News for progressives

U.S. Busts APEC Summit With Tariff Demands - <I>New York Times</I> Blames China

A New York Times report about last weekend's summit in Asia demonstrates how U.S. media misinform their readers about international events. The recent summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in Papua New Guinea failed to come up with a...
Categories: News for progressives

Turkey Attacks Own Proxies In Syria, Netanyahu Names Himself Defense Minister

  https://southfront.org/turkey-attacks-own-proxies-in-syria-netanyahu-names-himself-defense-minister/ From November 18 to November 20, the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) carried out a military operation against their own proxies in the region of Afrin. The TAF attacked
Categories: News for progressives

Geographies of Violence in Southern California

Counterpunch - Tue, 2018-11-20 16:10

Photo Source IvyMike | CC BY 2.0

The Arroyo Conejo winds through what once were oak meadows in the Conejo Valley. The area is now home to the Los Angeles exurbs of Thousand Oaks, Newbury Park, Westlake Village, Agoura Hills and Oak Park. It was here, before contact, that the Chumash people relied on acorns as their staple food and traded their flour for seafood from coastal villages along the Pacific coast some twenty miles to the west. William Bryant Logan in Oak, the Frame of Civilization, 2005, notes that “early European travelers came to recognize how close they were to an Indian village by the boom and thump of women driving pestles into mortars to grind acorns into meal”.  That sound had hung in the Conejo Valley for at least two millennia.

On Wednesday evening, November 7th, the only boom and thump to be heard along Rolling Oaks Drive in Thousand Oaks was coming from the Borderline Bar and Grill where country music echoed into the night. A little before midnight that sound was punctuated by the dull thuds of a Glock 21 handgun being fired in a mass shooting that killed twelve. The shooter, a former Marine, concluded the massacre by turning the gun on himself.

Early in the afternoon the next day, a wildfire started somewhere on the 2,668 acre Santa Susana Field Laboratory. Up until 2006 this facility had been used to test nuclear reactors and rocket engines for over fifty years. It was here that Rocketdyne developed and tested the engines that powered the space shuttle. In an un-used corner of the vast site sits Burro Flats painted cave, a Chumash solstice observation rock formation where members of the community’s priestly caste, the ’Antap, confirmed the return of the sun for another year. It is here too, in the surrounding Simi Hills, that winter rains run to the Arroyo Conejo, to form a part of the Calleguas watershed.

The fire would spread quickly, propelled by forty mile an hour Santa Ana winds, and like the creek, eventually find its way through the Santa Monica Mountains to the coast. Named the Woolsey fire, for a canyon close to its origin, it has now burnt almost 100,000 acres, destroyed five hundred structures and killed three.

On Friday morning, believing the fire barely west of U.S. Route 101, which runs the length of the state and follows El Camino Real for much of its length, and unaware that at seven a.m. Malibu had declared a compulsory evacuation order, my wife and I, guided by Google Maps, chose to take the Pacific Coast Highway to LAX. We moved swiftly across the alluvial plains of Oxnard, some of the richest agricultural lands in the country, and across the Calleguas Creek that filters its waters through Mugu Lake and its bordering wetlands along the beach. Then, in the usual abrupt fashion, we arrived at the northernmost outcropping of the Santa Monica Mountains, manifested (in my imagination) as a dragon’s tail plunging precipitously into the Pacific Ocean. In 1926, this rocky bastion was broached by dynamite, pick, shovel and the unremitting labor of newly arrived immigrants to allow a two-lane track to pass through what is now known as Point Mugu. A remnant of this severed spine remains as a sentinel rock at the Point.

Approaching Point Mugu, we had driven past the Seabees shooting range on the right and the trail head of the Chumash trading route on the left (which passes over Boney Mountain and then is buried beneath asphalt and concrete before reappearing in the Conejo Valley). Four years ago, after the first winter rains following the Springs Fire of 2013, which began, like the Woolsey, just east of Route101 and like it, burnt through the mountains to the beach,  I had followed the trail through a mostly monochrome landscape (the creek bottom and the puffs of new oak growth the only green) and noticed, on the blackened earth amidst the white ash of burnt shrubs, other more intense dots of white. Looking closer, I realized that I was walking through a collection of shell middens – where mussel, barnacle, sea-snail and clam shells had been exposed by the fire. These were the leavings from some Chumash meal in the Mission period, and below them no doubt, was buried the detritus from countless sea-food dinners consumed over many thousands of years. This ancient landscape of coastal sage scrub, chaparral, and riparian oak meadowlands, twice burnt in the span of five years, will likely only grow back as botanically impoverished, weedy grasslands, in a process known as type-conversion; its discarded shells left exposed in fields of non-native oats, mustard and star-thistles.

The sky was already dark with smoke, the ocean ruffled by off-shore Santa Ana winds, its waves flattened. Once beyond the portal, the road clings to the edge of the flanking mountain to the east and is supported by a rocky cliff to the west that falls into the roiling waters of the Pacific. By now, the curtain of smoke had fully descended except at its very edges far to the west where an orange glow of daylight peaked between the ocean and the billowing pyro-cumuli.

When we reached Zuma, one of Malibu’s northernmost beaches, traffic ground to a halt as the city’s residents heeded the evacuation call and headed in their SUV’s, Priuses, Teslas, Bentley’s, and one conspicuously new Rolls Royce, south on the PCH.For five hours we crawled along the picturesque highway as volcanic clouds, and the occasional line of ridge top fire, loomed to our left and the curiously placid smoke-dark sea lay to our right. We listened to AM radio predicting the fire’s imminent and inevitable arrival at the coast while we inched our way towards Santa Monica and an awakening from the nightmare of our almost stalled cars being engulfed in flame.

We arrived at the airport seven hours after leaving our home (usually an easy two-hour drive) and long after our flight to Vancouver had departed. Having failed to secure later stand-by seats, we stayed overnight with friends in Venice who were harboring a fire-refugee from Topanga, a threatened rural suburb just south of Malibu, and who themselves were mourning the loss of another friend’s house in Malibu Lake.

Our harrowing experience was a very minor note in a major state-wide catastrophe that included the Camp Fire in Butte County east of Chico, which started on Wednesday November 7th, far larger and much deadlier than the Woolsey fire, but entirely lacking in the latter’s celebrity frisson.

The carbon sequestered in over a quarter million acres of trees and shrubs and within the building materials of many thousands of structures has now been released to the atmosphere in these hellacious wildfires spread across California. In a state that has seen most of its historic old growth forests logged into extinction, its fossil biomass extracted from the earth for well over a century, where its gasoline burning automobiles clog its cities and highways and its industrial and domestic energy needs are largely supplied by the burning of natural gas, its wildfires count as the reciprocal in a cycle of violence.

The wildlands of California have long been coopted by civilization as either ‘Lands of Many Uses’, the motto of the USDA Forest Service, or as a mythological counterpoint to human agency. They are perceived as an ancient backdrop to the miraculous achievements of a humanly engineered modernity which, in turn, has undertaken their systematic violation. Through the karmic medium of global warming, the victim is now wreaking its revenge.

Characterized by the enduring marks of Chumash inhabitation, the landscape between Conejo Valley and the Pacific coast, reaching south to the long spit of Malibu, now experiences, it seems, recurring fires that are fueled by drought stricken vegetation and driven by powerful winds that funnel down the canyons, defiles and valleys of the Santa Monica Mountains – carved over millennia by their rivers and creeks.

The anger-stoked shooting rampage in Thousand Oaks during the Santa Anas recalls Raymond Chandler’s note of caution that when these winds blow, “Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks.” This is but a picayune meteorological fancy. All across the nation, American violence cleared the way west and we are now haunted by these fitful, generational, reenactments of the carnage. This time, in this place, it was the act of a young man likely innocent of our history, but, as a Marine, deeply inculcated in the Empire’s killing machine. We are all complicit by the fact of our living on lands stolen over a century or more of a rolling genocide and of contributing to the culture of war by paying our taxes. Perhaps more perniciously, we are also complicit in creating the circumstances of global warming by way of our egregious habits of consumption.

Following this second week of November in Southern California, amidst these entwined geographies of violence, can we hope that we are newly alerted to this complicity?

Categories: News for progressives

Abolishing ICE Means Defunding it

Counterpunch - Tue, 2018-11-20 16:00

Photo by Nathaniel St. Clair

Many progressive Democrats that won their midterm election bids, from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York, to Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar, campaigned to change radically immigration policy. One of their slogans was to abolish the principal immigration law enforcement agency, ICE (Immigration Customs and Enforcement).  To turn that campaign slogan into reality means defunding ICE, which Democrats can do, if they chose, now that they have a majority in the House of Representatives.

ICE has long been criticized by immigration rights groups – even before Trump became President – for its use of private, for-profit detention centers, treatment of detainees, and overall lack of transparency and accountability. Despite these problems, the Trump administration has not only expressed support for the agency, but has sought to increase its budget.  In 2017, ICE was authorized to use $6.4 Billion, which increased to $7.6 Billion in 2018. Trump’s proposed 2019 budget for ICE, similarly, sees an increase of nearly $1 Billion dollars.

A variety of activities related to immigration fall within ICE’s purview.  Its 2018 budget divides these activities into five ‘missions,’specifically, (1) ‘preventing terrorism and enhancing security,’ (2) ‘securing and managing our borders,’ (3) ‘enforcing and administering our immigration laws,’ (4) ‘safeguarding and securing cyberspace,’ and (5) ‘strengthening national preparedness and resilience.’  Of these five, the third – ‘enforcing and administering our immigration laws’ – receives by far the lion’s share of ICE’s total budget.  In 2017, this amounted to nearly $4 Billion, with over $3 Billion dedicated to enforcement and removal.  Such operations, as explained in ICE’s budget statement, entail “identifying and apprehending removable aliens, detaining those individuals pending final determination of removability, and removing aliens from the United States by legal processes and procedures.” These practices, which are central to ICE’s mission, are also some of the institution’s most controversial and criticized.

Yet, to abolish ICE, especially in the current political climate, is next to impossible. The reason is that ICE is part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which was created during the Bush Administration in the aftermath of September 11th.  Public Law 107-296 officially saw to the creation of DHS, and with it, ICE.  Thus, to abolish ICE would require legislation not only to pass the House of Representatives, but also the Republican-controlled Senate.  The chances of such a bill getting a vote in the Senate are next to none. The odds that President Trump would sign that legislation, also, are essentially zero.

Not all hope is lost for Democrats who seriously hope to reign in ICE. After gaining a majority of seats in the House of Representatives in the midterm elections, Democrats now control one chamber of Congress.  This means that they will have majorities on the committees that debate and craft legislation. Of all the committees in the House, Appropriations is perhaps the most powerful. The reason is that in this committee legislation dealing with the budgets for governmental activities is debated and negotiated.

Concerning immigration policy, Democrats have one option in the Appropriations Committee – pass appropriation bills that defund ICE’s mission to detain, arrest, and remove people.  Yes, the Republican-controlled Senate also has an Appropriations Committee. But now, Senate Republicans must seriously negotiate with the Democrats in the House for funding to move forward.

Progressive Democrats who want to seek real change in terms of immigration have a clear opportunity to turn a slogan into policy.  Democrats may make speeches on the House floor to denounce child separation or abuses in detention centers. Such posturing does nothing to limit ICE’s power.  In the Appropriations Committee, they now have an option to make true change.  The question is if this incoming class of Democrats will have the courage to make good on their campaign promises.

Categories: News for progressives

Why (Mostly) Men Trophy Hunt: a Biocultural Explanation

Counterpunch - Tue, 2018-11-20 16:00

Photo Source Robert Tadlock | CC BY 2.0

Wolves do not stay anywhere for long. This is partly a function of their prey’s movement, but it’s also a function of being hunted for seven months of the year, at least in Montana, where residents can “harvest” up to five wolves for a paltry $19 dollars. A quick online search reveals dozens of images and videos of (mostly) men posing with wolves they had killed. The majority of the hunters are wearing what researchers K. R. Child and C. T. Darimont call “pleasure” or “killing” smiles. In their essay “Hunting for Trophies: Online Hunting Photographs Reveal Achievement Satisfaction with Large and Dangerous Prey,” the authors note that hunters’ smiles tend to be more pronounced when the prey is large and/or dangerous, that is, as opposed to when they pose with smaller and presumably less dangerous animals of the same species.

Similarly, a cursory glance of online images of wolf hunts (which is all I can stomach) supports this finding by showing all the creative ways that hunters display and accentuate the size of their trophies. Some men carry the wolf across their shoulders. Others string up, lay out, or hold up the wolf to show its length, height, or mass. Another pose motif shows the hunter, often with gun in hand, kneeling behind and standing up the wolf so that it appears to be alive.  One hunter—I will call him “the artist”—went so far as to prop up the wolf on a moss-covered rock.  But the wolf’s size is not the only cause for celebration; so too is the fearsome appearance of the wolf’s teeth, which hunters often display, apparently, to show how much danger they were in as they hid in their blinds and shot the wolf from 150 yards away.  The hunter’s killing smile tells only one part of the story, however.

Referring to images of hunters with their quarry, Edward Abbey observed how dead animals have a more powerful presence than do the humans who killed them.  Dead animals that remain intact are also more beautiful.  Although 99% of the time I don’t agree with killing wolves, I understand (which is not the same as agreeing with) a rancher or herder’s decision to kill a wolf in defense of his livestock.  But I will never understand why anyone would kill a wolf (or any other predator/carnivore) otherwise.  And I’m not alone in my efforts to fathom this bizarre, perverse, and baffling behavior. In their article The Dark Triad and animal cruelty: Dark personalities, dark attitudes, and dark behaviors, Samantha James and her colleagues document a correlation between some sport or trophy hunters and a trio of undesirable behaviors that they call the “dark triad.”  Narcissism (ego-driven admiration of oneself and no compassion), Machiavellianism, and, most notably perhaps, psychopathy, which is characterized by a profound lack of empathy, among other socially undesirable behaviors.

I have never trophy or sport hunted, nor personally observed a trophy hunt, but I have unwittingly caught the last few minutes of a hunting show that featured a hunter who could have been the poster child for the dark triad.  He had travelled from his home state of Missouri to hunt coyotes in southeastern Arizona, though his methods required one to have an extremely loose definition of hunting as well as a strong stomach.  Although I am not a hunter, I am familiar with the tools and techniques hunters use to kill the animals I study.  One tool is the call or caller, which calls in the target by mimicking survival relevant vocalizations in its environment, including the cries of distressed fauns and rabbits.  Calls can be made manually (usually with the hands and mouth) or with technology that ranges from a whistle-like tool made of wood, to electronic devices that broadcast recordings of attractive sounds.

Apparently lacking the ability to manually call in his quarry, the hunter set up an electronic caller on the side of a ridge, where he broadcasted the cries of a distressed rabbit and waited for his prey to appear.  After unceremoniously dispatching two coyotes with a rifle powerful enough to kill an animal three times the coyote’s size, the hunter set his sights on a bobcat that had come to investigate.  The feline, which was about half the size of the coyote, couldn’t have been more than 50 yards away, a distance that was reduced to mere feet with the aid of a high-powered scope mounted on the rifle.  The hunter made the shot and then, with a spring in his step, walked down and retrieved the bobcat, or rather, what was left of it.  As he neared the bloody and mangled jumble of fur and bone, he slowed down, as if he were beholding something magical.  Then he lifted up the cat by the scruff of the neck.

“I gut-shot it,” he said excitedly, which was both odd and unnecessary because anyone with eyes could see that the cat’s entire midsection was gone and the only thing holding it together was its spine.

Then something strange and unexpected happened: The hunter began to cry-talk, or talk and cry at the same time.  Cry-talking invites a mixed reaction (plus it’s hard on the ears), but I was glad he did because otherwise I wouldn’t have really known why he was crying.  “This is an emotional experience for me,” he said as he dropped the ruined bobcat on the ground.  His face was coated with dust so I could see the paths his tears had taken.  Then he wiped them away, looked right at the camera, and explained how he had always wanted to shoot a bobcat, and now he could finally say that he had.  Then he looked down at the bobcat and said again that it was an emotional experience. I’ve never been one to yell at the TV, but for this guy I made an exception.  Here he had just exploded this beautiful animal and the only thing he could think about was himself.

While these findings and this anecdote may illuminate the personalities or mindsets of trophy hunters, they don’t address why this mindset may exist in the first place.  For that we can look at Why men trophy hunt, a paper by Evolutionary Anthropologists Brian Codding and Kristen Hawkes, and Chris Darimont, a Conservation Scientist at the University of Victoria.  After finding the current hypotheses for why men trophy hunt (for meat, recreation, population control, among other apparent benefits) incomplete or implausible, Darimont, Hawkes, and Codding offer an evolutionary explanation for what they describe as this “perplexing activity.”

This “seemingly irrational behavior is resolved by costly signaling theory. . . [which] considers the social status and prestige that accrue to successful hunters.”  This explanation suggests that recreational hunters accrue status from the costs that they appear to absorb (economically and otherwise), despite the high risk of failure.  According to this view, from the audience’s perspective (particularly that of rivals and prospective mates), only the fittest of the fit can afford to hunt big-game or trophy animals, especially when the hunt is for large, and/or dangerous animals and has no guarantee of success.

While the signaling of non-human animal species tends to be more genuine, for humans what appears to be the case may be more important than what is actually case.  As the authors point out (and as the images of wolf hunters posing with dead wolves illustrate), regardless of their actual ability, “men generally target species that are not only large-bodied but also—and, importantly—impose high cost.”  The carcasses of large (and often inedible) animals aren’t just valued as food, but also serve as “a signal of the costs associated with the hunter’s accomplishment.”  Ultimately, then, the bigger the animal of any species, the greater the accomplishment.  The rewards of this signaling don’t end with killing the animal; rather, they begin with it. For in addition to the images of hunters with their prey, which are often posted on social media and can reach thousands of viewers, a common and well-documented practice among hunters is to have the whole or parts of the animal prepared for display.  (Perhaps the bobcat hunter cut off one of the animal’s paws or mounted its head with teeth exposed for this purpose).

Darimont, Hawkes, and Codding discuss how, in today’s global context, costly signaling theory of trophy hunting doesn’t just extend to the small social groups that were characteristic of our recent and evolutionary past, but to a world-wide audience.  Because of social media and the internet, today’s trophy hunters have signaling opportunities that would have been unthinkable to hunters of the past, as well as to hunters from extant hunter-gather societies.  Prior to the 2015 killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe, one of the consequences of this increased visibility was an uptick in trophy hunting and, in the case of some species, a hastening toward extinction. Despite claims that trophy hunting plays an important role in the conservation of threatened species, the anthropogenic Allee effect, which describes how “the demand and associated costs increase when otherwise unprofitable rare resources become attractive, thereby speeding up their decline,” suggest that these hunts, while contributing to local economies, may in fact be contrary to conservation.

For those of us who are interested in the practical applications of this paper’s findings, and how they might be used to discourage this destructive behavior, the authors recommend developing policies that diminish the perceived cost of trophy hunting so that it will no longer function as a costly signaling opportunity.  Given the international media coverage of Cecil’s death and the outrage that followed, the authors also suggest that public shaming may have a dampening effect on signaling by eroding the apparent status of the trophy hunter. Walter J. Palmer, the American dentist who killed Cecil and received hundreds of hateful messages, probably knows this as well as anyone.

Far from being perceived as a superior male and/or desirable mate, Palmer became the international persona non grata within days of killing Cecil.  If the years before Cecil’s death saw an increase in trophy hunting, the years after it saw a decrease that was so dramatic it became known as the Cecil Effect.  This result not only validates the authors’ call for more research into “the conditions that influence trophy hunting motivation,” it also provides proof of their prediction “that social media boasting about lion hunting declined following the widespread shaming after Cecil’s death.”  Together, these studies offer interesting insights into the biological basis of human behavior and, more importantly, the biologically responsive strategies for changing it.

Categories: News for progressives

Undercutting Female Circumcision

Counterpunch - Tue, 2018-11-20 16:00

Photo Source Amnon Shavit | CC BY 2.0

Malaysia has always been the land of myths in the colonial imagination. The myth about those who run amok when possessed by demons; the myth of the Pontianak, the female vampire, inhabiting banana trees; the myth of the lazy native.

Today, Malaysia is still the land of myths, though one has to be careful about the way the word myth is used.

Remember the two lesbians who were publically caned in Malaysia, but they were not really caned, just “forcefully tapped” with a rod? The myth here is about shariah punishment for sexual ‘crimes’ or ‘deviance’. Is the lashing of women sanctioned by the Quran? How is it to be done? To what extent is lashing actually carried out in Muslim countries? There are those who will also point out that caning as a form of punishment is part of the old British colonial penal code, forgetting that Malaysia is not obliged to retain this code and that this code is compatible with Islamic code.

The debate goes on and on. It becomes hard to tell what, actually, is going on from what people believe is going on, putting the caning of women in Malaysia in the realm of myth.

In the case of the lesbians, however, Malaysia proposed its own real and by no means mythical  ‘gentle’ solution. The Malaysian way of punishment is still extreme and humiliating, but there are varying degrees of extremism, as we know. The fact is, however, that there is no tradition of real, hard flesh-splitting caning of women in Malaysia. So why the need to mete out a ‘light’ form of it?

Now there is this news that a representative of the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry in Malaysia recently defended the practice of infant female circumcision in Malaysia at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. It is part of a Malaysian cultural “obligation”, he said.  But “the type of circumcision practiced is very mild and does not involve any cutting,” he added.

By cultural did he mean the Islamic culture of Malay Muslims, the largest ethnic group in Malaysia, since none of the other Malaysian ethnicities practice female circumcision? Ah, but female circumcision is not required in Islam. Yes it is. No, it isn’t. Like caning, the hijab and polygamy, people will argue endlessly about what is and isn’t required in Islam. Neighboring Singapore, too, which is not a Muslim majority country and is touted as one of the wealthiest, most modern city-states in the world, tolerates female circumcision within the Malay community there, though, to the best of my knowledge, it is Malaysia that speaks of it for the first time in terms of “no cutting involved”.

Circumcision without cutting? Incision implies cutting, circumcision means to cut around. So there is no Malaysian word for what is “mildly” done to the clitorises of babies? Even in the Malay language, the same word for male circumcision is used for female circumcision: sunat. The only difference is that the word perempuan—female—is added on, but that in itself tells us very little about the difference in technique in the two types of circumcision.

One would have to talk to the doctors to find out how, exactly, female circumcision is carried out in Malaysia, though even here the picture is unclear. This is just one of the many reasons why Malaysia’s Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) and other groups have slammed the government representative for giving misleading information to the UN.

As someone who has researched and written fiction about circumcision, the truth of the matter is that no Malay woman I know has been circumcised. This was never a part of my adolescent or adult conversations. I know a fair amount of Malays who have daughters and granddaughters. I also happen to have family members who are sociologists and Islamic philosophers, so I know the kind of advice that is sought from them and given.

Malaysian Muslim women may not know whether they are circumcised or not, people say. They may not remember what was done to them as babies or young girls. The men, too, may not even know, the joke being that so many men don’t even know where clit is or what it should look like.

Plus Malay women are reserved. They don’t like to talk about these things. Odd, then, why some are so willing to talk to the media about their private parts. Even the Deputy Prime Minister is calling attention to the clitorises of Malay women, the same Deputy Prime Minister who is trying to accommodate child marriage in the country. Malay women have spent decades getting themselves hijabed. Now the first thing that someone is going to think when they look at a Malay woman is: Is she circumcised?

I don’t like to assume that Malay women—city women or kampong women—are stupid and don’t know their own bodies. Anyway rumour has it, from men and women, that a lot of Malay women simply aren’t circumcised. And the few women I have heard claim that they are circumcised relate the experience almost as hearsay, a story about a story rather than an account of direct experience. We don’t even remember the details of the first time we get our teeth pulled, they say.

But it is dangerous to say that few Malaysian women are circumcised and to do so, in a way, would be to help the enemy side. If the general sense is that women are not circumcised, the risk is that measures will be stepped up to get them circumcised, with real cutting, and this is exactly what many don’t want to happen.

However, if Malaysia feels some sort of need to use women to show to the world that they are following Islamic traditions even though there is no consensus on what they are, this invention of ‘mild non-cutting’ can actually be quite subversive. It undercuts the will to a horrible and unnecessary practice.

Maybe doctors who are pressured into carrying out this ritual, when they are in cold surgical rooms with female babies, they simply say a prayer over clit. Maybe that is what mild non-cutting is.

Whatever the case, the message is that the sexuality of Malay women has to be regulated, and somebody is making decisions over their bodies since the decision to circumcise them is made when they are babies or young girls.

Perhaps the most persistent myth of all is the notion that if you control sexuality, society will be more moral and ethical. The Victorian era has shown us that this is simply not true. And Malaysia still remains a country that certainly does not have a clean corruption record. It still has one of the biggest political and financial scandals involving the former Prime Minister and his wife hanging over its head.

Masturah Alatas is the author of The Life in the Writing (Marshall Cavendish, 2010) and The Girl Who Made It Snow in Singapore (Ethos Books, 2008). She is currently working on a novel about polygamy. Masturah teaches English at the University of Macerata in Italy, and can be contacted atalatas@unimc.it    

 

Categories: News for progressives

Global Oil Price Deflation 2018 and Beyond

Counterpunch - Tue, 2018-11-20 15:57

Photo Source wongaboo | CC BY 2.0

One of the key characteristics of the 2008-09 crash and its aftermath (i.e. chronic slow recovery in US and double and triple dip recessions in Europe and Japan) was a significant deflation in prices of global oil. After attaining well over $100 a barrel in 2007-08, crude oil prices plummeted, hitting a low of only $27 a barrel in January 2016. They slowly but steadily rose again in 2016-17 and peaked at about $80 a barrel this past summer 2018. Now the retreat has started once again, falling to a low of $55 in October and remain around $56 today, likely to fall further in 2019 now that Japan and Europe appear entering yet another recession and US growth almost certainly slowing significantly in 2019. With the potential for a US recession rising in late 2019 oil price deflation may continue into the near future. What will this mean for the global and US economies?

The critical question is what is the relationship between global oil price deflation, financial instability and crises, and recession–something mainstream economists don’t understand very well? Is the current rapid retreat of oil prices since August 2018 an indicator of more fundamental forces underway in the global and US economy? Will oil price deflation exacerbate, or even accelerate, the drift toward recession globally now underway? What about financial asset markets stability in general? What can be learned from the 2008 through 2015 experience?

In my 2016 book, ‘Systemic Fragility in the Global Economy’ and its chapter on deflation’s role in crises, I explained that oil is not just a commodity but, since the 1990s, has functioned as an important financial asset whose price affects other forms of financial assets (stocks, bonds, derivatives, currencies, etc.). Financial asset price volatility in general (bubbles and deflation) have a greater impact on the real economy than mainstream economists, who generally don’t understand financial markets and cycles, think. Hence they don’t understand how financial cycles interact with real business cycles. This applies as well to their understanding of oil prices as financial asset prices, not just commodity prices.

For my comments on global oil deflation in 2014-15, go to my website for the excerpt from the chapter from the ‘Systemic Fragility’ book that explain the role of global crude oil prices as financial asset prices. This article is reproduced, with the excerpts from 2016, from the book. Go to: http://kyklosproductions.com/articles.html)

Oil Price Deflation Revisited 2018

Oil is a commodity whose price is determined by the interaction of supply and demand; but it is also a financial asset the price of which is determined by global finance capitalists’ speculation in oil futures markets and the competition between various forms of financial assets globally. For the new global finance capital elite (also addressed in the book) look at the returns on investment (e.g. profits) from financial asset investing globally—choosing between oil futures, stocks, bonds, derivatives, currencies, real estate on a worldwide basis.

The price of crude oil futures drives the price of crude oil in the short and medium term, as a commodity as speculators bet on oil supply and demand; and the relative price of other types of financial assets in part also determine the demand of oil speculators for oil futures.

What this means is that simply applying supply and demand analysis to determine the direction of crude oil prices globally is not sufficient. Neither supply nor demand has changed since August 2018 by 30% to explain the 30% drop in crude oil to its current mid-$50s range; nor will it explain where oil prices will go in 2019. Nevertheless, that’s what we hear from economists today trying to explain the recent drop or predict the trajectory of global oil price deflation in 2019.

What Mainstream Economists Don’t Understand

Mainstream economists are indoctrinated in the idea that only supply and demand determine prices. It harkens back to the influence of classical economics of the 18th century and Adam Smith. Supply and demand are the appearance of price determination. What matters are the forces behind, beneath and below that cause the changes in supply and demand. Those forces are the real determinants. But mainstream economists typically deal at the surface of appearances, which is why their forecasts of economic directions in the medium and longer term are so poor.

Looking at recent explanations and analyses by mainstream economists, and their echo in the business media, we get the following view:

First, it is clear that there are three major sources of oil supply globally today: US production driven by technology and the shale fracking revolution. Second, Russian production. Third, OPEC, within which Saudi Arabia and its allies, UAE, Kuwait, etc. Each produce about 10-11 million barrels per day, or bpd.

Since this summer, US fracking has resulted in roughly an additional 670,000 barrels a day by October compared to last July 2018. Both Saudi and Russian production has added roughly 700,000 more, each respectively. Offsetting the supply increase, in part, has been a reduction in output by Venezuela and Iran—both driven by US sanctions and, in the case of Venezuela, US longer term efforts to prevent the upgrading and maintenance of Venezuelan production.

The more than 2 million bpd increase in global crude oil supply by the global oil troika of US- Russia-Saudi has, on the surface, appeared as a collapse in global oil prices from $80 to $55, or about 30% in just a few months. Projections are supply increases will drive global oil prices still lower in 2019: US forecasts for 2019 are for an average of 12.06 million bpd; for Russia an average of 11.4 million bpd; and for Saudi an average of 10.6 million bpd. (Sources: EIA and OPEC secretariat).

Demand & Supply as Mere Appearance

So the appearance is that supply will drive global oil prices still lower in 2019. But what about demand? Will the forces behind it drive oil price deflation even further? And what about other financial asset markets’ price deflation? Will declines in stock, bond, derivatives, and currencies prices result in financial capitalist investors increasing their demand for oil futures as they shift investing from the collapse of values in those financial markets to oil? Or will it reduce their investing in oil futures as other financial asset markets prices deflate, as a psychological contagion effect spreads across financial asset markets in general, oil futures included?

While mainstreamers focus on and argue that pure supply considerations will predict the price of oil, my analysis insists that a deeper consideration of forces are necessary. What’s driving, and will continue to drive, oil prices are Politics, other financial markets’ price deflation, and Demand that will be driven by renewed recessions in the major advanced economies (Europe, Japan, then US, and continued GDP slowdown in China).

As global economic growth slows, now clearly underway, more than half of the world’s oil producers will increase oil production. Russia, Venezuela, Iraq, smaller African and Asia producers, are dependent on oil sales to finance much of their government budgets. As real growth slows, and recessions appear or worsen, deficits will rise further requiring more government revenues from oil sales. What these countries can’t generate in revenues from prices they will attempt to generate from more sales volume. Even Saudi Arabia has entered this group, as it seeks to generate more revenue to finance the development of its non-energy based economy plans.

So Russia and much of OPEC for political reasons will increase supply because of slowing economies—i.e. because of Demand originally and Supply only secondarily. As the global economy continues to slow Demand forces trump those of Supply. But the two are clearly mutually determined. It’s just that Demand has now become more determining and will remain so into 2019.

Debt as a Driver of Global Oil Deflation

But what’s ultimately behind the Demand forces at work? In the US it’s technology, the fracking revolution, driving down the cost of oil production and thus its price. It’s also corporate debt, often of the junk quality, that has financed the investment behind the oil production output rise. Drillers are loaded with junk bond debt, often short term, that they must pay for, or soon roll over now at a higher interest rate in 2019 and beyond. They must produce and sell more oil to pay for the new technology driven investment of recent years. And as the price falls they must produce and sell still more to generate the revenue to pay the interest and principal on that debt.

So is it really Supply, or is it more fundamentally the debt and technology that’s driving US shale output, that in turn is adding to downward global price pressures? Is it Supply or is it the way that Supply has been financed by capitalist markets?

Similarly, in the case of Russia and much of OPEC, is it Supply or is it the need of those countries to finance their government growing debt loads (and budgets in general) by generating more sales revenue from more oil output, even as the price of oil falls and thereby threatens that oil revenue stream?

Whether at the corporate or government level, the acceleration of debt in recent years is behind the forces driving excess oil production and Supply that appears the cause of the emerging oil price deflation.

Politics as a Driver of Global Oil Deflation

Domestic and global politics is another related force in some cases. Clearly, Russia is engaged in an increase in its military research and other military-related government expenditures. Its governing elite is convinced the US is preparing to challenge its political independence: NATO penetration of the Baltics and Poland, the US-encouraged coup in the Ukraine, past US ventures in Georgia, etc. has led to Russian acceleration of its military expenditures. To continue its investment as the US attempts to impose further sanctions (designed to cut Russia connections with Europe in particular), and as Russia’s economy slows as it raises its domestic interest rates in order to protect its currency, Russia must produce and sell more oil globally. It thus generates more demand for its oil competitively by lowering its price. Demand for Russian oil increases—but not due to natural economic causes as the world economy slows. It increases because it shifts oil demand from other producers to itself.

Saudi politics are also in part behind its planned production increase. It has stepped up its military expenditures as well, both for its war in Yemen and its plans for a future conflict with Iran. The Saudi government investment in domestic infrastructure also requires it to generate more oil revenue in the short term.

The recent Russian-Saudi(OPEC) agreement to reduce or hold oil production steady has been a phony agreement, as actual and planned oil production numbers clearly reveal.

Not least, there’s the question of global financial asset markets’ in decline with falling asset prices and how that impacts the oil commodity futures financial asset market. Once again, changes in oil supply and demand simply do not fluctuate by 30% in just a couple months. The driver of oil prices since July 2018 must be financial speculation in oil futures.

Here it may be argued that investors are factoring in the slowing global economy, especially in Europe and Japan, in coming months. They may be shifting investment out of oil futures as a speculative price play, and into US currency and even stocks and bonds. Or into financial asset markets in China. Or speculating on returns in select emerging market currencies and stocks that have stabilized in the short term and may rise in value, producing a nice speculative gain in the short run. The new global finance capital elite looks at competitive returns globally, in all financial asset markets. It moves its money around quickly, from one asset play to another, enabled by technology, past removal of controls on global money capital flows, easy borrowing, and ability to move quickly in and out of what is a complex network of highly liquid financial asset markets worldwide. As it sees global demand and politics playing important short term roles in global oil price declines, it shifts investment out of oil futures and into other forms of financial assets elsewhere in the global economy. Less supply of money capital for investing in oil futures reduces the demand for oil futures, which in turn reduces demand for oil and crude oil prices in general.

Conclusion

What this foregoing discussion and analysis suggests is the following:

• Looking at oil supply solely or even primarily is to look at appearances only

• But Supply & Demand analyses of oil prices are also superficial analyses of appearances. They are intermediate causal factors at best.

• What matters are real forces that more fundamentally determine supply and demand

• Politics, technology, and debt financing are more fundamental forces driving supply and demand in the intermediate and longer run.

• Oil is not just a commodity, since the 1990s especially; it has become a financial asset whose price is determined in the short run increasingly by speculative investing shifts by global finance capital elites.

• As financial assets, oil prices are determined in the short run globally by the relative price of other competing financial assets and their prices

• The structure of the global economy in the 21st century is such that a new global finance capital elite has arisen, betting on a wide choice of financial assets available in highly liquid financial asset markets, across which the elite moves investments quickly and easily due to new enabling technologies and past deregulation of cross-country money capital flows

To summarize, as it appears increasingly that politics (domestic budgets and revenue needs, US sanctions, rising military expenditures, trade wars, etc.) and a slowing global economy are causing downward pressure on oil demand and thus oil prices; this price pressure is exacerbated by a corresponding increase in production and supply as a result of rising corporate and government debt and debt-servicing needs. However, in the very short run of weekly and monthly price change, it is global oil speculators betting on further oil price deflation and shifting asset investment returns elsewhere that is the primary driver of global oil deflation.

Global oil prices are in determined by other financial asset market price deflation underway in the short term, and in turn determine in part price deflation in other financial asset markets. Global oil prices cannot be understood apart from understanding what’s happening with other financial asset markets and prices.

Understanding and predicting oil prices is thus not simply an exercise in superficial supply and demand analysis, and even less so an exercise primarily in forecasting announcements of production output plans by the big three troika of US-Russia-Saudi.

Categories: News for progressives

Why High Technology’s Double-Edged Sword is So Hard to Swallow

Counterpunch - Tue, 2018-11-20 15:55

Photo Source thierry ehrmann | CC BY 2.0

“If big tech companies are going to turn their back on US Department of Defense, this country is going to be in trouble…We are going to continue to support the DOD and I think we should.”

~ Amazon founder and DoD contractor Jeff Bezos at the WIRED25 summit

The world’s wealthiest individual went on to acknowledge, “Technologies always are two-sided. There are ways they can be misused.” Convinced that they are being misused, Google employees mounted a protest that caused Alphabet (Google’s parent company) to step back from a contract to develop AI pattern recognition technology for targeting military drones, worrying the Pentagon.

More recently, thousands of employees at scores of Google facilities worldwide staged a walkout (chronicled here) over gender inequality and sexual harassment. At a time when women in tech are demanding to be treated respectfully and paid and promoted equally, two pioneering women engineers in the male-dominated national intelligence community have quietly been shaping the technology landscape for three decades. Any complaints they may have had about working conditions along the way are presumably classified, but we can probably guess what they are.

At least one of the women, Sue Gordon, is among defense and intelligence officials scurrying to Silicon Valley on damage control missions, prodding tech leaders to “have the same fierce commitment to align technology with public purpose,” as Ash Carter, who directs the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Belfer Center recently editorialized in Wired (9/14/18). The former Secretary of Defense, who also runs the Kennedy School’s Project on Technology and Public Purpose, disparagingly contrasted current high tech leaders to his “mentors in subatomic physics …from the Manhattan Project. They were proud to have created nuclear weapons that helped end World War II.” If those scientists were so proud of their work, why did they straightaway wind up that still-ticking Doomsday Clock?

The Bomb, digital computers, the Internet, Google Maps, and the Maven project that Google is abandoning were or stemmed from government-funded R&D projects employing scientists and engineers from government, academia and industry. NASA has long partnered likewise, as has the Department of Energy. The government likes to call such projects “dual use,” as they have both civilian and military applications. Yet, many serve a single purpose, which of course is to align corporate agendas with US foreign policy to achieve world domination.

This didn’t happen overnight. Odious fruits of technology—machine guns, tanks, aircraft, and chemical agents—made the Great War the Great Horror. In the next one, better-organized collaborations built weapon systems that defeated the Axis nations. After Japan’s surrender came a reorganized military and a new intelligence establishment that soon begat the military-industrial complex (MIC) that President Eisenhower warned us about in 1956. From the Korean “police action” onwards, that burgeoning war machine has evaded Congressional oversight and brainwashed Americans to acquiesce to one unwinnable war after another. It’s a long, sordid story, well told by David Talbot in his chilling biography of the CIA’s redoubtable Director (and fascist sympathizer) Allen Dulles, The Devil’s Chessboard.

The exception to the MIC’s failed ventures, of course, was winning the Cold War by way of bankrupting the USSR in an arms race. That surprise outcome must have come as somewhat of a disappointment to the MIC, which had managed to keep US forces engaged somewhere or another pretty much every single day since WWII. But détente with Russia left the war machine hard pressed to justify its muscle-bound posture. Writing in CounterPunch, Jason Hirthler depicts Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin Powell’s lamentation that the gravy train was about to derail:

“Shortly after the fall of Communism in the Soviet Union, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Colin Powell, made a candid confession to the Army Times, ‘I’m running out of demons, I’m running out of villains. I’m down to Castro and Kim Il Sung.’ Amid the general bonhomie of the military interview, Powell nicely encapsulated a central truth of empire: it doesn’t want peace. Never did. Imperialism, the monopoly stage of capitalism, is based on conquest. Peace is little more than an aftermath in the imperialist vision”

But Colin didn’t have to shed tears for long. The Iranian revolution and its war with Iraq, and then the Gulf War and 9/11 came along to top off his enemies list. War planners dubbed oil-rich nations “rogue states” and non-state Islamic insurgents “terrorists.” Subsequent US occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan generated hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties that spawned revengeful jihadists, guaranteeing that we would be on a war footing for the foreseeable future, exactly the sort of outcome the planners had hoped for. Most of our new adversaries wielded weapons made in the USA that US export controls somehow had failed to interdict, requiring us to build more apace.

* * *

Ever since the WWII, computing technology evolved in lock step with “national needs.” The Internet—the mightiest surveillance system the world has ever known—was built by academics and corporations with DoD seed money in the early 1960s. But once high-tech employees started objecting to doing the DoD’s dirty work, their companies sought to distance themselves from the MIC, leading defense and intelligence thinkers like Ash Carter to criticize tech leaders as being insufficiently patriotic and have been campaigning to keep Silicon Valley from escaping its orbit around the Pentagon.

Currently, that campaign seems to be spearheaded by Deputy Director of National Intelligence Sue Gordon, who unabashedly dubs herself the “chief operating officer of the intelligence community.” Gordon makes frequent forays out to the Valley to soften up tech execs. Emily Dreyfuss (Wired, 11/9/18) quotes Gordon as telling Google executives “We’re in the same business. And they’re like ‘What?’ And I said: ‘Using information for good.’” Yeah, right.

Beyond her talent for evangelizing, during her 30-year stint at CIA (a tenure as long as that of current CIA Director and ex-grand inquisitor Gina Haspell), Gordon has tirelessly fostered many “public-private partnerships,” building out the MIC one brick at a time. Two decades back, Dreyfuss notes that she inspired the agency to spin off In-Q-Tell, a venture capital tech accelerator perhaps best known for bankrolling Keyhole, whose mapping software spawned Google Earth and Maps. Google stores our geospatial inquiries, you know, and might not always keep that data to itself. There are hundreds more that CrunchBase has cataloged.

Actually, it wasn’t Gordon who inspired In-Q-Tel, as Dreyfuss asserts. Rather, it was another influential secret team technologist, Ruth David (who headed the Central Intelligence Agency Directorate of Science & Technology in the 1990s). But Sue Gordon is no slouch. Her bio for Aspen Institute trumpets that in her 27 years of service at CIA, she rose to senior executive positions in each of the Agency’s four directorates: operations, analysis, science and technology, and support in her lifelong mission to use information for good.

Some fun facts about In-Q-Tel: according to Wikipedia, in its 19 years of existence In-Q-Tel has invested in 12 hardware, 50 software, 18 biotech, 8 energy, 10 electronics, 18 biotech, 8 electric power, 9 electronics, 13 video, 10 sensor network, and 9 data center and security start-up firms. From Internet protocols to autonomous vehicles and facial recognition, In-Q-Tel fueled private companies to push the technological envelope while serving their country in ways they can only imagine. Find more details about its investments at craft.co.

Dr. David went on to lead Analytic Services (ANSER, nee 1958), a Falls Church, VA nonprofit military think tank and project management firm, for 17 years, retiring in 2015 with three commendations and a medal from the national security agencies she had worked for. Bloomberg Research tells us that ANSER:

“focuses on agencies and analytic processes used to prepare for future global threats across the federal sector; helping clients to meet the challenges of a complex and uncertain global security environment characterized by persistent threats to the homeland and the U.S. national interests; and activities where government entities must work together to address national security challenges through the implementation of common and intersecting functions.”

The company reports that in 2001, under David’s direction, it “invested its personnel and assets to create the ANSER Institute for Homeland Security, a center for exploring issues related to that critical subject.” Funded by DHS, its mission is to muster technology to analyze and mitigate security threats, vulnerabilities and risks. (It may have been involved with is the Obama-era Insider Threat Program that seeks to identify, profile, and monitor potential leakers of secret information that I have discussed here.) ANSER also brags, “for 60 years, the research and analysis we provide has ‘informed decisions that shape our Nation’s future.’ We can all take pride in that legacy” (just as Jeff Bezos does). Informed decisions like how best to militarize space, subject travelers to face and body scans, or implement martial law.

The latter was the specialty of one William Brinkerhoff, who joined ANSER after a long career, first in the Army and later at FEMA. There, from 1981 to 1984 he supported Oliver North (later of Iran-Contra fame) to detail a closely held plan to contain civil disturbances called REX-84 (short for Readiness Exercise 1984). Brinkerhoff, who wasn’t a lawyer, drafted executive orders providing for suspension of the constitution, the imposition of martial law, internment camps, and investing all government authority in the president and FEMA, since folded into the Department of Homeland Security.

There is no mention of him on ANSER’s website, and hardly anywhere else. But in a chatty 2002 article he wrote while at ANSER he argued that domestic deployments need not violate Posse Comitatus, the 1878 post-reconstruction statute civil libertarians enjoy citing in opposition to fielding federal troops as enforcers of civil law (such as at the US-Mexico border currently). He cites the Posse Comitatus Act in full:

“Whoever, except in cases and under circumstances expressly authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress, willfully uses any part of the Army or the Air Force as a posse comitatus or otherwise to execute the laws shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.”

Brinkerhoff argues that Posse Comitatus applies only to the Army and the Air Force (formerly part of the Army), and not to the other armed services, the National Guard, even when under state control, or to military police units. Furthermore, it does not prevent

“…the President from using federal troops in riots or civil disorders. Federal troops were used for domestic operations more than 200 times in the two centuries from 1795 to 1995. Most of these operations were to enforce the law, and many of them were to enforce state law rather than federal law. Nor does it prevent the military services from supporting local or federal law enforcement officials as long as the troops are not used to arrest citizens or investigate crimes.”

He concludes:

“It is time to rescind the existing Posse Comitatus Act and replace it with a new law. The old law is widely misunderstood and unclear. It leaves plenty of room for people to do unwise and perhaps unlawful things while trying to comply with their particular version. It certainly does not provide a basis for defining a useful relationship of military forces and civil authority in a global war with terrorism. The Posse Comitatus Act is an artifact of a different conflict-between freedom and slavery or between North and South, if you prefer. Today’s conflict is also in a sense between freedom and slavery, but this time it is between civilization and terrorism. New problems often need new solutions, and a new set of rules is needed for this issue.”

So Freedom equals Civilization and Slavery Terrorism? Is that why the US has been fighting terrorism at the expense of freedom, posse comitatus notwithstanding? And from where will come the new solutions? Technology evangelists like Ms. Davis and Ms. Gordon, cloud seeders like In-Q-Tel, and insider policy mavens like ANSER are happy to help Americans to choose between civilization and terror and pay to fight and lose more wars. Wars that are planned and run by leaders who, of course, only use information for good, including the profiles of citizens they have amassed. It could turn out that one of those “persistent threats to the homeland and U.S. national interests” such as ANSER duly identifies could be you, should you object loudly enough. When they come for you because you spoke up, you’ll be given the right to remain silent. How civilized, how free we are. 

Categories: News for progressives

Charges Under Seal: US Prosecutors Get Busy With Julian Assange

Counterpunch - Tue, 2018-11-20 15:53

Photo Source Michael Mayer | CC BY 2.0

Those with a stake in the hustling racket of empire have little time for the contrariness that comes with exposing classified information.  Those who do are submitted to a strict liability regime of assessment and punishment: you had the information (lawfully obtained or otherwise) but you released it for public deliberation.  Ignorance remains a desensitising shield, keeping the citizenry in permanent darkness.

Critics indifferent to the plight of Julian Assange have seen his concerns for prosecution at the hands of US authorities as the disturbed meditations of a sexualised fantasist.  He should have surrendered to the British authorities and, in turn, to the Swedish authorities.  It was either insignificant or irrelevant that a Grand Jury had been convened to sniff around the activities of WikiLeaks to identify what, exactly, could be used against the organisation and its founder.

Cruelty and truth are often matters of excruciating banality, and now it is clearer than ever that the United States will, given the invaluable chance, net the Australian publisher and WikiLeaks founder to make an example of him.  This man, who dirtied the linen of state and exposed the ceremonial of diplomatic hypocrisy, was always an object of interest, notably in the United States.  “He was,” confirmed Andrea Kendall-Taylor, former deputy national intelligence officer for Russia under the director of national intelligence, “a loathed figure inside the government.”

Whether it was the Central Intelligence Agency, the US Department of Justice, or the specific army of investigators assembled by special counsel Robert Mueller III to weasel out material on the Trump-Russia connection, Assange remains a substantial figure who needs to be captured, sealed and disappeared.  Forget any such references to journalism and being a truth teller with obsessive tendencies; for these officials, Assange had become a calculating machine in the information market, a broker in state details and activities, trading and according value to subject matters of his choice.

A gnawing fascination for US authorities persists on whether Assange has a direct, cosy line to the Kremlin. Fashioned as such, it can be used as a weapon against President Donald J. Trump, and a cover for Democratic villainy and incompetence.  In terms of scale and endeavour, WikiLeaks has been kitted out in the outfit of a guerrilla information organisation. This exceedingly flattering description may well have given Assange a flush of pride, but it assumes a measure of disproportionate influence.  It also ignores the vital issue of how public discussion, which may well translate into voting patterns, can alter policy.  (This, it should be added, remains the big hypothetical: does such information induce an altered approach, or simply reaffirm prejudice and predisposition?  The flat-earth theorist is hardly going to be moved by anything that would conflict or challenge.)

Both the New York Times and Washington Post revealed last Friday that prosecutors had inadvertently let a rather sizeable cat out of the security bag. (That feline escapee was noted by Seamus Hughes, a terrorism expert at the Program on Extremism at George Washington University.) As with so much with matters of secrecy, errors made lead to information gained.  In the filing of a case unrelated to Assange, Assistant US Attorney General Kellen S. Dwyer informed the relevant judge to keep the matter at stake sealed, claiming that “due to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged.”

Dwyer, whose remit also includes investigating WikiLeaks, had bungled.  “The court filing,” claimed a meek Joshua Stueve of the US attorney’s office in the Eastern District of Virginia, “was made in error.  This was not the intended name for this filing.”

What is not known is the nature of the charges and what events they might cover.  Do they date back to the days of Cablegate or feature updates with the Vault 7 revelations showing the range of cyber tools deployed by the CIA to penetrate mobile devices and computers?  Or do they feature the trove of hacked Democratic emails which constitute a feature of the Mueller investigation?  Charges might well centre on using 18 USC §641, which makes it unlawful for a person to receive any record or thing of value of the United States with intent to convert it to his use or gain, knowing that it was stolen.  But even there, the issue of press protections would apply.

Prosecutors have previously flirted with conspiracy, theft of government authority and purported violations of the Espionage Act, but the Obama administration, for all its enthusiasm in nabbing Assange kept coming up against that irritating bulwark of liberty, some would say impediment, known as the First Amendment.  Prosecute Assange, and you would be effectively prosecuting the battlers of the Fourth Estate, however withered they might be.

The free speech amendment, however, does not trouble current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who, as CIA director, claimed that, “We have to recognize that we can no longer allow Assange and his colleagues the latitude to use free speech values against us.”

A niggling concern here lies in Justice Department regulations, as amended by Eric Holder in 2015, which cover the obtaining of information and records from, making arrests of, and bringing charges against members of the press.  As Susan Hennessey, Quinta Jurecic, Matthew Kahn and Benjamin Wittes point out in Lawfare, one exception stands out with sore attention: “The protections of the policy do not extent to any individual or entity where there are reasonable grounds to believe that the individual entity is … [a] foreign power or an agent of a foreign power”, so defined in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.  The mania in packaging, ribbon and all, of Assange with those in the Kremlin becomes clear. To make  him a foreign threat takes him outside the scope of press protection, at least when it comes to those desperately drafted regulations.

Since US voters cannot be trusted by the country’s corporate owners and the parties of business to act with any degree of maturity and intelligence, it has been assumed by the political classes that they must have been swayed and manipulated by a foreign power.  Or fake news.  Or news.  That assessment obviates any issue as to whether the Clinton machinery within the Democratic Party did its fair share of manipulation and swaying – but then again, quibbles can’t be had, nor hairs split on this point.  Keeping it local, and attacking the Great Bear fused with Satan that is Russia, frosted with new Cold War credentials, remains the low-grade, convenient alibi to justify why the backed horse did not make it to the finishing line.  To Assange would be small though consoling compensation.

Categories: News for progressives

America Fiddles While California Burns

Counterpunch - Tue, 2018-11-20 15:52

President Trump ordered 5,600 American troops to the Mexican border to stop around 3,500 poverty- and violence- fleeing Central American migrants from seeking asylum in the United States, while the worst wildfires in California’s history were destroying homes, killing people and displacing thousands more. To motivate his base to vote in the midterm elections, Trump whipped up the unarmed Caravan of men, women and children, weeks away from the U. S., as a threatening “invasion,” while strong winds continued to whip up flames of death and destruction upon drought-stricken Californians.   As American troops strung barbed wire at the Mexican border to block the migrants and their dreams of safety, residents in Northern and Southern California were seeing their dreams go up in smoke.  As the heavily body-armored American troops sat around and suffered from heat exhaustion while waiting for the weary, slow-moving caravan to arrive, thousands of exhausted California firefighters battled three major wildfires, as they waited for out-of-state crews to arrive. (See  “Deployed Inside the United States: The Military Waits for the Migrant Caravan” By Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Helene Cooper, The New York Times, Nov. 17, 2018; and “California wildfires leave at least 66 dead with more than 600 still missing,” ABC News Radio, abc7.com,, Nov. 13, 2018)

Now that the midterm elections are over, President Trump is no longer harping about the threatened “invasion of our country” by a caravan of “very bad people.”   But he has finally taken notice of the deadly California wildfires, blaming them on “gross mismanagement of the forests” and threatening to withhold federal funds if the mismanagement were not corrected “now.”   The Pasadena Fire Association responded in a tweet: “The fires in SoCal are urban interface fires and have NOTHING to do with forest management. Come to SoCal and learn the facts & help the victims.” (“Trump blames California forest policies for deadly wildfires,” By Politico Staff, POLITICO, Nov. 10, 2018)

President Trump finally went to California, but apparently still did not “learn the facts.”  He was quoted as “promising to help the state recover but repeating his disputed view that forest management was to blame for the fire, the most destructive in California’s history.” (“Trump, Touring Fire Ruins in California, Repeats Disputed Claim on Forest Management,” By Thomas Fuller, The New York Times, Nov. 17, 2018)

Gross mismanagement?   American troops are fiddling at the Mexican border while California burns.  They, along with as many more troops as needed, should be in California, using their skills and equipment to assist overburdened firefighters seeking to save the lives and property of people and help victims – and protect domestic animals and wildlife as well.  What a waste of U.S. resources at the Mexican border to prevent migrants from exercising their right to apply for asylum – while California burns!

Along with California, America fiddles while our bipartisan government’s so-called global “war on terror” continues to burn.  Former president George W. Bush used the horrific 9/11 attacks against America as a pretext for starting a “worldwide war on terrorism.”  The Bush administration then launched unnecessary, falsely-based, bipartisan-supported, wars against Afghanistan and Iraq – which have become endless, spreading wars — and thus have provided endless profit for the military/industrial/energy/intelligence/evangelical faith complex.

A recent report on “The Costs of War” issued by Brown University’s Watson Institute estimates that “the United States’ so-called [global] War on Terrorism has killed about a half a million people in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan,” and “about half of those killed were civilians.”  However, “the number of indirect deaths – because, for example, of war-related disease – is several times larger.” (“Half Million Killed by America’a Global War on Terror ‘Just Scratches the Surface’ of Human Destruction,” by Jessica Corbett, staff writer, commondreams.org,Nov. 9, 2018)

The “global war on terrorism’s” casualties also include “6,951 US military and “7,820” US contractors killed – and tens of thousands of US soldiers wounded. (“Human Cost of the Post 9/11 Wars: Lethality and the Need for Transparency,” By Neta C. Crawford, Watson Institute, Brown University, Nov. 2018)

If one googles the Watson Institute’s “Cost of Wars” report, it will be found in certain alternative media, but not in many mainstream newspapers.  And few, if any mainstream media columnists will be found citing the wars’ cost and criminality and calling for the prosecution of the proponents.

But the Watson Institute’s report can be found in media outlets in Turkey, India and Japan, and in Al Jazeera News.  And the report’s horrible reality is also disclosed in a tweet by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif:

”US’ so-called ‘War on Terror’ has cost 500K+ lives.  110K+ dead just since Debacle has caused destruction of Iraq, Syria, Libya & Yemen.  It has spawned ISIS & multiple Al Qaeda affiliates.  Cost to US taxpayers: 7K dead Americans + $5.6 trillion.  Cost to MidEast: unfathomable.” (“Half Million Killed by America’s  Global War on Terror ‘Just Scratches the Surface’ of Human Destruction,” (“New Report Finds Half Million Killed by Global ‘War on Terror,’“ By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams, truthout.org, Nov. 10, 2018)

Not just ”gross mismanagement.”  Gross criminality!

The president who ignited this disastrous criminal war, George W. Bush, remains at large.  In fact, he is treated as a statesman: his words on foreign policy becoming front page news.  Like his speech in Washington, warning of “the dangers of Isolation” presented by President Trump’s policies.  Bush turned reality on its head in stating, “American is indispensable for the world. The price of greatness is responsibility.  One cannot rise to be in many ways the leading community in the civilized world without  being involved in its problems, without being convulsed by its agonies and inspired by its causes.”  (“George W. Bush touts ‘dangers of isolation’ as Trump pulls out of Iran deal,” By Javier De Diego and Alessia Grunbrger ,CNN, May 11, 2018)  Bush and his “civilized” administration “convulsed” the Middle East with immeasurable “agonies” – that continue unabated.

Thus, world-renowned linguist, author and political activist Noam Chomsky is reported to have called “the US invasion of Iraq ‘the worst war crime of this century.’ “  Chomsky referred to “It’s horrible effects: it spawned sectarian conflicts that are tearing the region apart.  . . . The very idea of invading is criminal.”  But, he continued, “Try to find someone who describes it as a crime. Obama is praised because he describes (the Iraq War) as a mistake.  But does he describe it as a crime, does anyone?” (“Noam Chomsky: 2003 ‘Invasion of Iraq is the Worst Crime’ of21st Century,” Sputnik International, 10 28, 2015)

In launching his administration’s global “war on terror,” former president Bush declared, “This crusade, this war on terror is going to take a while,  . . . And the American people must be patient. . . . It is time for us to win the first war of the 21stcentury decisively,” he continued,” “so that our children and our grandchildren can live peacefully into the 21stcentury.” (“America’s ‘war on terror’ has cost the US nearly $6 trillion and killed roughly half a million people, and there’s no end in sight,” By John Haitiwanger, Business Insider, Nov. 15, 2018) The word “crusade” had a negative meaning for Muslims, as it harked back to Christianity’s imperialistic wars in the Middle Ages to wrest control of the Holy Land from the Muslim people.  Bush soon corrected his Christian-conditioned slip.

“The war on terror is going to take a while.”  Boston University professor Neta C. Crawford, co-director of the Cost of Wars Project provides a reality check in saying that the Cost of Wars “update just scratches the surface of the human consequences of 17 years of war.” Recognizing the Democrats now have control of the House, she states that “regardless of how Democrats proceed . . . there is a need to keep the public more informed about the consequences of the seemingly endless wars in the Middle East in order to drive demands for improving U.S. foreign policy.” (“New Report Finds Half Million Killed by Global ‘War on Terror,’ “ Ibid)

Not only did former President Obama not call the Bush administration’s bi-partisan-supported illegal invasion of Iraq a crime.  His wife, Michelle Obama, and former president Bush are reported as becoming “best buddies.”  Mrs. Obama is even photographed hugging Bush “at the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington.”  Dahleen Glanton of the
Chicago Tribune captured the scene: “It wasn’t that long ago that many of us despised Bush.  Now, our hearts appear to have warmed toward the president who led us into the Iraq War.”  Why the change?  Glanton continued: “Perhaps her acceptance of him has allowed us to be more forgiving of him.” (“Michelle Obama and George W. Bush: An Attraction of Opposites,” Sept. 4, 2018)

But Mrs. Obama is not forgiving President Trump.  In her memoir, Becoming, she wrote that Trump’s birther movement attempts to portray Barack Obama as not being born in the USA “was crazy and mean-spirited,” and “also dangerous, deliberately meant to stir up the wingnuts and kooks . . . putting my family’s safety at risk.  And for this, I’d never forgive him.”  (“The 5 biggest takeaways from Michelle Obama’s revealing new memoir,” By Stavros Agorakis, Vox, Nov. 13, 2018)

Mrs. Obama rightly condemned Donald Trump’s racism and xenophobia that put her family at risk.  But the president she hugged is responsible for needlessly causing untold misery and death in the name of spreading “freedom,” which he repeatedly used to rationalize his war crimes by declaring, “Freedom is not America’s gift to the world. Freedom is the Almighty God’s gift to each man and woman in the world.”  A president who needlessly sacrificed American lives and put so many others at risk. And, instead of prosecuting the Bush administration for its war crimes,  her husband kept Bush’s fraudulent wars going, and ramped up the use of drone warfare that has killed thousands of civilians in various countries.  The victims’ loved ones know how Mrs. Obama feels about President Trump: they have reason never to forgive her husband and George W. Bush and the United States for causing the terrible sadness and misery they have to endure.

Michelle Obama is not the only one who has hugged the worst war criminal of the 21stcentury.  The United Methodist Church was first in line, as George W. Bush is a United Methodist. Never mind that United Methodist Social Principles state: “We believe war is incompatible with the teachings and example of Christ.” (“Social Principles: The World Community,” The United Methodist Church) Evidently an exception can be made if one of your own members, who happened to be president, started the wars, and continues to be viewed as respectable and a source of power and profit.

The United Methodist Church gave Bush a big hug by creating The Georgjjue W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum on the campus of Southern Methodist University.  A number of morally motivated United Methodists opposed erecting such a monument to honor the war criminal in their midst.  But the power, attraction and financial profit Bush represented was too attractive for most in the United Methodist hierarchy of bishops and others leaders to turn down.  Besides the status quo had fiddled away any moral awareness and challenging of the US-government’s criminal’s foreign policy called the global “war on terror.”

Rather than seeking to understand the connection between the U.S.’s imperialistic foreign policy and the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration seized on the attacks to further militarize America and pursue wars for the profit of military-supported corporations and to maintain its own political power.  And many predatory white evangelical Christian leaders climbed aboard, as they saw the invasion of Iraq as an opportunity to convert Muslims to their brand of Christianity.  In time, the war protests of people of faith faded and accommodation to a militarized status quo set in.

The militarized conditioning is subtle. Today we repeatedly see a TV commercial of a young girl answering the phone, and calling out to her father, “Daddy, Momma’s on the phone!”  And a woman, dressed in a Khaki military uniform, appears on the telephone screen, and happily says to her husband and daughter, “How are you guys?”  And then an AT&T message appears: “AT&T proudly offers discounts to military, veterans, first responders and their families.”  (‘A T & T COMMERCIAL; MAN WAITING PHONE CALL FROM MILITARY WIFE,’ alltvspots.com)  That’s about as homey as you can get to disguise and sell the horrors of war.

A soldier returns from Iraq, and unexpectedly shows up at his son’s grade school to surprise him, much to the delight of teachers and members of his class.  The shocked child’s eyes widen, and he runs to his father’s outstretched arms.  A very human, universal, expression of love.  Enough to cause one not to think about the 4.5 million Iraqi children made orphans by the U.S. invasion. (See “Iraq: The Human Cost,” MIT, mit.edu/humancostiraq)  Nor about the American children orphaned by that falsely-based, unnecessary war.

At athletic events, soldiers and sailors are front and center as guests. With military flyovers providing the invocations at special athletic contests.  The football field has become sacred ground for promoting the battlefield.  Which is another reason why San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick is white-balled from the National Football League for his sacrilege in kneeling on holy ground.

Some years ago, I encountered just how conditioned Americans can become to militarization when I went to get a haircut.  The barber and I talked about our histories.  And when I told him that I was in the U.S. Navy in World War II, he replied, “Thank you for your service.”  That was over 45 years ago!

The global “war on terror” has become as American as apple pie.   Whether the Democrats’ control of the House now will lead to a reassessment of the “war on terror” and accountability for it remains to be seen.

But we should not have to keep waiting for Christian faith leaders and their congregations to assess America’s global “war on terror” and to demand accountability from political leaders.  Not only did Jesus tell his followers to welcome strangers, he is recorded as declaring that the “spirit of the Lord . . . has anointed” him “to proclaim good news to the poor . . . to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the oppressed free.” (Luke 4: 18)

Faith leaders, by their own professed calling, are to be prophets of the people, and not only chaplains of the status quo.  America fiddles while California and the global “war on terror” burn.

Categories: News for progressives

Remaking the Common Good: the Crisis of Public Higher Education in Colombia

Counterpunch - Tue, 2018-11-20 15:51

Students marching in Bogotá against the ongoing de-funding of public higher education. (Culebra Digital, Twitter)

“Let’s hope that by the time [President] Duque decides to listen to us, it’s not too late.”

—Alejandro Palacio Restrepo, President of the Colombian Association of Student Representatives in Higher Education (ACREES) after receiving death threats in early November

On October 10, with the support of rectors, administrators, and professors, Colombia’s students called an indefinite strike in the country’s 32 public universities and took to the streets in most major cities to protest government de-financing—thereby injecting new, much-needed life into a highly militarized, authoritarian, neoliberal society and political system. Hundreds of thousands mobilized across the country, including private university students marching in solidarity with public university students.

Concretely, students are demanding an additional $1.4 billion dollars from the government in the course of ten years, a doubling of its research budget, a freeze on tuition fees, the refinancing of student loans at a zero percent interest rate, preservation of funding for vocational and technical schools, respect for the right to protest and voluntary rather than mandatory accreditation. Together with professors, they claim that Colombia’s public universities have a deficit of $4.7 billion dollars in infrastructure and close to $1 billion dollars for operating expenses, while technical and vocational schools need an additional $500 million dollars. Both are also calling for the recognition of higher education as a universal, inalienable right, for greater autonomy and self-government for students, professors, and administrators and for the production of scientific, humanistic, and artistic knowledge, with the aim of overcoming the legacy of decades of violent conflict and reducing aberrant levels of inequality.

A banner written by the students of the Universidad de Antioquia, who kicked off the strike three months ago, before it went national. (Photo by Forrest Hylton)

Neoliberal Restructuring of Higher Education

Colombia has not seen such massive protests in defense of public higher education since 2011, when students, supported by professors, successfully prevented the government of President Juan Manuel Santos from moving towards privatizing public universities. But beginning in 2014, the government has designed a massive subsidy program for private universities that has so far led to an exodus of thousands of poor and working-class students out of relatively inexpensive public universities into increasingly expensive private ones.

Seven years after the 2011 protests, then, the underlying problems that have haunted Colombia’s system of public higher education for the past several decades have deepened : since then, university costs have risen by almost 10 percent, while government funding has been declining. Between 1993 and 2016, even as the undergraduate student body size nearly quadrupled, state spending per student was cut in half. Given that Colombia’s 1991 Constitution guarantees free, high-quality public education as a universal right, how and why has the common good of education become commodified and privatized, and what can be done to halt and even reverse it?Given that Colombia’s 1991 Constitution guarantees free, high-quality public education as a universal right, how and why has the common good of education become commodified and privatized, and what can be done to halt and even reverse it?

Part of the answer is political and ideological: international financial institutions, neo-classical economics, neo-institutionalism, and rational choice imported from U.S. universities—and pervasive in Colombian private universities—guide the Colombian government in their thinking about public services. Private universities supply the people who formulate public policies that apply a capitalistic lens onto the common good of higher education. The job of the state, in this vision, is to provide credit, security, and property rights, subsidizing the entry of the poor intro competitive markets to determine quality as well as the ability to pay tuition and fees. The devil is in the details of the 1991 Constitution itself, specifically in Articles 67-69, which state that the role of the Colombian state is to help individuals and families by regulating markets between public and private universities. In this dynamic, private institutions are systematically favored through accreditation based on criteria for “academic excellence” imported from the United States, in order to create a fiction of a meritocracy in one of Latin America’s most unequal societies in the world’s most unequal region.

The gutting of Colombian public universities was part of the process of deepening the militarized, extractive, rentier model of capital accumulation by paramilitary death squads that first reared its head in the late 1970s and was consolidated in the 1990s. In 1992, as part of the neoliberal restructuring of Colombia´s economy and state institutions, the government of President César Gaviria froze the budget assigned to public universities, forcing them to seek external resources to function. This became increasingly difficult amid growing student enrollment and rising costs for research, infrastructure, and staff. In the mid-1990s, several public universities were forced to close, while others began to cut back on student residences and university cafeterias and to hire more and more adjunct professors, who, like their counterparts elsewhere, make up the majority of total faculty and work under precarious conditions without union protections in Colombia. This sea-change in education unfolded in the larger context of political economic shifts favoring the expansion of mining, hydrocarbons, agri-business, urban real estate, and financial services in the Global South, and the development of technology and intellectual property rights at universities in the North, subsidized by governments and linked to multinational corporations.

Under the so-called “educational revolution” launched by President Álvaro Uribe in the early 2000s, public universities in Colombia saw a tripling of student quotas, while their assigned resources were adjusted only by inflation. The Uribe government reforms were a clear reflection of the globally emerging model of higher education under neoliberalism, which was promoted by international financial institutions across the region with varying degrees of success. In this worldview, Colombia’s elite private universities would supply the existing demand for the professional education of the country’s middle class through subsidized credits, while the government’s National Training Service (SENA), together with sub-standard, for-profit universities, would provide vocational training programs for the impoverished labor force in order to increase the competitiveness of the business sector. Public universities would play a minor role at best, which, in part, explains why they have been sidelined by the government in its design of public policies and finances.

Since then, the financial situation of Colombia’s public universities has continued to deteriorate unabated, with less than half of public university budgets presently covered by the government.While in 2000, the government’s contribution to public higher education equaled to 0.55 percent of GDP, since 2015 that number has fallen to 0.40 percent. The growing deficit has led to a process of “informal privatization:” universities have intensified their searches for external resources by selling consultancies, market-oriented extension courses, and graduate programs at market rates, and, increasingly, by establishing research partnerships with large corporations. Additionally, the growing costs of new information technologies, laboratories, professional training, internationalization, and maintenance of the physical and administrative infrastructure have worsened the already precarious disequilibrium between the resources provided by the government and the expenditures necessary to guarantee minimum quality standards.

At the same time, neoliberal reforms have strengthened Colombia’s private universities by extending loans and credits provided by the Colombian Institute of Education Credit and the Exterior (ICETEX), a public institution founded in the 1950s with the initial purpose of offering credits for Colombian students to study abroad. In 2005, under Uribe, ICETEX was transformed into a special financial entity and began to provide loans primarily to poorer students to cover tuition and fees at private universities.

ICETEX obtains loans not only from the Colombian government, but also from international financial institutions such as the World Bank. Indeed, of the $467 million dollars that the World Bank recently loaned the Colombian government to reform higher education, $411 million will go toward making ICETEX the principal subsidizer of private universities, replacing funding that might have otherwise gone to public universities.

“If they suffocate us with privatization and repression, we will drown them with struggle and rebellion” (Photo by Forrest Hylton)

Resistance Grows

On November 6, students and professors met with the Ministry of Education for 11 hours and demanded a meeting with President Iván Duque. A week earlier on October 28, university rectors and the Colombian government had passed an agreement stipulating that public universities will receive just an additional $400 million dollars over the next four years, as well as 3 percent above inflation in 2019 and 4 percent from 2020-22—compared to an average rise per year of between 2010 and 2017 of 4.7 percent. In addition, the government will transfer public resources to private universities through a new program of loans and credits, which, if implemented, will lead to increasing student indebtedness.

President Duque refused to meet with the students, instead saying that students needed to thank him for the October 28 agreement. As of this writing, he has declined to discuss the matter further. While he has not met with the students, he has met with pop star Maluma and also plans to meet with Silvestre Dangond, who is closely associated with paramilitary death squads in his home region of Cesar.

Unfortunately, some of the tactics employed at the National University in Bogotá have been misguided and even dangerous, considering the political climate. On November 7, students stormed administrative offices where Rector Dolly Montoya and other top-level administrators work, forcing all university employees to leave until further notice. Hence the university will not be able to provide workers with their next paycheck or comply with any of its contractual obligations in peripheral, conflictive regions like Tumaco. Students involved in the Bogotá occupation are therefore hurting the working class in the university, on whose support they must inevitably rely.

Despite good-faith efforts by professors and administrators to mediate, the intransigence displayed could lead anti-riot police (Esmad) to re-take the buildings violently in the name of the rule of law. If continued, the occupation will likely alienate potential allies by playing into media stereotypes of student violence and vandalism, and, as it has in past clashes between masked protestors/provocateurs and Esmad, it could narrow the base of the movement at the very moment when it needs to broaden dramatically.

Since November 8, students, professors, clerical, and service workers have been joined by the public school teachers’ union (FECODE), along with the country’s progressive trade union federation (CUT), which has called for nationwide marches on November 15 and 28 to protest regressive sales taxes on basic foodstuffs and to demand more money for public education, leaving open the possibility of a general strike in December. Together with the CUT, students are building a “Broad Front for Education” in order to address issues related to pre-school, elementary, middle, and high school, as well as university education, and they have three principal demands: to re-open negotiations with the government, specifically with President Duque himself, to ensure the current semester will not be canceled, and to secure guarantees for the exercise of civil rights.

During a march on November 8, those rights were violated by police dressed as civilians who infiltrated the student-led protest march and coordinated with anti-riot police before committing acts of vandalism, which then “justified” the violence against student demonstrators. Three students of the National University in Bogotá went missing shortly after confrontations with the anti-riot police. Thankfully by November 13, they were reported safe and sound. During those days Alejandro Palacio, quoted in the epigraph, a spokesperson for the student movement, received four death threats, several of them in person from masked infiltrators.

Fortunately, the student movement has by and large understood the need to build a wide-ranging coalition. In defending public higher education, it has galvanized discontent in a broad range of groups and sectors, beginning with professors, FECODE and CUT that participated in the marches of November 8. The movement to defend and transform public education reverberates far beyond the student movement itself, leading to the construction of a broad, independent urban Left and a national-popular bloc of the sort not seen in Colombia since the progressive liberal politician Jorge Eliécer Gaitán was murdered in 1948.

The stakes of Colombia’s movement to push higher education, and the country as a whole, in a more democratic direction could hardly be higher, as the drumbeat for a U.S.-led war with Venezuela rises in pitch and intensity, and with Jair Bolsonaro soon to take power in Brazil. Students and professors in the United States and Canada and beyond should show solidarity by following the lead of their Colombian counterparts by moving into the streets.

Forrest Hylton and Aaron Tauss teach, and Juan Felipe Duque Agudelo studies, in the Political Science Department at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia-Medellín. They would like to thank their colleagues and students in struggle. 

Note: As announced on November 16, formal negotiations between students and the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Finance are set to resume on Monday, November 19, and through dialogue and negotiation, students at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia-Bogotá have reached an agreement with Rector Dolly Montoya to de-occupy the administrative building on the Bogotá campus.

This article originally appeared on NACLA.

Categories: News for progressives

What Can We Learn From a Headmaster Who Refused to Allow His Students to Celebrate Armistice Day?

Counterpunch - Tue, 2018-11-20 15:50

On the afternoon of 11 November 1918, my father Claud Cockburn, then aged 14, covertly threw the keys of the main gate of his school out of an upstairs window to a soldier waiting below. His purpose was to allow the soldiers being trained locally to break into Berkhamsted School in Hertfordshire and thrash it in retaliation for the refusal of the headmaster, Charles Greene, to call a school holiday to celebrate the armistice, which had just been declared. Many pupils, including Claud, objected to this decision, as did the soldiers, angry at what they saw as an unpatriotic failure to celebrate victory adequately after four years of war.

But the soldiers and schoolboys were both mistaken about the headmaster’s motives: Charles Greene, whose third son was the novelist Graham Greene, supported the war, but he was acutely aware of its terrible cost, not least to former Berkhamsted pupils, of whom no less than 230 had been killed, their names commemorated by plaques outside the school chapel, while a further 1,145 were still in the armed forces as the war ended. “Most of the sixth form were wiped out year after year,” Claud recalled 60 years later. “I know when I was in the sixth form, I think that only 10 per cent of the previous year were still alive.” Greene, a liberally minded man with great force of character, had had the grim experience of seeing those whom he had just been teaching called up when they reached the age of 18 and, all too often, they were reported killed or wounded a few months later.

The end of the slaughter might have led Greene to declare a holiday, but he reached a radically different conclusion about how the peace should best be celebrated. He had time to think about this because the news that the German kaiser and crown prince had abdicated reached Berkhamsted on Sunday 10 November and the announcement of the end of the war would clearly follow shortly. When the armistice was signed at 11am the following day, Greene announced the fact to staff and pupils who sang “God Save the King” before dispersing. He did not make the expected announcement about the holiday but instructed everyone to go on working as if this was a normal day. He justified this by arguing that, with 5 million allied soldiers killed, the survivors had to work even harder to make best use of the victory for the good of civilisation and could not afford to take holidays. “We must go on,” he said. “Now is the time for effort.”

It was a decision which, however reasonable in abstract terms, was so entirely contrary to the patriotic fervour of the day and the intense sense of relief being felt by those who had the most to gain from an end to the fighting that it provoked an almost instant uprising. Those involved included soldiers training in and around Berkhamsted, most of whom belonged to the Officers Training Corps (OTC) of the Inns of Court, in addition to members of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps. They were highly – and soon drunkenly – relieved to find that they would not be sent to the western front where the OTC members stood a high chance of being killed or maimed. The boys at Berkhamsted, particularly the prefects and the older boys facing military call-up, also had good reason to be thankful that the fighting was over. Explaining this in an interview 60 years later, Claud told Norman Sherry, the author of the magisterial biography The Life of Graham Greene – from which much of this account of the Berkhamsted uprising is derived – said that, deeply though he admired Charles Greene, he could understand the anger of the prefects and senior boys at not being allowed to celebrate victory. He pointed out they had been living in expectation of likely death or injury in the near future “so they didn’t take much interest in the preservation of civilisation or the school spirit and they got pretty rough”.

The prefects, normally in charge of keeping tight discipline in Berkhamsted, had conspired with men from the OTC to break into the school. By chance it was Claud, though much younger than the others in the plot, who played a crucial role in what happened next. Because it was he was due to have a bath, he was allowed to enter part of the school which was beyond the Great Hall, which was the main assembly area for staff and pupils. He was therefore able to open an upstairs window and throw down the key of the heavily locked main gate, which the plotters had secured, to a sergeant major waiting below.

It is worth citing my father’s account, as retailed to Sherry, at length since it gives a tangible sense of the rapidly unfolding events: “I can remember now sitting there – it was one of those foggy nights in Berkhamsted, fog rising from the canal and so on, and suddenly, we heard the roar of the distant troops coming up the road. Everybody was quite content because they couldn’t get in. And then in they burst and we were all sitting at prep in the Great Hall at about 7pm. So suddenly all these drunken troops and women came surging in and were planning to throw Charles Greene into the canal … and Greene and the second master Cox appeared at the end of that little passage, and defended the door, and Greene was persuaded to retire to his study. Cox stood at the door, and drunken troops joined in with the students, and we surged out of the school, and marched through the streets of Berkhamsted, and I can remember to this day walking down Berkhamsted High Street and I took off my shoes in order to beat on the drum with them. We then occupied the local cinema and we sprang onto the stage and sang songs and yelled and shouted. And at last the troops retired, and we, rather bedraggled, returned after this enormous elation, this tremendous night, and suddenly realised that we had to face reality. And that reality was Charles Greene who was sitting at the big desk on the Great Hall, and said ‘you’re expelled, you’re expelled’ one after another. He expelled 122 of us…”

The rioters went to bed deeply worried. Claud in particular was anxious because he knew that his father, Henry Cockburn, a former Foreign Office diplomat of high principle and seriousness of purpose, would take the dimmest of views of his expulsion. The following morning, he and the other expellees were brought back to the Great Hall and given a great lecture by Greene, his denunciation of their action delivered with all the force and rolling periods of which Victorian rhetoric was capable. He linked the previous day’s riot to the revolutionary upsurge spreading everywhere since the Bolshevik revolution in 1917: “This is one more exhibition of the spirit of Bolshevism which is spreading across Europe. Over there in Moscow, there sits Lenin, there sits Trotsky, there they are. The spirit of Bolshevism and atheism is creeping across Europe. It is breaking out all over. Look at Lenin, look at Trotsky and look at you.” Fortunately for his by now thoroughly rattled listeners, Greene in his rage had expelled more of his pupils than could really be purged in one go, so all were reinstated aside from two whom, Claud recalled, had “tried to get the soldiers to break into Charles Greene’s study and tear up his books – a really rather shitty thing to do”.

* * *

The uprising at Berkhamsted School was symptomatic in a small way of what was happening all over Europe in the wake of the German defeat. Momentous questions had to be rapidly addressed and answered: what had been achieved by the great sacrifice in human lives? How far should peace to be used to restore the old pre-war world, or was this an opportunity to build a new one? These were not abstract debating points and getting the answers wrong might provoke an immediate and violent challenge to authority, as rulers all over the continent – in a similar fashion to Charles Greene – were finding out to their cost. Where there was no revolutionary atmosphere, there was a mood of militancy. In Central and Eastern Europe, Ireland and the Middle East, the armistice did not even bring peace, but new wars as old states broke up and new states and nations sought to establish themselves. Most menacing of all to the established order, as Greene had warned his pupils, were the Bolsheviks in Moscow with their promise of a total revolutionary transformation of the world. Other less obvious threats were present on Armistice Day, though they were not yet apparent either to the euphoric soldiers and schoolboys celebrating victory in Berkhamsted High Street or to the politicians and diplomats soon to gather in Versailles to work for what they claimed would be a fairer and more stable future. The armistice was not unconditional surrender by the defeated side: Germany might have lost the war, but no British or French troops had crossed the German frontier by 11 November, so the allied victory was not as complete as that over Germany in 1945. Any attempt to pretend otherwise by the triumphant allies was likely to prove disastrous, and what used to be called a Carthaginian peace – the losing country forced to accept the harshest of terms because it had no option – could only be enforced by the continuing and credible threat of military force by the allies. Such determination was always likely to ebb with time.

Patriotic liberals like Charles Green could see early on that the negotiations at Versailles would produce more violence and war. The conflict had been a great calamity for liberalism, not only because of the mass slaughter, but because it had washed away traditional liberal values such as moderation and compromise in pursuit of progress, and opposition to the relentless use of force in the interests of militarism and imperialism. While the war was still going on, Greene had personally witnessed ominous signs that merciless and excessive force had become the norm. One day he had arrived excited and distraught at Henry Cockburn’s house in Berkhamsted – he and his wife had moved there so Claud could attend the school as a dayboy. Charles and Henry were friends, although he disapproved of the former diplomat’s imperialist views. Greene told him that “the most appalling thing had happened”. He had gone down to the school playing fields where the OTC was training, and he had seen or listened to the sergeant major who was training the recruits. To his horror, he had heard him saying to them, “Well now, when the enemy come out of trenches and surrender and raise their hands, remember not to take your fingers off [the trigger of] your machine guns.” Describing his experience in the Cockburn household, Charles concluded: “My God – we must all protest against the army becoming as barbaric as those fellows.”

Claud was at this stage of his life a strong Conservative, in keeping with his father’s views, but he was beginning to be influenced by Greene’s vigorous liberalism. Claud knew him much better than most students get to know their headmasters because he was the best chess player in the school and Greene had a passion for the game. When this craving came on him, which was often, he would invite his young pupil to play lengthy games of chess at a table beside the roaring fire in his study, much to Claud’s enjoyment since he was free for hours from school rules, routines and regulations. He was impressed by the explosive intensity that Greene brought, not only to the chessboard, but to every aspect of life. “He was a man of powerful and vivid reactions,” my father wrote in his autobiography In Time of Trouble. “Certain events, sometimes important, sometimes quite trivial, seemed to strike his mind with the heat and force of a branding iron.” Greene’s history lessons would shift swiftly from the past to the present and usually took the form of comments on contemporary politics, using analogies from Pericles to the Boer War to illustrate the way in which disastrous treaty-making and other political errors were driving Europe towards general ruin.Claud Cockburn (seventh boy from left, second row from back) with his fellow pupils in 1919 Charles Greene must have forgiven Claud for his part in the Armistice Day uprising when, at the age of 16, he became a boarder rather than a semi-detached dayboy at Berkhamsted. Greene liked to talk politics during mealtimes at high table in the Great Hall, choosing my father as an interlocutor since, young though he was, he could hold his own in a serious political discussion. As a Conservative, Claud provided a satisfactory adversary and a sounding board for his headmaster’s own passionately held liberal views, which were often expressed in sonorous and memorable sentences. “When I gaze,” Claud decades later recalled Greene saying, “upon the activities of Mr Lloyd George, when I consider the political consequences of Mr Clemenceau, my mind, abdicating its intellectual function, shrinks, half-paralysed, from the very attempt to contemplate the abyss which opens, inevitable but unregarded, before us.” Claud gently but affectionately mocked the florid way in which his headmaster proclaimed his forebodings, but the abyss he predicted was all too real and Claud was soon to get a closer look at it.

He had become a boarder at Berkhamsted in 1920 when his father was appointed head of a financial committee in Hungary, established by the allies to oversee compensation due to their nationals as a result of the war. Henry had asked mandarins in Whitehall who appointed him if his knowing little about Hungary and nothing about finance would be an obstacle to him taking the job and was told that they would not. As a result of this move, Claud spent his school holidays and university vacations in Hungary, which was one of the big losers in the war, having to give up 72 per cent of its territory and experiencing a brief communist revolution and counter-revolution the previous year. At the moment that people of Claud’s generation in England were beginning to feel disillusioned about the outcome of the war, he was getting a double dosage of anti-war feeling as he met and talked daily with Hungarians, Germans and Austrians for whom the war was a hideous calamity.

He found Budapest to be a city where many had come to a bad end and the survivors lived in a state of permanent fear of being murdered, arrested or just ruined. He was sympathetic – too sympathetic he was to feel in later years – to the complaints of Hungarian landowners and businessmen who talked endlessly about how they were being unfairly treated by the allies. Denunciations of Versailles by British liberals like John Maynard Keynes, whose Economic Consequences of the Peace was being widely read, seemed to confirm that they were right. Claud wrote later that “the curious alliance between the British liberal thinker [Keynes] and the most extreme of Central European nationalists, who cheerfully would have chopped his ears off had they seen the slightest profit to themselves in so doing, was one of the grotesque ironies of the period, but it was an irony which escaped people like myself”.

French troops enter Essen during the Ruhr occupation in 1923The anguish of the Germans, Austrians and Hungarians – whose basic though unspoken complaint, he was to feel subsequently, was that they had lost the war – was receiving an increasingly sympathetic hearing in the circles in which Claud moved when he went to Oxford in 1922. Young men who had been taught during the war that the Kaiser, the Huns and the U-boats were the source of all evil, found fresh demons in the shape of Lloyd George, French prime minister Henri Poincare and post-war treaty makers in general as the true villains of the piece. “No doubt,” he wrote later, “this reaction was strongest among people who, like myself, lived in Central Europe at the time, and were exposed to the well-organised lamentations of Hungarian landowners, German steel barons in the Ruhr and ulcerated international bankers.” Claud describes with sympathy how his diplomat father found this revulsion of feeling among the younger generation about the war incomprehensible. He admitted in later years that Henry had a much better case than his idealistic son could accept at the time: Henry had seen a war between Germany and Britain as inevitable for decades before it happened and he had always expected it to be terrible. He was, so to speak, protected from any shock effect by this foreknowledge. He never took seriously the high-minded slogans about Britain and France fighting for democracy and civilisation and could not appreciate the rage of who had done so and now felt themselves cheated and betrayed.Support free-thinking journalism and subscribe to Independent MindsClaud was a little hard on himself retrospectively, because there was nothing unreasonable about his sympathy for the underdogs – as the defeated central powers certainly were after the armistice – or his anger at the unjust treaties that really did prepare the ground for another war. His disillusionment with his father’s more traditional conservatism may have been developing during his last two years at Berkhamsted, because he began to teach himself German which was not on the curriculum. He could soon read the language, but because nobody had taught him the correct pronunciation, his spoken German was both fluent and entirely incomprehensible to anybody else. He went up to Keble College in Oxford in 1922 along with Graham Greene, also born in 1904 and only a few months younger than himself, who went to Balliol. They knew each other from Berkhamsted and were both radically opposed to attempts – in this case by France – to compel the payment of reparations by Germany by force. Failure of the Germans to do so had led the French to set up a separatist state in the Rhineland, including the Ruhr, nicknamed “the Revolver Republic”, where French troops were backing separatist German gunmen. The occupation was resisted by striking workers in the Ruhr and a campaign of shooting and kidnapping officials who collaborated with the occupiers.

Graham and Claud were indignant about this state of affairs and, though still only 19-years old and without any money, they decided that they must do something about it. Both were instinctive activists. “Graham’s a real crusader for the underdog,” Claud was to tell Norman Sherry in 1977. “If a man’s having a raw deal, Graham would honestly rush into the street and get killed.” He approved of the way that Graham never dawdled and was always keen to put any plan of action into operation the following day. In this case, their plan was to go to the Rhineland to investigate reports of atrocities against the German population and write about them for the papers. To get around the problem of being entirely without funds to pay for their travels, Graham wrote to the German embassy in London and asked for help. They received £100, handed over in a theatre by an emissary with a comic opera attempt at secrecy.

Their arrival in the Rhineland in April 1924 was noted critically by a British military intelligence officer. It is the first report in my father’s MI5 file, which eventually totalled 24 thick folders now in the National Archives at Kew. The officer noted suspiciously that Claud and Graham had not obtained visas and were carrying a letter of introduction from the German Foreign Ministry in Berlin to the local German authorities. “Both [men] appear to be authors,” wrote the officer dubiously. They visited Cologne, Essen Bonn, Trier and Mainz, an itinerary that was more dangerous than it looked because there were regular killings and beatings carried out by both sides. In his account of the journey, Claud portrays himself as the prudent one of the pair, while Graham was much more intrepid in courting danger, walking through the streets of Essen at night despite the presence of trigger-happy French troops and separatist gunmen. According to Graham: “Everybody glowered at us and there was a very delightful sensation of being hated by everybody… all foreigners were taken for French officials.” In the event, they returned safely from Germany and the French withdrew from the Rhineland in 1925 as Europe finally appeared to be settling down after the First World War cataclysm. These appearances turned out to be horribly misleading, as the way soon began to open for an even more savage conflict than the one just finished. Charles Greene could have claimed with some justice that his refusal to allow Berkhamsted School to celebrate peace prematurely had been justified by events.

Categories: News for progressives

Our Most Stalwart Company

Counterpunch - Tue, 2018-11-20 15:50

I do not think that I have ever experienced a fall in which so many of the trees, shrubs, forbs, and grasses have looked more luminous. The slow draining away of chlorophyll in the area where I live has revealed the most vivid temporary tissues in what seems like a wider spectrum than my declining eyesight has ever been capable of seeing.

In my semi-retirement, the wealth of this display has had me regularly stopping and thinking that, “This moment, this moment, THIS moment… must have my full attention, Now!” I am humbled and feel as if I do not deserve this visual statement – this voice of vivid colors which says, “Here is my truth. I am the voice of light, water, and minerals. I must pass away so that you may see me again.” Could the stories of Jesus and other supposed miraculous resurrections simply be paltry, foolish human attempts at claiming we are in possession of the power of natural procedures which move across our desperately created borders as if to show us that those borders are as insignificant as to be nonexistent? It seems that the delusions of humans insist upon believing in the phoniness of national borders even as we violate those fake borders while chasing the illusions of monetary security and while the natural processes of seasonal changes and migrations of birds and other animals are chronically treated as if they are of less significance. Every year this departure and the return contrapuntally moves across the planet’s bi-polar dance-floor as breaths of truth over the multitude of delusions we continue to envision as security states.

My undeniable joy in every fall is tempered by my desire to have everybody stop what they are doing and pay respect to these organisms whose integrity seems beyond our limited comprehension and by the knowledge that my moment is just that – my moment. I know that others feel joy at these displays, but it is not my place to try to force anyone to stop what they are doing just because I think these trees, shrubs, forbs, and grasses are a most vital part of our possible salvation from our vain selves and that there is no church or economic dogma made by humans which can come remotely close to speaking with such as voice.

My maudlin inclination then begins infusing, tempting the flow of tears and all of my being feels a desire to say, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” This then becomes a fading echo as the mundane requirements of my existence begin to seep into my consciousness and my physical movements.

Here is an example of our prioritizing vain self-deception over the need to recognize the primacy of the natural producers of oxygen and their incomparable carbon sequestration. I have had, throughout most of my life, a very natural ability to recognize/identify various species of trees. About a year ago, I was driving past a local campus when I suddenly felt strangely disturbed by the vision of a tree which towered over all the other trees in its vicinity. I had never before seen such a thing and not only could I not identify it, but I quickly realized it had not been there before. As I approached I realized that this tree was a manufactured covering over a cell phone tower. In researching, I found that these artificial tower covers are known as “monopines” because they disguise monopole cell phone towers and that the company which placed the tower on the campus had to disguise it (as apparently many communities do now) so that the appearance of the campus would not be too blatantly marred by another display of crudely vain human self-absorption. This towering fake christmas tree was planted there through a process which involves considerable release of carbon and it is there to help produce a greater release of carbon through the enabling of more human enterprises. It is very unlikely that its dangerously typical carbonic liberations will be significantly counterbalanced by a greater connection to the oxygenating natural world beyond the self-serving of its users.

This is probably as “american” as it gets. Very few people likely realize that when the European invasion of the Amerigo Vespuccis began into what they have foolishly named “the americas,” the vast majority of the region east of the Mississippi River was an enormously sprawling, towering woodland which produced an astounding (and probably unknowable) amount of oxygen and carbon sequestration for the planet and for the creatures which depend upon oxygen. Beyond that largely unseen reality lies the fact that millions of years of naturally produced compressed sequestration of carbon is also commonly ignored in the burning desires of our species. We have made termitically short work of eliminating one of our greatest natural benefactors in these brief years since the arrival of our arrogantly desperate Columbusian egregiousness. Plants are now commonly treated as something like furniture and the phoniness of a cell phone tower disguise is an expression of a lust for the commodification of nature into monetary gain and the almost ubiquitous, often willful ignorance upon which it depends and thrives. Unlike termites however, our reliance upon flying off to colonize somewhere else is causing us to devour ourselves as much as anything else.

I rake huge piles of the arboreal glory for mulching and compost – with the knowledge that this will be the best thing for me to do because the ensuing decomposition is the grounding basis for these most stalwart of my friends and the unmeasurable diversity of those of us beings who are their dependent beneficiaries. Most of my neighbors want to be rid of the fallen leaves from the trees and shrubs and they put them out to be removed or they burn them. 

Beyond all of my many embarrassments, foibles, and regrets, are the wishes that I had planted more and that I had weeded less. All human possibilities and bondages would be less than vapors within an unknown delusion were it not for these organisms which produce chlorophyllic transformation and with whom we and all other creatures who depend upon oxygen share this planet. Our failure to recognize both our subservience and our need to embrace and celebrate our subservient position is a major part of our deficiency and our continuing descent.

To me, the plants and their falling leaves will always deserve more respect and our wellbeing is critically dependent upon our recognition of this. This is one of the most central aspects of my thanks-giving.

Categories: News for progressives

Look to the Right for Corruption

Counterpunch - Tue, 2018-11-20 15:48

ewWhen I was growing up a long time ago there was a presumption of prudential integrity for politicians. Yes, I suppose I was naïve, but as a boy from Minnesota I came to think of politics as a clean game in my formative years.

This may explain why I am nonplussed now with the acceptance of such low standards by so many, and frankly, at this time most of them with the lowest standards seem to be aligned with Trump out on the right. The voters rejected Trump for the most part in our midterms, but this is normal and he lost less than Obama did in 2010, so my question is really for the voters, not the buck naked corrupt Trump wing controlling the Republican party and the base.

Why do you accept, tolerate, and even identify with the dishonesty, the cheating, and the incivility of the leadership of your party? What is wrong with you? Can you help me understand why dirty tricks and robbing people of voting rights is fine by you?

Yes, I’d love to excuse them. Oh, they are working class and ignorant fools, how can they be expected to keep up? How can we hope that they will have decent values? They are all undereducated redneck fools.

Hogwash.

When I finally finished my single parenthood and was able to contemplate college, I knew I’d have to focus. I did. I graduated top of my class, summa cum laude, tied with no one. First. I got all A grades with a C brain plus pure obdurate working class discipline. And here is the thing I knew. My journeyman when I was an apprentice in the carpenter’s union (1544 in Minneapolis) was far smarter than I ever was. His memory outdid mine every single day.

Working people are exactly as smart, and often smarter, than scholars. I’m an academic with a doctorate, and they don’t give those things out on boxtops. It is tough. But most working people never get a shot at it. In my case, I was given a chance. Some get loans, some get scholarships, and in my case, my father took early retirement for a big bonus. He then paid for my bachelors degree. Yes, I still had to work, to pay for my cabin, my truck, gas, and my food and everything else, but I got tuition paid. Damn lucky. I never got my first college degree until I was 43 years old, but I got that sucker. Most poor kids and working class kids do not have that. Because I did, I figured out that workers and managers and owners and scholars are all equally smart, something I observed my long working career of more than half a century. I spent about 25 years doing physical labor and the last 25 doing intellectual work as an academic. I know in my bones that those who work with their hands and those who supposedly live the “life of the mind” are dead even in terms of raw intelligence.

So why vote for a sleaze? Why choose lies and corruption?

That is my challenge to laboring, hard working Americans and to anyone else who votes for these charlatans. Why allow yourselves to be tainted, to be seen as ignorant and selfish and without ethics? I know you are smart. Now be brave. You can see. You can figure out what is right and wrong. Denying votes is wrong. Cheating black people is wrong. Be fair, be honest, and sure, compete, fair and square. Stop taking the low road. It doesn’t look good on you.

Categories: News for progressives

With Nearly 400,000 Dead in South Sudan, Will the US Finally Change Its Policy?

Counterpunch - Tue, 2018-11-20 15:44

The Trump administration has remained largely silent about the ongoing conflict in South Sudan, maintaining a quiet diplomacy with the country’s leaders despite a recent report that nearly 400,000 people have died in the country’s civil war.

This figure of nearly 400,000 deaths is comparable to the estimated number of deaths in the war in Syria. About 2 million people have been internally displaced in South Sudan, and more than 2.5 million people have fled the country.

Making matters worse, the people of South Sudan are experiencing one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. About 6 million people, or about 60% of the population, are severely food insecure, and another 1.7 million people are facing a looming famine.

“As the conflict has gone on and worsened, the numbers of people in need of assistance has simply continued to grow,” Mark Lowcock, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, said earlier this year.

The civil war in South Sudan began in 2013 when President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar turned their forces against one another. Although the war is often portrayed as an intractable ethnic conflict between Kiir’s Dinka ethnic group and Machar’s Nuer ethnic group, the two men have really been more focused on power and wealth.

“It has ethnic aspects to it, but it is a power struggle of taking control of the country and who holds control of the country,” Hilde Johnson, a former head of the UN Mission in South Sudan, said in 2016.

The United States has played an influential role in the country. Before the war began, the Bush administration helped South Sudanese leaders with the negotiations that led to the country’s independence in 2011. President Kiir often wears the cowboy hat that George W. Bush gave to him.

Since 2005, the United States has provided South Sudan with more than $11 billion in assistance. “That level of U.S. support is unprecedented in sub-Saharan Africa, and represents one of the largest U.S. foreign aid investments globally in the past decade,” according to a report by the Congressional Research Service.

The United States has also taken sides in the war. The Obama administration supported President Kiir, helping him acquire arms from Uganda, a close U.S. ally in the region. “Uganda got a wink from us,” a former senior official has acknowledged.

To keep the weapons flowing, the Obama administration spent years blocking calls for an arms embargo.

During another major crisis in 2016, the Obama administration continued to side with President Kiir. After Machar had been chased out of the country, U.S. officials advised Machar to give up his position in the government.

“We do not believe it would be wise for Machar to return to his previous position,” Special Envoy Donald Booth told Congress.

Jon Temin, who worked for the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff during the final years of the Obama administration, has been highly critical of the Obama administration’s choices. In a recent report published by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Temin argued that some of the worst violence could have been avoided if the Obama administration had implemented an arms embargo early in the conflict and refrained from siding so consistently with President Kiir.

“The United States, at multiple stages, failed to step back and broadly reassess policy,” Temin reported.

By the time the Obama administration handed things over to the Trump administration in 2017, the country was cracking apart. In July 2017, a group of analysts and former officials told Congress about horrific levels of violence, citing mass atrocities, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

President Kiir leads “a brutal regime that continues to murder and plunder its people,” said former U.S. diplomat Payton Knopf, who has spent years working on the crisis. “We may be looking at a civilian death toll that is akin to the war in Syria, but among the population that’s half its size.”

More recently, the Trump administration has started paying some attention. The White House has posted statements to its website criticizing South Sudanese leaders and threatening to withhold assistance. Administration officials coordinated a recent vote at the United Nations Security Council to finally impose an arms embargo on the country.

In other ways, however, the Trump administration has continued many of the policies of the Obama administration. It has not called much attention to the crisis. With the exception of the arms embargo, which could always be evaded with more winks to Uganda, it has done very little to step back, reassess policy, and change course.

The United States could “lose leverage” in South Sudan “if it becomes antagonistic toward the government,” U.S. diplomat Gordon Buay warned earlier this year.

Of course, there has been one undeniable change from the Obama years. Not only has President Trump displayed little concern about the horrors that have unfolded in South Sudan, but he is widely reported to have made racist comments about Africans and African nations. He seems entirely unaware of the role that the United States has played in South Sudan.

The long-term prospects for peace appear remote. Although President Kiir and Machar have agreed to a new peace deal, numerous observers remain skeptical, believing that the two men will never share power peacefully.

“It’s insanity to keep repeating the things that haven’t worked,” Kate Almquist Knopf, a former Pentagon analyst, recently commented.

This article originally appeared in Foreign Policy in Focus.

Categories: News for progressives

Hypocrisy Alert: Republicans Agreed with Ocasio-Cortez Until About One Minute Ago

Counterpunch - Tue, 2018-11-20 15:12

When congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) confessed her personal financial dilemma — “I have three months without a salary before I’m a member of Congress. So, how do I get an apartment? Those little things are very real” — to  the New York Times, guffaws broke out on the right.

“Some of those shoots she had during her campaign, she had these multi-thousand dollar outfits that could pay a month’s rent in Washington,” said Fox News correspondent Ed Henry.

“[T]hat jacket and coat don’t look like a girl who struggles,” wrote the Washington Examiner‘s Eddie Scarry in a tweet he deleted after an uproar.

I get it. It’s easy to mock a self-proclaimed “democratic socialist” who wants to re-make the US economy when she hasn’t proven her own financial acumen by piling up a nice nest egg before running for Congress.

But return with me now to those thrilling days of yesteryear …

Former House  Majority Leader Dick Army (R-TX), who served in Congress from 1985-2003, slept in his office rather than rent an apartment in DC. So did outgoing Speaker Paul Ryan. In fact, that trend caught on among Republican members of Congress to such an extent that earlier this year it resulted in an ethics complaint from members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

A half-religious, half-political organization  called The Fellowship runs the C Street Center, where (mostly Republican) congresspersons pay discounted rent for rooms — with maid service. Why? “A lot of men don’t have an extra $1,500 to rent an apartment,” The Fellowship’s Reverend Louis P. Sheldon told the Los Angeles Times in 2002.

Some congressional Republicans describe the “live in my office” routine as political theater, demonstrating their principled devotion to “fiscal responsibility.” Others frankly admit that even on a salary of $174,000 a year it’s not easy to maintain two households (one in their districts, one in very, very expensive DC).

And, let’s be clear here: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is an outlier. She was a waitress before running for, and unexpectedly winning, election to a body in which the average member’s net worth is more than $1 million. If anyone has a valid complaint about the increased living costs involved with serving in Congress, it’s her.

This is a chance for her to show off her “democratic socialist” credentials. She favors income equality and presumably opposes rent as exploitative, right?

Ocasio-Cortez should introduce a bill to provide housing for members of Congress — in squad bays at Marine Corps Barracks Washington DC, a mere 25-minute walk from the Capitol — while simultaneously reducing pre-tax congressional pay to the average American’s post-tax income.

I wonder how many “fiscally responsible” Republican members of Congress would support such frugality and equality. And, given their own similar preening, why some wouldn’t.

 

 

Categories: News for progressives

Doug Ford’s government abolishes Ontario Environmental Commission days after it issues scathing report

Rabble News - Tue, 2018-11-20 03:40
November 19, 2018EnvironmentPolitics in CanadaDoug Ford’s government abolishes Ontario Environmental Commission days after it issues scathing reportOntario’s Environmental Commissioner warns of how the province’s lakes and rivers are being polluted. Doug Ford responded two days later by shooting the messenger, and killed the commission.Doug Fordenvironmental commissioner of ontarioON
Categories: News for progressives

Doug Ford’s government abolishes Ontario Environmental Commission days after it issues scathing report

Rabble News - Tue, 2018-11-20 03:34
Karl Nerenberg

On November 13, Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner issued a scorching report warning that while Ontario has “some of the most abundant fresh water in the world,” it is polluting much of it.

The province has done much to make sure drinking water is safe in the wake of the “Walkerton water tragedy” of the 1990s, the report says. However, “nothing comparable has been done to protect the rest of Ontario’s lakes and rivers, many of which are being seriously harmed by pollution.”

Two days later, Ontario’s provincial government under Doug Ford abolished the office of the Environmental Commissioner. It said it was a cost-cutting measure; but as with other similar measures, including the abolition of the child advocate and the commissioner for French-language services, the government could not say how much money it might actually save.

Here, Ford is clearly borrowing from the playbooks of of former prime minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Donald Trump. For Ford, as for Harper and Trump, abolishing independent agencies has little, if anything, to do with saving money. The Ontario Conservative government’s real purpose is to silence independent voices that are not 100-per-cent onside with its agenda.

The Harper government killed the court challenges program, which created something of an even playing field for people and groups who lacked major financial resources but wished to challenge legislation on the basis of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Well-financed corporate interests, notably the tobacco industry, have always had lots of cash to take the government to court. Big tobacco showed as much when it challenged federal plain-packaging legislation on the basis of the Charter’s free speech provisions.

Harper also severely curtailed the public communications and investigative powers of the Chief Electoral Officer, silenced government scientists working on climate change and attacked the charitable status of independent groups that disagreed with his agenda.

As for Ford, he is just getting started. He only took power this past summer.

When Harper and Trump went after scientists and officials whose findings they did not like, they also made their work disappear from public view. Years of research and recommendations simply vanished from the internet.

In case the Ford government tries the same trick, here is where you can still find the most recent full report from the Environmental Commissioner, entitled “Back to Basics.”

Combined runoff of sewage and rainwater is toxic and dangerous

The Environmental Commissioner’s attention to evidence and fact demonstrates why such independent agencies are essential to the formation of sound public policy.

On the water issue, the report goes into considerable detail on local efforts to protect the Ontario watersheds that are the sources of drinking water from contaminants, which range from septic systems to road salt and agricultural run-off.  It notes where communities have taken adequate steps and where there is room for improvement. In the latter category, the report recommends more stringent measures to deal with potential contamination from home heating oil tanks. They are an example of a pollution source that falls between bureaucratic chairs.

As for all of the many thousands of Ontario lakes, streams and rivers that do not directly supply drinking water, the Environmental Commissioner reports that a “sea of pollutants” is harming them.

Sewage, industrial waste, run-off from farms, and spill-over of road waste are “threatening many provincial aquatic ecosystems, impairing Ontarians’ ability to swim and fish, and harming economic activities that rely on clean water.”

The report notes that Ontario’s new Conservative government has identified “protecting and preserving our waterways” as one of its priorities. The commissioner then adds: “They have a lot of work to do.” 

On sewage, for instance, the report tells us that although Ontario municipalities treat about 90 per of the province’s sewage, raw and partially treated sewage still flows into lakes and rivers from many local sewage systems.

The report identifies the villain here as being what it calls “combined sewage outflows.” These outflow systems carry both sewage from toilets and drains and stormwater from rain and snow melt. They are highly toxic, and regularly force authorities to close beaches while making recreational use of rivers, streams and lakes dangerous.

Ontario actually outlawed combined outflow systems in 1985, but 44 municipalities – including the two biggest – Toronto and Ottawa – still use them. The big danger of this system comes when there is heavy rainfall, which can bring on uncontrollable excess flows of pollutants, which “carry toxic pathogens into Ontario’s waterways.”

The commissioner’s report points out that the public does not normally find out about these noxious overflows except when health officials close beaches; and it outlines a long list of recommendations to stop these polluting overflows.

Municipalities can use storage tanks to hold mixed sewage until their plants are able to treat them. They can optimize treatment plant operations to “better manage increased mixed sewage flow” after big rainstorms. And they can use green infrastructure to reduce surface runoff toward streams and rivers.

The report also recommends that the Ontario environment ministry get much tougher with municipalities that fail to act to curtail these dangerous overflows.

“Why,” the report asks, “does the ministry never prosecute municipalities for these overflows?”

The Environmental Commissioner points out that municipalities can legally get a break from their full responsibilities on this score only if they demonstrate they have done due diligence. That is, they have taken “all reasonable steps” to avoid combined sewage overflow.

The 2018 Ontario Environment Commissioner’s recommendations on overflows, and on many other significant issues, are thorough, practical, detailed and well-considered. Instead of reacting to them by promising to take action, the Ford government decided to shoot the messenger and kill the commission.

Photo: Premier of Ontario Photography/Flickr

Karl Nerenberg has been a journalist and filmmaker for more than 25 years. He is rabble's politics reporter.

 

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Categories: News for progressives

Nov. 19, 2018: Government Forces Crushed ISIS-held Pocket In Southern Syria

https://southfront.org/syrian-war-report-nov-19-2018-government-forces-crushed-isis-held-pocket-in-southern-syria/ On November 17th, the Syrian Army (SAA) and its allies regained control of al-Safa after the collapse of ISIS defense in the area. An SAA source told SouthFront that
Categories: News for progressives

Syria - Back In The Arab Fold

Following Syria's military success against its enemies, Arab states which supported the war on Syria are again making nice with it. The United Arab Emirates will reopen its embassy in Damascus. Kuwait and Bahrain will follow. Today a delegation of...
Categories: News for progressives

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