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Deutsche Bank Has Rolled on Donald Trump

Truthout - Tue, 2019-05-21 21:28

The opening salvo of The New York Times’s big Sunday story about Donald Trump and Deutsche Bank got straight to the point: The bank’s money-laundering watchdogs recommended that multiple overseas financial transactions by Donald Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner be reported to the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. Executives at Deutsche Bank, however, made no such reports, and the bank took no action against its favored client.

“The nature of the transactions was not clear,” reads the Times report. “At least some of them involved money flowing back and forth with overseas entities or individuals, which bank employees considered suspicious…. [F]ormer Deutsche Bank employees said the decision not to report the Trump and Kushner transactions reflected the bank’s generally lax approach to money laundering laws.”

“You present them with everything, and you give them a recommendation, and nothing happens,” Tammy McFadden, a former Deutsche Bank anti-money-laundering specialist who has filed complaints against the bank’s money-laundering protections with the Securities and Exchange Commission, said in the report. “It’s the D.B. way.”

Just after sunrise on Monday, Trump responded to the Times report via Twitter:

….Now the new big story is that Trump made a lot of money and buys everything for cash, he doesn’t need banks. But where did he get all of that cash? Could it be Russia? No, I built a great business and don’t need banks, but if I did they would be there…and DeutscheBank……

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 20, 2019

…..was very good and highly professional to deal with – and if for any reason I didn’t like them, I would have gone elsewhere….there was always plenty of money around and banks to choose from. They would be very happy to take my money. Fake News!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 20, 2019

“I built a great business and don’t need banks,” he wrote.


“President Donald Trump’s latest personal financial disclosure was just released,” reports Russ Choma for Mother Jones, “showing that Trump, who already owed more money than any other president in history, borrowed millions more in 2018. According to the disclosure, Trump borrowed between $5 million and $25 million from Professional Bank, a small Florida outfit that specializes in construction and real estate loans.”

Donald Trump is a liar, in fact 10,000 times a liar according to the frazzled fact-checkers at The Washington Post. This is axiomatic now: His most ardent supporters adore him for his lies because he does it to “own the libs,” which is what passes for policy in this vacant age. Still, this lie is particularly striking for its wanton absurdity. His financial disclosure report for 2018 came out only four days ago. The Professional Bank loan is right there in the documents. He signed them. The man is not just a liar, but a damn lazy one at that.

Rather than getting lost once again in the endless weeds of the president’s negligible relationship with the truth, it is perhaps better to explore why this Times report is so freighted with potential consequence. Over a span of two decades when just about every other bank refused to loan Donald Trump money, Deutsche Bank provided him with more than $2 billion. The bank persisted even as red flags flew up all over and Trump staggered from financial calamity to financial calamity.

In fact, Trump defaulted on his Deutsche Bank loans twice — in 2004, and again in 2008 — causing the bank to cut bait with the ersatz real estate mogul who lost $1.17 billion between 1985 and 1994. The bank eventually loaned him even more money after the second default because it was intensely interested in expanding within the United States, and having media-savvy Trump as a client was the perfect billboard. “Deutsche Bank had a ravenous appetite for risk,” reports the Times, “and limited concern about its clients’ reputations.”

All warnings were ignored, and now a reckoning appears to be at hand. The symbiotic and less-than-ethical relationship between the president and the bank is now under heavy investigation by multiple agencies and House committees, and in order to lessen the blow Deutsche executives know is coming, they are cooperating fully.

Bill Palmer explains for the Palmer Report blog:

The NY Times story quotes one of the employees who was fired from Deutsche Bank for daring to point out Trump’s money laundering patterns. But this happened to her a couple years ago, and she never spoke up until right now. This suggests that she’s been limited by some kind of nondisclosure agreement. So who leaked this story to the media, thus allowing her to go ahead and speak up? There’s no way to know for sure, but the most logical answer is Deutsche Bank itself.

This all looks bad for Deutsche Bank, of course. If whistleblowers like Tammy McFadden are correct, the bank has spent many years deliberately ignoring massive illegal behavior by its clients in order to maintain high-profile relationships and pump its stateside brand. The fact that its leaders are cooperating means they have finally been convinced the party’s over, and are now trying to stave off even greater calamity. Rep. Maxine Waters (D–California), who chairs the House Financial Services Committee, already has some of the documents in question, and will probably have them all before too much time passes.

“In other words,” reports Bill Palmer, “all of the financial improprieties between Deutsche Bank and Donald Trump are about to surface anyway — including the fact that Deutsche thought Trump was a Russian money launderer, and illegally covered it up instead of reporting it. Considering the timing, it feels like Deutsche is trying to get out ahead of this while it still can.”

If this were a “Game of Thrones” episode review, I’d be raving about the plot twist: The Iron Bank of Braavos has sold out the Pretender King! For good or ill, however, this is the real world, and these events are unfolding at the highest levels of finance and government.

Trump is fighting a two-front war to keep his financial documents from being released. His legal team filed two lawsuits to that purpose, one to defend documents in the possession of Deutsche Bank, and another to prevent his accounting firm, Mazars USA, from responding to a subpoena issued by House Democrats. The fight is not proceeding as he had hoped.

Trump wanted his legal action to drag the inquiry out for as long as possible, but Judge Amit Mehta rejected Trump’s argument in the Mazars matter on Monday. “It is simply not fathomable that a Constitution that grants Congress the power to remove a President for reasons including criminal behavior would deny Congress the power to investigate him for unlawful conduct — past or present — even without formally opening an impeachment inquiry,” Judge Mehta wrote in his opinion.

The fight for these documents is not over yet, of course. “We will appeal it,” Trump said of the Mazars decision to White House reporters on Monday afternoon. “It’s totally the wrong decision by, obviously, an Obama-appointed judge.”

If it is ultimately revealed that Trump has been laundering money — Russian or otherwise — through his real estate dealings, or if the documents reveal parallel criminal activity, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will have little choice but to get off the dime and open impeachment proceedings. According to reports in both Politico and The Washington Post, her own leadership team is now pushing hard for the Speaker to finally reverse her stance on the constitutional remedy.

The pressure is rising, and the old rule still applies: Always follow the money.

Let’s Shut Down the Economy to Fight for Abortion Rights

Truthout - Tue, 2019-05-21 21:17

In recent weeks, several states have passed incredibly restrictive laws against abortion. The specifics of these laws vary, but the end result is the same: abortion is becoming illegal again. In many cases, these laws threaten anyone who gets or performs an abortion with prison time.

The Alabama bill (HB 314) reclassifies performing an abortion at any stage of the pregnancy as a Class A felony, meaning that doctors will face a minimum of 10 years and up to 99 years in prison. The law states that people who seek or attain abortions will not face criminal or civil liability. There are exceptions for “serious health risk to the unborn child’s mother,” ectopic pregnancies, and pregnancies in which the fetus has a “lethal anomaly.” However, there are no exceptions for situations involving rape, incest, or pregnancy of a minor.

The Georgia bill (HB481) is similar but does include exceptions for rape and incest. In contrast to the Alabama bill, the Georgia bill lacks a provision exempting the person seeking the abortion from prosecution. Currently, being found guilty of breaking abortion law in Georgia results in between 1 and 10 years of prison time. However, the language of the bill leaves room for prosecutors/judges to redefine abortion as homicide, meaning that pregnant people and their doctors could both be charged under criminal codes pertaining to murder and manslaughter.

The Missouri state senate also passed a bill (HB126) early Thursday morning that bans abortions after eight weeks, without any exceptions for cases of rape and incest. The bill does include provisions for when the person seeking an abortion is a minor, but these provisions primarily take the form of making obtaining an abortion more difficult, not less.

The Alabama and Georgia bills also include disturbing provisions regarding the mental health of the pregnant person. The bills state that a “medical emergency” or “serious risk to the pregnant person” unless the person is examined by two different psychiatrists who decide “that the [person] has a diagnosed serious mental illness” that may lead to harm to them or the fetus. These mental health provisions present several different problems regarding the risks they pose to people and the legal precedents they may set. For one, they dismiss mental illnesses and other emotional conditions as categorically less serious than physical conditions. Another issue with these provisions is that they make access to abortion contingent upon formal diagnosis, which can be difficult to obtain, and makes access also dependent on vague notions of what counts as “serious” mental illness.

Nothing to Do With Being “Pro-Life”

Laws that ban abortions do not stop abortions; they just sentence women and trans people to death by unsafe and illegal abortions.

This law has nothing to do with being “pro-life.” What about the lives of the women who will be forced to carry pregnancies to term or have unsafe and illegal abortions? What about the 16 million children in the U.S. who go hungry every year? What about the children separated from their parents in detention centers? “Pro-life” is not about defending life. It is about state control of bodies.

These bills are part of a larger pattern of assault on reproductive rights nationally, and it would be a mistake to view them as just a southern phenomenon, or as an issue that only affects a few states. These laws, like the “heartbeat bills” that passed earlier this year in Ohio and Mississippi, will be challenged and go to the Supreme Court. And that means we are looking at the possibility of mass restrictions on abortion rights nationally and the possibility of an entire or partial overturn of Roe v. Wade. In such a scenario, 9 unelected judges would have the power to make decisions about the bodies of the approximately 168 million women and trans* people around the country.

Unfortunately, the liberal response to these assaults on reproductive rights so far has been less than inspiring. Planned Parenthood is buying ads that encourage women to contact their legislators. The typical electoral line of “just vote for the Democrats in November” is being trotted out again — but it is even more obviously useless than usual as people are feeling the consequences of these repressive laws right now! Indeed, it is very difficult to imagine that, if more “progressive” politicians are elected in 2020, those who are imprisoned under this law will be pardoned. And for those who are forced to give birth there will never be any justice for what the state forced them to go through. We don’t need abstract, far-off political solutions; we need a concrete and immediate solution.

Besides, voting for the Democrats is no guarantee that they will support reproductive rights. After all, Nancy Pelosi called abortion a “fading issue” in an interview in May of 2017 and argued that Democrats could be flexible on reproductive rights. Even Bernie Sanders campaigned for a pro-life Democrat. The DCCC is fundraising for a pro-life Democrat as we speak. So, it’s hard to imagine that this party will serve as a shield from the avalanche of attacks.

Another bizarre and patently useless “solution” that was proposed by Alyssa Milano is for all women to go on a “sex strike” and refuse to sleep with their (presumably cis male) partners until these laws are overturned. This solution deeply misunderstands both strikes and sex: sex with one’s partner shouldn’t be a job to go on strike from, but an expression of desire. This call for abstinence completely erases women’s desire and goes back to the puritanical and misogynistic notion that sex is only for men’s pleasure. To add to that, abortion bans don’t just affect women, not all women have sex with cis men, and most cis men have absolutely no control or say over laws about abortion. A sex strike will only leave us sexually frustrated, repressed, and with less reproductive rights, as this doesn’t attack any of the institutions of power that are attacking our reproductive rights.

Some have argued that the solution is to donate to local non-profits or form a network of people willing to host people who seek abortions in states where it is still legal. While we should encourage these efforts to support those seeking abortions, this is a vastly insufficient response. They are strategies of defeat, accepting as a given that these laws will stand and that we must work around them. Instead, we need to organize to defeat anti-abortion legislation. This approach also doesn’t take into account that these laws will go to the Supreme Court, and we will need a national response. The Supreme Court decision may threaten reproductive rights everywhere. We need to begin to build this national response now.

If we hope to effectively stop what amounts to a full frontal assault on reproductive rights, we have to take urgent action now.

Maybe half of Alyssa Milano’s slogan is right. We do need a strike but not one that withholds sex. What we need is a strike that withholds our labor, one that could hit the capitalists and the politicians where it hurts: in their wallets.

If Our Lives Don’t Matter, Try Producing Without Us

Early in 2019, during the height of the government shutdown, the Democratic and Republican parties were locked in a blame-game in order to “win” the government shutdown. Meanwhile, federal workers were going hungry, being evicted from their homes, and bearing all of the financial hardships. The bourgeois politicians continued to go on television and talk about how deeply they understood the pain of the working class but continued to do nothing. It wasn’t until the working class threatened to strike — shutting down several airports — that the shutdown was actually ended.

In the cases of both the government shutdown and the current assault on reproductive freedom, the Democratic Party put up entirely symbolic resistance in hopes of garnering votes. The fact that bourgeois politicians aren’t proposing any radical solutions shouldn’t be a surprise. The ruling class is scared of our collective power because, when the working class organizes together, we can win. When we organize, we can stop these regressive laws and protect those of us who need abortion access. We have the power to stop the attacks on reproductive rights, like we had the power to stop the shutdown.

There have been several examples of powerful women’s mobilizations for women’s rights around the country in recent years. Moreover, there have been the International Women’s Day strikes around the world, most notably the massive strikes in Spain that shut down entire industries, involving 5.3 million people and were called for by ten labor unions, as well as by student assemblies and women’s assemblies. “If our lives don’t matter, try producing without us,” the Spanish women’s movement proclaimed.

In 2016, Polish women walked off the job against a restrictive abortion law, and 6 million people took the streets in protest. These massive mobilizations were able to stop Poland from passing one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world.

From Defense to Offense: Free Abortion, Free Health Care

Just as the threat of a strike ended the government shutdown, a strike could defend our reproductive rights. Professions dominated by women have been increasingly mobilized in the U.S., with the wave of teacher strikes at the forefront, but also strikes and threats of strikes by nurses. These sectors that are already in motion, and that will experience the consequences of our rights being taken away, can and should push for strikes, calling on all sectors of the working class to join. This defensive struggle against repressive laws, in the hands of the working class, could and should be the springboard for a broader movement for Medicare for All that includes free abortion on demand.

There are more socialists and people open to socialist ideas than ever in the past 30 years in this country. Some even hold leadership positions in labor unions, as several DSA members do. These positions should be at the service of mobilizing the working class against this repressive legislation and for the right to free abortions on demand. As socialists, we have to fight against this legislation, organizing our co-workers and, if we are unionized, our unions.

These attacks on vulnerable members of the working class will continue. Abortion rights will continue to be under attack, and women and trans* people will continue to be the target of right-wing aggression. The only way to resist this is to build a strong and unified class solidarity among the working class — not just for wage demands but also for reproductive rights and the rights of all oppressed people. Organizing for a strike means organizing to build a stronger working class, one that will not only overthrow these oppressive abortion laws but this entire oppressive system one day.

EPA Changes Math to Allow Burning of More Coal

Naked Capitalism - Tue, 2019-05-21 20:55
EPA proposes methodology change to allow states to opt to burn more coal.

Monsanto’s Next Legal Battle Over Roundup Is in Its Hometown

Truthout - Tue, 2019-05-21 20:47

After three stunning courtroom losses in California, the legal battle over the safety of Monsanto’s top-selling Roundup herbicide is headed for the company’s hometown, where corporate officials can be forced to appear on the witness stand, and legal precedence shows a history of anti-corporate judgments.

Sharlean Gordon, a cancer-stricken woman in her 50s, is the next plaintiff currently set for trial. Gordon v. Monsanto starts Aug. 19 in St. Louis County Circuit Court, located just a few miles from the St. Louis, Missouri-area campus that was the company’s longtime world headquarters until Bayer bought Monsanto last June. The case was filed in July 2017 on behalf of more than 75 plaintiffs and Gordon is the first of that group to go to trial.

According to the complaint, Gordon purchased and used Roundup for at least 15 continuous years through approximately 2017 and was diagnosed with a form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2006. Gordon has gone through two stem cell transplants and spent a year in a nursing home at one point in her treatment.

She is so debilitated that it is difficult for her to be mobile.

Her case, like that of the thousands of others filed around the United States, alleges use of Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides caused her to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

“She’s been through hell,” St. Louis attorney Eric Holland, one of the legal team members representing Gordon, told EHN. “She’s horribly injured. The human toll here is tremendous. I think Sharlean is really going to put a face on what Monsanto’s done to people.”

Gordon said the hardest part about preparing for trial is determining what evidence to present to the jury within the three-week time span that the judge has set for the trial.

“This evidence against them, their conduct, is the most outrageous I’ve seen in my 30 years of doing this,” Holland said. “The things that have gone on here, I want St. Louis juries to hear this stuff.”

That Gordon trial will be followed by a September 9 trial also in St. Louis County in a case brought by plaintiffs Maurice Cohen and Burrell Lamb.

Monsanto’s deep roots in the community, including a large employment base and generous charitable donations throughout the area, could favor its chances with local jurors.

But on the flip side, St. Louis is regarded in legal circles as one the most favorable places for plaintiffs to bring lawsuits against corporations and there is a long history of large verdicts against major companies. St. Louis City Court is generally considered the most favorable but St. Louis County is also desired by plaintiffs’ attorneys.

The approach of the August and September trials comes on the heels of a stunning $2 billion verdict issued against Monsanto May 13. In that case, a jury in Oakland, California, awarded married couple Alva and Alberta Pilliod, who both suffer from cancer, $55 million in compensatory damages and $1 billion each in punitive damages.

The jury found that Monsanto has spent years covering up evidence that its herbicide causes cancer.

That verdict came only a little more than a month after a San Francisco jury ordered Monsanto to pay $80 million in damages to Edwin Hardeman, who also developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma after using Roundup. And last summer, a jury ordered Monsanto to pay $289 million to groundskeeper Dewayne “Lee” Johnson who received a terminal cancer diagnosis after using Monsanto herbicides in his job.

Aimee Wagstaff, who was co-lead counsel for Hardeman, is set to try the Gordon case in St. Louis with Holland. Wagstaff said she plans to subpoena several Monsanto scientists to appear on the witness stand to answer questions directly in front of a jury.

She and the other attorneys trying the California cases were not able to force Monsanto employees to testify live because of the distance. The law provides that witnesses cannot be compelled to travel more than 100 miles or out of state from where they live or work.

Mediation Meeting

The trial losses have left Monsanto and its German owner Bayer AG under siege. Angry investors have pushed share prices to the lowest levels in roughly seven years, erasing more than 40 percent of Bayer’s market value.

And some investors are calling for Bayer CEO Werner Baumann to be ousted for championing the Monsanto acquisition, which closed in June of last year just as the first trial was getting underway.

Bayer maintains that there is no valid evidence of cancer causation associated with Monsanto’s herbicides, and says it believes it will win on appeal. But U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria has ordered Bayer to begin mediation talks aimed at potentially settling the sprawling mass of lawsuits that includes roughly 13,400 plaintiffs in the United States alone.

All the plaintiffs are cancer victims or their family members and all allege Monsanto engaged in a range of deceptive tactics to hide the risks of its herbicides, including manipulating the scientific record with ghostwritten studies, colluding with regulators, and using outside individuals and organizations to promote the safety of its products while making sure they falsely appeared to be acting independently of the company.

A May 22 hearing is being held in part to define details of the mediation process. Bayer has indicated that it will comply with the order, but may not yet be ready to consider settling the litigation despite the courtroom losses.

Meanwhile, the litigation that originated in the United States has crossed the border into Canada where a Saskatchewan farmer is leading a class action lawsuit against Bayer and Monsanto making allegations that mirror those in the U.S. lawsuits.

“The Queen of Roundup”

Elaine Stevick of Petaluma, California was supposed to be the next in line to take on Monsanto at trial.

But in his order of mediation, Judge Chhabria also vacated her May 20 trial date. A new trial date is to be discussed at the hearing on Wednesday.

Stevick and her husband Christopher Stevick sued Monsanto in April of 2016 and said in an interview that they are eager to get their chance to confront the company over the devastating damage they say Elaine’s use of Roundup has done to her health.

She was diagnosed in December 2014 at the age of 63 with multiple brain tumors due to a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma called central nervous system lymphoma (CNSL). Alberta Pilliod, who just won the most recent trial, also had a CNSL brain tumor.

The couple purchased an old Victorian home and overgrown property in 1990 and while Christopher worked on renovating the interior of the house, Elaine’s job was to spray weed killer over the weeds and wild onions that the couple said took over a good portion of the property.

She sprayed multiple times a year until she was diagnosed with cancer. She never wore gloves or other protective clothing because believed it to be as safe as advertised, she said.

Stevick is currently in remission but nearly died at one point in her treatment, Christopher Stevick said.

“I called her the ‘queen of Roundup’ because she was always walking around spraying the stuff,” he told EHN.

The couple attended parts of both the Pilliod and Hardeman trials, and said they are grateful the truth about Monsanto’s actions to hide the risks are coming into the public spotlight. And they want to see Bayer and Monsanto start warning users about the cancer risks of Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides.

“We want the companies to take responsibility for warning people — even if there is a chance that something would be harmful or hazardous for them, people should be warned,” Elaine Stevick told EHN.

Europeans Criminalized for Helping Migrants as Far Right Aims to Win Elections

Truthout - Tue, 2019-05-21 20:32

Five months ago, at 10 o’clock in the morning, German police arrived at the home and parish of Christian Hartung, a pastor in Rhineland-Palatinate. At the same time, they descended on the residences of four other Protestant pastors, seizing some of their cell phones, correspondence with lawyers and church records.

It was an “attempt at intimidation,” Hartung told openDemocracy. The pastors have been under police investigation since 2018, after allowing Sudanese refugees to sleep in church buildings in rural, western Germany. It’s a region where the far-right AfD party is aiming for record votes in this week’s hotly-contested European Parliament elections.

Hartung described an “emergency situation” in which church sanctuary was “the last lifeline” for these refugees, some of whom had life-threatening health problems. While he believes the investigation against him and his fellow pastors will eventually be dropped, he says that if it goes to court they “are ready to fight.”

These pastors are among the hundreds of Europeans who have been arrested, investigated, or threatened with prison or fines over the past five years under a range of different laws that rights advocates say are “criminalising solidarity” with migrants, according to a new dataset of these cases compiled by openDemocracy.

Individuals affected include a priest nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, a football player, firefighters, rural farmers, ex-soldiers, pensioners, a university professor and several local politicians. Their numbers have risen sharply in the last 18 months, particularly in Italy and France, where far-right parties are in power at national and local levels respectively.

In Italy, the leader of the far-right Lega party Matteo Salvini has made targeting those who “facilitate illegal migration” a hallmark of his reign as interior minister. In France, the far-right National Rally party leader Marine Le Pen has for years represented Calais in parliament. The port city is a hotspot for arrests of volunteers who help migrants.

The Lega and National Rally are among the far right parties aiming to make big gains in this week’s European elections, promising to further control borders and crack down on those who move ‘illegally’. If they succeed, arrests of Europeans could also rise further.

In Spain, Paula Schmid Porras, an international human rights lawyer who has defended a group of firefighters in these cases, warned: “Punishing or criminalising people who help other people is something that violates all human rights conventions since the second world war. This is something that cannot be tolerated… or accepted — period.”

“Criminalized” for Basic Support

Countries across Europe have criminalised acts that facilitate illegal immigration. Some laws intended to deter human smugglers have also been used against humanitarian actors, including search and rescue boat crews and volunteer lifeguards.

openDemocracy worked with journalists across Europe to compile the longest known list of more than 250 people across 14 countries who have been arrested, charged or investigated under a range of laws over the last five years for supporting migrants.

Most of the cases we found occurred in just seven countries: Italy, Greece, France, the UK, Germany, Denmark and Spain. But, because of the myriad difficulties involved in gathering comprehensive data, the full figures are likely much higher.

These cases — compiled from news reports and other records from researchers, NGOs and activist groups, as well as new interviews across Europe — suggest a sharp increase in the number of people targeted since the start of 2018. At least 100 people were arrested, charged or investigated last year (a doubling of that figure for the preceding year).

Most of these people appear to have been targeted for providing food, shelter, transport, or other support to migrants without legal papers.

There were also at least 22 people arrested or charged last year for disrupting deportations in the UK, France, Germany, Iceland, Spain, and Sweden, and three charged with other crimes after documenting or challenging abuse against migrants.

Responding to our findings Thomas Huddleston, research coordinator at the Migration Policy Group think-tank in Brussels, said: “OpenDemocracy’s database captures not only the most shocking cases of criminalisation, but also so many insidious cases of intimidation and harassment on many other grounds.”

He added: “Europe’s main civil society groups and researchers are working together to dig into this database in order to demand action after the elections from the new European Commission and Parliament.”

The individuals involved in the cases compiled by openDemocracy include religious leaders such as evangelical pastor Norbert Valley, who was arrested in the middle of a church service in the Swiss mountains. He was charged and later fined 900 euros for helping a Togolese man whose asylum application was denied.

They also include first responders like Spanish firefighter Miguel Roldan, currently on trial in Italy facing up to 20 years in prison and elderly women including Lise Ramslog, age 70, convicted for offering a lift to a migrant family in Denmark.

Claire Marsol, a 72-year-old retired lecturer, was convicted in France in 2015 of facilitating illegal immigration, after giving a 15-year-old boy and a young woman a lift from the Nice to Antibes stations. Police searched her home, seized her belongings, handcuffed her and placed her in custody for 24 hours. She described her experience as “a violation of my dignity.”

These cases can have heavy consequences. According to the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, a German pensioner couple who allowed migrants to board their private boat were taken to court in Greece, convicted for smuggling and given 16.5-year sentences each. In 2017 these were reduced on appeal to 3.5 years.

Several journalists have also been arrested including while documenting police violence against migrants. In Belgium Anouk Van Gestel, an editor of Marie Claire magazine, who was charged with human smuggling after hosting, feeding and clothing a Sudanese teenager who wanted to travel to the UK. She was acquitted in December 2018.

In Denmark and Greece, authors of children’s books Lisbeth Zornig Andersen and Daphne Vloumidi, respectively, were charged after giving migrants lifts in their cars.

Zornig Andersen, the Danish author, and her husband Mikael Lindholm were convicted in 2016 of harbouring and transporting people without valid documents. They had reportedly asked the police whether it would be legal to give a Syrian family a lift. The officers said they didn’t know. The next day, the couple were charged.

Local politicians involved in these cases include Fernand Bosson, former mayor of Onnion in France. He was convicted in 2017 for housing a family from Kosovo after their asylum application was dismissed, with the prosecutor requesting a ‘symbolic fine’ of €1,500.

Priests and Firefighters

Last year, Benoit Duclois, a French mountain guide, was charged with aiding and abetting illegal immigration after he was ‘caught’ by police assisting a pregnant Nigerian migrant woman across the Italian-French border on foot in the snow.

In Italy, a Catholic priest who was nominated in 2015 for the Nobel Prize for Peace for his work supporting refugees told openDemocracy about “a long criminalisation campaign against solidarity” — including against “those who try to save people from certain death.”

“This is a smear campaign, aiming to make all NGOs and activists lose all credibility, and I ended in this ‘meat grinder’ too,” said Don Mossie Zerai, who has been under police investigation himself for allegedly aiding illegal immigration into Italy.

He says there has not been “a precise allegation of a crime” against him or a “particular act or case on which this accusation was based,” but that he has been targeted because migrants stranded on sinking boats in the Meditteranean have contacted him before.

“It was a surreal situation,” Manuel Blanco — another Spanish firefighter recently tried in Greece — told openDemocracy about his arrest in 2016. He had moved to the island of Lesbos to volunteer for a search and rescue NGO, and was charged with facilitating illegal immigration. With two other firefighters, he faced up to 10 years of imprisonment.

Blanco was eventually acquitted of all charges. But the long two-year process “has affected me a lot, both on a personal and a professional level.” He said he also had to pay a fine of €15,000 that only recently has been given back to him.

He told openDemocracy the arrest had taken him by surprise and he feared how the trial would affect his career and his family. The work he was doing had also taken a toll on his health. “It’s a huge responsibility. Who the hell is going to help [people who need rescuing] in the middle of the sea. If it’s not us, who else is going to be there?”

Porras, the human rights lawyer who represented the Spanish firefighters, said: “They are applying laws that are intended for international criminal organisations that are earning money from trafficking, smuggling, prostitution and slavery to prosecute humanitarian workers and volunteers who are just trying to save the lives of people.”

“Here to Help”

Dozens of the cases compiled by openDemocracy involve activists and NGO volunteers. Tom Ciotkowski is a 30-year-old British volunteer currently awaiting trial in French court, who faces up to five years in prison and €7,500 in fines on contempt and assault charges.

Last summer Ciotkowski recorded on his mobile phone a police officer pushing and kicking another volunteer who was trying to distribute food to migrants and refugees in Calais. Amnesty International, the human rights group, says he has been “unjustly targeted for documenting the abusive behaviour of the police” and that his case is “sadly emblematic.”

In France, there is a specific délit de solidarité (‘crime of solidarity’) in the immigration law. A 2018 court judgement ruled it unconstitutional to use this law against people who act for humanitarian reasons. But it’s not the only French law used against volunteers.

Amnesty International’s Maria Serrano said Ciotkowski’s case “reflects a wider European trend of criminalising acts of solidarity.” Another volunteer in Calais told openDemocracy that many that have arrived in the city are “here to help” people in desperate situations and “they should be able to do so without risk of prison time or harassment.”

Previously, Rob Lawrie, a British ex-soldier, was charged with attempted smuggling, after trying to reunite a young child living in the ‘jungle’ camp in Calais with his family in Leeds. While he was eventually acquitted, he’s since described online abuse from “keyboard warriors” and far-right vitriol reminiscent of what preceded the second world war.

Also in France, an activist was recently prosecuted for a post on his Facebook page criticising the treatment of migrants by comparing it to that of Jewish people under the occupation — while a volunteer was convicted of defamation for tweeting a photograph of police officers standing over a homeless migrant evicted from informal camps in Calais.

Last year, a report from a group of migrant rights organisations said that, along with prosecutions and legal actions, volunteers in Calais face intimidation from “systematic identity checks to parking fines, threats, insults and physical violence” from police.

They recorded 646 of these incidents in just eight months, noting: “Young adults, scarcely 25 years old, find themselves accused of criminal activities because of their humanitarian work and because they stand in solidarity with the displaced population in France.”

Agnès Antoine, a member of the French “Tous Migrants” activists collective told openDemocracy she knows of dozens of cases where volunteers in La Rora on the French and Italian border, have been fined for speeding or parking or followed by police to deter them.

In Greece — where supporters of the far right party Golden Dawn have also attacked NGO workers on the island of Lesbos — citizens who rescue migrants from the sea have been prosecuted under a 2014 law designed to punish traffickers who profit from migrants.

In Germany, Karl Kopp at the human rights organisation Pro Asyl said the criminalisation of solidarity with migrants means that many of his colleagues “stand with one foot in jail.”

Far-Right Crackdown

Last year a network of Italian rights groups called for the “decriminalisation of solidarity,” saying: “European citizens should be able to offer humanitarian aid and services to all the people in need, regardless of their status, without fear of penalties or prosecution.”

In July 2018, the European Parliament told the European Commission to create an observatory of these criminalisation cases, a project that is ongoing. In the meantime, Antonella Soldo of Radicali Italiani, who was involved in the Italian campaign, told openDemocracy that NGOs and volunteers continue to face “repeated attacks.”

Ahead of the European elections this week, Matteo Salvini from Italy’s far-right Lega party is pledging to clamp down on “barconi” — his term for boats carrying migrants across the Mediterranean that are often rescued by NGOs. He’s also repeatedly called for the prosecution of ship crews rescuing people off Italy’s coast.

In other places, the pressure on those helping migrants takes on different forms. In some countries, including Poland and Romania, “there are also tendencies… to reduce the rule of law, to take away the money from humanitarian organisations or to criminalise humanitarian aid,” Kopp from the German Pro Asyl group said.

Last year, Victor Orban’s government in Hungary famously imposed a special 25% tax on groups that support migrants and receive money from abroad.

In Germany, the far-right AfD’s European elections programme criticises Frontex, the EU border agency, claiming that it “even supports illegal immigration” and that because of “a lack of security of the external borders there is still an uncontrolled influx of illegally arriving foreigners.”

“We want to reduce illegal migration to the EU to zero,” said the party’s chairman, Jörg Meuthen, last month after travelling to Milan to join Salvini in announcing a new bloc of nationalist anti-immigrant parties to join forces ahead of the European elections.

“Recommit to European Values”

Critics of these controversial policies agree that the rise of the far-right is concerning — but point out that the criminalisation of solidarity pre-dates it.

Along with “the Salvinis, the Orbans,” Kopp added, “also the established parties, which take over the agenda of right-wing populists and right-wing radicals” are attacking Europe’s “essence” — its support for human dignity, human rights, the rule of law and minority rights.

In Italy, Salvatore Fachile, a lawyer and member of the Association for Juridical Studies on Immigration (ASGI) described a “criminalisation campaign” against NGOs that began under the last government and has continued with Salvini as interior minister.

Attacks on search and rescue ships by politicians, in the media and in courts, he said, have caused “very serious damage” including “at a personal level, for the individuals put under investigation,” as well as for organisations that have been “forced to decrease a lot or to stop their actions. The goal was achieved: to reduce or eliminate the sea rescue.”

Responding to our findings, Danish MEP Margrete Auken said: “The EU has a humanitarian responsibility, and a moral duty, to rescue and assist people in danger. But is currently far from living up to its own values, with large human cost — for refugees as well as for those European citizens criminalised in their effort to help.”

Dunja Mijatović, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, said it is “troubling to see” increasing pressure being put by governments on people and organisations assisting migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Europe.

“Instead of clamping down on those who help migrants live a more dignified life,” she said, European leaders must “recommit with human rights, the rule of law and European values. This is both a legal and a moral duty.”

Additional reporting by Adam Bychawski, Assia Labbas and Yiannis Baboulias

As Iran Tensions Rise, Congress Moves to Curb Trump’s War Powers

Truthout - Tue, 2019-05-21 20:26

The House Appropriations Committee voted to advance an amendment to a defense spending package on Tuesday that would sunset the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) issued after the 9/11 attacks. The bipartisan legislation would provide Congress with new tools for containing the Trump administration as it meddles in foreign conflicts and stokes military tensions with Iran.

Rep. Barbara Lee and other House Democrats are expected to announce a new push to repeal the 2001 AUMF on Wednesday. The latest effort in Congress to scrap the longstanding authorization comes as lawmakers react to the escalating tensions between Iran and the unpredictable Trump administration, which boiled over on Twitter over the weekend after President Trump warned that Iran would face its “official end” if Tehran provokes the U.S. military.

A rocket had landed near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on Sunday, but it remains unclear whether Iran had anything to do with the attack. Iranian-backed militias in Iraq denounced the attack, and a little-known group with no connection to Iran has claimed responsibility. The White House and Tehran spent the last week trading jabs and engaging in military posturing, although leaders in both countries have said they do not want war.

On Friday, 100 House Democrats urged Trump in a letter to “resist factions” in his administration that are “leading our country down a disastrous path to war” and warned that the White House cannot declare war with Iran without approval from Congress, including under the 2001 AUMF. Administration officials are reportedly building a case to declare Iran a terrorist threat in order to circumvent Congress and launch military strikes under AUMF authority if the administration decides to engage Tehran.

“Madame chair, right now we know that any president can wage war under this outdated, 2001 authorization, and of course President Trump continues down this path, as other presidents have,” Lee told the House Appropriations Committee before the vote on Tuesday.

Lee has already introduced the legislation as a standalone bill. Both bills would sunset the AUMF eight months after passing, giving Congress time to review current areas of military deployment that require congressional authorization, according to Heather Brandon-Smith, the legislative director for militarism and human rights at the pro-peace Friends Committee on National Legislation.

This would include U.S. operations in countries like Iraq and Syria, where the continued presence of U.S. forces is part of a regional strategy to contain Iranian proxies and military influence.

“The eight-month sunset is to give Congress time to properly examine current conflicts and figure out whether to authorize continued participation in any of them,” Brandon-Smith told Truthout in an email. “This would require that the White House be more transparent and give Congress the necessary information to make this decision.”

Administration officials are reportedly building a case to declare Iran a terrorist threat in order to circumvent Congress and launch military strikes under AUMF authority.

The standalone legislation, H.R.1274, briefly declares that the 2001 AUMF has been used to justify “broad and open-ended” authorizations for military deployment across the world, and this interpretation is “inconsistent” with Congress’s war-making authority under the Constitution and its original intent in issuing the AUMF within days of the 9/11 terror attacks.

Since then, the Bush, Obama and Trump administrations have used the AUMF to justify military action at least 41 times in 19 different countries. The War on Terror has cost trillions of dollars, and U.S. counterterrorism forces have operated in 80 countries across the globe, according to the Costs of War project at Brown University.

Lee, a California Democrat and the only member of Congress to vote against the AUMF back in 2001, has led similar efforts in the past, including in 2017, when legislation to sunset and repeal the AUMF was approved in committee only to be stripped from a larger defense spending bill by then-Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican. Isolationist Republicans in the Senate have also made attempts to repeal the AUMF over the years.

However, Brandon-Smith said the AUMF repeal has a good chance of coming up for a vote in the House under the current Democratic majority. This time around, Lee’s AUMF repeal bills are co-sponsored by at least one Republican and dozens of Democrats, including progressive stars, such as Representatives Ro Khanna and Pramila Jayapal, who are eagerly challenging President Trump on foreign policy.

Democrats are facing mounting pressure from veterans and peace activists to curb the seemingly endless cycle of U.S. military engagement overseas.

Trump has found himself caught between his isolationist campaign promises, his desire to look tough on terrorist groups and Iran, and the pressure he faces from war hawks in his administration, such as National Security Advisor John Bolton. Bolton appears to crave war with Iran and recently raised the specter of sending U.S. forces to Venezuela, where the U.S. is supporting a controversial opposition leader and levying devastating sanctions on a country suffering a political and humanitarian crisis.

Meanwhile, members of Congress — and Democrats in particular — are facing mounting pressure from veterans and peace activists to contain Trump and curb the seemingly endless cycle of U.S. military engagement overseas by reasserting their constitutional authority to decide when and where the nation goes to war.

Congress has already passed a bipartisan resolution to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen’s bloody civil war, which caused a vast humanitarian crisis and is broadly seen as a proxy fight over Iran’s sphere of regional influence. Trump vetoed the bipartisan resolution, but it stands as a sharp rebuke of his foreign policy and relationship with the Saudi crown. Presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders championed the resolution in the Senate, and the anti-war politics of the Trump era are increasingly shaping the Democratic primary race.

Legislation has also been introduced to prevent Trump from deploying troops to Venezuela and from engaging Iran in the Middle East without congressional approval. While peace activists tend to support any effort by Congress to curb the president’s war powers, Brandon-Smith said lawmakers should focus on the authorization Trump would likely use to justify a war with Iran, even if Trump threatens the legislation with a veto. A vote to repeal the 2001 AUMF in the House would be a strong rebuke of Trump’s stance toward Iran – and an important step toward reclaiming Congress’s war powers.

“The saber rattling from the Trump administration and its posturing about using the 2001 AUMF to justify war with Iran are, quite frankly, terrifying,” Brandon-Smith said. “If Congress really wants to prevent war with Iran, it should repeal the outdated 2001 AUMF and stop the administration from using this law as a blank check for endless war.”

This story has been updated.

Video: Gaza sweet factory integrates deaf workers

Electronic Intifada - Tue, 2019-05-21 20:07
Workers produce many delicious desserts that are coveted by the community.

Utility Companies Warn That 5G for Unlicensed WiFi Applications Will Threaten Their Wireless “Smart” Meters Which Are Already Awful

Activist Post - Tue, 2019-05-21 18:36

By B.N. Frank

Utility companies won’t admit it but their wireless “Smart” Meters have been nothing but trouble from the jump.  Tens of millions have been installed in the U.S. and around the world and people everywhere (including elected officials) have been fighting to get them off their homes and out of their communities (see 1, 2, 3).  These meters have been associated with so many problems (including fires and explosions) that there was even a documentary produced about them.

Now utility companies are warning the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) that auctioning off more 5G spectrums for unlicensed and untested WiFi applications will make their horrible “Smart” Meters even worse.  This is on top of the Telecom Industry saying that they have no scientific evidence that 5G is even safe and plenty of researchers saying it’s not.

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From Multichannel News:

Those utilities say they need the spectrum for their mission-critical communications and that the FCC’s proposal to open it up for unlicensed Wi-Fi use is an untested and unproven approach that the FCC is pursuing despite the concerns of utilities as others about interference and/or congestion that threatens critical infrastructure.

The utilities say that the band is already heavily employed by its licensed users, and that licensed use is more reliable and robust.

Those communications nets are “used for critical situational awareness, underpin safety functions, and enable crews to safely repair and restore services after storms,” as well as “the greater deployment of distributed energy resources such as solar or battery storage, smart meters, and other technologies to enable grid modernization.”

“While our collective members fully understand and appreciate the need to make more efficient use of spectrum,” they said. “We strongly encourage the Commission to weigh the advantages of expanding access to the 6 GHz band with the potential negative impact this could have on critical infrastructure networks.”

The letter came a day after FCC Chairman Ajit Pai was talking up 6 GHz’s potential for Wi-Fi in a speech to the Wi-Fi World Congress in Tysons Corner, Va., outside Washington. He also said incumbent utilities must be protected.

Perhaps it’s now time for American utility companies to also file lawsuits against the FCC regarding 5G.  It is gaining popularity (see 1, 2, 3).

See Activist Post archives for additional horror articles about Smart Meters and 5G.

For more information, visit the following websites:

Be Free and Independent! Get a free issue of Counter Markets today.

Image credit: Pixabay

Categories: News for progressives

Bill Black: Ocasio-Cortez & Sanders Introduce Bill to Cap Credit Card Interest Rates at 15%

Naked Capitalism - Tue, 2019-05-21 17:50
Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders introduce legislation: they call it Loan Shark Prevention, which would allow post offices to act as banks and cap interest rates at 15%, but credit card companies claim it would hurt the poor.

OPCW, Douma and the Post Truth World

New Eastern Outlook - Tue, 2019-05-21 17:45

The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) came into effect on 29 April 1997. 193 Member States of the United Nations have ratified it. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is the United Nations body charged with the task of monitoring compliance with the CWC. It is based in The Hague. Among its powers are the powers to investigate allegations of the use of chemical weapons, and (since June 2018) the power to assign blame.

The investigations are carried out by a Fact Finding Mission, which compromises a team of experts from the relevant scientific disciplines. Additional technical assistance is frequently sought from bodies external to the OPCW, typically university departments.

The use of chemical weapons, apart from being banned under the CWC, can constitute war crimes and/or crimes under the civil jurisdiction of the country where they are used. As with any forensic examination of a crime scene, the integrity of the investigation process and any conclusions reached must accord with the highest standards of professional practice.

The work of the OPCW has had a high profile in the past two years because of three well-publicized incidents. The first of these was the alleged use of sarin gas in the Syrian town of Khan Shaykun on 4th of April 2017.

Less than one week after the alleged attack, the United States government released his own intelligence report in which they expressed their “confidence” that the Syrian ‘regime’ had used sarin against its own people. On this unsourced and uninvestigated, much less forensically examined incident, the United States launched a barrage of cruise missiles against Syrian targets. That this response was itself a gross violation of international law was barely considered by the mainstream media at the time, so content were (and are) they in demonizing the Syrian government and in particular its President Bashar al Assad.

The OPCW report of the incident was no better than the US intelligence estimate. Without having visited the site, and without meeting minimum forensic standards such as determining a proper chain of custody, the OPCW in its October 2017 report nonetheless attributed the release of sarin gas to the Syrian government.

The second incident to receive wide publicity, expressions of outrage from western governments and large-scale expulsion of Russian diplomats, was the alleged nerve agent attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury, United Kingdom, in March 2018.

The UK government, again before any scientific investigation and a proper conclusion could be reached, announced in parliament the first of its many versions or what they alleged had happened. The manifold absurdities of the U.K. Governments explanation as to what happened to the Skripals is outside the scope of this article. They are usefully summarised by British researcher Rob Slane.

In the Salisbury case, the OPCW investigators arrived at the scene nearly three weeks after the incident and then produced a report that is a masterpiece of obfuscation. Without actually rebutting the UK government’s version, they also failed to confirm it. They would only refer to the “toxic chemical compound which displays the properties of a nerve agent” as being found in the biomedical and environmental samples provided to them by the UK government.

One clue as to the reason for this caution is that the samples analysed by the OPCW were said to be of “high purity”, something that is literally impossible if examined weeks after the event. As with Khan Shaykun, evidence and logic did not feature in the responses of either the western governments who expelled Russian diplomats, or the western mainstream media that blamed the Russians. Then as now, the official government version is the least likely scenario of several possible versions.

Had the OPCW properly investigated the incident, and perhaps more importantly released the full details of its investigation, including the real cause of the Skripal’s illness, the Russian blame game would not have travelled the distance that it has.

Only a month after the Salisbury events, and perhaps coincidentally, there was another alleged chemical attack by the Syrian government on civilians in the city of Douma.

Douma was an area held by the Al Qaeda linked terrorist group, Jaysh-al-Islam. The Syrian army was on the verge of recapturing the city. Jaysh-al-Islam had a powerful motive to try and enlist the support of the US led “Coalition” that has been illegally occupying Syrian territory since 2015. Australia is a member of that coalition, and the only justification given for that participation (by then Foreign Minister Julie Bishop in November 2015) is simply nonsense from the viewpoint of international law.

At the time of the alleged attack, the western media were full of images of dead persons including children, the claimed activities of the so-called humanitarian White Helmets personnel, and pictures of two cylindrical objects purportedly used to spread the chemical agents that caused the death of the pictured victims.

The OPCW team began its on-site investigations in April-May 2018. It obtained expert assistance from two European universities as well as its own internal experts. The final report was issued on 1st of March 2019, long after western media and politicians had not only taken the view that the Syrian government was responsible, but that it ought to be punished. Part of that response was a missile attack by United States, United Kingdom and French forces long before the OPCW team had commenced, let alone concluded, their investigation. As with the Khan Shaykun missile attack a year earlier, this latest attack was also a breach of international law.

What the OPCW report failed to disclose were the conclusions of an internal report by its own experts of their assessment as to what had actually happened. That suppressed report has now been leaked. Its findings are devastating, not only to the credibility of the OPCW, already damaged by the Khan Shaykun and Salisbury reports, but also to the credibility of the western mainstream media and western politicians.

Both of these groups had sought to blame the Syrian government and its principal backers, Russia Iran and Hezbollah, in the most extreme terms, and utterly without regard to the most basic principles of international law, forensic methodology, and the need to establish an evidential foundation before taking precipitate action which in this case could have had catastrophic consequences.

The suppressed report was signed by Ian Henderson, a senior OPCW staffer since 1998. Dr Henderson’s team applied the laws of physics and engineering to the results of their empirical observations. A detailed analysis of the Henderson report can be found in Paul McKeigue et al Briefing Note on the Final Report of the OPCW Fact-finding Mission on the Alleged Chemical Attack in Douma in April 2018.

The OPCW team led by Dr Henderson inspected the locations where the aforementioned cylinders were found (and widely photographed) as well as the alleged associated damage to the buildings. They concluded that the dimensions, characteristics and appearance of the cylinders and the surrounding scenes were inconsistent with those cylinders having been dropped from an aircraft. That they were manually placed where they were photographed “is the only plausible explanation for observations at the scene”.

McKeigue et al referred to the findings set out in their earlier Briefing Note and concluded “these findings, taken together, establish beyond reasonable doubt that the alleged chemical attack in Douma on 7 April 2018 was staged”.

Those conclusions raised a number of obvious questions. The first is, how did the victims, so graphically displayed, actually die? The forensic evidence clearly shows that these victims were undoubtedly hung upside down, their eyes blindfolded, and then murdered with exposure to a toxic chemical. Their bodies were then transported to the location where they were photographed, to form the pictorial backdrop to the allegations of a chemical attack by Syrian government forces.

The terrorists were the only ones with the means, motive and opportunity to murder these victims and then arrange the scenes for their propaganda purposes. It is an irresistible inference that in these staged scenes they were aided and abetted by the White Helmets. Far from being a neutral humanitarian group, the White Helmets, trained by the British, are not part of the solution; they are part of the problem.

The second question Dr Henderson’s report raises is in two parts: why did the OPCW suppress this report and not include its findings in the OPCW final report released in March 2019; and why have the western media, including Australia, completely failed to report both the fact of the suppression of the crucial evidence in Dr Henderson’s report, and the substance of the fact-finding missions conclusions?

It is a measure of the disgraceful state that the western mainstream media have fallen into, that they refuse to report, much less analyse, vital information that could easily have led to a major war between the United States and its allies (including Australia) and Russia.

At the time that the United States, United Kingdom and France were announcing their intention to attack Syria in retaliation for the Douma incident, the Russian military warned that if the missiles targeted their serviceman they would not only destroy the missiles but the carriers from which they were fired. There is no doubting their capacity to do so (Martyanov Losing Military Supremacy 2018). A full-scale war could easily have eventuated.

The final point is that any future OPCW reports must inevitably be treated with a degree of skepticism. The international community, and undoubtedly the overwhelming majority of the member states that signed the CWC are concerned that such an important body has been compromised in this way. It is not too difficult to infer that political pressure had been applied to all three of the investigations noted here.

It is too much to expect that are mainstream media and the politicians will issue a mea culpa after this latest exposure of their duplicity and sacrifice of principle and probity in pursuit of US geopolitical aims. Perhaps in the future however, they will be less quick to condemn and take actions that could so very easily lead to another war based on lies and imperial hubris.

James O’Neill, an Australian-based Barrister at Law and geopolitical analyst, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

Locked in a Cold War Time Warp

Counterpunch - Tue, 2019-05-21 16:04

Drawing By Nathaniel St. Clair

On Saturday May 18th, the New York Times ran a lengthy front-page article by Alexander Burns and Sydney Ember entitled “Mayor Who Brought the Cold War to Vermont,” which exemplifies how the poisonous political climate of the Cold War has not yet receded.

The piece details presidential contender Bernie Sanders’ opposition to Ronald Reagan’s Central America Wars in the 1980s while Burlington Mayor, and Sanders’ travels to Nicaragua and meeting with Sandinista revolutionary leader Daniel Ortega.

The article also mentioned Sanders’ travels to Cuba where he came away impressed by Cuba’s “free health care, free education [and free housing],” and a trip to Yaroslavi in the Soviet Union, a Burlington sister-city, whose health care system, Sanders noted, was “free or virtually free.”

Sanders told the Times reporters: “I plead guilty to, throughout my adult life, doing everything that I can to prevent war and destruction.”

The piece, however, made a point of quoting Burlington residents who felt Sanders should have focused his energies on local matters like repairing sidewalks, and Otto J. Reich, former special envoy for Nicaragua under Reagan, who stated that “by virtue of these travels and associations, [Sanders] joined up with some of the most repressive regimes in the world.”

Burns and Ember editorialized that Sanders often “walked a line between fostering kinship with a foreign people and admiring aspects of a repressive system.”

If Sanders walked a fine line, however, what about the frontrunner for the 2020 Democratic Party nomination, Joe Biden whom The Times has never questioned for supporting repressive systems?

During the Arab Spring protests in Egypt, even National Public Radio (NPR) considered Biden to be on the “wrong side of history” when he rejected the term “dictator” to describe Egyptian ruler Hosni Mubarak who had at that point been in power for over 31 years.

When asked by PBS Newshour anchor Jim Lehrer whether the time had come for Mubarak, who mercilessly attacked demonstrators, to step aside, Biden said “no,” adding only that he hoped Mubarak would “be more responsive to some of the needs of the people out there.”

Two decades earlier, “lunch Bucket” Joe was again on the wrong side of history when he supported Reagan’s backing of the military junta in El Salvador, which was found by a Truth Commission to have been responsible for 93 percent of atrocities in the country’s civil war.

During the 1990s, as ranking Democrat on the Senate foreign relations committee, Biden championed increased military aid to Colombia, the most repressive regime in Latin America, which set a record for the number of trade union activists killed. Biden was a key architect of Plan Colombia, a militarized counter-narcotics program that helped intensify human rights abuses carried out in the war against the left-wing Fuerzas Armada Revolucionario de Colombia (FARC).

The Times has not raised any moral qualms about these policies, or about Biden’s close friendship during his Vice-Presidency with Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq whom locals considered to be a “Shia Saddam,” or Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine who came to power in an illegal coup in February 2014.

These latter regimes possessed much worse human rights records then the Sandinistas who won free and fair elections in 1984, which have been airbrushed from history.

Locked in a Cold War time warp, the New York Times is partaking in the shameful slandering of the one Democratic Party candidate capable of mobilizing people to defeat Trump by associating him with socialist governments that actually succeeded in improving the living quality of their populations.

This neo-McCarthyite campaign – only slightly more subtle than Fox News – can succeed only because of the abysmal ignorance of the American population about foreign affairs, which is in part a product of the mainstream media’s distorted coverage.

Venezuela: Amnesty International in Service of Empire

Counterpunch - Tue, 2019-05-21 16:00

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

Uncle Sam has a problem in his South American “backyard” with those uppity Venezuelans who insisted on democratically electing Nicolás Maduro as their president instead of by-passing the electoral process and installing the unelected US asset Juan Guaidó. No matter, Amnesty International has come to the rescue with a full-throated defense of US imperialism:

“Faced with grave human rights violations, shortages of medicines and food and generalized violence in Venezuela, there is an urgent hunger for justice. The crimes against humanity probably committed by the authorities must not go unpunished.” (Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International)

Amnesty International fails in its broadside to put its claims against the Maduro government in the context of a concerted regime-change campaign, which amounts to war, by the bully from the north. The US is waging an illegal war against Venezuela and Amnesty International’s broadside leaves out this inconvenient fact, egregiously even omitting any mention of sanctions.

As human rights activist Chuck Kaufman of the Alliance for Global Justice noted about Amnesty International (AI): “They don’t seem to even care about their credibility anymore.” A more credible and honest account of what is unfolding in Venezuela, than the hatchet job presented in AI’s May 14th Venezuela: Crimes against humanity require a vigorous response from the international justice system, would have also noted along with the alleged transgressions of the Maduro government:

Grave human rights violations. Economists Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University recently reported that US sanctions on Venezuela are responsible for tens of thousands of deaths. This is the price being exacted on Venezuela, with a prediction for worse to come, for the regime change that AI is implicitly promoting.

Shortages of medicines and food. Since 2015, when US President Obama first instituted them, the US has been imposing ever more crippling illegal sanctions on Venezuela expressly to create misery for the population in the hope that it would then turn against their own democratically elected government. The sanctions are specifically designed to suffocate the economy so that Venezuela cannot address its problems. The US government boasts about the impacts of sanctions. Playing the good cop to the US role as bad cop, AI laments the very conditions they are tacitly promoting in asking for ever increasing “punishments.” New US sanctions on Venezuela were imposed on May 10th.

Generalized violence. The US government has repeatedly and unapologetically threatened military intervention in Venezuela if the elected government doesn’t abdicate. Short of attacking militarily, the US has waged war against Venezuela by economic and diplomatic means, not to mention low-intensity warfare such as cyber attacks. The extreme rightwing opposition has called for the extra-legal overthrow of the government and has eschewed electoral means for effecting political change. AI is correct in noting that since 2017 new violence has been inflicted on the Venezuelan people but fails to note the role of the opposition in provoking that violence with their guarimbas and other actions. Meanwhile Guaidó, whose popular support in Venezuela is bottoming out, is reported sending his envoy to meet with the US Southern Command to “coordinate.”

How is it possible that an organization purporting to stand for human rights and global justice can so blithely ignore facts that do not fit into their narrative and so obsequiously parrot the Trump-Pompeo-Bolton-Abrams talking points? Why would AI go so far as to meet with the self-appointed Guaidó and then within days issue a report condemning the Maduro government, without also investigating the other side in the conflict?

Unfortunately, this is not the first time AI has shown an imperial bias as it has regarding US-backed regime-change projects in Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Nicaragua.

Objectively deconstructing the many allegations (e.g., “more than 8,000 extrajudicial executions by the security forces”) made against Venezuela in the AI broadside and its accompanying report remains to be done. Unfortunately, the Empire has a surfeit of resources to churn out propaganda compared to the ability to counter it by genuine humanitarian groups. AI alone has an annual budget of over $300 million. According to sources cited by Wikipedia, AI receives grants from the US State Department, the European Commission, and other governments along with the Rockefeller Foundation.

To conclude, AI’s broadside calls for justice about as often as it calls for punishment with the subtext that punishment of the Empire’s victims is justice. Were AI truly concerned about justice, rather than justifying another US regime-change operation, they would champion the following:

+ Ending the unilateral sanctions by the US on Venezuela, which are illegal under the charters of the United Nations and the Organization of American States.

+ Supporting dialogue between the elected government and the opposition as has been promoted by Mexico, Uruguay, Pope Francis, and most recently by Norway.

+ Condemning regime-change activities and interference in Venezuela’s internal affairs and actively rejecting the US government’s aggressive stance as articulated by US VP Pence: “This is no time for dialogue. This is time for action.”

+ Respecting the sovereignty of Venezuela and restoring normal diplomatic relations between the US and Venezuela.

Trump is Making the Same Mistakes in the Middle East the US Always Makes

Counterpunch - Tue, 2019-05-21 15:59

Photograph Source: Technical Sergeant John L. Houghton, Jr., United States Air Force – Public Domain

In its escalating confrontation with Iran, the US is making the same mistake it has made again and again since the fall of the Shah 40 years ago: it is ignoring the danger of plugging into what is in large part a religious conflict between Sunni and Shia Muslims.

I have spent much of my career as a correspondent in the Middle East, since the Iranian revolution in 1979, reporting crises and wars in which the US and its allies fatally underestimated the religious motivation of their adversaries. This has meant they have come out the loser, or simply failed to win, in conflicts in which the balance of forces appeared to them to be very much in their favour.

It has happened at least four times. It occurred in Lebanon after the Israeli invasion of 1982, when the turning point was the blowing up of the US Marine barracks in Beirut the following year, in which 241 US military personnel were killed. In the eight-year Iran-Iraq war during 1980-88, the west and the Sunni states of the region backed Saddam Hussein, but it ended in a stalemate. After 2003, the US-British attempt to turn post-Saddam Iraq into an anti-Iranian bastion spectacularly foundered. Similarly, after 2011, the west and states such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey tried in vain to get rid of Bashar al-Assad and his regime in Syria – the one Arab state firmly in the Iranian camp.

Now the same process is under way yet again, and likely to fail for the same reasons as before: the US, along with its local allies, will be fighting not only Iran but whole Shia communities in different countries, mostly in the northern tier of the Middle East between Afghanistan and the Mediterranean.

Donald Trump looks to sanctions to squeeze Iran while national security adviser John Bolton and secretary of state Mike Pompeo promote war as a desirable option. But all three denounce Hezbollah in Lebanon or the Popular Mobilisation Units in Iraq as Iranian proxies, though they are primarily the military and political arm of the indigenous Shia, which are a plurality in Lebanon, a majority in Iraq and a controlling minority in Syria. The Iranians may be able to strongly influence these groups, but they are not Iranian puppets which would wither and disappear once Iranian backing is removed.

Allegiance to nation states in the Middle East is generally weaker than loyalty to communities defined by religion, such the Alawites, the two-million-strong ruling Shia sect in Syria to which Bashar al-Assad and his closest lieutenants belong. People will fight and die to defend their religious identity but not necessarily for the nationality printed on their passports.

When the militarised Islamist cult Isis defeated the Iraqi national army by capturing Mosul in 2014, it was a fatwa from the Shia Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani that sent tens of thousands of volunteers rushing to defend Baghdad. Earlier in the fighting in Homs and Damascus in Syria, it was the non-Sunni districts that were the strongpoints of the regime. For example, the opposition were eager to take the strategically important airport road in the capital, but were held back by a district defended by Druze and Christian militiamen.

This is not what Trump’s allies in Saudi Arabia, UAE and Israel want Washington to believe; for them, the Shia are all Iranian stooges. For the Saudis, every rocket fired by the Houthis in Yemen into Saudi Arabia – though minimal in destructive power compared to the four-year Saudi bombing campaign in Yemen –can only have happened because of a direct instruction from Tehran.

On Thursday, for instance, Prince Khalid Bin Salman, the vice minister for defence and the brother of Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, claimed on Twitter that drone attacks on Saudi oil pumping stations, were “ordered” by Iran. He said that “the terrorist acts, ordered by the regime in Tehran, and carried out by the Houthis, are tightening the noose around the ongoing political efforts”. He added: “These militias are merely a tool that Iran’s regime uses to implement its expansionist agenda in the region.”

There is nothing new in this paranoid reaction by Sunni rulers to actions by distinct Shia communities (in this case the Houthis) attributing everything without exception to the guiding hand of Iran. I was in Bahrain in 2011 where the minority Sunni monarchy had just brutally crushed protests by the Shia majority with Saudi military support. Among those tortured were Shia doctors in a hospital who had treated injured demonstrators. Part of the evidence against them was a piece of technologically advanced medical equipment – I cannot remember if it was used for monitoring the heart or the brain or some other condition – which the doctors were accused of using to receive instructions from Iran about how to promote a revolution.

This type of absurd conspiracy theory used not to get much of hearing in Washington, but Trump and his acolytes are on record on as saying that nearly all acts of “terrorism” can be traced to Iran. This conviction risks sparking a war between the US and Iran because there are plenty of angry Shia in the Middle East who might well attack some US facility on their own accord.

It might also lead to somebody in one of those states eager for a US-Iran armed conflict – Saudi Arabia, UAE and Israel come to mind – that staging a provocative incident that could be blamed on Iran might be in their interests.

But what would such a war achieve? The military invasion of Iran is not militarily or politically feasible so there would be no decisive victory. An air campaign and a close naval blockade of Iran might be possible, but there are plenty of pressure points through which Iran could retaliate, from mines in the Strait of Hormuz to rockets fired at the Saudi oil facilities on the western side of Gulf.

A little-noticed feature of the US denunciations of Iranian interference using local proxies in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon is not just that they are exaggerated but, even if they were true, they come far too late. Iran is already on the winning side in all three countries.

If war does come it will be hard fought. Shia communities throughout the region will feel under threat. As for the US, the first day is usually the best for whoever starts a war in the Middle East and after that their plans unravel as they become entangled in a spider’s web of dangers they failed to foresee.

Custer’s Last Stand Meets Global Warming

Counterpunch - Tue, 2019-05-21 15:59

Photograph Source: Charles Marion Russell – Public Domain

A recent article in Arctic News on the outlook for global warming foresees a frightening scenario lurking right around the corner. Hopefully, the article’s premise of impending runaway global warming (“RGW”) is off the mark, by a lot. More to the point, off by really a lot in order to temper the sting expected when abrupt temperature increases hit hard, as projected in the article, which is entitled: “Greenhouse Gas Levels Keep Accelerating.” Oh, BTW… the worst-case scenario happens within one decade!

Here’s a snippet: “… such a rise in greenhouse gas levels has historically corresponded with more than 10°C or 18°F of warming, when looking at greenhouse gas levels and temperatures over the past 800,000 years….” (Source: Greenhouse Gas Levels Keep Accelerating, Arctic News, May 1, 2019)

Obviously, it goes without saying no sane person wants to believe, and likely won’t believe or accept, studies about killer temperatures locked, loaded, and ready to fire, right around the corner. That fact alone serves to christen the title “Custer’s Last Stand Meets Global Warming.”

Furthermore, and for journalistic balance, it is important to mention that mainstream science is not warning of imminent Runaway Global Warming (“RGW”), as outlined in the Arctic News article.

Still, the article does have credibility because it is the product of academic scientists. Therefore, metaphorically speaking, one can only hope that their Ouija boards were out-of-whack, misinterpreting the data.

Alas, the Arctic News article would not be out there if only the U.S. Senate had taken seriously Dr. James Hansen’s early warnings about global warming way back in 1988. The New York Times headline d/d June 24, 1988 read: “Global Warming Has Begun, Expert Tells Senate.”

Curiously enough, ten years later, in 1998, the process of assembling the International Space Station (“ISS”) commenced as approved by Congress, which included 100% solar power. But, ignoring the obvious, no solar initiatives were suggested for the country, not even mentioned. In fact, ever since Dr. Hansen’s warning of 40 years ago, Congress is MIA, a big fat nada, not even one peep or word about efforts to contain global warming.

As such, it’s really no surprise (but somewhat shocking) that a Children’s Climate Crusade, originating in Sweden, is brewing and stewing about the global warming crisis, and they’re addressing a very long list of failures by “the establishment.” Honestly, does it take children to figure this one out?

The Arctic News article is a haunting commentary on the current and future status of global warming, as follows: The article describes a powerful combination of greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrogen oxide (NO2), and nitrous oxide (N2O) in combination with oceans and ice taking up ever-less planetary heat, threaten life on Earth within a decade.

According to the article: “So, how fast and by how much could temperatures rise? As oceans and ice are taking up ever less heat, rapid warming of the lower troposphere could occur very soon. When including the joint impact of all warming elements … abrupt climate change could result in a rise of as much as 18°C or 32.4°F by 2026. This could cause most life on Earth (including humans) to go extinct within years,” Ibid.

That can’t possibly be true, or can it? The good news is nobody knows 100% for sure. But, here’s the rub: Some really smart well-educated scientists think it could happen, in fact they are almost sure it will happen. According to the article, the setup for the worst-case scenario is falling into place much faster, and sooner, than ever thought possible. It’s highly recommended that interested parties read the entire article, Google: Greenhouse Gas Levels Keep Accelerating, Arctic News, May 1, 2019.

Based upon the article, civilization has been living on borrowed time, meaning, the oceans as well as glacial and ocean-bearing ice have been absorbing up to 95% of the planet’s heat, thus, minimizing atmospheric global warming and saving civilization from a bad heat stroke.

However, those two huge natural buffers are losing their mojo, kinda fast. Increasingly, extreme ocean stratification and heavy loss of ice minimize the effectiveness of those two crucial buffers to rapid global warming. Consequently, forcing the atmosphere to take up more and more, and way too much more, planetary heat, leading to bursts of global temperatures when least expected, the Custer’s Last Stand moment.

One of the primary causes of upcoming acceleration of global warming includes a very recent study about nitrous oxide, N2O, which is 300xs more potent than CO2 and has a lifetime of 120 years, found in huge quantities (67B tons) in Arctic permafrost, to wit: “The study by Wilkerson, et al ( shows that nitrous oxide emissions from thawing Alaskan permafrost are about twelve times higher than previously assumed. A 2018 analysis ( by

Yang et al points at the danger of large nitrous oxide releases from thawing permafrost in Tibet. Even more nitrous oxide could be released from Antarctica,” Ibid.

N2O, the third most important GHG, is an intensely effective molecule that impacts global warming 300xs more than CO2. That is an enormous, big time, impact. In that regard, the rate of current N2O emissions is extremely concerning. According to recent research, nitrous oxide is being released from melting permafrost “12xs higher than previously assumed.” That could be a sure-fire formula for helping to turbocharge global warming, and it lends supporting evidence to the underlying thesis of the Arctic News article.

So long as bad news is the order of the day, in addition to N2O as a powerful GHG (greenhouse gas), it is also an ozone depleting substance, uh-oh, which brings to mind shades of The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer of 1987, an international treaty designed to save civilization’s big fat ass.

For those who missed class back in the day (1987), the ozone (O3) layer of Earth’s stratosphere (10-30 miles above ground level) absorbs most of the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation, without which Homo sapiens would be toast!

Ozone is widely dispersed in the atmosphere, to an extreme; however, if it were all compressed into one thin layer, it would be the thickness of one penny. From a narrow viewpoint, as just explained, one penny of thickness of ozone molecules separates humanity from burning alive, and thus explains the Great Panic of the late 1980s when a Big Hole was discovered in the ozone layer as a result of too much human-generated chlorofluorocarbons (“CFCs”) Halons and Freons.

According to James Anderson (Harvard professor of atmospheric chemistry), co-recipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his work on ozone depletion, speaking at the University of Chicago about global warming in 2018: “People have the misapprehension that we can recover from this state just by reducing carbon emissions, Anderson said in an appearance at the University of Chicago. Recovery is all but impossible, he argued, without a World War II-style transformation of industry—an acceleration of the effort to halt carbon pollution and remove it from the atmosphere, and a new effort to reflect sunlight away from the earth’s poles… This has do be done, Anderson added, within the next five years.” (Source: Jeff McMahon, We Have Five Years To Save Ourselves From Climate Change, Harvard Scientist Says, Forbes, Jan. 15, 2018).

Based upon that gauntlet as laid down by professor Anderson, only 4 years remains to get something done to “save us.” But, sadly, there is no “WW-II style transformation of industry” under consideration, not even a preliminary fact-finding mission.

But, there is a very active ongoing Children’s Crusade prodding adults to do something… for a change, but as the children are quick to point out, they do not expect much help from the adults in the room based upon years of “doing nothing.”

Still, children skip classes to publicly protest the misbehavior of adults and occasionally, they give speeches, for example: At Katowice, Poland, COP-24 (Conference of the Parties) in December 2018, Greta Thunberg, a 15-year old from Sweden at the time, addressed the UN secretary general António Guterres. Here’s her speech:

“For 25 years countless people have stood in front of the UN climate conferences, asking our nation’s leaders to stop the emissions. But, clearly, this has not worked since the emissions just continue to rise.
So I will not ask them anything.

Instead, I will ask the media to start treating the crisis as a crisis.

Instead, I will ask the people around the world to realize that our political leaders have failed us.

Because we are facing an existential threat and there is no time to continue down this road of madness… So we have not come here to beg the world leaders to care for our future. They have ignored us in the past and they will ignore us again.

We have come here to let them know that change is coming whether they like it or not.”

Renewable Energy: the Switch From Drill, Baby, Drill to Mine, Baby, Mine

Counterpunch - Tue, 2019-05-21 15:58

Photograph Source: Marshman – CC BY-SA 3.0

The most penetrating criticism I’ve seen of renewable energy is that it’s being promoted at massive scale to reassure us that we can go on as before, with little if any change of lifestyle, no move beyond our comfort zones. That’s a comforting view, one that we’d all love to be true. And yet, it raises a big and uncomfortable question. Can we mine, baby, mine, to ensure no reduction of living standards, no uncomfortable change of lifestyle?  

Alas, the shift away from drill, baby drill has already become a shift to mine, baby, mine.  Consumer demand for electric cars is a prime example. Heralded as next wave of personal transportation, electric cars will require little to no real change in personal comfort or lifestyle, but will require twice as much copper wire as today’s gasoline combustion vehicles. And building these cars will take yet a bit more mining to build the cars themselves. 

There will be millions upon millions of them. The mining industry sees it coming. 

Battering the planet for batteries

Then there’s the matter of batteries to make the EV lifestyle run. Consumer demand for batteries — millions of batteries — translates directly to demand for mining cobalt, and lithium or nickel. The anticipation of such grand demand is already stirring talk of soaring prices for these minerals as car-buyer demand puts pressure on the supply side

Then the batteries have to be replaced in a few years, creating car owner demand for another round of mining. All things considered, the transition from fuel tank to battery is likely a lot less simple and significantly more damaging than many innocently assume.

Add smartphones. They, too, add pressure to mine for the minerals that go into batteries. And our lifestyles include repeated demand for mining every time we buy some next new improved phone with extra bells and whistles, and then add to our carbon footprint by using it to watch videos. Even solar powered garage door openers can increase consumer demand for batteries.

Solar panels themselves add their own demand to mine, baby, mine — again, think copper to build the wiring. The great, glowing promise for solar panels is, like the promise for electric cars, is a promise to maintain current lifestyles, to stay in our comfort zones. The same comfort-zone lifestyles drive demand for the mining necessary to get the raw materials for wind power.

There’s no doubt that we need to build and buy the machinery needed to generate renewable energy from solar and wind. And battery storage is central to the effort. The mining basic to the building is going to happen, to one extent or another. Reduced the ultimate buyer demand can put limits to it, but there’s no stopping it. The need for building solar and wind capacity is too great to deny.

But there’s no denying that much of the building and buying is driven by striving for a comfort zone well beyond meeting anything that deserves the name of need. Recognizing this uncomfortable reality, 50 NGOs have recently scolded the World Bank for its  ClimateSmartMining proposal — which focuses a on how much mining would need to increase, and not on how we need to reduce our demands.

Beyond Batteries: Home-grown energy revolutions

Beyond the realm of mining for batteries, reducing our lifestyle demand can reduce the mining for materials to build vast square mileage put under wind farms, and the number of bats and birds killed by wind turbines. It can likewise limit copper mining required to build solar farms in wildlife habitat. 

Consumers obviously can’t do all this alone, so putting the pressure on politicians is and will be irreplaceable, but there’s no place like home for starting to make a difference.

We can start by reconsidering everything plugged into a wall outlet. Will life suffer excruciating pain if we leave vacuum cleaners unplugged, and reach for brooms?

Would that be too much to ask? Nobody needs to wait for an Act of Congress to get this ball rolling. Would it be once again possible to open a can of beans without an electric can opener? Electric toothbrushes, electric shavers, anything plugged into a wall outlet needs as hard a look as we can give.

We can start our own home-grown energy-revolutions simply by remembering that the shift to renewable solar and wind generation isn’t a matter of just keeping the lights on. Among many other things that need to be weighed, it’s also a matter of how much home lighting we truly need. Any 60 watt light bulb will demand less energy than a comparable 100 watt bulb. Do we really need home lighting in excess of 60 watt demand? 

Building and buying of efficient bulbs will of course make a difference, but even there the wattage demand will matter. There will be mining in order to build these bulbs, but the wattage demand is largely in the hands of the buyers. Is reducing that demand too much to ask? 

All things considered, I have to agree with the irony in 16 year old Greta Thunberg’s calmly eloquent, “We live in a strange world. Where we think we can buy or build our way out of a crisis that has been created by buying and building things.”

Ady Barkan, the Fed and the Liberal Funder Industry

Counterpunch - Tue, 2019-05-21 15:53

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

Earlier this month, New York Times reporter Binyamin Appelbaum wrote a moving piece on Ady Barkan. Ady is a lifelong activist who is now dying from A.L.S., often known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

It is an incredibly sad story, Ady is just 35 years old. He is married with a young son. While I’m sure he would like to spend the time he has left with his loved ones, he is determined to use whatever energy he can to push for universal Medicare.

I was sitting next to him last month when we were both testifying on universal Medicare. Ady was in a wheel chair, having lost control over most of his muscles. He could not speak and instead had a mechanical voice speak out the words he typed.

It was clear that it was not easy for him to be there. He was sweating profusely in a room that was not particularly warm. It was a very impressive show of determination for a cause to which he is very committed.

I actually first met Ady through his work on a different topic, the Fed Up campaign, which was designed to push the Federal Reserve Board to prioritize full employment and higher wages. Fed Up was about bringing the voices of ordinary workers and community activists into the debate on monetary policy. Ady was one of the lead organizers with the Center for Popular Democracy, the group that spearheaded the Fed Up campaign.

As Appelbaum points out in this piece, the Fed Up campaign was remarkably successful in getting the Fed to take the concerns of working people more seriously. In general, the Fed is far more responsive to the concerns of the financial industry.

I recall a meeting back in 1994, in which one of the most liberal Fed governors ever, explicitly made this point to me. The Fed has a dual mandate, to push for high employment and to keep inflation low. These can be in conflict, as when a tight labor market leads to upward pressure on wages. The higher wages then get passed on in higher prices. Clearly this was the story in the 1970s. It has not been especially a problem in the decades since, largely because wages have rarely been rising rapidly.

I was arguing that the benefits from lower unemployment were so great, that the Fed should be willing to risk the possibility that inflation might rise slightly. To be clear, we were talking about a 0.5-1.0 percentage point increase in the inflation rate, not double digit inflation. We were looking at the same economic models, which all show inflation accelerates modestly in a tight labor market. It doesn’t suddenly soar into the double digits.

After I argued my case, he made it very clear that, while he viewed lower unemployment as desirable, low and steady inflation was essential. He did not want to risk even modest increases in the rate of inflation to put millions of people back to work.

The Fed Up campaign was about countering this asymmetry. We recognize the importance of keeping inflation under control, but it is not acceptable to condemn millions of people to unemployment and poverty.

Furthermore, a tighter labor market gives tens of millions of workers in the middle and the bottom of the wage distribution the bargaining power they need to secure higher wages. The only sustained periods of real wage growth in the last four decades have been the period in the late 1990s, when unemployment fell to a year-round average of 4.0 in 2000, and the last four years of this recovery, in which the unemployment rate is now even lower.

It was not a given that the unemployment rate would be allowed to fall to 3.6 percent, or even 4.6 percent. In 2014, a poll of the Fed’s Open Market Committee (FOMC), which determines monetary policy, found that the median estimate of the non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment (NAIRU), the effective measure of full employment, was 5.4 percent. This meant that in the view of most members of the FOMC, if the unemployment rate fell below 5.4 percent inflation would start to spiral upward.

As the unemployment rate began to approach this level, many members of the FOMC began to call for the Fed to raise interest rates to keep unemployment from falling lower. They also voted for higher rates at meetings.

The pressure applied by the Fed Up campaign acted as a counterweight to this pressure. It brought public attention to the importance of Federal Reserve Board. Decisions on interest rates that were usually done in the darkness of business pages were instead front page news. In this context, raising interest rates was not as easy as it might have been otherwise.

Of course it helped enormously that Fed Up had allies at the Fed, starting with then Chair Janet Yellen, who met with Fed Up and encouraged other top officials at the Fed to do so as well. Other allies included people like Lael Brainard, a Fed governor appointed by Obama, and several Fed district bank presidents, including Charles Evans, Narayana Kocherlakota, and his successor at the Minneapolis Fed, Neel Kashkari. It helped that we also had some very prominent economists arguing the case, including Joe Stiglitz and Paul Krugman, both Nobel prize winners, and Brad DeLong and even Larry Summers.

We can’t know the counterfactual of what the world would look like without Fed Up, but the fact that unemployment was allowed to fall has led to enormous benefits for those at the middle and bottom of the wage distribution. The people who got jobs in this tighter labor market were disproportionately black, Hispanic, people with less education, and increasingly people with criminal records. These were also the people who saw the most improvement in their ability to secure wage gains as a result of a tight labor market (see here, here, here, and here).

My reason for raising this in the context of Ady Barkan is a line in Binyamin Appelbaum’s piece. He reported that an internal memo of Fed Up’s main funder (a foundation started by a young Silicon Valley billionaire) indicated that it didn’t see much likelihood that Fed Up could have an impact on monetary policy. Fortunately, this foundation ignored this warning and took the risk of supporting Fed Up anyhow.

The same is not true of the large established liberal foundations, like Rockefeller and Ford. These foundations, which give out hundreds of millions of dollars a year, could not be bothered with something like Fed Up. Trying to pressure the Fed to adopt a monetary policy that was more supportive of low income people and minorities put them too much outside of their comfort zone.

If there had been an education or job-training program that benefited even one-tenth as many people, these foundations would have been tripping over each other to throw money at it and take their share of the credit. But the idea that what low-income people needed, first and foremost, was not an anti-poverty program designed by the government to help them, but rather putting an end to a monetary policy that hurt them, was a step too far. They could not interest themselves in an effort to restructure monetary policy to help rather than hurt the most disadvantaged.

For this reason, it is especially important to highlight the success of Ady Barkan and the Fed Up coalition in helping to change the behavior of the Fed. The fact that a small group of activists were thinking outside of the box, and a relatively small upstart foundation was willing to support them, has made a big difference in millions of people’s lives.

People in policy circles and the foundation world should know this. Too often it seems that the motto of the liberal Washington establishment types is “we have been losing for forty years, why change now?” The success of the Fed Up Coalition is a really good reason why they should change.

This column first appeared on Dean Baker’s Patreon page.

Maduro Gives Trump a Lesson in Ethics and Morality

Counterpunch - Tue, 2019-05-21 15:52

In clear violation of the Vienna Convention, the United States police entered by force, after 37 days of resistance, the premises that housed the Venezuelan Embassy and arrested the four activists protecting the diplomatic headquarters from the terrorist vandalism of the so-called “Venezuelan opposition.

“The Venezuelan government will respond to the invasion of its embassy in Washington within the framework of international law,” declared Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza. “Once again, Donald Trump’s administration has shown how much the truth hurts and has reacted with arrogance, in violation of international law.

The Bolivarian Minister of Foreign Affairs reported on Thursday, May 16, that his country is evaluating its response to the illegal invasion of its Embassy in the United States, although he advanced that this will be within the framework of international law and protected by the principles of reciprocity.

From his Twitter account, Arreaza had repudiated the illegal seizure of the diplomatic headquarters by the U.S. police on Thursday. He emphasized then that with this action Washington was not fulfilling its obligations under the Vienna Convention, to which the United States and Caracas are signatories.

The foreign minister said that by forcibly evicting the four activists who were inside the embassy with the authorization of the Venezuelan government, the U.S. security forces additionally violated their human rights. “The morale of these activists proved to be more powerful than the force of repression carried out by the dozens of armed police officers deployed by Washington,” Arreaza said.

Carlos Ron, Bolivarian vice-minister for North America, recalled in an improvised press conference that the only legitimate government of Venezuela did not authorize the entry of U.S. police forces into the building of what was its embassy in Washington, so the police irruption constitutes, according to the Vienna Convention, a flagrant violation of international law.

The Washington Metropolitan Police illegally entered the facilities of the Venezuelan embassy in that U.S. capital city, violating the immunity from jurisdiction of the diplomatic headquarters and the documents and archives that rest there.

This action by the United States sets a dangerous precedent, because it sends a message to the world about possible aggressions of this nature that threaten other diplomatic offices in the future.

Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the Code Pink movement for peace, on Thursday had denounced the entry into the facilities of the Venezuelan Embassy of the Metropolitan Police Department of Washington (MPD) to forcibly evict the activists stationed there. The activist and public health specialist warned that the police illegally broke into the diplomatic headquarters in an act that she described as a violation of international law.

“By breaking into the Venezuelan Embassy to illegally arrest the Embassy Protection Collective, the police violated the Vienna Convention and international law,” Medea Benjamin said through his Twitter account.

CodePink had assumed the defense of the Venezuelan diplomatic headquarters in the United States in support of democracy in the South American country violated by Donald Trump’s administration.

Last Friday, President Nicolás Maduro publicly acknowledged the group of activists defending the Venezuelan embassy in Washington, “who have faced the aggressions of a “sick right” and imperialist interference.

“I send a solidarity greeting, full of deep gratitude and admiration to the Protection Collective of our Embassy in Washington, who have bravely faced the aggressions of a sick rightist and a criminal empire,” the Bolivarian President declared in a message posted on his Twitter account.

Outside the Venezuelan embassy in Washington D.C., activists were present to support the collective in defense of the building, who were guarding it to demand that food be allowed in. The activists denounced that supporters of the opposition to the Venezuelan government maintained the siege of the building, preventing the entry of food and medicines, cutting off the electricity and water supply, all in collusion with the government of Donald Trump.

About 15 activists remained inside the compound since mid-April to prevent Carlos Vecchio, the “representative” of the self-proclaimed opposition deputy interim president, Juan Guaidó, from taking over the embassy.

A CubaNews translation by Walter Lippmann.


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