News for progressives

Big Oil calls for supply management to correct sinking crude prices

Rabble News - Mon, 2018-11-19 21:43
November 19, 2018EconomyPolitics in CanadaBig Oil calls for supply management to correct sinking crude pricesOn Tuesday, the president of Cenovus Energy Inc. called for temporary production cuts across the Canadian oil sector to push prices back up. It's all about supply and demand.
Categories: News for progressives

Khashoggi Part 2: A ‘reformer’…who was also a hysterical anti-Iran/Shia warmonger?

by Ramin Mazaheri for The Saker Blog I wouldn’t want readers to think that I egotistically view Jamal Khashoggi’s anti-Iran stance as his most important flaw…. Part two in this
Categories: News for progressives

Amazon Deal: New York Taxpayers Fund World Biggest Sex-Toy Retailer

Counterpunch - Mon, 2018-11-19 16:06

Photo Source James N. Mattis | CC BY 2.0

When was the last time you bought a vibrator, lubricant or specialty outfit?

For decades, shoppers for sex-related products and services were mostly men, often dubbed the “raincoat crowd,” who slinked into XXX-rated shops in a down-market part of town to purchase a risqué magazine, porn flick, a vibrator, a special costume or hookup with a sex worker.

Those days are over!

The commercial sex industry is now mainstream. Old-time sex toys have been rebranded “sex-wellness products” and are available at specialty outlets like Gotham’s Pleasure Chest, San Francisco’s Good Vibration and Seattle’s Babeland as well as major retailers, ranging from high-end specialty chains like Nordstrom and Brookstone, to mass-market outlets like Walgreens and Target, and even crusty down-market Wal-Mart.

But the big one is Amazon!  It’s the nation’s largest retailer of sex-wellness products offering around 60,000 items.

And its sex-toys business will become even bigger with the support of the New York taxpayer.

On Tuesday, November 13th, two New York “progressive” pols, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, announced the deal of the century – Amazon will place one of its two new corporate “headquarters” in the Big Apple; the other will be near Arlington, VA.  More than 230 cities competed to secure the Amazon deal.

Media reports reveal that Amazon will get about $3 billion – the state offered $1.525 billion and the city is giving $1.28 billion – in tax-payer bribes to locate its “HQ2” in Long Island City, a rapidly gentrifying Queens neighborhood across the East River from Manhattan.  The state and city bribes include tax breaks, construction grantsand even a private helipad for Amazon’s founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos, America’s richest person.

Chortling like two college students at a frat party drunk on their scam, Cuomo proclaimed that the deal “costs us nothing.” “This is a big money-maker for us — costs us nothing, nada, niente,” he added. “We make money doing this.”  de Blasio boasted, “It’s an extraordinary day for Queens. It’s something that everyone should be very proud of.” Amazon’s presence, he added, “is a giant step on our path to building an economy in New York City that leaves no one behind.”

The deal involves city land totaling up to 8 million square feet. Amazon will be required to provide space on its campus for a technology incubator, an artist space and a site for a city school. It calls for the state, city and Amazon to invest $5 million each for job-training programs.

The New York pols are singing the oldest chants of the bait-and-switch corporate love song – the bribe will deliver jobs and tax revenues.  Cuomo assured New Yorkers that the state and city will gain $27.5 billion in taxes over the next two decades — with $14 billion going to the state and $13.5 billion to the city. He assured state taxpayers that the deal will bring the city 25,000 permanent jobs with an average $150,000 salary.  He also claimed that the state will make $9 for every $1 in taxes forgone.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney and Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, Queens Democrats whose districts include Amazon’s new site, both appeared in support of the Amazon deal at Cuomo’s news conference Tuesday.

In response to the official press conference announcing the deal, 100 politicians, union organizers and community members gathered at the Gordan Triangle, a Long Island City park located down the block from Amazon’s future campus, to protest the proposed deal.  NY State Sen. Michael Gianaris raised a serious warning. “Think about how crazy this is: a private company forced the government to sign a secrecy agreement and not tell its own people what it’s doing with this money,” he said.

“We should be investing in academics, not Amazon,” said NY State Assembly member Michael Blake, who represents several Bronx neighborhoods and is the vice chair of the Democratic National Committee. “We were open to a conversation, but this wasn’t a conversation — this was a secret deal. If you can find the money for tax breaks and incentives, why can’t we find it for the kids? This was done in secrecy to evade the [review] process by the city council.”

Jimmy Van Bramer, a Democrat and a NY City Council member from the 26th District, which includes Astoria, Long Island City, Sunnyside and Woodside, called the deal “unfathomable.” “We are witness to a cynical game in which Amazon duped New York into offering unprecedented amounts of tax dollars to one of the wealthiest companies on Earth for a promise of jobs that would represent less than 3 percent of the jobs typically created in our city over a 10 year period,” he noted.

In a Tweet, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Representative-elect from the 14th Congressional district covering parts of Queens and the Bronx, warned, “The idea that [Amazon] will receive hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks at a time when our subway is crumbling and our communities need MORE investment, not less, is extremely concerning to residents here.”

One observer noted, “Since each job will pay about $150,000 a year, you can think of the subsidy package as roughly equivalent to forgoing nearly all the personal income tax that would be collected on Amazon workers’ salaries over the subsidy period — an expensive proposition.”

Hamilton Beach patented the first electric vibrator in 1902, about a decade before it introduced the electric iron and vacuum cleaner.

Nearly a century later, in 1998, the “Rabbit,” a vibrator, made its guest appearance on HBO’s series, Sex and the City, a show popular with young, sophisticated women. One of the show’s characters, Miranda, lends her Rabbit to Charlotte – and Charlotte gets hooked!  The show propelled the vibrator from the TV screen into the bedrooms of many hip, young women throughout the country.  The folks at HBO discoveredthe Rabbit at New York’s Pleasure Chest, a Greenwich Village sex-toy emporium serving mostly gay men and women.

Today Americans – especially women — have easy, unprecedented access to products and services that purport to fulfill their every sexual fantasy and are taking full advantage of these opportunities.  A 2010 Adam & Eve study found that 82 percent of adults use toys and that 44 percent of women 18 to 60 years have used a sex-enhancement product; in addition, 78 percent of those women were in a relationship when they used the product.

Armed with the relative anonymity of a credit card, a PC or smartphone and the Internet, sex has been mainstreamed.  Sex toys are a big business with U.S. revenues in 2016 estimated at $15 billion and projected to grow to $50 billion by 2020.

The generous brides by New York pols will bring Amazon to the city and, thanks to taxpayers, further the company’s control of the sex-toy market.

Categories: News for progressives

Art of the Smear: the Israel Lobby Busted

Counterpunch - Mon, 2018-11-19 16:05


In 2016 and 2017 Al Jazeera produced a program that unmistakenly documents the Israel government and U.S. Israel lobby’s all-out effort to spy on, smear, and disrupt American students and other activists who are working to build an understanding of the Palestinians’ plight. The Lobby — USA, however, has never been broadcast by Al Jazeera. Reporting indicates that it was suppressed after pressure from the lobby on the government of Qatar, which funds Al Jazeera. Nevertheless, it is now available at The Electronic Intifada and on YouTube. Watch all four parts here and here. What the program presents is shocking.

The Lobby — USA, which features an undercover journalist who won the trust of key pro-Israel operatives and who videoed revealing meetings, demonstrates beyond question the lengths to which the Israelis and their supporters in the United States will go to prevent a change in American thinking about the beleaguered Palestinians. The effort aims to smear Palestinian students in the United States and pro-Palestinian American activists and political candidates who criticize Israeli policy as anti-Semites and enablers of terrorism. The paid pro-Israel operatives, guided by Israeli government officials and embassy staff, have used social media and other channels in an attempt to destroy the career potential of student activists who work to raise Americans’ consciousness about the Palestinians. Establishment news operations, such as the Washington Post, are also implicated. Major targets are activists in the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) Movement and Students for Justice in Palestine.

Al Jazeera produced a similar program about Israeli interference in British politics, which led to resignations of a key Israeli embassy official and other reactions that confirmed Al Jazeera’s damaging charges.

I could not do justice to the program even in a long article. Instead, I will urge readers to watch it in its entirety — and think carefully about what it means.

As one critic of Israel asks on the program, if Russia or Iran or China were doing what Israel and its American friends are doing, most people would be outraged. This is hardly the first time that Israel and friends have been caught covertly and overtly trying to influence discourse and even elections here through smear campaigns against activists, writers, and political candidates, but this is certainly among the most flagrant and elaborate examples.

Let’s step back from the poisonous trees for a moment to view the forest. In 1948 the leaders of a European and nominally Jewish movement, Zionism, unilaterally declared the existence of the State of Israel, which they proclaimed the nation-state of all Jews everywhere, a status recently reaffirmed by the Israeli Knesset. (The UN General Assembly recommended partitioning Palestine into a larger Jewish state and a smaller Palestinian state, but it had no power to actually create the state of Israel.)

It so happened this state was built on land taken by force from the long-standing majority indigenous Palestinian population, most of which was Muslim and Christian. Hundreds were massacred, three-quarters of a million were driven from their homes, and the remainder were subjected to martial law for two decades, before being given third-class citizenship with no power to improve their legal status. (Arab nations half-heartedly tried to assist the overwhelmed Palestinians, although the king of Jordan worked with Israel to divide the spoils.) Almost 20 years later, the rest of Palestine was taken through warfare, producing what are known as the occupied territories in the West Bank, with its apartheid-like regime, and the Gaza Strip, which is nothing more than an open-air prison under a cruel Israeli blockade.

Why? Because a “Jewish State” could not be realized if it were populated by non-Jews. And if some non-Jews remained, the state could not be a liberal democratic state, with equality under the law, for obvious reasons. All this was aided from the start by European Christians who, apparently guilt-ridden over how the Jews of Europe had been tyrannized, culminating in the Nazi genocide, opted to assuage their guilt with the land, blood, and liberty of the innocent people of Palestine, long the plaything of colonial powers.

Since that time, Israel has repressed the Palestinians in a variety of ways, depending on whether they are in the state as it existed in 1949; the West Bank, which was seized during the June 1967 war; or the Gaza Strip (also called the Gaza Ghetto), also seized in that war. Meanwhile, millions of refugees — people (and descendants of people) driven from their homes by Zionism’s terrorist militias, have been confined to refugee camps, stateless, rightless, and destitute. At various time, Israel, with America’s backing, has cut deals with Arab states and Palestinian quislings for the purpose of keeping the Palestinians from winning their rights either in a single secular democratic state or through a two-state plan. Western political and media establishments have overwhelmingly sympathized with the Israelis and demonized the Palestinians (and Arabs and Muslims generally). It didn’t take long for the public to be propagandized, against all evidence, into believing that the Palestinians are the aggressors and the Israelis the victims. Apparently, a person is anti-Semitic if he objects to having his property stolen by someone who claims that property in the name of the Jewish People.

But after so many decades of Israeli wars, massacres, repression, and routine brutal dehumanization, the tide has started to turn. Israel pulverized Gaza and its people one too many times; it shot and broke the bones of too many children before too many video cameras. And so public opinion, especially among younger Americans — and particularly among younger Jewish Americans, has been turning against Israel. Then the BDS Movement arose to accomplish what a similar movement help to accomplish against apartheid South Africa: bringing world attention to an intolerable situation and take concrete steps to change it.

All of this has been too much for Israel’s ruling elite and its supporters in the United States, Great Britain, and elsewhere, and they are fighting back. They know they can’t win on the merits. Well-documented historical studies and basic morality have seen to that. So they smear their opponents as Jew-haters and supporters of terrorism. As one Israel lobby operator puts it in the Al Jazeera program, you discredit the message by discrediting the messenger — which is what The Israel Project, Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Israel on Campus Coalition, Canary Mission, Emergency Committee on Israel, Israeli Embassy in Washington, Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs, and the other co-conspirators have set out to do. Their goal, as their leaders themselves acknowledge, is to identify criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. (Also see this.)

But it goes beyond that. The Israel lobby realizes that the anti-Semitism charge no long sticks so tenaciously to people who merely indict Israel for its obvious mistreatment of the Palestinians. So the lobby has resorted to a broader brush: it says that those who support BDS and the Palestinians are anti-American, anti-democracy, and anti-all-blessed-things. BDS and Students for Justice in Palestine, the lobby contends, are hate groups. This of course is patently absurd, but Israel’s side observes no limits it what it is willing to say and perhaps do to destroy the reputations anyone who realizes that the Israeli emperor has clothes.

Al Jazeera, the Electronic Intifada, Max Blumenthal’s The Gray Zone Project, and others have performed a much-needed service on behalf of freedom, justice, and decency. I urge you to watch this program and spread the word.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Why Trump is Wrong About the California Wildfires

Counterpunch - Mon, 2018-11-19 16:00

Photo Source U.S. Department of Agriculture | CC BY 2.0

With the shocking loss of thousands of homes and dozens of lives in the Camp and Woolsey fires in Northern and Southern California, people are looking for answers as they try to understand how a tragedy such as this can be prevented in the future.

As people struggled to evacuate, President Donald Trump in a tweet blamed the fires on poor forest management and repeated the claims before his visit to California. While Trump did not explicitly call for an expansion of logging in his latest response, he has previously touted this strategy as a way to curb fires. Meanwhile, the federal government is moving to allow commercial logging in areas such as the Los Padres National Forest outside Santa Barbara, claiming it will prevent fires. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has also blamed “environmental terrorist groups” for preventing the government from properly managing forests.

It is deeply troubling that Trump and his administration would support logging as a way to curb fires when studies have shown it’s ineffective. In the most comprehensive scientific analysis conducted on the issue of forest management and fire intensity — which looked at more than 1,500 fires on tens of millions of acres across the Western United States over three decades — we found that forests with the fewest environmental protections and the most logging actually tend to burn much more intensely, not less.

This may seem counterintuitive, but logging leaves behind combustible twigs and branches on the forest floor, which can make fires spread faster. It also reduces the cooling shade of the forest canopy, which creates hotter and drier conditions, and the invasive weeds that take over readily burn. Denser forests buffer and reduce the winds that drive wildland fires, but this effect is largely eliminated by logging.

The fact is that Northern California’s Butte County, which has been ravaged by the Camp Fire, had been heavily logged in previous years. In the area immediately to the east of Paradise, dead trees had been extensively logged and removed on both private and public lands, and commercial “thinning” operations had been conducted across large expanses of the nearby Plumas National Forest, supposedly to protect nearby towns from wildland fire.

But the Camp Fire burned through these heavily logged areas rapidly, leaving residents of Paradise and the surrounding towns with far too little time to evacuate.

Trump’s call for increased logging also creates a dangerous and false sense of security. When politicians and federal land managers claim the latest commercial logging project will protect residential areas from encroaching wildland fires, people may not see the need to fireproof their homes.

The way forward to protect communities from wildland fire is not through the stump fields that Trump would like to create on our national forests and other forestland. It is through a purposeful and concerted focus on the communities themselves. We must help the residents living near wildlands make their homes fire-safe.

This involves basic precautions such as fire-resistant roofing, ember-proof exterior vents to prevent the wind from blowing firebrands into attic spaces, and rain gutter guards to keep dry leaves and needles from accumulating. Residents should also maintain their “defensible space,” or areas within 100 feet of their homes, by pruning branches, small trees, shrubs and grasses at least once every year. This is the only type of “thinning” that will effectively protect homes.

In fact, when these steps are taken, and when homeowners are given the information and assistance they need, the great majority of homes survive even large wildland fires.

There is more that can be done, too. We must create and fund programs to ensure rapid and reliable warning as well as evacuation assistance for people and animals in particularly vulnerable areas. More should also be done to prevent unplanned human ignitions during extreme fire weather, with more rangers and law enforcement officers to stop illegal fireworks and campfires. Some power lines should be moved underground, while others should be shut down during extreme fire weather.

But none of this is possible if we continue operating with outdated and misinformed fire management policies focused on suppressing backcountry fires and increasing logging. We need a 21st-century approach that simultaneously protects residents while preserving these rich ecosystems.

As a society we have a choice to make here. We can listen to voices promoting the politics of fear and opportunism, or we can pay attention to the science and prioritize community safety. Lives and homes hang in the balance of that decision.

This column originally appeared on CNN Opinion.

Categories: News for progressives

Will Progressives Ever Think About How We Structure Markets, Instead of Accepting them as Given?

Counterpunch - Mon, 2018-11-19 15:57

Photo Source Lord Jim | CC BY 2.0

The right would like us to believe that the inequality we see in the United States, and increasingly in other countries, is a natural outcome of market processes. Unfortunately, many on the left seem to largely share this view, with the proviso that they would like the government to alter market outcomes, either with tax and transfer policy, or with interventions like a higher minimum wage.

While redistributive tax and transfer policies are desirable, as is a decent minimum wage, it is an incredible mistake to not recognize that the upward redistribution of the last four decades was brought about by conscious policy, not any sort of natural process of globalization and technology. Not recognizing this fact is an enormous mistake from both the standpoint of policy and politics.

From the policy standpoint, we give up a huge amount by not examining the policies that have caused before-tax income to be redistributed upward. As a practical matter, it is much easier to prevent all the money from going to the top in the first place than trying to tax it back after the fact.

On the political side, we should never have our argument be that somehow the big problem is that the Bill Gates of the world were too successful. The big problem is that we have badly structured the rules of the market so that we gave Bill Gates too much money. With different rules, he would not be one of the world’s richest people even if he had worked just as hard.

Since we’re on the topic of Bill Gates, patent and copyright rules are a good place to start. For some reason, it is difficult to get people to accept an obvious truth: there is a huge amount of money at stake with these rules. By my calculations, patent and copyright monopolies could well direct more than $1 trillion a year, a sum that is more than 60 percent of after-tax corporate profits.

The most visible place where these government-granted monopolies have a large effect is with prescription drugs. We will spend close to $440 billion (2.2 percent of GDP) this year on prescription drugs. If these drugs were sold in a free market without patents or related protections they would likely sell for less than $80 billion. The difference of $360 billion is roughly five times annual spending on SNAP.

The basic story here is that drugs are almost invariably cheap to manufacture. Like aspirin, the vast majority of drugs would sell for $10 or $15 per prescription. It is only because the government gives drug companies patent monopolies that drugs are expensive. We now have an absurd debate where the people who want to bring down drug prices are accused of interfering in the market. That is 180 degrees at odds with reality. The people who want to keep prices high want to maximize the value of their government-granted monopolies.

In this case, the effect of changes in policy is easy to see. In 1980, Congress passed the Bayh–Dole Act which made it possible for companies to get patent rights to government-sponsored research. As a result, spending on prescription drugs, which had hovered near 0.4 percent of GDP for two decades, began to explode.

We can argue the merits of the Bayh–Dole Act. Surely it did increase private spending on research and led to the development of new drugs, but the fact that we give more money to drug companies because of this intervention in the market is not debatable. This is a huge amount of money, with enormous consequences for public health, as well as income distribution, but almost no economists ever raise the issue.

The same story applies to patent and copyrights more generally. How much profit would Microsoft make if anyone anywhere in the world could make tens of millions of computers with Windows software and not even send them a thank you note? How much money would Disney make if all its movies could be instantly transmitted over the web and shown everywhere without them getting a penny?

We could tell the same story about medical equipment. Imagine the latest medical scanning device selling for tens of thousands of dollars instead of millions. Companies that make fertilizers, pesticides, and genetically modified seeds, all depend in a very fundamental way on their government-granted patent monopolies.

Patent and copyright monopolies do serve the purpose of providing incentives to innovate and do creative work. But there are other possible mechanisms for funding, the $37 billion a year the government gives to the National Institutes of Health is one obvious example (see Rigged, Chapter 5 for a fuller discussion [it’s free]). Even if we do decide that patent and copyright monopolies are the best mechanism, we can always make them shorter and weaker, reversing the course of longer and stronger that we have pursued over the last four decades.

This simple and undeniable point (we can alter the rules on patents and copyrights) is almost completely absent from debates on inequality, with very few exceptions. (Joe Stiglitz raises this issue frequently, see also The Captured Economy, by Brink Lindsey and Steve Teles.) These rules are very much at the heart of the upward redistribution of the last four decades.

It is not only the Bill Gates and other tech billionaires who owe their enormous wealth to these government-granted monopolies, the whole idea of an economy that places a high demand on computer, math, and other technical skills depends on our rules on patents and copyrights. With weaker rules, the demand for computer scientists and bioengineers would be much less, as would their pay.

It is incredible that so many economists and policy-types who work on inequality could somehow manage to avoid discussing intellectual property rules. We can speculate on the reasons for this neglect.

In some cases, liberal funders owe their wealth to these government-granted monopolies and are not interested in calling them into question. We once had a program officer at the Gates Foundation tell us unambiguously that they don’t talk about patents because of the source of wealth of their funder.

Thinking about how policy led to upward redistribution can also be upsetting to many liberals’ worldview. Many view themselves as people who have done well in the market economy but feel that they should share some of what they have earned with the less fortunate. The argument that they didn’t just happen to do well, but had the benefit of government policy designed to give them money (and to take it from the less fortunate), very fundamentally changes the picture.

Apart from these motives, there is the obvious truth that inertia in an incredibly powerful force in policy debates. As the saying goes, intellectuals have a hard time dealing with new ideas.

In any case, progressives miss a huge part of the story of upward redistribution when they fail to discuss rules on intellectual property. The importance of these rules is virtually certain to increase in coming years. Economists and policy-types who ignore them are not doing their jobs. I know I keep beating on this point, but it’s important. I will have more pieces in future weeks on other ways the government structures the market to hand more money to the rich, but patent and copyright monopolies are so big and so obvious, that it is incredible that they are not the center of discussions of inequality.

This essay originally appeared on Dean Baker’s blog.

Categories: News for progressives

We Remember the Great War, While Palestinians Live It

Counterpunch - Mon, 2018-11-19 15:57

Photo Source Jordi Bernabeu Farrús | CC BY 2.0

There was something gruesomely familiar about the way we commemorated the supposed end of the First World War a hundred years ago. Not just the waterfalls of poppies and the familiar names – Mons, the Somme, Ypres, Verdun – but the almost total silence about all those who died in the First World War, whose eyes were not as blue as ours might be or whose skin was not as pink as ours might be or whose suffering continues from the Great War to this very day.

Even those Sunday supplements that dared stray from the western front only briefly touched on the after-effects of the war in the new Poland, the new Czechoslovakia, the new Yugoslavia and Bolshevik Russia, with a mention of Turkey. The mass famine – perhaps 1.6 million dead – of the Arabs of the Levant under Turkish looting and Allied blockade in the First World War received not a word. Even more astoundingly, I could find not a single reference to the greatest crime against humanity of the First World War – not the murder of Belgian hostages by German troops in 1914, but the Armenian genocide of a million and a half Christian civilians in 1915 by Germany’s Ottoman Turkish ally.

What happened to that key document of the First World War in the Middle East, the 1917 Balfour Declaration which promised a homeland for Jews in Palestine and doomed the Palestinian Arabs (a majority in Palestine at the time) to what I call refugeedom? Or the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement which chopped up the Middle East and betrayed the promise of Arab independence? Or General Allenby’s advance on Jerusalem during which – forgotten now by our beloved commentators – he initiated the first use of gas in the Middle East. So smitten are we by the savagery of modern Syrian and Iraqi history, that we forget – or do not know – that Allenby’s men fired gas shells at the Turkish army in Gaza. Of all places. But gas in the collective memory last weekend was confined, yet again, to the Western Front.

First World War Allied war cemeteries in both the Middle East and Europe contain tens of thousands of Muslim graves – Algerians, Moroccans, Indians – yet I did not see a photograph of one of them. Nor of the Chinese labourers who died on the Western Front carrying shells for British troops – nor the African soldiers who fought and died for France on the Somme. Only in France, it seems did President Macron remember this salient feature of the conflict, as well he should. For more than 30,000 men from the Comoros, Senegal, the Congo, Somalia, Guinea and Benin died in the Great War.

There used to be a monument to them in Rheims. But the Germans launched a ferocious racist attack on black French troops who participated in the post-First World War occupation of Germany for raping German women and for “endangering the future of the German race”. All untrue, of course, but by the time Hitler’s legions reinvaded France in 1940, the Nazi propaganda against these same men had done its work. Well over 2,000 black French troops were massacred by the Wehrmacht in 1940; the monument was destroyed. It has just been reconstructed – and reopened in time for the hundredth anniversary of the Armistice.

Then there are the sepulchral ironies of the dead. Of the 4,000 Moroccan troops – all Muslims – sent to the Battle of the Marne in 1914, only 800 survived. Others died at Verdun. Of General Hubert Lyautey’s 45,000 Moroccan soldiers, 12,000 had been killed by 1918. It took the little French magazine Jeune Afrique to note that the graves of many of the Moroccan dead are today still marked with the star and crescent of the Turkish Ottoman caliphate. But the Moroccans, though notionally inhabitants of the Ottoman empire, were fighting for France against Turkey’s German allies. The star and crescent have never been the official symbol of Muslims. In any event, Moroccans had by the Great War already got their own flag.

But of course, the real symbols of the First World War and its continuing and bloody results are in the Middle East. The conflicts in the region – in Syria, Iraq, in Israel and Gaza and the West Bank and in the Gulf – can mostly trace their genesis to our titanic Great War. Sykes-Picot divided the Arabs. The war – only days after the Gallipoli landings – enabled the Turks to destroy their Christian Armenian minority. The Nazis, by the way, loved Mustafa Kemal Ataturk because he had “cleansed” his minorities. When Ataturk died, the party newspaper Volkischer Beobachter edged its front page in black. The division of Lebanon and Syria and their sectarian systems of administration were invented by the French after they secured the post-war mandate for governing the Levant. The post-First World War Iraqi uprising against British rule was partly fuelled by disgust at the Balfour Declaration.

Mischievously, I delved into my late dad’s library of old history books – he of the Great War, Third Battle of the Somme, 1918 – and found Winston Churchill, with rage and sorrow, writing about the “holocaust” of the Armenians (he actually used that word) but he could not see the Arab world’s future even in his four-volume The Great War of 1935. His only disquisition on the smouldering ex-Ottoman empire came in a two-page appendix on page 1,647. It was entitled: “A Memorandum upon the Pacification of the Middle East”.

As for the Palestinians who wake up every morning today in the dust and filth of the camps of Nahr el-Bared, Ein el-Helwe or Sabra and Chatila in Lebanon, Balfour’s pen scratched his signature on this document of dispossession not in 1915, but only last night. For these refugees, still in their hovels and shacks as you read these words, the First World War never ended – not even now, today, on the hundredth anniversary of the “end” of the First World War.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Pelosi’s Deceptive Plan: Blocking any Tax Rise Could Rule Out Medicare-for-All and Bolstering Social Security

Counterpunch - Mon, 2018-11-19 15:57

Photo Source Global Climate Action Sum | CC BY 2.0

In the surreal alternative reality world of the US Congress, there are many bills passed each year that on the surface may sound like good ideas — they even give them high-sounding names like the US PATRIOT ACT or Better Care and Reconciliation Act, that in fact are the opposite of what they claim to be (the former actually being an unpatriotic undermining of the Bill of Rights and the latter actually being an unsuccessful attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act (itself a deceptively named bill that forced middle-income families to buy hugely expensive insurance plans or pay a tax penalty).

But few of these deceptions are as egregious as one being pushed by embattled incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who is advocating a bill that would require any legislation that would raise taxes on incomes in the bottom 80% to be passed with a 60% majority of the House.

That bill, while promoted by Pelosi as protecting the middle class from future tax rises, actually would make impossible passage of any bill expanding Medicare to cover all Americans, creating a kind of Canadian-model national health system, and might even prevent efforts to strengthen and improve Social Security benefits as called for by progressive Democrats.

The thing is, a broad majority of Americans, including many Republicans, and an overwhelming majority of Democrats, favor Medicare-for-All, a program that would extend and expand Medicare coverage making it a government insurance plan for covering all medical care for all Americans of any age — exactly what Canadians have had since 1971, and which they have overwhelmingly supported through both Liberal and Conservative governments since then.

And to fund such a program, Medicare taxes (currently 1.45% for worker and employer) would of course have to be significantly raised. But what conservative and even so-called “moderate” Democrats who oppose Medicare-for-All deliberately don’t say in criticizing the idea as a tax-increasing horror is that it would eliminate the need to pay insurance premiums for all people and also for employers, that it would eliminate the need to spend $140 billion a year or more on a Veterans Administration bureaucracy to care for military veterans, that it would eliminate Medicaid, the program that provides care for the poor and which currently costs over $600 billion a year in federal and state tax dollars, that it would end “charity care” which is the “free care” hospitals have to provide to ER patients who have to be treated if they have no other funding and don’t qualify for Medicaid — care which ends up raising private insurance premiums for those who do have insurance, and that would even lower car insurance premiums, since these would no longer have to pay for hospital care caused by accidents.

The lie here is that raising taxes on everyone to fund Medicare-for-All could in the end massively reduce health care costs for everyone in society, while also ensuring that nobody was without full access to fully funded health care. It’s what Americans want, poll after poll shows, even given all the propagada and lies about it, but Congress, including Democrats, are so anxious to keep receiving huge amounts of money from the Medical Industrial Complex, that they are loath to support a program that would cut out the private insurance industry, force the drug and hospital industry and physicians to receive negotiated payments reached with the government instead of charging whatever they want in a “market” that doesn’t really permit genuine consumer choice and competition.

As for Social Security, which badly needs an influx of new funds before 2034 when the current level of employee and employer payroll taxation (6.2% for employee and employer) will only cover some 78% of promised benefit payments. Any fix would inevitably involve some increased rate of payroll taxation on at least some people in higher income brackets, probably within that bottom 80% category in the proposed legislation supported Speaker Pelosi and many of her Democratic caucus.

Congress must at least present this issue honestly. Legislation in Congress should be considered on its merits, not constrained by artificial measures. In the kind of closely divided government we now have, requiring 60% support for passage of tax-impacting bills would block much critically important progressive legislation, for example on dealing with climate change. Meanwhile, it should also be clearly understood that Medicare-for-All type health care reform or for bolstering and improving Social Security, would not involve income taxes, but rather two dedicated payroll taxes on employees and employers — the FICA tax and the Medicare tax, which are currently 6.2% and 1.45% for individual taxpayers.  Any reforming of those two programs would require changes in the amount of payroll taxation paid by employees and employers, but Pelosi has not exampted those taxes from her proposed bill.

The other real problem with establishing a super-majority rule for passing measures that would raise taxes on lower-income Americans is that majorities of both parties are so consistently ready to support increased funding for the US military and to underwrite insanely expensive and destructive militaristic policies abroad including the endless wars launched since 2001 that have run up a bill so far of $5.9 trillion and counting, that Pentagon spending bills would have no trouble meeting the 60% vote threshold to pass military spending bills. Meanwhile more important legislation, such as passing Medicare-for-All, or climate change-combating legislation, or increased education support measures, etc., would not get 60% support and thus would just never pass.

Now that Democrats have won control of one house of Congress, we are already starting to see how flawed and disingenuous a bunch of people they really are. It’s not a pretty sight.

Categories: News for progressives

What Can We Expect From the Democrat “Alternative” in California?

Counterpunch - Mon, 2018-11-19 15:56

Will the victories of the Democrats in 2018 be the beginning of a brighter and more hopeful period?  One might have doubts given that large majorities  of Democrats in both the House and Senate recently voted for a defense budget that is more than $80 billion higher than the previous one, and higher than what was requested by the Trump regime.

Looking at what Democrats do when they are in power, as they have been in California during the last eight years, might reveal what they will do if they gain control of Congress and the Presidency in 2020. Since 2011, the Democrats have had close to total dominance of California’s politics–holding every executive office and having large majorities in both houses of its state legislature, a time when a simple majority vote in each body is needed to pass the state budget. Have California Democrats robustly funded public education, an issue presumably dear to the heart of supporters of the Democrats? No.

Among all states, in 2015-16, California ranked 41stin spending per K-12 student, 37thin spending as a share of the economy, and had the highest number of students per teacher in the nation.[1]

This is happening in a state that has been experiencing economic growth, and whose voters passed a tax bill in 2012 that was renewed in 2016 that the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) claims is raising some $6 billion annually for public education and is supposedly preventing a “return to austerity.”[2]    Furthermore, according to the former communications director of the CFT, this is a state that has “relatively strong education unions,” something that Democrats presumably support.[3]

As the table below shows, funding for public education as a percent of the state budget has remained below where it was during Republican Schwarzenegger’s last four years as governor, a period that included the great recession. For fiscal year 2011-2012, the first budget passed when Brown was governor, spending on education dropped more than $2.5 billion to 36.2% despite the size of the state budget increasing from the previous year. It reached a low point of 34.3% in fiscal year 2012-13.  Since then, the percentage of education spending has been higher each year before abruptly declining in 2018-19.

While the total amount of money for education has gone up each fiscal year after   Brown’s first year in office, the real amount spent has been eroded by inflation which has averaged about 2% a year.  Additionally, the actual K-12 budgets have been further diminished by the increased amounts taken from the budget to finance the State Teacher’s Retirement System (CALSTRS).

Soon after Brown came to power as governor, what was labelled a crisis in CALSTRS was supposedly addressed by taking more money from schools and teachers to give to CALSTRS.  It resulted in most teachers being hit with a 2.25% pay cut as the deduction from their pay for CALSTRS that was 8% before July 2014 increased to 10.25% starting in July 2016

More significantly, schools must send an increasing amount of funds that match the pay of employees to CALSTRS.  The matching percent has gone from 8.25% of teachers pay to 16.28% starting in July 2018 and is set to reach 19.1% beginning in July 2020.[6]  This means that much of the recent increase in education funding ends up going into the retirement system (where it is invested into stocks and other financial instruments.)  From 2014 to 2017, the employer contribution to CALSTRS went from $2.27 to $4.17 billion while the state contribution went from $1.38 billion to $2.48 billion.[7] Adding both together means that almost $3 billion more of the money budgeted for education was sent to CALSTRS in 2017 than in 2014.

More money could be made available for public education. However, a bigger priority for the state Democrats has been to increase the budget for prisons.  The budget item called Corrections and Rehabilitation went up by some two-thirds in a matter of six years when it increased from a little less than $9 billion in 2012-13 to $15 billion in 2018-2019.[8]

More money could be raised to properly fund public education and (to address the state’s massive housing crisis.)  An estate tax in California could be re-established as well as ending tax breaks that benefit the wealthy such as no taxes being imposed on their excessive wealth.

The state legislature needs a two-thirds majority to raise taxes, but despite the Democrats occasionally having such majorities in both houses of the state legislature during the last eight years, they have failed to reform Prop 13 that has for too many years resulted in corporations paying low property tax bills.  The legislature has also failed to enact legislation that would result in taxing gas and oil production at the rate that is done in Texas. This failure leaves California with the dubious distinction of being “the only major oil-producing state that doesn’t tax the goo as it’s pumped from the earth. Yes, high-tax California,”[9] a state that is supposedly a leader in the fight against global warming and the burning of fossil fuels.

Given the Democrats recent record in California when they have been in power, their gaining greater power nationally in 2020 might end up disappointing many people who are hoping for a better world that tackles our serious problems that increasingly threaten the well-being of human beings.

Notes.

[1] Kaplan, Jonathan  California’s Support for K-12 Education is Improving, but Still Lags the Nation, January 2017 at

https://calbudgetcenter.org/resources/californias-support-k-12-education-improving-still-lags-nation/

[2] See CFT publication California Teacher April-May 2018 pgs. 2, 13, 14 at http://cft.org/californiateacher/141-news-publications/newsletters/cal-teacher/1579-california-teacher-april-may-2018.html  The pay of many teachers has not been keeping up with increases in the cost of living.

[3] Glass, Fred, United Effort of Striking Teachers and Parents Can Raise Pay, School Quality,  San Francisco Chronicle, 4/14/2018   https://www.sfchronicle.com/opinion/openforum/article/A-united-effort-of-striking-teachers-and-parents-12833521.php

[4] The true amount of money going to public education is less that what the table shows.  Some of it now ends up in charter schools that, as of 2017-2018, enrolledover 620,000 students.

[5] http://www.ebudget.ca.gov/home.php?   Go to select budget year and click enacted budget detail

[6] https://www.calstrs.com/calstrs-funding-plan

[7] https://www.calstrs.com/sites/main/files/file-attachments/cafr2017.pdfpage 31  and   https://www.calstrs.com/sites/main/files/file-attachments/cafr2015.pdf     page 30

[8] See footnote 3

[9] Skelton, George,  The time is ripe for a tax on oil extraction to pay for California road  repairs,  LA Times, 9/16/15

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: News for progressives

Trump, World War I and the Lessons of Poetry

Counterpunch - Mon, 2018-11-19 15:52

This Latin inscription is carved on various war memorials, including the Arlington Memorial Amphitheater:

DULCE ET DECORUM EST PRO PATRIA MORI

The words come from one of the Odes of the ancient Roman poet Horace:

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori:
mors et fugacem persequitur virum
nec parcit inbellis iuventae
poplitibus timidoque tergo.

In plain English: How sweet and honorable it is to die for one’s country: death pursues the man who flees, spares not the hamstrings or cowardly backs of battle-shy youths.

Poets are all too human, and some of them are moral and political imbeciles. Some poets, however, are so deeply troubled by their times that that they both extend and challenge the culture they inherit. There were at least a dozen fine English poets during World War One, and some of them died in trenches and on battlefields.

Rupert Brooke, known as much for his beauty as his talent at that time, did not die in battle but on his way to battle. Virginia Woolf thought he had some sterling personal qualities. He was one of the late voices of the English Romantic tradition, though in a restricted and genteel register. There was never a trace of class consciousness in Brooke, except in the British manner from the top down. He was progressive in the sense that he would swim naked in English rivers. His most famous poem is titled The Soldier, a sonnet that opens with these lines:

If I should die, think only this of me;
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England.

Brooke died of blood poisoning from an insect bite. His body was taken from a military hospital ship and was buried on the Greek island of Skyros under a rock cairn. A later tomb was inscribed with this sonnet. His fellow officers went on to join the campaign at Gallipoli. I have a chapbook of Brooke’s “Nineteen Fourteen” war sonnets published shortly after his death, with a preface by Henry James, and these poems reflect both Brooke’s own idealism and the mood of early optimism in England that the war would to end all wars would not last long and would end in unalloyed glory. On Easter Day of 1915, the dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London read aloud The Soldier to his congregation.

Brooke died three weeks later. Winston Churchill wrote a memorial column for the London Times praising Brooke’s “classic symmetry of mind and body,” and added: “He was all that one would wish England’s noblest sons to be in days when no sacrifice but the most precious is acceptable.” The British press largely censored the full horror that would soon unfold, until the worst battles and the mounting deaths could not get the full cosmetic treatment. Indeed, the Gallipoli campaign did not achieve its aims but cost so many lives that the public grew restless. This became known as The Great War, especially in Europe and most especially among the British Commonwealth nations. We tend to forget that the word great included the meaning of enormity, and the best English poets who endured battle were honest about the actual monstrosity of the trenches and mass slaughter.

One of the great histories of that war is Paul Fussell’s book The Great War and Modern Memory, and Fussell quite rightly wrote a t length on the lives and works of these poets. As Fussell noted, many British soldiers of all classes carried The Oxford Book of English Verse in their kits. And many really read the poems, because cheap printing and mass education had made a difference, and poetry was still widely enjoyed. Radio and movies were not yet the force they would soon become in conveying information and entertainment. And state propaganda, of course. Fussell also honestly explored the homoerotic ambience of much wartime comradeship. Some of these wartime poets were sexually ambiguous in their lives, including Owen, who showed no romantic interest in women. Rupert Brooke suffered one nervous breakdown, in part because he was troubled by his own sexuality, falling in love with a woman but also attracted to men.

Wilfred Owen only had a few poems published during his life and so he had nothing like Brooke’s fame at that time. In a trench in France, Owen had endured heavy bombardment, with the dismembered body of a friend and fellow officer nearby, and he had emerged unsteady on his feet. During 1917, he was allowed a brief period of recuperation from shell-shock at Craiglockhart Hospital in Edinburgh, where he wrote some of his best poems, including Dulce Et Decorum Est. Owen went back to the frontline and was killed on November 4, 1918. His parents received news of his death on Armistice Day.

At Craiglockhart Hospital, Owen had met another fine enlisted poet, Siegfried Sassoon, who encouraged his work. Sassoon survived the war, despite being shot through the head, and arranged a posthumous publication of Owen’s poetry. The reading public was readier for his work after the war ended, and he had an immediate influence on the English poets of the 1930s. Among the English “war poets” of his generation, Owen is now widely regarded as the best of them all. Certainly among the most class conscious, but also the most distinct in his advancing poetic craft. His best poems do not just show promise but high and striking achievement. Owen had written a preface for his war poems in which he stated his aims:

This book is not about heroes. English poetry is not yet fit to speak of them.

Nor is it about deeds, or lands, nor anything about glory, honour, might, majesty, dominion, or power, except War.

Above all I am not concerned with Poetry.

My subject is War, and the pity of War.

The Poetry is in the pity.

Owen fully intended to oppose a war in which he served and died as an officer, by all accounts with real courage and with warm respect from soldiers. He thought his voice as a former combatant would count more if he could survive to be a civilian again. In Dulce Et Decorum Est, Owen described a marching troop of exhausted soldiers who are surrounded by phosgene gas. Nothing quite like these lines had been written until Owen wrote them:   

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . .

Not quite the cup of tea for Churchill or the dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral. The same poem ends with these lines:

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

No exact count of deaths related to World War One is possible (or indeed any exact count of deaths in any large war). But here is an estimate that tallies with current scholarship: “The total number of deaths includes from 9 to 11 million military personnel. The civilian death toll was about 8 million, including about 6 million due to war-related famine and disease.”

(Source:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_I_casualties)

President Trump recently joined other state leaders in commemorating World War One at ceremonies in France. President Macron of France gave a speech declaring that nationalism is the opposite of patriotism. Except, of course, when nations are mobilized for war, and then the distinction often becomes a distinction without a difference.

Macron had suggested earlier that Marshal Petain, who had been among the leading French commanders during World War One, should be honored at the 100thanniversary memorial. Macron said history is complicated. So it is. There was an immediate public uproar, not least from French Jews who recall how the Vichy Regime led by Petain during World War Two was in full collaboration with the Nazi invaders, and rounded up French Jews for deportation and slaughter. Indeed, there is a photo of Petain and Hitler shaking hands and smiling. Petain considered himself both a nationalist and a patriot. De Gaulle at least had enough decency to be a nationalist and a patriot in exile, certainly not an active member of the French Resistance within France (much less of the left wing of that resistance), before he returned later to become head of state. Under great pressure, Macron spun on his heels and reversed himself.

Trump, who knows as much about history as he does about economics (namely, whatever his chosen inner circle tells him), graduated from the undergrad branch of Penn’s Wharton School of Finance. Howwe can only guess. But using plenty of his dad’s money, he began buying buildings in Philly while still a student, and was already bragging that he would become real estate royalty in New York. Trump never tires of telling his audiences that getting into Wharton is proof positive of his zooming intellect. And also that he’s really a self-made man. Well, that’s the art of his political deal, which others might simply call lying. He got a deferment from active service in the Vietnam War (which the Vietnamese more justly call the American War) because, by his own account, he had bone spurs in one foot. He could not later recall which foot that had been.

As reported recently in The Washington Post, “Early Saturday, the White House announced Trump and the first lady had scuttled plans, because of bad weather, for their first stop in the weekend’s remembrance activities—a visit to the solemn Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, marking the ferocious Battle of Belleau Wood.”

Yes, the Commander-in-Chief could not face the wind and the rain to stand among so very many dead soldiers. Whatever we may think of warring states, or of various defenses of just wars (whether from Thomas Aquinas or current politicians), surely the whole point of the commemoration was at least to remember and mourn. Is Trump capable either of such memory or of such mourning? Not if he can be so inconvenienced by the weather.

On November 10, Slate published Matthew Dessem’s up to date rewrite of Wilfred Owen’s poem, under the same title of Dulce Et Decorum Est. A sly spin on Owen’s poem, of course, but also a sideways tribute, since Dessem took pains to follow the lines and rhyme scheme of the original. And a good deal of Owen’s aghast sensibility is conveyed even in this satire, as these passages show:

Rain! RAIN! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling,
Snapping umbrellas open just in time,
But someone still was getting wet and stumbling
And grumb’ling like an old man past bedtime.—
Dim through the humid air and iPhone light,
As under a misting tent, I saw him frowning.

Dessem carries through to the end in fine style, altering just the last word of the quote from Horace:

If in some drizzly dreams, you too could float
Behind the limo that we threw him in,
And watch the raindrops drying on his coat;
His soggy face, like a waterlogged pumpkin;
If you could read, with every tweet, the pain
Come gargling through his slightly damp touch screen,
Obscene as Stormy, empty as the brain
Of a deplorable who votes to vent his spleen,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To presidents who look like they died yesterday,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria madescere.

In plain English: How sweet and honorable it is to get drenched for one’s country.

Categories: News for progressives

Red Flag Gun Laws

Counterpunch - Mon, 2018-11-19 15:45

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

—George Santayana

We never learn.

In the right (or wrong) hands, benevolent plans can easily be put to malevolent purposes.

Even the most well-intentioned government law or program can be—and has been—perverted, corrupted and used to advance illegitimate purposes once profit and power are added to the equation.

The war on terror, the war on drugs, the war on illegal immigration, asset forfeiture schemes, road safety schemes, school safety schemes, eminent domain: all of these programs started out as legitimate responses to pressing concerns and have since become weapons of compliance and control in the police state’s hands.

Mark my words: red flag gun laws, which allow the police to remove guns from people suspected of being threats, will only add to the government’s power.

These laws, growing in popularity as a legislative means by which to seize guns from individuals viewed as a danger to themselves or others, are yet another Trojan Horse, a stealth maneuver by the police state to gain greater power over an unsuspecting and largely gullible populace.

Thirteen states now have red flag laws on their books. That number is growing.

As The Washington Post reports, these laws “allow a family member, roommate, beau, law enforcement officer or any type of medical professional to file a petition [with a court] asking that a person’s home be temporarily cleared of firearms. It doesn’t require a mental-health diagnosis or an arrest.

In the midst of what feels like an epidemic of mass shootings, these gun confiscation laws—extreme risk protection order (ERPO) laws—may appease the fears of those who believe that fewer guns in the hands of the general populace will make our society safer.

Of course, it doesn’t always work that way.

Anything—knives, vehicles, planes, pressure cookers—can become a weapon when wielded with deadly intentions.

With these red flag gun laws, the intention is to disarm individuals who are potential threats.

We need to stop dangerous people before they act”: that’s the rationale behind the NRA’s support of these red flag laws, and at first glance, it appears to be perfectly reasonable to want to disarm individuals who are clearly suicidal and/or pose an “immediate danger” to themselves or others.

Where the problem arises, of course, is when you put the power to determine who is a potential danger in the hands of government agencies, the courts and the police.

We’ve been down this road before.

Remember, this is the same government that uses the words “anti-government,” “extremist” and “terrorist” interchangeably.

This is the same government whose agents are spinning a sticky spider-web of threat assessments, behavioral sensing warnings, flagged “words,” and “suspicious” activity reports using automated eyes and ears, social media, behavior sensing software, and citizen spies to identify potential threats.

This is the same government that keeps re-upping the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which allows the military to detain American citizens with no access to friends, family or the courts if the government believes them to be a threat.

This is the same government that has a growing list—shared with fusion centers and law enforcement agencies—of ideologies, behaviors, affiliations and other characteristics that could flag someone as suspicious and result in their being labeled potential enemies of the state.

For instance, if you believe in and exercise your rights under the Constitution (namely, your right to speak freely, worship freely, associate with like-minded individuals who share your political views, criticize the government, own a weapon, demand a warrant before being questioned or searched, or any other activity viewed as potentially anti-government, racist, bigoted, anarchic or sovereign), you could be at the top of the government’s terrorism watch list.

Moreover, as a New York Times editorial warns, you may be an anti-government extremist (a.k.a. domestic terrorist) in the eyes of the police if you are afraid that the government is plotting to confiscate your firearms, if you believe the economy is about to collapse and the government will soon declare martial law, or if you display an unusual number of political and/or ideological bumper stickers on your car.

Let that sink in a moment.

Now consider what happened in Maryland after a police officer attempted to “enforce” the state’s new red flag law, which went into effect on Oct. 1.

At 5 am on a Monday, two police officers showed up at 61-year-old Gary Willis’ house to serve him with a court order requiring that he surrender his guns. Willis answered the door holding a gun.

Mind you, in some states, merely answering the door holding a gun is enough to get you killed by police who have a tendency to shoot first and ask questions later.

Willis initially set his gun aside while he spoke with the police. However, when the police attempted to serve him with the gun confiscation order, Willis reportedly became “irate” and picked up his gun again. At that point, a struggle ensued, causing the gun to go off. Although no one was harmed, one of the cops shot and killed Willis.

According to the Anne Arundel County police chief, the shooting was a sign that the red flag law is needed.

What the police can’t say with any certainty is what they prevented by shooting and killing Willis.

Therein lies the danger of these red flag laws, specifically, and pre-crime laws such as these generally.

This is the world that science fiction author Philip K. Dick envisioned for Minority Report in which the government is all-seeing, all-knowing and all-powerful, and if you dare to step out of line, dark-clad police SWAT teams will crack a few skulls to bring the populace under control.

In Dick’s dystopian police state, the police combine widespread surveillance, behavior prediction technologies, data mining and precognitive technology to capture would-be criminals before they can do any damage: precrime.

In Minority Report, directed by Steven Spielberg, the technology that John Anderton, Chief of the Department of Pre-Crime in Washington, DC, relies on for his predictive policing proves to be fallible, identifying him as the next would-be criminal and targeting him for preemptive measures. Consequently, Anderton finds himself not only attempting to prove his innocence but forced to take drastic measures in order to avoid capture in a surveillance state that uses biometric data and sophisticated computer networks to track its citizens.

With every passing day, the American police state moves that much closer to mirroring the fictional pre-crime prevention world of Minority Report.

For instance, police in major American cities have been testing a tool that allows them to identify individuals—or groups of individuals—most likely to commit a crime in a given community. Those individuals are then put on notice that their movements and activities will be closely monitored and any criminal activity (by them or their associates) will result in harsh penalties.

In other words, the burden of proof is reversed: you are guilty before you are given any chance to prove you are innocent.

Dig beneath the surface of this kind of surveillance/police state, however, and you will find that the real purpose of pre-crime is not safety but control.

Red flag gun laws merely push us that much closer towards a suspect society where everyone is potentially guilty of some crime or another and must be preemptively rendered harmless.

Where many Americans go wrong is in naively assuming that you have to be doing something illegal or harmful in order to be flagged and targeted for some form of intervention or detention.

In fact, U.S. police agencies have been working to identify and manage potential extremist “threats,” violent or otherwise, before they can become actual threats for some time now.

In much the same way that the USA Patriot Act was used as a front to advance the surveillance state, allowing the government to establish a far-reaching domestic spying program that turned every American citizen into a criminal suspect, the government’s anti-extremism program renders otherwise lawful, nonviolent activities as potentially extremist.

In fact, all you need to do these days to end up on a government watch list or be subjected to heightened scrutiny is use certain trigger words (like cloud, pork and pirates), surf the internet, communicate using a cell phone, limp or stutterdrive a car, stay at a hotel, attend a political rally, express yourself on social mediaappear mentally ill, serve in the militarydisagree with a law enforcement officialcall in sick to work, purchase materials at a hardware store, take flying or boating lessons, appear suspicious, appear confused or nervous, fidget or whistle or smell bad, be seen in public waving a toy gun or anything remotely resembling a gun (such as a water nozzle or a remote control or a walking cane), stare at a police officer, question government authority, appear to be pro-gun or pro-freedom, or generally live in the United States.

Be warned: once you get on such a government watch list—whether it’s a terrorist watch list, a mental health watch list, a dissident watch list, or a red flag gun watch list—there’s no clear-cut way to get off, whether or not you should actually be on there.

You will be tracked wherever you go.

You will be flagged as a potential threat and dealt with accordingly.

This is pre-crime on an ideological scale and it’s been a long time coming.

The government has been building its pre-crime, surveillance network in concert with fusion centers (of which there are 78 nationwide, with partners in the private sector and globally), data collection agencies, behavioral scientists, corporations, social media, and community organizers and by relying on cutting-edge technology for surveillance, facial recognition, predictive policing, biometrics, and behavioral epigenetics (in which life experiences alter one’s genetic makeup).

It’s the American police state’s take on the dystopian terrors foreshadowed by George Orwell, Aldous Huxley and Phillip K. Dick all rolled up into one oppressive pre-crime and pre-thought crime package.

If you’re not scared yet, you should be.

Connect the dots.

Start with the powers amassed by the government under the USA Patriot Act, note the government’s ever-broadening definition of what it considers to be an “extremist,” then add in the government’s detention powers under NDAA, the National Security Agency’s far-reaching surveillance networks, and fusion centers that collect and share surveillance data between local, state and federal police agencies.

To that, add tens of thousands of armed, surveillance drones that will soon blanket American skies, facial recognition technology that will identify and track you wherever you go and whatever you do. And then to complete the picture, toss in the real-time crime centers being deployed in cities across the country, which will be attempting to “predict” crimes and identify criminals before they happen based on widespread surveillance, complex mathematical algorithms and prognostication programs.

Hopefully you’re starting to understand how easy we’ve made it for the government to identify, label, target, defuse and detain anyone it views as a potential threat for a variety of reasons that run the gamut from mental illness to having a military background to challenging its authority to just being on the government’s list of persona non grata.

This brings me back to those red flag gun laws.

In the short term, these gun confiscation laws may serve to temporarily delay or discourage those wishing to inflict violence on others, but it will not resolve whatever madness or hate or instability therein that causes someone to pull a trigger or launch a bomb or unleash violence on another.

Nor will these laws save us from government-instigated and directed violence at the hands of the American police state or the blowback from the war-drenched, violence-imbued, profit-driven military industrial complex, both of which remain largely overlooked and underestimated pieces of the discussion on gun violence in America.

In the long term, all these gun confiscation laws will do is ensure that when the police state finally cracks down, “we the people” are defenseless in the face of the government’s arsenal of weapons.

After all, the most important and most consistent theme throughout the Constitution, including the Second Amendment, is the fact that it is not merely an enumeration of our rights but was intended to be a clear shackle on the government’s powers.

Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas understood this tension well. “The Constitution is not neutral,” he remarked. “It was designed to take the government off the backs of people.”

In this way, the freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights in their entirety stand as a bulwark against a police state. To our detriment, these rights have been steadily weakened, eroded and undermined in recent years.

Yet without any one of them, including the Second Amendment right to own and bear arms, we are that much more vulnerable to the vagaries of out-of-control policemen, benevolent dictators, genuflecting politicians, and overly ambitious bureaucrats.

You can eliminate all of guns, but it will not necessarily eliminate violence. Those same individuals sick enough to walk into an elementary school or a movie theater and open fire using a gun can and do wreak just as much havoc with homemade bombs made out of pressure cookers and a handful of knives.

It’s also not even a question of whether Americans need weapons to defend themselves against any overt threats to their safety or well-being, although a study by a Quinnipiac University economist indicates that less restrictive concealed gun-carry laws save lives, while gun control can endanger lives. In fact, journalist Kevin Carson, writing for CounterPunch, suggests that prohibiting Americans from owning weapons would be as dangerously ineffective as Prohibition and the War on the Drugs:

[W]hat strict gun laws will do is take the level of police statism, lawlessness and general social pathology up a notch in the same way Prohibition and the Drug War have done. I’d expect a War on Guns to expand the volume of organized crime, and to empower criminal gangs fighting over control over the black market, in exactly the same way Prohibition did in the 1920s and strict drug laws have done since the 1980s. I’d expect it to lead to further erosion of Fourth Amendment protections against search and seizure, further militarization of local police via SWAT teams, and further expansion of the squalid empire of civil forfeiture, perjured jailhouse snitch testimony, entrapment, planted evidence, and plea deal blackmail.

Truly, the debate over gun ownership in America is really a debate over who gets to call the shots and control the game. In other words, it’s that same tug-of-war that keeps getting played out in every confrontation between the government and the citizenry over who gets to be the master and who is relegated to the part of the servant.

The Constitution is clear on this particular point, with its multitude of prohibitions on government overreach. As author Edmund A. Opitz observed in 1964:

No one can read our Constitution without concluding that the people who wrote it wanted their government severely limited; the words “no” and “not” employed in restraint of government power occur 24 times in the first seven articles of the Constitution and 22 more times in the Bill of Rights.

In a nutshell, then, the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms reflects not only a concern for one’s personal defense but serves as a check on the political power of the ruling authorities. It represents an implicit warning against governmental encroachments on one’s freedoms, the warning shot over the bow to discourage any unlawful violations of our persons or property. As such, it reinforces that necessary balance in the citizen-state relationship.

Certainly, dictators in past regimes have understood this principle only too well. As Adolf Hitler noted, “The most foolish mistake we could possibly make would be to allow the subject races to possess arms. History shows that all conquerors who have allowed their subject races to carry arms have prepared their own downfall by so doing.”

It should come as no surprise, then, that starting in December 1935, Jews in Germany were prevented from obtaining shooting licenses, because authorities believed that to allow them to do so would “endanger the German population.”

In late 1938, special orders were delivered barring Jews from owning firearms, with the punishment for arms possession being twenty years in a concentration camp.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Yet as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, it is a history that we should be wary of repeating.

Categories: News for progressives

On Earth, as in Heaven: the Utopianism of Edward Bellamy

Counterpunch - Mon, 2018-11-19 15:26

What did Jesus mean by the Kingdom of God, when he prayed two thousand years ago for it to come on earth? What might this Kingdom look like if it came much later than expected, long after the Roman Empire had faded into history, nation states had emerged as the new centers of earthly power, and democratic government had been conceptualized and at least partially implemented? In two late 19th Century American novels, a forgotten genius named Edward Bellamy tackled these perplexing questions and proved equal to the task. Bellamy’s Looking Backward (1888) depicted in striking detail a developed nation governed by the core teachings of Jesus, creating a national and world sensation that rivaled Uncle Tom’s Cabin. His sequel, Equality (1897), responded to critics of Looking Backward with a refined, even more elaborate description of how the Kingdom would manifest in this modern world.

With uncanny prescience—anticipating radio, television, airplanes, electric cars, power tools, air conditioning, calculators, credit cards, supply chains, women’s liberation, alternative energy, environmental restoration, recycling, and other commonplaces of contemporary life—Bellamy painted a vivid and compelling portrait of what he believed America would become as the 20th Century unfolded. An impending nonviolent revolution, sweeping aside the immemorial and oppressive “rule of the rich,” would bring forth a radically egalitarian social order of material abundance and moral sublimity. America would finally embody the lofty principles of the Preamble to its Declaration of Independence. Unlike his other predictions, Bellamy’s revolution has not come to pass—at least not yet—but his resplendent vision of its culmination has lost little luster. Read today his two testaments of continuing revelation, and one’s spiritual and political lives become one flesh.

In the Kingdom come to America, citizens have both equal votes in elections and equal stakes in the national economy. The Golden Rule is official policy. From cradle to grave, citizens receive an annual credit to draw upon, reflecting an equal share of their nation’s available output of goods and services. All Americans, male and female, have the same opportunities and responsibilities: during the first twenty-one years of life, to become well-educated in the public schools, where every able student obtains at least the equivalent of a college degree, and all are exposed to a wide variety of potential occupations; from twenty-one to forty-five, to serve in the nation’s centrally-planned, regionally-organized industries and professions in a largely self-chosen capacity and location; after forty-five, to devote their extended retirement years to continuing intellectual and spiritual development and volunteer community service. At no time does any citizen work for another or become dependent upon another. All live and work as peers to promote the welfare and prosperity of the nation they share and love.

Social cohesion and personal initiative flow from higher patriotism, mutuality of interest, and public honor, a self-reinforcing triad which has replaced private profit-seeking as the impetus of economic activity. Before the revolution, citizens with competing economic interests fought to maximize them, regardless of the expense to other citizens or even to the nation itself. Amid that perpetual conflict, patriotism was but an occasional chauvinistic or militaristic sentiment. In the new post-revolutionary America, a higher form of patriotism creates a humanitarian bond between citizens, one which naturally arises from their identical mutual interests in the success of the national enterprise. So successful is this new social model that it has spread worldwide in a panoply of cultural variations, ushering in a peaceful era of international cooperation. Like soldiers who once rose through the ranks to gain increasing respect and responsibility, workers in the new “industrial army” strive to earn promotions, public honor, and civic awards for outstanding contributions to society and humanity. The earthly Kingdom does not seek to eliminate ambition but to give it nobler expression.

Far from a regimented anthill, the America of 2000 is a beehive of individual expression and social experimentation. Equality has not led to uniformity but to the unleashing of human potential. Artists, authors, philosophical and spiritual teachers, publishers of newspapers and magazines, and other creative entrepreneurs are exempt from the “industrial army” if they garner sufficient citizen support to match the annual credit. Pioneers who wish to forge their own paths outside the mainstream are given the means to get started in lieu of the credit. Democracy has permeated every nook and cranny of society. Advanced communication systems allow citizens to vote frequently on a broad spectrum of issues, from the election of their public officials to the civic projects and programs they will undertake. Although income equality has essentially eliminated corruption, ineffective officials can be recalled at any time, and no significant governmental action can be taken without approval by plebiscite. “Government of, by, and for the people” has not perished but has at last been born.

When only touched upon in essay form, Bellamy’s ideas may sound fanciful, naively optimistic. When encountered in his books, however, they come across as inescapable conclusions of Socratic logic, self-evident applications of the teachings of Jesus and the principles of America’s founding document. Every conceivable objection to the virtue and viability of a radically egalitarian society is raised, fleshed out, and refuted. This is why Looking Backward became the most popular utopian novel ever written, was translated into at least twenty languages, and influenced the likes of Eugene Debs, John Dewey, Upton Sinclair, Jack London, Samuel Clemens, Emma Goldman, Charles Beard, Carl Sandburg, George Orwell, Thorstein Veblen, Erich Fromm, Leo Tolstoy, Martin Luther King, and a host of other noteworthy intellectual and social leaders. Indeed, as the 19th Century drew to a close, Bellamy clubs were blossoming throughout America and new populist political parties were being formed. Then as fast as it all had arisen, it began to fall apart simultaneously with Bellamy’s fragile, failing health.

His legacy continued to live on in a series of reforms—public ownership of utilities, the general election of senators, the civil service system, the income tax amendment, the inheritance tax, the parcel post system, women’s suffrage, improved child education and labor laws, curtailment of egregious industrial abuses, soil conservation and reforestation efforts, etc. Yet Bellamy’s tragic death in 1898, at the age of forty-eight, marked the end of his vastly more radical vision…or did it? The question is asked in light of his most stunning prediction. “It was not till the kings had been shorn of power and the interregnum of sham democracy (operative in the political but not the economic arena) had set in, leaving no virile force in the state or the world to resist the money power, that the opportunity for a world-wide plutocratic despotism arrived. …When international trade and financial relations had broken down national barriers and the world had become one field of economic enterprise, (then) did the idea of a universally dominant and centralized money power become not only possible…(but) had already so far materialized itself as to cast its shadow before. If the Revolution had not come when it did, we cannot doubt that something like this universal plutocratic dynasty or some highly centered oligarchy, based upon the complete monopoly of all property by a small body, would long before this time have become the government of the world.” Equality (1897)

Well over a hundred years ago, Edward Bellamy explained in two novels what the modern world would look like if the Kingdom of God arrived in its midst. He also explained what that world would look like if it did not. Wealth would accumulate in the private economic arena to the point where it could buy and control the public political arena, and then would come the plutocratic strangulation of the human race. So it has happened before our eyes. The numbers shift a bit from year to year, but recent estimates are that 80% of humanity struggles to survive on $10.00 or less per day, 50% on $2.50 or less, and seven million children die annually from malnutrition and preventable or treatable disease. Meanwhile, a handful of billionaires have become richer than the poorer half of the world’s population, and globalized financial and corporate monstrosities dictate the one-sided terms under which entire nations must live. Not only has this insane, obscene wealth concentration corrupted politics and plunged the masses into crippling austerity, but even more dreadfully, it has plundered and polluted our planet to the point of mass species extinction and looming ecocide.

Small wonder that we drown in dystopian thought, swallowing the poisonous TINA water that there is no alternative. Although Bellamy was spot on in predicting plutocracy absent a revolution, the revolution he saw coming never came. His untimely illness and death sapped the initial momentum of his movement, but the coupe de grace of Bellamy’s “impending” revolution was delivered by a confluence of foreign and domestic events he did not foresee. On the foreign front came two world wars, the rise of authoritarian communism, and the resulting Cold War. On the domestic front came the New Deal, the post-WWII surge of American industry, and its following decades of global dominance. The foreign events were all-consuming crises; the domestic events allowed much of America’s fragile working class to move into the seemingly-more secure middle class, fostering the false assumption that the evils of capitalism had been constrained. Now that the near-collapse of the global capitalist system has mired us in the consequences of the Great Recession, and the scarcity of stable work for steady pay is again the stark reality in America and across the world, attention should be paid to how Bellamy believed the Second Great American Revolution would unfold.

The process would begin with growing public awareness of its dire predicament, since the dawn of civilization, under “the rule of the rich.” What had begun with the slaves of ancient empires and continued with the serfs of feudalism had culminated with the wage-slaves of capitalism caught in the vise-grip of global plutocracy. The growing awareness of this perpetual plight would be energized by a widespread spiritual awakening to feelings of brotherhood and sisterhood long suppressed by ruthless competition. Universal moral values like the Golden Rule—and what Schweitzer would later call “reverence for life”—would come to be seen not merely as personal guidance in a fallen world but as bedrock principles upon which to build a better, more beautiful one. The nature and purpose of democratic government would again be understood as defined in America’s founding document: as an institution, called into being by the people, to ensure equality by enabling every citizen to exercise inherent rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. When it became clear that those rights could be secured only in the economic arena, democracy would move boldly into it.

The mechanics of that move—successive flanking and pincer maneuvers by which a revitalized, rapidly-expanding public sector would first out-compete, then surround, then absorb what had become a dwindling, profit-starved private sector—is beyond the scope of a short two-part essay. A piece like this can only point to Looking Backward and Equality, sequentially read and pondered, as a path up the mountain to gain a clear and comprehensive view of the utopian shore toward which today we either swim or perish. Fortunately, Bellamy left a glimmering wake to follow, and his 19th Century vision readily lends itself to 21st Century revision. Included in that task would be the removal of lingering Victorian attitudes in Bellamy’s thought, the balancing of his large-scale mechanistic mode of progress with the small-scale organic, and the re-imagining of an “eco-industrial army,” one which not only produces goods and services in accord with environmental constraints but which also works directly, like FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps, to protect nature and begin to heal the immense harm we have done to her (and thus to ourselves).

Desperately we long to feel again the thrill of hope, the possible fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer that the Kingdom of God come on earth. A forgotten genius named Edward Bellamy deserves to be remembered, for he enables us, persuades us, impels us to believe that it can and it must. Let his words, not mine, close this essay. “The great enthusiasm of humanity which overthrew the old order and brought in the fraternal society was not primarily or consciously a godward aspiration at all. It was essentially a humane movement. …But ‘if we love one another God dwelleth in us,’ and so men found it. It appears that there came a moment, the most transcendent moment in the history of the race of man, when with the fraternal glow of this world of new-found embracing brothers there seems to have mingled the ineffable thrill of a divine participation, as if the hand of God were clasped over the joined hands of men. And so it has continued to this day and shall for evermore.”Equality (1897)

Note to the reader: For those who deem Bellamy’s emphases on nationalism and patriotism either dated or dangerous, attention is called to the nurturing and inclusive form of nationalism recently proposed in “Reclaiming the State” by Mitchell and Fazi (Pluto Press, 2017), a proposal which includes both a universal jobs guarantee and a “socio-ecological transformation of production and society,” funded via Modern Monetary Theory. For those who seek a more scholarly approach to Bellamy’s work, please search the net for Dr. Nora Willi’s insightful dissertation (UIC, 2018), “Looking Back to Bellamy: American Political Theology for a New Gilded Age.”

Newton Finn is an attorney. He lives in Illinois.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Shithole Countries: Made in the USA

Counterpunch - Mon, 2018-11-19 15:17

In two years, the world has become accustomed to being shocked by the words and actions of United States President Donald Trump. In January of this year, he again showed his lack of diplomacy, tack and common decency, when he referred to many poorer countries as “sh*ithole countries”, asking “Why do we want all these people from sh*thole countries coming here?” Former member of the House of Representatives Cynthia McKinney, in her new book, How the US Creates ‘Sh*thole’ Countries, has gathered a collection of essays, including one of her own, that clearly shows that it is the U.S. that is responsible for the poverty and suffering in these very nations.

The first series of essays describes U.S. foreign policy, and its true motives. In the essay, “The End of Washington’s ‘Wars on the Cheap’,” The Saker sums of U.S. foreign policy as follows: “Here’s the template for typical Empire action: find some weak country, subvert it, accuse it of human right violations, slap economic sanctions, trigger riots and intervene militarily in ‘defense’ of ‘democracy’, ‘freedom’ and ‘self-determination’ (or some other combo of equally pious and meaningless concepts).” The hypocrisy of such a policy is obvious. A weak and vulnerable nation is victimized by a far more powerful one. The U.S. has done this countless times in its ugly history, and there appears to be no appetite in the government to change.

This introduction and explanation of U.S. foreign policy is followed by essays on some, but certainly not all, of the countries that have been victimized by the United States, usually following the ‘template’ previously mentioned. As McKinney states in her essay, “Somalia: Is Somalia the U.S. Template for All of Africa,” “…while mouthing freedom, democracy, and liberty, the United States has denied these very aspirations to others, especially when it inconvenienced the US or its allies.  In Mozambique and Angola, the US stood with Portugal until it was the Portuguese people, themselves, who threw off their government and voted in a socialist government that vowed to free Portugal of its colonies.”

In the essay, “How the U.S. Perpetuates the Palestinian Tragedy,” Sami Al-Arian states the following:

It might be understandable, if detestable, for Israel and its Zionist defenders to circulate false characterizations of history and myths to advance their political agenda. But it is incomprehensible, indeed reprehensible, for those who claim to advocate the rule of law, believe in the principle of self-determination, and call for freedom and justice to fall for this propaganda or to become its willing accomplices. In following much of American political leaders’ rhetoric or media coverage of the conflict, one is struck by the lack of historical context, the deliberate disregard of empirical facts, and the contempt for established legal constructs and precedents.

The U.S. leads in these distortions, with its officials proclaiming, each time that Israel bombs Gaza, that “Israel has a right to defend itself”. Never is there any mention of the brutal, illegal occupation and blockade; never a discussion of the fact that Palestine has no army, navy or air force, and Israel’s military is one of the world’s most powerful, thanks to the U.S. It is never stated that international law allows an occupied people to resist the occupation in any way possible, including armed struggle. The countless United Nations resolutions condemning Israeli actions in Palestine are ignored by U.S. officials.

Once again, U.S. hypocrisy is on very public display.

The third section of this very informative book describes the United States’ mostly-successful efforts to camouflage its vile intentions and international crimes. Christopher Black, in his essay “Western Imperialism and the Use of Propaganda”, clearly articulates how this is done:

The primary concern they [U.S. government officials] have, in order to preserve their control, is for the preservation of the new feudal mythology that they have created: that the world is a dangerous place, that they are the protectors, that the danger is omnipresent, eternal, and omnidirectional, comes from without, and comes from within. The mythology is constructed and presented through all media; journals, films, television, radio, music, advertising, books, the internet in all its variety. All available information systems are used to create and maintain scenarios and dramas to convince the people that they, the protectors, are the good and all others are the bad.

We are bombarded with this message incessantly.

Our memories are short, indeed, if we have forgotten both President George W. Bush and his Secretary of State, Colin Powell, telling the world from the United Nations the blatant lie that Iraq had ‘weapons of mass destruction’, threatening civilization. We are not paying attention if we are unaware of the many innuendos given of the ‘dangers’ of all Muslims. Yes, the government fosters fear, proclaiming subtly and not so subtly that there is danger everywhere, and it is the role of the mighty United States to protect the world, whether or not such protection is wanted or needed.

Lastly, the U.S. as a ‘sh*thole’ country is described; its many violations of international law, and crimes against humanity, are summarized. Richard Falk, in his essay “The Sh*thole Phenomenon at Home and Abroad,” displays concisely the arrogance of the U.S.:

“This kind of nationalist pride covered up and blindsided crimes of the greatest severity that were being committed from the time of the earliest settlements: genocide against native Americans, reliance on the barbarism of slavery to facilitate profitable cotton production and the supposedly genteel life style of the Southern plantations. This unflattering national picture should be enlarged to include the exploitation of the resources and good will of peoples throughout Latin America, who, once freed from Spanish colonial rule, quickly found themselves victimized by American gunboat diplomacy that paved the way for American investors or joined in crushing those bold and brave enough to engage in national resistance against the abuse of their homelands.”

The final essay is the “Report of the Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights on his Mission to the United States of America,” authored by Philip Alston. While Trump decries “sh*thole” countries, the conditions that the U.S. put those countries in are not unknown in the U.S. A few facts from Alston’s report will suffice:

+ The U.S.’s “…immense wealth and expertise stand in shocking contrast with the conditions in which vast numbers of its citizens live. About 40 million live in poverty, 18.5 million in extreme poverty, and 5.3 million live in Third World conditions of absolute poverty. It has the highest youth poverty rate in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and the highest infant mortality rates among comparable OECD States. Its citizens live shorter and sicker lives compared to those living in all other rich democracies, eradicable tropical diseases are increasingly prevalent, and it has the world’s highest incarceration rate, one of the lowest levels of voter registrations in among OECD countries and the highest obesity levels in the developed world.”

+ “The United States has the highest rate of income inequality among Western countries. The $1.5 trillion in tax cuts in December 2017 overwhelmingly benefited the wealthy and worsened inequality.”

+ “For almost five decades the overall policy response has been neglectful at best, but the policies pursued over the past year seem deliberately designed to remove basic protections from the poorest, punish those who are not in employment and make even basic health care into a privilege to be earned rather than a right of citizenship.”

The information in these essays is all rigorously documented with extensive footnotes. The writing is clear and the facts are presented in a concise manner that is highly beneficial for the average reader or academic scholar.

For anyone who questions U.S. policies, at home or abroad, perhaps becoming more aware of such issues since the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, How the US Creates ‘Sh*thole’ Countries is an indispensable read.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Have Your Say about Ranching in Our Point Reyes National Seashore

Counterpunch - Mon, 2018-11-19 15:11

The issue of ranching in Point Reyes National Seashore is a microcosm of what is wrong with special interest politics and the misguided policies that help prop up the few at an enormous cost to the rest of us—the owners of this unique National Park.  The proposal put forth undermines the long-held principle, and law that supports it, that our National Parks shall be managed for the protection of their natural wonders for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.

We need to send a strong message to the Park Service and our representatives in Congress that Point Reyes National Seashore belongs to all of us and should be managed for the greater public good and not a few commercial ranching interests.

To say nothing about the plan to start removing or even killing Tule elk because they eat grass and may compete with commercial ranching, or the fact that the cattle and dairy operations continue to pollute Drake’s Estero and degrade essential wildlife habitat for threatened and endangered species, these ranching operations also make little economic sense.

The Park Service has found only about 100 jobs in Marin tied to ranching operations at Point Reyes,[1] whereas 2.5 million yearly visitors contribute over $100 million to the local economy and provide long-term sustainable employment to roughly 1,244 people, representing $54 million in labor income in 2017.[2]

Dairy operations have the largest environmental impact.  But Marin’s dairy industry continues to slump due to milk overproduction and changes in public consumption habits, as we adopt healthier and more environmentally-sustainable lifestyles, which could result in the dairies’ demise.[3]

The current proposal forces us to continue subsidizing dairy operations on public lands as ranchers are charged significantly lower grazing fees in Point Reyes than on nearby private lands.  So we are propping up an industry in a National Park that dumps more milk into a slumping market to the detriment of nearby private dairy operations.  This makes no sense.

To make matters worse, Congressman Huffman is pushing revisionist legislation, asserting “Congress’ long-standing intent that working dairies and ranches continue to be authorized to operate.”[4]  Huffman’s legislation shamefully misleads the public.  When Congress authorized buying the ranchers’ lands in 1978, it made clear that ranchers could only reserve “a right of use and occupancy for a definite term of not more than twenty-five years, or, in lieu thereof, for a term ending at the death of the owner or the death of his or her spouse, whichever is later.”[5] Congress never expressed the intent that dairies and ranches continue operating indefinitely, which would be inconsistent with the Park Service’s mission and the Act that created the Point Reyes.

Even if there is a desire to preserve the historical aspects of ranching at Point Reyes, it should be based on historical terms rather than the modern industrial operations the ranches have become.  Current operations hardly resemble the 19th century ranches that earned cultural and historical designations.  Rather, these operations have become a modern unsightly industrial blight, blocking the public’s access and use, degrading lands and waters, and limiting our management options.

The Act that created the National Seashore envisioned that these lands—our lands—would eventually be restored and become part of America’s natural legacy; a unique coastal ecosystem found only at Point Reyes.

Please weigh in by November 30 on the current misguided proposals and ask that commercial ranching operations in our Point Reyes National Seashore be phased out.  Submit comments at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/POREGMPA, and copies to Rep. Huffman, Sen. Feinstein, and Sen. Harris.

Notes.

[1] Economic Impacts Study, Point Reyes National Seashore, FINAL REPORT, National Park Service (available at https://www.nps.gov/pore/learn/management/upload/planning_economicimpacts_final_061211.pdf).

[2] See https://headwaterseconomics.org/dataviz/national-park-service-units/, then select “Point Reyes NS” from “Filter by National Park Service Unit”; data from 2017; see also: https://www.nps.gov/pore/learn/news/newsreleases_20140303_pore_tourism_economic_benefits_2012.htm

[3] See http://tinyurl.com/y8jlluea(Sept. 7, 2018, North Bay Business Journal); http://tinyurl.com/y8me7lg3(June 22, 2018, Marin IJ).

[4]H.R. 6687.

[5]16 U.S.C. § 459c-5(a).

Categories: News for progressives

Inside the LNR Elections – a Saker Blog exclusive report

Inside the LNR Elections- A Look through the Lens of the Russian Federation and the LNR Foreign Ministry by GH Eliason for The Saker Blog On November 11, 2018, along
Categories: News for progressives

Lithuania Brings Out Payable Food Stamps, by Ruslan Ostashko

Translated and captioned by Leo. Make sure to press CC for English captions. The malicious witch Zrada (defeat), who is circling, and not keeping the Russophobes out of sight from
Categories: News for progressives

Moveable Feast Cafe 2018/11/18 … Open Thread

2018/11/18 15:30:01Welcome to the ‘Moveable Feast Cafe’. The ‘Moveable Feast’ is an open thread where readers can post wide ranging observations, articles, rants, off topic and have animate discussions of
Categories: News for progressives

The MoA Week In Review - OT 2018-61

Last week's posts on Moon of Alabama: November 12 - False Reports In U.S. Media Suggest A Great Deception We were first to point out that the NYT's characterization of an old North Korean missile site as "deception" was pure...
Categories: News for progressives

Syria Sitrep - Army Wins Al-Safa Battle - More Troops Move Towards Idelb

Today the Syrian army won the al-Safa battle. Al-Safa is a barren area around an old volcano southeast of Sweida where in July ISIS abducted dozens of hostages. The last of those hostages were freed in a commando raid ten...
Categories: News for progressives

The White House Spat With Jim Acosta Is Not A First Amendment Issue, Julian Assange's Indictment Is One

U.S. media support a questionable First Amendment case when one of the network reporters was rebuked by the White House. They are quiet on another case where the danger to the rights of a free press is much more serious....
Categories: News for progressives

Pages

Subscribe to Brian Robinson Public Relations aggregator - News for progressives

Contact

Brian Robinson Public Relations
104 Hiawatha Road
Toronto M4L 2X8
(in Cambodia)
+85516445835

Contact 2.0

brian[--at--]brianrobinson[--dot--]ca
Skype: bbbrobin
Brian on Facebook
Follow Brian on Twitter