News for progressives

Referendum 2020: A Green New Deal vs. Racist, Classist Climate Genocide

Counterpunch - Thu, 2019-01-17 15:44

Introduction: “Nuking” the Dem Leadership’s Anti-Climate Obstinacy

Perverse as it may seem, I as a climate justice activist am extremely glad the corrupt corporate, militarist Democratic Party leadership has repeatedly expressed its contempt for the Sunrise Movement’s much-needed, potentially game-changing call for a Green New Deal. Three recent, egregious instances of that contempt are 1) Chuck Schumer’s criminally insane promotion of Trump-supporting fossil fuel puppet Joe Manchin to be lead Democrat on a powerful Senate energy committee, 2) Nancy Pelosi’s predictable castration of Sunrise’s hoped-for committee to legislate a Green New Deal, and 3) Pelosi’s equally predictable construction of an insurmountable barricade to a Green New Deal by her ardent embrace of a pay-go budget provision, recently adopted by House Democrats.

What makes me so glad is that Democrats’ corrupt Schumer-Pelosi leadership has taken no time whatsoever to show its cards: it clearly seeks to kill a Green New Deal. Or, at minimum, to weaken it beyond recognition, so the leadership game of serving Wall Street and Silicon Valley, the military-industrial-surveillance complex, and the Israel lobby can continue unimpeded. Absolutely clueless that the youth climate movement is different and won’t be bought off with lip service, Democrats’ leadership has already provoked the Sunrise Movement to strengthen its resolve.

Deeply heartened by Sunrise’s refusal to be taken lightly, I see clear hope that the movement is willing to get radical and use “nuclear” political weapons against the adamantine anti-climate obstinacy of the Democratic leadership. As a veteran activist strategist, I have one such “can’t miss” weapon to propose: making the 2020 election a referendum between Democrats’ Green New Deal and Republicans’ racist, classist climate genocide. If taken up by a popular presidential hopeful like Bernie Sanders, or by a climate-obsessed one like Washington governor Jay Inslee, this stark referendum could sound the well-deserved death knell for today’s beyond-criminal Republican Party. And spell endless, politically suicidal woe for any corporate Democrat who dares oppose it.

Making the 2020 election a referendum between the party of a wildly popular Green New Deal and the party of racist, classist climate genocide ought to be an easier win for Democrats than the proverbial shooting of fish in a barrel. And far less messy. Yet, astonishingly, forcing today’s deeply corrupt “Nummy Bits” Democrats (see next section) to embrace that referendum will probably require unprecedented levels of heroic movement activism. And probably the combined efforts of the Sunrise Movement and the Poor People’s Campaign, both with a serious stake in making this referendum happen.

The remainder of this piece will explore why this stunning referendum would be so politically powerful and, despite that, so difficult to persuade Democrats to adopt.

Democrats: The “Nummy Bits” of U.S. Politics–Only Worse

In my bachelor days as “Crazy Uncle Pat,” my offbeat efforts to amuse my young nieces and nephews (while amply indulging my dark, twisted sense of humor) became family legend. One favorite running gag was my ad campaign for the fictitious Nummy Bits Dog Food. Something like this: “Nummy Bits–nine out of ten dogs prefer them to starvation. Be a Nummy Bits dog!”

Presumably, seeing how “doggedly” one dog in ten embraced the lethal alternative, Nummy Bits weren’t all that “nummy.” And, given that Democrats insist–as doggedly and perhaps as suicidally–on promoting themselves as merely being “better than Trump,” the clear implication is that Democrats themselves aren’t terribly “nummy.” Especially when, finding the discussion of serious, real-world issues embarrassing, Democrats fail to point out how atrocious–how utterly “un-nummy”–an alternative Trump actually is. Like, say, one bent not merely on climate genocide, but racist, classist climate genocide. As in, say, the totally preventable deaths of tens, perhaps hundreds of millions of our planet’s poor people of color.

So racist and classist are the looming genocide’s effects that I considered demanding Trump’s impeachment over it a fitting task for the current revival of Martin Luther King’s Poor People’s Campaign. The Poor People’s Campaign clearly had other priorities, but perhaps–since race and class figure so prominently in the impending climate genocide–it could add urgently needed muscle to the Sunrise Movement’s pioneering political efforts to stave off that worst-ever crime against humanity. More on potential synergy between these important current movements later.

But for now, those of us serious about staving off climate Armageddon–and that seriousness requires supporting a Green New Deal–must face three horrifying realities that, if allowed to continue, virtually guarantee defeat for our cause. Those horrifying realities begin with a two-party system where only Republicans or Democrats can win the vast majority of elections. They also include a Republican Party so hell-bent on climate-change denial and reckless fossil-fuel expansion that it’s willing to risk not merely unprecedented genocide but total human extinction–a party Noam Chomsky rightly brands “criminally insane” and “the most dangerous organization in human history.”

Finally, they include a Democratic Party rendered so namby-pamby by its own corruption–by its criminal unwillingness to discuss any policy questions, no matter how urgent for humanity, no matter how damning for Republicans, that might upset its wealthy donors–that its namby-pamby self-branding merits comparison with “Nummy Bits.” Except that Democrats’ self-branding is far worse.

See, at least the fictitious “Nummy Bits” ad people were willing to give the alternative a properly horrifying name: starvation. Also–and what made the Nummy Bits kamikaze “ad campaign” fun–is that there were presumably lots of other competing dog foods out there willing to trumpet tastier merits than being “better than starvation.” In a two-party system where Republicans truly are the only (electable) alternative, Democrats–being namby-pamby to the max–dare not point out that Republicans really are the electoral equivalent of starvation. Nor do they claim any tastier merit for themselves than “not being Trump”–whose gargantuan horror Democrats (in their donor-censored refusal to discuss humanity’s life-or-death issues) refuse even to properly articulate.

For now, I’ll lay down this law for Green New Deal movement activists: No Democrat (listen up, Liz Warren) who refuses to discuss the genocidal horror of Republican climate policies can be trusted as a serious, committed supporter of the Green New Deal. I’ll devote the rest of this essay to explaining why.

Republicans: The Party of (Racist, Social-Darwinist) Climate Genocide

Unspeakably loathsome is a tame description for today’s Republican Party–for its politicians, billionaire supporters, and supporting media, if not necessarily for its voting base. Granted, with Democrats–pretty loathsome in their own right–as the only viable alternative, Trump’s voting base can be cut a certain amount of slack for getting things so horribly wrong. Especially when the presidential-candidate face of the Democratic Party was such a corrupt, elitist, self-righteous (and possibly criminal) hypocrite as Hillary Clinton–she of the screaming “basket of deplorables” contempt for working-class voters.

Besides the smarmy loathsomeness of Clinton–Dolores Umbridge of the Harry Potter novels, just as ready to take “umbrage,” is fiction’s best comparison–Trump supporters merit some (though not unlimited) slack based on the general misinforming loathsomeness of consolidated corporate U.S. news media. Based on objective evidence, it seems totally fair to say–as Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky brilliantly asserted before today’s extreme media consolidation–that U.S. news (whether corporate Democrat or corporate Republican in its bias) is a concerted propaganda attempt toconceal how our political system works from U.S. voters. Above all, how its policies are designed to benefit corporate and plutocratic interests to the extent that the common good–of either our nation or humanity itself–is not even a remote political consideration.

While Trump and Republican voters–in a system where propaganda (a.k.a. “fake news”) is the norm for both parties–deserve some slack, they also merit a serious wake-up call. Namely, that Republican racism and social-Darwinist contempt for the poor are real, and amounting to spitting in the face of–or actually re-crucifying in Caesar’s name–the very Jesus Christ so many Republicans claim to worship as God. Of course, it’s far from the agenda of corporate lackey Democrats (equally unwilling as Dives to aid Lazarus) to point this out, especially given Democrat leadership’s scathing contempt for Catholics and Christians generally. Social-justice activists–and social-justice activism is a crucial part of climate-justice activism–can only express lasting gratitude to William Barber (just cited) and gutsy religious liberals like William Alberts and Mike Rivage-Seul who’ve pointed out the heretical betrayal of Christianity in mainstream Republican “religion.”

So unflinching is Republicans’ anti-Christian racism and social-Darwinist contempt for the poor that it includes a blithe willingness to make poor people of color–perhaps by the hundreds of millions!–victims of climate genocide. Since poor people of color are being hit first and worst by the accelerating climate crisis–and since Republicans are criminally ramping up that crisis–it follows that most of the initial unnecessary deaths caused by Republican policies will be racist, social-Darwinist ones.

Attentive readers will note my change (from early in this essay) from citing Republicans’ “classist” to citing their “social-Darwinist” climate genocide. While I earlier said classist for brevity’s sake, social Darwinist (in addition to racist) is much closer to the rhetoric promoters of a 2020 “Green New Deal vs. climate genocide” referendum should actually adopt. As a deeper, deeply deserved twist of the knife, it rightly accuses Republicans (supposedly Darwinism’s vehement “Christian” opponents) of the crudest, most unscientific, most anti-Christian version of Darwinism imaginable: a ruthless, immoral “survival of the fittest” that targets for suffering and death the poor outcasts Jesus himself most loved. Democrats, mostly contemptuous of religion themselves, have foolishly granted Republicans the fig leaf of Christianity–while today’s Republicans are the worst persecutors of Christ imaginable.

But since “social Darwinism” is easily understood outside religious contexts, Democrats can score potent religious points against Republicans by citing their “racist, social-Darwinist climate genocide” without making any religious commitment themselves. Yet another instance of the 2020 referendum as “shooting fish in a barrel.”

So why are Democrats so opposed to this perfectly stark 2020 referendum? Because the Democratic Party leadership is much more interested in milking rich donors and keeping its power than mopping the electoral floor with Republicans, no matter how dangerous. In fact, the Dem leadership, far from wishing to eliminate crazy, dangerous, morally reprehensible Republicans, like to keep them around–and keep them as crazy, dangerous, and morally reprehensible as possible. That way, they can, as a “Nummy Bits” better-than-starvation party, extort our votes based on Republican craziness without engaging in the mildest reform of their own corrupt party. And certainly not the extensive reform required by a Green New Deal.

Democrats avoid the obvious, damning–and winning–accusation of Republican racist, social-Darwinist climate genocide because it would 1) raise embarrassing questions about their own climate and other policies and 2) so weaken Republicans as an extortionist threat that Democrats would be forced to appeal to voters based on actual populist policies. Like, say, a wildly popular Green New Deal. All of which, in a nutshell, is why only Democrats willing to openly denounce Republicans’ racist, social-Darwinist climate genocide can be trusted as supporters of a Green New Deal.

Sunrise, the PPC, and AOC: Heroic Versions of “Captain Obvious”

From the analysis just completed, it should be obvious that Republicans–as a racist, social-Darwinist science-denying party hell-bent on the reckless expansion of fossil fuels–are criminal perpetrators of racist, social-Darwinist climate genocide. And should obviously suffer the electoral devastation that status merits.

Yet, given that Republican hold the White House, the U.S. Senate, and most state governorships and legislatures, the GOP’s beyond-criminal reprehensibility is clearly not obvious to U.S. voters. In a brilliant interview about political life under Trump, journalist Allan Nairn explained that “the rhythm of repetition is everything in politics” and “unless it’s repeated, hammered away, day after day, on the big media outlets, it may be on the public record but it’s not in the public consciousness.”

What’s obvious to the U.S. voting public depends on media repetition, and given the virtual conspiracy between Republican-friendly media and Democrat-friendly media not to cite it, the plain fact of Republicans’ racist, social-Darwinist climate genocide is far from obvious to the U.S. voting public. Which in turn sabotages the voting public’s sense of climate-crisis urgency and its pressure for the only just, viable solution to that crisis: a Green New Deal.

The Sunrise Movement and their avid congressional supporter, surprisingly genuine maverick freshman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have expressed ardent advocacy for a Green New Deal. I haven’t heard anything from the Poor People’s Campaign specifically about a Green New Deal, but it seems a natural for them–as is a compelling interest in warding off racist, social-Darwinist climate genocide. So, as potent newsmaking forces with aligned interests, all three need to heroically play the role of Captain Obvious and repeatedly denounce Republicans’ racist, social-Darwinist climate genocide for what it obviously is.

Doing so will make the 2020 election a referendum between the party of the Green New Deal and the party of racist, social-Darwinist climate genocide. And warn Democrats not supportive of the Green New Deal that the label of “genocide Democrats” may soon await them.

Categories: News for progressives

Uniting for a Green New Deal

Counterpunch - Thu, 2019-01-17 15:43

Support is growing in the United States for a Green New Deal. Though there are competing visions for what that looks like, essentially, a Green New Deal includes a rapid transition to a clean energy economy, a jobs program and a stronger social safety net.

We need a Green New Deal for many reasons, most obviously the climate crisis and growing economic insecurity. Each new climate report describes the severe consequences of climate change with increasing alarm and the window of opportunity for action is closing. At the same time, wealth inequality is also growing. Paul Bucheit writes that more than half of the population in the United States is suffering from poverty.

The Green New Deal provides an opportunity for transformational changes, not just reform, but changes that fundamentally solve the crises we face. This is the time to be pushing for a Green New Deal at all levels, in our towns and cities, states and nationally.

Growing support for the Green New Deal

The idea of a Green New Deal seems to have arisen in early 2007 when the Green New Deal Group started meeting to discuss it, specifically as a plan for the United Kingdom. They published their report in July 2008. In April 2009, the United Nations Environmental Program also issued a plan for a global Green New Deal.

In the United States, Barack Obama included a Green New Deal in his 2008 presidential campaign and conservative Thomas Friedman started talking about it in 2007. Howie Hawkins, a Green Party gubernatorial candidate in New York, campaigned on a Green New Deal starting in 2010. Listen to our interview with Hawkins about how we win the Green New Deal on Clearing the FOG. Jill Stein campaigned on it during her presidential runs in 2012 and 2016, as have many Green Party candidates.

Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (AOC), who ran for Congress as a Democrat and won in 2018, has made the Green New Deal a major priority. With the backing of the Sunrise Movement, AOC pushed for a congressional committee tasked with developing a Green New Deal and convinced dozens of members of Congress to support it. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi sidelined that idea by creating a climate committee headed by Kathy Castor, which has no mandate to do anything and lacks  the power to write legislation and issue subpoenas. Now the Sunrise Movement is planning a tour to build support for the Green New Deal. At each stop they will provide organizing tools to make the Green New Deal a major issue in the 2020 election season.

This week, more than 600 organizations, mostly environmental groups, sent a letter to Congress calling on it to take climate change seriously and design a plan to end dependence on fossil fuels, a transition to 100% clean energy by 2035, create jobs and more. Indigenous leaders are also organizing to urge Congress to pass a Green New Deal that is “Indigenized,” meaning it prioritizes input from and the inclusion of Indigenous Peoples.

Survey data shows the strongest support for a Green New Deal among liberal Democrats.

Defining a transformative Green New Deal

The Green New Deal, as a tool to address climate change and economic insecurity, could be transformative in many ways or it could reinforce current systems. Our political system is inclined towards programs that do the latter, so it is critical that the movement for economic, racial and environmental justice and peace is clear about what we mean by a Green New Deal.

At the heart of the issue is capitalism, a root cause of many of the crises we face today. Capitalism drives growth at all costs including exploitation of people and the planet. It drives competition and individualism instead cooperation and community. It requires militarism as the strong arm for corporations to pillage other countries for their resources and militarized police to suppress dissent at home.

Capitalism was in crisis in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when, like today, there was great inequality and a political system that catered to the wealthy. Progressive, populist, labor and socialist movements were pressing for significant changes. This came to a head in the depression when tens of thousands of Bonus Marchers occupied Washington DC during the summer of the 1932 presidential election demanding their bonus pay from World War I. The newly-elected President Roosevelt was forced to act, so he put reforms in place called the New Deal.

While the New Deal brought relief to many people through banking reform, Social Security, jobs programs and greater rights for workers, it was not transformative. Some argue that the New Deal was essential to save capitalism. It relieved suffering enough that dissent quieted but left the capitalist economic system intact. In the decades since the New Deal, monopolization, inequality, and exploitation have again increased with the added crises of climate change and environmental destruction.

This time around, we need a broad Green New Deal that changes the system so there is greater public ownership and democratization of the economy. It can also be used to address theft of wealth from Indigenous, black and brown communities. And it can set us on a path to end US imperialism in the least harmful manner.

Wayne Price discusses this in “A Green New Deal vs Revolutionary Eco-socialism.” He writes,

“…the capitalists’ wealth and power should be taken away from them (expropriated) by the self-organization of the working class and its allies. Capitalism should be replaced by a society which is decentralized and cooperative, producing for use rather than profit, democratically self-managed in the workplace and the community, and federated together from the local level to national and international levels.”

It is interesting that the Yellow Vest movement in France is also seeking transformative change from a representative government to one that uses greater participation through direct democracy. System change is needed to confront these economic and environmental crises. One alternative system gaining traction is ecosocialism which combines the insights of ecology with the necessity for worker’s rights and public control over the economy. We discussed ecosocialism with Victor Wallis, author of “Red Green Revolution: The politics and technology of ecosocialism,” on Clearing the FOG.

The Green Party divides the Green New Deal into four pillars: An economic bill of rights, a green transition, financial reform, and a functioning democracy. The economic bill of rights includes not only a job at a living wage for all who want it but also single payer healthcare, free college education, and affordable housing and utilities. The green transition to renewable energy sources includes building mass transit, “complete streets” that promote walking and biking, local food systems and clean manufacturing. Financial reform includes debt relief, public banks and breaking up the big banks. And the democracy section includes getting money out of politics, guaranteeing the right to vote, strengthening local democracy, democratizing the media and significant changes to the military. We would add to this prioritizing the involvement of Indigenous, black and brown communities. As Jon Olsen writes, ecosocialism is now part of the platform of the Green Party of the United States and has entered the political dialogue.

Uniting to win the Green New Deal

Conditions are ripe for a Green New Deal. Wealth inequality continues to accelerate. As Lawrence Wittner describes, we have a new era of Robber Barons like the Waltons and Jeff Bezos who pay low wages and rake in millions in public subsidies for their new facilities. They use their economic power to influence lawmakers so laws are passed that increase rather than threaten their riches.

new report shows that 40% of people in the United States have negative wealth; they are in debt. And another 20% have minimal wealth, meaning 60% of people in the US have virtually no assets. The report was focused on millennials finding they are less well off than previous generations.

Anthony DiMaggio, who wrote about the report, also found that the affluent are oblivious to the high degree of inequality in the United States and that without this understanding, they are unlikely to support policies that reduce inequality.

The Democratic Party is starting to get the message. With student loan debt at a record $1.465 trillion, twice the amount in 2009, candidates are starting to talk about this issue. Members of Congress in the House are planning to hold hearings on National Improved Medicare for All and increasing Social Security. Democratic voters strongly support these changes, so the Democrats are feeling compelled to appear to be taking action on them, though this could mostly be for show to keep people from leaving the party in the lead up to the 2020 elections.

To win a Green New Deal, which could include a stronger social safety net, we will need to unite as a movement of movements and make the demand impossible to ignore. Uniting across issues makes sense because the Green New Deal is broad, addressing multiple crises at once. And we will need to push issues that Democrats will not want to discuss, such as nationalization of industries, more democracy, and cuts to the military. Bruce Dixon of Black Agenda Report urges us to organize not just nationally but at the state level too by introducing plans for state Green New Deals.

We can work at many levels to build the demand for a Green New Deal. Talk to people in your community about it. Start local initiatives for clean energy, local food networks, protecting public schools and water systems, promoting cooperatives and more. Push your state and federal legislators too. This is an opportunity to unite in support of a bold new vision for our society.

Categories: News for progressives

The Wall Already Exists — In Our Hearts and Minds

Counterpunch - Thu, 2019-01-17 15:41

My favorite album of all time is Pink Floyd’s The Wall. It should be re-released given the current (manufactured) crisis. I’m not surprised that Roger Waters is planning a show on the border to protest Trump’s continued government shutdown over funding for an ill-defined barrier that has come to represent everything wrong with his presidency: lies, false promises, fear, racism, and simplistic solutions.

It’s important to emphasize that the wall is more symbol than reality. Setting aside the fact that the nearly-2,000-mile border is already teeming with armed men and barriers of various kinds, a Trumpian “wall” already exists: the (abstract) wall that blocks many Americans from seeing migrants from Central America and Mexico as people just like them.

While Trump was rightly condemned for misappropriating the Game of Thrones slogan “Winter Is Coming” by taking the font and changing it to “The Wall Is Coming,” the underlying analogy is eerily correct. Although — spoiler alert — the (mythical) wall is destroyed by undead invaders (who only advance during winter) at the end of the show’s last season, for thousands of years it served to separate the living not only from the undead but also from each other. In a reversal of reality, those living south of the wall disparaged the northerners as “wildlings,” portraying them as amoral, violent, and uncivilized, while the northerners denounced their southern brethren for their cloistered arrogance. Sound familiar?

The silver lining from Game of Thrones is that the north and south eventually (sort of) united against the undead, and, in return for their help in the war to come, the “wildlings” were permitted to settle south of the wall for safety. It remains to be seen (in season 8) whether this united force will prevail, but the mythical universe has nevertheless solved a timeless problem that those of us stuck here in reality are still struggling with: xenophobic nativism.

Somehow it remains lost to millions of (especially) white Americans — even in the 21st century with all its forward-thinking innovations and popular culture — that their southern neighbors are not dangerous invaders but people with largely the same feelings, needs, and aspirations that they themselves possess. Meanwhile, it remains lost on many Israelis and American supporters of Israel (not to mention Trump) that the so-called “security fence” that illegally snakes through Palestinian land is not only hideous (I’ve seen it up close) but far more of a barrier to peace than to terrorism.

Walls have been built for millennia, most notably the Great Wall of China and the Berlin Wall, with discouraging results. To conclude that this (still) nonexistent wall that Mexico will surely not pay for will be any different is just as absurd as concluding that the ascension of an unqualified, hate- and fear-mongering narcissist to the highest office in the land would be a reason to celebrate. It is as if we have learned nothing from history and have forgotten how to think critically.

If a television show can get it right, then why can’t we?

Categories: News for progressives

Trump’s Flailing will get More Desperate and More Dangerous

Counterpunch - Thu, 2019-01-17 15:40

Since the striking victories of Democrats up and down the ballot in 2018, President Donald Trump has been flailing more and more wildly.

He’s setting new records for the length of the government shutdown, watched his defense secretary resign after suddenly announcing the withdrawal of troops from Syria, forced his attorney general to resign, found it difficult to find a permanent replacement for his departing chief of staff, and tweeted that he is “all alone in the White House.”

Quietly, the unrelenting investigation of Robert Mueller becomes ever more ominous. Now the new Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives will probe the corruption of this most corrupt administration, from Trump’s business dealings to the corporate lobbyists who are running entire departments in the interests of their once and future employers.

While Trump issues insult after insult against opponents — Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former Vice President Joe Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer — he reveals just how desperate he is.

Essentially, Trump now has three choices. He can stay in office and be impeached. The evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors is building each day, from trampling election laws by payoffs to keep his mistresses quiet to blatant self-enrichment that surely offends the Constitution’s ban on emoluments, to open and secret efforts to obstruct justice.

Democrats will no doubt wait for special prosecutor Mueller to issue his report. They will wait to see if Republicans, alarmed by their sinking poll numbers, begin to separate themselves from Trump. Sen. Mitt Romney’s blast at Trump may be an early warning of what’s likely to come.

Hearings on the impeachment of the president are inevitable. Impeachment in the House is likely. Whether the Republican-led Senate will protect the president remains to be seen.

If not impeached, Trump could stay in office and be disgraced. Disgrace appears unavoidable. He lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by 3 million votes at a time many Americans were desperate to change things.

Republicans lost several key congressional races last fall. That’s when the economy was at its best, and Trump’s foreign policy chaos hadn’t yet been felt. Two years from now, if he chooses to run for re-election, Trump will try to pull the Electoral College equivalent of an inside straight again, but he is most likely to be routed, bringing down with him many of the Republican senators who have lacked the backbone to stand up to him.

At the same time, the investigations of his various business dealings, his tax returns, his conflicts of interests will end in myriad lawsuits, if not criminal charges. Once he is defeated, Trump will face not only unending lawsuits for damages, but the real possibility of jail time for himself or his family or both.

Alternatively, Trump — the deal maker — could cut a deal to define his fate. After the Mueller report is issued, as the congressional investigations accelerate, as various criminal investigations begin, he could seek to negotiate his way out. Cut a deal that would give him and his family immunity from criminal liability and possibly civil liability in exchange for his resignation, sparing the nation the agony of what will inevitably be an ugly, divisive fight over impeachment and over criminal indictment after he is defeated.

Americans tend to forgive and forget, once an offender resigns. President Gerald Ford took a hit for pardoning President Richard Nixon, but Nixon survived and regained some of his stature with books on foreign policy. Pelosi and Schumer might take a hit for cutting a deal with Trump, but Trump could retain his freedom and his celebrity, with a base surely willing to support him in the wilderness.

It has come to this: impeachment, disgrace or resignation. Trump, no doubt, will rail against his fate. He’ll claim he could be vindicated in court or in Congress or in the elections. His twittering will grow more frantic and more venomous.

His impulsive and destructive behavior — pulling troops out of Syria suddenly and then reversing position and reversing again, shutting down the government over a wall that won’t be built, using the bully pulpit to try to intimidate his former associates who are testifying against him — will get ever more dangerous.

His flailing only deepens the hold that he is already in. Trump never expected to win the presidency. He clearly might find it sensible to save his fortune and freedom by resigning from a position he never expected to hold.


Categories: News for progressives

The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party: Part Three

Counterpunch - Thu, 2019-01-17 15:35

This is the third of a three part series regarding the Green New Deal. I will argue in the course of this series the method by which the Green Party should articulate a Green New Deal proposal that is radically different and distinct from that proposed by the Democratic Party, even its Progressive Caucus. Green voters and activists nationwide are encouraged to engage with to connect with activists and organizers emphasizing integrity, intersectional feminist eco-socialism, anti-imperialism, and independence from the Democratic Party. I make no claim that these views are representative of anyone but myself and welcome a vigorous but principled debate around alternative principles and methods of articulation. For one such alternative articulation, listen to this recent episode of Clearing the Fog podcast featuring an interview with Howie Hawkins. On Thursday, January 17 at 8 pm EST there will be a National Conference Call featuring Hawkins elaborating on the Green New Deal. You can register at here.

The Green Party should seek, within the policy initiatives of the Green New Deal, to strengthen worker rights. As Whitney Webb writes in Corporations See a Different Kind of “Green” in Ocasio-Cortez’s “Green New Deal,” the Democratic Green New Deal (hereafter DGND) actually contains within its policy proposals further neoliberal assaults on worker rights and austerity measures, both of which have fostered the growth of white nationalism historically in American politics.

Along with Improved Single Payer Medicare for All, the Green Party states they would also pass the Employee Free Choice Act, otherwise known as “card check,” which makes union organization easier. They should furthermore repeal the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 while amending the 1926 Railway Labor Act so to return the right to strike to railway and airline workers. The Green Party goal is to guarantee a living wage job for every American willing and able to work. To do this, the national party would establish a full employment program that will create 25 million jobs by implementing a nationally funded, locally controlled employment initiative. This would also include measures to create fair trade treaties and strengthen workplace safety laws. Job training would be in combination with a guaranteed tuition-free public college education and granting of student debt forgiveness. They would reform tax codes and laws to assure fair taxation, distributed in proportion to one’s ability to pay. And finally, we would provide all Americans with decent, accessible, affordable, and sustainable housing and democratically run, publicly owned, not-for-profit utilities

Another distinction is the role of anti-imperialism within the coordinates of the Green New Deal. The DGND makes no reference to de-linking the American dollar’s value from the Saudi Arabian oil barrel’s price on the international exchange market. Unless a serious effort is made to disconnect the link between the dollar and Saudi oil, otherwise stated as eliminating the petrodollar, it is fundamentally against the best interests of the American government to engage in any sort of project that would reduce the worldwide value of Saudi oil. American capitalism since the termination of the Bretton Woods system during the Nixon administration has been one that only can be maintained by the perpetuation of a fossil fuels-based economic system. Sustainable energy policy from Democratic Party that does not take on this issue will not take on what actually drives climate change.

Furthermore, owing to the precarious nature of the House of Saud’s grip on that country’s government, American foreign policy towards Saudi Arabia has always been extremely militarist and imperialist. From the start of the Cold War, when Saudi Arabia and Israel were positioned in the region as two poles that would oppose secular Arab nationalism, to contemporary times, with the ongoing genocidal war on Yemen and the jingoistic bipartisan saber-rattling towards Iran, the House of Saud has exchanged the security of American oil supplies for allowance of the most reactionary type of absolute monarchism on earth. Saudi Wahhabism has been a fundamentalist current promoting anti-Black racism, misogyny, trans/homo/bi-phobia, and feudal judicial practices across the Islamic world. The Saudis have been a key player in American imperial policy across Asia and Africa.

These coordinates can inform the preliminary coordinates for a long-term and coordinated program of international reparations between the Global North and South. For five centuries, the North has maintained white supremacist hegemony at the expense of the South. It is incumbent upon activists at the heart of empire to struggle so to dismantle the imperial project piece by piece in a fashion that is cognizant of the ecological cost of the system. The Pentagon is the world’s largest carbon polluter and is exempt from the major climate treaties. The South currently faces tremendous hardship and losses caused by climate catastrophes that the North created with their over-dependence and over-use of greenhouse gas-based energy systems. A truly just Green New Deal must address itself to the reparations towards the Global South and make its aims international in scope. For in the totality of things, climate catastrophe does not stop at borders and lines drawn on a map, instead its storms are the international onslaught that must unite people of all nations in a coordinated and robust opposition.

Unless the DGND includes an internationalist intersectional feminist principle of anti-imperialism, one which reverses the system of worldwide alliances that emerged at the end of World War II, very little will be changed in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. It is simply a matter of what is in the best interests of the American political economy as it now exists.

A second distinction is the emphasis on the role of self-determination and national liberation. It is the longtime view of the Green Party that the multiple peoples of color within the United States should have their human rights respected as defined by international law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Ajamu Baraka, the 2016 Green Party vice presidential nominee and national organizer with the Black Alliance for Peace, writes:

…I argue that if human rights are to have any incredibility, any “universal” applicability, any value, they must be seized from the barbaric grip of Europeans and de-colonized. The cognitive dysfunctionality of the white supremacist consciousness renders Europeans infected with this malady unable to “see” the contradictory history of liberal thought from the Enlightenment to the contemporary period that continues to stratify human beings and human civilizations and cultures. The assumed superiority of Western cultures and peoples are not even a point of contention. Its material development, the wonders of its science, the variety of its consumer goods are all testimonies to its innate superiority. The problem is that all of this is based on lies. As Franz Fanon reminded us, Europe is a creation of Colonialism… We must embrace and exercise the black radical human rights tradition and its subsequent expression in what I call “People(s)-Centered Human Rights (PCHRs). People(s)-Centered Human Rights (PCHR) are those non-oppressive rights that reflect the highest commitment to universal human dignity and social justice that individuals and collectives define and secure for themselves through social struggle. This is the Black Radical Tradition’s approach to human rights. It is an approach that views human rights as an arena of struggle that, when grounded and informed by the needs and aspirations of the oppressed, becomes part of a unified comprehensive strategy for de-colonization and radical social change. The feature that distinguishes the people-centered framework from all of the prevailing schools of human rights theory and practice is that it is based on an explicit understanding that to realize the full range of the still developing human rights idea requires: 1) an epistemological break with a human rights orthodoxy grounded in Euro-centric liberalism; 2) a reconceptualization of human rights from the standpoint of oppressed groups; 3) a restructuring of prevailing social relationships that perpetuate oppression; and 4) the acquiring of power on the part of the oppressed to bring about that restructuring.

A Green New Deal must create conditions that grant peoples of color self-determination in their communities, recalling the words of the Combahee River Collective, “If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.” It must allow for these communities of color to define and develop on their own terms and accord the structures of self-government by which they desire to live and thrive. In practical terms, this means a proactive embrace of police and prison abolition, meaning eliminating from the list of possible construction projects police stations and barracks, jails, prisons, and other elements to the police-prison industrial complex. As part of this logic, it must also end the school-to-prison pipeline by eliminating from federal, state, and municipal budgets funding for police presence in schools, the criminalization of Black/Brown youth, and increased surveillance on students. It must instead re-deploy these budget line-items to pay for increased counseling staff, instruction of teachers in restorative justice practices. Furthermore, teacher training must be reformulated and redesigned so to address white supremacy and racism within the profession and remove that poison from the workplace.

A useful proposition to consider for integration into the Green New Deal is the American Federation of Teachers (AFT)-endorsed Community Schools model. The AFT designates as Seven Principles of Community Schools:

1) Community schools provide more than one type of service to students and the community. Better yet, the services are unique to each school and community, and will most likely change over time as the needs of your student and family population changes. Examples of these services could include:

-Academic services like tutoring, community-based learning and other enrichment activities;

-Medical services like primary, vision, dental and nutritional services;

-Mental health services like counseling and psychiatrists; and

-Adult education classes.

2) Community schools better support and enable a strong, academic curriculum. Strong ties with the community lead to more partnerships and programs outside the classroom, which in turn can be utilized to directly support instruction and empower students to learn. Examples include project-based learning and service learning activities.

3) Partnerships are coordinated and purposeful. The community school infrastructure enables the coordination and integration of programs that enrich and support learning and instruction while meeting the needs of students, families and the community.

4) Community schools share a vision and mission and are results-driven. Everyone involved—community partners, families, school staff and administration—shares responsibility for accountability and continuous improvement. The results are not just focused on academics, but also include the non-school-related outcomes.

5) A site resource coordinator makes sure that all of the service and community providers are working together, focusing on the same set of results to ensure that students are getting the service most attuned to their needs. The coordinators are the glue and the anchor for the community school. They have strong relationships with school staff, parents, administrators and the community.

6) Community schools work with students but also engage families and communities. When families and community members are a part of the process of planning and implementing a community school, they begin to have a deeper investment and ownership in the success of their own children and the school community.

7) Effective community schools are governed at the local level, and decisions are made by consulting with all stakeholders, including teachers and other school staff. Teachers and school staff are often the best acquainted with students and their particular needs, so your input on the local site decision-making team (local governing team, etc.) is invaluable.

This also would require that a Green New Deal eliminate funding of charter schools and efforts that support further school privatization, such as high-stakes testing and Race to the Top programs. We should seek to strengthen and expand the commons in the public domain rather than weaken and eventually privatize them.

In his magnum opus Black Reconstruction in America, W.E.B. Du Bois places as the cornerstone of the text, for ideological, literary, and political reasons, the Black worker, naming the opening chapter after that laborer. Du Bois was not writing just a heterodox Marxian account of a contentious postbellum moment in American history. Through careful framing and formulation, he positions Radical Reconstruction and particularly that aspect led by Black workers as a proletarian revolution equivalent to the events seen in Russia in 1917. The destruction of the revolutionary current was caused by the white nationalist Ku Klux Klan, aided by the reactionary presidency of Andrew Johnson, and wrought another 150 years of terror for workers of all skin pigmentations.

It is my opinion that any system change that the Green Party proposes should therefore follow the Du Boisian schematic and be premised on the Black and Brown workers as those leading the way to liberation, otherwise we are all doomed to not just repeat the dire mistakes of the first New Deal but also create something that simply will be inadequate in addressing climate change.

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Saving Robert Schellenberg will be a daunting task for Trudeau government

Rabble News - Wed, 2019-01-16 23:29
January 16, 2019Saving Robert Schellenberg will be a daunting task for Trudeau governmentThe most effective method would be to find a way to end the extradition proceedings against Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.CA
Categories: News for progressives

Saving Robert Schellenberg will be a daunting task for Trudeau government

Rabble News - Wed, 2019-01-16 23:26
Karl Nerenberg

A Chinese court has sentenced Canadian Robert Lloyd Schellenberg to death for the crime of drug smuggling, and the Canadian government is taking two tracks in its efforts to save his life.

Even before a regional Chinese court imposed the death sentence, the Trudeau government had asked Chinese authorities to exercise clemency in this case. So far, the response has been anything but favourable. The Chinese have reacted more in resentful and offended anger than in sorrow.

The Canadian government is also taking another tack – by putting pressure on the Chinese by rallying international support for Schellenberg and against the practice of execution.

 As Global Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland put it: "Canada's position when it comes to the death penalty is consistent and very long-standing. We believe it is inhumane and inappropriate. And wherever the death penalty is considered with regard to a Canadian, we speak out against it."

In this sentiment, the minister can expect to find sympathy and support from member states of the European Union, from most Latin American countries, from Australia and New Zealand, and from South Africa and a number of other African countries which have recently banned executions.

However, Freeland’s statement of principle will not find much resonance immediately in the U.S., where even Democratic party politicians who privately oppose capital punishment fear the political consequences of saying so publicly.

The last time a U.S. presidential candidate stated openly that he was against executions was in 1988, and it did not work out too well. During a televised debate, Democrat Michael Dukakis stated coolly and dispassionately that even if his own wife were brutally murdered, he would be opposed to the state exacting revenge and killing the perpetrator.

That candour, combined with the vicious negative attacks George H.W. Bush’s campaign waged against him, cost Dukakis the election.

Public support for executions in the U.S. and in Asia is high

These days, U.S. death penalty opponents like to point to some hopeful signs in their country. The rate of executions seems to be on the decline, at least somewhat. But a good many U.S. states still impose executions in arbitrary, unfair and cruel ways.

Texas, for instance, has what it calls the “law of parties,” which means a person who is “party” to a criminal offence that results in murder – for instance, the driver of the getaway vehicle – can be condemned to death. There are also significant controversies surrounding the use of the most popular current method of killing prisoners, lethal injection. Over the past couple of years, there has been a horrific series of botched executions using the big needle, which amount to nothing less than torture.

Despite these grisly truths, and the fact that the U.S. is the only country in the Americas that persists in employing the death penalty, American support for executions remains high, at well over 60 per cent, according to polls.

For China, all available public opinion research indicates overwhelming support for the death penalty, especially for violent crimes. And, according to Amnesty International, China is the world champion of executions, although it is impossible to know the exact number of executions carried out annually by Chinese authorities. That information is kept secret, but Amnesty estimates it to be in the thousands.

To date, Freeland has only been able to tout support for Canada’s efforts to save Schellenberg from a number of Western countries, such as Germany.

As yet, she has not been able to convince a single Asian country to take Canada’s side in this effort. That might be because most of those countries -- including Japan, Indonesia and the Philippines -- still have the death penalty on their books. And most still use it, as does China, against convicted drug dealers. 

The cruel fact is that the Canadian argument that the death penalty is barbaric and never justified has little resonance in much of the world. Even the more nuanced argument that, in the case of a crime not involving murder, such as Schellenberg’s, imposing the death penalty is excessive, is likely to fall on deaf ears.

The Chinese can reason: If the U.S. can blithely put to death mentally handicapped people and others only tangentially associated with the act of murder, as well as defendants who had manifestly incompetent defences, why shouldn’t we, the Chinese will ask, use capital punishment to deter crimes we consider to be a grave threat to our social well being?

In the final analysis, Canada’s best chance of saving Schellenberg will not likely be moral suasion. Nor will appeals for mercy or pressure from a handful of other countries have much chance of success.

It appears, at this stage, that the most effective way for the Trudeau government to save this Canadian’s life would be to, somehow, find a way to end the extradition proceedings against Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.

Photo: U.S. Department of State/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

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Jim Yong Kim’s Mixed Messages to the World Bank and the World

Counterpunch - Wed, 2019-01-16 16:00

Image by Nathaniel St. Clair


World Bank president Jim Kim is an ex-leftist who claims that in the mid-1990s he wanted to shut down the Bank. At the time, it was an entirely valid, realistic goal of the 50 Years is Enough! Campaign and especially the World Bank Bonds Boycott. Kim’s co-edited Dying for Growth (2000) book-length analysis of the Bank’s attacks on Global-South public health offered very useful ammunition.

However, not only did Kim subsequently make an ideological U-turn, as we see below, but more importantly, among the casualties of the 9/11 attacks were many such movement-building efforts aimed at a common international enemy. The global justice scene faded quickly as a result of new divisions between social activists and U.S. labor patriots, the shift by internationalists into anti-war mobilizing, and the ascendance of NGO-led World Social Forum talk-shopping. Other more hopeful recent leftist waves also ebbed: Latin America’s Pink Tide and 2011’s Occupy moment in many sites across the world. Perhaps the recent revival of social-democratic politics in the two core (Anglo-American) sites of neoliberalism will make this post-2001 lapse appear as an only temporary setback.

If so, one inevitable site to identify neoliberalism’s coldest logic – and sometimes most brute-force muscles – is the World Bank, an institution often engaged in self-delegitimization. So if activists across the globe do not currently have a central site of resistance, nevertheless countless battles are being waged at any given time against Bank projects and ideology. The battle over its leadership is worth close attention.

After founding an impressive NGO (Partners in Health) and pursuing Harvard anthropology and public health scholarship during the 1990s, Kim went on to run the World Health Organization’s AIDS division (very well indeed, helping get generic medicines to millions), and then Dartmouth College (not so well). Improbably, in 2012 he then became World Bank president due to his proximity to Bill and Hillary Clinton. But he made mistake after mistake for six and a half years at 18th & H Sts, NW Washington, alienating all kinds of different constituencies. In the wake of his sudden resignation last week, practically no one has a good word to say about Kim.

(One indication of the establishment’s heartbreak is that on Twitter, ‘serious’ people from Washington’s think-tank circuitry began speculating about Kim’s botched romantic life and other scandals at the Bank as push factors, or instead – charged former Bank economist Branco Milanovic and the Center for Global Development’s Charles Kenny– personal greed as a pull factor. The Economist claimed the hasty departure was reasonable, for “Kim probably decided to leave months ago… Once he had begun talking to his next employer, he could not stay long without creating a potential conflict of interest.” Gossip should be discounted, but whether or not such material conflicts will arise – for his new employer is even more dominated by corrupt leadership and a fossil-centric infrastructure portfolio than the Bank – is worthy of brief consideration, below.)

A full record of Kim’s 2012, 2016 and 2019 employment mishaps can be found at a public interest website. And excellent recent critiques of Kim’s 2012-19 leadership are available from Delhi-based Bank critics Tani Alex and Joe Athialy (writing in Down to Earth) and two NGO watchdogs, the Bretton Woods Project in London and the Bank Information Center in Washington, whose evaluation last week pointed out Kim’s talk-left walk-right tendencies:

“While Dr. Kim articulated a strong vision of the World Bank Group’s mission that was targeted at reducing extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity, the reality is that during his tenure as World Bank President, the institution frequently failed to live up to these principles. Rather than combatting inequality and targeting those living in extreme poverty, many investment projects, policy loans, and other World Bank activities contributed to inequality by supporting forced evictions, excluding persons with disabilities from project benefits, or creating conditions that increased rates of gender-based violence and sexual exploitation. Similarly, Dr. Kim maintained strong rhetoric around the need to address climate change throughout his presidency, but under his leadership the World Bank continued to invest in projects that led to deforestation and land degradation and otherwise supported the continued extraction and burning of fossil fuels.”

Here in Johannesburg, which Kim visited a month ago, there is much to lament about Kim’s desultory role, following a long history of Bank malevolence including generous financing of apartheid. For example, just before the 2012 massacre at Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mining operation, the Bank held a proud $150 million debt/equity commitment (its largest such stake in Sub-Saharan Africa). A local feminist group’s formal complaint against the Lonmin financing was treated by Kim’s staff with such disdain that finally in 2015, the women and their lawyers gave up in disgust.

And the Bank has kept the financial tranches flowing into climate destruction through the $3.75 billion loan (its largest ever) for an utterly dysfunctional 4800 MegaWatt coal-fired power-plant, Medupi (the world’s largest under construction today). As was well known in 2010, the project featured both massive CO2 pollution and ruling-party corruption. In 2015, the Japanese contractor Hitachi paid a $19 million out-of-court settlement for bribing the African National Congress – but the beneficiary of that U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act fine was Washington’s Securities and Exchange Commission, not ordinary South Africans whose real increase in electricity tariffs has since then exceeded 400 percent. (If ever some form of international financial justice is served, the World Bank would be forced to take a haircut on its Medupi loan, and also pay reparations for this exceptional energy disaster.)

Both these financing frauds emanated from Robert Zoellick’s presidency. But they festered unresolved through Kim’s reign, and sneakily, he evaded both controversies during his 2012 visit.

More recent Kim-era scandals here included the Bank’s lead-ownership role in a firm found guilty ofdebit-order scamming millions of the poorest South Africans out of big chunks of their monthly grants (i.e., oft-celebrated ‘financial inclusion’). And in terms of World Bank research, South Africa was a pilot for the new inequality-denialism, which counts only (tokenistic) pro-poor state spending but entirely ignores corporate welfare.

In one of his last public speeches, last month at the Wits School of Governance in Johannesburg (where I happen to work), Kim sounded more bolshi-neoliberal than ever: “The ten things that are included in the Washington Consensus, most of them are really good. Most of them are things like central banks should be independent from state government. Most of those ideas are really good.”

Actually, Kim was wrong on this elementary point. Of the ten commandments associated with the Washington Consensus (as defined by John Williamson of the Institute for International Finance), an independent reserve bank was not included. The ten are fiscal discipline, reorientation of public expenditures, tax reform, financial liberalization, unified and competitive exchange rates, trade liberalization, openness to multinational corporate investment, privatization, deregulationand secure property rights. Applied in practice across Africa since the 1980s, these aspects of structural adjustment were all destructive to public health and more general social welfare and environmental sustainability.

Another reflection of Kim’s post-2000 rethinking of politics was his tweet two days before his Johannesburg speech: “Saddened by the passing of Pres. George HW Bush, a man of great character & courage. While at Dartmouth, I bestowed on him an honorary Dr of Laws degree. His work on the environment & commitment to global cooperation were only part of his profound legacy.”

In reality, Bush was an exceptionally belligerent warmonger and danger to nature: as the mid-1970s head of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, as Vice President under Ronald Reagan and as President from 1981-93. The single highlight may have been Bush’s announcement at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit: “The American way of life is not up for negotiations. Period.”

This perspective confirmed Washington’s role as wrecker of future world climate summits, including post-Kyoto when Bill Clinton refused to sign on, or at Copenhagen in 2009 and Paris in 2015 when Obama’s State Department fatally weakenedthe deals, not to mention the Trump gang’s anti-science chaos in Katowice last month (allied with Moscow and Riyadh).

More generally, Kim’s rule will be remembered for a new level of World Bank huckstering. He worked with the worst financial-speculative characters – like the Trump family – to promote the Public-Private Pilfering (PPP) model of “privatized profits, socialized losses.” Even more so than during the Wolfensohn-Wolfowitz-Zoellick ultra-neoliberal era, Kim believed financiers were the ideal partners for poor countries. That paves the way not only for him to join a predatory investment firm, but for a Wall Street crony of Trump to ease into the Bank presidency once nominations open next month.

Opening the door to a Trumpist bankster?

Will Donald Trump’s replacement candidate be affirmed by the usual suspects: the U.S.-Europe-Japan (so-called ‘Western imperialist’) voting bloc, just as Kim relied upon in 2012, even though he was manifestly the least qualified of three candidates, and refused to engage in public debate? Alternatively, would a candidate from the non-U.S. West, or the emerging markets, or even poorer countries, be acceptable to Trump, if his candidate is rejected?

The harsh reality is that Trump enjoys World Bank Board veto power with more than 15 percent of the voting shares. As a precedent for what might transpire, Washington’s blocking of multilateral institutions through personnel rejections has already sabotaged the World Trade Organization in recent months.

Much cynical amusement was generated by last Friday’s Financial Times throwaway remark: “Ivanka Trump, the US president’s daughter, is another name floating around Washington as a potential successor.”The basis for this zany notion (according to the FT) can be traced to Kim, for according torightwing economic ideologue Judy Shelton,“right away he worked out the deal with Ivanka Trump . . . right away she had a partner in him and I thought that was very smart.”

A year ago, nearly the same observation was offered by a New York Times reporter in an article entitled “The World Bank Is Remaking Itself as a Creature of Wall Street”: “When talking about his relationship with the administration, he drops the first names of White House players. “Ivanka, Jared, Gary Cohn, Dina Powell — they all know our business model very well,” Mr. Kim said.”

A month ago, Ivanka Trump was found guilty of fraudulent philanthropic activities, forcing the humiliating closure of the Trump Foundation. The New York Attorney General now seeks to temporarily ban her from such activity, which would present an impossible public relations hurdle for a World Bank presidential campaign. It would be excellent if Trump did indeed nominate her – as last October he hinted he might, for Ambassador to the United Nations – just to finally get the rest of the World Bank’s directors to belatedly rise up with an alternative, non-yankee candidate.

Another Trump favourite is Goldman Sachs banker and former White House advisor Dina Powell, who was teasingly endorsed by The Economist: “An American nominee who is hawkish on China and opposes the bank’s green-finance projects, or is seen as a political stooge, would set off a row. Ms Powell would have the advantage of being a globalist.” That’s the term so thoroughly despised by Trump and his hard-right base that there’s little chance of her nomination. Instead, expect the worst, i.e., someone like Bernie Madoff after he receives a Trump pardon.

Finally then, might a non-Trumpist banker be considered? China Daily– sometimes a good indicator of Beijing’s world view – offered an unsigned editorial with a vague suggestion about the need for an alternative candidacy: “It is widely hoped that the nomination of the next president could break away from an unofficial but long-held tradition, so that competent candidates with broad development experience, particularly from the developing world, can have a chance to lead this important international institution.”

That’s predictable from Beijing, but here too is confirmation from Tokyo’s Japan Times: Washington “can no longer claim to be protecting the global interest when its top officials insist that they are putting their national interest first. The Trump administration’s record of appointees to international institutions is mixed: its candidate to head the U.N. Migration Agency was rejected last year for making anti-Islam comments – a difficult position to defend given the organization’s mandate and the people it protects. The U.S.-European bargain to support each other’s nominee to head the World Bank and IMF is strained like the rest of the trans-Atlantic relationship.”

Perhaps the potential of the U.S. losing its 75-year long Bank presidency is why some in Washington are now panicking. Brookings’ David Dollar, a former World Bank researcher of dubious repute, anticipates that Trump’s forthcoming “nominee will be approved. The world has an interest in the US staying engaged with the World Bank”(sic).

A healthy dose of anti-imperialism is probably too much to ask from the kinds of neoliberals, liberals, Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) elites and Third World leaders who are most interested in this process, but surely there’s a possibility of anti-Trumperialism given how destructive his reign is to the people and planet, as well as to global economics and geopolitics?

By the way, this is not the only dangerous open position atop multilateral development finance. Within a year, the BRICS New Development Bank (NDB) presidency will rotate, and Brazils’ new fascist president Jair Bolsonaro is expected to choose the next leader. Headquartered in Shanghai, the NDB will also open a Sao Paulo branch office this year (its first was in Johannesburg in mid-2017, and was the site of environmental and community protest during the mid-2018 heads-of-state summit here). The next NDB annual meeting, on April 1 in Cape Town, will also attract protests, given not only the NDB’s corruption-riddled South African loan portfolio, but Bolsonaro’s war on the Amazon, women, the Movement of Landless Workers and other progressive organizations, poor Brazilians, gays, Afro-Brazilians, ex-president Lula and so many others in Brazil.

Kim’s climate and Southern infrastructure agenda, self-sabotaged

 Aside from a Trump-appointed president, what are the other implications of Kim’s departure for world capitalism’s fossil fuel and mega-project addictions? His strange, hurried flight from the Bank into the arms of one of the world’s filthiest investment banks, Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP), immediately reminded of the need to prohibit revolving-door relations that make former public sector development financiers so attractive to Wall Street.

Run by a former Credit Suisse oil-industry banker, Adebayo Ogunlesi, the investment house boasts an asset base of $51 billion. GIP partners and other top staff are dominated by White Anglo-Saxon Protestant males, which partly explains why they and the firms which they co-own and manage are scarce in the South. GIP’s average 24 percent rate of return on investment is another reason, given how hard that in poor countries, given their inexorable currency depreciation.

Kim claimed the reason he quit the Bank is that vice-chairing GIP is “the path through which I will be able to make the largest impact on major global issues like climate change and the infrastructure deficit in emerging markets.”

Yet like a heat-seeking missile, GIP must now be one of the world’s most carbon-intense investors. It played a role in the 2016 Standing Rock battle over oil and gas transport through the Dakota Access Pipe Line (DAPL), via its half ownership of Hess, which has six pipelines in the area. According to Reuters, the firm benefited enormously when Trump overruled Barack Obama’s last-gasp late-2016 DAPL shutdown. “‘We’re back to growth in the Bakken,’ Hess Corp Chief Executive Officer John Hess said in a recent interview. The New York-based company has contracts to send roughly half its daily North Dakota output through DAPL. For 2017, Hess has said its Bakken production could grow more than 10 percent.”

GIP’s website reveals its satisfaction:“Through the acquisition of 50% of Hess Infrastructure Partners’ midstream crude oil and natural gas infrastructure business in the Bakken Shale region, GIP has formed a strategic partnership with Hess Corporation to jointly own and operate critical infrastructure in one of the most important crude oil and natural gas producing basins in North America. The midstream infrastructure is principally located in North Dakota and includes crude oil and natural gas gathering systems, a natural gas processing and fractionation facility, crude oil export assets and an underground propane storage facility.”

Most famously, GIP owns drone-prone Gatwick Airport. GIP’s other listed investments – for which Kim is ostensibly now #2 in charge of managing – are overwhelmingly in fossil fuels, shipping and air transport.[1] And Kim’s new boss is a super-star banker who led Credit Suisse’s energy and investment banking divisions, spending 23 years at what must be one of the world’s most corrupt financial institutions.

For example, under Ogunlesi’s reign, Credit Suisse made more than 20 major loans to Enron – including many through fraudulent vehicles Ogunlesi well knew of – from 1998-2001, just before it collapsed. According to a summary of the bankruptcy proceedings, senior Credit Suisse management engaged in many unethical deals because they ”viewed Enron as a highly desirable customer, and they dismissed the financial and reputational risks created by Enron’s manipulative transactions.” Ogunlesi, who called Enron “a great, great company,” was in charge of the operation and in the civil suit filed by Regents of the University of California et al, and in bankruptcy proceedings, Credit Suisse was ultimately found to be an ‘enabler’ of the fraud.

None of this seems right – which in a way is exactly the logical standpoint for the World Bank and its leader during a time of such intense geopolitical, economic and environmental turmoil. The extreme institutional instability we’re witnessing at present is due not just to the saboteurs of multilateralism two blocks away at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, or in Brasilia, or for that matter in Moscow. Another saboteur is sitting, at least two weeks longer, in the Bank’s presidency. And if you are a critic of neoliberal, carbon-intensive crony capitalism, then we can only hope that Trump contributes yet more delegitimation to the Bank’s now-legendary incompetence, malfeasance and unethical behavior… for which Jim Kim was only the cherry on top.


[1] GIF investments are in these firms: Guacolda Energia, Freeport LNG, CPV, Saeta Yield/Bow Power, Gode Wind 1, Hess Infrastructure Partners, Naturgy Energy Group, Borkum Riffgrund 2, Vena Energy, Medallion,Clearway Energy, EnLink Midstream, Gatwick Airport, Edinburgh Airport,Terminal Investment Limited, Port of Melbourne, Pacific National, Italo, Access Midstream Partners, Biffa Group Limited, Channelview Cogeneration, Port of Brisbane,Ruby Pipeline Holding Company, Terra-Gen Power Holdings,CLH,Great Yarmouth Port Company, London City Airport,Transitgas, and East India Petroleum Limited.

Categories: News for progressives

Joe Biden, Crime Fighter from Hell

Counterpunch - Wed, 2019-01-16 16:00

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

I just listened to Joe Biden’s seventeen-and-a-half minute 2003 eulogy for his political friend Strom Thurmond, the former Dixiecrat segregationist from South Carolina who became a Republican in 1964. It’s clear Biden liked the man, who he worked closely with to pass crime bills in the early 1980s.  As Thurmond’s replacement as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Biden went on to push the now-controversial bill he proudly touts as “the 1994 Biden Crime Bill.” This is the bill about which, in 2015, former President Bill Clinton told an NAACP convention concerned about the mass incarceration of African Americans: “I signed a bill that made the problem worse. And I want to admit it.” According to a 2015 NY Times story, “Today, about 2.2 million Americans are locked up in federal and state prisons and local jails, twice as many as when Mr. Clinton took office.”

Biden’s long eulogy is full of warmth and wit and, for a liberal like Biden, driven by a spirit of forgiveness and, more important, a pragmatic sense of political synthesis between the dead man’s racist past and what Biden claims as his political mission, the pursuit of civil rights. He had been asked by Thurmond himself to give it. The problem is, when we forgive past shortcomings or evils in order to get over hurdles to make change possible so we can move on to better things, there needs to be true atonement, or it can’t work. And even if one argues that Strom Thurmond in old age was ready to atone in some way and to really move on, it’s crystal clear from the current state of Thurmond’s chosen Republican Party — still notorious for its cynical Nixonian “southern strategy” — that honest atonement is far from the order of the day; that, in fact, a dishonest, dog-whistle reanimation of that racist past is still alive in the heart of Thurmond’s  Republican Party.

In 1981, when Biden and Thurmond began to work together, Thurmond, who had been in politics since 1933, may have become a kindly old man with very real personal desires to atone. And the savvy, new Senator Joe Biden, 40 years his junior, may have figured out how to exploit those personal issues in order to accomplish legislation he found advantageous to his own and Democratic power needs. But this is 2019, and in the current political environment, Joe Biden’s clearly documented instincts for appeasing the conservative right to juice-up eroding Democratic power would be a coward’s way of regaining power. What’s needed is a new, courageous and pragmatic vision.

I don’t hate Joe Biden; he seems a very personable man, someone this nobody would have no problem sitting down with to have that proverbial beer — as long as I was able to speak my mind and candidly tell him why I feel he’d be a terrible choice for president of the United States right now.

I had a very memorable one-on-one exchange in the 1990s with Senator Biden when I worked as a staff photographer in the PR department of a university. One day, Biden came to speak about the Drug War. I took a half-dozen shots of him to fulfill my duties, then sat down to listen, since the topic was one I was interested in. I’d traveled in Central America as a documentary photographer during the Reagan wars; I’d worked for years feeding the homeless at night in the alleys of Philadelphia; I’d photographed a controversial needle exchange program in North Philly, and I’d read a lot about drug issues like harm reduction programs and other well-researched and documented alternatives to the Drug War. Like many others, I saw the issue in terms of supply and demand and questioned the focus of using our military, police, courts and prisons in places like Latin America to attack the supply — while failing miserably to address the demand at home. By the late 1980s, the Drug War seemed to be an abject failure. As I listened to Biden, all this rumbled around in my head. Given my role as PR photographer for the university, I hesitated. But then I raised my hand. I was sitting at the end of the second row in the middle section of seats in the auditorium. Biden pointed at me and walked slowly in my direction.

“Sir, I was wondering what you thought of the alternative options to our drug problem, things like harm reduction and the de-criminalization of drugs. Is there a better way to address the drug problem?”

His slow pace turned into a darting movement, and he was quickly right in front of me with that charming, slightly wry, wide Biden grin. He pointed right at my face as he looked out at the audience.

“This fellah thinks he’s smart!” he said, as if the remark was a left jab. “He cleverly uses the term to de-criminalize drugs — when what he really wants is to make the stuff legal.”

I forget the rest. All I remember was standing there like a jerk. A while back, I’d given Pennsylvania Senator John Heinz some lip at the Germantown Public Library for not answering my question and he’d threatened to have security throw me out. I’m sure Biden had figured out I was the university’s flak photographer and that he had me by the you-know-whats — which he did. I liked my job, so I took his crap and sat down with not one bit of my question addressed.

So, while I don’t hate Joe Biden, I do have a visceral disrespect for what seems his inclination to compromise with entrenched power at the expense of justice. The more I learned of Biden over the years, the more I began to understand his reaction to my question. I had unknowingly kicked his favorite pet schnauzer, and his nature was to make an ad-hominem attack.

It’s not news that Biden is vulnerable to criticism for his crime legislation and its impact on the US prison population that has risen 500% since he began his legislative efforts with Thurmond in 1981. According to The Sentencing Project, “Changes in sentencing law and policy, not changes in crime rates, explain most of this increase.” Also, as the senator from the corporate state of Delaware, his intimacy with the credit card industry is worth investigating; as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the confirmation hearing for Clarence Thomas, there are questions about his leadership; and there’s the fact he voted in 2002 to authorize the Bush invasion of Iraq.

Young Liberal Charms an Aging Segregationist

How did Joe Biden end up so close to Strom Thurmond? In Crime & Politics: Big Government’s Erratic Campaign for Law and Order, Ted Gest tells how an ambitious Senator Biden used crime, police and prison bills to get the Democrats back in the game after the election of Ronald Reagan devastated his party.

A too-decent President Carter goes down in ignominious defeat and Reagan is elected. Distressed Democrats face a bleak political future. According to Gest, this was in concert with “a broad conservative thrust to turn the criminal law to the right” that “ended up crystallizing into a highly debatable campaign to extend prison terms, especially for drug-law violations.” (In the end, Gest notes, this thrust did little to solve the nation’s crime problem, “which worsened during the decade, especially in its second half.”)

Biden had been on the Church Committee looking into the US intelligence apparatus. From this experience, according to Gest, he came up with the idea that “crime should be viewed as a form of domestic security.” In an “aggressive manner,” he began to “put crime in a defense context — getting the armed forces involved in drug interdiction,” a posture that repelled some liberal senators. “‘Give me the crime issue,’ Biden would plead repeatedly to Democratic Party caucuses, one staff member recalled, ‘and you’ll never have trouble with it in an election.’”

Senator Thurmond of South Carolina was the new chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Biden visited Thurmond and made him an offer: The South Carolina senator should work with Biden on issues they agreed on and ignore those they didn’t agree on. Based on an interview with Biden, Gest learned that Biden told Thurmond: “‘If you do that, I promise that I will never embarrass you by publicly taking you on.’” Thus, in 1981, a seed was planted that led to the birth and growth of nearly two decades of bipartisan crime bills.

I gleaned through Biden’s 2007 memoir, Promises To Keep, looking for references to any of this. He writes of being named in 1977 to the Senate Judiciary Committee and how “I wanted to start working up legislation to make our streets safer and the criminal justice system fairer.” He writes that there had been “so many mistakes” that “started in the best of intentions” stretching back to the Progressive era. He writes that, “In the summer of 1983 I was trying to fashion a message to reinvigorate the Democratic Party, not so I could run for president but to push back at the ungenerous policies of the current [Reagan] administration.”

In The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander calls Biden, “one of the Senate’s most strident drug warriors.” In a televised response to a Bush Senior speech in 1989, Biden said: “Quite frankly, the President’s plan is not tough enough, bold enough, or imaginative enough to meet the crisis at hand. In a nutshell, the President’s plan does not include enough police officers to catch the violent thugs, enough prosecutors to convict them, enough judges to sentence them, or enough prison cells to put them away for a long time.” While President Clinton made an effort to atone for his contribution to mass incarceration, Biden continues to play the tough guy on crime — still often taking pride in being tougher than Republicans on the issue.

In a highly critical piece titled “Joe Biden, Mass Incarceration Zealot” in Jacobin magazine, Branko Marcetic writes this: “It’s not as if Biden didn’t know what he was doing. He had criticized Reagan in 1981 for insisting on harsher sentences, arguing that prisons were already overcrowded and calling for alternative sentencing for non-violent offenders. He just didn’t care. Biden had made a calculated decision that the elections he would win were worth the damage he inflicted.” Marcetic writes about what must be the epitome of Drug War craziness, the RAVE Act — or the Reducing Americans’ Vulnerability to Ecstasy Act of 2002 that Biden pushed hard. According to Marcetic, “It held concert promoters responsible for any drug use at events and treated objects like water bottles and glow sticks as drug paraphernalia. To get the bill passed, Biden re-introduced it numerous times, including once by slipping it into an unrelated bill that created the Amber Alert system. The years that followed saw heavily armed SWAT teams storming raves filled with bewildered, dancing kids — or sometimes DEA agents simply shutting down events that were neither raves nor involved any drug use.” (As a parenthetical note, like marijuana, studies have shown that ecstasy can be effective with combat soldiers wracked with PTSD.)

Joe Reaches For Bipartisan Nirvana

The final chapter of my saga of Joe Biden occurred in the evening on Veterans Day, November 11, when Biden agreed to award George W. and Laura Bush something called the Liberty Medal in a large tent outside the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. I was with a group of disgruntled Americans outside the tent using their First Amendment rights to holler, “Shame! Shame! Shame!” as loud as they could. There were a number of Iraq combat veterans. My wife, Lou Ann Merkle, was moved to be there because she served seven days in federal prison for protesting Mr. Bush’s decision outside the federal courthouse in Philadelphia on the day of his shock-and-awe bombing of the highly populated city of Baghdad. And my good friend Celeste Zappala was there; her son Sherwood Baker was killed searching for Mr. Bush’s weapons-of-mass-destruction that didn’t exist. At a Washington Press Corp dinner Bush had memorably turned his misguided search for WMD into a joke video in which he’s seen looking under desks and saying, “Hmm. No WMD here!” Since I had come with my press pass, I was allowed into the event, where, as it turned out, I did some coaching by cell phone with my colleagues outside so they could be heard better. RT, formerly Russia Today, a Russian government-paid TV news channel, did a fantastic story on the event. (To watch the entire shameful hour honoring Bush click here.)  As a Vietnam veteran and journalist who made two crazy trips by SUV into Baghdad during Bush’s war and who knows a number of antiwar Iraq veterans, some living with serious PTSD, part of the shame of an event like this is that it takes a foreign TV unit to extend credibility to responsible citizens in a supposed democracy who find this kind of power worshiping event obnoxious.

But there was Joe Biden praising George W. Bush for all the great things he’s done for wounded Iraq War veterans, things like holding BBQs and a book of primitive paintings of wounded vets he’d met, though, as a believer in the cathartic power of art, I would not discount the personal atonement aspect of making those paintings, even the one of his toes in the bathtub. As I pointed out in passing to the Action News anchor prepping to do his story, the wounded vets Bush was touted for working so hard for would not have been wounded if Bush (with Dick Cheney whispering in his ear) hadn’t chosen to blunder into Iraq. For anyone with any sense of honesty or compassion who has thought about the 2003 decision to go to war in Iraq, how can it be possible to award George W. Bush something called The Liberty Medal at the National Constitution Center — a medal designed to recognize “men and women of courage and conviction who have strived to secure the blessings of liberty to people around the globe”? Others who got the medal include Muhammad Ali, Malala Yousalza, John Lewis and the Dalai Lama. I mean, really! I wouldn’t “lock him up” for what is now seen across party lines as an unnecessary and destructive foreign policy debacle or for the suffering his decision caused — and is still causing — so many Americans and Iraqis. But if justice matters at all, I damn sure wouldn’t give him a medal on Veterans Day.

So what was Joe Biden doing there? Why would Joe Biden honor the man who gave us the debacle in Iraq, which in Anbar Province west of Baghdad contributed to the rise of ISIS, a psychopathic reaction force with the come-back potential of a Frankenstein sequel? It’s a no-brainer for me: I submit Joe Biden was just being Joe Biden, following what has been for him a very successful pattern. It worked back in 1981 when Reagan sucked all the oxygen out of the room; why can’t it work now when Democrats are on the ropes again? I imagine Biden (who, by the way, is chairman of the National Constitution Center’s Board of Trustees) would argue that to defeat Trump (let’s not forget he has said he’s the man to do it) it’s smart politics to make a friend of someone like George W. Bush. Like an aging racist with power might be open for some easy public atonement, Biden may have calculated that a scorned George W. Bush might be in need of some gentle, loving public resurrection. Why not help him out? And at the same time raise his national bipartisan cred.

It’s pure Biden.

Finally, there’s Joe Biden, the fictional crime-fighter. A writer named Andrew Shaffer has penned a crime novel called Hope Never Dies, in which Joe joins up with his pal Barrack to solve the murder of Joe’s favorite Amtrak conductor. I’ve read a few pages and it’s a well-written example of the light and fluffy crime genre. The following is from page 81: “I didn’t need a gun. I wanted a gun. Instead I pulled out my presidential Medal of Freedom.” I’m not aware of any connections between Shaffer and the Biden campaign or if Shaffer is writing a sequel. Maybe we’ll soon see Joe Biden, Vampire Hunter in which he teams up with Bush. Donald Trump has shown the overlap of pop culture and politics, so these days you never know.

Joe Biden is a very personable, very savvy politician who has suffered a number of family tragedies. But so have too many African American families caught on the wrong side of his drive for power via crime-bills. The same goes for Americans and Iraqi families and his voting for the Iraq War. This might be forgivable with the proper atonement, but publicly sucking up to the man who gave us that needless, cruel war is a bad sign. Too often when a reform wave comes along those of poor and modest means who were caught in the vice that led to the need for reform don’t get the relief they deserve or what’s implied in the reformist rhetoric. The legacy of the vice’s grip still retains a hold on them, while the powerful find a way to repackage themselves and go on to bigger and better things. I’ve worked on prison issues for 20 years and I feel this in my gut all the time.

So please, Joe, don’t turn the 2020 presidential campaign into race for the safe center. Find the guts to write an honest book that tells us the hard truths about American politics. Then support someone ready and able to lead America to a better place.


Categories: News for progressives

Brief History Notes on Mexican Immigration to the U.S.

Counterpunch - Wed, 2019-01-16 15:58

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

The historical ties of Mexican immigrants to the U.S., specifically the Southwest, distinguishes people of Mexican origin from other immigrant groups, especially those from Europe. While Mexican immigrants continue to be demonized and characterized as “criminals,” “drug dealers,” “rapists,” “illegal aliens” and “invaders” by American leaders and millions of white citizens, they have essentially become “foreigners in their own land.”

In his infamous article, “The Hispanic Threat,” the late Dr. Samuel P. Huntington of Harvard claimed that Latinas/os in general and individuals of Mexican origin in particular represented an existential threat to the U.S. By studying history, however, we can easily dismiss racist labels and false narratives by small-minded American leaders, scholars and citizens. Moreover, we can learn the true history about the actual invaders. For instance, in progressive history books, like Dr. Ronald Takaki’s A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America, we learn that white Americans gradually migrated into what is now known as Texas during the 1820s. While the Mexican government allowed for whites to settle in this foreign territory, the authorities did so under the assumption that the Americans adopt Mexican customs, learn Spanish and intermarry with the native population. This originally occurred without much conflict, which reveals the openness of the Mexican government and its people towards foreigners.

By 1826, according to Takaki, then-President John Quincy Adams offered the Mexican government $1 million for Texas, where the Mexican government refused. Once Mexico outlawed slavery in 1830, however, American slaver owners, along with other white settlers, rebelled and formed The Republic of Texas in 1836. By 1845, it was annexed into the United States.

It appears to me that the white settlers or gringos took the Mexicans literally when the hosts generously said, “Mi casa es su casa.”

Once the U.S. government annexed Texas, it didn’t take the government long to pursue additional territory via the U.S. war against Mexico (1846 to 1848), as documented by key Chicana/o historians, such as Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones, Dr. Deena J. González and Dr. Rudolfo “Rudy” Acuña. Based on the false idea of Manifest Destiny, this imperialist war represented a bloody and greedy land grab, where Acuña documents in his classic book, Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, as “…a religious doctrine with roots in Puritan ideas, which continue to influence U.S. thought to this day.” After the U.S. forced Mexico to sign the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, Mexico lost half of its territory. Although the Mexicans who decided to reside in the U.S. were protected under the treaty, which included their ancestral lands, the U.S. Congress quickly ratified the treaty, where Mexicans eventually lost their lands through the courts, illegal acts and violent means by white citizens and the state.

Thus, when we think about Mexican immigration to el norte, we must examine it under this historical context. That is, unlike the millions of European immigrants who travelled across an entire ocean to settle in North America, Mexicans have always occupied this land or called it home until it was stolen from them by military force. Moreover, like in the case of Native Americans and the brutal history of broken treaties by the U.S. government, the Mexicans in el norte lost their basic rights under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Given their historical memory, this is one reason why the millions of Mexicans who make their journey to the U.S. (with or without legal status), especially to the Southwest, don’t view themselves as law breakers or so-called “illegals.”

Like the homingpigeon, the Mexican is simply returning to the motherland.

Despite the loss of their ancestral lands, the impact or contributions of Mexicans (immigrants, residents and citizens) to American cities, suburbs, rural communities and agricultural fields during the past 170 years has been positive, overall. Moreover, while Mexicans in el norte don’t receive the credit that they deserve, they’ve contributed greatly (and continue to the present) in many areas of American society and its economy, including agriculture, music, art, construction, infrastructure, transportation (e.g., railroads, freeways, roads), medicine, mining, ranching, science, the military, the academy and beyond. Essentially, there’s no doubt that individuals of Mexican origin played a key role (to the present) to help make this country into the richest, most advanced and powerful country in the world.

Despite being defeated militarily during the 1800s and experiencing institutional racism, Mexicans have migrated to this country—along with those who’ve settled prior to the U.S. war against Mexico—to work, create jobs, study, serve in the military, raise families, etc. For instance, during the second half of the 19th Century, Mexican immigrants and their offspring represented a key labor force in agriculture, railroad construction, mining and other key sectors. However, instead of being rewarded for their labor contributions with adequate financial compensation and upward mobility opportunities, they’ve experienced racism (to the present) in the workforce and beyond. For example, according to Takaki, working on white-owned ranches in Texas, “Mexican laborer[s] found themselves in a caste system — a racially stratified occupational hierarchy.”

During the 1800s and most of the 1900s, it was very common to see Mexicans and Chicanas/os (Mexican-Americans) employed as laborers/workers, while whites worked as supervisors or managers. This racial hierarchy in the workforce, along with the unequal educational system, has limited the occupational status of Mexican immigrants and Chicanas/os. Yet, despite being relegated to the bottom of the economic workforce, which included agricultural programs like the Bracero Program—the U.S.-Mexico guest worker program of the mid-19thcentury—the Mexican people in el norte have a strong tradition of organizing for social and economic justice. For example, according to Takaki, in 1903, “… hundreds of Mexicans and Japanese farm workers went on strike in Oxnard, California.” This is just one example, apart from the case of the United Farm Workers (UFW) and Brown Berets of the 1960s and 1970s, where Mexicans and Chicanas/os defended their labor and civil rights through labor strikes, civil disobedience, protests, marches and so on.

Moreover, despite being a racial minority in this country, Mexicans and Chicanas/os served in the military in higher rates compared to whites. According to Acuña, during WWII, while Chicanas/os represented only 2.69 million residents in the U.S., between 375,000 to 500,000 Chicanos served in the war. Despite their contributions and sacrifices, it didn’t stop the U.S. government from implementing “Operation Wetback” in early 1954, where Mexican immigrants and Chicanas/os were deported in mass to Mexico. It’s obvious to me that their military and labor contributions weren’t appreciated by the U.S. government, after all.

As a of son of Mexican immigrants, this issue is not just an academic exercise for me. It’s also personal. For instance, like millions of her paisanas, while my late mother Carmen toiled in the informal economy as a domestic worker in this country for many decades, middle- and upper-class whites pursued economic opportunities and leisure activities outside of the household. Similarly, like millions of his paisanos, while my late father Salomon first arrived in this country to pick fruits and vegetables during the Bracero Program, where he was forced to abandon his family and rural community, American families enjoyed the fruits of his labor in the comfort of their homes and restaurants.

At the end of the day, my late parents never received the adequate financial rewards or benefits of their labor and sacrifice, such as good wages, upward mobility opportunities, educational opportunities and homeownership.

In my expert opinion, based on my advanced degrees from UCLA and Berkeley, interdisciplinary scholarship, civic engagement experience and public policy background, it will take many generations to come for millions of Mexicans and Chicanas/os in el norte to one day obtain the elusive American Dream.

Categories: News for progressives

A Great Speaker of the UK’s House of Commons

Counterpunch - Wed, 2019-01-16 15:56

Unlike the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, the Speaker of the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, given the essential place and nature of debate in the Commons, is expected (procedurally at any rate) to be a kind of neutral referee in recurrently adversarial situations.

The Speaker of the House of Commons does not have to come from the party that wins the general election– speakers are elected by the entire House, and any MP can be a candidate in this election.

Historically, though no longer, the Speaker’s position has sometimes been deadly for its holders:  seven Speakers of the Commons have been executed.

Incidentally, some of my American friends, upon being informed by me of this piece of arcane Ukanian parliamentary history, and knowing that the US retains the death penalty, say this would be a fate befitting the recently retired Republican Speaker of the US House of Representatives, the widely-denounced hypocrite Paul Ryan, and several others as well.

John Crace, the superb parliamentary sketch-writer of The Guardian, said in a recent piece that many Tory Brexiteers would have the current Speaker, John Bercow (a Tory who has been in this position since 2009), meet the same fate as his seven executed predecessors.

Given that their role is to enforce routine rules of procedure, Speakers of the Commons rarely have the chance to make momentous interventions.

In the last Commons debate on prime minister’s Theresa May’s nebulous Brexit deal, Speaker Bercow intervened in a way that had decisive constitutional import.

Bercow (incidentally an anti-Brexiteer), unilaterally and supposedly without precedent, allowed a crucial cross-party amendment to a tabled motion to be voted on.

The amendment, which was passed, forced May to come back within 3 sitting days with a Plan B if her Brexit deal is voted down.  She of course has no such Plan B.

May had ducked a vote on her proposed deal before Christmas, when she knew it was bound to be defeated.

One way to save her proposed deal is for May to run down the clock as Brexit Day—March 29—approaches, in the hope that her by-then panicked MPs will vote for it out of fear that the UK will crash out of the EU without any kind of deal.

Speaker Bercow’s ruling gave room for parliamentary debate about what to do next if May’s Brexit deal is voted down, as it certainly will be, but, more importantly, it also prised this run-down clock out of May’s hands.

The UK has an unwritten constitution, based on convention and precedent, providing guidelines rather than actual rules, and so for Ukania’s parliament neither convention nor precedent are absolute.

Parliament exercises its power over the executive by voting on motions, which is what Bercow permitted.

MPs are of course allowed to vote against the motion Bercow permitted, and if they deemed him to fail regarding the requirement of impartiality, procedures exist for remove him (if no longer by putting his head on the chopping block).

The alternative, sought by May in her overweening exercise of executive power, was to block any vote on an alternative to her proposed deal once it was voted down.

Many say that parliamentary sovereignty was upheld by Bercow’s ruling, after decades when both the Tories (Thatcher especially) and Labour (Blair especially) used their executive power to browbeat and sideline the legislature.

Bercow can have an irritatingly pompous air, and has a reputation for bullying subordinates.  A former right-winger, he is now a social liberal, so much so that there have been rumours of his defection to the Labour party. Bercow is the first Speaker who is Jewish, and the first Speaker not to wear traditional robes while presiding over the House.

In 2017 Bercow said that he would be “strongly opposed” to Donald Trump addressing the Houses of Parliament during his official visit to the UK, saying that “opposition to racism and sexism” were “hugely important considerations”.  Bercow was widely criticized for this intervention, on the grounds that he had breached the neutrality of the Speaker’s office, but he prevailed and Trump did not address parliament.

His constant championing of backbench MPs, as opposed to Tory frontbench ministers, has earned Bercow the support of many MPs.  Wide cross-party support has been crucial to his retention of the Speakership.

The Brexit crisis/shambles is a moment of critical constitutional import for the UK.

In making the executive accountable to the legislature in this one but albeit major constitutional regard, and thereby bucking an inacceptable parliamentary trend of recent decades, Bercow, his flaws notwithstanding, has shown himself to be one of the better Speakers of modern times.

Bercow has refused time and again to kowtow to the government, something of an exception in the UK’s long discredited parliamentary system.

In the UK’s unremittingly sordid parliament–  the hub of a corrupt patronage system predicated on bolstering privilege and dominated from its inception ages ago by unprincipled opportunists and craven toadies–  Bercow has emerged with much credit on his side.

Categories: News for progressives

Why Sustainable Agriculture Should Support a Green New Deal

Counterpunch - Wed, 2019-01-16 15:53

“For Sale” signs have replaced “Dairy of Distinction” on the last two dairy farms on the road I drive to town. The farm crisis of the 1980’s that never really went away has resurfaced with a vengeance. In 2013, aggregate farm earnings were half of what they were in 2012. Farm income has continued to decline ever since. The moment is ripe for the movement for a sustainable agriculture to address the root causes.

Just as in the 80s, a brief period of high commodity prices and cheap credit in the 2010’s resulted in a debt and asset bubble.

Then prices collapsed. Meanwhile, ever larger corporations have consolidated their dominance in the food sector resulting in shoppers paying more, and a shrinking portion of what they pay going to farmers. At first this mainly hit conventional farms, but in 2017, processors started limiting the amount of milk they purchased from organic dairies and cut the price paid below the cost of production. As a result, family-scale farms of all kinds are going out of business. Reports of farmer suicides are increasing dramatically.  Despite the shortage of farm workers, their wages remain below the poverty line.  People of color and women are often trapped in the lowest paying food system jobs and many are forced to survive on SNAP payments. The tariff game of #45 is only making things worse. The farm consolidation that has taken place has grave consequences for the environment and for climate change as well. The newly passed Farm Bill barely touches the structural and fairness issues that led to this on-going disaster for family-scale farms and the food security of this country.

An alliance of social movements and members of Congress led by newly elected Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY) are proposing a Green New Deal that would initiate an emergency mobilization to address economic inequities and reverse our blind march toward catastrophic climate change, attracting much more attention than the Green Party version. In a draft resolution, Ocasio Cortez proposes the formation of a Select Committee to develop a plan to transition the US to a carbon neutral economy within ten years, together with a comprehensive package including guaranteed living wage jobs, public banks, and a “Just Transition” for all workers. As of this writing, 43 members of the House have signed on to the concept.

The sustainable agriculture movement with our many organizations and individuals – farmers, foodies, ngos, faith groups and enviros together with farmworkers, food chain workers and their advocates – should become active shapers of the food and agriculture aspects of the Green New Deal. Frontline communities that bear the brunt of the negative impacts of climate chaos and food and economic system breakdown often have the most penetrating insights into pathways forward and real solutions.  For this reason, in addition to the ethical imperatives, fair representation of frontline communities at decision-making tables (of the Select Committee and beyond) is essential.  As a white woman wanting to be the best ally I can, I hope to warmly encourage white people in the food movement to un-learn racism and use privilege to acknowledge and overcome our history of oppression.

What was the New Deal and What Did it Do for Agriculture?

Under tremendous pressure from the social movements in the depths of the Great Depression of the 1930’s, “U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt launched the New Deal—a set of government programs to provide employment and social security, reform tax policies and business practices, and stimulate the economy. It included the building of homes, hospitals, school, roads, dams and electrical grids. The New Deal put millions of people to work and created a new policy framework for American democracy. New Deal programs included public employment (Works Progress Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps); farm price supports (Agricultural Adjustment Act); environmental restoration (reforestation and land conservation); labor rights (Wagner Act); minimum wages and standards (National Recovery Act and Fair Labor Standards Act); cooperative enterprises (Works Progress Administration support for self-help); public infrastructure development (TVA and rural electrification); subsidized basic necessities (food commodity programs and Federal Housing Act); construction of schools, parks, and housing (Civil Works Administration); and income maintenance (Social Security Act).”[i]

Secretary of Agriculture Henry A. Wallace fashioned the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA), introducing supply management together with parity pricing, a national policy of price supports that functioned from 1933 – 53. In effect, parity provided a minimum wage for farms.  In “A brief history of Parity Pricing and the present day ramifications of the abandonment of a Par Economy,” Kevin Engelbert, NY’s first certified organic dairy farmer, explains how it established “commodity prices that would give farmers the purchasing power, with respect to items they buy, equivalent to the purchasing power of agricultural commodities in a ‘base’ period.” [ii]

In “Crisis by Design: A Brief Review of US Farm Policy,” Mark Ritchie and Kevin Ristau describe the parity system in more detail:

The parity program had thee central features:

(1) It established the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC), which made loans to farmers whenever prices offered by the food processors or grain corporations fell below the cost of production. This allowed farmers to hold their crops off the market, eventually forcing prices back up. Once prices returned to fair levels, farmers sold their crops and repaid the CCC with interest. By allowing farmers to control their marketing, the CCC loan program made it possible for them to receive a fair price from the marketplace without relying on subsidies.

(2) It regulated farm production in order to balance supply with demand, thereby preventing surpluses. Since government storage of surpluses was expensive, this feature was crucial to reducing government costs.

(3) It created a national grain reserve to prevent consumer prices from skyrocketing in times of drought or other natural disasters. When prices rose above a predetermined level, grain was released from government reserves onto the market, driving prices back down to normal levels.

From 1933 to 1953 this parity legislation remained in effect and was extremely successful. Farmers received fair prices for their crops, production was controlled to prevent costly surpluses, and consumer prices remained low and stable. At the same time, the number of new farmers increased, soil and water conservation practices expanded dramatically, and overall farm debt declined. What is even more important is that this parity program was not a burden to the taxpayers. The CCC, by charging interest on its storable commodity loans, made nearly $13 million between 1933 and 1952. [iii]

What Could a Green New Deal (GND) Do for Agriculture?

First of all, instead of current subsidies that purportedly compensate for constantly falling farm prices, but really only subsidize the big processors, vertically integrated livestock factories, and international traders, family-scale farms need a system of fair pricing, that is, prices that cover the real costs of living and farming, including conservation practices that regenerate natural resources. We need to dust off and refresh the concept of parity to create a just transition out of our calamitous current conditions. Twenty-first century parity should provide price supports and supply management for the basic commodities – “wheat, cotton, field corn, hogs, rice, tobacco, and milk and its products”[iv] – as described by Ritchie and Ristau, and reestablish farmer held reserves for grains as buffer stocks in case of poor harvests or climate disasters that also protect farmers against price volatility.

Parity pricing and supply management should also be extended to other crops, what Farm Bill language calls “specialty crops.”  Since fruit and vegetables are perishable, the GND should invest in value-added enterprises that could be farmer or worker-owned coops in every county where these crops are grown.  If excess supply of fresh produce threatened to lower prices, the fruit and vegetables would be frozen, canned or dried, or made into products that can be stored for use year round.  Investing in local and regional processing would stimulate local economies and provide many jobs. The GND would return livestock onto family farms, in place of large-scale Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) that have eliminated the need for diverse crop rotations. Family farm livestock production integrates crops and livestock for a much more flexible and resilient system that reduces the pressure for routine antibiotic use. This system also increases the biodiversity on these farms thus strengthening their economic viability adding opportunities for new farmers while improving the quality of the meat, milk, and eggs.

Next, farmers need contract reform.  Farmers that sell to bigger entities need legislation to protect their rights to freedom of association so that they can form groups or cooperatives to strengthen their bargaining position in negotiating fair contracts without threat of retaliation.  In addition, a limit must be set on the middlemen’s share of the final shopper dollar: if prices go up, middlemen must pay farmers more; if the prices processors pay to farmers go down, the final point of purchase price for shoppers should also go down.  With control by mega-corporations an ever greater threat to family-scale farming, the GND must be linked with anti-trust measures like the Booker bill that calls for a moratorium on mergers (S.3404, The Food and Agribusiness Merger Moratorium and Antitrust Review Act of 2018).

All farmers should be eligible for GND programs whether they own land, rent it with cash payments or through share cropping.

The GND should include measures that are essential to establishing farm work as a respected and fairly remunerated profession. Ocasio-Cortez wants to guarantee living wages and green jobs – that must include the jobs on farms. Since farm worker advocates and department of labor staff agree that over 60% of farm workers on US crop farms are undocumented, immigration reform based on human rights needs to accompany the GND. Human rights based immigration reform would prevent the separation of families and include a path to legal status.  Farm workers should have the option of a path to citizenship if they want to remain in the US or freedom to come and go across the border to visit their families back home.

Like farmers, farmworkers need freedom of association so that they can form groups or unions to negotiate fair pay and working conditions. If farms are guaranteed prices that cover their costs of production, farm earnings will be high enough to pay farm workers time and a half for overtime over 40 hours a week like workers in almost every other sector of the economy.

In writing about parity, Ritchie and Ristau make a very important additional point: “Paying farmers a fair price would result in a one-time increase in food prices of only 3 to 5 percent, less than a nickel on a loaf of bread. Since the supply management proposal also contains provisions for doubling the funds available for food assistance, the poor would not be hurt by this small increase in food prices.” [v]

Investment in Regenerative Farming Practices

To invest effectively in “drawdown” of greenhouse gases (GHG), the GND must include incentives and training for farmers to become the true managers of solar power that photosynthesis makes possible. The largest, and only remaining, “sink” for carbon on earth is the soil and regenerative farming practices increase soil carbon. The more fertile the soil, the more carbon it holds. The same practices that improve soil health, such as planting cover crops, recycling crop residues, and reducing tillage, the basic practices of organic agriculture grounded in agroecology, build soil carbon. In a win-win-win combination, building the health of soil improves farm viability, increasing farm resiliency to extreme weather events, and improving food quality and surrounding water quality.

Since 1/3 of the energy used by conventional agriculture comes from the use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers which are natural gas derivatives, farms under the GND will reestablish the importance of natural nitrogen creation by legumes and compost.

Confining cattle, hogs and poultry in huge structures turns manure from a valuable soil nutrient into a big storage problem, with lagoons that overflow during extreme rainfall events with large, negative environmental impacts. Ending the confinement of livestock will also lead to better manure management.  Raising livestock on pasture turns manure back into a benefit. Especially when combined with skillful rotations, integrating livestock with crops builds soil carbon. Planting trees in pastures (silvoculture) builds carbon even faster. The GND should invest in training and incentives for farmers to make these changes in their practices. Farmers will be able to afford to farm more ecologically, if we push for the structural changes that will be part of the GND and will revitalize farms and rural areas.

The GND should preserve farmland and discourage sprawl. Research in California and New York led by UC Davis and American Farmland Trust show that the conversion of agricultural land to development, particularly low-density real estate development, increases GHG emissions. Farms emit fewer greenhouse gases than the homes that often replace them. Tax and other incentives can make preserved farmland available to new farmers.

The GND should also ban speculation on agricultural commodities and farmland since this drives up the price of land and food. Strict regulations should control investors who are not producers or final users.  Food derivatives markets should not be used as investment vehicles by banks and investment funds.

A Just Transition for Farming

Ocasio Cortez calls for a “Just Transition” for all workers.  In agriculture, a just transition would mean providing access to farmland to those from whom it has been unjustly taken, the reparations called for by farmers of color and Native Americans.

Farmworkers should have the opportunity to become farmers. The GND should include training for farmworkers who have been trapped in repetitive, body-taxing jobs so that they can become farm managers themselves.

It should also include retraining for the farmers who now farm thousands of acres using heavy equipment, chemical fertilizers and pesticides to use regenerative practices with a buy-out scheme for CAFOs. Once these farmers give up the heavy use of chemicals, parity pricing and supply management will free them from needing so many acres for the economic viability of their farms.  GND incentives could encourage them to sell excess land to new farmers and to retrained farm workers.  Thousands of acres could become available for smaller scale farms and also for wildlife. Increasing the social diversity of farmers will at the same time promote biodiversity, since they will grow a greater variety of crops and livestock breeds, which also increases sustainability. As La Via Campesina and others note, small farmers cool the planet.[vi]

A Just Transition would provide incentives to farmers to reduce their production of bio-fuels that take land out of food production. Instead, farms could receive payment for other kinds of renewable energy production that makes use of marginal land, sun, wind and the heat of the earth.

With the goals of food, fiber and energy self-sufficiency and the elimination of hunger at the local, regional, or national level, farmers should be weaned from the current focus on an export economy.  Thus, changes in trade policies will also have to accompany the GND.

Why Sustainable Agriculture Should Participate in Creating a Green New Deal

Everyone eats. To “eliminate poverty in the United States and to make prosperity, wealth and economic security available to everyone participating in the transformation,” as called for in the  draft resolution for the GND, means that everyone will have access to good food, fair food, food they can afford without impoverishing themselves or the world’s farmers. That has to be part of the GND. For the food system to be sustainable, we must balance the interests of farmers and farmworkers while constantly expanding access to local high quality organic foods for more and more people of all income levels, comprehensive domestic fair trade by definition.

When the 17% of all workers who are food workers earn living wages of $15 an hour or more, they will get off food stamps (a savings for tax payers) and be able to afford to buy high quality, locally grown food from their own earnings. The billions of dollars that currently go into subsidizing crop insurance could be reallocated to increase funding for SNAP and other nutrition programs so that low-income people can afford the higher prices that would be needed to fully cover farm production costs for fair, regenerative, ecological practices.

A recent article by Whitney Webb, “Corporations see a Different Kind of “Green” in Ocasio Cortez’s Green New Deal,” [vii] accuses the newly elected Representative of moving to the right and opening the door for corporate takeover: “Despite its pretty, progressive-sounding banner, Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal — in its current form — will continue to perpetuate gross distributive injustice by ensuring that the side with the most “green” keeps winning as the world continues to seek solutions to climate change.” This will only happen if social movements like the sustainable agriculture movement hang back and allow neo-liberalism which is dominant in both mainstream parties, to continue the cheap food policies that have put farms in crisis.

In “The Green New Deal: Fulcrum for the farm and food justice movement?” Eric Holt-Gimenez writes: “Social movements have an opportunity to join together as never before—not just to get behind the Green New Deal—but to form a broad-based, multi-racial, working class movement to build political power. Visionary leaders from these movements are already knitting together strategies for solidarity, education and action…The Green New Deal just might be the fulcrum upon which the farm, food and climate movements can pivot our society towards the just transition we all urgently need and desire.”[viii]

By not merely endorsing the Green New Deal, but insisting on a place at the table when the program is written, the sustainable and organic agriculture movement will open the path to the ecological, equitable and fair food system we dream about. And while we are in visionary mode, funding for the GND could come from taxing polluters.


[i] 12 Reasons Labor Should Demand a Green New Deal by Jeremy Brecher and Joe Uehlein, In These Times. Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018, 6:20 pm.

[ii] Kevin Engelbert, “A brief history of Parity Pricing and the present day ramifications of the abandonment of a Par Economy”

[iii] CRISIS BY DESIGN: A BRIEF REVIEW OF U.S. FARM POLICY Mark Ritchie & Kevin Ristau, League of Rural Voters Education Project 1987, pp. 2 – 3. Also see “Parity and Profits” by Charles Walters. Posted on July 30, 2001 on Weston C. Price website. Remarks of Charles Walters, Executive Editor, Acres USA Given at the Acres USA Conference December 1999, Minneapolis, MN

[iv] P. 8,The Agricultural Adjustment Act, PUBLIC—No. 10—73D CONGRESS, H.R. 3835

[v] Ritchie and Ristau, op. cit., p. 14.


[vii] The Green New Deal: Fulcrum for the farm and food justice movement? Eric Holt-Gimenez, Food First, 12.17.2018:

This article originally appeared on Independent Science News.

Categories: News for progressives

Trump, Bolton and the Syrian Confusion

Counterpunch - Wed, 2019-01-16 15:52

It’s a messy, though typical picture.  US President Donald Trump wants to pull out forces in Syria.  When announced in December, jaws drooped and sharp intakes of breath were registered through the Washington establishment.  Members of the military industrial complex were none too pleased.  The President had seemingly made his case clear: US blood and treasure will not be further drawn upon to right the conflicts of the Middle East.

His national security advisor, John Bolton, prefers a different message: the US will not leave north-eastern Syria till the militants of Islamic State are defeated and the Kurds protected.  If this was a message of intended confusion, it has worked.  The media vultures are confused as to what carrion to feed upon. The US imperial lobby is finding the whole affair disruptive and disturbing.  Washington’s allies attempt to read the differences between policy-by-tweet and policy by representation.

Trump’s pre-New Year announcement suggested speediness, a rapid removal of US forces supposedly indispensable in Making America Great Again.  Once made, US troops were to leave in a matter of weeks – or so went a certain wisdom. “They’re all coming back, and they’re coming back now,” ventured the president.  But Bolton suggested otherwise.  US personnel, he suggested, would remain in al-Tanf to counter Iranian influence.  Timetables could be left to the talking heads.

A change of heart also came from the White House, with Trump asserting that, “We won’t be finally pulled out until ISIS is gone.”  To reporters, he adopted a familiar stance in ever shifting sands: promising to do something meant doing something different. “We are pulling back in Syria.  We’re going to be removing our troops.  I never said we’re doing it that quickly.”

On Sunday, Trump delivered another streaky note on Twitter, thereby adding another lace of confusion. “Starting the long overdue pullout from Syria while hitting the little remaining ISIS territorial caliphate hard, and from many directions.” Last Thursday, information on the withdrawal of some US military ground equipment from Syria was noted.  On Friday, Col. Sean Ryan, spokesman for the US-led coalition in Syria, issued a statement claiming that the coalition had “begun the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria” leaving little by way of details.  In Trumpland, the scanty detail often prevails over the substantive.

US strategy in the Middle East has tended to revolve around setting up figures for the fall while inflicting the fall of others. The Kurds have tended to find themselves in that role, encouraged and prompted to take up arms against their various oppressors, only to find themselves left to the slaughter in the subsequent geopolitical dramas of the region.  The promise by Great Britain and France at the conclusion of World War I that a Kurdish state be chalked out of the remains of the Ottoman Empire never materialised.  In the crude machinations of international relations, they have remained, as Joost Hiltermann describes them, the “expendable” ones.

Bolton is keen not to make that same mistake, which is exactly why he risks doing so.  The great enemy of the Kurds on this occasion remains a prickly US ally, Turkey.  “We don’t think the Turks ought to undertake military action that’s not fully coordinated with the agreed to by the United States”.

Trump, similarly, suggested in a direct call with the Turkish president that the Turkish economy would be devastated “economically if they hit Kurds.” In a statement from White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, “The President expressed the desire to work together to address Turkey’s security concerns in northeast Syria while stressing the importance to the United States that Turkey does not mistreat the Kurds and other Syrian Democratic Forces with whom we have fought to defeat ISIS.”

Bolton’s credibility in pursuing that agenda seemed to crumble in Ankara before a notable snubbing by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on January 8.  The national security advisor had to make do with a meeting with Erdoğan’s senior advisor, Ibrahim Kalin. Bolton was not one the Turkish leader particularly wanted to see in light of his comments that Turkey not harm members of the Kurdish Syrian militias in the aftermath of the US withdrawal.  Such views also fly in the face of Turkey’s self-appointed role as an agent of influence in the region.  An absent Washington is simply too good a chance to press home the advantage, and Ankara is bound to capitalise.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did not fare much better in his regional whistle-stops in Egypt Jordan, Iraq and the Gulf states. In Cairo, Pompeo denied that there was any “contradiction whatsoever” about Trump’s position on withdrawal.  “I think everyone understands what the United States is doing.” If not everyone, then at the very least, “the senior leaders in their governments”.  Very good of them.

The views of American functionaries have not necessarily meant much in the righteous intent of other powers, but Bolton is nonetheless happy to pen his name to this mast.  He wishes for the Kurds to hold firm, avoid the temptation of seeking another sponsor who just might do a better job.  “I think they know,” suggested Bolton, “who their friends are.”  (Bolt is more than nudging here, making sure the Russians or the Assad regime are avoided in any future security arrangements that might supply a shield for the Kurds.)

Daft, can be Bolton, who sees himself as a true appraiser of the international relations system when he is disabled by presumption.  The Turks may, in time, hand Washington another bloody lesson of retribution showing that basic, keen hatreds in historical dramas are far more significant than sophisticated notions of self-interest.  The presence of US troops in Syria will no doubt be reclassified, withdrawal by which any other name would be as confusing.  The Kurds will have to chew over their options with the sort of caution nursed by a history of promise followed by abandonment.  Be wary of the expendable ones.



Categories: News for progressives

Trump’s Syria Exit Tweet Provokes Washington Panic

Counterpunch - Wed, 2019-01-16 15:52

President Trump’s unexpected December 19 twitter announcement ordering a 30-day timetable for the withdrawal of the 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria and 7,000 of the 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan provoked a bipartisan panic in Washington. Defense Secretary “Mad Dog” James Mattis, “the butcher of Fallujah,” resigned in protest stating, according to the New York Times, that “Leaving Syria in 30 days would jeopardize the fight against the Islamic State, betray our Syrian Kurdish Arab allies on the ground, and cede the eastern part of the country to the Syrian government and its Russian and Iranian allies.”

The former commander of American-led troops in Afghanistan from 2009 to 2010, General Stanley McChrystal, warned that “Trump’s approach to national security was reckless.” Eight years earlier the same McChrystal, working under the Obama administration, pilloried then Vice President Joseph Biden for publicly revealing that Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and other Gulf State monarchies had systematically provided weapons to and trained Al Qaida and other terrorist groups to invade Syria for the purpose of removing the Bashar Assad government. Biden soon after apologized for his “indiscrete” statements but never repudiated their validity.

Brett McGurk, U.S. representative to the so-called global coalition fighting ISIS, also resigned from Trump’s team stating “Fighters with ISIS were on the run, but not yet defeated as Trump had said.”

Pressing the panic button to the hilt, New York Times reporter, Vivian Lee opened her December 26 article with: “Turkey is threatening to invade Syria to eradicate Kurdish fighters. Syrian forces are rolling toward territory the Americans will soon abandon. Israel is bombing Iran-backed militias deep inside Syria and Russia could soon move to crush the last vestige of the Syrian anti-government insurgency.”

Joining the chorus of Trump naysayers was none other than former State Department Director of U.S. Policy Planning,

Richard N. Haass, today president of the ruling class’s top think tank, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). Haass tweeted his doomsday language worst-case scenario: “Israeli airstrikes in Syria, Saudi continuation of the war in Yemen, Turkey preparing to attack Syrian Kurds, Assad in power and ISIS anything but defeated, Iran expanding its regional reach, Russia the most influential external power: welcome to the post-American Middle East.”

Ruling class policy making

The warmongering Democrats joined their Republican counterparts along with a host of generals, past and present, to signal Trump that in the United States presidents  really don’t make fundamental policy. This remains the exclusive prerogative of the capitalist trillionaire corporate ruling class elite, who own and control the nation’s wealth, resources, dominate the government’s central institutions and engineer major policy decisions through their secret and private channels. Trump’s former Secretarey of State and past CEO of Exxon Mobile, Ross Tillerson is a case in point when he called Trump a “fucking moron” after Trump had left a National Security Council meeting where Trump has advocated a hundred fold increase in the quantitiy of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons.

Within days of Trump’s Syria withdrawl tweet these forces, through their myriad connections, signaled that Trump notwithstanding, there would be no withdrawal in 30 days, if at all. Declining to name names, the NYT postulated, “Some analysts said they believed Mr. Trump’s orders would not even be carried out — at least not on the 30-day timetable he imposed for Syria. The Pentagon has slow-walked his orders before, and already there is talk of a more gradual withdrawal given the complications that would probably arise from a hasty pullout. (Emphasis added.)

Trump’s extreme rightwing former top policy adviser, Stephen Bannon, chimed in, “The apparatus slow-rolled him until he just said enough and did it himself. Not pretty, but at least done.”

But it was not really “done.” In less than a week Trump got the word. The Timesheadlined, “Trump to Allow Months for Troop Withdrawal in Syria, Officials Say.” Their Dec. 31 article affirmed that, “Mr. Trump confirmed on Twitter that troops would ‘slowly’ be withdrawn, but complained that he got little credit for the move after a fresh round of criticism from retired Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal and reports from the departing White House chief of staff, John F. Kelly, himself a retired Marine general, about the president’s impulsive decision-making.”

Trump tweeted, “If anybody but Donald Trump did what I did in Syria, which was an ISIS loaded mess when I became President, they would be a national hero. ISIS is mostly gone, we’re slowly sending our troops back home to be with their families, while at the same time fighting ISIS remnants.”

Trump’s real intentions

In truth, Trump has no intention of ending the U.S. war against Syria, an imperialist slaughter that has taken the lives of some 350,000 to 500,000 Syrians and led to the tragic exodus of almost half the population.  Trump stated as much during his Iran visit in late December when he reported that the 2,000 U.S. Special Forces troops – trained killers – would be moved across the border to neighboring Iraq. He implied that the U.S. al-Asad air base in Qatar would be on the ready to bomb Syria at his command, as it has innumerable times over the past years. He made no mention of the thousands of additional U.S. forces stationed on the U.S. flotilla offshore Syria in the Mediterranean Sea.

A week latter, relatively quiet to date, John Bolton, Trump’s chief National Security/military adviser, told the media that his assignment was to “reverse engineer” Trump’s one-month withdrawal timetable. This was followed by The Times,mysteriously and daily quoting and invoking the authority of some dozen unnamed government “officials” to the effect that a U.S. Syrian withdrawal was on no one’s agenda. The finger on the ruling class panic button was relaxed, for the time being at least. Two weeks after his December 26 NYT end of the world-like assessment of Trump’s withdrawal tweet, CFR president Richard Haass stated on January 11, “We have got to find a middle ground between trying to transform the Middle East and increasingly walking away from the Middle East. We want to wash our hands of it, but history suggests that the Middle East won’t let us.”

The truth about U.S. Syria policy

Nevertheless, the hoopla over Trump’s announcement has revealed some truths that have usually been denied by all previous U.S. administrations as well as by significant portions of the U.S. left. Joseph Biden’s original statement, for example, that the Gulf State monarchies have been systematically arming, training and directing Al Qaida and related terrorists/jihadist groups to overthrow the Assad government has been fully confirmed today. Further, no one denies that the so-called Free Syrian Army, previously touted as representing “moderate rebels” is or has even been anything other than the creation of the U.S./NATO and Turkey. In the same vein, the so-called remaining Al Qaida/Nusra Front/Free Syrian Army imperialist “coalition” armed fighters in the northern province of Idlib, 30,000 or more, are the same U.S./NATO/Gulf State monarchy-financed and directed forces who exist today only at the discretion of and under the protection of the U.S. imperialism. When Syrian Army troops in early October made some initial moves to re-take, or better, liberate Idlib from its imperialist-backed occupiers, they were warned by the top UN diplomats from the U.S., France and Britain, that the full force of world imperialism would be launched against them. How dare the Syrians invade the land they were born in was the united refrain of the world’s superpowers! Worse still, neither Trump nor any other elements in ruling class circles has suggested in any form that these 30,000, perhaps 50,000 imperialist-backed troops be withdrawn from Idlib. None have suggested that imperialism’s chief cop in the region, Israel, cease its relentless bombing of Syria. And none have suggested that one cent of the $5 billion annually granted to the chief U.S. “enforcers” in the region, Israel and Egypt, be terminated. On the contrary, the unfolding post-Trump tweet scenario includes that the U.S. will send new forces to southern Syria, that it will never leave until “all Iranian forces leave,” and that if the U.S., ever leaves it will part of a U.S.-imposed “negotiated” settlement that meets the needs of U.S. “national security” interests.

Again echoing the real positions of the U.S. ruling class The Times and its quoted sources repeat ad nauseam that a U.S. withdrawal would “cede the eastern part of the country to the Syrian government and its Russian and Iranian allies.” Imagine that! The Syrian government would regain the 30 percent of Syria now controlled by U.S. imperialism! And what would the Syrian government do with this regained region?  All sources have concluded that the Syrians would use this oil rich and fertile land to rebuild, with Russian and Iranian assistance, their devastated nation!

U.S. fossil-fuel imperialism

We should note here that over the past years when ISIS controlled the same oil resources, the complicit U.S. military consciously ignored the endless ISIS truck caravans that openly transported Syria’s stolen oil to Turkey where it was sold to finance ISIS operations. Oil, the central fossil fuel resource that powers the world capitalist economy and the same resource whose continued use threatens life on earth itself, has always been central to U.S. policy. As with the U.S.-backed fascist-led coup in Ukraine, where a key U.S. objective was to substitute U.S. pipelines and fracked eastern Ukrainian natural gas, for Russia’s equivalent, oil pipeline access from the Gulf States through Iraq and Syria to the Mediterranean has also been factored into U.S. policy, in Syria and the entire Middle East. The January 11 NYT had it’s own speculative commentary on this issue, Staff writer Ben Hubbard explained, “American protection is no longer necessary to ensure the free flow of oil from the Persian Gulf, for example, and a boom in domestic production has made the United States less dependent on Middle Eastern oil anyway.”  Less dependent or not, the production, transport and control of oil produced by U.S. competitors, whether they be Russia, Iran, Venezuela, or even Saudi Arabia and the Gulf State monarchies, has always been a central factor in U.S. foreign policy.

Trump had been skewered by Democrats for his 2016 campaign advocacy that the U.S. leave Syria. Indeed, in a one-on-one campaign debate with Hillary Clinton, who argued that the U.S. was winning in Syria and should continue its war, Trump countered, briefly, and without references, that the U.S. had already lost the war there. The fact that his campaign published a full-page ad in the NYT featuring a long list of retired generals and other top military officers served to indicate that Trump was not without full knowledge of the facts on the ground that informed him that only forces the U.S. could muster in their efforts to remove the Assad government were those bought and paid for by the U.S.-led “coalition.”

U.S. policy: Variations on a common theme

Today, the imperialist-promoted myth of an ongoing popular democratic insurgency against the Syrian government has been abandoned by virtually everyone. Yet, as in Vietnam, “knee deep in the big muddy, the big fool presses on.” This is not the first time when ruling class divisions over imperialist war policy have been brought to public attention. With regard to Nicaragua, Cuba, Vietnam and elsewhere, debates over whether to bomb the nation in question “back to the stone age,” or consider other options like imposing U.S. imperialist will by more subtle means, including behind the scenes negotiations, or embargos, sanctions, etc., have always been on the table. In Afghanistan, for example, U.S. troop withdrawals have been accompanied by the sending of the largest privatized army in U.S. history – 50,000 troops – to accomplish the same imperialist ends. In Nicaragua, it was the U.S.-organized and funded Contras, operating out of Honduras; in Cuba it was a U.S.-trained army in the Dominican Republic that invaded Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in 1961. The blustering bully warmaker Donald Trump, whose military budget exceeds all others in world history, and who is fully is aware that U.S. death squads, sanctions, drone wars, embargo wars and never-ending real wars wreak death and destruction across the globe, was stupid enough to believe, for a moment at least, that he could tweet U.S. war policy on his own authority. No doubt he has now been convinced otherwise.

Kurds open talks with Assad

A few days after Trump’s 30-day pullout announcement the NYT headlined, “Syria’s Kurds Feeling Betrayed by the U.S., Ask Assad Government for Protection.” The article read:

“American-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or Y.P.G., said the Syrian government should send troops to the city of Manbij, near the Turkish border.

“The request amounted to a United States ally calling on an enemy of the United States to protect it from another American ally, Turkey.”

To the horror of U.S. officials the Y.P.G. invited President Assad to visit areas under their control and to discuss a resolution of Kurdish demands for a form of federated participation in Syria wherein Kurdish majority regions would be granted greater autonomy and local control.

This was not the first time that Kurds have called on the Syrian government for aid against Turkish onslaughts in areas in the northern border regions where Kurds predominate. In the recent past, whenever the joint forces of the Syrian Army and the Kurdish militias approached areas where the U.S. was present, U.S.-backed warplanes were deployed against both. The same U.S. forces have been repeatedly deployed against the Syrian Army when it sought to re-take regions held by ISIS in the northeast and by other U.S.-backed terrorist forces.

The Kurds, for their part, have always rejected participation in the U.S./NATO-orchestrated conferences in Riyadh, Geneva and elsewhere when U.S. imperialism sought to unite its divergent coalition stooges for the purpose of partitioning Syria in accord with U.S. “interests.”

Syria withdrawal speculation 

Today’s invented talking points regarding whether the U.S. will consider any form of a future withdrawal from Syria include an assortment of speculating officials who publically wonder what to do with the $billions in remaining U.S. weaponry. Leaving some for the “U.S.-allied Kurds,” for example, is considered risky since the Kurds may well use these against the NATO-allied Turks. Or perhaps, the Kurds might simply turn the weapons over to the Syrian Army directly! Or, perhaps, the Arab component of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, might turn over their U.S. weapons to Al Qaida or ISIS. In past years U.S.-trained forces under the U.S. Special Operations, that is, illegal and secret operations expert, General Michael Nagata, ended up turning their U.S. weapons over to Al Qaida and related jihadist forces. The Pentagon expended over $1 billion for this “failed” operation. But perhaps it wasn’t a failure after all, since the weapons and most of the U.S.-trained Arab troops ended up aiming their fire at the Syria government, that is, at President Assad’s overthrow. Others ended up in the pay of the highest bidder, including going to war against the U.S. itself! (See: “Syria: Anatomy Of Another U.S. Imperialist War” by Jeff Mackler). In truth, however, there are zero forces in Syria today that have any desire or interest in fighting for the U.S. imperial behemoth. Close to all those who have done so in the past have been the creation of the U.S./NATO-orchestrated Gulf State monarchy “coalition.”

Today, the Zionist colonial, settler state of Israel, backed to the hilt by the U.S., has, according to the Dec. 26 NYT,  “made clear it will not tolerate an increased threat from Syria, which the Israelis demonstrated on Tuesday [Dec. 25] with airstrikes near Damascus.” Israel too, with U.S. support, occupies a portion of Syria that it annexed in the Golan Heights region in the 1967 war. Israel’s periodic and numerous bully bombing attacks on Syria in support of various terrorist forces have been painfully ignored by the Syrian government to avoid providing a pretext for a full-scale Israeli attack.

Trump’s tweeted withdrawal has proved to be a mere episode in the ongoing U.S. war and occupation of Syria. But it served well to reveal much of the truth about this eight-year savage assault on Syria’s fundamental right to self-determination and the U.S.-led mass destruction of Syria itself.  It also revealed that despite the abject failure of overall U.S. war policy in Syria, and its not too dissimilar failures in Afghanistan over the past 18 years, the imperialist beast presses on with impunity and with a cynicism stemming from a belief that there are still “benefits” to be gained, whether in the form countless billions in profits to be registered by the “war is good for business” military-industrial complex or in the cynical supposition that “victory” can or will eventuality be achieved by reducing Syria to ashes and demoralizing its government to the point that it will, in time, accept virtually any settlement offered by its would-be conquerors. Such are the exigencies of the U.S. warmakers.

U.S. Out Now!

In the U.S., challenging the U.S. war machine in Syria and the world over requires the construction of an independent massive and united antiwar movement capable of mobilizing hundreds of thousand and more in the streets to unequivocally demand, U.S. Out Now! Self-determination for Syria and all oppressed peoples and nations! and No to all U.S. wars at home and abroad! The nationwide antiwar protests initiated by the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC) and joined by hundreds of antiwar and social justice organizations for a March 30 march and rally in Washington, D.C. and other cities is an excellent starting point.  Contact UNAC at:


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