News for progressives

Democrats: Headline “America Needs a Raise” Now Before Elections

Counterpunch - Fri, 2018-11-02 15:47

The top Republican politicos must be thinking with adversaries like the Democratic Party, who needs friends. Since 2010 the GOP minority has taken over the majority of state legislatures, Governorships and now the three branches of the federal government.

Polls consistently show most Americans oppose the catastrophic Republican agenda. The American people support raising the frozen federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour; want to protect Obamacare; want law enforcement to punish Wall Street crooks and prevent consumer rip offs; support forming labor unions and protecting labor rights; favor prosecuting the student loan and the for-profit school rackets; want the Republican Party to stop voter suppression and judicial disenfranchisement, and want injured people to have access to the courts. Despite all of these unpopular Republican Party positions, the Republican Party keeps winning.

Even in next month’s elections, which are supposed to produce a blue wave of Democratic victories, the polls are tightening. Trumps polls are edging up, in spite of the belligerent loud mouth’s daily foul and lying invectives.

To see the anemic Democrats, watch the debates between the various candidates. A recent debate between Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill and Republican Josh Hawley, whose office of attorney general is a widely reported mess, is illustrative. Hawley had McCaskill on the defensive regarding the southern border wall. She kept Trumpeting how she has voted for $70 billion for the wall and border security. She did not advance her own immigration policy.

She agreed with Hawley on a GOP ruse, namely a federal reinsurance program for pre-existing conditions, instead of specifically strengthening Obamacare or, better, coming out for a more efficient full Medicare for everyone with free choice of doctor and hospital. She did not challenge Hawley with an explicit minimum wage target or where he stood on lifting poverty and crumbling infrastructure throughout the state. A few Democratic candidates have solidly put forth a “fight for $15 an hour” position. They also need a public works plan and an alternative tax agenda for fairness and job expanding, crucial public investments.

Too often the GOP candidates have the Democratic candidates on the defensive. The Democrats need to respond to the GOP’s cruel and misleading triad of lower taxes (for the super-rich that is), de-regulation (endangering your health and safety) and a strong defense (meaning further bloating the wasteful, redundant military budget and its boomeranging Empire abroad).

The Democrats are always backtracking because they largely have no military or foreign policy differing from the GOP; they have no stand against crony capitalism for corporate welfare, despised by both conservatives and progressives. They will not argue strongly for needed “law and order” regulation to prevent toxics from poisoning your air, water and soil. They advance no law enforcement plan to protect your consumer dollars and prevent another Wall Street criminal collapse on jobs, savings, and pension funds that would result in another giant taxpayer bailout. Some Congressional Democrats even joined with Republicans this year to weaken the Dodd-Frank law.

In recent months, I have been asking numerous Congressional Democratic groups, such as the House Democratic Caucus and the Democratic National Committee, why the specific, abysmal and cruel Republican votes in Congress are not made into campaign headliners. No response. Why are they not making the stagnant, low wages an emblazoned cause for tens of millions of Americans? Why are they not telling people to go “Vote for a Raise,” –long overdue following years of workers being shortchanged by inflation, being denied raises for productivity advances, and being subjected to wage theft amounting to as much as $50 billion a year?

“America Needs a Raise,” can become a clarion call for getting out the vote and highlighting the vast inequalities of, say Walmarts CEO making $12,000 an hour, plus perks and benefits, while many of his workers sweat away at little more than $11 an hour.

So compromised by campaign cash are most Democratic candidates, excepting the few progressive insurgents, that they are not even rebutting the exaggerated and defective Republican boasts about the economy’s low unemployment rates for Hispanic and Black workers. Millions of workers have dropped out of the labor market, record millions are temps or work short weeks, wages are stagnant, rents higher, and at least a third of Americans are poor.

The Republicans are getting away with their phony sing-song of a robust economy in their political TV ads and debates. Again and again, too few Democrats will not stand for explicit policies that reflect majoritarian opinion and contrast with the plutocratic, big business interests of the Republicans.

With all the winning issues waiting for the Democratic Party to show the voters what it stands for, why is there is hesitation, cowardliness, and obsession with raising money from commercial interests? Moreover, four time losers at the Congressional level and their failed political consultants have refused to step aside and be replaced by fresh, young politicians insistent on defending the country from the worst, cruelest, most corrupt iteration of the Republican Party in history.

Imagine what FDR, Harry Truman, and LBJ would have done with this current crop of grim and greedy Republican corporatists such as super-rich Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who just told the country that cuts in Medicare and social security are necessary due to the deficits he and his GOP created with the giant tax escapes for the rich and big corporations. For starters, old style Democrats would be “raising hell” promoting the omnipresent message that America Needs a Raise!

Categories: News for progressives

The Real White Man’s Burden

Counterpunch - Fri, 2018-11-02 15:46

It is unfortunate that in the 21st century we are still subjected to the kind of propaganda that positions white people (men in particular) as the chosen ones of history and, indeed, the future.

It’s no secret that white nationalism is resurgent under Trump, who recently identified himself as a “nationalist” as opposed to someone who cares about all the world’s citizens. It is far from a stretch to assume that this was a signal to his base and that the only reason he left out the word “white” is because even he’s not prepared to go that far — at least not yet.

His far-right supporters likely got the message, and some do not even bother with coded language — e.g. the Rise Above Movement or the Proud Boys — while others hide behind a pseudo-intellectual veneer. Racist views have become so mainstream that even a black teenager shamelessly disparaged her own race on a recent episode of Dr. Phil.

I recently came across a disturbing yet significant example of white nationalist ideology and was shocked to recognize its author from an old social circle. (I omit his name because my goal is not to single out an individual but an ideology). His White Man’s Burden is not an example of a lonely voice shouting through the wilderness — or I would not bother to comment. As a white man, I fear that his is a view shared by many white men (and the women who rely on them) from all social strata. The Trump administration and its supporters would doubtless approve.

The so-called ‘white man’s burden’ is a dark remnant from a past that lurks at the highest levels of government in the United States and currently threatens much of the world. Brazilian President-Elect Jair Bolsonaro, advised by ex-Trump handler Steve Bannon, is the latest political triumph of white nationalism. This is an ideology that promotes imperialism as a Social Darwinian imperative and confuses civilization with barbarism: its proponents fail to see that it is an indictment on a race if that race succeeds by riding the backs of others — not a source of pride.

I propose another burden that is far more noble: the burden of justice. White men and women have an opportunity to (finally) break their own chains of oppressor status in an increasingly interdependent world. They have access to information that can lift them out of ignorance and toward a new enlightenment that goes beyond reformation within Western societies and emphasizes how the privileged center can relate more peacefully and justly to those on the margins. Moreover, in the information age the very concept of whiteness (or race, for that matter) is evolving into one that is far more dependent on ideology or self-identification than physical appearance or genetics. This is a positive development in the sense that many people — myself included — no longer feel the need to identify with an exclusive club based on pseudo-science and primitive tribalism. Given the complexity of genes that make up an individual, it would make just as much sense for a white man to identity with Genghis Kahn, Cleopatra, or some primordial super-ape as it would be to identity with Julius Caesar. Human accomplishments and failures belong to humanity because nothing happens in perfect genetic isolation. (Don’t take my word for it; read the acclaimed writer Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me.) But this is not to say that all cultures or peoples are identical — it’s the concept of interdependence that white nationalists fail to grasp.

Unlike the extremes on both sides of the spectrum, I am not one who believes that any skin color represents good or evil — or that the answer to history’s inequities and inequalities is to condemn the ancestors of those who came out on top. There is more rage than logic behind these views. However, justice must be done for the benefit of humanity: white, black, brown, red and yellow. It is the lack of justice that not only stokes the rage at the bottom, but also buttresses the fear at the top. The rise of Trump was predicated on this fear. But rage alone will not defeat him.

True justice will not only usher in a new world community that includes everyone while respecting differences — but will also ensure that burdensome white men will never again have to justify their privilege.

Categories: News for progressives

Waiting for Godot: a Tale of American Democracy

Counterpunch - Fri, 2018-11-02 15:46

“Nothing to be and done.”

So begins Samuel Beckett’s tragicomedy, Waiting for Godot.

It’s a play I revisit every now and then. Each time it resonates on a different level—existential, psychological, social.

The other day I took the thin volume down from my bookshelves and read it again, captivated and curious, like it’s my first time. And as I contemplated on its gloomy bare stage, I thought of the United States of America. Its gloomy bare political stage.

Beckett’s two main characters, Vladimir and Estragon, spend their time waiting for Godot who never arrives. Under a leafless tree they sit, stand, talk, speculate, even consider hanging themselves. They pass the time and they wait.

Vladimir: Say something!

Estragon: I’m trying.

[Long silence.]

Vladimir (in anguish): Say anything at all!

Estragon: What do we do now?

Vladimir: Wait for Godot.

Estragon: Ah!

[Silence.]

Vladimir: This is awful.

And here we are in America. Waiting. Some are waiting for the midterms, some for Mueller, for impeachment. Others are waiting for walls to be built. Waiting for wealth to be theirs. Waiting for America to be great again.

While some are still waiting for justice and equality.

Some, merely for a glimpse of decency and honesty.

It seems as if no matter who or what our Godot is, we are all Vladimirs and Estragons. Weary, we wait. We wait for that which does not arrive.

With the midterms looming, headlines in the media about the demise of democracy in America have multiplied, yet the crisis is nothing new. American democracy has never been complete, never been perfect. In Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism, philosopher and social activist Cornel West writes:

The American democratic experiment is unique in human history not because we are God’s chosen people to lead the world, nor because we are always a force for good in the world, but because of our refusal to acknowledge the deeply racist and imperial roots of our democratic project. We are exceptional because of our denial of the antidemocratic foundation stones of American democracy.

As long as the dire realities of blind patriotism, bigotry, moral indifference, self-absorption, disdain and fear of others abound, democracy simply cannot live up to its promise in this most diverse nation. As long as political and legal rights remain restricted, as long as civil liberties are eclipsed by financial interests, as long as political violence is an everyday threat…oppression and suffering will keep breathing in the shadow of the ideal that is American democracy. “Government of the people, by the people, for the people” will remain a mirage.

Vladimir: What’s the matter with you?

Estragon: I’m unhappy.

Vladimir: Not really! Since when?

Estragon: I’d forgotten. 

Midterms will be over soon. There will be old and new senators and congressmen, and congresswomen, in the ranks. They will lobby. They will fundraise. Bills will pass. Bills will fail. Large corporations, billionaires, and big donors will continue to triumph. Money will keep pouring into the campaigns. 2020. 2024. 2028. Citizens will go back to the ballot boxes. Votes will be counted. Presidents will come and go. Politicians will rise and fall.

Two steps forward, one step back. Two steps back, one step forward. The clumsy dance of American politics. A tragicomedy.

Vladimir: Charming evening we’re having.

Estragon: Unforgettable.

Vladimir: And it’s not over.

Estragon: Apparently not.

Vladimir: It’s only the beginning. 

Estragon: It’s awful.

Vladimir: Worse than the pantomime.

Vladimir: The circus. 

At one point during their wait, Estragon says, “I can’t go on like this.” Vladimir responds, “That’s what you think.” And they go on waiting.

And we, the American public, go on waiting. Polarized. Angry. Pained. Confused. We criticize, argue, resist. We think we resist.

Vladimir: You’re right, we’re inexhaustible.

Estragon: It’s so we won’t think. 

Vladimir: We have that excuse. 

Estragon: So we won’t hear. 

Vladimir: We have our reasons. 

We, too, have our reasons. We have our fears. We have our pleas. We gain hope, we lose hope. We repeat.

Estragon pulls off his boot. He peers inside it, turns it upside down, shakes it, feels inside it. Vladimir picks up his hat, peers inside it, shakes it, puts it back on. And they repeat.

The most important part of it all is that like Vladimir and Estragon—no matter how estranged, no matter how troubled—we continue to co-exist. For better or worse. Democrats, Republicans, independents. Different races, ages, regions. Those who stand in opposition whether the subject matter is immigration, same-sex marriage, health-care, taxes, climate change, or capitalism. Those who hate each other’s guts, threaten each other’s lives over reproductive or religious rights, gun-control or criminal justice. All of them, all of us. We are bound by that which is the country we call home. We are the divided people of the United States.

Boy: [in a rush] Mr. Godot told me to tell you he won’t come this evening but surely tomorrow.

[Silence.]

I place Beckett’s book on my desk. Consider writing something about the midterms. On the dangers of apathy, importance of civic engagement. The urgency. Then I pause. I take off my hat, peer inside it, put it back on.

Vladimir: Well? Shall we go?

Estragon: Yes, let’s go.

[They do not move.]

Curtain

Categories: News for progressives

Is China a “Responsible Great Power”?

Counterpunch - Fri, 2018-11-02 15:45

President Xi Jinping would like everyone to pay attention to how China is exerting leadership in world affairs as a “responsible great power.” While the Trump administration is in retreat, Xi is taking full advantage of the leadership vacuum. He has, for example, emphatically supported globalization in response to Trump’s narrow nationalism, promised many billions of dollars in aid to developing countries that have signed up for the Belt and Road Initiative, promoted energy conservation and solar power at home, tried to play the honest broker in the North Korea-US dispute over nuclear weapons, and contributed importantly to UN peacekeeping missions. Xi can certainly claim that China is a major player on the most pressing international issues, but how responsible a great power is it?

China’s international record has a number of significant blemishes. It has defied a ruling of an arbitral tribunal under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea that censured China’s military buildup and ecologically damaging activities in the disputed South China Sea islands. It has tried to create an air defense zone in the East Sea (Sea of Japan) to keep US, Japanese, and other aircraft out of another disputed area. It has been putting pressure on Taiwan’s government to dissuade it from any movement toward independence or increased official contacts with the US.

Here I want to focus on two other rather blatant demonstrations of international irresponsibility. Both relate to large-scale violations of human rights: the mass incarceration of Uyghurs in Xinjiang Province and support of the Myanmar (Burma) government’s ongoing ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya minority. China’s failure to acknowledge these major abuses of human rights is consistent with Xi’s repression of dissent at home and concentration of power in the party-state, both to an extent not seen since the Mao era. But these are not ordinary abuses: They involve large, homogenous populations whose cultures are being systematically wiped out.

By now the Xinjiang roundup of Muslim families, perhaps a million people in all, has been widely reported and internationally condemned. The “reeducation centers,” sometimes also dubbed “counter-extremism training centers,” have been captured on satellite photos and video. Uyghurs, who are still the ethnic majority in Xinjiang, have been imprisoned in an effort, justified as counter-terrorism, to change their language, religion, and way of life—in short, ensure that their primary identity and loyalty is to the Chinese party-state. Now that the party’s secret is out, some Chinese officials have painted an entire population as enemies of the state who must be under surveillance at all times. It’s an Orwellian situation, with face-recognition cameras everywhere, the rule of law entirely absent, and tens of thousands of Han Chinese minders dispatched to villages to live with and report on Uyghur families.

In Myanmar, the most recent United Nations investigation casts the situation as “an ongoing genocide.” More than 700,000 Muslim Rohingyas have been driven from their homes into Bangladesh. Myanmar tried, with China’s support, to block the lead investigator’s briefing of the Security Council. He said: “The Myanmar government’s hardened positions are by far the greatest obstacle. Its continued denials, its attempts to shield itself under the cover of national sovereignty and its dismissal of 444 pages of details about the facts and circumstances of recent human rights violations that point to the most serious crimes under international law.” The investigator suggested referring the matter to the International Criminal Court.

Sadly, the UN special investigator on human rights in Myanmar reports that Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and de facto leader of the country, “is in total denial” about the brutal military campaign of rape, murder and torture of Rohingya. “Right now, it’s like an apartheid situation where Rohingyas still living in Myanmar … have no freedom of movement,” the special investigator said. “The camps, the shelters, the model villages that are being built, it’s more of a cementing of total segregation or separation from the Rakhine ethnic community.”

China’s support of the Myanmar government’s intransigence is founded on the noninterference principle, a perfectly respectable principle except when it becomes a convenient excuse for ignoring terrible events next door by pretending it’s wrong to speak out. Criticism of the military is not “helpful” and the situation is “complicated,” Chinese officials have said. They have called for “dialogue,” as though the rampaging Myanmar military has the slightest interest in talking. “Dialogue” is China’s alternative to Security Council and General Assembly resolutions that China has voted against since 2007.

Most likely, Chinese policy is motivated by Beijing’s treatment of its own ethnic minorities: avoid internationalizing inhumane behavior outside China that is going on inside China. Evidently, support of human rights for all is not part of being a “responsible great power,” whereas support of crackdowns on innocent minority peoples is.

Categories: News for progressives

Mary Shelley: the 200th Anniversary of a Rebel Girl and Her Creature

Counterpunch - Fri, 2018-11-02 15:45

This year is the 200thanniversary of the first publication of Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley (1797-1851). In Greek mythology, Prometheus was the Titan credited with creating human-kind from clay and who defied the gods by stealing fire and giving it to humanity. Zeus, the king of the gods, sentenced the Titan to eternal torment for his transgression. The immortal Prometheus was bound to a rock, where each day an eagle was sent to feed on his liver, which would then grow back only to be eaten again the following day. The tragic story of Prometheus was very much on the minds of Mary and her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), who began writing, Prometheus Unbound, a four-act lyrical drama based on the myth, the same year Frankensteinwas published.

Mary Shelley was the daughter of the radical, Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797), author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women, one of the earliest works of feminism. As Charlotte Gordon points out in her excellent introduction to Penguin Classic’s 2018 reissue of the original 1818 text of Frankenstein, although Wollstonecraft died only ten days after Mary was born, the child was still profoundly influenced her mother’s ideas. A large portrait of Wollstonecraft hung on the wall of the family home. As a young girl, Mary studied it intensely, comparing herself to her mother and trying to find similarities. Mary’s father, William Godwin (1756-1836) was one of the first exponents of utilitarianism and is also considered the founder of philosophical anarchism. Godwin held up Wollstonecraft as an ideal in every respect. He even taught young Mary how to read by tracing the letters on her mother’s gravestone.

Here we should remind ourselves just how repressed women were two hundred years ago and how hard they had to fight for rights taken for granted today, though there is still much work to do. Gordon tells us:

“Experts declared that women were inferior to men in all areas of human development and could not be educated beyond a certain rudimentary level. Whereas men possessed the capacity for reason and ethical rectitude, women were considered foolish, fickle, selfish, gullible, sly, untrustworthy and childish. Wives could not own property or initiate divorces. Children were the father’s property. Not only was it legal for a man to beat his wife but men were encouraged to punish any woman they regarded as unruly. If a woman tried to escape from a cruel or violent husband, she was considered an outlaw and her husband had the legal right to imprison her.”

As she grew older, Mary read and reread her mother’s Vindication and also studied Wollstonecraft’s other books, including her celebration of the French Revolution, often learning the words by heart.

When she was sixteen Mary met twenty-one-year-old, Percy Bysshe Shelley. Shelley was another political radical who had become estranged from his wealthy, aristocratic family because of his redistributionist economic views, which were influenced by Godwin, whom he visited regularly. Mary and Percy began meeting secretly at her mother’s grave in St. Pancras Churchyard, described by Gordon in her book, Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley, as “more like a pasture than a burial ground.” Though Shelley was already married they soon eloped and ran away to Europe, along with Mary’s stepsister, Jane Clairmont, who changed her name to Claire and never returned to the bourgeois life her own mother had tried to force on her back in England.

Given his criticism of the institution of marriage, Mary and Percy assumed her father would support their relationship but when they returned to England, Godwin refused to speak to his daughter. Society was merciless. Mary was called a whore and Percy a scoundrel. Claire Clairmont remained true to them but that was a mixed blessing, as Clair and Shelley had also grown so close Mary suspected they were having an affair.

In January 1816, Mary gave birth to a boy she named William, after her father, who she guarded carefully, fearing the child might be taken away from her. It was a wet spring and William developed a stubborn cough. Claire suggested they vacation in Geneva, where the air was supposed to be healthy. There was also the benefit of being near Lord Byron, the most notorious poet of the era, with whom Claire was having an affair. Byron had rented a grand home, the Villa Diodati and the Shelleys took a smaller house nearby. When the press got wind of this, they branded them the “League of Incest.”

The only problem was the weather. 1816 was known as the “year without a summer.” The preceding year, a volcano had erupted in Indonesia, spewing thick ash into the atmosphere, disrupting weather patterns in Europe, Asia and even North America.

In Switzerland, the weather was unseasonably cold and stormy. After weeks of rain, the little group was restless. Byron challenged his friends to see who could write the scariest ghost story. He was bored with the old German tales they had been telling one another for amusement. Surely, one of them could do better.

Byron and Shelley gave it a try but soon went back to other projects. Byron’s personal physician, John Polidori, wrote the draft of a story that would become The Vampyre, one of the inspirations for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. In her introduction to the 1831 revised edition of Frankenstein, Mary claimed she had trouble coming up with an idea too until one evening the discussion turned to the nature and principle of life. “Perhaps a corpse could be reanimated,” she recalled thinking, “galvanism had given a token of such things.” It was after midnight before they retired. Unable to sleep Mary became possessed by what she called her “waking dream”:

“I saw a pale student of the unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion. Frightening it must be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human behavior to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the World.”

Frankensteinwas first published anonymously. When people found out Mary was the author they were shocked beyond belief. As Gordon points out, “women weren’t supposed to write novels, let alone a novel like Frankenstein. Critics muttered that Mary Shelley must be as monstrous and immoral as her story.” This is the most likely reason why she fictionalized her account of difficulty in coming up with the idea for Frankenstein.Gordon notes there is no evidence to suggest this was true:

“At no point had she or any of her friends or family mentioned any difficulties in the composition of the novel. Indeed, from the records of those who were there and from reviewing notebooks in which Mary wrote the novel, all evidence suggests that she composed with an uncommon fluency and speed.”

The most likely answer for this discrepancy is that Mary sought to distance herself from her own work because of society’s disapproval. By 1831, both Shelley and Byron were dead and Mary faced enormous financial and social pressures as a single mother. If she could improve her sales by claiming to have struggled to come up with the monstrous idea for Frankenstein so be it.

After Frankenstein, Mary Shelley went on to write five more novels including The Last Man, a post-apocalyptic tale set in the 21stCentury, as well as many short stories and works of non-fiction. Frankenstein, was first adapted for the theater in an 1823 performance in London seen by Mary Shelley and William Godwin. It was at this early stage that people began to refer to the monster itself as “Frankenstein.” Frankensteinwent on to become one of the greatest horror franchises in history, spawning countless plays, films, tv shows, comics, toys, games and even an 80s health club chain called “Frankenstein’s Gym,” its motto: “We build monsters!”

Al Ronzoni is a writer, historian and political activist based in New York City. He can be reached at acjr0122@gmail.com

Categories: News for progressives

Lives that Matter?

Counterpunch - Fri, 2018-11-02 15:44

What would it take for everyone’s life to matter as much as Jamal Khashoggi’s?

I ask this question over at the edge of the news, looking for a doorway into the human conscience.

Consider:

“The U.S. sold a total of $55.6 billion of weapons worldwide in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 — up 33 percent from the previous fiscal year, and a near record. In 2017, the U.S. cleared some $18 billion in new Saudi arms deals.”

This is from CBS News Moneywatch two weeks ago. No big deal, just a look at the U.S. weapons biz, which has been thrust into the national spotlight recently.

“Mr. Trump,” the story continues, “has dismissed the idea of suspending weapons sales to Saudi Arabia to punish its crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman, for any involvement in the alleged murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. ‘I don’t like the concept of stopping an investment of $110 billion into the United States,’ Mr. Trump said this week. . . .”

And under the subhead “Bombs away,” the article informs us: “The current White House has shifted the type of weapons exports the U.S. favors. Prior to this year, aircraft was the largest component of U.S. arms sales, according to the Security Assistance Monitor. Under the first year of the Trump administration, sales of bombs and missiles dominated.”

This is a story about the infrastructure of killing and an economic system that, apparently, depends on doing so on a mass scale globally, which of course is known as waging war. War at a personal, specific level is always horrifying — as shocking and grotesquely wrong as Khashoggi’s murder. Why is it, then, that when you multiply these murders by a hundred or a thousand or a million, they become so much easier to talk about and write about and justify — with the focus on strategy, politics, economics and jobs — than is the murder of one man? Why is there not one word in this Moneywatch story as heart-stopping as “bone saw”?

I ask this in no way to belittle the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, but rather to belittle . . . no, to undo, to rip apart . . . what we call news. If it weren’t for news that normalizes and softens war, that turns it — here in the 21st century — into a spectator sport, the military industrialists and their political supplicants could not sell it to the public with such ease.

The United States had pretty much evolved beyond war by 1975, when its military pulled out of Vietnam. There followed a decade and a half of “Vietnam syndrome” — public disgust and distaste for mass murder, environmental devastation and spiritual suicide, of the sort we’d just been inflicting on Vietnam and on ourselves.

But because of the political and economic influence of the military industrial complex, “Vietnam syndrome” was unacceptable. The U.S. fought proxy wars for a decade and a half, particularly in Nicaragua (go, Contras!) and ended the draft (except for the poverty draft), which disentangled most Americans from a personal stake in future wars. Then — with the Cold War suddenly, unexpectedly over — war’s public relations unit had to find a new, more perfect enemy. It settled on our former ally, Saddam Hussein.

When the six-week-long Gulf War ended in February 1991, George H.W. Bush declared: “By God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all.” And indeed, that first Gulf War set the standard for the wars of the 21st century. They are, to the extent possible, reported as strategic spectacles waged from on high. Bombs away! No blood, no mess, no racism — just classified strategic objectives and a mission (never articulated) to fulfill.

And beyond America’s own wars, we have the Saudis and their allies and the war they are waging in Yemen, with our weapons, assistance and backing:

“The military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in Yemen has killed thousands of civilians in airstrikes, tortured detainees, raped civilians and used child soldiers as young as 8 — actions that may amount to war crimes, United Nations investigators said in a report issued Tuesday.”

So the New York Times reported in August, in advance of a U.N. report on the war.

“The main cause of civilian casualties in the war,” the story continues, “. . . has been airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition. It estimates that there have been 18,000 such strikes in little more than three years, inflicting a level of damage on civilians that ‘certainly contributed to Yemen’s dire economic and humanitarian situation.’

“The report, to be delivered to the United Nations Human Rights Council next month, comes not long after a Saudi-coalition strike this month killed 40 children on a school bus.”

Eventually the story tosses in this little moral grenade:

“A report released by Human Rights Watch last week warned Britain, France and the United States that they risked complicity in unlawful attacks in Yemen by continuing to supply arms to Saudi Arabia.”

But none of this has the shock value of the torture and murder of a man at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, not even the murder of 40 children on a school bus. That public outrage over Khashoggi’s killing won’t go away — that it is disrupting the U.S.-Saudi alliance and possibly even threatening future arms sales — is absolutely appropriate. But I can’t help feeling eaten alive by the question it raises.

Why do only some lives matter?

Categories: News for progressives

Sacrificing Border Communities for Political Gain

Counterpunch - Fri, 2018-11-02 15:43

President Trump recently sent a threatening tweet in response to an estimated 7,000 migrants traveling together to the U.S.-Mexico border. If Mexico refuses to halt the caravan of men, women, and children seeking refuge, Trump warned, he’ll “call up the U.S. Military and CLOSE OUR SOUTHERN BORDER!”

The shutdowns have started to happen. On October 29, one port of entry in El Paso, Texas, was shut down, a Customs and Border Protection statement said, while the agency “is currently monitoring the situation regarding the caravan migrating from Central America toward the U.S. border.”

Either Trump isn’t at all aware of how border communities work, or he’s willing to sacrifice them for political gain.

I’m from El Paso, Texas, a city intricately connected to its sister across the border, Ciudad Juárez. Here, thousands of people cross the border both ways every day to work, go to school, visit family, and seek better health care options.

In 2017, more than 22 million people in passenger vehicles crossed the El Paso-Juárez border, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Another 6.8 million crossed on foot — I among them. So far in 2018, 11 million people have driven across this border, and another 3.5 million crossed on foot.

That’s not including the several million who’ve crossed at other ports of entry.

Hundreds of students from Juárez attend school at the University of Texas at El Paso, or the dozens of local K-12 public schools. People trade and own businesses on both sides of the border.

In many cases, Americans in El Paso who don’t have quality health care options see more affordable doctors in Juárez. I’ve done this myself numerous times.

Shutting down the border means shutting down an entire border economy. Mexico and the U.S. share a more than $600 billion trade relationship. Endangering it could have a detrimental ripple effect on the people who call the border home.

All for what? To stop people from seeking asylum — an act that isn’t just legal, but that the U.S. itself is required to permit.

It sounds terrifying — thousands of people from foreign countries showing up at the border demanding a way in illegally. Or at least that’s the picture the Trump administration is trying to paint. The reality is much more complex.

The first thing to understand is the border is not in crisis.

Although there’s been an uptick in unauthorized crossings this year, unauthorized migration overall has actually decreased over the past several years, and is nowhere near as high as it used to be in the early 2000s, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

What has increased is the number of families — that is, parents with their children — traveling to the U.S., along with unaccompanied minors. Some reports estimate half of the people traveling in this caravan to the U.S. are women and children.

Caravans of migrants to the U.S. have been taking place for several years, since they offer safety in numbers from gangs and traffickers that target people traveling alone. But it was only this year that Trump painted caravans as a new immigration crisis for political gain.

It’s against international law for a country to refuse someone’s claim to be considered for asylum. When migrants from this caravan turn themselves in at the border claiming asylum, they’re not breaking any laws. But we are if we forcibly turn them away.

Since Trump’s tweet, CBP has started shutting down at least one port of entry, and the Pentagon has plans to deploy 5,000 troops to the entire border.

Refugees deserve a chance to seek protection. And America’s border communities deserve not to be held hostage by a president that refuses to recognize people’s rights on either side of it.

Jasmine Aguilera is a freelance writer and reporter from El Paso, Texas. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, NowThis, and more.

Categories: News for progressives

Trump Returns to an Old Formula: Lies and Hatred

Counterpunch - Fri, 2018-11-02 15:43

Midterm elections are approaching. The first major election since Trump took office, our current political landscape could shift dramatically depending on the results.

If Democrats can take back control of the House of Representatives — or even the Senate — that could have a major effect on Trump’s ability to pass legislation.

The damage that Trump has created since he’s been president has motivated a record number of women and people of color to run for office. Democrats are banking on this new wave of hope, and for candidates to assert progressive ideas and policies on the state and federal levels.

With many media outlets forecasting a potential “blue wave” in favor of Democrats, Republicans are ramping up their campaigns to secure their majority in Congress.

Among these Republicans is President Trump, who has benefited tremendously from our current GOP Congress.

Congress has given Trump the green light to pass an enormous tax cut for corporations and the ultra-wealthy, stood by as he’s separated thousands of immigrant children from their parents who are seeking asylum in the U.S., and confirmed Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh amid massive protests around credible sexual misconduct allegations against him.

With more to-do’s to check off his conservative agenda, such as building a border wall between Mexico and the U.S., Trump cannot afford to lose the Republican majority in Congress.

So, in an effort to get his supporters excited to vote for Republican candidates, he’s returning to tactics that have worked pretty well for him: lying and hatred.

Within the past month, President Trump has lied about creating a plan for a middle-class tax cut, when in reality he signed a tax bill that will create a $2 trillion federal budget deficit by helping millionaires and billionaires.

Similarly, the Trump administration is considering writing trans people out of Title IX, a federal civil rights code that bans sex discrimination in federally funded schools, by defining “sex as either male or female, unchangeable, and determined by the genitals that a person is born with.”

This act could reverse life-saving protections for transgender people across the nation. But to Trump it’s worth it, because he knows these types of actions rally up his evangelical base.

It doesn’t stop there — it also extends to Trump’s signature issue, immigration.

It’s no accident that just because of the upcoming election, he made a public promise to end birthright citizenship, an ironclad constitutional provision. That means babies who are born in this country to immigrant parents would no longer be granted automatic citizenship.

Not to mention, he’s sending 5,000 troops to the border to “fend off” a caravan of migrants and refugees, half of whom are women and children.

It’s obvious that Trump’s willing to put up a dirty fight to maintain the Republican majority in Congress. Will it have an impact on the outcome of the election? Or will voters turn out for candidates who promise to protect everyone in our country, including the most marginalized?

Well, that’s up to us.

Categories: News for progressives

Mass Murder and American History

Counterpunch - Fri, 2018-11-02 15:42

“Screw your optics, I’m going in.”

This is bigger than hate, this latest mass shooting, last weekend, at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, in which, oh my God, 11 more innocent souls died at the hands of a home-grown terrorist.

The president’s anti-immigrant tweets may have been in grotesque synchronicity with the killer’s: “Many Gang Members and some very bad people are mixed into the Caravan heading to our Southern Border. . . . This is an invasion of our Country and our Military is waiting for you!” And they no doubt fed the climate in which Robert Bowers acted, but this is bigger than Donald Trump. He may be the trigger, but the weapon has been ready and waiting for a long time.

Every mass shooting happens in a context, and every mass shooting cries out that we must examine the social infrastructure of dehumanization and violence.

“Yet this too needs to be contextualized as a current manifestation of the racist foundations of our country,” Rabbi Michael Lerner wrote the day after the murders, reminding us of such matters as slavery, Native American genocide and the wars of the last half century.

“This pattern of violence and demeaning of ‘the Other’ has become so deeply embedded in the culture of the U.S. that only a true consciousness transformation will undermine its prevalence in both major political parties.”

“Screw your optics, I’m going in.”

These are the words I can’t get out of my head — the killer’s final post on his social media platform before he took his guns and headed off to the Tree of Life Synagogue. This is war talk — or rather, the pretend war talk of a boy playing with guns . . . a boy who has become an adult and now has real guns and a “real” enemy — the immigrants swarming into our country, aided by the Jews — and he’s about to leap to glory and save his people.

Maybe the problem of American violence begins here, in the fantasy of armed rescue and armed salvation. In this fantasy mindset, the default plot device of ten thousand mediocre movies and TV shows, the only consequence of violence is that it eliminates the bad guy.

Boyhood is all about glory, but boys grow up and learn a deeper reality — unless they don’t. And American militarism requires that Americans stay in their early adolescence psychologically, making a shift not in their understanding of other people but only in the weapons used against them. Beyond the entertainment industry and the gaming industry is the Department of Defense, which sustains itself by recruiting children before they grow up and teaching them to hate — and kill — the Other. The United States Army actually has a website devoted to hooking kids as young as 13. It’s called America’s Army, a gaming website with the message that war is awesome.

As I wrote some years ago, the site is “the very essence of America’s own arrested development: We command the world’s largest arsenal and throw our weight around with an adolescent swagger. Neocons famously declared ‘high noon’ with Saddam Hussein. If militarists had to face long-term or even short-term accountability for the damage they wreak, war would be obsolete in an eye blink.”

And war always, always, always comes home. Indeed, its consciousness pervades the social order. It grabs a mind and won’t let it go.

And those who want to wage war on their own, without the inconvenience of having to follow someone else’s orders, are free not merely to define their own enemy but also to assemble their own stash of weapons and, when they are ready, “go in” and wreck some lives. This is America, where we have the freedom to kill one another.

And . . .

This is the clincher. We are not allowed, in any official way, to be aware of this. While we pour maybe as much as a trillion dollars a year into Things Military, the amount of money devoted to research into the causes of social violence is, by congressional edict, zero. This has been true since 1996, when Congress, at the intense urging of the NRA, passed the Dickey Amendment, which in essence cut off any federal funding for research into the causes of gun violence.

Specifically, this piece of legislation, part of the federal government’s 1996 omnibus spending bill, bans at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from using any federal money to conduct research that “may be used to advocate or promote gun control” — which is a built-in catch-22. Because research into gun violence is likely to reveal the need for gun control, the research cannot be federally funded.

As the New York Times pointed out: “The result is that 22 years and more than 600,000 gunshot victims later, much of the federal government has largely abandoned efforts to learn why people shoot one another, or themselves, and what can be done to prevent gun violence.”

And this is the context in which politicians peddle fear and war. Fear of immigrants is hardly new, hardly the invention of Trump. It has long been a component of American racism. As Trump threatens to dismantle the 14th Amendment and sign an executive order terminating birthright citizenship (an election ploy as the midterms grow nearer), we might want to reflect on good old Executive Order 9066, which Franklin Roosevelt signed in 1942 — and just like that, with a stroke of the pen, forced some 117,000 Japanese-Americans into concentration . . . excuse me, internment camps for the next three years.

We could also remember all the European Jews who were not allowed into the United States as they tried to flee Hitler, as we reflect on the nation’s moral shortcomings. This history, so lacking in official atonement, is available to anyone who wants to project blame on a specific Other. Indeed, there is no nationalism — white or otherwise — without an Other to fear and, every so often, kill.

“Screw your optics, I’m going in.”

The mass shootings will continue. We all know that. And we can’t undo our history. But we do have a choice: We can face it squarely and look beyond it, toward love, toward forgiveness, toward an understanding of our presumed enemies. When we do so, the hard part begins. We also start understanding ourselves.

Categories: News for progressives

An Exploration of Suicide and Grief: Sigrid Nunez’ “The Friend”

Counterpunch - Fri, 2018-11-02 15:16

This is a profoundly personal book:  not in a confessional, nor even a confiding way, much less the gut-spilling vein that screams for attention in this ever more distracted world.  Sigrid Nunez’ The Friend is a calm, though unflinching, exploration of grief in the wake of a close friend’s suicide.

As survivor’s tale, it joins two other treasures of recent vintage, Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking and Joyce Carol Oates’ A Widow’s Story.  Where it departs from their course is in its billing not as memoir but as fiction, in which category it has found its way onto this year’s short list for the National Book Award, the winner to be announced November 14.

This classification might lead one to write off the book as a work of imagination with little relationship to real life.  But a close reading leads to the opposite conclusion:  The detachment afforded the author by presenting her narrative as fiction only serves Nunez’ purpose all the better of delving into her personal experience.  I, of course, have no idea how much of the book “really” happened but am convinced that in Nunez’ universe, the question is beside the point.

So what’s the book about?  Although the lion’s share of Amazon reviewers express unqualified praise, one complained that despite the picture of the distinguished-looking Great Dane sitting with regal posture on the cover, it’s not really about a dog.  The picture, according to this disgruntled reader, is a “marketing ploy” to… what?  Lure that huge chunk of the reading public that devours books with canine protagonists?  But it is true that the friend of the title is not primarily the mythic creature who first appears on page 25; it is the unnamed long time confidant, like Nunez herself, a writer and writing teacher, who. to the shock and bewilderment of close associates and three ex-wives, kills himself.  And to the surprise of Nunez in particular, designates her to inherit his unlikely “rescue” dog, Apollo.

Nunez’ grief in the aftermath of her former mentor’s loss occasions this prolonged study of suicide, among other subjects, for Nunez, in her understated way, is a formidable scholar of a wide array of topics.  Thus do we learn that [w]riting in the first person is a known sign of suicide risk.”   Other topics explored are animals and what they may be thinking: (“[T]he last thing you want,” a vet advises her, “is for [Apollo] to start thinking you’re his bitch;”) and writing students who seem to have no idea of what their chosen field is, (“[c]olor of eyes, color of hair – the usual student way of describing a character, as if a story is a piece of ID like a driver’s license;”) much less of what it requires.  (“I delete without answering the questionnaire from someone who is considering taking my class.  [Number one:  Are you over-concerned with things like punctuation and grammar?”])

It is Nunez’ vignettes from these worlds, her quotes, which are so off-the-wall as to have to be real, that offer the novel’s greatest rewards.

On writing:

Not a profession but a vocation of unhappiness, Simenon said writing was.  Georges Simenon, who wrote hundreds of novels under his own name, hundreds more under two dozen pen names, and who, at the time of his retirement, was the bestselling author in the world.  Now, that’s a lot of unhappiness….

…Who, asked what had made him a novelist, replied, “My hatred for my mother.  (That’s a lot of hatred.)…

…He had a daughter, who was psychotically in love with him.  When she was a little girl she asked for a wedding ring, which he gave her.  She had the ring enlarged to fit her finger as she grew.  When she was twenty-five, she shot herself.

Q:  Where does a young Parisienne get a gun?

A:  From a gunsmith she read about in one of Papa’s novels.

Such facts could not have been made up, of course.  And how much more powerful is the tragic story for being about a writer we all know.  Yet the accounts of prostitutes and sexually abused women, none of whose names are divulged, are equally affecting.

Much of the book is written in the second person, as though to resurrect the deceased, but towards the end, the “you” shifts from former human friend to current representative thereof, Apollo, the Great Dane.  Yet for this reader at least, the title ultimately refers to neither one.  Such is the sustained openness and generosity of the prose, not to mention the courage in examining the subjects of death and particularly, suicide, that the friend in question seems to be Nunez herself.

Jenna Orkin, a former student of Sigrid Nunez, is the author of  Ground Zero Wars: The Fight to Reveal the Lies of the EPA in the Wake of 9/11 and Clean Up Lower Manhattan.

Categories: News for progressives

Marie Colvin’s Wars

Counterpunch - Fri, 2018-11-02 15:16

Still from “A Private War.”

On February 22, 2012, London Times foreign correspondent Marie Colvin and her photographer Paul Conroy were in the ground floor of a multi-story building in Baba Amr, a neighborhood in Homs, Syria, that was being used as a press center when a shell scored a direct hit that left her dead and Conroy badly wounded. Two new films are focused on their experience as the last foreign journalists reporting from Homs that was the first of the liberated areas to be reconquered by the regime mostly as a result of the asymmetric warfare that has drowned the revolution in blood. “A Private War” that opens in NY, Washington, and Los Angeles theaters today (screening information: https://www.aprivatewarfilm.com/) is a narrative film with biopic elements hoping to explain how a 56-year old woman with bad knees could have ended up in such a precarious situation. “Under the Wire”, a documentary that opens at Village East Cinema on November 16th, is much more Paul Conroy’s story and serves as a complement to the narrative film. Watching the two in tandem will remind you of the need for an independent press that is committed to telling the story of people under siege, particularly the women and children who Colvin made it her life’s mission to defend through her journalism.

Within five minutes, “A Private War” begins painting the portrait of a woman who lived on the edge. Chain-smoking, boozing late into the night, and using profanities that would make a truck driver or a hip-hop artist blush, Marie Colvin (Rosamund Pike) is a larger-than-life personality whose patch covering her left eye accentuated her desperado image. One gets the sense that someone with such a self-destructive streak might have died long before Baba Amr, if journalism on behalf of the weak and the defenseless had not given her a reason to live. Without that mission, she might have been a casualty of booze in the same way that drugs caused Jimi Hendrix or Janice Joplin to die young.

Colvin certainly was a product of those turbulent days. Someone who smoked pot and went to Washington for Vietnam antiwar protests, she was not that much different from other Yalies like the Clintons. Unlike them, her goal was to use her talents for the common good rather than private gain. Of course, the coveted position of writing features for the London Times that allowed her to live in a townhouse on the Thames could not be overlooked.

The film depicts her as someone who liked “living large”. She enjoyed the prestige that attended her body of work covering conflicts all across the planet and was not loath to remind other reporters lower in the pecking order who was on top. In one scene, she is in Iraq in the early 2000s listening in on an American officer giving embedded journalists their marching orders about where they can and cannot go. She tells Conroy not to pay him any attention. They will go where the story leads them. In this instance, it is a mass grave of Saddam’s victims. This scene, as a number of others, closely adheres to the actual event as it was filmed in “Under the Wire”.

Both films are filled with graphic depictions of the wounds suffered by both journalists, some so grievous that you cannot help but cover your eyes. On April 16, 2001, Colvin was with a group of Tamil Tiger guerrillas in Sri Lanka crouching down after they came under fire from government forces. Worried that she might be killed, she took the risk of standing up and yelling “Journalist, journalist” to protect herself. Instead, they fired an RPG at her that punctured a lung and damaged her left eye permanently. Over a long career, Colvin took enormous risks to gather material for a story. If you are tempted to conclude that some kind of death-wish led her to places like Sri Lanka or Baba Amr, you should be reminded that this is the way that war correspondents operated for most of the 20thcentury. For example, Bernard Fall was killed by a landmine while accompanying United States Marines on a patrol in 1967.

Whatever your position was on Syria, you have to wonder about the tendency of some reporters to act as if there was no story worth covering in rebel-held territory. Being a correspondent might have meant staying at a four-star hotel in Damascus and being embedded with the Syrian army. If fear of losing one’s life to a barrel bomb or missile explains this, it is understandable but if it was ideological bias, then it is unforgivable.

“A Private War” was directed by Matthew Heinmann, who has only made documentaries in the past, including “City of Ghosts” that I reviewed for CounterPunch last year. It documents the takeover of Raqqa by ISIS, a brutal and totalitarian conquest that was just as much of a blow to the revolution as the bombs that fell on Baba Amr. Like “A Private War” and “Under the Wire”, it identifies with the young and idealistic activists who were swamped under by Islamist militias that had little interest in the democratic goals of the Arab Spring.

One of these activists from Baba Amr figures heavily in “Under the Wire”. Wa’el is a man in perhaps his early 30s who has a stylish beard and a man bun. He looks for all the world like a graduate student at Columbia but for all we know, he could have just been an ordinary citizen of Baba Amr. As head of the media desk, he worked closely with Colvin and Conroy and much of what makes “Under the Wire” so valuable is his testimony.

When Colvin broached the subject with Wa’el of working for the London Times as her assistant, he politely refused. Why? He explains that he had seen too many Syrian activists become subservient to the foreign press after going on their payroll. He would be happy to work with Colvin—thrilled really—but only under the condition that he works for free. Wa’el was like many of the people who constituted the vanguard of the Syrian uprising. They were idealistic, brave and committed to peaceful change. In driving them out of the country or killing them, Assad has only succeeded in sealing the doom of his own country. When the choice is sycophantism and an early grave, most people will just pick up and move to Europe or some other region as Wa’el did years ago. If they are the best of the youth who had the courage to speak up, who will help Syria navigate the desperate conditions that faces it—a combination of economic and ecological ruin fostered by Baathist misrule.

This is really Wa’el and Conroy’s film. We only hear briefly from Colvin who is increasingly overwhelmed by the desperate situation they face. In keeping with her long-standing commitment to those living under siege conditions, she convinces Conroy to return to Baba Amr to file one last dispatch before seeking refuge from relentless bombing. The only way to reach the neighborhood is to walk through a dark, miles-long drainage pipe that is so close to the ground that you need to stoop to make your way. After Conroy is wounded, he is borne through the same tunnel under conditions that would haunt him through the rest of his life. The time spent in this unfortunate town might have even broken the spirit of Marie Colvin if she had not succumbed to Assad’s bombs.

Ironically, director Chris Martin’s last film was co-directed by John Pilger, the 2007 “The War on Democracy” that detailed American intervention in Latin America that can be seen on Vimeo for free. I am positive that it will help make sense of Brazil, Venezuela, and Honduras. Of course, I find it regrettable that Pilger has failed to make the effort to understand what motivated someone like Wa’el to oppose Assad but his past work stands on its own merits.

We learn that Marie Colvin kept a copy of Martha Gellhorn’s The Face of War everywhere she went like some people carried bibles. This was a collection of newspaper articles by one of the 20thcentury’s most celebrated war correspondents who was also Ernest Hemingway’s third wife. (A film titled “Hemingway and Gellhorn” can be seen on Amazon but it was rated only 50% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. Caveat emptor.) As she approached 80, Gellhorn began to slow down physically but not enough to prevent her from covering the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989.

It is a shame that Colvin died so young. Since the London Times is behind a paywall, you were not likely to see her articles being aggregated on the leftwing of the Internet—of course, the bias toward Assad probably had a lot to do with that. Her last dispatch from Baba Amr on February 19th, 2012 before her death reveals the loss to journalism and, more broadly, human rights in general left in her wake:

They call it the widows’ basement. Crammed amid makeshift beds and scattered belongings are frightened women and children trapped in the horror of Homs, the Syrian city shaken by two weeks of relentless bombardment.

Among the 300 huddling in this wood factory cellar in the besieged district of Baba Amr is 20-year-old Noor, who lost her husband and her home to the shells and rockets.

“Our house was hit by a rocket so 17 of us were staying in one room,” she recalls as Mimi, her three-year-old daughter, and Mohamed, her five-year-old son, cling to her abaya.

“We had had nothing but sugar and water for two days and my husband went to try to find food.” It was the last time she saw Maziad, 30, who had worked in a mobile phone repair shop. “He was torn to pieces by a mortar shell.”

For Noor, it was a double tragedy. Adnan, her 27-year-old brother, was killed at Maziad’s side.

Everyone in the cellar has a similar story of hardship or death. The refuge was chosen because it is one of the few basements in Baba Amr. Foam mattresses are piled against the walls and the children have not seen the light of day since the siege began on February 4. Most families fled their homes with only the clothes on their backs.

 

 

Categories: News for progressives

Public Spaces Private Control

Counterpunch - Fri, 2018-11-02 15:12

Some time ago I found myself in Paddington Central, a development of office and residential buildings near Paddington train station in London. I’d accidentally walked into the glass and metal concave and what appeared to be a public space, albeit one surrounded by the usual corporate outlets; green grass, a sort of amphitheater, people sitting around eating and drinking and a busker packing up. It appeared pleasant, but there was something artificial and menacing here. Upon investigation I discovered that it was not really a public space at all, but a privately owned square subject to undisclosed laws and regulations laid down by the corporation that owns it.

The commercialization of public spaces in British cities and elsewhere in the industrialized world is going on apace. It is a key element in the movement to lay claim to our cities and neighborhoods, and whilst the curse of gentrification is hard to miss, privatization of public spaces goes largely unnoticed by a weary populous beaten down by the relentless pressures of modern living, unaware of the devious ways of big business and the corporate state that supports it.

Peaceful Protest Denied

Unsurprisingly, the privatization of public spaces (POPS) in Britain began during the Thatcher years (1980’s), and, over the past few decades, The Guardian reports, “almost every major redevelopment in London has resulted in the privatization of public space, including areas around the Olympic Stadium, King’s Cross and Nine Elms.” One of the most notable areas of privately owned public space in the capital is ‘More London’ on the South Bank of the River Thames where City Hall sits surrounded by what looks like open public space. The 13-acre site is in fact owned by St. Martins, a Kuwait property company, who bought it in 2013 for £1.7bn. As described by the More London agent, the “development is a modern 13-acre business destination, situated on the Thames between London Bridge and Tower Bridge. Designed by Foster and Partners, the development comprises City Hall, a diverse mix of grade A office space, shops, restaurants, bars, a Hilton hotel, a theatre, a unique open-air music and entertainment amphitheater.” Further down their repugnant sales speak they make clear that the public space and what takes place there is in fact under corporate control, stating that, “the local community, up and coming arts organizations and charities are encouraged to use the space for free.”

Within these suffocating corporate spaces behavior and access is controlled and landowners are empowered to deny the public the right to peacefully protest. This was evidenced in 2011 when the Occupy Movement set up camp in Paternoster Square (renamed Tahrir Square by protestors) outside the London Stock Exchange, only to be forcibly moved on by police who secured a high court injunction against public access. To the shock and confusion of many of us, it transpired that the Mitsubishi Estate Company, a massive Japanese property developer actually owned the ‘public’ square.

The sterile environment of POPS promotes a false image of contemporary living that marginalizes the disadvantaged and ignores the reality of poverty and social injustice, while being a fundamental part of a system that perpetuates both. In such sanitized spaces certain ‘types’ of people, buskers, skateboarders, cyclists – the undesirable – are unwelcome; homeless people are shunned, their existence denied, and ‘hostile architecture’ – benches with arms making lying down impossible, studded doorways, sloped windowsills and anti-homeless spikes – aggressively reinforce the message of exclusion.

POPS is part of a major change in the nature of our cities as governments justify the sale of public land and buildings as economic prudence, and industrial sites are developed and converted into residential properties or refashioned as commercial units, studio spaces, ‘Class A’ offices, etc. This disturbing undemocratic “wave of urban change is characterized by certain key trends,” says Anna Minton, author of ‘The Privatisation of Public Space’, “relating this time to the private ownership and management of the public realm.” Minton cites an enormous regeneration scheme in Liverpool allowing Grosvenor Estates (headed by the Duke of Westminster, estimated to be worth around £9 billion) to “redevelop 35 streets in the heart of the city, replacing traditional rights of way with ‘public realm arrangements’, policed by US-style ‘quartermasters’ or ‘Sheriffs’.” Begging, skateboarding and rollerblading will be banned and “any form of demonstration will require police permission.” Systems of control more akin to fascism than democracy, but then corporate institutions are not at all interested in democratic principles, they are totalitarian institutions that have been granted extraordinary powers by indolent governments.

Landowners are free to draft the regulations for these pseudo public spaces, which are not subject to local authority bylaws. Like shopping centers and gated communities POPS are policed by unaccountable private security firms, the relevant rules do not have to be publicly posted and can be used indiscriminately to deny public access; free speech is certainly not part of the corporate model of public ownership, which suits the government very well.

In keeping with the homogenized high streets up and down the country all privately owned public spaces look and feel alike, creating a disturbing sense of uniformity. Streets and squares without character, all color and diversity eradicated, ‘corporatized’; individuality crushed, social conformity demanded. Captured under the umbrella of consumerism people are reduced to mere customers, divided into bands of affluence or need, towns, cities and countries spoken of as market places, the world seen as one giant shopping center in which the values of the market – greed and exploitation, division and selfishness – are promoted in day and night.

The creation of quasi-public spaces, and the selling off of previously authentic public spaces, is one more insidious step in the commercialization of all aspects of contemporary life, and the erosion of democracy; democracy that is already completely inadequate. The massive sale of common space that is taking place in British cities has, the Guardian states, “been strategically engineered to seem necessary, benign and even inconsequential.” It is happening within the broader construct of urban re-generation schemes, which take place without any democratic participation; land is sold off in secret, and the voices of local residents, small businesses, social and cultural centers go unheard.

Public spaces serve a range of purposes, they provide a platform for free assembly and collective action and, within cities, where most people live, they are an ever-precious resource. The world of Neoliberalism attempts to reduce everything to a commodity, but public spaces are not simply a financial asset to be sold off to the highest bidder: like libraries, playing fields and community centers they are an essential social democratic resource that must be fiercely defended and re-claimed as ours.

Categories: News for progressives

I Was Threatened With Two Years in Prison for Voting

Counterpunch - Fri, 2018-11-02 14:59

My name is Keith Sellars, and I live in Haw River, North Carolina. I’m the father of four beautiful girls and one very protective son.

I was born and raised in Alamance County, North Carolina, and would call no other place home. I’m one of the so-called “Alamance 12” — the 12 people, nine of us black, who were unjustly prosecuted for voting in the 2016 election while on parole.

I’ve voted many times in my life. It started back in my 20s, when I realized that I wanted to make difference. I wasn’t happy with the way things were, especially for young people of color like me.

I was only 15 years old when I ended up in jail for the first time. As many stories like mine begin, I was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time, surrounded by bad influences, with very few options.

I quickly realized that the people around me didn’t have jobs, because there simply weren’t any jobs for them. And if there were jobs, discrimination meant they wouldn’t even get an interview.

To get by, sometimes I broke the law. I knew what I was doing was wrong, but we were just trying to make a living — and surviving has been criminalized for some of us.

It was during these years of going in and out of court when I learned that our legal system didn’t treat everyone the same. I remember white folks who’d done much worse things than I had getting away with a slap on the wrist, while dark-skinned men like me got locked up on harsh sentences.

One in three black men in the United States has been charged with a felony. In North Carolina, black men are incarcerated at four times the rate of white men. And here, as in most states, that can mean harsh restrictions on your right to vote. So even if we think these laws are unfair, the opportunity to influence them is taken from our hands.

These experiences led me to want to get involved in the political process. I voted in the 2008 and 2012 elections. I had trouble with the law again after that, but I was committed to turning my life around. I decided to practice my right to vote once again in 2016. I was told that I could and that I should, because it was the most important election of my life.

I didn’t realize at the moment that I would be targeted, prosecuted, and threatened with yet another felony — and two years in prison — for exercising that right.

For me it’s important that we call this what it is: voter suppression. Other policies — including a proposed voter ID constitutional amendment, polling site closures and early voting restrictions, and partisan and racial gerrymandering — hope to do the same.

I’ve suffered severe consequences to exercise my right to vote. Is it because politicians are afraid of poor and working people like me actually having a say in how we run things?

Keith Sellars, one of the 12 Alamance County, NC residents prosecuted for voting in 2016, organizes with Down Home North Carolina, a multiracial coalition for economic and racial justice.

Categories: News for progressives

A senior Russian diplomat confirms: “Russia is preparing for war” – is anybody listening?

[This analysis was written for the Unz Review] Andrei Belousov, deputy director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Department of Nonproliferation and Arms Control, has recently made an important statement which
Categories: News for progressives

Bach’s Beat

Counterpunch - Fri, 2018-11-02 14:08

The Bach-o-sphere has been inundated this week by reports of a new study that purports to show that the performance of the Great Man’s music is getting faster, and doing so rapidly—as much as thirty percent quicker in just fifty years. At this rate an earbud-equipped aficionado will be able to imbibe the entire Art of Fugue (traditionally about a ninety-minute outing) in the time it takes to polish of a pumpkin frappuccino.

The claims about the quickening pace of Bach performance were issued in connection with BACH 333, a hugely ambitious recorded set of the composer’s complete works filled out with numerous “enhancements.” This box-set monument was assembled by the Universal Music Group under whose vast corporate umbrella the Deutsche Grammophon and Decca labels both now seek refuge against the market forces that have long laid waste to swathes of the classical music recording industry.  BACH 333 resists these forces with opulence and assurance and—it would seem—faster tempos.

Bach would have turned a third of a millennium this past March, and it’s a clever ploy to seek another anniversary to tout his music, though on seeing this project’s title I was expecting a retro move of bringing out his entire corpus on vinyl. The LP turns at 33 1/3 revolutions a minute—the perfect pace to mark Bach’s third-of-a-millennium birthday. However enticing for hipsters and analog-geeks, the noble format would require that most buyers get a mini-storage space for their Bach. Rather less bulky, but not exactly stocking-stuffer, BACH 333 is comprised of 222 CDs—another aesthetically pleasing number that may have been appreciated by Bach, who was, some have claimed, fascinated by figures and proportions. Along with the discs come hardback books: a biography and a collection of essays by leading scholars. The latest catalog of all his works is thrown in for good measure.

The project brings together the best of historically-informed interpretations played on antique instruments and led by conductors like John Eliot Gardiner (who provides a written “Welcome” to the collection), Ton Koopman and others, as well as vintage materials, valuable in their own right but also fascinating in tracing the evolving traditions of Bach interpretation in the age of recorded sound. There are premieres as well; harpsichord and organ works are recorded anew by young stars, Justin Taylor and Christian Schmitt, and the solo violin music gets yet another reading courtesy of the towering Italian virtuoso Giuliano Carmignola. Also included are eight CDs of music by composers who influenced Bach and whose music he knew, performed, and arranged; another eight discs collect the work of composers and performers inspired by him, beginning with his own sons and extending into our own time and also beyond the borders of classical music. The set retails for upwards of $500,  which doesn’t strike me as much of an outlay for the expertise and effort, the sumptuousness of the product, its historical reach, and the quality of the performances—not to mention the sheer quantity on offer.  To listen to the whole stack at one sitting would take two weeks round the clock.

It is from the cache of multiple performances of the same work spanning many decades that the shift in velocity has been noted by the curatorial team at the Universal Music Group. The set includes no fewer than five versions of Bach’s Double Violin Concerto in D Minor (BWV 1043). It is one of the best-known and oft-played pieces of classical music, not least because of its central position in the Suzuki String Method whose worldwide convocations often include dozens, even hundreds of young violinists, on each of the solo parts.

BACH 333 includes a performance of the concerto from 1961 by David and Igor Oistrakh. It takes the famed Russian father-and-son pair more than seventeen minutes to get through the work. The latest version in the set comes from 2016 and Nemanja Radulovic & Tijana Milosevic. They gambol through the work’s three movements in just twelve.

Sir Nicholas Kenyon, the editorial overseer of BACH 333, chalks this hastening beat—also noted by previous studies in the realm of pop—to modern audiences’ taste for lighter more sprightly interpretations of the music of certain composers, chief among them Bach, Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven. Kenyon is former head of the BBC Proms, and also has served as music critic for the New Yorkerand editor of the scholarly journal Early Music. He’s a man of impressive intellectual range and engagement, and his views on the perceived quickening are hard to challenge.

Yet one doesn’t really need statistical buttress to come to the same conclusion about the fact of faster of tempos.  The BACH 333 promotional trailer makes it manifestly clear that modern Bachists are in a hurry: the timpani of Christmas Oratorio proclaim great things to come, spurring the cascade of strings into a full gallop right out of the gate, the snorting steed urged on by trumpet blasts. Dynamic CGI images of the box and its beckoning contents entice the prospective buyer as the glories of Bach at his most brisk rip past: high-speed snippets of the exuberant soprano cantata Jauchzet Gott in den Allen Landenmorph into a supercharged Italian Concerto on harpsichord racing headlong into the cross-hand antics of the first keyboard partita ion modern piano and into the frenetic flute Badinerie from the B-Minor Orchestral Suite (in baroque pitch that matches the preceding B-flat of the preceding). And the promo isn’t even half way done yet!  I was feeling woozy after just that much, and if anything, the pace accelerated all the way to the marketing Amen. It’s a topsy-turvy highlight reel as bruising as NFL Hits of the Week, and should probably come with a health advisory for anyone with heart palpitations.

Things are indeed getting faster, and not just on the Bach double.

In doesn’t take an Einstein to know that musical speed and its perception are relatively matters, dependent on taste and custom.  According to Bach’s second Carl Philip Emanuel, his father generally took a “very lively” tempo as a conductor.  Whether that was as quick as the opening of the Christmas Oratorio on the BACH 333 trailer is anyone’s guess.  Even in the eighteenth century, particularly in church, the Germans were renowned, even notorious, for the glacial progress of their music-making. After having visited Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach in Hamburg in 1772, the English traveler and music historian Charles moved on to the Hanseatic city of Bremen. On entering the cathedral there one Sunday he heard the organist start into a hymn at a “true dragging pace.”  Bored after “ten or twelve verses,” Burney went sight-seeing for two hours, but on his return, he claimed, certainly in a sardonic vein, that the congregation was “still singing all in unison, and as loud as they could, the same tune, to the same accompaniment.”

Did this lugubriousness apply to Bach’s lively Italianate music for the coffee house, princely chamber, and also church? One doubts it.

Whatever the case, the BACH 333 findings fuel the notion that time is short, that the end is near. Aside from the question of how fast Bach played, sang, or conducted his own music, it’s an attitude he might have shared, if we consider the profusion of millenarian tracts that appeared in his teenage years in the run up to the year 1700 with its ominous double zeroes. That very midnight was also the moment at which the Protestant Germany switched to the Gregorian calendar. Eleven days were suddenly edited from time’s tape.  According to many of the day’s theologically-informed opinions, Bach was lucky to be granted the ensuing decades to get down to the business of being Bach. It could have all ended in the first minutes of the 1700.

We live an age of acceleration:  ever more quickly the earth heats up, the glaciers melt, the species die.  It makes intuitive sense that we feel, perhaps like Bach did, that there just isn’t time to get it all in before the Apocalypse.

But ours is also an age of unfathomable of freedom in which the listener no longer need be subjugated by the will of the performer. With DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) software one can speed up or slow down to individual preference any recording without changing its pitch. If there is to be a future ushered in by BACH 333, it will be one of Extreme Listening in which the whole of his creation can be raced through in a single day—or a single sublime measure extended into eternity.

Categories: News for progressives

Federal leaders slam Trudeau’s refusal to call by-elections

Rabble News - Fri, 2018-11-02 00:22
Karl Nerenberg

Federal opposition leaders are joining forces to denounce Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s refusal to call by-elections in three of four vacant seats in the House of Commons.

On Tuesday, the four opposition party leaders signed a letter to the prime minister urging him to “do what’s best for Canadians” and immediately call the three other by-elections.

Earlier this week, Trudeau called a by-election to fill the vacancy in the eastern Ontario riding of Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes, which has been vacant since last May, when Conservative MP Gordon Brown died.

But, without explanation, Trudeau did not call by-elections in three other vacant ridings: Burnaby South in British Columbia, York-Simcoe in Ontario and Outremont in Quebec.

The opposition party leaders’ letter states:

“Your decision … denies hundreds of thousands of Canadians their simple democratic right to be represented in Parliament. The longstanding tradition in Canada is to call the by-elections for all vacant seats at the same time … you have offered no clear explanation as to why you only called (one) by-election … while 334,000 Canadians … continue to go without federal representation.”

The letter is signed by Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, Green leader Elizabeth May and Bloc Québecois leader Mario Beaulieu.

“While the parties we lead disagree on what solutions are best for the challenges facing Canadians,” the four leaders say, “we are in complete agreement that Canadians deserve to have elected representation as soon as possible.”

A number of observers have noted that the current prime minister is defying precedent by balking at promptly calling the three by-elections. For one, it is general practice to call by-elections for all vacant seats on the same day. Secondly, in the case of one of the vacant seats, Burnaby South, where Singh is a declared candidate, the ruling party generally promptly calls by-elections to allow party leaders take a seat in the House.

In the past, when other seat-less party leaders indicated their intentions to run in by-elections, the prime ministers of the day called those votes promptly and without delay. Stephen Harper, Jean Chrétien and Brian Mulroney all benefited from that prime ministerial courtesy. In the case of Mulroney, the man who extended him that courtesy, allowing him to quickly take his place on the opposition benches, was the current prime minister’s father, Pierre Trudeau.

According to the law, however, a prime minister can delay up to 180 days before calling a by-election. 

Photo: House of Commons

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

November 1, 2018: SDF Halts Operation Against ISIS In Euphrates Valley Because Of Turkish Attacks

https://southfront.org/syrian-war-report-november-1-2018-sdf-halts-operation-against-isis-in-euphrates-valley-because-of-turkish-attacks/ The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which consist mainly of members of various Kurdish armed groups, declared on October 31 that they had halted their operation against ISIS in
Categories: News for progressives

Up for debate: Trudeau creates commission to oversee leaders’ debates

Rabble News - Thu, 2018-11-01 22:14
November 1, 2018For debate: Trudeau creates commission to oversee leaders’ debatesFormer governor general David Johnston will head new commission that will oversee one debate in each official language.election debatesDavid Johnston
Categories: News for progressives

By Way Of Deception - False Flag Terror Acts Press Europe To Sanction Iran

Israels secret service Mossad, with the CIA behind it, is framing Iran with alleged assassination plots in Europe. In September a terror attack killed some 30 people in Iran. Two entities, an Arab separatist movement as well as the Islamic...
Categories: News for progressives

For debate: Trudeau creates commission to oversee leaders’ debates

Rabble News - Thu, 2018-11-01 21:22
Karl Nerenberg

The Trudeau government is fulfilling an election promise to create an impartial body to oversee and organize leaders’ debates during the next election campaign -- sort of.

What the Liberals did not promise is that they would undertake this reform unilaterally, without consulting the opposition parties.

Nor did they tell Canadians this new entity would only organize one debate in each official language. There could still be other debates, organized by anyone who wants to give it a try.

The new body is to be called the Leaders’ Debates Commission and the government has chosen former governor general David Johnston to head it. Johnston will work with a seven-member advisory council. One of his first tasks will be to select the members of that council.

The commission is supposed to “enter into a contract for the production of the debates” and provide the broadcast feed free of charge. It is charged with working with political parties to negotiate terms and with media to guarantee distribution. The government wants the commission to do its best to assure the debates are available to the largest number of Canadians possible.

There’s a bit of history to that.

Last time many Canadians had no access to the debates

In 2015, then Prime Minister Stephen Harper refused to participate in debates organized, as they had been for decades, by a consortium of the country’s largest broadcasters. Instead, he agreed to take part in an improvised series of debates, organized by a self-selected group, which included Maclean’s magazine and the Munk Centre in Toronto.

The debates were not, for the most part, broadcast nationally. In fact, a number of them were primarily available only online. None were available in all parts of the country on over-the-air (as opposed to cable) television.

Millions of Canadians were either unaware of the debates, which did not benefit from pre-publicity on any of the major networks; or, lacking computers, Internet connections or cable, had no access to them. One of Johnston’s important roles will be to assure such a situation does not recur in the next federal election campaign in 2019 – at least for the one debate in each language he will oversee.

The government has provided some basic ground rules for the debates, which the commission must respect. Notably, it has set the criteria for political parties’ participation.

To participate, parties must meet two of three conditions: They must have at least one member of Parliament. They must have also won at least four per cent of the popular vote in the last election. They must intend to run candidates in a minimum of 90 per cent of the ridings in the next election.

Those criteria mean the Green Party will be in. It did not quite get four per cent of the vote last time, but it does have one MP (its leader, Elizabeth May) and it will run candidates in at least 90 per cent of the ridings next time.

The Bloc Québécois is also in. It only runs candidates in Quebec, far from the 90-per-cent threshold, but it won more than six per cent of the vote last time and has four MPs.

Maxime Bernier’s new party did not exist last time, so it earned zero votes. But it does have one MP, its founder and leader, and Bernier has said he will run candidates in all ridings next time. If that is true, he, too, will be on the podium.

The Liberals took their time to implement this particular election promise. And they appear to consider the new commission to be, at best, a one-time-only, stop-gap measure.

One of Johnston’s key tasks will be to report to Parliament following the next election, in order to provide “lessons learned.” More important, in the government’s words, Johnston is to make “recommendations to inform the potential creation in statute of a ‘built to last’ Debates Commission.”

In other words, the current commission is not necessarily “built to last.”

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

Photo: Le Studio/Flickr

 

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Categories: News for progressives

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