News for progressives

How Long Can Nepal Blame Others for Its Woes?

Counterpunch - Wed, 2019-01-16 15:48

“Every family has someone outside.” Conversations about Nepal’sdysfunctional economy invariably lead to its four million citizens, mainly young men, working abroad. (Some say they number seven million– either way, a sizable slice in a population of 28 million.)

Those workers are migrants to Arab Gulf States, Malaysia and India. Their remittances, supporting millions of families at home, form the unhealthy backbone of Nepal’s economy.

One hardly gets beyond the alarming statistic when a culprit is identified –“The Arabs”. Maybe a suppressed guilt is behind Nepalis’ litany of hardships which “Arabs” and by implication Muslims inflict on their four million compatriots. “Look how Nepali workers are mistreated!” “Someone should protect them.” “Hundreds arrive home in boxes!” “No human rights there.”

With no check on exaggerations and misinformation, prejudice continues unabated.

There’s abundant sympathy for exploited countrymen, while any suggestion that conditions within Nepal could be responsible for the exodus is absent. Don’t overseas remittances actually help workers’ families? There’s no acknowledgment of the benefits of employment, anywhere. Consider how many businesses, from rental properties to food services, are sustained by families receiving remittances. Kathmandu has hundreds of low cost private schools enrolling children of overseas workers seeking a better chance for the next generation. Where are the anecdotes of returned workers investing what they’ve saved to lift themselves out of an otherwise hopeless cycle of poverty?

All we hear are stale, decades-old, stories of “Arab exploitation”, stories that help conceal Nepal’s failure towards its citizens. Let’s be honest: workers look overseas for redress because of hopeless conditions at home.

Is it time for me to speak up? Having worked in Nepal for so long, I am viewed as a Tibetan-speaking American ‘friend’, not Arab or Muslim. Taking up the matter, finally, is not about defending Arabs or Islam; it’s about questioning this nation’s policies that allow prejudice against Arab people to distract from its responsibilities. As a ‘friend’, I call on Nepal to admit some liability for its hapless citizens. This country refuses to address fundamental structural problems, its neglect of industry, its shoddy public schools that even poor families are abandoning, its lack of agricultural support programs, its avoidable reliance on foreign aid.

Much of what we read about Arab state policies is indefensible. Their excesses are embarrassing for many like me who share Arab heritage and faith. Visiting homes in the Middle East, I myself feel embarrassed seeing how some overseas employees are treated (however mild and however much in common with domestic workers’ treatment in USA).

How can anyone defend workers toiling in extreme weather conditions without proper rest, food, medical attention or protection from harm? How can one not demand action against abusive employers?

Fifteen years ago, with the collapse of an exploitative carpet manufacturing industry within Nepal (where nobody blamed Tibetan managers’ treatment of child laborers) Malaysia and Arab Gulf countries became a market for Nepal’s millions of jobless. Mainly young, poorly educated men, seeing overseas earnings as a solution to dim prospects at home, joined citizens from India, Bangladesh and Pakistan seeking work abroad. In desperation, they naively signed contracts that left them highly vulnerable and in debt.

Despite obstacles and fears, migrating is the easiest (sic) alternative to hopelessness at home. (This applies to educated Nepali professionals too.) Traveling to distant lands for work is an established pattern, with departures increasing by the month.

Ram is one of many who, working as drivers, cooks, carpenters, or plumbers earn as much as 150,000 Nepali rupees (about $1,500) monthly. A few expatiates operate cafes catering to other workers. After 3-4 years they return to Nepal and purchase a car to hire out, or they invest in a business, usually with relatives (also returned migrants). Few resume agricultural work however. Abandoned fields met Broughton Coburn on his recent visiting to a Gurung village after three decades; it’s a widespread phenomenon across Nepal, a result of villagers leaving for overseas. (Declining domestic production increases Nepal’s unhealthy reliance on imports too.)

Yet, speaking with returned workers, I don’t hear tales of despair. Indeed, they report they learned valuable work habits abroad. Past sufferings seem of less concern than the corruption they face at home when applying for licenses, when seeking an affordable school.

Migrants’ positive experience is unarguably not 100%. Some recount heartbreaking stories: they were beset by thieves who stole their savings (cash transported in a suitcase); they fell ill, exhausted savings, and returned empty-handed. Some die overseas–from heart attacks, in labor accidents or other mishaps, their bodies shipped back to a family burdened by debt. Some women experienced sexual abuse by employers or brokers. (To address this Nepal passed a law prohibiting women from working in Arab counties.)

My colleagues, investigative journalist Devendra Bhattarai and filmmaker Kesang Tseten, were the first to report on the hardships of Nepal’s overseas workers and mistreatment by Arab employers. (Bhattarai recently posited that 90% of workers are more than satisfied with their overseas experience.) Perhaps because of those early exposés, difficulties of migrant workers were widely publicized and some checks were instituted. Anecdotal accounts of “Arab” malfeasance still define the public’s view of Arabs and Muslims while Nepal itself remains unaccountable for its people’s hardships.

“Hundreds return in boxes every month” is how one colleague opens a discussion of his country’s economy. My rejoinder about irresponsible government policies is met with silence.

Few Nepalis forget the fate of twelve citizens working in Iraq in 2004; all were executed after being held hostage by extremists opposing the U.S. invasion. The shock those killings created in Nepal led to anti-Muslim riots; for weeks Nepali Muslims (an established minority in the country) feared leaving their homes. The nation had known nothing as cruel, even during their recent civil war. That image of massacred Nepalis feeds persistent anti-Muslim feelings; it’s the prism through which they view any story about migrant employment.

By contrast the public here retains its amnesia over the role of Nepali UN peacekeepers in the spread of cholera in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. The cholera strain, traced to Nepal through Nepali peacekeepers stationed in Haiti, killed up to 9,000 and sickened tens of thousands. (When investigators confirmed the link, the United Nations denied victims’ compensation . The Nepali press hardly covered the issue.)

Prejudice against Arabs festers despite more recent investigative work by a leading Nepali news outlet. The Nepali Times has taken a more sobering look into Nepal’s migration crisis: first is joblessness at home; second, the government neither assists farmers to increase yields nor helps develop markets for farm produce; third, policy planning does not include supporting manufacturing which would train and employ Nepal’s least educated. Workers’ problems, it notes, begin with officials demanding bribes for permits; applicants are next confronted by fraudulent Nepali labor brokers. Nepal’s embassies abroad offer no help. The Nepali Times series also suggests that the government may hope to avoid unrest among jobless youths at home by encouraging their exodus.

Nepal’s unaccountability is endemic. Its avoidance of responsibility is actually bolstered by a lenient and loyal foreign donor base. China’s disregard of Nepali ineptitude, noted in my recent article, is matched by other countries and aid agencies.

Examples of failed programs due to corruption and incompetence on Nepal’s side are abundant, and commonly overlooked. Perhaps overseas employment should therefore be viewed as Nepal’s singularly successful aid program.

Categories: News for progressives

LA Teachers’ Strike: When Just One Man Says, “No”

Counterpunch - Wed, 2019-01-16 15:47

“When just one man says, ‘No, I won’t’ Rome begins to fear”

So said Kirk Douglas as Spartacus, the leader of the renowned ancient slave revolt, in the movie Spartacus. The closer we came to a strike, the more furious the conservative establishment’s attacks on United Teachers of Los Angeles became. Their fear is palpable.

Teachers are supposed to submit to the massive underfunding of our schools and tackle the problems in our usual way–self-sacrifice. This means working insane hours, trying to do what can’t be done, and spending our own money to buy what Los Angeles Unified School District will not. It means being blamed for the district’s shortcomings and the negative effects poverty has on our overwhelmingly impoverished student body.

Finally, we said “No.”

Our strike is so obviously popular that teachers unions’ more sensible opponents have refrained from attacking us, instead mouthing platitudes about “what’s good for the children.” But not so with the more open enemies of unions, teachers, and public schools.

To pick one example of many, yesterday several newspapers of the Southern California Newspaper Group ran In the LAUSD teacher strike, the union chooses greed over students. In it Brad Polumbo and Patrick Hauf of the libertarian media nonprofit Young Voices level numerous bewildering accusations against Los Angeles teachers. Polumbo and Hauf tell us:

The likely results of this strike are disturbing. The district’s schools plan to stay open, but will be incredibly stretched for staff and almost entirely filled with substitute teachers.

Actually, at secondary schools most staffs are not stretched thin, because there aren’t many students to supervise anyway.

LA Superintendent Austin Beutner began the strike by telling a news conference that so few teachers had walked off the job that only 3,500 UTLA members were striking. This was an incredible statement to make, given that at that very moment an angry mob of 50,000—including tens of thousands of striking teachers—was marching from Grand Park to his office.

Having first tried to pretend that the strike was no big deal, Beutner quickly pivoted, complaining today that so many teachers were out and so few students attended that the district lost $25 million in revenue in one day.

My high school is illustrative of both. Both days, 106 out of 107 UTLA members honored our picketline. Over the two-day period, a mere 16.8% of students attended school. At a school with 2,100 students, we had half as many students on the picketline Monday as we did in school. At $68 a head, in two days LAUSD has lost almost a quarter million dollars in revenue at my school alone—and we’re one out of over a thousand schools.

Polumbo and Patrick Hauf write:

By striking for higher wages, amid other demands regarding classroom size and increased support staff, these teachers are selfishly leaving their students to fend for themselves. Indeed, during negotiations, the school district offered teachers a 6 percent raise that would go into effect over the next two years.

Besides LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner, Polumbo and Hauf seem to be the only ones who don’t realize that this strike is not about salary. As UTLA has made clear numerous times, it’s about class sizes and proper staffing.

In fact, Beutner keeps trumpeting LAUSD’s offer of a raise of close to what UTLA has asked for, and seems bewildered that it hasn’t led to a settlement. But there’s nothing to be bewildered about—this strike is not about money for us, it’s about money for our students.

(I would add that the 6% with strings attached raise Beutner is offering took us 17 months of negotiating to get–originally LAUSD offered no raised at all. Moreover, it is not even a raise, it’s just a cost of living adjustment that still leaves us significantly behind where we were 10 years ago. It’s indicative of just how little the district has to offer us that this is what they proudly point to.)

Polumbo and Hauf  write:

Furthermore, the tensions from teacher strikes hurt students, divide communities, and damage a school’s atmosphere—and for what?

“Divide communities”? Not at all. Beyond all the support we’ve received from parents—including the many who have walked our picket lines with us–one of the touching things about this strike is the unity forged between teachers and students.

At my school 100 student volunteers have shown up as early as 6:15 AM and provided key logistical support in setting up and breaking down our pickets. They made picket signs and proudly walked our picketlines. They then arranged to take the bus to the North Hollywood redline station and go downtown to the rallies—dozens have come each of the past two days.

As one told me, “we’re really getting an education now!”

One government student was even quoted in the Washington Post today:

Max Jimenez, an 18-year-old senior at James Monroe High in the North Hills section of Los Angeles, joined throngs of protesters at a rally Monday, coming with several classmates. Making his first-ever appearance at a protest, he said he was taking a lesson from his AP government teacher — about the importance of standing up for his beliefs — to heart.

“I’ve only seen this . . . in movies,” Jimenez said, marveling at the crowd.

Another government student, Leila de los Reyes, met and took a photo with LA Mayor Eric Garcetti at today’s rally, explaining:

It didn’t have to come to this point. The point where students are missing school and teachers, students, and parents are out there rallying and striking. When will students get the rightful education we deserve, no matter our social class?

Polumbo and Hauf write:

In this case, it comes down to pure greed—with a hint of jealousy. As a response to charter schools’ steady enrollment increase since 2012, the union is also demanding a cap on them within the district. Study after study shows that school choice programs are far more beneficial to students than traditional public schools, yet teachers unions want to put a halt on that success for their own benefit.

Actually, studies show nothing of the sort. Charter schools get better test scores than traditional schools–and do better in academic competitions–simply because they accept the students they want and exclude—or, later, expel—the students they don’t. (To learn about this issue, click here.)

To choose an example that might appeal to Polumbo’s and Hauf’s libertarian/conservative hearts, charter claims of superiority are like saying that the best economic policies in the Western Hemisphere over the past 10 years have been those of Barack Obama. After all, the US had a better GDP than any other country during this period, didn’t it? (Like the charter claims of superiority, it’s a claim without context.)

One of the best things about the LA teacher revolt is the way it has helped wake the country up about the charter scam. Many articles in recent days have debunked the myth that charters are better and have detailed the way they’ve damaged traditional schools.

It was especially satisfying today at our massive rally outside the offices of the California Charter Schools Association’s offices downtown. The CCSA bought the LA School Board (in what was the most expensive school board election in US history) and the boardmembers they bankrolled installed Beutner as superintendent. Today the ladies and gentlemen of the CCSA no doubt looked out their office windows and realized that they’d been made.

Polumbo and Hauf write:

Meanwhile, contrary to popular belief, most of these teachers aren’t even underpaid…teaching is a 10-month job in a county where many people work 12 months.

I’ll address this ignorance in a moment, but to be fair to Polumbo and Hauf, why should they think some knowledge of education is a prerequisite for writing articles about it when it wasn’t even a prerequisite to become the superintendent of LAUSD? (Beutner has no experience or background in education except for the fact—as he himself pointed out—he had attended public school 40 years ago.)

Yes, Polumbo and Hauf, we work 10 months out of the year and–surprised you didn’t mention it–our classes do end at 3:15 each day. However, 3:15 isn’t the end of our work day; that’s just the end of our first shift.

The second shift — which begins after we’ve already been at school for almost eight hours — includes helping students after school, grading essays, tests and other papers, researching and planning lessons, contacting parents, entering grades, attending meetings, making copies and numerous other tasks. Preparation work continues on weekends.

During the school year I work almost every Saturday and Sunday, as well as most vacation days, and I average a 70 hour work week. To conclude that our work mostly consists of our time teaching during the school day is as absurd as looking at a performance of a Broadway show and concluding that the actors’ workload is only the time they’re performing live.

Over Thanksgiving and spring breaks I work most of the time, too—usually I give a major essay or major open answer exam right before that, and use three or four days of the break to grade all of it and catch up on other recent quizzes. I work most of Christmas break, too—usually I use it as time to research and lay out what I plan to teach in the spring.

Over summers I work also—though not as much—preparing for the fall, reading the new textbooks, researching, cutting clips of historical movies or shows, attending AP conferences, setting up my room, etc. The extra unscheduled time—it’s not free time, because I have to work some of it—certainly has benefits which most people don’t enjoy. But most people wouldn’t be willing to work 70 hour weeks three-quarters of the year either.

Hall of Fame baseball player Carl Yastrzemski, whose extraordinary conditioning allowed him to play as a major league regular until he was 44 years old, once said he wished he were paid by the hour. Beutner—whose excuse/mantra for not spending money on our schools is his dubious claim “we’re broke”—has also spoke cuttingly of teachers on occasion. However, if Beutner would like to pay us by the hour, I’d be thrilled. The only problem is that then Beutner’s school district really would go bankrupt.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Violence Against Women: A Pandemic No Longer Hidden

Counterpunch - Wed, 2019-01-16 15:47

Harvey Weinstein never imagined that actresses’ complaints against his abusive behavior would trigger a worldwide movement for women’s justice and fair treatment by men. Despite continued acceptance of physical and sexual violence against women, both women and men are now organizing across cultures and socioeconomic classes to challenge and change gender-based abuse and injustice.

Recently, in Argentina, the denunciation by actress Thelma Fardin that she was raped by the well-known Argentine actor Juan Darthés when she was 16 and he was a 45-year-old man forced him to leave the country in shame. In Sao Pablo, Brazil, where Darthés was hired to work in a restaurant, he was met by the loud complaint of a large group of Brazilian women.

Worldwide, the most common kind of gender violence is domestic violence, which occurs in the home or within the family. It affects women regardless of age, education or socioeconomic status. Although generally women are the victims, men are also abused by their wives or partners. Violence also occurs among same-sex partners.

Although physical violence and sexual violence are easier to see, other forms of violence include emotional abuse, such as verbal humiliation, threats of physical aggression or abandonment, economic blackmail and confinement at home. Many women report that psychological abuse and humiliation are even more devastating than physical violence because of the negative long-lasting effects on their self-confidence and self-esteem.

In many countries violence against women, especially in the domestic setting, is seen as acceptable behavior. Even more disturbing, a large proportion of women are beaten while they are pregnant. Comparative studies reveal that pregnant women who are abused have twice the risk of miscarriage and four-times the risk of having low-birth-weight babies than non-battered pregnant women.

Extent of the problem

Few precise figures on violence against women exist, but existing numbers are shocking. In every country where reliable studies have been conducted, statistics show that between 10% and 50% of women report that they have been physically abused by an intimate partner during their lifetime.

According to Mexico’s Health Ministry, about one in three women suffer from domestic violence, and it is estimated that over 6,000 women in Mexico die every year as a result. A study of women in Mexico sponsored by the government (Encuesta Nacional sobre la Dinámica de las Relaciones en los Hogares 2006), reported that 43.2% of women over 15 years old have survived some form of intra-family violence over the course of their last relationship.

Domestic violence is rife in many African countries as well. In Zimbabwe, according to a United Nations report, it accounts for more than six in ten murder cases in court. According to surveys, 42% of women in Kenya and 41% in Uganda reported having been beaten by their partners. Although some countries such as South Africa have passed women’s rights legislation, the big test — full implementation, with teeth — has not been passed.

In China, according to a national survey, domestic violence occurs in one-third of the country’s 270 million households. A survey by the China Law Institute in Gansu, Hunan and Zhejiang provinces found that one-third of the surveyed families had witnessed family violence and that 85% of victims were women.

In Japan, as in many other countries, the number of reported cases has increased in recent times. According to some advocates working to end domestic violence, this may signal that survivors may be overcoming cultural and social taboos that once forced them into silence. According to the National Police Agency, the number of consultations with the police from survivors of domestic violence in 2017 rose 3.6 percent compared to the previous year to reach a total of 72,455.

In Russia, estimates put the annual domestic violence death toll at more than 14,000 women. Natalya Abubikirova, executive director of the Russian Association of Crisis Centers, in a statement to Amnesty International, drew a dramatic parallel to capture the scope of the problem, “The number of women dying every year at the hands of their husbands and partners in the Russian Federation is roughly equal to the total number of Soviet soldiers killed in the 10-year war in Afghanistan.”

In a study conducted by the Council for Women at Moscow State University, 70% of the women surveyed said that they had been subjected to some form of violence — physical, psychological, sexual or economic — by their husbands. Some 90% of respondents said they had either witnessed scenes of physical violence between their parents when they were children or had experienced this kind of violence in their own marriages.

Research carried out in several Arab countries, indicates that at least one out of three women is beaten by her husband. Despite the serious consequences of domestic violence, and the increasing frequency of violence against women, not enough is done by the governments of Arab and Islamic countries to address these issues. “To date, there is no comprehensive and systematic mechanism for collecting reliable data on violence against women in Arab countries,” states the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).

In many Islamic countries, or in countries with a substantial Muslim majority, passages from the Koran are sometimes used to justify violence against women. Yet many religious experts state that Islam rejects the abuse of women and advocates equality in the rights of women and men. In many cases, violence against women — including killings — are based more on cultural than religious grounds and are justified by the need to protect a family’s honor.

There is no single factor that accounts for violence against women, but several social and cultural factors have kept women particularly vulnerable to this phenomenon. What they have in common, however, is that they are manifestations of historically unequal power relations between men and women. In Latin America, a culture of machismo often gives license for such abuses.

When this kind of relationship becomes established, people become conditioned to accept violence as a legitimate means of settling conflicts — both within the family and in society at large — thus creating and perpetuating a vicious cycle.

Women who marry at a young age are more likely to believe that sometimes it is acceptable for a husband to beat his wife, and are more likely to experience domestic violence than women who marry at an older age, according to a UNICEF study.

Lack of economic resources and the capacity to lead economically independent lives also underscore women’s vulnerability to violence, and the difficulties they face in extricating themselves from a violent relationship.

Consequences of violence against women

Worldwide, violence is as common a cause of death and disability among women of reproductive age as cancer. It is also a greater cause of ill health than traffic accidents and malaria together. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) violence against women claims almost 1.6 million lives each year — about 3% of deaths of all causes.

What’s more, sexual violence increases women’s risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS (through forced sexual relations or the difficulty in persuading men to use condoms), increases the number of unplanned pregnancies, and may lead to various gynecological problems such as chronic pelvic pain and painful intercourse.

According to the WHO’s “World report on violence and health,” between 40% and 70% of female murder victims in Australia, Canada, Israel, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States were killed by their husbands or boyfriends — often within the context of an ongoing abusive relationship.

Studies conducted in the United States reveal that each year approximately 4 million women are physically attacked by their husbands or partners. One U.S. study concludes that violence against women is responsible for a large proportion of medical visits, and for approximately one-third of emergency room visits. Another study found that in the United States, domestic violence is the most frequent cause of injury in women treated in emergency rooms, more common than motor vehicle accidents and robberies combined.

In the United States, 25% of female psychiatric patients who attempt suicide are survivors of domestic violence, as are 85% of women in substance abuse programs. Studies carried out in Pakistan, Australia and the United States show that women survivors of domestic violence suffer more depression, anxiety, and phobias than women who have not been abused.

Domestic violence can have devastating consequences on children as well. According to a UNICEF report, as many as 275 million children worldwide are currently exposed to domestic violence. One of the findings of the report is that children who witness domestic violence not only endure the stress of an atmosphere of violence at home but are more likely to experience abuse themselves.

It is estimated that 40% of child-abuse victims also have reported domestic violence at home. In addition, children who are exposed to domestic violence are at greater risk for substance abuse, teenage pregnancy, and delinquent behavior.

Although doctors and health personnel can greatly help the victims, many times they are not trained to diagnose abuse accurately. And women are often reluctant or afraid to report abuse.

Various cultural and socioeconomic factors, including shame and fear of retaliation, contribute to women’s reluctance to report these acts. Legal and criminal systems in many countries also make the process difficult. Currently, in the U.S., the fear of deportation has kept many immigrant women, particularly from Central America, from denouncing violence at the hands of their husbands and partners. Men threaten to report women to immigration authorities should they seek legal assistance.

Frequently, fear keeps women trapped in abusive relationships. It has been found that almost 80% of all serious gender violence injuries and deaths occur when female survivors of violence attempt to leave a relationship — or after they have left.

Preventing violence against women

Governments and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) have been increasingly responsive to women groups’ demands to deal seriously with this issue. In Bangladesh, new laws make violence against women a punishable offense. Belgium, Peru, and Yugoslavia have amended laws to more clearly define sexual harassment.

The Dominican Republic, Portugal, Spain, Uruguay, and Belgium, among others, have passed laws that increase penalties for domestic abuse. The Kingdoms of Jordan and Morocco have made strides to protect women’s rights — denouncing so-called honor killings in the former and providing confidential victims’ assistance hotlines in the latter.

In India and Bangladesh, a traditional system of local justice called salishe is used to address abuse on a case-by-case basis. For example, when a woman is beaten in Bangladesh, the West Bengali non-governmental organization Shramajibee Mahila Samity sends a female organizer to the village to discuss the situation with the people involved and helps find a solution, which is then formalized in writing by a local committee.

In China, there has been some progress regarding this issue as well, such as placing posters on some roads and in subways stressing the problems that domestic violence represents to society. The All-China Women’s Federation has been playing a significant role in bringing domestic violence into the legislative and policy-making processes.

Given the difficulties in properly diagnosing abuse or reluctance report it, prevention of violence against women is a key strategy. As a World Health Organization report states, “The health sector can play a vital role in preventing violence against women, helping to identify abuse early, providing victims with the necessary treatment and referring women to appropriate and informed care. Health services must be places where women feel safe, are treated with respect, are not stigmatized, and where they can receive quality, informed support.”

Studies carried out in industrialized countries shows that public health preventive approaches to violence can lower the negative impact of domestic violence. Prevention acts at three levels: primary prevention stops the problem from happening; secondary prevention stops it from progressing further; and tertiary prevention teaches survivors, after the fact, how to avoid its repetition. In England, primary prevention strategies have included educating children and youth in schools and community centers about effectively managing challenging emotions such as anger and frustration which can lead to violence. Lessons also focus on promoting positive gender relations and healthy self-esteem which can mitigate violence,

Many governments find it difficult to work with women at the community level, which is where NGOs come into play. This is the case in Jamaica, Malaysia, and Mozambique, among others, where these organizations have been particularly active. In Ethiopia, the Association of Women’s Lawyers is actively working against sexual violence and domestic abuse.

However, more work needs to be done if this pandemic is going to be controlled. Government and community leaders should spearhead an effort to create a culture of openness and support to help eliminate the stigma associated with women victims of violence. Also, stricter laws should be enacted and enforced, followed up with plans for specific national action.

In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has devised a set of strategies to help control this kind of violence through a technical package of programs, policies, and practices. Because it has a comprehensive approach, its use can have a definite effect in lowering the considerable burden of intimate partner violence.

The involvement of men is also critical to curb the spread of violence. In this case, also, NGOs have proven to be more effective than government agencies. In Cambodia, Jamaica and the Philippines, NGOs are working effectively with men to support women’s empowerment and rights. The Women’s Centre of the Jamaica Foundation counsels young male parents and trains male peer educators through its program Young Men at Risk.

Domestic violence is a threat to equality and justice. Forced out of the shadows and into the light, violence against women is finally being addressed worldwide, but efforts need continued attention and mobilization in order to succeed in the long term.

César Chelala is an international public health consultant and a winner of several journalism awards. He is the author of “Violence in the Americas” and “Maternal Health”, both publications of the Pan American Health Organization.

Categories: News for progressives

To Make a Vineyard of the Curse: Fate, Fatalism and Freedom

Counterpunch - Wed, 2019-01-16 15:45

“The exaggeration of the importance of choice in consumer societies is a weak [substitute] when compared to the old idea of a vocation that truly calls to the indwelling spirit in one’s soul. In the long run, the point is more to be chosen than to simply learn to choose from a menu of options.” – Michael Meade, Fate and Destiny, Two Agreements of the Soul

“[the quality that] went to form a Man of Achievement… [is] Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.” -John Keats, Letters

“…There may be intelligences or sparks of the divinity in millions – but they are not Souls until they acquire identities, till each one is personally itself…How then are these sparks which are God to have identity given them so as ever to possess a bliss peculiar to each one’s individual existence? How, but by the medium of a world like this? This point I…wish to consider because I think it a grander system of salvation that the Chrystean religion, or rather it is a system of Spirit Creation. “ – Ibid.

“With the farming of a verse/ Make a vineyard of the curse,/Sign of human unsuccess/In a rapture of distress; In the deserts of the heart/Let the healing fountain start,/In the prison of his days/Teach the free man how to praise.” – W. H. Auden

I am quite sure everything I have to say about Fate was covered earlier and better by the Greeks of the Classical era. It is my fate not to have had a classical education, and equally my fate to know that I need it for the kind of intellectual work I attempt. It is my fate that, though I live in an ostensibly “free country” and am free to, right now, apply for an online degree program or at least retain the services of a classics tutor locally, while I still have a shred of a language-learning brain left, I will not become a scholar of Greek; to do that, I would have to interrupt my involvements in my current life, which is to say, “my life.”

Now, people are supposed to precisely leave their life when called by carpe diem inspiration. I myself have been known to preach the gospel of bliss-following, and surely Nietsche was not the only one who saw the forgoing of joy as the greatest sin of our civilization. A great deal of discernment may be called for to distinguish between carpe diem and the implacable non-negotiability of fate – more on that later.

For purposes of clarity: What I mean by “fate,” is every circumstance, limiting condition, or consequence of “poor choice” that I reach “irritably” against, that is outside of my control and therefore “should not be so,” and that my egoic self feels entirely entitled to expunge or to break free of. It is what drives one to drink, probably in some cases to murder, to bury one’s self esteem (i.e., one’s natural desire for nobility of purpose), and to, following Oedipus, deny. The world we inhabit today is one in which the denial of fate and the illusion of free will (or at least of consumer choice) is triumphant, and, at the same time, in which we apprehend a collective future so dark and frightening – in the form of migrant hordes, climate devastation, destroyed commons (air, earth, water, food, etc), nuclear annihilation – that we appear resigned to a kind of irrevocable collective fate that’s“too big to do anything about.”

Instead of working with our fate, which is a creative task entirely within the capability of every human being with an alive imagination, we retreat into fatalism. The other day a customer told us he did not consider Trump’s wall a moral issue. Though, he stated firmly, it should not be built, or even talked about because it can’t possibly work, he maintained the wall is not a moral concern. Orin demurred, asking how is it not a moral problem when these people are fleeing here because of the devastation caused by U.S. and international free market policies in their native lands? Orin proposed instead – too radically for our friend – that we return to a condition of no borders. The customer nodded, adding fatalistically, “but I won’t see that in my lifetime.” Serious Fate, translated to fit into banal bourgeois totality, becomes fatalism.

But what a colossal mistake that is! Fate being what is not banal, may make it the key weapon against the evil of complacent obedience. Since the awakening of my deep imagination in early mid-life, I have wrestled with my fate as a writer. I was back then thoroughly entangled in family life and in relative impoverishment, working as an adjunct instructor at local colleges when, through undergoing a psycho-spiritual crisis of major proportions, I found existing within myself a magnificent and very real alternate world. Ever since, my struggle has been to reconcile this immense capacity to imagine reality differently, that makes sense to my heart and is coherent, with my very limited circumstances living in dismal Utica and essentially chained to the small coffeeshop business we launched 16 years ago. The business was and remains the one tangible result of the aforementioned awakening; in my eyes, it embodies the dream of universal brotherhood which is also the anarchist dream, and for that I love it without reserve. Although it defies pragmatic business orthodoxy and is not “successful,” and thus cannot be explained to our business-savvy friends, its basis in the dream of beauty is why we cannot forsake it. It is our creation, our work, and our fate.

This wrestling with fate in which I engage runs completely counter to the thinking styles of most people I know, who consider themselves free in ways that no longer are so for me. For instance, when I was young, travel seemed like a very big deal, and when undertaken, was expected to change one somehow. Now, in our increasingly shrinking globe, people – i.e., students, retired people, college professors, business people, everybody! – travel here and there seemingly without constraint. Moreover, they are always eager to kindly encourage each other to “take that trip,” “sounds like fun,” etc. My necessary efforts to adjust to fate, i.e., to stay out of woe is me and instead restore the inner vineyard by my own creative efforts, has made me mistrustful and even uncomprehending of these signs of “no limits,” whatever, just “do it!” On the other hand, knowing few other people who have adjusted themselves to living consciously with fate, I am constantly tempted to be hard on myself for my too-low expectations, for putting up with a level of misery – so optional in this world! – others sanely shun. The question is, how does one discern a carpe diem moment from one in which one rather needs to let go of the “irritable reaching,” let it be “one’s lot” and put imagination to work on it?

Our friend film maker Lech, who lives in Paris, writes that he took his family to the Sahara for a month to, as he, says, escape all the bullshit of Christmas and be instead surrounded by awesome nature. An underground artist who has managed to stay financially supported for many decades because he’s talented, works very hard and had the good sense to move his career to Europe, he can afford to take these retreats in what are to me incredibly exotic and fascinating places. This is not unusual for artists, an artist’s prerogative I guess. My father, a painter, spent many summers in coastal Maine which made it possible for me and my brothers to spend several long childhood vacations in that paradise of rocks, seaweed, salt air fragrance and the soothing lullaby of lapping waves. That I have not done the same in my adult life has been another wrestle with fate; that is, I cannot honestly say it was impossible– for what, in today’s everything-for-a-price world, is impossible? On what basis do I refuse to return to the only paradise I ever knew?

My life as an artist has been to a great extent the work of figuring out what art-making means when one cannot, due to one’s fate, claim the prerogatives of an artist’s life. The number of geniuses who early in life surrendered to their daimon – like D.H. Lawrence, Keats, Auden, and our friend Lech – being relatively few, and the number like myself who either never, or “too late” realize their calling to art and the creative life, being many, I have long thought that what I manage to learn may help others who desire to follow the imaginative enterprise called their ‘bliss” within the serious constraints that the majority of us face whose fate it is, not possessing that rare gift of daimon-inspired self-confidence, that we are not supposed to be artists at all. Rather, we are to be obedient workers, addictive consumers, and swallow passively all the lies foisted upon us by the powerful in Congress and their plutocrat bosses, meant to keep the horrendous destructive works-for-a-few-at-the-expense-of -the-many system going.

My hope is that, in so doing, those who dare boldly to be artists, to be their original selves, against the entire establishment and conventions of the art world, the overwhelming obedience-conditioning of capitalist society, and against the real financial constraints more people will face, will form the needed resistance to the ongoing and relentless system of dehumanization that is devouring souls as we speak. The key feature of my “method,” it having been my fate not to have received the Muse’s call in my youth, is that one’s art cannot be undertaken as a detour from “fate,” but as a kind of dance, with fate as one’s grim partner. This partner is one you may not love, as one loves a charmer, but the dance with her will induce the kind of deep learning that makes souls, (and anarchists) in the” rapture of distress.”

If Keats, in calling this earthly life, of which his portion was so brief, “the vale of soul-making,” was right, and I believe he was, that might mean that taking up this approach of working with fate may provide benefits beyond the personal. It may be the way, as individuals, to thwart the out-of-control freight train of late-stage capitalism that renders human life (i.e., that supposedly can do without the imaginative soul) disposable, as well as rendering the earthly commons, our one and only human home, uninhabitable; a way to avoid the banality and passivity of fatalism.

Imagine the possibilities were we to learn again “amor fati,” instead of continuing to insist on personal freedom, open-ended outcomes, anything’s possible, all resolutely in denial of fate? Love of fate is not, after all a strange idea. It is taught in religion (i.e.,“the cross”) as the means of subduing the insatiable ego, of maintaining human life and community in balance with nature. Not coincidentally, in refusing to deny fate, we come up against the modern liberal secular antipathy for religion. Because religious imagination, at this moment in history, is exactly what is needed, complacent bourgeois religiophobia may be the single biggest guarantor that the egoic self, so compatible with capitalism, will triumph and we will not escape collective doom.

Art and independent thought, drawing as they do upon the soul’s power, make it possible neither to deny fate nor be crushed by it. The wholeness existent in our souls tells us an alternative story, the heartening one, in which each one is called to a particular purpose (is chosen) so that one’s being makes the difference; it provides the basis of joy that frees us to act. At some point, we must tear ourselves away from our fatalism and act upon a dream as human beings are meant to do. Only in this way can the oppressive, destructive neoliberal reality be resisted. We then join the tiny trickle of dreamers, quixotes, utopians, poets, prophets & and followers after lost causes, people who suffer fated life on the ground, refusing the temptation to fly over, and in adding our lives to the trickle, expand it to a stream if not to a mighty river.

Categories: News for progressives

Criminalizing BDS Trashes Free Speech & Association

Counterpunch - Wed, 2019-01-16 15:40

I have been boycotting products for political reasons since 1973, when the United Farmworkers (UFW), beset by a campaign by the then totally corrupt International Brotherhood of Teamsters to challenge their union in collusion with the California grape and lettuce growers, restarted their nationwide grape boycott, eventually adding lettuce and wine producers.

I was living in New York City and volunteered in picketing stores and produce stands in Manhattan urging shoppers not to buy grapes or lettuce that didn’t come from farms with a UFW label. The NYC campaign was being headed up by Dolores Huerta, the inspirational UFW vice president under President Cesar Chavez.

Since those days, I’ve routinely boycotted products in support of political causes — Dow Chemical products because of its production of the criminal napalm bombs and hand-held napalm throwers used by American forces in Vietnam, clothing manufactured by the union-busting JP Stevens apparel company, tuna that’s caught in nets that snare and drown porpoises and so on. The list can seem endless sometimes of products that should be boycotted for important political, labor, environmental, anti-war and other reasons. (Here’s an example of a current list of products and services deserving to be boycotted for one good reason or another. Take your pick.)

Boycotts as a political act are as American as apple pie…and table grapes.

But now Congress, larded with corrupt politicians of both parties besotted by bribes called campaign contributions, and frightened by the threat of attacks by powerful entities with money to burn on negative ads against them in election years, as well as many similarly corrupt state legislatures (26 at recent count), are cravenly voting to pass legislation supported by Israel’s lobby in the US, the America Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). These laws criminalize the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement that is trying to pressure Israel to stop oppressing Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, Gaza and in Israel, and to stop stealing Palestinian land in the West Bank and return what’s already been stolen.

To get an indication of how serious this threat to political activity and free expression is, consider how Bahia Amawi, a public primary school special education teacher in Texas was fired from her job for refusing to sign an anti-BDS oath embedded in her employment contract. Although this American citizen had worked for the Pflugerville School District outside of Austin, TX for over 10 years as a language specialist, her refusal to sign what amounts to a required “Loyalty to Israel” oath — akin to the now discredited and unconstitutional anti-Communist USA loyalty oaths common in the McCarthy era and right into the 1960s — she was sacked by her employer, which added the clause retroactively to the contracts of its teachers in 2017 after Texas passed an anti-BDS bill banning state agencies from signing contracts with companies (or persons) that boycott Israel.

Other states with similar laws passed since 2015 include Illinois, California, New York, Massachusetts, Florida, Virginia and Washington, along with 18 others. (Some have already been ruled unconstitutional by the courts, happily.)

Now Congress is climbing on this shameless anti-Constitutional bandwagon. On Tuesday, Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) — both Jewish legislators — blocked an amendment called the “Israel Anti-Boycott Act” that the callow and smarmy Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) tried to attach to a end-of-year spending bill. The amendment was backed 56-44, with all Republicans in favor, along with three Democrats: Joe Mancin (D-WV), Doug Jones (D-AL) and the just-elected Krysten Sinema (D-AZ). It’s not the whole story though. A number of Democrats who voted against Rubio’s amendment to a stop-gap spending bill have in the past spoken in favor of anti-Israel boycott legislation, but accepted the argument made by Democratic Party leaders in the Senate that tucking such a controversial bill into urgent spending legislation instead of having it debated on its own merits was a poor way to go. In other words, a purely anti-BDS bill criminalizing boycott advocacy could still probably move beyong obtain the 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster and pass in the Senate. It might well pass in the Democratic House too.

Meanwhile the ACLU, like fired teacher Amawi, is decrying the anti-BDS legislative efforts and existing state laws, some of which actually criminalize simply advocating an Israel boycott, as a profound assault on the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech. The organization is suing to overturn such laws in some states.

I remember back in the mid-’70s how shocked we were when my wife, a freelance musician, went to join the Musicians Union in Los Angeles and found that Local 47’s membership application form still included the dreaded McCarthy-era clause: “I am not and have never been a member of the Communist Party.” On asking about it she was told she could ignore the pledge. Still, it was a powerful reminder of those terrible days when that clause in contracts led to the blacklisting of thousands of artists, actors, directors, teachers, journalists and other professionals too principled to sign away their political rights just to obtain or keep jobs.

We seem headed back to those dark days, this time with the spread of anti-BDS oaths pledging blind support not to just America, as in the ‘50s, but to the interests of a foreign state!

This threat to freedom seems particularly likely given the addition of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, which now is dominated by right-wing members of the Federalist Society. These are jurists for whom respect for the First Amendment is no more significant than a reflexive hand over the heart during the playing of the National Anthem at a ball game.

I am not Jewish, but my family is — my wife, and my two kids whom we sent to a secular Jewish Saturday school in Philly called the Jewish Folkshul, an institution rooted in the old socialist Workmen’s Circle established by leftist Jewish immigrants from Europe. We are all profoundly opposed to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in Israel and under IDF military control in occupied Gaza and the West Bank. So are most of our Jewish friends. For myself, speaking as a citizen and as a journalist, I don’t want any politicians telling me what I can and cannot do either in my own decisions regarding boycotts, whether of non-union goods and services or Israeli products. And I sure don’t want them passing laws at the national or state level that would require me to sign a loyalty oath to Israel in order to get a writing assignment or a job, or making me guilty of a crime for advocating an Israel boycott. We don’t need new McCarthyite-style restrictions on our Bill of Rights. Our freedoms are being weakened enough already.

AIPAC, a powerful lobby that works assiduously in the interests of Israel’s increasingly right-wing and even fascist-leaning government, and which supports that country’s brutal repression of and apartheid policies towards Israeli Palestinians and Palestinians living in occupied lands controlled by the Israeli Defense Force, is, I would argue, playing a dangerous game pushing for a purely pro-Israel legal prohibition in the US against political boycotts against that country. At some point, Americans, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, are going to get fed up with providing Israel — a first-world country — with an unneeded and totally unjustifiable $3.8 billion a year in military aid (Israel has long been the largest recipient of US military aid in the world, not because it needs the free weaponry, but because so many members of Congress love AIPAC’s campaign support).

For one thing, AIPAC’s political activities are at odds with the views of an American Jewish population that is increasingly troubled and even outraged by the over-the-top anti-Palestinian actions of the current Israeli government, and at its blatant efforts to equate any expressions even in the US of anti-Zionism or even just of Israeli policies towards Palestinians with anti-Semitism. For another, polls show that the broader American population, as well as the Jewish-American minority, are both becoming increasingly skeptical of a US foreign policy that for decades has been fused at the hip to the Israeli government’s irredentist and increasingly brutal politics of seeking to expropriate all occupied lands from their current Palestinian occupants, and its encouragement of US wars against Syria, Yemen and potentially Iran, which are perceived to be in Israel’s interest.

As the US-based Jewish Voice for Peace notes, a Brookings Institution poll conducted a few months ago found that 60% of Democrats and 46% of all Americans support US sanctions against Israel because of continued expansion and creation of new Jewish settlements on Palestinian land in the West Bank. The same poll found that 49% of American Jews under the age of 30 also favor such sanctions — a trend that is likely to broaden as Israel’s expansionist and pro-war policies increasingly lose favor with American Jews along with the broader American public.

Here’s what Jane Eisner, writing in the venerable Jewish newspaper, The Forward, had to say an article headlined “Is This How We Defend Israel — By Firing Teachers, Lawyers and Repairmen?”:

…Amawi is an American citizen who happens to be a devout Muslim and says that she and her family do not purchase goods made from Israeli companies in support of the global movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel… I’m her opposite. I don’t support BDS, and sometimes go out of my way to purchase products made in Israel. But it seems to me that it is our right as Americans to use our purchasing power to ‘boycott’ according to our beliefs. My parents wouldn’t buy cars from Germany, even though Germany was a staunch ally of the US and Israel, and a linchpin in the democratic stability of Europe. I didn’t agree with my parents, but of course that was their right, too.”

Eisner goes on to state:

“…A lawyer in a one-person practice who provides legal advice for inmates in a state correction facility… refuses to purchase computers from Hewlett-Packard because its information technology services are used at Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank and so wouldn’t certify to the state that he won’t boycott Israel. Then there was the teacher trainer in Kansas. And the home repair guy in Texas.

Really, are these people the greatest enemies of Israel? Are these actions so threatening and harmful that the power of Congress and state governments, and the immense political clout of Israel, all need to be mobilized to stop them?… Is this how we as American Jews wish our love for Israel to be perceived?”

To me it is simply appalling, though sadly not surprising, to watch a majority American politicians in DC promoting self-defeating, wholly unnecessary and viciously destructive wars and military interventions in countries across the Middle East even if only partially for the sake of sucking up to Israel’s Zionist government and earning the handouts they expect to get in return from AIPAC. No one could justifiably say that makes me an anti-Semite, though that’s what AIPAC and its supporters presume, and what Israel’s corrupt right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists is the case.

I don’t mind if AIPAC and Netanyahu make such ludicrous charges. That kind of verbal battle I can deal with. But I won’t stand for US politicians trying to make my political beliefs and actions illegal, whether it’s being a Marxist atheist or supporting a boycott of and sanctions against Israel for its violence and intransigence against Palestinians within its borders or under the IDF’s thumb.

Categories: News for progressives

Now More Than Ever, It’s Clear the FBI Must Go

Counterpunch - Wed, 2019-01-16 15:39

The New York Times reports that “[i]n the days after President Trump fired James B. Comey as F.B.I. director, law enforcement officials became so concerned by the president’s behavior that they began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests.”

That’s an interesting way of putting it, but let’s try another:

Enraged at the firing of their director, and suspecting the firing might portend a threat to their place and power in the American political establishment, FBI officials went to war with the president of the United States. They redirected taxpayer money and government resources away from anything resembling a legitimate law enforcement mission, putting themselves instead to the task of drumming up a specious case that said president is an agent of a foreign power.

This is exactly the kind of bovine scat subsumed by the recently popularized term “Deep State” — an entrenched bureaucracy, jealous of its prerogatives and bent on the destruction of anyone and anything it perceives as dangerous to those prerogatives.

I’m far from the first writer to point out that this latest news reflects nothing new. Yes, it’s over the top, but it pretty much sums up what the FBI does, and what it has done for the entirety of its 111 years of existence. It attempts to protect “America”  — which it defines as the existing establishment in general and itself in particular — not from crime as such, but from inconvenient disruption.

That’s why the Bureau under J. Edgar Hoover surveilled (and attempted to blackmail) Martin Luther King, Jr. That’s why its COINTELPRO projects illegally infiltrated and attempted to disrupt domestic political groups in the Vietnam era. That’s why the FBI had the material that COINTELPRO operator Mark Felt (“Deep Throat”) leaked to journalists  by way of attempting to succeed Hoover as the man who brought down Nixon.

Trump is no Martin Luther King, Jr., but he’s certainly disruptive. That, not some cockamamie theory about a Russian mole in the White House, explains the FBI’s declaration of war on his presidency.

Almost exactly a year ago — after the FBI officials got caught destroying evidence in a  probe of its investigations of Trump and of Hillary Clinton — I suggested that the time has come to abolish the Bureau.  This latest news confirms that judgment. The FBI guards its own power, not our freedoms. It’s just too dangerous to keep around any longer.

Categories: News for progressives

Dances of Disinformation: The Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative

Counterpunch - Wed, 2019-01-16 15:31

Is there such a plane of blissful, balanced information, deliberated and debated upon? No. Governments mangle; corporations distort. Interest groups tinker. Wars must be sold; deception must be perpetrated. Inconsistencies must be removed. There will be success, measured in small doses; failure, dispatched in grand servings. The nature of news, hollow as it is, is to fill the next segment for the next release, a promiscuous delivery, an amoral ejaculate. The notion a complicated world can somehow be compressed into a press release, a brief, an observation, is sinister and defeating.

The believers in an objective, balanced news platform are there. Grants are forked out for such romantic notions as news with integrity, directed to increase “trust in news”, which is tantamount to putting your trust in an institution which has been placed on the mortician’s table. The Trump era has seen a spike in such funding, but it belies a fundamental misconception about what news is.

Funny, then, that the environment should now be so neatly split: the Russians (always) seen to distort from a central programme, while no one else does. The Kremlin manipulates feeble minds; virtuous powers do not. The most powerful nation on the planet claims to be free of this, the same country that boasts cable news networks and demagoguery on the airwaves that have a distinct allergy against anything resembling balanced reporting, many backed by vast funding mechanisms for political projects overseas. Britain, faded yet still nostalgically imperial, remains pure with the BBC, known as the Beeb, a sort of immaculate conception of news that purportedly survives manipulation. Other deliverers of news through state channels also worship the idol of balance – Australia’s ABC, for one, asserts that role.

We are the left with a distinct, and ongoing polarisation, where Russia, a country relatively less influential than other powers in terms of heft and demography, has become a perceived monster wielding the influence of a behemoth on the course of history. Shades and shadows assume the proportions of flesh and meat. The fact that the largest country on the planet has interests, paranoias and insecurities other countries share is not deemed relevant but a danger. Russia must be deemed the exception, the grand perversion, a modern beast in need of containment.

Terry Thompson of the University of Maryland supplies readers with a delightfully binary reading, because the forested world of politics is, supposedly, easy to hive off and cultivate. The woods will be ignored, and small, selective gardens nurtured. The United States has been indifferent, even weak, before the Kremlin’s cheek and prodding ways, or so goes this line of thinking. The time for change is nigh, and the freemen and women of the US imperium must take note. A hoodwinked US will arise, and learn from those states who have suffered from Moscow’s designs! “After years of anaemic responses to Russian influence efforts, official US government policy now includes taking action to combat disinformation campaigns sponsored by Russia or other countries.”

In this intoxicated atmosphere comes the Scottish based Integrity Initiative, a “partnership of several independent institutions led by the Institute of Statecraft. This international public programme was set up in 2015 to counter disinformation and other forms of malign influence being conducted by states and sub-state actors seeking to interfere in democratic processes and to undermine public confidence in national political institutions.”

This low level clerk depiction is all good, a procedurally dull initiative designed to harden the mettle of debate against those who sneer and seek to discredit certain institutions. Democracy is often the victim of such paper clip fillers and grant seekers. Then comes the nub of the matter: the political thrust of this entire exercise. Where did the Integrity Initiative get its pennies? Moral citizens, perhaps? Bookworms with deep pockets?

That political thrust was revealed, we are told, by a hack. It came from the devil incarnate, those bear like fangs sharpened on the Russian steppes. “It is of course a matter of deep regret,” came a statement from the group in November, “that Integrity Initiative documents have been stolen and posted online, still more so that, in breach of any defensible practice, Russian state propaganda outlets have published or re-published a large number of names and contact details.” Transparency is a damn bugger, but forced transparency for outfits claiming that no one else practices it is an upending terror.

The revelations were striking on a few fronts. Britain’s Labor Party had been a target, with the group’s Twitter account used to heap upon its leader, Jeremy Corbyn. But more to the point, it blew the lid off the notion of pristine, exalted partiality. Funding, it transpired, had been obtained, and in abundance, from that most self-interested of bodies, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office. In effect, monies had been supplied to the Initiative via a government body to attack the opposition, not exactly a very democratic practice.

On December 3 lasts year, Sir Alan Duncan, in response to a question from Chris Williamson, the member for Derby North, claimed that the FCO had funded the Institute for Statecraft’s Integrity Initiative to the tune of £296,500 in the financial year 2017/8. That amount has ballooned for the current financial year to the tune of £1,196,000. “Such funding furthers our commitment to producing important work to counter disinformation and other malign influence.” Russian practitioners could hardly have said it better themselves.

The technique here remains dog-eared: discredit the hackers as criminal and sidestep the implications of the content revealed. “We note,” claimed the initiative, “both the attempts by Russian state propaganda outlets to amplify the volume of this leak; and the suggestion by a major Anonymous-linked Twitter account that the Kremlin subverted the banner of Anonymous to disguise their responsibility for it.”

In December, the group, as did Duncan, reiterated the notion that it was a “non-partisan programme of The Institute for Statecraft, a non-partisan charity which promotes good governance.” On no occasion had the group “engaged in party political activity and would never take up a party-political stance.” Charming in such insistence, if somewhat disingenuous: any statement with a political target is, by definition, political activity. Not so for the Initiative, which claims that the FCO’s funding merely reflected “their appreciation of the importance of the threat, and a wish to support civil society programmes seeking to rebuild the ability of democratic societies to resist large scale, malicious disinformation and influence campaigns.”

The very idea of insisting on information that corrects disinformation must, by definition, be politically oriented. It has a target, and objective. The world is wrong, at least according to one version, so right it. We know it, and others do not. The implication is inescapable.

An example of a journalist outed by the hack is illustrative. He fell from Olympus. He thought he was all fair and high, a prince of objectivity. James Ball, somewhat slighted by the exposures stemming from the Integrity Initiative documents, described the Kremlin’s approach to managing the message in The Guardian as follows: “Russia’s information manipulation strategies are many and varied, and far more sophisticated than simply pushing out pro-Putin messages. It uses a mix of Russian-owned media outlets, most notably RT (formerly Russia Today) and Sputnik, sympathetic talking heads, social media ‘bot’ accounts and state-sponsored hackers to influence western politics and media coverage.”

To deny the existence of such media management strategies would simply be silly. But equally daft is the suggestion that journalism run through the corporate mill in the United States, or through media conglomerates in Europe, identifies some miraculous golden mean of objective fairness. Ditto numerous governments, who have a deep interest in selling a particular story within, and without their jurisdiction. Respective messages are doing a dance, and governments the world over are attempting to influence the course of discussion. They are the self-appointed bulwark against “post-truth”, a nonsense term that has assumed the very thing it seeks to combat.

Ball falls into the trap of heralding the virtues of free speech and media only to then find fault with them. Even he doesn’t entirely these tendencies. Russia, he argues, simulated a “virus that turns its host’s immune system against itself” using an “information strategy… turning free media and free speech against its own society.” And what of it? Surely, models of information parry and thrust can drive the bad out with the good, or is there, underlying these criticisms, the latent suggestion that free society harbours the imbecilic and destructive? As with any wading into these murky waters, the danger is that none of these catalytic engagements seeks free speech, merely a managed deployment of spears analogous to battle. The amoral terrain of the Cold War re-appears, and behind many interlocutors lies the funding of a state.

Categories: News for progressives

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

Counterpunch - Wed, 2019-01-16 14:58

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

Legislators in Washington are currently proposing a Democratic Green New Deal (hereafter DGND) project that continues to implement neoliberal policy, including anti-union measures and fiscal benefits for the 1%. (cf. Corporations See a Different Kind of “Green” in Ocasio-Cortez’s “Green New Deal” by Whitney Webb, 12/18/18, Mint Press News) This would most likely include either quasi-privatization of infrastructure, known in popular press discourse as public-private partnerships, or outright privatization, passed off in public relations as a fair exchange of infrastructure ownership for installation and maintenance of renewable energy implements and devices, such as solar panels or windmills.

It also appears that the DGND includes within its framework further weakening of labor union and worker protections. Whitney Webb writes “Another indication that there is nothing ‘progressive’ about the Ocasio-Cortez-backed plan is the fact that it is stocked with neoliberal buzzwords that are catnip to modern-day American robber-barons. For instance, the plan states that it must ‘include additional measures such as basic income programs, universal health care programs and any others as the select committee may deem appropriate to promote economic security, labor market flexibility and entrepreneurism…’ [emphasis added] The term ‘labor market flexibility’ is a neoliberal buzzword that disguises a corporation’s ability to hire and fire at will as an exercise in ‘flexibility’ as opposed to an exercise of corporate power. As Investopedia notes, ‘A flexible labor market is one where firms are under fewer regulations regarding the labor force and can, therefore, set wages, fire employees at will and change their work hours.’”

This is another opening for the Green Party to take advantage of. Right now, the pseudo-alternative press outlets that function as auxiliaries and free public relations agents of the Democratic Party’s Progressive caucus, from Vox to Jacobin Magazine to The Nation, are promoting a multi-media meta-narrative that articulates an argument for a Popular Front with the Democratic Party to oust Donald Trump in 2020.

While there certainly are undeniable and painful aspects to the Trump administration that have fascistic features, one element missing from all of these social democratic venues and reporters/analysts is a true socio-political diagnosis of fascism as a symptom and outgrowth of austerity policies. This is probably because austerity has been most successfully and brutally promoted in the past decade by the political candidates these social democratic venues have regularly and unfailingly endorsed. The Democrats willfully enable the growth of fascist political trends with financial policies that incubate white nationalism within the public over an immiseration that has a very real material basis. This immiseration is borne out in metrics regarding suicides, birth rates, substance abuse rates (most notably being the opioid epidemic), and the precarity of finances that demonstrate many are living paycheck-to-paycheck and are one major accident away from bankruptcy. While this loss of quality of life does not mean that so-called whites are in any way close to facing the kinds of struggles that African Americans and Indigenous people deal with, it does demonstrate that the ‘wages of whiteness,’ as W.E.B. Du Bois explained white privilege, are coming up short and no longer delivering in the fashion they once did.

As such, Greens can argue their form of the Green New Deal is intended to present the preliminary coordinates for a program of reparations and restorative justice while actively and constructively opposing the turn towards chauvinism with meaningful employment. I would here emphasize the point first raised by Du Bois and later articulated by projects like the Combahee River Collective, “If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression,” and later Partrisse Cullors of #BlackLivesMatter as “If Black people get free, everybody else gets free.” In other words, a symptom of reparations and restorative justice for Blacks and Indigenous is an end to the material hardship of not just those two groups but also other nationalities and so-called whites.

As a contrasting example, I would point to the self-destructive 1968 New York City teachers union strike, led by Albert Shanker and abetted by many longtime Socialist Party members, including Michael Harrington, A. Phillip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, Tom Kahn, and Max Shachtman. Stanley Aronowitz writes in The Death and Life of American Labor:

One of Shanker’s major actions as local president had been to call teachers out on strike in 1968 to oppose three community-controlled school boards, in Harlem, Bedford Stuyvesant, and the Lower East Side, that had attempted to exercise jurisdiction over the assignment of teachers. Shanker and his colleagues preferred to deal with the central Board of Education rather than with the black and Latino leaders of these newly created local boards. The union succeeded in crippling community control over education for the next forty-five years.

Shanker and his Socialist comrades caused the controlled demolition of Gotham’s historic Black-Jewish alliance. In that episode, white supremacy made a short-term and long-term impact. In the short-term, it further polarized the relationship between faculty and student body, fomenting antagonism between the two. In the long-term, it provided American capital the opening necessary to begin the implementation of neoliberal education deform policies, something that will ultimately be the ruin of the public school teaching profession, a unionized career that is predominantly composed of white membership. The ultimate lesson of the 1968 teachers strike is that white supremacy is not just harmful to people of color, it ultimately proves to be harmful poison to the well-being of those who perpetrate white supremacy and maintain its social standing. Or, to borrow wording from Aimé Césaire classic polemic Discourse on Colonialism, “colonization works to decivilize the colonizer, to brutalize him in the true sense of the word, to degrade him, to awaken him to buried instincts, to covetousness, violence, race hatred, and moral relativism.”

Eco-socialism and the Green New Deal with an intersectional anti-imperialist framework have the capacity and ability to articulate that our efforts are to increase the material well-being of absolutely everyone and not to socialize poverty by reducing the material well-being of some to benefit others.

The DGND, by contrast, in fact does seek to socialize poverty by utilizing progressive slogans to promote more neoliberal austerity.

The Green Party seeks in this effort to de-commodify and entirely eliminate the market that exists for renewable energy by making it part of the public commons. Projects like cooperative electricity systems that were created in the southeast during the first New Deal provide a template for such projects, as do contemporary public wireless internet networks in government buildings like libraries. In the latter instance, public library wi-fi is integrated into the wider operational structure and budget of the facilities, meaning users can log on for no cost and with no obligations besides basic user agreements. The model of currently existing wi-fi held in the commons is a wonderful example for a Green New Deal to follow for rolling out renewable energy infrastructural improvements.

Categories: News for progressives

A Gentrified Little Town Goes to Pot

Counterpunch - Wed, 2019-01-16 14:51

In my little town
I grew up believing
God keeps his eye on us all.

– Simon and Garfunkel, My Little Town

Hello my old friends Paul and Art,

I’m just sitting here chilling out in the silent darkness of a late night spinning some discs and thinking your song is great but even great songs age as do we all and so I want to tell you that as a NYC born and bred boy like you guys who moved out to the country some years ago that in my little town many young people grew up not believing that God keeps his eye on us all because they grew up not believing in God, and even many of their parents, baby-boomer believers in hands-off parenting and meditation and yoga weekends didn’t keep an eye on them, not at all, since the parents thought of themselves as super cool and so the kids were allowed to fend for themselves in a most culturally liberal life-style way, and then, when the kids got confused and screwed up and did various drugs, especially a lot of pot following on the Ritalin they were given for their “disabilities” and the anti-depression meds that fell out of the families’ medicine cabinets and of course booze, and I guess I should add some heroin and the other shit that’s around – man, it’s crazy – the parents were dumbfounded and couldn’t understand what went wrong and why their kids, even as they aged, were still kids like they the parents were, caught in a stream of lostness, an existential despair unaware of its despair, to quote my old friend Soren, so they lived in a haze of smoke and mirrors and that darkness you guys sang about where they suffered from socially-induced attention deficit disorder and floated in a culture of cultural self-awareness and eclectic New-Ageism feasting on organic food and nostalgia for penny candy and days at summer camp even as the town they settled in became an up-scaled high-tech movie set for millionaires in which the cool people could mingle with cooler people as the celebrities came and went and the out-of-towners all dressed in black like walking shades brought their money from Wall St. and high tech and financial institutions and the little town acquired a reputation as the hippest coolest place to visit and move to especially after 9/11 even before the town went to pot and allowed multiple pot stores to open in its small space and the lines of the desperadoes waiting for their legal fixes wound round and round and all the heads were spinning and dizzy with dreams of mashed potatoes and brownies unlike mom used to make but the money kept pouring in and the press went wild with popular stories of weed and more weed and the true believers in this enormous and shattering breakthrough of legal pot and brilliant entrepreneurial instant millionaires that would end their chronic pains and everyone would be dreamily happy and relaxed as they awaited redemption at the hands of the latest liberal avatar of Hilary Clinton or Barack Obama to ride to the rescue and save the country and ease all the pain caused by Mr. Pumpkin Head and his ilk, like what would be better, man, if you know what I mean, but there’s something a little weird with all this crazy excitement about getting high legally and paying for what you can grow, but I guess the town likes the tax revenue but I’m thinking what’s happened to old-fashioned DIY Yankee initiative and cool stuff like that in a town where the American Revolution was fought to allow the rich to build their McMansions and buy up the land to raise llamas and place Buddha statues and even their own little churches on and stuff like that but maybe I’m starting to get off topic a bit here so I should probably stop now while I’m ahead and on a high note about revolution and making the world safe for weed which should be the goal even though I’m not so sure aging hippies and their hipster kids will know how to use the stuff responsibly and stay off the road to ruin and avoid accidents while high and just chill out like I’m sure the USA will do once we get rid of the orange man and vote with my little town to return a Democrat to the White House so we can assume our responsibility to protect all those countries threatened by madmen like Gaddafi and Assad and maybe even do something about that demon Putin that will allow us little town folks to feel safe as once again God and the NSA keep their eyes on us all even while we are getting high which is our god given right as god fearing americans and we return to the old values that we all shared before we went down the New Jersey Turnpike looking for America, guys, Kathy ain’t the only one sleeping and your singer not the only one lost if you get my drift.

Here’s to chilling,

EJ

Categories: News for progressives

Israel SITREP: The Christ-hating Israelis are at it again

Remember this: or, for that matter, this: Well, our Israeli friends have done it again, check out this article by RT: (just ignore all the explaining away and other cop-outs
Categories: News for progressives

Putin Asks And Trump Delivers - Here Is A List Of All The Good Things Trump Did For Russia

Slate's Fred Kaplan writes: The Washington Post’s Greg Miller reported Sunday that President Donald Trump’s confiscation of the translator’s notes from a one-on-one conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2017 was “unusual.” This is incorrect. It was unprecedented. There...
Categories: News for progressives

Turkey, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham Work To Defend ‘Syrian Revolution’

Syrian War Report – Jan. 15, 2019: Turkey, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham Work To Defend ‘Syrian Revolution’ Leader of Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham Abu Mohammad Al-Joulani declared his support to an expected
Categories: News for progressives

Will 2019 be the year of white backlash in Canada?

Rabble News - Tue, 2019-01-15 22:56
January 15, 2019Will 2019 be the year of white backlash in Canada?How to deal with climate change, could take a back seat to an ugly debate that seems to be emerging – that of race and migrants.
Categories: News for progressives

Refugees Are in the English Channel Because of Western Interventions in the Middle East

Counterpunch - Tue, 2019-01-15 16:00

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

A black rubber inflatable boat was found abandoned earlier this week on the shingle at Dungeness on the Kent coast. Eight men, reportedly Iranians or Kurds, were later found close to the beach or in the nearby village of Lydd.

An Iranian living in south London was later charged with helping the migrants to cross the Channel illegally from France to the UK.

Sea crossings by small numbers of asylum seekers are highly publicised because the short but dangerous voyage makes good television.

The number of migrants over a period of months is in the low hundreds, but politicians believe that the impact of their arrival is high, as was shown by the home secretary, Sajid Javid, rushing back from holiday and declaring the crossings “a major incident”.

Nobody forgets the effect of pictures of columns of Syrian refugees, far away from UK in central Europe, had on the Brexit referendum in 2016.

Three days after the little inflatable boat beached at Dungeness, the US secretary of state Mike Pompeo made a speech in Cairo outlining the Trump Middle East policy, which inadvertently goes a long way to explain how the dinghy got there. After criticising former president Obamafor being insufficiently belligerent, Pompeo promised that the US would “use diplomacy and work with our partners to expel every last Iranian boot” from Syria; and that sanctions on Iran – and presumably Syria – will be rigorously imposed.

Just how this is to be done is less clear, but Pompeo insisted that the US will wage military and economic war in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Syria, which inevitably means that normal life will be impossible in all of these places.

Though the US and its allies are unlikely to win any victories against Iran or Bashar al-Assad, the US can keep a permanent crisis simmering across a swathe of countries between the Pakistan border and the Mediterranean, thereby ensuring in the long term that a portion of the 170 million people living in this vast area will become so desperate that they will take every risk and spend the last of their money to flee to Western Europe. Keep in mind that these crises tend to cross-infect each other, so instability in Syria means instability in Iraq.

Given the seismic impact of migration fuelled by war or sanctions in the Middle East and North Africa on the politics of Europe over the last seven or eight years, it shows a high degree of self-destructive foolishness on the part of European governments not to have done more to restore peace. They have got away with it because voters have failed to see the linkage between foreign intervention and the consequent waves of immigrants from their ruined countries.

Yet the connection should be easy enough to grasp: in 2011, the Nato powers led by UK and France backed an insurgency in Libya that overthrew and killed Gaddafi. Libya was reduced to violent chaos presided over by criminalised militias, which opened the door to migrants from North and West Africa transiting Libya and drowning as they try to cross the Mediterranean.

In Syria, the US and UK long ago decided that they would be unable to get rid of Assad – indeed they did not really want to since they believed he would be replaced by al-Qaeda or Isis. But American, British and French policy makers were happy to keep the conflict bubbling to prevent Assad, Russia and Iran winning a complete victory. A result of prolonging the conflict is that the chance of the 6.5 million Syrian refugees ever returning home grows less by the year.

The economic devastation inflicted by these long wars is often underestimated because it is less visible and melodramatic than the ruins of Raqqa, Aleppo, Homs and Mosul. I was driving in northeast Syria last year, west of the Euphrates, through land that was once some of the most productive in the country, producing grain and cotton. But the irrigation canals were empty and for mile after mile the land has reverted to rough pasture. Our car kept stopping because the road was blocked by herds of sheep being driven by shepherds to crop the scanty grass as the area reverts to semi-desert because there is no electric power to pump water from the Euphrates.

The British and other governments try to distinguish between refugees seeking safety because of military action or because of economic hardship; yet they increasingly go together. Syria and Iran are both being subjected to tight economic sieges. But the casualties of sanctions – as was brutally demonstrated by the 13-year-long UN sanctions on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq between 1990 and 2003 – are not the members of the regime but the civilian population. Mass flight becomes an unavoidable option.

Iraq never truly recovered from a period of sanctions during which its administrative, education and health systems were shattered and its best-educated people fled the country. The first casualties of sanctions are always on the margins and never those in power, who are the supposed target. An example of this was the re-imposition of US sanctions on Iran in 2018, which led to the exodus of 440,000 low paid Afghan workers who are not going to get jobs back in Afghanistan (where unemployment is 40 per cent) and who in many cases will therefore try to get to Europe.

Wars that are not concluded trigger waves of migrants even when there is no fighting because all sides need to recruit more soldiers from an unwilling population. In Syria, families are terrified of their sons of military age being conscripted not only by the Syrian army but by the Kurdish YPG military forces or al-Qaeda type militias.

There is a clear connection between western intervention in the Middle East and North Africa and the arrival of boat people on the beaches of southeast England. But much of the media does not highlight this and, by and large, voters do not seem to notice it.

David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy never suffered political damage from their ill-advised role in destroying the Libyan state. A couple of years later Cameron was pressing for Britain to join the US in air attacks on Syria, which would certainly not have got rid of Assad without a prolonged air campaign similar to those in Iraq and Libya.

Support free-thinking journalism and subscribe to Independent MindsThe outcome of these interventions is not just the outflow of refugees from zones of conflict: the weakening or destruction of states in the region enables groups like al-Qaeda and Isis to find secure base areas where they can regroup their forces. A fragmented Syria is ideal for such purposes because the jihadis can dodge between rival powers. Pompeo’s bombast will be a welcome development for them.

The only solution in northeast Syria is for the US to withdraw militarily under an agreement whereby Turkey does not invade Syria, in return for the Syrian government backed by Russia absorbing the Kurdish quasi-state so hated by the Turks and giving it some degree of internationally guaranteed autonomy. Any other option is likely to provoke a Turkish invasion and two million Kurds in flight – a very few of whom will one day end up on the pebble beaches of Dungeness.

Categories: News for progressives

The Faux Political System by the Numbers

Counterpunch - Tue, 2019-01-15 15:57

Image by Nathaniel St. Clair

It’s sort of funny in a diabolical way: Trump a Russian agent. That’s the line that readers might expect from a remake of Back to the Future 1, 2, or 3, or a possible article from the National Enquirer… the stuff of science fiction, or fiction, or gossip. But the FBI, our national police, seem to have not much else to do than to cook up schemes of intrigue and espionage.

There is something going on in the dimension of real politics and it can be expressed by the equation mr=ip squared, where m stands for mild, r stands for a reformer, i stands for identity, and p stands for politics. Try it with, say, a mild, but genuine reformer like Ralph Nader and see how the formula works, or an even milder reformer like Bernie Sanders and the result will be the same. Come to the political and economic table in the U.S. in the 21st century, propose mild reforms such as consumer protection, or addressing the effects of climate destruction, and the few and the wealthy, the oligarchs and plutocrats, will stop you in your tracks.

Senator Bernie Sanders is the mildest of reformers, say with issues of student debt or of income inequality, but over the past few weeks his 2016 presidential campaign has been rocked by allegations of sexism (New York Times, January 2, 2019). No matter that the senator has apologized repeatedly and was committed to rooting out any semblance of sexism in his recent senate race in Vermont and in any potential future bids for higher office.

The Women’s March slated for January 19, 2019, has already seen the headwinds of reactionary change banging at its door. A noble cause, the major organization behind the march has seen allegations of anti-Semitism leveled at it. The march has splintered into smaller groups that in some cases will march under a banner highlighted by specific identities. The formula mm=ip squared could be applied to the march, where mm stands for mass movement and ip equals identity politics squared. A casual observer might conclude that these candidates and causes begin to self-destruct under their own particular weight of issues, but the nefarious hand of other forces cannot be discounted. Dirty tricks is the name of the game with powerful forces on the right. COINTELPRO, the F.B.I.’s counterintelligence program of the 1960s and 1970s, comes to mind. However, sometimes dirty tricks cannot explain intolerance.

Ralph Nader, a genuine reformer, but absolutely not a radical, has been marginalized since the 2000 presidential campaign. Despite being one of the most accomplished reformers in U.S. politics, he is universally seen as a political pariah among Democratic campaign operatives for the sin of not being a serious threat to Al Gore during that election cycle. His, Nader’s problem, is that he appeared to be a serious contender for those with an identity in the Democratic Party. Readers know Gore beat George W. Bush in that election, but they, the elite, threw it through a combined effort of the reactionary politics of Florida and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Then there is the political equation of gr=ip squared, where g is equal to being genuine, r represents a  radical, and the ip in the previous equation stands for exactly the same elements squared. Take Professor Angela Davis for example.  She was supposed to receive an award early this year for her achievements in civil rights. If anyone deserves such an award, it’s the professor. I know because I was right across the street from the Women’s House of Detention in 1971 when they brought in Angela Davis. When a person is willing to risk jail for their political beliefs for positive or even radical change, then questioning their commitment is bad business.

Professor Davis ran into the anti-BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement), racism, and red baiting. Some organizations in the Birmingham Jewish community criticized the professor who had already been told that she was to receive the award from the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (AL.com). Some of the naysayers who support a rabid form of modern Zionism, that contains all of the elements of racism, seem to have effectively nixed the professor’s award. Even a retired general and former college president got in on the criticism of Davis, citing her communist past and involvement with the Black Panther Party. Imagine being a member of a radical black liberation and action group. We can’t even imagine a mild reformer in the U.S., so why even consider Davis as the recipient of the Fred R. Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award from the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute? It’s all by the numbers, as readers can see.

Here’s the point in all of this: It doesn’t matter if a political actor or radical wants to reduce student debt, or put consumers on somewhat of an equal footing with capitalists, or support the BDS Movement to stop the suffering of the Palestinian people or establish a Palestinian state. The few and the wealthy and the haters will get their target every time without fail. They are flawless in how they focus their power and money like a laser beam against their intended target and leave destruction and confusion behind. They allowed Trump, a dangerous nincompoop, to ascend to the imperial throne and the destruction that lies in his wake is breathtaking. They will allow the environment to tank in their greed and lust for power and to hell with the species that populate the planet. Their biggest “games” now are military spending, endless wars, and predatory financial practices. So, putting monkey wrenches into the political system is small-time work for them. It’s all sort of part of their game.

And this final note about mild reformers, except for Ralph Nader: They cling to the war machine and will only make small concessions to the causes of justice and peace when they are pushed by their constituencies. Natural constituencies on the left need to consider when consensus is possible among groups, and that consensus of demands is not limited to the electoral system.

Readers may want to make note of the fact that on the political right, fundraising is not a particular problem since they have their own form of identity politics. An Iraq veteran has raised more than $20 million  (Huffington Post, January 13, 2019) that may be returned to donors by GoFundMe. The money had been raised to donate to the building of a border wall along the southern border of the U.S. The money may be returned because the organizer of the fundraiser has opted to use a nonprofit for the donations rather than sending the money to the federal government.

Categories: News for progressives

Amos Oz and the Real Israel

Counterpunch - Tue, 2019-01-15 15:56

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

On 29 December 2018 the New York Times (NYT) reported the death of the charismatic Israeli writer Amos Oz. Born in Jerusalem in 1939, Oz was altogether Israeli. That is, he did not come to Palestine from somewhere else. Only nine years old when Israel came into being, Oz knew no other nationality.

Nor did he really know his Palestinian neighbors. His view of them was typical of the Western view of his time—that their political and social potential did not go beyond what could be found in the stereotypical “Arab state.” That stereotype had only negative connotations for Oz, and this was the reason he denied the possibility of a one-state solution wherein Palestinians and Israeli Jews lived together in relative harmony. He claimed that “there could never be a binational state but only an Arab state with a Jewish minority” and he, Amos Oz, did not want to live in an “Arab state.” That meant he could never believe in, or struggle for, a truly democratic multi-ethnic and multi-religious Israel. His was a dualistic world—the two-state solution was Oz’s solution.

It is important to understand that his support for two states made Oz a “moderate” among Zionists and consigned him to the political margins of Israeli politics. Mainstream Israeli politics could not abide his assertion that a real peace required that the Palestinians have their own separate “Arab state” in the West Bank and Gaza, alongside Zionist Israel. Likewise, the support for a two-state solution automatically set him against the maximalist formula—a Zionist state from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River—propounded by a hardline conservative element of the Zionist movement. The position of this element has become the political standard for an increasing number of Israeli Jewish citizens.

Oz’s opposition to the maximalist Zionist position made him ipso facto a serious opponent of the Israeli occupation. The occupation, insatiably expansive as it has proven to be, was the death knell of the two-state dream, and Oz despised the Israeli politicians who refused to make the necessary compromises for such a peace. He thought of them as “cowards” and they thought of him as a “traitor.”

Oz “felt himself a man possessed of moral clarity but denigrated for it in a country that could not make the difficult decisions he felt necessary.” Nonetheless, he remained a patriot. He confessed, “I love Israel even when I can not stand it.”

Redefining the Israeli Character

The NYT piece also tells us that Amos Oz’s ambition was to define, or more accurately, redefine, the Israeli character. The effort was an expression of his idealism which, despite all evidence to the contrary, told him that the present state of Zionist Israel could be reversed and humanized—made more benign through an underpinning of what he called “humanistic Jewish culture.” This was perhaps a politicized version of the pre-1948 phenomenon of apolitical cultural Zionism. This optimistic yet naive outlook made the Haaretz editorial writer Gideon Levy refer to Amos Oz as “the last moral Zionist.”

The vehicle for this transformation was his idealized two-state solution. His dedication to it essentially blinded him to the real nature of his nation’s character—one of longstanding imperialism combined with racism. In contrast, someone like Benjamin Netanyahu grasped this aspect of Israeli consciousness almost instinctively. Oz’s rejection of these character flaws increasingly separated him from the most of his fellow Israeli Jews. Thus, to the extent that Oz was an “insistent advocate for peace with the Palestinians,” the number of Israelis listening to him had dwindled. The fact of this marginalization caused his emotionally driven relationship with his country to vacillate between hope and despair.

In his literary work Oz sometimes suggested there is a conflict embedded in the nationalist consciousness about what Zionism really stands for. Well, once again, there is no doubt a conflict in the minds of Israelis such as Oz. But it is a conflict that has set them apart from their fellow Zionists. For the majority the need for discriminatory laws and racist practices is clear enough. That is what an exclusive ethnic/religious state requires. In practice it has produced an Israel now approaching apartheid status. American readers of this essay can think of it this way: today’s Israel has a lot in common with the U.S. state of Alabama, circa 1930. That is why contemporary white supremacists in the United States such as Robert Spencer claim an affinity with Israel and Zionist ideological goals.

Did Amos Oz understand that this was Zionism’s inevitable outcome? If he did, he tried hard to rationalize that awareness away.

Conclusion

In truth there is every reason to believe that the two-state solution Oz supported would result in the same sort of racist Israel we see today, just in a smaller territory. What then would Oz have done? Well, if a Jewish majority could have been guaranteed in, say an Israel confined to land west of the Green Line, he would no doubt have felt secure enough to advocate for human and civil rights for all its citizens. In the end, however, that advocacy would have most likely led him onto the margins of that smaller hypothetical Israel, just as his demand for two separate states has done in the contemporary larger one.

Oz’s hope for Israel, and not his alone, always rested on the assumption that a humane Zionist state was possible. The reality is that it is not possible.Any state designed first and foremost for one ethnically and/or religiously defined group, and also having in its midst a sizable minority, must inevitably become discriminatory in its laws and practices. In the case of Israel this fact is reinforced by a Zionist ideology that demands such an exclusive state if Jews are to be “safe.” This too is an illusion, for there are fewer places in today’s world less safe for Jews than Israel.

As a writer Amos Oz will long be remembered as a master craftsman of the Hebrew language—a producer of very good reads. As a advocate of a two-state solution, he was ignored by the majority of his own people. As a moralist, his program was belied by the realities of a Zionist movement that had long ago turned its back on the values Oz held dear. Thus, in the end, Amos Oz was a great writer, and perhaps also a good man, born and bred to a bad system he could not bring himself to abandon.

Categories: News for progressives

Beware the Emergency State

Counterpunch - Tue, 2019-01-15 15:56

“For seven decades we have been yielding our most basic liberties to a secretive, unaccountable emergency state – a vast but increasingly misdirected complex of national security institutions, reflexes, and beliefs that so define our present world that we forget that there was ever a different America. … Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness have given way to permanent crisis management: to policing the planet and fighting preventative wars of ideological containment, usually on terrain chosen by, and favorable to, our enemies. Limited government and constitutional accountability have been shouldered aside by the kind of imperial presidency our constitutional system was explicitly designed to prevent.”

— David C. Unger, The Emergency State: America’s Pursuit of Absolute Security at All Costs

It’s all happening according to schedule.

The civil unrest, the national emergencies, “unforeseen economic collapse, loss of functioning political and legal order, purposeful domestic resistance or insurgency, pervasive public health emergencies, and catastrophic natural and human disasters,” the government’s reliance on the armed forces to solve domestic political and social problems, the implicit declaration of martial law packaged as a well-meaning and overriding concern for the nation’s security…

The government has been planning and preparing for such a crisis for years now.

No matter that this crisis is of the government’s own making.

To those for whom power and profit are everything, the end always justifies the means.

This latest brouhaha over President Trump’s threat to declare a national emergency in order to build a border wall is more manufactured political theater, a Trojan Horse intended to camouflage the real threat to our freedoms: yet another expansion of presidential power exposing us to constitutional peril.

This is not about illegal immigration or porous borders or who will pay to build that wall.

This is about unadulterated power and the rise of an “emergency state” that justifies all manner of government tyranny in the so-called name of national security.

The seeds of this present madness were sown more than a decade ago when George W. Bush stealthily issued two presidential directives that granted the president the power to unilaterally declare a national emergency, which is loosely defined as “any incident, regardless of location, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the U.S. population, infrastructure, environment, economy, or government functions.

Comprising the country’s Continuity of Government (COG) plan, these directives (National Security Presidential Directive 51 and Homeland Security Presidential Directive 20), which do not need congressional approval, provide a skeletal outline of the actions the president will take in the event of a “national emergency.”

Mind you, that national emergency can take any form, can be manipulated for any purpose and can be used to justify any end goal—all on the say so of the president.

This is exactly the kind of mischief that Thomas Jefferson warned against when he cautioned, “In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.”

Power corrupts.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Thus far, we have at least pretended that the government abides by the Constitution.

Despite the many attempts by government leaders to claim broader powers for themselves during wartime, the Constitution allows for only one emergency power: “The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it” (Article 1, Section 9, Clause 2).

Those who wrote our Constitution sought to ensure our freedoms by creating a document that protects our God-given rights at all times, even when we are engaged in war, whether that is a so-called war on terrorism, a so-called war on drugs, or a so-called war on illegal immigration.

This threat by Trump to rule by fiat merely plays into the hands of those who would distort the government’s system of checks and balances and its constitutional separation of powers beyond all recognition.

Apart from the fact that this highly politicized, shamelessly contrived border crisis does not in any way constitute a national emergency, to allow such a manufactured emergency to override constitutional constraints and the rule of law will push the nation that much closer to outright totalitarianism.

To be clear, this is not a criticism of Trump or a disavowal of the need for better vigilance at the nation’s border.

Rather this is a word of warning.

Remember, these powers do not expire at the end of a president’s term. They remain on the books, just waiting to be used or abused by the next political demagogue.

So, too, every action taken by the Trump administration to weaken the system of checks and balances, sidestep the rule of law, and expand the power of the president makes us that much more vulnerable to those who would abuse those powers in the future.

No matter whether you consider Trump to be a demagogue or a die-hard patriot, there will come a day when Trump no longer occupies the White House, and then what?

We’ve been down this road before.

Although the Constitution invests the President with very specific, limited powers, in recent years, American presidents (Trump, Obama, Bush, Clinton, etc.) have claimed the power to completely and almost unilaterally alter the landscape of this country for good or for ill.

Should the Trump Administration act on its threat to build a border wall using the president’s emergency powers, it would constitute yet another gross perversion of what limited power the Constitution affords the executive branch.

The powers amassed by each successive president through the negligence of Congress and the courts—powers which add up to a toolbox of terror for an imperial ruler—empower whomever occupies the Oval Office to act as a dictator, above the law and beyond any real accountability.

As law professor William P. Marshall explains, “every extraordinary use of power by one President expands the availability of executive branch power for use by future Presidents.” Moreover, it doesn’t even matter whether other presidents have chosen not to take advantage of any particular power, because “it is a President’s action in using power, rather than forsaking its use, that has the precedential significance.”

In other words, each successive president continues to add to his office’s list of extraordinary orders and directives, expanding the reach and power of the presidency and granting him- or herself near dictatorial powers.

This abuse of presidential powers has been going on for so long that it has become the norm, the Constitution be damned.

We no longer have a system of checks and balances.

“The system of checks and balances that the Framers envisioned now lacks effective checks and is no longer in balance,” concludes Marshall. “The implications of this are serious. The Framers designed a system of separation of powers to combat government excess and abuse and to curb incompetence. They also believed that, in the absence of an effective separation-of-powers structure, such ills would inevitably follow. Unfortunately, however, power once taken is not easily surrendered.”

All of the imperial powers amassed by Barack Obama and George W. Bush—to kill American citizens without due process, to detain suspects indefinitely, to strip Americans of their citizenship rights, to carry out mass surveillance on Americans without probable cause, to suspend laws during wartime, to disregard laws with which he might disagree, to conduct secret wars and convene secret courts, to sanction torture, to sidestep the legislatures and courts with executive orders and signing statements, to direct the military to operate beyond the reach of the law, to operate a shadow government, and to act as a dictator and a tyrant, above the law and beyond any real accountability—have become a permanent part of the president’s toolbox of terror.

These presidential powers—acquired through the use of executive orders, decrees, memorandums, proclamations, national security directives and legislative signing statements and which can be activated by any sitting president—enable past, president and future presidents to operate above the law and beyond the reach of the Constitution.

America, meet your new dictator-in-chief: imperial, unaccountable and unconstitutional.

If we continue down this road, there can be no surprise about what awaits us at the end.

After all, it is a tale that has been told time and again throughout history.

For example, over 80 years ago, the citizens of another democratic world power elected a leader who promised to protect them from all dangers. In return for this protection, and under the auspice of fighting terrorism, he was given absolute power.

This leader went to great lengths to make his rise to power appear both legal and necessary, masterfully manipulating much of the citizenry and their government leaders.

Unnerved by threats of domestic terrorism and foreign invaders, the people had little idea that the domestic turmoil of the times—such as street rioting and the fear of Communism taking over the country—was staged by the leader in an effort to create fear and later capitalize on it. In the ensuing months, this charismatic leader ushered in a series of legislative measures that suspended civil liberties and habeas corpus rights and empowered him as a dictator.

On March 23, 1933, the nation’s legislative body passed the Enabling Act, formally referred to as the “Law to Remedy the Distress of the People and the Nation,” which appeared benign and allowed the leader to pass laws by decree in times of emergency.

What it succeeded in doing, however, was ensuring that the leader became a law unto himself.

The leader’s name was Adolf Hitler.

The rest, as they say, is history. Yet history has a way of repeating itself.

Hitler’s rise to power should serve as a stark lesson to always be leery of granting any government leader sweeping powers.

Clearly, we are not heeding that lesson.

Indeed, all of those dastardly seeds we have allowed the government to sow under the guise of national security are bearing demon fruit.

Brace yourself.

There is something being concocted in the dens of power, far beyond the public eye, and it doesn’t bode well for the future of this country.

Anytime you have an entire nation so mesmerized by the antics of the political ruling class that they are oblivious to all else, you’d better beware.

Anytime you have a government that operates in the shadows, speaks in a language of force, and rules by fiat, you’d better beware.

And anytime you have a government so far removed from its people as to ensure that they are never seen, heard or heeded by those elected to represent them, you’d better beware.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we are at our most vulnerable right now.

The gravest threat facing us as a nation is not extremism but despotism, exercised by a ruling class whose only allegiance is to power and money.

Categories: News for progressives

Loudmouths against Nuclear Lawlessness

Counterpunch - Tue, 2019-01-15 15:55

Hamburg

You have to wonder if the Department of Homeland Security is insecure or just lame.

On New Years’ Eve, I was about to board a flight to Hamburg, when a pair of its officers stopped me to ask a few questions. My mistake was not to demand to know their names, their jobs, and if I was under arrest. Instead, I calmly answered their irrelevant queries. Nothing they asked related to anybody’s homeland.

The three pieces of paper that one officer handed to me did not concern me or my travel plans. They were sections of the United States Code regarding “subversive activities” at US military sites. I was headed here to Germany to attend the appeal court hearing of a nuclear weapons abolitionist, Gerd Büntzly, whom I joined in 2017, along with three other US citizens, in a protest at the German Air Base Büchel. There are 20 US nuclear weapons at the base (so-called B61-3s or B61-4s) but it’s a German base. The US Air Force just works there under the name “702nd Munitions Support Squadron” to cynically guard, support and train German pilots in use of the US H-bombs upon order of the president. A US flag flies over the base’s entrance next to its German counterpart.

Gerd, 68, a music teacher, violinist, and orchestral arranger from Herford, Germany, intends to testify at his own appeal that nonviolent resistance at the Büchel base is a lawful act of crime prevention, because Germany and the United States deploy US nuclear bombs in violation of the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and other treaties both countries have ratified.

The NPT prohibits any transfer of nuclear weapons to or from other states that have signed it. To rationalize its nuclear lawlessness, the United States claims: (1) Its hydrogen bombs in Germany are under USAF control at the base until war starts; and (2) The NPT doesn’t apply in wartime (Ha!) when the bombs would be transferred to German Tornado fighter jets flown by Germany’s Tactical Air Force Wing 33 in Büchel. Talk about subversive activities at a military base.

One officer wanted a look inside my cornet case even though it had already passed two sets of airport security. (You never know about cornet players!) The other officer asked if I knew it was unlawful to enter a military installation without permission. Having done so in two dozen protests, I said yes.

After quickly skimming the web-site-generated sections of the US Code, I asked why an officer he was giving them to me. He said, “So you can’t say you haven’t been warned.” But none of the text involved warnings, just federal statutory facts. The US Code is addressed to the US population as a whole. This material I had was not addressed to me, had no date, nor the name of an issuing officer. Two pages had a D.H.S. seal shabbily stamped in red and came complete with comical errors: One elaborately defined federal misdemeanor was said to have a penalty upon conviction of “a fine not to exceed 000.” Wow, some warning.

The airport interruption was perhaps a sort of “proof of surveillance” demonstration by the cops — a useless and absurd one. One officer then felt the need to inform me that, “‘No trespassing’ signs at military bases are written in English.” I thought, what would become of the nation without the stern Dept. of Homeland Security?! I walked down the causeway to my seat.

Perhaps the attempted scare tactic was actually a message meant for everyone else but me. By reporting to others about the Minneapolis airport delay, maybe I only help the D.H.S. put on notice those readers who may for the first time be considering opposition to US militarism.

What the D.H.S. hasn’t figured out is that hokey theatrics used to shoo people away from political dissent only succeed against those few activists who were born yesterday. There are just too many time-honored, practical, hard-headed, ethical and strategic reasons for nonviolent political action to ever intimidate committed loudmouths.

Categories: News for progressives

Labor in the Age of Trump

Counterpunch - Tue, 2019-01-15 15:55

If not now, when?

The Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 prevents federal employees from striking. Unions had a rally in DC on Thursday, Jan 10th. Some coverage. Mostly ignored. Not surprising.

On to the Democrats. They are being quite sheepish in this. Strong words of dissatisfaction to Trump’s national address. Strong Ma and Pa Kettle sternness! (A Catholic and a Jew, so WASPy!) Disapproval over a temper tantrum.

Painful question: Can unions be any more controlled by the Democratic Party, or is the leadership so embedded into the capitalist system that the leadership is so neutered in its response?

Without going into the long history of how the Democratic Party slowly co-opted union leadership (with some exceptions), the labor movement is at an existential crossroad. If it stays the course, protesting, rallies, lobbying their congress member, backing the Clintonites and not the Sanders’s disciples in elections, it will soon die as quickly as President Reagan busted PATCO. What is happening now with the shutdown is the crucible of life and death for labor in America.

800,000 workers are furloughed or working without pay. We see on the news the individual horror stories of these workers. Their future isn’t just uncertain, it has been forever changed. So many others have yet to fall into the abyss that awaits them, even with a quick settlement at this point. This is not the time to show one’s outrage by singing from the same psalm books. Joe Hill would not have it. Nor Mother Jones or E.V. Debs! Where are they today? They were the mythical heroes of the past; leaders who inspired us to do what? We don’t sing in our taverns great leftist labor songs. Very few prominent, stirring movies. Matewan, Norma Rae. Some others, yes, but it just isn’t our culture. And it has brought us to today.

What is needed is a general strike, led by government employees who know they’re violating the Taft-Hartley Act and their respective state employee counterparts. With unity, they could put the pressure on Congress to rescind these laws, retroactively. It would be necessary for all unions, and in particular state employee unions, to stand with them and shut down. If the AFT and NEA were to tell its members to strike, in solidarity, they too would be threatened by the State but their numbers are enormous. No sitting representative would dare to challenge them, especially if it’s a national movement. We don’t have a gilets jaunes movement now but when we did, when we were jailed and killed in the auto plants and minefields, we were a threat to be respected and reckoned with. Our labor comrades’ sacrifices have lived on. We are dishonoring them by acquiescing to a system that keeps us worthless, ineffective, near-powerless by waiting. “Waiting, waiting, waiting. I’ll never get out of here. I’ll die in Casablanca.” Is that the labor movement’s fate, or does it have a future?

Categories: News for progressives

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