculo.

Manuel: Muchas gracias Justin, Ana hola, y hola Oscar, un abrazo.

Justin: Ok. empezamos con Oscar, cual es, usted está en un grupo de investigaciones, investigan el papel de industrias extractivas, en Colombia, en magdalena medio, cuéntenos un poco sobre el contexto, la situación actual y el papel de esta compañía, en particular que se llama Parex.